Sunday, February 28, 2010

Water and Wrenches, Belts and Suspenders: A rational approach to exploring Mars & Beyond

Someday, Earth civilization will send emissaries to Mars. Over the long run, the task of exploration cannot be left only to robots. If we are ever to know Mars from a human perspective we must have eyes on the ground, feet in the soil. People offer unbeatable advantages of intelligence and adaptability. But getting to Mars and other deepspace destinations with crews of living men and women won't be easy.

Among the many obstacles we must overcome are the immense cost of such an expedition and the need to ensure a much higher, almost-guaranteed probability of success. Mission designers must overcome major technical issues along with barriers both physiological and mental. A detailed plan will include procedures for orbital transfer, landing, performing science and returning to Earth. These problems will take years - likely decades - to resolve.

And yet, it turns out that some fundamentals are still the same as they were when Shackleton and Amundsen probed the Antarctic, or Hillary and Tenzig took on Everest. All of them fretted about one thing, above all. Supplies, supplies, supplies.

Ninety percent of the time, energy and expense of those exploration treks went into laying down caches of necessities. Doing so properly ensured survival when it finally came time for the blitz to the summit or pole. Failure to get it right helped doom the ill-fated Scott Antarctic Expedition. When we send human crews to Mars, we would do well to remember this and provide what they need, without scrimping, well in advance.

In fact, prudence suggests that we not even launch the human components of a Mars expedition until at least twice as many consumables are already there on site, both orbiting the planet and on the surface, as they would need, even if accidents happen.

(Note that the Apollo moon landings do not fit into this pattern, because they were essentially sprints toward a much closer objective.  More like Lindbergh than Amundsen.)

DestinationMarsAs it turns out, this kind of advance-provisioning needn't delay matters at all. It will take many years, or decades, to design, critique, and build the manned components. Meanwhile, the greater bulk of material needed by any expedition will be almost completely design independent. Water and food. Wrenches and other basic tools. Supplementary maneuvering fuels like hydrazine. Shovels, microscopes and sampling bags. These will be needed, whether the explorers travel by rocket or railroad.  Moreover, these "general" supplies make up a great part of the mass of any expedition.

What this means is that we should undertake provisioning a Mars expedition long before the human crew is launched -- possibly even before any specific mission design is decided-upon! In fact, this can be turned into a great advantage. Making such a distinction -- between bulk, mission-nonspecific supplies and high value mission-specific cargoes, will have special significance if time can be traded for energy and money.

 Are there alternative methods of transport that are inherently cheaper -- if slower -- than the standard, rocket-driven "Hohmann" interplanetary transfer orbit? If so, and given a decade's advance notice, bulk cargoes might be conveyed to Mars by the cheapest methods possible.  A slow journey and long term storage won't damage water or wrenches or TV dinners.  Only when such stuff is plentifully cached at Phobos, or some other convenient marshaling site, would it make sense to send human beings and their expensive, mission-specific gear, the landers and scientific instruments, by quick and costly means.

Are such methods available? On paper, it seems possible to trade time for cheap transfer with methods like ion propulsion or solar sails. Finding out if such systems can be efficiently scaled up to propel many-ton cargoes ought to be given high priority. If such experiments (delayed fifty years, in the case of photon sails went well, then it could make sense to start sending bulk supplies as soon as possible... possibly even during the next decade. If the bulk transport system were efficient enough, this approach might have considerable impact on reducing costs of a manned expedition, and/or padding in an extra safety margin.

2012605363Note also that even without slow-but-efficient solar powered transport, a standard rocket-driven transfer to Mars can still be made much cheaper, simply by hiring out the job of ferrying water and wrenches to the lowest commercial bidder, without the bureaucracy or nitpicking care required for human-rated vehicles. If a cargo of Spam and Gatorade goes astray, you shrug and send another.

Early caching of general-use supplies will also have important implications for the design-specific components -- the part of the mission having to do with actually transporting people to Mars orbit, then to-from the surface. Every gram of material that was sent previously, by slow-freighter, will not have to be carried on the crewed vessel -- thus also freeing up several more grams of fuel to transport it. Anything that lightens the crew transfer vehicle may make it both less expensive and easier to optimize for people-specific goals, like minimizing radiation exposure, or getting the explorers there fast. True, there are limits to our ability to speed-up a Hohmann Transfer Trajectory, with simple chemical rockets. Still, there are possibilities that are powerfully leveraged if the ship is optimized to convey people -- and only people.

Consider an additional attractive feature. After the first few robot freighters arrive at the cache and are roboticaly verified to be in good condition, the mere existence of such a cache will serve as a psychological draw, a palpable on-site investment, already-made, helping to emotionally commit citizens to back the final push, sending an exploration crew. Call it cancellation insurance. Note also that the first expedition probably would not use up all the supplies that were cached for it. Hence, a substantial amount of left-over material would serve as a draw for us to send a next-followup mission... a canny, added benefit to this approach.

CaseForMarsSome additional technologies are compatible and also needed, for example those leading to Zubrin-style in situ propellant production facilities -- robotic factories that might be landed on either Mars or Phobos -- or both -- and put to work using local materials (e.g. carbonaceous volatiles, ices, or atmospheric CO2) to manufacture rocket fuel for the return trip. Aside from providing a new margin of safety, this will save vastly on transport costs, since fuel for the return voyage needn't be transported from Earth.

Again, the human crew would not even depart from home until mission control verified the existence of this cache, in advance. (The possibility that Phobos might contain such accessible/usable volatiles makes it potentially one of the most valuable sites in the solar system, which means that the upcoming Russian Grunt Phobos mission is a really important one, in our near future.)

Our key point here? The crucial enabling steps that humanity will need, before embarking on our long and careful plan to send humans to Mars, are not mission specific ones -- like the nature of the crew or landing craft. Nor do they even require full-scale political commitment for the entire grand project. We need not wait for the study commissions to create glossy reports and billion-dollar blueprints.

Rather, what's called for right now is to start looking into which technologies can deliver the boring stuff, e.g. the groceries and tools, to Mars in a manner that gets this vital provisioning task done efficiently and most-cheaply. If such methods are found, then at a relatively modest expenditure, NASA or some consortium of nations could begin launching advance supply ships to orbit Mars and establish a cache.

What this notion does is turn our disappointment at the glacial pace of manned exploration into an advantage. If that slow pace is acted upon and taken advantage of, then the resulting cost savings and extra safety margins might even be enough to help bring the eventual manned mission into being!

Fortunately, the first, enabling steps are simple, inexpensive, logical... and would make sense to any of our explorer forebears.

----------------------
(See the original version of this essay at the site for SIGMA, the consulting group for science fiction authors. I want to thank Bud Sparhawk, Catherine Asaro, Arlan Andrews and Tom Ligon for their help in creating this Sigma editorial.)

References:

After fifty years, at last, solar sail experiments.

In-situ propellant production on Mars:

Russian "Grunt" Phobos mission:

124 comments:

Ian Gould said...

Of course, Dr. Bernard Chang-Diaz's VASIMIR plasma propulsion system could radically alter the mission profile by permitting a six week transit time to Mars.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasimir

Kind of surprised you didn't mention the Mars Cycler concept in there David.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_cycler

Two other quick points:

1, Surely establishing a human outpost on Phobos or Deimos would be a logical precursor to a Mars landing?

2. How confident are you that consumables can be stored in space for decades? What about the potential impact of outgassing and ionising radiation?

John Kurman said...

This is all great, but the probem is still sea level to NEO costs.

My understanding is that boosting a pound of stuff into orbit using the Shuttle was around $3000-$5000/lb.

What's the goal? What can we get it down to? $100/lb? $10/lb?

Maybe it would also help to do comparisons. By my quick and dirty calculations using the Shuttle cost per pound, the Wall Street Rescue would have put pretty much put a fully crewed, fueled, and stocked nuclear aircraft carrier into orbit. For that matter, our little Mideast adventures over the past decade would have put a fleet up there. Frickin' beam up already.

Tim H. said...

If we crack NEO access enough to orbit power systems, a few supply runs out to phobos will be easier. And if we're choosy about container material, food & water should be safe, if a bit bland.

Curt Sampson said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention the Interplanetary Transport Network. If we've got plenty of time, we may be able to get the Earth-to-Mars delta-V requirements low enough that we can use conventional thrust technology, rather than having to worry about solar sails or whatever.

VASIMIR doesn't appear to me to be necessary for slow freight, and it sounds to me as if it would involve, as well as some further work on the technology, quite a political brouhaha, what with chucking the products of a fission reaction all over the neighbourhood. Even if we do manage to convince people that the exhaust will leave the solar system if it doesn't hit anything first, people will be worried (and rightfully so, to some degree) that an accident or mistake could cause the stuff to collide with the Earth.

TwinBeam said...

Curt - I think you're perhaps thinking of "NERVA", not VASIMIR.

VASIMIR just heats a plasma up and squirts ordinary ions out at very high velocity. I expect you wouldn't want to sit in the exhaust, but then you wouldn't want to sit behind a conventional rocket either...

VASIMIR might use a compact nuclear power source, however.

TwinBeam said...

Maybe not water - Mars seems to have a sufficiency. We'll see about Phobos.

I favor first Mars missions going only to Mars orbit, with numerous directly tele-operated robots on the surface. Establish a permanent orbiting base at Phobos.

Landing on Mars is relatively expensive and risky. And once you land people on Mars, you risk polluting any hypothetical biosphere with human micro-organisms. It's much smarter to explore with sterilized robots, well equipped with scientific instruments, under direct control of explorers in orbit.

However, Mars fans almost universally find that idea repellent. I suspect they fantasize themselves in the role of the first human to arrive at Mars, and can't stand the idea that they wouldn't land.

Ian Gould said...

Curt,

The point with VASIMIR is that if we reduce the transit time to 39 days, the cargo task is reduced massively.

And VASIMIR doesn't require fission so there shouldn't be a problem with radioactive waste.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Dr. Brin: There is another advantage to slow-boat pre-supply: budget. Both corporate and government funding agencies like small, steady investments over huge bursts. It's more stable, leads to reliable jobs and reliable contracts, and makes life more predictable. A steady $200M/year set of contracts to send slow-freight to the Mars base site would sit a LOT better with Congress or Wall Street than a gigantic roll of the dice.

@Ian: VASIMR is more important for human transport and emergency supplies than pre-supply. It's a high-energy, high-cost transport system. I suspect we will use it for human transport, as it reduces radiation massively and permits much more crewing flexibility. It also reduces the danger, as emergency resupply is not locked into the two-year orbit alignment schedule.

Whether a human base is established on a Martian moon depends heavily on the consumables situation. If the moons are dry as a bone, there's not much point in having robots OR humans there (aside from exploration, of course). Being in low orbit is nice, but the planet has far, far more resources.

