#103 March 1997
Section 126.96.36.199.103.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
As the time for enlisting gets ever closer and closer and the window for "changing one's mind" shrinks towards "the point of no return", an outbreak of widespread "Cold Feet Syndrome" is sure to occur.
Relevant Reading from past Issues of MMM
MMM #92 FEB '96, p. 7: "Who Will Pioneer"
MMM # 93 MAR '96, p. 1 "IN FOCUS: Mars will require a hardier breed of pioneer"
A cherished dream dies hard. We have known for a couple of decades now, that the real Mars is a much colder, drier, thinner-aired world than the one we used to dream of colonizing, than the Mars of Lowell and Clarke and Heinlein and Bradburry, the Barsoom of Burroughs.
We had ourselves prepared for thinner air, say that of Earth's high mountain plains 20,000 feet up. Alas, Mars' air is more comparable in pressure to Earth's at 125,000 feet, more than four times the height of Everest. We had ourselves braced for cool Martian summer days in the 60°s (F) and winter nights perhaps the same number of degrees below zero (F). But Viking meteorological stations showed a year in, year out pattern much much more bone-chillingly cold than that. Mars has no Florida.
We still don't quite believe it. For the cold is "invisible" - there is no surface ice or snow - away from the polar regions - to give us a clue. We look at the Arizonesque scenery and we expect Arizonesque temperatures. Mars looks seductively tolerable.
How many of us are really hardy enough to handle even the Martian summers, let alone the winters. Doubly long by Earth standards, and doubly cold, will they not wear us down, rob us of our hope of a spring. when it'll be merely quite cold, not bitter? Even us hearty northern snowbelters can tolerate our own winters, just, because we know they only last a few months. In Alaska, the longer winters translate to a higher than (national) average suicide rate. Imagine what that statistic will be on Mars, and the price it will exact on any settlement. Summer will at last come, and it won't be much to enjoy, even by mid-Siberian norms (and I've experienced those first hand). Yes, we have people in Antarctica who have withstood comparable temperature cycles. But none of them has been sentenced, or has sentenced himself to experience none better the rest of his life.
[START of (boxed) Side Matter]
[EDITOR: scan in chart from hardcopy]
KEY: Absolute Zero at bottom. While both Earth and the Moon lie the same distance from the Sun, Earth's atmosphere and oceans moderate the temperature daily and seasonal differences whereas on the Moon superficial (surface only) extremes are found. For practical purposes the real temperature of the Moon, a couple of meters/ yards down is a steady cool -4° F = -20° C. This is 62° F = 34° C cooler than the Earth whose oceans act as an enormous heat sink and thermal flywheel to keep Earth significantly warmer.
Mars thermal flywheel is non-existent, and the average subsurface soil temperature is 50° to 60° F colder than on the Moon, more than 100° F colder than on Earth. NOTE: the highest equatorial mid summer mid-afternoon temperatures on Mars are below the mean global temperature on Earth (58° F = 14.4° C). Both habitats and suited individuals on Mars will need insulation and reliable heating. Heat failure in either case will pose a life-threatening emergency. (On the Moon, the poor conductivity of the soil allows body heat and human activity heat to carry the load quite well.)
EDITOR: scan in chart from hardcopy]
Even the hardiest of us will find Mars "too cold".
[END of (boxed) Side Matter]
Ah, but there will be compensations! The chance to start fresh, where all the ladder rungs are open, where all the rules can be rethought, where traditions will be what we make them from scratch! On a world too distant to suffer meddling interference or haughty paternalism from bureaucrats and politicians on Earth. Yes, yes, yes - but! The chance to pioneer freely on Mars will be there in full. But the interference-foiling distance is a sword that cuts two ways. For it makes rescue and bail out quite imprac-tical as well. Our Martian wanna-be's are going to have to swim or sink - quite entirely on their own. This defining aspect of the "Martian Condition" will see the making of many episodes of real heroism, heroism perhaps of epic proportions. But these glories will be perhaps a bit too-well-salted with tragedies hewn by the same sword.
