Back to: What happens now? | Forward to: A Quick Infomercial

Covid on Mars

Time for a thought experiment! (For those of us who don't want to keep chewing on the sore that is the US presidential succession—if you do, please stick to this already-existing discussion: cross-contamination into this new discussion will be dealt with harshly.)

We all know by now that Elon Musk wants to appoint himself Pope-Emperor of Mars. As the world's richest man (currently, and only on paper—it's based on the Tesla share valuation, which is wildly inflated) and as the guy with the private space program that scooped 50% of the planetary civil launch market in the past decade, it's not entirely inconceivable. Evidently SpaceX hope to fly Starship to orbit in the next 1-2 years and land a Starship on Mars within this decade. Let's suppose it happens.

So then ...

Let's suppose that Musk's Mars colony plan is as viable as his other businesses: there are ups and downs and lots of ducking and weaving but he actually gets there in the end. All the "... and then a miracle happens ..." bits in the plan (don't mention closed-circuit life support! Don't mention legal frameworks!) actually come together, and by 2060 there is a human colony on Mars. Not just an Antarctic-style research base, but an actual city with a population on the order of 500,000 people, plus outlying mining, resource extraction, fuel synthesis, and photovoltaic power farms (not to mention indoor intensive agriculture to grow food).

Most of the city is tunnelled underground, using the rock overhead as radiation shielding. The radiation level to which citizens are exposed is nevertheless higher than in any comparable city on Earth: it's just the way Mars is. Workers in the outlying installations may be much closer to the surface than city-dwellers, and indeed most such plants are staffed on strict rotation by workers who are exposed to near-surface radiation levels for no more than three months in any consecutive Martian year.

Obvious aspects: cities are easier to heat and protect against radiation and provide with air and water, so housing is dense—think Singapore or Hong Kong density. High energy activities (eg. fuel and chemical synthesis, metal refining) and work with toxic substances are carried out sufficiently distant from the dense habitat that there's no risk of explosion damage. Musk's tunnel boring fetish turns out to be pretty useful when it comes to building a narrow-gauge mass transit system to move workers to/from these outlying sites, so there's a subway linking the city to most of its far-flung human-operated work sites.

More remote work is either fully automated, or largely automated but overseen by a small local dome full of canned apes with space suits. (Think the folks who go out to fix wiring faults on the big-ass solar farms, or to repair the robots that clean the PV panels after the dust storms pass).

The city is large enough that "self sufficient" is within sight. There's a teaching hospital and a university (a lot of educational material is distance-learning based but it's a hub that provides for tutorials/symposia and lab space). There's a semiconductor fab line, although the mine and refinery for on-planet sources of rare earth dopants keeps getting shoved back into the future: easier to import a few tons of gallium and lanthanum and so on from Earth every couple of years at a few million dollars a ton rather than spend 10% of your planet's GDP on a refinery that'll only break even after several decades. It's still a net population sink (most terrestrial cities were, until the industrial revolution: more people died than were born there) but there is a birth rate and it turns out that with a sufficiently good medical system babies can be born and raised on Mars without too many medical issues.

The population is overall young: nobody has lived there for more than 40 years so far, the oldest citizens are around 80 years old but somewhat more mobile than on Earth (having been born on Earth and now living in a lower gravity environment), and chronic illnesses that prove fatal on Earth over a period of years (eg. Alzheimer's) are either curable by this point, or result in short incapacitation followed by death. (In 2120 there will be a huge scandal and public commission of enquiry into the policy of "assisted dying" applied by the authorities to most of the first generation of colonists who lived significantly past their productive years, but that's another scenario. Let's just say, retirement of 12-18 months is tolerated: retirement over 24 months is almost unheard of because retirees are widely believed to "just give up".)

Most of the necessities of life can be manufactured or recycled with only minimal inputs. Pharmaceuticals, for example: modular chemical synthesis "bricks" can be plumbed together to produce different drugs flexibly. Lots of research aimed at disaster resilience on Earth—portable modular pharmaceutical factories, basically—turns out to be applicable on Mars. And mandatory pre-vaccination of colonists keeps the major human plagues from ever gaining a toe-hold in the new colony: there is and will be no mumps, flu, common cold, polio, smallpox, COVID19, HIV, or rabies.

The habitats are of course instrumented and surveilled exhaustively. Nobody wants to accidentally wander into a room that is anoxic because an air circulation fan packed in, or to sleep in a near-surface dormitory where a heater failed at night in winter. Nobody wants to asphyxiate in a cloud of sewer gas that burped from a waste tank with a blocked extractor pipe. Nobody wants to starve in a famine because the strain of fungi which play a vital role in some obscure phytonutrient recycling pathway got infected and crashed. And so on.

(Politics: Musk's autocratic dream didn't outlast his own lifetime and Mars is very locked down—ridiculously so, in the eyes of anyone accustomed to life on a planet with a self-sustaining biosphere. It turns out that dog-eat-dog capitalism is a bad fit for domed cities, which can't tolerate homelessness, civil unrest, or unmedicated schizophrenia. So socially it's a lot more like the Soviet bloc than the early 21st century EU or USA, albeit with much better planning/control/management and a governing ideology which boils down to lifeboat utilitarianism—"we're not building utopia, we're just trying to ensure survival for as many as possible in an intensely hostile environment (what were our grandparents thinking?)".)

So I'm going with the most optimistic take on a Mars colony in 2070 (short of invoking magical singularity woo and benevolent superintelligent AIs running everything).

What happens next ...

One of the regular biannual colony shuttles from Earth brings an unwelcome surprise: some of the essential supplies for the life support farms are contaminated with SARS-CoV-70, leading to an outbreak which starts among workers in one of the agricultural units (possibly a potato farm—h/t to "The Martian" here).

SARS-CoV-70 is the latest emergent vaccine-resistant mutant from the clade of respiratory coronaviruses descended from SARS-CoV-19. Failure to vaccinate to achieve global herd immunity in the 2020s resulted in these coronavirii becoming endemic, and with a large host population (natural immunity seldom lasts more than 1-2 years: often only months) it keeps throwing out mutant strains (eg. Lineae B.1.1.7, the more infectious strain of the original disease, which emerged in late 2020). When a new strain of SARS emerges which is resistant to existing vaccines, the World Health Organization coordinates another global emergency vaccine response, usually releasing a tweaked mRNA vaccine within 90 days: often only local lockdowns are necessary while the first doses are airlifted to the outbreak site. On Earth, SARS-type diseases are a recurring but well-understood problem: new outbreaks compare to the COVID19 pandemic of 2020-2024 much as a winter flu pandemic in the late 20th century compared to the 1918-22 Spanish Flu.

Mars is different.

Firstly, SARS-CoV-70 is vaccine-resistant: the Mars colony is a green field zone. Indeed, the policy of excluding diseases prior to emigration has resulted in a younger generation (20-30% of colonists) who are unvaccinated against anything, and probably didn't learn about historic plagues in history class (because why would they?).

Secondly, SARS-CoV-70 is comparable in mortality/morbidity and infectivity to the original COVID19: the one twist is that "long covid" post-viral damage is more prevalent, affecting up to 25% of survivors. The pattern is familiar, with 50% of long covid patients suffering serious organ damage and 30% being severely disabled after 6 months: "long haulers" on Earth follow a pattern familiar from other post-viral syndromes (eg. CFS) and may be impaired to the point of being unable to work for years or decades.

COVID70 is highly contagious, many carriers are asymptomatic, and it was spreading in close quarters for up to 11 days before anybody realized it had arrived.

However, there is some hope due to peculiarities of architecture on Mars. All rooms have pressure control, and where a hospital on Earth would have fire doors, a hospital on Mars has emergency airlock doors. Habitats in a Mars colony by default have to be able to lock down in case of a depressurization accident, and are compartmented like a submarine. Finally, per-room breathing gas control makes nursing support for patients much easier than on earth—you can crank the partial pressure of oxygen in the ICU right up (as long as you stay below roughly 28%, above which even waterlogged organic tissue is potentially inflammable).

An mRNA vaccine for SARS-CoV-70 is available off-the-shelf on Earth. Problem: Hohman transfer orbit windows are biennial, and the next one won't open for another 15 months or so. The hospital and university have limited flexible manufacturing capacity for mRNA vaccines—they're in constant demand, because they're highly effective against most cancers and cancer is a persistent health threat in the relatively high-radiation environment on Mars.

Figures: 60% of the population will suffer from cancer at some point in their lives, compared with 30-40% on Earth. Most cancers can be treated with a course of mRNA shots that teach the patient's learned immune system to recognize the cancer clone. 0.5M people ➙ 300K cases over 75 years ➙ the colony requires capacity to manufacture at least 4000 treatment courses/year, as a routine baseline for survival. So there is a vaccine factory and local expertise, and this can be scaled up, but to provide a COVID70 vaccine for the entire Martian population within a year would require at least two orders of magnitude more output.

So their choices are (a) wait 15 months for the vaccine shipment (and upgraded vaccine factory) to arrive from Earth, or (b) divert resources into lockdown, contact tracing, nursing, and jerry-building an emergency vaccine factory from equipment/expertise/parts on hand.

Oh, and note those 90 day crew rotations to the outlying fuel, refinery, and mining plants outside the city limits ...

Some additional parameters

(I will add to this section as other stuff occurs to me. Check back often!)

The UK in 2020 operates a very lean medical service that employs roughly 1.8 million people out of a population of 68 million. 1 in 40 is thus a low-ball estimate of the proportion of the Mars population who will be working in one or another area of medical practice—nursing, surgery, pharmacy, lab diagnostics, nutrition, general practitioners, physiotherapy. That means Mars General Hospital and satellite facilities employ about 12,000 people.

COVID family viruses kill roughly 1% of the total population, but health workers and school staff are disproportionately affected, with mortality/morbidity running at 300-500% of baseline.

COVID70 will, if unchecked, kill roughly 5000 martians ... but perhaps 500 of them will be doctors and nurses. Training new doctors/nurses is a 7-10 year process, and recruiting on Earth may be difficult in the wake of a pandemic hitting a closed environment.

The colony will be left with a legacy of maybe 50-60,000 disabled colonists, of whom perhaps half will recover in 3-9 months: the rest are extreme long-haulers. Repatriating the disabled back to Earth is not an option (many of the invalids would be harmed or killed simply by landing on a high-gravity world, after spending years or decades on Mars). You're going to have to work out a social policy for handling dependents. In contrast, the colony age distribution resembles contemporary China emerging from the one-child-per-family decades rather than any historic high birth rate/high death rate colonial model. Growing your own doctors and nurses—or care home workers—is a very long term project.

The question

You are the Mayor of Armstrong City, facing a variant SARS pandemic, and supplies and support are 15 months away. What do you do?

Alternatively: what are the unforeseen aspects of a SARS-type disease infiltrating such a colony?

And what are the long-term consequences—the aftermath—for architecture and administration of the Mars colony, assuming they're willing to learn and don't want it to happen again?

Discuss.

1267 Comments

1:

Or (c) small-scale compartmentalisation to slow it down, provide basic medical care only, and put up with the death toll until (a) saves them. See also you remarks about unrequested assisted dying. That assumes that it is no more lethal and has no more long-term issues than at present. If it is, then (b).

Actually, given a highly-educated population, reasonable control of Alzheimers, osteoporosis etc. and an authoritative society (enforcing decent nutrition and exercise, and limiting obesity and substance abuse), the long-term retirement issue isn't as bad as you imply. People move into other tasks (including training and remote checking of automated systems) as they cease to be directly involved. Nothing new in that.

2:

I have just spotted your extra parameters; sorry about reposting, but they change what I should have said. The death rate for doctors and nurses is solved by my approach, because COVID patients get isolated (possibly in groups), oxygen and supplies, and live or die as they will. Priority occupations (probably including those) would get better care. Standard cost-benefit risk assessment.

I don't see how to deal with the disablement except to put up with the 10% hit to productivity. But, with planning, that's not an infeasible problem - it's comparable to a significant war.

3:

As a card-carrying molecular biologist myself, the thing that strikes me is that mRNA vaccines are very, very easy to manufacture. And that's NOW, not after 50 years of mRNA vaccines having become the standard rapid-response to emerging infectious disease. In 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture mRNA vaccines in bulk. What's more, when Covid-70 comes to Mars, we already know how to make a vaccine that works because Earth has done it. What's more it's a modular manufacturing problem. All we need to do is snap the SARS-COv70 module into our existing process.

If I'm the mayor of Armstrong City, I definitely go with making our own. Having it shipped from Earth is not something that anyone would even consider. I think that the scenario posited will end up being much less dire than it first appears.

4:

It is painfully obvious that the major indication of not following sensible social distancing protocols is "Being a Real Man™".

I think we can safely assume that it is sufficiently programmed into DNA that it will apply also on Mars.

All things considered, I would expect a Mars colony to attract a lot of Real Men™, the same way USA did a century and a half ago.

Whatever else we can say about the Mayor, it is unlikely to be a soft and squishy person in fabulous contact with their inner feelings, it will be a gung-ho problem solver, because there will be lots of problems to solve.

On hearing the 1% mortality projection, the Mayor will tell the people to buckle up and bear, it with an unmistakable "If you cannot cope with this virus, you shouldn't be here to begin with" subcontext.

Vaccine are to be produced, to the extent there is spare capacity, and it is reserved for "deserving senior citizens" which will mean the decorated, the famous and the well connected.

And then he will move on to the more pressing matters, in this case the very wet soil which makes it impossible to drill the next lower level.

5:

Maybe the Martian canals are collapsed subway tunnels from an ancient civilization. Really wide tunnels, if they're visible from space.

(Yes, I know the canal theory has been thoroughly debunked.)

As for the pandemic problem, I suspect that in 40 years contact tracing will be implemented as a face mask with molecular detectors. If Mars is lucky, those will be stored in an emergency locker in every atmosphere domain next to the vacuum suits, and with an over-the-ether software update they'll be looking for CoV-70. If not, they'll be easy to manufacture but tricky to distribute through closed airlocks. But there will be plenty of bunny suits.

6:

I would be more comfortable with your scenario if it took place in 2170 instead of 2070.

7:

In your senario, the colony will collapse. I don't swallow either your Real Men claim or such a mismanager as mayor, in a colony that has just established itself under conditions where there is little scope for cock-ups. They are likely only if the colony was a society a bit like the White Highlands of Kenya, and was heavily propped-up by subsidised supply ships from earth. That's not how I read OGH's scenario.

8:

In 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture mRNA vaccines in bulk.

Now tell me that in 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture a million disposable syringes (or other sterile vaccine delivery devices) in a city-sized Mars colony!

This is your scheduled reminder that a drug is not a medicine. (In pharmacy: a drug is a substance that exerts a detectable pharmacological effect on metabolism. A medicine is a ... thing ... that delivers said drug into the body in sufficient dose and concentration to produce the desired effect.)

9:

I disagree. You have an experimental colony in a hostile environment. Detailed technical knowledge is required on a day to day basis just to keep everyone alive.

This is not an environment where Real Men prosper. It's the natural habitat of the airline pilot and checklist enthusiast.

If COVID really is endemic on earth then there will be a section in the standard operating procedures.

10:

Does oral mRNA vaccine delivery make it easier? I believe some of the relevant pharmaceutical companies are already working on that for SARS-CoV-2, and that delivery mechanism would seem a lot more likely to have taken hold by 2070 as the standard mechanism in a colony that needs to worry about things like operating as a closed system.

11:
Now tell me that in 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture a million disposable syringes (or other sterile vaccine delivery devices) in a city-sized Mars colony!

How about if I tell you that in 2070 mRNA vaccines will be administered nasally?

Of course, I don't know that, not that specific detail, but I will make a big bet that in 2070 there will be facile routes for administration of mRNA vaccines. It will by then have become terribly important for Earth to have those routes.

I think a tremendously important point, which I hinted at in my first response but didn't make explicitly, is that Mars is backed up by the full weight of Erath expertise. For instance, scale-up problems are hard, if you're working from scratch. But if someone has already scaled up your process successfully and can tell you how they did it, the problem gets much easier. And this goes for every aspect of Mars's Covid-70 response.

Also, and this would worry me more than the direct effects of Covid-70 itself -- there will be a strong impulse to loosen safety standards in Armstrong City. That will speed things up a lot, but would add a fat tail to the death number probability distribution.

12:

The Real Men™ tendency in recent US politics appears to correlate with patriarchal white Christian supremacism. 50 years hence I expect it to be a social disease either in complete remission, or in a 50-year cyclical spike (if you give credence to Turchin's cliodynamic cyclic model of history).

A rigid social hierarchy based on the principle of white Christian male supremacy is really not going to play well in a closed society on Mars ... at least, not for the inmates. Such hierarchies are inherently wasteful of human potential, and that's why they're on the way out (for the most part) here on Earth.

13:

Does oral mRNA vaccine delivery make it easier?

I think oral per se would be hard. When you take something by mouth, it heads into your stomach and intestines. That's a super-harsh environment. And there's no easy way for macromolecules like mRNA to get from the digestive system into the blood or lymph, where the immune system can get a handle on it.

14:

When I started being vaccinated, both syringes and needles were reused - and were not even sterilised properly between uses (*); as you know, it's not a great idea in the presence of blood-transmitted diseases, but is feasible. Given the assumptions that there are a small number of uncommon blood-borne diseases, and that people's medical records have those identified, it's trivial to reuse within groups that have only the same set.

(*) They were put into alcohol between uses, but that is all.

15:

mRNA synthesis is likely to be ubiquitous and easy by 2070; the real problem is one of formulation science -- how you deliver the drug. And there's a reason why large-scale vaccine factories today are rare and cost billions.

(mRNA is a fragile molecule and easily degraded, so figuring out how to deliver it orally or intranasally is a Hard Problem in drug design -- much harder than designing an mRNA COVID vaccine, apparently, which took about 48 hours early in the pandemic. The delay was caused by the requirement for safety testing, even though it was abbreviated and a screaming emergency, and by the headache of scaling up manufacturing to meet demand.)

16:

Actually, DNA vaccines might have become much more important by 2070. And they are likely to be much easier to administer. In fact, a vaccine might itself be packaged as an infectious virus. Some of the viruses now being worked on are based on adenovirus.

The big problem with the current incarnation of those is that they confer immunity not only to SARS-CoV-19, but also to the adenovirus vehicle, which means no one who gets one of those vaccines can ever be immunized to anything else using the same vehicle. I think that problem will be solved fairly quickly by clever engineering.

17:

You're talking about one of 100s of failure modes in such a colony. I guess my question is is it even possible that shaved apes can live in enclosed spaces for any period of time. Or do we need an entire planet to sink our excess chemistry secretions, diverse chemical input needs, and allow us to spread out when needed?

Maybe the colony, to be able to exist long term, needs a different design that incorporates 100 times the space. Which of course tanks the funding in the near term.

I'm reminded of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). And those stories of how much fun it is to live on a nuclear sub for a couple of months at a time.

https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/docs/simlife.htm

Oh, yeah. By then will not there be an option for a high energy transfer mission that takes only 90 days or so to get from earth to Mars?

18:

Given your age that would have been 1950s/early 1960s, right?

Hepatitis-A was only discovered in 1973; HIV only arrived on the medical establishment's radar in the 1980s (although it began to circulate long before that).

Basically we're a lot more careful about blood-borne diseases today than we were in the 1960s because nobody really knew about them. Same with antibiotic resistance in bacterial infections: it was a theoretical possibility but hadn't really been observed -- abstract enough that SF writers thought it was a really neat premise for a novel of the 21st century, rather than something their friends and family could expect to die of.

19:

mRNA synthesis is likely to be ubiquitous and easy by 2070

mRNA synthesis is ubiquitous and easy NOW.

20:

The Real Men™ tendency in recent US politics appears to correlate with patriarchal white Christian supremacism.

So what do you call the similar things in India and China and many other places around the world?

21:

Well, a martian colony, due to technological trends already active and being accelerated right now, should be much more easily converted to a social distancing and contagion tracking measures.

First of all, like yourself noted, learning is already mostly distance. Most essential jobs will also likely already be done by telepresence, and for the essential jobs that can't be, people will be trained already to do it with breathers/pressure suits because that's the kind of environment where people live.

If you're building underground, large open spaces where many people can assemble are already at a premium, so it's likely that the only kind of those spaces are destined to socializing, not strictly necessary for a barebone survival functioning of the city.

Surveillance and monitoring will be already massive, because not only it can be, but in that kind of environment it's almost mandatory having it, things like Singapore on steroids.

Also, population will likely have been already heavily "trained" in following emergency guidelines.

So, if the mayor impose a strict social distancing and quarantine regime, move immediately to an "isolate, certify the status then move on" policy for essential workers, and start immediately a program to vaccine them, this should keep the lid on the stiuation for a while.

Also, side notes: due to the nature of such a colony, it's likely that there will be already an abundance of respirator masks, likely at least one private one per person plus many common one in emergency boxes at every corner and pressure door, regularly checked, and with everybody trained in using them with regular drills.
If you start mandating the use of those in public spaces for the duration of the emergency, they should work much better than even the currently used hospital stuff, and as noted before the kind of people that would live on Mars would be quite less likely to start "anti-mask" revolts: you could even add some "smell" to the air in public zones, and start a campaign "if you're smelling the smell, fix your mask or go in quarantine!"

Honestly, unless the engineers that designed this colony did some huge cock-ups in designing the environment and security measures, or some other unforeseen circumstances (i.e. it's not a newcovid virus, it's some kind of toxic spores released by a new fungus that like to eat cable sheaths and AC filters, it's resistant to known antimycotics, and *likes* the high-radiation environment! or there is some kind of social disruption going on like a new MAGOM cult (make america great on mars) started by the grand-nephew of Trump), I think a extra-Earth colony it's the harder environment for such a virus to spread, because the environment and the population have to be already super-controlled and super-monitored.
Unless, that is, the colony is already so close to its safety margins that even a limited push it's sufficient to drive it over to


22:

Actually, I wonder if we might by then have a stable, translatable RNA analog. RNA is unstable because the sugar-phosphate backbone has a kind-of built-in self-destruction mechanism, the 2'-oxygen that is missing in DNA. However, one can manufacture nucleic-acid-like molecules that have, instead of a sugar-phosphate backbone, some different chemistry. (Morpholino oligonucleotides are much used already.) These molecules tend to be highly stable in vivo, because the enzymes that chew up RNA can't touch them. And they can accomplish much of the function of real nucleic acids, since those depend primarily on the bases, not the backbone.

An mRNA analog would have to look enough like mRNA for the ribosome to accept it. That's a big ask. But nothing I know says it can't be done.

23:

In fact, a vaccine might itself be packaged as an infectious virus.

That's a huge can of worms right there! Once you release your new, theoretically harmless, vaccine-as-virus, it's going to hit a bunch of hosts and replicate. And as it replicates, it's quite possibly going to hybridize with other viruses, or simply mutate. Upshot: you run the risk of getting an uncontrolled contagious viral pandemic of something, and it's not what you planned on.

This is admittedly a risk directly proportional to the size of the population you're planning on infecting. But? It's a serious one, especially with a disease vector as the carrier.

24:
In fact, a vaccine might itself be packaged as an infectious virus.

That's a huge can of worms right there!

Indeed it is. But it's one that is likely to have been opened on Earth already before 2070.

25:

I guess my question is is it even possible that shaved apes can live in enclosed spaces for any period of time. Or do we need an entire planet to sink our excess chemistry secretions, diverse chemical input needs, and allow us to spread out when needed?

Remember when about a decade ago I asked what the minimum size of a viable off-earth colony was, and concluded "Germany"?

Musk's Mars colony, and the immature version in this scenario, is about two orders of magnitude smaller. It might work, but it'd have very little resilience in terms of human resources.

For example: in this scenario, we have one (1) Mars General Hospital. Odds are that there are at most a couple of professor/consultant level doctors in each speciality -- peer review and cross-training being a necessity, along with training up the next generation. The nightmare scenario is that our 1% overall death rate -- spiking to 2-3% among over-exposed/over-worked medical staff in a pandemic emergency -- takes out the entire senior cadre of a necessary speciality: oncology, for example, or autoimmune diseases, or boring abdominal surgery. And suddenly conditions which were routinely treatable -- appendicitis or rheumatoid arthritis or bladder cancer -- become life-threatening and this situation can't be repaired in less than years, either by rushing in a new oncology professor from Earth, or by distance-training up a registrar to consultant-grade.

26:

Let's suppose that Musk's Mars colony plan is as viable as his other businesses:
Oh really?
Like his "Loop" idea that is simply unworkable, expensive & inferior to existing systems, you mean?

City on Mars with partially-closed loop, deep in Valles Marineris, I suspect?
when it comes to building a narrow-gauge mass transit system
Ohe NOE! Mustn't do that it's a RAILWAY & Musk doesn't do those - see "Loop" above & his total failure to grok how mass-transis systems actually do ( & Don't ) work ....

babies can be born and raised on Mars without too many medical issues.
Bone density? Taller, thinner, weaker, fragile people? Maybe / Yes / No?

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

LAvery
I think you have it - especially with regard to self-manufacturing a vaccine - then.

EC
Problem there...
No-one expected when C-19 turned up that the "leadership of the USA or Britain would have gone walkies & awa' wi' the fairies simultaneously.
Could ex-Musk's Mars go the same way?
All too easily - it's a standard failure mode, I think.

Charlie
"...mRNA synthesis is likely to be ubiquitous and easy by 20702030, or sooner."

David L
A world-wide outbreak of fuckwittery? Self-defeating with it - though it tends to kill bystanders.

27:

Early 1950s, at school near Bulawayo. You mean Hepatitis C, I assume - A is what I have had, and it's water-borne. Even then, 'we' suspected that such things as malaria, sleeping sickness and yellow fever (all widespread in places I had been) night be transmittable blood-blood as well as blood-insect-blood. But, yes, I fully agree with you that it's a bad idea (as I said) if you have any option.

However, what I am saying is that their existence is not a show-stopper for reusable syringes (and even needles) by following the procedure I described. It's risky - but not AS risky as not vaccinating against COVID-70, as I can witness. Needs must when the devil drives, and all that. My solution (c) is the ruthless one - do whatever is best for the survival of the society and bugger worrying about individuals.

28:

[...] jerry-building an emergency vaccine factory from equipment/expertise/parts on hand [...]

Why would this be a problem? We already know that there are a lot of biotech wizards in the population because of the number of critical biotech processes that keep the population alive. And no doubt by now they have had their share of near-disasters, with some of the old fogies going on about how they worked around the Great Guanine Collapse of 53. So recognising a biotech emergency and moving fast to fix it is going to be something they know how to do.

As for equipment, with a turnaround time of 15 months you bet they are going to have a big stockpile of parts and materials, plus local manufacturing capacity, to make anything they need. A lot of that local capacity is going to be automated manufacturing, so just feed blueprints and raw materials in at one end and get whatever you want out of the other end. So whether it be specialised bioreactors for the vaccine itself, wierd adjuvants, culture media for the viral overcoats, syringes, glass bottles, its just a matter of reallocating local manufacturing bandwidth. The only quesiton will be how fast they can ramp this stuff up.

29:

My solution (c) is the ruthless one - do whatever is best for the survival of the society and bugger worrying about individuals.

Yes, but my counter-argument is that a society of 0.5M people living in a very hostile environment is likely to be marginally resilient: quite possibly some of those 1% fatalities and 10-20% long-term injured will include clusters that take down entire critical path specialities (especially likely as medics and academics are over-represented among COVID casualties, due to working conditions).

30:

I suspect that most medical things can be handled by slow tele medicine. Not well but handled.

Surgery will be the big on. Maybe they need to be top heavy with docs who have surgical experience.

And not matter what there will be a lot of surgeries that we do on earth that there just will not be enough demand to do them on Mars till, as you note, the population gets to something like Germany.

I suspect the Elon's thinking about this are not thinking about prostate meds and surgeries. From my experience it is totally off the radar of most men till they get hit by the need. Younger "guys" just don't seem to talk about or even know about it. And for those younger ones and, maybe the ladies here, this is not something that most don't see till their 80s or 90s. For most men it starts to come up in the latter 50s or mid 60s. And not being able to empty your bladder makes for a terrible life.

31:

The Martian city is not a single city. Not in the way we have on earth. It has more in common with a spacecraft or an airliner, in that the system is designed to be resilient to failure.

When you patch the code on a spacecraft, you don't patch all the computers at once; you patch one that you aren't using, you switch to that one, and you keep the computer with the old version as your backup in case the primary computer fails.

The https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactome of a human colony works in a similar way.

So there is not one city, with a single set of infrastructure. There are three, the same way there are three computers on a spacecraft. There are three parts to the city, physically separated; humans and human working fluids don't usually pass between them.

Even before a new can of apes arrives, they're being surveilled. Their temperament and susceptibility for certain diseases have been tested before they boarded their shuttle. Once aboard, the ambient genomic surveillance begins. OGH has posted before about the future of ambient computing, and it kicks in here. Genetic material is captured and sequenced everywhere during the long ferry journey from Earth.

So even then, even knowing the entire proteome of your can of apes, having had them in isolation from the rest of humanity for their entire seven-month journey, you don't just patch every habitat simultaneously with the fresh code from Gaia's festering, wonderful bioreactor. Once a new can arrives, they're introduced to one of the segments, and that segment is isolated from the others for a quarantine period.

This doesn't improve the situation for the colonists in the infected segment, of course, but it does reduce the impact on the colony as a whole system, which is the point. Two thirds of the population are safe, and they can help the infected segment at a distance, whether that is through waldoes in the hospital, or by supplying food and medicines.

32:

You left our robots. When labor is expensive, expect robots to be ubiquitous by 2050. Or at least telefactors, with lots of AI support. And robots are relatively easy to sterilize against something that can be killed by, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. (Or at least *can* be relatively easy to sterilize.)

So some of the robots are diverted to medical care, and some people have to do work that robots usually do. This scenario is a bit like a cross between a military camp and an office, with (essentially) everyone living in NCO housing. Isolation should be easy. Virtual reality, or other telepresence technologies should be a lot better than currently.

The problem is detection. If it's difficult to detect that someone is a carrier, then you've still got bad problems. If it isn't, then isolation and treatment should be easy. If you can't detect asymptomatic carriers, then prepare for a lot of people dying.

33:

Now tell me that in 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture a million disposable syringes (or other sterile vaccine delivery devices) in a city-sized Mars colony!

I suspect that by then we will have needle-less injection.

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/needleless-vaccinations-could-help-end-diseases-020713#How-Does-Needle-free-Vaccination-Work?

I would hope that your hypothetical colony has learned that disease outbreaks occur and that you need to be ready for them. So instead of Ontario, you have the approach of Taiwan or South Korea: plans made, equipment reserves stockpiled and maintained, and the ability to ramp up manufacturing of necessary supplies.

If mRNA vaccines are common, then having enough delivery devices for the entire population should be part of the plan, with newly-manufactured devices going into the stockpile and older devices pulled out and used.

34:

That is precisely why I would give priority to such people, probably using up the stock of disposable syringes. My point isn't not that reusing them is not harmful, but it is LESS harmful than the alternatives. Let's start from the day we have the vaccine (and assume ample vaccine), when we have only 100,000 syringes, so we protect 50,000 key people (in my view, a no-brainer). So far, so good. Let's look at the scenarios for (a), (b) and (c):

(a) Waiting until the syringe supply ramps up (or is delivered) would create 45,000 casualties - seriously bad news for a borderline colony.

(b) Lock-down could drop the productivity by something like 10% (half the UK figure), drop the casualties to (say) 5,000 (10%), and cause c. 1,500 deaths (UK figure, scaled) from other causes (you mentioned cancer?) That is almost equally bad news for a borderline colony in the short term.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/breaking-uk-economys-record-plunge-22269559
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/19/lockdown-may-cost-200k-lives-government-report-shows/

(c) Would infect (say) 5,000 with diseases that had a prognosis similar to COVID-70, but would protect the whole population, dropping to casualty rate to (say) 5,000 (87% protection).

So we are talking (a) 45,000 casualties, (b) 7,500 casualties and a hit to economy comparable to 45,000 until the syringes are available, or (c) 10,000 casualties.

Obviously, if syringes can be produced fast enough, (b) wins. But, if they can't, I assert that (c) does.

35:

A couple points might be useful:

One is that SARS-CoV2 wasn't one of the hundred-odd coronaviruses, from the few thousand in Chinese and other bats, that virologists had tagged as potentially infectious in humans. So you don't have to limit yourself to something that descends from or acts like Covid19. This will turn out to be important in a second.

The bigger problem is incubation period versus transit time. Right now, it looks like getting to Mars would take about six months. Covid19's incubation period is in the range of, perhaps, three weeks at the outside. So either you've got to posit a virus whose incubation period is over six months, or you've got to posit some really fast spaceships. I'd personally bet the latter, as six months of space travel isn't pleasant for shipping a lot of people to Mars, and having fusion reactors would help explain why civilization is still around at that point, and what it's doing on Mars.

However, if you've got fast ships, then the Hohmann transfer orbit problem doesn't matter, and the vaccine can get to Mars from Earth the hard way. That solves the problem.

So let's posit slow ships, a virus with a record-breaking incubation time, a society that's willing to put large numbers of people in free fall for half a year to ship them to Mars. AND able to provide rehab and training on Mars so that they can become functional citizens there. And able to keep people healthy in free fall for six months. AND aware that there's a virus with a six-month incubation period circulating through the population. AND able to create a vaccine for it...

See where this is going? That's a big paunch for the suspenders of disbelief to hold. More likely the pants are going to come off either scenario.

So let's assume that a virus that acts just like Covid19 "evolves" on Mars. I put that in quotes because what really happened was a bunch of coronaviruses (aka common colds, but including a juicy selection of currently untransmitted bat viruses) recombined in a really weird way and made a Covid analog that's indigenous to Mars.

They don't have the facilities to develop a vaccine, because this is literally an newly emergent problem, and it takes a lot of specialized kit to test out a vaccine, probably more than it takes to make it. Presumably everything they know about the virus is getting transmitted to Earth, but that's irrelevant. The virus isn't getting to Earth, because it's not going to survive the six month transit.

The problem with vaccines is that most of them fail. That's been true for the Covid19 vaccines too. We're seeing a bunch of fairly successful ones showing up now, but over a hundred firms started this race (see old posts on In The Pipeline) and most of them disappeared. Even now, there are questions about how good a bunch of the vaccines actually are.

For Mars, with a small population to test out experimental vaccines in, this is a real problem. Screw up, and the vaccine actually makes the virus exposure more dangerous, and you only get data on efficacy once people are exposed and don't get sick. Then you have to worry about whether vaccinated people can still pass the virus to unexposed people, or not. It's a mess for a small, isolated colony.

So they don't vaccinate. The thing about building an underground city on Mars, as noted, is that there have to be a lot of airlocks, both for construction and safety. So the place can be isolated. Also for safety, there's a lot of redundancy, as you don't want to lose the only hospital to a meteorite, for example. The third thing is that this place isn't going to look like, say, Montreal's underground city. Instead, it's going to look like a huge industrial greenhouse system with living quarters here and there. That's because you have to factor in some fraction of an acre of farmland for every person, and it's all got to be built. So most of the colony isn't cramped apartments, it's some sort of fractal-like complex of complexes of greenhouses, all linked by passages that have airlocks on them. With multiple, redundant medical and other centers. It's designed to break occasionally, just because shit happens and consequences are dire. You don't want someone who's suicidal or delusional to pop open an airlock and doom the entire colony.

With such a colony, you implement what I think of as the Rwandan solution. Rwanda's doing pretty well with Covid19, despite having desperate poverty, few hospitals, and no vaccine. They've invested in what they can afford to do, which is public health: contact tracing, isolating, and taking care of infected people by providing food and other assistance so that they don't spread it to others. I'm not saying they're free of it by any means, but such basic measures actually do quite a lot.

You do the same on Mars. Trace, isolate, provide care and resources to those in quarantine, and use the hospitals as you can. Since the Martian colony is designed to be break into semi self-sufficient segments, probably on multiple scales, this is a nasty mess, but probably one that's survivable. Probably the faster engineering solution is turning surface-exploration suits into respirators and training workers as ad hoc respiratory therapists who monitor but do not intubate.

Fortunately, sterilizing corpses and other nonliving systems is pretty easy: you just leave them outside on the martian surface for awhile. Probably the Martians have already developed an analog to the old "sky burial" systems that used to be common on Earth, so corpses get left outside for awhile before the memorial service, and are thus made safe for the memorial service and the subsequent recycling.

