Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Which I Bash Space Colonization Again

A Space Colony
First let me be clear. I am talking here about my old friend the Plausible Midfuture. I'm not going to answer for AD 40,000, let alone 40 million. And this is obviously not about Romance, for which the rule of cool is sufficient, even if it dresses in Plausible Midfuture outfits as a rhetorical flourish.

But really, guys 'n' gals, we are not going to be colonizing space any time soon. (Well, probably not.) Not in this century, not in the next, perhaps not in this millennium. The whole idea is rocketpunk in the sense of Late Steampunk, the imagined projection of a brief era into a vast and timeless tapestry, i.e. Romance, which is different from real life. That being the point after all.

But in merely practical terms, the Solar System is a whole lot of Oakland, still no there there. Think about the debate over whether it is better to colonize planets (moons, asteroids, etc.) or to build space habitats, so people can actually live in the middle of nowhere. This is no way to sell real estate.

And let's be honest. If it weren't so cool, none of us would be talking about extracting exotic minerals from uninhabitable hyper-deserts, lacking even breathable air, located millions of kilometers away. People in the relevant industries are not talking about it. They are talking about, and investing in, technologies such as nanomaterials that either use less of those exotic materials or permit use of cheaper stuff instead.

He3 from Uranus is an impressive line haul, but a tenfold reduction in the cost of solar cells makes plain old earthbound, tree huggy solar power cheap and abundant. (Under cautious assumptions, roughly 1 TW of peak production per 10,000 square km of collector surface.) Space-based alternatives postulate at least a tenfold reduction in launch costs, and still need relatively cheap cells to be competitive. Deep space alternatives pretty much require a hundredfold reduction in launch costs.

That is a lot to ask of a mature technology, and basic space technology is fairly mature - we have been building and launching space missions on a routine basis for decades.

A launch cost reduction of 100 x (to about $100,000/ton, or $100/kg) might in fact just be doable. Our current launch systems are geared to a low traffic rate, at most a few hundred tons put into orbit each year. A traffic revolution allowing economies of scale might cut costs tenfold, and decades of subsequent streamlining based on operational experience cut another factor of ten.

But even that does not really provide a reason to do it, other than that it would be really, really cool.

On the other hand, there is a place in human affairs (and the economy), for really, really cool: just ask Hollywood. And it is basically sheer coolness that accounts for the ISS and interplanetary missions, vicarious space tourism for everyone courtesy of NASA, the ESA, and a handful of counterparts around the world.

If you are libertarian you can be philosophically grumpy about this, but it has gotten us this far, and there's no sign that private money-making ventures could have done anything like as well.

The one thing in space (besides coolness) that we know is of value is knowledge - itself a form of coolness, among other things. And it will probably keep us going, even if it points at a future of research stations rather than mining colonies.

Support of these research stations may in time give reason to mine stuff in space for use in space, but even if commercial mining firms develop they will surely be largely automated, and incidental rather than central to the long term enterprise of space.

Beyond the midfuture this might point to a Solar System where some research stations evolve into towns, then cities, but situated at points of research interest rather than mother lodes of McGuffinite.

And there is nothing wrong with that, even for purposes of Romance.



Related Posts: Recently on space as the Wild West, and my first post on this general theme early last year.

The image comes, as so often, from the ever-useful pages of Atomic Rockets. And here is another one implying that perhaps it isn't about real estate at all.

Dance for Colonization?

129 comments:

Sean said...

I think as a by-product of what seems to be a growing interest in space tourism we may, incidentally, colonize space. People may book permanent residence aboard the Hilton Space Hotel, or frequent the Four Seasons resort on the moon enough times to be considered 'natives' (Louis Wu style I suppose). Though this definitely will be a luxury reserved for the mega rich and William Shatner...sadly I'm neither.

Other than that there is no other economic justification, everything we really need for the next billion or so years is right beneath are feet.

Milo said...

"incidental rather than central to the long term enterprise of space."

Here's an exercise. What country do you live in? Look up this country's most notable exports. Now: were these exports the original reason people settled that country? Are these exports integral to your country's culture or public image?

A space colony can have industries that are economically important on an interplanetary level, without those industries necessarily driving colonization in the first place. Once the infrastructure exists for people to live somewhere, it becomes a lot easier for people to do productive work there, too.


"Beyond the midfuture this might point to a Solar System where some research stations evolve into towns, then cities, but situated at points of research interest rather than mother lodes of McGuffinite."

I agree that this is the most likely future, at least for Luna. For the simple reason that scientists are the people most inclined to do things purely because they're really, really cool. Why go to the moon? Because it's there!

As I said in the other thread, though, once colonization technology has been perfected on Luna, it'll be more readily available for anyone who wants to colonize elsewhere. It'll still be a pricey proposition but at this point the McGuffinite might be worth it. At the distant gas giants, the scientists might find it easier to wait until other people have built self-supporting infrastructure in the general area, before they move in their research equipment. (For Luna, moving in the research equipment and building in the colony are one and the same, since "Can we build a working closed life support habitat?" is the question they're researching.)


"And there is nothing wrong with that, even for purposes of Romance."

Yes. It's science fiction. The scientists should get a little more respect.

For the purpose of storywriters, though, trade serves more than just to justifying why somewhere was colonized in the first place - it also provides something for people to fight over. Furthermore, having a varied economic center that isn't all about research, research, research, tourism, and research makes your setting richer, and helps planets look as big and intricate as, well, planets. So even if trade wasn't the original reason for colonization, it's still useful to know what your colonies are trading.

Corey said...

You're thinking like an 20th century American. ;-) You assume space, like all things is about profit maximization. There are reasons for colonization beyond economic.

Look at Ancient Greek colonization of the the Mediterranean. They did it because Greece is a barren hunk of rock and even primitive birth rates (where 1 in 3 children died in the first three years) quickly outstripped the resources.

So they settled elsewhere, built self-sustaining colonies, and created a trade network that ultimately stemmed from cultural ties and the desire to have all the neat toys that was available in the big city.

Basically Joss Whedon got space colonization with a throw away line: Earth got used up.

Simply put ecological catastrophe could lead to a mass exodus. Especially a slow-motion one like rising sea levels or reduction of arable land. There'd be enough time that a society could, at great expense and reduction of quality of living, settle a bunch of people somewhere else.

And once you start shipping people out to the asteroid belt, you might as well defray the return cost but putting something you can sell in the hold for the trip back. Sure, it's easier to mine metals from earth, but if you're already incurring the cost of shipping people their, the revenues of the imported raw materials is now literally found money.

Thucydides said...

Non economic drivers were very important in the past, and it doesn't take a lot of looking to see that if the means were available. settlement can and probably will take place.

The how is pretty clear; we need an inexpensive way to get to LEO; "half way to anywhere". Monster momentum transfer cables or Lofstrom loops have such huge set-up costs that they are the end rather than the beginning of large scale exploitation of space. The only clear way that I can see is beamed propulsion; either laser "lightcrtaft" or microwave powered devices that Liek Myrabo has been working on for decades. Since beamed power is more versatile (suborbital tourists only need a fraction of the beam, and the operator might rent it out as a laser broom to clear debris, or provide station keeping and orbital manouevre thrust to large structures like the ISS), there is real incentive to build such a system.

Economics is important, but lots of people will also be driven to move out in order to practice their religions, social or economic systems without interference from everyone else. Some places might "help" them along in order to promote social stability in their own jurisdictions, while other polities will simply look on as these people move on out.

Religious fervor is a pretty potent driver, and the presence of growing numbers of people on the Moon, NEO's and so on will act as a magnet for others, either seeking to emulate them or as a market to exploit.

One other consideration, we are busy thinking of high ROI's for settling and exploiting space, but many colonies may be essentially self contained, and have little reason or desire to trade with Earth or other places in the Solar System. The Jovian moons might have a very thriving economy based on easy access to resources and energy, and be entirely insular in character as well, only tolerating the research station on Europa so long as "they" stay confined to the moon's oceans and pay top dollar for beam power from the Io magnetosphere tap.

longbeast said...

The "all your eggs in one basket" problem of staying on Earth is likely to carry on becoming more uncomfortable as technology develops.

Space has a really huge advantage for some types of work simply due to the fact that there are large volumes of completely uninhabited vacuum that you can do dangerous stuff in without anybody minding too much.

Say for instance four generations of particle accelerators down the line, the scientists involved start saying "yeah, we actually do expect this one to produce black holes, I bet we can make them grow too."

You could say similar things about a lot of the common sci-fi horrors like self replicating nanotech but it would equally apply to less advanced stuff like nuclear propulsion.


Some things you're just going to want to keep very far away.

Native Jovian said...

The question at hand seems to be "why bother colonizing space?", or at least "how would you pay for it?". I agree with the idea that collecting resources from space and sending them back to Earth is going to be a losing proposition (but then, so were the various gold rushes, and they still inspired mass migrations), but that doesn't mean we won't end up in space anyway.

I think that scientific research (for profit or otherwise -- pharmaceutical companies are undoubtedly doing lots of science, and it's entirely with profit motive in mind) will be the thing that brings us "out there" first, for whichever "there" you happen to be talking about. But once you have people "there", it becomes much, much easier to put more people "there".

Here's a rough timeline that I would consider plausible for midfuture space colonization:
Surface-to-orbit transportation costs go down.
People start living on space habs in Earth orbit because of all the useful things you can do there (eg research and manufacturing that's only possible/much cheaper in zero-g or vacuum).
More people start living on space habs to support the people already living on space habs. Maybe someone builds agricultural habs to sell them food cheaper than it can be sold shipped from Earth. Maybe there's enough people to support an in-orbit hospital service. Maybe someone starts an orbital construction company that builds a hab whose sole purpose is to build more habs. Etc etc.
Scientists decide they want to go farther than Earth orbit. (Luna's the obvious choice, but it's still technically in Earth orbit, so let's talk about Mars instead.) That's going to be expensive and dangerous, but it could be worth it to actually have people on site instead of having to deal with things like light-speed lag keeping you from operating in real time and robots that break down and can't be repaired.
At some point, the process that happened in Earth orbit repeats itself on Mars; it reaches critical mass and starts expanding under its own force.
At some further point, scientists want to go somewhere further out, and the experience gained and technology developed from previous efforts lowers the cost/risk to a point where it's acceptable to do so.
Repeat the last two steps as many times as desired until you get as far out as you want to be.

Could I see a small-but-growing population on Mars by 2100 under this timeline? I doubt it, but by 2200 you might have a chance, and that's still within the "midfuture" range.

Citizen Joe said...

A plausible midfuture could include the destruction of Earth's environment either by man or some catastrophic event. The result would force us off Earth.

halvorz said...

One problem with the 'escape from Earth's ruined environment' trope: It would take a rather remarkable amount of destruction before any of the known extraterrestrial locales start looking good in comparison. Evaporation of the oceans, maybe, or wholesale melting of the crust.

Any hab capable of supporting life off this planet will probably be capable of supporting life on this planet much more easily. Plentiful resources and you don't have to ride a rocket to get here.

Aaron said...

I disagree with all the scenarios that have us settling in space out of necessity, and I certainly don't think we'll ever all be moving off-world because of some disaster on Earth. There's no plausible way to build transportation to get even a significant portion of us off (the majority left behind are likely to sabotage the ones on the escape craft, just out of spite), still less to also build habitats on short notice. If there's an environmental catastrophe, we'll be that much worse off and therefore less able to afford to spend resources on space. Space is expensive and hard. Basically the same objection applies to all economic motives. Even if we weren't working on nanotech, we'd just do without asteroid minerals like we always have. Computers didn't kill off the manned station as a communications and navigation station: nobody was going to pay to keep humans in orbit permanently just for that. GPS is great but not that great.

But that doesn't mean no colonization in the midfuture. Those same new technologies can make cheap access to orbit possible, through space elevators and the like, and they can make people so well-off that "because it's cool" (and because there's a dearth of meaningful work to be done on Earth) is a good enough reason to do it. We can only have space if it's cheap, which implies don't need it.

Once we're there, as others have noted, we'll start mining asteroids because, why not?

Milo said...

No, it wouldn't. Even a radioactive desert would still be more hospitable than an airless and lifeless ball of rock, nevermind the great void between airless balls of rock, that requires tremendous effort just to travel through. Humans ranging from Bedouin desert nomads to Eskimos of the frozen reaches have adapted to harsh environments and thrived there for centuries. Whatever kind of eco-disaster we spring on our unsuspecting planet, we'll adapt to the wasteland in the same manner, scrounging by until we learn to create terraformed or paraterraformed gardens - right here on Terra. Nothing short of our sun expanding into a red giant would make our existing planet less accomodating than extraterrestrial colonization. Okay, that, or a planet-wrecking impact. Can't live on Earth if there's no Earth.

Don't even think about global warming as a planet-wrecking. Global warming would flood coastal cities - which is most of the important ones, really - but the ecosphere in the land that remains would become even richer, on account of more rain. Our civilizations might be shattered but our planet would still cradle us as we build a new one.

Possibly if we happen to devastate Earth after having already made ourselves comfortable on other planets for unrelated reasons, then we might just decide to stay there rather than trying to fix ol' Terra up. But a civilization that's already half-dead is in no condition to begin an emergency space program.

Milo said...

That was in response to Citizen Joe. You just had to go and enter two new posts while I was typing, eh?

Milo said...

*read read read* Looks like those two posts are in agreement with me :)

And oh, I left out a word in my second paragraph last post. Filling it in is left as an exercise for the reader.

I more or less agree with Aaron about going into space when it's cheap, although I'd note that just because humanity is rich and space travel has become cheap, doesn't mean we have everything we could possibly want. There can still be room for MacGuffinite, as long as it's something that will help us become even greater rather than something that we need just to survive.

jnutley said...

People don't colonize for location, they colonize for sovereignty. I favor variations on Zubrin's designs, so I believe the first space colonists will emigrate to Mars, leaving the Moon to be exploited by tele-operation or(and?) eventually super Sandal's style resorts. Sufficient water can be strip-mined on Mars, and habitat units can be spun in a variety of fiberglass from the local material, then buried under a roof covered with dirt to protect against radiation. The details are laid out at the following sites, particularly the Mars Homestead Project:

http://www.marshome.org/
http://www.marspedia.org/index.php?title=Foundation_of_an_Autonomous_Colony
http://www.marssociety.org/portal

A colony will be two or three extended rich families accompanied by chosen techs and their families, ~100 people at the "start". This will play out very similarly to the Scotch_Irish colonization of the U.S.A. One colony might in fact _be_ the survivors of the Scotch_Irish, i.e. the current Tea Party movement in the U.S.A. Or an alternate would be a dispossessed House of Saud, leaving behind a pumped dry Saudi Arabia. Based on calculations made in Pacific colonization models at the University of Hawaii, even just seven viable childbearing couples can build up a healthy million person population (Hawaii just before Capt. Cook's landing). They will not go there to become the richest people in the Solar System, they will go to maintain control of their own destinies. My supporting material for this assertion is mostly in the book "Albion's Seed", but the wiki entries linked hint at it as well:

http://www.amazon.com/Albions-Seed-British-Folkways-Cultural/dp/0195069056
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotch-Irish_American#Migration
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jackson#Early_life_and_career

It may not happen before 2100 AD, but I have a hard time believing it wont happen by 2200 AD, which I think qualifies as "mid-future" in the terminology used here. Generations may well pass before the decedents of the Martians begin constructing O'Neil habitats (actually dress rehearsals of Generation Star-Ships) among the asteroids. Never the less 100 self sufficient emigrants on Mars qualifies as "Space Colonization" in my mind.

Aaron said...

Another way to get McGuffinite would be a specific colony set up on the assumption that it could get reliable shipments of some resource from another colony (or mine, or whatever), but then circumstances change, as they do, and the supply becomes an issue. They'd have to be rather far from most of human civilization for the problem to be a serious one.

Milo said...

jnutley:

"They will not go there to become the richest people in the Solar System, they will go to maintain control of their own destinies."

Space pioneers are fine as long as you acknowledge that the pioneers will be scientists, engineers, and technicians. Taming an exotic environment and building a new ecosystem from scratch, developing new technologies along the way to tackle this challenge, is a very pioneer-ing thing to do, but is not something you send uneducated hicks for.

I'm not so big on the idea of space colonization to get away from governments on Earth. It takes a lot of money to get into space, and so far this has tended to get paid by governments. Even when you have people living on another world, they'll be dependant on supplies from Earth for some time until they're done building their habitat.

Milo said...

(Of course, once the scientists have build the dome and set up the life support and farms, other people will move in for entirely different reasons, mainly to fill an economic vacuum. But those people won't really be pioneers - they didn't tame the land, they just purchased the deed from someone who did. Granted, they will still do a lot to make the new town comfortable for humans.)

Sabersonic said...

Might as well bring in my two cents on the topic at hand.

As it has been hammered down again and again in not only this blog entry but also previous discussions beforehand, the first "colonists" weather orbital or extraterrestrial will not be the Romantic image of the home steadier who needs to live off the land with whatever tools he could either buy or make themselves in order to keep himself (rarely a "herself" in these kinds of situations) and their family alive and kicking. Come to think of it, the future colonists may have to "live off the land" to a point since every gram counts and one could only bring what they can't make themselves, but that's a discussion for another time.

Instead, these will be scientists who arrive for scientific and/or exploration purposes with prefabricated habitats that may/may not be buried for protection from solar radiation. They would be the primary colonist "class" for the first few decades (if not generations) of the settlement's foundation, but it would only be a matter of time when self-sufficiency becomes an ever more critical matter since no matter how inexpensive interplanetary transport becomes, it will not be enough for colonists to completely depend upon imports from Earth and/or mining stations within asteroids. Not when there are readily available resources that could be gathered and/or manufactured.

However, that doesn't mean that they couldn't trade whatever excess they manage to create in order to gain something else that isn't readily available for them and/or could not create themselves for whatever reason. These items would potentially be limited to "luxury" goods and/or spare parts for whatever machinery that keeps the settlers alive long enough for the next shipment and/or local manufacture cycle. The colony will eventually grow into a metropolis sized infrastructure but chance are it'll be a gradual process that'll take centuries at the very least.

Now that my two cents out of the way, might as well get this off of my chest as well. From what I've been reading in these related blog entries and discussions, any ecological disaster short of "Mad Max" doesn't equate to a mass exodus from the "Earth That Was" since there have been historical examples of primitive humans able to survive extremely hostile environments without the aid of modern technology. Logic would suggest that this kind of adaptation will be repeated if push comes to shove. However, one would have to ask what else would cause a "Colonization Boom" to extraterrestrial outposts and settlements if ecological/natural disasters would not be a serious drive towards the otherwise treasured troupe of a mass migration. Perhaps a human-driven disaster such as a global war whose reach barely exceeds that of Earth orbit, if not Earth's Hill Sphere?

Just a fanciful thought, unless there are other reasons besides "For Science!", "Rule of Cool", and "Because it's there" schools of logic.

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Anonymous said...

Clearly space colonization would require the carrot/stick approach. There has to be something good out there and then something bad has to happen here. There would also need to be a justification for getting infrastructure up there prior to the stick. The carrot and the stick could be related. Maybe we get some awesome stuff back from Europa and then gear up for travel there and back. While the initial push could just be a forward science base, someone might return with a sun activated virus that turns everyone on Earth into vampires. People then flee to space. Then the space police aliens are all like "WTF!? We totally buried that thing under twenty miles of ice, in a radiation belt, far from any stellar activation. And you guys just dug it up!?"

Thucydides said...

Carrot: be free to live your lives according to your belief system and achieve whatever social, religious or economic goals you have set.

Stick: civil, political or religious opposition to your methods and goals.

These have worked throughout history, so once it becomes easy or inexpensive to get to LEO and thus halfway to anywhere, the push will be on.

The real key is creating the inexpensive means to get to LEO, which will be driven by an entirely different set of goals. Then again, shipbuilding technology in the age of sail wasn't advancing in order to ship Puritans or fur traders to North America, but for totally unrelated goals like following whales (to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland) or shipping pepper across oceans and bypassing the Ottoman Empire (and the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta) or blasting said cargo ships out of the water.

If I had to take a stab at it, the first driver would be developing powerful ABM launchers with high reliability and high cross range performance and assembly line production of the ABM interceptors. This will establish a class of vehicles and hardware which can be adapted to many other uses (something like the DC-3 did for aviation). Although small orbital vehicles built on adapted ABM Interceptor chassis and busses are not the ideal platform for maned exploration, they will be able to support such ventures as the ISS (small cargo carriers etc.), and will start to demand maned presence for inspection and repair.

Milo said...

Sabersonic:

"Come to think of it, the future colonists may have to "live off the land" to a point since every gram counts and one could only bring what they can't make themselves, but that's a discussion for another time."

Yes. I had an image of a scientist, wearing a spacesuit against a backdrop of a high-tech colony ship, realizing he lacked a tool he needs and, having not yet set up the machines for processing steel, ends up improvising a suitable appliance by banging some moon rocks together...

Again, I have nothing against pioneers as long as you respect the challenges they face and the skills you need to face them. You can still make them look Romantic as long as you aren't a Luddite, and if you are, why are you writing science fiction?


"Instead, these will be scientists who arrive for scientific and/or exploration purposes with prefabricated habitats that may/may not be buried for protection from solar radiation."

Like I've been saying, your prefabricated habitat is your colony ship. Just land the whole thing. Anything else you need, you'll have to build yourself, using equipment you brought in from home (and later, second-generation equipment you built yourself) and local resources.

A true dome city is most definitely something that will need local construction. Furthermore, the most compelling reasons to visit Luna require large-scale construction in situ to be profitable. I doubt the prefabricated habitats would ever be meant as a permanent solution, except on nature-reserve worlds that we're deliberately trying not to disturb too much.


Anonymous:

"Clearly space colonization would require the carrot/stick approach. There has to be something good out there and then something bad has to happen here. There would also need to be a justification for getting infrastructure up there prior to the stick."

It's kinds of like natural selection, really. People don't suddenly start growing gills when the place gets flooded - rather, some of us were already growing gills all along, but they found it a lot harder to get dates before the flood.

When the Disaster(TM) happens on Earth, either we're already in space or we're not. If we're not, too bad, we missed our chance.

Milo said...

Thucydides:

"Carrot: be free to live your lives according to your belief system and achieve whatever social, religious or economic goals you have set."

Rather, be free to live your lives according to the belief system of whoever's controlling your life control, and whatever social, religious, or economic goals he has set.

Sure, some (possibly most) colony founders will have liberal ideals and will give their citizens a lot of freedom to control their own destiny within the bounds of the law. But so will some governments on Earth. Space cultures are not inherently more libertarian than Earth cultures, at least not for anyone except the initial (scientist) colonists - and even those need to work in a tightly knit teams, more like a kibbutz. The independance from the government comes once your colony is large enough to have private citizens.


"These have worked throughout history,"

People throughout history have colonized lands that already had green fields and herds of buffalo, not barren airless rocks. Analogy doesn't work here. Space colonization may resemble some aspects of history, but for the most part it'll be its own thing. (And while we're at it, our first encounter with aliens will not be Europeans vs Indians, either.)


"so once it becomes easy or inexpensive to get to LEO and thus halfway to anywhere, the push will be on."

LEO is only halfway to anywhere if you don't mind spending years to arrive. If you want to arrive in a humanly reasonable time, LEO is halfway to Luna and not much else. Also, there's a big difference between being able to get somewhere and being able to stay there. Remember, no space buffalo.

Thucydides said...

There is no reason to say that the colony founders are a priori, liberal, conservative, libertarian or anything else. Lief Erickson needed to get to North America to escape criminal prosecution, there are indications that some Europeans were in North America even before the Vikings (following seal and walrus for meat and ivory).

500 years later the Puritans were considered to be an unsavoury influence in late Tudor/early Stuart society. If they didn't leave on their own, I'm sure someone would have "suggested" they leave. In quite forceful terms. Motivations might well be alien to our way of thinking (what do the Chinese or Indians really want to do in space?)

While the idea of the Taliban settling on the Moon might seem very bizarre or repulsive, in their terms it would allow them to study the Koran in peace and live according to their precepts of Islam without disturbance by apostates (Shi'ite or Sunni worshippers for example), not to mention Infidels of any persuasion (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, Animists etc.)

The trick is to match the burning desire to carve out a new life/get away from the old world with some sort of realistic(tm) means of actually doing so. The only things I can see on the horizon which might jump start the enterprise are:

Anti Ballistic Missiles; to form the basis of assembly line production of cheap and reliable space hardware.

Space Tourism: to build a large body of people with experience operating spacecraft, going to space and operating the infrastructure

Beamed power: to bring costs down by a factor of 10 to 100.

(each factor is separate, and can be combined or not as you desire)

As many people point out, this isn't something you just pack up your minivan and drive off into the sunset for, but sea travel in the 1500-1700 period was socially and technologically like space travel, and settling in a hostile continent during the little Ice Age(!) pushed the limits of human technology and endurance.

Milo said...

Since when do the Taliban want to study the Koran in peace?

Anyway, to be able to at all justify "escaping oppression" as a reason for colonizing space, you would have to stipulate that not a single existing nation in the world is willing to take them in, in a world that's increasingly coming to value personal freedom and particularly freedom of religion. What ideology, exactly, would force someone to go to such lengths, besides an ideology that proscribes actively picking fights with people (which would require you to stay within shooting range of the people you want to pick fights with)?

Even then, it would be easier to just set up on an oil rig, sea fort, or other artificial island in international waters.

Anonymous said...

