back to article Let's NUKE MARS to make it more like home says Elon Musk

Billionaire electric car, battery and rocketry tycoon Elon Musk has suggested that humanity should nuke mars before we try to move there. Musk appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday and declared Mars “a fixer-upper of a planet.” To begin with, Musk said, human residents on the red planet would need to …

  1. W Donelson

    Ridiculous

    We would be settling the Moon and asteroids first, things without Deep gravity wells. Getting down and up to planets is insanely expensive and difficult. Settling Ceres (full of water) would be easy (and escape velocity is 500 m/sec, you can't "jump" off accidentally)

    1. Chairo
      Thumb Up

      Re: Ridiculous

      We would be settling the Moon and asteroids first

      And even before that we could set up some nice undersea cities on good old earth. The technology would be similar and if something goes wrong we can still evacuate everyone fairly easily.

      Once that works out fine and we have the technology to survive a prolonged time in glass covered cities we can use the technology for the next step.

      Actually it might even pay off nicely to set up some dome city in a densely populated area like San Fransisco for starters. Ground is cheap underseas.

      In parallel start mining the Moon and the belt and develop space technology. As a next step, establish settlements there. The gravity wells should be last (nut not least) on the list.

      If humankind would be able to look ahead and plan for more than 4 years, we could already be there.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Ridiculous

        Actually it might even pay off nicely to set up some dome city in a densely populated area like San Fransisco for starters. Ground is cheap underseas.

        That's a bit too close to the San Andreas fault for my taste, however much I like the idea of living in the product of a Flash Gordon serial.

      2. Major N

        Re: Ridiculous

        Settling underwater is less likely than you'd think, mainly due to decompression.. would you want to live somewhere where you have to spend a day in a hypobaric chamber just to go to the surface?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ridiculous

          I know right, I can't go 45 minutes in the bath without wrinkling up. Hurrendous.

        2. druck Silver badge

          Re: Ridiculous

          Major N wrote:

          Settling underwater is less likely than you'd think, mainly due to decompression.. would you want to live somewhere where you have to spend a day in a hypobaric chamber just to go to the surface?

          As opposed to a 9 month trip home from Mars by rocket?

        3. Chairo

          Re: Ridiculous

          Settling underwater is less likely than you'd think, mainly due to decompression.. would you want to live somewhere where you have to spend a day in a hypobaric chamber just to go to the surface?

          That would depend on how deep you go and on what pressure your dome can tolerate.

          Perfect would be to have a dome made of glass segments, filled with near to surface pressure. Make the segments small enough to make them cheap, put everything together under water and evacuate it afterwards. If you can keep surface pressure inside you can just connect your habitation with a simple tunnel to the city and you have no problem with anchorage, as it will work effectively like a huge sucker cup and just stays in place and is held together by the weight of the water above.

          Maintaining it might be difficult, due to the corrosive nature of sea water, but the technology is not so far out of reach. As for earthquakes - make it flexible enough that it can swing without collapsing. The Japanese do it all the time for their housings. Also it would probably be the safest place to be in case of a tsunami. That might be a good selling argument, btw.

          1. Esme

            Re: Ridiculous

            Sorry, you just don't understand the challenges involved. A habitable dome on the surface of Mars is a far safer environment than one on the sea floor. As Zubrin has pointed out, it's not that difficult to make the surface of Mars the second safest place to live in the solar system, after the surface of Earth - just drop some supplies, habs, and automated checmical factories on the surface prior to landing your crew/colonists. Main thing we don't yet know the full consequences of are the long term effect of .38 G on human bodies.

            Whereas an underwater dome - blimey I don't know where to start on how unsafe that is by comparison. Plus, as has been pointed out, you;d be messing up even more of the Earth, and the health of the oceans is at least as critical to land life on Earth as the forests are.

        4. Filippo

          Re: Settling underwater

          Living somewhere where I have to spend a day in a hypobaric chamber just to go to the next town would be bad, but nowhere near as bad as living somewhere where I have to spend six months in a spaceship to do the same.

      3. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Ridiculous

        Undersea cities are unlikely any time soon. The sea is just too damn corrosive and violent.

        1. oldcoder

          Re: Ridiculous

          It only corrodes metals.

          Glass and other ceramics are quite immune. And glass is VERY good at handling compressive loads.

      4. boltar Silver badge

        Re: Ridiculous

        "And even before that we could set up some nice undersea cities on good old earth. "

        Aside from all the technoligical and physiological issues you're conveniently ignoring, we've made enough of a mess of the oceans as it is. The last thing they need is underwater cities pumping out pollution and wrecking the undersea enviroment in the same way cities virtually annihilate the local enviroment on land.

        1. Chairo

          Re: Ridiculous

          @boltar

          Aside from all the technoligical and physiological issues you're conveniently ignoring...

          Ah, but that is my point - to develop the reqired technology on earth before we settle elsewhere.

    2. Killing Time

      Re: Ridiculous

      'We would be settling the Moon and asteroids first'

      Unfortunately we need gravity or else our bodies start falling apart. Not much living being done when a large proportion of your time is spent trying to fend off the debilitating effects of the micro gravity environment.

      Come up with a technology to counteract that and then you can then consider settling the smaller bodies.

      1. Naselus

        Re: Ridiculous

        "Come up with a technology to counteract that and then you can then consider settling the smaller bodies."

        That's easy enough; Use nuclear rockets to increase the spin of small bodies, then simulate gravity using the centrifugal force generated. It does mean hollowing the things out and living on the inside, but that's probably a good idea anyway given the lack of atmospheric and magnetospheric radiation protection on an asteroid.

        1. Killing Time

          Re: Ridiculous

          "That's easy enough; Use nuclear rockets to increase the spin of small bodies.....hollowing the things out and living on the inside"

          Easy??? Don't think so, relies on technologies which don't exist.

          Terraforming, despite its massive obstacles is the easier route in the view of the general consensus. Either by violent or slow change of the atmosphere.

          We have the technology and a track record on that......

          1. Naselus

            Re: Ridiculous

            "Easy??? Don't think so, relies on technologies which don't exist."

            Um... no, it doesn't.

            Nuclear rockets were designed, developed and built over 50 years ago. They exist; they're just not well suited to the kind of space flight we've engaged in previously, so cheaper engines were used. The are eminently suited to a project like this, though.

            It's basic Newtonian physics. You just need something that can increase the spin (so pretty much anything which produces thrust), and then you strap two of them onto the rock in question on opposite sides, with the same clockwise orientation. This does not require super-futuristic tech. It requires just requires 1940s-level rocketry, fuel, and patience.And as for hollowing out a rock 10km across... that's also not that difficult. People were doing it 10,000 years ago. The conditions are a bit different, but it's again not something that requires a vast leap in technology to do.

            Coming up with a replacement for gravity in space is not a massive technical problem. Alan Brown's point about them potentially breaking apart is a more effective objection, as that requires us to find ways to increase the structural integrity of the asteroids.

            1. Killing Time

              Re: Ridiculous

              "Nuclear rockets were designed, developed and built over 50 years ago"

              Tested and validated? No...therefore they don't exist.

              You may be surprised but I do have a handle on the physics.

              The 'hollowing out' bit? I don't know of any technology which is state of the art, let alone 10,000 years old which has hollowed out a void in rock approaching 10 km across. Perhaps you mean tunneling but that is wildly different to "hollowing out a rock 10km across".

              The fact that you consider Alan Brown's point "a more effective objection" speaks volumes about your grasp on the subject.

              I think AB may be confusing spinning supermassive objects such as neutron stars in the uncertainty of how they hold together.

              There are enough small rotating bodies rotating at reasonable speeds in the local vicinity of the Earth for the physics on that one to be pretty much nailed.

              1. Killing Time

                Re: Ridiculous

                Just found what AB appears to be referring to. Small spinning bodies which are a conglomeration of loose material as opposed to a solid object. In that case you wouldn't be hollowing the body out.

          2. oldcoder

            Re: Ridiculous

            Actually, we already have technologies for hollowing out bodies - its called mining.

            And some places already have people living in mines (as well as former missile silos).

            You do have to pick a suitable body though - Choosing one made of ice might melt... though having one nearby would provide fuel and water.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Ridiculous

          "Use nuclear rockets to increase the spin of small bodies"

          Most of these small bodies are already spinning so fast that it's theorised the only reason they don't fly apart is van der waals force. Spinning them faster is "not advisable"

      2. oldcoder

        Re: Ridiculous

        Not gravity - just mechanical stress.

        A rotating torus should be sufficient. A 100 meter raidius with about 8 meter rim. Should be good for about 20 people. Room to grow food/recycle air/water/waste... And they can spend some working hours using remote control mining to collect water, minerals, and ores for a refinery.

        Repeat for the refinery. Repeat for manufacturing.

    3. jnemesh

      Re: Ridiculous

      Mars has 1/5th the gravity of Earth...the Moon has 1/6th the gravity of Earth. Gravity isn't the problem here.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Ridiculous

        "Mars has 1/5th the gravity of Earth"

        A little over 1/3rd

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    Sleeping dogs

    Set off a passel o' big nukes in amongst the polar ices, eh? I can visualize it...

    "Suddenly the wait ended in a cluster of intense flashes racing across the frozen CO2 wasteland below, which sublimated rapidly under the pitiless glare, revealing many ancient Martian polar cities, which were not really dead yet..."

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Sleeping dogs

      In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, he posits setting off nukes underground, in order to liquefy buried ice, and to contain the radiation.

      (Along with releasing greenhouse gasses, solar mirrors, holes dug down to the mantel and skimming comets into the upper atmosphere and whole bunch of other things you'd need to do to get a vaguely breathable atmosphere on Mars)

  3. Captain DaFt

    Wrong size

    Mars is just too small and too inert to ever be Earth-like.

    For comparison, say a basketball is Earth. The Moon would be a tennis ball, and Mars would be a grapefruit. Terraforming Mars would be only slightly less difficult than terraforming the Moon.

    In fact, the Moon might have the advantage since it's easier to get to.

    It'd probably be far easier to cool down Venus (soccer ball) and terraform it than it would be to terraform Mars.

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: Wrong size

      I could re-activate Mars. Just give me 1/3 over the Earth's mass to bombard it with. Preferably, with a tidbit more water.

      Mars lost its atmosphere and water due to magnetic shielding failure, the core froze.

      To re-create it would require melting that core again, that mass would require 1/3 more than the current Earth's mass.

      Let's suffice it to say, *all* nuclear and thermonuclear possible materials, equipped as the most insane bomb created by an insane species couldn't even try to touch that mass effect.

      1. MonsieurTM

        Re: Wrong size

        Exactly. Putting anything into Mars's atmosphere is a waste of time without a magnetic field (which it lost) to protect the atmosphere. To re-create the magnetic field is ... hard. Anyone who believes Mr.Musk is smelling it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wrong size

          I agree; the lack of a magnetosphere on Mars is a big problem. A magnetosphere doesn't just prevent any liveable atmosphere from being blown away by the solar wind but also diverts an awful lot of very nasty ionising radiation.

          I can't understand why people who should really know better keep pushing the idea of terraforming Mars...

          ...at least until they can also come up with a means of re-liquifying Mar's relatively small core which, without the radioactives to help keep it hot, is just going to cool down and re-solidify again relatively quickly.

          1. moiety

            Re: Wrong size

            How about slamming a few water-bearing asteroids into it?

    2. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Wrong size

      @Captain DaFt

      "For comparison, say a basketball is Earth. The Moon would be a tennis ball,"

      I think a tennis ball is about a 10th of the size of a basketball, whereas the moon is about 1/4 of the size of the Earth.

      I've no idea of the size of a grapefruit, so I won't comment on Mars being the equivalent of one of those in your comparison. Instead, I'll leave you with this, just because I can.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Wrong size

      "In fact, the Moon might have the advantage since it's easier to get to."

      Yeah, but if you miss the moon with a water ice comet....

      1. moiety

        Re: Wrong size

        I meant slam them into Mars. You'd need some quite large ones to heat up the core though...

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    Mushroom

    The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

    BOOM!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

      Wrong quotes:

      "I've got a plan!"

      "I suddenly had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his powers."

      To put things into perspective, the biggest nuke ever to go be exploded by the humanity removed from the map (all world maps are wrong still showing it) the north island in the Novaia Zemlia archipelago. Its yield was estimated to be 56MT. The cloud went around the world several times contaminating large chunks of land thousands of miles from the island. I know about the contamination first hand as my mother was with 11 other met students on a practice on the Kola peninsula and ended up under the cloud (3000+ miles away). She is the only one still alive today because she was lucky to show symptoms nearly immediately and got a bone marrow transplant in time. Every one else is dead from cancer.

      So now, let's see if we can build something to Mr Musk spec. We can do 100MT nukes. Russia used to stockpile about 5-10 of them and with the idea to drop one in Yellowstone and the other one on top of San Andreas for good measure. The plan by the way (including developing the 50MT+ nukes belongs to Sacharov before he went peacenik. The weapon was built and tested so we know the results.

      Based on results from the Novaia Zemlia experiment if we drop the necessary amount onto Mars poles we might as well kiss any ideas of inhabiting bye bye for thousands years to come. It will be a radioactive wasteland. Most of the energy from the blast will just go into space too.

      So frankly, if we have such ideas we might as well take 30-40 comets and bombard it instead. If we can do that, we can probably try to settle something more useful like Gannimede, Europa, etc.

      1. Ben Bonsall

        Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

        ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS—EXCEPT EUROPA

        ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

          "ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE"

          Hey, have you ever seen the effect a big red button clearly labelled "DO NOT PUSH" has on people...? Just wondering...

          1. Midnight

            Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

            "Hey, have you ever seen the effect a big red button clearly labelled "DO NOT PUSH" has on people...? Just wondering..."

            It's about the same effect as saying "Now whatever you do, you can't eat _this_ apple. Now I'm just going to go look the other way for a while..."

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

              "It's about the same effect as saying "Now whatever you do, you can't eat _this_ apple. Now I'm just going to go look the other way for a while..."

              IIRC, experiments have shown that 60% of three years olds told not to look at or eat something "special" are "liars" and will "peek" or eat once the experimenter leaves the room. By age 5 the result id 100%. We are all born succumbing to temptation easily and the lying about it :-)

      2. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

        the biggest nuke ever to go be exploded by the humanity removed from the map (all world maps are wrong still showing it) the north island in the Novaia Zemlia archipelago.

        It did make quite a crater but did not remove the island. You can see it in a Google Earth image (unless Google is also in the conspiracy...).

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

        Bombs release a (relatively) small amount of energy in a very short period of time - the average battery pack contains more joules than the average explosive of the same mass.

        Nuking the martian poles to release CO2 might be a worthwhile path, but it's better done using a critical pile releasing a lot of heat continuously than with the pulse from a bomb.

        Alternatively if you could break up a comet and direct the fragments "just right", you could achieve the desired results without radiation:

        https://craterhunter.wordpress.com/the-planetary-scaring-of-the-younger-dryas-impact-event/a-thermal-airburst-impact-structure/

        (Craterhunter's theory is that concentrated series of airbursts from comet fragments sterilised the surface of North America and triggered the younger Dryas cooling. He may well be right)

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

          "... it's better done using a critical pile releasing a lot of heat continuously..."

          There's a documentary about this very thing-http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100802/

      4. MonsieurTM

        Re: The chances of anything coming from earth are a million to one he said.

        And apparently the Tsar Bomba was a "clean" version due to the lead tamper that reduced the yield...!

        You also miss the obvious problem: no magnetic field means the solar wind will strip away any addition to Mars's atmosphere. Nuking Mars will not achieve the desired effect apart from a lot of wasted energy as useless radioactive isotopes, rendering it uninhabitable.

