Re: Humans doomed without space colonies, says Hawking

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Sat Oct 20 2001 - 12:26:30 MDT

I'm sorry, but I think you missed my point. I saw nothing in your
reply that addressed it.

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Adrian Tymes wrote:
> > Samantha Atkins wrote:
> > > Why bring the metal and volatiles from a near-earth asteroid to earth?
> > > They would be quite useful in building something interesting in space
> > > without having to haul so much up the gravity well.
> >
> > True. But you also need to pay the people who design the stuff to
> > build up there, not to mention paying for the mission that snatched the
> > asteroid to begin with. Some of the metal could be kept up there; pure
> > economic necessity means that at least some, and perhaps most (at
> > first, until there is enough of a market for stuff built in orbit to
> > use even a large fraction of the metal in a single asteroid) of it will
> > be brought back down to Earth.
> If you are after a near earth asteroid and are using robots

Construction of which was paid for how?

> then
> you might not need to snag the rock at all for the beginning
> extraction and refining and hollowing out some habitation
> space.

Designers of said space paid for how? (Without at least some design,
the robots will leave an unstructured, cracked void which would be
useless - without repairs and remodeling - for habitation.)

> When the work has preceded for a while and the rock
> returns to its nearest point might be the time to send out a
> human team.

Which will be years, probably at least a century or two, later for most
such rocks. Humans usually aren't that patient. This may change in
a century or two, assuming greatly extended lifespans come into play,
but I'm talking about strategy to get space colonized *within* a single

> How much is extended
> structure, material, fuel and habitation already in space worth
> to would be space enterprise?

Right now? $0, or close enough to make no difference. I'm not
kidding: NASA might well, say, boost its discarded shuttle fuel tanks
into orbit if someone where to pay it enough; design studies have even
been done on it. But no one so far has been willing to pick up the
tab. Maybe the ISS will eventually change that, but despite all the
participants, that is still mainly a NASA project, not very
international and *definitely* not primarily commercial, when one
follows the money.

Develop the market - or at least get launch costs down enough so there
can *be* a market - and then it'll be worth something. Until that
happens, though, history says that no one will pay for such, because
the rest of what they'd need to do is just so expensive as to make it

The hard fact is: there are very few activities that have been
identified as more profitable (measured in monetary or any quantifiable
terms) to do in space than on Earth, given even 10x lower than present
costs of accessing space. Asteroid mining, *if one delivers the
minerals to Earth to sell them*, is one such activity. Once these
activities have started up, *then* support activities (such as mining
asteroids for use in orbit) become worthwhile, but not before (i.e.,
not now).

> > Keeping 'em up there becomes more feasable for the later asteroids.
> > But we need to get from here to there before we're there.
> Actually I think keeping the materials up there is quite
> feasible for the first asteroid or two. Only ship to Earth high
> value minerals that you don't have much pragmatic use for in
> orbit.

== all minerals of any Earthside value, for the first asteroid or two.
There *is* no pragmatic use for them in orbit until you get space
industry going, because until then, there is no one willing to pay the
costs of obtaining an asteroid unless the minerals will be delivered
to the ground.

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