Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Colonization

Colony Planet from 'Firefly'
A post at SFConsim-l leads me to revisit a trope I have commented about here before. Space colonization, as imagined in SF and 'nonfiction' space speculation, is - surprise! - a riff on the English colonization of America, an experience shared by Clarke and Heinlein, albeit from different perspectives. Historically sort of colonization was driven first and foremost by cheap land.

This should be no surprise, any more than the American colonial analogy itself. It is like hydraulics. Provide a cheaper place to live and people will drift toward it, sometimes even flood toward it.

And the heart of the nutshell, as Heinlein once put it, is that there is no cheap land in space because there is no land at all. Land doesn't just mean a solid planetary surface (those are dirt cheap). Land means habitat, and in space the only way to have any is to build it youself. Which makes it expensive, especially since you have to build it up front.

Water can be pumped uphill, and people can be pulled toward expensive places to live by compensating attractions, or pushed there by pressures. But it is not a 'natural' process, and it can easily be reversed, hence ghost towns in rugged, played-out mining regions.

The sort of colonization envisioned in the rocketpunk era, most explicitly in books like Farmer in the Sky, but implicit in the consensus future history of the genre, is just plain unlikely, almost desperately unlikely, this side of the remote future or the Singularity, whichever comes first.


This is not the only possible sort of colonization. People have traveled afar, often spending their adult lives in some remote clime with no intention to settle there, marry, and raise a family, hoping instead to make their fortune and return home. The ones who don't make their fortune may end up staying, but that was not the plan.

Political colonialism often follows this pattern. The British colonized India, but I've never heard that any significant number of Britons settled there. (Human nature being what it is they did leave an Anglo-Indian population behind.)

A similar pattern has been common for trading outposts through the ages, whenever travel times have been prolonged. Even today, with one day global travel, people live abroad for years or even decades as expatriates, not emigrants. This, I believe, is a far more plausible scenario for the long term human presence in space than classic colonization. (And human nature being what it is, a mixed population will leave someone behind.)


Meta to this discussion - and not all that meta - is the delicate cohabitation of 'nonfiction' space speculation and science fiction. Space colonization has been driven first and foremost by story logic. For a broad range of story possibilities we want settings with a broad range of human experience. For this we want complete human communities, which means colonization in something like the classic SF sense.

But who are we trying to kid? Science fiction, particularly hard SF, is not known for engaging the whole range of human experience. This is no knock on it; all the branches of Romance are selective. The truth is that we want space colonies so that they can rebel against Earth, form an Empire, and generally play out History with a capital H, with lots of explosions and other cool stuff along the way.

I've suggested before on this blog that you can, in fact, get quite a lot of History without classical colonies. But another thing to keep in mind is that story logic doesn't necessarily drive real history. We may have an active spacefaring future that involves practically none of the story tropes of the rocketpunk era.

As a loose analogy, robotic diving on shipwrecks has done away with all those old underwater story tropes about divers trapped in a collapsing wreck, or bad guys cutting the air hose, but it has not at all done away with the somber magic of shipwrecks themselves, something the makers of 'Titanic' used to effect.


On the other hand, Hollywood has made two popular and critically acclaimed historical period pieces about actual space travel, and the stories are both an awful lot like rocketpunk.


Related posts: A Solar System for This Century.

119 comments:

Anonymous said...

When it comes to the colonization of the solar system, let alone interstellar colonization, the first thing almost every SF fan thinks of were the aforementioned Rancher/Farmer IN SPACE! or a well established and developed colonial settlement whose overall feel could range from Third World Shacks to metropolises.

As the above post suggests, such a colonized world would be some time into the far future when interplanetary travel, let alone interstellar, is relatively cheap enough for a farmer to buy a ticket for himself/herself and their families to go settle on another world. For now and the foreseeable non-SF magical future, the only possible settlers and settlements would be akin to those in Antarctica in which the primary purpouse would be scientific research. Granted, there could be other mining operations upon planets and/or asteroids of our own solar system, but that is extremely difficult to even rationalize at best.

However, the thought about future and potential settlers going off-world for work rather then actually making a life for themselves is an interesting thought. Granted, this would only be mate into plausible fruition if the space plane ticket for commercial travel is cheap enough to allow such travel even if the flight times are rare and measured in months or years, or that individual is apart of an expedition similar to those seen upon Antarctica.

One can theorize, though, that these types of colonies made famous in Rocketpunk fiction up to today can trace their roots to older adventure stories about exotic lands and strange civilizations and peoples. There may be some background about that alien land, but not enough to give a clear idea of what the history of that land was, the economy, how and why it was formed, etc. They simply exist and can be readily discarded as a location a group of heroes visit, only given more detail if the protagonists stay upon those lands for a large part or majority of the story. The exotic land may not be the entire land, but simply a settlement or even a city. The same could be said of the "Agricultural Colony", that exist as an exotic, foreign land IN SPACE!

Cheap land to settle and colonize in an age of interplanetary, let alone interstellar, is something as distant into the far future as Tele-Transporters, Warp Drives, and Nano-Machine Androids. Just not within our collective lifetimes.

- Sabersonic
Gmail Address

Bryan said...

There is another model of colonization you failed to mention - forced re-location. Worked for Australia, and to a lesser extent in other regions of the world. Expanding population pressures, or a desire to establish off-world colonies to ensure a countries continuance, could conceivably lead to some form of forced colonisation.

Given the prohibitive cost of space travel (now & for the foreseeable future) I find it unlikely that there would be any return of those kinds of colonists; or for that matter, the colonists in the scenarios you paint.

Anonymous said...

The Grand Banks attracted European fishing boats before Newfoundland attracted European colonists. Antarctica is no worse than Fort MacMurray in the winter: Workers would flock to that continent if we ever discovered viable oil reserves there. If you want to know where people are willing to live, just follow the money (Money draining out of the region is the root cause of people draining out of North America's Empty Quarter).

There are almost certainly large-scale 'deposits' of valuable ore in the asteroids. But is it worth sending up a thousand mining drones, a machine shop, five technicians, and their life support? Are the ore deposits in orbits that don't need too much fuel to get to? Is boron mined under these conditions competitive with boron mined in Turkey?

There's lots of energy available in space, and we seem to be slowly approaching the point where space collectors will be competitive with ground-based collectors. But there aren't a lot of moving parts on solar collectors, so technicians will be thin 'on the ground'.

The plausible mid-future looks more and more like human space as a series of automated mining platforms and research bases, visited by rotating crews of technicians and scientists. The closest thing to colonists are the crews working the cyclers, but even they work on 2-3 year contracts before going home to Earth.

It's very much like the ocean. People work there, they pass through it, but no one really lives there even if they love it.

Ian_M

Carla said...

I like Ian_M's ocean analogy. I suppose, if there turn out to be planets that (a) are sufficiently earth-like for humans to survive on, (b) aren't already occupied, and (c) are within achievable travelling times and distances (for whatever value of achievable applies at the time) they might act as something sort of analogous to Pitcairn Island.

Citizen Joe said...

That model is more of the slave colony model. Although probably more of a commune rather than slavery. The point is that the workers aren't doing it for pay. In fact, on a colony, money (Earth money) has no real meaning. You can't eat it, and it has a really crappy Isp. So everyone has to do the best they can or everyone dies. That means the colony works to be self sufficient so that it can continue to survive. That does not explain the willingness to put up the initial expenditures to found the colony.

Initial funding could be part of a research or political fund. But without some sort of financial gain coming back, there's no reason for corporate investment. Corporate involvement could come from government contracts to maintain communication networks or repair facilities. Ultimately there needs to be some sort of financial return.

I personally like the idea of Helium-3 as the new gold. Assuming the development of He-3 Fusion, particularly the He3-He3 fusion model which throws protons for direct energy conversion rather than neutrons like other forms of fusion. The idea would be that Terrans don't want to pollute the only habitable world known, but still have an insatiable need for power. Thus the development of clean fusion. While there are meager amounts of He3 on Earth and some is available on the moon, He-3 is also the decay product of Tritium (which can be used as a nuclear battery). That decay is mildly radio active, but the production of of Tritium from Deuterium is a fairly radioactive intense process. If you can handle those processes in space, and then ship back the pure He3, that gives a rationale for exploration and continued existence of colonies in space.

Anonymous said...

One thing no one has mentioned yet is political coloniests...those people willing to spend their life savings to travel to the most remote regions to get away from what they consider an intolerable government, or to wait out the end of the world; I don't see why , at some point in the near future, that those groups don't go off-planet to set up their colonies.

Another scenario; a long term scietific or industreal outpost atracts some would-be entrenprineer to set up shop to supply the outpost with some 'luxery' goods or services with the plan to make him rich and then return home...only he doesn't and he (and his family), are forced to remain permanantely. Others, hearing about this guy, decide to try to succeed where the first one failed...the impromptue colony grows in fits and starts until, quiet by accident, you have a real city-state that no one planned, it just grew. Of course, then someone feels the need to have to figure out what to do about them...

Ferrell

Rick said...

I am very partial to the ocean analogy. People have gone to sea for thousands of years; it has been central to a lot of cultures, but no one lives there.

Think of Earth as an island, and in the sea around it are only tidal outcroppings like Rockall or coral structures like the Great Barrier Reef. There's every reason to explore these places, and perhaps exploit them economically, but they are not much suited for habitation.


Bryan - Welcome to the comment boards! Forced colonization is sort of the counterpoint to what Ferrell raised, 'Pilgrim' colonization. Both are politically motivated.

But both of these require relatively cheap land, again in the sense of productive habitat, even if not appealing land. The point of penal 'transportation' is that it is cheaper to dump your petty criminals out of sight and out of mind than to keep them in jail. (And less upsetting to Englightenment sensibilities than hanging them all.)

The problem for colonization by dissidents is that, for at least the midfuture, only very wealthy groups could afford it, and the very wealthy are rarely dissidents. :-)

The Pilgrims were a very typical dissident group in being predominantly middle class. For story purposes, in settings where you have FTL and habitable planets, these are the sorts of people who could plausibly charter a transport starship and head off to some newly surveyed planet.

This gets back to the meta point. There are a lot of things that work fine as SF literary tropes, but you really have to make a couple of magical assumptions, like FTL, to use them.

Within the constraints of hard SF, though, you probably should find other workarounds.

Anonymous said...

I tried to plot out a plausible scenario where a small group of ideologically-motivated colonists set up shop in the Jupiter or Saturn moon systems. It just doesn't work. Any launch-cost and travel-time scenario that favoured the colonists also made it easy for larger or better funded groups to get there first.

The closest I came up with was a five-years to Saturn travel-time with Saturnian resources just sufficient to support the colony but not enough to attract megacorp or government attention. But then any reasonable life-support scenario I came up with had the colony dying out in less than a decade.

Ideological colonies will probably follow economic colonies. First the real estate will be developed, then the religious/social loons will move in. The Puritan Great Migration came after King James dumped cash into the Massachusetts colony to build up the economy.

Ian_M

Roadtripper said...

I find the 'trading post' analogy interesting, because it raises the question of who (or what) they'll be trading with.

Z said...

Nice work, as always, and I think most of the points hold water. That being said, I still think there is room for some good old fashioned colonization- if only sometimes, and just barely.

You make a good point that colonization has at least in part been driven by cheap land, and land= habitat. My major addendum would be that habitat is a sliding scale- Las Vegas or Anchorage are not in climates that one would dare call human habitat compared to say, Costa Rica, but the technology of the day- air conditioning, for instance- ended up moving the habitat line, and suddenly the middle of Nevada or Alaska looked very cheap. Io or Ceres might be forever condemned to be a "rock," but someplace like Mars- where plants will grow in the dirt and the air (if pumped up to 0.7psi) and the natural lighting, with a decent probability of tappable aquifers, and gravity sufficient to prevent bone loss, it starts to look more like "land"-equatorial Mars might make for better farmland than quite a few chunks of Earth. Given that indoor and "vertical" agriculture with what amounts to nearly-closed loops are already starting to look cost-effective and environmentally friendly in the present era, and solar panels and nukes are urgently needed to take up the load on Earth, it may be that every city on Earth is packed with off-the-shelf technology that doesn't look much different from a space colony.

I think the legal realities involved also mess with some of the Antarctica analogies. Antarctica is a scientific and tourism enclave by law, not just convenience- mineral exploitation is off limits till treaty review in 2048. Other planets might fall into similar legal zones, but space is big...

The transit times and costs might also open a window for colonies. In Antarctica, the logical window to stay is one season, with Australia and the rest of the world a couple days transit away. If a Martian government/corporation/whatever is sending people onboard a low cost cycler, the trip is six months and the local stay is launch window to launch window, or 18 months, and the trip isn't cheap and the trips will be coed- I find it wholly conceivable that a couple that was of the "right stuff" to volunteer to go might look at those intervals, or a couple of them, as time worth starting a family in, and with a chronic labor shortage meaning high wages, it might not seem so bad to stay. 11 kids have been born in Antarctica, and there are a couple schools so people can bring their kids with them...

