Imagining Elon Musk’s Million-Person Mars Colony – Chapter 20

Imagining Elon Musk’s Million-Person Mars Colony – The greatest thought experiment of all time

by Marshall Brain

Chapter 20

Starting the process of building experimental Mars colonies – Mars Colony Simulation 1000A

In Chapter 16 we looked at the idea of building experimental Mars cities on Earth to test out different principles that we would actually use in a real Mars colony. The goal of these experimental cities is simple: We need to prove that a million-person Mars colony can work, before we ship a million people to Mars at gigantic expense. We should concretely demonstrate on Earth that:

In other words, we should have an enclosed, self-sufficient, sustainable, one-million-person model city that is working nicely on Earth – everyone in this experimental city is happy, prosperous, fulfilled, etc. – before we have any business shipping a million people off to Mars.

It is going to take quite a bit of research and experimentation to get the culture and economy right in a colony located on Mars. We can’t simply drop off the one million new inhabitants of Mars with a hand shake and a hearty, “Have a great life!” We must have a detailed plan for how life will work in this colony on a day-to-day basis, so that everyone in the colony benefits.

The obvious side-effect of such research and experimentation is easy to understand. If we can create a self-sufficient, experimental, Mars-analog city on Earth that contains one million people living fantastic lives, then we can create thousands of these cities on Earth. We can move billions of poor and destitute people on Earth out of appalling slums, hovels, ghettos, refugee camps, etc., and we can move them into modern, vibrant, luxurious, prosperous cities that they have built themselves. We can eliminate poverty on planet Earth once and for all.

Obviously the first experimental cities that we build to start this research and experimentation process will not have one million people living in them. After proving things out in much smaller experiments, we will build up to an experimental city of one million people. And here we come to the purpose of this chapter: where do we start? What is the smallest experimental city we can build that would be meaningful, and what can we learn from it? It would also be great if the people living in this first test city can benefit from the experience.

Understanding the goal

First let’s understand the goal. As described throughout this book and particularly in Chapter 13, the one-million-person Mars colony that Elon Musk proposes needs to be an independent, self-sustaining, stand-alone instantiation of human civilization located on the surface of Mars. There are two reasons for this, one pragmatic and one based on long-term survival of the human species:

  1. At a pragmatic level, Mars is so far from Earth that the Mars colony does not really have a choice: The colony must be an independent, self-sustaining entity. The Mars colony must produce everything it needs because it will have no other way to obtain these goods. The distance and the cost of shipping means that Mars has to produce everything itself. “Everything” means everything seen in modern civilizations on Earth: Food, clothing, housing, medicine, chips, computers, robots, vehicles and everything else. See Chapter 13 for details.
  2. A big part of the Mars colony is to create a “backup plan” for humanity. If Earth were to somehow be destroyed (e.g. asteroid strike, nuclear Armageddon, etc.), the Mars colony needs to be able to continue on its own, sans any support from Earth.

Given these two realities for the real Mars colony, we will need to replicate a one-million-person city like this on Earth first. We must prove that it is possible on Earth, and that it will work in a long-term way, before we assume we can do it on Mars.

Scaling the big vision way down for the first experimental city on Earth

If the big vision is “a completely self-sustaining and independent one-million-person experimental city on Earth, which proves that such a city would be possible on Mars”, then what is the smallest experimental city that we could build on Earth in order to get the experimentation process started? And what might this first experimental city set out to prove? And what can we actually do here in the real world – that is, what can we actually fund and build and operate near term?

Let’s imagine that the first experimental city on Earth will have a population of 1,000 people. The kinds of things that we want to prove out include:

  • Can the people locked into an experimental city for years actually get along, or do things devolve into infighting or anarchy?
  • Can the people govern themselves effectively and equitably? Or does it quickly devolve into “haves” and “have nots” like we see on Earth?
  • Does the new economic system work? (See Chapter 4 for a description of the proposed new economy of Mars)
  • Do people perform their tasks and work steadily over the course of years, and are they happy doing it? We send astronauts to the space station for months and expect them to work steadily, but we also give them years of detailed training on Earth, and they have intense hand-holding from Mission Control while in orbit. What happens with a 100X larger group of people, less training and less hand-holding?
  • What sort of culture evolves among the 1,000 people?
  • Can a software system efficiently deploy people in the colony to the different tasks that this mini-colony needs to get done (See chapters 4 through 8 for a description).
  • What do people do with all of the free time that the colony offers, especially after the first 6 months or so?
  • Etc.

We will run the experiment for two years, and we will record significant amounts of data from both the colony as a whole and the individual colonists to judge the outcome of this first experimental colony. At a high level, we want to know if this experimental colony is “working” (people are generally happy with the colony’s configuration) or “not working” (people generally despise the system) after two years. And we can also be far more granular in data collection and conclusions. There is a huge amount that we can learn from a 1,000-person colony like the one proposed here. See the last section of this chapter for further details on experimental outcomes.

