back to article Humans may be able to live on Mars within halls of aerogel – a wonder material that can trap heat and block radiation

We may be able to survive and live on Mars in regions protected by thin ceilings of silica aerogel, a strong lightweight material that insulates heat and blocks harmful ultraviolet radiation while weighing almost nothing. Researchers at Harvard University in the US, NASA, and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland envision …

  1. Schultz Silver badge
    Stop

    Why not test it on earth?

    So this material is transparent but insulates like styrofoam - with which it shares the property of being mostly hollow. Why not build insulating windows with it and prove its usefulness on earth?

    Mars is very far away and, despite all the hype, I don't believe that we'll see humans on Mars within our lifetime. Living on Mars is not much easier than living on the moon - no breathable air, no fossil energy sources, lots of unhealthy radiation, and not a living thing to share your misery with. So while a use of aerogel on Mars makes for nice headlines, it just tells me that nobody found any real-life useful application for this material yet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      Glass is more transparent and a lot cheaper.

      1. wolfetone

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        > Glass is more transparent and a lot cheaper.

        Plus I'd be worried this aerogel thing would end up like the Horrorglass that we got in the 60's.

      2. Snow Hill Island

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        "Glass is more transparent and a lot cheaper"

        ....and many types of glass are strong enough to be used as a pressure vessel to withstand one atmosphere of pressure, as anyone who's owned a traditional thermos flask or a CRT TV can attest. You can also give glass coatings to reflect or absorb UV light which barely weigh anything because they're only a few microns thick.

        1. boltar Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          "...and many types of glass are strong enough to be used as a pressure vessel to withstand one atmosphere of pressure, as anyone who's owned a traditional thermos flask or a CRT TV can attest."

          Up to a point. There are limits to how big you can make a CRT because the thickness of glass required to withstand the pressur ebecomes absurd. Plus the pressure on even a normal size CRT screen is enough to cause a dangerous implosiion if it breaks, never mind a huge 20 inch job.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      Did you miss this section?

      "The researchers hope to test their idea by conducting more silica aerogel experiments in the Atacama Desert in Chile or McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica."

      Science it goes something like this - You propose a concept, you develop ideas for a cool and novel usage, you create a test idea, you test, you find the limits of the idea, you develop useful earth applications, you refine the concept, etc...

      You have to have the dream before you can have the application. Aircraft werent developed with the idea of moving hundreds of people at a time around the world, they were developed because people wanted to fly like the birds. The dream always comes first...

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      About $500M of aerogel insulation was sold in 2013.

      'Our lifetime': 0 to 80 years is a safe guess. 80 years of advances in medical technology may push that up to 300 years for the young and rich.

      I think humans on Mars by 2030 is not impossible, by 2040 is an interesting bet and by 2050 would a safe bet for someone young enough to collect.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        "and by 2050 would a safe bet for someone young enough to collect."

        That's only 31 years away and I'm 55 now. I suspect still being alive in 2050 is doable for more then half of the current world population (if not actually practical for those living in less developed countries, but things are improving in those places too)

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          (if not actually practical for those living in less developed countries, but things are improving in those places too)

          Global Average Life Expectancy is now 70. Even in quite a bit of Africa and the "developing world" it's over 65. Basically, if you make age 1 you're half way there. If you get to you're fifth birthday then you'll most likely see 60. 2050 is a collectable bet for most of the world's population.

          (Important thing with average life expectancy is its a mean - including infant mortality. When life expectancy was 35 it didn't mean people were actually expected to die at 35. It's just >50% babies died in infancy, averaging out everyone who made it to 50/60/70)

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            "When life expectancy was 35 it didn't mean people were actually expected to die at 35. It's just >50% babies died in infancy, averaging out everyone who made it to 50/60/70)"

            Which underscores that "certain groups" where the males DO tend to die off before 40 are unusual (and they exist as a subculture within the UK).

      2. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        Not my point - I forget the originator - but: I'll believe we can colonise Mars when we've colonised the Gobi Desert or the bottom of the Atlantic, eitehr of which would be many porders of magnitude easier, cheaper and less dangerous. No-one's done it because, er,.. there's no point when we have remote sensing and robots that are already generating more data than the world's collective planetary scientists can cope with. (Oh yes they are: take a look at the PDS.)

