One of the most exciting aspects of the bootstrapping process on Mars will be acquiring the resources from the indigenous environment for the colony to consume. The Martian soil and landscape is varied and will present both challenges and opportunities. Here is an excellent resource for exploring some of the landscape of mars.
Building refers to the construction of facilities such as Solar Power Panels, Warehouses, Office Space, Living Space, Open Space, Greenhouses, Landing Pads, Roads or any other structures needed by the colonists.
Mars has a varied surface that consists of mountains, flat open areas possibly lake beds, canyons, dunes, giant calderas, ice fields, glaciers and even a giant mysterious round hole that nobody knows what it is.
Right now we have no idea what the difficulties in building in each of these areas would be. We have not dug more than a few inches into the soil in any place. We have never been to some areas like the ice fields, canyons and some of the mountainous areas that may present challenges for construction or even navigation.
Flat Terrain: Lake Beds, Dunes, Calderas
There is significant flat terrain and this is where we have done a lot of our current research because it is safer to land in these areas. Even in this kind of area we have precious little information on the underlying material. We don’t know what minerals we will find, if there is water, frozen CO2. We have seen evidence of flowing water at times near the surface of some areas on Mars with small hills.
The picture below shows striations or linnae that form from what is believed to be water near the surface.
SpaceX Red Dragon Mission
There was a NASA planned mission called Red Dragon which would dig up to several feet deep into the Martian soil to discover if there is indeed the frozen water we expect there. This mission may be done by SpaceX now in 2018. However, no public affirmation of this is yet available even though we are 1 1/2 years from the potential launch date. In any case, this would be just a small part of what would be needed to establish suitable mining or building locations on Mars or the issues in building, construction, mining on Mars. A large part of the Red Dragon mission may be to replicate the activities of the Viking probes from 30+ years ago that have been controversial in determining if life could exist on Mars in microbial fashion.
The flat areas of Mars could potentially be very difficult to dig into or may be mineralogically uninteresting. We won’t know until the earliest 2021 when the new Mars Rover will do microwave scanning of the ground underneath as it roams the surface. It will be able to tell us varying densities and we may be able to guess what is underneath but we will need to dig to really find out and to find everything we need.
My Plan: Mineral and Life Research using 9 rovers
I load up 9 super rovers with dual nuclear supplies for the first 3 2025 missions. These 9 super rovers will be able to perform more detailed life analysis primarily and to continue the work of the 2020 Rover in surveying the first 500 meters of the surface of Mars. These vehicles will be largely autonomous and will interact with the GPS system we install in the first mission to Mars and will provide 4K VR 360 degree views of the planet as they roam it.
These 9 rovers will do incredibly important work in documenting the Martian surface, collecting and processing samples looking for life all over the planet and in doing detailed mapping and density map of large swaths of the Martian surface. Using this data the following missions will choose the most interesting sites and try mining or digging in much greater depth to see how each profile type returned from the 9 rovers might be correlated.
Another possible purpose of the 9 rovers might be to deliver explosives to numerous interesting spots. The rovers could be loaded with possibly dozen or more cartridges of high power explosives that could be used to quickly explore below surface materials.
Mountainous areas have problems due to the potential for difficulty climbing and high energy requirements to get to the tops. The terrain of Mars as shown in the relief map above (referenced in hyperlink) varies by 15 kilometers or more from high to low. This includes the highest mountain on Mars being twice as high as Mount Everest and the deepest Canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Large parts of Mars are kilometers lower than other parts.
If we removed the oceans from the Earth it is not dissimilar to what we would see on Mars. Without oceans, we would have regions 10 kilometers lower than others (the deepest oceans) on Earth. Mars is astonishingly similar. Since there is no sea there is no sea level on Mars. We reference everything relative to everything else.
Nobody knows exactly how much water is on Mars but if all the water we know is at the polar caps were melted it would cover the entire planet in 300 feet of water. Presumably, if it were spread to the lower lying areas it would be thousands of feet deep at points. We also believe there is quite a bit of water buried within several feet of the surface over most of the planet. Nobody knows how much. However, none of this water could exist as water without raising the temperature of the planet by at least 70 degrees F and expanding the pressure of the atmosphere by a factor of 20 or so.
Building on mountains seems like it would happen at a later phase of the colony.
Calderas, Holes, Canyons
One of the most promising areas to consider building habitats or other structures on Mars is the Calderas, Holes or Canyons.
The Canyons have natural walls pre-built. In theory, all we would need to do would be to cover the Canyon and build one or two walls (maybe none) depending on the shape and size of the canyon. The might provide a very economical way to build large spaces of Earth habitat. We can survey obviously well beforehand which ones are likely to be good candidates.
Calderas also have natural depression dug-out so that all we need to do is put a roof. They would be an easy place for us to build a lake for instance.
I suspect these will be some of the first things we will look at for creating larger spaces on Mars for colonists.
One of the most interesting features to investigate on Mars is this hole which we have not been able to see down to the bottom. It is remarkably round.
South and North Poles
The South and North Poles have tremendous seasonal variations. The North Pole and the South Pole undergo massive CO2 layering and melting which cause enormous winds and tremendous land movement that would make any construction virtually impossible during parts of the year. Winds are estimated at 400mph. Giant earthquakes rupture the surface as the ice cracks and evaporates to go elsewhere. We need to figure out how to take advantage of the poles so I put one of the first 3 missions on the outskirts of the South Pole. I expect we will run many rovers onto the surface during hospitable times to do mining, exploring and digging activities. The water ice layer is kilometers thick in some areas and is similar to glaciers. Other areas are covered with a thin layer of CO2 during the winter and disappear in the summer.
We need to figure out how to take advantage of the poles so I put one of the first 3 missions on the outskirts of the South Pole. I expect we will run many rovers onto the surface during hospitable times to do mining, exploring and digging activities.
It will be impossible to build directly on the ice surface so we will have to build our colony close-by. However, I would think that these regions would be very likely to be one of the most important habitats due to the proximity to key natural resources.
Building / Construction Tools
We will need some amazing tools for construction. They will have to be able to operate in extreme conditions for long periods of time. One advantage they will have is that Mars has one-third the gravity of the Earth. This will make our Earth-based tools overkill for Mars. We won’t need AS BIG motors and the energy required won’t be as great as on the Earth but the duty cycles of these machines will have to be impressive.
They will have to be designed to be all electric and to operate in extremely cold temperatures. They will need to survive long periods of non-use. The abuse they will take could be more than on the Earth because we don’t know how good our autonomous programs will be. Sometimes they will do things stupid and potentially damaging to the machines. They will have to be able to sustain stress and survive and be able to be repaired remotely.
Bulldozers are primarily brute machines that can have fewer moving parts. Hauling vehicles similarly can be designed with less finesse. However, drilling machinery will be very problematic yet essential. We need to be able to drill. We don’t know how deep but hopefully not more than 40 meters say. We hope that since no-one has mined on Mars before that many materials are relatively close to the surface still. None of them will be in liquid form unless we provide heating to the drills or some form of subterranean heating.
Robots and 3D Printing
Robots and 3D printing will be ubiquitous on Mars. There will be warehouses full of 3D printers for producing the many parts and materials needed for construction and repair.
Initially a lot of these will have to be delivered and it will take some time to develop a capability of manufacturing such exotic machinery. For each piece we ship to Mars we will have to have an inventory of spare parts unless we can manufacture it on Mars. Therefore, having this parts list and trying to manufacture as much of every component brought to Mars will be crucial to developing autonomy.