Sunday, April 07, 2019

Looking up and out

Last month, Cheryl and I and our daughter I had dinner with Rusty Schweickart, at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, at a gala celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 9 mission that tested every technology needed for the first lunar landing, just four months later. (David Scott and Jim McDivitt had their own entourages at other tables. Only two Apollo missions still have all three members alive and these guys are as sharp as lasers.) Rusty was the "token liberal" on that mission, who became advisor to California governor Jerry Brown, along with Stewart Brand and other techno-hippies... who have always favored step-by-step advances in both sustainables and cautious nuclear power.

Many thanks to the folks at the B612 Foundation (which strives to develop ways to defend us all from killer asteroids) for hosting Rusty’s table at this way-fun event, and special thanks to our B612 hostess Hillary Aiken.

And the White House proposes cutting NASA's budget by half a billion dollars while diverting remaining resources to a copycat/useless stunt on the Moon (see below). Please pledge support for The Planetary Society's support for space exploration.

== Danger! Danger from above! ==

Detected by a US satellite, a space rock exploded with 10 times the energy released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb - 40% the energy release of Chelyabinsk - over the Bering Sea, off Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. A  fireball this big is only expected about two or three times every century. To help us understand and deal with possible dangers from above, join the B612 Foundation! (Wait, wasn't Tunguska nearby? Who is pot-shotting Russia?)

An extreme form of solar storm, known as a solar proton event (SPE), struck our planet 2,679 years ago — 660 BCE — according to new research published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If an event of such magnitude were to strike head-on today, it would likely wreak havoc on our technological infrastructure, including communications and navigation.

It’s now the third massive SPE known to scientists, with others occurring 1,245 and 1,025 years ago. This latest discovery means solar storms of this variety are likely hitting Earth's bullseye more frequently than we thought—perhaps once every 1,000 years—but more data is required to create more reliable estimates.

In fact we know the Sun spews such things much more often than that, because they nearly all miss Earth! But a couple that missed us have taken out space probes. It’s simply inexcusable that we haven’t been spending reasonable R&D on EMP protection for 70 years. Alas, the Putinist-Trumpists want to slash R&D of all kinds. The last thing Vlad wants is for us to be EMP resistant.

Oh, BTW, 660BCE does correlate pretty well with the dawn of the new classical era, especially in Greece, so maybe the mutation rate…

A magnetar comes back to life! If it happens to a much closer neutron star, aimed just right…

But the biggest likely threat is our own sun, as we stifle our planet in a cozy greenhouse blanket that prevents Earth losing heat as fast as it comes in.

== We choose to go to the moon... because... ==

Vice President Pence Gives NASA Five Years to Put Americans Back on the Moon—or Else.” If any of you think you can defend this terrible thing, at any level and in any way, from its justifications to feasibility to blatant political motivation, all the way to the harm it intends, devastating any possibility of US breakaway leadership in space... please. Knock yourself out. Come defend this drivel below, in comments. 

It is unalloyedly indefensible and one more in a long list of depredations of our future.

Dig it again: HUMANITY is going back to the dusty, useless lunar surface, because it’s a close, easy sandbox for kindergarteners to learn to walk. To strut around and declare: “Today I am a man!” There are almost no resources down that gravity well and no wealth or near term benefits. But sure, I might be wrong! So let the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Euros, billionaire tourists and other Apollo wannabes romp around “exploring” down there. "Happy bar moonsvah!” Let us know if you find anything surprising or valuable and we grownups will drop in for a look.

Meanwhile, there are much harder things for the U.S. and Japanese to do out there. Vast wealth and huge accomplishments that only we can do. Because they are vastly more worthwhile. And because they are hard.

== A better idea, at last? ==

Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket company has studied repurposing upper stages of its future New Glenn launch vehicle to serve as habitats or for other applications. Decades ago I led a similar study at the California Space Institute, exploring ways to utilize the Space Shuttle’s capacious External Tanks (ET) in orbit. We configured a strawman design that - with just three shuttle launches - could have produced a station with vastly more usable volume than the current ISS.  Yes, with just three launches, and more capable, too.

At the time, NASA officials had an allergic aversion to even discussing possible ET use, so we kept dive bombing them (at net-energy cost) into the Indian Ocean. The only practical outcome of our studies became my short story “Tank Fam Dynamo” about not only a vast station using ETs, but also electrodynamic tethers and brewing beer in space!

The story is available (ironically?) on Amazon Kindle. … and in my collection The River of Time.

== Short takes ==

Agh! XKCD on spaceships vs airplanes.

This recent webcomic from XKCD: Light Pollution and the Disappearing Night Sky appears to reference my (Hugo winning) short story The Crystal Spheres, published 35 years ago, from my anthology The River of Time.

Another reference in the choice of terminology for this end state of the sun in the far future, reminiscent (perhaps slyly?) of The Crystal Spheres?

Register for the Future In Review conference, returning to California, October 8-11, 2019, at The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. 2019 speakers and moderators include: 

George Church, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School; and Director, Personal Genomics
Kim Stanley Robinson, Hugo-winning Author of Science Fiction
George Dyson, Technology Historian & Nonfiction Author
Larry Smarr, Director, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and Harry Gruber Professor of Engineering, UCSD
Don Norman, Author and Founder, The Design Lab, Calit2
Ed Butler, Senior Correspondent, BBC
David Brin, Founder, Futures Unlimited; and Sci-fi Author and Physicist


TCB said...

It's simple, really: the Trump administration wants to deport people to the moon.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"let the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Euros, billionaire tourists and other Apollo wannabes romp around “exploring” down there."

That's fine by me. As long as it's real biological humans, not robots, and it's as quick as possible. Am not fixated on a Giant American Phallus which MUST be the FIRST to penetrate. In the blogpost, referred to as a "close, easy sandbox" but i would not say it's easy. Have seen microphotos of the inside of used space helmets, and it gives me chills, seeing how energetic particles tear through polymers making microscopic stalactites. It's crazy dangerous out there.

Not easy, but the moon's close. And that means fast. Which is important because every day we don't get off the earth, is one more day of gamble. But losing this bet does not mean saying "drat" and limping home with pocket change. Losing this bet means lights out, it's all over. No more scifi, no more anything until the cockroaches take their rightful place among the stars.

Last week, saw an interview with a guy who does NEO. We're up over 20,000 NEOs, and there's a couple dozen of them which merit special concern. A couple decades away for some of those. So yeah, let's go all B612 all over them things.

The problem is that the ones heading straight at us are the most difficult to spot, because from our POV they have smaller lateral movement. Take two skyshots 3 days apart, and plenty of things are easy to see moving.

But if something's coming head-on, the main difference will be brightness, not position, and that's much harder to detect. For something coming right at us from the direction of the sun, we may have no warning time at all.

One of those 2040's NEOs may be 'The One' and we can't yet rule this out. If all we have by then is a few starships supervising a hundred mining robots, then the whole human species is done. 100% done. But if we've got a couple thousand on the moon by then, our species survival doubles likelihood.

What's lacking in this debate, here, is the sense of urgency i feel. Just get to the moon, that's all we have to do. Then take a breather, take centuries if you like, and plan and learn, the best way to do the Belt and Mars and Europa and Ganymede. I hear Triton looks awfully lucrative these days. But none of that will happen if we lose just one of the bets we are making, every single day.

David Brin said...

TCB I understand, and sorry, but your arguments have nothing whatsoever to do with our situation. They are both cutting NASA budgets and insisting we spend a lot of what's left duplicating what half a dozen others are about to do and that we did 50 years ago. How is it helpful to humanity that we duplicate crap like that? Or worse, join an "international" expedition that steals all US technology? We and the Japanese could be actually moving ahead to locate, understand, mine and move NEOs.

Did you bother to read anything I said about this? At all?

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"simply inexcusable that we haven’t been spending reasonable R&D on EMP protection for 70 years."

Perhaps overstated, for it's only been 40 years since our installed base of diesel transportation was eclipsed by other modes which rely on things which could be EMPed. And of course DARPA has been working on this since before they lost their "D". Billions spent in the past decade alone, on making logic circuits work by shuffling light (rather than electron holes ;-) because that circuit survives an EMP.

It's a core national defense aim. Used to be, that we knew we could not be invaded by conventional forces because of ten-millions of diesel trucks and our installed base of long guns, thanks Amm2! But the more techy war gets, the more it can be disrupted by the EMP of a peppering of small nuke bombs.