@John: SpaceX has already cut the pound-to-orbit rate to around $1000/lb. Further advances in reusability, flight volume, and two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) design should get us down into the mid-hundreds within a decade. Beyond that, we'll need spaceplanes of the sort that SpaceShipOne or Blue Origin may lead to. $10/lb will have to wait for a space elevator, which will probably be several decades minimum.

@Curt: the combination of ion propulsion for departure, ITN for cruise, and aerocapture for Mars orbit insertion should do the trick. Solar sails have yet to be successfully demonstrated, but ion drive is now a ten-year-old technology routinely used on both probes and as stationkeeping for Earth orbit satellites. It's not a new technology -- it's just that no one has built a freighter-scale version yet.

@TwinBeam: I see your point, but aside from the scientific and technological advantages to being on the surface, there is a serious psych burden associated with being stuck in a tin can in orbit. Knowing there is a whole planet below you to explore, and not being able to get to it... well, it would drive me crazy.

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Anonymous said...

One politcal hurdle would be convincing those paying the price that the supplies won't be stolen by someone else.

Once the supplies are out there, what's to keep another nation or consortium of nations from sending their own expedition and using the supplies, effectively stopping the original nation(s) expedition? Or sending a small nuke to destroy the supplies to prevent the original nation(s) from using them?

It could be hard sell to convince a government to spend billions of dollars to provide supplies to a mission that may never occur and may be destoyed or stolen by someone else before they have a chance to use it.

TheMadLibrarian said...

The same caching technology could be used to put supplies on the moon, whether as a waystation or permanent outpost. I would only send supplies that required no maintenance, and nothing on which future explorers would have to rely immediately. Whatever is in the supply depot should be on the order of a 'hurricane kit': things which can be ignored for years and still have them work immediately, 98% of the time.

Catfish N. Cod said...

One politcal hurdle would be convincing those paying the price that the supplies won't be stolen by someone else.

You vastly underestimate the brotherhood that exists between astronauts of all nations (as opposed to the bureaucracies that send them). If anyone is ever going to help you out there, it's going to be other astronauts. I can't imagine a scenario where a plan to steal a supply dump (except in an emergency) would not be leaked.

Ilithi Dragon said...

And any such plan to steal or nuke a supply dump would also have the same political ramifications of stealing or shooting down a space shuttle (or comparable craft) with comparable weaponry.


You also have to consider the sheer magnitude of cost of any such project, which would almost certainly be leaked or uncovered even if all the astronauts remained firmly tight-lipped. Throwing a nuke at another planet, let alone a full-blown interplanetary expedition, is no small project, after all.


Squar: An incomplete rectangle with three equal sides, and one slightly shorter fourth side.

Anonymous said...

[i]I can't imagine a scenario where a plan to steal a supply dump (except in an emergency) would not be leaked.[/i]

Not so much a plan to steal, but a plan to "utilize."

Let's say we spend $20 billion sending supplies to Mars in 2020. Then there is another recession, and NASA's budget is cut for the next 30 years. In 2050, China is ready to send a manned expedition to Mars. They then declare that, since the U.S. space program is still 20 years away from getting to Mars, they will use those supplies we sent and probably never will use.

Of course, we have a plan to utilize the supplies in the next 5 years.

Once the supplies are sent, they will be used by the first people to get there. Unless we can convince the politicians that [i]we[/i] are the only ones who can get there first, they will see it as giving money to somebody else--somebody we may not like or want to give money to. Although the supplies would be a spur to get there, they would also be a prize to whomever gets there first. And could we convince the ones who hold the purse strings that putting a prize in the sky is worth it when we may not be the ones who cash in?

Ilithi Dragon said...

Anon,

Such a move would still have VERY serious political ramifications, because of the huge expenditure we undertook to put those supplies there.


It would be like China claiming and occupying Byrd Camp in the antarctic, on the grounds that it was abandoned in '04/'05, and that the station and everything in it now belonged to the PRC, to be used by the PRC, regardless of U.S. plans to utilize the base.

It would be a major international incident. We might not be able to stop the Chinese from doing that, but it would be a huge outrage, and we would demand payment for the cost of sending the supplies and equipment there (it would also have the added effect of stirring the U.S. population into a furor over getting a heavy active space presence going, though assuming China was still an adversary by then, any program by them to go to Mars would spark another space race much like we had with the Russians, and we would have beaten them to the supplies, anyway).


In fact, you can pretty much guarantee that nobody else is going to use those supplies, because nobody else is anywhere even close to being able to launch that kind of a mission, and barring something like the total collapse of the U.S. as a functional state, anyone catching up to us to the point where they could launch that kind of a mission (save for our allies, who would be working with us at least peripherally anyway) would spark another space race to get there first, which we would win.

Thomas Nackid said...

Raiding a supply dump would be an act on par with violating another nations borders or piracy and would carry similar consequences. If China for example were foolish enough to do something like that (which I am fairly sure they are not!) it would mean at the very least an end to their favored trade status. Even nations that don't particular like us would tend to steer clear of a "rouge" nation that so flagrantly engages in that kind of high profile robbery.

I've often wondered if it could be a reasonable investment for a group of "space entrepreneurs" to instead of trying to re-invent 1960's technology by designing their own launch vehicles to instead gather investors and hire an existing Delta or Atlas to drop caches of water and other supplies on the moon and offer to sell them to NASA when they need it. How much more exploring could even a small Apollo-style expedition have done if they new there would be needed supplies waiting for them?

TwinBeam said...

Catfish:
But you WOULD be exploring the planet below you - and far more effectively.

"But I want to *BE* there!" is, to put it mildly, a lame reason to go to Mars surface. ("Being stuck in a tin can", if taken to mean "cabin fever", has a bit more weight to it - but I think what I've been proposing actually answers that as well.)

With improvements to robotics and telepresence over the next decade, remote tele-operation of a robot will be more like being there, than even being there in a space suit.

In fact, I expect that even once we go to the surface, the majority of real work will be done through telepresence. It'll be safer, faster, less tiring, more comfortable - allowing a lot more work time - and probably more productive per time spent "virtually out there".

Virtual presence will also allow the benefits of multi-tasking. Robots will certainly be capable of performing many simple tasks without human intervention, allowing a single human operator to jump between "robotic bodies", providing mostly supervisory control for simple tasks, and taking direct control only as needed or desired.

And while not proven, it's my guess that virtual presence, especially if done very well, will prove an adequate antidote for cabin fever. Look how today's kids seem much more willing to sit indoors, playing video games, instead of going outside to play.

rewinn said...

If we want to preposition supplies on Mars, it might make more sense to send robot that suck oxygen out of the air and water out of [ where-ever it is ] and so on. These might be stored in the equivalant of clusters of mylar balloons or the milspec equivalent: twice the functionality for 10 times the price!

Some of the balloons filled with Martian water might be seeded with those Fabulous Sea Monkey eggs I recall from the comics so the robots could preposition tasty shrimp paste, etc.

Best of all, if Space Pirates from Beijing come by, Robbie the Robot frustrates Long Xian Silver by sticking a pin in the balloons.

===

More seriously, exploring Mars by telepresence seems a lot more practical than investing oodles in keeping a human body alive there. The human mind does not seem well adapted to thinking of telepresence exploration as being as "real" as actually being there, but our next generation will have grown up experiencing friends and webgamer allies around the world; I think their feelings on telepresence will be very different than ours.

Imagine private parties investing in advanced "Spirit" rovers and selling the rights to steer one for a while. The time lag is such that it would require a lot of thinking ahead but from the POV of a web gamer, that's just another play element.

TwinBeam said...

When was the last time you had trouble considering yourself to be talking to a person on the phone, because you know that in fact all you are doing is talking to an electronic device, which makes sounds like that person speaking?

In the early years of the telephone, that jarring failure of telepresence must have been somewhat common. Now we rarely think anything of it.

The closest most people come to that now, is the confusion when someone nearby is talking on a wireless headset, and we think they are talking to us. A sort of reverse telepresence failure, where we fail to recognize that the other person is in a different (virtual) space than us.

David Brin said...

A Daggatt must-read

http://daggatt.blogspot.com/2010/03/filibuster-follies-continue.html

Anyone who can find excuses, any longer, for these lunatics has got to be one, himself.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) actually voted against the jobs bill before he voted for it. The HIRE Act, which he supported, and “Reid’s partisan jobs bill,” which he voted to filibuster, are exactly the same piece of legislation. Alexander voted FOR the Republican filibuster of the jobs bill last week. But when that filibuster was overcome with 62 votes, he was among many Republicans who turned around and voted FOR the same jobs bill they had just voted to filibuster. No intervening changes in the bill. And he actually boasts about both votes on his Web site (although you would never know they both involved the same bill).


Another one of those Republican Senators who “voted against the jobs bill before he voted for it” was Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma . But Inhofe threw in a nice twist. Among other things, the jobs bill will renew funding for highway projects through the end of the year. After voting to filibuster the jobs bill, Inhofe complained that the funding provided by the bill was delayed:Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate panel that oversees highway funding, said Congress has waited too long to provide a long-term extension of highway programs.

Go read it all.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@rewinn:

If we want to preposition supplies on Mars, it might make more sense to send robot that suck oxygen out of the air and water out of [ where-ever it is ] and so on.

The technical term for this is "In-Situ Resource Utilization", or ISRU, and has been advocated for about twenty years now by Robert Zubrin. It got incorporated into official NASA planning between five and ten years ago. Constellation had some early plans for testing some ISRU auto-mines on the Moon before it was cancelled; I think people are now hunting for ways to piggyback and flight-test atmospheric collectors on Mars.

Imagine private parties investing in advanced "Spirit" rovers and selling the rights to steer one for a while. The time lag is such that it would require a lot of thinking ahead but from the POV of a web gamer, that's just another play element.

I don't think it would work well for Mars, because it would be too easy to wreck a rover and not even know it for twenty minutes. Put safeguards around the controls to prevent such and you'll have very unhappy customers.

Now, the exact same trick for the Moon is a fantastic idea. With a round-trip time of only two seconds, you'll be only barely aware of the lightspeed lag.

@TwinBeam: I'd have to see real-world psych studies back up your hypothesis before I bet billions of dollars -- not to mention the minds of astronauts -- on such a plan. Even if you are right, the logistics challenges are ENORMOUS. Your hypothetical astronauts are dependent on resource collectors on the surface -- that they can't reach except by radio. They are still in near-zero gee, with all the negative physiological effects thereof (unless you want to build a rotating space station in Mars orbit, when we haven't figured out how to do that in EARTH orbit yet). You want them exposed to massive amounts of radiation, which you aren't shielded from in Mars orbit the way you are in Earth orbit -- Mars' magnetosphere is too wimpy to keep the solar wind from ionizing everything in sight. You could shield from radiation by drilling into the center of Phobos, but that assumes a massive investment to do all that drilling.

