Saturday, April 18, 2020

Our bold future in space!

Looking past quarantine... and the War On All Fact People... let's pause amid the gloom and assume that we'll prevail! Where are we headed for our next bold adventure?

Well, for one thing, sample-return missions from Mars are in the works: this is how the ESA and NASA will work together to bring rocks back from Mars. And NASA has developed plans for a lunar base camp on the surface of the moon, looking toward a sustainable human presence. 

== NIAC on the Attack! ==

NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) has announced their new Phase I, II and III fellowships for 2020, including some of the most intriguing possible endeavors or new technologies that might lead to new missions and adventures out there.

Among the cool new projects: 
-An ultra-low frequency 5 km radio telescope that would fit snugly into a crater on the far side of the moon. (This had a lot of press; it's a lunar use-case that actually makes sense.) 
-And using "extreme metamaterials" for solar sails. 
-Ways to biologically convert the abundant CO2 in the Martian atmosphere into liquid hydrocarbons suitable for rocket propulsion and other energy needs on Mars. 
-Pulsed plasma rockets for combined high Isp and thrust. 
-Antimatter deceleration of interstellar probes! 
-A way to rendezvous with and study InterStellar Objects (ISOs) like 'Oumuamua'. 
-Plus ways to synthesize pharmaceuticals needed by human explorers to other worlds.  
-Another NIAC grant got press play as a possible way to actually image distant, interstellar Earthlike worlds.
... And a dozen more new and vivid concepts!   

(Full disclosure, I serve on the NIAC external advisory council.)

== Space miscellany ==

In an important milestone, one commercial spacecraft was used to save and reactivate a more valuable one, by latching onto it and providing the maneuvering ability it had lost. This is just the beginning as we'll gain the ability to service and refuel - and dispose of - satellites and make better use of orbit.

Spacefarers: How Humans will settle the Moon, Mars and Beyond, by Christopher Wanjek, explores humanity's cooperative, bold future in space, with colonies established beyond our home planet - to reap benefits, both scientific and economic. 

This may illuminate the origins of life: ribose has been discovered in meteorites, wow. Even more amazing… some bits of stardust found on an Australian meteorite are presolar grains that apparently formed before our sun. A new analysis of the meteorite revealed particles that formed between five to seven billion years ago. That makes the meteorite and its stardust the oldest solid material ever discovered on Earth. Inferred from elements that were likely formed by incoming interstellar cosmic rays.  

New maps of water distribution on Mars… including vast regions where ice appears plentiful near the surface… will be of major use in planningfor future habitation.

Here's a great looking video that could be on Mars, but isn't. Vegetation? Who needs vegetation? Seriously cool.

You might enjoy this... A game called Terraforming Mars - played on an accurate map of the Tharsis region of the Martian surface, where corporations vie to tame the Red Planet. 

A visual treat: this gorgeous image from the space station of the trail of the Proton-Soyuz rocket bringing up a friend.

A Scottish start-up just successfully tested a 3D-printed engine for the orbital stage of its 72ft launch vehicle. It burns 'Ecosene' (made from plastic waste). They plan to launch from a Scottish spaceport. Pure dead brilliant.

Here’s a fascinating interview with Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center, regarding a range of potential breakthrough technologies to improve our access to space. (Some of them we’ve funded at NIAC.) 

== Strange gullies in Mars from sliding Dry Ice Blocks? ==

Wow. Mysterious features observed... and clever researchers not only come up with a great explanation, but then test it out on nearby sand dunes... Followed finally by speculation on a great new sport folks may play someday... on Mars.

What a time to live in. Astronomers took a closer look at how the Vela neutron star spins at about 43,000 rpm. (Yes, you read that right.) Only about 8 km across, it sometimes “glitches” for a brief slowdown, then speeds back up again. A model now explains this as subtle interplay between a “mantle” of superfluid neutrons and an outer crust of a different superfluid state.

And how would Earth look as an exoplanet? … though I’d seen preliminary versions. It will be some time before we can image planets in other systems. (A couple of tricky methods are being funded by NIAC - it’s fun getting first looks!) Till then, an intermediate will come when we can get single pixel images with some spectral resolution. Yeah, “images” consisting of one blurry dot. But analyzing over many bands and over time, you’ll get data like rotation period, possibly mass, atmospheric constituents and – yes – a very good stab at both cloud data and the rough shape of oceans and continents!

A fascinating JPL experimental rover looks and acts like a pool cleaning robot, patrolling the underside of sea ice with two big wheels, observing the abundant life there and testing possible technologies for a Europa mission.

TESS mission has found its first Earth-sized, potentially habitable planet, orbiting at the Goldilocks range from a smaller-reddish star just 100 light years from us.  Size and orbit confirmed by the soon to be retired, venerable Spitzer Telescope. It’s tidal locked in a 37 day orbit and reddish dwarves dent to flare a lot, but this one appears to be relatively calm. All told, when we get scopes that can study atmospheric traits, this might be the one for answering many questions about a tidal-locked world. Still you can be sure all the METI kooks will be aiming yoohoo cries and adverts at this one.

Earth orbit is filled with trash – abandoned satellites, upper stages etc. – endangering humanity’s shared resource. In Existence, I posited using tethers, ropelike systems to snag and dispose of some objects. Even better would be to equip all new satellites with tether-based de-orbit systems, like the one just tested (by Tethers Unlimited). ‘Prox-1, a 71-kilogram cubesat that launched into a low Earth orbit in June on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, successfully deployed a 70-meter length of conductive tape in September that is creating enough drag to deorbit the satellite much sooner than simply abandoning the satellite.’

The Very Large Array in New Mexico – featured in the movie CONTACT – is doing an all sky radio survey that will allow the Breakthrough SETI program to tap into the data stream with a supercomputer, looking for potentially sapient patterns. “The VLA is being used for an all-sky survey and we kind of go along for the ride,” said Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Seti centre. “It allows us to in parallel conduct a Seti survey.

== Stay Safe ==

Here's hoping all's well for you and yours and that you are healthy and doing great.
Do thrive and persevere... you and all you love.

But also fight for a civilization that rises above the blandishing allure of that old curse - feudalism - and instead decides that we can do better by cooperating and competing fairly, in the light. And then riding light to the stars.


scidata said...

SETI@home suspended distribution of work units at the end of March. Turns out that that's only because they have bigger things brewing:

SpaceX has stacked SN4, now ready for testing. SN5 nearing completion. Fail fast, iterate, move on. Stunning. And next month is Crew Dragon - for real.

Alfred Differ said...

Yup. Crew Dragon is supposed to fly in 6 weeks.
I really wish I'd put money on the bet (in 2011) that they'd get there first.
Ah well. I'll have to settle for a happy dance.

Alfred Differ said...

...and if you want to fly anything using their rideshare program, they are beginning to treat the vehicles as though they are on scheduled routes.

Many moons ago, my friends understood that access to space had to get cheaper in order for space to be treated as a frontier instead of a research destination. The acronym coined for these discussions is CATS. Cheap Access To Space. Simple enough and it prompted related ones we could use in specialized discussions. CHATS, FATS, and so on. SpaceX is fast on the path to nail CATS and FATS and in six weeks they will demo CHATS.

We were dreaming and scheming in the late 90's and early 00's, but the vision was essentially correct. CATS and FATS are being demo'd by more than one company not in the 'defense contractor / government teat baby' clade. They aren't all USian either.

What we weren't able to imagine is what y'all would do with the capabilities. Any ideas?
In the US, it's not that hard to scrabble together $1M if you can imagine an inspiring project.
That's the entry price to the rideshare program for now.
What do YOU want to do?

David Brin said...

Russian space program accusing SpaceX of predatory pricing. Hoo hah? Rich in so many, many ways.

Alfred Differ said...

Back when Mir was still in orbit, some of my friends were trying to get it turned into a commercial platform. No easy task. Along the way they taught us a thing or two about dealing with the Russians who seriously know their space skills. They have a (well earned) sense of pride that is not to be ignored. Best to learn to drink vodka too. 8)

I sincerely hope the Russians and their neighbors adapt and compete on the frontier. Not for ASAT capabilities, but for access and other economic purposes. They earned it the hard way. It would be much better than the limited future they have as an oil producing nation.

Dwight Williams said...

Maybe so, but I'm hoping they both end up better for the competition.

Anonymous said...

David Brin said...

Anon, please frame links with some language describing contents... tho in this case it's obvious from the URL

yana said...

Not a moment too soon, we have to get off this rock. 2 sustained colonies is the magic number. There is only one game in any town ever, survival of species. Earth plus 2 colonies sextuples our chances. Doesn't matter where they are, the only thing which matters is time. Every single day could be the one, when we observe a rock which will definitely hit the Earth. We can't explain life on Earth without kudos to the Jupiter-Saturn Maid Service, vacuuming up stray rocks at a good clip. Every day we stay cooped up on Earth and LEO stations, we squander the peculiar gifts this star system has endowed us.

Speed is of the essence. No, there's nothing worth a damn on the Moon. The only thing it has going for it, is that it's close. Since Mercury and Venus are beyond our lion-taming ability, Mars is the second candidate. Not that it's more promising than Europa or Titan, or more lucrative than the Belt, it's simply closer. If we get up and running on Mars and Moon, then everything becomes possible. Absolutely anything you ever dream becomes possible. You can even eat the dishes.

Need to have "prize" competitions for two things. First, we need a non-combustion method of beating terminal velocity. Even if conventional rocketry is not to blame for the ozone holes which persist decades after banning CFC's, it can't be helping, right? If we invent a propellant scheme where the effluent is ozone, we might have a vehicle which uses conventional propellant up to one altitude, then switches to belch out ozone at a proper height, then continues on to orbit as usual. If it fixes the ozone holes, we'd be patting ourselves on the back for centuries. Or there's that long equatorial tether idea, the space elevator. Have my doubts, but if it gets weight into orbit with less fire, then that's good for all humans.

