Saturday, January 30, 2021

Go asteroids, young folks... but also good luck Perseverance!

Amid all the fights to save civilization and the planet - and my own busiest time (professionally) ever - we could do to pause now and then and remember... we are still a magnificent, scientific and exploratory civilization! Before girding ourselves for those 'minutes of terror" as we root for the aptly named Perseverance rover to land safely on Mars, there are other reasons for confident satisfaction.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu appears to have succeeded at collecting samples even better than expected, having penetrated as much as half a meter into the carbonaceous regolith and jammed itself full of material... even causing a minor problem, forcing scientists to stow the sampler into its return capsule early. Now, if the competence continues, we can keep doing stuff out where the riches are. And that is NOT the dusty, almost (for now) useless tourist trap called the Moon. (Leave that sandbox to the kiddies, please.) 

And while we’re talking asteroids…


From The Planetary Society: " Hayabusa2’s samples from asteroid Ryugu will return to Earth on 6 December 2020, Japan’s space agency announced. The samples will land in southern Australia at the same military complex where the first Hayabusa spacecraft sent samples from asteroid Itokawa in 2010. Hayabusa2 itself will pass within 200 kilometers of Earth and fly on to visit another asteroid. Pictured: Hayabusa2 snapped this picture of Ryugu after collecting 1 of 2 samples in 2019. Hayabusa2's shadow can be seen, along with a dark splotch where the spacecraft's thrusters blew away lighter materials on Ryugu's surface." 


THIS is what only Japan and the U.S. (with ESA) can do and we should be doing, while all the Apollo wannabe eager tourists rush to the dusty-useless lunar plain to plant footprints. (I got no problems renting them hotel rooms and landers and sending down robots to do science.) Asteroids are where quadrillions of dollars in wealth lie.


Meanwhile, plans develop for a 2022 launch of a robotic mission to 16-Psyche... (Psyche was made infamous on the show EXPANSE) … which is thought to be the metal core of a planet that died in collisions that formed the asteroid belt.  Metal that – if crudely totaled by today’s prices (omitting market crashing discounts) would be worth $10 Quadrillions at today’s markets. 


== There’s a Place for Us? ==


Are underground lava tubes the way of the future for colonization in Mars and the Moon? With lower gravity and less quake activity, it's estimated some may be cavernous enough to hold whole cities, offering protection from meteorites, cosmic rays and sections that can be sealed against vacuum. Not mentioned: these realms may be easier to clean vs the moon's jagged regolith dust and the caustic perchlorates of Mars. Those that are near ice deposits could be highly valuable. So who is ahead in the race to these sites?


We are, at NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC)! We've issued a Phase III study that should lead to a lander-bot that creeps to the edge of a "skylight" opening in such a tube, perhaps within a few years.


Now researchers estimate that Martian and lunar tubes are respectively 100 and 1,000 times wider than those on Earth, which typically have a diameter of 10 to 30 meters. Lower gravity and its effect on volcanism explain these outstanding dimensions (with total volumes exceeding 1 billion cubic meters on the Moon). “Tubes as wide as these can be longer than 40 kilometers, making the Moon an extraordinary target for subsurface exploration and potential settlement in the wide protected and stable environments of lava tubes.”  Further: “Lava tubes could provide stable shields from cosmic and solar radiation and micrometeorite impacts which are often happening on the surfaces of planetary bodies. Moreover, they have great potential for providing an environment in which temperatures do not vary from day- to night-time.” Reminiscent of life in Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.


And now more news how the lava tubes on Mars and the Moon are considerably larger than here on Earth. Enough so future settlements or research outposts could be safely nestled away inside. Certainly any such tubes that are also near Martian sub-surface ice formations or adjacent to Lunar Polar ice deposits would be sweet spots and among the most valuable sites in the Solar System.  


Then there’s Venus, a broiling, high pressure hell, down at the ground level. But my colleague Geoff Landis and others have speculated about a shell-level of the dense atmosphere where temperature and pressure (though not gas mixture) could be pleasant to Earth-type life, encouraging thoughts of balloon beings or steam-punk dirigibles and colonists getting about needing only face masks… AND NOW a stunning discovery of spectral signs of Phosphine gas - a molecule made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms - which on Earth is pretty much always (outie of certain factories) a sign of life!


Also underground!  One of our Mars orbiters used radar to detect several of what seem likely to be lakes of hyper-saline perchlorate brines, “known to form at Martian polar regions and shown to survive for geologically significant periods of time at temperatures well below the freezing point.”  Unhealthy stuff for any of us, but definitely plausible refuges for Martian life. If so, we can likely co-exist in careful colonies there, because ain’t no Earth-bugs gonna live in that stuff.


New research challenges the “warm and wet ancient Mars” hypothesis, which posits that Mars was once covered in massive river systems, fed by rain and large oceans of liquid water. Instead the “river tracks” we now see may have formed under sheets of ice. 


== Planets out there? ==


UC Riverside astrobiologist Stephen Kane crunched the data and found that some stars could potentially host as many as seven Earth-like planets, so long as they don't have a Jupiter to screw things up. Already the Trappist-1 system is home to several Earth-like planets located in the star's habitable zone where liquid water could exist. Is that beginning to sound like the “Verse” system of copious colonized worlds in Firefly/Serenity?


95 newly discovered brown dwarf sub-stellar ‘planets” have been found by a smart mob of 100,000 amateurs. The finds are vastly colder than other known brown dwarfs — and are likely cool enough to have water-rich clouds like we do here on Earth. It’s not yet clear whether that’s important from an astrobiological perspective, but it does help scientists better understand these bizarre worlds.


== NASA & Space Tech ==


In a much-criticized tweet, US president (now former) Donald Trump claimed that “NASA was Closed & Dead [sic] until I got it going again.” The categorically false claim drew widespread ire from the space exploration community - NASA never “closed” and it was never dead. “In a searing reply on Twitter, veteran NASA astronaut Scott Kelly also entered the fray: “Great leaders take blame and pass along credit.”


The notion that the present miracle of commercial space development cannot be credited to 8 years of Obama administration efforts to goose and stimulate it is insane. Moreover, I am on record denouncing the loony notion that the US should focus on returning American footprints to the dusty and (for now) useless moon, rather than joining Japan heading where the real wealth is, in asteroids. And yet – 


-- and yet, I do feel that NASA Director Bridenstine - a Trump appointee - has been surprisingly sensible, curious and willing to listen and learn. In fact, I nominate him as one of the few GOP officials who might serve as holdover gestures to bipartisanship.


The Blue Origin-led Human Landing System (HLS) National Team just delivered to NASA a full-scale prototype of a lander that could one day carry American astronauts to the surface of the Moon. Terrific, but not in the way meant here. As you know, I oppose any frantic effort to return US astronauts to that dusty, useless, nasty plain. Yes to robots! And yes HUMANITY will return there soon, since China, India, Russia and the rest are eager for their rite of passage “Bar Moonzvahs.” Tourism will be the economic driver and US companies should prepare to cater to it! Make money on landers for tourists, yeah! But NASA should lift its gaze to do (with Japan and Europe) things that others can’t do.


And finally....


As you’d expect, I love these new, improved images of the granular photosphere of the Sun


Finally… One of the better recent SMBC comics.


58 comments:

David Brin said...

Wow, you guys should see this comparison of predatory trade practices:
http://www.international-economy.com/TIE_F20_Atkinson.pdf?mc_cid=4adbf2c475&mc_eid=61e5fbf5bd

Daniel Duffy said...

Re: Lava tube colonies.

This raises the possibility of a new type of terraforming. Instead of pure terraforming (remaking the entire planet) para-terraforming (enclosed domes on the surface) we could use these tubes for holo-terraforming

As in holograms.

Take a tube large enough to hold the island of Manhattan, build a city of this size, seal the tube and pump it full of a breathable atmosphere with temperature controls and fake breezes and winds generated by blower systems, fake lakes and rivers, etc. Colonists can walk around in their shirt sleeves. You can even have weather or seasons.

Then cover its walls and ceiling with photo projectors that create the illusion of living out under the open sky. VR technology should be advanced to the point where a holographic image of the sky and horizon can be generated. The illusion would be made perfect by an artificial "sun" that traverses the "sky" on a 24-day cycle and acts as a grow light for crops and plants. Or the projectors can transmit images of the actual sky above the underground colony. Except for the gravity, it's identical to home.

Terraforming and colonization done cheaply with pre-existing tunnels and virtual reality.

The Truman Show - but for millions of people.

Daniel Duffy said...

"some stars could potentially host as many as seven Earth-like planets, so long as they don't have a Jupiter to screw things up"

But without a Jupiter acting as a huge gravitational "vacuum cleaner" sucking up asteroids and comets, those earth like worlds would be under constant bombardment.

Daniel Duffy said...

What are the current estimates for the ratio between brown dwarfs (can't we call them a cooler name like "dark stars") and ordinary stars?

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:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/11/could-nasa-wide-infrared-survey.html

"The other headline would be the discovery of a brown dwarf that is even closer to Earth than the nearest star, the Alpha Centauri system at 4.3 light-years. Brown dwarfs are objects that form along with stars but do not have enough mass to trigger or sustain nuclear fusion. They are so cool and dim very little is known about their distribution in the galaxy"

and:

http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue183/labnotes.html

"What if space is littered with these failed stars, scattered between the bright ones like a stellar Polynesia, making interstellar travel a series of short hops, rather than a single gigantic one? What if a simple fusion reactor carried just enough fuel to push a spacecraft to our solar system's Planet X in reasonable time? What if it could refuel there, harvesting just enough hydrogen or deuterium or helium to limp along to another dark neighbor, and another, and another? Granted, it would take a long, long time to get to Alpha Centauri that way, and probably a much, much longer time to find a planet somewhere that looked even remotely like our rain- and sun-drenched Earth. But given the likelihood of tidally warmed moons, and the obvious possibilities for life there, we may just find that the cold, dark spaces are where most of the action is anyway."

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. But as The Expanse showed, you can have great Sci-Fi just in our Solar System.

Daniel Duffy said...

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.

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.

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.

Daniel Duffy said...

"Metal that – if crudely totaled by today’s prices (omitting market crashing discounts) would be worth $10 Quadrillions at today’s markets."

And that's the conundrum facing asteroid mining businesses. These missive quantities of metals will cause an oversupply, crashing market prices, and making the effort unprofitable.

Question: has anyone actually written a business plan for asteroid mining?

Daniel Duffy said...

Interesting comparison between Communist China and Imperial/Nazi Germany.

Like Germany, China has no native source of oil.

Germany's solution under Hitler was to seize the Caucasus oil fields in Russia.

I recommend this video on how oil was the only thing of importance in WWII at a time when the US produced 70% of the world's oil and Venezuela and the USSR produced most of the rest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVo5I0xNRhg

It explains why Japan went to war and how the shortage of oil drove every major German strategic decision, and sparked Hitler's fights with his generals.

And how certain armchair generals are wrong to claim that Germany should have driven the British from the Middle East before invading Russia (there were essentially no Persian Gulf oil fields at the time, and no way to get such oil back to Europe). Rommel crossing Suez and advancing to Basra would have gained nothing but sand. Besides, the Italians (who unbeknownst to them were sitting on an ocean of oil in Libya) had no oil for the Italian navy to ship the supplies to the Afrika Korps that would make such an advance possible.

Or that the Germans should have driven on Moscow instead of turning south to encircle and destroy the 600,000 troops of the Soviet southern front around Kiev. The big mistake was resuming the advance on Moscow after surrounding Kiev instead of ignoring Moscow and going immediately for the Caucasus oil fields in 1941 instead of a year later. Russian oil from Baku was shipped by barge up the Volga. Seizing Stalingrad would in effect cut the jugular of the Soviet Union (the goal of Fall Blau the following year). In late summer 1941, Guderian after his Kiev encirclement was as far From Stalingrad as he was from Moscow, and Soviet resistance on the southern front had been shredded.

German generals like Rommel and Guderian were like pampered athletes, prima donnas who had no understanding of larger economic issues underpinning the war effort.

The war was essentially won and lost in the Caucasus, the largest oil producing area outside of the US in the 1940s. Had Germany been able to seize these oil fields and simultaneously deny them to the Soviets, Germany would no longer be short of oil and the Red Army would have to fight on foot and the Red Air force would be grounded due to lack of oil. Without oil the Russians never could have launched a counter attack let alone advance to Berlin.

While a German advance to the Urals was a logistical fantasy, a stalemate on the Eastern front that left Germany in control of the Baltics, Belorussia, Ukraine and Caucasus is as good as a win for Germany. With a stalemate and possibly a separate peace in the east, the Germans could have tripled the number of divisions defending the Atlantic wall, making D-Day almost impossible.

Until maybe the Americans drop the A-Bomb on Berlin.

Marc said...

That "prototype" of the Blue Origin lander is, in fact, a "mockup". A "prototype" would be constructed from flight ready hardware even if incapable of flight for some reason (often excessive weight). A "mockup" is simply a 1:1 scale model of the intended final hardware, and is typically used to determine fitment of other (real) components as they become available. Construction materials are likely to be some combination of plywood, foam, and fiberglass. So it's cool, but not that cool...

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

The war was essentially won and lost in the Caucasus, the largest oil producing area outside of the US in the 1940s. Had Germany been able to seize these oil fields and simultaneously deny them to the Soviets, Germany would no longer be short of oil and the Red Army would have to fight on foot and the Red Air force would be grounded due to lack of oil.


Robert Harris's alternate-history novel Fatherland posits a 1960s in which Germany has kept ahold of Europe for 20 years and is in an extended "cold war" with the US while fighting a guerilla war in the east. It's premise has a lot in common with that of our host's story "Thor Meets Captain America" without the supernatural elements. Anyway, one of the points of departure of the novel's history from our own is that Hitler's army did just what you suggest.

* * *

While I'm here...

Having binge-watched the entirety of The West Wing earlier in the pandemic, I was drawn to watch Aaron Sorkin's earlier attempt--the movie The American President on Netfilx this evening. The contrast between Sorkin's obvious infatuation with America-as-it-should-be and the literal and figurative armed camp that is the Capitol today is heartbreaking.

During the Trump years especially, I found myself longingly drinking in such portrayals, from Mr Smith Goes to Washington to Yankee Doodle Dandy. Even Designated Survivor, Air Force One, and Olympus Has Fallen, while not quite the same sort of thing contain an essential element of it. I can only name it "America Porn". In so naming it, I seem to tacitly admit that the reality of America today falls short. I can't get enough of the stuff.

But what used to make the heart soar with a kind of arrogant pride now seems more like the longing for an old girlfriend who never really lived up to the ideal one had of her.

duncan cairncross said...

Asteroid settlements make so much more sense than the moon or mars

You spin the habitats (initially two of Musk's "Starships") to get the gravity you want and you main power supply does not move across the sky and hide for half the time

A possible first settlement would be Deimos - you "park" nearby - the escape velocity is only 20km/hour so you can just about "throw" materials up to your settlement

1.4 Trillion tons of material
And you could use a Mars aerobraking maneuver to get there

There are probably better options but we should be making spreadsheets of all of the possible options

Daniel Duffy said...

You are 100% correct duncan.

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).

Daniel Duffy said...

Energy is the Killer App

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.

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.

Daniel Duffy said...

Larry,

There's an alt-history novella "Moon of Ice" where the Germans develop the A-bomb first and use it on the D-Day landing beaches, then London to knock Britain out of the war, then against Russian spearheads in central Europe along with Leningrad and Moscow to destroy the Soviet Union.

An atomic cold war develops after the Americans use their a-bombs on Japan.

The trouble with this scenario is that German atomic research was nowhere near as advanced and was going in the wrong direction (despite reports of a German A-bomb test on the island of Rugen in the Baltic).

But what the Germans could have developed would be what today we call a "dirty bomb". They could have manufactured enough deadly transuranics to encase a standard conventional explosive that would spread a deadly radioactive cloud over Omaha Beach, downtown London, the Kremlin... The men invading Normandy would be dead men walking and not know it - as would those reinforcements passing through the beach area.

Same results as "Moon of Ice", just slightly different technology.

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin:

Regarding the predatory trade article, I don't believe that our (Western Nations) current trade behaviour is so much better. We destroy/sterilize whole sectors of local economies by flooding these countries with trash. Chicken leftovers, old cars, wheat, actual garbage. We force those countries to drop tariffs, but raise them against them.
We have an unsatiable hunger for rare earths & products (which may become our achilles heel when dealing with China) and tolerate child-labor-driven mining; and we drain those countries of their future - the middle-class youth of these countries, skilled workers and students emigrate to wealthier countries.

China actually builds infrastructure - roads, ports - even if they chain the developing countries to them in the long run. They don't impose pesky demands for social and political reforms to the respective elites, like the West does.

Yes, a "DATO" might be necessary - but if we don't change our policies, and actually foster a healthy development, we will fail. We could start by forgiving or paying debts of weaker countries, allow them to raise tariffs or raise export tariffs on certain goods (such as food) etc. Perhaps we should concentrate on some countries instead of spreading development aid over the whole globe.

David Brin said...

DD I know the "Moon of Ice" author and yes, a vastly more realistic scenario is "The Trinity Paradox"
Novel by Doug Beason and Kevin J. Anderson in which a spy tells Heisenberg they don't need heavy water to make reactors but just a purer form of carbon.

They were still utterly incompetent, they had no Fermi and their reactor concepts sucked, though use of slave labor would have allowed low safety levels and short corners. Their fuel would be VERY low grade and production of waste filth much lower than the nightmare you describe. Also, results from Hiroshima show that you need a LOT of filth for it to kill or incapacitate large fractions. Dusting a city is a REAL ESTATE weapon, devastating property values.

Normandy could mess things up... but not quickly enough to prevent a beachhead and followup divisions holding it. And recall that the Nazis never used gas because they know our retaliation with vastly better delivery systems would be devastating.

--
Der Oger, half of what you say is wrongheaded... during poverty phases those nations WANTED our recycling and during such phases they shrug off ecology as irrelevant. WE started talking ecology and were laughed at... while we hypocritically changed our habits way too slowly.

As for your second hand it is just plain wrong. We YELL about 3rd world tariffs and sometimes jawbone them down... from huge protectionist levels that we allowed under the Marshall trade system. Likewise it is western consumers applying pressure against child labor, not local politicians or employers or even employee parents.

"China actually builds infrastructure - roads, ports - even if they chain the developing countries to them in the long run. They don't impose pesky demands for social and political reforms to the respective elites, like the West does."

Stunning malarkey! They demand onerous loan terms and wind up OWNING the ports and rails they built. They are extremely unpopular and those nations want the US - and TPP - back.

Laurence said...

Or that the Germans should have driven on Moscow instead of turning south to encircle and destroy the 600,000 troops of the Soviet southern front around Kiev. The big mistake was resuming the advance on Moscow after surrounding Kiev instead of ignoring Moscow and going immediately for the Caucasus oil fields in 1941 instead of a year later. Russian oil from Baku was shipped by barge up the Volga. Seizing Stalingrad would in effect cut the jugular of the Soviet Union (the goal of Fall Blau the following year). In late summer 1941, Guderian after his Kiev encirclement was as far From Stalingrad as he was from Moscow, and Soviet resistance on the southern front had been shredded.

I wonder what would have happened had Italy either remained neautral or even sided with the Allies? (Mussolini initially saw Hitler as a rival and was very worried by the prospect of German annexation of Austria) Turkey was very worried by Italy's ambitions in the Mediteranian and thus sympathised with the allies. Had Italy been on the allied side in the war, Turkey could have joined the axis, potentially opening up a second front in the Caucuses, securing a German victory at Stalingrad. However, much like in Fatherland, this would only have resulted in a "won the war, lost the peace" scenario for the Germans.

A really interesting alternate history scenario for WWII would be for things to have been radically different from the begining. Imagine if Hitler had died during the Munich Putsch, and Gregor Strasser had assumed control of the Nazi Party. Strasser took the "socialist" part of National Socialism seriously, and considered the Soviet Union a potential ally against "Jewish" capitalism. Stalin at this stage was also open to the prospect of cooperation with fascist parties against social democracy, so the rise of a Nazi/Communist coalition is possible. Strasser supported "economic antisemitism" essenitally he wanted to "only" persecute Jews in the financial sector. On the plus side there would be no Holocast in this alternate world. On the downside there would have been no exodous of Jewish physicists from Germany, and no rejection of their theories in favour of "Deutsche physike" Thus a Strasser/Thaleman dictatorship could potentially have developed nuclear weapons, in addition to carving up Europe with Stalin, in a more permanent version of the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact.

Keith Halperin said...

Missed the "onward" so...

@ Der Oger:
Thanks. I do something vaguely similar to what you propose.
Here in San Francisco and in California, there are typically many issues (initiatives, referenda, spending measures) and substantial numbers of rather low-level offices (some with several candidates each) to vote for. Prior to the election, we receive voter guides with the full details of the various issues to vote on, listings and brief descriptions of the candidates, and endorsements of both issues and candidates. Being a lazy fellow, I do not read the full (often very lengthy and complicated) issues themselves or do substantial research on the lower-level candidates. Rather, I use a heuristic- I read the endorsements and if I like/dislike the endorser, I'll follow their recommendation. (Occasionally I have to think when I see endorsers I like on both sides of an issue.) I'd be very happy to have a Movielens-type political algorithm which would make political recommendations based on previous votes. (Of course, I'd have to remember how I'd previously voted on not-particularly-interesting-issues and lower-level candidates.)

@ Dr. Brin: Re: Hatred of "Smarty Pantses":
There has been a long anti-intellectual tradition in America. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism_in_American_Life#:~:text=Anti-intellectualism%20in%20American%20Life%20i, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism)
I've also heard that the spate of "Evil Brain" monster movies of the '50s (https://mondovulgare.com/2019/04/12/horror-movies-with-brains-literally-a-history-of-killer-brain-movies/) was a metaphor for this anti-intellectualism.

As I understand you, Dr. Brin, I hear you saying that we're in a rationalist "Fight to Save the Enlightenment" against the forces of authoritarian emotionalism- cold, "hard", objective facts vs. hot, "soft", subjective feelings. If so, I believe you are correct AND too binary. While I believe there are empirically-based objective facts (2+2=4, Newton's Laws in a typical, non-extreme environment), I also believe there is NO inherently objective way to present them. I also believe that going forward, there will be an increasing customization of information so that if you, I, and all Our Gentle Commenters were to ask the same question about the same subject from the same source in exactly the same way at precisely the same time, we'd all get slightly (or possibly very different) replies. We already see things like this on a simple scale when we do searches on LinkedIn and (I think) Google. I'd previously given the example of discouraging interest in something secret by telling the objective truth (including all the meaningful details) but putting it in such a way that it's considered to be a ridiculous conspiracy believable only to cranks. (A variation would be to release the information through an unlikeable source.) Another way would be to do the same thing (objective truth, full details) and make it REALLY BORING...

In conclusion, I believe that (going forward):
1) While it will remain possible to agree on objective facts themselves,
2) It will be increasingly difficult to agree on objective interpretations of these facts beyond a very simple level, and
3) These interpretation standards are inherently subjective, and are influenced by the conscious and unconscious (cognitive) biases of *both the presenters and the presentees, so that
4) Any group-standards of presentation/interpretation are arbitrary and not universal.

-kh


*"What do I want you to get from this?", "What do I want to get from this?"

scidata said...

James Gunn, long-time Asimov biographer, died just before Christmas. He was an early member of my LinkedIn Asimov & Psychohistory group, and from the same Scottish clan (Gunn) as my family (Will).

Re: Nostromo future
I see finned starships sprouting like weeds in Boca Chica, almost weekly launches from a growing private launch industry, and even a few acquaintances delving into micro satellites. A 'belter' future would make the romanticist coal mining industry look quaint by comparison. Perhaps this is how the confederacy ends -- not with a bang, but a grunt and brow-wipe.

David Brin said...

Der Oger, wholesome of my talk about the deliberate policy of the American Pax to encourage industrial development elsewhere is based on both patriotic and contrarian reflexes, I admit, there is also the fact that it is simply true.

David Brin said...