I could go on, but I think my point is made. Going to Mars is hard enough without piling all the additional difficulties -- and all the extra failure modes -- associated with doing it all in orbit. We can, and maybe should, sortie to Phobos before we land on Mars; but it's just not practical to do everything from orbit.

Now, if you want to keep the human presence on the planet in one spot, and do exploration in other parts of the planet by telepresence -- that could work. Throw a few communications satellites into areo-synchronous orbit and you can have real-time comms with robots all over the planet, with millisecond lag.

Keeping the messy biology in one spot isn't as foolproof for planetary protection as staying in orbit, but given resource constraints, it's the best we can do. Anything else is, to misquote Dr. Gregory House, "risking a patient's life!"

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, considering your continued urging to bypass the Moon and head straight to Mars, I'm curious as to your reaction to recent findings of significant ice deposits in lunar polar craters which, according to Dr. Paul Spudis, "expressed as rocket fuel, would be enough to launch one space shuttle per day for 2,200 years."

When you consider how much it costs to put supplies in orbit, and on the weight of water which increases the expense of putting it into orbit, the viability of a lunar polar base becomes much more attractive. We need to return to the Moon. However, we don't necessarily have to have a manned presence there. Instead, we could harvest water ice with robots (indeed, considering the extreme temperatures, it would be impossible for humans to do the mining), and with a completely automated facility then launch water into lunar orbit for processing in a lunar space station (which would likely also be automated).

The amusing thing on this is that Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is becoming more viable... except that instead of using humans to do the labor, we'd use robots. (That, and I doubt we'd be sending wheat shipments from the Moon to Earth; the expense would still be too high, in all likelihood.)

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Ilithi Dragon said...

Why send the water to orbital refineries? Why not just have the refineries there on the ground, and only ship up the processed goods to a fuel

Robert said...

Well, that actually would depend on if fuel processing and the like works better in microgravity or if it requires actual gravity to be effective. I figured on a lunar orbit because there'd be less concern over placement of lunar solar panels for power and the like, and because the station could be designed on a modular basis so that if future uses for the water arises, a module can just be transported to the station without needing to try and land it on the lunar surface or build one from scratch on the lunar surface. Also, by having a more extensive lunar station, you design a waypoint for ships leaving the Earth/Moon system to travel to the rest of the solar system... or conversely for returning remote craft that are used in asteroid mining or the like to deposit the materials they've recovered for reprocessing.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

for the predictions registry - a minor thing:

Converting Body Movements Into Electricity -NYT-2-26-10 "..A first application might be in shoes, to produce enough power to
keep a music player or phone charged. But the eventual goal would be to make a flexible power generator that could be implanted in the chest or
elsewhere."

Ice on lunar poles was predicted by my own research group, Calspace, back in the 1980s, under Prof. Jim Arnold. It's OUR water ;-) and I love that it is there. it may someday be useful. But getting to-from the moon's poles is difficult and currently impractical. And you are still on... the moon.

Robert said...

Yet is it more economical than bringing it up to LOE and then sending it out to various locales? That's the ultimate aspect here: cost. Considering the current cost to lift any significant amount of weight (be it water, fuel, or other cargo) into LOE (or beyond), it may be cheaper to build the infrastructure to mine water from the Moon and then ship it from there. Other locales (such as asteroids) suffer from the problem that we don't know if there is water ice in them or what other materials will be found... and what effect mining the asteroids will have on the asteroid's trajectory. For all the "problems" with returning to the moon, it is likely safer and more known than the asteroids... and cheaper over the long run than launching it from Earth.

Better yet, by establishing such an infrastructure on the Moon, we then have an established base in lunar orbit from which to go to the rest of the solar system. It doesn't matter if we're sending probes or humans... that infrastructure giving us fuel and other resources will lessen the final cost of space travel... and also give further incentive to continue exploring the solar system, much like having supplies at Mars would encourage us to continue sending manned expeditions to Mars or other locales.

Rob H.

Ian Gould said...

On the general topic of commercial space travel, I'm surprised no-one seems to be developing a reusable solar/ion upper stage to transfer satellites from LEO to GEO; to refuel satellites or recover them for repairs and to deorbit space junk.

Robert said...

Current plans are for a high-powered laser that, linked with either powerful radar or with satellite telemetry, will zap junk, heating parts of it until it vaporizes, and alter its orbit (forcing the debris into a lower orbit that will enter the atmosphere quicker). The problem is that there are concerns it could be considered a space weapon... which is why such a device should be put under the mandate of the United Nations (with the Security Council agreeing on targets so that the Veto power can keep it from being used on non-debris targets).

Rob H.

psinge: that burnt feeling you get after a near-miss from a particle weapon

Tacitus2 said...

I shan't be lured into politics tonight. Strum und Drang aplenty in the next six weeks.

I did not realized that Phobos had a monolith on it! Cool pic from the Mars Observer. Wikipedia has it and a nice article on Phobos.

Lets Go!

Tacitus2

TwinBeam said...

Catfish:
You raise good points - but I've addressed them previously in another forum.

Cabin fever: Explorers on Mars wouldn't be much better off than in orbit - possibly worse. They'd be in a tiny hab or a tinier rover most of the time, and a tight, helmeted suit the rest. An orbital station might be larger than a Mars hab, since you don't need to get the mass down to the planet.

And again, I believe testing (which would certainly be done) will eventually show that good telepresence will largely counter cabin fever.

Any in-situ resources the first Mars explorers will depend upon can be brought to orbit before they leave Earth. Mainly rocket fuel, but possibly also water.

A rotating station is desirable for artificial gravity. But it's not that complex, compared to other space (or Mars surface) systems. And it is something we need to be doing anyhow.

By placing the station within 1km of phobos, cosmic ray shielding would be about as effective as Mars' bulk, and the shielding effects of Mars atmosphere can be achieved with about 20cm of water ice on sides of the station not facing Phobos.

In the event of a "solar storm", explorers on Mars or in space would need to stay in shelter, though those on Mars would be shielded at night. In orbit, that might mean a shelter dug into Phobos, or moving into Phobos' shadow. Or just add another 20cm of water ice.

And we haven't started talking about the many risks unique to going to Mars surface:
- the risks of relying on aerobraking vs the risks of landing under rocket power;
- the risks of launching back up from Mars surface;
- the risks of exploration in a pressurized suit;
- risks of the bends vs. risk of fire if using an O2 atmosphere in the hab;
- etc - Mars is not safe!

Jumper said...

If you skipped Curt's link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Transport_Network
read it now.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Topeka, KA renames itself Google, KA.

Catfish N. Cod said...

TwinBeam, we're getting to the point where only a thorough trade study could answer the question. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, dangers and opportunities. Even if Mars is perfectly sterile, there may be reason to have a manned Phobos station; even if Mars is forever off-limits, it may be a good idea to have an emergency base on the surface.

Pax?

TwinBeam said...

Catfish:
I'm not very concerned about Mars having dangerous biologicals - though I suppose it's possible. I'm far more concerned that the first explorers not trample over an opportunity to examine Mars BEFORE human presence starts to change it.

And I'm certainly not saying we should never go to Mars surface. Heck, I think we should colonize it, industrialize it, mine it, farm it, terraform it even.

Sure - a study of trade-offs is desirable. But to date, most who are interested in considering the question reject the "orbit first" approach out of hand.

And so far as I can see, they do it out of purely emotional reasons. They've read Mars SF, and fallen in love with the idea of "being there". I understand that fantasy perfectly - but it's just nuts to base a real world Mars plan on it!

Of course, it was also just nuts to promote the Apollo moon plan (to the public at least) on the notion that we were "racing" the Soviet Union, and that (implicitly) by "winning" we were demonstrating our system's superiority. [A big government program to demonstrate the superiority of capitalism over communism!!]

rewinn said...

Some enterprising SF author has, no doubt, considered the possibility that Gaia (perhaps the critter comprised of the sum total of bacteria living from 1 - 1000m deep in Earth's rocks ... which may add up to a heck of a lot of biomass) intelligently designed humanity to cross-pollinate Mars with Earth DNA. We may all be just a form of planetary sex.

===

Meanwhile, in the War On Science: AGW deniers in the U.S. Senate say climatologists "may have violated federal law" (page 35) and promise investigations into the scientists they don't like. IIRC this sort of approach really worked well in the Soviet Union!

Summary at The Bozone Report.

Greg said...

Curt - The thing about VASIMR (and similar high Isp engines in general) is that if you don't need to get there quickly, as you would to minimize cosmic ray exposure to astronauts, you can use a lower Delta-V mission profile and get the benefit in terms of mass fraction. This means for the same quantity of propellant, you can deliver a *much* larger payload so that an amount of caching that might have required multiple missions can be accomplished with a single trip. The lower the Delta-V you need (as in Interplanetary Transport Network you mentioned) the more "bang for the buck" you get. The same trick, BTW, ought to work with solar sails as well.

I think a further point to be made is that we know where a business as usual attempt to follow Von Braun's road map from the early '70s gets us. Nowhere. The problem is that past a certain point, the costs in trying to accomplish great things with retread technology tends to balloon to the point where the project becomes a target for cancellation. Even if the project escapes cancellation, the rounds of descoping and redesign will make a monstrosity out of whatever manages to emerge from the process (e.g. the Space Shuttle and ISS). The probability that NASA is going to get the kinds of funding it had during the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo glory days is close enough to zero to be discounted. The advantage of caching combined with dedicated technology development (VASIMR, solar sails, high watt/kg space power systems, closed system life support, etc) is that it has the potential of getting us somewhere besides low Earth orbit at a price the US body politic is willing to pay.

David Brin said...

Aw man!

Rep. Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from New York, said Wednesday that he will not seek a second term after a recurrence of cancer late last year, dismissing a report that he had been accused of harassing a staffer. Massa, 50, who was stricken with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1996, was elected in 2008, defeating Republican Rep. Randy Kuhl in a district long dominated by Republicans.

Dang. He was exactly the type we need.

matthew said...

Stop a brazen attack on science and the Clean Air Act
Pro-coal Democrats and Republicans in Congress are joining forces with Sen Lisa Murkowski to attack the Clean Air Act.
See http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/clean_air_act_vote_house/?rc=fb_share1
to voice an opinion to Congress

Tacitus2 said...

Regards Massa:

If "salty language" was cause to leave office Rahm Emanuel would have been exiled to Elba long ago. Lets take Massa at his word and believe that the cancer recurrence is the reason to stand down.

I wish him well. At least he has a disease where the prognosis is very good.

The flurry of Democrats Behaving Badly is odd, and makes me a bit suspicious. Just as the same flurry of Naughty Republicans did a while back. Do people behind the scenes stockpile these peccadillos for deployment at the right moment? That's not paranoia.

But there is something deeper going on as well. In addition to the salutory purging of skunks (Edwards, Elliot, Rangel)there are some decent folks leaving politics. They see the storm coming and want out now.

Pushing health care through by reconciliation is going to be a very bad thing for the body politic, and should be deplored no matter what you think of the actual bill. (Personally I think it a dog's breakfast that will likely accomplish the near impossible by making our health care system worse).

Three years from now, when a Republican president proposes to ram through an unpopular measure with a 51 vote Senate majority will you all sit back, contented and say "democracy in action". Me thinks not.

Tacitus2

Tim H. said...

A great reason to ask for two twenties and a ten....
http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/03/reaganomics-gop-rep-wants-to-put-reagan-on-50-bill.php?ref=fpblg

David Brin said...

Tacitus, that experiment was run. The dems cooperated and negotiated with GOP presidents. That is a historical fact. They negotiated with Nixon (much of the time) and then Reagan and then both Bushes.

In contrast, GOP congressguys do NOT negotiate. They screech and caper and obstruct. When in the majority they were the laziest Congress on record, least days in session, least hearings, least legislation EVEN on issues they claimed to care about. If you remove Clintongate, they were in rigor mortis.

Can anyone, on any level, defend that? Note, that is an indictment of CHARACTER having nothing at all to do with left or right issues.

And when in the minority, the goppers' only interest is in preventing the American democracy from doing anything, whatsoever.

Tacitus, this is not about conservatism. It is about a cult of psychopaths.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@TwinBeam: I'm far more concerned that the first explorers not trample over an opportunity to examine Mars BEFORE human presence starts to change it.

That's exactly what "planetary protection" means. It does us no good to hunt for life on Mars... only to find we put it there ourselves.

The real trick, of course, will be to distinguish bugs we brought with us less than 100 years ago from bugs some meteorite brought 100 million years ago. That may require DNA sequencing... I'm wondering how miniaturized one can get a genome sequencer to be.

Until we declare Mars either sterile, non-isolated, or non-toxic, though, we have to treat everything outside our habitats as a BioHazard Level 4 environment. That's much easier from orbit!

On the other hand, geology is much easier done in person -- at least unless we have waldoes that accurately mimic walking around on the surface.

If you want to keep advocating for this trade study, though, I won't stop you, and I'll vote for it. I won't join you in advocacy, though -- I'm not enthused by it, but it may be the right move.

Tacitus2 said...

David
We hold differing opinions on the essential nature of the GOP and the Dems. I am ok with that.
We will see what the electorate thinks in the months ahead. In the end, they do get a say in things.
Tacitus2

David Brin said...

Oh but Tacitus that's the point! The goppers only want to annul the voters' clear decision of 2008! There is NO other meaning to their pattern of refusing to participate in governing OR letting the clerar election winners govern.

You are doing precisely what republicans do. Saying "When next the people elect US... then THAT is the people's will, and you had better cooperate. But when YOU win that is an aberration and anything we do, to obstruct, is fine."

Tacitus, you have said nothing to answer my point, which is that this is not about the "nature of the parties" in any political sense. Conservative ideas are welcome in the negotiations. But notice, Obama is reaching out and GRABBING the best GOP ideas and incorporating them himself. Not one GOPper has actually put forward malpractice reform as an amendment or part of negotiation.

YOU asked what the dems will do, when in the minority again. I showed that the past proves what they'll do. They will sigh and roll up their sleeves and try to negotiate. That is history. Pure and proved.

Now you refute that the GOP behaved as I described. SHow me that they worked hard, when in the majority, or negotiated in good faith with the party elected by the people, when they were out of office.

Please, show us.

Tacitus2 said...

I am afraid, David, that you are reading a great deal into my words. Too much perhaps.

The 2008 election pleased you? Good. I had hopes for its outcome too, but they have not been entirely realized.

Are the 2008 elections more consequential than the series of special elections in 2009? Will they be more significant than the upcoming 2010 ones?

I have no interest in, nor reasonable prospects of, persuading you that the Republican party is not a collection of crooks at best and monsters at worst. You are entitled to your opinions and I find them intermittently instructive.

If you want me to focus a bit more I can try, although I am sitting in the ER at 1 am with an assortment of "ahem" interesting patients here or incoming.

The current health care bill, if one can actually speak of it as a single entity, is in my opinion a misguided effort, undertaken with faulty premises and mauled to shreds by inbred politicians indifferently supervised by a lackadaisical executive branch. I speak from considerable experience in the practice and administration of medicine, this thing's a dog.

But now it has become a sort of political Stalingrad which must be fought over to the last bit of scorched rubble.

I recognize and admire genuine passion. But is there perhaps a touch of dismay among progressives that the ju-jitsu transformative president has proven all too mortal?

Gotta run (see above)

Tacitus2

Tim H. said...

On the health care bill Tacitus is likely right, it's a dog, but the state of health care is a bitch. The question is, will the senate bill be a harbinger of better things to come, or a descent to a lower circle?

Robert said...

I look at the Republican Constant Filibuster and then I look at the result of the Filibuster. Do you know what I see? I see a Democratic Supermajority which encouraged corruption, cronyism, and giving Senators big sloppy kisses to encourage them to vote against the Filibuster. Literally, this attempt to stop Democratic progress has resulted in widescale open corruption among Democrats, especially the Blue Dogs.

If Republicans truly cared for their country, they'd offer true negotiation. They'd say "cut this, this, and this part of the bill, and we'll negate the Filibuster. Those are the worse of the fat, and without it the Bill is at least slightly tolerable." But they don't. They're punishing people for having the audacity to elect a black man who is not Republican as President. And then they'll claim Democrats got nothing done and need to be removed from office.

The more bullshit I see from the Republican party, the more I grow to hate them. And this is bad, because I do not like the Democrats much but am being forced into their camp because the alternatives are third-party candidates that will not get elected (or will, at best, leach votes away from Republicans which ensure Democrats get in anyway) or Voter Apathy where I stop voting.

Which is maybe what Republicans want. They want people to give up, so that only the vocal minority will vote and they'll get in, supported by their vocal base, and destroy this country once again.

Rob H.

P.S. - Off the political note, I'm curious what Dr. Brin would think of a global effort to build a base on the Moon. While I know he sees the Moon as wasted effort, much of the world is still looking to it as a milestone... and by sharing resources with the Russians, Chinese, Europeans, Indians, and more, we could create an International Presence on the Moon and encouraged continued cooperation among nations. And meanwhile we can still spend a significant amount on new technologies to get to Mars since the Moon won't devour our entire space budget.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Damnit, Didi, how many times to I have to tell you? 日本語でポルノリンクを公表するのをやめてください 英語を使ってください

Ilithi Dragon said...

On politics:

Tacitus, I recognize your superior knowledge, experience and general expertise in the field of healthcare and healthcare administration, and I do not dispute the mind-numbing difficulty of administering our system as-is, let alone trying to fix all of its problems any time soon.

I also agree that this healthcare bill is imperfect, flawed, and is probably going to cause many new problems even as it tries to correct the old. I am perhaps a bit more optimistic than you on the ultimate impact of the bill as it is currently formulated (I am an inherent optimist), but I agree that this bill could be, and should be a LOT better.

That said, the FLAWS in the bill are not to be blamed on the Democrats, or at least not entirely, and very likely not mostly.

No bill is going to be perfect right out of the gate, so there's no getting around some inherent flaws to start with, and that's not the blame of either party.

Most of the problems with the bill can be traced to the Republican party, however. From the out-set, the Republicans have been refusing to cooperate, while Democrats bend over backwards to work with them. The bill originally put forward was ALREADY a compromise to tempt the Republicans to join in on it, it was NOT the bill the Democrats would have put forward if they were not going for a bi-partisan compromise, or if they planned to start from a partisan position and debate to a bi-partisan compromise. They STARTED with a bill that incorporated many ideas that had previously been fielded from the Republican side of he aisle. That briefly lured three Republicans over in discussions that ultimately ended in nothing, and with the entire GOP filibustering the bill every single time, while the Democrats bent further and further backwards, cutting and revising more and more of the bill to fit with Republican and Conservative Democrat demands, only to the Republicans continue to filibuster at every turn, while both Republican and Democratic conservatives demand more, more, more compromise, revision, change, and what amounts to pork or special favors to their constituent districts (Liberman, et al).

The result has led the Democrats into bending over backwards so far that they snapped their spine and tucked through their own legs, twice. The GOP has been throwing what amounts to a 2-year-old's temper tantrum of demanding "More, more, more of what we want!" while refusing to cooperate or budge a nanometer in return.

Ilithi Dragon said...

The Dems have subsequently eviscerated the healthcare bill to try and appease to the goppers, AND to try and appease a handful of Democratic senators who have jumped on the gold mine of political power and influence, demanding their own special concessions and favors and revisions, etc. in exchange for not filibustering the vote themselves. The corruption that Rob has repeatedly railed against, that has come about entirely from the GOP's lock-step filibuster, because it has artificially magnified the power and influence of a few senators who are particularly lacking in scruples, or have a particular over-abundance of ambition (or both).


People say that the filibuster is the GOP's only option, that they HAVE to us it to stave off this horrendous bill. Neverminding the fact that much of the bill's horrendousness stems from the GOP's policy of using the 'filibuster nuke' as their SOLE RESPONSE to almost EVERYTHING (and yes, it is comparable to the U.S. launching a nuke at every single problem it encountered), the filibuster is FAR from the GOP's only option. They can negotiate and put forward amendments and changes and say, "Hey, we don't like this, we don't want this, we like that and want that, will that work instead?", and then working with Dems to get that put in instead of this, or some compromise between the two. They haven't. There was some of that, early on, from a handful of senators. One of them is now a Republican because he was effectively kicked out of his own party, and the others quickly fell back in line with the party lockstep after 'consorting with The Enemy (TM).'

I admit that I am not 100% versed with all the goings on of the healthcare bill, but to my knowledge, the goppers have not put forward a single real amendment or offer of compromise on the bill AT ALL. All they have done, to my knowledge, is announced generalized demands at the press, occasionally before Congress, and then refused to budge a micron when those demands were met by compromising Democrats.

They rail against the bill, make generalized demands, refuse to actually debate towards compromise on anything, put forward anything, or even DO anything besides make a lot of noise about saying "NO!", and then when their demands are met, the Dems bend over backwards to compromise and entice them into voting for the bill, the Reps act like nothing has even happened, or screech and holler about BS claims that the Dems are refusing to cooperate and trying to ram the bill down their throats.

How can you respect that? This isn't functioning government, this isn't even politics. This is a goddamn temper tantrum that would make a spoiled two-year-old cry in shame. It is disgusting, and I call BS on anyone who claims approval in any way.

This is more than just stopping a reviled healthcare bill (and it would be bad enough if it was all just healthcare), it's about the GOP trying to stop EVERYTHING. FFS, they're fili-nuking almost EVERY DAMNED BILL that passes through the Senate. And when they're not doing that, individual goppers are standing up and putting 'holds' on bills, effectively 'blockading' them, to make some petty, often pork-laden demand. All this, while crying at the top of their lungs that Congress can't pass the very damned bills that they are blocking!!!

Ilithi Dragon said...

No, this isn't about healthcare, or even stopping healthcare. This is about government. It's about stopping the Democrats' government, and the processes of our democratic republic in general, and bringing all of it to its knees. They're the children who break the toys because they don't get their way or because their turn is over, only they're not children, and they're at the reins of the richest and most powerful nation on the planet. They their turn, they didn't get their way, and now they're going to try and break the goddamn country to get their turn back or to prevent anyone else from running it. That is the only motive that can be matched to every single one of their actions, and it is as despicable as it sounds.



On healthcare itself, Tacitus, being the resident expert in the field, what would YOU suggest?

What solutions to the problems would YOU put forth? I understand that you are pressed for time, so I'm not looking for an immediate response, but I want specifics. What, exactly, would you recommend to fix our problems, or at least the major ones, and why?

Ilithi Dragon said...

Thinking about it, the GOP and its fili-nuke are a lot like a terrorist threatening to shoot a hostage if a demand isn't met, and then shooting that hostage anyway when that demand is met, and proceeding to threaten to shoot another hostage if another demand or set of demands isn't met.

rewinn said...

On health care, it's worth noting that a majority of Democrats in the Senate favor a public option which, while imperfect, would solve the most odious but necessary provision of the problems with the current bill, that of a mandate to purchase.

So long as uninsured people go to ERs for treatment, imposing costs on all of us who are insured, the politicians who complain about the mandate have the choice of signing onto the public option or being hypocrites.

Any doubt about the GOP's interest in helping govern our great nation has been basically put to rest by Senator Bunning's little tantrum which, to the great consternation of GOP leadership, made their play just a little too obvious. He may be an example of how the skills necessary to pitch strikes or to get elected on the basis of a strong chin, regular features and ideological correctness ... do not translate into the subtlety necessary to an insurgent movement.

Anonymous said...

Okay this idea may sound a bit stupid initially, but let's think it through.

What about using the International Space Station when its retired as a fuel, food, supplies dump for a deep space mission rather than deorbiting it?

It need not be capable of supporting a crew anymore, but surely it could act as an already existant source of raw material and components for other missions.

What would it take to move the station into a higher orbit?

What could be provisioned on it for decades into the future?

What elements of the station could be recycled for use in a larger space craft?

Robert said...

Okay. I glanced at several news articles on Bunning and saw nothing that really was a "smoking gun" toward Republican tactics or the like. Could you explain further?

--------

Using the ISS as a "fuel depot" in the future may be a good idea. However, if the ISS is struck by a satellite fragment or debris (or even a micro-asteroid) then you not only have the ISS fragmenting and becoming a huge debris field, but you also have all that fuel and such becoming even more of a hazard.

We should consider all sides of the equation before deciding what to do with the ISS... and that's still at least 10 years down the line.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, we are talking past each other. I am not talking about politics here. It happens that I prefer most Democratic policies over most Republican ones. But I really am sincere about favoring a nice – if compact – suite of decisively conservative and libertarian wish list items and parallel grudges against Demmie points of view. And I think they are all criminally culpable for the national treason called gerrymandering.

But no. ALL of my remarks (above) were about psychology and process. Today’s Republicans simply do not want the government of the United States to function, not even as a vehicle for their own stated goals. When in power, they bully and lie around like lazy slugs, not even holding hearings, doing less than Congresses did even in the 1830s. When out of power they yowl about the people’s will, while doing everything to prevent the freely and decisively elected majority from having their turn at bat. It is not their awfulness POLITICALLY that offends me, but their psychopathic personalities. They are simply horrors… as men.

Conservatives can (and have) do better!

As for health care, the yin yangs are huge, but this bill does a few things above all, it gets all the healthy people into the insurance pool. (huge.) It shifts care for the poor from emergency rooms to regular preventive doctor visits. (Costs the SAME but much better results.) And it forces (eventually) a standard electronic record system that should save billions.

Key point. Amend the things you don’t like. If there are parts that should have been better think. A dozen GOP senators could have got many of those changes, just by negotiating. They wanted it to be a mess.

Negotiate.

TwinBeam said...

Since this thread appears to have been hijacked to healthcare (I guess we've driven away most of the SF fans)...

Can anyone explain why there must be *a* healthcare bill?

Sixty-three percent (63%) of all voters say a better strategy to reform the health care system would be to pass smaller bills that address problems individually.

After all, SOME here have argued that the Dem's near 60% majority means the Rep's are evil monsters for filibustering to block the Dems.

So why aren't the Dems evil monsters for ignoring the will of 63% of the people?

TwinBeam said...

AND it'd be MUCH more obvious to the public that the Reps are only playing politics, not doing their jobs, if they had to filibuster a dozen bills simultaneously, many of which would have strong public support if considered individually.

Tacitus2 said...

Ilithi

As you know, I take a swing at all questions asked of me. But I am picking up some hostal vibes that a 300 line treatise might not be appropriate. Will you settle for a sample for now?

I believe it was Clauswitz who said that in any campaign, all errors could be corrected except those of initial deployment.

The administration's focus from the get go has been for expanded coverage. For the uninsured, for the underinsured. Its a worthy goal btw.

The real numbers of uninsured have always been a bit slippery, and include true hard luckers, people who are briefly uncovered, people who could be covered but choose not to be, etc. Americans are generally good eggs and do want to do something for these folks, but their major concerns have always been for the closely related issue of Health Care Costs too Damn much.

If we tried to control that first, as should have been attempted, we could stretch our resources to expand help to the un/undercovered. You may if you wish try to argue that the admins current plan will do this. I will disagree. This morning Pelosi was touting various "enhancements" such as closing the drug benefit donut hole, eliminating special Nebraska deal (I suppose by extending it to all), etc.

I would be draconian with regards to tort reform, use of generic drugs, enhancing primary care at the expense of some specialty care, making certain optional health risks pay their own way through taxes and fees. My list is long.

Machinery? How 'bout this.

So, ya want Fed money to help support your state Medicaid program? Fine, here's a model tort reform bill that specifies binding arbitration for most cases, establishes evidence based medicine as the standard of care, and as a side measure beefs up enforcement by state medical boards.

Oh, you don't like? Well, ya know how we encouraged you to raise the drinking age to 21 to get Fed Highway money? Your call guys.

Admittedly this exercise runs the risk of turning me into a domineering autocrat, but if this is a matter of national survival my hypothetical soul will just have to be imperilled.

Tacitus2
on the fly and post call groggy

Ilithi Dragon said...

Tacitus,

As I said, I'm not demanding an immediate response on the all of everything, we've all got day jobs, after all.

What I do want to know is specifics on what you think should be done, even if it comes over time, one point at a time (which may be best, actually). I want to compare and contrast this to the current healthcare bill and the various changes that have been made since its inception, GOP ideas put forth, etc.

It's probably going to be a long-running discussion, but that's fine with me, if you don't mind.

I also want to know why you think this or that will work better or won't work.

Again, though, take your time; you've got a pressing 'day' job, and I'm not paying you for this.
} : = 8 )

LarryHart said...

Rob H:

The more bullshit I see from the Republican party, the more I grow to hate them. And this is bad, because I do not like the Democrats


Exactly where I've been for about ten years now. Probably more like twelve, actually, as it seemed to start with the Clinton impeachment. I remember that even though I liked Peter Fitzgerald, I wouldn't vote for him as Senator because one more GOP Senator was one more pro-impeachment vote.

That was the first time I voted on a purely partisan basis, and I've been doing so ever since. And it's not that I'm pro-Democrat so much as that I'm anti-Republican.

Tacitus2 said...

OK

But likely it will be bits and pieces. You would really have to start with the psychology of health care to get at the financing of it.

What is it that makes the price of X be worth to society some multiple of Y?

Tacitus2

LarryHart said...

Tacitus:


Pushing health care through by reconciliation is going to be a very bad thing for the body politic, and should be deplored no matter what you think of the actual bill.
...
Three years from now, when a Republican president proposes to ram through an unpopular measure with a 51 vote Senate majority will you all sit back, contented and say "democracy in action". Me thinks not.


Where were you when the Bush tax cuts were pushed through by reconcilliation? I mean that as a serious question, since I have no idea of whether you thought that was a good idea or a bad idea at the time. But I am getting tired of Republicans blaming Democrats for (say) daring to filibuster a whole four of Bush's federal court nominations, and then themselves filibustering EVERYTHING, and then acting like it would STILL be a crime against humanity if the Democrats ever did the same thing.

How can you imply a threat of "If you guys use reconcilliation, then we will too", when your side already HAS done so whenever they were able to?

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart

I can honestly say, with no pride in the saying, that I did not think about the reconcilliation issue at that time. I guess budgetary matters are the correct place for reconcilliation, but it is supposed to be for helping balance the budget, not unbalance it.

I recall thinking that "permanant" tax cuts seemed a silly notion, as nothing in Washington is really permanant.

Bush era fiscal irresponsibilty can't be excused. I do recall a sigh of relief when a bipartisan group of senators agreed to stand down the fillibuster threat on judicial nominees. I must look up their names again. McCain and Lieberman if I recall. hmmmm.

I am older now, maybe wiser.

Some would disagree.

Tacitus2

LarryHart said...


Thinking about it, the GOP and its fili-nuke are a lot like a terrorist threatening to shoot a hostage if a demand isn't met, and then shooting that hostage anyway when that demand is met, and proceeding to threaten to shoot another hostage if another demand or set of demands isn't met.


Only readers of the 1986 Batman comic "The Dark Knight Returns" will understand the quote I'm parodying here (more's the pity). But it would make a lot of sense for the GOP leadership to blurt out in a fit of anger:

Of course we're terrorists!"

We've always been terrorists!

We have to be terrorists!

Robert said...

I can understand why the Republicans want Health care reform to go through piecemeal. They are realizing that their constant use of the filibuster is starting to hurt them. They also realize that a lot of people want some health care reform. So they want to break it into small pieces... and pass the bare minimum to "fix" things (which won't, but will be enough to wave flags and crow about). Then they filibuster the rest.

This is why the Democrats don't want to break it up. They realize that if they do this, the Republicans win. They get to claim they passed Health care reform, and at the same time keep anything viable from happening.

Rob H., who thinks the filibuster should go back to what it was originally intended for

Ilithi Dragon said...

You mean denying rights to black people and women?

David Smelser said...

It was asked: "Can anyone explain why there must be *a* healthcare bill? Sixty-three percent (63%) of all voters say a better strategy to reform the health care system would be to pass smaller bills that address problems individually."

My answer: Because there is no trust between the parties -- you cannot grant a concession on this bill and expect the other party to grant a concession on the next bill. It all has to be negotiated at once and put into a single mega bill.

Brian dodge said...

In defense of willful ignorance and the Republican party, It's entirely possible that Sens Alexander and Inhofe are unaware that they have cast votes on opposite sides of the issue. To be aware of what is going on would require that they actually read the bills in question instead of blindly following the lead of the lobbyist/Republican spokesperson de jour; It's pretty obvious that readin's not high on their priority list.

rewinn said...

@Robert - about Bunning - his own leadership was telling him not to be an obstructionist on something that gave them such terrible press.

--

About piecemeal health insurance reform: good in theory but there are some "Irreduce-able Complexity" in Intelligently Designed systems. In particular, if you eliminate the denial of pre-existing conditions without mandating the purchase of coverage, econ 101 says EVERYONE stops buying health insurance, until they need it. Bad stuff then happens.

About for tort reform - the math don't work. In the 30 or 40 states that have implemented tort reform, none have seen health insurance costs go down. There's no reason to think federalizing it would make health insurance costs go down. The purely theoretical arguments in favor of tort reform have to do with privatizing the costs of bad medicine, which does indeed remove the socialized costs but does not make them go away.

One reform that would work ... since it's basically the system in other advanced countries ... is to have some sort of universal health care coverage, so that malpractice victims don't have to sue to get compensation ... and therefore lawyers don't have to get paid to help victims sue.

In theory, you could cut the cost of lawyering and still retain the suit-for-compensation system by drafting lawyers or putting them on the public payroll, but that sounds a little commie to me. Alternatively, you could require the victims to argue their case without professional help and hope that the insurers don't take unsporting advantage.

At any rate, assume tort reform could cut 2% of the cost of health insurance. That's chicken feed in the big picture.

rewinn said...

I'm trying to think of one nation other than our own that has the filibuster.

If it's such a good idea, why won't anyone copy it?

Tacitus2 said...

Rewinn

So far I am not aware of tort reform anywhere that addresses the real increased costs, that being defensive medicine.
I would guess that minimum 10% of what I end up ordering for tests and such is CYA. And I am braver than most. You can, under the current system, always be faulted for not doing A, or B, or C.
Now, if we had some clearer understanding that you are not going to be found liable if bad outcomes happen despite your following sensible guidelines we will be getting somewhere.
I bet I do 100 CAT scans of the head for each one that actually shows a significant abnormality. Cut that down to 60 or 70....

Tacitus2

TwinBeam said...

David Smelser:

Why grant Republicans any concessions on the bills? The Dem's don't need them, so long as they can crack the filibuster.

Just create separate bills for a bunch of reasonable reforms. They can all be Dem proposals that all Republicans dislike, but which a majority of Dems can agree upon.

With one big bill, nearly all voters will find something they don't like in it - so they may accept the idea that the Reps are acting on principle to block the bill because of the "bad stuff".

With a dozen smaller bills, nearly all voters will see a handful that they like 100% - so if the Reps filibuster everything, they'll get all voters angry at them. So they will be forced to allow the ones they dislike least to come to a vote. Which, BTW, I think is fair - they're a minority, but in theory they still represent about 40% of the voters.

If the Dems won't split it up, why shouldn't I believe that the real reason is that the Dems are including things they know wouldn't be supported by most voters, and that might get them kicked out of office?

If it's all one big bill, they can say "Yes, well, I didn't like that part either, but others insisted on it, so I held my nose and voted for it to get the rest of the bill." Of course, their lips will be moving, when they say that...

Ian Gould said...

A leaked RNC marketing document makes it clear that the party's main strategy is simply to spread fear.

One interesting bit:

"A major Republican donor described the state of the RNC’s relationship with major donors as “disastrous,” with veteran givers beginning to abandon the committee, which is becoming increasingly reliant on small donors.

The party’s average contribution in 2009, according to the document, was just $40, and the shift toward a financial reliance on the grassroots may help explain Steele’s increasingly strident tone toward the Obama Administration."

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/33866.html

Ian Gould said...

Interesting article from New Scientist on Hybrid Fusion (basicly use Hydrogen fusion as a source of neutrons to cause non-enriched Uranium and other elements to undergo fission).

It's another of those interesting ideas that could solve many of the problems with current nuclear power plants - and it's almost 10 years away from a prototype.

Which means best case scenario, probably twenty years to the first operating commercial plants and thirty years or more before widespread adoption.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well this is bad...

Robert said...

Yeah. Looks like carbon dioxide emission reduction won't matter at this point. We're going to have to go straight to environmental engineering; in the short term using reflective dust in the upper atmosphere (and accept damage to the Ozone layer, though I must wonder if we could send balloons up to the Ozone layer and release extra ozone to replenish what'll be destroyed) and in the longer term some form of solar shield.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

@Tacitus -

* In what state do you practice? Either it's not one of the tort reform states, or your supervising institution is not aware of the protections you have received ... or it has not found that tort reform does anything that would actually causes physicians to change their behavior.

* What fraction of health care costs are covered by tests? Treatment, including pharma, and health insurerer overhead are far larger components of the health care equation than are tests. This may not be obvious to practitioners on the ground; I have never seen a schedule of costs in a doctor's office (certainly not in an ER). How much, for example, do you charge for an ace bandage?

* Tort reform does not eliminate the responsibility of any person, including those in the medical profession, to cover expenses of parties they injure, nor could it in a just society (in the absence of other arrangements, e.g. universal health care.) In view of this obligation, institution seem to be motivated to perform defensive medicine no matter what, at least until some other institution is willing to pay for their mistakes.

Tort reform limits economic and "non-economic damages", punitive damages, and the cost of fighting over who pays for what.

Certainly punitive damages could be replaced with another system for discouraging misconduct, such as taking licenses away from practitioners and institutions that screw up too much. The medical profession does not seem to back this reform.

Certainly the cost of fighting over who-pays-for-what could be minimized with some sort of "no-fault" system, kind of like many states have for auto insurance or workers' comp. Of course, these work only if you have universal coverage.

It's the Non-economic damages (e.g. "pain and suffering") that are the common target of tort reform. Limiting them is especially cruel since simply paying for the medical care and lost wages ("economic damages") of an injured person doesn't really restore them to the status quo ante. In one of the states that have passed "tort reform" limiting non-economic damages you will not have noticed the cost of health insurance going down; if the cost of a doctor's malpractice insurance goes down, the savings are not being passed on to the consumers.

rewinn said...

@Robert - Why would the discovery that GW is more serious than we thought mean we have to do less?

Using breeder reactors, solar power stations and increased efficiency to replace our carbon-emitting energy sources does not require huge technical advances. A global network of mylar balloons or other planetary engineering projects might be nice too but the wise course is to have both belt and suspeners.

Tacitus2 said...

Rewinn

Finishing work on my 2009 Taxes, so my political opinions are not printable today.
But in brief:
I practice in Wisconsin, a state with fairly sane liabilty laws.
It has not had sufficient impact on physician practice patterns. The reasons are complex and not entirely financial.
Physician egos quail at the very prospect of being sued, such is the shame of it.
A significant sea change in how we manage bad outcomes is needed. This won't happen until we change attidudes about expectations of the health care system.
grrrr...back to the taxes.

Tactitus2

Robert said...

It is not that we need to do less about GW. It is that we need to shift our focus from prevention to geoengineering. Methane has a 25 times greater effect on heat retention than carbon dioxide, and it is believed that if just 1% of the arctic methane escapes, it will result in a chain reaction, heating the arctic region, melting permafrost, releasing more methane, heating the arctic region further, and so on.

There is some consensus among scientists that this has happened before. One of the side-effects will be increased melting of the Greenland icecap; though it is very doubtful that even a significant increase in temperature will cause the icecap to melt entirely in years. (The increase in freshwater runoff may encourage another event, a bloom of freshwater algae (Azolla) that is believed to have caused the current colder climate. Mind you, the effects of Azolla happen over millenia, but whatever species eventually evolves to replace us will have oil and natural gas resources with which to destroy the environment in turn.) Still, an increase in sea level of even a foot would significantly increase the damage from flooding, storms, and the like.

The problem is that even if we stop producing carbon dioxide this second and went entirely green, it would likely be too late to stop the melting of the permafrost (at least, without some form of geoengineering). While methane itself is not toxic, if released in sufficient levels it can drive off oxygen in an area (resulting in asphyxiation of everything in that region); I've not seen if permafrost-released methane can concentrate to that level, but I wouldn't be surprised. There are even some theories that the release of methane in the arctic can lead to methane buildups that can literally explode, throwing up dust and ash into the atmosphere for the short term.

What's worse is that even though methane lasts for a much shorter period of time, when it is broken up it turns into carbon dioxide. The Deniers in big business will likely overcome any lawsuits because this aspect of global warming is natural; we just spiked the gas tank leading up to this point. Depending on how quickly temperatures rise, I could also see a rise in natural disasters and truly nasty storms; nations may be forced to concentrate everything on survival and rebuilding rather than social engineering and the like. Weaker nations will likely succumb to chaos.

That's not getting into the geopolitical question, on what widescale weather disruptions will do to the global economy, diplomatic relations, wars over resources, communications disruptions, widescale outbreaks of disease, global transportation, and so forth.

By forcing temperatures lower through geoengineering (through short-term use of reflective materials in the stratosphere, and longer-term use of a solar shield at the L1 point) we can hopefully cope with the methane releases and on other carbon emission sources. We may also be able to slow or stop the significant climate changes. The question is how we pay for it... and how loudly carbon-based industries squeal when they are hit with significant carbon taxes to pay for it.

Rob H.

Sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, your beloved Navy has turned into a bunch of wimps.

Navy captain demoted for berating her crew

She was accused of swearing at sailors. Oh, and she 'assaulted' one guy by crumpling up some paper and throwing it at his head. She even put one guy in time out!

Or they're just sexist pigs looking for an excuse to get a woman out of command. One of the two.

David Brin said...

Methane blurp... geez. How many predictions does a guy need to get right? Wish I hadn't, on that one.

Re the Navy, it's probably a mix. All the services except the Marines are trying to make the surface demeanor that of serene professionals. But "overcoming" femaleness can be a problem in itself.

Robert said...

I don't suppose you worked out any potential methods of dealing with these methane clathate releases? Or of stopping them at this point in time?

Rob H.

Ian said...

I am more convinced than ever that we need geo-engineering - not as a solution to global warming but as a stop-gap to give us time to develop a proper solution.

There was an old NAS study which concluded that adding a couple of million tonnes a year of Titanium Dioxide to the upper atmosphere was just about the only safe, cheap, effective way to lower the temperature of the planet.

We need to start trying that otu now and be ready to deploy a system within the next decade.

We also need ... here comes the cliche ... a Manhattan Project to accelerate the development of new nuclear technologies - like Standing Wave Reactors; Hybrid Fusion; Rubbiatrons and Thorium reactors - so that these are ready for actual real world use within the next decade.

David Brin said...

Geoengineering? Certainly.

But start with things that

1) have no overshoot potential
2) emulate natural processes
3) are easy to stop, cold
4) have side benefits.

Hands down, that means go back to experiments in ocean fertilization. Earlier attempts, dumping iron dust, had mixed results and did some acidification.

My favorite would be to create tide-driven bottom-stirrers... as depicted in EARTH -- that simply emulate the totally natural process by which ocean currents raise nutrients from the ocean floor, stimulate plankton to draw CO2 out of the air, and also turn sea-deserts into rich fisheries.

This possible win-win seems worth a few more-than-tepid experiments.

Ian said...

A slight note of hope from New Scientist:

"However, it is not clear whether the leakage is a new phenomenon. Graham Westbrook of the University of Birmingham, UK, reported 250 submarine methane hotpots off the Arctic islands of Svalbard last year, but did not determine whether they were affecting the atmosphere above. "The subsea permafrost has been degrading and leaking methane beneath for thousands of years," he told New Scientist.

He added that nobody knows how much of the recently detected methane releases are due to human influence on climate and that the fraction "is probably quite small"."

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18614-methane-bubbling-out-of-arctic-ocean--but-is-it-new.html

Basically, we don't have sufficient data to know what the natural baseline rate of methane emissiond is and therefore can't tell if its accelerating.

Robert said...

But what if it is? What if the worse-case scenarios are true? If we do nothing, then the resultant massive upheavals in climate will result in droughts and heat waves, flooding, and worse. If no precautions are made, then we will see massive famines in India and China and in Africa. With nearly three billion people starving, do you honestly think the governments of those people will sit back and do nothing? No. They will wage war with their neighbors to try and get what resources they can.

If India invades Pakistan? We're talking nuclear war. Admittedly, the end-result of even a limited nuclear exchange between those two nations will be nuclear winter, which may counter the effects of global warming... but I'd much rather not have a second nuclear war break out (the first being the U.S. vs. Japan).

Dr. Brin said this already, but just as we had to "assume" that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, that if there was a 1% chance, that it was too high... so too must we run under the assumption that not only is global warming manmade, but that we have already crossed several thresholds and that we need to start using geoengineering to try and minimize the damage that happens here. (Fortunately, some of the methods are not that horrific - spraying salt water onto the growing ice pack in the Arctic Ocean as winter happens is not exactly the most expensive of geoengineering tricks, and the resulting thickening of sea ice will have several beneficial side effects.)

Likewise, working on a larger scale to seed the oceans is not only a means of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but also will allow for new fisheries to form; we will have to keep the big fish harvesting boats away from these new farms (as they'd strip mine these new sections of ocean without a concern of what they are doing to our long-term survivability), but by expanding the regions in the ocean that sustain a decent level of life, turning oceanic deserts into gardens, we will be able to in time feed humanity while saving the environment.

Other experiments can also be tried; I think that small-scale experiments with titanium oxide to determine its effects would be wise, so that if we do need to do large-scale seeding of our skies to lessen the light that reaches the surface, we'll have a much better idea of how much we'll need to use.

One benefit of using geoengineering, however, is that we don't need to immediately shut down all the coal factories, remove all the cars from the road, and force the country (and world!) to change overnight. By eliminating subsidies for oil and coal and enhancing subsidies for renewables and for this hybrid nuclear fusion process, we can encourage market forces themselves to shift our economy away from carbon and toward a more sustainable civilization.

Rob H.

Ian said...

Rob, if it is true we have maybe 10-20 years to make the changes we would have to make anyway over the next forty.

It's highly likely that at some point rapid heating of the arctic will result in massive clathrate loss, the question is whether we've already reached that point.

The people I quote suggest that we don't really know whether we've reached that point or not, which is certainly no cause for compalcency.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

... but I'd much rather not have a second nuclear war break out (the first being the U.S. vs. Japan).


While I think I get your point, that was "atomic war", not "nuclear war", right?

Tim H. said...

Nuclear can describe both fusion and fission.

Jonathan S. said...

Of course we're terrorists!"

We've always been terrorists!

We have to be terrorists!


"Do you remember why you stopped filibustering, GOP?

"No - just look at you. You'd do it again - and like a politician, you'd cover it up again.

"Nothing matters to you, except your holy war."

Re: a genetic sequencer for the Mars mission - on another forum, one of the regular contributors helped invent the DNA sequencer so beloved of CSI shows, that can take a scraping from a doorknob and produce a usable DNA profile. I've messaged him to ask how small, light, and durable such a device could be; he may take some time to get back to me, however, as he's currently shepherding some new tech through to production (he's the head of his company's R&D department).

bentine: a new product, combining Benadryl and Bactine, to treat burns you're allergic to.

rewinn said...

"...Methane blurp..."

The little boy in me has to bring up our shared first experience with methane:

"This is the way the world ends ... not with a bang but a world-sized fart"

OK, now back to useful stuff.

Robert said...

I have so been trying to avoid that verbal visualization in describing what's going on. And let me tell you, I've been quite tempted to call it Mother Nature farting at us. ^^;;

rewinn said...

"...The reasons are complex and not entirely financial...."

Since Wisconsin caps both non-economic and punitive damages, a more plausible explanation for the executives at health facilities directing the use of medically unnecessary tests may be ... if one looks at things cynically ... due to the profits to be had from ordering tests.

Testing facilities that sit around unused are not generating income. And there are testing equipment salesstaff whose job it is to get that latest gadget in the door with promises of money to be made. A profit-driven system has a certain logic to it.

Tacitus2 said...

ReWinn
Bugger of a shift yesterday, so I feel replete with anecdotal evidence of an incontrovertable nature!
You are misjudging the extent to which the medical system, at least as it looks in the front line ER trenches, is under the top down control of some beady eyed bean counters. Nobody tells me, or the patients, or the EMTs how to do things. What prompts there are come indirectly...

The "standard of care" is this amorphous stew of what patients demand, and what organizations of various degrees of impartiality opine, and what protocols suggest, and what my gut feeling tells me to do.

A brief example of each.

1. 21 year old snowmobile racer with sore back after minor injury. Should have: ibuprofen and rest. Wants: MRI to look at his ligaments. Ends up with: plain back xray that is normal. I could have been hard line, or taken more time away from seriously injured people to negotiate. Neither is good.

2. Recent prostate cancer "guidelines". Encourage discussion, a tacit admission that aggressive screening does not save that many lives. But try and read the news articles for any mention of "don't do the damn PSA test."

3. Protocols suggesting when helicopter should be launched based on field reports. Real occasions where trauma cases are so bad that a quick call is life and death are rare, but the First Responders have gotten in the habit of saying..."oh, this looks bad, call the copter". When done without effective supervision this leads to 5-10K in expense for people who are sometimes only a bit bruised up.

On the other hand, I being a wily old campaigner, can often sniff out a case that is going to go to hell fast, and end up get harassed over small things like extra blood cultures, etc. It helps being proven dramatically right from time to time, but nobody bats 1.000

The unifying theme is that nobody pays primary attention to what things cost because they don't want to be sued, or criticized by peers/referral center, or grumbled at by patient satisfaction surveys

And since average health care consumers actually only pay something like 18% of health care costs out of pocket (and much less in the ER setting), we get no economy vibes from them!

weary but unbowed.
Tacitus2

Jonathan S. said...

On genetic sequencers:

The expert tells me that current state-of-the-art is a 250 lb machine that probably couldn't take the vibration of launch into space; however, some companies are working on a "lab-on-a-chip" that works more slowly, and doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but would weigh about 10 lbs and take vibration better. He also says that he wouldn't be surprised to see hand-held devices weighing around a pound or so in the next decade.

fluside: murder committed by deliberate influenza infection

David Brin said...

Humbling to hear from a hero-expert slogging away on the front lines. One of a dozen reasons Tacitus is valued here.

Ian Gould said...

Tacitis, what are your thoughts on direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs and medical scans?

The immediate response to any restriction of free trade and freedom of expression is to reject it, but there does seem to me that there's at least a plausible argument for a link between the over-medication amongst (insured) Americans and the fact that the US is virtually the only country that allows such advertising.

TCB said...

Re: water as a necessity for exploring the solar system:

I submit a cut'n'paste of my letter published in Discover Magazine, August 2006.
http://discovermagazine.com/2006/aug/mail

M. G. Lord names a way to shield space crews from cosmic rays—surround them with five feet of water—but Earth water isn't practical. I informally submitted a better source to the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts: Solar-powered robotic bases on the asteroid Ceres could dig out water ice. Mass drivers could launch it slowly but cheaply to other parts of the solar system. Arriving near Earth, this ice could supply water, tritium, hydrogen, oxygen, and so on. We could use what I call a "honeypot ant" spaceship. The ship would basically be a very big balloon made of carbon nanofiber, spinning for gravity, with water inside and air inside that. The crew would live in the central air bubble. Water would simultaneously act as shielding, fuel, and hydroponics/life support. Most of the ship's mass would be Cererian water; Earth would supply the crew, the ship's skin, and the engines. Ceres' surface gravity is about 1/36 Earth's gravity, and the asteroid is just close enough to the sun for it to power the machinery. Cererian water may unlock the solar system.

Tom Buckner
Asheville, North Carolina

Sociotard said...

Stupid question: If you use water for radiation shielding, wont the water get irradiated and thus become radioactive and thus become unsuitable for the other uses you mention? Or is neutron radiation not that big an issue in cosmic environments?

Tacitus2 said...

Ian
Complicated question.
The essence of our health care cost problems are expectations. Americans have come to demand, as their right, the latest, newest, glitziest, most convenient health care. This is often, but by no means always, the best care.
Pharmaceuticals are a signficant but not dominant part of our costs, but represent the overall problem in microcosm.

A few things need saying.

Big Pharma does come up with the occasional great invention, the sort of thing that makes life better, last longer, etc. About two real breakthroughs a decade.

Much of the rest of their work is imitative stuff, add a methyl group, patent it and cash in. Sometimes there is a slight improvement, twice a day is better than three times a day for instance.

Most drug "research" is sponsored by Big Pharma, and much of it is frankly corrupt. Data selectively reported, financial links covered or minimized, clinical end points fudged.

If made health care czar I would increase funding to NIH and put all drug trials in their hands.

Then a direct to consumer ad would run something like this:

Hey, this is a decent medicine for heartburn. It costs somebody $4 a pill and really is not better than a generic that costs 25 cents.

I could go on at greater length, but summary answer is that it is not reasonable to expect consumers to make informed choices when the information is deceptive. I would make them honest, or find a way to ban the DTC ads.

I do have an alternative proposal to preserve innovation in the industry, which must be encouraged.

Tacitus2

Ian Gould said...

For what it's worth, Australians are free to buy whatever drugs they want and to pay whatever price they see fit for them - but the government will only subsidize the prices of drugs shown to be cost-effective.

