Billionaires of Mars

August 10, 2012

If you could write a check for a spaceship to Mars, would you?

That’s exactly the situation we have right now. There are over a hundred people on Earth right now with personal wealth weighing in at over $10 billion dollars. Gates has over $60 billion bucks available. Any one of these people with any interest at all in putting a colony on Mars, basically, owning Mars, could do so within a decade.

Robert Zubrin, an advocate of a unique mission profile, stated in an article, “…while Mars Direct might cost $30 to $50 billion if implemented by NASA, if done by a private outfit spending its own money, the out-of-pocket cost would probably be in the $5 billion range.” Wow. Five billion. And his mission profile advocates bringing people back, unlike the Mars One group from the Netherlands who wants to do a one-way mission to colonize the planet; of course, now you’re paying to take enough food and infrastructure for people to stay there.

The key point of this is that, given the will of one person (one very rich person), we could be standing on Mars in 10 years time. We could be living on Mars. The Mars rover, Curiosity, just did a radiation measurement that indicated levels are “not a showstopper”. About the same as low-Earth-orbit. Woo-hoo!

And most important of all, if this rich person has a brain, they can make money on the effort. Richard Branson ($4 billion) or Elon Musk ($2 billion) seem to already be heading this direction, building the infrastructure to get to space on their own terms and making money at it as they go (via Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX). The Mars One people talk about turning the mission into a media extravaganza, a reality show to beat all reality shows, an advertising blitz to beat all others. What would Pepsi pay to have their logo on the first manned lander? What would the first returned samples from Mars be worth to collectors? Can you imagine what actual fossils would be worth if they find them?

And you don’t even have to spend a cent developing the rockets to get you into Earth Orbit. Elon Musk has already done the design work; you can launch 10 Falcon Heavies for a billion dollars, delivering a half-million kg of fuel and hardware to low-Earth orbit.

Let’s look at the potential returns on this for a billionaire entrepreneur;

1. It’s been suggested that a $5-10 billion NASA X-Prize be offered for a private manned mission too Mars. Fine, but likely with lots of strings attached. Still, there it is; your entire mission paid for if you’re successful.

2. Advertising. This starts the moment you actually commit to the project. Just the televised weeding-out process for wannabee astronauts could bring in millions of dollars as a reality show. Competition between countries for seats on the rockets, Olympic fervor and excitement. That could last years. Licensing for games, the official mission logo plastered on every product on Earth, books, autographs from the team members, photo ops, speaking gigs (hey, you own those astronauts, part of the contract), product placements, donations for a variety of perks, or just donations…the list just goes on and on. If I were in advertising, I could make back the $5 billion in the 5 years before the first rocket left the launch pad. How many million-dollar stickers could you get on the side of your lander?

3. Building the rocket to get there, assembled in Earth orbit offers more advertising, more excitement, pay-per-view.

4. The trip there, of course, would be televised. Interviews would be sold. Unlike NASA’s model, nothing is free. Perhaps a bit more reality show programming and product placement advertising. Nothing like a Mars bar when you need a break from your EVA, is there?

5. And when you land, what is that worth? Renting out the copyrighted footage from the first manned landing? Aforementioned ad-space on your hardware? Commercial breaks? The knowledge that you’ll be getting royalties off this footage for the lifetime of the copyright? And the check you got from the country (or company, or person) that paid you off so their guy would be the first on Mars?

6. Experiment space could be sold for your arrival on Mars. Personal items or human ashes carried there and buried there. Designer bacteria could be taken along and tested in the Martian environment. Designer plant species, lichen and such, patented and ready for the colonists to spread around. If the colony was set up inside one of the many known lava tubes on the planet (such as those near Pavonis Mons), with solar collectors and solar pipes channeling the light inside, the colony would be surrounded by rock and safe from radiation. Lava tubes could provide huge living quarters with very little preparation.

7. And once you’re settled? Rent out your colonists. Tell us where you want to go, what samples you want collected, where you want that pickaxe swung. We’ll hop on our Martian bicycles and go check it out. Now that you’re there, anything you sell is just a bonus for you. For that matter, rent out little rovers with cameras. Sure, it’ll take 4 to 20 minutes for Earth-commands to go back and forth, but you know folks would rent time on them. Why stop there; super-light-weight flyers can be programmed to see all sorts of interesting things.

8. Property. Oh yeah, barring international agreements which won’t really apply to you since they can’t reach you, you own Mars. You want to buy 20 acres on Mars? We’ll sell it to you with a deed. It might be underwater when Mars starts to warm up, but that’s the risk you take. Lava tubes, now those are premium property! Create your own Government for your colony and claim it all. Work out deals with Earth governments so they don’t try to steal it all back. Better yet, sell them large swaths of Mars.

9. Sell support services for other colonists and countries. Once you prove it can be done, others will follow, and you can sell some of your infrastructure services (like a communications satellite, if you left one in orbit, you can rent bandwidth. Or a berth in your colony, if the new arrival wants to rent or buy a place to stay). Once they find out you’re trying to claim Mars for yourself, well, there won’t be any lack of newbies clamoring for a piece of the action, and they’ll all be paying you rent for your existing infrastructure.

10. Propellant; assuming you’ve tapped off of some of Zubrin’s brilliant ideas for making propellant from the Martian atmosphere, you can sell that to potential customers. Hey, we have water and propellant for sale! Come as you are. We have the supplies to send you back. For a price.

11. Patents on new minerals, compounds, and materials, and if you’re very, very lucky, microfossils. Unique gemstones on Mars? Who knows. Getting them back to Earth is a problem, but once your infrastructure is in place, heck, that’s a mission you could pay for with pocket change and make your money back ten-fold. Take stamps to Mars and ship them back.

12. And it gets stranger…once your colony is pressurized to 0.5 Earth-atmosphere in 1/3rd G, it’s time to pull out your sports-wings and fly around inside your 200-meter wide lava tube (yeah…they’re huge). You get to start your very own Martian sport. Which team will you bet on? Which Earth-network is going to pay to broadcast it? And Superbowl advertising for $4 million dollars per ad? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Okay, sure I forgot some things. Let me know. Point is, we can go to Mars now; all we need is a billionaire with a dream and a marketing team that makes sure he remains a billionaire. After all, you’ll want to have money left over for that next colony.

UPDATE: Elon Musk (the Paypal billionaire) spoke at the Mars Society Convention in Pasadena last week, and expressed his interest in colonizing Mars, and making seats available for $500,000 a head for would-be colonists. Go, Elon! I might be too old to make the trip by the time this happens (being a spry 58 now), but at least I can make the trip vicariously! If you want to have your spirits bolstered by what he says, you can watch it here. Skip the Zubrin introduction – it’s lengthy.


God vs Evolution; Inherited Gene Mutations

November 21, 2010

The key to exposing those processes of evolution that appear completely nonsensical if attributed to an intelligent designer is to ask these two questions;

1. If God designed this, what would he likely have done? And
2. If the process of evolution produced this, what would be the end result?

A great example of this is the case of every living thing eating every other living thing just to survive. If I assume as a basic foundation that God is a loving, caring individual and really likes humans more than anything else, then one would have to guess that he would not design an entire ecosystem where the primary goal of each member of that system is to kill and eat one of the others. Humans are just “food” to a number of viruses, bacteria, parasites, scavengers, and large predators. While this appears to be a perfect characteristic for an evolutionary process of competitive consumption and mutation, it’s entirely moronic from the perspective of any sort of intelligent design. Add to this the fact that some vegetarian humans choose to avoid killing any other animals and it tells us that it is, in fact, possible to have an ecosystem where nothing kills anything. God was just too stupid to figure it out. There are quite literally thousands of species of scavengers and insects and plants that eat nothing but already-dead organics. Wouldn’t that be something; an ecosystem where animals would only eat each other after they died from other causes?

Of course, an evolutionist would argue that this could not stand; eventually one animal would evolve the brilliant trait of killing other animals to assure their timely death, drag the carcass off, and nibble on it only after it had decomposed to an edible state, like a pheasant hanging in front of a British butcher’s shop. Killing to eat, as you can see, is an inevitable state of evolution, not the hand of intelligent design. But this, again, assumes that an animal could naturally evolve at all without God’s thick fingers in the dough. Even if God had started with such a benevolent, non-violent system, mutation and evolution would inevitably have driven us in the direction that it has.

So, again, look at the questions; How would God design something, and how would evolution mould it?

