There was a article I don’t know if you saw it and they had Mars a month or so ago. I did a article that asked the simple question: could we even survive a trip to Mars? I looked at all the different problems, all the different ways that you could die getting there and back all the hurdles we would have to overcome in order to do something like that safely, and I knew I was kicking a hornet’s, nest; people Don’t really like to hear that kind of stuff, and the comments did not disappoint.
The thing is, I was already thinking about doing a follow-up article that would look at all the solutions to get around some of the problems I was talking about in that article. I made it pretty clear right here and if you’d like to know more about those measures, let me know I make articles.
You know cuz, I’m, not trying to be a pessimist. You know I’m, not saying that we can’t figure this stuff out it’s. Just those are the things we have to figure out and trying to be realistic about it.
I think sometimes we forget just how hard this space travel thing is and how difficult getting to Mars is actually gon na be so I was already thinking about doing a follow-up and I started thinking it might be cool to you know interview somebody.
You know somebody who spent a lot of time thinking about how we could go to and live on Mars, and I thought who’s done more of that than the author of the Martian Andy weir, and because I’ve, clearly sold.
My soul to the devil it turns out. He actually watches this channel and he agreed to do it. So today I’m, going to share some clips from my interview with Andy. I call him Andy and talk about some of the issues that I discussed on the article and the most promising solutions and ways to get around it now.
This is only a small part of the interview that I did with him. We talked for a good hour and a half on all kinds of subjects, and I’m gon na be putting that out on the channel tomorrow in full. So you can watch the entire thing tomorrow.
If you are watching this article in the future, I’ll, put a link to it right here ish. I really want to thank Andy for being so generous with his time. It was really great meeting you and Ashley and Coco.
I really hope we can do it again sometime and also want to give a special shout out to Ross over at John Michael, go DJs event horizon, who actually kind of put me in contact with Andy and helped make this possible.
So thanks Ross all right. So the first issue that I’ve talked about with Andy, was simply how long it takes to get to Mars. You’re talking about the home and transfer window right, Oh transfer ellipse, which does take about eight months.
But there are people working on ion engines and just much more efficient propulsion systems that would allow us to get there much faster. Now I covered ion drives in a previous article, but the basic gist of it is that it uses electromagnetic fields to fire.
Ions of xenon gas out of a nozzle, creating just enough thrust and move a spacecraft forward just a little bit. So it’s. A tiny amount of thrust, but the beauty of ion drives is you can burn them for a really long time and over time that little amount of thrust adds up and adds up and adds up, and eventually you can get to incredible speeds way faster than you Can go with chemical rockets.
In fact, this was the type of engine that they used in the Martian. A specific type of ion drive called AB as Amir Drive, and another good thing about ion drives is that they’re just powered by electricity with just a little bit of xenon fuel needed, and one notable planetary mission that used an ion drive was The dawn mission that went to Ceres and it was powered by a giant solar panel, which I assumed to be the case for a crewed Mars mission, but as it turns out the Dawn, spacecraft was really small.
A crewed Mars mission would be really big. The drives that have to be scaled up quite a bit so solar panels, just wouldn’t, quite cut it, and I think also the idea of powering. My own engines with solar panels is hopeless.
The mass of the solar panels that you have to keep adding just cause the problems, so I think just a nuclear reactor now there are plenty of probes that have used nuclear reactors to power themselves over the years like New Horizons is a good example of that, But again that’s, a really small spacecraft.
How big of a nuclear reactor would be needed for a crewed spaceship? I don’t know and whether people would be comfortable with launching a giant nuclear reactor with a whole bunch of radioactive material up into space over, say you know: planet Earth.
I also don’t know, and I didn’t think to ask him about that at the time, because I miss things and now that I’ve looked into it a little bit, I realize it’s. A deep rabbit hole it’s, maybe something I’m gon na have to cover in an entire article, but the point being a nuclear source of energy would work better than solar in this particular situation, but other than the nuclear reactor.
I asked him if I on technology was ready for something that’s, big and here’s. What he said about that we don’t have anything of that scale, but the technology itself is there. Now, on the subject of launching nuclear reactors into space, we also talked a little bit about nuclear thermal propulsion, which is something that a lot of people brought up in the comments.
