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Mars Tomagatchi Project

Virtual biosphere on Mars to test resource collection and utilization
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The Tomogatchi was a little toy that featured a virtual animal that you tried to keep alive by administering virtual care to in the form of pushing a button to "feed" it, give it water at the appropriate times etc.

The idea is to have a "virtual biosphere" probe on the Mars surface with collection devices to gather raw materials that could be used to grow crops and keep animals and humans alive. Measurements such as dangerous radiation, temperature, light etc are monitored in an attempt to create an environment that could harbor life. Even though no life is present, the goal would be to keep a small area in the probe suitable for life for as long as possible.

Having actual plants or animals that you try to keep alive would be a needless burden since you're just be sending them to their death at this point. It would be un-necessary anyway since you could evaluate a small area within the probe that was keeps at the right temperature with the right amount of water and nutrients to keep various life forms alive.

For instance, you'd might have last years data looking like this: "Twenty gallons of water gathered, mean temperature of 65 degrees, 6 pounds of planting medium processed from Mars regolith created. Possible crop yield: 2 pounds of potatoes."

Rovers would go around gathering raw material and just dump it at base camp to see if it could be done. Once the biosphere had passed the test of rendering a sustainable environment for long enough, seeds could be planted and perhaps animals could be sent to be included in the little ecosystem.

The first Earth colonists on Mars would be plants, then simple one celled animals and finally little furry critters, same as we did it here on Earth all those years ago.

From there, it's only a matter of scaling up till you've got a biosphere big enough for humans to live in.

doctorremulac3, Nov 11 2015


       Sort of yes. However, if any kind of life were actually established, it would radically alter its local environment.   

       For instance, if you gathered enough water and atmosphere into your habitat to support, say, bacteria or algae or giant redwood (probably ambitious on day 1), they would alter that atmosphere out of all recognition in almost no time, and with more than one species those alterations would be unpredictable.   

       The real challenge would not be in creating a life- sustaining environment, but in maintaining it against the wild oscillations inherent in small, closed ecosystems.   

       I think a better option would be to buy up a few square miles of desert, put a dome on it, and adjust the atmosphere and terrain to match that of Mars. Then you can try out all kinds of stuff. Of course, that needs a good understanding of the Martian atmosphere and terrain, but we'll have that understanding sooner than we can start doing remote engineering on Mars itself.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 11 2015

Ian Tindale, Nov 11 2015

MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 11 2015

       I like the idea but then I like Space engineers, Sub Nautica, and Minecraft.
travbm, Nov 11 2015

       //I think a better option would be to buy up a few square miles of desert, put a dome on it, and adjust the atmosphere and terrain to match that of Mars//   

       Why not both? There's some radiation issues Mars has that Earth doesn't. Nothing you couldn't simulate though I assume.   

       Thanks Ian, correction made.   

       I think the difference is showmanship. You get more with a headline saying "First Earth Creature Born On Mars! Meet Marvin the brine shrimp!" vs "Simulated Mars Environment Records 24th Straight Year of Livable Environment Under Marslike Conditions."   

       But I do think you have to do both obviously.
doctorremulac3, Nov 11 2015

       //You get more with a headline saying "First Earth Creature Born On Mars! Meet Marvin the brine shrimp!"// But I thought the whole point of the idea was to test out the creation of a habitable environment on Mars, _without_ sending Marvin there?
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 11 2015

       Well, yea at first. Then when you've got it right you do it for real. I'm just assuming that getting it right is going to take a while so you want to go through a couple of cycles of "virtual" Marvin before actually trying to get your little Mars habitat inhabited with real critters.
doctorremulac3, Nov 11 2015

       Ah, right.   

       Well, without wishing to appear trolloid, I think that any attempt to create a life-friendly environment will require life to be present right from the beginning.   

       For instance, anaerobic bacteria might be the only practicable way to convert your regolith from highly oxidising to less oxidising, to the point where some algae might grow, which in turn would allow aerobic bugs to grow, which in turn would add enough organic matter to let the soil retain water... et so forth.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 11 2015

       Not trolling, legitimate points. The thing you'd be testing is raw material gathering and your thermal/radiation protected envelope. You can do the math with everything else.
doctorremulac3, Nov 11 2015

       Fair point. But I'm still not convinced that it would be useful demonstration, beyond its very early stages.   

       In effect, you would simply prove that you can (for example) gather enough water in one place to make possible the first stages of what would be mainly a biological engineering process. And, if you're sending all the hardware to gather water, why not also send a little tab of bugs to use it?   

       And, for what it's worth, we could dump terrestrial bacteria into a few places on Mars and they'd cope. In fact, the likelihood is that descendants of terrestrial bacteria are already there. Since spore-forming bacteria appeared on Earth, several billion tons (at least) of Earth rocks have ended up on Mars, and vice versa. The idea that absolutely no bacterial spores survived the journey is unlikely.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 11 2015

       It’d be a useful demonstration experiment to set up a small ecological environment capable of supporting Life on Mars (1971) and loosing (i.e., letting loose) an example of life into it to see how well and how long it survives. Obviously starting with the least developed and most primitive, such as bacteria, then slime mould, then daphnia, then recruitment agents, then flatworms, then elephants, and so on.   

       It might not be particularly scientific, but it’d make a watchable online slow television series.
Ian Tindale, Nov 11 2015

       //why not also send a little tab of bugs to use it?//   

       Ok, sure.   

       // it’d make a watchable online slow television series.//   

       I'm a bit of a science nerd, and by a bit I mean StarWars/StarTrek level so I'd log in to every episode. I think there would be drama at every turn. This wouldn't be easy. It's taking the second biggest step of mankind's greatest adventure, the first being the Moon landing.   

       You know, I've just got to get off my ass and build a Mars simulator in my garage and see what I can grow in it.   

       Oooh. Good premise for an end of the world epidemic movie. Scientists trying to create a super hardy organism that can survive on Mars. It gets lose and lots of scary special effects ensue.
doctorremulac3, Nov 11 2015

       + ( Do it on earth, a satellite, or on the moon for practice first. Mars is sort of a long way to have to send a repair truck.)
popbottle, Nov 12 2015

       Oh, absolutely. Then do it on Mars for effect.   

       I think to get all the human resources marshalled for such a monumental effort you're going to have to engage the emotions of a lot of people. Just the sentence "We've put life on Mars" strikes a chord with me and I'm assuming a lot of other people too.   

       If we can grow mice, why not a small chimp colony? From there, we, mankind, the vanguard of life itself takes our boldest step into the cold deadness of space bringing with us light where there was once only darkness, order from chaos, life where before there was only cold, inanimate dead matter.   

       And all of the things that comprise that which is human will propagate across the dull, dead cosmos from there. Joy, laughter, art, sorrow, toil, disaster, redemption, mistakes, victories, defeats, love and above all, hope for the future. The spark that drives all life itself.   

       I'm Doctorremulac3, and I approved this message. (Brought to you by the Doctorremulac3 for Emperor of the Universe election campaign)   

       Ok, I've got to go make breakfast for my daughter before she goes to school. Back to reality.
doctorremulac3, Nov 12 2015

       Baked decades ago. The Viking probes did exactly this, but with a slightly more experimental procedure.
notexactly, Nov 13 2015

       Yes, but did you notice that, despite having spent hundreds of millions on sending the Viking probes to Mars, NASA never settled the question of whether they actually found any VIkings?   

       I'm considering lobbying for money to send a Clanger probe to the moon.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 13 2015

       //The Viking probes did exactly this, but with a slightly more experimental procedure.//   

       If by "slightly more experimental procedure" you mean they dumped some dirt in a petri dish and poured some chemicals on it, well, yea. Hardly analogous to the idea posted.   

       Might want to give it another read.
doctorremulac3, Nov 13 2015


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