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Donald Barker: on 6/2/14 at 21:24pm UTC, wrote Peter, Thanks. And I'm glad you are in the choir. Unfortunately, I think...

Donald Barker: on 6/2/14 at 21:08pm UTC, wrote Hi Jim, And yes, Mars is attainable even now. Like I've said previously,...

Peter Jackson: on 6/2/14 at 16:48pm UTC, wrote Donald Great essay, very interesting read but I didn't need selling on you...

James Hoover: on 6/2/14 at 15:44pm UTC, wrote Donald, Certainly Mars is attainable, especially with a promising...

Marc Séguin: on 5/28/14 at 21:02pm UTC, wrote Donald, Thank you for an interesting and well-researched essay. I...

Donald Barker: on 5/28/14 at 3:58am UTC, wrote Dear Robert, Thanks you. I hoped to make it at least somewhat interesting,...

Donald Barker: on 5/28/14 at 3:51am UTC, wrote Thanks for the comment CaoHoàng. Yes, I truly believe that if we as a...

Robert de Neufville: on 5/27/14 at 4:25am UTC, wrote You make a compelling case for settling Mars, Don. I like the analogy to...


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August 31, 2014

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2014 [back]
TOPIC: 90 Minutes on Titan: Technology and the Race for Survival by Donald C Barker [refresh]
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Author Donald C Barker wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 15:50 GMT
Essay Abstract

Humanity has recently traversed a unique technological threshold of self-enabled survival, a first in the history of life on Earth. Given our imperfect understanding and tenuous control over Earth’s environment and our own behaviors, an ever-growing likelihood of social collapse or extinction necessitates the immediate self-initiated diversification of our species off Earth. Prior to our recently gained capability to navigate interplanetary space, all life on earth has solely been at the mercy of natural events, known or unknown. Contemporaneous technological advances over the past seventy-five years have further empowered humanity to suffer socially regressive or extinction causing events. It is the technological threshold of enabling travel to other worlds that has reset humanities survival clock. Meanwhile, as the clock ticks away, we put forward a thought experiment highlighting what might have occurred had NASA’s budget been radically different for the past fifty years. Given our current knowledge of potential locations in our solar system, Mars is the only world replete with needed resources, primarily water, which can rapidly and permanently sustain human colonization. In addition to survival, concrete home world benefits also exist, and the initial act of settling Mars uniquely serves as humanities greatest globally inspiring self-initiated achievement.

Author Bio

Donald C. Barker, holds Masters Degrees in Physics, Mathematics, Psychology and Space Architecture, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Planetary Geology from the University of Houston. Mr. Barker has held several positions over the past twenty years supporting the US space program at Johnson Space Center including: Biomedical Engineer, Flight Controller, Systems Engineer and ISS Program Specialist. Mr. Barker also holds a commercial pilots license and is a Certified Flight Instructor. In short, a human, space exploration and survival optimist

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 20:44 GMT
Mars is not the closest match to Earth within reach, Venus is. Venus is 90% of the mass of Earth and can hold an atmospheric pressure that can support human life after terra-forming the atmosphere.

Mars has 38% of the gravity of Earth and will never be able to support the atmospheric pressure needed to sustain human life. The current atmosphere on Mars is like living at 125,000 feet above...

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Author Donald C Barker replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 22:35 GMT
Two things: pragmatism and time (no PR about it). I never said Venus was not an interesting place, and I’m sorry to disagree with you, but Venus is not easier to colonize than Mars for the following reasons:

Venus has a surface pressure of 90 Earth atmospheres. Our technical ability to make structures here on earth at such pressures, habitable for more than a couple people, is limited. This is especially limiting when you consider structure mass and Entry, Descent and Landing requirements, as well as our ability to launch large mass vehicles from the surface of Earth to go there in the first place. The deepest diving combat-sub (i.e., large crew/structure), of Soviet origins, could sustain about 100 atm. We don’t even have bases on the bottom of Earth's oceans which have an average depth of 12,080.7 feet (3,682.2 m), and 355 atmospheres. This is why we have research outposts in Antarctica and not at the bottom of the ocean. One is much easier and much more sustainable than the other.

Other reasons why going to Venus are untenable include no known insitu water (bringing water from asteroids requires another whole space program in and of itself = $$$ and time), sulfuric acid rain, low levels of sunlight (little solar power), large gravity well like Earth (makes launching from the surface very costly and difficult), and lastly we would need 100s of years to accomplish any atmospheric terraforming (on any planet) that might make the surface suitable for settlement (or opposite in the case of the Earth). And the whole purpose of this essay was to point out that we, on Earth, have no more time to waste before statistical probability and our combined behaviors catch up and threaten our very existence.

