Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism, Technology > Dream of Mars Colonization as Sold by Elon Musk is a Hilarious Fraud: 1

Dream of Mars Colonization as Sold by Elon Musk is a Hilarious Fraud: 1

Over the past few years, I have noticed a recurring theme which emerges during any prolonged defense of Elon Musk by his fanboys. It involves their firm belief in his increasingly outrageous claims about the relative ease and plausibility of human colonization of Mars. While establishing permanent human settlements on Mars is an interesting idea, doing so is not plausible without very significant technological advances in multiple areas as well as abandoning the organization of society around any form of capitalism. In the rest of this post, I will provide an overview of the many technological and other problems which will doom such an endeavor.

Let us start by quickly going over the unsuitability of the BFR (as currently envisaged) for such a mission. Imagine, for a moment, that Elon Musk somehow finds a way to build and successfully test that particular launcher design. Let us also imagine that it can put a payload of between 150-200 tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). So, how much of that can be put into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit bound for Mars? And that brings us to the first problem. Moving a payload from LEO to TLI or any Mars transfer orbit requires a pretty large amount of fuel to achieve the delta V changes necessary for such a change- and the fuel for that has to some from within the payload.

For example: Saturn-V could put about 130-140 tons into LEO but only 45-50 tons of that could be injected into a TLI orbit. Furthermore, the third stage of Saturn-V utilized a very efficient LOX-H2 engine with specific impulse values close to maximum possible for chemical rocket engines. To put in another way, 200 tons injected into LEO translates into barely 70 tons of useful payload for simply entering into a Mars transfer orbit. And that 70 tons must contain enough fuel to inject itself into a circular orbit around Mars (once it reaches that planet), soft land on its surface and then climb into Martian orbit for re-entering the reverse Hohmann transfer orbit to Earth.

Of course, there are ways to increase the payload deliverable to Mars. It is possible, for example, to use multiple BFR launches to build a Mars transfer spaceship in orbit. Nuclear- or solar- powered machines pre-delivered to Mars could produce the methane and oxygen from local resources to power return flights to Earth. But regardless of how you try to solve this problem, the actual amount of payload deliverable to Mars by even the largest rockets imagined by Elon Musk are pretty meager for starting anything approaching a small permanent settlement.

And it gets worse. A one way trip to Mars using chemical rocket engines and the minimum energy Hohmann transfer orbit will take about nine months. To be clear, nine months or even a year in LEO is doable largely because the spacecraft is still partially protected from solar and cosmic radiation by the earth’s magnetic field. Also, post-journey physiotherapy and rehabilitation on Earth can (over a few years) reverse most deleterious effects of living under conditions of micro-gravity. That is not the case if you travel to Mars, because there might be nobody or very few people to help you after landing on it.

Living under conditions of micro-gravity for more than a couple of weeks has serious and long-term negative effects on bone density, muscle mass and the cardiovascular systems- even if you exercise every single day on the spacecraft and take drugs to counteract some effects of micro-gravity on your body. Decades of medical experience with counteracting the physical effects of micro gravity has shown us that those who have lived for more than a couple of months on space-station take year or two (at least) of physiotherapy to start feel close to normal once again. And don’t forget those astronauts are returning to a planet with normal gravity and tons of medical personnel and facilities.

Mars, on the other hand, is an uninhabited planet with 1/3rd the surface gravity of Earth, a magnetic field too weak to shield you from solar/cosmic radiation and surface atmospheric pressure barely 1/100 th of that on earth. In other words, the “living conditions” on Mars are pretty dismal. Perhaps more importantly, the combination of significantly lower surface gravity (than earth) and high radiation environment is almost certain to cause tons of negative health effects in humans foolish enough to live for more than a few weeks (or months) on its surface.

While living a few meters below its surface, and under a layer of ice, would reduce the amount of ionizing radiation from space to less horrible levels, it would not be surprising if almost everyone living on Mars for any prolonged length of time ended up developing (and dying from) some form on cancer or other chronic diseases. Let us also not forget about the large amount of resources necessary to supply even the smallest Martian colony with food, medicines and equipment from Earth. While it is possible to use small nuclear reactors or solar panels to convert subsurface ice and atmospheric CO2 to oxygen, water and methane- almost all other consumables and equipment to maintain, and perform repairs in, such a colony will have to be ferried from Earth.

