08 December 2018

Colonizing Mars is doomed to failure

    I understand the passion.

    There is a lot of talk and fanciful artwork of a future colony on Mars. I'm not certain who is doing it, but there's even recruitment going on. A venture group (no kidding) is semi-seriously saying that an expedition to Mars will be leaving around 2030. I think. They've already told the people signing up that it's a way one ticket, folks. No returning to the Earth.

    I understand the passion. Having read tons of science fiction as a kid, having grown up with Star Trek, Star Wars,  moon shots and the Space Shuttles and the so called "International Space Station" (an orbital platform built and paid for by the taxpayers of the United States, and now given over almost wholly to Russian squatters.), I do understand the desire. Steven Hawkings is correct, we must head into space. We are destroying our home planet so quickly that I wonder if in one hundred years, there will be any civilization left. 

  But hard nosed reality intervenes.

    The only space travel that we know is the stuff invented in our minds, i.e. "Star Trek", "Star Wars", thousands of science fiction stories/books/movies. As with anything that comes out of Hollywood, much is left to the imagination.

    What none of these forms of entertainment cover is the nuts and bolts of survival. Such items (not inclusive) being oxygen, protection from temperature extremes, food, water,  and the capacity for and management of biological processes such as eating, excretion, drinking, reproduction, etc. None cover such things as logistics, meaning: building materials, fuel, machinery, tools, power generation, transportation, communication. None of them address the idea that a colonist needs to take a hell of a lot of stuff with him.

    It's already been proven that humans do not tolerate zero gravity very well. Our bones dissolve. Exposure to cosmic radiation (inevitable once you've left the atmosphere) is a dandy  way to develop cancers.  Even our eyeballs change shape in space, and STAY changed, even upon return to Earth.

    Mars is a long way away. Let's say we figure out a way to really put some speed on the trip, and plan for arrival at the Red Planet when it's at it's closest to the Earth.

   So let's say that takes, oh, eight months. That's still a long time to be cooped up in a space ship.

   The space ship itself is going to have to be huge. It takes a lot of gear to make a colony.
Right off the bat, the ship is going to have to make a successful landing. Only 40% of the Mars missions have had successful landings. It's just asking a lot of a ship to go from over 10K mph to zero without braking and a lot of luck. 

   They're going to have to be able to grow food in space. They're going to have to be able to grow food on Mars.  Right now, the only way they can figure out how to grow food in space is hydroponics. This is a system whereby a plant is kept under artificial light and all its nutrients are provided via nutrient saturated water bathing the roots. 

    How in the hell are they going to carry that much water? There is no water on Mars that isn't frozen or buried. 

  Let's not forget that the average daily temperature on Mars is probably -50 F. Mars year is far longer than Earth's. The sun is much farther away, and doesn't provide the same amount of sunlight needed for photosynthesis. 

  Plants-the types we eat, not stuff like seaweed-don't like being grown in water.. Plants like dirty toes. They can't grow in pure sand. They need organic chemicals/substances such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium. These chemicals don't recycle. We have no way of separating chemicals into their individual states from recycled (reverse osmosis) water. 
They need microrhyzzae, they need humus, they need the stability that soil gives them. They also need gravity.
 Mars is smaller than Earth and has a lower gravity.  Plants don't like low gravity. They like to know which way is up.

    By the way, you'd better understand that you are going to be vegan by necessity. Beef cattle and chickens don't do space travel. They need an entirely different sort of food. Cattle and chickens cannot survive on the space food we can. Cattle need hay. Chickens need insects (yes, chickens need protein to gain weight and lay eggs. The 'vegetarian diets' the industrialized chickens are fed are NOT normal.)
  Both need room to move around. They don't do -50 degrees F at all well. Chickens (Iike the vast majority of birds) aren't grain eaters.  And let's say you do carry grain for chickens. What happens when you run out? You can't grow grain crops in hydroponics. 

   I forgot fish. Fish live in water, true, but it needs to be good quality water. If you've ever kept an aquarium, you know how quickly a small, enclosed environment like an aquarium can turn into a cesspool. There aren't many fish that can tolerate farming. Farming fish, by the way, takes huge tanks, absolutely needing oxygenating, water circulation and clean water. 

    Problems arise for vegans. I don't care what they say, humans are omnivores. They need to eat some form of meat. Meat provides certain nutrients that plants just don't. Protein is only one of them. Yes, I hear you, 'beans' provide protein. But plant based protein doesn't build muscle. It doesn't provide phosphorus or calcium.

   Water will need to be recycled. All of it, to include the stuff that you excrete. While you can run it past the plant's roots, still, you are going to have to purify it by running it through a reverse osmosis process. Ideally, it means you recover all the water you put in. 

