Re: SPACE: How hard IS it to get off Earth?

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Thu, 11 Nov 1999 00:25:01 -0600

Doug Jones wrote:
> wrote:
> >
> > Here's a question for our aerospace professionals (and space groupies like
> > me): How quickly after the development of a general purpose programmable
> > assembler could a completely "de novo space program" be developed, and how
> > many (or rather, how few) people with what expertise would be necessary to do
> > it?
> How few? Three people- a brilliant mechanical engineer (Dan Delong), a
> good all-around systems guy with a mind like a packrat (me), a great
> engineering manager/engineer (Jeff Greason), and a bunch of design software
> (petaflops and then some).

Glad to hear it, but I don't think I'll be able to rely on it.

> I've been thinking about this question off and on for years, and the
> timeline keeps shrinking- the only hard limit I can see is the doubling
> time of the assemblers and the power available for making fuel. With a
> little bit of design ahead, and a lot of really clever (but non-sentient
> software), it should only take hours.

How clever does the software have to be? I mean, what exactly are you envisioning it doing? (I'm assuming that we're using design-ahead to build nanocomputers that run Linux so that the software can be tested, in miniature, on existing computers.)

What kind of "design-ahead"? And how much do you need to know about the exact nature of the assembler breakthrough beforehand? Suppose the drextech is soft instead of hard? How does the complexity required to build a hard-nano spaceship in a vat compare to building soft-nano grey goo that reproduces in the wild?

How much power do you need for making fuel? Can the fuel be manufactured in advance? If not, is there some way you can use nanotechnology to get around the problem by concentrating existing resources, at least on a once-off basis? How about fusion drives?

> Bottom line: Give me the right tools and I could be out of here tomorrow.

How fast does that scale up? Could you evacuate cities, or at least provide the evacuation vehicles to do so? Could you fire cities, or at least buildings, directly into orbit?

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way