In the next part of this short series, I will write about how the currently dominant socio-economic paradigm of capitalism (especially late capitalism based on financialism and metrics based “productivity”) are an even bigger obstacle to human colonization of Mars.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. P Ray
    July 7, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    Sell people the idea they can escape their problems (while studiously failing to point out the new down sides of their new environment – remember, there’s not advantage without a disadvantage, and no disadvantage without an advantage) … and maybe he can make himself amazingly rich.

    The other reason people don’t talk about the downsides is it becomes comical about how pathetic the lives of the new colonists will be, despite strict physical and mental requirements to enter the programme that will send them to Mars. If it does happen I hope they livestream it so people can see that Chad and Stacy are no match for radiation.

    One wonders, about a fanboy of entertainment like Elon Musk talking about “Terminators”, he must have missed a very good videogame called Master of Orion 2 … there the rockets for galactic travel used “Nuclear Fission” near the start of the game.

  2. balu
    July 7, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    While completely agreeing with your analysis, please bear in mind that this whole “Mars colonization” and BFR are red herrings. There are literally tons of BS in the claims about Falcon 9, Merlin, Dragon and Raptor, 4 things that are seriously developed for years and are either in use already or has an actual potential to be useful in a few years time (Raptor).

    They talk about Raptor as if it was an existing thing. I’m quite sure they are still years away from an actually prototype, not to mention serial production. (They “prototype” they tested in 2016 was a scaled down technological demonstrator, almost surely unfit for actual use.) Dragon got a leak in its first landing. There was sea water in the cabin. This is an extremely serious problem, almost never mentioned in the press.

    Merlin is hyped beyond reasonability. They somehow managed to decrease its mass from 630 to 470 kg from variant 1C to variant 1D. This is 25%, in other words, almost certainly BS. It may be possible that the “normative” weight was 630 for 1C and 470 for 1D, but they changed what “normative” was by leaving out major components, like say heat exchanger for fuel pressurization. Etc. Now, with recent upgrades, Merlin 1D is claimed to have cc. twice the thrust of 1C, extremely unlikely. It may be possible that these claims are a mixture of “clever accounting”, downright lies and one time achievements with extreme overdrive, with the aim to get to the headlines and give fodder to fanboys. What data we have comes from them, and even these are somewhat unsure. Wikipedia even quotes press conferences and postings to Quora.

    • (((They))) Live
      July 8, 2018 at 7:49 am

      Don’t worry about the Raptor, its close to finished, why would they have started work on the BSF if the engine is years from being finished

      And don’t worry about the Merlin its doing just fine, SpaceX are winning plenty of launch contracts

      Do you work for ULA or maybe Blue origin ?

      • balu
        July 8, 2018 at 9:51 am

        “Do you work for ULA or maybe Blue origin ?”
        I don’t work for any Musk-competitor.

        “why would they have started work on the BSF”
        Why do you think they have started work on the BSF? 🙂

  3. Someone
    July 8, 2018 at 3:05 am

    The Van Allen Radiation Belt is still a serious issue. Even a NOVA special has a 5 or so minute segment talking about that alone. But wait! Did we not solve this issue with the moon shot in the 60’s? Well, I better stop before I start conspiratorial.

    • NF
      July 8, 2018 at 6:40 am

      Everyone acts like you’re insane if you believe we never landed on the moon. Of course it makes more sense to believe the same govt organizations that gave us the Kennedy assasinations, mlk assasination, all of Vietnam, the Cold War, watergate.

      • Yoyo
        July 9, 2018 at 9:59 am

        The difference between the government conspiracies that you cited and the moon landing is that one of those things based in fucking science. You’re clearly a tinfoil hat retard masquerading as a “skeptic.”

      • NF
        July 9, 2018 at 10:42 am

        yoyo – “based in fucking science” means what exactly?
        global climate change caused by carbon is “based in fucking science”. gary taubes shouting that sugar causes death is “based in fucking science”. you seem to think science if infallible.

