Monday, July 20, 2015

Luna Rising

Saguaro Moon Rising

Forty-six years ago today, the first human being walked on the Moon. And more than 40 years have passed since the last human did so. 

Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time may have noticed a quiet shift in my position regarding Earth's orbital companion. In the past I have been rather negative about returning to the Moon, while more recently The Weekly Moonship portrayed a space future that included, well, weekly travel there.

So what has changed?

Most obviously, it turns out that there is a lot of water on the moon; at least a lot of ice in polar areas where sunlight does not reach. The stuff of life is not everything, but it is a big thing, and in particular it can be cracked to make rocket fuel, something that large scale space travel can't get enough of.

Provisos apply. A lot means one thing to a scientist, something else to a mining engineer, and we have no idea (yet) whether lunar ice will be available in concentrations that make it suitable for processing. And anyone who thinks that such processing will be cheap or easy needs to cash a reality check: Nothing in space is cheap or easy. Space travel is the most difficult technical challenge that we have surmounted as a race, which is exactly why July 20, 1969, like April 12, 1961, has lasting significance.

All of that said, I have revised my perception of the Moon in the human space future, and not only for merely practical reasons. Aesthetics is also a factor, and not unjustly. New Horizons has reminded us - not for the first time, not for the last - of the sheer wonder and beauty of the Universe, including those parts of it that are already within our reach.

The beauty of Earth's companion, as seen from Earth, does not need me to expound it. Poets beat me to that punch thousands of years ago. The Greeks identified Selene, as they called it, with the goddess Artemis, mysterious virgin huntress of the night. (They gave Venus, with its hellish conditions, to the goddess of love. So far as I know, poets have not yet exploited this entertaining fact. When they do so it will be one more indication of our maturation as a spacefaring civilization.)

Seen from close up, at least in the most familiar images - those from 46 years ago - Luna seems rather less enchanting. It is about the color of a parking lot, no inducement to poetry. But while every picture tells a story, those images may say more about the circumstances than the locale.

Statio Tranquillitatis, as it is officially designated on lunar maps, is just about the most boring location you can find on the lunar surface. This is for extremely good reason: boring, in astronautics, is a technical term meaning 'probably safe for landing on.' The first human mission to Mars will also land somewhere boring; likewise the first human mission to a planet of Alpha Centauri.

Related factors also influenced those first images. The equipment was designed by people who (surprise!) had never gone where it was meant to be used. And the people using it were trained primarily as spacecrew, not photographers. All of which is to say that the Moon can doubtless be as lovely close at hand as from 384,000 kilometers. But the images that will one day enchant us have yet to be taken.

Other reasons will, in due course of time, impel us to return to the Moon. And yet others will only be discovered after we do so.

All of that said, I am in no particular hurry to send humans back to the Moon. But then, I am in no particular hurry to send them anywhere. At our current development stage the only truly good reason for humans to go into space is to learn what we can do there, which is what the ISS is all about. The time for first-hand human space exploration will come when some planetary studies postgrad goes into her advisor's office, tosses her notes onto the desk, and says 'Okay, this is really bizarre.'

Yes, there are other reasons to go to the Moon that are not 'truly' good, merely good enough, and truly human. Such as the reasons we went for the first time. I think the current betting odds are that the next visitors will come from China. One more small step for mankind, but a huge one for any emerging space program: decisive claim of a place at the big kids' table.

We will return to the Moon. Not in this decade, probably not in this generation, perhaps not in this century, but surely in the fullness of time.

Discuss:


 

I previously grumped about the Moon - but, really, more about ill-advised hype that ended up setting back our space effort.

The image comes from the Astronomy Picture of the Day archives.

75 comments:

Geoffrey S H said...

A couple of years ago I noticed that airless moons in general did not usually feature prominantly in sci fi, unless it was a lunar base in this solar system.
Space opera had the occasional isolated outpost, but that's about it. Never any petty lunar kingdoms for the planetary/ galactic empires to deal with (the lower the gravity the larger and more impressive the petty princling's lunar palace- surely some potential there for a story? Squadrons of lunar rover cavalry roaring across dead craters?).

The moon is also rarely balkanised in fiction- despite the fact that it is the largest moon in the system (plenty of space to go round!).

Ultimately the moon is usually the setting for a solitary (U.S) moonbase in the near future, with little thought given to what it might be like thousands of years after it has possibly been settled. Surely the three-generation rule applies to equipment there? Does that mean that moon-material buildings are made or caverns underground, instead of lunar modules? How would an independent lunar state deal with earth (or mars)-based powers?

On a more realistic note: Might the moon be a better mine/construction location and launching pad for martian/asteroid/whatever exploration expeditions than earth? Lower gravity= less delta V for exploration craft...

Thucydides said...

There are several reasons the Moon may become important (besides 3He as McGuffinite):

1. The Moon has gravity. Many industrial processes need gravity to operate, and working in a gravity field makes things a lot easier to do. A large stable platform on the Moon can still be exposed to high levels of vacuum, intense cold at night or solar radiation, giving you access to the best of both worlds.

2. The Moon has lots of other valuable materials for space industry. NEOs may be better for getting carbon compounds and water, but the Moon can supply Aluminum, Titanium, Iron and Silicon in huge quantities. Oxygen is a by-product of many industrial processes as well.

3. Water can be extracted cheaply and used directly as rocket remass. Anthony Zuppero's NEO Fuel site shows the economics of just running water through the nuclear reactor in a NTR configuration, saving all kinds of mass and costs associated with "cracking" the water to make H2 and LOX. Water can also be used in the sorts of engines proposed for the "Space coach" idea.

4. Once you harness these advantages, it is also much easier to launch from the Moon to reach other places in the Solar System.

I once tried a thought experiment in world building with Lunar 3He being an important part of driving space development and settlement. The end point came when "miners" and energy consortiums decided it was cheaper and easier to "scoop" huge quantities of 3He from the atmospheres of gas giants than to boil it out of Lunar regolith, leading to the Moon becoming a rust belt with "brownfields of abandoned mass catchers at the L2 point and various abandoned mining sites and space installations becoming havens for "squatters" living on the fringe of Solar society. YMMV.

Eth said...

Here is a comment I posted on the previous post right before this one went live (because of course):

As a tangent, I'm not sure what to do with this:
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150712-should-we-build-a-village-on-the-moon

It's just a guy talking (no money or formal plan proposal or anything like that), though he's the new ESA top guy. So, political move? Trying to motivate other agencies to do something?
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge ESA fan. But if you think NASA is cash-strapped, how does he intend to pull that off with ESA's even smaller budget?
That said, my inner hopeless optimistic dreamer makes me want to see a bigger international effort to such grand purpose - even though I'm not sure how the US and Chinese, and hopefully Japanese and Indians, will go along. Or the Iranians. Or the North Koreans. Hey, he did say "every country of the world"!

And even then, I've seen people complaining about giving money for that instead of down-to-earth stuff, with the crisis and all that - as if entirely cutting ESA's budget would feel like anything more than a rounding error for Europe.

Also, I've heard several names for a Moon base, but "village"? That's a new one...


And here's a response from Rick:

village on the Moon

This is not the first term that would have occurred to me, either. A couple posts back I just had boring old Luna Base, not Luna Village. Certainly the linked writer was not thinking of the traditional sense of the word, but I can think of a couple of others that are maybe more appropriate, such as 'Olympic village' for the athletes' housing. And perhaps even more appropriate a micro-urban sense, such as 'transit villages' within cities, connoting a relatively diverse population and range of activities, different from a base or outpost.

As for 'every country of the world', I'll just put that down as the sort of thing 'political actors' are expected to say, especially when they represent an international agency.

Also, I'm tempted to suggest that you re-post your comment under the new front pager, just put up, Luna Rising.

You know, Luna Village really does sound cool, and fits the scenario I was imagining!

Rick said...

airless moons in general did not usually feature prominantly in sci fi, unless it was a lunar base in this solar system

Pretty much the same for airless planets, I think. The un-fun truth is that so many of our favorite SF tropes are between difficult and impossible without shirtsleeves planets. See under Firefly. Hence the vast popularity of FTL, even among ostensibly hard SF writers. 'Tis a bummer, but one of the de facto themes of this blog is to see what can be rescued, and how.

a better mine/construction location

This is a toughie, for a somewhat different reason, what Hop David, who has commented here, calls the Home Depot problem. Industry in general, and mining/manufacturing even more than others, requires an ample supply of all sorts of hardware, readily and cheaply available here on Earth. Anywhere else, you have to truck it in, at spacelift cost. (Or fab it up, and I mean ALL of it, one or the other.) And - irony alert - the cheaper spacelift gets, the harder the uphill slog for nascent off-Earth industries to compete with Earth's mature industrial base.

There are possible exceptions - especially rocket propellant, because it is relatively simple stuff to brew up, and space travel uses so much of the stuff. Even if every wrench for a Moon-dozer has to come from Earth, it might pencil out.

For other industries, time is probably your best friend (and your comment was pitched to the long haul). A major activity at Luna Base might well be maintaining and operating surface vehicles. Repair would originally mean just from kits sent along, including those wrenches. But over time you could imagine repair capabilities gradually expanding, until at last someone can build a basic Moon buggy incorporating significant local parts, and underprice import models.

But note that none of this is McGuffinite, not even the rocket fuel. It is not a reason to go into space, but something you try your hand at when you are already in space, and in a big way.


valuable materials for space industry

Per above, both the bad news and (just conceivably) good news. I do not have a handle on the sort of time scale needed to industrialize the Moon, or anywhere in space. Probably loooong, as in centuries. (The industrialization of China does not apply, because they can order from Home Depot until they make it themselves.) But time is money, and vice versa - throw enough money at the problem, and things could happen faster. Then you only have to explain what got so many wallets to open so wide. :-D

He3
[grump mode]
Yes, He3 is great stuff (once you know how to do fusion), but I really really don't get the whole thing about how we'll go out to Uranus, or dig through a zillion tons of lunar regolith, for every precious little jar of it.

Correction if I am wrong, but I believe you can easily brew up all the He3 you want from plain old (relatively) dirt cheap deuterium and tritium, and even replenish the tritium as you go. Yes, that reaction is as filthy as a 50s porn zine, but if you can deploy Moon-dozers at all you can shovel stuff over a reactor on the far side of the Moon, brew away like a moonshiner, and underprice any exotic extraction method in your sleep.

Meta, I think this highlights the whole problem with searching for McGuffinite: People latch onto anything that sounds vaguely promising, and pretty soon you have a whole trope going, without anyone really checking whether the premise is even kinda sorta plausible. Maybe because they know in their hearts it probably isn't.

The closest thing I'll buy to McGuffinite is an economic bubble - i.e. false McGuffinite - because if there is anything that trumps the laws of economics, at any rate in the short run, it is human greed. Even greed for story ideas. 8-/
[/grump mode]

Rick said...

Don't need to add much more about a 'village' on the Moon - but Luna Village really IS a cool name! Thanks for re-posting, Eth!

Gregory Johnson said...

In regards to MacGuffinite, I strongly suspect that the real answer to the problem is one of time, again. We want our space adventures to occur in this century or the next, before politics and runaway technology make the average human incomprehensible to the writer much less the poor reader. Over the span of 500 years, I'm sure there will be lots of good reasons for a small presence here or there. Orbital outposts along the scale of ISS or laterly McMurdo Station. All boring, ho-hum, and not "fast" enough for space fans. And then we wake up sometime in 26XX, and some comedian points out we've got a weekly moonrun and some billionaire has an economically viable proposal for a billionaire's club on Mars and hey, just over 50% of our industrial processes are supplied with space materials... and it is the future we're imagining, but it took a long time to get there. So, MacGuffinite is required if we want our "space future" this century, but if you're willing to wait (and account for a lot of Scientific strangeness over the next centuries) it becomes less and less necessary, to the point that we'll wake up and find that a bunch of small decisions have led to a permanent space population that will then have all the things we want to do seem obvious to them.

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

before politics and runaway technology make the average human incomprehensible

Yes. Or simply too remote for some of our favorite tropes or flavorings. In 2615 it is just not likely that militaries will speak in acronyms or even wear chest salad, if only because fashions change.

I think also we have some rooted chronological attitudes from science fiction itself. Luna Base (or even Luna Village!) and Mars expeditions were supposed to be in this century, certainly by the next, and 2300 or so is the early interstellar era, per Trek or Babylon5. By 2600? The Terran Empire ought to be well along, or even fallen, and the stranded colonies struggling through an interregnum.

This blog pleads guilty, because I'm always going on about the Plausible Midfuture. Sometimes I even peg it to 2050-2300 or thereabouts, but the name alone implies the next few hundred years at most.

An early post here on possible 'Murrican futures touched on some of these issues of chronological drift.

fro1797 said...

Long term research outposts that require crews to spend several years there at a go, might (over decades, or generations), grow by slow increments, with the infrastructure expanding and the number of permanent residents also slowly growing. Some people might decide to retire there rather then take the long journey home. And, of course, people being how they are, there might be children born there and their parents not want them to risk going back to Earth. Little by little it grows, not by design, but like a field of weeds. Sometime in the next century, it might become fashionable for nations who want "Great Power" status to be expected to have an off-planet outpost, or three. Funny how things morph and mutate, but never change their essential character, like national pride.

Ferrell

Brett said...

I can't really see permanent habitation in the Plausible Mid-Future on Luna, even if or when we're heavily utilizing those resources. Growing up on Luna means growing up in its much lower gravity, and potentially never being able to live on or visit Earth despite it being so close in astronomical terms.

Instead, I imagine someone running the equivalent of a space elevator off the lunar surface to a facility in orbit (you can do that on Luna with existing materials IIRC, not magic super-strong materials like what would be required on Earth), where people live in rotating rings coated with enough lunar dust/rock to shield against radiation. They go up and down to Luna's surface for work, and then go back up to live or go back to Earth.

As for why you would build a Luna Base, I came across this interesting panel talk from Scott Pace about it. He makes a pretty good argument that what's kept support for ISS going over decades is that it had a geopolitical shield as an international project building an alliance across the US, Russia, and other nascent space programs in Europe. A lunar base could be something similar if done as a collaboration project with the new space programs of East Asia and Southeast Asia, since it would be doable while being something new.

Thucydides said...

It looks like other peeople are reading this blog (or at least thinking about the same things):

http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/07/evolvable-lunar-architecture-is-well.html

How realistic this is is debatable, but that's what Rocketpunk Manifesto is for!

Anita said...

"In 2615 it is just not likely that militaries will speak in acronyms or even wear chest salad, if only because fashions change."

I'd argue otherwise. Whatever else militaries are, they've always have been and probably remain intensely tribal. "We're better, different, more special than the other guy." The bling, chest salad or unit/ship coat of arms or whatever, underlines and supports the uniqueness.

Acronyms are handy; they save time and space. It's quicker and easier to write or say "majcom" rather than major air command or "AFSC" instead Air Force Speciality Code or "Mk82" instead 500 pound general purpose explosive device. When there's only minutes, sometimes seconds, to get something going, civie talk can slow you down. As I'd tell my Eager Young Space Cadets, "we have every resource we need, except time."

Plus, acronyms can reinforce the tribal sense.

Damien Sullivan said...

"The moon is also rarely balkanised in fiction- despite the fact that it is the largest moon in the system (plenty of space to go round!)."

Eh? Luna isn't largest. It's fifth largest moon.

***

You can breed He3 from lithium + neutrons, though it involves waiting a decade for the intermediate tritium to decay.

Brett said...

It's probably much faster and cheaper to do that, though, than to build the infrastructure involved in combing the lunar dust for it en masse and shipping it back to Earth. Wikipedia says we already produce about 8 kilograms/year of it that way, and presumably a facility dedicated to producing Helium-3 would make more. It's why I don't understand this fantasy of mining it on the Moon or the atmospheres of gas giants - it'd be much cheaper just to build terrestrial facilities dedicated to making it.

It might be cheaper just to use Boron fusion if you go down that route. Boron can be gotten from Borax, which is readily available and used.

Gregory Johnson said...

"The moon is also rarely balkanised in fiction- despite the fact that it is the largest moon in the system (plenty of space to go round!)."

Most of the fiction I remember reading had Balkanized settlements on the moon, usually American, Russian and occasionally Chinese settlements in an extension of Cold War animosities.

Which brings up a thought, since a "settlement" as opposed to an "outpost" is going to have to be MOSTLY self-sufficient (entirely self-sufficient is a much harder problem, but minimizing the inputs is certainly possible), you may have a return to the city-state as an economic/political unit. I've heard the idea in terms of asteroid colonies (actually, there was a Rocketpunk post on Thassalocracies recently that covered that), but in the early days, you may well have a similar situation on Luna (with the inevitable railways running between them).

Geoffrey S H said...

Whoops! Yes the moon is indeed 'only' the fifth largest.

Do you have the names of any fiction featuring a 'balkanised moon' as a setting? I haven't seen anything like that lately, maybe it was a primarily cold war type of setting?

Concerning cities and city states- much of the settlement might be underground. On earth, we can only tunnel so far because of heat. How far/deep can we tunnel into the moon? How large an underground city can we get? We can't terraform the moon on the surface unless we encapsulated it into a magitech bubble, but can we create massive 'terraformed' caverns?


Gregory Johnson said...

"Do you have the names of any fiction featuring a 'balkanised moon' as a setting? I haven't seen anything like that lately, maybe it was a primarily cold war type of setting? "

I don't have any names off the top of my head, but the Lunar setting itself has become a lot less common in recent fiction, from what I've been seeing. FTL has made the moon very boring. I will also admit that most of the fiction I'm thinking of was written from the 50s through the early 90s (I read a lot of older SF as a youngster). As an absolute statement, the balkanized moon isn't that uncommon. As a temporal statement, "the balkanized moon isn't common currently" may well be true.

As for terraforming the moon... well, we know how to make large domes, if we built enough of them we might have a "sort-of" terraformed moon -- but definitely not a PMF setting. "Terraformed Caverns" might be quite doable... I remember one setting (I think it was "Steel Beach") used nukes to create huge spherical caverns that were then converted to farms and parks. You'd have a lot of cracks to seal up, but it would be an excellent starting point.

Of course a human habitable, working ecosystem might not be the easiest of things to accomplish.

Rick said...

outposts ... might (over decades, or generations), grow by slow increments

This I think is far the likeliest scenario for anything akin to colonization. Still not Likely[TM], given that all these places, while way cool, are human-inimical. But ... stuff happens, sometimes cool stuff.


Growing up on Luna means growing up in its much lower gravity

A big problem. Not just being unable to go to Earth, but likely problems even if you stay in low gravity. We evolved in and for a 1 g field. Of course, all we know now is that microgravity is bad for us. (Really, was 'zero gee' so wrong they had to change it?) Intermediate cases we can only speculate. I've read that the consensus in the space medicine community is that even Mars gravity would not be enough for health, but that was in a blog post somewhere beating up on Robert Zubrin. (Who I'm also inclined to beat up, but take the agenda into account.)

Really the Next Big Project for humans in space should, IMHO, be a spin hab. Experimenting with lab mice won't do it; their relationship with gravity is radically different from ours. We need to find out what the human health and comfort zone is. And the only way to find out is to go for a spin.


what's kept support for ISS going over decades is that it had a geopolitical shield as an international project building an alliance

Clarke once cited William James' idea of a 'moral equivalent of war.' The space race had an element of that, a way for the superpowers to flex biceps in a big way without blowing each other up. A lot to be said for that!


Next Big Future ... evolvable lunar architecture

You know this was coming, but those guys really do not help their case by shameless lo-balling of time and cost. For sure we could go to the Moon again in 8 years, but for $10 billion I could sell you a complete selection of famous bridges. This gets to what Gregory J said upthread. We want our space candy, and we want it NOW. Hype pulls eyeballs to Next Big Future, but to anyone else it just pegs the Hype-O-Meter. That said, I need to look at their actual architecture to see what they have in mind.


Plus, acronyms can reinforce the tribal sense.

Very true, and certainly some kind of clipped milspeak will prevail in any era. Militaries will probably remain recognizable a lot longer than they remain familiar, admitting the distinction is fairly subtle. On a shorter time scale, Babylon5 did a good job of uniforms and such that made EarthForce look significantly time-shifted. And in general this was something that Firefly did very well, though not specifically the Alliance military, the rather little we saw of it. (And it was specifically contrasted to Rim cultures.)


presumably a facility dedicated to producing Helium-3 would make more.

I would think so! I only even mentioned the Moon in the context of an already extensive presence there. The line between believable and Rule of Cool is delicate, but IMHO it is better to stay away from doing things the hard way whan an easier one is readily available.


you may well have a similar situation on Luna (with the inevitable railways running between them).

I'm always good with trains! But please, no monorails. Maglevs are okay; the arguments for plain old standard gauge are weaker on an airless world. On city states in general, I've touched on them a number of times, especially in this post: The Cities of Earth.

Brett said...

@Rick

For research stations, Mission Control might require that you get an inserted contraceptive to prevent risky pregnancies off world. You could always get the ship doctor to take it out, but you'd have to really want to have a kid off-world.

I would be very happy if we tested a spin-hab. It kills me that we haven't had a centrifugal gravity test since the Gemini missions, and that was tiny - to generate Earth-level simulated gravity without health issues for the astronauts, we're going to have to test tether lengths of hundreds of meters.

Come to think of it, that could be the "other" next International Together mission instead of a Moon Base: a rotating space station out at L5. I'd still prefer the Moon Base because of the ISRU possibilities, but the L5 station might have that too.

I've read that the consensus in the space medicine community is that even Mars gravity would not be enough for health, but that was in a blog post somewhere beating up on Robert Zubrin. (Who I'm also inclined to beat up, but take the agenda into account.)

I do like that he's willing to be an educated voice of skepticism on space plans, although his plan is more speculative than he lets on and he's got a messianic view of Mars and negative view of Earth that doesn't match how I see the world actually being back here on Earth.

Hmm. Come to think of it, I've never found a comprehensive critique of Mars Direct. There's ton of "devil in the details" issues with it, but most reviews I've seen of it focus in one or another specific problem with it - particularly the landing issue.

The line between believable and Rule of Cool is delicate, but IMHO it is better to stay away from doing things the hard way whan an easier one is readily available.

The tricky part is that getting enough neutrons to make all that tritium requires a nuclear plant, so you end up back with the nuclear waste problem again (albeit on a much smaller scale, since you're not running plants for power).

Damien Sullivan said...

I dunno, you can make lots of neutrons with a fusor pretty easily. Not sure about the net energy budget.

(Making fusion happen at all is tabletop lab work! Making fusion generate net energy is nigh impossible for us.)

Let me see if I can work out a bootstrap budget without fission.

D-D reactions generate (tritium and H) or (He3 + a neutron).

n + Li6 -> tritium + He4 + net energy
n + Li7 -> tritium + He4 + n
most lithium is Li7.

So you make D-D happen and get tritium, or He3 directly plus a neutron, which can make more tritium from lithium without consuming the neutron, though consuming energy.

Net energy of forcing D-D to breed vs. He3 fusion, I don't know. Then again, D-D fusion is a lot easier than He3 fusion, so presumably if He3 is actually useful, you can make the D-D fusion pay for itself. There's also whether you're trying to get a net power source, or trying to generate a useful deep space rocket fuel; the latter doesn't have to make an energy profit any more than batteries or hydrogen fuel cell economy do.

Thucydides said...

A few things:

The last "Balkanized Moon" novel I read was Ben Bova: Millenium (People and politics in the year 1999) written in 1976(!) where the Americans and Russians had facilities on the Moon initially designed as a sort of ISS partnership thing, but now providing support for the novel's "space race" to establish an orbital ABM shield for each nation. While the political situation on Earth is quite tense (it is expected that if one side should establish a working shield, they will be very tempted to launch a first strike), the realities of living and working on the Moon (or in space in general) drive the protagonists towards mutual cooperation rather than confrontation.

I thought I was being rather specific about the use of 3He as McGuffinite, but maybe not. I did make the observation that by strip mining the surface of the Moon to get 3He, you would also be generating tons of "mine tailings" such as silicon, iron, aluminum and titanium, as well as a huge quantity of oxygen once you extracted the mineral or metal content from the regolith. While each small dewar of 3He is potentially worth billions of dollars (assuming you have viable 3He aneutronic fusion), you are literally sitting on a fortune of valuable engineering materials accumulating beside the dragline machine as "mine tailings", which could have rather more immediate economic value. If you are planning to use 3He as your McGuffinite, then at least you have an integrated economic rational for Lunar mining.

The assumed value of 3He is so high because the energy density of fusion is so great. A "tanker" coming in from Saturn could in theory provide enough fuel to power the United States for a year (and the current US uses something like 3Terrawatts of energy every year), so a convoy of tankers would be providing energy for the most advanced national economies. The energy market is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, so if you have the ability to get a chunk of this market, you will make a killing. This is my assumed rational for shifting the harvesting of 3He from lunar regolith (where it is a botique product, and you will never be able to satisfy the market demand) to the gas giants (where you can gather economically relevant quantities, enough to support the cost of setting up and running a vast and complex operation.

Damien Sullivan said...

I don't think extracting the regolith He3 involves refining the solid material, so your actual by-product is just a lot of rock. You still have to do work to get pure silicon and oxygen and aluminum etc... which aren't that valuable, unless you already have a reason to do more building in space.

1 kg of He3 fuses to about 3e14 J, or 83 million kWh. At 10 cents a kWh, that's $8.3 million. You'd need 120 kg in that dewar to hit $1 billion. And wholesale electricity prices are more like a few cents per kWh, so more like 300 kg. And we haven't accounted for the cost of the fusion plant itself...

Rick said...

haven't had a centrifugal gravity test since the Gemini missions

Which I had completely forgotten about - even your mention doesn't ring a bell. (I'm surprised that I'd totally forget something pretty cool, and I was in my teens when Gemini was happening, old fart that I am.)

I would prioritize spin testing ahead of lunar resources. ISRU will only really pay off when we have extensive activity on the Moon, or translunar/deep space, while spin gravity is not so much a game changer as a game definer.

In the worst case we could be screwed, so far as extensive human space travel is concerned, if we need close to 1 g and a huge spin radius for health and basic comfort. Tether spin is okay for a station, but won't play well with long duration low-acceleration drives, pretty much needed for long distance travel. In the best case, enough 'gravity' to walk may fool the body into functioning correctly, and small radius, relatively high rpm spin may be fine. In either case, the sooner we know the better for any long term planning.

I've never found a comprehensive critique of Mars Direct. There's ton of "devil in the details" issues with it

Proviso that my own impression is purely ... impressionistic. But my gut feeling is that the problems are all about devils in the details - that the concept is just not robust, not really able to take a punch. An opinion worth what you paid.


On fusion, don't have a lot to add. Except a meta point I'll get to below.

"mine tailings" ... which aren't that valuable

Just so. I googled the price of commodity aluminum; the recent price is ~$1800/metric ton. Which means that nearly all of my baseline $1M/ton for spaceworthy structures is fabrication (by a mature Earth industry), not the raw material. Even if you add another $million to ship it to the Moon, the lunar import price is still only 2x the terrestrial factory gate price - a tough bar for lunar industry to clear. In general, Cobb's Law: If spacelift is cheap, we can take up the stuff we need. If it is expensive, we aren't up there ourselves. Propellant could be an exception that proves (which in context means 'tests') the rule.


But, a truly fundamental meta point. A lot of what I say here is implicitly advice for writers or equivalent. And I think it is good advice, well worth considering, or I wouldn't be ladling it out. BUT ...

The more you (generic you) have already invested in creating an SF setting, the less relevant my advice. No one, in this particular universe of discourse, is gonna turn down a story because 'the guy at Rocketpunk Manifesto says it makes unrealistic assumptions'.

Brett said...

@Rick

Gemini 11, although it admittedly wasn't much of a test. They got the 100-foot tether tight, but could only spin the spacecraft fast enough to generate 0.00015 g. It seems like you could do a robotic test of that concept first, and then try it out with piloted spacecraft.

Couldn't you rotate the entire spacecraft on its long axis, like with the Apollo missions? You might want to do that anyways to evenly distribute sunlight exposure on the spacecraft, and it seems like you could integrate your rotating tethered habs into it as long as there was a way for them to get from the rotating habs to the main body spacecraft during shift hours.

Otherwise, you're in trouble, especially for manned missions to the outer solar system. You'd have to "planet-hop" between worlds, flying out to Jupiter then Saturn then onward, hopefully only spending a year or less in microgravity before you could get to a rotating station around one of those planets to make a recovery in simulated gravity.

Proviso that my own impression is purely ... impressionistic. But my gut feeling is that the problems are all about devils in the details - that the concept is just not robust, not really able to take a punch. An opinion worth what you paid.

It's just more risky and speculative than he lets on, I think - you'd have to do a couple of years of tests beforehand. Stuff like sending the lander and return vehicle to Mars unpiloted to do the fuel production process and hope that nothing goes wrong in the mean-time, develop a small nuclear reactor, figuring out the landing in general, etc. Two years is a long time to keep three cryogenic propellants properly stored without any form of maintenance.

One neat thing about it is that if you did a small-scale robotic test of the fuel-making process using a solar-powered lander, you could have that double as a robotic sample return mission. Have it land, make its fuel, grab some nearby Mars rock/dirt/drill sample soils, then launch off with them back to Earth.

The more you (generic you) have already invested in creating an SF setting, the less relevant my advice. No one, in this particular universe of discourse, is gonna turn down a story because 'the guy at Rocketpunk Manifesto says it makes unrealistic assumptions'.

Interestingly enough, I can only remember reading one space-themed science fiction story set in the Plausible-ish Mid-Future that had no permanent inhabitants in space. That was the The Martians, where Kim Stanley Robinson had a pair of "What If?" stories set in his Mars Trilogy setting where the First 100 colonization mission never happened - it was cancelled. Instead, they got rotating crewed bases on Mars without permanent inhabitants, and no terraforming.

In what I can assume was some kind of meta-commentary, the second short story has a panel of participating astronauts and former would-be First Hundred members talking about setting up space colonies, with nothing ever happening.

Damien Sullivan said...

Of course, once you're able to make robotic sample return missions from Mars, the prudent case for putting humans there becomes that much weaker.

Eric Tolle said...

Regarding monorails, I'm not sure they would be needed. Given the low gravity and airless conditions, a suborbital vehicle might work better, like the Moonbus in 2001.

Gregory Johnson said...

Whether you go for rail or suborbital vehicle is probably an economics question. How much does your propulsion remass cost versus investment in rail infrastructure. If you've got infrequent travel, you might get by with a Moonbus. If you've got high priority materials, the shuttle becomes a better option. If you're transporting tons of material and hundreds of passengers daily, the rail starts looking better and better.
I must admit, the fascination with a monorail has always been a bit weird to me, rail has solved the problem already, with less engineering. Unless you have a fixed route, without switches, I'm unsure that there are any real advantages to most monorail concepts. Other options to consider, in addition to rail, are "podways" that are essentially dedicated roads with automated cars and cableways that are essentially cable car systems (also useful for freight and apparently cheap infrastructure wise), which might have unforeseen advantages in a low-G environment.

Moran said...

Although the moon might well, in my personal opinion, be bypassed in favour of colonies on the moons of Mars, and on the surface of the red planet itself, it could be utilised as both a shipyard and testing ground. Anything that is needed for a mars mission would probably benefit by a trial mission to the moon, where there is a possibility for rescue. Even if these tactilities are never expanded into a permanent colony, they would likely endure as science stations or testing bases for new technology. Closely related to that is the ice of the moon as a shipyard. Even if a interplanetary vessel is built in segments there might be advantages to putting it together on the moon, rather than in orbit. The low gravity of Luna would also make it easier to recover old spacecraft and satellites using regolith derived fuel, acting as a 'scrapyard'. The greater gravity, along with the atmosphere, would make this impractical on Earth. This is even more likely if nuclear materials are involved - radioactive fallout is not too grew a problem on the surface of the moon. So nuclear ships(or just the drives) for fast interplanetary flight might well be refurbished and recycled on the moon.

Rick said...

Another note on military usage and culture. In the 1600 era, when military uniforms were just emerging out of late-medieval livery, the Spanish explicitly rejected uniforms as a matter of doctrine. They regarded the soldier's individuality of dress as integral to the personal boldness they sought to cultivate.

This was at the dawn of militaries 'as we know them,' so certainly no reason to think that uniforms might disappear - only an interesting-to-me observation on how military culture can evolve. And I think there are hints of this attitude in elite units that sometimes have to be reined back in to regulation practice.

To be sure, I've speculated before, and will surely do so again, that war 'as we know it' may be transformed into other modalities of violent political coercion, which might or might not have a major role for recognizable miitaries. But that is a whole 'nother discussion.


Couldn't you rotate the entire spacecraft on its long axis ... integrate your rotating tethered habs into it

That would be fine (or at least adequate) for unpowered flight, but a nonstarter for long duration milligee acceleration. Which pretty much goes for any kinda sorta realistic drive for reaching the outer planets. In principle you could have a milligee drive bus spinning on its long axis, with habs on tethers ... but my head hurts just thinking about implementing it.

It's just more risky and speculative than [Zubrin] lets on

That's really the heart of the matter. Space advocates have a history of saying that things are cheap and easy when they are nothing of the sort. And technical expertise provides no exemption - Wehrner von Braun gave totally laughable cost estimates for his 50s era proposal, the one famous from Collier's and Disney.

The bill, which came due after Apollo, is that no one in their right mind believes space geeks when they talk money.

only remember reading one space-themed science fiction story set in the Plausible-ish Mid-Future that had no permanent inhabitants in space

Which might be a real target to aim for, story-wise! Sea adventures don't presume people living permanently on boats!


once you're able to make robotic sample return missions from Mars, the prudent case for putting humans there becomes that much weaker

Yeah, there's that. The partial rejoinder is that the important thing is getting the right samples, calling for more judgment than current robots can exercise. But of course this really gets into the whole question of the potential of AI. In general I lose no sleep over the thought of robots making us obsolete (for what?), but when it somes to the specific issue of space travel things get dicier.

Rick said...

Given the low gravity and airless conditions, a suborbital vehicle might work better, like the Moonbus in 2001.

For long trips, like between the polar and equatorial regions, hops are fine. For short or even intermediate distances (as implied in the film) not so much - basically, half the speed for a quarter the distance, so efficiency falls off badly. But for distances too far to drive a Moon buggy, not much choice until traffic volume justifies a maglev. The trouble with railroads is the front end expense, unless you run plenty of trains.


infrequent travel, you might get by with a Moonbus. If you've got high priority materials, the shuttle becomes a better option

I'm hazy on this distinction. Moving horizontally like a helicopter would be really wasteful - burning off 1.6 m/s/s of delta v just to hold yourself up, plus horizontal vector to get anywhere. The Moonbus in the film was originally going to be a surface vehicle; I guess Kubrick thought it would be cooler if it 'flew'.

the fascination with a monorail has always been a bit weird to me

It is one of life's little mysteries. The Wupperthal monorail in Germany was a response to a special-case situation, and I used to think that their popularity was basically Walt Disney's fault, with help from Alweg. But illustrations of The Future were big on monorails long before Disneyland.

I wouldn't even bother with maglevs on the Moon, except that I think bearing lubrication is a problem in vacuum, limiting the applicability of terrestrial rail technology experience. For local rapid transit in pressurized tubes/tunnels even that would not be an issue; the only tricky thing would be reduced traction due to the low gravity.

And one nice thing for lunar 'intercity' rail (or podways, cable, whatever) is that you don't need to worry about children or cattle straying onto the track!


utilised as both a shipyard and testing ground

Certainly for testing/training landing and surface operations. Shipbuilding I'm more doubtful of, because it calls for a huge industrial base that a lunar industry would have to get within at least the same ballpark in order to be competitive. A very tough order. If it happened, I'd expect it to be at the end of a long 'import substitution' process starting from basic repair of surface facilities and vehicles.

Gregory Johnson said...

"infrequent travel, you might get by with a Moonbus. If you've got high priority materials, the shuttle becomes a better option

I'm hazy on this distinction. Moving horizontally like a helicopter would be really wasteful - burning off 1.6 m/s/s of delta v just to hold yourself up, plus horizontal vector to get anywhere. The Moonbus in the film was originally going to be a surface vehicle; I guess Kubrick thought it would be cooler if it 'flew'."

I apologize here, for the confusion. By "Moonbus" I was thinking literal bus, having blanked on the previous post where the same term was used (As a reader of Nyrath's wonderful Atomic Rockets I was thinking of the surface vehicle that was originally in the story). By shuttle, I was thinking of the movie version of the Moonbus. I probably needed to proofread more before I posted.

Elukka said...

Rick said...
Another note on military usage and culture. In the 1600 era, when military uniforms were just emerging out of late-medieval livery, the Spanish explicitly rejected uniforms as a matter of doctrine. They regarded the soldier's individuality of dress as integral to the personal boldness they sought to cultivate.

That's an interesting example. In my setting the military is essentially made up of nomadic tribes that are aligned with an interstellar empire for reasons. This is getting pretty far away from Luna, but the relevant bit is I've figured is that they're gonna fly their colors, and because there's nobody closely watching over them, there's nobody telling them to knock it off when they get inventive. Painting spaceships on the outside may not make a lot of practical sense, but it's an important expression of their identity and independence and it's not like they have a lot of things to do on long flights. And when it comes to what they wear the only real authority on that is the the tribe, so to say, itself.

The empire itself would probably prefer if they kept things a bit more uniform, but the system has worked for a long time and the degree of independence the fleets have suits them well so they're not going to make a fuss. More unruly patrol units might end up essentially covered in graffiti that they then scramble to cover up when they come back from a long cruise.

Rick said...
That would be fine (or at least adequate) for unpowered flight, but a nonstarter for long duration milligee acceleration. Which pretty much goes for any kinda sorta realistic drive for reaching the outer planets. In principle you could have a milligee drive bus spinning on its long axis, with habs on tethers ... but my head hurts just thinking about implementing it.

As long as your tethers can take a few milligees on the drive axis (which doesn't seem like an insurmountable structural problem) you could rotate the whole thing perpendicular to the drive axis. The engine rotates too, but can be located in the middle so that it doesn't matter with regards to thrust vector or even on one end in a maple-seed type configuration that should balance itself out. I can't offhand think of serious issues with this.

Rick said...

Moonbus ... A handy excuse to link the Atomic Rockets sub-page on 'Mobile Bases' that includes discussion of the Moonbus, both the original tracked design concept and the 'flying' version that ended up in the film.

Rick said...

The empire itself would probably prefer if they kept things a bit more uniform

No doubt! But given the institutional framework, the empire sensibly lets discretion be the better part of strict adherence to regulations. And the painting of spaceships reminds me of another modern era whiff of this: bomber nose art during WW II, heavy on pinup-girl imagery. I imagine it vanished pretty quickly after the war ended, though for nominally different reasons than it would be nixed today.

you could rotate the whole thing perpendicular to the drive axis.

That's what I was visualizing. I was mainly fretting over spinup/spindown headaches, but I suppose they wouldn't be All That bad. The real headache is having two or more tethered habs, meaning no easy movement between them. A sort of cable car, maybe; still a pain. I sure hope it turns out that fairly small-radius spin structures are acceptable, so you can have connecting tubes, or even the classic wheel configuration.

Thucydides said...

Nose art exists today, although largely subdued to comply with the politically correct/zero defect mentality of most Western armies and armed forces today (I say armies since Tanks and AFV's are often "named" by their crews and discreet symbology is sometimes painted in odd corners along with unit identifiers). Commanders are not too keen on this since a complaint about a particular piece of nose art being "inappropriate/offensive" etc. can have career ending implications.

I found it interesting that in the B-5 series, the Starfury fighters had lots of "Nose art" depicted, and this is a popular meme as well when people draw Starfuries (look up B-5 on the DeviantArt website, for example). The physical layout of the Starfury means the "nose art" is actually on the top wing "above" the cockpit.

While "fruit salad" and acronym-speak seems to be a particular obsession with the current edition of the American military, it is manifestation of an age old practice. Even the Ancient world had ways of identifying senior commanders, from the splendid armour of the Heroes of The Iliad to the transverse crests on the helmets of the Centurions in the Legions, and I'm sure in the future there will be ways that military or paramilitary units will identify themselves to each other and to the outside world. Even in the age of Hybrid warfare, the Russians and their pro Russian militia allies in Eastern Ukraine are identifiable, despite the fact that their "narrative" depends on denying they are even there. Hesbollah fighters also relish chances to wear some sort of uniform garb in their propaganda videos, although real world considerations suggest it is far better to blend in with the local population to avoid the undivided attention of the IDF, or more recently ISIS (but then again. having an AK-47 in the back seat of your car generally lets the locals know where you stand).

In the mid future, paramilitary forces may be identified by specialized apps on their cell phones or something that we would consider equally unlikely, while the use of professional jargon is something that every group likes to practice to identify and isolate outsiders (Doctors and lawyers use lots of jargon just as well as soldiers).

Katzen said...

Welcome back! I know I'm a bit late to the party, but after checking once or twice a month I was surprised to see not one, but three new posts were up!

Actually all the info here has been a big help with a thought experiment turned project I have been working on lately. I wanted to create a solar system universe like 2312, Red Mars, and star wars, but without magitech of any sort, and minimal use of nuclear power.

I figured out Mercury, Venus, Mars and even Jupiter and Saturn which have been great in how culture might change to the environment, but I had only briefly looked at how the earth/ moon system would work, since there is a lot of info on how a lunar base would look like.
but with this I'm refocusing my thoughts on this for awhile.

I think the moon and Cislunar space is going to be a brisk trade nexus and the shipyard of the solar system. The organics for each module will have to come from somewhere besides the moon since the module shells will be like Bigelow Aerospace flexible ones. The aluminum, titanium, iron, and silicon along with a few other materials and metals can be mined off the moon cheaply and with it's easy access to solar power refined into parts cheaply.

So I came up with this idea of the culture being built around the factory producing parts and items for ships around the solar system like Detroit used to be or how parts of Germany are. The factory culture also creates a "clockwork culture" which is built around the factory shift, and time is measured two different ways. A 24 hour "short" day for shifts and sleep and a month "long day" for factory production and overall activity in a city based on solar power.

What I'm reading here adds flavor to that culture with ideas on how those people would be (still have ties to earth, what vacations look like to them, regulatory bodies, how would children be handled).

Tony said...

Let's see...

1. Water resources on the Moon apparently exist to some extent, but whether they are practically exploitable is an interesting question. You can only put X much water-bearing soil in a still to get Y much water out, before it just gets too costly to make sense. The more dirt ya gotta put in, the more dirt ya gotta take out after the distilling run. And the more collection vehicles you need, the more maintenance for those vehicles, the more maintenance infrastructure, and on and on.

Which brings us to...

2. I think even the most sober analyst seriously misunderestimates the size of an industrial infrastructure for 21st Century levels of technology, and harsh environment life support in general. As always, I invite the reader to read I, Pencil. Please ignore the politics and concentrate on the economics. The industrial infrastructure to make even the most mundane of technological artifacts is huge. To make the wide variety of artifacts that a space-going civilization needs takes pretty much the economy of an entire industrialized planet. That's not going to change just because it costs so much to launch those artifacts off of an Earth-sized body.

3. "Fruit salad" is not insignia of rank. (That's referred to as "brass", and in the case of headgear decorations, "scrambled eggs", for its similarity in appearance to that food item.) It refers to various individual decorations and awards, usually displayed as multi-colored ribbons on the left side of the dress uniform coat.

4.a. Military uniforms arose out of a desire to keep finances regular. It was necessary to keep soldiers decently clothed, because you lost less to disease and general physical degradation that way. Uniform clothing was just less expensive to buy and easier to account for than giving men money to buy their own garments. Later, in the era of Martinet (a real person, being a drill master and inspector general for Louis XIV), it was discovered that uniforms could be used as means of teaching discipline, by requiring certain standards of cleanliness, repair, and display of uniform clothing. Finally, it was discovered that uniforms could be used as a focus of unit and individual pride, by means of special distinctions, cuts, colors, etc.

4.b. Having said all of that, the emphasis put on dress uniforms and unit/service distinctions waxes and wanes, depending on the circumstances. In peacetime it's usually a very big deal. In wartime, not so much. Also, a relatively poor army is usually only interested in uniforms as a means of ensuring adequate clothing.

4.c. BTW, Hez fighters wearing uniforms is not as peculiar as it might sound. Where they are in large numbers, in Southern Lebanon, they're the law. So there's no security reason not to wear uniform, and plenty of political reason to be seen to be a real army, which a pickle suit (i.e. camouflage clothing) signifies strongly.

Tony said...

5. Wandering tribes are not going to make the military of an interstellar empire. An interstellar military needs planetary bases and industrial infrastructure, academies to educate officers, technical training establishment to educate technicians and specialists, and a regular, disciplined institutional culture to make it all work.

6. I am really surprised at all of you. Nobody remembers that the Moon in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, while having a general grievance against Earth, and a lot of cultural similarities between settlements, was still balkanized into city states.

7. The reason for monorails on the Moon (and possibly Mars) is low gravity. The mass of a rail car and its cargo will be close to the same -- the car might be considerably lighter, but the cargo won't be -- but with 1/6 gravity, it has 1/6 weight to produce friction on the rails. (On Mars the weight is 1/3.) That would make cornering safely very difficult to impossible, without significant positive lateral control of the vehicle's mass. Thus monorails.

Tony said...

Oh, yeah, BTW, the 1/6 gravity on the Moon means traction for propulsion is a lot less, so you would probably want a monorail with a free underside surface on each side of the rail, for a traction system to mechanically grip with the necessary force.

Elukka said...

The fleets have heavy autonomy for reasons historical and practical; the empire is too large for anything but the loosest central rule, and distances are such that they can't rely on specific orders from home. They are political entities in on themselves, under the greater empire, much like its other constituent parts. You might argue it's not really an empire, it's more of a loosely united stable state the area has fallen into.

The fleets hold the empire together, and wage war for it. Their existence enables the empire to collect taxes, much of which are collected in the form of... constructing ships for the fleets. The fleets lack the means to build their own ships, but their threat of force is what enables the empire to build them. They live on their ships, so the empire gives them their homes and livelihood.

In return the fleets are expected to uphold the current order of things, and to do what they're told. That they will do so is a dangerous assumption, because the fleets hold all the military power, and there's really no telling the whole thing won't implode one day. The fleets rebel, the order which sustains them collapses, fleets and empire both die a slow death and are eventually eaten up by neighboring polities.

Most of the time they're happy to follow orders, though. It's in their interests that the status quo is upheld, and when they're told to attack or defend against a foreign polity, they jump at the chance to prove themselves, do something great, get recognition. Fleets that performs well will find themselves best equipped. None will want to stay back home on patrol duty when a war is up for grabs.

I talk about them in the plural, and that's an important bit. There's a couple dozen of them throughout of the empire, each large enough to watch over part of the empire and handle the typical war or crisis, but small and numerous enough that if it pops to someone's mind to march on the homeworld, chances are most of the remaining fleets pile on them. That's how it's expected to go, anyway, and it's been enough of a deterrent so far. What does happen on occasion is that smaller elements go rogue and live off a bunch of foreign worlds they took for themselves, and they're invariably squashed.

When the fleets are made to work together, at best it goes like a multinational NATO operation, at worst they start a shooting war against each other. It's never condoned, but its commonplace enough that it has established traditions. It's limited warfare, a bit of jockeying for superiority, neither side wants to inflict so much damage that it would balloon into a bigger issue. ("They lost two hundred cruisers to each other? Send a force to disband the fleets and spread their assets among the remaining ones.")

So there's reasons not to get too ambitious, but most of them wouldn't, because their life happens on their ships, and their ambitions are set on climbing the fleet's ladder. Even the more ambitious ones may have very little interest in ruling over a planet or empire. They might never even have been on a planet or seen a city. They have little interest in static anything, and don't much care for industry. Inside the empire they get their supplies from the local worlds, arranged and paid for by the empire. Outside of it on campaign they make their own agreements with the locals, or just take what they need by virtue of having a few gigatons of nukes on their orbit.

They live in small groups, fairly independently, their home is always on the move, hence the parallel to nomadic tribes. It has occurred to me that insofar as you can accept the worldbuilding here, I've essentially happened onto a justification for a WARRIOR CULTURE. Of course, there's not much Klingon macho warriors or honor duels here, it's just a culture adapted to keep a starship running smoothly, and to retain a chain of command on shift while enabling a looser lifestyle off-shift and during calmer times.

Elukka said...

Sorry for all the distinctly non-Lunar words! I wanted to explain why I called them tribes and it, uh, got long.

Geoffrey S H said...

@ Tony:

yes TMIAHM does have balkanised settlements, and we did establish that cold war era fiction had balkanised moons. It was more modern literature we were turning to as an example of 'lunar de-balkanisation.'

@ Elukka,

'it's just a culture adapted to keep a starship running smoothly'

Sounds like a way to combat the three generation rule!

Eth said...

Elukka:

Interesting!
I got a relatively similar setup for an interstellar empire, actually. They have similarly high autonomy, with local (and also pretty autonomous) worlds building their ships and supplies as a form of taxation (standardisation is then relatively low), and fleet personnel are pretty much shut off from planetary life.
The chain of command is a bit more muddled, with squadrons or fleets that can be put under the orders of system or sector (defence) commanders, and at high level, something akin to political parties and factions among general officers and empire-level administrators.

The difference is that most military - with the exception to local militia and some defence forces (sort of like the US national/coast guard) - are actually made of "mind-adjusted" criminals. The Empire generally doesn't use death or life imprisonment, instead they fiddle with the condemned's mind and send them on the fleet. The worst the crime, the more they fiddle until getting drone/zombie/robot-like personnel with higher mind function shut down. Less severe punishments exist, but are not relevant for the fleet.
Some people desperate enough will also volunteer, and they get a way lighter "loyalty therapy" instead (and some balancing stuff to help adapt to fleet life), and they pretty much stay themselves. Those people are the ones that can hope to rise up to officers.
They do fiddle with their bodies, though. Anti-ageing/illness/space sickness, hormone rebalancing to stop sex drive and varied emotion-inducing effects, stronger resistance to radiation and other hazards...
There is little risk for a fleet to rebel (or for spies to sneak in) because this makes sure all troops are loyal. Even if one tried to rebel, the others wouldn't follow. Now, at high level, not everyone agree upon what it means to be loyal. It doesn't really turn into military clashes, though, as everyone has a strong aversion to it. There are some cases of fleets attacking local rulers and temporarily taking over, but they call it "police action" afterwards instead. When they win, that is. In the rare case where they don't, things become complicated.

As people are now pretty much ageless, there are basically three ways to leave fleet action: the "turned into plasma" way, by rising up enough in rank to get a desk job, or to be transferred to station duty - the closest thing they will get to retirement. Which means you have some 300 years old commanders, veterans from several dozen battles, at the head of some fleets. But they are rare, as fleet engagements tend to be quite deadly even when you win.

Note that the Empire is kind of old-school with comparatively heavily manned ships (when criminality or volunteers runs lower in some sectors, more automated ships are made to compensate). Some other factions have way more automated fleets, and varied levels of cyborgs as crew - up to the command ship itself being a cyborg, with a (sometimes artificial) brain implanted in it, or even entirely automated military in one case, where people gave up their agency to caretaker AIs (who then, for the good of Mankind, try to force everyone else into the same Eloi-like infantile happiness).

Their reasoning is, when you have fleets of kilometre-long warships powered by a dozen mass converter singularity core each and disposable manpower for it, the life support cost isn't much a problem compared to the advantages of adaptable general-purpose human brains at varied levels - among others, to avoid yet another single-cyborg fleet or AI rebellion.

Thucydides said...

I am with Tony on the interstellar imperial fleet thing.

Even in the age of sail (the closest analogy we have), the Royal Navy was quite centralized in things like setting standards, ship building, training (although training was generally what we would consider OJT on a ship, you still had to come back to the Admiralty to pass your qualifying examp to become a lieutenant and become eleigable for moving up the promotion ladder) and so on.

Ships captains had wide lattitude because they were operating at the end of long logistical chains and orders or dispatches could take months or possibly a year or more in transit. OTOH, since ships officers were drawn for the most part from the English gentry, they all subscribed to the same world view and wold generally interpret their orders in much the same way. This is much different from a "tribal" organization, which onthe surface resembles the Golden Horde somewhat more than a fleet, with the ever present threat of commanders going their own way in opposition to the Imperial edict. Overall, I would suspect an interplanetary or interstellar navy would fall in line more closely with the RN in the age of sail, or maybe the "Great White Fleet" era USN.

fro1797 said...

Interesting turn the discussion has made. A Lunar Empire composed of semi-autonomous city-states might be possible, if the industrial infrastructure can be streamlined through extensive use of 3D printer technology and automated resource processing. The spaceship building or export makes sense.
A better prospect would be a Joven Empire based on Callisto. They could be using resources on the other moons, power from the radiation belts, there is lots of water, and room to expand. Plus, spacecraft building would need to be integral to the health and well-being of this Empire. It's too far way from Earth to be easily dominated, but it has enough resources to be able to support an internal economy. Something to think about.

Ferrell

Rick said...

A new front page post is up: Stick and Gimbal: Handflying in SPAAACE

Nose art exists today, although largely subdued

Pretty characteristic of a peacetime military, for a sense of 'peacetime' that means basically 'Not in full national mobilization.' Obviously it doesn't preclude substantial shooting wars, so long as those are contained off in the provinces somewhere. Which is something to keep in mind. As to military culture in general, as Anita said upthread, it is highly tribal, and for sound reasons.

Katzen - thanks for the welcome back, and same to you!

without magitech of any sort, and minimal use of nuclear power.

Out to Mars, even the asteroid belt, solar electric will get you around with decent speed. For Jupiter and beyond you pretty much need nuclear power, or magitech level solar collection. Lunar industry will probably be off to a slow start, due to the pricey supply chain. But in the long run, under favorable conditions, that might be an inducement to import substitution and a growing industrial base.

whether they are practically exploitable is an interesting question

Yes, it is. I played with some numbers under my usual (best-case) assumptions, e.g., pricing a 10-ton Moon-dozer at $10 million. Trying to be reasonably conservative I came up with a propellant price of about $50,000/ton on the lunar surface, the same as my cost for propellant delivered on low Earth orbit. Which wins the lunar orbit and translunar markets, but obviously not the LEO market.

Of course all those numbers are the sheerest guesswork. But for what it is worth they fall into the zone of 'useful, but not a cure-all.'

To make the wide variety of artifacts that a space-going civilization needs takes pretty much the economy of an entire industrialized planet

Broadly speaking, yes. You could probably squeeze it down an order of magnitude, but not too much more than that. On the other hand, that in itself doesn't preclude industrial operations on the Moon (or wherever); it just means they need the supply chain. And over time, import substitution might develop if there are viable openings.

Under my own assumptions, lunar industry would probably never grow much beyond propellant, and almost certainly not to sophisticated high-value items like spacecraft. But then, industrialization on Earth had spread largely for political reasons, at least social reasons. Given sufficiently favorable conditions this might happen to lunar industry.


Finally, it was discovered that uniforms could be used as a focus of unit and individual pride, by means of special distinctions, cuts, colors, etc.

I think this was at least nascent in late medieval livery, 16th c. uniforms of guard corps (think of today's Beefeaters, who preserve Tudor era proto-uniforms), and such. Economics and existing culture went hand in hand to produce military uniforms as we know them.

That would make cornering safely very difficult to impossible, without significant positive lateral control of the vehicle's mass. Thus monorails.

Interesting issue! (Has anyone really ever thought much about lunar railroading?) In principle you just need to increase the curve radius by ~2.5 for any given speed. Which would come to roughly 5 km for 100 km/h. Or else bank the track, but that has constraints. Vibrational issues would also need to be considered. If a firm grip on the track is crucial, roller coaster design is one place to look - not monorails, but still a pain to switch. But lubrication problems could be a strong argument for maglevs, even for moderate speed service.

Rick said...

the military is essentially made up of nomadic tribes that are aligned with an interstellar empire

I think there are two distinct issues and challenges here. One is what 'nomadic tribes' means in a spacefaring context, and the other is an empire relying primarily on forces over which it has limited control. (As opposed to using these as auxiliaries or allies, with some other force to back them up or keep them in line, as needed.)

The comment thread to one earlier post dealt with 'nomadic tribes', and inspired another post in which I posited a scavenger culture growing up in the aftermath of an economic bubble collapse. As I say there the whole situation would not be stable in the long run, but could last long enough for story purposes.

The same could be said of the empire and its haphazard recruitment - Elukka hints that the situation is not guaranteed to be stable. The empire may have cobbled its forces together on the fly, and goes to war now with the forces it has, not what it might like to have.

most military - with the exception to local militia and some defence forces (sort of like the US national/coast guard) - are actually made of "mind-adjusted" criminals

Under the appropriate circumstances, this might be made to work. No stranger, to us, than Janisseries!

I think there are lots of difficulties with these scenarios, especially given the range of technical skills a space force presumably must have, but credible workarounds may be available. At least for story purposes, all that really matters.

Thucydides said...

I suspect that Ben Bova made the "winning" argument against balkanized Lunar city states in the novel "Millenium", since conditions even in peacetime were so extreme, the two lunar bases needed to combine resources and cooperate in order to survive and thrive. Since the scenario in the novel involved the threat of a nuclear showdown on Earth, it became imperative that the Russian and American Moonbase commanders come to some sort of agreement to remain alive.

Now if the two bases were separated by a considerable distance, or one was placed on a valuable resource (say a ssouth pole Lunar ice deposit), then the story wold have come out considerably differently, with several struggling settlements, or a Lunar war over ownership of the ice fields.

Tony said...

Beyond the question of whether a fighting fleet could be technically maintained and logistically supported without a solid planetary base, is the question of why fight at all? True nomads, like the Huns and Mongols, were about taking advantage of imperial economies through trade and sometimes raid, not defending them. So are we really talking about migrant barbarians, like Goths and Vandals, who found a place to settle within an empire after being pushed out of their ancestral regions? In that case, I think you're succumbing to the stereotype that barbarians fight because they are barbarians. Except that's not really true. The average barbarian was a peasant tat fought when he had to, either for self-defense or at the behest of his chief -- who still had to convince the peasants that what the chief wanted was good for everybody in the long run. And, as the Romans found out, even when you give the foederati land (planets) of their own within the Empire, that's not a very good way to protect anything.

Katzen said...

rick- it's not as bad using solar beyond the asteroid belt as it might seem using a concentrator. Take a big aluminum coated plastic sail or some other cheap reflective fabric. spin it out like you would a solar sail, albeit not for weight performance. At the ends of the sail you have cables that pull it in slightly to make a curve in the fabric creating a parabola that you have solar panels at the focus. It's not for ships as much as it's for generating power that can be used to electrolyze water, and other materials and turn it into fuels such as hydrogen, methane ect.

Nuclear is still needed for interplanetary ships, but for power generation not direct propulsion since the isp for direct is either too low, or it's something that is right at the limits of theoretical materials which is no way to build a durable ship.

Elukka said...

Let's not get too hung up on the word 'nomad'. They're not external migrant populations that settled down within an empire, they're an offshoot culture still part of it. The 'nomad' part of it is just how they live, as a consequence of their wide autonomy and lack of a static home. It's not fully separate from the empire; most new recruits come from imperial settlements still, but they're expected to assimilate into the fleet's way of life. (much like any military, but this is also a more permanent adjustment of their 'civilian' way of life)

They don't fight because they're murderous barbarians. They fight because it's what they know, what they've been taught to do, and because it gives them their livelihood. It's worth noting that most of the time this involves keeping their ships ticking over and flying the flag. Small conflicts are fairly common, but large wars are rare, and the fleets tend to be one of the political forces that are against any massive wars - to them, large scale war is an existential threat where they stand to lose everything.

They themselves don't have anywhere near the resources to build or maintain their ships. Were they to rebel and attempt to acquire those resources, they'd essentially form another very similar empire.

Jim Baerg said...

Katzen JULY 25, 2015 AT 10:28 PM:

"I wanted to create a solar system universe like 2312, Red Mars, and star wars, but without magitech of any sort, and minimal use of nuclear power."

Why minimal use of nuclear power?
For most things that are in orbit, they don't spend much time out of sunlight & solar power is probably the best option until you are very far from the sun. However, on a planetary (or lunar) surface, night is a major problem for using solar power & nuclear would usually be the best option for powering anything there. Unless there is some ideological bias against nuclear, solar for orbital stuff & nuclear for planetary surfaces is the way to go.

Katzen said...

Jim- I say minimal because of the social, legal and political difficulties in using nuclear. I actually prefer nuclear power, it simplifies most of the power problems. Hence why I say minimal since it's needed anywhere at the start.

Also not using nuclear creates options to come up with other ways to produce, transport and trade power that flavors the narrative of the story.

Calvin said...

Katzen- Another advantage of concentrated solar power is that everything you need to make those systems is available in asteroids. Aluminum, organics, silicon, and rare earths are each only present in high concentrations in one or two of the major classes of asteroids, which would require trade of some sort between asteroids, trade that might eventually be taken over by solar-electric spacecraft themselves. Probably the only good sources of uranium in the solar system are Earth, Mars, and maybe the dwarf planets in the main belt.

The only places that solar would be the main power source on the moon would be the poles. If you found a peak at the south pole that got sunlight all month long, you could build an aluminum collector dish. But otherwise, it’s a bad idea for your life support to be dependent on finite power reserves that need to last a week.

Enriched uranium and plutonium are probably valuable enough resources to easily justify launch costs, although regular supplies would drive the eco-mentalists berserk.

Solar electric spacecraft are probably very competitive with nuclear electric at 1 au, because of the mass and complexity of heat engines, but there is a very interesting possibility of greatly increasing efficiency of a fission-powered spacecraft if you use a dusty plasma reactor where the fuel exists as particles suspended in plasma, small enough that fission fragment ions can escape. They are used directly as exhaust, generating enormous isp and tiny thrust, which could be improved by injecting inert gas into a sort of “afterburner” between the reactor and the magnetic nozzle.
Link from atomic rockets:
http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/718391main_Werka_2011_PhI_FFRE.pdf

So, you could have a setting where the oppressive earth-based space authority monopolizes nuclear electric or fission-Fragment drive technology, while the libertarian belters are liberated by various solar technologies

Elukka said...

Those fission fragment rockets would result in some really curious spacecraft. In these more hard scifi circles I think we're used to thinking of a spaceship as being made up largely of propellant tanks. These things have absurdly high isp (and correspondingly low, though still useful, thrust) to the point where they need so little propellant that it'd just be tucked into a corner somewhere. The ship would pretty much be made of engine, radiator and payload, I think.

Tony said...

Elukka:

Words mean things. When you say "nomad", you're supposed to mean wandering and essentially rootless. Now you've walked things all the way back to nothing more peculiar than exceptionally insular.

And I still don't buy a spacegoing fleet that has no permanent planetary bases.

And on top of that I don't buy a navy that fights because that's what navies do. Navies fight when they have to, but more importantly they fight for reasons that can be traced back to national policy -- reasons that the officers can have some loyalty to, even if there are some old sweats in the ranks who fight because that's all they know. IOW, you're confusing your tropes.

And I really don't buy it when you juxtapose a presumed fighting habit with a strategic aversion to fighting. Can't have things both ways, not mention the reality that armed services have to be willing to fight, regardless of the immediate cost. It's up to the sponsoring state to replenish lost strength and maintain the long term existence of the service.

Elukka said...

Tony: Well, sorry. I initially used what I thought was a descriptive word without having to spend several paragraphs explaining just what I meant by it. (which of course I then ended up doing) They do wander, where the mission takes them, and have no other home. I think 'nomad' makes a good parallel to their lifestyle.

The empire has permanent shipyards and the like, where ships are built and major refits are done. New recruits tend to be trained on stationary installations within the empire until they're competent enough to serve on a ship. The fleet bases they use for supply and common maintenance indeed aren't permanent, they're temporary - they set up supply lines making use of local industry wherever they go, for a period of perhaps a few years during a mobile operation, and then leave it and do it again elsewhere. That's how they get propellant, ordnance, spare parts and maintenance - you can argue whether or not it's believable that the locals would be able to make pulse units and whatnot to foreign specs quickly enough, but I figure that's heavily dependent on details like the manufacturing technology of the setting and how diverse technology tends to be.

The fleets have an aversion to a fair fight on the strategic scale. The empire naturally shares their interest in not seeing the bulk of their fighting force potentially wiped out, but the prospect is far more immediate and tangible to the fleets than some politician a thousand light years away. That's not to say they would necessarily refuse to fight, but their fear of losing everything is an influence that's partly guided the empire to seek peaceful relations with its larger neighbors.

Calvin said...

“The ship would pretty much be made of engine, radiator and payload, I think.”

That’s exactly right if you see the design of the manned mission to Calisto planned in the report. The fuel mass isn’t much more than the mass of the RCS hydrazine for turning the ship. The tiny acceleration means that the mission would take 16 years, a lot of that being spiraling up and down through Earth and Jupiter’s gravity wells, but the addition of the “afterburner” idea could make it a very versatile propulsion system, with the ability to dial the isp all the way up to 5 million.

For anyone interested, here is a newer report that refines the reactor design. It turns out that a higher moderator mass is required and superconducting magnets are not necessary, reducing radiator mass. The moderator materials establish an upper limit on the power output of 5 GW, but theoretically it could go all the way up to 62 GW without the fuel vaporizing (melting is actually no problem). There isn’t much analysis on the afterburner idea, except that it might improve overall efficiency by absorbing some of the IR energy from the core.
http://www.rbsp.info/rbs/PDF/ans-nets2013.pdf

Jim Baerg said...

Kantzen:
I guess I just don't believe in a future in which the planet is not trashed & humanity is prosperous enough to go spacefaring in a big way unless the "social, legal and political difficulties in using nuclear" are eliminated because people realize that they are the result of the big lies of a smear campaign to hobble the only real competitor to fossil fuels.

Rick said...

fission fragment rockets ... ship would pretty much be made of engine, radiator and payload

For interplanetary missions surely they would use the 'afterburner' effect to trade off excessive specific impulse for more thrust. 16 years to Callisto is *much* too long for such an advanced drive. Expending a decent amount of propellant would hustle things along.

On nuclear power in general, I can think of plenty of mundane reasons for avoiding it when possible: moving parts and very demanding plumbing. Maintenance headaches you would rather not deal with in deep space. For outer-system long haul travel you don't have much choice, but otherwise the relative operating simplicity of solar power is a big plus.

'Nomads' ... let me try and unpack this a bit. In the literal sense of migratory communities of shepherds or cowhands, distinct in culture and living on the fringes of an agrarian civilization, that is pretty hard to port into an interstellar setting. But I take it in literary terms as a trope, and in that context we are not so very far from Han Solo or the crew of Serenity: footloose, not really *from* anywhere in particular.

So I would picture a sort of truck-stop culture developing across the fringes of settled space. The ships used in this zone are built for durability, but require ongoing housekeeping and servicing, particularly of life support, thus the role of the truck-stop stations. Thus the trading relationship with locals. No way could these outback worlds support starships in the sense of building or major refits, but they can keep the ships going, since the ships are built to keep going. In this subculture the worst of fates is to be stranded on some backwater colony with no ticket out, while the Imperial fleets offer the best tickets out, thus berths are highly prized.

Why the empire puts up with such haphazard defense arrangements is its own question - the likely answer is that the alternatives would be more expensive, and perhaps no more reliable. A highly professional force might decide that IT should be in charge, to the detriment of the empire's current elite. Which might make fleets of space cowboys seem like the least bad option.

Katzen said...

rick "On nuclear power in general, I can think of plenty of mundane reasons for avoiding it when possible: moving parts and very demanding plumbing. Maintenance headaches you would rather not deal with in deep space. For outer-system long haul travel you don't have much choice, but otherwise the relative operating simplicity of solar power is a big plus. "

rick- After working on complex machines (ie. helicopters) I would have to agree. It's why I throw out many of the advanced nuclear propulsion concepts such as gas core nuclear rockets. The number of man-hours to keep even a "rugged" cargo helicopter up and running are pretty large. Spaceflight also doesn't have the option to dry dock at the nearest landmass in a day or two like a ship does. So anything has to be highly reliable and repairable with the parts and tools on hand. The probes coming out of JPL are handcrafted quadruple checked machines that are honed as close to design as possible.

If/when space exploration does become widespread. Which I hope is in my lifetime. The spacecraft can't be specialized one offs. It's why I base all the ships on my project of the Spacecoach design. It's simple, durable, repairable and modular. Nuclear-electric propulsion is probably the best it will get past the asteroid belt. Which with MET, ELF and Ion engines actually can get up to speed pretty fast granted you have radiators to cover it. My nuclear type Spacecoach has radiators where the solar panels originally would be.

Planet side nuclear in the outer solar systems is actually mechanically simple since you can use a the entire planet as the heat sink and the nuclear power plant doesn't have to run at boiling water temperatures with all the moons (except Io) having temperatures well below freezing on the surface. Keeping the fuel rods in a pool of liquid water. Refueling and servicing would be incredibly simple and makes passive safety (like freeze plugs) possible.

Any organization using nuclear will still have to deal with the bureaucratic maze to get it. So it will be restricted to those that can afford the time and money to work with agencies to aquire such power plants.

Rick said...

The number of man-hours to keep even a "rugged" cargo helicopter up and running are pretty large

And therein lies a tale. Boeing Vertol tried to get into the light rail transit - basically streetcar - business in the 1970s. It did not go well. The level of maintenance that helicopters call for is orders of magnitude more than public transit vehicles can expect. The most famous item was the door with a thousand component parts.

gas core nuclear rockets

Truth to be told, these strike me as magitech engineering, trying to physically contain a dense gas much hotter than the melting/sublimation point of any substance. On the other hand, I'm not comfortable with Spacecoach, which seems to try and oversimplify things that won't really address the devils in the details of spacecraft design and operation.

Tony said...

Why the empire puts up with such haphazard defense arrangements is its own question - the likely answer is that the alternatives would be more expensive, and perhaps no more reliable. A highly professional force might decide that IT should be in charge, to the detriment of the empire's current elite. Which might make fleets of space cowboys seem like the least bad option.

I won't go directly at Elukka again. It's his vision and all. But I won't hold out much hope for him selling it to one of the major military SF audiences -- veterans. We know the value of infrastructure and institutional authority when dealing with 20th Century and more advanced technologies. An empire defended by "space cowboys" would get run out of space by a much smaller, but much more disciplined and professional force. (Think Israelis vs Arabs in 1967 or even 1973.) Or a much larger, not as technically advanced, but much more disciplined and logistically secure force. (Think Soviet Russians vs Germans 1941-45.)

Tony said...

If/when space exploration does become widespread. Which I hope is in my lifetime. The spacecraft can't be specialized one offs.

Why not? One could have dozens of people on interplanetary missions at once, and each spacecraft would still have to be specialized for its purpose. A trip to Mars is not a trip to Ceres, which is not a trip to a NEO. Now, there are classes of spacecraft that we produce serially, like the Soyuz (both the launch vehicle and the spacecraft). But even those are essentially unique, built for a specific mission. They're more like performance shop products than they are regular factory models.

Rick said...

much hope for him selling it to one of the major military SF audiences -- veterans

I dunno - from what I have seen, military SF doesn't adhere too rigidly to Realism[TM], and in particular is rather given to irregular forces, mercs and such.

I do agree on one point - I'm fully responsible for this further speculation, inspired by Elukka's setting, but purely my own hobby horses. I also agree that well organized armies pretty consistently wax 'militia' and similar armed irregulars in combat. 'Space cowboys' would likely be sent packing without much difficulty by a decent professional space force ... but who is going to deploy one, and with what objective?

Professional militaries capable of any scale of force projection are costly indeed today, and we could expect their interstellar counterparts to be likewise. Modern experience also shows that battlefield superiority by itself is not enough to exert effective control over the long run, and often as not you end up having to coopt local factions' militia. A self described empire might be protected more by lack of anyone both able and eager to take on its headaches than by its space fleets.

Another possibility is that these provincial fleets are somewhat counterpart to Byzantine 'thematic' fleets, with a more regular imperial home fleet to back them up or push them back, as circumstances might require.

They're more like performance shop products than they are regular factory models

Good comparison. I think of them as 'handbuilt', meaning it figuratively, but probably to a considerable degree literally as well.

Tony said...

I dunno - from what I have seen, military SF doesn't adhere too rigidly to Realism[TM], and in particular is rather given to irregular forces, mercs and such.

Depends on the author. Drake, Pournelle, Haldeman, Laumer, and Heinlein all wrote military fiction true to their own service experiences. I don't always agree with their politics -- and I mean each and every one of them -- but their military stuff has a real verisimilitude.

And then you have the non-veteran authors who ether had good advice or just hit the right key. Here we're talking about guys like Dickson and George R.R. Martin. Dickson, I suspect, knew many WW2 veterans and listened to what they had to say.

Martin...I don't have a clue. His first published story, "The Hero", was supposedly written as an inclusion for his Vietnam era conscientious objector application. And there is indeed the full ration of 60s anti-war stereotypes. But the way he gets the broad strokes right, you wonder if his heart is really in it, beyond weaseling out of his military duty. The background of the story is a war between the Earth empire and the alien Hrangans. We later find out in the extended future history that gets published that the war lasted a thousand years, but in the first few decades the Humans and Hrangans really don't fight directly. They jockey for position, taking over planets and races between them and to the flanks, in order to secure industrial infrastructure and the populations to work it. Martin is even consistent enough to realize and write that the industrial cities conquered by humans were first attacked psychologically, so that the population would flee and most of them and their infrastructure would be saved. (Of course there would be some resistance by the fanatical and hopeless, leading to the necessity of The eponymous Hero.)

So there's that. But this supposedly war-hating intellect dreamt up things like the Red Wedding and all the other blood-drenched festivities of Nights in Westeros (TM). He also invented for his future history the Ecological Engineering Corps and their seedships, which infected and infested Hrangan planets with microorganisms and macroorganisms. That's really very thermodynamically brilliant -- make the Hrangans' stars their own worst enemy, giving energy to the agents that are killing them and their slave races. It's also great strategy.

So, anyway, I think the failure of recent military SF to gain much traction may be rooted in the failure of the authors to be militarily realistic. I know that I can't get past the first chapter or two of much stuff written after 1995 or so simply because it doesn't make any military or naval sense. And that's even stuff written by veterans like Ringo and Campbell. Invoking the Copernican Principle, I seriously doubt that I'm an outlier among veterans in this regard.

'Space cowboys' would likely be sent packing without much difficulty by a decent professional space force ... but who is going to deploy one, and with what objective?

Unless your empire is galaxy-spanning, it has strategic competitors. If it is galaxy-spanning, how much you want to bet that there's internal faction? And if you have faction, then the survival of the fittest rules start applying, meaning somebody is going to go pro and screw the whole semi-amateur paradigm to shreds. So Elukka's strategic environment is either very late imperial Rome in the West, or Warring States China.

