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Thanksgiving on Mars

(Note: firstly, we don't do Thanksgiving in my country. Secondly, I'm unwell right now and my participation in this thread may be limited. Having said that ...)

In light of the issues that came up here and there and elsewhere ...

Let us postulate that some time in the next 50 years, some astronauts from Earth set out for Mars. As they're going to be there for some years — possibly on a one-way mission: Mars is too expensive and hard to get home from for a quick dash and plant-the-flag excursion a la Apollo — they're going to be growing their own food and recycling everything. They're going to have very restricted weight allowances for what they can take with them, and possibly no or minimal artificial-gravity on the voyage out.

Let's also postulate that for reasons of morale they decide to have a shindig to mark 365 days on Mars.

In the absence of natives bearing turducken roast, what are they likely to be eating? (In addition to the couple of kilograms of precious delicacies from Earth they brought along for the purpose.)

205 Comments

1:

Whichever of the cultivation projects actually grew, mixed in with some of the stored food from earth. It would depend how many resupply missions from earth were scheduled and whether they seem likely to actually arrive. Whether there's any chocolate left.

2:

Each other.

I know. Sorry.

3:

Fungus bread with algae butter. Yum!

4:

I'd go with Tilapa or other fish.

You're probably going to have a large supply of water around the 'ship from Earth for radiation protection. You can use that space for fish species as a form of protein.

Supply the heat to melt the ice and there doesn't appear to be a shortage of water on Mars. Soil, on the other hand takes longer to grow. Algae turn nutrients (human waste?) into fish food.

Marine species seem better adapted to turning sudden (Seasonal) rushes of nutrients into a growth spurt. While everybody thinks of hydroponics, i suspect that using mirrors to heat an enclosed valley (transparent plastic covers to prevent o2, heat loss), flood it and you'll get more volumetric food than you would easily in a glasshouse.

5:

Thanksgiving is long over here, but the question is an interesting one. How likely are fish to survive the trip from earth? Some species are quite hardy, but the trips out of and into the gravity well might be a bit hard on them.
Why not some of the smaller, less obnoxious rodents - rabbits, guinea pigs, etc....? They are small, eat a reasonably wide range of foods and should survive the trip.

6:

Why the meat obsession, everyone?

(My money is on animal husbandry -- even fish -- being pretty unlikely on a first exploration mission: too much additional complexity looking after the nutrient cycle to keep the food fed.)

7:

I'd assume as little meat as possible in the daily diet, due to the workload / calorie involved. Hence keeping it for a 'feast' dish.

But another way of looking at feasts is not just breaking the usual protein and calorie rationing, but _smells_.
You're still stuck in a can. Air recycling is tough. Garlic is off the menu, then. Strong curries?
Perhaps there can be a 1-day relaxation of the rules, then clean the air scrubbers ...

8:

The meat obsession is because, for most of human history, meat means success.

You have the cows and sheep that make you rich -- but the cows are for milk, the sheep are for wool, and the ongoing value means that they're old and tough when they die, if you're lucky. Chickens are on a shorter schedule, but you're going to have to stew that layer for a good long time -- soup is the best bet.

When you can afford to slaughter a yearling, and not sell it but eat it yourself, times are good.

So, on to Mars. In 50 years, we may have vat-meat production techniques commercialized and made portable. The hydroponic gardens will be producing fresh veggies and cleaning the air, and the resources most in demand are likely to be: chocolate, coffee, dairy and wine. They all take up too much space to be produced in the first year of Mars colonization, and the dairy products are probably gone.

Oh, and it will take a heck of a long time for the fruit and nut trees to start producing. Expect much happier times 5-15 years down the road, as always.

9:

Why they'll eat the martian natives of course.

10:

Looking at how people attempt to adopt the western diet across the world its pretty clear people like eating meat. Though animal flesh is expensive to produce so the colonists aren't likely to have much.

I'm betting they'll have plenty of potatoes, lichen, and algae.

Any animals present are going to be ones that can be raised from frozen eggs. My hunch is insects, frogs and maybe chickens.

A year is enough time that they'll have been able to raise one or two generations. And this is they're celebration, so one or two lucky colonists might get to enter a lottery for an egg or frog leg.

11:

Tilapia or some other vegetarian fish isn't that unreasonable. You won't be able to grow much in the way of spices, and a constant diet of algae is ... boring is too mild a word, but it's not just physically damaging. Still, you're going to want sea-weed (well, fresh water plants) of some sort in the diet, and that's an environment that can, with very little additional effort, support fish. (My grandfather used to keep carp in his cow water tank, and I think that carp CAN be vegetarian. I don't think they depend on mosquitos.)

Tilapia, however, I know (Monterey Aquarium) to be vegetarian, and they have lots fewer bones than carp. (Or maybe the bones are just easier to remove before you sell them.)

I doubt that raising soy beans will be practical. Green beans, maybe. But that's in inferior protein. Fish is reasonably practical and reasonably efficient. Yes, they'll need to debug the process before they leave, but it's hardly the most difficult of the pieces.

Additionally, Thanksgiving is traditionally a meat-oriented holiday. (Though I've never met anyone who celebrated it with fish, it's not an unreasonable modification.) I'm sure that vegetarians have other customs, but they are a quite distinct minority, and I doubt that you can depend on all of the astronauts on the mission as being of that group.

If fish don't appeal, then you might consider iguanas. It should be a cold-blooded animal for reasons of efficiency.

I am, however, worried about grain/fruit substitutes. These may be more difficult. Both take excessive room, but both provide, in addition to calories and vitamins, dietary fiber. I'm not sure that green beans, cabbages, and lettuce are an adequate replacement. Yams, perhaps. Much of humanity does well on a mainly yam diet. (It's also a name used for the sweet potato that's traditional at Thanksgiving feasts, but I'm not sure it's at all the same plant in taste.)
Squash in some form also looks reasonable. Probably not pumpkins, but zucchini looks reasonable.

This all assumes that there is a reasonable amount of gardening being done, however. This requires space and materials, but so does any solution to the food problem.

As for the comment someone made about it taking a long time to build soil, I've had squash growing directly out of my compost pile, so I don't see that as a major problem. I don't even manage my compost pile very well. It's mainly a heap of kitchen garbage kept in a bin with an open bottom resting on the ground. So if compost were reasonably chopped and mixed with gravel or fairly coarse sand there shouldn't be a problem. It not the best approach, but people have been using poorly managed compost piles for centuries. I'm less sanguine about adding fecal material to the mix. This will almost certainly be necessary, but will require managing things much more carefully. I'm not sure what beetles you need to make compost work well, but you certainly need worms. And some of them can be removed as a decent protein supplement.

N.B.: Since you are talking about this as a multi-year mission, I don't think this is excessive. Carting along supplies instead of an ecosystem would probably be more expensive.

12:

Some sort of fungus, with canned cranberry sauce on top. (It's not Thanksgiving without canned cranberry sauce.)

13:

They would probably choose to mark the anniversary at 687 days, not 365.

The Earth-sourced delicacies would be the only "special" foods. Anything else that they can produce themselves will probably be available in enough quantity to eat regularly, and therefor not "special". So the question really reduces to what food would Martian settlers grow?

It takes more than one Martian year to grow and ferment wine, but there would be time to brew some beer if they grew grain. It would no doubt be nasty to our palates, as every possible variable would be different from Earth's crops, and it takes many iterations to dial the recipe in. (Just ask any novice homebrewer.)

14:

For a celebration? Luxury food brought from Earth. Zubrin fed his martian explorers exclusively from Earth; I forget his numbers, but I found them pretty convincing.

15:

Hmm. Within those constraints, meat isn't happening, unless the astronauts are willing to practice entemophagy. Because that's an interesting thought, I'll come back to it after the more realistic purely-vegetarian analysis. ^^

Meat substitutes like seitan, which is about the best there is at mimicking texture and flavor of meat. Tofu is definitely going to be a part of the diet (I don't consider it a meat substitute myself, prefer to eat it as is, but that's how most Westerners seem to use it); I suppose in keeping with the theme I should suggest something like Tofurkey. ;p

Bread, if you have wheat available. Rice if you have that available.

Root veggies, roasted or mashed -- rutabaga and turnip, sweet potato if those turn out to work okay (my understanding of biology suggests they might not as easily form tubers en route, but I suspect they'd grow better on-site). Not so sure about "Candied" -- I don't think there'll be the sugar for that. If squashes/melons and nightshades work, then there'll be the added variety of potatoes, eggplant, peppers, squashes, cucumber and other melons.

Salads and cooked greens aplenty, mostly of the brassica family but some lettuces as well, with radishes for kick. Split pea soup. Cucumber salad, Chinese-style might be good. Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, cabbage, baak choi, gai lan. Some in-pod peas and beans of the soft, fresh kinds.

Sauces, marinades and sauteed preparations will probably involve lots of ginger, garlic and onion. Shoyu can be made from the soybeans and wheat gluten. Sesame seeds, and sesame oil for flavor. Peanut butter. You can make all kinds of bean-based pastes, sauces and such.

Pickles: sauerkraut, pickled radish (Japanese style), kimchi...

They really need to pack along some lemon seeds for citrus planetside, methinks. Strawberries would be a big moral booster. Packing along sugar seems extravagant; it's hard to think of a primarily-sugar crop that does well under these conditions too, so they probably won't have very much of it. Possibly someone will figure out how to refine it out of the sweet potatoes, but I'm a bit doubtful.

So, entemophagy! Westerners don't like this much. In Thailand it's normal. In China and Japan, it's not exactly ubiquitous but there are plenty of examples. So nationality will make the big difference here, I suspect. Regardless, insects are hardy, don't use much life support, scale well in terms of population, eat leftovers, and have an extremely favorable protein-conversion ratio.

Silkworms can be fed on an artificial diet these days; you don't need to worry about mulberry leaves. They also don't have any urge to escape whatsoever, because they're hyperdomesticated (they won't even go looking for food if it's not presented to them), and the eggs keep in cold storage a long time. You boil the cocoons and then roast the pupae on skewers; the silk you can use for anything silk has ever been used for. I don't know if the astronauts will bite, but if they do it'd be worth it for the protein.

16:

Unfortunately, I think this is probably absolutely correct. Colonists tend to eat each other even when there's perfectly edible vegetation outside.

17:

This problem is already solved:

http://www.quorn.us/products/Turk%27y_Roast.aspx

I confess that I've never tried quorn. TVP, where the V comes from soy, can be pretty good.

18:


> it's hard to think of a primarily-sugar crop that does well under these conditions too

Sugar beets?

19:

Sugar beets is one. More to the point, if you can grow just about any kind of starchy tuber (especially potatoes) and take along a yeast strain hacked to produce amylase you can boil the spuds then crack the starch to glucose, then distil it. Depends how much spare energy you've got, I suppose.

20:

I think before I sent people on a one way trip to the next planet over I'd throw a lot of unmanned units that way containing everything a growing boy needs. Lots cheaper/simpler than the manned mission. So I'm actually going to vote for turkey for the holidays.

21:

The process of refining sugar from beets involves a lot of water and big machinery. It seems prohibitive to try it under those conditions; I'm not sure how economically you can downscale it. Refining sugar takes a lot of work, so much so that it was a luxury item like most expensive spices. It wasn't until the 1500s it started to be produced economically in bulk, and a *lot* of that involved massive amounts of slavery...

22:

Why the Meat ? ..Oh that's not hard in terms of Human Civilization. Once we are past small tribe Ape/Dog Pursuit Predator Packs and into really complex city based Agriculture supported Civilisation MEAT becomes a luxury for The Simple Folk, and those American Colonists who were gifted with TURKEY would have appreciated it as a Feast of RARITY.

So, Food as FEAST of Celebration and Survival for Martian Colonists who are close to the edge of Starvation and would welcome some sort of Religious /Quasi religious ..STROSS DAY in Honour of OUR Profit sic ..who would welcome MEAT as being Religious and RARE .. er, dunno what ..GOAT ? goats eat anything, but then so do PIGS - there must be something that would work in a cost benefit equation, and which could recycle waste in a low grav environment ... apart from Soylent Green /Long Pig type solutions.

I don't utterly Rule Out Soylent Green /Long Pig as a High Point of Religious Celebration but would rule it as being unlikely given the likelihood of present High Tech civilisations descendants doing the Celebration.

Mind you there are people who are already thinking of
Age of Sail Ships Biscuit solutions in the New World of Tomorrow ...


http://www.thinkgeek.com/caffeine/wacky-edibles/e9aa/

23:

I second the notion that the marked anniversary will be after 687 days - in which case there would likely be a fresh supply of food from earth.

Of course on mars they would have to grow some staples to provide for somewhat balanced nutrition. Something starchy, something tasty, some protein etc. Being the central European I am, I would be biased towards potatoes, peas, beans, onions, carrots etc.

There would be a lot of small patches for variety with salad, radish, parsley, chives, dill, different kinds of cabbage, paprika, chili etc. I'm hesitant to include tropical plants (sugar cane, pineapple?) because heating would probably be a problem and you don't really need C4 photosynthesis when you can have whatever CO2 level you want. I also don't quite see the point of growing grains, because preservation will not be a problem, given Martian climate.

I'm quite sure that meat will be rare, but there. Probably birds and rodents (rabbits?) eating the indigestible portion of the crop. Again, there should be some diversity, because you never know what will happen to your only population.

There won't be any milk unless it's powder from earth. So, this is not going to be a cakewalk - for lack of cake. A lot of spices will also have to come from off-planet.

