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Budget Terraforming

  [vote for,

Terraforming is great, but it has two drawbacks. First, it's hideously expensive. Second, it takes ages. Third, it only works on fairly big planets that can hang onto an atmosphere. These are just some of the reasons that the DIY terraforming industry is so slack.

Terraforming woes begone! MaxCo. has come up with a way to do it on the cheap, quickly, and on any sized planet or moon you choose.

First, we need to spray the surface of the planet with either water (if it's cold enough to freeze in vacuo) or something else that'll give a clean, non-stick coating.

Once this undercoat is dry (or frozen), we pick a convenient point on the planet/moon and build a small tower. The tower only needs to be a few metres high, and stands on top of the undercoat; it's not fixed to the ground. The tower is hollow, and is supported on short legs such that there are gaps around its base. It also contains a non-return valve, the importance of which will become apparent in the fullness of due course.

Next, we apply a thick coating of PDMS (crystal-clear silicone sealant, to you). We'll be aiming for a few metres thickness over the whole planet, not quite covering the top of our tower. Then we wait a few hours until it's thoroughly cured.

Now the fun starts. We start pumping air in through the top of the tower and - gabloook! - it comes out through the gaps at the base and starts to create a blister between the PDMS and the underlying undercoat. As we keep pumping, this blister becomes both wider and taller, and eventually spreads around the whole planet/moon. The elasticity of the PDMS will ensure that the internal pressure is nicely high - say 15psi.

PDMS is fairly stretchy, so we can keep pumping air in until the gap between the undercoat and the PDMS is a few metres - tall enough not to feel claustrophobic.

When the job's done, we have a nice thick balloon all over the planet, and an agreeable atmosphere between the planet's surface and the inside of the balloon. All that's needed is to install a few airlocks, so that people can get inside. Hey presto - you have all the lovely breathability (and much of the the thermal insulation) of a thick atmosphere, but without having to build a full-depth, gravity-contained atmosphere with all that wasteful, low-pressure attic space.

As a bonus, if you decide that your chosen planet/moon is not in the right place, you can move it fairly easily by (a) evacuating all the people (b) opening one of the airlocks at the right time (c) allowing the giant ballooney planet to fart its way to a new orbit and then (d) reversing steps (b) and (a).

Our development team (whom we haven't heard from in a while, but I'm sure everything is fine) is piloting this on a nice 5km-wide asteroid that nobody seemed to be using. With a surface area of only 80km2, only some 64 billion tons of PDMS were necessary (we get a discount for bulk). Of course, we could get clever and use something stronger like polycarbonate, and get away with a thinner coat, but we didn't want to look cheap.

MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 26 2017

Algae Farms http://namesake-exp...els-from-algae.html
[Skewed, Nov 28 2017]

more Algae Farms https://www.treehug...gy-closes-down.html
[Skewed, Nov 28 2017]

Mars "Redwoods" http://indianexpres...ars-colony-4956967/
[theircompetitor, Nov 28 2017]


       I do not see any budget savings with respect to the preparatory work (like covering the world with a layer of ice, and then on top of that a rather thick layer of silicone).
Vernon, Nov 26 2017

       While I appreciate the optimism of the "gabloook!" part, I think we're stuck with going back to our caveman existence on other planets, that is, living in caves.   

       They can be nice caves. You're sitting in a nice, modern cave right now. Lights, air conditioning, lots of stimuating things to do, but running free on the plains of Mars without a spacesuit is probably not worth the effort.   

       That being said, going from a safe, life giving, protective environment to a harsh, horrible, unforgiving world of instant death worked out for us once, it can work out for us again.
doctorremulac3, Nov 27 2017

       Ah, so you've been to Reno, then?
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 27 2017

       LL. Sure have. It's where I married my first wife. We were very young, right out of our teens, and very poor so it was all I could afford at the time. God I've had a weird roller coaster life.   

       Now that you mention it, Mars would look very much like Reno. Without the drive through wedding chapels.
doctorremulac3, Nov 27 2017

       I feel like terraforming wouldn't be expensive at all. All the stuff you use to do it is out there waiting to be found, and okay, you have to build the spaceship and pay the astronauts and launch it, but everything after that would in a way be free.
nineteenthly, Nov 27 2017

       //okay, you have to build the spaceship//   

theircompetitor, Nov 27 2017

       For a little extra funding, can we add some largish pools and perhaps some sustainable fishing stock and something for them to eat? Maybe a few of those chia-pets and some kudzu as a start, as it is well-known that kudzu will grow anywhere in the universe?
RayfordSteele, Nov 27 2017

       You also need to carry/manufacture many billion tonnes of breathable air. Is there a way to modularise this? After all you don't need the *entire* planetary body to be habitable, at least until you've populated it with the first 100,000 humans or so.
zen_tom, Nov 27 2017

       I guess you could have part of the PDMS skin made thinner than the rest. Then, when you inflate it, only that part will initially blisterize. However, if you only inflate and occupy a small bubble, there would have to be very rigorous astronaut screening for flatulence. In space, no one can hear you gag.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 28 2017

       // breathable air. Is there a way to modularise this? //   

       What? you mean like this? [ linky ]
Skewed, Nov 28 2017

       //many billion tonnes of breathable air// <tsk>   

       barely 144,000 tonnes.
FlyingToaster, Nov 28 2017

       Hey flying toaster, where are you getting that figure from? Granted, Wikipedia isn't always a fabulous source, but it suggests Earth's atmosphere has a mass of 5.15×10^18 kg. If one tonne is approximately 1000kg, then Earth's atmosphere is approx 5,150,000,000,000,000 tonnes. A billion is either 10^9, or 10^12 depending on who's counting. I suppose other worlds aren't necessarily as large as earth, but assuming the atmosphere is a function of the surface area, the proportion of radius to surface area should vary according to an inverse square law. So for a planetoid 1/4 of the earth's size, should need a 16th of the atmosphere, or 3x10^14, so still in tonnes terms, in the billionsish.
zen_tom, Nov 29 2017

       Good news, we can do that for you wholesale.   

       Better, if you pay in gold-pressed latinum (and no receipt, mind) we can do it over the weekend for a substantial discount. Half up front, half on completion.
8th of 7, Nov 29 2017

       [zen], I think the example was for my 5km asteroid. Also, the amount of air needed is much, much less because you're talking about a contained bubble instead of an atmosphere that has to be deep enough to be held by gravity.   

       (In the case of a small asteroid, in fact, the atmosphere could never be held by gravity, unless there was enough of it to create a gas giant, which would defeat the object.)   

       Basically, my plan amounts to an inflatable tent around any astronomical body, but one that can be created just by painting on a coating of stretchy polymer and inflating it.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 29 2017

       Sort of a Bio-Globe rather than a Bio-Dome.
Skewed, Nov 29 2017

       If we threw a little soylent green into the algae farms does production go up or down? And would those numbers be trustworthy of actual production or just "optimistic reports" from old farmers trying to keep from becoming part of the feedstock?   

       A new book plot awaits...
RayfordSteele, Nov 29 2017

       [zt] from the last paragraph of the post.
FlyingToaster, Nov 29 2017


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