  5. William Higinbotham

    Just getting off the ground first.

    Watching SpaceX is like watching Germany's development of the V-2 rockets all over again. :-)

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Just getting off the ground first.

      I think they managed to get into orbit with their third rocket, that's not a bad record as far as rocket science goes.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Just getting off the ground first.

      Call us when Elon starts dropping them on houses. :)

  6. Michael Thibault

    There would be little point in Musk's exercise as the end result would likely be a planet with even less water; there's no (or not enough of a) magnetic field to protect what atmospheric benefits there might be from such a nuke-a-thon from being blown away by the solar wind.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      No problem for the next quarter (-millenium)

      there's no (or not enough of a) magnetic field to protect what atmospheric benefits there might be from such a nuke-a-thon from being blown away by the solar wind.

      But how fast would that happen? It took a long time for Mars to dry up to its present state. The effects of drastic terraforming would wear off, but if that takes thousands of years, it might still be seen as worthwhile. Perhaps a way to maintain the benign climate could be found in the meanwhile. Maybe slam some icy asteroids or comets into it now and then?

      1. MonsieurTM

        Re: No problem for the next quarter (-millenium)

        Mars lost its atmosphere whilst it lost its magnetic field, which was slow. Currently Mars has a negligible magnetic field, so nothing protects the remaining, tenuous, atmosphere. Yes, nuking Mars would make it drier and irradiated, even less hospitable than it already is. Thank goodness Mr.Musk's foolish idea is unimplementable. Instead we'll just trust him to put us in poorly-designed high-speed tubes... Sounds like a great idea!

    2. Chemist

      "would likely be a planet with even less water"

      The other 'small' problem is the almost total lack of oxygen and the very large amount (>95%) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere already.

      1. Nuno

        Carbon Dioxide

        >"The other 'small' problem is the almost total lack of oxygen and the very large amount (>95%) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere already."

        I've seen something, somewhere, about how to solve that part...

        ... Oh, I remember, they call them "plants"...

        1. Chemist

          Re: Carbon Dioxide

          "'ve seen something, somewhere, about how to solve that part...

          ... Oh, I remember, they call them "plants"..."

          Well oddly enough I'm a physical scientist and I've come across them - well at least on Earth where they have a reasonable supply of carbon dioxide and oxygen.

          Problem on Mars is the high percentage of carbon dioxide still represents a pitifully small amount due to the very low atmospheric pressure and there's very little oxygen which plants need as well. Now I'm not a botanist so I can't tell you if current plants will grow under such conditions but I'd bet it's not too likely.

          Oh I wonder who might know ? Maybe NASA

          http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2005/mars_plants.html

          "The plants would probably be housed in a greenhouse on a Martian base, because no known forms of life can survive direct exposure to the Martian surface, with its extremely cold, thin air and sterilizing radiation. Even then, conditions in a Martian greenhouse would be beyond what ordinary plants could stand. During the day, the plants would have to endure high levels of solar ultraviolet radiation, because the thin Martian atmosphere has no ozone to block it like the Earth's atmosphere does. At night, temperatures would drop well below freezing. Also, the Martian soil is poor in the mineral nutrients necessary for plants to thrive."

      2. oldcoder

        Yeah - it is 95% now... but if you add enough nitrogen (and 7-9% oxygen) it becomes only about 3%. :)

  7. LaeMing Silver badge

    Better to somehow put Cares in a close orbit to shake up the crust a bit and restart volcanism, possibly even get the core producing some magnetics again?

    Obviously not a 'simple' solution, though!

  8. MacroRodent Silver badge

    Greenhouse gas

    Musk didn't explain why why should nuke Mars' poles,

    The polar ice caps contain lots of frozen carbon dioxide, that is why.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Greenhouse gas

      "The polar ice caps contain lots of frozen carbon dioxide, that is why."

      So ? The last thing the Martian atmosphere needs is more carbon dioxide as it's already >95% such

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: Greenhouse gas

        The last thing the Martian atmosphere needs is more carbon dioxide as >it's already >95%

        If the goal is to make Mars warmer, you need more CO2. After you get a thicker and warmer CO2 atmosphere, you could try growing plants. It might also allow humans to go outside wearing only a respirator and warm clothes, instead of a full space suit.

        1. Chemist

          Re: Greenhouse gas

          "you need more CO2"

          It's already got 95%+ how are you going to keep anymore there !! Will existing plants grow in 95%+ CO2 ? They also need oxygen

          1. oldcoder

            Re: Greenhouse gas

            Plants don't. They need CO2 and water (plus the minerals for growing). Plants will PRODUCE oxygen.

            1. Chemist

              Re: Greenhouse gas

              "Plants don't. They need CO2 and water (plus the minerals for growing). Plants will PRODUCE oxygen."

              Plants do need oxygen - it's just that in sunlight and CO2 they produce more oxygen than they need. When it's dark they are a net consumer of oxygen. Plants do need oxygen to survive.

              http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=760

        2. MonsieurTM

          Re: Greenhouse gas

          As long as it didn't get blown away by the lack of magnetic field, which is what happened to Mars's last atmosphere.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Greenhouse gas

            Why waste perfectly good nukes that can be used for other things when we're producing so many tons of Sulfur Hexafluoride every year (which is thousands of times more potent than CO2 at warming planets), and is already leaking and warming our own atmosphere. Produce / recapture the SF6 here, send it there and warm Mars that way. The SF6 warms Mars to a point where the CO2 caps start melting on their own and speeds up atmosphere production. Win-win!

            Also, for the people talking about the magnetic field: you wouldn't lose the atmosphere that fast. If it's lost over a hundred thousand years or more, we can come up with lots more permanent solutions in that time. Still wont keep out the radiation as well as Earth's own magnetics and atmosphere, but a more substantial Mars atmosphere would still block some.

      2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: Greenhouse gas

        it does have significant proportion of CO2, but it does not have significant amount of it, due to very low atmospheric pressure. There is benefit to more CO2 in the atmosphere and that is, obviously, greenhouse effect (methane would be better, but there does not seem to be a source of it on Mars).

        Of course, the real trick is to increase amount of both O2 and N2, and to keep them high, while they escape to outer space (due to low gravity).

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Greenhouse gas

          methane would be better, but there does not seem to be a source of it on Mars

          If we ever did discover a source of methane on Mars, I think we'd be obliged to not terraform the planet.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Greenhouse gas

          Of course, the real trick is to increase amount of both O2 and N2, and to keep them high, while they escape to outer space (due to low gravity).

          You build a glass sphere around Mars, obviously.

          Hey, if everyone else gets to propose idiotic terraforming ideas...

        3. R Callan

          Re: Greenhouse gas

          The partial pressure of CO2 on Mars is higher than it is on Earth. There is more CO2 (In moles/m^3 of atmosphere) than Earth so the present "greenhouse effect" must be higher already.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: What about

      Wasn't Bruce Willis. It was "The Core", one of the most abominable films of all human history.

      Someone sent an EMP to the core and stalled it, hell on Earth ensues beyond the laws of physics, nukes are the answer.

      One thing I've always hated in my life is my home nation's "Magic Nuke" acceptance. Nukes fix everything.

      I fell prey to that in my youth, but I'm wiser and far better informed about things nuke and otherwise.

      1. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

        Re: What about

        That was a reference to "Armageddon", specifically the asteroid drilling part.

        Also its entirely possible that this could work if a "pig" that drilled down and used its plutonium and lithium deuteride fuel core as reaction mass so that when the bomb went off at depth it would magnify the reaction.

        The engineering problems of doing this even on a low mass planet like Mars would be formidable however.

  10. Martijn Otto

    Not the way to start

    Before trying to release greenhouse gases we should be looking at restoring the magnetosphere. Without it it will only escape to space. With a magnetosphere we could also build up some pressure, maybe even avoid some of the clunky pressure suits that would now be necessary to move on Mars.

