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Space Cadets

This is a hot-button topic. Beware.

Attempts to discuss the prospects of human exploration and inhabitation of the cosmos on the internet tend to attract a certain type of participant. If you've been following the comment threads here you probably recognize them ...

For starters, they're overwhelmingly white male Americans (plus a handful of Brits and Canadians). Politically they're right-of-centre (by American standards), and libertarian-leaning. They are enthusiastic proponents of space colonization, but will boost any other technological or scientific work oriented in an upward direction (as long as it's carried out by people who look like them: they're somewhat less gung-ho about the former Soviet, and now the Chinese, space programs).

There is an ideology that they are attached to; it's the ideology of westward frontier expansion, the Myth of the West, the westward expansion of the United States between 1804 (the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and 1880 (the closing of the American western frontier). Leaving aside the matter of the dispossession and murder of the indigenous peoples, I tend to feel some sympathy for the grandchildren of this legend: it's a potent metaphor for freedom from social constraint combined with the opportunity to strike it rich by the sweat of one's brow, and they've grown up in the shadow of this legend in a progressively more regulated and complex society.

My problem, however, is that there is no equivalence between outer space and the American west.

Humans are a climax organism that is fundamentally dependent on a couple of key ecosystems. There's the one we carry around in our guts — about a kilogram of bacteria and fungi, for a typical adult — without which we can't even digest most of our food. And there's the ecosystem we live in. (Or ecosystems. Because of our unique horizontally-transferable tool culture we can adapt to existence in terrestrial ecosystems other than the one our ancestors coevolved with. But there are limits; we don't thrive in Antarctica, or at the bottom of the ocean trenches.) We're also somewhat dependent on our extraordinary extended phenotype, from flint hand-axes to Space Shuttles. Maintaining that phenotype is a large-scale operation supported by a penumbra of extended cultural activities that maintain the ability to maintain the phenotype — primary school teachers, for example, don't bend metal but are absolutely vital to the activity of engineering insofar as you've got to start educating your next generation of engineers somewhere. Hence some earlier postings on this blog.

Basically, it's not clear how large a system you need to support human civilization. We don't know how to build biospheres from scratch yet, and indeed there's worryingly little research being done on the topic (which may become a screamingly important priority in another half century, if the most pessimistic climate change projections are accurate). We can make a rough back-of-the-envelope guess at the size of human population it takes — given abundant raw materials and a favourable biosphere — to maintain a technological civilization; it's many orders of magnitude larger than the proponents of Heinlein's nostrum that "specialization is for insects" may be comfortable with.

There may be possible technological solutions to both problems that don't require the combined lifelong effort of millions of humans. We don't have (a) strong artificial intelligence, (b) self-replicating machines that can work from raw materials extracted from their natural environment, (c) "magic wand" space propulsion technologies (which may themselves be Fermi paradox solutions insofar as their existence implies either flaws in our current understanding of physics or drastically efficient and thereby destructive energy sources), or (d) the ability to re-engineer ourselves. If any one (or more) of these are achievable, then all bets against space colonization are off.

But. But. But.

The west was inhabitable; it supported a healthy set of interlocking ecosystems in most of which a lone human being could find food and sustenance. (There were exceptions.) It already supported a human population. The colonists were equipped with adequate technology and were crossing distances that were, at a pinch, amenable to shanks' mare and a walking stick.

These conditions do not apply in space. You don't get to breathe the air on Mars. You don't get to harvest wheat on Venus. You don't get to walk home from an asteroid colony with 5km/sec of velocity relative to low Earth orbit. You don't get to visit any of these places, even on a "plant the flag and pick up some rocks" visitor's day pass basis, without a massive organized effort to provide an environment that can keep the canned monkeys from Earth warm and breathing.

I postulate that the organization required for such exploration is utterly anathema to the ideology of the space cadets, because the political roots of the space colonization movement in the United States rise from taproots of nostalgia for the open frontier that give rise to a false consciousness of the problem of space colonization. In particular, the fetishization of autonomy, self-reliance, and progress through mechanical engineering — echoing the desire to escape the suffocating social conditions back east by simply running away — utterly undermine the program itself and are incompatible with life in a space colony (which is likely to be at a minimum somewhat more constrained than life in one of the more bureaucratically obsessive-compulsive European social democracies, and at worst will tend towards the state of North Korea in Space).

In other words: space colonization is implicitly incompatible with both libertarian ideology and the myth of the American frontier.

603 Comments

1:

Heh, wasn't poking that particular hornets' nest with a stick once already enough for you?

Or is it a quiet day in Chateau Antipope and you are trolling the libertarians?

2:

All of which tends to raise the question what circumstances and environments ARE attuned to libertarian ideologies?

Emphasis on the individual, lack of organised community-orientated efforts etc. seem only really matched to kill-or-be-killed survival situations, and then only in particular circumstances.

Are their social organisation models that would provide the behavioural attributes that libertarian ideologies provide (not being dragged down by the idiots being chief it seems), while also allowing large scale community effort?

And if so, would that be a better model for space colonisation that's compatible with western morality?

3:

@1 There's no real point to trolling libertarians, reality does it well enough already.

4:

I read this post as less about libertarians and politics than against the false equivalence people have between space colonization and 1800s westward expansion. Though I do believe I detect a well-deserved implied jab at Manifest Destiny.

5:

Maybe the libertarians could move to Somalia. No government getting in their way, all the freedom they could want.

6:

Minarchy is a valid libertarian stance, and by today's standard, England of a century gone was pretty darn minarchist:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income.

- A.J.P. Taylor in the Oxford History of England

7:

I am not sure there is something particularly "libertarian" about this, more something particularly American.

The 1960s space program was about as far as you can get from libertaria, but it was very American. It also very much promoted the idea of space exploration as the natural continuation of the expansion of the US.

The thing is, you can look at myths from more than one angle. Some talk about the expansion and focus on rugged individualism and escape from government, others tell the very same story as the combined struggle of the American people, trying to bring order to the untamed land. The second version can just as well be extended to space as the first.

Star Trek talked about the Final Frontier, and Star Trek showed the future intentionally as a socialist utopia.


8:

And even if you did have a good solid pressure to move away from somewhere, space is the wrong place to go. There's no promise of easy wealth there, and we haven't even colonised a third of this planet yet.

If you really wanted to set up a new, self-sustaining colony in an area that was otherwise uninhabited, then the logical places to do it next would be either a desert, the polar regions, or (under) the ocean. They even satisfy the technology-survialist's fetish for research and engineering, and represent significant progress towards eventual space colonisation.

9:

Wagon Train To The Stars!

Frontier life is medieval. You don't, by definition, have the structures in place for survival that have developed back home, although you do have the technologies (mod latency and infrastructure issues) and some communication.

Thing is, the model of the lone frontiersman surviving off the land is not colonisation - there's no colony involved. As soon as you have multiple people, you have an extended resource that will help you survive provided you can organise - and organisation in the face of limited natural resources leads to quite fierce social strictures. You have to be rich - or at least, not threatened - to be libertarian. Otherwise, you'd better say yes to the boss or that other boss will come and not give you the option, and the serfs with the other boss feel exactly the same way.

To that extent (as in many others), libertarianism is self-defeating. All else being equal, it will be beaten by better organised systems, as organisation is what homo sapiens does to survive. So, I think that your argument is moot - although space exploration is cherished by the libertarians, it was the Cold War, not the Pilgrim Fathers, which made it happen last time.

(All this assumes that colonisation is about sending those tinned monkeys hither and thither: although no singularian or post-human booster, I expect that what does get out there will be somewhat different. But then, I was bitten by Arthur Clarke as a kid and have never quite recovered...)

R

10:

That is a very good point. The only environments truly able to support individual freedom, as in proper libertarianism - not isolated economic freedom for corporations with lots of money, is either pre- or post-economic. The wild-west was all but pre-economic. There was close to unlimited space and resources, and no-one else to barter with or compete against, which is why it worked like it did. If everyone is fending for themselves, libertarianism is easy.

The next time we will be able to support that kind of individual freedom will be when scarcity is once again banished from the world (or after the apocalypse). That would take at least one, probably more than one of the technological solutions you mention as applying to space colonisation.

11:

Rupert says: "Frontier life is medieval. You don't, by definition, have the structures in place for survival that have developed back home, although you do have the technologies (mod latency and infrastructure issues) and some communication."

That might be true for some , but has little to do with the 19th century exapnsion of the US. On the technological side, it had trains, telegraphs, steam boats, guns and lots of other mass produced goods, including canned food and many steel tools.

The US government was as organized as any in those days, and it kept strict control on the process, inlcuding massive use of its army to conquer new areas. Think about the US-Mexican war for instance.


Keep in mind that the most idealized pictures of ox-carts going to the far west are about the exploration of areas like Oregon and Utah, when most of the process had already finished, and only some unattractive last pieces remained. Even today, few people live there.


The really big process of the 19th century was the move over the Appalachian Mountains, mostly into the midwest. This was a very gradual process, with new groups of settlers moving a few miles further than the existing villages. These new settlements would be completely connected to the existing trade and government structures.


12:

The point that space is not like the 'wild west' is a very good one.

However, the libertarian bashing is only against a caricature of libertarianism (albeit one some vocal libertarians are prone to).

The individual freedom of libertarianism is coupled with the voluntary community and society. That the conditions in space are harsh means that society will necessarily be different to that on earth does not mean that it cannot support a society not based upon authority and violence.

Space certainly won't be some sort of 'libertopia' as imagined by some libertarians, but it could be a great deal more libertarian (or it could be a great deal less so than today).

13:

One man's Manifest Destiny is another man's Lebensraum.

But to the indigenous people on the receiving end of it, the end result is the same.

14:

I worked in Tucson AZ for many years, where there are several design companies working on privatized space flight. I had my first run-in with one of these space cadets at a party where a friend of mine was wearing a t-shirt with an astronaut on a space walk, with the tag line "Not all dreams can come true".

This cadet was very offended by the t-shirt's implication that space exploration was not worthwhile, and got very angry. Within ten minutes he was yelling like a four year old in a tantrum, screaming that if you hadn't read Tsiolkovsky then you could not criticize space travel and colonization at all. At some point the host asked him to leave.

Trouble was, he just couldn't come up with a good commercial reason why we needed to go into space. Not one. He was such a caricature, it took me a while to be convinced he was being completely serious....

15:

I haven't followed the other comment threads so apologies if I'm repeating smething that has already been said.

I think that you'd need something like the basic ideals of communism. Everyone would have to care about the infrastructure as it would be essential to their continued existence and so everyone would have to play a part in caring for the infrastructure. The needs of society as a whole would have to be placed before those of the individual. And because one aberrant individual could cause catastrophic failure and also because human nature has proved time and time again that people are selfish, anything done on a large scale would require the 'Nanny' role to make sure everyone cooperated. The complete antithesis of libertarianism.

I read a classic SF book about 20 years ago and I can remember neither the name nor the author but it featured New New York. Anyway, I distinctly remember that all colonist had to complete a certain number of hour in community service doing the dirty jobs - waste recycling, for example.

The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson dealt with a lot of the political and sociological issues as I recall. It's been a long, long time since I read the trilogy so I can't remember the details unfortunately.

I personally believe that libertarianism has a lot in in common with communism. They're both great ideals that completely fail to take human nature into account and so they can never work on any real scale.

16:

"...the organization required for such exploration is utterly anathema to the ideology of the space cadets..."

Surely big business is acceptable to them? *The Man Who Sold The Moon* and so forth?

Peter Dickinson, in a parenthetical remark in a 1991 essay, commented, "You Americans, for instance, have two contradictory myths: one of the Lone Frontiersman, who is sufficient to himself and whose personal integrity is his own justification — the Philip Marlowe figure; and the other of the Big Machine which will get you to the moon, and the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Poker is the classic Frontiersman game; Contract Bridge — the only sport America has really given the world — is a Big Machine game. It doesn't do a lot of harm to have contradictory myths, but we non-Americans do sometimes get nervous when you elect a Frontiersman president and then expect him to drive a Big Machine." *** Libertarians embody this contradiction.

17:

I don't think you need to go that far. The Netherlands is not far off being a model for this kind of existence -- about 70% of the country is on reclaimed land that requires constant vigilance and terraforming (literally, by pumping out the sea). Common infrastructure is vital to survival, and there's a tradition of "getting along" together -- but the "we're all in this together" spirit is counterbalanced by quiet, low-key social tolerance.

(Communism, libertarianism ... they're ideologies that expect too much of people if they're to be practiced in the large. Weirdly, communism seems to be the default setting within family groups; it just doesn't scale up gracefully.)

18:

Being Dutch, I would say the "together against sea" is just as much a myth as the "frontier mentality" is for the US.

Dutch society has some very community- and consensus-oriented structures, and it also has lots of dry-makings. But I doubt there is much of a connection between the two.

Dutch social and economic structures really resemble those of Germany a lot, which suggests that drymakings have little to do with it.

Keeping land dry is simply not that much of an effort, and in centuries past the parts that were difficult to keep dry were not made dry in the first place.

Maintaining your roads, keeping order, defending your borders and other traditional communal efforts are much larger undertakings, and they are done by lots of countries. Instead of flooding, other countries have their own natural hazards to deal with, which require similar organizations as those against flooding.

19:

While I heartily agree with nearly the entire post, I don't get the jab at Heinlein at all. True, we can't be omnispecialists, but that doesn't mean we have to be hyperspecialised in just one or two things.

Just for kicks, I can do sixteen of the things in the quote competently (as in - tried, succeeded, made a living off a few), perhaps more (haven't died gallantly yet), plus a crapload of practical things that are not on the list (so I'm not counting "play a musical instrument"). We are an adaptable, intelligent species and while we can't breathe on Mars, we can learn how to smelt copper even if we're not metallurgists.

20:

'(c) "magic wand" space propulsion technologies (which may themselves be Fermi paradox solutions insofar as their existence implies either flaws in our current understanding of
physics or drastically efficient and thereby destructive energy
sources)'

This doesn't seem correct. Drexler for example calculated a while back that using nanotechnology effiency, a schoolbus-sized rocket could reach orbit without much energy, and there's nothing destructive about that.

21:

Three comments on the jabs at Manifest Destiny/American Exceptionalism (in the bad sense of that word):

1) Zamfir is right about the actual process of westward expansion. The Old West mythology owes its particular form to the timing of when cheap popular novels became extensive. A few decades earlier or later and a different set of trappings would have been immortalized. Also, the developed areas were resettled again and again by large numbers of immigrants as well as migrants from other regions of the US.

2) There have been numerous frontier expansions in the last 500 years: the resettling of Ukraine from several directions, the Spanish/Portugese expansion over Latin America, Russian expansion eastward, Bismark and then Hitler's attempts to "resettle" Eastern Europe, continued British expansion into "empty" land like Australia and Canada. None of them were particularly pretty and they all had their own self satisfied ideologies and explanatory narratives.

3) Considering that the American ideology was universalist (at least on paper) and that people from every conceivable background all across the world bought into it, what exactly is exceptional about Americans in this regard? Who are "Americans?" A large portion of the world still buys the ideal America supposedly espouses, even if they delight in pointing out the warts on the real thing. Most Americans have the same relationship to the frontier that Britons have to Camelot. It expresses some shared cultural narratives/ideals, but people are not pining to homestead for real. For that matter, most Americans have almost the same reaction to/relationship to American ideology and consumerism as people in the rest of the world do. (And why do Anglo Saxons, Gaels and Danes want a Brythonic superhero to come back anyway? Wouldn't he cast you guys back into the sea?)

Finally, I cannot resist my own jab at the foibles of some of my fellow citizens. A comedian once remarked that dressing up like a cowboy was the only costume you could wear in the real world. Why can't you just show up at work or a court date looking like an astronaut or a pirate, he argued.

22:

Now, whacking the hornet's nest again, and harder... The constant striving for 'autonomy,' no matter whether it makes any sense, suggests that the issue is internal rather than external. What is, in fact, that these people need to be free of, after all? Hmmm?

23:

Emma@15 - You're possibly thinking of Joe Haldeman's "Worlds" trilogy.

24:

Au contraire: the kinetic energy required to put a 1Kg lump of anything into low earth orbit is about ten times as many joules as you'll get from detonating the same mass of TNT. (And that's leaving aside the issue of lugging reaction mass along -- using a rocket of any kind, the energy requirement balloons rapidly.)

All space propulsion technologies are liable to be energetic, if only because the changes in velocity that you need to go anywhere in reasonable time are huge.

Your hypothetical "schoolbus sized" spacecraft, with a suitable guidance system, is a kinetic energy weapon capable of taking out several city blocks. And that's just a surface-to-orbit device. Anything capable of relativistic interstellar flight is infinitely worse.

25:

Yup, I'm with you. I'm picking on the American version of the frontier myth solely because the Space Cadets tend to be American and it's the wellspring of their ideology.

(I wonder what a Chinese space-colonialist ideology would look like. Hong Kong in orbit?)

26:

To be more constructive and on topic, I would bet on Charlie's option (a) and (d) eventually becoming reality if we don't go extinct in the near future. I am not sure on (b) as I don't know how magical he was proposing these machines be. (c) probably is fantasy. On the other hand, Morgan Freeman's Wormhole has seriously started me worrying that the Universe is a simulation. Is ordinary matter basically the projection and dark matter/energy the machinery? Why is there a holographic copy of all the information smeared at the edge of the universe? I guess it does not matter as long as we are getting the ratings.

27:

Did Paul McAuley write a novel about Chinese Martians and how they would look at the frontier? Cannot remember anymore.

28:

That's the one! Thank you.

29:

Mostly because even SF authors can't resist a good pun, there have been quite a few attempts at Red Mars stories where there's a substantial Chinese colony there. Of course, I have no idea how accurate any of them might be.

30:

Charlie says: I wonder what a Chinese space-colonialist ideology would look like

This site has a range of Chinese space-related propaganda posters:

http://chineseposters.net/themes/space-program.php

I can't judge if these posters are typical, or mostly selected for being weird in western eyes.

A lot of them have typically Chinese heavenly creatures in them, gods and spirits and such, including Monkey. Also a lot of children and cute animals (even apart from the animal-spirits).


I guess Apollo and Saturn and all other classical god names are based on a similar heavenly-creature connection, but the link with children is something new to me.

31:

To put the Heinlein quote in context, remember that he put those words in the mouth of a character who was already hundreds of years old. And therefore had a different relationship to experience than any of, y'know, us.

32:

I agree with the premise that space exploration is in no way like exploring (or settling) the American west.

A slow, vastly organized and (at least at the start) largely mechanized exploration is another matter. I don't think that that is the topic of the post, however.

33:

More for those interested in Chinese science fiction: through google translate, China's largest SF maagazine. You browse through the archive to see covers like these:

http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?hl=nl&sl=zh-CN&tl=en&u=http://www.sfw-cd.com/html/magazine/kehuanshijie/xiaoshuo/2010/0107/1999.html&rurl=translate.google.nl&usg=ALkJrhjnUsSNKBC7IPfeUKPHu_3LWY7zjQ

All covers I have seen could be pretty much on western SF/fantasy magazines too. The most discussed topic on th site is Neil Gaiman's visit to China.

I guess Chinese SF has joined globalization a long time ago.

34:

This tshirt, maybe? Although I believe it to be relatively recent, so maybe not the one at the party.

And I always understood the meaning to be not 'our dream (as a people) of exploring space may not come to pass', but rather 'not everyone with childhood dreams of being an astronaut gets to be one'.

35:

The bacteria we carry are more likely to be a climax population than we humans.

36:

AJPT was never one to let the facts get in the way of a pithy phrase:
in 1914, 'a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police',

well, not after the passage of the 1906 Aliens Act, no. Also, although the UK's central government was rather small in 1914 (but getting bigger), local government was rather large (and still running the poor law), and often rather intrusive.

37:

At the risk of appearing libertarian, many of the elements required for sustaining European (or really Eurasian) civilisation weren't available in America until the colonists took them there (viable cereal crops, domesticated food animals, immunities to the diseases those animals tend to generate, etc.). See Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel.

Of course, there was oxygen, and water and wild animals, and capable local natives (given that the first colonists took all the basics except farming skills), some of whom already, given an already-long history of local contact via Atlantic fishing fleets, spoke English. But, assuming you could analogise a planet capable of supporting earth-based plants, and (and it's difficult to calculate which leap is more enormous, but it feels like this one) assuming you could get anyone there, well ...

I'd suggest the better analogy than the conquest of western America by the US, which was basically the conquest of contiguous space already depopulated by disease, would be the original colonisations - typically government sponsored and on false premises about the likely rewards (trade routes). I wouldn't worry about the libertarians - they tend to have a "no government" view up till the point where they need one, then they think they own it.

The Chinese, who have plenty of government, and plenty of financial surplus, are at any rate far more likely to make a go of it. Joss Whedon's Firefly has an American West type future where Chinese influence has them occasionally erupting with bits of Mandarin slang. Far more appropriate to have had an all Chinese cast occasionally swearing in English.

And you're exempting the possibility where we're like Japan and the rest of the galaxy turns up with its gunboats on our doorstep, looking for trade rights (as opposed to just obliterating large buildings).

38:

The conquest of western America by the US, which was basically the conquest of contiguous space already depopulated by disease
I would be very careful with such statements. Someone might decide that your current living place is depopulated and available for settlement.

39:

Hm. Hong Kong in Orbit, sounds like the basis for at least a short story!

40:

It seems to me that the point of this post is really to express anger at "space cadets" more than to say anything useful about space colonization. All you say about the latter is that it is currently impossible, may always be impossible and even if so, will require some amazing improvements in technology and some very non-Libertarian politics. Well, duh. You and Ken McLeod already made that point, very cleverly, a few years ago. Onward!

41:

Charles, you mention our extended phenotype of our technical civilization. I'm largely in agreement with you but to play devil's advocate I want to point out that technology can be in a variety of forms. The Eurasian metal-using, gunpowder-capable systems that were common were more successful than the flint, bone, and hide tools of the natives when compared to each other.

But those same natives had been thriving here for thousands of years. Their tech was successful in its own right. Technology isn't just things. There's a saying in the primitive camping groups, "the more you know, the less you need".

Explorers and colonists in the American West could walk. But they virtually always carried tools, a knife, a rifle, gunpowder, food, and something to carry water in. if their pack animals died, it was a massive problem. The natives could and did travel much lighter if they needed to. (But granted, they preferred to travel with more tools too.)

I'm not sure how this might factor into space colonization. As you point out the distances are massively larger and there's no air. But tech isn't always just tools, sometimes it's knowledge.

Tangentially, Heinlein's quote on specialization doesn't take into account that it takes about ten years to become an expert on something. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expert) However, that's no excuse to become at least somewhat competent in multiple areas. Sometimes competence is enough, it gives you the knowledge to use something found as a tool. Besides, people who can only do one thing are boring, their stories only have one topic.

42:

Reminds me of Darius Jedburg's passionate speech in Edge Of Darkness (the BBC one, not Mel Gibson's).. Mr Stross, you're not going to turn up at a Con with a couple of lumps of plutonium, I hope?

I think space habitats, colonies etc will be more like oil rigs and less like Glastonbury Festival. Unless "we" develop some of the impossible techs previously mentioned, these things are only possible with the kind of resources available to nation states or large corporations. No room for the Space Family Stone.

Cue libertarian troll banging on about inefficiency of state ventures. Got one counter example for you - British Ordnance Survey maps. Difficult to see how such good maps (with 100% coverage) could be made by private groups.

43:

The United States of America is largely depopulated by comparison to Europe, China or India. This is why it's transportation system is so inefficient.

44:

Why does space 'colonization' have to be equivalent to the American westward expansion? Humans have colonized the planet for millenia without being white, or libertarian.

The Norse colonization of Greenland was a reasonable proxy for space colonization. The conditions were harsh, the crops and farm animals had to be imported, and trade was maintained, especially for metals. OK, so the Norse were pre-industrial revolution, but your point is...

Let's deconstruct the various arguments against space colonization.

1. We cannot construct biospheres. True. But do we even need to? We know we can grow crops hydroponically. We know that people can live in micro-g for up to a year in a tin can with processed foods. (We know people can live in concrete cities all their lives). So what is the exact issue that stops us living in a tin can or asteroid?

2. We need a specific component of the biosphere just to live, i.e. gut bacteria. While we know that animals have bacteria living symbiotically(?), we also know that the communities are not static, or even the same. For example, the Japanese have some different gut bacteria than Europeans do. Since caged animals apparently survive, we can be sure that the bacterial infusions they get from their mothers and other sources is sufficient. So keep the cultures fresh for emergencies...

3. By extension biospheres are hard to construct. Nevertheless, after every fresh volcanic episode we see life colonizing the surface. Just look at trees rooted in cracks in the granite of Yosemite's Half Dome, or at Haleakala volcanic crater, Maui. We need to get away from the idea that ecosystems "are a delicate thing", needing "balance". On the contrary, it is almost the reverse, as anyone looking at plants recolonizing city streets can observe.

4. No trade. For stellar colonies this may indeed be a problem. But for a space faring culture within the Oort cloud it is not. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to expect trade to occur between small 'colonies' and earth, or indeed where any large population of humans resides. When people are not isolated, they can be part of the total technosphere, not just dependent on it.

5. Space colonization is hard, in that it needs a huge organization do it. Is it really? Certainly no-one is going to build a spacecraft in their back yard out of parts from Home Depot. Similarly, most sea farers didn't build their own ships either, their communities did and British exploration ships of the C18th were pretty expensive. But once in space, freed from needed powerful ground to orbit engines, it is a lot easier. Solar panels for power, electric engines (or solar sails) for propulsion and local resources for structure and environmental support and you can construct low cost ships to reach the asteroids. A dead comet makes an excellent target to hollow out, pressurize and construct living space. So it doesn't have all the creature comforts of earth. This is a problem?

In summary, Charlie's current post is more a political critique than about the space faring. John Lewis in "Mining the Sky" suggests teh human population could be 10,000x (IIRC) as large as our earth based population. The solar economy would be huge. Our technology might be detectable from other stars.

Suppose that we could drive cargo ships at 0.5c. That means that we could theoretically run trade ships to and from the nearby stars. That means that colonies need not be technologically sufficient, but would be like any colonization effort in history. This means that human expansion could be to the stars and the Fermi Paradox is intact.

45:

@40 -- interesting and pretty heavily researched upcoming simulation of space-as-oil-rig exoglobalisation here. Not out till fall, but I've looked into the rules and some of the supporting docs and it looks like a lot of thought was put into it.

46:

Re: China space program, and China in general -
I don't like the current government of China, but I still hope they grow to be a serious competitor with the USA ASAP. Being a lone superpower is an "Absolute Power" trip for the USA and doesn't seem to be good for it IMO. Both in the narrow context of space and in general.

Re: Space Colonization -
Requires game changing technology, so we're not sure what it will look like. I agree that the American West is a vanishingly unlikely model. "Cowboys in Space," however, is a profitable and romantic SF niche, however, so don't expect it to go away soon.

Re: UK in 1913 being a libertarian example -
Fair enough. The poor were exploited as hell, and a very small group of aristocratic (and new rich) white males on a small island were busily exploiting something along the lines of 1/5 of the world's land and people for their own benefit while piously telling the same it was for their own good. One year later, when the stuff hit the fan those same power brokers made extensive use of the charge the machine gun nest style of warfare for their own kids and many of the folks they controlled. Yep, sounds like a developed libertarian society to me. (Footnote - on the bright side, the Brits were one of the better colonial masters, for what that's worth.)

Re: Sea/Antarctic/Siberian Colonization -
Yeah, colonization for reasons of "need room" and "need resources" will happen in those places first, and there's lots of room, and population doesn't seem to be rowing fast enough to make it matter. Space settlements are likely to be scientific outposts and military bases, and not places to raise kids, if they happen at all. (Barring sufficiently game changing tech/social change.)

One scenario I have considered follows the "good drives are horrific weapons" rule like so: if the weapons are horrific enough, you may need to live in space because it is unsafe to live within 1 light minute of anyone whom you do not trust completely, lest they fire a kitbashed "Catalyzed Nuclear Chain Reaction" beam at matter in your vicinity.

47:

I'm picking on the American version of the frontier myth solely because the Space Cadets tend to be American and it's the wellspring of their ideology.

Yep. And I think Heinlein has had a profound impact on the Space Cadets. They like to talk _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_, but I think emotionally they're more driven by _Farmer in the Sky_. (I say this as a USian with a vaguely left-libertarian political bias who grew up dreaming of living on another planet.)

My gut feeling is that our libertarian fantasists won't have to worry about oppressive social structures in space. I think the first world countries have (to vastly oversimplify) blown too much of the cheap energy budget on paving the planet to enable commuting from suburbs in order to market plastic widgets to each other to make it at this point. That, combined with (irony alert) a lack of communal vision to get off this rock means that, barring a physics Macguffin, we ain't goin' nowhere, because we'll be too busy with resource wars and retooling for a var less travel-intensive existence.

But maybe I'm just having a Monday.

48:

>>The conquest of western America by the US, which was basically the conquest of contiguous space already depopulated by disease
>I would be very careful with such statements. Someone might decide that your current living place is depopulated and available for settlement.

I wasn't justifying/encouraging it, just saying it's a lot easier to spread west from the eastern seaboard than it is to establish oneself on said seaboard when 90% of the native population has not disappeared.

Based on local house prices, I can tell you that colonising Surrey would be a bit more difficult, or at least more expensive.

49:

I have the feeling that this discussion is late by about 40 years. The Golden Age of the lone asteroid digger or terraform settler was from the 30's - 70's; I cannot remember a single one that is younger (though there certainly are some). Once space travel had been done for real (and it became obvious how hard it was to do), it became a large-scale operation in Science Fiction, too. Those stories that still use the cheap-FTL-and-habitable-worlds setup are either Space Opera or Future Fantasy, stories that ignore the details of space travel in favor of bug eyed monsters.

50:

The main post makes a couple of points worth discussing:

1) Space colonization may be impossible: I think we won't know that until (or if) we get massively cheaper Earth-to-orbit transportation. Otherwise, the attempt will be economically impossible for any entity.

2) Space colonization won't be a libertarian paradise: Well, yes. I think that life in a colony will be more like living in an American condo association then the Wild West.

3) Space colonization has no economic value: It depends a lot on point #1. The NIMBY phenomenom is real, and as long as we have physical bodies, we'll still need industry.

4) We don't have a lot of the technology we'll need: Again, true, but necessity is the mother of invention. Also true is that, for relatively short term, the colony doesn't need to be fully self-sufficient.

5) The American West is a bad model for space colonization: Again true. But it's hardly the only one - the history of humanity from Homo Habilis on has been to colonize places that aren't optimal for humans. I mean, there are people who live in Siberia and the Gobi Desert. We call them "indigenous" but they did colonize there from somewhere else.

51:

The irony here is that shirt is sold by Dinosaur Comics, and it isn't at all about whether space travel is worthwhile. It's about the fact that for most of us, being an astronaut is an impossible dream.

Off the main topic, but I think it's funny that the screaming guy got so worked up over a misunderstanding.

52:

Once space travel had been done for real (and it became obvious how hard it was to do)

Or did it become harder as we increased our technology? Every improvement in the economy gets to be added to the technological load supported by the colony. Inflatable domes with air and water now need tv, internet service, gourmet food, fresh vegetables, Tempurpedic beds, exercise room, on-call physician, full pharmacy, robot servants to do the boring EVA work, gut bug tests & innoculations... You can't even take a s**t without using a multimillion $ space toilet with water recycling and solid waste management features. :-)

53:

Did you mean Iceland? (Greenland is actually a kind of grim analogy, though one Charlie might endorse as more realistic.) I always thought the Icelanders exemplified the Jeffersonian ideal better than any other real society. Autonomous, independent, well educated (for the time) land holders seriously administering complex legal systems and writing poetry, while farming. Striking out on their own to escape the more repressive conditions in Scandinavia. Oh and lots of slave/karl holding as well, but we have to be realistic here and hopefully we'll have robots instead on the High Frontier. But tastes may vary.

54:

Thanks for writing this post, Charlie. I never have the energy for these arguments.

55:

Indeed. Humans have colonized everywhere except the Antarctic (although arguably we have colonized it now), and travel even the most inhospitable areas.

The social forms might be very different from the ideals we have today. Perhaps the penalties for leaving an airlock open won't be quite as harsh as painting the door of your condo a non-approved color...
We might have to look at other societies to see how these forms could evolve, e.g. nomadic Arabs.

56:

No, I meant Greenland. It was harsh and ultimately failed as trade declined with the cooling climate and the Norselanders failed to adapt. Some of the inhabitants may have joined the better adapted Inuit.

Greenland is one model I would use for space colonization, but there are many, many others that would work.

57:

Re: Chinese space expansion. Try Tibet in orbit. The Chinese (like the Indonesians and Brazilians) have their own internal recolonization efforts.

That, BTW, was said with tongue firmly in cheek.

We actually have an interesting disjunct between the subcultures that support space travel and the space industry.

The US space industry is tied very strongly to the missile industry. It's an engineering culture, and I suspect they have their feet on the ground about what's physically possible, even if their moral calculus is a bit...simplistic by many standards. At least for some.

Now, who supports them?

--The government. As noted above, rockets are highly energetic. Here's an analogy: pyramids are a great advertisement for how many people you can mobilize on a wasteful exercise, and hence, they are useful as a threat. Do you really want to invade us, stupid Bronze Age barbarians, when we can throw thousands of people at this stupid fitted rock edifice?

Similarly, do you want to screw with the US, when we take aimed shots at comets to figure out what they're made of, and that's just our friendly unclassified space program? Dropping a missile anywhere on Earth is not a problem for a country with a functioning space program.

The nice thing about this is that it helps prevent war. So there's one motive: space as a conspicuous consumption display of a country's technical skills.

Then there's the Trekkies and Libertarians, and other people brought up on science fiction. Some of them do go to work in the real space industry and wise up, but otherwise, there's not much overlap between the two. In an age when people try to bring their fantasies to life, it's only natural to dream about spaceflight, I guess.

Now, between the real space industry and the SF crowd, where is the effort coming from to actually colonize space? Oh yeah, the Bush family. They always seem to come up with these boondoggle missions to land on Mars or the Moon. I say boondoggle because, when the NASA engineers say it can be done for 20-50% of the proposed cost and they get squelched, it's a boondoggle.

And there's the real problem with space colonization: it's not really supported by anyone with the ability to pursue it. The missile crowd may be interested, but that's not what's paying most of their salaries. The SF crowd is interested, but don't know what they're getting into, and cosplay is the technological limit for many of them.

Right now, the easiest way to get to heaven is prayer.


58:

The irony here is that shirt is sold by Dinosaur Comics, and it isn't at all about whether space travel is worthwhile. It's about the fact that for most of us, being an astronaut is an impossible dream.

Well, yes. If you're trying to say "not everything we as a species want to do will be possible" it's very silly to illustrate it with a picture of a spacewalking astronaut. Worthwhile or not, space exploration did actually happen...

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman.

- What about the roads?
- Well, obviously the roads, yes.
- And the water supplies?
- OK, but apart from the roads and the water supplies.
- Street lighting? That's been a help.
- Right, and street lighting.
- And the telephone system.
- And the old age pension! That came in in 1908!
- And don't forget national insurance, in 1911.
- Yes, and free school meals. And free medical treatment for children.
- And the labour exchanges! And unemployment benefits!
- Yes, but apart from the post office, the police, the roads, the water supplies, street lighting, telephones, national insurance, pensions, free school meals, free medical care, labour exchanges and unemployment benefit... what has the British state in 1914 ever done for us?
- ... brought peace?
- I wouldn't be too sure of that if I were you...

59:

One who is not a Space Cadet when young . . .

I think Charlie's on to something important here, because a budding geek can't contribute to technological progress until she's been disabused of the Heinleinesque thinking that got her enthused in the first place.

A think piece that could convince a Space Cadet to put aside childish things without making her lose faith completely? Now that would be a valuable essay.

-mike s

60:

To expand a bit on my previous point, we really don't know how hard space flight is. I mean, in 1906, if the airplane got off the ground and landed in such a way that it was reusable, that was a minor miracle. It was also the pinnacle of technology.

I routinely butt heads with a Space Cadet libertarian, so I have no love of the libertarian ideal, but until somebody looks at rocket transportation with a serious eye to cutting costs, we don't know how cheaply it can be done. The lower the cost, the more feasible something is.

61:

There are two kinds of Libertarians; those who don't realize that Ayn Rand was writing fiction, and those who don't realize that Heinlein was writing fiction.

(I know I've made that joke before, but it's one of my favorites, so please forgive me.)

As for colonization - we're not there yet, and I'm happy to leave it at that unless a writer I enjoy makes a horrible mistake that causes me to suspend disbelief (which, let's face it, is the major sin we're concerned with here.)

62:

Huh, space cadets are libertarian? Maybe that's Heinlein's influence, or perhaps the influence of early stories of hero scientist + pet girlfriend exploring the cosmos. But surely the main strain of space colonisation these days is much more socialist?

Otherwise, I agree with most of what Charlie says. Except, I think the thing with space colonisation is that all of its problems are [i]technical[/i] problems. The resources required may be vast, but so is the future. So I can't help but think that eventually, someone is going to do it. Out of boredom if nothing else.

63:

Virtually every other case of colonization involved little more than a bunch of people and perhaps a boat, generally without any support at all from the local government powers. Hunter-gatherers wandering over a land bridge into the Americas in search of game is an even worse analogy for space exploration than the old West.

The closest you can get would be the government supported colonies in the new world in the 16-17th century. But even there, the analogy is weak as you're comparing a voyage of three months where you can expect to live off the land, and where that land had native peoples who'd already figured out how to live there. In the first colonies in the New World, "going native" was a viable disaster plan. Not so on Mars.

64:

I'm a bit of a Space Cadet, but not in the full-blown sense Charlie describes.

I'm one of those nuisances pointing out that the "Good Ship Libertaria" (extraterritorial marine enclaves attempting to do the "Galt's Gulch" thing) will only last until some wag discovers he can serve a market for scrap metal by cutting it from the hull. (And there will be such a market; raw materials will be hard to come by on the bounding sea and not terribly cheap to import.)

However, I wanna go because I think it's cool. I don't fool myself that it's in any way economic or logical to do so... I just reason that if the vast bulk of professional sports is propped up by those seeking to vicariously live fantasies of athletic achievement, then maybe there's enough fellow-geeks wanting to live manned space exploration vicariously to support it even without a prospectus with large risks but big projected ROIs.

That could be wrong, though, which'd be a shame; as James Burke pointed out in "The Day the Universe Changed", Apollo's "crash program" funding matched contemporary American expenditures on lip stick. Surely they could work out some sort of endorsement deal...?

-- Steve

(PS: "New from Revlon; Orbit. For out-of-this-world gloss...")

65:

I think it's a problem of time-frame and technology. If we don't suffer a collapse, we WILL have habitats in space. Some will be quite large. And eventually, some will leave for elsewhere. (Sometime after controlled fusion is practical.)

That's a pretty big "if", and I didn't put a time-frame on it. I can't. I still believe that there will be a singularity by 2050, but this still doesn't mean that "all dreams" will come true. FTL is probably not possible, or at least not reasonably possible. But certainly moving at twice escape speed should be. (You don't want to be moving so fast that the local rocks are a big traffic hazard. They're your refueling supplies.)

The concept I see is what George Zebrowski called MacroLife. It's not any traditional libertarianism, it's more like the government of the Archology in "Oath of Fealty", And I'm assuming LOTS of robots. Including robot building and robot scrapping robots. And I guess I'm assuming a robot management of the government. (I can't really believe that a human run government could remain un-corrupted.)

So it has similarities to both libertarianism and socialism. The libertarianism is that there aren't any rules that aren't needed. The socialism is because in this environment you need to be sure that people don't break things that are important...like the social contract. If people stop trusting the government, you're in real trouble. And that means that one of the things the government has to do is try to protect people against everything but themselves. (Protecting them from themselves increases social stresses for no obvious gain.) But this is a part of why I think the government would need to be robotic. Robots won't be designed with a desire to control people for the sake of controlling people, while people obviously are.

66:

What Bear said. Charlie, the next time you're in Toronto, you're getting a beer from me.

As for China in space, I wrote a story about that. Only the future can speak to its accuracy, but I tried.

67:

Coming in from sideways because I want to respond to your post and not the comments.

So, coming in from left field (pun intended), there's folks like me stuck in a different 101 scenario (i.e. lacking a lot of necessary background I suspect, even though I do read SF, except for a previously subconscious awareness of the Old West BS you're talking about), who seriously wonder if exploring and colonizing space is just a distraction from solving complex sociopolitical problems that cause so much suffering (and continue global warming trends) here on earth.

I'd love to hear reasons why my reasoning is fundamentally flawed from folks who share the same concerns about human suffering that I do -- like you. Pointer links are fine too.

68:

As much as I loved this post, your comment is what really made my day. Awesome.

69:

There's a critical difference between your hypothesized space cadets, and actual space cadets. Yes, they are both overwhelmingly white male conservatives...but they are also military trained and highly vetted. Obsessive organization is anything but anathema to REAL astronauts.

So the question as I see it is: do we have the political willpower to push a government/military space colonization program into reality? If we do, then the cadet issue isn't a problem. If we don't, and private enterprise steps in, THEN we might have an amusing and/or tragic show to watch. But then again, maybe the creativity and raw determination of frontier-bound individuals will surprise us.

As it always has.

70:

do you want to screw with the US, when we take aimed shots at comets to figure out what they're made of, and that's just our friendly unclassified space program? Dropping a missile anywhere on Earth is not a problem for a country with a functioning space program.

Exactly the same argument is made about the straight walls constructed by Rome on some of it's borders, e.g. Hadrian's Wall. I think it is a very valid argument, and supported by Kennedy's rationale for Apollo.

Mi>...the real problem with space colonization: it's not really supported by anyone with the ability to pursue it.

Arguably it isn't even needed for near term economic reasons. O'Neill made a mistake in trying to make space habitats supported by solar power sats constructed by lunar or asteroid resources. What we really needed was the power sats, which might eventually have led to the construction of space colonies, not the other way around.

However, I do think that exploitation of space resources is potentially viable, although it will look more robotic and automated, with relatively few humans.

I also think there is room for tourism, depending on cost. A week on the moon seems reasonable to me, and that would spawn the usual tourism infrastructure eventually. It would start with orbiting hotels, then lunar flyby's, then lunar orbit hotels, then lunar landing and tours, then lunar hotels.

The demand will always be constrained by launch costs, but every calculation I see is that launch costs are high because of infrequency. Build cheap launchers and fly them very frequently and the costs go way down.

71:

Hsst.
Charile's not talking about NASA astronaut candidates, or even students at the USAF Academy (really they're cadets). He's talking about the people that have mated the idea of living in space with the libertarian ideal who turn up in internet discussions about space colonization and ignore many of the arguments and concerns others bring to the table.

72:

There's a critical difference between your hypothesized space cadets, and actual space cadets. Yes, they are both overwhelmingly white male conservatives...but they are also military trained and highly vetted. Obsessive organization is anything but anathema to REAL astronauts.

I think you're missing a bit of cheek-tongue in Charlie's post. He's not talking about anyone who will ever end up higher than ket cruising altitude. The decidedly non-hypothetical referent is easy to stereotype as a white male U.S. resident with a high income, probably employed by a technical or engineering firm, frequently in a technical capacity, with politics that are somewhere between very and rabidly right-libertarian (and not really U.S.-conservative, although they vote that way). Those on the far end of the bell curve plan to freeze their heads, enojy philosophical debates about how chattel slavery isn't incompatible with libertarian ideals, and think crypto will lead to massive tax revolts bringing about anarchist utopia. (That last one might be a bit dated, given how panopticon we've gone in the last 10 years - haven't talked at any length with those types in a while.)

Again, yes, this is stereotyping, but I am actually describing a specific person.

73:

...the analogy is weak as you're comparing a voyage of three months where you can expect to live off the land,...

The biggest mass issue for "living off the land" is propellant and water. Asteroid resources solve both, at a stroke. Solar energy is always available, for power and even direct propulsion with sails.

Once you have access to space, the resources are there to make it much cheaper to reuse space craft and avoid most of the launch costs.

I think the problem is we lack imagination due to timidity. Take bigger risks, think about longer term space use and I think the problems will be resolved. I really don't see why space cities shouldn't be possible as long as there is some import of earthly materials to maintain a livable environment. It might not be pleasant for most of us, but that doesn't mean it isn't doable.

74:

Arguably he is also setting up a straw man. I don't know if his generalization is correct, but I certainly am not libertarian, nor do I think space colonization is like the American expansion.

Why make Heinlein the model, rather than Clarke or Asimov? Space colonization writ large was the background to Asimov's robot novels and his Foundation universe. Clarke's colonies on the Moon and Mars are very mid C20th English, when socialism held sway.
Clarke was influenced by the ideas of expansionism as a rationale, but so was ancient Rome, and that empire wasn't even close to libertarian.

75:

If the blinkered, pig-ignorant, Philistine kvetching of the people's anti-space-colonization committee has got you down, point your nose cone to the Oort Cloud, where a post-human can still be a post-human!

76:

(Footnote - on the bright side, the Brits were one of the better colonial masters, for what that's worth.)

No they weren't. Ask yourself which empire bequeathed us the terms "political officer", "concentration camp", and "pundit" (and check the original meaning of the latter). Obligatory reading: Late Victorian Holocausts.

I regret to say -- as a Brit -- that the British Empire just had very, very good propaganda and a lot of expertise at cover-ups. A benign state of affairs it wasn't: no empire is.

77:

There is one person who might have a hope in hell of colonizing Mars: Elon Musk.

As he earned his first billion by age 30, has developed his own no-shit space program on about a tenth the budget one would normally expect for that scale of operation, and has just landed the biggest satellite launch contract in history, I'd have to call him at least a serious contender.

78:

Cue libertarian troll banging on about inefficiency of state ventures. Got one counter example for you - British Ordnance Survey maps. Difficult to see how such good maps (with 100% coverage) could be made by private groups.

I have to say, I've replaced the Ordnance Survey maps that came with my GPS unit with Open Streetmap ones, because they're a damn sight better for urban geocaching. High resolution maps are not available for my unit, but it would be doable by OSM, for sure. Neither the (available) OS maps nor the OSM ones are much help in telling me anything about the width of any given road, for example.

79:

If you look at the history of human expansion (check out the new genetic studies in the book "Before the Dawn" for example), people have always spread out to eventually occupy every habitat that can be occupied. This wasn't always "colonization", with its implications of displacement or enslavement of an indigenous culture. Homo erectus, for example, left Africa and spread from Spain to China, filling a biosphere that was empty of anything human-like. They did this without any idea that they were expanding into anything or filling some kind of space, of course. Instead, it was the result of a curious dynamic of early human social groups -- the fact that more than about 30 people were incapable of getting along with each other. As the population of a group would grow above that number, the usual human difficulties such as jealousy, sexual infidelity, slights, grudges, and so forth would overwhelm the cohesion of the group and it would split into two rival factions. One of these factions would then storm off (probably in a righteous huff) to the nearest open space where they wouldn't have to deal with the other faction. Put a large exponent over such subdivision and voila, you eventually cover the earth, without ever having tried.

Say what you want about evolutionary psychology, such an urge to get away from the intolerable others seems to be a given of the human wetware. I suspect that the idea of space colonization is driven by exactly this pre-Stone Age neurological bias. For those whose psychology leans in this direction, Earth is too full of rules and bosses or arguments with idiots, but there is no place left on Earth to run off to. Therefore they look to the stars.

80:

Have you done it? Given that the few attempts to do it here on Earth have failed, I don't think it is so easy as you make out. It would take lots and lots of research, which means lots and lots of money spent to create very specialized equipment to make it work.

(As opposed to the colonization of North America, where a religious sect could hire a standard boat, run by trained sailors, and just haul what supplies they had on hand.)

You also say "the resources are there" as if a big iron asteroid magically turns into equipment. You can't just haul up propellant and water. You also have to haul up the equipment necessary to turn those resources into useful objects. It's far harder than you make out, which is one reason why it hasn't been done. (The other being that as yet, there's no way to make a profit at it, which was, of course, the other driver of the colonization of North America.)

81:

I did not say the Brits were good, only that they were better than the other colonial powers. If you were gonna be colonized (and for most of the colonized world, one of the colonial powers was going to do it), they were preferable to the Spanish, Portuguese, or Dutch, and way better than the Belgians. The French were arguably comparable.

Of course, this could be the propaganda you mentioned, or because I consider the wretchedness of the post colonial state important. For the colonized at the time, this obviously wasn't an issue.

82:
Just look at trees rooted in cracks in the granite of Yosemite's Half Dome, or at Haleakala volcanic crater, Maui. We need to get away from the idea that ecosystems "are a delicate thing", needing "balance".

Ecosystems are neither universally fragile nor robust, but they are all metastable. We don't know enough about them yet to say "this is the set of things that will turn a human-habitable ecosystem into black mold, and this is the set of things that won't."

83:

I haven't actually seen many space cadets around here, at least not since the The High Frontier, Redux.

Robert Zubrin, Gerard O'Neil, and John Lewis appear to form the modern trinity behind wildly optimistic space cadet expectations, though they probably owe a debt to Heinlein too.

I've seen 3 basic arguments for Men in Space and they're all pretty damn flimsy:

1) There's a lot of industrial opportunity! A trillion dollars' worth of iron just in one asteroid!

There's more than a trillion dollars' worth of iron in the basalt of cheap terrestrial land, and it's orders of magnitude cheaper to exploit than an asteroid, but it's also orders of magnitude more expensive than conventional sources. You'll get poorer, not richer, for every ton of basalt or asteroid you mine.

2) Humans can do science better and faster than remotely operated robots. Astronauts covered more Moon surface during one landing than Martian rovers have in a decade!

For Mars, this is not a facially absurd argument. It is absurd for anywhere else in the solar system. Even for Mars it is a pipe dream because there's no sign on the horizon of any government committing the more than 10^11 dollars needed to send a manned mission to Mars*. And, finally, even if 10^11 dollars were available for space science, it seems that better scientific yield per dollar is available from unmanned missions. If it cost the same to put men on Mars as rovers, men would be better, but it doesn't, so they aren't. Sensors, actuators, processors, and software continue to improve much faster than propulsion technologies or astronauts so the yield per dollar calculation tilts further in favor of machines with each passing year.

3) Humanity can't afford to keep all of its eggs in one basket. We need a backup site in case some disaster obliterates Earthly civilization!

Only a colony that can operate for generations without any aid from Earth is in any way a backup. You don't build a "backup" off-world colony until you can demonstrate that it's possible to reproduce industrial civilization without dependence on the larger social structures of Earth. And you can develop and demonstrate almost all of the technologies and social structures you'll need for independence right here on Earth's surface, without paying to loft a single human to orbit or beyond. Try again in a few decades or centuries when you've got that civilization-inna-box thing worked out.

*This is often a point where Mars enthusiasts bring up Zubrin's extremely optimistic cost estimates, which are nearly an order of magnitude lower than NASA's.

84:

Ah, Charlie, if only you had gotten an American education in the letters!

What you have here is correlation, not causation, and that correlation is the essential Americaness of belief in these sorts propositions.

Look, space exploration/colonization just can't happen the way these people believe, and I'd have to say that's a pretty well proven proposition. The same goes for libertarianism - nice idea, but it doesn't survive even a brushing glance of a collision with reality. I should know; I'm not ashamed to say that at 14 I was a libertarian, courtesy of Anderson and Heinlein. At 17, I was done with it, being exposed to a bit more than science fiction.

Here's the deal. Many people - Alexis Tocqueville, Mark Twain, Henry James, etc - have noted that it is an American peculiarity to prefer the story to the reality. Even if the story directly contradicts the reality. That's where you get the bit in Huck Finn where he and Tom save the girls from "pirates"; when Huck observes that they ain't pirates, just some schoolmarms and their help, Huck is playing the classic roll of the Innocent, who sees the truth as it is. When Tom informs him that they really were pirates, but that they had been magicked into looking like old ladies and blacks, he is the quintessential American, who will lather one lie on top of another one to preserve yet another fiction . . . and who sees this as a good thing (If you haven't figured it out yet, my first major in school was English Lit. I only changed majors because that sumbitch' Reagan was in the White House.)

And so it is with Libertarianism and Space Travel. Both are deeply appealing, especially to those who at a younger age were apt to read Boy's Life or join the Scouts. Both are flawed, and obviously so after a bit of critical thinking (Wait a minute. Kinetic energy goes with the square of velocity, which implies . . .) And yet, and yet, well, the story lines are appealing enough that a certain type will make his deal with devil, take the plunge, and say to Hell with reality. I'm sympathetic - I read sf after all - and if I had my druthers, I'd take a reality where we already had Moon bases, Mars missions and orbiting space stations.

This is kind of long winded and props where they're due - Zamfir got it right @7:

I am not sure there is something particularly "libertarian" about this, more something particularly American.

To sum up, there isn't a causal arrow going from wanting to believe the myth of space travel to wanting to believe the myth of libertariansim, or vice versa. What both have in common is the type of person who prefers to shut his eyes to the realities and opt for the pretty daydreams. Why they connect is the peculiar happenstance of "libertarianism" in the earlier sf stories or less often, sf that intrudes into libertarianism.

Well, so would I ;-) Apolgies for the ramble

85:

#83:

1) There's a lot of industrial opportunity! A trillion dollars' worth of iron just in one asteroid!

There's more than a trillion dollars' worth of iron in the basalt of cheap terrestrial land, and it's orders of magnitude cheaper to exploit than an asteroid, but it's also orders of magnitude more expensive than conventional sources. You'll get poorer, not richer, for every ton of basalt or asteroid you mine.

Helium 3!!! (Ducks.)

86:

Tiny quibble: If you leave out the word 'indigenous' your sentence still makes the point I think you wanted to about the Myth of the West, with the added benefit that my mother the anthropologist won't want to smack you.

87:

The problem with the "spaceships are harder to build than wooden boats" argument is that it leaves out an important value. Spaceships are harder to build *now*. If, say, a religious separatist group in 13th century England had wanted to leave, they couldn't have gotten boats suitable for the trip. And it's not just boats - it's economic and political systems.

My point is saying that humanity will never colonize other worlds risks sounding like you're saying "man will never fly."

I agree that there is a great deal of handwaving about the ease of resource extraction among the Space Cadets. But they do have a fundamental point - it's cheaper to ship up an Acme Resource Extractor once then resources on a regular basis.

I guess my issue with the Space Cadets is not that they are fundamentally wrong, but that they are several orders of magnitude more optimistic then warranted by the facts. Although much of the American libertarian division of the Corp of Space Cadets has at best a loose connection with the facts.;-)

88:

Failed at what - creating a biosphere? Certainly not creating farms, which are done everywhere. Hydroponics is well established all over the place, and that just uses simple equipment and nutrients. Add air for the space colony. Can we create air - I should hope so.

Iron asteroids are not the way to go. It is volatiles you need, for propellant and human requirements. So you choose a dead comet which is mostly volatiles like water under a crust of carbon and gravel. Drill through the crust, heat the ice and extract. Distill/ filter and you have plenty of water. Recycle where economic. If you want LH2/LOX for the engines (how C20th!) electrolyze and cool. Everything else you ship from earth.

This isn't rocket science. You live off the land for bulk consumables and you carry/trade for specialty products. Humans have done this forever, which is why you find prehistoric and historic era goods in the most out of the way places.

The way we do space today is like a Douglas Adams joke. "So what color should the wheel be, eh?". Charlie has already mentioned Musk as a launcher developer. Bigelow is trying to do habitats, at a fraction of the cost of an ISS. Nasa does space exploration as if there has to be a Hilton at the destination, instead of a Motel 6. Everything is multiply redundant, failsafe and very expensive. What we need is redundancy and safety through replication and an eye on how to make everything inexpensive. make it profitable and corporations will spend the money to make it work.

Look at the idiocy of the ISS. One rationale was to make it a platform for product R&D, like pharmaceuticals. That R&D didn't need an ISS, it needed some equipment in orbit, perhaps in a work area of the shuttle with someone to manage it. A Soyuz craft with a pressurized module might have been enough.

Vacuum requires tools to be engineered differently, but once the methods are known, tools manufactured for vacuum conditions should be easy to manufacture, just like they are for marine or arctic conditions. For all I know, you could do water extraction from an asteroid with a shovel to dig the hole, an electric heater and a plastic pipe. We just need to try it with some simple experiments on one of the NEO missions.

89:

Helium 3?

Paging James Nicoll, James Nicoll to the white courtesy telephone ...

(Shorter JN: the economics of the He3 proposition make about as much sense as going to the moon to mine DIAMONDS!!!111!! because, er, there must be diamonds somewhere up there and, er, diamonds are expensive, so if we can mine some moon diamonds we can sell them to pay for the rockets. Or eat them. Or something.)

(Longer JN: the whole He3 proposition is based on the chain of assumptions that (a) we can make a working commercial fusion reactor, (b) if we run a more advanced -- and much hotter -- reactor on He3 it produces somewhat less secondary neutrons, (c) He3 is vanishingly rare on Earth but there is a tiny amount of He3 in the Lunar regolith, so (d) MOON!!!11!!ELEVENTY!! WITH MONSTER TRUCKS AND BULLDOZERS!!!)

90:

Helium-3 is another good one I'd forgotten. Sure, we haven't even hit energy break-even with D-T fusion, and sure D-He3 is even more demanding, and sure if it were really needed could just get He-3 from terrestrial lithium via tritium the way we have in the past... But space is a solution always looking for a few good problems.

91:

d) MOON!!!11!!ELEVENTY!! WITH MONSTER TRUCKS AND BULLDOZERS!!!)

You have to admit that would be pretty cool.

92:

Once nice things about outer space as the new frontier is that (as far as we know) there are no indigenous people to displace and kill.

I'm a white American libertarian, and I think you are essentially correct. The appeal of space is something emotional, not rational, and it's not likely to go away in the face of the facts.

But given what we know about the sort of technologies possible in the near future, any human habitation off planet is going to be either government run or run by large corporations the way an oil rig or logging camp is. Some of them might actually seem fairly socially libertarian -- research bases for example. You get a bunch of academics and scientists together and their personalities are going to create a particular environment.

But to get a libertarian society in space you need technologies beyond the realm of what is probable. It might happen, but there's nothing certain since it requires advances we that we don't know are actually possible. And such a society could easily go dystopian into something quasi-feudal.

A possible scenario -- technologies enable people with the right resources and knowledge to make asteroids and Kupier objects habitable. Individuals or small groups claim them as personal property and turn them into habitats that can hold tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people. Now, there are a number of ways a society could be run like this. A cooperative -- each resident owns a share. Subdivided like a condo, with fees from each owner maintaining the whole thing. Or a single owner, and everyone else a tenant or serf...

93:

@83:

2) Humans can do science better and faster than remotely operated robots. Astronauts covered more Moon surface during one landing than Martian rovers have in a decade!
For Mars, this is not a facially absurd argument. It is absurd for anywhere else in the solar system. Even for Mars it is a pipe dream because there's no sign on the horizon of any government committing the more than 10^11 dollars needed to send a manned mission to Mars*. And, finally, even if 10^11 dollars were available for space science, it seems that better scientific yield per dollar is available from unmanned missions. If it cost the same to put men on Mars as rovers, men would be better, but it doesn't, so they aren't. Sensors, actuators, processors, and software continue to improve much faster than propulsion technologies or astronauts so the yield per dollar calculation tilts further in favor of machines with each passing year.

This depends on what you mean by a manned mission. I think a bare case can be made for humans if the humans stay in orbit. Part of what makes manned exploration so expensive is that we insist on bringing the buggers back safe and unharmed rather than abandoning them to the depths of space, or leaving them in orbit or on the surface. You could argue that humans in orbit with the actual exploratory stuff on the ground would at least eliminate a lot of the time-lag that makes teleoperation from Earth impossible. And further, for any samples that need to be examined, a short flight up from the surface by an unmanned drone really cuts down on the weight you have to send down, plus you avoid those annoying years-long trips that could irretrievably damage the sample you're trying to study, however careful you are.

This is a bare case and I don't pretend to imply that it's anything more than remotely true. The point is, leaving your guys in orbit would be the cheapest sort of manned mission possible with the best tradeoffs on science acquisition. But here in the States at least, the public won't buy it unless one of their guys jumps out and plants his silly little flag on foreign soil. So even being this rational is a deal-killer.

94:

Good point - although of course that's a subset of OS data, the very large scale maps do provide that kind of info but aren't available for gps without complicated scan/calibration exercise. I'd suspect that most good UK maps use OS data.

Best but not ideal mapping app I've seen for gps is Memory Map, which provides up to 1:25000 and aerial imagery at the same resolution. But it needs Windows or Windows Mobile to run, and that's not a great pocket platform. I use an HTC Wizard but I wish I didn't! (apologies for digression).

95:

The appeal of space is something emotional, not rational, and it's not likely to go away in the face of the facts.

I get that. (One of my earliest memories was watching Neil Armstrong climb down that ladder on TV. I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut for the next few years: a vocation I'm about as unsuited-for as Olympic athlete or Japanese/English interpreter[*].)

I will note that, pace Ken MacLeod, libertarianism is in theory a hospitable framework within which to run communist groupings. And I will note that communism works just fine at the family level. One might speculate that you could ring-fence the critical common infrastructure of a space colony (the life support ecosystem) and run that one aspect of life on a pure communist basis ("from each to the extent of their abilities/to all according to their needs") while going all free market/libertarian on everything else that isn't critical to collective survival; it wouldn't be the most extreme example of ideological doublethink on record in a human society.


[*] My inability to learn every language except this one is spectacular. For some reason I'm blocked on crosswords and word puzzles, too.

96:

I agree: the best option is to send humans to Mars orbit, dig a hole in Phobos or Deimos for shelter from radiation, and run humanoid robots down on the surface with near realtime control. You could get a lot of science done that way, but you lose the flag-planting ceremony unless cultural attitudes to robotics have shifted in the meantime.

The other possibility is a one way mission: send astronauts to Mars and don't bring them back. We know how to land a human-sized capsule down there, what we don't know is how to soft-land a honking-great ascent vehicle -- and the cost of landing the fuel for the return trip (or just the oxidizer, if you buy Zubrin's breed-your-own-fuel plan) is a deal-killer. If instead you pick a volunteer for a one-way trip you can send them a buttload of supplies relatively cheaply (merely eye-bleedingly expensive rather than Gulf War 2.0 pricey) and keep them going until they have a fatal accident or succumb to cancer or something. (The estimates I've seen for a surface mission require a minimum 40 ton lander to get the explorers back. 40 tons should be -- even without a closed-loop life support system -- enough to keep a single astronaut going for about 5 yars.)

97:

Agreed. But not knowing the details should not be an excuse for not trying out ideas, just as not knowing the ramifications for farming methods should stop us from growing food. Experiment rather than design.

98:
You could argue that humans in orbit with the actual exploratory stuff on the ground would at least eliminate a lot of the time-lag that makes teleoperation from Earth impossible. And further, for any samples that need to be examined, a short flight up from the surface by an unmanned drone really cuts down on the weight you have to send down, plus you avoid those annoying years-long trips that could irretrievably damage the sample you're trying to study, however careful you are.

The point is, leaving your guys in orbit would be the cheapest sort of manned mission possible with the best tradeoffs on science acquisition.

Sure, I can accept that as a rational tradeoff, though the funding is still problematic. It's not just the general public who wants astronauts to keep behaving like they did during Apollo. Elsewhere on the net I've seen this hybrid teleoperation suggested and some space cadets rejected it down the basis that the ineffable pioneer spirit will only soar and unite mankind if humans actually leave boot prints on Mars and marvel at rocks with their own eyes. Once you get into that triumph-of-the-giddy-feelings territory it's clear that they just want to play space man with other people's money and the appeals to discovery, survival, or prosperity are only polite masks over the obsession.

99:

My own personal thoughts on getting regular guys into space, the middle-aged libertarian white guys employed in some technical field is simply this:

Most of the cost of getting people into space has nothing to do whatsoever with energy considerations, chemical fuels vs atomic rocket of yore. In fact, for the Shuttle, fuel costs were something like 2% or less of the total.

Where the cost comes in is, as one guy put it (George Herbert, I think), the cost of bending metal. Building even dumb boosters that we've known how to do a long time ain't cheap. And this is going to be true for just about every other launching mechanism we can think of. Sure, the electricity for those launching lasers/space cable elevators/etc. is only about $5/Kg. But everything else from amortization to maintenance to the salaries of the guys that run the thing adds on another $1995/Kg to the cost.

That being the case, if we're looking at, say, $500/kg as the best possible cost and $40,000/ticket as the minimum entry barrier to even 48 hours in space, there's only one thing to do.

Make sure that the average income is at least $120,000/year. Yes, through the magic of increased productivity, economic growth, and a careful fostering of the middle class, this modest salary would be the norm by sometime in the mid-22nd century (40,000^1.1037=120,000 and assuming a real growth rate of 1%, this would take 111 years, say 2121[1] :-)

So if these libertarian types want to speed the process up any, they should be loudly agitating for the sorts of economic policies that give a country a strong and prosperous middle class. It's a tough call, I admit: If you want space travel you have to give up libertarianism and vice versa. But I'm betting that most of the space cadets would eventually come around and bite the bullet if they thought there was any chance at all that they personally would be an astronaut, even if it was just for 48 hours.

That's how you really work to achieve The Dream; not by hunching over a draftboard or terminal drawing up the plans that will really get it all together and then telling like-minded souls that if only government were to get out of the way . . .

[1]That's an obvious libertarian reference for those of a certain age and musicality.

100:

If I was doing a libertarian space colony in a hostile environment, I'd probably set up the colony itself as a corporation with the residents as shareholders. A more complex version of a housing cooperative. It's not a government, but a legal entity for the sole purpose of providing services to the owners/residents and with all of them having a vote. It wouldn't actually have much authority on nonproperty issues such as free speech, law, etc.

Beyond housing, residents and businesses could lease space from the cooperative and the funds used to further the maintenance of the habitat.

101:

"So if these libertarian types want to speed the process up any, they should be loudly agitating for the sorts of economic policies that give a country a strong and prosperous middle class. It's a tough call, I admit: If you want space travel you have to give up libertarianism and vice versa. "

I think you're overlooking than most libertarians believe their economic polices *are* the ones that give a country a strong and prosperous middle class. More libertarianism = more economic growth = space travel sooner.

102:

You'll get poorer, not richer, for every ton of ... asteroid you mine.

Harrison Schmidt (geologist and astronaut) proposed mining the moon for platinum when the hydrogen economy was being mooted. The numbers were pretty compelling. However, we can now make fuel cells without the amount of platinum originally needed, so the plan no longer makes economic sense. I don't think of Harrison Schmidt as a wide-eyed space cadet, but I could be wrong.

Humans can do science better and faster than remotely operated robots. Astronauts covered more Moon surface during one landing than Martian rovers have in a decade

Already covered by other responses. I've argued with Rob Landis over this and he is not convinced that machines can do the work of human astronauts even on asteroid missions. I think his expertise has to trump a lot of armchair astronauts.

Only a colony that can operate for generations without any aid from Earth is in any way a backup. You don't build a "backup" off-world colony until you can demonstrate that it's possible to reproduce industrial civilization without dependence on the larger social structures of Earth.

So no point in colonizing America in the 1600's because an asteroid hitting Europe...


103:

There is also the myth/reality of "Yankee ingenuity and pragmatism". Say what you like about Americans, they do seem to be able to very difficult things.

One example is oil extraction from deep water. This was considered out of reach when I was young, but onshore rigs spawned shallow water rigs which spawned rigs that could be operated off continental shelves. So BP has shown that a deep water rig can have a bad accident, but it doesn't invalidate the difficulty and sheer scale of the enterprise. The size of these rigs is awe inspiring and yet they are built and towed into place.
If the profits were there, I don't doubt that a mining company would attempt to extract extra terrestrial minerals.

Arguing that the scale is too big, or the costs too high is not a pragmatic view, rather a failure of imagination.

104:

Why not take Zubrin's suggestion of sending the fuel synthesizing equipment first and harvesting all the fuel necessary for a return trip before even sending astronauts?

105:

but you lose the flag-planting ceremony unless cultural attitudes to robotics have shifted in the meantime.

I thought that the Pathfinder and Opportunity/Spirit missions have shown that cultural shift. Maybe it is Nasa propaganda, but they seemed to engage a lot of people.

The problem fro most robotic missions is that the data is not visual, and people cannot engage with instrument data. Add cameras (and audio) to robots and the audience can engage with the robot, even anthropomorphizing it. If only we could have looked through the eyes of the Mars rovers with a video stream...

106:

@101:

I think you're overlooking than most libertarians believe their economic polices *are* the ones that give a country a strong and prosperous middle class. More libertarianism = more economic growth = space travel sooner.

I guess it depends on the libertarian set you're used to seeing. The ones I see have tended to argue very aggressively that policies which lead to increasing inequality are the ones in which the economy grows the fastest. So - through the magic of exponentiation - even if a person is poor now, and will be relatively poorer later, they'll be better off in an absolute sense, since starting from 20,000 and compounding at, say, 5% annually will eventually beat 60,000 compounded at 4%.

That's the argument I've heard in the past at any rate, which doesn't sound like an argument for a healthy middle class, even if "society" becomes richer overall.

Of course, over the past five years we've seen that this argument doesn't er, hold water. The libertarians I know who bother to acknowledge this embarrassing fact tend to pretend that the argument all along has been how rich the richest can get, and anything else is just a parasitic drag on liberty, regardless of the effects of such policies on the middle class. Sorta like how public schools were "failing" and then when the data came out showing that students attending private schools under a voucher system didn't do any better (and sometimes worse) than if they attended the stodgy old public schools, switched to arguments about "choice" and "personal satisfaction" instead. The previous arguments were "nonoperative", as they say.

Note how this is exactly like giving up one romantic story about feudalism and aristocracy when it is shown not to hold water only to pick up another historic romance about feudalism and aristocracy. Because it's just so cool to be a minor noble pining away for love or adventure ;-)

107:

"the cost of bending metal. Building even dumb boosters that we've known how to do a long time ain't cheap."

OTOH, if they are reusable, the cost is amortizable through frequency, like any jet aircraft.

As to whether metal bending throw away boosters is too expensive, is it really? We don't have production lines of standard dumb boosters popping out like autos. Maybe they could be a lot cheaper in volume? Certainly they can be if not man-rated to get the payloads to orbit. We just don't know what volume production would do to unit costs. These things are just fancy metal containers with engines.

108:

Building a Boeing 737 isn't cheap either. But what makes it economically viable for Southwest to sell tickets on one for $49 / seat is flight rate per plane.

Whether space colonization is practical or not really depends on the cost to get there. And until people really try to lower the costs, we don't know how low we can go.

109:

Flight frequency is absolutely the key. If it requires full reusability, we could start that today with 2 stage vehicles as the original shuttle was planned, although the cost would be very high. Hybrid rocket/air breathing vehicles might be a better approach, and they cannot be more than 25 years away if we actually do sustained development.

The shuttle was supposed to be launched several times a month. But that never happened, obviously. Watch a live launch and see how slow and tedious each check is. It takes hours just to seal the hatch and uses 7 (?) ground crew, each checking each others actions. That is a jobs program, not any way to run a spaceline.

110:
So no point in colonizing America in the 1600's because an asteroid hitting Europe...

I don't know where you are going with this. The Americas weren't colonized to provide a lifeboat for humanity. The colonization process destroyed more human life than it preserved for at least the first hundred years or so, but it brought plenty of treasure to the colonizers. Space is -- so far, at least -- not a likely route to riches or human preservation in the face of disaster.

If the Americas had been colonized with the intention to provide a lifeboat for Europeans against some Europe-wide disaster, and the colonists couldn't breathe or drink in the New World without European machines they couldn't manufacture locally, then yes, I would say it would be quite analogous to the space-lifeboat argument.

Oh, I just remembered the most worst argument of all in favor of space colonization: to relieve human overcrowding on Earth. Of course even most of the space cadets realize this is absurd, but I get a good chuckle on the occasions I see it.

111:

I recall seeing in New Scientist before it got much worse, maybe 12 or 15 years ago, a breakdown of costs for re-usable launch vehicles. It started with one shot rockets at something above 10,000$ a kilo, and with re-usable vehicles was under a thousand.

Ah, here we are, Nasa's X-33, aimed at taking payload costs from $10,000 a pound to $1,000.
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/background/facts/x33_site.html
So yes, people have been looking at reducing costs and what benefits it can have for many, many years now.

Or we have the Skylon, a british single stage to orbit plane, with 2 engines and a payload of about 12 tonnes. Estimates suggest that the cost would be, according to Wikipedia, $3,000 a kilogram, or in other words nearly $1000 a pound.

On the other hand I am not aware of any way of reducing these costs further. Someone who knows what they are looking for will probably know how much a big dumb booster production line will cost.

Anyway, my point is that we have tried and know well enough what costs can be lowered and how.
How much for a beanstalk? If you have suffficiently good AI and robotics you could do it all from earth, if you're willing to take decades to do it.

112:

-From Edge Of Darkness (BBC)

Darius Jedburgh: Read between the lines of Jerry Grogan's speech. You will find not the Frontiersman, but the Teutonic Knight... This future nuclear state will be an absolute state, whose authority will derive not from the people but from the possession of plutonium. And just to make sure we all know what we're talking about her, I brought some of the stuff along with me today.
[mixed reaction from audience as he pulls out briefcase]...

The gubbins at the heart of EoD is an AVLIS- Atomic Vapour Laser Isotope Separation device - that uses a laser tuned to a very specific frequency to selectively excite feedstock so you can collect whatever specific isotope you've tuned it to. A really handy gadget for serious mining/refining as you can chuck in anything and split it into lumps of it's isotopically pure elements. Trouble is, that's so handy for making weapons that civilians and most governments can't really be trusted with them. But any space cadet colony would find it very useful. Feed in asteroid at one end, get pure elements out the other end.

113:

Considering none of those vehicles are actually, you know, flying, thinking that we have a good handle on the costs (either high or low) is ridiculous. It took a long time and a lot of different aircraft designs to get to the current price point.

114:

You're thinking of "Red Dust" by McAuley. One of many books on my to read list (so can't comment on it), along with McHugh's "China Mountain Zhang".

not really on topic, but,
IIRC early in Clarke's "A Fall Of Moondust" a character makes some comments on the similarity of SF and Westerns. Of course he was talking about Golden Age SF, I imagine/hope things have changed since then.

115:

I think Heinlen was quite nuanced, although the "space cadets" to which you refer may not be. The moon is a harsh mistress and others are actually rather negative, with farmers of the sky showing not that it was possible, but that the costs were astronomical. Conversely, self maintaining hyperspace ships and donkey transport seemed to work rather well for Lazerous Long.

It might be possible, at ruinous expense, to colonise mars at this point, you might even get away without large casualties if you used regular freight shots. It's probably a waste of money, only global killers are dangerous enough to leave a precarious mars colony in a better position than whatever is left of civilisation on earth.

116:

A local cartoonist has done an excellent libertarian field guide:

http://www.leftycartoons.com/the-24-types-of-libertarian/

Space travel, let alone keeping populations of humans alive in that ultimately hostile environment requires enormous amounts of highly coordinated behavior. Complex technological systems must all work continuously or everyone dies. Cooperation, a willingness to subordinate individual preferences to ensure social stability and an outlook which makes long-term collective wellbeing just about the highest priority are necessary to make it work.

Every one of these is at odds with the Libertarian view of the world. To the Lib "Collectivist" and "Statist" are the worst possible insults.

Of course, even the guy who secretly writes Ron Paul/John Galt slashfic recognizes that collective action, cooperation towards a greater goal and activities which subordinate the individual to the group are necessary. That's why they revere the military. Its an out, an exception, a hairy-chested Randroid-approved out for all those things that rugged individualists can't do alone or which don't give the Sacred Market a big enough profit margin.

Life in the military has a lot in common with everything Libertarians hate. You do the job you're told to. Everyone obeys orders. The mission and the well-being of your unit are more important than the desires or even the lives of any individual. Everyone has State-run medical care, clothing, food and housing. Break the rules, no matter how ridiculous and confining and you get punished.

But since it does even those things which the hardcore Libertarian wants done it's good and heroic.

117:

On point 3 - Alex, all of the examples you site share an atmosphere and hydrosphere with the rest of the planet. If you missed the point that means they're dependent on the rest of the planet, y'know things from outside colonizing the sites.

And last but not least, they're still shaking out. IIRC, Mt. St. Helens post eruption ecology is seriously odd.

How many of the sites you mentioned are able to support an apex critter the size of a deer on the forage available in less than a square mile?

118:

The discussions of libertarianism and space colonization are complex enough on their own, let alone when they are interacting and cross-multiplying.

119:

@107:

"the cost of bending metal. Building even dumb boosters that we've known how to do a long time ain't cheap."
OTOH, if they are reusable, the cost is amortizable through frequency, like any jet aircraft.

Cough, cough. Er, "Space Shuttle". Note that while you didn't include the text, I specifically allowed for amortization of infrastructure in the launch costs. In any event, the point was not to propose some sort of plan or line of attack; the point was that the whole idea of the "rockets are inefficient, so we're better off building a space elevator" is a red herring. Since a lot of guys apparently spend a lot of time thinking about alternative methods to make that first step, rather than actually concentrate on the practical economics, they're spinning their wheels.

The amortization justification is particularly pernicious. "If you build it they will come" just isn't any sort of realistic business plan. The more sensible way to do this is to go with a model that doesn't plan to bring costs down by an order of magnitude or more simply on the strength that the traffic will grow to accommodate the numbers.

As to whether metal bending throw away boosters is too expensive, is it really? We don't have production lines of standard dumb boosters popping out like autos. Maybe they could be a lot cheaper in volume? Certainly they can be if not man-rated to get the payloads to orbit. We just don't know what volume production would do to unit costs. These things are just fancy metal containers with engines.

"Just fancy metal containers with engines". I'll let that one flop and die. That's like saying that humans are just a few dozen liters water laced with chemical impurities, and moreover common chemicals like oxygen and carbon at that.

There's a reason why airplanes are so much more expensive than cars. They're not necessarily more complicated per se. But they're assembled from parts machined to much higher tolerances and made out a slightly better material than automotive-grade steel. Making the jump from aircraft to rockets squares and cubes these sorts of costs.

Note that if there were production techniques that made turning out rocket boosters as mundane an activity as cars rolling off an assembly line then that would also contribute mightily to general productivity and thus the paychecks of the middle class. If that weren't the case, it would be the same those old sf stories about spacers flying around in rockets powered by table-top fusion while the teeming masses on Earth are starving and unable to afford basic ground transportation.

120:

Sorry Charlie,

but cutting back on the lander is not a source of significant savings. (It would be *much* less than 50% of total cost.)

> The estimates I've seen for a surface mission require a minimum 40 ton lander to get the explorers back.

The problem about the lander is not getting the lander there. You will need to figure out a way to get something on the order of 10 tons in weight to the surface anyway (e.g. the habitat), so that'd be a solved problem and won't add to the cost.

The additional cost will be:
a) building a rocket capable of returning the astronauts from Martian surface to orbit ($10bn - let's be generous)
b) building a space-tug to tow it to Mars ($3bn)
c) sending both to LEO ($1bn)
d) building another space-tug, bring it to LEO, send it to Mars to refuel the space-ship used to fly to Mars ($5bn)

Let's add some 50% and call it $30bn - much less than the projected $100bn.

I think the space-tug would have to be developed to bring supplies to Mars anyway. $3bn per copy should be a realistic price.

121:

@113:

Considering none of those vehicles are actually, you know, flying, thinking that we have a good handle on the costs (either high or low) is ridiculous. It took a long time and a lot of different aircraft designs to get to the current price point.

This also goes to the fact that launch costs right now don't dominate. If the typical payload costs $100 million and putting up only costs $10 million, well that's only ten cents on the dollar. Putting up five people or even fifty? Well, I wouldn't call them a $100 million payload.

Iow, there's not a whole lot of incentive to make commercial launch costs come down, certainly not to make them come down by a factor of a hundred. That's a whole lot of research money you're throwing away for a marginal improvement of maybe 10%. At best.

This goes to meta-competency, I guess. For all their talk of being hard-headed practical engineering types, they don't know beans from business. And they don't know that they don't know, if you take my meaning.

122:

#81

I did not say the Brits were good, only that they were better than the other colonial powers. If you were gonna be colonized (and for most of the colonized world, one of the colonial powers was going to do it), they were preferable to the Spanish, Portuguese, or Dutch, and way better than the Belgians. The French were arguably comparable.

Mmmm, sometimes sorta kinda. The treatment of aboriginal Australians by the British was infinitely worse than what the intermarriage-friendly Dutch inflicted on Southeast Asia and Suriname.

Look at the Triangle Trade. When you're reciting "Molasses to rum to slaves" look up a history of the plantation economy in the Caribbean which produced the molasses. The British were no better or worse than the others who relied on the abominable trade in human flesh and starved the maximum profit out of their chattels.

19th and 20th century Mercantilist policies were designed to keep the Subcontinent poor and underdeveloped to increase the profits of British industry.

We don't even have to mention how Great Britain fixed its Chinese balance of trade problems.

French and British colonial relations are pretty comparable on the whole, although the French were more willing to treat the wogs as human if they could speak good French.

Belgium? There isn't a place in hell hot enough for Leopold. King Leopold, may his name and memory be erased, was not interested in colonies in the usual sense. He wanted to extract as much rubber as cheaply as possible and was willing to kill as many Africans as it took to do so. His atrocities lasted a short time, and eventually the Belgians took his toys away from him.

123:

A couple of people have touched on it in the comments, but let me try to draw the issue out: People do risky things like colonize Greenland, extend the American frontier, or build space habitats only when the economics make the upside really compelling - the decision to have a small plot of land here vs. a much larger one over the next hill.

Thus far, the ROI on space travel investment is negative - we have no clear notion of what kind of activity (except possibly a limited tourism market) could hope to recover its costs. By contrast, the American frontier provided a standard of living that was (relative to counterparts in land-limited Europe) fairly attractive in a model that scaled through a huge population growth.

Charlie's space cadets are by definition agents of the (government) investors who absorb their losses. Were that to change - and I'll admit it's not so easy to envision a *distributed* resource extraction opportunity that makes "land" in space valuable enough to compete with the downside economy even after transport and support costs - I'm sure we'd have the Lars family homesteaders with their vaporators in no time...

124:

The point I was making was that you don't have to think in terms of big, highly connected ecosystems. Life will work in the small, from bacteria in spaces between rock crystals, to shrimps in glass globes, to the flower box on your window sill. When tended, they don't die. The air and water does not have to be sourced from some larger biosphere. You can grow plants in space (been done). If you want to terraform a planet for people, well that is a different story, but surviving in an artificial environment is quite reasonable for a colonist. We've already terraformed earth to suit our needs, what is so strange about doing the same off earth?

Thought experiment - take a mine, poke holes in the roof and plug with glass to let light in. Add an assortment of plants and animals, perhaps piles of soil. Seal entrance. Allow to bake. Will the organisms replicate and survive a number of years? I'm not asking for a stable climax ecosystem, just something that doesn't collapse or turn to mush, just like a newly colonized oceanic volcanic island. If so, that is not so dissimilar from a lunar or Martian lava tube or a hollow asteroid.

125:

Actually, the proposed space shuttle launch frequency was supposed to reduce costs to $500/lb (?) in 1970 $.
The much lower launch frequency put the kibosh on that, as well as the ridiculous complexity of the vehicle.

The amortization justification is particularly pernicious. "If you build it they will come" just isn't any sort of realistic business plan.

Business models based on production? *Cough* Ford *cough*, Intel *cough*. Ford deliberately priced cars to be affordable to his workers, where most cars were for the rich. The whole point was low prices to stimulate demand. Intel was a pioneer in experience curve pricing to drive down costs of chips to meet the quoted price that was initially below costs.

Note that if there were production techniques that made turning out rocket boosters as mundane an activity as cars rolling off an assembly line then that would also contribute mightily to general productivity and thus the paychecks of the middle class.

Firstly we know that it is possible to make rockets roll off an assembly line. One word, V2.
Secondly, we don't do that today because they are built to demand, which is mainly comsats. The result is that satellites remain high cost and so reducing launcher costs makes little difference. We just don't know what demand low cost launches would create. What we do know is that chat cheap air flights opened up tourism for the masses and air cargo to freight cut flowers. Who would have believed that in 1950? Virgin Galactic is predicated on the idea that there is demand for sub-orbital hops.
Do you want to bet against orbital stops?

126:

colonize Greenland, extend the American frontier, or build space habitats only when the economics make the upside really compelling - the decision to have a small plot of land here vs. a much larger one over the next hill.

Call it economics if you like, but it was lebensraum. Don't forget that the Pilgrims colonized America for religious freedom, not economic ones.

127:

*Shrug*
I put forwards a suggestion to your open ended and therefore nuts comment about how low we can go, and you complain about us still not having a good handle on the costs. Clearly we won't have your kind of standard of idea of the costs until after we've run one for its entire life cycle, but I think intial capital costs in the 10 to 20 billion and aiming to get it down to a thousand dollars a pound seems a good idea of what to aim for.
Moreover it seems to me that these are, barring SF like break throughs, about what we can expect given the simple physical limitations we are operating under.

128:

> Actually, the proposed space shuttle launch frequency was supposed to reduce costs to $500/lb (?) in 1970 $.

Funny. Adjusted for inflation that's about $2750/lb these days or about $6000/kg. And disposable rockets are already getting pretty close to that.

The Ariane 5 costs about $200 mio, delivering 20,000kg.
The Falcon9 Block 1 (as currently built) can deliver a little less than 7,000kg for a price of about $50 mio. Should the Block 2 design turn out the way it's planned, the figure is 10t at the same price ... or $5000/kg.

129:

Charlie, sometimes I think that the critical acclaim, the awards, the money, all the trappings of success mean nothing to you beside the joy of getting a bunch of science fiction fans in a group and insisting that space colonization will never happen - the books and stories are just bait so you can get a ton of people reading your blog, then troll the hell out of us.

Now stop playing around and get back to work on a fucking book, or we'll send Teresa Neilsen-Hayden to your house with a goddamn whip.

130:

"Just fancy metal containers with engines". I'll let that one flop and die.

Manufacturing techniques makes everything simple with time. Aircraft are assembled all over the world because tooling allows them to be, whereas 50 years ago they were restricted to a few nations. Why should rockets inherently be any different? Just like aircraft, the most complex part is the engines. They are just as susceptible to economies of scale as any other standard product. Throw away boosters don't even have to be designed to resist metal fatigue... :)

131:

@125:

I'm dealing with an obvious fanboy, but I'll give it one more go:

The amortization justification is particularly pernicious. "If you build it they will come" just isn't any sort of realistic business plan.
Business models based on production? *Cough* Ford *cough*, Intel *cough*. Ford deliberately priced cars to be affordable to his workers, where most cars were for the rich. The whole point was low prices to stimulate demand. Intel was a pioneer in experience curve pricing to drive down costs of chips to meet the quoted price that was initially below costs.

Since you've already mentioned it:

*Cough* Shuttle. *cough*. What's that you say, you didn't here it the first, second, third or twentieth time. I'll repeat:

*Cough* Shuttle. *cough*.

You're wrong about your Ford history btw, but let that pass. We can assume that some businessman somewhere did pursue that strategy and that it did work that particular time. The point is that if you're a private developer, you've got to pretty much prove up front that your business plan is going to work before the hard-headed financial types will give you any money. Note that I did not say the "If you build it they will come" always fails; just that it's not a very good business bet unless you've got some real solid figures and some business cred to back you up.

You're essentially saying "you can't prove that I'm wrong on this one", and you're right. I can't. But as with so many other propositions in life, the burden of proof is on you to show that you're right, not on the guy you're trying to get money from to show you're wrong. That's simply not going to fly ;-)

As always, I continue to be amazed by libertarians who don't have the business sense God gave a grasshopper. Especially so when these same guys think they have gobs of it. Doubly especially triply so when pointing these facts out results in them calling you some sort of "liberal" or "Communist" "Socialist", or at any rate some sort of weak-minded parasitic knave determined to kill their buzz.

132:

I have two words for you: New Jersey.

Hypothesis disproved! Man, I wish it were all that easy.

133:

"Just fancy metal containers with engines"

"If the excessive overhead were squeezed out of the space industry and its immediate suppliers, the Titan could probably be built for $30 million (it's a much simpler machine than a 747),..."

[note the 747 was quoted at $100m, whilst the Titan was at $300m - AT]

Entering Space, by Robert Zubrin. p 26

134:

I gotta say it, because of all the commentators on this thread I got the most bona fides:

After 1880 or so, and outside the lower 48, the country you wanted to colonize you (if that had to happen) was the United States.

“Damn the Americans! Why don't they tyrannize us more?” complained Quezon, before being pushed to honor the independence bill he asked for but didn't really want.

Of course, Congress pushed that bill through because white mobs were killing Filipino immigrants in California, but we won't talk about that. I did say, "outside the lower 48," after all.

OK, go back to whatever you were doing now. Apologies for the interruption.

135:

Heinlein's 1948 juvenile novel "Space Cadet" was actually quite progressive for its time for having the space cadets of the title encompass a wide range of ethnicities and religions (not so much with the gender relations, but you can't have it all I guess).

136:

Correction. It looks like the Shuttle was projected to cost $5000/lb (curr prices) but ended up at $38,000/lb (curr $) by 1995, a 7.5x cost overrun.

[assumes a 50,000 lb payload]

137:

@129:

Charlie, sometimes I think that the critical acclaim, the awards, the money, all the trappings of success mean nothing to you beside the joy of getting a bunch of science fiction fans in a group and insisting that space colonization will never happen - the books and stories are just bait so you can get a ton of people reading your blog, then troll the hell out of us.

That's funny. Because the other genre I read a lot of is the hard bitten detective story. Guys who take a lot of shots to the head and keep on coming, guys who think three or four shots of whiskey after those shots to the head constitute sound medical practice. Guys who see a lot of beautiful dames pass through, some treacherous, some not. Guys you know you can count on because deep down they think of themselves as being a lone warrior against the forces of evil.

In short, Guys Who Are Not Like Me And I Have No Desire To Emulate.

But you make my point for me: it's not enough for you that the story be good; on some level, you want it to be real.

138:

I've lost track of your argument. If you are trying to say that the Space Shuttle was intended as a low cost system that failed to deliver the increased demand, then you are correct. But you have your reasoning bass ackwards. The shuttle never delivered low costs, so demand could not grow, if it was there. So we don't have any information to determine how elastic demand might be.

You're wrong about your Ford history btw,...

"Ford introduced the world's first moving assembly line that year, which reduced chassis assembly time from 12½ hours in October to 2 hours 40 minutes (and ultimately 1 hour 33 minutes), and boosted annual output to 202,667 units that year. After a Ford ad promised profit-sharing if sales hit 300,000 between August 1914 and August 1915, sales in 1914 reached 308,162, and 501,462 in 1915; by 1920, production would exceed one million a year."

"Wall Street had criticized Ford's generous labor practices when he began paying workers enough to buy the products they made."

Wikipedia - History of Ford.

In other words, Ford aggressively reduced costs compared to hand built vehicles, and ensured that his own employees could buy the cars, and presumably a larger number of the population too. That looks like a "build it and they will come" strategy to me.

139:

Yeah, but, so what?

Even $5000/lb is more expensive than the Ariane 5 *right now*.

We're living in its-1970-and-getting-stuff-into-space-will-be-cheap-wonderland. All that despite using non-reusable, 2-3 stage rockets and building fewer of them per year than people used to do for the last 40 years or so.

All the dreams of the 60ies and 70ies concerning dropping launch costs have actually come true!

But, it turns out, nobody really seems to want to send anything into space any more. It seems like these days nobody cares about exploring space or sending people up there.

The issue isn't the price, it's the zeitgeist.

140:

Very amusing. It's been almost a cliche of science fiction that space is the place of libertarian individualists, while Earth is the place of government rigidity, and I've made the argument in presentations at several cons that it is quite plausible to argue the opposite; that spacefaring civilizations by their very nature will have to be quite rigid, while the Earth is quite an ideal place for market libertarianism.
With that said, without yet knowing exactly what technologies will be used, and what the economic motivation is, it's a little hard to so quickly predict the social system that will end up being optimal for human societies in space. Technologies may evolve such that the expertise to produce the requisite technological infrastructure are available to everybody at an affordable cost; you don't actually have to know every speciality; as a general thing you merely need to know how to find the information (and know how to use it once you find it). This may well need technology that is far less powerful than the omnipotent "nanotechnology" discussed in SF; in fact, it's not clear that the seeds for such facultative technology may not be here already.
Of course, the optimal society (i.e., economic system) would very likely be something different yet, likely something which draws some elements from many economic systems. It's not at all clear that "free-market communism" or "socialist libertarianism" are oxymoronic.

141:

@130:

Manufacturing techniques makes everything simple with time. Aircraft are assembled all over the world because tooling allows them to be, whereas 50 years ago they were restricted to a few nations. Why should rockets inherently be any different? Just like aircraft, the most complex part is the engines. They are just as susceptible to economies of scale as any other standard product. Throw away boosters don't even have to be designed to resist metal fatigue... :)

You do realize that you've come around to agreeing with me, right? The same sort of technical art that allows disposable boosters to roll off the assembly line is also the technique that is independently sought after because it makes everything cheaper in relative terms. Hence my referring to "increases in productivity" and "economic growth."

142:
"the cost of bending metal"
Another characteristic of the armchair space cadet is the obsession with propulsion systems and airframes. But for colonization, long-term life-support is not only much more critical, it is also much less well understood. This issue was hashed out here a few months ago; a lot of people were rather surprised that we have absolutely no idea how to build a closed-cycle ecology that will last for even one year on anything smaller than the planet Earth. The ISS for instance has no way to recycle air; it needs regular shipments of air, water, and food, as well as station-keeping fuel, lubricants, etc.

No, I'm not saying that it's impossible to design a life support system that can operate closed for an indefinite number of years (let's say 5 at least, shall we?). I am saying it's impossible to do so now, and probably impossible for the next couple of decades based on the (lack of) progress we've made in the last couple of decades.

Oh, and there's one other thing missing from planetary colonization that was available in North America: a way to go back home if your settlement failed. In the colonization of the American West 2 out of every 3 farms failed within 3 years IIRC, and the settlers had to pull out and go somewhere else. Of course we could colonize space by setting up penal colonies like Austrailia or Georgia (the US state), but I can't imagine anyone spending that kind of money just to get rid of a few criminals, especially in the US where we've decided to make money by running prisons.

143:

@138:

I've lost track of your argument. If you are trying to say that the Space Shuttle was intended as a low cost system that failed to deliver the increased demand, then you are correct. But you have your reasoning bass ackwards. The shuttle never delivered low costs, so demand could not grow, if it was there. So we don't have any information to determine how elastic demand might be.

Sigh. You mean the part where I said this:

The amortization justification is particularly pernicious. "If you build it they will come" just isn't any sort of realistic business plan. The more sensible way to do this is to go with a model that doesn't plan to bring costs down by an order of magnitude or more simply on the strength that the traffic will grow to accommodate the numbers.

The part that you specifically commented on later, you've lost track? Why am I not surprised?

You're wrong about your Ford history btw,...

Yep, you're wrong, as even you're wikiquotes show:

"Ford introduced the world's first moving assembly line that year, which reduced chassis assembly time from 12½ hours in October to 2 hours 40 minutes (and ultimately 1 hour 33 minutes), and boosted annual output to 202,667 units that year. After a Ford ad promised profit-sharing if sales hit 300,000 between August 1914 and August 1915, sales in 1914 reached 308,162, and 501,462 in 1915; by 1920, production would exceed one million a year."

"Wall Street had criticized Ford's generous labor practices when he began paying workers enough to buy the products they made."

Wikipedia - History of Ford.

In other words, Ford aggressively reduced costs compared to hand built vehicles, and ensured that his own employees could buy the cars, and presumably a larger number of the population too. That looks like a "build it and they will come" strategy to me.

Really? Because looks like "build it and pay for their ticket and they will come" to me. Left that part out, didn't you? How are you going to do this with your private space flight scheme? Subsidize the ticket of every employee? That sounds like Tommy Chong explaining how he'd never go out of business as a dealer "because we're our own best customers".

144:

"Even $5000/lb is more expensive than the Ariane 5 *right now*[....]But, it turns out, nobody really seems to want to send anything into space any more. It seems like these days nobody cares about exploring space or sending people up there. The issue isn't the price, it's the zeitgeist."

Ariane 5 is $8000/lb ($120m launch for 15000 lb payload

Air freight rates for comparison are ~ $1/lb (LA - NY, ~4000 miles)
passenger rates ~ $3/lb for the same distance.

How many people would fly across the US if it cost them ~$200k? Not many, I'm sure. What items would be worth shipping air freight at $5000/lb?

We know Virgin's sub-orbital hops are sold at at $250k. How many more riders would pony up $250k for a one-night stay in a LEO hotel?

I don't know that there is an attitude issue. All I know is space access costs are so high that almost no one would even dream of going there to do anything. But reduce costs and we may find out.

145:

"If I was doing a libertarian space colony in a hostile environment, I'd probably set up the colony itself as a corporation with the residents as shareholders."

It isn't hard to describe a government with the words usually used to describe corporations.

The sad thing is that doing so would be enough to satisfy a large fraction of libertarians.

146:

If we are agreeing - that's good innit? :)

147:

we have absolutely no idea how to build a closed-cycle ecology that will last for even one year on anything smaller than the planet Earth

Do we need to? We know how to convert CO2 -> C + O2 using energy, so we know we can keep breathing. Water just recycles. Are we really saying that we cannot grow food in air and sunlight, eat, breathe and mostly recycle with some X% efficiency? has anyone actually tried to simulate it (apart from Biosphere II)?

148:

You're wrong.

149:

Libertarianism is a broad continuum, and in it anarcho-capitalists are a minority the same way that hard core communists are a small minority of the Left. Most libertarians are fine with government, they just want to limit it.

So a "government" that was designed as a corporate body and answerable with in contract law and strictly limited in powers would be ideal for many of them. Governments limited by function rather than geography might actually work even best in space.

150:

@142:

Another characteristic of the armchair space cadet is the obsession with propulsion systems and airframes. But for colonization, long-term life-support is not only much more critical, it is also much less well understood. This issue was hashed out here a few months ago; a lot of people were rather surprised that we have absolutely no idea how to build a closed-cycle ecology that will last for even one year on anything smaller than the planet Earth.

Oh, I am very much in agreement with this one. I am reminded of a stealth in space thread many moons ago where people were accusing each other of assuming too much unknown technology and completely oblivious to the fact that the scenario they wanted to play with already required great whopping lots of unknown technologies. Like life support. But you see, that's not physics. It's - eww - ecology; one of those disreputable "sciences" that haven't been mathematized.

I just used the "bending metal" part to show how even in the places libertarians tend to be obsessive about - as you say, propulsion and airframes - they don't have a very good grasp of economics.

Which, oddly enough, they often sneer at as lacking in nonlibertarians. Can't tell you how many times I've heard "But basic economics tells you that raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment . . ." from these naifs. As always, it's the story that counts. Not the actual facts from which the narrative should have been assembled.

151:

@147:

we have absolutely no idea how to build a closed-cycle ecology that will last for even one year on anything smaller than the planet Earth
Do we need to? We know how to convert CO2 -> C + O2 using energy, so we know we can keep breathing. Water just recycles. Are we really saying that we cannot grow food in air and sunlight, eat, breathe and mostly recycle with some X% efficiency? has anyone actually tried to simulate it (apart from Biosphere II)?


AAAAAARRRRRRRRGHHHH!!!!!

152:

"New New York"
Worlds; Worlds Apart; Worlds Enough J Haldeman.

153:

"After 1880 or so, and outside the lower 48, the country you wanted to colonize you (if that had to happen) was the United States."

After 1880, most countries had figured out it wasn't that respectable any more to wholesale murder the natives. There were just a few latecomers who thought they missed out on the colonisation business, and figured they could run it more [i]efficiently[/i] with the aid of modern militaries and industrialisation. See: Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan.

154:

Because looks like "build it and pay for their ticket and they will come" to me. Left that part out, didn't you?

You really hate to be proved wrong, don't you? And I haven't had to resort to snide remarks.

Ford didn't just sell to his own workers. 500k cars sold in 1915. Assuming 5 years between replacements, Ford would have 2.5 million employees.
So your remark is obviously fallacious.

While I don't disagree with your remark that "build it and they will come" is not the best strategy, "build only the low volume, high priced version and sell so few, or none, you won't recover your costs" isn't very smart either. The point of the Ford example was to show that aggressive pricing and associated volumes is not just associated with silicon chip manufacture.

The space business has yet to escape from the high cost, limited demand cycle. If launch costs were trivial, say $10/lb, we might have a very different business, satellites may be constructed differently and there might even be a manned repair facility in orbit. There would certainly be scope for any institution or business to orbit small experiments or do R&D. At $1/lb we might deliver valentine bouquets to space workers.

So the only issue, in my mind, is what does the price elasticity curve look like. We are assuredly in the low volume, high price zone which I suspect looks relatively price inelastic. There may, or may not, be a point where the curve becomes highly price sensitive and demand can take off with further price reductions. I'm just saying we have no clue as we have never explored that zone, economically. I also don't know whether we can reach that point or not, but I would suggest that other businesses, like air transport, suggest that that point, if it exists, can be reached with very frequent turn around of the capital assets.

155:

> Ariane 5 is $8000/lb ($120m launch for 15000 lb payload)

Erm no.

First of all, the Shuttle is chained to low earth orbit. So, in order to compare apples to apples, we should look at LEO payloads of the Ariane 5. The only LEO payload so far was the ATV, weighing 21 metric tons.

Usually, the Ariane 5 delivers its payload to GTO orbits which needs a lot more energy and limits payload to about 9.6t in its current configuration. (Third stage is still less than optimal. Evolved versions may deliver up to 12t.)

Next, price:

http://www.arianespace.com/news-press-release/2009/02-02-09-launcher-order-from-astrium.asp

120 mio seems to be the right number, but the wrong currency. Depending on exchange rates we're talking about $160-180 mio each. So the figure I had in mind must have been the price of the last batch.

The price turns out to be $8600/kg at current exchange rates or $3860/lb.

--

Aside from that, I was talking about the aspirations that people in the 1970ies had and what they would do if they had had launch costs on the order of $500/lb to LEO. (Which is arguably the case today. Taking inflation into account, the current price translates to about $750/lb to LEO in 1970 dollars.)

And those aspirations were clearly very different from the current moaning about huge launch costs and lack of interest in launching anything to space (current launch rates are about 1/2 to 2/3 of the rates in the 1990ies). By their standards, our launch costs are extremely cheap despite an adverse environment.

And indeed, launch costs are not the limiting factor, as has been pointed out. The limiting factor is the cost of the payload itself. A satellite that costs a mere $300 mio is considered cheap!

The question is not, who would send stuff up at these prices. But who dares to build cheap satellites and spaceships to match the cheap rockets we have!

NASA is currently testing a $2.3bn robot to send to Mars. Think about THAT PRICE!

http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n1007/23curiosity/

For the same price, you could have send 10 Ariane 5 into space, carrying 200tons to leo, 96 tons to GTO or perhaps 50 tons to Mars (I have no good numbers for escape velocity, but its not much for than GTO) with $500mio left for the payloads.

Or let's say just five Ariane 5 each taking a pair of Mars Exploration Rovers to Mars. Replicating those sturdy workhorses would have been pretty cheap and building 10 copies of them and updating their instrumentation could not possibly have cost $1.4bn.

But nobody cares.

156:

> Ariane 5 is $8000/lb ($120m launch for 15000 lb payload)

Erm no.

First of all, the Shuttle is chained to low earth orbit. So, in order to compare apples to apples, we should look at LEO payloads of the Ariane 5. The only LEO payload so far was the ATV, weighing 21 metric tons.

Usually, the Ariane 5 delivers its payload to GTO orbits which needs a lot more energy and limits payload to about 9.6t in its current configuration. (Third stage is still less than optimal. Evolved versions may deliver up to 12t.)

Next, price:

http://www.arianespace.com/news-press-release/2009/02-02-09-launcher-order-from-astrium.asp

120 mio seems to be the right number, but the wrong currency. Depending on exchange rates we're talking about $160-180 mio each. So the figure I had in mind must have been the price of the last batch.

The price turns out to be $8600/kg at current exchange rates or $3860/lb.

--

Aside from that, I was talking about the aspirations that people in the 1970ies had and what they would do if they had had launch costs on the order of $500/lb to LEO. (Which is arguably the case today. Taking inflation into account, the current price translates to about $750/lb to LEO in 1970 dollars.)

And those aspirations were clearly very different from the current moaning about huge launch costs and lack of interest in launching anything to space (current launch rates are about 1/2 to 2/3 of the rates in the 1990ies). By their standards, our launch costs are extremely cheap despite an adverse environment.

And indeed, launch costs are not the limiting factor, as has been pointed out. The limiting factor is the cost of the payload itself. A satellite that costs a mere $300 mio is considered cheap!

The question is not, who would send stuff up at these prices. But who dares to build cheap satellites and spaceships to match the cheap rockets we have!

NASA is currently testing a $2.3bn robot to send to Mars. Think about THAT PRICE!

(Source is Spaceflight now - it seems like Charlie doesn't like the link ...)

For the same price, you could have send 10 Ariane 5 into space, carrying 200tons to leo, 96 tons to GTO or perhaps 50 tons to Mars (I have no good numbers for escape velocity, but its not much for than GTO) with $500mio left for the payloads.

Or let's say just five Ariane 5 each taking a pair of Mars Exploration Rovers to Mars. Replicating those sturdy workhorses would have been pretty cheap and building 10 copies of them and updating their instrumentation could not possibly have cost $1.4bn.

But nobody cares.

157:

It's becoming clear that you believe that not knowing something makes it not doable. I am not aware of anyone, even Nasa, even trying to do serious experiments in this arena, beyond toy experiments growing plants in closed chambers and germinating seeds in orbit. All that shows is no one has tried, not that it is inherently very hard to do something even 'leaky'.

158:

My fault. I already had a link in the post and forgot about it. Here is the link to curiosity:

http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n1007/23curiosity/

Charlie: feel free to delete this post.

159:

@154:

Because looks like "build it and pay for their ticket and they will come" to me. Left that part out, didn't you?
You really hate to be proved wrong, don't you? And I haven't had to resort to snide remarks.

Sigh. Your own cite proves you wrong. Period. End of story. No, it is not snide to point this out, and yes, this is yet another one of those libertarian things - projection.

And you know, given that the history of Ford is pretty much a standard subject covered grade school across United States(and in particular his innovative approach to raise worker's pay so that they could buy the product), this information wasn't hard to come by. Are you even from the United States?

160:

You know, speaking as someone with one of them ecology degrees and someone who published a little bit of simulation work, I better speak up about what's hard about ecology.

One problem is political: this is well demonstrated by Biosphere II, where the soil scientists told the design crew to use a sandy soil, but the designers were sure they knew better, so they put in a heavy organic soil, which proceeded to suck a lot of the oxygen out of the air.

We're seeing this play out here, when physics and engineering types are saying, "What's the problem, it's soluble in principle." It is--if you're willing to listen to people who have actually worked on it. NASA had similar problems doing space suits, because the air system engineers insisted that they were better at making pressure suits than the girdle makers who had actually been building hi-stress garments for a few decades.

Second, bigger problem: rates. Here's one I tried and failed to model: root nutrient uptake for plants. Physiologically it's reasonably well understood, but it depends critically on the surface area of both the roots and the fungi that feed into them. Both of these are complex fractals whose geometry isn't understood at all, beyond a few specialized cases, and it's obvious that both plants and fungi proliferate their roots in areas of nutrient richness (e.g. they forage for nutrients, and use changing fractal geometry as a foraging technique).

Mathematically, this is best simulated as going up to a door and slamming it on your fingers, hard. Then time how long the pain lasts, and describe quantitatively how it changes. Repeat until you have enough data for a predictive model. Since the pain depends on a fractal network of nerves that change over time (as your tissues swell), you'll get a good first approximation of what the problem is.

The math isn't impossible, but the problem is that ecological math generally dives chortling into areas that are computationally intensive, and getting the real world data we need for modeling is painful (see above. I went through three months of eye strain migraines to get one data set, so the door-slamming exercise is realistic). It could be sped up if someone who just invent that microfluidic cyber-nematode we've been begging for, but apparently it's not a research priority.

Add a bunch of these rate problems together, and float it in zero-gee: that's the life-support problem.

161:

If 5x Ariane 5 could deliver 10 robots to Mars for the price of one high cost device, then I would ask why are they not being touted to do this? 10 Rovers could cover some decent ground, do some nice science even with a few losses. Perhaps the issue is payload size?

Over the next decade, private launchers will be making some headway and perhaps we will see some serious reductions in launch costs. With that could come reductions in interplanetary costs using simpler platforms.

162:

Obviously numbers are not your strong point. Also I've already stated that I am mot a libertarian, so stop trying to pin that label on me to justify your remarks.

163:

Your participant description reminded me of a conference I attended last year where Harrison Schmitt - former astronaut, right leaning US senator, and geologist - gave a talk on commercializing the moon for purposes of helim-3 mining.

Colonization aside, is space commercialization practical? I suppose significant infrastructure support might be required even for a highly automated mining operation.

164:

I appreciate the difficulties in simulation you are describing,m but do we really need to do the simulations? Is there some problem with just doing the experiments and testing out the proposed designs?

I don't think that anyone is seriously proposing leaping into the dark with an Acme 1.0 closed cycle ecology for a Mars colony. But we could test quite a few systems in orbit with animals to determine robustness and look for failure points, what might be maintainable by intervention and so forth.

It's a bit like saying we can't use robots until we have full AI. Obviously we can, they just aren't going to be fully autonomous and chatty for many years to come.

165:

Payload size or mass is no issue here. The MER were sent using Delta II rockets. This relatively launcher had a GTO capacity of no more than 2 tons. The Ariane 5 was designed from the start to launch two payloads at once - heavier payloads than that.

The question why nobody is doing the obvious is the right one. I have no real explanation other than a mindset that rules out sending the same mission twice and demands new designs for each new mission ... or plain corruption. It is much easier to hide bribes in development costs than in rocket launches. I don't see any convincing way to rule that last explanation out.

And once more, launch costs aren't the problem, even if we don't see a reduction.

166:

HA! I see comment 89 answers my questions. I thought as much. Charlie's participant characterization was spot on in Schmitt's case.

167:


On the subject of per-pound launches getting cheaper, this video was kind of fun:

http://quicklaunchinc.com/

Note: scoffing is fine, but only after watching the whole thing. It's chock full O' fun facts.

168:

@163:

I appreciate the difficulties in simulation you are describing,m but do we really need to do the simulations? Is there some problem with just doing the experiments and testing out the proposed designs?

I don't think that anyone is seriously proposing leaping into the dark with an Acme 1.0 closed cycle ecology for a Mars colony. But we could test quite a few systems in orbit with animals to determine robustness and look for failure points, what might be maintainable by intervention and so forth.

It's a bit like saying we can't use robots until we have full AI. Obviously we can, they just aren't going to be fully autonomous and chatty for many years to come.

The problem - as people keep telling you over and over and over again - is that since no one knows anything about this sort of stuff, it's kind of hard to do the libertarian thing and run a business model that will unequivocally show a profit to the investors. Iow, no we're not saying that it can't be done. But you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick; you've got to show that it can be done before you can attract any of the venture capital types.

No, I don't know how simple or difficult closed-loop life support is; for all I know, it's just a matter of shrimp and algae and some vitamin concentrates. Or it could turn out that you have to lug around a dozen tons of life support per person.

But I do know that if you try to sell an investor on funding a Mars mission and he wants to know how your going to keep them alive, saying that it's just a detail that needs to be worked out, but probably some shrimp and algae out to cover it, well, the odds are that they're not going to bite.[1]

This is so obvious I don't know why it's so hard to grasp - business people do not unkowns. Ergo, no privately funded space travel until those unkowns become less so. Again, period. End of story.

[1]Funny thing here is - this is complete antithesis of libertarianism. The government might well fund such research just because this is good stuff to know. There is no expectation of a profit, yet somehow, the government seems a tad better at this sort of thing than private enterprise ;-)

169:

I'm not entirely sure about the lipstick quote - 0.8% of GDP will buy you a boat load of lipstick ;) Maybe it was all cosmetics or something?

Anyway, I think the private exploitation of space might have a bit of an issue

"OK, we've got this 10,000 tonne lump of copper, aluminum (it's an American asteroid) and assorted other goodies from our asteroid mining - now all we do chuck an ablative coating over it and drop it in the nearest ocean...."

Any/all governments "GTFO, that thing is not coming anywhere near Earth orbit...."

170:

Unfortunately Elon is also broke - or at least suffering a temporary liquidity crisis.

The divorce isn't helping, either.

http://venturebeat.com/2010/05/27/elon-musk-personal-finances/

But he does seem to be doing a good job with Space X. I have no clue how Bezos is doing with Blue Origin or whatever he called the Boeing Clipper knock-off - either very well or very badly. My money is on the latter, unfortunately.

Chris

171:

> Colonization aside, is space commercialization practical?

Depends. The basic problem with space is that there's no "there" there. If there was a "there" there, it could be worth sending stuff up there, because the cost of space travel drop through the floor once you're in space and out of earth's gravity well. And there is a huge asymmetry between the cost of getting stuff down to Earth and getting stuff up from Earth.

The atmosphere makes landing almost the easiest thing in the world - at least compared to landing on Moon or an Asteroid. It does away with the need to match your speed to the speed of your target and it's hard to understate the gargantuan amounts of fuel you save this way.

> I suppose significant infrastructure support might be required even for a highly automated mining operation.

Actually, significant infrastructure is what it takes to make anything in space worthwhile or cheap.

Example: While it is true that getting anything from Earth to the Moon is extremely expensive in terms of work, money and energy - that is not true for the opposite, that is, getting stuff from the Moon to Earth. A train on a maglev track(*) could send at least 5,000 tons of stuff to Earth per day, using 1GW of electric power. (Vacuum is a great thing - you can easily get this train up to the escape velocity of 2.4 km/s, just release the payload at the right time at the right spot and it flies all the way to Earth.) The supply of parachutes starts to be a real concern here...

(*) The track would have to be near one of the poles. Depending on allowable g-load a 50km wide circle could do, but you would need something like a straight 150km track to limit loads to about 3g for people.

To put this into perspective: world copper production is 15mio tons per year or 40,000 tons per day. If the cost for infrastructure, refining and mining was free, this wouldn't be an absurd proposition.

Alas a) this stuff is not for free and b) the availability of ores on the moon is not a given.

Earth has had a lot of processes going on that significantly reduced the entropy of deposits (hence creating ores) - leaching some stuff out and depositing it elsewhere in higher concentrations, there were tectonic and volcanic processes going on, as well as life. Iron ore deposits are of biologic origin for the most part - they were deposited in the desperate effort of the first bacteria that used photosynthesis to get rid of a toxic by-product ... oxygen.

172:

Alex: Didn't want to do the math experiment? Too bad. Slamming your fingers in the door to get the data is really a teaching experience.

Unfortunately, when the problem is RATE, it means that we don't have a good understanding of the rates for critical processes in the vivarium we're building for the astronauts. This means we don't know precisely how fast nutrients will go from waste to food from astronauts, nor do we know how atmospheric chemistry will vary during this process, and whether it will stay within survivable boundaries for the astronauts.

Also, if part of the system fails, we don't know how to rebuild the remainder to work around the failure. We know that there are ways that systems can be rewired, since people are able to survive on islands after losing all sorts of things, but in space, with a limited amount of weight and limited resources...we don't know, pure and simple.

Getting those numbers involves funding a lot of door-slamming experiments, with lots of replication. Since it's primary research, it's not high on the list of funding priorities. Global warming is a higher priority at the moment.


173:

Bruce - I'm not discounting the problems with developing a long-term closed ecology. It will be hard work, and take a long time.

I suspect, however, that it can be solved incrementally. I mean, we can keep people alive in a tin can (like a nuclear submarine) for a long time with no more an active biosphere then whatever fungi sprout on the shower floor. So, I suspect that the first generation or two of "self-contained" habitats will be merely focused on supplementing the stored consumables.

See, I see space colonization as starting with the offshore oil rig model. Then some bean counter says, "hey, why are we flying lettuce to the Moon? Maybe we can save a buck and grow some locally."

Regarding going home - that's what cheap transport gets you.

174:

@171:

See, I see space colonization as starting with the offshore oil rig model. Then some bean counter says, "hey, why are we flying lettuce to the Moon? Maybe we can save a buck and grow some locally."

In this model, why are we flying anything to the Moon?

175:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden. And although I doubt she'd want to hurt Charlie, I expect if she did, she'd use her cane.

176:

If one were building a closed ecosystem the issue of designing it correctly would be critical.

But there are ways around this.

1. Build it much larger than needed. Obviously that costs mass and hence propellant, but at least the astronauts survive.

2. Add energy and chemistry. Not enough O2 from photosynthesis - just crack the CO2. Likewise nutrients. IOW, use brute force to solve a particular problem, and accept the system cannot be completely closed.

3. Don't design, just test live simulations until you get one that works through trial and error. Again, expensive to launch all those test systems, but they may be scalable.

I am well aware of the desire to understand systems and then design them. It is very useful, and when done right, a huge time and cost saver.

What concerns me on this thread is the assumption that because we don't have all the answers, i.e. cannot simulate and hence design an ecosystem, that we cannot even attempt to do anything until we have it nailed. I think it is another form of "analysis paralysis" justified by not wanting to take any risks or incurring any real costs, especially of failures.

177:

Maybe it's because I'm a white female American, but I was never that attracted to westward expansion of the US. Probably it's because I read SF long before I knew US history.

178:

"Keep in mind that the most idealized pictures of ox-carts going to the far west are about the exploration of areas like Oregon and Utah, when most of the process had already finished, and only some unattractive last pieces remained. Even today, few people live there."

Utah, I'll grant you, but Oregon? Have you ever been there? We have honest-to-God rain forests, not to mention fertile farmland (enough that we still haven't started using it all), major rivers, and mild winters. Not all of Oregon is so lush, no, but then neither was California before several massive irrigation projects redirected entire rivers into the desert.

179:

The problem - as people keep telling you over and over and over again - is that since no one knows anything about this sort of stuff, it's kind of hard to do the libertarian thing and run a business model that will unequivocally show a profit to the investors. Iow, no we're not saying that it can't be done. But you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick; you've got to show that it can be done before you can attract any of the venture capital types.

