Relive the moment: the landing of Curiosity

August 6, 2012 • 11:54 am

If you’re one of those wimps or working folk who missed the landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars last night, watch this wonderful 2½-minute video of what happened in the control room (interspersed with reconstructions of the landing).  This has just been posted by the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech; thanks to alert reader Michael for the catch:

99 thoughts on “Relive the moment: the landing of Curiosity

  1. Thanks…the NASA TV feed was, as you’d expect, mostly raw footage — exciting, but hard to figure out what, exactly was going on. I’ll have to watch this to fill in the gaps….

    b&

      1. I’m delighted that once-stodgy NASA is doing these kind of “MTV version” videos. And I’m really impressed with how quickly they were able to edit in the actual footage from the control room.

  2. Just look at all those humorless, unfeeling scientists, sitting there totally stoic. You’d think they might get noticeably excited by this kind of venture. 😉

    Do I get to harumph?

  3. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not in love with the space program. But this video was extremely impressive, especially after I’d studied the diagrams of how Curiosity was supposed to land, and thought about all the things that could go wrong at each step. Amazing.

    1. Why not (in love with the space programme), ironwing?

      Seems to me it’s the kind of thing humans should be doing, with some reservations:

      1) Should be fighting povery? But as someone said, the poor are always with us. And maybe something will come from this that will help us to fight poverty.

      2) Living in nuclear-free New Zealand, I’m not happy about sending concentrated radioactive materials to Mars.

      I agree about the feat. It proves that human travel to other planets is unnecessary. (If it’d gone wrong, it would suggest that human travel to other planets is inadvisable.)

      1. While I’m happy for the planetary geologists who are involved in this project, that is a relatively minor specialty within my science. I would like to see the U.S. spend a few pennies on a national geologic mapping program. It is basic information that would benefit all the geosciences as well as biology, land management, disaster planning, and other things. We have wonderful technology (GPS, Google Earth, laptops, mapping software, cell phones, good 4WD vehicles and ATVs) that would make it so much easier and better than it’s ever been, and we have more need than ever for accurate, up-to-date geologic information about THIS planet.

        1. Don’t sound so bitter, Shuggy. It helps all science when big public successes like this happen. It would be great if more was invested in less visible science. But I don’t think that programs like Curiosity are stealing (so to speak) from other science work.

        2. “up-to-date geologic information about THIS planet.”

          While that’s probably more immediately useful than the Mars mission, it’s more important for the long term to have achievements that inspire all mankind. Lots of kids grow up dreaming of visiting other planets, but no one dreams of geologic mapping.

          1. “achievements that inspire all mankind”

            The vast majority of mankind are just hoping to achieve something to eat today, and would be enormously inspired by a clean, reliable water supply.

            “no one dreams of geologic mapping”
            Speak for yourself. 🙂

      2. Living in nuclear-free New Zealand, I’m not happy about sending concentrated radioactive materials to Mars.

        I don’t know why. It doesn’t pose any danger to anyone, and it’s not like the rover is contaminating an otherwise radiation-free environment. Mars is already baked in solar radiation.

        I agree about the feat. It proves that human travel to other planets is unnecessary.

        It most certainly does not prove that. A human mission to Mars would be fantastic.

        1. A manned mission to Mars would be fantastic — and very expensive. We have the capability of sending highly sophisticated robots to Mars for the low price of $2.5 billion. The most optimistic estimate for a manned mission I have seen is $50 billion. A Mars sample return mission (where we get to study Mars rocks back on Earth) would also be cheaper because it does not require the development of a heavy-lift rocket.

          Spending 10s of billions of dollars (or maybe even over 100 billion) for what would largely be a prestige mission does not seem the best of use of limited research dollars. Robotic technology is progressing much faster than our ability to cheaply launch human-rated heavy lift rockets which will have to carry not just the astronauts but also their return vehicle, food and water for two years and either rocket propellant or some sort of nuclear-powered propellant “factory.” We could send a whole army of robots that haven’t even been developed yet for same price as a 2030 Mars mission.

          We should at least be clear-eyed about the fact that a manned mission would not be primarily about science.

          1. It wouldn’t be primarily about science. It would be the first step toward a permanent human presence beyond the Earth.

            1. “a permanent human presence beyond the Earth”

              I don’t get the appeal of this idea. I want to learn as much as we can learn about other planets as the next science fan. But the extreme inhospitability of Mars, the best of the options, makes it a joke for long-term human occupation. It seems to me that science fiction severely misunderstands what humans need to survive as communities over the long haul.

              1. “It seems to me that science fiction severely misunderstands what humans need to survive as communities over the long haul.”

                Concur. But isn’t that’s why it’s called fiction? Mainstream Earth-bound fiction – too much of which is way too prosaic and quotidian in my opinion – will never have that problem.

                A couple hundred thousand years ago humanity was barely getting by. Is it possible that what we need to survive (as opposed to flourishing) increases in proportion to technological advance?

                The idea has been floated somewhere in print/in the media that we should accept the idea of a one-way manned trip to Mars, that to expect to be able to make a round trip is unrealistic or unreasonable or prohibitively expensive.

                What about “fantasy” or “science fantasy”? Can one meaningfully say that those genres misunderstand or underestimate what humans need to survive (and flourish)?

                I think at least one thing needed not, just for survival but also for flourishing, is to view fellow/sister human beings as just that, human beings, humanity. That statement may seem so obvious as to be silly, but we live in a time where flesh-and-blood human beings are more and more viewed by private corporate tyrannies as “human resources” or “human capital” or “social capital.” There was a time when were at least viewed as “personnel” (persons). I gather that the name was changed to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation (at least as viewed by those in power in Business and its handmaiden, Government).

              2. I don’t get the appeal of this idea.

                Chixulub.
                Manicougain
                Stac Fada (yes, I’ve swallowed John Parnell’s interpretation, with some reservations. I’m going to have to go back out and do my own fieldwork.)
                Sudbury
                Eltanin
                Do you get the idea yet?
                We are all eggs in one basket. To actually have equipment and techniques in place that would have a credible chance of preventing the next impact, we would need to have significant long-term occupation out in the rest of the solar system. We may not get the decade or several of warning that we would currently need to do anything about an impactor.