Anonymous said...

"I personally like the idea of Helium-3 as the new gold. Assuming the development of He-3 Fusion, particularly the He3-He3 fusion model which throws protons for direct energy conversion rather than neutrons like other forms of fusion." - Citizen Joe

I don't remember who it is that said it, but with the increasing need of Helium-3 for fusion reactors to provide energy for both Earth cities, cyclers, and interplanetary craft, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus would become the solar system's "Persian Gulf" since their He-3 content within their atmosphere in addition to lower gravity field from the "cloud tops" are less enough to allow more economic launch of said payload. Jupiter, not really sure if it's own atmosphere has any economically viable supply of the fusion gas, may be ill suited to be a source of said reactor fuel to justify rocket drives powerful enough and with a high enough DeltaV to launch from Jupiter's own cloud tops. It would probably be forever occupied with automated floating refineries and sky hooks, though that would potentially also be true for the Solar Persian Gulf.

Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, the sea analogy in the colonization and settlement categories does have some truths in that people have for countless generations have used it to travel to other habitable lands and provides a basis for economy but rarely have they ever tried to settle the oceans (despite some stories advocating the colonization and settlement of the ocean floor in addition to ocean going cities).

- Sabersonic
Gmail Address

Citizen Joe said...

I've found that Jupiter's radiation belt and wind speeds make it unsuitable for direct harvest. However, that same radiation belt (and corresponding magnetic fields) could be used for 1) power 2) transportation and 3) spallation of useful elements into needed isotopes. The last one is an interesting prospect from the mineral spewing volcanic Io. I don't actually recommend colonizing Io, but rather maintaining essentially ion farms within the radiation belt. The other moons are suitable for exploration, but Callisto (the outermost Galilean Moon) is protected from the solar winds by Jupiter's magnetosphere while being far enough away to reduce the radiation exposure. So, if I were to set up a Jupiter base/colony it would be there. That base would hold vast subsurface tanks of water for aquacultures and a whole biosystem. Waste heat from the reactors would be used to keep the tanks temperature regulated and the whole environment could be expanded in a modular manner depending on the waste heat requirements.

Citizen Joe said...

Fun fact: It takes two weeks to get receive the same radiation dose on Callisto that you receive on Earth every day. Moving in to Ganymede (the next closest moon) you would get week's dose of radiation in one day.

Rick said...

Z - Regarding cities in bad climates, one remarkable fact is that the human 'range' has not essentially changed since prehistoric times. The Paiute lived where Vegas is, the Inuit (or other indigenous peoples) where Anchorage is. We have settled a couple of flyspeck islands the Polynesians missed, but that is about it.

Colonization of Antarctica is barred by treaty, but the treaty was only possible because, as late as 1960, it had too little strategic or economic value to be worth quarreling over.

We are not yet at a techlevel where we can exploit Antarctica as 'land,' or a fortiori Mars.

This is not to say that we wouldn't be able to farm on Mars. Presumably if you dome an area over and pump it full of breathable mix, you can grow plants there, choosing upper latitude varieties accustomed to weaker solar flux.

But you'll have to build and maintain the pressure dome, airlocks, etc., and you will probably have to 'terraform' the soil, building up from lichen or whatever, because Martian soil is (presumably) totally non fertile.

Barring a tech revolution comparable to the Industrial Revolution itself, it would be really tough for this to compete with farmland on Earth.

Growing crops for a Mars base is another matter - all that has to do is beat the shipping cost, and a $100 hamburger is lots cheaper than a $1000 burger.

But since you brought up Vegas, the interesting thing about Las Vegas is that by the traditional logic of city locations it should just be a railroad yard and a couple of offramps on I-15.

Vegas was made by legalized gambling and cheap transportation. It must have crossed some critical threshold of self sustainment, though, because legalized gambling is now widespread in the US, but Vegas still thrives as Disneyland for adults.

Extanding this further, Los Angeles also should not be a major world city by traditional logic. San Francisco does*, but LA has no natural harbor and does not serve an extensive fertile hinterland. What it has is a good climate and a gift for self promotion.

In short, the traditional 'game rules' for what places become major cities broke down in the 20th century.

So once again, maybe we (i.e. I) have been misled by the agrarian analogy. It is hard to figure out why, other things equal, anyone would go to Mars to be a farmer. A city on Mars might be more credible, and then the farmers will follow.

(But you still have a challenge if interplanetary tourist class tickets cost the equivalent of $1 million.)

Rick said...

Callisto is the new Ganymede.

If we have a Helium 3 fusion economy, there's no need to scour around for naturally occurring He3. Anywhere you have plenty of volatiles and no environmental worries will do. Run a tritium breeder reactor to brew up the He3 plus enough tritium to keep its own cycle going.

Citizen Joe said...

D-T reactors put out a lot more energy per input energy. But most of that energy is in neutrons. Which means nasty radiation problems. D-D fusion takes a little more energy and produces equal amounts of He3 and Tritium. The problem is that the D-T fusion that could occur since D-D takes more confinement/energy. You also get T-T reactions and the whole thing is a nasty mess. Which means radiation pollution.

The nice thing about He3-He3 reaction is that it is only one reactant so you don't get the side reactions. D-He3 is easier to do and produces much more energy, but the possibility of D-D reactions... and thus D-T and T-T reactions occurring within the chamber results in some radiation (although significantly less than straight up D-D). Thus the concept of sticking D-D breeder reactors in space and using magi-tech to separate out the T and He3 before they too react.

The idea here is that you don't look for more habitable space, you make your existing space more habitable by not polluting it. If habitable space is a fungible asset, then moving something that doesn't need the habitat out of that space is the equivalent of creating more space. So move your deadly reactor off world and you've created more living space.

Anyway, I ran the numbers a while back. I took some liberties to get the transit time to I think 6 years from Uranus to a Mars Cycler station. A refinery ship (with the D-D breeder reactors) would provide half the world's He3 needs every 6 months (delivered to the Mars Cycler). The reactors would have produced a similar amount of Tritium in the process. By the time the refinery reached the Cycler, about a quarter of the Tritium would have been converted to He3. The He3 is all immediately offloaded and shipped to Earth/Luna via the cycler. Some of the Tritium is maintained/used by the refinery ship's own D-T fusion thrusters. The rest is banked at the cycler depots for the Belters to use as nuclear batteries on their own ships. The Belters return with spent Tritium which is He3, in exchange for more Tritium. That He3 goes to Earth as well. My biggest problem was that, in order to produce the amount of He3 to service the world for half a year, the breeder reactors would be putting out enough power to service like a tenth of the Earth continuously during its operation. I think that number is off but not by that much... The point is that the breeder reactors (even WITH a lot of that energy being dumped into VASMIR drives) are producing too much energy. I think I needed to use isotopes of lithium in order to control the reaction and heat. It would be very nice to be able to beam that energy someplace useful... Anyway, that leads back to the ion farms at Jupiter to replenish the lithium.

Jean Remy said...

I think in this discussion, one reason for (forced) migration hasn't been explored: The man-made environmental disaster.

Whether intentional or accidental, there are places on this planet that were once inhabited, but are no longer, because of something we did. Bikini Atoll will remain uninhabitable for millenia due to the ridiculous levels of radiation. Three Mile Island was almost part of that list. Sevezo, Love Canal, Czernobyl are names that should be engraved into our collective consciousness, never to fade, lest the lessons be forgotten. If Santayana was right, and so far he hasn't been wrong, we will forget.

These areas have been evacuated and condemned. Czernobyl is a prime example of ghost town created not because a mining resource dried out or because of artificial colonization. Czernobyl (Black Earth) is the name for a very fertile type of soil. This was a region that had known human presence for thousands of years because of that very fertility. It is so fertile that the town is almost entirely covered by vegetation now, after a mere couple of decades.

A terrorist "dirty bomb", and accident at CDC, or even simply the overall cumulative effect of pollution on global climate change, man has the power to render what was once livable unlivable, what was once fertile, poisonous. On a regional, a national, a global scale.

We are not even the only source of planetary destruction. A certain crater in the Yucatan peninsula is a good indicator of the fragility of life on Earth. Global mass extinctions have happened in Earth's past.

Let's face it. Right now all our eggs are in one basket, and it's a pretty flimsy basket to boot. I don't think colonization of other worlds, in this solar system or in others, whether FTL is possible or not, is just a matter of economical expansion. It is, quite simply, a matter of survival for our species.

Brief aside: Rick said: "The problem for colonization by dissidents is that, for at least the midfuture, only very wealthy groups could afford it, and the very wealthy are rarely dissidents. :-)"

Case against point: the Libertarians. For some odd reason they are convinced that the best way to have free market is to isolate themselves from everyone else, and they come up with everything from floating cities to L5 colonies. So far none of them happened, but that doesn't mean they'll stop trying.

Z said...

Rick- I'm not arguing for Mars as some kind of agrarian paradise,(though Viking data suggests the gardened regolith is quite fertile, with good ratios of phosphorous and the like thanks to the lack of recent weathering-just needs nitrogen and pyrolytic carbon to make up for the lack of biomass,) just that in the spectrum of places where you could set up a life-sustaining system without magitek- where the oxygen doesn't have to be smelted or the landscape isn't flooded with liquid gases or your own shit is worth more than gold for its carbon and nitrogen content, where the airlock seals can be leaky and a water tank rupture means shovelling some snow and not a rescue mission- there are clearly some places that could sustain a permanent, relatively self-sustaining population, if for no other purpose than to furnish food and fuel for all those transient scientists and miners- space Sherpas, as it were.

I think the city first idea is right, and indeed, is probably a more accurate description of how the American West was settled- explorers, followed by miners, followed by tradesmen, followed by merchants, and finally farmers when they had people to feed and an infrastructure to obtain tools.

To play with the Antarctica analogy some more, I think the technology to live there does exist. The first polar stations that don't require refueling have been built, and Australia is itching to have its treaty stipulations relaxed. Why we don't see anyone eager to set up farms or refineries or the like is that transit is so much cheaper- and outposts on other planets won't be in the same boat. Australia isn't a two hour, $1,000 plane flight- its a million-dollar months long trip back to Earth. The economics may exist to ship people in (provided they stay long enough to work off their passage) and ship (insert important metal) out, but any food, fuel, shelter, power source, or other sundries that can be made locally, will, and that we eventually mean people dedicated to making those things long term, and they'll have kids, and those kids will need teachers.

Hell, if this is a fusion economy, everyone is rooting for finding helium-3, but deuterium is just as important, and if you have a colony that is already doing a ton of electrolysis for life support on a body with higher deuterium abundance thanks to atmosphere loss (Mars has six time the deuterium prevalence) I could see that each colonist might in fact be furnished with a stipend for necessities (or maybe really low taxes) simply because their life support is making an exportable product as a byproduct.

Earth as east coast, Mars as St. Louis, everywhere else as, well, everywhere else?

Citizen Joe said...

If a space elevator could be created at Mars, then exporting off the surface could be viable. However, one of my key assumptions is that lifting out of a gravity well from a stop will always be very hard. So hard in fact that I'm recommending moving stuff from Uranus moons rather than Mars. However, Mars does present one of the best options for food production. I would suggest terraforming using some sort of mirrors to melt the CO2 ice caps, then chuck ammonia ice at it from Titan in order to beef up the nitrogen content. Water ice could be brought in as well, particular since it is the waste product from deuterium sifting.

It is also theorized the depleted water (water without any deuterium) can help reverse radiation damage. So, after sifting through thousands of gallons of water to get the one gallon of heavy water (D2O), that leaves a whole lot of perfectly good and highly distilled H2O. I'm thinking medical facilities at Callisto to treat radiation exposure.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think colonization of other worlds, in this solar system or in others, whether FTL is possible or not, is just a matter of economical expansion. It is, quite simply, a matter of survival for our species." - Jean Remy

I have heard of such an argument for the human species to be at least a two-planet species on several documentaries and may even become the primary, if not a chief motivator, for extraterrestrial and/or orbital colonization.

The problem, however, is that so few individuals occupying seats of power see that need of survival rather then to maintain the status quo of a single-planet civilization (and no, I ain't talking about US Republican or GOP). Even the current debate on Global Climate Change (aka Global Warming) is heavily debated and there has been no universal agreement to the existence of the problem, let alone ways to correct or at least slow the progress.

It would appear that the only way the "survival" aspect of colonization would even be a chief, let alone primary, motivator for the exploration and colonization of the solar system would be if an extraterrestrial threat in the form of an uncomfortably close impact of either a comet or asteroid that has the potential to cause an ELE event, among other threats, occurred. That should (in theory) should motivate certain individuals in power to fund off-world colonization in addition to perhaps an orbital guard supported and funded internationally.