24:

Quorn is nice. It's mushroom protein IIRC and some proportion of the planet seem to struggle to digest it nicely, but that's easily picked up in training. Quorn can also be relatively easily flavoured to a variety of tastes - you can certainly make decent fish, chicken and turkey flavour, and even things like veggie cumberland sausages.

I only eat it occasionally, for the trimmings mostly, preferring more traditional veggie fare, but I often use a lot of spices, putting flavours into quorn rather than via spices might be a very acceptable route to take.

25:

Oh, I obviously forgot some oily plants. So, add some rape-seed, sunflowers or whatever comes to your mind.

26:

Gee, I'd have thought that their meal was coming out of a 3-D printer. The actual content would be primarily prokaryotic or simple eukaryotic cells, but with enough flavorings, it might at least taste like Thanksgiving.

As for the alcohol, the simplest form I've ever done was the following recipe for hard cider. It came from a guy on a Forest Service trail crew. They'd hide a couple of these out at the end of the trail they cleared, for a treat when they got to the end two weeks later...

1 gallon apple cider in a jug
2 cups sugar
2 packets bread yeast
1 balloon (the biggest and toughest you can find)
duck tape

Mix the cider, sugar and yeast. Tape the balloon to the mouth of the jug, and make sure you've got a good seal. The balloon will inflate with the CO2, but so long as it doesn't burst, it works as a vapor lock to keep the air out. Wait 2-3 weeks, and drink. It's pretty good.

If you're on Mars, you've got gravity (which keeps the liquid in the jug. So as long as you have a container, a sugar solution, some yeast, and a balloon (duck tape is assumed), you can make alcohol.

27:

I third the quorn idea and the 687 days comments, and would like to plug my own post on "Martian Christmas" - see link in my name.

28:

I've never been convinced by the "Mars to Stay" mission profile for a first outing. All it results in is shuffling of the development schedules of the technologies and personal/political impetus you need for a permanent presence.

A Mars mission to stay will still need the capacity to regenerate atmospheric, water, rover fuel, fertilizer, explosives, and so forth, and so it'll need an atmospheric ISRU capability- and that same capability makes a return mission a tractable, couple-or-three booster affair- boosters you are already liable to expend on the extra cargo for permanent habitation. Said ISRU plant is pretty trivial in the scheme of vast space projects, being all gaslight-era chemistry (I built one from salvage for under $1K, as a school project, and lots of universities have had similar experiences,) but the same cannot be said for closed loop agriculture.

Now, granted, said ISRU plant obviates the need for the ridiculous degree of closure that tried to kill everyone in Biosphere 2, for instance, but it still represents a discrete technological capability that has some elements- like Martian g and radiation exposure- that are challenging to simulate on Earth, and you might want to have a chance to experiment with in situ before anyone's life depended on it. Rocket engines, molecular sieves, and catalyst beds are not so particular.

Lastly, we'll want a return capability eventually- we want a multi-planet civilization, not a penal colony- and there is no mission that will have a greater probability of needing to come home, and of everyone wanting to bring things home (including themselves) than the very first one. Geologists are going to be wanting gobs of rocks to go over themselves, and apply their newest analytical technique, and the biomed folks will be wanting to see what Martian g does to a person (is it more like Earth, or more like zero-g?,) and so forth, not to mention that anything unforeseen and catastrophic to present conceptions of colonization- problems with selection, or Martian fines causing lung cancer, or war with the natives, whatever- are going to be easier to resolve by departure and iteration than by counting on some Apollo 13-esque miracle working.

As often as not, the one-way/day-one colonization arguments make a weird right turn after the mass fraction arguments, which are sound, into some serious-men fantasias about the colonization of the Americas, omitting both the round-trip nature of exploration for at least a hundred years, and the fundamental differences in assured habitability of a place that had wandering slabs of meat, fresh water, breathable air, and an extant population of humans to ask for advice, trade with, or rob, and the 10 millibars-of-freezing-poison that is Mars.

So, what's that mean for Thanksgiving? If they are using a sensible conjunction mission profile, they'll be on the surface for eighteen months, which would require me to bust out some tables to see if there are windows in the foreseeable future where they have two Thanksgivings. A majority of the calories are probably going to be imported- but all the oxygen in the water the use to constitute it will have been cracked out of the Martian atmosphere by reverse water-gas shift. The indigenous portion of the feast will likely be distinguished by variety- whoever has a job resembling a biologist will have been furiously experimenting with the broadest seed stock anyone could send to see what will tolerate Martian regolith or derived nutrient teas with varying degrees of adulterants- I imagine herbs will be plentiful, since they are small and valuable to humans living on packaged food, salad greens for the same reason, and folks back home will probably be excited by their results from growing caloricly dense plants like sweet potatoes. Local meat probably won't be on the table-the life cycle effectiveness of growing animals will depend on the success growing local plants, which hasn't been yet established and can be worked out on Earth once some successful, definitive parameters are worked out. The population of mice, amphibians, and fish they brought with them are probably already spoken for on Earth, where they might arrive happily, or might be sent in LN2.

Lastly, I imagine they'll be having a go with some mushrooms that will get some euphemistic press back home, seeing as they are grown on the crew's shit blended with whatever plants have expired in the test greenhouse. Omnivore manure isn't ideal for mushroom cultivation, but there's still too much bacterial protein sitting there to let go to waste when the experiment can fit in a dark closet.

29:

Quorn is, alas, grown on egg albumen. (This is a real downer for $SPOUSE, who is allergic to something in eggs and a veggie to boot.) More to the point, unless they find a substitute, it's unlikely to be on the grown-on-Mars list for a while.

30:

365 days are be a long time but not under the timeframe of building a colony/station from scratch. First securing the ships/building, testing the life support systems, first explorations, building the greenhouse, starting to grow, crop failures, learning of Mars-farming. I image the mark of an earthyear is a good point in time to celebrate that now finally works everything as planned, e.g. the greenhouse produces the whole variety of intended plants and plenty of them for all astronauts. No more protein bars! Let's celebrate our harvest! Well, Thanksgiving is a variant of the thousand different harvest festivals of human culture.

In a way the antique/middle-age roots of harvest festivals and the hard life of the peasants and their meals are my frame of reference for the explorers meals. Work is much and hard, days are long and preplanned. Only a few mars-grown plants are available, meat is a no-go. For everyday I image a nutrient-rich, easy-to-prepare meal on this basis, porridges, stews, maybe currys. A thanksgiving meal wouldn't have to have special ingredients but could simply have a lot more variety, more opulence than the everyday meals, just to escape the terror of the daily porridge.

And maybe for this occasion the greenhouse could be used for some plants which are not exactly efficient in factors of used space, time to grow, difficulty to grow and used nutrients. Tomatoes. Water-intensive, space-intensive, not really the plant you want to grow under this conditions. Maybe some, then dried and used as an additive for flavoring other meals. But as a small luxury, mars-grown tomatoes, eaten as they are, could be rationalized for Thanksgiving. Maybe there are even some fresh herbs. Watching how fast I can go through a bush of basil I can't imagine that someone uses premium space in the greenhouse for everyday use of this plant. But for this occasion, yay.

Speaking of herbs: I'd use some of the allowed kgs of earth food not for delicacies but for something much more important: spices. Some articles about life in the ISS and the Mir tell me that in this controlled environment the astronauts prefer strongly spiced meals, maybe because of the weightlessness, maybe for other reasons like the closed air-conditioned system. Maybe that phenomena still exists in the shelters on mars. Luxury could be simply a special curry mixture brought from earth.

31:

It's MARS, right?
Mostly sand, right?

Roast Shai-Hulud, obviously!

32:

I would disagree slightly that meat is unlikely for a celebration. My reasoning is that you are correct, having meat is an unnecessary and expensive expenditure of resources. However for a special occasion I would imagine that the astronauts might fire up a bioreactor built with the latest advances in regenerative medicine in mind (important for some medical procedures they may need to perform) but with the dual function to also produce steak from small cow explants.

33:

Vat grown has been mentioned, how about genetically engineered grass that can grow on martian soil and genetically engineered cows that can live there and eat it.

We are on the verge of a biotech revolution following on the heels of the computer revolution, after all...

34:

They'll eat the same as we do on Old Earth - food grown from poop. For early Martians though it'll mainly be derived from their own poop rather than a bunch of other lifeform's, and other people's, poop as it is here. Makes all the difference apparently...

35:

Same thing they eat every Friday night: tinned meat from Earth. They're going to need a large stack of preserved food - which weighs an awful lot less than the kit to set up a closed ecosystem - in order to meet contingencies if their ecosystem fails to deliver, or fades out for a time. So they may as well eat some of their stockpile: indeed, because it's going to have a finite shelf-life, they are going to need to eat some of it every so often. Then sterilise the residue and bung it on the compost.

The interesting question is: what do they eat after ten years? My money's on chicken.

36:

Roasted thoat.

37:

You'd have to do some math on this, but I'm wondering if integrated farming techniques might make it feasible to get a bit of meat on the table.

Basically, you feed your top tier animal (chicken, pig, duck, whatever), then feed fish (catfish, tilapia) with the...output. Animal and fish manure further fertilizes whatever grain (rice, probably- if you're keeping water around for fish) you're using to feed the top animal.
It reduces that brutal 10fold energy loss going from plant to herbivore.

38:

Stereotypical: Woodchuck. With slime-mold.

39:

They'll probably be having Rabbit.

"One Giant Leap."
www.spacearchitect.org/pubs/Gangale-19990812.pdf

But other novel ideas are Guinea Pigs and Edible Dormice.

Rabbits score strongly because they help produce good soil via their dung, and breed rapidly, but Guinea Pigs do so as well and although the Edible Dormouse does not, they are small enough to raise in a small space as an early Martian Habitat will likely be.

40:

Something I'm noticing, and I suspect it's a cultural rather than a personal failing, but a lot of people are talking as though the human actors in this particular context are separate to the ecosystem they're going to need, rather than being intimately involved with it. Let's not forget to factor in human waste, human needs, human consumption and production as part of the ecosphere - because if we don't remember those things, we're going to wind up "getting the sums all wrong" to start with.

Also, I'd remind folks of the weight allowances for the long journey out (the journey itself is about 500 days, if I remember correctly) - unless we've managed to really work up in-vitro technologies to a high level (and created a well-shielded embryo bank inside the ship) our intrepid pioneers aren't likely to have access to large, complex organisms of the nature of fish, amphibians or even reptiles, much less birds or small mammals. Some insects, possibly. But I suspect it's much more likely the initial crops will be things which can either be wind-pollinated, or hand-pollinated (because most of the insect pollinators aren't going to be present).

41:

Unless the colonists are really on their own, then I concur with others who think that meat will be sent their way via unmanned vehicles. I've been most impressed with the tiny landing ellipse for the upcoming MSL. That should make sending food supplies and their collection feasible.

If the colonists are on their own, then fish and/or rabbits. Fish if algae are easy to grow, rabbits if grass can be grown easily (wind pollination, no insects required). Vegetables - the usual ones that can be grown from seed or vegetatively propagated. Mushrooms might be possible. If you can grow grass, then other grains including maize should be possible.

For flavoring, salt. But no pepper unfortunately.

My guess is that gene engineered bugs or crops will allow the range of flavors wanted, including various spices.

42:

Many crops are selfing, which means that they are self-fertile without need for any pollinators at all.

43:

It strikes me that the hedonic improvement at the margin above the minimal agricultural recycling system is likely to be quite high, and that mission designers might prefer that the astronauts have significant variety on hand not simply for culinary reasons. If they're only capable of growing potatoes, something has gone dreadfully wrong.

My guess would be a ceremonial mock turkey of some sort, maybe constructed along the lines of Chinese Buddhist vegetarian dishes that simulate meat, but with a molecular gastronomy twist.

44:

> A lot of spices will also have to come from off-planet.

Many, I'm sure, but chiles, horseradish, ginger, garlic and similar should be Mars-growable. That should get you to some tolerably tasty eats.

45:


> Quorn is, alas, grown on egg albumen.

I checked on that and there seems to be a vegan-acceptable version that uses potato starch instead of egg albumen. No idea of whether that's really so, or, if it is, if it is something that one would want to eat.

46:

I guess one thing about the meat issue is that (unless I'm missing one) we don't have any real examples of human cultures that have diets free of at least animal products- even the vegetarian ones like a bit of butter or milk or eggs now and again.
Given the absence of any other totally vegetarian great apes (even the gorilla snacks down on ants), a small amount of animal products may be somehow essential for long-term human health. B-12 sources are the obvious ones (hope the yeast vats keep working if you want a substitute for that), but there may be others...

47:

I guess one thing about the meat issue is that (unless I'm missing one) we don't have any real examples of human cultures that have diets free of at least animal products- even the vegetarian ones like a bit of butter or milk or eggs now and again.

Never lived with a vegan, have you? (I will note that vegans generally breast-feed babies; but that seems to be the only phase of the human life-cycle during which we have an obligate animal-food requirement.)

Butter and milk are probably right out, as long as they're dependant on milk cows (which in turn require a bull -- or some semen -- and veal calves somewhere in the background). On the other hand, plant-oil based margarine and soya milk fill the gap quite well.

Eggs ...

Has anyone demonstrated delayed/suspended animation (or freezing and revival) of fertilized chicken eggs? I suspect chickens would be a nightmare to keep alive/healthy/under control during an interplanetary mission, but on arrival a couple of pre-fertilized eggs would be a nice thing to hatch out once the vegetable-based greenhouses are up. The energy loss in going from plant mass to animal mass seems to be lower with domestic fowl than with other animals, they're compact, and I suspect eggs would be both a useful protein source and a morale source -- not to mention egg albumin being a key ingredient in many recipes.