An important consideration here involves what we will and will not try to simulate in the experimental colony. The choices we make will impact the initial and overall cost of the experiment. Here are several examples:

  • Will this 1,000-person experimental colony try to create its own chips, computers, medicines, etc. as described in Chapter 13? No. The reason is simple: it would take far more than 1,000 people to operate a chip design firm and a chip fabrication plant. The cost of the plant would also be astronomical for an experiment at the 1,000-person scale. Class 1 clean rooms and wafer fabrication machinery are expensive.
  • Will this 1,000-person experimental colony try to grow all of its own food? No. It would be more expedient to buy much of the food in bulk at wholesale prices. For example, it is going to be difficult for a 1,000-person experimental colony to grow rice at all, much less do it at the scale needed here. Then the same holds true for wheat, corn, oats, barley, potatoes, beef, chicken, etc. Yes, we can and will need to prove all of this out, but not in Experiment #1. A 50-pound bag of rice at Costco costs $15 and contains 80,000 calories. Rice from the commodity marketplace purchased by the ton costs half of that. It probably makes sense to grow fresh greens on site, but it will be much more efficient to purchase (rather than grow) most of the food for an experimental colony at this small size.
  • Will this 1,000-person experimental colony produce all of its own electricity, say from solar cells + batteries? Probably not. Solar power makes sense when the cost of the panels can be amortized across 20 years or more. For a 2-year experiment, the costs of solar probably do not make sense. Power can be purchased from the grid as needed.
  • Will this 1,000-person experimental colony produce its own clothing? Maybe, but like food, it may make more sense to buy some types of clothing from wholesale markets. It might make even more sense for the 1,000 colonists for this experiment to arrive with their own wardrobes and use those clothes for two years, thereby eliminating any clothing expenses from the experiment.
  • And so on. There are certain things that will make sense to try in a 1,000-person colony, and some things that will not.

What is the basic idea of the experiment?

We will plan to have 1,000 people living in this first experimental colony. The people will be chosen from an applicant pool with a general trend toward millenials (i.e. ages 18 to 37 [ref]) who demonstrate the ability during the interview and selection process to get along well with other people. Some of these millenials will be generalists, while some will be chosen for specific skills. Some of the specific skills that would be useful to have might include: software developers, IT specialists, software/hardware administrators, Web designers, EMTs, paramedics, nurses, doctors, carpenters, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, musicians, journalists, film school graduates, actors/actresses, writers, comedians, entrepreneurs, barbers, hair salonists, masseuses, engineers, project planners, business administrators, and so on. In other words, a wide mix of people with a variety of skills that might be useful to have during a 2-year experiment.

The people chosen for this experimental city will understand that they are simulating a part of a Mars colony over a two-year time frame. Therefore, the implication is that the 1,000 people will be “locked in” to the experimental city, like they would be “locked in” on the surface of Mars.

The people chosen for the experiment will sign a social contract for the experiment and will receive extensive training and socialization together (for example, four weeks) at the beginning of the experiment, so that they understand how the experimental city works and what is expected of them. See Chapter 11 for details on the social contract.

The people living in the experimental city will all have equal standing, and their day-to-day tasks within the colony will be determined by a task-allocation software system (See Chapters 4 through 8 for a description). There will also be an open source operating manual for the colony that provides instructions, procedures and training for all of the tasks being performed (See Chapter 17), as well as the legal system (See Chapter 11). Governance will be provided by software and/or human/software hybrids(See Chapter 15). A big part of this first experimental city will be the debugging and refinement of these software systems and the operating manual.

There will be no cars in this experimental colony. Bicycles are likely to be the most advanced vehicles because of the small size of the colony, along with a small number of small trucks for moving bulk and heavy objects. (See Chapter 14)

There will not be a direct connection to the Internet in this experimental city, in order to simulate the time delay that comes from the distance between Mars and Earth. There will be no direct phone, Skype or Facetime calls for the colonists to the rest of the world (because these forms of communication will be impossible on Mars). Everything coming from “the Internet” (including text messages, any web pages requested, videos, etc.) will arrive after a one-hour delay. Colonists in this experimental city will be able to create their own private copies of typical Earth internet services like Facebook, YouTube, eBay, etc. for use within the colony. Arriving colonists will be able to bring in digital copies of anything they like at the beginning of the experiment: things like movies, music, e-books, etc.

People will be able to bring a small number/amount of personal items. For example musical instruments, photography and videography equipment, games, etc.

If you look at the crew of the International Space Station, their low-G environment requires consistent exercise to maintain bone strength and overall health. NASA programs in two hours per day of exercise for each ISS astronaut [ref]. Mars gravity is lower than Earth gravity, so we can assume that colonists on Mars will also have specific exercise requirements. To simulate the exercise requirement in this experimental colony, a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise (in some form) will be required each day for each colonist. At the end of the 2-year experiment, colonists should be in the best shape of their lives. Some colonists may wish to do regular weigh-ins to monitor body weight and prevent obesity and/or lose weight.

The colonists will be responsible for all housing (and other buildings) construction and maintenance, all food preparation and service, some food production, some product production as makes sense within the scale of a 1,000-person colony, communication and Web infrastructure, and so on. Everything else will be purchased and brought in from the outside, with very close tracking of every item flowing into or out of the city. The idea will be to know exactly what the consumption patterns and consumption levels are for every item used by the colony. This will help to understand the manufacturing and support needs of larger experimental colonies in later experiments.

What are the housing options for this experiment?

Let’s assume, for this first experiment, that we are going to avoid anything radical in terms of housing. For example, we are not going to tunnel into the Earth and build an underground habitat for 1,000 people in this phase, nor will we be 3-D printing a super-futuristic carbon fiber city, or anything like that. Underground housing might be an interesting option for later experiments, especially in a desert environment, but we will stay more traditional for now. If this is the case, then one of the biggest concerns is cost. The total cost of this experiment hinges on the cost of the housing to a great degree.