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: Not the way to start

      Insufficient mass, which is why the magnetosphere failed and why the gasses went away.

    2. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Not the way to start

      It might not be necessary to restore the magnetosphere. If you had a suitably large shield (if you put it closer to the sun could it be smaller?) in space that would stop the nasty stuff from getting through without making Mars colder and dimmer than it already is. No clue how you'd go about it (solar powered electromagnets in space?).

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Not the way to start

        "If you had a suitably large shield (if you put it closer to the sun could it be smaller?) in space "

        Given the radiation pressure such a shield would endure, how do you propose keeping it in position?

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: Not the way to start

          Ion engines could do the job.

          1. Little Mouse
            Coat

            Re: Not the way to start

            Sun beams?

            Ba-dum-dum-tsh!

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Not the way to start

        If you had a suitably large shield (if you put it closer to the sun could it be smaller?) in space that would stop the nasty stuff from getting through without making Mars colder and dimmer than it already is.

        Troll of the week, ladies and gents!

        I am so tempted to object on the grounds that you can't cast a shadow in a vacuum.1

        1Nasal daemon: They won't get it. Me: I know, I know. It's worth the downvotes.

      3. oldcoder

        Re: Not the way to start

        It would have to be larger than Mars itself - the closer to the sun the less it would occlude.

        Think of a shield for a light bulb. A fly is about the same size as the pupil of your eye. The closer to the lightbulb, the less the fly would shield.

        Another example is a solar eclipse. If the moon were farther away it would not cover the sun - which is why the "ring of fire" shows up, the Moon is not in a perfectly circular orbit. When the moon is farther away, more of the sun is visible.

      4. toughluck

        Re: Radiation shields in space

        Mars is smaller than the Sun [citation needed], so the closer you moved to Sun, the larger that shield would need to be.

        And before you say Lagrange points, just don't go there. Satellites at Lagrange points aren't. They constantly orbit around them in Lissajous orbits.

        That matters here is Kepler's third law of planetary motion and the shield would simply go around the Sun faster than Mars would, negating the shield pretty much instantaneously.

        @Michael: It's not because of vacuum. Times had to retract that comment about Goddard in 1969. The real problem is darkness. You can't cast a shadow in vacuum because it's already so dark.

  11. Nolveys Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I Support This Plan

    I support this plan simply because I really enjoy massive explosions.

    Hey, Musk, do you think you can figure out a way to slightly de-orbit Mars such that it impacts the Earth? Get that happening right after you install a planetary audio system and connect it up to a stereo playing Slayer at volume 11.

    1. MonsieurTM

      Re: I Support This Plan

      And we listen to it from a safe planet? Whilst a spaceship dives into the sun?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I Support This Plan

        SOME PEOPLE JUST WANT TO WATCH THE WORLD BURN WHILE A HEAVY METAL ROCKBAND PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND.

        No, Neocons, I did NOT call for you.

  12. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Trollface

    Meanwhile under a temporarily quescient volcano

    "Yes, Mr. Bond. These hundreds of hangars full of readily assembled fusion candles guarded by loyal leather-clad goons? Soon they will be lifted to orbit on my specially crafted private launch devices. The world will again see greatness. To terraform Mars! A great undertaking, Mr. Bond!"

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Meanwhile under a temporarily quescient volcano

      Very good point. The only thing our "Candidate Bond Adversary" lacks is nukes. Let's give 'em to him.

  13. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    What he forgot to say

    Is that to do that he will need to be entrusted with the biggest nuclear arsenal compared to any nation states on Earth.

    I appreciate his honesty about the volcano lair but... Not mentioning "total world domination" as the motive behind all that was a bit disingenuous of him.

  14. Michael Habel Silver badge

    What would the point be?

    Mars unless I'm mistaken, a) Has a weaker gravity field then the Earth, and is therefor physically unable to hold its own atmosphere. Plus sans the geo location of the said "poles" Mars doesn't actually even have a magnetic field to protect said atmosphere, from being riped apart from the solar winds. The only thing that arsehat would accomplish by nuking the Poles would be to ensure that such ~drinkable~ Water on Mars, was anything but...

    1. Naselus

      Re: What would the point be?

      "Mars unless I'm mistaken, a) Has a weaker gravity field then the Earth, and is therefor physically unable to hold its own atmosphere."

      On this bit you are indeed mistaken. Mars certainly does has sufficient mass to retain an atmosphere (which is why it has one that consists of 95% CO2).It won't stack as high as Earths (the summit of Olympus Mons will pretty much always be above it), but it would be possible to get breathable atmospheric coverage at the datum.

      Even tiny Pluto has an atmospheric envelope.

      "Mars doesn't actually even have a magnetic field to protect said atmosphere, from being riped apart from the solar winds."

      This is more relevant, though also incorrect - Mars does have some magnetic activity, in particular the area around -60N 180W, but it has no single enveloping magnetophere. Also, the rate of solar erosion is not particularly high - Mars still has some atmosphere today despite 4 billion years of erosion, which was likely much more powerful in the past than it is today. So long as a means could be found to keep thickening the atmosphere at an equal or greater rate (say, continuous comet skimming using accelerated Oort cloud objects), the erosion is not relevant - and could actually act as a useful means of containing an unwanted runaway greenhouse effect in a way prevented by the magnetosphere on Earth.

      Of course, the tech to make use of this is probably somewhat beyond us right now.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: What would the point be?

        "Mars still has some atmosphere today despite 4 billion years of erosion, which was likely much more powerful in the past than it is today."

        Other way around.

        The Sun is 50% brighter (and throwing more mass off as "solar wind") than it was 500 million years ago.

    2. toughluck

      Re: What would the point be?

      > The only thing that arsehat would accomplish by nuking the Poles

      Why the hell would he want to nuke us, the arsehat?

      > would be to ensure that such ~drinkable~ Water on Mars, was anything but...

      Oh yeah, we'd piss in his Mars water, all right.

  15. Torben Mogensen

    Comets!

    In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (which is highly optimistic in terms of technology, BTW), they send comets to skim the atmosphere of Mars, shedding water vapour as they go. This seems like a safer way to add water vapour (which is also a greenhouse gas) to the atmosphere. It would require a lot of comets, but it is still better than nukes.

    But I agree that terraforming Mars will always be rather iffy, because it is small, far from the sun, and inactive geologically.

  16. Rol Silver badge

    What's the rush?

    Our need to go shitting on another planet is based purely on the idea this planet can't cope with any more of our crap.

    Capitalism has obviously made some impact, but clearly in the face of lentil munching opposition it has come ever so slightly undone and cannot now be relied upon to see off vast swathes of humanity.

    Luckily several military concerns are, as we speak trying desperately to rectify this situation and just need a little more time to halve the worlds population.

    Be patient, the selection process has almost been completed and the apocalypse will commence just as soon as the contracts have been signed.

  17. Crisp Silver badge

    An atmosphere would be nice...

    But what kind of atmosphere would you get from nuking the poles? I'm guessing it would be mostly wet and full of carbon dioxide.

    I'm thinking that comets rich in nitrogen ice aimed at the poles would give slightly better results.

  18. MrXavia

    I think domed cities are a much better plan than trying to terfaform Mars.

    Also we should build floating cities on Venus!

    Air as we need it (oxygen/nitrogen), is a lifting gas in Venus's atmosphere, so the entire habitat would float happily, protected by Venus from the suns radiation.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Venus huh? Time to crank up that AC then...

  19. Long John Brass Silver badge

    Big frikking mirrors

    Would be easier to build & less likely to launch the stuff you want for an atmosphere into space

    But as was mentioned in an earlier comment, if you started a big space rock(tm) spinning, and heated it with the aforementioned mirror to the point where it was a liquid, you could then carefully inflate it into a rock balloon which when cooled make a nice place to live.

  20. Little Mouse
    Boffin

    Spider Plants!