  4. NF
    July 8, 2018 at 6:30 am

    Musk currently:
    The airplanes didn’t get to Thailand in time to save everyone with our boring co drills 😦 maybe next time

    • balu
      July 9, 2018 at 10:51 pm

      I thought you were joking but I’ve just found an article about it. Musk had gone too far even according to the journos in PR bullshoting.

  5. (((They))) Live
    July 8, 2018 at 7:45 am

    You don’t seem to understand Musks plan or the BFR

    If you actually want to understand it the best place to start is with watching some Robert Zubrin’s videos on youtube

    Actually, I read his books years before YouTube existed. You do realize that he was talking about a long-term human presence on mars in a manner similar to how we now have manned outposts in Antarctica. There is a big difference between achieving that and colonization of an entire planet with such a hostile environment.

    • July 8, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      thank you for bringing some IQ points to this sorry blog (com section)
      while I tend.. tended to agree with AD on most points… he lately.. he’s bonkers now

      Colonizing Mars, is, of course impossible.. right now or in the near future.

      But.. BFR.. and Mars landing.. these things are almost certainly feasible and not anywhere near as problematic as AD wants to.. lies about.

      There is a big difference between travelling to mars, landing on it, spending a few months on its surface and then flying back to Earth Vs Human colonization of Mars.

      Not unlike, how humans traveled back and forth to the moon between 1969-1973, but left no long-term manned presence on its surface.

    • (((They))) Live
      July 8, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Ah very good, so then you know that Zubrin understands all about radiation in space and on the surface of Mars, and so does Musk, Musk’s plan is an evolution of Zubrin’s Mars direct, but Musk’s is better because it will be cheaper. radiation has to be dealt with and mitigated but its not a show stopper. do you honestly think that people working on a Moon or Mars shot don’t think about radiation effects, seriously

      Also Musk’s plan re fuels the BSF at LEO before the trip to Mars and yes he produces Methane on the Martian surface for the return flight, so your arguments about payloads sent to Mars are off, your Mars gravity number is also wrong, its closer to 40% than 30% of Earth gravity

      And now we get to a point that I think we can agree on, Musk may not get to see a city or large colony on Mars, it may just be a research base, but will that make him a failure or a fraud, people like you will continue to call him a fraud and a scammer right up to the moment the first man walks on Mars, in fact I bet even after you will still scream FRAUD, SCAM, HE GOT MONEY FROM NASA, SUBSIDY SUBSIDY

      Tesla may not be around 10 years from now, but I bet SpaceX will be and they will have sent people back to the Moon and on to Mars

      Try and think of it like this, what kind of things are possible if SpaceX/Blue Origin have rockets as large as the BFR but have launch costs as low as the Falcon 1, its very different to 1969-1973 thats for sure, thats where this is going

      Haters gonna hate I suppose

      • balu
        July 9, 2018 at 3:54 am

        Look, Mars colonization according to Musk, the BFR, and even the Raptor are so obviously BS I wonder how you could suck it. Raptor is the only thing that has any chance to materialize from it, and I reckon we need another few years for that (if SpaceX doesn’t fold in the meanwhile).

        They evidently encountered serious problems with it, real engineering problems they couldn’t solve with Musk-BS. Even scaling up from the size of the Merlin itself can be problematic (due to combustion instability at larger engines), and judging from the ever decreasing size and thrust specifications for Raptor, they now have perhaps find something manageable at last. But imagine the problem of ground infrastructure for methane. This is not an enormous task but anyway a thing that doesn’t exist at the moment, and they have to build it.

        And another thing that this is clearly BS. Raptor has a so high chamber pressure that it won’t be suitable for manned missions. Higher the pressure, higher the chance it’ll explode. Also, subcooled stuff is no-no for manned missions ‘cos they have to fill up the rocket in the very last minute, it cannot stay on the launch pad long. You either fill it up with the guys in the cabin (no) or you hastily put the guys in the cabin after fill up (no). If you use non-subcooled stuff you can wait indefinitely, ‘cos you can let the propellants boil, vent the gases and compensate the rest with a small amount continuously. The propellant is near its boiling point, but still liquid.

        These (and a 100 of other) are small things but for an engineer they make the whole thing obviously BS.

      • Sam J.
        July 22, 2018 at 11:34 pm

        I made a mistake. I was mostly talking about his rocket tech. Reusing vertical landed rockets is brilliant and simple. No one did that and I’ve heard of it before but never with a tall slender rocket like he used.

        One of your replies got stuck in spam folder.

        Here it is..

        Over the past few years, I have noticed a recurring theme which emerges during any prolonged defense of Elon Musk by his …

        A lot of what balu says is just silly.

        The BFR will be made from carbon fiber and will have a huge amount of payload because of that. They’ve been making planes out of CF for a while now so this is not some magic tech. I think his carbon fiber tanks will be even better. He mentioned that the matrix for the Carbon fiber is new. I had independently thought about this myself. Carbon fiber is bonded with epoxy. The combined strength is the fiber with the bonding agent. If you look there are several other plastics that are stronger than epoxy. I bet he’s using some of these instead pf epoxy. I suspect with some research you could probably get something stronger and easier to work with than epoxy.

        “…Raptor has a so high chamber pressure that it won’t be suitable for manned missions. Higher the pressure, higher the chance it’ll explode…”



        chamber pressure is 4,400 psi. They run 2,000 psi on a log splitter you can buy at home depot. This pressure with wire mesh and rubber hoses. Sp double that…is no big deal.

        “…(due to combustion instability at larger engines)…”

        Nope. He uses pintle injectors which doesn’t seem to have combustion stability problems.


        The biggest one tested was by TRW at 650,000 pounds of thrust. No instability problems.


        “…But imagine the problem of ground infrastructure for methane…”

        Uhh…they also call that natural gas. They drive around tractor trailer trucks full of this stuff all day long. Ships carry massive amounts of it all over the world. If they launch from the sea they could refill the rocket from a normal NG ship and the stuff is dirt cheap. Really cheap.

        “…Also, subcooled stuff is no-no for manned missions ‘cos they have to fill up the rocket in the very last minute, it cannot stay on the launch pad long…”

        More stupidity. When fuel vaporizes it takes away the heat. Doesn’t matter what temperature it starts at. The shuttle used hydrogen which was way, way, way more tricky than simple Methane.

        Just about every single thing he wrote was nonsense.

        I have no idea why Musk wants to got to Mars but so far he has been a great help to national security with what he has done so far. His heavy lift will save us a fortune and the BFR will do even better. He moves fast but if you’re paying attention every thing he has done has been researched before. All the stuff he’s done has had a lot of work done on it before he started. I’m on no way diminishing what he’s done. He’s the one that put it all together in an efficient manner to cut cost. It will be tough to get a colony on Mars but it can be done. I think he’s making a big mistake by not starting on the moon but it’s his money.

  6. 99 Percent Libertarians Are Blue Collar Chumps
    July 9, 2018 at 4:44 am

    In other news,the sky is blue.

  7. Shiningtime
    July 10, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    We can get to Mars right now if we diverted 1/10 of the $660 billion that goes to defense. There’s no real political will to spend money on such a vanity project while so much else needs doing on Earth.

    In my opinion a human Mars mission is pointless. Mars is dead, cold and miserable. We should keep sending robots and monitor them from here. The harsh reality is that we are Earthlings. There isn’t anywhere else we can go .

    • balu
      July 10, 2018 at 11:29 pm

      “In my opinion a human Mars mission is pointless.”
      This is it. Any money spent on mars missions is money thrown out of the window.

  8. marlon
    July 14, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Aah…but a human Mars mission is not pointless…It will bring lots of $ to Musk.

  9. July 18, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    A little late to the party, but in response to the whole ‘radiation has to be dealt with and mitigated but its not a show stopper’… I believe that at one point NASA sent one half of a pair of identical twins up to the ISS… on return they did a genome check and found that the twin who had been on the ISS had been effectively ‘mutated’ at the genetic level as to be completely differentiated from his earthbound sibling with a permanent (as of this time) 7% change genetically. And this after being up there for ONLY 6 months! In the case of longer mission times, the radiation mitigation equates to more shielding which in return equals more weight… In order to shield, you add more weight, which in turns means a bigger ship which in turn means a bigger booster ad nauseum… ain’t gonna happen in our lifetimes IMO

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