Mars Trilogy: Homesick

Part of the Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary Series. Contains spoilers for this chapter and earlier chapters. Google Mars .kml. Literary commentary podcast. The opening sequence of this chapter is about lichen adapting to Mars. A distinction is offered between natural selection – unguided evolution, underlying thousands of years of human efforts via artificial selection, which is responsible for essentially all domesticated plants and animals, and then more recently “Genetically Engineered Microorganisms” (GEMs), or what we might term GMOs. We even get a list of 1992-era “recombinant DNA” buzzwords, which sound scary but it is important to remember that no matter … Continue reading Mars Trilogy: Homesick

Mars Trilogy: The Crucible

Part of the Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary Series. Contains spoilers for this chapter and earlier chapters. Google Mars .kml. Literary commentary podcast. The opening prolog to this section describes the formation of the planet Mars, so we have many opportunities to put our nerd hats on. One of the main reasons I am writing this commentary is to reflect on the knowledge we have gained in the ~30 years since the Mars Trilogy was written, but in reviewing this section I am reminded that despite our incredible gains, many of the mysteries raised are still mysteries and will likely remain … Continue reading Mars Trilogy: The Crucible

Terraform Industries Whitepaper 2.0

Fuel from the sky: Cheap hydrocarbons from CO2 direct air capture and sunlight. (Original post). terraformindustries.com  At Terraform Industries, we believe our species and civilization should survive climate change. We believe in a future of universal wealth and abundance for all of humanity.  The last seven decades have seen great strides in the human condition but at the cost of rising CO2 levels and changing climate. Oil is finite and ice caps are melting. It is time to wean our civilization from its dependence on fossil carbon by unlocking gigascale atmospheric hydrocarbon synthesis. Terraform Industries is building the machines to … Continue reading Terraform Industries Whitepaper 2.0

Mars Trilogy: The Voyage Out

Part of the Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary Series. Contains spoilers for this chapter and earlier chapters. Google Mars .kml. Literary commentary podcast. After the chaos of Festival Night, the narrative travels back 27 years to December 2026, when the First Hundred depart for Mars, and follows Maya. From here, the narrative remains in chronological order, excepting flashbacks, for the rest of the series. While each part is told from the perspective of one of the main characters, each part opens with a shorter section in italics from a different perspective, providing background and exposition. This chapter occurs almost entirely as … Continue reading Mars Trilogy: The Voyage Out

Mars Trilogy: Festival Night

Part of the Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary Series. Contains spoilers for this chapter and earlier chapters. Google Mars .kml. Literary commentary podcast. The epic begins, as it must, in media res, with the major characters on a literal stage. Told from the perspective of the ruthlessly pragmatic Frank Chalmers seething with envy at John Boone, his friend and rival. The setting is Nicosia, the first city built on the surface of Mars, marking a transition point between the heroic age of Mars exploration and a later, more rapid period of emigration and growth. By the timeline, this occurs roughly in … Continue reading Mars Trilogy: Festival Night

Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary

It is with some trepidation that I commence a project long anticipated and oft delayed. The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is, in my view, one of the finest works of literature ever composed. I have read it three or four times from end to end, in a both formative and conversational process whereby progressively more layers of understanding burrow into my psyche. The usual disclaimers apply. I don’t know how Mars settlement will actually progress, though I have written a few blogs about space-related topics, including a technical commentary on The Martian by Andy Weir. I have also … Continue reading Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary

We need more water than rain can provide: refilling rivers with desalination

Why? We believe that water should be unconditionally abundant. In the face of extended droughts, aspiring for greater usage efficiency is not, by itself, a sufficiently robust solution. The Colorado River, which supports $1.4t/year of US GDP, has seen annual flows steadily decline lower than water extraction rights, with no end in sight. The Colorado River is not an outlier, it is a harbinger. The Mississippi, among dozens of other economically vital rivers worldwide, is also facing record low water. Climate change is changing rainfall patterns and melting glaciers, it is not going away, and it will continue to threaten … Continue reading We need more water than rain can provide: refilling rivers with desalination

Why high speed rail hasn’t caught on

High Speed Rail (HSR) has been in the news, with a recent New York Times article listing some of the reasons that the California HSR project seems unlikely to ever be completed. Quite aside from California’s development quagmire and the article’s author’s unstated involvement in the story, there are a series of much deeper, physical reasons why HSR hasn’t really caught on. I haven’t seen these developed in accessible blog form so I thought I would write this brief note on the topic. [Edit: This blog generated more controversy than usual, and a thread on HN. I was surprised to … Continue reading Why high speed rail hasn’t caught on

We’re going to need a lot of solar panels

The team at Terraform Industries is now 11 people working towards a near term future where atmospheric CO2, much of it centuries of unpriced industrial waste, becomes the preferred default source of industrial carbon. Our family of technologies will displace drilling and mining as sources of carbon and, in the process, stop the net flux of carbon from the crust into the atmosphere and oceans that is causing anthropogenic climate change. Our process works by using solar power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, concentrating CO2 from the atmosphere, then combining CO2 and hydrogen to form natural gas. Very … Continue reading We’re going to need a lot of solar panels

How to terraform Mars for $10b in 10 years

Part of the series on common misconceptions in space journalism. A follow on from a previous post on terraforming. As far as terraforming goes, I’ve recently been much more occupied with my startup Terraform Industries, but it still generalizes to creating technical and economic ways to continue the ancient human project of gardening our surroundings to be less unpleasant. By the time Terraform Industries has completed its mission on Earth we’ll have finally assumed intentional and granular control over the world’s carbon cycle and parts of its water cycle, and in turn its position of radiative equilibrium with respect to … Continue reading How to terraform Mars for $10b in 10 years