Hello! You may know Zach from SMBC or BAHFest or Bea Wolf, or Kelly for co-discovering this super weird wasp, or both of us combined from a book called Soonish. After WAY too long, we have a new book, A City on Mars (click here for UK-based readers), on everything to do with space settlement.Six years ago we decided to write a book about how space settlement was cool and probably coming soon. A few years of research in, it became clear that space settlement probably won’t happen soon (for science/tech reasons), and probably shouldn’t happen soon (for ethical and legal reasons). Being sci fi geeks who write for a nerdy audience, you can imagine this was a distressing finding. This resulted in a nightmarishly large research project to try to make as comprehensive and detailed a response as possible, while also making it a fun book to read.Ask us anything at all, but our expertise right this second is about space settlement. Possible topics could be law, ethics, ecology, human reproduction, or whether space will save the biosphere. Popular topics could be toilets, sex, space-tampons, how human bodies respond to space, and whether space cannibalism is legal (it’s complicated).


We wish to note we got very nice blurbs from Mary Roach, Hank Green, Andy Weir, and the bottom half of James SA Corey.

We will hop on to answer questions from noon to 1PM eastern. Thanks!

EDIT: Thanks so much for the great questions! We've done our hour, but we'll try to pop in the next few days from time to time to answer a few more. Thanks again! :)

Comments: 174 • Responses: 65  • Date: 

TheWeinersmiths65 karma

We got a really nice question on Mastodon that might not get asked here, so: from Rodbotic,

I have read that sending women to mars makes sense since they use less oxygen.
Does your book cover sending short people? the habitats wouldn't need to be as tall? and lower body mass/ caloric needs. They could be the dwarfs of mars.


So, in an earlier version of this book we really dug into this, but ultimately decided it was more relevant to a short term mission, not settlement. That said, we know from studies, and in one case from a closed-loop system called Lunar PALACE, that women consume less. Some people have proposed a no-boys-allowed Mars voyage for this reason.

I'll say in some sense it's plausible. If a small woman consumes 15% less than an average astronaut, for the consumable price of 6 people you can have 7. That said, there are some objections:

1) Why not just send, like, jockeys? Just send small people, as you say.

2) A lot of what you'd want in a Mars mission is data. Leaving out male bodies and bodily diversity generally might at least correct for the historical dearth of female bodies in the data, but all things considered you'd want the most data. That suggests not limiting yourself to one biological sex.

3) Repeat after me: human spacefaring is always a political act. It's something generally undertaken by governments to show might/wherewithal. That may change, but as long as human missions to space are political, you can expect they will try to be politically correct. If that's a US mission, I would expect diversity on as many axes as possible that are relevant to the US. Ditto Europe. I'm less certain about the culture for other countries, not from doubt but from lack of knowledge.

BrazenBull-70 karma

Women may have less lung capacity, but if they're anything like my ex-girlfriends, they huff and puff a lot more than me (a guy), so the net gain is they use more oxygen.

TheWeinersmiths46 karma


I would notify NASA about your ex then, but the overall data is pretty robust here. [Zach]

jedberg27 karma

If the government came to you and said "So it turns out we have a secret spaceship ready to go to Mars, we were just waiting for someone who was qualified to run the colony when we get there" and then asked you to go, but you could only take two other people besides your family, who else would you want there besides me?

TheWeinersmiths31 karma

Well, we're definitely all going to die if we go now and plan on living there forever, so I'd probably pick 2 people I don't like much. :) [Kelly]

Also - Hi JEDBERG!!!

jedberg11 karma

Hi Kelly! And Zach too I guess.

TheWeinersmiths18 karma


Remember when reddit was a terrarium at Conde Naste?

jedberg15 karma

Oh yes, I remember my cage. And when y'all visited.


TheWeinersmiths14 karma

GOD I am handsome.

WandererNearby23 karma

Is it intelligent or possible to have an ecology on Mars with out any parasites? On the one hand, I betting it would be nice to grow or raise food with out them. On the other hand, I'm not aware of any ecologies with out them which makes me suspect they're needed in ways I'm not aware of.

TheWeinersmiths31 karma

Oh what a fun question! This person must be someone who knows I'm a parasitologist. :)

Well - honestly I can't think of any parasite that I would choose to bring from the start. That said, I bet pests will end up in a space settlement by accident. For example, Biosphere-2 tried very hard to determine what ended up in their ecosystem, but they still ended up with bark scorpions (In case you don’t have a sense of what bark scorpions are like, the Arizona‐Sonora Desert Museum sup‐ plies what they call “Extra Fun‐facts,” including “This is the only species of scorpion in Arizona that is truly considered as life threatening.”). So I bet some kind of pest, possibly a insect, will end up joining us in space. When that happens, we may return to thinks like parasitoids for biocontrol. [Kelly]

WandererNearby10 karma

I did know which is why I asked!

I didn't know that about Biosphere-2's problem with scorpions. Are there examples of species sneaking on ISS or a space station like that scorpion?

TheWeinersmiths23 karma

Not, like, bugs or anything, but space stations often have unusual bacterial concentrations, and having to scrub mold is a thing. I don't know if I'd call this "sneaking" since you can't send talking apes to space without bringing along their microbiology.

