Monday, October 10, 2011

Showboats in Space


It has been Fleet Week in San Francisco, which invites consideration of the things military forces do besides fighting wars. One of these, assisting first responders in civil disasters, figured in this year's Fleet Week.

But mainly Fleet Week is about showing off. It featured a 'parade of ships' coming into port (where I used my el cheapo phone camera to snap USS Antietam, CG-54, above), and three days of air shows - the first time I've ever walked to an air show. Sunday's Blue Angels performance had to be cut short because of intruding fog. (I had already watched them on Friday and Saturday.) An hour later the fog completely dissipated.

On an international note, this year's Fleet Week had a substantial Canadian presence: four ships and the Snowbirds, the RCAF's precision flight demonstration squadron.


But, ahem, on to the point of this post. In grand-strategic perspective, 'showing off' is arguably the primary mission of military forces. War-fighting is merely their most important secondary mission, the one they will be forced back onto if they fail in their primary mission.

Put another way, truly successful militaries deter, and achieve their wielders' objectives without a fight. Fighting battles and winning them is second-best, and might be regarded as a fail-safe mode. Fighting and losing, or surrendering without a fight, are both failure modes. (Which is worse depends on particular circumstances.)

To be sure, much military showing-off is an implicit display of war-fighting capabilities, and by no means is all or even most of it aimed directly at prospective enemies. Air show demonstration squadrons such as the Blue Angels and Snowbirds illustrate both of these points.

Flying loops in wingtip-tight formation may be a combat maneuver, but it certainly displays piloting skills and aircraft performance that are relevant to combat. But the more immediate objective of demonstration squadrons - as of much military display - is as a recruiting tool. Though come to think of it, being able to recruit troops is also combat-relevant.

The role of military display has generally been understated in the recent era. The books I read on the history of ships tended to denigrate the gilt-work of 17th century 'great ships,' though it served very well for conveying their royal owners' wealth and power.

The shift of attitudes can perhaps be pinpointed to a little more than 100 years ago, when the world's navies abruptly went gray as their armies went khaki. Not that the impulse toward display actually disappeared - at almost that exact moment, 'armored cruisers' gave way to battlecruisers, showboats par excellence, which is why their name survives in SF.

Which brings us to space. Space forces, strictly speaking, have some disadvantages when it comes to military display - in particular, being a long ways from most of the people they might impress. Space fighters, in the strict sense, can't go thundering a couple of hundred meters over the rooftops of Pacific Heights. Only atmospheric craft can do that.

The curious flip side of this is, of course, that the Space Race was all about (quasi-) military display on the grandest scale. In this case the hardware had no specific warfighting role at all. It didn't need to. Everyone understood that if you could hit the moon, you could nail Moscow or Washington.

But the Space Race soon ended, and I doubt there will be a repeat in the next few decades, even among emerging great powers. (Are the Chinese really going to impress India all that much by doing what Americans and Russians did 50 years ago?)

On the other hand, space might still have a future as a place to display technological prowess. And if, as I suspect, war 'as we have known it' is becoming obsolescent, the role of quasi-military display could become even more prominent than in the past. The obsolescence of war is not about moral betterment but pervasive mutual deterrence.

And deterrence is fundamentally all about showboating.




Discuss.

100 comments:

Tony said...

One can't deduce from history that the primary mission of military forces is to deter. Even the deterrent power of the nuclear weapon was significantly enhanced by combat application.

Deterrence may be a preferred mode, but its credibility is rooted in an ability to actually fight. And somebody is generally ready to put fighting ability to the test. Perhaps we can say that you can get by on deterrence a lot better the more obviously capable you are of backing up your show with real force.

Also, there is a facet of deterrence that a lot of people don't talk about. I don't even think there is a name for it. Let's call it "aggressive" deterence. In aggressive deterrence, a power attempts to take what it wants without a fight, by convincing the victim that the power is so strong that resistance is futile. Think of the Anschluss, the Munich Conference, and the subsequent dismemberment of rump Czechoslovakia. So deterrence is not just a means of maintaining the status quo, but can be a means, if practiced shrewdly, of winning what you want.

I think we could have an interesting discussion here of irrational technology -- technology that doesn't have any purely practical use, but which enhances the artifact to which it is applied. In the case of weapons and weapon systems, one could point to the decoration of sailing ships (as Rick has already done), or the decoration of swords, knives, and guns. Certainly in the context of deterrence, these decorations are not so irrational -- they indicate the user's wealth, which the viewer is expected to associate in his mind with the badassery needed to obtain and keep it.

But we haven't abandoned irrational technology, even with the 20th Century premium on concealment. The comb of the French Adrian helmet of WWI supposedly had a practical function (deflecting shrapnel bullets) but it also had a definite classical design. We could also point to nose art on military aircraft. Or to Richthofen's red triplane. And maybe the most interesting application of irrational technology is the civilian adoption of a rational technology -- camouflage -- as fashion.

Finally, I think the US Air Force and Navy have solved the "removed from view" problem of deterrence and show. They use mass media to show their nuclear forces in ways they want them to be protrayed. And why the USAF roundel and star-spangled SAC blue stripe on ICBMs? Because they look cool (for certain values of cool) in photographs -- and really still photography only. That's all about showboating.

Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Tony has a point; modern militaries use the media to project their 'showboating'; perhaps future space forces could use the same techniques.

Oh, and Rick, a 'spacefighter' flying over an outpost on Calisto would very definately let you know who was in charge.

Ferrell

Teleros said...

Ferrell: Oh, and Rick, a 'spacefighter' flying over an outpost on Calisto would very definately let you know who was in charge.

Depends on what you mean by showboating. Take the USN's Fleet Week: in friendly territory, close to your own people, etc. Quite a different message to, say, Fleet Week off the coast of Japan, Taiwan or Shanghai.

As for the idea that showboating or similar is the primary mission of armed forces... no. "War is politics by other means" and all that - the primary mission of your armed forces is to give your diplomacy some teeth:

-"We don't want to be invaded" won't work well if you've no army.
-"We demand regime change", ditto.

Etc. It just happens to be more cost-effective to use the threat of force rather than the application of force to achieve a goal (assuming the circumstances permit it of course).

Rick said...

I agree entirely that deterrence, in the sense I'm using it, is not just a defensive concept - it includes 'winning by intimidation.'

In fact I was thinking in large part of Sun Tzu's dictum that the peak of effectiveness is not winning a hundred victories in a hundred battles, but winning without a fight. I was also thinking of British sea power in the century after the Napoleonic Wars.

'Irrational technology' would indeed be a useful discussion. It often comes up in the context of people arguing that some impressive technology is favored over another that (it is claimed) would be less impressive but more combat effective.

Though often this gets entangled with other factors. In the late 19th century argument of battleships v torpedo boats, battleships were not only better showboats; they were also much better suited logistically to power projection. Jeune ecole was no doctrine for ruling the waves.

Tony said...

Rick said...

In fact I was thinking in large part of Sun Tzu's dictum that the peak of effectiveness is not winning a hundred victories in a hundred battles, but winning without a fight.

That saying comes out of the chapter about attack by stratagem. In context, it's more an injunction to practice another favorite of the people: first you win, then you fight. Or maybe it's just a rhetorical flourish. Certainly all of the military leaders in history who claimed (or whom others have claimed) to have read the book for practical advice had a lot of fighting to do, and didn't shy away from it.

I was also thinking of British sea power in the century after the Napoleonic Wars.

Which didn't obviate fighting on the part of the British. Waterloo was after Trafalgar. So were the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, the Zulu Wars, and the Boer War. But naval supremacy and an island homeland did allow the British to choose where to fight.

How that applies to SF depends on the scope of the conversation. In a sense every planet is an island homeland, and a good space navy can keep one from having to fight on it. But in the context of space empires, planets are more like fortresses and space forces more like armies.

Though often this gets entangled with other factors. In the late 19th century argument of battleships v torpedo boats, battleships were not only better showboats; they were also much better suited logistically to power projection. Jeune ecole was no doctrine for ruling the waves.

Jeune ecole was about efficiency. The small craft and submarine part was about breaking blockades at home. Cruisers would attack enemy trade overseas. So it didn't eschew power projection so much as it advocated avoiding enemy strengths and attacking his weaknesses. Of course, the real problem was how one was going to protect one's own trade at sea. In an age of steamships and the telegraph (later wireless) one could efficiently attack trade on the high seas. (Why the French didn't see this, given their own intention to do the same to an enemy, is an interesting question.)

Cambias said...

The French doctrine of guerre de course at sea was specifically aimed at Britain, and was intended to leverage the fact that Britain (being an island) depended far more on maritime commerce than France did.

In other words, they expected the British to sweep French merchantmen from the seas if it came to war; the gamble was that it wouldn't matter as much as disrupting the flow of food and raw materials to Britain would.

It fits in with the post topic, because the French were mostly trying to display a credible threat to the British without having to go head-to-head. Assymmetrical warfare.

How much of this was post-hoc justification for "we can't keep up with Germany on land AND Britain at sea" is a matter for historians to argue.

Tony said...

The problem with that theory is that France was almost as dependent on overseas trade as Great Britain was -- maybe even more so than Great Britain if one is talking about major outside-empire trade partners like the United States.

Anita said...

Fleet Week, parades through Red Square, the Blue Angels, etc are as much for the troops as for the folks paying the bills or for clanging 'em together to impress the other side du jour.

The troops need to strut their stuff once in awhile. More importantly, they need to see what's got their back. Else why the SAC insignia on the ICBMs? The only people who routinely see it are the troglodytes in the blue jump suits.

If there is ever a military presence in space, parades, fly-byes, insignia, flags and futuristic bells and whistles will be will be trotted out. The troops will still need them.

Thucydides said...

And don't forget the "Great White Fleet", which did a world tour to announce America's presence on the global arena.

"Peaceful" tours of the solar system will serve the same purpose, these or "training" cruises let people know the Great White Fleet of the Imperial Jovian Navy is a very real presence in Solar politics....

Rick said...

Military showboating is indeed in substantial part for the troops themselves.

An interesting factoid related to this: in the 16th century era of Spanish predominance, Spanish military writers specifically deprecated uniforms. In their view it was a morale booster for soldiers to deck themselves out as they chose.