And speaking of colonization, the age old story of an off-world colony declaring independence being a stable of interplanetary romance SF stories may end up being a necessity since the primary motive in such a world was survival of the species as a whole. A colony would have to be self-sufficient politically in case something does happen Earth-side.

- Sabersonic
Gmail Address

Citizen Joe said...

So if Apophis hits the gravitational keyhole which assures that it will return and strike Earth like 13 years later, that would be motivation enough to make colonies. Of course, that isn't NEARLY enough time...

CitySide said...

There at least one historical colonization model that I think may provide some interesting parallels, even from a rocketpunk standpoint - the Caribbean sugar islands of the 17th & 18th centuries.

They were "agricultural" colonies, but the agriculture was, particularly in the case of the lesser Antilles, almost entirely devoted to production of a commodity for export. The islands' worker populations (which, early on, were a mix of indentured and enslaved) were fed largely on imported foodstuffs (the port of Baltimore, for instance, first boomed by shipping Maryland grain to Barbados). Granted, the sugar islands didn't require more basic life support. But yellow fever and malaria didn't make them overly hospitable, either. And the death rate meant that workers, for all practical purposes, were cycled through for relatively short (albeit one-way) tours.

Sub h-3 for sugar and it starts sounding like a plausible model. Although worker populations will doubtless be much lower.

Militarily, it starts sounding somewhat familiar, too. During the 18th century, attack/defense of the islands were essentially a naval matter, with the general idea of grabbing what you could when you could for use later as bargaining chips.

Also, like the belt, there were enough individual chunks of real estate that even the smaller players (the Dutch, Danes, Swedes and even the Brandenburgers) could get in on the game.

The British Raj in India's not a particularly useful model for Rocketpunk, btw, since it presupposes an advanced, preexisting civilization (although it can be fun in an FTL environment - Uller Uprising, anyone?)

Citizen Joe said...

So, let's see if I can work up a summary of motivations:

Habitat as a fungible asset:
1. Any factory/production work done off world frees up the habitat that would have otherwise been occupied by a factory.
2. Any habitat damaging activity done off world likewise makes a habitat more habitable.
3. Any people shipped off world makes room for more people in the habitat.

Space as a resource:
1. He3 is the new gold.
2. High density metals have fallen to Earth's core. Those that we do find have been deposited by meteorites. Mining asteroids provides higher yield.
3. Solar energy is plentiful in space (to a certain distance).
4. Plenty of volatiles available in space (just not terribly close to Earth).

Gravity is your friend:
1. People need some gravity for their own health.
2. Gravity assist can help with transporting non-perishable goods.

Gravity is your enemy:
1. Lifting off from Earth is a very energy expensive prospect.
2. If at all possible, do all your harvesting/mining/transport from low gravity sources to minimize lift costs.
3. In some places, lift cost can be alleviated with space elevators.

Radiation is your enemy:
1. Atmospheres provide a lot of radiation shielding.
2. Magnetic fields provide a lot of radiations shielding (but can also harbor radiation).
3. Depleted water helps alleviate radiation sickness (theoretically).

Nyrath said...

For an SF author to plausibly create space colonization, I coined the term "MacGuffinite" (ref MacGuffin). This is some incredibly valuable resource [a] not found on Earth, only in Space and [b] cannot be synthesized. In Larry Niven's belter stories, magnetic monopoles were the MacGuffinite.

MacGuffinite gives an economic motive to colonize space. Alas, in reality, there does not appear to be any such thing.

Suggestions of valuable items: something that prolongs life-span, something that allows one to eat like a pig but not gain weight (the ultimate diet pill), something that cures male-pattern baldness

Jean Remy said...

There is real life McGuffinium out in space. He-3, Iridium, other heavy elements rare on Earth but common in asteroids or gas giants. However, in a good old Catch-22, I don't think we'll actually need He-3 unless we have a strong space presence where fusion-powered ships are relatively common. Basically we will need to get He-3 to support the infrastructure to get He-3.

Other types of McGuffinium could be biological in nature: asteroids and comets might hold amino-acids of types and "turn" that aren't present on Earth. Liquid water on Jupiter's moons could shelter chemosynthesis-based life. We've found such on Earth not only around the vents, but now around chemical "lakes". In fact we've pretty much established that anywhere there is water on Earth, there is life.

But beyond McGuffinium, there is one reason we go, and will go to space in the future. It is the same reason we've sent explorers around the globe: we want to know. We are, in fact, driven to know, to understand, to analyze, to explore.

Right now robotic probes are the best we can do. Eventually we will decide it's not enough. Those probes will never return. They cannot bring back any samples, they can only transmit data garnered from what instrumentation we though of sending up. Science is really one of the few things that cannot be automatized. Science requires too much human input, too much of what he call intuition. It demands leaps of logic. It demands subtly altering experiments and parameters on the fly, demands new ideas and new experiments as the results come in.

Communication delays between here and Mars make robotic exploration hazardous. Already we have to load those robots with very good quasi-AIs to handle the second-to-second decision because it takes the better part of an hour to receive data and transmit a response. Having a base on Mars would allow for far greater flexibility.

So one could argue that science and research *is* the McGuffinium, in it purest form. That the McGuffinium is not a thing, but a concept, an idea. We don't even know what that is until we go there. And here's the other Catch-22: we don't know what the benefits of colonizing space will be until we colonize space.

CitySide said...

"Basically we will need to get He-3 to support the infrastructure to get He-3."

Not exactly without precedent. Consider coal mining's catalytic role in the development of the steam engine.

M. D. Van Norman said...

“Case against point: the Libertarians. For some odd reason they are convinced that the best way to have free market is to isolate themselves from everyone else.…” –Jean Remy

Not exactly. Libertarians don’t want to isolate themselves at all, but the authoritarian governance that they oppose already controls the entire world. Therefore, the only practical alternatives are political revolution or the opening of new frontiers.

Both options are difficult with no certainty of success.

Rick said...

I love the comments on this blog, even when they make my head explode.

Very intriguing observations about the Caribbean sugar plantation economy from CitySide. It is probably a coincidence that this is just the milieu that gave us the yo ho ho image of piracy, but an interesting coincidence.

I agree with Jean that Macguffinite is not needed for space travel, even a form of colonization. There is an assumption, especially in 'Murrican SF, that a robust space future depends on 'monetizing' space in some way - usually by mining/growing Macguffinite and shipping it to Earth, where eager masses line up to pay for it.

But this is not the only viable model. Space exploration is popular, and commands significant public support. Not huge support, but it has kept us making steady progress, and barring catastrophe will probably continue to.

Moneymaking opportunities will surely arise, but may be incidental and after the fact. This is how it has been so far; satellites are a big industry but a passive one. 'New space' has scored one big achievement with SpaceShipOne, but we don't know yet whether the economic model will pan out.

On space and human survival, it left it out of the original discussion because of the time scale. I think we're very far from the techlevel that would allow space colonies to survive and thrive if Earth were wrecked.

The paradox of libertarian space colonization points out a broader complication for anyone seeking to colonize space to get away from troublesome neighbors or the authorities - they can be remote, but they can't really be hidden. Anyone who wants to follow, perhaps with hostile intent, can do so.

Historically the alternative is somply going somewhere that the powers that be don't care. The Pilgrims didn't elude royal authority, they just went somewhere the crown was absolutely uninterested in. (When the crown finally got interested, some 150 years later, it turned into an, um, royal mess.)

Citizen Joe said...

Fossil fuels will not last forever, and using them kills the environment even faster. While fission power is relatively easy, it is also polluting. That makes the MacGuffinite cheap non-polluting power, which is to say He3 fusion. While He3 can be fabricated from Deuterium, that process produces radiation (not on the same level as fission, but it does none the less). That defeats the purpose of the MacGuffinite.

Jean Remy said...

"Anyone who wants to follow, perhaps with hostile intent, can do so."

"Historically the alternative is somply going somewhere that the powers that be don't care."

However, space being an expensive proposition, it would be possible to remove yourself from most authority with a colony on L5. To engage in a pursuit, the returns would have to be at the very least equal to the investment. Unfortunately, attacking a fragile tin bubble in a radiation-blasted vacuum is unlikely to result in a positive balance. It' likely that if such a colony were created, no one would bother them for the next 150 years.

And when they do, it might be a royal mess, since they've had 150 years of experience dealing with the environment on a daily basis.

Rick said...

Fusion isn't the only alternative to fossil fuels. Plain old solar power, biofuels, etc., are getting close to the competitive price point.

To engage in a pursuit, the returns would have to be at the very least equal to the investment.

Retreating to L5 space is no protection against an authority willing to launch a kinetic strike. Though the political price might be higher than the cost of the strike.

But that just points out that there's no escaping politics. Your protection isn't remoteness, it is the political cost of using deadly force. (And that cost, of course, may not be high enough, as witness the existence of war.)

Jim Baerg said...

Citizen Joe said: "While fission power is relatively easy, it is also polluting. That makes the MacGuffinite cheap non-polluting power, which is to say He3 fusion."

Fission produces some dangerous materials, but masses involved are very small & they all stay nicely inside the fuel rods. Calling fission polluting is essentially a 'big lie' promoted by those ideologically opposed to nuclear or financially invested in other power sources, & repeated by people who haven't really studied the issue.

The advantages of fission mean I don't believe in energy from space (either beamed of fusion fuel) as the McGuffin that will kick start space development.

Jean Remy said: "However, space being an expensive proposition, it would be possible to remove yourself from most authority with a colony on L5."

& if you can make such a colony it is easy to move the colony to anywhere you wish in the solar system, so you are even farther from authority.

Jean Remy said...

"Calling fission polluting is essentially a 'big lie' promoted by those ideologically opposed to nuclear or financially invested in other power sources, & repeated by people who haven't really studied the issue."

Quite correct. France, perhaps the one country that has entirely embraced nuclear power, has actually noted a *reduction* in CO and CO2 gases and other pollution indices since going the nuclear route. As of right now 80% of its electric grid is powered by some 25 nuclear generation centers.

Anonymous said...

Of course fission is a polluting process. It produces waste that needs to be dealt with. There is no 'lie' about the process, big or otherwise.

The waste is comparatively trivial to deal with, but that doesn't mean fission is non-polluting.

Ian_M

Jean Remy said...

It is non-polluting.

There is a difference between waste and pollution. In a nuclear reactor the waste material is contained and can be carefully disposed of. Waste is not pollution until it is released in the atmosphere or ground water.

Anonymous said...

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

;)

Ian_M

Citizen Joe said...

Let me rephrase to Fission power process yields effects deleterious to the environment. Fission throws gamma rays, which can be quite deadly. The fuel continues to throw gamma rays long after its useful life.

Fusion power throws neutrons, which could cause gamma bursts on impact, but the neutrons stop when the reactor stops. Also the fuel isn't radioactive (well not AS radioactive). Tritium throws electrons which can be a problem but it is easily stopped by aluminum.

Rick said...

The problem with nuclear power is that it depends on rare and nonrenewable stuff. At least it doesn't mostly come from the Middle East - but there's a good case that the Middle East's big problem is oil, rather than the other way around.

In theory you can run breeders, but that is very problematic, because (IIRC) it inherently involves producing bomb grade stuff.

Nuke power will be part of our transition out of oil, but it can only be transitional itself in a slightly longer term.

Citizen Joe said...

Hulu's got a series playing now called Expedition Week. One of them is about the Moon. There's a theory that when the moon was young (and closer to Earth) the heavy hot radioactive stuff migrated to the Earth side of the moon. This caused volcanic activity which caused the black spots on the Earth side of the moon.

Anyway, my point is that Uranium (which is the heaviest natural element) tends to fall deep into the gravity well, i.e. to the center of the Earth. The Uranium that we do find, has come from meteorite impacts over the millenia. So, barring cracking open the Earth, fissile materials are going to be more readily available in space.

Anonymous said...

As far as I understand it, uranium is concentrated in the mantle due to chemical processes. It may just be a stray false-memory though, since I can't find anything to confirm or refute that thought (You have failed me for the last time, Wikipedia...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuK-aLSZtNo)

Ian_M

Anonymous said...

Found a reference. It's concentrated in the continental crust, not the mantle.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf78.html

Ian_M

KevinC said...

Jean Remy said:

Right now robotic probes are the best we can do. Eventually we will decide it's not enough.

I disagree. The cost advantage of sending robots instead of meatbag astronauts is so overwhelming that we're doing it even when the robots are as dumb as a sack of hammers. Barring some catastrophe, robots will continue to get smaller, more dexterous, and smarter. Astronauts (apart from genetic engineering or cyborg-ization) will remain at the same level of capability--that is, the level of capability that has already been replaced by machines for all actual space exploration.*

In order to send a human anywhere, not only do you have to ship a couple hundred pounds of fragile meat, you also have to send an "Earth Simulator"--supplies of air, water, and food, protection from radiation, and gravity. That's all very heavy, and that weight turns the Rocket Equation into a mission-killer.

