jump to navigation

Dr. Robert Zubrin, Tuesday, 6-2-15 June 3, 2015

Posted by The Space Show in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dr. Robert Zubrin, Tuesday, 6-2-15


Your Amazon Purchases Helps Support TSS/OGLF (see www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm)

If you rate shows on live365.com, email me your rating reasons to help improve the show

Guest:  Dr. Robert (Bob) Zubrin.  Topics:  Mars Society Convention 2015, Convention debate topics, HSF to Mars issues & concerns.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed back Dr. Robert (Bob) Zubrin to discuss the upcoming Mars Society Convention in Washington, DC from August 13-16, 2015 (see www.marssociety.org/a/marssociety.org/www/conventions/18th-annual-international-mars-society-convention). During our 1 hour 45 minute program without a break, Dr. Zubrin not only told us about the upcoming Mars Society Convention for 2015, but talked about Human Spaceflight (HSF) to Mars by addressing many specific issues, concerns, and topics.  Starting off with the Convention, it is August 13-16, 2015 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.  Special hotel prices are available at the Phoenix Park Hotel (see www.marssociety.org/conventions/18th-annual-international-mars-society-convention/hotel-and-transportation for reservation details).  Bob told us about the keynote speakers but also the special format this year for debates. Several topics will be debated including Moon vs. Mars, Mars One feasibility with the MIT team and Bas from Mars One, how best to achieve commercial space plus other topics.  Bob then started getting questions from listeners & myself on a wide variety of Mars HSF mission topics.  To start with, I asked Bob to comment on what several recent Space Show guests have said about our not being ready for HSF to Mars for a variety of reasons including radiation, other human factors, the costs, and the trip risk which would turn it into a survival mission and nothing more.  Before Bob responded to my specific question, he commented on the recent radiation paper, “How a trip to Mars would mess with your brain.”  Bob was very critical of this paper and spent time going through it and showing where he believed it to be bogus.  You can read Bob’s critique at www.marssociety.org/home/press/announcements/invalidclaimsmadeforwhathappenstoyourbrainonthewaytomarspublication.  Bob spent a good amount of time debunking the original article so don’t miss his comments.  Before moving on, I again asked Bob to respond specifically to what my guests had said as none of them mentioned the paper in question.  We had an interesting discussion on risk taking and the role of government as part of our discussion.  John in Florida called to ask about the concept of a nuclear explosion on Mars per Space Show guest Dr. John Brandenberg.  This led to questions about shortages of PU238, space policy & political leadership. Doug had questions about an Earth Return Mission and later he eventually called in to get a more precise answer to what he was asking.  We talked about one way missions, how best to explore Mars, and the responsible way to tackle the eventual settlement on Mars.  Emmet from NY called in to ask about Elon Musk Mars and NASA plans and why they seem to ignore going for artificial gravity.  Again, Bob had much to say about this issue which he said was different for Musk and NASA.  He felt Musk would address it as the challenge became more real for him.  As far as NASA goes, he said it was criminal to have avoided the issue for decades.  Don’t miss his comments.  Jackie emailed in a question about character in the book “The Martian,” wanting to know if crew were stranded on Mars could they actually do some of the things the character in the book did to survive.  You might be surprised by Bob’s answer.  Matt in Germany asked a question about Mars via the Moon, BJohn asked about the use of a cycler for Mars transportation & Kirk called to talk about an article he had read about fossil ice at Valles Marineris.  Kirk will post a comment about this on the blog after the show is archived.  Next up was the subject of terraforming Mars. Bob had much to say about this plus he offered a possible terraforming timeline. Doug then wanted to know if Bob was referring to paraterraforming when he mentioned the use of Domes on the Martian surface but Bob said no.  Tim called to talk about the radiation paper discussed earlier and mentioned a second experiment saying that antioxidants negated the radiation effects. Bob was not familiar with the second study but summarized his comments about the paper.

