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Thread: Why won't plants grow on Mars?

  1. #1 Why won't plants grow on Mars? 
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    Other than there being a lack of water, there is plenty of sunshine and carbon dioxide so why don't plants grow? (if we were to plant them).

    If we were to plant plants on Mars' surface and water them artificially, surley they would grow?


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    I very much doubt they would grow. Plants are conditioned to grow in various parts of Earth. Mars is totally different. You would have to provide the same nutrients, temperatures, etc. as earth.


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    Well, if you could get water, how would you?

    There is more than enough CO2 for plants on Mars. Maybe too much. More than 95% of the martian atmosphere is CO2. The problems I see are temperature and pressure. The pressure makes the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere about the same as if we had 0.9% CO2 on earth. Even if you found a plant species that could survive the severe cold, water is nonexistent, because the temperature and pressure would effectively freeze-dry anything containing moisture. For this reason, I don't see any type of plant growing without growing it in a pressurized greenhouse.
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    Even if you could provide them with water and a warm environment, you'd still have to consider the low air pressure. Plants would simply lose too much water if it dared open a stomata for gas exchange. IMO.
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wild Cobra
    ... Even if you found a plant species that could survive the severe cold, water is nonexistent, because the temperature and pressure would effectively freeze-dry anything containing moisture. For this reason, I don't see any type of plant growing without growing it in a pressurized greenhouse.
    Of course, you know we don't have to *find* them. Companies like Monsanto, that specialize in plant husbandry could try to deliberately breed a Martian plant using Earth plants as a starting point, by creating artificial environments that have progressively less and less pressure, less and less Nitrogen.... etc, until they arrive at an artificially simulated fully Martian environment.

    The question is whether this is possible in principle. Could any plant live on Mars?
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    Another obstacle is soil conditioning. Low lying parts of Mars were made acidic as oceans receded in these areas. Clays and lime may be mined for use in large-scale agriculture. In my webcomic about a terraformed Mars, I wrote a technical article about conditioning soil: http://tech.red-oasis.com/almanac.html

    Almost certainly, more suitable plants would need to be engineered if intended to survive in future colonies. It has been speculated that some forms of lichen may thrive on Mars without modification. They require no oxygen, and can survive temperatures as low as -100 Celsius.
    The European Space Agency has discovered that lichens can survive unprotected in space. In an experiment led by Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, two species of lichen Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket on May 31, 2005. Once in orbit the capsules were opened and the lichens were directly exposed to the vacuum of space with its widely fluctuating temperatures and cosmic radiation. After 15 days the lichens were brought back to earth and were found to be in full health with no discernable damage from their time in orbit.
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    Plants could surely grow on mars, but you have to condition everything, here's the deal there are already plants than grow an arizona, they can DEFINITELY grow on mars.
    the more science you know, the less crap you get.
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    This is so simple. Plants cannot grow without liquid water. There is no liquid water on Mars.

    The nearest Earth comparison is central Antarctica. Average temperature of minus 50 C (still warmer than Mars). In spite of the fact that plants have had billions of years to adapt to this environment, they have not. No liquid water. No plants.

    On the other hand, bacteria (which are not plants) may have a chance. In Antarctica, bacteria can grow in any micro-environment in which water is liquid. This can happen, for example, under a heavy mass where the pressure bearing down creates a tiny film of liquid water.
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    Suppose we spread a film of plastic over the Martian soil - something like garbage bag - to trap heat and gases. I don't mean high-tech here: I mean like slightly leaky overlapping plastic held down with rocks. Suppose some areas are transparent so they admit sunlight. Fertile?
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    Pong

    Speaking practically, the best approach to establishing some 'plant' life on Mars is to go with primitive forms of life, such as bacteria, or the photosynthetic cyanobacteria. It is possible that they might grow under your thin films of plastic.

    If this discussion is about colonising Mars, then the best approach is to set up warm habitats underground, shielded from lethal radiation by 10 metres of rock overhead. A nuclear reactor can supply the heat and light to enable growth of plants.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoshuaCarter
    here's the deal there are already plants than grow an arizona, they can DEFINITELY grow on mars.
    Regarding plant growth, Arizona does not at all resemble Mars.
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  13. #12  
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    You'd think that with no magnetic field, photodissossociation of water vapour would occur. It appears there's a trace amount of water in the atmosphere of Mars.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geo
    photodissossociation of water vapour
    What is that? Radiation blowing particles away?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Quote Originally Posted by Geo
    photodissossociation of water vapour
    What is that? Radiation blowing particles away?
    Without a magnetosphere Mars' atmosphere is bombarded with high energy EM radiation which splits water vapour into H2, and O. The H2 is lost to space.

    It appears there's still water in the atmosphere though.
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  16. #15  
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    Give it another billion years...?
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    In astronomical time a billion years is not so great.

    I read an article once written by a NSA scientist, in which he stated that the moon could hold an atmosphere for one million years before it disappeared. If humans crashed a few comets on the moon, and released the bound oxygen, we could terraform the moon and live on it for a million years , unprotected in the open, before the solar wind blew all the atmosphere away. Since a million years is a long time in human terms, this might even be worth doing.

    There appears to be plenty of water on Mars, but only as ice. Solid frozen water at extremely low temperatures is not going to support plant life.
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    In astronomical time a billion years is not so great.

    I read an article once written by a NSA scientist, in which he stated that the moon could hold an atmosphere for one million years before it disappeared. If humans crashed a few comets on the moon, and released the bound oxygen, we could terraform the moon and live on it for a million years , unprotected in the open, before the solar wind blew all the atmosphere away. Since a million years is a long time in human terms, this might even be worth doing.

    There appears to be plenty of water on Mars, but only as ice. Solid frozen water at extremely low temperatures is not going to support plant life.
    That would be an interesting undertaking to ponder, and a great science fiction story in the making.

    I'm betting it would take thousands of years to accomplish in real life. In order to heat it up, we'd have to do something violent, like crashing the comets into it at high speed, and then the whole mess would take a long time to swish around before it would stabilize into a livable weather pattern. Kind of like cooking a great pot roast. Sometimes you have to let things sit a while.

    I guess in the meantime, maybe we could set up some habitats? The medical community would need time to figure out how to help the settlers avoid bone loss from the low gravity.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    I read an article once written by a NSA scientist, in which he stated that the moon could hold an atmosphere for one million years before it disappeared. If humans crashed a few comets on the moon, and released the bound oxygen, we could terraform the moon and live on it for a million years , unprotected in the open, before the solar wind blew all the atmosphere away. Since a million years is a long time in human terms, this might even be worth doing.
    Could you link this article? I'd like to learn more about that.

    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I guess in the meantime, maybe we could set up some habitats? The medical community would need time to figure out how to help the settlers avoid bone loss from the low gravity.
    If bone-loss were caused entirely by low gravity, then wearing weights and maintaining regular exercise should be enough to prevent it on the Martian surface. But right now, there is still uncertainty over whether astronaut bone-loss is caused by microgravity entirely, or whether cosmic radiation also plays a roll. And if so, how significant a roll? In any case, the problem of astronaut bone-loss would have to be solved prior to any manned mission (let alone a "settlement") since a spaceflight to/from Mars would require an astronaut to be subject to microgravity for months at a time.
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    Said article was in the paper version of New Scientist. Several years back. Sorry that I did not keep the exact reference.
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  21. #20  
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    Bone growth and loss is partially dependant on stress put on the bones... which is a nice adaptive way of finding "just right" whatever one's normal conditions and activity may be. Mars colonists will adapt just right for life on Mars... no problem, unless these colonists are really tourists?

    I doubt that weights and exercise can fully simulate terrestrial life as far as bones are concerned. How to simulate the internal weight of torso hanging on ribs and shoulders?

    The female colonists may burn their bras. Actually they should.
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  22. #21  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    I doubt that weights and exercise can fully simulate terrestrial life as far as bones are concerned. How to simulate the internal weight of torso hanging on ribs and shoulders?
    Exercise techniques currently in use aboard space stations (as well as day-to-day activity) are apparently, already enough to prevent the deterioration of most bones. The concern is over the main load-bearing bones (or "anti-gravity" bones) which are subject to the most gravitational force on Earth. These include the five lumbar vertebrae, the femur, the tibia, and eleven more bones in the foot. All lower-body bones. Any weight evenly distributed on the upper body would be translated to the lower body just as if that weight was "internal." So really, simulating Earth gravity for your lower body is likely as simple as wearing a backpack with weight equal to twice your Mars weight. The real question is how often would such an apparatus need to be worn in order to prevent bone loss on Mars... Or would it even need to be worn at all? Aside from building a centrifuge space station like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, there's really no way to simulate a long-term Martian environment. But again, as far as NASA is concerned, it's essentially a non-issue since the 0g problem would have to be solved long before we even know whether 1/3g is even a problem or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    The female colonists may burn their bras. Actually they should.
    I'm reminded of a lengthy discussion with one of my cohorts about the possible effects of 1/3g on breast development, maintenance, and aging. We have yet to attempt any math.
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    I read that in children, besides normal activities like walking, leg bones in particular grow stronger and longer when the bones are shocked by all that youthful jumping and stomping they do. It's like kids have an instinctive urge to put extra stress on their legs.