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Tommy Anderberg wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 09:33 GMT
Nice essay; we may have different ideas about how best to achieve diversification, but we certainly agree about its desirability.

A detail which caused me some confusion: in your counterfactual "What if" Fig. 2, you have "First Interplanetary Probe" in the year 2002, several years after the establishment of the first Mars colony. I suppose it must be something very different from the interplanetary probes which have been flying around the solar system since the 1960s, but what?

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Author Donald C Barker replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 18:08 GMT

That might be a typo on my part. I meant first Interstellar Probe, i.e., something directly purposed for someplace like Proxima Centauri or the like. Its like the one you have a picture of with the Saturn V in your paper. Something very big and going fast and far. Just one of many possibilities given large amounts of money.

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Tommy Anderberg replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 07:24 GMT
Oh, interstellar! Well, I guess it depends on how fast and big. The cost estimates for Daedalus are mind-boggling, roughly 100 trillion in 1978 dollars, and would have put it well beyond that date (my guess would be by a couple of centuries).

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 14:48 GMT
Dear Mr. Barker,

I thought that your essay was very interesting. I only have one minor quibble about it that I do hope you will not resent me mentioning.

There used to be an atmospheric sheathe around earth that protected it from all sorts of radiation. Every time a rocket is fired upwards, it punches a hole in that sheathe. Nature automatically fills any perceived hole with trillions of sub-sub microscopic particles and in every case of a rocket firing, the only sub-sub microscopic particles nature could use consisted of rocket fuel.

Instead of being protected from damaging ultra-violet rays from the sun, those rays are now being enhanced by the myriads of rocket fuel particle filled holes in the sheathe that the ultra-violet rays travel through.

Fossil fuel burning did not cause global warming, Krakatoa, or any erupting volcano pumps more ash into the atmosphere than any amount of coal burning could.

All space programs have to stop now. There has been considerable damage to the sheathe; but enough of it may be left to still protect us for a while.


Joe Fisher

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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 22:51 GMT
Dear Mr. Fisher,

If the "protective sheath" to which you are referring is the ozone layer in our upper atmosphere, then there seems to be very little work done showing that any rocket propellants other than "solid-fuels" could cause a negative impact on the atmosphere's UV protection characteristics (see
ts-ozone.html). More work does need to be done to address fuel-environment impacts. But stopping altogether would be quite impossible, and sending humans to settle Mars, a few launches every few years (orbital alignments) would not significantly impact our environment when compared to telecommunication, weather and military satellite launches rates.

As to the cause of global-warming, I do not believe that there is a single source, nature provides ample variations, but human behavior and fossil fuel use has contributed significantly (and continues). I would suggest we all stop driving cars before we stop launching into space.

Bottom line, if we want to survive, we need to diversify off Earth.

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Ross Cevenst wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 11:48 GMT
Hi Donald,

Thanks for making the case for a Mars colony. It would certainly be great to see humanity branching out in a way that might increase its chances of surviving in the medium to long term. I support your call for greater focus on space exploration!

If you'd allow me to offer one objection to your thesis - it seems quite feasible that the technological capability to move significant resources either to or form Mars would also imply the ability to deliver a weapon, even just a heavy object falling from a great height, to or from Mars is also possible. In the event of global conflict, this means Mars would become just as strategically dangerous as any place on Earth. In fact, it seems possible that a Mars colony would infact be far, far more vulnerable to destruction (and extinction) than Earth, due to the fragile pressurised habitations and the lack of atmosphere to protect it.

It seems to me that your noble goal of Mars colonisation must also be coupled with some kind of attempt to deal with our social issues and our conflicts. Wherever the hand of humanity may reach, so may its fist.

Thanks for an informative essay and be sure to read and rate my entry if you get a chance!

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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 23:01 GMT
Hi Ross,

I concur. Any place that humans go other humans will be able to enact horrible actions upon them if desired. This has been the case throughout human existence. Humans are just extremely good at it now and the scales involved can be enormous. The benefit of being 6 months away on Mars, might mean that it would be difficult to initiate a sneak attack on a Mars settlement; and it would be very sad indeed if as a species, the first settlers would need to monitor the home world for such a negative threat. Human behavior, conflict and social issues aside, because these are ongoing, if we want to survive, we need to diversify off Earth.

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Anonymous wrote on May. 4, 2014 @ 13:34 GMT
Dear Donald Barker,

You wrote an awesome essay!

I really liked your analogy with the Titan lander; it fits perfectly with Earth's current situation. You fleshed out in detail why we must become a multi-world species (one of the imperatives that I covered only briefly in my essay Three Crucial Technologies ). Why the vital importance of our diversification off of Earth isn't...

