Saturday, May 18, 2019

Space: where the rewards really are

Before getting into real life space adventures...

The lavish blockbuster - Wandering Earth - based on Liu Cixin’s novel - was released (quietly) on Netflix. “The Wandering Earth doesn’t yet appear under “New Releases” or “Netflix Originals” section, though it shows up on the “Recently Added” list when you scroll down. It seems odd to bury this film after the incredible reception it’s received overseas (even worldwide, it’s cracked $700 million), and Netflix’s enthusiasm when the company first acquired it.” And yes, by elevated standards of "high" SF there are some... simplistic or "oh, my" aspects. Hey. They're learning the ropes, fast.

== Space advances! ==

Earth has two “extra moons.” Dangerous rocks! Gold in them thar space rocks! And Fool’s Gold!

First an announcement: NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program (I’m on the External advisory Council) has announced its 2019 grant selections. Your comments are welcome here. 

News from the future! My headline from 2039 leads off a series by the XPrize Foundation! Theme of this round: The Moon 2039. As you might expect, my "headline" is a bit sardonic. (I’ll be at the June International Space Development Conference in DC, as a lonely voice skeptical of the “Back to Luna!” theme.)

NASA, FEMA, and other national and international agencies and other agencies joined to run a hypothetical asteroid impact preparedness scenario at the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference, hoping to learn the best strategies for responding to a potential strike, starting from the moment a threatening asteroid is first detected by astronomers.

You can be part of the solution via an NGO that will apply your membership to finding gaps in the way governments are doing Planetary Defense: the B612 Foundation.

And so, this time, let’s focus on those rocks out there!  Newly discovered “moons” of the Earth, an older dustpile, and prospectors’ delight…

== Where the rewards are ==

Okay, here’s some moon-madness. One day - (one!) - after I predicted it, the administration swished from eagerness for a flag-waving, U.S.-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 NASA Administrator 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 (see below), things that would benefit all humanity and also make us rich. But not on Mike Pence's watch.

But for a pretty thorough update/appraisal plus vivid historical perspective on our gorgeous planetary satellite, see a soon-released book entitled The Moon: A History for the Future, by my friend Oliver Morton, author of The Planet Remade. Pre-order now! It pairs well with Robert Zubrin’s recently released The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility, portraying the visionary entrepreneurs who are forging a bold future of space exploration, developing reusable rockets, pushing ahead to Mars, the asteroids and beyond... even to the moons of the outer planets.

Just read skeptically in both places – and anywhere else – when folks wave at “lunar resources.” There’s plenty to love about lovely Luna, and even visit. But we’ll get rich elsewhere.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Luna is important over the long run, and even now -- scientifically. And I might be wrong about its sterile, near term uselessness. Hence it’s good that humanity will be checking it out again. Worthwhile science will get done, each time desperately eager tourists land there in expensive rites-of-adulthood. May those preening tourists prove me wrong! (I do think NASA should send a robot to one of those lava tubes.)  But elsewhere I list a dozen reasons why all talk of “lunar resources” tends to amount to just hot air.

Speaking of moons… NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars got lucky last month and spotted not one but two cool eclipses — in less than two weeks, one for each of the Red Planet's moons. Which leads to this reminder: Phobos and Deimos should be mission targets! If one of them possesses usable volatiles, then ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) could fill fuel and water tanks both in orbit and on the surface of Mars, making the economics of crewed landings (and return to Earth) vastly easier.

And so we get to a special kind of “moon.” It turns out that Earth has several other than big ol’ Luna. We know a class of asteroids that are locked into periodic dance orbits that return them to near-Earth space – the “nearest” of the NEOs (Near Earth Asteroids) and by-far easiest to reach, though none has yet been visited. And Dr. James Benford has pointed out that these could be perfect hosts fir the sort of “lurker” interstellar surveillance probes that I describe in EXISTENCE.

