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Charlie Stross isn't very sanguine about the prospects for space settlement. My main criticism of his argument is that it seems to assume that all materials will come from earth, and that there are no resources available in space. When he writes, for instance:
Optimistic projects suggest that it should be possible, with the low cost rockets currently under development, to maintain a Lunar presence for a transportation cost of roughly $15,000 per kilogram. Some extreme projections suggest that if the cost can be cut to roughly triple the cost of fuel and oxidizer (meaning, the spacecraft concerned will be both largely reusable and very cheap) then we might even get as low as $165/kilogram to the lunar surface. At that price, sending a 100Kg astronaut to Moon Base One looks as if it ought to cost not much more than a first-class return air fare from the UK to New Zealand ... except that such a price estimate is hogwash. We primates have certain failure modes, and one of them that must not be underestimated is our tendency to irreversibly malfunction when exposed to climactic extremes of temperature, pressure, and partial pressure of oxygen. While the amount of oxygen, water, and food a human consumes per day doesn't sound all that serious — it probably totals roughly ten kilograms, if you economize and recycle the washing-up water — the amount of parasitic weight you need to keep the monkey from blowing out is measured in tons. A Russian Orlan-M space suit (which, some would say, is better than anything NASA has come up with over the years — take heed of the pre-breathe time requirements!) weighs 112 kilograms, which pretty much puts a floor on our infrastructure requirements. An actual habitat would need to mass a whole lot more. Even at $165/kilogram, that's going to add up to a very hefty excess baggage charge on that notional first class air fare to New Zealand — and I think the $165/kg figure is in any case highly unrealistic; even the authors of the article I cited thought $2000/kg was a bit more reasonable.
There's no such thing as a reusable lunar transport system without propellants from space. It makes no economic sense to reuse a lunar lander with earth-based propellants, because the propellants needed to deliver the return propellants cost more than the lander. Similarly, habitats could be constructed of lunar materials, so it makes no sense to scale up an Orlan and assume that the materials must come from earth, as he seems to be doing, at least implicitly.
I also think that he is assuming that we will make no advances in medical technology or bioengineering that allows us to better handle the space environment. Such an assumption seems strange for a writer (particularly a brilliant one) of science fiction.
Certainly it's hard to see how we're going to do anything interstellar with current technology (and perhaps even with current physics), but I think he's far too pessimistic about the solar system, at least the inner system.Posted by Rand Simberg at June 17, 2007 08:11 AM
We really need a lunar architecture heavy on ISRU. It is my understanding that the LAT-2 effort is backing away from anything except experimental ISRU. That is wrong and must be changed.Posted by Dennis Ray Wingo at June 17, 2007 09:20 AM
Out of curiousity, what's the weight of the infrastucture we'll need to mine and process a decent amount of fuel (say 20,000kg per week for one lunar module sized trip to Earth each week) and all of its necessary support infrastructure? Setting it up may be rather more expensive than feasible.Posted by Paul Druce at June 17, 2007 12:44 PM
Lunar hydrogen may be present, but it appears currently that it is present in so low and diffuse a quantity that we can't use it as propellant. The best in situ lunar propellant combinations that I can see working is some sort of LOX/powdered aluminum mix, and the Isp is limiting for making trips back and forth from LEO to the moon.
Still, seeing as how oxygen would be a byproduct of getting any sort of lunar metal, it may end up cheaper than using more efficient earth based propellants.Posted by Aaron at June 17, 2007 12:51 PM
The best in situ lunar propellant combinations that I can see working is some sort of LOX/powdered aluminum mix, and the Isp is limiting for making trips back and forth from LEO to the moon.
I wasn't referring only to in-situ lunar propellant. There are many asteroids/ex-comets that are much closer to EML1 and the lunar surface than the earth's surface is, in terms of delta vee.Posted by Rand Simberg at June 17, 2007 01:15 PM
I agree with Rand about the NEO's but another solution that does not hurt the economics very much (oxygen is 8/9ths of the propellant) is to use LUNOX in combination (in the near term) with earth shipped LH2. This would not be very hard to do as you would just increase the length of say, a Centaur hydrogen tank and bring that up to a propellant farm in a mildly eccentric orbit.
That would be a near term solution with NEO derived materials for a longer term system.
One thing that this demands is that the NASA SMD (Science Mission Directorate) fund missions to several NEO's to access their potential for water, including the Martian Moon Phobos. If Phobos (and or Deimos) has a lot of water, the world just got a lot more interesting.
Posted by Dennis Ray Wingo at June 17, 2007 01:57 PM
> There's no such thing as a reusable lunar transport system without propellants from space
Unless you consider momentum exchange tethers - which are a hands-down clear win - if they work as designed.
> propellants needed to deliver the return propellants cost more than the lander.
There are plenty of designs - for example a gas-core nuclear lander using ammonia propellant - where the lander would be absurdly expensive but could deliver earth-provided propellant in a cost-effective fashion.
> Certainly it's hard to see how we're going to do anything interstellar with current technology (and perhaps even with current physics.
Look up "Orion Starship - Ablative" over at astronautix dot com. If it had been built when first proposed, it would be almost a third of the way there by now.Posted by Charlie at June 17, 2007 09:11 PM
I am partial to LUNOX and methane (CH4) for lunar operations since methane is more storable than H2.
Also, if you run at least part of your surface operations with Terran methane and Lunar LOX, CO2 and H2O will come out the exhaust and if that exhaust is saved, you can add energy from sunlight and convert back to CH4 using the Sabatier process.
Solar thermal Stirling cycle would provide abundant electricity, at least during daylight hours. Stick the "hot end" of a Stirling cycle at the focal point of a solar forge and run the "cold end" through the shade. With a heat differential well over 1000 C, that thing should hum like a Porsche.
Anyways, I want lunar rovers to "look like" Terran SUVs and pick-ups trucks (even if its just a thin exterior shell for appearance sake) so we can hit on Chevy and Ford and Toyota for marketing dollars in exchange for putting their hood ornament on those rovers.Posted by Bill White at June 17, 2007 09:17 PM
Anyways, MARS is where space settlers will go to raise families. Abundant water and carbon dioxide provides 3/4ths of C-H-O-N with early settlements needing to import massive quantities of MiracleGro for the nitrogen. Then, micro-terraform by feeding Marsian CO2 and H2O to your imported plants and algae and slowly build up a biosphere.
Mars, after all, is the 2nd safest location in the solar system to raise a family.
= = =
Dennis Wingo hit the nail on the head when he wrote that the Moon will help save Earth's civilization while Mars is where we will go first to expand it, on a settle down and raise children basis.Posted by Bill White at June 17, 2007 09:22 PM
Personally, I think that we will settle the moon and possibly mars - but then people will start just living in huge space colonies. Once people already have very large cities in space, its just a matter of time before they are entirely self sufficient. A few hundred years later, one of the city ships in orbit around the sun will decide that they want to go to another star - not for economic reasons, nor for religious reasons, but for the most fundamental human reason:
because it's there!Posted by David Summers at June 17, 2007 09:38 PM
Colonizing and/or mining the moon and mars make very little sense economically. Not only do you have a much larger gravity well to overcome, you also have to do it using very high thrust, low isp chemical rockets. Compared to mining asteroids you are using up to 1000x more propellant to transport your processed materials.
No, when we do build factories and colonies they will be at the lagrange points. The moon will be like the Bahamas. A destination for tourists and residences for those extremely rich with more money than sense.Posted by Adrasteia at June 18, 2007 12:37 AM
"If Phobos (and or Deimos) has a lot of water, the world just got a lot more interesting."
