The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Living on Mars (and beyond)

I just found out that in 2011 Robert Zubrin put out a second edition of his 1996 work The Case for Mars. I didn't buy it in the late 1990s as I assumed it would be swiftly dated (and we're all agreed by now that I was right). I did, between 1996 and 2011, purchase How To Live On Mars - among the most enjoyable and informative books on general planetology I've ever read. So, given that Zubrin is rewriting his past books, I have some feedback to offer for this more "popular" and unedited effort.

Some are nitpicks, like when he mocks carbon-monoxide at page 72 (as a fuel) just before he gets into how useful the chemical is (as an ingredient) at pp. 74, 81, 82, 84. The underlying problem is perhaps the lack of an index; although, admittedly, since the conceit of this book is that it comes to us from the future, and from a high-energy / low-resource planet at that, its narrator was assuming that his book came to us via PDF. I am hoping his earthly editor prints an index for dead-tree dinosaurs like myself.

There is a more important miss where our narrator has no clue about nylon. Nylon is used to make threads that will work at room-to-moderate-high temperature. Nylons can be used for clothes which work much better than the trash-bag residue he recommends at pp. 76-7; they should also work for reinforcing brick at pp. 97-9, if not well-heated brick.

On topic of fabrics, I'm thinking that hemp and (for richer markets) cotton might be a good use of human- / animal-generated fertiliser at p. 97. For Martian life generally, humans will have to beware of Mars's low surface phosphorous. But this does exist in the mantle, so its might be extricable from volcanic formations and perhaps the northern lowlands.

Zubrin's biggest potential rewrite will be that later chapter on "how to invest your savings" which asks us to envision asteroid-mining. He chose Ceres (p. 131; 2.77 AU). Vesta is closer (2.36). Vesta also, conveniently, both has differentiated and has lost its crust. All that means the good stuff at its mid-mantle may be easily mined from it. The complaint at p. 128-9 that there is "nothing to eat" on the M asteroids also doesn't hold for C-type Ceres. It does hold for the V class headed by, you guessed it, Vesta. Again, Zubrin has made his case that Mars is a potential base for mining the closer-in rocks. But Ceres is a poor choice for the scope of this book. It may well get its own colonies.


posted by Zimri on 12:00 | link | 0 comments

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