Category ►►► Space: HEO Or Bust!

September 27, 2010

U.N. Ambassador to the Democratic People's Republic of Alpha Centauri-stan

Space: HEO Or Bust! , Untied Nations
Hatched by Dafydd

This story from the U.K. Telegraph sends chills down my spine; its subhead reads:

A space ambassador could be appointed by the United Nations to act as the first point of contact for aliens trying to communicate with Earth.

I'm not frightened, I hasten to add, by the prospect of us discovering alien civilizations, or even by the prospect of alien civilizations discovering us. I'm absolutely convinced that there is no even vaguely plausible reason why extraterrestrials would care one way or the other about us, unless we somehow gave them cause for anxiety:

  • We couldn't possibly pose a serious threat to any civilization that could cross such vast distances: A single lightyear is 5,874,589,924,200 miles, or about 25 million times the average distance from Earth to the Moon; and the distance between civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy would likely be measured in the thousands or tens of thousands of lightyears. What are we going to shoot at them -- an ICBM? We'd have better luck with a pea-shooter.
  • All conceivable natural resources are widely distributed throughout the galaxy; and even if they weren't, a civilization that could even attempt interplanetary travel, especially at hyperluminous speeds (so they're not spending millenia on every trip), would necessarily have such advanced science and technology that it would be easier to create any needed elements, materials, and structures than to journey hundreds or thousands of lightyears to take them away from somebody else. Forget about the V scenario!
  • The distances are simply too great to bother crossing them except on very important missions involving either trade or some other equally vital cultural imperative. I doubt comparatively primitive humans qualify... except perhaps for anthropological survey missions, probably conducted by alien graduate students. (Say, maybe that explains all the UFO sightings: The kids doing the field research are not yet experienced enough to avoid detection!)
  • If there is any intelligent life at all in the galaxy apart from here, then there are likely tens of thousands of alien civilizations -- not just one or two. We would probably get a minor inscription ("mostly harmless") in a database, and that's all.

So what am I worried about? It's contained in that phrase I used above: ETs wouldn't care a whit about us unless we give them cause for anxiety. And the easiest way I can think of offhand would be... if the very first point of contact for an alien survey vessel was the United Nations!

I can picture the spacefarers recoiling in horror and vowing to stamp out the contagion of socialism, pandering to radical religious imperialism, and hive-mindedness; and that is what scares the bejesus out of me.

Please, Secretary General Nanki-poo, don't do us any more cosmic favors.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 27, 2010, at the time of 3:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 14, 2010

The Ignoble Savage: Administration Zeroes Out Return to Moon

Presidential Peculiarities and Pomposities , Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

I've always considered a presidential administration's commitment to manned space exploration an excellent barometer of its belief in the grandeur of Western civilization; its belief in America's future and exceptional greatness; and its understanding of what Konstantin Tsiolkovsky meant when he said that, "a planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever." Simply put, an administration that believes in manned space exploration -- believes in Mankind.

So it's hardly a surprise that Barack H. Obama is in the process of killing the Constellation program proposed by (of course) President George W. Bush to return human beings, Americans, to the Moon, this time to stay; to explore lunar science and geology, investigate the origins of our solar system, and exploit the vast mineralogical, energy, and environmental resources found on our nearest neighboring planet.

And it's even less of a surprise that they're doing it in a backhanded way, in violation of an act that Obama himself is about to sign into law -- while mockingly flouting it:

Constellation aimed to build upon what was arguably America’s greatest technological achievement, the first lunar landing of 1969, by launching new expeditions to the Moon and to Mars and worlds beyond. Mr Obama proposed in February that it should be scrapped because it was “over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation”, but he has met opposition in Congress, which has yet to approve his plan.The head of Nasa, Major-General Charlie Bolden -- an Obama appointee -- has now written to aerospace contractors telling them to cut back immediately on Constellation-related projects costing almost $1 billion (£690 million), to comply with regulations requiring them to budget for possible contract termination costs.