Are the moons of Mars type C or type D asteroids? It seems the latest thinking is type D, in which case don't the odds of water go way down? In any case investigation of those moons should be a high priority.
These sorts of arguments over-complicate things. This is very simple, people want to live in space and eventually individual wealth and our technology level will be such that living off-Earth is an affordable proposition for a sizeable number of people. Beyond that it's just a matter of sustainability.
The Gobi desert and the bottom of the Ocean are bad examples because very few people want to live there. But look at Antarctica. It's an enormously inhospitable place, perhaps more so than the Gobi desert, and yet the number of people living, working, and visiting there has grown by leaps and bounds over time. This despite the fact that it is impossible to legally own land on or extract resources from the continent. Spaceflight is still young and still hampered by bumbling government monopolization, yet all the fundamentals are there and our ability to fund off-Earth exploration and settlement will almost certainly only grow with time.Posted by Robin Goodfellow at June 18, 2007 02:15 AM
The Moon's gravity has an immediate advantage over both Earth and the asteroids, being both far less costly than the former to escape and significant enough not to require tedious delicacy. Luna also has the advantage of being vastly closer than the Main Belt asteroids, and unlike NEAs is always accessible and capable of capturing spacecraft. To rendezvous with an asteroid, practically all of the delta-vee upon arrival has to come from the spacecraft itself, and otherwise trivial forces can have significant aggregate effects that make station-keeping onerous. So, given that the same metals should be available on the Moon, the business case for asteroid mining doesn't begin to apply until volume becomes massive and microgravity operations are highly efficient on a large scale.
The main issue with settling the Moon is lack of water and, relatedly, hydrogen, but it will likely be far cheaper to bring it from Earth than Ceres due to the same reasons outlined above. And that's even assuming that, as I think likely, the ice available from shadowed craters will turn out to be trivial; if more exists than is suspected, the case would be even clearer.
Once the mining and manufacturing infrastructures are in place, lunar operations might only be dependent on Earth for water, organics, and perhaps fissile materials, with most spacecraft and related systems built and deployed from the Moon. This should make make general space-based production easier and more reliable, and would allow mass-production of spacecraft not limited by aerodynamics. Whereas Earth-bound factories need vacuum chambers to test their products, and only use them at certain stages in development, a lunar factory could simply be unpressurized throughout the process (albeit protected from dust), and industry would thus learn how to build entire systems in that environment. Assuming key industries are nativized, deploying a large communications satellite to GEO from the Moon would be dirt-cheap compared to Earth prices for a very large number of reasons: E.g., insurance costs would probably become lower, minimal to nonexistent regulation, no atmosphere, 1/6 gravity, arbitrary launch location, and refueling at arbitrary altitudes, among others. In fact, rockets wouldn't even be necessary--a simple catapult track along the ground could supply the initial boost, and onboard thrusters would bring the satellite to successive refueling depots. Restocking the depots themselves would be a trivial matter this way.
As for Mars, I agree with Bill about it becoming mankind's second homeworld. While the Moon will become a very important manufacturing and transportation hub, and IMHO will develop its own unique population and culture, its proximity to Earth guarantees that it will always be easier to maintain some level of dependence--especially if it becomes mutual. But Mars is far enough away, and has enough preexisting resources, that critical dependence will not persist after a full-spectrum economy develops. They may trade with Earth, absorb its emigrants, and participate in the same information networks, but no terrestrial catastrophe could endanger their survival once established.
But toward Stross's pessimism, I can only say this: The economics of space settlement are only relevant insofar as they inform us of the challenge, but they do not and must not determine whether we accept that challenge. We don't have a choice about this, no matter how hard it turns out to be--even without an asteroid, supervolcano, or gigadeath plague, civilization with nothing outside itself will disintegrate from entropy, hopelessness, and malaise. So there's really no point to being pessmistic--the resources to do this at even the worst conceivable costs are more than abundant, so in the very worst case the only thing standing in our way would be our own weak resolve. And I personally don't foresee reality ever coming anywhere near the worst case.Posted by Brian Swiderski at June 18, 2007 05:39 AM
I love it when SF writers discover algebra! Mr. Simberg is quite right: Mr. Stross' numbers are correct, but I suspect that his assumptions are incomplete.
We have all seen the quotes, over and over again, where "experts' tell us that various things are impossible. This is usually in the context of making those experts look silly. But the experts were usually correct---given the assumptions that they had made.
The same thing is true here.
I suspect that Mr. Stross is incorrect in his assumptions over the long term, and you know what? I'll bet that he hopes so, too!Posted by Mark Martin at June 18, 2007 06:13 AM
For those who say we won't be industrializing the Moon, I have but one comment.
Time Cost of Money. The asteroids will come second simply for that reason.
Posted by Dennis Ray Wingo at June 18, 2007 08:17 AM
Time cost of money is a consideration, but it doesn't automatically mean you go to the moon first. If the total cost of asteroidal resources, including the cost of money, is still lower than lunar resources, then you'll go to the asteroids first.Posted by Rand Simberg at June 18, 2007 08:21 AM
Look up "Orion Starship - Ablative" over at astronautix dot com. If it had been built when first proposed, it would be almost a third of the way there by now.
When propulsion requirements are "Twice as many warheads as the world has ever built with an aggregate megatonnage an order of magnitude above world peak megatonnage", I think we can safely scratch that ship off the list of feasible designs.Posted by Paul Druce at June 18, 2007 08:53 AM
I think tech and desire and simple 'human will' will make it easier for us to be in space and on the moon.
Because, well, we want to be.
As for getting to the moon, a plasma converter like this:
can provide power from anything, and the moon ahs a good chunk of dust and rocks. That gives you a quick instant power source, that runs on dirt. And gives you Hydrogen, CO (which could be converted to O2) and power. And a glass like slag that could be converted to something to build with.
And that is just the beginnings of the tech- who knows how the setup could be tuned to convert stuff. :)
JoshPosted by pbjosh at June 18, 2007 10:30 AM
Even if you believe the $50,000 or the $1 million numbers, it's only a matter of time before it becomes routine. Every generation, per capita GDP doubles. At $1 million, that's about 4 generations away from being the average annual wage. Migration from Europe to US cost about $30 in 1910. That was about 7% of US per capita GDP of about $400 at the time. We'll need another 4 generations for Moon flights to be that cheap if you believe the $1 million number.Posted by Sam Dinkin at June 18, 2007 10:32 AM
Course if you use something other then a chemical rocket for LEO to LLO, you cut the reaction mass way down, but eiather way how do you get the reaction mass costing more then the ship.Posted by Kelly Starks at June 18, 2007 10:33 AM
When propulsion requirements are "Twice as many warheads as the world has ever built with an aggregate megatonnage an order of magnitude above world peak megatonnage", I think we can safely scratch that ship off the list of feasible designs.
Posted by Charlie at June 18, 2007 10:43 AM
Assuming a pound of lander needs 10 pounds of propelent to get to luna, land, and back to LEO (which is a reasonable rough estimate).
You think so? Have you actually run the numbers? You're proposing SSTL (single-stage-to-luna-and-return) from LEO to the surface. Don't forget, you not only have to return the lander, but also all the tankage you need to carry the propellant all the way back to LEO, unless you're going to drop tanks (in which case, it's not fully reusable).Posted by at June 18, 2007 10:44 AM
Stross did leave himself an 'out' when he writes that a space elevator could lower the cost of launch and make things affordable.Posted by Brian at June 18, 2007 11:12 AM
Mars has 1/3 the gravity of Earth. Current evidence is that human beings cannot survive in this situation. Assuming they somehow do adapt, they won't be able to return to Earth.
(I'm always bemused by the fantasy that we can just terraform Mars as if we have any clue on how to actually do that. I'm equally bemused by assertions that Mars has "[a]bundant water". Current scientific evidence is that no, it doesn't.)Posted by Joe at June 18, 2007 11:47 AM
>>Mars has 1/3 the gravity of Earth. Current evidence is that human beings cannot survive in this situation.
There is no current evidence whatsoever to suggest anything like that. We havent even had animals in 1/3g gravity for any amount of time, not to speak of extended stays by humans.
We have had a few humans on lunar surface, 1/6th gravity, on the order of few hundred hours, and there is no data there to suggest humans would not survive longer stays.Posted by kert at June 18, 2007 12:36 PM
We have done many experiments with low gravity and they all point to that situation causing serious bone loss. (To believe otherwise would be incredible since human beings evolved in a 1g environment.)Posted by Joe at June 18, 2007 12:48 PM
I consider the real objection to space colonization not to be technological but societal. As a society I don't think we are mature enough to build colonies in space w/o murdering the home planet.
Here's the thought-experiment I posted on his board: Assume a "Jim Jones" type cult, with plenty of money and brainpower, acquires space flight. One morning they take off to colonize [fill in the blank]. What's to prevent them from lobbing a few plague bombs at Earth as they leave, to prevent the "nonbelievers" from later interfering in their utopian vision?
The best argument for space colonization, to prevent having all our eggs in one basket, is itself the best argument against space colonization. As long as we only have one planet to live on all but the most insane among us have a strong incentive not to muck it up. People crazy enough to kill their own planet are fairly easy to spot and lock up before they become dangerous. People crazy enough to kill some other planet they don't live on, perhaps not so much.Posted by Orion at June 18, 2007 01:19 PM
Not really. If the USA had made a firm commitment to switching electrical production to fast breeder reactors, and had devoted only one percent of GNP to building Orion starships, it could have produced one in about 15 years - without even overstressing the economy.
Somehow I doubt it would be quite that affordable or that the Soviets would've been all that happy or trusting of us when we said "No, honest, all these hundreds of thousands of megaton warheads we're stockpiling are so that we can wave our dick in your face two centuries from now"Posted by Paul Druce at June 18, 2007 01:24 PM
Posted by Bill White at June 18, 2007 03:33 PM
Silane could be an easily mined fuel from the moon.
Nasa and the AIAA have already researched Silane in the 1970's.
Plus a Silane flame could turn regular lunar regolith into quality silicate.Posted by bob at June 18, 2007 04:15 PM
Time cost of money is a consideration, but it doesn't automatically mean you go to the moon first. If the total cost of asteroidal resources, including the cost of money, is still lower than lunar resources, then you'll go to the asteroids first
Yes but that is hardly the case.
Two year round trip
No Telepresence (increases crew demands)
These three things along argue that the Moon will be accessed (especially when there are asteroidal resources there) and profited from before the asteroids.Posted by Dennis Wingo at June 18, 2007 04:54 PM
These three things along argue that the Moon will be accessed (especially when there are asteroidal resources there) and profited from before the asteroids.
They may "argue" that (that only means that these are the factors that militate in their favor, i.e., they are evidence). They are not dispositive. One only knows that when the actual numbers are run. Do you have any?Posted by Rand Simberg at June 18, 2007 05:03 PM
In the end it depends on what a real resource survey finds and the orbits where they are found, in comparison to what is found on the Moon. Until we have this data all you can do is general speculation.
However, all things being even close to equal, which is a reasonable expectation, one would think that having the abilty to operate 24/7 (through telepresence), the ability to resupply spare parts and upgrades on a monthly basis, and the fact that the trip alone for anything worth doing (a dash out and back is not sufficient to do anything of any worth) is two years, would make it obvious to the casual observer which one was superior.Posted by Dennis Wingo at June 18, 2007 06:30 PM
Two year round trip
No Telepresence (increases crew demands)
These three things along argue that the Moon will be accessed (especially when there are asteroidal resources there) and profited from before the asteroids.
Dennis, perhaps you're unaware of it, but NASA is publicly talking about the possibility of sending Orion to an NEO before they send it to the Moon.
While trip time and resupply are valid considerations, the point about telepresence is simply your personal preference. Robots are not inherently better than humans or even inherently cheaper. You can send five Soyuz crews around the Moon, for example, for the cost of one NASA robot. You need to examine each mission on individual basis.
In the end, the real figure is cost.
A visit and extracting a profitable amount of resources are two different things. Robots are no inherently better, but humans so far cannot work 24/7 shifts. On the Moon the humans can work x hours before they have rest, at that time humans on the Earth, which are far cheaper to support, can use telepresence to continue the work. Now this may change in that great day when we have a thousand people on the Moon, but in the early days productivity demands a mixture of robotic and human labor. This is far more problematic for a NEO operation.Posted by Dennis Wingo at June 18, 2007 07:29 PM
An assumption appears to be made that the lunar lander makes the round trip from LEO to lunar surface and back. Which would need a single stage for that vehicle to be reusable. But consider seperate vehicles for LEO to cis-lunar space and cis-lunar space to lunar surface. This makes an effective 2 stage system for the trip from LEO to the moon and back, which makes mass fractions much more friendly to reusable transport system, as compared to a single vehicle making the whole trip. Even assuming all propellant comes from Earth. Practical propellant production on site still improves the picture.
Joe, care to point to ANY experiments, apart from Apollo landings, done in LOW GRAVITY ?
There is no data available on long term partial G between zero and 1 effects on human body due to the simple reason: nobody ( not even animals ) has been in such condition, since Apollo.
zero-g and micro-g dont count, the effects of zero-g and 1/3g could be vastly different, we just dont know.
True, but not having to spend $30 billion for Ares V and LSAM could outweigh that -- and the prospect of competing with NASA might scare investors away from the Moon for some time.Posted by Edward Wright at June 19, 2007 01:22 AM
>> Assuming a pound of lander needs 10 pounds of propelent to get
Tspaceadn McDonnel Douglas did – though I can’t remember the exact number, the idea was to boost a SSTO to orbit, refuel it and have it SS from LEO to Luna, and back.
Joe at June 18, 2007 11:47 AM
Its more then just not being able to return to earth or getting weak bones. Low/no grav drops the bulk of your cardio vascular excersize. You get more exercize siting on a couch watching DIDs then spending the day in orbit exersizing a couple hours a day. Which generates the predictable cardiovascular, immune, and other declines folks see on Earth. So even if you stay on Mars or the moon, your life expectancy and health will decline.
That “could be” has been the great hope of would be Lunar and Mars colonists, but it doesn’t hold water. You can replicate the effects of zero G just by giving folks enforced bed rest where they are not allowed to sit up and move around. So its not something magical about zero G, but basic lack of exercise effects (even the effect of pumping blood up and down a sitting or standing body) zero/low-g causes on us. The same way and degree that enhanced exercise, or living in enhanced G, makes someone (or beast) stronger and healthier.
There are folks living on earth now willing and eager to release WMD. The president of Iran openly says God told him he was made president to start Armegedon – and he will shortly have nuclear missles. So were stuck with that issue either way.
Oh, space colonies don’t really “put our egss in more baskets. If Earth collapses al the space colonies will die without support from Earths infrastructure.
True, but not having to spend $30 billion for Ares V and LSAM could outweigh that -- and the prospect of competing with NASA might scare investors away from the Moon for some time.
This has NOTHING to do with the launch vehicle architecture.
We are going to use robotics and telepresence on the Moon, Asteroids and Mars for the same reason that we do on the Earth, because it is cost effective to do so.Posted by Dennis Wingo at June 19, 2007 09:11 AM
It has everything to do with launch vehicle architecture, Dennis. Even your robots have to get there somehow. Screw up the transportation segment badly enough and nothing else is going to happen.