Space is a robot's natural habitat. Stick some solar panels on it and/or give it a plutonium power source, and it can operate for years without any additional inputs of "life support." It doesn't get bored or stir-crazy on a multi-year journey.

Any realistic time-frame for human colonization is going to be a long one, probably in the hundreds of years. Given that we're currently facing an economic meltdown, plus climate change and Peak Oil, it will probably be decades before any government or coalition of governments will have the surplus revenues to seriously contemplate space colonization by humans.

In that time, progress in computing and robotics technology will tilt the balance even more in favor of robots.

Scenario: Imagine that someone develops "Robot Ants." Robot Ants are small robots (let's say kitten-sized, but they could conceivably be smaller) that are about as smart as biological ants, or maybe a little smarter. A "starter-colony" of Robot Ants includes a "Queen" (a stationary miniaturized "fab" unit that can make new Robot Ants if provided with the raw materials) and a handful of Ants.

This is launched to a "nearby" asteroid or maybe Mars, where other probes have detected the availability of the minerals the Queen needs to make new Robot Ants. The workers mine and refine the minerals and feed them to the Queen, who makes more workers.

Once the colony has built up enough resources and enough Ants, it can start making new Queens and launching them to new locations, and sending materials shipments to Earth.

Robot Ants could also be used to build human habitats, but by the time that point is reached, humans will probably be satisfying their jones for "living in space" in advanced, full-sensory versions of Spore and Halo. Since real space colonization offers only barren rocks, cramped quarters, and high risk (not to mention high cost), it will be at a disadvantage in competition with "fully real" virtual worlds where "explorers" can meet (or become) aliens, explore ruins, life-filled planets, and so on. The cost of an Xbox 5000 or a PS12 Virtual Reality setup will also be a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of a trip to some tin-can habitat in space or on Mars.

I think that if anybody ever colonizes space, it'll be our machine-children. Maybe gengineered/cyborg posthumans adapted for space, as opposed to building habitats that attempt to adapt space for humans.


*I'm not counting Space Station kabuki as "space exploration," since it doesn't involve any "going where no one has gone before."

Jean Remy said...

I disagree that "space simulation" will satisfy our needs. After all we would be keenly aware these are created worlds, so they fail to satisfy the primary reasons we're doing space exploration in the first place: learning something new and going someplace no one has gone to. That is one of my objections to the Rapture of the Nerds that has been discussed here before. Anyone really jonesing for "adventure" isn't going to be satisfied with a mere "game".

It is possible that too few people will feel that drive for the unknown to sustain the effort, but I don't think so. I believe we know from all standpoints that space exploration is a necessity and a given. I would argue that even while in a recession and global instability, we have not abandoned space. The reasons are many. Commercially: we've seen the benefits already, and potential future benefits are being examined constantly. Scientifically: without question. Philosophically: how can we not? Religiously: to understand creation, should you not see all there is to see? Morally: we cannot let the sacrifice of all who already died be in vain. Politically: it is still a visible proof of military power and political relevance, as well as a source of jobs (*cough* pork barrels *cough*)

Whatever drives us in the future, be it money, ideology, religion or politics, space is relevant in each and every case.

" *I'm not counting Space Station kabuki as "space exploration," since it doesn't involve any "going where no one has gone before." "

I object to that observation in the strongest terms, and I think it is one of the great fallacies of the way the public sees space nowadays, as if it was a common occurrence. Sure, people have been there before. All 500 of them. Five. Hundred. I have never lived in a town with that few people in it. (If you are wondering, I have lived in a total of a dozen towns and cities on two continents.) How does that not count? After all, most destinations visited by the NCC 1701 Enterprise seem to be inhabited, and a lot of them by humans. Where no one has gone before really means: where few people have gone before, and they all had balls big enough it makes walking difficult. Including the women. LEO is not really a tourist destination. I don't think in the matter of space exploration that distance from Earth really counts as much as being outside the atmosphere in the first place. First, because that's the expensive part. Space travel is dirt cheap once you're in space: deploy a foil sail and you're off. Second, because that's the dangerous part: the fuels and forces involved make any rocket a giant bomb. I have the utmost respect for anyone willing to "sit on top of a giant bomb built by the lowest bidder" (as described by an astronaut during a lecture I attended.) Not only that, but whether in LEO, on the Moon, or on the way to Mars, a hole in your ship will ruin your day because of the lack of atmosphere. Did Cristobal Colon's expedition not count? After all the Vikings had already been there. The same can be said of Amerigo Vespucci, Cook, Magellan, Vasco De Gamma, Marco Polo... none of them really went where no one had gone before. It still took a large amount of guts to do it. People with the "Right Stuff" have always been around, and will continue to be around, at least they had better be if we want our species to get anywhere.

Jean Remy said...

I had to split my post because I had a lot to say.

On the subject of Von Neumann machines (or Robot Ants)

There is this impression that, because we have grown so efficient at mass production, that it is an easy thing to send one or two robots somewhere and to somehow create an entire microcosm of our industrial capabilities. We forget that the development of our industrial capability has been a 200 year incremental process. The problem here is that the Laws of Thermodynamics themselves (see: entropy) is going to do its damnedest to make it impossible. We forget that mining and smelting materials from scratch is a complex task, especially if you start with no infrastructure.

The robot ants will require, at the very least: silica, for insulation in computer chips, copper, for wires, some form of lightweight non-conductive material. You can't use plastics because without petrochemistry you can't have plastics. You will also need some kind of lightweight metal casing. Aluminum is *very* hard to extract from bauxite, and takes ridiculous amounts of electrical power. It is one of the very last metals we've been able to extract and process because of that. Titanium? Hard to work with, won't take solder. For that matter, solder, a soft metal like tin or lead, or an alloy of copper and zinc. Stronger metals, like steel, for tools, will also be needed. That will require iron and carbon. Of course, power generation: unless the Queen Ant has some serious reactor, you'll need to find your own. That doesn't even get into the power source for the ants. Nickel-cadmium batteries? Need nickel and cadmium. Solar panels? Still need silicas and metals. Oh you will need acids and solvents. You will also need lubricants, coolants, refractory materials, fuel and oxidizers.

Silica, copper, tin, iron, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen. At the very least. Aluminum, titanium, nickel, non-metallic crystals, some plastic stand-in, ceramics. So we need here to find deposits for anywhere from 6 to 12 different kinds of minerals and chemicals. Good luck finding an initial spot that has it all. They have to be extracted. The minerals will require high power drills able to tear through bedrock. Those minerals have to be refined from ore, have to be smelted into stock, which will require furnaces able to reach thousands of degrees. Wire has to be extruded, plates have to be stamped and machined, complex chemical processes have to be implemented to create the more esoteric materials.

On Earth a single factory building, say, a small car, receives parts from other factories. The part factories receive raw stock from smelters. Smelters receive raw ores from mines. By the time you've traced back every single element in that car, you've been around the world three times. Industrial capacity is hard to reduce because of the extreme levels of interdependence.

Then you have the whole problem of entropy trying to kill the Robot Ant Queen the second she lands, in fact has been killing her since she took off from Earth. The stresses on that machine *will* cause it to break down. Self repairing? Well you still need to extract, smelt and process the materials needed for the repairs, which cause stress on the machine, and we're right back to where we're started.

I am not even going to talk about nanomachines somehow managing that feat while maintaining a microscopic (or rather nanoscopic) size.

The reason man is *needed* in space is because only biological entities manage to fight entropy, for a short time. A beaver can repair his dam, and he has to keep doing so. Watch a video of Czernobyl, the city of, to see what happens to a city left with no human supervision. Sure, Pioneer probes have lasted a few decades in space, but they have few moving parts.

If we could use robots for everything, we would, and we use robots for most of it, but someone has to monitor the robots, maintain the robots, replace to robots. Face it, if we want to exploit space, we have to go there.

Anonymous said...

"I disagree that "space simulation" will satisfy our needs." "On the subject of Von Neumann machines (or Robot Ants)"
Jean, I have to agree with both of your posts; Games, on the contrary, tend to increase my desire to go to those strange worlds, not satisfy it. People tend to forget that our industreal base is 200 years deep; think about that!

Ferrell

M. D. Van Norman said...

Let me continue the oceanic analogy for a moment. While we haven’t colonized the ocean, some people do live on boats.

Of course, the whole idea of colonies in free space was to counter the planetary conceit. If we have to build our habitat, why start at the bottom of a gravity well?

Anonymous said...

Because we need gravity for our health. My gut-level suspicion, based on conversations with biochemists and biologists, is that Mars' .6g just isn't going to cut it for long-term human habitation. This could be completely wrong, we won't know until we try, but it does seem that we've evolved to take advantage of that constant downward force.

Spinning a habitat to 1g involves either a large habitat or a fast-spinning one. Either solution has its problems. In the Solar system, Earth is likely to be prime real estate for a long time to come.

Ian_M

Jean Remy said...

Instinctively I would say that anything between .75g and 1g should be acceptable, with .6g scoring a just-about-good enough. It should be enough of a downward force, though muscle mass might suffer in a long-term situation it's still a downward force. More than 1g could be a problem, but there really isn't any real estate in this solar system that goes above it.

Rick said...

Boy, do I have mixed views about this.

On the one hand, I am not convinced that space exploration is somehow less 'real' if it does not involve direct human presence.

Short of interstellar travel, humans will rarely go where robots have not gone first, and robots will go many places humans will not go at all, like the surface of Venus.

On the other hand, exploring or exploiting deep space involves light lag, and there are limits to how autonomous we can make spacecraft. At least, human-level AI is not a foreseeable tech, because so far we have hardly a clue how human intelligence works.

A lot depends on costs. If they remain comparable to current costs, human spaceflight will remain a rarity. Economies of scale can probably reduce costs tenfold - if the demand is there, not a given, because $1 million to reach LEO is still a lotta moolah.

Citizen Joe said...

I think that the issues have to do with the way our technology advances incrementally atop the previous existing tech. You can only go so far before a technique reaches its maximum, then it takes a wholly different technique to go beyond that. Just like propellers gave way to jets, rockets will need to give way to a technology that isn't out there. That doesn't mean we will get rid of rockets, we still have propellers after all. So until we develop the 'CD' of propulsion we'll have to keep making a stack of floppies to keep the program running.

Jean Remy said...

It's not that easy, unfortunately. We're pretty good with theory now, and honestly we're not seeing a lot of new engine types, not ones that make surface to orbit cheaper and faster. Not without transforming the departure site into a pool of molten radioactive slag, that is.

The Space Shuttle uses the most basic form of fuel and oxidizer (namely hydrogen and oxygen), its thruster bells are as close to ideally shaped to get the most efficient use of thrust, etc etc. Sure we can probably get better, use more composites, purer alloys, get fancy with materials science, but we can't get much fancier with engine theory and mathematics.

We are no longer hampered (as hampered) as previous eras in terms of extrapolation and experimentation. We are no longer at a point where the only proof of concept is a fully functioning vehicle. Now we can model a lot of things, simulate them in computers. We've refined our understanding of physics to sets of mathematical expressions which give us a pretty good (of course not nearly perfect) understanding of the upper limits of engineering concepts beyond what is actually doable now and to project into what would be possible in the future with radically new manufacturing techniques if we pushed the envelope of efficiency.

What I am trying to say is that we are no longer held back, speculatively speaking, by our engineering capabilities, but by the very laws of physics. Want it or not, there are hard upper limits to what can be done, even with theoretical engines that could get 99% efficiency even if we could build them. For example the speed of light. Oh so erroneously people will say: "well, we said we couldn't break the sound barrier." Well first no one ever said that. Second of all, it was a matter of engineering, not physics. The inviolability of the speed of light (in normal space, let's skip wormholes) is built into the very fabric of the universe. So are the Laws of Thermodynamics.

That is not to say we can't get better, or more efficient. This is simply to say rocketry has inviolable upper limits. Modern rockets are not the propellers of future space flight, at best they are the equivalent of the 707's turbojets v. the 777's turbofans: same principle, better engineering.

Citizen Joe said...

Come up with a way to compress time/space or manipulate gravity and rockets will become the propellers of space travel.

Our understanding of physics only encompasses a minuscule bubble of the universe. Rockets are still using a principle developed by Newton centuries ago.

Jean Remy said...

Compress time and manipulate gravity? what do you think this is, science fic--

Oh.

Citizen Joe said...

It isn't as far fetched as you make it out. Space is expanding faster than light and accelerating. We know this from our measurements of the size of the Universe and its age. The LHC is trying to find the Higgs Boson which would tie mass effects into the rest of the GUT involving subatomic effects of matter. Personally, I don't think they'll find it because I think that mass describes matter's relationship to space time rather than its relationship with each other. Gravity can be modeled as a manipulation of space-time, bending it so that thing move appropriately rather than some force. So Nature does manipulate space, we just haven't figured out how to do it ourselves.

