Saturday, November 21, 2015

The wonders of space: Mars, comets and more...

Time for an update from… space! For example, the Cassini probe, nearing the end of its remarkable journey, has just passed through the plumes of salty water vapor shooting out into space from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. 

== The Briney miracle of Mars ==

Recent and recurring water flows on Mars? The secret "sauce" that enables this to happen, despite subzero temperatures and low atmospheric pressures is... brine.  High salt/mineral content enables brine-y fluids to survive surface conditions for short periods and -- possibly underground -- even sustain life?  How cool is that? Well, speaking as someone who is already rather brin-ey....

Now dig these pics of a crater on Mars that reveals that this region of the planet - bigger than Texas - features a huge slab of water ice, very near the surface.

Read a fascinating and well-written popular article on NASA's newly released "Roadmap to Mars." It is so good to see progress in the bureaucracy adapting to ideas some of us were bruiting decades ago -- like in-situ production - on Mars - of the water and fuel and oxygen astronauts will need, instead of expensively hauling them all from Earth. (Note this concept was largely absent from The Martian.) It also includes testing our methods with asteroid retrieval projects that could wind up benefitting humanity and Earth more than the Mars missions would!  Certainly it is good to see the plan almost completely leave out our sterile/useless (for now) moon.  Been there. There's nothing (for now) there. 

A stressed moon: Grooves across the surface of Phobos indicate that this Martian moon is (slowly) starting to crack under pressure... over the next 50 million years.

== Comets and more wonders ==

In my last space posting I commented that this last 12 months might count as humanity's best year out there... ever... including the late sixties.  And it just keeps pouring in.

ESA's Rosetta mission celebrated one year at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The latest comet images are magnificent. Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy column on Slate reveals a selection of photos recovered from the Philae lander as it approached the comet. More vivid and detailed, with now-named features as small as a few centimeters, as one of the images was taken from just nine meters away!  See the track-path that they now believe Philae followed when it failed to stick its landing and went bouncing across the surface, like characters did, in Heart of the Comet! 

And Rosetta now shows 67/P finally being comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And behaving precisely as predicted in my doctoral dissertation, way back in 1981. Take this recent Philae result: “Scientists suspect the surface is partly shaped by a form of hail that occurs when gas ejections from the comet push out coarse particles that then fall back to the ground.” Yep!

“Rosetta has also discovered that the interior of 67P is extraordinarily light. At least 75% of it is empty space. Scientists speculate that much of its interior material may have been vented into space as the comet has warmed up during previous close encounters with the Sun.”   ice, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide below the surface evaporate and vent into space, carrying with them dust that covers the comet. “Often this produces deep pits into which surface ice and dust collapse, creating sinkholes all over the comet,” said Mark McCaughrean, a senior scientist at the European Space Agency.  

Now, there's the surprising discovery of a high proportion of oxygen molecules in Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko -- which may have originated early, even before the formation of the solar system.

As for the organic compounds found by the Philae lander: Four out of 16, including acetone, hadn’t been detected on a comet before. “It’s not yet known whether the complex molecules found in 67P were made in the early solar system and then incorporated into the comet or formed there later, he said. “Either way, it seems that comets are pretty good places to find the building blocks of molecules which later on could be used for life.” 

Yes, but so far, there are just those two theories.  Either the stuff cooked before the comet formed… or else on the surface, under solar ultraviolet. No one mentions a third idea.  That early comets contained radioactively-melted interiors, within which lots of liquid organic chemistry might take place.  

Geez, what does it take?  We now know between 6 and 12 worldlets in our system with partly molten water zones. Is it truly so hard to imagine the same thing might have happened, four billion years ago, when fresh aluminum26 cooked a trillion iceballs, turning them into bubbling test tubes? But then, it's just a theory.

As Rosetta orbits at a (relatively) safe distance, it is being pelted by dust grains that also confuse its star tracker. Still, scientists are hopeful that: (1) the exhalations from the surface of 67/P might be strong enough to rock the Philae lander into a better position to absorb sunlight and transmit data… without pushing so strongly that the lander is sent tumbling into space… and…

… (2) that the narrow neck of the 67P “rubber duck” nucleus might even break apart, this round, giving Rosetta a ringside seat for a spectacular show!

The closest view is yet to come: Touchdown next September! The historic Rosetta mission will end when ESA crashes (as gently as possible) the orbiter onto the comet's icy surface.

Stay tuned.

And finally....

NASA is regularly haunted by cases of paranoid pareidolia, or folks "seeing" signs of either technology or living things in pictures returned from outer space, especially Mars.  Occasionally, one of the images makes me go "huh?" and wish I could send the rover back, for another look… the way another look finally debunked the long-infamous "Face" of Cydonia.  Or else to check out something I just don't understand.

Now see this article for an image of the "spoon" whose lengthy shadow certainly does seem to suggest more supporting strength of a cantilever than you normally expect from mere rock-- okay, this one piques my curiosity!  Nevertheless, many of the "aha!" UFO style declarations are 99% silliness.  Especially the premise that NASA would first share with us these images then pooh-pooh and suppress talk of legitimate signs of ET life.  Um… why share with us the image stream so quickly, in that case? 

In fact, that is an eminently practical openness on their part. What they want is many keen eyes pointing out stuff to look at! And some of the amateur anomaly spotters have been truly useful.  Though not (so far) when they have pointed at (imaginary) faces and lizards n' such.

Oh and I know some of these folk. They are paladins of openness.  

81 comments:

TheMadLibrarian said...

Possibly I misunderstood your Martian comment -- fuel and oxygen were created from the thin CO2 Martian atmosphere, rather than brought from Earth. The movie glossed this over somewhat, but the book explained that one of the points for the Ares missions was sending supplies and manufacturies in advance of when they were needed. The fuel cracking plant and oxygenator filled tanks at the landing site over the months prior to the next manned landing, in advance of need. (Yes, I spent far too many brain cells on the book!)

TheMadLibrarian

Hollister David said...

"Certainly it is good to see the plan almost completely leave out our sterile/useless (for now) moon. "

For now? For now everything beyond low earth orbit is useless.

If you're talking about potential, there is some indication the lunar poles have rich volatile deposits in their cold traps.

David Brin said...

Mr. Hollister my own research group at UCSD first predicted the ice concentrations at the lunar poles and they may be of use someday -- to a lunar society. There is not as much there as you think. Earthlings who steal it, when we could get it from asteroids, with be robbing generations of lunies.

DANIELBLOOM said...

David, re the item above nothing that "NASA is regularly haunted by cases of paranoid pareidolia, or folks "seeing" signs of either technology or living things in pictures returned from outer space, especially Mars. Occasionally, one of the images makes me go "huh?" and wish I could send the rover back, for another look… the way another look finally debunked the long-infamous "Face" of Cydonia."

In the cli-fi world, there is now a very interesting case of apparent ''pareidolia," centering on an allegedly photoshopped or doctored photo by a National Geographic photographer who claims the photo he took in 2009 on a cruise up close to a Norway glacier is real photo (not doctored at all, he claims) and published in the UK first by a notorious tabloid -- The Sun or the Daily Mail -- and with the caption saying the photo show a woman's face on the face of the glacier with tears streaming out of her eyes and claimed by the UK caption-writer to represent Mother Earth (Mother Nature) crying for humankind and other animals who might face extinction if global warming is not stopped. There is a big brou haha now online about this allegedly faked photo hoax and several debunkers are now looking into it, includin me. Here is my blog post link with the photo. See for yourself and tell me, David, is this for real or is it another case of ''pareidolia."

A debunker for Newsweek wrote to me recently: ''Nice to hear from you, Dan. I remember looking into this a while back, but I never found a concrete answer. Let me dig back through my emails and see what I can find." She said she will have more info next week.

http://northwardho.blogspot.tw/2009/09/denial-by-photo-agency-that-crying.html

DANIELBLOOM said...

One of the online posters who started this foto meme off in 2009 or so, told me:

1. At some point, I ran across the photo. I don't remember where I saw
it. But then soon after that, I was looking at various tricky pictures
on Mighty Optical Illusions -- images that contained hidden images
like this: http://www.moillusions.com/category/spot-the-object-optical-illusions.
I thought the guy who ran that site might find this picture
interesting so I emailed the link to him. He did like it and posted
it: http://www.moillusions.com/2009/11/tears-of-mother-earth-illusion.html
That was the full extent of my "discovery".

2. I was surprised when he posted this with my name associated with it
since all I had done was see a photo on a website somewhere and send
the link to him. I don't know why he gave me any credit and I
certainly don't understand why it propagated so widely attached to my
name.

3. I always assumed that this was just one of those natural phenomenon
that looked sort of like something (like animals in clouds or a face
in a pizza). It didn't look fake to me, but I am no expert. I just
thought it was a cool picture, especially since global warming and
glaciers were in the news and this natural phenomenon seemed to
illustrate what was going on.

As I said, I didn't
discover anything except that I saw a picture on a website somewhere
and sent the link to Mighty Optical Illusions. It is crazy that my
name was associated with it. And I guess I'd prefer to not propagate
the link between my name and that photo any more. If Mike Nolan took
the picture and the Sun printed it, then the photo should be
associated with them, not me. Or it should be associated with Mighty
Optical Illusions.