Take genetics. There’s the obvious fact that every living thing, even viruses, use DNA, and use the same code sequences that all the other organisms do. The gene that makes haemoglobin in humans is very much like the gene that makes haemoglobin in pigs, and in fact can and has been spliced into pig DNA so that the pig had both human and pig haemoglobin coursing through its veins. The genes are just little strings of codes, and the fact that genes that do the same thing in each animal tend to be nearly identical should be a pretty obvious clue that evolution, with its accumulation of mutations, has been at work. However, the ID proponents will tell you that God has merely taken a good design and used it elsewhere, tweaking it for that particular organism.

So the ID argument is founded on the idea that God can apparently pick and choose what genes he wants to use in each animal. After all, he designed them, right? We might expect each animal to have its own unique genes, with common functions duplicated in between species as very similar genes.

But here’s the problem. If there are 5 genes in a Human, let’s just call them A, B, C, D, and E, and we compare them to their functionally equivalent genes in a muskrat, we would expect some variation between each pair of common genes in the two animals. If God can just pick and choose genes and tweak them to his heart’s content, we would expect the Human-A gene to be different from the Muskrat-A gene by some percentage, like 5%. Evolutionists would consider this 5% as an accumulation of mutations after splitting from a common ancestor. The B-gene might be 20% different, and the C-gene 50% different. And so on. God can pull genes from anywhere and do anything he wants with them. So any level of variance between two genes between two animals would be possible, right?


What we find is the answer to “what would evolution do?” question. If two animals descend from a common ancestor (well…they ALL do), then we would expect a certain mutation rate to occur in the genes of the each animal, a “molecular clock”. All the genes in the animal would maintain this same rate of mutation accumulation, being exposed to the same mutating environment, the same statistical distribution of unexpected change. What we would expect is that the 5 genes between human and muskrat would have roughly the same percentage difference for each pair of common genes.

This, not surprisingly, was the result of an experiment done by David Penny and published in 1985, using 5 genes which were so similar between species that they have the same name in each species (the experiment is described by Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth, page 322). Except they checked the 5 genes across a group of 11 mammals. The results were as mentioned above; for a given pair of animals, the number of mutations in similar pairs of genes were consistently close to the same percentage across all 5 pairs of genes. Other experiments since then have expanded on Penny’s work, with similar results. Incontrovertibly, it points to the FACT that each pair of animals had a common ancestor and accumulated a statistical average of mutations since the speciation event occurred.

What it does NOT show is that God picked whatever gene he felt would help the animal survive best and slap it into the animal’s DNA matrix. This would have given totally different results, with a broad variance of mutations between pairs of similar genes.

This experiment, above and beyond any other experiment I’ve read about, proves beyond a doubt that ID is bogus, and evolution suitably describes exactly what we would expect. There is no intelligent designer picking and choosing; there is only a random, statistically averaged accumulation of mutations weeded out by competition and speciation events.

If this isn’t enough of a nail-in-the-cofffin for doubters, there is the issue of viral scarring in human DNA, which not only hammers in the last nail, but buries the coffin besides. Retroviruses have a nasty habit of inserting their own code into the human DNA sequence. Estimates are that 8% of human DNA (of the 95% that’s considered “junk DNA”) is viral in nature, inserted in the past by retroviruses. This portion of our DNA is, in essence, a fossil record of every virus that humans and their animal ancestors have had to fight during their long history.

It should be pretty clear even to ID proponents that God wouldn’t go out of his way to add inert viral sequences into our own DNA. However, just the fact of its existence is not the telling point (although it isn’t a bad point by itself).

Viral scarring in DNA shows up in the same place in the gene sequence in different creatures with whom we share a common ancestor. Apes and humans, humans and rats, if you look, you find that both species carry the signature of ancient viral attacks that left a physical scar behind, inserted in exactly the same place in the equivalent gene in both animals, a viral attack that occurred before the two species went their separate genetic ways from their common ancestor. Here you have two different animals that both just happen to have the same viral-scar in the same place in the equivalent gene in both their DNA sequences; only an evolutionary process can explain this.

The fabrication and rationalization of an ID proponent could only stretch so far before it shatters into nonsensical fragments while attempting to explain these evolutionary results. The fact of evolution is sealed in genetic documentation, a book merely waiting to be opened and translated into the history it provides.

Are There Two (or more) Living Species of Humans?

November 9, 2010

For those of you looking for some racist rant, you’re not going to find it here, despite the interesting title.

Here’s the conjecture; there’s a lot of genetic diversity in humans. Is there enough variation between humans to prevent two of them from producing fertile offspring, and if so, could they be considered two different species of humans?

Amongst the seven species in the genus Equus, we know that horses and donkeys can breed together, but always create sterile offspring (mules, that is). Likewise, zebras and donkeys have produced the “zeedonk”, which is also sterile. The definition of a species separation is that two animals from separate species cannot produce fertile offspring. Sterile mules and zeedonks, fine, but you won’t be seeing a purebred line of mules any time soon.

So theory has it that speciation occurs when two groups from one species are separated for so long that accumulated mutations in their DNA prevent them from making babies effectively, or making effective babies. It’s actually senseless to speak of two species that can crossbreed, because then, of course, by definition they are the same species.

But here is where it gets interesting. Let’s break a species up into tribes, or herds, whatever. What if tribe A can breed with tribe B, and tribe B can breed with tribe C, and C with D, and D with E. But they are spread across the country, and though there’s been some local mixing, tribe A is so genetically different from E that they can’t breed at all. Are they then different species? If a meteor came along and wiped out B, C, and D, then there would be no doubt at all that A and E were now different species. And yet, if you plopped all these tribes into a city, you would only have a statistic for “infertility” between certain members that appeared to be unable to produce fertile kids; the Zeedonks of the human species, the chance meeting of a type A and type E person.

So it’s entirely conceivable that all humans could mate with 99% of all other humans, but would qualify as a “different species” when paired up with any member of the other 1%. Thus, though the species superficially looks like a single species, you could selectively sample two humans and technically prove they are different species, even though each of them could produce viable offspring with a large and overlapping majority of other humans. Wouldn’t that be odd?

It would be interesting and informative to take a broad sampling of genes from both parents of sterile children and see if, statistically, they have a much broader genetic difference than parents of non-sterile kids. It would also be telling to know if children from mixed marriages (racial, not religious!) tend to have a higher incident of sterile offspring. And lastly, if any of this is correct at all, I would expect that the percentage of sterile offspring would be on the rise, because the world has lost its tribal nature and interracial marriages are much more common than they used to be. This should be a fairly easy statistic to locate and correlate with the evolution of travel in the world, with isolationist communities like China offering a valuable “control experiment”.

A problem with this list of data-mining “experiments” is that our society tends to associate sterility with an individual, not with his or her parents. We need to establish a data-base of genetic information that goes back a generation from the sterile individual, not assume that the cause of the problem started with him.

Of greater significance and concern is that our rush toward universal mixing, though perhaps ethically desirable, could result in such an incredible diversity of genetic mixing due to the huge population involved that the norm might become sterility. There may be a maximum population-mixing size allowable before it self-sterilizes, and forces itself into a mass speciation event. Or it could mean the opposite, and human blending will become so complete that there could never be a human Zeedonk. It’s hard to say; the rules of human society have had such a non-natural effect on the rules of evolution that they hardly apply to us anymore, despite the fact that we continue to mutate and evolve, or devolve as medical advances help keep us alive. However, I find the questions that I’ve proposed of weighty enough substance that, hopefully, someone with more intelligence and energy than myself may decide to pursue them to their natural solutions.

Silicon Based Lifeforms vs Creationists

July 23, 2010

Ever since the ground-breaking experiments of Urey and Miller, who proved it was possible for amino acids to spontaneously arise out of a laboratory-controlled “primordial soup” of inorganic chemicals, scientists have been racing to take the next step and find out just how the amino acids can become self-replicating organic strings. The importance of this is obvious. This would give us a continuous lineage from rocks to humans. Evolution in a nutshell, a complete package end-to-end with which to torment creationists.

Unfortunately, lacking this final detail in the string of continuity, mutation, and speciation, creationists will cling to this last vestige of their delusion like a drowning man rubbing a rabbit’s foot. Of course, they will do that anyway, even with absolute proof that evolution can stand on its own, and continue to perpetuate the lie that evolution is still grounded in Lamarkian concepts. Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a Jehovah’s Witness tract knows just what I’m talking about – their sum total knowledge of evolution comes from the latest theories of the 1880s and the rants from their apparently uneducated pastors.

Even if scientists complete the experimental foundations of the RNA World, there will still remain skeptics who will blame the results on contamination from external sources, unless, of course, the carbon-based replicating organism is completely alien to anything that currently exists. But the odds of that are considered low; carbon compounds like to react with other carbon compounds in very specific ways that restrict the options available.