Benford argues for close study of co-orbitals like Cruithne (3753), a 5-kilometer object with closest approach to Earth of 0.080 AU, and 2010 TK7, which oscillates around the Sun-Earth Lagrangian point L4. A number of other such objects are known in a 1:1 orbital resonance with Earth The dancer that comes nearest – 2016HO3 – is just tens of meters across… also known as Kamoʻoalewa — a Hawaiian word for an oscillating object in the sky

Now comes news that China plans a sample return mission to this object. Simpler and easier to get to than the Hyabusa and OsirisRex missions (see below), it’s still a very ambitious step that proves the PRC is not just fixated on military endeavors out there or the Apollo wannabe landing of taikonauts. They must be aware (as Mike Pence is not) that the real riches are likely in asteroids. After dropping those samples for Earth recovery -- and getting a gravity assist -- their probe will continue to the main asteroid belt and orbit the comet 133P to characterize its accessible water and other resources. The whole mission will last about 10 years. So far, China has achieved five continuous successes in its lunar exploration program, and they plan to launch a probe to explore Mars in 2020, which is expected to arrive at the red planet in 2021.

Still a leader -- Japan’s Hayabusa mission to explore asteroid Ryugu just keeps doing more wonderful things. After deploying three varied sub-landers, then poking the asteroid for a sample to return, it just blasted the surface to make a new crater, to later sample more pristine matter!  Efficiently and boldly testing methods that may take humanity closer to accessing the vast troves of wealth out there. These are the partners the U.S. should team up with, if we outgrow the current literal Lunacy of joining an insipid “race” back to the Moon’s dusty waste.  Don’t underestimate Japan. They’d be glad to be our helpers in this. But if we drop the ball… they are capable of carrying it alone.

And the U.S. mission OsirisRex is zeroing in on Bennu. The Colorado School of Mines just became the first university to offer master’s and doctorate degrees in space resources, bringing together many fields, including mining, resource economics, robotics, advanced manufacturing, remote sensing, metals/metallurgy, solar and nuclear energy along wwith ISRU or in-situ resource utilization, or using what’s in place.  Colorado Reps. Scott Tipton, a Republican, and Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat, are sponsoring a bill that would establish the Space Resources Institute.

Confused about how we’ve managed to measure distances and times  across the universe? This animation is truly wonderfully made.  Explained in this article.

Humanity is advancing gloriously! Too bad large and stupid minorities of voters in western nations have let them selves be egged into hatred and all-out war against the very same fact-professions – many of them their own sons and daughters – who are pushing the envelopes of understanding of climate, environment, technology, biology, medicine and the fantastic realm of God’s universe.


Tony Fisk said...

In answer to a question this morning: I have no idea what just happened in Australia. Nobody does, yet.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

I posted a reply to your Jesus comment on the previous post before I saw the "onward".

I don't want to repeat the entire thing here, but I do want people to see the link to a clip of Bill Maher's show which I would highly recommend to everyone here. Answering the question, "How did an institutionalist like William Barr so quickly become a Trump sycophant?

Larry Hart said...

@Tony Fisk,

My first guess would be rigged voting machines or some sort of hacking.

Like our elections in the US.

Tony Fisk said...

Thanks, Larry, but no. Pencil and paper ballots hand counted by election officials under the scrutiny of party reps. make that extremely unlikely.
Of more interest is where recently bankrupt Clive Palmer got $80 million to spend (it seems legit, actually). The real puzzler is why no polls predicted this outcome. The last may sound familiar...

Tony Fisk said...

... oh, one good result. Budgie smugglers are now on special, since Abbott got booted by an independent.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

The real puzzler is why no polls predicted this outcome. The last may sound familiar...

That's exactly the part that sounded familiar.

Tony Fisk said...

The current theory appears to be the reduction in landlines.

Larry Hart said...

Ok, a complete amateur theory about polling. An intuitive guess more than anything else, so caveat emptor.

Back in the 80s and probably before, there seemed to be a sort of self-fulfulling effect of polling. Voters would gravitate toward the candidate who the polls indicated was comfortably ahead. I specifically remember someone in college saying that he was going to vote for Reagan because he (Reagan) is going to win. To me personally, there's no apparent benefit (considering a secret ballot and all) to voting for the presumed winner without regard to one's personal preferences. Nevertheless, I know from observation that such motivation is there in some. So as the polls tell us that (for example) Reagan is going to win, his victory becomes more solidified over time.

In the world of 2016 and hereabouts, there seems to be more of a public attitude to defy complacency. The more a candidate seems inevitable, the more the voting public seems determined to pull an upset. See Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton for the most blatant examples. So in this scenario, the polls don't lead reality, but in fact perform as a kind of self-defeating prophecy.

