Robert Zubrin (The Case for colonizing Mars)
- 00:01:36 How Robert’s love for Mars and space got started?
- 00:03:36 Why Robert’s proposal to explore Mars was so different than other ideas? His experience pitching a Mars landing to NASA.
- 00:10:49 How Robert and Elon Musk discovered their joint interest for space exploration?
- 00:14:30 The beauty of Starship and why it can enable the settlement of Mars?
- 00:19:04 What was so interesting about the Orion spacecraft and the Mayflower concept?
- 00:22:57 What are popular appearances of a Mars colonization? When will we have a Mars base?
- 00:26:30 What role will geopolitics play in colonizing Mars?
- 00:28:44 What is the ‘business model’ for extended space exploration?
- 00:37:03 Is the radiation dosage a problem when colonizing Mars?
- 00:39:30 How can we terraform Mars? How long will that take?
- 00:43:08 What are the biggest open issues for colonizing Mars?
- 00:45:33 What sort of ‘political regime’ should rule Mars?
You may watch this episode on Youtube – #75 Robert Zubrin (The Case for colonizing Mars).
Robert Zubrin is an aerospace engineer, author, and advocate for human exploration of Mars. He is the author of several books incl. The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must and The Case for Space.
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Welcome to the Judgment Call Podcast, a podcast where I bring together some of the most curious minds on the planet. Risk takers, adventurers, travelers, investors, entrepreneurs and simply mindbogglers. To find all episodes of this show, simply go to Spotify, iTunes or YouTube or go to our website judgmentcallpodcast.com. If you like this show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or subscribe to us on YouTube. This episode of the Judgment Call Podcast is sponsored by Mighty Travels Premium. Full disclosure, this is my business. We do at Mighty Travels Premium is to find the airfare deals that you really want. Thousands of subscribers have saved up to 95% in the airfare. Those include $150 round trip tickets to Hawaii for many cities in the US or $600 life let tickets in business class from the US to Asia or $100 business class life let tickets from Africa round trip all the way to Asia. In case you didn’t know, about half the world is open for business again and accepts travelers. Most of those countries are in South America, Africa and Eastern Europe. To try out Mighty Travels Premium, go to mightytravels.com slash MTP or if that’s too many letters for you, simply go to MTP, the number four and the letter U dot com to sign up for your 30 day free trial. Robert, thanks a lot for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate that. I know you’re very busy. Oh, you’re welcome. So let’s see. Yeah. So I was really mesmerized when I read your book The Case for Space. That’s your most recent book. Yes. And you’re a true visionary. You outlined basically in that book, not just what we could do tomorrow, what we could do in the next 20 years, but you go out to 300, maybe 400 years on how we can make space our new home. And I’ve never seen something that was not just in a science fiction way. A lot of science fiction writers have done that, but also in you go into the details, you go into the math, you go into how we can actually engineer this. When did you, your love for space and your love for Mars, when did that get started? When was the original moment where you felt like that’s where I want to be? Well, it was Sputnik, 1957, October. I was five when Sputnik flew. And while to the adults, it may have been terrifying, to me, it was exhilarating because I was already reading science fiction. And what Sputnik said to me was that this space traveling future was going to be real. And I wanted to be part of it. And just take it from there. Sputnik is the first, you know, world event that I can actually remember in terms of my personal experience. And it sticks with me now. Back into the 1990s, when I read this right, correct me if it’s wrong, you proposed one of the first missions to Mars at the time for George W. Bush, right, a space program that NASA would potentially had. Well, it wasn’t by any means the first proposal for a human mission to Mars. Von Braun had proposed a human mission to Mars. Well, in German is the late 40s in English in the 50s. And NASA had developed a plan for a mission to Mars under Von Braun’s guidance in the 60s. And NASA also, in the 1980s, developed a plan for a human mission to Mars. But the difference between my plan and the NASA plan, which of the 80s, which I was very well acquainted with, is that that was huge and impossibly costly and complex, as were the previous Von Braun plans, whereas the difference was with Mars Direct. It wasn’t the first Mars mission plan. It was the first practical Mars mission plan. And in which we eliminated all on orbit assembly, all on orbit infrastructure, all orbit rendezvous, in fact, all advanced propulsion, just a whole bunch of nonsense, and went straight for the throat. And that was the difference with Mars Direct. Mars Direct took this thing out of science fiction and said, look, if you want to do it, you can do it. Here’s how you can do it. Do you