Talk:Hi-tech versus lo-tech

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Solar panels are placed in the high-tech category, and wind turbines are placed in the low-tech catagory. However, imagine having to maintain wind turbines on Mars? They will get clogged up with dust, abrasion will be a problem, etc. And, genetically engineered plants for use in greenhouses would be brought from Earth beforehand, unless greenpeace stops them. T.Neo 10:12, 30 June 2008 (UTC)

Hi T.Neo, the difference between high-tech and lo-tech becomes clearer when you look at the tools and machinery for production and maintenance. To produce solar panels you need a complicated machinery including high-temperature doping ovens with rare minerals and a set of high-sophisticated electronic gadgets. This is what I refer to as high-tech, because we might not be able to reproduce such gadgets. On the other hand you can produce a wind turbine simply by hand-made parts of ordinary materials, with no complicated machinery required. This is what I refer to as lo-tech. Sure, wind turbines have some shortcomings, as you say. There is always a price to pay. After all the question is: How can we survive on Mars, with solar panels or with wind turbines. Your mentioning of the shortcomings of wind turbines is very helpful to find the answer, and that's why I thank you for the discussion. Please add the shortcomings to the wind turbine article.
The main issue here is not so much solar vs. wind, rather that it is electrical parts themselves that are "high-tech" in terms of difficulty in manufacturing from Mars native materials and the specialized skills needed to both manufacture and maintain them. Traditional parts, with their elaborate coils and made out of a variety of fine purified materials, as well as silicon-based parts both require very elaborate industrial infrastructures that won't exist for a very long time on Mars. I'm afraid it is electricity generally that will have to go in the "high-tech" category. Thermal power using crude native engines will be far cheaper than electricity. Steams engines, for example, will be much easier to make from native materials than electrical engines. Frontiersman 23:30, 7 February 2010 (UTC)
Compared with legacy vegetables the new developed genetically engineered plants may not be stable in the long run. Genetic alteration will be necessary after a while, maybe unexpectedly. I would use them only if I have the ability to do corrections. Same with computer software. If a software bug shows up in a vital system (e.g. Y2K), I would want someone who can fix it. DNA is a kind of software.
-- Rfc 15:11, 30 June 2008 (UTC)

We don't have the ability to edit the DNA "software". Genetic modification is either done by selective breeding or importing genetic material from other organisms. Selective breeding takes effect only in the long term. Any genetically modified crops brought to Mars will have been modified previously on Earth. Thing is, GM crops are an attractive possibility, to bump up production, survive in harsh conditions, etc. T.Neo 14:23, 10 July 2008 (UTC)

The GM crops may not be stable in the long run. Too little is known about the interaction of the species in a biosphere. I think the ongoing natural evolution catches up with any artificial genetic modification after a while, reducing the benefit of GM crops. Even short term effects are possible, e.g. side effect in combination with drifting population of microbes. Under Martian conditions the effect is even less predictable.
What we know is that legacy vegetable is stable in a terrestrial environment. What we do not know is how stable legacy vegetable is in a Martian environment. What we do not know is how stable GM crops is in a terrestrial environment. The two things combined means: We do not know for a higher degree how stable GM crops is in a Martian environment.
In my opinion, reliable GM crops specialized for a Martian colony are not within our reach. Therefore, I think the usage of GM crops on Mars is too dangerous if the Martian settlers do not have the industry behind it under their own control.
-- Rfc 12:19, 13 July 2008 (UTC)

I see your point, I dont think it would be very easy to maintain a genetic laboratory on Mars. T.Neo 13:37, 13 July 2008 (UTC)

New Category

We need a new category, as we can go lower-tech than the "low-tech" category. I'm referring to the technology of a self-sufficient frontier village: brick-making, small-scale smelting, blacksmithing, glass-blowing, etc. These have a great advantage in not requiring our massive and highly specialized industrial infrastructure to be hauled from earth (basically an impossible task). Frontiersman 22:33, 7 February 2010 (UTC)

That's true. I find the idea promising. How about category:small-scale-tech? -- Rfc 18:42, 8 February 2010 (UTC)
I have no objection to another category of low tech industry for a Mars colony, but I do not think electricity takes much more complicated technology than a steam engine. If colonists can make a steam engine they can hook it to an electric generator. The generators themselves could have parts based upon complicated technology, but it is not necessary. Educational electric generator kits for elementary school children are commercially available. If colonists can produce iron and copper, they can produce electricity.
People will need both complex and simple technologies. It would be nice to have a new world with fertile soil and breathable air, but Mars is not that. On Mars people will get air and fertile soil only by manufacturing them. Recycling will be artificial rather than by action of a natural biosphere. The large amount of work per person will require considerable automated production. The proper route to independence for Mars is through interdependence. By being a part of an economy that includes Earth, Mars will be able to grow extensive industry. Once established, this industry will be available to be diverted to independent survival in case Earth is made temporarily uninhabitable by a massive comet collision or some other catastrophe. As for bringing complex technology to Mars, it is not impossible just as bringing a potato plant to Europe was not impossible in the sixteenth century. People can not yet package the seed for their industrial economy quite as compactly as God packaged the very complex workings of the potato and other living things into seeds, but people are working on it. Like the plans for massive solar power plants to be built out of lunar materials, plans can be developed for massive colonization ships moving in repeated transfers between Earth and Mars without stopping. Only the cargo and passengers start and stop. Sending a complete industrial economy to Mars is certainly possible. It just takes a long time for the industry to develop from a seed on Luna to make it possible. A man can only wait few years for plans to develop to his benefit, but humanity can wait fifty years handily, and I think it must wait. I see no fast plans that will result in a colony.--Farred 23:49, 10 February 2010 (UTC)
I'd love to believe this, but you're writing at a pretty abstract level here. Let's get concrete: by what specific processes would you go from native Martian ores and atmospheric molecules to this [1] parts list for an electric alternator? Frontiersman 23:32, 11 February 2010 (UTC)
I am afraid, the interplanetary transport is the most expensive part of building a Martian colony. And the first part, that is the transport from Earth's surface to Earth's orbit, is the big part of it. Considering the current understanding of physics, the transport can hardly be made much cheaper, unless we want to indulge in science fiction. Certainly, we have to employ newest scientific research results, helping us to create efficient machinery. I don't think a steam engine is better than an electric motor. Generally, older technology is not necessarily better than newer and vice versa. It always depends on the maintenance effort and on the necessary resources. Shipping costs are probable lower for small scale machines than large scale machines, and the financial frame will always be tight. The perfect, but unrealistic, way to colonize Mars is sending a one-kilogram probe with a handful of nanobots, preparing the whole colony, before sending a second one-kilogram probe with a handful of frozen fertilized human eggs, etc. This science fiction scenario is, of course, not realistic, but might serve as a guiding thought. -- Rfc 14:41, 13 February 2010 (UTC)
Rfc, I largely agree, but we have plenty to discuss. Older is not automatically better, but technology such as blacksmithing, brick-making, and so on that were part of the largely self-sufficient manor or frontier village have a demonstrated history of working in a small economy that modern technology does not. They were used for example in early American settlements to great success. A great thought experiment, BTW, is to imagine that a new lifeless island was deposited by a volcano in the middle of the Pacific, and we and 100 of our pals have the job of settling it. Two rules are (1) we get to haul 10 cargo containers worth of stuff there, and (2) after that it is completely cut off. No second chances -- if we bring an industry and it doesn't work out, we die. What could we bring that we know would work, because it's been historically demonstrated to work? We'd bring the small frontier village crafts. We can also, unlike the fanciful nanobot, actually trace in detail the relationships between these industries and convince ourselves that it is self-sufficient: that each relies only on the inputs of the other. We can't do that for any modern technology. or for fanciful nanobots, and it's a crucial exercise to go through. If you trace back the parts list and all the processes in the necessary detail you drive yourself crazy with the unfathomable complexity. But you've got to try it to convince yourself that this is true. Then you go back and do it for the frontier town to get a feel for what technology for a self-sufficient economy is like.
My steam engine argument is more intuitive and might be wrong. I intuit that it would be easier to build a steam engine than an electric motor because the parts could be made, I suspect, out of meteoric iron by a blacksmith, metal caster, and a CNC mill and boring machine. So it's not far removed from that self-sufficient economy. The variety of materials and means of manufacture that go into a reasonable electric motor (for the magnets, coils, brushes, insulating material, and so on) seems far greater to me. For another example, see the parts list for the alternator above. But I admit this is a fairly intuitive argument and we need to break out the parts lists in detail and think about each process that goes from each part all the way back to the mine (does geology convince us that good copper can be found on Mars?) in order to resolve our debate. Frontiersman 08:15, 14 February 2010 (UTC)
I should add that there seems to be a slight difference between our assumptions: yours sounds like a complete cutoff of a larger colony, and mine is a cutoff of 99% of normal input mass but in a smaller colony such as it might look near its inception: a few hundred people, with only 100 tops working on anything but agriculture and export industries. So I only have 100 workers I can employ to do every job in my 99% self-sufficient economy. These assumptions come from a goal of economically starting and operating a colony. So I'm still importing sensors, chips, small actuators, very small wires, and similar, thus my CNC machine and boring machine that is made out of 99% native mass and 1% imported electronics. Getting rid of that last 1% is a very hard job, so I'm "cheating" by 1% to make it more feasible. Basically I have tiny electronics operating very large thermal machines made out of native materials. I also admire the more challenging assumption of complete cutoff, and I was thrilled to see your designs substituting fluid circuits for electronic circuits. Frontiersman 08:49, 14 February 2010 (UTC)
Marspedia seemed to be down when I tried to connect on the 13th. Was there a problem?
When I wrote that sending a complete industrial economy to Mars is possible, I meant physically possible. The economic feasibility still remains to be shown. It would be physically possible to lower launch cost from Earth to orbit by constructing an orbiting spaceport that can donate orbital momentum to space craft going to orbit from Earth in a way similar to an airplane matching velocity with Earth by landing on a runway. Operating an electromagnetic catcher at an orbiting spaceport catching craft from Luna with an excess velocity and craft form Earth with insufficient velocity can generate electricity and maintain orbital momentum at the same time. I do not know if that should be called science fiction, but it could conceivably be ready in fifty years.
In pointing out the necessity of manufacturing air and soil on Mars and artificially controlling the recycling process; I intended to show that the technologies that were self sufficient on Earth would not necessarily be up to the level of self sufficiency on Mars. The conditions are different. People, an integral part of the low tech scheme, are much harder to support on Mars than on Earth.
I do not know if people will find high grade copper ore on Mars, but if they do not it will probably be necessary to go to the trouble of using low grade deposits of copper or smelting aluminum to use as an electrical conductor. People might be able to get by on an initial investment from Earth of electrical generating capacity for quite a while by shifting those things that can be shifted from electrical power to hydraulic, pneumatic, or belt drive power.
I doubt that even with great effort I could specify every task necessary to go from raw Martian recources to a dynamo, much less a brushless alternator. It would be as difficult for me to specify the tasks necessary to produce a steam engine there. That proves nothing about the relative merits of the devices. The total technical skills of those contributing to this discussion so far are insufficient for coming to any final conclusions about what would be an economic industrial infrastructure on Mars.
Where is the substitution of fluidic for electric circuits referred to?--Farred 23:25, 14 February 2010 (UTC)
I meant to say pneumatic circuits. Since there are plenty of smart people working on launch costs, but not very many in our global economy working on self-sufficient technology, it makes more sense to me to assume that launch costs will continue to make only slow progress and to focus on autonomy instead. In my judgment breakthroughs leading to economical space colonies are more likely in substituting self-sufficient technology for global economy technology than in joining the big crowd that's been trying for decades without much success to lower launch costs. And for me self-sufficient technology is a fun challenge with far better opportunity to make original contributions that could make a difference in the long run. Frontiersman 23:49, 14 February 2010 (UTC)
Your comments on agriculture are well-taken. Agriculture requires a much higher industrial base on Mars than on Earth frontiers. Polynesians could have a hundred people working fields and running pigs on a completely self-sufficient island without any industry or even any metal-work. Mars is very different. That's why so far I've abstracted away from agriculture and just focused on how to get a self-sufficient industry, because without self-sufficient industry there is no self-sufficient agriculture. Nevertheless I do have some thoughts about Martian agriculture. First, complete recycling is too labor intensive and I don't want to rely on it. Nitrogen for fertilizer and air is needed, so some chemical plants are needed. Second, big pressure vessels with windows or light pipes are needed for the agriculture and habitats. (Electric lights like all other large-scale electricity are out in small-scale-tech). So small-scale-tech will, ironically, physically be large-scale when it comes to most equipment and structures. The "small scale" refers to the number of workers needed in the economy, not to the size of the machines. With the 1/3 gravity people will be able to carry around equipment that is three times as large and build structures that hold three times the weight as on Earth. Given our challenges we need to take advantage of every advantage we've got. Also, the raw materials (meteoric iron, sand, clay, and several atmospheric constituents) are copiously available. The assumption I'm making that may be most disputable is a reasonable cost source of thermal energy: either from mirrors or from nuclear bricks. BTW there are ways of splitting water with just thermal energy, but no way AFAIK of smelting aluminum. Frontiersman 00:28, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

Perhaps the winning of aluminum metal from ore is not generally referred to as smelting. I know a difficult electro-chemical process is generally used, but there may be an all thermal process available. It is referred to in the Wikipedia article on aluminum. Al2O3 is reacted with Carbon at high temperature to form Al4C3 and this is heated to 1900-2000 degrees centigrade to yield the metal.--Farred 01:57, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

That's a great find. The fact that they are still debugging the process here suggests that it might be rather complicated or finicky. But if that turns out not to be a big problem or can be overcome, the ability to make a aluminum without hauling up heavy electric power equipment would be a huge plus. Frontiersman 18:39, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

Hi, both of you have really great ideas, and the discussion turns out to be very effective. I have tried to put some of the thoughts into the article Colonization strategy. May be we can collect more aspects with their pros and cons and insert them in our article pages to preserve the valuable thoughts. Whatever idea we find important. As far as I understand Marspedia, we collect all ideas, even if they exclude each other. -- Rfc 20:58, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

That's a great page, thanks! I hope you like my further edits. Feel free to edit some more. Frontiersman 07:37, 18 February 2010 (UTC)