back to article Dome, sweet dome: UAE mulls Martian city here on Earth ahead of Red Planet colonization

Three years ago the United Arab Emirates announced plans to stage a manned mission to Mars. Now the kingdom plans to build a massive Mars colony in the desert to test out the technologies they will use to live there. The Mars Science City will be a series of domes with 1.9 million square feet of living space encompassing …

  1. A K Stiles
    Boffin

    Mars-like conditions?

    How cold is it again, and how much solar power availability in the UAE versus on Mars?

    I'm all for good science and exploration, but is the UAE the most realistic location for a Mars habitat demonstrator?

    Presumably they are going to tint the domes to the restrict the available incident light to Mars equivalent wavelengths and energy? Still not sure about the thermal environment though...

    1. tony2heads
      Coat

      Re: Mars-like conditions?

      Put it on the Antarctica, that would be more realistic.

      Icon; not a coat but a snorkel parka

    2. Alister Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Mars-like conditions?

      And of course it's trivial to reduce the gravity by 62%, as otherwise you're not really replicating Mars-like conditions at all.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Mars-like conditions?

        Just tie helium balloons to their feet.

        1. Alister Silver badge

          Re: Mars-like conditions?

          @Rich 11

          Nice one :)

          I was actually thinking of this bit though:

          A team will also test how to grow food under Martian conditions

          which is bollocks unless you simulate the lesser gravity - plants will surely grow in a completely different manner in low gravity conditions.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Mars-like conditions?

            "plants will surely grow in a completely different manner in low gravity conditions."

            That is a hypothesis that must be tested. There is nothing sure about it.

        2. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Just tie helium balloons to their feet

          Make them wear Nike lighter-than-airs?

        3. PNGuinn
          Joke

          Just tie helium balloons to their feet

          Wouldn't that just give them squeeky boots?

  2. jmch Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Cost?

    "The facility will cost $136m to construct."

    That seems exceedingly cheap, certainly less than I expected. Peanuts really for UAE.

    Great if they can really build it mostly out of materials already avaiable on Mars. Minimise weight, and then send a few robots to Mars to build the domes and have them ready before the colonists arrive

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: Cost?

      I'd like to see a roving vehicle assemble something on Mars, even if it was from components it took with it. Heck, even a Bigelow dome type thing being secured and inflated would be a feat.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cost?

      That seems exceedingly cheap

      Its amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. Of course this sort of stuff helps keep the cost down.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Cost?

      Great if they can really build it mostly out of materials already avaiable on Mars. Minimise weight, and then send a few robots to Mars to build the domes and have them ready before the colonists arrive"

      Also a handy demonstrator of the technology required to build a new air-conditioned, oasis-like community for the local ruling elite when the oil runs out and temperatures rise. </tinfoil hat mode>

      1. rdhood

        Re: Cost?

        "oasis-like community for the local ruling elite when the oil runs out and temperatures rise."

        The oil is not going to run out. The customers who use it , however, are going to stop buying (eventually).

  3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Some discussion of the numbers would help the article. Like, it's bigger than Biosphere 2, which struggled to sustain eight people for two years, and both sites are pretty massive, far far larger than anything Mars colonists could expect to have, so the experiment doesn't really scale for the surface of another planet.

    Then launching 600,000 people to inhabit Mars in 100 years. Really? In the entire history of space flight, some 56 years, ~550 humans have gone into space, so about ten per year on average. How are we going to scale that number up to this proposed 600,000? It's a nonsense number plucked out of thin air with no basis or support.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well companies like SpaceX with their re-usable capsule and boosters will drive the cost down.

      With more demand, companies like Reaction Engines might get enough funding to build their SSTO's

      So its not impossible, but the UAE isn't a shining example of humanity, so I would hope they progress a bit before they succeed.

      1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        Yes, 600,000 in 100 years is impossible. While there will be cost savings due to re-usable rockets and market forces, they will not make Mars a consumer destination. It's still going to be excruciatingly expensive, and I doubt there are 600,000 people on the planet that could afford it, and want to go live in a sealed dome, instead of lording it about on their yacht.

        1. A K Stiles
          Coat

          600,000 in 100 years

          Ignoring moral issues and tech hurdles for radiation, shelter building etc;

          If you sent 200 women (plus maybe 20 men / lots of varied sperm for genetic diversity), with each of them having 4 children, and each subsequent generation having 4 children (per person, so possibly 8 per woman at 50/50 female/male birth rate - or selective breeding for majority female offspring) you would need 4 generations of offspring to get to a population around 600,000.

          Your first generation could begin to be born almost as soon as you arrive, and then average 25 years old per generation, you would be at 600,000 around 75 years in. Obviously it's a captive breeding programme and you're expecting people whose grandparents haven't even been conceived yet to follow your demands for procreation in a confined environment, but it *could* be done mathematically, if not ethically.

          1. Simon Harris Silver badge

            Re: procreation in a confined environment

            You mean they have to shag in the broom cupboard?

            Sardines is going to be a popular game on the Mars base.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 600,000 in 100 years

            If you sent 200 women (plus maybe 20 men

            Me! Me! Over here! Yes, yes, I'll sign anything you want. Shouldn't we start practising this bit on earth too?

            it *could* be done mathematically, if not ethically

            Or course I'll sign that disclaimer. Now when do I start?

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: 600,000 in 100 years

              From the thumbnail picture in the article header, I thought it was promoting The Dutch Cap for Mars explorers.

            2. Mike 16 Silver badge

              Re: 600,000 in 100 years

              First off, I'd suggest that any such enthusiastic male volunteers first watch

              http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072730/

              Also a "fan out" of 10 may be both impractical and illegal (depending on jurisdiction)

              http://loweringthebar.net/2008/09/man-with-86-wiv.html

              But above all, human nature and emotions are unlikely to continue this for long, and while the sponsors might be paying your way outbound, the return ticket is your problem.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: 600,000 in 100 years

              If you sent 200 women (plus maybe 20 men...Me! Me! Over here! Yes, yes, I'll sign anything you want. Shouldn't we start practising this bit on earth too?

              And another thing, you do KNOW that the ideal mix for captive breeding is intelligent, scrawny, older men with a pot belly paired with athletic young women with a taste for mild femdom BDSM?

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

            Hmmm....200 girls to 20 dudes, that's a 'ratio of 10 females to each male'. That sounds strangely familiar. 'I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.'

          4. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

            Re: 600,000 in 100 years

            I did consider on planet reproduction contributing to the total, but didn't understand any need need to deliberately create a significant number of new humans, as that hardly alleviates demands for resources on Earth. Although if we don't keep it in our pants, that number may not be so significant, and get lost in the noise while the population of Earth continues to explode I guess.

            Either way I don't see the point of the number, we could freeze sperm and eggs to future proof the diversity of the human race, they don't need to develop into mouths to feed.

          5. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: 600,000 in 100 years

            One experiment that has never been done is if human children will develop normally in reduced gravity. It could be many generations before the child mortality rate reduces and a population can really start growing. Just tossing some variables into the formula.

          6. herman Silver badge

            Re: 600,000 in 100 years

            Why burden the women? Use Axlotl tanks:

            http://dunepedia.wikifoundry.com/page/Axlotl+Tank

            http://www.axolotl.org/

          7. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: 600,000 in 100 years

            Genetic diversity is going to be the least of the problems.

        2. Brangdon

          Musk thinks he can get the price under $500k a head, with fleets of reusable rockets, each rocket sending 100 people at a time, and then returning to go again two years later. He's quite serious. He's announcing an update to his plan tomorrow morning. 100 years is a long time; a lot can be achieved in that time if you try.

          1. Simon Harris Silver badge
            Joke

            "under $500k a head"

            Musk is a very literally minded person. What people don't realise is that he's only going to be sending their heads to Mars.

            1. PNGuinn
              Go

              Re: "under $500k a head"

              Musky had better do some basic design work first.

              Reusable spacecraft? Pah.

              What we'll need for this little exercise will be reusable B arks. Lots of 'em.

              And shouldn't we be thinking of sending them slightly further away?

              I gather the Prime Sinister likes travel.

          2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

            That figure is pretty absurd, when Virgin Galactic are charging half as much for just a sub-orbital flight. You aren't going to get into orbit for $500k, let alone a 9 month trip to Mars, and a home when you get there. Musk is spit balling and it's embarrassing.

            1. jmch Silver badge

              "You aren't going to get into orbit for $500k, let alone a 9 month trip to Mars"

              Most of the difficulty of going to Mars is getting to orbit and landing. The trip itself is "point and shoot" so time constraints aside it isn't that much more difficult to go to Mars than to the moon. The difference is mostly related to Mars gravity.

              So if you could get in space for $250k per person, then scaling up a bit, it's not that unfeasible to go to Mars for $500k per person.