One possibility is to house 1,000 people in a single high-density building, or a small number of these buildings. From the top, the building(s) might be shaped like an L, or a plus sign (+), or an asterisk (*), with individual rooms lining each “arm” and core services in the center hub. Here is a typical L configuration:
Floor plan for Crockett Hall at RPI [ref]

This is actually the dorm building I lived in at Rennesslaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY when I was in college. This is the floor plan for the second floor, and it represents an extremely inexpensive housing option. When I went to RPI, the area marked “Lounge” was a single central restroom for the floor – the restrooms seen on each leg in this diagram are a more modern modification (the two restrooms shown were normal rooms when I lived in this building). You can see that the majority of these rooms are “doubles” with 188 square feet for a pair of people. Rooms 213 and 215 are “singles”, with 114 square feet for a single person. It is easy to imagine all of the double rooms in this floor plan being converted to pairs of single rooms instead of double rooms to give everyone in the colony a private room. It is easy to imagine several elevators in the center. It is easy to imagine the single rooms being smaller, say 70 square feet (measuring 7×10 feet), as is the case at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica (see Chapter 7 for details), or slightly larger (e.g 140 square feet measuring 14×10 feet) per single room. It is easy to imagine these buildings with slightly longer arms, in a plus (+) configuration with 125 people per floor and a pair of four-story buildings housing all 1,000 colonists for the experiment.

One advantage seen here is the cost and floor space efficiency that arises from the lack of any kitchen facilities, as well as the use of communal restrooms. See the next section for details on this efficiency.

This would likely be the least expensive option for housing (see Chapter 7 for a discussion), but also the least flexible. The buildings could be built in place, perhaps one arm at a time, or using a modular approach like that seen in this video or similar, using either steel or wood for the modules:

A second option would be to borrow techniques and architectures from the manufactured housing industry in America. Homes constructed in this way can be extremely inexpensive, as seen here:
(Snapshot taken July 15, 2017)

It is easy to imagine adapting these manufacturing techniques to create easily-replicated housing modules, for example like these:
Rooms can grow or shrink depending on cost and comfort concerns. This is simply an example. Furnace and air conditioner plus water heater is located in the crawlspace or the attic.

Here every colonist receives a private room, while restrooms are shared in pairs. Each room has a private entrance. The thicker walls in the middle represent sound-proofing and fire-proofing. If a couple is living together, they would receive a pair of rooms (plus bathroom) and could use one room as a bedroom and the second room as a living room.

Looking at the pricing for manufactured housing seen in the screen shot, and taking into account that there are no kitchen facilities in the units, and also taking into account the fact that all labor used in constructing the units would be contributed by the colonists, it is quite likely that each colonist could be accommodated for a housing cost of $4,000 each, or less.

A third option is tiny homes. Tiny homes come in all shapes, sizes and price points. Our goal would be to create easily-replicated tiny homes in a factory environment for approximately $4,000 per unit (to house one person). Each tiny home produced would contain a private restroom, a loft bedroom, a downstairs living area and space for a kitchen (but no kitchen actually installed). A tiny home like this could house an individual colonist or a couple. Here is a typical tiny home to get an idea:

Another possibility is a tiny home built inside a shipping container measuring 8 feet x 20 feet, like this:
Many different floor plans are possible [ref]

Rugged? Yes. Stackable? Yes. Easily transported? Yes. Aesthetically pleasing? Perhaps not so much, although these designs show a lot of potential for the medium:

A big advantage of tiny homes is that, after the two-year experiment, each colonist would own his or her home and be able to move it or sell it. If housing is built in large monolithic buildings, it is less clear what would happen to the buildings after the experiment.

The big disadvantage of tiny homes is the land requirements, and the time needed for things like landscaping. If two large 4-story buildings are constructed to house 1,000 people, these two buildings fit on less than 2 acres of land. If 1,000 tiny homes are constructed to house 1,000 people at a rate of 30 tiny houses per acre, it requires 33 acres of land for the housing. Even doubling the density (so it looks something like this) requires 17 acres. In addition, all of the infrastructure for roads, water mains, sewer lines, natural gas, electricity, internet, etc. becomes more expensive if it has to cover 34 (or 17) acres.

[Note – There are other possibilities. For example, buy and convert a retired cruise ship and anchor it offshore (or commission a new one). A cruise ship already has rooms, restrooms, cooking facilities, dining facilities, entertainment facilities, etc. At the end of the experiment, sell the cruise ship, recouping much of its cost. Another example: increase the budget significantly and architect/build an extremely futuristic kind of facility that would better mimic the look/feel of an actual Mars colony built on the Martian surface. With enough funding, this approach could go so far as to enclose the entire facility in a bubble, as demonstrated by Biosphere 2. The goal of tiny houses with traditional construction techniques is to keep costs low for the experiment.]

Biosphere 2

Why are there no kitchens in these housing units?

Why are there no kitchen facilities in the units described here? Two reasons, both having to do with financial efficiency. If you think about the “typical kitchen” in an American home, it contains:

  1. A refrigerator
  2. A stove
  3. An oven
  4. A diswasher
  5. A kitchen sink
  6. A garbage disposer
  7. A microwave oven
  8. A Toaster
  9. Other appliances: various, including mixers, blenders, bread machines, coffee machines, waffle irons, toaster ovens, juicers, etc.
  10. Kitchen cabinets
  11. A pantry
  12. Kitchen counters (now often granite)
  13. Lighting
  14. Floor square footage
  15. Floor coverings, tile, back-splashes, etc.
  16. Kitchen table
  17. Kitchen chairs
  18. Dishes (plates, bowls, glasses, cups, mugs)
  19. Pots and pans of various sizes and shapes
  20. Silverware
  21. Knives
  22. Other utensils like spatulas, etc.

Considerations to keep in mind, and reasons to eliminate the kitchens from individual housing units:

  • A kitchen like this sits idle 90% of the time.
  • The individual kitchen in a house requires an individual person to “operate it”. Each person must do everything to prepare food individually in the most time-wasteful ways possibles. Here is an example: if boiling spaghetti noodles for one person, it would not not take much more time or effort to boil spaghetti noodles for 100 people. The cook just needs a bigger pot, and a bigger stove to heat that much water. The human time and effort is very nearly the same in either case, but in the second case the human time and effort yields 100 times more food. This kind of efficiency and economy of scale is lost when everyone prepares their own food individually.
  • If an individual is not a “good cook”, the results of individual food preparation in an individual kitchen are mediocre or bad, and often not nutritious. Most people are not “good cooks”.
  • There is a great deal of food spoilage and waste in an individual kitchen.
  • Food packaging costs and waste are immense when food must be packaged for individuals.
  • An immense amount of human time is also spent on kitchen cleanup, and if cleanup is not thorough it can lead to bug and vermin infestations.
  • The collection of stuff listed above to build and furnish a kitchen is expensive – thousands and thousands of dollars per person for stuff that, again, is sitting idle a vast majority of the time.

