Were coronalockdowns good preparation for sending humans to Mars?

In the dark BC age it was thought that human psychology presented a significant barrier to human exploration of Mars. Humans were social animals who could never tolerate being locked into a small space for seven months, unable to venture out into a hostile and dangerous environment.

But, thanks to young people having meekly surrendered what had previously been considered liberties, we can now draw from a pool of tens of millions of people who spent an entire year in a tiny apartment, often entirely alone, either unable to venture outside or afraid to do so. Perhaps some of them suffered reduced mental health from being sedentary and watching a screen 24/7. But for those who sailed through… this is the ideal pool from which to draw candidates for a Mars mission, no?

The red planet:

(okay, it’s Jordan, 2012, and now apparently open for visitors)

19 thoughts on “Were coronalockdowns good preparation for sending humans to Mars?

  1. There would have to be a way for general aviation aircraft to reach Mars for Greenspun to go, but maybe Redspun will ride a starship.

  2. How can we distinguish the mental health effects COVID isolation from those of watching gun sales surge to record highs as a result of law and order breaking down in nearly every major city in the country? And what about the mental health effects of listening to the president claiming for over two months that he won an election he lost, culminating in him sending a mob to the Capitol to intimidate and/or kill his political opponents, and then being acquitted at his impeachment trial for said behavior?

    • Ryan: Those are just extra challenges! The people who kept their mental health despite reading hysterical media and Facebook posts about guns, Trump, insurrection, etc. and despite being socially isolated and physically confined for a year… those are the people who could get through a Mars mission easily.

    • > watching gun sales surge to record highs as a result of law and order breaking down

      Why do gun sales surging to record highs bother you?

    • Alex: Record high gun sales are upsetting because we are informed by the media that it is the guns themselves that perpetrate the violence, as in “gun violence.” The problem with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Boulder_shooting is not that Ahmad Al Aliwi Al-Issa was admitted as an immigrant to the U.S. from a country with a long history of mutual animosity among citizens, nor that he hated his fellow citizens (partly for their “Islamophobia”), but that he was able to purchase a gun.

      Mr. Al-Issa was not waging a rational jihad against infidels, certainly. He was, according to state-sponsored media, a passive participant in “senseless gun violence”. See


      The suspect in the Boulder, Colo. grocery store shooting that left 10 people dead made his first appearance in court Thursday in a brief hearing that called for a mental health assessment. On Wednesday night, hundreds of people gathered to mourn the victims and support those affected by senseless gun violence.

  3. I’ve never been convinced that Mars is an important goal for us to achieve in the short or medium term. I’ve always thought we’d be doing much more to establish a base on the Moon first, and then, more classically, clean up the near-Earth environment and learn how to move things into orbit much more cheaply and deorbit them successfully without any random debris. We don’t do that very well at all.

    Mars isn’t a very good place to live. It wasn’t back when Elton John wrote “Rocket Man” and it still isn’t today. I think we’d be much better served – instead of spending resources on what is essentially a one-shot trip to a remote and inhospitable planet that’s tremendously ugly and barren, we would work on getting things in and out of orbit and to the Moon and back much more reliably. What is on Mars that we want? I can’t see anything. I don’t want to go there, and I don’t even think it’s a brave expedition to send other people there. They’re not going to do anything interesting except send back pictures from living human beings about how awful and lonely the place is.

    Maybe Elon has some better data about what’s really there and the prospects for people who would go. We’ve created a completely artificial hellscape for ourselves here on this planet, with the lockdowns and so forth. It’s unclear to me whether that’s a feature or a bug, but if it was intentional to prod people to go to Mars, 99.9999% of us won’t make it, and that’s a terrible moral calculus.

    • And when I say that, I’ve also watched *all* of the Mars Rover landings and their robotic sojourns pretty closely over the years. Nothing very interesting has come back from the bots we’ve sent to Mars, except amazing pictures of how great it was that we could land them there.

      I consider this to be fundamentally different from early expeditions of the polar regions of Earth, in which men risked everything and lost everything to explore our own planet. It seems we have given up on Earth – at least, at the highest ethereal levels where people like Elon and Jeff breathe, they’ve already written it off. I think that’s very premature, and what we should be doing instead is learning to move things around in the near-Earth vicinity much, much more cheaply and profitably. But Mars? Why? Does anyone have a good answer to that question?

      I saw the people who came out of their dome and their teeth were falling out and they looked like shit, and that was here on Earth! Why are we itching to send more people to an even worse place?

    • @Philg: Yup, it was Elton’s long-time songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, sorry, I got that one word wrong. I didn’t see the recent movie but I did know it before it was a movie. 🙂

  4. I mean, let’s look hard at this: we can’t even stop a container ship from grounding itself in the Suez canal. We push a huge fraction of the world’s commerce through a teeny, tiny artery that is now obviously clogged. But yeah, yeah! Mars! Mars!