(Carlos notes the applicability of Chinese Buddhist vegetarian cuisine; that's entirely correct, but some of their products work a lot better with eggs. There's also the Japanese shōjin-ryōri cuisine, which AIUI is pretty much vegan, but it is not to all tastes and seems to be very labour intensive.)

48:

Cultures, not people. Whether it's a matter of some biological need or just that our ancestors and other species in the great apes grabbed easy and dense nutrient sources whenever possible I guess we'll find out with a few more decades of vegans. Could go either way, but the total absence of historical all-veggie no animal societies gives some pause for thought.

That and you'll have to supplement with other sources of B-12-- plants aren't going to cut it, and (after looking at nutritonal yeast closer) you might actually need a separate bacterial culture to produce your cyanocobalamin. Of course, bacteria are easier to transport than animals...

49:

Charlie,

there's a few vegan Quorn things as well which use potato proteins. Worth keeping an eye out for those I guess.

50:

Why all these assumptions that the astronauts are going to have to build things when they arrive? Surely it would make much more sense to ship things a couple of years in advance and have robots (autonomous or remote controlled) erect and initialize a simple ecosystem?

With this method one can run the ecosystem for a good while before the astronauts get there to ensure it works and to allow some of the slower growing things to get started.

In this scenario, the astronauts arrive at a pre-constructed base which they know can probably sustain them, even if something unexpected happens and a crew-member is injured, falls ill, etc.

As to what to eat, I defer that question to the biologists.

51:

there's a few vegan Quorn things as well which use potato proteins.

Strangely, neither the Quorn website nor the Vegan Society seem to know anything about this. The former notes "Since all Quorn products contain a small amount of egg white, and most also contain milk ingredients, they are not suitable for vegans", which I take to be authoritative on the matter.

52:

If energy input is so critical that meat production, using non-human-digestible components of plants, is impossible, your margins are too narrow.

53:

Though that was meant as a joke, the Donner Party (or its corporate alternative, Soylent Green, you know) seems like one of the more sensible dead meat disposal solutions on Mars, alternatives being:

plain burial out of base: Well, bodies buried in Mars soil are not likely to decompose in an earthly way, and there are no scavengers. The temperatures reach around 20°C in some places, so will get autolysis and bacteria growth, but this is likely to make the problem worse, not solve it. In other places though, temperatures of about -50°C ensure that you get the Ötzi the Ice Man treatment. Very fast. So burying the dead, err, temporarily biologically challenged near the base seems like a bad idea, especially since any sandstorm carries the risk of turning you serene place of rememberance into the Catacombe dei Cappuccini

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombe_dei_Cappuccini

which is something of an acquired taste. Internment in stone tombs might be more of an option, if it's possible.

cremation: Err, you're proposing we use precious oxygen and more precious fuel? 'nuff said?

plain burial in base: More likely; I'd like to put this into a somewhat seperated area though. Problems are, first of it take some deciyears to decompose a human body, second of, I really hope you have the right insects ready, one could look at the Australian dung situation as an example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Dung_Beetle_Project

With this in mind, might take some time to implement and be only feasable on bigger bases.

excarnation: I'd use this to describe some techniques that have been historically used by people sometimes in similar conditions of little soil, cold and dry climate, e.g. Tibetan highlanders etc. The nice customs some Zoroastrians have might also relate to the conditions in the Central Asian steppe or the various montain ranges there. Search for 'sky burial' to get somenice pictures.

There are many variants, most include that part or whole of the flesh is removed from the bones, sometimes to ease the action of other scavengers. Sometimes, the body is only left to the scavengers. What happens to the bones is another variant, disposal or veneration come to mind.

A modern variant'd be the tissue digestion with alkaline substances, where only part of the bones remain, without collagen etc. though so they're a little brittle; main problem is what to do with the, err, soup:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tissue_digestion

Alkaline substances should be relatively easy to get by, e.g. by hydrolysis of alkali metal salts. But then, what to do with the resulting solution? You could use it to sprinkle the garden plants. Or you could use it to feed, well, there we go, either some other organisms that are food sources, or, well, humans themselves, especially in the beginning when there is little in the way of an ecosystem. I concur that's played somewhat for the shock values, though.

As for actual animals in food, well, it seems like in rodents, orexin get's released by protein-rich food, how this scales to humans is up to debate:

http://www.biomedicalblog.com/orexin-neurons-increase-wakefulness-and-weight-loss-in-response-to-protein-consumption/90100/

Of course, one could easily circumvent this one with genetically modified plants; if we go for animals, I'd go with the biochemist (was it Otto Warburg?) who said he only cultivated fishes, since warm blooded animals tended to waste heat to the environment. So fishes, insects, annelid, molluscs etc. are fine.

As for Thanksgiving (or Erntedankfest in September), what about feeding the proteins etc. from the latter to a fabber.

"Print me a steak, medium rare."

54:

i like your point about no need for manual labour. My bet is they would eat better food than we would on earth through building abundant resources in like 10 years in advance of arrival. There's no point in being frugal here, we already have great technology, and it's only improving. Or rather, is there any point? I don't see why do you all assume shortage of electrical power. I think they can plant or keep whatever they want, with water, soil, enough food-waste for animals, and energy makes all of those attainable.

55:

Feeding animals with non-digestible parts of plants is a common and entirely reasonable part of agriculture around the world. Also because it extends the margins, but why should that be a problem?

But you'd be silly not to do it.

Also, by extension of the argument you might break down the whole agricultural system into its components and make the same claim about each of them. If you need pesticides, your margins are too narrow anyway. If you need a constant input of fertilizer, your margins are too narrow. If you need special breeds of plants, your margins are too narrow etc.

You don't start with a concept and then start adding things to get a margin. You start with a concept, make it as good as possible, and then look at your margins. Farmers have never regarded any part of it as dispensable - although people telling farmers how do their job occasionally do.

56:

Since people need to eat regularly, and eating together seems to be part of most cultures' celebrations and important to morale, I'd first pre-screen prospective colonists for diet: nutritional requirements, caloric needs, food sensitivities or allergies, etc.

Depending on how you weight these selection criteria, I think that most of the prospects making the cut would be vegan -- smaller bodies, lower body weight, lower metabolic requirements, etc. Then, I'd screen for technical qualifications. I think that this approach rather than screening for technical approach and then trying to satisfy a potentially long laundry list of preferences/dietary requirements would better ensure success -- long-term survival and less kvetching.

As for celebratory foods -- it would depend on the food preference profile of the successful mission candidates. Chances are that this would include only a greater helping of rare ingredients - spices, herbs including stevia for sweetening and maybe a touch of meat of the closet carnivores. You'd still have to work on producing meat products for the long term since the next generation would likely include at least some carnivores.

Chick peas would probably thrive in a hydroponics environment and are already very widely consumed in many forms can be used to make desserts.

Meat - Goats (eat anything and provide milk) and frogs. Frogs can be frozen and revived, most are carnivores, i.e. eat insects, but there may be some species that are vegetarian. And they taste like chicken. (Question: Does anyone know whether frogs eat their/each others' eggs during a famine? If yes, then you could cultivate/farm them more easily and probably be better able to schedule their availability.)

57:

As an alternative, what is our colonists eat...NOTHING. Our colonists don their VR/Matrix gear, invoke the Thanksgiving setting and enjoy a virtual feast with full sensory input to simulate the sense of eating and drinking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Why assume that they will simulate something from several hundred years ago?

58:

There was the report this earlier this year on a Japanese group that have managed to make something edible and steak-like from human waste protein (from faeces). I have no idea whether the procedure is the most effective use of human waste in the colony, but it might be a source for a celebration meal.

59:

Why assume that they will simulate something from several hundred years ago?

Because we're not talking colonists, we're talking astronauts on a first manned research mission, not more than fifty years in the future (and hopefully quite a lot less).

60:

If you need meat, then…The Polynesian explorers brought with them chicken, pig, dog and rats. All of whom was eaten. Under the limitations that you would like to cel-ebrate already one terrestrial year after establishing the base, I would bet on rats being the way to go. Rats are fast breeders. Some of the participants on a Martian trip will probably have prior experience breeding them. Additional advantage: would make nice pets while waiting on the celebration.

61:

Why assume that [astronauts] will simulate something from several hundred years ago?

Because we're not talking colonists, we're talking astronauts on a first manned research mission, not more than fifty years in the future (and hopefully quite a lot less).

If astronauts are on a one way mission, then you can call them colonists..or stranded. In any case, they have to make do with the resources they have. Those resources are quite likely to include quite sophisticated electronic entertainment systems which may well include VR simulations, sensory stimulation, etc, for as long as they continue to function.

We already simulate artifacts on holidays - artificial xmas trees, lights as candles, video log fires, fake snow.... Why not assume that this will be carried to a much further extent using the best technology available for our astronauts?

In practice, I would bet that the Mars base will be stocked with a lot of frozen food - including turkey - for at least some variety and use on special occasions. I would certainly not expect our astronauts to have to grow all their own food with all the risks that incurs.

So if our astronauts are American (and why are you assuming that?) then I would expect some sort of turkey (real or simulated) to be available.

62:

Given a local source of water it sounds pretty trivial to bring a "starter kit" of biologicals to Mars. Seeds weigh very little, so do a few packets of soil microbes and enough fish and shrimp to start with.

Also, consider that there is no need for a closed loop on Mars, things like water, trace elements,carbon, nitrates and phosphorous can be added as needed, in fact they will have to be added to expand the life support systems.

Inflatable greenhouses in a gully sounds like a good start, replacing them with more permanent structures manufactured on site sounds like a good first settlement project.

63:

Vat grown is reasonable AFTER we get nano-machinery working. (Possibly MSMs could do it.) Currently the tools used to build the stuff are *far* too bulky. And one estimate that I saw recently said that not-quite-working-yet process involved folding the stuff over itself thousands of times.

When we get all the bugs out, it would still require huge amounts of externalities. Growth media, stimulants, enzymes, etc. each of which needs to be available. So you need a factory that can synthesize all that from available raw materials and is portable. I think the correct term for something like that is "egg". (At the moment. And for at least the rest of the decade, and probably the next one, too.)

Given the likely conditions of the Mars mission that seems to mean bird or lizard or fish. Because of the inefficiencies of warm blooded metabolism, I think that fish or lizard is more reasonable. And you want it to be vegetarian, so probably something like tilapia or iguana. (Which one really depends on how you are using the water you MUST have available. But tilapia could be grown in the same tank as the algae and other water plants that would be grown for other reasons. Iguana would need a separate area. FWIW, iguana are reported to "taste like chicken". Unfortunately, this probably just means they don't have a strong flavor.)

64:

If astronauts are on a one way mission, then you can call them colonists..or stranded.

Stranded, then.

The amount of training it takes to become an astronaut is non-trivial. Secondly, to be an astronaut and be usefully productive as a fieldwork geologist or xenobiologist, which is what we're really talking about sending to Mars -- there's no point sending test pilots, is there? -- probably requires the equivalent of at least a PhD on top. Two years for basic astronaut training, eight years for higher ed plus PhD, and you'll be lucky to be aged under 30 before you start out for Mars.

More to the point, folks who want to have a family and who haven't already done so are lousy candidates for a mission that is going to expose them to high radiation levels for over a year -- indeed, to close to a lifetime permissible dose level, with a measurable increase in their percentage probability of contracting cancer.

So my guess is the first Mars astronauts will be physically fit forty-somethings, and raising kids on Mars will be way off the bottom of their to-do list.

65:

Most animals can't digest cellulose. The main exceptions are ruminants, which tend to be large. Another exception is termites. (Note that in both cases the actual digestion is done by microbes.) For this reason I think a compost pile will be needed (to eliminate the middleman), though you could have some animal process the stuff that people can't profitably eat before composting it. Unless you think it's worth investing in experimental termite cultivation. The ruminants are too large for a first base, even if it *is* a multi-year stay. (They also have too long a life cycle for a base that's going to be there for less than a decade.)

*IF* birds are included, it should probably be pigeons. Squab is normally considered delicious, and pigeons will eat nearly anything. Besides, people have raised them for centuries, so we know they domesticate well. They aren't a good source of eggs, however. which is an argument in favor of chickens. but I'm a bit dubious, even though chickens *are* low maintenance, and don't require much space. Roosters can be unpleasant (not a big problem), but for a two year mission that seems excessive, unless what you ship are eggs. But I don't know that eggs can be frozen and revived. And I really doubt that it could be done without a lot of equipment that there wouldn't be any other use for. And 3-4 pigeons can be shipped in the space of one medium sized hen. If you ship, say, six, then the pigeons can reproduce when they get there. (Est. 6 months to maturity., possibly two clutches in 3 months.) If you can manage it, chickens have a much higher payoff, but pigeons would probably take fewer resources to get started. (OTOH, I still think that either is excessive, and for a more minimal base you should go with either a vegetarian fish or a vegetarian lizard. And fish tend to reproduce more vigorously.)

66:

All right then ..hypothesising an experimental sciences mission that would cram in various experiments and tasks within a mission profile we could certainly have eggs to Chickens - or even Turkeys. Indeed if someone or other hasn't tried to raise chicks from eggs in zero g then why haven't they done so ? Seems to be an obvious 'What would happen if ? ' to me.

So what else could we have in a Mars Mission Portfolio of Experimental Stuff that might even be possible even without human supervision in the confines of an unmanned cargo supply vessel?