Nature also knows how to produce a 'heat engine' which uses relatively low temperatures to generate tremendous forces. We call these hurricanes. Nature does a lot of neat things that we can only barely manage with our meager technologies.

Rick said...

Taken together, what these last points suggest is that there are pretty severe limits to extrapolative tech. And they may be severe enough that within those constraints, i.e. Realistic [TM] space drives, you can't really get the classic setting with colonization and All That.

For those things you have to go more speculative. For example, I've imagined a type of antigravity drive that, so far as I know, violates no laws of physics, though we haven't the faintest clue how to achieve it. The idea is a field that converts power into gravitational potential energy. In effect it pushes against the entire Earth.

So, so long as you feed in power, the gizmo and its field will drift upward. Cut off power input but maintain the field and it hovers (sinking gradually due to losses).

In effect it would be like an elevator car, but minus the beanstalk cable.

Jean Remy said...

I think we're drifting a bit far afield, but I've drawn up some speculative antigravity system myself, theorizing on the "field" of gravity, that is, as you postulate, the ability to manipulate the direction of the local gravity around an object. However I think more in terms of canceling it out, and needing some kind of reaction engine, albeit a pretty small one. Think Helium balloon writ large. I used to have fun tying trays to helium balloons and loading them with lead shot to balance them exactly. With no outside force they would hover in place. A minimal push would send it up.

This makes me think about Cavorite. The first Cavorite plate blew up through the lab roof. What would happen around and above an object that is manipulating gravity? Would the column of air above the ship still be subjected to Earth's gravity? At one point Cavor speculates that they got lucky and they could've blown the atmosphere off. Fun stuff.

Also, that would work only inside a reasonably strong gravity field. Inverse square law and all that, in "deep" space the effect would probably be weaker that what can be achieved with a reaction engine. I have no idea how to simulate mass. And if we could, do we want to be able to generate an earth-scale mass on Earth? Or even nearby? The moon's gravity is far less than that of Earth and it is 300,000 kms away, and it still affects tides. This could get ugly.

That said, gravity is the weaker of the forces and we've managed to break the other three...

I have a headache now.

Citizen Joe said...

Ooooh Speculative Fiction time!!

My gravity drives work around the idea that space is malleable and that mass both deforms space and drags space along with it. So the first order gravity drive grasps space and then redirects gravity to provide thrust in the desired direction. This works very much like a sail. Inefficient ships would not be able to make headway against the pull of gravity, but the optimized ships could point 'into the wind' and rise directly off the surface. Since gravity is your thrust mechanism, your acceleration would drop off with distance. There's also a gravitic shear effect when you cross the boundary between gravity sources.

The second order gravity drive involves warping space itself to make a gravity well that you fall into. In order for that to move the ship, the gravity well has to be anchored to space (otherwise the no-mass gravity well would just fall into the ship). Since you can only generate gravity wells so fast, that put an upper limit on the speed of your ship. It is like oars on a galley. If the ship is going faster than you can paddle, your oars are just going to slow you down.

CitySide said...

"Anywhere you have plenty of volatiles and no environmental worries will do. Run a tritium breeder reactor to brew up the He3 plus enough tritium to keep its own cycle going."

This is starting to sound more and more like the 18th century "sugar economy" Processing was a big chunk of the operation and cane tended to exhaust the land (one reason why the sugar production eventually shifted to larger islands like Jamaica, Cuba and Hispaniola)

Anonymous said...

Jean-"Also, that would work only inside a reasonably strong gravity field. Inverse square law and all that, in "deep" space the effect would probably be weaker that what can be achieved with a reaction engine. I have no idea how to simulate mass. And if we could, do we want to be able to generate an earth-scale mass on Earth? Or even nearby? The moon's gravity is far less than that of Earth and it is 300,000 kms away, and it still affects tides. This could get ugly."

Ok, if we're speculating...how about this: form a bubble of high density plasma and spin it (on all three axies), up to nearly the speed of light (use radosomes and/or pulsing electro-magnets, ect.), once you've got the bubble up to sufficent speed, you induce subtle 'ripples' into the bubble so as to 'throw off' gravity waves; the proper focus and aiming of these waves should allow a spacecraft to be propelled out of a gravity well; perhaps even beyond into deep space. This system would not only use a huge amount of energy, but also an enormous amount of computing power. As part of a large-scale transportation system, it might be commercially fesable, if the volume is great enough. You don't use supertankers to move a carton of milk halfway around the world, after all.

Ferrell

Rick said...

Extra point to Citizen Joe for making an analogy to rowing galleys!

Jean is correct that the drive I described would be ineffective in deep space; in fact I pictured the gravity drive as being primarily for shuttle type vehicles, not deep space craft.

Wasn't Bligh's voyage aboard Bounty a test for a plan to ship breadfruit from Pacific islands to feed slaves in the Caribbean sugar plantations? Some very strange economics must have been in play for anyone to even come up with that idea.

Jean Remy said...

And we all know how well that turned out.

Jim Baerg said...

Wasn't the idea behind the Bounty voyage to bring some seeds or live plants to the caribbean in order to *grow* breadfruit there?

Regarding historical analogies for colonization in space, the infrastructure needed to survive at all, suggests that the best historical analogies would be the draining of the dutch polders or the building of irrigation systems in desert areas.

The dutch example is more hopeful for the development of a society that would be pleasant to live in than is mesopotamia.

Jean Remy said...

However it would be 10 times worse than Mesopotamia. I don't think a system in such fragile balance as a self-contained habitat on Mars would be very tolerant of democratic systems. Such colonies will probably be very hierarchical in nature. If they are government-run, the military will be in charge. Imagine a constant state of martial law. Running with a screwdriver near the outer hull would be a criminal offense.

Of course since I imagine the earliest colonies would consist of well-disciplined scientists and not free-willing farmers and rock-rats, it would be less of an issue. I don't imagine they run with screwdrivers much around CDC, huh?

I think the irony is we see colonists as rogues, as wild anarchists rejecting the rule of law and establishing themselves away from it. The exact opposite will be true of extraterrestrial colonization. Those colonists will be the most disciplined people you can imagine.

That's really where the disconnect with the colonization of the new world and the conquest of the west will occur, not so much perhaps in the reasons and impetus (new resources still being the prime motive) but in the psychological makeup of said explorers.

Jim Baerg said...

"I don't think a system in such fragile balance as a self-contained habitat on Mars would be very tolerant of democratic systems."

Actually I don't think anything *other* than a democratic system would be tolerable. It is systems in which the bosses can not be criticized that get incidents like Chernobyl & Banqiao Dam

Jim Baerg said...

Try again to get the link right
Banqiao Dam

Jean Remy said...

The ability to "criticize the boss" is not unique to a democracy. In the army and navy, which can in NO way be considered democratic, all positions of authority are seconded by a slightly junior but experienced officer. His role is to point out flaws and errors in plans and orders and either cause a refinement or even change in those plans. A good CO will listen to his XO. You *can* disagree with the boss, but it still is far from a democratic system.

Anonymous said...

Jean- "The ability to "criticize the boss" is not unique to a democracy. In the army and navy, which can in NO way be considered democratic, all positions of authority are seconded by a slightly junior but experienced officer. His role is to point out flaws and errors in plans and orders and either cause a refinement or even change in those plans. A good CO will listen to his XO. You *can* disagree with the boss, but it still is far from a democratic system."

Yes, but only in private...public display of disagreement is, to say the least, frowned upon...and, when a problem is found, it takes time for that information to wind it's way up the chain of command; and by the time it does, it may be too late. Unlike some nation's militaries, America's Armed Forces aren't very comfotable with being in charge of civilian communities...mostly because they know that they aren't very good at it.

I would think that a colony would best be served by a cadre of civil servants, an elected group of locals as officials, and a mix of military and police to provide security and law-enforcement. A mix of disciplne and local 'home-rule' would go a long way toward keeping distructive social forces from exploding.

Ferrell

Citizen Joe said...

I suspect it would be more like a board of directors. The Board gets elected democratically based on shares. The Board then appoints operational personnel. Operations would be conducted largely as a Hierarchic structure, but they ultimately answer to the Board. The Board of Directors then answers to the shareholders.

The likely scenario is that every colonist has one share while investors have additional shares. In order to make sure that the colony doesn't become a prison, one of the bylaws probably states that at least 51% of the shares must be held by resident colonists.

So, the People would have a say, but it won't affect immediate operations. Likewise, an appointed official can reject an order and take the matter up with the Board of Directors. So you can't fall back on the "I was just following orders" excuse, but you can fall back on the "I was following protocol" excuse.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating topic.

Regarding exploration and science, sure, there'll be scientific expeditions. But sending a team of scientists out on a mission is not the same as establishing a long-term colony which develops its own culture, society, history, and economy.

Regarding He3 or other Macguffinium exploitation, unless we find something really radical, it's probably not worth it until/unless it is as cheap and straightforward as things on Earth. Just another energy source won't cut it. People would rather have a small amount of contained and controllable nuclear waste from fission than clean fusion, if they could have it today and cheap compared to the clean fusion (in fact, they'd rather have terribly messy fossil fuels, for as long as possible).

Witness the collapse of the dream that everyone would have satellite phones, with orbital commsat clusters giving global coverage, when cheaper simpler cellphone towers started popping up everywhere. They're not as good, but good enough.

Regarding economic colonization in general, there'd need to be some resource and/or market out there. Maybe we'd set up trading posts if we encountered aliens, but otherwise it comes back to finding something dramatically radical out there that just isn't available on Earth. A 'gold rush' for something that we already have (just not cheaply enough) doesn't seem likely unless the price of space travel drops so low that poor people will go to seek their fortune. The rich would rather stay rich by not reducing the values of their resources with extraterrestrial supplies.

Regarding isolationism, sure, some people will always want to avoid taxes and regulations by operating from a base in neutral territory or wilderness. Conceivably the Earth could become too developed for that. But solo crackpots couldn't just fly off to Ganymede and build a homestead. They'd need a big organization with a lot of cash - a cult with the resources of a nation. And they'd need to be able to survive in hostile environments without the benefits of the civilization they'd spurned, not an easy prospect. Criminal types would have a lot more difficulty than they do now operating in international waters. Their operations depend on civilization, and they'd have trouble coming and going without being detected, never mind the expense.

There are possibilities though. The greatest possibility to me seems the eggs in one basket problem. But we're human. We won't solve it until we've been burned badly. You buy the super-duper extended warranty (that costs 1/3 to 1/2 as much as the product) only when you're replacing something that failed just after the normal warranty expired. We're going to have to take quite a beating (possibly self-inflicted) before we wise up. But then survival instinct will kick in, and we'll do whatever it takes.

I see survivors from the post-apocalypse Earth being the most likely colonists, assuming the apocalypse isn't too bad. Certainly not as bad as in standard civilization-destroying post-apocalypse fiction. What remains on Earth after the exodus could be interesting in its own right.

Jean Remy said...

"I suspect it would be more like a board of directors."

Well the thing is that corporations are not particularly democratic either. CEOs and board of directors are not "democratically elected", they are selected (carefully or not) by the largest shareholders, ie: the people with the most money invested in the system. Employees follow the rules, or they are fired. Even if you have a system where individual colonists have one share/one vote, the likely scenario will have over 50% of the shares (and 50% of the votes) firmly in the hand of the corporation(s) or government entity that created the colony in the first place. As pointed out, such colonies will require massive investments.

An interesting take on a colonial system is found in David Weber's Honorverse. The Nobility of the Kingdom/Empire of Manticore were those whose ancestors actually invested the most money in the colony's creation. The zero-sum (paid for their ticket, but did not participate in the colony investment) became the upper middle-class, those who couldn't afford the tickets became the commoners. It is rather obvious who has the most power, even if the House of Commons has a say, the House of Lords is clearly dominant. And this was after the colony had been established for a thousand years.

And let us not kid ourselves. The 2000 elections in the USA proved that even with against majority in the popular vote, the chosen president was selected by... alternate means. I suspect a newly formed colony would be even less of a democracy. Democracies are the last step in political evolution, not the first system to be established on some outpost in a hostile environment.

"it comes back to finding something dramatically radical out there that just isn't available on Earth. A 'gold rush' for something that we already have (just not cheaply enough) doesn't seem likely"

It depends what you mean by "have" and "cheaply". First, there is no naturally occurring He-3 on Earth. Second, certain minerals like Iridium are present on Earth in VERY little quantities. Iridium is worth several HUNDRED dollars... an ounce. The annual production is counted is around THREE tonnes, despite its industrial, medical and scientific uses. The concentration of iridium in the K-T boundary indicates that iridium concentrations in asteroids are potentially far greater. This says nothing about odd biochemistry that may, or may not be present on other bodies in this solar system. However, the best McGuffinite/McGuffinium is science itself.