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          I'll believe we can colonise Mars when we've colonised the Gobi Desert or the bottom of the Atlantic, either of which would be many orders of magnitude easier, cheaper and less dangerous.

          You may be right about the Gobi Desert, but I strongly recommend checking your figures again for the bottom of the Atlantic.

          And I'll give you another reason to colonise Mars before we colonise the bottom of the Atlantic:

          At the bottom of the Atlantic you aren't any safer for a planet cracking meteor than in New York City to name just one place. If that meteor hits Earth anywhere, we are all gone. But that colony on Mars (or Venus or Ganymede or Europe) may survive.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Define "Safer".

            Radiation.

            Cold and heat.

            No breathable atmosphere.

            No food source.

            Lacts many materials.

            No existing industry/resupply system.

            Low gravity.

            Much lower water availability.

            6 Months away from assistance.

            *But safer if an asteroid hits earth*.

            Gambler's fallacy if I ever saw it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Define "Safer".

              ....but no Donald Trump. I'd call that safer.

            2. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

              Re: Define "Safer".

              *But safer if an asteroid hits earth*.

              Gambler's fallacy if I ever saw it.

              That's actually one of the better arguments for space colonization at this stage, though going straight to Mars is straight-up nonsense like you point out. Cutting our teeth on lunar colonization has the benefit of help being mere days away, as well as providing a place to produce larger ships more suited for the journey at a lower price than if they had to be launched from earth, making it far and away the superior option.

          2. Down not across Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            At the bottom of the Atlantic you aren't any safer for a planet cracking meteor than in New York City to name just one place. If that meteor hits Earth anywhere, we are all gone. But that colony on Mars (or Venus or Ganymede or Europe) may survive.

            All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        This material is just one piece of the puzzle. The biggest issue to me is the general toxicity of the soil of Mars - perchlorates are a big part of surface materials, and are very toxic. The surface of Mars is also made up of such fine dust, that keeping the perchlorates out of the internal environment of any habitat is doubly tough. Can't grow anything in it either because of the contamination. The moon is a much better place to put our efforts into for the foreseeable future.

    4. joeW

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      It's more translucent than transparent.

      1. Andytug

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        We once sent my brother to the local hardware store to get some clear silicone (for work on a kitchen)...he rang us shortly afterwards to tell us they had no clear silicone, only translucent..

        It took some time to calm my joiner father in law down enough for him to carry on working without shaking with laughter...…..

        1. H in The Hague Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          "he rang us shortly afterwards to tell us they had no clear silicone, only translucent.."

          Actually, they are actually two different grades of silicone caulk. I got some clear silicone from a glazier's for Mrs H's former house in the UK and that was clear like water or glass. Needed some more at the weekend so went to the DIY superstore and that stuff was translucent, i.e. milky.

    5. localzuk

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      You don't think we'll have humans on Mars in our lifetime?

      Seriously? We only started flying planes in 1903. It took us 66 years to go from that to putting a man on the moon.

      Technological advances are coming thick and fast. We'll have people on the moon in the next 10-20 years at most.

      1. Stryker007

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        try 5 years, the target is 2024

        1. JK63

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          At least in the US, there's no national imperative like there was in the 1960s. We're too fragmented as a nation these days.

          Add in a significant % of the population that revels in scientific and mathematical ignorance and it's, sadly, a nearly impossible dream.

      2. Tom Paine Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        I have an uncanny lurking suspicion there's some sort of howling logical error in your post, but I'm damned if I can work out what it is...

      3. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Why not test it on earth?

        > It took us 66 years to go from that to putting a man on the moon.

        And another 60 years to do - mostly nothing (interplanetary space related).

        Technological advances are not constant, since they depend on society's priorities, and very often humanity even forgets things they had studied before (ancient Greeks knew the earth is round, they had even calculated its size rather accurately).

        My point is, a lot of declarations of intention concerning Moon and Mars have being made in recent legislatures, but very little concrete (as in founding) has been done: Why put a huge amount of money into sending some guy into space when you can pocket it all yourself?