This shift in voter attitude might be driven by several reasons. One is a desire to upset the "elites" (whatever that means to each individual) who run things. Another might well be that we're conditioned by tv and movies to expect--almost demand--the surprise reversal of expectations in the last segment of the show.

A more prosaic theory is that elections have become such close decisions lately that the final winning margins are often smaller than a poll's margin of error. Thus, a poll might predict that Hillary will win by 2%, she actually loses by 1%, and if there was a 4% margin of error, then the poll was technically accurate--"except that the Silly Party won." In the US, where the winner has to win electors in separate states, a few of those sorts of reversals can drastically alter the predicted final outcome, even if each local poll was very close to accurate. A kind of butterfly effect.

Larry Hart said...

Neither of my theories above explain John Kerry losing Ohio in 2004 when exit polling (not land-line polling) had him comfortably ahead. Given that the states Secretary of State was a Republican partisan, I think Occam's Razor clearly points to cheating there.

Neither does anything explain how Russ Feingold was leading Ron Johnson by double digits for a Wisconsin Senate seat in 2016 and ended up losing instead. Maybe some missing votes were found on someone's laptop in Waukeshau County?

Jon S. said...

"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 (see below), things that would benefit all humanity and also make us rich. But not on Mike Pence's watch."

On the other hand, maybe this is the first step toward forming Star Trek's early United Earth Space Probe Agency without having the Eugenics Wars, the Bell Riots, and World War Three on the way there. :)

Richard09 said...

Larry Hart:
There have been so many strange results in American elections this century. There's one group that charts votes by precinct, and observes that, in some states, in large precincts there appears to be a trend of vote flipping from Democrat to Republican.

This was even true in 2012, when it appears that the cheats underestimated what was necessary to beat Obama, and lost even after cheating. Who can forget Karl Rove's epic meltdown on Fox when Obama was winning Ohio? You have to wonder why he was so sure that state was going to go Republican when so much early evidence indicated an Obama win.

Larry Hart said...

In fairness, a failure for the predictions registry. From Chapter 4 of Existence:

...the U.S. Senate Franken Office Building

BTW, I've put Existence on my summer reading list for the fourth time. As I go through, I'm looking in particular for exposition or dialogue which makes clear what the trillionaires' meeting in Switzerland is supposed to be for. I know Dr Brin has explained it here, but I've yet to see that the book itself reveals the point of the meeting.

I'm also looking to see if we ever find out who Hamish's mysterious earpiece-speaking guide actually is.

Larry Hart said...


I think "Republicans cheat" is obvious to the most obtuse by now. The difference between supporters and opponents is that the supporters don't mind that they cheat as long as they win. Those are the better* supporters. The not-so-better ones actively like and admire the fact that they cheat. They apparently approve of affirmative action in certain cases.

* I say "better", not "good" because #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans (except for the hot babe who I work with.**)

** ((Did I say that or think it?))

Larry Hart said...

I was involved in a fender-bender car accident on Thursday, and while I am physically ok, the car has seen better days, and I was a bit shook up for a day or so.

I mention that only to perhaps explain why I didn't think of this one myself, especially the part I emphasized in bold:

But taken to its logical conclusion, making a fertilized egg a full-blown person in the eyes of the law has many other consequences. For example, every state requires a noncustodial parent (in this case, the father) to provide child support to the custodial parent. Would that apply to the zygote retroactively back to conception?

What about deportation? Does a zygote conceived in America get citizenship along with its soul? If so, it would be impossible to deport an undocumented pregnant women because American citizens cannot be deported. Also along these lines, a pregnant women who traveled internationally without getting a passport for her zygote would be guilty of human smuggling, a serious felony.

No person may be imprisoned without due process. Since it is impossible to imprison the mother without also imprisoning the zygote, who has not committed any crimes, would it be legal to incarcerate a pregnant woman? Related to this, the 14th Amendment says that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. That means that a woman who is slated for capital punishment could at least delay it by 9 months by getting pregnant.

Could a zygote get a social security number? That is needed to claim him or her as a dependent for tax and other purposes. There would obviously need to be some way to prove incontrovertibly that the person existed.

Could the mother open a bank account for the zygote and put money in it? Could a zygote own stock under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act?

What about the census? It calls for an enumeration of persons. If you think the question about citizenship is controversial, just wait until you see the reaction to the new question: "Are you pregnant?" And if so, by any chance are you expecting twins or triplets?