Hows about Suspended Animation? Not advanced Freezing of Humans for Interstellar Large Slow Rock flights but a precursor before you try freezing astronauts ... PIGS IN SPACE ! Albeit, metabolism slowed to near death frozen, Pigs in Space? Or maybe Goats or Guinea Pigs or all of these things ? Thus if the Experiment proves to have failed when the Tinned Apes part of the mission arrives then at least you have tenderised Meat for Thanksgiving on Mars.

Makes Perfect Sense to me.

67:

Another strategy is to play with sensory perceptions.

Adopt a pre-feast "fasting" period during which the usual fare is gradually blanded-down in flavour but not in nutrients and feast foods would be tweaked to increase their flavour. Plus/minus 8%-10% would be perceptible.

Consider serving foods warmer (at a higher temperature) than usual since this also tends to increase perception of flavour. Allowing more/intensifying the aroma into the dining area also enhances flavour perception.

68:

@ 57
YES
Frogs eat frog-eggs

69:

Supposedly they're only just beginning to put them out. It's a bit weird though that they're not mentioned on the Quorn site.

http://www.unleashed.org.au/community/forum/topic.php?t=6444

70:

"In the absence of natives bearing turducken roast, what are they likely to be eating? "

Chinese food on account of them being Chinese

71:

I've mentioned squid and octopus. Plus, at the Government/Industry/University Moon Base and Mars Base workshop at DisneyWorld about 20 years ago, where I was paid to be Secretary (i.e. editor of the Executive Summary of the gig Proceedings) -- there were many votes for Goat. Part of the recyclying system, and provide milk and meat. The organizer of the event, by the way, was Stewart Nozette, who had dramatic a run-in with the FBI that you can find by Googling.

72:

Next thread: the guests at the party. What kind of a team do we need?

Your joke about a lesbian Maoist commune apart, what specialisations will we need to find Maoist lesbians for? That's another way of saying "what are the mission science goals and, those achieved, what are the logistical support requirements?"

(Actually, the record of far-left groupuscules rather suggests that boring aerospace types would be less likely to have an irreconcilable schism on the Martian surface, as actual Maoists seem to manage to fall out catastrophically in London.)

73:

Automated ecologies - Silent Running anyone? Can just picture Huey, Dewey and Louie waiting patiently for the first arrivals...

74:

Unlike Plymouth Rock, the Indians will really be Indians.

75:

If I were a vegan, I would sing "Seitan is my motor" (re:@15).

To the many other reasonable suggestions like tilapia and tomatoes, I would add azolla ferns, which grow aquatically and harbor a non-toxic nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium, a consortium which may be getting used to fix nitrogen for crops already.

While I have not tasted this myself, I have heard from other Mars Society members that azolla with rice is not all that bad.

I believe a staple will be sugar water supplemented with nutrients. Perhaps by IV.

76:

Also, some strains of Nostoc species of cyanobacteria, related to the ones in Azolla, grow into large spherical colonies, which are eaten in some cuisines.

With a lot of MSG and artificial flavorings, they might seem celebratory.

77:

Small side note: gotta be a little careful with cyanobacteria. Some of them are quite toxic. Yes, this is true for many families of crop plants, but I've seen commercially available "wild cultured" cyanobacteria, and it makes me cringe. Quality control and proper taxonomy is a bit harder with unicellular organisms than it is with crops, since they are a bit smaller....

78:

To be sure, however the strains used for Mars food will surely be engineered to not produce toxins. Indeed, IIRC, Anabaena, the symbiont of Azolla, is a taxon that produces toxins in nature.

Spirulina, OTOH, while not such a symbiont, doesn't produce toxins, at least not at the highly alkaline pH it is typically grown at (to inhibit the growth of other bacteria, making it safe for human consumption, if not our taste buds).

79:

"Energy loss" has been mentioned in context of going from plants to meat. I'm not sure I understand what that means in context. Unless something miraculous happens with regard to solar cell efficiency, you probably brought a nuclear power plant along to provide heat and electricity. It'll do to keep inflatable farm domes warm. A bunch of megawatts at hand is too useful to forego without some dire reason.

80:

It's probably cheaper to culture strains that are non-toxic than to engineer those strains to be non-toxic.

Aside from that, I joke about using 3-D printers for food, but considering the way industrial food production now works, it may be simpler for the first Mars explorers to grow feedstocks rather than food plants, and to process and yes, print out their food, rather than trying to transport enough of a garden setup to keep them supplied with a variety of food plants for their stay.

Personally, I'd prefer the latter, but they may well have to grow micro-dwarf plants to get enough production, fast enough, in such a small space. Think tomatoes the size of peas, for example. That's one that NASA already has.

As for animals, things like crickets or termites might be useful, because they can eat the non-food plant debris, make manure, and grow fast (at least compared to a chicken or rabbit).

81:

On the other hand, making the majority of your diet out of Spirulina is just asking for the fun of gout.

82:

Before my crappy internet went down for an hour, I was trying to post that I realized that I had used both "toxic" and "non-toxic" to refer to the symbiont, but that I was assuming, but don't know, that the symbiotic form didn't generate the toxin.

If you were growing Azolla, to fix carbon, and you wanted it to fix nitrogen as well, you'd have to use Anabaena as the symbiont, so if it were in fact potentially toxic you'd have to use an engineered version.

Several species of cyanobacteria are relatively easy to engineer, so I doubt it would be a problem to make SafeAzolla™

I didn't realize that beyond being inedible, Spirulina leads to gout. As if I needed another reason not to try it.

83:

The fact that I am speaking of Thanksgiving in the same breath as cyanobacteria now reminds me that I used to go "rain camping" with some nerd friends, several Thanksgivings in a row, out at the Olympic Peninsula beaches, such as at Cape Alava. We'd haul out some chickens to cook on the coals, and harvest a supply of mussels, limited only by our patience and the tide.

One of our running jokes was pretending to feel the onset of paralytic shellfish poisoning, which is arises from the mussels concentrating cyanobacterial toxins as they filter feed.

The secret to "rain camping" is 1) lots of tarps, 2) lots of 100 proof alcohol, 3) lots of any supplemental materials that are similar to alcohol in some ways but harder to obtain unless you are an undergraduate or in high school.

84:
"Energy loss" has been mentioned in context of going from plants to meat. I'm not sure I understand what that means in context. [...] you probably brought a nuclear power plant along to provide heat and electricity.

In context, that would be edible energy. Calories in food...

85:

The energy loss you get is that, for every 10 calories you feed an animal, roughly 9 calories go to keeping its body running, get lost in excretion, etc. Roughly 1 calorie goes into that animal's biomass.

Conversion efficiencies vary, cattle being poorer at converting food to meat than pigs, for example. This is why you normally see theoretical space-farm designs that have goats, rabbits, and chickens, but not cattle. It's not just that cows are big, it's that they're also inefficient on a per-pound basis.

The general point is that if you want to eat meat, you need to have 10x the growing space than if you simply eat the plants directly. In space, the problem isn't just energy, it's weight, and that's a lot of additional farm space to take with you.

Now, I'm not a vegetarian, and in non-industrial agriculture, animals play so very useful roles. They don't have to grow to maturity to provide protein, for example, if they can lay eggs or give milk. Additionally, they take things that humans can't eat (e.g. grass) and turn them into things humans can eat (milk and meat). They are also good at taking things humans can't eat or have already eaten and turning them into high quality manure very quickly. A goat may be more space- and time-efficient than a compost pile for recycling nutrients, if it comes to that (hot composting takes 1 m2 and 16 days per m2. A goat takes <24 hours per stomach load).

Thing is, if there's a goat or pig on the ship, it's probably there to run the garden recycling (stems into poop) and provide companionship. Unless they bring some sperm along (or find a way to induce lactation), they probably won't even get milk out of the animal, and I'm not sure they can handle breeding goats, unless the mission has a fair amount of room (see problem #1: weight).

86:

Wouldn't one of the major concerns about bringing complex life forms for food would be radiation? Relying on foodstuffs that may or may not thrive on Mars (different gravity, radition, soils, water, nutrients etc) and then finding they DON'T grow would be tantamount to suicide. I think you would have to at least have a backup food supply to anything you intended to cultivate when you arrived.

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia (convicts, drunken sailors/soldiers and a few free settlers), they found that the crops they had brought wouldn't grown in the drought conditions, they ate the breeding animals and the local foodstuffs "looked funny". They ended up subsisting (and starving) on what left from the ship fare - hardtack, moldy grain etc etc until the supply ship could return with provisions. A cautionary tale?

Charlie, you had an earlier blog post about a generation ship (or closed biosphere) to another star. Would you need something like that here?

How could you accommodate all the variables?

87:

If something kills them all, try to figure out what it was and make sure the next expedition does that thing differently. Repeat.

Basically how you do anything radically new and dangerous- trial and error.

88:

We are not going to send anyone to Mars on a multi-billion dollar trip if the first expedition is killed by unexpected starvation. There would be no repeat.

Chris O'Neill is fundamentally correct - there would most likely be plenty of preserved food shipped with the astronauts, or delivered in advance.

Food could be shipped slowly, using high efficiency propulsion systems to minimize costs.

89:

That's a political problem, not a practical one. Consider it analogous to Apollo 1 disaster- lose three highly expensive astronauts and the space capsule on the launch pad...figure out what went wrong, then fix it and try again.
Basically, exploration and intolerance for risk aren't particularly compatible.

90:

Consider it analogous to Apollo 1 disaster- lose three highly expensive astronauts and the space capsule on the launch pad.

No, it's analogous to the Apollo 11 disaster, for which Nixon had a prepared speech (Armstrong and Aldrin climb back into the LEM, hit the "go" button, and nothing happens -- leaving them stranded on another world with 12 hours' oxygen remaining in their backpacks).

91:

Snails. Fecund, prolific and meaty.

With mushrooms and corn. And tinned cranberry sauce, naturally.

92:

The Apollo 11 disaster that didn't happen. Of course, Nixon's prospective speech did have the line "others will follow" in it.

Perhaps for stuff that did happen, consider Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe- 18 out of 270 crew and one out of five ships made it back.
95% casualties and 80% loss of infrastructure...and generally considered a landmark achievement.

We seem to expect things to be _safe_ these days. Imagine what we could do if we actually took risks?

93:

Snails, fed on vegetable scraps. Yummy.

94:

We seem to expect things to be _safe_ these days. Imagine what we could do if we actually took risks?

Die in large numbers, I imagine.

(You first!)

95:

Oh hush, it's other people who should be taking the risks.

96:

Somewhat off topic... but I do agree that this is probably a larger issue preventing such an expendiation than the technology.

The general increase in risk aversion in the population (or at least the more technology developed parts) on earth means that we are less and less likely to do something unless we know that it will be successful. Ignoring the exceptions such as the millionaire balloonists, for corporations or countries (i.e. the entities with sufficient cash and longevity to attempt something of this sort) the bad publicity from the first disaster flight or issue would seem to decrease the likelihood of any repeats.

Given the number of ways in which such a trip could go wrong (radiation, explosion, landing crash, stavation etc etc) it is likely to need multiple attempts to succeed and that may be it's downfall.

Going back to the original question... There is a statement in the premise around weight being an issue. I agree that this wouldn't be the 'highest weight allowance' trip in history, but I would suspect that it would be higher than initial estimates. Given the sheer quantity of fuel and key consumables (water, air etc) which have to either be moved out of the earths gravity well or recycled somehow, the quantity of food would seem relatively incidently, especially if you are planning on recycling air via plants and therefore have all the fun of carbon, nitrogen etc cycles to keep working whilst you are in transit.

Assuming that you manage the transit and the descent to Mars, the conditions actually improve somewhat. You gain some gravity. You gain (presumably) a lot of space, going from an enclosed transit module of some kind to an entire planet. Assuming that water can be found locally you would effectively have infinite (based on the size of the population you have moved there) water as well. So if you can take some form of highly recycled / recyclable food / air / water cycle and suddenly add in all that water / square footage, I would expect you could look to improve your lot significantly. Elements such as seeds for a range of flora should allow some form of expansion in diet. The fish / frog discussion above would seem relevant, if 50 years has allowed for appropriate storage.

If this is a one way trip, if the population is there for a number of experiences / proof of concept, then presumably they would also be setting the seeds for the next 'batch' of volunteers. Ideally they would bring additional varieties of flora (or fauna) with them to expand on the ecosystem.

Manufactuing of appropriate living space (domes, houses, whatever they were called) would seem to be the real limiting factor in this scenario as I would assume that there wouldn't be any serious attempts at non enclosed vegetation production for a lot longer than the time frame mentioned above.

97:

Foei gras - I know about the ethics etc, but I'm presuming that if we're sending foods to Mars, we want to send energy dense foods!

98:

I can't imagine how big the turkeys will grow on a planet where they don't even have as much gravity! Big, dumb, and incapable of "performing" without help. Ben Franklin was right--should have been our national bird.

Charlie, Ultraphyte hopes you're feeling better soon.

99:

Off topic, but ... if anyone ever offers you a stomach virus running in parallel with haemorrhoids, just say no! (Ah, the perils of middle age.)

100:

I think you unfairly malign the poor bird. Yes, the overfed cage birds may be pretty damned incapable of anything, but the free range varieties don't seem any more helpless than geese, and they are far from dumb, being pretty bright, curious, creatures.

Anything capable of sharing its environment with bears is no slouch.

101:

You really think there would be a shortage of volunteers?

102:

I hear that a good cure is vindaloo

103:

Hardly.

Nor do I think we are necessarily more risk-averse these days. Rather, that's happened is that existence in general is less risky than it used to be for those of us in the developed world, so we've recalibrated our scale of risks.