36:

Yes. Remote (i.e. nearby rooms) surgery is already ramping up, but that doesn't help if you have lost all of your surgeons with relevant expertise. Obviously, remote control from earth is out of the question without an ansible (*). Appendicitis is a bad example, because it was done by untrained people following instructions on corvettes in WW II, was done by the local doctor on the kitchen table in my youth, and still is done that way in much of the third world. But I can witness from the death of both an uncle and a friend that unskilled (i.e. GP-level) removal of melanomas turns a survivable cancer into one that will kill within months.

(*) Not yet on Musk's grand plan, as far as I know.

37:

The logistics of a preventive program (vaccination or anything else) are always much more of a challenge than the underlying science. OK, fine, Mars develops a faaaaabulously effective system for somehow getting the vaccine for this particular virus into its population quickly. In approximately the order that things will raise their ugly little variant heads:

(a) Every broad-based medical program above the level of "don't mix sewage with your drinking water" (and even some of those!) has a nonzero adverse-effect-on-population-subset issue. That's actually more likely given the prospective inbreeding (you don't really think that the population of Mars is going to be evenly and perfectly demographically drawn from the diversity of Earth's population, do you?) and radiation hazards.

(b) Unfortunately, virtually every public-health program in history has also had an Andrew Wakefield: Someone who obtains/uses a platform and spews nonsense that is convincing enough to enough people to undermine things. All you have to do is get those checklist-followers into a checklist whose concepts they don't understand to see it blow up in action.

(c) What's being done with wastes — ranging from used syringes to, umm, casualties — to keep them from contaminating this closed system? The temptation to recycle needles using "proper sanitation techniques" (for some value of those, even full resmelt-if-made-of-metal) is going to be extremely high, and extremely... cost-effective... under ordinary circumstances. These not being ordinary circumstances...

(d) Why assume that there's only one simultaneous threat, and that there's no synergy? Consider, for a moment, food-animal (or "food-synthetic-animal") crossover problems. Better yet, consider that population of feral hamsters roaming the tunnels that descended from some overpaid/entitled manager's kid's pets that were smuggled in in 2047 just before escaping. Got any hamster vaccines?

(e) It takes time for vaccines (and other immunotherapies) to become effective across a population, and even an individual; and it takes time to administer them. That means that some people are going to get sick after the start of the immunization program. What does the care system look like? How does that feed back into the waste-disposal problem?

(f) Remember that the ability to foresee and plan for a problem does not guarantee an actual, effective, fully-implemented response. For example, in real no-kidding gas-and-chemical-warfare drills in 19xx — immediately before actual deployment to an area in which that was believed by everyone to be a real risk — the "too inconvenient to actually stop what one is doing and put on the gas mask within fifteen seconds" rate was disturbingly high (and resulted in a lot of screaming at after-exercise staff meetings), and that didn't account for those who didn't participate because the immediate tasks made it too dangerous to stop and put on the mask. (Sadly, pilots — the subpopulation most "enthusiastic" about checklists — were the worst; switching between checklists without any prior warning is, in practice, a lot harder than it seems.)

Lots of story fodder in here...

38:

Oops. Correct figures for (b) are 4,500 casualties from COVID-70 and 6,000 overall. Sorry. More favourable, but my point stands.

39:

Looking at this from a wider point of view, I've always thought that lunar or planetary colonisation is going to go like this:

1. Send robots.

2. Robots build mines, refinaries and factories.

3. Factories build more robots.

4. More robots build whatever you want.

If you want a lunar base, fine. If you want millions of widgets shipped to any point on Earth, also fine (hmm. yet another tricky waste stream for Earth's biosphere to absorb). I predict that Earth-based Lunar Robot Wrangler is going to be a job description in 20 years time. Even the moon has a pesky 2.5s round trip time, so getting anything done is going to be some kind of interaction beteween a human giving high level instructions like "screw a bolt on to that" and a robot using local AI to handle the details. Somebody somewhere is doubtless researching this.

Even for a moonbase, its hard to see any kind of habitation made of pre-fab units shipped up from Earth as being feasible for anything except national bragging rights. I don't just mean raw construction materials, I mean stuff like a power plant, O2 refinery and a biomass recycling plant. A lunar or planetary colony is going to have to be pretty close to self-sufficient *before* any canned monkeys arrive, because the prime measure of self-sufficiency is the percentage mass of non-local materials required to build a robot factory (by which I mean both "a factory that operates with very limited human interaction" and "a factory that makes robots")

So because of all this I'd expect a lunar colony to happen first, just because the whole thing is about 2 orders of magnitude simpler: communication lag in seconds rather than tens of minutes so the robots need much less sophisticated AI. Shipping time measured in days rather than months so your supply chain for the 1% that can't be made locally is much shorter. And thats before you get to the practicalities of shipping a can of monkeys all the way to Mars, which is more like 3 or 4 orders of magnitude more difficult because of the amount of life-support you need to ship with them. In fact a well-developed lunar manufacturing and fuelling facility is likely to be necessary to produce a practical Mars colony ship.

Also the only practical differences between the Moon and Mars for a colony are (AFIAK)

1. Mars has an atmosphere of about 1% the density of Earth's, which isn't useful for breathing but does at least round the sharp edges off the dust. Lunar dust is seriously dangerous stuff if you breath it in, and its not good for moving parts in machinery either. That's going to be an engineering and health challenge. Quite possibly moonwalks will require too much decontamination to be feasible on a routine basis.

2. Mars gravity is about twice that of the moon, which might be a big health issue for lunar colonists.

3. Travelling to Mars is going to be a 1 way trip for quite a while. Travelling back from the Moon would be comparatively trivial. This is likely to be important for recruitment. It may also go a long way to deal with health issues of low gravity; just rotate the crew back to Earth after a few months.

We tend to think of rockets as things that go from Earth to the Moon and back. But once the robot economy gets going it'll be the other way around; rockets will be things you build on the Moon and send to Earth to pick up the monkeys and those few high-value commodities like microprocessors that can't yet be made locally.

If I was Musk, I'd be thinking just as much about robots on the moon as I am about reusable rocket ships.

40:

It starts with a compartmentalization order.

The hard question is not vaccine deployment - it's a space colony, it's easily compartmentalized, you probably aren't legally adult unless you can work in a spacesuit. To me, the harder question is TESTING - I don't know how easy it is to ramp up production for a TEST for covid70, and tests are potentially consumed in much larger numbers.

So. We start making our own vaccine, since we have the equipment and each jab now is slightly slower transmission. We do not need 500,000 disposable syringes (though we should probably have them). Reusable syringes are almost certainly less work to manufacture per dose delivered, can be sterilized chemically or with heat, and likely could be sterilized just by leaving them at outdoor air pressure for a couple sols. Not necessarily perfectly, but the risk of someone getting killed or crippled by a disease that has gone undetected for all the years the colony is in place is lower than the expected risk from covid70.

Vaccine prioritization:

I expect by 2070 some genetic conditions that make it easier for you to
asymptomatically spread covid variants will be known. So likely superspreaders get top priority.

After that, there are several options. You could make a complicated priority chart of who gets vaccines when (children too young to put/keep spacesuits on first, followed by personal entertainers whose work requires them to go unsuited among others, followed by guards, followed by medical professionals).

However, a more likely approach than job ranking is an attempt to make sure that some of EVERY profession are vaccinated. Air plant maintenance is more important than curing cancer, but the colony will do better with one tech lost in air plant and one lost in cancer-treatment than with all the air plant techs vaccinated and all the cancer medics left to coof. Bonus technocratic dystopia: who gets vaccinated first is determined by performance reviews.

The next question is how much energy a Hohmann transfer actually saves?
I don't know orbital dynamics, but I have a distinct suspicion that the
engine needed to get a ton of mixed rare earths to a soft lithobrake fifteen months from now could ALSO get a few kilos of frozen vaccine to a soft landing much sooner - in which case the Martian vaccine deployment is just a matter of slowing the spread and maybe testing our injectors.

The aftermath:

Vaccine manufactory capacity was significantly increased. The syringe stockpile was enlarged. A petition to publicly cane the former administrators for failing to have sufficient capacity BEFORE the arrival of Covid-70 narrowly failed. There is a heated debate over whether the near-surface crews should be rewarded for proactively digging deeper radiation shelters when the plague hit instead of doing their official work, or whether they should be punished for dropping productivity on their official jobs to dig more holes. The Asshole Brigade argues that the low death toll means we shouldn't be wasting
valuable space that could be used for gem-encrusted statuary on surplus vaccine capacity, and that we SHOULD punish the Diggers. The Diggers have noted that they could just declare independance and that Armstrong City cannot afford the resources needed to take back essential surface infrastructure by force and then repair it post-battle.

41:

The waste disposal problem looks serious to me, because the colony systems are not built with a significant loss of resources in mind; they're supposed to be closed-loop, or close to it. Anything which puts a big crimp in those loops puts the whole operation on a downward spiral, especially if the resource loss is effectively permanent.

At that point, look for a "rapid unplanned change of senior management", because any attempt to replenish those resources from outside means you're gifting the survival of the whole enterprise to outsiders.

42:

Reusable syringes ... likely could be sterilized just by leaving them at outdoor air pressure for a couple sols

Not sure why you think this would work. Low pressure won't kill viruses or most bacteria. It's cold out there. Cold doesn't kill effectively. Bacteria and viruses are relatively resistant to radiation and the interior of a syringe needle will be sheltered from much of the surface radiation. (Not cosmic rays, but UV for sure.)

43:

11 days? So, maybe 2 transmission periods. With R of 20, say 400 infected? Given knowledge of the long-term disability issue, spread minimization is key.

For a Mars colony, probably an immediate, draconian lockdown. (Real Men end up being captured with butterfly nets. Protestors are shot.). Follow with contact tracing. China managed with far less invasive protocols than are available.

Divide city by sectors and relax restrictions once it is clear there are no infected. Masks and proxy tests to start.

Once infection rates hit zero, choice of vaccine delivery is less of an issue. Given the rate of organ damage, vaccine trials are 'expediated'.

44:

There are already surgical "robots" (really telefactor) that are better than the surgeon, because their "hands" are stabler. I would be surprised if this hasn't drastically improved by 2070, and more surprised if the colony described wasn't heavily invested in them. But this by isolation of medical professionals a lot easier. What is really needed now are better robot nurses, but Japan is already working on that problem...and I don't think they mean telefactors. Time lag would keep doing it from off-planet from being practical, but the width of a city/dome wouldn't be a problem.

People on Mars are going to require a lot more life support, so I expect that the society is going to be heavily infused with robots and telepresence (and probably telefactors). This will make isolation easy to accomplish, if you know who needs to be isolated. It may make isolating everyone simultaneously for a couple of weeks (household by household) practical. Just don't send people out to the mines during this period.

OTOH, one thing not specified was the incubation period. Since the disease got to Mars from Earth, either it's a lot more durable than the current COVID, or it's got a remarkably long incubation period. Current COVID seems to only last at most hours outside a host in an infectious form. Most of the tests saying it last for day only checked that the RNA was present, as checking that it's infectious requires trying to grow it, and that needs to be done in a biological confinement environment (e.g. a Biological Warfare lab or something with equivalent precautions) so it's almost never done. (Well, now that COVID is so widely circulating that's probably not true, but that was the case in the early days when they were doing all the durability tests.) The CDC currently says that surface contact based transmission is a minor cause of infection. I can't find a decent link to the quote, there are pdfs and a link to a search page on the CDC site from Google, but the original news release didn't show up on a quick search.

So you're really talking about something considerably different from COVID. Probably a bacterium or a spore. Say a from of athlete's foot that has a high fatality rate. That would have the advantage that it's hard for people to take it seriously.

45:

Now tell me that in 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture a million disposable syringes (or other sterile vaccine delivery devices) in a city-sized Mars colony!

Checking, a 3 ml syringe and needle weighs something like 5 g. -- 5 tonnes for a million of them, plus a like mass for packaging. Prepositioning 10 tonnes against a plausible contingency doesn't seem unreasonable given how much other stuff would have to be hauled from Earth to establish and maintain Marsograd.

http://www.ssaapp.com/product/injection-and-venipuncture-1.php

46:

The problem is there are 10K different items that will likely look as valuable but not needed immediately or maybe at all except when the unexpected happens.

Maybe 100K.

After the discussions here a few years ago I started paying attention to just how much stuff (crap) is needed to keep our lives in comfort and it is just staggering in terms of the number of little bits.

Go back to the discussion about screw types. Do you remake most everything you take to Mars so the number of threaded sizes is only 1000 and not 100,000?

47:

I would expect most cargo transport to Mars to be on a more efficient cheaper orbit like gravity capture (or whatever gets thought up in the next 50 years). So there would be a couple of months extra in which the pandemic would have been noticed on Earth and vaccines developed. Since only information would be required to make a vaccine that would give the colony time to develop enough vaccine and to quarantine cargo from Earth and sterilise it.
There would presumably enough spare rocket (or Vasimir or fusion) capacity, possibly military, to send a cargo of vaccine on a hyperbolic orbit with atmospheric braking in a much shorter time than a Hohmann orbit.
Of course fusion drive will be available because it's more than thirty years in the future. At least that's what people keep telling me.
Also it would be reasonable to expect the Mars colony to routinely vaccinate it's citizens with the latest terrestrial vaccines or it would risk plague with every immigrant. In this case there would be plenty of supplies and vaccine manufacturing equipment available.
The first adult science fiction book I ever read,The Sands of Mars by Arthur C Clark had the crew of his spaceship pick up a vaccine for "Martian Fever" when their ship was intercepted by an automated probe.

48:

The problem is there are 10K different items that will likely look as valuable but not needed immediately or maybe at all except when the unexpected happens.

I take your general point, but in the case of syringes there will be a continuing need to give other kinds of shots/jabs to the 500k populace. I have no real idea what that would be, but 200k per year seems like it might be a reasonable guess. So establish an initial 1.4M stockpile, replenish it as part of the regular supply shipments from Earth and restock the, ah, stockpile in FIFO fashion. (*)

(*) There will be regular supply shipments, won't there?

49:
Musk's tunnel boring fetish turns out to be pretty useful when it comes to building a narrow-gauge mass transit system
Making popcorn to watch this bump up against his fetish for the rugged individualism of private car (or "tunnel can") ownership.
50:

It seems fairly likely to me that the stockpiling of dispo syringes might happen, because of our tendency to always be fighting the last war. We're not gonna forget Covid-19 soon, I hope. OTOH, I think David L's point is well taken. Whatever small thing it turns out to be that the Mars colony desperately needs, it probably won't have it.

51:

Knee-jerk assumption that vaccuum is bad for things. You're right, though. (And I suspect that even if vaccuum IS bad for viruses the cold will help protect them)

52:

"Whatever small thing it turns out to be that the Mars colony desperately needs, it probably won't have it."

They will probably be able to print it.

53:

Technical solutions to a few of the problems upthread:

Needle free injectors sound like something that Mars will have gone for from the start on the principle that it's that much more hostile up there, shipping stuff in costs a fortune, if there's a way to make a reusable object instead of single use it's likely to have been built into the project.

DaVinci surgical robots, surgeons on earth on the end of a 4 minute time lag, remotely placed surgical markers that let you tell the DaVinci MCXVI.6 what it's going to do relative to those markers and 50 years of expert systems all built onto a technology that's currently only 20 years old at the moment

54:
"Whatever small thing it turns out to be that the Mars colony desperately needs, it probably won't have it."

They will probably be able to print it.

If they can print it, then by definition, it is not the thing that they desperately need.

55:

When I started work in the bacteriology lab at Wythenshawe Hospital in 1966 we saw penicillin resistance every day, particularly in burns patients on the plastic surgery wards. New antibiotics like gentamicin were already added to our antibiotic sensitivity plates.

56:

They will use *Stametix TM*. Fully functional fungi farming. Maybe adding in some mars adapted mistle toe.

Hugh!

57:

They will probably be able to print it.

It would be interesting to try, today, to print a functional syringe and needle, perhaps needing a bit of post-printing finishing or not.

59:

Right, 2060.

First of all, Charlie, exactly how are we going to get 500,000 people to Mars in forty years? His "Starship" ain't going to carry 25,000 people to Mars every year for 10 years.

What are the half-million jobs going to be?

Second, I utterly fail to see how all of the 25? versions of the cold virus will be excluded.

Third... asymptomatic? In a closed environment? You've got 90% (at least) infections in the first 10 days, as the HVAC recycles it. (See the first attack of "Legionnaire's Disease").

Fourth: syringes? Primitive tech: jet injectors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675000/

Fifth: Real Man syndrome what percentage of everyone going *doesn't* have it (and I include women and trans in that)?

Sixth: I'm back to "with zillions of robots, and robot wrangling being automated (let's see, have you tried the latest HP robot wrangling solution? The new release, from 2069, has really great reviews....), what are the half-million people going to *do*... unless you're moving to a post-industrial society....

61:

Geez, I go take a shower, and realize there's more issues. First, unless you want to pay attention to Bruce "Asshole" Willis's Armageddon (gag), every single person who goes up will have at least one college degree. Given that, having more than one or two children is extremely unlikely.

Second, unless God-Emperor Musk has the humans hiring the homeless Native Martians (you know, the ones who've been keeping our Mars Rovers going by squeegeeing the dust off their windshields, er, solar panels), I'm assuming that children will be taken care of by robot nannies. Now, George Jetson, Jr, will, one assumes, build deep connections and feelings for the robot nannies, and much less for mater and pater, and how's that going to work when they come of age to reproduce?

62:

Tsk, Tsk. Reproduction by conventional means will be so oldfashioned then. Cloning it is.
You have seen https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6292852/ , yes?

63:

I watch a few hours of tv... a year.

And just looking at the promo, my suspenders of disbelief snapped: if humanity is extinct, and she's been created... what the hell is a "stranger"?

64:

I can't really reply without spoiling, or going further OT. Let's just say I had a phase without *any* movies, and I don't own a "TV" since 1996. Out of all the trash out there, this was at least something less trashy, with hints of good smells even. K?

65:

Er, not really. Being brought up by a nanny is SO pre-20th century, and has exactly the problems you describe. (M/P)aternal leave plus day care centres works much better, not least because it socialises children - and, given competent government/management of such things and people's workloads (*), an average of 3 children per couple is perfectly feasible, even likely.

(*) I.e. not as in the UK or USA of today, not even in academia.

66:

Oh, btw, just to make your day...
"A third of people who recovered after suffering from severe Covid were readmitted to hospital within five months with complications including heart problems, diabetes and chronic liver and kidney conditions. "

67:

Why would you under-provision your RNA manufacturing so much? Just scale it up. And RNA is actually something that can be replicated using biological enzymes from DNA templates, so scaling up is not that challenging.

It also makes no sense to stop vaccinations, mRNA vaccines have zero risk of infection with the actual virus. And by 2070 most of the vaccines will likely be mRNA based.

68:

Whitroth @61:

A college degree is not a guarantee, even if in some senses and in some areas it reduces the incidence of foofery. Apollo One was designed, and its construction was supervised, by people with college degrees. The Dear Leader of the United States (until Wednesday) has a college degree. Rand Paul and Andrew Wakefield have graduate degrees in the biological sciences. An awful high proportion of the wooiest antivaxxers have college degrees. Lawyers and economists have college degrees.

All it takes is overconfidence in knowledge (as distinct from process), and/or misapplication of knowledge from one field to another that looks comparable but really isn't — especially if not current enough in either field (been there, caught my own mistakes before they went too far).

69:

Legionaries disease is well-known and that's why air recirculation systems on Mars will have strict multi-stage filtering, UV disinfection and monitoring.

70:

Does the surface radiation level decline at night?

I'm not sure where all the surface radiation comes from, but I'm guessing a whole lot of it comes from the sun. Would there be any benefit to doing surface work only after the sun sets?

71:

Does the surface radiation level decline at night?

I can't imagine that it doesn't.

I'm not sure where all the surface radiation comes from, but I'm guessing a whole lot of it comes from the sun. Would there be any benefit to doing surface work only after the sun sets?

I'd bet a lot that you're right about that.

72:

You've got 90% (at least) infections in the first 10 days, as the HVAC recycles it.

I suspect that UV lights(*) in the air ducts would be a good idea in such environments in any case.

(*) Or equivalent. Maybe some strategically placed strips of cobalt 60.

73:

Fine. Show me an HR department, government or not, in the industrialized world that DOES NOT INSIST on a college degree for almost *anything*.

Someone without one isn't even going to get their resume seen by anyone other than the circular file.

1988: "Yes, I understand you had an excellent interview with the manager, and that the ad says you can substitute years of work for a degree, but I'm saying I'm not going to accept you without a degree" - Texas AG HR.

1995, several months after starting with Ameritech: so, did my brand new shiney B.Sc help get me this job? Manager: we didn't care, we wanted your experience, but it helped us get you through HR.

74:

McDonalds, cashier at AldiLidl or something, Amazon...

75:

Or, perhaps to make it simpler, have the HVAC air ducts go to the surface, with clear (glass?) tops, and let the external radiation take care of it.

76:

Depends on where you are, or the dust storms are coming from, I'd guess?

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/map-of-martian-thorium-at-mid-latitudes/

77:

Sure. And applying to God-Emperor Musk to go to Mars?

78:

I think as others have said this is a big underestimation of the advances in medical technology. The idea that we could pull off a Mars colony and we are still stuck
With glass vials and metal needles doesn’t fly

Similarity I don’t really buy the “it takes a Germany” argument . I think a combination of AI, AR and extreme modularization / standardization will make a lot of things (like surgery or fixing a car) much much simpler and more a matter of humans being delegated to a final approver role rather then the primary doer. “the computer wants to do this , does that look reasonable ok, I hit the go button” of the aren't just flat out automated

So if Mars can’t manufacture the thjng it will download the ability to manufacture the thjng. If your doctor dies you will train a new one in a couple of weeks, since the computer is doing 99% of the work anyway

79:

It is a documented fact, brought up on this blog a number of times over the years, that the higher the education level of the women, the fewer children she wants.

Then, most people these days, if you hadn't noticed, *want* a lot of kids. I mean, it's not like a large percentage of them will die before they're teens, and it's not like you need as many hands as possible to take care of the fields....

And childcare is *very* intensive. Ask someone, if you know any personally, about working in childcare, esp. for small children.

80:

I hope they were dosing Vit-D properly as a matter of course, probably unavoidable given the environment, unless all their lighting is putting out UVB.

My main struggle with this scenario is how does a coronavirus survive either 6 months in transit outside a human host or without any host showing symptoms. Although we can wave around that by saying hey it's some new Martian virus or whatever.

81:

Certainly not. Let the virtual gazillionairies have their run in with the Leather Godesses from Phobos, for all I care. I'll rather buy my clean Perry ..err Nestle Air on the Planet of the Apes.
From time to time, a short whiff, CBD infused, to ease the struggle, take it all in with a giggle...

82:

“Vacuum Quarantine” will be the euphemism that emerges for applying the same response to potential exposure that ground-grippers use for foot-and-mouth disease in livestock.

83:

The Dear Leader of the United States (until Wednesday) has a college degree

Looks like his dad may have bought it for him.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-book/trump-paid-proxy-to-take-college-entrance-exam-for-him-nieces-book-says-idUSKBN2482UN

84:
Depends on where you are, or the dust storms are coming from, I'd guess?

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/map-of-martian-thorium-at-mid-latitudes/

Surely you're not suggesting that all surface radiation on Mars comes from Thorium, and none from the sun?

I've read sources explaining that a large part of the reason for higher radiation on Mars in the lack of atmosphere, and the lack of a magnetic field. Atmosphere and magnetic field reduce radiation exposure by shielding the surface from solar radiation. If it is indeed the case that the Mars surface has higher radiation levels because of reduced shielding, much of that radiation must be from the sun. And putting a planet between you and the sun has got to do wonders for shielding.

85:

With respect to the likelihood of an infection not manifesting and being detected in the 37 weeks it would take a Hohmann transfer to get to Mars - it's weird and unintuitive, but only a factor of two different from a known incident.

"Six of 12 men wintering at an isolated Antarctic base sequentially developed symptoms and signs of a common cold after 17 weeks of complete isolation."

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2130424/

86:

My main struggle with this scenario is how does a coronavirus survive either 6 months in transit outside a human host

I read a report about someone in China who apparently caught COVID-19 from handling plastic-wrapped frozen pigs heads imported from Germany. It seems this particular coronavirus remains viable and infectious outside the body for months at low temperatures. This might explain at least part of the upsurge in cases in northern hemisphere countries after the summer was over.

87:

Of course not! While I have no information how these do compare to the few places on earth we have with higher background radiation like black sands on the beaches in parts of Brazil, in Iran on the coast of the Caspian Sea, in India somewhere near Goa, and at least one place in China where they've built a cluster of large NPPs because YOLO! came to my mind. If it were like 10 times, that surely would be bad? No matter if day or night.

88:

I'd say, hard lockdown right away, as others already said. Looking globally, there are a number of countries that clamped down the infections pretty well and got it under control mostly (many Asian countries, Australia, NZ). What they got right: everyone coming in is fully quarantined. Quarantine is enforced in special facilities with guards at the door, and not a voluntary exercise. And, people in quarantine are fed and taken care of, to avoid any hard reason for them to venture out.

In a Mars colony it should be quite easy to enforce: presumably, all air locks are under government control, there are no other routes (no unnoticed sneaking past the checkpoints). Depending on incubation time, and assuming transmission is human-to-human only, the infections should drop to near zero within 2 weeks. Implement rapid tests and enforce them at all hubs between habitats. Infected zones: everyone gets tested, and quarantined if needed (like done in small countries like Iceland). People who have to walk around: everyone probably has an emergency pressure suit and high-grade respirators of some sort anyway for emergency use (fire? pressure drop?), which should be far more effective that self-made masks, or nothing at all. I assume that robotic delivery services are standard to get food and essentials to quarantined people. Depending on available technology, it might be possible to test exhaust air in the life support systems, to identify new hot spots as they form (similar to testing sewage plants right now). If so, partial habitats can be re-opened when clear. Of course things can go horribly wrong (maybe viruses can spread through the ventilation system if it's poorly designed?), but it seems a colony would easily be able to exceed the efforts in post-lockdown Wuhan, where the virus was pretty much under control with a month or two after measures were implemented. And if there's no large wave, the limited vaccine can be sent to the places where it's needed: medical staff, zones with outbreaks (vaccinate everyone in that zone, assuming affected zones are small compared to population).

The big wildcard is people's behaviour and trust in the government: will Martian settlers play along for the 1-2 months of very harsh measures? Or will there be anti-lockdown demos, conspiracy nuts, armed coups, dissenting habitats, etc.? And if there are: can a governor just lock them down until they give up? How hackable/escapable are the airlocks?

89:

So I'm also going to have to go down the mRNA vaccines are crazy easy to manufacture route. As in a device the size of a microwave can make you a few hundred batches over night, at current tech levels.

If you combine this with the whole 3D printer style tech and automated lab systems I would think in 50 years you could have a vaccine printer in each house or doctors office. You plug in a reagent kit of a few lipids and your RNA nucleotides, plus a digital design file of a couple of kilobytes.

3 hours later the device is ready and tells you to stick your hand in the opening, or press your arm up against a panel with your shirt rolled back, a quick stab with a robotic reusable syringe/needle and your inoculated. You then leave, the booth/surface is irradiated with crazy amounts of UV to sterilise it. The reusable syringe and needle is rinsed with standard lab cleaning solution, UV irradiated and maybe autoclaved briefly.

Is is all pretty much doable with our current tech, it's just there hasn't been a need, and before the development of RNA based vaccines the complexity of making the vaccine dominated so, there was little point in developing a distributed, reuseable vaccination machine.

Note to close the circuit you need to sequence the RNA/DNA virus in the first place. The hardware to do this is tiny, for example have a look at the lab on a chip device like Oxford nanopores VolTRAX, and for the sequencer and compute needed to sequence the virus, analyse it and design the vaccine see Nanopores MinION mk1c.

I think people outside the research side of genetics/molecular genetics don't fully understand how much the tech has advanced in the last 20 years, and secondly how much capability there is in molecular genetics labs. All we are waiting for is enough interest/money to look at merging all the tech together and generating a single automated system.

90:

Pervasive surveillance would give faster, more granular automatic contact tracing, but could also be used to direct cleaning robots to sanitize specific filters and surfaces.

Today: "You spent 15 minutes less than two meters away from someone who tested positive."

Future: "Your bare left index finger touched keys #7 and 9 on airlock control pad A4364573, thirty-eight minutes after someone touched those keys who later tested positive. You then touched surfaces in washroom B345567, left without cleaning your hands, and then went directly to your sleep pod. Cleaning robots have flame-broiled the keypad and washroom. You and the eight subsequent users of the washroom are now quarantined. Have a nice Sol."

91:

Also the transport of virus to Mars via farming equipment while in theory possible can be dealt with.
Much like countries currently fumigate shipments for pests, it's not to hard to do the same for viruses/bacteria, secondly in your cargo containers add UV lights that need to be on for a few weeks of the transit. All you need to do is pump a reasonably small amount of ozone or similar (or something more powerful) into the shipping container and over a 6 month journey it should do an excellent job of sterilising the equipment.

Humans or animals, or germ-plasm would be a bigger problem, but again you can and should be sequencing all DNA/RNA out of such samples before releasing them. Secondly for humans, they need to get there and I can't imagine that won't at least take 3-6months of transit time. That's plenty of time for symptoms to develop for most diseases, and secondly do a monthly route blood and nasal swab from each passenger and sequence it looking for DNA/RNA you don't recognise, or do recognise and don't like. Also you do metagenomics sequencing on the air within the transport daily and and the fecal matter generated. This is very cheap to do (less than $100 per test at current prices) and will be only cheaper in 50 years.

Not saying it's impossible, but with properly designed systems and a 6 month transit, I think you would almost be having to talk human agent actively trying to distribute the disease. Or complete and utter stupidity in part of every one involved.

92:

So we have a society where the majority of the people made a very conscious decision and a huge personal sacrifice to live and die on mars. Everyone is under constant surveillance/tracking. Decompression drills (shelter in place) will be frequent.

Whilst the base is some way beyond a space mission as I imagine it now, it is likely that many people will be multi-skilled for resiliency, and that multi-skilling could be using very different skills. I can perform surgery, and I can rebuild the air filtration system.

I'm also assuming that privacy is rare and somewhat exceptional, and peer pressure is expertly employed to get the behaviours that keep everyone alive. So anyone trying the equivalent of an anti-mask demonstration is having their mad rant beamed around for everyone else to laugh at them. Name and address also included.

Contact tracing is easy. Containment of groups is easy. Testing should be easy.

Vaccine production may be limited, but the equivalent of a colony-wide business continuity plan would say who lives and dies in the event of any catastrophe. Plans would need to exist for the very real possibilities of mass-starvation food shortages, chemotherapy drug shortages, and any number of small-colony catastrophes.

Even with all of those negative points, I would still give up everything I have for the chance to die on mars.

93:
I think people outside the research side of genetics/molecular genetics don't fully understand how much the tech has advanced in the last 20 years, and secondly how much capability there is in molecular genetics labs. All we are waiting for is enough interest/money to look at merging all the tech together and generating a single automated system.

Yeah, and Covid-19 has taken us much of the way (maybe all the way, within a few years) towards providing the motivation it'll take to make that happen.

94:

(Been AFK for a few hours, playing catch-up, won't catch up before bedtime tonight ...)

it's going to look like a huge industrial greenhouse system with living quarters here and there.

Additional tweaks to this imagery:

If they can get a PV cell factory running on local materials -- which I gather is a matter of some interest to Musk -- then they will, and where possible they'll move the greenhouses underground. Using LED lighting optimized for photosynthesis introduces an energy inefficiency in converting sunlight to electricity and back again, but it buys them better radiological and depressurization safety. In addition, they'll mess with the temperature and atmospheric gas mix to maximize plant growth or photosynthesis -- it's not like there's a shortage of CO2 on Mars, after all.

I also expect the human-inhabited zones to normally run at a partial pressure of oxygen under 15% rather than the nearly 20% in our own atmosphere. This is an effective fire suppression system and you really don't want a fire to break out in an off-world habitat (read the account of the fire on Mir if you want the cold shudders -- or any number of submarine disasters). Supplying supplementary oxygen to sleeping berths should be practical, and I expect it to be the norm in hospital beds.

Mars is very much cooler than Earth, with ground-level temperatures down to -80 celsius at the poles and rarely going as high as 0 celsius. This suggests that cold traps to precipitate CO2 out of the in-habitat atmosphere should be rather cheaper to run/more efficient than on Earth, allowing for fine control. The colony also needs a LOX plant (in addition to Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of methane) for spacecraft fuel: again, this has significant implications for what the colonists are breathing and/or growing crops in.

95:

So in the next 50 years nobody, not even the military, will have regular air sniffers looking for novel pathogens in real time? That DNA sequencing cannot be done in seconds?

96:

Lavery @ 84

Yes, having the planet as a shield stops the solar radiation by night.

On the other hand, when you have a solar storm the particles and radiation from the sun go all the way around Mars, because of the lack of an atmosphere and a magnetic field like Earth has.

So, the night side of Mars also get zapped during these storms.

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/large-solar-storm-sparks-global-aurora-and-doubles-radiation-levels-on-the-martian-surface

Mars is an awful place.

97:
On the other hand, when you have a solar storm the particles and radiation from the sun go all the way around Mars, because of the lack of an atmosphere and a magnetic field like Earth has.

So, the night side of Mars also get zapped during these storms.

That's what I don't get. On Earth, it is true the effects of a big solar storm go all the way around the planet. But that's because the magnetic field causes charged particles to not go in straight lines. On Mars, I would expect only the side facing the sun to experience the elevated radiation. And that is in fact what the images in that doc you linked to appear to show.

98:

So in the next 50 years nobody, not even the military, will have regular air sniffers looking for novel pathogens in real time? That DNA sequencing cannot be done in seconds?

Are you replying to me? If so, I don't understand the questions in relation to anything I've posted so far.

99:

Look, I worked in an (academic) environment where the women almost always have a degree and often two, the households had three or more, with both parents working full-time, and my social contacts are mostly with such households. My wife has two degrees, I have one and a half, and we both worked full-time. The reasons that (generic) we had relatively few children were various, but three of the main ones were the god-awful politics of schooling, the even more god-awful attitude of managers to employees (especially men), and the equally god-awful dog-eat-dog promotion ladders (affecting especially women). Those are removable factors and, without them, (specific) we would have had more than two children.

Correlation is not causality.

100:

LAvery @ 96

Read the tiny captions under the images: The last 2 show, on the left side, the night side of Mars, bathed in UV radiation.

101:

I note that the text does say, "An aurora on Mars can envelope the entire planet because Mars has no strong magnetic field like Earth's to concentrate the aurora near polar regions." But I think what they mean by "envelope the entire planet" is all latitudes, not all longitudes simultaneously. Of course, the event described lasted two days, and Mars rotates in 24.6 hours, so in the course of that storm, everything got hit. But not necessarily all at one time.

102:

"Armed coups"? With what - there shouldn't be any firearms on Mars. You're not going to hunt tharks, and in a pressurized habitat?

103:

Why photovoltaic for underground farms? Why not just skylights?

My late ex was interested in these ads we saw, put a panel into the roof: not a window, but
/ /
\ \
/ /

if I'm remembering correctly.

104:

One of the things I see missing in Marsograd so far is a very well-equipped, state-of-the-2070-art machine shop capable of making everything from medical syringes and contact lenses to modest nuclear reactors (given the materials). DIY will have a very serious meaning on Mars.

105:

The "no physical help from Earth for months" seems undeniable. Poking around revealed a list of Earth/Mars window midpoints so our plague ship would probably have arrived on Mars during April of 2070. Allowing for incubation time it would be May when things start going sideways and using this handy orrery shows that Earth is then about a quarter of an orbit past Mars. That means for an immediate launch of relief supplies the trajectory has to either dive round the sun and then settle down for a long chase, or head well out beyond Mars and wait for it to catch up. Looking at the "porkchop" plot for the 2018 window gives an idea of the delta-v required for a fast transit, chemical propulsion isn't going to work and nuclear doesn't look useful either. For comparison the current Starship design has a delta-v of between 6 km/s and 7 km/s, the best bet to widen the window would be to make its payload a fully fuelled Falcon 9 second stage or equivalent with a small re-entry vehicle on top of that. The Starship being used as the booster would need to be expended as you'd want to burn all its fuel.

As mentioned in a comment above, mRNA vaccines don't seem to take up a lot of production space. One possibly over-enthusiastic site claimed a million doses could be brewed in a 2 litre bio-reactor, although it avoided mentioning how long that would take, and 2 litre bio-reactors are advertised by several suppliers in a desktop format. If you've got a big desk at least...

Needle free injections look to be the way to go. Needles take a fair bit of effort to recycle whereas the capsule for a gas powered system can be all plastic and relatively easy to produce and recycle locally. Preparing
for mass vaccination
shows the general idea about three quarters of the way down.

Using the Hong Kong/Singapore model of population density, each apartment block unit is likely to be largely self contained for life support purposes and hopefully the entire settlement will have been designed with dedicated home offices, or maybe a shared office space for each sub-unit so a room with a dozen workstations shared between the six surrounding flats. That makes isolating groups much easier, and individuals from uninfected units can be rotated through the outside work. It may also make sense to vaccinate people by accommodation unit rather than the scattergun effect being used here. Once the medical staff and immediate contacts are vaccinated deal with Shotwell Towers, then Mueller Mall, Innsprucker Heights, Anderson Avenue and so on.

106:
Read the tiny captions under the images: The last 2 show, on the left side, the night side of Mars, bathed in UV radiation.
But those images don't show the dayside radiation levels. I don't think you can conclude from these images that the nightside is not shielded.
107:

*shakes head*

We've seen reports from around the world. from both First World and Third, and this is the case. And, from my kids, friends, and others, they don't want that many kids.

Hell, of my four, I have one grandkid, and one on the way. Total. Carefully planned for, no accidents.

The attitude *has* changed since we were younger.

108:

What about abusing maintenance and construction tools, beginning with the good old wrench? :-)
Offensive cybering into energy and HVAC comes to mind also.

109:

I'm sorry, but I think you're trying to write for Bruce Willis, who I *loathe*.

Government has control over airlocks, etc. I'd assume gov't control of most robots.

And with the people presumably on Mars, why are you not thinking of a horror movie, where everyone's afraid of most others, who might be carrying the plague?

110:

A college degree is not a guarantee, even if in some senses and in some areas it reduces the incidence of foofery.

Ayep.

A Mars colony needs people who are happy being an electrician, plumber, plant grower, etc... An electrical engineer many times turns out to be a lousy electrician. Or one who doesn't want to do it full time. Or even 10% of the time.

111:

Decompression drills (shelter in place) will be frequent.

I wonder how long before the "reformers" want to replace the "owners" with a "better" governing body that doesn't make people do so many stupid things like a decompression drill every week.

112:

This suggests that cold traps to precipitate CO2 out of the in-habitat atmosphere should be rather cheaper to run/more efficient than on Earth, allowing for fine control. The colony also needs a LOX plant (in addition to Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of methane) for spacecraft fuel: again, this has significant implications for what the colonists are breathing and/or growing crops in.

Where are you getting this CO2? The atmosphere is almost non existent compared to earth.

113:
So in the next 50 years nobody, not even the military, will have regular air sniffers looking for novel pathogens in real time? That DNA sequencing cannot be done in seconds?

There is no existing technology I know of that can do that. Nor is there anything in the wings. High-throughput sequencing technology is not particularly fast, in the sense of having a very short time between starting the machine up and having a sequence. It's high-capacity, in that once it gets going, you get lots of bases per second.

"DNA sniffers", AFAIK, are pure science fiction. On "The Mandalorian" you can have a device that bars entry to any living thing whose DNA sequence is not approved, but those are as fictional as The Force.

114:

And ... talking of C-19 and similar ...
This image should, hopefully, generate some laughs.

115:

Err, actually no. I rather had that epic Red/Blue/Green Mars trilogy thing in mind, where there were many different systems in competing sites, and countless SNAFUS because of that. While the single outpost site discussed here diverges from that, I have serious doubts everything will go according to plan, as another commenter at 110 meanwhile already mentioned.

116:

Pipelines from the pole caps? Which consist of dry ice supposedly?

117:

I am fully aware of that, but I am ALSO aware of why people with multiple degrees have fewer children. You can add finance (even for dual-income academics), and pessimism about overpopulation and the future of the world (especially for childless people). What you are missing is that a Mars colony would be seriously different in the collective mindset, not least because there would be room to expand. And, if the society were well-organised (a prerequisite for it to succeed), MOST of the existing constraints in the society I live in (which includes youngsters of breeding age) would be removed.

You seem to be claiming that people will emigrate to a Mars colony, with the intention of creating an unsustainable population. I find that totally bizarre. If they emigrate to it, they will (a) be optimistic about its success and (b) 'do their bit' to ensure that it is. And the government and society will be set up to encourage that.

Note that I am NOT talking about breeding like rabbits or "lie back and think of Mars", but on (a) choosing to have children in the first place and (b) choosing to have three or four rather than one or two. What is more, these people will be intelligent, and know that a reproduction rate of below 2 is unsustainable.

119:
Where are you getting this CO2? The atmosphere is almost non existent compared to earth.

Although the Martian atmosphere is very thin, it is 95% CO2. If my back of the envelope calculation is right, the partial pressure of CO2 at the surface or Mars is higher than at the surface of Erath.

120:

Well, I don't know, it's a wild card... ideally it's true, there shouldn't be any firearms in the hands of civilians on Mars. There might be non-projectile weapons for police forces, maybe? But then, ideally, there also shouldn't be any firearms in the hands of civilians on planet Earth either, but there are (and very few of them actually for hunting purposes). Just extrapolating that it's Musk's colony, Musk is based in the US, and will probably recruit a lot of colonists from the US. Don't know how easy it will be to fumigate against the "FREEDOM! GUNS! ARMED BEARS!" virus that is prevalent in this region, and keep it off the colony... If the type of people that want weapons have come along, and installed themselves in the population, possibly throughout politics and police as they tend to do, the idea will probably spread and stay alive. And with rapid prototyping/manufacturing technology being widely available, someone will start making weapons if there is demand - either legalised, or illegally on the black market. Making the uncomfortable assumption that a persistent subgroup of humans simply can't stay peaceful for very long, I'd expect some level of (possibly improvised) weaponry to be around, and violent crime too. Of course, "armed mob" can also mean pitchforks and baseball bats... I've maybe become too cynical over the last year when it comes to reason, and reasonable behaviour of the human species.

Maybe, a hopeful/optimistic outlook could be that colonies with armed mobs, fascist trouble makers and other disaster parasites evolve themselves out of existence? So if our colony still exists in 2170, maybe they've worked out a mostly peaceful society due to the strong survival pressure?

121:

The Muskerator will secretly have invested in the https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffsb&q=texas+tesla+tower and have his very own pocket zapper by means of projecting Zenneck waves ( https://duckduckgo.com/?q=zenneck+wave ) everywhere anytime! As it should be! Brzzz Bzzz Bzzzzz!

122:

There is equipment that is starting to get the capabilities to do this. Oxford nanopores sequencers (MinION), and automated lab device (VolTRAX) can take samples and and prep them for sequencing and then sequence them with in hours. They have a field kit that can do it in minutes. The Voltrax would need some additional automation to do the DNA extractions but there has been talk about column based library prep methods that you add raw sample at one end and get out library out the other end in minutes to load onto the sequencer.

The Nanopore Minion has the ability to sequence DNA or RNA samples in minutes and, reject/eject DNA molecules it's already seen.

It's not there as a single automated unit, but within 5 years if there was demand I can see it getting there.

123:

"lifeboat utilitarianism"

What happens depends on how true that really is.

Anyone who thinks intelligent people will behave rationally and won't go in for unproductive stupid in-fighting has never worked at a university.

So just how utopian an ideal are you postulating here?

Somebody paid for this Mars colony, they want a return on it, and their local factors want to make sure it gets paid. Somebody migrated here to raise a family, they want a long-term solution for their kids. Somebody else is at the end of a 10-year shift, if the place is a death trap they want to go home.

And somebody else is an anti-vaxxer, and somebody else thinks their American enclave has the funding to support itself and why are they supporting all these others, and somebody else thinks their Japanese enclave has decent hygiene and why doesn't everybody else please just wash a bit more?

124:
Anyone who thinks intelligent people will behave rationally and won't go in for unproductive stupid in-fighting has never worked at a university.

I've worked at universities most of my life. I mostly saw rational behavior, except when what I saw was irrational altruism. I saw very little "unproductive stupid in-fighting".

125:

Sorry, haven't read the comments yet.


Firstly, proper PPE for medical staff. Not these stupid paper masks. They have pressure suits on hand. They drill decompression procedures. Everyone has a spacesuit and knows how to use it. They deal with immediately life threatening environments all the time. They're *not* going to put up with walking into a room full of infectious people wearing little more than a fig leaf and a bin liner.

So the infected medical staff idea goes out the window.

Follow that up with full lockdown as per NZ or stricter. There's going to be UV sterilisers and filters in all the ventilation, because presumably Mars will be settled by people who can tie their shoelaces. So you won't end up with a cruise ship style disaster.

There's obviously quarantine imposed on ships for the simple reason they're in transit for so long. News of the outbreak on Earth would beat the virus to Mars by months. So the Martian authorities would be expecting it.

I think it would be a complete non event, never get loose and in the very unlikely event it did, totally wiped out in a month.

126:

PS. I'm assuming a level of competence amongst leaders and planners not demonstrated here in Earth, for the simple reason that if they showed the kind of incompetence that's the norm here, everyone on Mars would be dead in hours or minutes.

So if there are people on Mars it's certain that their decision makers are orders of magnitude more competent than our leaders. Ours have managed to make Earth uninhabitable on the time scale of decades. That takes some serious dedication to utterly fucking up. You've got to really work hard at being stupid.

127:

And needing an unexpected widget will be a continuing problem, so I expect the Mars colony to be heavily invested in a few fancy 3-D printers. Some of them already work with things like titanium, though I don't know how well, but they can be expected to improve over the next few decades.

This is inefficient compared to mass production, but should be able to do the job for custom screws, hypodermic needles, and customized bookmarks. (etc.) Or possibly just print the gizmo as a single piece without any screws. (Current versions can't handle wiring, but I understand that there are a couple of laboratory models that can.)

For the Mars colony tools with general use are more practical than more efficient single use tools...in many cases. (The boy scout knife with built-in silverware wasn't practical for much of anything.)

128:

You won't get that kind of fancy automation in practical use by 2050. Not even in the Mars colony. But advice systems with deeply expert knowledge will be present, and so will high quality telefactors.

IOW, I don't see isolation as being a problem. Expertise will be available, but experts may not be. And you can't get away with two weeks tutorial and achieve comparable results.

That said, robots will handle a lot of the simple stuff. But what "simple" is may turn out to be very counter-intuitive. Recognizing cell types turns out to be simple compared to walking down the street. Playing chess is simple compared to playing hop-scotch. Etc. (And learning to play checkers is a LOT simpler than learning to play chess...but is hard to generalize to other topics.) So it's really hard to predict just what the robots will be good at. But the Japanese have been working hard at robot nurses, so they'll probably be available.

129:

So if our colony still exists in 2170, maybe they've worked out a mostly peaceful society due to the strong survival pressure?

Most of the latter 1800s US western cattle towns had laws and people who enforced with with all seriousness about no guns inside the town limits.

Of course this is NOT what US western movies depict.

130:

Ok, mods, LargoMustkif is sounding more and more like one of the turkeys I run into on faceplant, with nothing actually interesting and relevant, and apparently unable to keep up with the actual conversations.

But they're easily ignored.

131:

Armed mobs?

[rolls eyes]. "Lower the air pressure in that module, and cut the oxygen down by 5%."

"Ah, good, they're collapsing. Send in security bots to zip-tie them."

132:

Actually, let me offer you this....
http://mrw.5-cent.us/supervillians.html
for my take on what actual superpowers (or control, which in this case is similar) would do.

133:

So socially it's a lot more like the Soviet bloc than the early 21st century EU or USA, albeit with much better planning/control/management and a governing ideology which boils down to lifeboat utilitarianism—"we're not building utopia, we're just trying to ensure survival for as many as possible in an intensely hostile environment (what were our grandparents thinking?)".)

Which sounds a lot like Mars in "The Expanse"

134:

I agree that for something COVID19 like it would be a non-issue. Robust contact tracing (assuming ubiquitous surveillance for safety etc.) and isolation would be trivial too. You'd have 99% confidence re who was infected before you even started testing, and the passengers wouldn't have disembarked until they had passed quarantine and shown zero sign of any (new) infections.

I would also assume that
* In 50 years time we are a little bit better at sentinel testing and are looking for novel infection markers, or novel diseases as SOP every time someone travels up the well to a closed colony (or back for that mater).

* The colony is ok at making bulk stuff and probably intricate stuff. If you are 3D printing your insulated tunnel linings/power/hvac/piping/furniture/lego components, then fabricating 100,000 syringes and needles might slow down base expansion for a couple of days.

* If mRNA manufacture is a big thing (worth shipping out) then it will be industrial scale and used as part of your agriculture (viruses/cancer aren't just for humans).


Having said all that, this is all assuming that it wasn't something that was engineered to have a HIV length incubation period and measles levels of contagiousness (Scalzi style Locked In). If half the world was infected before anybody noticed that would be interesting times. In that case, if there the colony is running lean (as in a Musk company) then I think it would later be used text book example of where lean business methods or suboptimal and aren't robust in the face of black swan events.
Again, though, because Musk... He wants this Mars thing as an insurance policy against Case BLACK SWAN, and given that mission statement the team would well and truly over-staff/over engineer and over stock the project. If the average person of working age there needs to work more than productive 2 hours a day to keep the colony afloat I'd be surprised.


135:

I agree. It actually makes sense to grow plants (that will tolerate this) in pink houses in burrows, pink from the LEDs that you use in place of full spectrum light. This gets to the second problem, which is that instead of 1360 w/m2 (Earth top of atmosphere), you've got more like 590 w/m2 (top of atmosphere) on Mars. So taking that in via solar panels and concentrating a lot of it in photosynthetically optimal red and purple wavelengths makes sense.

Nothing but pink light also probably would drive people nuts, so you've also got to provide full spectrum areas for humans to live in.

Also, don't forget that there would be a whole spectrum of different dig types to suit the various subsoils and temperatures. Digging through unconsolidated versus ice regolith demand different tunnels than going through hard rock, depending again on what the rock is. That provides a lot of diversity in what the Martian Underground would look like in practice. In some places it makes sense to mine out a cavern, then turn it into a domed habitat, while in others, a maze of pink-lit tunnels makes more sense.

There's something to be said for just making like gophers and living mostly underground, aside from solar collectors and whatever on the surface. Again, aside from the psychological effects. And these are nontrivial, so either people need to brave the radiation to get some surface light, or good terrestrial light mimics need to be built belowground. I think the latter are feasible, because I used to deal with Midwestern winters by spending more time in the research greenhouses. All that green (not pink) is therapeutic.

Actually, this might provide uses for Mr. Musk's Boring Company and Hyperloop technology: trains between settlements.

136:

The problem with Musk's idea is that you can substitute "Dorset Island" or any of a number of other places and get most of the benefits for a small fraction of the price. I'll believe someone's serious about this when they start settling hundreds of people in the most miserable parts of Earth. Heck, Musk or his fellow rocketards could do a lot of good and gather a lot of data by simply making livable refugee settlements around the world. It's the same challenge, and second-rate architects have been experimenting in refugee camps for decades already.*

*To the point where at least one NGO politely asked all the eager architects with their geodesic whatevers to go away and stop giving the refugees unlivable homes.

137:

What if senior medical staff are easily replaceable in 2070? With expert systems for diagnosis and computer assistance for surgery it's possible that the loss of Prof. Watzername, Oncology, ExtraLetters, is a hiccup rather than a showstopper. Her no. 2 may be able to do nearly as good a job, maybe even better if Watzername was a stick-in-the-mud.

There's plenty of work being done on reducing headcount and the need for skilled workers in the business world and no reason to think that will stop. What's special about these skills in particular in 2070?

138:

LAvery
Try the various political & religious student societies & clubs.
100% full of irrationality


AVR
Wasn't one of the plot-drivers in "Consider Phlebas" that a human protagonist was essential to solve the Culture's problem?

139:

So focusing on the actual questions Charlie asked:

You are the Mayor of Armstrong City, facing a variant SARS pandemic, and supplies and support are 15 months away. What do you do?

Assuming I don't already have capacity to generate a few hundred

First lockdown to slow the spread of the virus, only essential people/robotics move. Secondly sequence the local strain and transmit the data back to earth. Immediately start nanopore based sequencing on fecal matter from each areas sewerage system if it wasn't already being done, to detect which areas/groups are shedding virus. Also start sequencing samples from key staff to determine if they have the disease.

Then generate a multi-target mRNA vaccine using mRNAs that target the current version of genes that have previously been targeted on earth. Likely there will be expert systems/ML based software that can take the viral genome, and related genomes and their successful mRNA vaccines and generate a new designs. If not it's a few days work for a couple of bioinformatians. Likely I'd ask it to target several different genes to reduce the ability for it to escape the vaccine. Turn around time for this is likely to be hours/days (it's 24-48hrs currently to go from DNA/RNA design to a few million copies of the moecule in a vial on your desk). We take the designs predicted to have the least side effects, in fact if the entire colony is genome sequenced (very likely) I may be able to make multiple vaccines and customize them to each individual based on there likely risk of having an allergic reaction.

Immediately start vaccinating a proportion (not every one) of the medical staff and essential staff so we start to develop a resistant population. We don't do everyone in case we are really unlucky and have significant issues with the vaccine or it doesn't work. Even a single dose will provide partial immunity, which combined with PPE and remote medicine should allow medical staff to start treating the worst effected, with substantially lower risk of infection. Also treat some of the chemists who are capable of synthesis of the RNA and lipid feedstocks that are needed for vaccine production.

For critical individuals that are likely infected or have recently been exposed, I would offer them a dose of the vaccine as well to accelerate the activation of there immune response to the virus, unless this has been shown in previous versions of the virus to cause adverse health reactions.

Essential staff are then focused on maintaining key systems and secondly retasking any spare 3D printer capacity I have to start producing reusable syringes and needles. These will be collected after use, washed, autoclaved and UV irradiated making them safe for reuse within 6hrs.

Secondly we will purchase 3D printer designs (more make them our selves) for Oligo-synthesis devices and start building additional machines, it's likely we would only need a couple to be capable of producing 10s if not hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses a week. Once we've built these we rapidly increase our production of vaccine and start inoculating the population, with an aim to reach 80-90% coverage within a month or so.

As more colonists are inoculated we focus on increasing our vaccine production capacity and our sequence based environmental and individual screening using solid state nanopore based meatgenomic sequencing (should already have a reasonable number of these for environmental monitoring, if not #D printer should be able to make some). Device is the size of a cellphone, you spit into it when you wake up and by the time you've had breakfast and got ready it tells you if you've got the all clear to go to work.

Maintain this regime of daily testing of key individuals, and environmental testing of air and fecal matter until the virus has not been detected for 3-4 weeks. At that point possibly let up on the daily testing, but maintain the environmental testing to keep looking for new diseases.


140:

How is the politics going to work on this colony?

I've seen a bunch of comments about how the government in this colony has total knowledge and control of everything that happens. But with hundreds of thousands of people, possibly spread over distinct habitats for redundancy, there is going to be politics of some kind.

Also, from Earth's point of view, what is the business proposition here? Is it an actual long-term plan to colonise another planet, so all necessary support will be provided free? Or is there someone back on Earth looking at the profit-and-loss and sending orders to their Head of Colony on Mars to boost production or lose their quarterly bonus? And production of what? What could possibly be done more cheaply on Mars than on Earth?

I can't imagine any reasonable financial case for a Mars colony of this size that pays off in less than a century, and probably longer. The American colonies had a business case based on tobacco and sugar, but unless Mars has lots of easily-mined unobtanium that's not going to work for our colony. So its got to be something more idealistic. People on Earth believe that colonising Mars is a good idea regardless of the bottom line, and are prepared to make it happen by subsidising a colony.

The colony needs people who are brave, resourceful, and highly educated. Cultists who want to live and die for the God-King Musk need not apply. Anyone capable of making the grade will not sign up without first reading the constitution. So what does the constitution say about airlock control and monitoring? What democratic systems are used to manage the colony? How does money work? What is the criminal-justice system? How does this protect against abuse of power?

What happens when Habitat 5 declares independence and seeks to establish trade relations (because both sides will die without stuff made by the other)?

I'm asking these questions because its becoming obvious that the answers matter to the Exam Question. A serious public health emergency is always a test for the political power. Are we going to see a legal case in which the emergency airlock monitoring protocol is deemed unconstitutional?

141:

I suspect that most medical things can be handled by slow tele medicine. Not well but handled.

Very slow. When Earth and Mars are at their closest, the speed of light round trip is a bit over 6 minutes, and I can see that as being a bit frustrating but workable for some video consultations. But when they are farthest apart, that round trip is a bit under 45 minutes. That's when the sun isn't in the way: I understand that Earth and Mars have very similar axial tilt, so their orbital planes are pretty close together. This suggests that there's a period where direct LoS comms are not feasible. I don't know whether there's some solar system feature that might be analogous to Earth's ionosphere, which we could bounce long wave signals off, but I gather such tricks limit the available bandwidth somewhat.

So data comms between Mars and Earth need to cope with somewhere between 3 and 22 minutes of one-way path latency, depending on where Mars and Earth are in their orbits. TCP-like protocols would be very slow and most likely impractical, we're talking about mostly UDP-like one-way data streams. Assuming sufficient bandwidth (and this is assuming a lot!), video is feasible with streams in either direction showing what happened several minutes ago. But I can see patterns from the HA world appearing, showing "heartbeat" and forms of checksumming and response status codes that work better with high latency.

That's all not allowing for magic^H^H^H^H^Hentangelement comms, of course.

There are definitely forms of telemedicine that can work in such conditions, again assuming adequate bandwidth to ensure there isn't additional congestion induced latency. But it's more like email with attachments than live face-to-face consultations.

142:

I worked in one of the top universities in the world for over 40 years, and I saw a hell of a lot of it.

143:

"What democratic systems are used to manage the colony?"

None.

If they try to run it as a democracy everyone will die. Probably quite promptly. Maybe not as promptly as say an aircraft with an engine fire that reacts by issuing a white paper to the passengers and then calling for nominations to form a steering committee and calling for submissions from stakeholders, but not far off.

OGH's question presupposes that there are living people there.

144:
Try the various political & religious student societies & clubs.

100% full of irrationality

Why on Earth would I do that? If you attend meetings of the "Irrational Club for Irrational People", you can expect to see some irrationality. I had better things to do with my Friday nights, like folk-dance club.

145:

Yes. You have a local requirement for the laboratories, and people sufficiently skilled to follow complex instructions and deal with the unforeseen events, but you can get advice (including help with diagnosis). Actual telesurgery is marginal for even synchronous orbit, let alone the moon; if anything goes wrong and fast action is needed, it's a disaster.

146:

A colony of this kind can only get to the stage you described because there is a large Earth-bound faction pushing for its continued survival and growth.

In this case, I suggest that said faction would in the judge it expedient to skip the Hohman window and just brute-force a large rocket carrying a small payload. Perhaps a repurposing of one of the ones that normally does the gallium/lanthanum shipments.

Colony establishment is a generation-level investment, next to which the costs of almost any individual emergency pale in comparison. "Keep throwing money at it until the willpower runs out" is the motto, and hope the willpower lasts long enough to pass the true measure of self-sufficiency: the ability to survive Four-Horsemen-disasters such as this one.

Long term, recruiting more Earth doctors to replace the new shortfall would obviously be given priority. And if they can't be motivated to join up by increasing incentives to emigrate, just go right ahead and press-gang them. A few bribes to corrupt cops/politicos, and I'm sure you can get enough doctors arrested and sentenced to Australia-style-Transportation to meet your needs.

There is however, the darker path. "Boom and Bust".

When the railway networks were first established hundreds of companies laid lines with promises of profit, most of which tanked when the bubble burst. But the infrastructure they created, the physical railway lines, remained. This ensured that the second wave could expand and grow further, without being tethered to the debt involved in laying the rails. Likewise, during the dotcom-bubble of the nineties hundreds of companies went bust and fortunes were lost, but the infrastructure (and knowledge) they created became the foundation for the internet we have today.

Now let us consider applying those principles to Mars.

The first colony is doomed. It's only a matter of time before some issue comes along (like this one) that either can't be solved, or whose solution is unpalatably expensive to the Earth-based investors, at which point everyone in the colony dies. However we, the meta-investor, knew this was going to happen and prepared for it. The colonists were pre-screened and/or indoctrinated to "Believe In Mars" as fervently as possible. And the colony supervisor was given a large tank of neurotoxin. The desired result is that, if/when the colony tips past the point of being able to sustain human life, everyone dies quickly and neatly with as little damage to the infrastructure as possible. As a last "tidying up", you have the cleaning robots sweep the corpses into the recycling tanks.

Then you wait fifty years or so for a new crop of investors to grow up on Earth. And you say to them "Yes, the first colony fell down, but re-establishing it will be easy. The first city is already mined-out and just waiting to be be repopulated to make a profit! One-tenth the investment of the original, and you get to skip straight to the good stuff. Like naming new cities after yourself!"

Human finance and willpower has a finite tolerance for massive-projects. But the effort involved can be farmed out over several generations, with gaps to breathe. If you don't mind the occasional small genocide of the workforce, of course.

147:

I'd suggest your numbers in the healthcare professions are low, although it's a bit hard to estimate by how much. There are two elements to that.

1) The NHS works by being able to share load - COVID has stressed that to the point that patients in ICUs were being shifted from London to Plymouth and so on when London was at full capacity, which is very unusual, normally they share to a nearby hospital and we don't hear about it. In your model city, it's hard to see how that happens.

2) Likewise, we have a few regional centres of excellence which work at close to capacity in a certain specialism, so if you're in the North of England, you might have to go to Leeds to be treated for lung cancer, but to Newcastle to be treated for neuroscience disorders for example. That's not going to work in Marsopolis, you're going to have to support the overheads to treat everything (except possibly geriatric conditions).

You might spread the load, and reduce numbers a little by having someone who is a multiple specialist, so if there's a small number of cases of MS say, you have someone who specialises in that, but also deals with a more common Martian condition as well. Even with that, I'd guess at least a 50% markup in numbers but a doubling might be closer to the mark.

148:

You might be surprised at how little effect advanced medical techniques have on the productive population, whether survival or longevity. Once people have ceased to be productive, they are no longer relevant to population survival. The big factors were clean water, a better diet, controls over pollution and toxic chemicals, improved workplace safety and disinfectants. Even things like antibiotics are surprisingly unimportant.

149:
Anyone who thinks intelligent people will behave rationally and won't go in for unproductive stupid in-fighting has never worked at a university.

You know, honestly, if I wanted to point to a place where people could acquire the experience that (mostly) intelligent people often go in for unproductive stupid in-fighting, there's one closer to hand: the comment threads on this blog.

150:

The "democracy" is likely to be very military in shape. The person at the top would largely have complete authority, because you can't run something that critical by committee. But their staff would be expected to question decisions, to make sure there aren't things they haven't thought about, and their staff would have some formal process for removing them from office. And that would hold true all the way down the line, because everyone is responsible for everyone else's safety.

As with the military, there'd be no real barrier to entry to officer training; but you would need to have training for each level of authority and show you can do it. And note the process-for-removal point, so you don't just need book learning, you'd need to be able to lead your people too. That'd keep it relatively representative, but also limit access for chancers/grifters.

151:

I'm not sure there will be a "mayor of Armstrong City" - at least not a single, omnipotent human.

If we accept that the most optimistic take on getting a Mars colony established involves solving all the medical, engineering, economic, manufacturing and agronomic challenges, I think it's reasonable to assume that there will be a way to rapidly engineer and distribute a vaccine, and that there will be a way of locking down the population until that's complete.

What's not so obvious to me is how we solve the political and societal challenges - who goes to Mars and why? "Untold riches" seems a poor motivation as there's no return journey to allow you to spend those riches. "A better life" seems a hard sell - a highly regulated life as a wage slave living in cramped quarters underground, and very few entrepreneurial opportunities. "Religious and/or political freedom" - well...I realize this may not hold for people who don't live the privileged Western life I enjoy - but I'd hope that anyone who has skills useful on Mars has at least some economic, social and political capital on Earth.

Then you get to the question of politics and economics on Mars - even (especially?) in the most repressive Soviet bloc societies, there were black markets, corruption, nepotism, passive resistance. The most top-down, autocractic businesses have all kinds of informal ways of getting stuff done; the org chart rarely represents where real power lies. The optimist in me believes that the more "educated" the population, the less likely they are to blindly follow orders, or accept unreasonable restrictions. And the more challenging the environment, the more important it is to have distributed decision making, rather than God-Emperor Musk dictating from afar.

And of course you have the question of "who ultimately decides". Assuming Mars remains dependent on Earth (at least in the 2070 timeframe), the threat of turning off the supply of essentials would carry a lot of weight - Musk's head, floating in a vat of Irn Bru could command the Mayor to do his bidding or face the loss of Netflix. On the other hand, anyone politically astute to be considered for Mayor would not accept the role with such an imbalanced power dynamic.

So, even if we solve all of the engineering challenges 50 years ahead, I find it very hard to picture the decision making structures on Mars. I doubt they'll neatly reflect anything we're familiar with; the combination of selection bias for the population, persistent and mortal threats to the entire community, and extremely unbalanced power dynamic between Earth and Mars suggests complex, dynamic, widely-based process.

152:

When I read this, the first thing that popped into my head were the games Surviving Mars and Outpost. This seems like a great setup for one of these kinds of games.

153:

Don't know about "C" on Mars, but I had my first ( Pfizer ) jab this morning ....

154:

Wrote this up before reading others’ comments - apologies if these ideas have already been discussed and discarded.

Key assumption: rates of tech development and medical research will continue at at least the same rate as over the past 40-50 years, e.g., MRI was first used in 1977, CRISPR-Cas9 was discovered/used in 2008.


1- Sideways thinking - Musk is known for this approach: it will be a guiding principle on Mars. (Earthside processes will not apply.)

2- Just-in-Time supply management - revised to built-in snafu verification. Because any threat can become dire, pre-testing of everything during transport from Earth long before it arrives on Mars will be SOP. This means investment in on-ship labs and a cross-section of multi-disciplinary highly trained staff.

3- DNA/RNA coding and recombination labs - every Martian will have had their DNA, RNA and biota’s DNA coded and on record. And such tests will be run on an annual basis to check for disease and mutations.

4- Bacteria, fungus and virus farms (labs) will be part of the overall infrastructure and testing of their respective populations and health status would be done routinely. Research into how best to incorporate new strains to assist vital functions would also be part of the overall health and resource infrastructure. E.g., strains of CO2 eating-converting into O2 bacteria/fungi/virus would be used in spacesuits to help workers maintain their O2 sat levels because some space work would in fact require muscular and pulmonary exertion and mechanical machines may not be as deft/flexible/sensitive as required. Knowing which bacteria are typically found where in the body, their specific functions, etc. can also help mitigate certain harms and most importantly can be used in labs to help identify the exact biochem processes of new disease threats.

5-Oldsters - test subjects - if they’re not going be allowed to live beyond 80 anyways, then Hey - no harm done! using them as the colony’s guides pigs. (See pt 7 re: 'Musk …') Because corpses would be recycled anyways to help maintain a very fragile ecosystem, every single person dying of this virus would be thoroughly autopsied down to the molecular level. Apart from helping to identify what tissues are at greatest risk, possible infection routes, it would also be vital to determine whether ‘regular’ corpse disposal practice would be sufficiently safe or whether the colony would have to sacrifice otherwise useful organic materials - destroy affected corpses completely - in order to not contaminate current habitat/food systems.

6-Isolation - no problem - if every Martian has a space suit then they already have their own personalized containment unit with dedicated O2/waste management systems.

7- Compliance - depends on needs and psychosocial factors esp. trust in others. Screening for prospective Martian settlers will have to include psychological health: need for power, belief that others are as important as you are, history of mental health issues/trauma, etc. Mechanical compliance - physical distancing will probably be built-in and actionable because each family habitat will probably be a self-contained unit. Anyone with a disease or major psychosocial problem could be identified and isolated from outside. Testing for biological problems could also be done more easily this way: every unit has its own builtin recycling unit that automatically recycles/cleans and segregates important compounds/biota. Adding new screening/testing/medicinal dosing could therefore also be feasible. (E.g., If it is discovered that the best way of reducing the reproduction rate of a bacterium or virus is to reduce/increase something, then that something could be distilled out or added to water/air, etc.) Other alternative is let the affected/infected take their chances and die. (Musk threatened to pull his corp out of Cal to Texas because the Cal isolation was interfering/delaying some of his launches, i.e., he’s already flunked the 'trolley problem’.

8- Overall population health - prospective Martian colonists would have personal health/fitness drilled into them because there would be too many unknowns for any sane, well-educated, intelligent person not to have internalized as their day-to-day reality. Unless the new virus targeted exceptionally healthy folks, disease and death rates would probably be less severe. Age related physiological decline would still be a factor - but it’s likely that given meticulous testing of the virus and its specific effects/biochem interactions/processes, that some sort of biochem re-equalization/re-balancing meds could be developed.

9- Biggest threat would be psycho-social as mechanisms for arresting/transmission of the virus — same as on Earth at present. Psychology seems to be the 21st century dirty word - like sex in earlier times. Yes, there have been some total screw-ups in its academic and political study and application, but it’s real, can be measured (even biochemically/electrically now) and pretending it doesn’t exist or matter is just plain reckless.

History of Criss-cross:

https://jb.asm.org/content/200/7/e00580-17

I’m hoping that someone is working on a combination fMRI/CRISPR technology that will allow scientists/medicos to ’see’ biochem/viral reactions in real-time - delivery/communication device would be some nanorobot.


10 - In the meanwhile while waiting for supplies, increase all food propagation activity - it’s amazing how much food you can grow via cuttings. (I still have frozen fried green tomatoes taking up too much room in my freezer.) Most importantly, see point 2.

155:

I'm not sure there will be a "mayor of Armstrong City"

Of course not. As Wernher von Braun revealed to us in 1949 the leader of the Martian government bears the title "Elon".

(Project Mars - A Technical Tale, Chapter 24 "How Mars is Governed")

156:

Re: 'History of Criss-cross:'

Now that's a novel auto-correct snafu - was supposed to be CRISPRCas. More interesting still is that the auto-correct happened sometime between when I re-read and then pressed 'submit'. Weird.

157:
I’m hoping that someone is working on a combination fMRI/CRISPR technology that will allow scientists/medicos to ’see’ biochem/viral reactions in real-time - delivery/communication device would be some nanorobot.
I don't understand this idea. How do you imagine fMRI and CRISPR could be combined? Which reactions do you want to observe in real time, and how do you imagine using CRISPR and fMRI to do that? And what do you want the nanobots to do?
158:

I was replying to your assumption that anything would need to be done in the first place, although air filtration plus UV would be a given. I do not believe novel pathogens could go undetected for more than a few minutes, let alone the months aboard a spacecraft. All we need is a genetically engineered plague to be released on Earth before then and that tech will be given ultra-priority (assuming it isn't now).

160:

@113: Bonus: Contamination and form of DNA matters for handheld-instrument accuracy. There's a yuuuuuuuuuuuge difference between what a handheld instrument can accurately do with aliquots of pure-to-relatively-pure chemical-grade reagents... and what it can do while it is simultaneously taking samples in unpredictable environments. How does one determine which of the millions of potential DNA samples in a drawn-from-the-environment aliquot is the target for analysis? And then extract that sample from a cell environment without damaging it?

I've seen this with "simple" problems like "determining what molecular weight compound is contaminating an aircraft pneudraulic system": It's damned near impossible, even for something as "simple" as "molecular weight."

@120: I'd be a lot more concerned about fumigating against the armed bears. They're daaaaangerous.

Which is rather my point: It's impossible to fumigate against dangerous _ideas_; just look at Linus Pauling's umm, political allegiances...

161:

the leader of the Martian government bears the title "Elon".
You made me look. :-)
Project MARS(Das Marsprojekt) (Dr. Wernher von Braun, English translation by Henry 1 White, Lt. Cdr. USN)
Chapter 24 How Mars is Governed
...
The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled "Elon." Two houses of Parliament enacted the laws to be administered by the Elon and his cabinet.