  5. Alex: “We choose to go to the Mars and Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard;” and I will add “And because it is essential that we become an interplanetary species.”

    For the human species to survive more than the next 1000 years, 10,000 years and beyond, we have to become an interplanetary species. The sooner we start the better chance of survival of the entire human species. Going to Mars will push our technology and society to levels that we cannot imagine.

    The moon is a good starting point for experiments and Helium 3 mining potentially, but Mars has much more resources, has greater gravity, more protection from asteroid impacts, less radiation, much better for setting up a permanent settlement. In addition there is good evidence that Mars had a much thicker atmosphere and large bodies of water at some point in its history, billions of years ago. There is a good chance that Mars can be terra-formed.

    Going to Mars could be lonely at the start, but for the right people and society, it could be the greatest adventure. Yes, there is a chance that it could fail, but we have to try, it is extremely important for the human species long term survival. Once there are enough people on Mars and we have a much better idea of the way the planet works, the project of terra-forming Mars can begin.

    If the human species eventually moves up the Kardashev scale and becomes interstellar, potentially lasting billions of years or more, going to Mars and setting up the first permanent settlement on another planet, will be seen as the beginning of the greatest journey.

    • Pavel: What technologies do you expect to be pushed forward as a result of the Mars effort? Considering the amounts of money invested (2.5 percent of GDP; compare to our current headline military spending of 3.2 percent of GDP), going to the Moon didn’t yield significant tech advances, right?

    • Phil,

      I would like to provide some context here so you don’t endanger yourself. Pavel is an admitted foreign agent who has successfully interfered in our election and installed a “Manchurian Candidate” called Kamala Harris as our leader from his base in Toronto. This menace from the North will stop at nothing. It is very important we do not give him a platform to spread his “evil misinformation”. Engage with Pavel at your own peril and don’t forget to bless the United States of America!

    • philig: Going to the moon did yield significant tech advances. One of the main reasons that new space companies like SpaceX are successful, is because they can take all the that technology and knowledge developed and move it forward. The large breath of development in everything from computer technology to materials had a large impact on all sorts of technologies and society. There are many articles and books that deal with this in detail. It was well worth the 2.5 percent of GDP, which was only for a couple of years, before going back below 1%. Increasing the space budget, as long as it is done effectively, i.e. like the commercial crew program and not the old cost plus, would be much better use of resources than spending it on the military. Society has to start looking at investing in space as a long term survival of the species investment. In the modern economy, lots of funds are going towards rent seeking business and business that do not produce anything really useful, so increasing money to getting to mars and the moon while decreasing defence spending and decreasing spending on rent seeking in the economy should not be a problem.

      I would predict that main technologies from the Mars effort will be:
      1) Nuclear fusion, this could be the solution for a lot of problems including climate change. A working nuclear fusion reactor on Mars would solve a lot of issues, and could be one of the main technologies required for providing the energy for terra-forming.
      2) Food production in any environment, if we can grow food on mars, we can grow food anywhere on earth, even if climate change effects the food supply.
      3) Recycling technologies, living on Mars will almost certainly require closed loop systems for everything, which will result in very little waste. Compared with the large landfills on earth that are filled with societies trash.
      4) Medicine, we will find out much more about the ability of the human body to adapt to a totally different environment. New medicines will result.
      5) Rocket technology, just by going to Mars will result in a push for new propulsion methods. Nuclear thermal will overtake chemical at some point.
      6) Material and building science
      7) Solar power
      This is just a start, my prediction is that it will yield a large base of new technology that will allow society to move up on the Kardashev scale.

      What is the cost of the human species going extinct in 500 years or 1000 years, if we do not go to Mars and develop technology that will allow society to survive and expand long term?

      Society has to start looking at available energy, resources, materials over a long term, 100 years, 1000 years rather than some measure of GDP based on fiat currency.

      Here is a video, that should be a good start to thinking about the long term survival of our species. “Did we move to another planet, did we switch to artificial intelligence, did we simply extinguish ourselves” around 19:00 in video.

    • @Pavel: Briefly, every single item in your list could just as easily be developed on Earth already or as a result of greatly expanded access and commerce in the near-Earth / Moon vicinity. I don’t want to hear about how super it will be for medicine to subject people for long periods to hostile environments so their bodies fall apart and have to be propped up with patchwork. Nuclear fusion has always been “just ten years away” and we’re not going to change the laws of physics by trying to perform them in space when it comes to fusion power. I don’t care about cheerleading the advance of our civilization along the Kardashev scale in particular. We can’t get a boat through the Suez canal reliably and we cannot conquer an airborne respiratory virus.

      As far as materials science and engineering goes, it would be much better to establish a large base on the Moon or in orbit with the Earth and Moon in which to conduct MS experiments. Once you shoot them to Mars it takes a long time for them to get back.

      I think we should stick close to home for the time being, achieve real Space Dominance in the near-Earth region, with tourism and commerce, and clean up our act around Planet Earth. Let’s do that for 50 or 60 years and then make a go at Mars.

    • Also, I no longer buy in to the romantic childhood fantasies of saving humanity by leaving the Earth. Human beings have existed on this planet in some form for at least tens of thousands of years; most of the damage and confusion we’ve caused ourselves has happened in the last 100, and it’s accelerating because we’re much stupider and our science is much more limited than we think it is. We can live another 1,000 and probably 5,000 or 10,000 years on Earth very well if we do a better job of producing energy here and learning to better recycle the junk we produce, and we can develop all the technology to send healthy and happy human beings anywhere in the solar system with an aggressive plan to truly open and “conquer” the area of space in the vicinity of Earth and the Moon.

      Also, it will be much better and more interesting from the man-on-the-street’s perspective to offer the possibility of living and working at least part of the time in the near Earth vicinity, so they can spend a year in Space and then return to Earth, etc. In other words, I think aggressively trying to go to Mars is kind of a fool’s errand and quite premature. We can do 95% of the stuff you mention in that region and it will have immediate, tangible benefits.

      Everyone who wants to rush to get to Mars has decided in one way or another that the Earth is all used up, there’s nothing for us here now, and we’re all gonna die soon, so a few intrepid and romantic souls should get the chance to maybe live on a pile of rocks on a barren planet.

      I think what’s happened is that we’ve basically shit the bed here and decided we don’t want to clean it up, we’ll just leave 8 billion people behind and send a few dozen or hundred out to Mars so they can escape. Not an inspiring story to me. I think we should do a lot more and learn a lot more here, first.

    • Finally, in light of some world events in recent days, I really laugh loudly at people who talk about “terraforming Mars.” For Pete’s sake, we can’t run a tiny canal in Egypt and keep it wide, deep and clear enough of silt accumulation to reliably accommodate our large container ships – but we’re gonna launch people and equipment to Mars, basically maroon them in a totally foreign and inhospitable environment, and transform it into a paradise. Yeah.

      I say the USA does the Near Earth/Moon region and we’ll let the Chinese mess around on the barren wasteland of the Red Planet.

      Look at how long it took to tear down the Trump Plaza eyesore in Atlantic City!

    • Alex: I think there is no reason why we cannot do both, set up bases on both the moon and Mars. Just divert a large part of the US defence budget to space technology and both the moon and Mars become possible. Getting to Mars is also not that much more from a delta-V point compared with the moon, if you use aero braking on Mars. Getting back from Mars is more difficult from a delta V. If most of the stuff that we are shipping is going from Earth to Mars at the start this should not be much of a problem.

      Here is a good article on comparing the Moon and Mars, the conclusion is that the moon is more economically feasible short term, but Mars is a much better place long term because of water, gravity, temperature, length of day and atmosphere.

      You would not want China to get ahead and setup a colony on Mars, otherwise when you get there will be Chinese passport control and they will send you back to Earth if you do not have your Chinese Mars Visa in your passport. If China gets to Mars first, then it is very likely that they will be the technological leaders on Earth.

      As for the pandemic, the problems that we are having are cultural not technological, China proved that humans can handle the pandemic without too many problems. In addition, everybody was making fun of Moderna when they said that they will have a vaccine in a couple of months, everybody was saying that it will take years, An now we have multiple effective vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and others.

      As for the Suez canal, average daily traffic is about 50 ships, I do not remember the last time a ship blocked the canal, nothing is perfect. So a ship got stuck, now it is free and traffic is going through.

      Going to Mars is not about abandoning Earth, it is about not having all of the human species in one basket, it is about making life multi-planetary. By going to Mars, we will develop the technology to keep life on Earth, Mars and the rest of the solar system going for 1000s of years of even millions of years. By then we should be moving towards a Kardshev type I civilization. Then we can start on the much more difficult problem of interstellar travel.

      Terra-forming is all about available energy to a society and understanding large scale complex systems, once you have enough available energy you can start experimenting with terra-forming. A really good example today of Terra-forming is human caused climate change, the human species is proving that terra-forming is possible, we just started it on a planet that does not need it. Understanding Terra-forming will take 100s of years, I would predict that it is more difficult that getting nuclear fusion power planets up and running.

      Nuclear fusion is the beginning of solving the really difficult challenges, that will take 10s or 100s of years to solve, it will be interesting to see what the results from ITER will be in a couple of years. Nuclear fusion is just one of those problems that will take decades to figure out. The physics of nuclear fusion is known, it is the engineering and the practical way to implement it that is the challenge.

      And finally, Elon Musk has decided Mars is the place to set up a colony so we are going to Mars.

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