Second, we need a light faraday cage. We know what's out there. We know what our Sun burps up regularly. Mars and the Moon have no ozone layer, no magnetic field. Ships in transit are at the mercy of solar wind and cosmic zappers. We need a material to skein over spaceships and off-planet habitations, to emulate Earth's protective cradle. Out on a limb, but maybe the electrostatic properties of a fullerene carbon lattice doped with buckyballs enclosing heavier atoms? Gut tells me that the winning answer will combine powered EM with passive quantum effects. If we get an idea which powers 100 square meters of skein with an AA coppertop, then we can go anywhere, live anywhere.

We are truly at an all-or-nothing decision as a species. The proverbial warning about living in "interesting times" doesn't seem like a bane, it seems more a blessing, if only to have one more tiny insignificant voice advocating the expansion of humanity. And dogs and cats, we'll take them with us too. And gerbils most likely. And yes, trillions of organisms inside us, the majority of cells which are inside us but are not genetically "us".

DP said...

So how should space colonization be done? Historical analogies are very helpful, especially those methods used to explore and exploit the resources of Earth’s Arctic regions. And there have been two approaches used in these efforts, the brute force centrally planning approach the Soviets used to open up Siberia; and the more natural, organic approach used by the Canadians in their Arctic north.

For an interesting comparison of Soviet colonization of Siberia vs. Canadian colonization of the Arctic see:

Cities were an important feature of the plans for a Siberian industrial utopia. Cities were developed in Siberia in tandem with industries to provide a fixed reserve of labor for factories, mines, and oil and gas fields. In many respects, however, the cities were not really cities. Rather than being genuine social and economic entities, they were physical collection points, repositories, and supply centers—utilitarian in the extreme. They were built to suit the needs of industry and the state, rather than the needs of people. Indeed, primary responsibility for planning and constructing city infrastructure fell to the Soviet economic ministry in charge of the enterprise the city was designed to serve. Few responsibilities were assigned to the municipal governments.

Still the cities grew, in both number and size. By the 1970s the Soviet Union had urbanized its coldest regions to an extent far beyond that of any other country in the world. (See box on page 25.) At precisely the time when people in North America and western Europe were moving to warmer regions of their countries, the Soviets were moving in the opposite direction.

But the Soviet economic slowdown of the late 1970s would put an end to such ambitions. By the 1980s the massive investments in Siberia and the Far East were offering extremely low returns. Many huge construction projects were left incomplete or postponed indefinitely. At first, the troubles were blamed on disproportional and incoherent planning, ineffective management, and poor coordination. But by the reformist era of the late 1980s under Mikhail Gorbachev, the problem was seen to be Siberia itself as well as the efforts to develop it. Criticism of the giant outlays in Siberia became commonplace. Regional analysts and planners in Siberia mounted a fierce rearguard action. They tried to justify continued high investment by pointing to the value of the commodities produced in Siberia on world markets and the state's dependence on Siberian natural resources and energy supplies. Still, by 1989 the industrialization of Siberia was beginning to seem a monumental mistake. The Siberian enterprise was, in any case, brought to a screeching halt by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the beginning of Russia's macroeconomic reforms in the 1990s.

For more than 50 years, Soviet planners built Siberian towns, industrial enterprises, and power stations—although often not roads—where they should never have been built. Huge cities and industrial enterprises, widely spread and for the most part isolated, now dot the vast region. Not a single Siberian city can be considered economically self-sufficient. And pumping large subsidies into Siberia deprives the rest of Russia of the chance for economic growth.

Canada offers an appropriate model. Canada's North is a resource base, but the bulk of the nation's people are located along the U.S. border, close to markets and in the warmest areas of the country. According to the 2002 Canadian Census, Canada's northern territories have less than 1 percent of the nation's total population. Canada's mining industry—and northern industry in general—relies on seasonal labor, with the labor pool shrinking during the coldest winter months and increasing again in summer.

DP said...

Screw planets.

The near term future of manned colonization of space should be the asteroid belt. So instead of Mars, we should colonize the dwarf planet Ceres (the largest body in the asteroid belt) in order to establish a logistical base for asteroid prospecting and mining. Ceres has no significant gravity well to overcome and lots of water for life and fuel.

So instead of Star Fleet planting human colonies on the surfaces of planets, we'll have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation contracting out the asteroid equivalent of arctic oil rig and crab fishing operations - extremely dirty and dangerous work with a high death rate. Think "rough necks in space" performing work that makes investors back home extremely wealthy, mankind more prosperous and the workers themselves a small fortune with each service contract (if they live long enough to return to Earth to spend their money).

Maybe we'll have the occasional scientific base established on Mars or floating in the atmosphere of Venus, but they'll be no bigger than a current Antarctic weather station. So forget about the bright, shiny and clean Enterprise piloted by bright young academy grads, our future in space is the dirty, gritty and dangerous Nostromo manned by blue collar truck drivers. In fact, our whole future in space will look more like the "Alien" universe instead of "Star Trek" (hopefully without face huggers and chest bursters).

DP said...

But what would be the economic benefits of mining the asteroid belt? What industrial activity in the belt would be profitable enough to justify this activity in the first place? Granted it has a wealth of mineral and metal resources that can be obtained and processed without the excessive cost of dragging equipment and material up from a deep planetary gravity well. As such it these resources will later be invaluable for building the infrastructure and transportation necessary to colonize the solar system.

But what would be the initial Earth market for such materials that would justify asteroid mining and give investors a profitable reason to invest? And could this industry compete with its terrestrial competitors? The answer unfortunately is no - it can't hope to be competitive. It simply makes no economic sense to feed Earth bound industries with asteroid resources. Even if an asteroid of solid platinum the size of a mountain could be found and dragged back to Earth orbit, all this sudden oversupply would accomplish is to crash its market value to the point where it wasn't worth getting in the first place (and to create a permanently depressed market value that would discourage further such ventures). And forget about baser metals like iron and nickel. We won't be dropping loads of iron from orbit (the price of which would greatly add to the operating costs of a material whose oversupply has just caused its market value to crash).

So what would be the economic justification for colonizing the asteroid belt? Colonies need to make money or they become expensive and unnecessary white elephants. Spain's New World empire was made economically viable by gold and silver. The Virginia colony survived because it grew tobacco. Brazil and the Caribbean provided sugar. Space colonization will require a similar economic rationale for existing. It would have to provide a commodity that can ignore the costs of climbing up a gravity well or dropping down through an atmosphere.

Only non-material commodities like energy and information meet these criteria. Scientific information brought back from planetary probes is invaluable in its own way, but doesn't have much in the way of actual market value. However, infinite amounts of clean energy from the sun however can transform our economy and our civilization – and it’s all done with mirrors. Mirrors and lenses.

DP said...

At present, mankind’s annual energy use comes to about 20 terawatts, and is increasing approximately 3% per year. But this is tiny compared to the sunlight received every second by planet Earth, which is approximately 175,000 trillion watts (175 petawatts), or 8,750 times more than our current energy use. Altogether, the Sun radiates 385 yottawatts (385 trillion trillion watts) of energy, or 2.2 BILLLION times more than is received by the Earth.

In space no one can hear you generate nearly infinite amounts of essentially free energy, all you need are simple – if very large - mirrors and lenses. And these are remarkably easy to make in the zero gravity of space.

Making giant lenses and mirrors of different shapes could direct concentrated sunlight to desired locations in the solar system. More than one lens or mirrors in multiple locations seems like a feasible task.

Large lensing structures may not be something of the far future. There was a 2007 NASA NIAC study for making large bubbles in space. Devon Crowe of PSI corporation made a study for making large space structures from bubbles that are made rigid using metals or UV curing.

A single bubble can be 1 meter in earth gravity, 100 kilometer in low earth orbit or 1000 kilometers in deep space. Foams made of many bubbles could be far larger in size.

The size of a 1000 kilometer bubble is nearly the size of Charon, the moon of Pluto. Charon is 1200 kilometers in diameter. Saturn's moon Tethys is 1050-1080 kilometers in diameter Ceres the largest object in the asteroid belt is 970 kilometers in diameter. A single tesselation foam (like in the picture) of 1000 kilometer bubbles would be about the size of Earth's moon. A Penrose tesselation like the one in the picture of 1000 kilometer bubbles would be in between the size of Neptune or Saturn. A Tesselation foam of 100 kilometer bubbles in earth orbit could form an object the size our existing moon or larger. Metal can then be evaporated to coat the inside of the bubble for reflective sails and telescopes.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

As soon as the first flight of the DC-X was made in 1993, there should have been an aggressive continuation of similar conical multi-engine reusable rockets scaled up for sub-orbital small cargo delivery. They would have been indispensable for things like extremely rapid delivery of medicines and medical equipment during a pandemic.

Initially, such rockets would have had to take off and land offshore or in designated unpopulated landing areas. Later, after more than two decades of experience (and with multiple independent redundancy of engines for landing), the rockets could takeoff and land very close to hospitals. They could often have critical medical items delivered to the waiting medical staff by the time a cargo plane could taxi into position for initial takeoff.

These small rockets could be used for urgent deliveries from state to state or between continents. Even though we are more than 3 decades behind where we should be, natural disasters will continue to happen and the current pandemic won't be the last. The next pandemic could very easily be a virus that is more than ten times as lethal.

Der Oger said...

@Alfred Differ:
"Best to learn to drink vodka too. 8)"
An historical anecdote (Russian-German POW negotiations) has it that the Russians do not actually drink Vodka in negotiations, but have Westerners do it (while drinking Walter themselves). Make sure you drink from the same bottle, and switch glasses, if nothing else helps :-)

Dr. Brin
"Russian space program accusing SpaceX of predatory pricing. Hoo hah? Rich in so many, many ways."

Someone I know who is involved in rocket building business described IT like this: SpaceX is favored by the Pentagon, earning enough cash through overprized contracts that they can afford to offer cheaper contracts overseas. Thus, governments on a Budget prefer their products instead of those made by their own countries.

But don't want to be a spoilsport. IT is a good thing that Americans participate again in endeavors that are a benefit to all of mankind.

scidata said...

Clean air, mortality reified, introspection (both conscious and subconcious), naked emperors scurrying for cover, science more widely grokked (warts and beauty), space colonization underway, rate of change going hyper-exponential...

Times may be getting leaner for SF writers, but they sure are getting fatter for psychology dissertations.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Russian space program accusing SpaceX of predatory pricing. Hoo hah? Rich in so many, many ways.

Ok, I haven't had my morning coffee yet, but "predatory pricing" doesn't mean they think SpaceX is charging too high a price, right? They mean SpaceX is undercutting their market share for $20 million rides?


Deuxglass said...


I went to 100% cash when I presented my worries here. There was no way the market was going to stay up there and ,I counted on a good recession. To me and you it was a no-brainer. I sold. The market went down then went back up to the highs and then totally collapsed. Selling is easy but buying is more problematic When those who have assets have to sell then those who have cash can name their price. That was happening. In addition those sellers were coming up with ridiculous assumptions to justify having to sell turning what was a bad decision into a very good one in their minds. We have both been through bear markets and have seen it before. My buy back decision came from when the prices were just too good but most of all because I felt very strongly that the Fed and the government would do unprecedented MMT stimulation. I wrote in this blog ( after I had made my prediction) that the head of the Fed last Fall had said before a commission that the Fed was looking at ways to sent money directly into people's accounts if it was necessary to keep consumer spending in a real crisis. That made me feel that this means they will pull out all stops especially since the economic collapse came about by government decree and not from imbalances although it was for a good reason. Last time Wall Street was bailed out. This time Main Street will have to be bailed out too. If not then the consequences will be a rerun of the 1930’s with all the dangers. Even though I bought close to the good point I was outdone by my 96 year old father who is very sharp. He bought a slew of oil stocks two days before I dared and flipped them out with a 30% profit a few days later. Hat's off to him!!

Here too I tend to talk politics. Most people here are the same and I wondered why. My pet theory is that we come to this blog to talk politics because our families, friends and significant others are tired of listening to our bullshit ideas, lame speculations, butthead stupid explanations and our ridiculous posturing so we come here where we are welcomed and appreciated as far-thinking and astute participants.

TCB said...

Worth remembering that (current) solar photovoltaic technology is just barely workable as far out as Ceres and the Belt.

"the 'edge' of sunshine we can use is about four astronomical units away from the Sun, where the sunlight is about one-sixteenth as bright as it is near the Earth." That's beyond the orbit of Mars (1.5 AU), but closer to the Sun than Jupiter (5.2 AU).

Ceres orbits at 2.56 to 2.98 AU, and is now know to have incredible quantities of water. I just don't see space colonies without massive Belt presence... both on dwarf planets and in O'Neill type constructed ones.

Acacia H. said...

Okay. While speaking of space is fantastic, let's go to inner space for a tiny bit.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus can have a detrimental impact on regions of the human body outside of the nose, throat, and lungs and this is likely why COVID-19 will kill people. This may also help explain why people sometimes test negative after suffering from COVID-19 and then become ill again and test positive - the virus went to another part of the body.

It will be extremely foolish to open up any country for at least a month after the last confirmed case. Even if you have widespread testing, it is entirely possible that someone will test negative and then later start shedding SARS-CoV-2 viral cells as it reactivates in their body. This will impact more and more people.

Acacia H.

P.S. - Our best bet in moving beyond our planet is to take a page out of The Expanse and hollow out asteroids and then spin them up, building on the inside of the "roof" of the asteroids to simulate gravity using centrifugal force. Several tens of meters of rock between us and the vacuum of space (if not more) would provide more than enough shielding to block most radiation.

Larry Hart said...


Here too I tend to talk politics. Most people here are the same and I wondered why. My pet theory is that we come to this blog to talk politics because our families, friends and significant others are tired of listening to our bullshit ideas, lame speculations, butthead stupid explanations and our ridiculous posturing so we come here where we are welcomed and appreciated as far-thinking and astute participants.

I found this "place" during the George W Bush years, and I came here as a refreshing alternative to the more common (at the time) discussions that framed Bush and the Republicans as the adults in the room, and liberals as ridiculous hippies if not outright traitors.

While Trumps's obvious deficiencies are causing the rest of the world to sort of catch up ("In a fit of pique, he napalmed Chelsea. Even the police had to stand up and take notice."), this still feels like one of the safest venues for having actual love of what "America" is supposed to be received better than Trumpian jingoism.

"Here" is one of the few places we can express what seems to us to be self-evident and not feel like we must be the insane ones.

David Brin said...

At last, the gloves are off and someone with meme-skills is on the job. Everyone knows about the pandemic response team in 2018, but it’s less well known that Trump cut/closed 4 offices monitoring disease outbreaks in China. A new Biden ad leverages that weak spot perfectly. What this spot is missing is about 5 seconds about how badly Trump’s China travel ban was botched - not just the ‘exceptions’ that let in 40,000, but the resulting mobs of panicked travelers packed in festering airports, infecting each other, perfectly conveyed by a single image:

Still, whoever made this ad is at least trying to do polemical judo.

David Brin said...

Yana, well-said, as usual. Though you leave out the many asteroids (NEOs) that orbit much close than the Belt. There are many thousands of all types and many are energetically easier to reach than the Moon’s surface, let alone Mars. Phobos, in particular, might be very valuable.

Of course I infamously oppose AMERICA revisiting the moon as a major, human-centered project, since HUMANITY is going to do that, anyway. And the US could partner with Japan and the EU to take on much harder and more valuable quests.

While I like The Expanse, it has a dramatic premise that’s impossible… access to truly astronomical resources from the Belt… accompanied by grinding poverty in a human underclass. Um, and robotic factories or even human staffed ones couldn’t turn that trove into any amount of wealth anyone would want? Human women could not spill from their wombs enough new people to stock such an underclass in less than a thousand years. Maybe then, if we’re stupid.

(Expanse also envisioned Ceres needing water imports!)

Likewise Daniel, it depends on where we are on this tipping point or else accelerating abundance curve. Things could be very gritty for a very long time, till those asteroid mines and robotic factories take off, building very large, spinning habitats.

Yes, a platinum asteroid would crash the market. BFD. Then calculate the payoff from commercial use of the material, and that’s still plenty high enough that there is some place on the demand curve where efficient production makes a profit. While pie-in-the-sky ravers are overly simplistic, I think so are you.

BTW those bubbles blown in space are ideal for sending down that platinum, which will virtually waft down through the atmosphere and then float while awaiting pickup.

Jon S. said...

"Yes, a platinum asteroid would crash the market. BFD. Then calculate the payoff from commercial use of the material, and that’s still plenty high enough that there is some place on the demand curve where efficient production makes a profit."

Reminds me of complaints I'd read that bringing gold from asteroids would do nothing bu crash the world gold markets. As I recall, however, gold is highly valuable in electronics applications; from what I've read, one of the main reasons we use other metals is because gold's just so durn pricy. Make it cheap enough, though, and that concern goes away.

Deuxglass said...

Larry Hart,

You wrong me in not having realized that I place myself the the category of people who
give bullshit ideas, lame speculations, butthead stupid explanations and make ridiculous posturing. I find it refreshing to study these un-thought-through meanders because occasionally I find nuggets of gold.

TCB said...

@ Acacia H., spinning up Ceres would take vast energy and, I dunno, could you get decent centrifugal forces without tearing it apart? That is to say, The Expanse is great but there are still better ways.

Take water from Ceres and use it as radiation shielding in toroidal/cylinder colonies. Three meters reduces radiation in deep space to below Earth levels. The outer layer could be frozen solid (space is cold) and self-sealing (a leak just gets frozen). Ceres has perhaps 200 million cubic km of water (I think the Expanse authors started the series before this was known.)

I'd like to do the numbers on how much water a single station needs, but my computer is barely running today because of reasons. I think we can safely assume, even for a very large cylinder colony, that a cubic kilometer of water is more than enough. Lifting that water off Ceres is trivial.

Larry Hart said...


Larry Hart,

You wrong me in not having realized that I place myself the the category of people who
give bullshit ideas, lame speculations, butthead stupid explanations and make ridiculous posturing.

Hey, it was the least I could do. :)

Alfred Differ said...

Der Oger,

Definitely NOT during negotiations. 8)

It was more of a 'let me see who you really are' kinda thing done while socializing. Strip away your sense of tact and see what you really think.
The social interaction was a kind of foreplay. Do it right or the stakes at the table later will be quite different. 8)

Alfred Differ said...


I knew the oil industry couldn't stay down there, but I didn't have the courage to touch them. When the general market moves down 5%+ in a day and a sector moves down 12%+ I behave like a coward. I might play with a couple of option contracts and assume the money is gone, but I didn't. I have a better feel for some of the IT sectors and take my risks there. Got a small batch of WDC at the bottom (so far) and AAPL when people were behaving like the Cupertino folks didn't have a hoard of cash to weather the hurricane. Mostly I stick to the sub-sector ETF's and options on them, though. Messed up plenty of individual bets, but got enough of them right to get by.

I have no idea what to do with a 20% unemployment rate, though. I suspect the Fed is propping up markets and making people think everyone gets bailed out again. Should be inflationary, so a cash position would be terrible I would think. Huge unemployment has bearish consequences, though. Ugh. Probably time to make simple volatility bets.

It's also possible we will just put the masks on, go back to work, and suck it up.
Recession year, quick bounce, and casket sales go up for awhile. Maybe.

We live in interesting times.

duncan cairncross said...

Re spinning habitats
You spin the habitat
It's radiation screen (rock) does not need to spin -

Do you need a 360 degree "screen" - or do you just need to have it shading the habitat from the sun?

Alfred Differ said...

… interesting times… I'd much rather think about space economics and colonization. Kinda the same thing. 8)

Anyone thinking two well-run colonies would save humanity if things go sour on Earth hasn't thought through how colonies actually work, or how human migrations have actually occurred, or maybe both. Humans didn't spread across the Earth because smart people pulled together sustainable groups and voyaged beyond the horizon. Nah. Reality is both more mundane and astonishing.

1. Most humans don't migrate. Only a tiny fraction of us go anywhere even when things are bad at home.
2. Most humans who do go anywhere come back occasionally and trade. The ones who don't are likely impoverished for a generation. Self-sustainment is rarely tried. When it is, everyone is impoverished and the colony runs the real risk of collapse.
3. Most humans who do go anywhere go places they can reach AND return and they choose both of these intentionally. Why? Probably trade. Family? Maybe. What's the point of going anywhere taking risks if one does not come off better for it?
4. Most humans who go anywhere pick places where they can 'live off the land.' In modern terms, one doesn't carry restroom facilities in our cars when we travel to distant places. We go where they are mostly. Maybe not everything is there? Ah. There is an opportunity for trade, right? What about people with campers and mobile homes? Count them. They are a small fraction. It takes a larger investment up front to be like them. Most of us won't do it. What about people who camp out? Count them.
5. There ARE places not well suited for us when we first go there. That doesn't last. We change them them to suit us. Instead of living off the land, we reshape the land… then live off it.
6. None of this happens at scale without surplus capital nearby. People may wander out to the frontier and come back with stuff to trade, but no one buys without surplus capital. Where's that? In the cities that act as frontier gateways. You KNOW you have a frontier to open when there are people returning from it to a hub city to trade… and succeeding at it.
7. Frontier gateways are at the edge of civilization. Where is that right now? Old Terra. Down here for now. Chicken and Egg problem? Nah. People will set up intermediate hubs out there if they make sense. The equivalent of a military fort? That would do. Maybe a refueling station too. Depends on the 'trails' being used.
8. Humans who went anywhere through the ages did not use high tech. They used personal tech and invented it as they needed it. In this case, it means we will invent what we need out there… out there. It might get built to scale here, but it will be invented out there. Local knowledge, local opportunity. People coming back to trade might not have anything more tangible than that and still get filthy rich.

If you want the frontier opened for everyone, best not think in terms of self-sustained colonies or end-of-the-world scenarios. Both are likely to leave colonies that fail. If it were that easy to direct these things, the Spanish missions would have succeeded long term. They didn't. Often enough, they killed the people they meant to convert. They got overrun later by real colonies that did what real humans do. Trade.

If you want the frontier opened for everyone, best think in terms of lower tech and 'what can I do that would prompt people to pay me?' No need to be a Scrooge about it, though. You'd be serving humanity by helping us spread out. Some of us anyway. Most of us won't go.

Don Gisselbeck said...

What will skiing be like on Mars? Presumably deep CO2 snow would be similar to powder on Earth. CO2 ice, though, might not work since it won't melt under pressure unlike water. (That feature of water is, of course, a proof that skiing was the main reason for creating the universe.🤣)

David Brin said...

DG the speculated sport os like snowboarding, only it is the BOARD that is made of dry ice.

TCB said...

@duncan cairncross: Imagine, however, a spun habitat which is inflated... Bigelow is the current lead dev on this sort of concept......

now imagine it spun from carbon fiber, got from such sources as carbonaceous asteroids.

Now imagine it's colony size, absolutely huge, with an interior surface area of 1000 square kilometers, and has three meters of water on the inside surface, water from Ceres. So everywhere "down" is the surface of a lake. In the O'Neill type visualizations, the habitats have lakes among the land, but in this scenario it's all lake. The land is one level up from that. Shielding and water storage. Hydroponics. All that could be done in one... or maybe you have separate clean and dirty water sections. Whatever...

My envelope calculation says that an interior surface area of 1000 square kilometers will need three million cubic meters of water. There's estimated to be enough water on Ceres alone to build 66 BILLION such colonies.

duncan cairncross said...

If it's spinning to get your gravity your habitat is holding an incredible centrifugal load

We don't know if we will be able to live long term at lower G levels - that scenario would require a huge amount more strength than simply spinning the O'Neil habitat and having it in the "shadow" of your local raw material body

TCB said...

COVID-19 update: one out of 1000 New Yorkers has died. My own state of North Carolina, at 200 perished, will soon catch up with South Korea, presently at 236 known.

Tacitus said...

Near Future SciFi must be the hardest to do. I'd define it as "things somebody now alive might see when they are really old". I mean, if you are writing about something a thousand years out nobody will ever grumble that they are not seeing any sign of what you predicted coming along. (After a certain time has elapsed you can just have a Brin enabled Seldon Chamber do the talking!)*

So predicting what a colony would be like in a century is hard...but also quite interesting. I won't see my kids launch for Alpha Centuri, but my grandkids just might...

In any sort of near time I predict the colony would be about 90% female and have an over representation of invitro fertility specialists....I mean if you are looking for genetic survival of the species you need a massive repository of frozen embryos. Men, while perhaps helpful on some level (discuss?) can "work from home" regards genetic diversity.

I'm sure there are many sci fi works written along these lines. I wonder how many had a very short half life from arrival at publisher to hitting desk to hitting the trash can. You'd have to be very careful....and most likely very go too far down that path.

A colony full of Mary Sue Ripleys. Great. A realistic world organized along these lines....I'm not sure I'm allowed to even contemplate the plots. But then like a lot of you I'm writing from the confinement of a small, isolated colony these days...


* Sorry David, when you get repetitious I sometimes do imagine it's just the beta test version of Seldon-hologram-Brin!

Darrell E said...

David Brin said...
"DG the speculated sport os like snowboarding, only it is the BOARD that is made of dry ice."

For boarding and skiing on sand, sure. For boarding or skiing on dry ice as DG was thinking perhaps heat the board / skis.

Saruman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darrell E said...

It would be interesting to see how we expand out into the solar system, but I won't live to see it. Predicting the future with any accuracy is hard because reality is complicated but it seems very clear that given the resources available in the Solar System and plausible future technologies that the human race could be looking at a very bright future that could last for a long time. There are plenty of possible pitfalls no doubt. There always have been and will be.

People often make the point that bringing resources back to Earth could never work because it's too expensive. This certainly seems true now. But these sorts of patterns have a habit of changing. Even long established ones. Sometimes quite suddenly. Attitudes can change. People may come to value having less of an ecological impact on Earth enough that the higher costs of off Earth materials is deemed worth it. If there are plenty of resources for everyone to live well enough then the additional costs may be deemed insignificant. Capabilities change too. Given the resources available off Earth and time for innovation and competitive development to evolve capabilities then resource extraction, production and shipping to Earth likely will become quite economical.

Anonymous said...
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A German Nurse said...

I believe Space Colonies - wether on Mars, Moon or Ceres - will be a technological possibility in the next few decades. Sciences and engineering could get a boost by AI, if other risks are properly handled.

I think the problem will be financing. Only a consortium of all Industrial nations plus Worlds Oligarchs could bring up the fantastillions of Tax Payer Money to envision that dream - perhaps it is still not enough.

So the first question should be: How so we finance Space colonies and other Projects related to it?

One solution could be: We start now to create an international funding pool that would heavily invest in stock markets, and let it do so, for, say, fifty years.(Would 1% of the GDP of each member state be enough?) Then, after the 50-Year-period, dividends are used to pay for building up the colonies, until they become economically independent.

David Brin said...

"* Sorry David, when you get repetitious I sometimes do imagine it's just the beta test version of Seldon-hologram-Brin!"

Time I often bore myself! OTOH what am I to do? When you humans keep refusing to do the obvious? ;-)

Oh 90% femal... wasn't that GLORY SEASON?

If it's so impossible to return asteroidal resources to Earth, why are legacy resource extraction interests on Earth so desperate to divert attention from asteroids to the sterile/useless moon?

The possibility that we might be able to stop tearing into the flesh of our mother planet is enticing.

Alfred Differ said...

Bringing resources back to Earth is the ONLY way it will work. For some time into the future too.

The risk capital is here.
The markets are here.
Most people will stay here.

No matter the costs of returning 'resources' to Earth, they have to be faced.
The people getting rich out there will be the ones figuring out how to do it with a positive margin.

That PGM nugget asteroid we imagine is worthless until someone makes expected net present value (XNPV) for a project positive. Work backwards from the spot prices for the metals delivered or reasonable futures contracts prices to the leaf NPV's and work out the branching ratios for various things that can go wrong or right. Weighted sum of them next to get XNPV.

Most branches on the tree produce a loss and weigh negatively on XNPV.
Most branches involve unproven tech with unknown development times. They contribute negatively too.

One of the best talks ever given at a space conference my friends put together involved an Australian mining consultant. He taught us how the mining industry sees exploration and the risks involved. He worked through the math with us so we'd understand how their management would view us. The lesson was REAL clear. Don't bother with PGM's for a while. Volatiles are more interesting because they are one of the few things that we would NOT try to return to the surface of the Earth. Cis-lunar orbits would suffice. That cuts out many of negatively contributing branches.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Everyone: Space Colonies:

I agree with Rick Robinson (, and Charles Stross ( and believe our PMF (Plausible Mid-Future) extra-terrestrial activities will be more like offshore oil platforms and Antarctic research facilities IN SPACE than what we've had from Heinlein, Pournelle, Niven, Corey, etc. Furthermore, the better our AI gets, the less we need to be there in person.

Should we go there? HELLS, yeah! I read "Where the Winds Sleep"( and remember when we were supposed to have a crewed landing on Mars in 1986 from Time-Life "Man in Space"! It's just not going to be quite the way we thought it would. Remember, "we were promised jet-packs", too...

For a diamondoid-hard space site, go here:
Dees ain't no mushy SF site: this is pretty much "Engineering Fiction" (not really fiction) with all the technical and math s*** you'd want.

Stay Well

David Brin said...

Polemical Judo is now available via Smashwords, after finishing its 3 month exclusive on Kindle, meaning you can get mobi or e-pub files!

Would one of you like to order a copy to reassure me that it's working? Well, also in order to have and read the book. It's cheap!

It still doesn't qualify for Kobo or Barnes and Noble because of the complicated footnotes. If any of you are experts on that sort of thing, let me know.

The rest of you, try spreading the word again. If even ONE of the chapters got read by someone with a big enough pulpit...

Darrell E said...

Alfred Differ said...
"Bringing resources back to Earth is the ONLY way it will work. For some time into the future too."

Exactly. To be fair, most people that argue that off planet resources are too expensive to ever make it work are arguing that we will never exploit off planet resources and never establish societies off Earth. My prediction is that there ain't no way we aren't going to do those things, unless we extinct ourselves first. I just wish I could live long enough to see it happen. As a kid I thought I would. Thought I'd be a part of it. Now I know I'll be lucky to see the first baby steps.

David Brin said...

Alfred that is why many NASA endeavors, including our three biggest at NIAC, are about getting at water on either asteroids or lunar polar.

"we were supposed to have a crewed landing on Mars in 1986 from Time-Life "Man in Space"! It's just not going to be quite the way we thought it would. Remember, "we were promised jet-packs", too...-"

See: Space is hard. We had more important projects.

"My prediction is that there ain't no way we aren't going to do those things, unless we extinct ourselves first."

Who is "we" and what extinction. I suppose you consider permanent reifeudation - re-establishment of feudalism - to be extinction of the human spirit, because that could do it.

jim said...

I knew as soon as David posted another “The Stars are Ours” post it would contain some inadvertently funny responses. You guys don’t disappoint.

Yana was especially great, channeling a southern preacher telling us we are doomed sinners if we stay on this “rock” (extinction just a matter of time) and we need to get up into the heavens where all of our wants and desires will be met, (a heaven in the heavens, so to speak).

Of course no one here (besides me) would dare bring up the fact that the US is planning on greatly expanding the militarization of space. I sincerely doubt that the Russians and Chinese will just sit back and let the US seize the high ground without a fight or at least the ability to cause a Kessler syndrome.

Darrell E said...

David Brin said...
"Who is "we" and what extinction. I suppose you consider permanent reifeudation - re-establishment of feudalism - to be extinction of the human spirit, because that could do it."

"We" was short hand for the human race as a whole. But as such things always have been it will be driven by risk taker types that are driven to do things that are hard and powered by science and technology.

By extincting ourselves I was thinking of any number of low probability scenarios like a weaponized super deadly disease or, sure, re-establishment of widespread feudalism compounded by planet wide ecological disaster. But I think that such scenarios preventing us from becoming a Solar System wide society is a low order of probability in the long run. Such a scenario may delay things, maybe by a lot. But I don't think there's much chance of such scenarios putting us down for keeps.

Darrell E said...

Hmm. Wrong "we." I got mixed up and explained "who" I thought would get us out into the Solar System. The "we" I was thinking of in relation to extincting ourselves is governments lead by authoritarians, fascists, thugs, religious fanatics and various combinations thereof. But still "we" because a whole bunch of us, for example US citizens, bear some responsibility for our government because we are supposed to participate in it to maintain it, ideally, as a government by the people and for the people.

David Brin said...

Ah, what would we be here, without a dyspeptic sourpuss? Jim's 'leftism" is only a color differentiation from poor old locumranch, while the main thrust remains an ingrate sneer at all the advances and benefits that he wallows in, daily. Well, his privilege... and he's an ingrate about THAT, as well.

"Of course no one here (besides me) would dare bring up the fact that the US is planning on greatly expanding the militarization of space. I sincerely doubt that the Russians and Chinese will just sit back and let the US seize the high ground without a fight or at least the ability to cause a Kessler syndrome."

Bah. What no one in any propaganda mill can take away from Pax Americana is the pure fact that we HAD the high ground, in every conceivable way, and did not (for the 1st time among all the great powers of history) use it to conquer all we saw. Specifically, the Chinese and Russians know this. When they were down and we were up... WAY up for a very long time... we did not smash them, as they would swiftly do to us, if they had the chance.

This puts jim's entire "argument" in raving territory. So the US seeks to have space supremacy? So? Yawn. In order to do what we did with ocean supremacy for 80 years and space supremacy for 50? Um... keep the peace and give everyone access?

Enjoy your hand-wringing. I have other things on my mind, like preventing Pax Americana from turning insane.

Alfred Differ said...

Darrell E,

 off planet resources are too expensive

Everything not currently understood and used is too expensive. There is no easy button to press that turns the unknown into the known, so lazy thinkers walk away from the problems to be solved.

We spent a lot of time hashing out ideas involving volatiles delivery in cis-lunar space. Most of them were garbage, but not because they couldn't be made to work. The problem was they couldn't be made to work profitably. The use case we settled on had a few places where we couldn't be sure how things would work, but it had many others where we were sure what would NOT work.

1. As the price of launch drops (assuming NewSpace entrants succeed), space operations costs will become dominated by satellite costs. (Satellites+any other payload where the customer intends to make money). Big players spend oodles on their birds and will be less and less sensitive to launch costs. This is inelasticity from the other side and it limits how far down launch costs will go possibly preventing low entry point costs that would actually open the frontier.

2. So… attention has to be given to the costs of the birds being flown. Drive them down and everyone stays elastic. The CubeSat folks have done wonderful work here, but not of the kind that causes adjustments by government and other large buyers. Think Intelsat and DoD. A LOT of their costs come from… the hardware and mass associated with station keeping. Volatiles are part of that. A big part. So… set up refueling for them! No brainer! Not so fast.

3. Most big birds don't have gas caps on their tanks and with good reason. That's a possible failure mode… and there is no one offering the service now. Why bother? Build it and they will come? Nonsense. Remember that one failure can cost a $1B. Chicken and Egg problem again? Nope.

4. Gas caps aren't needed if the 'refueling' service can dock and become your new station keeping equipment for a while. How? Put a harpoon up your nozzle. Something like that. When the customer is where they need to be, undock and go refuel yourself. For a while, the fuel provider is in the tow truck business. Eventually that will end when the big guys buy the tow trucks and the fuel provider lets them for a nice price.

We argued for a use case that sounded much like this back in the late 90's because it did two things. It helped eliminate a lower bound on CATS and promoted infrastructure construction at orbital gateways. Historically, cities get built where trade routes meet, so we wanted someone to set up a gas station somewhere sensible as a start down the long path to orbital trade hubs.

It was all hand-waving, though. No one had built, let alone demonstrate the tow truck idea. Shuttle got used that way, but at $1B per flight and with no orbital fuel depot, that was not the right idea. Nowadays, though, it HAS been done. Northrup Grumman and Intelsat just did it. There is no fuel depot out there and no gas caps yet, but part of the use case has been demonstrated. That's a big deal especially because big players did it. Now it is time for the smaller players to step in and do it sustainably.

Alfred Differ said...


bring up the fact that the US is planning on greatly expanding the militarization of space

Actually, we have. I have anyway. It won't be the Russians and Chinese in a position to object, though.
The Russians will be toast before mid-century and our space 'battle-forts' will be going up around then.
Complaints will come from other nations who seem irrelevant now, but will be regional powers then.

Geopolitics changes fast, but the undercurrents are fairly predictable.
We WILL build military installations up there. Probably as the result of being surprised in an earlier battle that has yet to happen.

David Brin said...

Alfred I think some time like 2012 all major sats launched tp GEO at least had a grapple handle or two and some are now flying with swappable parts like solar panels and refuel nozzle standards are being worked up.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

So the US seeks to have space supremacy? So? Yawn. In order to do what we did with ocean supremacy for 80 years and space supremacy for 50? Um... keep the peace and give everyone access?

Enjoy your hand-wringing. I have other things on my mind, like preventing Pax Americana from turning insane.

I took jim's comment a bit more charitably toward him--that the problem is specifically that this particular US administration seeks space supremacy.

Lloyd Flack said...

An aside. Billionaire doomsday preppers seeking to escape to New Zealand.

Alfred Differ said...

refuel nozzle standards are being worked up.

yah. Standards will be needed.
I grumble a bit about waiting 20 years,
but I'll take the win.

Honestly... things are moving in the right direction. I'll quibble next about who sets standards, but I suspect that will wind up being an industry group thing no matter what people try. I'm content.

Tony Fisk said...

Discussions of economics in spa-ace seem to be missing a couple of things: free energy and free 3d 'fabbing of stuff. Both of these will alter the equations substantially. I seem to recall O'Neill's economic rationale was based on using asteroid materials to construct power grids that transferred energy down to earth via microwave.
That said, I don't see the need or desire for a mass presence of humans in space for some time to come (but, that's exponential growth curves for you ;-).