Kitchens are also the leading source of fires in homes:

The leading cause of home structure fires, civilian fire injuries, and unreported fires continues to be cooking equipment. Forty-one percent of home fires started in the kitchen area and caused 15 percent of the home fire deaths and 36 percent of the reported fire injuries. [ref]

Restaurant-level kitchens have beefy fire suppression systems and are much better staffed/monitored, so uncontrolled fires are very rare in a restaurant.

The bottom line is that the vast majority of colonists will benefit dramatically from eating nutritious, professionally-prepared meals and snacks served in restaurants, and the experimental colony will save a huge amount of human time and money in the process.

What are the food options for this experiment?

As already mentioned in Chapter 17, food purchased on wholesale commodity markets can be extremely inexpensive [ref]:

  • Wheat: $125 per metric ton, or 5 cents per pound (for comparison, a 50 pound bag of bread flour is $12 at Costco on July 15, 2017, or 24 cents per pound)
  • Corn: $150 per metric ton, or 6 cents per pound.
  • Soybeans: $390 per metric ton, or 17 cents a pound
  • Rice: $390 per metric ton, or 17 cents a pound (for comparison, a 50 pound bag of rice is $15 at Costco on July 15, 2017, or 30 cents per pound)
  • Potatoes: $9 per hundredweight or 9 cents per pound
  • Oranges: $1,125 per metric ton. An orange weighs about one third of a pound, so this is 6,600 oranges at 17 cents each
  • Sugar: 23 cents per pound (for comparison, a 50 pound bag of sugar is $22 at Costco on July 15, 2017, or 44 cents per pound)
  • Soybean oil: $775 per metric ton, or 35 cents per pound (for comparison, a 35 pound container of soybean oil is $17 at Costco on July 15, 2017, or 49 cents per pound)
  • Cocoa beans: $250 per metric ton, or 12 cents per pound

Even buying food in bulk at a place like Costco offers significantly reduced prices, as noted above. A 50 pound bag of bread flour is $12 at Costco (July 15, 2017). A 50 pound bag of rice is $15. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $2.00 a pound and boneless, skinless chicken thighs are $1.90 per pound. Whole chickens ready for roasting or rotisserie are $1 per pound.

Think about the ingredients needed to make common dishes:

  • To make a chocolate cake from scratch we need: flour, sugar, oil, cocoa, salt, baking soda, vinegar, vanilla extract and water [ref].
  • To make a loaf of bread from scratch we need: flour, sugar, yeast, salt, oil and water [ref].
  • To make falafel from scratch we need: chickpeas, onion, parsley, garlic, flour, salt, cumin, pepper, cardamon and oil [ref].

The point is that any food, made from scratch, contains simple ingredients that can be purchased in bulk on commodity markets at commodity prices. Bread would cost only 25 cents per pound for the ingredients in this scenario. See Chapters 4 and 5 for details.

In addition, a great deal of the fresh produce (lettuce, spinach, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, etc.) can be grown on site at very low cost in a mini-version of Thanet Earth. [ref], where hydroponic greenhouses grow prodigious amounts of food: “A staggering 2.5 million tomatoes will be cropped every week of the year; 560,000 peppers and 700,000 cucumbers will be picked weekly… The scale of the £80 million project is mind-boggling. When complete, its seven greenhouses will sprawl across 220 acres of Kent countryside.” Obviously we do not need a facility this large or this elaborate for a 1,000-person experimental city. We shrink it down to a 1,000-person scale and it occupies perhaps 1 acre.

All food will be served in a variety of restaurants and coffee shops that form a village core for the colony. Colonists will build and then staff these facilities. To provide variety, assume that there are 10 such establishments with seating for 80 people each. 7 restaurants with a variety of cuisines and styles, along with 3 different coffee+sandwich shop establishments, each completely different.

Three flies in the ointment, and how to overcome them

It makes sense to populate this experimental city with millenials. Why? Most importantly, the unemployment rate for millenials is much higher than the norm. If not unemployed, a large number of millenials are trapped in low-wage, unfulfilling jobs in places like coffee shops and retail stores. Examples:

The data is actually pretty scary: 44% of college grads in their 20s are stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs, the highest rate in decades, and the number of young people making less than $25,000 has also spiked to the highest level since the 1990s. [ref]

Millions of millenials are out of work:

U.S. census data show that 40 percent of our nation’s unemployed are millennials, translating into 4.6 million young people out of work. And the number of employed young people making less than $25,000 a year has spiked significantly to the highest levels in more than a quarter century. [ref]

The unemployment rate for millenials is 2.6X greater than the national average:

Despite being an up-and-coming, in-demand generation, and one that’s consistently shaping how we think about work, millennials are still having a hard time finding reasonable jobs. The millennial unemployment rate stands at an unfortunate 12.8 percent, compared to the national average of 4.9 percent. [ref]

However, there are three considerations that will be necessary to overcome with millenals:

