Friday, May 01, 2015

Reach for the Skies

I had dinner last night with X-Prize impresario Peter Diamandis, at the annual Strategic Investment Conference run by Altegris and my friend John Mauldin. Vernor Vinge and I were invited to ask the first questions of Peter, who earlier in the day had stopped at UCSD's new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, to help unpack the five finalist entries in the Tricorder X Prize.  Read up on all that, because the future is shifting under our feet.  See especially Peter' Diamandis's orgy of optimism, his book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. The trends are amazing.  If that future is stymied, it will be because of treason to humanity.

I'll be chatting with Elon Musk in a few weeks. The ongoing series of accomplishments of this fellow - who is rapidly becoming our generation's cult-Edison figure - only begin with electric cars and fantastic space rockets (soon to land on their tails, the way we kids of the 1950s always knew they would.) Elon's new venture, in selling home battery packs to level the load and let some citizens get off-grid, is terrific. We spoke of it three years ago and I want to be a customer.  But this is just the beginning.  He has his eye on drought problems caused by climate change.  More on that in our next science-dump.

And, of course, there is not just one "good billionaire" out there. Amazon's Jeff Bezos also wants to stimulate the future, using well-earned gains from the real capitalism of delivering goods and services.  (Unlike the parasites who use their lucre to warp democracy and siphon wealth via "financial services" and low-royalty resource-extraction.) See (at last) a good look at the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.  And much more in the background.

== More amazements! ==

There's a new entry in the space-tourism sweepstakes, without the rush (or danger) of a rocket launch. Recently,  World View completed an unmanned flight that took its balloon 100,000 feet in the air, and safely landed the capsule using a parafoil.Team leader Jane Poynter predicts by the time it’s ready for launch, as early as 2016, World View will have spent less than $100 million on development. That means tickets aboard a World View balloon—$75,000 each—will also cost less than half as much as those to board one of Virgin Galactic’s flights.

Mining the skies...NASA is developing its first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid, moving it to a stable orbit around the moon, where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s, returning with asteroid samples.  Watch this informative video. The Planetary Resources company -- founded by Peter Diamandis and Erik Schmidt (Google) and other Pacific Coast style moguls -- intends to make us all richer by accessing the cornucopia that awaits us, out there.  

I'm pleased that NASA is also on this course (instead of the insane Bushite notion of re-landing on the sterile-useless Moon.)  We're helping, at NIAC!

Not all space news is great.  There are setbacks. Simmering in the background news is the apparent destruction of an older U.S. Defense Department weather satellite, spewing yet more debris into low earth. The news stories blame a decaying battery that might have overheated and exploded. But take a closer look. This satellite was in approximately a sun-synchronous orbit, at about 846x837 km altitude…near the center of the band congested with both large debris (mostly Russian) and small debris, mostly untracked, from China's 2007 Fengyun/A-sat (anti-satellite weapon) test — the two biggest sources of destructive space debris. According to one prominent space engineer I know: “I strongly suspect that the satellite was hit by untracked Fengyun debris smaller than 10 cm.”

In other words, the peril that we were shown in the movie GRAVITY is very real, indeed.

 == And More....==

Vigorous climate change denialist Sen. Ted Cruz is chairman of the Senate’s Space and Science Committee.  His recent, hostile interaction with NASA Director Charles Bolden should be the stuff of legend, in which Bolden defended the fact that NASA builds satellites and other missions aimed at studying one particular planet – our Earth.  It seems that those who proclaim “we don’t have enough science yet, to confirm global climate change!” also do not want the science that might answer those questions.

And you are surprised? Under G.W. Bush, NASA was ordered to drop “Earth” from its vocabulary.  Rick Scott's Florida - the US state most vulnerable to rising seas - has banned all state agencies for planning against days that nearly all scientists -- the folks who actually know stuff -- see coming at us like a freight train.

And.... reaching for the skies...A lovely animation of a concept for a lunar space elevator.  

A fascinating article on how constellations of small satellites may deliver broadband to the whole world.  

How cool!  Watching the behavior of stars and gases in collisions of clusters of galaxies… and using gravitational lensing to measure the dark matter… enables astronomers to learn something fundamental about the nature of dark matter.  

A lovely interview at JPL with INTERSTELLAR  screenwriter Jonathan Nolan and my friend Kip Thorne, the physics advisor on the film.

== Two miracles of space! ==

In his book Of A Fire on the Moon, Norman Mailer credited the Apollo era NASA with accomplishing two "miracles" of a biblical scale. First - it gob-smacked him one day that "these geeks are actually going to the moon!" The second bona fide miracle? They were actually succeeding at making it boring!


Seriously, of all the mazillion channels of TV, which one covers the most exciting and inherently interesting real life stuff that's going on, right now, in real time? And which one is the most tediously sleep-inducing?  The NASA Channel, of course.  Making all of this worse is the stunning and willful wave of cynicism that has swept all generations, especially of Americans, who used to have such a gosh-wow reputation for their eager, can-do spirit.


What is the anthem of the Baby Boomers? It was provided by Peter Finch, in the movie Network. Remember?  "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!

An utterly futile paean to sanctimony and the drug high of useless rage, it's poisoned us. As I lay down colorfully here: Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be mad as hell?

But -- inspired by Peter Diamandis -- I declare that you don't have to put up with that, anymore. Just pay attention to what we've done, as a people, in the last few months:


Human beings -- well, Europeans -- landed a laboratory on a comet!


One of our robots started climbing a mountain on Mars.


We confirmed Ganymede has more liquid water than planet Earth.


New data doubled the estimated size of our own galaxy.


The New Horizons probe is fast approaching its July encounter with freaking Pluto....


And humanity - via NASA - has arrived in orbit around Ceres! Finding hints that the dwarf planet/asteroid might also have buries seas.

What a year it's been, with all of that... plus discovering scads of extrasolar planets -- numbering up to five thousand at latest count...

...and finally getting satellites out there to study the Earth (after a previous administration deliberately sabotaged science).  Indeed, these are amazing times. 
And in a couple of months, our New Horizons emissary will sweep past freaking Pluto! Wowzer.  And that's just space.  You know that I could type till my fingers were bloody, and not run out of reasons that you... and yes, I mean directly you... ought to be proud as heck.

Hence, the most amazing thing is that we... aren't!  The cult of fear-mongering cynicism has grown so intense that it's time for you to get mad! Mad at the merchants of fear and doubt and small-mindedness. Mad at the propagandists who seek to keep you "mad as hell" all the time.  Mad at the whole "I'm as mad as hell" ethos that poisoned a generation, a nation, and threatens all our kids.

Next time something cool happens, on Earth or in space, get up and shout out the window "I AM A MEMBER OF A CIVILIZATION THAT DOES STUFF LIKE THIS!"

Watch my rant about how we need to (aggressively!) fight cynicism with pride and joy.


Or else...

... be proud to be a member of the same species as cretins like this one:

 “NASA should stop wasting time exploring other planets because God's only experiment with life is on Earth," according to televangelist Pat Robertson.

We are at war, all right. A war for the future that, ironically, we can only win by fostering the confident song of ambitious joy in our hearts.
                                                                                       

96 comments:

Daniel Duffy said...

Speaking of balloons rising to the edge of space...

Whatever happened to the concept of Airship to Orbit (ATO)? That aerodynamic dirigible with the ion engine that would skim along the surface of the atmosphere slowly building up speed until it achieved orbital velocity.

As I recall there were problems with the engine thrust overcoming the ship's drag and weight.

Any way the weight could be reduced by beaming energy to the ATO from ground stations, thus removing the weight of the power plant?

Ioan said...

A comment from the previous thread got me thinking. The poster basically was sarcastic about the progress in supersonic flight since the Concord. So, any sources to get information on advances in aeronautics?

I am aware that airplanes have become far quieter, less polluting, and safer since the 1970s. I'm also aware of the X43. However, most people are not. This got me thinking: what other forms of progress have we made in flight (both subsonic and supersonic) that I'm not aware of?

Robert said...

Continuing our brief discussion from the last post, I disagree with you concerning how useful an international moon base would be. First of all, there is something to be said about "trial runs" - especially in designing and testing spacesuits that astronauts could climb into and then detach from the base, thus not risking having lunar particles ending up everywhere, or finding a way to remove those particles. This is important for a future Mars mission as you don't want to just walk into the habitat or like from outside and risk bringing contaminants in with the astronaut (or contaminants from inside to the Martian surface).

Second, there is the benefit of cooperation between nations on a large-scale space project. Even with recent problems between Western nations and Russia, and the occasional suggestion by Putin and crew that Russia will leave the ISS and go it alone... there is a fairly good impression that Russia realizes they can't afford to go it alone. And cooperating in space does perhaps give a reason to avoid going to war on the ground, seeing that there is still the visible sign of cooperation between various nations. In short an IMS would provide a means of continued cooperation in space.

Third, while you often call for private industry to go to the Moon, let's face it. Private industry isn't going to go to the Moon unless there is an obvious means of profiting from being there... unless there is an existing infrastructure from which private industry can build. In short, if we build an IMS then private industry will follow. Corporate "homesteaders" could arise that wouldn't risk it otherwise because if something goes wrong... where do you go? Unless of course there's an international base that can help out such groups.

Finally, it might be a good idea to test out such concepts as space elevators on the Moon before we try to build one on Earth. Doing so with the Moon would allow us to have direct evidence as to how it may function, and various problems that may arise... without the risks associated with it being on the Earth.

As for your claims about a "deep gravity well" - the size of rockets to leave the Moon's gravitational field is far lower than that to leave Earth's. Indeed, magnetic propulsion could be used to "fire" capsules from the Moon's surface without too much difficulty. This gravity well you are constantly harping on is far less of a detriment than it would be for Earth. Or Mars.

Rob H.

David Burns said...

"Vigorous climate change denialist Sen. Ted Cruz is chairman of the Senate’s Space and Science Committee."

Maybe space exploration should not be under the control of politicians?

Alex Tolley said...

Doesn't the Lunar Elevator sort of nullify the argument about the moon having a gravity well? Wouldn't an electromagnetic tether offer a way to launch vehicles from LEO to the elevator dock too, further reducing any propellant requirements?

IMO. there is a problem in thinking that Nasa should be working on commercial type projects. Science and exploration to facilitate commercial activities by private companies and the public good should be their mission. A lunar base, modeled on Antarctic science bases is a good way to go that would meet these objectives.

