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"Where's My Effing Space Colony?"

Someone on my friends list posted a rant expressing his frustration at the lack of a US space colony. He pointed out that just seven years seperated Kennedy's public proclomation of our intention to reach the moon and Neil Armstrong's historic first step onto the Lunar surface. Current estimates for President Bush's Moon and Mars missions place the payoff decades in the future.

To which I responded:
I'd prefer to see civilian programs move us into space when the mix of technology and justification come into balance. I don't want to see the US spend billions to go plant a flag on Mars when no one has any plausible notion of what we'd do there that we couldn't accomplish with greater saftey and economy with increasingly sophisticated and autonomous robotic missions.

I know people who are working on bringing civilian space programs to fruition, and personally I hope governments continue to drag their feet and muck around in low Earth orbit until private programs leap-frog their efforts. Otherwise, anybody who wants to get off of Earth and possibly out of the solar system will have to do so at the pleasure of military gate-keepers.

I'd be currious to see a global map that shows the location of all the people on Earth who think they're entitled to a government-executed space colony? I wonder in which countries we'd find the highest concentrations of people with this notion of entitlement?


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 13th, 2004 04:55 pm (UTC)
Re: 1 of 2
To which I responded:

What do you mean by justification? We have the means at our disposal right now to leave this planet and establish a whole new civilization of self-sustaining, self-perpetuating space colonies. I have put a great deal of thought into this over the years, and to this day I cannot come up with a single good reason why establishing such colonies should not be the number one priority of the human race right now. There's just no fucking good reason. And I challenge you or anyone else to produce one.

I agree with you that spending cosmological sums of money to "plant a flag" on Mars or the moon would be foolish. But that was my point about the original Apollo missions anyway—all we did was plant flags up there (more or less), and thirty five years later what do we have to show for it? A grounded fleet of three obsolete and aging space shuttles? And fourteen good people dead at that! That's insanity. My whole frustration with the American state space program is that it seems to lack any overarching vision for the continuity, progression, and advancement of space flight. We landed twelve people on the moon. And that was just super. But nothing happened. We built space shuttles that were supposed to make it cheaper to get into orbit. They actually made it more expensive. And 40% of them have blown up! As was oft pointed a year ago February, if 40% of all 747s were blowing up in midair, we sure as shit wouldn't be flying 747s around, would we?

The logical thing to do after Apollo would've been to use the same technology and the same vehicles to send payload packages to the surface of the moon, and from there set up permanently manned scientific observatories. We still know how to build Saturn Vs and Apollo capsules, presumably. Why not do it now? Right now. Starting today. The logical thing to do after Skylab would've been to set up larger permanently manned space stations in higher altitude earth orbit. The space shuttle, in my opinion, never made a whole fuckload of sense in the first place, but if we were going to go through the trouble of building them, we should at least be flying them more than six times a year—when they're flying at all.