              3. I’m with you, Filippo.

                gravelinspector: As for “shit happens” (in the form of asteroids smacking into Earth)… Well, yes it does. But I don’t really take any comfort in the idea that some handful of humans could perhaps survive for an extra year or two on the surface of a planet that makes Earth-after-impact seem downright bucolic.

              4. It’s not a “handful of humans.” The long-term goal is a large, permanent, self-sustaining human presence beyond the Earth. As long as we remain confined to a single planet we’re at risk of the complete loss of human civilzation, or even extinction, from a global catastrophe such as an impact event.

              5. Gary W, please quantify the size of this population.

                And, we are always at risk of extinction, primarily as a consequence of our own activity. Flying some people off to live in a set of connected boxes on Mars is not a serious way to reduce the probability of extinction. Given enough time extinction is a certainty.

              6. Gary W, please quantify the size of this population.

                It doesn’t have a fixed size. It will likely grow over time as humanity spreads to more and more places beyond the Earth.

                And, we are always at risk of extinction, primarily as a consequence of our own activity. Flying some people off to live in a set of connected boxes on Mars is not a serious way to reduce the probability of extinction. Given enough time extinction is a certainty.

                Again, the long-term goal is a large, permanent, self-sustaining human presence beyond the earth. Not just “some people living in connected boxes.” The more places humanity is present, the lower the risk of extinction, or of the complete loss of human civilization. As the old maxim says, it’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. I don’t know why you’re having so much trouble grasping this point.

              7. Then you need to look up the meaning of the word “handful.” It doesn’t mean “variable size.”

            2. Sure, but until we develop cheaper ways of blasting heavy payloads and/or humans beyond low-earth orbit, I don’t see any permanent human presence beyond Earth in the cards.

              Right after the Apollo 11 landing, BBC interviewed Neil Armstrong and Armstrong voiced the opinion that the U.S. would have a permanent moon base maybe in 10 or 20 years. Instead, once the hype wore off on the moon missions (it only took about two years), Apollo was cancelled, NASA’s budget was slashed and humans haven’t been beyond low-earth orbit since. Those Saturn V boosters cost about $500 million each and that’s in 1960s dollars. In the words of Freeman Dyson, Apollo was a “dead end” and that should serve as a fair warning to Mars enthusiasts.

              A human presence beyond Earth is a great, romantic vision. I doubt anyone will be willing to pay for it in my lifetime, though, so I am happy with the sort of incremental progress that may allow cheap beyond-LEO spaceflight in 100 or 200 years.

              1. We could probably do an initial human mission to Mars for a lower relative cost (percentage of GDP) than the Apollo Program. Certainly, if the costs were shared with Europe, China, Japan, etc. It wouldn’t be just an Apollo-style flags-and-footprints mission, but the foundation for an ongoing series of missions to build up a permanent colony. After the initial mission, subsequent flights would be a lot cheaper. As someone else mentioned above, this might involve one-way trips. See, for example, Bob Zubrin’s book The Case for Mars for a detailed description of this type of program. We can certainly afford it. We just lack the political will at present.

                I’m currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, 2312. As the title suggests, it’s set 300 years from now. Mars has been completely terraformed, and has a large human population (billions of people) and a complex biosphere. Venus is in the process of being terraformed. There are also large human settlements on Mercury, the moons of the outer planets, and on the insides of thousands of hollowed-out asteroids, which are also home to a vast array of diverse complex biospheres (“terraria,” as Robinson calls them). Surface-to-orbit trips from the larger planets are done with Space Elevators.

              2. We’re having discussion of the reasonableness (or lack) of permanent settlements on other planets and you offered, presumably as evidence, a bit of fiction by Kim Robinson.

              3. I think it is evidence of a plausible future, in broad outline if not in detail. It’s based on plausible extrapolations of known science and technology. It’s not “reality.” I didn’t say or suggest that it is.

              4. Well, I don’t understand how you can say is both plausible AND not realistic.

                To my mind, that sort of sci-fi is entertaining in much the same way that The Lord of the Rings is entertaining but unrealistic. They both feel believable in some sense but neither is a realistic representation of plausibilities.

                (To be honest, I haven’t read the book you refer to, so maybe I’m wrong. But since it contains descriptions of terriformed Venus and space elevators, I suspect I’m not.)

              5. Well, I don’t understand how you can say is both plausible AND not realistic.

                I didn’t say it’s not a “realistic” projection of the future. I said it’s not “reality,” which is what you suggested I am confusing it with.

                To my mind, that sort of sci-fi is entertaining in much the same way that The Lord of the Rings is entertaining but unrealistic.

                The Lord of the Rings is fantasy. It’s not supposed to be realistic. I don’t know why you think the kind of future depicted in 2312 that I described is not plausible. Why do you think space elevators and terraforming are not plausible? As far as I’m aware, they don’t involve any violation of known scientific principles, and they are based on projections of current technologies.

              6. Well, I’ll leave it there since I don’t think we’re getting anywhere. But I remain resistant to the notion that science fiction provides a reasonable basis for evaluating expectations for permanent habitation of other planets. Maybe I’ll change my mind after my flying car is delivered.

              7. Maybe I’ll change my mind after my flying car is delivered.

                Air travel, space travel, telephones, wireless communication, submarines, skyscrapers, computers, the internet, genetic engineering, cloning, test-tube babies and countless other technologies were predicted in fiction before they were created in reality. No need to wait for your flying car.

              8. “countless other technologies were predicted”

                So what? You’re stumbling on a fallacy. The fact that some predictions come true (sort of) does not mean that other predictions are likely to be accurate.

              9. So what?

                So, waiting for your flying car before evaluating the plausibility of future technologies depicted in science fiction doesn’t make sense.

                You’re stumbling on a fallacy. The fact that some predictions come true (sort of) does not mean that other predictions are likely to be accurate.

                I didn’t say it did, so your “fallacy” claim here makes no more sense than your “reality” claim. You haven’t offered any serious arguments as to why the future technologies I described are not plausible. Expressions of personal incredulity are not a serious argument.

              10. “Expressions of personal incredulity are not a serious argument.”

                Nor are expressions of credulity. “I read it in a sci-fi novel” isn’t good enough, IMO.

                Anyway, my warp drive has arrived and I’m off to visit NGC 7635. Catch you later!

              11. Nor are expressions of credulity. “I read it in a sci-fi novel” isn’t good enough, IMO.

                It’s one strawman after another with you. I didn’t say it’s plausible simply because “I read it in a sci-fi novel.” I said the future technologies in question are plausible because they don’t seem to involve any violation of known scientific principles, and are based on projections of current technologies. You haven’t offered any serious rebuttal to this point.

              12. I’m currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, 2312. As the title suggests, it’s set 300 years from now. Mars has been completely terraformed, and has a large human population (billions of people) and a complex biosphere.

                Purest fantasy, with no more chance of becoming reality than Star Wars or even Harry Potter.

                Run even a first order mass / energy budget approximation to figure out why. How much atmosphere, how much liquid water, how much heat does terraforming Mars require? How much energy does it take to deliver it all there — presumably from either Venus or Jupiter?

                Here. I’ll help. And to make it even easier, we’ll use money as a proxy for energy.

                Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 5e18 kg. Mars is somewhat smaller so, on the one hand, there’s less volume to fill. On the other hand, gravity is weaker so you need more air to reach the same surface pressure. Outgassing is also a bigger problem on Mars, and it’s farther from the Sun so it needs a stronger greenhouse effect. And as this is a first-order approximation, we’ll stick with 5e18 kg of atmosphere needed to import.

                (Remember, Mars’s current atmosphere totals less than 1% of Earth’s. Where Earth’s sea level atmospheric pressure is 29.92 inches of mercury, Mars’s surface pressure is 0.2 inches of mercury. Many laboratory vacuum chambers have more air than the Martian surface. For any purpose other than landing an interplanetary probe, Mars is a vacuum and all of the atmosphere needs to be imported.)

                Cost to launch from Earth’s surface to LEO is about $4,000 / kg. We need to get the atmosphere not from Earth’s surface but either Venus’s surface or Jupiter’s atmosphere, and not from low orbit but to Mars. Even with exotic technologies like skyhooks and ramscoops that’ll cost a lot more than $4,000 / kg — especially considering the volume / pressure requirements — but we’ll stick with $4,000 / kg.

                That brings us to $20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 in transportation costs just for the air. And we haven’t even touched the water.

                Let’s say we do this over 200 years so we still have a century to cultivate the plants and do the Adam & Eve bit. Totally idiotically ludicrous, even over a span of tens of millennia, but what the fuck.

                Global GDP is $70,000,000,000,000, so now we’re only talking one and a half million times global GDP to do this magic.

                Now, I can already predict your response, Gary. You’ll complain that my figures are totally unrealistic, that all we need to do is wave the technology wand and we can magic air out of thin air. And you’re not going to offer any figures you consider more realistic.

                And that’s truly unfortunate, in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons that any other religious fantasy is unfortunate.

                You see, in the real world, we’re facing imminent resource exhaustion. On the one hand, we have the Christians who don’t worry because Jesus is due on his white horse any day now to rupture the True Christians and torture the rest. On the other hand, we’ve got the Randite techno-worshippers like you who think that the laws of physics, and especially the laws of conservation, don’t apply to human ingenuity and so we’ll simply magically technologize ourselves out of any rough spots we might find ourselves in.

                Both positions are absolutely batshit fucking insane, and both are far more popular than being adults and trying to figure out how to make the most of what we actually have to work with.

                <sigh />

                b&

              13. As usual, your triumphant conclusion is based on some basic scientific and conceptual errors. As far as I’m aware, no one has seriously proposed terraforming Mars by importing massive amounts of material from Earth, so your elaborate effort to demonstrate the economic absurdity of such a scheme is completely irrelevant. The terraforming would be done using materials already present on the planet or from asteroids or comets or outer moons. Wikipedia has a good article on the topic.

              14. I tend to agree with Gary here. Although it’s not always the sf writer who comes up with the inventions. Arthur C. Clarke popularised the space elevator, in The Fountains of Paradise, although the idea came from the Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. (Clarke can be credited with conceiving the geostationary communications satellite, however.)

                So, KSR’s kind of hard sf paints a plausible future – at least from the scientific &c. pov. I tend to think that the bigger challenges will be the socioeconomic ones. And maybe we should put more effort into sort things out on this planet before we start exporting irrationality and prejudice to other worlds. 😉

                Oh, and I think a space elevator is more feasible than a flying car (& I take it you mean something like a spinner than the kind with “clip-on wings” the we already have), so the space elevator might well come along while you’re still waiting for that, GB!

                /@

              15. Oh, and I dare say someone 300 years ago might have made similar calculations to show that landing a mobile automaton on another world was economically infeasible. 😉

                /@

              16. Exactly as I predicted: you bitched about my figures being unrealistic and didn’t even pretend to offer any of your own.

                Just once in your life, do you think you could find a napkin to scribble on?

                That Wikipedia article is a joke. It talks about melting the CO2 ice at the poles in order to create an atmosphere half as dense as that on Everest — and completely neglects the excruciating toxicity of CO2 at any significant concentration.

                You think that the Martian surface can be mined. Fine. How much nitrogen and how much oxygen are available in the minerals at or near the Martian surface, and how much energy would it take to convert that into N2 and O2?

                You also suggest “asteroids, comets, or outer moons.” Asteroids are either mostly silicates or mostly iron, and utterly useless for creating an atmosphere. Comets are literally beyond Pluto. And “outer moons” would imply Uranus or Neptune.

                So do an orbital calculation for us. How much Δv does it take to deliver 5e18 kg from Neptune to Mars, and how does that compare to current global energy usage?

                b&

              17. Ant, the difference is that 300 years ago, Newton had just figured out orbital mechanics. We had no clue about the Earth’s petrochemical deposits, and it would be a couple more centuries before anybody understood the energy source of the Sun.

                Today, there are no more mysteries about such matters. Not only are the laws underlying the physics of everyday life completely understood today, we also know exactly (within much less than an order of magnitude) how much energy is available in various forms. We also know exactly what’s involved in doing work with that energy.

                We’ve used up half of the petroleum there is on the plant, and about a third of the rest of the hydrocarbon reserves (coal, methane, etc.). Fissile radionuclides can provide about as much (again, roughly) as the petrochemicals. Geothermal is low-quality heat energy that is useful in certain limited circumstances but a bit player on the global stage. And there’re the usual suspects of hydro and wind that are also useful bit players.

                But hydro and wind are just proxies for solar, and solar massively outperforms all the rest combined. Cover all of suburbia in the US with photovoltaics of today’s off-the-shelf technology and you power the whole planet, basically.

                There’s also fusion, but we know that physics well enough to know that it’ll aways be expensive and dirty. Besides, why run a dinky little fusion plant here when there’s a fusion plant the size of a star sitting right overhead?

                In order to fulfill Gary’s wet dream of terraforming Mars, we’d need something on the scale of massive solar collectors inside of Mercury’s orbit manufacturing antimatter to ship throughout the solar system to be used for energy, and it’d need to be done on a scale thousands if not millions of times bigger than today’s current global energy consumption.

                If you think something like that is going to happen in the next few centuries…well, I ain’t got nuttin’ for ya, man. Nuttin’ at all.

                b&

              18. It talks about melting the CO2 ice at the poles in order to create an atmosphere half as dense as that on Everest — and completely neglects the excruciating toxicity of CO2 at any significant concentration.

                No one is suggesting that humans would be able to breathe a CO2 atmosphere. Sublimating the frozen CO2 would dramatically raise Mars’s atmospheric pressure, eliminating the need for pressure suits, raising the temperature, and melting the water ice.

                Your other complaints are similarly misguided. There’s an extensive scientific literature on the possibilities for terraforming. You might want to try reading some of it.

              19. Run the numbers, Gary.

                How much atmosphere?

                Where is it to be found?

                How much energy does it take to get from source to destination? If the raw materials (say, cometary ammonia) need to be transformed from one form to another, how much energy does that take?

                Now, do the same with both liquid water and topsoil.

                Until you come up with some hard numbers for this, all you’re doing is stomping your feet and insisting that chanting spells and waving magic wands can too conjure up a magic dragon whose breath will make the candy trees bloom.

                b&

              20. You also suggest “asteroids, comets, or outer moons.” Asteroids are either mostly silicates or mostly iron, and utterly useless for creating an atmosphere.

                I’ll use this as yet another demonstration that you clearly have no familiarity with the literature, and simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Many asteroids are believed to contain large deposits of water. In fact, it is now believed that Earth’s water may have come mostly from asteroids rather than comets. Another possible use of asteroids for the terraforming of Mars is to impact small asteroids on the surface to generate the heat needed to sublimate CO2 and melt water ice.

                Your rambling comments are full of errors like this, mixed in with your usual irrelevant rants about your various obsessions — Ayn Rand, solar power, etc. What makes it even worse is that you are so utterly convinced that you’re right. When your errors are pointed out to you, rather than acknowledge them and rethink your position, you simply ignore them and move on to your next false or irrelevant claim. It’s really just not worth trying to engage you seriously.

              21. Run the numbers, Gary.

                Where are these water-rich asteroids, and how much of what type of rocket fuel do you need to crash-land them on Mars in sufficient quantities to create an hospitable atmosphere?

                The fact that the ocean is made of water is irrelevant to a shipwreck victim on a life raft dying of thirst.

                Do the math. It’s not hard.

                The difference between magic and reality is that, with magic, the laws of conservation don’t apply. Your terraforming fantasies, as with all your other fantasies, are utterly dependent on matter and / or energy that simply doesn’t exist. You don’t need more than junior high school math and science to figure any of this out…

                …so why won’t you do the math?

                Do the math.

                Do the math.

                Do the math.

                How many times do I have to repeat myself?

                Handwaving is bullshit. Do the math.

                Do the math.

                Do the math.

                Do the math.

                Get the picture yet? Is it starting to sink in?

                Do the math.

                Do the math.

                Do the math.

                b&

              22. I don’t need to do any math. You’re the one claiming it can’t be done. It’s up to you to prove that. And you can’t prove it by “doing math” with a bunch of irrelevant or made-up numbers. You need to stop obsessing over math and pay more attention to your basic scientific errors and false assumptions.

              23. Sorry, Gary.

                It doesn’t work like that.

                You’ve suggested that Mars can be terraformed in three centuries, which is even on its face as insanely fantastic a notion as one that you could do the hundred meter dash in under six seconds.

                I’ve already shown how it would cost millions of times of global GDP just to do the naively oversimplified version of importing just the atmosphere from Earth, which is by far the closest reserve of sufficient raw materials.

                It doesn’t even pass the sniff test.

                If you want to still insist that people take you seriously, you’ve either got to point out exactly the flaw in my reasoning, which you won’t do more specifically than bitch that I’m being unrealistic; or you need to do a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation of your own, which you won’t even vaguely handwavingly hint at.

                TL/DR: Terraforming Mars is as silly as the Noahic Flood. You need better science than the Creationists to be taken seriously, and you haven’t even offered any science.

                b&

                P.S. JUST GO AHEAD AND DO THE GODDAMNED FUCKING MATH ALREADY, OKAY? If terraforming Mars is even vaguely practical, you could have demonstrated as much dozens of times over: so much mass needed coming from such-and-such a location, which requires this much rocket fuel. Done and done. b&

              24. I’ve already shown how it would cost millions of times of global GDP just to do the naively oversimplified version of importing just the atmosphere from Earth

                Yes, you’ve already “done the math” purporting to show that it wouldn’t be possible to do something that doesn’t need to be done. You haven’t produced any “math,” or anything else, that demonstrates, or even merely suggests, that the terraforming of Mars would require prohibitive amounts of energy or is for some other reason implausible.