The move has been branded a “disingenuous legal manoeuvre” and referred to Nasa’s inspector-general for investigation. “It’s bordering on arrogance by the Administration to boldly and brazenly go forward with this approach. It shows a blatant disregard for Congress,” said the Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, of Utah, whose constituency stands to lose thousands of jobs. Two weeks ago the Senate passed legislation that compels Nasa to continue work on Constellation unless Congress directs otherwise. That legislation is due to be signed into law by Mr Obama this month while Congress continues its deliberations over his proposal to cancel the current space space progamme.

Why is Obama doing this? What is his goal? I believe the Times of London has hit upon the answer without even realizing it, as the answer controverts the received narrative of the Obamacle:

Distinguished space veterans, including the first and last men to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, have complained that the abandonment of Constellation will set America’s space capabilities on a “downhill slide to mediocrity”. They say that, while Mr Obama has outlined a vision for Nasa that includes sending people to Mars at some point, it lacks a concise plan for developing the rockets and spacecraft to get them there.

“The Administration has no planning, no programme and no idea -- they’d just have these things happen mysteriously,” Mr Bishop said. “Rockets aren’t something that Wal-Mart puts on its shelves. You have to have a plan for how you get from A to B, and Obama has just said we’ll work it as we go along and maybe some day we’ll end up on an asteroid or the Moon or somewhere. The bottom line is, those ‘maybes’ will never happen.”

In my estimation, the simple, obvious explanation is correct: Obama does not believe America is in any way "exceptional"... nor even that it should be. He believes Americans (not citizens of the world, as he is) are arrogant and imperialistic "little people" who need reining in. This can only happen under a strong central government headed by (who else?) the Philosopher King.

Americans' ambitions are too grandiose and range too widely; we need to humble ourselves. Fly to the Moon? Land humans -- Americans, yet! -- on Mars? How dare we!

This is hubris of the highest order. The president must show the whip hand every now and then in his job of Shepherd in Chief to keep his flock tame and hobbled. Baa, baa, baa.

In Mark Steyn's genius takedown of the Obamunist -- the best anyone has ever penned, says I -- he commits a nigh-Twainian epigram:

It is hard to imagine Mr. Obama wandering along to watch a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade until the job required him to do so. That's not to say he's un-American or anti-American, but merely that he's beyond all that. Way beyond. He's the first president to give off the pronounced whiff that he's condescending to the job - that it's really too small for him and he's just killing time until something more commensurate with his stature comes along.

At the end, Steyn fingers Obama as the current leader of "a cult of radical, grandiose narcissism;" but the writer need only source "the One We Have Been Waiting For" himself to prove his claim.

A legendary and probably apocryphal tall tale has it that an ancient emperor tried to obliterate all documents that mention a national history predating himself, in the hope that future generations would believe he personally created civilization, culture, and perhaps the very world. It may be truer today than in any ancient realm, for I believe Barack H. Obama would prefer the future historians take literally his messianic claim that:

[G]enerations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.

There we have it: A grandiose narcissist who sees himself as simply too big for America's britches must be horrified by a program of manned space exploration, the consequences of which threaten to overwhelm his own meagre achievements, assuming one can find any, in a Noachian deluge of science, technology, and future shock. Indeed, if we indeed returned to the Moon on a permanent basis, using that as a stepping stone to Mars and the rest of the solar system, then that would likely be the only thing anyone would remember, "generations from now," about the administration of Barack Obama. Only our next faltering steps into the universe beyond; all else would be sucked down the memory hole, along with yesterday's horoscope.

How could a creature like Obama possibly live with such a rival without scratching her eyes out?

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 14, 2010, at the time of 10:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 26, 2010

The Religion of Fear Itself, or Why I Despise Modern Liberals (reason 334)

Opinions: Nasty, Brutish, and Shortsighted , Science - Bad , Science Fiction , Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

Rarely do I get such an opportunity to opine on my two favorite topics, politics and science fiction, simultaneously!