        1. David 18

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          Exactly. Recent technological advances have mainly been "soft" or incremental improvement of much older advances - hanging from the nasal hairs of giants, rather than standing on their shoulders. Especially in computing.

          Materials have advanced considerably, but air transport has largely got slower, bigger and more economical, where are the huge strides like Concorde, Blackbird etc.

          These days it's ALL about profit. Everything is designed down to a cost by a committee of bean-counters, visionary engineers cannot thrive.

          Very occasionally there is a huge breakthrough in something, but most of the breathlessly announced "groundbreaking" tech I've seen lately have been slightly rehashed old ideas, dusted off or rediscovered by a disruptor with a flair for marketing.

          If they discover an untapped wealth of useful minerals on Mars then we will see people working there in 10 years. Otherwise it's unlikely anyone will even set foot on it for 50. Unless China, or any other recently wealthy country wants to make a point.

        2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          @thatone 60 years to do mostly nothing? Manned exploration, yes. But landing probes on comets, trundling robots around Mars, close flyby of every planet in the solar system? Probes leaving the solar system? Hardly 'mostly nothing'

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            That is next to nothing compared to putting a human being on another celestial body, be it planet or moon, and bringing that person back in good condition.

            1. The Nazz Silver badge

              Re: Why not test it on earth?

              Was only listening this very afternoon to Max Boyce including Morgan the Moon, his being welsh and the first person to set foot on the moon. Forget the Americans he says, they were only the first ones to bring them back.

              From a different era completely.

            2. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

              Re: Why not test it on earth?

              Why "back"?

              I'd go just for the chance to *go*. Given some tools and spares, I'd spend the remainder of my time fixing all of those dead robots, looking for Beagle II and wandering about planting Mars-adapted greenery among other useful little tasks.

              "Return flight" is for amateurs and the weak. Drop a supply load every few months and I'd be happy to Make Mars Great Again.

              I'd even join up the dropships to form buildings the later comers could use, given a hammer, screwdriver, gaffer tape and a set of knives to cut things to shape.

              Yes, okay, I'd do the SETLife thing *first* before contaminating Mars with mosses, liichens, garpe-vines and Ice Warriors grown in my own dumps; but I'm almost certain the results are going to be negative. Mars is dead. Always was.

              As is Europa.

          2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            From an engineering standpoint? Mostly nothing. Fundamentally, sending a probe outside the solar system / to Mars pretty much covered it.

            Commercial exploitation is where we're going to start seeing real advances--and like I've stated, if someone can bring an asteroid back to Earth, they can drop it on your head.

            I'm actually rather nervous about that bit.

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: Why not test it on earth?

              if someone can bring an asteroid back to Earth, they can drop it on your head.

              Technically, if they can get anythign into orbit, they can drop it on your head. It won't make much differnece if it's the size of an asteroid, or the size of a pebble (assuming it survives re-entry), it's still going to mess with your day.

              1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

                Re: Why not test it on earth?

                Yeah, but messing with my day personally verses messing with the day of a country or five are rather different classes of problem, no?

          3. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            > Manned exploration, yes. But landing probes on comets, trundling robots around Mars [...]

            This is true, but as others already said, it's not the same league: Sending a human somewhere and bring him/her back alive is a completely different game, one we haven't played in half a century.

            Heck, nowadays we even have the occasional problem sending people to low orbit (ISS)... To all intents and purposes we're back to the Gemini days, but with less money and less determination.

            1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

              Re: Why not test it on earth?

              That's because we no longer are trying to prove our rocketry & rockets are as good as the Soviets...

          4. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            landing probes on comets, trundling robots around Mars, close flyby of every planet in the solar system? Probes leaving the solar system?

            GPS, space telescopes, "permanent" space stations (for varying values of permanent)...

            I think the main reason we've not really had much interst in the Moon, beyond proving we can get people there, and return them safely, is that ther's an awful lot of nothing much there. Until there's a practical need to have a permanent base there, it's nothing more than an unnecessary expense to build and maintain it, and if you're not going there to prove you can, or to build something there, why go at all?