The trouble with trotting out examples around this group is that multiple dimensions get chewed over, and there are a lot of different things to say about guerre de course.

But the particular dimension I want to call attention to is arguments that emphasize *only* warfighting capability, to the detriment of coercive diplomacy and other functions of a military force.

The Great White Fleet was a particularly spectacular exercise in showboating. I've long been intrigued by a point that I've never quite seen explicitly discussed.

In the early 20th century both Germany and the US were mounting implicit challenges to British naval supremacy, on very nearly the same scale. But with radically different consequences!

Now, imagine a alt-history where the construction programs are identical to OTL, but the Kaiser and von Tirpitz make a constant point of emphasizing historic friendship with Britain, etc., while Teddy Roosevelt goes around making loose talk about 'liberating' Canada, Ireland, etc.

Getting back (indirectly) to the Great White Fleet, I'd argue that successful military showboating tends to be non-obvious in its actual effects.

It isn't so much that the other guy backs down without a fight, as that the other guy sees you as a serious player, worth cultivating as an ally and avoiding (if feasible) as a prospective enemy.

Hugh said...

Combat spaceships will be fantastic for military showboating. No stealth or camouflage to worry about, so the paint scheme can be as wild as any WWI biplane. And no aerodynamic or hydrodynamic penalties for having massive fins or spiky bits.

Geoffrey S H said...

Problem is, the general pubic can't simply look out their windows to see the craft- they'd need a telescope or access to television and the news- not quite the same as seeing the Cruiser in the bay nearby.

Teleros said...

Tony: "Which didn't obviate fighting on the part of the British. Waterloo was after Trafalgar. So were the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, the Zulu Wars, and the Boer War. But naval supremacy and an island homeland did allow the British to choose where to fight."

Th Crimean / Zulu / Boer Wars though were all very limited affairs from the POV of the British though; as for Waterloo, well that's because Napoleon's France was a continental power: Britain had to win through a combination of attrition & continental allies; there wasn't a practical alternative. It should be remembered that by 1815, France had *more* battleships than Britain... they were just never concentrated. In this period however, the British were building a lot of smaller ships designed to destroy the all-important coastal traffic of French-dominated Europe (ie, attrition).

"The problem with that theory is that France was almost as dependent on overseas trade as Great Britain was -- maybe even more so than Great Britain if one is talking about major outside-empire trade partners like the United States."

France without overseas trade is poor. Britain without overseas trade is bankrupt and starving. A bit trite perhaps, but it gets the point across - France can afford to lose command of the sea, Britain cannot.



Rick: "In the early 20th century both Germany and the US were mounting implicit challenges to British naval supremacy, on very nearly the same scale. But with radically different consequences!

Now, imagine a alt-history where the construction programs are identical to OTL, but the Kaiser and von Tirpitz make a constant point of emphasizing historic friendship with Britain, etc., while Teddy Roosevelt goes around making loose talk about 'liberating' Canada, Ireland, etc."


Doesn't quite work the same way. Germany is practically next door to the British Isles, so any German navy will, like a French one, automatically be a threat. America is half a world away, and in a far poorer position to attack the British Isles and disrupt crucial trade. There were also various diplomatic issues - the reason the US had / has a credible Monroe Doctrine is because the British gave it the thumbs up, and in many ways by then had more or less agreed to divide up the seas between the USA (around the New World) & British Empire (the rest).

Perhaps a better example would be a pro-British Japanese Empire vs an anti-British USA - the Japanese are so far away that a Japanese navy wouldn't be an automatic threat, but an agreement to divide the seas between the Japanese Pacific and British rest-of-world would be a plausible reason to get the USA annoyed.



Geoffrey SH: "Problem is, the general pubic can't simply look out their windows to see the craft- they'd need a telescope or access to television and the news- not quite the same as seeing the Cruiser in the bay nearby."

On the contrary, I think it'll be *more* visible than say, Fleet Week is for the USN today:

1. Visits & televised performances work equally well for both wet-water and space navies. If you've got a fleet worth showing off... you probably have enough space infrastructure to ship visitors up and down pretty easily and cheaply.
2. However... you can't really watch the USN by telescope. Amateur space navy fans on the other hand can watch the display from a sizeable portion of the hemisphere.

Clouds will be an issue for those with telescopes though, but whereas bad weather at the Fleet Week location(s) will ruins it for *everyone*, bad weather in your town will only ruin it for those watching through telescopes from said town. And consider the curvature of the Earth vs the distances in space - even if you can't see the spaceship clearly from say 20 miles away... chances are you won't see the sea-ship well (if at all!) from the same distance.

Scott said...

On a related point, the US Navy loudly trumpeted the first deployment of USS Ohio after her removal from strategic service and conversion to guided missiles. 154 Tomahawks plus 65 SEALs is a very potent thing to have floating around, but you will never know where it is unless the Navy tells you because it's a submarine.

Similar idea to how to deal with starships.

Elukka said...

For the actual showing off part of showing off, considering how well visible random pieces of rockets are from Earth surface, I think a squadron of massive space battleships burning their 50 alottawatt fusion torches in low orbit could be quite impressive.

If there's a significant amount of population in space, park your ships so they're visible from the habitat's windows, dock them, invite people to come on board for a tour, that kind of thing.

Tony said...

Rick:

"An interesting factoid related to this: in the 16th century era of Spanish predominance, Spanish military writers specifically deprecated uniforms. In their view it was a morale booster for soldiers to deck themselves out as they chose."

Spanish society was still semi-feudal. The common soldiery was mercenary and expected to care for itself out of its pay and found. Of course, this led to indiscipline on campaign and in garrison.

Among the perceived advantages of issued clothing and regular rations was a reduced set of opportunities for indiscipline. It also facilitated cost control, since clothing and provision contracts went to the lowest bidders.

"But the particular dimension I want to call attention to is arguments that emphasize *only* warfighting capability, to the detriment of coercive diplomacy and other functions of a military force."

I think your problem here is that warfighting capability underlies all suasions based on perceived power. When Abassador X delivers a letter to this or that effect regarding what Country Y had better do, the leaders of Country Y don't ask themselves if his rhetoric or that of the letter is impressive enough. They ask themselves if Ambassador X's country can really do what it threatens to do.

Tony said...

Teleros:

"Th Crimean / Zulu / Boer Wars though were all very limited affairs from the POV of the British though;"

Becuase British naval power ensured that they remained limited, as far as Great Britain was concerned. But even with all the power in the world to keep war away from home shores, the British still had to fight overseas in pursuit of their interests.

"as for Waterloo, well that's because Napoleon's France was a continental power: Britain had to win through a combination of attrition & continental allies; there wasn't a practical alternative."

Q.E.D.

"It should be remembered that by 1815, France had *more* battleships than Britain... they were just never concentrated. In this period however, the British were building a lot of smaller ships designed to destroy the all-important coastal traffic of French-dominated Europe (ie, attrition)."

The larger French fleet was stuck in port by a combination of blockade and a lack of manpower to put to sea.

"France without overseas trade is poor. Britain without overseas trade is bankrupt and starving. A bit trite perhaps, but it gets the point across - France can afford to lose command of the sea, Britain cannot."

An assertion not born out by facts. The Continental System impoverished all of Europe to the point that it rebelled against Napoleon. As for a continental power on its own, ask the Germans whether or not they were starving during WWI and WWII.

Geoffrey S H said...

In addition, by 1794, the French were relying on grain convoys from America- had one been taken, they would have had to surrender. By 1796, the situation did improve however.

Thucydides said...

WRT the Great White Fleet, the real (military) purpose of American fleet building in that era was to control the approaches to the Panama Canal, which also explains the US obsession with Cuba, Hispanolia and Nicaragua in the same era. I expect the Royal Navy correctly deduced this, hence the amount of alarm was far more limited than the great German naval program going on far closer, and with far less "justification" in the eyes of the British elites.

As well, the Royal Navy had a useful ally of sorts in the Pacific, since the Imperial Japanese Navy was allied to the RN, and indeed owed much of its technology and training to the RN during that era. Should the Americans have become a problem as in Rick's contrafactual history, a squeeze play could have been conducted against both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts between the Royal Navy and the IJN, which *might* have pushed the USN to the breaking point. Throw in a pro British Imperial German Navy and the balance would have been heavily weighted against the US (as well as any possible American allies like France. If we really want to play this out, the Spanish had no love for the Americans at this time, and could have provided useful weight to the anti-American coalition, for example bottling up the French Mediterranean naval assets).

Teleros said...

Tony: "An assertion not born out by facts. The Continental System impoverished all of Europe to the point that it rebelled against Napoleon. As for a continental power on its own, ask the Germans whether or not they were starving during WWI and WWII."

Put it this way WRT Jutland: a decisive British victory *may* have shortened the war by allowing for a more effective blockade of Germany. A decisive German victory would have forced Britain out of the war, and probably won it for Germany. Continental powers aren't autarchies, but they're usually much more resilient to naval disasters than maritime powers - hence the 10 year gap between Trafalgar & Napoleon's defeat (on land).

Rick said...

No dispute that if push comes to shove, militaries are judged by (the perception of) their warfighting power. But until actual shooting starts it is all about perception.

Eras differ in this regard. In the 18th century various combinations of great powers were at war with each other as often as not, so actual warfighting power was regularly tested, albeit within the limited-war conventions of that time. I don't think anyone on either side realized just how formidable the French revolutionary 'rabble' would turn out to be!

In the era 1815-1914 actual fighting was pretty infrequent, so showboating and guesswork were pretty much what people had to go by most of the time.

So far as the great powers go, the same applies post-1945 - with the proviso that it is a very safe guess that a great power nuke-out would be bad news all around.

Byron said...

First off, space warcraft are not good showboats, simply because they are so far away from everything. You can't use your cell phone camera to snap a picture as it goes by you house. A telescope will see a brighter dot than the naked eye, but very few will be able to resolve any detail. My dad has a 6-inch reflector, and while I think it could resolve gross features, it's not going to be able to track a ship in orbit, and the view will still be unimpressive. And spacecraft are just not going to be tour-friendly. The only things to see are the crew quarters and bridge, as everything else is either inaccessible, or only barely so. And you can't walk around the outside.
Showboats will still have their purpose, though. We've often discussed laserstars in such a context, and deterrence will likely be king. Total war between planets is likely to involve nukes. If we're lucky, they won't go off in an atmosphere.

Fernando said...

Good post as always.

I was thinking about a victory "parade" of spaceships the other day. I know that normally, space warships would not enough close to
each another like today's fleets. But what about a space fleet returning from an war? I imagine that they could make a sort of formation, touring the major spacestations and letting civilian craft fly close. And maybe firing some sort of "fireworks". According to my very basic understanding of physics, normal fireworks won't work as spectaculary in space, and I'm not sure if holograms would have the same effect. Maybe craving "VICTORY" in a unhabited moon crater with a high-power laser? Or prehaps firing some nukes in a quiet area of space, forming some sort of figure that could be visible from a planet.

Also, how about geosynchronous orbits? Prehaps seeing a battleship trough a telescope won't be that impressive, but knowing that the battleship USS Liberty is always guarding above the skies of New York would have quite the impact on the populace.

Thucydides said...

An ORION drive spaceshiip (of any sort, does not have to be a warship) will certainly have a spectacular display as it accelerates or decelerates...

More practically, a ship with some sort of pulsed drive (possibly a fusion "inertial confinement" drive with fuel pellets driven by lasers or ion beams) would have a flickering or pulsating light visible from great distances (even across the solar system using the right telescope), and a ship or flotilla setting off in cis lunar space would be a potent reminder of the Space Power avaiable to the owners of the ships to anyone watching.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Fernando:

"According to my very basic understanding of physics, normal fireworks won't work as spectaculary in space,"

There's no oxygen, but fireworks (in the sense of something that explodes into a bunch of small particles that keep burning colorfully for some time as they move away from each other) should work just fine as long as you include an internal oxidizer. Displays will also work a little different because sparks can't "drift" on air, but the lack of gravity makes up for that to some degree.

Of course, someone still has to be in the vicinity to see the show, otherwise there's no point.


"Also, how about geosynchronous orbits? Perhaps seeing a battleship trough a telescope won't be that impressive, but knowing that the battleship USS Liberty is always guarding above the skies of New York would have quite the impact on the populace."

You can only have geosynchronous orbits over the equator. Which means mid-Africa, Indonesia, and the very edge of South America.

Damien Sullivan said...

You can have true geosync only over the equator, but you can have highly elliptical orbits like Tundra or Molniya orbits anywhere, giving you much of your time spent near apogee. Needs three vessels for full coverage.

As for popular visiblity, for most people a military parade or ship display is going to be seen on TV, not in person, anyway...

jollyreaper said...

You see it in nature as well. The rattlesnake doesn't open with an attack. Venom's expensive. Don't waste it if you don't have to. There's no way around it if you need to kill something to eat it but if it's just driving soemthing off, better to scare than bite.

jollyreaper said...

track

jollyreaper said...

For the actual showing off part of showing off, considering how well visible random pieces of rockets are from Earth surface, I think a squadron of massive space battleships burning their 50 alottawatt fusion torches in low orbit could be quite impressive.

What would torch exhaust look like when it interacts with the upper atmosphere?

I'm wondering what an artificial meteor shower could look like, dropping chaff that will burn pretty on atmospheric entry. I'm thinking that the torches would be highly visible from the ground and the chaff would create a tremendous light display.

I've got the image of families going out to the park and all the lights in town are turned off for the display. VR glasses would provide an augmented reality view of the proceedings and everyone would get to ooh-and-aah. Could the ship-killing lasers be put at a wide diffusion and ionize molecules in the upper atmosphere to stimulate artificial auras?

Stevo Darkly said...

@jollyreaper: Why, that's a rather pretty picture. (For militaristic values of "pretty.")

In the future history I'm playing with in my head, the primary armament of space warships is gumball-sized unguided kinetics fired at high speed from coilguns ... I can imagine the Decatur Squadron returning in triumph to Earth orbit following the success of a pirate extirpation campaign, and firing shots in shallow chords through Earth's atmosphere. The result: an artificial shower of shooting stars!

They could be fired in various patterns: multi-shot salvoes, simultaneous parallel shots from multiple weapons, rapid 1-2-3 sequences, etc. Hmm, I wonder if you could have special display rounds with different coatings that burned in different colors? At any rate, it could be quite an impressive display, and visible for ... well, across a good chunk of the Earth's surface, I would think.

Anonymous said...

I think a space fleet on parade could still be a spectacular sight. While you may not be able to see the gaudy paint jobs without a tv, you could still watch them maneuver in LEO. Instead of just staying in formation, the ships could fly about, forming shapes and what-not. Not only would it look great, but it would serve as a demonstration of a space-fleet's precision and fuel capacity.

Anonymous said...

Kids could sit in front of their TV's (or computer screens), and check off different ships in a guide book, along with the time; later, they could compare with their friends...just like old-time fan clubs for ships, planes, etc...

Ferrell

jollyreaper said...

@Stevo
Why, that's a rather pretty picture. (For militaristic values of "pretty.")

I think it would be pretty for any value of pretty.

Think of the "angel flares" a C-130 pops out. Here's some great pics and video.

http://www.mymavra.com/apps/blog/show/1344012-c-130-angel-decoy-flares

Even the most pacifist earth child would have to get teary-eyed at that.

In the future history I'm playing with in my head, the primary armament of space warships is gumball-sized unguided kinetics fired at high speed from coilguns


I still don't know where I fall on the purple/green space cow debate. Lasers seem like they should be the winner for the close to mid-range engagement but kinetics just have that special thumpiness...

... I can imagine the Decatur Squadron returning in triumph to Earth orbit following the success of a pirate extirpation campaign, and firing shots in shallow chords through Earth's atmosphere. The result: an artificial shower of shooting stars!

That's the kind of thing I was thinking. The ships are going to have some significant momentum to kill when slowing from transit speed.

This would be a question for the boffins here -- we know the general speed of human-originated stuff falling into the atmosphere, we know the usual speed for stuff hitting us from interplanetary space. What sort of speeds are we talking with semi-magic fusion torches, the kind that can make a transit to Mars in a month? I'm thinking it would be a lot higher than the usual stuff hitting out atmosphere so what would chaff look like if it was hitting at the transit speed, i.e. dropped before the deceleration burn? Would it likely just explode in the high atmosphere or give us some lovely shooting star streaks?

I'm just wondering whether the arriving fleet would want to drop their fireworks sooner or later.

They could be fired in various patterns: multi-shot salvoes, simultaneous parallel shots from multiple weapons, rapid 1-2-3 sequences, etc. Hmm, I wonder if you could have special display rounds with different coatings that burned in different colors?


Absolutely. The tradition would probably start using standard ammo and junk and later get refined into an art. It just seems like such an obvious thing for people to show off with. They'd probably use the same sort of coloring agents that get used in fireworks, i.e. copper gives you green. Would just need to be a coating over the slug.

At any rate, it could be quite an impressive display, and visible for ... well, across a good chunk of the Earth's surface, I would think.

Yup. The other thing I wondered about would be a volumetric display. We've got people working on doing this with the tiny battery-operated chopper-bots. The goal is to get several hundred of them flying in formation and flashing lights. Given that they're flying a programmed flight path, the designers are hoping to create some very stunning images. Think of each chopper as being a voxel.

Here's a proposal but no proof of concept yet.
http://www.gizmag.com/flyfire-mini-helicopters-create-3d-light-display/14269/

Now you should be able to manage something similar with a constellation of pico-sats. The image wouldn't be moving and putting them in low orbit means they'd fall in a few months but they could probably use solar power to fire station-keeping ion drives and pulse their lights. Be a big, low-orbit billboard for as long as they last.

I'm still curious about what the drive exhaust effects would be on the upper atmosphere.

Rick said...

If you have torch-level drive, ships under power in low orbit will be VERY BRIGHT from the surface.

Also, grain-of-sand size meteors are bright, so impressive re-entry 'pyrotechnics' can be done at far below the threshold of potentially damaging anything on the surface.

On the flip side, our current video tech is NO match for a fighter on afterburner passing a few hundred feet overhead. (Setting off car alarms is a bit annoying but also rather funny.)

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Jollyreaper:

"What sort of speeds are we talking with semi-magic fusion torches, the kind that can make a transit to Mars in a month?"

A Hohmann delta-vee of 100 km/s gives you an Earth-to-Mars transit of roughly a month. Of course, delta-vee isn't the same as speed on arrival.

In general, your transit speed is about half your delta-vee (since you spend half your delta-vee to accelerate, and half to decelerate), with slightly more spent at the endpoint with the further-off orbit. Hacking my delta-vee calculator to show the relevant numbers, I find that the aforementioned 100 km/s Earth-Mars trip would have a speed of 44 km/s at Earth and 56 km/s at Mars.

So suppose that a space cruiser from Earth is en route to Mars to remind the Martian colonies of who's in charge, and immediately before beginning its deceleration burn, it releases a bunch of chaff. The chaff would hit Mars's atmosphere at 56 km/s, plus whatever Mars's gravity adds to the speed.

This is not really that large. Natural meteors can hit 73 km/s at the high end, a value which is nearly reached by the Leonid meteor showers. (The low end, meanwhile, is Earth's escape velocity, around 11 km/s. So that's a factor 6-7 in speed, and so a factor 44-ish in kinetic energy.)

Now if you have a real torch of the "can reach Jupiter in 3 days" type (6000 km/s), then your impacts are going to be rather harder. With transit speeds of 3000 km/s, you're going at around one megaRick, so even an impactor in the kilogram range could create a lightshow the size of a nuclear explosion (which need not actually be that damaging, if it takes place in the upper atmosphere).


"Would it likely just explode in the high atmosphere or give us some lovely shooting star streaks?"

That depends on what it's made of. Human-made chaff doesn't need to be made of the same stuff as natural meteors. I think we'll probably figure out how to design them to give whatever effect we want, at least for the 73 km/s version (the 3000 km/s version is probably harder to keep control of).


"I'm just wondering whether the arriving fleet would want to drop their fireworks sooner or later."

If you want to make use of your spaceship engine's speed, in order to maximize impact velocity and therefore flashiness, you'll have to drop them before beginning your deceleration burn, which, if you're using electric or other low-exhaust-velocity propulsion, may be only halfway through your trip, long before you're anywhere near your destination. This means the fireworks need to be able to home into the target planet - and the right region of the target planet's skies - on their capacity. Most likely, the fireworks would be kept in a capsule/"missile" with its own (much less powerful) propulsion system, and release its "submunitions" shortly before arrival.

If there is any reason not the drop fireworks at such a time as to maximize their entry velocity, it would probably be due to the targetting difficulties, safety concerns, and planning headaches inherent in launching the fireworks many days before the show is scheduled to take place, not because slower fireworks make for a better show.



Rick:

"(Setting off car alarms is a bit annoying but also rather funny.)"

Hey, a question: how often do car alarms succesfully prevent a theft?

Because in my experience, standard response to hearing a car alarm seems to be assuming it's a false alarm and ignoring it.

Byron said...

On fireworks from space:
I'm honestly not sure how far they'd be visible. At 100 km up, I think it'd only be on the order of 1000 km, and at 100 km up, the atmosphere's pretty thin. And while the object might make a path, the chances of having that path line up with your entry vector are rather small. You could give a small area a nice show, but not half the planet at once. (Yes, multiple shows will work, but that's not my point.)
As for coloring, I'm skeptical about that. I don't think the color would be terribly visible from the ground, because most of what would be heated would be the air, which isn't copper or whatever. I'm not sure, though. Maybe someone around here knows...

Thucydides said...

Thinking about the book "Old Man's War", I can see initial conditions which would not support "showboating" in the normal sense.

Recall in "Old Man's War" the ships actually use some sort of quantum shift between editions of the multiverse (which closely resemble the initial universe). This would be difficult enough to imagine, but showboating would be even more difficult since ships would simply "appear" without any obvious warning or display.

After reading the book, I also wondered why the Humans simply didn't "tweak" the quantum shift process to favour universes where there were no aliens, thus ending the threat (Aliens who don't like human critters will also favour that sort of approach, unless their religion or something demands they enslave alien races...)

If this is the case, or ships need to operate in deep space to carry out their tasks (like military vessels in Forever War need to find a colapsar wormhole mouth) then showboating might need specially designed ships or artifacts for "parade" purposes, something like the guilted armour created for parades in the 1500's. After all, even if the technology really is "magic", humans need to have an outlet for displays of power and wealth.

Tony said...

I think we're getting a little bit carried away here. The US government seems to be able to justify the ISS and inspire public support with nothing but pictured of the complex from other spacecraft.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Thucydides:

"This would be difficult enough to imagine, but showboating would be even more difficult since ships would simply "appear" without any obvious warning or display."

That in no way stops them from being scary as long as you can see them once they do show up!

It's the high-tech way of sneaking up behind someone and saying "Boo!", I guess.



Tony:

"The US government seems to be able to justify the ISS and inspire public support with nothing but pictured of the complex from other spacecraft."

The ISS is not a space armada, nor is anyone using it to support any political issue (besides debate on raising or lowering space spending).

Also, that I in ISS does stand for something. It's not solely the US's creation.

jollyreaper said...


On the flip side, our current video tech is NO match for a fighter on afterburner passing a few hundred feet overhead. (Setting off car alarms is a bit annoying but also rather funny.)


Meteors can manage that, no problem. You can still manage air shows with whatever sort of shuttles you use to get up to the starships. But if you had a particular area on the surface you wanted to impress with your reentry pyrotechnics, I'm sure you could arrange for big booms closer to the surface. I would have to think kiloton-level detonations high in the atmosphere would be very dramatic.

I catch the fireworks display in downtown West Palm Beach. The fireworks are launched from a barge on the intracoastal waterway and there are plenty of highrise buildings. The thunderclap shells are the ones that are just a bright, white flash with a huge boom. The echoes rattle the windows and reverberate for several seconds.

Byron said...

Tony:
I think we're getting a little bit carried away here. The US government seems to be able to justify the ISS and inspire public support with nothing but pictured of the complex from other spacecraft.
That's a good point, but space is still cool enough (and the costs low enough) that you can get away with it. Space forces will be difficult to justify without major security needs. Any showboating is likely to be for the enemy's benefit.

Jollyreaper:
Meteors can manage that, no problem. You can still manage air shows with whatever sort of shuttles you use to get up to the starships. But if you had a particular area on the surface you wanted to impress with your reentry pyrotechnics, I'm sure you could arrange for big booms closer to the surface. I would have to think kiloton-level detonations high in the atmosphere would be very dramatic.
I somewhat doubt it. Stuff is going to break up either too high to be more than a flash, or too low to be safe. There's only a narrow band where you get what you want, and if someone screwed up a calculation, then think Tungskuga, over an inhabited area. Unless you're talking about nukes. That's even worse.
I don't see the shuttles as being particularly good for airshows, either. They're designed to take off, go into orbit, and come down. No fancy low-atmosphere maneuvering required, much like the shuttle.

I should point out that I've worked on a couple of fireworks shows during the past year, and they're fundamentally very low-tech. The fireworks themselves are paper-wrapped black powder and star charges, and they're loaded into plastic tubes in racks or sand boxes. Electric matches set them off, and a person with a bunch of switches controls the whole thing.
For what you get, it's rather cheap. While a good show could be a couple hundred thousand, it's for an entire city. Replicating the sort of experience you get is going to take a lot more to do from space.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Jollyreaper:

"But if you had a particular area on the surface you wanted to impress with your reentry pyrotechnics, I'm sure you could arrange for big booms closer to the surface."

I was under the impression that when modern air forces want to give the appearance of dropping a bomb in an airshow, they don't actually drop a real bomb, but rather swoop past while synchronously detonating a charge planted on the ground by a separate team. For safety purposes, I guess.

Or at least I read about it being done that way once, dunno if it's standard procedure... (At least I'm pretty sure this is how people do it when filming movies.)


"I don't see the shuttles as being particularly good for airshows, either. They're designed to take off, go into orbit, and come down. No fancy low-atmosphere maneuvering required, much like the shuttle."

No fancy maneuvering, but you could use them to make a dramatic entrance, with a squad of marines marching out in parade formation moments after landing.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



(Second comment was directed at Byron.)

Byron said...

True. I'm not saying they won't be totally useless, but they certainly aren't the Blue Angels, either.

Stevo Darkly said...

@Rick:
"As for coloring, I'm skeptical about that. I don't think the color would be terribly visible from the ground, because most of what would be heated would be the air, which isn't copper or whatever. I'm not sure, though. Maybe someone around here knows..."

What made me think of colored displays was a vague recollection that some meteors are greenish. I think I saw one myself a few years ago -- I happened to glance up during a drive home, and thought I saw a small, brief burst of greenish-white sparks high in the air. Of course, I could only spare a glance before I returned my attention to the road.

Also, the all-knowing Wikipedia says, in the "Meteoroids" article:

"Color
"The visible light produced by a meteor may take on various hues, depending on the chemical composition of the meteoroid, and its speed through the atmosphere. As layers of the meteoroid are stripped off and ionized, the color of the light emitted may change according to the layering of minerals. Some of the possible colors and the compounds responsible for them are: orange/yellow (sodium); yellow (iron); blue/green (copper); purple (potassium); and red (silicate)."

Based on the greenish meteor that I think I saw myself, I don't expect these artificial meteors to be colored like Earthy fireworks so much as mostly white with a distinct tinge of this or that color.

Stevo Darkly said...

@Milo:

"I was under the impression that when modern air forces want to give the appearance of dropping a bomb in an airshow, they don't actually drop a real bomb, but rather swoop past while synchronously detonating a charge planted on the ground by a separate team. For safety purposes, I guess.

"Or at least I read about it being done that way once, dunno if it's standard procedure... (At least I'm pretty sure this is how people do it when filming movies.)"

I believe you are correct. I recall seeing it done that way when I saw an air show performed by the Commemorative Air Force (then called the Confederate Air Force) in the St. Louis area several years ago. They conducted a mock low-altitude bombing with WW2-vintage aircraft (I forget the exact aircraft involved) employing fiery pyrotechnics set off on the ground. I was amazed by the flash of heat that I felt on my skin from so far away.

Anonymous said...

Well, black power fireworks are the domesticated cousins of artillery. Having an artifical meteor explode over a city simply for a fireworks show, would be a not-so-subtle display of precision and power that would thrill the home folks and impress the 'other guys' to no end...

Having a fail-safe charge would be wise, however.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

I suspect that the idea of parading spacecraft around is about as practical as parading submarines. The knowledge that they are out there more than makes up for the rather unimpressive display of a surfaced submarine (compared to something like an aircraft carrier or guided missile cruiser).

Everyone who "needs" to know will always be able to see the spacecraft, since there is no stealth in space. If the bad guys know your various ships are in high orbit and cruising cis lunar space (and you know they have a squadron hanging out at L4), then the purpose of deterrence is being fulfilled without alarming the civvies (except those who are studying the defense spending appropriations!)

papa said...

"Showboats in Space" made me think of the Jerome Kern musical before I read Rick's post.

I think a showboat in the musical's sense, a vessel devoted to leisure and entertainment, is well within the plausible future. If Virgin Galactic makes a go of suborbital flights as an amusement for the very wealthy, and then a space hotel, people will eventually get bored with just flying in space. They'll want something fun to do while they're there.

An orbital hotel upgraded with a casino module would fill the bill as that kind of showboat. Then bring on the dancing girls!

What kinds of entertainment would be suited to orbital habitats of the near future? What kind of adaptations would translation to outer space require? Would micro-gravity make possible new forms of entertainment?

jollyreaper said...

The airlines murdered the practical ocean liner industry. Cruise ships have become nothing but ridiculous spectacle, floating versions of Las Vegas.

But with the advent of serious space travel, we would see the return of weeks-long (or months-long!) confinements out of practical necessity. Therefore a lot of effort will have to be taken to keep the passengers suitably occupied to avoid going stir-crazy.

