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/u/danielravennest on I am Jeff Hoffman, MIT Professor of Aerospace Engineering and former NASA Astronaut. Ask Me Anything!

19 Feb 2015, 20:29 UTC
/u/danielravennest on I am Jeff Hoffman, MIT Professor of Aerospace Engineering and former NASA Astronaut. Ask Me Anything!
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As someone working on "seed factories" (self-upgrading automation), I think the answer is yes. Using materials and energy from local sources rather than from Earth is much more efficient from a pure energy standpoint. If the mining equipment and chemical processing plants can also be made from local materials, then you have a winner.

A seed factory is a starter kit of general-purpose machines, like lathes, mills, and presses, which can make parts for additional machines. For example, on Mars, the rovers have discovered metallic meteorites just sitting on the ground. They are an iron-nickel alloy. With the addition of carbon from the atmosphere, and a solar furnace, you can produce a decent grade of steel. You feed that steel into your machine tools, and start making parts for new machines, perhaps pipes, tanks, and pumps to process the Martian soil. As you add more machines to your collection, you can make more products.

Hauling whole factories to Mars would be too heavy and expensive. Sending just a starter kit and a hard drive full of design files would be a lot lighter. We are working towards prototyping the seed factory idea on Earth first, before trying to do it ...

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