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          > (ancient Greeks knew the earth is round, they had even calculated its size rather accurately).

          It was known fairly early on. The well-known example from the ancient Greeks is part of a lesson for students.

          Civilisation has been through a number of "resets" and "setbacks" and it's a shame the library of Alexandria ended up being used to heat bathwater.

        4. boltar Silver badge

          Re: Why not test it on earth?

          "Technological advances are not constant, since they depend on society's priorities,"

          Even with technological advances it doesn't look like anything to replace the chemical rocket for heavy lifting will be along anytime soon and that is the real problem. Unlike sailors sailing to america as people like to compare going to the moon and mars with, they have no air (mars atmosphere is a vacuum as far as the human bddy is concerned), water or food and you can't go outside so absolutely *everything* has to be taken up there which means HUGE cost and for what - there's nothing of value there anyway. Just the kudos of saying we did it. Which we did, 50 years ago on the moon.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Why not test it on earth?

            > there's nothing of value there

            Besides the classical "because it's there", there is also the question of engineering know-how: There was no major reason to lose the engineering know-how of Apollo, yet we did.

            Besides - "Because it's there" sounds like a quip, but it is actually a good summary of the driving force of all human progress since the dawn of time. Why do scientists do science? Why do explorers explore? Because something triggered their curiosity, and they are going to get to the bottom of things even if there is no obvious gain to be found. Do mathematicians, astronomers or fundamental physicists (and others) do it for the money? No, so "nothing of value" doesn't really matter.

            There is knowledge up there, answers we can't get anywhere else, and as long as we're humans (in the noble meaning of the word), we will want to go there and check.

            1. boltar Silver badge

              Re: Why not test it on earth?

              "but it is actually a good summary of the driving force of all human progress since the dawn of time. Why do scientists do science?"

              Thats all well and good until you start spending a significant portion of national GDP - ie taxpayers money - on your desire to see something "because its there" with little or no payback afterwards.

              "we will want to go there and check."

              Fine, you pay for it then, don't expect me to.

              1. ThatOne Silver badge

                Re: Why not test it on earth?

                > don't expect me to

                Definitely won't.

                But throughout history there have been people with lots of money and open minds, sponsoring all kind of money wasting endeavors in all kind of useless domains like arts, science, exploration. Fortunately for humanity not everybody thinks like you. The useless science made today won't indeed profit you, but it might save your grandson's life, 80 years down the road. But it's difficult to see the bigger picture, and of course if you don't really care about some grandson you still won't see the point in making that effort.

                1. boltar Silver badge

                  Re: Why not test it on earth?

                  If it was a case of having the whole cake and eating then I'd agree with you. Unfortunately the cake - ie tax money - has to be divided up and sure, plenty should go to science, but not for complete pie in the sky endeavours that may never even happen such as men on mars. Saying there might be payoffs 50 or so years down the line simply isn't good enough.

                  1. ThatOne Silver badge

                    Re: Why not test it on earth?

                    > Saying there might be payoffs 50 or so years down the line simply isn't good enough.

                    So it's the risk which bothers you? Sorry, but if you don't take any risks you won't get anything. Everyone who ever discovered/invented/built something took a risk he didn't have to take. You don't get anything for nothing...

    6. Robin

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      "Why not test it on earth?"

      No, I'm pretty sure that they're going to make a plan to use it on Mars without having tested it at all.

    7. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      The stuff _is_ used for building insulation. The thinness is invaluable when retrofitting old houses but even more important is the sound insulation it provides.

      As for windows: Um no. Maybe in your bathroom. Translucency is not transparency.

    8. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Why not test it on earth?

      Because while this material has existed for a while, it has been proven too expensive.

      Otherwise firemen suits would use the stuff.

  2. Petalium

    So, what will happen when you put the aerogel in a vacuum?

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Bugger all, by the looks of it. Maybe a bit more brittle. Probably depends on what Aerogel your using, but I would imagine the Boffins will do some tests...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDgBYO0piOY

    2. Steve K Silver badge

      Aerogel in vacuum

      So, what will happen when you put the aerogel in a vacuum?

      It'll block the hose?

      1. hplasm
        Coat

        Re: Aerogel in vacuum

        "Dad, what will happen if I try to breathe in a vacuum?"

        "You'll Dyson."

    3. John Mangan

      Aerogel has already been used in a vacuum..

      ..on a cometary sample collection craft if I remember correctly.

      Was it the Japanese one that crashed on return but they still managed to retrieve useful samples?

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Aerogel has already been used in a vacuum..

        You're thinking of Hayabusa, a mission on which almost everything went wrong, but the engineers kept finding workarounds and they still managed to complete their mission. A properly plucky little space probe!

        It's successor, Hayabusa2, is currently sciencing the shit out of the asteroid Ryugu.

        There was also NASA's Stardust mission, which used aerogel to collect samples of a comet and returned them to Earth.

    4. Tom Paine Silver badge
      Boffin

      You can find out by looking at the results from Stardust, which used aerogel to capture interplanetary and interstellar dust particles before returning samples to earth (quite fast and hard, but they certainly arrived back here.)

      See eg https://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news113.html

  3. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    Coat

    "supercritical dryer device"

    .... when the normal drying device is not good enough, the important drying device falls short, and even the critical drying device is lacking...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "supercritical dryer device"

      I'm not going near the megacritical drying device.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: "supercritical dryer device"

        I can handle the Megacritical drying device, but I wont be touching the Ludicrous drying device....

        (if you understand this joke, you're showing your age ;) )

        1. Black Betty
          Coat

          Re: "supercritical dryer device"

          Just the thing for drying my kilt.

          1. hplasm
            Happy

            Re: "supercritical dryer device"

            Just the thing for drying my wife...

        2. T-Bo

          Re: "supercritical dryer device"

          You might go plaid ...

        3. Ghostman

          Re: "supercritical dryer device"

          Don't worry, it will not make your home go plaid.

    2. Hero Protagonist

      Re: "supercritical dryer device"

      In a pinch, just use your towel

  4. stuartnz

    The insulation properties are remarkable, if this youtube video is anything to go by. Definitely better for that purpose than glass, and if it also absorbs radiation, that's another plus

    Aerogel

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      But how about holding in a breathable atmosphere? The Martian atmosphere is a bit low pressure,

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Just paint or blow an airtight membrane on the inside and outside.

        It's trivial to do on the inside and pretty easy to do on the outside. That kind of large scale industrial process is very well understood.

        As far as I'm aware, the hard part is making large blocks of aerogel in the desired shape, especially as it needs to be done "in situ". Transporting it isn't really feasible.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Build me a balloon first

    If a hydrogel could take forces of 1 atmosphere needed to contain the air pressure, and if it could survive space debris, then you could make balloons out of it.

    Instead of hot air balloons, make a hydrogel balloon, pump out the air, and it should float by boyancy difference from the vacuum inside vs the air outside. Immediately you would have an alternative for hot air balloons, and a major breakthrough in flight. Aircraft could use hydrogel vacuums to maintain height with boyancy, far more boyant than helium.

    If it cannot maintain the inner vacuum in that situation, then it could not be used in Mars with actual people inside relying on it.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Build me a balloon first

      So you build it into window frames in a geodesic dome type structure. Except the windows are aerogel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Build me a balloon first

        "Except the windows are aerogel."

        The thing about aerogel, is that it's mostly voids between a very fine lattice of silicon. Aerogel windows will be a bit, shall we say, leaky. (And not very strong.)

        1. Mephistro Silver badge

          Re: Build me a balloon first

          Use both, glass and aerogel.

          You can make the panes with aerogel + a very thin top layer of Gorilla Glass or similar*, which adds structural integrity and gas insulation for a small amount of weight. What's more, using these materials in this way would create a composite material far stronger than the sum of its components. There are prefabricated concrete walls that use a similar principle, sandwiching blocks of styrofoam between thin(-nish) concrete "layers". The results were quite spectacular in terms of resistance and light weight.

          And it's easier to remove Martian dust from a glass surface than from an aerogel surface.

          * Or sandwich the Aerogel between two thin layers of glass instead.