  1. Many millenials are saddled with significant amounts of student debt: “You’ve probably heard the statistics: Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. That’s about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year. [ref]” Delaying students loan payments for two years may be problematic. One easy way to solve this problem is to select applicants who have low or no student debt. [Another way would be to give those colonists who have significant amounts of debt ways to earn money from the outside while living in the colony for two years. Example: manufacture and sell tiny houses.]
  2. Something will have to be done to cover health care costs and to handle health care issues when they arise for the 1,000 colonists. The most likely way to handle this is with a combination of an in-colony infirmary (as seen on many college campuses) combined with health insurance and outside hospitals to cover more serious health problems if they arise. Applicants can be chosen who are young and in good health to begin with, keeping these needs and costs as low as possible. Another possibility: choose applicants who are younger than age 24 (so they are younger than age 26 at the time the experiment ends) and whose parents are willing to insure and cover health care costs. This will eliminate health care costs from the equation.
  3. The experimental city will need to make a decision about children. It is likely to be the case that children will add complexity and costs to the experiment, especially on the health care side. Therefore, starting the experiment with no children, and using contraceptives to eliminate the possibility of births during the experiment, is likely to be the best choice. Later experiments can expand the scope to accommodate children, but in this first experimental city it is likely to be best to eliminate children from the equation. (See also Chapter 21 for a Welfare colony example with 2,000 children.)

There are other decisions that will need to be made as well:

  • Pets or no pets? If so, how are vets, pet food, deaths, kittens/puppies, etc. handled, and who pays for the costs? The experiment will be simplified by avoiding pets.
  • Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, opiods, and other recreational drugs – yes or no? It would be possible to eliminate all of these things during the applicant selection process, and this would probably simplify the experiment.
  • Are couples allowed, or does everyone come in as singles? And what is the male-to-female ratio of the colony? It seems easiest if all applicants chosen are singles and the male/female ratio is 50/50. (But an alternative would be to bring in 1,000 couples, increasing the colony size to 2,000 people, and perhaps eliminating a great deal of interpersonal interactions around sexuality in the experiment.)
  • Are teams of people allowed – four people who already know each other and plan to work together? See next section.

What will a typical day or a typical week look like for the colonists living in Mars Colony Simulation 1000A?

The first month for the colony will be very different from the remaining 23 months. People will arrive, they will undergo four weeks of training, and there will also be an intense period of housing construction. A colonist will need to contribute approximately 100 to 150 hours to construct his/her house. If the colony is producing 36 houses per day, the entire construction process can be finished in 28 days. After the first month, time spent on housing maintenance might total 15 minutes per week per colonist. New houses need little maintenance work. During the first month, people will be living and working in the multi-purpose building.

After the first month, with everyone housed and trained, the colony will settle into a steady-state operating pattern.

The 1,000-person colony proposed here is highly simplified compared to the full one-million person colony proposed for the surface of Mars. Therefore there are many fewer tasks that need to be performed by the colonists each day. Here are the kinds of tasks that need to be performed:

  1. Food preparation, food serving, cleanup. If we assume 10 restaurants open 10 hours a day on average and an average of 10 employees each, this works out to 1,000 hours of tasks per day. Therefore, each colonist will spend an average of one hour per day of food-related tasks, or 7 hours per week. [ref – answer 1 is interesting (a one-man restaurant)]
  2. Food growing in the greenhouses. Approximately 5 minutes per colonist per day, or 35 minutes per week.
  3. Policing. If there are four police officers on call 24 hours a day, this is 96 hours per day. This works out to 6 minutes per colonist per day, or 42 minutes per week.
  4. Infirmary. If there are two people staffing the infirmary 24 hours a day, this works out to 21 minutes per colonist per week.
  5. Gym. Assume that the gym is staffed by one person 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. This requires a commitment of 5 minutes per colonist per week.
  6. Wash-and-fold. Assume 4 people working there 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. This is 10 minutes per colonist per week.
  7. Technology. The colony will be continuously revising, updating and improving the software and internet services for the colonists. Assume one hour per week per colonist is spent on this activity. This level of effort would be equivalent to 25 full time employees working in the IT and software development department for the colony.
  8. Office, administration, operations. Like any town, there will be a town office that deals with the day-to-day administration of the colony. Assume 10 minutes per colonist per week. This would be equivalent to 4 full-time employees working in the office.
  9. Miscellaneous. Assume that each week there will be an additional 1,000 hours of miscellaneous tasks, or one hour per colonist per week.

Or, per colonist each week:

  1. Food: 420 minutes.
  2. Food growing: 35 minutes.
  3. Policing: 42 minutes.
  4. Infirmary: 21 minutes.
  5. Gym: 5 minutes.
  6. Wash-and-fold: 10 minutes.
  7. Technology: 60 minutes.
  8. Office, administration, operations: 10 minutes.
  9. Miscellaneous: 60 minutes.

Totaling these time commitments, it works out to an average of 663 minutes per colonist per week, or approximately 11 hours per week.

So think about this. After an intense first month, the colonists are working an average of 11 hours per week. Not 40 hours per week, but 11 hours per week. Beyond that 11 hour commitment per week, colonists have the rest of the week free.

[Note – if everyone in the colony could agree to have a single buffet-style restaurant, instead of the 10 restaurants previously proposed, it is likely that the 420 minutes per week for food prep/serving/cleanup could be reduced by half. Now the colonists would need to work only about 7.5 hours total per week. In other words, colonists would have a one-day work week. The other six days of the week are free. It would also reduce the initial cost of the colony by perhaps 6%.]

The task-allocation system will distribute all of the tasks across the 1,000 colonists, taking their preferences into account as much as possible. For example, what if one person wants to work 5 days straight and then have 4 weeks off? What if another person prefers to sleep til noon every day and never have tasks assigned in the morning? What if a person is a great chef and would prefer to be cooking most of the time? The task allocation system can handle all of these requests.