OK, reading all the posts, so far, it seems that there is a consensus of sorts; initial colonies will be founded by:
1. Scientists
2. Tourists/hoteliers
3. "excentrics"...
And after these people start the colony, then industries that make the colony more self-suficent or efficent will gradually build up, along with the colony's population, until it resimbles a steriotypical sci fi colony.
Scientists can be financed by governments and/or public institutions(i.e. universities, etc); Tourists/Hoteliers will be private industry and raise their own capital; "excentrics" tend to be willing to raise their own capital by donating their life-savings, and/or other (un-willing) peoples' life-savings to finance their desire to create the "perfect" human civilization...no matter how bizare or perverted that civilization may be.

It may be that some new form of propulsion or propulsive techniques might be available in the near future (by 2100 AD), that reduces the cost of, or increases the safety of, space launches. How radical or mundane these new space launch systems might be is (for now) up to our imaginations. You may not need to build rockets out of Positronium or create a Drive out of Caverite...

Oh, and one last thing: The oppressive government of Firefly lie about everything; having only these peoples' word on the history of Earth and the circumstances of the mass exodus are, in my opinion, highly suspect...it could be that the act of launching all their gigantic, modified-office-building-starships from highly industrealized/populated areas of the Earth's surface would, in fact, explain why after even 5 centuries that no vengful Terrans have shown up...
Just sayin'!

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

Who says that we only have the word of the Alliance on the exodus from Earth-that-was? There were certainly planets independent of the Alliance - that's what the Unifcation War was fought for, after all. It also seems possible, from the Alliance flag combining those of the USA and PRC, that the Alliance was formed after the exodus, from a political union between USA/European-settled Londinium and Chinese-settled Sihnon.
Going back to the main topic, it seems feasible that government/corporate-run scientific outposts will come into being first, and will then develop into true colonies when ordinary people, seeking new opportunities or ideological freedom arrive. This could involve the government/corporation selling/renting land to those who can afford it, or subsidizing emigration by vulnerable religious/linguistic minorities, or possibly even using forced emigration to get rid of troublesome minorities.
Tourists/hoteliers might be the last to arrive, since they would probably prefer a true colony to a scientific outpost. On the other hand, it is possible that tourists could get involved in the development of the colony. The Tribewanted ecotourism project developed a community tourism settlement on the Fijian island of Vorovoro through people joining a 'tribe' online, with the option of donating money, or paying for the right to visit the island for one to three weeks and help in whatever way they could. In space tourism, we may already have seen the beginnings of a similar idea, since the first space tourists have been payload specialists conducting their own private experiments.

R.C.

jnutley said...

Milo:

I am not aware of any nation where I could escape I could escape the reach of Globalization and it's Oligarchic Corporations. Not everyone will agree that "If I'm not free of them I'm not free at all" but I don't need everyone, just a handful.

Let's move the examples away from the terrorists. Suppose myself and my associates want to apply A.I and V.R. and "literally" raise our children in the Hundred Acre Wood until age 10. Mr. Milne was dead before I was born. Mr. Holloway has also passed on, as have the designers of our chosen visual standards. My group has found people to join us who can build the sim and populate it, we can do it ourselves, for ourselves.

There is no place on Earth, or in the oceans where this activity will be tolerated. Lawyers will begin with cease and desist orders, build up to sanctions, and attempt to arrest us. We can't "buy the rights" except by the unlikely scenario of taking over the company and securing those rights and convincing our stockholders (who are NOT for the most part our associates) that they will profit from this action. Our interest in the rights will also start a bidding war among people who are only looking for a quick buck, in the mega-corporate understanding of that term.

People on this blog have been pointing out the constraints of maintaining a closed loop life support system and presenting that as a major loss of freedom. But from my p.o.v. the moment my "people" pass beyond the Earth/Moon L2 sphere, I gain the tremendous the freedom of distance from the "maddening crowd" (I'm fine with the pun); sufficient distance to build what I like, constrained only by the willingness of my associates, who voluntarily emigrated with me.

Sufficient numbers of people have the motivation to colonize Mars _today_. The technology is close at hand, and not as exotic as the corporate profit barrier makes them look. Please look at the Mars Homestead Society site (link below) for a more detailed argument of that assertion. A short set of dominoes, starting with SpaceX, could lead to a Mars landing before I die and a Mars colony not long after; if not SpaceX then one of their successors.

jnutley said...

should have been in the above comment

http://www.marshome.org/

Sean said...

I suppose the best explanation for a space colony, a plot mechanic much like FTL, would be to give no explanation at all. If the story demands that there be settlements on Mars, then there shall be settlements on Mars. You can spend an long awful time explaining how we grossly overestimated the deuterium supplies on Earth or how the sale of extraterrestrial microbes has sky-rocketed the alien zoo industry , but wouldn't that just destroy the magic?

I think for the sole purpose of fiction the subject matter of 'why?' should just be avoided entirely. Else a writer runs the risk of having the story potentially spoiled. Unless of course the plot circulates around some kind of speculative unobtainium.

Thucydides said...

I think jnutley covered the points Milo raised, but to reiterate:

You need to go very far away indeed to escape the power of the modern State. An artificial island can be invested by the US Navy and Marines on whatever pretext the Administration or the Congress might find useful, if they decide the island is an intolerable affront to the United States or the political supporters of the then current Congress and Administration. Nations like India and China have the ability to exert the same sort of control closer home (only the United States and a few of its closest allies has global power projection).

The Taliban were used as an example because their ideology is so at odds with everyone else today. The Puritans were considered in a similar fashion even by the standards of late Tudor and early Stuart society, so there was both the carrot (find a place to worship freely) and stick (burn the heretics!), they were lucky to have access to a fairly mature ship building industry and well regulated financial markets to raise money and buy passage to leave.

Other people have their own reasons to want to leave (Canada was threatened with being overrun by Hollywood actors in 2004 :)), and motivations will not always be the ones we understand. Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" explores that idea; different "civilizations" have fundamentally different ideas about religion, justice, human rights, the role of government and the State.

While we believe the individual is primary and the State exists to serve the individual, this isn't the case in most of the world (indeed in much of the world, the very concept of State is missing). People might move to different places with different "civilizations" to get away from oppression, but will not be able or willing to assimilate into the new society, causing even more friction. No one is saying "you can't come here", but they will feel that way regardless.

So the motivators are there even today, and the idea of non western peoples using their access to western science, technology and financial markets to fund their move away from the Earth is certainly a plausible start point for a future history. (This is also a bit frightening, since large groups that move in together are settlers rather than immigrants, who bring their own culture with them. Having an aggressive illiberal culture on top of the gravity well doesn't bode well for everyone else....)

This also plays havoc with the libertarian trope jnutley invoked of voluntary settlers doing things in a cooperative fashion, but I believe the libertarian settlers will have the flexibility of mind to be more successful and spread farther once they get into space.

Milo said...

"Londinium"

...That sounds like a chemical element.


R.C.:

"Tourists/hoteliers might be the last to arrive, since they would probably prefer a true colony to a scientific outpost. On the other hand, it is possible that tourists could get involved in the development of the colony."

It can be assumed that most people interested in space tourism, especially early on, want to go there mainly because it's really, really cool. Therefore, they would probably actually like seeing a scientific outpost, even one with poor accomodations, as long as it's cheap. It's about getting to see firsthand what it's like to live on the moon, not about making living on the moon exactly the same as living on Earth.

Of course in due time popular tourist destinations will develop more "normal" tourist attractions as well, but probably not before having a significant population.

jollyreaper said...

As said in the other thread, I think seasteading is likely to happen before spacesteading. The legal jurisdiction question is sticky. So far the trend has been towards expansion and consolidation by great powers but this is still a relatively recent trend, since the rise of the nation-states. Even the most remote island tribes ended up as territorial possessions of some European power. It was impossible to escape these imperial entanglements. But empires fall. The most classic counter-example to this is the collapse of the Roman system which led to seizure of authority by local powers.

Scifi goes back and forth over the idea of whether we'll see a one world government as utopian benevolent dictators or an Orwellian nightmare state. My personal bias is towards the weakening of nation-states but that power vacuum is filled by the multinational corporations. But if we have a severe collapse of the global economy, this could well leave the opening needed for seasteaders to assume their own autonomous rights.

The death of the local economy was mainly thanks to globalization. Cheap oil/energy allows for enormous efficiencies of scale. Your most classic example is any photo from third world countries, the poorest of the poor are wearing t-shirts and other western clothing as castoffs. Their local economy can't even sustain manufacture of clothing in competition with the multinationals.

The cost of things changes everything. What makes a crashed car "totaled?" Costs more to repair than replace. But if you increase the cost of replacement sufficiently, even the most extravagant investment of time in repair becomes economical. 1950's autos were meant to be used and disposed of like fashion accessories. And they were in the US. In Cuba they're still running strong because there's simply no affordable alternative.

Also, when people no longer have corporate jobs to work, it makes sense to put time into sustenance activity -- your labor directly feeds/clothes/houses you rather than earning money to pay for someone else to do the work for you.

While I'm not a prognosticator, I do think a plausible scenario is high-tech homesteading and seasteading as a response to the collapse of strong, centralized authorities. A government without the strength to enforce its will may as well not exist. This could happen. Or not.

Milo said...

If the government collapses, you don't even need to bother with seasteading. You can just stay where you are or at most find a remote corner of the government's officially claimed territory, and claim independance. They may officially brand you a criminal but if they don't have the power to stop you, who cares?

jollyreaper said...

I guess the real question is whether seasteading would make you more or less vulnerable to threats from rival factions. It's romantic to think of colonizing the oceans like that but perhaps the economics would work better "reclaiming" useless desert land with sealed greenhouses. Solar energy's available in spades. Use greenhouses to prevent water loss due to evaporation and you might be able to really make something of the desert. I mistyped above -- while scifi loves the utopian and orwellian superstates, it also loves the post-empire dystopias.

Thucydides said...

You will be allowed to live on your high tech homestead or island only under the sufferance of the local Dux Bellorium, or whatever term is in fashion at the time after the collapse of the State.

Of course, if YOU are the Dux Bellorium, then that solves a lot of issues.....

Anonymous said...

While it goes against the libertarian aims of the seasteading movement, the best bet for developing the technical aspects of seasteading might be to encourage governments to invest in the idea. Countries/regions like the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Dubai and Tuvalu that are already involved in reclaiming land from the sea, have high population densities, and/or face flooding from climate change could well see the benefits of creating new 'land' without having to build dykes and drain polders, or dredge sand and form it into islands.
Building seasteads in sheltered coastal waters with access to onshore support would allow the technology to develop gradually to maturity, at which time politically independent settlements built in the open ocean could be attempted.

R.C.

Milo said...

Speaking of polders, I was thinking that society in a dome habitat with fragile life support may well take after the polder model... a least, I hope whoever settles the domes will get the hint! You can argue, you can compete, you can shoot at each other if you must, but no one messes with life support.

Thucydides said...

Creating greenhouse communities in the desert (or even in abandoned inner city neighbourhoods) will certainly allow you to be relatively self sufficient, but since you are still within the boundaries of the State, you are still subject to the various laws and regulations of that polity. If they decide to become intrusive through taxation, arbitrary regulations and so on, you either take it or close up and go somewhere else.

If you are trying this in a failed State, then your ability to live unmolested might well depend on how well you do as the local warlord, or failing that, how well you get along with the warlords in your region.

Of course, the ability to even build a greenhouse will depend on your ability to access materials and labour, so you might be better off looking at an out of the way place in Texas or Saskatchewan to have access to building materials, markets for goods and services and the local police force if needed. This would be analogous to setting up shop in LEO or the Moon, while the really advanced builder who could create Biosphere 2 (well, Biosphere 3 with the kinks worked out) is the one who would be able to settle on Mars or the asteroids.

Milo said...

"If you are trying this in a failed State, then your ability to live unmolested might well depend on how well you do as the local warlord, or failing that, how well you get along with the warlords in your region."

Anyone who can build a colony ship and a closed habitat can probably build some tanks and stealth fighters, too.

Or at least has the resources to bribe the people that do have those.

Of course this might be a future where stealth fighters are so cheap they no longer impress anyone, but one wonders how a society like that would be able to sustain warlordism without promptly self-destructing.

jnutley said...

Milo said:

"Anyone who can build a colony ship and a closed habitat can probably build some tanks and stealth fighters, too."

How many individuals have the energy to build and operate and Army, AND build a civilization? A viable military force requires personnel AND equipment AND training AND a logistical backbone to support it's operations; pretty soon it sucks the energy out of groups as big as a small state with multiple cities. Consider the difference between North and South Korea in our times; or ask yourself what were the cultural, commercial, and scientific innovations accomplished personally by Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar?

Ever play one of Sid Meyer's Civ games? Isn't it annoying, at the higher levels, to have to break off researching your new tech to pour resources into grunt warriors so that the horde invading your land can be repulsed?

Actually the "all states fail" apocalypse is something of a divergence from bashing or praising space colonization, imo.

I will admit this though, if the world becomes covered with tiny hot wars, it is unlikely that anyone will have the resources to build any space lift at all.

"...one wonders how a society like that would be able to sustain warlord-ism without promptly self-destructing."

I think that's the point Thucydides and I are trying to make. A Mad Max future has already forfeited on challenging the Black Sky, and will spend it's energy neighbor against neighbor.

Milo said...

"A viable military force requires personnel AND equipment AND training AND a logistical backbone to support its operations"

A space colonization effort also requires all of those things.

Turbo10k said...

What I think they meant is that while you land with the ability to make shovels, you're going to make something equivalent to what you just have to make guns...

A military project is different from a colonization project in that one feeds itself and the other is a resource drain, even if both use similair initial resources.

Rick said...

Y'all made me come back here. But first of all, welcome to a couple of new commenters!

On a technical point, I have to completely disagree with ABMs as a driver for cheaper space tech. An ABM does not need anything approaching orbital velocity, and carries a small payload, a target seeker. It is basically a souped up theater defense missile, not really adaptable to an orbital booster.


To the main point, as Aaron said, space is expensive and hard. REALLY expensive and hard, to the point that even reducing costs by a factor of 100 still leaves it dreadfully expensive.

That is where the analogy to the Puritans breaks down. New England is habitable, and you could get there by chartering an ordinary commercial ship.

The historic driver of colonization has been, if not cheap land, at least affordable land without an overlord.

For this purpose land = habitat, and in space you have to build it all yourself, whether the raw material comes from a planet or a rubble pile. This habitat has to meet structural standards comparable to submarines and aircraft. For permanent habitation you have to provide a complete ecosystem and keep it stabilized.

You need a very high economic level indeed, 'post scarcity' in any material sense, for this to be attainable by middle class dissidents comparable to the Puritans. A few rich people may like an exotic getaway cabin, but that is about it.

I suspect that just as with stealth and planetary clutter, dissidents will find it easier to hide on the clutter of Earth than to attempt to get away from it all. After all, if it is affordably cheap for them to go to Saturn space, it is affordably cheap for the powers that be to follow.

jnutley said...

Rick; Thank You so much for creating and maintaining this very high quality blog!

Although I admit I can't prove it here and now, I am convinced that the cost of space in our lifetimes is an illusion. I believe the new-space organizations will demonstrate this. The costs of Apollo and Shuttle were inflated by political graft, and the "never been done before" angle. Only the contained sustainable ecosystem remains to be demonstrated now. Branson and Musk, or their near successors will break through, and a number of us will follow them.

I also disagree with your characterization of the Puritan colonization as "middle class" There were members of every economic class on board those ships, but each trip was organized and chartered by an upperclass family, Andrew Jackson's father was not poor, neither was William Penn, nor Lord Berkley, and certainly not John Winthrop.

Milo said...

Rick:

"That is where the analogy to the Puritans breaks down. New England is habitable, and you could get there by chartering an ordinary commercial ship."

Corollary: if we ever have ordinary commercial interplanetary or interstellar ships, then we're halfway to allowing a bunch of social undesirables to seek a new home, and might be able to handwave the other half away. However, these malcontents will not be the first people to attempt space colonization. At best, they will purchase and apply existing colonization technology after it's been developed and tested elsewhere by more socially acceptable people.

I do not know who will colonize Mars, or Mimas, but Luna will be colonized by scientists.


"After all, if it is affordably cheap for them to go to Saturn space, it is affordably cheap for the powers that be to follow."

Any hope of colonization by dissidents hinges on the home powers' reaction being "good riddance".

Aaron said...

The thing that seems missing from this discussion is that there are lots of people who would dearly love to settle in space just for the sake of settling in space. They're not fleeing persecution, or moving for any non-space-related ideology at all. Well, some of them want to be Heinleinian libertarians IN SPACE.

The whole reason we like to think about people living in space colonies is the romance of the thing, but we're shrinking back from putting them there simply because it's cool. So we picture people going for some other reason -- because it makes economic sense, or because they're fleeing something. But we already have people willing to go and settle in space just because it's cool. Once we have cheap access to Earth orbit (which will only happen "post-scarcity"), expect many thousands of people to move permanently to Mars because they want to be Martians.

Jim Baerg said...

Regarding 'seasteading':

This idea would make it a lot easier. The sort of reactor the author of that website is promoting would go a long way toward createing a 'post-scarcity' society

Milo said...

...What?

I don't see what advantage he expects to gain from putting his nuclear reactors underwater.

I'm sure the efficiency of fission reactors can still be improved on, without resorting to anything as radical as fusion power, but that's unlikely to result in orders of magnitude of improvement. It'd be useful, sure, but hardly post-scarcity.

Jim Baerg said...

Putting them underwater deals with at least some of the reasons for NIMBYism. The small volume per MW of this design makes the submarine location feasible.

Other aspects of this particular type of fission reactor would reduce the capital cost per MW below that of coal & the fuel cost for any nuclear is minimal anyway. Cheap abundant energy is neccesary (though not quite sufficient) for 'post-scarcity'.

Milo said...

Wow, let's put our reactor somewhere that's hard to reach for maintainance, and where nuclear spills would flow with the current and damage a wide swath of underwater ecology while being near-invisible to humans! That makes so much more sense than just building it a little ways outside a city.

Sean said...

I don't see the point or future viability of nuclear fission reactors when compared to the benefits of green energy.

Anonymous said...

One of the main problems with renewable energy sources (other than space-based solar, which probably needs a lot of orbital infrastructure) may be that in order to produce amounts of power comparable with that of fossil-fuel and nuclear power stations they need to be built on such a large scale that any ecological benefits are largely cancelled out. In the UK, a tidal barrage has not been built in the Severn estuary both because of the high cost and because it would risk disruption to protected wildlife habitats. However, on a smaller scale, the SeaGen tidal stream generator in the Strangford Narrows in Northern Ireland generates 1.2 MW with a lower environmental impact. Nevertheless, even individually smaller-scale renewable energy generation may cause environmental damage and be unsightly if implemented in large enough numbers. If there are wind farms on every hilltop, larger wind turbines on every coastline or solar panels covering every desert, the overall effect may be as bad as the dirtiest coal or oil burning station.
On the subject of fission power, advances in safety and efficiency could potentially allow it to come into its own once more. One breeder reactor design, the Integral Fast Reactor, would use far more of the available energy in uranium or thorium, could be fuelled by some forms of nuclear waste, and would produce waste that is dangerously radioactive for only a few centuries rather than millennia.

R.C.

Native Jovian said...

The thing that seems missing from this discussion is that there are lots of people who would dearly love to settle in space just for the sake of settling in space.

That may be true, but the problem is that they have to be able to pay for it. Which means it has to be economically viable. Even if they don't plan to make any profits on it, the cost for just setting up a habitat and existing in space is enormous. In order to make it work, you'd have to have either a) government funding, b) some form of revenue, or c) a steady stream of income from unrelated endeavors back on Earth.

I don't see the point or future viability of nuclear fission reactors when compared to the benefits of green energy.

In short? Energy density. "Green" energy has low environmental impact but doesn't generate a whole lot of power compared to other power sources. Nuclear power produces much, much more energy at the cost of having to deal with nuclear waste (which can be mitigated, as mentioned by the poster above me).

Aaron said...

That may be true, but the problem is that they have to be able to pay for it. Which means it has to be economically viable.

Then one day we'll die out still confined to our little world.

As I've argued above, space will never be economically viable. Tourism won't work either, because means of servicing the tourists without significant numbers of people can and will be invented. Perhaps something economically viable can be done after there are already large populations there, but that obviously doesn't advance us any, does it? But if we can bring down the cost of access to orbit significantly, by a scale only possible by the use of space elevators or launch loops or the like, then you can pre-pay. You're no longer banking on your future income from space, but spending out of your past income (or the productivity of society's nanotech, or...). Of course building a beanstalk will be fantastically expensive, but so was building the rail system and the highway system. Shipping yourself and freight can still be cheap even on an expensive infrastructure.

There may or may not be an economic justification for building that infrastructure, but the decision is essentially a political one anyway, so that's not especially relevant.

Even if they don't plan to make any profits on it, the cost for just setting up a habitat and existing in space is enormous.

That's why you bring along your genie. If you don't have a technological equivalent to a genie yet, you're not ready to colonize space.

Geoffrey S H said...

I personally feel that colonising MArs requires full on terraforming first- 300 years or so before we can even think about theoretical planning for that. nce there is a planet with athmosphere and plants though, the number of people able and willing to go would increase dramatically. Open air (and robotic asteroid) mining could help to bring down the costs of space. Of course- this is all probably thousands or millions of years in the future. The polynesians had craft on which weight was crucial- the ships that columbus had did not have quite such a problem. We are at the former stage currently.

Aaron said...

Geoffrey, if Alan Turing had explained the concept of a computer to you during the Second World War, how long would you have thought iPods would take?

Geoffrey S H said...

Of course, but trying to strike a balance between that and "oh, we'll have it in afew decades or so" can make be abit of a headache. While I do beluieve that mars terraforming might be possible in 300 years or so, I would not rule out it taking us thousands of years to expand any further into space. Good point though...

Sean said...

When would the terraforming of Mars take place upon the foundation of the first permanent settlement? Once an economic infrastructure is in place making it a viable prospect, or would it be our first colonial endeavour on the planet?

Milo said...

That depends on when we start looking to Mars. Paraterraforming is bound to be developed earlier than true terraforming, so if we have a motivation to settle Mars as soon as possible, then there will already be domed cities by the time terraforming becomes practical. On the other hand, if we pass Mars by initially (due to other places being more attractive paraterraforming targets), then we may skip straight to terraforming there.

Of course, to terraform Mars, you will either need some sort of outpost there (even if that's just your landed colony ship), or perform the terraforming entirely with remote-controlled robots. Said outpost doesn't need to be anywhere near as self-sufficient or highly-populated as a dome city, though.

Note: if you plan to hailbomb the planet to add water later, do not put anyone on it yet.

Milo said...

I picture something like this for a semi-operatic-but-realistic future:


Stage 1

With the use of orbit-lifting shuttles mildly better than those we have today but still following the same basic technology, it becomes possible to settle Luna with a domed colony. Initially a small closed life support system cobbled up by scientists, it grows from there as new people move in, gradually developing a full industry and culture. The initial construction represents a serious long-term investment that takes a while to pay off, so while it eventually does pay off, it was almost certainly initially done purely because it's really, really cool.

Luna at this point is using mainly solar power (easier when you don't have an atmosphere, and doubly so if your at the Peaks of Eternal Light), and some nuclear once infrastructure gets good enough to build reliable nuclear power plants. Fusion still hasn't been made to work, so while the helium-3 extracted from the Lunar soil as a byproduct of other mining efforts is occasionally useful to scientists, it isn't really a meaningful export at this point. Luna's profit comes mainly from scientific grants, space tourism, and later on when the Lunar colony is quite well-developed, spacecraft manufacturing and launch (including, possibly, commercial satellites as well as research probes - if moving satellites in from Lunar distance to Earth orbit proves to still be easier than launching them from Earth).

Milo said...

Stage 2

The secret of fusion power is finally solved, and suddenly Luna finds itself in the possession of many tons of valuable fuel. This (along with cheaper space travel as a result of fusion technology) drives a large-scale population flux into Luna, expanding the colony - even people who aren't interested in working in the mining industry can still find advantage in living in a rich country.

At this point fusion technology isn't yet efficient enough for manned missions to the outer solar system to be viable (plus the fact that even with good fusion rockets, settling somewhere several months away from Earth will still be more difficult than settling somewhere a few days away from Earth), but robotic research probes become much more numerous and better equipped. Using these, the solar system is examined in fine detail so that by the time we finally do develop the idea to go there ourselves, we'll have a pretty good idea of where we want to go and what we'll find there. If there's life on Titan or Enceladus or wherever, this is when we'll probably find it - which would provide a serious incentive for trying to finally send out a manned expedition.

Helium-3 isn't the only fuel source used yet either - deuterium-tritium fusion (cheap but hard to turn into electricity since you need heavy and inefficient thermal plants, rather than directly capturing charged particles, and you also need more shielding), proton-boron fusion (cheaper than deuterium-helium but with poorer energy and power densities), and even good old fission and renewables (working power plants aren't just going to all get decomissioned in one day). But it's used enough to be valuable. (Hey, I said this was an operatic timeline.)

However, asteroid or NEO mining may (or may not) become viable at this point, if there's anything out there worth shipping back that can't be more cheaply mined somewhere else. This may be manned or unmanned, but the need for cheap free-space operations that never bother to enter a gravity well may spur the development of free-space habitats that are large enough to be politically important. Since these are built ex nihilo in previously empty space (whether that's in Earth orbit, in solar orbit, in a Lagrange point, or wherever), rather than on a previously named celestial body, it's anyone's guess what they'll be called. It might be a good idea to hollow these habitats out of preexisting carbonaceous chondrites, but they still don't need to be particularly big or notable asteroids.

If solar power is valuable (read: has significant advantages over fission or fusion power) then Mercury may get settled at this stage. Otherwise, we'll probably never have cause for going there.

Milo said...

Stage 3

It finally becomes viable to try settling the gas giants moons, using fusion rockets powered by Lunar helium-3, and knowledge of paraterraforming refined through experience on Luna. Gas giant helium-3 - and, possibly, life - provide the motivation for going there. The internet proves to be the biggest obstacle, since people have gotten addicted to it and cannot be as easily convinced to go somewhere where light lag prevents instant messaging and MMORPGs.

It's hard to say which gas giant would be settled first - Jupiter is the easiest to reach, but is also the hardest to extract helium-3 from, has annoying levels of radiation, and isn't as scientifically our touristically interesting as Saturn. Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune actually all have about the same surface gravity, although surface gravity may not be the only factor determining how hard it is to get in and back out of the gravity well. Saturn and Uranus also have more convenient moons to base your mining operations from (namely, small low-gravity moons orbiting very near the primary), at least if you limit yourself to rounded ones. Neptune is the only gas giant that I can't see as being our first target under any circumstance - there's just no visible advantage over Uranus, except for the possibility of there being something on Triton, but that won't draw us in immediately until we've been to the more obviusly interesting places around Jupiter and Saturn. In due time, though, all four may receive some settlement. Mimas has the prettiest view (being the closest rounded moon to Saturn, and also having the highest orbital inclination, which is important since the rings don't look like much when viewed head-on), and this may prove the initial seed for a sprawling tourism complex, with entertainment and luxury of all forms clustering around the existing attractions.

If life was found on any of the moons back in Stage 2, those will be major targets, although most likely these will not develop full colonies, but rather small Antarctica-style research outposts supported by supplies from a more proper colony in another moon. This has the added bonus of doing less damage to the existing ecosphere. The actual colonies will be built onto airless rocks, and the more unremarkable a place is, the better it does as real estate.

However, it takes a long time to bootstrap a functioning self-sufficient colony this far from home, and more time to develop the technologically challenging vehicles capable of dipping down into a gas giant's gravity well and atmosphere, scooping up a load of gas, and getting back out - plus the infrastructure for building and operating these novel vehicles (which will most likely be unmanned probes operated from a moonbase - lugging mass out of a gas giant is hard enough when you're not also carrying a bunch of penalty weight in life support). Even once helium-3 starts to get shipped back, Hohmann barges take some years to get revved up into a steady flow. Thus, Luna will continue to be everyone's main source of helium-3 for, probably, decades, before the gas giant colonies reach a sufficient level development.

Milo said...

Stage 4

The gas giants overtake Luna as the solar system's source of helium-3. Mimas's advantageous location has made it dominant in the helium-3 mining and space tourism markets, although it does not have a full monopoly in either, facing competition from other gas giants in the former and from Luna in the latter. Still, these suffice to make Mimas one of the richest places in the solar system, along with Earth and Luna. (Or if you like some dystopia in your setting, then maybe only the near side is so lavishly well-off, while the far side, out of sight and out of mind, houses the slums of the workers who are needed to keep the gilded tourist traps intact.)

Luna is by now a net importer of helium-3 due to increasing energy use by society and depletion of available resources, but probably remains important due to their by-now old, developed, and well-off civilization and infrastructure, and continue to be dominant especially in the spacecraft industry (in fact, they're even more so than they were back in Stage 1, given that at the time the necessary infrastructure was just starting to get developed, and that in Stage 4's society there is much more demand for spaceships). With cultural holdovers from being settled back when doing so was a scientifically daring endeavor, and still home to the solar system's best space observatories, Luna is stereotyped as a scientific center.

Earth/Terra/Tellus/whatever still has the biggest population in the solar system, along with numerous endemic species that haven't been spread to anywhere else yet - which are likely to be among its main exports. They're still the only place with a true biosphere rather than paraterraformed domes - unless, of course, native life was discovered elsewhere in the solar system (which would be of immense interest for researchers, but of no value for supporting human life - especially if it's based on methane at negative 180 degrees Celcius).

Milo said...

Stage 5

Much, much, much, later, technology for true terraforming is finally developed and becomes economically viable. At this point, Mars - which, you might have noticed, I neglected to ever bring up before because it doesn't have much to recommend it as far as paraterraforming goes - comes to the fore as an attractive target (close enough to the sun that it can be kept warm with some additional greenhouse gasses rather than artificial heating, and conveniently having good supplies of carbon dioxide to begin with). Another difficult, slow, and expensive process later, Mars has belatedly earned the honor that many were trying to shoot for prematurely: the only place besides Tellus where humans can recline under the open sky. Here, greenery grows freely from rain rather than controlled irrigation, and here alone will you find free-ranging wildlife adapted to low-gravity conditions. This is really, really cool.

Luna, Mimas, etc. will remain in dome cities forever and never see true terraforming, since their lack of atmosphere is one of the main things making them profitable. That's okay - by now those domed cities are going to be pretty safe and comfortable. They've had decades or even centuries of refinement.

Milo said...

...And then?

Once you've gotten this far, pretty much the only way to continue is FTL - we've taken up most of the real estate available down here. The Kuiper belt is unlikely to ever be settled - it's rich in volatiles, vital for life, but its huge distance and lack of sunlight largely preclude settlement, and volatiles are bound to be available in reasonable amounts elsewhere. Venus is the most Earthlike planet in terms of size, but its horrendous atmospheric conditions likewise preclude us from going there without some very good terraforming. (The atmosphere's hard to get rid of and there's no water.) As for where we expand once we have FTL, it's hard to say given how poor our current knowledge of what's out there, but I'll just note that the conditions which are conductive to the natural evolution of native life are not necessarily the same as the conditions that make a place suitable for terraforming for our purposes. In fact, native life would more or less preclude any given planet being settled except by research outposts.

Even once humanity has expanded to the stars, whenever they come back to Sol, they will find its system to still resemble the structure described above for as long as our humble corner of the galaxy remains worth inhabiting. In other star systems, there will be less drive to settle every available rock, since it's now more economical to scoot over to a different star system and colonize only the prime real estate, rather than eking out on nearby but marginal locations. However, depending on the cost of FTL, systems may still find it advantageous to produce their own fusion fuel locally, which can provide an incentive for having outposts at a local gas giant. If FTL gets developed before terraforming, poor Mars may never get a piece of the action at all. Conversely, if full-planet terraforming proves surprisingly easy and gets developed before fusion rockets with reasonable travel times, then Mars may get settled before the gas giants are.

If you don't want a helium-3 economy, proceed in the same general order as above except that the gas giants will be settled primarily for scientific reasons, and will have generally lower populations - Uranus especially may get passed by entirely. Remember that while helium-3 catalyzed Luna's economy, it was neither the first nor the last reason for going there.

If you prefer in-system FTL (or can-theoretically-go-FTL-but-there-are-engineering-challenges-before-we-build-a-model-that-good-but-it's-still-pretty-fast STL) over ridiculously powerful rockets, it would get developed around Stage 2-3 but would have the same general effect on advancement.

jollyreaper said...

Seems like a reasonable progression. As far as terraforming Mars and Venus goes, hailbombing seems like the only way to go. So you send out von-neuman ice miners to the most convenient sources of ice which may well be cometary bodies out past Pluto. Greenies may not like us mining Saturn's rings, ruins the aesthetics of the place. :) So more than likely the "miners" just find likely iceballs and nudge them towards an intercept with Mars and Venus. As I understand it with Mars, the lack of a magnetic field is why the atmosphere gets stripped off. I don't know if there's any way to really counter that.

I don't know how long the watering phase would take. I figure by the time we're capable of doing this, we probably have strong AI and direct mind uploads and our conventional notions of economics have gone out the window. The driving factor for terraforming Venus could end up less like the reason for building the Panama Canal and more like a rich man's garden, a fancy he indulges in simply because he can.

In that sort of situation, Venus may become less about living space for humans but a giant biological experiment.

Thucydides said...

Milo, your "future history" seems fairly logical and internally consistent. People will go to where resources are cheap and easy to extract, so it makes sense that most people will give Mars a pass. It has just enough atmosphere and gravity to make space access difficult, but not enough to live on the surface without lots of support.

If and when Mars gets terraformed, the technology to encase the planetary atmosphere in a global shield may be possible (imagine a vast bag only a molecule thick surrounding the planet).

Venus will also need a lot of help; a solar shield to block most of the incoming sunlight, a vast importation of water and sending asteroids on flybys to provide gravitational torque to speed up the rotation of the planet (23rd or 24th century technologies for sure). Getting rid of much of the atmosphere is also a must, maybe a Loftstrom loop to eject capsules of CO2 to a carbon hungry solar economy (the rate of rotation is far to slow to allow a skyhook in the normal sense).

The first step is still getting there, and I suspect that this will be the result of a convergence of unrelated technologies, financial markets and organizational change (the Puritans would be a big pile of ashes if efficient financial markets, advanced ship building and an evolving Parliament with the power to regulate the powers of the Crown hadn't all existed in England at the time).

Elukka said...

Milo - I like your future history, but I don't think FTL will be required. A well-developed solar system, both technologically and economically, could build slower-than-light starships that our current understanding of physics allows for.

Much like orbital spaceflight, interstellar travel may become possible after humanity has grown to the point where the money, energy and technology needed are no longer prohibitive.

You need a terrible amount of energy to get anywhere in a reasonable timeframe, but the nations (or however humanity is then organized) of a system-wide humanity could quite possibly manage it. We couldn't, today, but a Saturn V probably required a significant portion of the energy that, say, medieval France could have mustered, too.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"As far as terraforming Mars and Venus goes, hailbombing seems like the only way to go."

That depends on how much water you want. Mars already has water locked up in the poles, and might or might not have some more water hidden underground (we aren't sure yet). Releasing this will give you enough to sustain a civilization, though it might still be a little desert-y unless you add more water with hailbombing. To release the water in the poles, you need to add warmth. Fortunately, Mars's atmosphere is already carbon dioxide, the poles have more frozen carbon dioxide that you can try to release, and again, there might or might not be carbon dioxide underground (again, we don't know). So you might be able to pull off some kind of runaway greenhouse effect to melt the poles. If that isn't enough, you need to add some carbon dioxide from outside - Venus has plenty.

Unlike Mars, Venus doesn't have any amount of water worth mentioning, so yeah, you need to hailbomb it. However, moving around an ocean-sized mass of comets is likely to be easier than getting rid of Venus's atmosphere.


"As I understand it with Mars, the lack of a magnetic field is why the atmosphere gets stripped off."

This is only an issue over geological time scales. Over the several hundred thousand years that mark the limit of human attention span, I doubt atmosphere loss is going to be a meaningful problem.


"I don't know how long the watering phase would take."

As long as it takes you to locate a sufficient number of icy asteroids and toss them in the right direction. This needn't take particularly long as long as you have a sufficient number of powerful tugboats, but they need to be very powerful tugboats - again, you're trying to move an ocean-sized mass of cheap material. Not something you'd be fond of doing unless spacecraft are quite cheap.


"The driving factor for terraforming Venus could end up less like the reason for building the Panama Canal and more like a rich man's garden, a fancy he indulges in simply because he can."

If this is the cause, then one has to consider the possibility that terraforming will first be applied to smaller and cheaper places, despite the difficulty of getting a tiny world to hold an atmosphere and to pressurize said atmosphere to human-comfortable density.

Venus is the second-largest rocky planet in our solar system, after Earth, and so you'd have to be quite rich to terraform that for fun! Of course, maybe that just means that Venus won't get terraformed until we're post-scarcity enough that people actually can be that rich.


"In that sort of situation, Venus may become less about living space for humans but a giant biological experiment."

Mars is more fun as a biological experiment, due to being more different from Earth. Also a lot cheaper. ("Cheap" is relative, of course.)

Milo said...

Thucydides:

"Venus will also need a lot of help; a solar shield to block most of the incoming sunlight,"

Are you sure? Just removing all those greenhouse gasses should count for a lot - it'd still be warmer than Earth, but that's okay as long you like Venus as a rainforest world - as many early authors imagined it to be. If it's still too hot, you can try adding some anti-greenhouse gasses, or putting in some ice caps to raise planetary albedo and put Venus into an effective "ice age" that's still fairly warm!

Stuff like giant solar shields in Lagrange points has always struck me as overengineering. Better to work with stuff on the planet, taking lessons from the varying climates on Earth (over millions of years).


"a vast importation of water and sending asteroids on flybys to provide gravitational torque to speed up the rotation of the planet"

Water, yes. Rotation, maybe not. A world with very slow days and nights might seem tough to live on but I think it's possible, and if you're doing this as a biology experiment, then seeing how animals adapt to a weird (from our point of view - for all I know it might arise natively elsewhere in the galaxy) day cycle will be part of the attraction. Life has already adapted to season-long days and nights in the polar circles (and remember that they weren't always frozen over like they are now). Even if we add some spin, we can just add a little rather than speeding Venus up all the way to a 24-hour cycle. We might get this for free just as a result of our hailbombing - if we toss the hailbombs in at strategically chosen oblique angles, we get spin as part of the package.


"The first step is still getting there, and I suspect that this will be the result of a convergence of unrelated technologies, financial markets and organizational change"

We certainly won't try tackling Venus until we've established well-rooted human presence on other celestial bodies.

