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A City for Mars

written by Frank Stratford on July 06, 2005 | forum profile | contact me
number of views: 76971 |   printable version (text) (PDF)

A dome on Mars.
A dome on Mars.
Credit: Mark Somers
Space tourism is right now in the early stages of development and many new companies are being set up. They see dollar signs by charging from $250,000 up to 2 or 3 million to potential customers for a high risk low earth orbit flight that is very short in actual flight time. Some thrill seekers will give it a go but once a flight explodes in mid air the whole fledgling industry will be halted in it's tracks, much like the bust that happened a few years ago. Investors will run away in fear and decades may pass before anything gets going again. Low earth orbit tourism, even a hotel or two may eventuate but it will only grab a certain section of the market and eventually people will want more. What this new industry needs is a wide reaching, awe inspiring goal that will generate both investors and substantial short and long term revenue. It needs a real destination and a purpose. Trips to low earth orbit are only that, trips. You come back to earth with your amazing snaps of the earth from space and thats the end of it. I do not consider this early step into space to be the long term future of the space tourist industry and most of us probably would like to think we will go further. But to where? The Moon?

Whatever private space venture model will be successful in the long term must meet certain criteria. For example, it must make a clear profit as early as possible and on a regular and expanding basis. It must also be able to overcome setbacks and failures quickly and therefore must be a project of extremely massive proportions and scope. Like building a skyscraper, bridge, toll road, tunnel, train line, shopping mall, new housing estates and other massive infrastructure projects of the past like desalination plants, dams, airports, sewrage works, canals and the like. People died and money was lost on such projects but they forged on because the benefits far outweighed short term money loss or even a few lives. These types of projects also made sense to the average person both in a practical sense(funcionality and usages) and also in a financial sense( employment for them and their families and economic opportunites expanding because of such projects). Once the infrastructure was set up consumers would start making use of them and paying for them. The profits from such projects usually far outweigh the initial construction costs in short time.

When we look at space tourism as a viable long term and expanding industry we can see that steps will need to be taken to expand the scope and type of tours offered, first starting with sub orbital flights, then orbital flights and hotels, then possibly a Moon resort/base, then what? All of these steps need to be taken, I agree, but one thing that already slows development down is the cost of building and testing new rockets and space vehicles for tourist use. Costs may come down but if we follow the current model for the future of space tourism the reality is costs will take far too long to come down and will both hurt small aerospace ventures and turn off the general public which is the main source of revenue long term. How can costs be brought down in quick time and keep the public interested as future inspired consumers? A major project would need to be a very real goal that is being worked on. That is how to lower costs for the first start up space tourism industries. It seems logical that we would try to then set up some kind of base or resort on the Moon as a major project as a next step and I agree with this. Yet going to the Moon faces certain unique problems that cannot be as easily overcome if it were to be on Mars. Mars is a planet that holds great promise for all humanity, it has an atmosphere and is rich in water and natural resources that can be used to not only build cities on Mars but to eventually terraform the entire planet so that we will have a second home for humanity. Mars is unique in this way. The Moon has no atmosphere and a 28 day day/night cycle which means vegetation will require constant power and lighting and little or no water resources to draw on. The Moon will be good for a trip and sight seeing but it cannot be the driver for a more profitable human presence in space due to its lack of resources and harsh environment. Mars is different. It has a 24 and a half hour day and gravity much stronger than the Moon's. It also contains every resource needed for human settlement long term. The lanscapes on Mars are some of the most spectacular in the whole solar system with the highest mountains- Mt Olympus and the largest canyon systems amongst other things. For a more in depth description of what Mars holds in store for us read "The Case For Mars" by Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner.

Going to Mars first offers other financial benefits other than just tourism such as mining of Mars and the mineral rich asteroid belt. Then there are all the associated industries attached to tourism and mining that will spring up once such projects are in action. Settlement of Mars will be one of the most lucrative ventures ever entered into, and that's where space tourism and mining can serve to lay the foundation for such efforts. This is where I come to my proposal, my point. The initial project which will provide short and long term profits on a scale unimagined for all space exploration, tourism, mining and settlement must encompass all of the above criteria. It must be able to be expanded upon and serve many different functions. That is where all other smaller ventures fall short. I propose that a domed city be built on Mars that is able to hold 7500 people and will include a strong commercial sector, shopping areas, hotels, resorts, medical centres, a university, theme parks, swimming areas, parks, residential sectors, a large greenhouse area for food production, a space port nearby for the depature and arrival of tourists and industrial workers, roads leading to mines and a separate industrial sector near those mines. There will also be underground shelters to hold the population in case of dome problems and many other safety systems in place. This city will house 2500 permanent residents and 5000 tourists every day of the year. Enough money has already been wasted by government and private sector on unprofitable space ventures, and now is the time for something new, something that transcends all of these small time efforts and builds on them. It is time for a city to be built on Mars.