The main problem in general with any sort of propulsion is, you need reactive mass, so you & # 39. Ve got to be spitting, something out of your spaceship in order to go forward the idea with thermal electric, whatever propulsion, is that you heat up? You have lots of energy on your ship because you have a nuclear reactor.
You use that to heat up a gas a lot, so it’s going really fast, and then a Glee is really fast and maybe you can get it going so that leaves faster than a chemical reaction would make it okay, so that’s good it’s more efficient.
I actually wasn’t aware of nuclear thermal propulsion before I did that last article, but now that I’ve looked into it again, I think there’s. Gon na have to be a whole article on that subject. You could expect one pretty soon and one last thing on the subject of just getting to Mars.
Faster SpaceX just revealed their design for the new and updated starship which will do orbital refueling before it heads off to Mars. Extra fuel means extra burn time, which means more speed, so the spacex starship might actually get there a little bit faster than the normal.
Eighty month transfer window that you see with the home and transfer. Of course, even if you get the trip down to five or six months, that’s still plenty of time for the zero-gravity situation to do a number on your body as Andy talks about here.
Most of the effects of being in long-term 0g go away in time, but exactly as they say in your article yeah okay, so you just spent several months in zero-g and now you’re. Suddenly in point four geez, you know on Mars.
You just react: filming yeah, you can’t just have a Mars mission start with like two weeks of recovery. So I honestly believe the solution is just artificial gravity, artificial gravity. It sounds like science fiction and obviously every sci-fi movie has some kind of like gravity plate at the bottom of the ship.
This is mostly to get around the cost of shooting something and simulating zero-g, but it’s. Also kind of you know assumed that if we’re traveling across the galaxy, then we’ve. You know develop the kind of technology to manipulate gravity.
In that way, of course, the other option of science fiction gave us is the idea of giant spinning wheels that create artificial gravity through centripetal force along its radius. Usually, this is displayed by giant rotating habitats would be far larger than anything we’ve.
Ever created, but as Andy explains it doesn’t have to be so complicated. You don’t have to have a gigantic arthur c clarke, wheel and space thing. It can be two pods on the end of a very strong cable spinning around and then you’ll, have you know gravity now? The part that blew me away was the idea that using spinning habitats on the way to the moon or mars, or something like that, it doesn’t just counteract the effects of zero gravity.
It can also just allow people to adjust to the gravity and the destination where they’re going toward, and this is actually something that you use the technique that he used in this book artemis when people travel to and from the moon.
They’re on cruise liners that have artificial gravity. Now it only takes them like a week to get there, so it’s, not for their health. It’s just because they’re from Earth and they’re, not used to zero-g, and they’re tourists and stuff like that, and what the cruise liners do is they rotate? You know to provide artificial gravity and then they over the course of the week to the moon.
They slow down the rotation so that you very slowly transition from Earth gravity to look to. We’re gravity and so your sixth 1/6 yeah and then, of course, when going back, they very very slowly transition you back up, so you could do a similar thing in a Mars mission.
You could slowly transition the crew from 1g down to 0.4 G’s. I’ll, be honest. I’ve, always been kind of cool on the idea of spinning habitats, but this this might have swayed me a little bit because it takes a possible negative, the time it takes to get to Mars and turns it into a positive.
It gives people time to adjust to 40 % gravity that, though experienced when they get there. This way, instead of arriving at Mars as an invalid who’s, adjusting to get used to a gravity situation, they’ve, never been in before you’ll arrive at Mars, healthy, ready to go and fully acclimated to the New gravity, environment and don’t.
Get me wrong. There’s. There’s, still a lot to work out like how do you create a cable or a structure that’s, strong enough to keep two massive ships together, but also light enough to be able to get it up into space and not Be prohibitively expensive also if ion drives, are the new hotness when it comes to getting to Mars, then how do you have this constant acceleration? If you’re, always spinning, unless there’s, a central hub that everything’s? Spinning around that has an ion drive on and it is constantly accelerating along the way I don’t know.
I will say, though I want to see more experiments on this kind of technology. Andy was pretty convincing in his argument, so the problem is, of course it adds a lot of mass there’s, a lot of new engineering.
