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Construction Equipment for Mars


Artist’s conception of a Mars colony. Credit: Mars One

Welcome to Mars! You and your fellow colonists have just landed on the red planet and are beginning to build your new home.  As you unroll your solar cells and set up your green house, what will you use to clear rocks from the site? What did you bring with you that will collect soil for processing into raw materials. How will you build roads, dig ditches for ice, and bury habitats in regolith to protect them from radiation? Hand shoveling in space-suits is a waste of time and an unnecessary amount of radiation exposure. That big complicated, sub-contract built rig NASA sent with you is going to break down eventually.  Plus, to support that monstrosity, you’re going to have to send a dedicated primary and a secondary expert on that entire machine, a cart-load of replacement parts, and you still might loose it to a critical failure if you roll over on an uneven dune. The cost of interplanetary shipping makes sending heavy equipment and parts cost prohibitive.

What you need, instead, is the simplest machine you can devise to do the job, reducing the number of parts that can go wrong. You need a power supply for that device that can be swapped out, not unlike the rapid charging stations for the Tesla roadster. Maybe a power supply that can run a tractor, a brick press, a back hoe, or any number of simple jobs that require applied force. You need an entire ecology of devices designed to work simply and together, devices you could manufacture, or 3-D print, in the equivalent of a university machine shop instead of a factory.  Easy to operate, repair and assemble, theses devices will be the workhorses for your new world.

A year ago when I was pondering these problems, I came across a TED talk by Marcin Jakubowski, PhD of Physics from University of Wisconsin. In his talk he described a collection of devices called the Global Village Construction Set, a whole ecology of devices, designed by the online community to overcome the myriad of problems inherent in commercial industrial and agricultural equipment: planed obsolescence, over design, difficulty of user-based repair, lack of standardization in parts and power supply, all of these driving up the cost, commonly over 400%.

While Marcin was building the Open Source Ecology project to liberate the user and the third world from corporate monopoly on resource extraction, I discovered that his ideas would work just as well to liberate a budding off-world colony from a crippling over-dependence on earth-based equipment and parts.

I have decided to build a team to construct one of OSE’s LifeTrac’s and test it at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. Some of the research we would like to do includes: operating the machinery in a space suit, adapting the LifeTrac to be driven using a teleoperations suite, and testing the equipment in a Mars-analog environment. We are going to have to raise the money to fund these plans, I’m currently estimating at around 15-20 thousand dollars. We are going to need a lot of man-hours during this fall  at Arizona State University and two weeks in the winter on site in Utah. In the end I’m hoping to get a lot of good data from this project, and a prototype that may one day be used to build a home on another planet.


Call for Volunteers

Updated July 2013
Building the future on Mars:
Opportunities to participate as part of the Mars Desert Research Station Team
(A note to anyone who has contacted us about a position and has not heard from us in some time:  Please contact us again.  I apologize for this, but a number of names and emails have been lost.)
As the Mars Desert Research Station begins its second decade of analog studies in Utah, there are plenty of opportunities to participate other than as a crewmember.  If you would like to get involved in any capacity, or if any of the volunteer positions listed here interest you, please contact us.  We would be delighted to have you join us.  Remember, most of these volunteer opportunities rely on your virtual presence, so you can be part of the team no matter where you are in the world.   Unless otherwise specified, please contact Shannon Rupert at for further information or to volunteer.  
Mission Support volunteers are the backbone of the crew experience.  We support crewmembers from the application process through their rotation at MDRS and beyond.  
We are currently looking for the following Mission Support personnel:
CapCOM Coordinator:  Responsible for daily communication with crews at MDRS.  Schedules CapCOMS for daily COMMS windows and makes sure all crew reports and photos are disseminated.  Trains new CapCOMs.  Estimated time commitment 15 hours a week.  Can be split between two people if two are interested.  
CAPCOMS:  The daily link between crews and Mission Support teams.  In recent years, CapCOMs have usually worked one evening per week, but this is flexible. CapCOMs can be located anywhere in the world and work during the field season only.  Varied time commitment, depending on your schedule.
FLIGHT SURGEONS:  To be part of the flight surgeon team, you must be a medical doctor with relevant experience in emergency, extreme environmental, or remote/telemedicine.  Flight Surgeons are on call 24/7 to advise crews on medical issues that occur while they are at MDRS and usually work with several crews during the field season.  
ENGINEERING TEAM: Members work throughout the field season with Mission Support and should have served as crewmembers at either MDRS or FMARS, although this is not a requirement.  They are also central to refit/work party efforts.  
Engineering Team members should be available throughout the field season several evenings a week or can commit to work parties throughout the year.   We are also looking for a Hab Manager Trainee.  This person would work under the direction of the Hab Manager and would need to live within a day’s drive of MDRS in order join us onsite throughout the year.  They would also need to work with Mission Support on engineering/facilities issues during the field season.  This job has a large time commitment.   
Our next refit/work party will be held in late September/early October 2013.  Please contact us if you would like to join our efforts.
REMOTE SCIENCE TEAM (RST):  Like the Engineering Team, members of the Remote Science Team are mostly scientists who have served on crews at MDRS, FMARS and/or MARS-OZ. RST members work throughout the field season.
PROJECT SCIENTISTS: We welcome scientists who would like to propose a short or long term project at MDRS.  Examples of projects include short term projects that are conducted over the course of a single field season and long term projects conducted over several years. 
ASTRONOMY TEAM: We are looking for people who would like to contribute to our astronomy research and education/outreach at the new and updated Musk Observatory.
GREENHAB TEAM – The Fisher GreenHab (used for CLESS research in the past) has been converted into an operational greenhouse to be used for both crew crops and greenhouse research. 
The following volunteer opportunities are special projects:
EXTERNAL DIRECTOR FOR A FILM SCHOOL CREW:  We are looking for someone who would be interested in developing a two-week field school for film students.  There would be a one-week rotation for documentary film students and a second week for feature film students.  Both teams would collaborate with each other and outside mentors (TBD) to create a short film during their time at MDRS.  The external director could also be a member of the crew.  We would like to initiate this concept during the 2013-2014 field season if possible.
EDITOR, MDRS Mission Reports:  We are looking for an editor to head up a project writing short summaries of all past missions at MDRS.  This person will be responsible for organizing a team of volunteer writers and managing team assignments.  There is already a team of volunteers who would like to work on this project, but the position of editor must be filled first.  There is the potential for publication of this project.
WRITER, MDRS Mission Reports:  We are looking for writers to work on the above project.  Time/writing commitment is up to you.  
EDUCATION/OUTREACH: working with the MDRS teams and Mars Society’s Education Coordinator 
OPEN HOUSE DOCENTS:  We are looking for people to participate in our open house at the end of the field season (May 2014) 
INFORMATION TEAM The time commitment for these positions is flexible.  We are looking for the following team members: 
RESEARCH LIBRARIAN—An independent position for someone interested in keeping track of published work that was conducted at MDRS
WIKIPEDIAN—An independent position for someone interested in creating accurate and updated wiki articles about MDRS.
WEB RESEARCHER—An independent position for someone interested in periodically searching the Web to see what is being published about MDRS.  
And we are always looking for writers, artists and educators with unique ideas about how they can contribute to MDRS.   To get involved, please contact us.