OvidPerl16 karma

I'm (reluctantly) sold on the idea that we're unlikely to colonize Mars within my lifetime. There are too many scientific and technical challenges and not enough money spent on solving them.

Given the meteoric growth of the private space industry, do you foresee the industry evolving to the point where it makes economic sense for them to solve those challenges, such as closed biospheres or the long-term effects of low gravity?

TheWeinersmiths33 karma

We were reluctant too, and a bit disappointed of course, but so it goes. As for solving those problems, I would want to add the challenge of human reproduction. I can't predict the future, but I do think there's a least a plausible route there via tourism. Something like:

1) Demand for tourism means more money in the business.

2) Given the nature of that business, you would expect more spending on reliability, life support system, possibly larger nicer spacecraft, resulting in us just getting better at this sort of thing.

3) Given that it's probably cheaper to grow food than to ship it out of a gravity well, we could start on closed loop ecology.

4) Eventually you get to a world where perhaps on the Moon or in a lagrange point you get something like cruise ship employees who work on site for a long time, and in the process we figure out better ways to manage the variety of health issues in space that derive from microgravity, radiation, etc.

Or maybe not! Hard to say, of course, and whether any of this gives us the tricky answer on reproduction is harder - there's not an obvious economic case for low-g obstetrics! Maybe (here's a bad sci fi short story idea) we get it from people trying to have animals in space for food, which gives us data that is hopefully applicable to humans.

There are also deeper issues we elaborate, such as the weird legal regime of space, the limited quantity of good places on the Moon, concerns over building a company town with little to no labor mobility, and the general danger of a solar system where private actors can own fast million+ ton spacecraft while most of humanity lives down a gravity well.

woodrowwilssson13 karma

So, the moon is, like, way closer than Mars, right? To what extent does a much shorter distance make Moon colonies more viable? or are the issues mostly concentrated somewhere else?

TheWeinersmiths26 karma

It usually takes a few days to get to the Moon, whereas it takes ~6 months (using the most commonly suggested trajectories) to get to Mars. Plus, because of orbital mechanisms and the fact that Mars changes how far away it is from Earth over time - the window to start this 6 month journey only open every ~2 years.

But in terms of space settlements, the Moon is awful. It has some water locked in permanently shadowed craters at the poles, but nowhere near as much water as you'd find on Mars. The Moon also rotates more slowly than Earth, and so it has days and nights that are equivalent to 2 weeks on Earth. This makes it really hard to store enough solar energy, and the massive temperature swings between day and night are tough on equipment. Also, the Moon is just generally lacking in a lot of stuff you'd like if you're creating a permanent settlement (e.g., it doesn't have a lot of carbon).

Mars has more Earth-like day lengths, a lot more water, and a lot more of the resources humans would need to survive. But if something goes wrong on Mars you're pretty much on your own. It's not even possible to get real-time advice from Earth, as the shortest communication delay between the Earth and Mars is 3 minutes when these two planets are closest together. When they're farthest apart the delay is 22 minutes.

Setting up a self-sustaining settlement on the Moon seems really, really tough. But because the Moon is close, it seems like a great place to start our movement out into the heavens. We still have a lot to learn, and if we learn it on the Moon then we can get back to Earth quickly if something goes wrong. As space visionary Krafft Ehricke reportedly said, “If God wanted man to become a spacefaring species, He would have given man a Moon.” :) So I suspect we'll learn a lot on the Moon before trying to settle Mars. But Mars is somewhere we could live permanently. [Kelly]

randomusername84721 karma

Are there any advantages to a permanent moon settlement over just a permanent space station? (Other than potential resource extraction I guess)

TheWeinersmiths6 karma

Our view is that in order to have a big enough space station you likely already have to have a serious Moon base, so it's not a simple tradeoff.

randomusername84722 karma

Wouldn't it be more likely that we improve our space station capabilities first? Like, continuing to build on the ISS branch of thinking (if life were a civilisation game!). Simulated gravity by spinning, closed system recycling, doing everything we can based on pure solar energy.

What advantages would you get from then kind of landing back on somewhere like the moon, it seems like it would only add challenges again?

Edit to add: I love your comics, thank you for doing them!

TheWeinersmiths2 karma

Thanks for the kind words!

To answer your question - so, part of the issue here is a lack of good data. If you can have a permanent settle at ~1/6 Earth gravity, then this stuff is probably easier on the Moon, unless you just mean a relatively small space station. The reason is because to have a large space station, you likely have to boost mass from the Moon! So you've already got a substantial Moon facility.

Now, if 1/6th Earth gravity causes serious not-yet-seen problems then yeah, a space station is the way to go. But, in that case, space settlement is realllllllllllllllly hard.

rocketwikkit11 karma

I thought it was interesting that Andy Weir doesn't like flying and wouldn't go to space. After your research, how do you feel about actually going on a suborbital flight or a week in LEO if it turns out that prices become reasonable in a couple decades?

TheWeinersmiths20 karma

Helllll no. Look, space launch has gotten safer over time but it's still probably quite dangerous.