The city will utilize the very latest technologies and will be a real showcase for many companies to expose their products and services to a worldwide audience and to the tourists and residents of the city. How can such a project happen? Well the first thing we need is people with open minds, vision and open wallets. I guarantee there will be problems and disasters in this project as history has shown with other great projects but you need to keep your focus on the results. Thats what pioneers of old did and they also felt the satisfaction of being part of something grand, something that would stand as a monument to their vision and courage in the face of amazing odds. This is only a rough sketch of how it could be done and is flexible to change as long as those changes bring costs down and timeframes down.

First, there needs to be at least 65 heavy lift launch factories set up that will employ around 30 to 40 thousand people. These will be used to build the transport system needed to build and get tourists to the city. 33 transport ships will be built in low earth orbit and each ship will be able to hold 175 people in artificial gravity for the 3 to 6 month trip to Mars and return. These ships will require 20 launches each to construct and will mainly use a modified version of the main shuttle tank(20 of them) and other components to form the transport. Each ship will hold passengers and also contain recreational attractions for the transit time which will be reduced as new propulsion systems (such as nuclear thermal or fusion) are brought on line. The main point is to get them built and once built there will be a permanent transport system to and from Mars for commerce and industry as well. Each ship will bring back a load of Martian metals as well as passengers. Each year there will be 240 launches from 4 main launch sites and the ship components will be designed in such a way as to need minimal EVA work by crews based first on a modified space station then once the first ship is built they will operate from that. The 65 factories will produce 4 heavy lift systems each per yearat most for three years. There will be one launch every day or two once started. This part of the project alone will help reduce costs all round for the entire space tourism industry and will ensure it's short and long term viability especially for the smaller start up companies.

Once the 33 ships are completed the first transports to Mars will take place. They will consist of workers for the city and the necessary tools and materials to build the city. These first trips back and forth will also allow extensive testing of all ships. A ship will depart every 10 days and with 33 that means 330 days until all depart for Mars. By that time the first ship will be coming back and so there will be a permanent cycling of ships between Earth and Mars every 10 days to 2 weeks. 2500 workers and engineers will be set up on Mars with all the tools and materials they will need. Their original habs will be the 10 modified shuttle tanks that will be on the main transport (which holds 20 total, 10 permanent, 10 detachable lander habs). They will build factories and special areas to store all the materials and workers with their first few trips. This base camp will be the base for all workers in constructing the city. I believe the costs of the 33 super transports can be kept to $1 Billion each being they will be produced much more frequently and costs will come down all round. We need to stop thinking like NASA and start thinking like people who want to make a profit. Wasteful practice is out. Efficiency is in. At the end of the 4th year the construction of the city will be well under way and for the next 4 years the transports will bring in everything they need in frieght trips with crew of only 25. This 5 year building phase will also double as a 5 year testing phase for the transports, and if there are problems then we will have the capacity to deal with them quickly on Earth or Mars due to the massive workforces dedicated to the project. If any new propulsion systems can be tested out in this time that would help also in reducing travel time and costs.

After 8 years of construction the city will be ready. (3 for the first transports, 5 for the city). In this 8 year period the private space plane industry will become well established and will provide our customers with the means to be transported to the main Mars Transport Ship in low earth orbit. Each ship will hold 150 passengers and 25 crew. Now in the 5 years of construction of the city, construction of a larger fleet of transports will take place also. By the time the city is ready there will be around 95 transports ready to go back and forth between earth and mars. Construction of the fleet will continue until there are 350 ships total. The first year people will pay $3,000,000 for a return trip to Mars lasting about a year total. That equals about $86 Billion from the first 95 ships. This does not include return of mined metals or associated corporate services and sponsorship. Once the full transport system is operating on a regular basis, 105,000 tourists will visit Mars each year at a profit of $315 Billion not counting mining profits or associated industries which could bring the total to around $360 Billion. The cost of the transport fleet- $320 Billion. Maintenance- $32 Billion, Cost of City construction- $100 Billion, $20 Billion maintenance and supplies. With $360 Billion a year profits, and a $52 Billion a year running cost I think you can see the profits. $420 Billion to set up, $52 Billion a year to operate.You could add in an extra $20 Billion for building extra ships and research of new technologies also, leaving $288 Billion profit.

