Hawking about Space: I want to go, and we all should

Stephen Hawking said tuesday: "Humanswill have to colonize planets in far-flung solar systems if the race is to survive" - well finally someone with access to decent airtime gets to say it. Read more at Yahoo! News


Everybody wants to go to the stratosphere these days

CNN has an article on China entering the Space Tourism race:


Along with all the other Sapce tourism events these last 6 months it seems, that we a re in the middle of a new period for Space travel, still limited by govenment institutions and economical barriers, but the very amount of projects going on are important to the development and testing of new technologies that might one day make cheap, widely proliferated Space travel a reality.


NYT gets it! - new

In brief, the New York Times lines up the issues addressed in this blog in the article about the Alliance to Rescue Civilization.


Will we take our demons with us into Space?

Inspired by an important point raised in a message from Chris Phoenix, Director of Research at Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, I would like to mull over a principal issue. Chris says in a comment to the basic assumption of this blog:

"if we can't solve our problems on earth,and we take our problems into space with us, then although space access may save a fraction of humanity, it may be extra-bad for most of humanity."
I agree that in a desperate race for the escape hatch, we could face all sort of unpleasantries coming down on us. These might include (but not be limited to) world-destroying nanoformers run amok, interspecies war, human factions fighting over space resources, widespread social injustice, a disseminated society forever outside the rule of "International" law etc.

Seen in this perspective, the use of space travel as a means for surviving our inability to resolve the internal issues of Humanity actually constitutes a total faliure for the use of concepts like morality, law or decency for governing people. We should spend our efforts on learning to live with each other in pan-species harmony or at least in tolerable "cohabitation". While Chris is not argumenting for any kind of halt to space development, he does say that we should accelerate our problem solving right here. My point is, that a pragmatic way of solving our problems is to realize that many fractions of Humanity have insurmountable differences and their ways should part. Preferrably by emigration into space.

The pessimist would claim that the current events in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Chechnya, Indonesia - all over the place, in fact - even in the heart of Europe, could be seen a precursor to a WW III between the western civilization and radicalized Islamic societies, with the conflicts powering radicalization.

An optimist (hard to find currently) would say, that the conflicts of the world will eventually force the world powers to solve the generations-old injustices brought unto the peoples of the Globe by colonialism and imperialism, and to solve them by peaceful, political means (including peacekeeper forces).

After getting that part of it together, and finally able to take on the stars as a unified community, we will spend one or some centuries figuring out how to protect our spacefarers against gamma blasts from dying stars, terraforming nanobots on steroids, more war (again, and now with much worse weapons), and how to get our bodies and minds to work in step with this new enviroment. Time will also be needed to ensure the proliferation of affordable space technology.

But the whole point of the message from this blog (summed up in the Novosolarian Codex) is, that we dont have the time required for that project available. I guess I am a pessimist. I think Good is more fragile than Evil, even if it is better seen from an universal perspective. As decribed in the post about the Dilemma of technological criticality, global technological and political developments are running faster into a ultra-high-risk-domain than we can imagine at the moment. Also I think that as long as anybody claims any values to be True or Everlasting or Ultimate, we will have conflict. Only an unlimited playing field will allow the civilisations to cohabitate, and direct the pressure away from the geographical and mental borders. Insisting that your adversary must deconstruct himself totally (like in the conflict between Hizbollah ind Israel) is not likely to result in cooperation. At least if unlimited space cannot prevent some people from speculating in conflict, at least it gives you the chance to run away.

I respect Chris's view, but I think we need to start thrusting both feet deep in the water right away - no toe-dangling. Then we can correct matters eventually, but the planet is just not big enough for all of us and our miserable onflicts. And 200 hundred years down the line, will this course of action result in a larger sum of accumulated unhappiness than staying here and fixing ourselves right before moving on?

I think not. The human capability of inflicting harm on other humans and to do so with great inventiveness is simply too mind-boggling to consider Earth an even moderately safe place for the next couple of centuries. As to speculations about who should/might/probably will emigrate, this will be a subject for a future post (I am writing it already).

Kickstarting space colonization will NOT be a walk in any park we can possibly imagine. The toll will be high and there is no guarantee of success. But we have to try it. It is our destiny, it is what we were born for, to explore, migrate, run away, conquer - call it what you like. And yes, also to live in peace and prosperity with our families in our community of choice, but right now it is getting increasingly difficult to do so.

Thanks to Chris Phoenix for valuable feedback on this post. Check out his blog at http://crnano.typepad.com/ to get updated on Nanotechnology, responsible use of.


Bigelow Aerospace to launch inflatable

See the article at Yahoo! News describing the project created by Robert Bigelow - an old Russian ICBM will sometime this week bring a 1:3 scale prototype of an inflatable space station module into orbit. Could this be one of the required Liberation Technologies we need to escape Earth?

Also check out Bigelow Aerospace


A case for and against terraforming

How do we make sure that other worlds can actually support human life to the extent required for colonization? Traditionally Science Fiction has been operating with envirosiuts, bases, even domed cities. In latter decades SF has used terraforming as the tool of choice to create habitable real estate. Either by the generations-long, more philosophical and roundabout way of introducing moss, saxiphrage and orbital mirrors to a dormant ecosphere, or a more direct way like nanoseeding with self-replicating microscopical robots or even crashing the odd ice meteor into your average Martian Desert.

Let us here take a look at both the practicality, morality and Novosolarian suitability of terraforming as a tool to increase humanity's living space, enabling the ultimate principal purpose of letting humanity escape its planetary prison and, thus, itself.

