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Project Virgle - A Virgin - Google collaborative effort

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  • Damian J. Anderson
    *http://www.google.com/virgle* - Home - The 100 Year Plan
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2008
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      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes


      Take the questionnaire now

      For thousands of years,

      the human race has spread out across the Earth, scaling mountains and plying the oceans, planting crops and building highways, raising skyscrapers and atmospheric CO2 levels, and observing, with tremendous and unflagging enthusiasm, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply across our world's every last nook, cranny and subdivision.

      An invitation.

      Earth has issues, and it's time humanity got started on a Plan B. So, starting in 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars.

      The question is, do you want to join us?

      Ever yearned to journey to the stars? You can learn how to become a Virgle Pioneer, test your Pioneering potential, or join the Mission Control community that will help develop the 100 Year Plan we've outlined here.

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: The 100 Year Plan

      2010: Choosing a Site

      Location, location, location. After much research into, discussion about and outright arguing over water and mineral availability, morphological priorities and the like, the Virgle team has selected the Lunae planum area of the north side of Kasei Valles as the Plymouth Rock of the new New World. Here's why:

      1. Minerals - This stretch of land, heavily weathered by water over countless eons, should be particularly rich in carbonates, sulphates, clays, zircons, iron deposits and other mineral goodies that together will form a solid foundation for agricultural self-sufficiency and the building of an advanced industrial society.
      2. Equator - Like their Earth-exploring forebears, Martian colonists will find equatorial latitudes inviting, at least in the sense that an Antarctic valley is inviting (i.e., it won't kill you really quickly). The lower latitudes also ensure favorable solar energy profiles for base backup systems.
      3. Lava Tubes - You can be passionate about Mars, but use protection. Dried lava tubes provide a cheap (okay, free) way to shield Virgle's expensive equipment (and even more expensive humans) from radiation, temperature extremes, wind storms and the like.
      4. H2O - Martian water matters. A lot. Existing data sources -- the Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey, Reconnaissance Orbiter, MERs, etc – helped us choose a location promising nearby heavy regolith water distribution. Early in the history of the Martian colony, basic water availability means sheer survival...
      5. Shoreline - ...but later on it will mean prime real estate. In 2015, Virgle Base 1 will be located on a dry, barren ridge overlooking a dry, barren plain. Two generations worth of terraforming from now, though, Virgle City will be a bustling port city overlooking a glistening blue bay. Be sure to reserve your hectare before the H20 starts condensing.
      6. Tourist Spots - Speaking of which: Martian tourists will want to pay their respects to historical attractions like the Viking, Pathfinder and MER Opportunity sites, all located conveniently near the future Virgle City, and inconveniently in low-lying areas that will eventually be submerged by rising Martian ocean levels.
      2014: Low Earth Orbit

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: The 100 Year Plan

      2014: Low Earth Orbit

      If a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, then our 550-million-mile journey to Mars will begin with 550,000 1/500th-of-a-mile steps, as the LSE3, a multi-stage heavy lifter now under construction using the World War II-era Liberty Ship philosophy ("Make them fast, ugly and in large numbers"), launches our staging components into low earth orbit.

      1. Deceleration - Mars orbit insertion through aerobraking and final sky crane descent of the now separated modules is crucial in achieving the landing ellipse with minimal deviation. In other words, by the time the Virgle 1 reaches Mars, it will be flying very quickly and will have to slow down very quickly or the first landing of a human craft will be forever marked by a very large crater.
      2. Virgle 1 - Our standard ship's three-module configuration includes hab modules for each of two six-person crews and a Bio module for organics and supplies and to serve as a backup in case of unexpected...well, let's just say in case the first two hab modules should ever become uninhabitable.
      3. Delta V - The Mars insertion propulsion stack is a first-generation launcher based on the workhorse JGARV design and relying on classic propellants, ensuring a fast start to the mission and a soft deadline for our nuclear thermal research group.
      4. Mars Hab Modules - Prospective Virgle Pioneers may take a small measure of comfort from knowing that their future dwellings will be making the half-a-billion mile journey to Mars well ahead of them. Talk about a mobile home.
      5. Launch sites - Virgle's multiple launches spread across decades will require a number of launch and mission tracking sites. Prospective locations include the Mojave Desert, Southern San Francisco Bay, the Kingdom of Tonga and Necker Island.
      2015: Virgle Base 1

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: The 100 Year Plan

      2015: Virgle Base 1

      If you're like us, and deep down you aren't all that interested in going to Mars in the first place unless it means setting loose a swarm of super-cool robots -- well, rest easy. When the Virgle 1 lands, teams of autonomous rovers and assembly platforms will leap into action:

      1. Nuclear reactors. Primary and secondary C02-cooled pebble bed nuclear reactors, a big part of the Martian colony's energy equation, lie at the bottom of lava pits shielded with Martian regolith not far from the main habs. We're 99.9% certain that they're safe.
      2. Martian Positioning System – Virgle's MPS satellites start taking 360-degree stereo imagery, subsurface radar data and land plot position measurement. This data will be used to populate the land registry which will someday make ancestors of the (hint, hint) earliest Virgle investors very wealthy individuals indeed.
      3. Earth return vehicles are plugged in to the fuel production plant. If all goes well, the ERVs will serve as fuel storage tanks. If all does not go well, they'll serve as lifeboats to get stranded Pioneers back home. So we keep them gassed up.
      4. Hab modules will be fully integrated with the base's permanent power sources and communication infrastructure long before the first teams of Virgle Pioneers show up to check out their new digs. Yes, this place comes with utilities.
      5. Production plants - use solid oxide electrolysis to turn atmospheric CO2 into breathable oxygen for the crew, and use the Sabatier process to turn it into methane rocket fuel and water for the greenhouses. Finally, a place where (for the moment, anyway) we don't mind that C02 levels are so high.
      6. Assembly platforms adapt (by which we mean "detonate powerful explosives within") the lava tubes to clear impeding structures and level access corridors before moving the electronics inside. Humankind began in caves, and to caves we now return.
      7. Robotic vehicles ferry modules from the landing ellipse to the foot of the cliffs and begin laying the Virgle Base 1's structures, power and communication lines, startup energy sources and uplink antennas and shields.
      8. Greenhouses are inflated, structure polymers hardened and aeroponic equipment powered up and tested. These greenhouses will provide early Pioneers with their standard diet of potatoes, rice, onions, tomatoes, soya, lettuce, spinach, wheat and the Martian delicacy spirulina (it's 70% protein, and trust us, that's all you really need, or want, to know).
      2016: Flying to Mars

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: The 100 Year Plan

      2016: Flying to Mars

      Following confirmation of the unmanned flights' successful staging on the Martian surface, the program will begin a synchronized semiannual schedule with human crews. What will a Virgle Pioneer's life be like on the five-month voyage to Mars? Let's take a look.

      1. Entertainment - On-board supercomputers perform most ship and life maintenance tasks, up to and including games, movies and other forms of trivially simplistic human entertainment. Crew members will communicate with these machines via an auditory Holistic Artificial Language interface visually mediated by a glowing red light.
      2. Nutrition -The bio module carries organisms from algae and bacteria to higher plants like wheat, soybeans, lettuce, potatoes, cabbage, chard and carrot, all genetically altered for resistance to viruses and increased soil iron and aluminum content.
      3. Protection - Carbon reinforced polyethylene inner shells and the placement of water and other hydrogen-rich consumables on the outside protects both the human crew and bio cargo from potentially damaging radiation.
      4. Sleep - is huge on the Earth-to-Mars trip. Since the spacecraft is controlled by multiple supercomputers anyway, the crew spends much of its time chemically induced into a low metabolic meditative state -- the technical term for that being "zonked out" -- in the "bedroom," which doubles as a central solar-storm radiation shelter.
      5. Gravity - The spacecraft assembly spins in order to create artificial gravity. While not as strong as Earth gravity, Virgle 1 gravity preserves muscle strength, prevents bone mass loss, passes the time and allows for cool gerbil-wheel-reminiscent exercise routines.
      6. Friendships - While awake, coed crew members cooped up for months with precious little privacy and essentially zero opportunities for interaction of any kind other than with each other can be expected to form intense interpersonal bonds.
      2108: Virgle City

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: The 100 Year Plan

      2108: Virgle City

      One hundred years after the launch of Project Virgle, we see the emergence of an enduring human community, with its own economy, ecology and social customs and mores.