              25. Okay.

                Let’s take this exactly one step at a time.

                Gary, what is the total volume (in either gallons or liters) of surface water on your vision of a terraformed Mars?

                No precision necessary; one single significant figure is plenty. A range is fine, too. And you can even revise your estimate later if you like.

                b&

            3. A non-answer like “variable size” includes whatever version of “handful” one wishes to use.

              I think your vision of human communities on Mars is profoundly unsophisticated. I don’t think you have seriously thought about the ecological requirements that would make a self-sustaining population on another planet possible. I think that you are confusing science fiction with feasible probablity.

              Here we sit on this little blue marble, systematically destroying the environment that supports our very existence, and pretend that we’re going to transplant a pathetic minimal sample of Earth’s life onto a sterile rock in space and its all going to just work. I think that is silly.

              1. A non-answer like “variable size” includes whatever version of “handful” one wishes to use.

                It’s not a “non-answer.” There is no fixed size to the population of humans living beyond the Earth. So asking me to “quantify the size of this population” is meaningless.

                I think your vision of human communities on Mars is profoundly unsophisticated. I don’t think you have seriously thought about the ecological requirements that would make a self-sustaining population on another planet possible. I think that you are confusing science fiction with feasible probablity.

                Telling me you think my vision is “unsophisticated” and that you don’t think I have “thought about” something isn’t exactly a compelling argument. “Mr Darwin, your vision of life is unsophisticated!”

                If you have a serious, substantive argument to offer against something I have written, then make your argument. But telling me you think it’s “unsophisticated” is simply a waste of time.

                Here we sit on this little blue marble, systematically destroying the environment that supports our very existence, and pretend that we’re going to transplant a pathetic minimal sample of Earth’s life onto a sterile rock in space and its all going to just work. I think that is silly.

                I don’t think we’re “systematically destroying the environment that supports our very existence,” but if we were that would just INCREASE the value of creating a human presence beyond the Earth.

                And, for the umpteenth time, I’m not advocating “transplanting a pathetic minimal sample of Earth’s life onto a sterile rock in space.” I’m advocating a series of human missions to Mars to establish a colony there which will grow over time, with the long-term goal of creating a large, permanent, self-sustaining human presence beyond the Earth. One of the purposes of this plan is to reduce the risk of extinction or the loss of civilization.

              2. Gary, you won’t even offer up a wild-assed guesstimate of how much surface water you think Mars would have after terraforming. That makes your “vision” even less sophisticated than the Creationist’s story of the Noahic Flood.

                b&

              3. Gary, you won’t even offer up a wild-assed guesstimate of how much surface water you think Mars would have after terraforming.

                I don’t need to offer an estimate. I’m still waiting for you to “do the math” that you claim would demonstrate that terraforming Mars would require prohibitive amounts of energy or is for some other reason implausible.

                You obviously can’t actually do this, hence your endless evasion.

              4. Gary, the term for the very childish game you’re playing is “NIGYSOB,” as in, “Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch.”

                I do the math with the numbers I think most reasonable. You whine and bitch that my assumptions are so totally not what you had in mind. I then ask you to provide numbers that you think are realistic, and then you whine and bitch that I’m the one who’s supposed to be able to read your mind in order to come up with reasonable assumptions.

                Fuck that shit.

                A sophisticated vision includes specifics, even if it has significant error bars. Your vision utterly lacks specifics. Your idea of the colonization of space is therefore even less sophisticated than the Christian vision of Creation.

                If you want to prove that you’re not blindly unsophisticated, start coughing up some specifics.

                Either that, or you’ll continue to get the [lack of] respect you so richly deserve.

                b&

              5. No mind-reading is required. You claimed that the terraforming of Mars couldn’t be done, but you are utterly incapable of substantiating that assertion with actual facts and figures.

              6. Gary W, you have the burden of proof backwards. You are maintaining that a permanent, self sustaining human population can be supported on Mars. It is up to you to demonstrate that this is a remotely reasonable possibility. You apparently are not interested enough or capable of doing that. So I’m not taking you seriously beyond recognizing that you enjoy science fiction stories.

              7. Gary W, you have the burden of proof backwards.

                No I don’t. Ben Goren claimed that terraforming Mars can’t be done, so Ben Goren obviously has the burden of substantiating that claim.

              8. Oh, what the fuck. I’m bored at work, and I could stand to shoot some more fish in the barrel.

                I’ll skew the numbers as hard as possible in your favor. The results will still come out as obviously laughable, and you’ll continue to whine about how unrealistic I’m being, but that’s your problem, not mine.

                Mars has a volume equal to 0.15 that of Earth. We’ll round that down to make the math easier, call it a tenth, and figure that we need to get a tenth of Earth’s volume of water onto Mars to form Mars’s oceans and lakes.

                Never mind that there’s nowhere near that much water in the entire asteroid belt, we’ll pretend that there is. It’s the closest even hypothetical source to Mars and it’s all downhill from there to Mars.

                And we’ll use just the initial burn of a Hohmann transfer orbit, the lowest-energy way to change orbits. We’ll be crashing the water into Mars, so there’s no need for the terminal burn.

                Rounding down, the Earth has a billion cubic kilometers of water. A tenth of that is a hundred million cubic kilometers. There’s one metric ton per cubic meter of water, so that’s 100,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons of water.

                (If you can’t see where this is going, you’re hopeless.)

                The average radius of an asteroid’s orbit is about 3 AU. Mars’s orbit is about 1.5 AU.

                Plugging in the numbers to the equation here, ΔvA comes out to:

                sqrt((1.3e20 m**3/s**2) * ((2/(3 au)) – (1/((1.5 au + 3 au) / 2))))

                (Plug that into Google and you get:)

                13,896.407 m/s

                In other words, in order to get anything from the asteroid belt to Mars, you need to accelerate it by 14 km/s (or 31,000 mph) in order to get its ass to Mars. (You need another acceleration at the end unless you want it to go splat upon arrival, but we’re okay with splat in this case.)

                Kinetic energy is jut half the mass times the square of the velocity, so we need to impart a total energy of 2e33 joules to the water in the asteroid belt in order to deliver it to Mars.