want to do it? The original proposal, I don’t know if this was in dollars at the time or today’s dollars, was just about $400 billion, right? That’s correct. It was $400 billion in late 1980s money. Yeah. That seems very doable. NASA, was it? No, it wasn’t dual. That was too much. That was, okay, now, of course, this year, you know, we’re expropriating $2 trillion for this and $2 trillion for that. But in those days, $400 billion was real money. And it basically killed the first president Bush’s space exploration initiative. Congress took one look at that price and said goodbye. And in fact, it was because that price was too much. That was a program killing price that the management at Martin Marietta, where I was working at that time, which ordinarily would not want to disagree with the customer. NASA was willing to say, look, we’ve got a better plan. You can do this for $40 billion. Okay. Well, it is something that would be doable. And so that was the difference. The 90 day report, which was the NASA plan of record. Yeah, $400 billion 30 years, people said, forget it. We came along and said, we could do this in $30 billion to $40 billion in less than 10 years. And people said, okay, we’re listening. And that was the difference between Mars Direct and the 90 day report. And of course, the key was to make maximum use of Martian resources, travel, light, live off the land. That’s how people explored successfully on earth. That is how Amundsen did the Northwest passage when previous to him, gigantic British Navy expeditions involving fleets of warships failed because he made use of the resources available in the Arctic. We brought dogs, dog sleds, which could be fed off the caribou, which could be hunted if you had dog sleds. And that was the thing, as opposed to bringing 100 tons of salt pork and China to eat it on. I mean, that was the difference. Yeah, I could certainly see that pioneering and entrepreneurial approach shines through the book. And you just mentioned that to live off the land and use the resources you’ve got. When did you ever run out of patience with NASA? Because they never really went for the plan, right? In the end, at least so far. Certainly a faction in NASA went for the plan. And it influenced NASA’s thinking about Mars. They made in situ resources, a priority technology to develop. But the problem was the best NASA plan, which was done under the influence of Mars Direct, was what they called design reference mission three, where they took the basic principles of Mars Direct, which was direct launch to Mars, no on orbit assembly, long duration stays on Mars, starting from the first mission, use of in situ resources, starting from the first mission. And they actually came up with their own version of Mars Direct. I call it Mars Semi Direct. And instead of my $30 billion, their estimate was $55 billion. They also had a larger crew, a larger ship, more people, more equipment, more of everything. But, you know, and I objected some of this stuff. But actually what Carl Sagan said to me at the time was, look, Bob, it doesn’t matter whether it’s $50 billion or $30 billion. What matters is it’s $50 billion, not $500 billion. Because that’s the key distinction. So that was the best plan. Now, they could have disciplined that. They could have gotten it less. But in fact, where they went from that is that then started elaborating it because the way it works at NASA is you say, well, we want a plan to go to Mars. And all these people show up with technologies that they’d like to have included. And they said, basically say, we’ll support you if you include us in your mission. And so the mission tends to balloon to include more and more different technologies in order to make everyone happy. And which is exactly the opposite of the correct way to do engineering. The correct way to do engineering is to make the fewest possible people happy by buying their stuff. Okay. By making the mission as lean as possible, instead of making it as big as possible in order to make sure everyone has a good time. Okay. So you basically have entropy. Did you ever go to the Russians? Did you ever pitch it to the Russians of David Finansett? No. I mean, I certainly have spoken about the plan in Russia. And my earlier book, The Case for Mars, has been published in Russian. And in fact, just this week was the 60th anniversary of the Gargarin flight. And a Russian author published a review of the 10 best books about space exploration, including the Russian version of The Case for Mars. But no, I certainly haven’t proposed it to the Russian government. How did your relationship with Elon Musk start? He seems to be a very converted disciple of yours now. And he is very bullish on Mars exploration. How did that happen? Were you guys always talking about that for a long time? Or was that a relatively recent thing? It dates back to 2001. Well, first of all, The Case for Mars was published in 1996. And some point between then and 2001, Musk read it and it influenced him. And then in 2001, the Mars Society held a fundraiser in the Bay Area. And it was $500 a plate. And somebody sends in this check for $5,000. And look at this. Who’s this? Who’s sending in $5,000 for a $500 