I want to turn off the darned autocorrect!

Meanwhile:
https://evonomics.us9.list-manage.com/track/click?u=004c485ee92dbf1aeb4e43681&id=6d6e30aa4c&e=460e59c561

Larry Hart said...

Laurence:

Strasser took the "socialist" part of National Socialism seriously, and considered the Soviet Union a potential ally against "Jewish" capitalism.


Waitaminute. I thought communism was caused by Jews. They can't even keep their own story straight. :)

I kid, because I know that these things have a "logic" all their own--like the ability to believe that 9/11 was perpetrated by 4000 Jews who stayed home that day, while simultaneously honoring Osama Bin Laden for pulling it off. Or secular atheist Dave Sim blaming religion for feminism, then becoming religious himself and blaming atheism for feminism.

While I'm on the subject of Impossible Things to Believe (Before Breakfast), can anyone explain what the QANONs are on about when they think that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 19th president on March 4, because no federal laws or amendments passed since 1871 are valid, because the United States has been a corporation rather than a country since that time? I mean what kernel of fact are they basing this on? And even accepting the premise, why do we revert back to a country now? Inquiring minds want to know.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

I want to turn off the darned autocorrect!


I'd highly recommend doing so.

David Brin said...

Can't find how to turn off autocorrect in damn blogger.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Can't find how to turn off autocorrect in damn blogger.


No expert here, but I suspect it's your operating system doing the correcting rather than blogger itself.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Or the browser. I use Chrome on my android, and Firefox when I'm on my desktop or laptop. Chrome on my phone doesnt seem to do any autocorrwcting (though my keyboard app absolutely does - half the words I've typed now are correct because of it - I'm not very good at typing with my thumbs), but Firefox on pc definitely does have a spellchecker feature. It doesn't autocorrect, but just highlights misspelled words in the same manner that Word does, but it's definitely browser based.

David Brin said...

Ah, I use Safari for blogger. Helpful Apple.


Leaving the house now to get... shot...

Larry Hart said...

Ilithi Dragon:

half the words I've typed now are correct because of it - I'm not very good at typing with my thumbs)


Yes, I can see how autocorrect is useful on a phone, where you're typing on tiny keys very close to each other.

On a regular sized keyboard, though, it tends to do me more harm than good.


duncan cairncross said...

Re the dismal risky dirty future in space

I just don't see that
Instead I see O'Neill Habitats that are near paradise to live in

Most manufacturing and refining done in space as the actual costs of pollution have to be paid by the polluters

Ceres
I don't see Ceres as an early target - the escape velocity is 1,800 kph to high to be convenient compared to Deimos at 20 kph

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin: hope your arm isn't too sore.

@ Everyone: re: "There's gold in them thar 'roids." (And we ain't talkin' Preparation H!):
Here's a scholarly (?) article about that- http://dahl.mines.edu/Dah20b.pdf

David Brin said...

re Ceres... depends on how much gravity humans need for healthy life and babies. Ceres is big... but low density (water). (Hence EXPANSE was all wrong.) so just 3%g. Eric by comparison is smaller but has almost 10% g. Deimos is minuscule. Alas, Phobos isn't that much bigger.

--

David Brin said...

My arm's fine. I seldom react. Been Modernaized.

Oh, Found the autocorrect in blogger so hoping that's over....

Alfred Differ said...

David,

re - Sir Walter Scott & our Confederates

When reading about the Scottish variation of the Enlightenment, I've found it useful to remember their context. The English occupation is just part of that. Some of what they wrote about referenced the thieves who lived in the highlands.

Clan busting sent those folks in all directions. Some came here. They carried with them part of an understanding, mostly the personal liberty component, and kept 'loyalty to a strong man'.

The second biggest lesson of the Enlightenment is how local populations adapt it to their needs. Rivers of blood in France, conformity in Germany, and more than one variation of rebellion among the Scots.

We have lots of reasons to be upset at our Confederates, but I DO think they absorbed some of the Scottish Enlightenment notions.

duncan cairncross said...

Re Ceres

Small is good! - spin gravity is much much better and easier than mass gravity

You can spin your habitat - and the mirrors will always face the sun - your main power supply won't go and hide

Your radiation shielding can come from the body (Deimos) - and does not have to spin

Laurence said...

Waitaminute. I thought communism was caused by Jews. They can't even keep their own story straight. :) Hitler believed that, Strasser didn't. (although he didn't support communism either, so had a Strasser/Stalin alliance won WWII the two would have soon come to blows afterwards

HNWIC @ My House said...

"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)."

The Star Trek episode "Mudd's Women" involved the Enterprise assisting a free trader who was in the process of transporting, ah, "comfort women" to just such a mining colony, to "marry" the miners (they were also using an addictive drug that increased their sex appeal and sex drive, with the sex part treated as a minor detail by the story because it was 1966 and American television).

"Devil In the Dark" involved a mining colony being attacked by a mysterious creature. Kirk & co found out that the creature was attacking because it was a sapient silicon-based life form, and the rich manganese nodules the miners were digging up and smelting were its eggs.

So apparently the two concepts were side-by-side back in the early days - sure, Starfleet flew around keeping the peace, investigating new planets, making first contact, and fun stuff like that, but there were also corporations (probably not dissimilar from Weyland-Yutani) sending roughnecks out to resource-rich worlds in the back of beyond to dig up what the Federation needed to run on. (This was in the pre-replicator days, when even foodstuffs were reconstituted rather than being materialized as needed and even Starfleet personnel were paid.)

As a side note on future corporations, apparently one of the tech manuals (the TNG one, if I'm not mistaken) specifies that certain parts of a starship were manufactured by Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems...

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

My arm's fine. I seldom react. Been Modernaized.


I'm scheduled for mine tomorrow. Groundhog Day.

Which I hope means I get to wake up each successive day and get vaccinated again--for a different variant each time. :)

Der Oger said...

@Alfred Differ:

"The second biggest lesson of the Enlightenment is how local populations adapt it to their needs. Rivers of blood in France, conformity in Germany, and more than one variation of rebellion among the Scots."

I am regularly astounded how differently French and Germans voice political protest. Things that would cause peaceful protests over here would make cities burn in France.

"We have lots of reasons to be upset at our Confederates, but I DO think they absorbed some of the Scottish Enlightenment notions."

Maybe. Maybe it is something else - Neurodiversity. Look at the worldwide prevalence rates of ADHD/ADD, and you may notice that the US have a higher rate of diagnosed cases than other countries. Especially Trumpland states.

Just an hypothesis: Immigrants have a higher percentage of ADHD/ADD since they are more likely to take risks (and perhaps have a higher survival rate in life-threatening situations), and thus, a country that practically consists of descendants of immigrants will have a higher prevalence of ADHD/ADD cases, while those countries people emigrate from might have a lowered prevalence (for a time).

Keith Halperin said...

@Der Oger Re: Brains and Politics:
From Hidden Brian: "Red Brain, Blue Brain" https://www.npr.org/transcripts/654127241
"...we did indeed find that the political views were quite heritable.
Although, people oftentimes misread this, our results suggested that maybe 30 or 40 percent of our political views come from genetics."
.........................
"... HIBBING: That's true. There have been three or four studies that attempt to see if the brain activation patterns of liberals and conservatives is different. And the one that we did goes back to kind of our favorite thing, which is to show them these different kinds of pictures. Actually, we had the most luck with pictures of mutilations. And you're right. When we did that, it was very easy to categorize people, you know, without knowing anything about them. All we would look at was the brain scan results. And we could be incredibly accurate knowing whether they were liberal or conservative just on the basis of that. Liberals' brains, when they looked at mutilation images, were much more active in a part of the brain called the S2, somatosensory 2. And this is part of the brain that will be activated if you suffer pain. So if I kick you in the shin, your somatosensory 2 would be active. But it's also active if you see pain in others. And so if you would see a movie of somebody stepping on a rusty nail - goes right through their foot - your somatosensory 2 would be active. And what we saw in these brain scans was that liberals were more likely to have activation in the somatosensory 2 than conservatives. Doesn't mean that conservatives are hard-hearted; it just means that things are happening differently when they see these different images."
...........................................................

By learning more about what images, sounds, etc. stimulate a member of a given group's brain, a person or an organization could more effectively influence them.
THATS how psycho-history should REALLY work, SciData..

Darrell E said...

Oscillation overthrusters in Star Trek starships? Just remember, it's John Bigbootay!

matthew said...

The Evonomics article (My Advice to an Aspiring Economist: Don't Be an Economist") that the Doc linked to above is very thought-provoking. I highly recommend a read. I'm interested in hearing responses to it. Good One!

jim said...

Mathew
you might find this article interesting:

https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2020/10/30/deconstructing-econospeak/

"Today I’m a PhD-trained political economist and I know why I had a bad feeling in Economics 101. It’s because the course wasn’t teaching me about the real world. It was indoctrinating me in an ideology.

I’ve spent much of the last decade trying to understand this ideology. A key part of its appeal, I believe is the language that it uses. Of course, many people recognize that the language of econospeak is part of its ideological potency. And many people have analyzed this language. But what nobody has done (as far as I can tell) is to quantitatively deconstruct econospeak. That’s what I’m going to do here."


a bit data heavy but interesting approach.

scidata said...

Of course, Paul Krugman (Nobel Prize Economics 2008) tells the story of how he really wanted to be a psychohistorian, but no school offered such a degree path.

Doctrine is the mind killer. Deduction and induction are in a dance. Eliminating either one would stop the music. I wish Asimov had known a Chazelle (Bernard and/or Damien).

David Brin said...

Looking for volunteer groups of 8+ friends who might like to playtest a ANTHROPOLOGY GAME that replicates conditions faced by our mesolithic and neolithic ancestors. And yes, it can be played via zoom! In fact, given the needed number of players (to simulate a prehistoric tribe) zooming this might be ideal! Ideal for an anthropology class!