For example, Magellan's voyage sounds horrendously risky to us today ... but back then ships were small, nobody had a clue what caused scurvy on long voyages (or how to avoid it), they were at the mercy of weather and inaccurate navigation techniques (no accurate clocks), and in general long sea voyages were hazardous. On the other hand, staying at home was also hazardous, with war, plague, and famine ever-present threats. Meanwhile, Magellan's exploratory mission took place against a background of adventurers winning unbelievable fortunes and carving out entire kingdoms for themselves in the New World. So the relative level of risk incurred by his voyage of exploration wasn't as daft as it might seem today: sure they were gambling with their lives, but the potential payoff was immense.

Nobody who boards a Mars-bound research expedition this century is doing so in hope of conquering the shit out of a new continent and founding a royal dynasty that will rule over a country the size of Europe. Personal payoff: a lot smaller. Is it, then, so unreasonable for them to be more risk-averse?

104:

consider Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe- 18 out of 270 crew and one out of five ships made it back. 95% casualties and 80% loss of infrastructure...and generally considered a landmark achievement.

Didn't one of the ships desert before getting to Pacific?

Regarding OP, I agree that snails are the best bet. Admittedly, traditional escargot (Helix pomatia) is not the easiest species to raise, but other snails are. In any case, I am convinced that first (actually, all) humans to spend significant time on Mars will be biologically engineered for the task, and that should include suitable taste preferences.

105:

I don't think that is true.
If, for example, a crew to Mars was told that there was only a 50/50 chance of making it home but that they were offered $10m each for trying, there would be no qualified volunteers? Bearing in mind that the cost between a 50/50 mission and one with a 99% chance of success might be hundreds of billions

106:

Running a few numbers about likely agricultural and recycling technologies, I am not optimistic that this scenario represents a plausible mission design for the near-future. You'll still need to send a lot of organic material, because there's very little to bootstrap on Mars. Why not send food instead/as well, and phase in the recycling/agriculture attempts?

107:

A 50/50 chance of dying during the mission is rather steep.

However, a much less unattractive option is the one-way mission. To return material from the surface of Mars requires vastly more energy than to merely send stuff there in the first place. So a mission that could barely by the skin-of-its-teeth get some astronauts to the surface for a brief expedition and then back home could plausibly send them on a one-way trip with a ten-year-plus supply of provisions and much better equipment. Send older volunteers, and part of the deal is that there will be further supply shots every couple of years; the idea is that while there's no plan for bringing them home, they're being sent out in the expectation that they'll die of natural causes while on the job, not of starvation/asphyxiation.

Turns out you can get a lot more volunteers for a one-way trip than a suicide mission. Which would you take -- 20% chance of a fatal accident but a return ticket, or a one-way trip with much better survival prospects and lots of supplies?

108:

Frogs would also set distance/height hopping records. On the plus side consider that these animals would also provide hours of entertainment (wagering) and exercise (catching).

Turkeys would provide additional resources, i.e., down, feathers for making the outpost more homey.

It seems that any near-future Mars mission might require skill sets from two vastly different eras: space-age alongside pre-industrial for (making feather pillows, arrows out of dead saplings and turkey feathers, etc.)

109:

People are stupid, no more stupid than that.

There's another site I'm on where someone said that "no-one would volunteer for a 1-way trip to Mars" about 15 minutes after 2 people had said that they would, subject to a guarantee of resupply until they died of old age or an accident, or until a new technology for getting them back came along.

110:

True, as one ex-astronaut has suggested.
However, I think the point is that NASA and Western society in general would not even consider a one way trip. Really bad PR.

111:

These people aren't thinking it through. Sure you would get loads of people volunteering and I don't doubt that there are people who would be good for it but most people hear the word "Mars" and imagine themselves as pioneers of a new future ala Kim Stanley Robinson.

Offer them a chance to live in the middle of the Gobi desert in a metal caravan attached to a garden sized greenhouse (both of which they must maintain or die) with the stipulation that they can only go outside in a suit and they get a gift of tinned food every few years and I doubt you'll get many volunteers.

Considering humans don't tend to do well spending year after year in a small space, especially with just a few other people, a one way Mars mission sounds more like a life sentence in a standard UK prison rather than the space cadet dream of yesteryear.

112:

Chocolate. It is not, by far, necessary to the human diet. You can get sugars elsewhere. Caffeine too. But it's dense, easily packed, preserves very well, and is an absolute delight to eat.

And they deserve the best of the best, given their mission. Time to make a Belgian confectioner very, very happy.

113:

I forgot to mention; another problem for the mission is they are going to have to send emotionally and psychologically stable people (it's a bit useless if three years down the line half of the team are insane and the others are murderous). Whether or not you could find many people who are emotionally and psychological stable and yet still wish to be sent to a dry desert to live in a trailer pretty much alone for the rest of their natural lives is an interesting question.

114:

Whups! Misread. In ADDITION to their regular top-off of edible morale boosters!

In that case, assuming a large and diversified greenhouse of edibles?

Fried food. Probably tempura. With dipping sauce.

They wouldn't normally eat it. It may make the food energy-rich, but it's nutritionally questionable and takes a heck of a lot of energy to cook. It's also tasty as hell - you would possibly know better than me, given the lack of a decent chip shop in Silicon Valley that doesn't deal in silicon wafers - and fitting as a rare-occasion sort of dish in their circumstances.

115:

Charlie: "Nobody who boards a Mars-bound research expedition this century is doing so in hope of conquering the shit out of a new continent and founding a royal dynasty that will rule over a country the size of Europe."

Well, probably not. But Glenn and Schmidt both made it to the Senate, and several ex-cosmonauts to the Congress of People's Deputies. In a world where you can remain pretty connected via electronic means (but bandwidth limitations from Mars might allow you to control your public image rather better than always-on terrestrial or LEO comms), a megalomaniac might decide that fifteen years on Mars being a hero is quite a good springboard for a political career on their return as a 60-something in the first Earth Return Vehicle. ObSF - Gateway #2.

And in the interim, you get to be King of Mars! The whole project could go very sour very quickly on human factors: you'll need some sort of security system controlled from earth. Of course, what happens when that goes out of whack / is taken over by a rogue AI / is being manipulated by a faction on earth which want the expedition to fail, etc?

The more I think about it, the more a C21st Mars/MEO trilogy looks interesting. Is there an SF writer in the house?

116:

Re: 110 - However, I think the point is that NASA and Western society in general would not even consider a one way trip. Really bad PR.

Perception would depend on whether NASA/Western government(s) kept their word to continue advancing space technology so that they were not 'abandoning' these scientists. Further, any demonstrable scientific/technological advances benefiting 'Earth' would result in very positive PR.

Even if mission personnel died, they'd be aware of the risks and would probably send a communique that they did so doing what they most wanted to do in life ... unlike 9/11 NYC firefighters who weren't aware of the real risks that day.

Does anyone know what impact gravity has on aging and health (apart from osteoporosis)? Would the average human life span increase? If yes, then there's even more optimism that this might not be a one-way trip.

Recruiting campaign could spin this as the only 'guaranteed job for life'.

117:

Having just read recently about the Morningside Cannibal Club (an exciting adaptation of vat meat), I'd vote for a luau (and given the occasional historical appearance of ah, 'guests' at said luaus, there's a bit of authenticity there).

But once you have vat meat technology, the cultures shouldn't be that difficult to quick-freeze and take along. I vote for turkey.

118:

I think celebrations are often more about taking time and trouble than they are sourcing exotic ingredients. It's true that colonists/pioneers/homesteaders traditionally used their favourite ingredients sparingly in advance of special days (sugar, spices, etc.), but they still created dishes from what was available locally and seasonally. The "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder detail this process at length. You work with what you have, and accent it with what you've saved.

So even if the actual foodstuffs are no different from the usual fare, the methods of preparation might be of a higher order of complexity and difficulty on a day of rest and celebration. So, instead of stewed our sous vide protein, you might get deep fried. I know, I know, deep frying in low gee. But the time taken is the point, rather than the specific technique. You might also see the colonists preparing things in advance of this day: distilling homebrew, soaking a Christmas cake, canning the first fruit, etc.

I was on a panel on the future of food at a convention this weekend, and I brought up this series of posts. Another panelist mentioned magnetic induction ranges, which to my embarrassment I had never heard of. They're prohibitively expensive, but so is a Mars mission, and they're safer than traditional cooking surfaces. (I think solar ovens would also work in this case.) So they might be a good tool to bring along.

119:

Darn! You beat me to it. I guess some of Dejah Thoris' tasty sorapus nut surprise as well.

120:

I think presented as you have there, you might be right.

But I rather suspect there are enough romantics and adventurously-spririted people that would go anyway. Spin it as a heroic voyage mankind's first steps on a different planet, the founding of a Mars colony and so on...

We've had discussions about how in the US the concept of the pioneer spirit is still part of the culture. That could be played up there. In other places, slightly different messages might have to be emphasised, but it could be done.

121:

If current trends toward obesity continue for another 50 years, the astronauts will be carrying most of their calories in adipose tissue. They'll have small batches of bacteria for minimal amounts of glucose and protein to maintain brain function and prevent muscle loss. Upon their successful return to Earth, the popular imagination will become obsessed with "astronaut skinny" after decades of "fat is OK" dogma. Within a year, though, the astronauts will have to go into hiding after they become the scapegoats for an epidemic of anorexia and bulimia that dispropotionately affects white, upper-class females in the 16-30 age bracket.

I'm only half joking. But I'm not sure about which half.

122:

Offer them a chance to live in the middle of the Gobi desert in a metal caravan attached to a garden sized greenhouse (both of which they must maintain or die) with the stipulation that they can only go outside in a suit and they get a gift of tinned food every few years and I doubt you'll get many volunteers.

Put it like that and it's not *that* different to being an Antarctic winter-overer.

123:

"Fungus bread with algae butter. Yum!"

And algae salad, algae/fungus loaf, etc.

124:

Mars is not the Gobi desert. It is a new place, with new discoveries just waiting to be made. It is also going to make the scientists famous, whereas do you even recall the names of the Mars 500 simulation?

There is no requirement that living space be very limited, if they opt to find a lava tube and convert it to living space. I suspect even the greenhouses will be in the tube to protect the crops and animals. This could become quite a large space.

I would also think that most outside exposure will only happen briefly, after robots have explored interesting areas and found interesting spots for on site human work to be done.

As it happens, I'm not certain that humans even need to land on Mars for this expedition. They could land on Phobos/Deimos and dig in there. Unmanned craft with robots would go down to the surface. The scientists would control the robots directly and deploy the relevant instruments as needed. The robots could be aerostats or ground vehicles, each in different places, offering a wide range of research opportunities.

With the scientists safely in orbit, a return journey is far more likely, especially if the spacecraft has engines that can be refueled with in situ volatiles.

If the scientists want/need to descend, the Zubrin Mars Direct plan makes much more sense to me than a one way mission.

125:

So you're proposing a mission that can ship enough equipment to build a large, self-sustaining ecology and habitation in a lava tube? Are you a fan of the Mars Trilogy by any chance? As for the new space and new discoveries thing, sure, you might have nice moments wandering around where you see mountains, sunsets and canyons. But we're talking about a one way trip here, whose mental enough to want to go and live with just a few other people alone on a planet for the rest of their lives? If you are going to propose that loads of them can go and they can bring loads of equipment (enough to build a large habitation area in a hole in the ground: sounds fun) then you might as well propose a short mission with a return journey.

Yes digging in on Phobos has advantages, not sending people at all and controlling robots from Earth has even more advantages and I'm willing to bet it's far easier to develop more autonomous probes than it is to build and maintain a base on Phobos.

126:

Chipped, fricasseed fillets de air filter in a delightful gel-battery gunge sauce, with all the trimmings: Mashed water recycler yeast overbloom, toasted mushrooms (the ones that consumed the upholstery of the ascent module rendering it unusable) with moonboot sole frittes, and a delightful chateau Mars table beverage we syphonned off the fermented-to-destruction descent stage fuel cells.

To follow: Mars Regolith Suprise in two flavours: Perchlorate and Mica Chip, with squeezebulb kwik-koffee™.

Or, you know, we could just eat Jenkins, the radio operator.

127:

One way trip sounds fine to me. I would gladly spend the rest of my life on Mars if someone offered me a ticket. I guess I am a romantic at heart.

128:

Mar(s)mite soldiers?

And on the subject of chickens' intellegence, one of my uncles had chicken which escaped and took to living in trees. And laid eggs there. Without building nests. Possibly trying to evolve into omlettes.

129:

Yes digging in on Phobos has advantages, not sending people at all and controlling robots from Earth has even more advantages and I'm willing to bet it's far easier to develop more autonomous probes than it is to build and maintain a base on Phobos.

I think you're overlooking lightspeed delay. Oh, an orbital unit could relay signals between the Martian surface and Earth, but the time required would be prohibitive. (This is a problem faced when controlling Mars probes today, of course.) If we had a small base on one of the Martian moons, or in orbit, then the humans aboard could telecontrol probes in near-realtime. Such an ability would be highly advantageous.

A Phobos base might be a good idea...

130:

As my team and I explained in excruciating detail on IR&D (Independent R&D, partly in-house funded, partly reimbursed by NASA) at Rockwell International, one great advantage of a base on Phobos, besides its shallow gravity well compared to Mars, is that as a chondrite, it has precisely the elements you need to make food. Carbonaceous chondrites are a rare kind of meteorite that contain organic compounds such as amino acids and kerogin, an organic matter often found in coal.

