Mars Colony: Stage one setup

I had mentioned in a blog earlier about how building the game is much like the real thing. This statement is proving itself again with the construction of MCO (Mars Colony Online) . We have a place for the colony now and the modules have been dropped on the surface. The advanced team has dragged all the units into position and started setting up the hardware needed for the next batch of colonists. Our first goal is to get the life support systems running. Wells were drilled on a previous mission so all we need to do is hook up the equipment and activate it. There are dual pumps feeding into a water separator that supplies oxygen and drinking water to the module and the hydrogen byproduct is sent over to the Sabatier fuel generator. The fuel generator makes oxygen and methane as a fuel for the rover hybrid turbines and later the forges. The extra oxygen can also be used as life support if needed. We have a LS (Life Support) systems computer inside the module that allows us to set the flow rates and power the systems.

This is all a reasonable fiction of how this would be done and what equipment we would need to have to make the modules habitable. Now I have to write the code to make it all work. We have the objects in place and the math behind balancing flow rates and conversion rates has to be applied to the objects so the system will do what we expect. Cut off the pumps and the water tank in the separator will empty depending on the conversion rate of the separator. When the tank is empty the separator stops producing oxygen. Users inside the module breathe oxygen and the levels of the oxygen tank will diminish. All this is a delicate balance of code and math and takes time to get the values up to a level of realism I require for the game.

It would be easy to just do the video game thing and say turn the machine on and breathe but my goal for MCO is to add a level of realism to put it a step above what is out there. Having said that I also believe this can be used to make a more realistic simulation that we can use to test the ideas of sending people to Mars and have them survive. You can draw all the pictures you want and engineer all the ideas but you never know just how things will work till you have to walk through it and live with it.

Well the code and the math are in place and we have done 2 online tests with people from all over the globe. The game characters mount the EVA gear and wander outside to check the equipment, drive the rovers and enjoy the view. Rovers run out of fuel, EVA packs run out of oxygen, users have to eat and drink and use the bathroom. I watch their actions and I am amazed and how they adapt to this alien world and the restrictions of having to survive here.

If you are interested in joining us on Mars go to www.hyperkat.com register on the forums and have your say. We welcome game players and engineers to help build this colony. We have room for 30+ colonists so don’t be shy.

Mission 2 is Here !

As an edit would be more expedient, I will simply be updating a previous post with the following. Mars Colony Simulation 2 has been posted for public download on the HyperKat website; please follow the links at hyperkat.com. There will be ongoing changes and/or additions as time permits, so please check back every week or so for any and all updates. Inside the download is a documentation file that I would like for anyone who downloads the sim to read. This document contains very important information on the operation of the simulator and the expectations of the simulator. Previously, there were complaints of lack of documentation or help files. Also please make note of the in-sim help dialog box, which is accessed by pressing F1. These documents will make your simulator usage much easier. Thanks again to the interns for producing some new art, as I know my own artwork can be somewhat lacking.

The testers have been running mission 2 for a month or so and most of the little bugs have gone away. HyperKat will probably release this version to the public within the next month. At this point we have received many positive comments about the direction we are taking with the simulation. We didn’t want it to be a game as such where you would be given a task and a time to finish it. Our goal was to put the user into a quasi-realistic adventure. Is it a simulator or is it a role-playing game? So far the response to the question is it’s both. You are put into the role of an astronaut, dropped on the surface of Mars and forced to survive. We simulate the activity you might expect someone to deal with being on Mars. So now how do we balance the aspects of a role playing game with the realism of a simulator? Perhaps it is time to rethink what we have accomplished to this point and re design things with more of a game aspect. People like choices in games. They like to pick a character, pick the equipment, and pick the locations to run through. Choice gives the user a feeling of control and creativity that suits their specific needs. So what can we give the user for choice in this simulation? I think we can offer multiple landing sites, allow the user to pick the mission sequences, uniforms, types of gear to take on the missions and the difficulty level. After landing the craft, each user is in charge of what they want to do or what they think they need to do in order to survive. The simulation allows up to 4 players at this point. We can expand on the number of players and each user can form their own mini adventure where they can invite their friends and run the simulation as long as they might want. We would like to think this could be released as a commercial product within a year. Many of you have sent us emails about how this sim is so much different than anything currently on the market makes us believe that a commercial RPG would be worth the effort.

Now that we have a release of the mission 2 version we will take a look at the responses from the general public and make a decision to continue as is or dig into the possibility of creating a super space RPG. We would like the general public to respond and tell us what you want. Leave us some comments and lets see what happens….
I would like to thank all the testers for their help.

Mars: The Second Mission

After the discovery of liquid water below the surface, the plans for mission 2 have begun. The first mission also found the Zeus rover and retreived the information from the data recorder. There are 20 or so sub surface echoes that need to be explored some distance away from the landing site. We will need to send a 2 man rover to explore these deposits. We will need to set up a communications repeater tower on the hill to the west of the base to allow the command center to stay in touch with the rover crews. The most important function for mission 2 is to set up a greenhouse and grow food.