      1. Microorganisms - Following 6 years of drilling in the permafrost of Chryse Planitia northeast of the Sagan station, egzobiologists announce the discovery of native Martian methanogene microorganisms and start research on their genetic material to establish their relation (if any) to Earthly life.
      2. Economy - Martian exports of software systems and services, synthetic protein matrices, micro m-learning processor designs and medical vision implants reach an all-time high. The Earth/Mars trade balance is maintained largely by entertainment imports from Earth, although a nascent Martian music and video scene anchored by the Shoreline Amphitheater is starting to sell well Earthside. Shares of Virgle, Inc. (Nas: VRGL) sell at an all-time high (adjusted for splits) of 69.32 Mollars.
      3. Population - The human population of Mars reaches 1,000 by 2050 and, growing a robust 8% per year after that through both spaceflight immigration and more traditional means, surpasses 100,000 by the time Virgle City celebrates its first centennial -- including the first (human) generation to be born on the Red Planet, and thus truly having the right to call themselves Martians.
      4. Phobos - Google now stores a full copy of the Internet on Mars as a physical backup, while Virgin is now the planet's major producer of cargo and crew ships and operates a large shipyard on the mineral-rich Martian moon Phobos.
      5. Virgle Ships - By mid-century, Virgle's hot thermal nuclear propulsion launcher is sending spaceships, both crewed commuter flights and autonomous supply runs, regularly between Earth and Virgle City.
      6. Terraforming - After nearly a century, the terraforming of Mars is 89% complete. Residents of Virgle City and its outlying settlements can now walk around wearing nothing more than breathers, and adapted crops are growing in the open. The food supply has diversified, manufacturing has expanded into commodities and a transit project promises to open new land not far from Tharsis to development. Protesters, like this young woman borne in Virgle City in 2083, warn of the risks that untrammeled development pose to the Red Planet's natural beauty.

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: Become a Pioneer

      Join our startup civilization

      Here's the Virgle Pioneer pitch: Things will get better. Eventually. Sure, the work will be hard, the broadband rates low, the commodes decidedly open source, and yes, your life might be extinguished in a fiery instant of catastrophic technological malfunction. But your enriched descendants will appreciate your sacrifice, which should render worthwhile your choice to spend the rest of your (perhaps radically foreshortened) life in deprivation and uncertainty.

      Take the questionnaire now

      Explain why you want to live on Mars and you could win a coveted slot on the earliest, most uncomfortable and dangerously untested manned space flights to the new New World - or a fabulous prize!

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes

      Got what it takes to join a startup civilization?

      This 15-question multiple choice quiz will help determine your potential suitability as a Virgle Pioneer. Finish the test, then click "Submit." Good luck!

      1. I would characterize my overall level of physical fitness as:
      2. Great. I'm totally buff.
        Good. I can do the stationary bike roughly as long as it take to watch a Talk Radio rerun on my gym's cable system.
        Okay. I could probably do a few crunches if you really insisted.
        Poor. The mere sight of a treadmill gives me chest pains and a weird tingling feeling in my extremities.
      3. I am a world-class expert in
      4. physics
        medicine and first aid
        Guitar Hero II
      5. I ________ algae (as food).
      6. like
        utterly loathe
        would be willing, if absolutely necessary, to endure
      7. I ________ 1/3rd gravity (as the inverse-square electro-magnetic force binding me to the surface of my planet).
      8. like
        utterly loathe
        would be willing, if absolutely necessary, to endure
      9. If I had to wait up to 40 minutes for a response to email, I would
      10. Die.
        Choose my words more carefully.
        What's email?
      11. If I was unexpectedly confronted with the emergence of a bewilderingly alien and frighteningly advanced Martian life form which appeared bent on killing me if I failed to quickly and effectively communicate my peaceful intentions and potential value to its civilization, I would
      12. Die
        Whip out my handy universal transcorder and start schmoozing my ass off.
        Well, given that there's no such thing as a transcorder that works for a Martian language that we haven't even heard yet, I guess I'd just do my best to seem non-threatening while communicating my peaceful intentions with subtly universal hand gestures.
        Run straight toward the Martian while screaming wildly and brandishing whatever weapon happens to be handy.
      13. I consider creature comforts like designer clothing and satellite TV with DVR service:
      14. Utterly essential.
        Utterly pointless.
        Utterly essential if I'm going to spend the rest of my life stuck here on Earth anyway, but utterly pointless if (hint, hint) you all decide to send me on the Adventure of Many Lifetimes™.
        Does the satellite service include Showtime, because I am soooo into Weeds.
      15. The concept of a large group of equal individuals all working hard every day toward the collective good of our shared community sounds to me like
      16. A utopian ideal.
        A Communist plot.
        A dreary stage that Virgle Pioneers will all have to endure while building a civilization robust enough to sustain a blessed return to mankind's usual selfish, materialistic, backbiting ways.
      17. A multi-stage heavy lift rocket built using established solid and liquid propellant technology with solid boosters doubled for increased payload capability could start a burn for insertion into a lunar trajectory and then back toward Earth for final insertion into a modified Hohmann Transfer Orbit, increasing its final Earth-to-Mars transfer velocity through a periapsis delta-v burn performed at the closest lunar and subsequent Earth approach, with the additional delta v gained on account of the potential energy from the mass of expended propellant,
      18. Actually, I would think fairly quickly and easily
        Only with significant time and fuel expenditure
        My SAT tutor said to always guess C if you aren't sure
        goo goo ga ga hee hee ha ha
      19. If I were to find myself a passenger on a cramped three-month journey from Earth to Mars with nothing to do with my free time except play a thousand consecutive games of backgammon with a fellow crew member whom I didn't particularly like to begin with, I would probably:
      20. Kick some serious backgammon butt, yo.
        Be sure to lose enough games to ensure that my fellow player doesn't build up unsustainable levels of frustration and go postal.
        Go postal.
      21. If I were to find myself a passenger on a long-haul, multi-generational voyage to a distant solar system, and deteriorating on-ship ecological conditions, steadily weakening community stability and ever-rising number of missing backgammon pieces led some colonists to revolt against the ship's government, I would
      22. Join the bloodthirsty populist revolution without thinking twice
        Instinctively defend the reigning neo-fascist military regime
        Hide in the infirmary until things blow over
        Find a working Holistic Artificial Language interface and beg the on-board computers to take over the ship, and by extension the entirety of extra-solar-system humanity. For our own good, of course.
      23. "If I am accepted as a Virgle Pioneer, I will enthusiastically embrace my solemn responsibility to produce as many offspring as I can in order to help develop our fledgling Martian civilization." This statement, in my case, is
      24. True. Hell , yeah, it's true. Could we have some, like, Virgle Pioneer keggers in advance just to sort, you know, um, break the ice?
        Um, definitely false -- and you'll be hearing from my attorney for insinuating otherwise.
        Could I maybe see a few head shots of my fellow Pioneers before answering this question?
      25. When I gaze up at a gleaming starscape late on a clear autumn night, I experience
      26. A sense of wonder at the miraculous bounty of God's infinite universe.
        A head rush.
      27. I feel ________ the unknown
      28. considerable trepidation toward
        soul-crushing boredom when forced to confront
        utter awe at the very idea of
        a calm determination to vanquish
      29. The next step in the application process is to submit a 30-second video explaining why you want to live on Mars. Click the Submit button below to receive your test results and continue on your glorious journey
      Congratulations -- you are ideally suited to be a Virgle Pioneer; so ideally so, in fact, that one wonders why you aren't already living on a remote South Pacific island, serving as a biosphere test subject, washing dishes at a North Pole research station during the depths of winter or writing a highly intelligent, articulate political blog. At any rate, we want you for one of our upcoming Virgle launches. You'll love it -- the pay is great, the view from the spaceport should be spectacular, and we're told that algae and spirulina actually start to taste good after the hundredth consecutive day. Anyway, if you want to give Virgle a try, you can submit your video here.
      Well, you're distressingly normal and could conceivably adjust to life as a deep space pioneer, though we recommend instead that you leave the Mars missions to the serious whack jobs who scored over 130 and instead finish year 3 of law school, tuck your toddler into bed, design Web 2.0 applications, run for Congress or do whatever other normal, healthy, middle-of-the-road thing you're currently doing with your normal, healthy, middle-of-the-road life. If you're determined to give Virgle a try, though, you can submit your video here.
      Okay, let's just get this over with quickly, like ripping off a medical adhesive: you did not do well on this test. You are not, by all available evidence, well suited to be a Virgle Pioneer, or any sort space explorer, really, or for that matter, any profession which requires leaving behind your creature comforts, your nice warm bed, your lovely wardrobe, your gourmet meals, your high-end home theater, your friends and family -- oh man, what have we gotten ourselves into here? We're kind of freaking out ourselves, actually. Help! We changed our minds! We don't want to go! [Clicks heels.] There's no place like home! There's no place like home! There's no place like -- [ Long silence. ] Hello. Still there? We're sorry about that unpleasantness with our previous reviewer. We can assure you, you tested just fine and would make a fine Pioneer; all you have to do is submit your video here.