Martians, like Lunans, will be pioneering from scratch, forging their own building materials, making their own fertile topsoils. Nothing on the shelf, nothing in the stores - unless it be imported from Earth or Moon. Much as Lunans will perhaps already have experienced, smoothing the overly many rough edges of this naked-born frontier will take ever so long. But it will get done.
How many of us declaredly ready to pack our bags are being honest with ourselves? How many of us have already made life style choices and changes in favor of less hardy, less rough, warmer and smoother and friendlier conditions and settings? That's not a good sign.
Mars IS a place for humanity to pioneer, to "frontier", to start afresh, to redefine itself anew. But when the time comes for irrevocable decisions, for signatures on the dotted line, for beginning a journey across the void from which for most there will be no return, all that real opportunity will lose its appeal for most who now "would go" - now, while the saying of it is cheap since there is little chance of our bluff being called, not even by ourselves.
Nothing will endanger our collective hopes of opening the Martian frontier, more than a collective outbreak of "cold feet". We are setting ourselves up for this by continuing to look at Mars with rose-tint glasses, "seeing Arizona in the merely Arizonesque." Without honesty, we can hardly prepare ourselves or others to take up the dream. Let's be honest!
Mars is a world whose air is too thin to screen out the micrometeorite rain, too thin to shield from the Sun's burning, tissue-destroying naked ultra violet rays. Mars is a place where one cannot turn his back to the Sun to feel the warmth. It is a place of deceptive skies and dangerously invisible cold. A world in some ways more forgiving than the Moon, in other ways less so, if only because its appearances and meager resource pluses may prove disarming.
Not every frontier on Earth has been a clear success story. Many a frontier has proven less than popular, more challenging than its would-be pioneers were ready for, too unattractive to lure more than a scattering of pioners, most of whom may have had no real idea of what they were getting themselves into. Consider these examples.
However remote by description and lore from the familiar rest of Earth, Antarctica is not that far away anymore. Base personnel are on the Internet and FAX lines, and the two dozen some outposts of several nationalities are all reachable within a couple of days through most of the year.
But there are no real settlers, no pioneer families. Treaty forbids this you say! Give me a break! If people wanted to go, they would. Since when have treaties not been made to be broken?. - People don't want to go - in droves, in an eloquent unanimity by default - not to this god-blessed, spectacularly beautiful world-apart within our world, a place which viewed through equally untinted glasses is far richer and friendlier and more beckoning than Mars. The difference is this and this only. When it comes to Antarctica, we are being honest, when it come to Mars, we are still prisoners of romantic myths.
This sampling of not-so-popular frontiers gives little comfort or credence to those who expect hundreds, thousands, or millions to flock, Oklahoma style, to Mars once the planet is pronounced "open". Yes , some will volunteer, and actually go through with it, and work the Martian Frontier as if there were no return- for there may well be none. But those recruits who do not get cold feet at the last minute will be "the few, the proud, the Martians". They'll come mostly from already hardy subarctic and cold desert populations. Will they be enough to provide Mars with a critical mass? Maybe not.
The time to be personally honest is now.
Few people other than agoraphobes do not love the outdoors on a fair, sun-glorious day. But some of us have a soul-need to spend significant quality time outdoors, walking, driving, playing sports, or just relaxing on the front porch or rear deck. The rise of Television and the Internet has not quenched that thirst in all of us, only in some of the already dead.
Then there is that fraction of the population who plunge into outdoor hobbies necessary for their sustained mental balance. Some of these we will be able to transplant to Mars, up to a point: motoring, hiking, rock collecting, even flying. Others, we can forget - at least until we can build cities or recreational parks within huge macro-structures that create modest "middoor" environments: sailing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, etc. Most of these outlets for the soul will be unavailable to the early pioneer. As they are the ones who must come first, who must indeed "pioneer" and set up shop for the dreamt of Martian civilization to come, the question for Mars enthusiasts returns. "Am I being honest with myself? Would enlisting mean sacrifices that over time I would find so unbearable as to unbalance me? Each must answer that question for himself.
