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Mars Terraforming Proposal

Posted by: lee - Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:13 am
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Mars Terraforming Proposal 
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Post Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:13 am
Submitted to NASA about 5 years ago and then again to SpaceX via email on 13 February 2013.

Mars Terraform Proposal
Copyright
Leon Hendrick Franken
2005 to 2013

Presented to SpaceX

Mars Terraforming

About 5 or 6 years ago I submitted a short proposal to NASA for a mars habitat specifically designed to grow vegetation on the martian planet. I did not get a response. This is my second attempt and I present it to any and all willing ears at SpaceX and anyone else who has the foresight to listen.

The first premise that must be addressed is why a habitat is feasible. We have many scientific resources to point out our impending clash between nature and human evolution. This clash or cross roads may be outside the horizon of our lifespan, but it is not such a welcome thought to our children we leave behind to face what we have left them. The earth cannot support a human population that only grows exponentially. This is the simple conclusion and there are many facts out there if one has the inclination to prove this. In this proposal I will not be spending any time expounding on that.

The one thing I will say now is that the technology we develop for harsh environments such as off-earth planets does have immediate rewards in terms of our local lifestyle. In attempting to develop technology for the harshest most alien environments we find there is a real world application here back at home. So someone who says that the technology we develop for Mars is a waste of time and effort has absolutely no founding argument, since there are immediate benefits that apply to real-world situations here on earth.

Some simple examples:

Water and waste management in space teaches us to treat the earth as a limited finite resource spaceship. If we treated the earth like a spaceship and that everything in that earth system was of inestimable worth, we would use our resources in such a way that fosters longevity and moderation of all we use.

Energy creation is another example, where instead of relying on sources of energy that burn out, or result in an empty fuel tank, inter-planetary travel forces us to revisit our paradigm about what other energies may be used instead. Examples such as the ion engine, the solar sail and electromagnetic propulsion are all good cases of technology that can be applied to Earth. These things may never have been discovered if we did not pursue space exploration.

Infrastructure has always been a major obstacle to space travel. We have realized the limits of moving tons of metal and steel into space, but as the industry has evolved so has our ingenuity. The latest invention by NASA and their affiliates is an inflatable space module that is able to withstand the rigors of the vacuum of space. Does it have a real-world application here on earth? Of course it does. Perhaps there will come a time when your new home arrives in a small box and all you do is anchor it down and inflate it. Its thermal properties could be far superior to any normal house, stronger, lighter and the cost could make a new home affordable to many people who live below the inflation rate.

Crater Method

Now to get on to the meat of the proposal. I make a few assumptions since these are well covered by others more experienced than I. We assume we have a vehicle that can carry up to 6 or 7 astronauts for a 6 to 12 month journey. Six months if we intercept Mars, Twelve months if we miss it and have to make a return.

We assume the vehicle is carrying an inflatable mars habitat with special foam cylinders for inflating on the surface of Mars.
We assume we have chosen a specific crater of a given size that the inflatable is designed for.
The position of the crater is assumed to be within a certain latitude where one of the craters walls is subject to shadow each Martian day.
We assume we have the equipment and technology to support human life for a combined total of 24 to 36 months, taking into account and adjusting for the next optimal launch window to return to earth.

Why a crater?

The benefits of using an inflatable roof over a crater are numerous and inter-relational.

First, by pulling an inflatable roof over the cap of a crater provides a dead-zone in the sense of climate below the roof. This dead zone would be partially isolated from the extreme fluctuations of the Martian surface outside of it. The roof itself would ideally be translucent but with one feature of being able to be filled with opaque “smoke” of some kind into various sections of the roof. The opaque sections would reflect excessive light, thereby reducing the amount of Martian heat bearing down on the surface below. The amount of opacity could be regulated to provide ideal lighting levels for vegetation. This would provide the first steps to preparing the biosphere for vegetation and human habitat.

Secondly, a pull-over roof requires less expertise to erect than a dome or building. The roof would be pulled well past the lip of the crater and secured by multiple anchors to the Martian soil. The anchors would have electronic monitors to provide strain measurement data connected to alarms within the habitat should an anchor need maintenance.

Thirdly, using a crater offers some unique possibilities of placing specific equipment and life support systems. The portion of the crater that always receives sunlight would be ideally suited for evaporation plants, solar cells and heat exchangers. While the shadow face of the crater would be ideal for human habitats, vegetation experiments, water storage, air conditioning, etc.