      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: Open Source Planet

      An Open Source Planet

      Project Virgle comprises three equal partners: Google, Virgin and a diffuse network of talented individuals who want to participate in our mission. Tapping into this global network means organizing our venture around the model that will most efficiently liberate and reward individual knowledge, effort and creativity while creating strong incentives for investing companies.

      In other words, from end to end, Project Virgle will be open source.

      A post-post-industrial economy
      What does "open source" mean in the context of a distant, planet-wide, century-long enterprise? Today's industrialized (and post-industrialized) (and, one imagines, post-post- industrialized) economies are sustained not so much by physical wealth as by advanced systems of shared knowledge whose marginal productivity grows as more is accumulated. "Shared," however, doesn't mean valueless; we see Virgle as a decidedly for-profit venture that will develop most efficiently via decentralized models of effort, authority and reward. If the first economic revolution was agricultural, the second industrial and the third digital, the fourth will be Open Source -- the birthing of a planetary civilization whose development is driven by the unbound human imagination.

      Virgle is an undertaking of almost unfathomable complexity whose success will derive to a distressingly large degree from the amount of effort that is, or isn't, put into it. So we hope we don't come off as too sweatily desperate in embracing a philosophy that we believe will invest, literally and figuratively, an exponentially larger network of individuals in our success than would a traditional corporate structure. We want to engage, one might say, the Long Tail of human creativity. Instead of 5,000 people working 12 hours a day six days a week in exchange for a full salary and benefits, imagine 5 million people working a few hours a week in exchange for contribution-based equity in the form of shares in Virgle Inc and ownership of the land of which the colony will ultimately take some form of possession.

      $36 trillion worth of dirt
      You weren't thinking real estate? Start. Virgle's costs will be considerable -- we're planning on up-front investments of $10-15 billion in the first two decades –- but so too will the colony's long-term earnings. Whatever one's interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty, for instance, it seems clear that the initial explorers and developers will be able to claim ownership of some significant portion of 143 million square kilometers of Martian real estate, which, sold (or traded as open-source sweat equity) at an average value of $10 per acre, would be worth a cool $358 billion. Multiply that by 100x for its post-terraforming value and you get a figure of $36 trillion. Clearly, whatever model of real estate distribution our emerging society adopts, its worth will exceed the investments likely to be required to unlock that value.

      Our civilization's most valuable export, meanwhile, will be intellectual property. The problems our Pioneers solve in the course of their world-building enterprise will represent an engine of invention in dozens of lucrative areas, from biotechnology to geology, physics to agriculture. We see the community's system of intellectual property development evolving from a community open source model to commercial open source (or perhaps we mean that the other way around?). We can imagine that commons-based peer production model -- in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated into large, meaningful projects, mostly without traditional hierarchical organization or direct financial compensation -- extending to almost every imaginable aspect of Martian life.

      Open Innovation
      In a world of distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions from other companies. The flow of intellectual property between Earth and Mars will not be unidirectional; we should profit from others' use of our innovations, and we should buy or lease others' intellectual property whenever it advances our own goals. Not all smart people work on Earth anymore; just as "globalization" led American companies to start working with talented people all over the world, "Solar Systemization" will lead Earthside companies to start working with talented individuals who chose to move to Mars because of its open source nature, low gravity, cheap real estate, fabulous sunsets and other attractions.

      This dynamic offers a practical opening for a vibrant open source network. For example, pharmaceutical scientists need to develop and test many new compounds, but the restrictive competition that occurs in the Earthside drug industry due to patent law throws a wrench in the capitalist model; it currently costs north of $1 billion to bring a new drug to market. Virgle, Inc., by contrast, could initially maintain the enterprise license for the intellectual property, then grant a manufacturing license to pharmaceutical companies on Earth. The largest part of the proceeds would go to the Mars settlement, and a smaller part would be redistributed among the particular s participants based on peer-based contribution assessments.

      Making excuses, soliciting help
      That's just one initial example of the way we're trying to envision the New New World. On Mars, the gardens we plant, the habs we build, the networks we lay, the societal structures we improvise -– all will be radically decentralized, non-hierarchical and, you know, perfect and cool and groundbreaking and innovative in every way...and uh, yeah, of course we recognize that this essay is pretty breathy and sketchy; we think we might be able to get away with claiming that we intended it that way all along, that everything you've read here in this Virgle presentation is just us laying down a quick framework, some cognitive scaffolding whose beams and drywall and primer and paint will have to come from, well, not to put too fine a point on it, you. A quick sampling of intriguing open-source-related questions to which we hope our burgeoning community of interested users might offers answers could include:

      • How should an open source planetary development project interact with existing companies and markets?
      • What's the right time for Virgle Inc. hold its initial public offering? When the first spaceship lands? When the first Pioneers stake their claim to Martian property? When the settlement is self-sustained from Mars alone? Tomorrow?
      • At what point should Martian property move from being distributed solely among Pioneers and open source investors to being traded to outside investors?
      • How should a civilian Martian government be developed independent of our private company?
      • How would peer to peer project reviews work and what would be the principles behind triggering escalations and balancing communication and development while staying away from hierarchical viscosity?

      Got questions of your own? Answers to propose? Data to disseminate? Insults to hurl? We hope you'll visit Mission Control and join the ongoing discussion of our venture. See you there.


      Joined: March 31, 2008
      Last Login: 37 minutes ago
      Videos Watched: 69
      Subscribers: 564
      Channel Views: 28,571
      Want to join our Mars colony? Here's how to be considered as a Virgle Pioneer:

      1) Select to view one of the videos from our founders.

      2) Click the "Post a video response" link in the Comments & Responses section.

      3) Login to YouTube, if you haven't already, and upload your 30-second video.

      Hope to see you on north side of Kasei Valles!


      The Adventure of Many Lifetimes: Frequently Asked Questions

      Frequently Asked Questions

      1. How are you planning to reach Mars?
      2. How hard is it to land on the Martian surface?
      3. Where will you build the settlement?
      4. What's the most challenging aspect of settling Mars?
      5. Do you think you'll find life there?
      6. Even if life is discovered, how do we know it's not from Earth?
      7. What is terraformation?
      8. How big will Virgle City get?
      9. How'd you learn all this stuff?
      10. I have a comment to make/question to ask/objection to raise/insult to hurl regarding one of your brilliant/intriguing/misinformed/inadequate/stupid answers listed above.
      11. Okay, c'mon, seriously -- is this Virgle thing for real?

      How are you planning to reach Mars?

      During the first couple of decades Virgle will use standard technology of the day - chemical rockets to ferry cargo and crews to Mars. As the bootstrap plan stands today, in order to reach Mars (once the tri-module is assembled in LEO) the Virgle 1's cruise stage will start a burn for insertion into a lunar trajectory and then back toward Earth for final insertion into a modified Hohmann Transfer Orbit. This multi-day round trip will use a variant of the Oberth effect, the Krasnokutskaya periapsis maneuver, to increase the final Earth-to-Mars transfer velocity through a periapsis delta-v burn performed at the closest lunar and subsequent Earth approach, with the additional delta v gained on account of the potential energy from the mass of expended propellant. The total useful mass sent this way to Mars will be 569 metric tons, meaning (obviously) that it will take four launches to complete the assembly. The design does allow for easy reconfiguration for varying payload capacities and transfer duration times. This round trip is also a final test and verification of the cruise configuration, assuring mission support that all systems are running within their nominal values. The design also provides for several orbital abort modes, decreasing significantly the probability of any mission losing a payload, human or otherwise.

      How hard is it to land on the Martian surface?