Is it OK?
Seen from a moral perspective, terraforming challenges all and any environmentalist credos, no matter the tool selected. If one chooses the more slow, "natural" tools like the fungus, algae, mosss, small plants employed for the purpose in Kim Stanley Robinson's "Green Mars" trilogy, classical environmentalists might be liable to support the project more easily. Less likely to get support from the local Green Paty will be stuff like heating up Europa (the moon) with thermonuclear devices or spreading gentically enhanced rock-breakers on Mars.

But never the less, the basic proposition remains the same: Put a planet (or planetoid, moon, asteroid, rocky object, whatever) in a chemical, meteorological and biological blender and get something else entirely.

Now this kind of activity leaves us to look at the nature of the concept Nature. What is it? A pristine, static, untouched state of being or a steady flow of chaos? In either case, Man is part of his nature - not isolated from it. What we today on Earth want to protect under the "Nature" label is in fact often directly or indirectly created by Humanity or at least heavily influenced by humans. What we create is as much a part of nature (since we ourselves are natural) as anything created by bacteria, fish, earthquakes or trees.

So conservationism is actually in this case highly hypocritical, unless it clearly states that what it wants to conserve is not an "original" state of being of a particular slice of the environment (since such a state is an illusion), but in fact a specific state judged to be desirable due to some attributes (number of trees, specific species, cute looks, you name it.), and especially if we can claim that nothing to be declared as Alive loses that status or its ability to support that life in its present environment. We can slow down the present extinction rate, even circumvent it via gene banks, but we can never "go back to the original Nature" or even stop the process in its tracks.

Can it be done at all? By us?
So, rudely brushing aside any moral qualms over terraforming (TF), we will now look at the practicality of the matter.

First of all, it is going to be hugely, no, mind-bogglingly expensive. As long as the entity that wants to terraform something is based on a money economy (where the distribution of GSD (Getting Shit Done) is done by mutual tokens with a central controller), it will be prohibitively expensive. Much more likely to succeed with such a task will be a hegemony or a dictatorship. An interesting prospect is the chinese non-democratic capitalism. It does get to build dams....

Time is an issue here. Multi-generational TF-projects will more often than not fail due to changes in politics, the underlying economy, geological events, falling space elevators, whathaveyou. To increase the likelyhood of succes, a terraforming ploy/scheme/conspiracy/vison should be based on fast-acting remedies like nukes, meteors, nanobots, chemical avalanches or viruses, not slow-moving stuff like moss, however cute it may be.

When is such a project finished? Will we see classical 80/20 solutions where anyone can walk the surface of Mars with a sweater and a breathing unit, but never breathe freely, since turning the Red Planet into Earth II would cost the rest of the 80% of the money?

What climate is ideal? South of France? Equator in India? Swedish Spring? Any religious preferences?

But is it good?
Even considering the ethicality, the costs and feasibility, as well as the Rightness of this kind of adventure, does terraforming support the political agenda of Novosolaria? The point being that we need to establish an emergency exit for humanity as fast as practically possible, the immediate answer is no. It is way too slow. It requires herculean efforts on multinational governmental levels. We are not sure of the outcome, some people might be against it on a principal basis, and they might even try to stop it by using force.

But on the other hand, not terraforming means condemning humanity to live in spacesuits, caves and domes forever, limiting freedom of movement and enterprise for the individual to a tightly controlled artificial space - until we discover the Holy Grail of space exploration - a readily habitable planet, not occupied. If we define that as the basic required condition to start emigration, we will never get out of here before an eventual cataclysm.

The conclusion seems to be that we need to continue studying techniques that helps us establish artificial Earthlike environments while at the same time spend effort on the long haul of terraformation, even though it seems very unlikely to solve the challenges, and in the short run is practically useless as a solution. Spaceships, excavated asteroids and domes are the tools that could help us off-planet fast.


Spaceport flurry

Over at Big Purple Yahoo! News you can read all about the many plans for building private spaceports all over the US. Seen from a classical aerospace POV, this would be required for a global airport-like infrastructure, but what we really need is still som kind of technology that can be used by non-governtment users and allow our escape as indivuduals or free groups.


A prayer for the universe

Oh any lord

free us from our prisons
from the body and the Earth
from our conscience and our fears
from the flesh and its limitaions

give us the ability to become like gods
that we can tour the universe and see
that there is no greater greatness
than the sum of it all

take away the burdens of toil
that we can live as free agents
give us a way away from the flames
so we can live our lives
according to our wishes

grant us wisdom so we can see
all the way from the beginning to the end
and testify to the full greatness
of all creation


Infrastructure of independence

It has traditionally been held that collective transportation systems, communal housing etc. is the less wasteful and most efficient form of infrastructure. The more, the merrier. Synergy and large-scale advantages. We are generally assuming that even if communal infrastructure can be difficult to build and get support for, it is more economical, reasonable and environmentally friendly than individual solutions. But this is not necessarily the most attractive way seen from a novosolarian point of view - what we need to build is feeder infrastructures, independent constructions building on existing patterns.

A couple of examples: We could build a bus system running on existing motorways using packet-switching properties, treating individual travelers like IP packets, switching them this way and that according to traffic patterns, some of them optimized according to price, others to travel time. From buses to vans to cars to vans to buses again we could transport people from specific address to specific address in their own time - bridging the taxi system with the bus system. Call this a "SUB".

Another example: Distributing food with the mail system. We have a global transportation system with some latency, but it works. Why don't we use it for distributing food to famine areas?

Basically what we need to do is to use the existing infrastructure better instead of expecting the UN, the US, the EU or some other major agency to build the new ones we need.

Humanity needs independent infrastructures, not ones tied to governments or their derived organizations.


Space News Blog - Spacecraft, heal thyself

Space News Blog has a piece titled Space News Blog - Spacecraft, heal thyself about self-repair mechanisms inspired by blood coagulation. A different road could be to look at Lichen that can survive full space exposure and then be revived just by adding water....