So yes it's a threat from space, and the sun too, but we have been working on it, because we have the greatest collection of military minds the world has ever seen. You're right that the funding has not been "reasonable" in reflection of the threat. I agree. But we are trying, actively, to make circuits immune to the EMP effect.

It's just difficult, because most times when you push a photon through a gate, you must create a new photon to plod further through the circuit. Microlasers are neat, but we'd need nano ones. Or simply double the flow and use 1/8 of the photons as power to create the next one, but that makes a simple circuit gigantic. In theory, we should be able to make photon logic gates with biologics.

I don't know what the advance will be, which makes it possible. But sometimes, i get this gut feeling, that we're barking up the wrong tree looking for a superconductor for electrons, when we should be finding one for photons.

David Brin said...

Electronics can be protected with fuses and circuit breakers. If every fuse got burned it might take weeks to pry open all our computers and phones and replace them. But we'd be back up.

There are no such fuses. This is treasonous stupidity.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Yana

The object coming straight at us is not a worry!
That object is guaranteed to miss us!
(Unless it is only hours out in which case it is far too late to do ANYTHING)

yana said...

duncan cairncross thought:

"That object is guaranteed to miss us!"

And we will fondly miss it too, reminiscing about the day before January 16th 2038, that amazing January 15th of 2038, when the Hammer was still just a star which had rose and set brighter for the past day or two. But then there was January 16th, when it's metal core sunk straight into earth's mantle, ending 2 billion lives around the Pacific and the shockwave creating a new continent bridging Africa and Antarctica.

But earth's remaining 8,000 humans had to wait to move in there because, you know, curtain lava for a coupla centuries. But the other side of Antarctica is a paradise now, so who knew?

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duncan cairncross said...

You don't understand - holding a constant bearing is how you would see something coming in a small scale
Like another aircraft in the air

But on a planetary scale if you see something on a constant bearing NOW that means that NOW their vector is pointing at us

On any scale larger than a few hours that means that their vector will point away from us soon

Alfred Differ said...


The object coming straight at us is not a worry!

Pointing that out to Yana won't address the fear. You are right, of course, and with the ever growing numbers of cameras looking upward, we are likely to see more threats earlier than later, that won't zero out the risk. Fear isn't amenable to reason... just tranquilizers. 8)

Putting in fuses and circuit breakers is a TWODA thing. No need to fear what can be reasonably cheaply defended.
Looking for hammers is a TWODA thing. Sounds like an excellent project for the amateur community.

Putting a bunch of us on the Moon right now is not a TWODA thing. It takes millions of people to stand up a community that can manage on it's own for long periods at today's tech and education level. Maybe tens of millions. We can't stand up such a self-sufficient community on Luna without a much deeper reach into the solar system for the necessary resources. Trying to do it from Terra would destroy us.

locumranch said...

It's probably too late to mention that the Marxist Historical Sequence has a lot in common with Francis Fukuyama's 'The End of History' thesis as both apply circular reasoning to assert that a certain preferred outcome is somehow inevitable and/or teleologically predetermined.

It all begins with a forgone conclusion: "We have arrived (or will soon arrive) at Point D", the argument goes, "and since we have passed through Points A, B and C before arriving at Point D, then we must assume that our arrival at Point D is & will be inevitable".

This is Grade A Malarkey, of course, but it is comforting Grade A Malarkey because it allows the circular reasoner to assume that what was once true (this Point D 'fait accompli') must always be true, even when said endpoint is observably false, transient & arbitrary, the problem being that past accomplishment can in no way predict future accomplishment.

Regardless of past performance, the future remains uncertain, which is justification enough to return to the moon in order to prove that we can repeat our past performances. Instead, we dither & argue. We delay & wait, believing in teleological inevitability as irreplaceable opportunities slip away. Time runs out.


Duncan argues that the hurtling object will miss our planet because other hurtling objects have missed our planet before, except when they have NOT missed our planet before & caused catastrophe. Flipping a coin is preferable to this circular argument.

I accept that I am always wrong, which implies that I may be wrong about that too, which implies that I may be right, which calls into question my initial assumption of wrongness. Right?

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TCB said...

Dr. Brin hath writ: "TCB I understand, and sorry, but your arguments have nothing whatsoever to do with our situation."

Hahahaaah, you were replying to the guy below me. I just made a one-line joke about Trump deporting people to the moon.

God, I HOPE you were replying to the guy below me.

Anonymous said...

>> Alfred Differ said...
\\Putting in fuses and circuit breakers is a TWODA thing.

EMP impulse coming from outside, and ruin thin elements of your microchips. How any fuses can help it?

Only Faraday Cages can help. But that's totally unpractical. How'd you use your smarphone, your wifi? ;)

Tacitus said...

I agree that the moon is not a particularly appealing destination. We know it can be done. Unless there has been some seriously suppressed data, we won't learn much new for our efforts. It is cheap, compared to say going to Mars, but many more useful purposes could be found for billions of dollars.

That being said.

There is some value in keeping space infrastructure up and running. Recent years in which we have been beholden to other, semi friendly nations for our launch capacity are shameful*. Oh, btw, the NASA budget has actually been modestly increased under the current admin, at least according to numbers I can find. Private enterprise is also stepping up, and more power to 'em.

We keep at least one factory line fully set up to build tanks in large numbers. I'm told that until the early 1980's there was a facility on the east coast where gigantic lathes used to make 16 inch naval guns was kept operational, the lathes slowly turning to keep the mechanisms in top condition.

An Apollo redux program would at least do much to keep us space capable after a generation of decay.

It would also be interesting, but again not worth the admission price, to see how much better we could do it today. Lots of people now buy their grade school kids communication devices with more processing power than went to the moon last time around.

I read a Dan Simmons book years back. In a brief, probably throw away scene an alien race created a ridiculous, extravagant space environment for diplomatic meetings.....just to show that they were a society that could do so. There were some of these intangibles in play during Apollo back then. A new version with perhaps some of our Western allies on board could do the same. Heck, a joint venture with China might be the diplomatic coup of our times.

Mind you I'd rather they invent warp drive in my life time.


* the story of how we started using Russian RD-180s is interesting. I've read it was in part to keep them from being sold off - post collapse of the USSR - to the highest bidders in places like Pyongyang and Tehran. Also we got them at a really good, garage sale good, price. But it cost us in the longer run.

Larry Hart said...

In response to Mick Mulveney's comments about Benedict Donald's tax returns:

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney echoed his boss’s aggression on Fox News. The Ways and Means committee will “never” see Trump’s tax returns, Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday host Bill Hemmer, even though chairman Richard E. Neal filed a request last week for six years of Trump's personal tax returns from 2013 to 2018.

“Nor should they [see them]” Mulvaney continued, claiming (accurately) the Republican base would not care regardless. “Keep in mind, that's an issue that was already litigated during the election. Voters knew the President could have given his tax returns, they knew that he didn't, and they elected him anyway. Which, of course, is what drives the Democrats crazy.”

In response to that, I'd say there is no need to see Trump's tax returns. We all know he's hiding something that would sink his presidency if it were revealed. Even his supporters know that--that's why they defend his hiding of whatever it is. What's the big deal about discovering which specific thing he's hiding?

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Jon S. said...

Turns out aerobraking doesn't really work that well on Mars, though, as while there is technically an atmosphere, it's - well - about as much atmosphere as you might expect on a world with a surface gravity of approximately 0.34g. That's why the unusually risky Curiosity landing, with the SUV-sized disposable braking rocket from which the rover itself was suspended.

As for Mulvaney, he's obviously unfamiliar with the statute in question. It's not a matter of what Donnie "permits" - the law states that on request from the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Treasury Department shall (not "may") provide the tax returns of any American taxpayer - including the President. I'm told this same law has already been used, to force Nixon to reveal his returns during his administration (at which point it was discovered that he still owed half a million dollars). Should Treasury refuse, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin becomes liable for arrest and imprisonment for the crime of Contempt of Congress. (Insert jokes about contemptible Congressmen here.)

The White House doesn't even enter into it, and they have no more right to contest this transfer of information than a high-school student can contest the school principal's request to see the student's transcript. Some have predicted that this might become "tied up in litigation" - but there's nothing to litigate, it's settled law.

Mike Will said...

From a recent AOC tweet:

Congress: 'We’re going to need a copy of the President’s tax returns from 2013-2018,'

45: No, I’m under audit.

Congress: 'We didn’t ask you,' her tweet concluded, along with the receipt and nail polish emojis.

Some men seem to have misplaced their nads, but that doesn't appear to be the case for women.

Darrell E said...


