Monday, February 15, 2021

Expanding into the solar system: from a Mars landing to asteroids

Exciting news from Mars! As opening acts, spacecraft from both the United Arab Emirates and China entered orbit above the Red Planet, last week, with China hoping to be the second nation to land a successful rover, in a few months (see below). But of course the showpiece - NASA's 2020 mission - will attempt on Thursday to land the Perseverance rover that will explore the surface and collect rock samples for later return, plus the Ingenuity helicopter - using the same delivery technique - complicated and terrifying - that was so successful at landing Curiosity some years ago. 

Tune in! You can watch the landing broadcast live, starting at 11:15 am PST on February 18, for "seven minutes of terror" as the rover plunges through the atmosphere of Mars, slowed by thrusters, a parachute, and then lowered by crane to the surface of Jezero Crater. For a preview, watch this NASA animation of the landing procedure.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirate's Hope mission has just returned its first images from the Red Planet this week; it will carry out research on the atmosphere of Mars. In addition China's Tianwen-1 probe successfully entered Mars orbit after a seven month journey.

== So many ways it matters! ==

Technology developed for NASA's Perseverance mission will have had many spinoff uses on Earth. These examples are important, but the most boring may also help save us… better ability to detect small amounts of methane, helping us find pesky leaks that contribute to climate change… and more urgently send forth drones to find those rancid SOBs who are venting it deliberately from pipelines and wellheads. 

Meanwhile Japan’s mission to the Martian moons will take images in 8k and return samples. Possibly among the most valuable pieces of real estate in the solar system, and the sort of partners NASA should be working with(!), instead of joining a silly rush of Apollo-wannabes eager to plant ego-footprints on a dusty lunar plain.  WHile we should continue robotic lunar science - and sell orbital hotel rooms and landers to those eager, would be moon-tourists... and polar water may have some limited uses... there is simply no valid reason for the US to join that rush to satisfy a footprint fetish that we took care of 50 years ago.

But sure... more lunar science! Fantastic new versions of Planetary Radar let Earth-based radio telescopes create incredibly detailed images of the moon and will open studies of other planetary moons and asteroids. Just stay on target guys! Minimize spillover! These beams are narrow, collimated, laser-like and much more detectable at long range (very long range, if you get my drift) than our measly TV signals and airport radars... which fade almost to nothing within a light year. (And no, ET is not watching I Love Lucy. That's a silly cliché.)

Oh. Check out the bright dot of (immense!) lightning on this gorgeous Juno mission image of Jupiter! Taken by a camera made by Malin Space Systems in San Diego. Can you spot the dot... nearly the size of Europe?

We may explore the solar system with SteamPunk, “water-based” small propulsion units for cube-sats! 

== Looking toward asteroids ==

I’ve said it for more than a decade. One of the greatest astronomical discoveries has been the number of moons and dwarf planets that appear to bear pools… or oceans… of liquid water beneath protective ice roofs. Now even stronger evidence that at least some sort of briney lake exists under the ice on… Ceres. (Sorry EXPANSE fans! Ceres colonists would not have to import water.)

Leaving the (for now) pretty much useless Luna to tourists, some human endeavors are turning toward where the real wealth lies. For example: Japanese scientists open the Hayabusa probe’s containers of samples from carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu!

The mission to collect 60 or so grams of pristine material from Bennu instead may have collected more than 2000 grams, penetrating half a meter into the ancient, carbonaceous asteroid. Now stowed and ready for a launch homeward in March, the  return capsule will arrive home in 2023. Wonderful! OSIRIS-REx is NASA's first asteroid-sampling mission, but it's not the first one in history. Japan's Hayabusa mission delivered small bits of the stony asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010.

Only now… meticulous orbital studies suggest that Bennu is a lot less-dense in the middle, possibly even “hollow.” In which case the mind reels with sci-fi possibilities! From obviously trying to dig out a wonderful O’Neil space colony to… wait… did you say hollow? What’s mostly hollow inside and rigid outside and sails through space? Um, a ship?  

The New Horizons team that gave us the spectacular Pluto-Charon flyby, a few years back and a subsequent Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) recently partnered with the Subaru Observatory to search for new KBOs along the probe’s path, and about 75 new KBOs found in the direction New Horizons is traveling. Between 15 and 20 will pass close enough to New Horizons to be scientifically observed, beginning this December. 

Says PI Alan Stern: “Although none of these KBOs are close enough for us to reach for a close flyby like we did at Arrokoth, the science we can do even from a distance will produce new results on KBO surface properties, shapes, rotational periods, and close-in moons that could not be achieved any other way.” And with new observations… “Perhaps (if we get lucky) we'll even snag a new flyby target if we can find a KBO that's within reach of our current fuel supply (about an eighth of a tank, which was about the same amount it cost to get to Arrokoth).”

== And more space news... ==

The next SpaceX cargo mission to the space station will carry an experiment called BioAsteroid that will contain pieces of meteorites and fungi, to see if a fungus can extract useful elements. Recently one kind of bacterium was shown to pull rare earth elements from basalt. Important. 

As if taken from the very 1st chapter of EXISTENCE, "Scientists estimate that almost 3,000 dead satellites are orbiting our planet, which doesn't account for the 900,000 pieces of debris less than 10 centimeters long that could cause a catastrophe should a chunk hit the wrong satellite at the wrong time.... and now, the European Space Agency is in the beginning stages of executing one of the more bizarre solutions: a space claw that would grip larger defunct satellites and steer them back into the Earth's atmosphere, where both the satellite and the claw itself would burn up in peace." Alas, the tether based technology that I describe would likely work much better and less expensively. (Here's that vivid trailer of Existence with art by Patrick Farley!)  