Now that we have access to liquid water we can stay planetside for an extended period of time. It is our hope that the rover crews find materials we can use to sustain the colony. We need to find material for fertalizer such as Phosphates, nitrates and potassium based chemicals. Everything we have or produce needs to be recycled. Unused plant material and waste products can be composted and used to treat the soil. The chemistry of the soils we find there will have to be modified to promote plant growth. The challenges we face to alter what we find to provide what we need will be difficult but I think we are up to the task.

Mission 2 will have a water scrubber to clean some of the contaminates that may be present. This scrubber will provide clean drinking water for the crew to drink and to water the plants in the greenhouse. The water scrubber will also be used to extract oxygen from the water for the crew and help balance the oxygen levels in the farm unit.

We learned from mission 1 that there are frequent storms on the surface. The solar panels only provide power during the calm. The wind speed tests we did in mission 1 tell us we can suplement the power requirements using wind turbine generators. These generators should meet or exceed the power requirements of the farm. The biggest issue will be heat for the plants. We can’t afford to let them freeze and die. Our earth bound testing provided us with hearty plants that can grow in cold temperatures and will require less power to maintain. The crew of mission 2 will have to monitor the farm constantly until we find the magic combination that will provide a sustainable source of food.

We will set up an algae growth system in this second mission. Algae will provide food, some medicines and a small oxygen supplement. Earth researchers have discovered that algae is not really a food but we can use it for food for fish that we may bring, grow and eat . There is alot of interesting research on algae and the crew of mission 2 will be busy.

The rover we send for mission 2 has been named Hercules. It is a small truck rover that will carry two passengers and cargo. It will be powered by a methane / oxygen turbine to charge the batteries with a Photo Voltaic panel for chargeing the batteries while out at the work sites. Hercules is equipped with emergency oxygen and can sustain the occupants during storms. We will need to take enough spare parts to keep it going until mission 3. The plans are set, the mission is a go.

Planning a Mars colony mission

So, you have decided to travel to another world and create a sustainable colony or at least discover if it is possible. It is kind of like moving to some remote location in the middle of the frozen tundra in Siberia. You can’t carry all you might need in one trip so how do you decide what you would need and how many trips it would take. Your plan would also need to include the order of setup. What would be the order of importance for the items? If you were going to spend the night in your new empty house and you could bring one thing what would it be a television or a bed? I would bring the bed and spend a comfortable first night but others may value entertainment over comfort. This is the dilemma facing the planners for the first colony mission to Mars.

 

Let’s take a look at what needs to be accomplished. First you need to get supplies and people to the surface. Can you do that in a single vehicle? Does it make sense to use two vehicles? What about the return trip to Earth or is this, a one way ticket?  Let’s assume for the moment we have a method of getting the Lander to the planet, which we can cover in another paper so what would that first mission be?

 

After landing, you know one of the explorers will have to step outside plant a foot on the surface and utter some historic first words. “This footprint cost 122 billion dollars” or “Can ya hear me now?” Next would be to get the solar array working for power. We may bring a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) for power but the Photo Voltaic cells are a good backup and may even provide a safer power source. Either way I bet there will be PV cells at the first Mars colony.

 

After the power up, computer systems setup, GPS setup and communication setup we want to make sure there is oxygen to breathe. We brought an environmental system that uses frozen oxygen and hydrogen to create energy and water. The oxygen we pull off to breathe will be recycled through CO2 scrubbers. This system will provide what we need to survive for a limited period of time so we had better find water on the planet and soon.

 

We know the water is here below ground and we need to find it before we run out of something to drink and air to breathe. So set up the soil sampler and start the planet search. How would you conduct the search? That would be a matter for the mission commander to decide. Do a radial pattern or do a grid pattern, search near to far, search by elevation or what ever way you think would help you find water the fastest.

 

Ok so you found a source for water, sunk a small well and can pump it out fast enough to supply you with something to drink and something to convert to oxygen, now what? If this is all that we did we have a successful mission. We got here and we found a means to survive here so let’s start gathering information about our new home. We took some samples of soil to find the water and can save that information on a geo map for future missions but we can expand our search some and grid the whole area by taking and testing soil or mineral samples. We might find resources that would be useful or alter future missions.

 

Another major item for the first trip wish list is an enclosed algae system. The system uses carbon dioxide that we breathe out and sunlight to produce a nice green slime that gives off oxygen and can produce food. That technology could provide us with a constant and therefore permanent method to exist on Mars or any other planet that has sun and water.

 

If there is room on this first mission I would choose to take a makeshift greenhouse and some seeds to see if we can grow something on the planet mainly because man can’t live on slime and crackers forever. Finding water was important to our basic survival but did we find a good enough source to irrigate some plants is the next question. Another major part of the mission planning at this point is to decide if we want to put the farm at the water source or bring the water to the farm. I would be nice if the water source was near the landing site but we can’t plan on that being true. We can’t plan on the source of water being on a flat enough landscape for the next Lander to be near by so I think we start now and plan on moving the water to the colony and farm.

 

Now that we have the base camp set up and running our explorers can return home for the ticker tape parade (do they still do that?) and the second crew can drop down with a rover and some construction supplies to start adding to the settlement. Will this second crew be permanent is a good question or should we plan on every two years rotating out the crews with new people? There will be a day when they just stay there because they want to. Personally I don’t see this as a permanent settlement until the first Martian child is born.