          Edited to add: sorry to all those that have proposed this same thing a few hours ago and a few comments below.

          (***blushes***)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Build me a balloon first

      "If it cannot maintain the inner vacuum in that situation, then it could not be used in Mars with actual people inside relying on it."

      Exactly. What this article actually fails to point out is that aerogels are vary fragile, and have very little tensile, shear or compressive strength. Whoever is proposing this either has a composite design in mind with a different material providing the structural strength, or has absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

      Aerogel as a structural material? I don't think so. You can tell the press release wasn't written by an engineer or a material scientist, and probably wasn't proof read by one before publication...

      1. localzuk

        Re: Build me a balloon first

        Look at homes - we make our walls from layers of different materials. This material has a use, but I doubt anyone is saying "build actual walls entirely from it". We build walls from brick, wood, metal, insulation, glass etc... At the moment, so why would it be different in space?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Build me a balloon first

          "we make our walls from layers of different materials"

          True. But no-one would suggest building a house from rockwool, without mentioning the bricks and timber that support it. Also, as already mentioned by someone else on this thread, there's cosmic radiation to worry about, which Aerogel won't protect you from, so you're going to need a more substantial structure making the Aerogel layer redundant, apart from it's thermal insulating properties. (i.e. it doesn't *conduct* heat well...)

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Build me a balloon first

      "If a hydrogel could take forces of 1 atmosphere needed to contain the air pressure, and if it could survive space debris, then you could make balloons out of it."

      I'm minded of those 18th century fanciful paintings of folks navigating the skies in bathtubs held up by evacuated copper spheres

  6. Thought About IT

    Solar wind

    Mars does not have a magnetic field to deflect the solar wind, so it'll need something more than aerogel to protect people from bombardment by beta radiation.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: Solar wind

      Here's an informative link I just found:

      https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/284273main_Radiation_HS_Mod1.pdf

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Solar wind

      "it'll need something more than aerogel to protect people from bombardment by beta radiation"

      It turns out that one of the best radiation shields you can obtain happens to be composed of dihydrogen monoxide and it's fairly readily available most places you want to travel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Solar wind

        How many tons you putting over your head though?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    solid silica can be manufactured to block out, say, dangerous UV rays

    this reminds me of those DVDs that only 20 years ago were being sold with a claim to last "1000 years". Meanwhile on Mars...

    1. _LC_ Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: solid silica can be manufactured to block out, say, dangerous UV rays

      Exactly. We were forced to discover that radioactive radiation even eats its way through steel drums, much faster than the authorities thought.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: solid silica can be manufactured to block out, say, dangerous UV rays

        "eats its way through steel drums"

        Um. nope. That was plain old everyday rust. Water+iron+oxygen, etc. (and low quality metals and "good enough for government work", etc)

        Anyway, radioactives which are hot enough to worry about tend to become inert in a short period of time (and detectable whilst they're dangerous). Chemical nasties are much harder to detect. Ask the folk at Minimata Bay about that one.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    There's another problem they didn't talk about

    It's all very nice to mention the lack of atmosphere, the cold temperature and the radiation, but farming food is not just a question of water - there's also getting rid of the poison in the soil.

    Frankly, Mars is going to be hellishly difficult to colonize. We really should start with the Moon. Much closer in case of trouble.

    1. _LC_ Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: There's another problem they didn't talk about

      Actually, we should start by not destroying* the only habitable planet we know of.

      ---

      * by rendering it "inhabitable" increasingly

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There's another problem they didn't talk about

        but what better stimulus for progress than (self-imposed) existential threat? Now, if we only time it right... Yeah, right.

    2. Stumpy Silver badge

      Re: There's another problem they didn't talk about

      You may mention the lack of atmosphere, the cold temperature and the radiation, and the poison in the soil.

      So let me ask you again.

      What have the Martians ever done for us?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What have the Martians ever done for us?

        The Martians have not done for us yet. The chances that they ever will would be about, hmm, a million-to-one against, I reckon :-)

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: What have the Martians ever done for us?

          Watch out for that heat-ray, Ogilvy...

        2. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

          Re: What have the Martians ever done for us?