Here… I participate in a video tribute to my dear friend and fellow astronomer Andrew Friedman, who passed away a few months ago, far-far too young. He made us all laugh and think, while exploring experiments that had the very widest range of any even conceivable – one of them targeted quasars at opposite ends of the universe in order to study quantum entanglement! (Beat that, for range.) A dear fellow, always fun and filled with love and friendship. Stay watching till the brilliant and moving tribute by the noteworthy poet and author Patrick Coleman of the Clarke Center at UCSD.

Finally...No, this is not an actual image sent back from Voyager 1, as the article seems to imply. But it is a kinda cool representation of what the solar system would look like, in V’ger’s rear view mirror, right about now. 

One of humanity's proudest accomplishments.  And let's hope for another this Thursday, as our civilization resumes lifting its head.


SurlyJason said...

Since you know Ceres' place in The Expanse, can we assume you're a (at lease casual) fan?

David Brin said...

Oh sure, first seasons were outtasight! Terrific, tho no way a civilization that rich would have a slave underclass.

They shrank back from the challenge of interstellar, alas. No belters would care about inners anymore when they've got the universe.

DP said...

Forget Mars, colonize Ceres.

Why Ceres might be a better location for colonization than Mars

Ceres has one important detail that makes it much more interesting than one might expect: apparently it has lots and lots of water:
This 100 km-thick mantle (23–28 percent of Ceres by mass; 50 percent by volume) contains 200 million cubic kilometres of water, which is more than the amount of fresh water on the Earth. This result is supported by the observations made by the Keck telescope in 2002 and by evolutionary modelling.

Now let's compare Ceres with Mars as a destination for colonization. How do they stack up?

First of all, getting there in the first place. Mars is closer to us, Ceres is farther out. It would seem that this would result in us not being able to send missions to Ceres as frequently as to Mars...but in fact the opposite is true. Keep in mind that the only time we can reach a destination is when a launch window opens up, and frequency of launch windows is determined by the synodic period (basically the amount of time it takes for an object and the Earth to line up with each other).

DP said...

Not a slave underclass but the future equivalent of the Roman rabble enjoying "pan et circes". They could not find work due to the massive numbers of cheap slaves the legions brought back to Rome.

With robotic factories and farms and AIs doing the work of accountants, lawyers, engineers, doctors and scientists a similar mass unemployment would result

David Brin said...

DD you are speaking of EARTH, though the one thing for which there'd be NO 'waiting lists" would be education.

But the Belters are that underclass in EXPANSE... and no way human females could produce enough babies in just 200 years to catch up with that much wealth.

Dave Morris said...

An employed group could be rabble, or they could be aristocrats...

Keith Halperin said...

@ Everybody: re Expanse, asteroids, etc.
I really like the show, especially the "look and feel": heard it described something like: "The love child of Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galctica (reboot)".
The big problem I have with the setting-premise is that there're supposed to be 30G "Earthers" and 2G Martians. I don't buy it.

Re: The "Beltahs" wouldn't care about the "Innahs," because they have all the new worlds: Nope-
"Haters gonna hate," and the B's gotta whole lotta hate stored up.
Also, "It's not just that I must win, but you must also lose..."
Finally, "Kiss the hand you cannot sever." It's "severin' time" for the Innahs...

Re: Wealth (but underclass): Dr. Brin, I read "Mining the Sky." but I'd like to hear more of your thoughts about the wealth from the asteroids...

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin: A question about the moon:

Wouldn't it be a good place to install the transport hub/control site for belt mining/colonization of the belt there? The lower gravity could save fuel and, being situated on a rock makes you (in my eyes) less vulnerable than living in a space station in orbit.

Also, wouldn't be the moon also be a good site to install telescopes? I have read & heard that the atmosphere & our growing hull of space trash makes watching the sky harder each year.

duncan cairncross said...

For Asteroid mining and asteroid habitats I believe there is a sweet spot

Large enough to have the materials you want and small enough to have a low enough escape velocity so that you can "park" your habitat nearby and make use of the materials

Ceres has an escape velocity of 500 meters per second
You would be better off with a much smaller body for the first few habitat/mines

David Brin said...

Der Oger I've yet to see a moon telescope plan that convincingly is advantageous over free flyers out at L2 where Earth interference is negligible.

The dynamics of Delta V are clear. You have a major net loss going down to Luna's gravity well and back out again. There is no benefit at all for a 'hub' with that drawback.

All of that changes when there is a LOT of industry and you build mass-driver launchers, like depicted by Heinlein in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. And/or when there are customers for H3 *if ever and it can be harvested*. And other "resource claims ... and if lunar polar ice does turn out plentiful and cheaper than asteroidal. NONE of those things happen near term and none justify joining the throng of Footstep Tourists.

scidata said...

Not everything can be fully pre-engineered. We're also going to have to employ Mother Nature's algorithm:

1) try everything
2) replicate what works
3) repeat

Of course, record keeping, discussion, and learning concoct sapiens' secret sauce. This is why trillions would be better than billions. In some ways, intelligence is a function of scalability.

David Brin said...

A million fully myelenated brains in confident, free-minded citizen-explorers will out perform a billion brought up in poverty, feudalism and fear. Proved countless times.

Jon S. said...

"A million fully myelenated brains in confident, free-minded citizen-explorers will out perform a billion brought up in poverty, feudalism and fear. Proved countless times."

It's how we brought the Cold War to a successful conclusion. (Given the events of recent years, I can no longer say confidently that we "won" it, but we managed not to wipe out life on Earth in a nuclear holocaust, so - yay us, I guess.)

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: A million fully myelenated brains...

Very true, and proven countless times on Earth, but Kansas is now about to go bye-bye.

Trillions of healthy brains is the hope of the Foundation, albeit sprinkled with swashbuckling heroes, timely micro-enlightenments, charming misfits, and other literary gourmandises. Not mundane Marxism, but a galactic civilization. Perhaps I've spent too much time in the company of bacteriologists and heaps of transistors :) I sometimes (improperly) conflate intelligence and quorum sensing (in both critters and bots). If I were to write a book in the series, I'd build upon "Foundation's Triumph". Don't worry, I enjoy soldering much more than writing.

Switching topics to Johnny's coding for a sec, here's a great birth of BASIC (Dartmouth) documentary that captures the same spirit:

John Kemeny takes his place alongside Hans Bethe in the hearts of computational Asimovians.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Doc, I too am confused as to why an underclass couldn't exist in the SolSys of the Expanse (at least at the story's opening). Despite the wealth that the Beltalowda are shoveling downhill to the Innahs, they're in an extremely vulnerable position by virtue of (a) not having sufficient biosphere and (b) being inherently scattered and divided. The Martians have (nearly) all the materials they needed to build up a robust ecology in their sizable habitats, plus all the ISRU capability to bulwark in case of troubles - or embargo. The Belt hasn't managed the same; Ganymede and Ceres were the best they could manage, which was trivial compared to Mars.

It's as if you had the Old World, the New World, and Oceania -- except if Oceania had the most vital industrial resources. Sure, you're able to get *some* leverage out of sitting on the mines... but it's trivially easy for any Great Power to power-project you into submission, and you can't get reinforcements or concentrate forces in any meaningful sense. The Kingdom of Hawai'i is the model I'm thinking of. The House of Kamehameha held out a long time; they had relatively more land, less vital resources to defend (coffee and citrus), and the strong advantage of multipower politics to play Balance of Powers with. Even dancing brilliantly, they eventually succumbed (though with enough modern cohesion that the State of Hawai'i retains its culture and identity).

No, I can see a metastable state existing where the ability to concentrate wealth and power beats out a theoretically wealthy, but diffuse population with only a small foundation to build upon.

[Note: I have yet to watch Expanse Season 5, or read the source book, so I don't yet know if Belters are able to leverage their new circumstances to avoid the problem I just described.]

Tim H. said...

There is so good news...

I'm visualizing Vir Cotto waving goodbye to Mr. Morden's head on a pike.

David Brin said...

Good points Catfish... and still hard to support with the available of robotics and especially news media to expose horrific conditions to voters. That amount of wealth is tipping point stuff and giving each belter a comfy apartment will likely cost less than even one major act of sabotage.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Scidata and Everyone:
I believe that a crude, proto-psychohistory has been and is currently in process. Among other actors, it was done in 2016 (and possibly last year) by the Russian government using Facebook troll farms and more recently by the Chinese government beginning its Social Credit measures, along with Amazon, Netflix and any other companies/organizations/individuals using preference-algorithms. ( Over time, these methods will improve, as more and better understanding of how people actually think, feel, and act is incorporated into them.

As Facebook has shown, the longer people are online the better you're able to manipulate them and give them more of what you think they want or what they want you to want. Every keystroke, every image, every message, every recording will be analyzed to improve the "consumer experience".( Everything you receive could be subtly different form the same message I receive, perhaps as little as a slightly different font, timing, or the tone of voice. We have "virtual reality and "augmented reality": soon we'll have "customized, curated reality" giving more and more of what we/they want us to see, hear, experience. We'll be able to create countless, slightly different versions of ourselves tailored to what we're trying to get and who we're trying to get it from.

When each person gets to choose (or is influenced to choose) their digital reality, what are "facts" if the way they can be presented can influence how they're interpreted and used? If someone decides the "default" or "opt out" setting ("straight objectivity, primary sources, no editing or modification to content or style"), how do they know they'll be getting it?

When we have multiple tweaked and customized personal avatars dealing with other multiple tweaked and customized personal avatars, what becomes of meaningful, interpersonal communication? Will not all those who do this be reduced to being "a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more"? Will our digital lives become "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."? If we decide to moderate/minimize our online activity to have unvarnished reality in as much of our lives as possible, what trade-offs will we be making? If we do- will we need to be some sort of "Digital Amish" (no digital technology used that's later than 2007), if we don't- will we become sorts of very contented (from the preference algorithms) yet narcissistic "Digital Solarians," or will the Brinnian "G(reat)E(nligtenment)E(xperiment) Wiz(ards)" lead all of us "Shiny, Happy People" ( to the Promised Land?

Anonymous said...

Re: Wealth (but underclass): Dr. Brin, I read "Mining the Sky." but I'd like to hear more of your thoughts about the wealth from the asteroids

I'd also like Dr. Brin to elaborate more on the positive economic effects of asteroid mining as it pertains to the average earth-bound human:

Wouldn't asteroid mining create a near limitless supply of precious metals & mineral resources that would devastate every aspect of terrestrial mineral extraction, refinement & production, eliminate millions of terrestrial jobs, and destroy every economic system currently known to man ?

Other futurists like Bruce Sterling & Joe Halderman predict that asteroid mining would create a permanent terrestrial underclass and reduce the average earth-bound human to extreme poverty and economic irrelevance.

Then, there's always the Death from Above trope pioneered by Robert Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'.

Further clarification would be much appreciated.

Larry Hart said...

Tim H:

I'm visualizing Vir Cotto waving goodbye to Mr. Morden's head on a pike.

I'm visualizing the references to Nathan Holn in The Postman, which are always followed by "May he rot in Hell."

I'm not often one to speak ill of the dead, but in this particular case, I don't even feel conflicted about doing so. Too bad it took so long, and he did so much damage in the meantime.

Keith Halperin said...

@Everyone: If the people who are economically, politically, and/or socially in charge believe that these areas (or life itself, overall) are zero-sum games, you'll end up with poverty, oppression, and no universal health insurance.
DAVIES: You also explored the days when, as there were efforts to introduce integration in parts of the South, that local elites, in order to maintain racial segregation, effectively cut off a lot of public investment, specifically the battle over swimming pools. You want to describe that?