Why Aren’t You Reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars?

normal_RedMars_sketch01_59No other book has affected my life as much as Kim Stanley Robinson’s meticulously detailed science opera, Red Mars. If you want to walk side by side across the surface of an alien planet, with characters whose flaws and humanity, their neuroses and genius make you feel like you are standing right there, then take a trip aboard the Ares into a epic, century’s long story of the taming of Mars.

The book’s prologue introduces us to our characters, decades after the first colonists have landed, a time of celebration for the ribbon cutting of the first free standing city on Mars. You are immediately put into the mind of one of the main characters, and with each act of the book  you will be shown the changing face of Mars through a different person’s eyes, a unique prospective. In the first ten minutes you are exposed to horrific tragedy, the death of friend, immersing yourself in the thick of a complex and life-like world, full of political intrigue and interpersonal relationships. There is no need to feel overwhelmed, though, as the author intends to show you how it all began.

In the first full chapter, time rewinds back to the launch of the ‘First Hundred’, a multinational group of colonists who have been selected to set up base camp on the red planet. Here Kim has really done his research, from the descriptions of the psychological profiling process the participants go through, to the excited inventorying of the tools the colonists will use for building a new world. Each character’s specialty, from geology to therapy, physics to agriculture, widens the concept of this book, and shows us that when an entire planet’s worth of knowledge is distilled into just one hundred individuals, worlds can be conquered.

You will see glimpses of the other stories going on in the background, stories like whispers or rumors among the colonists. Then suddenly, another character will take the stage, showing a different side of the burgeoning community, and those rumors will blossom into their own. As counties start sending more people to Mars, the small time politics of a tiny outpost breaks out into global factions, the intrigue of mysterious disappearing colonists, and the enigmatic maneuvering of multinational corporations. The story scales up at a exciting pace, as a small scientific effort spawns the possibility, or maybe inevitability, of interplanetary conflict.


Finally, while Kim understands human character growth, he also understands one of the most interesting characters is Mars itself. We get a window into a whole new culture, trying to be free and distinct from is parent earth, while knowing it will never quite escape the baggage of thousands of years of human history and nature. You will care for this cast of characters, their causes and their passions, the tragedies and triumphs. In the end, reading this book will make you itch for the frontier, the unclaimed wild land of the red planet. It will make you want to reach for that small red light in the sky, and I think that is the most beautiful result of this great novel.

red-marsYou can pick up a copy of Red Mars on Amazon for as low as 1 cent used! Most bookstores keep a copy of the trilogy, and for the first ten people, if you contact me I will be thrilled to send you a free copy of my favorite book.

Business and Science, The Future of SEDS

When you think of the kind of students a space club recruits, you probably imagine membership that is heavy on STEM, fields like engineers and geologists, astronomers and rocket scientists. If you looked at the make-up of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, for the most part you would be right. In fact, what SEDS needs more than ever is a heavy dose of business majors, pre-law undergraduates and aspiring marketing professionals.

Why does SEDS need students from Sandra Day O’Connor, W. P. Carey and the Herberger institute? Isn’t SEDS all about inspiring the scientists and engineers, the people who will develop the technology that reaches beyond Earth? We all know the reason we don’t have a base on the Moon or a colony on Mars is because of a lack of advanced technology. Or is it?

Today every student walks around with a computer more advanced than what Buzz and Neil had in their capsule. NASA has had schematics for nuclear powered engines, engines that could take astronauts to Mars in a matter of months, since the 70’s. The life support systems onboard the ISS today would still be recognizable to the engineers of Apollo. A lack of technology is not holding us back.

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX l...

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX launch pad with CEO Elon Musk, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true log-jam holding back a flood of space development and exploration is economics. Elon Musk , founder of SpaceX, didn’t build a rocket company from the ground up because he had a revolutionary engine. What he had was a revolutionary business model, that instead of nestling subcontracts within subcontracts for rocket parts like Boeing and Lockheed, he would build everything in house. With this economic model his company ran so lean that in just a few short years he beat industry giants for NASA contracts so old they could have been called fossils.

Peter Diamandsis, who made his wealth as an Intel entrepreneur, understood humanity would never step beyond low earth orbit without an economic incentive. With the X-Prize Foundation he uses cash rewards to encourage competition in achieving technological goals such as landing a rover on the Moon and developing a handheld medical device that can diagnose medical issues like a live doctor. His company, Planetary Resources, is working to establish water and fuel depots from near Earth orbit asteroids, while also recovering their vast platinum group mineral wealth.

Each of these novel technologies, each of these steps into space, is wrapped in a business plan, marketed to the public or angel investors, and has teams of lawyers opening the frozen realms of space law. We need lawyers, who dream of space development, working to change restrictive laws that make private space ventures prohibitive. We need accountants and business people to take our engineering or science ideas and make them profitable and viable. We need marketing gurus to design our kickstarters and hunt out angel investors to fund our enterprises. In the end, we must boldly go where no SEDS-er has gone before, into the schools of law and business to seek out professionals and undergraduates passionate about the final frontier.


Sol 113 : The Dark Months

I’m not going to lie and say being out here for the holidays is not difficult. Its lonely and cold, with mornings that always seem to begin with the same question; Why am I here again? I didn’t ask myself that question the first month I was here, or the second. Similarly, I find myself waking up a little bit later, hitting the snooze button another time each morning, compressing my morning routine to compensate. I cant stay up late working on math, as I tend to get more impatient in the evening. I’ve been adjusting my schedule and trying different schemes of time management, trying to ping the right time of day for me to do homework effectively. I have a hypothesis that my body and its different organs are more or less efficient at different times of day. Maybe there is a best time of day to get the most out of my gym time, and a block between meals that my brain is running at peak. It will be interesting to see the results.

Red Mars 13 To the Cap

The Sheik Of Araby

Sol 67 : Restart

English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at Tr...

English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at TransferSummit 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday’s conflict resolved itself this morning and we are now thick as thieves again. We really do have similar interests and there is a lot I can learn from his experience. We are going to be working on programming a Raspberry Pi micro computer to catalog input from a GPS device for mapping of a field researcher’s movements.

I’ve taken over a repsonsibillity, one I don’t feel the need to detail, but the gentleman who left me with it, also left me with quite a mess! Having fun getting all the paperwork and spreadsheets standardized and organized. I don’t claim to know the motivations behind the previous organization, but I am now clearing the cob webs out and working towards higher efficiency.

Red Mars 06 strangers

Red Mars 07 Arival

Red Mars 08 decent

Sol 66 : Royal Garden Blues

I had a little experiment in conflict resolution, today. It didn’t go perfect, in fact, I think it went only slightly better then I expected. Which is saying a lot about my expectations, as the conversation ended with my counterpart walking away from me, abruptly, but without surprise. I really want us to get along, but it seems that he takes offense at everything I do, from ‘walking ahead of him in the hall’ to putting my cover on too early before leaving the building. I worry about him, and wish him peace.

I decided to put it out of my mind for the afternoon. A bit of historical reading, followed by more recording of the clips similar to the one linked below. Then it was off to the gym where I am stable running for 14 min strait on the Hill setting going from a flat to a 4.5 degree incline randomly, today upping my speed to a start of 5.2 mph and ending around six. The goal is 6.5 mph sustained for 14 min with peaks of seven mph, eventually moving to a stable incline of two degrees. I want to move this outside after this and get my run times in the excellent range for my fitness tests. I should start upping my push-ups and sit ups too, with a goal of 100 of each in two min respectively. All to make that officer’s board in two years and all this running has been to an audio book on modern Buddhist practices in daily life.

After all this its an odd mixture of 1947 blues and AC/DC, so…

Royal Garden Blues‘ is the theme tonight people. Lets put those quarters in the jukebox and get dancing 🙂

Red Mars 05 The tempest