21 thoughts on “McCain’s Space Response?

  1. Ken Murphy

    That summary made me shudder. I recognized a few of the names, but really what I saw was businesses and organizations who are worried about the government teat at which they have been suckling drying up a bit. I see a lot of fear of saying or doing anything that disrupts the existing status quo, and the usual platitudes about lack of new engineers.

    What I didn’t see was any indication of an understanding of the fact that they are bequeathing this to future generations, or any care of whether the future generations who are going to be paying for this are really interested in what is being bequeathed (or will discard it at the first opportunity).

    This is a recipe for death by benign neglect of America’s space industries. So long as NASA is seen as the end-all, be-all of space, then American space industries are joined at the hip with the political travails of NASA and can go nowhere that NASA isn’t going.

    What we need is for a candidate to step up and challenge American industry to solve this problem, and in doing so create a new industry for the world – that of humans to orbit. That solution cannot come from government. Only by divorcing that function from NASA can the capital of private interests flow into the field. So long as humans to orbit is entirely constrained to NASA or other government providers, then getting people to orbit to do important work will be entirely a function of all kinds of political nonsense, and private capital won’t have anything to do with it. That governmental monopoly has to end for any real progress to be made in tapping the resources and opportunities of space.

    That is why I cheer Bigelow, and Musk, and Bezos, and Rutan, and all of the many, many others too numerous to list who are striking out on a new path for us to follow.

  2. Martin

    “Ken Murphy wrote:

    That governmental monopoly has to end for any real progress to be made in tapping the resources and opportunities of space.”

    There are, effectively, no resources in space, and few opportunities. That is probably the reality of space travel for the next hundred years or more. Of course, I’m not opposed to private entrepreneurs giving it a shot. It’s thier money.

  3. Fletcher Christian

    Martin:

    “There are, effectively, no resources in space, and few opportunities.”

    That, to put it it mildly, is the biggest load of BS I’ve seen in writing this year. Read “The High Frontier” for details of why.

    No resources and few opportunities? How about enough material resources to, among other things, plate the USA in steel a metre thick or more should you have the mind? How about four hundred trillion terawatts of power free for the taking? How about the ability to construct living space for quadrillions to live in comfort?

    No resources my arse. Of course, you are quite right – if NASA succeeds in its mission of preventing space access.

  4. john hare

    >>>Of course, I’m not opposed to private entrepreneurs giving it a shot. It’s thier money.

    Martin,

    While I disagree with your opinion, that last line of yours make you a respectable adversary. Too many wish to impose their opinion on other peoples’ choices.

  5. Andy

    No resources and few opportunities? How about enough material resources to, among other things, plate the USA in steel a metre thick or more should you have the mind?

    At what cost? Do we have the slightest idea how to capture, or process, these materials in/from space? No…

    How about four hundred trillion terawatts of power free for the taking?

    Um, we could do that right here on Earth; so far, no one has figured out how to make it cost effective. Do you really think “space” changes that equation?

    How about the ability to construct living space for quadrillions to live in comfort?

    In comfort? I’m not sure being absolutely dependent on ECLSS and unable to take a carp or pi$$ without a vacuum tube qualifies as “comfort.”

  6. Martin

    “Fletcher Christian wrote:

    That, to put it it mildly, is the biggest load of BS I’ve seen in writing this year. Read “The High Frontier” for details of why.”

    So, Gerald K. O’Neill wrote a book. Big Deal. How many space stations has he built so far?

    “How about enough material resources to, among other things, plate the USA in steel a metre thick or more should you have the mind? How about four hundred trillion terawatts of power free for the taking?”

    How much would it cost to bring iron to earth from a meteoroid? I can’t imagine it would ever be cheaper than extracting it from the Earth. “Four hundred trillion terawatts of power free for the taking.”? Then why hasn’t it been taken already? It’s free! Because it’s not free. It involves lofting thousands upon thousands of tons of delicate solar cells into space, and then relofting replacement parts, when the first ones fail, etc.

    I didn’t say that I though the colonization of space would never happen. I said I though it wouldn’t happen for hundreds of years. Or it may never happen. I am not now aware of any way to exploit space economically, beyond what is being done now. Nor can I see any path to making that happen.

    Just because one deeply desires a particular future to be true, will not make it so.

  7. Josh Reiter

    “At what cost? Do we have the slightest idea how to capture, or process, these materials in/from space? No…”

    Don’t transpose your lack of imagination onto others and cry pessimisms. To date, there is no evidence that falsifies the potential of in situ resource utilization. There are in fact many novel ideas and approaches that could be applied. Are there gaps in ability, technology, and knowledge with these approaches? Most definitely. However, with a robust infrastructure, costs of space access go down. With lower costs, come higher flight rates. With higher flight rates, an opportunity to expand the envelope in terms of capability. The road to space access is not a dream, it is a process.

  8. David Summers

    Martin, while your comments have merit,

    “I am not now aware of any way to exploit space economically”

    is a very poor statement – right up there with “heavier than air objects will never fly” and “the sound barrier cannot be broken”. Until someone does it and publishes how, you will not know how something can be done – but that should never be extrapolated to “it can’t be done” or “it will take centuries”.

    Humans are very bad at predicting the rate of technological change…

  9. Anonymous

    Are there gaps in ability, technology, and knowledge with these approaches? Most definitely.

    Precisely my point.

    Not saying it won’t happen, just that it won’t necessarily be more cost-effective to go to space to get these resources, than it would be to develop them right here on terra firma.

  10. Fletcher Christian

    Martin: After the first, relatively small amounts of “lofting” nobody has to loft anything – that’s precisely the point.

    The minimum necessary for real exploitation of space is enough hardware to build a functioning Moonbase designed essentially as a mine (which doesn’t have to have many humans in it – aren’t robotics wonderful?) and a relatively small structure that has been called a construction shack.

    Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be dangerous? Yes. So what? There has never been any lack of volunteers for high-paying, dangerous jobs. Will people die? Yes. Again, so what? People died on the wagon trains too – did that stop anyone? Will it be expensive? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes. Will many people lose their shirts? Yes. Will a few become rich beyond imagination? Yes.

    Andy: Sure, for a while it will be quite uncomfortable. However, the designs for later-generation habitats look a lot more comfortable than what most people have now. Just remember; you already live somewhere with a closed system with recycling of everything necessary for life. It’s called Earth.

  11. Ken Murphy

    “How much would it cost to bring iron to earth from a meteoroid?”

    Interesting question. I think anyone who answers anything other than “I don’t know” or “It depends” is probably telling you lies. In my view it depends on how you look at it.

    If your strategy is to conduct a single mission to a single target with single-use machinery and gentle return of payload, then I would hazard a guess at somewhere between hideously expensive and ‘Are you nuts?’

    If your mission is staged from LEO, taking delivery of equipment and supplies ex-launch vehicle near some sort of staging facility, but with everything else the same as above, then I’m thinking it would be marginally less expensive.

    If you stage from EML-1, you have a marginal added cost of delivering everything to the top of the gravity wells, potentially offset by deliveries of some supplies from the Moon instead of Earth. The benefit is that you are leaving from the lowest delta-V launch spot in cislunar space to the rest of the Solar system. Other potential benefits included sending equipment ahead on the InterPlanetary Superhighways (IPS) for later rendezvous with a crewed vehicle near the objective, shaving some of your transport costs.

    Speaking of IPSes, why does the payload have to come back in a spacecraft? If you have a 100 tonne chunk of pure iron, why not just drop it in the middle of the desert somewhere? Does it have to be at cosmic speeds? No! And that’s the beauty of the IPSes. Remember the Genesis mission that went out to SEL-1 near SOHO and gathered up Solar wind particles? It came back on a low-energy trajectory on the IPS off-ramp from SEL-1 to EML-1, and then augured into the desert. Importantly, the energy was low enough that the craft was not obliterated. I can’t prove it mathematically, but I do know enough about the IPSes that I would be willing to wager that there some trajectories that could deliver raw payloads to Earth rather gently, comparatively speaking. And how gentle need one be with a 100 tonne ingot of ultra-pure iron?

    One could also question whether the crew vehicle sent to the mine site would be one designed for terrestrial return (i.e. lugging a massive heatshield around), or would end up back at EML-1 to be serviced and re-used to send an engineering crew down to GEO for satellite servicing. In that kind of context, your transport vehicle costs would really be reduced to the amortization of that part of the vehicles value used during the asteroid mission (because you’re effectively leasing its use).

    What about the equipment? Is it just going to be thrown away after the asteroid is mined? That is, of course, the way we’ve done everything so far, throwing hideously expensive tools out into the void. What if instead you forwarded the equipment to the next target? As a consequence your allocated cost for that particular mission to return 100 tonnes of ultra-pure iron is the portion of the equipment’s revenue-generating lifetime that you use on your mission, rather than the entire cost of the equipment.

    Looked at in the context of delivering your crew coach class to EML-1, renting a crew vehicle, renting some equipment, and stocking up on supplies…well, that might almost be compelling enough to venture.

    Besides, if terrestrial products were fully priced to include environmental remediation, then the raw materials might be competitive anyway even via the first approach described. There are a lot of resources here on Earth that we’re retrieving at concentrations approaching those found on the Moon dispersed in the regolith and rocks. There are better tools we can use on the Moon (like raw Sol power and mirrors, vacuum, cold traps, et al) than here on Earth, giving us a nearby opportunity to stop tearing up our own planet for this stuff we need for our technological society.

    And some folks would rather we kept tearing up our own planet for this stuff? Why, when we are at a technological point where we don’t have to? We can actually start healing our planet by capturing energy in space and retrieving resources in space. That’s a future I can believe in and get excited about.

  12. Martin

    “David Summers wrote:

    Martin, while your comments have merit,

    “I am not now aware of any way to exploit space economically”

    is a very poor statement”

    It’s a true statement. I (emphasis on I) am not now aware of any such way. I am certainly not the most informed guy on this topic – neither am I completely inattentive to the subject.

    “Humans are very bad at predicting the rate of technological change…”

    That’s true, which is why I hedged my pessimistic comments. It’s also true that space colonization enthusiasts have been poor predictors of the rate of technological change.

    “Fletcher Christian wrote:

    The minimum necessary for real exploitation of space is enough hardware to build a functioning Moonbase designed essentially as a mine (which doesn’t have to have many humans in it – aren’t robotics wonderful?) and a relatively small structure that has been called a construction shack.”

    This would require much more sophisticated robots than what we now have (the robots we now send to other worlds are pretty rudimentary). It’s quite likely of course that there will be vast improvements in robot technology.

    In which case they could also be employed in terrestrial mines, greatly lowering the cost of mining here on Earth.

    “Ken Murphy wrote:

    Besides, if terrestrial products were fully priced to include environmental remediation, then the raw materials might be competitive anyway even via the first approach described.”

    And when environmentalists try to mandate fully pricing space launches to include environmental remediation?

    I’ve never thought that O’Neill’s idea of man-made space colonies was very practical. At the time he proposed the idea, beginning in the 60’s, I don’t know if the hazards of the GCR were known, but they certainly are known now. Colonization of the planetary bodies, either the Moon or Mars, seemed more plausible to me. But still I have this question:

    Ostensibly, the goal of such colonization is obtaining virgin land for settlement. Well, there is already a whole continent ripe for the taking here on Earth – Antartica. It’s much closer than the Moon – much, much closer than Mars. The air is free for the breathing, and there’s abundant water. There’s also a great deal of mineral wealth below the ice. Not easy to get to – but then it’s not easy to lasso an asteroid, build a six and a half petawatt orbiting photovoltaic array, or mine Helium 3 from the lunar regolith (which helium would be next to worthless anyway, as there are no fusion reactors to burn it in).

    And yet, people aren’t loading up the ships and the Connestoga wagons for the great South Pole land rush.

    So, why is that?

    For that matter, colonizing the sea floor could well be cheaper than colonizing mars. So far, no takers.

    Then there is also the fact that people seem to think that complicated hardware built for use in space will last as long as it does on Earth. Mostly it doesn’t. Tribology and heat transfer don’t work the same in space, and they impose severe constraints on what machines can do, and how long they last.

    But, as I said, I’m not opposed to people trying. What I’m addressing is this: I’ve often read where people (for want of a better term, one might call them the libertarian high-frontier advocates) say that if only NASA would get out of the way, then this glorious new millenium in space would begin. But their arguments often seem to hinge on economics, without regard to physics. Physics trumps economics. It is the rock to economics’ scissors – in fact, it is the pile-driver to economics’ scissors. Space exploration isn’t just expensive and difficult because NASA is doing it (although, certainly, that doesn’t help). It’s expensive and difficult because…..it’s expensive and difficult.

  13. Fletcher Christian

    Martin: Your point about cosmic rays is well taken. However, there is a solution to it, given a minimum size of habitat; a few feet of dirt. Dirt would be available as a waste product of refining the metals out of lunar soil; and it is known that things will grow in originally lifeless dirt. After all, that’s what happens after every volcanic eruption.

    The dirt would be needed anyway, to grow things in.

  14. Ken Murphy

    Martin:
    “…there is already a whole continent ripe for the taking here on Earth – Antartica.”

    That one’s already all lawyered up, just like the sea floor. Those are rather poor examples, and again, why would I want to move energy-using industry to the South Pole? or down onto the sea floor? I’d much rather have the polluting industries move out of the Earth’s ecosystem rather than into still more corners of it.

    “I don’t know if the hazards of the GCR were known [then], but they certainly are known now.”

    I looked in ‘The High Frontier’, and they address that very question in the chapter on risks. It’s also found in the 1975 publication “Foundations of Space Biology and Medicine”, which can be found at the NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS). 1961’s “Human Factors in Jet and Space Travel” addresses cosmic radiation, but 1951’s “Space Medicine” only focuses on Solar radiation. So I think we can say that yes, they were aware of GCR back when O’Neill was doing his project. In fact, I found a really cool picture of cosmic ray tracks in one of the Apollo helmets in “Space Colonies”. Cosmic radiation is a fairly well understood concept, and is even in my ISU textbook “Keys to Space”.

    Most of the living spaces on the Moon are generally understood to require either burial in regolith (free and abundant on the Moon), or construction underground as the mitigant to GCR. Some of the proposed processes for oxygen extraction on the Moon (the Moon is 40-45% oxygen by elemental composition, just bound into rocks) produce rutile as a byproduct, which has been proposed as an input material for both spacecraft shielding and ablative heatshields for vehicles returning to Earth. Two more potential exports for the Moon. Me, I want to export regolith to Earth and sell it to stupidly rich people who want it for their gardens. It’s particularly rich in trace elements.

    I am not unaware of the physics involved. I think I can reasonably say that my Master of Space Studies degree from ISU has sensitized me to the physics involved. I’ve commented in the past that no one has put together an Engineer’s Manual for construction on the Moon. How tall can you build a tower in 1/6th gravity that doesn’t have to fight against wind and rain?

    I know it’s hard. I also know it is in fact physics-ly possible to go to the Moon. I know we can undertake complex tasks in a vacuum environment. I know that we use Solar mirrors here on Earth to achieve operating temperatures approaching 10,000�, and I don’t think mirrors are a particularly difficult technology. (yeah, I’m a pyrolitic electrophoresis kinda guy) I know we’re learning new things about regolith that are allowing us to develop new mitigation strategies. I know we expend a lot of energy creating vacuums here on Earth when we have 15,000,000 square miles of it to work in not too far away. I know that our understanding of orbital mechanics has vastly improved thanks to the work of folks like Belbruno, Koon, Lo, Ross and others. Doesn’t mean we know everything, not by a long shot.

    Of course it’s going to be hard, and I for one relish that kind of challenge.

  15. Martin

    ” Ken Murphy wrote:

    Martin:
    “…there is already a whole continent ripe for the taking here on Earth – Antartica.”

    That one’s already all lawyered up, just like the sea floor. Those are rather poor examples,….”

    No. No, they are not. The international agreement to maintain Antartica as a preserve and laboratory wouldn’t mean a thing if some powerful nation, or nations, had territorial designs on it. If we split it with the Russians, I’m sure they wouldn’t object on the basis of legal niceties. By the way, the moon is likewise lawyered up:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty

    Does that mean the moon is off limits?

    For that matter, the British Crown had treaties with the indian tribes beyond the 13 colonies, promising not to allow his subjects in America to encroach on their (the indians’) land. In fact, that was one of the grievances the colonists laid against the King, and was one of the impetuses for the revolution. In the end, those treaties didn’t amount to much – Ohio is pretty crowded these days.

    “…..and again, why would I want to move energy-using industry to the South Pole? or down onto the sea floor? I’d much rather have the polluting industries move out of the Earth’s ecosystem rather than into still more corners of it.”

    Because it’s closer. Closer means cheaper. Not having to manufacture the very air that sustains life might also be a plus.

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