Rick said...

can't get past the first chapter or two of much stuff written after 1995 or so simply because it doesn't make any military or naval sense

I can't venture even a semi-informed guess about why this might be so. But it means, for practical purposes, that contemporary writers of military SF don't have a high bar to clear when it comes to military realism.

And if you have faction, then the survival of the fittest rules start applying, meaning somebody is going to go pro and screw the whole semi-amateur paradigm to shreds

The underlying argument, I think, is that professional-level militaries are too good a warfighting instrument to be effectively dis-invented. Which I'm not hugely inclined to dispute, but it probably does have limiting conditions. States have a very mixed record in their ability to field such militaries.

There is maybe also another way of thinking about this kind of (highly popular) Firefly-esque setting. In spite of my using terms like space cowboys and truck-stop culture, it might be better to think of a sort of airfield culture built around operating and supporting transport-class aircraft. On an operational mission level these people must know better than to screw around, or they would not survive. So that level of basic competence (and, in spite of whatever personal garishness Romance may call for, also basic discipline), is built into the environment.

So any force that starts with career spacecrews is born with that level of competence, though not a force that relies on recruiting and training non-spacehands, which can gain very high competence, but only through a systematic major effort.

Where all this goes may call for a front page post, but I'll toss this preliminary thought out for consideration.

Katzen said...

rick- The tale of Boeing Vertol sounds... just about right actually I can't remember the number of times I said to myself "why does this part need such a odd washer, bolt, nut, ect." it's common in non-flight critical parts (like work platforms and floors) to find washers that are slightly different because no one is putting a aircraft out of flight ready status for a week while the single washer gets rush delivered. Flight critical parts (controls, drive shafts, engines and anything else with a high power moving parts) obviously safety comes first and a pack of parts gets rushed in.

Spacecoach is a basic design that like a lot of future manned spacecraft isn't at past broad strokes in design, but those broad strokes give a durable platform to work with which is why I am using it as the foundation.

Military Sci-Fi is hard for me to read because it's almost always from the viewpoint of the super special super solider or the space navy in WWII style conflict. The most realistic show about war to me today is still MASH. I thought about writing a military Sci-Fi from the viewpoint of the mechanic, logistics or regular ground forces sergeant trying desperately to keep his men and women going despite the insane workload, little rest and cramped quarters with little to no privacy while dealing with the environment that always has a chance of shrapnel among other hazards.

Gregory Johnson said...

I'm not sure that what Elukka is calling "nomads" and Rick calls "Space Cowboys" necessarily prohibits a disciplined force. If we accept that these crews are basically living permanently on their ships and have the right of resupply and repair on Imperial Worlds, then you could as well have "Spartans in Space", being highly disciplined professionals who are very careful about repairing their ship because it is literally their lives if they fail, and have a culture that reflects that fact. Once you get to a planetary liberty, then you will see their wild sides come out as they get a chance to be safely away from their ships (just like Cowboys after a drive or any modern ship's crew, or even Spartans celebrating a victory). Given this, one supposes that in a low threat environment they spend a lot of time on simulation and in joint exercises with other ships. The issue then becomes what prevents them from deciding to turn their energies towards the metropole of empire? There are solutions, but the exact choice will necessarily influence how the setting behaves and the possibility of the solution failing at some point (leading to interesting stories of the failure).

Damien Sullivan said...

I don't see a conflict between hating war and being able to write it well. Though I don't know if everyone agrees that Martin handles military details well. Me, I've snarked that the series is a long advertisement for the virtues of democracy. Certainly he's seemed out to undermine much of the standard fantasy tropes, whether noble nobility or glorious warfare. No, war sucks and hereditary warlords suck harder.

***

Reasons to disinvent a miilitary: if it's far more likely to overthrow your government than to defend you. Consider Latin American history, or Greece under the colonels, vs. Costa Rica's lack of military. You could make a strong case that their militaries are not just a waste of money but actively harmful.

Or in general, if you've got a Long Peace, how effective can pure wargaming be at keeping up your military competence?

Tony said...

I can't venture even a semi-informed guess about why this might be so. But it means, for practical purposes, that contemporary writers of military SF don't have a high bar to clear when it comes to military realism.

I think it's pretty obvious -- they don't have a readership influenced by personal experiences in WW2 or Vietnam or even just the draft. They can get away with stuff that the so-called "Golden Age" writers never could have.

States have a very mixed record in their ability to field such militaries.

As a class, yes. But note from history that a few always do, and they dominate what comes next.

So any force that starts with career spacecrews is born with that level of competence, though not a force that relies on recruiting and training non-spacehands, which can gain very high competence, but only through a systematic major effort.

Military force is so much more than personnel competence, however. It's a necessary thing, but even the most competent personnel cannot manage a win without at least adequate equipment, good logistics, and an institutional organization that keeps those things coming. And those are bare minimum requirements for a WW2 Soviet type of emergency success. To have a force that lasts the decades and even centuries, one needs institutions, care for dependants, an academic establishment to train future officers, a base infrastructure -- and, in the case of a navy, an industrial infrastructure associated with each base -- etc.

Military Sci-Fi is hard for me to read because it's almost always from the viewpoint of the super special super solider or the space navy in WWII style conflict. The most realistic show about war to me today is still MASH. I thought about writing a military Sci-Fi from the viewpoint of the mechanic, logistics or regular ground forces sergeant trying desperately to keep his men and women going despite the insane workload, little rest and cramped quarters with little to no privacy while dealing with the environment that always has a chance of shrapnel among other hazards.

That may be true of a lot of current military SF. But the classics of the sub-genre did tend to be about lower ranking individuals. Heinlein's Juan Rico, for example, is barely a lieutenant at the end of the book. Drake's characters are mostly NCOs and junior officers. (Colonel Hammer gets his treatment in several stories, but he is definitely not the focus.) Haldeman's William Mandella is, sequentially, a private, a sergeant, a lieutenant, and then a major. Pournelle's viewpoint characters tend to be officers, but they tend to be colonel or captain (navy type) and below, closely involved with the nitty-gritty details and challenges of their situations.

WRT MASH, it's amazing how many people think that's representative of wartime service life. I suppose some of the atmosphere -- particularly the absurdities and inanities of military life -- reaches identifiable truths. But overall it's pure hogwash. A much more realistic portrayal would be Hamburger Hill or, believe it or not, Full Metal Jacket*.

*Though I hesitate to nominate this film, because it takes front line grunt experience to separate the truths from the surrealism. Watch it with a buddy who's been to Iraq or Afghanistan in a combat role

Tony said...

I don't see a conflict between hating war and being able to write it well.

I don't think Martin really hates war. Not viscerally, or with an identifiable moral conviction. As I alluded earlier, I think he was just trying to save his own ass.

WRT the general assertion, I don't think people that hate everything about war do ever write it well. Even the supposed, even self-described, war haters who write well about war see something positive in some aspect of it. Tolkien and Lewis, for example, who knew war first hand, and did not like it one bit, were very effusive in their fiction about the courage and endurance of individuals under the pressures of war. Also, both never forgot that sometimes war is necessary, even if hateful. Many 20th Century anti-war novels set in the world wars tend to maintain this respect for small-scale military virtue, or at least the positive elements of what the Germans call Kameradschaft. I don't think somebody who hates war in all of its aspects could ever write well about that kind of thing.

What I think happens a lot of the time is that writers hate their war, whatever it is, but can't bring themselves to hate the positive things that come out of it. Writers that just hate war altogether tend to write laughably cliched dreck that has so little relation to real war that it can't be taken seriously, except by other like-minded ignorants.

Though I don't know if everyone agrees that Martin handles military details well.

I don't think he does. His talent is strategic thought.

Me, I've snarked that the series is a long advertisement for the virtues of democracy. Certainly he's seemed out to undermine much of the standard fantasy tropes, whether noble nobility or glorious warfare. No, war sucks and hereditary warlords suck harder.

You've not read much Shakespeare, have you? Martin's may be the first to get away with realism in popular fantasy, but he's hardly the first -- and not nearly the best -- at evoking the full scope of human folly or nobility. (And he does have some noble characters, even though most of these have some ambiguous qualities.)

Reasons to disinvent a miilitary: if it's far more likely to overthrow your government than to defend you. Consider Latin American history, or Greece under the colonels, vs. Costa Rica's lack of military. You could make a strong case that their militaries are not just a waste of money but actively harmful.

Which totally ignores the North American and European experience over the last few hundred years. The problem with unreliable and rebellious militaries is not a fundamental feature of professional armies and navies, but a symptom of poor civil institutions.

Now Elukka might make his story about just this problem, using his preferred setting (though, I think, with much more attention to the detail of logistics, infrastructure, and the necessity of established institutions). But that's what his story would have to be about, because a profession armed forces qua professional armed forces are not the problem.

Or in general, if you've got a Long Peace, how effective can pure wargaming be at keeping up your military competence?

Peaces are never long, in institutional time, nor are they ever really very peaceful. The nature of the fighting to be done during a supposed peace may not prepare one as well for a general war as a state of constant war would, but fighting still goes on.

Enemy said...

I only have a couple little bones to pick with monorails- A: they are simply a pain in the butt to build, since it is basically a continuous bridge girder and supports, and B: If you are worried about normal trains derailing on the moon due to low gravity yet the same momentum, there is a simple solution. Any railway on the moon is going to be point to point- due to the fact that the destinations are likely hab cities, with nearly nothing in between. This suggests simply designing the track alignment to one specific speed for each section, then tilting the track itself to suit that speed, such as how the french TGV does, with it's completely seperated high speed lines.
Still cheaper and easier to build than a monorail, in both the railbed and rails/cement ties themselves.

Enemy said...

On the traction issue, normally only the locomotives in a train have powered axles. Thus, a easy way to get the required traction in less gravity, is to power six times as many axles- by say, having a "locomotive/passenger electric multiple unit+ unpowered freight cars" consist, instead of a more normal locomotive, bringing back the old Mixed train with a locomotive + a few freight cars + coach on the end, just in a different form, adapted to the conditions. This also would mean that "passenger carrying trains" are in effect, most trains- giving you frequent and excellent service for the meatbags stuck inside the hab cities.

Gregory Johnson said...

In reply to Enemy's comment of September 7, One of the cheapest methods of a point to point system would be some sort of cableway (think ski-lifts, or mountain gondolas). You don't need a flatfish roadbed, you have a minimum of infrastructure, it is easily reset/modified, and if you are dealing with low gravity, you increase the potential loads greatly. The only thing you lose is high speed, which may not be an optimal factor for increase compared to general productivity. I suspect trains will come along at some point (but probably after a bus-route) but for quick set up with a minimum of imported technology, the cableway has a lot to recommend it.

Sean Robert Meaney said...

What intrigues me about the moon is the way the poles have this odd crunched up spiral of rock as though metal fragments had gathered at the end of a bar magnet.