We are going to use robotics and telepresence on the Moon, Asteroids and Mars for the same reason that we do on the Earth, because it is cost effective to do so.
Despite the fervent hopes of robot builders, there are very few industries on Earth run completely by robots and telepresence.Posted by Edward Wright at June 19, 2007 02:39 PM
Despite the fervent hopes of robot builders, there are very few industries on Earth run completely by robots and telepresence.
Did I say completely? Nope.
The electronics industry is about 80% robotic assembly
Detroit, about 75%
Telepresence is used extensively by the oil industry now for drilling.
Between 80-90% robotic will be the metric for the Moon for manned & robotics together.Posted by Dennis Wingo at June 20, 2007 08:26 AM
You imply it when you say the transportation architecture does not matter, Dennis.
Without affordable transportation for humans to the Moon, there will be no humans to the Moon.
Without humans on the Moon, any industry you want to build there will have to completely automated.
Therefore, you need to have affordable human transportation to the Moon *or* full automation.
What part of that do you disagree with?
Between 80-90% robotic will be the metric for the Moon for manned & robotics together.
That's not a metric, Dennis, it's a racial quota.
The real metric ought to be $$$.
If it costs a billion dollars to send a human to the Moon for two weeks, that will add up fast, even if droids are doing 80-90% of your work.
That's not a metric, Dennis, it's a racial quota.
Ed, you are a smart person, quit saying stupid crap like that. The 80-90% is a reasoned engineering judgement based on doing actual studies, and reading a hell of a lot of work, related to lunar surface operations. If you think that humans will be doing everything on the lunar surface you are just wrong.
Also, I don't imply squat, if I thought that it would be all robots I would say that. Actually I don't agree at all that anything really useful on the moon will be fully robotic, we just aren't there in terms of technology and in the end I don't think that we want to be 100%.
Quit worrying about ESAS, it has about 17-24 months to live and then something workable has a possibility of happening.Posted by Dennis Wingo at June 20, 2007 09:02 PM
Then show your work. Without knowing your assumptions or methods the result is meaningless.
If you think that humans will be doing everything on the lunar surface
Nice strawman, but no one said that, Dennis.
The real subject was your claim that 1) lunar operations have to be cheaper than NEO because of teleoperation and robotics, and 2) the space transportation architecture doesn't matter.
Quit worrying about ESAS, it has about 17-24 months to live and then something workable has a possibility of happening.
You can't foresee the future, Dennis. You don't know if what comes in 17-24 months will be more or less workable.
Nor should it matter, if you believe what you've been saying for years that "launch costs are not an issue."
It's pretty obvious to me that launch costs do matter and that if someone else had a lower-cost transportation system, it might offset whatever advantages robots might give NASA on the Moon.
If you disagree, tell me what NASA might do on the Moon that's worth billions of dollars per man-year? With or without robots?
Posted by Edward Wright at June 20, 2007 11:08 PM
Rand wrote: I also think that he is assuming that we will make no advances in medical technology or bioengineering that allows us to better handle the space environment. Such an assumption seems strange for a writer (particularly a brilliant one) of science fiction.
In 133rd comment to his original post, Charlie Stross explicitely says that bioengineering of humans is a necessary (not just enabling) step toward space colonization:
Fixing humans to live in a new environment is easier than changing the environment to support humans -- at least, when the environment is as hostile to biological life as the rest of the solar system. So: pursue biological engineering. Pursue tissue engineering. Pursue medical nanotech. Pursue endosymbionts and artificial organism research. Accept that Homo Sapiens Sapiens will probably never go to the stars, but beings recognizable as our children might be able to.