And I have no idea if it was photoshopped. Some of the photo looks
odd, but then again, look through the images on Mighty Optical
Illusion and you'll see some things that look like the photo was
altered, but it wasn't.''

David Brin said...

Huh. That's really all I can say.

Jonathan Sills said...

If that's Gaea, She should sue Her plastic surgeon, that's all I can say.

Douglas Fenton said...

A spoon floating in the air above the Martian landscape as seen in the photo is perfectly logical to me and certainly was put there by an alien race of starfarers.

First of all why did they choose a spoon? A spoon is a basic tool just like a lever and it permits to transfer food to the mouth using a hand (or tentacle) from a receptacle. Any alien race that prepares its food would probably use a spoon-like tool to do this and would be common across all sentient creatures just as would a simple lever or a knife by example.

Why have the spoon floating in air? It is obviously a powerful symbol for them and probably has religious connotations just as is the cross for Christians. Perhaps good tasty food is a particularly important part of their spiritual lives and is their path to nirvana. We should be looking for other floating universal eating tools such forks and knives and above all that container for fermented liquids, the wine bottle. If they use heat to prepare their food then we must add pots and pans of various sizes and shapes. We should especially look for floating barbeques because you can be sure that one of their dwellings is located nearby.

They would unquestionably congregate to worship their religion and a good place to look would be on the ancient beaches that surrounded the now dried up seas.

But then again, it could just possibly be an optical illusion.

Anonymous said...

...There is no spoon...

Sorry, couldn't resist!

Catfish N. Cod said...

Dr. Brin, aside from the use of hot air balloons, is this proposal not similar if not identical to the Vanilla and Chocolate Towers from SUNDIVER?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11805987/Inflatable-space-elevator-invented-by-scientists.html

They incorrectly name this a "space elevator", when I would only have called it a launch elevator. Though it would be possible to use it as a tether point for a skyhook cable....

MadLibrarian: I have yet to read the book version of the Martian, but I believe the ISRU in the book and movie was only running the Sabatier process, using H from Earth to generate methane/oxygen fuel, with water an intermediate in the process. If ice can be extracted and filtered, one can generate a larger supply of both fuel and oxygen (for breathing as well as oxidizer) -- plus produce hydrogen peroxide as an additional fuel for rockets, motors on the surface, or even explosives (if geological or engineering work requires them).

I would think the next major type of deposit to search out for ISRU purposes would be nitrates. The rover Curiousity has found nitric oxide ( http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4516 ) but something mineable for N2 would be very useful. I don't fancy a crew living In a 5psi oxygen environment for even the one-month Aldrin cycler mission profile of the Martian, much less the eighteen-month stay that a Mars Direct mission would require. (The main character in the Martian initially assumes he will have to accomplish such a stay.)

Jumper said...

Maybe the best way to lasso a comet is with an actual lasso.

Also, an off topic comic:
http://sinfest.net/view.php?date=2009-09-03

Hollister David said...

"There is not as much there as you think. Earthlings who steal it, when we could get it from asteroids, with be robbing generations of lunies. "

Lunar naysayers say the cold trap volatiles are exaggerated. For some lunar advocates, rich volatile deposits are an article of faith.

You seem to belong to the former camp.

Me? I'm agnostic. Until we get more data, that is the only reasonable position.

While I'm agnostic, I believe it's possible Spudis' optimistic estimates are correct. If so, we have more than enough lunar water for many millennia.

As for stealing from future loonies... What future loonies? Until we break the exponent in Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation, we're not going to see any human colonies beyond LEO. No O'Neill cylinders, no lunar colonies and no martian settlements. It saddens me to break this news to you as you make a living selling implausible fantasies. But that's the way it is.

There are a number of ways to break the rocket equation's exponent. Lunar volatiles might be one of them.

Hollister David said...

"Maybe the best way to lasso a comet is with an actual lasso."

A comet falling from the Oort or Kuiper Belt will be moving about 42 km/s with regard to the sun while in our neighborhood. Earth moves 30 km/s, so that's 12 to 72 km/s with regard to earth.

There are a lot of comets falling from Jupiter's neighborhood at 5.2 A.U. These guys are traveling about 39 km/s when at 1 A.U.. These are generally prograde so they can easily be moving as low as 9 or 10 km/s with regard to the earth while in our neighborhood.

A harpoon or lasso impacting at kilometers per second will vaporize.

Cometary ices are implausible near term as they are high delta V.

There are carbonaceous ivuna asteroids with more accessible orbits. These can be up to 40% water by mass. But in the form of hydrated clays, not ice. Even though extracting water from hydrated clays is more difficult, that still may be a source of water.

Douglas Fenton said...

An important new development is a much better sensor that can detect materials such as rare earths, gold, platinum and other valuable resources in asteroids. This will make it easier to target which ones to mine. The pieces are starting to come together for making asteroid mining a reality.

http://spaceref.com/asteroids/new-detector-perfect-for-asteroid-mining.html

Jumper said...

Sorry for the shorthand, we've had some discussion, as have the agencies, on anchoring probes to comets after matching orbits and approaching with remotely controlled robotic craft. In fact, the latest mission used a system which did not function well. Shooting barbs might, or might not, secure a craft to the surface. A loop all the way around the comet while difficult, has about a 100% chance of securing the craft, if the "lasso" deploys correctly.

I didn't intend to mean somehow snaring a comet from some point as a comet races by with high relative velocity! LOL

Jumper said...

Douglas, this is how I see us proceeding. Once we have elemental surveys of a few thousand or more of these objects we'll know where we stand.

Douglas Fenton said...

It will allow us to narrow down the choice of asteroids and hopefully help avoid the first missions from capturing a lemon instead of a treasure chest.

locumranch said...



More & more, I am becoming increasingly irritated by false environmental arguments that discourage the race to space instead of encouraging it, like the ones that misconstrue extraterrestrial asteroid mining as environmentally friendly when getting to space is clearly not, especially the one above which equates a harvest of lunar ice with ¨robbing generations of (nonexistent) lunies".

What, pray tell, are we saving the lunar ecosystem for?

There appears to be a growing disconnect between environmental cost & human benefit models, one that favours gradual human-mediated environmental death by a nickels & dimes (a thousand cuts) instead of bold expenditure, even when faced with the looming AGW catastrophe as prophesied by climate change cultists.

How I long for the Golden Age when humans were willing to risk all to gain the stars (Adam and No Eve, Bester; Deep End, Ballard; Martian Way, Asimov), knowing (1) that nothing great can be accomplished without a great cost equivalent and (2) that humanity ´s days are numbered (this was, of course, before the ´human becoming gods´ trope became so boringly prevalent).

So, we cling to this degraded rock (which we continue to degrade), praying (a la deus ex machina) for the Singularity to raise us & gift us the heavens, when we could reach the stars fairly easily TODAY, even with our limited pre-Star Trek technology IF we were brave enough to pay the environmental price that our children are predestined to pay anyway WITHOUT gaining space in return (or, much of anything, for that matter), sooner rather than later.


Best
______

The Becoming God trope is one that too many Sci Fi writers, including David Brin (by Singularity or Uplift) & Orson Scott Card (by Selective Breeding or Fluke), share in this age of plummeting readership.

Jumper said...

That's quite a collection of false dichotomies.

David Brin said...

Yes, the inflatable towers are essentially my Vanilla and Chocolate Needles. Alas, my fan base is not rabid enough to dun these folks with demands they credit me! You guys are (mostly) too grownup. But then, I get SO much fewer trolls than any public figure I know, so I should count my blessings. (The latter is still a mystery to me. It’s not as if I can’t be an abrasive asshole, sometimes. And I sure am brusquely opinionated! Maybe it’s just that the conversations here so often turn to facts and boring logic. Yeah, that must be it. Rather than the alternative… that I am at the low end of “public figure” interest. Nope, that’s not it, at all.)

Mr. Hollister the rocket equation is exactly why we’ll skip the Moon (for now) and dig asteroids. What amazes me is how such a basic issue of engineering and science has become politicized, with Return To The Moon being a heavily Bushite-Republican obsession that (yet again) is shared by almost no one scientific at all.)

Mr. Fenton. Bag an asteroid and concentrate sunlight on it. You’ll get water.

locum's latest was not as hugely and diametrically-hallucinatory as usual! His crits this time, while gloomy and likely-refutable were not strawmen! Of course it’s still mostly dour-dyspeptic baloney… but ARGUABLE baloney that bears some pertinence to things I’ve actually said. We even catch a glimpse of what you WANT! Attaboy.

Paul SB said...

Of course it’s still mostly dour-dyspeptic baloney…

Maybe Santa will bring him Grumpy Cat this year instead of the usual lump of coal.

More seriously, while I agree that big and bold is the goal, I doubt we are anywhere near ready for interstellar travel, even at the Crazy Eddie level. We have to first get down reasonably safe manned spaceflight within our local neighborhood, and while we are at it, improve our interstellar peeping technology to the point that we could identify with some certainty places that could support our brand of life.

Interstellar travel is a beautiful dream, but until we find the loopholes in physics that make it practical, it is at best a goal to strive for in upcoming centuries. Keep writing space opera and people will keep eating it up. Humankind needs dreams, even if they will require generations to achieve.