                That’s 5e26 kWh, to put it in a more familiar unit, or 500,000,000,000,000,000 terawatt hours. Humanity currently consumes about 500 exajoules in a year, so we’d only need about four trillion years worth of energy at our current rate to do the job. Of course, that’s only a few hundred times the age of the whole Universe….

                Now, Gary, we know full well that this is your cue to stomp your feet about how unrealistic my figures are, and for you to utterly fail to offer up any more realistic figures of your own. And to ignore the fact that I’ve taken unrealistically optimistic assumptions at every point, from the volume of water needed to where to find it.

                I’ve also given you everything you need to plug in your own numbers. It’s simple, really; the only variable you’ve even got a hypothetical amount of wiggle-room with is the volume of water. Just pick some other figure, multiply it by 14 km/s, and that’s the energy required to import it from the asteroid belt.

                So, what’ll it be, Gary? More bitching and moaning? Or will you run away again?

                Cheers,

                b&

              9. Ben, I doubt that any sane terraformer would try to recreate the volume of Earth’s oceans on Mars, since to a first approximation nearly all of that water is inaccessible to us, and certainly doesn’t participate in the basic water cycle of the planet. Again, this is an area where hard numbers are needed, but my guess is that the population of the Earth could be supported quite easily with oceans that are far shallower than we currently have, and thus a greatly reduced volume of water. (Life would no doubt look very different, but it would likely be possible.)

                So, if the goal is just human habitability, that can be done on Mars for far less water proportionally than the entire Earth actually possesses. (Whether it can be done with the water that is available to bring to Mars economically is another matter entirely.)

              10. Tulse, as I pointed out at the end, I’ve done the hard work. Pick any figure you like, divide it in half, multiply by (14 km/s)**2, and that’s the minimum energy needed to crash from the asteroid belt into Mars.

                Lake Michigan, for example, has a volume of 1,180 cubic miles, and a mass of 5,000,000,000,000 metric tons. That would take half a million exajoules to deliver from the asteroid belt to Mars — still a thousand times more than our species uses in a year.

                Lake Tahoe has a volume of 36 cubic miles. That would “only” take 15,000 exajoules to splashdown, or roughly as much energy as the entire species used in all of the 20th century. But do you really think a global open-air ecosystem could survive on Lake Tahoe alone?

                And that’s just the water. Let’s not forget about the atmosphere, which would have to be global if any definition of the word, “terraform,” that I’ve ever encountered were to apply. Earth’s atmosphere masses about 5e18 kg, which would take a 35,000,000 exajoules to drop from the asteroid belt to Mars. Even if you want to cut the amount of atmosphere to a thousandth of Earth’s, that still leaves you at 35,000 exajoules…and with nowhere near enough air to breathe.

                And, again. This is assuming that the water (or air, whatever) could be found in the asteroid belt. It can’t. We’d need to go much farther out…which means much higher velocity changes, and therefore much higher energy requirements.

                And, again again, this is the minimum energy, assuming propulsion means of perfect efficiency. Show me a rocket propulsion method that has perfect efficiency from energy source through imparted impulse, and I’ll show you a never-ending stream of rocket scientists who will worship the ground you walk on.

                Sorry to rain on everybody’s parade…but the simple fact of the matter is that speculating about terraforming Mars in any serious way is as naïve as a five-year-old boy speculating about going down to the local car dealership and buying his very own Star Wars fighter with his Dad’s credit card.

                Cheers,

                b&

              11. Ben Goren,

                Mars has a volume equal to 0.15 that of Earth. We’ll round that down to make the math easier, call it a tenth, and figure that we need to get a tenth of Earth’s volume of water onto Mars to form Mars’s oceans and lakes.

                As Tulse just explained, this is your first error. You haven’t “figured” this number. You’ve just assumed it. You have offered no reason why the terraforming of Mars would require a tenth of Earth’s volume of water.

                To get past this error, you try the following:

                Pick any figure you like, divide it in half, multiply by (14 km/s)**2, and that’s the minimum energy needed to crash from the asteroid belt into Mars.

                Here you’re making another unjustified assumption — that we would need to use asteroids from the main belt. But there are numerous asteroids that cross or graze the orbit of Mars. There’s no reason to believe we would need to use a main belt asteroid.

                You’re also ignoring other possibilities, such as using gravity assist from the outer planets to move outer asteroids on to a collision course with Mars. Using gravity assist, rockets would only need to provide a small delta-v.

                And in fact, we may not need to use asteroids at all. They are just one possible source of materials and energy for terraforming. So that’s yet another unjustified assumption.

                You might have known these things if you had bothered to look at the scientific literature on terraforming, or just spent a bit more time thinking about your assumptions.

              12. Can I call ’em, or can I call ’em?

                Lots of bitching and moaning about my assumptions, and nary a peep of something more realistic. And, as a bonus, even more naked demonstrations of nothing but non-stop ignorance of orbital mechanics and the composition of the solar system.

                And you still continue to wonder why you’re such a joke.

                I’d challenge you to tell us how much water you think needs to be imported to Mars and where you think that water is to be found — oh, wait. I already did, and you completely ignored said challenge, claiming that you’re too sophisticated a deep thinker to have to stoop to worrying about such mundane banalities.

                What a maroon.

                b&

              13. You’re trying to show that the terraforming of Mars can’t be done. You can’t do that by making up facts out of thin air. There’s no reason to believe that terraforming of Mars would require moving a main belt asteroid to the orbit of Mars. Therefore, your attempt to show that such an operation would require a prohibitive amount of energy is completely irrelevant. No serious proposal for terraforming Mars involves the kind of maneuver you described. You simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

              14. Gary.

                How much water does Mars need, and where is it supposed to come from?

                I don’t know how to make it clearer.

                You’er the self-proclaimed expert on the matter. So, either you really don’t know and all you’re doing here is bulshitting with naked impunity, or you do know and won’t tell…either way, every time you post and fail to indicate how much water (and atmosphere, etc.) comes from where, all you do is that much more firmly cement your status as a very ignorant and very incompetent troll.

                b&

              15. I am not and have never claimed to be an expert. Unlike you, however, I have read papers on terraforming written by people who are experts.

