Monday, October 29, 2007

No Further

The Guardian inveighs against making money off the universe. "The new space race isn't focused on science or discovery, but is about exploiting lunar minerals"

I first heard about helium-3 (He-3) from the geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the only scientist among the 12 Americans who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972, and a tireless campaigner for a US return. He understood a 21st-century programme would never happen without an economic rationale, and he hoped that He-3, which is deposited on the surface by the solar wind, might provide one. If the necessary fusion technology could be made to work, he said, this compound would be a source of clean energy for Earth.


But if clean energy is to come from profit-making activity then the price is too high, according to author Andrew Smith.

At present, nations are forbidden under international treaty from making territorial claims to the moon, but the same has hitherto been true of Antarctica, of which the UK government is trying to claim a chunk. Earth's sister has played a role in teaching us to value our environment: how extraordinary to think that the next giant leap for the environmental movement might be a campaign to stop state-sponsored mining companies chomping her up in glorious privacy, a quarter of a million miles from our ravaged home.

Most human conflict and indeed most human misery comes from the scarcity of economic resources. It was the lure of the Western Sea and the land in between that drove the visionaries of Manifest Destiny across the continent to the detriment of the Indians. It was the lure of gold which propelled the Conquistadores across the Atlantic. It was the dream of resources that launched Imperial Japan on its conquest of China and Asia. It was Lebenstraum which beckoned Hitler across the European plains.

Today, for the first time in human history, man can look forward to spreading into truly virgin territory. To go where no man has ever gone before; and consequently where no man ever need be displaced from his abode. The words "we come in peace for all mankind" may have fallen unheard upon the lunar rocks. But the words still have meaning to a mankind trapped not only upon Earth but within his history. If  Marxism was a project to bring History to an end in the near future, Environmentalism is an attempt to freeze History in the distant past. Not for the benefit of mankind, nor even when you come to think of it, for Nature -- unless man is excluded from the account -- but for the sake of having the power to end history on their terms.

They will not succeed and man will go on. No less than the trees and stars we have a right to be here.


Blogger eggplant said...

Harrison Schmidt is one of my heros but he's wrong about He-3. Deuterium-tritium is orders of magnitude easier to ignite in a nuclear fusion reaction than He-3. Unfortunately it appears that deuterium-tritium based nuclear fusion is too hard to do commercially in a power reactor. Therefore talking about a commercially viable He-3 nuclear fusion power reactor with the added cost of shipping the He-3 from the moon is laughable nonsense. Why Schmidt continues to promote lunar He-3 is a total mystery because normally the guy is brilliant.

I strongly believe in getting people into space and commercializing space. Unfortunately there is nothing on the Moon that I am aware of that has any commercial value. IMHO, President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) should have gone directly to Mars and leap frogged the Moon. However I understand the political requirements in going to the Moon first. Unfortunately I think VSE will get canned if Hillary wins. She'll probably turn NASA into a "weather agency" (global warming research) and pull back on all Space Exploration. sigh....

10/29/2007 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

How can an eggplant know the economics of Nuclear Fusion?
Supporting Slander Of The Military By Supporting The New Republic

Miracle in Mississippi
13 Laterals! Play began with 0:02 remaining in the game

New Anti-Hillary Clinton YouTube Ad Makes Waves on Web

10/29/2007 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

You have to read the comments to the story on the Guardian site. The commentors want people (all people) dead so they cannot exploit Gaea and her celestial cousins. And it's Bush's fault.

10/29/2007 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Kinuachdrach said...

The real Wow! factor in this is the under-reported news that China is about to launch a robotic lunar explorer. That is probably beyond the technological capacity of the EU, Russia, and Japan today. Seems so recent that China had Chairman Mao and backyard iron foundries and not much else.

The world is changing -- and changing a lot faster than leftist baby-boomer thought processes, it seems.

10/29/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Trinity Nuclear Weapon Test

Excerpt from the BBC drama about the worlds first nuclear explosion at the Alamogordo test range in 1945 showing the test detonation.

10/29/2007 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Leftist baby-boomer thought processes are what brought us the Chinese Space Launch capability years before they could have done it themselves w/o the boomer's assistance.