Also, topical, see the "Chapter 27 Body Repair and Brain Filling
Stations"
Talks about heart transplants, in 1952. (Didn't see anything about infectious diseases.)

162:

They will probably be able to print it.

Reminder that resources in a Mars colony will be constrained by three things: bits, atoms -- and watts.

3D printers are an amazingly useful technology family and we're only just scratching the surface of what they can be and what they can do, but they're clearly constrained by (a) feedstock availability, and (b) energy.

Plastics (including cement) are of various degrees of utility, but there are some things you probably can't do with them -- syringe needles being one.

Metals ... useful for needles and chemical plant tankage and pipes, but 3D printing metal is energetically expensive, which is why it's only used for prototyping, bespoke products (e.g. custom-fitted bone implants), or ridiculously fiddly/expensive ones (e.g. liquid fuelled rocket motors).

The energy issue is a killer. Mars has about 60% of the insolation at ground level of a planet in Earth's orbit. The atmosphere's thinner so absorbs less sunlight, which is helpful, but there are dust storms and a diurnal period, so PV farms have various fairly obvious constraints.

Nuclear reactors are problematic: Mars is short on liquid water, which we use on Earth as a heat sink for our reactors. The Martian atmosphere is too thin to serve as a heat sink for a high power output reactor. So what are you going to use? One option might be radiative cooling, using heat pipes running through those PV solar farms -- the panels can radiate waste heat into space -- but I'm not convinced that's a good answer.

Anyway: my take-away is that 3D printing in metal is going to be expensive, in terms of an early Martian colony, and in plastics it's going to be of various utility. The best option might actually be to grow trees and use subtractive 3D rendering rather than additive, i.e. 6-axis CNC milling machines working on lumps of wood (where the interior structure can be checked by ultrasound to ensure there are no voids or weak areas in the finished product).

But "just print it" isn't really an answer to how a Mars colony will manufacture bespoke products, unless by 2070 we have an ACME Corporation Mr Fusion reactor with a direct plasma-to-electrical-current converter rather than a turbogenerator running on some sort of thermal cycle. Which I think is a bit of a long shot. (The alternative, full Drexler-style diamond/vacuum phase boundary nanotech, still looks a little far-fetched, although with 50 years of progress, who knows?)

163:

First of all, Charlie, exactly how are we going to get 500,000 people to Mars in forty years? His "Starship" ain't going to carry 25,000 people to Mars every year for 10 years.

That is actually what he's planning. 100 passengers per launch, average departure rate one per weekday for a decade.

What SpaceX are building with Starship development isn't an orbit-capable reusable launcher: it's an orbit-capable reusable launcher factory. The plan is not to build them like airliners, but to build them like troop landing craft for D-Day; he ultimately envisages manufacturing thousands of the things.

The scale is so mind-boggling that most people don't believe it at first, but it's no crazier than progress in heavier-than-air aviation between 1914 and 1954. Which takes us from the first twin-engined biplanes with a cargo capacity of up to half a ton, all the way past the Berlin Air Lift to the prototype Boeing 707.

I don't know if it'll work: but it's a fascinating premise for a scenario, isn't it?

As for what the half-million people will do, my guess is that 90% of them will do people-centric stuff like medical services, teaching in schools, cooking, cleaning, fixing things, making clothes ... which leaves 50,000 others, whose job will be robot wrangling: someone's got to manage the real Mars-surface workforce, and we have about 20 years of experience now that proves the lightspeed round-trip time from Earth introduces too much control lag to control robots probes efficiently. Put it another way: two astronauts in a month could accomplish more than all the rovers and landers we've put on Mars since 1976, simply because every ten metre position change doesn't have to be rehearsed for days in a mission simulator: your astronaut can simply put one foot in front of the other, avoiding obstacles, and look for rocks that their education says will be of interest to the researchers back home.

164:

SFR
Psychology seems to be the 21st century dirty word
There's a very good reason for that, unfortunately. Psychology was conflated with & for many years, dominated by "Psychiatry" - a giant pseudo-scientific con-trick, or at least a huge chunk of it was so - again the domination of the subject by Sigmund Fraud fucked it over, to the point that any properly trained & educated "hard" scientist would refuse to go anywhere near it. As in this book by Medawar.
Experimental Psychology is, now a respectable, solidly-based subject, but getting on for 70-80 years of previous pure bollocks really has not helped.

165:

I'm assuming that children will be taken care of by robot nannies.

Nope: if you can build robot nannies then by definition you've got strong-enough-to-fool-humans general-purpose AI, and all bets are off.

I think it's far more likely that the children will be nannying the robots, from an early age: robots who are mostly autonomous but need high-level direction, who do the dangerous grunt work on the near-vacuum/high radiation surface, while the humans nest underground.

166:

The energy issue is a killer. Mars has about 60% of the insolation at ground level of a planet in Earth's orbit. The atmosphere's thinner so absorbs less sunlight, which is helpful, but there are dust storms and a diurnal period, so PV farms have various fairly obvious constraints.

Not to say dust storms aren't an issue, but the first Mars rovers are a reasonable indication that dust isn't that big a deal - and unlike the rovers periodic cleaning is an option.

Nuclear reactors are problematic: Mars is short on liquid water, which we use on Earth as a heat sink for our reactors. The Martian atmosphere is too thin to serve as a heat sink for a high power output reactor. So what are you going to use?

Why go for a high power output reactor? The current in thing here on Earth seems to be smaller reactors that can be (for a given definition) mass produced. Instead, use a thousand reactors - may not be as efficient as one big reactor, but makes things like heat easier to deal with as well as providing redundancy.

Or does a Mars colony go for the beam the energy down from space option?

167:

"Running lean"... does that include JIT *anything*?

We know, for a fact, having had it demonstrated over the last year, again and again, that JIT *anything* is completely dependent on everything working 100% of the time for the entire supply chain.

168:

Does the surface radiation level decline at night?

A lot of the worst is in the shape of high energy cosmic rays, which come from pretty much all directions and aren't screened out by the thin Martian atmosphere.

(Earth's atmosphere is roughly as effective as a 10 metre deep pool of water, like the ones we use for storing spent fuel rods until they're cool enough to reprocess safely ...)

So no, night won't save you. Only rock (or a thick blanket of water) will help.

169:

About that... and no, it's not going to be military, if for no other reason than every other Terran spacefaring nation (i.e., Russia and China) will scream bloody murder, and put their own military stations there while going through the UN and international courts about existing treaties.

Isn't it obvious: it will be run as a corporation, with no mayor, but a CEO.

The real question is all the, as someone put it, people things - education, daycare, medical care, etc: will the CEO spin those off? How about what the people do in their off time, arts? theater? games? Will those be small businesses... or NGO?

Of course, there *is* the question of what happens if the company wants to fire someone.

170:

Very glad to hear that, Greg.

171:

One. Per day. 100 people.

And at what point does the EPA step in? Or when one fails?

Maybe in 20 years, we can start looking at one a week (well, unless I finish my Famous Secret Theory)....

172:

There's a problem with any areosynchronous orbit, usually called "Deimos". It's massive enough and close enough to that orbit that satellites need to do a lot more station keeping than they do in geosynchronous. Power-sats would probably need regular re-fuelling trips.

173:

I don’t really buy the “it takes a Germany” argument . I think a combination of AI, AR and extreme modularization / standardization will make a lot of things (like surgery or fixing a car) much much simpler and more a matter of humans being delegated to a final approver role rather then the primary doer.

I am highly doubtful. A lot of what we do in practice isn't encoded in documentation or taught in classes -- we take our expensive, tedious education then learn how to apply it by "monkey see, monkey do".

Now, maybe you don't need the population of Germany to run a colony. But you're going to have to dispense with climax activities -- stuff that surplus capacity lets you engage in. An 0.5-1M population colony won't be designing the equivalent of luxury sports cars, much less hosting competing marques like Audi/BMW/Mercedes/Porsche, for example. There will be clothes, there will be fashion ... but the range of available fabrics will be limited at first, and prints will be whatever you can coax out of an inkjet that can be maintained on-site, using locally-produced dyes. Want velcro or zip fasteners? You'll be lucky to have ribbon ties or plastic buttons for the first few years. And so on.

And then we get to the teaching hospital and the university. At first they're going to be teaching/training, just preserving/propagating specialized skill sets: actual research on anything that isn't Mars-survival-oriented is going to have to wait until there's enough surplus labour.

Finally, to be blunt, "if your doctor dies you're going to train a new one in a few weeks" is complete bullshit. Just training a pair of hands to do the work presupposes that you've trained the pair of hands to understand the instructions -- in case you'd forgotten, "medical English" is a domain-specific sub language in its own right, with a 30-80,000 word supplemental vocabulary layered on top of everyday English, and difficult/different grammatical constructions in some areas. If you're really lucky you might get a generalist trained up in 5 years, but they'll be less effective and their patient death rate higher than a properly-experienced doctor because you can't train people in stuff like "oedematous tissue squishes like this when you poke it; diabetic hypoglycemia breath smells like that", just to pick a couple of obvious examples. Much of medicine requires senses other than sight and hearing, and you want to fully deploy the human doctor before you go ordering expensive or unusual diagnostic tests that require bespoke manufacturing or import from Earth.

174:

"Plastics (including cement) are of various degrees of utility, but there are some things you probably can't do with them -- syringe needles being one."

I suspect very strongly this isn't so - it's just cheaper to do it with metal. A syringe just needs to be sharp, strong enough to not break off in the person, and not dissolve while you need them.

But there's also ceramics. Plenty of silicon around on Mars.

175:

In a Mars colony it should be quite easy to enforce: presumably, all air locks are under government control, there are no other routes (no unnoticed sneaking past the checkpoints).

Eh, no: because that implies that if something takes out the central/government control, everybody else asphyxiates. You don't want to design in single points of failure! A more likely model would be to study how airlock/bulkhead door discipline is enforced on a nuclear submarine, where there's a very real risk of killing everyone aboard if you get it wrong (modulo the fact that the colony won't be under military discipline, and it may have to deal with curious toddlers).

I'd also expect every habitat module to have at least two airlocks, even if one of them is for emergency use only and amounts to "open this valve to vent all air from cabin, then open the door when the pressure lock unlatches". Because if Door (a) is damaged and you don't have a Door (b), you all die, the end.

everyone probably has an emergency pressure suit and high-grade respirators of some sort anyway for emergency use (fire? pressure drop?), which should be far more effective that self-made masks, or nothing at all.

Again: not necessarily true.

Early Mars exploration bases will have suits for all, but a surface-capable space suit is basically a miniature space ship in its own right and horrendously expensive -- I've heard costs for Russian and US suits for use on Mir/Shuttle/ISS on the order of tens of millions of dollars each.

The lightweight pressure suits used for capsule launch/landing aren't fully versatile EVA suits by a long way. Their job is to hold in pressure and keep the astronaut alive for 30 minutes to 48 hours in event of an in-flight emergency. They don't have the micrometeoroid protection layers, cameras, tools, thermal insulation, built-in oxygen and water supplies, sanitary connections (diapers at best), or other bells and whistles.

An active colony is going to have to include much, much cheaper space suits -- and local repair/fabrication facilities -- but they're still going to be ridiculously expensive compared to normal clothing. There may be emergency suits for most adults, at least at first, for traversing anoxic or damaged habitat modules with leaks or no air pressure. But exposure to hard UV, peroxide-rich dust, and extreme temperatures won't be part of the package.

Smoke hoods are likely to be everywhere, along with portable oxygen bottles -- like the equipment airliners carry for cabin crew to permit them to move around in event of a cabin depressurization.

The big wildcard is people's behaviour and trust in the government: will Martian settlers play along for the 1-2 months of very harsh measures? Or will there be anti-lockdown demos, conspiracy nuts, armed coups, dissenting habitats, etc.?

If the colonists are today's angry white supremacist American individualists, the colony is fucked. But my guess is that the living conditions on Mars will initially be more like a high-tech version of a 1950s Kibbutz, which is to say, utterly anathema to anyone who isn't ideologically motivated, strong work ethos, utterly selfless in their willingness to put community first, and seeing their calling in building a shining city on a hill rather than to get rich quick and keep "those" other folks down. Because Mars colonization is at least at first going to be more or less a religious imperative rather than an expression of capitalist profit making/rent seeking ...

176:

Why photovoltaic for underground farms? Why not just skylights?

You want to be as far underground as you can get -- metres of rock overhead.

Skylights are going to be prone to UV-induced discoloration/fogging, sandstorm dust abrasion, heat loss, thermal expansion/contraction at joints, and leakage. They're not effective as radiation shielding, unless they're also effective at keeping light out. And that's assuming they don't get pinged by a micrometeorite.

My vision of a Mars colony is highly collectivist, hiding underground as much as possible, conducting work on the surface using drones/teleoperated robots as much as possible, with humans only going "up top" the way Australians venture into the less hospitable bits of outback, like the Nullarbor plain -- it's full of things that will kill you dead very rapidly if you don't spot them or your ute breaks down in the middle of nowhere and it's 48 degrees out.

177:

Where are you getting this CO2? The atmosphere is almost non existent compared to earth.

The Martian atmosphere is about 1% as thick as Earth's atmosphere ... and it's over 90% CO2. In contrast, CO2 makes up about 0.4% of Earth's atmosphere.

There's actually twice as much CO2 per unit of cubic volume of atmosphere on Mars as on Earth.

178:


Anyway: my take-away is that 3D printing in metal is going to be expensive, in terms of an early Martian colony, and in plastics it's going to be of various utility.
...
But "just print it" isn't really an answer to how a Mars colony will manufacture bespoke products, unless by 2070 we have an ACME Corporation Mr Fusion reactor with a direct plasma-to-electrical-current converter rather than a turbogenerator running on some sort of thermal cycle.

For critical items like a Oligo-synthesizer or reusable metal needles (wash, UV and autoclave and they'll be usable again) I think you could get away with printing them.

For mRNA vaccines you are unlikely to need a thousand oligo-synthesizers only a few dozen, and possibly only a couple.

While for reusable needles you don't need 1m (assuming two doses), you can probably get away with a few thousand or so with sterilization and reuse several times a day. It may not even slow things down much depending on how many medical staff you have trained to give the injections.

Also do you even need high precision needles? Bifurcated needles are simpler to make and easy to clean, while more painful they should be fine for vaccination.

179:

whitroth
JIT supply & manufacturing systems...
Arthur Wellesley had something to say about that sort of idea:
“They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid set of harnesses. It looks very well; and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot and went on”

"Efficiency" is the mutual enemy of "Resilience"
( Personal example: The Great Green Beast is a resilient motor vehicle )

180:

Whitroth: my take on what actual superpowers

I'm guessing you missed my books, "The Annihilation Score" and "Dead Lies Dreaming", both of which deal with superpowers, right? (The first: it turns out there is a lot of paperwork involved, especially for the heroes. Also, forget Mad Scientists; in the 21st century, Mad Science takes an entire Mad Science Multinational R&D Corporation. The latter book: well, it only came out two months ago and I'm not going to spoiler it yet.)

181:

All that green (not pink) is therapeutic.

Huh. How does that play with red/green colour blindness?

Could we see Martian colonists deliberately engineering their kids with R/G colour blindness to make adaptation to life in the farm warrens less stressful?

182:

Not hardly. Got both, read both.

My article was more comic-book style superheroes and plots (or lack thereof).

183:

Doctors - there are generalists who cover a *lot*.

The doctor I had in Chicago (sigh, wish I still had him) was a DO, a family practice (as a former partner of his put it, "I love family practice, it's not the same thing every day, *anything* can walk in the door")... heavily involved with teaching students (several, over the years, told me they *fought* to train with him).

Oh, *and* he is a surgeon. He did the surgery on me when I was being treated for cancer, 20 years ago.

Not all of them are nothing more than gatekeepers for the specialists.

184:

Since this is all speculation, and the discussions about what is usable by in situ utilisation and 3D-printing, I'm wondering if anybody of you has read "Delta-V by Daniel Suarez"? I found it to be very inspiring, though it was more about a clandestine mission to mine asteroids and modifications of the ship underway because of unforeseen events.

To be honest I don't see why some "kit" similar to that couldn't be included in one or several of those starships.

In other words, the technical aspects described there regarding https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_vapor_deposition needed almost no suspension of disbelief.

At least skim it, if you haven't already.

185:

On governance: you're all wrong.

Initially it's not going to be a colony, it's going to be a research base. Take the ISS as a good administrative model and move on. (I gather there was an incident where a cosmonaut became so disturbed he was rotated back to Earth some months ahead of schedule: that's about as bad as it's gotten, and we've had humans living on space stations in orbit almost constantly for a third of a century now.)

Next, it'll expand into something on the scale of McMurdo Base -- a couple of hundred people. Overall it can be run on a "relaxed" military basis -- assigned tasks, and duties to be undertaken "in event of an attack" (read: accident or disaster), but people aren't actively expected to risk their lives day-to-day and some allowances are made for de-stressing.

By the time we're up to a city ... you need government, which means all three branches: an executive, a court system to test legality/effectiveness of command decisions (and handle petty crime), and finally some sort of consultative council to deal with stuff like what to name the new primary school, how to commission public art, motions to make farting in the commons an arrestable offence, and so on.

How this evolves is going to be an interesting question: consultative committees selected at random by sortition is one alternative to elected representatives, for example -- think of it as formalized public opinion polling with teeth. The executive would initially be management, but when it scales up to government level you need a mechanism for the peaceful transfer of power if a chief administrator shits the bed irredeemably: revolutions are bad enough even when you don't have to worry about keeping the air in.

But it's a delicate situation. Dictatorship simply isn't going to be long-term viable: too much risk of a lowly life support tech turning off the Big Boss's bedroom oxygen supply one night, leaving him breathing 100% pure nitrogen for a while. Willing cooperation is going to be at a premium.

186:

SFReader at 154, part 6 (Isolation):

I'm pretty clear that Extra-Habitat Activity suits are not the same as isolation.

The waste disposal mechanisms will need massive upgrades to operate unsupported for long periods (i.e. without breaking isolation to do it), and for that engineering and production to be done a pressing need to do it must be seen before it happens. I can't really believe there will be enough EHA suits available to keep the whole population isolated for more than 24 hours, and TBH I'd be surprised to see enough for more than 10% of them. And not many of them will fit the children - most will be for workers.

(No, I haven't got a better idea. Sorry.)

187:

In terms of the long-Covid effects:

My guess is that the first solution will be that wherever possible, Long-Covid Syndrome sufferers will be asked to work in teams, doing remote operations.

Remote operations should be possible to run by team, so that if one person's LCS is a serious problem this week then the team-mates will be able to cover the gap. If all three are fit, one will be covering another team using the same hardware.

Perfect it isn't, but it's better than having them idle.

In the longer term, I think economics will be the determining factor. I don't understand the economics of the colony (or anywhere else), so I can't tell whether it will be possible to do this for any length of time; it will depend on whether there's a functioning societal safety net, and how well provided it is. OGH's notes on retirees suggest there isn't one, really. So it seems probable that this first solution will run for maybe 6 months before significant parts of public opinion begin to describe LCS sufferers as "shirkers".

188:

a surface-capable space suit is basically a miniature space ship in its own right and horrendously expensive -- I've heard costs for Russian and US suits for use on Mir/Shuttle/ISS on the order of tens of millions of dollars each

Currently they're effectively bespoke items, though. If you are manufacturing 100/workday (assuming you need one for everyone on that daily rocket to Mars) manufacturing costs will come down.

189:

So it seems probable that this first solution will run for maybe 6 months before significant parts of public opinion begin to describe LCS sufferers as "shirkers".

Kinda like how chronic fatigue syndrome is often viewed?

Complicated as always by a number of people who are shirkers/scammers.

190:

And then we get to the teaching hospital and the university. At first they're going to be teaching/training, just preserving/propagating specialized skill sets: actual research on anything that isn't Mars-survival-oriented is going to have to wait until there's enough surplus labour.

A population of 0.5-1 million is same order of magnitude as Iceland, which has around 360k people. Say the midpoint of your range is about 2 Icelands in population. Iceland trains its own doctors, It has about a busload of medical graduates a year or 14 per 100,000, but sends them abroad to learn specialties. I can imagine handling specialist training through distance learning would be achievable, especially with adequate local practitioners involved in sharing their knowledge and skills.

The factor I think we haven't got in this account is the change in the proportion of healthcare to the overall economy over time, which is relevant because it's universally increasing now. in 1980 the OECD average of health expenditure as a proportion of per-capita GDP was around 6%, while now is is around 9%, with the trend still apparent in year-by-year change. Assuming the rate remains roughly linear, we'd expect it to have reached 12% by 2060. The USA, incidentally, is an extreme outlier because its health system is so inefficient, with health expenditure currently at 18% of GDP per capita, for which it gets relatively poor health outcomes. Anyhow the USA model obviously couldn't possibly work for Mars, but Iceland is potentially a reasonable case study.

Health workforce impacts are higher for cancer treatment, which is a multidisciplinary team-sport, than for other forms of intervention, so we'd expect a population with a higher cancer risk to require a larger health workforce. It's not hard to imagine seeing a "knee" in the growth in health expenditure even without USA levels of inefficiency. It's not hard to see healthcare representing over 20% of the workforce, just to meet demand due to conditions.

191:

Here's a summary doc for healthcare in Iceland (handy for case study purposes):

https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/130136/E72496.pdf

192:

Why do they have to wait for the vaccine to arrive by Hohman orbit?

1. Aren't there faster orbits to get to Mars (if cost is no object)?

I'm thinking of an old SF story I remember where a vaccine had to get to one of the interplanetary colonies & couldn't wait for the slow orbits, so a volunteer space jockey takes an atomic shuttle for a sustained high G ride to get it there.

The high G gives him a lifetime of wear and tear on his body in just a few days so by the time he gets there he's a physical wreck with the body of a centenarian despite being in his prime. He ain't gonna' be a space jockey no more and in fact isn't even fit to return to Earth ever again ... but he's a hero because he sacrificed himself to save the day.

2. It's a mRNA vaccine. Couldn't advances in genetics - mapping DNA/RNA; gene splicing, etc - make it possible to transmit the RNA sequence as DATA to Mars and let the "bricks" start manufacturing it (assembling it?) right away?

193:

Charlie Stross @ 8:

In 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture mRNA vaccines in bulk.

Now tell me that in 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture a million disposable syringes (or other sterile vaccine delivery devices) in a city-sized Mars colony!

This is your scheduled reminder that a drug is not a medicine. (In pharmacy: a drug is a substance that exerts a detectable pharmacological effect on metabolism. A medicine is a ... thing ... that delivers said drug into the body in sufficient dose and concentration to produce the desired effect.)

Are there other ways to take the mRNA vaccine that don't require sterile disposable syringes? I got the second (Sabin) Polio vaccine by eating a sugar cube.

And, with no HIV AIDS or Hepatitis (blood borne diseases would be screened out during the early colonization period) why couldn't they have old fashioned re-usable syringes & sterilize them after use?
194:

The problem with spacesuits is multi-fold. Literally. They do have to be tailored to the individual, which drives up the price, and like diving suits, they need to be serviced regularly, even more so if they're in a dirty place like the Moon or Mars. Blown seals kill.

Mars is probably less harsh than the Moon, because even a thin atmosphere means a lot. For example, the dust on the Moon doesn't get eroded an atmosphere, so it's got all these hyper-fine edges and weird static electrical/electrochemical things that are probably bad for suits. Dust on Mars has been tumbled by the wind and probably reacted a bit, so I suspect it's marginally less abrasive.

That said, martian soil has a fair amount of perchlorate in it, so digging on Mars is about as safe as digging into an old USAF toxic waste dump. If you want to tunnel on Mars, making the walls nontoxic (how?) is a necessary chore.

Another problem is differential pressure. Eventually we'll figure out how to have spacesuits with an internal pressure of one atmosphere, so you can slip in and out of them easily. Until that happy time, you're stuck with 1/3d atmospheric pressure, which IIRC is mostly oxygen. Therefore, before you can don a suit, you've got to decompress and purge nitrogen from your body, just like you're coming up from a prolonged deep dive. Spacesuits are also (unsurprisingly) freaking heavy, so they're not normally put on solo, at least right now. All these chores--suit prep and maintenance, prepping the suit-wearer, and so forth, routinely gets ignored in SFF, but it's an integral part of their use.

195:

Charlie Stross @ 15: mRNA synthesis is likely to be ubiquitous and easy by 2070; the real problem is one of formulation science -- how you deliver the drug. And there's a reason why large-scale vaccine factories today are rare and cost billions.

(mRNA is a fragile molecule and easily degraded, so figuring out how to deliver it orally or intranasally is a Hard Problem in drug design -- much harder than designing an mRNA COVID vaccine, apparently, which took about 48 hours early in the pandemic. The delay was caused by the requirement for safety testing, even though it was abbreviated and a screaming emergency, and by the headache of scaling up manufacturing to meet demand.)

Designing the delivery vector is a hard problem today. Might it be solved in the 50 years intervening between now and the Mars Colony outbreak in 2070 (or even more so if it's 150 years in the future - 2170).

In your proposed scenario, they've already got the vaccine on Earth. Wouldn't all the safety testing have been done before the mRNA vaccine was approved on Earth? Why would it require additional safety testing on Mars before it could be used there?

196:

Are there other ways to take the mRNA vaccine that don't require sterile disposable syringes? I got the second (Sabin) Polio vaccine by eating a sugar cube. And, with no HIV AIDS or Hepatitis (blood borne diseases would be screened out during the early colonization period) why couldn't they have old fashioned re-usable syringes & sterilize them after use?

Sugar cube? Well, that works for something that's transmitted by the fecal-oral route, like polio, but not for something that spreads through the air. Read up about all the technology that goes into getting designer mRNA read by a human ribosome. This will answer some of your questions:
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2021/01/11/rna-vaccines-and-their-lipids

The problem with syringes isn't necessarily sterilization, it's that the dose is 0.6 ml and the tiny little needles they use to dose this amount get dull easily. My pharmacist wife is complaining about how using a needle to mix up the vaccine (the frozen pharmaceutical has to be mixed with normal saline before dosing) can waste that needle if you're not careful. The other problem is that 1 ml is about 1 drop, so if you're dosing 0.6 of a drop and you're not careful, a rather large amount remains in the needle or syringe, and this is bad. So yes, precision, working syringes on this scale are more-or-less disposable. The best you can do, aside from a microscopic cleaning and resharpening service, is to figure out a system to recycle them easily, so that used syringes can be remade into new ones with minimal fuss.

197:

Re: 'How do you imagine fMRI and CRISPR could be combined? Which reactions do you want to observe in real time, and how do you imagine using CRISPR and fMRI to do that? And what do you want the nanobots to do?'

First off - I'm not a techie - this is an exercise in hand-waving/wishful thinking. :)

That said - why not hybrid tech? If you can get superduper micro-scanning fMRI that can 'read' at the molecular level and have it yoked to a CRISPR system that reads and 'makes' the molecules in question, you can speed up extraction, study and testing of possible compounds. The nanobots could be specialized scourers for damaged/dead tissues.

I noticed that no one commented about my suggestion of using/developing specialized bacteria/fungi/viruses for therapeutic use to target infections. Curious as to why because I've heard this approach discussed on YT sci blogs.

COVID-70 - someone already mentioned that some corona viruses can take anywhere from a couple of days (flu) to years to incubate (HIV). Some corona viruses can also go into stealth mode so basically the take-away is that a virus has the potential to do something completely random/weird. Fighting the previous war isn't going to work with viruses. From the blogs I've watched, it seems that viruses are the life sciences' 'quantum' weirdness: dead and alive at the same time. Dead because until they're inside an environment (host) that has an adequate supply of self-assembly parts at hand, they don't do anything. And they can stay 'dead' for millennia. Basically, viruses demonstrate the importance of the right combination of organism and environment.

198:

Aren't there faster orbits to get to Mars (if cost is no object)?

Have a look at the porkchop plot I linked in #105, if you've got the delta-v you have other options but it gets into Star Trek magic drives territory fairly quickly. Getting in to low Earth orbit takes about 7.8km/s, minimum energy trajectory to Mars takes a bit over 6km/s. Earth is orbiting the sun at around 29.8km/s and Mars at 24km/s (hence minimum of 6km/s to get from here to there) and all the numbers add up rapidly out of the launch windows.

199:

Robert Prior @ 33:

Now tell me that in 2170 it will be a snap to manufacture a million disposable syringes (or other sterile vaccine delivery devices) in a city-sized Mars colony!

I suspect that by then we will have needle-less injection.

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/needleless-vaccinations-could-help-end-diseases-020713#How-Does-Needle-free-Vaccination-Work?

I would hope that your hypothetical colony has learned that disease outbreaks occur and that you need to be ready for them. So instead of Ontario, you have the approach of Taiwan or South Korea: plans made, equipment reserves stockpiled and maintained, and the ability to ramp up manufacturing of necessary supplies.

If mRNA vaccines are common, then having enough delivery devices for the entire population should be part of the plan, with newly-manufactured devices going into the stockpile and older devices pulled out and used.

When I joined the Army back in 1975 I had to get a bunch of vaccinations going through the Reception Station. They processed about a thousand of us at a time - 2 battalions of 5 - 200 man companies; with new batches about every two weeks.

They used these things:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_injector

They seem to have fallen out of general use here due to concerns about transmission of blood borne diseases, but reading the article it appears manufacturers have developed newer versions that don't have that worry so much, and that wouldn't be as much of a risk on Mars if, as I surmise, blood borne diseases were screened out among colonists early in the colonization wouldn't be that much of a factor.

Regarding the Real Men TM issue, I don't think they'd be much of a problem. Anti-social behavior wouldn't be tolerated for being anti-survival and I expect anyone who didn't toe the line in that regard would be quickly invited to move out & shown the door.

200:

Jack Cohen co-authored an SF book with Ian Stewart, 'Wheelers' about First Contact where it was necessary to get a human resource from Earth orbit to Jupiter orbit in ten days or so and it was achieved without actual miracle tech. It did require a shitload of resources in-place throughout the Solar System though, to accelerate a series of "slugs" which the manned ship caught in a large butterfy-net apparatus to pick up momentum without having to expend lots of on-board fuel for the trip.

See also the Freefall comic, here.

http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff3500/fc03426.htm

201:

1 mL is not one drop. When I first started work I had to learn to meme 50 drop Pasteur pipettes using glass tubing and a fishtail burner for Widal testing.
That’s 50 drops per mL. One mLis considered to be around 20 to 70 drops. A 50 drop pipette is wiry wide compared to a needle. You wouldn’t want to be injected with a needle that size.

202:

Problem still stands. I'll point out that my wife is trained to administer the vaccine, so I will take her word for the problem with the disposable needles.

203:

"Plastics (including cement) are of various degrees of utility, but there are some things you probably can't do with them - syringe needles being one."

It is true that you don't often encounter around the home plastics which are capable of taking enough of an edge to go through skin, and which are also broken in such a way as to give them such an edge. But they do exist, and I don't see any reason why you couldn't make single use needles out of suitable plastic. They might not be as good, they would probably be better for being tapered on the outside so only the tip is really fragile, and they would still probably need a bit of extra care in use, but if they've only got to last for one use I don't see any real problem.

But then I don't see any real problem with syringe needles anyway. How to make 2 needles: take a few cm of fine tube made of something that'll take an edge, and cut it across in the middle at an angle. So complex a venture will have to have a pretty well stocked engineers' stores, especially for things like fine tube, and insulated wire, and screws, etc, which are poor candidates for printing. There is bound to be something, and very likely a number of somethings, that you can use for making needles out of, even if it wouldn't be your ideal first choice. And few of the somethings will be so weak that you don't have a choice of a variety of sterilisation methods to allow you to use them more than once.

Similarly for syringes themselves; they don't have to look like something you'd expect to see in a nurse's hand today, nor do they even have to use the piston principle instead of the peristaltic. When the urgency of the need so clearly overwhelms all the disadvantages of them being a bit shit, there are all sorts of things you could press into service. There's even a description in the literature of how to substitute for a syringe + needle using an eyedropper and a pin.

As regards nuclear reactor waste heat, you'll probably want to use that for keeping the place warm rather than just dumping it. It's bloody cold on Mars. To be sure being underground helps, but I'd be surprised if it was considered practical to dig the tunnels deep enough to pick up useful heat from the planet's interior unless there was some other compelling reason. It strikes me as likely being similar to a Russian winter, only a lot worse, in that you want the heat at least as much as you want the electricity.

204:

whitroth @ 63: I watch a few hours of tv... a year."

And just looking at the promo, my suspenders of disbelief snapped: if humanity is extinct, and she's been created... what the hell is a "stranger"?

"The cake is a lie!"

205:

LargoMustkif @ 62: Tsk, Tsk. Reproduction by conventional means will be so oldfashioned then. Cloning it is.
You have seen https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6292852/ , yes?

A population of 50,000 is too small. To ensure the colony's survival, China's one child policy would be turned inside out to facilitate maximum population diversity and growth. Instead of a one child policy, there would be a multiple child policy ... a mandatory multiple child policy, to the limit of how fast technology could expand the logistics base.

I suspect reproductive rules would be rigidly enforced by the State. Every woman might have one child fathered by their selected mate, but must also have two or more additional children "fathered" by randomly selected sperm donors ... "Quiverfull" without the paternalistic "keep 'em barefoot & pregnant" overtones.

LGBTQ couples would have no problems obtaining requisite medical reproductive services and there would be no "racial minorities".

206:

I think the Kzinti Lesson applies there, "A reaction drive is a weapon effective in proportion to it's efficiency". A system capable of accelerating enough slugs to a useful velocity is not something any government is going to want orbiting overhead. And with Newton to be obeyed it would probably have to be built on the Moon (Farside would help with the previous point) which would lead to its availability for any particular trajectory being limited.

207:

Niala @ 96: Lavery @ 84

Yes, having the planet as a shield stops the solar radiation by night.

On the other hand, when you have a solar storm the particles and radiation from the sun go all the way around Mars, because of the lack of an atmosphere and a magnetic field like Earth has.

So, the night side of Mars also get zapped during these storms.

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/large-solar-storm-sparks-global-aurora-and-doubles-radiation-levels-on-the-martian-surface

Mars is an awful place.

Still, might it be less of an awful place after the sun goes down ... on those nights when there isn't a large solar storm? Enough "less awful" to make it advantageous to schedule surface work around the day/night cycle and maybe prepare to "come in out of the rain" whenever it gets stormy outside?

What would it take to generate an artificial magnetic field for Mars, even if it's only a local one?

208:

Who is to say the cloning process excludes any genetic manipulation for variety?

Anyway, my cited question regarding watching that movie still stands ;-)

209:

That is exactly the precedent I had in mind.

210:

But it's a delicate situation. Dictatorship simply isn't going to be long-term viable: too much risk of a lowly life support tech turning off the Big Boss's bedroom oxygen supply one night, leaving him breathing 100% pure nitrogen for a while. Willing cooperation is going to be at a premium.

Note to self - should I or anyone I care about ever end up in a place that relies on life support make sure to have at least 2 devices that will sound an alarm if I have annoyed someone and they have cut off my oxygen...

211:

Paul @ 140: How is the politics going to work on this colony?

I've seen a bunch of comments about how the government in this colony has total knowledge and control of everything that happens. But with hundreds of thousands of people, possibly spread over distinct habitats for redundancy, there is going to be politics of some kind.

Also, from Earth's point of view, what is the business proposition here? Is it an actual long-term plan to colonise another planet, so all necessary support will be provided free? Or is there someone back on Earth looking at the profit-and-loss and sending orders to their Head of Colony on Mars to boost production or lose their quarterly bonus? And production of what? What could possibly be done more cheaply on Mars than on Earth?

I can't imagine any reasonable financial case for a Mars colony of this size that pays off in less than a century, and probably longer. The American colonies had a business case based on tobacco and sugar, but unless Mars has lots of easily-mined unobtanium that's not going to work for our colony. So its got to be something more idealistic. People on Earth believe that colonising Mars is a good idea regardless of the bottom line, and are prepared to make it happen by subsidising a colony.

The colony needs people who are brave, resourceful, and highly educated. Cultists who want to live and die for the God-King Musk need not apply. Anyone capable of making the grade will not sign up without first reading the constitution. So what does the constitution say about airlock control and monitoring? What democratic systems are used to manage the colony? How does money work? What is the criminal-justice system? How does this protect against abuse of power?

What happens when Habitat 5 declares independence and seeks to establish trade relations (because both sides will die without stuff made by the other)?

I'm asking these questions because its becoming obvious that the answers matter to the Exam Question. A serious public health emergency is always a test for the political power. Are we going to see a legal case in which the emergency airlock monitoring protocol is deemed unconstitutional?

Again I'm reminded of an old Sci-Fi story I read.

After some kind of catastrophe on Earth a colony ship manages to make it to a habitable Earth-like planet. Included in the colonists for some reason is one of those assholes who has problems getting along with the government. And especially because the colony government is overly officious & oppressive. After numerous conflicts with the colony's government - he, along with a number of his followers, steal what supplies they need and move away from the colony to set up their own independent settlement.

After which he gets a quiet visit from the colony's dictator who brings him some necessary supplies he didn't manage to steal AND informs him that the colony is glad to see him go ... and Oh, BTW, now it's HIS JOB to become oppressive enough to foment discontent among his followers so that some of them will revolt & move out again. It's forced growth to ensure survival. "If you need any help with that, give us a call."

I expect Habitat 5 won't declare independence, but they will move to a new location and found a daughter colony.

I don't know what the financial basis for Mars Colonization will be. But it could be a step towards not having all our eggs in one fragile basket. I think the ultimate goal will be to populate the planet and then beyond that the rest of the Solar System. Ain't gonna' be cheap and it ain't gonna' be easy. But I don't think it's going to be impossible.

212:

"Note to self - should I or anyone I care about ever end up in a place that relies on life support make sure to have at least 2 devices that will sound an alarm"

Three

Three is the absolute minimum I'll go underwater with when I'm using a fully closed rebeather. I can't imagine any less than that in a habitat, and probably more.

Three is the minimum, and a lot of people died figuring that out.

Even three, while enough for a dive, is marginal for anything long term unless there's someone or something watching them for unusual behaviour. Oxygen sensors can fail in weird ways. One of them is that if they form a layer of condensate on the surface of the sensor (from say, breathing on them) they hold whatever reading they had when the layer formed. This is bad...

213:

The slug-driver owners are Asteroid Belter Buddhists with enough intra-Solar-system capabilities to have built their own version of Rama (but without the interstellar drive at the far end). They normally use their linear accelerators to move cargo around the Solar System. At short notice, to save the Earth from a diverted cometary impact courtesy of the blimp-city dwellers in Jupiter's upper atmosphere they start launching slugs for the Jupiter Express flight, providing enough concentrated energy in the right places to accelerate and decelerate a small manned craft to meet a very tight schedule.

Basically if you've got enough energy infrastructure on tap in the right places then getting to Mars from Earth orbit should only take a few days. If you don't have the infrastructure already in place, tough.

214:

'I suspect reproductive rules would be rigidly enforced by the State. Every woman might have one child fathered by their selected mate, but must also have two or more additional children "fathered" by randomly selected sperm donors ... "Quiverfull" without the paternalistic "keep 'em barefoot & pregnant" overtones.'

There are three possibilities:
a) Intrauterine replicators as in Beta Colony (Bujold)
b) The revolt by those women who do not want that many pregnancies succeeds, and the policy is abandoned (there might still be incentives, but no enforcement).
c) The revolt fails, and it's Quiverfull WITH "keep 'em barefoot & pregnant".

JHomes

215:

Charlie Stross @ 168:

Does the surface radiation level decline at night?

A lot of the worst is in the shape of high energy cosmic rays, which come from pretty much all directions and aren't screened out by the thin Martian atmosphere.

(Earth's atmosphere is roughly as effective as a 10 metre deep pool of water, like the ones we use for storing spent fuel rods until they're cool enough to reprocess safely ...)

So no, night won't save you. Only rock (or a thick blanket of water) will help.

What about the other part of the idea? That it might be possible to schedule around some kind of cycle of high level & higher level radiation to minimize exposure as much as is possible when there's work that has to be done outside and there's no way to avoid going outside to do it?

216:

I've heard the radiation environment around Jupiter, including some of its otherwise interesting for settletments, is rather deadly. Earths van Allen belts are a walk in the park comparatively. Do you imagine they have some shielding force fields, like maybe https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Cloud_City ?

217:

Arrg! ..."including some of its *moons* otherwise insteresting"... I meant.

218:

I would think that it's more likely that when they sign the contract to go, they promise one or two kids, with incentives for more.

Otherwise, you're simply *not* going to get them to go.

219:

Three is the minimum, and a lot of people died figuring that out.

Three would be better, and perhaps even 10 to allow years of use and failures.

But I am assuming even with the advances in space travel there are still going to be strict limits on what any individual settler can take (both weight and volume).

And there will likely be a lot of other must have things competing for that personal items allotment.

220:

I don't you could swing even a promise of two.

But what you could do is make the incentive really good.

A couple of generations ago the incentive was only some free labourers that took a good deal of growing. Pretty poor incentive in my book. People had 10 children.

Make the incentive say, quatrer the cost of flying someone out, paid over a 40 year period. 10 kids makes for a nice retirement.

221:

"strict limits on what any individual settler can take"

Oxygen sensors are something they're going to have to be making there. They only last a couple of years (unless there's some breakthrough I haven't heard about, which is possible, I stopped following oxygen sensors over a decade ago).

They're not hard to make and they're going to need lots of them for almost everything.

222:

Heteromeles @ 196:

Are there other ways to take the mRNA vaccine that don't require sterile disposable syringes? I got the second (Sabin) Polio vaccine by eating a sugar cube. And, with no HIV AIDS or Hepatitis (blood borne diseases would be screened out during the early colonization period) why couldn't they have old fashioned re-usable syringes & sterilize them after use?

Sugar cube? Well, that works for something that's transmitted by the fecal-oral route, like polio, but not for something that spreads through the air. Read up about all the technology that goes into getting designer mRNA read by a human ribosome. This will answer some of your questions:
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2021/01/11/rna-vaccines-and-their-lipids

So, a sugar cube wouldn't be appropriate, but is that the only possible alternative to injection with a syringe? I only mentioned sugar cubes as an example from my own experience.

IIRC, my most recent smallpox vaccination they just poked me with a multi-point lancet that put a drop of liquid on the resulting broken skin. (Come to think about it, I think that's how they did it for my first smallpox vaccination when I was a child).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAqnsFa3VQ0

Someone else mentioned using nasal sprays to administer a vaccine and I've had prescribed drugs (or medicines) administered by nasal spray. The point is that disposable syringes are NOT the only possible way to administer a vaccine.

See also:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_injector

I got a bunch of vaccinations that way my second day in the Army.

The problem with syringes isn't necessarily sterilization, it's that the dose is 0.6 ml and the tiny little needles they use to dose this amount get dull easily. My pharmacist wife is complaining about how using a needle to mix up the vaccine (the frozen pharmaceutical has to be mixed with normal saline before dosing) can waste that needle if you're not careful. The other problem is that 1 ml is about 1 drop, so if you're dosing 0.6 of a drop and you're not careful, a rather large amount remains in the needle or syringe, and this is bad. So yes, precision, working syringes on this scale are more-or-less disposable. The best you can do, aside from a microscopic cleaning and resharpening service, is to figure out a system to recycle them easily, so that used syringes can be remade into new ones with minimal fuss.

Would you need to mix a frozen pharmaceutical if you're manufacturing it in a "brick factory" on site? Why would you freeze it if you're going to use it right away? The reason we freeze it here on Earth is because of the length of the distribution chain.

223:

JHomes @ 214:

'I suspect reproductive rules would be rigidly enforced by the State. Every woman might have one child fathered by their selected mate, but must also have two or more additional children "fathered" by randomly selected sperm donors ... "Quiverfull" without the paternalistic "keep 'em barefoot & pregnant" overtones.'

There are three possibilities:
a) Intrauterine replicators as in Beta Colony (Bujold)
b) The revolt by those women who do not want that many pregnancies succeeds, and the policy is abandoned (there might still be incentives, but no enforcement).
c) The revolt fails, and it's Quiverfull WITH "keep 'em barefoot & pregnant".

JHomes

Or d) "You did read the EULA before signing it didn't you? Subsequent generations, of course, would have been born into the system and would be "educated" in its rightness from nursery school onward.

224:

whitroth @ 218: I would think that it's more likely that when they sign the contract to go, they promise one or two kids, with incentives for more.

Otherwise, you're simply *not* going to get them to go.

Change that to not allowed to go. Sign it or stay here on Earth. "We've got more volunteers than we have seats on the Starships. You need us more than we need you."


225:

I disagree. They're *not* going to even look at uneducated, there's plenty of women with degrees... and if they're expected to pop out 10 kids....

Sorry, but I don't think you have a clue what you're talking about.

Let me talk about my kids. One is having kids. I have one granddaughter 9 yrs old. My daughter is less than a month from popping out #2. She's got good medical care.

She's also got gestational diabetes, and several other issues that are giving her real pause about any more kids. When her mom, my ex, was pregnant with the two of them it was bed rest for most of an entire summer.

I suggest that ninety-five out of 97 women, if told they'll pop out ten, will go to the Russian or Chinese or other folks putting colonies up, with no such requirement.

226:

Imagine you put the AR goggles on your head. The computer overlays your observed reality with an exactly perfect diagram of where to cut , where to sew. It process images and diagnoses on the fly . Or the automated surgeon just does it while explaining to the operator what it is doing and occasionally asking for permission

It’s not far off actually. We already have AI systems that can diagnose and systems that are getting really good at processing images in real time and systems that can do the display, just need to link them all together. It’s bascially how the new gen of military fighters work, except that it looks like we have an AI that just totally fly it on its own. And medicine is one of the harder ones since you can’t specifically design the components to be friendly to that kind of process, like you can say fixing an electric car


I think the days of people having to be trained for years to know what to are going to be well passed by the time we have a Mars colony . Mostly those colonists are going to be following very detailed instructions from machines or entirely automating things

227:

The limit on population growth on a colony is child care and education, not wombs. Nobody is going to want semi feral unsupervised kids running around, that is a good way for population growth to go abruptly negative. And if you have AI good enough to automate that part, you do not really need children at all, just build Moar Robots. Frankly, I would expect the demographics to be that the colony imports fully educated labor from earth in large numbers, and also leaks a simply frightening percentage of its youth on the return flights, despite the fact that running off to earth requires an enormous commitment to weightlifting and other fitness regimes.

228:

Your option d will, I think, turn out to be some legalese and spin wrapped around my option c. The EULA means nothing unless enforced, and enforcement turns into option c unless the revolt succeeds and it is option b.

To reply to another of your posts, the number of women educated enough to be desirable immigrants, who are also desperate enough to go that they would agree, is going to be very small. Mostly, they don't need you more than you need them.

JHomes.

229:

"I'd suggest your numbers in the healthcare professions are low, although it's a bit hard to estimate by how much. There are two elements to that."

Hmm. I was about to write that I thought they were too high.

Assume the colony has almost no people over 65, and none at all over 70. (It's only 2060) Health care for over 65s is about half the health spend for NZ, I think, so I assume it's the same for the UK.

And assume the colony has no-one who had a detectable significant medical condition when they left Earth, with an average on-colony time of 15 years. That's another very large % of the health spend gone.

Maybe my points about this and yours would cancel out?

230:
That said, martian soil has a fair amount of perchlorate in it, so digging on Mars is about as safe as digging into an old USAF toxic waste dump. If you want to tunnel on Mars, making the walls nontoxic (how?) is a necessary chore.

The Martian crust is mostly tholeiitic basalt, I think (Wikipedia agrees). That means the waste heaps generated by your tunnelling will contain large quantities of both iron oxides and quartz.

Iron plus CO2 plus energy means you can manufacture steel (which you're going to want anyway); permanent reinforced linings for the walls are unlikely to be regarded as a wasteful use of the energy. (Supplies of iron and CO2 being, essentially, limitless, the primary concern limiting the quantity of steel you manufacture will be the overall constraints on the base's energy supply.)

If you're worried about corrosion of the steel, then you put a protective layer of quartz between the metal and the Martian bedrock. (You don't want to make the internal walls out of quartz and skip the iron, because silicosis is nasty.)

Boring machines that construct the walls of the tunnel behind them (from prefabricated panels) as they go already exist, so that of the process is taken care of.

231:

JHomes @ 214 : "a) Intrauterine replicators as in Beta Colony (Bujold)

You can forget about those artificial wombs, because we're still very far from understanding how pregnancies "work". We're not even sure about the role of the placenta.

I doubt that we'll know much more in the next 50 years.

In fact we don't know just how much human genetic material will be affected by the long, "exposed" trip between Earth and Mars. It would be much safer to have the colony grow by immigration only, during the first century.

232:

"You can forget about those artificial wombs,"

I don't really want to argue with that. I just included them to cover all the bases, lest someone ask "What about..."

JHomes

233:

So complex a venture will have to have a pretty well stocked engineers' stores, especially for things like fine tube, and insulated wire, and screws, etc, which are poor candidates for printing.

Which gets back to my point about there is still a freaking huge BOM. For screws alone. (For larger ones you might bring threaded rods of a meter or two each with a special tool for cutting them down into an appropriate screw or bolt.

Needles come in various sizes. I really like the super fine ones my dentist uses and most medical shots use these days. But when I did try out another dentist a while back I discovered not everyone was using the newer slim designs and it freaking hurt when jambbed into my gum. And there is a current vaccine that requires a larger needle due to the viscosity of the medium and people are complaining.

So all fat needles or multiple choices.

234:

Imagine you put the AR goggles on your head. The computer overlays your observed reality with an exactly perfect diagram of where to cut , where to sew. It process images and diagnoses on the fly

I'm not a surgeon or even a medical doc but it is my understanding that one reasons surgery is so hard to master is that people are not close to being uniform internally. Especially down under 1cm. It is my understanding that blood vessels grow in a somewhat random fractal sort of way once you get past the major ones.

235:

Boring machines that construct the walls of the tunnel

And getting that there with spare part is going to be a heavy lift to say the least.

236:

Do you have to freeze it? Yes, the lifespan of the mRNA vaccines once made is on the order of a few hours. In general, keeping these stupid things from falling apart is why molecular biology and genetics labs routinely have '80 freezers. It's not just for keeping DNA and cells, it's also for keeping the horribly expensive and fragile RNA-based tools.

Keeping things cold is less hard on Mars, but then again, humans working at Martian temperatures pretty much makes up for this.

237:

The factor I think we haven't got in this account is the change in the proportion of healthcare to the overall economy over time, which is relevant because it's universally increasing now.

A key factor that most people don't get is that medical specialities suffer from Baumol's cost disease (an economic, not a medical, syndrome).

Loosely: medicine is resistant to efficiency improvements. If a GP can conduct a patient consultation in 10 minutes, you can't double her productivity by running patients past her at five minute intervals: it's limited by human-to-human interactions that aren't automatable.

Now, there is room for improvement around the margins, with better/cheaper/faster diagnostic tests. If everyone's genome is personally sequenced and on file, then screening for known gene-linked conditions becomes extremely easy, for example. There's promising work on pre-emptive detection of cancer by deep analysis of the individual's genome, and IIRC very early detection of actual cancers via circulating DNA traces is another developing field. Sequencing of their gut microbiome may make it possible to detect stomach ulcers (H. pylorii infection) or ulcerative colitis, or to predict and pre-emptively treat other immune or metabolic disorders.

But that's on the diagnostic end.

On the treatment side, some commenters have noted Japanese efforts to robotize nursing. To which all I can say is "yeah, right". Robot laundry carts helping deliver fresh sheets around the ward are one thing, but a robot that can coax a dementia patient into swallowing their medicine is something else entirely (and: if you can do that, then we're getting into magic singularity AI territory again, which I don't think is plausible).

Most of the growth in healthcare costs since 1980 is down to better diagnostics (lots of them!) leading to the targeting of specific previously-fatal cancers with highly focussed treatments, notably tailored immunotherapy (which is pricey as hell). We're also dealing with more "biseases of affluence" such as diabetes and heart attack survivors (many more infarction events are survivable today thanks to prompt treatment and stents). I'm guessing that type II diabetes will be less prevalent on Mars (if only because of less use of antibiotics and less availability of junk food) and the expensive-in-1980-2020 diagnostics will be cheap as chips and ubiquitous by 2070. But the nursing and treatment end isn't going to go away, and may if anything increase (more cancer survivors in need of rehab/physiotherapy and aftercare).

So let's go with 1980-level healthcare costs as a fraction of GDP per capita as a baseline; call it 8%.

238:

It is my understanding that blood vessels grow in a somewhat random fractal sort of way

Not just blood vessels. One of my spaniels needed pretty major surgery as a puppy when she got an intussusception - basically think of how you ball socks, and then think of that happening to the intestine. Whilst they had her open though, the surgeon found that part of her intestine naturally branched in two, and the two branches then rejoined a little further on. That part seemed to be fine, so he left it alone and just mentioned it to me afterwards as something to be aware of. As he said, no-one knows exactly how often your gut develops like that, because they wouldn't find it unless they had to open you up. She lived for another 12 years with no further gut problems, and eventually died of cancer.

Just one of the many reasons why I take issue with the "divine creation" folks. Or even "intelligent design" - if anything about anyone's body was "designed", the evidence is that the designer was spectacularly stupid.

239:

@193:

Are there other ways to take the mRNA vaccine that don't require sterile disposable syringes? I got the second (Sabin) Polio vaccine by eating a sugar cube.
That was an attenuated/inactivated virus vaccine. It could survive the harsh environment of the digestive system because that is a normal infection route for polio -- it has evolved to survive that. mRNA is a very unstable molecule. It's not going to get through the digestive system. And then there are the needleless injection routes people have pointed out above.

I think Charlie's pessimism about the nasal route may not be justified. The lungs give you a fairly direct route to immunologically active cells, and one not full of acids and digestive enzymes.

@197:

That said - why not hybrid tech? If you can get superduper micro-scanning fMRI that can 'read' at the molecular level and have it yoked to a CRISPR system that reads and 'makes' the molecules in question, you can speed up extraction, study and testing of possible compounds. The nanobots could be specialized scourers for damaged/dead tissues.
I apologize -- in order to save time, I'm going to be harsh. None of this makes any sense. It wants MRI and CRISPR to do things totally unlike what fMRI and CRISPR do. Sorry.

COVID-70 - someone already mentioned that some corona viruses can take anywhere from a couple of days (flu) to years to incubate (HIV).
Neither flu nor HIV is a coronavirus.
240:

All these chores--suit prep and maintenance, prepping the suit-wearer, and so forth, routinely gets ignored in SFF, but it's an integral part of their use.

Yup. This is why my go-to for a Martian-specific job is "robot wrangler". Lots of human-shaped robots on the surface, lots of AR/VR headsets for the folks controlling them underground. For basic tasks -- "walk half a kilometer up that dirt track to the antenna array over that hill" -- the robots can be left to their own autonomous guidance, but for fiddly stuff -- "I need to monkeywrench this corroded connector without destroying the frame it's mounted on, remove the panel, install a replacement, and schlep the broken one to the repair depot" -- a human in the driving seat is useful. The humanoid robot can be kept out on the surface in constant shift-work 24.5x7, no tracking perchlorate dirt into the airlocks: it also probably weighs less to ship from Earth than a space suit (in the early days -- why make them adult human size rather than, say, 80-100cm tall?) and doesn't need all those pesky internal pressure bladders and seals.

So no, most people won't have a space suit: or if they do, it'll be a basic survival suit good for one half-hour surface sortie (to walk to an evacuation craft) or 24 hours inside a depressurized habitat module with an air hose hook-up.

241:

I'm just astonished that in this day and age pharmaceuticals for injection are still distributed in glass vials with rubber tops in inactive/powder form that need to have sterile saline added and then be loaded into individual syringes for injection.

Back in the late 1980s that was already archaic for most purposes, with doses delivered from the factory in preloaded syringes or single-dose glass ampoulles (break neck of ampoulle, stick syringe in, suck everything out, and inject). (Special exception: insulin, where the type I diabetic user is trained to monitor their blood sugar levels and draw the correct dose as/when they need one.)

I suspect the difficulty of preparing the Pfizer vaccine is down to it having been developed in a screaming rush without time for the usual product engineering work to make it easier to deliver.

242:

Three is the absolute minimum I'll go underwater with when I'm using a fully closed rebeather. I can't imagine any less than that in a habitat, and probably more.

A nuance of life in the Mars colony just clarified itself for me:

You know how, this century, the condition of the internet has forced us all to become our own network security administrators (or suffer the consequences)?

The condition of life of Mars will force everyone to become the equivalent of a professional SCUBA diver, with respect to life support equipment -- or risk dying because someone else got sloppy.

This is going to lead to some odd psychological effects, notably: interpersonal trust issues, OCD, PTSD, and paranoia.

243:

I think it's worth describing how one synthesizes an mRNA, since it's evident that many of the commenters here don't understand the process.

First, you design the sequence, that is, the ordered list of A, C, G, U that will be in the RNA. That is all informatics -- you do it on a computer, and we know how to do it. Then you synthesize a DNA molecule with that sequence (replacing Us with Ts, and making it double-stranded). This is done in DNA synthesis machines, which exist now. Right now here on Earth you can have a DNA molecule of a few hundred bases synthesized in two days for a few hundred dollars. (That is sometimes called a cDNA, not really accurate in this case, but it's a convenient abbreviation, so I will use it). And the Mars colony has that technology, because they use it for their cancer vaccines. You do this ONCE for any vaccine, so so far Mars doesn't need anything it doesn't already have.

Now you insert that cDNA into a self-replicated bacterial plasmid vector. You put this self-replicating plasmid into a lab strain of E coli bacteria. You grow the plasmid-bearing bugs up in nutrient broth. (The nutrients E coli needs are a subset of the ones humans need, so Mars has those.) Now you extract the plasmid from the bacteria, a standard operation that every molecular biology lab in the world does on a daily basis.

Now, you mix the purified plasmid with ATP, CTP, GTP, UTP, and cap (another chemical -- not important) and a thermostable phage RNA polymerase in a buffered salt solution and incubate at 50C for half an hour. (Quick note here: some of you will have read descriptions of the very complicated mechanisms by which mRNA is synthesized in a human cell. Those are irrelevant for the in vitro reaction.) We don't need huge amounts of this phage polymerase because it is catalytic, and it is easy to prepare in bulk. Making a lifetime supply for the entire Mars colony is like two days work for one person.

The plasmid vector we put our cDNA into has a recognition sequence for the phage polymerase, so once you mix these things in a tube, the polymerase makes mRNA. You purify this. Again, a quick, easy, routine step.

This tech is old and routine. I first made mRNA in 1987 in essentially this way. (It was not easy to synthesize DNA sequences of several hundred bases in 1987 -- we had to copy them from a living source -- and the phage polymerases we had in those days were not thermostable, but otherwise nothing important has changed.)

Now comes the hard part: to make a vaccine from this, you have to package this so that you can get it into a human body somewhere where cells of the immune system will see it. In the current Covid-19 mRNA vaccines that means the mRNA gets wrapped up in a protective lipid (= fatty) layer. This is where the research on mRNA vaccines will happen in the next ten years or so.

244:

On reproduction, two points the (mostly male) commentariat seem to have missed:

a) We don't know the prognosis for how safe/viable human gestation will be on Mars. That might prove to be a show-stopper, absent the availability of centrifuge accommodation (which will be eye-wateringly expensive if it's to be reasonably comfortable for a nine month confinement for multiple pregnant women and medical attendants).

b) Pregnancy on Earth, even when nothing is going wrong, is metabolically marginal: it puts an enormous drain on the pregnant woman's ability to eat/digest/nourish for two. The aftermath is going to be problematic, too: I see no prospect of raising cows or goats on Mars, so no formula milk substitute -- it's going to be human lactation all the way (whether direct breast feeding or using wet nurses or pump-and-freeze).

Basically, having kids is an incredibly labour-intensive process: I think we can approximate one baby to 2 years' full-time labour, and then schooling and kid-wrangling thereafter to 1 full-time worker per 4 kids. (There's a reason the Kibbutz system -- which I alluded to earlier -- relied on a creche system.) Note that Mars comes with special problems that don't apply on Earth, like keeping toddlers out of the airlocks and keeping teenagers from running wild. All of which spells "more oversight".

4 children per female colonist is therefore probably equivalent to 20-30 adult-years of work, ie. roughly half to two thirds of her adult productivity.

So in terms of a growing Mars colony it's cheaper to import young-adult labour from Earth, or use a creche system from kindergarten age onwards, with older teenagers trusted to keep the toddlers out of trouble. Which comes with its own special social problems, as (again) the Kibbutz system demonstrated: creche peer-groups there tended to socialize each other as siblings, so exogamy became an issue when they reached adulthood (kids from the same creche had an aversion to pairing up).

But there's also a third problem:

You're young, female, and your partner wants to emigrate to Mars. It is going to mean: having multiple pregnancies (assuming you even can: pregnancy is risky) while living underground, during pregnancy you'll be in a confinement that would strike a Victorian housewife as harsh (10 square metres of floor space in a noisy centrifugal prenatal ward), your babies will be taken away once weaned and raised collectively in a creche ...

Do you (a) agree to emigrate to Mars under these conditions, or (b) say "fuck that" and ditch your man?

Either way, I can't see Mars getting many female settlers who agree to those conditions.

Upshot: either way you cut it, for the first few generations Mars will be a population sink, and most new faces will come from Earth.

245:

Do you imagine they have some shielding force fields, like maybe https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Cloud_City ?

No.

Turns out that high energy cosmic rays are so high energy that you need a multi-tesla magnetic field to deflect them -- something we normally only get inside an MRI machine using superconducting electromagnets. It's too heavy/bulky for a space ship, never mind an entire surface colony under a dome.

Underground is the only practical way forward.

246:

I'm gonna say "checklists" again. The simple, proven technology to prevent people from fucking up. The key to making it work is that everyone needs to be empowered to call anyone out for missing a step.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6667514-the-checklist-manifesto is an easy read that covers the bases (avoiding big river links).

247:

I am completely flabberghasted why people so often (as in this case) consider only extreme positions. Breeding like rabbits ('quiverful') is obviously infeasible, not just because intelligent women will object, but because it requires more resources than have yet been built. But that doesn't mean an unsustainable reproduction ratio, as I pointed out in #117 and OGH did in #175.

The solution would be good creches near workplaces and communal child care, quite a lot of which can be done by (relatively) elderly or handicapped people. Young children learn a LOT from being told stories (fantasy and real), including language and social customs. The 'problem' has been solved, fer chrissake, and we know how multi-degree women respond when such solutions are available. The result is that breeding couples would need to adjust their working lives for their children, and spend a considerable amount of their 'non-working' with them.

But they could also gain at least a couple of hours a day from not having long, congested commutes, dealing with user-hostile retail systems, fighting our immense bureaucracy (gummint and private) etc.

Older children would spend a lot of time with people working on things they (the children) are interested in. Yes, that takes resources, but the result is often that a child goes into advanced education with a clear objective in mind.

It's feasible. It's been done. We know how relevant women react. No artificial wombs, robot nannies, etc. needed. It takes planning, resources and social engineering, and could easily take up (say) 25% of the 'GDP' - but that's what it does today, on earth.

248:

Sign it or stay here on Earth. "We've got more volunteers than we have seats on the Starships. You need us more than we need you."

You do know that roughly 70% of conceptions end in a miscarriage (that is, a spontaneous abortion)? And it's even higher among over-30s, or women in high-stress environments, or radiation exposure, or, or ...

Also, a first pregnancy is often the only one, or nearly the only one. Gestational diabetes is only one of the happy fun complications that can kill you: there's hypertension, there's rhesus incompatability (in second and subsequent pregnancies), there's a breech birth (how are you going to handle surgical/caesarian deliveries in a low gee environment with limited medical facilities?) and so on.

Worst case, in the late 18th/early 19th century in England there was roughly a 5% chance of maternal death with each pregnancy. While much of that was down to "no germ theory of disease, idiot doctors didn't wash their hands", there's no guarantee that initial outcomes on Mars will be any better because there will be other deadly situations. (I mentioned an elevated cancer risk: what do you think chemotherapy does to fertility? Or a developing fetus?) If you want ten babies on Mars per woman, you may well end up with only a 30% survival rate at the end of that sequence.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

249:

As I have M.E, I thought I would comment on long covid. If long covid is equivalent to bad M.E, I would not trust anyone with it with any important task and in a Mars colony any task is an important task. Thus a sufferer would be useless. Thus it depends how bad it is, some people with M.E still have jobs. I on the other hand can hardly do anything, and this doesn't just include physical tasks, but mental ones. Even engaging on this blog is a strain. I think it would difficult to trust the abilities of anyone with long covid in the context of a Mars colony. If the authorities were euthanasia happy, as suggested, they would all be in danger

250:

And assume the colony has no-one who had a detectable significant medical condition when they left Earth, with an average on-colony time of 15 years.

Just getting to Mars is going to give every colonist a significant radiation dose. Elevated cancer risk from the get-go. Also osteoporosis and muscle wastage from microgravity en route, eyeball deformation (apparently ISS astronauts routinely need a new opthalmological prescription after 3-6 months in space), and any new conditions we don't know about yet that are specific to Mars (I can foresee: environment with pervasive toxic chemicals, both Martian perchlorates and lots of crap like VOCs outgassing under Martian conditions from materials shipped from Earth).

251:

I was assuming that you were sustainable colony in your original post. I was deliberately ignoring how well gestation will go because, it it doesn't go well, a sustainable colony is impossible.

Based on my experience and that of people around me, yes, 2 years' of one adult's working time plus 25% until adulthood is about right. There is no reason for that 25% to be shouldered by the woman alone, even in an atomic couple and, in my social groups, it rarely is. The semi-communal systems I am thinking of are less regimented than kibbutz ones, much closer to traditional multi-family households, and don't have the same problems (which is not to say they have no problems).

I don't see an insuperable problem with either goats or space, IF things are done right. Automated tunnelling gives arbitrary amounts of space, and the resources to fit it out (and heat it!) are the problem. Goats don't need much space, can be fed on the haulms from food crops, are psychologically useful for small children, as well as for milk, meat and perhaps more. Similarly giving people room to get away from the crowding is feasible.

Yes, that means NOT packing in as many people as possible, amd hence expending a lot more per person on the environment (say, twice as much), but that is partially compensated by the improved productivity (not least by needing fewer psychiatrists). And it does assume that the power supply problem has been solved.

And, obviously, it is women who volunteer to become colonists, and choose a partner from a much larger pool of available men. Nothing new there, either.

Yes, for the initial years, it will be a population sink, but I don't see it as a long-term issue IF a colony is feasible at all (which I am doubtful of).

252:

Charlie Stross @ 244: "Do you (a) agree to emigrate to Mars under these conditions, or (b) say "fuck that" and ditch your man? Either way, I can't see Mars getting many female settlers who agree to those conditions. Upshot: either way you cut it, for the first few generations Mars will be a population sink, and most new faces will come from Earth."

Do you realize that you are describing a male-only Martian colony?

The colony wants people with incredible skill sets and discipline to survive.

There will be many ladies with incredible skill sets who will want to go to Mars but only if they get, by themselves, an irreversible sterilisation before leaving Earth. If they have such skill sets and a Dream of Space they're not fools and they realize that the trip from Earth to Mars will most probably irradiate their genetic inheritance.

So, if you throw away those forced breeding contracts you might get a balanced (and sterile) Mars population instead of something our of "Ethan of Athos" by Lois McMaster Bujold.

253:

Charlie
You do know that roughly 70% of conceptions end in a miscarriage (that is, a spontaneous abortion)?
This is my standard argument against the religious fuckwits going on about "abortion is evil" ... apparently it's different if "god" does it, yeah.

254:
This is my standard argument against the religious fuckwits going on about "abortion is evil" ... apparently it's different if "god" does it, yeah.
I've always been curious how they deal with natural human clones, AKA identical twins. If "life begins at conception" (a statement that I, as a biologist, declare unequivocally false) and a soul attaches to a zygote when sperm meets egg, what's the process when that zygote splits up to become two or more, which develop into separate human individuals? Does God have a supplemental soul supply from which he picks out the extra soul needed for the twin? Does one twin get the soul that was attached at fertilization and the other a new soul? Or do we recycle the first one and each twin gets a brand-new soul?


I'm sure that the theologians out there have standard answers to these question, but it is painfully obvious that most of the abortion-is-murder crowd is unaware that the problem exists.

255:

If long covid is equivalent to bad M.E, I would not trust anyone with it with any important task

Yes, absolutely.

I know some folks with varying degrees of ME and it's crippling: not just physically debilitating, but the "brain fog" that goes with it also renders the sufferer unable to handle complex cognitive tasks. One person I know with multiple sclerosis was initially misdiagnoses with ME: the symptoms overlap.

If 10-20% of a Mars colony end up with long covid, the colony will instantly be in a sustainability crisis. Shipping 100,000 disabled people back to Earth would likely be a non-starter (a thousand Starship launches, plus tanker refuelling for Earth transfer orbit = about 5000 launches).

But forget euthanasia: unless everyone not personally incapacitated is willing to see friends or family members killed, it's guaranteed to trigger a mutiny/revolution.

One ray of hope: being able to tweak habitat oxygen levels may help significantly, especially for those where the dominant factor is post-covid lung damage. And the low gravity environment may make it less debilitating.

256:

Do you realize that you are describing a male-only Martian colony?

Alaska or California during the gold rush. See also: cribhouses, mail-order brides, and a gender ratio of 4:1 being "normal".

Personally I expect the first 10-20 years of Mars emigrants to be old, highly skilled, experienced Astronauts -- they may already be grandparents, they're certainly not planning on having babies. Low gravity will be easy on their joints and cardiovascular system and they may not live as long as they would back home, but they'll be On! Mars! and living the dream, etc. (Look at ISS astronauts today and you'll see precious few who are younger than mid-thirties, and many in their fifties.)

The first pregnancy on Mars won't happen for a decade or more and will be as much a publicity stunt and a live-participation human medical experiment as anything else, probably following lots of successful animal experiments.

257:

The "religious fuckwits" aren't actually serious about the position that life begins at conception, souls, and so forth: they're mostly hypocrites attempting to justify a white supremacist patriarchy based on the oppression of women. This becomes clear very rapidly when you follow them down the rabbit hole.

258:
The "religious fuckwits" aren't actually serious about the position that life begins at conception, souls, and so forth: they're mostly hypocrites attempting to justify a white supremacist patriarchy based on the oppression of women. This becomes clear very rapidly when you follow them down the rabbit hole.
Yes, but they feel the need to produce rhetoric that purports to justify their position. And it's fun to watch them twist in the wind when confronted with an argument for which they lack a prefabricated answer.
259:

Yes, but nevertheless can we not have that discussion here? THIS IS FOR THE COVID HITS A MARS COLONY DISCUSSION, DAMMIT.

260:

Lavery @ 254 : "Does God have a supplemental soul supply from which he picks out the extra soul needed for the twin? Does one twin get the soul that was attached at fertilization and the other a new soul? Or do we recycle the first one and each twin gets a brand-new soul?"

Relax! Philip Jose Farmer has all of this covered in his Riverworld series. There is no god and the souls that do exist are artificial "wathans" created originally by space aliens in a distant solar system. The spâce aliens want to share this neat invention so they have installed wathan generators under the surface of promising planets. They have also installed wathan-catchers.

261:

Philip Jose Farmer has all of this covered in his Riverworld series.

That sounds like he was taking the piss out of Scientology.

262:

The condition of life of Mars will force everyone to become the equivalent of a professional SCUBA diver, with respect to life support equipment -- or risk dying because someone else got sloppy.

That's why I was assuming that space suits (maybe "mars suits" would be a better term) would be standard gear, and a 'solved problem'.

Everyone would have a mars suit*, even if it was just a basic one that allows them to get from one part of the city to a safer part if/when there's a leak. The more paranoid/realistic would have better models. Possibly form clubs swapping tips on cleaning seals, hacks to improve the suits, and so on.


*Actually, if the goal is 'survive for a short time' then maybe you don't need a whole suit. I suspect a 'breath mask' would be adequate, with an insulated coverall, gloves, and boots.

263:

Yes. But, as you said previously, that's a research station or a building team, not a proper colony. I don't see that which it is changes the effect of COVID much, because I would assume that its human resource safety margin would be no higher. I still think that any hope of survival would be adoption of (wartime) military thinking - yes, even people deliberately left to die or even sent to certain death. Experience is that people will accept that if it really IS necessary and done 'fairly' (i.e. according to need, not prejudice).

If that is done, then the questions are (a) what is the best strategy for maximising the chance of the colony surviving, (b) will that be enough and (c) whether and how the military control will be dismantled afterwards?

The huge difference would be that such treatment (including euthanasia) of old and disable people might be tolerated in extremis, but that of children would not be. There are a good many societies that have practiced the former (in effect), but the latter is rarer and normally done only with newborns. As you say, once it splits into 'them' and 'us', the colony is doomed. Children MIGHT be conscripted into the wards, though, in the same way that they were and are sent to war by their parents.

264:

Freezer space. You can store of lot of doses of an mRNA vaccine in a single -80 deg C freezer if you pack and dispatch it in small concentrated vials and have the contents diluted at point-of-use with saline before injection. The vaccine needs to be processed and handled at the distribution locations anyway, brought up to room temps, batch numbers logged and more so the extra preparation steps aren't that onerous compared to the many more freezers, transport flights, dry-ice cartons etc. needed if it is sent out of the factory in ready-for-use one-shot syringes.

265:
Relax! Philip Jose Farmer has all of this covered in his Riverworld series. There is no god and the souls that do exist are artificial "wathans" created originally by space aliens in a distant solar system. The spâce aliens want to share this neat invention so they have installed wathan generators under the surface of promising planets. They have also installed wathan-catchers.
Yes. I remember hating that part of the books. (Not that I much liked the rest of Riverworld.)


But, we're not supposed to talk about that. So here's a nice review on mRNA vaccines focused on the hard part: How to package the mRNA and deliver it so that immune system sees it. Figure 2 in particular is helpful, showing how the mRNA is packaged to improve survivability.

266:

Lavery @ 265 : "Figure 2 in particular is helpful, showing how the mRNA is packaged to improve survivability."

I like the fact that they put an interrogation point next to "Carrier sensing", above the cationic, lipid, cholesterol nanoparticle. Only fools are positive!

267:

LAvery & Charlie
The "religious fuckwits" actually includes the Official, Mandated & Promulgated Policy of the RC church ...
And they are NOT serious about this?
Actually - can we have this discussion in the next thread, or something, or we really will wander off down a different rabbit-hole.

268:

re: if you can build robot nannies then by definition you've got strong-enough-to-fool-humans general-purpose AI, and all bets are off.

That's assuming "nanny" is a unitary job. Robots will hand *parts* of the job. There'll be a human supervisor (teacher), and kids will supervise each other for some parts (can't separate by age for this to work). Think Kibbutz, but with a bit less ideology and parents to go home to at night, though that's wrong too. OTOH, for this to work well you need more than one teacher/30 kids. 1 to 15 is about right, though 1 to 10 or 12 is better. To make it economic you, as you suggested, have the kids doing useful work. It's hard to predict quite what that would be, as circumstances are a bit...vague. Motivation is crucial, and difficult. And the work needs to be both useful and to prepare them form more advanced work as they get older.

Getting that right is going to be a real challenge.

269:

The first pregnancy on Mars won't happen for a decade or more and will be as much a publicity stunt and a live-participation human medical experiment as anything else, probably following lots of successful animal experiments.

How much is known, or at least what are the scientific opinions of the affects of low gravity from conception to adulthood? It seems to me to be the greatest obstacle to maintaining a self-sustaining civilization on a planet like Mars.

270:

Freezer space

Beat me to it, thanks.

Since they just had to discard a batch of Moderna vaccine here because a bunch of people had bad allergic reactions to it, I'd suggest that keeping the production chain as short as possible is probably a good thing from a safety standpoint.

Besides which, this is only for the mRNA vaccines. The Oxford vaccine is intended to be single dose, ship around the world. Unfortunately it doesn't have as high an immunization rate as the mRNA vaccine, but that's just luck. The useful thing about the mRNA vaccine is how fast it can be created and distributed, even if that distribution is limited. Being able to get high-efficacy vaccines into health care workers and first responders has a huge multiplier effect.

There's also the secondary problem is figuring out what happens to a syringe when you freeze and thaw it. Hopefully all the coefficients of thermal contraction are roughly equivalent so that the darned thing is still useful when it thaws.

And...we're back to Mars again, where every air lock has simultaneous problems with deadly atmosphere, lethally low pressure, often colder temperatures, toxic chemicals, AND dust on the other side. Keeping the seals working is going to be a huge chore, especially if the temperatures change radically every time the airlock is cycled. Are they going to have to see if it's possible to make something like a Tesla valve or a labyrinth seal that works on gases in every hallway leading up to an outside door, just to minimize the number of moving parts that have to be maintained?

If they went with conventional airlocks, it would certainly be profitable to have the polymer synthesis and seal fabrication contract for the colony....

271:
How much is known, or at least what are the scientific opinions of the affects of low gravity from conception to adulthood?
Actually, that's a great question. Probably the best answers I've seen come from The Expanse, which is, OK, *FICTION*, but it is perhaps the best scientifically informed fiction I have seen, ever.

I'd say the biggest problem with The Expanse as a source on this question is that the story depends on the possibility of solving the problem, so they have to start from the premise that it CAN be solved.

272:

Don't forget, it's not just the question of how living off Earth affects human life cycles. There's the question about how it affects the life cycle of every other species we bring along, AND how it affects the life cycle of every bit of technology we need.

Realize also that it took people over 10,000 years to figure out how to settle the deep-water Pacific Islands, for pretty much the same reasons: there was the problem of getting to remote islands, then there was the problem of getting enough food to stay alive once you got there, then the problem of getting enough food to feed a family, all the while figuring out replacements for all the bits of kit you no longer had the raw materials for, like decent stone for tools. And these people weren't stupid, and they were dealing with a simpler problem, in that they didn't have to worry about generating a breathable atmosphere, decent radiation shielding, gravity simulation, or accelerating everything up around 3 g to get it off the surface of the Earth.

273:

“ The condition of life of Mars will force everyone to become the equivalent of a professional SCUBA diver, with respect to life support equipment -- or risk dying because someone else got sloppy.”

They talk about that in the Expanse-Belter culture. They basically
turn it into personal accountability similar to skydiving or gun safety . No matter who claims what , it is on you tk be the final certifier of the safety of your personal life support . They also figure anyone who can’t do that probably isn’t a big loss and may even be a risk to the community

274:

The Oxford vaccine is intended to be single dose, ship around the world.

Really? The clinical trials were for two doses, with the unexpected discovery that having a half-size first dose seemed to increase immunity into the 90% range

275:
Don't forget, it's not just the question of how living off Earth affects human life cycles. There's the question about how it affects the life cycle of every other species we bring along, AND how it affects the life cycle of every bit of technology we need.
For those other-than-human components, we have the advantage that we are free to engineer them for compatibility. That is, we can engineer the technology directly, and we can genetically engineer the organisms (plants more easily than animals; I'm going to assume it's not an issue for bacteria and fungi, since they evolve rapidly on their own, and are too small to care much about gravity).

What we can't easily engineer are the humans.

276:

I once heard an absolutely terrifying talk by a manufacturer of rebreathers for professional divers, talking about some of his competitors who made stuff for the sport diver market (so take with a large pinch of salt, but still).

My favourite nightmare from his collection was a computerised control unit that would reset if its power supply glitched, e.g. due to its user shaking the battery by hitting the water. When this happened it rebooted into standby mode. The user passed out due to anoxia a few tens of seconds later.

And then there were the dive watches that gave clearly wrong answers about how fast to ascend.

(For non-divers, a rebreather works by scrubbing the CO2 from your exhaled air and adding the right amount of oxygen back in. Unfortunately the human respiratory system works on CO2 sensors in your neck, not O2 sensors. If the oxygen part of the rebreather fails you are breathing pure nitrogen. You don't accumulate any CO2, so you feel perfectly fine. Then you pass out, and then you die.)

277:

" Robots will hand *parts* of the job"

Which ones?

278:

Re: "slug drivers" for propulsion:
http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2019/11/hypervelocity-macron-accelerators.html

If you want diamond-hard sf discussions- go here.
I say it's more an an "engineering fiction" site than a "science fiction" site.

279:

Yep. Space suits have rebreathers.

I'd point out another problem: lung damage. I have asthma, and I wanted to learn to SCUBA. I was booted from the class, and my doctor explained in some detail what happens during decompression if you have lung inflammation. The problem is that if there's lung inflammation, from asthma, dust irritation, long term COVID damage, then air can get trapped in alveoli in the lungs (The little sacs at the end of the passages where the oxygen gets exchanged). Normally this isn't a big deal, aside from the loss of gas exchange. However, if there's massive decompression, that trapped air can expand and explode the alveolus. Instant lung hemorrhage, possibly fatal if it's widespread.

Again, with current suits, astronauts have to decompress before going into space, so everyone who's rated for suits has to have healthy, clear lungs. Even having a cold can be dangerous.

This is going to be an endemic problem off-planet, unless space suits normally accommodate one atmosphere pressure internally, so there's no decompression. Pretty much every place in our solar system we could visit is dusty and has less dense atmospheric pressure. Those are all lung injuries waiting to happen, even without Covid.

More challenges.

Incidentally, before some bright-eyes posits that of course we'll have those space suits any day now, 1 atmosphere is just over 1 kg/cm2 of pressure, so if there's a one atmosphere differential between the inside and outside of the suit, then either the human or the suit has to exert 1 kg/cm2 to bend the joints in the suit. Especially the fingers. So far we've gotten to about 1/3 atmosphere, and apparently astronauts really get strong hands from working in those really, really stiff suit gloves. So either the 1 atmosphere suit is a powered exoskeleton (more weight and complexity) or someone gets exceptionally clever with the joint structure in the suits and figures out how to passively counter the pressure issues.

280:

Oxford vaccine is intended to be single dose, ship around the world.

Two doses. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is single-dose, IIRC (they also have a two-dose candidate), but still in trials.

281:

but a robot that can coax a dementia patient into swallowing their medicine is something else entirely

Forget dementia. Some folks are just plain ornery. Being told what do to gets them combative. As an interlude between bouts of complaining about how they feel and wish there was something they could take.

Sorry, your comment brought back a recent 6 year stretch of time.

282:

Sorry, confused those. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this new system evolves: mRNA is rapid but finicky, more traditional methods are slower, easier to distribute, and perhaps less efficacious. Do we keep multi-tracking, set up more refrigerated infrastructure, or what?

283:

I'm sure that the theologians out there have standard answers to these question, but it is painfully obvious that most of the abortion-is-murder crowd is unaware that the problem exists.

Most theologians have a pitiful science background. And the medical oriented people in most churches just keep their mouths shut. They stay for all kinds of reasons but this has been a simmering issue in the US "church" for a long time. The last 4 years sort of happened as the medical people have been more and more refusing to go along with the medical nonsense of the non medical trained. And the non medical trained voted for the orange one.

See also YEC.

284:

Sorry. Posted this too fast.

But in the US I can already see the yelling about which if any chapels will be on Mars.

285:

You've just gotten me annoyed, Charlie. My old insurance, when I was working, I'd been with one doctor for about 9.5 years. They *used* to have signs saying "bring all your medical issues to your doctor when you see them.

They went away.

The last two years with them, my doc came up with something... AND THEY WANTED TO CHARGE ME FOR A "SECOND CONSULTATION".

Those MF's want to cut 15-20 min to under 15 min, and charge more for anything they find... even in an annual physical.

It's makemoneyfast.... *snarl*

286:

Does the possible availability of lava tubes to seal off and inhabit change any of the base assumptions - like the population density?

https://www.universetoday.com/147360/lava-tubes-on-the-moon-and-mars-are-really-really-big-big-enough-to-fit-an-entire-planetary-base/

287:

I get an injection every two weeks. Nurse snaps off the top, shoves the needle through the rubber, and shoots me up, no saline added. Bottle comes that way.

288:

Do you *really* think that 50 and more years from now, we won't have started genengineering modifications?

I'd assume, in the next 20, disease resistance, turning off things like diabetes, etc.

I'd also assume that a lot of disease will have cures. Someone's mentioned they have ME: I had to ask my SO... oh, another name for fibromyalgia, which my SO suffers.

289:

Re: 'Do we keep multi-tracking, set up more refrigerated infrastructure, or what?'

All of the above.

Because various cancers are also likelier, we'll need more work on altering, boosting, storing, slowing the ageing/re-invigorating every component of the immune system. Because such research would also be useful (marketable?) for folks on Earth, the Moon as well as on Mars - it wouldn't be a 'waste' of money.


A few questions:

Would it make sense to build Clarke's sky ladder on Mars, specifically on Mount Olympus - the highest elevation point? It's a fairly large area combed through with lava tunnels which I think may be more workable for excavating for habitats. The reason I ask is because location of a settlement will determine many of the challenges/opportunities. A location that has intrinsic good year-round access for incoming supplies would be better than building a colony somewhere along the equator where it might be more difficult to land supplies/personnel or dig out habitats.

Also - wouldn't a carpet of wind power micro-turbines make sense on Mars and especially in places like Mount Olympus? And I do mean 'carpet' - very small, low to the ground but densely packed together vs. what the tall structures seen around the US/Canada.

What native (Martian) and readily extracted/available materials would be best for blocking unhealthy radiation? And how easily could such a material be processed into furniture, clothing, habitat structures/infrastructure, etc.? Mining a multipurpose material makes more sense than mining several different sole-purpose ones. Multi-purpose also suggests better likelihood of recycling - less waste of materials and energy overall. Importing raw building materials would not only be expensive in terms of transport costs but also likely expensive in terms of safety/health risk, i.e. material hasn't been tested for durability in Mars environment. (Do we have any data from the Mars Rover on which exterior materials have weathered best on Mars?)

How does radiation on Mars compare with radiation on Earth in soil, rocks, i.e., the likely native agriculture and building materials?

290:

One more thing, one cmt by me that everyone seems to have glossed over: if they're doing multiple launche/month, much less per week, who here actually thinks that no one else will be doing it?

Really? You don't think China or Russia or India will have a colony there? And that they might be willing to produce drugs/needles, etc?

291:

On the reproduction angle, I think by 2070 we're probably seeing exo-wombs as a major factor in reproduction even on Earth, and on Mars it's almost certainly going to be normal if it can be done with any decent success rate for a fetus. It's almost certainly cheaper to go full on r-type selection with artificial wombs with high failure rates than to tie down actual humans with the health risks being suggested for Martian pregnancy. The scientific push on Earth is likely to be high for various reasons, particularly with a low fertility aging population where a medical capacity to have children is lower than desire for children.

I originally wrote "definitely" for it being a factor, but it might end up being one of those random things that turns out to be super hard for some reason. Demand being high doesn't necessarily mean we'll figure it out, and particularly strange looking techniques such as "we made a type of mold that takes over pig wombs that totally lets us grow human babies" might face enough resistance it's not actually being used.

292:

Yeah maybe. Or not.

It's not the exowombs, because they've been experimenting with them for years now. For all I know, they'll be available to carry fetuses to term in emergency circumstances soon.

But getting women and Earth out of the process may not be so possible, even ignoring the crypto-misogynism inherent in the proposal. I mean, anyone been checking male sperm production on Mars?

Anyway, getting back to the problems, the thing to remember is we're talking about a system that's evolved within the Earth biosphere for 200-odd million years, just talking about mammalian reproduction. Evolution has this nasty habit of incorporating any aspect of the system into it. Some critical segments that are missing from exowombs:
--gravity. Does it matter to the fetus? Let's try that experiment in freefall and see what goes wrong. Not that such human experimentation is legal, but...science!
--microbiome and chemical influence. There are two levels of this. One is what the fetus gets through the umbilical cord and by ingesting amniotic fluid. We don't know as much about that as we'd like. Another aspect are the bacteria picked up by a baby passing through a vagina while being born. Turns out this is one way for babies to get inoculated with necessary bacteria and other microorganisms. This isn't a showstopper for C-section babies, but it's still a problem, especially for normal development of that huge other brain you have associated with your GI tract.
--Milk: here we go again with the microbiome, chemical influences, necessary and ephemeral chemicals needed for normal development, and so forth. What are babies eating on Mars? Are you going to dose women so that they start lactating? Men maybe?
--Human contact. Here's big news: half of human inheritance is cultural. Babies die without constant care, love, touch, and education. Literally, abandoning a child is criminal, as is neglecting a child. If you're stupid enough to use an engineering model to produce future workers for your SFF colony, that colony is going to fail, because children are evolved to thrive with a bonded mother-figure, playmates of varying ages, and other caregivers. That has to be part of a culture, and if it can't be, they can't raise children there.

293:

Do you *really* think that 50 and more years from now, we won't have started genengineering modifications?
I don't think you appreciate the technical difficulty of genetically engineering an outbred and generically heterogenous population for traits that are desirable in an evolutionary novel environment.

294:

David L
Most theologians have a pitiful science background.
Yup - as in: "Please provide Objective Evidence that any form of BigSkyFairy exists, or you are discussing something that does not exist, at all"
At which point you are told to study Theology (!)

whitroth
That sort of thing simply does not happen here ... it's called Single-payer universal health care.

295:

Would it make sense to build Clarke's sky ladder on Mars

Two problems with the idea, Phobos and Deimos. In "The Fountains of Paradise" Mars provided substantial financing for the Earth elevator in return for the manufacturing plant being sent to Mars afterwards. They planned to deal with Deimos by dismantling it, the carbon content used for making the cable and the remaining rubble becoming part of the counterweight. Their solution for Phobos was to design a resonant flex into the cable so that Phobos would miss it each time round.

Windmills on Mons Olympus aren't going to do much, it's so high the atmospheric pressure is only 12 % of the average...

296:
I don't think you appreciate the technical difficulty of genetically engineering an outbred and generically heterogenous population for traits that are desirable in an evolutionary novel environment.
I'm assuming we require the kind of evidence of safety and efficacy that is standard for human medicine.
297:

@Everybody: I take this as a thought experiment about what would happen if... as opposed to "there will likely be 500k people on Mars in 50 years".
Impossible? Don't think so.
Likely? REALLY don't think so?
Necessary? Definitely not.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a Heinleinian/Pournellian "Libertarian Space Cowboy".
I'm more of a (Rick) Robinsonian/Strossian(?) “Antarctica and Oil Platforms IN SP-A-A-A-CE Guy"
Currently ~1,000 (winter)-4,000 (summer) people in Antarctica @ 66 research facilities (https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/science/can_you_live_in_antarctica.php#:~:text=There%20are%20around%2066%20scientific,about%201%2C000%20overwinter%20each%20year.).
This is after ~100 years of exploration, etc.

There are ~1.3k offshore oil rigs around the world (https://www.statista.com/statistics/279100/number-of-offshore-rigs-worldwide-by-region/), but people don't live on these platforms- they work there and we know what's the maguffinite they're looking for).

We've already discussed how ~90% of the people on Mars would be in support roles doing regular types of jobs. What would the other 50k folks be doing? How many areologists does Mars need? Currently, there are around 32k US geologists., and lets say the US has 20% of the world's total. Would Mars need a good chunk of the worlds geologists and would they be suitable, capable, and interested in being Mars- ready? Pick any other specialty (climatologist, robot-wrangler, etc.), and I think the same applies. IMHO, if and until we start terraforming, we won't need all that many people there, and while there may be many people who'd want to go to Mars, most of them couldn't or shouldn't.
MY guesses:
50 years from now on Mars- a small base or three.
100 years from now- like Antarctica today, maybe somewhat more if there's evidence of life.
200 years from now (“The Expanse” time)- definitely NOT 2 G people there.
(This assumes we can effectively manage getting through the “Slowpocalypse”.)

298:

I believe current thinking on spacesuits is hard suits or skintight suits. Hard suits are I believe being developed now. On Mars you would get some leeway, at least within the habitats, but you would need at least a helmet. You would need to cover you eyes and ears, indeed all skin, but would need a pressurised head covering at least. To go with that perhaps a skintight inner layer, then an outer suit. Of course depending on tech, this is not invoking super tech!
I was not keen on the expanse at all, I though it was very unrealistic with it's tech. It seemed to me like mostly tech of a couple of decades in the future, a couple of centuries in the future. It generally seemed like very old school sci fi, I only read the first book years ago though. I did try the series though, I only got minutes in and thought the same and stopped watching. Obviously opinions differ, perhaps I should give it another chance.
I'm not sure about M.E being another name for Fibromyalga, I think they are both a name for something else. Unfortunately we don't know what that is!

299:

Heteromeles @ 236: Do you have to freeze it? Yes, the lifespan of the mRNA vaccines once made is on the order of a few hours. In general, keeping these stupid things from falling apart is why molecular biology and genetics labs routinely have '80 freezers. It's not just for keeping DNA and cells, it's also for keeping the horribly expensive and fragile RNA-based tools.

You missed the point I was making. In the putative Mars Colony, the manufacturing robot that synthesizes the vaccine is in one room and the patients who are going to receive the vaccine are in the next room over.

The vaccine will be used before its lifetime can expire. You won't be storing the vaccine, you'll be using it as soon as it's made.

300:

That sort of thing simply does not happen here ... it's called Single-payer universal health care.

Actually what he was describing was the application of time limits on a visit. As a way to contain costs. Docs are allotted 15 min per patient per most US insurance plans if I remember correctly. Single payer just means that the limit is applied nationally instead of company by company.

301:

Charlie Stross @ 245:

Do you imagine they have some shielding force fields, like maybe https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Cloud_City ?

No.

Turns out that high energy cosmic rays are so high energy that you need a multi-tesla magnetic field to deflect them -- something we normally only get inside an MRI machine using superconducting electromagnets. It's too heavy/bulky for a space ship, never mind an entire surface colony under a dome.

Underground is the only practical way forward.

MRI machines may be too heavy/bulky for a space ship, but I expect if the Mars Colony needed one they'd find some way to get one there (for medical use, not for shielding a dome colony).

Plus, I think they'd have to knowledge of how to build one and that doesn't require any additional mass transport at all does it?

302:

Whitroth: Someone's mentioned they have ME: I had to ask my SO... oh, another name for fibromyalgia,

No, ME is really not fibromyalgia by any other name. Different diagnosis, different treatments (and, more recently, evidence of immune system involvement: it appears to be damage triggered by a viral infection, typically influenza, and long COVID is a dead-ringer for it).

303:

MRI machines may be too heavy/bulky for a space ship

No they're not, at least not automatically: there are really new ultra-small wheeled MRI machines about the size of a microwave oven that are large enough for a limb and can be moved around a hospital ward -- the reason current MRI machines are big is that they're sized to take an entire human torso, so about 50-60cm in diameter. The magnetic field strength needed for that job is much higher, and the magnets in turn are much larger and heavier.

The problem with magnetic shielding for cosmic rays is you need to wrap your entire spaceship in a multi-tesla magnetic field, meaning gigavolts running through superconducting magnets wrapped around the entire hull. Which in turn has to be strong enough not to collapse when a ferrous metal item like a drawing pin gets loose inside that field and turns into a bullet ... and if anything goes wrong, such as a sandgrain sized dust particle whacking into the magnet and heating it, the magnet quenches abruptly and dumps megajoules or even gigajoules of energy out in the form of heat. This is not good for a spaceship hull, to say the least.

304:

Just looked, and the common name here is "chronic fatigue syndrome". Effects are similar, though with fibro, you get permanent pain all over.

Interestingly, Ellen developed it in her thirties, after a bad flu, I think she told me.

305:

You missed the point I was making. In the putative Mars Colony, the manufacturing robot that synthesizes the vaccine is in one room and the patients who are going to receive the vaccine are in the next room over

Oh good grief! No! Cross contamination is a horrible nightmare in DNA labs, and it's an even worse nightmare in RNA labs. And that's even before you introduce all the safety requirements. Hell, they don't put the main pharmacy or the pathology lab anywhere near the ICU or plague floors for a very, very, very good reason. You space shit out (literally) so you don't have contamination problems. You do not want your genetic techs to die because they have to work next door to the Covid ward.

Besides, a colony of 500,000 has a footprint the size of the Hawaiian Islands (they hit 500,000 sustainably before European contact). You've still got to move stuff around, and that means refrigeration is an issue.

306:

Charlie Stross @ 248:

Sign it or stay here on Earth. "We've got more volunteers than we have seats on the Starships. You need us more than we need you."

You do know that roughly 70% of conceptions end in a miscarriage (that is, a spontaneous abortion)? And it's even higher among over-30s, or women in high-stress environments, or radiation exposure, or, or ...

I know about it. My mom once told me about the number of miscarriages she had before I was born. So many that the doctors had told her she was never going to have a successful pregnancy. She persisted in spite of that.

Also, a first pregnancy is often the only one, or nearly the only one. Gestational diabetes is only one of the happy fun complications that can kill you: there's hypertension, there's rhesus incompatability (in second and subsequent pregnancies), there's a breech birth (how are you going to handle surgical/caesarian deliveries in a low gee environment with limited medical facilities?) and so on.

Worst case, in the late 18th/early 19th century in England there was roughly a 5% chance of maternal death with each pregnancy. While much of that was down to "no germ theory of disease, idiot doctors didn't wash their hands", there's no guarantee that initial outcomes on Mars will be any better because there will be other deadly situations. (I mentioned an elevated cancer risk: what do you think chemotherapy does to fertility? Or a developing fetus?) If you want ten babies on Mars per woman, you may well end up with only a 30% survival rate at the end of that sequence.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

You're postulating here a colony of half a million (500,000) people. I think it was you who stated a colony with a population smaller than Germany couldn't survive; could NOT become self sustaining. Germany has a current population just under 84 million.

How are you going to get the kind of population growth required to reach sustainability under your own parameters?

I don't know who came up with the "ten babies on Mars per woman", but it wasn't me.

I suggested 4 would be required - 2 parental unit replacements & 2 spares to ensure population growth. That may be influenced by the fact I have 3 siblings (two of whom have managed to reproduce).

307:

Nojay @ 264: Freezer space. You can store of lot of doses of an mRNA vaccine in a single -80 deg C freezer if you pack and dispatch it in small concentrated vials and have the contents diluted at point-of-use with saline before injection. The vaccine needs to be processed and handled at the distribution locations anyway, brought up to room temps, batch numbers logged and more so the extra preparation steps aren't that onerous compared to the many more freezers, transport flights, dry-ice cartons etc. needed if it is sent out of the factory in ready-for-use one-shot syringes.

Where do you get a sterile saline solution on Mars?

308:

Both oil platforms and antarctic bases have in common that you don't die immediately when there is some sort of breach/leak in your habitat/suit. As we could learn in this thread, they need no long and complicated decompression cycles to suit up/out either.

So I think a submarine would be a more apt comparison.

309:

Note that Mars comes with special problems that don't apply on Earth, like keeping toddlers out of the airlocks and keeping teenagers from running wild.

Even worse: Keeping smart (but not yet experienced) teenagers from getting creative

310:

You're postulating here a colony of half a million (500,000) people. I think it was you who stated a colony with a population smaller than Germany couldn't survive; could NOT become self sustaining. Germany has a current population just under 84 million.

The bigger problem than a Mars version of a pandemic is that any Mars settlers have to become self sufficient (other than perhaps a few minor things) long before they reach a half million - unless they find something they and only they can sell back to Earth there is no way anyone is going to fund the monthly costs to keep that many people alive on a different planet.

Which brings up the possibility that Covid70 doesn't just happen to arrive at Mars, but rather it is a deliberate attempt to kill off the settlers to end the subsidies (because the PR on earth - pandemic tragedy on Mars is better than they are dying due to a lack of supplies).

And so if Covid70 is an engineered weapon, does that change the response - not just because it means everything including any vaccine from Earth is suspect, but because if they aren't successful on the first attempt do they keep trying...

311:

Hrm. Interesting thinking. OTOH think about the subsidies for *our* militaries *now* and their environmental impact. All of them, I mean.

/me vanishes into hiding

312:

My favourite nightmare from his collection was a computerised control unit that would reset if its power supply glitched, e.g. due to its user shaking the battery by hitting the water. When this happened it rebooted into standby mode.

What. The. Fuck?

In case I never mentioned it before, I am a NAUI tech diver and PADI divemaster. Paul's message made my jaw hit the desk.

OTOH, couple years ago I was looking at used rebreathers on ebay. All US made ones had prices in 4 digits. Russian ones had prices mostly in 3 digits. One Russian rebreather had in its description, presumably as a selling point: "No fatalities associated with this unit".

313:

Maybe all of them, like in the Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs?

314:

50 years from now on Mars- a small base or three.
100 years from now- like Antarctica today, maybe somewhat more if there's evidence of life.
200 years from now (“The Expanse” time)- definitely NOT 2 G people there.

What is "2 G"? Two billion?

315:

"Where do you get a sterile saline solution on Mars?"

You put some salt in some water, and boil it.

316:

Maybe all of them, like in the Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs?

As a federal facility where people live the AFA has to do various diverse things.

As a private enterprise, a Mars could do what they want. But there will be an outcry no matter what they do.

Now if it is UN sponsored, ugh. 500K people. 10K religions to be supported.

317:

Boiling will not sterilize a solution. The standard lab methods are autoclaving (pressurized stem) or filtration.

In any case Mars will have to solve this problem long before COVID-70, since ordinary medicine consumes huge quantities of sterile saline.

318:

So just what is it?

ME?

319:

Boiling will not sterilize a solution. The standard lab methods are autoclaving (pressurized stem) or filtration.

So pressure cooker for a few hours?

https://www.scienceofcooking.com/science_of_pressure_cooking.htm

I'm reminded of a long-ago discussion on sci.space.something where Henry Spencer discussed the virtues of supercritical water.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercritical_water_oxidation

320:

Indeed, an autoclave is basically a pressure cooker. Thirty minutes is usually enough.

But I suspect filtration would be the more practical solution, certainly the most energy efficient.

321:

15 psi for 15 minutes
20 psi for 10 minutes
10 psi for 20 minutes
And I’ve used a pressure cooker as an autoclave in a small lab.

322:

You know? While I did my usual night walk, wondering about why the some birds sing loudly, and the imbalance of it all...I remembered something *very* on-topic:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonthermal_plasma


Aharrharrharr!

Bzzzt!

323:

Hnf. ...wondering why some of the birds sing loudly at 02:00 PM...

(why I can't edit?)

324:

"I'd also assume that a lot of disease will have cures."

Why? We haven't cured a lot of diseases in the last 50 years, AFAIK, so why do you expect the next 40 to be different?

We've got better at managing lots of conditions. Which is not a small thing: I won't go blind from glaucoma like my grandad and great-uncles did and that's awesome!

But cures? Not so much, AFAIK. The most common conditions - cancer, heart disease, osteoarthritis, asthma, dementia, hypothyroidism - I'm not aware of cures happening there.

But I'm not an expert on pharmaceuticals. Perhaps one may weigh in and correct me...

325:

How does Elon make a profit from his Mars Colony?

Virginia had tobacco. The conquistadors looted gold and silver. The East Indies had spices and coffee.

So what does Mars make and ship back to Earth to make the whole endeavor financially viable?

326:

As any fan of the Expanse knows, Beltalowda should colonize Ceres instead of Mars.

The dwarf planet Ceres – long believed to be a barren space rock – is an ocean world with reservoirs of sea water beneath its surface.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/aug/10/planet-ceres-ocean-world-sea-water-beneath-surface?fbclid=IwAR08khg_i1No7z7h1b-DuIXv61imqgNH2tQ9fImx9pkzgey4g1A1mJZxBPE

Ceres actually is a better place to colonize than Mars for several reasons: easier to get to, lower gravity, and lots of water. Its launch windows are actually more frequent than those for Mars.

http://www.pagef30.com/2009/04/why-ceres-might-be-better-location-for.html?fbclid=IwAR1SnqjeLYiGcxjQVCCySbYBljfQiuSFpa_rOrlcYeu_Kle3xsknIwRSjIY

327:

Lower gravities usefulness for human habitation is doubtful. Furthermore Ceres has no great views and landscapes, am I right? Maybe as highly automated fuel station like in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Station_76 on the way to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_3 :-)

328:

I wonder if the luxury survival bunkers currently built by the uber rich could serve as models for underground Mars colonies.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/aug/01/3m-price-tag-inside-luxury-doomsday-bunker?fbclid=IwAR3vSNrXVz7IFpzCGyxN5cwmeDcnNyXRWpZvHTPQQclZEdVmNVFFTAXyaD4

329:

Of course, because "The high-speed lift features a laser-etched facility map and Star Trek’s door-opening sound."

330:

Ceres' gravity (3% of Earths) is great for space transport and trade, greatly reducing energy and fuel costs, and it lies at the heart of the asteroid belt with all of those raw materials.

You can compensate for low g by building ring habitats that rotate with people living on the outer walls (the 3% of g pulling them downward would feel like a downhill direction, something you can get used to).

It's surface area is about the same as Argentina, plenty of room for any conceivable number of colonists.

It has got more going for it than Mars as a place to colonize.

331:

Technically that may be the case, but were talking about a Mars colony here. Anyway, with all the raw materials at hand, one could finally go full O'Neill-cylinder and give a damn about exact location.

332:

How does Elon make a profit from his Mars Colony?

What profit it a man if he gain a whole new world but lose his only fortune?

333:

More seriously, it seems plausible that Elon is being honest when he says he wants to colonise Mars because we're a bunch of suicidially stupid fuckwits and he can't see a way to stop us wiping ourselves out. His behaviour is consistent with that long-term goal.

Especially the cars. He needs to sell enough very expensive batteries to work through the process of making them very cheap, and people will pay stupid amounts of money for cars. Plus electric cars solve a bunch of problems caused by the aforementioned fuckwits, just as self-driving cars do.

You can read his life as a smart, rich dude who has gone through much of the same thinking as some of us here have, but isn't constrained by our relative poverty. *he* can raise $100M at age 25 to get some vaguely plausible idea off the ground...

334:

Art from mars grown psychoactive mushroom inspired creators, out of mars materials. So "out of this world" that one MUST have it!1!!

335:

Problem with colonizing Mars is that any argument for it works for any godsforsaken rock or hazardous waste dump around the world. Putting an underground city under Area 51 or Hanford makes more sense than dealing with effectively the same problems (and then some) on Mars.

Incidentally, I agree with the notion that underground bunkers could be training for living on Mars or surviving the collapse of civilization. Considering the personalities of those who buy (into) such places, I call it the tunnels and trolls solution.

336:

if they're doing multiple launche/month, much less per week, who here actually thinks that no one else will be doing it?

You know how we can't make Saturn V's any more? That.

Specifically, I bet there are a whole bunch of things where at most one person in SpaceX know how to do them. There are likely to be a few things that just happen to work and no-one knows that until they change something and something completely unrelated stops working. Even when they're making them on a production line there will be key manufacturing machines that were made a few times and "we have the plans". Not to mention all the AI where sure you can copy it, but can you train it when you change things?

China and India are a long way behind the curve and Russia isn't even playing the game any more. I'd say they could catch up in less time than it took the USA to make the same progress, but there's a whole lot of confounding factors that will make things harder. They can't just clone the US sociopolitical setup, for example, and they can't attract immigrants the same way the US does - the effective US recuitment pool for their space stuff covered most of the planet (Operation Paperclip being just one example, the presence of Musk in the USA is another).

337:

More seriously, it seems plausible that Elon is being honest when he says he wants to colonise Mars ...

This. He wants to colonize Mars.

To quote an exchange in Marvel comics:
Spiderman: You can rewrite DNA on the fly, and you're using it to turn people into dinosaurs? You could cure cancer!"
Sauron (not the Tolkien one): But I don't want to cure cancer. I want to turn people into dinosaurs!"

338:

You know? There are conspiracy theories stating that this already happenend since long ago, 70ies, 80ies, or so. Just look up "DUMB / Deep Underground Military Bases" and maybe "Nuclear Subterrene".

Oh! And https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_3 :-)

339:

Yep. I do wonder whether some of the people pushing the various sea habs were space fans who wanted to see whether the rugged individualists could actually make a semi-closed system work (answer: no).

I also wonder whether some of the private islands and bunckers contain little factories where people are experimenting to see how closed a system they can build and making little lists of things they need to import or export. There's not need to be obvious about that, it's what the business world thinks of as normal accounting practice/common sweatshop management.

On that not, we already have excellent models for how you recruit thousands of people to do very detailed work in terrible conditions... you make the alternative worse. Or for a Mars colony, perhaps you just wait until things are sufficiently worse that you get the candidates you want signing up voluntarily (one or the more terrifying aspects of the clothing industry is the extent to which it uses voluntary labour rather than slaves. Conditions in the New York clothing factories are not very nice... but they're better than the Bangladesh and Maylasan ones)

340:

That’s ship sized magnetic shielding which has such high energy density. Larger fields don’t need to be so strong since they have more time to move incoming particles aside. But if you have 10’s of kilometres of space for coils, you’d likely be on the ground where you can dig a simpler tunnel to keep out the radiation.

Found a 2005 NASA paper on it, comparing different techniques. There’s a novel magnetic plasma one, and the usual mass shield etc.

341:

China and India are a long way behind the curve...

Whenever the US is doing a thing but China and India are not doing the thing, a lack of people is not part of the reason.

342:

“So what does Mars make and ship back to Earth to make the whole endeavor financially viable?”
So what does Earth make and ship to... somewhere? ... to make the whole endeavour financially viable?

You don’t actually have to trade with outside entities. Fortunately, since Earth doesn’t have any such trading partner. You grow/extract/make. If you can make enough you get to live. If you can make more than enough you can spare some person time to do art and the other things that make a civilized world.

343:

Just so.

Which is probably a good argument for doing it. Developing the tech to survive on Mars would make it easier to survive here post ciimate apocalypse.

344:

A lack of very specific people is often the reason, though. Jack Ma is having a very different experience to Elon Musk, and even if he wanted to I suspect he wouldn't be able to build his own fleet of giant space rockets in China.

345:

Viz, I suspect that the entrepreneurial approach to this wouldn't work for China and India, and I'm not confident that their governments are up to the task. Not that the US government is, either.

For a government I think it would be easier just to not hellform this planet, and that's what the Chinese seem to be attempting.

346:

"So what does Earth make and ship to... somewhere? ... to make the whole endeavour financially viable?"

Whatever it is, it makes enough to pay for whatever it is that Earth gets in from said somewhere.

As long as Mars depends on stuff being sent from Earth, there has to be a reason for Earth to send it. An attempted colony isn't going to be self-sufficient for quite a while (if ever).

JHomes

347:

That's cancers - there's a ton of different ones - and note that I had one, and am considered "cured", as I was treated 20 years ago - they're finding new mechanism, like the one I read about the other day.

Yes, both cures, and preventatives.

348:

Saturn V's? Why bother? I hereby declare a global peace dividend, wherein we use the nuclear arsenals of the world in orion ships (lifting off of the Earth's surface, of course). We get rid of the nukes that way, and of course it won't hurt Mars to be nuked, seeing as how it's so radioactive already. Simple, tough, and fast. What more could you want?*

(/slight sarcasm may be detectable)

*Oh, and I forgot the best part: this solves climate change problems. More or less. A bit.

[[ html fix - mod ]]

349:

What we might be seeing here is the kind of male edifice complex size and potency competition that got rockets shot off to the Moon in the 60s and 70s. There's a simple way to test this:

Question: for those of you paying attention to military aerospace, is there a race to produce a new generation of intercontinental missiles on, by any chance?

In other words, colonizing Mars is a PR stunt by the military-industrial complexes of first line powers. That's what pays the freight. Afterwards?

350:

Hypersonics? Or so called boost gliders. Where the only difference to ICBMs as we know them is the ability to change course more rapidly, and not going up to full orbit by having their "glide" trough the higher parts of the atmosphere "boosted". Thus not as predictable by ballistics.

351:

Remember the whole "inner space" thing that Jacques Cousteau rode in the 1960s and 1970s? That's probably where the sea stuff came from. There was a whole long parallel with settling space of settling undersea cities.

The problems with living underwater get entertaining. Here I'm not talking about living in a submarine, but 100' down in one of those research centers. The problems include living under three atmospheres of pressure (forget risen bread, your food is flat once it gets down from the surface), more or less constant damp (everything mildews and cuts don't heal) and low grade constant nitrogen narcosis. AFAIK they're still playing with the idea and researchers are using at least one lab for grad student marine biology research (who else would be willing to be miserable for that long?). Otherwise, there is, of course, gasdive's specialty of long term technical diving, with similar living conditions. At least that kind of technical diving pays well.

It's actually kind of eye opening how limited humans actually are in our habitat requirements. Three miles up and we're suffering, underwater we drown, and we can only really farm and build cities on a small part of the Earth's land surface even so.

So many of these projects we blithely thought would work, with planting colonies under the sea or on other planets, turn out to be real misery fests when you try to make it work. Kind of sucks, but there you have it.

352:

ilya187 @ 312:

[rebreathers that kill people]

What. The. Fuck?

It was over ten years ago, but IIRC the speaker said that there were no standards that sport rebreathers had to comply with, so various manufacturers around the world were producing cut-price knock-offs without proper safety analysis, and sport divers with constrained budgets were buying these things in the comfortable assumption that of course they must be safe if they were allowed to be sold. HIS company, of course, did things properly. It sold to both sport and pro markets, so it was able to leverage the safety from the pro kit in its sport line. The main point of the talk was about the embedded software that ran the things, as that was what the conference was about. But the nerdy tech stuff wasn't the memorable bit.

353:

long term technical diving

Yep, I remember the JC sea hab misery, and I'm also thinking that gasdive's "long term" and Mars colony long term are different things. Unless gasdive is writing to us from 20,000 leagues under the sea :) But you're right that they did rather show that we can't even keep water out, so the idea that we could keep moon dust or Mars dust out seems dubious. IIRC the moon visitors remarked on the smell of stuff coming in from outside, suggesting that their primitive decontamination processes were not very effective. As mentions above, if you can smell it your mask isn't working.

One positive side effect from a bunch of sea habs would be further restrictions on mining seafood. There are still trawlers in the world, and they're AFAIK the most destructive food gathering technology we have. And they seem likely to keep doing that until there's no fish left to mine...

354:

Thinking about the actual topic at hand, I keep coming back to digital contamination being as serious a problem as biological. We're all used to wetware needing to be cleaned and looked after, and that's trained into us from a very young age. But even the "digital native" kids still like to roll round in other people's excrement then come home and jump straight to dinner without even washing their hands. Digital hygiene just isn't intuitive.

Which leads to the question of where the triply redundant digital hardware and associated software is going to come from. All those useful robots are going to look pretty damn stupid if it turns out that they don't like being outside during solar storms, or that key parts of them were outsourced to someone who wants to buy a failed colony cheap... covid 2060 might only kill 10% directly, but having the only type of air mixer stop working would be more serious.

Which means Elon is presumably going to have at least two different designs of chip fabs in his colony, and they'll be completely digitally segregated, from the designers (human and AI) down to the silicon refineries. That's less expected than the several different food chains he's also going to need, and potentially more difficult to do. Right now with 10B-odd people we have really only got two tech stacks, Linux and Microsoft / i86 and Arm.

355:

How much could a Mars colony make as a reality TV show?

And how much of the "reality" of colonization would be stage to provide this weeks exciting episode?

356:

How about the Mars colony making money from renting VR suits to people back on Earth, full immersion VR experience - you'll feel as if you are on Mars!

Have to work around that 3 to 22 minute signal delay back and forth from Mars and Earth.

357:

I think the gravity part needs to be assumed viable for the OP scenario to be viable at all. The microbiome and chemical aspects of "need a human womb" are more likely to screw with exo-wombs.

My main point for them is the health problems likely to happen on Mars that might lower fertility and lead to some ugly social consequences for women if fertile women are rare and unique baby factories.

Formula works about as well as natural milk for the most part despite the massive blood and ink spilled over it. I don't se that as a major limiting factor in the health of babies.

I also suspect intensive selection to be going on in Martian exowombs. It seems likely to me that a hatchery with a hundred wombs that only gets one viable birth a year would be cheaper than the similar requirement in human capital to get one live birth a year the natural way. The kind of culture that seems likely to exist in the Martian city (socialist, authoritarian, technical, secular) seems like the kind that would make that tradeoff pretty happily.

I'd also expect a rather macho heavily male and highly technical culture on Mars to be the kind of culture that considers growing babies in vats way cooler than needing one of those icky women with their cooties to make a kid. We were told in the OP that this wasn't a culture identical to our own, and I think this seems like a more plausible outcome of Elon Musk's Mars than a more conventional form of patriarchy. I expect this might be a bigger problem from the "human contact" angle than the technical side, but specialization could take care of that and a small profession of caregivers is much less of a resource drain than trying to make a 20% female population give birth at replacement rates.

358:

You can find answers to most of your questions elsewhere.

Space elevators on Mars run into the problem of Phobos: to a first approximation, they seem highly unlikely unless you can build in some kind of resonance so they avoid being rammed by a ~25km diameter rock zooming past at 2 km/s every seven hours, and I mean every seven hours.

Olympus Mons is higher than any terrestrial mountain: think "three times as high as Everest" and you're just about getting there. There is effectively no atmosphere above the cliffs around the edge of the volcano, so forget micro-turbines. (They're a pretty piss-poor idea on Mars anyway, which gets winds up to Mach 0.5 and dust storms.) Atmosphere is a resource on Mars, you probably want it as dense as possible -- the bottom of Vales Marineris looks like a better location for a colony.

359:

Really? You don't think China or Russia or India will have a colony there?

Russia is a has-been: population base like Mexico, economy based on resource extraction. India and China are much more likely contenders in the long term, but China is about to hit a demographic transition that will leave its population age distribution looking like Japan today by the back end of this century, i.e. average age heading towards 60 and trying to deal with climate crisis. India ... younger, similar climate crisis, impossible to guess at dominant ideological stance wrt. colonialism by 2070.

However, I don't really see the USA being anything other than a has-been by 2070, either. Musk's colony plan is best seen as a white colonialist transnational scheme rather than USAn -- he's not American by birth (although he acquired US nationality a few years ago) -- and is likely to be run on a multinational basis. I'd expect significant buy-in from EU nationals, if not from the EU itself, in a US-fronted colony.

The important influences you're missing are: Indonesia/Malaysia/Singapore (they have serious internal tensions but a combined population around the same size as the USA today and per-capita GDP that's on the way up -- Malaysia's already overlaps with Mexico, Singapore is proverbially rich, and Indonesia's per-capita wealth is rising: another decade or so and it'll overtake Russia), and then Brazil and/or Mexico.

Sub-Saharan Africa is prospering, and while it's starting from a very low base (after colonization then decades of post-colonial strife and the Apartheid border wars and US/USSR cold war proxy conflict) it's developing rapidly and has a huge population (read: human resources) base. A Nigerian Mars colony by 2070 is probably pushing it, but if we were to add 30 years to the time line all bets are off.

I'm writing off the Middle East for the 21st century: the next 50 years are going to be dominated by withdrawal symptoms from petrodollar economics, and rebuilding the social capital needed for large enterprises like this is a multi-generational project.

But in the long term, remember that the Islamic world was a beacon of civilization and incubator for science and the arts back when Europe was a wasteland dominated by religious fanatic barbarian knights squatting in the ruins of Rome. My guess is that Indonesia will be the first Islamic state to put an astronaut on Mars, but I might be wrong.

360:

I think by 2070 we're probably seeing exo-wombs as a major factor in reproduction even on Earth, and on Mars it's almost certainly going to be normal if it can be done with any decent success rate for a fetus

Well yes, but I think you over-estimate how much we know about what the uterus does. Here's a tip: it's not just there to provide an anchor plus blood supply for the placenta, at various stages in pregnancy various immunological processes kick in.

The best we've done so far is to incubate sheep fetuses for up to four weeks in an exowomb. Human experimentation is fraught, not least because the Screaming Jesus People consider it tantamount to abortion, but even among non-religious medical ethicists it's controversial (a partial failure may result in the creation of a baby who's viable but severely handicapped for life, which in medical terms is a maximum-severity own-goal).

361:

That was SKY LIFT by The Admiral in 1953
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sky_Lift

362:

"Nuclear reactors are problematic: Mars is short on liquid water, which we use on Earth as a heat sink for our reactors. The Martian atmosphere is too thin to serve as a heat sink for a high power output reactor."
Some reactors use our atmosphere as the heat sink instead of water, and the readily available Martian CO2 is a practical heat transfer medium.

363:

Thee _will_ be projectile weapons. I'm looking at video of a functional 3D printed revolver, and with the abundance of Martian perchlorates, gunpowder analogs will be easy.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RUZsCewg14
https://3dprint.com/107062/worlds-1st-3d-printed-revolver/

364:

"The CDC currently says that surface contact based transmission is a minor cause of infection. I can't find a decent link to the quote, there are pdfs and a link to a search page on the CDC site from Google, but the original news release didn't show up on a quick search."
Less than 10% of cases caused by fomites, per Dr. Daniel Griffin, M.D. from This Week in Virology #701 https://youtu.be/Gq_6mxm4aBw

365:

Visits/consultations with a GP in the UK are basically glorified triage interviews: if it's something trivial the GP prescribes a fix on the spot, if it needs specialist intervention you get a follow-on appointment with a community health centre or a general hospital or a specialist hospital (increasing level of specialist focus implied at each step).

That's why they assign typically 10-14 minutes per patient. It's flexible: when there's no pandemic raging you go sit in the waiting room before your booked slot and then you're called. If you're lucky you get seen on time, if someone else was a time sink there'll be a delay as your GP works through their case load.

Billing isn't something the patient ever sees or knows about: "secondary consultation" is just total WTF? at this end. The reception/admin staff may have to rearrange their knock-on schedule, is all, and in the longer term there'll be statistical feedback to the healthcare trust about how many patients a GP can actually handle in a working month.

366:

Because you rarely see the previously common diseases that are now curable, or preventable by vaccination. I agree that only some are curable.

367:

In response to Our Esteemed Author's prolog:

"COVID family viruses kill roughly 1% of the total population"
Worldometer finds a short-term UK death rate of 2.6% nowadays.

"SARS-CoV-70 is comparable in mortality/morbidity and infectivity to the original COVID19: the one twist is that 'long covid' post-viral damage is more prevalent, affecting up to 25% of survivors." We're already there: Leicester University and the UK's Office for National Statistics (NS) report nearly 1/3 of recovered COVID-19 patients will end up back in hospital within five months, and 1/8 will die.
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.01.15.21249885v1

"So their choices are (a) wait 15 months for the vaccine shipment (and upgraded vaccine factory) to arrive from Earth, or (b) divert resources into lockdown, contact tracing, nursing, and jerry-building an emergency vaccine factory from equipment/expertise/parts on hand."
How about c) Send an Orion ship the (at most) 400 megaklicks? Assuming the ship accelerates at an average 0.5g all the way, and drops an atmospherically braked payload of the vaccine factory, the care package arrives in less than 6 days. Since it's reasonable to assume SOMETHING will go wrong, assembling a Moto-Orion ship http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2021/01/moto-orion-mechanized-nuclear-pulse.html in orbit and parking it against such an eventuality is only rational insurance against the need to have a Planet Express to deliver an interociter (vaccine factory, et al.) quickly.

368:

I think it was you who stated a colony with a population smaller than Germany couldn't survive; could NOT become self sustaining. Germany has a current population just under 84 million.

Yes.

My yardstick for self-sustaining was "... and with NO external resupply from Earth (eg. life on Earth is extinct), the colony must be capable of replicating and improving on any element of its infrastructure".

Call it a minimum viable civilization.

Musk's Mars colony won't be long-term self-sustaining/independent at 2 million people any more than you could pluck the population of Northern Ireland loose and expect them to build a 5nm semiconductor fab line or send probes to Mars (even if you guaranteed food/resource security and no hostile neighbours).

However, with a lot of the weird-ass/strange specialities outsourced to Earth, an 0.5M colony could probably be stable and achieve population growth and increasing complexity and eventually hit that goal. It'd be dependent on Earth for exotica (e.g. the biannual container shipment full of pre-ordered high quality ICs to replace dying computer kit and glue together the crude-but-cheap locally manufactured PV cells) but at least it'd be a start.

369:

Charlie
To add to that:
My back screamed at me about 3 years back ( Turned out my second-disc-up-the-spine .... wasn't. )
Got temporary painkillers, referred to a clinic ( a fortnight later ) with a provisional booking with a real specialist at a major hospital.
They scanned me thoroughly, went, "Right, we'll try localised back injections". Which worked a treat - I was able to dance again.
It's now on "hold" because of C-19 overload, but as soon as that dies down, I'm on the list for follow-up injections, which I will then need every year/18 months.
Direct cost to me: Zero.
How to run a health service.
USA-ians take note, yes?

370:

Where do you get a sterile saline solution on Mars?

That's easy.

Back when I worked as a hospital pharmacist in the mid-late 80s, we manufactured dialysis fluid and sterile saline in the district hospital aseptic manufacturing suite. All it is is distilled water plus a pinch of glucose and salt (sodium chloride: table salt is close enough). You dissolve and mix thoroughly, filter to ensure there are no itty bitty particles to block small blood vessels, stick it in a glass bottle with an injection port or other fitting, then autoclave it -- 15 minutes at 121 degrees celsius/1 bar overpressure meets pharmaceutical sterilization requirements IIRC (it was a third of a century ago). Heating to boiling temperature (100 celsius in an STP environment) will also work, although it takes a lot longer. Exposure to high-intensity radiation from a Co-60 source is also acceptable (different safety issues/requirements apply).

If you can't provide water, salt, glucose, and a domestic pressure cooker, you don't have a Mars colony: you have a graveyard-in-waiting.

371:

"Both oil platforms and antarctic bases have in common that you don't die immediately when there is some sort of breach/leak in your habitat/suit."

Hahahahaaaa

Yeah, you do die immediately. Really immediately. Not like decompression from 1 atm where you have a few seconds in which to consider the life choices that have lead up to this point. Instead all the lipids come out of solution instantly and your blood gels. Instantly.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byford_Dolphin

"The autopsy suggested that rapid bubble formation in the blood denatured the lipoprotein complexes, rendering the lipids insoluble.[6]:101 The blood of the three divers left intact inside the chambers likely boiled instantly, stopping their circulation.[6]:101 The fourth diver was dismembered and mutilated by the blast forcing him out through the partially blocked doorway and would have died instantly."

372:

Atmosphere is a resource on Mars, you probably want it as dense as possible -- the bottom of Vales Marineris looks like a better location for a colony.

There are only a couple of spots where the valley floor is lower than the northern plains. It may be easier to burrow into cliffs along the edge but otherwise there's no great advantage to settling on the plains. It appears to be deep because it's running through the Tharsis Bulge which is high.

One theory for the evolution of Mars is that it got smacked hard by a minor planet early in its history on what is now the north pole. The impact excavated most of the northern hemisphere to 3 or 4 km below the current mean elevation and put a lot of debris in orbit. This also helps to explain why Phobos and Deimos are in near circular equatorial orbits, which is unlikely if they are captured asteroids. The debris cloud aggregated into a number of large bodies, most of which have re-entered creating features like the Hellas and Argyre basins.

373:

In case I never mentioned it before, I am a NAUI tech diver and PADI divemaster. Paul's message made my jaw hit the desk.

IIRC there were US deaths in Afghanistan due to a buggy GPS system. Special forces in the field used it to work out location and bearing/range to a target, then upload and dial in the target's location to a JDAM carried by a bomb truck high overhead. Often while under fire.

The GPS unit had a fault whereby it could be reset and would silently display it's CURRENT coordinates rather than the coordinates of the dialed-in target. So the JDAM landed right on top of the operator instead.

(Note: trying to find the source for this via Google proved difficult.)

374:

So what does Mars make and ship back to Earth to make the whole endeavor financially viable?

Elon has no idea! And neither do I. (Hell, I wrote an entire novel in which I tried to hork up a plausible economic motive for space colonization: "Neptune's Brood". Other than a giant millennia-long Ponzi scheme, or a tax write-off on Earth, Mars colonization is most likely a religious project.)

375:

And before the second part is halfway finished printing the local security will be round asking some very pointed questions. Individually owned 3d printers in the colony are unlikely, they are a nightmare for life support particularly with the feedstocks mentioned in that article. Accessing the design files is likely to trigger audit alarm bells, and the printers in the workspaces will be intensely monitored for the fire risk and environmental concerns at the very least.

376:

There is a huge contingency who believe that manned (if you're going to tell me that terminology is sexist, I retort that so is the phenomenon I'm talking about) spaced exploration is a no brainer, something that we have to do, because Manifest Destiny, or survival after we have trashed Earth, or a hundred other reasons.

You don't need to tell me that this is irrational. I have made that argument a hundred times. And I have never won it. Space colonization is a hugely popular idea for reasons that transcend economic motives.

377:

I hereby declare a global peace dividend, wherein we use the nuclear arsenals of the world in orion ships (lifting off of the Earth's surface, of course).

There aren't enough of them.

The best estimate I found was that a well-designed nuclear propulsion charge delivers about 10m/s of delta vee to an Orion-type ship's pusher plate. That's about 850 kiloton-range A-bombs to reach orbital velocity (in the process of which you fry every satellite currently in orbit and create aurorae visible all the way to the equator that hang around for weeks or months).

You can reduce some of the fallout once you get above the troposphere by angling your ship down range as fast as possible -- the fission fragments are mostly travelling much faster than escape velocity so if they're angled tangential to the Earth's surface they don't get soaked up by the atmosphere -- but you're still talking about something close to a Chernobyl's worth of fallout per launch.

(This gets treated in great depth in "Invisible Sun", coming on September 28th!)

378:

How much could a Mars colony make as a reality TV show? And how much of the "reality" of colonization would be stage to provide this weeks exciting episode?

Based on my limited experience watching reality TV shows, (I don't but I've caught brief moments at times and I hear people talk about them), the behavior of the people IN these shows that draws people to watch such shows is the type of behaviour that would get the people in the Mars base shown the "airlock". With no appeal allowed.

And without viewers, no ad revenue and thus no show.

379:
Based on my limited experience watching reality TV shows, (I don't but I've caught brief moments at times and I hear people talk about them), the behavior of the people IN these shows that draws people to watch such shows is the type of behaviour that would get the people in the Mars base shown the "airlock". With no appeal allowed.
Whee! Ratings Gold!
380:

Question: for those of you paying attention to military aerospace, is there a race to produce a new generation of intercontinental missiles on, by any chance?

Not unless Italy and Japan are tooling up for the next Cold War?

You don't need or want a liquid-fuelled heavy lifted for an ICBM. A present day Falcon 9 takes an hour to fuel up on an exposed launch pad: it'd be a sitting duck. Also, it's designed to lift up to 18 tons into LEO. A current generation RV with a 200 kiloton warhead inside it weighs about 250-300kg, so a Falcon could haul 60-odd warheads into space ... and then they'd all come down rather close together and fall foul of the fratricide effect (neutron pulse from first to detonate damages/fries the followers).

However, Italy produces Arianespace's Vega rocket, a three stage solid-fuelled launcher that's a dead ringer for the USA's much more expensive Minotaur IV, which is a ploughshared version of the Peacemaker ICBM. And Japan has the Epsilon rocket which, ooh look, yet another three stage solid fuelled booster with a 1500kg payload to LEO, just like the Minuteman-III or Peacemaker or Trident or ... do you detect a pattern here?

Meanwhile Musk is busy building Starship/Superheavy, which bears about as much resemblance to an ICBM as a supertanker bears to a guided missile frigate.

(I mean, I can see the Pentagon looking into Starship as a way of delivering a hundred Space Marines in power-assisted armour to any point on the globe in 45 minutes, but that's about all it's good for militarily. And why bother with the space marines when you've got basing rights in 150 countries and can just send a V-22 Osprey full of the regular kind of marines?)

381:

His complaint and that of many others is that the entire US health care / doctor visit issues have been cut down to 15 minutes due to cost cutting on the side of paying (allocating taxes) to docs. And any system where someone wants to cut costs can look to the same pressures. No matter who is paying.

The same issue (doc visit length) applies to US Medicare which for most purposes is a single payer system. (With lots of convoluted options.)

382:

Ah, rebreathers...

If you don't know about them, they're a magic carpet...

One of the most respected 'breathers on the market had a nickname on the interwebs "YBOD" which stood for Yellow Box of Death.

When I first started servicing rebreathers I was taught by an old German guy. His first lesson was:

"a few years ago the navy turned up here, put a set on that table and said 'you were the last person to service this set. The sailor who was using it died, can you tell us why?' "

A few hours later they had the answer. It wasn't anything he'd done wrong.

It was a semi closed set. Oxygen rich gas comes into the set at a set slow rate. The diver consumes some, and the unit vents a few bubbles which keeps the mixture in the life support range. When the diver had changed cylinders a few drops of salt water had got in the fittings. Being water it passed through the filters. When it got to the metering jet it was fired at sonic speeds and hit a metal wall inside the regulator. There it flash boiled, leaving the salt behind. Which built up and blocked the flow. Without the fresh gas the diver just breathed up the oxygen.

Scary stuff. There's a few more ways they can take you out. Too boring for everyone else, but they're silent killers. I just love them.

I know the space nerds all love the idea of a 1 atm mixed gas space suit. Me, I'd rather do an hour of pre-breathe and use a pure oxygen suit. At least that way if you're breathing something you know it has oxygen in it.

I'd also be inclined to run the habitat at a bit more than 1 bar. At 2 bar you can have a partial pressure of oxygen of 0.2 bar, which is physiologically the same as earth, but only 10% oxygen in the mix, which won't support combustion. You'd need a different protocol before you went outside, having to decompress down to 1 bar (or a bit less) in 25% oxygen for a day first, then pre-breathe O2 (O2 is eventually toxic at 2 bar). The extra fiddle for going outside would be, I think, a small price to pay for fire safety.

383:

Re: 'How does Elon make a profit from his Mars Colony?'

Mount Olympus is a huge volcano and if Martian volcanoes develop similarly to, including of similar ingredients to those on Earth: gold*, diamonds, zinc, copper, etc. all of which are very useful tech-related substances.

Much depends on how the market for these keeps going. Also gives eco-Pols some ammo to shut down some highly polluting mining/mineral extraction concerns.

http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/170

The highly marketable and expensive metals/ores extraction** basically would finance the conversion of Mt Olympus into a huge habitat. Likely that the outer walls could be maintained at sufficient depth to protect against radioactivity. It's very tall - several Empire State Buildings could be stacked on it - and very wide. Could probably support/house several million people easily. Habitats vs. manufacturing vs. food production vs., etc. would have to be carefully planned to make the best/healthiest use of available space.

Would it be more or less difficult to manufacture very hi-tech/hi-end tech on Mars vs. Earth? (Would Intel/AMD and similar consider their R&D labs and manufacturing there?) Does low gravity help or hinder this type of manufacturing?

Lastly - I was thinking that entry access into Mt Olympus would be closer to the floor than the ceiling. Have heard about the dust storms but have no idea how detailed or specific knowledge of Mars meteorological conditions and cycles are. Definitely discoverable via smallish satellites therefore should be on EM's to-do list well before he sends out any long term workers/settlers.


* While technically, there's tons of gold and other precious stuff in our oceans, I've no idea what the extraction or environmental cost would be. Plus our weather including on the oceans is turning hellish - higher risks re: safety of rigs, employees, transport ships, etc.

** Mining/ore extraction and foundry would definitely be robot work - supervised by humans.

384:

Formula works about as well as natural milk for the most part despite the massive blood and ink spilled over it. I don't se that as a major limiting factor in the health of babies.

Formula milk is mostly squeezed cow juice with additives.

Do you really expect a Mars colony to be relying on locally-farmed cows as a breast milk substitute?

Coming up with an acceptable plant and chemosynthetic substitute for milk is probably possible, but it's going to be expensive: the nearest equivalent I can think of is total parenteral nutrition formula with some relaxed constraints (it doesn't need to be totally isotonic or sterile because it's not destined for blood infusion, if it's oral formula), but there may be other production/availability bottlenecks on Mars and it's still likely to be orders of magnitude harder to produce there than human milk.

385:

Some reactors use our atmosphere as the heat sink instead of water, and the readily available Martian CO2 is a practical heat transfer medium.

Remind me again, what's the atmospheric pressure like on Mars at mean surface level?

(Now calculate how much of that atmosphere you're going to be blasting past the meat exchangers every second to keep even a 1MW reactor from melting down. You're going to need some mightly big air ducts ...!)

386:

Thee _will_ be projectile weapons.

In an indoor colony on Mars, a projectile weapon that can shoot through walls is essentially a WMD.

I expect Martian attitudes to gun control to be so draconian they make Scotland's look like a second amendment ammosexual's wet dream. (Hint: in Scotland, possession of handguns is a strict liability offense like possession of child pornography, with mandatory jail time just for picking one up you found abandoned in the street: only exceptions are for the police and military.) Frankly, I suspect possession of 3D printer STL files for making components of guns -- or explosive devices -- will get you a one-way trip back to Earth, if you're lucky, unless the explosives were ordered by the colony administration for quarrying. And even then, they won't be manufactured or stored inside the habitat -- there'd be distant, access-secured, surface facilities for handling them.

387:

On Earth, the current most economical way of producing large quantities of ultrapure water as a precursor to sterile saline solution is through reverse osmosis after multi-stage filtration.

However, the filters are consumables, and require tight process controls. Difficult and tedious to make in small batches on Mars, and expensive to ship from Earth.

Mars would likely use distillation - less energy efficient, but more economical given their constraints.

A harder problem might be where Mars is going to rapidly get large amounts of basic substances like pharmaceutical-grade sodium chloride, sodium lactate, potassium chloride, and calcium chloride, after burning through existing stockpiles.

The entire crop of fruits from the pinkhouses would be crushed and mixed with sauerkraut starter, then fermented to create lactic acid. An overworked lab technician would attempt to filter and neutralize it into a suitable ingredient for Ringer's Solution.

Robots would need to be retasked to scrape up promising regolith with LIGHT elements, rather than gold and platinum. Rec areas would be filled with pails of dirt leaching their minerals into water.

Engineers would be frantically trying to remember their first-year chemistry classes while running around doing bucket chemistry, with sometimes-helpful advice from Earth. Of course, none of the reactions would work the same as in class, with larger volumes and lower pressures.

Power supplies would be cannibalized from other equipment to do electrolysis (with occasional venting of noxious gases when it drifts out of calibration).

The med staff would complain about their IV solutions being purple and smelling like berries, and patients might suffer from hives and other adverse reactions, but it'd be better than nothing. Hopefully.

388:

When I last attempted to guess a minimal population to maintain our society and technology, I came up with 5 million. HOWEVER, that assumed suitable childcare, education and social engineering would mean that almost all of the population were both productively relevant and efficient, and I was and am not sure that could be done. Or that it could NOT be done, for that matter.

The main point here is that a HUGE proportion of our resources are spent on things that are unnecessary, undesirable and unwanted. Those can't be reduced to zero, but could be reduced by a huge factor. Another is that a large proportion of the population is unproductive, highly inefficient, or not adaptable. No, I am NOT joining the smug arseholes of our rich list, because that applies across the spectrum and is probably higher in the 1% than in the middle 90%.

It might even be possible with half a million, but the society would have to be be something that I can't even fantasise. We aren't talking humans as we know them if we want to get there.

389:

However, the filters are consumables, and require tight process controls. Difficult and tedious to make in small batches on Mars, and expensive to ship from Earth.


It is probably possible to regenerate exhausted filter columns, especially if they are designed with that intention in mind.

But overall, it's a good point. Reagent-quality water is a tough problem.

390:

Re: 'Cancers -- '

Agree - the list of cancer types, sub-types, sub-sub-types keeps growing. And a treatment for one sub-type may not work for some other sub-type. My impression is that it was 'treatment-restance' that actually led researchers into investigating and finding the various sub-types.

AML, the most common adult leukemia, was once considered one probably homogenous form of blood cancer. By the time my family member was diagnosed and treated, there were 6 different/distinct sub-types, each with varying treatment strategies and survival rates. (Haven't checked how much this list has since grown.)

Basically, cancer is a screw-up in cell division and/or proliferation. Once you factor in all of the different cell types (200+), their constituent parts and processes, environmental factors (e.g., viruses like HPV, HIV), DNA transcription errors, etc., the total number of possible cancers is in the thousands at a minimum. So 'finding A cure for cancer' should be rephrased to 'finding cures for 1,000+ different cellular screw-ups'.

Below is a recent Nature open-access collection of articles folks here might find interesting. It's sorta on-topic.

Collection: Machine learning in healthcare

https://www.nature.com/collections/xkhrxkzwvv

391:

whether the rugged individualists could actually make a semi-closed system work

Probably the wrong class of people to make (semi-) closed systems work.

I mean, you could view the Earth as a semi-closed system, and look what the rugged individualists are doing to it :-/

392:

On Phobos and orbital towers:

Phobos' orbit is inclined 1.1 degrees from Mars equator, with an average radius of 9375 km. That means it orbits in a band of 180km above and below the equator where any orbital tower would be. Meanwhile Phobos itself is only 13km along its longest axis. I haven't run the numbers any further than that, but only a few percent of orbits will actually hit the tower. (Bear in mind that if you plot its distance from the equator against time you get a sinusoid, so most of the time its nearer the edges than the centre).

The potential collision events can be forecast exactly, so if the tower can be moved at all it will be possible to sidestep them.

393:

You are the Mayor of Armstrong City, facing a variant SARS pandemic, and supplies and support are 15 months away. What do you do?

First, I convert all of the chimpanzee zoos/labs to covid research labs on half gravity primates.

Obviously the colony would have many long-term chimpanzee zoos/labs started to do long term studies of primate gestation in half a gravity, in addition to research on the long term effects of the Earth to Mars trip on primate genetics.

394:

On self-sufficiency:

Someone mentioned the cargo rocket with supplies of microchips. Yes, you aren't kidding. I suspect that if an alien civilisation were to take a look at Earth they would consider the output of Intel and TSMC to be our civilisation's highest achievement. The steppers that do the photolithography are awesome.

I don't see our Mars colony producing anything like that with a mere half million people; the technology is at the apex of a huge pyramid.

Self-sufficiency is going to be a gradual thing, and the last 1% (by mass) is going to require 99% of the effort.

Another way of looking at it: if you go to Radio Spares web page you will see that they have over half a million distinct products, or one product per person in our colony. That's not comparing like with like of course: a single machine making 1/4W resistors can churn out resistors of any value on demand. But it gives you some idea of the sheer scale of the problem.

395:

Not specifically martian, but perhaps of interest:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00149-1


Rogue antibodies could be driving severe COVID-19
Roxanne Khamsi
19 January 2021

[EXCERPT]

Evidence is growing that self-attacking ‘autoantibodies’ could be the key to understanding some of the worst cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

More than a year after COVID-19 emerged, many mysteries persist about the disease: why do some people get so much sicker than others? Why does lung damage sometimes continue to worsen well after the body seems to have cleared the SARS-CoV-2 virus? And what is behind the extended, multi-organ illness that lasts for months in people with ‘long COVID’? A growing number of studies suggest that some of these questions might be explained by the immune system mistakenly turning against the body — a phenomenon known as autoimmunity

[snip]

396:

And the cost of dragging this material out of Mars' gravity well compared to the zero gravity wells of the asteroid belt?

Sorry, but there is no business plan that justifies a Mars colony, and colonization is first and foremost a business enterprise.

397:

That's why colonizing Mars or any other planet makes no sense.

Colonize Ceres to establish a hub for asteroid mining.

Mine said asteroids to create new mining equipment, factories and ship yards.

Manufacture the one commodity space can provide that is immune to the costs of transport up from a gravity well (or the costs of reentering Earth's atmosphere) : energy from solar power satellites.

SPS generated energy would be for asteroid colonization what tobacco was for Virginia - a product that shows a profit and makes the colony financially viable.

Screw planets.

398:
Formula milk is mostly squeezed cow juice with additives.

Do you really expect a Mars colony to be relying on locally-farmed cows as a breast milk substitute?

Reminds me of story by (I think) Isaac Asimov. It takes place on a space station. The main character, an engineer of some type, likes milk, a lot, and is unhappy that there is no milk on the station. So he gets together with the station bio guy. They go into the freezer and dig out bovine mammary cells, which they culture and try to coax to make milk. He quickly discovers that this is a much harder problem than he imagined. (This is the general experience of anyone trying to replicate a complex biological process outside the organism, which is why I'm deeply skeptical of the external womb posts above.) He quickly discovers the mammary tissue need hormones to work (like, Duh!), and that the best way to supply those is with cultured gland tissues. The gland tissue by itself is not enough to close the loop, so the process continues.

He eventually succeeds, but by the time he gets satisfactory milk, he ends up having built most of a cow from cultured parts. As a bonus, he is also able to supply the kitchen with fresh beef.

399:

Found it. It was "Hi, Diddle, Diddle", by Robert Silverberg.

400:

China and India are a long way behind the curve and Russia isn't even playing the game any more.

It depends on what you want from space.

Agree Russia is out of it, India don't know enough, but China just did a sample return mission from the far side of the Moon, with plans to have a robotic base on the Moon in the next 4 years.

China's current goal is to have humans on the Moon in the 2030's, and given their methodical program there is no real reason to doubt that they will achieve it.

But I can't help but think their focus on robotic operations is more likely to pay off in the long term over attempts to colonize another planet.

If a point comes when China decides the ability to launch daily/weekly is a priority, then they will allocate resources and likely achieve that goal in a reasonable time frame building on what they know so far.

I also wouldn't count Bezos/Blue Origin out either just because they aren't being as public as Musk is.

401:

We should get you to write a book called "Technical Diving for Space Nerds"

Anyway, I hope what you just wrote shows up (in mutated form, of course) in hard SF books for years.

That said, I've got a quibble. The outside pressure on Mars is about 6 millibars. Running the inside at one bar is going to be enough of a nuisance. Reinforcing the walls to deal with about two bars of pressure going out makes it a real chore, especially if it's being built underground in segments to deal with radiation and temperature issues. Fixing leaks in a cavern lining is going to be no fun, especially if the blow out weakened the tunnel walls due to the high pressure differential that got equalized.

That, and treating the guys going outdoors to work as long term "divers" (decompress for your work week, don't see your family sort of thing) probably is a nonstarter psychologically. Moreover, if the Mars base is running on solar power, and you've got to decompress for a day before you can go out and sweep the dust off after one of those dust storms, there are problems.

I suspect they'd do the submarine solution (low O2 levels at 1 bar) if they're seriously worried about open flames. In that scenario, spending an hour pre-breathing pure O2 would seem absolutely wonderful.

402:

Which means Elon is presumably going to have at least two different designs of chip fabs in his colony, and they'll be completely digitally segregated, from the designers (human and AI) down to the silicon refineries. That's less expected than the several different food chains he's also going to need, and potentially more difficult to do.

Realistically my guess is any Mars colony is going to need to focus on open source solutions, so they can benefit from the larger Earth population and only send digital information back and forth while still having the full ability to change/modify things locally if needed (or if Earth cuts them off).

This likely means going RISC-V (assuming it gets traction) and Linux.

Ironically enough though this is an indication that Musk hasn't though everything through - because if he had he should be encouraging a bunch of open source development so open source versions of needed apps are available when the time comes.

Right now with 10B-odd people we have really only got two tech stacks, Linux and Microsoft / i86 and Arm.

I expect Apple may disagree with you.

403:

Re: 'Mars' gravity'

Okay - it will be more expensive than shipping from the zero gravity on asteroids. Mars' gravity well is approx. 32% of Earth's so at least shipping from Mars to Earth would be cheaper than shipping from Earth to Mars. Mostly it will depend on which minerals can be found/mined, cost to process into usable quality, shipping, overhead, etc. vs. their relative market prices.

My guess though is that Earth-based solutions* will probably fail mostly because many investors are still too enamored of a centralized massively scaled/one-size-fits-all approach. It's an on-going argument between size vs. flexibility.

* I.e., does it work on Earth?

404:

I have to agree that there will be projectiles: rubber bands, sling shots, bows, etc. Probably there will be airguns, as things that can be converted into airguns are too useful, and being able to shoot beanbags down halls to break up disturbances is simply too useful to coercive authoritarians.

A better way to think of it is in the categories of firearms, coldarms, and (if necessary) windarms and e-arms. Firearms are probably out, because you don't need them unless you plan on killing people or threatening to do so. Cold arms include bows, which are basically springs. You can't keep those out (a chair leg with two heavy springs attached to it and to each other with a wire is a bow). Compressed gas and electricity throwing stuff around is going to be hard to keep out too.

The key question is whether there will be a culture of people violently shooting at each other. My suspicion is that hacking the air supplies will be the preferred form of mass coercion. But I could be wrong.

Also, I'd implement wrestling clubs for young men and women who need to work things out without escalating to weapons and killing each other. Perhaps boxing too. Some fights probably just need to happen in nonlethal ways.

405:

Now calculate how much of that atmosphere you're going to be blasting past the [h]eat exchangers

According to https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/carbon-dioxide-d_974.html the specific heat of CO2 at Mars temperatures is something like 800 J/kg-K. Assuming a temperature rise of 100 K in the cooling stream, that would be 8e4 J/kg and using that to remove 1.5e6J/s of heat from the 1 MWe reactor would need 18.75 kg/s.

https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/marsfact.html says the atmospheric density at the surface is ~0.020 kg/m3 so you'd need to move a little under 1000 m3/s through the heat exchanger. With intakes with an area of A m2, that would mean a flow velocity at the intakes of 1000/A m/s.

I have no idea what kind of engineering that implies, or how feasible it would be.

406:

Question: for those of you paying attention to military aerospace, is there a race to produce a new generation of intercontinental missiles on, by any chance? Not unless Italy and Japan are tooling up for the next Cold War?

The point of the question is whether human space flight has a reason other than display of technical prowess for those sponsoring and building the systems. In other words, is it analogous to the architectural erections that a certain class of middle aged male politicians always seem to get into (it's mockingly called edifice complex by some)? Is it like all the car companies that build race cars and sponsor teams for advertising, lulz, and to keep their technical people happy?

It's worth considering this. I'm not questioning that Musk wants to go to Mars, but I do wonder why he wants to go to Mars. I mean, some gray soul like myself might--conceivably--put out a challenge to go to Mars as an excuse to work out the high density agriculture and housing technologies we'll need to deal with climate change. This would happen simply because more people and more money want to go to Mars than to deal with the tedious real world problems of poor brown people and all of our consumerist addictions.

Not that I think Musk thinks this way, but who knows? We're not coming up with that really essential reason why living on Mars makes sense for humans, and we've certainly not tried to build domed cities on the most Mars-like parts of our planet. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance around this particular dream.

407:

I always thought for a space colony you'd want 8-bit class processors that you could easily build with early 70s technology and be able to fix with discrete spare parts.

My machine of choice for this is the Apple II+, possibly the last machine made with discrete 74 series logic chips and a 6502 processor (which has only around 3000 transistors, in fact you can [and people have] make one out of discrete transistors if you have to).

I do a lot of retrocomputing work, and you can get an amazing amount done with a 1MHz processor with 64k of RAM. Definitely enough to run a space base, and even have an early 80s style local internet.

And sorry C64 and Atari fans who might be suspect of the Apple II, your computers have fancy ASICs for the sound and video that would be difficult to make and not really necessary unless you were gaming.

408:

I would be very unhappy if I were forced to go back to 70s computers. (And I learned to program on a PDP-11/20 in the 70s, so I'm fully aware that "you can get an amazing amount done with a 1MHz processor with 64k of RAM"). However, I now routinely work with 32 GB RAM, and many of the things I like to do with computers would be impossible in 64k.

Of course, I'm not heading to Mars any time soon.

409:

the other nice thing about 1970s era computing chips is they're a lot less vulnerable to radiation bit flips. I hate to break it to you but whatever important work you are doing that requires 32GB of RAM isn't going to run very well in a high-rad environment like Mars.

410:

The last time this came up I had a poke round and found you could build ARM-3s quite happily with a transportable fab and, with a bit of care, the ARM plus other bits chips used in the Acorn machines that filled the gap between the Archimedes and RISC-PC. That gives you 32 bit architecture and lets you put in a full TCP/IP stack without needing to worry about what to leave out.

411:

Maybe they wouldn't need that Megafab? Have you ever heard/read about Yokogawa's minimal.fab?

https://www.yokogawa.com/yjp/solutions/solutions/minimal-fab/

Also, right around your corner https://www.semefab.com/ , Glenrothes in cooperation with

https://www.searchforthenext.com/ via

https://www.wafertrain.com/ builds this:

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20191018005356/en/Search-UK-Collaboration-Unveils-Bizen%C2%AE-Transistor-Wafer

https://www.eetimes.com/bipolar-zener-combo-takes-on-cmos/

https://www.eetimes.eu/cmos-is-history-bizen-transistor-tech-awarded-1-7m/

They are only at the very beginning at the moment, so they concentrate on power electronics for the time being. Think voltage regulators with embedded logic, instead of digital logic somehow regulating voltage/current via attached discrete power electronics.

However, this has the potential to be much more, even analog computing, memristor like neuromorphic devices, while avoiding the need for semiconductor structures approaching the limits of physics.

Which is more robust (against radiation for instance), faster and cheaper to produce.

That could be combined with something like Yokogawa's minimal.fab, making the comparison between state of the art process nodes a' la TSMCs 5nm and theirs not so ridiculous anymore.

Thereby enabling them to be masters of their own cybernetic fate, reducing path dependencies on established supply chains and platforms.


Cyber Cyber, burning bright,
Between mirrors in the light;
What clever hand or eye,
Could frame thy dynamic reconfigurability?

412:

whatever important work you are doing that requires 32GB of RAM isn't going to run very well in a high-rad environment like Mars.

Nothing I do is important.

413:

Interesting. So, on any stations or colonies, an airlock should *first* run, say, N2 or any cheap gas through, from the top down through filters in the floor (which are cycled after each use of the airlock), *then* pressurize with breathable air.

414:

I am mostly a regular lurker here. The ME topic that has come up in some
posts motivates me to comment. There is a column by George Monbiot in the Guardian today, where he comments on long covid and ME/CFS. According to him, people sufferig from ME/CFS had, and still have, problems to be taken seriously.

I have CFS-like symptoms since four years myself. They are mostly physical like chronic muscle pain, exhaustion, post-exertional malaise, somewhat disturbed thermoregulation and a general feeling as if the immune system is in constant action. The only third-person indication though is an increased count of leukocytes. On basis of which my general practitioner asserts that I'm completely healthy from his perspective, without saying it may all be psychosomatic in so many words. In the beginning I suspected lyme disease as a possible cause. I used to be in a risk group for it (when I was still working) spending an appreciable time outdoors conducting faunistic studies. But an ELISA test for antibodies came back negative.

If you, Toby or anyone else, feels like sharing how he or she became aware of the possibility of suffering from ME/CFS and, especially, how he or she got a diagnosis I'd be very interested. I'd also be open for exchange on a more private channel.

415:

I was picturing "cut off from Earth, need to build semiconductors from scratch" levels of difficulty here, not the "oh just tell them to stick a new microfab on the next transport".

I was thinking more of a "Sam Zeloof builds some chips in his garage" level of chip manufacturing although even that requires some complex machinery, modern equipment, and unusual and often highly toxic chemicals.

416:

Two different fabs would be absurd. You'd need spare parts for both.

And I would assume that *all* chips fabbed on-colony would be a minimum of two generations, if not four, behind what's on Earth. When astronauts go up, they take *old* ruggedized laptops... whose chips are far less vulnerable to radiation-mediated errors.

Oh... and Linux runs on *everything*, including, according to a report today on slashdot, the latest Apple hardware.

417:

Canned. You have a tour, record it, then you pay to take a VR tour on Earth.

You pay a LOT more to actually do it, and it's available only when Earth and Mars are

418:

Formula: nope. Provides *zero* immunities, and there may be more things that we don't know yet that you get from mother's breast milk.

And, per other subthreads here, you need sterile water.

419:

Resonance for space elevators?

How about something completely different?

 |
 ^
| |
 v
 |

Best as I can do with pre and ASCII art. Effectively, like a railroad siding on the way up: about 50km high, and about 50 km wide? And it can, of course, be rotated, so that Phobos passes through?

420:

I strongly disagree about Russia. I mean, they've been putting up a lot, including US astronauts, for over a decade. And they've signed on with NASA for the Lunar Gateway.

They're only slowly working their way back from the absolute disaster of the (heavily-assisted) collapse of the USSR, and the oligarchs aren't helping.

421:

Written long before we could build remote-controlled robotic probes. I mean, you *have* heard of these, right?

Actually, as I write that, I would be very surprised if we've reached the point of being able to have a Martian colony if we *don't* have emergency ships in stock. And it wouldn't come from Earth, it would come either from the Moon, or one of the stations in Earth or Lunar orbit.

Oh, right, and if it came from the Moon, we'd use a lunar rail launcher.

422:

This gets treated in great depth in "Invisible Sun", coming on September 28th! Oh GOODY!

with mandatory jail time just for picking one up you found abandoned in the street Which is Utterly fucking STUPID
"Strict Liability" offences simply should not exist ... there will ALWAYS, EVERY SINGLE TIME ... be a justifiable exception that the wankers writing it will not have thought of.
I've read enough of the history of Railway Accidents & the work of the various inspectorates down the years, to know that there will ALWAYS be an exception.
Guns in Scotland, frin'stance .. a 13-year old, who does not know, finds a crook's dropped gun & takes it to the cops - & then goes to jail, VERY intelligent.

Paul
Fit Phobos with v large ion rockets & "fly" it away from Mars entirely ...
Oh yes, where do you park or dump it?

mdive
But Putin's Russia is still playing the "I'm a big, threatening World Power" game - with actual resources not much more than Britain's.
Which indicates that something has gorn badly worng.

Eric Sanger
You are aware that many ( all? ) sufferers of ME/CFS have nerve damage, often/especially in the area around the back of the neck & shoulders?
That physical trace was one of the final killers for the "There's nothing wrong with you, you are imagining it!" school - though some bastards are still pushing it, against all evidence.

423:

There. Will. Be. No. Projectile. Weapons.

After we've disabled the bearer, they will be escorted to the airlock without a spacesuit, and the body will be left visible pour deencourager les autres.

And then every 3D printer on the station, and their controlling systems, will be searched by security, and anyone having such plans will be put on trial, and if they can't justify it, their body will be put out with the other.

There is NO SECOND AMENDMENT ON MARS, and if I'm there, I, personally, will carry out the above.

Got that?

424:

I will note that the last time I read anything, about 70k years ago, there were a total of about 2000 homo sap alive.

On the other hand, all they had to worry about was eating, drinking, reproducing, and not being eaten.

425:

We understand that. Actually, my SO and I are both on Kaiser-Permanente, which is a seventies-style HMO: they *do* do most of it all.

But for most of the US, I mean, doing it your way, think of the lack of ROI for the investors! I mean, the investors in the health insurance companies and private hospitals and "oh, they may work here, but they're independent contractors, and not in-network", are making trillions! That would be a terrible loss of wealth!

(If anyone doesn't understand bitter satire, I'm not sure why you're on this blog.)

426:

That's one thing that I've had to deal with in my stories about the future universe. A lot of what I have - and we have far cheaper interstellar transportation - is for less crowded conditions, and experimental culture reasons.

Oh, and of course, the religious wackoes who want to live the way their version of God (tm) Intended.

427:

On the other hand, we may be beginning to find similarities in mechanisms. I just read something the other day about when they switch from ATP, I think it is, to fermentation. Staying with the faster route runs into a production bottleneck, apparently.

428:

Actually, I saw the first papers about that as an issue something like last summer.

429:

Oh... and Linux runs on *everything*, including, according to a report today on slashdot, the latest Apple hardware.

Depends on what you classify as run.

Yes, you can boot Linux. But network requires a USB network controller (no driver - yet - for the internal network stuff) and you get dumb 2D graphics.

And the custom Apple GPU will be the hard part - there is still no decent open source driver for Nvidia hardware for example.

430:

ROTFL!

Sorry - the reason I'm laughing is that in Stand on Zanzibar, it's Indonesia that's the cold-war-like enemy of the West, and they've got the genius genetic engineer who starts genengineering... and so the scientific advanced nation.

431:

I'm not questioning that Musk wants to go to Mars, but I do wonder why he wants to go to Mars.

I agree.

I think Musk, like many (most) other human spaceflight enthusiasts has grown up reading fiction by SF authors who uncritically absorbed stuff that was pumped into the zeitgeist by Konstantin Tsiolkovski back before the Russian revolution, recycling quasi-theological arguments advanced by the Christian theologian Nikolai Federovitch Federov (who did a deep dive into "be fruitful and multiply" headspace in the late 19th century and came up with "become immortal: colonize the universe: resurrect everyone who came before you" and decided this was obviously God's plan). It ties in nicely with the American frontier mythos even if it doesn't actually make any kind of economic (or social) sense.

432:

My machine of choice for this is the Apple II+, possibly the last machine made with discrete 74 series logic chips and a 6502 processor (which has only around 3000 transistors, in fact you can [and people have] make one out of discrete transistors if you have to).

Yes, this.

For a colony of < 500,000 people it's cheaper to assume everyone learns a common language and all messages are written in it rather than to bother with internationalization, message strings, GUIs, multitouch, and processors powerful enough to paint anti-aliased dropshadows under pictures of arrows. And to go with command-line stuff wherever possible, substituting human labour for ease-of-use in return for getting much higher effective performance.

BUT this is not to say there won't be a requirement for stupidly high performance imported processors in some areas. If you need a neural network to monitor crops (because the only ones you can grow for yourselves are busy running the creche, which also requires NN monitoring) then you pay for an imported chip.

Musk is looking at a $2M ticket price from Earth to Mars surface, so I'm assume that's roughly 1 ton of cargo (canned ape plus life support and basic posessions). So we get a figure of $2000/kg. That's not insurmountable for importing chips; indeed, current generation high end Intel CPUs cost a whole lot more than that, even in their packaging.

433:

That, and treating the guys going outdoors to work as long term "divers" (decompress for your work week, don't see your family sort of thing) probably is a nonstarter psychologically.

Lots of industries run on the work camp model. It's got it's own set of issues, but workers are demonstrably willing to go to an isolated location for a shift lasting a few weeks, live on site, see their family when they return.

Come to that, sailors do the same thing.

434:

People keep bringing up how this colony pays for itself, but fail to mention SpaceX's ownership?

SpaceX's strategy seems to be to offer services on Earth in pursuit of profits which it spends on musk's mars project.

SpaceX is an earth based company of which musk has a slim majority share. Presuming that Musk ends his life on mars, as he's said he wants to, we can expect that martian interests inherit control over SpaceX. In addition to that source of control, I wouldn't be surprised if part of that 500,000 ticket price is a bit of ownership of the firm that exists to supply the colonists.

Musk's Mars doesn't have to export anything to earth, because Musk's SpaceX is exporting itself it Mars.

435:

I think Elon Musk wants to go to Mars to escape the Vogon construction fleet. After all, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is his favorite science fiction book.

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/06/elon-musk-says-this-science-fiction-classic-changed-his-life.html

https://fs.blog/2014/11/elon-musk-book-recommendations/

In the absence of a Vogon construction fleet, I think that a big asteroid or an oversided solar flare will do, in his list of reasons to go to Mars.

I see nothing but practical sense in him.

436:

people sufferig from ME/CFS had, and still have, problems to be taken seriously

Years ago I read an article in a management paper that claimed a study in Australia had shown that CFS didn't exist therefore people claiming to have it were slackers.

What the study showed was that when your health insurance no longer recognizes a condition, the number of claims goes down. What you and I would see as obvious (condition not covered by insurance, don't file a claim for it) apparently got interpreted as no claims = no one with condition.

437:

It ties in nicely with the American frontier mythos even if it doesn't actually make any kind of economic (or social) sense.

Given that the American frontier wasn't actually like the American frontier mythos…

438:

Looks like you're building the power station at the North Pole, then:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_polar_ice_caps

The South Pole has a permanent ice layer of frozen carbon dioxide, eight metres thick; it's seasonal at the North Pole but that's fine, too - 'Seasonal' means it's a renewable resource, redeposited every winter at *both* poles.

The advantage of the North Pole is that there is a 'summer' when surface pipelines are warm enough to transport surplus gas elsewhere.

This isn't clean CO2 ice (nor is the water ice below it): there's a lot of fine dust mixed-in and you don't want that in the primary cooling circuit of a gas-cooled reactor.

But that's a better problem to have, than a thin atmosphere for your source.

There is *no* shortage of CO2 when you can strip-mine it and deliver it on conveyors or dumper trucks.

That's difficult for long journeys: but placing the power plant on the polar plains, at the centre of an export pipeline network, is workable.

My working model would be to find a suitable salt dome structure underground for gas storage (or create one with a nuke), somewhere near the North Pole, and use the waste heat from the reactor to keep it at CO2 gas-phase temperatures all year round: strip-mine the ice in Winter and fill up a cubic mile or two of storage, drawing-down in summer for reactor cooling and exporting the surplus southward when the pipelines are warm enough.

439:

Indonesia that's the cold-war-like enemy of the West, and they've got the genius genetic engineer who starts genengineering...

Then there's Aristoi's mataglap nano. IIRC, it originated in a waste management project in Indonesia that was a bit too successful and ate the Earth's biosphere.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristoi_(novel)


440:

Got to remember that basically all of the European colonial powers' colonizing efforts involved invading lands that had been cared for by other humans for 15,000-50,000 years or more. I'm not sure we established anything resembling a self-sustaining colony anywhere that humans hadn't been before. Possibly Ascension Island is as close as Europeans have come to settling a barren island and making it bloom.

That's the problem with ideas about being first-in colonists on a non-living world: we literally do not know what we're doing. We really should be building cities on Dorset Island, in the Atacama, and other uninhabited spots, restoring Chinese ecosystems around their cities, building sustainable centers on garbage dumps...

...Actually about that last bit, it's pretty common to site lower income schools on garbage dumps from decades past, at least in southern California. They're toxic messes waiting to happen. If we build to that standard on Mars, billion dollar failure won't even begin to cover it...

...But that's the point. We're not taking the necessary baby steps to live off-planet or even live on-planet long term. And by that, I don't mean little experimental space stations on Mauna Loa, Those are embryonic developments, and we're not going bigger yet.

My prediction so far is that, if we even bother to return to the Moon or go to Mars or Ceres, all we'll end up doing is leaving a big old pile of garbage and a few rapidly fading flags, and come back with some samples, pictures, and brags, many of which we'll end up losing to bit rot or carelessness. Except the brags. Not very salutary.

441:

SpaceX is an earth based company of which musk has a slim majority share. Presuming that Musk ends his life on mars, as he's said he wants to, we can expect that martian interests inherit control over SpaceX. In addition to that source of control, I wouldn't be surprised if part of that 500,000 ticket price is a bit of ownership of the firm that exists to supply the colonists.

And 2 years after arriving on Mars, a pandemic or natural disaster wipes out SpaceX and a condition of government money to rebuild to selling SpaceX to the government for $1 (because taxpayers won't allow the government to bail it out as long as it continues being a Martian company).

Or the government, for "national security", takes control of SpaceX as it is viewed as too dangerous to allow a foreign (in this case Martian) entity control US access to space.

That would seem to be a rather dangerous way to fund a Mars base.

442:

I expect Apple may disagree with you.

My impression is that Apple would like to disagree with me, but currently they make a consumer stack and some niche business products. When I worked in a Mac-heavy company they still relied on Microsoft for everything that wasn't pretty pictures. Many of the iWankers had a Windows PC as well as their McPC so they could interact with sales, accounts and all the other bureaucracy.

I don't see any sign that Apple is even trying to get hold of an office software suite, they appear to reply on the generosity of Microsoft and the willingness of LibreOffice to support them. There's no corporate accounting software or any of the other essentials for running even a mid-size organisation.

443:

I'm not questioning that Musk wants to go to Mars, but I do wonder why he wants to go to Mars.
If he is not going off the deep end completely and just feigning a certain degree of madness for the audience entertainment, I can only assume the strategy that is called "riding the wave". Look, he can always say that no matter what he promised to the public (and his investors), it is responsibility of the public to put the trust into him, and as for the money, he is just doing what he can do best. He can always get off the deal as long as power that be favors and tolerates him. That is his only failure point (besides end of his own life, like what happened to Korolyov).

Realistically speaking, I do not share his optimistic viewpoint, nor any viewpoint associated with it, including Charlie's. Not at all. For me, even establishing a resemblance of Mars colony within this century counts as optimistic. It is not a matter of "why wouldn't we do it" but rather "how else can we do it", given our previous experience, and in that I wouldn't dare to have any prognosis beyond 50 years from now.

For these reasons, here are the deadlines:
1. 15 years from now on - get rid of rusty old iron aka "ISS" and establish actual deeps space test bed near the moon, may it be the DSO or something similar. The purpose would be to create and
2. 15 of next years are sufficient to build infrastructure for Mars travel, and not only one-way daredevil attempt to trample the soil and putting landmarks (we call it "sharing a hide of of bear that is not killed"), with some perspective to the future projects.
3. It is at this point, optimistically, we can say that we are ready to send major land-and return mission to prove ourselves that we are capable of being interplanetary species.
4. 20 more years to upscale the process enough to be able to build relatively self-sufficient planet-side operation, only the first batch of it. Maybe a habitation module not unlike an arctic station that can host the small population on regular basis.

All in all, this results into comprehensive strategy that, in the next 50 years, allows exactly four people to touch the surface of the planet, and maybe dozen or two of them to stay in orbit around it, before actually starting to do anything on the surface. If we don't achieve this, we can probably go a bit sideways - and that involves adaptation of humanity to the space in the ways that were not seem to be possible before. Like gene modification therapy. Or widespread application of assistive cybernetic implants. Now, again, what would that mean for biological research like immunity boosting? Maybe people in 50 years would look back at us in bewilderment, "they've had a trouble doing that?".

China and India are a long way behind the curve and Russia isn't even playing the game any more.
Oh come on, not playing the stupid games is supposed to be the part of winning strategy. In contrast to US effort or even China, most Russian observers I am familiar with have the idea of sticking a flag into the other celestial body alluring and provocative, but nothing beyond it, not providing even a slightest hint of foresight. As if Apollo program didn't teach us anything.

I'm going to put down two of the reference projects of the similar scale and purpose, that have been carried out nowadays.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagurskoye_(air_base)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamal_LNG
The latter one, I even participated in building some parts it. I don't think many people aware of the scale of the work that has been done, thanks to information blockade imposed against it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiFFDJglSxE
Almost HALF MILLION tonnes (of the modular equipment only) transported and installed.

444:

To continue.

Years ago I have had a great time reading Eclipse Phase rulebook, because there was a time when they still dared to experiment with ideas. (Oh, the times have changed). It has a lot of ideas about future of Mars at large, starting with small-scale settlements (mind you, not isolated case, it is all tied in-universe) and up to a gargantuan terraforming project that has only failed because of other in-universe events of a similar scale. Anyway, I am not really going to spoil the fun of discovery since the books are actually available online for free, for the most part. But instead I am going to drop some of the ideas I picked up from it in the context of self-sufficient deep-space colony.

Long story short, after the main events of the setting, Mars is practically the only remaining settlement that can even compare to Earth's best days of glory, an embodiment of "backup Earth". Population is well within hundred million, if not 200. Unfinished changes to atmosphere that increase surface pressure by two orders of magnitude, making it possible to breath it with special equipment. The aforementioned Phobos is moved from one orbit to the other, making way to space elevator.

Some other ideas are even looking appealing to the more closer plans, like the "cyclers" concept, when a pretty big ship with relatively small amount of fuel can constantly traverse the space between planet with little fuel expense, in cycles, 5 months one way, 21 months the other way. To get to Mars this way, you have to accelerate enough to catch up to it and dock, accessing to onboard facilities, and then decelerate at destination.

445:

If Space X fails after 2 years of Mars colonization, we don't have the 10+ years of Space X sending in 100 settlers a day.

I think Space X is a necessary feature of OGH's postulate Elon-Musk settlement. Some degree of careful managment and a huge degree of anxiety on the part of the martians will be constantly leveled at whether or not their next supply rocket is coming for decades.

Furthermore, I expect the colony, able fuel and return Starships, is able to negotiate the ownership of SpaceX from some degree of mutually assured destruction.

446:

Heteromeles @ 440: "We really should be building cities on Dorset Island, in the Atacama, and other uninhabited spots."

No,no,no, not Dorset Island. There are people there.

Dorset Island is part of the province of Nunavut and I'm pretty sure that they don't want you there. The village of Kinngait (formerly Cape Dorset)is the "Inuit art capital" of the Arctic and they want customers, not developpers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinngait

You don't want to disturb the grave sites of the Dorset Culture, do you?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorset_culture

Besides, Dorset Island is right next to the strategic waterways of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, so it's a closely held piece of land.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_Archipelago

If you want to develop some places closer than Mars, go develop really empty places like the Antarctic.

447:

Justin Jordan @ 343: Just so.

Which is probably a good argument for doing it. Developing the tech to survive on Mars would make it easier to survive here post ciimate apocalypse.

Finding a way to stave off the climate apocalypse will probably give a better ROI.

448:

For a colony of

A common language will be a given, if for no other reason than in an emergency you don't have time to cycle through X versions of a message or have settlers unable to communicate with each other.

message strings, GUIs, multitouch, and processors powerful enough to paint anti-aliased dropshadows under pictures of arrows. And to go with command-line stuff wherever possible, substituting human labour for ease-of-use in return for getting much higher effective performance.

The idea of going with simple processors and returning to the 80s has appeal - but we quickly forget all the people who couldn't/can't figure out command line interfaces.

Not to mention that you really need a GUI to get a lot of stuff done these days, because the software demands it - and the importing of photos, etc.

You aren't going to do a lot of research stuff, or medical imaging, or any number of other things effectively with 1980s technology. So your small amount of high performance stuff ends up being not so small.

And that's without getting into the need for entertainment.

Musk is looking at a $2M ticket price from Earth to Mars surface, so I'm assume that's roughly 1 ton of cargo (canned ape plus life support and basic posessions). So we get a figure of $2000/kg. That's not insurmountable for importing chips; indeed, current generation high end Intel CPUs cost a whole lot more than that, even in their packaging.

Current iPhone is 228g, call it 250g. So $500 shipping on a $1,000 phone.

But then it's not just the $500, but the entire $1500 that someone on Mars needs to come up with to pay an Earth based company.

Or that fact that you wouldn't be buying 1 phone for a base of 500,000 people.

Now perhaps you remain static in your technology and find a way of just replacing the batteries every couple of years locally, which might work for a while at least.

But it brings up another important question - at $2M per person to Mars, that's a lot of money for 500,000 people - and he is actually claiming a million people by 2050...

https://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-plans-1-million-people-to-mars-by-2050-2020-1

(and I still say for his plans there is a lot of stuff that he at least publicly isn't dealing with yet that need to be dealt with if he is being real and not just selling dreams).

449:

I disagree. We need a *real* space station in Earth orbit. (Preferably a wheel, with artificial gravity.)

The Lunar Gateway should be built up as well.

*Then*, I agree, we can talk about really doing things in space, because real spaceships should be orbit-to-orbit, not planet to planet.

450:

Moz @ 344: A lack of very specific people is often the reason, though. Jack Ma is having a very different experience to Elon Musk, and even if he wanted to I suspect he wouldn't be able to build his own fleet of giant space rockets in China.

Unless the Chinese government decided they should have a fleet of giant space rockets of their own ...?

451:

I'd forgot about the Dorset culture, but you're right, especially about the geopolitics. Guess we abrogate the Antarctic Treaty...

...Or, thinking more about that, since we're talking about a new round of capitalist imperialism (hold your nose)...


...There actually is a reason to build ports all along the Arctic Ocean. These would be to service the future trade routes through the Arctic and to establish territorial claims. Tough luck for the natives and all, but what did they do during their 4,000 years of tenure, besides survive? (/heavy sarcasm)

More seriously, figuring out how to create semi-sustainable ports along the Arctic, in really crappy conditions with melting permafrost and who knows what other horrors the US/USSR war left behind, is actually not the worst way to prepare for Mars. I totally agree with you that Dorset Island should be left to the locals, but we've got a pitiably bad record of doing that when our alpha males get untreated male edifice complex.

If you want a really unsettling thought, Powell's Airship to Orbit plan has him putting airports in the Arctic, because the top of the stratosphere is closer to the planet there than at the equator by many miles. So you could, conceivably, imagine Mars prototype cities in the Arctic, linked to orbit via giant airships, so they're sea, air, and space ports. Since I happen to like the ATO program, I think I'll go bleach my brain at this point. The only virtue this has is...it's different.

452:

Well, no, you don't use it at ambient pressure, you compress it to a more useful density. And then recirculate it.

After all, you're not wanting to simply dump the low grade heat to the environment. You've got a network of tunnels dug in the rock of a perishing cold planet where nothing at all ever gets above the freezing point of water unless you go a lot deeper than you'd be wanting to do for digging a colony. You need that low grade heat to keep the place warm, so your reactor cooling circuit feeds a heat exchanger with your central heating system. (Also, you've probably got quite a bit of stuff that could make use of it for process heat.)

453:

Moz @ 353:

long term technical diving

Yep, I remember the JC sea hab misery, and I'm also thinking that gasdive's "long term" and Mars colony long term are different things. Unless gasdive is writing to us from 20,000 leagues under the sea :) But you're right that they did rather show that we can't even keep water out, so the idea that we could keep moon dust or Mars dust out seems dubious. IIRC the moon visitors remarked on the smell of stuff coming in from outside, suggesting that their primitive decontamination processes were not very effective. As mentions above, if you can smell it your mask isn't working.

I'm pretty sure there's no place on Earth where the ocean is 20,000 leagues deep.

The title of Verne's novel refers to the distance the scientists from the American expedition to locate the sea monster traveled with Captain Nemo aboard his submarine Nautilus. A nautical league is 2.1584 nautical miles; 20,000 leagues = 43,168.95 nautical miles. The Challenger Deep is only 1.26 leagues (if I have the math right) deep.

454:

Duffy @ 356: How about the Mars colony making money from renting VR suits to people back on Earth, full immersion VR experience - you'll feel as if you are on Mars!

Have to work around that 3 to 22 minute signal delay back and forth from Mars and Earth.

Would prerecorded VR work?

455:

Heteromeles @ 451: "Orbit plan has him putting airports in the Arctic, because the top of the stratosphere is closer to the planet there than at the equator by many miles."

It's closer to the planet at both poles, in winter.

https://scied.ucar.edu/shortcontent/stratosphere-overview

Go to the South Pole first with your ATO, since there no indigenous peoples, no musk ox or caribou there. Then, once you've tried out the plan in the Antarctic and proved that it can't harm the fragile Arctic ecology, you can ask for permissions to launch balloons from the North Pole too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_ecology

456:

But how fast does your neural network for monitoring the crops have to run? Crops don't change very quickly, and they aren't all that complicated. You don't need a machine capable of diagnosing a human disease within a standard GP consultation slot; you can run it on a 6502 and the crops will be quite happy to wait around for the answer.

(Another point about the 6502 idea is that of course it won't be a real 6502, it'll be a newly made 6502oid. So you can change the design a bit. It would take very little modification (little more than simply bringing some already-existing signals out to pins) to make a 6502oid capable of being ganged up bit-slice style to make a processor of arbitrarily large word length. It would probably also take very little to speed it up maybe 10x, since the main reason it runs at the speed it does is that when it was designed you couldn't get fast enough memory to keep up with anything faster, so there was no point. So you can get quite a bit more horsepower without losing the advantages of simplicity and feature size >> an alpha particle.)

457:

Thing is, most industrial activity is in the northern hemisphere. See sleepingroutine's post up there, for example. If we want to get from industrial cities to space, then traveling south via New Zealand or Chile through the Roaring 40s is distinctly suboptimal.

The other issue is that the Antarctic Treaty System protects Antarctica, so that would have to be broken before commercial ports could be built there.

That does make me wonder if there's some kind of alternate, non-capitalist structure, as with Antarctica, under which space could be settled by more than satellites. I think the answer is a resounding no, but since capitalism doesn't really support colonizing anywhere off planets, it's worth thinking extremely laterally.

458:

You're right on many levels about the psychology of two days to get outside. My thinking is coloured by exposure to lots of highly motivated young men (all men) who think nothing of being away from family for weeks or months for work. That's ok for niche skills.

On the other hand, there will be many habs and they will undoubtedly find their own balance for temperature, humidity, oxygen fraction and pressure. I talked to a guy once who got a job as a cleaner on an American Antarctic base. He had to walk over to (I think NZ) base to sleep because the Americans kept their base so hot. I feel safe at 2 bar, but I don't have chronic airway obstruction. So who knows. But I'm guessing 1 bar, 21% oxygen in nitrogen might not be all that common.

As for the difficulty of maintaining 2 bar. I don't see it. Weight is no