  But not really. You lose water in more ways than just excretion. You respire it. You sweat. Your cells incorporate it and don't let it go. Slowly but surely, the amount of water available for recycling and reuse will drop. With every reverse osmosis cycle, you lose something-and gain something.
     For instance, let us say you have 10 grams of potassium in the downstream water cycle from the plants. You run the water through the RO, and end up with pure water. The potassium can't be replaced, not when you're millions of miles from Earth. It can't be reconstituted into its pure form. It is intermingled with the waste water from the RO process. It accumulates. You get more and more waste and less and less pure water. 

   Can you farm on Mars? I doubt it. I don't think there is soil on Mars.What you see in the pictures is not "soil'. It's sand. Sand is decomposed rock, mostly quartz. There might be basalt, sandstone, in it, but it's still ROCK, and rock isn't soil. Soil is that rich, humusy stuff you grow plants in. It's mostly organic chemicals such as the aforementioned stuff like calcium and phosphorus. Soil is mostly stuff, minerals, material such as bits of rotted leaves, decomposed cellulose, mushroom spores, bits of bark, needles, animal crap, frass, and critters-worms, pillbugs, sowbugs, symphlans, all sorts of bacteria, viruses, and higher creatures that create an ecosystem.

   That's not Mars. Mars may have had life, but it was a billion years ago, and there is nothing there to make the substrate suitable for growing anything. 

    There's very little oxygen on Mars. The atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, which plants use to photosynthesize.  However, when it's -50 below and the sun is much further away than we're used to, not much photosynthesis is going to take place. Those photos we see of Mar's surface has been enhanced for our vision. It's not really that bright.

   So let's say you still manage to make it to Mars. One thing the story and history books never mention is that, in every colonization effort on Earth, there were things immediately available (and the colonizers knew how to utilize them) in order to make a go of it. One could find trees, to cut down and build a shelter with, to provide light, to provide a fire to cook food over. There was soil in which to grow things in. There was water in some form, be it rainfall, or pools, or even ice, to provide drinking and washing water. One didn't have to worry about gravity. One didn't have to worry about sunlight and air to breathe. It was and is just THERE. 

  Not on Mars. There is NOTHING but sand and rock. Perhaps we can mine ores with which to create metal. But that needs a logistical base. That means needing machines to do the digging, machines to do the crushing and separation, machines to do the smelting and forming. What are you going to use for power? Oh, you need fuel for all that. Machines usually use gasoline, diesel, or electricity to work. Oh, and oxygen, for the first two. Solar power is going to be fairly weak on Mars, due to the year long winters.

   The only way you're going to provide that much power is nuclear. Nuclear power plants, even small ones, take a hell of a lot of shielding and they need water to cool the fuel rods. It becomes highly radioactive and the rods are eventually consumed. How are you going to transport a nuclear power plant? How are you going to set it up and running when you need power to get it set up and running? Generators won't work without oxygen. 

   Shall I mention that everything, EVERYTHING-every machine, every process, every shelter/suit/ship needs to work right, the first time, every time. A shelter on Mars needs to be absolutely sealed from the outside, because it's cold. It's airless. It's lower gravity.
Every process needs to work right every time. You can't have a glitch in the computer program that forgets to keep the water pump, the reverse osmosis units,  or the heat, or the electricity. 

   Let us also understand that re-supply is going to take a very long time. That's another thing they've not mentioned...that even though they say it's going to be a one way trip for the colonists, that doesn't mean they're not going to be independent of Earth. Far from it. Parts break. Pieces get lost. Moving parts wear out. Plants die no matter how tenderly you treat them.  There's no home depot to go to when the furnace breaks down. 

   The environment of Mars is tough on the machines on the surface. Howling wind storms cover the planet, kicking up huge clouds of dust that last for MONTHS. You are wasting your time going out and dusting the solar panels off, because the sun isn't making it through the clouds anyway. 

  Don't forget, we're still humans. You won't be going outside in jeans and a T-shirt. Every single time you will need to be in a pressure suit, one that no matter how well engineered, has a finite capacity of oxygen. If it develops a leak, or you fall down and puncture it...bad news for you. 
  We still need a certain gravity. We still need sunshine. We still break bones, get abscessed teeth, have babies, get cancer, go insane. You're going to need one hell of a big hospital. While there aren't diseases to catch on Mars, we still carry them inside us. Do we have any idea what cosmic radiation and the differences of a Mars environment does to the bacteria we all carry?

   The size of the  ship is going to have to be enormous, just to carry the barest of colony gear. Do we land it on the surface? If not, the colonists will need shuttles to an orbiting 'mother ship'. We currently don't even have that here on Earth. We still boost everything we've put in space by using rockets. The technology for a space craft that go up and down like a jet power does not exist yet.  Shuttles need a hell of a lot of power to escape gravity, even the lower gravity of Mars.  They need to be piloted, either computerize or human, and they can break up or break down. 

      The problem is this. Any restoration ecologist, such as myself, will tell you that you don't restore an environment, you don't restore a blasted piece of real estate, by planting redwood trees.
  You have to start with grass. You have to start with small plants that don't need a lot of help in surviving. You don't use something that takes fifteen years to begin reproducing. You need plants that can be planted in May and be producing by August, that don't need pollination by wind (too cold out there) or animals (bees or butterflies). Let's not forget that the plants need to be edible. Scotch broom might just be able to survive Mars...it certainly can survive anything WE do to it...but it's completely inedible.

   Even our own planet, this lovely cradle, was a hostile, poisonous one for billions of years. It took cyanobacteria billions of years to replace the original atmosphere with the one that we breathe now. 

   We aren't cyanobacteria.  Even that colonizer can't survive on Mars-it needs water. More precisely, plants-and humans, need rain. They need water circulating in an atmosphere. 
Mars has neither. 

     Mars, also, has no magnetic field. The magnetic field that surrounds our planet protects it from cosmic radiation. A compass won't work on Mars.

    We  are proposing to put humans up there and making a going concern of it, making it a permanent habitation for humans.
   But that's crazy. We take twenty years to reproduce. Beneficial mutations are few and far between. We need so many things that Mars just cannot provide. We're going into this eyes tightly shut and with our hands tied behind our back. I honestly think the reason the understanding that you're not going to be able to come back to Earth is not just because the changes to the human body will be irreversible. I think it's because the colonists are going to die, in many different gruesome and painful ways. The 'you're not coming back' is probably as much a liability disclaimer as it is a pragmatic, blunt statement. 

   After spending months in weightlessness, the colonists will be weak as kittens. Despite the fact that the gravity will be less on Mars, still, they're going to have to hit the ground running, and that's not going to be easy. 

    I am not even going to go into the capacity we have for killing each other. I've seen what war does to our thin veneer of civilization. It strips it away. People go mad in situations not unlike the colonization. People kill each other after months of putting up with the shithead actions of another. People kill each other when the last mouthful of food isn't enough for two or more.People even eat people when there is absolutely nothing else to eat.
   The problem, though, is: even though we are upright, bipedal, incredibly advance creatures, we are still, really, fish out of water. 70% of our body is water. Like our plants, we need water in many different forms.  We, along with every other living thing on earth, evolved with the need for water in some shape. Even desert creatures and plants need water.

   Mars doesn't have it, in any form that we can use. Mars is a cold, low gravity, no atmospheric, cosmic ray bathed rock. 

   Back in early 1990, an experiment called "Biosphere ll" was attempted. A giant glass greenhouse set in the Arizona desert, it was supposed to be a closed ecosystem, depending on plants to exchange CO2 for 02 and grown in soil brought in for the purpose. Several mini biomes: an 'ocean' with a coral reef, a rain forest, a savannah, etc. Birds and insect pollinators were included, as well as animals such as goats, chicken and I believe, pigs. It was staffed by (I think) 8 'colonists' who knew they would not be allowed to leave for the two years of the study.

  It was a disaster. The first year the 'colonists' were perpetually hungry. Condensation turned the rain forest into a swamp and the savannah into a marsh.  Water that was supposed to be circulating amongst the biomes become so heavily clogged with algae it stopped filtration systems. Most of the birds and beneficial insects brought in died, leaving: ants and cockroaches. 

   Most alarmingly, no matter how they managed it, the oxygen levels dropped steadily and relentlessly. Something odd happened: oxygen levels dropped, and so did CO2 (carbon dioxide). This isn't how its supposed to work. It was found much later, that the CO2 was interacting with the cement blocks making up the base of the building and sequestering both oxygen and carbon dioxide in the form of calcium carbonate.  

     When oxygen levels dropped to 14% (as opposed to normal levels of 21% in the air we breathe), one of the colonists took drastic and "illegal' (and yet life saving) action:  They opened the doors to the building to allow fresh air into the biosphere. This alleviated the oxygen depletion problem, but it was still cheating.

   The end came when the colonists were told to leave because the sponsors of the venture got tired or started fighting, I'm not sure which. However, the colonists themselves were fighting, too.

   On Mars, there won't be an atmosphere outside just there for the breathing. Or just about anything else that humans need to live. 

  I understand the drive, the passion. I understand that we are where we are today because of the seemingly unquenchable drive we have to see what's over the horizon, to "boldly go where no man has gone before". 

   I just don't think we can do it, though. I don't think we can do it.



15 November 2018

Think horses can't?

My most recent post...'Do horses like us?" said that horses have a sense of humor.

Mine certainly did. Jordan thought it the funniest thing in the world to give me a shove when I was bent over, scrubbing out his water trough. An equine pool pest, he was...

But the other day while wasting a lot of time on the Cheezeburger website..yes, that one, with all the funny cat videos...I found this:
Both pictures clipped from I can has Cheezeburger website, "Animal capshunz" (sic)

 The mare was getting even for having her mane braided!!

Now you tell me that horses can't : think, plan in advance, and find novel ways of getting revenge!!

09 November 2018

Do horses like us?

    In my wanderings around the internet, I found this website called the Country Squire Magazine. A British publication, it focuses on the British countryside.

   Deborah Jane Nicholas, apparently a frequent columnist, has had several articles published, some of which I read, but this one I found rather unusual, if not depressing. 

Clipped from the 1 Sep 18 issue of Country Squire Magazine, author deborah jane nicholas

    Nicholas says, in essence, that horses do what we tell them to do. Period.  She sniffs at the idea that horses willingly do the strange things we ask of them. She says that horses don’t like us. 

    I’m really surprised at the tone in her post, and wonder what sort of relationship she has with horses.

    Mind you, she brings up good points. We ALL have met horses who don’t want to do what we ask of them. Much of that comes from prior handling, I agree, but I’m also convinced that in many cases, that’s just what the horse IS. You see it in ads on the internet: “more whoa than go.” Just like people, there are jocks, like Raven, and there are couch potatoes, like my first horse, McDuff. 

  Her point is that many times, the rider or owner fails to take into account the horse’s reactions to what we ask of them. For instance, she has a video of what can only be called a moron. The moron-probably inspired by some Hollywood movie, runs at the back end of a horse, attempting to mount it with a leap from the back. The horse, being a sensible beast, sees this human running at him from behind-just like a predator would-and simultaneously bucks the idiot off and gives a him a good kick in the chest.  The idiot had it coming, as far as I’m concerned.

   But then she shows a photo of a very nice dressage horse with its ears pinned. She implies that the horse is merely obeying, that he really does not want to be doing dressage.

   That may be true in this specific case, but how, then, can she explain Fuego de Cernada, aka Fuego XII, a PRE stallion I’ve written of in the past. Fuego’s 2010 WEG freestyle dressage performance could only have come from the stallion himself. I have never seen an animal produce such an emotionally charged performance in my life. You could see it: Fuego was doing it all on his own. He added so many flourishes, so much emotion into his performance that he was, counter intuitively, scored low. We in the audience boo’ed the judges scores. We saw a horse that adored dressage, adored the adulation, soaked up the cheers and pretty much, thoroughly enjoyed showing off. It was, after all, freestyle.

   How does she explain Beezie Madden’s fall from Authentic in the stadium jumping competition of the 2007 World Cup? The gelding continued jumping the course, all by himself. 

    While I’ve never watched the Grand National, (a steeplechase for my American readers) , I know that often, a horse will lose its rider and continue jumping the course. 
    I’ve certainly seen racehorses continue the race after losing their jockey. They win...and are elated! The horse doesn’t understand ‘disqualified’. He just knows he won!

    How does she explain Charlie, an OTTB in our barn who, if you put him in the round pen, will lunge himself. You needn’t be inside the ring. You don’t even have to pop a whip to get him going. He works himself. When he considers himself done, he calls to a human to come get him.

  How can any of these actions be called ‘forced”???

   The author also mentions that she has yet to find a photo of a pony with its child owner that looks happy.

   I can understand that. Children don’t usually have the experience of good hands and a good seat. Children don’t think of a pony as being an animal. The pony is another child. They treat it as a playmate. An adult who gives a child a pony must also teach the child that the pony isn’t a toy, it is another living, feeling being, to be treated with respect, kindness and patience. Note: the pony feels no such restrictions, by the way.

    The author goes on to say that horses don’t like us. They don’t hate us, but they’d much rather just be let alone.

    I’m not too sorry to say, that in my opinion, and experience, she’s wrong. Or perhaps she’s confusing cows with horses. I have no experience with cows, but I’m certain there are folks out there who will tell me their cow likes to be petted, sat upon, maybe even asked for a piaffe. I’ve seen pictures of people riding cattle, although it can’t be very comfortable.  Cows don’t seem to have much in the way of personalities. But that may be because we don’t normally think of a cow as being a pet, like a horse. To be brutally honest, cows are..well, creatures that we not only use their milk, but..we eat them. We don’t eat horses. They’re too much like family. 

    Horses have personalities. They have opinions, feelings, a sense of humor. They have favorite people, other animals, other horses. They can differentiate between intentionally inflicted pain from the accidental. I’ve apologized to my horses when I’ve done something hurtful and they certainly seem to understand. Or perhaps I’m so tuned to the equine persona that I can see personalities where Nicholas cannot.  

    Nicholas states that the only reason a horse comes to you in the pasture is because it hopes you have food.

    Isn’t that a thing all in and of itself? Isn’t 'hope'  something a thinking, emotional being does?  Cows don’t come up to you hoping for a carrot. They just look at you. The horse, at least, has learned that you come bearing gifts.

   But what if...as in the case of Raven...you don’t have a treat? What is it, then, that makes him nicker a hello and come up to me when I enter the paddock with a halter? The halter means ‘we are going to do something’. What it might be, he doesn’t know, but it’s probably ‘being ridden’. A horse that didn’t want to be ridden would run away from me. A horse that didn’t know me would just stare at me from the far end of the paddock.

   Even the oldest horse can outrun us any day of the week. Why does this horse...and virtually every other horse I’ve ever owned or leased, or even just made friends with..come to me when I clearly have something in mind for it?
   Is it “like”???
    How does the author explain the gauntlet I must run every time I go to retrieve Raven from his paddock...that being Laddie, the gigantic eventing OTTB. I must go through his paddock in order to get to Raven’s.
    I’ve never petted him, handled him, and certainly never given him treats.  Still, Laddie is right there at my elbow as I pass through his paddock. I have to shoo him away. He WANTS pets, he wants to interact. The look in his eye as Raven and I walk past him can only be described as envy.  He wants to work. His owner studiously avoids him, so is it loneliness? He has horses all around him. Has this horse, a racehorse/eventer who has spent his entire life working with people want to?

      How does she explain the Arabian stallion I massaged the day before a 100 mile endurance ride? His owner told me, I have to ride the hell out of this stallion or he’ll ride the hell out of me. The next day, I was working with my vet as a scribe when the stallion came in, lame, at the first 25 mile vet check. He’d been quicked three days earlier when he was re-shod. Despite being lame, the stallion did NOT want to quit. No, no, no, he insisted, get aboard Dad and let’s GO. He refused to get on the horse ambulance, he wanted to GO. He said so plainly, I can do this. I can. I want to. 

        We’ve all seen horses express refusal to do something: bore out at the track, refuse a jump, buck off a person they don’t want to carry. 

    These are actions of thinking, aware creatures, not slaves. I feel very sorry for Nicholas.  She sounds as if she read Descartes and believes what he said: that animals are merely animated machines, incapable of love, friendship, even, believe it or not, pain. 

    This isn’t to say that horses are incapable of disliking people. Rebel, a PRE cross in our old barn, definitely disliked people. He’d never been hurt or abused while in that barn but he was dangerous and ultimately put his owner in the hospital. 

   I owned (well, he was the ex husband’s horse) an Appy/TB cross gelding, Smoke, who also disliked..one could even say hated..humans. We'd never hurt him, but at some time in his past, he had been mistreated, and from then on, he then hated every human. He definitely tried his best to hurt US. He was truly an evil-minded horse who had vices the likes of which I’d never seen before and hope to never see again. 

   Both those horses could have been poster children for the author’s post.

    But those horses were few and far between the hundreds of horses I’ve known. Yes, I’m going to break the rules and be anthropomorphic. Horses are incredibly good judges of humans. Like humans, they are self-aware. They have opinions, can hold grudges, fall in love, be mischievous, curious, easily frightened or brave as lions, be lazy or workmanlike, have hobbies, keep pets, everything that enables a creature to be an emotional one. Now that we know that dogs can be autistic, I bet horses can even be mentally ill, just like humans. 

   I wish I could remember where I read it, but one man wrote that horses invited us into THEIR world, not the opposite. We become members of THEIR herd.

    I don’t know how many horses she’s met that demonstrate hatred or dislike of humans..but I wonder if it’s the HORSE that is the problem.  

     I have a feeling it’s the author, not the horse.

20 October 2018

Just a picture of my best boyfriend

We had a professional photographer come out to the barn. He spent all day there, taking photos of everyone's horses. He wasn't cheap..oh, my, no, but he got some incredible shots.
Here's one of Raven, who seemed to enjoy the entire process:
Look at that balanced trot!!