Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Onion on Temporal Autarky

Well... sort of.

For those of you who don't know what I mean by "temporal autarky", see some of my previous posts on the idea here.


  1. By the way, have you considered that a Mars mission will be a suicide mission?

    No seriously, I was reading on the topic. Bush Sr. was highly enthusiastic about a Mars mission, until he learnt that such a mission could only go one way and result in the deaths of the entire crew - the radiation from the solar particles that reach Mars would kill all members of a Mars mission some time after arrival. Think of it as what happened to the helicopter flying over Chernobyl power plant, until it came too close to the radiation zone and crashed.

    Now, people have been willing to undertake a task unto death, and the Fukushima "suicide corps" are going to go into the most dangerous parts of the Fukushima reactor to repair it with almost no chance of immediate survival after coming out of it.

    Yet, even if there is a willing Mars suicide corps, many would see it as morally unhealthy to send people unto their death for public amusement. Bush Sr., after all, did.

  2. Again - for those who are not aware - the underinvestment in Mars colonization comes up frequently when I talk about temporal autarky.

    Prateek -
    A couple things - first, people have definitely proposed a one-way ticket (if not a "suicide mission"). I think this is a pretty reasonable strategy.

    As for the radiation - I'm obviously neither an astrophysicist or an aerospace engineer. I've heard many people say that the background radiation from space travel would only raise cancer rates by one or two percent - not a very high cost at all for what they would be achieving. There are, of course, bursts of raditiation from the Sun. But these can be detected ahead of time and the crew can enter a shielded compartment for that. So the trip - as I understand it - sounds fine.

    There's also been a lot of reports recently that the Sun may be entering a long dormant phase, and some people have explicitly tied this to space exploration - the gap in solar activity will make it much safer.

    As for on the planet, obviously this is something that any colonization effort will have to take into account. I've heard a commercial space guy suggest that any lunar colony will have to be subterranean precisely because of the radiation. That may be the case with Mars too - I just don't know.

  3. What do you think about the timespan required for the long-run aims with Mars? The next generation's lifetimes could have passed before something starts coming to fruition. It's pretty bold if humans who may optimistically live up to 80 decide to plan for 160 years of work
    Oh yes, the Sun's dormant phase is a relevant common factor in a lot of things we see today.

    It resulted in a great shortfall of food production.

    This fall in food production resulted in high food inflation in the Third World.

    Next thing you know, we had riots in Tunisia and Egypt over food prices and ben-Ali and Mubarak had to leave.

  4. Daniel,

    There is no need for a one-way ticket if it only takes a few weeks to get there (and a return trip is of similar duration). There are drawing board designs and technologies for such.

  5. Time generally isn't the concern - six months there, two years till the next window, and six months back isn't implausible at all. The concern is lifting the fuel required to break Mars's gravity out of Earth's gravitational pull.

    We can burn the fuel it takes to break Earth gravity on the way out of Earth's gravity, after all. That's where most of the fuel is spent. If we had to carry the extra weight of the fuel that it would take to break Mars's gravity on the return trip, that would make it much more costly.

    As I understand it, that is the argument for a one-way ticket - not the length of the trip. Of course there's also talk of automating the process of synthesizing fuel on Mars so that it's sitting their waiting for the astronauts to refuel.

  6. You don't have to bring a lot of fuel with fast and efficient engine. Thirty-nine days is one scenario I've read about for the trip to Mars; and then thirty-nine days back. My cousin who works on this stuff has told me about it.

    Some of the technology involved is discussed here:


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