Of course there will be lot of room for flexibility in all of the above plans but it is better to be conservative with costings. The profits from the tourism to the city will enable a whole host of new enterprizes like asteroid mining, building of several space cities at different locations in the solar system and cruise ships that would visit those stations. Then there are the spin offs to development of new propulsion technologies, energy production, artificial gravity systems and eventually interstellar travel. It will also enable the expansion of settlements on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system and eventual terraforming of Mars. Grand goals but when we look at the current gridlock on so many of these issues we can't even imagine such an idea to become a reality. Yet with money and vision and a determination to pioneer the next step in our development, such things are possible. This is a project worthy of the investment in lives and finances that smaller steps fall short of. The first city on Mars could be a bright and shining beacon to all of humanity and could easily propel us forward into the settlement of many more worlds throughout the universe. Yes there are great risks involved but the goal is worth that risk. Flying around in low earth orbit also has many risks but far fewer rewards. It is our choice what we will do but unfortunately most of it revolves around money. Just think, if money were no object what great projects could be completed? Our deserts on Earth could be terraformed so that once again people could benefit from the land, canals and bridges could be built to open up continental trade and tourism, the poor of the world could have hope again of food, shelter and employment and in the process space could be opened up as our new frontier all through the solar system.

Unfortunately today there are some who would rather try to reduce our population as an answer instead of doing the hard things to build a world(or other worlds) that would more than provide for any population expansion. That is the selfish and narrow minded way out. Even corporations that want to make higher profits seek to do it in the easiest way possible, usually by cutting jobs and services. Yet over time we are seeing the effects of such narrow minded thinking. Crime, poverty, disease, war, famine and massive social injustice are on the rise. Taxes continue to rise as a growing number of our population becomes underemployed or unemployed. Shareholders concerns will one day be forgotten as giant corporations start to fall one by one based on their short term, greedy, selfish and narrow minded ways. We are already seeing the cracks appear (remember enron or worldcom?). My goal is a world where we can all prosper and where corporations start to create new industries instead of shutting them down.

How many billionaires or corporations are just sitting on their money instead of helping create a new future for humanity? Whether in space or on earth, if we keep on holding back from being creative and moving forward history shows us what will be the inevitable result. Like all great civilizations before us that thought they were invincible, if greed, corruption, selfish agendas and narrow minded thinkers are allowed to rule us as they now do, our civilization will end up in collapse just like the fall of the mighty Roman, Greek, Babylonian or Egyptian empires of old. We have the technology to make such ideas happen, we have the money, we have the people. We just need the vision and the willpower to go. How many times have I heard of men and women in the past and present proposing fantastic, monumental plans only to be howled down by a narrow minded and corrupt world? Some of them succeeded and some did not. But the one's that did succeed proved what I have said from the start. Great projects can be done, its just a matter of changing our minds and wanting to do them. The benefits of such projects are all around us today. Would you rob future generations of this same hope? If we continue as we are now, that is exactly what will happen. Space tourism could hold untold promise for us, but only if it has a goal in mind, and only if that goal is worth all the lives and sacrifice needed. Flying in low earth orbit or a base on the Moon are not such a goal. A city on Mars that people can go to and relax, be entertained and engage in the most awesome activities around is that goal. Why must this only be a dream or a fantasy? Major projects need to make money, lets be realistic. The kind of money needed for true long term manned space exploration is going to take some serious funding and as you can see, government funding is very slow and even damaging to the aims of science and space exploration. Many today agree that private space ventures are the future but without a project that can raise serious profits it will be a very slow and painful process if left on its current path. A city on Mars would give to space exploration what projects like the Hoover Dam gave to America, purpose, new opportunities, new life in what was once a dry desert and thats why I know if taken seriously and developed further it would be the key that unlocks the door to our permanent future amongst the stars.

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