          A great man said million to one chances come about 9 out of 10 times.

    3. Eddy Ito

      Re: There's another problem they didn't talk about

      On the upside with all that perchlorate lying about it looks like explosives will be easy to make. Of course that isn't necessarily a good thing I suppose.

  9. Christoph

    "Also, there’s the problem of how to ship large quantities of the material to build settlements – aerogel is insanely light but also very bulky. "

    Or you could, maybe, manufacture it in situ from locally available materials? Silicon is hardly rare.

    But the big question on permanent settlement of Mars doesn't get mentioned much: Can humans grow from conception to adulthood in Martian gravity? What problems would there be?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      "Or you could, maybe, manufacture it in situ from locally available materials? Silicon is hardly rare."

      And the aridity on Mars might mean you don't need to take a supercritical dryer with you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        take a supercritical dryer with you.

        Since it's often suggested that older people might make useful astronauts, you could instead send a bad-tempered Alex Ferguson and some astronauts who aren't much good at football. Start with an incompetent kick about, balance the raw materials on their ears at half-time, and hey-presto!

        1. Halfmad Silver badge

          Re: take a supercritical dryer with you.

          and when things are tight and time is running out you'll magically get more time than you needed to succeed.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: take a supercritical dryer with you.

            Well if it's a crew made up of oldsters, injury time alone could extend the time by weeks.

  10. Caff

    spacecraft

    Sounds like it would be useful for part of a radiation shield sandwich for a spacecraft to travel to mars in the first place.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Devil

      Re: spacecraft

      Hmmm. Curry and aerogel sandwich? Sounds great!

      1. Caff

        Re: spacecraft

        seems like NASA already considered this in 2013, no mention of curry though

        https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20130012682.pdf

  11. zaax

    why not just live in the caves, seemly they have plenty of water

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge

      There's plenty of water on the surface of Mars, so much so that you can dig it up.

      https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Scoop-marks-from-Phoenix-arm-exposing-white-ice-that-can-be-observed-subliming-between_fig1_241301677

      There are areas near the poles where you can see classic textbook central morraines overlying what are presumably large and very, very slow-moving glaxciers with a lot of regolith and dust on top. (Have a poke around in the HiRISE imagery.)

  12. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

    You don't want to go in the caves, that's where the Exogorths are. I saw a documentary.

  13. Manolo
    Paris Hilton

    Why isn't it used (more) on Earth yet?

    I once read that if you used this stuff to insulate your house, a candle would suffice to heat it.

    (Probably a theoretical house with no doors or windows, but still, a significant improvement in thermal insulation should be possible in real life situations)

    So, why are we not yet using it? Is it cost, is it availability? Practicality of applying it to cavity walls of existing buildings?

    Imagine how much you could save in cost and CO2 if all houses were insulated with it.

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: Why isn't it used (more) on Earth yet?

      It's violently expensive.

      I built a fridge for a boat, and because it's a small boat I wanted the absolute best insulation I could find. I ended up finding 9m² end-of-roll offcut (I still have most of it in the shed) for about £350. The stuff I bought comes in a roll 10mm thick, a bit like fibreglass matting but with an R value about twice the next best option. Two layers at 20mm was the same as 40 or 50mm of the next best option.

      I don't recall if I tried a blowtorch on it, but it's the kind of thing I would have done.

      It's a very, very good fridge. But unless you're very space constrained, it's cheaper to use something twice as thick and a tenth of the price.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Why isn't it used (more) on Earth yet?

        "It's a very, very good fridge. But unless you're very space constrained, it's cheaper to use something twice as thick and a tenth of the price."

        There's one thing it does even better than thermal insulation for the next best thing that's twice as thick - SOUND insulation.

        Aerogels are extremely popular for uses such as installation on common walls in terrace houses, as the cost is nothing compared to the loss of living space incurred with any other option (for actual thermal insulation if the building isn't double brick then the insulation is best hung on the outside of the brickwork to prevent the fabric of the building getting cold and damp, at which point thickness isn't an issue anymore and aerogels cost far too much)

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Why isn't it used (more) on Earth yet?