Sticking to the topic for once, there's been a couple of things that have crossed my radar:
- Fine filamentary structure observed in solar atmosphere.
- One of our exoplanets is missing. Fomalhaut b, one of the few exoplanets to be identified by visual survey, has vanished. The hypothesis is it never was a planet, but a debris field from a protoplanetary collision which has now dissipated. So, 'Dagon' becomes 'Dey gone'. Still very interesting.

TCB said...

Oh, this is pretty cool: Astronomers discover planet that never was

It seems the strange-acting planet called Fomalhaut b just up and vanished a few years after it was spotted. How? It was not a planet, but something else.

Two University of Arizona astronomers conclude that NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was instead looking at an expanding cloud of very fine dust particles from two icy bodies that smashed into each other. Hubble came along too late to witness the suspected collision but may have captured its aftermath. The missing-in-action planet was last seen orbiting the star Fomalhaut, 25 light years away.

"These collisions are exceedingly rare and so this is a big deal that we actually get to see evidence of one," said Andras Gaspar, an assistant astronomer at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory and lead author of a research paper announcing the discovery. "We believe that we were at the right place at the right time to have witnessed such an unlikely event with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope."

DP said...

We can industrialize the asteroid belt with relatively few people.

Send a few semi-autonomous 3D printers to the asteroid belt to mine local resources and create millions more 3D printers. Then change their programming to begin construction of space factories and infrastructure – all controlled by only a few thousand humans which are actually in space. Do the same on the surface of Mars to create habitable enclaves before the first colonists even arrive. Do that in the Venusian atmosphere and create vast structures made out of carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes while making the place habitable. And so we have the sources of the materials we will need to build the physical infrastructure of a colonized solar system.

Water ice for fuel, oxygen, and life from Ceres, ice asteroids, comets, and Saturn's rings. Volatiles from carbon asteroids. Metals from nickel-iron asteroids. Nitrogen from ammonia ice asteroids. Carbon fiber from the atmosphere of Venus.

Once we have the resource of the Belt and no need to spend the energy to drag them up out of a deep gravity well we can colonize planetary surfaces. But we have to prepare our new homes first by para-terraforming (which is quicker and cheaper than complete terraforming). Para-terraforming is preferable to complete terraforming since it takes much less effort and time and provides immediate results.

We should just start "small" and just para-terraform just the 4 mile deep Valles Marineris on Mars. It's depth would allow us to sustain (with some biological or industrial maintenance and replenishment) a sufficiently thick and breathable atmosphere. for the foreseeable future, the colonists can treat the rest of Mars like we treat the Himalayas. At 2,500 miles long and 360 miles wide, it's area is 900,000 square miles (about the size of Alaska and Texas combined), more than enough room for any conceivable initial colonization effort). Electrical cables can be strung across the canyon opening creating an artificial magnetic field that would shield colonists and life on the valley floor from cosmic radiation. Cities could be carved into the canyon walls like pueblos. The colonists would then proceed with the terra-forming of the rest of the planet.

If we become tunnel dwellers on Mars, we can live in floating cities on Venus. The upper reaches of the thick, heavy carbon dioxide atmosphere of Venus are Earth-like in terms of pressure and temperature. Dirigibles filled with a breathable oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere would be buoyant – just like cloud city in Star Wars. We just got to protect the city's external skin from all that sulfuric acid in the Venusian atmosphere. Factories in the floating city can extract carbon dioxide from the thick atmosphere to produce carbon based nano-structures and carbon fiber (stronger than steel) which can be used to build even more cities or floating solar screens to block sunlight. After centuries of atmospheric mining, the dense, hot Venusian atmosphere can be rendered into habitable structures and sun screens. Colonists can treat the planet surface the same way we treat the Marianas Trench. Centuries later we can walk on the surface of Venus without being crushed and fried.

Closer to home Luna is a perfect choice for para-terraforming. Combine domed shelters (low lunar gravity allows for massive unsupported structures) and tunnel warrens with a thin atmosphere. "The first places that we will need to colonize will be the peaks of eternal light, where we will not to deal with a 14-day night. In these locations it will be possible to collect solar energy in an environment with no darkness whatsoever...The creation of an Earth-like atmosphere may be impossible in the beginning, but what about an extremely thin one? Even a very thin atmosphere would provide protection against the smallest of meteorites, which are the most dangerous since they are nearly impossible to detect. An atmosphere just thick enough to create weather patterns would also help to alleviate the problem of moon dust"

DP said...

And once we have established an industrial zone in the asteroid belt, colonized/para-terraformed Mars, Venus. Luna and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where to next?

Ad astra!

And maybe we won't have to make giant leaps to actual stars. Maybe we can take small steps to "Brown Dwarfs" (can't we come up with a cooler name, like Dark Stars?) that occupy the vast space between the stars. Who knows, there may be dozens of BDs between the stars for every visible star. We spread to the stars via Brown Dwarfs, more like the Polynesians spreading across the Pacific than the European voyages of discovery.

There may be dozens or hundreds of mini-solar systems between Sol and Alpha Centauri. With the discovery of BDs, free floating planets between the stars, and extra-solar planetoids like Sedna, future space explorers may find plenty to keep them occupied in our own solar neighborhood for centuries to come. While not the galaxy spanning empires and federations of science fiction, it would be enough for our species to explore far into the future.

And since these mini-solar systems and planets are a stone's throw away, they can be reached without exotic warp drives or hyperspace jumps. Simple solar sails, laser sails or nuclear rockets will do just fine. Exploration missions can visit and return in a matter of years, instead of centuries or millennium. Interstellar "empires" and "federations" can be created using slower than light space travel. Maybe Capt. Kirk and Obi Wan Kenobi wouldn't be impressed, but we’ll be half way to Alpha Centauri.

DP said...

Then what?

We seed the universe with our kind.

A solar sail about the size of Colorado (and being only one carbon atom thick) can use the pressure of sunlight alone to accelerate a payload to between 0.01c to 0.1c. Deceleration can be achieved by the pressure of sunlight from the destination star. No expensive fuel or engines needed for this cheap and slow approach. So it would take decades or centuries to reach a nearby star, what’s the hurry? The payload would consist of millions of frozen embryos that are thawed out and brought to term in a artificial wombs. The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children (“watched over by machines of loving grace”). After establishing a colony, the space ship utilizes local asteroid resources to build more solar sail ships and payloads, sending them off to more stars where the process is repeated over and over again...

... until we are a galactic species immune to extinction. See this fascinating video:

I am reminded of an SF story where mankind has spread across the galaxy pushing both clockwise and counter-clockwise around the galactic center along the various spiral arms of the Milky Way. This continues at sub-light speed for 100,000s of years until we finally get the far end of the galaxy at the opposite side from Earth. There our latest colony finally encounters another intelligent alien species.

After much confusion and threats, we finally realize that the "aliens" are us. They are humans who have migrated the opposite direction around the galaxy, with evolution and genetic engineering changing them to survive on 10,000s of alien worlds with different environments. By the time both branches of humanity meet on the opposite side of the galaxy, neither is recognizably human any more.

DP said...

And sooner or later we will encounter life.

What if BDs turn out to be scattered by the dozens or hundreds in the space between the stars? And what if most of them have mini-solar systems (like Jupiter and Saturn) capable of supporting life because there is enough heat is generated by the BD to allow liquid water and photosynthesis based on infrared frequencies? It's easy to imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis on moons orbiting brown dwarfs which give off heat but not light. Not just imagine it, we already know of such life here on Earth, green sulfur bacteria. And if BDs floating between the stars greatly outnumber suns, then visible light spectrum based life may be the exception instead of the rule. Any such advanced life that evolved around a BD would see in infrared, like a Predator.

In addition to infrared based life, Cornell researchers have modeled methane based life forms that don't use water and could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Methane based life forms by themselves are a fascinating concept. But ironically the potential "Goldilocks" zone for such life is far greater (extending across the range of Jovian worlds out to the Kuiper belt) than our narrow zone for water based life forms. The chemical reaction of a cryo-methane life form would be so long tat an intelligent spceis may take a century to form a single thought.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

Darrell E said...


What makes you think no one here dares bring it up? I know you want to feel superior, we all do, but making up fantasies to that end isn't healthy.

jim said...

Well Darrell E
Sense you made that comment to make yourself feel superior, why don’t you go back through the blog’s archives and look for when the militarization of space gets discussed and see who starts the conversation.

jim said...

Yes I was referring to our newest branch of the armed forces The Space Force. Initiated by Trump and funded by both Democrats and Republicans in congress.
It really does look like the Space Force will be using the reduced launch costs in the service of deploying weapon systems in orbit- not just communication and spy satellites. A pretty dramatic escalation of the militarization.

You are at least 20 years too late to stop Pax Americana from going insane.

And from an ecological standpoint the only country in the world that is not institutionally insane is Bhutan. (it is the only country focused on Gross Domestic Happiness instead of Gross National Production) So it looks like you really have your work cut out for you.

David Brin said...

"(it is the only country focused on Gross Domestic Happiness instead of Gross National Production)"

Yep. Magical phrases and incantations are more important than facts. Care to bet over net flows of Bhutanese trying to emigrate to the US vs vice versa?

But sure, Read Huxley's ISLAND. I am all in favor of a diversity of experiments. And without Pax Americana Bhutan would now be expreience a regime identical to Tibet's.

Oh, such superficiality, jim. You actually believbe there is a SPACE FORCE? Dig it. the goppers were given a fig leaf of symbolism. Like you, that's all they care about. The "Space Force" remains part of the Air Force, under the Air Force Secretary and in USAF promotion chains. It is Space Command with all the same resources and missions. And you are a very, very opionionated shallow-headline-reader.

