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Could Humanity Really Build 'Elysium'? 545

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Miriam Kramer writes at that in the new movie Elysium, Earth is beyond repair, and the rich and powerful have decided to leave it behind to live in a large, rotating space station stocked with mansions, grass, trees, water and gravity. 'The premise is totally believable to me. I spent 28 years working on NASA's International Space Station and retired last summer as the director of ISS at NASA Headquarters. When I took a look at the Elysium space station, I thought to myself, that's certainly achievable in this millennium,' says Mark Uhran, former director of the International Space Station Division in NASA's Office of Human Exploration and Operations. 'It's clear that the number-one challenge is chemical propulsion.' Nuclear propulsion could be a viable possibility eventually, but the idea isn't ready for prime time yet. 'We learned an incredible amount with [the International Space Station] and we demonstrated that we have the technology to assemble large structures in space.' The bottom line: 'If you threw everything you had at it, could you reach a space station of the scale of Elysium in 150 years?' says Uhran. 'That's a pretty tall order.'"
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Could Humanity Really Build 'Elysium'?

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  • by intermodal ( 534361 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:14AM (#44541911) Homepage Journal

    I'm invoking Betteridge's law of headlines and saying "no."

    • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:19AM (#44541965) Journal
      In that case, it is the wrong question. Humanity could build such a thing, but probably won't. Technically, it was already possible during the second world war (if you can build an intercontinental ballistic missile, you can build a spacecraft).
      • Unfortunately, without bold advances in genetic engineering, psycho-pharmaceuticals, or social psychology, we'll be hard-pressed to find enough humans who derive greater satisfaction from putting a spacecraft into orbit than from putting a spacecraft on a reentry trajectory toward the nearest loathsome nest of foreigners.

        • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:46AM (#44542355) Journal

          You're thinking about it all wrong. All you need to do is invent a religion that makes space travel a sacred duty. For inspiration see the works of L. Ron Hubbard and the the second Riddick movie.

          • For inspiration do not see Heaven's Gate [].

      • For a headline, what would be the right question? After reading the wiki bit on Betteridge's law it seems that almost any headline question is good only for trolling. however, I'll take the high road of seeing this as a vaild starting point for a /. discussion.

      • by interval1066 ( 668936 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @12:02PM (#44542567) Homepage Journal

        ...if you can build an intercontinental ballistic missile, you can build a spacecraft...

        Wrong. Two very different levels of technology involved. And missles of the type you are describing use chemical propulsion, already discussed in the article as being insufficiant for the tasks nessessary.

      • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @12:23PM (#44542761) Journal

        Humanity will build such a thing as and when such a thing becomes desirable to those with the money and power to make it happen.

        In this movie, Earth becoming horrendous provides the impetus for the rich and powerful to push for the development. And when the rich and powerful want something, they will make it happen - especially in popular fiction. Nuclear launchers - no problem.

        In addition, seeds are a lot lighter than trees, so all plants on the station would be grown in-situ. Assuming a 50 year build span, with the first plant-supporting-biomes being installed ten to twenty years into that build time, after 50 years there would be a lot of 30 year old trees.

        Soil, that's an issue. That would have to be a combination of fertilizer,humus,natural soil bacteria, nemotodes, fungi, insects, etc, and space dirt - rock dust from asteroid mining, lunar regolith, etc.

        I agree with the author that 2154 is probably a bit early for all that, given our current rate of space development, unless a big breakthrough is made in getting into space effectively, regularly, and cheaply in the next thirty years. 2254 I could understand more.

        • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:07PM (#44543237) Homepage

          Back when NASA was more ambitious and had better political support: []
          "What follows is a portion of the final report of
          a NASA summer study, conducted in 1980 by request of newly-elected President Jimmy Carter at a cost of 11.7 million dollars. The result of the study was a realistic proposal for a self-replicating automated lunar factory system, capable of exponentially increasing productive capacity and, in the long run, exploration of the entire galaxy within a reasonable timeframe. Unfortunately, the proposal was quietly declined with barely a ripple in the press.
              What was once concievable with 1980's technology is now even more practical today. Even if you're just skimming through this document, the potential of this proposed system is undeniable. Please enjoy."

          As I said elsewhere:
          "The cheapest way forward may be to create an open source plan for an automated seed that could be sent to an asteroid where it would begin to grow into a space habitat. Then the habitat could duplicate itself by making more seeds. The habitats could create transport spacecraft to land on Earth and solar space satellites to power them on the ground for launching back into space with people on board. So, all it takes is crowd-sourcing and the cost of the first seed and the first launch. Well, of course the first might fail, but by the tenth try it might work. So, it might be doable for only a few billion dollars in real money for materials and the first launches. Testing could be mostly done via simulation."

          Related projects I've participated in:

          It may be easier to figure out how humans can live in zero-G by bio-engineering though, compared to spinning big heavy things.

          I also suggest living in liquid with probably "liquid breathing" as an option to prevent muscle wasting and bone loss (since whales do OK by resistance from water):

      • In that case, it is the wrong question. Humanity could build such a thing, but probably won't. Technically, it was already possible during the second world war (if you can build an intercontinental ballistic missile, you can build a spacecraft).

        I don't think there was actually a functional ICBM available during WW2, although the V-2 came close, I don't think it was capable of achieving a stable orbit. If Germany's program had continued (that is, if they hadn't lost the war and all of their scientists to the US and USSR), it may have been achieved sooner. As it was, I don't think we had the technology until at least the mid-1950's.

    • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:35PM (#44543551) Homepage Journal

      Physics and sociology would be the major factors with such a space outpost. I think the physics say 'yes' while social factors say 'definite Maybe'.

      The wealthy habitually promote the idea of the Earth being endlessly exploitable without fear of enviromental repercussions. They even tell us that pollution = good. So...... how do such people learn to live in a space vessel where limits are glaringly obvious and all waste must be dealt with or else risk their environment quickly becoming nonviable?

      Their exploitation mindset may set them up to fail at life in space. Or, they may grow more ecologically conscious before their separatist project becomes set in stone. Or they might internalize some combination of values that allow them to become complete Space Nazis.

  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:14AM (#44541913)
    Look back at how things have changed since 1863 and you can't begin to comprehend where we could be in even 100 more years.
    • And then we can look at how relatively little progress was made during the 1000+ years previous.

      • And then we can look at how relatively little progress was made during the 1000+ years previous.

        Protip: Think of an exponential curve, not a linear one. ;)

        Each new bit is an addition to already known facts. The only real interruptions involve civilizational collapse and/or disruption.

        • Well when the country best suited to lead technological advance is more concerned about preventing marriages that have zero impact on their own life and think that genetic engineering is "playing god" we might be heading to a pretty significant "disruption". It's up to the rest of the world to pick up our slack.

      • by SoftwareArtist ( 1472499 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:56PM (#44544579)

        Because of course, no significant progress was made between 1013 and 1863. We didn't have any little things like the renaissance, the second agricultural revolution, the first industrial revolution, etc. There were no significant technological advances like the printing press, the spring-driven clock, the steam engine, or anything like that. Nor any scientific advances like classical mechanics, thermodynamics, and so on. Nope. Absolutely nothing.

    • Well, that really depends on how you view innovation. Keep in mind that time economic growth and innovation were at a fairly steady rate of about 2% for tens of thousands of years... the first big change we had was Fire and the wheel... then we were stagnant for a very very long time. Then with the industrial age and scientific method things shot forward again. We seem to be in the middle (or perhaps near the end) of an age of great discovery. People tend to see innovation as a constant upward slope, or eve

  • by malakai ( 136531 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:14AM (#44541917) Journal

    Is it just me, or is this movie being promoted through tons of tech sites/blogs?

    • by edawstwin ( 242027 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:18AM (#44541953)
      I think the promotion is a side effect of legitimate questions being asked about its premise. Aren't you curious if this is possible in the foreseeable future? At least it's more "real" science-fiction than something like Transformers.
      • by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:34AM (#44542167)

        Transformers isn't science fiction, its explosion porn.

        Elysium may be, at least somewhat.

        Moon [] is the pinnacle of science fiction for the last 20 years.

        Science fiction isn't simply a story that takes place in the future or involving technology. It is an exploration of the human condition, societal issues or ethics within an environment plausibly different from our own.

        • That's my point. The movie is attempting to tackle a societal issue using futuristic technology - the premise at least is not "explosion porn". Whether or not is succeeds at tackling that is irrelevant to my statement.
      • I think the promotion is a side effect of legitimate questions being asked about its premise. Aren't you curious if this is possible in the foreseeable future? At least it's more "real" science-fiction than something like Transformers.

        I suspect that talking about space stations is also more popular than talking about massive inequality, squalid impoverished masses, heavily robotized security apparatuses, and other non science-fiction elements.

    • by Deathlizard ( 115856 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:28AM (#44542091) Homepage Journal

      I'm going for Slashvertisement at this point.

      Two Posts about a movie that basically In Time [] but in space is fishy to me.

      I haven't seen this movie at all, But I can all but guarantee that the ending is going to be the Space station crashes onto earth and the rich survivors now have to live their lives just like everyone else.

