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Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos may harbor multibillion-dollar dreams of sending millions of people to live on Mars, on the moon and inside free-flying space habitats — but a newly published book provides a prudent piece of advice: Don’t go too boldly.

It’s advice that Kelly and Zach Weinersmith didn’t expect they’d be giving when they began to work on their book, titled “A City on Mars.” They thought they’d be writing a guide to the golden age of space settlement that Musk and Bezos were promising.

“We ended up doing a ton of research on space settlements from just every angle you can imagine,” Zach Weinersmith says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “This was a four-year research project. And about two and a half years in, we went from being fairly optimistic about it as a desirable, near-term likely possibility [to] probably unlikely in the near term, and possibly undesirable in the near term. So it was quite a change. Slightly traumatic, I would say.”

The Weinersmiths found that there was precious little research into the potential long-term health effects of living on the moon or Mars — and zero research into the potential effects on human reproduction and development. Moreover, the legal uncertainties surrounding property rights in space seemed likely to lead to disputes that would tie diplomats and military planners in knots.

“In our effort to create Mars settlements to make a Plan B, to make ourselves safer as a species, are we actually lowering existential risk?” Zach says. “I think it’s absolutely unclear — and there’s a good argument that we might even increase it.”

The idea of creating settlements in space goes back decades: Cities on the moon served as settings for Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” in 1966, and for Andy Weir’s “Artemis” in 2018. Martian cities are featured in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy of the 1990s as well as in “2312,” published in, um, 2012.  “The High Frontier,” written by physicist Gerard K. O’Neill, provided an in-depth description of life inside a giant space habitat back in 1976.

Space settlements have also starred in TV shows ranging from the 1970s prime-time series “Space: 1999” to “The Expanse,” “Mars” and “For All Mankind” (which is kicking off its fourth season this week).

The interest isn’t totally fictional: Elon Musk says he hopes there’ll be a self-sustaining city on Mars in 20 years, and he’s pledged his fortune to make it so. Bezos, meanwhile, says he’s looking forward to the day when there’s millions of people living and working in space, even if it takes hundreds of years to get there.

We already know that thousands of people are interested in going. When a Dutch venture called Mars One put out the call for applicants to sign up for a one-way trip to the Red Planet, more than 200,000 people expressed interest — and more than 2,700 were interested enough to pay an application fee.

That venture fizzled out, but space settlement proponents including Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin are keeping the dream alive. In September, Zubrin announced that a Mars Technology Institute would be established to develop the tools and processes that settlers would need. “It is hope, rather than greed, that will get us to Mars,” he said.

Hope vs. hype

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Zach and Kelly Weinersmith are the authors of “A City on Mars: Can We Settle Space, Should We Settle Space, and Have We Really Thought This Through?” (Penguin Press Photo via Instagram)

The husband-and-wife team behind “A City on Mars” bring an outsider’s view to the space settlement issue. Kelly Weinersmith is a behavioral ecologist who focuses on the interplay between parasites and hosts. Zach Weinersmith is the cartoonist behind a geeky comic strip called “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.”

In 2017, they published a book called “Soonish” that looked at emerging technologies including reusable rockets, space elevators and asteroid mining. They were struck by the fact that some technologies (for example, rocket reusability) came to fruition so quickly, while others (such as asteroid mining) were fraught with
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Fish Could Turn Regolith into Fertile Soil on Mars

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What a wonderful arguably simple solution. Here’s the problem, we travel to Mars but how do we feed ourselves? Sure we can take a load of food with us but for the return trip that’s a lot. If we plan to colonise the red planet we need even more. We have to grow or somehow create food while we are there. The solution is an already wonderfully simple ‘biosphere’ style system; a fish tank! New research suggests fish could be raised in an aquatic system and nutrient rich water can fertilise and grow plants in the regolith! A recent simulation showed vegetables could be grown in regolith fertilised by the fish tank water!

In the next few decades we may well see human beings colonise Mars. The red planet is 54.6 million km away which, even on board a rocket, takes about 7 months to get there! Future colonists could simply have supply ships drop all they need but that becomes ridiculously expensive to sustain and frankly, isn’t sustainable. The lucky people that colonise Mars will just have to find some way to grow what they need.

If you have watched ‘The Martian’ movie with Matt Damon you will know how unforgiving the Martian environment is. Ok the film was a little out on scientific accuracy in places but it certainly showed how inhospitable it really is there. Matt managed to cultivate a decent crop of potatoes in Martian regolith fertilised in human faeces.This may not be quite so practical in real life and there may be alternative, less smelly – and dangerous – alternatives. 