If your centrifuge flies apart, everybody dies yeah. You know it’s. A lot of problems of that, but I really do think that’s. The answer to that and do you think it’s necessary, absolutely necessary in order to really really do Mars? Yes, I think it’s absolutely necessary, for you know the early humans tomorrow’s missions, all right so far, the issues we discussed are solvable.
We do have technologies today that can implement it. They might need to be scaled up. A little bit, but they do exist there’s. Reason to be optimistic about that. The next issue that we talked about is a bit more challenging and that issue is radiation in cosmic rays.
Now I made the point that radiation would be a big deal. Many of you argued that the cosmic rays, at least wouldn’t, be as big a deal once we get on Mars because Mars, would the planet itself would block half of the cosmic rays that reach you and I laughed at how ridiculous that idea Was and then I brought it up to Andy and it turns out you’re kind of right, because scientists, I guess often have nothing better to do.
There was a some scientists got together and wrote a genuine paper on the total radiation exposure of all of the crew from the Martian. Oh interesting, yeah based on you, know, estimates and and stuff like that, and you know the person who did best was Mark Watney B because he got a lower radiation dose because he does at all times have Mars protecting him from half of the GCRs that are Coming in so GCR know in the other, the rest of the crew were flying around.
They were out these long time, so they’re, getting it from all angles: okay and marks getting just half alright, so there you go, it does actually make a difference being on Mars. I knew it would have been saying it this whole time.
Now, being on Mars would still expose you to a lot of solar radiation, but, as Andy explains, solar radiation is not as big a deal as the cosmic ray situation. The solar radiation is not that hard to block it’s.
The GCRs that are the problem and they come from all directions because they’re, not coming from our Sun. They’re coming from other stars and stuff like that, and it’s. Solar radiation. We’re. Talking about ions moving like 400 meters per second, you can.
I mean it’s, not that hard to defend against it. You can throw some mass between you two but GCRs. We’re, getting a dose of them here on earth. They can plow through a whole atmosphere and get you so not only a solar radiation just simply traveling at lower energies and cosmic rays.
It’s, also all traveling from the same direction. So you can kind of shield against that, whereas cosmic rays are just coming from all directions and cosmic rays have actual mass flying it nearly the speed of light, which means when it hits the shell, the metal shell of a spaceship it kind of splinters.
It can actually split the nuclei of atoms in that metal. Just showering the ship with radioactive shrapnel problem. Now we didn’t, have two potential solutions to this problem, one of which is kind of surprising.
Water is a good way to protect yourself from it, and so, if you have your entire water supply in the hole like a double hole system, we could help, but I honestly believe the solution to the radiation problem in space is that humanity will eventually cure cancer.
My suspicion is that the space radiation problem will ultimately not be solved by anything, and I I think we will cure cancer before we come up with a way of completely eliminating radiation for space travelers.
Now to me, this really brings home just how difficult the radiation problem is that the idea of curing cancer is actually easier than solving the radiation issue. And one important point to make is that when you go to Mars income, it’s, it’s, not exactly like you’re, just riddled with tumors.
By the time you get home or anything like that. Your increased risk goes up a little bit sure, but it’s, not like a death sentence in that study. That Andy mentioned earlier, where they looked into how much radiation exposure the crew and the Martian would have gotten their percentage.
Chance of cancer did definitely go up significantly, but it was still in the single digits, so definitely a problem that is going to be very difficult to solve and if you’re a crew member on one of these ships, it’s.
Definitely some of you’re gon na have to think about, but it’s, not an insurmountable issue. Now there are a couple of issues in the article that I brought up and I’m gon na touch on them. Here for a second because it turns out, they may not actually be that big of a deal, at least according to Andy and the first is the temperature swings that we would experience living on Mars.
As I said in the article Mars’s, atmosphere is only one percent that of Earth, so it doesn’t. Have that warm atmospheric blanket to hold the heat in this means that the surface of Mars can go from 20 degrees Celsius.
During the day to negative 100 degrees at night, so there’s. These huge temperature swings in my thinking was that these extreme temperatures would cause excess stress on the materials that surround the habitats and whatnot might possibly cause them to wear down faster than we would like for them to.
He. Didn’t think it was gon na be that big of a deal, so the temperature swings could conceivably be an issue, but not too bad. You know 100 degrees Celsius, I mean, is you know your stove gets a larger temperature change than that? It’s designed to handle it.