The time to be personally honest is now.
The outdoors isn't all pioneers will be called upon to give up. Mars is a world physically large, its surface comparable to all Earth's continents together. But sociologically and economically and opportunistically it will be a very, very small "world". One or more really small towns where everyone knows everyone else, from which there is at first no change of human scenery. Are you a city guy or gap, or a country one? Or like me, someone who needs to spend time in both? could you handle being stuck in a small ultra rural hamlet the rest of your life with no more than time-delayed electronic access to the greater world of man? Even the most content farm boy likes to sample the big city lights once and a while.
Those of us who revel in the diversity of our World, "big W" (not only the cities, towns, cultures, nations, etc. but the plant and animal wildlife, ec.), may find "the little w" unbearable. Earth will no longer be, as on the Moon, a TV or radio set on-off switch away and available for a two week vacation for the price of a little exercise in the gym followed by a couple of days' travel each way. The new Martians will have only imported videos to rmind them that there is/was more to the universe they have chosen to leave behind. On Mars, returning "home" could be as much as a two and a half year undertaking - one way.
We are used to a world where everyone does not know everyone else, where it takes more than a minute to read the days news, with an inexhaustible supply of strangers to meet, diverse rags to read, and of stores to shop. Mars will be, at first,"the ultimate small town, all alone on a big super remote island."
The time to be personally honest is now.
In contrast, for established or native-born Lunans, Mars may have all the siren appeal of an Oasis. Lunans will already have weeded themselves out, have become accustomed to not being able to go outdoors without a space suit, used to spending their lives entirely in air-managed micro-environments, accustomed to the recreational tradeoofs they have had to make, accustomed to the "boondocks". Here on the Moon, where such weeding out is a much less expensive proposition, a population will emerge that is well adjusted, creative of its own diversity, recreational and artistic opportunities, of its own diversions and "get-away" escapes, able to work the frontier free of paralyzing depression.
Some long-time and native-born Lunans will find themselves ready for a new challenge. To them, Mars will appeal as a veritable Mecca. The cold, the isolation, the restrictive living - all this will be either nothing new, or scarcely intimidating. There will be tradeoffs they have to face and accept in making the move. Mars is physically and logistically and interactively two magnitudes (a hundred times) more remote from Earth. Balance this against the consequences and perks of a thin atmosphere, a little more gravity, freedom from the tyranny of a gray toned palette, a lot more carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and water, a more Earthlike pace of sunrise and sunset, a somewhat more relaxed lifestyle.
Unlike people who have never been off Earth before, Lunans will come to Mars ready for the job, experienced with the rough edges of the frontier, full of depression-resistant optimism and enthusiasm. No Earth-born Earth-bound population offers to be as fertile a source of Martian pioneers.
Again, it is the pre-hardened Lunan pioneer, ready for fresh challenges, who will be able to handle such deprivations - he or she has already made them (or never experienced such activities) and survived in good psychological health. Pioneers of this future national background (dare we say it) stand to be the born-leaders on the Martian frontier.
If in impatient urgency, we attempt to open Mars before there are Lunans to help, we risk setting up history's most expensive ghost town.
That is we tempt failure, tempt it big time. "Pride goeth before the fall." Not to forget one of the most primary cosmic laws as it applies to the affairs of mortals: "Impatience always backfires".
This consideration is in itself, a weighty reason for beginning lunar settlement first, whatever the timing for a first "flags and footprints" exploratory bravado mission to Mars, likely to be as much a false start as Apollo, half a century earlier.
The time to be personally honest, and to be honest as a space advocacy community, is now. For the National Space Society and its Board of Directors, It is time to return the pendulum to the center. Yes, we must open the Martian Frontier! - In sequence!
Granted, government[s] probably can do one or the other and not both. Let the government[s] concern themselves with Mars, after it[they] have set up a politico-economic regime and amply-incenti-vized rules of the game that will entice free market enterprise to open the Moon. Ultimately, only profits can open the frontier, and they are far, far likelier to come from, or via the Moon.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto