"Ten Reasons Not To Live On Mars, Great Place To Explore" - On The Space Show
    By Robert Walker | October 7th 2013 01:40 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    This special edition of the Space Show may be of special interest if you read my recent articles about Mars and space colonization. I was asked great questions by David Livingston, and listeners to his live show.

    Could Mars One comply with the Outer Space Treaty and planetary protection? What about Elon Musk's Space-X plans to colonize Mars? NASA's plans for a Mars sample return? Missions to the Moon and asteroids? What would it be like to explore Mars from orbit, telerobotically, and never set foot on it in person?

    Other questions asked by listeners to the show included:  Is music is a universal language shared with ETs? Would ETs visiting Earth, either in fiction, or in real life, need to be concerned about contaminating us with their microbes? It was a fun discussion.

    You can listen to the radio show here as a podcast: "Humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system - with Robert Walker".

    The Space Show has had 2100 shows since  2001. Just about all the main figures in space colonization have been on it at one time or another, often several times. Is a great show to follow if you are interested in keeping up to date with space colonization news, developments and issues.

    Here are some of the articles we discussed. Also links and details for some of the other things we mentioned in the show, so you can follow them up further.

    Ten reasons

    The original article, the one that most of the discussion was about, is Ten Reasons NOT To Live On Mars - Great Place To Explore

    I also did a follow up series of five articles going into the same topics in a more leisurely way with many more details, starting with: Mars, Planet Of Surprises, Great To Explore Not So Great To Colonize - 1. Is It As Good A Place To Live As A Desert?

    Pathfinder photograph of the surface of Mars (white balanced to look like an Earth landscape, to assist the geologists)

    Is Mars as good a place to live as a desert?

    The other articles in the series are:

  • 2. Life On the Edge In Cold Dry Deserts Of Mars - Dust Storms, And Contamination By Microbes From Leaky Spacesuits
  • 3. If Mars Is For Hardy Explorers Only, Where Is The Best Place In The Solar System For First Time Colonists?
  • 4. Space Habitats For Colonists And Mars Explorers - And A Safe Way To Put (Telerobot) Boots On Mars
  • 5.  Telerobotic Avatars On Mars With Super-Powers ("Teleporting" from orbit) - Search For Life - And Long Term Exploitation
  • For telerobotics exploration and the value of pristine Mars try the last one in that series:

    Image from the Telerobotics Symposium held in 2012, one of the recommendations was that telepresence be used to explore Mars during the early orbital missions.

    Asteroid Resources

    Asteroid Resources Could Create Space Habs For Trillions; Land Area Of A Thousand Earths

    NASA artwork from the 1970s for the Stanford Torus design

    Stanford Torus Interior (NASA), population 10,000, NASA space colony art from the 1970s
    Artist's impression of interior of a Stanford Torus space habitat from the 1970s, population of 10,000. This could be made, complete with all the cosmic radiation shielding, using the material of a tiny asteroid like Nerius a few hundred meters across.

    You could make enough of these to house trillions of people, with land area of a thousand Earths, using just the materials available in the Asteroid belt.

    The 1970s book I mentioned in the show, the one which came to the same conclusion, that the asteroids have enough material to make space habitats with ground area of a thousand Earths is  "Colonies in Space" by T. A. Heppenheimer - see his chapter 2.

    Inspiration Mars and telerobotic exploration

    The  Telerobotics Symposium held in 2012 came to the conclusion that it would be a major missed opportunity to send a human mission to Mars orbit and not use it to explore the surface telerobotically. 

    In the show, I suggested that Inspiration Mars would be an excellent chance to do a technology demo of telerobotic exploration of Mars. For instance, even with their short flyby, an inspiration Mars crew could probably drive a rover like Curiosity from its landing site to Mount Sharp (five miles) in a single day, easily, with a sufficiently powerful motor, or carry out intricate scientific experiments that can be done much more rapidly with real time work on Mars.

    The idea of exploring Mars telerobotically has been suggested several times in the past.

    • Geoffrey Landis and his team's HERRO mission uses a slowly precessing near sun synchronous Molniya orbit. This is a highly elongated orbit, easy to get into as it is similar to a Mars capture orbit. It requires delta V similar to a landing on the Moon, The spacecraft approaches the sunny side of Mars twice in each Martian day so permitting telepresence operation on opposite sides of the planet by the same crew.
      See:  HERRO mission to mars using telerobotic surface exploration from orbit
    • Robert Zubrin's Robert Zubrin's Double Athena Flyby - it is a "free return trajectory" like Inspiration Mars. It just needs one boost from Earth and then is on course to return to Earth. This is a longer mission than Inspiration Mars, 700 days instead of 500, and instead of a single fly by has two of them. One deflects the spacecraft into an orbit similar to that of Mars. Another one year (half a Martian year) later deflects it back to Earth. In between it spends many days within light seconds of Mars. This mission can be launched every two years, and has the advantage of a normal re-entry speed on return to Earth without the fast re-entry issues of Inspiration Mars.
    • Lockheed Martin's "Red Rocks project" as part of their "Stepping stones to Mars" project - this time the target is Deimos rather than an orbiting station
    • Russia suggested a similar mission as an international effort, with US participation for the landers, called the Mars Piloted Orbital Station

    I mentioned the study for HERRO which found that a single mission to explore Mars by telepresence from orbit would achieve more science return than three missions by the same number of crew to the surface - which of course would cost vastly more. Here is a powerpoint presentation from the HERRO team, with details of the comparison.

    Value of pristine Mars as a resource

    What ancient mars may have looked like billions of years ago. Credit Ittiz

    This is my article which David mentioned about the value of pristine Mars; How Valuable is Pristine Mars for Humanity - Opinion Piece?

    Life on present day Mars

    David asked me if I think there is likely to be life on present day Mars. For more about this, see Might there be Microbes on the Surface of Mars?

    Also I talk some more about whether it was much easier for life to transfer between the planets in the early solar system in:  Does Earth Share Microbes With Mars Via Meteorites - Or Are They Interestingly Different For Life?

    Terraforming Issues

    For more about the terraforming issues I mentioned: 
    Would Microbes From This Astronaut Make It Impossible For Anyone To Terraform Mars - Ever?

    Blue and pink exoplanets

    My article about a blue exoplanet, which David mentions in the second half is: True Colour Of Exoplanet Is Blue, Light Scattered From Drops Of Glass

    This is an article about the pink exoplanet I mentioned in the talk

    Planetary Protection on the Space Show

    Here is the space show David mentioned, with Cassie Conley as guest - NASA's Planetary Protection Officer.

    Space Show - Catherine Conley -NASA&international planetary protection policy, methodology,&applications

    Cassie Conley - profile

    Planetary protection human guidelines

    Cassie Conley in that show mentions the human mission guidelines. Here are a few links on that topic

    2012 paper on the topic by Catherine Conley and John Rummel: Preparing for the human exploration of mars: health care and planetary protection requirements and practices

    Here is a paper on the topic by John Rummel Planetary Protection for Planetary Science and Exploration

    Here is a short book Protecting the Environment of Celestial Bodies, see particularly the chapter Human Missions to Mars – a Challenge for Planetary Protection by Gernot Groemer (page 50).

    Legal situation

    I was asked several times about the legal situation for colonization and sample return. This is of course of great importance and so I've collected some material here on the subject if you want to follow it further.

    This is based on the Outer Space Treaty, which is signed by all the space faring nations and almost all aspiring space faring nations as well as most other countries in the world

         - signed and ratified
         - signed only

    Article IX

        "... States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose... ". (Outer Space Treaty)

    For forward contamination "harmful" here has been understood to mean "harmful to the scientific interests of other parties. 

    The situation for forward contamination has been clarified by the internatinoal COSPAR committee, a large group of scientists which meets every two years. They developed a series of guidelines that need to be followed, and a classification of missions into five categories I to V depending on the target and whether it is a landing, a fly-by or a sample return. For details see Planetary Protection.