MCGHEE: Yeah. This to me is really the kind of parable at the heart of the book. It's what's illustrated on the cover. In the 1920s, '30s and '40s, the United States went on a building boom of these grand resort-style swimming pools. These were the kind that would hold hundreds, even thousands, of swimmers. And it was a real sort of Americanization project. It was to create a, like, bath-temperature melting pot of, you know, white ethnic immigrants and people in the community to come together. It was sort of a commitment by the government to a leisure-filled American dream standard of living. And in many of these public pools, the rule was that it was whites only, either officially or unofficially. And in the 1950s and '60s when Black communities began to, understandably, say, hey, it's our tax dollars that are helping to support this public good, we need to be allowed to swim, too, all over the country, particularly in the American South but in other places as well, white towns facing integration orders from the courts decided to drain their public swimming pools rather than let Black families swim, too.)

Until we can get folks from trying/wanting to "drain the pools," this is likely to continue, maybe even to "The Expanse" time.

David Brin said...

Actually, in many/most locales blacks were allowed to use the pools on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays... seeming separate-but-equal SBE. Then friday evening the pool would be drained, cleaned and refilled for the white weekend. Which not only allowed the SBE fantasy but was deeply, deeply insulting to blacks by implication.

Alfred Differ said...

A slave underclass makes no economic sense when

1. devices can do similar tasks

2. the labor to be performed is not an illegal act.

The forms of slavery that continue to exist on Earth today are defeated by cheap devices in most markets, but not in all OR are involved in illegal acts which cannot be supported by device makers.

Prostitution is illegal in many places AND devices are not quite up to necessary standards yet to replace humans. Hence there is money to be made and profit margins to improve.

Upkeep of large homes/mansions is expensive and devices are not quite up to all the necessary tasks domestic servants can perform yet. Hence there is money to be made in trafficking vulnerable people who will work real cheap.

There are other examples where forced servitude continues today. Each is vulnerable to sterilizing light when we care enough to look. However, each is MUCH more vulnerable to economic forces since the evil bastards doing it generally don't if they lose money in the process.

So… with Expanse… we would HAVE to assume human trafficking to get a population out there of 2G that fast. What market were the slavers enabling, how were they paid, and why didn't devices win instead? Two centuries is a HUGE amount of time for engineers to tinker with things. WE went from steam engines to nukes, Moon landings, and early digital computers in that span.

Alfred Differ said...

Anyone planning to colonize belt asteroids better have a good plan for nuclear power tech. It's kinda dark out there. Yah… the sun never sets, but power incident on your PV arrays is notably smaller than near Earth.

Anyone planning to colonize belt asteroids better have an amazing plan to appease investors while their cargo takes ages to get to market IF the market is near Earth. An even more astonishing plan will be needed for investors who fund efforts to find the wealth to be made in the first place. Time elapsed between each asteroid rendezvous is long too. Time is money, so investors putting money into very slow activities simply won't happen unless their other options involve stagnation. They almost never do.


There are quite a few non-belt asteroids that offer options that defeat these issues to some degree. All economic exploitation projects involving them (and belt asteroids too) are improved by Earth-Moon L2 industrial depots. So… please don't plan to put a telescope there for long. It won't remain a science park if you want to stars.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - the economic effects of mining

Mining on earth is a massive NEGATIVE - a few very few people get some form of low level employment
For the most case mining is a way of enriching the already rich and leaving the rest of us to pay for the clean up

If we could magically obtain all of the materials from space then positive effects of the lower cost materials would outweigh the (very small) negative effects a hundredfold

And that is before the environmental benefits

duncan cairncross said...

Re Swimming pools

While there was probably some racial effect in the USA here (NZ) and in the UK there was a similar pattern

Lots of pools built - and in the 70's most of them closed down

The problem is that a swimming pool is an expensive amenity - it will cost the ratepayer a LOT just to keep running

When people became mobile enough to go to the seaside or holiday in Australia (or Spain) then the swimming pool became less important

In this town (Gore) we have a superb swimming pool and ice rink and sports complex
But this was built by a charity and then "gifted" to the Council
It's GREAT - but it does cost all of us ratepayers a substantial amount of money

Der Oger said...

Actually, I think the law that whoever grabs an asteroid/heavenly body first owns it might be the very motor of creating space mining oligarchs since nations are forbidden to do so (which would carry their own set of drawbacks).

Three scenarios:
Imagine a small fleet of ships marking potentially lucrative asteroids with "claiming drones" - landing there and sending a beacon signal that it is owned by a specific person or company. You even can think of dogfights trying to deny your opponents drones to get through, or acts of sabotage and espionage.

Imagine a strike or revolt of belt workers - the oligarch asks his buddies in government to put down the insurrection and protect his rights (and not necessarily those of the laborers) - and the government is bound to send troops to pacify the colony.

And finally, the sudden influx of previously rare metals will crash their prices ... and might lead to an era of financial gambling, an economical crisis and a devaluation of gold and silver reserves.

Smurphs said...

The death of Herr Limbaugh is #FAKE NEWS!

You will only find the TRUTH here!

And I will prove it next Monday!

Stay Tuned!

Larry Hart said...

A good summation of my own attitude toward Limgaugh's departure, and why he deserves no deference just because he's roasting in Hell instead of helping destroy America:

Some conservative outlets covered Limbaugh's passing, but also took time to note their outrage at the response from liberals. A headline in The Daily Wire reads Blue-Check Leftists Celebrate Rush Limbaugh's Death, while RedState had Left-Wingers Turn in a Disgusting Performance Following Rush Limbaugh's Death, and at The National Review it was Liberals Celebrate Rush Limbaugh's Death, 'Good Riddance' Trends on Twitter. It's remarkable how often conservatives are victims these days (see below for another, Texas-sized example).

In any case, quite a few conservative folks are comparing the "respectable" way that conservatives responded to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the "despicable" way that liberals responded to the death of Limbaugh. That's a falsehood, first of all—there was plenty of nastiness when Ginsburg died, including the inevitable comparisons to Adolf Hitler. Beyond that, however, it is an apples to oranges comparison. Lots of people spend their lives advocating strongly for a political agenda of some sort, as Ginsburg did, without being nasty about it on an everyday basis. Limbaugh, by contrast, spent decades dividing the country and pitting Americans against one another. There is no great left-wing parallel, but if you had to pick one, it would be someone like Michael Moore or maybe Ward Churchill, and not RBG. In any event, people tend to be treated with kid gloves immediately following their demise, but that's not an absolute. And if you put together the sort of career that Limbaugh did, you should know full well that you're forfeiting that presumption. Especially since he mocked many ill and/or dead people while he was broadcasting, including AIDS victims, COVID-19 victims, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Michael J. Fox and, yes, RBG.

Jon S. said...

Terrestrial mining interests might be damaged by competition from space mining, since there's far less concern over environmental damage there.

And I'm sure manufacturers of buggy whips, saddles, and multiple-horse harnesses (not to mention the folks who made a living sweeping road-apples off of city streets) didn't exactly welcome the advent of the horseless carriage, either, but would it have really made economic sense to abandon a technological advance in order to preserve obsolete jobs?

Zepp Jamieson said...

I prepared for today's seven minutes of terror by watching John Carter the day before yesterday and Mars Attacks! last night. No, really. I did. It wasn't until halfway through Attack that I realized the common theme and reflected on current events.
Doctor: bad as it is here, I think racism in Britain is both more vicious and more open. I shudder at the words we used with thinking to describe black people back then. And we were living in a fairly well-off part of the West End, where people were supposedly above that sort of thing. It wasn't a significant part of my Canadian upbringing, in part because outside of Halifax, there weren't many black people around. Halifax had a small town to the NE that back then was called "Africaville."

Smurphs said...

I'm very surprised at the total lack of comments here on the Impeachment. I know OGH is insanely busy right now, but I was hoping for some good insights from some others. You guys are an extremely bright group, so I always get insights greater than my own.

Could it be everyone is a tad . . . disappointed?

My insight is simple, in this case, two times is enemy action. Blackmail for the win!

The three prevailing theories I am seeing are:

1) President Biden wants to get on governing and put this behind us. To which my answer is: If that was the case, they never should have impeached at all. The Dems have destroyed what little good will the new administration might have had (I know, damn little) to no good result.

2) The GOP threatened to call witnesses for months if the Dems insisted on witnesses. To which my answer is: OMG, they other side threatened to fight back, let's surrender!

3) We knew we would lose, but we had to fight the good fight. To which my answer is: Again? Have we learned nothing? I don't want to feel morally superior, I want to win. You all know the definition of insanity.

Quite simply, I feel betrayed.

None of the Democratic "leadership" is from my area, if they were, I would not be voting for them again. To those that can, Primary the bastards.

Larry Hart said...


You will only find the TRUTH here!

And I will prove it next Monday!


Catfish 'n Cod said...

1) Doc: "...especially news media to expose horrific conditions to voters."

I got the strong sense that the corrupt megacorps handling Belt-Earth trade and relations were censoring the press in both directions. Otherwise the so-called "Butcher of Anderson Station" would have been exonerated long before being forced to defect. We see deep corruption going up all the way to the UN's top leadership corps, after all. Again, the diffuse nature of the Belt makes this feasible... up to a point.

It's fundamentally unstable, of course, and driven by Earth leadership's unwillingness to provide for the Belt. (Mars has rationales in both logistics and politics for being stingy.) With a censorship regime, and especially with painting dissenting voices as destabilizing 'terrorists'... the parallels to how American society (which also has the resources to have much less of an underclass) maintains voter support for oppressive measures is compelling. "Do you want Belters getting luxuries while YOU keep waiting for a job?" and so forth.

2) "Wouldn't asteroid mining create a near limitless supply of precious metals & mineral resources...

Not every set of mineral resources! Asteroid mining replaces the incidence of materials in Earth's crust with the incidence of materials in the primordial solar nebula. Not the same as everything, and there are many minerals that cannot form in space at all.

...that would devastate every aspect of terrestrial mineral extraction, refinement & production...

As above, Not All Minerals(TM). But refinement and production? They'd go up. WAY up. Why build stuff with flimsy cheap materials when excellent materials have become equally cheap? Goodbye trash-pine prefab housing, hello titanium-steel prefab housing with gold wiring!

...eliminate millions of terrestrial jobs...

And create millions more, just like every major tech breakthrough does. Not diminishing the socioeconomic upheaval factor here -- could be quite rough -- but it's not going to...

... destroy every economic system currently known to man?"

*snort* It's a new set of resources, not a post-scarcity economy or a Singularity event.

However, the state of affairs of the middle and lower classes of Earth strongly suggests that the economic upheaval was leveraged into an oppressive oligarchic economy. Again, not a stable state of affairs in the long run.

3) "A crude, proto-psychohistory has been and is currently in process..."
VERY crude right now. The datasets are vast and extremely noisy; there's so much nonsense, outdated information, incorrectly correlated information... it's a testament to the power of the techniques that they get any results at all with such strong GIGO factors in operation.

4) If someone decides the "default" or "opt out" setting ("straight objectivity, primary sources, no editing or modification to content or style"), how do they know they'll be getting it?
You're asking the right questions, but... you have read our host's longstanding response to this sort of query, right?

Catfish 'n Cod said...

5) The price of the overwhelming New Deal majorities that broke the Old Guard of both the GOP and its allied SCOTUS of the time was adherence to Southern principles of racism. In the desperate times of the '30s, it seemed acceptable. By the '60s it was untenable, and Kennedy and Johnson ended the trade-off, leading to the Southern Strategy and our current crisis.

One could say that the entire New Deal itself needs to be Built Back Better.

6) Speaking professionally for a second, one of the most bizarre elements of the Confederate prejudices was associating Blacks with disease. Not only was it untrue except when enforced by oppression... but enslaved Blacks were brought to the New World in the first place because of their resistance to disease! A fact conveniently stuffed into memory holes later.