BJohn emailed in about rocket advances from the Saturn V for a Mars mission, we talked about what it would mean to use a Falcon Heavy for Mars missions, then Marshall called to inquire about sources of power on Mars, particularly nuclear and getting a large enough nuclear reactor to Mars.  Marshall and Bob talked about a Topaz like reactor.  Another question came up about using the Martian moons for the early human missions rather than Mars.  Bob explained why in his mind this was not a good idea.  He then compared the radiation dosage of long term ISS usage for ISS astronauts to the transit time and radiation dosage for a Martian crew.  Don’t miss what Bob had to say about this.  In Bob’s concluding comments, we focused on the upcoming convention but also on the importance NASA and a HSF mission to Mars in the context of the world today.  This is an important part of our program so don’t miss it.  In concluding, Bob said “It is time again for NASA to astound the world to show what free men can do.”  You will likely hear me use Bob’s closing statement on many future Space Show programs.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above.  You can reach Dr. Zubrin through me at drspace@thespaceshow.com.


1. J FIncannon - June 15, 2015

Somehow I had missed on interesting op-ed by Zubrin in which he rebukes Paul Spudis for grossly overestimating the cost for a manned Mars mission.

I find it funny for him to state the following:
“Rather than sending astronauts to the moon to date craters to gratify the scientifically trivial obsessions of lunar geologists such as Spudis, we can go to Mars to make fundamental discoveries about the potential prevalence and diversity of life in the universe.”

It is not clear how he intends to preserve any life they discover on the Mars surface since he suggests elsewhere that “if microbes are discovered on Mars, they should be treated no differently than similar life on Earth, which we do not hesitate to kill”. It almost seems like a search and destroy mission. Sure, it seems he is suggesting, we Mars explorers will see how prevalent Mars life is and how diverse Mars life is, but then our own presence might eliminate that ecosystem. If he really wanted to make fundamental discoveries about the diversity of life in the universe, he should leave that to robots and try to avoid the surface with Earth-life if at all possible until Mars life has been completely dis-proven or adequate decontamination methods have been developed. Both sound hard to do.

2. J Fincannon - June 5, 2015

Yes, Dr. Zubrin is always very interesting to listen to. Its hard to find things I disagree with him on. I guess the main one is about landing people on Mars rather than using robotic to explore maybe from human piloted Mars orbiting spacecraft.

It sounds like he is not too interested in extant Mars life and reminded me of the following article, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2762/1. Whitfield is rebutting Madhu Thangavelu of the University of Southern California who thought going to the Moon made more sense than to Mars. Whitfield states:

Then there is the issue of planetary protection, and the risks of contamination between Mars and the Earth. “To add to all the controversy to the exploration and settlement of Mars, is the issue of contamination and quarantine,” he writes. “Some scientists believe human activity on extraterrestrial bodies will endanger potential life forms that may exist there.”
Hundreds of kilograms of material are exchanged between the two planets every year and the material is not thoroughly sterilized in this process. Thus, any contamination that could happen either way would have already happened long before our ancestors even walked upright, and it continues to this day, so these concerns can be disregarded.

A commenter on the web page states succinctly:
“The hundreds of kilograms of material exchanged between Earth and Mars every year (where does that number come from?) likely doesn’t include hair, skin flakes, dandruff, and material with genetic import. So if you’re going to look for life on Mars, bringing life there to do it is a really dumb thing to do. We take a lot of trouble to sterilize all our Mars landers. So Whitfield seems to bring to us the understanding that these sterilization concerns could have been disregarded. Eh, we were just pretty stupid in doing that sterilization! I have to wonder what biological expertise that is based on.”

B John - June 7, 2015

>”Its hard to find things I disagree with [Zubrin] on. I guess the main one is about landing people on Mars”

Oh, only that little detail? Then I’m sure you and Bob can still become best friends, he he he NOT!!!
I’m not making fun of you, please don’t misunderstand me, it is just the formulation that happens to be funny. If you’ve ever seen R. Zubrin talk about landing humans on Mars, you’d understand, in a no uncertain way, that orbiting humans around Mars doesn’t do it for him. The next guy who proposes another “stepping stone to Mars” can count on R. Zubrin picking it up and throwing it back at him. And on that point at least I agree with him.

J FIncannon - June 7, 2015

Yes, it IS a minor point of difference. But he did say he was going to have a debate with the Moon and Mars orbit folk. Hopefully his exasperation won’t get the best of him. He really wants to walk on Mars!

J Fincannon - June 8, 2015

I found a reference to Zubrin’s opinion on the matter in a book “When Biospheres Collide” by Michael Meltzer.


“Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner take the position that
if microbes are discovered on Mars, they should be treated no differently than similar life on Earth, which we do not hesitate to kill.” which is apparently in their book “The Case for Mars” pg 248-249


3. jimjxr - June 4, 2015

Well as a foreigner I find Dr. Zubrin’s nationalism refreshing, there’s no question that the concept of freedom and democracy is being serious challenged right now, and I do hope the US will be able to rise up to the challenge.

I also fully agree that once you have the capability for Mars, you can do missions to the Moon and asteroids using the same capability, and you need to do the latter in order to keep the launch rate up. But I don’t necessarily agree with the mission driven idea, it would be too easy to turn mission driven into Apollo Redux, it would not be sustainable.

And for NASA to regain its formal glory, the first step is not finding a mission, the first step is to stop the pork fest such as H.R. 2578 in congress.

Matt - June 4, 2015

The concept of freedom and democracy is threatened at most by USA itself at most. No, I would say that concept has already failed to a large degree, in a country where 50% of people do not vote and selection of most important political deciders is based on the amount of money, which other super-rich people invest in them. I know that many US-citizens support me here. I do not see as a “fast-as-soon-“mission to Mars can change this situation.

Many foreign people see in contrast to you the US nationalism/imperialism (which manifests itself for example in 700-800 military bases around the world) as a threat to whole world. Many people do not like this situation. BTW, the idea of US-exceptionalism is a bad joke, which does not fit to reality, if you consider the reality as US debt situation for example. It is only imperialism, not less and not more, which tries to give itself a better name.

At least, space shall be used for international cooperation and not for nationalism.

JohnFromFlorida - June 5, 2015

USA currently spends through NASA almost 4 times as much money as what Europeans (with a slightly larger aggregate GDP) spend on ESA. Historically that spending ratio was >10. If other countries want to be involved they need to bear the burden.

BTW, the USA also bears far more of the burden for NATO than the European countries it was designed

JohnFromFlorida - June 5, 2015

…to protect.

Matt - June 5, 2015

Hello John, if you to make out an invoice, you should consider that USA lives to significant degree on expense of the rest of the world (mostly China, Germany and Japan). Please consider just the annular US trade deficit, fresh printed dollars are given for real goods. I think it add up to one trillion dollar/year. Furthermore, should see that also a significant part of US’ GDP comes from the financial industry, a system which feeds also money from abroad to USA. I would say – we foreigners – have all the right to get some money back in form of entertaining US space activities. To NATO: I would prefer if my home country would spend more money in its own sovereignty, a stronger military, own nuclear weapons and free alliances what is best for us, including Russia.

JohnFromFlorida - June 5, 2015

USA bonds are sold on an open global market. They compete with other bonds, like Euro denominated bonds. The USA Dollar competes with other currencies, like the Euro. There are many players in these huge, comparatively very free, and highly liquid markets. So, unlike government expenditures on space and defense, there is no net unfair burden to other countries regarding trade or debt. Unlike Russia, Greece, etc. the USA always pays its debt on time.

Also, contrary to popular myth USA debt to GDP at a little over 70% is fairly normal compared to other countries. See the list in the link below and note that the UK and Germany have higher debt ratios and the overall world ratio is only a little lower at 64%:


jimjxr - June 5, 2015

I’m not interested to discuss politics here, suffice to say I don’t agree with any of your assertions, and these assertions are yours alone, you can’t possible believe you’re speaking for the rest of the world.

American exceptionalism is not a joke, SpaceX is the best example, find me a country where a 10 years old startup can develop/build/launch Falcon 9 class rocket and Dragon spaceship. There is none other than the United States.

The Space Show - June 5, 2015

Let me remind everyone that The Space Show is a 501C3 so we don’t discuss politics, partisan issues (other than space), geopolitics, etc. If you want to discuss that, opine as to your world, global or nationalistic views of this or that, find another blog. As best as possible, I keep The Space Show on track with not engaging in politics other than as related to space policy. Thank you for honoring this system. For the record, any additional political posts of the nature of those that have been showing up here will be removed from the blog. Again, keep it on the space related topics. Thanks.

Dr. space

4. Chris - June 3, 2015

Dr. Zubrin, your excellent books _The Case for Mars_ and _Entering Space_ have really influenced the way I think about space exploration. I make a point of re-reading them periodically.

A few years have passed since you published these amazing books. How would you update them now, if given the chance?

Inter alias, how would the emergence of SpaceX or other private ventures influence or change your vision of how or when we might get to Mars? Would the current landscape of private ventures merit significant revision to these classic works?

Can you recommend a reading list for those of us who want to understand the current landscape in space exploration?

5. JohnFromFlorida - June 3, 2015

Open Letter Request For Zubrin Review of Brandenburg Claim

Hi Bob Zubrin,

Here is a link to one of Brandenburg’s papers with the claim of an isotope signature for an ancient giant nuclear explosion on Mars:


I think it is very important that you review this claim, just the isotope signature claim not the other controversial claims in the paper, and post your opinion about its validity. If the claim is valid, it should be easy to get consensus, or near consensus, agreement from other nuclear physicists and engineers. If so, the result could be sufficient political support for the kind of 10 year manned Mars mission goal you have admirably fought for over the years.

On a separate topic, thanks so much for your energy advocacy work (nuclear, fracking, flex fuels, capturing flare gas, etc.). You say many very important things, clearly and unambiguously, that need to be said, when almost no one else is saying them.

B John - June 5, 2015

How does it matter for human space flight if there was an ancient nuclear blast on Mars or not?

Matt - June 5, 2015

This can be quite easily understood: Dr. Brandenburg is convinced that artificial relicts from that ancient civilization exist on Mars, which was destroyed by nuclear attack according to this theory. What shall more motivate to fly manned to Mars as the detection from such relicts?

JohnFromFlorida - June 5, 2015

Brandenburg himself combines very controversial and even “fringe” beliefs about ancient civilizations and the “face” on Mars with the apparent nuclear explosion evidence. My point is that people with expertise could confirm or refute the isotope evidence on its own from the standpoint of purely conventional science.

Then if it is confirmed whatever the explanation is becomes an important scientific question, if for no other reason because of the potential threat to Earth. Manned Mars missions would be needed to answered that second question of how and why the explosion happened.

B John - June 5, 2015

Nuclear attack?
Oh no, that is sooo first millennia after industrialization. Aliens stopped practicing that soon after they stopped building pyramids.

But I can see where he is coming from: Sirius B. No! The pyramid and face on Mars crowd has been disappointed. So they need someone to make up an alien explanation of the dominating feature there is on Mars: craters. Nuclear mushroom cloud bomb by the zilligotians from Beda 56 is the obvious answer. Right? Just like with aliens, it is assumed true until disproved.

JohnFromFlorida - June 5, 2015

I just want to know if the specific claim of isotopic evidence for an ancient nuclear explosion on Mars is credible. That can be determined on the basis of nuclear physics, independent of the cause of the explosion.

B John - June 5, 2015

I think that human space flight has more urgent problems to care about. Such as not having the vehicle itself blow up because of technical errors. I don’t see how Martian nuke volcanoes factor in to the general going-there-equation.

6. Matt - June 3, 2015

I listened carefully to the show with Dr. Robert Zubrin until end. I have to say that Dr. Zubrin did not convinced me at all. He did not brought any reasonable argument, which would set Moon at a second place compared to Mars in terms of implementation of a permanent manned space flight development. LOL after hearing his “foot-prints-on-Moon” reply.

His “ideology” of mission driven NASA policy seems at first view very strong (I was caught by it also for some time), but it is false. The mission driven type of approach (as Apollo) is exact the opposite that we need. It seems that he does not understand the required broader approach of developing commercial space utilization, where the Moon play a major role.

It is my impression that he might already passed the peak of his effect on future manned mission policy. His arguments were often somewhere surreal and sounded quite fanatic. It is also disturbing for foreigner as me to face such a strong nationalism. Nevertheless, the show has its value to me, it sustained my view that the Moon is the next step, longer before Mars, which have to wait for some decades more.

7. Jim Davis - June 3, 2015

This was an excellent show, as all shows with Dr. Zubrin are.

This show is an excellent exhibit for demonstrating why Zubrin is such a polarizing figure in space advocacy circles. On the one hand is Zubrin, the passionate visionary, who champions an appealing and optimistic future for humanity. On the other hand is Zubrin, the petty disputant, who dismisses any dissenters from his opinions as unpatriotic, cowardly frauds, responsible for thousands of innocent deaths every year!

Like Zubrin, I would be very interested in knowing what posterity would think about his plans to terraform Mars. I would also be interested in knowing what posterity would think about Zubrin himself.

Love him or hate him, Zubrin is a “must listen to” guest.

8. JohnFromFlorida - June 3, 2015

With regard to Brandenburg’s claim, I did not get around to conveying to Zubrin the following point:

If Brandenburg is correct about the ancient nuclear explosion signature of the isotope distribution on Mars – regardless of Brandenburg’s more exotic beliefs about Cydonia, etc. – it would result in a very powerful political impetus for a manned Mars mission, since the explosion would very likely have been “artificial” (the action of some intelligent source).

Zubrin is the perfect person to review Brandenburg’s claim, and I really hope he does follow-up on this. It was strange that during the program Zubrin seemed to dismiss the claim under an assumption that since an explosion would have to have been “artificial” it could not have happened.

J Fincannon - June 5, 2015

I don’t think Zubrin will EVER use the rationale that there may have been civilizations or non-terrestrial artifacts on Mars as a reason for humans to go there. He does not need to. He knows if he tries that is a slippery slope to derision. Brandenburg seems a nice guy and if all he was proposing was a Mars natural reactor or even some more esoteric method for an explosion like a block of antimatter or dark matter or black hole, then it wouldn’t be so hard to swallow. But his speculation on alien nuclear weapons goes too far.

9. JohnFromFlorida - June 3, 2015

With regard to tethered rotation for artificial gravity, are there serious risks of losing dynamic control while entering or exiting the rotation? What about the risk of the tether breaking? It seems like a tether break would send the spacecraft off course, likely without any chance of recovery.

B John - June 5, 2015

Rotation speed is very very small. If the tether breaks, then a small push would bring the two parts of the spaceship together again and the tether will be reconnected. The tether might be replaced with an air beam, maybe to be pressurized with a foam which dries and gives solid light weight structure. Or simply a truss, the ISS already has an almost 100 meter long truss. It isn’t hard to do. Spinning is 17th century physics. And for stabilizing spin, see the last NASA test of the LDSD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yRWhu0UGYw Didn’t look all that hard, did it?

10. Kirk - June 3, 2015

Oh No! I hear that when I called in at 1:13:40 to ask Dr. Zubrin about the relict ice in Valles Marineris I mispoke, saying one million cubic meters, when I meant to say one million cubic kilometers of ice. (Off by nine orders of magnitude!)

Anyhow, the January 2014 Geomorphology paper is:

One million cubic kilometers of fossil ice in Valles Marineris: Relicts of a 3.5 Gy old glacial landsystem along the Martian equator


(Check out Figures 11 & 12 and section 6 “Discussion” to cut to the chase.)

This team of European planetary geologists believes that they have identified telltale signs of extensive glaciation in Valles Marineris, and that while trimline elevations suggest that 0.3 x 10^6 km^3 of ice has been lost to sublimation since the period of maximum glacial extent, they believe that as much as 1 x 10^6 km^3 of relic ice remains, capped by a layer of ablation till which may be as little as a few tens of meters thick in places. This ice would not have been detected by Mars Odyssey since its neutron spectrometer is sensitive to concentrations of hydrogen in the upper meter of the surface.


What I don’t know is if the penetrating radars currently in orbit around Mars — MARSIS on Mars Express and SHARAD on MRO — should have already detected this ice if it is there, or if they have even scanned Valles Marineris.

To put this amount of ice in context, one million cubic kilometers is about 20% as much as the total Martian ice previously detected (largely, but by no means exclusively, in the the polar caps). Closer to home, it is 40% as much ice as is present in all of the Greenland ice sheet, and it represents about ten times as much water as is present in all fresh lakes on Earth. The discovery of such an amount of near-equatorial, accessible ice would have huge implications for both future human settlement and the current understanding of where to look for life on Mars.

What surprises me the most is that, as important as this paper appears to be, I’ve not located any other papers which specifically address their findings (either in support or refutation). I’m trying to contact the authors to ask them a few questions, and if they seem to be promising Space Show guests I will let David know.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: