Saturday, April 02, 2016

Our next target in space?

Lots of reaction to my earlier article on the Nautilus site, asserting -- (proving!) -- that 2015 was by far our best year, ever, in humanity's forward exploration of the cosmos. Now let's follow up with a look at where our ambitions should take us next.

(Further down... see a weird-wonderful type of Time Travel via gravitational lens!)

== Should we go back to the moon? ==

NASA has determined that its long term destination for astronauts will be the surface of Mars, with asteroid retrieval and appraisal in lunar orbit as the intermediate step. Lunar orbit is perfect in many ways. Others have different ideas, though.

With their new video, The Moon Awakens, the European Space Agency declares its goal to send humans to Luna over the next decade.  This article says “ESA has become increasingly bold with its lunar preferences." Both China and Russia are also aiming to explore the moon. And several private endeavors hope to turn it into the most expensive and high-status of all aristocratic tourist destinations.

Really? Fine. It’s closer and in many ways easier. Those who want the moon are welcome to it. 
I do not object to others repeating or improving on the Apollo missions. Indeed, if romantic billionaires want to boldly go or take small steps of their own, then hurrah for them, subsidizing that realm for the rest of us.

But I am far less impelled by romanticism than by pragmatic considerations. Indeed,
 very few scientists or space-resource folks feel even slightly tempted by the moon, in the near term. 

1- The lunar surface lies at the bottom of a steep gravity well, fairly expensive to descend and depart through.  

2- None of the samples brought home by astronauts, nor minerological satellite data from orbit, are indicative of fractionation-separation of elements into what anyone on Earth would call "ores" or concentrations of useful materials, except apparent ice deposits at the poles that were predicted long ago by Jim Arnold, my doctoral committee chair at UCSD. 

Indeed, one would be hard pressed to offer up even a theoretical way that substantially useful ores might exist there. According to current models, the moon was made from chunks of the Earth's crust torn away by a giant collision... after Earth had already experienced separation of heavy metals sinking to the core. Hence any metals on the moon's surface would have been delivered later, by meteoritic impacts. And yes, there may be iron rich impact debris fields. Perhaps you could get some by dragging magnets... just as one might mine a little ice at the poles...

3- But that is harder than going to the source... meteoroids themselves! See this video from Planetary Resources on the economic advantages of mining asteroidal resources. (And now Luxembourg declares their intent to help mine asteroids, teaming up with Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.)

4-  Suppose you do find a lunar debris field rich in meteorite bits and drag them together.  You then use solar concentrators to melt and separate and shape them, right?  Only on the moon you have 2 weeks of darkness each month.  Meanwhile asteroidal solar smelters work around the clock.

5- Back to the one "ore" we know-of --those polar ice deposits. Those could be nice. But so far, they appear to be too small and too valuable to just grab and use-up, willy nilly, sucking Luna dry, in order to fuel activities elsewhere. To my mind, they belong to future generations of moon colonists -- loonies, not wasted as rocket fuel. 

6- Please. Do not bring up Helium 3. Not till you show me a fusion reactor that will use the stuff. (Though it was a way-cool gimmick in Iron Sky.) Oh, sure.  Let's land a few rovers to check lunar soils for embedded solar He3.  It's called science.

7.  This should not be true. But it seems your political-partisan leanings somewhat predict whether you are an asteroid zealot or a loonie... sorry lunati... oh, never mind that.

8. The moon is not a way station to Mars. It is not a way station to anywhere.  Lunar orbit is.

I could go on, but why? I don't mind some rich fellows funding return to the moon. But scarce tax dollars should go to basics, empowering the tool sets that entrepreneurs might then use, to give us a true space industrial basis. NASA's plan to use cis lunar orbit as a marshalling yard is brilliant. We could do asteroidal tests there, and also service those fools... I mean bold folks... who spend their own money to go down to the lunar surface and prove me wrong!  

Invent cheap Helium 3 fusion power and show me how you'll moon harvest it, for example.  That movie trope is a real reach, for at least the time being.

But go ahead.  Few things would make me happier.

== Further out in the cosmos ==

What an era!  Only a decade ago, cosmological gravitational lenses were considered freaky marvels… wherein a giant galactic cluster at an intermediate distance bends and focuses light from objects vastly farther away, allowing us to glimpse some of the very oldest epochs in the universe. (Though some of us have speculated about them for a long time, and they figure prominently in my novel EXISTENCE.)

NASA/ESA
Now? These lenses are tools that astronomers catalogue and use, with as much familiarity and skill as their own telescopes! Moreover, there is an incredible quirk: the nearer cluster often forms multiple images of deep background objects, far beyond, arraying different versions of the same distant galaxy in an extended arc. Or in an arrangement called an ‘Einstein Cross. 

And since these images have slightly different transit times to our planet, we get to witness events across multiple viewing times. For example, when a supernova was spotted in one of these lensed and magnified scenes, scientists crafted models to calculate when the same explosion would appear in other focal images of the same galaxy. And lo, the stellar explosion – in a galaxy ten billion light years away – popped up as predicted! The supernova has been nicknamed Refsdal in honor of the Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who, in 1964, first proposed using time-delayed images from a lensed supernova to study the expansion of the Universe.”

Seriously, did you grasp how cool that is? The implications are stunning. Among them: astronomers were able to zoom in on the distant star before it exploded, knowing that it would, in advance. A kind of time travel? 

Wrap your head around it. You are a member of a species and civilization that's doing cool stuff like this! You paid pennies for it, in taxes. So tell the "mad as hell" anger merchants to get bent.

Oh, and the universe is apparently older than 6000 years. Yes it is.

== Much closer to home… ==

... astronomers have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system so far, orbiting a star just 14 light years away. The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.  

Aw heck, I just alluded so I might as well... one hot topic has been the interface (if any) between science and religion. I've been writing a whole book on it(!) and contributed a chapter to Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion (edited by Paul Levinson & Michael Waltemathe), which explores what may be the best motive for human exploration of space: the desire of every human being, essentially spiritual, to understand more about our place in the universe, how our lives on Earth are inextricably part of that bigger picture. 

Even most atheists will admit to that hunger... and we got our richest meal in 2015... the "best year in space, ever."

Now to even better years.  Make 2016 the one when we all - especially Americans - decide to make it very clear that we love science!

79 comments:

Tacitus2 said...

Alright, no politics in a Space Thread but with the WI primary on Tuesday this is timely now and not later. Just saw a billboard:

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY STARTED HERE. VOTE TRUMP AND IT WILL END HERE.

certainly the most coherent political message of this election cycle.

I will behave now.

Tacitus

donzelion said...

I'm no lunar scholar, but it does seem odd that moon mining would be that much more expensive than asteroid mining. Seems that asteroids would range from 'extremely lucrative' to 'utterly worthless' - making each snagged asteroid quite a gamble. And one great advantage of the moon over an asteroid is that it's hard for someone mining the moon to screw up and divert it toward Earth impact...

Still, the great advantage of the Moon is that we could dump radioactive waste there (including certain pundits with radioactive inclinations).

"Aw heck, I just alluded so I might as well... one hot topic has been the interface (if any) between science and religion."

I hope someone mentioned the difficulty of Muslims in space: which direction do you pray? And what time?

When Prince Sultan bin Salman went up with the space shuttle, it prompted scholars to try to grapple with questions that raise profound difficulties for one of the most 'grounded' religions on the planet. Little things like the use of telescopes to tell the phase of the moon remain contentious to Muslims - and the first great observatories and uses of math to measure the angle of the Sun was itself a ploy by scientists to rein in the religious scholars (mostly to tell when breakfast was permitted).

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm a new follower and I'm finding lots of news and information on your blog. I've read many of your books, David, and I'm excited to read that the Foundation series might make its way to film! I'm also a long-time fan of Asimov. I was researching for a challenge I'm participating in and I highlighted you as the B letter. My theme is Authors AtoZ. I'm not on other social media, I just blog at present. I'm an expat American who loves science fiction, and NASA.

donzelion said...

Oh, and one less scientific application of the moon would be a locus for communications systems that could not be so easily shot down from Earth. In the next war between great powers, I'd expect satellite primacy to be the equivalent of aerial primacy in the last war at driving the final victor: China is already fully capable of destroying satellites in orbit, and America surely is if we ever wanted to do so.

In such a war, even inadvertent destruction becomes quite foreseeable, as space junk begins to proliferate.

I imagine there are myriad military applications for a Lunar outpost in, say, the late 21st or early 22nd centuries. E.g., "asteroid interceptors" - assuming that future great powers will learn to use asteroids the same way that nuclear arsenals were used previously...

Jumper said...

Radioactive waste disposal on the moon pretty much prices nuclear power and a large percentage of research out of sensible reach.

David Brin said...

DG Hudson you are welcome here. An aficionado of rare taste!

Tacitus either the GOP will pass through this fever, and the fever will break and it will awaken from 20 years of delirium… or it deserves to be put out of its misery. Either way - Trump or Cruz represent the fruition of everything Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh and their master have done to America.

What could be more ironically fitting than for the Republican Party to gasp its last as the (briefly) re-ignited Confederacy.

donz we know pretty clearly what kind of asteroid it is, from remote sensing and those capabilities are improving rapidly.

Radioactive waste has a perfect home. Yucca Mountain. The only flaws to YM that were found were that it MIGHT leak a little in 10,000 years instead of 100,000. Ex-squeeze me? Anti-science cretins who think (and pray) that the world will end within the decade care about 10,000 years? Dismal confeds and PC bullies who hate science fiction suddenly care about 10,000 years?

Bull. Anyway. It’s not a trash bin but a bank. Within just 50 years our grandchildren will be making withdrawals of those lovely radioactives for cool uses.

Tacitus write-in for 2016! For real in the great Adult GOP revival of 2018.

donzelion said...

@Jumper & Dr. Brin - I think both of you missed my ironic intention with the moon as a waste bin. I think Rush Limbaugh- emanations would leak out of Yucca Mountain far more quickly than most uranium. I'm much more worried about radioactive waste that causes instant brain rot for susceptible Americans. ;-)

That said, we could call the moon the "great retirement golf course in the sky" mainly to coax the anti-scientists to go there to practice their swing (with the one condition that they must go out and try to fetch their balls as soon as they land...).

locumranch said...



By deciding on sending humans back to Luna, the European Space Agency has self-identified as an emotional & political entity, unduly influenced by the old 'Space 1999: Breakaway' pilot & the subconscious desire to blast the Moon out of orbit with stockpiled nuclear waste, all in order meet & shag beautiful shape-shifting aliens.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cq7isloJj8&list=PL88g1zsvCrjfct4TWi297Mc9L0Hb9aBWL

Gravitational lensing could have three possible explanations:
(1) 'Time-travel' (as David suggests) even though this relativistic increase in light speed is unlikely if we assume that 'c' is a constant;
(2) A local reduction in travelling distance, possibly due to an asymmetric gravity-induced contracture of space volume (analogous to a worm-hole), so lensed light reaches us sooner than light that takes the long way around; or
(3) Light speed (c) may become variable in unique high-gravity situations.

Although Option (1) does not appeal to me, the other two options have potential. Option (2) suggests exploitable spacial asymmetries conducive to Faster-Than-Light travel (like the tesseract in 'And he built a crooked house'); and, Option (3) suggests that we may have misjudged light speed as an upper velocity limit when it may actually represent an asymptotpic limit analogous to Zeno's Paradox.

Appearances (and human motivations) can be deceiving.


Best

Michael Hill said...

I think that we are all kind of missing the point;
What destination will promote or force us to develop the technologies, hardware and procedures that will enable us to operate anywhere between the orbit of venus and the orbit of Mars, and er, Jupiter?
What systems are scalable for those regions? I have no idea, I,m not an engineer, although in my heretical moments, I wish that I were- But enough of that-
Brin has correctly idenified the primary symptoms of what Tyson has characterised as 'Apollo Necrophilia'; the idea that if all of us shout loudly enough, the naive idea that if all us smart people shout loudly enough at all the stupid people, then NASA and the other world space agencies will be given a budget appropriate to their goals. This is unrealistic. You, I, the entire world may fantasise about time machines, Pr4oxmires, and sniper rifles... But it won't change anything.
The past has been written; the future, not yet. The vast infusion of public spending that characterised Apollo- Glorious as it was- May not come again in our lifetimes. So it behooves us to think, "how much bang our we going to get for our buck?"
bear in mind: 'bang' does not mean the cost-plus atrocity of the Space Launch System; no more expensive, long-winded and ridiculous method of building a heavy-lift launcher in a democracy has yet to be invented. (Although it's still a very cool thing to do).
I always thought that going back to the Moon would be the best way to achieve that; but now, and f\\\ me i may be wrong, but now i"m not so sure.
David Brin: I am not qualified to review your comments on the low fractionation (neologism- like it?) of ores in Lunar gravity, but I tend to think of the Moon as a testbed: a lpace where we can explore how to keep human beings alive for longer and longer periods of time, and more to the point, a place where home is three days away if things get really screwed up, at least beyond the power of somebody like Jim lovell to correct them.
370,300 km

225 million km

There is something ironic here- Thirty years ago, David Brin was the sensible guy! he was the astrophysicist preaching reason and moderation while fanatics like myself were screaming, "Fuck Brin, he's a moderate- We can build things that will take us to the the stars with a week's worth of effort, duct tape, and a bunch of guns!"
And now he's the stick-in-the-mud preaching reason and moderation while we- oh, wait...
And we were all wrong. The bastard; how dare he be right? (Although you might be wrong)
There is a saying that God created Arrakis to train the faithful; and thus he created Mars irritate aerospace engineers, for EDL to the Martian surface will not be easy: getting back off it (after a productive surface stay, less so.
I didn't put that well, for i don't give a toss about mars; I give a toss about how humans can become a sustainable spacefaring civilisation in the short term, and bring the biosphere with us in the long term. I don't know, though I may be wrong, that a Kennedy-style program will advance us in that regard.
I'd rather build up a slow, incremental, but boring capability to not just live, but survive on airless worlds between the orbit of Venus and Mars... But i might be wrong.

Michael Hill said...

And thus, published authors have proofreaders :)

Michael Hill said...

See my comment above about proofreading? I meant to say (but didn't) that a Kennedy-style programme WILL NOT advance us in the short term, or the long term. The program that will is one one that depends on a drip-feed of funding from the uninterested, over a long period of time- So the question is, how will those monies be spent? They can be wasted like the Shuttle; or they can be spent... Another way.
Comments, criticism, and (justifiable) abuse are welcome.

Michael Hill said...

"There is something ironic here- Thirty years ago, David Brin was the sensible guy! he was the astrophysicist preaching reason and moderation while fanatics like myself were screaming, "Fuck Brin, he's a moderate- We can build things that will take us to the the stars with a week's worth of effort, duct tape, and a bunch of guns!"
And now he's the stick-in-the-mud preaching reason and moderation while we- oh, wait... "

Paul451 said...

David,
Re: Gravitational crosses.

Why do gravitational lenses form four-point crosses? Einstein Rings and arcs I get, but why refractions with four and only four points. Even when the cross is well off-centre (example) it is always just four points, not five, not fifteen. (Indeed, why points at all?)

(Crosses in telescope images are caused by diffraction of bright sources around the supports of the secondary mirrors. If the telescope has three arms, there'll be a six-pointed diffraction spike. But lenses don't seem to ever produce four tightly focused points, even when out of focus or distorted. So why would gravitational lenses? Can't find any explanation online.)

Locum,
"Gravitational lensing could have three possible explanations:
(1) 'Time-travel' (as David suggests) "


{sigh}

Michael Hill,
"what Tyson has characterised as 'Apollo Necrophilia' "

Except NdGT is just as prone to stuck-in-the-past thinking, when it comes to the space program.

"You, I, the entire world may fantasise about time machines, Proxmires, and sniper rifles..."

Except Proxmire was largely right. Apollo was a waste of money. Even Kennedy was apparently shying away from his own "Vision", and was talking to the Soviets about a joint program. Ironically, had JFK not been assassinated, Apollo likely wouldn't have happened. (Khrushchev and Kennedy had some kind of bromance going after the Cuban missile crisis. But Khrushchev didn't trust LBJ, and Brezhnev was more of a hardliner. The Apollo-Soyuz docking was all that survived.)

Paul451 said...

donzelion,
"but it does seem odd that moon mining would be that much more expensive than asteroid mining. Seems that asteroids would range from 'extremely lucrative' to 'utterly worthless' - making each snagged asteroid quite a gamble."

Asteroids generally belong to groups with similar spectrographic signatures. The more asteroids that are physically surveyed, the more other asteroids can be characterised remotely.

"And one great advantage of the moon over an asteroid is that it's hard for someone mining the moon to screw up and divert it toward Earth impact..."

Not a thing that can happen.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was 20m across and massed around 10,000 tonnes. Yet it produced only minimal damage in spite of exploding directly over a city. (Mostly injuries from flying glass.)

A meteor capable of causing real damage (unless precisely targeted at a city) would need to be much larger, and thus would mass in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes at minimum. Intentionally changing the velocity of hundreds of thousands of tonnes by the necessary km/s to cause it to hit Earth is beyond our capability. (The idea of doing it by mistake is just silly. Like saying you might accidentally trip over your coffee table and somehow completely demolish your house. It's not just "unlikely", the actual energy involved makes it impossible.)

By the time it is within our capability to steer large asteroids to Earth, it will also be well within our capability to deflect such an incoming rock away. (It's easier to divert than to target.)

(Likewise launching nuclear waste to the moon is not really an option. Even if it was free, the launch itself is vastly more dangerous than leaving the waste sitting in a desert somewhere.)

Paul451 said...

(A similar rant to Michael's...)


"the European Space Agency declares its goal to send humans to Luna over the next decade."

This is a good example of what I consider to be a primary failure of space programs. The ESA clearly has no scientific interest in the moon. I would assume there are individual researchers who have proposed science missions to the moon; but I can't find a single robotic mission to the moon in ESA's entire history. Nor are any in serious planning.

Therefore the ESA's total interest in "lunar resources", "lunar science" or the moon in general appears to be zero... except, suddenly, for a "manned moon base".

Making it pretty obvious that the concept of a "moon base" has nothing to do with the moon, or advancing BEO human settlement, or using the moon as a "stepping stone", or anything else. The entire extent of their Grand Vision is encapsulated the phrase "manned moon base", that's it. Four person, or ten? Don't care. Equatorial or polar? Don't care. Fixed or mobile? Don't care. Don't care because it's not actually for anything.

This seems to happen over and over. The initial purpose of the Shuttle program, as sold to Nixon, was to create a general purpose low cost space truck, to drastically lower the cost of launch, to increase the rate of launch. However, the "Vision" was limited to a spaceplane, not to lowering launch costs, and so the real purpose of the program became to prop up the infrastructure and network of centres and contractors created around Apollo. Later, to protect its own existence. It existed to exist.

The stated purpose of GWB's "Vision for Space Exploration" was to use the moon, and lunar resources, as a stepping stone to BEO targets like Mars. With lunar-sourced fuel being used as an example. However, the actual "Vision" was limited to putting humans on the moon; so the idea of exploiting (or even researching) polar volatiles was instantly abandoned, and program reduced to a single equatorial base. Then the base was abandoned (or never funded) as the program was hijacked by the focus on the launch vehicle, and the program was reduced to just a repeat of Apollo flags'n'footprints. And even then, only a couple of landings were likely to be funded; and even those were never realistic as the launcher consumed all available funding and still came up short.

The claimed purpose of SLS/Orion is to enable major BEO missions, a flexible heavy-lift launcher. Except Congress's "Vision" of the launcher means it consumes all available funding, and will for the foreseeable future. Leaving nothing for actual missions. And any attempt by NASA to try to create even the pretence of a mission is attacked by the same Congressmen who demanded SLS in the first place.

It's a weird kind of blindness in space agencies and amongst the majority of space advocates. The fixation on either destination or vehicle at the expense of the very thing that the destination or vehicle was intended to be for. Each program prevents the purpose of the program.

---

My own manifesto for human expansion into space is simple:
1) Lower the cost of getting to LEO.
2) Lower the cost of supporting humans in LEO.
3) Lower the cost of sending payloads beyond LEO.
4) Lower the cost of supporting humans in deep space.

Anything else is just treading water, wasting tens of billion of dollars and decades, hoping that those four factors will somehow magically drop out of the program-of-record.

Tacitus2 said...

A certain number of things can and should be done in space simply because they are inspirational. Landing on the moon. Mars rovers. That sort of stuff. Not at a crushing cost to society but sometimes the economics can be fudged a little. We had a lot of military programs going on that made Apollo in part "off the shelf". And we can expect a few down stream benefits. The space program has given us more than Tang. ( of course the improved telecommunications stuff does not derive from the manned space program ).

The European Space Agency. I have not followed it closely but isn't it just another vanity project pushed by the French? They had to have that launch base in Guyana. Just as they had to have the Concord and the Eurofighter and their own aircraft carrier, etc. Europe at present may not be able to meet the most basic functions of a government entity. They should not be frittering their assets away. But I imagine it is about supporting "vital industries".

The French, presumably, take a dim view of Tang.

Tacitus

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

"... and so the real purpose of the program became to prop up the infrastructure and network of centres and contractors created around Apollo. Later, to protect its own existence. It existed to exist."

Not to be picky, or to appear to be justifying the program, but isn't this exactly how life behaves? It exists just to exist, it perpetuates itself because if it did not, it would eventually cease to exist, go extinct without issue. The various space programs have survived and are changing - perhaps not as much as we want them to or in the ways we want them to, and certainly not as quickly as we want it to. But it sounds like what is happening is in some ways analogous to biological evolution. Slow, generational changes with occasional large mutations - maybe it would be useful to start thinking of super-organismal organization like the Space Program in evolutionary terms. It's an analogy, and no analogy is perfect, but it might be a useful way to conceive it.

If we had simply killed the space program after Apollo, forgot all about the Shuttle, would it be possible to resurrect it again in the future? All that infrastructure that existed just to exist would have ceased to exist, the expertise and years of experience dies away, and few, if anyone, who be investing their student loan burden in aerospace engineering, because the dream of space travel would be on the operating table not responding to the defibrillator.

The space program is nothing like I hoped it would be for a very long time, but at least it's not dead, and the dream is still alive in the hearts of humankind (some of them, anyway). Hopefully the ESA will rethink things, though...

Robert said...

There is a way to use the Moon as a testbed to go to Mars. It means acting intelligently, however - and to realize that we will not be having men LAND on Mars in our first mission. (Phoebe, maybe. But not Mars.)

What we need to do is build a manned space station in Lunar orbit. That station will experiment in technologies to enhance man's ability to survive in space for long periods in time - perhaps a rotating sleeping facility (and getting over the motion sickness by having people climb into it, lie down, and remain lying down while in there - literally the one purpose is to sleep in there in an environment that simulates gravity, and see if people can get used to that environment and what the drawbacks would be), and robotic missions on the surface of the Moon that astronauts (and eventually perhaps citizen science as well!) remotely operate to perform science.

We may even experiment in the use of material from asteroids or other sources for use as radiation shielding, assuming we don't find another method that is lighter-weight and still effective.

Rob H.

Hollister David said...

"...very few scientists or space-resource folks feel even slightly tempted by the moon,…"

And what's your source? The frenzied flapping of your own lips. Please try to recapture the state of mind you had many decades ago when you were a scientist. A little rigor please. If you want to make a sweeping pronouncements, you need to to back them up.

"This should not be true. But it seems your political-partisan leanings somewhat predict whether you are an asteroid zealot or a loonie... sorry lunati… "

The flip side of Eric Berger's idiocy. Berger will say asteroid guys are out to trash Bush. You say moon folks are out to get Obama. To both of you I say it is idiotic to inject partisan politics into our space exploration goals.

I agree with you on the potential of near earth asteroid mining. And I agree parking asteroids in lunar orbit is a way to eliminate some of the asteroid mining problems: Very rare launch windows, tens of minutes light lag latency, ~ 6 month trip times. An asteroid parked in lunar orbit would have very frequent launch windows, trip times of less than a week and about 3 second light lag latency from earth's surface.

But have you noticed the A.R.M. is going down in flames? If legions of space resource folks advocate parking rocks in lunar orbit, they need to make some noise. Even SBAG dissed this notion. J. S. Lewis (do you know who he is?) doesn't seem enthusiastic about A.R.M. (see his book Asteroid Mining 101

locumranch said...


Why do gravitational lenses form four-point crosses?

The tesseract (hypercube) may explain the four (focal) point cross of the gravitational lens, assuming option (2) wherein the lensed light reaches us sooner due to a local asymmetric gravity-induced contracture of space volume.

David Brin said...

MHill: Rob H is right. Our best “test Bed” would be a spinning test station with tethered work station/habitats at various distances from center of Mass. That would teach us a zillion things. Then do some asteroid work in Lunar orbit. Then Phobos! Extremely valuable place. So much so the Russians keep trying to claim it. Our asteroid experience would let us set up in situ resource utilization machinery on Phobos to make fuel and water and habitats. Only THEN would a trip to the Martian surface make sense.

Luna - as Eric Idle would say - don’t come into it.

Paul is right that SLS is a boondoggle, designed to keep shuttle contractors busy making disposable shuttle engines and solid boosters. Well, the tech will be preserved, at least. But NASA found a way to keep SLS from killing all spaceflight. By making it TOO BIG to do LEO, it meant NASA had to have some money to give in contracts for commercial launch companies. And that is where human innovation is happening.

Locum the time travel effect of the g-lens is due to slightly different travel path-times. I am amazed the differences are so small.

D Hollister, Dig it, sillyperson: I talk to space resources folks almost daily. I serve on the board of advisers of NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts group. I will be keynoting Boeing’s 100 year anniversary celebrations, later this month. Elon Musk took me on a personal, private tour of SpaceX… twice! Not a single one of the space tech folks I know care two whits about revisiting the surface of the moon. Most are gung ho for asteroidal resources because there is something actually there.

Oh, BTW… I worked with John Lewis in the 1980s when he first wrote MINING THE SKY. I spoke with him a month or two ago. I am on the outer advisory council of several asteroid mining groups and my former advisor found the water on the moon and mercury. Oh and my doctorate in planetary physics

And you sir are a deeply stupid and offensive sillyperson. For you to accuse me of lip-flapping… ? Well you do mouth farting! Neener!

Lorraine said...

What about the Lagrange points? Or are those a subset of "lunar orbit?"

donzelion said...

Sheesh, Locum's the only one who got my Space 1999 reference re nuclear waste on the Moon! 'Twas a joke, Paul - not intended seriously. (Guess I needed to add something about shagging shapeshifters to clarify that it wasn't serious.)

David Brin said...

Martin Landau and Barbara Bain and pure silliness.

Jumper said...

I was fooled too, donzelion. It's a common meme that disturbs when presented. I apologize for the illogical leap to conclusions.

If Mars is colonized the inhabitants will be mole people, who only venture out rarely. Some comparison with Antarctic researchers is probably apt but they don't get dosed with radiation nearly as badly. Some of the romance fades. Living in the sky of Venus sounds pretty weird, with no radiation hazard a plus.

Jumper said...

Lorraine's question probably deserves attention but I'm too ignorant to contribute much. I recall Gerard K. O'Neills pumping of the idea, but not recent history of estimating the value of those locales. I think the new plasma rockets give more freedom insofar as costs are reduced to trim orbits or trajectories. I would rather live on a habitat that made routine Earth-moon transits.
see
https://engineering.purdue.edu/people/kathleen.howell.1/Publications/Journals/2006_AA_HowKak.pdf
for some review; the low cost pathways are complex but interesting.

donzelion said...