The ARM is controversial, and for good reasons. It isn't the obvious next step at all.

Jumper said...

The success of robotics in space exploration has taken some joy out of those who would prefer adventurous manned explorations of our system. We now know they make huge economic differences in what knowledge we can get for the buck. Thus lunar exploration needs robots, and I think our spending policy should go by that. If it takes a long generation to prepare for people to move out, then it's probably better to use fierce judgment and do it right, rather than piss away everything by premature and wrong-headed trillion dollar photo-ops and suicide cults.

Daniel Duffy said...

You don't make money selling printers. You make money selling ink.

You don't make money selling Keurigs. You make money selling pods of coffee and tea.

Musk is not going to make money selling Teslas. He's going to make money selling batteries.


Paul SB said...

Dr, Brin ended this post by referring to the propaganda war between those who want to make a bright future and those who want to make a dark future for humanity, This morning as I was driving to work I heard Shankar Vedantam explain a recent study that showed that reading the Harry Potter books makes children more compassionate toward the downtrodden and less trusting of entrenched authority. While I have never read any of the books, I can see that from what I know about the series, mostly by way of neighborhood kids. The important point here is not that Harry Potter is good, but that good literature really can influence how people see each other and relate to each other. I would like to see the metadata on this. I can think of some potential issues already. But it sounds like support for the idea that good fiction writers are really fighting the good fight (if anyone can get good writing through the publishers, that is). While essays and discussions may communicate ideas relatively clear, the human mind is a narrative mind. We empathize with characters far more than with logical arguments. If stories make logical characters we can empathize with, then perhaps people will become a little more logical.

Paul SB said...

Logic is one thing, memory is another! I forgot to paste in the link for the story ... : /


http://www.npr.org/2015/05/01/403474870/does-reading-harry-potter-have-an-effect-on-your-behavior

LarryHart said...

Paul SB on the previous thread:

Once again, what geneticists term copying errors or mutations are not usefully conceived of as mistakes. ...a modified keratin protein that makes curly hair rather than straight, for example, gives people an advantage in hot climates, while the straight version is advantageous in cold climates. Without these copying errors and mutations, there would be no life on Earth except bacteria.


I'm glad someone responded to locum's "copying defect" thing on the previous thread. If I had gotten there quickly enough, I wanted to point out that reproduction is not about creating exact replicas, but creating better-adapted versions. Seemingly-random variations from one generation to the next (some of which are improvements) seems itself to be a trait that evolution has reinforced.

But as Larry Hart might say, he can do two things.


Heh. When other people know and use my lines, then "My work here is done."

Alex Tolley said...

The edge of space is ~ 300,000 feet. The balloon doesn't get you space wings, although no doubt the ride is very pleasant, gentle and long lasting.

XCOR's Lybx is designed to get a passenger to space (100 km line) for $95k. I guess you pick your mode of travel and whether you want the official "I was in space" recognition or not.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper - I, for one, am enjoying our robotic probe explorations. Yes, watching astronauts clamber over the surfaces of worlds is visually interesting, but at the end of the day, getting more exploration done, with robots is just as good, especially regarding data return. The further out we explore, the more sense robots make at our present technological and economic level.

Ioan said...

About the moon,

I'm agnostic about going there. There are plenty of reasons for and against. What I like to do in these debates is argue against each person, regardless their position.

" First of all, there is something to be said about "trial runs" - especially in designing and testing spacesuits that astronauts could climb into and then detach from the base, thus not risking having lunar particles ending up everywhere, or finding a way to remove those particles."

To give some background: as an intern I worked on a now cancelled moon robotic mission. From discussions I had with other teammates (all interns plus my full time bosses), the idea that a Moon spacesuit could be used on Mars is laughable. There are almost no commonalities between the two bodies. Dust accumulates via different mechanisms, the gravity is different, electrostatic attraction of the particles is different, Mars has convective heat transfer and comparatively little radiative heat transfer, etc. In other words, there can be no trial run on one body for the other. At least no trial run that wouldn't be done better on Earth. Don't get me wrong, space suits have to be redesigned from scratch. But you don't need the Moon to do this. Further, each planet will require its own spacesuit with very few commonalities.

"Second, there is the benefit of cooperation between nations on a large-scale space project."

This is not a good selling point, period. At this point, you're competing against international cooperation on projects that can combat global warming. At least with the people I know, this argument actually is a good reason to cancel the human space program: you're taking political capital that could be used to foster international cooperation on green technology and spending it on creating a Moon base. I know it's not your intention, but you're making a Moon mission the enemy of green energy.

Space elevators have the same problem as helium 3: the technology doesn't exist yet. Whenever someone mentions helium 3, the response is: "fusion is 20 years away and always has been". Whenever you mention a space elevator, the question becomes "call me when they can produce 1 meter of carbon nanotubes". The other response: "why aren't you spending that money to figure out how carbon nanotubes can be used for green energy instead of wasting it on a Moon mission?" The third argument is that if carbon nanotubes are so valuable, private enterprise will bring them to fruition, and we won't have to spend taxpayer dollars.

"...the size of rockets to leave the Moon's gravitational field is far lower than that to leave Earth's."

Irrelevant. The Moon's gravity well is still too big.

"Indeed, magnetic propulsion could be used to "fire" capsules from the Moon's surface without too much difficulty."

I hope your magnetic propulsion costs <$500 million to put up there, or it's dead on arrival. Benefits don't matter (note I'm being VERY generous on the upper limit for the cost). That is the upper limit for a Discovery-class robotic mission. NASA tests VERY few new technologies on missions more expensive than this (MSL being the exception). So your magnetic launch system has to compete against other robotic spacecraft. In the private sector, that number is closer to $100 million.

Alex Tolley said...

Whenever you mention a space elevator, the question becomes "call me when they can produce 1 meter of carbon nanotubes".

For an Earth ground to orbit elevator. For the moon the claim is that Kevlar is sufficient, and that is available. Technologically it seems doable.

Whether a space elevator on the moon makes operational and economic sense is another matter.


"Second, there is the benefit of cooperation between nations on a large-scale space project."


This seems rather zero sum. Should we cancel the ISS too? What else should we cancel to further some other goal international? Why cannot we have "and" rather than "or"?

The Moon's gravity well is still too big.

Compared to what? Are you comparing energy vs retrieval or landing on another celestial body? Why ones? If time is important (commercial projects) how is that factored in?

Alex Tolley said...

As I recall there were problems with the engine thrust overcoming the ship's drag and weight.

Not much progress. Not surprising for such a shoestring company. I'm not sure that the L/D ratio was ever high enough to work as suggested. I'd love to see a simulation that shows it could work to reach orbit, rather than deorbit.

What I liked better was their upper atmosphere 140,000 ft altitude space station. A great platform to do research and even launch small orbital vehicles.

David Brin said...

Ioan, there are many advances in aviation all the time, like this one - NASA has announced the successful completion of testing for its morphing airplane wing design. Known as Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight control surfaces, they replace a plane's conventional, rigid flaps with a flexible composite material. Watch it flex and lift heavy weights! http://www.engadget.com/2015/04/28/nasas-shape-shifting-plane-wings-pass-initial-flight-tests/

And yet, I am both puzzled and verging on angry, that we’ve not seen anything emerge from Skunk Works type facilities for 25 years that shows the taxpayer something truly significant that our money went toward. Used to be they’d show us something like the Blackbird or the F117 or the B2 once per decade. Now the only clue is a proposed line item to start in on the B-3 or B4 bomber. And the word is that it will be a cheaper increment off the B-2. So… what’ve these guys been doing? Warp drive? (See my story “Senses, Three and Six.”)

Rob H… sorry, but not one of your reasons for going to the Moon is even remotely convincing in the short-intermediate term. International cooperation can aim as easily at asteroids and we need that experience far more. Space elevators? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai8x-ZqjXPc

It is (for now, till we progress a lot farther) a useless desert, offering us nothing.

PAul, I go on and on about how modern myths promote Suspicion of Authority (SoA) and tolerance/diversity/eccentricity notions. All healthy… but alas they also preach cynicism and that our neighbors are all sheep.

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: I was with JPA up through the end of 2004, but JP wrote a book after that where he talked more about the ATO idea.

The typical technical complaint people made was the lift/drag ratio issue. The complaint usually starts with an assumption about the intended shape of the vehicle and then progresses from there. What the usual writer failed to understand about the team, though, is that they were inventive and willing to discard initial shapes and approaches, including some of JP's sketches. It was a good team (and still is), but people underestimate it when they try to think of it as a typical engineering project. I was with them almost 10 years. They poke at assumptions in ways cause innovations.

If the lift/drag ratio bothers you, try thinking their way a moment and ask what other shapes are available that might get different results.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I'll accept your waffling for what it is and call it progress considering your background. 8)

The way I was taught to think about K was to look at the estimated population curve for humans through history and assume that number was a very good approximation for K to within a few percent. The idea was that we try to keep our babies alive and got better at it over 100's of generations through innovations. K is a function of technological capabilities essentially.

That approximation works until the Industrial Revolution when it was no longer possible for us to have babies fast enough to keep up with our ability to feed them. Some still starve, but wealth begins to accumulate instead of being consumed by the next generation.

I know the way I learned it is backwards from a biological approach, so I have to be careful about circular reasoning. However, I've seen a recent argument that technology isn't the only variable set for K. We should also be including cultural variables like how much respect we give to our merchants, how independent long distance traders are from the ruling elite in their trading markets, and (as our host HAS said) how much freedom women have in halting the number of children they have.

Ioan said...

Alex,

"For the moon the claim is that Kevlar is sufficient, and that is available. Technologically it seems doable."

Thanks. I didn't know that.

"This seems rather zero sum. Should we cancel the ISS too? What else should we cancel to further some other goal international? Why cannot we have "and" rather than "or"?"

Agreed that it is zero sum. However, this is still an argument you'd have to deal with.

"Compared to what? Are you comparing energy vs retrieval or landing on another celestial body? Why ones? If time is important (commercial projects) how is that factored in?"

I'm comparing it on a $/kg basis. There are NEAs that have better $/kg than the Moon, there are others that have worse. My understanding is that for now, we can't afford the $/kg of the Moon. Note that I'm using now. I do think SpaceX will change the equation. However, they've been slow compared to expectations. I don't know how fast that will change.

