Death and Redundancy

endurance-trapped-in-pack-ice-during-the-imperial-trans-antarctic-expedition-2
The Endurance trapped in pack ice. Photo by Frank Hurley

I awoke to a cold, dark apartment this morning. Winter is just around the corner. With snow and ice on the way, it’s time for me to start planning.

When NASA plans a space journey, the key to the astronauts’ survival is redundancy. Backups of everything. If this fails, we got this. If this breaks, do this. If we need this much, take twice that.

So that’s my plan too. It will take me a few trips to collect all the supplies I’m going to need, as I don’t have a car. I have to break this one big task into several little tasks.

Day 1: Food.

Day 2: Clothing.

Day 3: Food.

Day 4: More food.

Day 5: Even more food.

I’m a small person with a healthy weight, but I always seem to be shopping for food and household supplies. I often wonder how future Mars colonists are going to have enough food.

Elon Musk says his SpaceX rocket will be able to take 100 people to Mars. Think about the food and toilet paper needed for 100 people for just six months, the length of the trip. (Think about 100 people squeezed into tiny three-person cabins in a rocket ship for six months!) Then they’re on Mars. Which has nothing.

Mars One, the organization that is sending amateur astronauts, apparently expects the colonists to grow their own food. An article in The Atlantic explains how horribly wrong that concept is. The expected fatality rate: 100%.

“Ironically, it’s more efficient to simply bring food to Mars than attempt to grow it, since the additional infrastructure for the plants will require far more replacement parts. Ultimately, supporting the first crew of four on Mars will require about 15 launches of a heavy rocket like SpaceX’s forthcoming Falcon Heavy, costing about $4.5 billion on their own.”

An article on the website, How Stuff Works, crunches more numbers and concludes:

“…you would need about 880 pounds, or 400 kilograms, of food per person. When you buy dog food at the grocery store, a typical large bag holds 20 pounds (9 kilograms). So you would need 44 large dog-food-sized bags to keep one person alive for two years.”

Then there’s water.

As NASA administrator Charles Bolden put it to the private companies: “You’re going to need help.”

Think of the Antarctic explorers like Scott and Shackleton. They knew where they were going (which was a place on Earth with air, etc.), they knew the conditions, they knew how long they’d be gone (sort of) – but they always ran out of food. Something always went wrong and starvation was just part of polar exploration.

Endurance Sinking Nov 1916
The Endurance sinking in 1915 in Antarctica. Sadly, those dogs became food. Photo by Frank Hurley

And starvation is going to be part of life on Mars by the sounds of it. That’s assuming the colonists survive the (crash) landing and the freezing cold. It’s assuming they don’t suffocate or explode, and that they don’t die from the effects of radiation.

But without food and water, nothing else matters.

I’m going shopping now.

The featured image is the Endurance, trapped in pack ice in Antarctica during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) led by Ernest Shackleton. The brilliant photographer of the expedition was James Francis “Frank” Hurley.

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