    Good background on forward contamination: Preventing the Forward Contamination of Mars (2006 study by the National Research Council), see particularly chapter 8 A Path Forward for Planetary Protection in the 21st Century which asks the question whether current planetary protection requirements for Mars are stringent enough.

    Short intro to the whole subject as powerpoint type slides: Introduction to Planetary Protection - by Gerhard Kminek, planetary protection officer for the ESA and Cassie Conley, planetary protection officer for NASA, Recent news story on planetary protection: Protecting the Solar System... From Us

    Legal implications for sample return

    This is the paper by Margaret Race which I mentioned in the show, it goes into the legal implications of a sample return from Mars or any other "restricted Category V" mission in detail (sample return from a place in the solar system that might have life). You might be surprised at how much is involved. 

    Even in the case where everyone is in agreement that it should be done, still it would take probably many years and quite possibly decades to get the legal situation sorted out!

    Her paper doesn't seem to have had the attention it deserves. It is a different world now from Apollo and what worked legally for Apollo would not work today.

    M. S. Race Planetary Protection, Legal Ambiguity, and the Decision Making Process for Mars Sample Return Adv. Space Res. vol 18 no 1/2 pp (1/2)345-(1/2)350 1996

    Legal Property Rights

    We also got to the topic of property rights under the Outer Space Treaty. Might this be a motivation to withdraw from the Treaty?

    Here the relevant article is

    Article VIII

        "... Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth..." . (Outer Space Treaty)

    This has been interpreted as meaning that if you construct a habitat on the Moon or use materials from an asteroid to construct a habitat in space, that you own the habitat though not the Moon or asteroid.

    If understood this way, it could be a basis for laws of functional ownership within the context of the Outer Space Treaty. See the article at by Wayne White: Real property rights in outer space. This is a matter of a fair bit of discussion but it does seem at least possible that one could develop reasonable laws of ownership within the context of the Outer Space Treaty.

    My Mars sample return articles

    ETs and Fermi's Paradox

     Alex the grey parrot, famous for his language skills. He had a vocabulary of 100 words, showed understanding of their meaning e.g. using colour words correctly, used syntax and other traits showing basic language competence.
    Alex the grey parrot, famous for his language skills. He had a vocabulary of 100 words, showed understanding of their meaning e.g. using colour words correctly,  used syntax and other traits showing basic language competence. If ETs were similar in structure to a grey parrot they would find it hard to build optical and radio telescopes and might never make any advanced technology as we understand it.

    This is my article about ETs and Fermi's paradox Why Didn't ETs, Or Self Replicating Machines, Colonize Our Solar System Millions Of Years Ago?

    I haven't got anything up yet about whether music is likely to be a universal language with ETs as in "Close Enocounters", or about Phobos and Deimos as places for exploration.

    Starship Century

    In the question about whether any ETs visiting Earth, either in fiction, or in real life, need to be concerned about contaminating us with their microbes, I mentioned the afterword to a book on interstellar travel.

    This was Paul Davies' afterword to Starship Century. He was on the Space Show recently to talk about this and other things, see 
    Space Show: Paul Davies - interstellar travel, microbiology, cosmology, Mars, and much more


    David Livingston mentioned that it was the anniversary of the launch of sputnik last Friday 4th October, the time of the talk. Here is a replica of it, the seed that lead to all the space exploration since then
    Replica of Sputnik 1

    Patrick Moore

    When David asked me where my interest in space colonization came from, I mentioned growing up in the age of Apollo, and science fiction. 

    I didn't think to say so on the show, but another inspiration was Patrick Moore, who inspired several generations of young astronomers with his enthusiasm and wide ranging understanding of astronomy. I think he has a lot to do with the current vigorous state of amateur astronomy in the UK. 
    Sir Patrick Moore

    I've watched a fair number of episodes of Sky at Night, and also read his books, and I think his show is a major part of the reason I'm interested in astronomy.

    I've never been an observational astronomer, would call myself an "armchair amateur astronomer". I follow the space missions and astronomy news, and read  a lot about it, but don't spends hours every starry night looking at the sky through a telescope. I can well understand those who do though, and think a clear night sky is a glorious sight.

