Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Mars: More about Farms

Maybe the people who are seriously considering a one-way colonizing trip to Mars have thought this through, but I don't think that regular folks have any idea how much space is necessary for food production per person.   How big of a garden do you need to feed yourself?   How long between planting and harvest?  Remember... you can't go to the store if you run short.

Greenhouses and hydroponics are well established and understood and I'm sure that the production rate information is out there.  Remember... you can't just order another tanker load of hydroponic nutrient mix.

I looked around and found this... "1 square foot will yield roughly .112 lbs of winter wheat or .107 lbs of spring wheat. For 4 cups of flour you would need to plant roughly 9 square feet."

For sake of argument, assume that using hydroponics the per foot yield is doubled.   So 9 square feet will get 8 cups of flour...  in about three months.   Or somewhere between 4 cups and 8 cups.   A loaf of bread takes a couple of cups of flour each loaf.   For that 3x3 foot spot in the greenhouse occupied for 3 months by wheat plants... you get four loaves of bread, maybe.   Three months is 90 days, one loaf a bread a day is... 4 into 90, 22.5... call it 23.  You need  23 3x3 foot sections of greenhouse to have one loaf of bread per day per person.  207 square feet.   20x10 ish... each person... if your greenhouse growing space (not counting pathways) is 20 feet by 50 feet...  you can grow enough wheat to feed five people bread, 20 x 100 feet, 10 people.  (More or less assuming bread is the only thing eaten, which it wouldn't be, but if other crops take similar space it's still ball park.  A person could, unhappily, live on a loaf of bread a day.)   Figure walkways and for each 10 people in your colony you need a 30 x 100 foot greenhouse.  At least.  And no crop failures.  Ball park.  Okay?   Those greenhouses all need artificial lights and heat and air.

How big is your Mars colony?  How many people?  How much of a cushion for crop failure is necessary for comfort and security?

Your Mars Colony needs farms.  Vast stretches of farms.  Huge expanses of farms.

The argument that there is so obviously not room for livestock is unsupportable.   If a 30 x 100 foot greenhouse can be constructed for every 10 colonists,  a group of 100 colonists can certainly spring for two "barns" for milk goats, quail, chicken, and rabbit pens.  Ducks, geese, and juvenile bunnies can occupy floor space in greenhouses, if it's set up that way.   What would be a real luxury is anything that grows on trees or bushes or woody vines.

This all, of course, assumes the ability to construct greenhouses, light them, make the air to pressurize them, and the energy to heat them, as well as import or construct all the hardware and internals.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Mars: Second, People have to Live.

I said, first, the Pascal Dome.   Drop a huge chunk of ice and cover it up.

The second thing for a Mars Colony is to understand that PEOPLE HAVE TO LIVE.

The assumption that colonists will have to be vegan (not just vegetarian) assumes a lot of things about what can actually be produced usefully in greenhouses.  Seeds are inefficient.  Grains.  Nuts.  Anything that takes a full growing season to ripen into the form we want to eat it.  Anything that grows on trees or vines is inefficient.  Anything perennial or seasonal is going to be inefficient and expensive.  It will still need to be done, however, and trial and error (also expensive and inefficient) to see what grows well.  And even then, the food results will be an occasional treat to break the monotony of rabbits and rabbit food, ie., salads and rabbit stew.

Bread?  Only on Sol Prime bozo.   The most reasonable thing for Mars is a paleo-diet.

Rabbits are probably the most obvious first livestock and staple protein source.   They eat the plant parts that people don't want to eat, the stems and leaves and roots and leftovers.  They produce hides and can produce "wool" for textiles (not much, but enough for a nice pair of soft socks for special occasions).  And people can eat them.  Rabbits are no-waste contributors.

Egg producers are a bit trickier.  Chickens need grains and would require dedicated feed crops instead of just waste and leftovers, though they are pretty much omnivorous.  Ducks can be better egg producers even than chickens but need more protein.  A plus to ducks is that getting enough fat in the diet will be vital and ducks produce a lot of fat.  Geese are larger, lay far less well, but are mostly vegetarian, and also very fatty.  Quail are bred for egg and meat production and may be a Mars staple simply because they're small.   The best bet is probably to go with minimum populations of all four and see what works.   Feathers can be used for stuffing pillows, or art and down for blankets or jackets, eggs are a good protein source and open up all sorts of culinary options, fat in the diet keeps brains from atrophy, and Mars gets its Christmas Goose.

And last?  Goats.  I'm tempted to say pigs because... bacon... but I have to go with goats.   Goats are small, efficient, they eat all the plant odds and ends that rabbits eat, people can eat them, they can produce wool for textiles, leather, and milk.   Milk means cheese.   Milk means ice cream.  It makes most sense to raise goats for milk first and wool second and meat only last.

Because people need to live.   And one of the most important social elements of being human is eating.  Colonists may be sick to tears of another bowl of rabbit stew or yet another salad, but being able to look forward to real bread on Sol Prime (Sunday) and to the occasional bowl of quail egg soup, pudding, mayonnaise or melted cheese, will go a long way to keeping people sane.

That and a couple of community cats and finches in the atrium.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mars: First, a Pascal Dome

I'd probably have to write a best selling series about colonizing Mars in order to get anyone to call it a Pascal Dome, but whatever... we've got Dyson Spheres and O'Neill Colonies, why not a Pascal Dome?

The idea is simple...
 1. Send a robot probe or two out to find a BIG ice rock, either in singles or a cluster, boost the ice to Mars.

 2. Crash it into the planet making a nice new deep crater that is, coincidentally, got that big chunk of ice water in the middle of it.  

 3. Cover the crater with a dome or even a air tight fabric cover before the volatiles are lost.

This reservoir of (mostly) water then supports an initial colonial development cluster; A town.  Housing, agriculture, life support and manufacturing is built around the contained crater.

Over time, possibly over decades...
 1. The pressure and air quality under the dome is adjusted to something that is human breathable.
 2. The temperature can be adjusted within the dome to something comfortable.
 3. At some point lights can be added sufficient to grow orchards.

But at first, the purpose is simply resources.

The end result, however, is a Town Green. There is now a park in the center of a development where people can go for a picnic or just to have a little bit of space instead of walls.  I think that humans can do well in tight spaces, in extremely small spaces.  But not without relief, not without somewhere to go that has some space. Several ice rock craters in a cluster is a series of parks in a city.

Hey, sounds great for the first bunch of ice rocks dropped, right?  What about later, when there are other settlements to drop rocks on top of?  Aiming shouldn't be that hard, if we can send robot landers that land where we want them to land.  And new colonies can purchase bonds in case of accidents.

Mars has water, so what's the point?  Yes, Mars does have water, but it's going to be hard enough to get, along with all the other gasses and whatnot to fuel life support and hydroponics, that the boost at the beginning is a good idea.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Writing Character Arcs?

I’ve been re-read-skimming the Liaden Universe novels, as I tend to do when I’m out of romances. And while I think that the characters have “arcs” they also have… character. And in a sense I think that character is impervious to arc.

Or something like that.

My husband was talking about Tenchi and how he likes Tenchi so much and I suggested that Tenchi’s super-power was attracting all the most powerful female destructiveness in the universe to himself and neutralizing it (they all fall in love with him… guy’s got a harem.) My husband disagreed and said that Tenchi’s “power” was that he always did the honorable thing. Always. And I realized that this was also the case in the Liaden books. The characters aren't perfect, but they have character and care for honor and when push comes to shove there is no question, not even hesitation, they are compelled.

And I think that, as flawed as Miles Vorkosigan is, that this is also the character dynamic in those books and for Aral and Cordelia and even Ivan. Do they have a character arc? I don’t know that they do. Stuff happens and people do grow, I suppose, but that’s because life happens to them and their circumstances change but *they* are the same person with the same essential values at the heart, as they were before. Ivan, with his survival plan of being not-a-threat, has a core loyalty as profound as Miles has, no question and no hesitation.

 Perhaps sometimes character, like magic, requires a cost… not an arc.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Union Goons

Union goons also trashed a man's hot dog cart for the crime of feeding capitalists. No doubt he deserved it, and also deserved to be called racial slurs on account of he was a black man making a buck with his own business and hired to feed capitalists. There is a donation portal at the link so he can get a new cart.