                Still waiting for you to show that the terraforming of Mars can’t be done. You’ve been at it for two days now, and you still haven’t come up with anything.

              16. Unlike you, however, I have read papers on terraforming written by people who are experts.

                More bullshit, per form.

                And I’ll prove it.

                Just as you’ve demonstrated your perfect ignorance of the volume of water necessary to terraform Mars by not even vaguely hinting at its figure, you’re now going to similarly demonstrate your perfect ignorance of the literature by utterly failing to cite even a single peer-reviewed paper that indicates how much water Mars needs.

                Still haven’t learned that rule about holes, eh, Gary?

                b&

              17. Let’s review Ben Goren’s basic errors so far. These are just the howlers I’ve noticed. There are probably even more:

                Basic Error #1: The claim that terraforming Mars would require transporting vast quantities of material from Earth to Mars.

                Basic Error #2: The claim that sublimating frozen Martian CO2 would have no value for terraforming because CO2 is not breathable by humans.

                Basic Error #3: The claim that asteroids do not contain significant quantities of water and are “utterly useless” for terraforming.

                Basic Error #4: The claim that terraforming Mars would require transporting a tenth of Earth’s volume of water to Mars.

                Basic Error #5: The claim that terraforming Mars would require moving a main belt asteroid to the orbit of Mars.

                Oh wait, there’s also the one where he claimed that terraforming Mars would require the manufacture of antimatter. That’s probably the biggest howler of all.

              18. Damn. I really can call ’em.

                I challenged you to present even a single reference to an on-topic peer-reviewed paper supporting your claims, and you dodged and weaved again with irrelevancies.

                That’s not too much to ask, is it, Gary? You claimed to have read multiple papers on the matter. Can you not remember how to find even a single one of them?

                Or are you every bit as much of a pathological liar as you are an ignorant troll?

                Or are you naïvely sincere, and have merely mistraken pulp fiction fantasies for actual science?

                b&

              19. I challenged you to present even a single reference to an on-topic peer-reviewed paper supporting your claims

                Zubrin & McKay, Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars.
                See the section Moving Ammonia Asteroids for discussion and calculations related to impacting outer solar system asteroids on Mars using outer planet gravity assist.

                And here is a list of Mars-crossing and Mars-grazing asteroids. As you can see, there are already hundreds of known objects of this kind. There are certain to be countless additional such asteroids that have not yet been observed. These objects could potentially be moved into collision trajectories with Mars using technologies proposed for asteroid deflection.

                So, again, your claim that terraforming Mars would require absurd energies to move asteroids from the main belt to Mars orbit is completely without foundation.

              20. Zubrin & McKay, Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars.

                Not even published, let alone peer-reviewed.

                You want to know why? They claim that Mars has ample water in its permafrost for terraforming, yet they don’t indicate how much water that is, let alone how they think they know that.

                In reality, they don’t. Nobody does.

                A peer reviewer would take one look at that glaring omission and turn the paper down. You know? Like how your junior high school teachers should have flunked you for omitting footnotes from your research papers? If the submitters were lucky, the reviewer would stop reading at that point, because otherwise the recommendation won’t be just to reject the “paper,” but to blackball the “researchers” from wasting the publisher’s time in the future.

                …and that’s because their idea for creating an atmosphere on Mars involves dropping frozen ammonia asteroids from the Oort cloud, a harebrained scheme that they themselves describe in ludicrous terms.

                They start by admitting that nobody knows if more than one such object actually exists, let alone where or even how to find them.

                They then propose using a rocket powered by a nuclear reactor three times bigger than any in operation. Oh, wait — scratch that. These rockets are supposed to be powered by four such reactors — a dozen times the power of just one of Franche’s Chooz reactors. All of France’s reactors combined wouldn’t even be enough for four such asteroids.

                And we’re supposed to get them past Pluto’s orbit. And operate them a Brazilian miles from Earth at full capacity for ten years, nonstop, without problem, or we’ve now got an asteroid on a random orbit that crosses the inner Solar System. Plan on triple over-provisioning, at the very least.

                Did I mention? This is all happening in a part of the Solar System where the total payload of everything manmade we’ve ever sent combined with everything we’re planning on sending could be hefted by a few burly guys — and where it takes us thirty years just to get something out there in the first place.

                And they claim we need to do that forty times.

                You know, I don’t think there are enough nuclear reactors in existence today to do the job.

                And you think this can be done beyond Pluto’s orbit?

                And each mission will end in a 70,000 megaton explosion on the Martian surface. That’s the equivalent of four million Hiroshima-sized Bombs. The impact creates a complex crater six miles across — several times the size of Meteor Crater in Arizona — and a third of a mile deep.

                And the end result of all this won’t be a breathable atmosphere, it’ll be an ammonia atmosphere. You ever take a whiff of ammonia? Because more than just a whiff will scorch your lungs.

                And, oops, they themselves describe said atmosphere as unstable, and say it needs replenishing.

                Every hundred years or so, in fact, according to them…which is only three times as long as it takes for one of their trans-Neptunian deliveries to take place. Meaning that there’d have to be a constant fleet of these with constant deliveries being made…

                …each one concluding with a hundred gigaton explosion.

                And, again, all of this effort not to create a breathable atmosphere, but an instantly lethal in an excruciating way ammonia atmosphere.

                Seriously, Gary. Who’re you trying to fool?

                Did you even bother to read the joke you linked to? You do know that that’s a joke, right — that the authors aren’t even remotely serious, that this is no different from “scientific papers” on the subject of warp engine design or how to build a “real” lightsaber?

                Jesus Christ. If you’re not joking…well, it sure explains a lot.

                Sorry, Gary, but you are the ultimate poster child for Dunning-Kruger. I may just have to add a link here to the Wikipedia article for a real-world example.

                b&

              21. Not even published, let alone peer-reviewed.

                The paper is both published and peer-reviewed. McKay is a NASA planetary scientist who has written extensively on terraforming.

                The rest of your comment is full of errors, as usual. As I have shown repeatedly, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

              22. The paper is both published and peer-reviewed.

                Then where’s the citation?

                And do you really expect people to take you seriously when your grand plan for terraforming Mars is to create an ammonia atmosphere by teleporting all of Earth’s nuclear reactors beyond Pluto?

                Grow up, lad.

                b&

              23. Ben, I do think you are wasting your time.

                Gary W’s basic argument strategy is to assert the reasonableness of his terraforming idea and then sit back and say “prove me wrong”. He accepts no responsibility for demonstrating that his idea is reasonable in any detail and whenever someone offers up an objection he just waves his arms and claims it the arguments are invalid.

                Such a conversation is doomed to failure.

              24. Oh, I know. It’s just that there is a small bit of entertainment to be had from shooting fish in a barrel.

                …I mean, seriously? Terraforming Mars with civilization-destroying blasts that release toxic gas? And these bombs are launched by a fleet of nuclear power plants bigger than all terrestrial power plants combined, and launched from the edges of the Solar System? And even then the effect is only good for a century?

                And that’s not a joke? Or at least the plot to a $cientology field manual or a Moron afterlife fantasy?

                b&

              25. I’m pretty much done with this exchange, but I can’t resist pointing out that in addition to all the other basic errors that I have pointed out in Ben Goren’s claims, his irrelevant delta-v calculation above is completely wrong. In fact, he hasn’t even calculated a delta-v. The expression he presents yields a transfer orbit velocity, not a delta-v. The actual delta-v for a direct transfer orbit from the main asteroid belt to Mars is around 3 km/s, not 14 km/s. He can’t even get his irrelevant claims right.

              26. gbjames,

                He accepts no responsibility for demonstrating that his idea is reasonable in any detail

                Terraforming is “reasonable” because it does not seem to violate any basic scientific principles and because it could be achieved with plausible future projections of current technologies. It’s mainly an engineering problem. The extensive scientific literature on the topic, including the Zubrin & McKay paper I cited above, discusses the details.

                Nothing you or Ben Goren have written demonstrates, or even merely suggests, that terraforming Mars could not be done. Ben Goren’s comments consist of one false scientific claim after another, mixed in with his usual irrelevant digressions and ranting and raving. And you haven’t even pretended to offer a scientific argument.

              27. I can’t resist pointing out that in addition to all the other basic errors that I have pointed out in Ben Goren’s claims, his irrelevant delta-v calculation above is completely wrong.

                In that case, show your work.

                I showed you mine. That you should show yours is only fair.

                Or, you could at least highlight the exact spot in my calculations where the error is. Shouldn’t be at all hard for somebody who’s done as exhaustive a survey of the literature as you keep bragging you’ve done. Indeed, somebody like you should be able to do it in your sleep.

                b&

              28. Terraforming is “reasonable” because it does not seem to violate any basic scientific principles and because it could be achieved with plausible future projections of current technologies. It’s mainly an engineering problem.

                Sure. It’s “mainly” an engineering problem.

                Such as how to build a rocket booster fleet with more nuclear generating capacity than all of the power plants on Earth combined, and getting them beyond Pluto’s orbit, and all that just to create a poison gas atmosphere that won’t even last a century, and that’ll scatter the Martian landscape with scores of several-mile-wide craters….

                O wise and most highly trained engineer Gary, how do you plan to breathe that ammonia long enough to dodge the millions-of-times-bigger-than-Hiroshima bomb that’s about to land on your head?

                b&

                P.S. Still waiting on that citation for this “peer-reviewed” paper you’ve barfed up. What was it, the Journal of Bullshit Spewed by Ten-Year-Old Boys While On Summer Vacation? b&

  4. John Holdren, the White House science adviser, said the mission proved America’s commitment to space exploration despite cutbacks to the NASA program. Holdren called the mission “the most challenging mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration.”

    Will the President invite the team leaders to the White House to congratulate them?

      1. Yes, Venera 9 was the first mission to successfully land on another planet, although the lander only lasted about 50 minutes before failing.

        But the Soviet/Russian record of Mars missions is dismal. None of their landers has worked (two achieved soft touchdown, but failed immediately after), and almost all of their orbiter and flyby missions suffered catastrophic failures.

        The United States has now had 7 successful landings on Mars — 3 static landers and 4 rovers. No other country has had any. The U.S. has also had 3 successful flyby missions and 6 successful orbiters.

  5. The below copied from the N.Y. Times comments section of the below article.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/science/space/curiosity-rover-lands-safely-on-mars.html?src=recg

    (Also, I wonder if that Apollo moon landing denier in Nashville, TN thinks Curiosity is also fake?)

    Beelzebub Iowa

    “How in the world can rational, patriotic, God-loving Americans accept these fictions, written by tax-supported civil servants? Their entertainments cost dearly the few of us that pay income taxes. Science, from Darwin, Heisenberg, Einstein et al. have played Christendom for fools and became wealthy in so doing. Go the Answers in Genesis dot com and get the real story. It might save your souls.”

    Read All 4 Replies
    Steve B. Arlington

    Diablito, If you had it your way, Europeans would never have left Europe and disbelievers would still be burned at the stake.

    Aug. 6, 2012 at 4:00 p.m
    Greg Maplewood, NJ

    My soul’s no Mars doing a jig–thanks though.

    Aug. 6, 2012 at 4:01 p.m.

    Lew San Diego,CA

    Priceless. In place of a real engineering achievement, you point us to the guys who are building a fake Noah’s Ark.

    Aug. 6, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.

    Arthur Goldberg New York, Ha ha! You’re kidding, right?

    1. I was thinking of writing a parody of Westboro Baptist picketing JPL with signs saying, “God Hates Probes.” But then you provided this fine example of truth being stranger than fiction. Wow.

  6. Curiosity was sitting back having a beer while everyone on the ground was applauding the parachute deployment…

  7. I find it most magnanimous of Jerry to share with us all these posts dedicated to Curiosity, in view of its criminal record.

    After all, everybody knows Curiosity killed the cat…

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