It is unlikely that the Alabama state legislators have worked all this out yet, but no doubt they (and the courts) will soon be given the opportunity.

A.F. Rey said...

Here's a very interesting article (for all you political wonks out there). FiveThirtyEight provides maps of major metropolitan areas showing the divides between Republican- and Democrat-majority neighborhoods. Their belief is that, in addition to gerrymandering, people themselves segregate into areas where others are like them politically, and this goes all the way down to the political distribution in greater metropolitan areas.

You put in the name of your closest major city, and it provides a political map for that city. For instance, put in San Diego and you can see why Dr. Brin couldn't get Douglas Applegate elected to the 49th district back in 2016, and why my wife and I couldn't get Ammar Campa-Najjar elected to the 50th district in 2018, even though Duncan Hunter was indicted for misappropriation of campaign funds.

Darrell E said...

I just need to say that "Budgie Smugglers" is the most awesome term I've come across in years. I first learned of it from a New Zealander just last year. Cracked me up all over again seeing it here.

Darrell E said...

This is a good day. I just learned, and verified, that "trump" is a slang Midlands term for fart.

Gator said...

My conspiracy theory. Putin is whispering in Trump's ear: "go ahead, fly to the moon -- do it even quicker!" This goes along with the republican tax cut, the tariff war, the coming Iraq and Venezuela wars, fighting with our NATO allies...
All actions that will have the effect of bankrupting the USA, combined with diminishing US influence abroad.

David Brin said...

AFR... we in the fighting 49th did come back and elect Mike Levin (D) by a healthy margin into Issa's seat.

DP said...

"Just read skeptically in both places – and anywhere else – when folks wave at “lunar resources.” There’s plenty to love about lovely Luna, and even visit. But we’ll get rich elsewhere."

I think you may be looking at the issue the wrong way. IN stead of asking how many resources the Moon has, we should first ask how much do we need to: establish a self sufficient moon base, jump start space industry, build spaceships to get us to where the resources really are in the asteroid belt, etc.

Once we have an idea of how much we need than we can determine if the moon has enough to jump start space industrialization even if the Moon does not have enough resources for prolonged economic growth.

Alfred Differ said...

Establishing a self-sufficient base anywhere (let alone on Luna) should not be among the early goals. Besides the fact that it is hard to know what resources are required up front for self-sufficiency, nothing on Earth works that way. Why aim for self-sufficiency when trade for needs is probably simpler and cheaper?

Arguing for what is needed instead of what is present provides for part of the economic puzzle. Many space efforts focus on the science puzzle and provide for a decent start. The other part of the economic puzzle, though, because the other part is the price of what is needed. Tie all three together and we get a jump start on what it takes to actually open a frontier.

duncan cairncross said...

The earth has another moon

Five km across
That is more than big enough to have the required materials for a "moon base" and there is no need for the soft landing part
Getting back is easier as there is no need for take-off and low thrust high impulse motorscan be used

That is just one - there are others

It strikes me that doing a thorough survey of rocks that are close to the earth in velocity as well as distance will produce much much better "targets" than going to "the moon"

The stable Lagrange points - there is something there I wonder just how much material is available there for us to use

Gravity is the only issue, a two part probe/base with tethers allowing it to spin would fix that problem

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hey, guys! I'm still alive.

I've had a number of discussions with friends over the viability of the Moon vs asteroids in recent months.

A lot of them are on the bandwagon of going back to the moon like we should have done 40 years ago...

But have trouble considering the problem that what we should have done 40 years ago isn't necessarily what we should do today.

Others are bought into pie-in-the-sky claims of resources (though most of my friends who have more than a passing interest are intelligent/educated enough to not fall too hard into that silliness).

The most compelling argument for returning to the moon that I've heard, though, is that going back to the moon is a relatively easy, relatively close stepping stone that we can use to develop the tech to go further and do greater things.

One argument I've heard is that, while asteroids are cheaper to get to and from in terms of thrust energy required, most are much more difficult to actually reach, and have much longer flight times.

My thoughts on the matter run parallel to Dr. Brin's: Good. Let us take on the great challenges, that will drive us to develop new and more advanced and capable technologies and capabilities, while everyone else plays around in the sandbox we left behind 40 years ago. It's a greater challenge, yes, but we should be up to that challenge, and the rewards are far greater.

In other news, my Retreat, Hell story has broken into the top 50 highest-ranked stories posted to the HFY sub of all time (currently ranked 48th). Episode 6 has also broken into the Top 200 of all time, and I posted Episode 7 for early access on my new Patreon page yesterday, and set a timer to make it go public Saturday morning.

The whole thing started half as an effort to get back into the swing of writing for another story I've been working on, and half to practice some tips and pointers Dr. Brin gave me. It was meant to be a one-off or maybe two-parter, but the reception was far greater than I ever would have expected, and it's fun to right, and now it's giving me the opportunity to take steps (initial, baby steps) towards my life-long dream of being a published author!

} : = 8 D

If you guys have any feedback, tips, tricks, pointers, or comments, I would absolutely love to hear them.

David Brin said...

Daniel, I appreciate your thoughts. But you seem not to grasp what I've said about lunar resources. It's not that they are LESS than asteroidal resources. Except for some polar ice down at the bottom of sunless (no solar power) pits, and bulk regolith, those resources are NONEXISTENT. There is literally nothing there of any value that would help as a "stepping stone" to other things. The gravity well means that any other destination SUFFERS if you use the lunar surface as a stop-over, and especially if you use the lunar poles as a base... which you should.

(Ilithi, the only way your pals will budge on this is if you make it a wager. Demand that they SHOW real data and prospects for the "resources" or else pay an entire night's bar tab.)

Now, there are some complexities. I do think NASA should robotically explore some of the known lava tubes which might make habitats 50% better/cheaper, and to prevent the Chinese from claiming them all. Come up with a way to sinter regolith into firm walls and things get a bit better. Fine, do research. I pray to be proven wrong about "helium 3" which (as of now) is about as realistic as IRON SKY.

The attractive feature of the moon is that it is better for human visitors than asteroids are. Them rocks will be the realm of robots, harvesting vast wealth for us. Energetically easier than moon surface, too, but they take more TIME and time is deadly out there for budgets when humans are involved. So if your aim is drama -- national pride and tourism (!!!) then sure, humanity should expend some effort going to the Moon. But humanity WILL do that! Apollo wannabes who desperately need their adult rites. Their bar moonsvahs.

Here's an excellent run down of the current plan to fulfill the administration’s plan to get an American woman onto the lunar surface by the end of Donald Trump’s second term, and with more landings and “assets” taken down to that dusty-useless plain every year thereafter. There's some real intelligence in the plan, making the maximum number of parts re-usable and re-fuelable. And sure, if we got all these things we could make money the best way at the moon... by selling tickets to tourists.

This article is pretty darn clear and I need say little more, except that it would all cost maybe 30x what the administration has so far talked about (like stealing initial funding from Pell Grants...OMG.) Still the article is way worthwhile as an overview. Except that real wealth beckons, elsewhere in the solar system. And that is why some powers down here do NOT want us looking in those directions.

David Brin said...

Ilithi... Cool & fun stuff.

If you give me three sentences summarizing who you are and what the story is about, I'll plug it plus the link. It's fun stuff!

Did he stick the helmet on his head? cause it sure seems he stuck in the oak leaf pin.
"Somebody wake up Hicks." Funny reference.
Alright should always be "all right."
"Pavilion" twice in the same para is an example of repeatitis.
Wouldn't their TOP job be to protect and enable scientists to figure our WTF just happened? So there'd be techies with this group.
There'd be LAVs. Top priority, plus air defense. And they'd be available at Pendleton
The elf absently drug -- huh?
collapse and route -- rout
he lay on top of the Corporal - he would not know the rank
Ah, the LAV arrives..... peaked=peeked
I doubt there are any actual privates in a Marine deployable combat platoon.
Fun stuff.

Alfred Differ said...


It strikes me that doing a thorough survey of rocks that are close to the earth in velocity as well as distance will produce much much better "targets" than going to "the moon"

Yup. Include all the dead equipment in cis-lunar space too. Small systems with engines still attached can be moved using a harpoon-like attachment inserted up a nozzle. Fire your various thrusters a few times to find your new inertia matrix and then off you go with your salvage. The dead equipment up there is probably worth more than lunar dust for some time.