Jumper said...

Paul SB,
Or as Leon Russell put it,
"Well, if I don't make it
To the top of the hill
If I don't make it,
You know my baby will."

Paul SB said...

Jumper, it might just as easily be, to reference an old 1960's band, Our Children's Children's Children.

David Brin said...

Paul the real issue is what kind of civilization is most likely to deliver the goods and get us out there with a solar system society that can then work on interstellar. By many, many orders of magnitude the only one that could do that is the same one that took us four orders closer just in the last 50 years. This "progressive" and scientific, positive-sum-enlightenment civilization that ingrates growl at.

locumranch said...


When 3 out of 10 children live in households that do not contain a single book (1) and 20% of our secondary school graduates are functionally illiterate (2)(3), fat chance that Our Children's Children's Children's future will be filled with either Space Opera-compatible literacy or interstellar travel, making it absolutely necessary for our current culture to either shoot for Mars & the Stars or get off the pot.

While the likes of PSB dither over imperfect knowledge, political correctness & the Terrible Trivium, I would rather ACT NOW if only to fail magnificently, preferring to have tried & lost over never to have tried at all, in order to dare our children & our children's children to accomplish what we once had the courage to attempt.

This is what our progressive mindset has done for us: It has been almost 50 years since we tried for anything as big as the moon; it has turned humanity into so many apathetic lotus eaters; and, it has made us, the globe & everything, so much smaller.


Best

(1) http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/01/three-in-10-uk-children-own-no-books
(2) http://www.statisticbrain.com/number-of-american-adults-who-cant-read/

(3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/811832.stm

Paul SB said...

It's funny reading the back and forth between Dr. Brin and Dr. Grumpy here, especially after going through both "The Prince" and "The Discourses on Livy" (it's been slow going and I'm not finished, I'll admit - it's been a busy semester teaching anatomy/physiology for the first time). Obviously neither of them are clones of any 16th Century thinker, but one sounds like he has only ever read The Prince while the other seems to be familiar with both. If you read The Discourses you will see some of the very thinking that was in the minds of the founding fathers of that progressive republic that was established in North America in the 18th.

While the statistics that little loci cites are real, he implies that this is worse than it was in the past. The reality is nothing like this. Before WW II less than 50% of American citizens had an education beyond the sixth grade, and the only books they saw were in the school house the forsook for the fields by the age of eleven. Years of agrarian work, though physically hard, did nothing to maintain their reading skills. Only city-dwellers got a more complete education, and because of the greater prevalence of written material, maintained those skills throughout their adulthood. The Second World War brought about huge changes in society. The increased number of factories tooled for war machines (and kept up for the Cold War) meant that most Americans moved to cities, and in cities compulsory education could be effectively enforced. We went over these stats when I was getting my teaching license. America's literacy rate was positively third world before the end of the War and the beginning of the Demographic Transition. But the facts don't fit the gloom-and-doom scare tactic narrative of our political caste, much less the fools who swallow it uncritically.

A fascist state or dictatorship of any kind is unlikely to get us very far, because absolutist social systems discourage innovation. Soviet engineers, in response to Stalin's command that Soviet factories produce a certain number of tons of trucks each year, responded by designing trucks that weighed so many tons they were barely mobile, so they would be able to satisfy the dictator's demand on paper (and thus avoid execution). Only a progressive and inclusive democratic society gets results. If ours is having issues now, it is because regressives have corrupted much of the system.

What did I say in the previous thread about solipsism? I have no doubt that loci would gladly send thousands of other people to their deaths in untested, sub-light tin can colonizers with no assurance that there is even a planet with a breathable atmosphere to land on, but would he go Crazy Eddie himself? It's easy to whine and call for Bold Action when you intend that someone else (or someone else's grandchildren) will pay the ultimate price for hasty, badly-planned endeavors.

Tony Fisk said...

The dissipated state of the next generation has been letting down the civilisation their forebears built since... forever.

I just finished KSR's take on interstellar travel. While I agree he stacked the deck more than a little, he raises a number of interesting questions about the feasability, practicality, value, and morality of such an undertaking. It's a conversation that we'll be starting sooner or later. I don't see it ending this century but, then again, when I was born we had barely put a radio transmitter into orbit.

David Brin said...

Yes, Tony. KSR while putting his thumb down on the scales HARD... nevertheless did splash necessary cold water on the notion that colonizing an already living world will be just like Pilgrims landing on North America. He says it will never ever work... I am more in the 50-50 range, but we'll have to self-modify, probably.

Locum is wrong in every factual particular, but his modus has switched from pure strawmanning ravings to actual cogent-sounding dyspeptic assertions. It is so refreshing that I am in a mood to read every word.

Factually nonsense, of course. A high school degree made you a military officer in WWII. It became a college degree. Now no one competes for flag rank without a doctorate or the equivalent of THREE masters degrees. If one third of Americans stare at TV, that same third used to stare at the open hearth fire.Today, the 1/3 of their kids who decide to get ambitious CAN break out of their class and caste, just by picking a dedicated teacher to be a mentor. It is the fact that they can choose to rise up that is the accomplishment of progressivism.

As for grumpiness over space progress? Bullshit. Space is very very hard. Apollo was a weird anomaly. NOW we are ready to get started. And this last year has been spectacular. Dozens of huge accomplishments. And a few are even opening up for private sector engagement... leveraging on the generosity and investments made by a great nation of taxpayers. I know the folks doing this stuff, and not one of the ones who are ACTUALLY DOING STUFF shares even one opinion - even glancingly - with locum.

But he is welcom to compete with them! Go for it, man.

Douglas Fenton said...

A mission to mine an asteroid is going to be expensive so we will have to arrange to have as many chances on our side for it to be a success. The Initial attempt will be constrained by certain factors of which the most important part would be the cost in energy in getting to it.

It is not the distance that is important but the delta-V of the asteroid and fortunately there are about 11,000 Near-Earth ones that fit the bill but the lower the Delta-V the better it is concerning payload and cost of the mission so you have to narrow it down more. It has to be big enough to contain enough volatiles but small enough to move. An asteroid about 300m in diameter looks to be the sweet spot. It has to have a low spin and wobble rates as well. It has to be close to the earth. Its chemical composition is very important and needs 10% to 20% water to make it worthwhile for fuel. That means it has to be a C-type asteroid and not a metallic or stony one.

There are other considerations but to sum it up very few asteroids fill all the necessary requirements, in fact there are just a handful for the moment. Our choices are limited but the ones who are left are very good ones indeed. Mining just one would drastically lower the cost of subsequent space travel by a huge amount.

Planetary Resources has come up with list of the asteroids that have the best prospects. You can check it out here:
http://www.planetaryresources.com/asteroids/#asteroids-targets

Douglas Fenton said...

Please excuse my errors in sentence structure. It's early in the morning here.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

The increased number of factories tooled for war machines (and kept up for the Cold War) meant that most Americans moved to cities, and in cities compulsory education could be effectively enforced. We went over these stats when I was getting my teaching license. America's literacy rate was positively third world before the end of the War and the beginning of the Demographic Transition


So you're saying that the "progressive urban agenda" might have increased American literacy rather than the exact opposite?

Does that suggest that an anti-science red-state agenda might not be the best hope for a future generation of space travelers?

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:
Only a progressive and inclusive democratic society gets results. If ours is having issues now, it is because regressives have corrupted much of the system.


I think that goes without saying. But if you carefully read locum's rants on the subject, his complaint is that effete, feminized society is not giving him a chance to "try and fail spectacularly", which he'd prefer to equilibrium. In the absence of a personally-Utopian future (whatever that might be for him), he's seem to prefer a social structure that provides opportunity for a method of sanctified suicide, rather than years and decades of what Kurt Vonnegut describes ("Deadeye Dick") as "living in an epilogue."

Douglas Fenton said...

We could have stayed on the Moon if we had found something really useful to make it worthwhile but we didn’t. It was a dead end then and is still one now. In the future I am sure we will go back eventually but I hope only if it makes sense to do so.

After Apollo NASA switched its limited resources to exploring the solar system and the universe rather than continuing an activity that would have lead nowhere and would have consumed scarce resources. It was the correct decision. In the meantime research continued on discovering and making new materials and methods that would in the future make space travel much easier and cheaper. We were (and still are) in the period of accumulation of knowledge that will allow us to explode into space when enough of the pieces are in place. We are close to that point I believe and hope.

Locumranch regrets that we don’t have a big project like Apollo as if that is the only measure for success. We don’t have one big project but we do have a multitude of medium and small projects in so many diverse areas of space and they have been very successful and they did it on a shoe-string budget.

Apollo was like one of those big USSR projects. You throw money into building a huge factory in the middle of nowhere for political reasons without caring about the cost-benefits, the potential for a return or the profitability resulting in a huge money hole. After Apollo was cancelled it left NASA free to explore avenues that are truly important.

Douglas Fenton said...

When people talk about the feminization of society I get the feeling that they are really talking about themselves. They feel uncomfortable in their wimphood and blame society for their own lack of "manliness" rather than looking into themselves.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

"So you're saying that the "progressive urban agenda" might have increased American literacy rather than the exact opposite?"

Precisely! Dr. Brin has often stated that progressivism gets results, and this is one very clear instance. What he said about a high school diploma getting you officer status before the War was also true in the private sector. A high school diploma got you a management position, while all the drop outs led more shaky existences in small-scale businesses or worked the assembly line in factories. Learning history well does not just mean knowing the names of politicians and the dates of their regnum.

"Does that suggest that an anti-science red-state agenda might not be the best hope for a future generation of space travelers?"

Clearly. Loci makes the mistake that all fascists make - he assumes that if only he were allowed to command, and force everyone into his own mold, that the world would run so much more efficiently. Anyone who isn't exactly like him can be milked for everything they have and disposed of, because anyone who isn't exactly like him is too stupid to be entrusted with self-determination (sounds a lot like the old "White Man's Burden"). But those who are xenophobic and would force conformity on the rest for whatever reason they claim neglect the fact that we are biological entities, not products stamped out in a factory. Diversity is our strength, not our weakness - otherwise nature would have selected us for extinction a long time ago.

Douglas has a point about us not having the kind of big project we had in Apollo. In PR terms the smaller-scale more smorgasbord approach feels less satisfying than the Cold War Era "let's stick it to the Ruskies" propaganda meme. It's analogous to why some people only notice mass shootings, which account for a tiny percentage of gun deaths, and ignore the more statistically meaningful body count created by poor temper control combined with easy availability of firearms. Our brains naturally remember big, spectacular events that light up huge areas of the limbic system. Cold, hard facts only impress those who have trained their brains to sit still and notice the details (as Stephen Jay Gould once said, God and the Devil are both in the details).

Vonnegut's idea of "living in an epilogue" reminds me of a book I picked up years ago by some Harvard professor. I don't usually pay much attention to the Ivy Leaguers - their prejudices tend to blind even their data collection - but this one had an amusing thought. He lived in Greece for several years, and he felt that the people are living with a notion he called "monumental history." That is, they had a glorious past to be proud of, but little sense of an equally glorious present or likelihood of having a glorious future. It wouldn't be hard to extend the idea to other cultures: modern Italy vs. Ancient Rome, today's Egypt vs. Pharaonic Egypt, the glorious Han Dynasty, the Mauryan Empire, Aztec Mexico. The problem with feeling that you had a glorious past is that more often than not it fails to promote working for an equally glorious future. Think about all the old people who sit on their butts reminiscing about their youth instead of getting up, getting some exercise and putting some calcium back on their bones/myelin back on their neurons. The grumpy old men will whine and complain, but they will never actually do anything. Loci is not the one who is going to "try and fail spectacularly," but he will root other, younger people on to their deaths.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

"Locum is wrong in every factual particular, but his modus has switched from pure strawmanning ravings to actual cogent-sounding dyspeptic assertions. It is so refreshing that I am in a mood to read every word."

You grew up in Southern California, where most people have more of a laissez-faire, live-and-let-live attitude. I grew up in what, until recently, was a Red State, where most people were in each other's business, constantly gossiping about each other, extremely small-minded and deeply xenophobic, where going to church was not a refuge, it meant exposing yourself to much more malicious rumor-mongering than what you got from high-school cliques (and limiting your job prospects), and MOST people sounded a whole lot like him. Some were better at it than others. The ones who actually graduated from high school, even went to college, were much better at rationalizing their small-minded hatreds. But arguing more cogently for fascism is still arguing for fascism.

Paul SB said...

Big space projects will happen, but they are going to have to be led by the scientists, engineers and the people, nit by damn-fool politicians. Asteroid mining may be a perfect place sink our teeth into space, rather than premature attempts at colonization. We have to learn to work, and work out the bugs of working in space, before we start sending families with children up there. If child-proofing your home is an effort, can you imagine child-proofing your Martian dome city?

locumranch said...



The inherent contradictions in the above arguments are almost too numerous to mention:

First, there is the so-called progressive notion that space program progress will just happen, take care of itself, if we just bide our time & wait for a more opportune moment (assuming we have unlimited time), while simultaneously expending an increasingly higher percentage (now more than 50%) of our collective resources on social welfare nurture programs, so much so that it comes as no surprise to anyone that most advanced space vehicle every designed & used, the space shuttle, was decommissioned almost 5 years ago, leaving us struggling to maintain our foothold in space with basic rocketry.

Second, there is the mistaken assumption that a prolonged education (along with extended incarceration in cultural conformity factories) somehow correlates with hyper-literacy & increased innovation (which it does not). Instead, this approach enforces & improves MINIMUM literacy levels on a broader population, discourages & eliminates higher non-standard literacy levels (explaining plummeting readership markets), and stifles almost all non-standard innovation, so that most of our recent innovations represent only minor refinements on 50 year old ideas, many of which were innovated in some loners basement only to be refined by fascist programs like NASA.

Third, there is the laughable assumption that my desire for great & inspirational collective action makes me more of a fascist than any of you when, in truth, your progressive forced-diversity agenda (which chooses to focus all of our collective energies on trivial & ephemeral feeling-based issues) is fascist to an intolerant extreme, even though I (and people like me) espouse Going Your Own Way, individualism & the right of anyone to withdraw from collective action at whim, while progressives like you refuse to let anyone withdraw, terming them regressive, anti-diverse luddites (amazingly, a disparaging term for trade union collectivism) for refusing to buy-in to your feeling-based utopia.

Ultimately, our disagreement is philosophical, amounting to the difference between the (Conservative) Ant & the (Progressive) Grasshopper. The Grasshopper thinks that the summer of plenty will never end, concerns himself with leisure & equitable redistribution of resources rather than production, and fiddles while Rome burns. The Ant accepts that winter scarcity is a-coming, knows that his days are numbered, and labours on anyway, in shades of self-sacrifice, on tasks that provide only scant benefit for the labourer. This is why David & I (and many others) would willingly volunteer for an Interstellar Slow Ship, or even a One-Way Trip to Mars, leaving so many progressive Grasshoppers to cower in their safe spaces while they dominate & warp the once-diverse minds of impressionable children.

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all


Best
_____
Child-proofing Mars? Is this joke? It appears that progressivism has reached new heights of pussification.

Hollister David said...

"Mr. Hollister"

If you want to be formal, my last name is David, Hollister is my first name. Most people call me Hop.

"the rocket equation is exactly why we’ll skip the Moon (for now) and dig asteroids."

The low delta V asteroids have a semi major axis close to 1 A.U..

Unfortunately as semi major axis approaches 1 A.U., earth/asteroid synodic period goes to infinity. Launch windows to bitangential transfer orbits occur each synod, so launch windows to very accessible asteroids can be years apart.

And it gets worse. The low delta Vs given by Shoemaker and Helin assume a bitangential transfer with asteroid rendezvous near the asteroid's aphelion.

So this sort of launch window might occur every 4th or 5th synod. Launch windows can be decades apart.

We have zero experience mining stuff in space. So it will be a process of trial and error. Establishing a mine will take multiple missions to a single rock. When launch windows are decades apart, this can take the better part of a century.

The moon's neighborhood is also much more amenable to robotic teleoperation. Light lag latency is only 3 seconds. Since signal strength falls with inverse square, bandwidth to lunar telerobots can enjoy bandwidth hundreds of thousands times greater than robots in heliocentric orbits.

"What amazes me is how such a basic issue of engineering and science has become politicized, with Return To The Moon being a heavily Bushite-Republican obsession"

For your information, I'm a registered Democrat. But I am sympathizing with neither the left or right at the moment. Both sides peddle a lot of B.S. I avoid political arguments as these are usually a waste of time.

Rather, I would prefer use arguments relying on math and physics.

"that (yet again) is shared by almost no one scientific at all.)"

According to the rigorous, scientific poll you've failed to cite.

You used to be a scientist. But after decades of writing science fiction you rely more and more on handwavium. Is Hamish a self portrait?

Hollister David said...

"Sorry for the shorthand, we've had some discussion, as have the agencies, on anchoring probes to comets after matching orbits and approaching with remotely controlled robotic craft. In fact, the latest mission used a system which did not function well. Shooting barbs might, or might not, secure a craft to the surface. A loop all the way around the comet while difficult, has about a 100% chance of securing the craft, if the "lasso" deploys correctly."

Okay, this makes more sense. Still have a few reservations. If the comet's a loosely bound pile of rubble, it would be hard to cinch the lasso. If it's tumbling, the lasso would be attached to a chaotic bucking bronco.

Small, monolithic bodies spinning about a single axis would be great. I talk about tethers from asteroids at Beanstalks, Elevators and Clarke Towers

matthew said...

I note that the two articles loci referenced in his adult literacy rant do not contain the statistics he claims they contain.
He makes reference to "secondary school graduates" while the articles reference overall populations.
He says "20%" functional illiteracy, the US-article says 14%. Not even a rounding error.
I take loci's comments about "femitization" of culture about as seriously as I take comments about ethics in gaming journalism. Now, with a little checking, I can point out that his referenced "facts" are worthless, too.


LarryHart said...

locumranch:

when, in truth, your progressive forced-diversity agenda (which chooses to focus all of our collective energies on trivial & ephemeral feeling-based issues) is fascist to an intolerant extreme,


What you're describing and reacting to is a Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity caricature of what liberals strive for. You're most certainly not describing me, and I'd bet that few if any fellow posters here have a value system similar to what you think we have.


even though I (and people like me) espouse Going Your Own Way, individualism & the right of anyone to withdraw from collective action at whim, while progressives like you refuse to let anyone withdraw, terming them regressive, anti-diverse luddites (amazingly, a disparaging term for trade union collectivism) for refusing to buy-in to your feeling-based utopia.


Even granting for the moment that liberals are the ones who call their opponents bad names and conservatives would never be so impolite, is "calling someone names" really oppression like the way the Nazis or the Soviets treated their opposition? How does being called a luddite by people you already disagree with impinge on your freedom of action?


Ultimately, our disagreement is philosophical, amounting to the difference between the (Conservative) Ant & the (Progressive) Grasshopper...


The analogy is flawed. The proverbial grasshopper is faulted for not doing the advance work to prepare for the inevitable change of seasons. His failure in the story is not that he failed to anticipate the ant actively degrading his environment to the point it would no longer support grasshopper (or ant) life any more.

Seems to me that the climate-change-denying conservatives are more grasshopper-like than the liberals who warn of the upcoming danger.

LarryHart said...

Hollister David:

Is Hamish a self portrait?


Dr Brin can respond on his own, but he's mentioned the inspiration for the Hamish character before (blanking on the last name). It is a sci-fi author, but it is not a self-portrait.

Interested Observer said...

I do have to grudgingly grant locum some credence on society becoming too risk- adverse. Consider that not too long ago our civilization produced a vaccine for and then eradicated naturally-occurring smallpox, forever, whereas currently we can't even keep kids from getting measles.

Tony Fisk said...

As it happens, I'm reading Chris Hadfield's autobiography of his astronaut training days.

I don't think his account of how space gets won quite meshes with the locum.

"It's almost comical that astronauts are stereotyped as dare-devils and cowboys. As a rule, we're highly methodical and detail-oriented. Our passion isn't for thrills but for the grindstone, and pressing our noses to it. We have to: we're responsible for equipment that has cost taxpayers many millions of dollars and the best insurance policy we have on our lives is our own dedication to training."

This 'pussy' lives by checklists, knowing full well that an item can be skipped 99 times without a problem, and kill you on the hundredth. He also knows how to live without them, because there's always something that hasn't been thought of. He has been on three space missions; having had to handle unscheduled problems that would make you laugh if they happened on the ranch. eg: like when you can't continue working to install the Canadarm2 on the ISS because you're blinded by sweat, but you're in a spacesuit, and nobody can figure out what 'bit of trivia' has slipped the 'pussy' check-list.

It transpired that the anti-fog mixture used to wipe the visor was a simple detergent. OK on the visor, until Hadfield's drink dispenser developed a slight leak, and the droplets picked up some of the detergent, then got in one eye, causing intense irritation and making it water. Tears don't drain in zero G. They form a blob. One eye down. The blob grows, and crosses the bridge of Hadfield's (snub) nose into the other eye. Two eyes down. Astronaut walking blind. And this is how cascading failures happen. They worked this out later. As it happened, Hadfield chose to wait, with eyes closed, for half an hour. In space. The problem did eventually clear up, and he was able to proceed.

And people made damn sure that issue wouldn't happen again.

If asked to, I think this guy would dedicate decades of his life to 'child-proofing Mars', and be proud of what he achieved.

David Brin said...

Funny how good transitions expose other problems. With locum actually parsing paragraphs that present actual logical assertions, we get to see something of a philosophy that was never visible, back when all he gave us were frenzied railings at hallucinatory strawmen. Will he return to that modus. Or is the positive reward-feedback he is now getting sufficient to reinforce the improvement? Stay tuned.

What I will say is that this exposes the other trait of his former rants, still with us, which is fierce hostility. Consistently zero-sum, he portrays this place as a den of progressive dictators - all of whom have either drunk collectivist koolaid or are part of a plot.

What… ALL of us? When you are immersed in a community as clearly intelligent and knowledgable as this one — (and tolerant and even-tempered) — does not a burden of proof fall upon anyone saying “100% of the rest of you are fools, but I am immune to delusion!” (Paraphrasing.)

Oh, majority rule is a fallacy, and majorities — even near unanimities — can be wrong! But still, a baseline presumption of burden of proof is reasonable.

Most amusing is the grasshopper / ant analogy… and I’d love to know what our ant has done to advance human endeavors in space, for example. I am sure we’d all find it remarkable if he has done one hundredth of a percent as much as I have done, to bring the days of Exodus forward. Indeed, I know at least a dozen of you could say the same.

Yet, clearly, I am bemused and increasingly friendly! More evidence that I’m no tyrant, in intellectual discussions, just impatient with boring stupidity. And lately… well… locum has been much less boring.

David Brin said...

Dave H, Hamish was modeled on Michael Crichton, but I intentionally made some digs at myself. When I was at th California Space Institute we did the first appraisals of the possibility of lunar ice. We did reports on uses for Shuttle External Tanks and 3 D printing in orbit (in the 1980s) and I was a world expert of comets. I am currently on the advisory board for NASA’s Innovative and Advance Concepts group….

…so yes, I think I know a thing or to and am not behooved to supply you with equations, in a relaxed comment section under an informal blog. My observation that the GOP supports return to the moon is simply an observation that appears to be consistent whenever the topic comes up.

The Obama Admin and NASA and the three private asteroid mining companies all know that human operations on retrieved asteroids should take place in cis-lunar space. The moon may be useless in the near term, but lunar orbit is damn near perfect. Only robots will be sent on multi year missions to fetch the rocks.

There are ways to take a bagged asteroid and slow it’s spin. Deploying an unreeling tether is best, sapping away angular momentum. Our satellites use this method all the time.

Paul SB said...

"And lately… well… locum has been much less boring."

But he is still throwing out his old straw man arguments. This one is pretty classic fallacious reasoning. What I wrote was:

If child-proofing your home is an effort, can you imagine child-proofing your Martian dome city?

His distortion was:

Child-proofing Mars? Is this joke? It appears that progressivism has reached new heights of pussification.

Even if Chris Hadfield would take some pride in the effort, obviously childproofing an entire planet is pretty ludicrous, without some of that old fashioned Star Trek god-like alien technology. But if you are going to have a colony on an alien world with an unbreathable atmosphere (be it Mars or some far-flung exoplanet) you damn well better, or you are dooming your colonists. Tony's Hadfield example shows just how far from Star Trek we really are, and that was a well-trained adult. Children can be so destructive that archaeologists (Brian Schiffer, if you must know) created a special term for damage done to sites caused by children.

I would agree that there are elements of society that are too risk-averse. This is likely a feature that will continue as the population grows. I am sure that from their perspective I am too willing to risk tax-payer dollars and potentially lives. But accepting the necessity of egg breakage for the sake of omelet creation does not mean tossing eggs at the ceiling hoping they land on an appropriately buttered skillet of just the right temperature.

Paul SB said...

The fascism thing is one I have heard for a very long time. The usual dialogue between liberals and conservatives usually sounds like: You're a fascist! No, you are. No, you're the fascist. I know you are but what am I?

Let's look at some definitions.

From Dictionary.com:
1.
any ideology or movement inspired by Italian Fascism, such as German National Socialism; any right-wing nationalist ideology or movement with an authoritarian and hierarchical structure that is fundamentally opposed to democracy and liberalism
2. any ideology, movement, programme, tendency, etc, that may be characterized as right-wing, chauvinist, authoritarian, etc.

From the Cambridge Dictionary Online:
a ​political ​system ​based on a very ​powerful ​leader, ​state ​control of ​social and ​economic ​life, and ​extreme ​pride in ​country and ​race, with no ​expression of ​political ​disagreement ​allowed.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government.

Now the right-wingers I deal with on a regular basis have Suspicion of Authority down pretty well, at least when it is suspicion of government authority, but are entirely naive where it comes to other authorities. Their stated aim is to put their people in charge of the government, so the government can force their ideals and behaviors on all those people who do not conform to their expectations. Even though it is pretty obvious who the fascists are, they try to turn the tables by claiming to be victims of exactly what they are trying impose on everyone else. Thus the War on Christmas, the War on Christianity, the War on whatever they haven't been able to impose on everyone else. But this is very much akin to those who think the Union was unfair to the Confederacy for not allowing them to continue owning slaves, or any teenager who whines about their autonomy when they get caught with drugs in their sock drawer. Is the justice system guilty of kidnapping if it incarcerates violent criminals? What if it incarcerates people who have not committed a crime or act of violence, but have expressed a bad attitude toward loci's government, his ethnicity, his religion, his taste in clothing, or his inability distinguish fact from right-wing propaganda?

David Brin said...

Hadfield exemplifies the adult... which is why NASA loves 50+ year old astronauts, not the square jawed fellows in movies. Like Robert Duvall in Deep Impact.

Should there be room in space for the other kind? I oft refer to the Barnstorming Era that rap[idly advanced air flight in the 1920s and 1930s. And yes, it will be cool when we are well-enough set in space that private maniacs can then take risks with their own lives, at their own expense and at proved-to-be-minimal risk to the rest of us. Indeed, Branson's Spaceship One and other new zillionaire-funded enterprises suggest that day is dawning!

See my tale Aficionado, in EXISTENCE.

And yet, it is moronic to point at that era and not notice (1) how much lower the tech and cost barriers were, back then and (2) how much even then the frontier was subsidized by "progressive" government, especially in the FDR era, when mail contracts and NRA-built airports and military contracts and government funded research all subsidized the air revolution.

Space is orders of magnitude harder and more complex and costly. The libertarian notion of hating the collective effort to get us out there is the WRONG libertarianism. It is the stooooopid libertarianism that has taken over the movement. Which should be about studying HOW to use government to help create conditions for individuals and groups to THEN engage in flat-open-fair-creative competition.

I visit libertarian conferences in order to minister to them, to draw them back toward adult recognition that we are a varied and multi-limbed civilization with a need for a wide stance. Marx tells me I should amputate my right arm of private capitalism and Rand commands me to lop off our left arm of consensus-negotiated joint efforts to create a brilliantly empowering commons. Fuck Marx and fuck Ayn Rand. We need our limbs. All of them.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Anyone trained as a scientist who gets a PhD tends to think that way for the rest of their life. There is no used-to-be. There is only out-of-practice.

Handwavium is a common conversation tool. When someone wants more, they ask for it. If the author has time, they expand. If you want to meet someone who hasn't learned this conversation rule yet, go find a young grad student and try to make polite conversation about their topic. They'll probably launch into detail too soon. 8)

Tony Fisk said...

'Fascist' is just a mindless insult, applied in much the same way as 'commie' used to be.

(I find the old phrase 'better dead than red!' more than a bit ironic, given the way the US political divide is coloured these days. Not being American, I don't know if that's a recent thing?)

Astronauts get to be 50+ years old for a reason.

As much as I enjoyed the thrill ride of 'Gravity', I had to dial the filters up for Sandra Bullock's character; who wouldn't have got within cooee of the astronaut program with her baggage, let alone be entrusted with a space walk. Still, that's entertainment. A George Clooney monologue would have filled fewer seats. The straight man needed a fall guy.

Alfred Differ said...

@Douglas Fenton: When people talk about the feminization of society I get the feeling that they are really talking about themselves...

I'm inclined to agree, but I'd narrow it a bit. I've found they are usually referring to a strong woman who impacts their life. Could be a mother, a wife, or a boss, but someone made a decision for them they've come to regret and that person is female. It's not a perfect correlation for my anecdotal evidence, but the correlation is high enough that I've learned to look for it and invalidate any soundness of a claim with selection bias. 8)

Sometimes, we just gotta grab life by the balls and make our own decisions. In the western world, the most likely worst outcome when we fail is we get no children. Them's the consequences.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: You are trying to use a shoe horn to fit space program approaches into your political philosophy. I’m telling you from experience they don’t fit well. I’ve seen these arguments for over 20 years now and you won’t do anything more than delude yourself into thinking you get it.

Space programs fall into one of three groups. Two are collectivist while the third is market driven. Space projects never fit cleanly into any one group because the people who support them don’t always agree, but the groups are still useful for categorization purposes.

1. Von Braun’s approach: (Collectivist) The government does things ranging from determining purpose to actual flights and employment.
2. Sagan’s approach: (Collectivist) The government does things FOR US, but we determine purpose.
3. O’Neill approach: (Market) Private sector does things for themselves and serves as vendors to government for public sector customers. Failures MUST happen for the market to remove waste.

Anyone who knows me knows I have an obvious preference for the third option, so I have to be careful characterizing the first two. It is too easy to come off sounding like they have no role to play. I think they do, but only as competitors in the space of ideas. I can deal with the government doing things for us (2), but I’d rather they couldn’t write rules to prevent (3). Space IS hard, but not as hard as some in government would like the rest of us to think. As long as they can’t prevent people from risking their own money out there, the markets will punish the stupid well enough.

Your ‘progressive’ space program description is nonsense. Only the sheeple among the tax payers sit back and assume it will all happen if we bide our time. Since they often have higher priority things to deal with daily, I’m not being fair in calling them sheeple, though. It’s just that after a couple decades, I’m tired of dealing with collectivists who aren’t reined in by their handlers now and then. Approaches (1) and (2) get too much money as far as I’m concerned, but I’m not blaming progressives for that. Anyone who sits on their butt and waits gets the future the rest of us shape, but I’ll happily do battle for (3) with any non-lazy person out there. The laziest are to be found in all political camps, so you’ll need a better categorization method.

Paul451 said...

Douglas Fenton,
"We could have stayed on the Moon if we had found something really useful to make it worthwhile but we didn't."

Apollo wasn't looking for anything useful on the Moon. Its purpose was to build a heavy lifter larger than the Soviets and use it to perform a stunt that the Soviets couldn't match. Kennedy outright told James Webb that he wasn't interested in space, in NASA, didn't care about follow-on programs. That wasn't Apollo's purpose.

"After Apollo was cancelled it left NASA free to explore avenues that are truly important."

After Apollo, NASA was left trying to maintain the infrastructure of Apollo. Ten centres distributed across the country, three main launch sites, all trying to maintain their own empires. Plus a chain of thousands of contractors and subcontractors stretching from coast to coast. A significant proportion of NASA's budget is spent just "standing still". Most of the rest is wasted on signature projects created to serve the primary contractors (SLS is a good modern examples.) These tend to quickly "cut" whatever features were their primary purpose and adopt whatever continues the programs existence. Existing for its own sake. In the case of the Shuttle, it was a low cost space-truck, launching once a week. Once approved, it mutated into a pseudo-Apollo, stretched across the country, largely unkillable; expensive, slow, dangerous, the opposite of its original goals.

Between maintaining Apollo-scale infrastructure and running largely projects that defeat their own purposes, it leaves very little for real work.

The only reason NASA ever achieves anything is because at the rank'n'file level, NASA and its primary contractors are full of space-obsessed geeks who occasionally slip something past the censors when no-one is looking.

"Apollo was like one of those big USSR projects."

"Choose your enemies wisely..."

Paul451 said...

David,
"And lately… well… locum has been much less boring."

It may be because you don't recognise some of the "Sovereign Men Movement" shibboleths and slogans he's littered his comments with.

(They're "Going Their Own Way" with no trace of irony over what the mindless regurgitation of that capitalised phrase says about them. Such independent thinkers they are.)

Paul SB said...

Tony,

"'Fascist' is just a mindless insult, applied in much the same way as 'commie' used to be."

Often this is the case. Remember the old Monty Python skit where Michelangelo calls the Pope a fascist for questioning his use of kangaroos in his painting of "The Last Supper?" But that's quite old, and I don't hear young people use this word anymore. Even 'Nazi' doesn't come up like it did when we were young. The mindless insult of today is 'white,' but that might be a reflection of the neighborhoods I have been working in.

Fascism, however, is a very real phenomenon. Any time you hear people argue against "allowing" diversity, that's what you are hearing. I'm hardly an enthusiastic supporter of the Democratic party in this country, but they are far more inclusive than the other, which plays to the paranoia of Caucasian racists, their fear that their supposedly superior culture is being supplanted and replaced by "darkies." The irony should be obvious, here, but to people who are 100% convinced of their correctness in all things, any 'tolerance' of difference is seen as moral decay, and when society started expecting them to play nice and be less insulting, they started talking about fascism. But once again, is it fascist to call people out for their fascist rhetoric? No more so than it is kidnapping when law enforcement incarcerate dangerous criminals, or murder when a soldier kills an enemy in combat.

I thought the "red state" thing was pretty ironic, too, after how 'red' was used in the 20th C. to indicate communism. And yet the right wing here seems to have embraced it. I supposed it's red and blue for the colors of the flag. Maybe it should be white and blue? I know most people in my neighborhood would find that more appropriate, given the mindless insults they use.

Catfish N. Cod said...

"As for grumpiness over space progress? Bullshit. Space is very very hard. Apollo was a weird anomaly. NOW we are ready to get started."

Apollo wasn't an weird anomaly, just a different strategic appraisal in a time with no data. Apollo tried to overwhelm the difficulties of space travel with brute force labor and budget. Despite this it achieved a failure rate (in lunar missions) of one in nine. Read Lovell's Apollo 13 memoir and you will see that one hair-raising near-miss event that came within inches of killing crew was almost considered NORMAL in the Apollo program; Apollo 13's was just more prolonged and dramatic. And recall that the Russians' ship never worked at all.

Apollo was a Cold War battle -- the only thing making it worth the "Von Braun approach". The impetus was the fear of Russian technological dominance expressed in military satellites and moonbases. The moon goal was a stretch goal to test the waters and to defeat the notion of dominance. Without that, we would have moved directly from orbital maneuvers to space station development -- which the Russians did as soon as they gave up on the lunar idea, and the Chinese are doing now. Apollo also gave assurance that the arms-control articles of the Outer Space Treaty were actually reasonable and enforceable. And finally, we learned what the relative effort required for various missions was -- something no one knew at the start. Apollo tested if moonbases were worth the effort; the answer was, at that time, no.

The Moon was chosen for military and propaganda value -- the "high ground". It *wasn't* chosen for scientific or economic value. When it became clear that Earth orbit was the high ground worth occupying (spysats, commsats, GPS, etc.) everyone dropped the Moon back to the same priority as the other worlds of the Solar System. And now that we have surveyed everything major in the System, it's evident that Mars and the asteroids are of more use.

Today, Luna's proximity remains its only real asset. Given the size and location (polar) of the deposits, not even water or helium-3 is worth the effort; there are otherwise no volatiles, no metals, no possibility of life. The environment is sufficiently different from Mars, the only other world we would try to live on at this time, that using it as a technology testbed is highly questionable. I can't think of anything to do on Luna that couldn't be done remotely from Earth, thanks to the one-second transmission time. Whereas operations further out need sentient, on-the-spot brains.

Thus, I expect Luna to be developed for human occupancy only after interplanetary trade exists to support it, and primarily for scientific and tourism purposes.

Dr. Brin: Doesn't the location of asteroid/comet resource extraction depend on what resources you seek? At minimum you'll have to extract water on-site for fuel and reaction mass. Once you've hauled that equipment there, why not use it there?

Catfish N. Cod said...

"As for grumpiness over space progress? Bullshit. Space is very very hard. Apollo was a weird anomaly. NOW we are ready to get started."

Apollo wasn't an weird anomaly, just a different strategic appraisal in a time with no data. Apollo tried to overwhelm the difficulties of space travel with brute force labor and budget. Despite this it achieved a failure rate (in lunar missions) of one in nine. Read Lovell's Apollo 13 memoir and you will see that one hair-raising near-miss event that came within inches of killing crew was almost considered NORMAL in the Apollo program; Apollo 13's was just more prolonged and dramatic. And recall that the Russians' ship never worked at all.

Apollo was a Cold War battle -- the only thing making it worth the "Von Braun approach". The impetus was the fear of Russian technological dominance expressed in military satellites and moonbases. The moon goal was a stretch goal to test the waters and to defeat the notion of dominance. Without that, we would have moved directly from orbital maneuvers to space station development -- which the Russians did as soon as they gave up on the lunar idea, and the Chinese are doing now. Apollo also gave assurance that the arms-control articles of the Outer Space Treaty were actually reasonable and enforceable. And finally, we learned what the relative effort required for various missions was -- something no one knew at the start. Apollo tested if moonbases were worth the effort; the answer was, at that time, no.

The Moon was chosen for military and propaganda value -- the "high ground". It *wasn't* chosen for scientific or economic value. When it became clear that Earth orbit was the high ground worth occupying (spysats, commsats, GPS, etc.) everyone dropped the Moon back to the same priority as the other worlds of the Solar System. And now that we have surveyed everything major in the System, it's evident that Mars and the asteroids are of more use.

Today, Luna's proximity remains its only real asset. Given the size and location (polar) of the deposits, not even water or helium-3 is worth the effort; there are otherwise no volatiles, no metals, no possibility of life. The environment is sufficiently different from Mars, the only other world we would try to live on at this time, that using it as a technology testbed is highly questionable. I can't think of anything to do on Luna that couldn't be done remotely from Earth, thanks to the one-second transmission time. Whereas operations further out need sentient, on-the-spot brains.

Thus, I expect Luna to be developed for human occupancy only after interplanetary trade exists to support it, and primarily for scientific and tourism purposes.

Dr. Brin: Doesn't the location of asteroid/comet resource extraction depend on what resources you seek? At minimum you'll have to extract water on-site for fuel and reaction mass. Once you've hauled that equipment there, why not use it there?

Paul SB said...

Alfred, any archaeologist or historian would look at your taxonomy of space programs and see diachronic variation. There is an obvious historical progression here. Space exploration, as Dr. Brin rightly points out, is orders of magnitude more difficult and more expensive than just about anything the human species has endeavored to do in its history. Only the largest of social organization - nation states - could accomplish it in the early stages. But it's a progression. The O'Neill approach is only beginning to be feasible. In the future it is likely to become the dominant approach, with government regulation for safety concerns. There was a psychologist in the early 20th C. named Vyogotsky who used the term 'scaffolding' to describe adult assistance to children until they have learned to do something on their own. His work is a very standard part of teacher education, but it can also be seen as an analogy here. Big government had to create the scaffolding for the exploration and use of outer space before the private sector could make any use of it. No doubt, now that some of the groundwork has been done, the private sector will start innovating and space will start to blossom. Progress!

Jumper said...

I'm not so sure the moon was viewed as valueless before the missions. It seems to me that depressing evaluation came about as a product of the exploration, not something established prior to that.

Paul SB said...

Catfish, good analysis here. But to go completely off topic, did you try the catfish? (Apologies to Dr. Brin for reducing his generally thought-provoking blog to a mundane recipe exchange!)

Jumper said...

If this hasn't been mentioned here until now, I am surprised. NASA news on private contracts.
https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasa-chooses-american-companies-to-transport-us-astronauts-to-international-space-station

Douglas Fenton said...

Paul451,

That’s what I meant about the Apollo program. It was primarily a political decision and not scientific. Had they found on the Moon something useful (meaning handwavium or something similar) then there would have been a reason to stay but they didn’t so there was no reason to stay. The Russians had already dropped out of the race so the reason was no longer there.

After Apollo NASA had a very difficult transition to make as happens in any enterprise public or private when it’s “market” collapses. You just can’t turn on a dime and get rid of assets you don’t need any more and it also was important at the time not to let the space industries waste away thereby losing some critical expertise because once gone, that expertise would much harder to rebuild.

The Shuttle program had its faults but it did get some very important work done in the scientific area so you just can’t write it off as wasted money. Just look at the list of scientific projects it accomplished. Could it have been done in a better way? Absolutely looking from 20-20 hindsight but the important thing was it did do very useful work.

NASA’s mission was saved by the rank and file quietly and methodically moving resources from dead end projects to the ones worthwhile. This is what should happen in any large organization going through a radical change where the leaders are pretty much at a loss as to what to do but those lower down have better ideas on what must be done and don’t wait for orders from above. Any Grove (who started out as a scientist) of Intel described this painful transition in his book “Only the Paranoid Survive” and is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how radical change occurs in any organization.

You quoted me in “"Apollo was like one of those big USSR projects."
Then you said

"Choose your enemies wisely..."
Sorry, I don’t see the connection.

locumranch said...


Many good responses from one & all, many of with which I agree completely, including the description of 'Right Stuff' pilots & astronauts being even-tempered, & methodical to the point of obsession, yet those qualities (including the impulse to over-control those variables that are within their actual control) do not make them 'risk adverse', otherwise they would never consent to pilot (and/or passenger) a tactical missile powered by high explosives, anymore than a nation of elementary school teachers would try to make a free-market living without massive state & federal subsidies.

I would also argue that we are much closer to the Original Star Trek (with the noticeable absence of both Warp Drive & Manifest Destiny-based courage) than many of you are willing to admit, especially if you recognize that almost every original episode featured technological improvisation, jury-rigging, bravado, risk-taking & bluff, which are all reasonable responses to take when confronted by uncharted & unknown variables. It is in cases like that these (national defense, public works & space travel) that collective action is both appropriate & mandatory because (1) the Free Market (which cares only for profit) doesn't give a BM about Manifest Destiny, Individual Honour or National Pride and (2) the average consumer (who is powerless after being thoroughly marginalized by the New Consensus) cares only for personal security, a full belly, bread & circuses.


Best

Douglas Fenton said...

Dr. Brin,

I was thinking about your book “Postman”. Through my daughter’s husband, I have met more than a few young scientists and I noticed that many have muscles and tattoos as well as being very smart. If civilization falls, I would expect they would rise to the top. The Holnists would be their bitches and not the opposite.

Paul451 said...

"The Shuttle program [...] you just can't write it off as wasted money."

Oh, I really can.

Don't get me wrong, I'm massively impressed that the things flew at all. A 100 tonne space-plane (130 tonnes wet and loaded), having never built a space-plane at all before. The only rocket-planes were little single seaters dropped from B52s, and the largest object ever successfully re-entered was the Apollo capsule.

But doing a crazy hard thing is only admirable when it's at least better than the alternative.

The Shuttle's mission, it's original primary purpose, was to drastically lower the cost of access to space and increase the rate of launch. That goal was thrown away for NASA's perpetual political goal, to keep all the centres built during the flush of Apollo money going in all the states they are in.

"but the important thing was it did do very useful work."

Google the phrase "opportunity costs".

"You quoted me in ""Apollo was like one of those big USSR projects."
Then you said "Choose your enemies wisely..." "


Sorry, I thought this was a well known aphorism: "Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them."

Ie, through NASA the US showed it was better at giant command-economy space programs than the USSR.

Paul451 said...

General aside:

Cannot see the obsession with Mars. I can't see that it's in any way suited for human settlement, let alone the only place suitable as it's often depicted. "Humanity's second home", "the closest environment to Earth in the Solar System", etc.

It seems to me that when you make a list of all the things that Earth provides humans to allow us to live, the only thing Mars has is "somewhere to stand". Everything else must be manufactured or imported.

And if you're going to manufacture an entire artificial environment, "somewhere to stand" seems a pretty simple addition.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I thought the "red state" thing was pretty ironic, too, after how 'red' was used in the 20th C. to indicate communism. And yet the right wing here seems to have embraced it. I supposed it's red and blue for the colors of the flag. Maybe it should be white and blue? I know most people in my neighborhood would find that more appropriate, given the mindless insults they use.