No fertilizer needs to be brought, as is the case for the Moon. There are interesting questions about why the isotope ratios vary between Mercury, Venus, and Earth, as all were formed from Enstatic Chondrites, of which asteroid Lutetia seems (at 100 km) to be the biggest pristine chunk seen up close to date). This is not the place to talk about my currently in-process science fiction about an alternate history where Lutetia got trapped in Earth orbit, rather than flung by a spiraling-out Jupiter billions of years ago, the the main belt.

131:

Double leg amputee astronauts would require less food. You could create funky Martian buggies (remember Devros, anyone?), probably have net weight savings vs additional food.

For multi-generational colonisation quad-amputees would be ideal.

132:

I see no point in having huge turkeys, but giant goats would be great since in addition to eating them and drinking their milk (or making cheese out of the milk), you can also use them to pull carts when you build a garden under a huge dome on a low gravity planet / moon.

http://bokuman.deviantart.com/art/Commission-tacobarmoves-006-198877228

Also, goats will eat just about anything.

133:

So you're proposing a mission that can ship enough equipment to build a large, self-sustaining ecology and habitation in a lava tube

I'm not proposing that at all. Clearly, if a lava tube can be sealed, then it can be slowly filled with 1/5 atm of O2 by simple electrolysis of local water. That could be a large space, albeit dark until lit with artificial light. This could be done well before the colonists arrived, offering them a decent space to live rather than a small tin can.

...whose mental enough to want to go and live with just a few other people alone on a planet for the rest of their lives...

It may surprise you, but some people really like to be alone. For them, a nearly human free planet would be heaven.

134:

Perhaps issues of personal risk, associated with the availability of artificial reality (or holodecks/AKA deep space masturbatory aids/plot device) explains the Fermi Paradox? After all, space travel is a) intrinsically dangerous, b) extremely expensive and energy intensive and c) perhaps not really necessary to do in person when robots can do it. Which perhaps doesn't explain why other civilisation's robots (or berzerkers...;-)) haven't contacted us.

Does the elevation of the individual in Western society mean we are less likely to risk danger? Does rising levels of education and prosperity (at least until a few years ago) mean we are less likely to climb into that rickety space capsule/get blown up in Afghanistan/leave the house? You don't see the educated middle classes throwing themselves into combat ala the Somme anymore.

I'm not sure which speculative fiction author it was (it may have been you Msieur Stross) who speculated that civilisations do tend to disappear up their own arseholes (Iain M Banks called it "transcending"). Mcleod also refers to the "Fast Ones" who upload themselves, causing a/the Singularity. So Perceptions of Risk+Realistic Virtual Reality=No Galactic Empire.

135:

Charlie writes:

A 50/50 chance of dying during the mission is rather steep.

However, a much less unattractive option is the one-way mission. To return material from the surface of Mars requires vastly more energy than to merely send stuff there in the first place. So a mission that could barely by the skin-of-its-teeth get some astronauts to the surface for a brief expedition and then back home could plausibly send them on a one-way trip with a ten-year-plus supply of provisions and much better equipment. Send older volunteers, and part of the deal is that there will be further supply shots every couple of years; the idea is that while there's no plan for bringing them home, they're being sent out in the expectation that they'll die of natural causes while on the job, not of starvation/asphyxiation.

Turns out you can get a lot more volunteers for a one-way trip than a suicide mission. Which would you take -- 20% chance of a fatal accident but a return ticket, or a one-way trip with much better survival prospects and lots of supplies?

This is exactly and precisely the point and theory I espoused in 1990 at Case for Mars VI, which according to Wikipedia (cough) was apparently the first formal mission design proposal for a one-way mission. The consensus of following discussion in Q&A was both that "Lifetime Mission" was more attractive, and that if they ever came back they'd probably kill me over the food quality question.

Personally, my answer to this is that a frozen, irradiated turkey (and gravy, and cranberries, and stuffing, and some ham) and some locally grown pumpkin pie, are probably within the mass budget and food storage reality.

Food of that ilk is hard to store, but can probably last some fraction of forever (cryo freeze after irradiation), and as a morale boost once a year or something is entirely reasonable.

Most of the food probably won't store that well or be that good. But if you have monthly goodies, annual or quarterly really good stored stuff.... it will be something.

136:

Scott Stanford writes:

If we had a small base on one of the Martian moons, or in orbit, then the humans aboard could telecontrol probes in near-realtime. Such an ability would be highly advantageous.

In rough terms - the two Mars rovers we have had so far (other than the tiny one) accomplished about one Apollo 18 landings with rover's worth of exploration (3 days on the surface, 35 km of traverse), over 8 and 9+ years respectively of surface exploration. They took a team of hundreds (down to dozens now) to operate, mostly due to preplanning issues.

A near-teleoperation rig from Mars Orbit (any, including the surface of Phobos or Deimos) will not be as good as being there / on hand, but can reasonably approximate that (somewhere between 75% and 10% effectiveness compared to guy in space suit on surface). The energetic difficulty of getting a human to Phobos and back is within reach (not much harder than the Moon, just longer missions). Years in orbit / on Phobos or Deimos would be credible nearterm missions.

Those, coupled with a plethora of one-way landers, would be a huge, huge science return.

I don't know of anyone who understands the engineering and science operations issues who disputes that it's probably the highest science return option for a given dollar input.

Phobos has some energy advantages and a convenient mars-facing tidal locked crater to hide in, providing good radiation shielding...

137:

The big problem Mars robots face is the timelag on control. Apollo 11 couldn't have landed if controlled remotely with similar timelag. Earth-Moon would be possible with a good autopilot system that gave stable flight with remote control of the gross parameters so that the landing point could be selected by an Earth-based pilot based on live images from the lander.

Once on the ground, that same lag means very careful planning of movement for exploration robots. And, again, such a rover is easer to control on the Moon.

Putting a robot rover on the Moon would be a good test for control systems for a Mars rover controlled from orbit. But a good deal of the testing could be done without leaving Earth. A robot roaming Death Valley, with a data connection having enough lag, would be trivial. They could use my internet connection.

But putting men in Mars orbit is pretty expensive.

138:

Are you trolling, or just not thinking your base design through?

Sure, the sleeping/office accomodation might be no bigger than a couple of 20 foot Airstreams or Winnebagos (sp), but you're going to need several acres of glasshouse to grow 1 person-year's worth of fruit and veg per colonist. That should be all the "being alone space" most people need. That's without Alex's idea of pressuring a lava tube, which is also workable, and will give us a good habitat for growing fungii too (I know of one commercial mushroom farm that is basically an acre of old warehousing).

Also, as he's said, some of us like being "more or less alone"; I'm one of them.

139:

No I'm not trolling, I'm highlighting a point, apparently badly. Of course it's not really going to be a small greenhouse, but even with acres of land (or a lava tube) you are essentially stuck in the same relatively small place for the rest of your life with just a few people on a planet which is inhospitable.

Also if you are proposing a mission where so much resources can be send to build large settlements or bring lots of people you might as well propose a mission that returns the astronauts.

My original point was in reference to the idea that you would get tonnes of volunteers. I'm saying that a lot of these volunteers aren't thinking it through. I still maintain that. Heading to Mars on a one way mission is not going to be this pioneering adventure of setting up a new land; it will be limited, hard and ultimately you're going to be stuck with very few people for the rest of your life.

140:

If current trends toward obesity continue for another 50 years

As they used to say in London, if current trends towards horse usage (circa 1870) continue for another century the capital would have been buried 30 metres deep in manure at all times.

Linear extrapolation of trends is dumb. Especially when one of the trends is an epidemiological one and the subject of ongoing medical research.

141:

There is no requirement that living space be very limited, if they opt to find a lava tube and convert it to living space. I suspect even the greenhouses will be in the tube to protect the crops and animals. This could become quite a large space.

Actually, for anything other than a grab-rocks-and-go mission, I expect living space to be as large as possible.

There are three clear constraints on a Martian surface habitat: air retention, heat retention, and radiation protection.

Last one first: the thin Martian atmosphere doesn't block cosmic and solar radiation the way Earth's atmosphere does. So going underground would appear to be a good idea. It would also reduce the risk of storm-blown sharp-edged dust abrading the air retention membrane of an above ground habitat.

Air retention and heat retention are interesting because loss of either occurs at the surface of the enclosed volume. The higher the surface area to volume ratio, the longer it'll take a hole of a size proportional to the surface area to vent the contents. And the as the ratio of surface area to volume increases, the proportion of the interior in contact with the chilly exterior decreases.

So there's a lot to be said for roofing over a crater with concrete then installing a false floor with aerogel insulation underneath it, then filling the space under the roof with a big-ass airtight balloon membrane. (How to make something resembling concrete on Mars using local materials is an interesting question. Note, however, that it doesn't have to be the concrete we're familiar with: it has to be something that serves an equivalent role and includes a minimum of material shipped from Earth. Hmm ...)

142:

I'm not suggesting that you would get huge numbers of serious volunteers. I was originally pointing out the sheer stupidity of some people who effectively reply "No you wouldn't" when others have already said "I would be prepared to do $risky_activity". What I am saying seriously is that I think you might get sufficient sufficiently inter-compatible people who are serious volunteers to make the concept a goer.

143:

Dave, on the subject of sticking roving robots on other celestial bodies, let's remember who did it properly first: the Lunokhod program.

144:

687 days?

You guys really don't understand human nature.

"All those who want to celebrate a year on Mars tomorrow, put your hands up"
"Alright, all those who prefer to wait another 322 days, put your hands up"
"What, nobody?"
"OK, resolved. Cheffie, get started on the tofurkey."
I would strongly expect there to be a celebration at the Martain year anniversary as well, but the thought of a team of astronauts so anally retentive that they refuse to celebrate after 365 (earth) days fills me with sorrow.
145:

concrete analogue printers (using mars soil and locally synthesised glue?)... I don't think concrete would be otherwise feasible
http://www.physorg.com/news190873132.html

146:

Well, for the concrete angle, my first guess was something along mixing mars dust with some polymer, where the carbon in the polymer could be extracted from carbon dioxide.

On another note, how is it with water and mars dust? First idea was using some a salt solution as a matrix and dry it up through sublimation, but then I remembered this one...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Habakkuk

So, if we were close to the polar regions, we could use search something like a valley and inflate some balloons or whatever on the bottom. A variant is putting in some water, let it freeze and but a membrane above. Then, fill the valley with a mixture of mars dust and water, maybe including some refrigerator systems (hot end in the living room). Wait till it freezes. When you use ice under a membrane, you have to melt it out, you could use salt water to make this task more easy. Otherwise, live in the balloons. The water, of course, is coming from melting the polar caps, most likely with a nuclear reactor. Also note that going to the polat caps is going to keep the temperature well below freezing point. On top and on the bottom of it, you could put some Mars soil to insulate. But then, you could keep the top layer pure ice and thus transparent for the greenhouses.

It might help to put in some static elements at some places, Wiki says there are lots of olivine on MArs and that this one wathers to clay in presence of water, though that might include geological time scales; fastening this process might get us a nice clay like building material.

147:

Err, sorry for the spelling errors, I was working late and am just starting cold...

148:

Charlie @ 141
I believe a modest proposal has already been erm, floated, for the Valles Marineris chasm on Mars.....
Looks do-able.

149:

Note, however, that it doesn't have to be the concrete we're familiar with

Mars has volcanic ash and CaCO3, so presumably a form of concrete can be made if you can spare the energy to make quicklime from the CO3.

But that is why the lava tubes are so much more attractive. They are already constructed and just need seals at the open ends. The seal may not need to be anything more than a strong membrane covered in sand. As you point out, the large volume means that a pressure leak will not be explosive. For all the fancy talk of lava tubes, if Mars had a wet era, then caves are not out of the question. They can be sealed up too.

I wouldn't even use anything as exotic as aerogel for insulation. Pumice might be quite adequate.

The food mass budget of a human is about 1 tonne of fresh food/annum, perhaps 1/10th of that by dry mass.
Thus automated food shipments of several years each for a small number of volunteers on Mars seems quite feasible given local water. It would be very expensive food, but as one might say "....a turkey and trimmings dinner for Thanksgiving on Mars...priceless".
Fresh foods grown locally would supplement the shipments, especially for staples, progressively reducing the shipment masses over the decades.

If one did erect a concrete dome over a crater, the internal pressure might make reinforcement unnecessary. Projections of blue sky and clouds could make the dome seem almost earth like, albeit with a low gravity.

150:

Continuing current policy in industrialized nations, they'll eat the poor.

151:

{Lots of commentary on risk and one-way missions}

1) given the debilitation of years of zero and Martian gravity, coming back might not be all that attractive

2) while extensively-trained Ph.Ds would be nice to have on-site, any schmuck can run the equipment, take measurements, and consult with any number of experts back home. Remember, though bandwidth wouldn't be all that large, they'd still be in communication with Earth.

3) if we plan to eventually send a colony to stay, one-way missions make much better economic sense than return missions.

4) With 7 billion people to choose from, I doubt volunteers would be a problem. I'd go, though I'm probably not a highly desirable choice.

152:

The food mass budget of a human is about 1 tonne of fresh food/annum, perhaps 1/10th of that by dry mass.

That works if local water is available for rehydration. I'm going to suggest that we also want to be sure of shipping compostible biomass so we can extend and enhance the area under cultivation.

153:

"Most of the food probably won't store that well or be that good"

I have eaten military ration packs more than a decade old, and they were quite good.

154:

while extensively-trained Ph.Ds would be nice to have on-site, any schmuck can run the equipment, take measurements, and consult with any number of experts back home.

