Re: SPACE: Economic Benefit of Manned Space Stations (fwd)
Wed, 28 Jul 1999 20:49:02 EDT

Robert writes:

>>I perceive space migration as a vital step in
>>human survival, and the faster we can migrate, the better.

>Why do you say this? Please justify.

Confined as we are on Earth, I think we are a threat to each other. Off-world colonies, where people are free to experiment and live as they choose, free of all the misguided paradigms that have made our survival questionable in the first place, is a good place to start. And I'm not even calculating the effects of a collision with an NEO.

>The development of nanotech and the singularity/spike make the old/common
>space "exploration" paradigm obsolete. A new paradigm needs to be developed.

Certainly. Space migration using "clumsy" techology is simply a means to an end, and I think it will accelerate the exploratory spirit we need if we're going to undertake _really_ awesome ventures, like those you describe below.

>It takes ~11 days to dismantle Mercury and harvest the entire power
>output of the sun (using some reasonable assumptions like 1 kg/m^2
>solar panels). Once you have that much power, dismantling everything
>but Saturn & Jupiter takes ~12 years (which take ~60 and 600 years
>respectively if you use all the available power).

>If we assume nanotechnology develops ~2020, then we will have restructured
>much of the solar system before 2100.

I'm not this optimistic; I don't think this will happen so soon, and I'm hesitant to confine our future into a single (albeit progressive) nanotechnological basket.

>[This is a variant on the problem of launching a world-ship between stars
>when a world ship constructed with later technologies would end up
>getting there sooner.]

I agree. My point is: What if the civilization you're leaving behind gets wiped out (or wipes itself out) before it can build anything capable of overtaking the first expedition? I perceive this as a very realistic problem.

>Putting every other additional dollar of funds into the development
>of nanotechnology. This means *no* manned missions and *no* Mars
>missions. There could be some justification for space observatories
>and things like the anticipated Mercury surveyor mission (should it
>survive any budget cuts).

This position is defensible, theoretically. Foremost, it suffers from the mistaken notion that we can conjure up just about any technological fix we can dream up as long as we thrown enough money at it. I'm not saying nanotech is improbable--far from it. But I can just see us, working busily away on experimental technologies for who knows how long (and, face it, we really don't know how long the kind of industrial nanotech you're talking about is going to be in coming) when we're inundated by some hot virus, or hit by a meteor, or start dropping bombs--in which case our attentions will be diverted elsewhere and we may _never_ get off this planet (NASA's budget cuts aside)!

>>Plus, the abundance of resources in space (once we start exploring in
>>will help stimulate the very technologies that will allow for the kind of
>>transhumanist habitat you envision.

>The development of nanotechnology eliminates entirely the need for space
>resources for probably thousands of years (unless you can predict some kind
>of population explosion). The doubling time of nanotech based power
>and mass manipulation provides more that sufficient resources for very
>comfortable living here on Earth without having to risk the hazards of space.
>Only if you argue strongly for uploading and freedom for relatively endless
>copying/mental-expansion do you need to go into space.

I have no problem with any of this, other than the fact that it relies on a particular mind-set for which we really don't have any evidence for. It's one thing to plan the future, another to write it.

>This sounds like the argument of someone who waxes romantic at the idea
>of anything in space who doesn't really understand nanotechnology development
>and economic investments.

Don't worry. I'm hip.

>The last time I checked, I was under the impression
>that each space shuttle flight was costing ~$400 million (someone correct
>if they have better data).

Did I ever once mention shuttle flights (at least, as they're currently being done)? Unless we have serious plans to sell off obsolete chunks of orbiter technology to private companies (for use in near-term mining operations, power generation, etc.), we should build a cheap spaceplane--better yet, several--and stop wasting the manpower and hardware. The shuttle program's main purpose is to provide jobs. I advocate finishing the Space Station, certainly, and developing a base on the Moon with hopes to industrialize (even if said hopes become obsolete in a few decades). I _hope_ nano comes first, providing us with a cheaper, more rational alternative to the methods we're using now--but we just don't know for certain.

Nano or no, we'd be well served scientifically to continue a human presence in space.

--Mac Tonnies