Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Digg gets a new recruit

Science, environment and space exploration, as I'm sure you are aware, is a site where you submit items you have read, and invite comments. Those comments in turn attract other comments.

The key feature is the ability to register approval or disapproval - of the original item or subsequent comments.

Its ethos is very American - reading the comments I get the impression, right or wrong, I'm the only Brit there so far. Whilst unable or unwilling to adopt protective colouring re prose style, I am obediently following the advice of the US-English spellcheck, so that -ise word endings become -ize etc.

The topic that caught my interest was one claiming (on the basis of somewhat tendentitious probability theory) that Planet Earth is doomed, and that we should therefore waste no time in colonizing Mars.

I've sent two comments. The first, this one, has already attracted a couple of "diggs" ( approvals), which is a relief, given the culture shock I feel on this site.

"Why Mars. ? Why not the Moon ? Oh, silly me. I forgot. Mars has a atmosphere - a thin one, without oxygen. It's so thin that the atmospheric pressure on Mars is less than 1% of Earth's, so you would need a pressurised space suit for Mars same as if you were on the Moon. Water ? Sure there's water, but none of it can exist as liquid, on account of the near-vacuum conditions, so you'd have to chip it out of the poles as ice. Temperature ? Much cooler than the Earth or Moon, being so much further from the Sun. And if something seriously goes wrong, I'd much rather be on the Moon, a mere quarter of a million miles away than a 6 month journey or longer in space, with proportionately greater chance of being hit by a micrometeorite or frazzled by radiation.

If mankind cannot make the Sahara and other deserts hospitable (a new project on my recent blog, plug, plug) what chance is there of colonising Mars in our lifetimes?"

Footnote: I discovered after posting I'm not supposed to promote my own blog, at risk of being barred. It's considered "advertising". That is a strange position: cross-linking between sites, aided by search engines, is what makes the internet so powerful as a research tool. I'm amazed that Digg should have adopted so Luddite a posture on that, and that its vocal clientèle have not rubbished and buried it. Which reminds me: if you don't like what you read on Digg, you can hit the "Bury" key !

Update: Wed 22:52 I have now been awarded 4 diggs (votes of approval) on the above, which is about 3 more than your typical score (if you'll forgive the blowing of one's own trumpet). Have finally been able to access my second comment (below) which so far has attracted only one measly digg , boo hoo, as Sarah might say. But the number of readers does tend to fall of sharply as the story drops out of sight. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

"You have to hand it to them: NASA and other agencies have done a masterly PR job in promoting Mars as an almost Earth-like planet that could be made habitable with just that little extra effort, and a trillion dollars too, give or take.

That much is clear, not just from the thrust of this article, but the few comments regarding Mars' absence of anything that could be described as tolerable atmosphere.

Look at the number of folk here who state the main problem as absence of oxygen. That's the least of one's problems. To get oxygen on Mars, all you would need to collect some polar ice, melt it, then electrolyze it to hydrogen and oxygen (using a solar array as a source of DC electricity). Oxygen is not the problem, which is the lack of a magnetosphere, causing Mars to have lost virtually all its atmosphere of C02, nitrogen etc.

There's so little atmospheric pressure, as I said earlier, less than 1% of Earth's, that the smallest tear in your spacesuit would cause you puff up like a pumpkin and probably explode, giving the "Red Planet" a whole new twist. I

've been convinced for some years that NASA et al have played down the near-vacuum conditions on Mars. That's to make it it seem more hospitable than it really is, so as to keep us gullible folks on side, voting billions of funds for pie-in-the-sky space programs. They want us to see Mars as the next step in man's journey to the stars. Bollocks ! It's the end of the line where mankind is concerned .

Personally I'd prefer to see the money spent on making the Sahara and other deserts bloom, creating new carbon sinks, keeping this jewel of a planet habitable.

PS As a newcomer to Digg can someone explain why I have difficulty in scrolling to the end of comments ? I'm generally unable to get closer than an hour ago, and then get stopped by the Send Your Own Comment box.

No comments: