Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wine-Dark Sea

Not to belabor the obvious, but I have taken a long and unplanned vacation from this blog. After more than six years it has become a challenge to come up with topics that have not already been beaten to death here.

So I will make absolutely no promises about frequency or consistency of posting, but here you go!

There is a curious enchantment to Dark Ages. They are dark mainly to us, with few if any written records, yet they loom large in our imaginative heritage.

The Dark Age of Greece - by convention it is in the singular, not 'Dark Ages' - might be dated with traditionalist pseudo-precision as running from 1174 BC to 776 BC. The end date is the first Olympiad, the earliest recorded date of 'historical' Greece. The start date is ten years after the fall of Troy, when Odysseus finally gets back to Ithaca, last of all the surviving Achaean heroes to make his way home.

The traditional dates for the Trojan War itself, 1194-1184 BC, were an estimate by Eratosthenes, better known in geekdom for his impressively accurate computation of the size of the Earth. But the first curious thing about the Dark Age of Greece is that his date for the fall of Troy is also impressively accurate, even though it was based on premises that were shaky, obscure, or both.
The current archeological dating for the destruction of Troy VIIa - a destruction apparently due to war - is given as 1230-1190/1180 BCE, a range that just neatly overlaps the traditional date.

True that Eratosthenes' dating was only one of several classical estimates for the fall of Troy, and if you include enough of the others you can make a plausible case that Eratosthenes merely got lucky. If you scatter a dozen estimates over a 200 or 300 year period, one of them is likely to fall within a couple of decades of any given date.

But 1184 became the standard traditional date for the fall of Troy. Score one for Eratosthenes, not to mention Homer.

To us the oddest episodes in the Odyssey may be when Odysseus' son Telemachus visits Sparta and finds Menelaus and Helen living in comfortable domesticity, as though all that awkward business about Paris of Troy had never happened. Other homecomings, the Nostoi in Greek tradition, were more turbulent.

Odysseus, not home yet, would have his own troubles, though they seem to end well for everyone except those annoying suitors (and the servingmaids who had been overly friendly with them). Most notorious of the homecomings was that of Agamemnon, King of Men, finished off in his bath by wife Clytemnestra. (She arguably had good reason.)

To judge by the archeological record, however, practically all of the homecomings must have gone badly. Every Mycenaean palace was destroyed, with the sole exception of the (rather minor) palace at Athens. As a further complication the wave of destruction - one scholar has dubbed it simply the Catastrophe - peaked right around 1200 BCE, slightly before the putative date of the Trojan War.

What sticks most in my mind is sandy Pylos, the city of wise old Nestor. Telemachus also visited Pylos in his journey, where he found Nestor leading his people in sacrificing bulls (or was it oxen?) to Poseidon. All seems to be going well for the Pylians - if Homer had wanted Foreshadowings of Doom in his narrative, he could have provided them, and he doesn't.

In fact, however, sandy Pylos went down in flames circa 1200 BCE. And unlike Mycenae, which struggled on through a couple of archeological destruction layers before final abandonment, Pylos went down for the count.

Left in the smouldering ruins were clay tablets, fortuitously baked in the conflagration, on which scribes had carefully recorded all the unromantic details of Bronze Age palace management.They also provide the Foreshadowings of Doom that immortal Homer does not: Watchers have been dispatched to guard the coast, some 600 rowers are being mustered, and there are hints of an emergency human sacrifice.

The fashion in the fairly recent past was to downplay any real connection between Bronze Age events and the Homeric tradition. The magisterial Moses I Finley dismissed any Bronze Age element in the epics as a mere few Mycenaean 'things.' Lately the scholarly fashion cycle seems to be going the other way, helped along by other fire-preserved clay tablets, from Hittite archives, that mention a place called Taruisa or Wilusa, and troublesome people called Ahhiyawa - evoking Troy, its alternate name Ilios, and the Achaeans, sackers of cities.

For historical, or para-historical fiction, this would be more than enough. A lot of plausible reconstruction of events can be slipped through the error bars in archeological dating. If Troy fell in 1230 BCE, then whatever happened to Pylos happened a generation after Telemachus' visit, give or take, and had no reason to be hinted at in the Odyssey. Perhaps it belonged to a different story line.

But that is the mystery and enchantment of the Greek Dark Age. Moses I Finley may have been wrong to dismiss 'Mycenaean things,' but he is right in saying not to judge a culture only by its material poverty.
An oral tradition persisted and developed through its obscure generations.

The tradition did not preserve everything. If there was ever an epic sung of the fiery end of Pylos, it vanished nearly without trace. (A sketchy account held that Nestor's descendents were exiled from Pylos, turned up in Athens, and eventually founded Ionia.) But the tradition did preserve some things, however much refracted by oral transmission.

It is unlikely that we will ever find a source document that directly records the specific people and events that have come down to us as the wrath of Achilles and the wanderings of Odysseus. We glimpse them - vividly so - across a wine-dark sea of time.


Obligatory space reference: When your subject is Odysseus, the Major Tom of Bronze Age heroes,  you don't really need an obligatory space reference. But I provided one anyway.

The image of an archaic era Greek galley comes from a Project Gutenberg ebook.


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Katzen said...

This is a lot of mental switching of gears for me so this might sound a little disjointed.
The fall of troy in homer's illiad was the 7th (already mentioned) but this is common in ancient and today's society to build or rebuild the city over centuries.
We keep digging up more and more artifacts and using even more sophisticated forensic techniques to discover whatever details are left at a dig site.

The funny thing is. We won't ever find every single detail even though humans are a unbroken line of births and deaths. Could you imagine being someone who has to watch your empire crumble?
Your children will believe them as stories from a time before them, but their children? will see them as legends and their children will see myths and each story will disappear from view as new tales are told.

I am witness to this myself as my father is almost 70 and I am only in my early to mid twenties. To him he grew up under the communist government. He heard the tales of the brutality of the Nazis from men who had it still fresh in their mind, and somewhat older stories of world war one, who today there are only a handful left, and none that were in the trenches.
but what are my children to understand of these times? I will be the last generation to know a time at all that internet did not exist for the masses. They won't, and I don't understand or know what the cold war meant with imminent doom always around the corner, or what the world without a computer in your pocket was like.

I have a few tales that I have heard of old people who survived that time. As always though there will be dark times that will never be recorded. Africa is such a place. It has been going through a long nasty dark age for a few centuries now and only now starting to climb out of that darkness.

I have only one bit left and that is looking from the other way. My father who sees culture so much differently and views governments in a much more competent light, and think that the Nazis are still around.

Brett said...

I can totally understand the hard part of finding new topics. Honestly, I just wouldn't worry about it - talk about whatever interests you. If it happens to be something that you talked about 4 years ago, nobody will care much - I don't even know how many commentators from back then are still around. And the passage of time adds perspective to things, leading to new discussions.

On topic-

The end of the Bronze Age is pretty fascinating. Just a total collapse in most of the systems that had emerged up to that point in the eastern Mediterranean, with only Egypt making it out with continuous government. And we still don't have a good idea of who the "Sea Peoples" were, although I think we've found a few of the groups that might have been part of it.


I can understand the sentiment. I just think about my maternal grandmother and grandfather, who grew up in the 1930s and probably knew people who had experienced the American Civil War even if they were very old.

Anonymous said...

An age that very little hard information survives into our time naturally fires the imagination. Humans see a 'dark' area (in time or space), and we want to fill it with stories, with a history, with people , things, and events...even if we have to make it up. Humans deplore a blank spot in the story of ourselves.


Thucydides said...

Such an interesting period.

Rather than comment on the historical events I think looking at how the historical record has been interpreted is equally interesting.

The ancients had no doubt that Troy existed, the Greek heros had sacked it and every word of the Iliad and Odyssey were true. By the 18th century Troy was dismissed as a quaint myth, and remained so until it was spectacularly rediscovered. I have read scholarly histories covering much of the 20th century where the idea of the Iliad being a remnant of an ancient oral tradition was trashed, and then resurrected. Even the meaning and nature of the Trojan Horse has been spun endlessly; it is an allegory, it is a metaphor for an ancient war machine, it was a real ruse, it is a symbolic representation of Posideon, Master of the Horse, destroying the walls of Troy in an earthquake.

How we see things is perhaps even more interesting than the past events themselves...

Anonymous said...

Born in the 90's, the cold war itself feels far away and distant to me, even though in reality it's a lot closer than what I imagine. It's ideals and effects are of a different time, or at least from my point of view.
Records of that time is all I have to get an idea of what the world was like back then.
So suddenly throw in a post about a dark age I know next to nothing about oh so many years ago and yet I'm still interested.

I think Bretts post sums up why within the first two sentences of his post...
"I can totally understand the hard part of finding new topics. Honestly, I just wouldn't worry about it - talk about whatever interests you."
I don't think the subject really matters, it's more about your presentation of ideas and the comments that come along and examine them.

That's what keeps me coming back.

Tony said...

I don't really have an opinion on Bronze Age Greece, except maybe to point out that the coming of the Dorian tribes and Sea Peoples with their iron weapons is an interesting commentary on what "dark" means in the historical context. It tracks very closely with Churchill's " Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science." It's not much of a stretch at all to think that the failing bronze-equipped civilizations, confronted with this new menace, might have seen things that way.

There's also an interesting phenomenon WRT "dark" ages -- that of legend becoming myth. The early, near contemporary, stories of the Trojan Wars were no doubt legends about real men, in realistic contexts. But because they weren't written down and preserved for later generations, those legends grew in the telling, to the point that they became myths. The more recent Western European Dark Ages contained similar phenomenon. Only the Romans and Classical Greeks saved us from a complete reversion to heroic myth. Imagine what the Romans and Greeks themselves might have looked like to us today, if their historians had not recorded, in at least semi-realistic fashion, the goings on of their day, in such profusion that some of it has gotten to us in more or less complete form.

Of course there is another connected phenomenon: the definition of canon -- IOW the decision to label one thing approved legend and the other thing disapproved myth. The obvious example is the Christian Bible. But there are other examples, including the consensus in Classical Greek society that Homer was a canonical and legendary -- because the Greeks actually thought of Homer as legend and not myth -- while other stories that have not come down to us were mythological. More recently, we can point to numerous historical myths and legends, and the (sometimes religious) wars over their veracity and meaning.

Geoffrey S H said...

"I can understand the sentiment. I just think about my maternal grandmother and grandfather, who grew up in the 1930s and probably knew people who had experienced the American Civil War even if they were very old."

The lengthening life spans of people might lead to some interesting collections of memories across the generations. The Dad of a friend of mine was born in 1937, he had children at age 53, if my friend lasts until that age to have children (in 2043), then then his offspring could feasibly last until 2137 (and be age 94) and have memories of a grandfather that lived 200 years ago. Unlikely, but an oral source social historians would kill for.

Are there any fiction works on the Greek dark age that focus on anything other than the trojan war?

If it helps, I don't think we'e had any posts on generation ships or sleeper ships.

Geoffrey S H said...

Sorry, second-HAND memories. Still historically valuable though.

Katzen said...

The funny thing is how much that we believe has changed but in fact has stayed the same.
I'm talking about social developments and even in this day and age when we think of constantly changing technology, back in the Renaissance there was a comparable technology.
This is something my wife who studies fashion in it's functional sense (she is the engineer of fashion, the pattern maker). She has gone in depth how they would make clothes modular, changeable and with things like wedding dresses how they could be modded over time, if you can find it read The medieval tailor assistant.

Sorry that was really barely on the same field as the topic, but I was thinking how we illustate these "mythological" times as completely different from today, which recently has been challenged.

Hugh said...

The Iliad becomes even more interesting if you read Julian Jayne's book "The Origin of Consciousness
in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". His hypothesis is that the people of that time were thoroughly alien, not in their DNA, but in the way their minds worked.

Grossly over-simplifying, there are no gods directing the participants. That is the best interpretation a more recent mental architecture could make of how the different aspects of their minds communicated.

Tony said...

It's much more likely that the ancients had a different understanding and perception of consciousness than we do, not that they had no consciousness at all.

Cordwainer said...

Well I tend to think that both the Greeks and Trojans were essentially related to Mycenae groups and cultures and at that time were really not all that different culturally. Much of the Aegean Crete and Southern Italy were settled originally by Anatolian peoples, probably related to the Lycians. These Lycian/Trojan peoples held sway over a vast Aegean empire and may have even been the remnants of a Minoan/Tyrrhenian culture. Over time the Proto-Greeks who they originally had Mycenaeanized turned against them and conquered western there homeland in Lycia.

With the Hittites pushing these Hattic peoples from the East and the Mycenae Greeks pushing them from the North they found themselves having to become more militarized. Groups of there peoples just like the Spartans of Greece had been performing service as mercenaries for other empires. These militaristic tribes that had maintained cultural and political ties now saw there people in ruin, some may have come back as "liberators" others as opportunistic "conquerors" but they took over the government of these Hattian refugees and pushed out to new lands to reestablish new fiefdoms giving rise to the tales of Sea Peoples.

Trojans/Hurrians/Ionians and Lycians who had been part of the this Greater Attica of Hattic tribes now became the Sea Peoples conscripted by the "outcast" Mittani peoples of there own society.

While the Mycenae Greeks themselves were a result of Hattian settlement in Greece that occurred thousands of years before the Bronze Age collapse. The Minoans and Nuragic culture were the result of an earlier movement of Hattic peoples as well, there influence was felt either directly or indirectly.

The Hittite Empire were caught between nomadic Prygian and Semitic groups and were suffering and most of the Empires of the Middle East would have been suffering a drought cycle at that time. Iron became the dominant metal used because of a lack of trade in tune due to military advances being employed by these various nomadic groups to gain possession of whatever land and resources they could.

A combination of ecological events and the destruction of an ancient Hattic speaking sea-faring trade empire that probably used a Luwiian style language as lingua franca and who shared political ties to the various Hattic tribes of Western Anatolia was the primary cause of the collapse. The sacking of Troy can be seen as the powder-keg that set off a "world war" between the military and trade powers of the Aegean at that time. These groups got along well enough for a time but eventually militarism won over pacifism.

Cordwainer said...

Trade in Tin. Got that all effed up. Good Iron weapons would not appear for at least several centuries later with the Hallstatt civilization. Even with that few peoples except the Assyrians and Chaldeans would use them in any kind of large quantity in the "civilized world". When the ores for making bronze was available it was the most advantageous tool material for the Ancient world up until Late Roman times. The use of more plentiful iron tooling was a result of the collapse not a technological "improvement" leading to the collapse. Better armor, weapons and tactics making there way to "rogue" peoples were what caused a lot of the political and demographic changes we see around the time of the collapse.

Geoffrey S H said...

Its interesting that the increase in iron weaponbs can be sdated after this collapse, and the use of mail armour, knights, etc can be dated as occuring after the fall of the roman empire and the dark ages.
It seems that distinctive technical innovation occurs after these kinds of collapses.

Could one perhaps posit that alot of rural folk wouldn't have seen a collapse at all? The technology for day to day life they might have used, they might have known of neighbours killed by a bunch of raiders appearing over from over the horizon more frequently than usual, and contact with urban spaces may have lessened. In the (not entirely precise) words of a historian on the Dark Ages "losses of technology and trade opportunities may have been so gradual that the population would be unaware of it". Given how basic and easy to sustain some technology was, can we even term this a collapse?

jollyreaper said...

A good exploration of ideas is always rewarding, regardless of whether or not is is closely tied to the blog's original charter. :)

jollyreaper said...

Julian Jayne's book "The Origin of Consciousness
in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind".

This is an interesting idea but there's really nothing to basis the hypothesis on. The citations I see of comparing writing styles from the Old Testament to the New to indicate there's no sense of self seem dubious. It would be like declaring that Egyptian eyes lacked depth perception because they painted all of their figures flat.

Thucydides said...

The only thing which seems to (vaguely) support the notion of the ancient peoples having a "different" sense of consciousness is reading ancient literature, where many of the factors we now see as part of the unconscious mind were externalized as being the works of the Gods.

In the Iliad, all the heroic figures except Ajax the Greater have direct contact with the Gods, who speak to the heroes, imbue them with courage and otherwise keep them going on the battlefield and in the council chambers. Most notable for this discussion is the role of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy and her role as the patron and advisor of Odysseus, the "man who was never at a loss".

It will be interesting to re read the Iliad and see if there is any real difference between the various heroes based on the interventions by particular Gods, or even a comparison between their actions and the actions of Ajax the Greater, who never seems to interact with the Gods.

Anonymous said...

Literary styles change over time, reflecting cultural norms prevelent during the writers' lifetime. Much different than fundimental changes in humans' basic mental structure throughout the ages. Sometimes, even highly intelligent and educated people read too much into ancient texts.


Tony said...


"Sometimes, even highly intelligent and educated people read too much into ancient texts."

I would say that's usually the case, especially under the pressures of our publish-or-perish academic culture.

Hugh said...

Brains don't fossilize often, let alone mental processes :-( Literature is the nearest we get.

Consciousness is a very slippery thing to nail down, but there are variations from mice to cats to great apes to humans. Science fiction author Peter Watts, drawing on the research of Metzinger and Wegner, points out in his book Blindsight that self-awareness might not actually be an evolutionary advantage. He also suggests, getting back to the bicameral mind theory, that multiple personalities can be an advantage, not a disorder or problem.

Anyone who has worked with computers can testify that the same basic hardware can behave radically differently by changing the software. Human brains seem just as flexible. Why shouldn't we have changed along the way?

Didn't Neal Stephenson also write about this in one of his books?

jollyreaper said...

The only thing which seems to (vaguely) support the notion of the ancient peoples having a "different" sense of consciousness is reading ancient literature, where many of the factors we now see as part of the unconscious mind were externalized as being the works of the Gods.

But we don't know how much of this is simply literary affect. For example, American presidential speeches are lousy with appeals to God and generic Christian imagery but that doesn't mean that the politician himself believes what he's saying. I think he's playing to the rubes in the audience. Hell, there's some really stirring, moving appeals to God in speeches by freaking Hitler. And we know from his own writings that he flatly rejected organized religion even though he had some ill-defined, nebulous spiritual ideas of his own. But he certainly wasn't any kind of Christian.

jollyreaper said...

Literary styles change over time, reflecting cultural norms prevelent during the writers' lifetime. Much different than fundimental changes in humans' basic mental structure throughout the ages. Sometimes, even highly intelligent and educated people read too much into ancient texts.

We are also prone to project our own beliefs, mores and biases onto such a blank canvas. If the South had won the war, doubtless there would be a Southern Heritage Foundation churning out studies showing how slavery was a great boon in ancient times, the seminaries would show how modern bondage is completely reconcilable with biblical living, and sociology departments would show how the negro thrives under the mindful supervision of his betters. And if the Nazis had won, I'm sure that the Bronze Age collapse could have been traced back to the perfidious influence of the Jews. Shit, they could probably pin the Permian-Triassic Extinction on 'em, too.

jollyreaper said...

I read Blindsight. It was pretty damn good. The thought of intelligence without self-awareness is pretty scary. It also makes me wonder about genetics and emergent behaviors that seem intelligent. Termite mounds, for example. They have some pretty sophisticated solutions there, a lot more complicated than, say, a bird's nest. Biology is complicated but I'm able to accept evolution putting together the critter we know as a termite. What I have trouble with is how behaviors to create such structures can become embedded in the genetic code. It's pretty astounding to me. But I also find evolution to be pretty astounding. The critical thinking flaw I think I'm experiencing is the failure of humans to appreciate large numbers. I can't wrap my head around a million, let alone 100 million. That's a lot of generations, a lot of trial and error. But let's talk about whales. They say the first mammal was from around 195 million years ago and the size of a mouse. As far as whales go, their ancestors were deer-like critters, call it 50 million years ago. Fast forward and the blue whale has blood vessels large enough for a human to swim through, largest animal that's ever lived. Damn! How does that sort of thing work? Does this mean that this sort of plasticity is available to any genetic lineage, assuming compatible environmental factors exist? That there will be enough random mutation through reproduction that any possible niche that can be exploited will be exploited? I mean that's what we see with the fossil record. Flying reptiles (pterodactyls), flying dinosaurs (birds), flying mammals (bats.) Convergent evolution for marine reptiles and mammals and similar body plans for dolphins and sharks, placental wolves and marsupial wolves. It's just hard to imagine directionless, purposeless natural selection can drive all this. Not making an intelligent design argument, just that the facts supported by science break my mind, much like quantum mechanics.

Anonymous said...

Julian Jaynes' theories sound interesting, but the timing is all wrong. The fossil record indicates modern humans go back about 200,000 years. Maybe our consciousness changed between then and now, but our ancestors who started civilization about 5000 years ago and agriculture 10,000 to 12,000 years ago would have been like us. IMO, we're talking about cultural differences.

Evolution is a random process, but with the timescales of millions of years, there is plenty of time for species to change.

Interesting comments. I'm not too familiar with this period of history, so this is educational and entertaining.


Anonymous said...

I like this thread; I'm getting a lot of information and food for thought! Until now, I only had a vague idea of how the bronze Age ended in the Mediterranean.


Cordwainer said...

As to what jollyreaper said about the winners defining history. I would point out that there are theories that the Hyksos invasion of Egypt was actually a group of Proto-Hebrews and the Biblical Philistines were not Hittites but Sea Peoples who may have been related either to the Hebrews or Phoenician-Canannite peoples.

What I was referring to in my own roundabout way were the Eocretan and Minyan-Pelagascic hypothesis which are highly controversial but gaining some traction of late.

