Here is the talk in question

He talks about getting to Mars by 2027.

He talks about a device called a WAVAR which will extract water from humidity. He also talks about a device called MOXIE which will convert the CO2 from the air into breathable oxygen. He talks about eating dried foods to eat. He talks about living in caves because of solar radiation. Taking these things in isolation, they seem reasonable enough devices. However, the energy required to run these devices must be huge. He, no surprise, doesn't touch on the energy component.

He then goes on to talk about terraforming Mars. He talks about heating up dry ice (CO2) in order to create an atmosphere with a solar sail. He predicts that doing this will take 20 years before we get a planet with weather and a climate similar to British Columbia. He does concede that it'll take 1000 years before the atmosphere is breathable.

EDIT: To elaborate a bit on what the question is: How much power do these systems need? How many solar panels (or alternative form of power (ie. nuclear) will that require? How many orders of magnitude bigger than previous rockets will one destined to Mars with this payload need to be? Or, how many trips/dropoffs will be necessary? That sort of thing.

It seems as though it would take hundreds of dropoffs of materials before humans would be ready to stay there for an extended period of time. Given that Earth and Mars are only close enough once every two years that means we'd either need to be launching 10s if not 100s of rockets every two years to dropoff materials or some other assumption I've already made is horribly wrong. For starters/guidance, how many/how badly are my assumptions in the preceding paragraph?

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    $\begingroup$ The answer to energy concerns is easy: Enough solar panels. No other options are competitive on this timescale; this one is simple and viable enough. One thing which he doesn't talk about is money. Delivering enough solar panels (or any energy source for that matter) is going to cost a fortune. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jul 10, 2016 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ @SF. They will print money on Mars. Each time a ship delivers solar panels, they will fill it full money for the return trip. There, I've solved it. Easy! According to the linked TED page: "Stephen Petranek untangles emerging technologies to predict which will become fixtures of our future lives — and which could potentially save them." As long as we have journalists who can untangle our emerging technologies for us, the sky is the limit! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 10, 2016 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ Personal point of view: I do not want humans to set foot upon Mars until we know with a very high degree of certainty that Mars is dead. If Mars does host life, killing off that life with Earth life is a distinct possibility, and doing so would make handing out smallpox-infested blankets to the natives of the Americas look like child's play with regard to pure evilness. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2016 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Dean: I tried to answer the extended version, but couldn't progress with the WAVAR (paywalled paper). Conclusions so far: about 25 watt (sustained 24/7) per kilogram; 160kg of power infrastructure per person for sustained oxygen supply. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jul 10, 2016 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh actually the number of people who summit Everest annually is closer to 10^3. Just a tiny nitpick (annual averages are around 600 - 700 these days) $\endgroup$
    – TylerH
    Jul 11, 2016 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


Converting CO2 into oxygen is feasible, and is discussed in a number of sources. Water from humidity is possible, but there isn't enough on Mars. It turns out heating rocks, however, will extract some water, and that could be done, although it might be a bit difficult. Both of these are discussed in "The Case for Mars", which I don't have my copy available at the moment. Living in caves is an idea that is discussed fairly heavily, and is a generally agreed good idea for early settlements. The power required would be on the order of kilowatts to manage the water/ oxygen production. Simply put, it's easier to bring the materials needed to produce oxygen and water than it is to bring the water/ oxygen with you from Earth.

The terraforming ideas is where things really break down. It would take far longer than 20 years to do any kind of real system. In 1000 years, well, that's a pretty acceptable answer that is commonly used.


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