Ilithi Dragon,

relatively close stepping stone that we can use to develop the tech to go further and do greater things

Most of going further and doing greater things involves activity in solar orbit far from deep gravity wells. Even Luna is deep compared to asteroids that are easiest to reach. That means the close stepping stones are actually in solar orbits that are real close to Earth's orbit period. Duck out... come back. Learn to swim in shallow water. Learn to fly near your landing strip. There are useful targets and useful practice zones within easy reach, so I won't be putting my money on Luna as a good stepping stone.

For example, can you bop around the Earth-Moon L2 point? Do it well and many solar orbits are easier to reach. Do it even better and re-entry to cis-lunar space gets cheaper. The tech for fine control near that Lagrange point is the same we'd use near the E-M L1 point and the Earth-Sun L1/L2 points. Low energy changes are the rule and that makes huge differences to flight risks.

Darrell E said...

I agree with David regarding where the wealth of resources is. And that human presence on the Moon will come in time but there is not much benefit in focusing on that first. If we do manage to usefully exploit space, and it looks like that is going to happen, then sooner or later people will be living on the moon. It's just what people do. But to get us bootstrapped into space in the first place it does make sense to go after the low hanging fruit and that does appear to be asteroids.

However, I am not as negative about the Moon as David is. I don't believe that we can be anywhere near as sure as you are David that the moon is so resource barren. We have been crawling all over Earth for quite some time and yet previously unknown resources are still found regularly. Yet we've only explored a few 10s of acres of the moon on foot and observed it by telescope and a handful of satellites. I think the book is still wide open on the Moon.

I think our move into space is likely to be as messy as any other human expansion. Different groups will have and pursue different ideas and goals. Many of them won't work out. Some of them will fail at the original goal but something useful and lasting will grow out if it anyway. I think the real trick to get us established in space is to develop the capabilities necessary for many people to pursue their ideas about space exploitation. That's exactly what SpaceX is doing. And many others to be sure. But SpaceX is looking to be the instigator that really gets the ball rolling both by providing actual innovative capabilities and by example of what is possible. As Musk has said, he wants to foment competition.

scidata said...

This moon debate reminds me of the Asimov short story where the radio time delay (I think between Earth and Mars) was greatly slowing planning and decisions. A matronly woman said they should "just keep talking" as she and her friends do(classic Asimov).

Can't we do deep oceans, the Moon, asteroids, planets, interstellar probes, etc all at the same time? Instead of dividing the pie ever more finely, why not just bake a much bigger pie? There are only 7 billion of us. We need at least a trillion. Don't let the Cheeto fill you with fear and take away your initiative. Land of the free and home of the brave, remember? Allons-y.


Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

I owe you one apology concerning the trillionaires' meeting in Existence. The clues as to the motive behind the meeting are there before the meeting itself, when Helena exposits to Lacey that the Enlightenment Experiment is coming to an end, and that they want to avoid tumbrels.

I'll still be looking for clues to the identity of the mysterious spy who guides Hamish Brookeman to the secret room via his earpiece. In previous readings, I never did come away feeling I knew who that was, and I'm not clear whether that is your intent or not.

jim said...

Outer Space does have potential:
Lots of room (lots of space in space)
Good source of energy flow (the sun is hot and the background temperature is low)
Lots of matter in asteroids and moons

But we currently lack the know how to turn the potential into reality.
The critical question is do we have the time to develop that know how before the problems we have on Earth close off that potential.

I think that even with a large dedicated effort it will take 20-40 years before space based energy and manufacturing could support themselves economically let alone help out with the situation on the Earth. I don’t think we have that much time. Between Climate change, ecological destruction, limits to growth, failing American hegemony and social media induced idiocy the problems that at one time had solutions are turning into predicaments that can’t be solved only accommodated.

Treebeard said...

But jim, it provides a nice fantasy project for geeks, who need religion like everyone else—in this case, becoming gods and metastasizing across the cosmos. Scidata says we need a trillion humans, but why think so small? Why not trillions of humans swarming every solar system, bringing amazon prime, SpaceX rockets and porn-on-demand to an otherwise worthless universe? If a thousand of a thing is good, a trillion can only be a billion times better, right? "More, more, more", sang the porn star Andrea True—a perfect anthem for the geek lords' space pornocracy. But to paraphrase a famous philosopher: “when the farthest corner of the cosmos has been conquered technologically and can be exploited economically, there still looms like a specter over all this uproar the question: what for? — where to? — and what then?”