In addition to the reasons you mention, ULA bought RD-180's because they are really good engines. Better than anything any US aerospace contractors had produced yet. With the possible exception of the SSME which is considerably more efficient though a bit lower T/W, and the RD-180 is a much bigger engine (933,000 lbf vs 510 lbf). With a supply of relatively cheap RD-180s and very little demand for additional capacity or performance, engine design languished.

SpaceX's Raptor engine, which they are just now in the process of bringing into service, is the 1st engine that surpasses the RD-180's combustion chamber pressure, a key metric of engine performance. Like the SSME the Raptor is also much smaller than the RD-180 but should be a bit higher performance and also fully reusable. Both the RD-180 and the SSME were partial steps towards the design concept finally achieved with Raptor, "full-flow staged combustion."

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

progressbot is not a real person. I believe it is an AI bot which is why talking with it seems so sterile. To mask was it is, it's creators run it through one or perhaps two mediocre translators in order to give the impression that the problem is in not what it says but rather in the translation. It has book knowledge but lacks depth in interpretation, coherence and judgement. It has no humor and has low social skills. When you talk to it you feel that something is off, strange and just not right. Someone decided to test it here because the level of discussion is usually well above other blogs.

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Anonymous said...

Tacitus said...

I believe Deuxglass to be correct. There is a whiff of Olgino coming off every post. For one thing the length alone suggests a person, or programmer, being paid by the line.

The Pro-Ukraine slant, makes me wonder if it was a Uke counter to the Internet Research Agency. It would be bomb grade irony if the tolerance for refulgent conspiracy theories here at ConBrin attracted them!

When and if he/she/it gets off probation and wishes to take me to task over this opinion that's fine. I come here in part to have my assumptions challenged.

A counter challenge though....if the bot returns perhaps it could be with a candid overview of the current elections going on in the Ukraine. They are fascinating.

TW/Tacitus (or........maybe not!)

Oh, and Darrell, thanks for the insights on rocket engines.

David Brin said...

The notion that Progressbot actually thinks he can just blithely continue ranting under "anonymous" is actually a little sad, and kind of supports Tim's assertion that he may be a robot, indeed. A two-day ban is a tiny thing and he could have taken it like a man.

It is now three days. If he continues, it will be a week. And I have further options. Making me go to the effort of pressing the trash icon several times is an affront to my working time.

Dig it, sir. If you don't like our rules, go make your own blog. Attract the kind of community I have here. Let it's reputation spread around the world. Maybe we'll all crawl to you, begging to be let in. hm?

David Brin said...
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David Brin said...

For locum to criticize cycles of history and teleology is rich, since his cult revolves around the notion that everything we built is about to crash, because we’ve become soft and decadent, according to the natural life cycle of nations.

In fact , I am critical of BOTH major kinds of historical teleology. Both the Marxist historical sequence and the right-wing feudal romantics’ “cycles of age” are romantic nonsense, though at least Marx built his upon very deep historical reading and some apparent cause/effects that did have some pattern, up to the 1860s. But when it came to predicting FORWARD from his day, the test of 'science,' his theory utterly collapsed.

Right wingers desperately want their cult belief in a coming decadence collapse to come true, so they can sneer “I told you so.” And hence Steve Bannon flies all over the world, in service to Putin and Murdoch, trying to incite an artificial “crisis,” that was nowhere near, without them.

Alfred Differ said...

…an anonymous responder looking at lot like progressbot said…

... even ten millions humans on the Moon...will not save as.
Without using techs we can't even imagine today (well, someones can ;)).

Nah. No one can at the moment, but that doesn’t worry me. Some might think they can, but I don’t believe them yet. Modern humans first leaving Africa probably couldn’t imagine much of the tech needed to colonize the southern Pacific, yet humans did exactly that. We tend to invent stuff on the fly including adaptations to ourselves and our cultures.

Resource from "deeper reach into the solar system" will not help us.
Because there NO such sweet, half-refined and easy to dig out resources out there.
Because it on Earth was processed by billions of years of geological processes.

No. Factually incorrect. True of Luna. Untrue of many of the asteroids. Free hydrogen is a little hard to find in useful quantities without diving into radiation hells, but water is abundant.

A lot has been learned in the last generation about what’s out there and what part of it is already concentrated in useful ways. There is much more to learn... but we do that on the fly too. If we get out there and poke around looking for useful ways to make money, we will solve our long-term survival problems at the same time. Markets are neat and tidy in this way.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I don't think he's a bot. If he is, though, I'd be inclined to buy stock in the company that created him.

I'll respect the ban from here on and avoid responding during those windows.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll read all this funny malakrel tomorrow

David Brin said...

Alfred please do not answer or even read anything by this person. He is intelligent and his perspective can be interesting. But he has no manners at all and his rage reflex makes him very very lazy.

If he can control himself until Thursday... he will be welcome back... but uh,oh.

"Well, I'll read all this funny malakrel tomorrow"

Okay. It is now Friday. Keep it up.

Deuxglass said...


Don't forget to also buy stock in companies that can detect AI masquerading as human. They both have great futures.

Alfred Differ said...

The story of the relationship involving purchases of Russian rockets isn’t complete unless you hear the parts involving the ‘Orphans of Apollo’. There was a lot more going on than just the government-government interactions. From the perspective of some of my friends, our own government out-bid private offers for those Russian capabilities that would have otherwise resulted in something closer to private industry in Russia with strong ties to private industry in the US. In hind-sight, politics probably would have made a mess of those relationships and scuttled the projects anyway, but from where we sit, the shameful inability of the US to fly astronauts was partially a result of this effort to squash private entities by NASA, thus self-inflicted. The history books are going to be interesting to read on these events when they finally get written.

I’m wary of arguments for keeping space infrastructure up and running. The entities involved ARE space as many investors see it, thus they frame their understanding of prices and costs accordingly. That hinders innovation. During the Cold War, a point could be made about maintaining the ability to build ICBM class boosters, but the argument grows weaker with the years and the slow progress private industry is making into a market formerly dominated by defense contractors. Spend too much money to maintain infrastructure and you’ll unwittingly deliver corporate welfare for a market niche that can’t compete with the newly evolved mammals. Guys like me will ask what you really want for your future. ICBM’s? Space tourism? Asteroid prospectors? Space-based communication assets that deliver voice and data bandwidth EVERYWHERE on Earth?

Apollo redux isn’t truly American when it comes to our role as barbarians in the world. It’s too much like an old, grizzled, gray-beard reliving his youth. “I remember when we used to put MEN on the MOON! Those were REAL men.” Yes, grandpa. I’m sure you do. No doubt. I have a world to save, though.

If you want something flashy as a power display, think about what it will mean to the world when our businesses are out there and not just a government agency dishing up another Flags-And-Footprints mission. Think about what it will mean to stock values, our military reach, our options for telling certain nations to @#$%-off when they had a previous strategic relationship with us and strain it with current political demands, and so on. Think about what it means when our people make those things happen.

Flags and Footprints proved useful during the Cold War as an alternative to Armies and Atomics. We can do better now by forcing open the frontier in an irreversible manner.

Alfred Differ said...


I'd be a good little opportunist and invest in both sides of the arms race. However, I'd probably overweight the AI producers as I expect them to win the war. 8)

Tacitus said...


I believe you are suggesting East India Company Redux!


Deuxglass said...


Short one and go long the other. No outlay of cash for you except for a small interest expense. Just choose wisely.

Alfred Differ said...

Option butterfly spreads re-weighted occasionally. Probably a few of them to get date spreads too.

I'd mostly bet on volatility when the combat got really serious. 8)

For anyone not paying close attention to what the mammals are doing, I encourage a closer look. For example...

Darrell E said...

Looking forward to Wednesday's FH launch. And Hopper progress.

David Brin said...

No one, apparently, is connecting the dots and looking ahead for what's intended, downstream, by those pushing the U.S. to "race back to the moon." Sure, some reasonably dismiss the Pence-Trump lunar-declaration as pompous jingoism without scientific or national merit, misdirecting US space resources and efforts toward copycatting past glories. But there is more to this, as plain as the nose on your face. I'm astonished anyone believes the potemkin farce that these guys actually want a "race" to the moon. That in itself would be stupid and wasteful, but it won't and cannot remain a "race."

Here is a confident prediction as to what WILL happen, if Republicans remain in power, prioritizing a silly moon-race over heading out to prospect and rake-in asteroidal wealth. As costs mount, you will see a flood of announcements accompanied by exclamation points (count 'em.) Suddenly, at a politically opportune time, the White House would announce:

"Huzzah, rejoice!
"We have negotiated making the moon landing mission a JOINT-international project!!
"It will be more efficient, spreading costs!!!
"It will set an example of international cooperation and a spirit of pan-human accomplishment!!!!
"One giant step for humanity and peace!!!!!!"