Heh! I like Dr Brin's usage of Blue and Gray to suggest the Civil War sides are alive and well, but I'm getting a chuckle out of "Blue States and White States" too. I might try to get that to catch on.

I've said this before, but it's a pet peeve of mine. No one seems to remember that when tv stations started using this "Red State/Blue State" terminology back around the year 2000, it had a more specific meaning than just any election result. It was very specific to the presidential election and its electoral vote system. A "Blue State" was one that was so certain to give its electoral votes to the Democrat that it was pointless to campaign there. Moving the needle from, say 60% Democratic to 55% Democratic was a waste of time and resources because the result would be the same. Ditto with a Red State in the opposite direction. So the connotation of "Red State" and "Blue State" was not just "states which lean Republican" or "states which lean Democratic". It was more along the lines of "states whose electoral votes could pretty much be counted before the election actually took place."

The gist of it was that the real battleground for the election was the other states--the ones not Red or Blue.

David Brin said...

Though he is clearly in one of his sort-of-almost cogent phases, I still scratch my head over his actual philosophy, since he despises both collective action and the market. Just about the only things left are anarchy and feudalism... one of which always leads to the other.

Douglas Fenton said...

Paul451,

Please don’t patronize me. Having run businesses, I know what opportunity cost is and when you use a quote use the whole quote. There are many different variations of this particular one and each can be interpreted differently. Other than that I appreciate and think about what you say in this forum and am glad you are here.

Douglas Fenton said...

Dr. Brin,

Maybe locum is a survivalist. It fits in with his arguments. We have trouble understanding what he says because his logic is 180° from that of most of the people here.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

"Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them."


I liked Kurt Vonnegut's take in, I believe, the introduction to "Mother Night"

"You are who you pretend to be, so be careful who you pretend to be."

David Brin said...

onward


onward

Paul SB said...

Larry,

I get how you feel when you wrote: I've said this before, but it's a pet peeve of mine. No one seems to remember that when tv stations started using this "Red State/Blue State" terminology back around the year 2000, it had a more specific meaning than just any election result.

But I'm afraid i don't quite feel it. Language and usage changes. It can be useful to remind people of what something originally meant sometimes, but if the terms are no longer being used that way, it's unlikely people will go back to the older usage. I had a couple linguistics classes in college and in one we looked at the American Heritage Dictionary, which was created by a bunch of reactionaries who believed that words should never change, and that they could somehow prevent them from changing. Of course, like all conservative efforts, it was an attempt not to go back to the "original" uses and meanings, but to freeze things as they were when the old coots were young, blithely ignoring how much change had taken place in the millennia before they were even born. It's a big part of why my opinion of conservatives is much lower than my opinion of so-called liberals. I have a lot of friends who are much further to right on our sociopolitical spectrum than I am, and I am willing to listen to the sense that is in some of their beliefs. However, to make it a general principle to try to prevent the inevitable (change) and utterly fail to consider the changes that led to the times they hold up on pedestals is supremely foolish. Tides and spoons, you know?

Paul SB said...

I mentioned awhile back that I was reading over Machiavelli. It was interesting that way back in the early 16th C. he was writing about how so many people look back on some glorious golden age, bemoan the decadence of their own times, and try to bring back those 'glorious' times. This is hardly unique to our time. He warned that such sentiments were both foolish and dangerous. Foolish because no one really knows the past anywhere nearly as well as we know our own times, so we are naive if we think what the historians wrote, or the fallible memories of the old men, give us all the details we need to fairly evaluate the times, and dangerous because we try to enact changes based on precedents that we do not really understand.

The funny thing was that he was cognizant enough (or metacognizant, really) to then ask if he himself had put the Roman Republic on a pedestal (this was in the Discourses on Livy) and if the whole Renaissance era's mania for all things classical might just be a house of cards, waiting to topple.

Hollister David said...

"We did reports on uses for Shuttle External Tanks and 3 D printing in orbit (in the 1980s) and I was a world expert of comets. I am currently on the advisory board for NASA’s Innovative and Advance Concepts group…."

Are you invited to sit on boards because of your math and engineering expertise? Or because of your celebrity status?

Your work on evolution of cometary mantles was good. I cite it on my asteroid resources page

However that doctoral dissertation was a few years ago. Your math and physics texts are likely gathering dust in the attic.

"The Obama Admin and NASA and the three private asteroid mining companies all know that human operations on retrieved asteroids should take place in cis-lunar space. The moon may be useless in the near term, but lunar orbit is damn near perfect. Only robots will be sent on multi year missions to fetch the rocks."

Well, that's a lucid observation. I am (tentatively) taking back some of my unkind thoughts.

A rock in lunar orbit doesn't suffer from infrequent launch windows, long light lag latency or poor bandwidth. Since trip time is less than a week, we could even occasionally send humans for trouble shooting.

This is why I've been an outspoken advocate of the early version of A.R.M. on various forums. Given something like the vehicle described in the Keck Report, we could park 100s of tonnes in lunar orbit with small spacecraft.

More often than not, I'm the lone voice among legions of A.R.M. haters. It's not just in space forums A.R.M.'s taking a beating. Also in testimonies before congress.

I would think P.R. or D.S.I. would advocate development of technology to park rocks in lunar orbit. But I don't hear a peep from these guys while A.R.M. is going down in flames.

Dr. John S. Lewis is the patron saint of asteroid miners. But even he is lukewarm to asteroid retrieval. From page 133 of Lewis' Asteroid Mining 101 "Since ARM is not intended to be a prototype, and does not take advantage of space-derived propellants, we must look elsewhere for sustainable, long term mission architectures such as the STP water-based system described in the previous chapter, or any electric propulsion system that can use water as the working fluid."

The Keck vehicle has an exhaust velocity of 30 km/s. High exhaust velocity combined with low delta V budget (~.2 km/s to park some rocks in lunar orbit) means a 17 tonne vehicle can bring back hundreds of tonnes.

But Lewis seems to be putting asteroid derived propellents on the critical path prior to fetching rocks. First we would have to establish a mine on a rock in heliocentric orbit (recall rare launch windows, long light lag latency, poor bandwidth). Also exhaust velocity of hydrogen/oxygen bipropellent is around 4 km/s. If the rock is 40% water, it would take most that water to park the rock in lunar orbit.

If you have a voice to the inner sanctum, tell them they need to do some stumping for A.R.M.. Given present trends, we're not going to be parking rocks in lunar orbit any time soon (if ever).

And while I'm enthusiastic about rocks in lunar orbit, I remain a lunar advocate. As well as a Mars advocate. This makes me a gadfly among the one legged stool advocates.

Paul451 said...

(Avoiding contaminating the new thread)

Hop,
Re: ARM

I think there are two schools of objection to ARM. For the advocated of Big Rockets and HSF stunts, they want the Moon or Mars or something big and shiny, ARM is too weak a stunt.

Amongst proper scientists (and asteroid-ISRU advocates) ARM is recognised as just being an excuse for ARCM, a the crew mission, to justify the existence of SLS/Orion and their extraordinary costs and extremely limited value.

The latter therefore realise that the actual science will always be sacrificed for the crew mission. Anything actually useful or interesting will be cut first to save the manned mission.

I support the robotic portion of ARM, but have nothing but contempt for the manned component.

The only group left as what I call the "abused spouses". People who say "well, since we have to have SLS/Orion, we might as well try to get some good out of it."

Paul451 said...

And further to my "I don't get Mars" aside: I can't see how Mars is a leg on the stool of space settlement.

For me the three legs are commercial LEO operations, lunar resources, and asteroid resources. Once fully established and self-sustaining, human space settlement may be rich enough to allow a manned Mars presence. Ie, it's something that can sit on the stool.

But Mars by itself is a hole. Trying to attach it to the base of the stool just makes the stool topple over. That is, focusing on Mars harms space development.

(Just as focusing in manned lunar "missions" harms lunar development. ARM harms asteroid research. Etc.)

Hollister David said...

Paul,

I don't buy that the sole purpose of A.R.M. is to give SLS/Orion something to do.

Lori Garver was an enthusiastic ARM supporter. And she is one of SLS/Orion's fiercest critics.

The robotic portion of early versions of ARM was modeled after the Keck Report. Among the authors can be seen many prominent scientists and engineers whose focus is asteroids. So far as lobbyists for Boeing, ULA, ATK? I don't see those among the KECK report authors.

Are there other asteroid retrieval vehicles NASA is seriously considering? Outside of OSIRIS-REx I see zip, zero, nada. And OSIRIS is just for bringing back small samples. By concentrating on the SLS albatross hung around ARM's neck, this mission is on its way to getting the ax.

So without ARM, how would we park rocks in cislunar space? I just don't see it happening.

Hollister David said...

So far as Mars goes, I am enthusiastic about Phobos and Deimos. Phobos could be a bridge to the Main Belt.

Mars has lots of CO2, H2O plus a little argon and nitrogen. All helpful for a spacefaring civilization.

Also a little Machiavellian scheming. I don't have much sympathy for would be Mars colonizers but they are numerous. If they can be persuaded that cislunar industry and infrastructure could make Mars colonization more doable, they might lend their support. When dealing with rivals and competitors, I look for goals we might have in common.