Fortunately this is all a fantasy, which won't be a problem before the introduction of fusion-powered, AI-driven snowmobiles in Hell.

jim said...

Yep, it sure does look like space plays an important role in the religion of Progress.

Totally off topic.

I really wish they would have used Napoleon’s invasion of Russia as the historical event to inform the last couple of seasons of Game of Thrones. I would have had the dragon queen conquer Kings landing first then take her huge army up north. Only to have at least ½ of them die on the way up because it is cold and there is little food. They would likely have had to plunder all the food in their path. An army travels on its stomach. The unsullied should have died in droves because they never experienced winter before. It should have ended with an emaciated Sam being the sole survivor of the war with the night king sitting down to write the story of Fire and Ice.

A.F. Rey said...

You still have the chance to let George R.R. Martin know! :)

A.F. Rey said...

After all, Martin needs to write a better ending than the one HBO had.

Because while there is no one person to blame for the HBO series, all those rabid fans who hated what happened to Daenerys know where to find George. ;)

jim said...

A.F Rey,

I would agree that the last two seasons were weak.

Does any one else have another historical event that could have been used to better inform the fight against the night king?

Napoleon's invasion of Russia came to me today. Just wondering what others can come up with.

David Brin said...

Yay Treebeard! That snark was actually... good! Amusing and impudent. Sure it utterly ignores what we're actually saying. Or the fact that space wealth could enable us to simultaneously end even the distant memory of poverty and stop abusing - and thus save - the Earth.

Or that the resulting generations might be wiser and better able to grapple with issues of long term destiny than our ent is, or his masters.

Or that only extreme transcendentalists aim at "trillions" in population, just as only extreme confed-reactionaries admit they want feudalism. But nice snark, anyway.

David Brin said...

Darrell, alas you still miss my point. I may be wrong (IMBW) about lunar resources. (IMBW is the sacred catechism of science that most terrifies zero sum troglodytes.) Hence I am in favor of HUMANITY returning to the moon and doing some tourism with a scientific overlay. Humanity WILL go back down there, for tourist reasons, especially China, India, Russia, etc. And they will justify the missions with all sorts of grand "ambitions." And may they prove me wrong!

Indeed, I am fine with the US being involved in three ways.
1) The Gateway orbital station has many uses that include both supporting lunar missions of other nations (for a fee!$!) and as a lab for samples returned from asteroids. (Plus other uses.)

2) We should send robots down, especially to explore lava tube caves. And we have already examined some ways to get solar power down into polar pits where the ice is.

3) Private enterprise could lease landers to eager wannabes, while retaining valuable IP.

But so far, there's no evidence I'm wrong about lunar "resources." And any race to land NASA astronauts there will turn out to have been done deliberately to bring us DOWN to the level of our "competitors" in a wholly made up Moon Race, that can only end in an "international mission" that we'll pay for, subsidizing others' "today we are grownups!" moments, while sacrificing all our technological leads.

David Brin said...

Jim I like your Moscow march idea. Especially if the Lannisters got driven north ahead of the army.

Larry Hart said...

Et tu, Brin blog?

As someone who just finished season 3 of GoT, I can see I have to be very careful what I read.


scidata said...

Re: geek lords' space pornocracy

The GLSP, I kind of like it. In 1997, an Princeton astrophysicist said, "It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go — maybe even longer." AI surpassed humans in Go a few years ago. Another physicist is trying to put live computational science on every phone, tablet, and PC in Canada (and beyond) by paying cryptocurrency for crunching time DCL.

Years before Kevin Costner made "The Postman", he made another morality play wherein stultifying accounting and worrisome logistics were swept away with the phrase, "if you build it, they will come". BTW, I meant trillions.

"the scientific spirit is of more value than its products"
- Thomas Huxley

The world is becoming scientifically literate. Get over it. You're going to need a bigger cave door to keep out the light.

Alfred Differ said...

There is a partially transcendentalist path that results in trillions and even quadrillions. Hansen’s Ems would be small enough and have low enough resource needs to produce a world of that many growing at what seems to us a ferocious rate. Our pop growth tends not to go much above 2% (2.5% in Africa right now) for the obvious reason that women can’t give birth faster than their biology permits. Ems would be manufactured, though, so they would grow at something more like an industrial rate of growth which is tied to intrinsic economic growth. Absent Ems or something like them, a 2% growth rate doesn’t get us to a trillion until 2265 and we’d obviously need most of us to be in space. Not going to happen as women don’t seem to be inclined to have that many children.