That said, I agree. We're not going to see Rock-rats and farmer-frontiersmen in space.

Citizen Joe said...

Again, controlling interest needs to be maintained by the colony. That allows for the maximum extra-colonial support while preventing catastrophic choices from those outside the colony.

Jean Remy said...

My point being that there is no way for the initial colony to *be* controlled from within since by design it is created from outside.

It cannot spontaneously create itself from nothing. It cannot be created by a bunch of penniless misfits. It *will* be set up, designed, and sent by people working in corner offices at the summit of skyscrapers because they're the only ones who *can*, and those same people are hardly going to leave their corner offices for the colony, sending instead their "employees" to get in the way of radiation and meteorites for them. They're also unlikely to simply give up their control of a very steep investment at the drop of a hat.

In other words: the kinds of people who would willingly *go* to an extraterrestrial are generally not the people who have to money to make the colony happen in the first place. Ergo, controlling interest will remain in the glass-coated box in Earth's sky for a very, very, very, very, very long time. And as long as it does, the colony cannot be a democracy.

Rick said...

Under some circumstances the bankrollers of a colony might acquiesce in its political independence. They avoid having to make tough decisions, while their investment is protected by economic reality - if the colony defaults, no one will provide it with additional capital.

But in any case, I expect that through the midfuture there will be only 'bases' in space, not 'colonies.' Relations between management and staff will basically be labor issues, not necessarily having much if any relationship to independence in the 1776 sense.

Citizen Joe said...

I don't see employees being willing to deal with the dangers with anything less than a full share. Shares also mean ownership and a vested interest in the colony.

CitySide said...

"I expect that through the midfuture there will be only 'bases' in space, not 'colonies.'"

Which circles back around to the comment I posted regarding places like South Georgia an its itinerant whaling and weather stations. Hell, reading an account of the South Georgia "campaign" (if such a small affair can be called such) I was struck at how applicable the whole thing might be to space warfare - small numbers (less than 100 men on the ground, Brits and Argies combined), combatants battling the elements as much as each other, and a generally ad-hoc, on the fly feel to the whole affair (one of the chief RN assets was a Survey Ship). There's also the prevailing sense of "why the hell are we fighting for these seemingly worthless rocks..."

Jean Remy said...

I believe Rick is thinking more in terms of our current permanent polar bases as an equivalent, like McMurdo Station. The scientist population over the entire Antarctic varies from 1 to 4,000 depending on the season. As far as self-contained small cities isolated in a hostile environment, these are the closest equivalents to space "colonies" on Earth, at least in the early models. The McGuffinite/"whale-oil" they are after is the same we probably will be after in space: Science! with a big S and an exclamation mark. Right now the ISS follows that model on a vastly smaller scale (only half a dozen crew compared to McMurdo's 1,300 person capacity)

Citizen Joe said...

I might liken it to a 'base' with permanent presence and facilities while the 'colony' would be all the ships that are serviced by that base. If we're talking about mining asteroids, the 'base' might be in orbit around Mars while hundreds of ships prospect the asteroid belt for both minerals and propellant. When you shift your definition of colony from people in physical proximity to the people that you have contact with, then in this age of radio communication, colonies could be huge. Of course, what one considers colony level communications is a matter of personal taste. Assuming instantaneous relays and boosters, a message could circle the asteroid belt in about two hours. That might be too much lag for a WoW account, but it is fairly reasonable for news injection.

Jean Remy said...

I assume your two hours communication delay is with a magi-tech ansible. It would be hard to theorize then about the delay at all since we currently don't even know if it is at all possible, and it will certainly violate causation or quantum mechanics.

In addition, if it does take only two hours for a message to go around the entire belt, then you might as well assume that Mars (I don't see any long term exploitation of the Belt without a base on Mars, for various reasons) and even Earth would be part of that community since the distance between the belt and the planets is far less than the circumference of the Belt.

The fact that we have radio at the very least redefines the concept of colony in terms of communication. I would define colony the center of production and distribution of consumable goods. Centralized distribution will have to be a fact in the case of a semi-transient "colony" as we could envision the Belt being. A base would receive goods from Earth, or even produce goods (fuel processing, hydroponics) rather than spreading it piecemeal. The "gas station" then becomes the colony center. It would be interesting to see how the community on board the ships develop, and how the attachment between a ship and its center would develop.

I doubt in this scenario that the Belt will be a single colony, but rather it seems that it would be divided like the Antarctic continent is currently divided, whether between nations or corporations will depend on the geopolitical nature of Earth at the time.

Citizen Joe said...

The delay is simple light speed lag. The main belt extends out to about 3 AU, or about 27 light minutes from the sun. The inner asteroids are closer to 2 AU or about 18 light minutes out. So that scribes a circumference around 2 to 3 light-hours (depending on which side of the belt your transmitting). Personally, I'd set things up with 3 'bases at the L3-5 points of Mars and then a landfall base at Mars.

While you COULD just use Earth as a base, it is important that you don't dive deeper into a gravity well unless you absolutely must. In this case the gravity well is the sun. The asteroid colony ships are likely very high specific impulse low thrust vehicles. That means they can't handle gravity wells.

With proper timing you don't need to chase planets, just push your orbit in or out, hopping around the asteroids until your window opens up for the run to an LaGrange Base. Get your goods to market there and a cycler can take it the rest of the way to Earth.

All the ships would be very specialized and operate within a certain gravity range. So you get your "rock hoppers" and then ferries to shuttle them back to base. At the base their would be maintenance ships with high thrust. Plus "catchers" and "pitchers" that intercept and boost loads in the base's proximity. Then you've got the actual cyclers which use minimal thrust to make the transfer to Earth. At Earth orbit base, you've got the same sort of base operations ships but also the heavy lift vehicles. The Space Elevator is unlikely for Earth, but a Lunar elevator is feasible. Likewise a space elevator at Mars, perhaps attached to one of its moons, would be helpful. If Mars can be terraformed enough to grow plants, even in greenhouses, that can be the food source for the space colonies. The elevator then provides the means for gravity shore leave and the lift for food stuffs. That reduces the need for heavy lift from Earth to just getting people into space. Presumably the asteroids can provide the materials needed for space manufacture. Meanwhile the delivery of space products can be dropped down with parachutes.

Jean Remy said...

I hadn't done the actual math. I read your use of "instantaneous relays and boosters" incorrectly.

Yes that was the reason I think Mars will be a necessary stopping point on the way to the belt: the possibility of growing foodstuffs, shallow(er) gravity well, closer proximity to the Belt (on a cycle obviously) and a real gravity rest stop for crews. I think the psychological need for actual dirt and sky will demand Belters take leave on a planet.

I definitely agree on the tiered use of ships and cyclers with various functions.

I am not sure that an elevator on Luna is very likely, however. The technology to build these things is going to be rather extreme. Even in the case of the moon's reduced gravity the tensile strength required of the materials alone will make mass manufacturing very very very expensive. On Earth (if possible) or Mars, the stupendous cost of the elevator will be compared to the repeated cost of launches which is as staggeringly high over a longer period of time. However the cost to lift from the surface of the moon being far far far FAR less than either of those worlds, you would need to haul many more times the tonnage to arrive at a zero balance, and with the continuous maintenance cost factored in, it might not even possible. The moon is really the ideal candidate for magnetic catapults rather than an elevator. They would be cheaper individually, less subject to a backlog, have a faster turnaround and can be spread over the surface rather than requiring everything be sent to one location (this is assuming more than a single lunar base of course)

Citizen Joe said...

Ignoring the logistics, a lunar elevator can be constructed with existing materials. Given the lack of atmosphere on Luna, magnetic launch would probably be easier and faster without the difficulty of atmospheric friction.

Mars has a very handy Deimos which is just about the perfect orbit to drop a space elevator down to the surface. I'm kind of partial to Olympus Mons as the ground station.

Rick said...

(one of the chief RN assets was a Survey Ship)

In my old Human Sphere (FTL) setting, 'survey ship' is the normal term for a large, long range warship, purportedly of historical origin. Compared to most civil spacecraft, exploratory craft have more extensive comm and sensor suites, and are probably fitted out to carry and control robotic probes. All features that lend themselves to war conversion.

Turning to asteroid exploration/exploitation, why NOT use Earth as a base?

The whole main belt is no more than about 30 radio minutes from Earth. And Earth has an important advantage over Mars: a shorter year. If you consider a typical main belt asteroid with roughly a 5 year period, your launch windows from Earth are on about a 15 month cycle, versus a ~3 year cycle for Mars.

The analogy of an oceanic archipelago Really Does Not Work for the asteroid belt. From any asteroid in the main belt, it is easier to get to Earth than to about three quarters of the belt.

Citizen Joe, you are correct in principle about the solar gravity well, but solar acceleration at 1 AU is only about 0.6 milligee, and Realistic [TM] high Isp drives should have that much oompf.

Socially, the cycler ships are at the heart of the thing, and they pass Earth every 3 years.

So - oddly enough - the social meeting ground of the Belt would be Earth orbital space. If you want to get from one cycler ship to another, the simplest way is to lay over for a few months.

The one limitation of magnetic catapults is that they are one way. Trying to do payload recoveries at 1.5 km/s is looking for trouble.

But anyway, it is not that hard to build a robust rocket for lunar surface to orbit service, if sufficient volatiles are available as it seems they may be.

Same for Mars, where we know there is plenty of ice. You can aerobrake down most of the way, and for going up, delta v to LMO is about 4.1 km/s, allowing a robust single stage vehicle.

A Mars or lunar elevator is in effect 10,000 km or so of electrified railroad. It is only worth building (IMHO) if you have railroad traffic volume, thousands of tons per day.

Citizen Joe said...

It isn't just the direct influence of solar gravity, it is also the change in orbital velocity that eats up your delta V budget. There's 5km/sec difference between Earth and Mars orbital speeds. There's another 7 km/s difference at the outer belt (like Ceres). Keep in mind that these rock hoppers are likely to be towing a huge payload.

That being said, a second cycler may involve a flyby of Earth to get the injection orbital speed for the Lagrange bases. If that is true, then ships will be intersecting Earth at non-capture speeds. This might be a good way to drop off primary loads by using aerobraking, but you'd be basically hurling asteroids at Earth.

Citizen Joe said...

I just noticed that Mars has three asteroids (Including Eureka 2-4km) at its trailing L5 point and a ~1 km X type asteroid at its leading L4 point. While they aren't very large, they do represent a trackable mass that locates the stable L points.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with Rick on this:
"So - oddly enough - the social meeting ground of the Belt would be Earth orbital space. If you want to get from one cycler ship to another, the simplest way is to lay over for a few months."

As Citizen Joe said, there is quite a difference between the orbital speeds of Mars and Ceres (requiring something on the order of 4 km/s extra dV to get there from Earth). However, corporate ventures are going to try to keep things as simple as possible, and a mining mission taking a Hohmann transfer from Earth to a promising asteroid, mining it to death for three years, and then riding a Hohmann back to Earth with the [insert choice of valuable rare-earth metal here] in tow would allow for the least complication in mission profiles and supply lines.

Then again, this kind of activity wouldn't end up creating any sort of colonial prospect, just small "camps" of mining drones with a handful of support personnel that aren't about to stay in space for any longer than they have to.

This kind of thing looks more similar to an analogy of modern cold-water crab fishermen than traditional mining colonies (harking back to the "space is an ocean" comparison).

-Eric

Jean Remy said...

The reason I picked Mars as staging point is that, frankly, Mars itself is a more interesting target for an off-world colony than the Belt. It has a relatively low gravity allowing for relatively cheap SSTO and an atmosphere for aerobraking with saves on fuel both ways. An it's a planet, with the richness of minerals this entails. There's also water ice, which not only provides, well, water, but oxygen for humans and for oxidizers and hydrogen for fuel.

I think quite frankly the exploitation of asteroids will come later, much later, than exploitation of Martian resources. Once the colony has been established, it makes sense to have Mars as a staging area, perhaps as part of a "Triangle Route" between, say, Ceres, Mars and Earth.

Citizen Joe said...

The whole landing and taking off from a gravity well adds a whole level of complexity to the equation with Mars. Asteroids are small enough that interplanetary thrusters are sufficient for lift off.

I still think we'll need Mars in the equation, but I don't think it comes before asteroid exploitation. Once we know that there is a gold rush, a colony on Mars is justified by its (more efficient) support of the mining operations. It's just that there's an awful lot of infrastructure investment needed just to get back off of Mars. Unless Mars has an immediately obvious resource, that investment looks very shaky.

Jean Remy said...

Lift-off from Mars is considerably cheaper than from Earth, for one. For bulk things needed by the asteroid-going ships, like food, it's a vastly cheaper alternatives.