I've always had more long-term faith in private enterprise than in NASA, but I see them more as complementary facets of the same overall imperative, rather than as competitors. As long as the government isn't actually militarizing space—which hasn't happened yet, and doesn't seem to be on the horizon—then I don't think the private space industry has anything to fear from government-sponsored space exploration. Both have their own role to play, I think. Scaled Composites seems very, very close right now to making private space tourism a tangible reality, and that's fucking awesome. It is, in my opinion, the coolest thing that's happened in space travel in my lifetime. But there is a limit to what private capital is capable of and willing to accomplish. Space tourism is one thing—space residency is another issue altogether. Don't get me wrong: I am certain that, once a full-fledged space economy gets underway, it will have no trouble happily supporting itself without major governmental support on earth. But it will need a fairly significant commitment from the world community—and specifically from the American government—to get off the ground at all. And at this point I just don't see that happening for awhile—and that is precisely the source of the frustration expressed in my original post.
Jun. 13th, 2004 04:56 pm (UTC)
Re: 2 of 2
At this point I shall go off on a brief tangent: We need to build robots and send them off to the asteroid belt. Not just any robots, but really fancy, clever robots. Robots that can mine ore out of asteroids, refine that ore, construct new robot components, and build new robots. And all these robots can then go to town on digging all manner of raw material out of the belt. And then we'll send transport ships—or better yet, the robots will build their own damn ships, fueled by asteroid-mined hydrogen. And we'll start sending this crap back, and landing it on the moon, or in holding facilities at the Lagrange point between the earth and the moon. And you can see where it goes from there: self-building, self-sustaining space colonies constructed with minimal human labor and material investment. That all sounds a good deal far-fetched no doubt, but my point is this: I don't see any conflict between robotic missions and the long-term future of manned spaceflight as long as we're doing something with some sort of plan, or at least some conception of the larger parameters at hand here. I don't care if we don't send another man into space for a decade or two, as long as we're working towards some sort of sensible future in space. For thirty years NASA has just been mindlessly flinging scientific probes around like some sort of crazy probe-flinging crazies, with nothing to show for it. It's all the more pathetic that a good percentage of them have disappeared due to engineerial incompetence. (I know it's not a word! But I don't care!) It has been well nigh fifty years since Sputnik I. We should really be doing better. We deserve better. All of us. Not just rich white Americans who grew up with books making extravagant claims about the future of space travel, but all of us. The whole human race deserves more from the so-called Space Age than we've seen delivered to us. I don't give a crap about velcro, or tang, or MRIs. I stand by my original statement: I want my fucking space colony. Not for me personally, but for the sake of all humanity.

I have never felt "entitled" to a space colony. It's not a question of entitlement. It's a question of reasonable expectations. It's a question of what responsible social institutions can and should be doing to advance mankind in our current technological state. We have a whole funky bunch of serious problems on this planet. Whatever social ills we may have brought on ourselves by our own behavior, many of our problems simply seem to be inevitable consequences of a growing and advanced civilization in the particular predicament that we've found ourselves in. For one thing, we have too many people on the planet. The solution is not to stop breeding—obviously—but to move some of these people off planet, quickly and cheaply. If people in this or other parts of the world don't realistically expect space colonies in the near future, it's probably because their expectations have been deliberately lowered by the powers that be, who would rather go on scrambling to remain the top dog in the house rather than tearing the goddamn house down.

And that's really the core of my concern here. It's not about private industry vs. government, or spending tens of billions of dollars to plant a flag on some inhospitable rock. It's much bigger than that. We've simply outgrown ourselves here, and I do believe we're starting to overstay our welcome. People in the media and in the government ask "Should humanity go out into space?" Like it's a fucking question. What is the answer? No? Not now? If not now, then when? Why not now? Is there any good reason? I don't believe there is. And if we're going to be pissing away $300 billion plus on—of all things—wars against third world countries, the least we can do is throw a few hundred billion in the direction of permanently sustainable manned spaceflight (regardless of what private industry is doing). That's just common sense.
Jun. 13th, 2004 08:36 pm (UTC)
Re: 2 of 2
If you're interested in a group discussion on this topic you'll get better results by posting these two replies here:


Jun. 13th, 2004 10:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Space elevator
My big thing on space is to make a space elevator to make the launch truly cheaper.

Ok, so how to build it?

SPACE CANNON. Launch the basic materials of neccessary lowtech up by explosion. Water, metal plates, fuel, hardened electronics, etc. I'd imagine sophisticated shells with hardened rocket cells to make any corrections to their course.

Then, use the existing conventional technology to send up the builders, complex electronics and possibly the cable. For the first one I would use a giant geodesic dome structure. (cannon launches the triangles, Astronauts with lasers and special magnetic grips weld them in place) There is also a possible "Second moon" orbiting at about the right place that, if real, would make a perfect counterweight to accellerate the project.

The end result would be that launching a person into space would be $200, as opposed to greater than their weight in gold. A whole new world (universe) would be opened up in space travel. Things like the classic L5 ring space colony would no longer be impossible, but rather commonplace. Stress on Earth would be reduced as countless groups went out into little mini worlds in space, then to other worlds. I'd personally like to hollow out CERES (mining for minerals) then convert it to a cylinder habitat like in Clarke's "Renzevous with Rama".

So, what if terrorists cut the cable?
Someone gets nuked and the counterweight just drops another.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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