Jon S. said...

Last I heard, the presidentially-declared Space Force was one guy. They had another lined up to join, but what with COVID-19, they can't hold his swearing-in ceremony...

One question, Daniel - why would we want to go to all that trouble with Venus? I have difficulty imagining an autofactory capable of withstanding conditions there as they are; there are, clearly, no useful organics there (as organic molecules tend not to do well at hundreds of degrees Celsius and with clouds of sulfur dioxide); any other resources there are at the bottom of a gravity well very nearly as deep as Earth's; even [i]lebensraum[/i] is far less of a consideration given the technological level needed to terraform the place (asteroids are both cheaper and easier to convert). Basically, given its atmosphere, size, and rotation (backwards and very slow, so that a local day is longer than a local year), Venus is utterly useless to humans for any reason of which I can conceive.

Jon S. said...

(One problem with the new commenting method - I just came from a forum using Vanilla software, so I used the wrong tag on my italics. And now I can't just quickly delete and rewrite...)

jim said...

David nice try to change the discussion of the sanity of societies to immigration flows, but I will not fall for it.

One of these societies has been acting like a crazed psychopath, telling transparent lies to justify war, torture, and assassination all over the world. One of these societies thinks economic growth is the most important value. One of these societies elected a reality TV a-hole to lead their government. One of these societies will handle the coming degrowth of the global economy much better than the other.

David Brin said...

"You are at least 20 years too late to stop Pax Americana from going insane."

well, there is overlap between that particular remark and reality... an occurance that locum deliberately avoided. You and I are wary allies against that insanity and we overlap in our diagnoses of the general direction. Alas, you are so aswarm with pat, convenient sanctimony delusions and ignorance that you're not much use in battle.

David Brin said...

"One of these societies has been acting like a crazed psychopath, telling transparent lies to justify war, torture, and assassination all over the world."

Again, some glancing overlap with reality... till one asks you "compared to what?" Compared to our adversaries who spent like mad to help local enemy-traitor-oligarchs manipulate confederate masses into raising up that reality TV a-hole? Har, yeah, Putin and MBS would behave SO well, once unfettered from the constraints of accountability.

Compared to any and every powerful nation that ever existed in the past? (A comparison I have defied you to make, for years now?) Bah.

A nation that created a propaganda system that relentlessly POUNDS into youths the lesson that they should question authority and criticize errors in their own society? A reflex YOU imbibed from infancy and reflexively display in (alas) unsapient and un-analytical exaggeration?

Or ... perhaps you mean compared to the kind of society we HOPE to make? (Shorthand: Star Trek.) Sure, we are bloodly awful compared to what we ought to have been, by now, and hope to become. Only who promulgated those standards? And the bizarre belief that jumped up cavemen MIGHT actually aspire to achieve them? Show me when else. Where else. Who else.

But all of that is abstract. I'll point to the two BILLION children who would have died or been put into slave labor by now, but for the American Pax. TWO BILLION who are now in school, with full bellies and hope. Alas, every time I mention those palpable and real antibodies to your oversimplification fixation, you writhe like a confederate faced with facts.

Darrell E said...


But . . ., I am superior!

Just kidding.

More seriously, denigrating people because they aren't talking about the things you think are of key importance is boorish. It also indicates a confidence in your premises and assumptions that is not warranted.

Caution and pessimism are traits we need to function best as a society, but you are often such a sourpuss you come off as a dick. Then people are dickish right back at you, then back & forth again, and next thing you know its a dick mosh pit.

Here, have a cute cat picture.

jim said...

David asked
"compared to what?"

Compared to the behavior of any other country on earth in the last 20 years.

What other county has pursed a global war of terror? invading, killing, torturing, unilaterally breaking international treaties and on and on.

Oh yeah there are a lot of bad countries in the world, but we have been uniquely bad for the last 20 years.

Alfred Differ said...


You are a few years behind and not up on your geopolitical scenarios. Space militarization has been discussed here. I chimed in with the Stratfor perspective and a mixture of my own, but I wasn't talking into a vacuum. It HAS been considered, but also deemed 'not a currently hot issue'.

With all that is going on lately, that is even more true. Over worry about space militarization is a distraction. They are just one of the many factors that will be in motion as CATS really sinks in. if to punctuate the point, SpaceX is moving another Falcon 9 to the pad right now. They intend to put up more of their comm constellation tomorrow. Not a DoD mission. Not a NASA mission. It's an investor mission.

Alfred Differ said...

O'Neill's economic rationale

Everything changes. That particular rationale is about half a century old now, so it's no surprise the details don't match up with today's needs.

Many of the branching paths in working out expected net present value for a space project come about due to the length of time involved in the project. Is the tech ready? How long does it take to get there? Get back? What if the tech doesn't work when we get there... how long before we can try again? Since invested capital is expected to return value, these questions create uncertainties in that value. Sometimes those uncertainties swamp the possible profits. The astronomical analogy for these financial states goes like this. "The Earth is in the solar system... most likely near the center." Not very useful.

Space Solar Power was on a lot of minds back then. Still is, but not among those who have worked in the generation industry. It doesn't make sense yet. When you pay your electric utility bill, you aren't actually paying for the electrons to flow. You are paying for the electrons to flow reliably. The bulk of the price is due to reliability. When you realize that, the many variations on 'electricity' sold in the wholesale markets makes sense. When you see that, SSP shifts from being a technical project to an economic one. That's where it falls down... for now. Once the US militarizes space, though, that likely will change.

The takeaway lesson when pondering the various economic rationales offered over the years is that the only ones to survive are the ones that solve business problems. You can try to sell to mass customers if you want, but investment durations are NOT short and you'll face a challenge of a lifetime. Trying to solve problems other businesses face, though, is entirely different. They spend huge sums to avoid huge sums. CATS is really about solving business problems. Same with FATS. Cheap and frequent are not common connotations for space projects and many well-funded customers don't like that. No matter whether they are pondering SSP or space burial ideas, cheap and frequent are problems they face and don't want to face. THAT's how to look at space economics. Turns out it is the same thing being done for terrestrial economics too, but with a much larger problem set to solve.

David Brin said...

"David asked "compared to what?" Compared to the behavior of any other country on earth in the last 20 years.

Good lord, is the stupid intentional, as it was partly for poor locumranch?

1) LIAR! Tell this to the Tibetans, Ueghors and Ukrainians and Estonians and all the others desperately looking west.

2) As for the relatively peaceful majorit, they did it under the protection of a Pax that enabled 90%+ of natons to for the very first time in all of history NOT spend most of their disposable budgets on war and arms and defense. They didn't have to, because we did. And the resulting benefits in applied development were staggering, second only to the benefits of selling trillions i crap to Americans.

And notice the frantic avoidance od the matter at hand. I said compare us to any nation of the past or present who were tempted by vast POWER. And never, ever across the years, have I been able to get him to glance - even glance - at 6000 years of dismal human history.

Acacia H. said...

Ask all of Africa about how things were under Pax Britain and Pax France and Pax Spain. Ask South America's indigenous Native American peoples what things were like under Pax Spain. Ask the indigenous Native Americans how Pax France and Pax Britain treated them and used them in proxy wars? Oh, here's one. Ask China how it was treated by Pax Britain and the other European Powers.

How many died under these other empires? How many entire civilizations were wiped out because of the European empires? Or for that matter by the Mongols when the Mongol hordes invaded? Let's ask the Dalit how they are treated by Pax India even now?

How about all the Eastern European regions that got annexed by the Soviet Union? Entire regions were broken apart and moved to various areas that has left parts of Eastern Europe a hotbed of dissent to this day, as the war between the Serbs and Croatians showed us.

It is easy to claim America is evil and destructive and needs to be put down. But America is no worse than any of the other civilizations who made empires and in some ways is in fact not as horrific.

Acacia H.

Anonymous said...

Subject: Pax Americana and the general benefit of open and usually safe seaborne transportation of goods for international trade.

Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station has been mentioned/quoted here a few times before now. Most often as a strident critic of President Trump's tweets and policies.

Here is part of a Wright post from mid 2019 about open sea lanes. Yes, Wright as usual wrote it as a rebuttal to one of President Trump's tweets at that time. But I believe that it articulately and correctly underscores one of several general international benefits of Pax Americana. Along lines similar to David Brin's recent comments about that.


Let us begin here then: US strategic power isn't a business.

We do not profit from our military.

Other nations do not pay us for protection, nor should they.

We don't project sea power for the purpose of making a profit, but rather to secure the sea lanes for our own use and that of our allies.

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic chokepoint, one of the most critical waterways in the world. Not just because it is the primary passage for Gulf state oil, or because it allows the US military access to our allies (and our enemies) and US commercial interests access to their markets, suppliers, and customers, but because what happens there to both our enemies and our allies affects the entire world.

This is the very purpose of sea power; something previous presidents have understood in detail.

The fact that other nations benefit from our military power is incidental.

Also, it should be noted since Trump himself specifically used the example: Japan does not have a navy.

Japan has a Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect their sovereignty and their interests in their own waters.

But the nation does not have a blue-water navy to protect their commerce on the high seas.

This is by design.

Our design.

Japan does not have a navy because the United States and her allies defeated Imperial Japan at the end of WWII and the agreements which ended that conflict and Japan's formal acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration dissolved Japan's military forces. When a new Japanese government was formed following the war, it specifically declared: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" and they put that in their new constitution verbatim as Article 9 in 1947. And what an example, and an admonishment, to the rest of us.

For the last 70 years, the US has provided protection, at least in part, for Japanese shipping on the high seas – as America does for all of its allies. Not for profit or for prestige or for conquest, but because it is in our best interest to ensure freedom of the seas for all nations, friend and foe alike.

Because when freedom of the sea lanes is not enforced for all, war follows. Always.

This is what Roosevelt meant when he said, A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.

As to China, do you believe it is in our best interests that the Chinese navy became the peacekeeping force in the Arabian Gulf? Or the Russian navy? Or the Indians? Really?

-- first name: Anonymous
last name: Toduro

David Brin said...

Thank you Anonymous Toduro... though I hope you'll get an account because I do cull most anon attempts to get in here, now, because our former longlasting innocence was finally trashed by one insanity-nastiness-spewing troll. In your case, the linguistic differences were obvious. But sometimes I'll just be on automatic and you'll not get on. Anyway, welcome! Interesting insights.

The biggest refutation to the notion of GENERALIZED American evil is the huge popularity we have, even after the travesties of both Bushes and Trump. One of "our" recent "crimes" has been lunatic spasm xenophobia about keeping people out. Never mentioned is the pure fact that half the world would come, if they could. Huh. Some hellscape.

And ask the folks of the Baltic republics or Poland or Ukraine about their frensied insistence to join NATO, despite that engraging Putin and contributing to he spiteful campaign agbainst the West. We are paying a huge price, now, for helping them in the 90s. Hey jim, try actually asking folks.

gregory byshenk said...

David wrote:
The biggest refutation to the notion of GENERALIZED American evil is the huge popularity we have, even after the travesties of both Bushes and Trump. One of "our" recent "crimes" has been lunatic spasm xenophobia about keeping people out. Never mentioned is the pure fact that half the world would come, if they could. Huh. Some hellscape.

I don't think that this proves what you want it to.

The fact that almost everyone from the districts would prefer to move to the captial doesn't mean that Panem is a great place, nor that the capital is wonderful and beloved.

Acacia H. said...

Here's an interview on MSNBC about the economic impact of COVID-19 and how oil prices going negative may in fact be the "canary in the mine" suggesting things are going to get far far worse. Given that there are already shortages starting to arise, there's some truly valid concerns here. In a couple of months it might not be rats fighting over scraps of food, but people. Trump's decision to close the borders for all immigration isn't going to help, seeing that migrant workers are needed to harvest many crops, and even higher wages isn't enough to get Americans to take those jobs.

What are we going to do, put the military to work picking crops? Round people up at gunpoint and say "you're unemployed? Now you're a crop picker and you can't say no"?

Acacia H.

Larry Hart said...

gregory byshenk:

The fact that almost everyone from the districts would prefer to move to the captial doesn't mean that Panem is a great place, nor that the capital is wonderful and beloved.

Your analogy presumes that the reason people want to come to the US is because the US is the reason their own countries are lacking. While there might be some truth to that in some cases, I don't think that explains the dynamic that had, for example, people risking death to get themselves over the Berlin Wall.

Nice that someone else remembers The Hunger Games, though. The movies would be more relevant than they were if they were coming out now.

Katniss Everdeen:

I'm in District 8 where the Capital just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women, and children. And there will be no survivors.

If you think...for one second...that the Capital will ever treat us fairly, you are lying to yourselves. Because we know who they are and what they do. THIS is what they do! And we must fight back.

I have a message for President Snow. You can torture us, and bomb us, and burn our districts to the ground. But do you see that? Fire is catching. And if we burn with us!

David Brin said...

Actually, Greg B makes a good point. That particular refutation point - that millions still want to come to ol USA - does not NECESSARILY mean what I imply it means. There are several hyoptheses and the Hunger Games analogy is justg as good... IN ISOLATION. But combined with all the other evidence I cited, it just doesn't work and is, in fact, a bit of dishonest arm-waving.

In 1946 George Marshall, Acheson and the others knew we were about to be an empire and that all other empires made terrible mistakes. Fir the 1st time, they asked "how can we do it better?" And the #1 answer was "don't rob the periphery in favor of the center." ALL other Pax empires did that, raising resentment that became lethal. Now, even in crisis, take a picture of cities around the world and compare those photos to 1946 images. It's not the US cities that are most-transformed. Nor the height of the children.

matthew said...

Milwaukee, WI has approved a city -wide program to give every registered voter an absentee ballot for the fall election, complete with paid postage. This program is called SafeVote and it is in response to the egregious, deadly machinations of the Wisconsin GOP in forcing voters to vote in person during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Other cities in WI are working on similar measures.

I expect that the WI GOP will now move to make a similar measure statewide. When Washington big cities went to vote-by-mail with prepaid postage, the rural areas had to follow suit for the WA GOP to keep up on statewide votes.

I *do* expect this to turn up the heat on the battle to close the US Postal Service down. Democrats are utter fools to not use current funding leverage to ensure that the USPS continues to be solvent. The GOP will lose the next election cycle if vote by mail is in place this fall. Trump's reelection will depend on extreme voter suppression and vote by mail blows huge holes in his strategy.

A German Nurse said...

@Acacia H.: I assume that world-wide, anti-immigrant rhetorics will be used by right-wingers to gain votes of those national citicens endangered by unemployment. Rising Xenophobia and an increased number of hate crimes might be a possibility.

@Empire: Peaceful, innocent empires do not exist. All of them, from ancient Persia to the modern-day US, have been build by guile and force, by trade, espionage, diplomacy and war. Their founders had the same virtues: ambition, vision, discipline, unity, planning. Empires also tend to decline over the same reasons: passivity, decadence, internal quarrels, incapable leaders.

@Migration: Just found this one:

jim said...

Matt Yglesias has a very conventional analysis about the prospects for recovery from the current pandemic recession/ depression. It is pretty bad, but when you combine that with the increasing energy cost of energy and the general limits to growth, the real predicament becomes apparent.

here is the summery:

The basic case for pessimism about the economy in the medium term is this: Most Americans are going to exit this crisis poorer than they were at the beginning, thanks to some combination of job loss, reduced hours, pay cuts, investment losses, lost tips, or reduced sales. People who have less money than they had before the crisis can’t simply “go back to normal” when the crisis is over, they need to deal with the fact that they are poorer now by restraining their spending. But because my spending is your income and vice-versa, that collective restraint will keep holding the economy back.
If the coronavirus crisis were a uniquely American phenomenon, Americans could get out of the jam by selling things to foreigners — but the whole world is basically in the same boat.
If interest rates were high, the Fed could make them low making debt more affordable and generating a surge of debt-financed activity — but rates were low when the crisis began and they’ve already been cut to zero.
That essentially leaves us where we were in the Great Depression, with an economy that’s going to be depressed simply because it’s been depressed. People with no money can’t buy things, and in a global downturn there’s nowhere to turn for customers. A solution would need to involve either unorthodox Federal Reserve actions — a search for a modern-day equivalent to abandoning the gold standard — or else the government serving as a customer of last resort, as it did during the lead-up to World War II.

David Brin said...

Or else, with nursing homes emptying, GenXers flush with inherited cash may go spending... not what I wish for! But if you go worst-case, consider more than one scenario.

gregory byshenk said...

It is also important to remember that 1946 was almost 75 years ago. And, though more recent, no one has "risk[ed] death to get themselves over the Berlin Wall" in more than 30 years.

There is certainly at least a strong argument that the actions of the USA following WWII were (at least mostly) those of a "good" empire. (Though even as early as the 1950s the USA took actions in line with US interests and against US ideals.) But in the ensuing years the USA has become more of a bully and less of an ally - in this respect Trump is more extreme, but not different in kind in his attitude toward international relations and US allies/vassals.

David Brin said...

All strong points GB. Yet look at the outpouring of rejoicing when Obama entered office, ending the Bush years. Do you doubt the end of Trump would be so greeted almost everywhere that there's any hope of freedom? Would you care to bet on it?

What did and will that mean? It means most of the world consider's the US president to be "their" president, as well. And they depend on US citizens to stand up on their behalf. Would they feel that way if the US has betrayed the trust systematically and thoroughly , as you describe? They are disappointed in us, yes. But you have to believe, to be disappointed.

Treebeard said...

The idea that most of the world considers the US president to be their president is hilariously delusional stuff. It’s also very dangerous, because once you start thinking that most people on the planet are actually closet Americans who need to be liberated from their local tyrannies and traditions, it becomes easy to start dropping bombs on their governments to liberate these foreign Americans. This American exceptionalism and universalism is a bizarre delusion, as anyone who has done much travelling knows. Most people around the world absolutely do not want to be Americans, and don’t look to America as their model or savior. Maybe the dumber, more propaganda-susceptible people who think Hollywood movies reflect American reality think that way, but they aren’t too bright and don’t generally run things in their countries. The fifth columns loyal to a foreign power in other countries are not the legitimate representatives of their countries or people, despite what the CIA, the media, our host and other imperial propagandists would have you believe.

jim said...

Yglesias was not presenting the worst case scenario, (that would have involved pulsing the economy- virus triggers lock down, peak infection passes, restrictions lifted, new cases spike upwards and another lock down gets triggered over and over.) but rather the likely medium term outlook using a conventional economic analysis.

As far as inheriting wealth - End of life care can really eat it up (a two week stay in the ICU before you die can wipe out that inheritance.) The average age that a person receives an inheritance is 40. and the median amount of inheritance is 68,000$ (2013 numbers) so maybe about a years worth of income. And the expected number of deaths does not seem to be large enough to generate a huge intergenerational wealth transfer in the sort term.

David Brin said...

Treebeard's 'logic' does not even follow in its own context, from one statement to the next. (And most assertions are false.)

Above all, he deliberately ignores the blatant meaning of "they think of the US president as partly 'theirs." Ure, he does that for polemical reasons. But it is still blatantly dishonest.

jim - in contrast - was in one of his more cogent phases.