Even the most terraforming-optimistic planet-chauvinist prophets still have us doing Mars before Venus.



Elukka:

"Milo - I like your future history, but I don't think FTL will be required. A well-developed solar system, both technologically and economically, could build slower-than-light starships that our current understanding of physics allows for."

Possible. STL colonization, though, doesn't leave much opportunity for the colonies to remain in contact with home. You can't have trade, warfare, empires, etc. in such a setting, it's every system for themselves.

Thus from a story perspective STL colonization wouldn't so much expand human presence as it would simply allow us to start over somewhere new, in a system that has whatever properties the author wants, and just forget about home.

It's also questionable what motive we would have to launch a super-expensive colony ship that has to carry a large number of colonists for multiple years to a far-off system from which they will never be able to return. Yeah, maybe we could do it, but why? I don't think "it would be really, really cool" really cuts it here anymore... although then again, who knows what lengths future humans will be willing to go to for coolness?

Jim Baerg said...

Re: Milo's 'Future History'

I'm skeptical about fusion ever being a major energy source (aside from the gravitational confinement fusion which provides light & heat for half the earth at any time), it's hard to see much advantage over fission, especially a variant like the Molten Salt Reactor. Only if something as good as what people hope for from Bussard's IEC reactor works out do I see fusion being a major power source. So I suppose I'd go with the variant history that doesn't include scooping He3 from Gas Giants.

Domed cities on Luna aren't going to happen if humans can't stay healthy at 1/6 g. In that case it there will be mining bases on moons & asteroids, but the miners will commute to rotating free space habs to keep healthy.

Re: Earth having the only true biosphere. That's very much an open question. How big can spinning habitats be made? How big an environment is needed for a reasonably stable ecosystem? The second might be smaller than the first. (OK that would really be a biocylinder rather than biosphere but...;^) )

Re Venus: I could see having a spining hab in orbit & a few small balloon cities in Venus' atmosphere for scientific investigation for a long time before terraforming becomes feasible.

For terraforming Venus I like the idea of bringing in an oceans worth of *hydrogen* to react with the CO2 & having the deepest basins on venus filled with coal, covered with a layer of sedimentary rock & then shallow seas over that. Hopefully that would be enough to keep the carbon reactomg with the breathably oxygenated atmosphere you then want to make.

I don't see much point in trying to increase Venus' rotation rate. The 4 months from sunrise to sunrise can be effectively a short year. After the CO2 is removed there is still about 3 atmospheres of nitrogen left over, so between the thick atmosphere & reasonable sized oceans on a terraformed Venus the temperature swings shouldn't be extreme.

Aside from a sunshade to cut the sunlight to about what earth gets, I'd put a small mirror in a 24 hour orbit to half the time give the darkside illumination that's a lot more than the full moom gives earth but a lot less than full sunlight. The result would be pleasant for humans to live on, but an interestingly different biological experiment.

Re Kuiper Belt: If you have fusion reactors you could colonize it, so if some group really wants to get away from everyone else that's where they could go.

Milo said...

Jim Baerg:

"Domed cities on Luna aren't going to happen if humans can't stay healthy at 1/6 g."

Well yeah. We aren't going to find out what low gravity does to humans until we try, though.

The question is how healthy you want to stay in the first place. I expect that your body will adapt to whatever the local conditions are. Spend enough time in low gravity, and your muscles and gravity will atrophy - but that's okay, because you weren't using them anyway and you're still properly adapted for the conditions you're actually in. Go back to high gravity, and initially you'll be very weak, but spend enough time there and hopefully you'll bulk back up to your previous levels. So it's mainly travelling between different gravities that poses a problem (not just in muscle strength but also in clumsiness as you misjudge how things will move), as opposed to being in low/high gravity. We already need to spend long periods acclimating to high altitude, yet people still live in Tibet, so this is nothing new and isn't a showstopper.

It'd be hardest on spaceship crews that have to constantly shift between planetary gravity, launch gee-forces, weightlessness, and then a different planetary gravity, then repeat the cycle. That's going to do a number on your body.

For long trips like the several-month passenger liners to the outer solar system, perhaps you could apply spin gravity to the liner and gradually change it over the course of the journey so passengers can acclimate gently. So after lifting off from Mimas you spin up to Mimas gravity, then over the course of a couple months gradually spin up to Earth gravity (a little over 100 times largest), letting people get gradually increasing exercise rather than suddenly dumping them into crushing gravity.

Of course, I could be wrong and the atrohpy could be more serious than I'm imagining. We need to try it to be sure.

One also has to consider the possibility of future medical technology finding a solution to spaceflight osteopenia (which will probably not continue to be called that once non-scientists start talking about it). It's not just rocket, energy, and laser technology that's going to improve.

Milo said...

Jim Baerg:

"Re: Earth having the only true biosphere. That's very much an open question. How big can spinning habitats be made? How big an environment is needed for a reasonably stable ecosystem?"

Even if we can build a spinning habitat or domed habitat with enough spare room, air, water, etc. to allocate to a sprawling wilderness, then it's questionable whether you could consider that a true wilderness. It's still heavily dependant on life support and most likely under careful human supervision to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. It'd be more of a big zoo.


"Re Venus: I could see having a spining hab in orbit & a few small balloon cities in Venus' atmosphere for scientific investigation for a long time before terraforming becomes feasible."

I can see almost anything happening before terraforming Venus becomes feasible :)

Research outposts near Venus may well exist but aren't likely to be anywhere near self-sufficient - there are no good resources nearby and it's a long way from anywhere else you can ship stuff in from. It's a question of whether you find Venus to be interesting enough to put up with the hassle of manned exploration, rather than unmanned probes controlled from Luna.


"For terraforming Venus I like the idea of bringing in an oceans worth of *hydrogen* to react with the CO2"

Bringing in oceans worth of hydrogen should be no easier than removing oceans worth of carbon dioxide, and the latter is also less likely to blow up on you if your sequestered carbon manages to escape.


"Re Kuiper Belt: If you have fusion reactors you could colonize it, so if some group really wants to get away from everyone else that's where they could go."

I guess so. Maybe this is where our Space Puritans go.

Elukka said...

Milo - The reasons you mention (interstellar empires, war, trade, etc.) are precisely the reasons I choose to have 200c reactionless drives in my setting. ;)
(But they only work a reasonable distance from a star - inside a solar system it it's all rocketry)

Still, Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep had a very interesting slower-than-light setting without any interstellar empires.

Paint it Pink said...

Lots to read as always.

No big discussion or commentary from me, but a question.

What do you see as the top ten or more prime science site in the solar system where the science boffins will want to hang out?

jnutley said...

"What do you see as the top ten or more prime science site in the solar system where the science boffins will want to hang out?"

This question can be rephrased as "Where are the top universities?" During their days as Gard Students, _some_of_ the most famous and/or respected professors surely did "extreme science", living beyond the edge of civilization in hazardous environments while gathering data for the famous/respected professors from the days of their youth. By doing good work, and kissing up to their own prof and ruthlessly undermining the positions of their competitors (in journals and in their own departments) these individuals in their own time won tenure and fame for themselves.

Are they actually the smartest peeps in the solar system? Did they advance the search for Fact, or obscure it? What about the students who were cut out of the rush; where are they now since they couldn't win tenure?

The big Universities and Labs will necessarily be near the highest growth urban centers. So you need to decide which cities are booming, or have boomed in the previous 50 years, and that will tell you where the institutions are that pay the cream of the Science mix.

Milo said...

"What do you see as the top ten or more prime science site in the solar system where the science boffins will want to hang out?"

I'd peg Titan as first place. After that, Enceladus, Europa, Mars, and Triton are of some interest (not necessarily in that order). Io is highly unlikely to harbor anything resembling life, but geologists might take an interest. A few other gas giant moons, like Callisto and Iapetus, are one-trick ponies with only mild interest, but since we were going to those systems anyway we might as well have a closer look.

Scientists on Luna will be there more because of its value as a base for space telescopes and probes, as opposed to actually studying Luna itself. Of course, once we're there anyway there will be some study of Luna itself, particularly with respect to what it can teach us about the early evolution of Earth. Speaking of which, Luna is also a good observation post from which to look at Earth from the outside.

Venus is weird and therefore potentially interesting, although I'm not sure what we'd actually be looking for - we already know more or less what it's atmosphere is like, and anything below that is hard to study.


"Where are the top universities?"

"The big Universities and Labs will necessarily be near the highest growth urban centers."

I see the most famous university (as opposed to Antarctica-like science outpost) as being on Luna, which has the best combination of scientific attraction, early settlement (and therefore mature infrastructure), and beneficial location at a metephorical crossroads.

Other important universities will appear anywhere that has a high population.

Geoffrey S H said...

The best reason for Venus terraforming I can see is the over population of Mars and Earth. At least 400 years, factoring ut possible improvements over the haber process.

Sean said...

Overpopulation is unlikely, trends seem to indicate that the global population will eventually plateau at around nine billion in 2050, then a sharp decrease will ensure after around the new eighties. But who knows what the pressures of an added three billion people would be?

Citizen Joe said...

Moving the population to Venus or Mars isn't efficient. If you instead move production facilities off Earth to those destinations, it frees up valuable habitat back here on Earth.

Milo said...

Given the difficulty of shipping stuff in space and of operating machinery remotely, it's beneficial to have your people near your production facilities, rather than all of one on one planet and all of the other on another planet.

However I rather doubt space colonization's viability as an answer to overpopulation. If nothing else, I'm sure humans can breed faster than we can construct new habitats. In practice we will simply expand to fill all available space.

jnutley said...

Paint it Pink:

Found an article that might help you with your question:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/08/where-the-super-brains-are/62232/

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

Thinking about universities, from the beginning there have been some in major cities, like the Sorbonne, and some in small college towns, like Oxbridge. Though not out in the middle of nowhere.

I would not be surprised if the first true towns in space, as distinct from 'bases,' are university towns, because the research centers are where most of the people will be. Other things like extraction can be pretty much automated.

As to where, overall, wherever they find life. That is by far the biggest potential draw.


On terraforming Venus, it may simply be too close to the Sun to be human habitable. We don't know. The last I read, the inner edge of the solar HZ is supposed to be as much as 0.95 AU, but the estimates may have changed. It all depends on the effects of clouds and how much energy they trap versus reflect.

Ice is interesting, but boy would it be unstable - truly catastrophic global warming, just waiting to happen. Much worse than any scenario for Earth, where the bad news is for civilization, and species like the polar bears, not the biosphere treated as a whole.

Jim Baerg said...

"On terraforming Venus, it may simply be too close to the Sun to be human habitable."

I've just been assuming any Venus terraforming project includes a permanent sunshade to cut the insolation to about what earth gets.

Milo said...

Earth is rather chilly (although that's largely due to currently being in an ice age). If we terraform Venus, let's go with how old science fiction authors have always pictured it and turn it into a tropical world of rainforests and swamps. We don't want to imitate Earth's climate too closely.

Lsimi said...

I tend to disagree with the view that life outside Earth would be more free than on it. I actually think it would be the other way around: a rather regimented, rule-bound life. Reason for this: space habitats (or colony domes if you which) demand very delicate and resource-consuming life supporting systems. A lot of effort and resources would be used only to keep it going. This could lead to a social structure where even small acts we believe are in the realm of personal freedoms (like smoking) may be forbidden or regulated, because of the impact on the life support systems. Anyway, just my two cents on it...

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

I tend to agree with your point, and so did Heinlein - 'more regulations than a girls' school.'

But the habitants might argue fiercely that they are free, because their community is free. Freedom as an ideal is a complicated thing.

Take another relevant perspective. Sailors are, in cultural myth, thought of as free, because even though subjected to shipboard discipline at sea, they are never stuck in the confines of the landbound world - they can (in myth) always sign aboard a ship and be out of there.

Thucydides said...

I have argued in the past that any viable self sustaining ecosystem needs to be largely self regulating, so there may actually be fewer rules and regulations in an Island Three than in a typical city.

Most of the rules and regulations inside a colony will likely be "common sense" and enforced more by social convention than by endless rules, regulations and hordes of petty bureaucrats. (as an aside, it has been demonstrated that traffic becomes safer when many of the regulatory signs are removed from the road; drivers must now pay attention). Schooling and "tacit knowledge" of the residents will also do a lot; long term residents might not know why they feel compelled to hit the alarm button, but long experience and subtle clues will tune their subconscious that something was going wrong. Proper design will also subdivide the colony into lots of "cells" to prevent chain reaction and cascade failures from taking out everyone.

Even most libertarians agree that some form of government is required, the disagreement is how much is desirable and what exactly governments should do (and the various mechanisms they use to do it). I think among the various readers of this blog, we can agree any government should be able to secure the polity against foreign aggression, provide some form of protective service to the citizens within and provide an impartial arbitration system to resolve disputes among the citizens.

So how colonies will be regulated will be an interesting debate, but I will say (again!) that highly regulated colonies will be inherently brittle and unable to react to unusual circumstances; they will be more dangerous to live in than less regulated ones.

Rick said...

The enforcement of social norms is overwhelmingly informal in all societies. In the military, where regs are pervasive, they are nearly always in the background except for minor, technical things like the procurement and handling of turpentine.

Until some very high techlevel is reached, anything in space will be first and foremost technical, and enveloped in engineering standards that everyone involved takes very seriously.

They may regard 'bureaucratic' rules imposed from outside as mickey mouse, but regard (equally bureaucratic) specs and standards as holy writ. RTFM is predicated on the unspoken assumption that the people who wrote the manual did know what they were doing.

Thucydides said...

I think the disagreement is really where the "codification" ends.

Most people will welcome building codes which provide guidelines and standards of construction (especially when applied to special cases like earthquake prone areas or coastal regions beset by tropical storms or hurricanes). People are less receptive to codes telling them their fences must be a certain height and only made of certain material, or houses must be set back "x" metres from the road.

Zoning regulations also can hinder the development of neighbourhoods, indeed it is a bit head spinning to see my local city council decry "urban sprawl" and in the next sentence speak about enforcing the separation of business from residential areas, including draconian regulations against home offices and business.

Building codes, yes. "Urban planning", not so much.

Milo said...

"People are less receptive to codes telling them their fences must be a certain height and only made of certain material, or houses must be set back "x" metres from the road."

Why would you need rules like that on a moonbase?

The main rules on a moonbase are going to be, don't get too close to the bubble dome or important machinery (which would be government property in any case), major construction projects (particularly ones that involve tunneling) must apply for approval so the government can ensure they're not coming too close to important machinery / breaching the bubble / etc., and you gotta pay fairly for the land and materials you want to use. You would have to be rather careful when it comes to plumbing and such, especially if you plan to use a lot of water for farming. But the government owns the plumbing, so that's more of a corporate EULA where the corporation happens to also be a government.

Also you would be unable to go outside the pressurized areas without a spacesuit license (although it probably isn't too difficult to get, kind of like a driver's license), unless you're a passenger in a pressurized vehicle controlled by someone else.

There might be immigration controls to avoid life support getting overwhelmed. An early moonbase will probably be leery about importing animals, particularly large ones, but that will get phased out as it grows larger. It's just a "let's be careful about this" attitude.

Deep inside the bubble dome, though, houses are still just houses. Any sensible moonbase will quickly ditch any unnecessary zoning regulations in favor of "come here, please!".

Stevo Darkly said...

"People are less receptive to codes telling them their fences must be a certain height and only made of certain material, or houses must be set back "x" metres from the road."

Why would you need rules like that on a moonbase?

Indeed. But one might rejoin, "Why do you 'need' rules like that anywhere?"

I agree that all the pragmatic rules you envision seem likely and sensible. However, as lunar settlements become older and more established, comfortable and secure, you might also see rules like this:

In order to preserve the unique historical character of the Armstrong's Landing neighborhood, as well as the housing values of all residents, the following rules shall apply to the construction, repair and/or renovation of all homes, residences and places of business ...

Section 1.B2.d. A "native" and "historic" appearance shall be maintained. Exterior construction materials shall be limited to mooncrete, fused Lunar regolith, heaped Lunar regolith, silicon and/or aluminum extracted from Lunar regolith, and white or light gray formed plastic or plastic foam. Materials prohibited from use in exterior construction include but are not limited to colored plastics, diamondoid, red brick, terra cotta, ceramifoam and wood of any kind...

Milo said...

But those aren't an inherently Lunar phenomenon pertaining to the challenges of terraforming and life support. They depend entirely on social factors, and so will (on average) be no more or less of a problem than on Earth.

Thucydides said...

While the examples of fencing are familiar to most people living in North America, counterproductive regulations abound, with weird unintended consequences. A few examples:

Houses in the historic districts of Holland (the Netherlands) are very narrow but long, as a consequence of tax laws which valued houses by their frontage. Tudor houses (built in Tudor times) have a unique "stepped" form factor since their tax valuation was based on the size of the foundation. Buildings in the Greek part of Cyprus used to have rusting forests of rebar sticking out of the upper floors, since tax exemptions were granted to buildings still "under construction". I didn't notice this on my last visit in 2007; evidently the tax laws have changed. I believe that buildings in the Philippines were revalued and taxed when "improvements" were made; as a result people stopped painting the buildings or doing minor repairs to the exteriors; the long term results included massive breakdowns in local infrastructure as buildings decayed and civic infrastructure went unrepaired due to the effective tax strike going on (and you thought the TEA party could cause trouble). In Oshawa, ON, entire neighbourhoods painted their houses pink to protest proposed "historic" designations being made in a blanket manner over said neighbourhoods; this would have effectively transferred ownership to the city (under Ontario's rather draconian "heritage" laws) with the City having the power of veto over virtually anything the property owner chose to do to the house or yard.

These are fairly straightforward examples of "unintended consequences" due to fairly simple tax or regulatory excess, you can imagine even more creative responses in high tech environments (remember the Davis family recycled most of their grey and black water in order to avoid paying taxes and fees to the Authority [The Moon is a Harsh Mistress]).

Rick said...

The world is full of silly regulations, but that is what happens when you put apes in charge of everything. In the US, at least, much of that stuff about fences and house colors happens in 'planned communities' with homeowners' associations that aren't quite governments, and thus avoid the accountability that real (democratic) governments have.

The Netherlands is an interesting case, because much of it is 'terraformed,' under conditions requiring extensive and intensive social cooperation. And it has a very high population density. But for the last 400 years it has been largely an exemplar of a free society. (But Dutch colonials, such as the Afrikaners, have no reputation for being broadminded.)

Turbo10k said...

"The Netherlands is an interesting case, because much of it is 'terraformed,' under conditions requiring extensive and intensive social cooperation. And it has a very high population density."

Like any dome-city colony in the near midfuture? If the Netherlands found themselves a model for 'free society', then how comes a dysotopian/police state is foavoured in a midfuture setting? Paradoxal, right? Then...you could probably mention than in a dome city, not only is land controlled, but so is water and air...

"These are fairly straightforward examples of "unintended consequences" due to fairly simple tax or regulatory excess, you can imagine even more creative responses in high tech environments"

The State imposes regulations based upon the current situation it is handling. Citizens will Always evade regulations in their own profit by changing the situation. Therefore, 'tax evasion' techniques and methods are only as imaginative as the regulations are...

"Houses in the historic districts of Holland (the Netherlands).....over virtually anything the property owner chose to do to the house or yard."

In those cases, increasing construction costs and architectural constraints (as well as the feeling of pride due to having a bigger house) overcome and pay off the increase in surface area. In an extraplanetary colony, we could very well imagine the contrary, where construction costs are huge compared to increases in surface area. A cost-per-meter model is appropriate here.

Turbo10k said...

Stevo Darkley- Interesting you mention conservation of historical sites. It reminds me of ecological conservation. On the Moon (and on most barren worlds), there is nothing to conserve, and with a huge area of own-what-you-see land, wild expansion of colonists would be the norm...

Raymond said...

One thing I can think of to do in space which is terribly impractical on the surface and could easily justify long-term personnel assignments (plus supporting infrastructure, which leads to something resembling colonization): helium-3 farming by way of tritium.

The easiest way to get He3 is not mining it on the moon, nor scraping it from gas giants. It's bombarding a chunk of lithium with neutrons (resulting in tritium and He4), and waiting for the tritium to decay. It requires large neutron sources, containment not easily done in a biosphere, filtration and separation of the resultant gases, and time. Tritium, being a hydrogen isotope, bonds with just about everything, so production is difficult without the bulwark of space, but coupled with electrostatic or magnetic confinement, I can see fuel production stations littering LEO if we ever get D-He3 fusion going at scale.

A reason to be in space for long durations, a valuable enough substance to justify the lift cost, a reason for the ancillary support facilities that go with it, and a power source capable of cheapish interplanetary travel - sounds like a good environment for colonization to me.

Milo said...

Turbo10k:

"If the Netherlands found themselves a model for 'free society', then how comes a dysotopian/police state is foavoured in a midfuture setting?"

Beats me. I never liked those dystopian police states.


"Then...you could probably mention than in a dome city, not only is land controlled, but so is water and air..."

Water is controlled in the Netherlands. Specifically because if you don't control your water, it'll go erase your land.


"In an extraplanetary colony, we could very well imagine the contrary, where construction costs are huge compared to increases in surface area."

I imagine making bricks from regolith is going to be vastly cheaper than expanding your dome. Furthermore, all farmland has to be inside the dome "city", further taking up space. Space is going to be at a premium in domes. Construction costs are going to be comparatively affordable, once you have the requisite equipment in place at all.


"It reminds me of ecological conservation. On the Moon (and on most barren worlds), there is nothing to conserve, and with a huge area of own-what-you-see land, wild expansion of colonists would be the norm..."

No, because see above: domes are expensive to build. Sure, your intrepid homesteader is completely free to pick out a plot of land outside the current dome city and declare it his... but he doesn't have the infrastructure to make it livable, so it isn't going to stick.

(International border law regarding extraterrestrial colonies hasn't been written yet, but I favor area being allocated on a "you own what you build" basis. If you build a dome and keep it livable, then you own the land it's build on and some margin area surrounding it, but not the rest of the world.)



Raymond:

"helium-3 farming by way of tritium"

Why do that in space? You can do that down here. We have plenty of tritium.

Even if you need vacuum, it's bound to be cheaper to make artificial vacuum in a factory than to launch large factories into space and ship their products back.

If you also need zero gravity (why?), then maybe, although they still wouldn't go farther than LEO, which is not really an impressive space economy.

Raymond said...

Milo:

We don't have a lot of tritium, because its half life is a little over 12 years. We have to manufacture it from lithium. It also requires near-complete isolation from the biosphere, because it's radioactive and poisonous, and (being a hydrongen isotope) gets into everything and escapes all matter-based confinement schemes. Manufacturing it in orbit and leaving it long enough to decay into He3 means no contamination of the biosphere. Said contamination is a major concern (and mass penalty) of terrestrial fusion reactors which use D-T fusion; generally they're designed to manufacture it on-site by surrounding the core with a blanket of lithium, but tritium not used immediately in the fusion reaction is subject to major confinement problems.

Anonymous said...

I think that the first colonies, especially on Luna, will be to find out what activities work well and what don't work. So the first few decades of these first colonies will be experimetation to determine what a colony should concentrate on; mining and manufacture, research, exploration, ship building, or whatever.

Ferrell

Milo said...

Ferrell:

"I think that the first colonies, especially on Luna, will be to find out what activities work well and what don't work."

Agreed. Note that if you want, much of this can be done quite well in a free market manner - let the people with the money decide what they want to try, and if it doesn't works then they won't keep their money.

Raymond said...

Milo:

Oh dear god no, keep the free market away from the Lunar economy as long as humanly possible. Later on, in other places in the Solar system, by all means, but something as experimental and delicate as early-stage colonies/research stations on Luna has to try just about everything that has a hope in hell of working, and without the market crushing them the first time something fails. We want them to find out what works and what doesn't, and if it's up to the market and in the wrong order, it won't happen.

Thucydides said...

Raymond, the free market allows (and indeed demands) that almost anything be tried in the hope that it works and works better than competing systems.

A non free market system will be rigid, stagnant, inflexible and work as well as the former Soviet Union, where things might advance only if the powers that be decide they want to expend the resources.

Raymond said...

Luna would be a closed ecosystem requiring national-level budgets to create and sustain for a long time with no economic benefit for the backers on any investment horizon, whose main product will be blue-sky research of the time long since whittled to nothing in the free market we have down here. Where exactly would we use the market? Sure, certain technologies will be invented on Earth and sold to whomever's bankrolling the project. But do you really want to subject the project to power deregulation, real-estate bubbles, liquidity crises, quarterly profit reports, share-price volatility, patent violation lawsuits, and the stupendously high barrier to entry?

Milo said...

I can see the very early Lunar colony being run in a rather communal manner, like an Israeli kibbutz (another nice example of terraforming, by the way - they built farmlands in the desert), but it would grow into a more free-market system as it expands beyond the "everyone knows everyone else" stage.

Some operations, like scientific research, might remain government-subsidised for a long time, but stuff like Lunar cheese shops are going to be released to the whims of the free market quite quickly.

Raymond said...

Lunar cheese shops will appear very late in the game, and by that time, yes, most things will be market-based. The period I'm talking about is long before there's enough people living there for someone to decide to open up a cheese shop. Once we've reached that kind of population level on the Moon, it'll just be another city or three, and obviously the hard parts of creating our own ecosystem surrounded by vacuum will have been long-since solved.

Milo said...

Lunar cheese shops will appear as soon as someone on Luna wants cheese, and someone already has the livestock that's producing the milk.



Raymond:

"Once we've reached that kind of population level on the Moon, it'll just be another city or three,"

Cheese shops can be found in towns significantly smaller than three cities.


"and obviously the hard parts of creating our own ecosystem surrounded by vacuum will have been long-since solved."

