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Track code: TD-3

Solar Sails are at the same stage of engineering development as electric motors were in the 1830’s. Each attribute of solar flux has been examined in isolation, such as photon, proton, plasma, and electrodynamic systems. This talk recommends designing a simple baseline system that converges multiple propulsion methods into optimized systems, as is currently done with electric motors. Many convergences can come from this solution space. Once a baseline design is created, AI genetic algorithms can “flight test” and refine the designs in simulation to adjust proportions and geometry. Once a base design is refined, a second AI evolution pass would design fleet systems that flock like birds to optimize performance. These could fly as a protective shield around Mars crewed fleets, provide space based solar power, deploy rapid reaction probes for interstellar comets, and be used in NEO asteroid mining. In the long term, fleets of solar energy management vehicles can provide orbital Carrigan event protection and Martian solar wind protection for terraforming. This talk is also a case study in how technology revolutions happen, and how to accelerate the creation and democratization of technical solutions.

From the 24th Annual International Mars Society Convention, held as a Virtual Convention worldwide on the Internet from October 14–17, 2021. The four-day International Mars Society Convention, held every year since 1,998 brings together leading scientists, engineers, aerospace industry representatives, government policymakers and journalists to talk about the latest scientific discoveries, technological advances and political-economic developments that could help pave the way for a human mission to the planet Mars.

Conference Papers and some presentations will be available on

For more information on the Mars Society, visit our website at

#MarsSociety #MarsSocCon2021

For the NordVPN special offer, go to to get a 2-year plan plus 4 additional months with a huge discount.

In this not-quite-serious video I explain what it would take to terraform Mars and make it habitable for humans.

Images at 5 mins 50 seconds are from Dan Barker

Screenshots at 7 mins 11 seconds are from

Correction: At 1 minute 44 second it’s the mass that is a tenth that of Earth, not the gravitational pull, which is about 0.4 times that of Earth. The text shows the right numbers. Sorry about that.

Many thanks to Jordi Busqué for helping with this video

Back to Aliens, we find “Building Better Worlds” as the main slogan of the nefarious Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Apparently, terraforming (and presumably mining) celestial bodies is a large part of their galactic business. When acid hits the fan and the xenomorphs take over Hadley’s Hope, their operations on LV-426 have been active for decades. But is that enough time for Acheron (formally labelled as LV-426) to develop a breathable atmosphere?

The film itself doesn’t have many answers when it comes to terraforming, but the procedure appears to revolve around reutilizing the existing atmosphere – breaking down pre-existing elements, transforming, and redistributing them – instead of starting from scratch, which would indeed take centuries. Basically, mankind can’t turn any planet or planetoid into an Earth-like environment in the Alien universe; most components need to be present already, same goes for the atmospheric conditions. This fixes the centuries-long problem that comes up in other works of fiction, or at least makes the storytelling more realistic.

Complementary material detailing the Alien universe’s history and technology claim the first “Automated Atmosphere Processor” became a reality in 2,029 with a first terraforming process happening on Gliese 667 Cc during the 2030s and ending around 2040. The Weyland Corp Terraforming Division was created in 2,072 effectively starting a new age of space exploration. As stated before, native atmospheres are transformed thanks to the company’s “Atmosphere Processing Plants” and other techniques, such as algae bloom tanks that consume excess carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. It all depends on the properties of planets which have been previously scouted, inspected, and approved for viable terraformation.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reiterated his support for terraforming Mars, as part of his long-term goal to make humanity into a multi-planetary species.

On Sunday, the day after SpaceX’s all-civilian mission to orbit returned to Earth, the CEO took to Twitter to suggest that he’s still got his sights set on the long-term goal of making Mars a more Earth-like world. In response to a post about Mars temperatures, which claimed the average surface temperature is around minus 63 degrees Celsius (minus 82 degrees Fahrenheit), Musk responded: “Needs a little warming up.”

The comments hint at Musk’s goal, stated multiple times over the years, that he would like to transform the planet’s atmosphere to make it more hospitable to human life. It forms part of his overall goal with SpaceX: reduce spaceflight costs, use it to establish permanent human presences elsewhere in space, and transform humanity into a multi-planetary species.

In the wake of the Inspiration4 mission, it’s a reminder that Musk wants to do more than send private citizens into space for orbital trips.

Do you agree?

In the future, when space agencies start to send human crews deep into space to explore or terraform distant worlds, we may need to send them off with extra goodies to keep morale high.

When astronauts are feeling lonely, depressed, traumatized, or just generally bad, a little pick-me-up in the form of psychedelic mushrooms could help, mycologist Paul Stamets suggested to Scientific American. It’s an odd idea, but as the body of evidence continues to grow that psilocybin — the active ingredient in shrooms — may have myriad mental health benefits, it may be an odd idea worth considering.

“Under carefully controlled conditions, our astronauts [being] able to take psilocybin in space and look at the universe and not feel distant and alone but feel like they’re part of this giant consciousness will give them a better frame of mind — psychologically, emotionally — to work with other astronauts and stay on mission,” Stamets told the magazine. “I feel that isolation, loneliness, and depression are going to be major issues that astronauts face.”

Circa 2016

Scientists and engineers since the 1940s have been toying with the idea of building self-replicating machines, or von Neumann machines, named for John von Neumann. With recent advances in 3D printing (including in zero gravity) and machine learning AI, it seems like self-replicating machines are much more feasible today. In the 21st century, a tantalizing possibility for this technology has emerged: sending a space probe out to a different star system, having it mine resources to make a copy of itself, and then launching that one to yet another star system, and on and on and on.