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NASA astronaut, Dr. Mark Watney played by Matt Damon, as he’s stranded on the Red Planet in ‘The Martian’. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Taking the assumption that colonists will have to grow fresh produce locally, a team of researchers decided to explore how feasible this might be. On first glance, it may seem not too great an idea after all, the atmosphere is toxic with 95% carbon dioxide (compared to just 0.04% on Earth). There is a similar length of day on Mars but being able to grow crops will require longer periods of lighting. It is possible at least water may be collected from the ice which forms on and in the Martian rocks. The rocks most certainly have water stored away but organic compounds that we know of.

The team wanted to see how fish could help and whether the water from the system could be used to impart nutrients into the Martian regolith. To test the idea, they setup an aquaponic system with fish in tanks to generate the nutrient rich liquid.

The results were very promising. They found that aquaponic systems not only facilitate growing plants within the system itself but the nutrient rich water performed as an excellent fertiliser. This took the organically deficient regolith and turned it into something akin to useable soil. The fish used in the study were tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and using them, the team managed to grow potatoes, tomatoes, beans, carrots and much more. To enable all this to happen, the fish received sufficient light and other environmental stimulus. The plants were grown and indeed thrived in a tent that simulated Mars in every way possible.

It’s an interesting aside that the study not only benefits future space travellers but those inhabitants of more environmentally hostile places on Earth.

Source : Fish and chips on Mars: our research shows how colonists could produce their own food

The post Fish Could Turn Regolith into Fertile Soil on Mars appeared first on Universe Today.

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How to Backpack the Teton Crest Trail Without a Permit

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By Michael Lanza

So you just got the inspired idea to backpack the Teton Crest Trail and discovered you’re months late to reserve a backcountry permit. You’ve probably also learned that it’s possible to get a walk-in backcountry permit for Grand Teton National Park—but competition for those is high, especially for the camping zones along the TCT.

So you’re wondering: Is it possible to backpack the Teton Crest Trail without a permit? In a word, the answer is: yes. It’s somewhat complicated and not easy, but this story explains how to do that.

The Teton Crest Trail deservedly sees sky-high demand for backcountry permits. It’s unquestionably one of the 10 best backpacking trips in America, incredibly scenic virtually every step from start to finish, featuring high passes with sweeping vistas, endless meadows bursting with wildflowers, beautiful lakes, creeks, and waterfalls, a good chance of seeing wildlife like elk and moose—and some of the best campsites you will ever pitch a tent in.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 37
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Backpackers on the Teton Crest Trail on Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Backpackers on the Teton Crest Trail on Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my expert e-book to backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P.-1024×683.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”Backpackers on the Teton Crest Trail on Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton National Park.” class=”wp-image-38603″ srcset=”https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg 1024w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg 300w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg 768w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg 1080w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06231051/Tet19-018-Backpackers-on-the-Teton-Crest-Trail-Death-Canyon-Shelf-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Backpackers on the Teton Crest Trail on Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my expert e-book to backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.

I’ve taken at least 20 trips in the Tetons and several on the Teton Crest Trail over the past three decades, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

See my story about my most-recent TCT trip, “A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail,” which requires a paid subscription to

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Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail—A Photo Gallery

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By Michael Lanza

As we hiked up the North Fork of Cascade Canyon on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park, moments after the path emerged from the forest into a meadow strewn with boulders and still dappled with blooming wildflowers in late August, my friend David turned to look over his shoulder and blurted out, “Oh, wow, look at that view!” Behind us, the sheer north faces of the Grand Teton and Mount Owen towered a vertical mile above us, shooting straight up over the canyon like fireworks (photo above).

By that point on our trip, though, uncontrolled outbursts of awe were occurring several times a day. That’s what it’s like to backpack the Teton Crest Trail.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 35
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Jeff Wilhelm backpacking the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my e-book “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg?fit=900%2C599&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401-1024×681.jpg?resize=900%2C599&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park.” class=”wp-image-35224″ srcset=”https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg 1024w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg 300w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg 768w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg 1080w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232037/DSC_2401.jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Jeff Wilhelm backpacking the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my e-book “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”

Three friends and I backpacked a 36-mile traverse of Grand Teton National Park, mostly on the Teton Crest Trail, in late August—in many ways, an ideal time to hike there. While I’ve backpacked the TCT several times now, it was the first time for all three of them.

Seeing the reactions of these friends—every one of them very experienced backpackers who’ve taken numerous trips with me—to the scenery along this classic trek, reaffirmed my opinion that few multi-day hikes offer so much grandeur almost every step of way like the Teton Crest Trail. But I’ll let the photos in this story make that case.

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A backpacker on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park.
” data-image-caption=”David Gordon backpacking the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park. Click photo to get my customized help planning your trip.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232029/DSC_2658.jpg?fit=300%2C175&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/06232029/DSC_2658.jpg?fit=900%2C525&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces
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