Well yes, you need to start by developing working farmland. This will be done by the kibbutz stage. Once technology for growing food for a couple dozen people is in place, you have a working ecosystem. You can now rent out your remaining land to other people rather than doing all the work yourself. (They still need to rent their plumbling/irrigation from the government, but that's no different from how it's done on Earth.) In time you will have more varied crops, and enough crops to support a few goats. (Figuring out how to safely transport large animals through space will be something the government may have to do, or at least give explicit permission to if anyone feels like trying.) Yes, this is a town, but we're not talking megalopolis size here.

Raymond said...

Let me rephrase, and change "city or three" to "town or three".

I'm talking about the stages of colonization where if someone on Luna wants cheese on their algae tempura, they'll use some of their personal mass allocation on the next supply rocket (or bribe someone else to use a portion of theirs - the black market is always a free market). Or maybe the guy in charge of the goats makes some cheese. Once we're at the point where someone can do nothing but buy cheese and sell cheese, then the colony isn't a research project anymore.

Milo said...

But you said:

"So the first few decades of these first colonies will be experimetation to determine what a colony should concentrate on; mining and manufacture, research, exploration, ship building, or whatever."

The Lunar colony will not have the infrastructure to build its own spaceships until it's grown well beyond the kibbutz stage.

Raymond said...

Milo:

That was Ferrell, further up.

Milo said...

Oh. Oops. Sorry.

However, my claim in support of free market was also in response to Ferrell's scenario, not yours. (What is your scenario?) I have a suspicion we're actually in agreement and are arguing over a misunderstanding.

We are both saying that a colony will start out communal (like a kibbutz) and (probably gradually) grow into a more free-market city (like the Netherlands). I'm just saying that the really big economic developments, like spaceship factories, will get done in the latter stage - while the first stage is mostly to get the ecosystem up and running.

Raymond said...

I think we agree quite well on the timeline - my argument was the free market had no real place in the first stage or two. Once living in space is (comparatively) easy to do, then certain market principles will take over.

I don't actually think space will ever be fully capitalist - it's too hard, needs too much money and research and time up front, and there are too many fragile links in the supply chain to trust capricious investors. (Never trust your air supply to Wall Street. You'll suffocate when you only produced 15% over target instead of 20%.)

Milo said...

Are the Dutch dams capitalist today?

The government might contract out parts of the construction to private firms, but the government remains in charge of the overall project.

Raymond said...

I think most critical infrastructure is like that - government-owned (sometimes, here in Canada, it's by Crown corporations) but usually constructed and sometimes maintained by contract. And I think that will be amplified in space habitation, with the possible exception of tourist facilities, because of the fragility and utter necessity of the closed ecosystems and power grids.

Where this gets sticky is corporate-built single-purpose stations/habitats/dome cities. I tend to think they'll gravitate towards political autonomy in critical matters, but their purpose and execution may be closer to scaled-up deep-sea oil rigs than the ISS. Wait a second...

Milo said...

Well, deep-sea oil rigs were built by corporations and the ISS was built by a multinational coalition of governments. So I expect the habitats built by corporations will resemble deep-sea oil rigs, and habitats built by multinational coalitions of governments will resemble the ISS.

Once a corporation fully controls the homes of enough people, though, it effectively starts to be a government (of the cyberpunk dystopia style). It's just a government with a lot of nationalized industries... which means it's actually less free-market than a non-corporate-built dome.

Raymond said...

That's why I don't think we'll see corporate-owned habitats outside of some limited tourist facilities. Not to say they'll all be government-owned (because I do believe in the privatization of space to some extent), but I'm waiting for a different financial construct to appear.

Despite the popularity of megacorp dystopias, the corporation is a specialized instrument, and the modern version bears little resemblance to its origins (see Hudson's Bay Company - I should know, being from Canuckistan). Given the importance of all sorts of NGOs, arms-length government entities, trusts, collectives, co-operatives, non-profit corporations, religious institutions (frequently using several of the above), trade unions (although their importance and cohesion is fading fast), and other methods of concentrating capital and labour, I'm expecting a different structure entirely to emerge to deal with the challenges of space.

Milo said...

Huh? I'd say habitats will be owned by a government, whether that's a preexisting Earth government, or a new colonial government.

Anyone with the resources to build his own habitat on some empty land will, with this act, be founding his own government.

Raymond said...

How many features of current forms of government will be present? Currency controls? Orbital defense? Trade regulations? How many safety standards will be hab-specific, and how many will be generally enforced (or at least inspected)? I'm sure policing within a hab will be limited to said hab, but will policing of nearby orbits be likewise balkanized, or will one (or a few) agencies be formed to pool resources between habs? What about production allocation of critical resources (air, water, propellant, power)?

Small governments deal best with purely local concerns, but there are fewer of them than one would initially think. And when discussing resources which often have to come from somewhere else, economies of scale can start seriously distorting things.

And there are (and likely will be) very few corporations, even on Earth, which would be willing or able to create a completely vertically integrated supply chain for an offworld hab of any substantive size or complexity. So my questions are, who builds them, how do they get the capital, how is ownership/citizenship distributed amongst the inhabitants and backers, and what sort of hybrid financial constructs emerge to deal with these complexities? Corporations don't actually perform governmental functions - they may coerce a government to set the rules their way, and funnel money towards their projects, but there are too many systemic costs for a corporation to absorb by themselves, and that's just for terrestrial political entities.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"Trade regulations?"

At the very least, rules against importing anything that would compromise the safety of the habitat.

Since the life support people are in control of the airlock, they can decide what goes in or out and are in a position to set more stringent trade rules if they want to.


"I'm sure policing within a hab will be limited to said hab, but will policing of nearby orbits be likewise balkanized, or will one (or a few) agencies be formed to pool resources between habs?"

If a world is Balkanized, then nearby orbits will be treated similarly to international waters. There could be some international cooperative for dealing with pirates or other trouble, but it could also just be everyone sending their own ships to enforce their own interest with no regard for national territory.

If a world is unified but with multiple "local" governments, like the United States, then policing orbits would be done by a federal agency, not by individual cities' police forces.


"Corporations don't actually perform governmental functions"

East India Company.

Raymond said...

East India Company (like the Hudson's Bay Company in my neck of the woods) was a Crown corporation, was a direct instrument of the British Empire, and bears little to no resemblance to modern publicly-traded corporations. The evolution from there to here is an interesting and oft-overlooked part of history, and the difference between here and the Plausible Midfuture is likely to be just as great. Sort of what I'm asking, actually...

Milo said...

Also see: company town. Companies can take on governmental roles, if they find it profitable to do so and if no-one stops them.

Raymond said...

Note that company towns exist(ed) within a much larger legal framework, generally the same one in which the company in question was chartered and was subject to. "Truck system" economies were quashed by same frameworks. I'm not saying its impossible, I just think corporations as we know them today will shy away from maintaining full control, given the inefficiencies.

Rick said...

I love this discussion, and no one is even blowing stuff up!

Corporations. In legal formalism, a corporation is simply a body with its own legal identity - such as, originally, a university, church, or city.

Economic corporations were originally a group of (usually) courtiers who got the monarch to grant them monopolies with similar legal privileges. Later the same legal framework was adopted to mobilize more capital than one tycoon or even a partnership could bring to bear.

The core legal meaning remains much the same, but in practice the term 'corporation' now means a private bureaucracy. Most firms with more than a couple of dozen employees are organized on bureaucratic lines - where there is a manual, there is a bureaucracy.

As Milo and others noted, 'private company' is not the same thing as 'free market.' Business people have no real love of a free market, as Adam Smith observed, though they find it a good flag of convenience politically.

There is a relevant field of activity where government and private enterprise compete on pretty even terms, at any rate in the Anglosphere: universities. Stanford and the Ivy League are first rate universities by any standard, but so is Berkeley and the Oxbridges. Well, part of the Anglosphere; I don't know a thing about the top schools in Canada or Oz.

I suspect that things in space will be very intermingled, and they might regard our arguments about private versus public enterprise as theologically obscure.

What several commenters agree on, and so do I, is that space in the early period will have no real internal economy - you eat in a commissary, not a restaurant, and are assigned quarters, not renting or buying them. Swapping billets is hardly the same thing.

The transition from 'base' or 'campus' to 'town,' in fact, is associated with the emergence of an economic life and some form of market in a broad range of goods and services, however the details are arranged.

It is not a given that space will ever (in the next few centuries) have true towns in this sense. The structure and activities may be such that no real space-centric economy develops. Though for plot purposes we tend to assume otherwise.

Rick said...

I love this discussion, and no one is even blowing stuff up!

Corporations. In legal formalism, a corporation is simply a body with its own legal identity - such as, originally, a university, church, or city.

Economic corporations were originally a group of (usually) courtiers who got the monarch to grant them monopolies with similar legal privileges. Later the same legal framework was adopted to mobilize more capital than one tycoon or even a partnership could bring to bear.

The core legal meaning remains much the same, but in practice the term 'corporation' now means a private bureaucracy. Most firms with more than a couple of dozen employees are organized on bureaucratic lines - where there is a manual, there is a bureaucracy.

As Milo and others noted, 'private company' is not the same thing as 'free market.' Business people have no real love of a free market, as Adam Smith observed, though they find it a good flag of convenience politically.

There is a relevant field of activity where government and private enterprise compete on pretty even terms, at any rate in the Anglosphere: universities. Stanford and the Ivy League are first rate universities by any standard, but so is Berkeley and the Oxbridges. Well, part of the Anglosphere; I don't know a thing about the top schools in Canada or Oz.

I suspect that things in space will be very intermingled, and they might regard our arguments about private versus public enterprise as theologically obscure.

What several commenters agree on, and so do I, is that space in the early period will have no real internal economy - you eat in a commissary, not a restaurant, and are assigned quarters, not renting or buying them. Swapping billets is hardly the same thing.

The transition from 'base' or 'campus' to 'town,' in fact, is associated with the emergence of an economic life and some form of market in a broad range of goods and services, however the details are arranged.

It is not a given that space will ever (in the next few centuries) have true towns in this sense. The structure and activities may be such that no real space-centric economy develops. Though for plot purposes we tend to assume otherwise.

Milo said...

Rick:

"I love this discussion, and no one is even blowing stuff up!"

Hey, we can't blow something up until we've built it.


"Business people have no real love of a free market, as Adam Smith observed, though they find it a good flag of convenience politically."

Business people see a free market as a compromise. Ideally, they want the market to be free for them but not for their competitors. When they find that the law annoyingly insists on being blind, they frequently prefer compromising on a market that's free for everyone instead of one that's free for no-one. Unless they can find a way to contrive the law so it sneakily benefits them without being too obvious about it.

Raymond said...

Rick, in Canada we don't really have any prominent private universities. There are a few, but they're small and scattered. Every university of import is heavily government funded (although that is slipping away gradually) and tuition is some of the lowest you'll find anywhere in the Anglosphere. They're also really damn good at both the kind of blue-sky research long since abandoned by corporate labs (God, how I miss Bell and Xerox) and the kind of near-term incremental research useful to industry. So when you conjure universities as a model, I think federal governments first and foremost.

The first place I can see any sort of space-centric economy is water (for human use and propellant, after cracking). Near-Earth objects may have a great deal of it, the delta-v isn't too bad round trip, and everybody uses a lot of it.

Milo said...

Water is available basically anywhere people will settle. More accurately, people will only ever settle near water, and this is not an issue since water is available on almost all solar system objects of note (except for Venus, Io, and the gas giants/the sun itself, none of which have ever been prime settlement targets). It's liquid water that's hard to find naturally, but that's only of interest to exobiologists. We can melt our own water.

As such, travelling out to the middle of space-nowhere to obtain water that can be more easily found closer to home is wasteful. Water simply isn't valuable enough to justify the costs of space travel and asteroid mining.

The one exception is if you're planning to terraform Venus (or another world that already has some water but not quite enough for oceans), in which case you need lots of hailbombs. That's a one-time thing, though, and a major undertaking.

Raymond said...

Actually, I was thinking about facilities in Earth orbit, which I think are most likely to appear soon (we already have one) than Lunar or Martian settlement(s) with sufficient population. There are a great number of asteroids with lower delta-v requirement round-trip than one-way from Earth. Delta-v is king, thus someone will try it.

Or, if we're talking Lunar bases, I expect expansion of the water supply to be among the first things someone says "hey, let's turn this over to the market" about. For better or worse.

RocketDad said...

My McGuffinite of choice for there being settlements in space is that NEOs are used as Earth/Mars cyclers (a Hohmman Railroad).Mining these rock and building settlements would be needed to both support transients on thier way to another planet, the inevitable military bases Terran powers will want to build, and give the permanent residents something to trade with once they reach a planet. I feel like moving NEOs that threaten Earth impact into useful cycler orbits is safer than trying to break them up (Kessler's Syndrome) and may be more economical as well. After all, you can mine them and build the Railroad to help recoup launch costs. If you launced an attack against a NEO, you would be paying the Delta-V costs anyway and possibly increase the risk of surface impact (difinately increase the risk of ordital debris).