Paul - Intentionally changing the velocity of hundreds of thousands of tonnes by the necessary km/s to cause it to hit Earth is beyond our capability.

(1) Would it be easier to move a mass the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor to stable Lunar or Earth orbit and practice mining there, or to crash such a mass onto the Earth?
(2) Since we know some of these masses have already hit the Earth, would we really need to change velocity all that much, or just expedite resonance with a little push here or there?
(3) The power of humanity to divert an asteroid assumes a unified species. Probably, we'd all unite to try to stop a Chicxulub-sized mass...but against a much smaller mass that only threatened one country? Particularly if another country hated that country, and preferred them to disappear?
(4) "The idea of doing it by mistake is just silly." Mistake here is less a matter of engineering miscalculation, and more a matter of cost miscalculation: say SuperPower 1 calculates that by applying XXX amount of force, they can shift Asteroid X to move toward high Earth orbit or Lunar orbit - but getting it to stabilize will require applying YYY amount of force. SuperPower 1 calculates the cost of applying both types of force as $500 billion - and proceeds to do so. However, after applying XXX force, the government goes bankrupt, Atlas Shrugs and the oligarchs move to Elysium, and now Asteroid X is moving inexorably toward an Earth rendezvous unless SuperPower 2 graciously comes up with the cash to apply YYY force... (and those risks persist even when SuperPower 1 and SuperPower 2 are relatively friendly toward one another...if they aren't actually friendly...).

If my coffee table was moving at the same speed as an asteroid, it darn well could destroy my house. Since it's on Earth, and I'm on Earth, and my house is on Earth, tripping over my coffee table poses little threat to my house. However, one of those assumptions no longer applies in this discussion, and risks are therefore not quite comparable.

donzelion said...

@Jumper - Living in the sky of Venus sounds pretty weird, with no radiation hazard a plus. Plus, we all know who lives on Venus...doesn't Nelly have a song about what one does when it gets too hot in here?

(I will henceforth assume that one must make an offhand shagging reference to ensure humor convey on a forum.)

Still, the direct benefits of inhabiting Mars are difficult to grasp. Scientifically, robots can get us everything we want with Mars, or Luna, or any other locale. The indirect benefits and spillover advances of such an undertaking are by nature unquantifiable, however - and for that reason, a Lunar outpost may prove immensely valuable (even if not motivated by any scientific justification). Like Apollo (or Columbus) - if one measures the value of the mission in cost/benefit terms, where all benefits are defined in terms of the destination itself, rather than the benefit of undertaking the journey - one typically won't bother to undertake it.

In such a realm, often spirituality offers non-rational bases for undertaking journeys that in economic terms are a waste of time - which, once undertaken, result in benefits that are wholly unanticipated. (That said, I vastly prefer Dr. Brin's writing to L Ron Hubbard's, and prefer to keep mumbo-nonsense at a minimum...)

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin:

If I wait a decent interval between readings, I can get two re-reads (after the initial reading) of a novel and still be surprised by a few items I have managed to forget. As I mentioned earlier, I'm reading "Kiln People" so I'll probably never again be surprised by the line "I recognized the signs of a Smersh-Foxleitner overcompensation complex," but I'm laughing so hard I broke all my furniture.

Thanks.

TCB said...

Excuse my exuberance but here's something not space-related, yet exciting and relating to a point Dr. Brin makes:

That we need to make it hard to hide assets, such as dictators and crooks have in massive amounts around the world.

Well, a gigantic leak has just today hit the news, busting this type of secrecy open like a rotten pumpkin for the hidden wealth of a number of well-known people, such as Vladimir Putin (who had a real crappy weekend by the looks of it!)

http://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/03/panama-papers-money-hidden-offshore

Sooooo tasty.

donzelion said...

Thanks, TCB. Ah yes, Mossack...a law firm I've heard of, but never dealt with.

This part of the story is absolutely hilarious, and absolutely omnipresent:
"The Putin circle’s use of offshore companies contrasts with the president’s call for “deoffshoreisation”, urging Russians to bring cash hidden abroad home. Others who make use of offshore companies include oil trader Gennady Timchenko, Putin’s friend of 30 years. The US imposed sanctions on him in 2014. Others in the data are Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, Putin’s childhood friends and former judo partners. They are now billionaire construction tycoons."

Now, much as I love the call for transparency, having had a hand in some transactions that were mind-boggling complex, I still can't see how to restrain such matters. First thing, let's kill all the lawyers, sure, just as soon as we get rid of all the soldiers, all the construction projects, and shift all government budgets from bonds to direct pay as you go (an anarchist's fantasy, since that would eradicate all governments every save those financed by resource extraction). ;-)

My personal preference is to strive to make opacity expensive - and transparency more lucrative: when you're driving on a freeway, the intentions of the other driver are opaque to you, but you can be fairly certain they're not going to try to drive you off the road, because that would slow things down for both of you. If more people realized just how internal corruption works inside major corporations, they'd lose a great deal of faith in the private sector (and possibly think a little more highly of their governments).





Paul451 said...

TCB,
And that is just one offshoring firm, and not even the largest.

Does make you wonder what David's "$1m henchmen prize" would produce.

David,
Side note in that story, the UK is trying to introduce a law requiring firms identify their "significant" and "beneficial" owners. (Although, on the flip side, UK territories are also the worst tax-haven offenders.)

Locum,
Four dimensional space is not a "tesseract". A tesseract is a specific right-angled shape constructed in four dimensional space. A region of three-space folded or compressed through four-space will be distorted hyperspherically, not a tesseract.

(And more broadly, nothing you said has anything to do with gravitational lensing. Lensed light is taking a longer path, not a shorter one; hence taking longer.)

Rob,
"perhaps a rotating sleeping facility (and getting over the motion sickness by having people climb into it, lie down, and remain lying down while in there"

You do not benefit from artificial gravity when laying down. In fact, bed-rest is used to simulate many of the detrimental effects of micro-g in health studies on the ground. In any station with a rotating section, it's much less wasteful to put the sleeping quarters in the non-rotating section.

Secondly, you do not treat motion sickness by laying still. One of the big results from spin adaptation research is that you have to move around to adapt.

"and robotic missions on the surface of the Moon that astronauts (and eventually perhaps citizen science as well!) remotely operate to perform science."

You don't need people in lunar orbit to drive lunar rovers. The light delay from Earth is trivial, even for directly driven dumb rovers. (In fact, control from orbit is harder since you spend half your time over the horizon. And fast (complex) tracking, unlike signals from Earth.)

But more importantly, NASA hasn't funded a single lunar lander or rover in nearly half a century. There clearly isn't much interest. When people use science as a justification for any human presence on or near the moon, it's obviously just make-believe excuses. Like "growing crystals" on ISS. Or #JourneyToMars for SLS.

Paul451 said...

PaulSB,
"Not to be picky, or to appear to be justifying the program, but isn't this exactly how life behaves?"

To paraphrase LarryHart's catchphrase about "the economy", does the nation exist to serve NASA or does NASA exist to serve the nation?

NASA evolved from being a small agency to the giant money-eating monster it became during Apollo. When the money stopped, it became trapped in an evolutionary cul-de-sac, a "local maxima" in an otherwise vast minima. It spends enormous resources merely standing still. But it cannot evolve to adapt to its current circumstances because it costs more momentarily to eliminate the long-term waste than to keep it. So decade after decade, the agency just festers.

(Of course, NASA didn't evolve. Its convoluted structure was intentionally engineered by Jim Webb in the '60s to protect the Apollo program's funding. Ten major NASA centres spread around the country, with key expensive infrastructure deliberately spread amongst them to make it impossible to rationalise NASA's resources to match its budget.)

"If we had simply killed the space program after Apollo"

{sigh} That's not what I'm saying.

NASA's precursor was NACA. NACA was founded to do technology development for aviation, which had fallen behind the Europeans. NASA, before Apollo, was meant to operate along similar lines, fundamental R&D to fuel the newly born space industry.

But today, when researchers actually do that kind of industry-creating R&D it is almost in spite of the agency, not because of it. SpaceX is based on two tiny NASA programs, PICA heat shield and FASTRAC engine development. Bigelow Aerospace is based entirely around NASA's Transhab work. But unless you're a hard core space nerd, you've never heard of any of those programs. They were tiny programs that snuck inside the small tech dev budget, hiding away from the major program monsters like STS, ISS, Constellation, SLS, until they were discovered and eaten.

US rocket engine development has been paralysed for decades. NASA recently paid a contractor $2 billion to upgrade the 1960's developed J-2 rocket engine, which it then immediately mothballed. (Along with $300m to develop a specialised engine vacuum test-stand, which it also immediately mothballed.) SLS uses recycled Shuttle engines (literally: SLS will use the actual engines removed from the retired orbiters until 2027). And the go-to launcher for NASA and DoD payloads, the Atlas V, uses imported Russian engines (putting both scientific and national security payloads at the whim of the Russian government.)

Meanwhile a tiny project costing a few million dollars helped create one of the most interesting new aerospace developments in decades. The potential created when NASA moves even slightly in the right direction is extraordinary.

I don't want the agency killed, I want it saved.

Paul SB
"[cancelling the shuttle] the expertise and years of experience dies away"
David,
"[SLS is a dog but] Well, the tech will be preserved, at least."

It's been over three decades since the major Shuttle development ended. You don't "preserve" technological knowledge by merely operating it.

Think of a mechanic (a really smart one) who has only ever worked on a single type of car, a single model from a single manufacturer, for his entire 30 year career. He didn't design the car, those guys are long since retired, he just kept them running. And one day you ask him to design an airplane, a completely different type of vehicle, using nothing by recycled car parts. Expect a good result?

During Constellation, it cost NASA around a billion dollar to take an existing Shuttle SRB and launch it with a dummy upper-stage.

Paul451 said...

Donzelion,
Re: Accidentally hitting Earth.

Let me be clearer. We will not be moving an asteroid large enough to cause damage on Earth if it collides.

It is not a thing we are capable of doing.

We are so not capable of it, that people have devised elaborate unconventional schemes if we are ever threatened by a large asteroid, even though making an asteroid miss the planet is a much, much smaller diversion.

When people talk about moving asteroids in to lunar orbit, they are not talking about something large enough to be even a regional threat. Even moving something the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor is beyond our current capabilities. (And according to USAF research, the Earth gets hit with those every year or so. You don't notice unless it hits a city.)

"but against a much smaller mass that only threatened one country? Particularly if another country hated that country, and preferred them to disappear?"

You've now moved the goal-posts from "accidentally" to a deliberate act of annihilation. In order to "disappear" even a geographically small country, you'd need an object an order of magnitude larger than the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk. That means three orders of magnitude more massive. The energy/fuel required is staggering.

Given that kinetic energy scales linearly with mass, but exponentially with velocity, you'd be better off using the same energy to accelerate a small dense mass several orders of magnitude faster. Kinetic Kill Vehicle.

Donzelion, you don't have to believe me or trust me. There are online calculators that let you work out:
how big an asteroid has to be to cause your target level of damage. City-killer, regional-killer, continent-killer, etc.
Then search for an actual asteroid in that size range and look for one with the smallest delta-v from Earth, which gives you a shorthand for the reverse.
Then calculate the amount of fuel required to change its orbit by that delta-v, assuming say an electric ion drive (1000-3000s Isp), or how much of the asteroid you'd need to convert to fuel.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451, your auto mechanic analogy makes the point pretty clear, and you obviously know much more about it than I do (that's part of why I come here). So the next question that crosses my mind is the obvious one: why has NASA become so inept? After a few years of teaching it became pretty clear to me that education was suffering seriously from becoming a political football - kicked hither and yon b=depending on the whims of the party in power at any given moment (though there are personnel and training issues that complicate the picture). Is it like that, where different administrations dick the agency around in different ways depending on their differing political visions?

My thoughts run to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, originally called SERI. It was formed during the Carter Administration as a response to the Oil Crisis, and was one of nine such facilities around the country. But the minute Reagan took office he killed all but one of these research centers. It chugged on for decades with a shrunken budget, but their chemists and engineers continues to do good work and grow the body of knowledge in that field. I imagine the place must be much more exciting now than it was when I was there 17 years ago.

donzelion said...

Thanks Paul451 - your links are quite impressive resources. I note the impact calculator and the original article is dated 2005 - curious what they'd report based on more recent findings and discoveries (including Chelyabinsk itself, but also WISE). But I'll defer to the scientists, who know more than I.

In terms of feasibility (profitability)...well, mining companies do tend to engage the best scientific talent available, but even then, skepticism is warranted on many claims. Alas, I know more about Luxembourg's role as the Switzerland of bankruptcy markets than I do about the science. But whether or not mining asteroids proves to be the greatest introduction of mineral wealth humanity has ever seen, or a total boondoggle, I still believe we may find great value in the undertaking regardless of what we ultimately find.

donzelion said...

Should have said - I still believe we may find great value in the undertaking regardless of what we ultimately find inside the rocks themselves.

Paul451 said...

PaulSB,
"Is it like that, where different administrations dick the agency around in different ways depending on their differing political visions?"

That's a popular myth amongst space advocates, and within NASA apparently. But IMO, it's the opposite. NASA isn't being changed, can't be changed. NASA is trapped, as I said, in a local maxima. All the forces, internal, external, Congressional, are arrayed against the sort of changes necessary to reboot the agency. Hence every major program (*) is corrupted to support the existing agency structure, contractor structure and political structure; because it's actually the "best" option.... within the trap. State-focused politicians won't (can't) allow any reduction of funding to facilities or major contractors in their states, certainly won't support the development necessary in other states in order to completely close the facility in their state, contractors can't rationalise to save costs because they need to spread developments over multiple states to retain that political support, NASA management can't propose programs that undermine that structure or they'd face both internal and external revolt, and no President will spend political capital fighting for a major reset and rebuild of the space agency (**).

So they kill the too-expensive Saturn V to build the too-expensive Shuttle, then kill the too-expensive Shuttle to build the too-expensive SLS. They'll kill the too-expensive ISS so they can build a slightly different too-expensive space-station near the moon.

And all is at peace in Christendom.

* (And even the concept itself of "major programs" is a weak echo of Apollo, part of the trap NASA is in. Why should NASA go to the moon or Mars? Did NACA run an airline, or be the first to fly around the world?)

**(Closest we've had in recent years was Obama's 2010 proposal to cancel the utterly broken Constellation program and focus funding on a major technology development drive, particularly a major engine development program. The idea was to restock the empty shelves, or whatever your preferred metaphor. Congress shut it down and recreated Constellation as SLS/Orion. Another unaffordable launcher which will fly a maximum of four times in the next decade. So NASA stumbles on, unchanged, for another decade or two. Want to know the people who complained loudest about Obama's plan, who still complain about it. People inside NASA.)

Jumper said...

Isn't the cost of moving a large asteroid reduced if you are willing to take longer to do it?

Tim H. said...

My 2 ¢ on the future use of ISS, add a carousel module and a drive and fly it to lunar orbit, and back again, unless it's rad shielding is upgraded.

raito said...

donzelion,

If it's any consolation, the first thing I think of when anyone mentioned radioactive waste on the moon is Space:1999. But I don't look here often on the weekends.

I'm probably one of the few eligible to vote for Tacitus2 in a WI legislative race.

I guess I'm the contrarian today. I do favor going back to the moon, even though it's not particularly mineable. Like Michael Hill, I think there's advantages to having a permanent colony on another gravity well. That doesn't mean I think that having orbiting colonies is bad. I think we need both.

And I also disagree with the idea that last year was our best, for certain values of best. For exploration, maybe. For overall impact, no. Regardless of how one views the Apollo program, it's pretty clear that it's had enormous impact on the world at large. Materials, communications, computing, Tang and Space Food Sticks, etc.

Maybe I'll feel differently in a few years, but I don't see last year's accomplishments, great as they may be, having as much impact as soon.

One thing I never see mentioned is how or whether we're going to try to balance the outflow of spacecraft with the influx of material in order to keep our little blue marble in the same orbit.

locumranch said...



Paul demonstrates an all-too-common mindset: Pendantry masquerading as Scientism.

We know, for instance, that the gravitational lensing effect results in a four (focal) point cross & variable light travel times through the affected region; I offer a folded-space model analogous to a worm-hole or tesseract as a probable explanation; and, he responds with a precise definition of a hypercube (wherein a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square) that in no way disproves the folded-space argument.

Then, we move on to Asteroid Mining which he declares unfeasible with a rather precise calculation of "the amount of fuel required to change its orbit by that delta-v, assuming say an electric ion drive (1000-3000s Isp), or how much of the asteroid you'd need to convert to fuel," ignorant of the fact that we are in no way bound by conventional thrust limitations, especially when the kinetic requirements for both drive & smelting can be met (theoretically) with a large solar reflector, a few hydrogen bombs & as much asteroid-provided reaction mass as required.

Lastly, we are offered a fairly-accurate description of NASA's current level of dysfunction wherein "every major program (*) is corrupted to support the existing agency structure", yet at no time are we offered any sociopolitical remedies, merely a precise explanation of how we can't get there from here.

Pendantry everywhere & not a creative drop to drink.


Best
_____

Feel free to apply the same pedantic criticisms to Climate Change theory

Daniel Friend said...

The very last section of this post reminds me of another blog I read this morning: https://nealsilvester.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/our-creators-cosmos/

Science does an amazing job of explaining the Hows of the universe. I'm a person who believes that religion attempts to explain the Whys. I also believe that taken together, they have the potential to show us a harmonious, holistic view of the cosmos, simultaneously satisfying both our spiritual longings and our scientific curiosities. And I think Dr. Brin is right that all people have a little of both, though some, sadly, choose to ignore one or the other.

So with that said, may 2016 be an even better year for space exploration, and may it keep getting better from there!

David Brin said...



Asteroid 5748 Davebrin makes its closest approach to Earth today (1.7 AU). Hey! I can see my house from here!

sjensen said...

I wonder if going to the moon and constructing a giant LED billboard for advertisment would have a return on investment?

David Brin said...

That spoiled the ending of Hancock for me....

JParker said...

Don't think anyone one else mentioned it but one thing that luna offers is a source of RAW MASS that can be delivered with a combo of mass driver from the surface or an orbital tether. Combining this method of launch with solar sails on the payloads means MASS for the price of sunlight. Glass, Aluminum, Oxygen even Iron. A hydrocarbon shortage will limit human colonization but robots should be good to go. Once we are refining large enough amounts of ore we should start finding places where the "tailings" are particular lucrative. Many X prize type things to go but I propose one of the next ones should be the ISRU production of a solar cell where rarer elements are brought from Earth but the bulk of the mass is lunar sourced.

Jumper said...

This is getting like Groundhog Day.

David Brin said...

Right now I am dealing with press over the Panama Leaks, which eerily resemble a scenario from my novel EARTH (1990).  The question of whether this could lead to an unraveling of secret wealth is interesting. Already being called “the Wikileaks of the mega-rich,” the Panama Papers, show how many powerful people around the world have used offshore and secret accounts to dodge taxes and sanctions and launder money. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/04/what-are-the-panama-papers/476658/

Does this sound increasingly like the prelude to the “Helvetian War,” in my 1990 novel EARTH? I’ll have more to say about that, soon.

Jumper said...

The Guardian has quite an extensive series on this too. Very interesting, and good prediction, David. The transparency revolution makes for interesting times.

Tony Fisk said...

'Helvetian' is the first thing that crossed my mind on hearing about the Panama papers. There have been other rumblings, and I don't think it's at the shooting stage yet. Even so, Iceland's PM seems to be heading for a ride in a tumbrel if he doesn't step down soon (when 10% of the voting public turn out in protest... Granted, it's a small population base. Still unprecedented)

Paul SB said...

Daniel Friend - That's a much better attitude than I usually hear from people on either end of the spectrum. It's also pretty much what Steven Jay Gould was getting at in his book "Rocks of Ages." At least some people in our era seem to be converging on some better, more healthy and sustainable ways to conceive of themselves and this universe we inhabit.

SJensen, when I was a wee lad in school I remember seeing a picture of a crater excavated by a nuclear weapon, the caption suggesting that nukes could be used to excavate canals much more quickly and cheaply than conventional means. I joked with my friends that soon we will see the Golden Arches excavated on the surface of the Moon. Between that and an LED billboard big enough the read from Earth, I'm not sure which would be the more cost effective.

As far as the Panama leaks go, this is just one single firm in one country, among probably thousands of firms with hundreds of thousands of customers. It may only be the beginning, or it may mean the bastards will adapt new ways to hide their ill-gotten booty.

Tony Fisk said...

I wonder if going to the moon and constructing a giant LED billboard for advertisment would have a return on investment?

Clarke wrote an amusing short story on that theme, except it involved some 'minor adjustments' to a scientific experiment.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Asteroid 5748 Davebrin makes its closest approach to Earth today (1.7 AU). Hey! I can see my house from here!


Your house is on an asteroid?

Robert said...

The interesting thing will be this: will Bill or Hillary Clinton's name appear in those papers? Have they used an offshore shelter themselves? (I'm suspecting the answer will be "no" but you never can tell.)

If this is the case... you could see her campaign take a stumble and the Sanders campaign capitalize on it. Well, moreso than it will already, seeing this is right in line with his political message.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

"Your house is on an asteroid?"
A little prince, perhaps?

Paul SB said...

Rob, another possibility is that every single one of them is on the take...

donzelion said...

@Raito - "If it's any consolation, the first thing I think of when anyone mentioned radioactive waste on the moon is Space:1999. But I don't look here often on the weekends." Well thanks - better to chuckle at a weak jest with at least a few people who get the reference. ;-)

@Locum - I think Paul451 was quite specific on a sociopolitical remedy - end NASA, revert to something more NACA-esque, shift from government operated to government supervised, reemphasize private sector empowerment over government efforts. Have to say, I'm not entirely convinced. I get that NASA may make a number of bad investments: that's grist for the mill in both public and private sectors (and when the private sector does it at the tax payer's expense, the waste is never less than when the public sector does it all itself - there's just far fewer billionaires emerging out of the effort...Lockheed/Boeing etc. certainly have their share of millionaires, but I can't think of many aerospace billionaires these days who made their money from aviation - and with all respect to Howard Hughes, aviation may well be better for their absence).

But that's just me. I tend to think scientists based in universities contribute more to science than scientists in private firms, and that the discipline of science suffers when driven by profit motives the way private firms must operate.

I'll wait to add my two-bits to the Panama discussion until after Dr. Brin collects and shares his thoughts. In terms of offshore accounts for the super-rich...well, I know far more about that then I do the history of NASA and the status of asteroid mining.

Tony Fisk said...

On the back of this Panama revelation comes a story that the recent kerfuffle over CSIRO cutting back on climate science is even worse than it first sounded. A lot worse:

"In essence I think we should aim for - 120 staff ... because it would allow a clean cut in terms of eliminating all capability associated with 'public good/Government-funded climate research'.

If we aim for less we will inevitably face the problem of keeping some of the climate scientists (who will no longer be aligned with the new CSIRO strategy).

If we go for more, we will lose important non-climate-related capability."


All of which sounds very pointed.

Deuxglass said...

A base on the Moon all by itself doesn’t make much sense, however if you look at it as a part of a system then it can have a certain logic. In this case you could have a win-win situation

A Moon base’s basic role would be to mine building materials and to extract oxygen from the regolith. If the base is placed near the poles then you can add water to that as well. Doing this is not a big technical problem to overcome but the tricky part is getting this stuff to the market. The Moon is at the bottom of a hole and could not compete with asteroid mining for basic metals and volatiles. The math just doesn’t work out even if you use a mass-driver to deliver metals to Earth but I can see a scenario that will benefit Earth, the asteroid mines and the Moon.

First, asteroid mines will provide the Earth will cheap metals and the Earth will pay for them by sending back up highly specialized and high-value-added products but there is a huge bottleneck, namely the asteroid mines will not have the capacity to manufacture all their needs and the Earth cannot, for economic reasons, provide the asteroid mines with many of the necessary components to actually run the mines. The mines can make their own basic structures but all other things would have to come from Earth and at a very high price. I am thinking of things like panels, pumps, scrubbers, and all that other stuff found in the International Space Station. For an asteroid installation to be able to manufacture all these things would be impossible for various reasons.

This is where a Moon base could be useful. A Moon base could be a manufacturing base for the lower tech stuff that would be too expense to import from the Earth. A Moon base could have enough personnel, raw materials and the power to fill this role. Since the Moon has gravity, it would be easy to adapt existing industrial methods for their manufacture. It would be the perfect place to build these things.

The problem is how to get what the Moon manufactures to the asteroid mining colonies and there is a very practical to do that. You build a Lunar Space Elevator. Because of the low gravity, a Lunar Space Elevator can be built using existing materials such as Kevlar or others. You do not have to have it placed on the equator as on Earth and can be placed from the Moon’s poles to the L-1 Lagrange point between the Earth and the Moon. It is technically feasible, much easier than an Earth Elevator, and much cheaper. You put the base at the pole where there is water, install the solar panels on the top of mountains which are always in sunlight there, and run the ribbons up to space and there you have it, a cheap place to manufacture basic equipment and deliver them cheaply to the asteroid mining colonies.

You can then develop a trade system that is win-win for everybody. The asteroid mines send cheap metal to Earth, the Moon provide cheap manufactured components to the mines and Earth sends very high-tech and low-weight machinery, materials and medical drugs to the mines and to the Moon. The Moon is very low on carbon and hydrogen but the asteroids have tons of it. They could trade that for the Moon’s products. The miners would place orders with the Lunies for a certain equipment and pay for it with carbon and volatiles. In fact, I think that the asteroid mining process would produce too much volatiles that could be used by the miners so storage would become a problem. In that is the case, the miners could send these excess volatiles down the ribbon to the Moon and place them in a “Moon Volatiles Bank Inc.” where they could be withdrawn later as necessary (the bank could even loan out volatiles for interest to the Moon’s inhabitants, a Lunar currency in the making!).

To sum it up, it could be possible to have a three-way commerce that would make money for everyone involved and thereby bootstrapping an ever-larger human presence in space. It would be a win-win-win situation.

Paul451 said...

Daniel Friend,
Didn't see anything in the linked Mormon text except elaborate variations of "Big, isn't it?" next to "So... God, then?"

And it makes the usual logical mistake that most religious make, that even if the reader accepts "Big thing, therefore God it!" it still any way justify the religion itself.

a) The universe is big and complex.
b) Therefore the universe must have been created.
[reel missing]
g) Therefore the human idea of God.
h) Therefore the general idea of religion.
[reel missing]
z) Therefore Mormonism! (And totally not all those other ones.)

"Science does an amazing job of explaining the Hows of the universe. I'm a person who believes that religion attempts to explain the Whys."

Thing is, philosophers have always tried to work out the "How" of the universe around them (or the small fraction they were aware of), and mostly made little progress. Most of the time, they didn't even make much headway on the "What".

It's the method that made science different. The empiricism, the experimentation, the repeatability, and the assumption of error.

Religion doesn't have any of those elements. But they especially don't have the last. Doctrine is doctrine; the True Word of God &/or the Prophet. To claim doctrine is in error is, usually, to provoke the wrath of the religion. And Mormonism is no exception. Religions lack any rigorous and repeatable method of selecting between them. They are untestable. You either believe or you don't. Purely subjective. Therefore they cannot ever offer anything beyond the subjective. You like yours, it makes you feel good. That's it.

And I'm not seeing any improvement in the ability of religion to explain the "why" of the universe. You're still stuck on the same knee-jerk argument-from-awesomeness as the most primitive pagans. "Look, a big thing! It must therefore be, or contain within it, or be created by, a powerful supernatural being. Therefore... errr, obey me." Nothing seems to have changed, not one advance has been made except where forced by scientific advances.

Paul451 said...

locumranch,
"Paul demonstrates an all-too-common mindset: Pendantry masquerading as Scientism."

{cough}

"We know, for instance, that the gravitational lensing effect results in a four (focal) point cross & variable light travel times through the affected region; I offer a folded-space model analogous to a worm-hole or tesseract as a probable explanation; and, he responds with a precise definition of a hypercube (wherein a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square) that in no way disproves the folded-space argument."

What's to disprove? You threw a couple of words you saw in SF at your keyboard, with no understanding of what they mean. You misunderstand the mechanism behind gravitational lensing and liken it to FTL. You misunderstand David's original joke and think he was talking about actual time-travel.

Am I wrong? Did you offer an actual explanation? Do go on then. How does a tesseract create a precise four-point image?

Because all I saw was a child seeing the number four in three places and assuming they must be related. Four images, four sides on a square, a four dimensional shape with square sides! It's the same! Timecube!

"Then, we move on to Asteroid Mining which he declares unfeasible with a rather precise calculation of "the amount of fuel required to change its orbit by that delta-v, assuming say an electric ion drive (1000-3000s Isp), or how much of the asteroid you'd need to convert to fuel," ignorant of the fact that we are in no way bound by conventional thrust limitations, especially when the kinetic requirements for both drive & smelting can be met (theoretically) with a large solar reflector, a few hydrogen bombs & as much asteroid-provided reaction mass as required."

Is it pedantic to expect you to read what you are replying to?

"with a large solar reflector"

A solar thermal rocket, even using optimised propellant, has a low specific impulse. The lower the specific impulse, the higher the propellant mass ratio, hence the less asteroid that makes it to your target.

"a few hydrogen bombs"

Any asteroid large enough to cause damage on the ground would be a loose collection of rubble. These will absorb the vast majority of the force without being significantly disturbed. But even if it didn't, feel free to calculate the number of hydrogen bombs necessary to move a million tonne mass by a few km/s.

The subject of moving asteroids has been well explored. You project your ignorance of the subject onto me.

"Lastly, we are offered a fairly-accurate description of NASA's current level of dysfunction wherein "every major program (*) is corrupted to support the existing agency structure", yet at no time are we offered any sociopolitical remedies, merely a precise explanation of how we can't get there from here."

Few understand the problem, the myths surrounding the space program are thick and strong. Only after enough people see the problem can solutions be considered.

"Pendantry everywhere"

Charming as usual.

Paul451 said...

donzelion,
"Paul451 was quite specific on a sociopolitical remedy - end NASA [...etc...] "

Not even close. I'm not anti-government.

Deuxglass,
"Because of the low gravity, a Lunar Space Elevator can be built using existing materials such as Kevlar or others."

A lunar elevator measures around two hundred thousand kilometres long. It actually stretches more than half way back to Earth.

By the time you have an industry large enough to construct such a monster, you've obviously already solved the problem you're trying to solve with a lunar elevator. (Same is probably true of a mass accelerator.)

In terms of materials, it's staggeringly wasteful. A short rotovator tether does the job at a fraction of the cost. (A relatively short (still huge) tether rotating around its centre such that the velocity of its tips matches the velocity of its orbit. As the tip reaches vertical, the horizontal velocity relative to the lunar surface drops to zero, and the vertical acceleration is small. Careful synchronising the length, altitude and spin-rate, and you can have the tip "touch" the same set of points on the lunar surface each pass. Hovering of a constructed tower just long enough to latch onto a payload.)

Paul451 said...

"Hovering of a constructed tower"

Oops, "Hovering over".

(To better understand a rotovator tether, picture a wheel rolling over the lunar surface, going round and round the moon. Where it touches the surface, it's actually stationary, just for that moment. A rotovator is just a pair of spokes on that wheel.)

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

Your explication of religion above is well-spoken, and for the most part it is what I and a whole lot of other well-educated, rational people (obviously not Trump supporters) think. The one flaw in the argument is that you are talking about hominids, and hominids are not naturally rational creatures. They can be trained to be, but even with the best training System 1 thinking still rules our thought patterns.

The scientific assumption of error is exactly what makes science so effective a tool for discovering truth (or more accurately, detecting baloney, as old Uncle Carl used to say). However, it is that built-in uncertainty that makes it very unappealing to a whole lot of people. If you are diagnosed with melanoma, the cold, hard, rational view is not good. The uncertainty is hard to stomach for most people. Religion pretends to offer comforts. Of course, most of those promised comforts are in completely unverifiable afterlife phenomena, which makes rational, realistic people scoff. System 2 cries "horse puckey!" But System 1 is so myelinated within us that it will constantly work to override System 2.

Until we can fundamentally alter our brain architecture, religion is here to stay. The trick is to tame religion so it does not keep bringing us variations on the Thirty Years War - more bloody purges from peace-loving, God-fearing System 1 obeying people. There's that word "obey," the word that makes it so clear that religion is politics. Too many religious leaders sound like daleks shouting "Obey! Obey!" If we can get religion that lacks that constant demand to obey, we might not see the blood baths that have littered the religious history of our species.

locumranch said...



Typically displayed by those who are entirely ignorant of the Philosophy of Science, there's that pendantry again, evidenced by the belief that observation-based empiricism exists in a vacuum & is somehow capable of generating scientific theory (through spontaneous generation,maybe?) without the application of simile, metaphor & analogy.

Just as our current Atomic Model is based on an extended ANALOGY that compares & equates (theoretical) atomic movement to observable Planetary Mechanics, it is likewise completely reasonable to analogise the folded-space of a Gravitational Lens with that of a Tesseract (a geometrical construction), especially when representations of the hypercube display an internal 'focus of 4' when viewed from any angle.

Similarly, my suggestion that the folded-space model could be equated with 'FTL travel' was purely FIGURATIVE & analogous (much like David's 'time-travel' quip) insomuch as light (or ANY object, for that matter) that travels LESS distance through folded-space would appear to either exceed lightspeed or time-travel when compared to the calculated velocity of an object travelling through the greater distance of unfolded space.

There are other ways to use a solar reflector to move asteroids, for instance, beyond reliance on a 'solar thermal rocket', such as focusing beamed solar radiation on an asteroid's rear to make a crude gas jet.


Best
_____
The Rotavator concept: Steal from Benford much?

raito said...

Paul SB,

With regard to using explosives to advertise from the moon, there's always Jack Vance's The Face.

Robert said...

Sharing an interesting tidbit from "Bloomberg Businessweek" which pokes back at Dr. Brin's assertions of the benefits of free trade - at least, how it impacts the U.S.

"The rise of China did far more than Japan’s ascent to soften the free-trade consensus. China’s low-wage, low-price strategy swept through American industry like a plague. Hardest hit were labor-intensive industries such as apparel, shoes, furniture, toys, and electronics. From 1990 to 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, U.S. production jobs in apparel plunged from 840,000 to 118,000. If a U.S. factory couldn’t match the “China price,” it lost the business. Economists have taken note. Krugman wrote in his New York Times column this March that while protectionism is a mistake, “the elite case for ever-freer trade, the one that the public hears, is largely a scam.”

David Autor, a centrist economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has carefully documented the consequences of China’s rise. In a working paper released in January, Autor and two other economists conclude that imports from China killed about 2.4 million U.S. jobs from 1999 to 2011. That wouldn’t have been terrible if the workers had found jobs in other sectors or other cities. But many didn’t. Job growth was slow, so there were few openings. Lots of laid-off factory workers were still living off benefits a decade later, reflecting a “stunningly slow” adjustment, wrote Autor, David Dorn, of the University of Zurich, and Gordon Hanson, of the University of California at San Diego, in their paper, The China Shock: Learning from Labor Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade.

Autor says he still believes in free trade, including with China. “We don’t want our work to be misconstrued.” But he says their research did sensitize them to the human price that the U.S. has paid in exchange for low-priced goods from China. In terms of lost incomes and lost pride, Autor says, “the costs loom pretty large.”

Once you accept the idea that some people lose from trade, the question becomes what to do about it. Ordinary Americans are conflicted. On one hand, there’s a reservoir of support for foreign trade. A Gallup poll published in February found that 58 percent of Americans see it as an opportunity, vs. 33 percent who view it as a threat. On the other hand, doubts persist. A Bloomberg national poll in March found that almost two-thirds of Americans want more restrictions on imported goods and 82 percent would be willing to pay “a little bit more” for American-made goods to save jobs. Democrats in Washington state gave Sanders a big primary victory on March 26 even though the state benefits enormously from free trade; it led the nation in manufacturing exports per capita last year, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data."

-----------

In short, free trade cost the U.S. 2.4 million jobs, and a combination of slow job growth and the lack of incentives that would have businesses who offshore work pay to retrain laid off employees into new fields has poisoned the well of interest for free trade.

You could say (accurately) that the shortsightedness of rich people and corporations seeking to maximize profits has spread a rich fertilizer of discontent against international business and trade, and empowered the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

Who proposed to write "Coca Cola" on the moon? Was that in "The Man Who Sold the Moon?" Or is my bad memory deceiving me? I recall something about how the protagonist secretly knew that only "7-Up" could actually be done legibly but he bluffed to gain leverage with Coca Cola. And I recall it was supposed to be done with carbon black, but we now know the surface is actually too dark for that to work. The tale was written prior to Apollo, of course.

Deuxglass said...

Paul451,

If a rotovator is the best way to go then I am all for it. I just used the Lunar tether as an example to explore the commercial justification for establishing a Moon colony and making it economically viable. The important factor is making Lunar industry competitive with Earth in supplying certain lower-tech but very necessary items. The method used to transfer finished products to the mining colonies is important only in that it should be competitive whatever that method happens to be and that the mining colonies would be able to give the Moon something valuable in return. In that way a mutually beneficial economic dynamic can develop. Profit is a very strong motivation.

donzelion said...

@Paul451 - didn't claim you were anti-government. However, consider the flow of thoughts you've offered, and why you're prone to be misinterpreted if someone accepts these thoughts:
(1). "Apollo was a waste of money."
(2) "[ESA's lunar mission] is a good example of what I consider to be a primary failure of space programs." (note: space programs generally)
(3) [Against other than lowering costs of entering low earth orbit] is just treading water, wasting tens of billion of dollars and decades."
(4) NASA evolved from being a small agency to the giant money-eating monster it became during Apollo...trapped in an evolutionary cul-de-sac...decade after decade, the agency just festers.

You do say (with a sigh) that you don't want to shutter the space program entirely, but against such searing claims of waste and boondogglery, you invoke NACA - and aviation in the era of billionaires and market controls, where PanAm and a handful of insiders locked up the skies and (temporarily) amassed billions. The implication is that once the government injected serious budgets, NASA evolved into a wasteful boondoggle, so that "when researchers actually do...industry-creating R&D it is almost in spite of the agency."

You may not be anti-government, but what you've written in this set of threads surely is.

donzelion said...

@RobH - I'm a fan of David Autor's work, and measuring the actual job cost of free trade is a worthy task that refutes orthodox doctrine of many economists. However, his purpose is to try to describe what is actually happening - interpreting the data is left to others.

NAFTA/TPP style of "free trade + thicker rules" is quite different from the WTO/GATT style of "free trade". NAFTA/TPP 'free trade' creates wealth that is more likely to flow to workers. GATT/WTO 'free trade' creates wealth that is more likely to flow to oligarchs.

Now I'm not criticizing GATT/WTO 'free trade' - the intention in that enterprise was mostly to reduce the proclivity of oligarchs toward military adventurism (colonial enterprises, World War I & II). A 1945 Keynsian could look at the 2.4 million American jobs lost to China, and say, "Well, that sucks, but it's sure better than trading nuclear weapons back and forth."

But we can do better. After NAFTA passed, instead of a "giant sucking sound of jobs to Mexico" - America underwent its only cycle of wage growth that resulted from productivity gains rather than post-WWII advantages. That short-lived era ended with the dot-com bust, but for manufacturers, it ended with China's admission to the WTO. Unlike Mexico & Canada, where investments must generate some productivity gains to be lucrative, China offered vast opportunities for old-fashioned rental earnings growth - flows directly to oligarchs, rather than to workers - which in turn flow to offshore accounts, rather than to enhancing productivity gains even more.

On issues of trade, we have three dominant proposals:
(1) Sanders: Neo-Isolationism. Use tariffs to protect American jobs - eliminate (or weaken) WTO/GATT. This can work, IF humanity has evolved from its pre-1945 nationalist proclivities, where isolationist practices by one country (to advantage oligarchs in that country) were met with reciprocal treatment by other countries - if we've moved beyond the pre-1945 warfare and if humanity is a "better" creature than we once were. (Sanders chafes at this label, but it is accurate - you cannot use tariffs in a vacuum, without rivals doing the same to counter whatever you've done and to protect their own jobs...)

(2) Trump: Aggressive Self-Promotion. Locking in the gains he's already reaped from rental income, he now calls for better deals. If you believe Trump is superman who can compel China to do as he pleases because of his brilliance, then we can keep the status quo and take back those jobs. If you do not believe in superheroes, then Trump cannot force China to do what he wants merely by unpredictable showmanship - in which case, the effort will maintain the status quo, but with a lot more interesting drama. Lots of Republicans have always been taught to embrace that which hurts them most...which is why they flock to Trump.

(3) Obama (and possibly Clinton): Free Trade Plus. Retain the old system, but supplement it with additional rules that could mitigate the harms in that old system.

A.F. Rey said...

Just as our current Atomic Model is based on an extended ANALOGY that compares & equates (theoretical) atomic movement to observable Planetary Mechanics...

"Atomic" movement? Around where? And how does it relate to Planetary Mechanics?

Or are you thinking about the Bohr Atom, with its electrons whizzing around the nucleus like a pin-ball solar system? If so, your knowledge is woefully out of date. If I recall correctly, that model lasted only a few decades at most, becoming outdated by Heisenberg (the physicist, not the rogue chemist :)) and Linus Pauling. It is only remembered now as a quaint model of early physics, and a readily-recognized symbol of radioactivity.

But "current?" It's as current as a Model T Ford. :)

donzelion said...

@RobH - or to summarize and correct - "free trade cost the U.S. 2.4 million jobs, and a combination of slow job growth and the lack of incentives that would have businesses who offshore work pay to retrain laid off employees into new fields has poisoned the well of interest for free trade."

- actually, insert "oligarchic" (or rentier) before "free trade" and perhaps we're back on the same page.

Oligarchs are not exactly shortsighted - so much as they're realistic in their ability to fend off rival oligarchs (and the unlikely prospect for their children to expand the family fortune through the same measures they used to build it). They know they got their wealth through skillful manipulation of certain close connections - they know that others can also form close connections, and thus, reach a state of taking that wealth away. Since it's easier to defend rents than production, they maximize that set of profits which is easiest to defend (rents).

NAFTA/TPP change this game somewhat, making it easier to defend productive assets, rather than merely holding onto rental assets. If a well-placed set of elites is competing with another well-placed set of elites to build the best factory, then the magic of competition can operate so that everyone benefits - and rather than investing in offshore schemes to hide the assets, one deploys them to enhance the best factory to keep it the 'best.' But if there's no way to guess which set of elites are going to take your factory away from you as soon as you make a mistake, then investment flows into offshore schemes to stash the cash, rather than using it in some way that produces work.

David Brin said...

Deuxglass your lunar scenario is interesting, though I find it likely that addidative manufacturing methods would work in weightless conditions at the asteroids and a centrifugal facility can provide weight effects. Also note that while I do portray a space elevator on the moon being used for 100 million years to LIFT THE EARTH (!) that elevator has to be very very very long because it can only stay up if there’s enough centrifugal force on the counter weight. Hence it must be on the far side and likely the equator,

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/11/lets-lift-earth.html

locum: “Just as our current Atomic Model is based on an extended ANALOGY that compares & equates (theoretical) atomic movement to observable Planetary Mechanics…”

Except that that is no longer even remotely true and hasn’t been for a human lifetime.

Robert: “pokes back at Dr. Brin's assertions of the benefits of free trade”

Not at all! I have always avowed that the US lost manufacturing jobs due to globalized trade. Moreover I favor aggressively fighting predatory mercantilism. My chief point has been to show that uplifting several BILLION fellow humans around the world has been in our national interest, especially when they live right next door. The towering effect of NAFTA has been an increasingly middle class Mexico, which should have been our absolute foremost foreign policy goal, all along.

Where I demand aggressive counter attack is in regards defending the goose that has laid these golden eggs, US inventiveness. We have paid for 70 years of trade deficits by inventing new things from jets/rockets/computers to the Internet. Those who would steal that from us are shortsighted fools.

Robert said...

Yes, we have. It was a gentle amused poke, not anything like my war on the anarchists of Facebook. ;) (One day I'll learn to leave them alone to their delusions. In the meantime I can't help but taking nails and popping their delusions, only to find they line those delusions with kevlar.)

The benefits of free trade have made up for the drawbacks. That said, there are important learning experiences on this. My primary point is that by pocketing profits from outsourcing instead of investing in our employees and retraining them into newer and better fields, oligarchs pretty much laid down ripe fertilizer from which Sanders and Trump have sprouted. (Though Trump and his ilk are more a noxious weed that takes advantage of a situation. Sort of like the bamboo in my backyard. Impossible to wipe out without constant work.)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

a) The universe is big and complex.
b) Therefore the universe must have been created.
[reel missing]


I've never received a good explanation of why the next logical step doesn't follow--that the God Who is even more complex than the universe He created must also have been created. I mean, if the logic works for one thing, why not for the other?

David Brin said...

LH Mormons have no trouble with that. And Hindus answer "It's Shiva (turtles) all the way down."

onward!

yes...

onward

Daniel Friend said...

@Paul451 and Paul SB: You both bring up some interesting and valid points. To discuss them (and avoid posting a 1500-word behemoth to Dr. Brin's comment thread), I've written my own blog post about the question: https://troublemakingeditor.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/ruminations-on-science-and-religion/

Enjoy!