As to how the mind and consciousness being somehow defined differently by the ancients I would have to say is rubbish. It is very clear that they understood ideas like foreshadowing, unconscious desires and the bully pulpit. There are long philosophical and political thesis about such concepts by Greek, Egyptian and Hebrew scholars many of whom actually predate the Socratic method.

As for the concept of "Dark Ages" again I would tend to see such periods of political chaos as generally being more often the product of cultural and technological sprachebund rather than the product of societal decay. The fall of the Roman Empire was as much a result of the "Romanization" of "barbarian tribes" and the spread of "Christendom" as it was an abandonment of old ways and values. People don't give up a way of life without a good reason, the idea of "Pax Romana" no longer provided the security or liberty it once did and therefore you saw this concept having to change and accept new doctrines to remain viable. For instance the acceptance of Christianity and the eventual political alliances that led to the formation of the "Holy Roman Empire".

In other words the chaos of "Dark Ages" that many authors, historians and even contemporary recordist attribute to "societal collapse" is actually the result of technological and cultural changes occurring so rapidly that large political hegemonies can longer "keep up with Jones's" in such situations people tend to move toward greater political pluralism and smaller social units that can more effectively handle such changes due to the lack of bureaucracy and infighting involved. Small groups are more effectively controlled and can adapt, adopt and digest new ideas more easily.

Anonymous said...

Hello and Welcome Back to the Land of the Internet!

Here is an idea I am throwing into the accretion disk:

Atomic Rockets has a fairly extensive description of why chemfuel guns will not be used in space, the reasons pretty much boil down to inaccuracy in shot placement.

During the space warfare series and the side-plot about spherical war cows a design for a minimal target seeker called a Soda Can Of Death was bounced around. A typical soda can is roughly 50mm in diameter, though designs could range anywhere from 3-10 centimeters depending on tech assumptions.

Kirklin mines only need a small kick from the launching ship; something in the realm of a couple hundred meters per second.

Put a ~50mm autocannon on board your War Cow firing seekers, which can swap out the armored faceplate for better sensors. A WWII era AA gun had a mass of ~2 tonnes, 120 rounds/minute, 880 m/s muzzle velocity. This is well within the mass limits of any war cow and can be very effective:

Assume 2kg seeker cartridges (half seeker, half propellent and casing)
One kirklin emplacement (2.5 tons) == 1 gun (2 tons) + 250 rounds (0.5 tons)

10,000 ton War Cow has 6 emplacements ~15 tons
720 rounds per minute

This is of course assuming a very low rate of fire from an obsolete weapon, a GAU-8 is only 281kg and has a fire rate of 4200/minute and a muzzle velocity of ~1km/s

-- J. Random War Herder

Hugh said...

Cordwainer, I think a useful distinction between a Dark Age and merely turbulent times is the one Jerry Pournelle uses (he might have got it from someone else himself): in a Dark Age, people forget what their ancestors could do. So ancient monuments get labelled as the work of giants, because the people living through the dark age can't imagine how they could be built.

Medieval Europe went through a very turbulent time in the 14th century CE. (Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror is a great source.). Start of the hundred years war, the Black Death, peasant revolts, international banking crisis, ... Even though it looked like civilisation was collapsing, the people - well, some of them - were still thinking "we can do better".

How does the end of the Bronze Age compare?

Thucydides said...

I don't buy the idea that the Ancient people were "alien" at all. If anything like this was even partially true, then there could not possibly be anthropology, history, economics, comparative literature or anything else.

Reading history, the motivations and actions of peoples are quite clear, and events like the "Tulip Craze" and the "Dot.Com bubble" can be understood on this basis. The tools might change, but the people do not.

If we ever get to post humans and AI, then the picture will change considerably (we won't understand them, and they may not understand us either).

The ideas of evolution and deep time are very powerful, and like Jolly noted, we can see some pretty awesome results. The entire evolutionary history of complex life is only some 500 million years old (for the prior 3 billion years life seemed content to stay at the level of bacteria and slime mold). It would also be interesting to speculate on what another 500 million years might produce. Will there simply be a recycling of forms into ecological niches, or will evolution come up with new solutions to various problems?

A very old book called "After Man" by Dougal Dixon suggests that creatures will move into niches and convergent evolution will do the rest (penguins evolve into giant, whale like creatures, for example), while a more recent series called "The Future is Wild" has more speculative ideas.

Cordwainer said...

As to chemical guns in space, accuracy is not an issue if you can throw enough projectiles over a large area your going to hit something. That being said chemical fueled guns would probably require less mass than coilguns and rail guns for launching projectiles and would be easier to adapt towards firing guided projectiles.

As the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, by and large were educated knew of what the ancients did and even copied them. The problem was that due to the political and cultural turbulence of those times many people were not well educated and the populace for the most part did not have the skilled labor, manpower or physical resources to accomplish what the Romans did.
It was not a matter of "forgetting" but rather a matter of new peoples who were relearning what the ancients had and a small sliver of the population retaining and preserving those skills. Also once a population subject matter experts becomes too small you tend to also have problems with the retention and maintenance of skills as well, for instance even today we have a dearth of engineers and software designers to pass on certain skills that we may lose as time goes by. There is the fact to that the more gregarious and less powerful polities of the Dark Ages and Middle Ages really had no pressing need for some of the "great works" of the ancients. What they had was enough and suited there needs just fine.

The bronze age collapse stacks up quite well although we have far less information to work with in regards to historical records and archaeological evidence. We know Hittite and Egyptian society some skills and that the level of scholarly and engineering works lessened. Hittites stopped building intricate plumbing and the process of Egyptian mummification became far more simplified for example. On the other hand Greek architecture actually became more complex and only a few centuries after the collapse underwent a renaissance. People started use iron more commonly as a replacement for bronze, although this was due more to the lack of trade in tin and because iron was more readily available which was handy for the now less powerful polities that resulted from the collapse to make use of.

As to the deep time one does need to take into account how much effect mankind has had on the ecology of this planet and will possibly have in the future. We are currently living in an Anthropocene age if humans actually arrive at some form of singularity or post-human epoch then there is plenty of reason to believe that as "species" humans will continue to have an effect on this planet for a very, very long time.

Thucydides said...

An interesting sidebar to a post human or AI singularity future can be found on the Orion's Arm website. This is a highly detailed "Future History" set in the very far future, where AI's have become virtual gods and Homo Sapiens is a fairly insignificant player in the Galactic ecosystem.

Oddly enough, Homo Sapiens and various levels of post humans still exist in this universe setting, because for complex reasons that are "beyond" the understanding of baseline humans, they are still needed to fulfill some role in the ecosystem. Since the AI's and post humans are operating at levels and topologies of thought "we" cannot access, the "how" and "why" of this is not explained, nor in terms of the setting, could it be explainable.

Gregory Benford also wrote a series of novels where AI's had essentially replaced humans (and seemingly other forms of organic life) in the Galaxy, but these AI's were hostile and actively exterminating humans through xenoforming planets and other means.

Geoffrey S H said...

Put a ~50mm autocannon on board your War Cow firing seekers, which can swap out the armored faceplate for better sensors. A WWII era AA gun had a mass of ~2 tonnes, 120 rounds/minute, 880 m/s muzzle velocity. This is well within the mass limits of any war cow and can be very effective:

Assume 2kg seeker cartridges (half seeker, half propellent and casing)
One kirklin emplacement (2.5 tons) == 1 gun (2 tons) + 250 rounds (0.5 tons)

10,000 ton War Cow has 6 emplacements ~15 tons
720 rounds per minute"

That sounds like a terrifyingly effective weapon! That's food for thought for a setting of mine- I didn't think I could fit small enough "guided shell" launchers to make something like that work. Maybe it might.....


If baseline humans could become ais through modifying themselves (as it states in the OA "about us" website section then you could have baseline humans doing something useful as an ai, then chanbging back to baseline when not required (though ais can copy very easily in that setting anyway), and lose their awareness of higher thoughts. If there was a need for so many ais that they couldn't be copied fast enough then humans could transform again- baseline reserves essentially serving as a hidden manpower reserve in time of war.

Cordwainer said...

I tend to think humans will be smart enough to design AI's that don't go all Terminator or HAL on us. That being said there are plenty of reasons why AI's would keep us around. We make cheaper labor than building robots.(Even with post-scarcity mass-production technology we beat robots when it comes to multi-role flexibility and cost of maintenance most likely) Also an environment conducive to humans is also conducive to AI. Keeping an anthropocenic environment would tend to keep "the weeds away".

Again as to guns in space I would like to add that you could not only use guns to fire guided shells and guided missiles you could have them fire very high speed staged propulsion munitions as well.

1. You could have long range guided munitions that utilize relatively low thrust/low heat profile projectiles.(sabot round so the projectile doesn't heat up from being fire, and say cold gas butane ChemMIM's style propulsion system like currently being investigated for CubeSats)

2. Medium Range Guide Missile round fired from a sabot round. Sabot round discharges while in flight and ignites Solid Fuel rocket motor. Carries a HVK projectile warhead.

3. Short Range staged combustion round consists of several combustible charges ignited in succession either while in flight or in quick succession using VOLES/Steel Rain radio ignition technology. Firing all charges off while in the barrel produces a very high velocity while a multi-stage in flight projectile would allow could be designed to change the trajectory of the projectile in flight.

Cordwainer said...

Going back to the reason behind a "collapse of civilization" to put it simply such collapses can be seen as cautionary events against uncontrolled cultural and technological progress and growth.

In other words the "supply" of technological and organizational refinements outstripped the "demand" in resources needed to maintain such "growth" which politically and organizationally created "new competitors" for the established polities of the time.
Without the old monopolies on power and technology the old polities become more dependent on these new polities for resources, labor and political alliances further degrading there ability to maintain their own power base.

If a "world power" wants to maintain a dominant role then it either has to be more organizationally flexible and effective than it's competitors or it has to maintain strict control of a vast set of resources including it's cultural self-image and military power. In other words either share and play fair in hopes of creating a culture of reciprocity or slip into some form of autocracy.

jollyreaper said...

The argument between cyclic and progressive history waxes and wanes. Strauss and Howe have their Fourth Turning and generational theory. You can dispute their larger thesis but the simple form is understandable enough.

You have a bunch of innocent investors come along and hear of a great idea. They all get involved and a great bubble builds. It collapses and wipes out most of them. They have a strong aversion to investments and snake-oil. Their bias will be passed on to their children. By the time of their children's children come along, granddad's problems are in the distant past. Look, here's this new investment opportunity and it's possum-oil this time, not snake-oil! And thus the mistakes are repeated.

In a broader sense, I think subsequent generations will lose the sense of immediacy that drove prior generations. This means that they might lose sense of the value of hard-won lessons, might know they are encroaching on those mistakes but feel they know how to lick the problem and so forth.

The 2008 financial crisis is a great example. It was completely inevitable. Why? Because the safeguards put in place after the '29 crash were stripped away in the 90's by an evil and greedy coalition of republicans and democrats. I use those terms in all earnestness. They did terrible things to our country and the world. They did it because they knew there was a tremendous short-term gain to be had at the expense of long-term disruption. If they genuinely thought they could have their cake and eat it, too, then that only means that they were able to delude themselves in the face of all countervailing evidence.

I think civilization needs a certain amount of stability and predictability. When things to go hell, you won't have the support base to provide for all those nice things that come with civilization. Even if the Fourth Turning might be a bit of an oversell, I think there is a pattern. People work to build a society, they prosper, wealth becomes concentrated, crises will present themselves and they could be anything from political to foreign war or a scarcity of natural resources, climate change, whatever. A strong society can weather these challenges. A weak one might shatter. The survivors are then left to put the pieces back together.

Sometimes it's hard to apportion blame, no rock feels itself responsible for the avalanche. But other times villains are clearly visible. Mountaintop removal mining is a fairly horrific practice, indefensible. And yet it continues. The people in charge don't give a damn about the damage caused. I think that sort of thinking can greatly drive the processes that undermine whole societies. It's like if society were a temple and the pillars made of gold, you have people filing away to shave off a little here and there, feeling their pilfering is but a trifle. And so it may be. But given enough time and thieves the pillars will grow thin and the whole edifice will collapse.

Cordwainer said...

Those that you would ascribe as "evil" in the 90's by Fourth Turning convention would be idealistic prophets or reactionary nomads and heroes of previous generations so it is no surprise that they would give into the "delusion" that the free-trade and globalism movements offered a new "awakening". Instead they did have the consequence of tearing down safeguards. That being said a lot of the safeguards developed after the depression are no longer effective due to other changes that have occurred over time. Cultures must be flexible and proactive to prevent disasters like what happened during the global recession. Also safeguards and social programs must change to meet the changing needs of the public over time. Example the increase in population and longevity that has occurred in the past century along with the rise in costs of living versus income and the growing acceptance of individuals being able to save for there retirement and move toward nuclear families has led to a need for better retirement options for which there are no government or private solutions currently.

Rick said...

Welcome to some new commenters!

For that matter, given the long hiatus, welcome back to the regular commenters as well!

And my standard boilerplate request to 'anonymous' commenters to sign a name or handle, to help readers follow the discussion.

talk about whatever interests you

That is pretty much my plan!

I remember reading about the 'bicameral mind' theory - I was vaguely skeptical, but haven't read the sources or pursued the topic.

My guess, though, is that this is more a matter of cultural development. The idea of formal reasoning seems to have been invented in several places across Eurasia, but all roughly around 500 BC. The pre-socratics, Buddha, Confucius, and Isiah, all show up in roughly this era.

I would guess that writing had become widespread enough that a critical mass of discussion built up, encouraging intellectual leaps for which there previously was not yet a resource base.

On the dark age of Greece, 'dark age for whom?' is certainly a relevant question! However, there's considerable evidence that the population of Greece fell sharply after 1200 BCE, suggesting bad times for lots of people.

There is a lot more to be said about Mycenaean and post-Mycenaean Greece, and I will probably be saying some of it here.

And yes, there is a case to be made for plain old guns to chew up targets that get within a few seconds' flight time. I think that where combat is taking place (and why!) will be as much a factor as purely technological considerations.

Cordwainer said...

I have some severe doubts about the bicameral mind theory. As I stated before there were plenty of "deep thinking" and introspection in literature before the 500 B.C.(The Veddas, Gilgamesh) Also one would have to show a lack of introspection among isolated hunter-gatherer groups. If anything from the historical record and anthropological studies done on such groups it would appear that they either were already "introspective" or picked up a similar level of "consciousness" almost immediately upon contact with outside groups. For instance an explosion in "literature" and communication between groups would not explain the level of introspectiveness and consciousness seen among Native Americans during first contact. It's quite possible that humans may have had a bicameral mind at one time but I would bet that "modern" consciousness had to have developed much earlier as evidence by human understanding of time and seasons and evidence in cave-paintings from around 30,000 years ago. Most likely the development of advanced composite tool sets and symbolic culture around 40,000 years ago went hand in hand with the ability to be introspective. Also it is pretty much established that Locke and Descartes theories theories regarding empirical consciousness as resulting from the sum of ones experience is severely flawed. Behavioral genetics has pretty much shown we are not tabula rasa nor are we entirely influenced by our perceptions and experiences. In other words any major development in human consciousness would have to have a genetic and evolutionary component. While genes can change over just a few millennia and humans have effected genetic changes in subset populations in that period of time for the mass development of a "introspective consciousness" to have developed among so many groups independently would most likely require a population bottleneck or several such bottlenecks of some kind. Everything seems to point towards a much earlier and probably longer period of development for human consciousness with the result being the modern homo sapien sapiens that would later develop "modern civilization" as we know it today.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I should have been more clear in my previous post.

The seeker guns were intended as a defensive weapon to take out incoming seekers, assuming of course that it is possible to hit a small seeker with another seeker.

Although it might be better to simply have groups of 10-100 counter-seekers on small (solid fuel?) boosters instead of gun launching them. Likely depends heavily on the kind of subtle tech differences that Cows gloss over.

But for sheer awesomeness you can't beat having multiple twin counter rotating 50mm gatling gun turrets.

-- J. Random Cow Herder

Thucydides said...

One possibility in the Orion's Arm setting is that human and other baseline life forms don't act as high level processors like the AI Gods, but are the substrate which handles a lot of the background activity (for example, the population of baseline humans provide the memory for the higher levels of intelligence. Maybe even the inactive memory registers). Those strange dreams or ideas you have been having lately are just the traces of AI's rummaging through the "cloud".

WRT ancient minds, since they did not have developed theories about how the mind worked, externalizing the sources of ideas, courage etc. to the Gods probably made sense as a way of explaining things for them. Perhaps in some future age, our descendants will make fun of the ideas of an Id, Ego and Super Ego directing areas of our brains (or suggest that *we* were totally alien, because our minds were arranged like that).

Funny sidebar: Humans have not been contacted by aliens because *we* are the most dangerous creatures in the Universe. Being immune to all forms of the Halting Problem Attack had never seemed to be an advantage until now....

Geoffrey S H said...

"One possibility in the Orion's Arm setting is that human and other baseline life forms don't act as high level processors like the AI Gods, but are the substrate which handles a lot of the background activity (for example, the population of baseline humans provide the memory for the higher levels of intelligence. Maybe even the inactive memory registers). Those strange dreams or ideas you have been having lately are just the traces of AI's rummaging through the "cloud"."

Hmm.... a human library.

Cordwainer said...

Spaceships are not naval ships. For a capital ship or transport vessel capable of interplanetary travel you will need a wide modularity or variability between fuel and payload since it would probably get expensive to build specific vessels for a specific route. Having to build one ship specifically for Earth to Mars, Earth to Venus and Earth to Jupiter would be expensive. So having large vessels with modular cargo/equipment/weapon bays and droppable fuel tanks would make the most sense. For non-capital warships you would probably want to go with a lightly armed and either lightly crewed or completely autonomous vessel with a large fuel to payload ratios.

That being the case gun turrets are kind of pointless since there are plenty of "modern" systems like Metal Storm's superposed loading as well and guided missiles with multiple warheads that make turrets obsolete. Such systems are less complicated and weight prohibitive making them perfect for use in space. Where turrets would actually be needed is if you are using lasers for in close point-defense.(whether as destructive weapons or dazzlers, although it is possible with meta-materials to create flat-panel IR laser arrays that would act as both dazzlers and lidar) If you want to be realistic with weapons in space you need to take into account how much space and weight your weapon will be. Lasers, coilguns and railguns are going to be heavy because they require a power source. Really, powerful lasers require large focal arrays. Projectile weapons in space are essentially disposable, once you run out of ammunition you can't use them anymore until you resupply. So it behooves you to make the launch mechanism for a projectile weapon as light and simple as possible so you can carry more ammo and you don't end up carrying "useless" mass once you run out of ammo. Lasers don't run out of ammo, rate of fire is dependent upon heat sink not mechanical considerations,(so thermodynamic cycle is more favorable)light travels much faster than a bullet or missile. Due to weight and economic constraints it is more likely that one would use lasers for point defense and projectiles for long range offensive capabilities. Also lasers would make excellent launch mechanisms for projectiles, laser-thermal launchers would give you a combination weapon capability and perhaps lower the weight constraints for small to medium size missiles. Although, missiles above a certain size using this method would probably be difficult to launch from a space-ship due to difficulties with safeguarding the laser from the rocket plume that would be created. Smaller missiles would be able to use a small sabot charge to launch from a tube or could be positioned some distance away from the laser in open space via a gantry or pylon.

Thucydides comment on possible future impressions of Id, Ego and Super Ego brings up another good point against the bicameral brain concept. Which is even though lots of people believe in religion, fate and predestination it doesn't change the fact that those people still make independent decisions and realize the consequences of their actions at both a visceral and intellectual level. They are more than capable of introspection, fore-thought and afterthought even though they may have no knowledge of Socratic principles in the way the ancient Greeks described them.

While people can certainly be brainwashed into having a "zombie" state of mind due to culture or religion and while mass hysteria is a real phenomenon that doesn't mean that people are tabula rasa or entirely lose their free will in such situations. The level of a person's "free will" versus "peer pressure" is very much dependent upon the situation and even people with strong egos can succumb to peer pressure given the right stimuli. Similarly, people who grow up in "cult" like environments can show surprising resolve to be different from their peers and make a break from that culture.

Eth said...

Thanks Thucydides for the link, that was pretty funny.
The article is pointing out that there aren't enough Human Invasion (vs Alien Invasion) movies - for those interested I'd suggest Battle for Terra. (Basically, it's Avatar, but good.)

The Halting Problem Attack immunity is an interesting take on the Fermi paradox. While I doubt any "Humans are Special" types of answer, this one has some interesting narrative potential.

It can be pretty funny to imagine how our descendants will imagine us, if make the same mistakes we commonly do with our own ancestors. I'd expect things like thinking we took superhero stories for real, that the two billion Christians thought that the world was 6000 years old, that we were stupid enough to drink milk past infancy, that we tried to cause global warming so we could raise sea level...
After all, most people today think that Dark Ages people were always dirt-covered, and they refused to take baths because of their superstitious belief that water transmitted vermin (you know, like cholera).

That is, of course, if people somehow still have the same take on history than us, which is pretty unlikely given how recent said take is.

Cordwainer said...

One issue with projectiles as counter-seekers is the inherent friendly fire danger they might pose in and in-close point defense scenario. You don't want a big cloud of "flak" flying about your ship as your trying to make evasive maneuvers. In a terrestrial scenario where you have gravity to make things fall and impart torsional forces that reduce both the likelihood of impact and reduce the force of such impacts depending on the your vehicles trajectory this is not as much of an issue. In a micro-gravity environment on the other hand you only need a small amount of force to accelerate a mass very rapidly so both your ship and your projectiles impart a much higher kinetic "punch" when they collide. Of course this is one of the reasons most spaceships tend to be made from the toughest, lightest materials we can afford. A few collision here and there probably won't cause a problem, lots of small collisions though could damage sensors, reaction control systems and armor. I think counter seekers would be a last resort for when long range interceptors and point-defense lasers prove ineffective.

Also I would point out that counter seekers could use staged combustion charges with simple targeting rather than a fully operable rocket motor and either servos or retro-rockets. This would reduce there heat signature and complexity, just build a shaped charge around a flexible tail made from shape changing alloys or other forms of "artificial muscle". Your projectile would be made up of a warhead with sensors, processors and radio control systems which would control the position of the tail that would consist of several shaped charges that would be blown off whenever you needed to change the warheads trajectory.

Geoffrey S H said...

So a space-borne JDAM.

I imagine a turret would be useful if you could get it down to the kind of mass that was worth maybe 2 or so missiles, and then strip out all the struts and cell launchers that would be there if the missiles were to self launch from the hull of the craft. It could give them an extra boost in addition to their own engine.

I would add the proviso that any craft I have with this kind of thing would either have the turret perform a secondary function (what ever that is) so to prevent the mass being wasted, or as part of a particular setting where some vehicles/ideas are slightly 'off' engineering wise. For the latter I thus get a setting which is reasonably distinctive.

Thucydides said...

Sliding back into space warfare, I see. (I would have thought discussing Odysseus; "Sacker of Cities" would have been a way of satisfying that urge ;))

While the idea of capital warships in space is exciting to contemplate, I am thinking that like most "Rocketpunk" ideas, this is an attempt to move past or current tropes into Spaaaaaace! The Honourverse is a version of Horatio Hornblower, and BSG could have been reset on a carrier battlegroup operating in the Arabian Sea.

Perhaps much more realistic would be some sort of Space Guard, initially devoted to scanning for space rocks and debris that could potentially impact the Earth and having some means to deal with them (mostly things like "Gravity tugs" or unmanned lightsails at first).

As the level of space activity expands, so will the resources of the Space Guard. Large laser stations to deflect space debris, act as a laser broom for space junk and provide thermal boost as an economic justification. Small ships to provide additional sensor reach around Cis-Lunar space would also become common.

The "other" space navies would be the Martian Space Guard, Jovian Space Guard etc. These forces would be essentially defensive in nature, and if there was a considered need for offensive actions, there might actually be a separate offensive arm created to man and run mass drivers, high thrust torch missiles and other weaponry to threaten other planets and moons, rather than lumbering battlewagons or constellations of laserstars etc.

Cordwainer said...

A missile fired from a launch rail or magnetically constricted barrel would be better for giving increased boost since it would restrain the rockets launch until it reaches its optimal throttle as well as allowing back pressure to build in the launch tube. What I like about cell/pod/bay type launchers though is you can have a higher rate of fire and once your done with them you can jettison the launcher as a kirkelin missile.

As to capital ships I agree that they are unlikely, which is why I think designs will start at as largely modular vehicles whose configuration can be changed to meet the desired mission rather than building a whole lot of mission specific vehicles you would have maybe a dozen multi-role designs to carry out various tasks including "Space Guard" type roles as well as military ventures which will for the most part be "training exercises" and other show of force type exercises. The militaries role in space in any near term future will most likely be a covert "cold war" one. That doesn't change the fact that "real" warships in space won't get built though, politicians today still spend billions on weapons we will probably never use and hopefully we will never have to use.

Cordwainer said...

As far as I'm concerned building torch missiles, laserstars and lumbering battle-wagons are all expensive and unnecessary options.

A space force will most likely utilize resources it already has. Why build a specialized warship when you can take a modular transport/freight ship and replace the cargo pods with weapons? Why build a laserstar when you can use a launch laser designed for beamed or laser thermal propulsion? Why build a mass driver cannon when you already have a mass driver used to boost space ships or delivery low priority cargos via autonomous pods? Civil engineering will most likely go hand in hand with military engineering and if your smart then you will make damn sure the military has some positive control of those projects and infrastructure. As for an offensive force to supplement your "Space Guard" I would suggest it would most likely take the form of some type of Merchant Marine Corp.

Cordwainer said...

Adapting technology from other sources does bring up a point pertinent to this blog though. The fact the much of the collapse was attributed to "Sea Peoples" means that whoever those peoples were they were sufficiently advanced to overpower the naval powers of their day. I wonder if anyone has really done an adequate study of changing naval technologies, strategies and tactics from around that time. Such a study might help explain how these "Sea Peoples" came to be so feared in the historical record.

Tony said...

If a necessity for space war ever exists, there will be purpose-built space warships, just like there are already purpose-built military satellites. Taking an analogy from Classical Greece, they could have fought hoplite-to-hoplite across the gunwales of merchant ships. But they didn't, because just as soon as one power decided to optimize ships for ramming -- and one power very obviously must have -- everyone else had to do the same. And then you had warships. A specialized tool will always outperform an unspecialized one.

Geoffrey S H said...

I thought up a military craft some time ago, with 3 self-contained heavily armoured modules carrying weapons payloads. The most modularity I could get out of it was to take 2 off and thus increase its acceleration for certain missions. While I can forsee modularity in warcraft as being desirable, it would be a case of adding a better weapon, or improving performance. Its extremely unlikely that one could convert a container ship to even a light aircraft carrier (though the UK did try at one point in the 1980s) and it is unlikely that we will have changes between military and civil payloads on a basic frame. Modularity requires mass-heavy plug and play equipment, as opposed to a single 'put it in here, weld it and leave it'

In addition, in the same way that Mediterranean and Atlantic Warships are different now, the same that warcraft in different planetary systems would be different. Those in the Jovian system might be optimised for short runs between moons, with only a few made for raw thrusting power to other planetary systems. Craft built for operations near mercury might be light (little around there) and optimised to take in sun light, and martian and terran craft would be built for sheer thrusting power sand probably be the heaviest craft out there, unless cold dark pluto/neptune became important.

So a mix of mild modularity and specialisation depending in the terrain and mission requirement.

jollyreaper said...

As far as specialization goes, remember the circular warship or torpedo ram from many posts back.

If you look at the classic carrier deck of the 1980's, you had the following airframes:
Fighters: F-14, F-18
Attack: A-6 (later F-18)
ASW: S-3
Flying Tanker: KA-6
COD: C-2
Helicopters: SH-53, maybe one or two other types

The F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet take the fighter and attack role. The EA-6 is being replaced by another F/A-18 airframe. E-2 and C-2 are the same propjobs, one with a radome. There's two types of MH-60's for choppers onboard.

I thought the flight deck of the Galactica was a little sparse with just Vipers and Raptors but that's not far off from what we've got today: Hornets, C-2's and helicopters.

So, what does this mean for specialization? Generalists are good right up until a specialist can eat its lunch. But that specialist runs the risk of being beaten by a generalist as the tech worm turns.

I remember all the fits people were having about false economies of trying to reduce airframe counts. The TFX program which eventually became the F-111 was considered the classic mistake of building a jack-of-all-trades and master of none aircraft. Many fighter jocks groused about the foolishness of trying to build fighters that could also act as bombers and would trot out the story of how Hitler crippled the ME-262 with insisting it have bomb racks. (Others will argue that this was not the case and that the development of a working jet engine caused the worst delays.)

I'd say for a fictional setting, tipping the advantage to generalist or specialist all depends on the technology you're imagining and the story you want to tell. You do your groundwork, you can justify it going either direction.

jollyreaper said...

One other example: the F-15 was built with the motto "not a pound for air to ground." Well, look at it now.

Cordwainer said...

The 3-dimensional and low gravity environment of space lends itself to modularity and multi-role configurations for spacecraft though. Aircraft tend toward this aesthetic. Cargo planes are used as gunships and warplanes carry drop tanks and modular weapon pods.

A ram and an extra row of rowers was not a big change to the original galleys used for trade. Aegean peoples fought boarding battles for centuries before they put rams on their galleys and continued to do so even after. Ship design evolved over time to give a greater advantage to ramming techniques but galleys already had low-draft sleek cross section hulls before they added rams.

Near term our colonization of space will not require a large military industrial complex due to the cost of infrastructure and cost-to-benefit variables involved in colonization, resource exploitation and warfare itself.
Major warfare will be too costly to contemplate in the beginning. As people develop better infrastructure they will build more specialized designs, but early on people will adapt commercial designs or develop multi-role designs for "policing missions" similar to the designs used by Coast Guard Forces.

I concede plugn'play equipment for a space ship might be weight prohibitive. I would point out that commercial vessels today use containerization for payloads and naval ships use modular missile bays. Such technologies applied to spaceships would make for easy egress/placement of different payloads as long as we are using craft that don't have to land and take off from a strong gravity well. Resources in space are more obtainable from low-gravity bodies. Planetary bodies like Mercury and Mars will be too much of a gravity-well to be profitable for mining. If we move into space for economic or disaster oriented reasons then low-gravity bodies will be accessed first and specialized craft will be used for shuttling from low-gravity to high-gravity environments. Space is "too much of the same" to need lots of different craft for interplanetary hops. Specialized cislunar craft for Earth-to-Moon and Jovian or Saturn lunar transport will be developed.
But these will largely be for "fast courier-transport" services, the majority of transport will either be carried out by mass drivers or "workhorse" freighters designed for longer interplanetary trips. For long interplanetary trips separate transports from those you would have for shorter interplanetary distances will be designed. Long range vehicles for runs between Earth and the outer planets and short range vehicles for interplanetary trips within the inner solar system and between Jupiter and the Asteroid belt. Such smaller vehicles could hop from one planetary body to the next to make longer runs but it would be more efficient to have specialized vehicles for this.

One reason I favor a modular spacecraft design is that if we want to make vehicles large enough to perform the long flights involved in interplanetary flights they will to some extent require a snap-together construction because these vehicles will be so large they will have to be constructed in low-gravity either in orbit or on the Moon. A staged rocket with aerodynamic fuselage will be pointless and weight prohibitive in such an environment, an open architecture that you just add modules to the craft until you have the configuration you need makes more sense. Drop tanks that can easily be removed/replaced in vacuum might be too difficult but would make for easier/faster refueling for a warcraft. There would be a limit to how many engines one could have depending on the plumbing but you could have several families each with different multi-role plumbing systems that would be able to change the rate of flow and direction of feed slightly to accommodate different engine configurations. Adding some containerization and/or modular bay system would make sense for both commercial and military applications, even if it proves to be weight prohibitive to make the modules themselves plugn'play.

Cordwainer said...

The evolution of the triaconter into the various polyremes is interesting though isn't it. How did they even come up with the idea of hypozamata cabling for anti-hogging for instance. I wonder if the "Sea Peoples" may have had something to do with that as well as the lembos and hemiola designs of lighter craft. Having a ship that was more maneuverable in harboring situations might have allowed them to transport troops in lightning quick raids which might have given them an advantage. We do know that they seem to prefer combining attacks from land and sea from Egyptian records of Sea People invasions.

Geoffrey S H said...

A ram and an extra row of rowers was not a big change to the original galleys used for trade. Aegean peoples fought boarding battles for centuries before they put rams on their galleys and continued to do so even after. Ship design evolved over time to give a greater advantage to ramming techniques but galleys already had low-draft sleek cross section hulls before they added rams."

I would say that a distinction between later roman round-ship trading craft and military quinquiremes and triremes could be
seen in the late principate era and beyond. Nevertheless you have a good point there.

Cordwainer said...

Well, actually biremes were not distinctly that different from triaconter hulls. The Corinthian and Athenian triremes added thalian ports and apotomaza cabling to accommodate an extra row which necessitated the use of lighter materials to create a higher draft. Hence the need for cable suspension of the hull. Cable suspension while a closely guarded state secret among the Athenians was probably not a new concept. Arabs, Chinese and Polynesians developed cable suspended designs some early Viking boats like the knarr and technically hide skin boats of various cultures also used cable suspension. They probably adapted a technique used is small light boats to a larger frame. As soon people started building quadriremes and larger boats was when the technology really became more complex, such boats probably had catamaran hulls to provide a wide enough berth for all the rowers and had to be made of heavier materials which meant larger stronger ship builds as well. The development of nailed joints over corniced joints and tighter sealing tolerances along with catapults and greek fire literally "put the nail in the coffin" for ramming style engagements, late roman style boats were streamlined liburnian style biremes developed to use maneuverability and a sharper ram over earlier heavier multi-reme ships.

Most militaries start out developing there weapons from commercial designs that get the job done and later develop more specially designed weapons specifically for warfare. The adage should be "ploughshares into swords" not the other way around. Which begs the question? What was going on around the time of the Bronze Age collapse that caused the flowering of an arms race? You saw a host of really good quality armor and weapons being widely used during this time by numerous new and old ethnic groups around this time. Where did they get the sophistication and bread to bankroll such an arms race. Was there a bronze age arms dealer we don't know about in the historical record.

Thucydides said...

I believe Tim Severin noted the Bronze Age ram may have started as a hydrodynamic aid (similar to the "bulb" mounted on the bow many large ocean going vessels these days). Certainly the idea of a fast sleek raiding ship (the Pentekonter) seems to have had much more to do with being able to put 50+ armed troops ashore quickly to raid a coastal settlement rather than sea warfare.

I am only speculating here, but perhaps the evolution of Pentekonters to the classical Bireme came about as people began seeking ways to raid "round ships" without having to go after them in a fortified harbour. Trying to board an enemy ship from a Pentakonter might have been similar to trying to stand up and run the length of a canoe today, so a ship with a wider beam and more stability (and more men for the boarding party) would have made sense. From there, the evolution of the Trireme is a logical extension, as well as ships evolving to fight each other. Of course even in classical times, Triremes were employed as troop carriers as well.

The Romans seem to have been the ones to have broken the mold, since they were not adept as seamen they filled their copied Carthaginian galleys with troops and mounted a huge boarding gangway (the "Corvus") to the ship. Having a large contingent of Roman Marines storming your ship wasn't something most people were prepared to deal with!

From there, larger and even heavier ships mounting projectile weapons became the order of the day, until the Romans cleared the Mediterranean of all possible opponents and pirates, which led to later Roman warships being relatively small Liburna.

Brett said...

Totally weird side-note, but have we ever considered the possibility of using lotteries to fund space exploration? You couldn't do it in the US, and it probably wouldn't get big enough. But what about global lotteries?

Cordwainer said...

If nations put away 1 percent of there GDP towards any given problem like global-warming, clean water or space travel we probably wouldn't have a lot of the issues we have. Problem is even if an idea or plan is well funded it doesn't necessarily end up being well organized or implemented. Local politics, private interests and human selfishness tend to stymie any large scale plans by governments at the federal or global level. Your better off herding cats.

Reality is either we need to have plans with easily obtainable goals or centralize the functions of government at the federal and international levels so that they have more independence and clout to do there job if we want to get things done at those levels. An international space program might not be a bad idea for instance since less developed nations would benefit technologically and commercially through there involvement and more developed nations would be able to hold such involvement as a carrot in diplomatic relations as well as cut production costs through outsourcing labor. Also it wouldn't necessarily pose as much risk to a countries sovereignty as some of the other international organizations already in existence. After all government space agencies and private firms already cooperate to a great extant when it comes to space operations. Don't know about global lotteries though how would it be funded and managed? Would you give out prize money in bitcoin or would major banking comglomerates or the IMF be involved for transactions? How would you set an attainable ticket price globally? Might be better to just hold the lottery among space-faring nations after all what would be the interest for some starving soul in Nigeria to buy a lottery ticket to fund something for which they have no self-interest.(except for the promise of prize money of course)

Cordwainer said...

I would point out Geoffrey that the UK made a really decent 1942 design light aircraft carrier that was built to commercial standards not milspec. The U.S. escort carriers were made from converted commercial vessels and though too slow to keep up with the main battle fleet they had better carrier decks than their converted cruiser light carrier brethren. Considering the roles they were actually used for they should have called the escort carriers light carriers, and the light carriers escort carriers.

If mothership/carrier type craft ever get used in space they will most likely use killer bus like drones not manned vehicles. Most cargo craft will probably either have attachable pod systems for placing cargo or dedicated bays with containerized cargo pods placed inside. Since there is no gravity in space your pods or bays will likely be placed ventrally and dorsally along the length of the ship so that cargo can be removed/replaced quickly rather than laying containers in a common bay along one axis like a modern container ship. Seems like it would be easy enough to place missile boxes or a drone launch and recovery system in those bays and have a 360 degree firing arc. Merchant ships could be turned into armed merchantmen or upgraded with better engines, armor and lightened frames to turn them into dedicated missile cruisers.

In terms of spaceships passenger liner and personal transport designs could be adapted for "marine" assaults, although I have the feeling these would be dedicated retrofits not ad-hoc designs as they would have to be up-armored and improved in significant ways. Most likely commercial spaceships would have relatively powerful lidar/comm lasers that could be used as military grade dazzlers. Similarly most ships would have even more powerful lasers to laser broom or vaporize large debris clouds they can't avoid. To deal with all the hazards of space travel any spaceship would likely have hulls that would already be adequate against a certain level of attack. Where a specialist role might be developing is specialized craft for raids on planets with atmospheres and a laser gunship as an escort to defend against drones and assist in close up ship to ship battles. Laser gunships might become the biremes of a future space navy eventually becoming the dominant ship of the line. After which specialized heavy drone carriers would probably come to dominance.

Geoffrey S H said...


I think there would be a point at which specialisation would become dominant, but multi-role craft (and quasi military/civilian craft) would never go away. Taking your example of merchant -carrier hybrids, these existed alongside specialised craft like battleships carriers and crude oil tankers. If the specialised craft can get it done, pull out the wallet and pay for it, if something cheaper is still useful, pay for a hybrid.
I would think that early craft would be mostly hybrids though. I hope that takes into account your arguments and examples- I do pretty much agree with you here now. :)

Unknown said...

I'm thinking about the use of craft "plug and play" vs "weld together". I have to say that space really goes more with the modular plug and play variety.

first there really isn't a major mass issue with modularity if all your connecting is power and signal from one module to another.

I would look at Bigelow Aerospace's "inflatable" modules. I put the in quotation because inflatable makes it sound flimsy.

The amount of Kevlar and insulation when pressurized makes it tougher than any ISS tin can.

anyway I would have some kind of heavy duty Velcro or a clamp fastener where you could secure the power and/or fiber optic cable.

As for plumbing and waste... I think we will be using a box for a long time. (no one said space was going to be pleasant).

heat is most likely going to be carried through a water hose or just box fans to carry warm air to a refrigeration unit.

when it comes to securing two modules together standardized sizes for ingress/egress and some kind of simple rubber airtight sealing system like the ones you find on the OXO boxes. The modules will probably be secured with cabling like lashing together logs.

I really see the age of interplanetary space will be like the early days of sailing ships. I think that would actually make a really good story.

To keep weight down and lower the chance of something vital breaking your going to have things stupid simple. Technology will be late 1800s kind. So a lot of manual fixing, moving and wrench turning as opposed to automatic everything.

Flight computers will be of the Rad hard variety along with using such sturdy transistors as to look familiar in the 1980's.

The whole "keep it stupid simple" solves A. boredom: a serious psychological problem and B. The weight and complexity to having everything slaved to a computer.

Also with modularity you could technically refit a craft for different missions or routes. I actually don't see this happening often since the complexity of rebuilding something would only be useful if you were changing it for a continuous role rather than a one off deal.


Cordwainer said...

Well, Katzen makes some good points. I agree most refits would be for longer term continuous use rather than ad-hoc at least for commercial use. Still a modular form makes the construction process easier than trying to weld things together in vacuum and low-g and cheaper than building airtight shipyard. Individual pieces would likely be built in pressurized clean room environments and then be pieced together under tension, though. Inflatable modules would be more useful orbital habitats and small passenger/cargo transports(the equivalent of small passenger planes) and passenger skiffs/landers. Larger vehicles like cargo shuttles or freighters that need to carry large containerized cargo would probably more solid structures and some kind of support spine to hold modules together. Tension and compression for larger vehicles might be used in such larger vehicles to distribute loads better. Warships are likely to be built more solidly still with greater use of armor, compression and structural bracing.(Inflatable ballutes, might make great standoff armor though) Although, case in point warships have been made using tension and cable suspension techniques before. Greek triremes and there use of apotomaza for example.

Cordwainer said...

In some cases slaving to computers actually reduces weight. I would favor a certain amount of redundancy with computer controlled swapping to spares. Power and signal could be made and even combined through wireless waveguides and transceivers, issues for rad hardening might not be a problem as long as the waveguides and wireless systems are internal to the ships modules. Have the wave guides run through the connective spine of the vehicle to wireless transmitters located in each module, this would greatly reduce wiring. I'm not certain thought whether the reduction in copper and fiber-optic cable would actually lower weight considering the waveguides would have to be somewhat flexible and heavily insulated against damage and leaks. Wave-guide systems might be too much of a fire-hazard.

Cordwainer said...

I suppose if you want the ultimate in rad-hardening then you could use fiber optic cable to transmit white light and uv light for light and power from a centralized hardened source . The uv light could be used to power machinery photovoltaically like power connections for an MRI, not very efficient but if you have the tech for interplanetary mass transit then energy losses are probably the least of your concern. FOT's could be built for both types of light sources and the different light sources could be located independently giving you a fair amount of redundancy.

Jim Baerg said...

Katzen Felidea: "As for plumbing and waste... I think we will be using a box for a long time. (no one said space was going to be pleasant)."

Maybe it would be worth while having some small habitat module rotating slowly to give 0.1 gee or less just to keep crap from floating around. Enough 'gravity' to use a toilet or take a shower would be a blessing even if it was totally inadequate to alleviate the bad health effects of zero gee.

Unknown said...

Jim Baerg
I was actually thinking of gravity. Plumbing requires (relatively) heavy aluminum pipes to carry the waste to a central waste treatment place. I don't think there are any spaceships built in this century are going to be big and complex enough to need central plumbing.

I think a backbone structure makes sense for any ship. It doesn't need to be fancy, just a simple aluminum "cageworks" frame which you could tie modules on, rig solar panels and mount engines.

The reason I don't like having everything computer controlled is for complexity's sake when it comes to coding and setting up.

A set up where you can whip up a spare or a mod with nothing more than few drawers of electronic parts, a breadboard and a sauteing iron. The fiber optic is weight reasons rather than data. you could send multicolor lights and use a plastic light filter and a simple photoelectric cell for each different signal on that line rather than hauling up hundreds of pounds of copper.
A flight computer could still be somewhat jury rigged onto the equivalent of a raspberry pi, but that would be emergency situations.

Space, when it does start opening up, won't be like today where each astronaut has a small army of people figuring out each problem. Space is going to be jury rigged junkers until a large presence is in space is established with proven operating practices based on experience.

Thucydides said...

There will also be a sort of first mover advantage in space as well. If Bigelow, or some other company starts to dominate the market for inflatable hab modules (or other basic piece of space hardware, like standardized solar panel modules including standardized control electronics and connections, engines or even basic trusswork), then the people and companies that come later will be generally forced to follow the existing standards.

This will have lots of interesting second and third order effects, some good, some annoying and perhaps even some bad. I suspect one of the annoying/"bad" effects is that given the high costs of getting into orbit and long transit times past cis-lunar space is that technology will be essentially frozen, or evolve at uber slow rates.

Your multi billion dollar Mars ship will be back in about two years, but all the upgrades you might want to make have to fit within the parameters of the trusswork, standard module interfaces, ISO xxxxxxx electro-optical connectors and so on. Ripping everything out would take too long and be too expensive (might as well build an entirely new ship). Once we start moving into deep space (asteroid belt, jovian space and beyond) we are now waiting years or even decades before the hardware comes back.

Any colonies or bases being set down on the asteroids or moosn of Jupiter will most likely be derived from this hardware, so the institutional inertia becomes even greater. This will be a bit like how housing standards drive so many things (4X8 sheets of plywood or drywall not only define the sizes of houses, but also the size of pickup trucks and commercial vehicles, the size of screws and connectors, what other projects you might build outside of housing using standard building materials and so on. An entire "ecosystem" of commercial and financial systems are built around many of these standards.

Unknown said...


That's... a really good thought. A first mover would defiantly have the upper hand for decades to come (even in computer hardware it's true).

I'm thinking the funny part will be most likely that a good portion of vehicle construction while all small components will be in metric which could make for some awkward, or deadly, design flaws.

I wonder if there is a ISO for space already? Actually reading there are a few so that first mover is already in the running.

Just thinking, maybe this would give a story a good rocketpunk feel? Think how old the Space shuttle computers were. The power of avionics will always be behind other types of operations in terms of computing power.
In space where delicate transistors breaking with no way to build more means spares and robustness are going to be the norm.

and DOS,

That would be kinda awesome if it's a simple OS so you don't have "hidden" problems giving a whole "retro" feel to the story ( old sharpied CDs for data storage?) could even be used as a plot point for a new guy trying to go from high tech to low tech.

now most likely first movers? NASA of course since they developed American space, then you have Lockheed and Boeing, and Bigelow since there isn't anyone else really in the module building business (because there isn't one yet).

Tethers Unlimited gets special mention because of their Spiderfab which will probably be the main construction system in space in the next decade. It's simple and can be used for unmanned construction from anywhere in the world. (as long as it's LEO)

Now as for financial systems. I really see NASA becoming a sort of clearing house for "competitions" like COTS and lunar lander challenge. NASA has learned it's a pretty easy way of buying development in predetermined chunks.
NASA gets to focus on missions and the rest of the space enthusiasts get to focus on equipment without the red tape and politics getting in the way. Everyone wins even the politicians with a cheaper, faster evolving NASA.

Cordwainer said...

Well, simple robust electronics with a common protocol network and simplified OS would make sense for the sake of modularity and redundancy. Problem is that even the most simplified OS's like Unix aren't exactly "user friendly" enough for easy jury rigging.

For a flight computer I almost think astronauts would be better off with a dedicated smartphone, slate or TI-85 for navigation purposes than trying to cobble one together from the ships "network of things". It would be best to automate simple functions and have carefully monitored dedicated and redundant servers running separate networks for the more important or complicated tasks. New computing and networking standards along with software safeguards would have to be developed to keep any hare-brained skipper from jury rigging themselves into an early grave.

Unknown said...

a flight computer that's basically a TI-85, actually that could work. As for a network... I am thinking some simple micro computers (like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi) that can be easy to replace a controls for the craft with a firmware so it knows what it's controlling. A

Jurry rigging is for when things break, and/or no store bought solution. In space that's going to be (and is already) common.

A simple UI that gives you the ability to input where each controller is located, what it is and how it's networked gives modularity and robustness.

It's still needs to be stupid simple because while in the air you can't park in the sky, but in space you can't land.

jollyreaper said...

As I understand it for navy computerization back in the 90's, they kept things as simple as possible. In business or manufacturing you can see a Windows machine as the default terminal and the CNC machine might have it's own proprietary interface card and software. The navy didn't want things quite so centralized where an unknown bug could crash the CIWS when missiles are inbound.

I think some of us may remember the story about a USN destroyer towed back to port after NT crashed. This is the Smart Ship program. As you can see in the link, there's dispute as to the actual facts of the story. Direct quote: On 21 September 1997, while on maneuvers off the coast of Cape Charles, Virginia, a crew member entered a zero into a database field causing a divide by zero error in the ship's Remote Data Base Manager which brought down all the machines on the network, causing the ship's propulsion system to fail.

Wow. This is one of those things you wouldn't believe in fiction.

I can't find out what the current status of the Smart Ship program is. I would imagine it was either canceled or renamed so people won't associate the new hardware with this snafu.

A friend of mine worked with NASA for a stretch and he said that their approach to programming is very rigorous because there's zero fault tolerance. Every line of code is audited, there's no fancy development platforms, they're running older hardware that's been space-hardened and all the glitches ironed out. So what you would see on the Shuttle is the flight computers are several generations behind the laptops the payload specialists have brought aboard to deal with their issues. Doesn't matter if the laptop crashes, the orbiter isn't at risk.

I would not find it hard to believe in a futuristic setting that a starliner might run three separate networks: mission-critical, not-mission-critical, and public access. They're segregated and firewalled. Mission-critical software would be expensive, conservative, and running on proven designs, seemingly under-specced given the current state of the art. Non-mission-critical might make use of civilian, off-the-shelf hardware. The in-flight entertainment system, etc.

But I wouldn't rule out the plausibility of corner-cutting. There's a long, sordid history of contractors saving a buck by putting lives at risk. Powerplant hacking, for example. There's no reason why any of the systems that run the plant should be on the internet but security researchers say there is a vulnerability. Doesn't make sense but there you are.

It's like the Cylons hacking the Colonials in the new remake. That shouldn't be able to happen. None of the systems should accept access from outside sources. You can't just point a hacking ray at a computer and take it over. That's like saying "I can defeat this tank by dumping poison gas on it and killing the occupants." Yeah, only front-line tanks from the US and USSR (maybe not the export versions) have NBC protection built-in. It's air filtration and over-pressure to keep the nasty bits out. Known threat, handled.

Unknown said...


how have I never heard of smartship?! that's actually really funny and that scene from the south park movie makes a whole lot more sense...

actually most systems corporate or otherwise do have different systems for mission and non mission essential. It's a pretty common policy now.

as for bugs that would be the real problem for any computer system. Running a thousand tests and making sure that it computes right is going to be why a flight computer would look like a commodore 64.

Now the entertainment system could be the latest Xbox Quad (or something) with a big flatscreen, but if it red rings it's not going to kill anyone right away

maybe later from boredom though.

when I went on the USS Missouri I was greeted by mechanical computers.

The ships guns still used them to compute trajectories of weapons.

Well space wouldn't use mechanical, but the power of a TI graphing calculator with a few number boxes could crunch the flight program then send it to guidance.

The whole "network" would be on a server rack with a small bundle fiber optic lines running out.

The system would be semi auto though where it can tell you what it needs and verifies, but ultimately gives the person in full control. (not like with win 8. The invasive model of that operating system makes Linux look much nicer now).

I'm imagining quite a interesting looking space craft with feather light truss work, modules tied on, and large solar mirrors, panels and radiators spreading out. Sailboat, or moth like (please let a ship be named Mothra)

Cordwainer said...

What I'm imagining is something along these lines for a space freighter.

1.Modular containerize cargo bays up-front with ejection lifts to off-load cargo easily as well as eject hazardous cargo that may present a danger to the ship. Such bays could be adapted to holding box missile arrays and could be used to launch kirkelin missiles, drones or even inflatable sensor decoys.
2. Variable speed momentum gyroscopes for attitude control and energy storage as mechanical battery along with flat large surface area microcavity discharge thruster arrays reaction control systems. These systems would be layed out at different areas along the ships length to allowing for more efficient attitude control and redundancy.
3. Inflatable crew habitat set amidships mounted in front of the fuel tanks and behind the cargo pods. Trusswork frame runs the length of the ship you place RCS modules in front and back of the crew module to further protect the crew. Crew habitat sits inside trusswork not outside, sensor and comm equipment mounted on trusswork surrounding habitat. Inflatable habitat encased inside a thin whipple or spaced armor shell that is filled with pressurized gas. Pressurized gas is used to suspend and spin habitat for modest gravity.
4.Place TMV/PPV power panels on trusswork above fuel tanks, and radiators on trusswork above the engine turbines and pumps. Mount radiators and power panels on inflatable ballutes to increase surface area instead of using flat folding panels.
5. Use rad-hardened energy efficient simple electronics, fiber-optic power and signal cables, and plasma antennae for radar and comms. IR lasers for lidar and tight-beam ship-to-ship comms.(can easily be adapted for sensor jamming) More powerful adiabatic gas-dynamic chemical laser "brooms" for anti-collision and possibly point defense.
6. Two types of interchangeable engine modules a low-flow version for fuel sipping trajectories and a high flow module for short fast flights. Mounts on the module for drop tanks or SRB's. Drop tanks for long flights, SRB's for when high delta-vee is necessary. Main engine modules will be hybrid microcavity discharge thrusters and some type of mixed propellant thruster or ionic liquid bipropellant thruster. Mass drivers and/or tethers would be used to give vessels an additional boost out of heavy gravity wells.

Cordwainer said...

If you use ionic liquid propellants you might want to include metal air batteries for power production and used hydrogen peroxide for an oxidizer. The metal air batteries could be used to reform hydrogen peroxide in flight and hydrogen peroxide could be mixed with magnesium to power a fuel cell reactor.

Cordwainer said...

Scratch that I don't know how well hydrogen peroxide would react with HAN propellants. But you might be able to use HAN for dual mode propulsion with white fuming nitric acid as a bipropellant and in colloid thruster modules. Metal-air batteries with hydrogen peroxide fuel cells would still make a nice composite power system.

Unknown said...


I will be honest your ship sounds really cool looking and for a space opera set just after this century I would say that a ship would look like your design.

but I want to say it sounds like a Gen III kind of ship. Something where there is a decently large presence in space and even research posts past mars.

What would a Gen II look like? It's past the "footsteps and flagpoles" era of today, but there really isn't anything past cislunar space and a few NEO objects.
The only reason we are in space is little past "we want to" of governments and billionaires, and a few media and mining ventures. Many are running on hype, glamor, and little else.
The death toll is actually helping sell the "wild,wild west" feel.

Cordwainer said...

I would think a Gen II would depend on the type of mission requirement and would have to be transportable to LEO via a heavy lift rocket.

You would have space-tugs that would probably be T-shaped constructs with the rocket engines mounted up front at the ends of the T's crossbar. mechanical arms for towing and snapping trusswork together would be located at the bottom of the T and longer mechanical arms would be located around the midsection of the T's column. The larger arms would have interchangeable "hands" with different tools drawn from an onboard toolbox. This would be a good starter vehicle for satellite space operations.

If fuel depots are developed I think they will be more like autonomous fuel tankers with docking booms that move to the vehicle needing refueling.

I tend to think transport of people and small payloads from Earth to LEO will be handled by Air launch or Skylon-like vehicles. While large payloads will be handle by heavy lift vehicles, perhaps BDB's. At least for the near future.

As tourism and space operations expand you would want to develop some sort of orbital skiff for transporting people and supplies. This vehicle would be launched from the Earth's surface but would be developed to stay in space indefinitely. A skiff would have to be able to do a lot of different missions so it would probably be like a "space shuttle without wings" You would have a payload bay designed for astronauts to perform intricate and delicate repairs while in orbit and it would also have a large passenger compartment for carrying tourists and technicians to orbital space stations who would be in charge of maintaining a fleet of space tugs.

A cislunar shuttle would eventually be designed which would be a stripped down version of the space-freighter design I already discussed but with some key differences. Cargo bays would be located at the aft of the ship rather than at the front to give a fatter more stable weight distribution for tail-sitter take-off and landing. Engines would use wide tapered linear aerospike thrusters for arrestment on mostly flat surfaces, adjustable height pneumatic landing gear would also be utilized to support the vehicle on less than flat surfaces and both lessen the weight and even the weight distribution on the less than flat surfaces. Rocket engines would probably consist of lighter monopropellant dual mode ionic liquid propulsion systems. Crew quarters at the front or top of the rockets longitudinal access landings would be performed by remote camera feeds. Access ways to cargo bays would be wider than in a purely freighter design and containerized cargo pods could be replaced by small dockable passenger galley/lifeboats that could travel short distances under their own power or be towed longer distances by tug. Life boat galleys would also act as passenger sleeping/living quarters during the flight. Ships catering to passengers mainly could also leave some of the cargo bays free of cargo containers and install pressurized air systems in them to provide recreation areas and mass "spacewalk" airlocks for entertainment. Cislunar shuttle type designs with the addition of fuel tanks in lieu of cargo/passenger bays could be used for short hop flights between Jupiter or Saturn's Moons, travel within the asteroid belt or flights between Jupiter and the Trojans or Mars and Amor asteroid bodies.

Later Gen IV designs would include heavy haul freighters with their own cargo shuttles and passenger liners with their own passenger skiffs and dedicated recreation bays.

Thucydides said...

Gen 4 ships would have a rotating "Hamster wheel" at the end of the truss for crew and passengers to have some "gravity" en route. It might make sense to have two hamster wheels on the same axis, but spinning in opposite directions to cancel out much of the gyroscopic effect on the ship.

I would also expect a huge Wake shield in front of the Hamster wheel to provide some protection from micrometeors.

In my mind I also see an evolution to smaller, "tougher" designs that can use aerobraking at their destination to eliminate some of the fuel or remass needs. These might look a bit like acorns or pine cones when all the external fittings are retracted for the aerobrake manouevre.

Cordwainer said...

I agree that Gen 4 ships will probably use some sort of centrifugal force for gravity. I don't necessarily see the sense in aerobraking if we are talking about use here within are solar system. There are very few bodies where aerobraking would be useful and easy enough to perform. Mars atmosphere is probably to thin to get any decent braking for a large vessel, small vessels maybe. Venus is probably not going to be easy or profitable for settlement for a very long time. Trying to aerobrake in Jupiters atmosphere would be difficult and dangerous. Saturn might have the right amount of gravity versus atmospheric density to be useful for aero-braking. Uranus and Neptune are too far away to be settled for a very long time. The Moon and nearby asteroids will get "settled" first. The asteroid belt and the Martian moons next with Jupiter's moons after that. After that Mars and Saturn's moons and possibly Mercury.

Ultimately Gen 5 ships will probably be enormously powerful sub-torch or torchship designs capable of producing at least modest gravity from acceleration alone.

I do wonder if it would be possible to rotate the ship end over end while keeping the engines counter rotating on outriggers that stay pointed in a mostly static direction.

Cordwainer said...

I have a feeling that humans will have to find a way to adapt to low-gravity environments if space settlement is to become a reality.(even minimal temporary settlement for carrying out space operations like scientific research and mostly automated mining practices)

Transhumanism and bioengineering might allow a way around this, but I have a feeling such developments are a long way off.
There are probably easier and safer ways in the short term to adapt humans to space environments that don't involve brain swaps and major tinkering at the cellular level. Anyone have some thoughts on that subject?

Cordwainer said...

You might be able to use Venus for gravity or aero-gravity assist for traveling from or to Mercury. I don't think atmospheric "mining" of fuel components from the Veneran atmosphere would be very useful. Plenty of fuel sources on Mercury and within the Sun's solar wind to make such fuel depoting pointless. Using Venus to aerobrake is only useful when traveling from Earth to Mercury. The seldomness of launch windows and the fact we can use the Sun's energy in numerous ways to provide braking makes this pointless.(Solar wind, magnetosphere, charged particles, light pressure etc.) Mercury's orbital period is short enough and Venus's long enough to make aero-gravity assist attractive as a method to boost oneself away from the Sun, though. Mining and settlement on Mercury would be a special case, since it's a very different environment than a lot of other places in our solar system. Most of our solar system is made up of relatively light bodies, even in the case where those bodies orbit larger bodies like Jupiter and Saturn we can use the Oberth effect and gravity assist from these bodies to escape them relatively easy. Mars gravity well while on par with Mercury's doesn't sit so close to the Sun that you also have to counter the Sun's gravity to climb out of the well so to speak. A skiff or shuttle designed for cislunar travel if stripped down or given a beefier propulsion system should have no problem landing and taking off from Mars. The issue with Mars is it would take more fuel to get mined or manufactured goods from Mars to other parts of the Solar System. The fuel costs would not be worth it if you can get those materials from the Moon or asteroids far easier.

Cordwainer said...

Getting back to the subject at hand I am very interested in hearing any news on who the Etruscans and Nuragic civilization were. We don't seem to have a good idea of who they were. While the Minyan-Pelagascic hypotheses seems to pinpoint the Mycenae and possibly the Sea Peoples as a East to West migration into the Aegean. The Minoan culture could very well have been a West to East migration rather than the other way around as is commonly thought.

Jim Baerg said...

Cordwainer:" I don't necessarily see the sense in aerobraking if we are talking about use here within are solar system. There are very few bodies where aerobraking would be useful and easy enough to perform."

(also google magnetoshell for more information)
looks like it would make aerobraking easy to perform with any atmosphere at least as thick as that of Mars.

Also even if Earth was the only place aerobraking was useful it would be used by all reuseable interplanetary craft since they would almost always come back to LEO.

Unknown said...

I have break up my response into three parts, but that's the fun of writing.

First. What would space ship evolution look like? Would it be from delicate solar ship to durable torch ship as Thucydides suggests, or something else?

The adaptations for low gravity will be varied and many will be ineffective. Artificial gravity using rotation will work. Also "stress suit" which simulates the forces on the bones and muscles. There would be other technical and practical considerations that will require more experience in space.

As for ancient Greek and other world cultures. I still am surprised by the variety a size of (very) ancient cultures. I do wonder if there was an ancient world trade before a serious "dark ages" that cut the world up into isolated fractions.

if so what would be the cause?

Thucydides said...

People trade for all kinds of things they find useful, ornamental or attractive. Digs at various stone age settlements have discovered flint from mines hundreds of kilometers away, sea shells, bones from non native animals and so on.

While this book goes into Alt History, "The Lost Empire of Atlantis" shows some plausible speculation about Minoan traders reaching beyond the Agean for copper and tin to make bronze, as well as wood for the smelters. While it is plausible that Minoans could have reached the British Isles for tin and wood, and perhaps as far as the Baltic for amber, there is a very distinct lack of evidence that they actually did. Of course, since the Minoan civilization came to an end in the 15th century BC, finding evidence for anything is quite difficult, and much of what we "know" about the Minoans is educated speculation at best.

(As for the book, the idea the Minoans ran a global trade empire that reached to Lake Superior in North America and to India and Siri Lanka is reaching pretty far indeed...)

Anonymous said...

On the evolution of spacecraft; I think that an early interplanetary ship would be several modules assymbled in orbit, each module being launhed atop a two-stage-to-orbit rocket. The middle of the ship would be the spin section, the aft section would be the power/propulsion section and mount the radiator fins, and finally the forward section would be the mission section that would carry cargo, exploration insturments, or landers. the module would be interchangeable, so that they could be swapped for new missions, or upgraded with newer equipment.

As for the don't have to trade directly with faraway places to get exotic items. There well could have been one or more 'middlemen' in the chain of trade routes that supplied various places, the Minoans just one major consumer in a web of several scattered over several continents. Goods could from Britan and Siri Lanka could have made their way to the Minoans, but only after several stops and change of hands along the way. It amazes me that people learn about goods fom thousands of miles away showing up some place in the ancient world and they jump to the conclusion that they must have had a B.C. version of FedEx! More probably would be that those items from Britan or Siri Lanka spent months or even years traveling from one marketplace to the next, until it reached a destination (our example, Minoa), where it was used in end products.Not as glamourous as an ancient world spanning empire, but more logical.


Cordwainer said...

While it is most likely that traded goods did involve numerous middle-men in the ancient world just as it does today. There is at strong evidence that the Phoenicians and others carried out trade as far as Tartessos in Spain and somewhat compelling evidence that the Early Bronze Age Beakerman culture might arisen via an expansive network of trade that could possibly indicate a culturally related trade network extending from Asia Minor to the British Isles. There is also minor historical and archaeological evidence that the Mycenae culture may have traded as far as the British Isles.

Good news Ceres active plumes of water! Yeah!

Magneto shell might be useful as heatshield/aerobrake for Mars but probably not offer big fuel savings for orbital insertion. Mercury and Venus as I said before would be a special case. Heck, a plasma sail would have all sorts of uses that close to the solar wind. Most lunar objects don't have sufficiently dense atmospheres to justify a magneto-shell system. Space is too much of the same thing to justify the addition of a complicated piece of equipment that you only use once in awhile.
I'm sure it will be used for certain specialty vehicle, I just don't see it as being commonplace in all vehicles.

Which is really too bad because a magneto-shell or mini-magnetosperic sail would make a great "force field" or "shield" for sci-fi purposes.

Cordwainer said...

Technically I don't necessarily think real torch ships as defined in science fiction are probably even possible, unless your both skilled and foolish enough to use anti-matter or nuclear pulse detonation propulsion systems on a massive scale.

Fusion could offer us the ability to get close to those parameters but still not quite there. Antimatter Sail and Jordin Kare's SailBeam concept could get you close to that regime as well. MSNWR's fusion concept would offer good speeds for traveling a few AU's but even that concept isn't going to get you the performance of a "real" torch-ship.

Locki said...

I'll join the chorus of approvers. This has been the most interesting topic in a long time and triggered me into looking up all sorts of obscure topics I normally avoid.

Just keep posting whatever takes your fancy and it seems like something interesting will arise naturally.

Wrt to the Bicameralism theory my very cursory research leads me to believe its typical of the sort of theories which superificially draw from a huge range of disciplines to arrive at an astounding conclusion. Eg its superficially plausible but if you take the time to examine any of its major points in exhaustive detail (eg introspection in ancient texts or what we now know about the rapidly expanding field of neuropsychology and the brains ability to communicate between different hemispheres and sections) the theory starts getting some truck sized holes been driven through it.

Also. Its nice to see we can twist a topic like the Dark Age of Greece and the identity of the Sea Peoples so we get back to discussing our beloved spacebattles and laserstars again.

Cordwainer said...

Even though I don't believe in the bicameral mind theory I do tend to think that the more tooth and nail a society is the more likely people will tend to have a more community centered view of things and a deflated sense of self-importance. In other words hunter-gatherer societies actually don't fuel type A personalities terribly well. If you want to survive in a harsh environment and be a mover and shaker your more likely to either attribute success to nature, the gods or fate as a way of justifying your actions and gaining support from your community. Case in point similar alliterative styles used in the Odyssey our similar to what can be found in later works like the Norse Sagas and even Beowulf.(which is probably about as self-aggrandizing a work in English prose you will ever find)

Unknown said...


I was actually thinking more along the lines of Ferrel and the "middleman" type of global trade. the Greek dark ages might have broken those lines of trade.

Something I wonder, what should the criteria for torchship be ( I imagine this has already been covered)

and for closer than 1AU of the sun there are sails and maybe even a modified bussard ramjet?

Also what was the reason the ancients left in the first place? It was probably extremely expensive to mount any kind of expedition?

Cordwainer said...

An Ion Ramjet(drag on the scoop could be an issue) might be useful in the 1AU range as would propulsive or reactive sail systems like micro-fission sails or MEDUSA like pulse detonation designs. Laser sail systems would probably be slow and inefficient for short distances. M2P2 mag-sail could work but you would have to have a large sail which might make it energy inefficient. Pellet-stream or meso-particle propulsion looks promising in either reaction based thruster or pusher-plate designs. Ancients would have left for the same reason moderns do, greed and curiousity. Long trade routes would do away with paying the middleman and opened new markets for their exports. The question is did the politically fractious Greek Dark Ages create an age of Exploration to renew old trade routes and create new ones? What was were the economic, political, military and other factors that drove the even less technologically advanced Phoenicians to travel so far?

Cordwainer said...

Several modules launched atop a TSTO would offer some advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages is you would be limited in the size of modules by physical and or economic constraints. Advantages are you wouldn't need as much space-based infrastructure to build your vehicle.

I imagine such vehicles would start out looking something like this:
1. A two-stage propulsion module consisting of SRB first stage of various sizes and a second stage reusable dual mode monopropellant thruster.
2. A habitat module consisting of a spindle and one of either three types of spin habitat. You could use either a semi-rigid inflatable habitat made up of many small ballutes filled with gas until a set of solid struts lock in place. Ballutes would use multi-layered walls like Bigelow's design but would be double walled with a gel filled compartment over gas filled compartments to provide greater impact resistance and structural strength. Another type of habitat could consist of an extendable parasol like "hamster wheel" with and inflatable habitat ring. The spokes would have v-shaped whipple armor plates running along their forward edge and the habitat ballutes would be tear dropped with their pointed end recessed inside a similar set of armor plates. The simplest spin-hab would be a folded or retracted column attached to the spindle with habitat modules at either end. You could also have two of these habitat booms attached to the ship in paddle-wheel style and counter-rotating to reduce torsional forces on the ship.
3. A cargo pod interconnection stage with a dual mode monopropellant "braking and manueuver" thruster attached to it' nose. The dual mode modules at the fore and aft would have fasteners for micro-cavity discharge thrusters for RCS and the cargo module would have connectors for simple bulkhead containers.
I imagine you would make the containers and RCS thrusters from in-situ resources on the Moon or NEO's to lower payload weight for lifting the modules. Their simple design wouldn't require a great deal of ISRU infrastructure.

I would also point out that Egypt's government hardly escaped unscathed during the Bronze Age collapse. This was a period of great political upheaval in Egypt known as the Third Intermediate Period. Though the Pharoahs of the time were able to defeat the Sea Peoples after several invasions the Pharoah was not an absolute sovereign at this time, his power was constrained by a strong theocratic element. Nubians were slowly invading and dismantling the Lower Kingdom around this time and the Upper Kingdom would eventually come to be ruled by a Pharonic line related to Libyan immigrants, whom may have been related to Sea Peoples that invaded Libya less than a century prior.

Cordwainer said...

Nice thing about a three module design is that it would be more robust. You could replace the "maneuver" thrusters with MSNWR's liner fusion thruster and attach and replace your RCS thrusters with more powerful monopropellant micro-thrusters using a thermally decomposing fuel like nitrous oxide. Use longitudinally configured centrigul booms for your spin-habs and you've got a decent warship. The fore and aft propulsion modules protect the spin habs from collision for most of their revolution and when you need to make evasive maneuvers you can lock the booms to a position parallel with the ships longitudinal axis. Plus you get plenty of redundancy for crew quarters and control bridges.

Cordwainer said...

One method I had for putting a space ship together would use extreme body on frame design involving two modules that fit together with a single weld or snap together via numerous fasteners that are cast-formed into each module like the Boeing X-32's delta wing.(I still think Boeing should have sold that design to the Chinese just to piss the DOD off) Essentially you would have two pieces with a convex and concave edges. Walls for the crew habitat and storage compartments for the main propulsion engines and fuel tanks would be cast onto the concave side while the compartments for cargo, RCS, weapons and sensor/comm equipment would be cast like dimples on the convex side. Such a snap together frame would offer exceptional strength and easy assembly once you get the production techniques down. Casting and laminating thin layers of Graded-Z shielding like materials into a workable hull would be difficult but not impossible I think. Weaknesses or soft parts of the hull could be strengthened with a patch or an inflatable support.

Thucydides said...

Lots of good comments, but I will stick to the ancient traders for the moment.

I agree that a supply chain with lots of middlemen is probably the most logical way to explain "out of place" artifacts, but the book is pretty specific in claiming the Minoans were going directly to the source for trade.

In a way this makes sense, they now have control over time, place and costs by cutting out the middlemen, and also boost their profits greatly by eliminating the overhead as well. There may well have been strong incentives for at least a few Minoan traders to try this, but the limits of ship building technology, navigation and especially communications would have to be traded against the risk of being fleeced by middlemen. A Bronze age Minoan might be more willing to take his chances with the middlemen...

WRT space trade, since most of the cost will be calculated in delta V, I suspect that for "bulk" cargoes like ice, volatile elements and metals we won't see spaceships at all, but the equivalent of 40' ISO containers being sent on ballistic trajectories via mass driver or lightsail. So long as the supply "pipeline" is filled, it really does not matter if the cargo pod will reach the market in a decade or two, the mining company has made its money already in the futures market. Matching supply and demand will be very interesting, and of course the drifting cargo pods will be one of the main concerns of orbital Space Guards.

Cordwainer said...

A cargo pod with its own independent propulsion and navigation systems and launched via some type of catapult would have advantages. Of course you have to build the catapults first which means having something to haul the that equipment along with any autonomous mining equipment you need for the initial set-up. Electromagnetic mass drivers have expensive components and require maintenance. It might be cheaper to use ISRU to build a chemical powered launch cannon, it could be as simple as a solid fuel version of the Verne shot. A cargo pod with a reaction plate and a rudimentary solid fuel retro-thruster might be easy enough to cobble together. The reaction plate could double as a heat shield for direct drops to the surface. Of course then you would have to mount additional RCS, navigation and either crash bag/crashcone or flotation devices.

Rather than build a complicated pod I think you would develop a capture and drop vessel for capturing pods and steering them to a water landing preferably. Once captured crash bag flotation devices would be attached to the pod, the pod would be positioned reaction plate down for reentry and launched into the atmosphere via a catapult.

Mining bases would be mostly autonomous with supply ships dropping off cargo containers periodically.(You could even recycle containers) Small mining bases would be entirely autonomous with supply ship crews performing regular maintenance. Larger mining bases would be manned with small crews and have there own factories for producing containers. Supply ships for these larger bases would carry crews of miners to and from the bases periodically as well as full containers of ore on their return trips.

Cordwainer said...

As to the profitability of mining asteroids and lunar bodies I think it depends on a lot of variables that we can't really predict. Future scarcities of mineral resources, technological advancements and new market demand would all have an effect. Needless to say if we ever had the need to go that far to extract mineral resources I do think we could leverage the plethora of resources we would be faced with. Just because one asteroid has several centuries worth of resources in it doesn't mean you would be able to get at all those resources easily. Exploitation of space resources would progess the same as terrestrial ones you would most likely start by grabbing the rich near surface deposits with simple automated machines, then you would use digging machines to get deeper surface deposits. After that you would drill for deep deposits using hydraulic mining machines and chemical fracking. Then you would blast open the veins with pressurized water and explosives.(you might even fill crevices with water then expose to vacuum to expand them)

Since such techniques would require multiple steps of increasing complexity you would most likely go after the stuff that is easy and cheap to mine and establish multiple mines like that on any NEO object. The Moons composition is different from asteroids and asteroids have different compositions from one to the other so having many different mines for different resources located over a relatively large local area of outer space seems reasonable. Once surface mine deposits run out it might be cheaper to asteroid bodies even further out rather than build mines of increased complexity. You might end up on Phobos and Deimos and halfway through the asteroid belt before it becomes more economical to deep surface mine. Once you started deep surface mining though you would have more need of human supervision to maintain the mining machinery. Also if you have a large water resource nearby then it might be cheaper to fill the mine with a thin atmosphere and use humans with breathing apparatus and less complex machinery than using robots.

On a different note with the advent of transhumanism and artificial intelligence it seems quite likely that something like a bicameral mind or something similar might develop. No doubt consciousness would be very different for such life-forms.

Geoffrey S H said...

Wow, lots here this week!

If many cargos were sent as mass driver un-propelled and in simple containers, can anyone think of a reason why propelled craft might be used regularly as well as accelerator shot-cargo containers (shot-cans?)or even eventually replace them?

Cordwainer said...

Your still going to need supply ships to deliver goods and maintenance crews to your mining outposts. Making everything autonomous is going to cut into your bottom-line and create logistical difficulties if those autonomous systems fail. You could make outbound deliveries via an autonomous delivery system but for very large payloads to small asteroid bodies you would need a two-stage vessel, while gravitationally heavy bodies will require either a two-stage vessel or a very large tail-sitter at least for delivery of initial ISRU.(It would be more economic and allow one to beat the competition to deliver initial payloads all at once rather than in parcel) Also as mining sites require more complicated methods of extraction over time you will have some mines that require more permanent human supervision.

Therefore a "workhorse" vehicle capable of carrying people at least some of the time would make more sense for outbound delivery. There is no reason such a supply ship wouldn't be turned into a cargo ship on the return trip. (to not capitalize on opportunity would be wasteful) As settlements become more long term and begin to trade amongst themselves and develop industries for ISRU and manufactured goods you would see a greater need for convenience based deliveries.

Example one I need 4,000 tons of water to frack an asteroid for ore but the asteroid has no water. I get on the radio and order a water delivery from Ceres. I could wait for a pod which I would have to capture via tug or I could get it more quickly and safely via a freighter. Time is money and I don't want to wait for the right launch window to get the capture just right so I ask for a freighter drop.

Example two I'm a group of Martian artisans, farmers and craftsman. The front office has okayed me to have a small farm to grow plants and a workspace for crafting items from "Martian" materials. I want to sell my products along with the ores we mined but some of these products are delicate of perishable and I want an immediate return on my works cause I'm near the end of my shift on Mars and want to go home and spend it up. Will I go with the mass driver or the cargo ship? Mind you the size of cargos is limited by gravity, delivery of large payloads in the near future will probably require launch from orbital mass drivers rather than mass drivers from the surface.

Example three I have a cargo of perishable food and medicine from Earth to a mining settlement in desperate need, people are sick or injured and the tugs may not be working. I need replacement workers and possibly an additional medical crew to support the local doctors. Not a job for a cheap autonomous delivery pod.

I tend to think "mass driver" or catapult launch will be used for low priority cargoes while people and higher priority cargos will be sent via a dedicated space-ship.

Cordwainer said...

While I have said in the past that Mars would offer certain challenges for mining operations due to it's heavier gravity I do think it offers some advantages in ISRU that other bodies don't have or don't have as abundantly.
Mars has a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere and easily obtainable water from its polar caps and permafrost layer. It also possesses active volcanism. These factors combined make it suitable both for the growth of plants and possible extraction and production of complex hydrocarbon fuels via ISRU. We are not just talking simple hydrocarbons like methane and ethane either. Nor are we talking simple synthesized synthgas, methanol and ethanol.
Mars might have deposits of more complex chemicals like propane, ethyne, and butanol. Which means you could synthesize even more complex hydrocarbon fuels as well as oil based lubricants. While growing food can be done anywhere where you have the requisite materials. Mars would be the easiest place for growing crops due to it's atmosphere, gravity and nitrogen rich soil. Our Moon would be the next most hospitable place and the largish moons of Jupiter after that.

Cordwainer said...

It is unlikely catapult launched deliveries will be completely non-propelled even launches from the Moon towards Earth would probably require some braking rockets for landing. As ISRU gets more established you could see more and more complicated self-propelled "shot cans" being developed and these may eventually replace dedicated supply and cargo vessels for short range flights. In the near term though any resource exploitation in space is going to be highly dependent on the delivery of Earth based equipment and resources, necessitating the development of supply vessels with fully independent propulsion with a high degree of performance.
For the long view I see highly evolved "shot cans" with independent guidance and propulsion systems carrying cargo and people for short trips and larger fully independent vessels getting a boost from catapults or tethers being used for longer trips.

Thucydides said...

Fast ships would act as "mail packets" to carry valuable or perishable cargo (i.e. human beings) from place to place, both outbound and inbound.

The ISO freight pods would indeed have simple guidance systems, beacons to identify themselves and perhaps a very limited RCS. Once they arrive in system, they could be captured by some sort of space tug, or more simply "flown into a net", similar to how some UAVs are captured today. A very scaled up version of this was proposed as part of Gerard K. O'Neill's vision of mass drivers delivering construction material from the Moon to building sites in orbit (the alternative was to allow the bag of lunar dirt to crash into the inside of a giant Kevlar "funnel", although I doubt the parites that paid for the goods might be OK with that). Large magnetic or electrostatic devices might also be used to capture the pods.

Since they would still be moving at considerable velocity (even on minimum energy orbits), one of the key jobs of the Space Guard would be to ensure the pods are "inside the slot" and will approach the catcher device properly, and especially to watch for sudden deviations which might signal an attack using the pod as a kinetic energy weapon.

These considerations will be different if the pod is being towed by a lightsail, in which case it becomes self propelled and has the ability to make mid course manouevres.

As for the Martian who wants to cash in, it is easy: just sell the cargo on the Futures exchange. The Martian gets their money now, while the buyer hopes that they will be able to sell for a much higher price when the pod arrives in two years or so. Pods coming to Earth orbit from deep space (ice from the Jovian moons, 3He from the atmosphere miners of Uranus and so on) will be subject to a great deal of speculation, given the long timelines between their purchase and launch and their arrival and sale. The miners will probably feel they are being manipulated and cheated by "sharp traders" in the inner system, while the pods themselves might change hands multiple times during their drift to market. Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Tycho explores this when Antonio is forced to sell his futures at a loss due to the economic recession that suddenly gripped Mars...;)

As for asteroid mining, it may be as simpel as cutting a chunk off the asteroid, sticking it in a foil bag and towing the foil bag into the focus of a giant solar mirror. The elements inside can be boiled off and the various vapours separated and purified on cold condenser plates. Temperature control of this process will be critical, slowly ramping the temperature up to the boiling point of each element desired and holding it steady until no more vapour can be extracted from the chunk of asteroid. Some efficiencies can be gained by trying to slice the asteroid in such a way to get high proportions of valuable material into the bag, but even pure silica can have value as shielding against cosmic radiation.

Cordwainer said...

I have doubts boiling in the bag processes would have the high volume that you would want, but the principle could work at higher volumes and through put if you use more solid containers and added leaching chemicals.

No doubt there will be a futures market for many commodities but an entrepreneur with a relatively new product may not want to trust the sale of his product to a futures market, they may just want to get a better price now than wait before the market gets saturated by others with the same idea. Also for goods that require a great deal of craftsmanship and manufacturing you would have to take into account the depreciation the goods would suffer over time.

Light sails would not offer much in "towing" capacity for outbound trips you would be better off using chemical propulsion. They would offer excellent RCS and braking for inbound "sunward" trajectories and also provide credible RCS for outbound journeys as well as an improvement in efficiency over chemical propulsion over vast distances of more than an AU. Light sails would be more suitable for delivering goods to Jupiter or Saturn than say Mars.

Cordwainer said...

A net or funnel on a geomagnetic tether would make a great space debris remover for one's Space Guard I think. For actual cargos though I think you would want a more responsive tug able to match velocities with the incoming craft.

Cordwainer said...

Also I imagine fresh produce, spices and moonshine will be worth their weight in gold to miners.

Cordwainer said...

I think a mobile solar smelter in space would be a simple solid cupola with the solar concentrator on top this would allow for better heat management. Asteroid based solar smelters would simply involve digging a pit, filling it with ore and aiming the concentrator at the pit. Most likely you would only be looking at smelting ore into raw or wrought metal ingots to reduce payload weight. Finer processing can weight for delivery to it's final destination. For silica it would be simpler to take already ground dust or sand from a dusty asteroid or lunar surface rather than cut up or crush an asteroid.

If your really dead set on mass use of "shot can" transportation then you could always create a world setting where the Earth is no longer habitable and everyone has to move to the Moon. Your Selenites eventually face a resource shortage in water and or metals and end up having to develop space travel. Such technology could look something like this:

Mass driver catapults and SRB's for launch and high delta vee boosts, micro-cavity discharge thrusters and light sails for fuel efficient "cruising" and solid propellant micro-rocket arrays for RCS. Such systems would help to conserve the use of water and other life sustaining chemicals from being used for fuel which would necessitate a "shot can" or autonomous pod/ferry system.

Obviously it doesn't have to be explained so thoroughly to an audience but since I pretty much explained it one paragraph it should be easy enough to drop hints as to why they aren't using LH2/LOX thrusters.

Unknown said...

now we are hitting trade! okay I see where the ideas are going and produce on a mining asteroid will probably be worth it's weight in gold, or other precious metal.

It would probably be made there on asteroid there. Distance is a bit too long for regular perishable food runs.

Now how for the dreaded "stage one" thoughts on economies of space, but I thought about using a production model (think movies and video games) rather than manufacturing model.

and with this we have a rather new economic invention which is selling while in development. Going on to steam you can purchase KSP which is still a "work in progress" but instead of waiting till it's finished we get a half baked product at reduced prices which is still very good.

So let's say you charge 50$ entrance fee to five thousand people for a trip to a NEO. This is 250,000 which is a single seat for whoever qualifies. This isn't much but it can pay for the non tangible costs of organizing.

next we have universities bid on "pledges" on seats on said spacecraft. Pledges are what they will spend not the cash just yet.

NASA could get a free seat if they provide free or reduced costs of training.
Now just don't sell the seats but also sample return pounds. For each pound charge anywhere from one thousand to five thousand a pound.
This is not only for the Universities who bought the seats but anyone who wants a pound from space. (which if smelted would make a very expensive collector's item)

I could keep going but shameless selling of each piece of a mission from training to launch and "bundling" the mission as both science, collector's roadshow, and media event would be profitable as long as we can bring the cost of launch down to.... 20 million a seat and 500 a pound?

Is this sustainable? no not even close but it would turn a profit while the cost per pound goes down (then to making movies, posters, paintings? mining for collectors to creating art piece that can exist only in zero g, to selling the metal pre blended as ultra high quality to finally a commodity metal)

okay that was a rambling. on to the next thing

Mass drivers on a NEO or Ceres or any kind of low gravity celestial body it could be something as simple as a rail with a pulley system. Having such a slow system would defiantly be a great system of mining and could be the solution to the "all or none" dilemma that many have posited with asteroid mining.

Cordwainer said...

True fresh produce would mostly be sold locally but preserves, pickled and dried items would be sold elsewhere. Such items would have longer shelf life but would still be "perishable". Wood and wicker goods would be sold for there novelty and artistic value not just utility. Fabrics, textiles and clothing could also be locally produced and sold far and wide. Horticulture would probably consist mostly aquatic or insect based sources of protein. Growing fowl in space would probably put quite a strain of life support systems, raising snakes or iguanas might be less challenging.

I think a production model would work great for creating bundled orbital bases that serve as research station/space hotel/space tug maintenance docks and repair "garages".

Cordwainer said...

Quite a few vegetables and fruits can maintain there freshness for long periods of time if frozen as well.

Thucydides said...

Since mirrors can be made to any arbitrary size in space, throughput can be adjusted to whatever you require as well. No need for chemicals or anything else, just heat and serve, so to speak.

The same applies to using lightsails for cargo delivery. Sails can be made in whatever size is appropriate, and if there is production in space, very thin sails with high performance can be put into service. Even with today's technology, with plastic backing and sails rugged enough to be furled and launched form Earth into orbit, it would be possible to get from Earth to Mars in about 120 days (dropping the payload and making a two year loop from Mars back to Earth). With this system you would get more bang for the buck by aerobraking the pod using the Martian atmosphere. (I am not sure of the figures for using a Martian sail to go back to Earth, since the sunlight is less the inbound leg is probably slower, but after the pod release the sail will be in bright sunlight and have a much faster return leg to Mars.)

Notice in both cases, the sail drops the cargo off at the target and continues; since it is going at interplanetary speed trying to "catch" the rapidly moving sail with return cargo is pointless; the delta V costs will be far too high. Similar trajectories can be plotted for the outer Solar System, but the sails will probably be lost for centuries given the extreme speeds they could reach passing the outer planets. This might be a way of delivering emergency supplies, if the receiving party could wait a few months...

The market for volatile elements and radiation shielding will mostly be to more developed parts of space that are building large colonies; the Earth-Moon system for several centuries, but then free flying colonies in the asteroid belt, orbiting the giant planets and so on. Mercury will be a big market, trading concentrated Sunpower (either bottled antimatter, or focused laser beams to cooperative targets) for the elements baked out of the planetary crust .

Going anywhere in Space requires lots of energy (expressed in the amount of delta V needed to change trajectories from where you are to where you want to be), so any way to minimize the amount of energy needed will go a long way to the bottom line. Time will also be a critical resource, due to the long transit times (unless you want to trade time for energy and go in a fusion powered packet), so I suspect the futures markets will be "the" happening place for interplanetary commerce.

Cordwainer said...

Thucydides, sounds reasonable when you put it that way. I would suggest you turn your detachable sail into a primitive navigation beacon/research probe to get the most bang for your buck. Also Mercury is essentially one large thermodynamic battery with extreme cold on the night side and extreme heat on the day side. This might be a better and easier to manage source of power than photovoltaic or solar-thermal power generation equipment which would suffer from heat and collision damage over time.

Cordwainer said...

You need enough "lube" from "quick liquidity markets" to justify those "future's markets", though.

Unknown said...


I like the idea on futures markets!

My post this time is how space commerce will evolve. I think of it in stages

the first stage is "everything is a novelty stage". Commercial interest would be around 800 to 500 per pound to orbit.
We keep thinking about how expensive everything is to bring back, but the rarity of any space rock will make it worth every cent.
A "bundled" mission of media, material and content will make each mission profitable. Funding will come in selling shares of a single mission and it's possible ROI rather than permanent equipment.
These a "footprints and flagpoles" kind of mission, Or as I like to call it "smash and grab" you get what you can and sell everything from the mission once finished.

The next stage is "everything a commodity" stage. Around the 400-100 dollar pound to orbit rate. After you exhausted the low hanging fruit it's time to do some actual work. This is when research and media is key.
each mission will be able to sell research papers, and photographs of the universe will be even more expansive. R&D for every industry will fund some money in. The zero gravity plus hard vacuum will give a new test environment for industrial research to play with.
Also TV and movies will have a field day with zero gravity, beautiful panoramas and some new ideas. Commercials, Music videos, reality shows, dramas.
Not to mention a much easier route for large data to flow. The cost of satellite bandwidth will be on par or cheaper than Fiber with less infrastructure upkeep the sats can be a slow constant source of income.
Art will also be a very worthwhile commodity since you could create a piece that simply hangs in the air while it's being built.

The third stage is "economies in space" this is the 100 to 50 per pound to orbit. This includes a market in fuel and mining starts to be profitable more for the costs downhill to earth are cheap. The slow colonization will start with people who enjoy working in space more than living on earth.

I can't really think past that. My head gets a little fuzzy with all the ideas of what that would look like, but "stage 4" is really where most sci fi's begin.

Thucydides said...


While there is a need for liquidity, the nature of time factor is space will shift the balance of commerce to the futures market. The liquidity will most likely be generated by the local economy in the local moon/asteroid/space colony, while the great fortunes will be made in the interplanetary futures market.

This isn't really a new idea, the traders on each end of the Silk Road were doing something like this in the time of the Roman Empire, and traders like the Hanse, the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta or the East India Company all operated on this basis, waiting months or years for cargos to arrive in port. Going back upthread, the ancient Minoan traders were in the same situation waiting for Tin to arrive from supply chains reaching to ancient Cornwall in England.

The key for any sort of economy to function is there is at least some predictability in the market (most agricultural produce is sold on futures markets, farmers get their cash in the spring as they plant and traders make their money after harvest in the fall) and the supply "pipeline" is full of ships, wagons or caravans of cargo that is in transit. Using cargo pods on a ballistic trajectory simply takes this idea and updates it for the space environment.

The difficult time will be when there is only a limited amount of infrastructure in space generating products and the supply pipeline is still being established (the pod of 3HE is inbound from Uranus, but won't arrive for another 5 years...). This might be the interesting time to set your story if you are looking for a setting and conflict.

Cordwainer said...

As to first movers in the area of resource utilization in space I kind of think Planetary Resources and Moon Express are going about it the right way with small scouting missions and telescopes that can be used as precursors for later missions while providing profit in the area of satellite maintenance, research, and advance collision detection.
Lots of baby steps with simple space operation based products.

Cordwainer said...

To go back to Geoffrey's comment on chemical guns for spaceships and developing some type of close in turreted weapon there might be some advantage for small caliber CIWS weapons around the 20 to 50mm caliber. You could have something like a "shotgun" cartridge fired from a lidar targeted gun that would not create a large mass penalty on your craft. These could fire different explosive warhead rounds from shot and fletchette "flak" rounds for taking out missiles and drones from a distance to some type of shaped charge consisting of an ionic liquid inside a ceramic container. The latter would be used for close in defense to disperse incoming weapons with the shock wave while producing minimal debris. The nice thing about a turreted weapon for this application is that it can be swung to cover any area around the ship and the lidar targeting can be used to laze incoming inert projectiles like gun or shaped charge KP's.

For larger projectiles though you would want to probably use a Metal Storm superposed loading gun system with time on target/MRSI capability. Such weapons could use a staged combustion projectile(the spaced base JDAM as you put it) or a precision guided rocket projectile with an expandable radius warhead consisting of a metal parasol or inflatable Kevlar ballute.

Cordwainer said...

Care would have to be taken to mount guns on a spaceship so as to minimize recoil. Superposed weapons like Metal Storm would probably be made to lay flat against the ships hull. This would spread the recoil over a wider area and time on target batterry fire could be used to further increase the effective recoil area thus minimizing slew effects on your spaceship. Turreted weapons would either consist of small caliber recoiless guns or Netfire/RIM style rocket launchers for firing larger projectiles.

Cordwainer said...

As to the Sea Peoples I really wonder who organized this disparate coalition of people. Who was in charge of the great invasion and who was behind this great migration of peoples. Even if there was a perfect storm of different disasters that allowed a bunch of unemployed mercenaries to become warlords you still have to explain the migratory nature of these peoples. Why didn't they just become pirates and raiders, we know they built settlements and colonized Canaan and Libya. Also how do you explain the long term cultural damage we see in Greece. The situation in Greece looks as if there was some sort of long term civil war that eventually fell into barbarism. It seems to suggest that the Sea Peoples themselves were either native to Greece or that Greece was invaded by wave after wave of barbarians possibly led by ex-mercenaries. In other words the Pelagascic Proto-Greek peoples of Greece and western Anatolia were beset by out of work mercenaries who were returning home and causing problems for the local authorities. Or that some other foreign influence further afield led wave after wave of invasion against Ancient World and unfortunately Greece happened to be located near the source of that invasions source. If the latter is true and the fleets that Homer talks about weren't unemployed Greeks coming home to roost, then where would the invasion would have come. Most likely culprits would seem to be a group that was located close to Greece with cultural ties to Greece and Anatolia that would have made it easy to absorb peoples from those regions into their armies. Locality would be important cause they would have to have relatively easy access to the Greek Peninsula. The destruction of Greece just seems too personal. That probably means it was Mycenaeanized peoples from Southern Italy and Sicily, Western Anatolia or peoples living along the Black Sea coast.

Cordwainer said...

Of course the Sea Peoples are not the only ethnographic mystery. We don't really know who the Minoans, Mycenaean or Doric Greeks were or where they came from. The Minoans seem to be a separate group who were later conquered by the Mycenaeans but seem to have had a cultural influence on the Proto-Greeks. Linguistic studies seem to suggest that the Greek language is a centum language and historiography would seem to suggest a northern immigration route. On the other hand many loanwords as well as cultural similarities seem to suggest ties to Hattic peoples of Anatolia and Kartvelian peoples of the Western Caucasus. The Greeks themselves seem to see there northern neighbors even the Macedonians who largely gave them their lingua franca as "barbarians" even up until the time of Alexander. Homer does not even include Northern Greek groups among his Catalogue of Ships during the Trojan War.

It seems likely that the Mycenae and possibly the Greeks were originally a Northwest Caucasian group that migrated south into Sumeria and west into Turkey and Greece. At the very least some component of Greek society was made up of such peoples who introduced their language and culture to the Proto-Greek population. Homer's Iliad and the sacking of Troy could just be the beginning of a much longer saga relating only the cause and beginning for a much larger civil war between the Mycenaean kings who were essentially in revolt against a Arzawa/Wilusa/Lukkan based federation of Hattic peoples and a Ahhiyawa/Achaean Proto-Greek group who had originally developed from an early expansion of Arzawa Hattic peoples who had conquered peoples in Southern Greece. The Doric Greeks were a group related to the Ancient Macedonians who had remained independent of the Arzawa/Mycenaean nobles and had developed a flourishing culture of there own heavily influenced by there Mycenae neighbors in the South and Paleo-Balkan/Macedonian groups in the North. The Atlantis myth could actually be a tale about the rise and fall of Mycenaean/Minoan Crete after systemic natural disasters and the invasion of the Sea Peoples as related to the adventuring Doric Greeks. The earlier Minoan/Theran culture is a mystery as well were they and independent cultural group that developed on Crete,descendants of a Bell-Beaker or Proto-Celtic culture that immigrated from Central Europe or a Hurrian group that developed a flourishing sea empire based around Crete and Thera/

Thucydides said...

One interesting, if rather "out there" suggestion is the Sea Peoples were actually the remmnents of the Minoan civilization coming home to roost, so to speak.

You can imagine small trading posts and ports along the Minoan trade routes growing into towns and even small cities over the centuries of Minoan civilization. When the volcanic eruption of Thera overwhelmed most of the Minoan "home fleet" of trade vessels and warships, plus causing huge amounts of damage to the coast of Crete, these colonies would have been cut off, while the weakened Minoans would have been easy prey for their jealous neighbours.

Surrounded by indifferent to hostile tribes and scattered from Crete to Spain or perhaps even Britain, these Minoan expats had to become much more warlike and predatory in a big hurry or be overwhelmed by the locals. Eventually, these peoples would have been squeezed out due to demographics, and possibly enticed to return to the semi mythical homeland where things were "bound to be" better.

Since they came from a highly organized civilization, these people would still have some of the organizational and bureaucratic skills needed to recruit and organize both themselves and any locals they were able to coopt, allowing them to advance back towards Crete. AS they got closer to "home" they would have discovered their mythical homeland was gone, and resorted to raiding and trying to claim a 'new" homeland of their own.

I'm not suggesting that this is the story, but it is interesting speculation and a way to try to explain some of the mysteries.

Of course, after such a long remove, the reporting may have been garbled and the term "Sea People" may be totally misinterpreted by us.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes history is like the game of telegraph; what we hear may bear little resemblance to what really occured, especially those eras where little information survives into our time.


Cordwainer said...

Under that hypothesis though you have to specify which Minoan sprachebund you are referring to. The earlier Minoan civilization that possibly spoke a Tyrsenian language which may have been related the Luwian language family in some way thus suggesting a connection to the Trojans. On the other hand if we are talking about the Mycenaean/Minoan empire that existed at the time of the Bronze Age collapse then it could very well be they were either being attacked by remnants of the Trojan alliance or the Achaean alliance that resulted from some larger conflict of which the siege of Troy was just the powder keg that started a for more reaching "world war" over control of the Aegean Sea. Were the Trojans possibly Minoan? Were the Mycenaeans originally Anatolian? Were the Minoans originally Luwian? Or were they originally Etruscan, or was it the other way around? If you go far enough back in history everybody is related to everybody, the question is how related politically and culturally were these different polities were in Aegean and Black Sea Region to one another at the time of the Bronze Age collapse. Were they just a chaotic rabble or were they a bit more organized and interconnected then we and the Greek authors give them credit.

I tend to think that Homer wasn't telling us the full story and that he was really just relating something he was told and was not giving us a first person account but putting together a story from many different sources. Also where ends his story is very telling it either means he died not long after the invasion of the Sea Peoples or that he had a much larger tale to tell which may have been known to his audience through oral history but that he leaves off at cliffhanger as a sort of cautionary tale about Ancient Greeks getting to big for there britches and angering the Fates thus bringing retribution. Whether that retribution was the result of unrest in Anatolia due to Greek military campaigns and their possible challenge to no longer pay tributes/tariffs to the local powers or if it was the result of restless mercenaries (many of whom were of Greek and Anatolian descent)that turned to banditry due to the lack of work created by the peace treaty between the Egyptian, Hittite and Hurrian Empires.

This posits the question of who at that time had the free reign and resources to lead an assault on Greece of such proportions as to cause the Greek Dark Ages which were much worse for them than the Bronze Age collapse that occurred for the rest of the Ancient World. Most of the other polities in the Ancient World recovered to some degree within a century(Minoans), were replaced by other polities and empires or experienced a long period of political unrest but no real disruption to their culture(Egypt). Hell, some groups like the Phoenicians even prospered.

Anonymous said...

The Greek Dark Ages could have been the result of a confluence of invasions, political crisis, and natural disasters that the various groups in the Agean just couldn't cope with all at once. Catastrophic failures usually have more than one cause.


Cordwainer said...

True, and there was such of confluence of such events in the Aegean at the time. The eruption at Thera(and possibly another with Vesuvius). A major flood in the Nile followed by several years of drought. A 2,000 year Dryas cycle of drought that hit the Middle East and Levant at the time. A little Ice Age event in Northern Europe that may have impacted the Balkans. An Earth quaked storm that would have impacted the major cosmopolitan centers at that time and an invasion by Sea Peoples as well as the migration of peoples from the Middle East and the Balkans. Problem is that most other groups handled those events more ably than the Greeks and the Greece wasn't even at the center of the earthquake storm or the land migrations. Turkey and the Levant took the brunt of it.

It looks more and more like the Greeks either tore themselves apart through fratricide(for which their would have to be and underlying political or institutional reason other than just a confluence of events) or they were subjected to major wave after wave of invasion that resulted in militarism and eventually civil turmoil/war.

Cordwainer said...

Just for fantasies sake. If Odysseus was really sailing the Atlantic and not the Mediterranean for those 40 years then where would be the best places to place the Isle of Circe and the Land of the Lotus Eaters geographically speaking?

Thucydides said...

You should read Tim Severin's "The Ulysses Voyage" and the "Jason Voyage" for some interesting recreations of Bronze Age sailing.

Based on his reconstructions and recreation of the voyages of Jason and the Argonauts and Odysseus these legends were based to some extent on real events ("Golden Fleece" is still used to this day; a sheepskin submerged in a gold bearing stream. Gold flecks can be removed from the fleece after a season in the water...).

The Ulysses Voyage simply allowed the ship to follow the natural winds and currents of the Aegean, and Severin does find many places which seem remarkable fits with the places of the Odyssey.

Ancient sailing was certainly more interesting and perhaps ambitious than we may have imagined.

Cordwainer said...

Interesting I had read about his St. Brendan and Ulysses re-creation voyages in National Geographic and I saw a documentary on his Sinbad voyage on the Discover Channel a long time ago. What interests me is the recreation of the Irish currach and Arab dhow suggests that very sophisticated boats held together by little more than cable tension would have been able to travel great distances in rough seas. That seems to suggest that Greek accounts of Phoenicians being from Bahrain and Persian accounts of them living along the Erythrean Sea maybe correct and they could have gained their maritime prowess as well as there use of a phonetic alphabet as a result of contact with the Indus River Valley civilization and the cultures of the Indian subcontinent.

Cordwainer said...

While I agree with most of Severin's conclusions as to "The Ulysses voyage. I disagree that Northwest Greece and the Adriatic was "mostly uncharted" at that time. I think it more likely that the storm that blew Ulysses off to the land of the Lotus Eaters most likely pushed him south to one of the Islands off Crete or East into the Peloponnese and Scheria was most likely the Palace area around Knossos. There are plenty of botanical that could have served the roll of the Lotos other than the Jujube, for instance persimmon, lote tree and bird's foot trefoil among others. Bird's Foot trefoil(lotus corniculatus) in particular would have been able to grow on the dry islands of the Aegean and is commonly grown as a forage plant in place of alfalfa. Infusions of the plant can be used as a sedative, thus leading to the ability to make a "wine" of it.

It's unlikely that Scheria was as close to Ionia as Severin claims and if they were "calling" Ulysses a stranger it must have been in jest or as an alias to hide his identity from spies. While possible that he could have been blown as far as Libya or Tunisia it is rather unlikely.

Cordwainer said...

Locating Scheria as a colony of Phocaeans is problematic since Phocis was inside a large cay whose only entrance lies directly east of Ulysses homeland of Ionia.(so unless the storm in the Odyssey picked him up over a mountain range or two this probably not the Phocaea he was speaking of) Similarly the Turkish settlement called Phocaea did not exist in Ulysses time.

I have a theory that the boats the "Phocaeans" used may have been hide boats or flexible wood or reed hulls held together by cables. This would explain the description regarding their boats changing shape. Of course it could just be a fantastical element thrown in for entertainment and Homer could have been telling tall tales about the whole thing.

Cordwainer said...

I meant Phaeacians, oops!

Cordwainer said...

Of course the historical placing of Phaeacia or Phaiakia in Corfu would support the reed boat hypothesis and would make more sense than Messinia. Of course lots of peoples used reed boats and leather coracles around that time, so just going by the fact that Corfu had a cultural use of such boats even into modern times is sketchy. Geography wise I think Ulysses would have been pushed south and Phaeacia would have been located near to wherever the Lotos-Eaters lived.

Thucydides said...

Since much of North Africa was still forested during the Bronze Age (the Romans pretty much finished the process of deforestation and turning the area into the desert it is today), it is possible that the Ithican ships did make it to the coast of modern day Libya and perhaps found something similar to the plants you suggest growing in Africa.

Like you, I do have my doubts about just how far ancient ships could have sailed. We do have ancient texts which have adventurous peoples sailing far beyond where we *might* expect them to go, there are ancient artifacts that are "out of place" and modern reconstructions by Tim Severin and Thor Heyerdal (among others) have demonstrated that, with the right circumstances, you really could sail incredible distances.

On the other hand, this sort of sailing is pretty demanding and requires an exceptional captain and crew. For commercial sailors like the ancient Minoans or Phoenicians there were certainly incentives to do so, but I suspect that only a small minority of sailors actually did this, and many came to grief at sea doing so.

Cordwainer said...

Well, the Neolithic subpluvial did reach its maximum around 4,000 B.C. so it is reasonable that the Sahara was more green around that time. It is also geologically possible that inland seas of great size may have existed in Tunisia, Libya and Western Egypt around that time. The tales of a Lake Tritonis might very well have been based on this.

Several projects to create such inland seas have been proposed over the years. The restoration of the Salton Sea in California, damming Lake Chad, flooding the Chott El Fejej and Quattara Depression and so on. It would make for an interesting alternate history to think if such projects had actually occurred.

Another interesting macro-engineering project was Herman Sorgel's Antlantropa. I wonder if Germany had not turned entirely toward Nazism and had used economic inducements instead of military ones then maybe such a project might have become the new "promised land" for the fascist regimes of Germany, Spain and Italy. Depths are only 300 to 900 meters around the Strait of Gibraltar with a distance of 14 miles at the narrowest. Except for the active fault zone such a dam would sit on it seems feasible even using early 20th century technology. Maybe the Germans in that timeline would be the first to commercially produce transistors and communication satellites instead of ballistic missiles and assault rifles.

Another alternate time line idea came to me after watching documentaries on pre-Columbian human settlement of the Americas. What if 3 million years ago the Isthmus of Panama never developed and the Last Ice Age had lasted longer. Thus keeping the Ice Corridor in North America in place longer and maintaining the Sundaland peninsula as part of Asia for much longer as well. Modern explorers might find Macronesia, South America and the Carribean largely populated by Australoid peoples with a later less pervasive migration of Mongoloids from the north into the Americas.

Thucydides said...

I believe it was Freeman Dyson in his book "Infinite in all directions" who pointed out that if a project will take more than five years to complete, it never will be since the political and economic backgrounds will have changed, organizational goals may have morphed and technology may have bypassed the initial conceptions.

There was an idea to dam the Congo and make an inland sea (which may be one of the ideas in your list), which would have taken decades to complete. For much of that time, the "sea" would have been too shallow to be much use, and in the "real world" it is much faster, cheaper and more flexible to jump into a light airplane and fly across much of the area that would have been defined by the proposed "sea".

As a counter example, the ruinous projects which bankrupted the former Soviet Union and caused such environmental damage were possible because the central, "Socialist" government is not informed by market signals, and while the political, economic and technological landscape still changes, they continue on regardless, turning farmland into deserts, draining inland seas and turning vast areas into radioactive wasteland.

jollyreaper said...

As a counter example, the ruinous projects which bankrupted the former Soviet Union and caused such environmental damage were possible because the central, "Socialist" government is not informed by market signals, and while the political, economic and technological landscape still changes, they continue on regardless, turning farmland into deserts, draining inland seas and turning vast areas into radioactive wasteland.

I hear you about ignoring market signals but I wouldn't feel too smug about the West's superiority given what's happening in the Canadian Oil Sands. But I agree that it would be a case of the guilty parties being free of market consequences.

Thucydides said...

The development of the Oil Sands is proceeding according to market principles and evolving as technology and price signals dictate.

I can recall looking in awe at the massive bucket wheel excavators ripped off metres worth of overburden to get at the oil sands back in the 80's; now many of the producers use steam injection and are migrating to solvent injection to extract the oil without even disturbing the overburden.

Of course, the devastated landscapes of the 1980's have been remediated to the point that it is sometimes difficult to tell that an area had been strip mined for oil 20 years ago. Funny how first hand observation makes a difference in a debate (and why the only Canadians who listen to people like Neil Young or Al Gore tend to live far away from the oil producing provinces...)

Show me any areas that the former Soviet Union remediated, or today's Russia, for that matter.

Cordwainer said...

Well, stripping of oil sands and "fracking" is not without some consequence, but there are plenty of industrial and even farming practices that devastate the soil and water table with similar results. If I do remember their are a number of parties living in those areas that are suing Canadian Oil companies for contaminating the local water table. That being said such contamination is rare and habitat loss caused by stripping the over burden is no worse than habitat loss due to farming or logging. Oil is a precious resource like food, water and building materials. What is worrisome is that the use of such technologies could be a precursor to peak oil fears. While fossil fuel production is actually expected to climb globally in the next five to ten years, after that is anybody's guess as to how well supply will be able to meet demand. Particularly with the increased demand in developing nations. Obviously we will no doubt find even more natural sources for fossil fuels for the next couple decades to satiate our need but we could very well reach a point of diminishing returns, eventually.

Also, I'm pretty certain there have been plenty of projects carried out by the private sector that took longer to build than five years. Hell, if I'm not mistaken some of the hydroelectric dams that the Allies bombed in Norway were some of the largest dams constructed at the time. I doubt they took less than five years to construct and I know the dams built in Paraguay took longer than five years. Of course they had a dictator to push them through, but then so did the Fascist regimes of Italy and Spain in the 30's and 40's. Public works that are supported by government and public policy tend to be more insulated from market fluctuations and political regimes can do non-sensical things sometimes.

Thucydides said...

Dyson's point was that megaprojects that take longer than five years to finish are overtaken by events (which explains the "event horizon" for most private companies is usually far shorter).

Projects that are insulated from market forces by the State (any form of government) can indeed take longer than five years, but generally don't turn out the way their initial backer hope because of the "overtaken by events" factor. Even the Space Race is a giant example of this: the United States "won" the Moon Race by pouring massive amounts of resources into the project, then literally walked away from it (essentially abandoning billions of dollars of sunk costs and using flight rated Saturn V boosters as lawn ornaments). While there was a lot of "spin off" technology, even the momentum of that had essentially coasted to a stop by the mid 1980's.

As gets argued a lot on this board (and in many others, like Next Big Future), there is no real commercial justification for going to space in a really big way once you get past communication and observation satellites, and space technology is very prone to be overtaken by events. The entire "Rocketpunk" genre is essentially derived from the fact that in the 1950's, the only possible way to maintain space systems was to have a full time manned presence, and to have human pilots to guide spaceships to their targets.

Even by the 1960's, that was no longer true for ICBM's, and deep space probes that reach their targets with incredible precision are descended from ICBM warheads. The only "positive" of all this is most boosters are actually much larger than they "need" to be now, since small, micro and even "cubesats" can do the jobs that earlier generations of very large satellites did, giving the ability to launch much more capable vehicles into space. Even manned spaceships are much more compact now (in the sense that you now have the possibility of launching seven men in a Dragon capsule where only three men could fit into a similar Apollo era spacecraft; most of the systems have been miniaturized and ruggedized in ways the Apollo team would not recognize, but certainly approve of).

Cordwainer said...

While that may be a valid argument against building of an inland sea due to advances in air and rail travel "overtaking" the financial benefit of such an endeavor. Hydroelectric power has been a growing sector in the power industry since the 1930's. Though like most industries it has had its stops and starts it has continued to be a good investment over all. Reclamation of land from the sea has also been a growth market in many countries for at least a century or two now. (Dike and canal projects on the Missisippi and in Florida, and efforts in the Netherlands and Japan for instance)

With climate change and an increased need for water and arable land in regions like the Sahara and the American Southwest it might even make sense to build inland seas that can be used as reservoirs for irrigation and hydrolysis into clean drinking water.

Thucydides said...

Those are the sorts of arguments that are used to promote these megaprojects, but the reality does not seem to support that POV.

The grandest water diversion scheme proposed, the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWPA) would have turned the rivers running into the Arctic ocean around, filled the interior of British Columbia as a reservoir and run that water to the Southwest (among other things). If the project had been started in the 1960's as proposed, the BC Interior would not have filled up until the 1990's, meaning investors would have to wait 30 years to start to see a return. The shallow sea in the Congo wold have been equally useless as a source of hydropower or shipping for decades if it had been started in the 1930's

And looking at the results of real megaprojects in the former Soviet Union and current China should not be filling people's heads with visions of "hey, we should be doing that as well!".

I won't argue that there are absolutely no exceptions to the "five year rule", but I will suggest the circumstances will be exceptional, and you will be looking long and hard to find them.

Cordwainer said...

Took about 30 years for the JP Morgans and others to build the railroads in China and the U.S. Their dynasties made out just fine on those investments. Ancient societies took the long view on a lot of the projects they built. For instance the ancient Sabaean society of Yemen built a water collection dam more than twice the size of the Hoover dam to irrigate their capital. Exceptional circumstances are fairly common when it comes to the maintenance of precious resources like water, gold, fossil fuels etc.

Cordwainer said...

So the crazy ants are beating the fire ants in Southwest according to an article on MSN. They spray themselves down with formic acid to protect themselves from fire ant venom. I wonder if periodic spraying of native ants with common formic acid might offer them protection. Or if fire ant venom might be used as a "green" insecticide.

Thucydides said...

Remember that things like privately built railroads, canals, turnpikes (toll roads) etc. were generally not built as unified "megaprojects", even when the finished product might look like that.

Most transportation infrastructure in the private era was built in segments (a "High road" from point a to point b, for example), investors expected the road to be built quickly and then make a profit from it. IF it was profitable, then a syndicate of investors might agree to finance another road from b to c, and so on.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was designed as a unified megaproject, and essentially failed in its intended goal (being able to rapidly transport American military forces across the nation), since the focus of American power had changed from homeland defence to force projection (to contain the Soviet Union), force movement internally and externally shifted to air, while bulk cargo like armoured vehicles moved by train and ship. Even as a Defence highway, the system took 35 years to build.

Luckily, as each segment was completed, it (like Roman roads thousands of years before) became a conduit for commerce, so in that sense it was a success. The genesis of the system was when then Colonel Eisenhower attempted to take a military convoy across America in the 1930's, so the actual time frame was closer to 55 years from idea to completion.

And of course, since the government built the system but failed to properly account for wear and tear, or put aside sufficient funds to maintain it, we now have parts which are literally crumbling away, bridges that need replacing and just general decay (not to mention changing demographics mean some of the system no longer serves the population as efficiently as it should).

Cordwainer said...

Again, not seeing the correlation to my original statement Thucydides. I don't see how changing demands would effectively null the development of water resource or hydroelectric mega-projects. Such projects could be piece-mealed in small stages like other water projects of the past. Short of massive development of nuclear energy or the development of fusion reactors hydroelectric power will continue to be in demand. Such projects would be so huge that they would cater to some population somewhere at any given time. They would also alter the micro-climate in various regions and be beneficial to irrigation and reforesting projects. Downsides would be that such projects could destroy both human and animal habitat.(Though this hasn't stopped other nations like Egypt, China and Japan in the past) Another sort of downside-on-the-upside effect is that people like living on the water-front. Property values and resort tourism might go up in those regions effected by such projects.

Cordwainer said...

Another downside is that they could poison the water table in some regions by increasing anoxic water conditions and saline levels in underground reservoirs and springs. With modern water filtration and treatment technology this isn't necessarily a problem just an added expense to the project that would have to factored in.

Thucydides said...

The issue is one of scale and scope. Hydro power is indeed useful, but a project that can be completed and producing power is far more responsive to the needs of both customers and investors than one that takes decades to complete.

And piecemeal construction of power systems is only possible in a limited number of places (Hydro Quebec was lucky in this regard. Although the government intended to build it as a massive megaproject, the lack of resources meant that only a few dams at a time could be built, and the project eventually stalled due to lawsuits etc., but not before at least some return on investment was being realized. If this project had been planned by private investors, they would have only deployed enough resources to build one dam at a time, and the end result would have been very similar, but at a far lower cost).

As I think on this further, this argument is replicated in evolutionary biology as well. The "small furry mammals" can move quickly into any vacant ecological niche, breed rapidly and evolve quickly to change with the environment. Dinosaurs may be ideally adapted to the current conditions, but because they are highly adapted to specialized niches, and because of their size breed slowly, they are less likely to survive an abrupt change in conditions. This is sort of the argument of Freeman Dyson in thinking that a project that can't be done in 5 years either won't be done at all, or will no longer be suitable because of changes in the social, economic or political environments.

Cordwainer said...

So I was reading about the oldest "rock" confirming the age of the Earth's crust forming at around 4.4 billion years. This raises the possibility of habitable life-forming conditions at around 4.3 billion years. It made me wonder if we might find aliens that breathe reductive atmospheres in the far future.

Jim Baerg said...

Brains use a lot of energy, at least in earth animals. So it may not be possible to have an intelligent animal without an oxygen rich atmosphere.

Cordwainer said...

Yeah, I sort of favor aerobic respiration as being necessary for intelligence. On the other hand reptiles and spiders have some pretty nifty tricks for ramping up their anaerobic respiration. It's not inconceivable that nature could cook up some real oddities utilizing alternate methods.

Cordwainer said...

I would point out that there are a lot of historical references to the political, philosophical and technological sophistication of Thebes prior to "historical Greece" and the first Olympiad date. While there is definitely a time period of Dark Ages that lasts much longer in Greece than in other parts of the Ancient world after the Bronze Age collapse the collapse in Greece is not nearly as long as it is portrayed from historical scholarly sources. The Doric Greeks were already making in roads into Attic Greece a mere century after the collapse and Thebes had a flourishing economic empire nearly three centuries prior to the first Olympiad.

Cordwainer said...

As to what Jim Baerg said, this is why I tend to advocate that any exploitation or colonization of space start with the Moon and NEO's. Mars should be explored for the sake of scientific curiosity but until we can develop better propulsion technology and more expansive space infrastructure then human settlement is kind of pointless. Sure it might satisfy our human drive to explore and settle a new frontier but that drive can be satiated much closer to home.

Tony said...


"As to what Jim Baerg said, this is why I tend to advocate that any exploitation or colonization of space start with the Moon and NEO's. Mars should be explored for the sake of scientific curiosity but until we can develop better propulsion technology and more expansive space infrastructure then human settlement is kind of pointless. Sure it might satisfy our human drive to explore and settle a new frontier but that drive can be satiated much closer to home.

Except that it's significantly easier to actually live on Mars. You can get oxygen out of the atmosphere. You can get precipitate water out of the atmosphere if you want, or drill into the permafrost. The gravity is higher, which is a good thing, probably. And if you're going there to live out your life, the time it takes to get there is pretty immaterial. It used to take seven months to get to the East Indies. Seven months to Mars seems no big stretch.

Cordwainer said...

Sending sufficient ISRU tech to Mars though is a lot more costly than what settlers would have needed to settle the East Indies or the Americas during the age of discovery, more expensive than even sending ISRU to the Moon. Also a shorter transit time between the Earth and the Moon makes it easier to extract resources and develop industries on the Moon versus Mars. One needs both good push and pull forces to encourage long term settlement. Until you can build the tech to get large amounts of ISRU or develop robotic fabrication and nano-technology to bring the payload cost down significantly then settling Mars will be like the Vikings settling Greenland without the right technologies and social institutions to make it happen.

Tony said...

Trade is never going to be a reason for human settlement of celestial bodies. It may become, over time a thing that happens, but if you're looking for ROI on even the longest business timelines, forget it. So the ability to survive easier on Mars, once your there, is a great attractor.

Cordwainer said...

Then people will never go to settle they will only go to explore, which means that ISRU needed will be less but the possibility for trade "possibly developing later" is about zilch, Tony. I know I'm being optimistic and I don't think it will happen anytime soon but I think exploitation of space resources is not entirely out of the question in the far future. I think there are quite a few resources that could be profitable even in the near future if global demand increases, terrestrial supplies decrease and if technology progresses.

Anonymous said...

I think that the very fact that it is difficult, expensive, and a long-term commitment to go on an expedition to anywhere beyond the moon would tend to convence a small number of people to stay permanently. Local trade would start the same as it always did, by some people having stuff that other people want and the first group of people wanting something the second group had that they don't. So, one research outpost has strawberries and another has some extra copper; they swap and that's the begining of local trade. I'm sure that for a very long time, that the main "export" from off-world communities will be research and entertainment, not resources and goods. So, people go to other planets and moons to set up research outposts and trade starts as an aside. Over years, decades, even generations, it will grow into something that might become commercially viable for a few. I won't expect anything grand by the way of trade this side of the end of this millinium.


Cordwainer said...

I just tend to think we should aim closer to home in terms of manned exploration and settlement of space until we work out the technical difficulties of working, living and traveling in space instead of going on a grand adventure to Mars that will probably end up fizzling out like the Apollo missions.

Tony said...


Apollo fizzled out because its purpose was served the second that the helicopter deposited three live astronauts on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Our technical superiority to the Soviets was demonstrated, as was our ability to carry out a task we set ourselves.

The settlement of celestial bodies, to the degree that it ever happens, will be done because it can be done and the value of doing it is perceived. But that value will not come from resource utilization for the simple reason that space resources have no meaning except in space. So the users have to be there first. And to be there first, the users have to live in a place that they can, in. There's no point in orbital living. An orbit is just a trajectory, not a place. The Moon's resources for life support are considerably harder to get at and exploit than those same resources on Mars. As for travel time, when one is looking at spending decades in a place, then the difference between three days and seven months is of marginal concern.

Cordwainer said...

Actually, for the use of ISRU in space a shorter travel time is of particular use if you are producing goods and materials for use in space. There has been a lot of buzz lately about space-based fabrication like the Spider-Fab concept to bring down the size, cost and complexity of payloads.(also providing for the production of much larger orbital structures)If those pre-fabrication materials are provided by ISRU from NEO's or the Moon or even produced on those bodies then the cost for orbital infrastructure(satellites, probes, space stations etc.) could be brought down even further and on things that actually serve a profitable function here on Earth. Not only that but if we have a large enough space based fabrication infrastructure then the cost of sending certain rare materials, structural elements and manufactured goods that can be produced more easily in low-gravity or are more commonly found in space also comes down. Even if the cost of "dropping" those materials planetside is not competitive with terrestrial production the fact that you can write off some of the cost with space based use of said materials and mass production processes powered more readily available solar energy might make such trade profit neutral.

Don't get me wrong I think settling Mars might be fun and would certainly be easier for long term colonization as someplace humans could actually live. But I think that for people to really settle space you have to have an investment incentive for the folks back here on Earth. Some of that incentive can come from tourism, entertainment and other service based opportunities but some of it has to come from nuts and bolts material and manufactured based goods. Yes globally we have become a more service based economy but in the end those services are based upon and empowered by the manufacturing sector, economies don't change there behavior that greatly from one geographic region to another. The commodities change but the basic rules stay the same. Space based economies can be expected to act in similar ways as terrestrial ones for the most part.

Tony said...

The problem is that space-based manufacturing requires just as much infrastructure as terrestrial manufacturing does. You can't convert Moon or asteroid rock to useful materials without thousands of tons of equipment, plus hundreds of people to make it work. And, before you go there, no, you can't roboticise these things sufficiently to make that much difference.

Cordwainer said...

Yes, but that is also why a closer and easier to land on body like the Moon is better on payload and cost benefit than Mars. It costs more per pound to send ISRU tools to Mars than it does to the Moon due to the fact it is further away and has a stronger gravity well. One expends more money in fuel, protective shielding and landing equipment to get same amount of equipment their and the number of launches increase as well. Also, a closer object like the Moon makes it easier to send those hundreds of people to make ISRU work on the Moon there and back safely and cheaply.

At this point in time with our current technology Mars is a one-way ticket. The tech needed to convert ISRU from Mars is not going to be any less daunting than the Moon. In fact it will be even more so. Due to the long distance and limited launch windows sending replacement equipment or regular supply trains will be difficult so colonists will need to make most of the stuff they need their on Mars, colonists on the Moon won't be as handicapped. Since colonizing or even exploration missions will have to stay their for months at a then such missions will require auxiliary personnel to accomplish their mission in case someone gets sick or dies. The need for auxiliary personnel for a Moon mission is less because you can rotate individuals between Earth and the Moon more easily and send in replacements or extra personnel when needed on a case by case basis.

Cordwainer said...

God, I really need to proofread better I just finished a bottle of Chardonnay last night so I'm not in the best state of mind.

Anonymous said...

Cordwainer, I often feel like drinking after reading one of Tony's replies...but in all seriousness, I think you do make a good point about distance playing a key role in how much stand alone infrastructure you need to bring with you when establishing an offworld outpost. Most communities start out small and expand by fits and starts. So it would seem reasonable that infrastructure and industry would be built up over time, not transported in bulk all at one go. Besides, the amount of industrial equipment, and people to run it, would be proportional to both the total number of people at the outpost, and what the goals and purpose of that outpost are.

Until we actually build an outpost on another world, we really can't know for certain what we will need as far as infrastructure and industrial capabilities go, although we can make some highly educated guesses.


Thucydides said...

I'm going to have to go with Tony here. If you are going to live somewhere and develop the local resources, then the "somewhere" needs to be reasonably hospitable.

On Earth, we did not see much colonization of deserts or the great rainforests and jungles, or anything other than the very margins of Greenland or Antarctica because the effort needed to live there was simply too great in comparison to the expected benefits. Greenland and Antarctica are exceptions because the ROI of whaling and sealing was great enough to either survive (if you were Inuit) or make a bit of profit if you were a whaler.

The Moon has very little of what is needed to survive in the long term, while offering exceptionally harsh conditions. Trying to utilize solar energy on a two week day/night cycle while having your machinery cut apart by abrasive lunar dust is not a recipe for success. Even a NEO offers easily accessible solar energy, water and possibly carbon and nitrogen, and Mars can also offer gravity.

Just being 3 days away might not be enough of an advantage to support large scale settlement or industrialization, except perhaps in specialized niche markets.

Cordwainer said...

Anywhere in space is so inhospitable compared to places on Earth that you can't really compare it to places here on Earth whether its the Moon, Mars or Ganymede it will take an enormous amount of machinery, ISRU and artificial habitat to make settlement possible. Most of what we have in space is just a vast ocean of sameness, with maybe a little more water and nitrogen here or there. The Moon and NEO's are more ideal because you don't have to have permanent settlement it can be semi-permanent with rotating crews. There are still plenty of reasons to go to those places in support of various scientific missions, economic benefits of resources from those bodies and to further facilitate travel to farther bodies like Mars and the asteroid belt through use of those resources. Starting out colonization efforts in our backyard helps to develop the technology and infrastructure for colonization and exploration of other planetary bodies without as many associated risks.

Also the Moon has plenty of resources that make it quite hospitable. Water at the poles and solar energy nearly all day. Aluminum and silica for building materials is common enough for use in building materials, oxygen is common enough and easy enough to extract from the soil or through electrolysis from water. Hydrogen, argon, helium and other ionizates as well as solid rocket fuels can be made from materials on the Moon. The Moon is far from poor in metals about the only thing you would need to import is nitrogen and nitrogenous volatiles.

Mars is richer in resource wealth but extracting those resources would not necessarily be any easier than on the Moon. In fact the increased distance from the Sun, increased gravity and atmosphere might actually make it harder.

Anonymous said...

The Martian atmosphere is one of its key resources. With CO2 and water you can make methane and have oxygen left over. Spare oxygen is nice to have. From there you can build up larger organic molecules and produce plastics and lubricants.

Finding such resources on the Moon would be difficult and limited.

While it will be harder to get to Mars than the Moon, once you are there Mars will be easier to colonize.


Cordwainer said...

The amount of atmosphere that Mars has is so thin that CO2, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen can all be taken from the Martian soil more efficiently. What the atmosphere would be good for is producing synthgas(which is not methane) for energy, not methane and other more complicated hydrocarbons.

The same processes used to remove such resources from the Martian soil would work just as effectively on lunar regolith and might even be more efficient in the vacuum of space, the Martian atmosphere would have to actually be removed from some of these processes at some point although the atmosphere could be compressed and used to power hydraulic pistons versus electromotive powered vacuum pumps. This might make up for the loss of energy(due to Mars being farther from the Sun, clouds and sandstorms.) that one might have if you are depending on solar energy as your primary power on Mars since a compressed gas-piston might be more efficient than a directly electrical powered one.

Thucydides said...

Getting Oxygen on the Moon involves boiling it out of rock, which is orders of magnitude harder than the various processes to extract it from the Martian atmosphere.

Jim Baerg said...

It does look like there is ice near the lunar poles from which O2 can be extracted. Also some of the proposed means for extracting O2 from lunar rock involve passing H2 by iron oxide rich rock at a few hundred °C, which while harder than electrolyzing water is not quite as tough as implied by the phrase 'boiling out of rock'.

Cordwainer said...

That and "boiling" is easier at low atmospheric pressures in a mostly oxygenated atmosphere, a mostly CO2 atmosphere poisons the process somewhat. Extraction processes on both Mars and the Moon would be more efficient at the poles due to longer daylight periods and more direct solar energy for power generation and the abundance of water for both direct electrolysis and the cheaper more efficient albeit more infrastructure intensive processes that use water as a solvent under high pressure.
For any large settlement the investment for such processes will no doubt be similar whether on the Moon or Mars.

Most water on Mars is trapped in a thin layer of permafrost soil and the polar ice is mostly dry ice so the extraction methods and cost for getting water will be about the same. Extracting oxygen from the atmosphere might be worthwhile until you can get more efficient soil and hydrological extraction methods set up but mass production of hydrocarbon fuels will cost about the same on Mars as it will the Moon once the infrastructure is in place. The greater abundance of water and nitrogen on Mars makes long term mass habitation more viable then on the Moon. That being said though I don't see long term mass colonization of space happening anytime soon. The Moon is useful as a way stop, supply station and localized fabrication center to further exploration, settlement and economic exploitation/capitalization of space based resources and services and should be part of any plans involving further space development.

Jim Baerg said...

"Extraction processes on both Mars and the Moon would be more efficient at the poles due to longer daylight periods and more direct solar energy for power generation"

For the Martian poles only during summer for whichever hemisphere you are in. For the moon only right at the pole if the 'peak of eternal light' exists.

For a base on either body I would use a small nuclear reactor which is turned on after local dirt is piled around it for sheilding. Night is a major problem for solar power on any planet or moon & I would go for solar in free space where the sunlight is uninterrupted & nuclear on a planetary body.

Cordwainer said...

I would go with nuclear to Jim but looking at the political ramifications of that and the fact that you can build photovoltaics and possibly fuel cells from available ISRU on most planetary bodies I think those would be the primary forms of power once you have sufficient infrastructure built. Nuclear reactors or fuel cells would be used for initial settlement on planetary bodies with solar thermal and PVC taking over as settlements get more built up. Nuclear fuels are risky to transport into space and may not be easy to extract from ISR, the Moon has uranium for instance but it's spread through out the soil at a relatively low concentration for instance.

Anonymous said...

I thought that they detected some Thorium deposits near some craters on Luna? Or was that just traces near some old lava flows?


Jim Baerg said...

12 ppm is rather thin for ore, but that is likely to be an average over the pixel with small bits of much higher concentration that might be worth mining for powering lunar bases.

Cordwainer said...

Also, Tony is right that for mining and ISRU fabrication to occur your going to need to bring a lot of machinery, manpower and materials with you at least initially. Your power generation methods on the other hand will need to be cheap and easy to construct which is why I favor solar thermal, printable photovoltaics and SOHC fuel cells. Hydrogen peroxide and magnesium fuel cells would work well on the Moon for instance.

Locki said...

We finally found the gravity waves that "prove" the theory of inflation and there's no commentary on my favourite sci-fi blog?

I'm daring to hope we may eventually learn everything there is to know about fundamental physics.

How many sci-fi works can people think of where the premise is the universe has no mysteries left for us. eg we've finally answered all of the big "why?" questions, What happens to society (and sci-fi!) after this?

I found this nytimes article a nice explanation of the theory. I particularly liked their coffee cup metaphor explanation of inflation.

Cordwainer said...

Discovery of gravity waves only further supports evidence about inflation that was already known. There is still plenty we don't know about how inflation occurred and what was the cause of inflation. It will take decades using information on gravity waves to actually find useful information on those questions as well as questions about dark matter and dark energy. Even if we discover all the why questions this doesn't necessarily mean we will be able to observe the how, conversely if we knew all about how something occurs this does not mean we will be able to answer the why. There is plenty of common everyday phenomena for which we know the how but have yet to fully understand the why that phenomena works. For instance we are still trying to flesh out the effects of Van Der Wahls forces. Also, there will always be more to see through the looking glass we have yet to see all there is within our own universe astronomically speaking and even if we could there may still be other universes beyond our observable one.

Thucydides said...

It's gotten quiet here lately, so I'll throw out a tidbit from NBF:

While the attempts to generate burning fusion plasma with head-on railgun impacts is interesting, I was actually struck by the fact that the plasma "rail guns" are very efficient rocket engines as well:

HyperV had a kickstarter in 2012 and delivered it in 2013. They have used minirailguns for a plasma propulsion system which can achieve 2000 to 8000 ISP.

While not sufficient to get you into orbit, it sounds like a relatively cheap, rugged and reliable system for getting around the Solar System. That seems to be the sticking point, most high ISP drive systems tend to be large, complex and relatively fragile in comparison. OF course we still need to see how well this scales, but if full sized railguns are projected to deliver 42Mj to a metal projectile, (dropping it on a target 200km away at mach 6) then smaller plasma railguns for spacecraft use seem feasible as well.

Geoffrey S H said...

One thing I'd like to know is how much tonnage a series of hall-effect thrusters could push if multiple ones were used at once.

Could we make ourselves a human crewed ion craft in other words? Slow but efficient with the propellant.

Katzen said...

you know what could kickstart this blog again?

I can't be the only one here who has read this, and quite frankly it could be a template for future rocket punk stories. Rather than make a story about fighting other humans, or aliens.

Fight the elements of space, like gravity (I know it had inaccuracies, but not as bad as say... star trek.) The thing survival stories really do fit well with the rocket punk idea because of how inhospitable space and planets really are.

It side steps all the cost/benefit analysis of space and economic realities. (It's a NASA mission to mars with a "flagpoles and footsteps" objective).

also spacex has progressed with their reusable rocket technology since I was last posting. not to beat the dead horse but I seriously think Spacex is going to sell their rockets while making money on the "support services" side.
Remember this company has the feel of a silicon valley start up and many had to weasel money out of customers besides direct selling, and it's how spacex can make money off space while making it cheaper.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

Could we make ourselves a human crewed ion craft in other words? Slow but efficient with the propellant.

The problem is the power plant mass. We're a very long way from a light enough generating capacity that overall spacecraft mass would be reasonable in comparison to achievable thrust levels from a realistic number of thrusters.


"you know what could kickstart this blog again?

Meh. Just another Robinson Crusoe on Mars, albeit somewhat more realistically cast.

WRT the unforgiving nature of space, The Cold Equations pretty much killed that trope in trying (poorly -- though it took some experience with real rockets and manned spacecraft to see how and why) to define it.

also spacex has progressed with their reusable rocket technology since I was last posting. not to beat the dead horse but I seriously think Spacex is going to sell their rockets while making money on the "support services" side.
Remember this company has the feel of a silicon valley start up and many had to weasel money out of customers besides direct selling, and it's how spacex can make money off space while making it cheaper.

Silicon Valley, huh? Apple fired Jobs because he couldn't get down to business. When the internet whiners complain about Google and Amazon, what are they kvetching about? That's right -- becoming too corporate. Who made the personal computer revolution happen for real? Not Apple, but companies like IBM, Tandy, and Hewlett-Packard (which started as a garage operation, but is seen as pure corporate today). If SpaceX can't make that transition, it won't last. If it can, it won't be any different in the long run than Lock-Mart or Boeing.

Katzen said...


The cold equations is a great example of what gets screwed up with rocketpunk. We focus too much on the physics and make the characters just talking heads. Ben Bova is probably the worst offender.
The Martian's character has to be a good deal more creative and intelligent than Robinson Crusoe. he is also much more funny.

Now as to Spacex. They are corporate and I hope they become like Lockheed, but a Lockheed right after world war two where they did come up with some revolutionary work still used today.
Google, amazon, apple all are corporate, but that doesn't mean they don't develop product fast and move even faster. That mentality is what has made spacex lethal to it's competition.

I would root for others as well, but virgin is moving slow and suborbital rockets can't do much. the dream catcher is still in unpowered descent testing. The SLS is a re-engineering of the Ares program which was a failed rehash of the Apollo program.
The ULA is bleeding NASA to death with the development costs and bureaucracy.
the barriers to entry are extremely high in the aerospace world and if Spacex doesn't make it I don't see much hope for another decade of two at the earliest.

It's not that I think Spacex is the greatest company ever. It's that they are the only viable rocket company that's willing to actually progress.

Geoffrey S H said...

One thing I'll post before I forget. I just saw the design for the formic spacecraft in Ender's Game. Typical 'bio-tech' look, with asymmetrical design that would be useless in space as a real design and no accuracy what so ever.

We talk about human craft that are accurate. Well I'm absolutely fed up of ALIEN craft being unrelated to real physics in terms of design. And no *speaking to the soft sci fi fan bleating at the back* they won't look 'all the same' if similar principles for human and alien craft are used. There are hundreds of potential combinations that could be used to differentiate them (if nothing else, how about an alien organic craft that had similar characteristics to the regional design draft for the Discovery from Space Odyssey(why are so many alien craft organic in films?!? It doesn't make engineering sense....oh well)).
Even star trek with its adherence to some common design themes manages to keep the designs of varying races different. The same could be done for hard scifi.
Just because they are clichéd space-squids with illuminated fountains that pass for artwork and a way of saying 'hello' that involves carving symbols into the moon, that doesn't mean they can't build a decently engineered craft to get here in the first place. Now THAT's something we haven't talked about here before!

Ok, rant over. Back to work...

Geoffrey S H said...

regional, sp* 'original*

Anonymous said...

Geoffrey S. H.,
Something like having the hab being a rotating drum with the long axies in line with the thrust as opposesed to having it perpendicular to the line of thrust? Or how about having a wheel-and-spoke type of hab, either with its hub in line with the thrust, or perpendicular to it? Something like that? Those should work for either Humans or Aliens. What does everyone else think?


Katzen said...

actually that's a really good point. I would love to see at least one sci fi movie where the alien and human craft are comparatively on the same level of technology even if it's statistically very improbable.
Also where the neither the aliens or humans are "evil".

some people might not agree to go into creating a "gray area" story.

Tony said...


"The cold equations is a great example of what gets screwed up with rocketpunk. We focus too much on the physics and make the characters just talking heads."

That's not even the problem with the story. The problem is that it ignores realistic engineering, management, and legal principles in order to focus on the "realistic" physics. Like I said, actual experience with rockets and manned space travel showed the story to be the confidence game that it is.

"Now as to Spacex. They are corporate and I hope they become like Lockheed, but a Lockheed right after world war two where they did come up with some revolutionary work still used today."

What "revolutionary" work is that? Skunk Works stuff? That's pure military-industrial complex work.

Which is actually a good model for work SpaceX is doing right now for NASA - $3B for twelve flights.

"Google, amazon, apple all are corporate, but that doesn't mean they don't develop product fast and move even faster. That mentality is what has made spacex lethal to it's competition."

"[L]ethal"? Hyperbolic nonsense. Taking just Boeing and Lock-Mart as the competition, the manifested flights for the next twelve months include:

SpaceX Falcon 9: 6*
Lock-Mart Atlas 5: 6
Boeing Delta IV Heavy**: 1
Boeing Delta IV : 2
Boeing Delta II***: 1

*Four of which are on the NASA contract.
**A payload class that SpaceX has yet to compete in.
***A payload class SpaceX no longer competes in, except for bundled flights on Falcon 9.

Even if SpaceX manages to pick up a large part of the commercial market by undercutting their competitors' prices in the short term (which they've already been accused of doing) it will come either at the cost of increased prices in the future or increased risk. Space flight costs what it does for good reasons. Reliability costs money. And in the satellite business, reliability is a must. A spacecraft and a launch might be insured for out-of-pocket cost, but no insurance can cover the loss of business of a 3-5 year program delay, caused by a launch failure.

"It's not that I think Spacex is the greatest company ever. It's that they are the only viable rocket company that's willing to actually progress."

Funny definition of "progress" -- use only proven technologies and compete on price. Sounds more like off-brand PCs than anything else. You may sell a lot, but you're not doing anything new.

Tony said...

Katzen said:

"actually that's a really good point. I would love to see at least one sci fi movie where the alien and human craft are comparatively on the same level of technology even if it's statistically very improbable.
Also where the neither the aliens or humans are 'evil'.

some people might not agree to go into creating a 'gray area' story. "

Enemy Mine

Katzen said...

the cold equations was a bit silly with that. It does make me think of "100 things to do as a evil overlord" in that if you are rational the conflict can't possibly come up in the first place.

also it's been many years since I saw enemy mine, and I liked it,even if I can barely remember parts of it from a half viewing in my childhood.

lockheed's Atlas 5 is using 4 military, one government data sat, one for GPS (federal government as well) only two seem to be civillian.

so that's not really a argument.

as for the deltaIV. two flights for the air force in GPS work, and their heavy used for a test of their uncrewed Orion spacecraft. Which after will be on the untested and right now mostly paper SLS.

the delta II... there is a reason spacex stopped making the falcon I.

"Reliablity costs money." I wish that were the case. No, as someone entrenched in expensive government acquired equipment I feel confidant it does not.

ask a Apache crew chief. I am glad I don't have their job.

or the medicare website programers.

They compete on price because it was by far the cheapest way into the business, and Elon Musk still almost lost everything on his bet.

They are now testing reusable rockets and they haven't had a rocket fail since their falcon I tests.

the satellite business could make their insurance cheaper when they can get a retry on the rocket launch in weeks instead of months or years.

thank you for your arguments, and you need skeptics for testing ideas, but they didn't convince me.

Skunk works built the p-38, u2, sr-71, a stealth boat to name a few machines. Military industrial yes, but not crap to say the least. Sounds hypocritical of me, but there is a big difference between complex because it's physically hard (SR-71), rather than because it's designed by committee (Bradley tank).

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah...there's a big difference between building something amazing, and being amazed that you built something...


Tony said...


"lockheed's Atlas 5 is using 4 military, one government data sat, one for GPS (federal government as well) only two seem to be civillian.

so that's not really a argument."

But Falcon 9, flying four NASA missions is an argument? Government work is government work.

"the delta II... there is a reason spacex stopped making the falcon I."

Please elaborate...

"'Reliablity costs money.' I wish that were the case. No, as someone entrenched in expensive government acquired equipment I feel confidant it does not.

ask a Apache crew chief. I am glad I don't have their job.

or the medicare website programers."

Straw man -- just because some programs appear to waste money, that doesn't mean reliability comes cheap.

"They are now testing reusable rockets"

Which they may never have a market for. Launch services are a minority of the life cycle cost of a spacecraft. For larger, more expensive payloads -- like those that Falcon 9 carries -- launch services can in fact be a marginal cost. Given those economics, I find it hard to see how a launch services customer would ever want to buy a ride on a used rocket.

"and they haven't had a rocket fail since their falcon I tests."

Excuse me? they certainly did have an engine-out failure on a launch in October 2012. It caused loss of mission on a secondary payload. Had the primary payload been a sole payload consuming all of the launch vehicle's capabilities, there is a high degree of likelihood that it would have led to a mission failure.

"the satellite business could make their insurance cheaper when they can get a retry on the rocket launch in weeks instead of months or years."

Retry with what? The lead time on a new spacecraft can be anything from 2 to five years. Only NASA, working on the public dime, makes spares. Everybody else buys just one spacecraft, and purchases what they hope to be the most reliable launch service.

"thank you for your arguments, and you need skeptics for testing ideas, but they didn't convince me."

My "arguments" aren't for your benefit, K. They're written for the leadership at large.

"...Bradley tank..."

The M2/M3 Bradley is an infantry fighting vehicle (i.e. an armored personnel carrier on steroids), not a "tank".

Tony said...

Oh, BTW, that's "readership at large", not "leadership at large".

Geoffrey S H said...

If Elon Musk is a private businessmen lending even a small amount of his time and money to these rockets he's making, and NASA has absolutely no need for private help, and is pretty much supplying the funds, expertise and hardware for Musks little experiments... then why involve him at all? What is the POINT of this?

It seems to me Tony that he should be told to go elsewhere and everything be left to NASA. If only a little time is spent dealing with his childish fantasises, then that’s a little time too much.

Its not like there's any room for innovation in rocketry. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Things are fine as they are, and will be until rockets become too expensive to use in the next few centuries. Prices are going up, big government is the only way to space, and there is nothing that can be done about either. Live with it, appreciate it, or ignore it, but don't try and do anything

Tony said...

Slow your roll, Geoffrey.

SpaceX has done some okay things, but they're just okay. What I'm objecting to is the breathless hyperbole. SpaceX is not going to produce some magic that the other aerospace companies haven't been able to.

Thucydides said...

Reliability comes at a cost, but the reason things like an Apache attack helicopter or a rocket engine is so expensive is the cost is amortized over a relatively small production run.

Consider the mundane 4 door sedan. When I was a kid, cars still required almost constant attention. I learned how to crawl under a car to grease the chassis, use a screwdriver and timing light to tune up an engine and pull, clean and gap the spark plugs on a regular basis. Now all these skills are obsolete (unless I choose to purchase a classic car), due to the evolution of technology and R&D that has been spread across millions of cars.

If cars were virtually bespoke items then the R&D would be amortized over a few thousand cars and you would pay as much for a car as you do for a house.

This is one of the arguments "for" producing rockets on assembly lines or having RLV's, but since the market is still so small, there is no economic justification to build a "Willow Run" plant and produce boosters every 24 hr.

At the bottom of everything is still the missing economic answer: what product or service exists in space that is profitable enough to go into space to get?"

Thucydides said...

And for a change in topic, here is the latest from Canada's General Fusion.

While the Jules Verne/Steampunk aspect of the project is amazing enough, i was rather struck by the way this company operates vs what might be called the Fusion Establishment. The company sends managers to the local COSTCO to buy supplies, and has to screen out applicants who worked on fusion for decades without turning a screw or doing more than publishing papers.

While this seems off the wall, other alternatives like dense plasma fusion or variations of the Farnsworth Fusor seem equally strange. The one constant is they have quickly reached levels of plasma confinement and temperature that government labs took decades to reach, and are forging ahead at a much quicker pace. Will they reach their goals? Who knows. I am not qualified to judge which technology (if any) is most likely to succeed

Katzen said...

Actually I really hadn’t checked General fusion in a while! I remember an article in wired a few years ago, and they had a single piston tester. I didn’t put much credit into them then, but now they have working prototype! Tritium supplies is a constricting factor, but they look like they are moving at breakneck pace! I guess I need to keep an eye on them. I have been watching focus fusion as well since they hit my radar with their own working hardware and consistent improvements.
If either makes the “holy grail” of a working and reciprocating (the Z machine has theoretically made net gain energy, but that system can’t just be fired over and over again in rapid succession.) We are in for some rather drastic changes. Free energy would be to the manufacturing industry what free bandwidth was to the telecom industry.
Now I had to look hard at my gut feeling on Spacex. I’m pretty good at seeing what’s going to be the next “big thing”. I haven’t figured how to make money off it yet (didn’t bring up the courage or cash to invest). I know that memresistors are going to explode on the market once they get out of the lab, I watched the Bakken oil fields grow and curse myself for not heading there, but I was too young to know what I was doing then. I was even more pissed when I saw the meteoric rise of Bitcoin and didn’t try to get in on it.
I guess I really should start putting my money where my nose is.
So back to the thought I turned off the hype machine in my head with Spacex and asked myself “what makes them any different from any other rocket company?”
Payload capacity? Nope they don’t have anything bigger than ULA.
Cost? That’s no it, they might be undercutting but so is Walmart and they are not revolutionary besides in exploitation.
Technology? That’s not it since they don’t have anything that hasn’t been done before.
So I started to really sift through makes me want to bet on them like a well sloshed poker table. It hit me that it’s not what they are developing,
But rather the rate.
Spacex is 13 years old, their first (failed) launch was 2006, 8 years ago, successful launch was 2008, 6 years ago, falcon 9 is only 4 years old, and the larger version 1.1 was launch only last year.
Each technology they develop feeds right into the next technology creating a snowball effect. I know other aerospace build on what they already developed, but Spacex designed each piece of hardware to test the next piece of hardware.
That’s my rationality for having dreams of a rocketpunk future and it gives me news that I enjoy hearing.

Also I wonder what becomes economically feasible at what price pound to orbit?

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