    • Science Fiction. Is Fiction. Not prophecy!

      The Elysium is not much about science but an extradition of our culture. Figuring it will end up the Haves vs Have Nots will be so split that they don't even know that they exist. This idea has been expressed in many ways for a long time. The problem comes down to the fact if you live in world with all the Haves... There will still be competition for the resources so they will still be Haves and have Nots in that sub population, then the Have Nots will try hard

      • by tysonedwards ( 969693 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:50AM (#44542415)
        There would be far less complexity if the Ultra Rich decided to purchase something like Australia as well as all the drones that you could stick a shake at to attack anything that came within 500 miles, and then for sport lob a few high yield explosives into population centers that appear to be getting a little too uppity.

        Think of the savings, and the security... and the general sense of self importance that could arise out being half a world away from the nearest criminal.

        Plus, there would be a nice sense of irony in their newfound situation that would be lost on most.
  • What about air? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'd think the #1 issue would be air. Between leaks, meteor punctures, the necessarily less than 100% efficient airlocks (they can't get ALL the air out, so some puffs away when you open the outer door), and outgassing, you need a 'top-up' every so often. See, for instance, the book 'Fallen Angels'- the main characters are from an orbital station, on a 'scoop' mission to gather air from the upper atmosphere of Earth at the start of the book.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 )

      Hi, and welcome to Remedial Biology 101.

      Today's lesson: How Plants Create Oxygen []

      Study hard!

      • Re:What about air? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Athanasius ( 306480 ) <slashdot@miggy.oBOHRrg minus physicist> on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:33AM (#44542153) Homepage

        The parent was discussing the unavoidable losses of atoms/molecules. Sure you can use photosynthesis, if you have the raw materials to hand, but that's not going to work if they've left the space station.

      • Thats just using energy to convert elements and molecules into different molecules, but it doesn't change the fact that you will be constantly losing molecules over time and they will eventually need to be replaced some how.
        • Thats just using energy to convert elements and molecules into different molecules, but it doesn't change the fact that you will be constantly losing molecules over time and they will eventually need to be replaced some how.

          ... Big ass hose dropping into the atmosphere?

          Just snowballin' ideas here.

    • who is the author? Sounds like a good read and google have too many 'fallen angel' books to pick through.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:18AM (#44541949)

    when the earth has everything?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:23AM (#44542007) Journal

      when the earth has everything?

      And even a pretty fucked-up-dystopian-hellworld version of earth still has convenient gravity, atmospheric pressure and loads of raw materials. Short, possibly, of a good, enthusiastic, all-out, nuclear war (which would also...reduce...the odds of magnificent space-constructs), there isn't much you could do to earth that would make living on a space station cheaper and easier than just throwing up some habidomes with climate control and a ring of razor wire and killbots to keep the proles away.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        ..yeah that's whats stupid(among other things) about the plot.

        move to friggin antarctica if you want away from people. it'll be cheaper and you can have more coke'n'hoes.

      • by SoupGuru ( 723634 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:11PM (#44543289)

        I heard someone once say in response to space colonies: Try building a self-sustaining colony in Antarctica. And when you realize how freaking hard that is, remind yourself that at least you can breathe the air and you won't pop if there's a hole in the wall. Antarctica is a bazillion times more hospitable that any space colony would be.

    • The view.

  • Done (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:18AM (#44541951)

    Miriam Kramer writes at that in the new movie Elysium, Earth is beyond repair, and the rich and powerful have decided to leave it behind to live in a large, rotating space station stocked with mansions, grass, trees, water and gravity.

    So, Wall-E?

  • Dupe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by schneidafunk ( 795759 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:19AM (#44541957)
    This sounds familiar []
  • There's nothing technically impossible about building a gigantic space station, but it would be unbelievably expensive. Like every single person on Earth needs to contribute a few million bucks just to cover the launch costs of all of the material. Even if you were making it out of stuff you mined (from an asteroid) and refined in orbit the costs will be astronomical.

    The only scenario where it seems even halfway possible is some wartime economy scenario where the entire world puts aside ideas about eq
  • Way to aim high there. We went from the first uses of gunpowder to having a satellite leaving the solar system in under 1000 years. That doesn't even touch us landing on the moon and having multiple space stations orbiting earth at the same time.

    If I'm not able to do the Kessel Run in fewer than 12 parsecs by the end of this millennium, I will be *very*disappointed.

  • Technically, I think we'd have a good shot at it (of course I know everything about building space stations...) But socially? We'd need a pressing reason to build it first, and we'd need that reason quite soon in order to drive our resources towards that project early enough. For anything short of survival of the species, building this thing will likely not make economic sense even in 150 years. The Earth being "broken" in 150 years (environmental issues)? That might not cut it for current generation t
    • NOTE: I don't know anything about Elysium except that which I've gleaned from trailers/Internet chatter. That being said...

      I could see an Elysium-like situation occurring. Not "everyone else is poor and downtrodden and the rich escape into space", but "the rich make an orbiting resort for them to enjoy zero-g vacations." I can imagine that the rich and famous would LOVE such a place. Being able to brag to your friends that you just vacationed on Club $pace would make you the envy of your friends. To sa

  • The movie never made any attempt to explain how they maintain an atmosphere. Here on Earth, the gravitation of effect of Earth's mass does that for us. On Elysium, there is simulated gravity due to centripetal force, but that would only effect masses that are bound do it. Since the atmosphere floats above it, it would drift away and potentially escape through the open structure.

    Apart from that, if they can create such a structure out in space that is a perfect habitable environment, it seems to me they shou

  • Like most schemes to move off of this planet which we are in the process of destroying, this "solution" will be incredibly expensive and only accommodate a very small proportion of our 7 billion population. Of course, the rich will claim the space (along with a few essential maintenance people such as the phone sanitizers), leaving the rest of us stranded on Earth to deal with climate change, toxins, etc.
    So, yes, this could probably be done at great expense (paid for by all of us) for the benefit of the few

  • by worf_mo ( 193770 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:33AM (#44542165)

    I love space and tech, and this is certainly a nice thought experiment, but while we are dreaming allow me to go slightly OT for a different bottom line: If we threw everything we had at fixing what's wrong here - where we live - could we make Earth a better place to live for more people in 150 years? Be that through finding safer and more sustainable energy resources, better and more accessible health care, decent living conditions, sane working hours that allow people to spend precious time with family and friends and therefore be productive members of society, solid education regardless of wealth or social status, and, why not, voting a political class that actually represents the people (a problem that is by no means limited to a single nation).

  • by hackus ( 159037 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:42AM (#44542289) Homepage

    Which if you currently live in the USA right now, are finding that LAW applies to the average person, LAWLESSNES applies to the government and its crony bankers.

    You go to jail, they do not.

    Since 2007, the monied elite have stolen whole countries to continue their lifestyles unabated. The amounts of money are staggering to imagine, some 17 trillion by FOIA that was accidentally leaked, which probably is many times that amount was actually stolen from countries world wide entangled in the Western Banking System.

    I have no doubt, that if we took that money back and instead of allowing the wars and the fancy mansions these bankers continue to create and build today with it we could have easily cured cancer, develop far more creative solutions to Nuclear power. (i.e. Fukishima is rapidly turning from a catastrophe to an Apocalypse.)

    With that money we could hace solved very interesting issues in material sciences for example to make a space station work.

    We can do anything we can imagine. The problem is there seems to be something wrong with the human spirit.

    We have had so many opportunities in our history to achieve these things, but war and psychopaths which amount to a very few people, end up destroying the entire civilization others have built.

    Then we go back to mud huts.

    We are on that same path AGAIN, which isn't surprising. What is surprising is the almost lack of interest anyone has in stopping it.


  • by some old guy ( 674482 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @11:46AM (#44542349)

    1.Build a huge, opulent space city, and populate it with the obscenely rich and the world's political leaders.
    2 Blow it up.
    3.Start over.

  • by Cigarra ( 652458 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @12:02PM (#44542551)
    Just wondering: are 150 years projects viable at all? Is there any example of such an enterprise? What's the incentive for human beings to take part in thigs they won't see the results of?
    • Cathedral (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:25PM (#44543449) Homepage

      Just wondering: are 150 years projects viable at all? Is there any example of such an enterprise?

      The biggest european cathedral have been build over very long period of time, some spanning a few centuries
      (to the point that some have mixed architectural styles, because styles has changed as the centuries passed by during the building of different sections).

      But I personally don't think that the building of the station itself is going to span that much time. Don't think of it as a space cathedral. (Where building it starts immediately now, and takes 150 year until you've brought all the needed parts into orbit and assembled them).

      Think of it more with what hapened with genetics, and for human genomes.
      - Quite some time has passed between the discovery of the chemistry of DNA and the sequencing of the human genome.
      - Yet the sequencing it self only took a decade.
      - Most of the time was spent developing technologie, and scaling up in speed and volume, only the last 10 years where spent sequencing genes.
      - And same again, nowadays we have "personnal genomes". It took quite a few year for the technology to scale from the human genome to now, but the personalised genome itself only takes a few hours.

      Very probably the same with a huge station:
      - the first decade will be spent developing the space industry and scaling up capability. (Having Space-X and such grow, and be able to put more ships into orbit, for example).
      - the station it self will probably get built over the last decade or two.

    • Just wondering: are 150 years projects viable at all? Is there any example of such an enterprise? What's the incentive for human beings to take part in thigs they won't see the results of?

      The Second Avenue Subway project in New York City was started in 1929. It's expected to be partially open in 2016. []
      The Great Wall Of China has seen nearly continuous work and improvement over 1500 years.
      There are a number of Japanese temples that have periodic maintenance/reconstruction schedules that have been running continuously for 500 years.

  • We can do anything (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bucc5062 ( 856482 ) <> on Monday August 12, 2013 @12:10PM (#44542641)

    Like intermodal, I'll go with "No", but add a bit more.

    First the basic premise that we "wreck/destroy/damage" the earth to the point where rich folk want to get off is pretty far fetched. I agree with the concept of climate change and I feel that humans have a nasty habit of pooping in their own house, but the Earth is a pretty large house. Given the resources to build a space station the size of Elysium it would be less expensive to carve out an area of land on earth and make it more habitable. Building a dome(s) over large areas of land is more plausible then Elysium.

    If the earth is so wrecked/damaged/destroyed (and I have not seen nor will I see this movie), how are all those people still living on earth. From the trailer's I see damaged buildings, but breathable atmosphere. I see over turned cars, but sunlight and the few quick shots from orbit I see clouds and clear areas so that means rain. If the planet is toxic then the population would eventually die. If not then the population would die off to a level that allows for survival, then growth, then ultimately revenge. How does Elysium get supplied? If from Earth then it would not be that difficult to shut down launch facilities (lots of people still live on Earth I presume) thus eventually requiring the Orbitors to need to negotiate with those on the planet. if those in orbit don't need Eath then why not just commit genocide for any group put under the whip will eventually rise up angry.

    Who builds this thing? It is not small so construction would take a large amount of human resources and the rich folk would (1) have to pay them (2) make up a story about how everyone working on the place will get to stay (3) be so united that not one hint of deception would get out. If it did, I figure construction would quickly stop. Rich people may be good at massaging money, but I doubt they have the requisite skills to perform orbital construction or the other countless jobs it takes to build Elysium. Along with that idea, once built, who maintains the place. Rich folk? Hardly for they still need waste/garbage disposal. They need life support crews to ensure air and water keep flowing and they need cleaning crews for all those mansions and quaffed grounds. It is not hard to imagine that at some point the "lower class" on the station will not like what they see going on on Earth and do something to make a change. On Earth, control the resources is hard but doable, on a station is is much easier to commit sabotage and compromise delicate systems.

    If the rich folk have that much money, power, and high tech capability to create Elysium, why wait for the crash of Earth, but sue their skills to repair, then take over Earth. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. By isolating themselves on Elysium they actually make themselves more vulnerable then by being spread out on earth, manipulating and using the population to their own ends (kind of like today). Even better, keep the masses fat and happy and you would either not have need for an escape station, or you'll get long lines of people wanting to build the station, but stay on Earth.

    tl;dr The premise is quite unbelievable, I dare say it is not really science fiction, more like the current trend of Hollywood to create action adventure in space, so they throw in CGI and space to make it seem different from the large number of films that have underdeveloped plots, weak characters, and forgettable eye candy.

    Could we build it? Sure, but I'd rather hold out for a Ring World.

    • by Zalbik ( 308903 )

      I get the impression you haven't seen the movie.

      So you are ripping apart the premise of the movie based on the trailer? I've heard of judging a book by it's cover (there's apparently some popular aphorism regarding that), but this is ridiculous.

      What next, are people going to start ripping apart Slashdot articles based on the summary?!?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2013 @12:33PM (#44542865)

    Just not in space.

    This is already how the 0.1% live.

    They live in gated communities with private police/security and second and third homes at ski, golf, coastal resorts.

    They fly in private jets, or cruise in private yachts.

    They have private rooms in private hospitals with access to the latest advances in health care. They get sick less frequently because they live healthier lifestyles with more leisure time, access to better food, and less stress.

    They contribute to PAC's and politicians to make sure that legislation gets passed to allow them to keep more of their wealth and contribute less proportionately to the rest of society than at any time in the last 150 years.

    Meanwhile, the 99% are increasingly disenfranchised, increasingly less likely to have job or retirement security, less able to purchase a first home, and with decreasing access to increasingly expensive and less effective health care. ... just not in space.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor