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Space Science Technology

Space Is (Not) the Place, Says Professor 376

Posted by Soulskill
from the maybe-not-yet dept.
snoop.daub writes "A while back, we discussed UCSD professor Tom Murphy's post about the limits on growth in energy use and economies. Partly in reaction to Slashdot's response (and my own writeup!), he's back with a new post arguing that space is not a solution to enable continued growth. There's a lot of good stuff in here about public misconceptions regarding the difficulty of space travel and the like; again definitely worth the read."
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Space Is (Not) the Place, Says Professor

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  • by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @07:30PM (#37756468) Homepage Journal

    Space is dark

    It's hard to find

    A place to park

    Burma Shave

  • Dear humans (Score:2, Informative)

    by Scareduck (177470)

    Please all die.

    KTHXBAI,
    -- Mr. Science

  • Do the math, indeed! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Baldrson (78598) *
    This guy is ridiculously illiterate. Do the math [mike-combs.com], indeed!

    The one area the US government was prohibited from competing with private sector companies in by the act that established NASA was satellite communications.

    That relegated other areas of economic development of space to a communist model of government run services. It is no surprise, then, that the Soviets were more efficient in developing launch capabilities and indeed manned space presence -- they were professional communists: If their communi

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      There's also the matter of whether experiments conducted in biodomes can successfully replicate in space. Getting there is one thing, staying there is another.

      Then there's the matter of a safe living environment - respirated moisture has helped curious molds prosper in MIR and the ISS. It is possible some mutation of these spores could lead to health issues, so keeping a clean environment is not to be taken lightly. Waste would not be disposed of, but everything would need to be recycled - else the space

      • by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @07:56PM (#37756722)

        Oddly enough, the Earth seems to have no problem dealing with recycling waste. All it needs is a goodly variety of fish, insects, bivalves, and other organisms (both micro and macro) to handle the responsibility.

        The problem with Biodome experiments, and any living environment we construct artificially, is that we necessarily screw up and fail to include enough organisms to occupy all niches in the amount needed. The molds that popped up in MIR and the ISS happened because that was the precise sort of environment in which those molds happened to thrive, while other organisms that normally would keep them in balance by competing for resources weren't brought up.

        tl;dr version - Fish peed in your drinking water. Get over it and bring along a fucking aquarium rather than trying to do everything with "space age technology." Resources would be better spent on developing and refining either artificial gravity or controlled spin gravity substitutes.

        • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @10:30PM (#37757880)

          Oddly enough, the Earth seems to have no problem dealing with recycling waste. All it needs is a goodly variety of fish, insects, bivalves, and other organisms (both micro and macro) to handle the responsibility.

          At what population density? Long-term sustainability of life on earth at the current population density is FAR from demonstrated.

      • by Teancum (67324) <(robert_horning) (at) (netzero.net)> on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:13PM (#37757326) Homepage Journal

        Mankind already lives in what is largely an artificial environment, especially if you live in a big city.

        The original settlement of Buena Vista, Alta California (before the days of the 1849 gold rush) died out to the very last person because there was insufficient water resources to sustain the village. Yet today in that same place there are millions of people and generations of inhabitants of that same region. The difference is that technology has brought in the water and transportation links have been able to provide both the food and other resources for a major city of the world to exist in an otherwise hostile environment.

        There has been a more or less permanent "outpost" of humanity living at the South Pole for a great many years, where the environment is even more hostile to human survival. Some of them even reply on Slashdot from time to time, so it would be interesting to see what their perspective on this whole thing would be like.

        As you are kind of indicating, there is a whole lot to learn about "closed systems" environments that would be needed for a long-term stay on another planet or for that matter anywhere else besides the Earth. We've learned quite a bit over the past 50 years with regards to Antarctica as well as in dealing with the ISS. The technologies needed to establish a permanent "base", much less a self-sustaining colony on the Moon or Mars may very well be a century or two away, and I'm not going to completely dismiss the challenges needed for doing that.

        The problem I have with the main article as presented in this Slashdot post is that the author is more or less giving up and saying we shouldn't even bother trying. I think something is lost from the soul when somebody tells you that, particularly when they are willing to try on their own dime and just want to be allowed the chance to see if it could be done or not. It is like telling a kid they can never be an astronaut when they grow up, or that that a small kid in America can never grow up to become the President. Sure, the odds may be stacked against them heavily, but why shoot down dreams? Sometimes even the act of simply trying is enough to make a difference somewhere even if that attempt fails miserably.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          We sure shouldn't underestimate the task of trying to live in space - we may live in artificial environments, but the atmosphere and tiny organisms around us often protect us from harm - everything will have to be considered, from dandruff to farts.

      • by mikael (484)

        That used to be a problem with UK cities during the 1700's. Entire families used to live in single rooms to the extent that everyone suffered respiratory illnesses.

        It was a problem with high-rise blocks in the 1970's. Residents had been used to living in draughty Victorian houses. Moving to airtight concrete homes, it became impossible to keep the windows close, and the heat, while at the same time boiling food and airing wet clothes to dry.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @07:46PM (#37756654) Homepage

      Habitats fabricated in free space can provide thousands of times more habitable surface area than Earth.

      Sure they can. At some impressive energy cost (remember the gravity well, it sucks pretty hard). It would be much easier to make floating / submerged habitats than ones in outer space.

      Until you come up with essentially unlimited, cheap energy, space is not going to be the place for the huddled masses yearning to be free.

      • Or just plain old land based ones in the desert.
      • by 0123456 (636235) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:03PM (#37756794)

        Until you come up with essentially unlimited, cheap energy, space is not going to be the place for the huddled masses yearning to be free.

        Look up.

        See that bright thing in the sky?

        It's called 'The Sun'.

        Once you're away from Earth, there's a fsckload of cheap energy just blasting out into space; not enough to support exponential growth forever, but enough to support vastly more people than currently exist. The hard part is getting off of Earth in the first place.

        • Could you convert a fsckload of energy into gigawatts, or something? My math sucks! ;^)

          • Could you convert a fsckload of energy into gigawatts, or something? My math sucks! ;^)

            3.6x10^17 gigawatts. Give or take a couple percent.

      • by jamstar7 (694492) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:08PM (#37756842)

        Habitats fabricated in free space can provide thousands of times more habitable surface area than Earth.

        Sure they can. At some impressive energy cost (remember the gravity well, it sucks pretty hard). It would be much easier to make floating / submerged habitats than ones in outer space.

        Until you come up with essentially unlimited, cheap energy, space is not going to be the place for the huddled masses yearning to be free.

        Only if you demand every gram of every habitat come from the Earth. There are plenty of materials just laying around on the surface of the Moon. Smelting them via mirrors during the long Lunar day should be easy, as well as building an escape velocity catapult to launch the materials into space.

        Downside of course is if it's done by NASA, they won't let a gram of material off the face of the Moon, and no government in their right mind would allow a catapult on the Moon that has the potential to drop bigassed rocks & metal chunks weighing over 100 tons on Earth.

        • "no government in their right mind would allow a catapult on the Moon that has the potential to drop bigassed rocks & metal chunks weighing over 100 tons on Earth."

          Didn't I read that somewhere? I'm sure I did. What was his name?

        • by plopez (54068)

          How do you process the metals? How do you smelt it? How do you get the processing equipment onto the moon?

          • by jamstar7 (694492)

            How do you process the metals? How do you smelt it? How do you get the processing equipment onto the moon?

            Scrape up the regolith with teloperated bulldozers. We need not send a man to the moon for this, there's only about a 3.5 second time lag, so if the bulldozer is sufficiently slow speed, it can be run from the ground. Yes, that time lag is going to be a minor problem, but with advances in technology and computer software, it should be liveable in the near future, say, 5 years.

            You smelt it with mirrors. Plenty of free sunlight on the moon's surface, no air to conduct the heat away. And the low gravity wi

        • Back when I was a kid, I read a science fiction novel called "Bubbles in the Sky", probably written in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I have tried many times in the last 10-15 years to find this story without success but I still remember the cover of the book. I also recall the author as Frederick Pohl but I haven't found it in any list of his work.

          The gist of this story was that the construction crew that was required to build the big space station (this was before the modern era of robotics and such, so

      • by Baldrson (78598) *
        The energetics have been worked out since the 1970s and by the time the Space Shuttle was coming in insanely under advertised performance, the energetics were even further reduced.

        You use solar thermal collectors to process nonterrestrial materials, primarily from the moon and secondarily from Earth approaching asteroids to bootstrap to the asteroid belt with a very small seed infrastructure lifted to the moon from earth [ssi.org].

      • by Baloroth (2370816) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:29PM (#37757028)

        Habitats fabricated in free space can provide thousands of times more habitable surface area than Earth.

        Sure they can. At some impressive energy cost (remember the gravity well, it sucks pretty hard). It would be much easier to make floating / submerged habitats than ones in outer space.

        Until you come up with essentially unlimited, cheap energy, space is not going to be the place for the huddled masses yearning to be free.

        It's too bad there isn't a massive effectively limitless energy source somewhere pretty near us in space. /sarcasm

        Yes, getting to space is expensive now. The thing is, the actual energy cost to get into space is much less than you would think. Here [wikipedia.org] is an interesting comparison. At ~7.7km/s (escape velocity is ~11km/s) and 277 tonnes, the ISS has less orbital kinetic energy (orbital kinetic energy=1/2 gravitational) potential energy than that contained by the fuel in an Airbus A380. Only ~100 times that which the average car in the US used in 2000. A single decent power plant can produce that much energy in a day (actually, a 1000MW power plant will produce ~10 times that. In one day.)

        The trouble is, rockets are not very efficient and extremely heavy. And expensive to build. And, well, you're launching yourself into space on a pile of burning extremely combustible material. If we can find a better way to get into space (space elevators would be awesome), going to space won't be a problem. A single power plant could lift an ISS into space every day (figuring ~10% efficiency). Yes, spaceflight could be the answer. Not terribly soon, but yes.

        • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic@gmail.DALIcom minus painter> on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @12:11AM (#37758464)

          Sure they can. At some impressive energy cost (remember the gravity well, it sucks pretty hard). It would be much easier to make floating / submerged habitats than ones in outer space.

          The problem with floating habitats is that the ocean is a very tough place - it's amazingly corrosive (I've been refitting an ocean cruising sailboat and learning more about metallurgy and materials science than I ever imagined), it has currents that will take you where you don't want to go, it's got an equally amazingly adaptable biology that really, really wants to either eat
          or live on whatever is immersed in it, it's constantly expressing the effects of storms both near and 1000s of miles away.

          Almost nothing humans build survives very long in the ocean - a 20 year old boat is almost always OLD. By contrast, as we have seen, most of the entropic forces in space are much more limited, much more constant and predictable - and therefore _mostly_ can be dealt with one way or another. Look at Voyager - still operating after decades.

          So I think that floating habitats will happen - I've been toying with an SF story about one based in one of the gyres - but they will require actually more money than space habitats, because to survive the rigors and variance of the oceans they will have to be _BIG_ and will have to incorporate a range of complex dynamic systems to keep afloat and alive. And I don't know if they will ever be self-sufficient in the way space habitats will have to be.

          In some sense the modern cruise ships are a small non-self-sufficient version. There are a few people who have moved onto cruise ships and live on them all year around, and a Swedish group has proposed a huge version that would be a condo city of 50,000 people [wikipedia.org] that would never come to port (it would be too big), but be tended by a range of smaller vehicles. But the problem remains - at present every floating vessel has to come in to port to have the hull cleaned and repainted every few years, and the corrosion and other effects mean that few commercial vessels last over 20 years - it's cheaper to buy a new one than to fix the old one.

          And besides - ships won't get us off this big 'ship' that we are presently restricted to. In the long term, we really need to 'move on up' and end our dependence on this single point of failure - and bring the rest of our biome with us.

          • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @02:42AM (#37759012) Homepage

            've been refitting an ocean cruising sailboat and learning more about metallurgy and materials science than I ever imagined

            the corrosion and other effects mean that few commercial vessels last over 20 years - it's cheaper to buy a new one than to fix the old one.

            You may have learned more about metallurgy and materials science than you ever imagined, but you know much less than than you think you do. Commercial ships routinely last more then 20 years, as do warships. The usual killer for commercial ships isn't corrosion, it's being outmoded. The usual killer for warships is the systems being worn out, hull corrosion is rarely a factor.
             
            Look at the Fleet Guide [wa.gov] for the Washington State Ferries - the bulk of the fleet is over thirty years old. (Though you'd never know it to ride aboard them.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The private sector couldn't have done any of the Apollo missions or any other space flight capabilities at the time. No one company had the resources or the motive or develop any sort of space flight, let alone manned space flight.

      We are now entering the age of private launch services as a result of cheaper technology and newer technology and the fact that the private sector has figured out how to make money on manned space flight.

      In the beginning, Government was the only entity that had the ability and dir

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The private sector couldn't have done any of the Apollo missions or any other space flight capabilities at the time. No one company had the resources or the motive or develop any sort of space flight, let alone manned space flight.

        Exactly. Apollo was a great technical achievement for its time, but ultimately it was a huge boondoggle; no sane company would have spent that much money putting a few flags on the moon.

        I think if Government was never involved, the private sector would be just beginning to get folks into the space now in 2011 or whenever Burt Rutan and gang gets folks in space

        SpaceX will be putting people in space well before Rutan does; they've already proven the Dragon works.

        My question is why you think it's so important that government sent some bureaucrats into space well before it made any financial sense? Would the world really have come to an end if people were only just now able to fly in

        • by Rakishi (759894)

          My question is why you think it's so important that government sent some bureaucrats into space well before it made any financial sense? Would the world really have come to an end if people were only just now able to fly into orbit?

          The same reason the government pays for basic scientific research instead of waiting till it's cheap enough for any company to do so. If not for NASA then we wouldn't be spending people into space right now private or not. The private ventures build on top of the initial research work done by the government. Hell, some are still getting funded by the government.

          they've already proven the Dragon works.

          So you're using a rocket being paid for by a government contract to supply a government funded space station as an example of pure private space tra

          • by plopez (54068) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:57PM (#37757642) Journal

            *snip*

            The same reason the taxpayer pays for basic scientific research instead of waiting till it's cheap enough for any company to do so. If not for NASA then we wouldn't be spending people into space right now private or not. The private ventures build on top of the initial research work done by the the taxpayer Hell, some are still getting funded by the taxpayer.

            they've already proven the Dragon works.

            So you're using a rocket being paid for by a taxpayer contract to supply a taxpayer funded space station as an example of pure private space travel?

            Fixed that for you. Socialism, it just works better than the private sector sometimes. :)

        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          It's important because

          1: Our enemy was putting comms satellites and soon enough weapons in space, which made them look more powerful than us (for good reason), and beating them to the moon helped us keep our side of the war together enough to win it

          2: The resulting economic growth and convenience (and lifesaving necessities for some) in return was well worth the investment, even if the American public was the only entity that could invest it

          and

          3: Because SpaceX, Rutan and the rest would be 50 years behind w

        • by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:12PM (#37757314)

          Remember that the space program also fueld the technology boom of the 60's and 70's. Who's to say if we would have invented the electronic computer in the 50's if we didn't need missles. Would the microchip have been invented? Even aircraft technology had to be advanced to help with the space program.

          And of course think of the Bra's. Playtex was a major vendor of space suit technology, that eventually lead to new materials that now make boobies much more enticing.

    • If their communist bureaucracies didn't function, they didn't eat

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Famines [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Period#Famine [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korean_famine [wikipedia.org]

      It is virtually guaranteed that once the vital national interests of the space race were realized by the Apollo Program,

      If by "vital national interests" you mean "rampant spending for the pure purpose of nationalism", then yes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Doc Ruby (173196)

      Yes, anything the government does is "communist". If you're a Republican, and stupid - er, redundant.

      And NASA's existence prohibited private companies from going into space, which is why only governments ever succeeded in doing it. Right? Because one of them was a Communist government. Though, despite what you say, the US space programme was more successful. And despite the fact that private interests have succeeded only through the vast and long public subsidy of space development.

      Now NASA is "communist".

    • by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:33PM (#37757044)

      If expansion of a species into deep space is so easy, and the Drake equation valid, then where is everyone? Where are all of the alien species that should be visiting our planet? Why hasn't the first deep-space faring species colonised the entire universe? I mean, as soon as humans built boats, we spread out across the world and colonised every habitable continent and scrap of land. Why hasn't the same thing happened on an intergalactic level? The possibilities I see are:

      1. We are the first intelligent species to evolve. Highly unlikely but possible.

      2. Expansion of a species into deep space is not feasible in terms of energy and other resources. Every intelligent species that has evolved to this point has hit this constraint.

      3. The Prime Directive. Seems unlikely - we can't get global agreement on borders and border controls, and yet alien governments manage to stop every single one of their citizens from visiting Earth? There are no rebellious alien youths? No Mathias Rusts? [wikipedia.org]

      • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:11PM (#37757312)

        The Drake equation has several unknown variables, and even if getting into space is easy, that doesn't mean you'd want to visit Earth. In fact, if you can build habitats to live in deep space (necessary to travel interstellar distances), visiting Earthlike planets is a low-value proposition: It'll take a lot of energy to get here, a lot more to land, a heck of a lot more to take off again, and more yet to leave. Versus staying in the Oort cloud, for instance, where you are likely to be able to find any material you'd be able to find on Earth, and get to it a lot easier. (If possibly in less concentrated chunks.) You'll also avoid any possibly-hostile natives. Only downside is the loss of solar energy, but if you are colonizing deep space anyway you aren't relying on that.

        But back to the Drake equation: f(l) and f(i) are still complete unknowns. (Not to mention f(c) and L, the latter of which we don't even have one measurement of, although ours are already tapering off, so a 50 to 100 years might not be a bad estimate.) There's some indications that f(l) is probably moderately high, but I wouldn't be surprised if f(i) is under one thousandth of a percent. Intelligence is a great survival strategy - once you hit a certain level. Below that level, there's a wide gap where it doesn't appear to help all that much. Exactly why and how humans crossed that gap is an open question. It's quite possible that the universe is teaming with life - and not very much of it is intelligent as we define the term. Or that most of it is too advanced to leak emissions wastefully.

        (And you can probably modify your possibility #1 to be 'Only current intelligent species within a few hundred light years.' Beyond that we'd be unlikely to be able to detect an intelligent species unless it was explicitly trying to contact us.)

      • a) space is so huge there's no need to run into anyone.
        b) how many people are still crossing the world in boats colonizing continents? Maybe they have better things to do than to personally land on every planet.
        c) Our recorded history is about 4000 years old? compared to the age of the earth (4.5 billion years) or the age of the universe (13.7 billion years) it's quite possible they visited before or will in the future if they exist. Saying that they haven't gotten here yet so they don't exist is really ju

    • by Hartree (191324)

      "This guy is ridiculously illiterate."

      No, this guy is willfully ignorant. That's far harder to fix.

    • Citation? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:59PM (#37757230)

      The math has been done and it is clear: Habitats fabricated in free space can provide thousands of times more habitable surface area than Earth.

      Okay, I'll bite... if the math has been done and is clear, where is it? Obviously there is a lot of free space outside the Earth, but there is more to providing a habitable environment than unused volume; in fact, as far as I am aware nobody has ever claimed that it is a lack of unused landmass that is the constraint holding back continued expansion of the human population. A lack of energy, a lack of clean water, a lack of arable land, a lack of food, a lack of raw resources, a lack of medical care, these are all factors. But how is moving into space going to solve these problems? If we can't effectively harness solar energy on Earth, and we can't geo-engineer our deserts to grow crops, and we can't provide enough raw materials, clean water and medicine to our growing populations, then how are we supposed to solve the exact same problems in space - where everything is orders of magnitude more difficult?

      The problems that we have supporting growing populations here on Earth are only a subset of the problems of doing the same in outer space. I don't see how solving these problems in the domain of space could ever be easier than solving the same problems in the domain of Earth. Yes, if these problems were all solved, and free space were the prevailing constraint, then space might be the answer, but we already have 510 million square kilometers of surface here on Earth, all of which could hypothetically be covered in 20km high skyscrapers, so we are a long way away from lack of free space being the dominant constraint on growth.

      • by Baldrson (78598) *
        Start with: O'Neill, Gerard K.; Driggers, G.; O'Leary, B. (October 1980). "New Routes to Manufacturing in Space". Astronautics and Aeronautics 18: 46–51. That is the math behind exponential partial self-replication utilizing lunar materials with a very short doubling time. "The High Frontier" by Gerard O'Neill has the numbers for per-area energetics and material costs leading up to estimates of the limits to growth based on asteroidal materials.
    • Uhhhh - I'm all for exploration and expansion into space. But, my primary focus is on colonization of other stellar bodies. Those who advocate for orbital habitats seem to forget that there are serious health issues involved with low gravity. Artificial gravity would impose severe structural requirements on those habitats. Yeah, it can be done, I'm sure - but putting habitats under the surface of the moon will likely be cheaper and safer. Similar habitats on Mars would be a lot safer yet.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:31PM (#37757456) Homepage Journal

      I saw practically no math in your link. I did see a lot of bullshit hand-waving, though.

      I was going to recommend that you read Entering Space [amazon.com] by Robert Zubrin for education in what you believe is cheap and easy, but then I noticed your link had already done so. I liked the part where he dismissed the cost (and Zubrin's estimates) by already assuming a permanent lunar presence with a mass driver putting ore into earth orbit.

    • by plopez (54068)

      We could provide far more living space and resources by colonizing the oceans first. An easier problem to solve. Why hasn't the private sector done this yet?

    • by Zalbik (308903)

      +4? Seriously? Is this a joke?

      1) The poster complains about the writer of the article being "ridiculously illiterate", but has wonderfully constructed sentences such as:
      "To, in this context of communist domination of space launch services, point to the failure of space programs to develop the economic potential of space is tendentious to say the least"

      2) He makes completely bogus claims such as:
      "The math has been done and it is clear:
      Habitats fabr

    • by Dr Max (1696200)
      You gotta love how he dismisses long distance travel due to the speed of the apollo project.
    • by Shihar (153932) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @12:13AM (#37758466)

      Habitats fabricated in free space can provide thousands of times more habitable surface area than Earth.

      You are a moron.

      Who gives a fly fuck about 'surface area' to live on. Does the earth look full to you? Have you been to Canada, anywhere in the US that isn't a coast, most of Russia, or the fucking endless oceans that cover 2/3 the surface of the fucking planet? Do you know what all of those places have in common? They are all empty, and they all make vastly easier and better places to colonize than space. No one is lacking for "space" to toss more humans. What we lack is resources. Places to toss more humans are plentiful and cheap. Building a city on Canada, middle America, or even the ocean is a thousands times cheaper than trying to lug people into space. As a bonus, if you have a merry old ocean colony, you also get to score resources, the capacity to trade easily and very cheaply, and the air is free. How exciting.

      Lets pretend for a moment that space isn't an empty vacuum, and lets ignore for a moment that even the shittiest sea colony has a thousand times more resources than any space colony in the form of air, water, and trade. Let's ignore all of that... If you want to reduce earth to zero population growth, you would need to toss 300 THOUSAND people into to space a DAY. Good luck with that.

  • we need a stargate cheaper the space ships

    • First you need to deliver the Stargate let alone create them. In the case of the movie and TV series, Stargates were already in place and thus found.

  • Approximately how far have humans traveled from the surface of the Earth in your lifetime? [e.g., since 1980 or so]

    52% thought humans had been as far as the Moon since the 1980s, ... I can only guess that some students imagined the International Space Station as a remote outpost

    That is a questionable interpretation. It would seem more plausible that the students simply get their decades mixed up and thought Apollo happened in the 80s rather than the 70s (last landing 1972?).

    • by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:17PM (#37756920)

      The rest of the quote was hilarious though

      20% thought we had been farther than the Moon. Some were indignant on learning the truth: “What do we use the space shuttle for, if not to go to the Moon?!” I can only guess that some students imagined the International Space Station as a remote outpost, certainly beyond the Moon, and likely strategically located next to a wormhole.

      20% of physics students, at this university level, thought that humanity had traveled beyond the Moon? And some thought that we routinely use the shuttle to travel to the moon...

      • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:24PM (#37756990)

        The rest of the quote was hilarious though

        20% thought we had been farther than the Moon. Some were indignant on learning the truth: “What do we use the space shuttle for, if not to go to the Moon?!” I can only guess that some students imagined the International Space Station as a remote outpost, certainly beyond the Moon, and likely strategically located next to a wormhole.

        20% of physics students, at this university level, thought that humanity had traveled beyond the Moon? And some thought that we routinely use the shuttle to travel to the moon...

        Well humanity has traveled "beyond" the moon, thats what happens as your orbit and pass over the far/dark side. Perhaps the physics students were being literal, X km above the lunar surface is X km "beyond" the moon for X > 0. :-)

      • by Old Wolf (56093) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @10:46PM (#37758000)

        20% of physics students, at this university level, thought that humanity had traveled beyond the Moon? And some thought that we routinely use the shuttle to travel to the moon...

        That's a lot easier to stomach than the fact that 75% of Americans with postgraduate degrees (and 84% overall) believe that a mythical being was involved in created humanity
        (source) [gallup.com]

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Approximately how far have humans traveled from the surface of the Earth in your lifetime? [e.g., since 1980 or so]

      52% thought humans had been as far as the Moon since the 1980s, ... I can only guess that some students imagined the International Space Station as a remote outpost

      That is a questionable interpretation. It would seem more plausible that the students simply get their decades mixed up and thought Apollo happened in the 80s rather than the 70s (last landing 1972?).

      Either interpretation implies an unacceptable level of ignorance. I learned about the Apollo program when I was very young (from a Richard Scarry book) but was never confused enough to think it was still going on.

  • by gmuslera (3436) * on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @07:51PM (#37756694) Homepage Journal

    Staying here, keeping it habitable, limiting our growing and being more efficient using resources and territory definately is cheaper (at least, for now) than going to space. But there could be situation where staying here will not be an option, and not having developed space by then will leave us as rich corpses.

    The process so far of going into space, solving the hard problem of going up there and stay, had left us so far a bunch of great technologies that are very important in our current way of life. In the future, if we keep trying and solve the very hard problem of i.e. having self-sustainable space stations or terraforming other planets, we should develop things that surely will be very helpful to improve this planet, and we will have an option if shit happens down here.

    Time passes, civilizations and cultures come and go with enough time, we know that we are able to try to do that now, but who knows what will come next, maybe will be easier, or maybe we will run out of time

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:01PM (#37756770)

    If the ship sinks, and you have a life raft, you stand some chance of rescue. The ocean is vast, but it’s a two-dimensional vastness teeming with human activity

    Since we are currently at the dawn of space travel and looking 500 years ahead, lets look 500 years into the past with respect to seafaring and their exploration and colonization of their new world. Seafarers of that day did not stand a chance if their vessel sunk, they did not have the survival equipment we have today, they did not have all the other traffic and human activity in the "area". Hell, if one of Columbus' ships had sunk at night the crew would probably have been doomed desperate sailing with two other ships.

    500 years ago people could be found to make the voyage to the Americas despite the misery and risks of the voyage. Today there would probably no shortage of informed people to go on a physically and emotionally miserable, and a very risky, voyage to the moon or mars. Now consider 500 years from now. While the physics of a voyage to mars may be the same the technology available to address comfort and risk will be vastly improved. Even with relatively spartan amenities for exploration and colonization that will be no shortage of informed volunteers. A spartan existence certainly did not prevent colonization of and movement into the frontier of the americas.

    • Okay, lets make a deserved comparison to ocean voyages. During the age of European colonization and exploration, the amount of effort required on the shore to equip a sailing expedition for a year at sea was roughly one man year per person making the voyage. At that level, it was still pretty expensive, but it was possible to send a significant number of people across the oceans.

      Fast forward to space voyages in the 21st century, and the ratio is about *four orders of magnitude* higher. And the only plac
    • by Jonner (189691) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @10:19PM (#37757808)

      If the ship sinks, and you have a life raft, you stand some chance of rescue. The ocean is vast, but it’s a two-dimensional vastness teeming with human activity

      Since we are currently at the dawn of space travel and looking 500 years ahead, lets look 500 years into the past with respect to seafaring and their exploration and colonization of their new world. Seafarers of that day did not stand a chance if their vessel sunk, they did not have the survival equipment we have today, they did not have all the other traffic and human activity in the "area". Hell, if one of Columbus' ships had sunk at night the crew would probably have been doomed desperate sailing with two other ships.

      500 years ago people could be found to make the voyage to the Americas despite the misery and risks of the voyage. Today there would probably no shortage of informed people to go on a physically and emotionally miserable, and a very risky, voyage to the moon or mars. Now consider 500 years from now. While the physics of a voyage to mars may be the same the technology available to address comfort and risk will be vastly improved. Even with relatively spartan amenities for exploration and colonization that will be no shortage of informed volunteers. A spartan existence certainly did not prevent colonization of and movement into the frontier of the americas.

      He didn't say it was survival was likely stranded in the middle of the ocean, merely that it's possible. Far more important is what waits at the destination. Columbus and other explorers could only expect to survive round trip voyages because they'd find dry land, air, water and food somewhere even if they didn't know exactly where. Colonies were motivated by the rich natural resources just waiting to be exploited in the New World. Traveling to a planet or moon in our solar system, we can be quite certain that we have to bring everything necessary for survival with us. Maybe we'll eventually figure out how to make such colonies worthwhile, but it will many times more difficult than what explorers faced 500 years ago.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:01PM (#37756778)

    When we can send an unmanned pod to Mars or Venus that will self-sufficiently create shelter, food, and the resources for continued expansion--then we will be ready.

    Until then, we're just space tourists.

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      I don't think it'll take 500 years to get from where we are now to there.

      Unless we give up now. This guy's prophecy is designed for self-fulfillment.

    • water suits (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nten (709128) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:46PM (#37757146)

      I like the analogy of fish moving to land. They didn't build water domes, they didn't wear water suits, and they most certainly didn't modify the land to be more like the sea. The fish themselves changed. I am not proposing we wait for random mutations to make us capable of living in hard vacuum off of nothing but radiation and interstellar gas. I am proposing that we divorce our idea of what defines us as humanity from the animal homo sapiens sapiens, and work on ways to modify ourselves to be more adapted to our environment(s). Hairless apes are never going to thrive in space, but humanity might.

      • by MarkvW (1037596)

        That is a really cool idea. If you can't bring the mountain to Mohammed, bring Mohammed to the mountain!

  • "By contrast, a hamburger has never slammed into the side of the space shuttle in orbit"

    Give it time, Richard Branson is looking to have tourists up there by the end of next year.

  • Space is a endless junkyard of orbiting debris. Ahhh, but. Miniturisation Jack. That's he ticket. That's the edge that everyone's been looking for.
  • by Roogna (9643) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:10PM (#37756852)

    Honestly, while yes today it is highly impractical. That was true of all frontiers at one point or another. Once upon a time sailing from Europe to the Americas was considered a long, highly dangerous, expensive voyage. Now we have multiple flights back and forth daily. Time changes, and progress -does- march forward. Yes, the space shuttle is gone. On the other hand we have what, 3 companies? More? that look like they will have tourism ready space travel in my lifetime. When my grandparents were my age that entire idea would have been insane. The key is, we, as humanity, can't give up on every idea simply because it doesn't make sense -today-. A lot of those ideas will suddenly be worth every penny that was ever invested in them at some point in the future.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      Once upon a time sailing from Europe to the Americas was considered a long, highly dangerous, expensive voyage.

      The difference is that with Americas it was only the journey that was dangerous and expensive, once you had arrived you had plenty of uncharted and fertile land at your hands and could make a self sustained living pretty easily. The problem with space is that the journey never ends, you never reach the point where you can just settle down and go kill some buffalo when you are hungry, you will always be incredible short on resources and reaching self sustainability will be extremely hard, if possible at all.

      • There is little point in trying to cross the Atlantic when all you have is a tiny inflatable boat.

        William Bligh and 17 other men were dumped into the middle of the ocean in a 23 foot open boat.
        No navigational instruments, and only enough food and water to provide ~1 ounce of bread per day per man for the voyage.

        They managed to travel 3600 miles to safety. Took them less time than it took Columbus to reach the New World from Spain...

        So, yes, if all you have is a tiny inflatable boat, and really need to g

  • ...the right thing with false reasoning.

    There is no economic reason to colonize space. In fact, there is no economic reason for anything other than killing all people and let the last remaining person to live the remainder of his life as the supposed owner of the world. Here is your perfect solution, the whole Earth population (1 person) acquiring maximum possible amount of all possible resources and products per time (whatever he can lay his eyes on). But this is why economists should shut up and go back t

  • Whether space is or is not eventually "The Place", one of Cringely's latest columns [cringely.com] on the "next frontier" is worth reading. He's been going on about the need for a new frontier to provide a direction in which mankind expand our expectations without entirely being guilty of exuberant over-optimism. The prequel article [cringely.com] is also worth reading.

    To quote from somewhere in the middle (and I almost feel I should shout SPOILER ALERT! first):

    What should that new frontier be? It almost doesn't matter as long as it is

  • (from the original article)

    But I’ll just point out that the idea that we are no longer able to accomplish feats we once could do (like travel to the Moon) clashes with the prevailing narrative that we march forever forward. Not only can’t we get to the Moon at present, but the U.S. no longer has a space shuttle program—originally envisioned to make space travel as routine as air travel. And for that matter, I no longer have the option to purchase a ticket to fly trans-Atlantic at supersonic speeds on the Concorde. Narratives can break. I’ll leave it at that.

    I agree that the ability to move out into the solar system has been sidetracked. It has been a bit of a problem and mankind has pulled back from what we could be doing in terms of getting things done in space. The apparent retrenchment in the ability to travel into space isn't really accurate in the least and this guy really misses what is going on.

    The Apollo missions were a highly focused goal that really pushed the limits of the technology available at the time, perhaps even pushing that technology to its breaking point as the Apollo 13 missions demonstrated very clearly. At best those could be compared to weekend camping trips. We learned a whole bunch about how to live and work in space on those trips that we also learned how tough it would be to go.

    That said, the problem here is that we have been depending on "the government" to get us into space on Manhattan Project type "big science" expeditions, where those programs could be cut and abused because of political whims, graft, and corruption. All of that has happened and more with NASA. Had the NASA budget kept pace with the federal budget from the mid-1960's to today, there most certainly would be at least an outpost on the Moon or elsewhere in the Solar System like the Amundsen-Scott Base at the South Pole. One of the first missions of the "Apollo Applications Program" that was cut was a manned mission to Venus [wikipedia.org]. A mission to Mars has been talked about since the Nixon administration. Getting "out there" has been in the cards, but the funding to make it happen hasn't been there primarily because the political will that got the Apollo program going ran out of steam.

    Private spaceflight efforts, in other words private citizens trying to get into space on their own dime without subsidies from a government entity, has taken a long time to get going. There are established markets for commercial enterprises in space today, primarily concentrated at the moment in the form of telecommunications (including "satellite" television, mobile telephones, and other long-distance communication), navigation (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Compass, and others), remote sensing, cartography (Google Maps and others), and reconnaissance (both government and civilian). Add to that list is rapid point-to-point delivery and space tourism that is just beginning to open up. All of these are proven money-makers for those groups who wish to get involved with them and have also made life today much better because they exist as well.

    Far from "we are never going to get into space", we are already there. We are just getting our toes out into the water, so to say, but the commercial development of space-based resources has steadily improved and now represents a multi-billion dollar industry. One of the hang-ups about getting more happening in space has been the cost of spaceflight. In other words, trying to find cheaper ways of getting stuff into space. When a 1 liter bottle of water costs $100,000 or more to send it into space, the economics of getting people into space for settlement simply don't work.

    The fallacy in this article is the presumption that we simply can't get cheaper than $100,000/kg for putting stuff into space and that the cost of going into space is only going to go up. The reason that is currently the case is because the government, a

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:53PM (#37757192) Homepage Journal
    Once we get there. Sure from here it looks impossible, and getting out of the gravity well is a huge pain in the ass. My view of Mars is why should I get out of one gravity well just to get stuck in another one? Once we have some manufacturing facilities in orbit or on the moon, I'd be surprised if we didn't start just tooling around the inner solar system with small solar sail spacecraft. Teenagers will probably build them for joyriding in the future. A lot of people might die before we get good at it, but that's always happened on our frontiers. Generally the reward has been "You get to live someplace that doesn't suck as much as here." There are probably already some places on earth where it sucks to live more than it would living in space, so now it's just a matter of creating the opportunities to get there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:56PM (#37757214)

    This is all ridiculous. The reason we aren't going to space is because we're a bunch of cowards--we insist that any mission have a ridiculously high safety expectation, complete with trip home.

    We aren't going to even BEGIN to think about living anywhere outside our planet until someone driven enough to risk their life sits on top of a ton of explosives and fires themselves off to the stars with two middle fingers pointing back at the receding Earth.

  • Can imagine the crap she gets when she suggests maybe they should go on a cruise or buy a new car?

  • Tell that to the dinosaurs.
  • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:29PM (#37757438)
    In my lifetime, mankind went from a single orbit of earth, to landing on the moon, having space stations orbiting earth, planetary and cometary and asteroidal probes. He equates the U.S. with mankind, ignoring that other nations are ramping up their space programs. He ignores that soon we will have the ability with genetic engineering to grow most everything we need on earth, with only solar input, freeing up nuclear fuels like thorium (of which we have centuries of supply) to be used to make hydrogen and oxygen for near term space travel as we master fusion for the longer term. We can make huge generational spaceships and habitats on the moon using solar power and then use the He3 to power them into space to get water and volatiles and metals from comets and asteroids. No vision, no courage, a wimp. The U.S. would have its population all mashed together on the eastern seaboard if our pioneer ancestor were like this psychological marshmallow.
  • Straw horse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fnj (64210) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @11:23PM (#37758242)

    The argument against the straw horse of expansion into space as a hedge against limits on growth is not of much interest, because no one with half a brain believes the premise anyway. It may allow some minor further growth at enormous expense, but that's not what space is for.

    Space is a hedge against extinction, and a challenge to the human urge to explore new places and try new things. If self-supporting colonies exist on other celestial bodies and on artificial constructions in space, the inevitable destructive hit to earth sooner or later by a large comet, large asteroid, or high percentile megacaldera eruption will not be able to terminate the entire human race. 50%, or 90%, or 99% of the race might be extinguished, but there would be survivors in an intact setting in any scenario.

    Conceivably multiple underground redoubts on earth with self-contained vast reserves of energy could provide the same assurance, but they can't satisfy the other need. That is the need to explore and settle new territory and rise to new challenges. A human race that had that snuffed out would not be recognizable as human, and would be no great loss if it DID become extinct. Also, if we do make contact with members of other races in space, we won't have to apologize for being satisfied huddled exclusively on the surface of our birthplace.

"Indecision is the basis of flexibility" -- button at a Science Fiction convention.

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