    Anecdotally, my father's club foot corroborates that. He had early surgery to correct the leg, so initially both legs were the same length, and he could soon walk on both without a limp. However he nursed the one leg, probably more than necessary. Both got "normal" exercise but one leg he was careful not to shock hard as in leaping down stairs and frenzied kicking and ... you know, kids. That leg grew a bit shorter and remains shorter to this day.

    I was going to speculate that adult colonists might get an equal bone workout simply by stomping for a minute instead of packing weights for half an hour. Now I'm thinking the shock effect could be limited to child and maybe adolescent bone growth.
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  24. #23  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Give it another billion years...?
    Well humanity just can't give it that much time I am afraid. Haha, anyhow. I think it might be due to the absence of Electromagnetic Field.
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  25. #24 mars unique world 
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    Mars life is under terrain. While almost entire land is dry, the bottom of it has liquid water.
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    Couldnt we harness nuclear energy to create an orbiting simulated sun for Mars?
    wouldnt such heat cause pressurization? If in fact it wouldnt, we could create a mega dome around the entire planet that could pressurize the contents there of and we could build a simulated sun by pressurizing nuclear energy in a contained ball that cannot explode because the genetics of it are a fusion that cannot be expanded greater or clisp with irregularity. It would be a continious ball of nuclear energy, self powering through its pulse.
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  27. #26  
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    You are talking a very difficult undertaking. We would need to explode hydrogen bombs in Mars orbit, at a horrendous rate - perhaps dozens each second. That suggestion requires most of the energy released to be radiated away, into space, which makes it enormously inefficient.

    Much better to use nuclear power stations, hopefully fusion power, on the surface of Mars, and send the power to where it is needed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    Kitchens

    You are talking a very difficult undertaking. We would need to explode hydrogen bombs in Mars orbit, at a horrendous rate - perhaps dozens each second. That suggestion requires most of the energy released to be radiated away, into space, which makes it enormously inefficient.

    Much better to use nuclear power stations, hopefully fusion power, on the surface of Mars, and send the power to where it is needed.
    Thats an even better concept. "Fusion Power". We need to build the space station
    even greater to where we can actually begin the process. I think our potential on this planet as a people with virtually everything; have exhausted our leisure to where we live and do not grow. If we were to open up Such Fusion Power possibilities we as people could expand our growth into generating instead of primarily being consumption forces.

    Sometimes I sit back and think of myself, my being, my alien form and I can scale it down to the tendacies of a termite.
    This fusion power would have to heat Mars to the tempature of the earth, do you think a dome could be a stabilizer for pressure needed to assure succesful plant life?
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    There are a lot of people who speculate about terraforming Mars. Maybe we will be able to do it, eventually. However, it is very clear that such an undertaking is very long term indeed. Possibly thousands of years. To warm an entire planet, the best way would probably be to put giant mirrors in orbit and reflect extra sunlight down.

    In the short term, which is all we can, right now, make decisions about, the best approach would be to live in tunnels below the planet's surface. This is required to put 10 metres of rock overhead to filter out the hard radiation that would otherwise become lethal within a few years. Living in tunnels makes it relatively easy to use nuclear power for warmth, and for light, especially to grow green plants.
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  30. #29  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    10 metres of rock overhead to filter out the hard radiation that would otherwise become lethal within a few years. Living in tunnels makes it relatively easy to use nuclear power for warmth, and for light, especially to grow green plants.
    The vastly greater portion of our Earth colony grows plants under conditions humans do not co-inhabit. It rains, it freezes, some plants are even underwater. So I think it is a bit costly to build a Mars colony like an enormous cozy home beneath 10 meters rock, that contains houseplants we eat.

    Looks like we could scrape the Martian surface to form berms, where human shelters are wanted. I think one could cheaply layer foil and plastic throughout the fill with acceptable amount of puncturing. That would seal out radiation and seal in artificial climate. As on Earth we'd want to exploit natural land forms e.g. build at the foot of a hill facing away from equator.

    All in all I'm advocating a "Chinese" approach.
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    The radiation is not quite so easily screened. We are talking about high energy particles, that can penetrate quite deeply. Strangely, water is one of the best shields, and several metres of water ice could probably do it. Whatever we use, it will require quite a tonnage of screening material.

    While we could build a structure with 2 metres of water ice covering it, it has always seemed to me to be simpler just to dig a cave and live in it. Lots of humans live a troglodite existence. Why not on Mars?
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    It may take a lot more energy to tunnel 10m below the surface, perhaps through boulders or bedrock; than to push or truck loose surface soil into a mound.

    Also presuming that construction machinery must be solar powered in any case (since you can't build and crew a nuclear reactor first) it's simplest if each vehicle has independent solar power supply, best embodied as panels atop each vehicle, always exposed to sunlight.

    I imagine a combination best: Plough out trenches, install walls & roofs, then cover.
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    The short and simple answer is no, plants cannot be grown on Mars. The only way to grow anything on Mars would be to plant inside a radiation shield, pressurized greenhouse, where they are supplied with a an earth like environment and supplemental light. There is not enough sunlight on Mars, nor any appreciable liquid water, the air is way too thin (it would be like trying to plant plants several miles above the top of Mt Everest) and is almost pure CO2, which would kill any plant. (On Earth Co2 levels are less than 2 tenths of one percent. Co2 levels higher than 10% kills all known living organisms, Mars is 99%. The temperatures are way to cold, even in the best locations, there is no water available, the surface is bombarded continuously with cosmic radiation and with UV in the daytime, both of which effectively maintain a sterile surface on Mars. There are other reasons, but those should suffice.
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    and with UV in the daytime, both of which effectively maintain a sterile surface on Mars.
    I was wondering when someone would get around to UV. The only reason we have the biota, including ourselves and all other mammals, that we do on Earth is that our atmosphere has a super-duper ozone layer protecting us from the sterilising (death-dealing) UV from the sun.

    Skeptic's proposal of highly shielded underground habitat is the only viable starting point.

    And even without the UV, growing plants where there are no mycorrhizal assemblages to support root growth and structure is too big an ask. Even Arizona and the Nullarbor Desert have some fungi and bacteria capable of supporting plant life if some manage to struggle through.
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    and with UV in the daytime, both of which effectively maintain a sterile surface on Mars.
    I was wondering when someone would get around to UV. The only reason we have the biota, including ourselves and all other mammals, that we do on Earth is that our atmosphere has a super-duper ozone layer protecting us from the sterilising (death-dealing) UV from the sun.

    Skeptic's proposal of highly shielded underground habitat is the only viable starting point.

    And even without the UV, growing plants where there are no mycorrhizal assemblages to support root growth and structure is too big an ask. Even Arizona and the Nullarbor Desert have some fungi and bacteria capable of supporting plant life if some manage to struggle through.
    I have seen many proposals for trying to colonize, and/or terraform Mars, but it is just not practical, or even necessarily desirable. In addition to the many challenges I stated already there are technical issues like designing, building, testing, launching and EDLing all the equipment needed to construct even the crudest of bermed shelters on the surface.

    Ideally we would send a robotic bulldozer/backhoe to Mars to dig trenches, then land a sting of habitat structures with pinpoint accuracy inside those trenches, connect them together (robotically) and then cover them over with gravel and rock to provide shielding from the radiation and extremes of thermal conditions there. Only then could we hope to send humans there for a visit. The likelihood of being able to grow enough food to feed a crew of 2 to 4 people for the year or so they would be stuck there is unlikely at best. They would be able to supplement their diet with some fresh foods with a well designed aquaponic system, but to grow all the food they would need would require far more space that we could land on Mars on a practical basis. The use of In Situ resources for building is problematic if you are talking about anything beyond simply digging trenches and piling the rubble on top of pre built structures. The infrastructure needed to mine, process and be able to effectively utilize other materials is so massive as to be virtually impossible to place on Mars in the next 100 years or more, given current technology.

    And, While I have little doubt technology will advance, banking on a game changing technology emerging in order to accomplish one's plans is never a sound planning method.

    My personal belief is that we would be far better off investing in mining materials in space and using those materials to build massive space stations where we can create an ideal environment for people, plants, animals, bacteria and fungi.

    To that end I am working on building the early stages of infrastructure that will be needed to facilitate the building of such cities in space.

    Open space has several big obstacles we must overcome if we are going to live there: We need materials, power, gravity and protection from radiation. I am not convinced humans can even live on Mars long term because of the reduced gravity. And certainly anyone who tries to do so will not be able to return to Earth without years of rehabilitation due to muscle atrophy and bone density loss, and other low gravity impacts on the body over time.