This is a way-too-rough estimate, but something like 2% if people who've ever gone to space get killed in the effort (two major disasters on Shuttles, one coming back from Salyut-1). Even if it's 100x safer now, which I couldn't prove that it is, the risk isn't worth it. Of course, maybe in a few decades that's changed, but TBH, I don't even like roller coasters.


sol_explorer11 karma

What was your research process like? Where did you start?

p.s. as a zoomer in the aerospace industry, your book is a total breath of fresh air. I'm frequently surprised by how many people coming out of college take imminent Mars settlement as some sort of given and ignore every issue with it besides the purely technological. So thank you both for writing this! I feel less insane now! :D

TheWeinersmiths18 karma

We started by writing a rough outline for what we thought the book would be about. The outline ended up changing multiple times, but in just about all versions the book started with an overview of space medicine and information about the most likely places to start a settlements in space. So we picked up some space medicine textbooks, and then we took notes on the whole space resources series edited by Badescu. Reading these books made us realize that we had overestimated how close we are to settling space, and inspired different research topics. For space law we started by reading the original documents, and then we ordered some space law textbooks.

But for each chapter, both of us spent about a month reading relevant texts and taking notes. Then I would write a rough draft of the chapter, with what I thought was the most relevant information and the best organization. We rarely agreed on all of the content in a chapter this first time around, and we'd go back and forth many times before getting a version we could both agree on. When we thought the text was nearly final, Zach would add some jokes and some suggestions for artwork (which he did all at the end).

And right before we submitted the book, I went line by line and checked for accuracy. That was a looooooooong month. Ugh.

PS - Aw thanks so much! I'm glad you liked the book!

BroodOvermind11 karma

Any relation to fx artist Dick Smith?

TheWeinersmiths41 karma


Yes, we both descend from Knobbediah Cockwright, who came to America in 1869.

PitchforkJoe10 karma

I really loved Open Borders!

How do you think humans living on Mars would impact terrestrial attitudes to things like nationality and migration?

TheWeinersmiths8 karma


Honestly, no idea. I could do a rambling elaboration of my ignorance, but I really don't have anything substantive to say!

OliverMaths-538010 karma

What would be the easiest way to find out how human bodies react to varying gravity levels/the minimum long-term gravity required for living/reproduction? How strong do you think gravity needs to be for permanent human settlements?

TheWeinersmiths17 karma

Great question! The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) created a device called MARS (Multiple Artificial-gravity Research System) that can be used to spin up various gravity regimes on the ISS. It is used for rodents, and is a great start for understanding how partial gravity impacts animal bodies. Here, here, and here are some links. Systems like this are great, and eventually I'd love to see a system like this being used in a satellite orbiting outside Earth's magnetosphere so we can see how partial gravity and space radiation together impact organisms.

I really have no idea how much gravity will be enough for humans to develop properly. I don't think enough data is in yet to allow me to make a reasonable guess at the answer. But if the answer is ~1g, then the rotating space station people suddenly have a big leg up on the competition.


John_of_heart10 karma

What are the advantages of colonizing a planet (or moon) over 'just' building a big rotating O'Neill cylinder?

It seems like nothing in the solar system (outside the earth) is even remotely habitable, so why hamper yourself by sticking yourself at the bottom of yet another gravity well?

ps. Hi Kelly! Hi Zack!

TheWeinersmiths13 karma



So, to make a long argument short, the only real advantage we believe in for O'Neill style stations is that you could produce Earth-like gravity. If it proves to be absolutely necessary to have a full 1g to do space settlement, then they're the only game in the solar system. That said, if so, we should admit to ourselves that space settlement is much much much harder than expected.

This is elaborated in the book, but our view is that given the mass requirements of a space station, you're essentially obligated to master life on the Moon (e.g. build a base with a mass driver) or asteroid trawling (insanely difficult) as well as create something like a furnace that just takes in raw mass and ultimately spits out suburbs in a giant space wheel. I would bet on a Moon base and Mars base before anything like those awesome paintings from the 70s (which, btw, according to Scharmen's history, O'Neill knew were bogus).

John_of_heart1 karma

Thanks! This also reminded me to actually buy your book (which I did today)

TheWeinersmiths1 karma


thecodemachine10 karma

I haven't finished the book yet, I'm only up to the sex chapter, but ... How much do you think People will be willing to pay to have a mars colony? I heard that 2.5 of the US GDP went to the Apollo program at its peak, and that was only for a few short years, and when taxes were much higher than they are today. Do you think it would even be possible to raise that kind of money today?

TheWeinersmiths14 karma

In 1966 NASA's budget percent was actually over 4% - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

When you talk about a full-on colony, at least right now I'd guess trillions at least, and anyway we couldn't even do it now. Settlement is not just about rockets and spacecraft - we have huge knowledge gaps on human reproduction, longterm physiology in partial gravity, how to design large sealed ecosystems, and other stuff.

I suspect it's very unlikely people would be willing to support even an Apollo level of funding for Mars. Remember, part of why Nixon killed Apollo 18, 19, and 20 was because he read the polls. It's a myth that America was totally unified behind Apollo, and in fact we became less so once the Soviets had been beaten and Kennedy's mission was accomplished.

So, if you're going to get there it's likely gonna have to be with cost reduction, private spending, and a lot of money from somewhere to work on basic biological and ecological science.

Some people speculate a squabble with China could get you Apollo-like funding for something or other, but my view is that (a) can we please not have another Cold War? and (b) the 60s space race happened at the confluence of many now-gone trends, including the era of high decolonization (~1945-1975) wherein many new nations were forming new governments and choosing allegiance. As far as I can tell nobody is rushing to duplicate the Chinese system of today. So, there's perhaps less of a need for the PR oomph you get from space stunts.

There are also legal issues, but they are discussed elsewhere in the thread, so I'll leave it at that!


The_Patriot9 karma

Is the concept of monogamy just right out?

TheWeinersmiths15 karma

So, I think the "space anthropologist" Cameron Smith once said, in what should be considered a law for space settlement design, something like "If a social arrangement never happens on Earth, you can't propose it'll work in space." Humans can of course be non-monogamous, but ruling it out seems unlikely. In general, I'm skeptical of gadget approaches to human reproduction in space, e.g. freeze-dried gametes for an all-female crew, computer-selected mate choices, etc.


pathmageadept9 karma

Do you think we'll colonize upper Venus before Mars?

TheWeinersmiths23 karma

So, context for people who don't know - nerd-famously, there's a part of venus' atmosphere that's likely the only place off-Earth where you could be in space without a pressure suit, sort of like scuba diving. There's also CO2 so in principle you could, like, grow plants? But okay, venus is high pressure, has acid clouds, is insanely hot. So, you'll live below one kind of doom and above several kinds of doom. I have never heard a single upside that isn't just general awesomeness. I'm in favor of general awesomeness, but if that's all you want is awesomeness and a large amount of danger, go to a Gwar concert.

rocketwikkit18 karma

I used to work in space launch, and there's a periodic thing in the industry of people saying "oh building launch sites on land is hard because of all the permissions, we'll just launch from boats".

The idea usually lasts until they talk to someone who knows how expensive boats are; that basically any equipment you build on the ground will still be there in a year in nearly the same condition, whereas anything you build on a boat takes continuous effort to continue to exist. Very occasionally someone still manages to get together money to do it, and then they do some launches off a boat, and then stop and never start again because they are too expensive.

That's trying to do industrial activity floating at the top of mildly salty water, surrounded by breathable atmosphere and edible food. Trying to do that in an airship in acid rain where if you lose altitude you die is less probable.

That all said, a friend of mine is much more into it than I am, so you might enjoy his articles on the topic: https://selenianboondocks.com/?s=venus

TheWeinersmiths2 karma

Thanks for sharing, and yeah, there's a lot of "assuming frictionless spheres" type of reasoning that goes on.

auniquefunnyusername9 karma

I read that you are advocates for space cannibalism. What is your recommended rubric for determining which astronaut(s) to eat?

TheWeinersmiths8 karma

Depends on where they're from and where you're dining. Nations vary a good bit on their legal approach to "necessity" of this sort, so you want to be up on various national legal regimes before indulge in a little Hadfield. (for the curious, this is in fact detailed in our book)

Brickleberried8 karma

Hello. Loved the book. Already got my book signed by you at an event and asked a couple of my questions.


  • You said you've done a lot of work and wrote a lot on things that didn't make the book, such as how He-3 mining is stupid and death in space. Will you eventually release things that didn't make the book online somewhere?
  • The ISS might finally be retired in the next decade. NASA's Artemis is supposed to land humans on the Moon again in the next decade too. (Maybe both are delayed further.) Given all that you've learned, what role should government have right in sending up humans to space now? Do you think the ISS (or another space station) and/or Artemis are worth doing right now at their current/projected costs?
  • You talk about lava tubes a lot and how they're much larger on the Moon and Mars. How have humans discovered how big the lava tubes are on the Moon and Mars? Detections from orbiting space probes? Seismic instruments on the ground? Theoretical arguments?


  • Diet Pepsi isn't my favorite, but it's still good.
  • Bloodcrete is definitely on the awesome side.

TheWeinersmiths9 karma


Hi! Thanks for coming out.

1) Unreleased stuff: YES! Cut chapters or chapter concepts include Space as a Commune, Space Will Be Nothing Like the US Frontier and Anyway You're Wrong About the US Frontier, and How to Write a Mars Constitution. Other cut stuff included painfully detailed treatments of certain topics in psychology. The Communes chapter is a paper now. We're finding a home for the frontier chapter. The constitution one... I'd love it for the future but we didn't flesh it out enough. Our favorite source though was The Endurance of National Constitutions by Elkins, Ginsburg, and Melton. A great book.

2) I have a weird view on human spacefaring, which is: basically for the money you're always better off with robots BUT I doubt that cutting the human spacefaring budget would get us more robots. So, let's do it since it's awesome and you do get some science. "Worth doing" is to me a value judgment, but I would say that I think a desirable future for these big agencies is that companies like SpaceX and Rocketlab take over the vehicle part of things and the NASA budget becomes more about science than engineering. Ideally it also scales up and/or gets cheaper if rockets keep getting bigger.

In general, I think human spacefaring should be looked at as a political activity that scientists can use as a vehicle to fund cool stuff. But, if it weren't such a PR powerplay (as was discovered, to the surprise of Eisenhower and Khrushchev in 1957) I doubt we'd do it.

3) A lunar scientist could speak better to the details of HOW we know, but my understanding is it's a combination of imaging from the unfortunately small number of lunar probes and from modeling work. As I understand it this is all relatively recent (last 15 years or so). Wagner, who we cite in the book has an endless torrent of new papers and was very helpful when we emailed him, so that'd be a good place to start if you really wanna dig in. But yeah, amazing. My ideal mission, of any space mission, would be a rover in the tubes of the moon.

Pepsi - Coke went up too at one point.

Bloodcrete - a late addition to the book, and a pointless one, but just so wonderful.

Brickleberried3 karma

Thanks for the answers!

Last night, I just happened to meet one (of the many) leaders of the National Space Society, which features a lot in your book. I asked him about your book. He hadn't read it yet, but surprisingly said he agreed with your overall stance. He said that some of his role is "reining in the crazies".

TheWeinersmiths5 karma

That is very encouraging to hear from an NSS member!

The_EMG_Guy8 karma


I love your work!

- What would you be most excited to write about next?

- You say that modern ethical and legal systems aren't sufficient for spacefaring. To what degree are current institutions capable of creating such a ethical/legal framework?

- Entirely unrelated, but are there any current/emerging parasites in the US we should worry about?


TheWeinersmiths6 karma

Hi! Thanks so much!

1) We haven't decided what to work on next, actually. We're pretty beat from 4 years slogging through this project (though we're very happy with how it turned out!), and are catching up on our other endeavors for now.

2) There are reasons to be hopeful that we can create better frameworks. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea governs the deep seabed (among other places), which is a global commons. Right now the International Seabed Authority is working out the rules for exploiting resources in this part of the sea, and much of the global community is participating in this process. The Antarctica Treaty System also has more clarity on things like what is permitted regarding resource extraction/exploitation, and that system works well for the countries that are involved.

3) Nothing is coming to mind at the moment, but my brain has mostly been in space lately. Have you read Quammen's book Spillover? It's been a decade since it was published, but it's fascinating.


fphat7 karma

How would you compare the difficulties of colonizing the following places? (Guessing is okay, something like "Venus is 3x harder than Mars".)

  • Mars
  • Moon
  • Venus
  • Earth's shallow ocean
  • Earth's deep ocean
  • Polar areas
  • Sahara
  • Earth's atmosphere (think Cloud City, airships etc.)
  • Under mountains like the dwarves of old!
  • Earth's molten core
  • (insert whatever else you like)

TheWeinersmiths14 karma


Assuming "colonizing" means permanent stay with people having families, here's a quick stab.

Fairly Hard: Under the mountains dark and cold, Sahara

Hard: Poles, shallow ocean

Really Hard: Deep ocean, atmosphere

Zany hard: Mars, Moon

Fucking nutballs: Venus

Absolutely shit-barking nut-biscuits: Earth's molten core

nattfodd7 karma

Thanks for the amazing book! Only about halfway through, so apologies if this is addressed in there already.

How likely do you think that, despite all the caveats and unknowns you describe in the book, a private company will say “screw it” and send a team to try and build a Mars settlement anyway in, say, the next 20 years? Which would almost inevitably fail, due to the many, many reasons you put forth. Not unlike a similar scenario with a billionaire unilaterally geoengineering the atmsphere.

TheWeinersmiths11 karma

Basically we think there are fairly boring conventional legal means to stop billionaires for doing crazy shit. Space-billionaires, stereotypes aside, stupid shit they say aside, basically follow conventional international law. I doubt they'll stop following it in the incredibly dangerous environment of Mars.

A lot of this is covered in the second half of the book, so I won't go into a crazy level of detail here. Thanks for buying!


fonzinator996 karma

Hi Zach, are you perchance familiar with a Minigolf place known as "Dreamland" outside of Austin, Tx?

There's a large piece of art adorning a wall there that looks to be your style, but it's uncredited and nobody I've asked knows anything about it.

Is it yours, and if so, how did it come to be there?

TheWeinersmiths5 karma

I grew up not too far from there but I have no idea how any of my art would've ended up there?

fonzinator993 karma

Well that's my neat fact for the day. I found a pic of the art in question, I'd just convinced myself the owners must know you or some such thing.

Square-Blueberry35681 karma

Looks like its from open boarders

TheWeinersmiths3 karma

Yep, that's mine. It's a page from a comic book arguing for a policy of free movement to the US (and elsewhere). Very touching to see it posted on a wall like that :)

MatterBeam6 karma

What if 20 years pass, and climate change really does wreak havoc, with governments and populations becoming really motivated to try multiple radical solutions at once? Could the general stance on 'space solar power' or 'move industry off Earth' shift enough in such a scenario for the Wait and Go Big approach to be discarded?

TheWeinersmiths10 karma

I don't believe so, no. Certainly not in time to solve that kind of problem. If you want a radical tech solution, I'd much rather bank on fusion, which is already benefiting from modern machine learning techniques.

PeanutSalsa6 karma

How feasible is it to grow produce on Mars on a mass scale that can support a population?

TheWeinersmiths11 karma

It's literally possible but the closest thing we've ever done to sealed ecological systems is Biosphere-2 which took ~3 acres to sustain 8 people 2 years. Scaling linearly, 1 million people need a greenhouse the size of a town. Now, it may not scale linearly, but on the other hand it may be worse than linear, since the biospherians had Arizona-level sunlight, power off the grid, medical care, and no need to build their own greenhouse.

ohhnoodont6 karma

I assume you're familiar with Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. Were there any differences you noticed between his analysis and yours given the 20 years of science/tech advancement since the trilogy?

TheWeinersmiths5 karma

Kelly's the KSR geek - my understanding though is that he's become more pessimistic over the years, more in line with our views.

sylvar5 karma

Do any hard science fiction authors get this topic right, or is it just too difficult to tell an entertaining story in a setting with current space law?

TheWeinersmiths8 karma

I'm not up to date on the latest hard sci fi, but Weir, KSR, and the Expanse dudes are often cited as relatively accurate, with the usual allowances afforded to SF writers.

JeffRyan15 karma

What's your favorite fictional story set on Mars?

TheWeinersmiths5 karma

The Martian Chronicles [Zach]

BravoLimaPoppa5 karma

This book looks really interesting. Your Houston Matters interview got me looking into it.

One question - I think space travel is probably described as uncomfortable, boring, dangerous and requiring a high attention to detail.

How would you describe space travel?

TheWeinersmiths13 karma

Don't forget to add smelly.

But yeah. One bit of research for this book was reading dozens of astronaut memoirs. They are, with 3 exceptions, some of the driest reading you'll ever experience, including when it involves moonwalking. It's usually like reading a technical manual about how to operate a golfcart, created by a golfcart obsessed person who has never written for the public. Once the thrill of space part wears off, it's pretty dull.

rocketwikkit5 karma

We would like to know the three exceptions, please.

TheWeinersmiths13 karma

Lost Moon

Riding Rockets

and anything by Michael Collins

pathmageadept2 karma

Lost Moon was very well done.

TheWeinersmiths3 karma

Helps to have a co-author! More astronauts should do it.

SuccessfulThing4 karma

Not a question, but an idea: If you do a new book, it should be about how AI could kill everyone. A lot of people just aren't understanding how — but you are good at explaining things. You could help save us.

Wait, I'll make it into a question:

Will your next book be about how AI could kill everyone?

TheWeinersmiths10 karma

Given how we've earned a reputation for being wet blankets, our next book might be about how kittens aren't as cute as you think they are.

But really - we don't know what we'll write about next. :) [Kelly]

TheWeinersmiths8 karma

Probably not! We liked doing this book in part because nobody else was doing it at the time. I don't think we could realistically get enough AI expertise fast enough to write something meaningful. BUT, who knows? Maybe there's an under-explored aspect we'll dig into.

OliverMaths-53804 karma

Would the Outer Space Treaty have to be repealed to permit human settlements? If so, what would it be replaced with? If not, how does the limitations of the treaty impact lunar/Martian settlements?

TheWeinersmiths10 karma

This is such an interesting topic. We ended up writing 5 chapters on issues related to international law because there is a lot to unpack.

Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty says "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." So basically, the US can't land on Mars, and say "this 100 square kilometer chunk is ours." There are folks who will argue that there are ways around this article that would allow, for example, corporations or multi-national groups to claim sovereignty - but the texts we consulted and the space lawyers who reviewed our chapters suggest these folks are looking for loopholes that violate the intention of the treaty.

This doesn't necessarily stop you from setting down a habitat on Mars and then simply not leaving. You couldn't claim to own the ground beneath your feet, but you would own your habitat.

There is debate about whether or not you're permitted to extract and/or sell resources on a place like the Moon or Mars. The US's interpretation is that you absolutely can, but it's not super clear the international community agrees.

Zach and I would like to see some updates to international space law to clarify some of this stuff, but we admit it will be difficult to get broad consensus on this. [Kelly]

TheWeinersmiths5 karma

(this is Zach)

One elaboration: we actually do go into detail about how state creation works on Earth and its implications for space. Honestly, we thought between Article II of OST and what's called the Montevideo Convention (which defines what a state is), the answer was "no space-nations under current law." HOWEVER, there are conditions in which international can be violated due to other parts of international law. For example, in cases of genocide, it may be acceptable under international law for a people (in the sense of an ethnic identity group like Jews, Roma, Persians etc) to engage in "remedial secession" against their persecutor. The big case here was Reference re Secession of Quebec: https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/1643/index.do

To be clear this sort of thing has never been tried in a commons like space, and the actual scenario is obviously undesirable, but there is a path. The details are more complex, but we do spend a chapter on it because the overall deal is fascinating. It'd make a great sci fi story for lawyers.

kaiser_henrique4 karma

Do you like me? Y/N

TheWeinersmiths15 karma

Show me your copy of the book and I will make my decision.


DJShaw864 karma

I've heard that He-3 is the wonder fuel of fusion reactors of the future. Could you tell me more about lunar mining for the stuff?

DJShaw861 karma

(Tongue firmly in cheek, naturally...)

TheWeinersmiths6 karma

Dear Shaw,

Eat shit.


qcp4 karma


TheWeinersmiths5 karma


farfromelite4 karma

Bought the book and very much looking forward to reading.

Two serious questions, how do you both work together without killing each other? Did you learn any tips on working in close quarters from astronaut research? I love my partner a lot but WFH is sometimes not the best environment.

Given space colonisation is just "choose your death", are there any serious plans to make this a feature rather than a bug, or is that a silly idea? Like older Japanese workers helping with the radioactive cleanup.

TheWeinersmiths6 karma

Ha! I guess we just get along pretty okay. The one exception is the eternal Microsoft Word vs. Google Docs debate.

MarsOne was arguably a choose your death, but I'm not aware of any agency that has, or would, propose a guaranteed death Mars mission.

gutsquasher3 karma

Now I'm curious, which won, Word or Docs?

TheWeinersmiths3 karma

Word, sadly.

Square-Blueberry35681 karma

I am wierdly invested in this, who was pro what and why

TheWeinersmiths2 karma

Zach: My darling wife, google docs makes for easily shareable files and simultaneous access, all while posing no risk of lost work.



_Kyndig_3 karma

Really, you two, while I'm sleeping? OK, here's a softball. Knowing how deep the rabbit hole ended up, would you do this project again? And, on a tangent, is there any chance that humanity won't just bring 100% of its BS with us to a new planet...rinse, repeat? Thanks!

TheWeinersmiths4 karma

Man, that's tough. We knew it'd be lots of work, and we're very proud of the result, but well, I didn't anticipate it overlapping with covid which really rendered it a nightmare due to loss of childcare for a long period. I also feel like I lost focus on my comic and am just recently getting back to the quality level I want.

Also, I didn't anticipate the book as antagonizing anyone. I don't shy from argument, but I don't seek it, because it makes me anxious and is probably insulting to some of my audience.

re: BS - we'll bring our BS, but we can try to make our BS better over time! Hence the long discussions of international law.

mrsix3 karma

You mentioned in the book that you had bookshelves full of various settlement/etc books. Did that include fictional - specifically I kept thinking of Delta-V By Daniel Suarez while reading what I have so far - which not only features asteroid mining, in-situ/space use of materials,etc, but features a space lawyer as one of its major characters (though he and the above concepts are more explored in its sequel Critical Mass)
At least in-the-moment reading it made it seem somewhat plausible to start an entire space economy with a mere $40bn or so.
One thing it really did lean heavily on was tech to efficiently harvest asteroids to their base materials to produce carbonyls, that were then used by chemical vapor deposition to produce objects. Both the harvesting tech and CVD are probably beyond our current capabilities of both techs, though they are based on existing real-world patents, and the novels are set about 10 years from now.

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

We both read/watch sci fi, but mostly avoided it during the research process for the book to avoid contaminating the thought process, if this makes sense. Papers in this field, bizarrely, sometimes cite novels. You can't do that outside of an intro paragraph flourish.

I haven't read those books but I guess my gut reaction is that, having read a few dozen old books of futurecasting, in-space manufacturing has been promised for decades, and the usual result is that it turns out to be cheaper to do a version of it on Earth. Favorite example: in the 70s, Barry Goldwater argued for flying livestock semen to space for sex-sorting. Sadly, by the 80s, the methods were worked out on Earth.

So, while I can't rule out that tech, if I were betting 100 bucks, I'd give pretty damn good odds against it happening in 10 years.


WombatNeil3 karma

What will be the first chain business to open on Mars?

TheWeinersmiths11 karma

Taco Bell.

Fun story (which I'm recalling from memory, but should have it mostly right). NASA food scientist Charles Bourland wrote about how astronauts started liking tortillas in the early 80s, basically because they're low-crumb and kind of like edible plates. They would just get them at the grocery store at first, but shuttle flights are ~2 weeks typically, and fresh tortillas are only good for something like 3-7 days. So, Bourland's team worked out some complex methods for preserving them longer. I believe something like 6 months.

Then? Taco Bell comes out with those grocery store 12-month shelf stable tortillas. I believe they ended up flying those, but it's been a while since I read Bourland's (wonderful) cookbook.

jedberg3 karma

In movies we sometimes see the trope of "old rich guy goes to space when he's old to extend his life living in microgravity".

Is this a viable way to extend's one life?

TheWeinersmiths10 karma

No evidence for it that I'm aware of, and microgravity reliably harms bones, muscles, vision, and other stuff. Might help with joint pain or something, but life extension seems questionable.

Jarnbjorn3 karma

I just opened a package that came from you guys then opened Reddit and saw your AMA. Are you stalking me? Seriously, how was the Kickstarter experience and developing the game and will I find any Mars related trivia that reading your book will give me an upper hand against my friends?

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

Definitely you'll get lots of space trivia, and I think a bit about Mars, though not all info makes for good trivia.

Also yes, please adjust the focus on your camera. I haven't seen anything clear for hours.

LeSygneNoir3 karma

I haven't read the book (yet, shipping to France is long, yo) and I'm getting the idea that you think attempts at space colonization are very much a bad idea. But how inevitable is it that we'll end up giving billion-dollar-having-people the basic tools needed to try anyway in the course of current scientific endeavours ?

Do Mars rovers directly connect to Mars colonies, or is this a completely separate field of research we could effectively regulate without kneecapping the rest of science?

TheWeinersmiths4 karma

Oh, we're all for space exploration. There's plenty of interesting work to do there. We're talking about full on settlements, with families, generations, etc.

I think over time space settlements will get more and more possible. The issue is that they're still quite hard for reasons that can't be rushed, and that there are some scenarios where they increase existential risk.

OvidPerl1 karma

Also in France. Pre-ordered through Amazon and they still can't give me an estimated delivery date. :(

TheWeinersmiths2 karma

Sorry! This happened with Bea Wolf (my kids' book) as well. Dunno what's up with Amazon Europe, but Shakespeare and Co might carry it locally?

robotnique3 karma

Is biggest rock best rock? Yes, or yes?

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

Sometimes small rock is good rock.

gutsquasher2 karma

What are your thoughts on the ISS? Reading your comparison to the Biosphere 2 it sounds like that money may have been much better spent doing alternate research.

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

The folks who created Biosphere-2 were specifically interested in learning how to create closed loop ecosystems that could one day possibly be used to help humans live in space. (Or at least they were hoping they could convince NASA of that, so they could get NASA funds for the project....)

I don't think the International Space Station was ever explicitly meant to prepare humans for settling space. But if the goal was to spend money in a way that would get us the most data that we need to safely settle space - then I would say that the ISS wasn't money well spent.

I'd love to see someone willing to fund lots of small-scale Biosphere-2-like experiments. These kinds of systems are super complicated and expensive, and we should do a lot of tinkering and experimenting before we send people to live in these kinds of habitats in space. It would be a good idea to create a system that works well on Earth, and then test it out for awhile on the Moon - which will no doubt pose new challenges. Once we get a nice handle on how this stuff works under the harsher conditions of space on the Moon, then sending one to Mars makes sense.

Ok-Feedback56042 karma

Is your book technically right depiction of mars' atmosphere? Or just a fictional work?

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

The book is non-fiction, the cover is very much fanciful, though not entirely inaccurate.

Ok-Feedback56041 karma

What was the story about this concept?(whose idea that was?)

TheWeinersmiths3 karma

We originally planned to do a book about future space settlement governance, but after a good bit of research came to feel feasibility was a lot weaker than we'd guessed.

FuzzyToaster1 karma

Keen to read the book! If I just get it on Kindle, will I miss out on any graphic/visual/comic content that only works in the actual paper book?

TheWeinersmiths2 karma

Nah, though the hardcover is pretty :)


Been reading your book, a bit at a time. Can't say I agree with a lot of it, but it is food for thought.

I feel tech will allow a lot of the establishment sooner rather than later, and the laws will play catch up, as they do.

Your model seems to me that it emulates space pirates, since that is the basis for the current laws, I suppose, regarding the oceans.

I'd love to chat at length. What is the best way to reach you?

TheWeinersmiths1 karma

You can always email me at [email protected]

Basilikon1 karma

Seems so much of the bottleneck of space is in $/kg to orbit. Are any non-rocket space launch proposals (like Keith Lofstrom's Launch Loop) worth taking seriously?

TheWeinersmiths1 karma

We looked into them in our last book, called Soonish. I would say none of it's likely to work any time soon. I can't remember if we included the launch loop, but we did research it. My understanding is when you're talking about a structure like that, far taller than anything ever built, and incredibly long, AND it's firing high speed projectiles all day long the forces on it just get insane. Maybe some ultra-advanced civilization could do it, but for many years rockets are the way to go.

I do think reusable rockets are going to continue to drop the price and possibly also increase payload per rocket size. You can in principle get a much bigger payload by using fission power, but for obvious reasons that is generally considered a no-no for launch. If we get fusion working AND it can fit in a rocket somehow, maybe there's something there. The zanier stuff - elevators, loops, fountains etc. - will await some distant future, I suspect.

mojosam0 karma

Would you agree with the following assessment?

Given the high cost of launching materials from Earth — even with large reusable rockets like the SpaceX Starship — any significant human habitation beyond the Earth (Mars or Moon colonies, O'Neil cylinders, generation ships) will require the development of one of the following two exotic technologies:

  • Nanofabricators (e.g. Diamond Age) to allow flexibly processing raw materials (asteroids, lunar regolith, Mars resources) into the huge variety of materials needed for extraterrestrial habitation, or for the creation of a space elevator

  • Antigravity tech (e.g. Interstellar) to allow terrestrial resources to be easily and inexpensively placed in orbit and beyond; this could allow creation of traditional large-scale factories in space without nanofabricators

in other words, while it is certainly possible for us to create small scale space stations and lunar bases — even a Mars base — if there is sufficient will to do so, such efforts will always be very limited in scope without one of these exotic technologies, which are necessary to allow large-scale manufacturing outside of the Earth, and which may well be centuries away if they are possible at all.

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

I wouldn't want to think in terms of requirements. I mean, on the scales of centuries, all sorts of things will change. If in the next 100 years compact fusion drives are worked out, access to space, and survival in space, get wayyyyyy easier. Still quite hard, still lots of problems we discuss, but I don't think you need a space elevator or anti-gravity.

razialx0 karma

Marketing is important, but perhaps there should be limits. How long after a kickstarter project do you feel it is appropriate to use campaign updates to promote new projects?

TheWeinersmiths7 karma

Hey-- I apologize if you've found our nags annoying. I hate doing them, but in the modern consolidated Internet, reaching out via kickstarter is one of the only remaining ways to directly reach your audience. This is why all artists have to be obnoxious on social media about new products - otherwise nobody sees them.

razialx2 karma

Perhaps 10 years is a good cutoff. If people in the science ruining everything KS haven’t backed another since then, probably they won’t. Right? And if they have then they can be nagged by newer ones. Again I understand why, but these nags from you and all the projects I enthusiastically backed a decade ago make me not want to bother anymore.

TheWeinersmiths10 karma

I understand, but other people were happy to receive the notice. Also, if you don't like receiving them, you can manage the messages you receive by just unchecking the box.