Unspoken will be:
- No one in the US wanted to pay the number of tax dollars it would take, to "win" any "race" against the Chinese and other Apollo wannabes, desperate to prove themselves, even on that dusty-useless plain.

- We will pay all right, in the most-expensive way, by transferring all of our technological methods, skills and advantages directly to our new "partners"... for the sake of the mission, of course.

Make no mistake, that is the end game for the jingo-competitive "race"... as it was for "U.S. Space Station Freedom." Our money and space tech to help them get their glory moment in dust. And yes, this is utterly the path things will take, if we don't stop this travesty, one more case of utter Republican treason.

(Oh, note that none of my objections were in "leftist" terms. All of them were in terms a patriotic, Goldwater conservative would understand. And hence the reason Arizona draws current from the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave.)

Alfred Differ said...

I don't think it is as simple as your prediction. Basically, I don't think your prediction is testable, though I agree with large chunks of it.

1) When the politically opportune time comes, there could be a Republican or Democrat in the White House. I suspect both of them would negotiate to share costs based on how Democrats participated in the various ways Station morphed into an international project. The motives for each party might be different, but I'm not sure they would be measurable.
2) When it comes to paying the costs of another race, I suspect both sides would have a hard time justifying it. Senators and House members with industry at stake could do so, but that's the same solution from the 60's and it worked up to a point. Depending on which one is in power, different sites will be favored, but that's a non-partisan approach.
3) No matter who is in power, they eventually run out of money to chase big dreams. Whether they commit fraud up front about those dreams can usually be debated (though not this time if considered by reasonable people), but they run out. Mondale understood that Apollo had to end and NASA's version of the follow on involving Shuttle, Station, and two tug variations wasn't ever going to be in the budget. Later members of Congress had similar understandings, so NASA evolved into that Tim would recognize as one intended to keep that big lathe turning... at least with respect to the human space flight operation. Not so with planetary science, thank goodness.

From where I sit, promises have been made down through the years by both sides that were obviously untenable then, and painfully obviously so later. SLS is the current version. What the current administration is doing, though, isn't like that. What the current top leadership is doing looks much more like the kind of fraud desperate people commit when they despair of accomplishing anything at all. Hail Mary end-zone pass. Gee... I hope this works... except my quarterback doesn't have the arm for it. Ah well. Let's pretend anyway.

I’ll offer my own predictions, though, instead of just picking at the offered one.

1) The current GOP attempt to push for a Moon landing will be respected within NASA because it has to be and there is no harm in pretending as proven by Congress forgiving them for missed promises in the past. Keep that lathe turning will prove to be enough for the remainder of this administration.
2) SLS will fail in the sense of meeting goals and budgets. This time they will let it drop because there will be an alternative, but the politics of this will be hairy and it might involve re-branding the alternative. That alternative won’t come from the old defense contractors and they will absolutely howl.
3) In 10 years there will be no doubt about who won the space race. All human flight operations for US related projects will be or about to be supplied by the new space companies. The old defense contractor divisions supporting human space flight will die or buy them around this time.

David Brin said...

No Alfred, there is a difference.

1. Republicans in power. Use a "moon race" to destroy NASA and divert from riches. Then declare a "joint international" mission that will give away all out tech.

2. Democrats in charge and smart: Build lunar orbital station to assay robotically-returned asteroid samples plus sell hotel space and possibly landers to Apollo wannabes, retaining our ability to land ourselves, if it ever seems cogent and desirable.

3. Democrats in charge and stupid: Go along with the Joint mission out of some absurd notion it spreads peace and understanding and because Republicans want it so much, hoping to buy reasonableness.

David Brin said...

BTW... it is easy to find Marxist sources re the historical sequence. E.g.

"It is obvious that the monarchy was the progressive element in this general confusion. It represented order in chaos, the developing nation as against fragmentation into rebellious vassal-states. All the revolutionary elements which were coming into being under the feudal surface were as inclined to dependence on the monarchy as the monarchy was inclined to dependence on them. The alliance between monarchy and bourgeoisie dates from the tenth century; often disrupted by conflicts – for during the Middle Ages no movement was free of zigs and zags – the alliance was always renewed, stronger and more potent, until it enabled the monarchy to attain final victory; whereupon, the monarchy, in gratitude, turned on its allies to oppress and plunder them."

And the importance of technology in the transition: "The spread of the printer's art, the renaissance of the study of the ancient literatures, the whole cultural ferment which became constantly stronger and more general after 1450 – all these things favoured the bourgeoisie and monarchy in their conflict with feudalism. The concatenation of all these factors, strengthened from year to year by their increasingly dynamic interaction on one another in the same direction, was the fact which, in the last half of the 15th century, confirmed the victory, not, to be sure, of the bourgeoisie, but certainly of the monarchy, over feudalism."

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Putting a bunch of us on the Moon right now is not a TWODA thing. It takes millions of people to stand up a community that can manage on it's own for long periods at today's tech and education level. Maybe tens of millions.

The part I don't get about the urgency to get to the moon to escape a meteor. If the earth were rendered uninhabitable, would a moon colony be self-sufficient enough to continue the human race? I have a hard time picturing that.

I'm not saying that we're not screwed if earth is destroyed. I'm saying that placing a few humans on the moon doesn't solve that problem.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

Should Treasury refuse, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin becomes liable for a presidential pardon.

I corrected your spelling. :)

Mike Will said...

Of course, an ELE, verified SETI signal, or the arrival of strong AI would change all this calculus overnight. Governments of all stripes (and bars) would be overwhelmed. Distributed, pervasive, fine-grained scientific literacy may be the only means of survival. We rely too much on political leaders. They disappoint bigly.

The bot said that Asimov was no Turing. For sure, but that's not the only yardstick for greatness. Turing was a searingly brilliant and focused mathematician and 'machinist'. Asimov was one of the last great polymaths - a humanist, not a machinist. His robots were mirrors for us to peer into. Hypatia, Ampère, Faraday, Hans Bethe, Asimov, Feynman, and others like them saw a future where scientific literacy had dominion. It's hard to paint that bunch as elitist politicos. History is an expression of human nature, not just endless gossipy tales of palace intrigue. Like evolution, it's not about progress towards an ultimate goal, but rather a struggle to diversify and adapt fast enough to outpace extinction. Additionally, humanity also has the capacity for introspection, learning, and recording. It's a fearsome prospect for troglodytes.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation & related projects involved many thousands of students in ISS doings. The Lunar Gateway Station could do the same or even better. Before all this fretting about national defense, it's important to focus first on making a nation worth defending.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred Differ said...
\\Putting in fuses and circuit breakers is a TWODA thing.

EMP impulse coming from outside, and ruin thin elements of your microchips. How any fuses can help it?

Only Faraday Cages can help. But that's totally unpractical. How'd you use your smartphone, your wifi? ;)

EMP comes in two flavors -
The one from the sun which will effect long conductors and for which Alfred's fuses would work fine
The EMP from a nuclear explosion - which is much more localised and yes the fuses won't help so much

The discussion was about the solar flare EMP

David Brin said...

Mike said: "Asimov was one of the last great polymaths..."


Mike Will said...

I used to say he was THE last great polymath. However, I've since become aware of one or two others :)

Alfred Differ said...


I think the 'isolated colony' notion is merely disaster delayed. Besides the possibility that the Lunar colony would be easier to destroy with an impactor, I'm reminded of just how many people it takes to keep up anything remotely looking like this civilization. Without a lot of people, one doesn't get the division of labor we have. Without that, one doesn't get the education system we have. Every story that doesn't automate whole swathes of our survival and education needs is fantasy as far as I'm concerned. Every study that examines genetic viability of a remote colony that ignores cultural survival examines a small fragment of the actual problem.

Humans as nomadic HG bands could move large distances and set up elsewhere for awhile. Our education needs for the children were manageable. Our short term genetic needs were manageable. That was not the case with our long term needs, though. Genetic mixing between bands was useful. Trade in children and in goods occurred even among our likely more xenophobic ancestors. Why? I imagine it happened because it worked. Those who didn't do it didn't get to be here to tell the story.

Humans on Luna won't be nomadic HG's. They will have large education demands. They will have high tech requirements for survival. If Terra is dead or blown back to the stone age, the Loonies won't have many options for trade in children and goods. That all means the colony has to be large. Quite large. Even a mostly automated colony needs maintenance equipment that has to be maintained, thus education MUST survive. If they devolve to HG's, they all die because Luna isn't as forgiving as Mother Earth.