Physics idol Stephen Hawking is quite convinced that life -- and intelligent life -- exist elsewhere in our galaxy:

The suggestions come in a new documentary series [beginning Sunday, May 9th, at 9 pm, on the Discovery Channel -- DaH] in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Works for me. The chemical processes that produce the building blocks of life are entirely natural, and indeed many might not even need a planet on which to form; analysis of the data is not conclusive, but some simple amino acids may be able to form spontaneously in space.

The next step will produce a few howls of outrage; but one must accept that much good evidence points to life arising from non-life on this planet due to entirely natural, thus repeatable processes. Indeed, biologists and science writers have written entire books on the subject of abiogenesis, e.g., Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins, by Robert Hazen. There are so many models and hypotheses, so much experimental and observational data, so much creative science being published monthly, that the intelligent, well-read student simply cannot dismiss the possibility without months or years of research. That is, unless one is willing to...

  • Reject virtually all modern science along with the scientific method;
  • Adopt the a priori and unfalsifiable assumption that life requires a "Creator" who is cagey enough to deliberately hide all evidence of his (sorry, His) presence;
  • And insist upon referring to contemporary evolutionary biology as "Darwinism" -- thus smarmily implying that it's just a cult of personality like Stalinism or Scientology.

For the 80% or so who are still with me, as life arose here through natural processes, it's a good bet that there are other planets elsewhere in the galaxy (and in other galaxies) where similar natural processes produced forms of life that we could at least recognize as such.

The penultimate step is that like life itself, intelligence -- that is, animal cunning -- is clearly a biological advantage; thus the chain of life will necessarily produce smarter and more sophisticated animals (shorthand for animated forms of life)... unless freakish local conditions preclude, e.g., the development of multicellular organisms. In any event, some planets with life will evolve cleverer life.

The last step is the one about which we know least. Does self-awareness arise spontaneously? Is it part of the implicate order of cleverness? Or does it require the breath of God to create the spark of a soul? If the former, then clearly we should assume there is intelligent life elsewhere in the void until proven otherwise.

But even if the latter situation obtains, what hubris would we exhibit were we to assert with confidence that God would never strike that spark anywhere but on this particular planet where we happen to live! Who are we to tell He who made Leviathan that Earth is the only planet "zoned" for self-aware, moral beings?

I believe as much as ever before that the odds favor a universe populated with many, many civilized cultures; but of course, nobody can know what civilization, morality, or even communication means to creatures which evolved on a completely different planet... or in a gas cloud or the surface of a somewhat coolish star, for that matter.

Hawking agrees with that point as well:

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

But what's all this about modern liberals? Why should I despise someone with whom I fundamentally agree on such a vital issue? Because in his next breath, Hawking proves himself a coward; and I despise poltroonery:

The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist -- but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

Note that my main dispute with the eminent Hawking stands, even if the reader of this post rejects evolution: Hawking obviously believes in evolution by variation and natural selection, and he believes that will ultimately produce alien civilizations; but he is clearly terrified of the prospect of contact. Contrariwise, all my space-nutter friends and I desperately hope to see human-alien contact during our lifespans. That is one major difference between New-Left liberals and true libertarians: Whether one dreams of alien contact -- or endures an agonizing nightmare about it.

Why is Hawking so frightened? And why does he think should the rest of us be afraid? Because liberal ideology -- and in particular disgust with Western civilization and unthinking acceptance of all the environmenalist myth-making about the unnaturalness of humanity -- leads many liberals into despair and terror.

Such scenes [of imaginative and extraordinary alien life that might exist] are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

So many Eco-Left bugbears bubble up from this ill-considered froth! If only Hawking would apply the same faculty for critical thinking to the potential of alien civilizations as he applies to physics problems.

Resource scarcity

Let's start with the scenarios he himself presents. Why would aliens travel dozens of lightyears (at least!), hundreds of trillions of miles, just to "raid Earth for its resources?" Which resources would those be... hydrogen, the most common element in the galaxy?

Oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, easily obtained from any Earthlike planet much nearer to the aliens than Earth? Pure water, as in the original TV series V -- which can be melted from any water-ice asteroid in our asteroid belt without us ever noticing its "theft?"

Gold, silver, uranium, or any other precious metal -- which can be mined anywhere?

And why would the aliens even need to dig minerals out of the rock? Assuming they're smart enough and technologically sophisticated enough to cross interstellar distances, wouldn't it be likely they could artificially produce such elements in nuclear manufactories in any quantities they needed, and with a fraction of the cost and none of the danger?

There is no vaguely logical reason why a civilization in search of resources would trundle across the vastness of space to tussle with some squalid alien Neanderthals (that would be us by comparison) for what they can obtain or create by lifting their smallest tendrils. "Invasion for resource raiding" is complete nonsense as a plausible reason for violent attack. Christopher Columbus may have stumbled upon the New World and enslaved the natives, but that's because he lived in a universe of scarcity, where mechanization could not yet replace human labor.


What else could aliens want -- territory? But planets that can support life, on which life evolved, where intelligence reached a critical peak, where that bright life awoke into self-awareness, where science was discovered and technology invented, and where practical spaceflight was developed... such planets would be an occasional fleck of diamond in a vast beach of ordinary sand. Why fight for territory when it's all free for the taking, as much as you want?

Psycho-sociological quirks

One can always wave one's hands and warn that the aliens might have some cockamamie religion that requires them to conquer and enslave humans. But it's equally valid to speculate that their cockamamie religion might drive them to help us gain the scientific understanding and technological powers they themselves enjoy. The same Western powers that claimed entire continents in the name of king and country centuries ago have more recently used their blood and treasure to raise up the Third World to First-World status (or tried to do, anyway).

Abstruse and obtuse reasons

When my pal and worthy co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver and I wrote the Doom tetralogy, we wanted (for plot reasons) to have an interstellar war (we were writing a subluminous, Einsteinian space opera, which I think is unique in science-fiction history). My goodness, how we struggled to come up with a reason that was not preposterous on its face, that was vaguely plausible, why alien races would ever go to war!

We finally settled on a long-ago dispute between competing schools of literary theory, the Surrealists and the Post-Modernists, each trying to analyze a fistful of fragments left behind by the first race ever to achieve spaceflight, billions of years earlier. These academic disputes erupted into a war that, due to lightspeed limitations, still continued after thousands of millennia. But that took us days of teleconferences to concoct.

Simply put, logic implies there is simply no reason for beings of one stellar system to attack beings of another. And while it's true that alien logic might be very different, we don't have any to study; so we're stuck with our own logic. To be frightened of the prospect of contacting aliens is to yield to xenophobia and the mortal sin (and bleak helplessness) of despair.

And that brings us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to contemporary eco-nut liberalism. As we have seen, liberalism has metastacized into the philosophy of catastrophe, where every way we live brings about our gruesome death: Eating, drinking, exercising, heating our homes, cooling our heels, and now even exhaling. From the Center for Science in the Public Interest to the IPCC to ELF and ALF, liberals warn that we must fear everything.

Is Hawking a liberal? He tries not to talk about it, but enough has seeped out to make it fairly clear: He was a member of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats when he was at university; he "appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party," according to his Wikipedia biography; and like most scientists who don't specialize in climate-related research, he is a fierce proponent of global-warming hysteria -- "globaloney chic."

He's either an agnostic (if you believe him) or atheist (if you believe his first wife). And of course, he hails from England, where even the so-called Conservatives are far to our left on the political spectrum.

Everything fits; it's all of a pattern. Hawking is clearly a liberal, and he evinces the same terror of the unknown that liberalism propagates as its primary recruiting tool. And for what the wretched ideology of left-liberalism and eco-nuttery has done to such a fine intellect, I despise modern liberals.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 26, 2010, at the time of 3:50 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 11, 2010

To Infinity, and Behind!

Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

A little over a month ago, I noted the shift in our spacefaring strategy towards privatizing space exploration and exploitation, a strategy pushed, astonishingly enough, by President Barack H. Obama:

I'm just now picking my jaw up from the floor: Barack H. Obama has just decided to privatize -- space exploration?....

