Conclusions – Critical aspects not dealt with
The main purpose of this study was to identify the realization and technical functioning modes that can be designed for a Martian colony of 2,000 residents, and to assess the main dimensioning features of such a base. This approach enables to form one’s opinion about the material difficulties of the realization of such a project and to quantify the resources needed to achieve it.
It should however be emphasized that, on account of the highly prospective nature of the matter, and despite the efforts of some authors to substantiate the project, numerous assumptions and approximations had to be made throughout the study. Other choices (e.g. greenhouses with natural rather than artificial light) would lead to different dimensioning. Nevertheless, we believe that these shortcomings do not harm the general idea that we can get about the concept, nor the main conclusions of the study.
The analysis does not reveal any real blocking points, particularly with regard to the cargo traffic to set up in order to be able to start and support the implantation of the settlement, assumed to evolve over twenty years. This being said such analysis allows to realize that installing a human community on another world, be it the least inhospitable destination and the richest in resources, implies the development of large infrastructures: 10 ha of pressurized areas (a thousand modules!), 6 ha of hydroponic greenhouses (thousands of lamp bulbs!), 20 nuclear power generators of 8 MW each, and so on.
Virtually all technical domains present serious challenges, mainly related to the necessity of self-sufficiency: reliability and maintainability of equipment and infrastructure, stockpiling of all kinds (tools, consumables, spare parts, medicines, nutritional supplements, and so on.), designing of structures maximizing the use of local resources and minimizing the need for labor, and so on.
It appears that the need of the colony which is the most dimensioning and the most intricate is to satisfy its nutritional subsistence, both in terms of surface and technicity of the greenhouses, and in terms of labor load and power consumption, at least in the artificial lighting option considered. And anyway, long-term unknowns about the viability of such facilities remain, up to this day. Note also that this option, like that of using modular nuclear generators for energy, would be to reconsider in case of the development of the colony on a much larger scale; cultivation in the open and natural lighting, as well as the use of orbital solar power stations (built from materials extracted from the satellites of Mars) would likely be more adapted.
It is clear that this technical analysis does not cover certain aspects, yet critical for the viability of the project. A space colony means infrastructure and technical processes but also, above all, a community of men, women (and children) and this implies taking into account social and psychological processes, as well as some ethic fundamentals (yearnings, relations with Earth, governance mode, development policy, and so on). These exciting aspects, addressed by several authors, would alone deserve an analysis in order to identify, in this field too, the feasibility problems and constraints to be taken into account.
The other essential element not covered by this study concerns the nature of the settlement activities that could lead to the critical emergence of an interplanetary economy. Unless we imagine it to be set up only for the purpose of providing entertainment to pensioners, or be supported indefinitely by the Earth, the colony will have to produce exportable goods and services. Indeed, its functional balance requires importing from Earth a variety of high-tech equipment that is unimaginable to produce locally. Some examples we can mention: microprocessors, precision instruments, metal parts requiring heavy and specialized means of production, nuclear reactors, nutritional supplements, drugs, and so on. These imports will have to be offset, at least for a large part, by the export of goods and services to the Earth and its possible space facilities (asteroid mining sites, solar power plants under construction…).
Identifying the nature of these « commercial » activities would allow assessing the viability of the colony and better defining the technical definition of its infrastructures. These will obviously not be the same depending on whether activities will be primarily intellectual (research, designing), moderately infrastructure intensive (tourism, building development) or, on the contrary, turned towards « industrial » applications (fluids and semi-finished products supply towards the asteroids, rare metals extraction). Nevertheless, to limit the scope of the study, it was agreed not to deal with this very speculative matter. For the assessment of the technical means and consumable flux of the colony, we chose a median hypothesis, rather hazy, in respect of these activities (see §5.1.1).
This question however forms the real basis of the credibility of the scenario. It sets forth, on account of the difficulty of identifying the long-term socio-economic developments of our own world and the development of its space activities, much larger uncertainties than the pure technical considerations developed in this study.
Richard Heidmann, a space propulsion engineer, spent most of his career in the field of liquid rocket propulsion systems, within Snecma, holding various positions, including head of Quality control and Programs and commercial director. He was the founding president of the Mars Society French chapter.
This aritcle has been translated into English by Pierre Brisson.
Books and research papers
The Case for Mars
Robert Zubrin & R. Wagner
From Imagination to Reality, Part II : Base Building, Colonization and Terraformation
American Astronautical Society (AAS) Vol.92, 1997 ISBN 0-87703-428-X
Strategies for Mars: a Guide to Human Exploration
AAS Vol.86, 1996 – ISBN 0-87703-406-0
The Case for Mars V
AAS Vol.97, 2000 – ISBN 0-87703-460-5
Resources of Near-Earth space
The University of Arizona Press, 1993 – ISBN 0-8165-1404-6
Mining the Sky
John S. Lewis, Addison Wesley, 1996 – ISBN 0-201-32819-4
Islands in the Sky
Stanley Schmidt & Robert Zubrin, Wiley, 1996 – ISBN 0-471-13561-5
Beyond Earth, the Future of Humans in space
L. Morris & K. Cox, PhD Apogee Books, 2006 – ISBN 1-894959-41-8
Planète Mars, une attraction irrésistible
Richard Heidmann, ALVIK Editions, 2005 – ISBN 02-914833-36-9
(besides those to be found in above AAS references)
Resources Utilization and Site Selection for a Self-Sufficient Martian Outpost
G. James, G. Chamitoff, D. Baker, 1998 – NASA/TM-98-206538
In Situ Resource-Based Lunar and Martian Habitat Structures Development at NASA/MSFC
M. P. Bodifor et al. , 2005 – AIAA 2005-2704
The Economic Viability of Mars Colonization
Robert Zubrin, Lockeed Martin Astronautics
Requirements for space Settlement Design
A. E.Gale, R. P.Edwards, The Boeing Company – 4Frontiers Corporation
A Permanent Settlement on Mars: Generation 1 Design
Georgi Petrov, B. Mackenzie, M. Homnick,. Palaia, IV – 4Frontiers Corporation
Robert J.Milligan, 2007 – 10th Mars Society Convention
Organics on Mars
Robert J.Milligan, 2007 – 10th Mars Society Convention
Horticulture on Mars
Raymond M.Wheeler, 2006 – NASA Biological Sciences Office
Creation of Closed Ecological Life Support Systems
I. I. Gitelsona & G. M. Lisovskya, 2008 – Jal of Siberian Federal Univ. Biology
MERIT: New Approach for a Large Scale space Infrastructure based on Resources from Mars
J. Powell, G. Maise, J. Paniagua – STAIF 2005
Reference Reactor Module for the Affordable Fission Surface Power System
D. I.Poston, R. J.Kapernick – STAIF 2008
Radar Men on the Moon: a Brief Survey of Fission Surface Power Studies
Gary L.Bennett – STAIF 2008
Commonality of Electrolysis Sub-Systems for ISRU, Power and Life Support for a Lunar Outpost
D. D.Linne, J. E.Freeh, A. F.J.Abercromby – STAIF 2008
A Greenhouse for Mars and Beyond
Christopher P. Rahaim, Paul A. Czysz – STAIF 2008
L’Homme et ses écosystèmes dans l’Espace, 2007
Jean Dunglas – Prospective 2100
A few Websites
Association Planète Mars
The Mars Society
American Astronautical Society
Mars Foundation (Mars Homestead project website)
Centre technique interprof. des Fruits et Légumes