Author: Rick Tobin
“I’m thrilled to share our Mars challenge solution.” A bespectacled 30-year-old twittered before the tech wizard’s Spartan Texas office.
“Sure…thrilled…sit. Skip the small talk. Make your elevator pitch—five minutes.” The ruffled-haired billionaire entrepreneur seemed agitated at the Millennials’ amateurish prattle.
“You know oxygen is critical for Mars projects. My team developed an elegant innovation, although somewhat costly to implement.” Michael Partridge cleared his throat while adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses.
“Always are—these phantom ideas,” the CEO replied. “Forget potentials. Does it work? Where’s your proof of operation?”
“Pilot tests were concluded during Death Valley summers and winters in the Rockies. During daylight, our system continuously converted carbon dioxide into oxygen, which was then compressed and stored through our exclusive design.”
“Who was the testing oversight authority with knowhow? Stanford or JPL?
“NIST in Colorado monitored the Rockies. Caltech evaluated the Mojave. Here are our results.” He opened his leather satchel, removing a thick prospectus.
“No, I don’t need to see that. Williams recommended you already for this meeting, but I’ve heard schemes before. What makes yours better than dozens I’ve nixed? Shame you didn’t have Stanford involved.”
Partridge pulled back his folder. “Our investor collaboration included the Naval Research Laboratory and NASA. That’s where Williams discovered us. We initially worked on the Moon base plan, but it proved implausible. However, with Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere, we now have a winner…but at a price.”
“Williams said you used unusual material applications and techniques. Summarize.”
The CEO stared across the desk, making Partridge hesitate.
“I have restrictions, as COO, to discuss specific proprietary information. However, I can say our dome construction involves Fresnel heating lenses activating microscopic gold filaments that stay suspended in carbon dioxide gas. We use a charged ceramic membrane to separate molecular oxygen into our patented collecting system.”
“Maybe, but you know the temperature gradients on Mars. What materials are going to keep your dome resistant and still operational?”
“We have a new application using Nitinol nanofibers combined with graphene in dome construction elements and extraction support equipment.”
“And the carbon waste dust?”
“We’ve designed collection systems capturing pure carbon residues for use later as part of water treatment for crew enclosures.”
“It’s still a waste product.”
“Not exactly. Based on the chemicals the carbon filters from recycled liquids, including Mars brine water, we discovered that mixing the final carbon sludge with biowaste enhanced plant growth. We ran initial tests at Texas A&M. Potatoes flourished with that mixture. It’s a win-win for survivability.”
“What’s the power source for separation?”
“As long as the sun shines on Mars, the domes make oxygen. The upper half of a dome holds Fresnel lenses for activating microscopic gold foil which then reacts with carbon dioxide, leaving behind oxygen and carbon, but not melting or overheating the Nitinol and graphene materials.”
“Yes, you mentioned all that already, but you have my attention. Nitinol and graphene aren’t cheap, but I suspect gold is the price point.”
“To supply a one-hundred-person team the project requires a metric ton of microscopic gold particles. That’s within the maximum payload range of your transport designs; however, acquiring that much gold is a difficult issue beyond the technology, by both cost and politics.”
“My original homeland’s government is corrupt. They’re sitting on all the gold we’ll need. I can get it…so let’s first test this fairy dust invention here on Texas soil with limited resource impacts, in case it fails.”
“Terrific—Operation Tinker Bell.”
“Don’t ever do that. I get to name stuff.”
“Sure…sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You’ve done enough thinking. I’ll do the rest.”
BTW at current rates, a tonne of gold would cost US $60 million on Earth.
Not a big deal compared to the cost of setting up a 100 person base on Mars.
No idea what it would cost in the future. Ideally they’d have found an asteroid with lots of heavy metals, thus avoiding launch costs out of Earth’s gravity.
I’ve never had to convince a billionaire, but it reminds me of the time I had to persuade the CTO of the large company I used to work for that the project I was proposing was feasible and practical. Similar no-nonsense approach, except that he didn’t even let me finish some questions before he asked the next one. Like your character, if I’d not have known my stuff I’d have been thrown by his machine-gun questions, aimed like your character’s at finding any weaknesses in my proposal.
I then had to convince the CFO to spend the couple of millions (no ton of gold filaments 🙂 ), which was somewhat easier after the CTO said Yes.
Fascinating read. Love how your style seemlessly blends science with fiction… and all the while casting an eye to our current zeitgeist. At least thats how I read it 🙂