Exploiting asteroids is not going to be easy, and in fact harder than simply mining out a planet. Zero-g makes everything complicated especially when dealing with drilling and excavating. Furthermore, the asteroids are very far apart from each other, so it's not like you can set up an asteroid mining farm: each asteroid has to be dealt individually. Because of the differences in makeup, the equipment will be hard to standardize. Each asteroids will require a heft individual investment to start exploitation. That means the asteroids targeted will have to be worth more than that initial investment, which means they will be rather hefty chunks of rock. Those are pretty rare and spread out.

All in all, it depends what kinds of mineral resources we find with more thorough geological studies of Mars.

I think overall exploitation of the Belt will be uniquely suited to deliver materials for the continued presence in space to begin with, and only if it is cheaper to send titanium from Ceres to Earth or Mars orbit is cheaper then lifting it off Earth. Same with He-3: there's a strong enough power infrastructure on Earth that extensive construction of fusion reactors is unlikely. Like with maglev trains being more likely on Mars because of the lack of an original infrastructure, fusion reactors are more likely on colonies and ships because of the lack of an already existing grid.

To me, space begets space, that is our reason to have colonies is to sustain our space expansion, not to sustain Earth necessarily.

Citizen Joe said...

I guess one of the deciding factors of space colonies is how hard it is to refine stuff in microgravity. Right now, just about every industrial process is done in 1G of gravity. But I'm not sure how much of that is gravity dependent. I suspect the refining process involves pouring stuff off the top or having impurities float. Without gravity, that process stops working. You can simulate gravity, with respect to industrial processes with spin. And since metals don't have vertigo problems, you could simulate 1G in smaller radii and faster rotations. That being said, I think that there is probably a niche for variable gravity (via controlled spin/radii) industrial processing. The side effect would be providing 1G habitable space. So, while people can survive in microgees, refineries can't. Thus, refineries will need artificial gravity regardless of the cost/difficulties. If you're spinning the refinery, you may as well add in some habitats for comfortable living, probably charging more for those berths. Since you've got to build the environment anyway, now you can put extreme controls on it as well. Thus you can regulate the atmosphere, adding exactly the proportions of gasses needed. You can control the temperature, the pressure, everything.

Anonymous said...

You may not need to do much in-situ refining for some materials beyond brute mechanical separation from whatever gangue the stuff is sitting in. It really depends on the asteroid, like Jean Remy pointed out. Some may lend themselves better to mineral exploitation. I think that the asteroids richer in heavy metals (i.e. platinum group) would be the better to exploit.

I suspect (and I hope I'm dead wrong on this) that since Mars is a planet that used to be geologically active, that the same elements that are rare here on Earth would also be rare there, and for the same reason (dense metals sinking to the core). Being the scarred wreckage of smashed planetoids, I think that many of the asteroids would be made of the sort of heavy elements locked in the cores of larger planets.

It's also true that Mars does win out over the asteroids in having a better environment for people, but getting bulk minerals off the planet would be fairly energy-expensive (it's nearly the same dV as getting materials from the Belt asteroids, with the added complication of aerodynamics).

Who knows? Given the relative (and nearly opposite) advantages and disadvantages of Mars vs. the Belt asteroids, I wouldn't be surprised if ventures to exploit both started at about the same time and pace.

For near-Earth asteroids, the dV cost is much lower, and there is the added option of using a lunar flyby as an orbital braking maneuver in a return trajectory. Some of those could turn out to be lower-hanging fruit for someone interested in McGuffinite mining, if something valuable could be found among them.

-Eric

Citizen Joe said...

I'm not sure how useful gold and platinum would be in space. Sure, they do have some applications, but the iron and nickle are probably more useful in bulk. Perhaps the heavy metal waste product might be shipped down well to subsidize the in space manufacturing. Or perhaps space colonization will be largely recycled and the heavy metal will be used to pay for Terran products. Since the metals would be safer in space, they might even be left up there until needed, sort of like a space fort Knox.

Jean Remy said...

z-g refining: centrifuging materials to separate impurities might be more efficient than using gravity to do it because you can regulate it more precisely. In fact it is so precise you can separate individual chemical components from complex mixes so efficiently you can tell the exact composition of something by spinning it at various speeds. The central part of any chemical analysis machine is a centrifuge. It's going to be an engineering feat to spin a furnace, but the resulting materials will be of an unmatched purity. However I don't think you can just slap a hab to the furnace. the variable g itself will start to get wearing after a while. If you can't predict when you're going to weigh half what you do on earth one minute, then double the next, the psychological wear on your system would be significant. Not to mention the inherent danger of spinning something full of molten metal at several thousand degrees. I rather more likely see furnaces as individual robotic structures. And if we can spin a blast furnace, making a slowly spinning human hab is going to be a piece of cake anyways.

The Platinum metals (Osmium, Iridium) and gold are actually quite valuable for practical reasons. Gold is a non-corroding conductor, and osmium and iridium have scientific medical and industrial applications. Platinum makes a good buffer/catalyst material. The problem is that their rarity (Iridium world production per year: a mere 3 tonnes) puts the price far beyond common widespread use of those materials. Not that finding them on asteroids will make them that much cheaper, though, but if they are useful for the space-borne industry, it might very well be cheaper than extracting it from earth and boosting it too orbit.

Citizen Joe said...

The spin habs can be on the counter rotating portions to prevent precession. The habitats would then act sort of like buffers to the refinery rigs. But beyond that, all the research needed to make the super precise refinery rig work could be ported over to the habitats. Thus you get free habitat development research.

We uses rare metals sparingly because they are expensive and rare. Assuming gold and maybe silver are abundant in space, would the space born habitats use them in the same ways we use copper? Gold plated toilets because they don't corrode? Silver lined piping to cut down on microbial infestations... Think about all the applications where we use something else because the rare metals are too expensive.

Jean Remy said...

We already have gold toilets.

http://www.vintagetub.com/blog/2009/04/solid-gold-toilet.html

Anonymous said...

Seeing that picture I've got to wonder how many people have quipped about "a throne fit for a king."

On a more serious note,
The properties of the platinum group metals and other siderophiles, like ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, etc. are very interesting to look into. For instance, ruthenium would be an ideal material to use in making faster, smaller, and more efficient microcircuitry and data storage. Rhenium is used in many high-strength superalloys. Iridium and rhenium have extremely low wear and corrosion rates.
I could see a space-based industry being used to fabricate a lot of high-tech stuff that would be harder here on earth because of process contamination, rarity of raw materials, etc. Stuff like high-end electronic components, super-materials, catalysts, etc. would have a very high value-weight ratio, and maybe that ratio could get large enough to justify the cost of producing them in space. This would also give us a reason to keep people in space for long periods of time: we'd need technicians, researchers, and engineers on hand while the fabrication is going on.

-Eric

Citizen Joe said...

As a somewhat related side note. I'm part of a group that has been recovering trees that have been cut down before they get chopped up into mulch. We take the trunks and mill them into lumber and then dry it. I'm taking part of the project because I'm also an end user of the lumber and much of the operation I'm already doing with conventional lumber. However, when it comes to drying, I'm using the waste heat from my window air conditioner to pump up the heat in my kiln enough to dry the lumber. So I run my air conditioner for the waste heat. The cool office space is a bonus. I can justify the expense of air conditioning by virtue of it being needed for an industrial process. The same sort of synergy applies to space industry and colonization.

Jean Remy said...

One man's waste (heat) is another man's treasure(d source of thermal energy.)

Rick said...

It's hard for me to imagine that we would have a large presence in the asteroid belt and not have a large presence on Mars.

But if the asteroids are being mined for rare stuff to be shipped to Earth, Mars is only an incidental market. And on average it is no closer to any given asteroid than Earth is.

In a story setting you could easily finagle a trade pattern that connects Mars and the asteroids, but it is not at all a gimme that they will have much traffic connection.

Citizen Joe said...

During the Gold Rush of early USA, the people that made their fortunes did it by selling shovels. That would be my model for Mars. Mars wouldn't be a goal in and of itself, but rather a means to make asteroid mining more efficient.

VonMalcolm said...

Whoa, this blog has gone from the negativities of space colonization, to McGuffinite and Nuclear Fusion, to self-propagating robot ants, to gravity drives, to colony politics, all the way back to the positives of space colonization: I am just trying to write a sci-fi story: I am not trying to make my head explode! I hope you Rocketpunk Commenters are as smart and informed as you seem to be because I am cutting and pasting a lot of your comments to my own notes for future reference!
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What if the Kepler Mission, Terrestrial Planet Finder, or Darwin (the latter two if ever launched) discovered an Earth-like planet (liquid water, oxygen atmosphere, etc) in a habitable zone around Alpha Centauri A or B: would a planet already 'terraformed' (or perhaps much more easily terraformed) just waiting to be developed light a fire in the will to colonize space? Would space colonization perhaps pass right by Mars, Venus, the Asteroid Belt, Calypso, Europa, etc.? Or, perhaps, would a 'nearby' habitable planet be the impetus in colonizing the solar system, the impetus in mining McGuffinium (He-3), thus solving the aforementioned Catch-22 (Jean Remy) of needing He-3 to support the infrastructure to get He-3. (Are fusion rockets enough for generational one-way nearby interstellar travel?)

I understand that even nearby interstellar travel is way out there, but with that juicy piece of fruit just waiting out there for us: How could we resist going after it? How far into the future is such a mission if we really pushed towards it? Are we talking anti-matter drives and other magi-tech?

Note: Kepler Mission scientists will reveal the space telescope’s latest discoveries at a news briefing in Washington on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010.

Jean Remy said...

While the discovery of potentially life-bearing worlds outside our solar system would have extraordinary implications (if we can live on it then surely something *must* be living on it), I don't think we could reach them if we didn't in fact have a space-centered economy in the first place. The costs of developing interstellar crafts will be a couple of orders of magnitude beyond merely interplanetary craft.

There are two basic types of old adage. The first is the "no, physics don't actually work that way" like "watched pot never boils", and the "well, DUH" sayings like, "crawl before you walk". In this case not only would the feasibility of an interstellar ship be determined by our interplanetary capabilities, interplanetary ships are a necessary step. No one would dream to gamble on a trip to Proxima if we can't make it to Jupiter. In other words, we won't bypass the planets in our solar system because more than likely they will be necessary stepping stones in any project to travel to another star, for a great variety of reasons.

Would the discovery of an extrasolar life-bearing world accelerate our drive to be a space-faring species? I doubt it, certainly not anywhere near short or medium-term. In any foreseeable case, the Proxima Project would be a massive undertaking over a great many decades, to potentially centuries depending on our progress. If we were to find life on Proxima tomorrow, for example, then the answer is "no".

Ever since JFK, American Presidents have made great announcements about space, going back to the Moon, going to Mars, etc. This attempt to recapture (a cynical soul would say steal) a little of the Kennedy fire has so far utterly failed to drive any significant resurgence in the accelerated space programs that defined his era. The truth of the matter is that his pronouncements had little to do with accelerating the pace of the space program. The acceleration was already going on for a whole other reason than Kennedy's stated goals of peace. The Presidents who followed either knew the speeches were pointless, or failed to realize their pronouncements have little to do with what would actually happen. I don't know if I wish for the former or the latter. In the latter case they are naive idiots who can't be trusted to run a country, in the former they are manipulative bastards who can't be trusted to run a country.

Cynical? Moi?

The point here is that if a terra-compatible planet is found in another star system, politicians will rush to say they've initiated a program to take us there. They will be promptly ignored. Within a decade the fact that they made the pronouncement at all will have been forgotten.

There is only one reason we are still in space, and a good reason we haven't gone back to the moon: satellites make our daily lives easier (for a relative use of the term easier). Between weather satellites that warn us to take our umbrellas, to satellite TV informing us how many medals the USA is winning at the Olympics on the other side of the world, to the GPS locators that allow the suburban, Suburban-driving soccer-mom to find the way to the soccer field at the next town over, space shapes our lives. However it is difficult for said soccer-mom to see what benefits she'll get from the construction of a massive starship that will take five decades to get to another star... and an additional 4.25 years for the radio message saying they'd arrived safely. Unfortunately, said soccer-mom pays taxes. Guess where she'd rather her tax money go?

Rick said...

Ever since JFK, American presidents have made grand space pronouncements that were written for them by staff, about programs developed several rungs below the serious policy level.

This is natural and in a sense proper, because space overall is a fairly minor national priority. When I'm wearing my political hat I hardly think about it.

The space program survives because it has a constituency in the military industrial complex, and because it is moderately popular with the public. If extraterrestrial life were discovered, space would still be moderately popular, but (I would guess) substantially more so than today.

Basically the romance would have something to hang its hat on. This wouldn't change space policy dramatically or overnight, but over time I think it would produce considerably more oomph.

And in this case public ignorance has one ironic advantage - they have no sense of HOW vast interstellar distances are. I imagine most people have only a hazy sense, if any, of the difference between interplanetary and interstellar travel.

jollyreaper said...