          You're not wrong. I purchased it from https://www.acoustiblok.co.uk

  14. Aynon Yuser

    But can it potato?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Mars will fear our botany powers

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So they forgot

    "The material is so hush-hush, the US military accidentally forgot how to make it at one point."

    Did they just go ask the Chinese for the formula then?

    They could use my wife's cake mix - that's supposed to make a light cake, but bugger me that shit is dense.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: So they forgot

      Oh, I know that. That seemingly normal looking cake, which actually weights 8 pounds and could keep a dozen shipwrecked people alive for a week...

  16. DJ

    Will somebody please cue up...

    Zanger & Evans?

    "In the year..."

    (Try getting that out of head now...)

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Will somebody please cue up...

      You asked for it

  17. Dr.Flay
    FAIL

    Aren't we missing something ?

    All the while we ignore the 1 major problem of life on mars.

    It has no atmosphere so no protection from asteroids.

    I hope this ultra light weight material can also withstand an asteroid impact.

    Without living under come substantial protection all this is pointless, and at the point you are inside a protective metal dome, you won't be needing this material.

    1. Moosh
      Boffin

      Re: Aren't we missing something ?

      The major protection from asteroids would be a moon.

      Also, Mars does have an atmosphere.

      Also, the likelihood of your exact spot being hit by an asteroid is remarkably small.

      If you're talking large asteroids that are actually dangerous to existence, atmospheres do literally nothing to stop those.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Aren't we missing something ?

        If you're talking large asteroids that are actually dangerous to existence, atmospheres do literally nothing to stop those.

        If one of those is due to hit the groudn anywhere near where you are, then the lack of an atmosphere could even be a positive thing, what with the shock waves and atmospheric heating involved. You'd just have to survive the ground tremors.

        1. _LC_ Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Aren't we missing something ?

          You are all kidding, right?

          Have you seen the pictures from the Chinese moon landing? The ground is pierced, every inch of it. Those little projectiles come down at full speed. Imagine a few of those hitting your structure at 60000+ km/h. Good night. ;-)

          1. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

            Re: Aren't we missing something ?

            How many of those are recent, though? The moon has no atmosphere, so what you're seeing is a record of impacts over four billion years long.

            1. _LC_ Silver badge

              Re: Aren't we missing something ?

              Yes, but you don't seem to realize what our atmosphere is being bombarded with on a daily basis. Even a grain of sand can be lethal at high velocity. Here, we are talking about INSANELY high velocities and massive amounts of objects in different sizes; most of them very small (nonetheless deadly), of course...

              1. Chris 239

                Re: Aren't we missing something ?

                The atmosphere on Mars is thick enough to stop small meteroids. Ones big enough to survive Mars reentry are presumably pretty rare, after all none of the Mars landers have been hit by meterites have they?

                Mars atmosphere is actually deeper than Earths due to the lower gravity so that helps.

                Yes the odds of being hit by a metorite must be higher on Mars but probably still negligible I would have thought.

      2. Dr.Flay

        Re: Aren't we missing something ?

        Yes Mars has an atmosphere, however while your feet will be in the atmoasphere your head won't be if you are standing, it is so thin.

        Mars is under constant bombardment and is pockmarked with lots of recent hits.

        Recent footage and photos reveal the activity is much higher than on Earth.

        Our atmosphere provides us with a light-show and sparks with few hitting the ground.

        On Mars you will be as protected/unprotected as the ISS.

        Micrometeorites are enough to kill people on the surface.

        1. Moosh
          Boffin

          Re: Aren't we missing something ?

          Oh come off it, the atmosphere being thin doesn't mean its literally only centimetres off the ground, in fact it extends further out than earth's because the gravity is lower. You can't just make disingenuous claims such as "mars has no atmosphere" or "the atmosphere only extends several centimetres off the ground".

          The much higher activity was rated at around 200 impacts a year.

          I think you're severely overestimating the danger when you compare the frequency of impacts to area of effect and then take into account the size of Mars

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Waiting for XR Mars

    I could see those looney tunes piercing the aerogel as "its wrong to subject mars to such catastrophic warming" "its climate change" etc etc etc

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