plate dinner? And somebody named Elon Musk, never heard of him. So we researched him. We found out who he was. He was the head of PayPal, which we had heard of. And so I made it my business to have like a two hour cup of coffee with him before the dinner. And so we talked a lot. And then he came here to my company afterwards and he gave $100,000, which helped us build our Mars Desert Research Station. And he joined our board. And he was on our board for a while. But then he said to me, look, I’m not the kind of person that wants to be part of someone else’s deal. I need to lead my own initiative. And he said, look, I’ve already made all the money I could ever spend. So I’m here. So I always said, look, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Because here he is. He’s like 30 years old. And he’s already made his first several hundred million. And he says, well, it’s either going to be Mars or solar energy. These are the two most important things that I can think of. And I argued for Mars. I said, look, solar energy, the business plan is obvious. If anyone can come up with a technology that will make it competitive against fossil fuels, it’ll happen. And it doesn’t require a unique visionary for that. In other words, if the technology is there, the money will be there. But Mars is going to take someone who can think way outside the box and isn’t just doing it for the money. And in the end, he decided to do both and the car company too. But he did Mars and he did SpaceX. And that’s how that went. But the Starship that SpaceX has now developed, and I learned that from your book, the biggest challenge that we face is basically how much we can for, in terms of mass, kilogram, or tons, we can bring to space for what cost. And the Starship that we now have, that SpaceX has, is that good enough and viable enough to go to Mars? Well, sure. If Mars can develop Starship as it is currently described, that will be an excellent technology for enabling not only exploration of Mars, but the settlement of Mars. Starship is a fully reusable launch vehicle with the capability about equal to the Saturn V moon rocket, but with the prospect of about 1% the launch cost because it’s reusable instead of expendable. And furthermore, it runs on methane, oxygen, propellant, which is what we can make on Mars. So you can fly to Mars and you can refuel it there and fly it back. So it is a very strong proposal for enabling human Mars exploration. Now, there are some alternative architectures one could think of. You could fly the Starship all the way to Mars by refueling it in Earth orbit, as Musk discusses, and then refuel the whole big Starship on Mars and fly it back. Or you could make a smaller Starship that you put inside the big Starship, lift that to orbit, fly to Mars in that, and that means the thing you’re delivering less to Mars with each flight, but you don’t have to refuel the Starship on Earth orbit, and the thing you have to fly back in requires much less propellant. Those are two alternative concepts and there are others that one could think of, but the basic approach would certainly be revolutionary and enabling. Yeah. For that first couple of missions, is there a way to bring enough fuel to Mars so we don’t have to actually set up a base and generate fuel there, which seems like a lot of time. No, no, no. The Starship uses the Mars direct approach, which is to go direct to the surface and refuel there to fly back. If you try to bring the propellant to fly back, the whole plan falls apart. That is disabling. That’s why the 90 day report was $400 billion, instead of $40 billion, and not particularly capable either. If you want to go direct to the Mars and surface and direct return, you want to make your return propellant there, but that is what you should do. I mean, no one has explored on Earth successfully, bringing with them all their supplies. Not really. Imagine if Lewis and Clark, the explorers who first crossed the American continent to try to bring with them all the food, water, and air for themselves and their horses. They would have needed a wagon train of supplies for every man and every horse. And then, of course, each of the wagon drivers and the wagon horses would have needed another wagon train. It would have just gone exponential, but instead they hunted their way across. And that’s what you do. So when we go to Mars, this first ship, and I think you describe it in detail in the book, we would set up this first Mars mission, and I think there’s a couple of ways that you describe how to do that, in order to land and then produce the fuel. What is your gut feeling, how risky that is? So it might not work out. We might have to start a rescue mission, but it might have the same problem. In the Mars direct mission, we send the Earth return vehicle in advance of the crew, and we make the propellant before the crew has ever left Earth. So there’s no risk to the crew at all. The propellant’s already been made. Now in the Starship architecture, if you fly the Starship to Mars and then make the propellant and to fly back, then you have some risk. However, one could easily alter that architecture to say, first we fly a Starship to Mars with no one in