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Tihamer T. Toth-Fejel replied on May. 4, 2014 @ 13:37 GMT
That was my post, BTW; FQXi logs you out if you type too slow (but doesn't tell you). It's a feature (a back door for allowing anonymous entries), not a bug! :-)

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Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on May. 5, 2014 @ 16:35 GMT
Donald, I think you might enjoy my essay, Planetary Procreation. :-) It looks to me like your wish will be granted, since we appear to be evolutionarily programmed to expand life outward and upward, whenever possible...

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Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 12, 2014 @ 05:59 GMT

Your emphasis on " diversification off-Earth" is one of many options, indeed. The case you make for it is strong.

A question: You say that "life on Earth has solely been at the mercy of natural events." Wouldn't life on Titan or Mars be at the mercy of natural events in the same manner?

I look as the doom and gloom scenarios and get a lot of comfort from three facts:

- First, that nature's time-frames are enormously large from human time-frames: a century is nothing in nature's timeline but it is 5-6 generations in human terms.

- Second, the amount of transition we make and knowledge about nature we gather per generation gives me solace that we can tackle any problem. You seem to agree when you say "capabilities, from fashioning flints to rocket engines that will potentially prove our salvation."

- Third, I have spent the better part of two years trying to understand the public's "belief in science." The issue, I am learning, is not that the public believes less in science, but that the conflicts between scientists on what science tells us is what's confusing the public.

Good essay.

- Ajay

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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 15, 2014 @ 19:35 GMT
Hi Ajay,

Thanks for the review. To hopefully can answer your questions simply and in order >>

1) Yes, everything is at the mercy of nature, always. And all life on Earth would probably be gone during any of the 5 great mass extinctions had it not been diversified in all habitats it could cling to around the planet. Those species not well diversified, spread out, probably went extinct. But until now, no other species was cognitively and technically capable of goal oriented diversification with an understanding of what nature is capable of doing.

2) We can tackle the problem as long as man made and natural threats occur sporadically. But when several things occur in close succession, then recovery may be impossible or take a very long time. Europe and much of the world regressed for hundreds of years following the Black Death, and we are still recovering from all the ill effects and waste that occurred from the wars of the last century, ect.

3) Our culture is so mired in "instant gratification" (also attributed to our technology) and too many distractions that most people do not want to take the time to actually learn difficult topics like the sciences. And I agree, bad communication, presentation skills and lack of funding all contribute to general public disinterest and inattention.

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Mohammed M. Khalil wrote on May. 12, 2014 @ 20:13 GMT
Hi Donald,

Great essay! You offer good arguments supporting your views about the future of humanity and space technology. I enjoyed reading your essay very much, especially "Why is settling Mars the Answer?". I agree with you that technology has great impact on humanity's present, and through science and technology we can make a better future, whether on earth or in space. This is in agreement with my essay: Improving Science for a Better Future, I'd be glad to take your opinion.

Good luck in the contest, and best regards,


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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 15, 2014 @ 19:52 GMT
Thanks Mohammed,

I look forward to reading yours as well.

Ideally yes, technology and the expansion of humans to Mars (as rapidly as possible) will positively impact our species, but neither will guarantee a better future for humanity because humans are still in the equation. Until we as a species are miraculously able to control our animalistic and egocentric components and focus on building rather then destroying, then I see the pendulum as always hitting one extreme and the next, as it always has done.

But when taking all probabilities of threats to our very survival into account, our time is now to take action to heighten our chances of long term survival. Heck, the Dinosaurs got really luck with a 150 million years here, yet they were not a threat to themselves.


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James Lee Hoover wrote on May. 24, 2014 @ 03:40 GMT

Does your push for Mars indicate giving up on Earth's prospects or is it only a backup? New developments, including the plasma engine, gives us several months round-trip access rather than several years, though I gather your concept is long-term and self-sufficient with an eye toward terraforming.

My essay speaks of "looking beyond" in terms of beyond Earth and beyond the conventional and "looking within" to harness the untapped potential of the human brain, which many see as the microcosm of the universe.

I would like to see your comments.


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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 25, 2014 @ 20:36 GMT
Jim, thanks for the comment, and I hope this reply suffices.

First, given all the potential threats to our existence combined with the fact that all our proverbial "eggs are in one basket," and if we really want to up the odds of survival of an Earth derived species, then we need to branch out as soon as possible. Humans have been working on problems here as long as we have been social creatures and will hopefully continue to do so; but you can see where that has got us thus far.

As for the technology involved, i.e., propulsion and energy systems, we have ample ability now to begin this branching out. Remember, Columbus did not wait for the development of the steam engine to discover the "New World" and just because its dangerous or difficult we should not wait to begin our settling of Mars.

I look forward to reading your paper also.