Fourthly, by using an inflatable roof tethered to the floor at certain points of the crater, these tethers could be built with strain gauges which would provide pressure data of the exterior atmosphere as well as the evolution of the interior biosphere and how it interacts with the native atmosphere outside the roof.

Fifthly, below the roof would consist of a number of partitions or cells that cordon off certain sections of the biosphere, Some cells would include an entire capsule covering roof to wall and floor. Some cells would simply cordon off sections similar to a slice of pie but leaving the Martian floor exposed. This combined setup provides isolation between habitats that may not tolerate cross-contamination. An example is the vegetation cell. For the first test, this cell would need to be completely isolated even from the Martian soil. A second cell would have re-engineered Martian soil with the same strict environmental controls and would be ready for vegetation when the first cell has proved a success. A third cell may simply be enclosed in inflatable walls, but be exposed to Martian soil and Martian atmosphere although in a very limited amount. Should the second cell test succeed the third test of introducing plant life to an alien landscape in a very controlled manner would be ready with limited atmospheric exposure. Once the third cell has proven to work, it would be time to build a second crater biosphere and then to interlink the two craters without breaking down any of the cells. This is the most logical approach to redundancy in vegetation testing in an alien environment.

This strategy provides gradual migration of earth plant life to the host environment in logical and gradual steps. With foresight the crater that is selected would not be too far away from a long ridge with a shadow edge or to a collection of nearby craters. This would allow for future expansion of the biosphere by either using shaded ridges or nearby craters that provide a shadow edge.

Another benefit of using a crater is the probability of a meteorite hit on the same spot compared to a spot that has not been hit by a meteorite. Any statistician can tell you the odds are very low for a second strike in the same crater. Even if a meteorite had to hit near the biosphere, its zero profile would keep damage to its minimum as sediment and rock would be blasted across the flat roof of the biosphere resulting in far less damage than if the biosphere was shaped like a protruding dome.

Simply put a crater habitat with a zero-profile inflatable roof lining with regulated partitions and grounding tethers below it logically proves to be the most feasible long term habitat proposal for introducing humans and vegetation to Mars.

This is the conclusion of the proposal.

Leon H. Franken
lee@compusolve.co.za


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Mon Mar 04, 2013 2:36 pm
Leon,

You probably didn't receive a response from NASA and probabaly won't from SpaceX because of the use of the term "terraforming Mars", which is far and above our capacity to even consider, isn't accurate. You are proposing creating enclosed environments within craters, not changing the entire planet's atmosphere. Your proposal is not new or novel, it's been imagined and proposed for decades. And, neither NASA nor SpaceX is in the position to take on such a project in the foreseable future, and if/when they do, they don't want to have to pay you royalties or license "your idea".

It's a good read in the "preaching to the choir" kind of way though.

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-James


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Mon Mar 04, 2013 10:19 pm
I hope you take constructive criticism in the manner intended i agree we need to expand beyond this one planet but there are a few easily spotted problems with your proposal and i am just an interested amateur not an expert.

lee wrote:
First, by pulling an inflatable roof over the cap of a crater provides a dead-zone in the sense of climate below the roof. This dead zone would be partially isolated from the extreme fluctuations of the Martian surface outside of it. The roof itself would ideally be translucent but with one feature of being able to be filled with opaque “smoke” of some kind into various sections of the roof. The opaque sections would reflect excessive light, thereby reducing the amount of Martian heat bearing down on the surface below. The amount of opacity could be regulated to provide ideal lighting levels for vegetation. This would provide the first steps to preparing the biosphere for vegetation and human habitat.


You are not going to need to make opaque sections in your green house you will need as much sun as possible as it is so dim out where Mars is. You may need to make it opaque in the UV range but you would not want your solar cells under it they would be better off out in direct light with power cables running to where you would need it(ones that could be made on site from local materials.)

lee wrote:
Secondly, a pull-over roof requires less expertise to erect than a dome or building. The roof would be pulled well past the lip of the crater and secured by multiple anchors to the Martian soil. The anchors would have electronic monitors to provide strain measurement data connected to alarms within the habitat should an anchor need maintenance.