Alfred Differ said...


Hmm… I think I get your doom and gloom attitude a bit better now. If you really think 20-40 years is all we have left before we are truly, unavoidably f@#$ed, it makes more sense of other things you write about here.

Obviously, I disagree with your gloomy forecast. No surprise there. I’ve seen too many doom predictions fail to believe any of them, but I have a particular issue with your time horizon. It’s just far enough away that it’s unlikely I can make a bet with you and be around for the payoff. Your horizon is one to two generations away depending on how one counts, but that’s enough to ensure any bet would be pointless. My future, toothless self would either grin and say ‘I told you so!’ or ‘What do I care at this point?’ Got any doom predictions with a shorter horizon?

Space based energy and manufacturing won’t support themselves economically, though. They’ll be part of an economic ‘environment’ in the way Earth based industries are. None of them are supporting themselves any more than most species of life are self-supporting. This thing depends on that thing. This critter eats that critter while this other one recycles the bodies of both. Space won’t be different. It can’t be different. We are living beings and will bring everything we are into the mix. So… initially your space based industries will be tied to Earth based markets so tightly they won’t be seen as space-based operations except as extensions. Projects instead of industries. However, projects grow into product lines and then acquire product management and then morph into divisions and spin-offs. THAT’S how these things go on Earth and space won’t be any different.

I suspect you are rationalizing your timeline using your gloom. It’s not uncommon, but it is almost never correct. I’m sure we will find interesting and horrific ways to screw ourselves, but I’m doubtful we will manage it on a giga-deaths level. Too many doom predictions fail for me to have confidence in them.

Tony Fisk said...

I think Martin applied the Napoleon march to Stannis Baratheon's army (based on the books. Like Larry, I'm only just starting season 4, which is about the last half of book 3.)

TCB said...

@ Jim, I saw a youtube video that made the death of the Night King make some sense.

Bran, as we know, can see past and future events. However, just like Dr. Manhattan, he knows it's not possible to change the past, nor even the future, but the effort must still be made. Like Dr. Strange, he finds one particular series of events that will beat this foe. For the purposes of GoT, the Night King can't be killed, only "reverse engineered" or unmade. He was made with a dragonglass dagger at the base of a weirwood tree. He must be unmade with valyrian steel at the base of a weirwood tree. Bran's job is to nudge and provoke him into putting himself at the appointed place and time. When Bran warged into the ravens, he was out looking for the NK. The NK knew where Bran was, but Bran had to go find NK.

Also, (my opinion) Bran has tons and tons of warg sex, and that's why he smirks at everybody.

jim said...

TCB - I am not too upset with how the Night King met his fate, just that the realism of the earlier seasons (it takes a long time to walk across the country) got misplaced and the story suffered for it.

Tony - I can sort of see that with Stannis in the north.

But I do think Napoleon is the best historical analog for the Dragon Queen. The leader of a massive army that sets out to remake the world and carry forward the French revolution to the rest of the world "breaking the wheel". ( although I would not name the dragons Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity ;-)

jim said...


Political - the globes hegemon the USA is undergoing a political crisis, greater polarization and dysfunction. There seems to be growing support for a Strong man leader. Other countries have found out how to "press our buttons" and sow political discord.

Climate change - picking up steam. The first blue Arctic Event within 10 years and the increasing destabilization of the northern hemispheres climatic patterns. The weakened jet stream leads to "stuck" patterns of weather.

Economic - The economic downturn that is heading our way will be a doozy. The debt situation has gotten much worse all around the world, much of the debt cant be repaid. I think we are heading to a global situation much worse than the 2008 great recession.

Ecological - I can't fallow the details on this crisis anymore. When I do it leads me down a gloom spiral that is very difficult for me to crawl out of. The fundamentals of habitat destruction are still getting worse.

David Brin said...



smitpa said...

I'm all in favor of a space program but unless we find deposits of pure computronium or something we will never make money at it. So far there is dry basalt on Luna wet basalt on Mars or ice. To get the 10 to the 7th increase it takes to double middle class incomes we would have to find deposits of pure gold. Trickle down economics may be right but the exponent needs to be maybe 10 or 12 to have any effect.