This doesn't make sense. Software weighs nothing; just as it makes sense to take all the Linux packages you can't imagine you might need to Mars, it makes sense to pack the table of organisation & equipment with human capital.

Special Forces outfits come with engineers and surgeons and intelligence analysts and really hardcore radio people as standard, infantry rifle platoons don't. This is because SF have to operate far from institutional support (in time and space and also politics) and the infantry don't.

Unless something's gone wrong on a world historic scale and it's Dunkirk all over again, the regimental aid post is not far back, the first echelon of supply trucks is a ways further on, and brigade HQ is a few more and the aerial point of departure is an hour's heli flight from there and the UK is eight hours' flying from there. There's a whole logistical tail behind them. They don't need to plan for operating for months at a time out of physical contact with friendly forces, they concentrate on having the numbers and firepower they need to fight the mass of the enemy.

The Mars expedition organisation table would be much more like a special forces mission than an infantry one. You'd need not just specialists, but specialists who cross-trained to cover part of other specialists' jobs in order to avoid losing the whole capability if the geologist fell down a hole. Also, what price having a geologist who knows some xenobiology and vice versa if you find a living stone?

155:

...whose mental enough to want to go and live with just a few other people alone on a planet for the rest of their lives...

It may surprise you, but some people really like to be alone. For them, a nearly human free planet would be heaven.

While such people certainly exist, on a small enclosed Mars outpost they would NOT be alone. They would be in constant contact with several other humans, and no way to get away from them. For someone who finds contentment in being alone, this is worse than crowds of Earth.

You need individuals who hate crowds, yet like seeing same faces year after year. I am not sure such people exist.

156:

You need individuals who hate crowds, yet like seeing same faces year after year. I am not sure such people exist.

That sounds normal, or rather, like a stereotype of normality. People *do* have fairly small, fairly stable long run social networks, and a lot of people also express a dislike of crowds.

157:

For building material, how about rock wool soaked in water and frozen in place? Something like Pycrete:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pykrete

158:

I'm just trying to figure out where this all fits on XKCD's Money Chart

159:

Linear extrapolation of trends is dumb.

That must be the half I was joking about.

On a more serious note, body fat might be an efficient way of carrying food supplies for Martian astronauts. Consider an astronaut with an extra 100 kg of body fat. Adipose tissue is about 80% fat, which has about 9 calories per gram. She's carrying 720000 extra calories. She couldn't survive solely by metabolizing body fat, but if she could utilize 1000 calories a day, that's the equivalent of 720 extra days in her personal larder.

Obviously, it's not that simple. The physiology of gaining and losing extreme amounts of body fat is not well understood. But a manned mission to Mars would likely stretch human physiology to limits far beyond anything members of our species have ever endured or trained for. The mission would likely have to involve one or more "lean times" when the astronauts couldn't rely on engineered ecologies to provide daily nutrition. The problem of feeding Martian astronauts has a metabolic/physiological component that's at least as important as the logistical one. The metabolic/physiological solutions provide a lot more flexibility in the logistical ones.

160:

Rock wool would be fine, if the machinery to make it is available on Mars. I'm assuming solar power (thermal?) as a heating source. However, once you have agriculture going, you can grow the binder rather than manufacturing it.

I'm a fan of pycrete-like structures for spacecraft hulls. They are strong, potentially self healing meteroid shields, radiation shields, a store of lots of water for consumption and emergency O2 generation and the propellant mass for electric engines.
With non-terrestrial water available, they solve much of the LEO lift costs. The key is efficient, low cost delivery of water to LEO.

161:

I'm assuming nuclear for any serious 'go and stay'. I'd have no intention of trusting my life to anything solar on a planet with a history of global duststorms. But if we have a handy Rickover (Or two. Two would be nice.) then we probably have access to a lot of low-grade heat for our greenhouses, and perhaps also some higher heat for industrial purposes, over and above the power that we feed through the turbines to make our electricity.

I'm a big fan of sending lots of dehydrated food to the colony from earth, via solar sail or solar-electric propulsion at one end (use tugs that then come back home for refuelling?), then aerocapture and aerobraking for the payload. One of the projects of the colony could be to see what could be grown out of the waste products, but I suspect that the prospect of ecosystem collapse killing everyone horribly would concentrate the minds of the planners wonderfully in favour of some seriously failsafe food solutions.

As for location, Deimos is probably best for a 600-day mission (we've done a year of zero-g at a time), but Mars surface gives you yummy gravity for nothing: If you're going to go and stay, you may as well go all the way.

162:

A lot of HR managers and head-hunters now use some variant of the Myers-Briggs test to pre-screen job candidates. Chances are the NASA Mars mission candidate selection committee would be familiar with it or use something similar.

Apparently introverts are generally drawn to analytical and sciences jobs, have comparatively low social needs, and would probably RSVP: ``So sorry, have to take a rain-check on the annual Thanksgiving celebration ... I`ve got this really cool experiment running.``

163:

Dirk writes:

I have eaten military ration packs more than a decade old, and they were quite good.

MREs when refrigerated have shelf lifes of decades, yes.

I've survived for weeks on field food. While modern field food is far better than older dehydrated and canned and so forth, it's still field food. I would not want to survive for years and years and years on just MRE grade food. It's not bad-bad, but it's also not that good.

As a tradeoff, and as emergency rations for the Mars mission if locally grown food fails, it's entirely reasonable. I know people who would put up with the indignity of the food for the opportunity to do the lifetime mission. Despite the food thing, half the people at Case for Mars VI raised their hands when asked if they'd volunteer for the mission concept.

It's not *good*, though. It's the baseline or fallback, upon which you assume you can build more healthy and fresher grown stuff.

The EVA suit joint seals are probably the main mission activity limiting factor by landed mass. But that's an entirely unfoodlike story...

164:

> The EVA suit joint seals are probably the main mission activity limiting factor by landed mass. But that's an entirely unfoodlike story...

Yeah, though I'm not a mechanical kind of engineer like you, it's things like joint seals, door seals, bearings and such that I think are getting way too little attention in discussions of going off into the Solar System. Which Solar System, at least the parts people might want to land on anytime soon, seems to be made up of dirt. If the Moon is any indication, it's not a very friendly kind of dirt.

But to go back to food, I find that the frozen variety, even the prepared meals in the local supermarket, is pretty acceptable if you exercise a bit of judgement about what you select. Not that I'd want to forego fresh if there were a choice, but if there weren't it wouldn't be Hell on Mars.

165:

the couple of kilograms of precious delicacies from Earth: tinned anchovies

166:

Hell, yes. Happily brew my own beer and raise own grain and carp while hacking on the parasail surveyor and culturing the Martians if there are anchovies. And brunettes. Plan seems to break down around here.

167:

Allen wrote:

Yeah, though I'm not a mechanical kind of engineer like you, it's things like joint seals, door seals, bearings and such that I think are getting way too little attention in discussions of going off into the Solar System. Which Solar System, at least the parts people might want to land on anytime soon, seems to be made up of dirt. If the Moon is any indication, it's not a very friendly kind of dirt.

There is probably somewhat of an advantage here for Mars versus the Moon and other vacuum locations (Asteroids, Phobos and Deimos, etc). Atmospheric process and hydrological process weathering likely grind the sharp edges off glass and rock shards from meteor impacts.

There were some dust / rock microcameras on the latest lander and rover series, but abrasion characteristics are yet unstudied in the depth necessary (I think, I haven't been actively following Journal of Geophysical Research and the last missions's results, been too busy over the last couple of years).

168:

Re door seals, etc - I've always assumed that overall it's good to be in an atmosphere, because you can always compress it, filter it, and then use it to blast or vacuum stuff clean in the airlock. Also, being on the surface brings you access to water, with which you can play similar tricks. It's all very well having an unlimited supply of vacuum, but not if you can't use it without saying goodbye to some of a limited supply of air. Am I right here?

On the other hand, I'm also thinking that it would be relatively easy to point a chain of container-loads of spare seals to Mars (or slightly harder to LMO) using electric propulsion and very long-term orbits. A life of changing filters and gobbing out seals: being on Mars might be a lot like running IC engines in the desert in the mid C20th.

169:

Speaking of suit seals, though, I'd be much happier if the Russians designed my space suit.

Comparing the Shuttle EMU suit to the Russian ORLAN-M and derivatives is illuminating. The US-pattern suit is a two-piece item with a seal at the waist. You can't get into one unaided, and you need to pre-breathe oxygen at low pressure for four hours before sealing it (because it operates on low pressure pure O2 to allow its joints to move). In contrast, the ORLAN design is a one-piece suit with a "door" on the back -- the door is a side-hinged backpack full of life support supplies. It operates at standard pressure, provides full mobility, and a cosmonaut can get into it unaided in 5 minutes. (It also costs around 5% the price of a NASA suit, but that might just be an accounting/currency conversion error.)

It's like NASA had stuck to flying Gemini capsules while the Russians had gone through three generations of space shuttle and come up with one that could take off from a runway, fly an orbital mission, and land on a $0.2M budget.

170:

Atmosphere has other advantages wrt seals. You can build "dust cages" (similar to the bear cages used in Alaskan oil exploration and extraction but with "solid" panel walls) and have ingress and egress from the structure(s) on the downwind side.

Look, Neolithic man could do this and stay warm(er) inside before the door was invented!

171:

By then, someone may have worked out how to do a skinsuit. And the first holiday on Mars will likely have Terran food, Arean fare happens after the media burns through the public's attention span, Mars?, Yawn.

172:

I've seen the 5% figure before too. I wasn't sure about it, but if you poke a bit, it seems not unreasonable.

The russian suit basically reversed the joints and designs of deep sea diving suits (to take pressure differences the other way) and although hard-shells limit mobility a little they can cope with higher pressure differences (just make them tougher and thicker) and people and although deep sea divers and astronauts might have limited mobility but they're in professions where they can be trained how to cope with it and achieve everything they need to.

I still suspect it's a slight exaggeration, or perhaps it's the overall R&D costs - adapting existing materials and designs is a lot cheaper after all.

173:

If you take a look at the space suit system mounted at the back of NASA's LER it's pretty clear that they've finally recognized that the Orlan design is the way to go. This video gives a nice summary of their use.

http://science.discovery.com/videos/build-it-bigger-season-3-lunar-electric-rover.html

Unfortunately they do not seem to find it necessary to credit the Orlan suit for their design inspiration. Just look at what NASA has come up with to get into suits faster, they say.

174:

Well, Russia never acknowledged the "inspiration" for the Buran so I guess it's turnabout :)

175:

By then, someone may have worked out how to do a skinsuit.

You mean a Space Activity Suit? The latest iteration is the MIT BioSuit. It's a really neat idea, but in practice turns out to be challenging to make -- it requires very accurate custom tailoring.

I'm inclined to wonder what happens the first time there's a whoopsie in the greenhouse and everyone has to go on half-rations for a month. Be kind of a bummer if all the astronauts lose enough weight that their whizzy tailored elastic spacesuits don't fit any more and they end up with blood blisters whenever they have to EVA ...

176:

Also, as the astronauts age, their bodies are going to change shape. And not in a good way. 1/3 gravity might help a bit, but the upshot is likely to be that if they want to use skinsuits, the expensive tailoring kit is going to have to come too, for periodic refitting.

177:

I thought US EVA suits had hard shells too?

Their problem is that they don't have a door.

Thanks to this thread for pointine me back to the xkcd money picture. It includes the words "Bering Strait Tunnel". I want to live to see it! And go to America the long way round, by train.

178:

Charlie writes:

Speaking of suit seals, though, I'd be much happier if the Russians designed my space suit.

None of the "Space" EVA suits will work acceptably on Mars - they all cool via liquid cooled garments and sublimating ice, they're all way too heavy for walking around (even on Mars; combination of inertia and joint stiffness and mobility effects).

There's been a slow grind of surface EMU design work, some of which has been field tested (by the Mars Society mission simulations among others). But the Orlan isn't a viable baseline.

The idea of having a single-person donnable suit and having a hard torso and back hatch may work. Some of the surface suits have done similar or identical things.

Caveat:

I'm no longer actively working in EMU systems, so I may not be up on the latest-latest stuff there.

179:

Oops, forgot to explain what's wrong with LCG and sublimating ice...

Mars' atmospheric pressure is just high enough to interfere with the rapid sublimation needed for the current EMU cooling rigs.

My favorite for cooling is "sweat through" dense polymer membranes that are tailored to be permeable to water / water vapor, but not pass oxygen or nitrogen. But non-ice-sublimation heat sinks will also work...


The other thing that Mars' atmosphere screws up is MLI insulation. It operates optimally in a hard vacuum. Its conductivity goes up by a large multiplier once you get to even the few millibars that Mars' atmosphere provides, like 10-100x depending on conditions...

There are other insulation systems one can use, but the existing suits all use vacuum-optimized insulation.

180:

How feasible is it to wear an insulating overcoat?

181:

You've got things reversed. The US copied Buran, in a scaled down way, with the X-37B spaceplane which it launched with success, just last year.

Just peeking at a photo any innocent person will say that Buran looks like a copy of the US shuttle. But if you go read the articles on both in Wikipedia you'll see that Buran was a radically different (and much safer) design.

It flew to orbit (automatically) only once because of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I'm deliriously glad that Boeing is now making studies to gradually scale up the X-37B as the X-37C to transport up to six astronauts in its cargo bay. Like the Buran it coud be used automatically.

If you want to find some kind of remote design inspiration for the Buran go look instead at the smaller but very well thought out Hermes spaceplane project of the ESA.

182:

Should have thought of that, since I've seen weight loss induced by pneumonia, and American "health care". Still, blood blisters seem more survivable than a blown out seal on a conventional EVA suit.

183:

Not sure whether this is behind a pay wall or not, but Science News has a nice article on space food research in preparation for Mars: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/335795/title/Space_Eats

Salient facts: 6 people x 3000 calories/day x 3 years = 20 tons of prepackaged food. The Russians are experimenting with small greenhouses on the space station ("the salad machine"), and as usual, things are more complicated than we'd like.

184:

I don't think it has been explicitly mentioned.

Aquaponics.

In the years before the teams arrival, several multi ton payloads will have been delivered. Aquaponics is simple. Its tanks,water,pumps and ballast. Possibly the system has already been partially constructed by robots by the time the team arrives.

Upon arrival they bring a few hundred fish out of hibernation (for bonus points the species they brought with them will be partially vegetarian but can also eat scraps, and can survive a long time partially frozen in hibernation. Some kind of tilapea / carp hybrid) and plant the first seeds into the setup. If they have room the size of half of a small soccer field this will easily sustain a crew of 6 for as long as is needed. Feed part of the plants to the fish as well as table scraps, and learn to love fish and salad.

This is presumtive of a few things, all breakthroughs i see being made in the next 2 decades.

Aquaponics has some ways to go. Scientists know it works, but there is a lot more involved i knowing how and why it works. Some systems flourish and identical ones die off. The science needs to be able to guarantee that the species of plant and fish that are being sent will thrive together in that environment, and one of the team would need to be a botanist whose job it is to monitor the system.

185:

Sorry to continue the tangent, but the final Buran aerodynamic design was derived from the Shuttle. (Sources: Astronautix, Birds of a Feather? How Politics and Culture Affected the Designs of the US Space Shuttle and the Soviet Buran)

This wasn't a bad thing, as the linked paper points out. The Buran incorporated several improvements in terms of safety systems and landing capabilities.

The X-37 draws from the same Shuttle heritage, so of course there are going to be similarities.

Hermes had more in common with the Soviet Uragan and Spiral design concepts and that's largely due to the fact that they draw from the common heritage of the lifting body research of the 50s and 60s.

186:

I was able to read the article, so it doesn't seem to be behind a paywall.

Anybody else get estimates on the cost of placing that 20 tons of food into orbit? My number was in the vicinity of $600 million.

@Matt: I'm not familiar with aquaculture, but can fish be put into hibernation and revived? That sounds slightly far-fetched to me as a possible near term solution.

187:

And all re-usable "lifting body" designs owe something to the X-20, X-23 and X-24 prototypes. I'm ignoring the X-30 and later since they all post-date the Shuffle.

188:

Aquaponics is simple. Its tanks,water,pumps and ballast.

You missed out the most important ingredient: biology. Without which it's just tanks, water, pumps, and ballast -- none of which the astronauts can eat.

Upon arrival they bring a few hundred fish out of hibernation (for bonus points the species they brought with them will be partially vegetarian but can also eat scraps, and can survive a long time partially frozen in hibernation. Some kind of tilapea / carp hybrid) and plant the first seeds into the setup

This is semantically equivalent to (but more verbose than) "... and then something magical happens."

It's actually the hardest part of what you're proposing. Apart from, oh, a room "half the size of a small soccer field" (on Mars!) which presumably needs to be pressurized, heated, and radiation-shielded to near-Earth-surface levels. Oh, and you can double the area required for growing plants if you're doing it on Mars because you've got approximately half the surface insolation of Earth.

Hint: we've been discussing the pros and cons of building this sort of farming rig off-earth on this blog for a couple of years now. The devils lurking in the details are numerous and sting like hornets.

189:

Over the last twenty years we're been getting rather a lot of experience about the best ways to cultivate certain fast-growing terrestrial plants under high-powered growlamps with a minimal/optimal amount of soil and fertiliser. The name that we have for the identified people with this experience is 'inmates'. Perhaps our optimally skilled group will involve some people who are not as willing to publish their CVs as are the geologists, doctors and engineers.

190:

Matt: "The science needs to be able to guarantee that the species of plant and fish that are being sent will thrive together in that environment"

The problem is we can't guarantee that. Not if we want it to work for years on end. Not if we only get one shot at it. We can't even guarantee that for ordinary gardens and fields on Earth. Farms fail sometimes.

And most of the raw material for such things will have to come from Earth at first - which is more expensive than sending up food with the travellers. In the long run we might be able to cheaply and reliably extract usable quatities of water and CO2 and nitrogen from Mars (or the Moon, or asteroids, or a Magic Saltmill) and we might be able to synthesise a growing medium (AKA soil) from that stuff, minerals, and human waste - but we don't know how yet.

Its just not safe or practical to rely on growing your own food on the first ever expedition. If we are ever to have agricultural systems that we know work on Mars (or on the moon, or in orbit, or in Handwaving Space) we'll have to design them based on experience gained on-site. That is part of the purpose of the first (and second, and third, and probably tenth) expeditions.

Heck, it took the first English settlers nearly thirty years to become self-sufficient in the alien climate and soil of *Virginia*. The first two colonies died out, most of the original Jamestown colonists died within five years and most of the second and third batches of colonists died within ten - it wasn't till the mid-1610s that they managed to grow ordinary crops to feed themselves. Not because they were lazy or stupid but because they didn't know how - they didn't know what crops would work, they didn't know the local climate, they had no experience of local pests and diseases.

We'll do a lot more research before anyone goes to Mars, but we can't predict everything. I suspect there will be plenty of incidents equivalent to Apollo 13 or the Mir blow-out. Or like Cherry-Garrard, Wilson, and Bower's "Worst Journey in the World". The US-military-style NASA habit of having a doctrine and a procedure manual for everything isn't going to be enough to settle a new planet. The first colonists are going to have problems that no-one foresaw and they are going to have to solve them themselves. (They are also going to find new and easier or better ways of doing some things that anyone imagined).

So (to channel our host) - how about trying to establish some self-sufficient fully-enclosed agricultural facilities in greenhouses in the dry valleys of Antartica, and on the floor of the deep ocean below the Continental Shelf and leaving the inhabitants to cope without re-supply for a couple of years? Or even on top of a high mountain? They'd be a lot cheaper and safer than trying a Mars expedition and failing would be, and the experience gained would be useful - not the details of what they would need to do to solve the problems that come up, but the methods and habits of improvisation and problem-solving and make-do-and-mend that any Mars colonists will need.

"... and one of the team would need to be a botanist whose job it is to monitor the system."

But of course. Trust me, I'm a botanist ;-)

Though a horticulturalist with practical experience of water-conserving methods might be more use. And as we've been saying already, every individual will need to be multiply skilled and also prepared tolearn (or develop) new skills

191:

Upon arrival they bring a few hundred fish out of hibernation (for bonus points the species they brought with them will be partially vegetarian but can also eat scraps, and can survive a long time partially frozen in hibernation. Some kind of tilapea / carp hybrid) and plant the first seeds into the setup

This is semantically equivalent to (but more verbose than) "... and then something magical happens."

Really? The algae can be stored frozen. So can the fish eggs. What is your reasoning that magic needs to happen to get the biology booted up on arrival? The algae are defrosted first and allowed to grow without predation. After sufficient density is achieved, thaw out the Tilapia eggs. If there is any doubt about storing them as embryos, store the eggs and sperm separately, thaw and fertilize.

Mars insolation is probably not more of a problem than cloud cover and light absorption in the water column on earth. Given the high costs, it might even be worth covering the tanks with a fluorescence material to convert sunlight to the optimal frequencies for photosynthesis.

Concerns over mutations in the algae (if the tanks are in the open) are solved using the usual approach on earth - only thaw out a small part of your original stock and restart periodically with baseline material.

Almost all of this could be tested on earth, only low g and cosmic rays would be unknown variables. The ISS could do small scale simulation tests to verify the system.

If anything, the challenge is going to be designing very lightweight components so that the system generates much more food than just shipping packaged food from earth. The tanks, which would seem to be the most massive part might not need to be more that reinforced, inflated "plastic bags".

192:

The algae can be stored frozen. So can the fish eggs.

Cite, please.

Freezing -- especially in water -- tends to involve the growth of ice crystals that play merry hell with cell membranes. I'd like to see some concrete examples of known species of fish species whose oocytes can be revived after freezing before I let this one pass, thanks.

(Freezing of mammalian ova and sperm is a rather different matter from that of a non-pacental organism.)

We're also back to the question that has been chewed over previously, i.e. how many interdependent species we need in order to establish a food web that can support human-edible animals or plants, although for a limited Mars exploration mission I'll grant you multivitamin pills as an alternative to a full micronutrient cycle.

193:

“Nobody who boards a Mars-bound research expedition this century is doing so in hope of conquering the shit out of a new continent and founding a royal dynasty that will rule over a country the size of Europe.”

I dunno. 'this century' still has over eighty years to go. A lot can happen in that time frame.

194:

Actually it's not that different if you're freezing in water.

Can't get the whole citation, but Google Books pops up a book written by D. W. Richardson, D. N. Joyce, Edwin Malcolm Symonds, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Great Britain) - untreated cryo-preserved spermatozoa have only 0.1% viability on thawing. WIth the commonest cryopreservative, that rises to 60-65%.

A mix of different papers suggest oocytes do better, but once it reaches the morulla stage (32 cells) or probably earlier, the chances of successful thawing with viability fall back to roughly 0. There are species that manage better than this, but they're evolved to it with all kinds of special features.

195:

Fate, serendipity and morphic resonance provide us with this story:

http://www.latimes.com/travel/la-tr-cambodiafood-20111120,0,4475871.story

Fried tarantulas, termite eggs and much other yummy stuff! And already food-approved on Earth!

196:

"This is semantically equivalent to (but more verbose than) "... and then something magical happens.""

Well that is somewhat unfair, seeing as you are giving us up to 50 years of scientific development. Not all of us are professional futurists :P

But to uphold my point; http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080306-fish-hibernate.html

The question is what kind of stocking densities can you achieve during fish hibernation.

197:

Roasted lab rats, escargot, some kind of home-distilled vodka, and a bit of algae bread baked with a bit of Martian dust mixed in.

198:

Why limit ourselves to bathtub vodka? Depending on which crops we can best transport, there's no particularly obvious reason why we shouldn't make brandy (requires grapes), calvados (apples), rum (sugar cane rather than beets AIUI) or whisky (grain; also allows grain vodkas rather than potato).

199:

Apparently I'm the first one to link to this Thanksgiving message from space! Dan Burbank reports from the ISS and notes some obvious things, like the fact that their families can't drop by to visit. He does show food: a bag of turkey, a bag of potatoes, a bag of cherry/blueberry cobbler for desert - you get the idea. Apparently it actually tastes fine, and the view from the dining room is great.

200:

"Fish Evolution and Systematics: Evidence from Spermatozoa", barrie Jamieson, p264


Developments of the vacuum treated cryopreserved eggs and their untreated contyrols was not followed beyond the 32 cell stage in this pilot study. The method, giving the first cryopreservation of fish eggs, is nevertheless promising and further trials should be made with DMSO and with other, less toxic, cryoprotectants. In addition, it seems possible that use of a vacuum to facilitate removal of cryoprotectant on dilution with normal medium in teh last stages of thawing might alleviate toxic or other undesirable effects of the cryoprotectant.

Perhaps not sufficiently locked down today according to this reference, but certainly a viable technology solution for the Martian aquaculture.

201:


A tangent to the biological discussion, solar power in a paint can might prove useful especially if the ship that drops off these colonists/scientists lands therefore be re-purposed (scavenged).

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Paint+solar+cells+next+game+changer/5774591/story.html

202:

Alex Tolley writes (much earlier, unfortunately playing catch-back):

How feasible is it to wear an insulating overcoat?

Very. The variation in temperature one could expect around a Mars base (across a day, and from summer to winter, and from midnight to noon) is significant and suits will probably go with removable adaptive insulation layers.

I.e., a jacket.

It will be roughly effective like they are on earth. On the Moon, the astronauts were mostly thermally insulated from space and the lunar surface. Not so much on Mars, probably.

203:

Can I just remind folks that our extra-planetary Mars mission is operating under a different set of constraints to the ones which limited even the most low-tech of intra-planetary oceanic explorers. For one thing, our oceanic exploring forebears didn't have to worry about the air running out. For seconds, there was always "oh no, not fish again" as an option. For thirds, even for the most long-haul of expeditions, there was not a minimum of 500 days between stops to stretch one's legs.

What they'll do on Mars is secondary. Our intrepid volunteers need to get there first.

The journey is not analogous to any previously experienced form of ocean-going exploration on this planet. What it might be analogous to is a two-year submarine tour, where the sub isn't going to surface for the entire length of the journey. Oh, and this is in a nuclear submarine, with somewhat dodgy shielding on the reactor core.

I still think the most likely people to be making this first voyage are convicts. Possibly inmates of death row, given the chance of a job for life (and a life to do it in). After all, if they succeed, they're not a risk to mainstream society (and aren't likely to be a risk to mainstream society for at least the amount of time required to build something to get them back "home" - presuming they'd want to return). If they fail, well... oh dear. Next?

204:

>>...people like eating meat. Though animal flesh is expensive to produce so the colonists aren't likely to have much.

"Grilled yeast strips, country style" (C) R. Heinlein :D

205:

Good luck finding death-row convicts with the requisite academic qualifications to do the actual work involved. ("If he classifies one more sample as 'red rock', I'm going to kill someone just to make sure there's a competent geologist on the next mission.")

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