    Spider Plants are the answer to the Terraforming debate. Once a ubiquitous presence in every student's bedroom, they thrive and multiply under the harshest conditions imaginable.

    Mankind has been able to keep them at bay and become the dominant species here on Earth mainly thanks to a quirk of evolution that left them crippled with a white stripe on every leaf. If they'd been capable of photosynthesising at 100% capacity then we'd still be living in caves, cowering in fear before our green and leafy overlords.

    Drop just one on Mars and, with no natural predators, the whole surface should be covered in greenery before the year is out. Probably.

    1. John Gamble

      Re: Spider Plants!

      Heh. On a different planet entirely, a character in Henry Kuttner's Fury recommended crabgrass as an antagonist to Venus's predatory vegetation.

      This was probably funnier when it was written, when suburban sprawl was in full force.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nah, Mr. Musk is thinking too small.

    option 1. move Mars closer to the Sun, preferably not hitting Earth on the way ( maybe we could arrange it so we get a 2nd set of total eclipses !!!! )

    option 2: bioengineer specific plants and ruminants that can live in the lowest areas of Mars as it is now, and wait...

  22. Esme

    Might I commend Martyn Fogg's writings on teh subject to you:

    http://www.academia.edu/4198030/Chapter_6._The_Terraforming_of_Mars

    Much as I love what SpaceX are doing thus far, I'm against Mr Musk nuking the polar areas, it'd be wasteful. As has been mentioned, diverting small ice-rich comets to break up on aerobraking would be more useful.

    As for the moon, aside from an astronomical observatory Farside, I can't see the point. Whilst you could use a base there to test life-spport ystems intended for long duration space missions, I doubt there'd be much if any advantage over doing so with a rotating space-station (2 BEAMs from Bigelow Aerospace linked by multiply-redundant tethers, perhaps?) in low Earth Orbit - with LEO having the advantage of being a durned sight nearer to Earth in case of an emergency.

    As a place to start a new offshoot of human civilisation, though, Mars is far superior to the moon (see Zubrin 'The Case for Mars'). The day-night cycle being very close to Earths is a major plus for raising crops, and if we decided to go for terraforming, just thickening the atmosphere by getting more of its store of CO2 in to the air would be huge bonus, both in terms of potentially allowing people to walk on the surface with something like Arctic wear and a breathing mask, rather than a spacesuit, and with regard to the additional radiation shielding offered by a denser atmosphere.

    Even with the current atmosphere, not having to contend with vacuum welding would be a plus, I'd've thought, plus psychologically just having something akin to the Earths daytme sky might well be a plus for any colonists. And when volatiles are concerned, Mars wins hands down over the moon.

    I'm not against colonising the moon, per se, though - I just think it's a far lesser priority (and is less economically sound IMO) than colonising Mars.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      The day-night cycle being very close to Earths is a major plus for raising crops,

      Not to mention humans! We are hardwired to something close to 24h cycle, and deviation too much from it causes health problems.

  23. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids...

    ... in fact it's cold as hell." Sound advice from Reg. Dwight and Bernard Taupin Esq.

  24. CaptainBanjax

    If only...

    Bear Grylls and Ray Mears teamed up.

    They would find a way to survive on Mars. Even if it did require months of gargling each others space piss and running around with their bollocks out jumping up and down to keep warm.

    1. Little Mouse
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: If only...

      Thanks for that.

      Got any spare bleach?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > Musk also told Colbert he thinks that SpaceX is two years away from being able to safely ferry NASA astronauts to Mars.

    Was this speech for the benefit of securing investors?

    I suspect he needs some kind of reality check.

    1. fendjinn

      His claim was about crewed missions in general, not a manned trip to Mars. So Musk feels SpaceX will be capable of ferrying astronauts to the ISS or low Earth orbit in two years, which doesn't seem insane on its face.

  26. tlambert

    This is a reprehensible idea!

    Why does everyone want to spend money nuking locations in space, when there are so many locations on Earth we should be nuking first?!?

  27. FutureScienceGeek

    The old terraforming question.

    Ah, yes. The terraforming question thrown around for decades: How do we terraform Mars?Fortunately, the fringe technologies we have now and are in active development make a *HUGE* difference in the answer to this question compared to 10 years ago. If price is no object, then this could be done faster than most people could imagine possible. I’ll put stuff in parenthesis for the less-scientific minded people who might be reading. Let’s begin with how we can even get there to do this stuff.

    Rocket technology for pretty fast space travel (compared to old run-of-the-mill chemical rockets) has been around for decades, but the problem has been how to power the darn things. Engine technologies like the VASIMR could get you from here to Mars in well under 4 weeks if working at 100% power the whole time (ideally you’d have to slow down as you get there, otherwise there’d be a big splat/kaboom involved). To power them, we can always create traditional nuclear generators, but they tend to be quite heavy and there's always the risk of a radiation leak. The secret sauce has only come around in the last few years, and is still under a lot of scrutiny by the scientific community: LENR (Low Energy or Lattice-Enabled Nuclear Reactions) power. This stuff uses specially milled Nickel (Cheap, abundant) (or Palladium) and Lithium Aluminum Hydride (LiAlH4, already produced industrially) to generate COP heat of 3+ (pretty good) to 10+ (multiple generators self-sustaining each other's reactions, really damn good) and can potentially run for weeks or months between fuel replacement.

    Thermo-electric generators have been around a long time and coupled with radioactive stuff like Plutonium power most of our stuff headed out to Jupiter or beyond already, and we can use some of the heat produced directly from the LENR power in getting the engines going. If the highest heat-yield documented to date proves accurate, we could power VASIMR engines and then some without weighing down our spaceships much, meaning they can haul some heavy loads without getting slowed down too much. We would need to account for the construction, testing and implementation of these babies, and with groups like SpaceX about ready to create reusable rocket stages, this becomes even easier and faster. (The completely-experimental EM-Drive could also be used when very high levels of power are available.)

    Next would be to address the thin cold atmosphere, because who wants to be caught outside in -60*C and millibar weather? The Earth is already producing Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) which is 24,000x the greenhouse gas that CO2 is. If we produced more solely to bottle up and ship out, it would very shortly get warm enough to unlock all the CO2 frozen on Mars, helping warm the planet, increase the atmosphere density at the same time, and be a stable buffer gas at low concentrations similar to Nitrogen. At the same time, our VASIMR rocket spaceships could start harvesting some of the over -abundant CO2 and N2 that Venus is happily holding for us (and sulfur dioxide for making our SF6) before shipping it out to Mars. We can also be constructing solar mirrors (solettas) to speed warming things up even more. We could be producing all this fun stuff while getting our rockets going in the first place and be testing it all to make sure it’s good to go when our rockets are. Give all of this actively hauling stuff another 20 years with our fast VASIMR ships and we’ve got a decent atmosphere going, but not exactly breathable yet.

    With all that great CO2, we’ll want plants that can begin turning it all into the nice O2 we love and enjoy. Genetically engineering lichen and other extremophiles already present on Earth to deal with the harsher climate as we’re warming/thickening our atmospheric soup is becoming trivial with modern bio-science. Making ‘em extra dark to decrease the planetary albedo will help warming too. Have bio-hacked bacteria to help fix the soil and get all those nasty poisonous perchlorates broken down and release more O2 (and maybe N2) in the atmosphere. If we introduce these 10 years into our active warming phase, spread them all over the areas with higher native water already (ice caps), we’re on our way to having a breath of fresh air without masks 150+ years after they’re introduced. The solettas sitting over the poles can create a 24-hour growing environment, and it’s not like there will be animals around sucking up all the new oxygen. If the bacteria are also producing methane(CH4) or ethane (C2H6) in the low-oxygen environment (greenhouse gasses), they can take any hydrogen locked up in the soil and bring it into the atmosphere for more water production later on. We can hack together the right combo of plants/bacteria with Mars-atmosphere simulators and start mass producing these for deployment along with the other stuff and have enough to spread over both ice caps in well under 30 years with enough money thrown at it.