Whether colonists are required to work 11 hours per week or 7.5 hours per week, the point is that the colonists living in this experimental city will have: a) all of their needs met for the two-year duration of the experiment, and b) an unprecedented amount of free time available for whatever they want to do. Therefore, one of the most interesting parts of this experiment will be this: What will the 1,000 colonists do with all of their free time? Here are some possibilities that are easy to imagine:

  • Scholars – they treat the two years of time in the colony as though it is a college. They use their time as an opportunity to advance their education. They spend their time with books, on-line courses, MOOCs, on-line degree programs, etc. learning one skill or a set of skills. It is also easy to imagine teach-to-learn scenarios, where the colonists are giving a variety of classes from their skill sets, with other colonists taking the classes and providing feedback.
  • Writers – Many people would like to write a book but never find time in their cluttered, disruption-filled lives. This Mars colony simulation might provide the time needed to start writing. A person finishing a PhD could use this time to write a thesis. A budding novelist could write his/her first novel.
  • Artists – The term “artist” is very broad and can include painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, actors/actresses, etc. Like writers, artists may find the free time available in the colony very conducive to their work.
  • Entrepreneurs – Many entrepreneurs would like to work full-time on their startups, and the experimental Mars colony would provide them with the free time to do this.
  • Thinkers, philosophers, meditation, etc. – There are people who would simply like time to unplug from the hectic urban scene and think their own thoughts.
  • Scientific research – Like the International Space Station, it is possible to imagine a number of scientific experiments that can be done inside this enclosed Mars colony.
  • Working. Many people would like to simply work, at some non-stressful activity that earns money. They might want to work 10, 20, 30 or 40 hours per week and get paid for this work with a steady paycheck. Since there are no living expenses that need to be paid, all of the money could be saved in an external account. For example, after the first month, the colony will have the capacity to continue producing tiny houses in various shapes and sizes. These houses could be sold at a profit, and then the profit divided amongst the workers. The colony might create a shoe company and manufacture different kinds of shoes that are sold through a web site or retail outlets. People may be able to telecommute into jobs – for example, it is now fairly popular for software developers to work remotely. There are a number of different activities that might fit in the colony for colonists who wish to use their free time to generate and stockpile cash.
  • And so on. This experimental Mars colony represents a unique period of time for the people living in the colony.

How will we fund this experiment?

It is possible to imagine several possible funding sources for this project:

  1. Elon Musk and/or SpaceX provides funding
  2. NASA provides funding
  3. Federal and/or state grants provide funding
  4. A corporation or private foundation provides full funding. As an example, Biosphere 2 was funded in this way.

But let’s assume that none of these funding sources work out. The alternative in this case is private funding, provided by the experimental colonists themselves. In other words, when colonists are accepted for the experiment, they are asked to pay for their two years of time living in the experimental colony. This might sound like a non-starter, but let’s look at the numbers and see if it makes sense or not to try this.

What are the expected expenses for running this colony for two years? Let’s try to form a rough total estimate of costs, assuming the project is privately funded:

  1. The colony will need land. Let’s assume that we will use the tiny house model for each colonist, and therefore we need 34 acres for housing. Assume a total of 50 acres for the complex. Assume $5,000 per acre in a fairly rural county in the United States, so $250,000. [Alternatives include a deserted island to enhance the feeling of being “cut off” from the rest of the world, or an extremely remote location. Another alternative: buy and convert a retired cruise ship and anchor it offshore, out of sight of land. These alternatives may have the disadvantage of complicating logistics.]
  2. The acreage will need to be fenced, primarily for security. Estimated cost for materials is $8 per linear foot (including gates) [ref]. Assume 8,000 linear feet, so $64,000 total. Also assume $80,000 for outdoor lighting along the fence.
  3. There will be infrastructure costs for roads, electricity, water, sewer, etc. Assume $1,000 per colonist and $1,000,000 total.
  4. We will need to construct 1,000 tiny houses at $4,000 each in materials. So $4,000,000.
  5. Colonists will need food, some of which will be grown on site but most of which will be purchased at wholesale prices and brought in for preparation and serving. If colonists received all of their calories from rice, the rice would cost 30 to 40 cents per colonists per day. If colonists ate nothing but chicken, the chicken would cost $6 per day. Let’s pick an average cost of $3.50 per day to feed each colonist. $3.50/day * 365 days *2 years = $2,600 per colonist for the experiment. Add $200 per colonist to construct Thanet-style greenhouses. Total food cost is $2,800,000.
  6. Colonists will need personal hygiene supplies: soap, shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste, razors, makeup, etc. Assume $25 per colonist per month, or $600,000 total over 2 years.
  7. Assume that it costs $2,000 per colonist to build and equip the restaurants used to prepare and serve all of the food in the colony. $2,000,000 total. See this page for posible floor plans.
  8. Assume $600,000 to build and equip an indoor multi-purpose facility and gym. All 1,000 residents can meet together in the building, and it can also be used for things like basketball, volleyball, dances, large parties, etc. There will also be exercise equipment as seen in a typical gym.
  9. Over the course of the 2-year experiment, colonists and the colony will be consuming electricity for things like lighting, heat, air conditioning, refrigeration, and so on. We need to account for both in-home and in-colony electrcity usage (e.g. the restaurants consume electricity). Assume 20 kilowatt-hours per colonist per day at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, or a total of $1,440,000 for the colony for two years.
  10. Assume colonists will consume 100 gallons of water per person per day, at 1 cent per gallon, and that water and sewer service will come from either a well/septic system on site or from the county. Total cost is $720,000. It is possible to imagine things like a full recycling system for water in this experiment, but the costs may be prohibitive.
  11. Internet service and equipment. There will need to be site-wide wifi coverage and Internet infrastructure within the colony, but actual two-way Internet service should be very low because of the one-hour delay. Assume $200/colonist or $200,000.
  12. Assume startup costs of $1,000 per colonist to get the project rolling. $1,000,000 total. This will cover everything needed to instantiate the project, including real estate fees, site planning, legal fees, accounting fees, software development, utility hookups, taxes, factory/warehouse space, loading docks, vehicles, other equipment, landfill fees, etc.
  13. The colony will have central laundry facilities, similar to a wash-and-fold place in NYC. Assume $40,000 for the shop and machines.
  14. Assume a bike share program at a cost of $25 per colonist, or $25,000 total.
  15. Assume that colonists bring in their own clothing at the start of the experiment.
  16. Assume that colonist bring in their own laptops and tablets at the start of the experiment.
  17. Assume that applicants are chosen with low or no student debt.
  18. Assume parents of colonists will pay for the colonists’ health care costs.
  19. Assume that each colonist has pre-chosen and paid for their mattress. Mattress selections tend to be very personal things for people, and therefore it would not be possible to bulk purchase 1,000 one-size-fits-all mattresses.

A first approximation of the total costs for this 2-year experiment will be:

  1. Land: $250,000
  2. Fencing and outdoor lighting: $144,000
  3. Infrastructure: $1,000,000
  4. Housing: $4,000,000
  5. Food: $2,800,000
  6. Hygiene: $600,000
  7. Restaurant construction: $2,000,000
  8. Multipurpose and gym: $600,000
  9. Electricity: $1,440,000
  10. Water/sewer: $720,000
  11. Internet: $200,000
  12. Startup costs: $1,000,000
  13. Wash-and-fold: $40,000
  14. Bike share: $25,000

The total cost to start the experimental colony is therefore $14,619,000. Let’s assume that there is 10% error in these estimates, so the actual total cost to build and operate this experiment for 2 years is $16,000,000.

Also assume that at the end of the experiment, each colonist will be able to own or sell his/her tiny home. The land (plus improvements) will be sold. Assume the value each colonist will carry away is $6,000. Therefore, the net expense will be $10,000,000, or $10,000 per colonist.

[Note – if we were to run the experiment for 4 years rather than 2 years, many of the fixed costs (land, fence, infrastructure, housing, etc.) are amortized across twice as much time. Food, water and electricity are the only continuing expenses. Total expenses for 4 years are $21,300,000, or $15,300,000 after the value of the colonists’ tiny houses are recouped. This is $15,300 per colonist over 4 years, or $320 per month. $320 per month is a remarkably low number when you consider that it includes a majority of normal living expenses: housing, food, water, electricity, laundry, etc. If we now add in full health care expenses of $500 per person per month (covering the monthly premium plus all co-pays and deductibles) and another $180 per month in other expenses (e.g. clothing, full internet, phone, etc.), this is $1,000 per month (half of which is health care).]

How can we actually build and pay for Mars Colony Simulation 1000A?

Let’s assume that Mars Colony Simulation 1000A will actually happen. We will build and run this experiment starting in 2019.

And let’s also assume that no funding entity is willing to fund the experiment.

Now the question is, would a MCS1000A colonist (e.g. a typical millenial) be willing to pay an upfront payment of $16,000 ($667 per month for 24 months), and a net of $10,000 (an average of $417 per month over 24 months), to cover all of his/her living expenses in their entirety (housing, food, utilities, gym membership, laundry, entertainment, etc.) over 2 years? In addition, the people living in Mars Colony Simulation 1000A will be a part of history, as residents of the world’s first 1,000-person experimental Mars colony.

The colonists might be willing, but the fundamental problem is very easy to understand: typical Americans do not have $16,000 sitting around for any kind of “up front payment”. If this experiment is really going to happen, it is going to need to be self-funded on a month-by-month basis. What does this mean?

  1. The experiment will need to start with $16,000,000 in donations, or a loan. Assume a 2 year loan at 6% interest.
  2. This means that each colonist will be on the hook for $710 per month to repay the loan. [ref]
  3. This means that every colonist will need a way to generate or earn $710 per month while living in the colony.
  4. If we assume colonists are paid $7.10 an hour, this is 100 hours of revenue-generating work per month. If they are paid $15 per hour, it is 48 hours per month (or 12 hours per week, plus 11 hours per week in colony tasks, so a 23 hour work week (a 3-day work week)).

Now the question changes to: How can 1,000 colonists generate $15 per hour per colonist on revenue generating work? And a sub-question: How much are we willing to break the “Mars Simulation” model to generate this revenue? For example, the colony could operate a sit-down restaurant to generate revenue, but now the colonists working in the restaurant would be directly interacting with Earthlings every day.

If we brainstorm different industries that the colony could easily operate, allowing colonists to generate income to service this loan, what are some possibilities? This is a Mondragon philosophy – let the colony make things that they can sell for a profit. Here are several possibilities:

  1. Manufacture and sell tiny houses. The colony will have build 1,000 for the colonists, so simply continue building them, and sell them. Other forms of manufactured housing are also possible.
  2. Since the colony already has greenhouses, expand the greenhouses and raise/sell vegetables for sale.
  3. Raise organic, ethically-farmed chickens and/or eggs [ref].
  4. Provide daycare services for children (this is not a bad idea, but the colony is currently hypothesized to be “in the middle of nowhere” to lower land costs. The colony would need an in-town location for this to work, and therefore higher land costs).
  5. Bake artisanal bread or other food products for sale.
  6. Operate one or more restaurants (runs into the same location problem as daycare)
  7. Develop web sites and other other software services for clients on Earth.

All of those are easily imagined. More elaborate ideas:

  1. Come up with and sell a line of ethically manufactured shoes and/or clothing [ref].
  2. Manufacture and sell person hygiene products like soap, shampoo and toothpaste, since the colony needs them anyway. [ref]
  3. Furniture or cabinet manufacturing of some sort [ref]
  4. Create a reality show based on the colony and use it to generate revenue.

In the real Mars colony on Mars, there will be a huge amount of manufacturing (See Chapter 13 for details). Therefore, operating a manufacturing center in the experimental colony makes sense.How will millenials react to doing stuff like this for 12 hours a week? If we assume that millenials are happy doing this sort of work for 12 hours a week, and they are happy living in tiny houses, then we are creating a society with a much lower cost of living. The overhanging problem that then remains: health care. Perhaps Medicaid is the solution. This is how the problem is solved in the Welfare colony.

What will we learn from Mars Colony Simulation 1000A?

The goal of Mars Colony Simulation 1000A is Full Transparency. This is an experimental colony, and the data, results, discoveries, etc. will be an open book for all to see. Both the successes and failures will be fully documented. A number of fundamental scientific and psychological questions will be answered by this experiment:

  • Can an experiment of this scale and duration be pulled off? Is the experiment generally “successful” or “unsuccessful”? How do the colonists feel about the experience?
  • Based on the successes or unsuccesses of experiment 1000A, what would be changed for experiment 1000B?
  • What do we learn in terms of moving forward? If we wanted to do a 5,000 or 10,000 person experiment, what would we change?
  • How do people respond to the new economic and governance models? Effective or ineffective? Generally positive or negative reactions to it? High or low compliance? Etc.
  • Does four weeks of training at the beginning cover things, or do we need more or less?
  • How do people get along? Do they stay unified as a 1,000-person entity? Or do they break into tribes and/or cliques? Do polarizations and schisms occur, or is there togetherness and happiness throughout? Are there steps that can be taken to increase unity?
  • How do colonists feel about the experience, both during and after? What problems and successes do they note? Do people feel like their lives are better or worse from the experience?
  • How do people actually fill all of their free time? Is there a burst of creativity and learning, or do people become lethargic?
  • What sort of culture evolves among the 1,000 people?
  • What community activities arise spontaneously?
  • What forms of entertainment arise? Do musicians perform? Do actors and actresses perform? Are films, books and other forms of entertainment created, both for consumption internally and externally?
  • How do people feel about the food?
  • How do people feel about the housing and other facilities?
  • What are the consumption patterns and consumption levels for every item used by the colony? Why are people consuming these items? We can provide very close tracking of every item flowing into or out of the colony. The idea will be to know a great deal more about consumption for the next experiment.
  • Do people come out of the experience healthier or less healthy, based on objective measurements? Are they heavier or lighter? Less fit or more fit? Etc.
  • What are the unexpected benefits and problems that arise over the two year span?
  • What do we need to change/improve?
  • What kind of publicity and media attention arises from an experiment like this? The colony can produce documentaries both during and after, daily or weekly news reports, etc. to heighten awareness. What is the response?
  • Are other experiments inspired?
  • Are there any new discoveries that can be applied immediately on Earth?
  • What should be tested in subsequent experiments?
  • And so on…

In addition, the task-allocation system will be tuned and debugged by the experience, along with the operating manual and governance model for the colony. These would be available for subsequent experiments and larger experimental colonies.

Can an experiment like this really happen on Earth? Can it be funded? Would you like to be involved? We are, perhaps, about to find out….

Mars Colony Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 – Elon Musk Makes His Big Announcement about the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 2 – The Many Thought Experiments that Mars Inspires
  • Chapter 3 – Why Do We Need a New Socio-Economic-Political System on Mars?
  • Chapter 4 – Imagining a New and Much Better Socio-Economic-Political System for the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 5 – What Happens When We Add a Massive Amount of Farm Automation to the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 6 – How Will the Mars Colony Produce its Clothing?
  • Chapter 7 – How Will Housing Work for the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 8 – How Will the Mars Colonists Construct Their Housing?
  • Chapter 9 – How do we provide other services like water, sanitation, police force, fire department, health care, etc. for the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 10 – What might a typical “work week” look like on Mars? Who gets a free ride on Mars? Who will do the undesirable jobs on Mars?
  • Chapter 11 – What do we do with lazy people on Mars? What do we do with the assholes?
  • Chapter 12 – How would insurance work on Mars? Yes, insurance…
  • Chapter 13 – How will we make chips on Mars? Pharmaceuticals? Medical devices? “Stuff”? Will Mars be an actual backup plan for humanity?
  • Chapter 14 – What Will the Transportation System on Mars Look Like for Mars Colonists?
  • Chapter 15 – What will the political system look like? How will it be organized?
  • Chapter 16 – Building Experimental Cities on Earth Today to Find the Optimal Configuration for the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 17 – How can we apply the Mars colony’s principles to the billions of refugees and impoverished people on planet Earth today?
  • Chapter 18 – How will entertainment work on Mars? What types of entertainment will be available for Mars colonists?
  • Chapter 19 – How will children work on Mars? Who gets to have children? What is the colony’s stance toward children?
  • Chapter 20 – Starting the process of building experimental Mars colonies on Earth – Mars Colony Simulation 1000A
  • Chapter 21 – Can the economic system proposed for the Mars colony significantly improve the Welfare situation in the United States?
  • Chapter 22 – How much land will the Mars colony need?
  • Chapter 23 – Thought Experiment: What If Everyone Makes the Same Wage?
  • Chapter 24 – How Will Innovation Work on Mars?
  • Chapter 25 – Will there be advertising on Mars?
  • Chapter 26 – What should be the ultimate goal of the Mars colony?
  • Appendix A – Restaurants
  • Interviews with Marshall Brain on the Mars Colony:
  • See also:

[Feedback and suggestions on any part of this book are greatly appreciated. Contact information is here.]

> > > Go to Chapter 21

The Official Site for Marshall Brain