it, and have it make its propellant, and then we fly to Mars with a Starship with the crew, and the crew comes back in the first one. So you always have a few Starship on Mars before you ever leave Earth. So the first mission to generate the propellant is fully automated. What? Sorry, I didn’t want to cut you off. I’m just curious, Dave, the first mission would be fully automated to generate the propellant ready for us on Mars? Well, yes, automated, although you could teleoperate robots and so forth, but yes. And I know you looked at different architectures that you also described in the book. There is something, and I spoke to George Dyson about that, about his father’s idea, or he was a coconspirator on that idea of the Orion spaceship that was nuclear powered. And I think you also at some point had a ship that was called the Mayflower. Are these still things that are in the back of your mind that we might build them one day, or you discarded these concepts for now? Well, the Orion concept, which was proposed in the late fifties, basically using atomic explosives to propel a spacecraft. And obviously, that’s an extremely potent way to drive a spacecraft. But it was more or less made impossible by the test ban treaty. And I don’t think you really want to be sending spaceships to orbit with, you know, a thousand atomic bombs in them. I think some people might get upset about that. But there’s other ways to do nuclear propulsion that not as dramatic, but don’t involve bombs. And I think that nuclear propulsion is, we’re going to eventually use it. We do not need it for human Mars missions. I think once Mars, we start to settle Mars, there’ll probably be nuclear powered spaceships that will fly back and forth between Mars and Earth much faster than we can do now. But, you know, Columbus sailed the Atlantic in ships that even 50 years later, no one would sail the Atlantic. It’s when Europeans became transatlantic in nature that you started developing more advanced ships. So you went from Columbus’s ships to three mastered caravals to clipper ships to steam boats, ocean liners, and Boeing 747s. So, you know, you know, most Americans like me have ancestors, grandparents, parents who were immigrants. And, you know, and when they came, well, for instance, mine in the early 1900s, you know, they didn’t fly in nice airliners. They came in the bilge of wreaking, you know, cargo ships, you know, and it took a month and, you know, they’re down there in steerage and they’re eating the garbage peels thrown down to them by the first class passengers. And you hear these stories of what it took to come to America. And of course, that was easy compared to people a hundred years before them. Okay, but today, of course, when we fly across the Atlantic, you know, you do it in six hours and, you know, maybe you read a book and then you’re there. And that, you know, so it’s similarly, I think that, you know, the grandchildren of the first Mars colonists will listen to the stories of their grandparents with the same way. Wow, it took you six months to fly and you’re cooped up in this little thing and, you know, and so forth. And you can only take a shower once every four days. But, you know, because they will be doing it in two weeks in a fusion powered spaceship, you know, equipped with hot tubs and pool tables. And the, you know, because it’ll change. But that’s what’s going to make a change. Yeah, that’s an excellent way to explain it. I love it. And I was watching the TV show DX Pants on Amazon Prime. And they must have read your book a while ago, because they show exactly that. So there’s a secondary colony of Earth on Mars. And it’s slightly different, but they’re terraforming it and they are going about making it a habitable place. But they still feel there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of issues they have with Earth’s population and that struggle. When we go to Mars, how soon do you feel we could have a permanent base there that’s realistic with the technology we have today and slight improvements or small improvements to that? I think if Starship is successful, we’ll have our first explorers on Mars in 10 years. And we’ll have a real Mars base in 20. And probably in 30, you’ll have the first children being born on Mars, the first schools on Mars. You know, that kind of thing. You’ll start to have the beginning of the first, not just base, but village on Mars. That’s so exciting to think about. When you look at this project right now, what do you feel is the biggest obstacle? Obviously, there’s political will and it’s about money, but what is like a technical issue that you’ve seen that is really the toughest right now? Well, okay. Must be safe. Musk is taking this thing on head on. He’s building a new Starship every month. He’s launching them and crashing them and figuring out what went wrong and then sending up the next one. So this is a very aggressive program, very different from NASA programs where they take 10 years or more before they try launching it. And there’s any number of technical problems in making this thing work. But if you’re willing to do this kind of a frontal attack, I think he’s going to succeed. I think the biggest, I mean, there’s