    But wait, there’s MORE! We didn’t just stop producing rockets when we started moving stuff from Earth and Venus! We kept producing more of these suckers so that we could start snagging water from comets and other (solar system relative to Mars) local sources. The more water we can get down to the surface, the faster and further our extremophile plants can spread and increase the speed we can produce O2 to more like around 50+ (80+ from present day) years (ballpark, with mask from still too much CO2). At first a large amount of the water will be held in the plants themselves, but over time (and if we continue building even more ships) we can start pulling hydrogen and water from comets, the outer gas giants and moons (purely theoretical, Jupiter’s gravity is a bit too hefty for harvesting, Saturn is a stretch unless we go for REALLY big rockets) for reaction with the extra CO2 for additional water (would take a lot of resources set up from Earth to get going though). We can also get Hydrogen Sulfide from the Venus atmosphere as another Hydrogen source. Depending on the speed with which we are continuing to produce spaceships, we could be moving thousands of tons of hydrogen sources or water to Mars with more ships produced and hauling as time goes on, each round trip taking about 1+1/2 to 3 years depending on orbits and speed of rockets and gathering/mining. This all could cut 20 or more years from balancing out the atmosphere and creating seas.

    How could we streamline getting stuff down to the surface and keep our spaceships going as fast as we can? Space Elevators™! The idea that has been frustrating engineers for half a century would be much easier with the 40% gravity of Mars. High quality carbon nanotubes could handle the job without too much problem, and you could catch a potato-moon for ballast on the other end after tying some of our fun VASIMR engines (or even normal chemical rockets) to it and moving it out to geostationary orbit.

    Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: Aren’t we just going to lose this nice atmosphere from no planetary magnetic field after building it up? Ever heard of MRI machines? Producing magnetic fields isn’t exactly rocket science, and the Earth can be doing more than just making SF6, LiAlH4, Mars-plants and rockets. Existing superconductors can produce truly righteous magnetic fields given enough power (for power, see above), or we could even go with passive neodymium magnets to create an Earth-like magnetic field. All it would take is pretty much all the production of neodymium magnets for the next 75 or so years to produce enough to circle the planet a few times and then distribute them in arcs oriented North-South in orbit around the equator. Sorry if you want some headphones or speakers in the meantime.

    So there you have it. When money is no object, Mars is terraformed and atmosphere-stabilized using only present-day and very-near-future tech in around 100 - 150 years. Just think how much faster and more efficiently we can do this stuff if we’re still advancing science in the mean time?

    1. Zmodem

      Re: The old terraforming question.

      unless mars has aload of ice, then its total recall, and melt the ice but at alot slower speed

      the small bit of wind that makes sand storms and sand devils, will carry it around

    2. FutureScienceGeek

      Re: The old terraforming question.

      C'mon folks. Don't just vote it down. Tell me what you think is wrong with what I'm saying. Science is about looking at all assumptions and correcting flawed ones, so tell me where I'm mistaken!

      1. Zmodem

        Re: The old terraforming question.

        it would be faster to make a methane fusion bomb and make as much co2 as you can, then drop some terraformer`s down to convert co2 to o2

        http://motherboard.vice.com/read/scientists-turned-carbon-dioxide-into-oxygen-by-zapping-it-with-a-laser

        then in 1000 years of star ships humans could have 100`s of planets that have methane atmospheres being terraformed

        1. Zmodem

          Re: The old terraforming question.

          the speed is in my posts below, if you drop a nuke into the atmosphere of mars, it will just create acid rain, as methane becomes a liquid at room temperature

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanesulfonic_acid

          there are no volcano`s, you most methane would stay at ground level so mars would become twice as cold as it already it, other planets in out solar system with methane atmosphere`s have plenty of acid rain because of volcano`s

          http://science.opposingviews.com/planet-acid-rain-fall-3700.html

          the force of the blast, low atmosphere level, and thermo nuclear temperators would probably make some hydrogen and CO2

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_reforming

          if you know what all this means, and know your parts per million of methane on mars, you could drop a 100 cubic tons or more of hydrogen and CO2, with the war head 100m behind, so the hyrdogen and CO2 have some time to disperse

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The old terraforming question.

            @ Zmodem & FutureScienceGeek

            Perhaps you two could get together and form a very exclusive club. You both give even pseudo-science a bad name

            1. Zmodem

              Re: The old terraforming question.

              it would take a day putting all the math into a super computer and a few seconds to know the amount of any other gas you need to drop

          2. FutureScienceGeek

            Re: The old terraforming question.

            Methane becomes liquid at room temperature AND much higher pressures than Mars' atmosphere. The methane would be hit by the unbuffered solar radiation, split and combine with the CO2 to make tiny amounts of water which then blows away in the solar wind.

            Bombs and asteroids would render large parts of Mars uninhabitable for large periods and much more difficult terrain for setting down other machines / building factories for continuing to develop Mars' atmosphere and future biosphere.

            I'm still not seeing anything that could do what I was suggesting to produce a fully habitable planet out of Mars in only 100-150 years.

            1. Zmodem

              Re: The old terraforming question.

              if you dropped 5-10 bombs at the same time, at set locations of mars, your space suit you would have to be wearing would be able to handle the fall out like space suits for earths orbit

              if solar radiation and heat could terraform mars on its own mars would have been terraform naturally by exploding comets when they impact

              the atmosphere would still have to be processed so human`s could breath it, dropping a few fusion bombs would probably just save a few hundred years

              1. Zmodem

                Re: The old terraforming question.

                meh, if you make as much hydrogen and CO2 as you can, you would be able to make water alot easier, the CO2 would warm up mars alittle, then mars may get clouds, then theres a whole lote more science that happens with in clouds to make lightning, which would carry on the process of burning methane alot faster

    3. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: The old terraforming question.

      Drop a few asteroids on it.

      At 40% Earth gravity Mars could do with fattening up. Get the speed and angle right, and a nickel-iron asteroid would go in molten and start up the core. Follow up with a few water-ice asteroids to kick-start oceans.

      That uses current technology and comes a lot faster...

      1. memory.of.a.dream

        Re: The old terraforming question.

        @Dodgy Geezer

        Please tell me what current technology is capable of driving an asteroid (intact nonetheless) into a planet's core? And where would you get enough iron mass to jump-start the core?

        The asteroid belt doesn't contain nearly enough mass. You'll have to look at the kuiper belt.

        For oceans You'll have to take comets down from the Oort cloud (THE BLOODY OORT CLOUD!!!)

        Not even voyager has reached the Oort cloud and it's been going for almost 40 years.

        And even if you manage to drive literary thousands of asteroids in Mars's core intact, where do you get the energy to heat it all up? Nukes, like they did in "The Core"? I'm pretty sure that's not going to work the way it did in the film.

        Then you want to stabilize the planet? For that you need a moon. You would literary have to take one from... Jupiter I guess cause it's the closest planet with a big enough and usable moon(you can't use Earth's because that's needed here).

        You would have to take the moon out of Jupiter orbit, fly it to Mars, basically a controlled fall, then stop it just enough to get it into the correct orbit around the planet.

        And then you say this all can be done with current technology?

  28. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  29. meanioni

    Can't believe it - two pages on terraforming and no mention of...

    ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B436avtEXzs

    I'm sure as hell not going out at night, thank you very much.... :-)

  30. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Ain't working on Earth...

    ...and the slow way “is to release greenhouse gases, like we are doing on Earth.”...

    Unfortunately, we're not getting hotter...

    1. FutureScienceGeek

      Re: Ain't working on Earth...

      I hope you were joking. I don't know about you, but it's been DAMN hot.

      http://motherboard.vice.com/read/you-just-lived-through-the-hottest-month-in-recorded-history

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easy, really

    Venus has too much atmosphere.

    Mars doesn't have enough.

    We can terraform both

    1. FutureScienceGeek

      Re: Easy, really

      I mentioned that for a couple reasons in my long comment post.