I suspect that the first colonisers will have at least one expert engineer amongst them but even if not an inflatable dome would be easy to erect and covered with sand and rocks in areas which would need radiation cover.

lee wrote:
Thirdly, using a crater offers some unique possibilities of placing specific equipment and life support systems. The portion of the crater that always receives sunlight would be ideally suited for evaporation plants, solar cells and heat exchangers. While the shadow face of the crater would be ideal for human habitats, vegetation experiments, water storage, air conditioning, etc.


Mars is not like the Moon with only a small axial tilt where at the poles you can surround the crater with solar cells and be in sunlight 24/7 or the local equivalent :wink: :twisted: it has a similar axial tilt to the earth so the poles have many month long nights like ours do this can be seen from here with a moderate telescope as most of the "Ice" at the poles is Co2 and it sublimes in the summer and condenses in the winter moving from pole to pole.

lee wrote:
Another benefit of using a crater is the probability of a meteorite hit on the same spot compared to a spot that has not been hit by a meteorite. Any statistician can tell you the odds are very low for a second strike in the same crater. Even if a meteorite had to hit near the biosphere, its zero profile would keep damage to its minimum as sediment and rock would be blasted across the flat roof of the biosphere resulting in far less damage than if the biosphere was shaped like a protruding dome.


I know i still do the lotto so maybe you should double check my maths but probability does not work like that independent unconnected events like meteor strikes probably hit randomly so could easily have the same likely hood of hitting the same place again and if they are not random and more like lightening strikes they will be more likely to hit the same place again and again.

Me if i was going to set up on Mars for a long period i might choose Melas Chasma and tunnel into its sides and have my solar cells up top with long cables if i did not have a small portable nuclear reactor. As the pressure would be greater 9Km down and i suspect that the range of raw materials reasonably easily accessible would be greater than most other places other than possibly one of the volcanoes.

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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Thu Mar 07, 2013 2:19 pm
You are right about the statistics Alex. If meteorite strikes are random, uncorrelated events, and the probability of a meteorite strike at a given point is P(strike) (between 0 and 1), then the probability of that same site being hit twice P(twice) is P(strike)*P(strike). This is less than P(strike), so indeed, the probability of a site being struck twice is less than it being struck once. Makes sense.

But, and here's where people go wrong unless they know some basic statistics, if you put your settlement in a crater, the probability of it being hit is not P(twice) but P(twice|strike), the probability of it being hit twice given that it has already been hit once. And that works out to exactly the same as P(strike).

Intuitively, this makes sense. A meteorite doesn't know anything about where earlier meteorites landed, so the chance of it hitting the site of a previous strike isn't any different from the chance of it hitting a fresh site.

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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:17 pm
If I understand correctly, the roof that you would put over the crater would be flat instead of curved like a dome. You don't say what the air pressure is within the capped crater, but any pressure at all will tend to make the roof bow up into a dome shape. How would you maintain a flat profile?

I suppose you could anchor cables to the crater floor that would pull down on the roof to keep it flat. The anchor points in the roof material would need to be strong enough to prevent them from tearing through the roof when the crater is pressurized. I'm assuming you would use a mesh of cables to hold the roof in place. Have you calculated the tensile strength you would need on these cables? What material were you planning on using for the cables? Steel, carbon fiber, or something else?

EDIT: I re-read your proposal, and it appears that you are not planning on pressurizing the crater. Is that correct? If so, what's the purpose of the roof? You do realize that the atmospheric pressure on Mars is 1% of that on Earth, or do you think that humans and plants can survive at that pressure?


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Thu Mar 07, 2013 6:48 pm
Lourens wrote:
Intuitively, this makes sense. A meteorite doesn't know anything about where earlier meteorites landed, so the chance of it hitting the site of a previous strike isn't any different from the chance of it hitting a fresh site.


And here is a gratuitous picture of the Clavius crater complex on the Moon to illustrate that point.

Image


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:13 am
Why live on the surface @ all?

Use very large array of solar panels,
use VERY strong laser, to vaporize regolith and then re-deposit it as a substrate in 3d.....

So you remove material, make parts out of it, make "stock pile" while carving out tunnel complex, and "glassifying" the tunnel walls then when you get enough material out, you move your much denser, pieces back in and assemble your habitat.... use giant solar array for power now instead of for construction,

Now, design a regolith printer, or sputtering chamber or laser induced dusty plasma chamber to seed crystal growth?

is there a easy way to separate all the atoms in a plasma? carbon you go here, oxygen go here?