He also wasn’t as worried about perchlorates perchlorates. As just a reminder. Our salt compounds that are toxic to humans and they’re pervasive throughout the Martian, soil or regolith, is the actual term that we should be using for that and I actually kind of took a shot at the Martian.
In my last article, when I said this, the soil is not gon na be very good to plant stuff in no matter how much poop you put in it. I totally forgot that was in there until we got started talking apes yeah.
So at the time I wrote, the Martian we didn’t even know yeah it’s. Pretty recent didn’t even know about prokaryotes that came from curiosity yeah. A couple things mark my friend Mark Watney would have been just fine.
Okay, procore it’s, a bad for you, but it & # 39. S like smoking is bad for you. It & # 39. S not like cyanide is bad for you right. So mark in that desperate situation, even in perchlorates, is like kind of poisoning himself, but it’s, not great.
Second off perchlorates are water-soluble, so if you find and have a ready supply of water, you can basically rinse the soil before you use it. For growing stuff, so perchlorates not great, not terrible, and, of course the toxicity of the dust is one thing.
The other part of the dust issue is just the pervasiveness of it of but just getting everywhere and possibly getting into the gears of machines and grinding down the surfaces and and even messing with airlocks.
And this opened up a much wider conversation that I’ll. Let you check out in the interview when it comes out tomorrow, where we talked about Evo, suits and Mars rovers that you enter from the hab module.
So you don’t ever actually have to get out in the you know. The dust would actually get into the habitats and everything we talked about. How often you would even need to leave the habitats and do everything through robots.
What that has to be done on the outside? We even discussed the possibility of the first Mars missions just being people in orbit controlling robots on the ground, but the highlight of the article by a mile or kilometer was this, and I found this fascinating ever since that first worried about that was the cardiovascular issues That, apparently, the Apollo astronauts faced, they just had a higher incidence of cardiovascular issues and they don’t know why and they think it might be because of the deep space radiation.
So I can’t help you there, because I learned that from your article. So that was the first time I’d, heard it yeah. I taught Andy weir something about space, that’s; it guys this channels done pack. It up we’re good.
I’ve peaked. Let’s, go turn the lights out. Actually, wait! Oh actually, no wait! There’s. There’s. A couple more interesting things here: almost all of them got cataracts early in life. Okay, same kind of deal, apparently huh.
Apparently you get cataracts. If you go out too far that that study that was looking at, I thought it was interesting because they were comparing not just so they’re, like basically three different segments.
They were looking at. There were astronauts that never actually went up into space but trained his astronauts, and then the astronauts went up to low-earth orbit, which is there’s, a lot of them now, and then there was those 24 yeah.
It is an incredibly small sample size, small data fit, but so I mean that’s. Why? I’m kind of a little bit of with a grain of salt on that, because it’s just so small, but but also they’re from you know.
Who knows they’re all from the same generation right people who grew up smoking? And you know so. We agreed that those findings were interesting. But with such a small sample size, it’s impossible to be able to guess exactly how much of an issue that’s gon na be so.
The good news is: if you want to be one of the first people that goes to Mars, you will get to widen that data set with your body. Good luck! So if you’ve been keeping score, it looks like the time it takes to get to Mars is something that we could fix with a little bit of scaling up.
The artificial gravity situation is something that we could actually do something about. The radiation issue a bit trickier to fix, but not exactly a death sentence. Temperature swings, manageable, perchlorates, manageable and the cardiovascular issues we don’t know.
Of course, the list of concerns is much longer than this, but in much of the same way, these issues are being worked out and whittled down by some of the smartest people in the world and remember the solutions that we Forge in the Death Zone of Mars.
In a space will trickle down and affect our lives here on earth, I mean imagine if we solve cancer just so, we could go to Mars. That would help out a lot of people here on earth as well. Now that’s, an extreme example of course, but you use technology every single day that got its start in the space program and in the long run, maybe the biggest gift to humanity to the space program will give.
Us is a second home. Maybe more so look. This was a lot of fun. I had an absolute blast getting to meet Andy and hanging out with him again. I want to thank Andy and his wife Ashley for letting me into their home and being so gracious with their time.
I also want to thank my buddy Bevan Bell, who came out and basically shot this whole thing. He’s, an old friend of mine.