But why go this route? Why not select a version of life that can’t possibly be contaminated by Earthly life forms? For example, silicon (versus carbon) based life? Something that will provide incontrovertible proof that life can arise spontaneously in some of the nastiest conditions the universe can lob at us.

I’ve read a bit about the possibility of silicon-based life forms. Most people don’t think it’s possible, usually based on speculation about how silicon bonds with oxygen and can’t properly build long, strong chains like carbon does (not completely true – look up polysilanes). Most of these articles assume certain things; that oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and other low-level atoms are still going to be around for silicon to bond with, and that the temperature of the silicon-based chemistry will have to be about the same as our own. Silicon doesn’t do well at this temperature. Too hard, too short a chain, blah, blah, blah.

But to create a true silicon analog of the carbon based world, we have to eliminate the whole top line of the periodic chart (barring lithium – we need that). This might seem to be a crazy task until we look at Venus, which at a mere 600 degrees C, and with the aid of ultraviolet rays, has lost most of its hydrogen and oxygen into space. It has very little water left. However, for a silicon analog to exist, with no carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen or helium to pollute its atmosphere, we would need a fairly small planet with a surface temperature of over 1000 degrees C. Taking a look at the next row down on our periodic charts, we can see that the analog to H20 would be Li2S, oceans of dilithium sulfide (not to be confused with dilithium crystals, which are used in starships). This happens to melt at about 950 degrees C. The second row in the chart below nitrogen is phosphorus. P2 gas forms from P4 at over 800 C, which works just great for us as our analog to N2 in our own atmosphere. An atmosphere consisting mostly of phosphorus might be hard on us humans, but it’d likely be just fine for the siliconites. The analog to C02 would be SiS2, silicon sulfide.

I’m not sure how silicon would do as a chain at 1100 degrees if it was isolated from lower-level chemical elements. Probably not as well, after all, you are dealing with a valence shell that’s one shell further away from the nucleus than carbon. But once you eliminate all these reactive impurities, who’s to say?

What I’d love to do is build a nicely insulated ceramic chamber, dump a lot of these second-level elements into it, heat it up to 2000 degrees to vent off the light elements, then let it cook for a few years around 1100 degrees. Make a “freezing side” of the box at 900 degrees, and a hot side at 1150 to give it a nice thermal gradient. Add a spark-gap generator. Then watch and see what grows. Repeat Urey and Miller’s 1-week experiment, but on silicon. Would we get analog-silicon amino acids? I’d bet on it. Analog RNA? Analog life? Who knows? But it would sure be cool to find out.

Mass-creation From the Vacuum – Heisenberg Meets the 3-body Problem

March 27, 2010

I’ve been considering the conundrum of Mass-Energy conservation and the violation of this principle in light of the Big Bang. One of my friends described this as the “elephant in the room” with regard to the law of mass-energy conservation.

So we have to wonder if there are any existing mechanics that allow violation of this law. The first one that pops to mind is the Heisenberg time-energy relationship that allows virtual particles to pop into existence from the vacuum; the shorter the time, the greater the potential mass-energy. Sadly, the brief existence is confined to a duration so short that it’s impossible to detect, although certain effects, such as the Casimir effect, strongly suggest that virtual particle interactions are quite real (look it up on Wikipedia, if you’re curious).

Now put two of these virtual particle pair-productions adjacent to each other when they pop into existence (this has to happen some tiny fraction of the time) and the 4 particles produced are suddenly involved with the chaotic 4-body problem, interacting in such a way as to acquire stability before disappearing from our universe, potentially creating any variety of subatomic particles and pairs, half matter and half antimatter.

The net result is a continuous mass-creation with high-energy particles appearing from nowhere.

Your initial response will be, “Yes, but the antiparticles are going to combine with regular particles and annihilate a mass equal to that created.” Absolutely true. However, the energy produced will not be dragged back down into the closed-loop non-existence of a virtual particle. It will be released as two high-energy photons that go zipping around the universe and adding to the overall mass-energy of the universe, adding its little contribution to the light-pressure factor of its expansion.

Perhaps Fred Hoyle’s discounted steady-state universe still has a viable solution, and perhaps if we go back in time toward a Big Bang, we will find out that this mechanism decreases the mass of the universe so that there is no Big Bang at all, just a slow and continuous chaotic production of mass energy from the vacuum.

Perhaps it starting not with a bang, but a whisper (apologies to T.S. Eliot).

Hi, Folks.

January 16, 2010

Welcome to my blog. Hope you find something interesting here.