things that could go wrong. What if when one of these Starship crashes, it crashes on people? Then it won’t just be, oh, well, there’s some more invested metal, then Musk is in trouble. Or what if Musk gets himself into trouble through some other thing? Because as you know, he’s a real risk taker in business and politics and so forth. He skates very close to the edge of the ice. So he could fail. But, you know, I think that even if Musk fails at this point, the net effect will only be to set us back about 10 years because he’s already set the model. He’s already proven that it is possible for a well led entrepreneurial team to do things. And one third of the time, at one tenth of the cost, then major government kind of contractors can do it and even do things they had deemed impossible altogether. And, you know, he’s not the only rich person in the world. And whoever opens up the space frontier will be immortal. Okay. And that is nothing more valuable than that. And I mean, I happen to know right now also, there’s at least five companies in China that have gotten funding that are attempting to create reusable launch vehicles. You know, there’s also the Blue Origin Organization. There’s others. He has as shown it can be done. So even if he personally should fail, in a sense, he will have succeeded because he has thrown the door open. Yeah. Well, we all hope he succeeds and space like succeeds. Do you think when you just mentioned China that we will have a geopolitical struggle once we go to Mars, we have like a Chinese section, a Russian section and an American section? Well, you know, of course, in the new world here, there were British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch colonies. None of those countries have substantial holdings here now. Although there are substantial populations that speak all of those, except for Dutch, languages. You know, North America, we have English and French and then Spanish and Portuguese and South and Central America. I don’t think the countries that launch these colonies will hold them, but they will establish the point of departure for the cultures of those colonies. So I mean, Mars is going to be owned by the Martians, the people who go there. But yeah, whoever participates will have a chance to have their culture included in the future. You know, it’s like if you want to have descendants in the future, you’ve got to have children. And if you don’t, then you won’t. And that’s what it boils down to. That answers a lot of current politics, that statement. I’m fully with you. A lot of people, when they think of space, and I think this was, you know, Musk was quipping about that when he started to get into this business, there used to be no business model, right? So irrespective of it costs $3 billion, $30 billion or $300 billion, it seems to be you couldn’t make money or enough money from it. And then there came asteroid mining as an idea, but it hasn’t, it’s obviously something they haven’t done yet. What would be the business model for going to the moon and to the Mars long term? Well, here’s the thing. People do not live to make money. People make money in order to live. Okay. You know, in Finland or somewhere, there are people who live by hunting reindeer. Now, they’re not doing that because they did a business plan, and they figured that that would be the most profitable form of enterprise they could have. They had a certain way of life, and they figured out a way in which they could support it financially. Okay. So, now, I believe people are not going to go to Mars to make money. They’re going to go to Mars in order to have a place where they can make their own world, write their own rules, and then they will figure out how to make enough money to support that. And how that will be, I believe, will actually be by exporting technology, inventions, patents, intellectual property, because you see the Martians will be a group of technologically adept people in a frontier environment that’s going to force them to innovate, to meet some terrific challenges. And if those innovations that allow them to survive on Mars will also represent profitable technologies that can be licensed on Earth, I’ll can give you several examples. The Martians are going to have an extreme labor shortage. So, just as we had in frontier America, actually, which was the great driver for development of labor saving machinery in 19th century America. Americans became very famous for creating gadgets to save time. Okay. And, well, the Martians are going to have a much more extreme shortage, and they’re going to have to do, yes, labor saving machinery, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, all these things are the 21st century equivalent of labor saving machinery. And I think the Martians will push them to a much higher degree than is sought on Earth. And these innovations will be licenseable here. I think the Martians will push genetic modification of organisms to create ultra productive crops in a way that people don’t see the necessity for on Earth, because we have all this land. Well, they’re going to be growing crops in greenhouses. They’re going to have to produce a lot more and a lot less land. I think