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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on May. 25, 2014 @ 16:43 GMT
Dear Donald,

While we think of Eigen-rotational Clusters of String-matter paradigm of Universe, the observational science is yet to be matured enough to determine the exact stage of live cycle of the Mars or any other planet for resettlement. But these efforts are highly imperative to upgrade the observational science that is foundational for all other scientific developments of Humanity.

With best wishes,


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Hoang cao Hai wrote on May. 26, 2014 @ 01:30 GMT
Dear Author Donald C Barker

Your belief to Mars is very intense, I noticed that : based on the data your calculation then be : may be there many other planets also eligible like Mars.

10 points to cheer for your beliefs - Hải.CaoHoàng

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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 03:51 GMT
Thanks for the comment CaoHoàng.

Yes, I truly believe that if we as a species are to survive, even the short term, i.e., the next couple hundred years, we need to get a presence firmly established on Mars as soon as possible. Statistically, we are overdue for one of several very bad disasters. And in doing so, we could positively inspire Earth. And one series of closely spaced marginally bad (expensive) events will delay such ventures another 30 to 50 years; as has been shown for the last 40 years.

As for other eligible destinations or planets, I don't really think so. Nothing as simple as Mars. Nothing with the resources readily available as Mars. There are other very interesting places to go, but that will be more for pure scientific exploration - in the very near future.



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Robert de Neufville wrote on May. 27, 2014 @ 04:25 GMT
You make a compelling case for settling Mars, Don. I like the analogy to the short-lived Huygens probe. I completely agree with you—my essay covers some similar ground—that we can't keep all of our eggs in the single basket of Earth indefinitely. A Mars mission is feasible and has the potential to be transformative. Good luck in the contest—you deserve to do well.


Robert de Neufville

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Author Donald C Barker replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 03:58 GMT
Dear Robert,

Thanks you. I hoped to make it at least somewhat interesting, at least from a writing/reading perspective.

As for the case, I just don't understand why more people don't see this as an undertaking that we need to start immediately. I liken it to the destruction of the Minoan culture on Crete from the tsunami from Santorini. They had a great navy and command of the sea, but they never, as far as I can tell, settled or colonized any other location that preserved their culture; though they may have influenced many others. Such a loss. I guess history is not a popular topic to most people. Humans seem to like taking two steps forward and 1.5 backwards.

I will check your essay out soon.

Good luck,


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Marc Séguin wrote on May. 28, 2014 @ 21:02 GMT

Thank you for an interesting and well-researched essay. I particularly liked your analysis of what would have happened if NASA's budget hadn't been cut after the initial investment in the Apollo Missions.

I hope your essay makes it to the finals, and I have rated it accordingly. Good luck!


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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 15:44 GMT

Certainly Mars is attainable, especially with a promising development of a plasma engine which supposedly could get us there and back in months rather than years. I assume you are suggesting terraforming of Mars to make it livable. You cite the foolish use of resources we are currently engaged in. Perhaps that is biggest challenge for our future. How we break short-term agendas to seriously pursue a viable future.

My essay too tries to deal with this short-sightedness with a solution of looking beyond the orthodox science and within the neural universe of the mind. I would like to see your thoughts on my essay:

Good marks.


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Author Donald C Barker replied on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 21:08 GMT
Hi Jim,

And yes, Mars is attainable even now. Like I've said previously, Columbus did not wait on the development of a steam ship to make his voyages, and we shouldn't wait till better propulsion systems are made available. It will be dangerous and risky, but that's how all exploration in history has been. As for terraforming, that would be a long term goal and should not hinder our initiating settlements now. Kind of like living in Houston in nice air-conditioned environments all summer.

And its too bad we, humanity, cant work on settling Mars in parallel with our addressing all our other ongoing problems.

I will take a look at your essay soon.

Best Regards,


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Peter Jackson wrote on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 16:48 GMT

Great essay, very interesting read but I didn't need selling on you fundamental hypothesis. My concern is that the current 'rut' our understanding of nature is stuck in may mean we'll never win the multi planet race. I address that but from the reaction of many it seems it may already be too late. I also suspect we may anyway need to go further afield to find long term sustainable environments. Very well presented and argued anyway.

Best wishes


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Author Donald C Barker replied on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 21:24 GMT

Thanks. And I'm glad you are in the choir. Unfortunately, I think the majority of people still really need convincing, or this would have begun already. My feeling is that it all boils down to money as usual and where our societies and cultures prefer to spend it is telling, both historically and prophetically.

For me, sustainability boils down to water and energy. If we have both of those in ample supply, we are quite adept at designing our own environments and adapting to them. So Mars should do just fine for now. And again, everything returns to money.

Good luck,


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