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin: (...replicates conditions faced by our mesolithic and neolithic ancestors.)
Kudos to these folks- "paleo" is SO 2017...

Ilithi Dragon said...

@Dr. Brin: my schedule won't support playtesting anything for a while, but I've got a core group of friends that I usually gane with that can bounce up to that number, if we can get everyone on at the same time, and they're always looking for a new game (much to my frustration at times, because I have limited time to learn new games). I know a few of them would be interested just by the topic, and others just for the new experience.

Chris M said...

Nice to see someone more important that I that thinks the Moon is the cul-de-sac of space exploration. A safe place for kids to play, but not on the way to anywhere.

David Brin said...

Ilithi Dragon you write me separately and I'll get you on the list.

Robert said...

Just sent you an email about playtesting what I assume is Tribes 2e…

Pappenheimer said...

Re: Venusian balloon civ:

When I was in high school (late 70's) I partially completed a short store about a dirigible outpost that managed mining robots on the Venusian surface. Don't remember much, but it was an ESA/JSA enterprise named the Ludendorff Maru.

scidata said...

SpaceX: less aspera, more astra would be good.


Now back to wrangling with WordPress :)

Alfred Differ said...

SN9 failed the way many of us expected of SN8.
Obviously work to be done on ensuring engines are firing when needed.

I noticed they stopped showing video of the engine bells pretty early in the flight. I wouldn't be shocked if they had issues on ascent that made a mess of things inside the skirt.

Lovely fragmentation images, though. Good for building safety datasets.

Ilithi Dragon said...

The future scifi universe that my best friend and I are working on (the same one with the quantum cascade laser heatsinks) has humanity inhabiting several floating cities in the clouds of venus in the late 22nd Century, with genetically and cyberbetically augmented crows acting in place of service drones (at least, before they accidentally uplifted themselves, and started getting paid for the work).

Keith Halperin said...

@ llithi Dragon: I like your idea of the uplifted crows.
I'm also thinking about having augmented birds replacing smaller aerial drones in what I'm planning for the late 2130s...
If I may ask, what's your premise as to why people live in floating Cytherean (Is that still the preferred term?) cities?

Duncan Ocel said...

Thus far you have all avoided talking about GME, despite its relevance to Dr. Brin's Transparency of Ownership ideas. Someone tell me whether a short based on a counterfeit share is any different from free money. Are there any solutions?

All about counterfeit shares: http://counterfeitingstock.com/CS2.0/CounterfeitingStock.html

Ilithi Dragon said...

@Keith credit where credit is due, the crow idea wasn't mine, it was my friend's (though we had mutually agreed on crows being one of the uplifted species by the start of the main story).

Cloud cities in venus are economically driven by the abundance of industrial chemicals in the atmosphere. They literally fly through clouds of sulphiric acid at the altitude the cities would float at, after all. In our universe, Venus is a major supplier of industrial chemicals and chemical manufacturing.

Larry Hart said...

Hey, I had already noticed this sort of inconsistency in several contexts, but I had no idea it was such an expected thing.


https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/03/opinion/qanon-conspiracy-theories.html

In one study, for example, “the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. Special Forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive.” In another study, “the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered.” For those who hold such beliefs, the authors wrote, “the specifics of a conspiracy theory do not matter as much as the fact that it is a conspiracy theory at all.”


Maybe this is what the song ""Oh, Suzannah" was trying to tell us all along.

It rained so hard the day I left,
The weather, it was dry.
The sun so hot, I froze to death.
Suzannah, don't you cry.

David Brin said...

Wikipedia adjustments!

Perhaps one of you would go to the Wikipedia page on Gravity lasers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_laser) and update it? It won’t look good if I do it. I propose inserting additions as shown below between asterisks**. Note the second insertion of *(2012)*

The idea of gravity lasers has been in part popularized by science fiction works such as *Earth(http://www.davidbrin.com/earth.html) (1990) in which manufactured micro singularities serve as mirrors and the needed excited energy levels are found in elevated gravitational potentials of the planet’s core and mantle. Resulting GASER beams can propel objects into space and accelerate them. They are also used as weapons. The concept was later appropriated in*  Earth Unaware *(2012)* where glasers are used as a plot device to enable planetary-scale manipulation of matter, akin to gravity guns. In other works such as Star Ocean they may be a hypothetical weapon.[6] They are also commonly employed as a proposed mechanism for tractor beams, antigravity, and space propulsion.
===

While we’re at it, adjusting my own page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brin) might be nice and overdue. Though there will be a lot more changes when my newsletter comes out, in a month! Help with that would be appreciated!

*Brin is a member of the External Advisory Council of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC).

Links to Existence http://www.davidbrin.com/existence.html
And The Ancient Ones. http://www.davidbrin.com/ancientones.html
And Insistence of Vision. http://www.davidbrin.com/insistenceofvision.html

Thanks!

David Brin said...

onward

onward