Self-sufficiency is poverty in a community that has no other choice.
That is the primary threat to a smallish human survival colony on Luna.
If they become impoverished, they are soon to be dead.

Our host's little story of the human survival colony at the bottom of a sea on a partially terraformed Venus faces some of this risk.
On a harsh world... Forget = Death.

Alfred Differ said...


Yah. My intuition was trying to warn me of two problems.

1) DC currents on an AC transmission system. Texas might manage with their disconnects, but the rest of us in the US might need to consider bypass filters.

2) Long lines are what we radio operators call antennae. They transfer energy to and from the aether just fine... by design. 8)

I haven't done the ham radio thing in many years, but the memory sticks because I fried some of my equipment when I was a kid at a time when I couldn't just go buy more of it when the next paycheck came in. Design your antenna wrong and you don't have to wait for solar protons to cook your gear. Misunderstand the purpose of the SWR meter and the hobby becomes even more expensive. It was fun, though. That hobby gave me a leg up when I got to that material in college physics classes much like the amateur astronomy hobby helped with geometric optics.

Alfred Differ said...


1) I don't see it because I don't see how they benefit from the diversion. I'm looking for the corruption by which they benefit when they give away the riches of our tech. Without that, I'd place low odds on your outcome. If you are trying to suggest that they are smart enough to want to avoid a world where the rest of us become even richer, I could see that for some of their masters, but not the current crop of GOP loonies.

2) That lunar station will be a fuel depot that accretes the other functionality. That's a possibility even if private ventures are let be.

3) There was a time when I thought the best explanation for what later Democrats did to Station involved turning lemons into lemonade. I'm not sure the current crop of Democrats gives a fig about appeasing the GOP, but they just might flex for space industry representative's votes as has been the tradition in job program territories.

The problem with your prediction as it stands is I don't see it as measurable. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Democrats are being smart or stupid. For example, is Pelosi actually reluctant to impeach or is she using the Chairs of the big committees to lead on that issue. In other words, is it smarter that Nadler and Schiff takes the twitter bullets instead of Pelosi when it comes to leading the caucus and giving the appearance of trying to get other things done? I could see it either way.

Still... I agree that the current GOP plan for returning to the Moon isn't what they want us to believe it is. I have friends who DO want to go back, but they don't buy into the GOP nonsense about it. I'm inclined to step back a bit and let them use a desperate GOP for awhile... and then forgive them their missed goals in the usual way. I'm willing to do this to buy the time necessary for SLS to utterly fail and pull down other things in the embarrassment to follow.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - Pelosi impeaching the Orange CockWomble

From a strategic POV I just don’t see any upside in impeaching Trump

It will either fail - which is probably bad

Or Trump will be so incredibly smelly that it would pass in which case leaving Trump like an albatross around the neck of the Republicans would be better than letting them kick him to the side

Slap him and all the other crims in jail AFTER he loses the next election

yana said...

Larry Hart thought:

"I'm not saying that we're not screwed if earth is destroyed. I'm saying that placing a few humans on the moon doesn't solve that problem."

If only a few, you're correct. Would need numbers in the thousands, like ADiff says, a mass of humanity large enough to maintain the facilities and divide labor and resources, and the collective knowledge, well enough to self-sustain a colony.

What i am saying is that if all we have, at the time of The Big One, are roaming prospectors in small numbers directing robotic mining missions, then we are 100% screwed. If all the humans are still on the earth directing mining robots via telepresence, then we're 100% screwed.

Enough people in a place which is not-earth lowers the 100% screwability number. With good luck, in a perfect scenario, it goes down to 50%. More likely it's simply down to 90% screwed or 85% screwed.

But a 10 or 15% chance of survival, when there was 0% before, is the bottom line. It could be, that we're not "due" for a big impact for 35 million years. But we are not ignorant of probability, so we know it could be Tuesday April 16th. Not likely, but it's equally not likely that it will be in the year 34,225,291 and instead occur in the year 62,559,843 Anno Domini.

It reminds me of a tv advert making the rounds lately, where some fellow calls his doctor and asks for an appointment next week when he will come in with a freshly broken arm. We can't predict mishaps, most of us will never break an arm, but in this case we Know, with 100% certainty, that a big rock will smack the earth again, before the sun expands and turns our atmo to colorful wisps, certainly before we lose the moon and its life-moderating tides, an aeon of epochs before the "heat death" which is the trendy demise among the hipster intello.

Only 12 minutes after your reply, Mike Will thought the answer:

"Like evolution, it's not about progress towards an ultimate goal, but rather a struggle to diversify and adapt fast enough to outpace extinction."

Amen, MW.

That's what we do, not just us but all of earth's life. Difference is that we can can do something about it, for the first time in history. Maybe for the first time in galactic history.

The only thing we're missing is the sense of urgency, and i'm really sad for humanity, that Tunguska happened just 100 years too early. Barely before the whole world was finally mapped.

If it happened in 2008, i would be reviled in 2019 as a simpleton, for stating what was totally obvious: we need to expand off the earth as soon as possible, which might mean that we even had to do it without some billionaires making a profit. If we had the videophones promised us, 50 years ago in A Space Odyssey, you could see my eyeroll there, which would be an eyeroll for the ages.

Survival outweighs profit.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Yana

For 1% of the cost/effort of putting a 10,000 person sustainable colony on the moon we could build 100 off 10,000 person armoured survival refuges on the Earth - distributed so that only a HUGE impact - 1000 times the dino killer would destroy all of them

If there was such a huge impact then the moon colony would get destroyed as well - big impacts "splash"

The moon is a blind alley - learn to use and survive on the asteroids

yana said...

duncan cairncross thought:

"You don't understand - holding a constant bearing is how you would see something coming in a small. But on a planetary scale if you see something on a constant bearing NOW that means that NOW their vector is pointing at us"

And how would we see that? Radar? About 99% of the installed base of amateur telescopes are optical. Big ones with sci endowments funding them can see more, but are too few to watch 360x360. What we really need is a few telescopes at Lagrange points, but even that is only an alarm system. We don't need an alarm and we don't need a safe room. What we need is to put our family on two rocks instead of just one. Every day we wait, is another pull at the trigger of the cosmic shooting gallery.

yana said...

Alfred Differ thought:

"Pointing that out to Yana won't address the fear. You [duncan cairncross] are right, of course, and with the ever growing numbers of cameras looking upward, we are likely to see more threats earlier than later, that won't zero out the risk. Fear isn't amenable to reason... just tranquilizers."

Oh for goodnesssake, cut me a breather, 'The Sky Is Falling' is my fear, but it's my only one. The rest of the fearspots, politics and economics and climate, none of that scares me. Even jim here, with theories about a Degrading Energy Catastrophe, sounds like a ridiculous little chicken. Skip the tranks, you agree that we need to expand off earth to survive. And you agree that sooner is better than later. My only point is that the situation is more urgent, so closer is faster.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"Electronics can be protected with fuses and circuit breakers. If every fuse got burned it might take weeks to pry open all our computers and phones and replace them. But we'd be back up."

duncan cairncross thought:

"EMP comes in two flavors -
The one from the sun which will effect long conductors and for which Alfred's fuses would work fine
The EMP from a nuclear explosion - which is much more localised and yes the fuses won't help so much

Alfred Differ thought:

"1) DC currents on an AC transmission system. Texas might manage with their disconnects, but the rest of us in the US might need to consider bypass filters.

2) Long lines are what we radio operators call antennae. They transfer energy to and from the aether just fine... by design.

Anonymous thought:

"EMP impulse coming from outside, and ruin thin elements of your microchips. How any fuses can help it?"

Neck-n-neck, but Anonymous wins the point. I have seen the effects of freak strikes of cosmic rays onto microcircuits, and yes, at times the defect produces an eerie sensation of 'ghost in machine' at least until you find the physical cause. Far more common, defects in micro-e things via blowthrough, a simple surge of EM which contorts tiny conductor channels.

That's what EMP does, it rams a thousand photons through the air but at a bunch of highly energetic bands. So anything which depends on keeping it's own electrons in the corral, to store information for us, well, them horses run free.

It's not the momentary rush of photons wiping out SSD memory, it's the EM surge, which creates defects in the form of unintended connections between conductor channels whose dialectrics become yearly ever smaller. Which bricks 'em.

But look, a big Coronal Mass Particle Thingy which hits the earth would have a 50% lower chance of slamming a moon colony, because Kepler. We need redundancy as a species, redundancy and repetitive too. We've got to get off earth as soon as possible.