    Deimos and Phobos

    Phobos, innermost moon of Mars.

    I haven't yet got any articles about using Phobos or Deimos for colonization except a calculation of the amount of land area of habitats you could get from Deimos alone, in Asteroid Resources Could Create Space Habs For Trillions; Land Area Of A Thousand Earths

    I plan an article on this in the future some time. There is a fair amount written about it if you search around.

    I said in the talk that the innermost Martian Moon is predicted to hit Mars - actually it will disintegrate first due to tidal forces in 30 - 50 million years or less. (I suppose assuming it isn't used in its entirety to make space habitats first :) ).

    That is long enough so that any contamination we introduce within the first 10 meters or so would be long sterilized if we did decide to keep Mars pristine on the very long term. Though there may be other issues. There is a small possibility of back contamination from very recent meteorite impacts on Mar - and of forward contamination too, come to think of it, if meteorites hit Phobos and knock material off to land on Mars.

    It would need to be researched, certainly no problem using materials from Phobos or Deimos to make habitats or to use for cosmic radiation sheilding, water supply, atmosphere etc. If back contamination was an issue at all, you just need to sterilize the material first.

    Here is a story about the value of Phobos as a possible abode of ancient Martian life

    Could we communicate with ETs using music?

    I haven't got anything about this yet, but plan an article on this interesting question in the near future. 


    David gave these out several times in the show. Here they are: for my column at science20 for my youtube channel.


    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Robert, I just read this article called 'Researchers discover how microbes survive in freezing conditions'. It says :-
    ...researchers have been able to revive microbes buried in ice and permafrost for hundreds of thousands to millions of years. In fact, Christner managed to revive several different types of bacteria from near the bottom of the Guliya ice cap on the Qinghan-Tibetan plateau in Western China – ice that is 750,000 years old, from long before the age of humans.
    "In order to survive that long, different studies for instance point towards dormancy, or 'slow motion metabolism,' but regardless of the physiological state, without active DNA repair an organism will accumulate DNA damage to an extent that will lead to cell death," Dieser said.
    Results from Christner and colleagues' recent paper point to another explanation: mechanisms that repair DNA can operate even under freezing conditions. In laboratory experiments, Christner and colleagues took frozen suspensions of bacteria native to Siberian permafrost and exposed them to a dose of DNA-damaging ionizing radiation equivalent to what the microbes would have experienced during ~225,000 years buried in . The researchers then let the microbes incubate at low temperature (5oF) for a period of two years, periodically checking the integrity of the microbes' DNA.
    As expected,  damaged the circular microbial chromosome, transforming it into a slurry of smaller pieces. What surprised the researchers was that, over the course of two years in the freezer, the pieces of DNA began to come back together in their proper order.
    "This isn't a random process," Christner said. "This tells us that the cells are repairing their DNA. This is important because we don't typically think of these as being conditions under which complex biological processes are going on."
    Christner said that these findings make it reasonable to speculate that if life ever evolved on Mars and microbes are still frozen somewhere in the subsurface, those microbes might still be viable if given the right conditions.
    "It just keeps looking better for conditions of habitability on Mars," Christner said. "This is relevant in an astrobiological sense because if these DNA repair mechanisms operate in Earth's cryosphere, extraterrestrial  might be using this survival mechanism to persist on other icy worlds in the solar system. We are very excited about these results."

    So, even more reason to keep that Mars environment as pristine as possible as we continue to explore it!

    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at
    Thanks Helen, that's interesting, repair of double-strand DNA break in dormant or extremely slowly meatabolizing microbes in permafrost at -15°C, over two years, quite fast considering that it takes millennia to damage them. 

    Surely very relevant to the Mars discussions. Thanks!
    For present day life then could mean that it can survive longer between e.g. successive warm seasonal flows. and for past life again maybe could survive longer if it is occasionally warmed up to  -15°C even if not warmed up enough to metabolize normally.


    BTW I added a link here to the issue you raised on "Why Didn't ETs, Or Self Replicating Machines, Colonize Our Solar System Millions Of Years Ago?  " about whether our planetary protection requirements , especially for Mars, are stringent enough. There have been various people suggesting that for a long time now, is a diversity of views on the topic.

    See: chapter 8 A Path Forward for Planetary Protection in the 21st Century which asks the question whether current planetary protection requirements for Mars are stringent enough." 

    It is from 7 years ago now but is a thorough treatment of the subject.

    This is what they said about Phoenix - that was before the mission:
    "A significant concern is whether, by accident or nominal operations, such spacecraft could contribute to the irreversible contamination of sensitive environments, despite compliance with current planetary protection controls.

    In addition to its relevance to life-detection and planetary exploration efforts, this situation has potentially major implications for the long-term health and survival of a martian biosphere, should one exist.
    Within the committee, reaction to this concern was considerably varied: at one extreme, there was a call for the immediate review of planetary protection requirements for all missions in development, while at the other extreme, it was held that before the acquisition of additional data, no immediate action should be taken. The majority of the committee members found themselves somewhere between these two views."
    I think it's an on-going debate, most of the articles I've read say similar things, some saying we need more stringent protection, and others arguing that we don't need so much protection, and often have a call for more public debate about the whole thing and to find ways to engage the public in it more.


    I think it goes beyond the remit of science actually. Scientists can work out probabilities based on our knowledge e.g. if you say "design a biohazard facility with a probability of less than one in a million of release" then a scientist can go ahead and design it. But if you ask "what should the probability be" - that's something you can't decide just with the use of science. It is an ethical, moral, legal etc. decision. And scientists can't make those decisions "as scientists". 

    So with COSPAR as a big meeting of scientists - is great but they are just expert witnesses for a moral decision like this, you need the general public also to be engaged to make the decisions, I don't think it can really be left to the scientists, and I think that's why these articles keep mentioning the need to engage the public.


    Also here are a few more details about the 50 years rule. The rule is that unsterilized spent rocket shells and the like for orbiters need a chance of  no more than 1 in 10000 of impacting Mars or less within 50 years. The orbiters themselves need 1 in 100 chance of impacting in 20 years and 1 in 20 of impacting in 50 years. 

    The probability of impact on Mars by any part of the launch vehicle (e.g., upper stage) shall be  ≤  1x10-4 for the first 50 years after launch
    One of the following conditions shall be met:
    1. The probability of impact on Mars by any part of a spacecraft is  ≤   1x10-2 for the first 20 years after launch, and  ≤   5x10-2 for the time period from 20 to 50 years after launch
    2. The total bioburden of the spacecraft, including surface, mated, and encapsulated bioburden, is  =   5x10^5 bacterial spores

    Is based on the idea that we only need to keep Mars pristine during the exploration stage, and the idea that we would be done finding out about Mars and have a thorough understanding within about 20-50 years.


    at the time of Viking it seemed reasonable enough. But is no longer true. We now have extensive evidence of huge rivers in the Hesperian period, of oceans in the Noachian period, and of possible habitats for present day life such as the warm seasonal flows right now - and they had no idea that any of that would be discovered when these rules were drawn up for Mars.

    I think that's it basically. That in those days it seemed Mars must be lifeless, never had life, and that we needed to explore it for a while to be sure, expected a vigorous exploration over 20 - 50 years, expected to confirm it was a lifeless sterile world and then it could be colonized.

    While now - we have a very different picture of Mars, much of it only become reasonably certain over last decade and even less. Just a few years ago was normal to have papers that said that Mars could never have had an ocean. Now I think most are pretty sure it did have one, that lasted probably for quite some time, though no-one quite understands how it could have had an atmosphere thick enough for that to work. (The Maven satellite may help, it is one of its objectives to try to solve that mystery).

    (just edited this comment, had a look at it think I must have been tired when I wrote it, didn't make too much sense before, at least, why I wrote it or what it was about, sorry, just rearranged a bit, and added headers, hopefully makes more ssense now).