Of course, the question of economics comes up. Some writers have their liners operating with all the passengers but the first class elite in sleeper tubes to save on expense. Actually staying awake for the cruise is a matter of conspicuous consumption and the liner company makes sure they provide suitable diversions to keep the idle rich happy and spending.

It's interesting to note what kind of accomodations are needed for the duration of a trip. An uncomfortable chair works for an airplane. Trains provide extremely comfortable chairs for the 24 hour trips with the option of sleeper cars. Passenger ships always have cabins since you can't exactly stay in a seat for days at a time. And that about sums it up for terrestrial travel. But if you were booking a voyage of months or years, you might very well see the ship try to replicate the feel of a holiday resort instead of a cruise ship. All depends on the underlying technology.


I like the idea of extravagant starships with whole biomes inside, rivers and trees and lakes, bucolic villages to live in where you can forget you're in space.

Of course, it also depends on how far you want vr to go in the story. You could have everyone alive and awake but jacked into matrix pods so they have an entire world to live jn for the trip while in reality they're in a metal box.

Anonymous said...

Think of a 1930's oceanliner: oppulent, interesting, comfortable, and more like a floating villiage than a mere conveyance; spaceliners should be something like that. They should keep the passengers occupied and engaged, but still happy to reach 'port'.

Ferrell

Jim Baerg said...

"The airlines murdered the practical ocean liner industry."

I wonder if peak oil will reverse that.

Nuclear fission works for running ships & electric rail but a practical nuclear airplane is implausible.

Thucydides said...

Actually liners like the Titanic and other ships of that age had "steerage" accommodations which consisted of bench seats to sit/sleep on, kind of like staying in a bus terminal for a week.

Sleep tubes or being jacked into the Matrix during flight would be a very distinct improvement...

jollyreaper said...

I'd thought of mentioning steerage class from the older ships but I'm not sure if we'd see that in the future. Maybe we could. There's certain understandings of "what do we think people will put up with?" and we could either be too lenient or too strict in our imaginings.

I wouldn't think we'd see cattle car-class on starships but I might be surprised. I'm more inclined to go with the idea of what us baseline humans see as luxury would be impoverished by comparison to what the advanced post-humans have. Sort of like how an Egyptian laborer might consider a middle-class living in the US of A to be living in luxury and would boggle when told that it's nothing compared to how the mega-rich live.

Damien Sullivan said...

Peak oil and planes: don't even need nuclear, a big enough ship is quite a fair bit more efficient than planes.

OTOH, we're perfectly capable of synthesizing oil; peak oil, or even fossil oil running out, just means oil becomes more expensive. I'm not sure how much more expensive, especially in the stead state of synthesizing from atmospheric CO2. But it's quite possible that air travel, especially intercontinental air travel, will continue merrily along.

Remember, what matters is total cost per passenger, not energy cost per kilogram. A ship may have lower energy cost, but when you're moving at less then a tenth the speed, you need more mass -- food and cabins and such -- and labor costs, and you're getting less return on your capital because you're making one trip where the plane can make 12.

Cattle class: Ryanair is experimenting with semi-standing seats, and "cuddle class" for couples.

Byron said...

My head is spinning from the thread teleport.
I find the idea of starship steerage hard to credit, at least in terms of "being on a bus for a week". That's only practical for shorter trips of the sort transatlantic vessels made. We're looking at months, which means nobody will do it.
Secondly, on an ocean liner, the line doesn't have to supply the air. The same is not true of a spaceship.
Thirdly, anyone who's emigrating in the PMF is going to have at least some money, and thus some expectation of comfort. Steerage will be unacceptable to everyone. Being in a tube might not be, but steerage will be.

Byron said...

I'm also highly skeptical of nuclear-powered merchant vessels. None have done well at all. NS Savannah was uneconomical, the Japanese and German ones never ran cargo, and the Russian nuclear icebreakers...
The advantages of nuclear are so much higher for military vessels, and are likely to remain so indefinitely. Only when the entire navy is nuclear can we expect to see nuclear merchant vessels.

Nick P. said...

Well, my understanding of the NS Savannah is that it was mostly meant as a showboat to begin with what with it being designed more like a luxury yacht than an actual cargo vessel. Add to that it was a first-of-a-kind, required port facilities dedicated to ONE ship and was never expected to turn a profit…

I wouldn’t exactly point at it and say “SEE!?! Proof! It’ll never work!”

It’s all a question of how much a reactor and its operations cost VS the cost of marine diesel, there’s a point where if fuel gets high enough then nuclear will become attractive.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

I guess we need to classify what we mean by steerage, things being relative and all of that. If steerage means crammed into a small room with 20 other people for months on end like the steamships of yore, then I’d agree that would be an intolerable situation and probably wouldn’t exist. On the other hand if we’re defining steerage just to mean the absolute lowest cut-rate travel option relative to the times, well…

When I personally imagine ‘steerage’ in those terms on a long term space voyage I see it as the passengers sleeping in beds hot-bunk rotation style and the beds themselves being pretty Spartan. I’m talking Japanese pod motel here.

You get up after your allotted 7-and-a-half hours of sleep, a maid or some such changes out the bedding real quick and the next ‘shift’ of passengers go to bed. During the day you tour the ship, watch movies, mingle about the common area and so on so forth.

It sounds…cramped, but not anything remotely as bad as stacking you up like cordwood and tossing in a loaf of bread now and then.

Tony said...

Titanic and subsequent liners didn't have steerage. They had immigrant class which, just like the movie shows, involved four person bunk rooms and saloon style common areas, with service. As oppulent as the first and second class accomodations were,and as expensive as the upper class fares were, the ships of the Olympic class were intentionally designed for their profit margins were in the immigrant trade. Reasonable accomodations at reasonable prices (for the working man) were their stock and trade.

As for PMF immigration, I wouldn't be so sure that the passengers would be rich people. Wealthy, successful people have to much to live for on Earth. One way immigrants are likely to be average to below average economically. They may not even be volunteers.

Also, I would suspect that few if any would be space enthusiasts. You can't get much useful work out of the standard issue fan boy. And geeky girls are looking for financially secure technologists to mary, not dreamers living in their mom's basement.

jollyreaper said...


As for PMF immigration, I wouldn't be so sure that the passengers would be rich people. Wealthy, successful people have to much to live for on Earth. One way immigrants are likely to be average to below average economically. They may not even be volunteers.


Don't discount utopian society schemes. Not saying it has to work, just saying that someone has to believe it will. Once it's possible to setup communities of thousands anywhere you want in the solar system, there's going to be a lot of people trying to do just that. Think Plymouth, think Jonestown, the Objectivist undersea colony from Bioshock...

I'd say it's fair to think a great many of the richy-rich would have it made on Earth but there will be some who find the few rules they do have to abide by too confining.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



"Papa":

"Then bring on the dancing girls!"

Zero-gravity dancing? That could be interesting.

Or not. It'd be hard to do flowing movements when every change of direction requires some sort of action and reaction.

Now, you could of course just have low-gravity dancing, with ridiculously high jumps where couples twirl around each other several times before coming down...


"What kinds of entertainment would be suited to orbital habitats of the near future?"

Well, there seem to be two things you get from being in space: weightlessness, and a nice view. The view is probably of the Blue Marble, unless you're on an interplanetary cruise ship, in which case you'll only have the view shortly after departure and shortly before arrival. The weightlessness could surely allow all sorts of new sports (keep in mind that both people themselves and play objects like balls would be affected by the different movement behavior).

Anything else you do would just be normal Earthly activities with "...in SPACE!" tacked on.



Jollyreaper:

"Of course, the question of economics comes up. Some writers have their liners operating with all the passengers but the first class elite in sleeper tubes to save on expense. Actually staying awake for the cruise is a matter of conspicuous consumption and the liner company makes sure they provide suitable diversions to keep the idle rich happy and spending."

This, of course, requires you to have sleeper tubes.


"I like the idea of extravagant starships with whole biomes inside, rivers and trees and lakes, bucolic villages to live in where you can forget you're in space."

I think that's unlikely in the plausible midfuture. Maybe a really luxurious spaceship could afford to have its own garden, but a whole forest? No way.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Damien Sullivan:

"Cattle class: Ryanair is experimenting with semi-standing seats, and "cuddle class" for couples."

Umm... what does that entail? Based on the context, I'm envisioning something where they hope that people will have enough fun cuddling to not notice that their accomodations are horrible in every other way.



Nick P.:

"When I personally imagine ‘steerage’ in those terms on a long term space voyage I see it as the passengers sleeping in beds hot-bunk rotation style"

That's interesting. There's no sun cycle in space, so there's no way of telling when is "night" and so no reason for everyone to sleep at the same time.



Jollyreaper:

"I wouldn't think we'd see cattle car-class on starships but I might be surprised. I'm more inclined to go with the idea of what us baseline humans see as luxury would be impoverished by comparison to what the advanced post-humans have."

Byron:

"Thirdly, anyone who's emigrating in the PMF is going to have at least some money, and thus some expectation of comfort. Steerage will be unacceptable to everyone. Being in a tube might not be, but steerage will be."

Right. Space travel is pretty expensive - by modern day standards, which does not imply that future middle-class people will or will not be able to afford it - so a certain amount of luxury is going to be cheap enough to be a non-issue next to the amount you're already paying.

The real budget on a spaceship is not going to be money, but weight. It's worth it to pay extra if it'll allow you to pack more luxury into the same mass.

(Hence the idea of VR plugins, which while incredibly high tech don't actually need to weigh much. Computers are a very lightweight way of keeping people entertained and getting lighter by the year. The problem is that some people won't be comfortable with the concept of spending all their time in an illusory world. Or with letting a machine mess with their brain.)

This gave me the sudden realization that while accomodations may be cramped, they'll probably be comfortable. Plush cushions don't weigh much more than bare wooden planks, so you might as well toss them in. Artistic decorations could be used to make the area look less Spartan without actually increasing mass requirements by a measurable amount.

Hot bunks still seem viable though, since it'd cut your mass by three - though it depends on how much mass you're spending on sleeping accomodations versus stuff for people to do when they're awake. The longer the trip, the more they'll need the latter.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

Once it's possible to setup communities of thousands anywhere you want in the solar system...

That's way beyond the PMF. Reset to "resonable assumptions" and try again.

Byron said...

Tony:

As for PMF immigration, I wouldn't be so sure that the passengers would be rich people. Wealthy, successful people have to much to live for on Earth. One way immigrants are likely to be average to below average economically. They may not even be volunteers.

Also, I would suspect that few if any would be space enthusiasts. You can't get much useful work out of the standard issue fan boy. And geeky girls are looking for financially secure technologists to mary, not dreamers living in their mom's basement.

I never said rich. I did say "some money". If I'm recruiting for a space colony in the solar system (leaving out FTL and such) I'm going to want mostly technically-skilled people. Even a recently-graduated engineer is going to have a much higher expectation of comfort then a peasant from Europe in 1890.
And people like that are likely to be volunteers.
The above changes if we add FTL, of course. Then you can need farmers and grunt workers, and it might make sense to ship lots of them.
The reason not to do so for a domed colony is simple. You have to support those people, and that's expensive when you can't breathe outside. Automation will be much more economical.
And, yes, I know. You probably don't think we'll colonize at all before FTL.

Milo:
Good point about decoration.
Wait...
Does this mean I have to let interior decorators near my beautiful ship?!?

Tony said...

Byron:

I never said rich. I did say "some money". If I'm recruiting for a space colony in the solar system (leaving out FTL and such) I'm going to want mostly technically-skilled people. Even a recently-graduated engineer is going to have a much higher expectation of comfort then a peasant from Europe in 1890.
And people like that are likely to be volunteers.


"[S]ome money" reads out as "rich" in the human spaceflight context, presuming you're talking about people paying their own way. If you're not, then you're not going to see people with any amount of financial security volunteer. Once again, they have too much to live for on Earth. And idealist, especially ones who don't have the wherewithall to be financially secure, aren't going to be qualified. Under PMF conditions, you're going to have to force people to go, if it's for life.

Heck, I've been a space enthusiast since I was four years old, staying up late to watch Neil and Buzz take a stroll. I wouldn't go without a ticket home, and all I've got to come back to are my job, my books, and a sometimes girlfriend.

The above changes if we add FTL, of course. Then you can need farmers and grunt workers, and it might make sense to ship lots of them.
The reason not to do so for a domed colony is simple. You have to support those people, and that's expensive when you can't breathe outside. Automation will be much more economical.
And, yes, I know. You probably don't think we'll colonize at all before FTL.


I don't believe for one second in signifcant automation for farming and life support management. Too many things to go wrong with replacement parts too far away, in both time and space. Humans are much more reliable where human life is concerned, even at the cost of expanded life support requirements. It's a cost of doing business.

And I suspect that we will colonize where and when it's technically and economically possible. It's what humans do. But it's going to take a long time and it won't be done by people who have something to live for at home, even just a little bit of something. It never is.

Byron said...

Tony:
I don't believe for one second in signifcant automation for farming and life support management. Too many things to go wrong with replacement parts too far away, in both time and space. Humans are much more reliable where human life is concerned, even at the cost of expanded life support requirements. It's a cost of doing business.
My point is not to entirely replace humans in those sorts of roles. My point was that, compared to Earth, those roles will be highly automated because of how expensive people are.
Take farming. I would describe modern farming in the US as highly automated. And those who do it are generally highly skilled. The same will apply in space, but even more so. And you can only use so many janitors and chefs.
The biggest problem is getting the technically-qualified people required for this sort of thing, generally because they won't have nothing to live for. And those are the people you really need to make this work. Those who have nothing to live for are generally unskilled, and it will take years to bring them up to speed. And now that they're educated, they probably can find something on Earth.

Tony said...

Byron:

My point is not to entirely replace humans in those sorts of roles. My point was that, compared to Earth, those roles will be highly automated because of how expensive people are.
Take farming. I would describe modern farming in the US as highly automated. And those who do it are generally highly skilled.


Certainly farmers and rachers are skilled, but they ain't rocket scientists. They're trained on the job -- even the ones with ag school degrees. And the automation of farming is about bringing in cash crops, not subsistence farming (in the purely technical sense) for a small community. What we're talking about with communities up to several hundreds is large scale gardening more than it is farming. And I can't even begin to imagine how one would automate that, certainly not if you're relying on the same technologies used on high production agribusiness farms.

The biggest problem is getting the technically-qualified people required for this sort of thing, generally because they won't have nothing to live for. And those are the people you really need to make this work. Those who have nothing to live for are generally unskilled, and it will take years to bring them up to speed. And now that they're educated, they probably can find something on Earth.

That's why I don't think there's rationally much room for volunteerism. You have to recruit people who have manifestly better things to do (in terms of personal objectives). I think "colonization" may start out with long term (5-10 year) contracts, some of which will be renewed by people that find a home in the outposts. Other communities will have press-ganged members, perhaps a majority of them. But volunteering for life up front? I find that an idea without any credibility.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



And when did we start assuming we're talking about colonization, anyway? The ships under discussion may well be for the people with 5-10 year contracts.

Tony said...

Milo:

And when did we start assuming we're talking about colonization, anyway? The ships under discussion may well be for the people with 5-10 year contracts.

Through various twists and turns we got on the subject of immigrant (AKA "steerage") class accomodations and what their space age equivalent would be. Immigrant accomodations imply immigrants.

Scott said...

I would actually expect 4 shifts of ~6 hours, not 3 shifts of 8 hours. It's easier planning to put all meals at 5-6 and 11-12, and if the stupid miss dinner, too bad!

It's not going to be too hard to get a decent cook, either. The US Navy has been known to send submarine cooks to full-blown chef's school, because a happy crew is a well-fed crew.

I would also expect to see a hydroponics bay for fresh veggies and supplemental O2 production, because fresh veggies make a happy crew. (And I was only out 6-8 weeks at a stretch!)

And given the probable mass costs for people into the PMF, it's not likely to have dedicated maids or anything, you clean up your own mess (or else).

Geoffrey S H said...

Historically (and I can say this from experiance too) the food of the armed forces has been better than bog-standard civilian grub.

The treacle pudding in NATO ration packs was always delicious.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Historically (and I can say this from experiance too) the food of the armed forces has been better than bog-standard civilian grub.

The treacle pudding in NATO ration packs was always delicious."


It depends on the historical period, but yes, since about 1950 the chow in Western armed services has been pretty good. The best US Navy galley I ever ate at was at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado (San Diego, CA). Why there?, one might ask. Well, BUDS (read: SEAL basic qualification school) is there. You have all these young strapping guys, with hardly an ounce of body fat anywhere, spending 10-12 hours a day in the Pacific Ocean (which can be freaking cold, even in the middle of summer). They have to eat 10,000 calories a day to maintain weight and muscle mass. To eat that much food, it has to be appetizing. Hey presto, great fvcking galley!

Almost as good, for mass-produced instituional food, was the enlisted mess deck on the USS Long Beach, largely because of the ship's bakery, which was excellent. We had a family cruise once, and the bakery put out donuts, cinnamon rolls, and other pastries for breakfast, killer brownies with lunch, and plenty of fresh bread all day for anybody that wanted to whip up a quick PB&J. My parents were impressed by both the quantity and quality, and asked if this was something special, or if we ate like that all the time. I had to think about it, but then had to admit that we pretty much did eat like that all the time.

And then there's chief's messes. The chief petty officers get regular chow issued to their mess like everyone else, but they also have a mess fund to pay for extra stuff they want. (A USN chief on maybe his tenth or twelfth year of sea duty -- if he doesn't have too many ex-wives to pay allimony to -- has plenty of spare sheckels to throw around.) The Marine Dteachment gunny always made sure that our contribution to mess duty was assigned to the chief's mess. I used to love the 2000-2400 guard shift, because our guy in the chief's mess would often bring down leftovers for the on-duty Marines when he got off work. Yeah...leftovers like ribeye steak, fried chicken, and pineapple glazed ham. Fvcking chiefs always had the best fvcking mess on a ship, the officers and flag messes not excluded.

WRT field rations, that's a highly nuanced subject. MREs could range from a single item making the whole ration worth it, like the chocolate nut cake in the tuna and noodles, to a single item making the whole thing worthless, like the late and unlamented chicken a la king.

Rick said...

Welcome (belatedly!) to a new commenter!

I realized when I chose the title that it evoked showboats in the decidedly non-military sense!

As I noted in an earlier post, I have a weakness for luxury class interplanetary travel. Though suspect that sleeping-car standards of accommodation would be less than adequate for a 3-month journey.

Particularly since the view out the compartment window is problematic - at best the scenery only changes at the very beginning and end of the trip; it is probably spinning; and may not exist at all due to radiation shielding.

Oddly enough there is arguably much more sense of travel aboard an orbital station than an interplanetary ship.

Rick said...

My head is spinning from the thread teleport.

LOL. I regard this as (emphatically!) a feature, not a bug.

Milo makes a very good point that some kinds of comfort/luxury are very cheap relative to the overall cost of space travel (at any rate in the PMF).

Providing soft pillows is easy and cheap. Good food is more challenging. I'm not sure of how much that apparently works aboard subs will work aboard spacecraft, even with spin habs.


As for who will be going, I doubt it will be mainly either the rich or the poor, but more or less the sort of people who go to Antarctica today - skilled people of mostly middling economic background, with odd preferences.

Mass colonization in the Golden Age SF sense strikes me as desperately improbable. (Unless, perhaps, shirtsleeves-habitable planets turn out to be shockingly easy to reach.)

As I've argued here before, colonization is more likely to be an incidental byproduct of space activity. Most people do their 5-10 rotation and go home to Earth; some re-up. And with a few lucky circumstances, some bases Out There evolve gradually into towns.

Probably not in the PMF, if only because the time scale for this process is likely a gradual one.

Anonymous said...

There will quite probably be several levels of comfort aboard future spacecraft; everything from the sparten layout of the exploration and security craft to the opulent distractions of the luxury liners, and everything in between. I can see marathon card games for the crews of those less-than-opulent vessels, and the most exotic (and lightweight) diversions for the wealthy passengers of those luxury liners. What about the others? those that aren't on the government payroll, or have a hefty trust fund? I imagine something like a ferry ship; tiny cabins, a few common areas, and some simple diversions. With a big enough library, you can keep people occupied indefinantly.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

I suspect farming in any future colony/outpost or large scale space structure will indeed be a very technical subject.

We will need to produce food almost on an assembly line basis, and using the minimum space possible, so the farm wil probably be a hydroponic system like a "Grow Op", and the water will probably be passing through a series of fish tanks to provide the protein. The farmers will have to be experts in managing a semi closed ecosystem, including preventing infection from destroying parts of the system, managing energy, water and gas transfers and plant and animal (fish) husbandry. They will also have to be savvy marketers to ensure they are indeed producing the produce the desired produce.

Such systems are in small scale use today.

jollyreaper said...

I know that everyone remains skeptical of the overpromises made by futurists but I really have to wonder at the potential for expert systems in the future.

Case in point, was playing with Siri on the née iPhone. It's doing stuff skeptics promised voice recognition would never handle. One that impressed me, I tried the worst name I could think of, Harry Simeone. It was recognized as hairy simian. Tried again with the full name of the group, Harry Simeone Chorale, nailed it in one. A few years back I spent hours trying to find a cd of this guy's material since he's a favorite of my mom's. She couldn't remember how to spell his name.

Common sense is supposed to be tough. I'll know we've reached that point when we have intelligent car washes. Right now they just stupidly go through motions without knowing whether or not the car is clean. When they put cameras on these things and they can recognize dirty from clean and go back to hit areas again... We're really not that far off from harvest bots. Mechanical spiders crawling the crops, pulling off fruit and veggies.

Could we see it on earth? Migrant labor might be cheaper since they come at low cost and the air's free. In space? If we consider work performed per weight, and especially if the harvest bots can be built out of material found on-site and humans are shipped in from Earth and rockets remain bloody expensive...

Scott said...

Thucydides: Yeah, there is some level of marketing involved, but take it from someone who has gone without fresh produce for a while: All you really need to say is 'picked 3 hours ago', someone will eat it!

Where are people running those closed-circuit minifarms, by the way? That's something I'm interested in exploring.

(Best military galley I ever ate at was in Meridian, MS, but Bangor, WA was close.)

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Ferrell:

"With a big enough library, you can keep people occupied indefinantly."

Libraries are mass-inefficient. Computers can store the same amount of data in much less space.

Some people might find e-reading less comfortable than flipping through physical pages, but the mass advantages are too significant to ignore on a spaceship.

For that matter, entertainment on a spaceship is likely to involve video games. Lots and lots of video games. Access to games that use actual physical props is the luxury.

Also don't forget that even light-lagged communications back home would go a long way to making people feel less claustrophobic than they would otherwise.



Thucydides:

"They will also have to be savvy marketers to ensure they are indeed producing the produce the desired produce."

If you're living in a small community, knowing what the populace wants is less "savvy marketers" and more "let's go talk to the neighbors". You might well know most of your customers on a first-name basis.

Thucydides said...

"Picked 3 hr ago" will make your radishes more attractive to someone who is looking for radish, but the consumer looking for carrots and lettuce will not be very impressed.

What I was getting at is the level of capital investment for these ecosystem farms is pretty high, so the owner/operator needs to find the best combination of cash crops (including the fish portion) to maximise the ROI. The fact that most hydroponic "farms" come under police investigation due to the main crop being marijuana is a direct result of this metric; "weed" is both very marketable and has a high cash value, which more than offsets the costs of setting up and operating the grow-op in the first place.

In space, each person is a valuable asset, and manpower will be limited, so the idea of laying about after a hard shift in the 3He mines will probably not happen; it is off to the farms to pick your tomatoes and get your portion of the fish harvest, then maybe down in the life support chamber changing filters....

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Thucydides:

"the idea of laying about after a hard shift in the 3He mines will probably not happen"

I should totally not be picturing someone in a gas giant mining for helium using a pick-axe. Why am I?

Tony said...

Rick:

"Though suspect that sleeping-car standards of accommodation would be less than adequate for a 3-month journey."

Sleeping car standards would be pretty freakin' luxurious for a six month shipboard deployment in the modern USN. Even officer accomodations are no better until you get into department heads and above. It's certainly no worse than what our guys and gals currently endure for up to six months on the ISS.

jollyreaper:

"Case in point, was playing with Siri on the née iPhone. It's doing stuff skeptics promised voice recognition would never handle. One that impressed me, I tried the worst name I could think of, Harry Simeone. It was recognized as hairy simian. Tried again with the full name of the group, Harry Simeone Chorale, nailed it in one. A few years back I spent hours trying to find a cd of this guy's material since he's a favorite of my mom's. She couldn't remember how to spell his name."

Voice recognition has been at least that good for over a decade. The increased compactification of memory and processor speed has just made it possible to put it in a handheld device. Also, Siri offloads searches onto web entities that might know the answer. All the local app does is speech recognition and answer prioritization (with some personal context management). IOW, it's just an interface layer that sits on top of the Web, providing a slightly more organized and personalized service.*

*I say "slightly" because many web sites are already doing considerable personal context prioritization. Siri just keeps a context on top of that, local to your device.

"Could we see it on earth? Migrant labor might be cheaper since they come at low cost and the air's free. In space? If we consider work performed per weight, and especially if the harvest bots can be built out of material found on-site and humans are shipped in from Earth and rockets remain bloody expensive..."

First of all, ain't gonna be no robots built in space for several centuries, if ever. The required industrial base is just too broad and deep. Comparing humans to robots, a robot can accomplish maybe a few strongly related tasks. Any time you need to perform outside tasks, order a new robot and wait several months or years. If a human needs to do a new task, pull a manual up from a local library database, or get one emailed to you in a few hours. It may take the human some time to achieve an adequate level of competency, but while we're waiting for that, he or she is getting some amount of work done, and may even be learning and perfecting skills relevant to the local environment that wouldn't be in the programming of a supposed robot expert, or even in the general instruction manuals for humans. That's the whole reason for humans on the ground in the first place.

Rick said...

Sleeping car standards would be pretty freakin' luxurious for a six month shipboard deployment in the modern USN.

Point taken - though on surface ships you can at least go topside once in a while. My concern is mainly with volume per person, in a can.

I was told (IIRC by someone with first hand knowledge) that submarine deployments are three months because much longer and morale starts swirling down the toilet.

The ISS manages six months, but with a very selective recruitment process.

There must be a body of research, backed by considerable field experience, on psychological factors of living in a can - how crowded it is, and so forth. But I don't really know the findings.

I sort of overstated things in the line you quoted, but for a whole variety of things I think 90 day transits are preferable, and 180 days pushing the practical limits for regular service.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps what is needed for longer transists (90 to 180 days, or longer), will be a balanced mix of privacy, community, and deversions to keep the passengers who don't have regular duities occupied. Working in the garden, playing games, reading (or watching programs), would prevent boredom for a while, but longer trips that last months (or even years) would need more. Maybe having classes and lectures, even simulations of the jobs they'd be doing once they reach their destination.

Space travel is not like any Earthly mode of travel and so needs a certain amount of thinking 'outside the box' to make it successful.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

People did long transits in the age of sail in conditions we can hardly imagine today. Warships were probably the worst, since they were packed with men needed for the fighting tasks (manning the guns and fighting tops), who were otherwise unemployed in the day to day sailing.

We all know this isn't what happened; the coxswain ensured EVERYONE was employed scrubbing decks and doing other chores around the ship (especially assisting the ratings, and ships specialists like the carpenter).

Such tasks don't exist on a spaceship, nor do I think paying passengers will allow themselves to be utilized in this manner, but some sort of analogue will probably be created to keep the passengers and crew from going crazy.

This will also provide more reason to invest in drive development; getting people to their destinations as fast as possible not only increases the revenue per ship, but also minimizes the need for expensive and mass heavy entertainment to keep the passengers amused for 180+ days...

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Such tasks don't exist on a spaceship, nor do I think paying passengers will allow themselves to be utilized in this manner, but some sort of analogue will probably be created to keep the passengers and crew from going crazy."

Are we going to have paying passengers in the PMF? I don't think so, nor, do I suspect, would many. You're a passenger because you have a job to do at the end of the line. Transport to get you there is a just a cost of doing business.

And why would we have more crewmembers than maybe a pilot and a maintenance engineer? After all, you have all of the highly intelligent and adpatable pax with nothing better to do during transit but read books and play cards/videogames. Put them to work in the ship's economy. Anybody who thinks he's too good for that can effing starve till he gets in line. It's not like the other passengers would object. Every lazy-ass not pulling his weight makes more work for them.

Byron said...

Such tasks don't exist on a spaceship, nor do I think paying passengers will allow themselves to be utilized in this manner, but some sort of analogue will probably be created to keep the passengers and crew from going crazy.
I wouldn't be so sure about that.
If there are paying passengers, they'd probably get a price break if they agree to so many hours of work each day. Even if it's just housekeeping, it saves the line money, and helps the passengers stay sane. I'm not claiming it would make the trip free by any means, but it would be an incentive.
And if you set it up right, most of the work they'd do would only need to be done when they're onboard, so you aren't shorthanded on the trip home.
On military vessels, it's much the same, though in that case, it's not optional.

Rick said...

And why would we have more crewmembers than maybe a pilot and a maintenance engineer?

Do you even need those? The passenger manifest skillsets probably include maintenance types and even pilot types. Whatever bases you have out there must have some kind of 'mission control' for local operations. With clever personnel scheduling you can fill every needed billet.

Good thing, too, because ship crew may not be a viable career path. My guess is that the transports have only minimal shielding, to save penalty mass. In which case a few trips could add up to a career exposure limits.

But at some point there will likely be 'First Class' accommodations for VIP types, who will not work their passage (and may not have suitable skills). Whether these berths can also be outright purchased is a minor detail - one way or another they are available to members of the elite who want to make the trip.

jollyreaper said...

Voice recognition has been at least that good for over a decade. The increased compactification of memory and processor speed has just made it possible to put it in a handheld device.

Yes, I know how they're doing it. The point is, they're really making it practical. An observation was made about this elsewhere: anything is a gimmick until it's been done right, then it's the new standard. Horseless carriages, GUI's, airplanes, etc. Voice recognition is making that transition right now.

First of all, ain't gonna be no robots built in space for several centuries, if ever. The required industrial base is just too broad and deep. Comparing humans to robots, a robot can accomplish maybe a few strongly related tasks. Any time you need to perform outside tasks, order a new robot and wait several months or years. If a human needs to do a new task, pull a manual up from a local library database, or get one emailed to you in a few hours. It may take the human some time to achieve an adequate level of competency, but while we're waiting for that, he or she is getting some amount of work done, and may even be learning and perfecting skills relevant to the local environment that wouldn't be in the programming of a supposed robot expert, or even in the general instruction manuals for humans. That's the whole reason for humans on the ground in the first place.


http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2395131,00.asp


DARPA Proposes Satellite Recycling 'Phoenix' Program

They're talking about making a robot to cobble together new sats from the working parts of old ones. No idea how that'll work but that's certainly going to require some flexible manipulators.

I think you're being too categorical in saying it would take centuries to build robots in situ. Certainly if we're talking about nothing better than today's tech, it wouldn't be happening. If we'd gone ahead and built the lunar base after the Apollo mission, we'd probably still not have local fab of integrated circuits yet. But the new nano-manufacturing tech really has me wondering just what will be possible in the future.

But even if we say "nope, no space manufacturing," what are the limits to robot flexibility? For now they all have to be custom-built, true. But what happens when we can make them as generally appliable as a human being? Sure, putting the robot to a new task might require some serious programming back on Earth but to the people on the station it's just one patch away from making the harvesting bot a baking bot. We're coming up with some pretty fascinating robotic hands.

Granted, it's probably not going to be efficient in a mass production sense. You can make just about anything in your home kitchen but you won't be able to do it in volume. One turkey dinner, yes. A thousand all at the same time, you need an industrial kitchen. And one setup with rotisseries to do a ton of turkeys at a time might not be able to turn around and crank out the cakes. Economies of scale and all.

I'm not a gushing optimist and saying this will happen overnight, just that I think it's possible and certainly within the next century.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"...anything is a gimmick until it's been done right, then it's the new standard. Horseless carriages, GUI's, airplanes, etc. Voice recognition is making that transition right now."

That's a non sequitur in the sense you're invoking it. It's also confirmation bias. We still don't have land battleships, personal helicopters, or robots in the Asimovian sense. And voice recognition has been used for what it's practical for for a long time. My ex used to do voice recognition typing on a Dell PC fourteen years ago. It wasn't quite as slick as voice recognition these days, but it wasn't bad.

"DARPA Proposes Satellite Recycling 'Phoenix' Program

They're talking about making a robot to cobble together new sats from the working parts of old ones. No idea how that'll work but that's certainly going to require some flexible manipulators."


There are so many things wrong with that idea that it's hard to know where to start. A simple starter list would be:

The enrgy required to pull part off of several different satellites in several different orbits is probably prohibitive to begin with.

Parts from different model satellites probably have widely varying power and data interfaces. Is the robot going to build a bunch of interface adaptors out of junk sheet metal, wires, and gold foil?

Parts that have been on orbit for several years have been exposed to high levels of radiation and thousands of light/dark heat flux cycles. Why would they be trusted to begin with?

No matter what you personally believe, j, my understanding of robotics and AI technology suggests to me that this is nothing more than another DARPA boondoggle. Only about 10% of DARPA projects lead to real world applications, you know. Or did you know that?

"I think you're being too categorical in saying it would take centuries to build robots in situ..."

If you want a definite statement, I think centuries would be optimistic. The industrial base is just too broad and deep to transplant it off Earth any time soon.

Unknown said...

@Tony - A long time ago, I put forward a theory on Industrial Depth in this blog. I would tend to agree with this view. It takes a LOT of resources to make a robot. Just to start with, mines for the various metallic ores, which will not all conveniently be located in walking distance of your landing sites. Smelters, which require some type of fuel--and since most fuels we use in smelters on Earth are of organic origins (Oil, Natural gas, Coal...) you'll need to find something else that burns at thousands of degrees--and to build the smelters you will need a lot of metal which need to be smelt... oops.

And this is without silicates, plastics, and other products required for the electronic components, to say nothing of rubber for manipulator arms and tires, carbon fibers, or other exotic and semi-exotic compounds that each require a hefty technological base to produce.

Centuries might be pessimistic, but not THAT pessimistic.

To go back (waaaaaaayyy back) to the beginning of the discussion, I'm surprised no one mentioned one of the Ur-examples of Applied Showboating 101: Commodore Perry parking his frigate off Edo harbor. He certainly followed Sun Tzu's admonition to win before he had to fight, and he did it without the equivalent of a Great White Fleet.

In PMF terms, it would go like this. No matter how smart the Martian or Callistan colonists think they are (and they will be pretty smart because they'll send smart people there in the first place) they could never match the Industrial Depth of good old Earth. Have a single Laser Star just happen to drop by from time to time ("Is there anything you need? Medicine, blankets, that mountain range reduced to slag? No? Ok, we'll just stick around, in case you do") and it seems rather unlikely they'd do anything so foolish as to refuse to send whatever product they create (research, most likely) back to Earth. Then, return the Laser Star to Earth, parade it for children to ooh and aah at, and veterans to gripe about how they have it so easy nowadays, but back when THEY had to do a tour at Callisto they had to eat powdered chicken.

Rinse, repeat.

As for it not being an impressive sight, consider that Mir was quite visible streaking across the sky. It was 120 Tonnes and 20m long (on average). Our Laser Star is probably going to be over 200m (That nuke reactor you want to keep pretty far from the habitat) and mass at the very least 10,000 tonnes, and it will have radiators of commensurate size. Deck it out in reflective foil, I am pretty sure its passage through the sky at night will not go unnoticed, even without pyrotechnics. Light up the torch to make your point, or scatter the defocused beam through a cloud for extra oompf.

babylonfreek said...

Oh and as for PMF showboats, cruise liners or all that, if there are some they'll be the equivalent to Caribbean cruise ships: stick around Earth, maybe stop at the Moon for some 1/6th gee golf and shuffleboard and tour Tranquility Base, gawk at Libertarian Prime at Earth-Moon L-5, then back to Earth, without ever having lost sight of the little blue ball. Interplanetary traffic is going to be the domain of actual work for a LONG time.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Unknown:

"Smelters, which require some type of fuel--and since most fuels we use in smelters on Earth are of organic origins (Oil, Natural gas, Coal...) you'll need to find something else that burns at thousands of degrees"

You don't need burning, you just need heat. Heat in space will almost certainly be from nuclear or solar origins.


"Deck it out in reflective foil, I am pretty sure its passage through the sky at night will not go unnoticed, even without pyrotechnics."

The question is, will someone who isn't an astronomer and doesn't have a starchart in hand be able to distinguish it from any other bright star or the planet Venus?

Rick said...

Welcome to a new (returning?) commenter!

Industrial Depth is a handy term.

Regarding space 'cruise ships,' see my new post - I'd argue that their counterpart is the ever popular orbital hotel. One of those counter-intuitive things is that a 'station' provides far more sense of motion than a deep space ship does, what with the Earth rolling past.

Byron said...

Milo:
The question is, will someone who isn't an astronomer and doesn't have a starchart in hand be able to distinguish it from any other bright star or the planet Venus?
It's a lot more likely to be mistaken for a shooting star then Venus. Any spacecraft will show a lot of motion. I've seen lots of them, and they very definitely move.

Tony said...

Re: Industrial Depth

In Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, the longest lived culture is the Qeng Ho. These are STL interstellar traders living on their ramscoop ships and, when at star systems, in "temps" -- temporary balloon structures in space. The point is made several times in the novel that the Qeng Ho are not self sufficient, but in fact are mortally dependent on planet and system-based civilizations for everything they use. Having a target system's civilization fall while a Qeng Ho fleet is en-route can be a disaster. Almost as bad, if a Qeng Ho fleet goes to a system that is on the technological rise, but miscalculates when it will reach a level useful to the Qeng Ho, the arriving fleet may have to wait decades for the potential customers to be worth trading with.

Jean-Remy said...

Returning, actually. Somehow my profile got reset a few times, from being away so long. Back now with a new computer and an actual internet connection. And reset my profile to my old identity.

Anyway, I was about to point out that Mir going through the night sky would certainly not be confused for Venus (What with it moving rapidly) nor even with a meteorite (just a flash in the pan) And since the hypothetical Laser Star would be far bigger than little old Mir or the ISS, I don't think you'd mistake it for much else. Of course this point was already raised, so, onwards and upwards.

I like the idea of the space hotel since it provides that illusion of movement, but it doesn't *go* anywhere. Cruise lines might not go far but they do stop at exotic locales for you to step off the ship and do something interesting on a spectacular background. Who wouldn't love to hit a baseball 2,000 yards at the Mare Serenitatis batting cages?

Rick said...

Welcome back, then, to a longtime commenter!

I think the economics of space travel are such - even with very advanced tech - that an orbital hotel would be a lot cheaper than going to the Moon. (Which doesn't preclude package vacations combining both!)

Nate said...

Fleet week isn't really about showing off how dangerous it would be to screw with the US-- any state that cares about how strong our military is knows a lot more about US military capabilities than are going to be shown off in SF!

It does make a great recruiting tool, but that's because of something even more important: it makes a great morale tool. The current US "support-our-troops" climate is not a given; it's something that takes a lot of work (frequently, unconscious work.) When that work is done by people we don't like, we call it "propaganda" :)

But you don't need to join a parade to get that kind of PR. Consider Top Gun. Movies like that don't get made without a lot of expensive help from the military, and the military doesn't give that help entirely out of sweetness. Movies like that-- and TV shows, and books, and news items-- improve public support, improve recruitment, improve military morale. And they don't require flyovers (although they are easily more expensive than flyovers are).

I think there's one other point to be made in regards to this, which is that showboating requires a pretty careful balancing act. US Fleet Week in Japan wouldn't do the same thing that Fleet Week does in SF! Good propaganda requires careful application and good judgment, and means laying low as often as it means showboating.

(Hi, love the blog, love the conversations it spawns.)