Larry Hart said...


Oh for goodnesssake, cut me a breather, 'The Sky Is Falling' is my fear, but it's my only one. The rest of the fearspots, politics and economics and climate, none of that scares me.

I get the idea that you are so fixated on the meteor thing that you don't realize that probably everyone else here can say the same sentence above but fill in a different specific fear. And that "earth destroyed by a meteor" falls into the "none of that scares me" set for them. Just like "Going to Hell" doesn't scare me, even though that would be even worse that a meteor if it happened.

Jon S. said...

"If we had the videophones promised us, 50 years ago in A Space Odyssey..."

We do. The cross-platform version is a software package called Skype. We've been teaching my mother-in-law to use it so that she can see her grandchildren without having to travel all the way from Georgia; my wife also uses it to attend some of the class meetings at WGU, an online university. (Lectures tend to be in the form of YouTube-compatible videos.)

And what was said about impactor vectors applies whether said vector is observed via radar or Mk I eyeball - if it's "headed straight for us", but is more than a few hours out, it's headed straight for where we used to be, because Earth is moving along its own orbital path at about 67,000 mph (110,000 kph). Any path impacting Earth from very far away is going to be a curve, at least as viewed from Earth.

Mike Will said...

Anyone know anything about this? The coolest name for a telescope since Hubble.
Event Horizon Telescope

jim said...

This is from the last thread

“ duncan cairncross said...
If I understand your metrics you are talking about the energy payback

So if it costs me 1 kWh - and I get 10 kWh that is 10%

Current solar panels repay the energy used in less than 6 months and will last for 30+ years
So that is an energy payback of 1.66%”

Duncan – I wish that analysis was true but unfortunately you are leaving out most of the energetic cost of building and running a solar power facility. If you actually use real numbers from an actual solar power plant the numbers are way worse. The most comprehensive evaluation of a solar power plant comes from C. Hall and P Prieto book Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution The Energy Return on Investment. They used real data from a location in Spain and found the energy cost of solar energy to be ~40%. (EROI of ~2.5).

Jon S. said...

So, what are the "energetic costs" of building and operating, say, a coal-fired power plant, including the costs of the factory providing the concrete? Or the "energetic" costs of building and operating an automobile? (All those metal alloys don't come pre-refined, you know.)

Include enough of the background "cost" and anything, including eating, becomes unsupportable. (How much energy does the farmer spend growing and harvesting the grain? How much does it cost to transport, in energy terms? How about the milling process? And let's not even talk about baking...)

jim said...

For food there is about 10 units of fossil fuels used for ever one unit of food energy. Agriculture may be "efficient" in terms of people used but it is a total energy sink, eating up 10 times more energy than it delivers.

For coal power plants the type of coal use and where it comes from make a huge difference so you would need to pick a particular coal plant to get the number.

If you go to your local library they may have the book. It contains a lot of background and the data they used to determine the values they obtained.

David Brin said...

Alfred, you are kidding me, right?

“I'm looking for the corruption by which they benefit when they give away the riches of our tech.”

Um… treason? Um blackmail? Um, total control by foreign despots who want to parasitize and feed off our dying corpse? These are the only justifications for the US to (near term) form a “partnership” for manned lunar landings.

SELLING landers or renting them out or orbital hotel rooms, that’s another story. But keep the tech.

“That lunar station will be a fuel depot that accretes the other functionality.”

Not even remotely supported by numbers. Asteroidal water is vastly better, more available, and doesn’t rob future lunar colonists.

“I'm inclined to step back a bit and let them use a desperate GOP for awhile…”

This presumes ANY top GOP agenda item isn’t treason. I see no sign of it. Every single action seems designed to harm us. The narrative they use to keep RASRs in line is “Tax cuts and judges. But up with utter imbecility and/or outright harm-wreaking treason for the sake of tax cuts and judges.”

But the Tax cuts have been central to harming us… Supply Side is for oligarchy, not America. And the judges DT appoints are mafiosi. So….

Duncan is right. Even in SEVENEVES, the entire moon breaking up leaves some mineshaft survivors placed to start over. We must prevent a mineshaft gap!

Alfred Differ said...


To Larry you said…

What i am saying is that if all we have, at the time of The Big One, are roaming prospectors in small numbers directing robotic mining missions, then we are 100% screwed. If all the humans are still on the earth directing mining robots via telepresence, then we're 100% screwed.

I’d agree with that with one qualification. The Earth is actually a safer place for us to be if we are going to get hit by the Big One. You are right that we would be better off if we are spread across worlds. I usually say this as ‘Out there in large enough numbers that they can’t be mistaken for a round-off error for Zero.” What I think many miss is that it takes a bigger Big One to kill us here than it would on Luna. Earth took a massive hit 65 million years ago, but the mammals survived. It’s looking like the Younger-Dryas event as a small hit that killed off an interesting North American civilization, but humanity as a whole kept on in our usual HG nomadic lifestyle. The Earth is a bigger target and it takes a bigger hit to get us all. On Luna, we would be fragile. IF the Earth is going to be smacked hard, though, Luna would be better than nothing.

Oh for goodnesssake, cut me a breather,

Ha! No worries. I’m not going to be tracking you down with a tranquilizer gun in hand. I’ve known many who share your fear of the sky falling and I actually respect it. I don’t share it, but I DO respect it. Part of that respect, though, is me not trying that hard to convince you that you need not be so concerned. Go ahead. Do the Chicken Little thing. If it helps us get out there in non-round-off error numbers, I’ll applaud. I don’t think it will, but that’s okay because many of us are working other efforts to produce a similar goal.

Where you might see the tranquilizer gun, though, is if you wander into my camp and scare some of the people working on our projects. Still… don’t worry. You’ll wake up safe and warm… somewhere else… and we will have moved elsewhere. 8)

[My friends won’t be satisfied by a few roaming prospectors directing robotic missions. That’s not the future we have in mind. Not even close… but don’t tell the investors that.]

David Brin said...

yana have you joined B612?
It's THE org aiming to reduce the risk from big rocks. I am on the advisory board.

Alfred Differ said...


… you are kidding me, right?

Heh. No. I can be dense at times, but mostly I’m hard to rile. In this case, I’m relatively calm while I’m looking at your prediction and pondering what truth there might be in it. For example…

1) Treason. People commit treason for either personal gain or in service to a higher ideal to which they are loyal enough to sacrifice something of themselves. When it comes to selling out our future in space, I don’t see how the current GOP crop can gain and I don’t see the higher ideal they might be serving. Feudal masters you say? Sure. I can see how they serve them, but not in scuttling space projects. WE can see how space will undermine the putsch, but I don’t believe they do. They’d be working much harder at harming Musk and Bezos if true.
2) Blackmail. This is your standard concern and you have a fair point about the risk it poses. What I don’t see is how the ‘masters’ would use it here regarding a return to the Moon. This is related to the first thing, though, because I don’t think the masters get the danger space poses. You do, obviously, but I don’t. Absent their understanding of the risk, they’d use blackmail to do many other things that might only tangentially touch on space efforts. For example, Bezos and Musk are rich. Attack them for some other motive and one attacks our space future.
3) Feeding off our corpse. Same problem. You are likely correct about certain masters wanting this. We might disagree on a few names, but not the concept. I don’t see them believing that scuttling space projects helps them do that, though.

Regarding a fuel depot in lunar orbit…
Not even remotely supported by numbers. Asteroidal water is vastly better, more available, and doesn’t rob future lunar colonists.

My suspicion is the asteroidal water will be brought back to cis-lunar space out near the L2 point. I don’t want to rob Luna of what water is there, but I think projects using water from the asteroids will top-off at L2 and then play fuzzy boundary or slingshot games from near the edge. If someone supplies water to that depot, I think others will buy it or the byproducts.

This presumes ANY top GOP agenda item isn’t treason. I see no sign of it. Every single action seems designed to harm us.

You might be right about this, but I doubt it. I strongly doubt it. I don’t doubt the harm, though. I doubt the ‘design’. They would have to be a heckuva lot smarter than I’m willing to give them credit for… yet. I’m not going to try to convince you that you are wrong, though. The patient will cure himself after the 2020 election when we hand their asses to them. You need some good news to see that they really are NOT that smart, so I’ll hope you get some earlier than that too. 8)

David Brin said...

Alfred, we are a nation of laws and processes and it would be hard for the traitors to hurt Musk & Bezos while the world is watching and the military/intel guys are alert. Trump’s destructive efforts aim where he can have effect. And the treason screams out of every action. Disabling DHS, demolishing our alliances, our sciences, pummeling the fact professions. Seriously, the pattern is perfect, so why NOT look at Pence’s ‘moon race’ with an eye to how it could harm us?

“People commit treason for either personal gain or in service to a higher ideal…”

Baloney. Beyond blackmail, which is likely huge and makes DT a perfectly obedient slave, in all categories, there is political vindictiveness. Trashing anything his opponents wanted helps Trump rationalize every obedience to Putin commands.

My scenario: they will feed off us when they get our space tech for free as part of a “partnership.”

“I don’t doubt the harm, though. I doubt the ‘design’. They would have to be a heckuva lot smarter than I’m willing to give them credit for…”

Alfred, the stupidity excuse would result in them accidentally doing us some good, now and then. Or listening to the smart folks now and then. Of picking one or two democracy allies NOT to harm and drive away.

No, * consistency * is the paramount trait. And while the harm done has been limited by dedicated civil servants and officers, these are being gradually driven out. And while Trump’s factotums are generally stupid people, they don’t have to be smart, if Putin, MBS, Murdoch and the Kochs/Mercer are ferally short-term smart.

David Brin said...

One day - (one!) - after I predicted it, the administration swished from a flag waving US-only moon-race junket to calling for a joint international effort. (In fact, I predicted it more than a year ago, on-blog.) To be fair, I deem it likely Jim Bridenstine is honest and just trying to make the best of a truly awful situation. Still, it all boils down to the same thing. In order to help other nations get their rite-of-passage moon-selfie moment on a useless and utterly resource-barren plain of poison dust, the US will share every technology and skill, virtually for free. We could be joining with Japan to do things no one else can even approach, things that would benefit all humanity and also make us rich. But not on Mike Pence's watch.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

How much of the USA's rocketry technology is still "secret" ?

It seems to me that most of it is now quite old and a lot of it is in the public domain

SpaceX appears to have a significant technological advantage - but that is in private hands and would not (I assume) be part of any sharing agreement

Specific skills in ways of doing things are more likely to slow down development - starting from a clean sheet of paper with today's technology will probably give better results than using methods designed in the 60's

We see that with Tesla and SpaceX where the lack of already built infrastructure has enabled them to leapfrog their competitors

Alfred Differ said...


I'm going to have to do what I do with Larry here. You are using 'treason' too loosely. If you used 'betrayal', though, I'd go for it. Treason implies a number of things that I don't think apply like 'reason' and 'reasoning'. I think Two Scoops is completely guilty of betraying us, though, and no reasoning is required on his part. Our Confederates elected a petulant child who happens to know a thing or two about marketing his violence and fear, but the child isn't competent enough to commit actual treason. Those who try to direct him could be, but I don't think anyone actually controls the child. Even Putin.

Pence retreated into faith long ago. I suspect he treats this all as a trial required of him by God, so no reasoning is required there either.

Together, they both remind me of something I used to have to do years ago before my sleep apnea was diagnosed. I wasn't getting my REM sleep and essentially couldn't learn during the day. I could fake it a bit, but I'd lose it overnight. What I COULD do was run on what I already knew how to do. If I kept notes, I was just competent enough at work to not get fired. It was all a sham, though, and of the type I couldn't admit to myself without losing it all. Eventually I got diagnosed and realized what a small sliver of myself had been trying to maintain. Before that, unfortunately, I could produce a moderately convincing fake and be just emotional enough that people didn't look too close. [Fortunately for me, that didn't work on my wife.]

I wouldn't be shocked if Two Scoops is struggling in a similar way while the people around him are too ignorant to know what they are seeing. "That's just the way he is." I'm not offering that as an excuse, though. I'm offering it as a counter-narrative to what you call treason. If you start with a racist, misogynistic bastard brought up not having to give a fig about the feelings of the common person AND THEN slowly impair him through the impacts of sleep apnea, I think you get someone who resembles Two Scoops.

I could be completely wrong, of course, but I'm compelled to consider it because of my own experience. Sleep apnea goes undiagnosed in many of us for many years. While it progresses, we slowly lose capacity. We wind up destroying our lives piece by piece. It's a scenario I have to consider for him and I think it more likely than the obedient, blackmailed slave.

Suppose I'm right. He'd make a fantastic tool for Putin whether Putin had blackmail on him or not. All the tool wielder would have to do is what you were pitching months ago involving short straws. Cozy up. Be nice. Be helpful. Be the friend who doesn't get offended or disgusted. Be the one who can still learn and offer advice. All the smart people are going to be offended at some point, so be the one who stays close. Pence won't leave because he believes he is there for a Purpose. Some in his family won't leave either. Denial of the Obvious by family members is usually what winds up killing the undiagnosed.

Tacitus said...

Regards Treason in Every Action...

David you have Manichaen tendencies, a propensity to see Brilliant Light opposing Utter Darkness. It is simplistic.

The current thread illustrates this well.

Increased interest in, and funding of space exploration.
The economic prosperity that allows this to be possible.
International cooperation towards a common goal (and btw, I called that before you did!)

Why it must be Treason Most Foul.

It is an unconvincing line of, um, reasoning?

You'd do better pointing out, as to be fair you have, that this is:

Probably more aspirational than likely ( ala Green New Deal?)
Not the best use of resources.
Dependent on long term economic trends which will not always be upwards.

Fools, even villains, have good ideas once in a while.
Saints and Paragons sometimes have bad ideas or no ideas.


Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I'm going to have to do what I do with Larry here. You are using 'treason' too loosely. If you used 'betrayal', though,...

Are you ok with "treachery"?

I mean for the things I've been referring to under the other t-word.

Smurphs said...

For Trump personally*, I don't think the current push to the Moon anything more than "My d*ck is bigger than your d*ck" posturing.

If he gives it any more thought than that, it probably "Hey, I can get some stinkn' Libtard Progressive votes with this. Aren't I a devious political operator!" ( To which his staff replies, "Yes, O Anointed One!")

*Note, I am speaking of Trump's motives personally, not his handlers.

Mike Will said...

Back to states of matter for a sec. I was shot down pretty quick when I suggested that our states of matter definitions are iffy at best. We basically know the surface of the Earth plus a few exotic experiments - that's it. This also dovetails with my SETI position -- "We don't know nothin' yet so stop counting angels on a pinhead and do more research" (Calculemus!).
Soliquid Potassium

Deuxglass said...

Looking at a return to the Moon from a purely scientific viewpoint makes less sense than going straight to the asteroids but that is a superficial read on it. It assumes we know all about what the Moon is made of and it assumes we know what has worth and what is useless. It also ignores how exploration has operated in the past and will probably still operate in the future.

The Moon has some limited water located in scattered craters near the poles. Picture them as either oases in a vast desert or islands in an immense ocean. The first European explorers appreciated the water and coconuts but sailed on because there were no gold or spices. They also found many islands without water and covered with 30 feet of bird shit accumulated over thousands of years. These islands were not even worth putting your flag on them at that early time.

Fast forward 100 years and so and the situation changed. The bird shit-covered islands were worth billions furnishing fertilizer to the whole world. When steam engines came those islands in the middle of nowhere became very valuable also. It seems that steamships which want to go from somewhere to somewhere else need to pass by islands in what was previously nowhere. They were very valuable as coaling stations. In that century countries would fight over islands in the middle of nowhere and islands covered in bird shit. Go figure. Sometimes I wonder if Humanity is truly intelligent.

The Moon is like that. We don’t know what’s there and even if we did know what is there then it is far from sure that we could recognize whatever we find as worth something. For all we know the Moon could be full of deposits of very useful stuff that we are incapable of recognizing as useful now. The countries that had the foresight to put their flag on useless islands got a leg up a century after. Just look at the map. Perhaps on the Moon we will find incredibly useful minerals like Illudium and Phlebotinum in alien outhouses or my favorite, concentrated deposits of Bitcoins. Mining them would bring untold riches.

Gateway at L1 or L2 makes perfect sense. Go for it.

Tacitus said...


Of course the other big draw of the bird droppings was as a nitrate source to make high explosives. This was probably the bigger draw geopolitically and remained so until a method of fixing atmospheric nitrogen made it at once easier to feed and to vaporize our Fellow Man*. Like many past, and perhaps future/lunar booms, technology passed it by.

There is still a Guano Islands Act in US law, which since 1856 has allowed any US citizen to claim otherwise unclaimed islands full of bird deposits at US territory. It has lead to some interesting modern legal cases...