              1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

                Except you aren't going to get into orbit for $250k, when that's the proposed cost of a sub orbital Virgin Galactic fight. Hell, it's €17,500 for a 'Edge of Space' fight in a MiG-29. The cost of getting to the ISS and staying for a while was upwards of $20M. If Musk et al get that down to a couple of million (just to orbit) I'll be amazed. That's before 9 months of meals, and a home waiting for you at the other end. That part, the construction of the habitat on Mars, is going to be really expensive too.

                The other thing you overlook is the transit time to Mars. Check out the Top ten longest space flights. See the 10th place? That's about the the same as Mars transit. Not everyone has the mental fortitude to live sealed in a small space for such a long time, especially when you add in additional communication lag, and a total lack of an escape plan.

              2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                "So if you could get in space for $250k per person, then scaling up a bit, it's not that unfeasible to go to Mars for $500k per person."

                Virgin isn't getting you to space for $250k, only about 50 miles up. Maybe. If they get the spaceship part to work.

        3. jmch Silver badge

          " It's still going to be excruciatingly expensive, and I doubt there are 600,000 people on the planet that could afford it"

          When you're talking about that amount of people, the bulk of them will be there as unskilled / semi-skilled workers (mostly space farmers) with a small elite directing them. I suspect that most likely the workers will be made up of a bunch of undesirables* and/or expendables** with nothing to lose to be forcefully relocated or *ahem* 'convinced' to take up the role of Mars proles with a few military types to keep them in line.

          *As in past Chinese/Russian 'labour camps'

          ** As in current Indian workers in UAE / Qatar etc

          1. lglethal Silver badge
            Trollface

            7 years transportation...

            "I suspect that most likely the workers will be made up of a bunch of undesirables* and/or expendables** with nothing to lose to be forcefully relocated or *ahem* 'convinced' to take up the role of Mars proles with a few military types to keep them in line."

            Worked pretty well for Australia...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Kite flying

      "Then launching 600,000 people to inhabit Mars in 100 years. Really?"

      I do know a little about the UAE, and they are great kite fliers. Don't get me wrong, they have, in their own way, achieved a heck of a lot, the entire country is unrecognizable from just the few years ago when they discovered oil. But, even relatively down to earth projects like new shopping malls, or the islands that they like to make out of sand, are nearly always late, or dont appear at all. I get the feeling that people tell Sheikh Mo exactly what they think he'd like to hear, without thinking too much about actual delivery.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Then launching 600,000 people to inhabit Mars in 100 years. Really? In the entire history of space flight, some 56 years, ~550 humans have gone into space, so about ten per year on average."

      If you take the first 56 years of powered flight and average out the number of people who have flown per year, how realistic would the yearly average be compared to the number of people flying in 1966? Any number of new developments could happen over such a time period.

      To throw some currently ridiculous suggestions into the mix, cheaply produced strong aerogels weighing next to nothing suitable for structural jobs, single stage to orbit "space planes" a la Reaction Engines plans, maybe something clever with high temperature superconductors.

      Even rocket nozzles might be improved for all I know though we think we are pretty much at the pinnacle of nozzle design. That exhaust is coming out in a pretty chaotic fashion like water out of a hose. Maybe some bright spark will come up with materials and a design to improve the lamina flow like modern "dancing fountains" nozzles. Dunno, I'm not a physicist or materials scientist.

      1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        The analogy to powered flight is quite accurate I think, but not for the reasons many think. We reached peak space when we briefly had the capability to reach the Moon. We reached peak flight when we had the capability to fly supersonically. Market forces settled both down, and it ended up wider, and cheaper, with only governments pushing the limits of what can be done. I don't see Mars trips being something Mr Average is going to afford, and rich people don't need to go. Rich people got rich enough exploiting resources on Earth, and they'll only get richer as resources get more scarce. I can't see a corporation dropping any significant cash to send a person to Mars to mine, or farm either. They'll send a robot if there's financial gain to be had. Fast forward 100 years, we'll have AI and robots, why are we sending flesh?

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        If you aren't compromising a nozzle design so it will work in atmosphere and in vacuum, you can optimize them very well. Even traveling from sea level to 1km is a pretty big variance when it comes to nozzle design.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "Even traveling from sea level to 1km is a pretty big variance when it comes to nozzle design."

          Thanks, I didn't realise that an atmospheric optimised nozzle might be different to a vacuum optimised nozzle. So this means any chance of an efficient Single Stage To Orbit is probably going to need some clever variable geometry nozzle which as yet we are not able to create.

          1. Esme

            Already been sorted. See 'plug nozzle' design. It's lke an inside-out bell nozzle; the plug in the middle acts as one side of the nozzle, and the surrounding atmosphere the other side. To keep the plug to a reasonable length, an aerospike nozzle can be used. This uses gas vented through a stubby plug - typically exhaust from the turbopumps that drive fuel into the reactio chamber - to from the pointy bit of the plug. Such nozzles automatically compensate for altitude from sea level all the way up to vaccuum.

            We've known how to do this for decades. Since the 1970's at least.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              "We've known how to do this for decades. Since the 1970's at least."

              This why I love this place. No matter the topic, there's always someone who "knows stuff" :-)

    4. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      In the entire history of space flight, some 56 years, ~550 humans have gone into space

      And only 24 of them have gone further than ~200 miles away from Earth's surface, and at their furthest point were less than 1% of the distance to Mars.

    5. rdhood

      600,000

      I would suggest Minimum Viable population. Research has suggested that the number is between 160 and 40,000 people, with about 5000 being a true starting point. 600,000 is just a stupid number.

      1. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

        Re: 600,000

        Yes. This figure in the order of 1,000 is a lot more realistic. It would probably be sensible to have around 3 semi-autonomous communities of this size in case of some form of infection / natural disaster / depressurisation / fire wiping out a community altogether.

        And to be practical, rather than fashionable, we should, of course, start on the moon for fairly obvious reasons.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just curious

    Which direction do you pray to Mecca, when you're on another planet?

    More seriously, I wonder how they are actually going to build the Habitats because thats actually one of the main stumbling blocks of a colony. If you need low cost workers to put it up in the UAE, thats not really replicatable on Mars - but considering the UAE laws on Migrant workers and the Kafala System, I wouldnt put it past them to try...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just curious

      When I got my first proper job, one of my tasks involved spending some time on a fishing trawler - so I got put on a training vessel for a week.

      The skipper told me that he often got groups of Muslim students on his boat, and that at prayer time he'd wait for them all to start their prayers and steer the boat in a circle, while the students shuffled around on their knees trying to keep facing towards Mecca.

    2. brotherelf
      Headmaster

      Re: Just curious

      > Which direction do you pray to Mecca, when you're on another planet?

      You'll be unsurprised to hear that there's guidelines on this (though, I guess, how relevant these guidelines are always depends on how you feel about the group that issued them): https://www.wired.com/2007/09/mecca-in-orbit/ quotes a report approved by Malaysia's National Fatwa Council in 2006 that seems to boil down to, in order of preference, "1) the Ka'aba, 2) the projection of Ka'aba, 3) the Earth, 4) wherever".

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Just curious

        The ka'aba being a big, black cuboid. However the dimensions of the sides are not in the ratio of 1:4:9

        Now, if they find something like that whilst constructing the moonbase...

    3. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Just curious

      Which direction do you pray to Mecca, when you're on another planet?

      Just face the sun. From Mars you won't be more than 33 degrees out if you follow that rule, while from Jupiter (and let's assume a moon's surface rather than the planet's surface) the margin of error will be about 11 degrees. Surely that has to be accurate enough for god's magic to work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just curious

        Surely that has to be accurate enough for god's magic to work.

        Priceless.

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Lemme see...

    Desert planet, check.

    Water shortage, check.

    Religious society, check.

    Paging Paul Atriedes. Paul Atriedes to the red planet phone, please.

    1. A K Stiles
      Joke

      Re: Lemme see...

      You missed the giant worms and the serious drug problem, but I suppose at least 50% of that is easily resolvable!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Lemme see...

        "You missed the giant worms and the serious drug problem, but I suppose at least 50% of that is easily resolvable!"

        Yes, enough of the right kind of drugs and you'll soon start seeing giant worms!

  6. Andrew Moore

    Okay....

    ...at what point does Pauly Shore join the project?

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Okay....

      When they need an expert on growing purple sticky punge.

  7. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    3D Printed sand.

    This is interesting what're they using as glue?

    1. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: 3D Printed sand.

      Reading up, this is disappointingly concrete, which is unlikely to be a good option for Mars.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: 3D Printed sand.

      On reading that, my first thought was "WTF are you making sand in a 3D printer?"

  8. ukgnome

    I can't see the allure of having to grow potatoes in my own shit.

    1. Chris 239

      Re "grow potatoes in my own shit"

      We already do don't we - it's what farmers are for.

    2. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      With 600,000 other people there it'll probably have been grown in someone else's shit.

  9. Chris 239
    Happy

    Laser sintering?

    Presumably laser sintering of sand into something resembling glass is possible - rather depends on having the right type of sand though, I guess.

    Maybe you could make lightly sintered light weight porus bulding blocks or fully fused airtight sheets by controlling the laser power.

    Maybe UAE is sick of getting sand in their sandwiches and want to ship all the sand to Mars.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Laser sintering?

      Just so you know, doing any sort of laser sintering requires an extremely fine and accurate powder to get anything with structural strength that you can rely on.

      This is always the Problem when I hear People talk about just 3D printing everything on Mars from the local sand. Sure it's potentially feasible. the building blocks are there, but only after you've filtered it, seperated the soil into it's consitutent parts, reduced it to a very fine powder, and then, maybe, you can start sintering. So you already need some very good, powerful and expensive production facilities to get the raw materials to build the rest of your base. If you dont do that, your sintered blocks will end up with mass impurities which mean the strength will be shite and they'll suffer from cracking under even low loads.

      As always, the devil is in the Detail...

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Laser sintering?

        Let's consider the low tech way... sand + lots of heat = glass.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Laser sintering?

          Exactly! And since we are talking 100 years in the future, cheap fusion power will be available as that is only 50 years away!

          The lead lined one with the space helmet ---->

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Laser sintering?

      You want to make sure it is a good form of sand and not loaded with peroxides and other interesting compounds that might make slag out of the sintering laser.

  10. Slacker@work

    Only $500k...

    So that's a ticket to Mars or a small 2 bedroom flat in a crap part of London. I know which I'd go for!

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Only $500k...

      You'd get your arse to Mars.

    2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Only $500k...

      The commute's a bugger though.

      1. Chris 239

        Re: The commute's a bugger though.

        Can't be worse than the London tube in rush hour....

        1. lglethal Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: The commute's a bugger though.

          "Can't be worse than the London tube in rush hour...."

          Less People, about the same amount of air, but the waiting time can be a real killer...

          1. sbd

            Re: The commute's a bugger though.

            "Less People, about the same amount of air, but the waiting time can be a real killer..."

            If you mean the waiting time until all the politics/problems are solved, then Mars looks the better option than fixing the tube (est. 1863)

    3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: Only $500k...

      $500K to spend 9 months in a small box cleaning yourself with wet wipes. Not that it will be that cheap.

      1. Smooth Newt
        Meh

        Re: Only $500k...

        $500K to spend 9 months in a small box cleaning yourself with wet wipes. Not that it will be that cheap.

        There certainly won't be the payload capacity for hundreds of boxes of wet wipes. You'll get one wet wipe and have to make it last the whole trip.

  11. Chris 239

    Underground

    Mars is more like the Moon than the Earth and I'd have thought that underground is the place to build long term habitation on either the Moon or Mars.

  12. P.B. Lecavalier
    Meh

    "wants to train a new generation of scientists and engineers"

    From one of those countries where scientists consider woman as a mammal but can't say whether it is a human.

  13. EastFinchleyite

    Domed to failure

    The problem inherent in any state, religion, or corporate sponsored colonisation of Mars will be that unless we are very lucky the social pressures and prejudices of each sponsor will be reflected in the way the Colony behaves.

    If the technology succeeds, we would end up with many domes on Mars

    - several Islamic based societies (Shia, Sunni, Sufi, etc) The domes will hopefully not be built too close together otherwise hostilities brought from Earth will start even before the paint is dry.

    - Balkan Domes. Three at least based on Catholic, Orthodox, and Islamic social structures. It is probable that at least one of these will decide that they should occupy more than one dome.

    - Westboro Baptist Dome. They are just going to hate everyone else.

    - EU Domes. 27 or 28 domes all designed with different social priorities and linked by tunnels that allow free access amongst dome dwellers. This is of course the perfect design.

    - The USA Dome. Mexico is going to pay for this one. It will still trust in God but there will be no agreement on which God. Gun ownership will be a problem and patches for bullet holes will be best sellers.

    There will be no UK dome. We are staying where we are. We will of course want to run the banking of the Domes and will set up special off-planet money handling facilities on the Moon to do so.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      Re: Domed to failure

      Mars will need an extra dome as a place to send the worst of its criminals (e.g. people who steal a loaf of bread, a very serious crime in any developing society). This dome will be located in the part of Mars which has the most deadly conditions, and is not claimed by any other nations (except the local Martians who have lived there since forever but they don't count). This dome won't legalise same-sex marriage until long after every other dome has done so. It will also have the best stretches of sand on the planet, so we can forgive everything else. It will be called Marstralia.

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