Bootstrapping A Solar-System Civilization

There was an interesting blog post at OSTP last week:

Have ideas for massless exploration and bootstrapping a Solar System civilization? Send your ideas for how the Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community, and storytellers can further these goals at massless@ostp.gov.

Needless to say, I don’t expect this to go anywhere with the current Congressional committees.

China’s Big Gamble In Space

A brief history of their program, from Joan Johnson-Freese.

I’d note that as long as they follow the Soviets/Russians lead in tech, they won’t be doing anything big. Like the voyages of Zheng He, it seems to be more about prestige than expansion. If and when SpaceX starts to reuse their launchers, that will set the new bar for space activity.

The Problem With Ebola

It isn’t the virus, it’s the incompetence. Not to mention the venality.

[Update late morning]

Amazingly, left-blogger Atrios (aka Duncan Black) agrees:

Ultimately the point is that as of now, Ebola is a small problem in the United States overall, if a very serious problem for the people infected by it, and we have failed to deal with this small problem. The lack of clearly established systematic responses to potential deadly disease outbreaks is extremely worrying. If a genuine epidemic occurs, there’s no reason to think the response will be any better.

At least as of now, there’s no reason to be frightened of Ebola. Turn off cable news and go about your day. A small number of infected people is not an epidemic. But there is reason to be frightened of the apparent inability of our institutions to deal with an actual epidemic, or true national emergencies of any kind.

Yes. As has been pointed out ad infinitum. when the government (and particularly the federal government) tries to do too many things, it ends of doing none of them well.

A History Of SpaceX

There’s a good article over at Quartz about the company and Elon. It had a few errors, though.

And the response?

That’s exactly how it should work.

The Party Of Lynching

warns (ignorant) Democrat voters in North Carolina of lynchings if Republicans win.

If they want to play that game, put together a few thirty-second ads with history lessons about the (Democrat) Klan, and the (Democrat) Bull Connor, and the (Democrat) Lester Maddox, and the (Democrat) George Wallace. And a reminder that Lincoln was a Republican, and that the voting-rights act would not have been passed without Republicans.

[Late-morning update]

Oopsie. Senator Pryor’s college thesis, called desegregation “an unwilling invasion” (as opposed, I suppose, to a willing one?).

Democrats, once the party of racism, always the party of racism.

Nuevo Colorado

Continuing our tour of the six new Californias proposed by Tim Draper, this new state would be the only one with no Pacific coastline. Nonetheless, it has tremendous potential that is currently being hamstrung by Sacramento (or rather, the coastal voters who dominate the legislature). It would have a population of a little over four million, equivalent to Kentucky, and about a million fewer than Colorado. But as I’ll explain, its red depiction on the map below is appropriate, because it could be viewed as another Colorado in the making, except one only a couple-hour drive from the ocean.

Continue reading

The New State Of Silicon Valley

Continuing my series (I now have four states up at Ricochet), the next state is Silicon Valley.

Unlike North California, Silicon Valley would be the new state with the most geographically misleading name. Shown in yellow on the map, it would encompass the current Silicon Valley in Santa Clara County, but it would also include all else on that peninsula, including San Francisco, and the East Bay all the way up to Oakland and Berkeley in Alameda County and the bedroom communities of Contra Costa County, all of which is quite densely populated. And beyond that, it would also extend south, all the way down into the Big Sur coast, to the southern Monterey County line. It would be the third largest of the new states, with a current population of almost seven million, like Arizona, Washington or Massachusetts.

Continue reading

The Bioethics Of Mars Settlement

An interesting article over at Slate that raises similar concerns to mine:

If we send heterosexual astronauts, of different sexes and of reproductive age, on extended space missions, then the possibility of pregnancy looms. To ward that off, could it be ethical to demand sterilization for any potentially fertile astronauts in a mixed-sex crew? Radiation exposure may eventually take care of the issue by causing infertility, but some pregnancies could happen before infertility occurs. Is conception even possible in the zero-gravity of space, or in the low-gravity, high-radiation habitats on Mars? If so, would a fetus develop normally?

We don’t know, since it would seem patently unethical to even conduct these sorts of experiments today in space or anywhere else, at least with human subjects. Again, the physical and psychological dangers of procreating and living outside of Earth can seem inhumane, especially for involuntary subjects (the children). Yet many plans for space exploration already take it as a foregone conclusion that humans will reproduce in space. For some, it’s a crucial part of the business plan, as in the case of Mars One’s goal of moving toward a “permanent human settlement.”

As I noted:

What I would suggest to the Mars One people, though, is given that they’re planning to spend billions on this project, and the long-term goal is to have true human settlement of the planet, which necessarily involves offspring of the settlers, they devote a modest amount of their budget funding research that NASA has completely neglected for decades, but that others have privately proposed, to establish a variable-gravity laboratory in orbit where we can start to understand these issues. The fact that NASA (or Congress) have never given such research any priority whatsoever is eloquent testimony to how unimportant both consider the goal of spreading humanity into the solar system. But until we do, young people who want to go off to barren (at least initially) worlds will have to continue to face the prospect of remaining barren themselves.

Space really isn’t important, politically. Just “space” jobs.

[Update a few minutes later]

Meanwhile, Kate Greene says that economics would dictate that a Mars mission consist of all women.

Here’s my problem with that. While of course mass is an important consideration, it isn’t the only one. I would argue that any Mars mission would have to be based on an affordable mission concept, and that if it is, mass won’t matter that much, and if it isn’t, no one will go. Beyond that, I think there’s a flaw in the logic here, or at least insufficient information:

Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways.

During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000.

We were only allowed to exit the habitat if we wore mock spacesuits. So many Martian hassles, so little glory.

The data certainly fit with my other observations. At mealtime, the women took smaller portions than the men, who often went back for seconds. One crew member complained how hard it was to maintain his weight, despite all the calories he was taking in.

She doesn’t say, but is it possible that maybe the men were doing more physical work? If so, it might be that if the women had to do all of the heavy lifting, their calorie consumption would increase too. In any event, if you just want to send people to Mars for the sake of sending people to Mars, a female crew would be fine, but if you want to settle the planet, there would be a problem…

[Tuesday-morning update]

There seems to be a lot of off-topic whining in comments about what will be “allowed.” I said nothing about government involvement. I simply expressed an opinion that, given current knowledge, it would be unethical to attempt to have children on Mars (or even in weightlessness). I stand by that opinion.

The Quality Of Metal 3-D-Printed Objects

Looks like it’s about to exceed any other fabrication technology:

“We can now control local material properties, which will change the future of how we engineer metallic components,” Dehoff said. “This new manufacturing method takes us from reactive design to proactive design. It will help us make parts that are stronger, lighter and function better for more energy-efficient transportation and energy production applications such as cars and wind turbines.”

The researchers demonstrated the method using an ARCAM electron beam melting system (EBM), in which successive layers of a metal powder are fused together by an electron beam into a three-dimensional product. By manipulating the process to precisely manage the solidification on a microscopic scale, the researchers demonstrated 3-dimensional control of the microstructure, or crystallographic texture, of a nickel-based part during formation.

Crystallographic texture plays an important role in determining a material’s physical and mechanical properties. Applications from microelectronics to high-temperature jet engine components rely on tailoring of crystallographic texture to achieve desired performance characteristics.

“We’re using well established metallurgical phenomena, but we’ve never been able to control the processes well enough to take advantage of them at this scale and at this level of detail,” said Suresh Babu, the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing. “As a result of our work, designers can now specify location-specific crystal-structure orientations in a part.”

This will be key for human expansion into space.

Judith Curry’s WSJ Op-Ed

She rounds up the (hysterical and unhinged) reactions:

Climate science has been thrown into disarray by the hiatus, disagreement between climate model and instrumental estimates of climate sensitivity, uncertainties in carbon uptake by plants, and diverging interpretations of ocean heating (in the face of a dearth of observations). ‘Certainty’ arguably peaked at the time of the AR4 (2007); perception of uncertainty is arguably greater than any time since the FAR (1991). Yes of course we know more about the climate system than we did in 1991, but more knowledge about the complex climate systems opens up new areas of ignorance and greater uncertainty.

In context of the way climate sensitivity is defined by the IPCC, uncertainty in climate sensitivity is decreasing as errors in previous observational estimates are identified and eliminated and model estimates seem to be converging more. Climate model simulations, when compared with 21st century observations seem to be running too hot, giving creedence to the lower observation-based sensitivity values.

What do the lower values of climate sensitivity imply for policy? Well slower values of warming make it easier to adapt, and provide time to develop new technologies and new policies. But the true believers such as Mann et al. call adaptation, developing new technologies and policies as ‘inaction.’ The policy logic apparent in the essays critical of my op-ed are rather naive.

So we are left with science in disarray and naive logic regarding policy. And the ‘warm team’ wonders why people are yawning?

She should cite my piece on the precautionary principle.

Curing Alzheimer’s

…with a ketogenic diet?

Ketone esters are in a class of supplements called “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS by the FDA. They are expensive, difficult to find, and taste nasty (I’ve smelled some, and it was a bit like salty urine). There are no long term studies of the safety of these supplements in humans, though high ketone levels were maintained in severely obese, fasting patients for 6-8 weeks and there seemed to be no side effects. The main risk might be an exacerbation of gout, but truly, the long term consequences are unknown. For someone with dementia facing an inevitable downward spiral and life in a long term care facility, the question of benefits versus risk is a different calculation than in someone without that condition.

After a few days of escalating doses, Mr. Newport was brushing his own teeth, spontaneously dressing and bathing himself again, had improvements in mood, and was able to recite the alphabet. After 6-8 weeks, his memory improved and he started to do yard work again. After 20 months, he maintained definite improvement, with his cognitive function seeming to wax and wane with rising and falling ketone levels in his blood.

While this report is just a single case study, it does merit more clinical investigation. Given the severity and cost of the disease, the possibility of a far more effective treatment than what we currently have must be explored further.

It actually wouldn’t surprise me at all. Alzheimer’s may be just one more modern illness caused by the awful official dietary advice over the past six decades.

ISPCS

The opening ceremony is a (brief, presumably) literal space opera about a mission to Mars.

[Update]

“Searching for nothing but action verbs” on Mars. OK.

[Update after the 20-minute opera]

Pat Hynes paying tribute to the late Bill Gaubatz, who helped her get this conference started ten years ago, who died in July.

Off To Las Cruces

I’m heading to the airport to go to ISPCS. I’ll check in later.

[Later]

OK, made it here, went to reception, much food and drink was consumed and many old acquaintances refreshed. Lots of compliments on the book, but this is the choir. Off to bed, and conference tweeting/blogging on the morrow.

Safe Is Not An Option: A Review

Finally, someone at NASA is willing to take the book seriously enough to critically review it. Obviously, I will respond at some point (TL;DR version, he cherry picks and ignores much of what I have to say, but that’s to be expected, given his NASA-centric viewpoint), but it’s a bad week between taxes and ISPCS. Anyway, despite my disagreement with the review itself, I’m sincerely grateful to Mr. Fodrocci for finally acknowledging the book’s existence, rather than (as much of the industry, including IAASS, has) pretending it doesn’t exist and hoping it will just go away.