And I tend to agree.Posted by Ilya at June 21, 2007 07:53 AM
> In 133rd comment to his original post, Charlie Stross explicitely says
If true its a EXTREAMLY strong argument agaist the possibility of humans colonizing space. Not that we couldn't, just we wouldn't.Posted by Kelly Starks at June 21, 2007 10:50 AM
Charlie Stross's comments about intersteller travel are correct, with regards to current technology. However, his criticism of solar system settlement falls short on two counts. First, he assumes that human settlement must be done on planetary surfaces, which Mars is the closest to being suitable for this. He does not address the possibility of O'neill habitats at all. Secondly, he talks about the radiation and decompression hazards of free space. However, I think both of these issues were addressed in the orginal series of space development conferences back in the mid 70's. If the habitat has proper shielding and is large enough, neither of these is a show-stopper.Posted by Kurt9 at June 21, 2007 07:41 PM
Stross does conceed that O'neill habitats are doable in one of his responses. He does make the point that they will be extremely urbanized (of course!) and that this does not fit with his conception of American libertarians.
Perhaps. But where he is wrong is that the ideal libertarian society until recently, as far as I'm concerned, was Hong Kong. And HK is very urbanized.
Where Stross is really coming from (the proper context of his rant) is that he is a singulatarian (both his novels and website make this clear) and that from his perspective, uploading into computronium virtual reality is much more likely to occur before we have any chance of getting out into space.Posted by Kurt9 at June 21, 2007 09:45 PM
> He does not address the possibility of O'neill habitats at all. ==
Totally agree that O'Niels get around the issues since they have full gravity, air, not toxic soil (whose going to fly toxic soil up to one??), and inside them low radiation. Also O'Neils being in free space have a easier time getting access to raw materials. But..
>==Secondly, he talks about the radiation and decompression hazards of free
>== He does make the point that they will be extremely urbanized (of course!)==
Most buildings are. ;)
>== and that this does not fit with his conception of American libertarians...
Posted by Kelly Starks at June 22, 2007 09:08 AM
but several critics have assumed that you would need draconian government control inside closed space craft/stations for common survival.
Pervasive, not draconian. Work would probably be highly structured and mandatory, but that doesn't mean people's time would be monopolized, and I seriously doubt anyone would be thrown out the airlock for slacking off. A day floating in a 10-ft, featureless, evenly lit spherical room with nothing but a water tube, energy bars, and a diaper would be enough to curb most offenses, IMHO.Posted by Brian Swiderski at June 22, 2007 12:27 PM
>> but several critics have assumed that you would need draconian
> Pervasive, not draconian. Work would probably be highly structured and mandatory, ==
Now if you don't work, your likly going to need a serious bank account to afford the rent, but some folks do. You might need restrictions on non employee residents - but really if more folks want to come up and live - build nore housing!!
You would not need any more draconian government for a space colony that you would for a place, say, like Singapore. Yes, space colonies have to be actively maintained. But so does any city on Earth. The number of people who work in infrastructure and maintainance is a very small percentage of any cities work force. The same will be true for any space colony. A space colony is essentially a city-state, just like Singapore or HK.
The main thing will be to have space settlers be reasonable people who do not do stupid things to risk the structural integrity or functionality of the habitat, itself. I think the "draconian" regulation necessary to ensure this would not be anything more "draconian" than typical owners association in a condominium project.
I suspect by the time we actually build anything like O'neill habitats, that they will be "grown" by some kind of synthetic biology/nanotechnology and they will be essentially a integrated "living" structure.Posted by Kurt9 at June 22, 2007 02:02 PM
> You would not need any more draconian government for a space
>==I suspect by the time we actually build anything like O'neill
Frankly I doubt it. Its to easy to just melt a rock or Iorn and spin/blow/scult it into a hab shell. Or just build it up out of prefab parts shiped up from factories on Earth. The bio/nano part is a bit exotic and complicated.
Or perhaps your assuming we won't build anything like that for centuries?Posted by Kelly Starks at June 25, 2007 07:01 AM
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