I guess it depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell, diamond-hard near-future SF, semi-squishy but enjoyable SF, or pure space cheese.

If you're dead set on having earth-type worlds but don't want to hang a lampshade on it by saying "Golly gee, ain't it funny how there are so many Earths out here?" then the only trope left open is the precursor race. They had the tech to engineer all of these planets and then left for whatever reason. Maybe humans evolved on Earth after those guys left and so it's just our luck that we happen to thrive in their ruins.

If you want to stick with harder SF, I think that politics and religion will see the founding of space colonies, at least after the initial phase of pure commercial exploitation. We have a long tradition of founding colonies in foreign lands as a means of escaping persecution at home. Now that the planet has filled up, it gets harder and harder to carve out your own little slice of home.

Before we really see a go of this made in space, I think it's likely we could see autonomous, artificial island states created on Earth -- but it would all be for the same political reasons. We've already seen Sealand -- an offshore artillery platform turned into a data haven.

What it will take to make this idea feasible is the development of sustainable green high technology. I think that the automated fabrication tech we're seeing growing from the rapid prototyping industry will allow us to have our computers and machines without a ginormous industrial base. There's already homesteading movements going on across the world, very strong in the United States. These are people who want to live off-grid. The less you need to buy from the outside world, the more feasible the effort becomes.

As far as offworld living goes, I think that the initial habitats will be cramped and unpleasant but we'll eventually be able to manage proper O'Neill cylinders.

Rick said...

the only trope left open is the precursor race

You ignored the label on the can saying CAUTION: CONTAINS WORMS. Once you bring in a precursor race you can't avoid the cosmic background history of your setting.

Ideological and religious motivations for colonization are a well established trope, and have the obvious precedent of the Mayflower. But except for Massachusetts and Utah, how many such colonies have thrived?

Jean Remy said...

Malta?

jollyreaper said...

"You ignored the label on the can saying CAUTION: CONTAINS WORMS. Once you bring in a precursor race you can't avoid the cosmic background history of your setting."

If you write it properly, there's no big problem. Let's say Earth has the first sentient life in the galaxy. Fast-forward 10k years, humans could be colonizing other worlds with post-singularity tech, now we have a hundred nearby worlds that are human-habitable or whatever we've made ourselves into at that point. Then our civilization collapses. All these worlds are left to their own devices. Servitor race develops sentience and there you go, all these worlds for them to explore. Now if we move one step back and say "what if humans were the servitor race and the original Earth is elsewhere?" then you have it.

I hear what you're saying about cosmic history getting ugly and complicated to document. But who says we have to? If we run with the idea of aliens being truly alien, all we know is that stuff happened and we're not going to really be privy to it. For example, what if the most common form of intelligence in the universe is organic minds spread over entire planets? And what if they never travel anywhere but communicate with the other intelligences in the universe via some sort of radio? There's this wonderful conversation stretching back a billion or so years, all sorts of interesting chatter, but all of it completely beyond human understanding. And our story can continue in complete ignorance of that.

"Ideological and religious motivations for colonization are a well established trope, and have the obvious precedent of the Mayflower. But except for Massachusetts and Utah, how many such colonies have thrived"

Depending on how seriously you take the Bible's account of history, the whole Promised Land was settled as a religious colony. Many of the settlements throughout the Spanish Main had a religious imperative to go along with the gold and slavery. I know the Boers in South Africa used religion to justify a lot of what they did.

This isn't to say that there can't be some intention decay. Religious group sets up space colony, economics don't support it very well, turn to commercial ventures to pay the rent. Economic success now brings new people who aren't religious but like the opportunity. Moderates enjoy the prosperity and fundamentalists decry the worldliness of everything.

Rick said...

Malta as in 'Knights of?' I wouldn't really call it a colony in anything like the common SF sense. (Though there are plenty of SF possibilities in a quasi independent garrison of warrior monks given charge of a crucial stronghold.)

Even Utah and the Boers have made only a modest mark on history (so far). Ideological colonization is certainly a possible trope, but thanks to the Pilgrim Fathers I think 'Murrican SF, especially, has made a bigger deal of it than it really deserves.

Cosmic background history can be finagled - but once it is brought in at all, I wonder about the issues raised, and want to know more. But maybe that is just me!

Jean Remy said...

es I was just shooting something off the top of my head, but basically what started as a warrior-monk fortress grew into something more. I'm not sure it fits in the precept of Ideology-driven colonization, it was just a random thought I threw out there. I'm not even all that familiar with Malta anyway, not more than an old passing interest on the Crusades. Thanks for your ideas on it though.

I agree that American judgment in the matter will be colored by Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, even if they weren't really the first long-term colonization effort, or at least attempt. The Pilgrims fled there because there was already the beginning of an infrastructure it seems.

Maybe you could imagine a sect offering services to a remote scientific outpost, say, help us build a few extra prefab shelters and we'll cook and do your laundry, then progressively being taken over by the cult... as you said, the idea can be finagled.

VonMalcolm said...

Any thoughts on potential 'seas of liquid diamond' on Uranus and/or Neptune- http://news.discovery.com/space/diamond-oceans-jupiter-uranus.html -as a potential MacGuffinite? -perhaps being gathered in the same mining operations that would acquire He3, though it would be deeper in the respective gravity wells. Potential uses including machine/cutting tools for the asteroid mining, heat sinks for laserstars, and microprocessors for the Rocketpunk Manifesto Super-duper-uberbrain.

From what I gather, even if feasible, cost would greatly out weigh benefit, but I value your opinions much more than the ones I have read on other websites.

Jean Remy said...

Liquid diamond, metallic hydrogen, Helium-3. Gas giants hold so many mysteries beneath their colorful shrouds. Too bad extracting those marvels would be beyond acceptable costs, there would be so much to learn if we could delve deep into their cores.

That said the discovery that solid diamond is less dense than liquid diamond (liquid diamond, I still have trouble getting my mind wrapped around the concept) is pretty impressive. I wonder what the practical applications might be, beyond the ability to actually *mold* diamond blades... or could you even. Also, might there be other forms of solid diamond (there are 15 forms of ice, after all) I'm shaking my head here, this is just a little beyond what I can process right now.

Liquid diamond...

Rick said...

I agree, liquid diamond is hard to wrap my mind around - I thought the whole thing that distinguished diamond from plain old coal was its crystal structure.

And apart from the sheer weirdness/coolness of diamond icebergs on a diamond sea (even at 5 megabars) is the old Clarke story where a guy destroyed the diamond market by learning how to synthesize them, and his ice loving wife divorced him.

(In the story, they also found the Moon littered with huge, gem quality diamonds.)

Jean Remy said...

Technically we can (and do) synthesize diamond all the time now, mainly for concrete-cutting tools and diamond-shard-encrusted sanders. DeBeers is still doing pretty well (not as well as when it had a stranglehold on blood diamonds, but still)

But yes, I thought the difference between plain graphite and diamond was the crystalline arrangement. Maybe it is really a very fine sand of individual crystals, so fine as to act in quasi-fluidic manner, close enough to be called a fluid? After all ice is a molecular "crystal" (molecules in regular arrangement) whereas diamond is an atomic crystal. But if you consider a single crystal of diamond (the minimum number of carbon atoms linked together) to be a "molecule", then I could see it. The odd part would be that those individual crystal structure can get closer to each other than a carbon bond (since liquid diamond is denser than fully crystallized diamond.) That would explain why it can only exist in certain conditions, wherein a single crystal can exist but fail to form bonds with other crystals.

Still trying to work this out. I took my last crystallography class twenty years ago.

I love when news like this comes to challenge our ideas of what matter is. My head was spinning after my first introduction to quantum mechanics. Fun stuff.

VonMalcolm said...

I too am wondering if this 'Liquid Diamond' is just liquid carbon that skips any graphite or other solid carbon phase because of the pressures surrounded it or if the liquid diamond has a certain structure to justify calling it 'Liquid Diamond'.

Some other space type diamond stuff from Wiki:

A type of diamond called carbonado that is found in South America and Africa may have been deposited there via an asteroid impact (not formed from the impact) about 3 billion years ago. These diamonds may have formed in the intrastellar environment, but as of 2008, there was no scientific consensus on how carbonado diamonds originated.

Presolar grains in many meteorites found on Earth contain nanodiamonds of extraterrestrial origin, probably formed in supernovas. Scientific evidence indicates that white dwarf stars have a core of crystallized carbon and oxygen nuclei. The largest of these found in the universe so far, BPM 37093, is located 50 light-years (4.7×1014 km) away in the constellation Centaurus. A news release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics described the 2,500-mile (4,000 km)-wide stellar core as a diamond. It was referred to as Lucy, after the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".

On a side note I came across 'memorial diamonds': each diamond is made by using a loved one's ashes.

Rick said...

I'm going to guess VonMalcolm's second possibility, that under this pressure carbon is forced into its crystal structure even when liquid - in effect, a 'sand' in which each carbon atom is a grain. This would go with the liquid form being denser than the solid.

I was guessing that 'memorial diamonds' were an SF idea, but a quick google shows otherwise!

Jean Remy said...

"- in effect, a 'sand' in which each carbon atom is a grain."

Which is more or less what I thought, except instead of each atom I postulated that each crystal (ie: the most basic crystalline formation of carbon atom) would be a grain of sand. In fact since we're talking about crystalline structure, table salt might be a closer analogue. You "pour" salt almost like you pour water. The smaller the salt crystals the more fluidic it becomes. If each diamond crystal is only the size of a few atoms (the minimum number of carbon atoms required to make a crystal) and if it is denser than normal crystal (the space between each crystal being smaller than a carbon-carbon bond) then you could get fluidic diamond on which less dense fully crystallized diamonds would float.

Either way, a very strange state of matter, to say the least.

Rick said...

Certainly not diamonds anyone would want to wear!

VonMalcolm said...

This is a list of rare earths and their uses pasted from an article (Yahoo/Livescience) I just read about China's future shut down of exporting said elements:

Europium: This extremely rare but critical chemical makes the red color for television monitors and energy-efficient LED light bulbs. China is the only country today that produces europium, dysprosium and terbium, which are necessary for either boosting the efficient operating temperature of magnets or for producing red in color displays. In December, USGS scientists discovered Alaskan deposits of europium, but even the few U.S. companies that mine rare earth elements must send the resources to China for processing.

Lanthanum: A primary component of the nickel-metal hydride battery in Toyota's popular hybrid car, Prius. The Prius also incorporates neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium. Lifton estimates that Toyota may use as much as 7,500 tons of lanthanum and 1,000 tons of neodymium per year to build its Prius cars. That dependence on rare earth elements has prompted the company to search for alternative sources outside China.

Neodymium: This represents a main component of the permanent magnets at the heart of the most efficient wind turbines. China's own wind production efforts could consume all the available neodymium production and leave nothing for the rest of the world's booming wind industry, Lifton notes in a recent report titled "The Rare Earth Crisis of 2009." Neodymium is also used in the glass of incandescent light bulbs produced by General Electric, which has unsurprisingly invested in both Chinese and alternative sources of rare earth elements.

Entire article:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20100216/sc_livescience/shortageofrareearthelementscouldthwartinnovation

Anonymous said...

The difference between historical earth colonization and space colonization is that we would have to create rather than destroy. America was once a rich continent. In a short 500 years much of it has been 'consumed'. You can't conquer the stars while the earth rots away underneath your feet. You need a healthy biosphere and a socially healthy, mentally stable civilization to support the enormous undertaking of building a colony on another world. That's not US. The idea that humans can escape to some other world to avoid facing their problems here is ridiculous. Colonization will be doomed to failure because our problems will come with us and accumulate faster than any terraforming effort can progress. Look at the history of Biosphere II. Actually, considering the danger of a single malcontent in a colony jamming open a hatch or urinating in a sterile food processor, the political structure of a colony would have to be far more tyrannical than any communist or fascist state yet imagined. And after hundreds of years of struggling to grow forests on a place like Mars can you really imagine that the nurturers will tolerate some jerk bulldozing them to create a homestead or a strip mall? Every tree and shrub will most likely be carefully inventoried and you'd have to fill out a ream of forms just to pick one wildflower. Essentially the descendants of colonizers of Mars would have to be environmental fanatics and the unauthorized harming of a single leaf of their precious forest would likely carry a sentence of death.

Michael said...

Mike here. Sorry for the thread zombieism.

Let's not forget that Mars is not alone in its orbit. Phobos and Deimos are easier to reach in dV than the Martian surface, easier to leave, and have no dust storms. It may be that these may become the crossroads of the Belt, rather than the planet they orbit. It's even been proposed that one or both could contain a signifigant supply of volatiles, making them valuable in their own right. Phobos is even believed to have a porous structure with possible subsurface ice deposits-- just the place for a well-shielded living space once it's mined out, perhaps?