Will a Mars Settlement be “pristine”?

Among academics, the first Mars settlement will be a pristine haven for the academic elite. In this vision, the settlers will all be graduates of high degree programs: Masters and Doctorates will be the price of entry. Is this a realistic view, or simply another form of utopiate abuse?

I believe it is the latter. Particularly if the goal is long term settlement. Historically, settlers have not been among the intillectual elite. Settlers have to be experts, for sure. They have to be experts at doing what it takes to survive. In the exploration of The West, that meant you had to be able to kill wild animals (food and defense) as well as craft things you’d need from raw materials. A degree it did not take.

But Mars is Different

Is it? I hear this from the academics as well as from the common person. There is a belief that Mars Settlement technology will be so complicated that it will take someone special to operate it. If that is the case, we are all doomed. I assert it is not. I assert that the technology will not be so complex as to require a decade of life in the collegiate world.

Instead, real world experience in the fundamentals will be far more important. An ability to understand the basic things tha tmost academics have never experienced. Growing food, fixing a light socket, knitting a sweater, repairing the refrigerator. All of these are things that the so called “mundanes” do and can do. All of these are things that will be required on Mars.

Let us start with nurishment. How will we get our food? Simply put: the same way we used to here. We will grow it and raise it, then preapre it, then eat it. Some believe this will be done with hydroponics as the main source of food. I maintain this is untrue and yet another gimme-a-grant distraction.

You mean grow food the old fashioned way?

In a word: Yes. One of the main advantages of Mars over a floater (such as a space station) is the ground underneath it. It is an incredible resource most Terrans take for granted. Yet is is a very important resource. Why not use it? Growing plants in ground is a well established and fault tolerant process. It is less intensive than hydroponics of virtually any variety.

Many claim that hydroponics is so much more efficient than traditional farming that it will be all we need. However, I have come to the conclusion that this data is incorrect. In order to claim that hydroponics is better advocate insist that it a) requires less manpower b) can be automated, and c) has a higher yield.

The first aspect is false. Over a hundred years ago we humans without the benefit of computers and robots, were able to maintain large acreages with a few humans. Intensive Gardening in France had, IIRC, about 3 acres per person. So one person was able to maintain three acres or so. Not so bad. So if we had three acres of crops, we’d only need one or two people to maintain it w/o benefit of technology and thus grow our food. That’s not difficult.

The second aspect is true, but irrelevant. HP systems are only partially automated, and traditional (i.e. in the dirt) agriculture can (and has been) automated to significant degree.

The third aspect is questionable and irrelevant. It is questionable becuase modern HP studies on yield compare today’s commercial agriculture with HP yields. Yet it is clear and well understood that modern commercial methods are not actually seeking out maximum yields. It is true that modern farmers using modern commercial methods seek to maximize their yield, but that is only true for modern methods. Older methods produce higher yields but are not suited for today’s mass harvesting methods. I’ll discuss this in more detail separately. Suffice it to say that a couple people maintaining their garden well will obtain higher yields per-acre.

So no need to be an expert in hydroponics. This means that practically anyone can handle the food production.

Yeah but what about life support?

Life support systems will be a mix of natural and artificial methods. If the artificial methods are so complex and trouble-prone that they require a dedicated expert just to keep them running then they are too fragile for real world applications. Short term analysis should be simple enough to be handled by simple software and should be able to be managed by the Terran command center. If it isn’t, it’s too complex. We can do this. Particularly by settlement design. The larger the atmospheric space the less sensitive it is to transient conditions. As has been observerd “the solution to polution is dilution”.

In a small confined space, atmospheric changes can tell you how much the occupants are breathing, whether they’ve burped or passed gas. In these settings the LS:Atmo tech will have to be very fast and very complex. Outside of this, in larger areas you have plenty of time to tracl and chart trends and adjust for them. Even then, this is something anyone can learn in a short time.

OK, so what about making things?

Engineers, with very rare exceptions, don’t build things. Technicians do. People do. The guy who designed your car very likely doesn’t know how to actually build it. The mechanic that fixes it, however, can do. No academic degree needed. Your grandma, mother, wife, sister knitting clothes and blankets doesn’t require a degree.
OK, so why does it matter?
It matters for several reasons. First, as long as Mars is believe to be something out of reach of the average Joe, it will remain elusive. Once upon a time, the American West was held to be only the province of the rough and tumble frontiersman. Only when it was clear that average people could live there did westward expansion take off.

Today we can see ahead of time that this is the case. Why perpetuate a myth that Mars, indeed even space travel itself, is the protected realm of the so-called elite? Why indeed. Perhaps it is because the Ivory Tower is still not connected to the outside world. We’ve fortunately gone beyond the notion that space is pristine (as in 2001 A Space Odyssey) to not really different than life on Earth (as in 2010). The quarters are not spotless, they are cluttered and dusty.

It is primarily a sense of elitism that pervades this thinking. Mars is hard, but hard on a intellectual basis: therefore the common man need not apply. That forms the basis of these claims and outlooks. Truth is, Mars is not intellectually hard. Due to the lighter gravity it may be less hard than Earth, but it will still be a non-intellectual endeavor.

The first settlers will be homesteaders in the real and traditional sense, not people who’ve spent their lives buried in books and laboratories.


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