October 24, 2019

Mars Colony Design Update

While it was an honor to get to the top ten finalists out of one hundred entries, I did not get into the top five winners.    I don't think this is the time or place to get into why the judging took place the way it did, simply because I wasn't there for it.  What I will do is defend my thesis and purpose in the decisions I made with the Eureka design, and elaborate on the answers I gave the judges at the time.   As far as making up your own mind, the top 25 semifinalists will be published in a book next month.  So future mars colonists will be able to review our work. 


There were a number of hard questions meant to give a more complete picture of the settlement in the contest criteria.  You had to come up with the structure, then an economic model, then a political model, aesthetics, and culture.   I went well beyond this into the very toughest challenges to space settlement where Mars is concerned and took them all head on.  Everyone else was running a marathon, but I was running an obstacle course for the duration of the marathon.  

Here's the thing.  I've been working on parts of the problem for over a decade.  I had focused on the worst issues I could find, because I know that there are not good answers in a lot of those spaces.  No one had a complete solution that was designed to be complete and unassailable to the critics and possible risks of a settlement on Mars.  I decided to try for that.  Even if it fell short, it would show what the hardest issues were left to solve so that I could focus on those.  But as it turned out, I answered all my challenges and offered root cause analysis back to the origins of civilization as to why those solutions were chosen. 

The Greenhouses

Robert Zubrin asked about the power requirements for the greenhouses, and has stated in the past that he felt greenhouses on mars should be naturally lit.  I did not have an answer for him off the bat because I had realized that power was not a forcing function last winter with my design.  The forcing function was surface area per person for food growth.  The best shape for a pressure vessel is a sphere.  A flat greenhouse, even under partial pressure, is a nightmare in terms of structural needs, materials needed for transport to Mars, and so on.  It is wide open to meteor strikes or possible attacks by rival powers.  There is the possibility that a key crop is too sensitive to radiation to be reliably used as food after being grown with such exposure.  I chose a heavily shielded stacked LED lit greenhouse because this gave easy temperature control, 24 hour daylight where appropriate, radiation protection to the harvesters, meteorite protection, and restricted exposure to epigenetic crop stress.  In the rotating ring, I also had 1G gardens where that was potentially appropriate.  We cannot just assume that all plants we want or need will grow in a Mars greenhouse, or that building them would be a good idea.  As for the power question, when the population hits 1200 people, the power demand is 275 megawatts.  At 40 MT per 2 megawatt reactor, this calls for larger reactors for better economies of scale. The concept called for every sixth starship to be carrying a nuclear power plant with a six megawatt output.  My forcing function was volume, followed by reactor transportation, followed by reactor cost.   Natural light would not reach the inside of a stacked plant bed like that used in an LED greenhouse.  With Mars frequent dust storms, you would need a reactor-fed LED light system anyway in addition to all your glass.  So why bother making more failure points?
Anyway, I had to get that off my chest. 


 The Mars Society is now saying they want to sponsor a million person Mars city proposal.  At the moment, I'm not considering making an entry.  I put off a number of projects to do the work I did on the Mars Settlement design.  I'm unwilling to keep putting off life goals for things like this after having sunk a very critical, pivotal year into this one.   The lasting good effects of having a bulletproof (literally) Mars settlement design are just beginning.  Eureka may be the winner in the long run after all. 

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