* although there were other, earlier processes the Haber process proved the most practical. Dr. Haber's karmic balance sheet therefore includes both inexpensive fertilizer...and the various poison gasses he helped develop in WWI.

Deuxglass said...


That would have been a big draw too. Who in the 16th Century who have guessed that three hundred years later, a pound of guano would be worth ten times a pound of pepper? Possession is 90% of the Law they say. On the Moon a country who could "plant their flag" on the best water deposits would gain an enormous potential advantage. One may rely on international treaties to regulate it but as the South China Sea shows, if one country has enough resources and the will can thumb their nose at it. Interestingly the partners for the Gateway Station are a good cross-section of countries that want to prevent that happening to the Moon. It's insurance.

Larry Hart said...

@Tim Wolter and @raito,

I feel your pain with what looks like another blizzard headed for Wisconsin. Someone forgot to turn the ice machine off.

Tacitus said...

Larry I've stocked up on library books and beer.


Deuxglass said...


Where do you live?

Tacitus said...

Western Wisconsin. You?


Deuxglass said...

Paris in France. Our winters are grey cold drizzle usually. One of my daughters lives in Vermont. She loves it. Sure it's cold but it is sunny after the storm and it is a very healthy climate. I grew up in Ohio. Gets cold there too but not like you.

Larry Hart said...


It's not just a matter of northern states being cold. Wisconsin and Minnesota have gotten particularly dumped on with snow this year. I'm in Chicago, just south of there, and we've had our share of snow as well, but nothing like our neighbors to the north.

Deuxglass said...

Larry Hart,

My daughter and her husband lived in Boston in 2015 where they had snowstorm after smowstorm. They got 108 inches that season. Their car was parked on the street so every day they had to shovel. They got sick of it, changed to an expensive apartment with covered parking that summer. The next winter they hardly had any snow.

David Brin said...

Alfred there are times when the “stupidity excuse” is NOT the one favored by Occam’s Razor. That becomes plain when there are zero, even accidental positive outcomes, which you would expect stupidity to stumble into, now and then.

But you’re not clinging as hard as poor Tim is!

>> Increased interest in, and funding of space exploration.
The economic prosperity that allows this to be possible.
International cooperation towards a common goal (and btw, I called that before you did!)<<

Whaaaa? Show me the increased NASA funding? (It’s been slashed) or for any form of productive R&D, which has been savaged.

Any GOP attempt to take credit for the 2009 to present economic turnaround is stunning sophistry. All of the curves, every last one, follow the predictions I made on my “outcomes” page. You expect this Obama boom to continue long, while our budget and trade deficits have been skyrocketing and going supernova?

Have you seen figures for MONEY VELOCITY since the 2017 Supply Side tax cuts for oligarchy? Rates of industrial R&D have plummeted while stock buybacks are out the roof. Wealth disparity has passed 1929 levels.

“International cooperation towards a common goal “ Um, Bridenstine just MENTIONED it in passing, man. And yes, it is a bad, very bad idea.

“Fools, even villains, have good ideas once in a while.”

Fools, yes! And hence the fact that all and every Trump action hurts us proves he is not a fool.

“… even villains, have good ideas once in a while.” Unless the PURPOSE of their villainy is to harm the nation by preventing good ideas. And that is what we (but not Blind Tim) see.

“The Moon has some limited water located in scattered craters near the poles. Picture them as either oases in a vast desert or islands in an immense ocean.”

At the bottom of polar craters where sun power is nonexistent, under a gravity well and stealing it from future lunar colonists, when it can be got easier from asteroids.

“We don’t know what’s there and even if we did know what is there then it is far from sure that we could recognize whatever we find as worth something.”

Which is why I am glad HUMANITY is going back there for another look. Let the kindergartners do it. We can do graduate school where only we can go. Question, do you even bother reading what I write. Because I said all of this.

Tacitus said...

Alfred Differ said...


I could go for 'treachery', but I'm not sure Two Scoops has the wherewithal for that right now. His people do, though. Miller should be taken out back and educated in what it means to be a decent human being.

Alfred Differ said...


I’m not inclined to use the ‘stupidity excuse’ for them. The first problem with it is that ‘them’ includes Two Scoops and his people. His people aren’t stupid, so the excuse would fail. For him, I think the better description is ‘angry/petulant child.’ Children can be deviously bright at striking back at what adults want to do, so I wouldn’t expect many positive outcomes. Way fewer than random chance anyway.

I think there IS an example of something Two Scoops got right. I certainly don’t want to give him any credit for it, but I am inclined to think a Space Force branch of the military would be a good idea. I’ve favored the notion for many years now based on what I’ve seen within USAF and USN. I’m not enthusiastic about militarizing space, but I AM generally for some independence for the groups that support the warrior’s needs regarding space assets.

This split way predates Two Scoop’s support, so I treat him as someone who has latched onto an idea I already favor instead of someone who thought it up no matter how much he pretends he DID think it up. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if his support of it correlates with Obama’s disinterest because I would expect that of a petulant child. It would fit, but I might be guilty of confirmation bias.

I’m generally unconcerned with NASA budget cuts if they involve human space flight. If they have to pinch a bit to get astronauts to orbit, that will favor the newly arrived mammals in that market segment. I’m for that. Strongly for that. When it comes to advocacy, I’m not a Saganite or a Von Braunian. I lean toward O’Neill’s vision with a ‘do it yourself’ twist. I’ll help defend NASA budget lines involving activity on the far frontier, but I might get squishy on activity on the near frontier. For example, if SLS vanishes, I won’t shed a tear. I might actually clap. For another example, I’d cut the budget for ‘international cooperation’ projects that don’t directly involve ISS if human space flight is involved. I want NASA buying tickets ASAP for human-related activities on the near frontier, but I’d try hard to avoid impacting any science being done.

David Brin said...

"His people aren’t stupid"

I beg to differ, Differ. (Sorry! Couldn't resist! or desist!)

Mnuchin and Pompeo are probably in on the cabal, and Miller and string-puller Bannon. But the majority of top cabinet people seem abysmally reflexive and dullwitted. So much so that I doubt most of them are blackmailed, just aristo dolts who are flattered by sycophants into thinking they are "smart." It's Barr and a swathe of 2nd tier appointees who I suspect - along with Anthony Kennedy - of being owned because Putin has something on them.

Well, well. Space Force. I don't like the idea a wee bit. Divert 500 skilled officers into a boondoggle re-organization that includes a new academy, theme song and spandex uniforms. To achieve what tasks? Feh. No, the record is perfect harm, across the board.

David Brin said...

Immigration! OMG, is no one (even among liberals) able to parse the obvious? The "surge" in amnesty seekers is from hell-holes Guatemala and Honduras. MEXICO is no longer a major source of illegals! In fact that flow has reversed! Now why would that be?

It is because of the rise of a large Mexican middle class... which was a consensus bipartisan US goal for decades. And it is working (!) thanks to a combination of aid, remittances and treaties like NAFTA, which - (yes) - slightly favored Mexican factories and jobs, though it was positive for the US, as well. But again, the main effect was so successful, building that Mexican middle class, that it staunched the Mexican "border problem."

Hence we see OUR problem. Idiocracy. If Republicans weren't morons they would LOOK AT WHAT WORKS. If you racist marroons want less illegal immigration or asylum seeking, Do To Guatemala What We Did To Mexico! And stop sabotaging the Mexico Miracle. But that would entail admitting liberalism works. Which it mostly does. And you'd rather torch the country and the world than admit you are wrong, wrong, wrong yet again.

David Brin said...



Alfred Differ said...

Hmm... for most of his Cabinet, I'd use 'incompetent' and occasionally 'pompous ass'. Mnuchin is at least one of those. I've never led a large agency, but I like to think that I, at a minimum, could avoid certain simple spending scandals involving lavish salaries for people who do nothing detectable or the purchase of lavish furniture for my office or lavish vacations or... etc. 8)

I suspect you are too swept up by your own confirmation bias, but there is no real harm in that. It's just part of the human condition.

As for 'Space Force', I'm not a fan of Two Scoops particular details in the proposal. I'm largely thankful it won't go anywhere now that Congress is split. As for tasks, I would leave them largely with what they have already and use the split to create some independence for their budget. I'd also prefer they weren't part of USAF anymore. In the long run they will look more like USN than USAF. Doesn't matter much for now, though. We can wait for the idea to mature a bit more and be led by someone with a bit more maturity too. And... as for names... I prefer US Mararmeo or US Sciphere/Scipfierd... just for the wrinkled noses effect. No matter what, the USAF should not get to name them. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

yep. Moving on.