Robert said...

I hope you meant water ice and not just liquid water. Otherwise any significant level of acceleration will have the water pushed against the rear of the spacecraft while the "air bubble" ends up against the carbon fiber hull... and any micro-asteroid that impacts the hull of the ship risks "popping" the hull and releasing the atmosphere.

Rob H.

TCB said...

Robert, if the "honeypot ant" ship is spun for gravity that gives you 1g in centrifugal force. Any engines we know how to build now are either A) a lot of thrust in a very short time, like regular chemical rockets or B) tiny thrust all the time, like ion engines. If you know a way to deliver 1g of thrust all the time all the way to Mars, you'll be an overnight sensation in the spaceflight community.

To the best of my understanding, water won't get radioactive unless you A) add radioactive material to it, like say uranium tailings or leaks from a reactor, or B) convert the hydrogen or oxygen into radioactive isotopes. If water in space had a habit of turning into tritium in appreciable quantities, that news would also create a sensation in the spaceflight community.

TCB said...

edit: I meant the hydrogen in the water turning into tritium.

Tony Fisk said...

Methane blurps and world sized farts...

Suddenly. 'the last trump' makes a ghastly form of sense!

It's happened before

Well, perhaps a little more dramatically than a bit of slow fizzing. 55 million years ago, a large intrusion of magma into the ocean floor encountered an equally large clathrate deposit.

There was a kaboom: a 100km crater blown in the seabed off the coast of Norway. Most of the methane was immediately converted to CO2. Atmospheric concentrations rose almost overnight (geologically speaking) from 500 to 2000 ppm. Global temperatures increased 5-10 degrees. Ocean acidity soared, as is evident from the sedimentary record. Much of the deep ocean life of the time became extinct. CO2 levels took 20,000 years to get back to normal.

This occasion marks the boundary between the paleoeocene and eocene epochs.

Of this event, Tim Flannery remarks that the world had already been a warmer place than now, and not likely to be as biologically diverse (particularly with respect to altitude stratification and cold-adapted species)

sheeness: a unit of measurement on the Rider-Haggard approval rating system.

Robert said...

The problem is that you either have the spacecraft rotating around the engine (the engine is at a polar region) or need some sort of axle with the engine on a separate body from the rotating body. If the engine is at the polar region, then even low acceleration will pull water away from the other pole through tidal forces caused by the acceleration, lessening the shielding effect at the front of the ship. If instead you have a "wheel" with the engine on a separate mechanism, then you have increased stresses on the ship itself, allowing for a greater possibility of breakdown (which in space is not a good thing).

There is research into fabrics that are resistant to solar and cosmic radiation (blocking said radiation), and also on the creation of genuine magnetic shields that can block solar and cosmic radiation. Both can do the job for significantly less mass and complexity than creating a bubble of water and trying to keep a habitable sphere inside of it. While they are not proven technologies and still are under R&D, they would require less work to implement than mining ice from Ceres, covering it sufficiently that solar radiation doesn't turn it into a comet and alter its trajectory, shooting it to the Earth, and hoping that everything works right.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Tacitis, what are your thoughts on direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs and medical scans?


I have a tangential question, which is how is such advertising supposed to work. Usually, I see an ad on tv that says "Ask your doctor if googleplexone is right for you." The ad doesn't say what the drug is supposed to be for, which I assume is to get around liability for making medical claims in an advertisement. So unless I already know what the drug is supposed to do (and the only one even remotely that recognized is Viagra), what on earth would compel me to hear a drug's brand name on tv and ask my doctor if I should be taking it? Let alone once they list all the possible side-effects including (inevitably) sexual disfunction, severe headaches, nausea, and sudden death.

LarryHart said...


"Do you remember why you stopped filibustering, GOP?

"No - just look at you. You'd do it again - and like a politician, you'd cover it up again.

"Nothing matters to you, except your holy war."


I'm glad someone out there knew the comic book quote I was invoking.

Ian Gould said...

Why bother sending a manned mission to Ceres in the first place?

Every day a bunch of small carbonaceous meteorites hit the EArth, why can't we scavenge soem of them?

Failing that wby not scale up the comet sample return mission (Stardust?) - drop a charge onto a comet, scoop up some of the debris, return it to Earth orbit on an unamanned ion-propelled vessel.

Or we could just get over our cultural phobias and start recycling urine on the ISS.

Robert said...

We do recycle fluids on the ISS. The problem is that NASA built their waste system to deal with a specific diet. The Russians and Europeans refuse to eat the bland uninteresting meals that NASA conceived for eating in space, and this "richer diet" tends to clog NASA's waste recycling system.

Sociotard said...

Here's an interesting photo collection. An Asylum had a practice of cremating patients who weren't claimed, then sealing the ashes in copper canisters. These canisters were at one point stored in a vault underground, which flooded periodically. The canisters moved back into storage aboveground, where a photographer heard about the wild colors appearing in the corrosion. You have to see the results.

http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=12788

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart

I could give you a long recitation, but basically "ask your Doctor" ads are only for chronic meds. There is a big benefit to "capturing" a consumer who will be on a big ticket item for years and years. Patients hate switching brands, and only do so if insurance "forces" them. The ads usually have plenty of cues that are aimed at (COPD/Psych/cardiac) patients, and they know that the ads are aimed at them. Few doctors really bother to have long conversations on the merits of this or that option, sadly.
Now, back to it. Tonight I am dealing with the manifold failings of the health care system....several people who could have been given appropriate advice by the Nurse Line, were the latter not gutless risk avoiders....a slip on the ice drug seeker....a patient started on the wrong med because computer systems don't talk to each other....a Granny Drop who can't even really explain why she is here.....

sigh

Tacitus2

Tony Fisk said...

I rather like this tale from PixelQi's Mary Lou Jepsen: one for the 'age of amateurs', or for overworked medics who might like a change of pace.

Ian Gould said...

Interesting story from New Scientist on a possible disruptive technology - thermoelectric cells capable of generating power from a 60 degree heat differential for $5 a watt capital cost.

This could potentially be used to scavenge power from lots of industrial waste water streams and smoke stacks - and as the article suggests internal combustion cars could use it to recover energy for their electric systems (or if they're hybrids potentially to top up their batteries.)

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18625-nanotube-cuff-is-solar-cell-for-exhaust-pipes.html

I'm a bit skeptical about that claimed cost - on the one hand it's the materials cost only. But then on the other hand it's a lab-built prototype so there may be potential to bring that cost down.

Ilithi Dragon said...

So... Basically it's just taking thermal energy and converting it straight to electrical energy. I wonder what the efficiency of this is compared to a steam turbine or piston drive shaft... Apparently, the maximum thermodynamic efficiency of most steel engines is about 37%, with the average efficiency (even with turbo-chargers, etc.) being 18%-20%.

If an engine, comprised of a straight burner with these things packed around it, is more efficient than that, we could see a significant change in engine types...

Obviously, though, the limited lifespan would be an issue, but this could provide an interesting replacement for small-scale power generation (I don't see it doing more than supplementing large-scale power generation unless the lifespan is drastically increased, since total replacement every 3 months would be a hassle).

Fascinating all the new technologies and solutions to our energy problems that are cropping up now.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those 'chronics'. I used to require allergy medicine to function -- I was prone to bouts of sneezing, itchy eyes, and congestion that would lay me flat. The only medicine I found that would alleviate the symptoms without knocking me silly was Allegra, a prescription antihistamine. Then Allegra was no longer covered by my insurance, and I was in a world of hurt; the only thing that saved me was moving to a locale where whatever I was sensitive to wasn't around. I never did find another medication that would work as effectively for me.

My point is that just because I see it on TV, doesn't mean I'm going to request that my doctor try me out on some drug. In fact, I find the commercials annoying, especially when the list of side effects is more noxious than the condition. You can throw ads for Claritin at me all you want but it doesn't work for me.

TheMadLibrarian

Tionies: the sample packets your doctor hands out

Ian Gould said...

@ Lilithi Dragon: the test ran 90 days, that doesn't mean the useful life of the cells is limited to 90 days.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Ian, good point. When first skimming through, I misread the sentence. If these things have an appreciable lifespan, and >20-25% average efficiency, I could see them not only supplementing but supplanting present-day steam-turbine and reciprocating engine designs.

And would this also not present a potential source as an active cooler for high-temperature applications? Not just generating power from waste heat, but helping to manage waste heat? Coupled with an electric laser, could this make a rather effective means of 'dumping' waste heat, or even refrigeration in certain, high-temperature environments?


Dunteral: A new, experimental prescription drug designed to combat dunce-ness.

Tacitus2 said...

Mad Librarian
I did not mean chronic in any perjorative sense. Only in the sense that research and advertising priorities are primarily behind medications that are taken long term.
This is not stricktly a bad thing, although it has bad side effects. We continue to struggle to keep up in the realm of antibiotics because they are taken episodically and are in general less of a profit center.

There are both biochemical differences in how individuals metabolize chemicals, and placebo effects. Its not always easy to sort them out. In my implausible perfect world we would have available, say, Claritan and Allegra. We could probably stop there and the world would be little the worse off if we skipped Zyrtec, Claritan D, etc, etc.

I must remember to stick to political rants, not practice e-medicine here!

Tacitus2

Ian said...

Befote we move on to the next thread:

Tacitus once again highlights one of the key differences between US health care and the rest of the developed world.

In Australia, a new drug has to be proven to either extend life or extend quality of life before the government will subsidize it.

The decisions get made by a panel of medical experts that include both government and industry representatives and are appealable to the courts.

The system also allows the government to subsidize and reward the product of new drugs that unlike the treatments for minor chronic conditions Tacitus mentions aren't all that attractive to for-profit drug companies.

A case in point is the HPV vaccine developed by CSL here in Australia. A one-off treatment at $200 a shot with a significant risk of law suits from adverse reactions? No thanks, I think I'll put my money into a new fast-release version of Viagra.

It just seems ot me that medical care is one of those areas of the economy where manifestly the free market doesn't work all that well.

LarryHart said...


It just seems ot me that medical care is one of those areas of the economy where manifestly the free market doesn't work all that well.


"Medical care" is such a wide net.

I'm sure you could separate out a subset of medical care that is truly elective where the ideas of consumer choice and supply-and-demand work well. Viagara is a good example. I don't see why insurance should pay for it. If it's worth ten dollars a pill to have an erection, then pay the ten bucks. If it isn't, then make that economic decision.

Urgent, life-and-limb-saving care is a different matter. At the moment of crisis, the answer to "What is it worth to you?" about the surgery to save your life from (say) a ruptured apendix is "Anything I own and anything I can beg, borrow, or steal." Do we really want to live in a society in which a life-threatening event becomes an economically-crippling one? Are we really "free" in any sense of the word if we live in such a society?

gih said...

that's true Ian, I supported it.