    The first issue is power. Solar power is handy, but not adequate for heavy industrial processes and providing artificial light and so forth on a large station. There are some experimental power generation options on the horizon, but to date most of what is available is not powerful enough. The next challenge is materials. It is clear that we are not going to be able to build a manned gravity station using traditional launch methods. The smallest diameter for a manned spinning space station that provides 1g is about 450m or about 1450 ft. A Hammerhead style structure of these dimensions would require no less than 90 individual launches and space assembly. At even as little as $75 million per launch, the launch costs alone would exceed $6.7 trillion. Make that a complete ring (1400+m circumference or about 4600 ft) would add a ridiculous 128 launches at a cost (just for launching) of $9.6 trillion or nearly $17 trillion. Add the costs of development and support of such a basic station and you are looking at more money that the top 10 space fairing countries could shell out combined.

    This makes the use of space born materials for building any large structures in space a critical step. The materials step, once established, will address the remaining issues of gravity and radiation shielding.

    The first step, I am in the process of undertaking, is to build and launch a spinning space station capable of providing 1g, but only to animals, plants, fungi and robots. The station, called the Satellite Wheel (SW) will fit and be launched in a single SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing. The assembled SW will be about 8.4m in dia. The rotational rate will be approximately 10.38 rpm, which will provide 1g of RCF (Relative Centripetal Force) on the interior deck of the Ring. There will have approximately 24.4 m circumference of deck space in the ring, with a .7m deck to ceiling height and.7m width in the ring interior cross section. The SW will serve primarily as a testbed for technologies to be used in a manned sized station and for processing captured space rocks. (A more complete description can be found at http://www.facebook.com/groups/cityo...4396731296319/ )


    Concurrent with the SW we are also building and preparing to launch a Harvester Drone (HD-1) which will be capable of capturing and preprocessing selected space rocks of equal to or less than .5m in outside diameter (A more complete description can be found at http://www.facebook.com/groups/cityo...6626354406689/ )

    These two craft will together harvest and process selected space rocks which will be used initially to manufacture the structural components of a much larger Harvester Drone (HD-2) which will have components for it's completion launched from Earth and will be capable of capturing and preprocessing rocks equal to or smaller than 3m in diameter. Final processing occurs on board the SW. A second drone type, the Assembler Drone (AD), will be sent up to be positioned near the SW to receive components from the SW and assemble them in open space. The four craft (SW, HD-1, HD-2 and AD will then focus on harvesting and processing space rocks, making structural components for and assembling the framework of the Stage One Wheel (SoW) whihc will be the first manned 1 g station. It will have 4 hammerheads that will provide a full 1 g and a ring at the .5 g distance (about 230m dia) where work will be done, with sleeping quarters and exercise to be done in the hammer heads. (the exact details of how things will be arranged and don on the SoW are yet to be worked out, only the general goals for the initial design have been laid out thus far.)

    From the SoW bigger Hds will be built and launched, and the SoW will be permanently manned. It will be capable of processing a wider variety of space rocks than the SW (which will continue to process all that it is capable of) and will be used almost exclusively for processing materials and manufacturing an ever widening array of components. The SoW will provide the majority of the materials needed to build the Stage Two Wheel (StW) which will be a full ring 1g station over twice as large in dia as the SoW hammerheads. (Approximately 1km in diameter). This station will be manned by a crew of over 100 people, which will likely include some children. It will be largely self sustaining, recycling all the air, water and wastes, growing their own food, and so forth.

    The StW will also be a mining and processing center of grand proportions and will likely be positioned at the Earth/Sun L3 or L4 It will build the City Builder Wheel (CBW) which will actually be more of a disk than a wheel and will be 16.5km in diameter. At that point we will be capturing and processing small asteroids, around 100m in dia. , recover vast amounts of materials that will be used first to build a mirror image CBW, and then the City of Enoch(COE) will be assembled between the 2 CBWs.

    When the COE is complete and is fully manned (about 150,000 men woman and children, it will separate from one of the CBWs, which will then proceed to begin building another mirror image of itself and then another city, and take the other and leave L3 to travel to Mars Orbit, where it will remain for about ten years, during which time Mars will be studied in great depth and any terraforming or colonization efforts will be carried out from there. The CBW that travels with the COE will disengage from the COE near Mars and build a copy of itself, disengage from that and then head off to the Asteroid belt to begin major asteroid mining operations for the purpose of building more and vaster cities and CBWs. It is expected that during the process of these developments companies will have developed allowing passenger and supply transport between Earth and Mars orbits and out to the CBW in the Asteroid Belt.

    That's the short version of the plan. Feedback?
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