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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:22 am
Sigma wrote:

is there a easy way to separate all the atoms in a plasma? carbon you go here, oxygen go here?


Not really, traditionally you do it with chemical tricks, binding what you want to something, and then making that let go with something else. Maybe with a centrifuge and they sort out by mass... That will be one of the harder technical problems to overcome.


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal   Posted on: Fri Mar 08, 2013 7:30 am
I totally agree with the underground habitat. It offers good radiation and micro meteorite protection. Expanding your work/living area means digging a bigger area not building a bigger station or adding on to a station (I know not as easy as saying it but still easier than building from nothing I think.)

Imagine if you had a cavern of three acres and all you had to do was fill it. First you pressurize it then supply power and move in. You could update and expand upon it as needed. The first six months you're sleeping in tents and working in the open (so to speak). Eventually you have more private quarters and well define labs, mining operations, gardens, tourist areas and even recreational areas for relaxation and fun.


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal - Response Part 1   Posted on: Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:05 pm
Thanks for the great comments. Your insights are appreciated.
Here are some additional responses based on the key items I have read from the comments in this thread.

Quote:
Sanealex said: You are not going to need to make opaque sections in your green house you will need as much sun as possible as it is so dim out where Mars is. You may need to make it opaque in the UV range but you would not want your solar cells under it they would be better off out in direct light with power cables running to where you would need it(ones that could be made on site from local materials.)


Good point, although the solar cells would probably be fixed top side anyway to get the most sun without the roof to interfere with their efficiency. However since it would be a trial study, manufacturing solar cells on Mars would only come much much later. We need to see if vegetation can grow first. If it cannot, then we would have to abandon the Mars idea altogether, or until we can make vegetation viable.

Quote:
DaveHien said: If I understand correctly, the roof that you would put over the crater would be flat instead of curved like a dome. You don't say what the air pressure is within the capped crater


For the first prototype there would be no air pressure. Small compartments may be filled with air for very limited vegetation testing, but in the first expedition the astronauts would live solely out of suits or in their man made habitats. This whole idea is proof of concept. We would be testing some paradigms that firstly man can get to mars and back to earth safely after a given period of stay, and secondly, that if he is going to develop a way station or habitat there, nothing else matters if he cannot grow food and produce water. So those have to be the first primary tests. The entire terraform proposal hinges on the success of those two tests. If we fail any one of them, we are simply not ready technologically to colonize Mars.


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Post Re: Mars Terraforming Proposal - Response Part 2   Posted on: Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:09 pm
Response Part 2
Quote:
Sanealex said: I know i still do the lotto so maybe you should double check my maths but probability does not work like that independent unconnected events like meteor strikes probably hit randomly so could easily have the same likely hood of hitting the same place again and if they are not random and more like lightening strikes they will be more likely to hit the same place again and again.


That's a good point if we used a very large crater. If you look at Clavius at 225 kilometer radius there are well over 100 meteor strikes in vastly different sizes. The largest craters are the oldest while the mid size and small ones are the newest. From that you can see a handful of double or triple hits which may well be trailing meteors, ie: a larger meteor that fractured into 2 or 3 parts, and those parts all colliding within a very small time frame. We can't tell for sure unless we analyze the blast radius. So our crater would need to be very small indeed, partly due to probability of a strike and partly due to engineering limits. If we chose a crater less than a football field in size, probability and engineering limits could find a satisfactory mix. Check graphic below for my notes.

Quote:
sigma said: use VERY strong laser, to vaporize regolith and then re-deposit it as a substrate in 3d.....


I look forward to the day we can build cities like that, but we have to start with what is feasible. You have a great idea that could be worth it after the first few bi-omes have been proven. Some things are better underground, for instance refrigeration, water storage, and other things, but it is vital to first test to see if Mars can be habitable, so we have to start with what we can do and in a realistic way. That will pave the way for more advanced technologies to be implemented in future Mars expeditions.

The first manned Mars mission will be like a man who has never seen water and finding a pond of water decides to put his toe into that pool of water. He does not know what will happen and he knows he cannot invest all of his body to jump in because he does not know the cost to himself, so he puts his toe in to feel if his toe can manage it.

Thanks for the questions.

Lee


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