There you go again. It's all about a libertarian straw man. It's you that won't let go of this idea. Just because Charlie raises it in his blog, doesn't make it so. Business is not about being libertarian. Arguing that nothing works without a sound business plan just flies in the face of business history. Obviously there are a lot of businesspeople, successful and failures who didn't pay attention to this lesson.

I give you examples. I show you a full quote from Wikipedia about Ford. You deny it. I run the basic numbers. Your response is to take one sentence out of context and tell me the myth you learned in school.
Ta da, you've proved me wrong...not!

Launch costs are an issue whether you are writing an asteroid mining plan or whether you are a Communist state deciding on ET resources. The economics are the same, the motivations and conclusions different.
Econ 101 tells you that reducing prices will stimulate demand. How much? We don't know. maybe you can't make a profitable business of it at all, but the lower price will stimulate demand. It's hard to justify military spending but capitalist USA does it anyway. Make the stealth bomber for 1/10 the price and the air force will order more, regardless of the level of manufacturing profitability.

180:

Yup, fun to do. NASA did it, so did Biosphere II. Replicated studies? Not yet viable to fund them.

And (hauling out the spiked club of enlightenment), have you noticed yet that I'm talking about data-based simulations? This is the kind of thin you do when you're trying to design a working system based on experiments. Shall I hammer that in, perhaps?

As for cracking CO2, photosynthesis is pretty damn efficient, and it also has the virtue of being self-assembling and absorbing environmental toxins like ammonia. The virtue of plants is that they are massively multi-functional, and thereby save on weight. The problem with plants is that they tend to grow in non-linear ways, making the rate less predictable than we want.

As for the weight of life support on a spaceship: good grief! Does anyone else want to respond to the issue of why weight matters on an interstellar mission, or should we just pause for a moment of stunned silence?

Something that's lightweight, completely functional, resilient, self-repairing, and works for centuries? Heck, I want that in a multi-tool, let alone an ecosystem. The only tool I've got that will last that long is a Nepalese kukri knife, and the reason it's going to last that long under regular use is it's a single piece of recycled Mercedes car spring with a replaceable handle. No moving parts. Keeping a subsistence farm working for centuries is not easy, though it has been reportedly done.

181:

@177:

There you go again. It's all about a libertarian straw man. It's you that won't let go of this idea. Just because Charlie raises it in his blog, doesn't make it so. Business is not about being libertarian. Arguing that nothing works without a sound business plan just flies in the face of business history. Obviously there are a lot of businesspeople, successful and failures who didn't pay attention to this lesson.

Not surprisingly, you've got several things wrong there, including your paraphrases of what I've said. But . . . I'm curious. Just how would you propose to go about doing things? What's your scenario for getting some sort of space development going, and who's going to pay for it, and why? And why is your proposal realistic.

You sound kind of like you have a vision, like you're running these little "artist depictions" as a sort of montage in your head. Which is, of course, perfectly okay. But some sort of real plan it's not. Anyway, let's hear it. Be sure to explain with some detail who's paying for all of this and why.

182:
Keeping a subsistence farm working for centuries is not easy, though it has been reportedly done.
And that's a non-closed system, getting all kinds of material and energy from outside the system and allowing toxic effluent to pass outside where it no longer affects the farm.

Look, the issue is that we just don't know that much about individual organisms, as heteromeles pointed out. But then we have to take tens or hundreds of different organisms and understand how they work together under changes of environment as well as changes in the organisms themselves. And the interactions are nonlinear, and the complexity increases combinatorically with the number of different organisms. And we need to make sure that none of the organisms produce something that poisons any of the others, even under stress conditions that we don't see all the time. See why "Don't design, just test live simulations" is going to take a long time and cost a lot, and still not give you all the answers you need?

I mean, we can keep people alive in a tin can (like a nuclear submarine) for a long time with no more an active biosphere then whatever fungi sprout on the shower floor
No, we can't. A nuclear sub is not a closed-loop system; it carries a hell of a lot of supplies to make up for not being able to recycle things. And it can carry a hell of a lot of supplies; the payload of a sub is many, many tons; we don't have a lifter that can get that much mass to LEO, let alone anyplace where we can put a colony. Class example of just what kind of problem this can be: look up why submariners back in the early days of nuclear subs had cravings for cottage cheese after long missions.
183:

Photosynthesis is, alas, not all that efficient. Roughly 1% conversion of light energy to biomass, and only part of that biomass is directly edible by humans. Run-of-the-mill terrestrial solar panels are 10 to 20 times as efficient at turning light energy into something more useful than humans, and expensive ones built with space in mind can do 40 times. It's worse if you're far away from the sun, because not only is the plant inefficient, you've probably got to provide artificial light.

But there doesn't seem to be any away currently known to avoid the photosynthetic bottleneck. Manmade systems using solar power or other electrical sources can be a lot more efficient at splitting CO2 into O2 and C or O2 and CO, but you can't synthesize food from the carbon or carbon monoxide. The best you can do with electrochemical splitting of CO2 is guarantee you'll have enough oxygen to starve to death instead of suffocate. Maybe there's some chemotroph that can use simple synthetic chemicals as food, and astronauts eat that directly or something a step or two up the food chain, but at that point you may well have given up any simplicity or efficiency gained by avoiding the greenhouse-in-space thing to begin with.

On the bright side, as you said, plants provide multiple services, they can repair at least limited damage, and they're self-replicating.

184:

Iron asteroids are not the way to go. It is volatiles you need, for propellant and human requirements. So you choose a dead comet which is mostly volatiles like water under a crust of carbon and gravel. Drill through the crust, heat the ice and extract. Distill/ filter and you have plenty of water. Recycle where economic. If you want LH2/LOX for the engines (how C20th!) electrolyze and cool. Everything else you ship from earth.

If you want volatiles you could, I dunno, stay on the planet Earth. It isn't that hard to find water here too, you know.

So you're still looking for a reason to justify hauling all that equipment up the steepest of hills, dude.

185:

Argh, should be "turning light energy into something more useful TO humans"

186:

...the kinetic energy required to put a 1kg lump of anything into low earth orbit is about ten times as many joules as you'll get from detonating the same mass of TNT.
This is true if all of your mass starts from the surface of the Earth.
It would be much more energy efficient to construct and launch the majority of a spacecraft (shell, shielding, 02, and hydrogen) from the moon where the energy required for orbit is 1/20th that of Earth. Then you only need to launch material from Earth that can't be manufactured on the moon - electronics, high precision parts, etc.

187:

CO2 cracking efficiency, I see that has been answered below.

Colonization distance. I think we have been talking about places a lot closer than the next habitable star system. So would you rule in hauling food to the moon, Mars or the asteroids? Maybe even further within sol system?

For any colony, just how closed and self managing does the ecological system have to be? Could it be more farm like to work? If so, how artificial and simple can we get before it breaks? Might it not be possible to just plant hydroponic food crops under artificial light and get this to work for decades without collapse before fresh materials are supplied? I'm just amazed farmers grow crops without simulations at all...

188:

I thought I explained this earlier. Volatiles are the major mass fraction needed for human spaceflight. Non-volatiles can be imported. IOW, get your water, air and propellants from asteroids, have your computers shipped up from earth.

Why do we need all this? We're still debating that. Where would the fun be if that ended?

189:

...And we need to make sure that none of the organisms produce something that poisons any of the others, even under stress conditions that we don't see all the time. See why "Don't design, just test live simulations" is going to take a long time and cost a lot, and still not give you all the answers you need?

One might find that the computer simulations with associated test data take longer than the simple randomized real life experiments, much like a GA finds good solutions to MP hard problems before the stars grow cold. It is also possible that you cannot design a stable ecosystem at all, so you start up the best one you have, allow it run n cycles, turn it ash and restart. Oh, that looks like farming again.

190:

What's your scenario for getting some sort of space development going, and who's going to pay for it, and why? And why is your proposal realistic.

Why don't you ask the 'space tourism' folks? Are Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic, Starchaser, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Limited and the European "Project Enterprise" going to stop at suborbital flights? Is Bigelow (foolish libertarian?) ever going to make a buck with inflatable space habs, or will the sub-orbital folks eventually go orbital, or is that all a foolish pipe dream?

These people are developing a business. They may be throwing their money away, but are you so smart that you can say a priori they are dumb (or worse 'libertarian')? If nothing else, these companies are attempting to overturn the idea that only government does spaceflight. Space Adventures has already proven that for a few well heeled people.

50 years ago Epcot had an exhibit showing people living (colonizing) the oceans, in houses and cities. Didn't happen. Or did it? There are thousands of offshore oil rigs permanently manned, not to mention rivers of oceanic cargo ships. Cruise ships constantly ply the oceans for tourism and educational trips. Fishing trawlers are so numerous that the fish harvests are unsustainable. Not colonizing the oceans? Let go of the cute [retro?] vision of nuclear families swimming with dolphins under the ocean, picking seaweed for dinner and maybe you might just agree that we kinda did.

191:

@SoV: I seem to recall that you were less than willing to believe anything the biologists said last time we had this discussion, so why are you suddenly coming over all Ecology Man on Alex?

@Alex: I'm pretty sure you were here for the last round of this. Build a self-contained ecosystem? No problem, here's my bill. Build a guaranteed stable self-contained ecosystem? Er, how would you like to buy this bridge, guvnor? One careful owner.

192:

Oh God, H3. I had a roommate who would get downright scary when you mentioned lunar colonization, or anything even tangentially related to it. I once pointed out that the cost of solar energy is falling rapidly, and that with oil prices going up it may soon (2020s or so) be more feasible to have a fission/renewable combo to help us ease off the carbon addiction we've got going. I further suggested that such technologies could be developed and deployed without going to all the hassle of a major space mining operation.

His reply to this is that H3 fusion (powered exclusively from lunar regolith, natch) would be SO EFFICENT, which I knew was a good argument because he said it with great vehemence and accompanying hand gestures.

When I finally convinced* him that maybe the economics weren't right for a major mining operation, he seamlessly shifted gears to space tourism: clearly the market for spending enough to buy a nice house on the chance to live for a week on a barren, airless rock with an added bonus of possible death by radiation or mechanical failure is going to be huge.

Later, when we were again talking about the subject, I mentioned that I wasn't super thrilled about having the face of the moon strip-mined. He seemed honestly confused by this. "Why? Nobody's using it for anything." I said that the moon is beautiful and lots of people like looking at the moon the way it is, and that a bunch of ugly scars on it would be a terrible loss to humanity. He got really quiet, and steered the conversation away, as if I'd said something crazy.

Sometimes I wonder, do I look like that to others when I mention how I sometimes daydream about living long enough to have my consciousness transferred to a custom-built robot chassis?

*Or perhaps I didn't convince him of my point, but rather only to move the conversation along.

193:
I said that the moon is beautiful and lots of people like looking at the moon the way it is, and that a bunch of ugly scars on it would be a terrible loss to humanity.

Actually that's not an issue. The moon is large and tide-locked. We can happily strip-mine 50% of it without affecting real-estate values on Earth, since the far side is never visible from down here.

194:

Actually that's not an issue. The moon is large and tide-locked. We can happily strip-mine 50% of it without affecting real-estate values on Earth, since the far side is never visible from down here.

Sure, that's a solution.* The thing that freaked him out was that anyone might care enough to say half the Moon is off limits in the first place. It seemed positively unnatural to him.

* Well, if space station colonies somehow become feasible in a big way, the people living out at the L-points might get pissy at us for ruining their view...

195:

Feorag @ 78
Hate to say it but wrong - try thr charrles close society website, and remember that OS maps up to 25-inch scale are available.
All the OTHER maps (aprt from Google, which ain't accurate or reliable) are based on the OS.
Oops.

@ 43
No.
the Us transportation system is inefficient, because it sold out to the motor industry.
Evn large cities STILL don't have what Europeans would think of as useful inter-urban and urban rail systems, and the ones that do (Florida) the last train runs at about 19.30!!!

@ 27
What about "When the people fell" by Cordwainer Smith?

@ 58
Brought Peace.
Yes, actually.
The war was started, quite deliberately by the groupthink of the Imperial German General Staff, who seriously thought they could fight a war on two fronts, and hold the Royal Navy off, as well, once the Kiel Canal had been widened to take the latest Dreadnoughts.
They came damned close, but no banana.....

@60
Spot on.
Chemical rockets are only too obviousy, NOT the way to cheap/mass space-travel.
So - how to get to orbit and beyond?
Bring on the handwavium/unobtainuim drive, folks!
Or, perhaps, something like an electric (VERY high-voltage) ducted fan, elctrohydrodynamic drive to get up to thinner atmosphere, THEN switch to the QM "hydraulic-jack" principle that was invented in Britain, but the Chinese are exploring - but will only work if rigid superconductors can be readily fabricated to run at (at least) liquid-nitrogen temperatures - sorry forgot the reference for that one...

@ 72
"Vox Day"?????

Charlie @ 76
and #122
The author of "Late Victorian Holocausts" LIED, deliberately, in some of his scenarios, especially when it came to famines in India. He had/has his own crypto-communist axe to grind.
Also, in spite of participating, vigorously in the slave-trade, the Brits were, nonetheless, the first to abolish it.
Perhaps "Least-worst" might be a better description of that empire .......

@ 126
Pilgrims colonoised part of the US for thier particular version of "religious freedom" - whilst wanting to oppress all the others, just as much as the types they were running away from.
Isn't religion "wonderful" ??? Maybe not.

@ 140
"nanotechnology"
Is coming. Two news pieces recently on medical (lab-scale at present) advances in re-growing teeth and bones, and they're working on flesh ....
Using nano-type methods, and some very careful chemical controls.
"God" won't cure amputees, but humanity might be able to, sometime in the next 10-20 years.

@ 188
So you're saying we are somewhere at the equivalent stage somewhere between James Watt and Richard Trevithick, and the Stephensons' haven't arrived on the scene, yet?


196:

"This thread is a re-badged debate from sci.space.policy in 1995, and I claim my five pound prize."

197:

Never said the Brits caused famines in India. I never read the book Charles mentions, but "crypto-Communist" is no worse in my book than "vocal Capitalist". Neither gets you any extra points for credibility.

But they did all sorts of truly nasty things to keep India from developing local industry and products. Why? To keep up the profits of British businesses who had a captive market in necessities like cloth and salt.

People were thrown into prison for violating these laws. In fact, the Poms built The Great Hedge to force Indians to pay the salt tax.

198:

I don't have my copy of 'Late Victorian Holocausts' to hand, but this is the first time I've heard of any claims that Mike D. lied in that text.

British responsibility for Indian famine would be consistent with their previous record here in Ireland. 'This Irish famine will only kill one million people, and that is not enough to do any good'.

199:

Submariners and cottage cheese (yep, took me a while to find it).

Now extrapolate to space: where are you going to keep the cow that makes the milk from which you produce the cheese? What is the cow going to chow down on? And what do you do with the 500 litres of explosive and smelly impure methane (with mercaptans and hydrogen sulphide) that it produces daily?

(Of course, Alex is now going to bring up the Arthur C. Clarke story about the moon base where the astronauts have to improvise an artificial cow in order to make the milk that the visiting dignitary with the stomach ulcer needs to drink, after the junior engineer drank the entire supply ... which, now that I think about it, skipped the issue of where the astronauts got the cow gut bacteria starter population from.)

200:

While I'm on the subject of methane ...

Alex, you might want to read up on the transcripts of the Skylab IV mission.

Skylab IV was the third, long-duration mission aboard Skylab (Skylab I was the unmanned launch; II-IV were the three crewed expeditions). Skylab was not designed to be a closed-circuit life support system. As with every flight from Mercury onwards, NASA included CO2 scrubbers in the life support payload. What they didn't include -- because it never occurred to anyone that they might need them -- were methane scrubbers. By the end of Skylab IV the atmosphere in the station was close to 1% methane; dangerously close to an explosive mix. (It was one of the problems that were going to be addressed if Skylab was to be reused, but that line of research was shut down when Skylab deorbited prematurely.)

That methane didn't come from the astronauts; it came from their passengers, specifically gut bacteria.

Even on a relatively short duration mission with an open-loop life support system, it is a very bad idea to ignore the biology.

I don't have PubMed access, but this abstract appears to be relevant.

201:

I've yet to find maps that are as useful as OS maps for use in the Great Outdoors - with the exception of Harvey's Superwalker series, which only cover a very small number of popular destinations (Ben Nevis, the Skye Cuillin, and so on).

I'm told (by Swiss people) that Swiss maps are even better, but haven't yet had a chance to test this for myself.

202:

Your basic point stands but... doesn't that document actually say the cottage cheese thing was a myth?

203:

No, it doesn't. (What it does say is that the press got hold of an interesting anecdote and went wild with it.)

204:

I can't paste from the document, but as I read it from page 15:

- One subject (of 23) requested cottage cheese on day one of the sixty-day experiment. It was out of stock so he repeated the request on days two and three and finally got his cottage cheese on day four.

- Around day 30 an officer told the press that the cook requested cottage cheese four days in a row, speculating that this may indicate a calcium deficiency.

- Various papers immediately ran headlines along the lines of "Submarines cause insatiable craving for cottage cheese".

205:

Can't tell you how many times I've heard "But basic economics tells you that raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment . . ." from these naifs. As always, it's the story that counts. Not the actual facts from which the narrative should have been assembled.

Has this claim been experimentally debunked, then? Oh, goody :-)

206:

76: Ask yourself which empire bequeathed us the terms "political officer", "concentration camp", and "pundit" (and check the original meaning of the latter).

"Political officer" in the British Empire meant something completely different from its Soviet meaning. A political officer was either a diplomat or a local government official or a bit of both.

"Concentration camp": that would be the Spanish empire, in Cuba, against the local rebels - a policy aimed at separating the rebels from the population. Not the British.

"Pundit": that would be, er, the Maurya Empire in India, maybe? Not the British, anyway. It's a Hindi word meaning something like "scholar" or "expert", and it was in use long before the British turned up. (Now, if you're talking about the Indian Survey pundits, that was a British invention, but I'm afraid that very few people will agree that sending spies to survey the land on your borders is some sort of unforgivable atrocity.)

History fail.

207:

Re: nuclear submarines. In a discussion in Another Place someone described being on a six-month submerged deployment on a US nuclear SSBN. This length of time submerged was unique in his experience -- it may have been experimental, to determine the breaking points of the sub and the crew during such a long voyage. He described how the sub was filled with supplies to the point where the crew were walking on a floor comprised of cases of tinned food in the passageways. He did not think that the crew could survive and function in a deployment much greater than the six months trip they underwent.

208:

The problem with lunar factories to build cheap spacecraft is that you have to launch the factory and all its support apparatus from Earth before you can even start. If you're building enough big enough stuff, then it saves you resources in the long term. But given the need to get thousands of ton(ne)s of material to the moon before you can start, you do need to be building a very large quantity of stuff. And then there's the whole issue of maintaining your huge moonbase.

It could (probably) be done, but it requires a much bigger scale of operation than every space program to date. And so once again you find yourself asking "why should the world spend $LARGE_NUMBER trillion $CURRENCY_UNITS' on this project instead of dealing with AGW, eliminating poverty, getting working fusion reactors, or whatever else?"

209:

Per your comment on 58: were they wrong? The only thing they did not predict was American entry into the war, which looking at it from the perspective of the time (and not retrospectively) was not very likely. The US respected the British blockade of the Central Powers (which starved millions) but did not respect the German blockade (which hoped to starve millions.) As a "neutral" we still wanted to make money so we went with the better bet. Then the U Boat appeared--Oh Dear! Americans of German and Irish descent outnumbered people of a UKian origin and the idea of being allies with the Red Coats or getting involved in other people's business was very unattractive in 1914. So play up the propoganda machine on the sinking of "innocent" ships, neglecting the British threatened the same, and eventually we came over. It also gave the more established elites an excuse to insist that America would be a monolingual Anglophone society and allowed surreptitous assault on the Labor movement. Considering the form of the peace achieved in 1919 and its subsequent results, you can forgive Americans for thinking our involvement was a mistake, leading to the next mistake--agressive noninvolvement in the 1920's and 1930's. I have always wondered if we would have a better world if the Allies had lost the Great War. Probably just a different one.

210:

Re: confined spaces and methane... A biography of a submariner during WWII mentions the time they were being reprovisioned just after the port's quartermaster had got a good deal on farm produce. Once they had sailed and were out of view of the port officials the first things over the side were the large sacks of cabbages.

211:

I forgot The Day the People Fell. As good as that was, that was probably the Chinese future of the 1950's as much as Heinlein juveniles were a 1950's American future. Still, how many authors of any era were as radical or weird as Cordwainer Smith? (Besides Tiptree who also was a psych worker in intelligence.) In context, he was more startlingly different than the New Wave was in the late 1960's or the New Weird is now. He even predicted the Terminators (manshonjagers) who now terrorize our humble human habitats. Luckily, a few rugged individualists broke the rules, stole an experimental spaceship and started a new life in the habitable zone of Mercury. The sheeple must choose between human communist overlords on Mars or the metal ones back in Detroit. However, on the plus side both do offer universal health and day care services. (The mountain of skulls retirment plan, not so much.)

212:

Saturn Apartments Japanese manga by Hisae Iwaoka (http://sigikki.com/series/saturnapartments/index.shtml) is an interesting take on your space cadets after all somebody has to clean the windows.

213:

Such a realisation would mean that the infinite bounty of American resources, ingenuity and manpower actually had a limit; That actions had consequences.

If that was true then we would have to worry about the Climate, the Deficits and the Poor. That would not be fun. It would be downright boring.

Let other people do that, Americans don't have to. There'll be always be a new tomorrow, a new horizon, the future will always be better. It's the way it's always been, worked in the past and it'll work in the future.

America has thrived on getting something for nothing and Space is merely the next frontier to be conquered. So what if our cities are crumbling and broken, by the time we've conquered Space we won't need them any more. Dream big, Dream large, Dream for America.

214:

I grappled with this same issue many times at the Space Review. You can check out the publication (where indeed, the libertarian view is commonly represented) here.

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1328/1

Those interested in a critical view of space libertarianism may also want to check out the
SpaceCynics blog (http://spacecynic.wordpress.com/).

215:



A lot of people assume that if we are ever going to advance into space, it will have to be Big Money Up Front or nothing. If that is true, then the answer will be 'nothing'. Big piles of money are notoriously risk-averse, which is how they grew so big in the first place.

So I'd say that the 'space cowboy' sentiment actually impedes our progress into space, by its stubborn emphasis on Manned Flight Now. It always sets the bar too high, and when it's implemented, budgets are drained to death.


There could however be an incremental, almost emergent path into space, pardon my future-wank:

1. Let's say telerobotics mature to become cheap and widespread, which is plausible. So then, the resulting full-immersion gaming market both hones interface technology and trains a generation of skilled operators.

2. Earthbound telebot tourism grows, especially with texture-transmitted sex. To a lesser degree, legit business also feeds the money-progress loop.

3. Modern life becomes saturated with cheap telerobotics. A few 'garages' of miniature telebots are put permanently into orbit for satellite repair and recycling.
Reusing space junk becomes more cost-effective than deorbiting a lot of it, so the spacemonkey industry grows.

4. Once there are about a hundred bots in orbit, tele-tourists start plugging in to the space experience for maybe $5/minute. (Be Dewey for 30 minutes and work your zero-g garden in a 1kg microsat.)

5. The spacemonkey industry extends to ever-higher orbits, and delay-compensating techniques expand with it.


6. Humans industrialize the Moon without ever setting foot on it.


7. Big satellites become *way* cheaper to produce, and LEO blooms with little factories to produce profitable:

* Traditional sats, e,g. communications, global positioning, observation of weather/traffic/mapping/ecology etc.
* Solar power stations.
* More telerobot garages.
* Environments filled with telerobotic tourists and scientists, and laboratory terrariums of plant and animal life.


What I'm saying is that, developing into space is such a big step that we're more likely to get there by evolution than by intelligent design.

Or, not at all.

216:

197
Oh the poor Irish, deliberately murdered by the Brits in 1846-8.
Erm no.
There WAS gross incompetence, and arrogance, but the WHOLE OF EUROPE (apart from Britain and Belgium) suffered near-famine conditions then.
That's why 1848 was a year of revolutions.
The weather was vile, and even in England, food pices rose very steeply, we had to have Corn Law reform, and there were Chartist demonstrations.
Ireland was very unlucky, because of the peasant's dependency upon one variety of potato ("The Lumper").
As for India, the author claimed that starvation was deliberate Brit policy, whereas the local Brit governers that did the most to attempt to relive the famines, got rewarded with promotions and medals - hardly the actions of a government that was supposedly trying to do the opposite.

205
"Pundit" - a Brit re-pronounciation of "Pandit" - a specific high-caste Hindu scholar/teacher/leader (as in Pandit Nehru) Pandits were favoured by the Brits, especially as the more militant and reactionary muslims had always got it in for them - and still do.

208
As in WWII the USA was forced in by enemy action, nothing directly to with British actions, except in decoding The Zimmerman Telegram where Imperial Germany tried to get Mexico to join the Central Powers, by offering her Texas, Arizona, etc ....
IF GErmany has not insisted on the Schlieffen Plan, but held Franch troops at bay, whilst polising off Russia first, and NOT invaded Belgium, the UK would NOT have gone to war.
Try reading Barbara Tuchman's superb books on these subjects, for a really detailed exposition.

217:

NB: other history books are available.

218:

I think you'll find that the US ingenuity around deep water oil extraction was built on a few metric sh1tloads of effort by the British and Norweigian Offshore industries developed in the 1970s. I think the TV advert at the time was they compared the level of technological jump they needed to routinely drill in the North Sea to be the same as going to the moon.

There is a reason why a certain company is in the middle of the current Foxtrot Charlie in the Gulf of Mexico.

Next thing you'll be telling me that American ingenuity pioneered digital computing, radar, internal combustion engines, the jet engine, the transistor... oh? Right, ok, you can have that one...

219:

Charlie's got Concentration Camps right, at least for the modern version of herding women and children into disease ridden camps to try to destroy a way of life. There's a reason why the two white halves of the South African population don't always get along.

220:

I'm not actually asking for a self-contained ecology. What I would say is that space colonization would require increasingly closed recycling systems the more distant a colony gets. We can recycle some materials with energy, but so far we need biology for food, so the presumption is that we will need some sort of farming and that leads to include other biospheric elements. Clearly we can run non-self sufficient colonies with supplies from earth.

I don't see this as some sort of binary issue defining all space colonization efforts. If it turned out that that it was impossible to grow food away from earth at all, but we had cheap space transportation, we could still populate the solar system and rely on food shipments. I don't see a conceptual problem with that. It is only when we start to talk about self sustaining systems, e.g. slow star flight, extra solar colonies that the issue stands in stark relief. In my view, the technologies for this will have been worked out (or not) with the aforementioned sol colonies.

221:

Various thoughts:

1) Nuclear submarines - having been on one, yes a six-month float can get rather old. The sub is obviously not self-sufficient in foodstuffs. It does make all its fresh water and air.

2) Bruce Cohen - yes, we currently can't get the mass of a nuclear sub up into orbit. That's why launch costs are critical.

3) Right at the moment, space tourism looks to be the economic driver. I do suspect mining and resource extraction will come along eventually. Nobody likes having a strip mine in their backyard. I will also say that there are all sorts of tourists. People pay good money to climb Mt. Everest or visit Antarctica, two locations not known for creature comforts.

4) In general, I suspect that the economic development of space will be a generation behind government. For example, now private industry is trying to develop Earth orbit technologies for tourism, while NASA is working on Lunar and Mars missions. In short, Government and the private sector have roles to play.

222:

(Of course, Alex is now going to bring up the Arthur C. Clarke story about the moon base where the astronauts have to improvise an artificial cow in order to make the milk that the visiting dignitary with the stomach ulcer needs to drink, after the junior engineer drank the entire supply ..

Which story was that? :-)

Unless you were thinking of transporting zygotes, the gut bacteria are already in the calf fairly soon after birth, transferred from the mother. But in practice you could transport the bacteria using a sample from a cow on earth and thereafter use your herd to maintain emergency stocks of the bacterium innoculates. It is amazingly hard to get rid of them once you get them. I think your problem is the reverse - keeping down infections in the habs, especially mutated bugs.

223:

Yep, farting in space is not a good idea in a closed system. The good news is that you can get rid of methane quite easily. Similarly the hydrogen sulphide from a bad one as well, since that is rather more toxic.

Despite this issue, Mir proved you can keep a tin can in space for a number of years. (I believe Russians fart just like everyone else).

Now the stench from poorly washed bodies and rampant skin bacterial colonies...

224:

I think there are two things with Space Tourism which feel like they're overlooked to me.

First: market size. The Futron Study, which was one of the most oft quoted studies to justify the market size, did some frankly outrageous fudging in their statistical analysis which is probably why it didn't lead to lots of money. Yes, we have tourist markets to unpleasant and weird places on Earth but they're large niches. If we're hoping for the "if you build it, they will come" bootstrap model for Space Development through Tourism then you need something significantly larger than a niche. And I'm not convinced.

Second: Persistence of equipment. It's an article of faith in alt-space crowd that the "real" development comes once the first generation of Bigelow (or whatever) modules have reached the end of their life and are available second hand.

The problem there is that we have some examples of what happens to structures left operating in LEO for a decade or more and, generally speaking, the failure modes get more extreme as the units age.

There's a great article I read years ago about the Russians trying to restart Salyut 7 in order to move some equipment over to the then, new, Mir station. It's an interesting read, I'll try and find it.

225:

You could say the same thing about military spending.

At the start of my lifetime the scale of offshore oil rigs would have seemed stupendous and unlikely. The value of the oil and gas made them economically feasible. As the planet's GDP grows, why would one a priori rule out an extra terrestrial facility just because the costs look huge today?

226:

There is a book I shall never write, because it's non-fiction, the advance would be piss-poor, and it'd take a lot of research. But I occasionally trot out the title and pitch. It is, "To Boldly Blow: A History Of Bodily Fluids In Orbit", and it will cover these and related topics in nauseating detail, from Al Shephard's sub-orbital flight in a pool of cold urine to Gemini 7 (14 days in a capsule the size of a Smart ForTwo, stuffing used diapers under the seats), Borman's diarrhoea on Apollo 8, the saga of the Space Shuttle toilet and it's redesign to prevent floaters, and so on.

227:

Like the original ssp threads, the history analogies are one of the many weak links in an often weak chain.

so:

"Charlie's got Concentration Camps right, at least for the modern version of herding women and children into disease ridden camps to try to destroy a way of life"

No. Ajay was right about that one and Charlie wrong.

NB - this is not to say that the British empire wasn't above killing a million or so Indians when that suited its purposes: it certainly did so in 1944.

228:

Mir proved you can keep a tin can in space for a number of years.

Yes it did. It also proved that the resale value of second hand space stations is awful.

229:

> we currently can't get the mass of a nuclear sub up into orbit

The USS Nautilus weighs 3000 tons. That's a mere $30bn if we use conservative numbers. Could be $15bn for the Falcon 9.

That's 15-30% of the price of the ISS - including service and launch costs.

Some assembly may be required. ;)

230:

I hate using Wikipedia, but...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Boer_War#Concentration_camps_.281900_-_1902.29

The term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during this conflict.

Not a glorious episode in British military history. But it did have an upside that it was one of the first wars to have to deal with a significant public backlash at home when the truth came out. Emily Hobhouse is something of an Afrikaner heroine.

231:

If I chose a bad example, my apologies. I did however check Wikipedia using "Offshore_drilling" and a quick reading of the history section shows that it was US companies leading the way on these efforts.

My intention was not, however, to suggest "America is best", but rather that 'doers' made technological advances.

232:

What's interesting to me about this discussion is that it seems to put the cart before the horse.

Yes, the sort of organizational level needed to support space colony or a settlement on Mars is going to be enormous and probably unlikely to be at all libertarian.

Yes, the American West is a pretty poor model for a space colonization effort (although this wasn't nearly as clear back in the early days of the Golden Age, when the trope originated).

Yes, many "Space Cadets" have unrealistic attitudes about how easy it is to (e.g.) set up sustainable off-Earth ecosystems.

However, it doesn't seem unrealistic to believe that continued efforts at letting plains apes get to and live in space can ultimately produce sustainable habitats. Either we incrementally learn how to do it or we invent one or more of Charlie's magic technologies. The harder part really is finding a reason to pay for it. If libertarian space cadetism helps that happen (an arguable proposition), it's fine with me, as did Great Power competition in the 1960s. Chinese nationalism or a Chinese-Indian-Russian-USA space race works for me too.

Once we have sustainable space habitats, we can get better at making them, running them, propagating them, and finally, governing them. After all, libertarian philosophy is an emergent phenomenon of rich, literate, industrial societies.

233:

Hmm.

You know, this sort of implies that the original American expansion into the West was accomplished by individuals. Certainly that is a core element in the American mythology of the period from early colonization to the late 19th Century. However the colonials learned as early as Jamestown that a cluster of individuals trying to strike out on their own wasn't going to work.

Or to paraphrase, those that do not work, will not eat. Jamestown was certainly not the representation of freedom in the early years.

Further, to expand out West, to sustain a family out there, would require cooperation with neighboring farms and towns. Failure to do so could easily see you off during a particularly hard winter.

So I'd offer a slight modification to your thesis.

I think what appeals to a particular type of "space cadet" is the notion of being a pathfinder. A lone trek into the unknown perhaps. The ones who are most suitable physically, mentally and emotionally for such work these days are probably adrenaline junkies, soldiers, emergency response types.

Your space cadet, on the other hand, is probably someone sitting in front of an XBox with a bit too much time on their hands. They may well be a classic couch potato.

In other words, they are the ones who are prime candidates for falling victim to a sim-civilization.

My two cents.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

234:

If we're hoping for the "if you build it, they will come" bootstrap model for Space Development through Tourism then you need something significantly larger than a niche. And I'm not convinced.

Convincing you isn't really relevant. The fact is that space tourism is being developed, and contrary to the remarks of many, not only by 'libertarian' crazies who don't understand business.

The space tourism business may be a bust, time will tell if it was a millenial fantasy without staying power. But people with good track records are providing funds and trying to develop the idea, with plans that include lunar hotels somewhere on the business horizon. If orbital and lunar hotels are built, it will only be a matter of time before fresh food is grown at these locations, if only to ensure their wealthy guests are fed as they expect and to provide something to see on the trip. From there I would expect concerted efforts to close the recycling loop to reduce supply costs. Given the costs of transport to the moon, 'solid waste' management will be a important. How long before someone converts a water recycler so that it produces bottled mineral water, possibly carbonated. for these people?

235:

Alex: I'm impressed that they have a section on Offshore Drilling without mentioning the North Sea or the British floating defense platforms of WW2 which were the pre-runner.

Which reminds me, I should stop reading Wikipedia as much, or find secondary sources.

Yes, Americans can be ingenious, but so can the French, Germans, Brits and a bunch of others. The US doesn't have a monopoly.

236:

Perhaps Mary Roach has that partially covered in "Packing for Mars"? She seems fascinated by the apparently gross, and she does funny, quite well.

237:

Convincing you isn't really relevant.

I'm glad you know me and what I do so well.

The fact is that space tourism is being developed, and contrary to the remarks of many, not only by 'libertarian' crazies who don't understand business.

No, this is true. You don't have to be a 'libertarian' to fail at business. In fact, just ask Paul Allen.

Elon Musk has done rather well, but there was an excellent piece on him recently in the Venture Funding news about his flagrant tendency to, well, er, lie about the status of his businesses to keep investors happy.

He's damn good at it. Probably one of the best.

But that doesn't mean he's a genius.

238:

No arguments there. And you can edit Wikipedia...

239:

And you can edit Wikipedia...

And that would be another of my problems with Wikipedia :)

240:

Now go argue with ScentoViolets who seems to think that real businesses are run by solid, no nonsense, folks who have solid, workable, business plans. That this space biz stuff is just a libertarian fantasy that cannot possibly work for such 'obvious' reasons that only fools would engage in it. :)

Early post WWII writings on space envisioned manned space stations to act as communication relays. (Von Braun suggested they be used as bomb platforms to try to get military funding). This was mostly considered to be fantasy. This scenario didn't happen, but with changing technology, we did get comsats which turned out to be a lucrative business for all concerned.

Skylab, Salyut, Mir and ISS have shown that people can live for up to a year or more in space, so the original idea of manned space stations wasn't entirely wrong, although no economic rationale has been found for them, so they remain technical accomplishments only.

Space tourism is an attempt at creating an economic rationale for humans in space. No one knows whether that will work or not, and we have but the barest hints of information, the Space Adventures flights and the bookings for Virgin Galactic. An early, serious accident could render the industry stillborn, or it could blossom like the cruise ship business.

If space tourism works, then I would expect infrastructure and people to service it to follow. Hotels, suppliers to hotels, and activities will follow if there is profitable demand, just as the tourist industry works today. Space Adventures suggests a $100m price fora lunar flight. For a that price, one might expect fresh brewed Starbucks coffee on the flight. And let's not forget the Acme 'gas saftee' methane oxidizer, and possibly the Kohler 'lo-g no bug' shower stall to freshen up before dinner. "The orbiting Hilton also has a nice selection of lunar souvenirs that you can buy before you depart for re-entry".

241:

Early post WWII writings on space envisioned manned space stations to act as communication relays.

cf. Arthur C Clarke, "The Other Side of the Sky", which noted that they'd have to be permanently manned because otherwise who was going to change the thermionic valves when they burned out, eh? At least he was one technological generation ahead of Heinlein, who at roughly the same time was writing "Space Cadet", which involves NERVA rockets run with mechanical computers. (Another reason to go to space: we'll be able to build much bigger and faster computers in freefall, without gravity putting a strain on all the axles and cams...)

242:

You could explore the association between the literature of the space cadets (science fiction), and libertarian politics. Back in the golden age, Campbell and Heinlein were both notorious libertarians. Add Campbell's stable of hacks, echoing his politics to sell him stories. Ayn Rand's turgid potboilers are now promoted as science fiction.
Consider the paradox of "progressive" literature and reactionary politics of these writers. Contrast with Vonnegut, who was progressive with both.

243:

I really, really wanted to avoid another Clarke reference, just to avoid the gentle poke in the ribs from our host.

But yes, that was the basic rationale, and with the basic functions of comms maintenance came the station commander, environment engineer, cook, relief personnel pilot... What would those international telephone calls have cost?

So much easier for Von Braun to try to convince the military that they must have the 'high ground' for national survival, so please give us $$$$.

244:

I think you're mis-reading what ScentofViolets is actually saying. The issue actually isn't about real businesses but what the people with the money think they can get back from the proposed business, and, with the possible exception of sub-orbital joy-rides(*) - the actual space industry is actually quite a good money maker.

Elon Musk has built a "lower" cost alt-space business using his personal fortune, until it ran out, and government and commercial space money - he's under-cutting the other launch vendors by a significant margin, but you're still talking 7 figure launch costs, better than 8, but Musk has about the cheapest operation we could conceive of. Short of SSTO or fully re-usable, that 7 figures isn't coming down any time soon.

(*) If there was a sane evolution from sub-orbital to orbital I might be less "whatever" about this. But there isn't - the energy equation alone makes it a problem.

This is JUST the same as the discussions in the other thread. Infrastructure doesn't just magically appear because there's a market.

There are tourists to Everest and the South Pole.

There aren't any Starbucks.

245:

Now, there *might* be a commercial use for a Bigelow cluster with SpaceX providing the resupply and crew deliveries at $80M a pop, so that's $10-$20M a seat - certainly people have done the ISS runs, but I've also noticed that the rate at which people are springing for the ISS trips is significantly lower than the Futron report thought they'd be. That's possibly due to the crash impacting fortunes, but it could also be that people aren't actually queuing up to go like they expected.

Bigelow could certainly build and orbit a cluster for a few hundred million - the numbers I've seen suggest you can rent the operation at $100m a quarter, with a couple of Space X flights, that would put it at $260ish million for a 90 day operation. A fraction of the ISS operating costs, but hardly in the realm of mass market tourist operations.

Maybe a few large pharma companies would be up for it? Possibly. I still don't see the commercial evolution happening for space colonisation.

246:

revisiting launch costs.

Boeing delta IV can lift 22,500kg to LEO at a cost (to govt.) $140m.

That works out to

Call the package $1m for a flight to LEO and return, in a reusable capsule atop a man rated version of the launcher. Compare this to the $250k sub orbital hop for Virgin Galactic (admittedly includes more goodies) and the approx $20m flights to stay on space stations by Space Adventures.

Call $1m the bargain basement target, no frills, cost to orbit. Add $1m for a short space station/hab stay.

Since the vehicle is disposable, the launch cost is mostly fabrication cost and therefore amenable to mass production economies of scale. Where might that take us?

247:

There are tourists to Everest and the South Pole.
There aren't any Starbucks.

But there is a tourist industry at Everest and a "Coca Cola Trail". Maybe the altitude makes brewing a good cup of coffee difficult? :)

248:

I still don't see the commercial evolution happening for space colonisation.

But you accept that space tourism is starting. And you can see a potential role for cheaper flights to a station/hab complex at LEO. What I read from this is that infrastructure could appear, no 'magic' involved.

So you won't take the final step because of....failure of imagination?

249:

@177:

Utah, I'll grant you, but Oregon? Have you ever been there? We have honest-to-God rain forests, not to mention fertile farmland (enough that we still haven't started using it all), major rivers, and mild winters. Not all of Oregon is so lush, no, but then neither was California before several massive irrigation projects redirected entire rivers into the desert.

Oh yeah, Oregon is a great place to live, climate-wise; I grew up there on a farm 11 miles from the nearest town[1] with no electricity or running water and we were never very cold or very hot. If you're 10 yours old, it's a great situation to get hooked on science fiction. Or on reading, period. The only problem was - and maybe this is just a general rural thing - you kinda have to have lived there for about eighty years before you're accepted by the locals.

[1]Elkton, Oregon. Population: 194

250:

If you don't like Clarke, how about we go to an older, better source: George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral. Now there's a good relay station!

I recently bought another copy for an aged relative who hadn't read it in years (and neither had I). These are the stories that, in 1945, started playing with the issues surrounding a post-scarcity economy based on a matter duplicator. What was that about the 50 year latency of ideas again?

251:

Add Campbell's stable of hacks, echoing his politics to sell him stories.

Including those flaming libertarians Asimov and Clarke?

252:

Hate to say it but wrong - try thr charrles close society website, and remember that OS maps up to 25-inch scale are available.

You cannot get such maps for the Garmin Oregon 450, and if you could, they'd be 120 years old, at an obsolete scale and using a different projection from modern maps. The old OS maps are fabulous for historic research, and I'd be overjoyed if someone could do GPS versions, with the right projection, because it would make said research easier. But for geocaching, it'd be useless.

Your link, while interesting, isn't actually relevant and doesn't in any way demonstrate that a private organisation such as, say, Open Streetmap, couldn't do what they've already done. Admittedly, they've done it by utilising billions of pounds worth of government satellites, but they've still produced maps that are, for some uses, better than what the Ordnance Survey is willing to sell to us, and they could produce more detailed ones if they wanted to.

253:

...in 1945, started playing with the issues surrounding a post-scarcity economy based on a matter duplicator. What was that about the 50 year latency of ideas again?

Maybe not direct matter replication perhaps, but 3D printers and fabs are coming on stream. Pretty close to 50 years.

254:

Using wikipedia as a source for authoritative statements about anything remotely controversial or obscure is considered harmful.

Me, I use the first thing that comes to hand, in this case JSTOR, which comes to hand because I'm a historian. And here we go:

'The Concentration Camp' Arnold Brecht Columbia Law Review, Vol. 50, No. 6 (Jun., 1950), pp. 761-782

"Concentration camps are not, of course, an entirely recent invention. Guarded camps of some kind or other, where suspected persons were herded together, have always played a considerable role in times of war. Under the official name of concentration camps they obtained a bad reputation in the South African War, when Lord Kitchener ordered the detention of all non-combatants, but got few other than women and children. The Spaniards, too, used concentration camps in Cuba in the Spanish-American War. "

255:

@182:

Photosynthesis is, alas, not all that efficient. Roughly 1% conversion of light energy to biomass, and only part of that biomass is directly edible by humans. Run-of-the-mill terrestrial solar panels are 10 to 20 times as efficient at turning light energy into something more useful than humans, and expensive ones built with space in mind can do 40 times.

How much of that inefficiency is at the front end, i.e., the reflectance (external quantum) efficiency, as opposed to internally? That is, how efficient would photosynthesis be if you tuned the incident radiation specifically to the bands where chlorophyll A, B, C1, C2 and D (iirc)? Actually, that's a couple of questions, because photosynthesis not only creates biomass, it produces O2

As always, it's not the absolute efficiency you're optimizing for, it's O2/Kg of plant mass or edible biomass/dollar or somesuch. Those more efficient solar cells can be mighty pricey, and I suspect that plants might have an edge there, especially in terms of replacement costs :-)

256:

Another issue about ideology: What do we do about the kids?

I keep trying to add up all the specialties a citizen of space should know. Probably no one can know them all, but there's a huge amount of complex engineering and complex biospherics management that may well be outside the capabilities of an average human. Or not. That part is not clear, but if it requires geniuses, the problem is that the children of geniuses tend to be more average than their parents, so in a multi-generational setting, it's conceivable that the capacity to run things might erode, even if everything goes perfectly.

So that's a huge problem, but let's pretend that it doesn't exist for the moment. Somehow, average people can learn to live successfully in space.

How long does it take them to learn? Probably 30 years. So we're talking about a society where people become socially mature, fully functional members of society at 30. Absent life extension, they become dangerously inefficient in their fifties (most likely) so most of the critical work gets done by a fairly small group of people, who have to support a relatively large society of less-functional people.

It's kind of scary that you won't get to go outside until you're 30.

(as an aside: given the rigors of space, it makes sense to encourage spacers to procreate as teenagers, while they're learning all these skills, so that when they become fully functional and exposed to the hazards of space, they're not trying to get pregnant. Then we have the stereotype of the driven college kid running into the stereotype of the teenage parent. That's another hard balancing act).

Note that I'm dealing primarily with technology and demographics here, not politics, but already this society is looking distinctly odd by space cadet standards.

Of course, some magical technology might make it easy for humans to live in space as they have on the ground, but then we would just along for the ride. In this case, as the song says, we better hope that we make great pets. And that the machines that keep us alive value us as pets...

Weird options. From a science fictional point of view, there's nothing wrong with any of these, but for someone with a strong political ideology, all of these require a lot of social and political change.


257:

@189:

What's your scenario for getting some sort of space development going, and who's going to pay for it, and why? And why is your proposal realistic.
Why don't you ask the 'space tourism' folks? Are Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic, Starchaser, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Limited and the European "Project Enterprise" going to stop at suborbital flights? Is Bigelow (foolish libertarian?) ever going to make a buck with inflatable space habs, or will the sub-orbital folks eventually go orbital, or is that all a foolish pipe dream?

This isn't answering my question. I've explained some basic business principles which you apparently don't think apply. Well, that's fine; but then you've got to come up with something concrete that actually shows those principles don't apply.

As it is, all you're doing is trying to get us to accept the burden of proof with your "How do you know that . . . " Science just doesn't work that way.

These people are developing a business. They may be throwing their money away, but are you so smart that you can say a priori they are dumb (or worse 'libertarian')? If nothing else, these companies are attempting to overturn the idea that only government does spaceflight. Space Adventures has already proven that for a few well heeled people.

I have no idea what this means. I will point out - Again - that eventually these companies will have to turn some sort of profit; that's kinda the definitional to the whole notion of private enterprise. So how are they going to do this? And how long are people going to keep putting money into these companies before they decide it is better spent elsewhere? Please, someone with your obvious enthusiasm must have thought of this at some point, you can't be of the Underpants Gnomes school of thought, can you?

No, "But they'll make up for it in volume!" is not an answer without more specifics.

258:

@190:

@SoV: I seem to recall that you were less than willing to believe anything the biologists said last time we had this discussion, so why are you suddenly coming over all Ecology Man on Alex?

Um, what? I have no idea what you're talking about, but assuming that this is relevant to the discussion rather than you nursing some sort of bizarre grudge, could you be more specific?

259:

@204:

Can't tell you how many times I've heard "But basic economics tells you that raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment . . ." from these naifs. As always, it's the story that counts. Not the actual facts from which the narrative should have been assembled.
Has this claim been experimentally debunked, then? Oh, goody :-)

Uh-huh. No, the claim has not been proven. This is why very few libertarians are actually scientists ;-) Here's the deal: the people making the claim have to prove it. People like me don't have to disprove it. To date, there has been little if any evidence for this claim being true.

Almost as bad is that while econ101 may say that - and most libertarians never seem to get past the intro courses - econ102 explains why it is both logical and possible that raising the minimum wage will not result in higher unemployment.

But the main takeaway here is that what you're trying to do here isn't the way science is done.

260:

@207:

The problem with lunar factories to build cheap spacecraft is that you have to launch the factory and all its support apparatus from Earth before you can even start.

It's actually even worse than that - no one knows how to build such a factory in the first place! I'm not even talking about setting up production lines. The basic problem here is that no one knows how to build machinery that will reliably work in lunar environment. Take a good wind-up watch to the Moon, let it run on the lunar surface, and it stops working pretty soon because of problems with vacuum welding, lunar dust, etc. I'm not saying that such machines couldn't be built, of course. But - again - somebody's got put up great big chunks of cash to do basic research before these machines can even be designed, let alone built and tested.

261:

Wouldn't the same argument apply to running a city? Looking out the window, it seems to be working OK.

Why can't you take the kids outside (the ship, the habitat?) where presumably the adults can go?
"Don't play near the exhausts dear, it's dangerous. And tell your brother not to lick the cow, he doesn't need a mouth full of their engineered bacteria."

If you design the ship so that ordinary people can run it (seems to be reasonable assumption for a designer) what that means to me is that you reduce complexity through compartmentalization and specialisms until is doable. Isn't that why specialisms exist and evolve new jobs - because system complexity requires it?

Perhaps I'm missing something you are trying to get at.

262:

"Oooh, ooh please sir! I know the answer to that."

"You do?"

"Just put the factory in a pressure dome. Just like in the pictures they have in the books."

263:

@213:

A lot of people assume that if we are ever going to advance into space, it will have to be Big Money Up Front or nothing. If that is true, then the answer will be 'nothing'. Big piles of money are notoriously risk-averse, which is how they grew so big in the first place.

Well, if you're talking about people like me, that's not what I think. I think we've got a pretty good toe-hold right now, and that it's only a matter of time until you see a million tons or more of space junk.

It's just that it won't necessarily be manned space junk.

Also, while it's possible to do an extended manned presence in space without the Big Money Up Front, the only way I know how to do this is . . . government. The antithesis of libertarianism. It's only private for-profit ventures where you've got the hard-eyed honchos saying "show me the money".

To sum up, Apes in Space is possible if the government does it, but the government really doesn't have a pressing reason to when the unmanned approach works so well. You can also get Apes in Space through private enterprise (as is only proper under the precepts of libertarianism), but only if you can convince those money men to fork over some serious cash. Since their motto is "Show me the money", that doesn't seem likely any time soon.

This seems to me to be pretty straight forward. I have difficulties understanding how someone could ever think otherwise if they had even a passing acquaintance with the science and technology necessary for space exploration/development.

264:

It's like Charlie has said before, until you can build a self sustaining colony out in the Gobi Desert you can't build one on the Moon or anywhere else.

I'll take it further. Look at The Mars Trilogy, by Robinson. Mars was set up using surplus equipment and techniques developed on Earth to build and maintain their own closed ecology cities. You will have most of the major cities on Earth as closed, self sustaining, ecologies before you have self sustaining colonies on Moon or Mars.

Earth is where you develop the technologies, so that you can survive the R&D process, and you do it on existing cities where people already want to live.

265:

@242:

I think you're mis-reading what ScentofViolets is actually saying. The issue actually isn't about real businesses but what the people with the money think they can get back from the proposed business, and, with the possible exception of sub-orbital joy-rides(*) - the actual space industry is actually quite a good money maker.

That's pretty much it. And yes, the actual industry is pretty good - for the expensive unmanned stuff and which a system that gives a lower cost per kilo is considered at best marginally attractive. At best. Let me dig out something here . . . hmmm, older than I thought but:

“The dose of pragmatism produces some sobering outlooks,� notes the report’s executive summary. In the absence of an RLV launch demand remains relatively flat, at about 60 to 80 launches a year through the end of the forecast in 2021. Moreover, reducing launch costs does not stimulate a huge increase in launch demand, as many industry sectors, particularly established ones like communications satellites, have remarkably inelastic demand curves. Introducing a vehicle that reduces the cost of space access by 75% increases launch demand only from about 60 in 2001 to under 140 in 2021. In other words, cutting launch costs by a factor of four increases launch demand by less than a factor of 2.5. It doesn’t take an MBA to realize that such an RLV would generate less revenue than existing expendable vehicles, making it very difficult to pay off the huge investment required to develop such a vehicle.

This has been the case for just about every analysis I've seen. The ones that come up with a different conclusion? See the other comments about Elon Musk :-)

266:

I agree with building sustainable cities on Earth before you get to the Moon, but I think you radically underestimate the problems of politics involved in rebuilding a city.

Politics is probably the top three reasons why great ideas don't get implemented. That's local politics, money politics, and personal politics. Things like rational design and benefit for all are way down on the list, unfortunately.

Example: right now, in my city, we're fussing about recycling sewage into potable drinking water. And we're in a desert. And we're in a water crisis. And this idea has been around for 30 years. And people have been doing this along the Mississippi for decades (the joke about water passing through 8 sets of kidneys by the time it gets to New Orleans isn't exactly a joke). Do I need to point out that politics is the problem?

That's the wonderful power of massive disasters. It makes major urban redesign possible.

So far as designing livable closed-cycle cities goes, we're going to either have to build them, Arcosanti-style, out in the desert or other trashed lands, or we're going to have to destroy a good chunk of a city somewhere.

267:

As it is, all you're doing is trying to get us to accept the burden of proof with your "How do you know that . . . " Science just doesn't work that way.

Interesting. So now you are demanding I explain how the space tourism business plans have to work? You appear so ideologically blinkered that actual existence proofs are disregarded. Last time I looked, science worked by looking at actual phenomena. It is the economists that assume a rational man (or model) and then proceed to explain phenomena.

Start with the observation that there is a nascent space tourism business and that there are real projects being developed. The better question to ask is: "Why is this even happening if the assumption one has about the business seems to suggest that it shouldn't be happening?".

All I can say with some confidence is that the common theme seems to be that there is a space tourism business to be had, costs are important, private industry can drive down those costs and reap large profits as the business expands. I've seen charts by industry speakers showing sub-orbital flights in the $10-20k per seat range within 10-15 years of first flight operations, a 10 fold reduction in price.
That is the phenomenon that you appear to dismiss.

In the case of Virgin Galactic, we can guess that Branson is relying on airline industry experience to be relevant, i.e. an amortization strategy; frequent use of a per flight revenue generating asset. SpaceX in contrast, using expendable launchers is probably pushing for low cost per unit manufacturing. Space Adventures is going the more traditional route and charging current costs for those relatively few people able to afford the high ticket price on existing systems, but they don't appear to want to attempt to drive the price down to build volume.

If you wish to interpret the facts differently, that is your prerogative.

268:

Er... so they became known as Concentration Camps in South Africa?

269:

@230:

However, it doesn't seem unrealistic to believe that continued efforts at letting plains apes get to and live in space can ultimately produce sustainable habitats. Either we incrementally learn how to do it or we invent one or more of Charlie's magic technologies. The harder part really is finding a reason to pay for it. If libertarian space cadetism helps that happen (an arguable proposition), it's fine with me, as did Great Power competition in the 1960s. Chinese nationalism or a Chinese-Indian-Russian-USA space race works for me too.

Once we have sustainable space habitats, we can get better at making them, running them, propagating them, and finally, governing them. After all, libertarian philosophy is an emergent phenomenon of rich, literate, industrial societies.

I think this misses the key point about Libertarians In Spaaaaace: what these middle-aged white dudes really want is to get up there themselves.

Look, I'm sure that some sort of space tourism will come about eventually, if for no other reason (actually the best reason) than that economic growth will eventually put tickets into the hands of enough people that it will become a viable business proposition.

The problem is, this doesn't help these guys. By any commonsensical extrapolation, this isn't going to happen until late in the 21st century at the earliest or more likely sometime in the early- to mid-22nd century. By the time these dates roll around, they'll be dead or at best too physically frail to take the trip.

What's left except to rail at Big Government and hope that private enterprise performs better than expected? Which it will of course, if only that meddling Nanny State would stop encumbering businesses with burdensome regulations ;-)

270:

Boeing delta IV can lift 22,500kg to LEO at a cost (to govt.) $140m.

Ok... good so far.


That works out to

We start to get into trouble about here.

Call the package $1m for a flight to LEO and return, in a reusable capsule atop a man rated version of the launcher.

Ok, so what it looks like you've done is base that on 160kgs for a person plus a little overhead...

So, our current best option is a Soyuz with a mass of about 7,000kgs which can carry 3 people - so actually, on your $140M launch, you're looking at $46M on those numbers per person, without covering the actual vehicle.

Best bargain basement option we have is actually probably the Dragon (which hasn't flown yet) - which carries 7, one of whom would actually need to be the pilot. So the cost would drop on that vehicle to about $20M (again, excluding the cost of the capsule) - Musk has gone on record saying he thinks they could do flights at $20M(ish) a person, which fits with their $80Mish price tag and the numbers they're offering.

So, you can't use those numbers at all, unless your vehicle can carry something that holds enough people.

Compare this to the $250k sub orbital hop for Virgin Galactic (admittedly includes more goodies) and the approx $20m flights to stay on space stations by Space Adventures.

What we actually get is more evidence that Space Adventures is about right for a Soyuz launch, and that Virgin has to amortize their development costs for SS2.

This is the real problem. Yes, people can put up nice infographics saying if the market size is X, then we can make $Y money, but that's hiding a lot of huge assumptions. Patrick Collins does this all the time with a lot of his Space Tourism work.

The problem is that when you speak to Venture Capitalists, they will drill down into the numbers and try to get some replies. Oh, and they'll want a 5 year ROI, which is what the REAL problem is.

271:

I think this misses the key point about Libertarians In Spaaaaace: what these middle-aged white dudes really want is to get up there themselves.

I agree that that's part of what they want, and that they aren't going to get it very soon, especially if they expect to live in a libertarian society when they get there.

However, the reason libertarians want to get there into that society is they think it will give them freedom if they do. Arnold Kling, a libertarian economics writer, has often said that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to leave. Huck Finn (or was it Tom Sawyer?) wanted to "light out for the country."

272:

@265:

As it is, all you're doing is trying to get us to accept the burden of proof with your "How do you know that . . . " Science just doesn't work that way.
Interesting. So now you are demanding I explain how the space tourism business plans have to work? You appear so ideologically blinkered that actual existence proofs are disregarded. Last time I looked, science worked by looking at actual phenomena. It is the economists that assume a rational man (or model) and then proceed to explain phenomena.

Ideologically blinkered? I'll let that one slide. Let's hear your explanation - some numbers are always good. And let's see your "existence proof". If you have one, why didn't you present it a long time ago?

Start with the observation that there is a nascent space tourism business and that there are real projects being developed. The better question to ask is: "Why is this even happening if the assumption one has about the business seems to suggest that it shouldn't be happening?".

Ah. "Nascent" and "being developed". Translation: they don't actually exist. I don't even know where you get your question from, given that it's not predicated upon reality. All I've seen so far is some people putting up their own money, running out, and then turning to other sources of revenue. The controllers of which seem to be increasingly skeptical, if the reports are accurate.

So let's see your evidence. Links and cites, please. And numbers. Numbers are good.

273:

@Alex: Yes, you're missing a lot.

--Farming: probably everyone doing ag would have to be the equivalent of a master permaculturalist.
--Engineering: probably everyone doing this would have to be, well, an astronaut.

That's a lot of expertise to develop. It's doable, certainly, but not easy. It's going to take a long time.

And going outside into space? A) in SCUBA, which is pretty darn safe in comparison, they allow kids to blow bubbles at 8 in a safe enclosure, and don't allow them to have an adult-level certification until 15. And a spacesuit is harder to work, I think (especially the gloves).

The bigger problem with space-walking is your life-time radiation dose. If you get fried (take too much radiation) you're never going outside again unless you want to deal with radiation poisoning. How much is too much? I don't know, but I suspect that, over a 20 year working life, it's going to be hard not to accumulate such a dose.

So, if you start going outside at 30, by the time you're 50, you're no longer suit certified, but that's okay.

If you start spacewalking at 10, you get irradiated throughout adolescence, and you probably are fried by 25-30, just when you're reaching your peak reproductive and productive years. Not smart at all, from society's perspective.

So, instead, teenagers get to have kids, learn to be astronauts, and learn to be extremely good gardeners, all at once. And these kids are supposed to be average? Right.

274:

I've seen charts by industry speakers showing sub-orbital flights in the $10-20k per seat range within 10-15 years of first flight operations, a 10 fold reduction in price.

Nice aren't they.

I bet they have other charts showing the market for space tourism is worth "BILLIONS!!!!!!" too.

So here's how institutional money works. A fund gets a bunch of rich people and institutions together and persuades them that they know SO much about business and enterprise that if they give them - whatever million - dollars, they will invest in various companies and give them a MASSIVE return. An individual fund will usually have a 5 year lifetime at the end of which the VC needs to show a return to the investors or they're in serious trouble.

So, the fund is created and the VCs review thousands of business plans, all of which say similar things - i.e. "Our market is so mind buggeringly huge and our offering so incredibly compelling, you won't believe how much money we're going to make you..."

So they invest in a bunch of businesses, and aim to vest in the period of time. They're actually pretty good at this, but they're also pretty damn cautious, contrary to popular belief. Which is where Space Travel has a problem for serious money (*) - the ROI is going to be a LOT longer than 5 years, it's essentially a services business - i.e. you have 5 rockets, you can launch 5 times and then you need to build 5 more rockets and if you lose one, you have a BAD day.

So, industry speakers will be telling you how wonderful things could be. It's their job - it has no bearing on whether things are wonderful or not. It's a game entrepreneurs play with the money men.

(*) - Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Bigelow and Paul Allen have used their own money - in the case of Elon Musk, it almost bankrupted him, and he started out with about $100M.

That's something else that would scare off people.

Oh, and a general rule of thumb in the last 20 years has been to not invest in areas that Paul Allen invests in. Apart from knowing Bill Gates, his track record is stunningly bad.

275:

@268:

This is the real problem. Yes, people can put up nice infographics saying if the market size is X, then we can make $Y money, but that's hiding a lot of huge assumptions. Patrick Collins does this all the time with a lot of his Space Tourism work.

The problem is that when you speak to Venture Capitalists, they will drill down into the numbers and try to get some replies. Oh, and they'll want a 5 year ROI, which is what the REAL problem is.

Exactomundo. Why this is so hard for people to conceive I don't know. Here's the weird thing: I'd like to believe in the dream myself, and believe me, if I had any spare change I'd give. But what I could afford to give would be in the hundred-dollar range, certainly no more than $1,000. That's why I'm not a venture capitalist. I'm guessing that they're not exactly "follow the dream" type of guys ;-)

276:

Well, your other problem is you aren't a certified investor so they can't take your money. There's a "grey" area for "friends and family" investments but the SEC et al treat that like a loan rather than an investment.

Investing in a business for equity is actually a lot harder than the media would have you believe too.

277:

until you can build a self sustaining colony out in the Gobi Desert you can't build one on the Moon or anywhere else.

Can, not will. Since there isn't much reason to build an enclosed colony on earth, it won't be built. If it isn't built, then by this logic, it won't be built. But we can build a temporary, pressurized habitat on earth and on the moon. If there is a [economic] need for recycling it will evolve on the moon.

We see technologies that evolved in different cultures that were not even nascent in their mother cultures elsewhere. The assumption that everything has to be designed, complete, up front is just wrong. There won't be some magical, Nasa designed, 100%, guaranteed closed ecosytem colony that can be plonked down on he moon or an asteroid, turned on and inhabited.
What we will see is a gradual development. A moon colony (if you want to call it that) would start off with simple pressurized habs and everything supplied from earth. The most expensive mass (air, water) will be recycled first, probably with physical systems. Food will continue to be supplied from earth. Then they may start to grow some fresh food for variety or a hobby, and that starts to reduce the need for food shipments and also improves the air recycling. Someone introduces fish/chickens/pigs and the food imports reduce even further. This stuff will be by design and trial and error and take time. At some point the whole system becomes fairly self sustaining and you have arrived at a moon sourced system.

Patience, grasshopper.

278:

So far as designing livable closed-cycle cities goes, we're going to either have to build them, Arcosanti-style, out in the desert or other trashed lands, or we're going to have to destroy a good chunk of a city somewhere.

That is the point. If there are no livable closed-cycle Earth cities then you can't have livable closed-cycle Moon or Mars cities. You have to do the one before you can even plan the others. Solve the simple problems first, here on Earth where you can survive your mistakes.

- Build livable closed-cycle cities that people want to live in.

That means centuries will pass before we can even plan going to other worlds, other stars, because each closed-cycle city on Earth would have to be stable for generations before we actually knew how to succeed on some other world.

279:

At some point the whole system becomes fairly self sustaining and you have arrived at a moon sourced system.

Or you fail. Plenty of real world abandoned cities where the climate changed, a crop failed, the water supply dropped and the entire population died or moved out.

Building colonies at the end of a supply chain is going to be really really problematic if something happens to the supply chain.

It's even worse for Mars, the moon is only a few days away.

280:

Can you identify the reference source. Without taking things too out of context, it seems to be saying:

Given the industries currently operating, mainly comsats and government sats, demand is fixed.

So let's see what the survey was looking for, existing business only or new business opportunities?

281:

@269:

However, the reason libertarians want to get there into that society is they think it will give them freedom if they do. Arnold Kling, a libertarian economics writer, has often said that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to leave. Huck Finn (or was it Tom Sawyer?) wanted to "light out for the country."

I guess this is where anecdotal evidence comes back to bit ya. I know space-heads and I know libertarians, and the intersection of those two groups seem to me to be overwhelmingly pro-space; they'll dump the libertarianism if that's what it takes get hot jets into the wild black yonder. Giving up space if that advances the cause of libertarianism? Not so much. Of course, sampling bias being what it is, I meet more libertarians through space groups than I meet pro-space people in libertarian groups (I don't participate in any of the latter.)

282:

You gotta love that one.

The Moon is Earth's largest vacuum chamber (Gravity for Free!) and all you can think about is putting everything into an artificial atmosphere. (I know you were joking.)

Seriously, that's the only somewhat realistic killer-app for industry in space that I can come up with - manufacturing stuff in cheap, plentiful, perfect vacuum.

I'm not 100% sure about the potential, but looking at the testing facilities of Ad Astra (developing the VASIMR engine), creating a decent vacuum of any significant extent on Earth seems to be a pretty big deal:

http://www.uh.edu/research/spg/activi1.jpg

283:

@276:

That means centuries will pass before we can even plan going to other worlds, other stars, because each closed-cycle city on Earth would have to be stable for generations before we actually knew how to succeed on some other world.

I've often thought that one of the new profitable business sectors would be in cryonics. The frustrated types who just want to get into space but can't because that sort of thing is a century or three away? The middle-aged white dudes, upper-middle class, science- and tech-oriented?

All they have to do is plunk down a nice little retainer and guarantee to have them frozen (or at least their heads) for as long as it takes for space tourism to become a reality and for medical science to advance to the point where it can reanimate them.

Sounds like it would be a sweet little swindle to me, given that here in America there are a lot of middle-aged and older types who just don't want to go when their ticket is punched. Why will your money to the kids when it can be put to work keeping you alive?

They need to learn self-reliance anyway.

284:

All this boils down to one simple question. "Do we go or do we stay?".
If we stay :
Space travel: No need to send robots to space. We do not need the data. Who cares if there's cold in Mars or it's hot in Mercurius. We are not going. No need to build big telescopes, because we do not need the data. What use there is for a map if nobody uses it. After all we are not going.
Human race: We need to find a balance with planet or die off until there is a balance. we would live as a race about 1-10 million years (10 000 or 100 000 grandchildren, if we live a hundred years old, double that if 50 years...ect.). If we are lucky 100 million years. after that exctinction. Why? Who knows?
If we go:
Space travel: Send robots to scout the area. Send humans where probability is less than 90+% of death.
Human race: Who knows? How many grandchildren? Who knows? Future? Who knows?

Ladies and gentlemen. Take your pick!

285:

A piece of my calcs got lost.

I assumed about 150lbs per person plus equivalent mass per person for the reusable vehicle, say 135kg/person.
launching 22500 kg to LEO, that is 160 people. Call it 140 and that is about $1m per seat.

The $140m was the price for a government launch, so maybe it was at below cost, but probably not. Obviously the vehicle will be more costly if man rated and the reusable compartment is assumed to be amortized to a small piece of the ticket fee.

Your point is well taken that no such crewed vehicle exists. Early aircraft didn't have passenger seating either, but they gained them until today a 747 carries over 400 passengers in rather uncomfortable seats. However, the back of envelope calculation is to show that costs could be reduced and that 10-20x reductions in price per seat could be obtained without using magic launchers.

IIRC, the shuttle was once going to have a module that sat in the payload bay that was to be configured to take decent number of passengers.

286:

Hey Charlie, you should really read the webcomic Escape From Terra. It'll make your head explode. And not in a good way.

So are you just looking to kick against sore shins, or is there a purpose to this statement? Aside from the canned colonialism-is-bad speech.

287:

Or you fail. Plenty of real world abandoned cities where the climate changed, a crop failed, I hate to sound Space Cadet here, but that's not actually an argument for not trying. I mean, planes crash, ships sink, cities burn - but we don't not fly or build.

It is an accurate statement of risk. But the people who end up trying to build the city are the optimists.

288:

Yes, but that's why optimists have problems :)

289:

Can't possibly work out. Why?

Have a look at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Routemaster

The good old London double decker bus. It can carry 64 seated passengers experiencing no more than 1.1g. Not exactly space worthy.

It weighs 7,500kg. You need two of them to carry 100 passengers. That's 25,000kg all told ... but I can't see you strapping two almost fully seated buses on an Atlas V rocket and the passengers surviving the trip.

290:

My answers would be:

1. Radiation exposure. If you are going to to have to go outside in a radiation area, that is a problem. So if you are to get exposed, why are you going outside? More likely you go outside in a vehicle with shielding, which allows you to take your kids with you.

I've taken my kids down to 100 ft - I just didn't use SCUBA, I took them on one of those "Atlantis" subs they operate. Much easier, and I didn't even have to drive!

2. Jobs. let's assume that there are lots of 50 people around. Given them the easier jobs and let them train or be teachers. If Fred is to old to run a whole farm unit, let him manage some part of it and ensure that he can't do anything critical. Let his teach Sue what he knows too. Like removing razor blades from bathrooms.

I think if you cast your mind back to life just 50 years ago you could make similar observations about life today. We would have to be geniuses to run computers in our daily lives...Now the grandparents seem to be able to type and do email.
I think you may be underestimating human capability, but I accept that living on a starship or a Martian colony is not going to work if you aren't fairly smart.

I don't wish to make light of the issues, but I draw some comfort from the fact that life seems to get every more complex and potentially dangerous, yet accidents remain rare and people seem to manage to adapt to new jobs and retrain for new skills. There's hope for us yet.

291:

So why have VC's become so stunningly stupid all of a sudden, when they were so successful for so long (but not in the last 5 years). Seems to me your explanation is so self limiting that it isn't even a bad caricature of the VC business. Do you actually know any VC's, because the ones I know aren't like that one bit?

292:

Sorry Alex, but this is where your BoE calcs get you into trouble.

First off: you can't say we don't have such a vehicle and then leap to we didn't start with 747s, we didn't. But in terms of space vehicles, we're not actually really beyond the Montgolfier Ballons either. We're certainly not at the Wright Flyer.

Second: It's not just about mass, it's about the physical dimensions of the cargo fairing, which on the rocket you mention is 4m x 5m...

Just stretching the cargo can doesn't really help much either as you end up breaking other stuff on the rocket.

This doesn't mean we won't have 160 person launch vehicles (I suspect that we won't), but it does put boundaries on the numbers. I think the Shuttle Passenger varient carried about 30, in a 4 x 8 row config.

293:

Not quite what you have in mind, but close? How Do You Go To The Bathroom In Space?, by William Pogue.

294:

Amen.

Of course, if it weren't for optimists, we'd all still be living in caves and cursing the dark.

295:

And yet we have 'colonies' that worked this way throughout history. They might fail, or they might not. But building things incrementally with experience is more likely to be sustainable than a punt with a finished design. The point is that it is a path to a solution, much like biological evolution (which some people also can't believe exists and demand proof of how can...")

296:

Funny, that's what I always say.

297:

I have an old book by Neil Ruzic "The Case for Going to the Moon" pub. 1965 which addresses this issue for 1965 era technology. (One I liked was to use not just the vacuum, but the extreme cold, something that you could emulate in earth orbit.) There are indeed plenty of newer technologies to manufacture too. Then we have the old standbys of science and resource extraction, but that is another issue.

298:

Well it worked for Doctor Who! :)

299:

I didn't say you could actually stuff those 100 people into the fairing, any more than those 2 double decker buses (although it would make an interesting sight).

When I was young, we flew in those car carrying aircraft (Carvair?). I'm sure the constraints were more about weight and drag than could 2 cars squeeze side by side into the passenger compartment of an existing turboprop aircraft.

300:

...something that you could NOT emulate in earth orbit. Doh!

301:

Yes Alex, actually I do. And I didn't say stupid. I said cautious.

They don't give money for the hell of it and that money actually comes from somewhere. The problem with the last 5 years is that booms are bad times to draw any conclusions about Venture Capital.

Oh yeah. It's called Vulture Capital for a reason.

302:

@293:

Amen.

Of course, if it weren't for optimists, we'd all still be living in caves and cursing the dark.

I think this statement needs a bit of amending:

"If it weren't for a lot of dead optimists, we'd all still be living in caves and cursing the dark."

303:

That makes it almost worse. You can greatly reduced the energy cost of building the object in orbit. It doesn't change the energy delivered when it gets dropped on somebody down below.

That's a plot point Heinlein uses. And at least he has his favoured side building objects which can penetrate the atmosphere to deliver their energy to the surface. It's the coming down which weaponises cheap spaceflight. And that doesn't depend on where the mass came from.

304:

Alex, it does feel like you're trying to have your cake and eat it here. Your strawman with the Delta being a case in point. If you can't get people into the vehicle it fails even as a thought experiment.

One Of my concerns about space travel is we'll hit a sweet spot where we could get costs for certain sizes of payload down to the $500-$1000 range in a fairly reliable SSTo but end up with such a small cargo volume it will be pointless.

Building colonies without a radical change in the launch paradigm just seems even more implisible to me than all the other handwaving we need to do for colonies to work.

305:

Feorag @ 250
I wasn't referring to online maps, but PRINTED ones.
I think we have a mutual misundersanding here .....

On another subject, various posters:
"Concentration Camps"
My personal opinion is that the S. African unpleasantness in the second Boer War was MOSTLY another admin cock-up, but ....
There was VERY bad blood between the Brits and the Boers, dating back to the "Great Trek" 1828-32, when it became apparent that the Brits were going to abolish ALL slavery within their dominions (The W Indian planters' economic clout having diminished).
The Boers regarded this as "British oppression".
Another reference-point is the novels of H. Rider Haggard. There, the native Africans are regarded as children, needing guidance from the enlightened whites, but, even then, the Boers were seen as regarding "Kaffirs" as subhumans to be used up and thrown away, regardless.
The reason given for concentrating the Boer civilians was that they could not be trusted to give their parole not to engage in the ongoing war.
Given this historical line of mutual mistrust, it is hardly suprising that things went wrong.
This is not to excuse it, please understand, but to explain.

306:

It's not just about mass, it's about the physical dimensions of the cargo fairing, which on the rocket you mention is 4m x 5m...

With a fairing radius of 2m, that is 2.2.PI.5 cu m ~= 60 cu m.

A human is h=2m x w=.7m x d=0.3m ~= 0.42 cu m.
So 140 people => 59 cu m with a no leg room to spare.

Please go to the bathroom before you board. And stop complaining. What do you expect for a $1m bucks, the Ritz? Bit like the London underground during morning rush hour, and you don't even have to hang onto the strap. :)

307:

Well the dead ones are handy too.

Another part of the problem is finding people who want to do it and actually are happy to live with the risk. And not just the risk for them but their families. I do worry that the crowd who really really want to do this might struggle with finding families prepared to make the colony viable.

I know for a fact that my wife wouldn't be interested.

308:

Awwwwww, poor baby! Do you ever throw a tantrum when you don't get your way?

Sheesh! Saying we only explore when we're going to conquer a place, or we stay home. What a quitter.

Personally, I *like* space missions. It's great to see missiles used for something other than settling pointless political scores by people who should be medicated, rather than given the power to kill each other.

I also accept that humans aren't well-built for space, and the expense of building human-sustainable habitat beyond Earth is prohibitive absent some significant technological breakthrough, and getting there is always going to be a pain in the ass.

So what?

I also can't run a marathon, but that doesn't mean that I declare that life is over and cut my throat.

Take what you can get and go forward.

309:

Except for the plumbing, life support, structural members, a way to load people and off load them and something to make sure they don't break like a squishy water filled sack of meat.

Case in point. At launch each of your 100kg lumps will be exterting 3ish times that much force on whatever is separating them from other meat lumps. Come back to me with the weight and size of that stuff and then I can ask more difficult questions.

Oh and I left out the reaction control system and, assuming this isn't one way, a thermal protection system and more protection for the aforementioned meat sacks.

There really are reasons why this stuff isn't easy!

310:

Next problem: What is that kind of stuff we might be talking about?

A typical computer chip has on the order of 125 square millimetres and is a little less than a millimetre thick. Its weight is on the order of 250mg.

Ignoring the cost of putting a fab into space and assuming that vacuum is for some reason a much better provider of magic smoke than air, we may calculate the cost of getting wafers into space and back.

A Soyuz capsule may optimistically be able to return 1.5 tons of payload back to earth, that's one sixth of launch weight. (If they manage a somewhat softer landing.) One kilogram on the way up will conservatively cost $10,000 ... a return ticket would cost $60 per gram or $15 per chip.

There'd better be some *real* good magic smoke up there!

311:

Pessimists are immortal, now?

312:

We did allow support mass for the paylo..err, passengers, so they shouldn't squish.

Obviously we would design the vehicle to be more squat with a larger passenger volume, at least that is what I've seen suggested in the past.

But using these calcs, we could up the cost to $5m per seat and just ship 30 passengers instead so they can at least read. Needn't be like an airline - just have every passenger get into his tube, like those Japanese things, slot them into the compartment and load the compartment into the launcher. Each tube might even be a full life support unit in an emergency.

Funnily enough, wasn't that rather the same way Freya traveled in "Saturn's Children"?

313:

Perhaps the bestcargument for space colonisation is the Fermi paradox. If we aren't living in a digital reality (a historical simulation), constructed by type 3 godlike descendants at the big crunch where energy density and informational processing power increase exponentially, perhaps the most likely future and explanation for why we haven't heard from anyone is that sentient life evolves but can't develope the infra structure to get off it's homeworld. Life on one planet is too fragile and within fifty or a hundred years if developing radio anhilates itself with nuclear war , global warming, oil depletion etc etc.

314:

IIRC the weird specks that one of the Gemini astronauts spotted floating past the capsule (the ones that started all those rumors about a coverup of the discovery of alien spaceships in orbit) were flakes of frozen urine that the crew had dumped overboard.

315:

Next problem: What is that kind of stuff we might be talking about?

I think silicon chips are not the product to choose. What I would look for is products that are very expensive or impossible to construct on earth today and whether a lunar plant would make any sense. We do know there are host of vacuum chamber manufacturers, their vacuums are much poorer than vacuum in space and size is limited. So large objects needing very high vacuums might be one possibility. Volume manufacture of some bulk materials may be another, but obviously have to be worth the $10000/kg bar. Perhaps some research in this field would be illuminating.

316:

Scentofviolets - Cyronics

You may think it is a potential growth sector, but it has been around since the 1960's and apparently something near 200 people have been frozen. Maybe there just aren't that many incurable optimists around?

There is even a british cryonics society:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/nov/07/cryonics-british-dads-army

317:
at the big crunch where energy density and informational processing power increase exponentially,
Why does nobody ever get this right? That statement is only true if some Type 4 civilization (able to use something close to the full energy output of the universe) modifies the contraction of the universe to fit certain parameters which can't occur naturally. That's why Tipler had to postulate a bunch of godssuper posthumans at the end of time to rescue all those old-style humans and put them in heavencomputer simulations. Oh, and the latest measurements of expansion rates show that the universe isn't going to slow down its expansion and start contracting; instead the expansion is speeding up.
318:

@282:

All this boils down to one simple question. "Do we go or do we stay?". If we stay : Space travel: No need to send robots to space. We do not need the data. Who cares if there's cold in Mars or it's hot in Mercurius. We are not going. No need to build big telescopes, because we do not need the data. What use there is for a map if nobody uses it. After all we are not going.

"Why is that odd fellow Oersted playing around with magnetized needles and electricity, and why should we care what the relationship between the two is?" Your argument is a general argument against any purely scientific research.

And that's assuming space exploration is only pure research. In reality, conditions on other planets help us understand conditions on our own. My pet obsession is looking for life or life-like phenomena here in the solar system or even outside it so that we can do comparison studies.

319:

Sorry, I misread your original comment. Rereading, I agree with what you say about VCs.

Nevertheless, Dyson's EDventures has invested in XCOR, so something passed muster in the b-plan. I accept however this is too small a sample to refute the main claim about financing.

321:

I doubt very much that any multi-stage complex processing application can be moved economically into space because the processing equipment is typically too large and/or too massive (and/or very delicate - see integrated circuit lithography equipment for instance). Pharma synthesis doesn't make much sense in space because it doesn't get any large advantage out of zero g or high vacuum; same for IC manufacture (growing low-defect high purity crystals works fine in 1 g, Jerry Pournelle in 1980 to the contrary notwithstanding).

322:

@314:

Scentofviolets - Cyronics

You may think it is a potential growth sector, but it has been around since the 1960's and apparently something near 200 people have been frozen. Maybe there just aren't that many incurable optimists around?

Welll, my thinking is that my target market - the baby boomers - were in their 20's then. Not much of a market at that age. But as that demographic marches into their 70's 80's and on, I suspect that a good many of them will jump at that opportunity as opposed to leaving their loot for their kids.

Am I being cynical, thinking that this privileged group wouldn't really shortchange their children, that they really consider themselves that entitled and that deserving? Possibly. But otoh, I know these guys ;-) To make this semi-relevant, note that refrigeration in space is a lot easier to do than on Earth and in an atmosphere. So much so that it's fairly easy to get to liquid helium temperatures as opposed to merely liquid nitrogen. As always, there's nothing new under the sun - The Jameson Satellite.

323:

Building colonies without a radical change in the launch paradigm just seems even more implisible to me than all the other handwaving we need to do for colonies to work.

I agree and disagree. If you are talking about continued shipment of mass off earth, then yes, I agree. The costs are very high and not sustainable for any serious colonizing effort. This would have been the same for American colonies if they needed constant supplies to survive. But once a beachhead has been made and the bulk of future mass demands shifted to space resources, then this becomes a game changer.

For example, if your space craft is a reusable vehicle that just stays in space and is refueled from local sources, the costs for spaceflight for that vehicle and crew are hugely reduced. The cost barrier is now just the launch of crews to rendezvous with the craft and eventual return. When you look at the numbers, this becomes very compelling.

The trick is to reduce launch loads to the minimum by sourcing materiel as much as possible from ET sources. For interplanetary spacecraft this means sourcing water, air and propellant. Food can be shipped up dry.
The savings by not launching propellant and consumables for trips is so large, that long voyages, e.g. Mars and asteroids start to look very feasible, reducing costs to the mere $100's million from billions per flight.

Run a colony/base on the same principles.

In some ways, this is not so different from the American expansion. Initially the pioneers wanted to take their family heirlooms and furniture, but as the horses tired, they started dumping them along the trails, preserving only the most important items. So it will be in space, but substituting expensive transport costs for very tired horses.

But all this assumes vehicles that have performance levels similar to that available today and technology that is still crude and likely to fail more often than we might like.

But all these technologies are a long way from theoretical limits and therefore huge potential improvements are possible, even if we have no idea how today. It's when we talk about star travel that the ships and techniques are pushed to the theoretical limits that I think we see the true limitations. The energies involved, the flight durations, the near impossibility of help in an emergency, these are the boundaries that I balk at and think we need a completely different approach.

324:

I've often wondered why the analogy many (most?) people use for space exploration and colonization is "Europeans fill up the Americas". There's a much better historical analogy just laying there. "Southeast Asians explore and colonize the Pacific Islands." It's still not perfect, for a lot of reasons, but it's much closer, IMO.

Maybe no one likes the implications?

Regards,
Jack Tingle

325:

I don't disagree. Almost all the products that were once touted as benefiting from either micro-g or vacuum did not pan out. That doesn't mean that this is a dead horse, just that no one has found the right approach.

I would go so far as to argue the other way, that the things to make in space are those that are easy (make it with simple equipment), bulky and needed in situ (costing a lot to ship to space for use there). The obvious answer is propellants and consumables.

326:

Okay. It's the long time and no contacts that's critical. If we go the other way it's boltzman brains running the simulations. The worrying thing is that the problems we are identifying with space colonisation might make it seem likly civilisations are common but shortlived

327:

For example, if your space craft is a reusable vehicle that just stays in space and is refueled from local sources, the costs for spaceflight for that vehicle and crew are hugely reduced

Assuming that you can actually build and maintain such spacecraft without hauling lots of stuff out of your local gravity well on an ongoing basis.

The thermal loads alone on a complicated vehicle in CIS-Lunar space strike me as leading to dramatically reduced shelf lives.

The real problem, of course, is that we just don't know yet, and the learning curve is going to be steep and expensive. There are a lot of basic technologies we haven't got yet that need developing, like, for example, building long duration orbital fuel depots and the ability to transfer cryogenic fuels around.

So, it's a lot more than just having the ability to stick stuff there. It's about being able to maintain and operate over sensible life times.

One of the great things about modern i.e. post 1950 era jet airliners, is they have a fairly good second hand life. One of the reasons that the world has opened up to jet travel, rather than being the preserve of a few, is that jet aircraft last a really long time and that the state of the art of a modern liner isn't all that off the older generations. The Comet, the first "modern" passenger aircraft, flew at 30,000 feet and 550ish mph - the range kinda sucked, but the operating parameters are pretty much the same as a 2010 era plane, at least in terms of speed and operating envelope.

As I said upthread, I don't think we're really at the Wright Flyer level of space vehicle yet, in fact, I don't think we have airships. We're still fiddling with balloons.

328:

As an aside, we've been talking about colonies, we might be able to run a space station in LEO but that's with quarterly resupply missions. We're certainly not at the point where we can demonstrate running a closed life support system for the months needed even for a trip to the asteroids. Without that sort of technology working, debugged and ready to ship, we really aren't going anywhere.

Frankly, I think people would be foolhardy to try a Mars trip without making sure that we can actually run something for that duration unsupported in LEO or Lunar Orbit.

Personally, I'd rather test bed that in moon orbit where you have the added "fun" of several days before help can arrive.

329:

Here's a scenario that might shed some light: Suppose that instead of it's present climate, the U.S. was almost uniformly hot and dry, the sort of country you find in the Australian interior, so that crops could never be cultivated as they are in Europe. Suppose further that gold, silver, etc is found to be plentiful 100 miles or more inland of the Atlantic ocean.

Question: Does America become colonized? That is, does it become a self-sustaining self-reliant polity? Or do you get what are essentially glorified mining colonies, no matter what mineral wealth is found, be it foolish gold or useful copper?

330:

Great Ghu! You guys are still going at it! Can we table this for a hundred years or so and see what physics and materials science can accomplish? Cause meanwhile, we're not going anywhere. Sorry guys. YHBT.

331:

This is where I say there is a failure of imagination.

Firstly I'd ask do we even need a complex closed ecosystem, the system that heteromeles and others have claimed needs a lot more research (which I agree with about the research)?


Let's run some numbers.

Human water consumption: 5kg/day.
O2 consumption: Food:

So the main mass fraction of the consumables is water.

Suppose we use wet food (tasty) as part of the water supply. What about O2? Since we need less than the water supply, we can extract that from the water we drink after use. Therefore without any recycling, just bringing on board water, wet food and a simple electro-lyzer, we need less than 2 tonnes of food/water per crew member per year. Not a lot of mass compared to propellant for a [fast-ish] Mars trip and return. [Ok, so I didn't include the mass of solar panel to supply power for the electro-lyzer - exercise for the student].

So to replace that with a closed ecosystem, the whole thing has to weight less than this to make sense, about the weight of an F150 truck per person. Maybe we can do it, maybe we can't, but we don't really need to, the mass involved is not that large, and the closed system isn't going to create gourmet meals either.

Do we need to ship all the food and water in one shot with our vehicle? Not really, as food and water can be stored. So ship 1/2 out slow boat style to Mars for rendezvous using the technology du jour. Now our crewed ship needs only 1 tonne consumables per crew at launch and less propellant to boot.

We can do even better because water filtration & distillation is simple, efficient ones are off the shelf. Using more power we can recycle the water a few times so that the water requirement is about the same as the daily O2 requirement, reducing our consumable load to perhaps 1/2 tonne per year, or 1/4 of a tonne for the first leg.

So with some simple technology, already pretty much off the shelf, we can dispense with the need for a closed ecosystem feeding our crew fresh lettuce and carrots every day (ugh!), and instead eat gourmet meals taken from the freezer, heated by microwave or cooked. So we get to Mars, well fed, breathing and happy, no complex recycling technologies needed.

Next problem?

332:

That is, does it become a self-sustaining self-reliant polity?

By your definition, the US isn't 'colonized' today. It imports 3/4 of its oil and a lot of minerals. It could export food to pay for [some of] it, but has chosen to export mortgage backed securities and treasuries instead.

333:

TO SELF: MUST NOT USE ANGLE BRACKETS. Doh!

Human water consumption: about 5kg/day.
O2 consumption: less than 1 kg/dy
Food: much, much less than 1 kg/dy

334:

You need something that will 100% guaranteed, NO QUESTIONS, have enough Oxygen and Water to get you there and back, and function in a way that means you can keep it running for 3 years without needing spares you don't have.

That's more than just the bulk, that's ducts, pumps, filters and a bunch of other things.

I'm not saying it can't be done. I am saying it's a whole world of pain harder than you're thinking it is.

As I said, if this was easy, we'd have done it already.

335:

@330:

That is, does it become a self-sustaining self-reliant polity?
By your definition, the US isn't 'colonized' today. It imports 3/4 of its oil and a lot of minerals. It could export food to pay for [some of] it, but has chosen to export mortgage backed securities and treasuries instead.

Sigh. Your nonanswer on this question, as on several others is noted.

I'll take this one as you agree that no, with this alternative scenario, America will not be colonized. Even though doing so would be a far easier problem than trying to put colonies up in space.

336:

I suspect that part of the reason is that it's simply not as well known, at least to any detail.

But the other implication, that a fair number of colonies fail (Easter Island) Does Not Look Good On A Prospectus.

337:

No, what I'm saying is that your definitions are not helpful. Obviously the US is effectively independent, but it is still tied to the rest of the world by trade. It was always that way too. What that should tell you is that 'colonization' defined as narrowly as you have done doesn't shed useful light on the matter.

338:

Obviously I can't do that in my garage. But systems that are off the shelf and simple are preferred to complex, one off systems. Those that are so simple that they can be repaired versus those that cannot.

We might also agree that we could test such a simple system on earth today, fairly easily and cheaply and have operating data in just a year or so. No multi-year long, expensive, research program for closed cycle ecosystems needed.

It's interesting that you insist on no food caching, even though this is exactly how polar attempts were made a century ago, and climbs up Everest today. It suggests a certain timidity, a no-failure-allowed attitude. I think that speaks to a loss of the spirit of adventure.

339:

@335:

No, what I'm saying is that your definitions are not helpful. Obviously the US is effectively independent, but it is still tied to the rest of the world by trade. It was always that way too. What that should tell you is that 'colonization' defined as narrowly as you have done doesn't shed useful light on the matter.

Nope. You're wrong. Gee, telling instead of showing is so much easier.

But in fact, when the original thirteen colonies broke away and later became the U.S., they were deemed "independent", despite whatever idiosyncratic definitions you choose employ. And certainly they were not dependent on food, water or air from the mother country, nor did they need to import fuel.

So I'll go ahead with my initial observation and note that your behaviour on this question is taken to mean that you agree that no, the U.S. won't be colonized.

340:

Don't let facts get in the way of your ideology.

341:

@338:

Don't let facts get in the way of your ideology.

Given the relationship to anything I've said, this might as well have been a randomly generated sequence of words. Let me guess, is this one of those non sequitur things that's supposed to discommode me, where you suddenly shout "Purple!", spin around three times, and proclaim yourself a "winner"?

Sigh. It doesn't work like that. You've actually got to provide some evidence for your beliefs if you want to be convincing. You're not doing that, which leads me to conclude that you have none.

Shrug.

342:

(I wonder what a Chinese space-colonialist ideology would look like. Hong Kong in orbit?)

I suspect more like Xinjiang, without the minority peoples.

The Chinese experience of going to the thinly-settled frontier was distinctly different from the American one, and more recent. Lots of hardships, bravely born for the good of the homeland. Heroic sacrifice against the elements. Working together to survive.

Suggested reading: "Legacies" by Betty Bao Lord; "China Witness" by Xinran.

343:

Wow no kidding about the button. There's lot's all of us don't know about space, and maybe I'm part SC but I'm thinking so far we've basically sent a few scientists and a bunch of over educated test pilots. The demographic that needs to be up there for extended stays are engineers/inventors/tinkers. With tools. May not do it but then again just maybe.

344:

Ask yourself which empire bequeathed us the terms "political officer", "concentration camp", and "pundit" (and check the original meaning of the latter). Obligatory reading: Late Victorian Holocausts.

Enthusiastic second.

Don't forget the bit about making feeding the starving Indians a crime during the Bengal Famine. For their own good, of course: better to starve quickly than slowly. Corpses of the dead stacked like cordwood by the roadsides because they couldn't afford food (free market reforms) while subsidized grain was being shipped to England to feed the poor there…

La plus ça change…

345:

Of course, some magical technology might make it easy for humans to live in space as they have on the ground, but then we would just along for the ride. In this case, as the song says, we better hope that we make great pets. And that the machines that keep us alive value us as pets...

It could be a bit more subtle that this. The machines might be very good at running models and taking sensor readings, but still unable to do robotic tasks. That would be the role of humans. The result wouldn't be anything so overt as direct control, just gentle conversations along teh lines of:

"Good morning Katie. The chickens need some extra feed from the mineral rich feed today. and I suggest keeping an extra eye on those goats, I think they've been eating the Marigolds."

All very pleasant, with humans still apparently "in control" and "using" the analyses presented to them by those ever vigilant computer systems.

346:

I'm trying to identify and manage risks. It's part of the engineer thinking you get taught. Food caches? Sending packages to Mars I could see but then you can't leave until you know it's there and you can get to it.

Likewise unless there's a sane way to hook up with stuff on route then Caches just don't work. The orbital mechanics just don't work that way.

As for risk... Well there's taking risks for adventure and then there's being stupid.

As it stands I'm not planning to be a pioneer. I'm too old and have already lived in 3 countries. I've had a fair amount of adventure.

347:

@ 316
No-one mentions bulk resources.
Robot (or at the worst telechiric) spaceraft dive/scoop mining the Jovian atmosphere for hyrdrocarbons in 100 years' time .....
I still think, that in an analogy to steam-power and rail transport we are currently at about 1800.

@ 325
Ditto.
For an example of a developed industrial transport system, and as an industrial/management model, use rail, not air. Just about every mistake that could be made, was, and yet it happened anyway, largely because of peculiar economic circumstances, and pioneers who saw what was possible, and because of ongoing technical improvements. Even that improvement followed a sigmoid curve, not once but several times.

@342
WRONG
I already pointed out that the author of "Victorian Holocausts" made stuff up/distorted facts etc ....
He carefully omitted that people who did their bit to ameliorate the late-1800's famines were rewarded, and of course, during the 1943/4 horror (and it was horrrible) the government of India (which included a lot of Indians by that time, don't forget) had a much more pressing problem.
I suggest you look up The battle of Imphal and similarly Kohima ....
Of course, the nasty, horrible British were much worse to know than the nice, friendly Imperial Japanese, whose Greater South-East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" was such a good idea.
/Sark
Ask the bodies in Nanking, or Shanghai, and don't make too much of an idiot of yourself, please.

@ 343 & heteromeles
I think it is called: "The Culture" and Mr Banks writes about it ......

348:

GT: "during the 1943/4 horror (and it was horrrible) the government of India (which included a lot of Indians by that time, don't forget) had a much more pressing problem."

But this didn't stop the government of India (in the persons of Wavell and Amery) from asking, indeed pleading, for grain, in the shape of 50K tons which was available in the middle east. The war cabinet decided to send it to the Balkans instead, to support the offensive (note, offensive) there.

Note that in early 1941, when it was _British_ people who might starve, the war cabinet had decided to prioritise first actual guns, then food, then everything else necessary to resume the offensive. I don't think this difference in priorities is because the British people in question were white, incidentally. I think it's because they had votes. Empire is bad for your health, folks.

349:

@ 346
I did not dispute your final conclusion, but the relative merits, and the current "trendy" (not-so-much-now) conclusions drawn.
It's a bit like automatically assuming that every "white" person is racist, which I have seen.
And, of course, the current American and Chinese empires are GOOD, its only the ones that are not around any more that were bad ... erm, err ...

Incidentally, and returning to the main topic (!), I can't remember the exact source, but somewhere in the Larry Niven "known space" universe, there is the quote:
"But why did humanity go into space, then?"
"For abstract knowledge"
Because the first speaker thinks its obvious, with all the space industries, etc - which came along AFTERWARDS.

350:

Sounds a bit like the Arabian peninsula, to be honest (but with gold instead of oil). And you'll note that the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are all inhabited and have in fact been inhabited for thousands of years.

Would the Golden Desert of America be self-reliant and self-sustaining? As Alex tried to explain, that depends on your definition of self-sustaining. No, it wouldn't be able to maintain its population without trade with the outside world. But neither can a lot of countries today. But yes, it would have a large native population who would live their entire lives there. There's no reason it shouldn't be an independent nation.

351:

Looking at the living-in-space problem, I think we have to make some allowances for improvements in medicine over the next 30 years. Otherwise it's a complete and utter non-starter. Suggesting that we'll have personal genomics within 1-2 decades doesn't seem too radical. We might also consider the likelihood of much better cancer diagnosis and disruption techniques emerging in that time span. If we have reliable, efficient cancer detection and tailored immunological treatments that don't have the failure rate and nasty side effects of current-day chemo, then a lot of the radiation exposure trade-offs become less acute.

Colonists are still going to need radiation shielding and storm shelters (for solar storms), but it might be possible to replace lifetime exposure limits with a rolling twelve-month exposure limit, or something similar.

Having children young isn't necessarily going to be vital if we posit lead-shielded sperm and ovum banks. One huge potential problem is the question of whether human embryonic development requires gravity -- IIRC there's some evidence from Shuttle/ISS experiments that rodents gestated in free fall suffer bone development abnormalities. It's possible that the term "confinement" might make a literal come-back in any viable space colony -- insofar as floor space in a 1g centrifuge is expensive.

Training in using emergency pressure suits in case of a bad depressurization is probably going to be mandatory from age eight. (On the other hand, experience with Mir and the ISS suggests that explosive decompression is a rare catastrophe; most hull breaches are likely to take minutes to hours to cause a troublesome pressure loss, and modular construction will go a long way towards ensuring safety.) I suspect actual working-in-space-in-spacesuits is going to remain a speciality much like dry-suit diving in the North Sea -- dangerous, hard, highly-paid, and technical.

The farming thing ... yes, it's going to be a skilled occupation; but the productivity of permaculture/aquaculture/hydroponics is such that it may be something that only 0.1-2.5% of the population need to specialize in.

There's a major social problem with any colony, which is this: it's too damn dangerous to have adolescent (age 10-25) males suffering from testosterone poisoning running around. It may even be too dangerous to have adolescent girls underfoot; they're less violent, but it's only a matter of degree. The risk-taking behaviour of young-adult hominids is too pronounced -- and stuff that on Earth is merely idiotic or self-destructive could have hideous consequences in a non-failsafe pressurized biome. It may be possible to work around this by social engineering (providing acceptable outlets for one-on-one violence and posturing: free-fall boxing matches?) or medicine (anti-androgens?) ... maybe having them do the reproductive thing at age 16 would slow them down? But if not, we may have a fundamental barrier to adaptation.

352:

You don't need to go to the moon for hard vacuum, though; if that's all you need, you want something like the Wake Shield Facility (carving a hole through Earth's exosphere with about 10^-6 of the ambient pressure, which is near-orbit-vacuum to begin with). Which also, with some cunningly contrived masses, gets you microgravity as well.

Actually, the lunar surface is kind of problematic for vacuum manufacturing; rocket exhausts tend to be captured and hang around for years. IIRC, the exhaust plumes from the Apollo LEMs doubled the thickness of the lunar atmosphere in just six flights, and hung around for years.

353:

So are you just looking to kick against sore shins, or is there a purpose to this statement? Aside from the canned colonialism-is-bad speech.

I'm attempting to parameterize the problem space. So that if at some future point (hint: not in 2011 or the first half of 2012) I decide to try and write a Mundane SF novel of space colonization, I don't trip over any branches poking out of the deadfall of bogus assumptions that are what currently passes for "received wisdom" wrt. space colonization.

The problem space for space colonization is big -- much bigger than the followers of John W. Campbell seem to appreciate.

354:

It's possible that the term "confinement" might make a literal come-back in any viable space colony -- insofar as floor space in a 1g centrifuge is expensive.

Confinement Asteroid!

There's a major social problem with any colony, which is this: it's too damn dangerous to have adolescent (age 10-25) males suffering from testosterone poisoning running around.

The problem of having a very dangerous, fragile and technically sophisticated environment inhabited by a lot of adolescent males is not a new one. See, for example, warships. Especially of the Age of Sail. Yes, a lot of adolescent males are not to be trusted. But they aren't all out-of-control testosterone-addled semiconscious violent hooligans (this is kind of a theme of Charlie's and makes me wonder what things were like at his secondary school) - some of them, in Nelson's day, were highly competent, and ended up commanding ships. Nelson was 18 when he got his first command. Pitt was 24 when he took over running the British Empire. Nations all over the world are quite happy to entrust very, very complex, fragile and dangerous things like enormous jet aircraft to the care of young men under 25, and most of them do pretty well with adequate training.

And the bigger the colony, the more likely it is to produce someone dangerous in that way, but the less likely he is to be able to endanger the entire colony by accident or carelessness.

355:

True.

Although I wouldn't put that thing in such a low orbit. A mere 400km further out and orbits are stable for decades and longer, which tends to reduce the need for fuel. One of the major selling points of the VASIMR is reducing the amount of fuel needed to keep the ISS in orbit.

You might need a system to manage exhaust plumes though, to keep your vacuum a vacuum. (Hey, I'm trying to learn from my mistakes here ...)

356:

some of them, in Nelson's day, were highly competent, and ended up commanding ships

And others weren't. But (as with the air force pilots) you're selecting a percentage that then have the responsibility not to kill all around.

The problem in the space environment is that it's very likely that every single person there has the capability of killing everyone, whether by dumb stupidity or not. What to do with the ones you really don't trust?

357:

In all seriousness, modern liberalism is actually the most anti-colonization space faring system.

The big-government welfare state is essentially a sustanance above progress model. Conservatism is the reverse with progress above sustanance.

If you had 90% of your civ the same in either case, what do you do with the last 10% of output? Dedicate it to ease suffering for the useless and poor, or dedicate it towards advancing innovation, economic output and progress, hoping for top end gains and long run benefits. The former is liberalism, the latter conservatism.

Of the two, conservatism is more likely to make the economic sacrifices to push for spacefaring colonialization. It is simply more willing to make the above tradeoff in favor of progress earlier and suffer the resultant costs in current suffering (generally for the least economically valuable/disadvantaged).

No liberal goals are served by exploration or colonization. Doing so would actually force them to sacrifice their objectives at home to some degree (immediate quality of living for all) to divert the economic output required. At the very least, liberals would require a much larger economic base (hence much later in time) than conservatives would before space colonization would be hit their marginal tolerance levels for considering.

358:

In all seriousness, modern liberalism is actually the most anti-colonization space faring system.

Yellow card. Cause: wild sweeping generalizations about a straw man.

You get one second chance on this blog. Emit any further mindless right-wing quackspeak and you're banned.[*]

Here's a hint: read the moderation policy.

[*] non-mindless right-wing speech is okay here, but this is my soapbox, not an echo chamber for Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck.

359:

@ 357
"No liberal goals are served by exploration or colonization."
Codswallop.

Abstract knowledge and scientific progress are liberal goals, certainly in the historical context, where the conservative/religious "right" have done just about everything they could to stop such things.

360:

The ISS is in a low orbit mainly because of the Shuttle. Fully loaded carrying components for the station the Shuttle was unable to achieve a much higher orbit so the ISS had to fly low and rely on being boosted back up after atmospheric drag had its wicked way with its orbital dynamics. Newer Shuttles could do better than others as they were a little lighter but the construction, supply and personnel transfer flights required all the existing Shuttle fleet be used at various times hence the enforced low orbit.

After the Shuttle is retired next year the succeeding unmanned Progress and ATV supply ships will be used to boost the entire ISS into a higher orbit where drag will be much less of a problem and the Soyuz capsules will still be able to reach the station.

361:

Yeah, I know.

I keep trying (and failing) to prune the thought processes that go on in my head when writing a comment to a useful minimum without losing necessary content.

In other words, I'm verbose and quite aware of it ...

362:

Not that I know much about sociology and suchlike, but it seems to me that the problems with adolescent males have been dealt with before many, many times, with a definite degree of success. For starters, you co-opt them into doing useful work comparatively young, say 15/16, when the hormones and strength are still perhaps a bit lower. You make sure they have definite structures to follow, like apprenticeships, and responsibility tied into social success. Hmm, would it help if you encouraged them to have children young? Maybe it would.
I've seen and spoken to a few people who have changed or had their son changed by undertaking such things as apprenticeships, or induction into a definite peer group, and it makes a difference to the adolescent male socialisation. So as long as the peer group includes older men who can be admired/ treated as exemplars, as long as you do allow some goofing off in the proper controlled manner that has risk for the person doing the goofing (And thus they serve as a warning, eg as apparently happened to someone at my dads school back in the 60's, they blew themselves up with home made explosives, although you wouldn't want that in space), and you make sure you have an eye open for those who don't fit in with normal socialisation procedures which will suit most people, I really don't think you have a major problem. At least, not one as dramatic as you have put it in your language.

363:

The talking about balloons and airships got me thinking: isn't the analogue to the frontier and/or the western colonialization of the US one where that has be done by aircraft (fast, but need infrastructure, are very vulnerable and have limited seats) instead of ship / wagoon track?

364:

stuff that on Earth is merely idiotic or self-destructive could have hideous consequences in a non-failsafe pressurized biome.

Crazy people of one kind or another are going to be part of society no matter what. As long as we're evolving, we will birth pioneers of unexpected self-destruction.

So, social engineering or not, a civilization won't survive without real, physical engineering against the worst possible thing happening by sabotage.

What are the avenues for sabotage and what are the fixes? The first few I could think of:

* Make all habitats compartmentalized and cellular.

* Make big continuous spaces multi-walled or even quickly subdividable.

* Nobody goes outside unless they have the equivalent of a driver's (or pilot's) license.

* All life support hardware is massively redundant, distributed, and under lock-and-key.

But what else can you mess up, if you're really trying? Remember not all loose cannons work alone, think Jonestown massacre, Ohm Shinrikyo, or 9-11...

365:

Ohm Shinrikyo

Slogan: Resistance is useless.

366:

The problem in the space environment is that it's very likely that every single person there has the capability of killing everyone, whether by dumb stupidity or not. What to do with the ones you really don't trust?

Any member of the crew of any Nelson-era warship had the capability of killing everyone on board, simply by being careless with flame. Dry timber, dry canvas, rope and of course gunpowder...
And it's eminently possible to design systems so that no single act of stupidity can cause catastrophe - most modern aircraft crashes, etc, require chains of stupidity by lots of different people.
You can't make it entirely foolproof or sabotageproof, but you can't do that anywhere, after all.

367:

In all seriousness, modern liberalism is actually the most anti-colonization space faring system.

Except all the others...

It's not like modern conservatism, in power, has exactly posted a stellar track record on supporting space colonization or even space science.

Fundamentally, humans in space are seen as a luxury by wide swathes of the political spectrum, independent of party or ideology.

My belief is that if someone manages to figure out how to make money putting humans in space, things will change drastically, but so far, no one has managed to do this.

I really think that until someone manages to post black ledger entries our discussions about the amount of tonnage it takes to sustain a colony, or the details of governance thereof, are premature though sometimes interesting.

You can potentially make money in space via tourism or trade of space-sourced materials or space-based manufacturing. Many of the hurdles have already been mentioned earlier in the thread.

You can also go to space for nationalist or sectarian reasons, but most Earth examples turn out to be attempts to make money, once you scrub off the veneer. Colonists went to Virginia to curb the Spaniards but also to search for gold (and found tobacco instead).

Finally, you can use space the way Europe used the Americas and Australia: places where "surplus" population could emigrate to or be exiled to. It seems pretty unlikely anyone would do that until the habitats such people would live in are reasonably well established. (Australia, which at first glance seems a counter-example, already had a relatively human-friendly environment, compared to space.)

The Space Cadet scenario that seems most likely to ultimately work, to me, is resource extraction from the asteroid belt. Given that there are elements and minerals that we are at risk of running out of on Earth (some of the rare earths, for example), prospecting the belt for them might be a worthwhile investment.

The first part of extraction (prospecting) is entirely robotic but ultimately there is a component where (e.g.) nickel-iron is refined and shaped into lifting bodies that can come down to Earth for retrieval. Even this scenario has lots and lots of ifs (including the already mentioned question of whether anyone wants what are in effect controlled meteor impacts anywhere near their territory).

Eventually everyone in space gets rich and can support a libertarian political movement. (To return to the OP theme.)

I for one think that "magic technology" is almost as likely in the 50-100 year time frame as anything else. A "beanstalk" comes to mind as an example of that which Charlie didn't mention in the OP, no doubt due to his excessive deference to actual known physics...

368:

A couple of points to add to what Ajay and Guthrie have said about adolescents:

As they've both suggested, this seems to be largely an environmental problem - our current social regime is set up to give teenage boys lots of unoccupied (ie non-school/work) time and then criticise them for doing anything constructive with it. Change the social milieu, and a lot of that should improve.

Less directly relevant, but something to think about: if you give people a testosterone boost but tell them it's just water, the actual effect is the opposite of the 'testosterone poisoning' stereotype. I'd like to see some more proper research on this (especially with male subjects, who may react differently to those in the all-female trial described there), but the evidence seems to support this being largely a social problem rather than a biological one.

Give the kids things to do and places to do them; you'll still get the occasional idiot, but gangs of bored teenagers hanging around daring each other to do stupid stuff will turn out to be a bugbear from the brief period when adults were stupid enough to actively prevent the kids from doing anything more productive.

369:

I understand your thinking. But we can cache food and possibly fuel and rendezvous with it. The whole of orbiting fuel depots is[was?] part of the new Nasa plan.
At Mars, Phobos/Deimos are big targets for dumps, hard to miss the orbital signs to "take the next exit".
During Apollo, wasn't LOR considered too risky initially, but that the trade offs were so attractive that it was worth determining how risky it really was and then adopting it?

To me, finding solutions that are inherently more flexible is preferable to ones that are complex and mustn't fail. In the case of food caching, there is no obvious limit to the number of caches that could be put in place in advance. One could use a fleet of automated cargo ships that deliver marked caches and place them in various locations, in orbit, on moons, even on the target. They could signal their location and status. When the crewed ship leaves it has the information needed to locate those caches and use them. This seems somewhat less risky than a one shot flight where something might fail en route with no hope of repair of resupply. Everest climbs are done with various base camps and the final assault on the summit is done from the last camp.

As for adventure vs stupidity. Obviously the polar assaults were a race, so the protagonists did not have the luxury of endless resources and time. Scott and his team paid for their mistakes with their lives. They were no doubt was prepared to take that risk for the rewards. We are obviously in a gentler age (except for depictions of risks in movies).

370:

I concur. Isn't all this Homeland Security (and the equivalents elsewhere) the same exercise? Replace "testosterone poisoned teenagers" with "terrorist" and you have guards on bridges, chemical plants, water supplies, public transport points...

Some of this is solvable with culture and social structure, the rest by consideration of potential hazards and guarding against those. The best guard on aircraft is vigilant passengers. Why should we imagine it should be any different at our possible colony? The local matron may well be preventing those boys from messing with the airlock controls...

371:

In all seriousness, modern liberalism is actually the most anti-colonization space faring system.

Let's see, Kennedy started the Moon race, Johnson completed it, and Nixon killed it. Right. Those were real liberals, too, not like the ones we've got today. Nixon's left of center in today's US.

On a more serious note, the whole thing about those "complex ecosystems" people are beating on is that pretty much that's what you've got to have if you're going to spend six months or longer going somewhere. You've got to be able to recycle almost everything, and you're not going to have a lot of energy to do it with, or the weight allowance to just carry bulk discardable supplies.

In other words, the ship's crew has to survive to get to a supply cache on Phobos. The problem gets worse, the further out you go.

Furthermore, if you're going to live off local resources in true pioneer style, you've got to have a very complex biological and technological infrastructure to turn those raw molecules into something we can use.

Those of us who have to deal with complex systems (and there's more than one ecologist on this thread) are still rolling our eyes at the "paint by numbers" ecology being spouted here. Folks, if it were really that simple, we wouldn't have a problem with global warming now, would we?

372:

Well, I can't claim to be privy to much of the "received wisdom", but if it's anything like the webcomic I mentioned, I think I can see the problem. But that's just people hammering out what they want to see, rather than what we're likely to see. And, if asked, I bet most Space Cadets would name as their example and hero an astronaut from the early days of spaceflight. That is to say, a brash, hotheaded test-pilot who wouldn't be selected for modern missions because he wouldn't be able to spend so much as a week in a tin can with a bunch of other weirdos (normal people don't exist, especially not in space).

Right, this comment thread has become sufficiently massive that I haven't been able to read it all, nevermind understanding the more mathematical issues with a decidedly Alpha brain. Nevertheless, I'm going to run the risk of sounding like a bloody-minded idiot and add my own two cents to this vault.

If you ask me, we (humanity) are probably going for the stars. As long as we have nation-states, those nation-states will want to have things to have pissing contests over, and with both the US and China having stated they want a shot at Mars and the ESA holding isolation experiments I think we can safely say the old game of shooting missiles at stuff is still afoot. Except this time the payload is scientists.

What could happen next depends on a number of things. First and foremost, will people stick around? Why (not)? The Lunar landings adequately proved the national dick-length of the US to be greater than that of the USSR, and that was the end of it (though, if you keep score, the USSR had a greater overall amount of points, and keeps racking it up with shuttles exploding left and right while the Soyuz keeps chugging on). And while a bunch of guys can survive quite a while on canned beans, if you want to stick around, you'll have to think in the long run. We don't know how to do that, but people are damn well going to try. It's just what people do.

This is where we're at an advantage. Because, like I said earlier, Space Cadets aren't going to be part of the Push. So, thankfully, people won't be plonked down on Mars and told to get along and survive. First, space agencies (be they governmental or private) will likely try to figure all this stuff out. The first permanent offworld settlements will be a lot like the ISS, but with an up and a down.

And this is where we encounter what is, to me, the most interesting problem of this whole venture: Gravity. We know how the human body reacts to microgravity, and it's not good. We don't know how the human body reacts to less-than-Earth gravity (like, say, on the Moon and Mars) and this is what we'll have to figure out (and, if I'm not mistaken, people are already trying to figure out). Even the best-case scenario sucks a goodly amount of balls: Low gravity will be enough to maintain bone structure and raise children in, but none of this affects the muscles, which will become (or be, in case of true natives). Anyone living long enough on Luna to call it colonization would be a cripple on Earth. This doesn't mean going to space is a one-way trip, but it'd make things difficult to say the least. The worst case scenario is simple in comparison: You can't live there. Unless someone comes up with a magic cure, anything below 0.x G is off-limits for colonization. Humanity is largely confined to gravity-wheel spacestations or aerostat habitats on Venus (which isn't going to happen).

The gravity situation is also interesting because the places we can get most easily to are the ones with the least gravity. Mars might be fine and dandy, but getting there is difficult because of its atmosphere, and getting out expensive because of the fuel you have to burn. For any fledgling space civilization, Mars is simply not an option.

Well, I'm out of time for now. The probability is high that this all sounds like just another SF fan talking out of his ass, but I'm already looking forward to whatever bleak space-future you're going to roll with.

373:

Mars might be fine and dandy, but getting there is difficult because of its atmosphere, and getting out expensive because of the fuel you have to burn. For any fledgling space civilization, Mars is simply not an option.

Half right. Mars' atmosphere actually makes it easier to get to than the moon: you can aerobrake in, rather than having to burn fuel. LEO to Mars surface requires delta V of 4.8 km/s; LEO to Lunar surface is 6.2km/s. Coming back, it's true, the Moon is easier: 3.2 km/s from the surface back to LEO against 7.8 km/s from Mars to LEO. But if we're talking about a colony, the cost of getting stuff there is the important figure.

Conditions on Mars are a lot easier too: it's warmer and wetter than the moon and has less temperature variation. OTOH, dust storms.

374:

Of course it's incompatible with libertarian ideals. This is why, in Star Trek, it is implied that the only reason that space travel and colonization was made possible was because the world eventually came together under a single socialist government with a strong military.

The only thing I hated about Star Trek was that it was implied that military superiority was "cool" and it was what made a futuristic space-faring society possible.

I, for one, am excited that other countries have space programs and are cooperating with each other, because if any kind of serious exploration or eventual "colonization" is going to happen, it is going to take the cooperation of the ENTIRE planet to make it happen. That's one thing that ST got right, I just don't think that we need a socialist militarized society to seal the deal.

375:

Actually, no: it turns out that Mars is harder to land on than Luna, for payloads > 1000Kg. Much harder.

376:

Of course it's incompatible with libertarian ideals. This is why, in Star Trek, it is implied that the only reason that space travel and colonization was made possible was because the world eventually came together under a single socialist government with a strong military.

The only thing I hated about Star Trek was that it was implied that military superiority was "cool" and it was what made a futuristic space-faring society possible.

I, for one, am excited that other countries have space programs and are cooperating with each other, because if any kind of serious exploration or eventual "colonization" is going to happen, it is going to take the cooperation of the ENTIRE planet to make it happen. That's one thing that ST got right, I just don't think that we need a socialist militarized society to seal the deal.

377:

Well my impression of the current social milieu is that teenagers aren't doing that badly, really. But you get problems when they aren't properly socialised and end up disconnected, but in a space colony there aren't many street corners to hang about on, so computer games might help. But then so would having adults lay on activities for the teenagers, more than just expecting them to learn from books.

You may end up with something approaching a 1950's small town, with the possibilities for bigotry and strife due to nosiness, as well as the potentially better socialisation (again, in "the good old days", you didn't fire fireworks at adults, because they'd come and give you a smack or tell your parents who would then give you a smack, you just fired them at each other {but are there way's of doing that sort of thing on a space craft/ colony? Who can run from one airlock to the next without breathing apparatus?})

It also strikes me that you might not see definite continuation of the western nuclear families ideal, rather more fluid relationships and more crowd sourced parenting, as it were. I'm sure all that sort of thing has been explored in the sf literature of the past, but I expect colonisation by multi-generational methods to bring up a variety of ways of doing things.

378:

Didn't that government rely pretty heavily on massive trade exploitation from its colonies?

Also, weren't there a lot of foreigners living in the late 19th century that were living in tubercular filth? Women who couldn't make ends meat selling themselves into prostitution, that sort of thing?

Also--1914...that's the beginning of the First World War, right? Is this argument tantamount to saying, "Minarchism is a great system of government, as long as you don't ever have to defend yourself from an organized invading body"?

379:

Earth Orbit Rendezvous, not a problem, but you're still at the bottom of a fairly deep gravity well - LEO isn't quite halfway to anywhere (sorry Bob), but at least it isn't at the bottom with a thick soup of atmosphere. So having it on Earth orbit doesn't help you.

Phobos and Deimos? Heh. Swings and round abouts - depends on the mission goals and what you want. They're not all that big and are these for the Mars landing or the return home? Either way, it's another Onion layer of complexity on the mission.

Dropping stuff on Mars would be essential, IMO, but none of this solves the bit that makes my skin crawl, which is making sure that the mechanical systems of your life support (air pumps/valves, heatings, cooling, ducts, pipes etc...) all work or are user servicable non-stop for 3-5 years for your return trip.

Charlie also makes a good point about medical advances. One thing we just don't know enough about is Space Medicine and we need to fix that.

380:

Way up thread SoV compared this SF genre to hard boiled detectives, scenarios we enjoy reading but would not likely emulate. As I grew up, I realized these space pioneer tales were unrealistic, but it still produces some lingering despondency that we cannot make them so. Billy Bragg expressed it perfectly in the "Space Race is Over":

My son and I stand beneath the great night sky
And gaze up in wonder
I tell him the tale of Apollo
And he says 'Daddy, why did they ever go?'

It may look like some empty gesture
To go all that way just to come back
But don't offer me a place out in cyberspace
Cause where in the hell's that at
Now the space race is over
It's been and it's gone and I'll never get out of my room

So British sociaists can get the High Frontier blues too.

And whoever told GT there was more to history than Tuchman: spot on, I owe you a drink.

381:

A Submarine Parody

Sir Charles Strossley (STR), eminent early C18th writer of naval fiction is interested in the idea of warfare with something called a 'submarine'. Early submarines have already been invented, ungainly wooden contraptions powered by muscles, although there have been ideas about making them of metal and using mechanical power.. Sir Charles however, being something of a visionary, wants to write about submarines dominating the oceans, able to stay submerged for extremely long periods. Britain's naval fleet would then dominate the globe as never before, making Britain a superpower. He thinks they may be very interesting to his readers, but is concerned that he may not have thought through his ideas enough, so he asks the opinions of his avid readers.

Reader: How long must it stay submerged?
STR: Well I was thinking that it should stay submerged for at least six months, maybe a year to avoid detection and invisibly patrol and destroy enemy ships. That should allow it to circle the globe if needed.
Skeptical Reader(SR) : Well you can't store air in the vessel for that long, so the crew will suffocate. Obviously the idea can't work, unless we can find a way to recycle the air…and the water….the food. Nope, can't work without a research program to make this work.
R: Could we store the air at greater density perhaps?
SR: No way to do that beyond a few atmospheres. We would need fantastic pressure vessels to make that work, completely unknown technology.

R : Could they at least use the fish in the sea as food?
SR: No! They have to stay inside the submarine and stay submerged. Those are the rules. There is no allowance for getting fresh supplies whilst submerged.
R: Could the we use the air above the ocean?
SR: I told you, no using supplies outside the vessel. We must recycle!
R: What about just for a short time, maybe using a tube to poke above the surface but keeping the submarine unseen underwater?
SR: How many times have I got to say it…NO using outside supplies.
R: I don't know. If we could use the Royal Navy bases in the colonies for food supplies, maybe water too, that would help…

Another reader: What about power?
STR: I was hoping that it would be able to use a steam engine, or perhaps electric power. That Mr. Volta seems to be onto something.
SR: The amount of wood or coal needed to power the vessel would be huge. It would run out of fuel in mid-Atlantic. Plus it would make the air supply disappear faster, making the recycling harder.
R: What about electric power?
SR: Using one of those Volta piles Sir Charles? Hmm. Won't last long enough. It would take up a lot of space and be very heavy to deliver the power you need. No better to figure out something with higher power density. Coal is as good as it gets, although Sperm Whale might work to create steam..

Another Reader: Wouldn't keeping all those men inside a closed box be a problem. I mean, old chap, I get claustrophobic just staying indoors with the wife.
Would the men go, you know, crazy?
R: Well there seems to be precedents keeping men in confined spaces with too much of a problem. Our prisons for one, Old galley ships. Miners…
SR: It is indeed a problem. Just think of the damage one man could do is he got to the magazine. We need to reinvent the social structure to prevent these deadly possibilities. Maybe we should bring the men's wives aboard?
R: Wouldn't existing naval discipline work? Couldn't we create watertight compartments to contain the accident and save the vessel from sinking?
SR: Can you guarantee that no accidents or sabotage or just plain stupidity will happen causing the total loss of the ship?

STR: let me sum up then. A submarine that needs to patrol underwater for many months is impossible to conceive without fantastic technology we don't have and probably never will have. There is a simple supply problem just to keep the crew alive. The fuel requirements are too large for the desired range. And possibly we might have a problem with, shall we just say, morale on a long voyage? So we need technology to store air or make it, possibly growing food onboard in the dark. The same goes for fresh water. We need a magic fuel to run the submarine too. I think my wider readers will consider this a fantasy, totally unrealistic and never believe a plot involving it. Thank you for your help.

382:

There's a much more thorough treatment of landing on Mars by the same guy:

trs-new.jpl.nasa.gov/dspace/bitstream/2014/39664/1/05-3869.pdf

It seems like major problems are developing parachutes, preparedness to use and test technology that differs significantly from the well-known Viking landers and the rather heroic diameters that heat-shields would reach (16m and more, sometimes much more) in some of the more comfortable solutions.

However, this has given me the notion that we might land on Mars in style ... using 50m wide flying saucers ...

383:

but none of this solves the bit that makes my skin crawl, which is making sure that the mechanical systems of your life support (air pumps/valves, heatings, cooling, ducts, pipes etc...) all work or are user servicable non-stop for 3-5 years for your return trip.

Very reasonable concerns. How long do they last on nuclear subs and similar equipment? More importantly how repairable are they with basic tools and repair kit, since everything fails eventually? We do have some experience of this. What we don't have experience in is new technology that we invent.

Assuming we use computers, they will be subject to higher radiation damage. We can harden them, use lower generation chips, or we could apply redundancy and also keep a store of new CPUs in the radiation proof safe. That trivializes the problem, but shows that you can sidestep some issues using different approaches.

We saw on Apollo 13 what happens when equipment is non standard, there are no repair kits or adequate tools to do much; it was a major effort just to lash up extra CO2 scrubbers. I would hope our space craft and habs are better equipped.

384:

Forget Mars. How about colonizing Ceres?

http://www.pagef30.com/2009/04/why-ceres-might-be-better-location-for.html

"Ceres has one important detail that makes it much more interesting than one might expect: apparently it has lots and lots of water...This looks tiny, but there's still a lot to explore: the actual surface area of Ceres is some 2.8 million km2, which is the equivalent of the surface area of either Argentina or Kazakhstan, or the total surface area of the largest three states in the US put together: Alaska plus Texas plus California. Ceres isn't just some tiny asteroid with nowhere to explore."

385:

@346:

I'm trying to identify and manage risks. It's part of the engineer thinking you get taught. Food caches? Sending packages to Mars I could see but then you can't leave until you know it's there and you can get to it.

Likewise unless there's a sane way to hook up with stuff on route then Caches just don't work. The orbital mechanics just don't work that way.

Are you thinking about Buzz Aldrin's Cycler concept? I think having supplies that you can count on already there ahead of you is a very good idea. But again - since we're comparing manned follies to unmanned unglamour - this is expensive. Much, much more expensive than ten or twenty or thirty unmanned probes would ever be.

386:

I'm not sure which "side" your parody is coming from, but it is quite true that there is an enormous social, technological, and temporal gap between a nuclear submarine and any ocean-going submersible conceivable in the 18th century. Even someone who had the foresight to conceive of the concept was going to get the future's execution of it laughably wrong, but it could still entertain readers.

Likewise, I don't mind fiction incorporating advanced technologies that are currently far from available, or even outright magic, as long as these devices are used intelligently and consistently. It doesn't matter that in time they'll look as implausible as Bellamy's Looking Backward, Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky, or Zubrin's The Case for Mars. One of these wasn't billed merely as speculative fiction, so its problems can't be fixed by authorial fiat.

387:

I can't believe I forgot to cite my favorite evisceration of space colonization, space mining, space solar power, and all other Big Projects in Space: The Political Economy of Very Large Space Projects.

388:

The parody is just a little deeper than failing to see nuclear subs. There is also the mentality that you cannot have any submarines until they are nuclear and meet the full objective. Yet we had quite capable subs powered by diesel and batteries by WWI and WWII that did an admirable job of decimating shipping even though they had to travel on the surface a lot of the time and refuel away from home port. They were 'good enough' technology before they gave way to the nuclear subs of today.

389:

Well, in the early submarines we didn't and they had some pretty horrific failure modes - if you want one to make your skin crawl, I find the HMS Thetis to be entertaining... (http://www.rnsubmus.co.uk/general/losses.htm#thetis)

So, back to modern boats. Firstly, they're big - a nuclear boat is cramped but actually has a lot of equipment onboard for dealing with problems, they also have a lot of storage space, as well as an easy way to make air and water.

Even then, if something "horrible" goes wrong, Kursk, then everybody dies, or you surface and limp to port for real repairs.

Actually getting to the point where submarines could operate the way Verne's did, took a century and the development of a "magic" (for the purposes of technology) power source. Traditional diesel-electric boats actually spend most of their time on the surface or close enough to the surface to run off their snorkel. Even then, working snorkel systems that could allow for ongoing submerged operations didn't come about until close to the end of WW2, and thankfully not in time for the Kreigsmarine to make best use of them.

Britain alone has almost 30 submarines in peace time, through catastrophic failure and accidents in the last 110 years. That accident rate has decreased worldwide since the advent of nuclear boats, but it's not quite risk free even now.

We're still a long way from having the necessary space technologies to run as well as we do with a submarine.

390:

Alex, you're still missing the point. Yes, we had diesel-electric boats before we had Nuclear ones. And we had no problem writing about them.

We certainly had submarines, but I don't think most people understand that prior to the end of WW2, they didn't actually spend a lot of time under water relatively speaking.

But in space terms we're not anywhere like able to build a diesel-electric boat that's adequate.

With the sea analogy, I'm not sure we're up to building ocean going sailing ships that work yet, let alone thinking about submarines.

391:

So you're saying that if we compare spaceships to subs, our spaceships are somewhere around the stage of the CSS Hunley?

392:

@353:

I'm attempting to parameterize the problem space. So that if at some future point (hint: not in 2011 or the first half of 2012) I decide to try and write a Mundane SF novel of space colonization, I don't trip over any branches poking out of the deadfall of bogus assumptions that are what currently passes for "received wisdom" wrt. space colonization.

The problem space for space colonization is big -- much bigger than the followers of John W. Campbell seem to appreciate.

I would suggest that the easiest way to shuck and jive on the hardest problems is simply to do the mundane thing set at a date fifty or a hundred years later than most people would like to see them. Writing about space colonization set in the year 2060? Right when there's going to be a raft of other problems like post Peak Oil rationing, global warming, elites becoming ever more authoritarian to maintain their perks and perquisites in a world that can no longer afford them? That's going to be difficult.

Writing about space colonization set in the year 2160? Much easier, especially if you can throw in some bushwah about the idealistic New World Order arising from the ashes of the corrupt old one and being the milieu of new horizons, personal, intellectual, spiritual striving, rah rah. Plus, there are lots of advances - I'm thinking mostly medical or biological in this context - that seem a lot more plausible given 150 years as opposed to merely 50. Remember all the hype about "unlocking the human genome" and how stem cell research was going to give us miracle cures for all sorts of things, from Parkinson's to cancer? (Admittedly, this sort of hype was almost entirely in the pop media, not in the sober peer-reviewed journals.) This also gives you the option of throwing in a few entertaining fomas without really sacrificing any truthiness, say, something along the lines of people's bones being replaced with beefed-up shark cartilage.

393:

You are actually making the point I wanted to get over in the parody. WWI and WWII subs were everything you say they were. They were certainly not even remotely close to Verne's fantasy later in the C18th. And yet, because of war, they were built, and operated. For all their dangers, the crews of surface ships were certainly fearful of their presence and it took a awhile to find good countermeasures. A nuclear sub is certainly a huge improvement, but it is a direct linear descendant of those vessels (and the cruder ones before them), and built using experience gained.

When I visit air museums, or even remind myself what flying was like when I was younger, I shudder at the thought of actually flying in some of those early passenger aircraft, and what possessed people to take joyride in a WWI biplane. The mind conjures up all sorts of horrors as a result of the crude structures and engines, and yet they were built and people flew in them. No doubt my kids will have similar thoughts about the airliners they fly in today when they look back.

Spacecraft are indeed very crude today, I wouldn't take a ride in a Soyuz craft unless my life depended on it.
Yet astronauts do, even tourists.

Obviously risk perception and rewards of taking those risks are very different for different people. Applying the most risk avoidance may not be a winning strategy.

394:

Actually, experimental snorkel systems had been fitted to a number of Dutch submarines shortly before WWII. At least one was captured by the Germans, who then completely failed (along with the allies) to see the value of this technology, only deploying it very late in the war.

396:

No :)

I'm thinking circa 1900's technology or better. It's a matter of opinion. However, if you could have pushed a slightly modified Mir on a Hohmann orbit to Mars with enough food and air and replacement parts, it could have made the round trip with crew, although they may have been in bad shape when they returned. It would have been the equivalent of a flight over the North Pole or a circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat or balloon achievement of about that era.

You can argue we couldn't have pushed Mir on that trip, but that isn't a technology argument, as it could be done in principle with conventional chemical engines that we have.

397:

Back to launches for a bit. For most rockets, non-recurring engineering is a major part of the cost. Consider the Atlas V: it's clocked up 21 flights since 2002 after a development cost of about $1.6 billion. Say it's about halfway through a moderately successful life cycle before being superceded, so engineering costs amortize to about $40 million / launch, modulo interest (add another 40%). That's without bending any metal, paying any controllers, or buying fuel, just design, nothing else.

One can reduce NRE by simpler engineering, as SpaceX does with the Falcon series which shares engines between stages and isn't so concerned about wringing out the last milligram from every component, or one can turn out rockets like jellybeans, as the Russians do - Proton and Soyuz production lines have run for well over four decades with incremental improvements. Neither approach is used by the American space establishment, since it's mostly manned by ex-military types who consider extra ounces anathema and drive considerable engineering effort to minimize weight. Least weight designs are only useful to minimize fuel use, however, and since fuel is an inconsequential part of a rocket's expense (~1%) this approach is literally penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Getting to space is expensive, but the wrong choices make it even more so. Ares would have cost over $10 billion at first launch, so if it ran 100 missions the NRE would've come out to $100 million per flight - plus it was a dubious system at best, with a good chance of killing astronauts before its day was done. The Shuttle, a somewhat more capable vehicle, required somewhere around a half-billion per flight, mostly for overhaul and inspection. Amusingly enough, that's the 1970 inflation-adjusted price for the "expensive" Saturn V - which could put _much_ more payload into orbit - and by now economies of scale would have dropped the price further. America could do worse than digging up the old microfilms and reviving Saturn 1B and Saturn V, and arguably with the Ares program it was well on the way to doing so.

398:

@397:

Getting to space is expensive, but the wrong choices make it even more so. Ares would have cost over $10 billion at first launch, so if it ran 100 missions the NRE would've come out to $100 million per flight - plus it was a dubious system at best, with a good chance of killing astronauts before its day was done. The Shuttle, a somewhat more capable vehicle, required somewhere around a half-billion per flight, mostly for overhaul and inspection.

I've never understood the decision to go with liquid H2 for the Shuttle. If you're doing what is essentially a one-shot thing where cost isn't much of an object, say, a strictly limited number of moon landings, by all means go with a difficult to handle cryogenic fuel. But for something that was pushed as a space truck? Doesn't make any sense. And that's even after those absurd cross-range requirements that lowered the Shuttle's operating ceiling.

399:

Why go to mars? Its dust, sand and water. Why go to asteroid belt? Its dust, rocks and water. Skip those places and head for Titan. Just build a tanker. Land it and fill it with hydrocarbons from the lakes. Use some of it to get off Titan. Sell it to spacefarers or earth. If you need numbers, they are only estimates based on magic tech. Ps.SF plot. Alien wakes up in a tank and kills the crew, preferably when one of the crewmember (female) is taking a shower. :)

400:
Nations all over the world are quite happy to entrust very, very complex, fragile and dangerous things like enormous jet aircraft to the care of young men under 25, and most of them do pretty well with adequate training.
Having been privy to military repair information during a shooting war, I think you're being a little optimistic. My favorite story is about a pilot (early 20s, I think, but it's been awhile) who decided to stress test his jet fighter. He managed to get it to pull 8 Gs; the good news was that he still had the belly tanks and the landing carriage attached to his seat when he got to the ground, so he survived. The rest of his plane was strewn over several square miles of Texas.

And ditto my experience of military helicopter pilots: they had an unfortunate tendency to depend on their aircraft to do more than they were designed to do. This often resulted in either failure of the maneuver (and a tendency to get bullet holes in the hull) or failure of the aircraft.

This of course is one of the reasons that many nations want high-testosterone pilots: if you're risking death either way, the payback is greater to the military as a whole if part or all of the mission can be achieved.

401:

"...stress test his jet fighter. He managed to get it to pull 8 Gs"

That must have been a while back. Modern military jets now stress test the pilot.

Looking back at your experience, what fraction of those young fighter jocks treated their aircraft well?

402:

The Air Force worked together with NASA on the Shuttle, but their requirement for one-orbit return meant they needed 1500 mile cross-range to land back at the launch site.

As for LH2, its higher specific impulse meant they could use a 1.5 stage-to-orbit design (solids & SSME) instead of the earlier 2STO designs. Believe it or not, that was meant as the _low cost or engineering_ choice since Congress had tied their hands. Thank you Walter Mondale. We didn't need those astronauts anyway.

403:

America could do worse than digging up the old microfilms and reviving Saturn 1B and Saturn V,

This has been chewed over interminably by the likes of Henry Spencer on sci.space.policy literally for decades; it's the space tech equivalent of "what if Hitler had ordered Operation Sealion to go ahead?"

Alas, their conclusions were that reviving Saturn would cost at leat 80% of the price of an all-new equivalent launch system, and possibly more. Those 18 SV birds were all hand-patched by the original engineers; while the original blueprints exist, the change notices are mostly lost, as is the expertise that designed them. They rely on non-metric measurements, materials that aren't manufactured any more (insulation, electronics, that kind of thing), the construction jigs for the tankage ain't there, and it would just be an unholy pain in the neck ... and take longer than designing a new HLV from scratch. Also, there were undesirable problems with SV that were never solved -- a tendency to pogo during stage 1 and 2 burn that threw the astronauts around and was brutal on the payload. It might be fixable, but why start with a design known to be flawed and marginal for the designated mission (going to the moon)?

(Which is a shame; I'd love to see an SV launch at first hand.)

404:

Performance.

SSME LH2/LOX Isp = 455s
Saturn V F-1 RP-1/LOX Isp = 263s

The Shuttle is effectively 1 1/2 stages to orbit, which is exceptional performance. Fuels that are theoretically better, e.g. LH2 + fluorine, suffer from extreme toxicity if they leak...

405:

Fuels that are theoretically better, e.g. LH2 + fluorine, suffer from extreme toxicity if they leak...

AhahahahahaCOUGH!

You crack me up.

Extreme toxicity. (That's HF, not F, because HF is the exhaust produced by LH2 + Fluorine. Yes, that's right, hot hydrofluoric acid, presumably in hundred-ton quantities.)

Could be worse; you might be advocating Chlorine Trifluoride as an oxidizer. Or liquid ozone and triethyl borane ...

406:

AhahahahahaCOUGH!
You crack me up.

What? You don't think H + F has been tested?

Yes, hot HF wouldn't be nice near the ground, but used on upper stages? Should the fluorine tank leak before lift off, you do get a lung full of gaseous fluorine.

407:

@ScentoViolets

Oh, and because I know what a stickler you are for actual, err...facts, check out:

History of Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines
By George Paul Sutton

Start around p45 for use of fluorine in rocket engines.

408:

The Solid Rocket Boosters on the Shuttle are basically synthetic rubber and picric acid. Every launch has to get an EPA waiver because the exhaust is toxic gas, full of all sorts of crap.

There was a BOTE design published by some enthusiasts for an expendable heavy-lift launch vehicle based around Shuttle components; an External Tank with five SSMEs mounted on a frame on the bottom plus six SRBs slightly modified with an extra segment and core geometry to provide a longer burn time. It was good for a Saturn V payload lift to LEO but nothing would come back to be reused, not even the SRBs. The big advantage was that the components were mostly off-the-shelf and well-tested, the mods simple and easy to model for safety and performance. It wasn't going to go anywhere because basically there's no need any more for single-shot Saturn V-class heavy lifts now we know how to organise multiple 10-20 tonne flights and rendezvous, dock and assemble modules in orbit.

409:
Mars' atmosphere actually makes it easier to get to than the moon: you can aerobrake in, rather than having to burn fuel.
But you still have to get rid of the last few hundred m/sec of terminal velocity (that air is thin!). I like the airbag approach: tumble and bounce around with 10G impacts, while hoping you don't run into anything hard or fail into a hole.

However, Mars has another nice characteristic in addition to a deep atmosphere: its gravity is low enough that it's possible to build a synchronous beanstalk with existing materials (even high-tensile steel will work, though for greater margin I would want to use carbon composite or something with equivalent tensile strength; the deciding factor is probably going to be what you can easily dig out of Deimos where the raw material would come from). The biggest obstacle to building a beanstalk is finding something to use for a counterweight; I haven't looked at the energetics, but it seems to me via SWAG that hacking a few thousand ton piece off of Deimos and flinging it into the right orbit (very slowly with a VASIMIR engine maybe; we don't care if it takes a few months) should do the job.

Oh, and if you're wondering what to do to keep Phobos from running into the tether, that's a solved problem: it's possible to anchor it a couple of degrees away from the Martian equator, so the tether doesn't cross the plane of Phobos' orbit.

410:

Nice idea, but first be certain that none of the workers are smokers.

411:

This reminds me of "Moon Monkeys", the 2004 short story by Wen Spencer, which was anthologized several times. All you need to do is find the equivalent animal for teenagers, let them go loose in the moon/asteroid/jovian/saturnian colony, patch up things after and change systems accordingly and voila, the place is safe.

412:

Of course, that only really works up to a fairly low level. The monkeys might try hanging from the light-fittings, but they're unlikely to have the technical nous to borrow Mom's tools when she isn't looking and rewire the doors in sector four.

413:

So what I don't actually understand is you seem to grasp the gulf between what we have and what we need to do what you want to do, but you're ignoring it?

You might not intend it, but you are coming across as somebody would in 1905 when confronted with a A1 like death trap, screaming that it's not like the Nautilis.

Yes, we may well develop a lot of the technologies you want, but we're decades, and probably centuries off some of them.

I wish that wasn't the case... but ignoring the actual real technical engineering problems doesn't magically get rid of them. The way we deal with them is to understand them and how, and if, we can get around them.

414:

The thing is, I think Mir is a CSS Huntley level space vehicle/baloon or circa 19th century airship concept.

It couldn't have managed the trip anyway. That's not to say we *couldn't* have built a Mars rated vessel in 1990 - we *could* do it now. But we'd be stupid not to test and prove the inflight systems in real time prior to setting off. We didn't just send a LEM to the moon and tried to see if we could land and take off. The actually cut several test flights, but we still did LEO flights and Lunar flights before Apollo 11.

The real problem I have with the "Space Cadet" mindset is they want the O'Neill colony (no relation) with the Bay Area vibe and they want it because Gerry O'Neill made it sound real easy in the 1970s - hell, as a teenager I was taken in. So I did an engineering degree to see how we'd do and realized that the gulf between a nice graphic and a working O'Neill colony is bloody enormous.

415:

Corrosive, toxic, is there any way we can make it radioactive too? Let's go for the trifecta here.

416:

I'm still not convinced you can manage too much with 10-20 tonne chucks, or rather the cost of, say, trying to modularise a Mars lander would probably cost more than launching the thing whole. I certainly wouldn't want to try and assemble a Mars lander from a kit in freefall.

Even with a significant flight rate, I still see the assembling stuff from 10-20 tonne blocks stuff as similar to trying to build an Antarctic base with weekly heavy lift helicopter flights. I mean, you *could* do it, but would you really want to?

417:

Just as a quick heads-up, the last time a Soyuz killed anyone was almost forty years ago. They may have had a few problems over the years, but every astronaut since 1971 has come back alive, in close to one hundred missions. Neither Apollo nor the Shuttle has that record.

418:

Sorry, Apollo does have the same record. Apollo 1 was more than 40 years ago, and I don't think they actually killed anybody else. Although if the Apollo 13 base block had been on Apollo 8, which could have happened, then they'd have certainly done so.

419:

H2 + F = Ye Flipping Gawds!

From the Wiki:

Hydrofluoric acid is an extremely corrosive liquid and is a contact poison. It should be handled with extreme care, beyond that accorded to other mineral acids. Owing to its low dissociation constant, HF penetrates tissue more quickly than typical acids. Because of the ability of hydrofluoric acid to penetrate tissue, poisoning can occur readily through exposure of skin or eyes, or when inhaled or swallowed. Symptoms of exposure to hydrofluoric acid may not be immediately evident. HF interferes with nerve function, meaning that burns may not initially be painful. Accidental exposures can go unnoticed, delaying treatment and increasing the extent and seriousness of the injury.[8]

Once absorbed into blood through the skin, it reacts with blood calcium and may cause cardiac arrest. Burns with areas larger than 25 square inches (160 cm2) have the potential to cause serious systemic toxicity from interference with blood and tissue calcium levels.[9] In the body, hydrofluoric acid reacts with the ubiquitous biologically important ions Ca2+ and Mg2+. Formation of insoluble calcium fluoride is proposed as the etiology for both precipitous fall in serum calcium and the severe pain associated with tissue toxicity.[10] In some cases, exposures can lead to hypocalcemia. Thus, hydrofluoric acid exposure is often treated with calcium gluconate, a source of Ca2+ that sequesters the fluoride ions. HF chemical burns can be treated with a water wash and 2.5% calcium gluconate gel[11][12][13] or special rinsing solutions.[14][15] However, because it is absorbed, medical treatment is necessary;[9] rinsing off is not enough. In some cases, amputation may be required.
Hydrogen fluoride is generated upon combustion of many fluorine-containing compounds such as products containing Viton and polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) parts. Hydrogen fluoride converts immediately to hydrofluoric acid upon contact with liquid water.

420:

The thing is, I think Mir is a CSS Huntley level space vehicle/balloon or circa 19th century airship concept.

Obviously we can disagree about the technology level and appropriateness for different tasks. The Hunley sub sank fairly quickly and wasn't well suited to it's task. Clearly it couldn't have seriously put to sea and gone anywhere. (I thought this was why heteromeles mentioned it).

Mir was different. It was orbiting far longer than a Mars trip needs, and this was done without major repairs. As Gary Linenger recorded, it was definitely not without it's scary moments, a fire (and faulty extinguishers), a leak, and a human induced prang on a solar panel. All sorts of bacterial slime in the walls too. His stay seemed the worst, and other US astronauts were far more sanguine about Mir. Mir was periodically resupplied with consumables using the Soyuz and Progress craft.
My point is that if the craft was preloaded with consumables, its flight could have been interplanetary, with the added risk of higher radiation exposure. I would say that this made it more suited to its task than the Hunley, but probably less so than a WWI submarine (but I could be overestimating the capability of WWI subs too).
I'm not saying the flight wouldn't have been risky, but it does not seem to me that it is a priori ruled out. We could build another, perhaps just parking it in GEO to simulate interplanetary space and do a test run to see whether it would be robust enough. It might be nice, elegant even, to have full recycling, but it isn't a requirement. Brute force is substituted for the extra weight. [As I tried to show, even this might be finessed by using simple water recycling technology, a technique that could be tried anytime we wished, both on the ground and on the ISS]

Possibly poor analogies, but Heyerdahl showed that balsa craft (Kontiki) could sail the Pacific and reed ships (Ra) could sail the Atlantic, both which disproved the experts who said that it could not be done. These primitive ships did remarkably well.
We might be surprised what Mir could do, and we already have its operating history to go on, so it is not as though this is some huge leap into the unknown. We have data. We can apply it and balance the risks, much like early aviators did.

The main objections seem to be:

1. It is too risky, that is we cannot allow for even a small risk of failure. Western human life has definitely got more precious over the last 100 years. Somehow we let test pilots take huge risks back in the 1950's, but we no longer allow astronauts (who used to be test pilots in the early space program)to take comparable risks.

2. It is too expensive. Pushing a vehicle the size of Mir to Mars would definitely require a lot of propellant using even the best LH2/LOX engines. If it failed, the costs could be crippling to a space program.

I don't think we need to do anything quite as crude as pushing an obsolete Russian space station to Mars in the way suggested, but I do think the manned space program has been far too timid spinning its wheels and achieving very little.

Elon Musk may be hugely over confident about his expectation of retiring on Mars (UK Guardian article), but it is that sort of gung ho that we need to kick start more aggressive space exploration.


421:

I know the stats. I've looked inside one, and I am not comforted. Maybe I'd feel better if they added soothing lights, new computers, comfy seats and in flight entertainment...? :)

422:

Colonization (in the sense of planting new settlements of one's own people rather than conquering foreigners) has usually required large sums of money and fairly elaborate organization. More attempts failed than succeeded, particularly at first.

The English colonies in America were big business from the start. They needed tens of thousands of pounds (in 17th-century money) just to get started; ships, recruitment, tools, seed, stock, weapons, lobbying support in London. Careful organization was essential and the early colonies were run as iron-fisted military despotisms.

It's also usually been extremely dangerous.

For generations after 1607, the average life expectancy of an English colonist in Virginia was about 18 months. They died like flies, of malaria and typhus and starvation and Indian attacks.

It wasn't until the 1710's that a self-sustaining colonist population was fully established; prior to that the majority were always English and died faster than children were born locally.

Going to Virginia was a high-risk gamble; lunatic ambition, sheer desperation, or force were used to recruit the colonists.

And the company that founded Virginia went broke. Nobody made substantial sums from founding New World colonies, and usually it cost more than it yielded.

The moral of the story is that you can't anticipate all the problems and if you wait until you're completely ready you'll never do anything.

Just go for it. If the first try doesn't work, try again. Expect heavy losses in money and in lives; suck it up and keep going.

423:

Did I say anything more than it had higher performance than H2 + O? Did I recommend rebuilding the shuttle to use this propellant mix? I did not.

To forestall any more comments on this, I DO NOT THINK H2 + F SHOULD BE USED ANYWHERE ON THIS PLANET, OR OFF IT. PERIOD.

424:

@405:

Fuels that are theoretically better, e.g. LH2 + fluorine, suffer from extreme toxicity if they leak...
AhahahahahaCOUGH!

You crack me up.

Extreme toxicity. (That's HF, not F, because HF is the exhaust produced by LH2 + Fluorine. Yes, that's right, hot hydrofluoric acid, presumably in hundred-ton quantities.)

Could be worse; you might be advocating Chlorine Trifluoride as an oxidizer. Or liquid ozone and triethyl borane ...

I don't know if counts as mundane sf, but if you were going to write about space colonization, you might put in a casual throwaway line about how the the discovery and cheap synthesis of N60(nitrogen buckminsterfullerene) not only took care of the oil shortage for transportation, it opened up NEO with it's specific impulse of 550 . . .

Me? I'd guess that LOX/RP1 or LOX/propane would work just fine in your BDB's or whatever; a specific impulse 0f 360 isn't anything to sneeze at (and you can synthesize either with reactor-powered Fischer-Tropsch synthesis), particularly when you recall that volume for volume, LOX/propane has a higher energy density than LOX/H2. As always, the idea is to find one good design, play with it until most of the bugs are worked out, and then stick with it. Don't monkey with the design except as a version 1.X after a production run of a 1,000 or so first.

425:

Yes, we may well develop a lot of the technologies you want, but we're decades, and probably centuries off some of them.

I think that is pessimistic.

What technologies do I want? For a Mars flyby? For a space "city"?

1. Compartmentalized, airtight cans. (Seriously, how hard is this?)
2. Consumables supply with incremental improvements in recycling, starting with water and air. (Modified, off-the shelf stuff, start testing today).
3. Radiation shielding. (mass. Initially extremely expensive to ship from earth, but cheaper from NEO sources. Someone mentioned Ceres)
4. Power supply. (solar panels are mature tech)
5. Reliable comms, navigation and control.(ditto.)
6. Efficient engines for longer flights. (Lots of options and development needed.)

Right now we haven't gone anywhere above LEO for 30 years.

Is it really that hard to push crewed ships for longer and longer trips, past the moon, out to NEOs using current technology and incrementally improving it? The costs are much less than a small war in the Middle East, hardly budget breaking.

Build semi automated resource extractors for NEOs. Test ideas to extract volatiles, store them and push them to useful locations for fuel (needn't be cryo fuels). Ditto regolith. Use volatiles and regolith for radiation shields of orbiting cities and consumables, the priority being to reduce earth source consumables to dry food and replacement parts only. R&D NEO resources for structures to extend/replace the earth launched airtight canisters, reducing earth launch needs further.

yada, yada.

We know where the costs are in principle, the launch costs. So the aim is to reduce them if we can, but simultaneously look to replacing the mass with local resources so that the mass we have off planet is sourced increasingly from ET sources.

In all seriousness, what has Nasa been doing for 30 years? You can read any number of academic papers addressing some of these issues, done by scientists and engineers with shoe string funding and no follow up. The result is that we still have very little practical knowledge about how to do even basic things. Space medicine is barely making any strides at all, despite the fact that just about every astronaut from Mercury onwards has been monitored extensively. We still don't know how intermediate levels of g affect rodent models, let alone humans. Up thread we've talked about closed cycle ecologies using plants, but in thirty years there has not been even a half-assed program to grow food crops in space.
The Russians have done more than we have in this arena.

I was blown away by the note that Charlie posted that Nasa doesn't know how to land a crewed vehicle on Mars. Think about that for a moment. We've been treated to images of crewed Mars landers since at least the early 1970's, and they are all bogus because no-one had a clue how to put a ship down on Mars? Not one of these plans could have worked?

At this rate, you're right, it will take us centuries. We've metaphorically burned our junks.
The space age Henry the Navigator certainly isn't coming from the current US space program.

426:

"they're somewhat less gung-ho about the former Soviet, and now the Chinese, space programs."

-- and this is bad... why?

I'm on my own side; I'd like as much as possible of the future of the species to be descended, memetically and otherwise, from "me and mine".(*) Up with Us!

I would expect a Russian or Chinese to feel exactly the same way about -their- programs and national futures; ie., I expect them to be "on their own side" too.

What's -really- odd is someone who -isn't- on their own side.

(*) considering how much of the world was English-speaking in, say, 1607 and how much is in 2010, we've done rather well so far.

427:

"Humans are a climax organism that is fundamentally dependent on a couple of key ecosystems."

-- not necessarily true in a space context.

Eg., on earth we're dependent on plants producing oxygen.

On the moon, with water and abundant energy, you can just crack the oxygen out of the H2O and discard the waste products until you've got a photosynthesis-based recycling system going.

"Brute force and massive ignorance" can often substitute for subtlety and precision.

You don't have to do everything at once, or in the optimum fashion; start small, improvise, develop step by step.

428:
That must have been a while back. Modern military jets now stress test the pilot.

Yes, that was back in the 1960's. Modern military jets shouldn't have onboard pilots, but we'll need to kill off a generation or two of Air Force generals before that can happen.

Looking back at your experience, what fraction of those young fighter jocks treated their aircraft well?
Oh, maybe half or a little less. Not all of them were equally reckless, though. It was more of a skewed normal distribution than a bimodal one. I suspect if they'd had to do the maintenance themselves they might have been a little more careful.
429:

Charlie @ 351: lead-shielded sperm and ovum banks...

This. This is a great MacGuffin. And now if I don't get a Maltese Embryo story in this late 2012 book, I'm gonna feel cheated. Especially with the genetic-optimizations-as-colonial-health-insurance-policy you're talking about, there could be a Lindbergh Baby case of Biblical proportion.

Want. Now.

430:

I'm underlining, not disagreeing with you

Consider Virginia. It has modest deposits of all sorts of useful minerals. There's wood. There's water power. There's fertile soil. The climate isn't extreme. There's plenty of fish and game. Nice place.

The colonies failed repeatedly and cost a lot of blood and gold to keep going. That's with fierce laws preventing the colonists from saying "Sod this. I'm going to live with the locals" whose agricultural techniques seem to have been more efficient.

Compare that to the dry parts of the American West or the Namib. Move on to the Rub' al-Khali and Antarctica where a treating the environment as hostile and waiting to kill you is a perfectly rational way of looking at the world. But hey, you can breathe the air. Now move your colonists to the Abyssal Plain with limited tools and materials.

Now move it millions of miles away to a place with no air, no water, nothing to eat that you didn't bring with you, very limited resupply and no way to get away when your fellows start to drive you crazy with their annoying habits.

The romance and adventure had better be darned well mythological.

431:
Possibly poor analogies, but Heyerdahl showed that balsa craft (Kontiki) could sail the Pacific and reed ships (Ra) could sail the Atlantic, both which disproved the experts who said that it could not be done. These primitive ships did remarkably well.
Definitely poor analogies. Heyerdahl wasn't very forthcoming with the information that he couldn't get his raft into the Pacific without a tow for the first 100 miles or so: the currents on that part of the South American coast flow parallel to the shoreline and so won't carry an unpowered craft out to sea. So, yeah, the raft worked for him, but it wouldn't have worked for the people he insisted had used that technology.
432:

"And now if I don't get a Maltese Embryo story in this late 2012 book, I'm gonna feel cheated."

Two words: Heinlein. Friday.

I'm sure Charlie's book will be great, but I doubt he'll use that plot - it's already been done by a prominent writer.

433:

#428 - We can do "man in loop" without also doing "man on aircraft" ATM. However, other than radar and exhaust spoofing kit, it's only in the last 10 years or so that we've had a UAV that carried guns and/or deployable stores.

Cruise missile systems I'm treating as different because they don't carry deployable stores; their mission is "go there and blow yourself up", not "go there, throw these bombs at it when/it we tell you to and come back".

434:

I know it's been tested. I also know there are good reasons why even the cold-war era military didn't bother pursuing this shit as propellant for ICBMs.

Obligatory reading: IGNITION: A History of Liquid Rocket Fuels by John D. Clarke.

435:

@380
I’m quite aware that there is more to history than Tuchman, thank you.
It is just that she was so good, like Alan Bullock, and others.

CSS Hunley/Mir/-what stage are we at?
How many times do I have to say this before it penetrates?
Look at the history of steam-power, and its’ transition to a motile force. We are past the point of Watt & Boulton, and probably very close to Trevithick (“Catch-me-who-can” & the Pen-y-Darren locomotive)
Historically, steam traction advanced VERY FAST in the period 1816-32, and even more between 1825 (“locomotion”) and the latter date (“Planet”/”Patentee”) when both materials technology and what would now be called systems design were integrated to make a workable, much more economic system as a whole.

Charlie @ 406 et seq
HF ? DON’T!
Many years ago, I worked with this stuff in small quantities, and even by the standards of the time the safety precautions: … Put on extra heavy rubberised apron, put on full-eye-cover safety specs, pull on thin almost-elbow-length thin rubber gloves, put on full hinged facemask over glasses, put on extra pair of slightly thicker gloves, THEN pick up bottle of semi-conc HF ….

@ 428 & 433
I have a word for you: Taranis
That and other RPV’s are an interesting idea, especially for near-Earth orbit work.
Seriously, why not FLY up as far as you can, THEN switch to rockets or whatever (I believe there was the “Skylon” project idea, no?

436:

What happened there? ( 435 )
It looked all right in "Preview".
Uh?

437:

@ 436
Could you translate that into English, please?

438:

Go read "Saturn's Children". Hint: Heinlein tribute novel, aimed squarely at "Friday".

439:

Greg: don't use "smart" quotes or Microsoft codeset characters such as em-dashes or accents. Keep to old style ASCII and you won't confuse the blog engine. If you want to insert weird characters, type the HTML entities in -- e.g. — for and em-dash (thus: —) or > for >.

440:

I really dont see how it will possible be "more libertarian". As Stross, I see as more communal (NOT communist, but that can be) by default.

Libertarianism is all about individual rights being above everything. That is all fine when you have a default support infraestructure called EARTH where, if you dont agree and dont want to submit to the system, you can, in theory, live.

Picture a space station or colony. You got there by a massive expenditure of energy, needed to carry your ass out of Earth. There is VERY limited space - there is a univers of SPACE but only a few ROOMS inside where you can breathe. Keeping you fed, hell, MANAGING YOUR WASTE is a costly and difficult job.

You are either onboard with a very good reason and completly in agreement with everybody else and the system, or they have a very good argument to kick you out. You are using preciously scarse resources and causing a lot of life-support trouble for all - either you play along or go back to Earth.

Yes, there is plenty of SPACE you could move and found you own place. Have the tons of money needed? Have access to the tons of energy needed? Have access to the cutting edge technology needed? Have enough friends LOYAL TO YOUR VISION to do the life support job you need? "Oh, I forgot I should have clean the filters of the hidroponic bay" is a death sentence. "Oh, there was 2 emergencies and only one of me to fix one" is a death sentence.

Unless incredible technologies come to place and buying a ship, a colony/station and hundreds of automated robots with good AI come, you NEED to belong to a tightly knit community willing to work HARD for keeping you breathing 24/7/365. No room for independent, my-own-way people.

441:

NASA isn't about landing on Mars. That would be expensive.

NASA post-1975 is about ensuring continuing employment for a superpower-sized contingent of aerospace engineers in the wake of aerospace tech development running into the thermal wall at the end of the 1960s. (The layoffs in 1968-74 were potentially disastrous and during the Cold War it was seen as essential to ensure that if Northrop/MacDonnell-Douglass/Rockwell/et-al couldn't pay the engineers right now, someone should keep them gainfully employed and in training until they were needed again.) Subsequently it has become an ossified political pork-barrel project. Bits of NASA still do excellent work on planetary science, but the big-headline projects invoked to justify its existence -- the Shuttle, the ISS -- are a disastrous misapplication of resources.

442:

BTW: A nice take on the generation ship issue - the adolescents running amok, the question of communality, the rise of new religions and ideas, and the question why a generation ship should land on something really, really unknown, if the portable biosphere looks so nice (and the vanishing stock of non-recyclabes is ignored) can be found in a story by ... Ursula K. LeGuin. "Paradise Lost", in: The Birthday of The World And Other Stories (2002). And interesting narrative answer to some of the more sociological questions springing into life in this thread.

443:

Just go for it. If the first try doesn't work, try again. Expect heavy losses in money and in lives; suck it up and keep going.

I think you may underestimate the scale of those heavy losses.

One problem with space is that, in the absence of "magic" tech for getting there, hauling stuff out of Earth's gravity well costs, currently, around $3-5000 per kilogram in bulk; we might get it as low as $1000/Kg before we run into the brick wall imposed by energy economy, namely that orbital velocity is fast, the kinetic energy input scales as the square of the desired final velocity, and we don't particularly want folks operating nuclear propulsion systems in the atmosphere we breathe.

Consequently, one astronaut, plus space suit, and the supplies they need for an open-loop life support system for one year, cost (80Kg + 120Kg + 12,000Kg = 12200Kg x $1000) = $1.22M.

Note that figure doesn't include the weight of their hammock or the structural weight of whatever can they're living in.

It is possible that if we want a closed-loop, 100% recycled life support system for them this will cost even more, because hydroponic systems, water reclamation gear, seeds, incubators and all the rest of the DIY biosphere-in-a-bottle kit will not be weight-free.

This doesn't include the weight cost of whatever equipment they need to do the job they've been sent to do.

I see people getting enthusiatic about sunlight, regolith and WATER!!!! ON THE MOOON!!!11!!ELEVENTY!!!

Yes, we have discovered ice on the moon. Unfortunately it's very close to the poles (which makes it harder to get at -- you need to crank yourself into lunar polar orbit before landing there, adding to the fuel cost) and it's rather scarce. At its most damp, the Moon seems to be somewhat drier than the Sahara desert at noon in the middle of a drought.

Frankly, I think the Moon is a terrible place to go. In any event, we're close to having sufficiently good teleoperator-directed robots that we don't need to send meatsacks to the Moon. We'd to a lot better to target the Apollo asteroids, which orbit a lot closer to us than the main asteroid belt, but far enough away that lightspeed-lag would make it advantageous to have intelligences on-site to direct the exploration. They've got negligible gravity wells (meaning we don't need a bulky descent stage and an ascent stage on our lander) and depending which we pick, they may have most of the resources we might want to mine.

Unfortunately the duration of a voyage of exploration would be on the top side of six months, minimum, during which the explorers would be exposed to both high-energy cosmic radiation and the risk of a large solar coronal mass ejection like the one that just hit Earth yesterday. There's an element of Russian Roulette in any such mission, unless we add unfeasible and expensive quantities of shielding.

To date, only one spacecraft has visited an asteroid and returned with a sample (hopefully -- they're still analysing it): Hayabusa. Note that the mission was not trouble-free, even for a robot.

So the Japanese have made a start; the rest of us haven't got beyond the daydreaming stage.

444:


Frankly, I think the Moon is a terrible place to go. In any event, we're close to having sufficiently good teleoperator-directed robots that we don't need to send meatsacks to the Moon.


Why either/or? Why not industrialize the Moon by remote control?

Kilograms-in-space would become a more relaxed issue. I'm talking about metal, not water.

445:

Charlie:

Between Jan 1st 1991 and Jan 1st 1994 Mir had 3 Kosmonauts on board. During that time, it was exclusively supplied by Progress-M spaceships and the occasional Soyuz.

A list of Progress-M launches is here:

http://www.astronautix.com/craft/proressm.htm

There were 14 launches in those 3 years. Cargo capacity is 2.6t per flight. This works out to be almost exactly 4 tons per person per year.

And this includes scientific instruments, experiments, guitars and the occasional hammock. And I would call Mir about as open loop as it gets. There are probably some low-weight, low-energy ways in which it could be little more closed than it was. Pick the low hanging fruits first ...

So, your estimate of $1.2m per person leaves plenty of room for structures and other stuff.

446:

So, your estimate of $1.2m per person leaves plenty of room for structures and other stuff.

NB: there's an order of magnitude mistake in that calculation - it should have been $12.2m

447:

To give the public some credit, the robots doing real science have had great press and public reaction/support whereas the shuttle launches became a yawning routine except when they malfunctioned. It would be interesting to know how much it really matters to the peoples (insert bad George Hamilton accent) that space exploration be manned. In particular, Voyager, Hubble and the Martian rovers generated a lot of awe and affection.

448:

@ 444
Luna is 1.28 light-seconds from Terra.
Thus minimum loop-time for feedback is 2.56 seconds for any telechiric / remote-operated vehicle.

I think you might need to be careful about that sort of thing.

449:

You're a factor of ten out -- 1000 x 12,200 = 12.2 million bucks.

In other comments, the Moon is a great source of dirt if dirt is useful for future space exploration. It is at the bottom of a 1/6g gravitational well which makes landing and taking off expensive but not as expensive as doing so on Earth (the only other convenient source of dirt to hand). The 1/6 gee means construction and fabrication is simpler than in free-fall, at least until we get a lot more experience in doing so.

450:

'guitars'? I thought that the guitar was brought over from Salyut 7 by Soyuz T-13 - still the Second Coolest Space Mission ever, incidentally.

451:

We know that Heyerdahl's stunts weren't science. What they did show is that even apparently flimsy technology works better than most experts believe possible.

No one seriously believes ancient Egyptians colonized S. America. But a serious objection was that it was "impossible" anyway, because the reed ship technology available couldn't survive an Atlantic voyage and were restricted to the Nile delta and coastal Mediterranean. The Ra voyage disproved that particular objection.

Nit-pick all you like, but Kontiki proved long Pacific sea voyages were possible on a balsa raft, again disproving the technical objections.

452:

That's still pretty cheap. So you could lift an astronaut to space for a year for the same cost as sending twelve US soldiers to Afghanistan for the same time? ($1m a head)
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/us/politics/15cost.html?_r=2&hp

That's not bad at all. (On the subject of disastrously misapplied resources.)

Last year's increase in US troop strength in Afghanistan, which I would guess some people here hadn't even heard of and most people don't know the details of, runs at $40-50 billion additional cost per year. Triple NASA's budget. And, to emphasise, that's not the cost of the war, that's the marginal cost of a single, fairly minor troop surge. (It also equates to a third of the cost of the entire Apollo programme, adjusted for inflation.)

453:

Returning to the Fermi paradox, and taking on-board a lot of what has been said over the various threads - it seems possible that the simplest solution to the Fermi paradox is that there is no magic McGuffin that makes deep space travel makes sense in investment:return terms, no magic nano-tech cornucopia machine which can both sustain itself, make more of itself and manufacture stuff. That space travel on a large scale will always consume more resources than it generates.

Not to say you can't do it if you want to throw enough resources at it, but it will always run a loss in terms of resources to return and never be self-sustaining. If so then you will always need a home planet willing to keep sustaining you, and whilst a sufficiently motivated society might send probes even to some neighbouring stars they will never ever colonize space?

Likewise you can build moon/mars/asterioid bases if you want to badly enough, it might even make sense if you find some incredibly rare resource that you really, really, really, need, but all you've built is an oil rig, not a self-sustaining settlement.

Obviously this runs straight into the objections of the cadets, who Charlie has rightly identified as ideologically motivated, but it would fit the available evidence.

As has been said several times if it is possible to make expansion into space self sustaining you only need one civilisation to do it once and they will fill the galaxy.

All you have is occasional civilisations that flourish for a while on isolated planets then eventually use up all their resources and fade away slowly. It makes no difference if the resources are available elswhere in your system if it costs more to harvest them than the use you get from them.

Very rarely a civilisation might have another civilisation on a neighbouring star system and they can communicate (very slowly...) but so what. Eventually we just fade back into dust.

Cheerful thoughts I know, but no-one said the universe was how we wanted it to be (otherwise we'd have flying cars by now, dammit!)

454:

Where does the 12000kg/yr for consumables come from?

O2 = 1 kg/dy
H20 = 5 kg/dy
Food = 2 kg/dy (wet)

= 8 x 365 = 2920 kg/yr.

This seems to be reasonable given tp1024's data of 4000 kg/yr for supplies + equipment for Mir.

455:



Thus minimum loop-time for feedback is 2.56 seconds for any telechiric / remote-operated vehicle.


Then how is Charlie going to send his 'sufficiently good teleoperator-directed robots' to the Apollo asteroids?

BTW I once wrote a little pick-and-place 'game' with a 3-second delay in the user interface. It wasn't such a big deal to cope with, especially in low/slow gravity.

Thought experiment: if your human operator takes a magic quaalude that doesn't impair judgement, then the delay will seem like nothing. So this may be more of a mental problem than an engineering one, that can be overcome by learning and clever user interface.

Telerobots can already fill in little gaps too, as brainstem-stupid AI is getting better even today.

456:

the duration of a voyage of exploration would be on the top side of six months, minimum, during which the explorers would be exposed to both high-energy cosmic radiation and the risk of a large solar coronal mass ejection like the one that just hit Earth yesterday. There's an element of Russian Roulette in any such mission, unless we add unfeasible and expensive quantities of shielding.


1. If we worry about being hit by traffic, we will never cross a road. Yes it is playing Russian Roulette with current technology, but what are the odds of severe radiation exposure on that voyage? Is that risk unacceptable? Can we plan when the chambers aren't loaded with solar observatories and the science we have?

2. Shielding is expensive - yes, if launched from earth. Does it have to be? Does the fuel have to be?
Are there better ways to do this that require relatively modest development, especially if the missions are to be ongoing?
Can the asteroid be directly used as a shield while doing exploratory work on its surface? Can automated equipment on its surface be kept shielded if needed while working? Can we use it to provide shielding mass for the homeward journey?

457:

the duration of a voyage of exploration would be on the top side of six months, minimum

...unless you use a VASIMR engine which, apparently, could get you to Mars in about 40 days - presumably time to an asteroid would be cut by a similar fraction. And, as Alex points out, once you're there, you have a large rock that you can put between yourself and all that solar nastiness.

As for protection on the way: VASIMR, of course, involves an extremely powerful magnet...

458:

I gather they're planning on flight-testing a VASIMR for reboost on the ISS any year now.

The "40 days" thing is just bloviating propaganda until they've flown a test article and come up with a design with sufficient reaction mass and power to actually do the job. It's an incredibly promising technology for low-acceleration/high impulse propulsion, but it's still in its infancy and should be treated as such. See also jet engines in the 1930s.

459:

Unfortunately the power source is humongous for the 40 day to Mars mission. I looked at the Nasa PR piece released recently and you could tell it was never going to fly. A boondoggle like the apparently "unlandable" Mars missions of yore. VASIMR looks like a very interesting technology with a good future, but those nukes to power the fast voyage will have to be replaced.
But lower power cargo ship version to deliver supplies and equipment, that is another story.

460:

Umm, a couple Lunokhods on the Moon were successfully operated remotely. I'd think with modern computers/software avoiding obstacles wouldn't be too much of a problem.

461:

...but the big-headline projects invoked to justify its existence -- the Shuttle, the ISS -- are a disastrous misapplication of resources.

It's even worse than that. With the current deal in Congress, the Nasa budget has stripped out most of the funding for private space in favor of maintaining existing projects that should have been canceled.

If the complaints from the private space people about the COTS program were true, Nasa was just a vampire using "embrace and strangle" to subvert external projects that could compete with internal ones.

462:

Maybe in another century the techbase will support off-planet habitation more gracefully than it could now, by which time "Libertarian" will mean someone who likes a well-regulated market, which technicality will put libertarians in space. What we recognize as a libertarian will identify as " 'crat-diddllers" or something even more offensive.

463:

Go read "Saturn's Children". Hint: Heinlein tribute novel, aimed squarely at "Friday".

I read it last year and had a good read. However, I haven't read Friday in at least ten years, so I didn't pick up on the relationship between the two books. (I was thinking Asimov, actually, because of the Second Law type stuff about obedience.) I noticed, however, that you didn't reuse the "I'm carrying the royal embryo and I need to escape" plot from Friday, which sounds very much like what the poster I replied to was talking about.

I connected (trying not to spoil here for those who haven't read it) the climax of Saturn's Children with the final episode of The Prisoner. It had that same very surreal feel.

464:
Corrosive, toxic, is there any way we can make it radioactive too? Let's go for the trifecta here.

There's always the Orion drive...

465:

Actually, if I remember correctly dimethyl hydrazine -- used with red fuming nitric acid as an oxidizer in a number of rockets, including Titan and Proton -- is carcinogenic. So you've got corrosive, poisonous and carcinogenic in one convenient hypergolic package. Radioactive ... well, you could in theory get a little more grunt by using light-to-the-point-of-unstable isotopes.

Alas, none of the lighter than 14 dalton nitrogen isotopes are stable for more than minutes. By using only carbon-12 rather than a mix of carbon-12 and carbon-13, but as the ratio of C12 to C13 in our environment is around 99:1 you won't get much of an improvement. Ditto oxygen; O16 is the lightest stable isotope and far and away the commonest, dammit. And the less said about hydrogen the better.

466:

For even higher exhaust temperature and even better specific impulse, just run the exhaust from your HF rocket through a NERVA Afterburner Module!

(Note: the NERVA Afterburner is not approved by the CAA for use on populated worlds.)

467:

You want to run HF at around 4000 celsius through a gas-core nuclear reactor?

Gurgle/whimper ...

Personally I think the only way to top this is with Zubrin's nuclear salt-water rocket, which as wikipedia helpfully summarizes as "a hybrid between fission reactors and fission bombs."

(It's basically a liquid-fuelled continuous-thrust Orion. Minor drawbacks include the fuel being happy to go prompt critical if you look at it in a funny tone of voice, and NEUTRONS!!!1!!1ELEVENTY!!!)

468:

Alex, you know you keep asking these questions, which some of us answer, which puts into a loop where you ask the questions in a different way.

Yes, we could push a Mir style core to Mars but the shielding and everything else would have to come from Earth.

You want shielding and other materials from off Earth? Then you need the infrastructure to let you get that material so you can use it.

It's all about what is on the Critical Path for space development and the risks you want to put into that path.

Sending people for a risky adventure is one thing. Trying to set up a colony, with families, kids and the like, is quite something else - especially when it costs much more than previous such endeavours and the failure modes can be more extreme.

Frankly, I'd quite like to know for sure that we can breed in space and micro-gravity before I get gung-ho about running colonies.

469:

@441:

NASA post-1975 is about ensuring continuing employment for a superpower-sized contingent of aerospace engineers in the wake of aerospace tech development running into the thermal wall at the end of the 1960s. (The layoffs in 1968-74 were potentially disastrous and during the Cold War it was seen as essential to ensure that if Northrop/MacDonnell-Douglass/Rockwell/et-al couldn't pay the engineers right now, someone should keep them gainfully employed and in training until they were needed again.) Subsequently it has become an ossified political pork-barrel project. Bits of NASA still do excellent work on planetary science, but the big-headline projects invoked to justify its existence -- the Shuttle, the ISS -- are a disastrous misapplication of resources.

You mean because during the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo run the average age for a NASA employee was twenty-something, and now it's well over forty? :-)

NASA is one of those frustrating places where nothing (well, that's not really true, but for purposes of discourse) ever really gets done . . . but nothing is ever killed outright either. The feeling is not unlike a waitperson jittering back and forth in impatience as one customer takes fifteen minutes to order because the patron won't allow them to leave and come back. So you've got a bunch of guys, old and ossified for the most part true, who are just aching to go, to build something. And they are rewarded with little dribs and drabs of money that will keep a department alive but won't let it do anything useful.

If you want to go with some sort of manned presence in space, FUND IT. Be aware that it is going to cost and budget accordingly. If you don't want the agency doing any Man In Space business, be up front about it and cut the funding. Instead, we get the usual shinola from Obama that we've come to expect with tripe like this:

In a speech at the Kennedy Space Center, Obama outlined his proposal to pump an additional $6 billion into NASA's budget over the next five years while halting a project to resume lunar missions.

The new spending would be for research on a propulsion breakthrough to travel deeper into space, as well as development of technologies to allow humans to transport necessary supplies to work and stay longer, Obama said.

Blink. $6 billion over five years? Hey, an extra $1.2 billion isn't going to do jack except keep a few half-hearted "studies" alive. Note to the emphasis on "propulsion breakthroughs" - surely a red flag on the cheap if there ever was one (admittedly, this is a speech, not a serious set of specs). Yeah, doing continuous boost at .01 g or better would solve a lot of problems for something like a Mars mission; that's about three weeks for the one-way trip. But that's not going to happen. So you need to do a lot more research, and by a lot, I mean a lot, not a paltry extra $1.2 billion a year, but more like $15 billion a year (can you say "unecessary land wars in Asia"), and of course, more moolah would be better. But instead we get tripe like this:

"By the mid-2030s I believe we can send people to orbit Mars and bring them safely back to Earth," Obama said. Landing on Mars will follow, and "I expect to be around to see it," he said.

And this:

Obama noted that the Constellation Program, which had sought to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, is behind schedule, over budget and overall less important than other space investments.

Bud, you're not going to get a mission to Mars by 2035 on a lousy extra $1.2 billion a year. Note also that "behind schedule and over budget" is just bureaucratese for "underfunded and limping along". Yeah, if a project needs $20 billion a year for eight years and you only give it $10 billion a year, you won't be where you were supposed to be by year six. You won't even be where you're supposed to be by year three; you'll be lucky to be meeting deadlines set for year two and more likely year one. Projects don't scale linearly like that.

Note btw that NASA's budget for 1966 - about the year the Apollo program geared up - was on the order of $32 billion (in adjusted dollars) and that in 2010, the agency's budget is just $18 billion. An extra $1.2 billion a year in this context looks like a mean-spirited joke, like making the scrawny nerd jump three feet to get his glasses held out of reach by some sneering jock type.

Sorry for the rant. But when spaceheads like Alex (who I actually have considerable sympathy for) go on about a manned presence in space, using buzz-phrases like "can-do" and "using imagination" and so on and so forth, what they really mean, if they are serious, is that money has to be spent. Lot's of it. Could we go from the Hunley to the Nautilus in just twenty years? Could we do a manned Mars mission in that time frame, learning all the stuff we really need to know and doing real nuts and bolts construction? I'm enough of a romantic to say yes, we probably could. But we're not going to do it in twenty years and on an annual budget of $1.2 billion. That's going from romantic daring-do to "I'm sure there's a good reason he hasn't called me back since our last date three months ago."

Now, if what you're wanting to do instead is unmanned exploration . . .

470:

HF? HF is for PANSIES. You want FOOF*, and you can even make it by running oxygen and fluorine together in a hot block, to keep from dealing with all of those pesky instability problems with storing FOOF. Actually, if the NERVA is the hot block, that might work. Fortunately, FOOF decomposes in very exothermic ways, even without the NERVA....

Note: not recommended for habitable or terraformable planets. But space is very big...

*The language on this description of FOOF gets positively poetic. It looks like a much better fuel than, say, CN7.

471:

I'm really not trying to be obtuse or demanding the answers I want to hear. I am used to playing with pieces in a puzzle and coming up with new arrangements. I'm also used to people saying something can't be done, because...

Yes, we could push a Mir style core to Mars but the shielding and everything else would have to come from Earth.

Unless I'm mistaken, this implies that we have gone from "Mir can't make the Mars round trip", to "We can do it, but the risk of radiation exposure requires a mass shield using materials from earth". That changes the conditions. A risk loving adventurer could simply take a gamble with the best solar data available. Or we could simply bear the huge cost of launching mass and extra propellant. Or we could think about a better way to source the mass and propellant. This is a very different (to my mind) problem than some vague idea of likely failures for the spacecraft and the need for a closed ecosystem before we start.
Let me be clear, I'm not saying we should do this, just playing the "what if..." game to try to pin down the real stumbling blocks, rather than the imagined.

You want shielding and other materials from off Earth? Then you need the infrastructure to let you get that material so you can use it.

As I said, this is just a way of rearranging the pieces of the game. If we need the shielding, how much do we need and how is the best way to get it.
Is the decision the same for single or multiple missions? One thing I liked about Zubrin's Mars Direct plan was the accumulation of habs and propellant plants on Mars. The infrastructure just got bigger as the number of trips increased, something that assuredly did not happen with the moon missions (unless those LM descent stages count).

Sending people for a risky adventure is one thing. Trying to set up a colony, with families, kids and the like, is quite something else - especially when it costs much more than previous such endeavours and the failure modes can be more extreme.

I'm certainly not advocating putting families in Mars colonies anytime soon. I hope I never implied that. But the history of exploration almost requires that exploration precedes settlement. The exploration phase will be the development platform that will eventually make colonization possible. If we don't take the baby steps, we will never get from here to colonization. The risks are borne by the adventurers and everyone gains from their experience.

Frankly, I'd quite like to know for sure that we can breed in space and micro-gravity before I get gung-ho about running colonies.

So would I. Shouldn't that be a research program for Nasa to do (with primates, not humans)? We need to know if we need gravity (real/artificial) and what are the critical levels. If we need a full 1 g all the time, then that puts constraints on what we can do and how we need to build.

It was said that the 50 year hiatus between the successful assault on the South Pole by Amundsen and the establishment of Antarctic bases would be reflected in a similar period before we established a moon base. McMurdo now has 1000 people during summer.
It's been 40 years since we landed on the moon and there is no sign of any serious attempt to put a base there, human or robotic. If we were replaying the Antarctic scenario, it would be as if we were still sailing ships off Cape Horn testing cold weather gear, seeing how tools respond to the cold and wondering if we could float instruments over to the continent instead (because they can only get better).

472:

@467:

(It's basically a liquid-fuelled continuous-thrust Orion. Minor drawbacks include the fuel being happy to go prompt critical if you look at it in a funny tone of voice, and NEUTRONS!!!1!!1ELEVENTY!!!)

Remember those days of yore when Chestertons danced on stage and smokes were branded has "healthy"?

In "Time for the Stars", Heinlein had his torch ships take off in the mid-Pacific to avoid exposing the public to neutrons and other nasty vibes. Somehow, I don't think you'd get permission from anyone to let Sea Dragon rip, even if it was 10,000 miles away from the nearest landmass.

Would be kinda cool to watch though.

473:

Why run H+F in a rocket? 4 FOOF + 1 HS gives you 433 kcal (plus SF6 and 2HF+ 4O2) (a href="http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2010/02/23/things_i_wont_work_with_dioxygen_difluoride.php">(ref). And you can make the FOOF by running fluorine and oxygen gas through a >700C hot block, which is a good use for the NERVA, so you just need tanks of O, F, and HS on your ship. Probably wouldn't even have to go cryonic on the O and F tanks. Just make the F tank out of something fairly non-corrosive and light....

474:

Now, if what you're wanting to do instead is unmanned exploration . . .

There was quite a good article in BIS's Spaceflight mag a few issues back suggesting that we abandon manned spaceflight (at least govt. sponsored) and focus on a goal like finding life in space.

As a biologist by training I would really like to have comparative data for extra terrestrial life. We might find it in the solar system (although I'm skeptical, but fantastic if we do), but more probably in other star systems. A well funded program to follow up on Kepler: spectroscopic analysis to look for signs of life, imaging extra solar planets and even considering how we might do interstellar robotic probes for high probability, life bearing targets is something I am in favor of. We might even get some better clues about the Fermi Paradox.

475:

Sounds to me like the ideal propulsion system would be:

Use a nuclear reactor to reform FOOF from F2 and O2 on the fly. Then burn (if that's the word?) in a combustion chamber with cesium azidotetrazolate (rubidium would be better ...)

476:

I get it...a signal flash to the stars announcing that we just won the Darwin Award.

477:
It was said that the 50 year hiatus between the successful assault on the South Pole by Amundsen and the establishment of Antarctic bases would be reflected in a similar period before we established a moon base. McMurdo now has 1000 people during summer. It's been 40 years since we landed on the moon and there is no sign of any serious attempt to put a base there, human or robotic. If we were replaying the Antarctic scenario, it would be as if we were still sailing ships off Cape Horn testing cold weather gear, seeing how tools respond to the cold and wondering if we could float instruments over to the continent instead (because they can only get better).

It's been 50 years since the Trieste brought humans to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. There have been no manned return missions or plans to establish a manned base since then. And why should there be? It doesn't appear that there's any industrial case for it. It's not going to preserve humans and their civilization if some global cataclysm destroys the surface world. Robotic instruments can glean scientific knowledge without the extra safety requirements and complication of manned vehicles.

It always seems to come down to the strength of religious convictions. Robots won't feel awe at a Lunar sunset like a human standing on the Moon would, the departed souls of pioneers past command it, and so forth. Maybe one long-term model for funding colonies is to formally convert the Mars Society or a similar body to a tax-exempt evangelical religious organization. It's a pipe dream to fund a Martian colony now, but if the number of faithful grows as fast as (e.g.) the Mormons did historically, in 100 years tithes might be able to fund a permanent Martian base. Best of all, everyone asked for funds would already be inside the fold, so these annoying "why should anyone pay for that?" questions won't keep coming up.

478:

Some brave souls actually test-fired a Liquid Lithium, Liquid Fluorine, Liquid Hydrogen rocket. The LH2 has to be seriously cryogenic (<21 kelvins), the LF2 is mildly cryogenic (<85 kelvins), and the lithium melts at 180°C. They got a specific impulse of about 540 seconds (vacuum); for comparison the SSME burns LO2 and LH2 and is rated at 450 seconds (vacuum). Me, I'll stand well clear of anything that nasty; I've worked with HF and I'm not anxious to do it again.

479:

4 FOOF + 1 HS gives you 433 kcal (plus SF6 and 2HF+ 4O2)

The problem is that, even ignoring how much specific energy you will get out of this contraption, the SF6 and 4 O2 will gobble up 5/7th of the energy without contributing to changing the velocity all that much.

The heavier you exhaust gas, the worse specific impulse for a given amount of energy. That is why the SSME actually uses more hydrogen than there is oxygen to burn it with. The left over hydrogen is 9 times lighter than water. At a given temperature, it will be 3 times faster than the water.

If you could heat up hydrogen to such temperatures without any oxygen at all, it would have 3 times the specific impulse of a pure LH/LOX burner. (Now guess what NERVA is.)

...

Anyway, how about a deep space probe built around a 100t Plutonium-238 radionuclide battery?

480:

Everyone, if you've not yet read the FOOF description, do so at once. It's very funny. But make sure your mouth is empty of tea, coffee, beer, etc first.

"Sulfur compounds defeated him, because the thermodynamics were just too titanic."

481:

There is no industrial raison d'etre for the Antarctic bases either, so why do they exist? And given that they do exist, why are they [still] manned?

OK, rhetorical question. The answer is apparently that we do science because there is value in it and we do it with people because they are more flexible than machines, unless it is too hostile, too difficult, or cheaper with robots. I would certainly not like to think that we are manning Antarctic bases as a pork barrel exercise.

But why not do science on the moon with robots? Are we done with the moon as a science base? Have we found out everything that is worth knowing for the cost of acquiring the information? I find that a little hard to believe.

As for exploring the ocean depths, there are programs using submersibles to do that and making new discoveries frequently, so it isn't as if we've abandoned deep ocean exploration. That model is very similar to the idea of spacecraft orbiting a body and only sending down machines and instruments to the surface.

Use people and machines in the mix that is appropriate. I don't think there is any religious reasoning involved here, unless the pursuit of knowledge and opportunity is considered religious.

482:

We're still doing a lot of unmanned moon science, though as noted, not ON the moon for a while (unless you count last year's Kaguya impact). I don't know why there haven't been more sample return missions or some teleoperated surface rovers. As noted elsewhere in this thread, it wouldn't be like Mars where you can make a cup of coffee and wait for it to get cold in the time between your rover seeing an obstacle and responding to the directive that will navigate around it. Plus solar flux is stronger on the Moon than Mars so your robots have more power to do work.

I would heartily support further surface exploration of the Moon machine. I even support manned scientific missions if they're a more effective use of resources to inform us about other parts of the solar system or universe than the unmanned alternatives. For example, a Mars mission that sends remotely operated vehicles to the surface and keeps astronauts in orbit for short-time-lag operation seems like a sensible hybrid of human and machine strengths.

I'm not interested in flag-planting missions or a permanent manned presence in LEO, on the Moon, or anywhere else in the solar system. I don't think those approaches can deliver much scientific knowledge about those places relative to the resources expended.

Adjusted for inflation, each Apollo mission had an amortized cost of about $25 billion. That's more than the budgets for the Human Genome Project, Large Hadron Collider, and Square Kilometer Array combined. Manned space missions beyond LEO are really expensive and I'm not sure advocates for Lunar bases or Mars landings have a full grasp of just how big manned space mission costs are, even relative to other giant scientific projects. Instead they like to compare their pet projects to even more mammoth numbers, e.g. "but the US wastes $500 billion a year on the military." The implied argument is "therefore my dream that NASA spend only $200 billion to send men to the Martian surface is perfectly reasonable by comparison," just like standing next to the world's fattest man makes someone with a body mass index of 35 look almost svelte.

483:

Don't expect reason when you're talking about money.

I've just to educate a bunch of morons (I won't excuse the expression), that the subsidies that Spain is paying for it shiny solar power plants amount to some very similar amounts.

Until Sept 28th 2008, replacing a nuclear plant with solar power was greeted with a guaranteed income of no less than 115bn Euros, or $152bn (44ct/kWh guaranteed income for 30 years). Which is, I guess, on the order of the price of a 1GW fusion power plant prototype - including research.

A current proposal sees this subsidy slashed to a mere 25 ct/kWh guaranteed for a mere 25 years. That's 55bn Euro ($72.5bn) per GW of generating capacity.

484:

Of course we could spend billions on getting a better understanding of earthbound ecosystems and how they work right down to the chemical level and up to the global one, I'm sure that would stand us in good stead for replicating them or small bijou ecosystems tweaked to suit specific circumstances.

Of course it would be a shame if we managed to destroy the lovely working ecosystems on earth before we could learn form them...

485:

"There is no industrial raison d'etre for the Antarctic bases either, so why do they exist?"

For research purposes, and to stake a national claim when the Rape of the Antarctic begins -- oil first, I expect, then maybe coal. After that there's all sorts of goodies which are tricky to get at right now (copper for yet more wind turbines, perhaps?) but the tech required to strip-mine shoggoths will improve.

You know, I don't think I've ever seen maps of Antarctica that make any mention of valuable mineral resources there, yet such maps must exist given the amount of exploration, seismic testing etc. that's gone on there over the last century or so. I wonder why?

"And given that they do exist, why are they [still] manned?"

To stake a national claim, mainly. The researchers can breathe the air, drink the water and even go outside without using pressure suits and they can get there and back on cheap low-energy ships and planes. There's a whole bunch of unmanned research facilities there too, of course.

486:

I remember listening on the radio that the Canadian government is paying some people to live on desolate Arctic islands that have oil and gas under them and whose ownership is disputed by the EU(via Greenland).

In the 50's they tricked a bunch of Inuit from Labrador into settling on some others and refused to let the leave at gunpoint, all to be able to say that there were Canadians living there.

487:

Okay, I'll bite.

The real benefit of the Apollo program was here on Earth. The advances in computing, materials science, and other basic technologies that came out of the Apollo program generated entirely new industries, complete with vast industrial ecosystems. The amount of money and jobs that came out of such items as the pocket calculator, personal computer, etc., all of which are "side benefits" of the civilian space program dwarf the initial investment by entire orders of magnitude. In fact, the sales tax (that's Value Added Tax for the Europeans) collected on the Apollo spinoffs probably dwarfs the initial investment by an order of magnitude...

If we started a serious research program to put a colony on Mars, or develop an asteroid industry, and then Open Sourced the technology, or held a patent lottery, or simply declared everything developed by the government research as "prior art" the economic effects would be very positive and powerful indeed. The colony, failed or otherwise, doesn't need to be economically vialable - it gives everyone the benefits of a quantum leap in technology.

That's it for now. I'm going to the kitchen for a glass of Tang.

488:

Apollo spinoffs are often vastly oversold by space advocates. NASA's Apollo spinoffs showcase has a nice list of concrete spinoffs, but not nearly enough to credibly account for "orders of magnitude" return on the $170 billion* program cost. Spinoffs that I've seen mistakenly credited to Apollo include Velcro, Teflon, Tang, and integrated circuits.

*Dollars inflation-adjusted to 2005.

489:

Space colonisation solved. We don't really need a biosphere at all and we really don't need much phsyical space. Food could be synthetic goop as long as it gets some palatable artificial flavouring. We almost don't need hydroponics.

I reason thus:

I know plenty of people who live exactly like this.

They spend all day in a cubical in front of a glowing screen, ride home in a small wheeled metal box, then spend more hours staring at a glowing screen in a undersized apartment with no outdoor space. All the while consuming horrendously artificial processed foods that are devoid of flavour and texture other than whats provided by fat, sugar, salt and artifical flavours and enhancers.

People can exist like this indefinately, of course these people may not be really that happy, but they are at reasonably productive, non-suicidal and remain capable of breeding.

Their children will also grow up exactly like this, perhaps even more attached to a glowing screen.

The result is, we set the bar to high for colonization in these thought experiements. Humans are capable of weathering incredible hardship and maintaining a functional group.

If anything the human mind is fundamentally evolved for a survival challenge and we actually don't do too well with nothing to do. We end up actively seeking risks and confrontation or just plain going nuts.

Any planetary colonisation should almost be kind of crappy and poorly thought out, by design.

Keeping todays overweight sedantry nerd alive on mars or the moon is ever easier than any of our more active and mobile ancestors.

Keeping our current batch hotshot agressive overachieving astronauts in peak health and sanity in a tin can is a very poor test for when we start putting real primates on other worlds, who are quite happy to slip into self-inflicted non-optimal health.

So yes I'm saying we need geeks to go to other worlds and blog about it.

490:

All the while consuming horrendously artificial processed foods that are devoid of flavour and texture other than whats provided by fat, sugar, salt and artifical flavours and enhancers.

Unfortunately this glop does come from real food originally. A shame to treat it so badly, I know. So unless one can synthesize this glop, it needs to be imported to the colony or grown.

One good thing about importing it. If you don't use radiation shielding, it should be pretty sterile when it arrives, so the rate of food poisoning should be way down. (OTOH the mutated bugs could be really nasty) :)

491:

There's so much junk in Earth orbit now you could probably build a space ship. We just need the Warp drive, Force fields...Shoot, don't confuse me with Facts give me Space Opera!