  32. memory.of.a.dream

    WTF!

    Two years away is a bit optimistic don't you think? Given his track record I doubt he'll be able to even...

    Wait! back up! did he say NUKE MARS?!! WTF!

    If this is the way he approaches the problem I hope he never makes it there.

  33. FutureScienceGeek

    Updated: The old terraforming question

    My first version of this was pretty hacked together, too long winded in some parts, and information that was a bit off. Here is an updated version that has references! The added references made me split into 2 parts. It's long. but it's worth reading, honest! :-)

    When looking at the terraforming of Mars problem, the fringe technologies we have now and in active development make a *HUGE* difference compared to 10 years ago. Additionally, most people can’t fully comprehend just how much industry the entire world has at its disposal if we really wanted to terraform another planet. Only 60 years ago we were barely putting Sputnik in orbit [1], and now we’ve sent a probe past Pluto and gotten pictures back! If money were no object, terraforming Mars could be done faster than most people would imagine possible, but takes a bit of explanation. I’ll put stuff in parenthesis for the less-scientific minded people who might be reading, and numbers in brackets [#] for references at the bottom. Let’s begin with how we can even get there to do this stuff.

    Current generations of chemical rocket tech takes 8+ months to get small things like satellites and rovers from Earth to Mars, and that is just unacceptable. Rocket technology for faster space travel has been around for decades, but the problem has been how to power the darn things. Engine technologies like the VASIMR engine [2] could get you from here to Mars in well under 4 weeks (when orbits allow) if working at 100% power the whole time (ideally you’d have to slow down as you get there, otherwise there’d be a big splat/kaboom involved). There are many engine types being developed similar to VASIMR such as a broad range of ion engines, and there are purely experimental engine techs being worked on such as the EM-Drive that only uses microwaves and microwave resonance chambers for thrust (but would also require loads of power to go fast). For the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep referring to VASIMR engines.

    To quench our thirst for space power, solar panels and Radioisotope Thermo-electric Generators [3] are what we’ve been using for decades. Using radioactive stuff like Uranium and Plutonium, RTG’s power most of our stuff headed out to Jupiter and beyond already, but these produce only a little bit of continuous electricity, so not that helpful. Solar panels will work on and around Mars, but at reduced efficiency (further from the sun = less sunlight), and you’d need (literal) tons of them to get the power we need. We could use nuclear fission power in space [4], but getting enough power for a VASIMR engine and not roast everything with heat/radiation would have to be big and heavy. Lugging lots of extra mass around is the biggest thing that slows you down in space.

    The secret sauce in terms of power production has only come around in the last few years, and is still under a lot of scrutiny by the scientific community: LENR (Low Energy or Lattice-Enabled Nuclear Reactions) [5] power. This power source uses specially milled Nickel (Cheap, abundant) (or Palladium instead of Nickel) and heated Lithium Aluminum Hydride (LiAlH4, already produced industrially) to generate COP heat of 3+ (pretty good) to 10+ (multiple generators self-sustaining each other at high temps, really damn good) and can potentially run for weeks or months between fuel replacement. If the highest heat-yield documented to date proves accurate, we could power VASIMR engines and then some without weighing down our spaceships hardly at all, meaning they can haul some heavy loads without getting slowed down nearly as much as an old-fashioned fission reactor. We can even use some of the heat produced directly in getting the engines going. If everything is computerized and people aren’t physically required for most materials transport, that makes it lighter and faster still. We would need to account for the time spent in construction, testing and implementation of these babies, probably around 30 years (realistically, unless way more money is thrown at this). With groups like SpaceX about ready to create reusable rocket stages, this becomes faster, easier *and* cheaper (20 years is my estimate).

    Next would be to address the thin cold atmosphere, because who wants to be caught outside in -60*C and 7 millibar (Earth atmosphere at sea level is 1 bar of pressure, 0.001 bar = 1 millibar) [7] weather? The people of Earth are already producing Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) [6] which is *twenty-four thousand times* the greenhouse gas that CO2 (carbon dioxide) is (and for planetary heating, SF6 is lots of bang for your buck). If we produced more solely to bottle up and ship out, Mars would very shortly get warm enough to sublimate all the CO2 frozen on Mars (frozen CO2 doesn’t melt, it goes straight to a gas), helping warm the planet faster and increase the atmosphere density at the same time. SF6 is also a stable buffer gas similar to Nitrogen, which is one of the reasons we already produce it industrially. At the same time, our VASIMR-propelled spaceships could start harvesting some of the over-abundant CO2 and N2(atmospheric nitrogen) that Venus is happily holding for us (and sulfur dioxide for making our SF6, and other compounds too) [8] before shipping it out to Mars. We can also be constructing solettas (space mirrors to reflect the sun) to speed warming things up even more.

    We could start producing all this fun stuff while getting our rockets going in the first place and be testing it all to make sure it’s good to go when our rockets are. Give all of this atmospheric kickstarting stuff actively being hauled to Mars and released around 20 years (on top of the first 20 for creating the rockets and starting from the preset) with our fast VASIMR ships and we’ve got a decent atmosphere starting (25-50 millibars atmospheric pressure immediately, but still climbing after large portions of CO2 is unlocked due to continuing seepage from underground) [7]. Not exactly breathable yet (by a long shot), but only 40 years from the present and a definite improvement over the old Mars. If we have a human presence (or even automated machines) on Mars at the same time, we can use local resources to reduce chemicals in the rocks and sand to produce O2, CO2 and N2 as well. After all, the red color of Mars is from the huge amounts of iron oxide, which can release oxygen. Note: Everything we add to Mars will likely increase atmospheric pressure at least a little bit, whether it’s SF6, water (vapor), O2, N2, more CO2, etc. Also note: before plants are established, dust storms in a thickening atmosphere could get brutal. [15]

    With all that great CO2 getting released, we’ll want plants that can begin turning it all into the nice O2 oxygen we love and enjoy. Genetically engineering lichen and other extremophile plants and bacteria (already present on Earth) to deal with the harsher climate as we warm and thicken our atmospheric soup is becoming trivial with modern bio-science. The plants and lichen will likely need to be in pressurized enclosures at first, but once above the 100 millibar atmospheric range can start being released (if the bacteria/lichens are strong enough). Making the plants and lichen extra dark to decrease the planetary albedo (sunlight reflectiveness, absorbing more and reflecting less = warmer) will help warming and make them more efficient at catching the scarcer sunlight. Have bio-hacked bacteria to help fix the soil and get all those nasty poisonous perchlorates broken down for fertilizer and release more O2 and N2 into the atmosphere.

    If we introduce these 10-20 years into our active warming phase (30-40 years from present, ideally), we can spread them all over the areas with higher native water already (ice caps) [14]. Without changing anything else we’re on our way to having a breath of fresh air without masks 250+ years after they’re introduced, but why wait that long? The solettas sitting over the poles can create a 24-hour growing environment, and it’s not like there will be animals around sucking up all the new oxygen. If the bacteria are also producing methane(CH4) or ethane (C2H6) in the low-oxygen environment (these are also greenhouse gasses), they can take any hydrogen locked up in the soil and bring it into the atmosphere for more water production later on. We can hack together the right combo of plants/bacteria with Mars-atmosphere simulators (a few already exist) and start mass producing these for deployment along with the other stuff and have enough to spread over both ice caps in well under the 30 year mark with enough money thrown at it.

  34. FutureScienceGeek

    Updated: The old terraforming question - Part 2

    But wait, there’s MORE! We didn’t just stop producing interplanetary rockets when we started moving stuff from Earth and Venus! We kept producing more of these suckers so that we could start snagging water from comets and other (solar system relative to Mars) local sources. The more water we can get down to the surface, the faster and further our extremophile plants can spread and increase the speed we can produce O2 to be more breathable in around 60+ (90-100+ from present day) years (ballpark, depends on water availability and growing cycles, might still need masks to filter high CO2). At first, a large amount of the water will be held in the plants themselves (the ‘Green’ Mars phase). Over time (and if we continue building even more spaceships) we can start pulling hydrogen and water from the outer gas giants (Jupiter/Saturn’s gravity is a bit too hefty for harvesting unless we go for really REALLY big rockets), moons (several for water or the hydrocarbons on Titan) and comets (if we want to go really far out, or snag a few as they come further in toward the sun).