the Martians will develop fusion power. You know, okay, there’s some people interested in fusion power on Earth, but, you know, it’s a very much a sideline, because on Earth, there’s so many other ways. You can just burn fuels, and you can make all the energy you want from fossil fuels that have been stored here for billions of years. And there’s waterfalls, and there’s winds, and there’s tides, and there’s, you know, solar energy two and a half times as powerful as it is on Mars. And, you know, there’s all these other things you can do. And at the end of the day, a kilowatts kilowatt, and says, why do I need fusion power for? I’ll just burn oil, okay, or coal or something. Okay, well, there’s no coal or oil or natural gas on Mars. And while you could make methane on Mars, it takes energy to do it. So it’s just really a way of storing energy. It’s not a source of energy. The wind is too thin. Solar energy is too weak. Yeah, you could probably make fission reactors, but fission reactors require a very large industrial base for processing the, you know, uranium ore into useful fission fuel. But Mars has got six times the deuterium as Earth. And Mars is going to be constantly electrolyzing water as part of the life support system, which means you’re going to be able to make heavy water in quantity. And the, so they will have a drive to create fusion power. So they’ll make that to meet their own needs. But that represents a terrific technology for export to Earth. And it also, by the way, represents a technology that will give us initial capability for interstellar travel. So in that sense, Mars is the bridge to the stars. I read that in your book. And I think this is, this is fascinating. We know from the 18th, 19th century, yes, a lot of people escaped prosecution when they went to the US, but it was also to draw up the free land, right? It is a resource that you got for, you didn’t really know if it was worthwhile or with some terrible piece of land that you would get, but it’s something that was considered was the capital of the time. It was a bit of land that you could use anyway. You wanted it was freedom, but it was also the chance to make money potentially. And then, you know, we saw the gold rush and all these things, they fuel these, these dreams of people, the entrepreneurial dreams or just greedy dreams, whatever. You understand it. When you say there’s free land, what you’re really saying is a shortage of people. Yeah, but the land was a resource that could make money. Well, actually, yeah, but first of all, most people that came here and some certainly went out to the frontier directly and farmed. But others got work in industry and were making railroads. And guess what? The pay was higher here than in Europe, a lot higher because it was labor shortage. And so a labor shortage is a tremendous draw. If you’re a worker, you want there to be a labor shortage. And it puts a premium on labor, and therefore it puts a premium on multiplying the productivity of labor because the labor costs so much. So it actually becomes a driver for progress, technological, and as well as social progress. Because if you want people to come to your country, you want it to be the kind of country that people want to come to. Okay. So you give people more rights than they have in their homelands. So it’s not it’s more pay, it’s more dignity, it’s more rights, it’s more opportunities. So all that. So it’s not just the land. You know, I know why you titled that spaceship idea from your while ago that I mentioned earlier, the Mayflower. Now I see the connection. I’m sure we will have tens of thousands of volunteers for this new country for that mission tomorrow. So eventually over the years, when they get there, what I assume for a lot of, as you described earlier, it will be a one way mission. Yes, they could return, but obviously they probably don’t have that thought when they go out in the first place. A colonist is doing a one way mission. That’s what a colonist is. That’s the difference between a colonist and an explorer. Yeah. First explorers, I believe will be round trip, but colonists by definition are going one way. Is radiation that we see on Mars, is something we can solve? Are you worried about that? Not that much. The radiation dose on the surface of Mars is the same as that on the space station. That is to say, it’s half of the dose in interplanetary space, a little less than here. But that’s if you’re out on the surface. If you build your colonies so that most of the living areas are underground or dug into the side of cliffs or whatever, then you’re only experiencing that radiation dose, not all the time as the people on the space station are, but only when you’re going outside. All the health effects that we’ve experienced in space have not been from radiation. None have been from radiation. They’ve all been from zero gravity. There is not evidence that this amount of radiation is harmful. Now, zero gravity is harmful. On Mars, we have one third gravity, and it remains to be seen what the health effects of that will be. I believe that there’ll be much less than zero gravity, not only because you have some gravity and therefore some exercise when you move