7) @Smurphs:
"When others do a foolish thing, you should tell them it is a foolish thing. They may not listen, but at least the truth is where it needs to be." -- Dukhat of Minbar

This wasn't simply "fighting the good fight". It was an acid test of individual Republicans' loyalties. We now know the (damned few) Unionist Republicans that can actually be talked with; the (less than feared but sizable) Autocratic Republicans that genuinely support the overthrow of the Constitution; the Aristocratic Republicans still working for their oligarchic masters; and the sniveling wretches who are in it for themselves only and are willing to be led by anyone that can grab their leash.

That being done, it was time to offload the process from the Senate to the coming Capitol Riot Commission who can do the slog of grinding through minute details; the civil and criminal cases that can squeeze truth out of hostile witnesses; and the manhunts for the lieutenants of the tactical squads that came with training and gear, not just to protest or smash things, but to target and destroy the defenders of Constitutional government.

And then we'll have the evidence against the schmucks who voted against the articles in both Houses... because they were co-conspirators themselves.

8) Better news: Kittenfish turns one year old this weekend!

Larry Hart said...

If I were still posting on the old Cerebus list, I wouldn't have to explain this reference. Back in the 80s, there was a comic book called American Flagg!, which was set in Chicago of a dystopian future of 2032 or thereabouts. In one storyline, a long-dormant Soviet satellite was accidentally activated by a meteor collision, and proceeded to cause weather anomalies down on earth, resulting in the midwest receiving 20 inches of snow every two days or so.

I'd say the writer was just a bit optimistic about how far into the future that would be.

Larry Hart said...

Catfish 'n Cod:

and Kennedy and Johnson ended the trade-off, leading to the Southern Strategy and our current crisis.

I read something recently which mentioned that the "Southern Strategy" was not a thing all unto itself. Nixon also had a corresponding "Northern Strategy" to appeal to the same sort of white supremacy. The difference was that the Southern version used blacks as the boogeyman, while the Northern version referred to immigrants.

To my ear, the term "Southern Strategy" by itself indicates that Nixon appealed to racism in order to win the South. In fact, he appealed to racism everywhere in the country. Just in different ways in different areas.

Der Oger said...

Congratulations for Perseverance!

scidata said...

Not taking personal credit for the landing, but I was scarfing down handfuls of peanuts during it all. Got the usual ribbing from family here for not crying at weddings and funerals, only Mars landings.
JPL is the source.

scidata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jim said...

Afterward, King told reporters, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’m seeing in Chicago.”

Yep the people of Chicago could teach the people of Alabama a thing or two about hatred. Plenty of racism up north and out west, calling it the southern strategy is a misnomer racism was popular all over the country. It was (is?) just as American as apple pie.

jim said...

David said

"Only now… meticulous orbital studies suggest that Bennu is a lot less-dense in the middle, possibly even “hollow.” In which case the mind reels with sci-fi possibilities! From obviously trying to dig out a wonderful O’Neil space colony to… wait… did you say hollow? What’s mostly hollow inside and rigid outside and sails through space? Um, a ship? "

It looks like Bennu is a spinning interplanetary dust bunny, I wonder if it is held together by gravity alone or do electro static charges between the small particles that make it up play a role too?

Larry Hart said...


calling it the southern strategy is a misnomer racism was popular all over the country.

Not quite a misnomer. There was a specific strategy for the South, which involved appealing to fear and loathing of blacks in particular.

The problem I have with the use of the term is that people think Nixon specifically targeted the South, realizing that racism was the key to that geographic area. Instead, he used racism more generally as the key to all areas (as you correctly point out). The different, separate strategies simply targeted different boogeymen for each.

David Brin said...

Smurphs if you want a really unusual Mars invasion story, see my “Mars Opposition,” in INSISTENCE OF VISION or in the coming BEST OF... volume.

I disagree re impeachment. The evidence presented was devastating to those marginal republicans still clinging to mantras and incantations. Fox viewership and GOP affiliation rates both went down. A longer trial would be diminishing returns.

Catfish got it right: “That being done, it was time to offload the process from the Senate to the coming Capitol Riot Commission who can do the slog of grinding through minute details; the civil and criminal cases that can squeeze truth out of hostile witnesses; and the manhunts for the lieutenants of the tactical squads that came with training and gear, not just to protest or smash things, but to target and destroy the defenders of Constitutional government.”

Jim, YES there was and remains plenty or northern racism. NO you haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Black units during WWII prayed not to have a southern officer appointed over them who “Knows how to handle em.” You refuse to take into account the history of politicians elected in northern vs. Southern states. And finally, you make no allowances for RATIOs of hateful racists per population or for the REASONS why there were big populations of blacks in northern cities in the 1st place, from the Great Migration. In other words, while you raise a valid QUALITATIVE point – yes there were and are northern racists - your point is quantitatively wedged, ignorant and borderline insane. Just all that.

Alfred Differ said...


I think you are confusing the throwing of fists at each other with winning multi-battle objectives.

Not every punch has to land for it to be useful.

As for the point of the impeachment, not all of it was about disqualifying him. Part was about the rest of us remaining true to what we are. NOT impeaching him would have been a violation of faith in the nation.

As for calling witnesses, I think it more important in criminal and civil cases. It was obvious from the start that his jurors were co-conspirators. His next jurors need not be.

As for Biden, I'd prefer he stayed out of it. Let the DoJ function the way it is supposed to function. Don't normalize it as a political tool.

TCB said...

Re: calling impeachment witnesses, although I wanted to see that, I accept that the Dem House managers ran it as well as time permitted. Many a Republican would probably have loved to drag it out for a month and so gobbled up Democratic senators' precious time, and slow walk other important business. Job One for the GOP this session is to make sure the Dems can do as little useful work as possible, and then spool up the next coup attempt in the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Tony Fisk said...

Anyone planning to colonize belt asteroids better have a good plan for nuclear power tech. It's kinda dark out there. Yah… the sun never sets, but power incident on your PV arrays is notably smaller than near Earth.

You'd have options like: a) a *lot* more room to spread your surface area over, and b) maser/lasers to transmit your power from closer in. (That could make navigation interesting, unless you put general service arrays into orbits out of the ecliptic.)

Which isn't to say nuclear wouldn't have its uses out there.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Larry reminds us that there was a Northern Strategy to match the Southern, and this is very true. However, in the North, anti-immigrant racism was nothing new. Democrats had traditionally accepted immigrants while Republicans were anti-immigrant; and the situation was reversed in the South, with the Republicans supportive of African-American rights and Democrats being the party of white supremacy.

The change in the sixties was that the Southern half of the equation flipped. After 1968, white nativism was Republican strategy across the board -- reactionism against the embrace by LBJ of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Democrats became the multiracial integration party everywhere; Republicans became the party of freezing as much (white, Christian, traditionalist, etc.) culture as possible.

Jim points out how racist the North has been, and this is also very true. I regularly pointed this out to Bostonians when I lived there; at the time it went in one ear and out the other. Boston's 1950's reorganization of neighborhoods by race, notably the expulsion of African-Americans from their traditional core in the South End, was one of the main examples used to justify and design the Fair Housing Act. Yet Bostonians felt no need to take any actions regarding the sharply delineated ethnic borders of their city, or the pronounced differences in property value, crime, etc. that resulted.

Yet Northern racism was and is still qualitatively different from Southern racism, for a quite simple and intuitive reason. Southern racism is so heavily dominated by the Black-White divide that there's barely any awareness of any other nuances in race relations, ethnicity, or any of the other problems created by the construction of 'race' as a cultural marker. Northern racism, on the other hand, has always been multidimensional in scope: "No Irish Need Apply" sat along side "Too many Germans about" and "N-word Not Welcome"; awareness of Native tribes was greater; and immigration constantly brought new ethnicities into the environment. "Melting pot" was a Northern idea; it made no sense in the Southern context, where you got sorted into "White-aligned" or "Not White" immediately and stayed there.

One of the major impediments to untangling race in America has been the misconception -- or self-delusion -- that Southern-style racism was the main issue. BLM has been helpful in making clear that racism is nationwide, though confronting the arbitrariness of 'race' designations is yet to be achieved.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin to jim:

while you raise a valid QUALITATIVE point – yes there were and are northern racists - your point is quantitatively wedged, ignorant and borderline insane.

jim's valid point is that racism and xenophobia aren't limited to the South. But it's not homogenous either. In the South, it was more directed toward fear and loathing of black people. While anti-black racists exist everywhere, other regions were more fearful and hateful of different "outsiders", such as Eastern Europeans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and (although less spoken out loud post-Hitler) Jews.

The point I was trying to make--perhaps clumsily--is that it is wrong to think of Nixon as having specifically targeted the South with a strategy of racism and xenophobia which would only work in that region. The truth is more disturbing to me--that he actually had a kind of "50 state strategy" which was essentially the same thing everywhere, but with different targeted "others" in each region. The term "Southern Strategy" doesn't name the thing in its entirety. It just distinguishes that specific variant of a larger, overall strategy.

jim said...

That was quite the schizoid response.
So quoting MLK on northern racism is “border line insane”?

I grew up in in Ohio and my home town was also the home town of the Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. He was good buddies with our police chief and city manager. And if you actually talk with older black folks they will tell you how terrifying it was to be a black person and travel in areas of Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania or Michigan where black folks were not “allowed”. They risked harassment, violence, and potential jail time. (things only started to get better in the 80’s)
And about the “Great Migration”, wealthy whites were keen on bringing black folks up north to insure that they could use racism to oppose working class solidarity. Same strategy as southern plantation owners, keep the poor white folks fighting with poor black folks for the benefit of the wealthy.

Your idea that southerners are uniquely racist and evil, just doesn’t fit with peoples lived experience.

David Smelser said...

"... many a Republican would probably have loved to drag it out for a month and so"

Do you realized that they are still fighting over witnesses from the 1st impeachment?

David Brin said...

I apologize, Jim, for saying "borderline insane." Though what is an obsessive drive to use true specificities to 'prove' outright-lying generalities? Which is just about all you ever do, like in your response, hammering by ANECDOTE 'proof' of something none of us ever denied... that there ws a lot of racism in many parts of the North.

Meanwhile you were utterly incapable of backing up your generality... that northern racism was no different and no less than blacks experienced in the south. An assertion that has that "I'm saying something surprising, so it MUST be true! And that makes me cool!" addictive redolence to it.

I replied (again) with data on the asserted generality... that MILLIONS of blacks fled FROM the South TO those northern cities, despite uncomfortable cold, during the Great Migration for reasons. But as usual, you have nothing but contempt for the client classes you claim to be protecting.

jim said...

It is amusing to see how ridiculous you are sometimes.
There are differences in life expectancy between whites and blacks in every state. Same with educational achievement, income, wealth and rates of incarceration.

This are a few quotes from Chicago Magazine

“Much has stayed the same, too. Having earned the dubious distinction of being America’s most segregated big city more than five decades ago, Chicago remains deeply split along racial lines. Today, most blacks live, as they did in the 1960s, on the South and West Sides, where they are the majority, often overwhelmingly so; a recent study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that nearly three-quarters of the city’s black and white residents would have to move to a different census tract to achieve a true racial balance. What’s more, many of the problems that plagued the city’s black neighborhoods in 1966 haven’t gone away and have arguably gotten worse: gun violence, lack of jobs and economic mobility, and struggling schools. Then there’s the issue of police abuse, dragged into the light by a dashcam video.”

“At the turn of the century, Black explains, only 30,000 or so of Chicago’s 1.7 million residents were black. By the time King arrived in the city—just as the Great Migration was drawing to a close—fully one-third of Chicago’s population was black and its racial map had profoundly changed. Many whites met these changes with hostility. In 1919—the year Black’s family moved here—a multiday race riot left 38 people dead and more than a thousand homeless. Chicago was hardly the racial haven Southern blacks had been seeking. As the columnist Mike Royko put it in his book Boss: “The only genuine difference between a southern white and a Chicago white was in their accent.”

“But by midcentury, Black explains, exclusionary real estate practices had turned Bronzeville into a crowded ghetto. “The population density outside the Black Belt was something like 27,000 people per square mile,” he says. “In this neighborhood, it was 84,000.” Grand old graystones were cut up into smaller apartments known as kitchenettes, which in turn were subdivided even further as the neighborhood’s population grew. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants unenforceable, discriminatory schemes to keep blacks out of white areas persisted. The most notorious was redlining, the refusal of banks and insurance firms to issue or insure mortgage loans in predominantly black neighborhoods, which would often get delineated on city maps with a red line.”

And look at where BLM protest are happening,--- it is not just the south.

David Brin said...

Jim's inability to parse the difference between: "There are desperate problems in the North too" and "The South is no worse" is truly pathetic, especially since I have fought against the injustices that he yammers about harder and more effectively, in any given month, than he has, across his entire life.

And hence, I snork in your general direction, sir.

Larry Hart said...

The Stephanie Miller Show, riffing on Trump's 2016 nickname for Ted Cruz referred to him as "Flying Ted."

Comedian John Fugelsang, on the same show, said he'd call ICE to let them know that a Raphael Eduardo Cruz was sneaking back across the border from Mexico.

I know it's always too early, but I don't think we have to worry about a possible President Cruz any more. He might be lucky to win his Senate seat back in 2024.

jim said...

So you bitch at me for using personal experiences, so I reply with statistics and facts on the ground. There are racial differences in life expectancy, educational achievement, income, wealth and incarceration rates in every part of the county – something I am positive you knew already. So you respond with your ridiculous Brin Brag. (you know, whenever you respond with The Brin Brag it is a sure sign that you have lost the argument and are just throwing up dust in an attempt to save face.)

Also you did not say “there are desperate problems in the North too” nor did I say “the south was no worse”. I said “Your idea that southerners are uniquely racist and evil, just doesn’t fit with peoples lived experience.” There is plenty of systematic racism all over the country not just in the south.

David Brin said...

There is absolutely no correlation between anything that Jim hallucinates that I said and anything that I actually said, not a scitilla of logic or reason. We are back to way past "borderline."

Still, he's far from entering banning territory. Still meriting just shrugs and an eye-roll and a sigh.

Alfred Differ said...


I'd love to see masers near Mercury beaming power outward, but that tech is a generation or two further down the road than radio-thermal tech.

There IS a lot more room to spread out, but that implies more material to spread out to catch the weak sunlight. Ceres sees 13% of the solar intensity we see, so about 8x collecting area will be needed. That's a lot more material to process and maintain which raises investment requirements for materials and/or time.

The belt asteroids WILL be colonized, but I think it will take more effort than a lot of us want to believe right now. The primary problem is time elapsed between market demand and market supplied. I think the NEO's would be a little easier as a start point.

Think about how Americans colonized the western frontier. We didn't leap straight for Oregon. Along the way we found and built in the Ohio River region and Great Lake coasts. Roads, canals, then rail were well underway on the near frontier before we tackled the far frontier with wagons and clipper ships. Where is the boundary between near and far in space today?

duncan cairncross said...


Don't think in terms of ambient solar panels - think in terms of concentrator solar panels

Here on earth they are a pain - because the sun moves!
In space that is not an issue and neither is gravity or wind

The target panels will need to be cooled - which may well be the biggest problem - but the collector surfaces can be a fraction of a mm thick

Alfred Differ said...


Collectors certainly will help with some sites, but asteroids rotate and will be dusty, dirty industrial environments where most of the power is needed. Also, there are the usual conversion inefficiencies. Nuke tech can generate heat rather easily. Kinda how the whole arrangement works. Heat is a big part of what will be needed for industrial processes.

The pretty, clean, sharp lines we see in space colony art are very unlikely to be reality. Look at the SpaceX stage 1 boosters when they are re-flown. Sooty. Scratched up. Burnt in places. They have a more industrial look to them. THAT will be what asteroid mining is like at belt asteroids where we chase metals and stony minerals.

Collectors or large PV farms have to be defended from industrial side effects. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it will come at a cost. Plan for it. Real life will be far messier than art.

matthew said...

Alfred, one quibble with your "we didn't leap straight for Oregon" example - we did exactly leap straight to Oregon.

Robert Grey sailed into the mouth of the Columbia in 1792.

Astoria was settled in 1811, just six years after Lewis and Clark over-wintered there. John Jacob Astor claimed the whole west coast for America in that year, and the land for Fort George / Astoria at the same time. Fort George was occupied in 1811, and the population of non-natives there grew rapidly. Astoria has the place of honor as the first American city west of the Rocky Mountains.

The Ohio River Valley- it was 1788 when Marietta was settled as the first settlement in the valley by 137 US persons.
In 1810, the US Census counted 1463 persons in the Marietta settlement. Growing fast, but not at a breakneck pace.

We settled both places, within 22 years of each other, separated by 2500 miles.

Oregon was already part of America when the first settlers came over the Oregon Trail. The treaty of 1818 had settled that before anyone other than L&C and a few fur trappers made the overland voyage. When the first settlers came over on the Oregon Trail, they found a *lot* of non-natives in the Columbia Valley. They had reached "civilization."

The Ohio River Valley gets to claim first place - but not by that much. We had jumped straight to Oregon too.

David Brin said...

Thanks Matthew. Interesting.

David Brin said...