It's a little odd that such a lover of big-government Obamunism and nationalization of private resources would suddenly go all capitalist over the space program; I worry that this will just turn out to be more empty rhetoric. But entrepeneurs can use even empty rhetoric to fly below the radar and actually bring about some of the dreams that Obama has woven, perhaps unintentionally and against the president's own better judgment. Certainly there is no lack of players champing at the leash to jump into a newly revitalized private space-launch industry....

Republicans should seize this idea to show they're not just the "party of No," as Obama loves to claim. Here's a chance to champion science, space research, and private enterprise and entrepeneurship, all while showing some bipartisan flair! The GOP would have to be utter morons to let this fish loose.

Oh, wait...

I'm glad I tossed in that final cynical jab at the GOP (which may come to mean "grand obsolete party"); it makes me look less like a Pollyanna, sunny-side up nitwit. For just as we all suspected, the Republicans are so locked into the top-down "command science" that they join their Democratic colleagues in trashing the very idea of private manned space launches:

"As with all great human achievements, our commitment to space must be renewed and encouraged or we will surely be surpassed by other nations who are presently challenging our leadership in space," Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Congress from Florida wrote to Obama last week."

Here is the new plan, as enunciated by the running-dog capitalist in chief:

Obama, in his Feb. 1 budget proposal, planned to increase NASA's overall funding to $19 billion in 2011 with an emphasis on science and less spent on space exploration.

He would cancel the Constellation program's Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets, after $9 billion and five years of tests. Constellation is aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in the 2020s to clear the way for a Mars mission.

Instead, Obama would spend $6 billion a year for five years to support commercial spacecraft development and pursue new technologies to explore the solar system in what the White House called "a more effective and affordable way."

The Florida Republicans shake in their boots, terrified that private enterprise will surely lead to massive job losses (possibly even within the state legislature). But is it now Republican dogma that public spending creates more jobs than the free market?

It's not just know-nothing congressmen in the Reptile State pushing the bright red panic button about private aerospace development. Here comes President George W. Bush's NASA administrator, "explaining" -- in the sense of "mocking the very idea" -- why we must allow government to monopolize spaceflight:

Various members of the far-flung U.S. space community have been troubled by the change, such as former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who struggled to get more funding for Constellation from the previous administration of President George W. Bush and believes Obama should stick with it.

"There's a larger issue here," Griffin said. "Does the United States want to have a real space program? Do we actually think we can have a robust, exciting, world-leading space program by hiring private enterprise to furnish it?"

Why yes, Dr. Griffin; many of us do support exactly that weird idea: In a capitalist state -- or even whatever hemi-demi-quasi-capitalist state we currently inhabit -- it's always best to try the market first... and only haul out the big-government guns later, if a screaming emergency arises.

The bureaucratization of space exploration is one of the most disheartening aspects of contemporary society: Here we sit, verging on the sixtieth anniversary of Robert A. Heinlein's classic, "the Man Who Sold the Moon" (1951); and our "leaders" at NASA still scoff at the preposterous thought that private rocket ships, free-market space colonization, and entrepeneurial expansion to the stars can actually work... maybe even better than Michael Griffin ordering his civil servants to innovate, on schedule.

My God. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And so far, that's where it bloody well ends, too.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 11, 2010, at the time of 2:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 1, 2010

Finally, Obama Has the Right Stuff! (Maybe...)

Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

I'm just now picking my jaw up from the floor: Barack H. Obama has just decided to privatize -- space exploration?

The Obama administration today will propose in its new budget spending billions of dollars to encourage private companies to build, launch and operate spacecraft for NASA and others. Uncle Sam would buy its astronauts a ride into space just like hopping in a taxi.

The idea is that getting astronauts into orbit, which NASA has been doing for 49 years, is getting to be so old hat that someone other than the government can do it. It's no longer really the Right Stuff. Going private would free the space agency to do other things, such as explore beyond Earth's orbit, do more research and study the Earth with better satellites. And it would spur a new generation of private companies - even some with Internet roots - to innovate.

It's a wonderful idea, and I couldn't agree more: If we actually give a green light to private space exploration -- and a modest guaranteed market by renting space for our astronauts to fly on private launches -- then the Moon will come soon enough: Thar's gold in them thar craters! (Along with every other element we could possibly need to sustain an industry, and even extract breathable oxygen and create potable water for "Lunatic" colonists.)

Obama has underfunded it, of course, committing only $5.9 billion; but at least we're headed in the right direction. Here's the part where the president is bang on:

The White House said the program was too much like the 1960s Apollo mission and would require large budget increases just to get astronauts back on the moon by 2030.

The (unsourced) CBS report gets to the heart of the problem with the American space program (and everyone else's, to be fair) -- though even this piece misses the "why" of it. The "back to the Moon" proposal by President George W. Bush was a big-government, top-down, military-style reenactment of the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo program of the 1950s-70s: The govenment creates a massive bureaucracy (NACA/NASA), which throws billions of dollars at the project, achieves its goals in the worst way possible... and then cancels the entire program. And leave us not forget that it was a big-government Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, who killed it.

The legacy of the government monopoly approach to space explation is an aging Shuttle fleet (currently three [3] flyable birds), plus a misguided and mismanaged "International Space Station," as our entire space program for the last thirty-plus years.

By the time Nixon canceled Apollo, NASA's bureaucracy had become sclerotic, unimaginative, anti-capitalist (seriously -- they actively suppressed private space launches), penny-foolish and pound-foolisher (killing the Air Force's X-15/X-20 program, for example, so it wouldn't "compete" with NASA's Mercury program), and in many ways an impediment to space exploration and colonization, not a boon.

NASA still conducts desultory research into more long-term goals; but where are the solar sails for long-range manned space exploration? Where is a truly reusable space "taxi" for shuttling spacefarers up and down the gravity well?

Where are the alternatives to launching from ground to low-Earth orbit (LEO), something to replace the "disintegrating totem poles" of the Saturn V or the one-shot solid booster rockets used to lift the Shuttle? There are many remarkable launch designs out there, but NASA seems uninterested in developing them.

For that matter, where is such a simple vehicle as the unmanned orbital booster, which would orbit in LEO; then upon radio command, latch onto some cargo (like a satellite) in low orbit, and just boost it up to a higher one? That way we wouldn't have to put boosters on every satellite we launch, an incredible extra mass that must be carried up.

And as is obvious from the subject of this post, it's been thirty-seven years, one month, and 21 days since we last put a man on the Moon; and if everything went well, it would be an additional twenty years before we returned: More than half a century between Moon landings is unconscionable. Clearly, the big-government approach to space exploration, industrialization, and colonization is a complete flop... as is the big-government approach to virtually everything, with the possible exception of national defense and interstate highways.

But the Regulators already have their long knives out for the irregulars; back to the Long Beach Press-Telegram story:

But there's some concern about that - from former NASA officials worried about safety and from congressional leaders worried about lost jobs. Some believe space is still a tough, dangerous enterprise not to be left to private companies out for a buck. Government would lose vital knowledge and control, critics fear.

Yes, God forbid we should allow filthy capitalists out for a buck into the space program. Far better that everything be in the hands of altruistic federal bureaucrats -- out for a pension.

The Press-Telegram notes the example of the airline industry. Let's expand upon that: If the federal government were still in charge of air transportation, there would be one airline for the entire country. Every flight would originate from the same airport, and planes would depart once every three months; each would carry no more than eight passengers -- three of whom would be decorated military pilots or flight officers, and the rest would be Highly Trained Specialists™ certified by the "National Air Transportation Administration".

Every airplane flight would cost $800 million, and half the takeoffs would be scrubbed on the runway, with no refunds.

And upon getting airborne, each plane would jettison half its engines into the drink, requiring six months of maintenance and a total rebuild before its next flight. (That's why we need a massive fleet of three Shuttles.)

Why is private enterprise better for space exploitation? Manifold reasons:

  • Cost: A private space-launch business has to turn a profit, so it must keep costs down; this in turn keeps the price down, and more and more customers can launch to orbit, creating a positive feedback loop dragging the human race into space.
  • Reliability: A business must hit its schedule nearly every time, or it loses business to its competitors (think of FedEx); therefore, reliability becomes much more of a premium than with a government monopoly.
  • Responsiveness: It must continually offer new services to stay ahead of said competitors; it must create markets, create and exploit opportunities, and move rapidily to seize the initiative.
  • Wealth creation: It would open up whole new markets for orbital manufacturing of machine parts, pharmaceuticals, and very large structures that would collapse under Earth's gravitational pull (see next bullet); new markets mean new wealth for everyone.
  • Energy abundance: Entrepeneurs would quickly realize that the biggest market of all would be energy: solar cells in orbit -- outside 99% of the Earth's atmosphere and 100% of Earth's weather -- can generate orders of magnitude more electricity than terrestrial solar cells, and considerably more than even a nuclear power plant.

    Remember, in orbit, you can make the collection surface as big as you want, several square kilometers; energy can be beamed back to Earth by microwave lasers or somesuch.

    Here is where the conservatives' demand for large power availability and liberals' demand for non-carbon energy production can meet in the middle in a true bipartisan Kosmic Kumbaya!

  • Innovation: Finally, it's the private sector, not the government, that is truly innovative; if we want humans in space on a full-time, permanent basis, it's private enterprise or bust.

    At the moment, we've got "bust."

It's a little odd that such a lover of big-government Obamunism and nationalization of private resources would suddenly go all capitalist over the space program; I worry that this will just turn out to be more empty rhetoric. But entrepeneurs can use even empty rhetoric to fly below the radar and actually bring about some of the dreams that Obama has woven, perhaps unintentionally and against the president's own better judgment. Certainly there is no lack of players champing at the leash to jump into a newly revitalized private space-launch industry:

The leading contenders - most are mum at this point - to build private spaceships include established aerospace giants, such as Boeing Co. of Chicago and Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., which built most of America's rockets and capsules.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin have existing rocket families in Delta and Atlas, which launch commercial and government satellites regularly and reliably, but for the moment aren't rated by the government to be safe enough for humans. That may change.

But it's the newer space guard that brings some excitement to the field. PayPal founder Elon Musk may be ahead of most. His SpaceX already has a Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule. Other companies being mentioned include Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas and Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev.

Republicans should seize this idea to show they're not just the "party of No," as Obama loves to claim. Here's a chance to champion science, space research, and private enterprise and entrepeneurship, all while showing some bipartisan flair! The GOP would have to be utter morons to let this fish loose.

Oh, wait...

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 1, 2010, at the time of 6:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 20, 2009

The Day the Universe Changed...

Futurism , Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

Or at least, the day it should have...

July 20th, 1969 ~ July 20th, 2009

Moon Landing

"One small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind"

Moon Landing

No, the "international community" never landed on the Moon

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 20, 2009, at the time of 12:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 6, 2008

The Only Realistic Solar-Power System for the Planet

Future of Energy Production , Future of Technology , Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

In response to Dave Ross' post below... actually, we could power the entire planet's energy needs in perpetuity by solar power alone.

But only if we generate that power via vast solar arrays in high Earth orbit (HEO) and beam the power back to the ground.

The idea of solar-power satellites has been kicking around since at least the 1970s; Jerry Pournelle popularized it greatly back then (I presume he still supports the idea today). It would require a number of technological breakthroughs -- each of which would be a huge boon to Mankind in itself:

  1. A much, much cheaper way to put a pound of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). It currently costs between $50,000 and $100,000 a pound on the soon-to-be-defunct Space Shuttle, somewhat less on disposable rockets, and we have no idea what it will cost on whatever eventually replaces the STS. We need to bring that down by three orders of magnitude to $50 - $100 per pound.

    Possibilities abound. My favorite is a laser-launching system, where a ground-based laser shoots an intermittent, high-energy laser beam into the combustion chamber of a rocket; this superheats the air that has been sucked into the chamber, causing it to expand out the nozzle. The advantage is that the rocket need carry no onboard fuel, thus making it tremendously more efficient. You need to complete boost before leaving the bulk of the atmosphere, of course; and you might not be able to launch through heavy cloud cover.

    (A "space elevator" is a really cool idea, but it could only be built out of Bolognium -- i.e., some unreasonably strong material that doesn't exist yet. And the "Ferris wheel" launcher is too dangerous, in my opinion.)

  2. An inexpensive way to boost payload from LEO to HEO. This is probably the easiest technology of the batch, requiring just a booster pack that can attach to payload in LEO, then navigate itself back down (or else bring payload down from HEO to LEO).
  3. Building a permanent mining, separating, refining, and smelting facility on the Moon. This is the only way to get sufficient raw materials to build solar-power satellites without taxing the capacity of Earthbound mines and refineries.

    This doesn't require much in the way of technolgical breakthroughs, given 1 and 2; but it does require burying the facility underground, to avoid cosmic radiation; and it requires quickly setting up the facility to extract oxygen from the lunar soil, so the workers can breathe without having to deplete whatever oxygen through brought with them. It also requires a truly spectacular recycling system, as workers must also, for the most part, consume their own, er, output.

  4. We need to build a launch facility on the Moon to send up the raw materials or manufactured items that we will need to build the satellites. This is a perfect opportunity for a linear-accelerator launcher, since the Moon has no atmosphere -- and since we're not going to be launching living creatures that way, so we can up the acceleration to 200-300 Gs.
  5. We need to perfect building very large structures in open space... because it makes no sense to build a solar array (say, 2,000 square miles) on the ground -- even the Moon -- and then launch it into orbit. We should use the launcher (4) to launch either very small components (but they cannot be fragile), or better yet, just raw metal and crystal; each larger structure can be built in orbit, in "freefall," where gravity is not a serious problem.

    The biggest problem here would be cosmic radiation: Either the facility would have to be deeply coated with lunar dust; or if you want to be more elegant, you can use the idea of T.A. Heppenheimer: Put a huge static postive charge on the hull to push away the big, slow, dumb alpha particles that cause the most damage... and then set up a strong magnetic field to push away the electrons that would otherwise be attracted to the positively charged hull.

  6. Finally, we have to decide how to broadcast the power back to Earth.

Each of these technological breakthroughs is admittely difficult; but nevertheless, none is impossible. And none even requires a significant scientific breakthrough: The science is there -- all that's left are the engineering details.

The advantages of a solar-power satellite system are obvious:

  • It collects power "day" and "night," since it's never in the Earth's shadow (or at least rarely and not for long);
  • Each satellite can be as big as necessary to produce enough power for our needs; the only limitation is that if you make any structure big enough, it will collapse under its own gravitational mass. But "big enough" is way bigger than we would ever need here;
  • It would allow us to dramatically reduce petroleum usage, along with coal... thus going a long way towards reducing world air pollution -- which is actually energy wasted. If we can invent a really, really good battery, we could reduce pollution even further;
  • And of course, the required technological breakthroughs will be tremendous boons to the American economy, as well as the economies of all our trading partners... as would the very process of developing them in the first place: Technology creation drives jobs.

Since we're adding more energy to the ecosystem, we might need to find a way to reduce the amount of energy that comes to Earth from the Sun directly. If we could create more cloud cover over the poles, that would help a lot.

The problem with virtually all sides in the energy debate is that they're looking at most 2 to 25 years into the future. I don't know about you guys, but I really do plan to live longer than that; and I'm even concerned with how our country and the world will fare even after I die, assuming I ever do. My short-term view is currently up to about 2250... but I'm thinking I may still be too precipitate.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 6, 2008, at the time of 5:23 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

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