around, which you don’t have in zero gravity, but also one of the problems of zero gravity is that the bodily fluids go to the wrong parts of the body. The head becomes fat and setting off all kinds of crazy endocrine signals, and we’re not adapted for that. Whereas, I once asked Buzz Aldrin, who’s been in Earth, zero gravity, and on the Moon, when he was on the Moon in one sixth gravity, did that feel more like zero gravity or Earth gravity? He said he felt like he was on Earth. Because even in one sixth gravity, the fluids go to the right place. You outlined this in your book. When we first get to Mars, we need a space suit to go outside. There’s a pressure problem, and there’s obviously the problem of no oxygen and not enough oxygen in the atmosphere. You describe in the book that’s something with technology we can already, in theory, put together, we can at least pressurize Mars, even if we can’t provide enough oxygen. You still need to bring your oxygen, but you don’t have the pressure of your space suit anymore. How long will that take? Well, okay. There’s two phases of terraforming Mars. You might say the first phase is changing it physically, and the second change is changing it chemically. The first phase is much easier to do than the second phase. Because if we can warm Mars, which we can do with greenhouse gases, if you warmed Mars, the Mars atmosphere would become much thicker because a lot of carbon dioxide that’s soaked into the soil will come out. It will thicken Mars’s atmosphere a lot. Thicken it from being 1% as much earth pressure as maybe 30%. That, by the way, will solve your radiation problem on the surface right there, having that much atmosphere above you. That could be done within, I believe, 50 years of when the greenhouseing process starts. The way I see it, first humans land on Mars 10 years from now, first children born on Mars 30 years from now. By the end of the century, there’s cities on Mars. Millions of people with significant industrial capabilities, they could begin the terraforming process. Within 50 years of that, you could have Mars have a thick atmosphere. That atmosphere, as you said, would not be breathable, but you wouldn’t need a space suit anymore. You only need an oxygen mask. Also, that Mars would be much warmer. There would be liquid water on its surface. The rivers would be flowing again. You’d have rain. You could start to spread plants around. Now, if you just do the math and you assume we cover the planet pretty much with plants, we help them out, chemical fertilizers, and other things to help them. It would still take 1,000 years for plants, as we know them, to put enough oxygen in Mars’s atmosphere for people. But if we’re looking now in 150 years from now, it’s really not that much of a stretch to imagine that we will have genetic engineering that can produce plants whose photosynthesis is not 1% efficient, which is what our current plants are, but 5% or 10% efficient, in which case the time scale of doing this could be much faster. Yeah, I was hoping it’s something that we could see in our lifetimes, and I say lifetimes because I had already grayed on David Sinclair said too, that aging is more or less solved, that the tech is almost there to solve. It’s 15, 20 years, and then we can live not forever, but hundreds of years instead of 100 years. Well, if we do, then it’ll be in our lifetime, but if not, we’ll see the beginnings of it. Yeah, I know there’s been a bunch of experiments being done to simulate life on Mars, or even maybe this terraforming in a certain desert area. What are the biggest challenges we’ve learned from this? There must be psychological challenges, obviously, in the early stages, but then also later on, maybe there’s technological issues that we’ve found. And so, as established analog Mars stations, where we do practice Mars missions in the desert, and in the Arctic, and some other people have started doing that too, and there we’re addressing the human factors challenges associated with exploration, which by the way, if you have a good crew, the main human factors challenges is not boredom, it’s overwork. You want to choose a good crew, you want to choose the kind of crew you would want to go on any kind of expedition with. People who can work together aren’t trying to knife each other, aren’t trying to outshine each other, who are good friends, one for all and all for one, and who have a sense of humor, so when things go wrong, they don’t get all grouchy, but can just take it in stride. If you have that kind of thing, then you’ll have a good crew on Mars, and then morale will hold up. In terms of terraforming, really, for building a society on Mars, the challenge is the same as building a society anywhere. How do we create a vibrant, optimistic, healthy, civic culture? You know, the Mars Society held a contest last year to design a one million person Mars City State, and in fact, we are going to publish the 20 best designs in a book, probably before the end of April. We were almost ready to publish, but people designed not only the technologies, but the economies and the social systems, the architecture, all trying to address this, and there were a lot of different