    Depending on the speed with which we are continuing to produce spaceships, we could be moving thousands of tons of condensed hydrogen or water to Mars with even more ships being produced and hauling as time goes on. Each round trip would take about 1/2 - 3 years depending on orbits, how much we’re hauling, and where we choose to move stuff from. Hydrogen harvesting from outer gas giants directly and chemical reduction with CO2 to make water might cut 20 or more years from balancing out the atmosphere and creating seas, since it would be more efficient pound for pound of hauling mass (hydrogen is only 1/9th (or 0.111…) the total mass of water). We can in theory also get H2S (hydrogen sulfide) or acids like H2SO4 (sulfuric acid), HCl (hydrochloric acid), and HF (hydrofluoric acid) from the Venus atmosphere [8] as another hydrogen source, but they’re heavy, corrosive and poisonous. Extraction of sulfur compounds and acids might be useful if we’re trying to terraform Venus at the same time though.

    All of this stuff heading to Mars brings up an interesting question: How could we streamline getting stuff down to the surface and keep our spaceships going as fast as we can? Space Elevators on Olympus Mons (big mountain on Mars) and Skyhooks (orbital tethers to let things down gently from space) [9]! The ideas that have been frustrating engineers on Earth for half a century and couldn’t work with current materials would be much easier with the 38% Earth-gravity of Mars. High quality carbon nanotubes could handle these jobs without too much problem (or Zylon or even Kevlar), and you could catch a potato-moon for ballast (probably Deimos since it is smaller, would need to move Phobos further out to be out of the way, and Deimos could possibly be used in material manufacturing of the elevator cabling since it has a high carbon content) on the other end after tying some of our fun VASIMR engines (or even normal chemical rockets) to it and moving it to geostationary orbit. Give an additional 20 years for setup, moving things into position, manufacture, safety testing and streamlining before the elevator or skyhook would be in frequent use, so about 60 years from present.

    Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: Aren’t we just going to lose this nice atmosphere after building it up from the lack of planetary magnetic field? First, if the atmosphere takes a hundred thousand years to lose 1% of pressure, it won’t be an “immediate” issue. We don’t know exactly how fast it will be lost, but it’s certainly not going to all blow away overnight when there’s (relatively) still so much left after a billion years. Second, ever heard of MRI machines [10]? Producing magnetic fields isn’t exactly rocket science, and the Earth can be doing more than just making SF6 for the atmosphere warming, LENR generators, Mars-plants and rockets. Existing superconductors (expensive, hard to mass produce, would take a while) [11] can create massive magnetic fields given enough power (for power, see above) and cooled (space is pretty cold already though), or we could go with passive neodymium magnets to create an Earthlike magnetic field [12]. All it would take is pretty much all the production of neodymium magnets for the next 75 or so years to produce enough to circle the planet a few times with then distribute them in arcs with magnetic fields oriented North-South in orbit around the equator. Sorry if you want some headphones or speakers in the meantime. My point is, a planet-scale magnetic field is completely doable in the longer term without something as extreme as asteroid collisions or moving Ceres into orbit around Mars to restart a planetary core dynamo like some people suggest [13]. This is if after further study we decide we need a planetary magnetic field at all [16]. Or we could just keep adding what gets lost. A lot less permanent, but might be cheaper that way in the short term.

    So there you have it. Atmosphere keeps getting added and is around high mountain elevation pressures here on Earth (Mount Everest only has around 330 millibar, other tall mountains have higher than that) [17] at low elevations on Mars circa 100 years from present. Still kinda cold on average, but we’d have cold-and-tundra type plants/forests growing and a climate better than Antarctica for people to live in. When money is no object and the whole world works toward it, Mars is terraformed and (mostly) atmosphere-stabilized using only present-day and very-near-future tech in 100 years(for the breathable atmosphere) to 150 years (for the lakes, seas and even thicker atmosphere). Just think how much faster and more efficiently we can do this stuff if we’re still advancing science in the mean time?

    References and Sources:

    [1] Sputnik - 1957:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_1

    [2] VASIMR:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_Specific_Impulse_Magnetoplasma_Rocket

    [3] RTG:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator

    [4] Nuclear power:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_plant

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_space

    [5] LENR accepted patent:

    http://www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/energi_miljo/energi/article3173090.ece

    http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?PageNum=0&docid=09115913&IDKey=F26F46F059DA%0D%0A&HomeUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fpatft.uspto.gov%2Fnetacgi%2Fnph-Parser%3FSect1%3DPTO1%2526Sect2%3DHITOFF%2526d%3DPALL%2526p%3D1%2526u%3D%25252Fnetahtml%25252FPTO%25252Fsrchnum.htm%2526r%3D1%2526f%3DG%2526l%3D50%2526s1%3D9%2C115%2C913.PN.%2526OS%3DPN%2F9%2C115%2C913%2526RS%3DPN%2F9%2C115%2C913

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Catalyzer

    [6] Sulfur hexafluoride:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfur_hexafluoride

    [7] Atmosphere of Mars (present):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Mars

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraforming_of_Mars

    [8] Atmosphere of Venus (present):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Venus

    [9] Mars Space Elevator (Second answer for materials analysis):

    http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/33547/space-elevator-on-mars-with-todays-technology-possible

    [10] MRI:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_resonance_imaging

    [11] Superconducting magnets:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconducting_magnet

    [12] Neodymium magnets:

    http://terraforming.wikia.com/wiki/Mars

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neodymium_magnet

    [13] More extreme production of Mars magnetic fields:

    http://space.stackexchange.com/questions/2423/how-would-it-be-possible-to-kick-start-marss-magnetic-field

    https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/giving-mars-a-magnetic-field.630403/page-2

    [14] Water at Mars ice caps:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_polar_ice_caps

    [15] CO2 and thickening atmosphere:

    http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2067286,00.html

    [16] Importance of magnetic field:

    http://www.space.com/11187-earth-magnetic-field-solar-wind.html

    [17] Mount Everest:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Everest

  35. mdbobbo
    Alien

    a messenger from across the realms

    Typically humans can only see a small section known as the visual spectrum, be this true then there could especially in hindsight of new developments in the views we now have from Hubble telescope to name one avenue. We should hypothesize that there are many spectrum's yet to be discovered in the future.

    In my mind I can understand A. that warming up mars to create a living environment may be some advantage to the human species. In saying this it's not beyond the realms of impossibility that what Mar's environment is made for may definitely not be in our scope of knowledge or even capability of our vision by any means we have discovered so far.

    There are many historical facts about life that we are yet to conceive scientifically. As though the ages there has been a persuasive path that shows "The Sciences" have disregarded that which can't be proven positive by scientific manner.

    Be this the case ( as it undoubtedly is ) how can we postulate in all our arrogance that there is no alternate form of life on Mars unknown and unseen by us mere infidel of the human species, religious/non-religious or otherwise?

    for all we know our next life ( And I also deploy arrogance here ) we are not spirit bodies discovering an unimaginable realm on the planet Mars, that doesn't need copulation to prolong it's species,is capable of transference to any part of the Martian planet, make available instantly the environment as we mind meld a coexistence into the apparent physical of the species that we have become.

    Do you really think as a human, learning the relevant autonomy of the flesh that we have the right to impede in a manner that obliterates atoms in another realm.

  36. This post has been deleted by its author

  37. meanioni

    An alternative...

    I've got a better idea, why don't we drop a nuke on Elon Musk instead? At least then we won't get such stupid ideas :-)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019