A Trillion People In the Solar System

Jeff Bezos expanded on his space vision at Buzz’s gala in Florida:

Bezos rejects the common ‘Plan B’ argument in favor of human exploration; that one day the Earth is going to be destroyed, so we’d better find somewhere else to live.

“I hate that idea, and I find it very un-motivating,” said Bezos.

“We have sent robotic probes now to every planet in the solar system and, believe me, this is the best one – Earth is a gem, it’s incredible.”

He then went on to quote several Apollo astronauts about what they thought about Earth when they returned form the Moon, notably Apollo 14’s Alan Bean: ‘Since returning I have not complained about the weather one single time – I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic— I’m glad there are people around. Why do people complain about the Earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.’

…For Bezos, colonising space is a more a simple necessity for continued life on Earth. The compound effect of the incremental increase in energy requirements will mean us having to cover every inch of Earth in solar cells, he said, while the solar system offers virtually unlimited energy resources.

“We can harvest resources from asteroids, from Near-Earth Objects, and harvest solar energy from a much broader surface area – and continue to do amazing things,” he said. The alternative, he said, was an era of stasis and stagnation on Earth, where we are forced to control population and limit energy usage per capita.

“I don’t think stasis is compatible with freedom or liberty, and I sure as hell think it’s going to be a very boring world – I want my grandchildren’s grandchildren to be in a world of pioneering, exploration and expansion throughout the solar system.”

He also suggested that exploration and colonisation of the solar system would make it possible to support one trillion people.

“Then we would have 1,000 Einstein’s and 1,000 Mozarts, how cool would that be?” he said.

“What’s holding us back from making that next step is that space travel is just too darned expensive because we throw the rockets away. We need to build reusable rockets and that’s what Blue Origin is dedicated to.”

Bezos’s vision is much more hopeful and expansive than Elon’s, which is more about fear (i.e., Plan B), and mostly constrained to a single planet (Mars). But I’m glad they’re both out there competing with each other to (finally) drive down the cost of access to space.

But I do criticize one aspect of the report:

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, based at Kennedy Space Centre’s Pad 39A where the Apollo missions launched from, is due to test its 229ft Falcon Heavy (FH) rocket this September. It will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world, though NASA’s Mars-focused SLS, at 365ft rocket, will takeover that mantle in 2028 or so.

The latter is not a reportable fact. I’d have written it as “though NASA hopes that its Mars-focused SLS, at 365ft rocket, will takeover that mantle in 2028 or so.” I think it’s a fantasy, if both Falcon Heavy (and maybe ITS) and New Glenn and New Armstrong are operational by then. The SLS jobs program will not survive that.

26 thoughts on “A Trillion People In the Solar System”

  1. “I don’t think stasis is compatible with freedom or liberty, and I sure as hell think it’s going to be a very boring world – I want my grandchildren’s grandchildren to be in a world of pioneering, exploration and expansion throughout the solar system.”

    Agreed. This is a very positive statement, and though both running from something and running toward something have been valid reasons for humans to explore throughout history, still, I prefer the upbeat.

    Regarding actual vehicles, I’d prefer to wait until something has actually flown. I just heard too much about National Aerospace Plane (NASP) and Shuttle-C, to count chicks before hatched. But if pressed, then sure, Falcon Heavy is a lot more of the way to reality than SLS (any version). SpaceX is far ahead with the operational use of Merlin engines (and all the engineering flight data that comes with those ops), and the F9 first stage working well is a good prerequisite to the three cores working well together in FH. Still not a done deal, but I’m very optimistic they’ll fly this year.

    For Blue Origin, good for them, for providing competition and for approaching reusability from another angle. I’m a little confused about their timing, but given media reports, perhaps I’m not the only one. They don’t have to sell any launches yet; while not “secretive” like in the past, they could stay in quiet development for as long as Bezos wishes. They do have engines on offer to ULA; perhaps that’s enough for now.

    1. A future without stasis cannot be one of unlimited growth, though, since any level of noticable exponential growth will saturate the available living space (in the solar system or beyond) fairly quickly.

      So, if he wants a future without stasis, he’s actually proposing a future of booms followed by horrific collapses that allow for more growth.

  2. Agree with you that I like Bezos’ outlook more than Elon. The good thing about Bezos’ plan is that it would still be a plan B if it came to that.

    1. Better yet, I like the point that both companies’ rockets are sufficient to carry out the plans of the other’s, with minimal delay. This is especially so if the continuing boom in New Space investment gives us companies making things *in*space*. These can then shift to simply use what is lifted from Earth as the 5% high-tech component once ISRU from asteroids and the Moon becomes available.

      1. This is really why COTS was so effective, it left the control of the product in the hands of the producer. This doesn’t apply to BO as much but when companies control the product, they can sell it to customers other than the government.

        1. “left the control of the product in the hands of the producer”

          I agree. I’d also say it would apply to Blue Origin as well, though they don’t have the pressure to sell to outside customers just yet. I’m only guessing, but Bezos is funding development now so BO can address their fair share of the commercial marketplace later.

    2. Whether or not Bezos believes that statement as his reason for settlement, it is better persuasion. Rather than answer a question in terms of how its framed, he changed the frame.

      He did step into the SJW head explosion, colonization but he sidestepped things like pioneers and old west metaphors.

  3. This is the type of stupidity that bothers me about Bezos…

    the incremental increase in energy requirements will mean us having to cover every inch of Earth in solar cells, he said

    I certainly don’t expect I’d have to explain to anyone here why this is such a stupid statement?

    1. He lives in Seattle, they want everything to be windmills and solar panels, as long as they put them in the middle of the state away from Seattle. Its really pretty f’d up what they have done to some really beautiful terrain. But does he really care where power comes from or is this just persuasion for his audience?

      1. Seattle has some subversive conservatives that fight back with ballet initiatives. Other conservatives could learn from them. One guy in particular, but I can’t remember his name.

        1. “fight back with ballet initiatives”

          You mean, like an impromptu staging of “Swan Lake?”

          Sorry, couldn’t resist 😉

          1. Yes, a lot of that. 😉

            I did like that with just a library card you could get any movie (up to about a half dozen at a time) when released. Keep them for 2 weeks. Then send it back in the same mailers without cost or leaving home.

            They probably don’t do that anymore but I thought it was great at the time. Plus free bus rides once in Seattle itself (I had to pay the out of zone fee.)

          2. Oops, didn’t acknowledge my slip. Wouldn’t want to give Rand another reason to label me a fool (not that he requires any. Luv ya Rand.)

  4. Personally I prefer the approach Elon is taking. The company is growing organically as the market allows. Instead of doing a White Elephant enterprise. We already had that in the past, with Apollo, the government funded it back then, a private investor is funding this now. But unless the economics make sense it won’t stick in the long run. Like Apollo or Shuttle didn’t stick.

    1. Does BO have a product to sell yet?

      It looks like they are taking advantage of opportunities where they pop up and are trying to get their fingers in as many pies as possible.

      I guess when you have deeper pockets than Musk’s, you can take a longer term view on development before bringing something to market.

      Oh! Interesting thing though. Shotwell recently said that SpaceX underestimated the market for FH. Maybe BO is miscalculating by going for those larger payloads.

  5. I have to give Blue Origin credit for one thing though. They certainly came a long way in engine expertise with the BE-3 LOX/LH2 engine versus what they had in their early test articles.
    Still, I expected them to have issues with the BE-4, I said as much here. Unfortunately my expectations weren’t unfounded. It’s not impossible to do it their way but today, with computer simulations, there are better ways to design engines than exploding them with destructive testing as if we were Glushko in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. I also think doing a LOX rich combustion design was piling on the difficulty level above what was needed. At least SpaceX seems to be doing that one right but then again they have a lot more engine design experience.

  6. He then went on to quote several Apollo astronauts about what they thought about Earth when they returned form the Moon, notably Apollo 14’s Alan Bean: ‘Since returning I have not complained about the weather one single time – I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic— I’m glad there are people around. Why do people complain about the Earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.’

    So many people focus on getting off of Earth right now but in the future, the focus could be on getting back. It will be very hard, depending on where they are coming from, and the closest some may get is a visit to the Moon. It is really tragic to think that some people might never be able to live on Earth, even if they have the money to get here.

    1. Good forward thinking Wodun, but I think you underestimate the paradises we can create even on the seemingly most desolate places.

      We can’t even imagine it, mainly because growth curves are not linear.

      Creativity happens best when the pressure is really on and the resources are not limited. Infrastructure happens fast when the regularity BS hasn’t been put in place yet. Home nuclear reactors anyone?

      We can’t even predict growth in some places on earth… almost always looking at the wrong examples while things pop up in other places.

      The problem today is that any place that does grow is almost immediately infested with the worst of society. Perhaps another planet will filter most of that out?

      1. Without a doubt we will be able to create comfortable lives off world but they wont be suited to everyone, physically or mentally, born out there. There will always be that siren call of the home world where the light is good, the air is fresh, the sky isn’t a roof, and a person can live a simple life.

        1. Hippies on mars? A garden on mars will require a UV protected transparent roof. But it could be a large park that fools people into perceiving themselves as ‘outside.’ A rain forest jungle even. Shirt sleeve dress optional.

          BTW, I’ve received notice that my local drinking water has more than allowed levels of two radium isotopes. I don’t believe this is cause for panic on either planet.

          they wont be suited to everyone, physically or mentally

          True every where. However, the mistake is limiting what we think is possible. Lower G force may be the only thing that distinguishes life from on earth. We don’t even notice many services on earth until they are gone. It will be the same on mars.

  7. I’ve long believed that Buckminster Fuller’s notion of Spaceship Earth was too limited a view. The Earth orbits the sun along with a solar system teeming with resources. We just need the will and the technology to expand out there. It sounds like Bezos sees us as living in Spaceship Solar System instead of Spaceship Earth.

  8. Okay, I see no one else spotted it – or at least didn’t comment on it – so I’ll pipe up. In the text quoted from the article the phrase “Apollo 14’s Alan Bean” appears. Alan Bean flew on Apollo 12 along with Dick Gordon and the guy who probably had more of a blast being an astronaut than anyone else in history, Pete Conrad.

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