ideas, actually. The political ideas ranged from social democratic to libertarian, and I think there’ll actually be a lot of different Mars colonies based on different kinds of ideas, and some will succeed and some will fail, but that’s how we’ll find out the ones that do work by trying it. Yeah, I find this so exciting. I was debating this with Stephen Smith. We talked about his views on political philosophy. I said, well, that’s kind of the first lesson and the first lesson that I run my students through is they come up with the design of a state of a regime, of a state of political regime, from scratch, and then we’ll talk about it, and then we go back to the real world, and then it gets really complicated to transfer that system into the real world, but we haven’t seen this from scratch design of a new political regime and quite some time. You know what America was to the old world in Europe? We didn’t see a lot of this. I don’t want to call it a revolution. It has kind of a bad name, but we start from scratch with a better system that is put into place by an election. I mean, the founders of this country called it a noble experiment. They took the ideas of 18th century liberalism, which were certainly known in Europe. They had been created in Europe, but they couldn’t be implemented in Europe. They were previously existing power structures that wouldn’t accept them, and which viewed them as ridiculous. But here we tried it out, and while it wasn’t perfect, it worked well enough that millions of people came here. The country grew, became in fact the most powerful country in the world, and a model for the rest of the world. And to some extent, the standard of government of the people, by the people, for the people is the standard, and that you measure the degree of civilization of the country of now. John Locke would love that. He could hear the success of his ideas. A lot of people say, when we go through all this trouble and make Mars habitable, we would have to work with that environment that’s still somewhat uncertain. Why don’t we go all the way and basically build our own basis, kind of what we do with the space station, control the environment instead of going to a planet? Why don’t we set up these mini planets of space stations? Well, I believe it’s easier to settle a planet than to build one. If you’re talking about a Mars mission, a starship is 100 tons, and if you did it Musk’s way, you refuel it with another 500 tons of propellant, and you go to Mars. And if you set the thousand of them to Mars, you’d have a million tons total delivered to Mars, but you’ve got a planet and a million people there. To build an ONeil colony in Earth orbit, you’d have to transport billions of tons to create a tiny little colony. No, it’s much easier to settle a planet than to build one. Yeah. Do you think the space elevator is something we see relatively quickly, which kind of would take care of that problem, right? Going to low orbit with very, very low cost? Well, I don’t know about relatively quickly. We could build space elevators for the moon with technology that is now available. From moon to Earth? What? Because from the moon? No, in other words, if you wanted to go from the lunar surface into space, and you wanted a space elevator for that, we could build that. For Mars, it’s not quite, although you could build a kind of a partial space elevator that would make it a lot easier to get to orbit on to Mars. And I discussed that in the case for space, building a space elevator coming down from Phobos. But the Earth, no, we would need to have some revolutionary materials. Now, if we do develop those revolutionary materials, then that will become possible. Yes. The materials, you just mentioned, this is the internal cohesion of that cable, so to speak. That’s the problem? Yes, it’s the strength to weight of the materials. But I would say the following. If someone was to discuss this issue, well, say in 1960, when it was first invented by Artisanov, Soviet engineer, the strongest materials known at that time would have been steel cable. And we now have materials like spectra that have strength to weight, strength to weight almost 100 times more than steel. Now, if we could do that again, then yes, you could have space elevators. I’m going to have to go soon. Sure. Two more questions I have for you. Would that be okay? What? Two more questions I have for you. Oh, yeah, please. That would be easy. First one, when we go to Mars, first couple of missions, would you sign up? Would you personally want to go? If I had a chance, yes. What can we do to help? What can we do to make sure it works? Spread the word. More Elon Musk’s. Okay, that’s how we’re going to do this. Nothing can stop an idea as time has come. If the idea is allowed to recruit to its banners, the forces needed for its victory. And I mean, Musk is an example of that. He is someone who came to this because he was recruited by the idea. So spread the idea, we’ll get more Musk’s, and sooner or later, one of them will succeed. We’ll work on that. Robert, thanks so much for your time. That was fantastic. Thanks for saying that. It was incredible. Okay, all right. Well, we’ll talk soon. Take it easy. Bye bye. Bye.