Mars: Fact or Folly?
After reading John Tierney’s "Martian Chronicle" (February), I was reminded that extraterrestrial libertarian millenarianism is not a new phenomenon. In the early 1970s, an organization called the International Society of Free Space Colonizers arose in Seattle committed to the colonization of the asteroids by the 1990s as a decisive act of liberation by the "creator class."
Fortunately, Robert Zubrin has a credibility that these earlier enthusiasts lacked. However, I think he substantially discounts the necessary technological and economic dependence of any interplanetary colonization program on earthly civilization–not to mention the currently insuperable level of government regulation over transport to and from outer space. As appealing as his colonization plan may be, it may have to await a time when access to space is as unfettered by government interference and as available to the general public as high-power computation is today. This would place the necessary emphasis on economic exploitation, rather than pure exploration, which accords more completely with a laissez faire conception of man’s mastery of outer space.
Michael J. Dunn
Robert Zubrin is cited in John Tierney’s "Martian Chronicle" as proposing that only hydrogen be transported from earth to Mars, there to be combined with the abundant CO2 to form methane (CH4) and oxygen. These two gases would then be used to propel the spaceship back to earth. Zubrin had a piece in The New York Times some time back along these lines as well.
Now, this Ph.D. chemist (admittedly specializing in history of chemistry, not engineering) has a problem with this. CO2 is a very thermodynamically stable compound. Reacting it with H2 requires an input of some 82 kilocalories of free energy per mole of methane formed (over 5,000 cal/g). I have tried to figure out whence this energy might come and asked friends too. We have come up empty (one suggested, tongue in cheek, cold fusion). Tierney states, "Zubrin built a machine to demonstrate how easily it could be done," but this undoubtedly uses an energy input from the local Edison company. Where would that energy come from on Mars? Solar energy is comparatively feeble there (perhaps a quarter of what it is here; I don’t have the numbers), and surely Zubrin does not suggest carrying a nuclear reactor, which would defeat the whole goal of a light payload.
So please enlighten me, for I am at a loss. I am willing to violate many a law, but the laws of thermodynamics are more Draconian than anything Congress might pass.
Albert S. Kirsch
Robert Zubrin replies: Mr. Kirsch is mistaken. CO2 has a heat of formation of 92 kilocalories per mole; methane, 18 kilocalories per mole; hydrogen, 0 kilocalories per mole; and water, 57 kilocalories per mole. The methanation reaction is: CO2 + H2 => CH4 + 2H2O.The binding energy on the right hand side of the equation is 92 (for the CO2), but the left is 18 + 57 + 57 = 132. So the net binding energy is increased during the reaction by 132 — 92 = 40 kilocalorie per mole. The reaction is thus highly exothermic.
Of course, the water electrolysis reaction that will produce oxygen from the H2O is endothermic. Which is why we do ship a nuclear power plant to Mars.
Doctors Take on HMOs
I cannot imagine what Thomas Hazlett’s point was in writing "HMO Phobia" (February), nor in REASON’s publication of it in a journal for "free minds and free markets." I do not write to support Dr. Smith nor to comment on his opinions. Instead I wish to rebuke Mr. Hazlett and shed light on the health care "crises."
An HMO is an insurance company and cannot practice medicine. Therefore, in answer to Mr. Hazlett’s rhetorical question, physicians–not HMO shareholders –have brought health care to the masses for the last 2,500 years. And whose business is it what a doctor does in his free time? And since when do contributing editors to REASON use income to support or castigate any group (in this case, doctors)?
Most doctors don’t own MRI units, pharmacies, physical therapists, or hospitals and therefore cannot control costs. When a patient is sent to a specialist with a surgical diagnosis, the only treatment is usually surgery. Yet if the doctor is busy and does a lot of surgery, the HMO will label him an "overutilizer" and explain to the other doctors in the HMO that their reimbursement will be lower this year because too many surgeries were done and costs were too high. The only way to solve the problem in the HMO model is to deny treatment.
The fundamental problems in health care today are twofold: First, patients want unlimited health care and don’t want to pay for it. Second, too many health care dollars go to bureaucracy in the form of HMOs and insurance companies.