As a wild new episode of PBS’s YouTube series Space Time suggests, if we could send a von Neumann probe to another star system—likely Alpha Centauri, the closest to us at about 4.4 light years away—then that autonomous spaceship could land on a rocky planet, asteroid, or moon and start building a factory. (Of course, it’d probably need a nuclear fusion drive, something we still need to develop.)

That factory of autonomous machines could then construct solar panels, strip mine the world for resources, extract fuels from planetary atmospheres, build smaller probes to explore the system, and eventually build a copy of the entire von Neumann spacecraft to send off to a new star system and repeat the process. It has even been suggested that such self-replicating machines could build a Dyson sphere to harness energy from a star or terraform a planet for the eventual arrival of humans.

The idea of terraforming Mars is a fascinating idea. … But just how long would such an endeavor take, what would it cost us, and is it really an effective use of our time and energy?

Ultimately, Yakovlev thinks that space biospheres could also be accomplished within a reasonable timeframe – i.e. between 2030 and 2050 – which is simply not possible with terraforming. Citing the growing presence and power of the commercial space sector, Yakovlev also believed a lot of the infrastructure that is necessary is already in place (or under development).

“After we overcome the inertia of thinking +20 years, the experimental biosphere (like the settlement in Antarctica with watches), in 50 years the first generation of children born in the Cosmos will grow and the Earth will decrease, because it will enter the legends as a whole… As a result, terraforming will be canceled. And the subsequent conference will open the way for real exploration of the Cosmos. I’m proud to be on the same planet as Elon Reeve Musk. His missiles will be useful to lift designs for the first biosphere from the lunar factories. This is a close and direct way to conquer the Cosmos.”

With NASA scientists and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk looking to colonize Mars in the near future, and other commercial aerospace companies developing LEO, the size and shape of humanity’s future in space is difficult to predict. Perhaps we will jointly decide on a path that takes us to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Perhaps we will see our best efforts directed into near-Earth space.

In a recent study of the upper atmosphere of Venus, finding the chemical fingerprint of phosphine has led to speculation that it may be tied to airborne life high in the clouds of our sister planet [1]. We harbour similar suspicion of microbial life on Mars [2], Saturn’s moon Enceledus [3], and Europa, the icy Galilean of the Jovian system [4]. The dwarf planet Ceres of the asteroid belt could be added to that list also, with recent evidence of oceanic water [5], while more exotic variations of life may exist on Titan, which is known to be teeming with organic materials [6]. Should we be more wary of our Solar System as an environment to explore, and the potential of pathogens we may encounter?

If one rewinds 500 years, to when exploration of new worlds involved sailing the oceans, the discovery of the Americas introduced viruses which decimated the native population at that time [7]. That in itself was far from a unique event in history, of course. There have been many occurrences throughout history where travel between distant lands has resulted in the introduction of devastating plagues to one population or the other — not least the Black Death, which arrived in Europe from commercial travel with Asia in the 1300s [8]. Meanwhile, 2020 has reminded us how a novel virus can prove virtually unstoppable from spreading worldwide in a matter of months and reaching pandemic level, once introduced to our now interconnected world [9].

Indeed when the first astronauts returned from the Moon in the 60s, they had to undergo weeks of quarantine as a precaution against introducing a lunar pathogen to Earth [10]. We now know the Moon to be a sterile world, but this should not give us a false sense of security when visiting and returning from other worlds, which are far more likely to harbour microbial life. It is quite plausible to consider that any microbes which have evolved to survive in the harsh environments on other worlds could multiply out of control if introduced to a more fertile environment on Earth. The likelihood of any such foreign microbes being capable of becoming infectious pathogens to our species is difficult to measure, but one could still cause problems regardless, by undermining Earth’s ecosystem in competing with native microbial life as a runaway invasive species.

Fortunately, due to the vast distances involved in inter-planetary travel, returning astronauts would likely show symptoms of infection from any dangerous pathogen long before reaching home, as such a journey would be expected to take many months, even with more advanced propulsion technology than we use in space travel today. That is not to say they could not inadvertently return with microbial life on board — or even on the exterior of craft: Earth’s tardigrades, for example, have proven quite durable in journeys into outer space [11].

Undoubtedly, finding life on any other world — even if just primitive microbial life — would be hailed as an unprecedented scientific discovery. As that potential draws nearer, any such discovery should surely be met with due caution, rather than wild excitement. While not as dramatic as an invasion of Spiders from Mars, the discovery of microbial life on other worlds could prove to be a far more sobering prospect — and pose new ethical questions of whether to leave their ecosystems preserved intact, or take the risk blending them with ours.

[1] Strange chemical in clouds of Venus defies explanation. Could it be a sign of life?

[2] How Martian Microbes Could Survive in the Salty Puddles of the Red Planet

[3] If There’s Life on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, It Might Look Like This

[4] ‘Racing certainty’ there’s life on Europa, says leading UK space scientist

[5] The dwarf planet Ceres might be home to an underground ocean of water

[6] ‘Possibility of life’: scientists map Saturn’s exotic moon Titan

[7] How Europeans brought sickness to the New World

[8] The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever

[9] Coronavirus: A timeline of how the deadly COVID-19 outbreak is evolving

[10] Apollo 11 Astronauts Spent 3 Weeks in Quarantine, Just in Case of Moon Plague

[11] How do tardigrades survive in space?