      Getting to Mars is actually (relatively) easy; it's landing that's tricky. In order to get to Mars the Virgle ships will need to build up enough delta v that when we reach the planet we'll be traveling on the order of 3 miles per second, with a quite heavy ship. Recall your high school physics: kinetic energy rises with the square of speed, and all this energy has to go back to zero when we land. One way might be to use atmospheric friction to slow down -- but the Martian atmosphere is so thin that we won't have enough altitude to slow down fast enough to avoid crashing. So our mission plan will have to employ a combination of technologies to land the staging, mission and crew vehicles, including biconics, split body flaps, feathered reentries and vectored impulse breaking.

      Where will you build the settlement?

      Our landing site is located on Lunae Planum on the northwest side of Kasei Valles. Lunae Planum marks the transition between the high Tharsis rise, a giant volcanic bulge, and the northern lowland plains. This region shows many signs of significant crustal deformation and other structures that are likely caused by ice. Scientists have hypothesized that this area's valleys and ridges (called "fretted terrain") may have developed as icy debris flowed onto the northern plains eons ago, during the great Martian flood epoch. It's an ideal place for our settlement, because of the likelihood of both subsurface water and nearby lava tubes and pits; mild weather (in Martian terms) due to its proximity to the equator; and proximity to Kasei Valles, which, after terraformation, will be highly attractive shorefront property. The Virgle 1 should settle down not far from Chryse Planitia, the Plains of Gold, where the Viking 1 spacecraft landed on July 20, 1976.

      What's the most challenging aspect of settling Mars?

      Project Virgle has many challenging aspects, from the need for technologies that can deal with low temperatures and highly dusty terrains bathed in debilitating ultraviolet radiation to the insanely complex logistics of maintaining a viable food chain, heavy manufacturing and a scalable Earth-Mars transport system. But, as is the case for human civilization on Earth, Virgle's long term success (or grisly, horrific failure) will depend to a large degree on a single linchpin: Energy. We'll need to produce and manage enough energy to sustain the initial missions and begin in-situ resource utilization and fabrication and the expansion of the initial settlements.

      Our energy budget will consist of three major sources:

      • Solar photo-voltaic arrays and wind turbines, because of their initial lower energy density, will be used to feed smaller subsystems and backup units.
      • The initial Virgle launches will also carry compact chemical plants for producing methane for rocket fuel (to fuel the ERV and Mars rovers) and water (to fuel humans) using the so-called Sabatier process, which combines hydrogen brought from Earth with CO2 from the Martian atmosphere to produce methane and water (4H2 + CO2 ---> CH4 + 2H2O), which in turn can be electrolyzed to produce breathable oxygen and more hydrogen to continue the cycle.
      • Methane and direct and indirect solar energy can sustain the crew for awhile, but there's no energy option capable of scaling our mission to the level of a viable settlement other than nuclear -- specifically, a pebble bed reactor plant combining a C02-cooled core and novel fuel packaging that dramatically reduces complexity while improving safety.

      Do you think you'll find life there?

      Maybe. We know that in the past, the surface of Mars was covered with water, had a thicker atmosphere and volcanic activity, and was much warmer than it is today -- all conditions in which life could have developed. Scientists have also observed, on one Martian meteorite collected in the Antarctic, strange features that might, or might not, be organic in origin.

      If life does exist on Mars today, it's almost certain to be primitive, i.e. bacterial, and it's almost certain not to exist on the planet surface, which is currently baked in UV radiation. However, since ice and perhaps water could exist a few meters below the surface, it's possible that life exists there today in these spots. Also, new data suggest the presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Since atmospheric methane is destroyed by solar radiation, it isn't clear where all this new methane would be coming from.

      Project Virgle's primary concern, though, is not the search for life on Mars, but the creation of a self-sufficient human colony there. Our outpost, however, will naturally be a great place for geologists and egzobiologists to study the question.

      Even if life is discovered, how do we know it's not from Earth?

      Good question. Life on Mars could indeed be from Earth. "Planetary transfer" theory suggests that early in both planets' histories, material from the frequent meteorite strikes could have been ejected from Earth and sent towards Mars. So yes, Earth could have theoretically seeded life on Mars (or vice versa; we could all be "Martians" in that sense).

      What is of greater concern to the Virgle team is to develop the Mars settlement observing the so-called PP (planetary protection) protocols, which call for special attention to, and protection of, areas of Mars where life is most likely to exist today, or have existed in the past. We take this responsibility seriously and will consistently act so as to protect any possible sites and to research them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

      Can Mars be terr

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