Having said all that, space technology is still designed to optimize performance rather than $/kg. That has been a problem throughout the space program from the very beginning. The Saturn V over Arthur C. Clarke's modular approach, the use of liquid hydrogen over liquid kerosene. So I'm skeptical of technologies which sound like they're optimizing performance. The idea of the Moon as a trial run seems to me to fall in that trap of optimizing performance over $/kg. So do the magnetic launcher and the space elevator. As I see it, we don't yet have the technology to afford the luxury of targeting a body that is beyond the upper limit of $/kg that we can afford. The big downside is that I don't know what that limit is.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I'm interested that you were at JPA. Can you bring any more insight to the ATO concept? The book kind of handwaved the concept, arguing that inflatables could deorbit a craft, and that adding power should allow the craft to orbit, using the H2/He to provide lift).

However, such a large vehicle would have a large drag and once it was above almost all the atmosphere, there would be no more lift, so the engines would need to build up hypersonic velocities to get the vehicle to orbital speed. You cannot "float" into orbit, you do need the requisite velocity after all. It was this transition, pushing a large object at high speed that was questionable due to drag, AFAIK.

The book and animation on their website gives no indication of how this can be achieved. I'd be interested in any thoughts you have.

As I said earlier, I liked their space station concept more. It seemed realistic and an obvious next step from the balloons, especially if they could reach their target altitude. This seemed very doable and achievable without vast sums of capital. Even a pilot demonstration with instrumentation showing superiority to high altitude balloons or even short duration suborbital rockets for certain experiments would be worth doing.

Ioan said...

In case people here think that I'm reflexively anti-space, I think it is important to point out an overlooked counterpoint

There's a saying I heard from a friend: "Space technology is 30 years ahead of where we are". I don't know if that's true though.

Here is what he means by that. We still use radiation hardened microchips, which are on average a decade old. For instance, MSL uses a 2003 microchip less powerful than the I-phone was when it landed.

Second, the work Musk does right now is what we could have had by 2005 had the DC-X research been allowed to evolve. This means that Elon Musk effectively skipped from 1996 technology to 2015 technology in a few years. What other areas of human space exploration could benefit from similar jumps?

Finally, we have side applications for the reusable tech Musk is working on. When I was in my senior design in the late '00, a breakthrough good landing ellipse for Mars was 1 mile. I wonder how Elon's software would apply to the EDL of future Mars landers?

In other words, applying current cutting edge tech to space would produce noticeable improvements with minimal new innovation (until this tech has been fully exploited).

Alex Tolley said...

@Ioan

For a lower cost approach more in line with Clarke's approach (launcher, lunar vehicle and deep space ship) you might want to read a post a colleague just published over at Centauri Dreams concerning a deep space craft:

A Stagecoach to the Stars.

We had a paper published in JBIS a few years ago, and are about to release a short technical book expanding the concept, published by Springer.

Duncan Cairncross said...

The full space elevator is wonderful but requires materials we can't make (yet)

What about the
Orbital ring
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_ring
Or the Space Fountain
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_fountain
Or the launch loop
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_loop

I believe a "launch loop" is probably build-able for about the same cost as developing a new airliner

Paul SB said...

Okay, I'll do this chronologically:

Larry, nope, you don't get off the hook so easily! As long as you have the moral fortitude to speak truth to lies and not merely look the other way, your work is never done. However much is genetic vs. memetic, basic human decency is not evenly distributed through the human race. Regardless of what I or anyone else says, I'm sure you will always feel compelled to participate (if not in this forum, then in some other). ; )

Dr. Brin, I get your message, though I think you may have misread mine. I was only expressing some joy at seeing scientific evidence that good literature can have a positive impact on people's lives. As a kid I was very much moved by the fiction I read, and was sure that communicating my own knowledge and inspiration in that form would be the best thing I could do for the world. I was young, naive and had no idea what the industry is like, and long since abandoned that own. But the old guard in anthropology are mostly infrastructural determinists who scoffed at the idea that ideas can have any real impact.

As far as Harry Potter and SoA goes, since I haven't actually read the books, I can only go on what I hear. The point made in the article is that the series comes from England where the ancient tradition of classism leaves the ordinary people very good reasons to be suspicious of authority, as the authorities tend to be drawn from the "noble" classes more so than democratically elected people. If the stories help young people to see through the propaganda of classism and feel more sympathy for the poor, minorities and other subalterns, then it's doing a good thing.

Alfred, it sounds like we're pretty much saying the same thing. Of course social scientists of various sorts have looked at cultural factors relating to K for quite awhile now, and not just the role of merchants. How we treat the various subgroups within society, and how they react to that treatment, plays a huge role. As long as elites play the game of divide and conquer, they have unintended consequences in this regard. Ever since the days of Thomas Malthus certain dominant groups have tended to use different rates of fecundity to denigrate their subalterns. Denigration, however, does not often result in the subaltern assimilating the values and behaviors of the dominant party. What more typically happens is that the subaltern comes to despise the dominant group that despises them, and everything the dominant group criticizes about the subaltern becomes a badge of honor to that subaltern. So if what is seen as excessive fecundity from the viewpoint of those who have already been through the demographic transition is used to denigrate those who have not, this often results in the subaltern groups deliberately increasing their fecundity, even when it is deeply contrary to their economic circumstances.

Having compassion for diverse peoples is more than just a moral value. In very practical terms we get better results and better lives for all when we treat difference with respect. The demographic transition would run its natural course if we let it, excepting that most cultures will take a couple generations to change. As long as people still think like that old Monty Python "Every Sperm is Sacred" skit, we end up with the opposite of what we want.

Paul SB said...

Man, my typos are getting worse! "accepting that most cultures ..." not "excepting" and "I gave up on that one" not "on that own." It isn't even that late!

Ioan said...

Alex Tolley

I read the paper. Very interesting. I'll have to look at the book. However, I still have one question. I'm glad the rocket architecture costs a few hundred million (I'm guessing greater than 500 million). I have a question: how much does the life support system cost? The last attempt I'm aware of to build a self-contained life support system was Biosphere II. Perhaps there's a better system out there? This is why I personally like vertical farming. They won't solve all the issues, but they should nibble at the edges.

Daniel Duffy said...

@Alex - "What I liked better was their upper atmosphere 140,000 ft altitude space station. A great platform to do research and even launch small orbital vehicles."

Aside from avoidance of air friction during launch, what would be the benefit of launching from an upper atmospheres dirigible (the old "rockoon" concept). The vehicle still has to make escape velocity and having to ascend to a balloon for launching would severely limit how much weight (fuel) it could carry.

But suppose you launched an air breathing scram jet from a high atmosphere dirigible? Ironically it could pick up speed as it initially descends into the atmosphere (getting a gravity boost), with the increased speed greatly increasing the efficiency of its air breathing engine before it hen ascends into orbit.

Or is that just a crazy idea?

Daniel Duffy said...

Or how about a hybrid ATO/rocket system.

If the ATO cannot achieve escape velocity by itself perhaps it can at least reach a significant percent of v so that a rocket launched from the already moving ATO does not need nearly as much fuel as it would for a ground launch.

Think of the ATO as the first "stage" of the rocket system.

Alex Tolley said...

@Ioan
Part of the simplicity of the concept is that you don't need an enclosed, recycled LSS. The reason you want this with a conventional chemical or nuclear craft is that life support is a deadweight, costing you fuel. Most of that life support is water and O2. These are both items that you get from the propellant and can easily recycle and reuse as working propellant. So the systems will be about what you have on the ISS today. Note that San Diego also has a black water recycling pilot plant so you can recycle both black and gray water. O2 electrolysis is off-the-shelf.

So you simply pack dehydrated food as you do today and use the vast amount of propellant water to rehydrate the food, provide drinking water and bathe (a lot if you like!)

CO2 would be scrubbed. If the engines can handle CO2, then that waste stream can be used as propellant, but we don't assume that is needed in the early models. Solid waste is stored and can be delivered as valuable nitrogen to crewed destinations.

Because water storage is easy (unlike cryo-propellants) it makes sense that for more distant missions, you send uncrewed spacecoaches to targets for resupply. This is the same logistical approach we have used for thousands of years for expeditions and military campaigns. So we can use simpler, low cost, approaches to bypass difficult technology requirements that currently block progress.

Water extraction from NEOs is one obvious industry that works with this approach, and this supports commercial asteroid mining endeavors. Dead comets are another rich water source. And of course, Ceres is the mother of all accessible water in the inner solar system, although energetically harder to reach.

I hope that makes sense.

Alex Tolley said...

@Daniel - as you understood, there is little energetic advantage of launching a rocket from a stationary high altitude platform. The main advantage is getting about the atmosphere and avoiding weather and p0ressure effects.

I see it as a low cost way to get most of the conditions in space at a fraction of the cost of going to space in an orbiting craft.

I'm not sure about dropping hypersonic scramjets. Would the terminal velocity and stability issues warrante such an approach. Outside of my area of expertise.

Regarding ATO as a first stage. It really depends on how fast it can go. If it could goes at just a few Mach, then I don't see it as having much more than incremental advantage over a stationary platform. If it can go hypersonic, then it makes much more sense.
But I think this goes back to the performance questions that have been raised. I'd really like a lot more information on the idea as it was so intriging.

Tim H. said...

There was, surprisingly, something space-related in Cycle World:
http://www.cycleworld.com/2015/03/30/dainese-motorcycle-leathers-in-space-project-to-develop-biosuit-for-astronauts/
NASA is working with a manufacturer of motorcycle leathers on a "biosuit" which would maintain pressure on the body without being inflated, making work in space easier.
And that ACTE control surface? Looks like it only took 112 years for someone to perfect the Wright's wing warping method of roll control.

iss above said...

While it's true NASA is not and never has been "Entertainment Tonight" as far as sharing what it's up to with the public - I don't lay blame entirely at their door. Budget is tight... and there are plenty who would jump to criticize a bigger line item budget for creating programming that would perhaps be more effective at engaging the public.

One exception to this - is for the past year the world has had access to the earth facing cameras on board the international space station - the HDEV. Over 47 million views have been recorded on the Ustream channel alone.

I've also had first hand experience with 100's of people who have shared with me what having access to these camera feeds has meant to them and their family/friends when they come over to their house and catch sight of these live views on their 50" HD TV.

I've got to say this very low cost addition to the ISS (the camera system was built with commercial off-the-shelf camera's with just 6 months of effort) has provided a way for the public to have the experience of feeling more connected to the space station / the 6 human beings who live and work there / and the earth.

This is part of one bit of feedback I have received about HDEV. "NASA's HDEV streaming video plays all day long on a 50inch TV in my house through a Raspberry Pi device and ISS-Above software that tracks the space station and shows its current
location. Most express disbelief at first that the images they are witnessing are real, live feeds. Several people have silently sat on my sofa with their hands over their mouths, simply staring as though they are seeing an unprecedented achievement of mankind. "

To appreciate this - people don't need to be a rocket scientist - they just have to use their eyes - and be open to becoming inspired by what they see and what is going on.

Liam Kennedy
(Inventor of the ISS-Above)

David Brin said...

Paul, there is no discrepancy. People in the west need to step back and realize that we’ve been suckling the right messages (Suspicion of Authority, tolerance, eccectricity, non-harmfulness) directly from mass media for generations. That does not make the memes wrong! In fact, they are desperately needed for positive sum civilization to exist and thrive and continue improving! But our insistence that: “I invented suspicion of authority!” is a poisonous side effect.

Left and right scream that the other side is foolishly ignoring the dangers inherent in THEIR side’s authority figures. Both are right! (It happens, that now, one more than the other.)

“Having compassion for diverse peoples is more than just a moral value. In very practical terms we get better results and better lives for all when we treat difference with respect.”

Make it a pragmatic argument, Paul. It is insane to waste human talent. Those who make excuses for continuation of exclusion are not true libertarians or believers in flat-open-fair-creative competition.

Paul451 said...

Robert,
Re: Moon/Mars

I'm with Ioan. There's so little commonality that arguing that the moon is a "test-bed" for Mars is misleading to the point of deception.

"or contaminants from inside to the Martian surface."

If you send humans to Mars, it's game over for unambiguously discovering native Martian biology. No finding would ever be safe from the suspicion that it's not just a mutated extremophile from Earth. (Especially as Earth and Mars likely swapped-spit early in planetary history, so they are mutated extremophiles from Earth. Or vice-versa.)

You cannot sterilise a living habitat. Humans are dirty dirty creatures.

"Second, there is the benefit of cooperation between nations on a large-scale space project."

Peaceful competition may be more stimulating than cooperation, and actually less wasteful. (ISS is a good example of that waste.)

"Indeed, magnetic propulsion could be used to "fire" capsules from the Moon's surface without too much difficulty."

That would require a huge amount of infrastructure on the surface, which suggests you've already solved the problem the mag launcher is trying to solve. Chicken/egg.

There are two, and only two, reasons to go back to the moon: One is the 2+ metre thick layers of water-ice that the Chandrayaan probe detected at the poles.

And... so is the other.

By which I mean, one reason is to use that ice as a fuel resource for BEO operations. The other reason is what may be the best untouched scientific record of the history of the solar system. Not just a cumulative vertically-stacked record of every comet and asteroid crashing into the moon (and every eruption), but also every major solar storm, every major cosmic event (like nearby supernova). Laid down layer by layers over billions of years.

(Neither reason requires humans on the moon, of course.)

Paul SB said...

Agreed, Dr, Brin, and for my part this has been understood for a very long time. From the Indian caste system to the Eta of Japan to the British Civil Service to Jim Crow here, all the efforts of nation states to divide and conquer leave society weaker not just by wasting talent but by creating destructive competition between social classes. As an archaeologist I saw the end result of these kinds of social divisions, and its isn't pretty. But many of us, both here and abroad, are getting to accepting social differences, especially the younger generations, who will replace those old dinosaurs.

The discussion I was having with Alfred was demographic in nature, relating carrying capacity and population/resource imbalances. My point was that one of the bad side-effects of racism, classism and religious bias is creating subaltern groups who will do things that are detrimental to society as a reaction to how they are treated. So yeah, this is another PRACTICAL example of how inclusion benefits u all, while exclusion has very negative unintended consequences.

And the first post, relating to the NPR story about Harry Potter, was praise for those writers who are making good efforts, not merely to entertain but to become the lever that moves the world.

Perhaps my prose is too opaque :[ :[ :[

Paul451 said...

Re: Space elevators.

The problem with space elevators is that even if you have a material strong enough (there are some that would work for the moon), there are always other tether systems that can deliver vastly more bang for vastly less material and cost. (Rotovators for the moon, for example. Skyhooks in Earth orbit. A Phobos skyhook-elevator at Mars.) For the same amount of material you'd need to launch or manufacture for a single (200,000km+) lunar tether, you could have rotovators and skyhooks spread across the whole damn solar system.

(Not that David knows anything about such ideas.)

Alex,
While kevlar is strong enough for the lunar elevator idea, kevlar isn't a space-worthy material. It degrades too easily from the radiation, even if coated. You'd need something more exotic. IIRC, Spectra would work.

Daniel,
Re: Launching from altitude.

The rocket nozzles can be optimised to work in a vacuum, increasing the Isp by tens of seconds. And don't begrudge that first 30km. The exponential nature of the rocket equation means that a tiny saving at the beginning of the launch adds up to much more than a saving at the end of the flight.

Air-launch also has some infrastructure and safety savings. You are above the weather, eliminating weather delays. You can move the station east or west, letting you short-cut launch windows, increasing launch opportunities. And by drop-firing the rocket, you eliminate 90% of range safety concerns, not to mention the issues that come from destructive acoustic reflection off the ground onto the rocket. (None of these are enough to justify launching from a balloon-station though.)

Re: Dropping hypersonic scramjets.

If we had a balloon-station it sure would make launching hypersonic scramjets easier... If we had hypersonic scramjets.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Has anyone been following the discussion on the EM (Alcubierre) Drive? Minimal reaction mass required for enough thrust to keep a satellite on stationkeeping for years. Very promising, and recent tests haven't shot it down. It might not be exactly a 'warp bubble', but it is very intriguing.

http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113382558/no-nasa-did-not-accidentally-invent-the-warp-drive-050115/

TheMadLibrarian

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Larry, nope, you don't get off the hook so easily!
...
Regardless of what I or anyone else says, I'm sure you will always feel compelled to participate (if not in this forum, then in some other). ; )


Heh. No, I wasn't going away. It's just that when someone else starts using my favorite lines, I feel a mixture of "proud papa" and "redundant".

David Brin said...

"Has anyone been following the discussion on the EM (Alcubierre) Drive? "

Sorry. The EM drive has nothing to do with an Alcubierre FTL drive. It is only somewhat "far-out". Still, I'll belive the "5 orders of magnitude more powerful" version when I see it.

Paul SB said...

Larry, only a handful of males are necessary to keep the species going, so we're kind of redundant anyway. It's better for genetic diversity to keep us around, though, so I'm not too worried. Anyway, imitation is flattery, and as long as you make good points, you aren't redundant in memetic terms (though I may be, if my writing makes my points impenetrable).

Mark P said...

Ioan said...
"Second, there is the benefit of cooperation between nations on a large-scale space project."


"This is not a good selling point, period. At this point, you're competing against international cooperation on projects that can combat global warming. At least with the people I know, this argument actually is a good reason to cancel the human space program: you're taking political capital that could be used to foster international cooperation on green technology and spending it on creating a Moon base. I know it's not your intention, but you're making a Moon mission the enemy of green energy."

Actually I think that is looking at it from the wrong direction. A permanent manned base whether on the Moon or Mars will need to be self sufficient and that means living sustainably by growing their own food, recycling everything they use and producing their own energy. These are all things the world needs to learn and learn quickly. There will not be any rocketships filled with Fritos and diet colas. These closed environments will not allow the use of many of the toxic things we use in the average household without thinking of the consequences. We have such a society of waste and excess, and an entire economic structure that exploits this, that a permanent manned base showing the world an example of sustainable living would be revolutionary. I think we need that to counter Global Warming and whatever future horror we leave our grandkids to solve.

Ioan said...

Paul451

"There are two, and only two, reasons to go back to the moon: One is the 2+ metre thick layers of water-ice that the Chandrayaan probe detected at the poles.

And... so is the other.

By which I mean, one reason is to use that ice as a fuel resource for BEO operations. The other reason is what may be the best untouched scientific record of the history of the solar system. Not just a cumulative vertically-stacked record of every comet and asteroid crashing into the moon (and every eruption), but also every major solar storm, every major cosmic event (like nearby supernova). Laid down layer by layers over billions of years."

The reasons you give are good. However, you leave out one reason: tourism. We are a post industrial economy. This means that tourism is more important to our GDP than manufacturing. For some reason, some people assume that tourism is a less noble enterprise?

Two notes on this. First, Antarctica has shown us that permanent colonization isn't necessary for a tourist economy. The second is that this argument works just as well for Near Earth Asteroid. It breaks down beyond a week's journey, unfortunately.

Ioan said...

Mark P,

Or we could build Biosphere III for far less cost and use the leftover budget to invest in renewable energy.

Paul SB said...

Ioan & Mark P, I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with both of you, and quote Larry Hart again. We can do both. First of all, the budgets involved in space exploration endeavors sound like enormous numbers, and from the perspective of individuals like us they are. But when you start dividing those dollar or euro or ruble figures by population, and start tracking them as percentages of annual budgets, they don't seem so huge. But as inspiration they can be huge.

One of the problems with Biospheres I and II is that they were done in places out of the public eye where they were not well publicized. If Biosphere 3 were done in prominent locations in every major city across the globe, you would not only very large numbers of scientific teams gathering data, making it much more likely that problems would be discovered and solved, but it would garner a whole lot of attention and step up the conversation about climate change and the interdependence of life here on Earth. Essentially it would put it right in everyone's faces, not just somewhere you can read about it on the internet.

As to building a base somewhere further out in the Solar System, I think it would be wisest to to Biosphere III before we go too far out, and we can debate the choice of location for years to come. But moving deeper into space is great PR for the human race, and that is something we desperately need.

As far as the money goes, I'm sure we can free up a whole lot for renewables if we have the will to do it. The problem is not the money itself, it's the apathy. The wisest of the species get that we need to radically alter how we do things, but most people are too busy living their day-to-day lives and doing things as they have always done them to even imagine how different things can be, much less actively pursue change.

Paul SB said...

Look at what most of our nation's budgets are spent on and you will see the trap we are in. Huge military budgets because we are either overly aggressive or fear overly aggressive neighbors (most often both, because the hormones that feed fear also feed aggression) and enormous sums spent on health and aging care. Most people will see these last as inevitable, but few see how the shape of our society creates the very problems it has to pay for. If you watched that National Geographic video I linked to earlier, you would see that most of our health issues - heart disease, cancer and metabolic syndrome - result in large part from stress. Those mechanisms are becoming more well understood by the scientific community. Most people's response to stress is individual - things like taking up yoga or meditation, hobbies or just listening to soothing or catharsis-inducing music, modifying or neurochemistry with movies and games, etc.

Mow who is looking at these things on a social scale? Who is looking at the sources of stress that drive huge numbers of people to the hospital and to early graves? Talk about wasted talent! What are those stressors? We could talk about things like racism, sexism, ethnonationalism and religion, all things that divide people into groups and create fear and violence between them. Doing away with these old ways of seeing ourselves would go a long way toward reducing the amount of suffering and stress in the world, and would have the very practical benefits of both reducing the amount of money blown dealing with stress-induced medical expenses and freeing up more minds and more time among billions of people to actively solve our species' problems. But the biggest stressor of them all is the workplace, enslaved to our tendency toward hierarchical structures that allow small numbers of people to abuse huge numbers of people. The author of the Whitehall study made the point very clearly that where managers treat employees fairly, productivity increases and turnover drops, increasing profitability. But how often do you find management that behaves this way? It is far from the norm, and ultimately destructive to the businesses and institutions being managed,

A whole lot of our problems could be fixed if we, as a species, could get one huge attitude adjustment.

Paul451 said...

TheMadLibrarian,
"Has anyone been following the discussion on the EM (Alcubierre) Drive? Minimal reaction mass required for enough thrust to keep a satellite on stationkeeping for years."

As David notes, EM-Drive and the Warp bubble stuff are different projects. However, apparently their current mathematical framework trying to explain the three anomalous EM-Drive results (US, UK and China) suggest that EM-Drive, Q-thruster and White's warp-bubble ideas are all slices of the same phenomenon.

Problem is, the scale of force produced by the EM-Drive tests is so achingly small that it could be explained by asymmetrical RF heating of the torsion pendulum, or subtle heat-buckling of the frustum. (The torsion pendulum isn't detecting linear force, it can only detect rotation corresponding to a linear force, but any buckling/bending would also produce a similar result.) A concern that has been raised is that the result in-vacuum had a different power-off taper than the in-air tests, which is what you would expect if the anomaly was due to heat-effects (since heat radiates slower in a vacuum, you get a longer taper.)

But their theory is predictive, so the Eagleworks Lab guys now have a tool to optimise their design. If that produces the predicted results, that will be a big win for them, and lead to more tests and replication by other labs, and things should accelerate from there. (Theory plus result is much better than anomaly alone.)

What I like about the Eagleworks guys is their openness to critics. They've been working with critics to design tests to eliminate alternative explanations, they share results, critics have helped design computer models of RF energy to help develop an understanding of possible heat-flow, etc. Similarly, the UK researcher, Roger Shawyer, gave his device to the US team to test without restriction.

With a lot of fringe fields, the researchers are intolerant of any criticism, they are protective of their magical devices being touched by anyone else, and are never willing to do the one experiment that would show or eliminate a whole class of alternative (mundane) explanations. While EM Drive/etc are deeply fringy, the EM Drive researchers themselves don't have that fringe-science smell about them.

Paul451 said...

Paul SB,
"One of the problems with Biospheres I and II "

Just Biosphere II. The gag was that Biosphere I is Earth.

The problem with Biosphere II was that they just copied a bunch of pseudo-ecosystems (including a desert biome) without understanding the elements they were importing, or having any subscale testing of how those elements interact. There wasn't a lot of real science involved until after the original creators got out of the way. The second big problem was that they didn't let the system settle in before the sealed it, so even the concrete foundations hadn't finished curing. Enthusiasm surpassed reason. (Or "a fool and his money...")

Mark P,
I really can't see a moon base teaching us anything about how to live sustainably on Earth, any more than the ISS has.

I can see that space development would feed back into understanding ecosystems, but a lunar base is probably not the right type of development for that. A bunch of asteroid-based independent colonies would essentially be hundreds of independent experiments, with successes and failures guiding each new generation of development. A lunar base will be a single facility that won't be allowed to experiment too radically. (In the same way that ISS researchers are terrified of doing anything that would harm any other activity on ISS; resulting in an extremely restrictive research environment.)

Paul SB said...

Paul451, You're right about Biosphere 1. I was confusing the name with an earlier, underground experiment I read about ages ago.

Your multiple asteroid colonies idea sounds akin to my multiple Biospheres 3 in terms of the scientific benefits, though I hop we will start this on Earth before trying this out there. A failed experiment on Earth means someone has to come out of their bubble and start over. A failed experiment in space means, cold, stiff, vacuum-desicated corpses. I know there are many snarky, smugly superior regressives who would prefer the latter to the former, but they can only lead us to failure modes with their thinking.

Alex Tolley said...

This Is My Vision Of "Life" , a piece by Richard Dawkins in Edge.org would have been a good link for the Alien Life thread. I post it because it provides some good explanation for those who don't understand evolution, but more thoughtfully, whether David's two other principles might be considered an "extended phenotype".

Alex Tolley said...

Still, I'll belive the "5 orders of magnitude more powerful" version when I see it.

Very pithy and spot on.

People can seem to get obsessive over these things. A number of years ago an engineer friend was also captured by the rotary to linear impulse drive idea (from an Art Bell show?) and became obsessed with the idea. He built his own examples which he had me viewing videos of results that he thought he could see a net effect, but which was just random noise in practice. Had the effect been large, there would have been no issue, but because the imagined effect was small and the result of other larger motions, he was able to convince himself that he had a real effect. It took a long time before he abandoned his quest to make it work and sell it to Nasa.

We see similar effects with those trying to divine the direction of the stock market from prior price changes. Small, random effects can lead one to see a pattern where none exists. It is why even machine learning must be done correctly to prevent over-fitting and to separate training from test data. This may be the result of our excellent pattern recognizing brains that errs in making safe, but incorrect interpretations ("Is that a predator in the bushes? Better not take a chance and run").



Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 A bunch of asteroid-based independent colonies would essentially be hundreds of independent experiments, with successes and failures guiding each new generation of development.

It would still be much cheaper to build them much closer to Earth. The moon, LEO, even better on Earth. The expense should be focused on the science and environmental technology, not the cost of getting it to a remote location. That is for the future when we understand how to do it well, if we can.

I like the idea mooted that these biospheres should be in cities, accessible to the general population and scientists. They are the equivalent of botanical gardens in this regard. As such they would serve multiple roles.

@PSB The problem is not the money itself, it's the apathy. The wisest of the species get that we need to radically alter how we do things, but most people are too busy living their day-to-day lives and doing things as they have always done them to even imagine how different things can be, much less actively pursue change.

Where you see apathy, I see lack of sufficient incentive, plus resistance to change. We know that fossil fuel companies are not going to allow their assets to be stranded without a fight, so FUD is rampant. Similarly, without good, obvious alternatives, it is easier to stay with that you know. Changing the tax incentives, adding externality costs, providing working alternatives is important.
Musk has done 2 good things - firstly shown electric cars needn't be golf carts, and maybe even affordable with his next version. Secondly that batteries overcome, at least partially, the variability of renewable energy at the discretion of the homeowner, not the whim of the utility. This is really important. I see Solar City offering the battery option as standard, to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to solve that ridiculous issue that solar PV doesn't even work when the grid is down, which most of us would assume it should work.

Europe is far more engaged in recycling than the US, with Germany leading the way for cars to be recycled. This is about legislative action and ultimately who controls them. Give people clear choices with the right incentives, and the invisible hand will work to a large extent as long as the pathological conditions (oligopolies, monopolies, regulatory capture, etc) are removed.



Paul SB said...

Alex, good thoughts all. Lack of incentive, resistance to change and FUD all lead to apathy as a way of life, so i think we're speaking the same language here.

Treebeard said...

I agree with Paul SB that apathy and bad memes are probably the biggest thing preventing us from achieving much greater things in space. The technical challenges are huge enough, and without the cultural will it seems rather hopeless.

When I was a big space nut, I promoted the idea of space exploration as a religious movement as a way to generate the necessary cultural will. I called it "Cosmism", because it's basically an updated version of the Russian ideology, including some Sagan/Clarke-style space mysticism. I still like the idea, but obviously I became disillusioned at some point.

Anyway, I published an ebook here if anyone is interested:

http://www.amazon.com/Cosmism-A-Worldview-Cosmic-Civilization-ebook/dp/B00SWC02DS/

Ioan said...

For people who like the idea of space elevators around the moon, they wouldn't work, period! Space elevators around the Earth only work when the other end of the tether is in geostationary orbit. Around the Moon, such an orbit doesn't exist:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=331081

When you get to the altitude where lunastationary orbit would exist, you find out that Earth's gravity is strong enough that you now orbit the Earth instead of the Moon. Thus, the space elevator would have to be put into a lower orbit. In turn, any space elevator would have to constantly change its orbit to stay in place, which would take far more fuel than using a chemical rocket to launch stuff from the surface. Otherwise, you will need a tether big enough to allow the counterweight to orbit the Moon, or the Earth. In other words, it's not happening.

If that wasn't bad enough, you have the problem of lunar mascons. Although the Moon looks smooth, its gravity is pretty lumpy.
http://www.space.com/21364-moon-gravity-mascons-mystery.html

This is the reason most lunar orbiting spacecraft run out of fuel much sooner than their Earth and Mars orbiting counterparts.

Ioan said...

To avoid the impression that I'm only anti-Moon, it's time to have the pro-asteroid people defend their position a bit.

There are 2 big disadvantage to putting a base on asteroids: sunlight and gassing. If any gasses escape your base, even if it's only a few molecules a day, they will act as an ion engine and potentially change the asteroid's orbit.

The second problem is actually the same thing. An idea for diverting an asteroid's orbit is to paint part of it white to change solar reflectivity, and thus its orbit. A base would by definition change solar reflectivity at a point on the asteroid's surface, and thus its orbit. Good luck overcoming the panic this would cause.

It would be advised to build a base on larger asteroids to counter this. I did a catalog of the delta v's of the most common asteroids in a Masters course, but I don't have that study anymore. From memory, most of the larger asteroids (>5 km in diameter) have a higher delta v than the Moon. Then again, there are only 4 NEA's that meet those criteria. I don't know how small you can get to avoid those problems.

Alex Tolley said...

@Ioan
When you get to the altitude where lunastationary orbit would exist, you find out that Earth's gravity is strong enough that you now orbit the Earth instead of the Moon. Thus, the space elevator would have to be put into a lower orbit. In turn, any space elevator would have to constantly change its orbit to stay in place,

I think that is incorrect. There are stable points between the Earth and the moon, e.g. L1. Positioning between L1 and Earth results in a gravitational attraction to Earth, that puts the tension on the tether. But this doesn't require an orbit, as the tether attached to the moon is doing the supporting, so there is no need for orbital velocity. So while there may be need for some station keeping, a lunar elevator is quite possible. But as LiftPort points out, the tether is much longer than the Earth space elevator, but the loads are less and so the tether can be made of high strength plastics. They suggest Kevlar, but as pointed out upthread, this may not be suitable for space applications and needs another as a substitute.

Paul451 said...

Ioan,
"Space elevators around the Earth only work when the other end of the tether is in geostationary orbit."

No. Geostationary orbit is the mid-point. They need as much mass above geostationary as below in order for the two to balance, then slightly more to put the system under tension. (Actually, because of differences between gravitational and centripetal acceleration, the balance is more lopsided, but it gives you the basic idea.)

For the moon, the equivalent point is L1. In other words, you need enough mass beyond L1 to balance the mass between L1 and the lunar surface. The result is a stupidly long structure, over 200,000km long, but the forces are less than an Earth-based space elevator. (Still horribly wasteful, there are much better ideas around.)

"If any gasses escape your base, even if it's only a few molecules a day, they will act as an ion engine and potentially change the asteroid's orbit
A base would by definition change solar reflectivity at a point on the asteroid's surface, and thus its orbit. Good luck overcoming the panic this would cause."


You are wildly overestimating both effects. Outgasing from a base will be a mouse-fart. And the Yarkovsky effect is tiny. The former will be immeasurably small, the latter will take years to be measurable.

Tony Fisk said...

Maybe we can wait for the Earth and the Moon to become tidally locked, then have 'Hothouse' style vege-spiders spin webs to connect the two?

Maybe that's what we'll find has happened between Pluto and Charon in a couple of months?

Jerry Emanuelson said...

One thing that many people don't realize is that there is a pressing need for tethers with most of the same characteristics of space tethers right now right here on this planet. The material needs to have a very strong tensile strength and not be an electrical conductor (or at least be completely transparent to radio waves). It also needs to be very tolerant of many environmental extremes. (Nothing like space, but the material still needs to be greatly over-designed in this regard.)

Take a look at this list of broadcast tower collapses.

At one point, I was trying to keep track of the number of people killed by tower failures just during the transition from analog to digital television transmission in the United States. I lost track after 10 deaths.

People who manage "antenna farms" are very concerned about the probability of a domino effect causing multiple towers to come down when one guy wire fails on one tower and severs the guy wire on another tower, which then severs another guy wire etc. There are many places where this can happen.

locumranch said...



Call it FUD, apathy or risk-aversion, yet admit that our society lacks "der Wille zur Macht" (The Will to Power) necessary to either spread our seed or conquer, being most content to 'appreciate' the bounty that the greatest generation laid before us, lazing around, rather than lose our place at this fine table replete with luxuries and an adjacent vomitorium.

Earlier, David proposed for a ONE WAY trip to Mars which (although a noble gesture) is doomed to failure if we take into account contemporary technology, yet an even BETTER option is now available for those willing to take the Big Risk and turn our backs on planetary bodies (at least temporarily).

We commit ourselves to a Round Trip journey to Ganymede and/or Ceres (both of which possess low gravity and large bodies of water), taking only enough propulsive fuel to get us to our destination, and (once arrived) we use a few moth-balled nuclear reactors, burrow in deep and make effortless habitats of water ice until we spread further, using relatively massive and INEFFECTIVE rockets made of heated water vapor, a model proposed by Asimov (The Martian Way) back in the 1950s...

But it won't happen because we (as a society) lack the AUDACITY to risk it all, being unused to any sort of discomfort or sacrifice, and we will choose (have chosen already) to cower in our comfortably decadent caves instead until the opportunity passes.


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Alex Tolley said...

Let me invoke Godwin's Law before it goes any further.

“Truly, this earth is a trophy cup for the industrious man. And this rightly so, in the service of natural selection. He who does not possess the force to secure his Lebensraum in this world, and, if necessary, to enlarge it, does not deserve to possess the necessities of life. He must step aside and allow stronger peoples to pass him by.”
― Adolf Hitler

David Brin said...

Ioan, a space elevator on the moon CAN work … on the far side, if you use a cable long enough so’s the counterweight uses the moon’s orbit. Please google “David Brin” and “lift the Earth.”

What? NONE of you watched the video?

PSB: One of the biggest reasons hope and prosperity have spread around the world is because Pax Americana allowed 90% of nations/peoples on Earth to spend unprecedentedly low fractions of t national income on defense. The big exception was the nation supplying the umbrella.

Welcome back romantic-nonsensical locum. No civilization… no COMBINATION of other civilizations — ever dared the things we have. You just resent the fact that our successes resulted - at fairly low cost - in miracles so successful, like air travel and having a “palantir” on everyone’s desk, that all the romance is gone from it.

That’s what sci fi is for, son.

Alex Tolley said...

The problem with human migration anywhere off planet is that it is all risk (and cost) and almost no reward. There is no opportunity yet - whether it was uninhabited Pacific islands with room to farm and fish, or the Americas where there were opportunities to trap animals and start a new life with your own plantation. Ceres would be more unpleasant than the worst Gulag imaginable. A colony will be highly dependent on trade with Earth to bring food and supplies.

If water becomes the new oil of the solar system, then mining bases (like the movie "Outland" might arise, although these will be highly automated for cost reasons). If Ceres is scientifically very interesting, then possibly a scientific base like the Antarctic.

But a human colony with some sort of libertarian "fresh start" ideology, I'm guessing not. Mars is a "maybe", but again, it is so harsh that early colonists will have a high mortality rate and the cost of sustaining the colony will be extremely high for the forseeable future. Remember even Mars One needed fresh landings every 2-4 years with supplies and people.

Ioan said...

Paul451 and Alex Tolley,

Ok, I will submit that I forgot about the L1 point. Oops.

"In other words, you need enough mass beyond L1 to balance the mass between L1 and the lunar surface."

Outside of Dr Brin's idea, how are you going to keep the mass beyond L1 from entering in Earth orbit.

Dr Brin,
I forgot about that proposal.

Paul451,
"You are wildly overestimating both effects. Outgasing from a base will be a mouse-fart. And the Yarkovsky effect is tiny. The former will be immeasurably small, the latter will take years to be measurable."

For the out-gassing, mea culpa. For the Yarkovsky effect, I have a question. Just how long do you intend to have a base there?

Robert said...

Here is the thing about an International Moon Station (IMS). It is the first step toward corporate endeavors on the Moon. You have a central base from which a corporation can operate without using a huge amount of money (seeing that the base is being built by several nations working together). Once the corporate base is built, then the corporation can move into their new facility (probably having paid rent for working from the IMS). This new base can be used for research or manufacturing or whatever else.

Just waiting for business to do this on its own is pointless because it takes a considerable amount of capital to get into space and then to go to the Moon. Only the largest companies would want to take that plunge... and then there would be a Barrier to Entry because of the lack of an international hub from which smaller businesses could spring from.

The Moon has a number of benefits to it. Its gravity is one such benefit, as people can tolerate lower gravity far better than microgravity. It is also close enough to Earth that people can move there and not feel isolated. A three second lag in communications is far better than minutes of lag. Or more.

Finally, Dr. Brin and the other Moon Naysayers ignore the psychological aspect of the Moon. People look up into the sky and they see the Moon and that visibility has led to so many daydreams and stories of Moon Bases and Moon Colonies. While we hear of asteroids passing the Earth, they're spots of light at best. If you talk about colonizing asteroids, people shrug. You talk about colonizing Mars or colonizing the Moon? They listen. And dream.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Rob H. People look up into the sky and they see the Moon and that visibility has led to so many daydreams and stories of Moon Bases and Moon Colonies.

Difficult to gauge that. I'm of that generation that would be enthused. I'm not so sure about the current generation. Looking outwards may be the dreams of an older generation. I hope I'm wrong.

locumranch said...


Notice how David uses the past tense when he declares that "No civilization… no COMBINATION of other civilizations — ever dared the things we have".

It is a sad state of affairs that we dare no longer. No grand dreams; no great sacrifices; and no youthful exuberance. We are society in dotage, a culture in decline, concerned only with politeness, creature comforts and security.

A few brave individuals still try, putting instruments on comets, only to be castigated for their FASHION sense; organizations like NASA outsource their agency to private LLCs; and once proud governments leave civil defense matters to paid mercenaries like Halliburton and Blackwater.

Audacity is a thing of the past. It has been replaced consensual cowardice; and Rome falls.


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David Brin said...

Robert I got nothing against gradually setting up stations on the moon for science, maybe tourism. Fine. But every practical/commercial reason you gave is a no-go in the short-intermediate term. If we get such bases, it will be because a moon base is a good R&R station for asteroid miners, who are making the real money.

Locum admits we’ve been bolder than our ancestors… but maybe not LATELY. Well, um, then fight the cynical, short-thinking jerks who have undermined confidence and IQ in the US, Canada and Australia! We would be audacious in countless ways, if we weren’t snared into lobotomizing-draining civil war…

…by the side that hates science, scientists and every other clade of smartypants.

There is only one reason for the cramped NASA budget — the Bush era tax cuts. Period.

Even so, there’s audacity! Bezos, Musk, Allen and dozens of billionaires of the tech variety are funding bold endeavors… (see my previous blog about Game Changing)… and note. Most of the Silicon Valley bazillionaires are democrats who are on record hating the Bush tax cuts.

No, it is cynics like you who undermine our audacity.

raito said...

It's difficult to get people to I want a base on the moon for the scientific value, and because it's cool. None of the space program was profitable immediately. But it all paid off.

As for the NASA channel being boring, I'm reminded of The Right Stuff, in particular the bit where Ed Harris's character keeps insisting that the astronauts are pilots.

Part of the reason Apollo succeeded so well was that there must have been a pretty big PR machine working at the same time.

In the 60's, every young boy (and plenty of young girls) wanted part of that action.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

We should not forget about the effects of intense radiation on humans.

I suspect that this factor will prevent humans from traveling much beyond lunar orbit for many decades. There is much to do within this region, though, especially if small asteroids can be brought into this region. The asteroids will (initially) have to be brought in by robotic means.

Initially, anything but Apollo-like missions will require getting to the moon and going underground as soon as possible until we have genuine radiation-hardened habitats in various locations within this region.

We need to robotically explore as many lava tubes on the moon as possible. Without finding stable lava tubes, we are going to have to do a lot of robotic digging.

Eventually, we may be able to genetically engineer humans to have a radiation resistance similar to the bacteria D. radiodurans. Engineering any really significant radiation resistance into humans will be an incredibly difficult problem. Solving that problem, though, would likely have many other useful benefits.

Paul SB said...

Alex, your invocation of Godwin shows that Hitler's philosophy was pure Spencer, as is Loci's. Spencer also claimed that 'the people" were getting lazier and more entitled with each passing day, and that the world would end soon if more manly men didn't get a firm grip on society. But Chicken Loci can shout that the sky is falling all he likes. Last week's riots in Baltimore were dismaying, but I heard enough interviews with old-timers who were there in '68, who noted that this was not even 1/10th as bad. No real progress?

There is always someone telling us the world is coming to an end, and they have been for centuries. My favorite end of the world is 1588, the year of the Armada. Nostradamus had only been in the grave a couple decades and like today some people were foolish enough to out a halo around his every word. Prophecy is an easy business, you just have to spew out enough predictions in sufficiently vague language and some day, something will happen that sounds just enough like your prophecy that you will be catapulted to fame, though it might be posthumously. The Western world watched with bated breathe while the Most Catholic King of Spain and the Hapsburg Empire assembled his worst to deal justice to the rebel Protestants, or else it would go the other way and Protestantism would reign supreme. What really happened was an indecisive engagement that ended when a storm dispersed the Spanish fleet, and the bloodletting between those who claimed ownership of the King of Peace raged on for centuries. So we're all dead, have been for centuries, we can stop worrying about the end because it already happened.

Some people may be getting pretty slack, maybe a lot of people are, but I see plenty of people doing what humans have done for as long as they have walked upright and used their digits for something more than brachiation: tinkering, playing with ideas and creating new things.

Dr. Brin, I hope that the military spending will act as a scaffold for our world - necessary for a time but easily discarded when the edifice it supports is strong enough to stand on its own. It's not that I have anything against the military per se, nor do I believe there will ever be a time when it is completely unneeded. My main point, though, was not about the military, it was about the unintended consequences of our needlessly stressful social systems with all their arbitrary, political differentiations. These are things that can be changed to some extent with an infusion of better memes.

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, On unneeded stress I'd like to add a thought, that a society that fails to minimize injustice suffers a cultural devaluation that can be compared to the loss in property values when a neighborhood tolerates broken windows, old cars on blocks and petty crime. Progressivism isn't just bleeding heart stuff, it's also about standards.

Alex Tolley said...


Re Risk:
It depends on what risks we are talking about. Yes, aerospace has become a lot less risk taking than it used to be. Interviews with test pilots indicates that the risks test pilots took back in the 1950-60s are no longer acceptable. That is echoed by the military reducing risks to the soldiers and cops operating on a "stay alive" mode and arming themselves heavily and using their weapons.

OTOH, financing has become much more risk taking, with the emergence of VCs, Angel investors and now crowd funding.

Social risk taking seems more common today, although it is hard to compare that to the risks the suffragettes took and teh violence they were subjected to.

Alex Tolley said...

re: Moonbase
Given that there are no proven commercial space businesses to date, hoping that asteroid mining is going to be lucrative is a wild-assed guess and likely to be wrong. Asteroid mining will be more valuable to off-Earth industry. What the moonbase could provide is a reason to encourage commercial suppliers to the base, essentially providing the same convenience services tourists would want if the moon was a tourist base. This is analogous to the commercial services supporting teh various Antarctic bases today.


In some sense Clarke was prescient in his book "A Fall of Moondust" where Roris base was trying to find new tourist business to support its costs beyond the tours of the Sea of Thirst.

I could see the cache for supplying the moon base as a reason for companies to provide services. The base could therefore act as a core facility that eventually attracts a tourist industry, and even possibly an manufacturing industry. This perhaps analogous to banking tax havens building a tourist industry around the core banking function.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB - I am with you on the stress thing. It is increasingly documented that income and wealth inequality adds to stress even beyond access to resources. The current riots in Ferguson/Baltimore etc after decades of abuse by [racist] policing and lack of economic opportunity is perhaps a symptom of that stress. How much the stress alone is causing health and psychological problems I don't know, but I suspect studies have been done.

BTW, harking back to the bullying. I saw that there was a Guardian article indicating that school bullying was far more mentally devastating than previously thought.

locumranch said...


I'm still waiting for someone to explain how "it is cynics like (me) who undermine (your) audacity".

Do you even know what 'audacity' means, or are you still waiting for some overwhelming consensus, or perhaps a deep-pocketed 'Silicon Valley bazillionaire', to validate your chosen worldview ?

The sad truth is that most of you lack the will to put your money where your mouth is, quit your jobs, sell your homes, pool your resources or live out your various TWODA fantasies. Let's do the math.

http://www.space.com/22758-mars-colony-volunteers-mars-one.html

If the 200 Thousand Mars One volunteers (of which David, I believe, was one) were actually sincere in their desire to go to Mars and coughed up a measly USD $10,000 per person, then they would have 2 Billion dollars to realize their dreams (or 2 Trillion dollars if they sold their $ 100,000 homes), and the same goes for climate change mitigation strategies.

Talk talk talk: No self-awareness, no action, no audacity.

Our decadent society is well & truly screwed.


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Alex Tolley said...

@locum - DB answered you with this: We would be audacious in countless ways, if we weren’t snared into lobotomizing-draining civil war.

What are you looking for, specific examples?

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: My departure from JPA was around the same time JP was writing his book, so I can’t (and shouldn’t) speak directly to what he was thinking. That he hand-waved a bit shouldn’t be surprising, though. He very much liked the idea and wanted to pursue it. Giving it away wasn’t part of the plan. 8)

Obviously, one doesn’t exactly float to orbit. You have to come up with a lot of delta-vee along the way. What we were looking at (I was the physics guy on the team) was a different optimal path to orbit. The typical multi-staged rocket flight boosts the vehicle up a little bit to where the air is thinner and then pitches over to gain height and speed at the same time. You make the rocket pointy to cut through the thick air when going at a high speed. Max Q has quite a say on the design of the airframe. What we considered was the fact that we could start a whole lot higher by simply floating up there with some kind of ‘rocket’ that faced different design constraints. There was also the possibility that we could do a multi-staged vehicle too with only the lower portion capable of landing on the ground. The upper portion might stay aloft and dock with a high altitude port. JP’s vision is only part of what was going on at the time and it is neat enough on its own to consider, but if I talk too much more I’ll be guilty of describing my version of that vision instead of his which wouldn’t be fair to him.

If it helps, try to imagine yourself as part of a civilization of deep sea fish. If you want to go to space, are you really going to build a rocket that can fly from the ocean floor up through the water at high speed? The sensible thing to do is float as high as you reasonably can and then fly. Extend that analogy to us and you’ll see what we were considering. If you have to carry fuel (as rockets do), why not use a zeroth-stage to make optimal use of it?

Alex Tolley said...

Thanks for your input Alfred. AFAIK the idea was to send the whole airship to orbit, using some sort of slow velocity buildup in a very thin atmosphere. But this assumes that the dynamic lift keeps the drag sufficiently low to allow this, which is not likely given the heat of reentry much higher in the atmosphere at 8km/s.

As for using it as a early stage, I get that.

I like their thinking outside the box (and their pong-sat program is cool), I'm just very skeptical that it has been thought through as explained in the book and can be seen on a YouTube video.

Airship to Orbit (ATO). JPAerospace

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I'm guessing it was pretty interesting working at JPA, although I'm guessing it was a shoe string operation.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: JP’s vision had a single stage vehicle making it to orbit using a long duration thrust phase at very high altitude. My version had some intermediate steps that looked more like rocket-assisted flight of a frog that could skip along the top of the atmosphere using what little lift was available. Had I stayed I’m sure what would have actually happened would have been neither and both since we often flew test vehicles as part of our learning process. When you ask Creation a question and get a useful answer, it’s best to adjust your vision a bit and use Her advice. 8)

Those were great years for me and I remember them fondly. JP paints a vivid vision, motivates his volunteers, and leads by example, but the whole team is amazing in each of its incarnations. What I remember most is the demonstration made year in and year out of what motivated people can do with or without money, facilities, and training. We could take people in off the street and get them productive in a very short time doing something that helped make their hearts sing. I’ve no doubt they can still do this.

Alfred Differ said...

...and yes... the PongSat idea is brilliant. Some of the stuff I saw kids doing with theirs gave me a lot of hope for the next generation.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch:

Talk talk talk: No self-awareness, no action, no audacity.

Our decadent society is well & truly screwed.


Meh. Speak for yourself. I gave 15 years to entrepreneurial efforts and 13 years beyond K-12 to getting the education I have. My Social Security record shows I somehow kept body and mind together during one of my school years on $3.2K, so between all that, I think I've given enough to avoid your accusation. I've seen many others giving of themselves too.

We aren't screwed, but there sure are a lot of people who are seduced by the sweetness of gloom into thinking we are.

Alfred Differ said...

I only know of one possible exception that could make the Moon useful in the next century except as a source of gravity. If some of the inbound asteroids survived impact enough for there to be platinum group metals in high concentrations, it might be worth plunking down next to them, mining them, and tossing them back toward Earth. Other than that, I don’t see it being useful for more than its role as a slingshot and orbit perturber for some time. I feel the same way about Mars, but I’m not going to try to stand in the way of people who advocate for either location as a target for government money funded projects. Private money will know what’s worth doing, so I don’t fret what it does at all.

Asteroid resource extraction has a lot more potential, but faces the huge hurdle related to the time cost of money. When there is a market for water to refuel vehicles we have up there, only then will it be worth considering.

None of these things need a lot of people for some time, though. There is no sense plopping people on the Moon along with equipment and even less in sending them to asteroids. People (for colonization) will go eventually when the markets draw them out there and that won’t happen until there are intermediate trades to be made. For example, asking ‘What is the price of gold?’ is meaningless. Asking about that price in Zurich, London, or Chicago makes sense. Prices exist in the market. When someone ships platinum from an asteroid to London, the futures market is in London. When someone wants the trade to occur at the Earth/Moon L2 region, the market is out there even if the traders are elsewhere. Only then will the traders be tempted to have people out there.

Alfred Differ said...

@treebeard: Thank you. I've flagged your e-book to look at it later. I'm always on the lookout for non-standard perspectives.

Jumper said...

In agreement with Dr. Brin, I advise against getting too addicted to anger as a personal motivational crutch but in Jim Wrigtht's case I am willing to give him a pass. I hope his head does not explode, however.
http://www.stonekettle.com/2015/05/jade-helm-insanity-that-ate-texas.html

locumranch said...



"We would be audacious in countless ways, if we weren’t snared into lobotomizing-draining civil war".

First, the phrase 'We would be audacious IF' implies that audacity is somehow conditional, yet audacity (defined as "daring, courage, boldness, defiance, nerve, cheek or chutzpah") is neither conditional nor consensual-dependent.

Second, the so-called 'lobotomizing' civil war is just an excuse for inaction. Being risk-averse, the fearful individual (and/or group) repudiates individual moral agency and attempts to amortise (and/or 'shift') that responsibility to the collective.

Again, the math is clear. If those 200,000 Mars One 'volunteers' actually wanted to go to Mars then no one could stop them from acting collectively, bankrolling this mission on their own and going. The same goes for climate change activism and the Blue Urban Agenda.

The problem is those SJWs really don't want to act on their own. They want to foist that risk on the Nanny Collective; they want Daddy Defender to insure them against adverse consequence; and then they want to stick their Children with the bill.

Only cowardice is stopping them from AUDACITY.


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Catfish N. Cod said...

I think there eventually will be a pattern where at least the first base of a new environment -- asteroid, Moon, Mars -- will be at least partially governmental, to assist in bootstrapping. This is akin to how most early ventures by every far-ranging exploration were at least partially government backed -- and I am not being Western-centric here, the same was true of Islamic and Chinese expeditions. Having some public-private partnership to start greases the wheels.

There might need to be some efforts to guarantee that the public gets a share of the profits (in taxes, use fees, royalties, or some other means) to pay for the initial investment and ensure that this is not merely a way for (parasitic) elites to socialize costs and privatize gains.

Once you take this position, the question of bases becomes "in which order should bases be built and at what priority", not "should we build an X base". And that starts you thinking about how X base helps with other things.

BTW, I agree with what someone else said that space resource extraction mainly benefits other space activities. But that is a feature not a bug. The long term goal of refining space operations, absent a space elevator, should be (and in many cases already is) providing such that humans and other items of complex biology are the only mass that must be sent up Earth's steep gravity well. Just delivering water to LEO would be a massive advance, not only for life support but also as reaction mass.

Paul451 said...

Ioan,
"how are you going to keep the mass beyond L1 from entering in Earth orbit."

It's attached to the tether.

The mass Earth-side of L1 is trying to pull away from the moon, that balances the mass below L1 that's trying to fall towards the moon. That's how the system stays under tension.

That's the physics behind any space elevator. There must be more mass beyond the mid-point.

"For the Yarkovsky effect, I have a question. Just how long do you intend to have a base there?"

As I said, it will take years to be measurable. There will be no "panic" because of a few metres-per-second change in orbit per decade.

Locumranch,
You are the one mouthing off about "audacity" and "will", what are you doing that risks everything you have?

Other than "Talk talk talk: No self-awareness. Only cowardice."

Paul451 said...

Robert,
"an International Moon Station (IMS). It is the first step toward corporate endeavors on the Moon. You have a central base from which a corporation can operate without using a huge amount of money (seeing that the base is being built by several nations working together). Once the corporate base is built, then the corporation can move into their new facility (probably having paid rent for working from the IMS). This new base can be used for research or manufacturing or whatever else."

The experience of ISS begs otherwise. It was extremely expensive to develop, remains extremely expensive to operate ($3b per year), was designed as the lowest-common-denominator and remains extremely restricted in what it does. (Talk to many ISS scientists about doing artificial gravity research or spacecraft construction and expect to get shouted out of the room. The Japanese AG centrifuge module was grounded because other nations prioritised different research and was scared the centrifuge would interfere.) Recently, Russia wants to go in a different direction, but can't (possibly physically) remove its modules because the core functionality of the ISS still depends on them.

A lunar base will be incredibly expensive (see Constellation), and incredibly restricted (see Constellation and ISS), and because it's international, it will be nearly impossible for nations (or meta-states like Europe) to do their own thing after it's established. It certainly won't be allowed to act as a core for corporate expansion, any more than ISS is. (There are a few at NASA who try to push such ideas, and occasionally something sneaks though the gaps (like CRS/CCdev/BEAM), but 99% of their efforts are blocked; if not by the agency, then by Congress.)

However, multiple independent programs in competition can choose their own path, make their own mistakes. Everyone can learn from others' mistakes without having to pay for it directly.

If we had an upgraded Mir (or MirII) and a smaller US station flying simultaneously, we'd have seen a lot more development than we did with ISS. (For example, the US would have had to develop their own crew capsule for the station, instead of relying on Soyuz, because the Shuttle couldn't stay on-station for longer than 2 weeks. So when Constellation was proposed, they'd have already had Version 1.0 of the crew module, and a man-rated version of one of the EELV launchers. That would have skipped Orion and Ares I entirely. Similarly, the US would have had to develop its own propulsion module, and refuelling system, that would have also helped Constellation EOR/LOR development.)

"people can tolerate lower gravity far better than microgravity."

Actually we don't know that. We have no data between 0 and 1. Zero is bad, 1 is good. We don't know the shape of the curve in between; linear, exponential, asymptotic. That's one of the frustrations of ISS, the lack of research into that middle realm.

Paul451 said...

Robert,
"If you talk about colonizing asteroids, people shrug. You talk about colonizing Mars or colonizing the Moon? They listen. And dream."

Meh. In the '50s, people "dreamed" of shining silver space stations, yet most of them (even in the US) aren't even aware the US has a space station. Most aren't aware that there are 6 people in space right now. (Nor that there are always only 2 Americans but 3 Russians.)

The Apollo program was "inspiring to millions", except that by Apollo 13 (pre-accident) the public was so bored, TV networks stopped doing live crosses. And the US abandoned the moon for 50 years. If the moon was so damn inspiring, why aren't we there? Counting on public excitement to justify a space program is a proven failed strategy, and has led the space advocacy community down many wrong paths. The shipping industry doesn't need people to "dream" about shipping. The multi-billion dollar per year satellite industry doesn't need people to "dream" about GEO comsats and weather satellites.

That's the problem with the very core of your idea of a lunar (or Martian) base. It's based first around the idea of humans on the moon, then and only then do you cast around trying to find something for them to do. It's not based around the task first, and then trying to find the best way to do it, which just happens to be humans. It's entirely backwards. As such, you develop your infrastructure backwards, and you end up with facilities like ISS. It's first job is to be a "manned space station", but it's actual purpose for having humans in orbit is entirely an afterthought. And it shows. (Likewise Constellation/SLS. Their first job is to Send Humans To The Moon or at least lunar orbit. They don't have any reason to do that, so that's an afterthought. And you end up with hideously expensive, horribly unsustainable programs that have no purpose.)

If sending humans to a place doesn't lower the cost of sending more humans, you don't send humans first. You instead first develop the infrastructure necessary to lower the cost of launching and operating humans in space to the point where it's cheaper to use a person than develop a bespoke robot.

That's why I support SpaceX and concepts like CRS and Commercial Crew, that's why I'd support robotic ISRU missions to the Lunar polar ice, and it's why I support asteroids.

Indeed, I support asteroid development. precisely because it isn't "inspiring". So it must have a reason to exist beyond "inspiring people". It has to be entirely pragmatic or it won't happen.

[Even Catfish's idea is backwards. It assumes a series of bases first and then looks for a justification for each one. What if (manned) bases are not the best use for a particular step?]

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451. Cogent and persuasive arguments. I think you are correct. (I just don't see asteroid mining as a profitable endeavor for platinum group metals).

David Brin said...

onward guys

Paul451 said...

Aside: Locumranch demands that millions of MarsOne entrants render themselves homeless for a one-in-a-hundred-thousand chance to go to Mars, or else they are cowards. Of course, if they actually did something so stupid, he would hoot and glory in their suffering as if it too proved his point about civilisation's deserved decline and justifies his masturbatory fantasies about the destruction of society and the death of billions.

Alex,
"I just don't see asteroid mining as a profitable endeavor for platinum group metals."

Not as a first product. Maybe not even a tenth. Any first product would need to be valuable in space, to replace supply from Earth. (Fuel is an obvious choice. Then air and water in the second wave.) After awhile, once the initial infrastructure has paid for itself, there might be enough spare capacity to cheaply ship some high value products directly to Earth. But it would be a long way down the track.

I know I know, onward, onward...

Paul SB said...

Sorry to jump in after Dr. Brin has announced the "onward" but no new thread has appeared...

Alex, have you watched the video I linked to? We all have our time issues, but it is well worth an hour. Remind me when this school year is over to dig out the packets that came with my Great Courses CDs of Robert Sapolsky lectures. They have bibliographies full of studies on stress and income. In the meantime you might check out the Whitehall Study. Here's the Wikipedia link to get you started.

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

Jumper, that blog on Jade Helm and Texas lunacy was funny. It's not likely the guy's head will explode, though. More likely he'll lose a heart valve or blow a major artery. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, too, which contributes a lot to cancer and a host of other problems - all slow and agonizing (and stressful, too!) Probably the worst of it, though, is what it does to your hippocampus...

David House said...

I love how this delusion idiot lives in some deluded lala-land. There will not be anything left of this planet in 50 years, you moron.