10/29/2007 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger pst314 said...

The Moon must be preserved in all its pristine, beautiful deadness! No exploitation! Dead rocks have rights! And progressive eco-freaks know what those rocks want! /sarcasm

10/29/2007 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Kinuachdrach said:

"The real Wow! factor in this is the under-reported news that China is about to launch a robotic lunar explorer. That is probably beyond the technological capacity of the EU, Russia, and Japan today."

The Chinese have already launched their moon orbiter named "Chang'e One". It successfully launched and is on its way to the Moon. It will probably get there in a few days. Change's One is essentially a conventional geosynchronous communications satellite that was modified into a lunar orbiter. The Chinese are using their heads by advancing a commerical technology for scientific purposes that adds national prestige in the bargain.

The European Union (EU) has done a bunch of important interplanetary spacecraft. Their most impressive was the Huygens Probe that landed on Saturn's moon Titan. Huygens was transported to the Saturn system by the American Cassini spacecraft. The Europeans also did the Mars Express spacecraft that is currently orbiting Mars. Mars Express was entirely their spacecraft with no real American participation.

The Japanese haven't done as much as they should but they do have a space program.

The Russians are the United States' partners with the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is little more than a white elephant (not particularly useful) but the Russian technological contribution to the ISS has been significant. By world standards, Russian aerospace technology is quite advanced.

We Americans should do more in space but it's all politically driven and not particularly rational. President Bush has been better than most presidents in terms of supporting the Space Program. President Clinton ignored the Space Program which is better than causing active harm (that's happened with more than one president, e.g. Nixon). As I mentioned before, my fear with Hillary is she'll turn NASA into a "weather agency". The global warming stuff should be funded under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and not NASA. NOAA (unlike NASA) doesn't have much sex appeal and tends to be poorly funded. Therefore if a politician wants to put alot of money into global warming, funding it under NASA is an effective tactic. Unfortunately they like to keep NASA's annual budget flat. Consequently if they want more funding for global warming, they'll take the money from stuff that NASA is supposed to do, e.g. Space Exploration, aeronautics, etc. IMHO they should place all the global warming activity under NOAA and fund it based upon its own merits rather than siphoning money from NASA's charter activities.

10/29/2007 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Kinuachdrach said...

As Eggplant notes, the Euros & Russians have some space achievements under their belts. But the point still stands -- the third nation to put a payload on the Moon's surface will be China, and they will do it using Chinese-built equipment. The Russians do not have much to boast about since the breakup of the USSR. The Euros are not even in the game, as far as the Moon is concerned.

The world is changing under our feet and above our heads. Let's play the global warming alarmist game and mindlessly extrapolate. At the present rate of progress, how long until China is the undisputed technological leader in the world? And how devastating will the consequences of that be?

10/29/2007 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Joe White said...

Minor correction: Lebensraum ("life space") was the Nazi expansion ideology; Lebenstraum ("life dream") is a song by Schubert.

10/29/2007 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Sometimes the left is beyond our poor power to satire. This is one of them.

For a lot of good info on fusion technology see This article at The Oil Drum, which has lots of informative charts and pictures. It shows current developments as leading to commercial power at mid-century.

10/29/2007 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Fat Man said:

"For a lot of good info on fusion technology see This article at The Oil Drum, which has lots of informative charts and pictures. It shows current developments as leading to commercial power at mid-century."

I agree with Fat Man that the "The Oil Drum" is a good source of information about energy technology. I read the Oil Drum everyday and sometimes comment there. The feature articles at the Oil Drum tend to focus mainly on "Peak Oil" (something I believe in). The commentary at the Oil Drum is a mixed bag ranging from high quality comments from petroleum engineers down to mindless twattle from moonbats and doomers (actually too much of that).

The article linked by Fat Man describes the ITER fusion reactor prototype. The ITER is the main reason why I think controlled nuclear fusion is a dead duck. The ITER is enormously expensive and not even close to being a commercially viable power reactor. Unfortunately, controlled nuclear fusion had good initial promise but didn't pan out in the end (this happens more often than not with new technology).

10/29/2007 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

Go to Mars and then what? Not withstanding the physical challenges presented by eighteen months in zero Gs on the human body (nine months to get there, nine months to get back) once we get there we get to do what? Plant the flag and say "Look at us." Granted the presence of water there makes some sort of human endeavour feasible, but the distance and inhospitable environment severly limits the possiblities given our current technologies.

As far as the moon goes here's what Steven den Beste had to say on the subject back in May of 2002.

"The Chinese are trying to create the world's third independent space travel technology. I wish them well. It's a tough problem, but the more of it there is, the happier I'll be.

They want to go to the Moon, and it's about time someone did. It will take a long time, but it's our destiny in the long run.

China's space program is more than three decades old. It launched its first satellite in 1970 and fires payloads into orbit for American, European and other clients aboard giant Long March rockets.

The government announced plans in 1992 for manned flight and a space station. Officials say they want to mine the moon and explore Mars.

I don't know about that "mine the moon" part, though.

One of the great questions in geology has been just how it is that ores and other valuable concentrations of minerals form. Some of them occur as the result of the actions of life (such as the creation of coal, limestone or chalk). Right now there's no reason to assume that the Moon has ever had any substantial amount of life.

Most of the non-organic ways of creating ores seem to involve liquid water and a lot of time. Generally speaking, there will be some large formation which contains a slightly higher concentration of something soluble, and water will seep through it, leech out the minerals, and then move to somewhere where the water is separated from the dissolved minerals, which are deposited at that location.

The actual mechanisms involved can be quite varied and may be extremely involved. Rock salt is created by a two-step process. First, rain water has leached sodium and chlorine out of the land and carried it to the sea. The process of evaporation separates water from the salt, leaving it behind, and the water is carried over the land to again fall as rain and continue the process. Repeat for 2 billion years, and you end up with a considerable amount of salt in the ocean. Then put a lot of that salty water into a place where it evaporates, and it leaves rock salt behind. Sometimes that happens in huge quantities relatively rapidly, such as during the interval when Gibraltar closed and the Mediterranean dried up leaving a layer of rock salt which is still present under the sea.

It can also happen slowly. In Africa's Great Rift Valley, there are places which are dry and below sea level. At one such place there are what seem to be springs, but the water is salty, not fresh. It turns out to be water leaking in from the Indian Ocean. But the water evaporates as fast as it flows in, and the salt is slowly accumulating. In a few thousand years there's going to be a very large deposit of salt there (unless something geologically interesting happens to either cut the flow or drastically increase it).

One of the major ways that ores form was only discovered in the last thirty years, by the ALVIN submersible. This happens deep in the ocean, where pressures are extremely high. Water at very high temperature (well above 100° C, which is prevented from boiling by the pressure) seeps through the rocks and dissolves minerals. It then spouts into the ocean in undersea hot springs. As the water is cooled, the minerals it carries precipitate out on the ocean floor. Conditions necessary to do this are now and always have been quite common, and it's thought that this process is primarily responsible for most of the major metallic ores that we now mine commercially.

The problem is that none of this could have happened on the Moon, because there have never been substantial amounts of liquid water there.

The only process I know of where minerals can be concentrated without water or life involves large magma bodies. When they sit for very long periods without cooling, a certain amount of separation based on density will take place. It seems to me that this is the only one which could probably operate on the Moon. But this process is much less efficient, and where the hot-spring deposition method may well produce nearly pure ore bodies, about the best that can be hoped for from this is a slight increase in concentration.

Large amounts of moon rocks were brought back during the Apollo moon exploration program. Meteoric rocks from the moon have been found on earth, as well, and have been studied. The mineral formation of the Moon is pretty well understood, and it is not very remarkable. Certain cool lava flows are somewhat high in titanium (between 1% and 14%) but aside from that the main thing you find is aluminum, silicon and oxygen in the form of rocks similar to those found on Earth. We do not use those rocks commercially because we have better ores available which are far more pure. None of what we know of on the Moon would be worth mining and bringing back here; the cost of transport would far exceed the value of the minerals involved.

The Moon may well be worth mining eventually, not so much because of what is there as because of where it is: out of Earth's gravity well. It makes no sense to bring it here, but it is well placed for use in making spacecraft eventually to explore the rest of the Solar System. It should be relatively easy to refine aluminum there by heating aluminum-bearing rocks with large mirrors, using free solar energy. Oxygen can be released from silicates the same way. So you would boost the high-tech components of a space craft (i.e. electronics, engines) from Earth, but make the heavy structural pieces on the Moon. Both aluminum and oxygen would be immensely valuable when the time comes to build a moon colony (and glass produced from the silicates may also be useful).

But for the moment, about all we know of on the Moon which might be worth bringing back are the rocks themselves, for purposes of research or to sell as souvenirs. Doing so on an industrial basis seems unlikely to be worthwhile."

10/29/2007 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Tarnsman said...

"Go to Mars and then what? Not withstanding the physical challenges presented by eighteen months in zero Gs on the human body (nine months to get there, nine months to get back) once we get there we get to do what? Plant the flag and say "Look at us." Granted the presence of water there makes some sort of human endeavour feasible..."

Tarnsman's comment pushed all the right buttons. IMHO, the only valid reason to go to the Moon is for scientific study and possibly for astronomy on the far side of the Moon.

The Moon is a relic left over from a collision almost 4 billion years ago between a small planet and the original Earth. That collision blew away the Earth's original atmosphere and pulverized the small planet into a ring orbiting the Earth. That ring later coalesced into our Moon. The important point of this story is the ancient moon had almost all the volatiles cooked off during its formation. Mars on the other hand still retains much of its original volatiles and has an atmosphere.

Tarnsman asked rhetorically: "Go to Mars and then what?"

Answer: Colonize it.

The Moon can not be colonized because it lacks many of the volatile chemicals essential for life and does not have an atmosphere. We now know from data received from the Mars Exploration Rovers that Mars has all the chemistry necessary to support terrestrial life and once had significant amounts of surface water (probably still does as subsurface ice).

Of course, colonizing Mars would be the most difficult technological challenge ever attempted by the human race. However Mars is also the easiest world beyond the Earth for humans to establish an independent settlement. By colonizing Mars, the human race would immunize itself from a single planet holocaust, e.g. release of a designer virus, asteroid impact, multiple detonations of colbalt jacketed nukes, etc. The 9/11 disaster should put to rest the pleasant fiction that fanatics are incapable of releasing a designer virus to wipe out the human race. Also, the assertion that colonizing Mars is impossible can be refuted by reviewing the works of Werner von Braun and Robert Zubrin. If we had followed von Braun's Mars plan that he presented in 1969 to Vice President Spiro Agnew, we'd now have a base on Mars populated with a few hundred people. If we have the political will, we could still do it. The basic technology from the Apollo Program remains on the library shelves. The International Space Station (ISS) though a useless white elephant has demonstrated that large structures can be built in low Earth orbit. Marry the ISS technology with the Apollo Program and you have the basis for a Mars Program.

10/29/2007 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

There are some VERY serious problems with colonizing Mars, short of terrforming the planet, which is safe to say is centuries away technology-wise and the process itself could take centuries.

The problems:

1. Moon: Earth has a large Moon that influcences the spinning movement of the planet and stabilizes the axis of rotation in relation to its orbital plane. Thus the Moon helps stablize the climate on Earth. Mars has two small satellites that have very little effect on its' orbit. Thus, the Martian climate is highly unstable. The Martian storms, despite its thin atmosphere, are legendary in size and scope. The storms on Mars are not rain storms. They are dust storms that cover vast sections of the planet for days and weeks on end.

2. Water: If all the water vapor in the Martian atmosphere were condensed, the oceans on Mars would be less than an inch deep and would be filled with sulfurous water (Martian soil has very high concentrations of sulfur). What water is available is tied up in polar regions. It is thought that the amount of water ice there is about 4% of the amount found on Earth's South Pole.

3. Ozone layer: Mars has none and thus no protection against cosmic radiation. A MAJOR problem for life on the planet.

4. Gravity: Mars' gravity is a little over a third of Earth's.

5. Temperature: Earth averages 17°C. Mars averages 55 degrees below zero. Temperatures vary from a "warm" –6 degrees C during the Martian ‘summer’ to -129 degrees C in the winter. So cold that even carbon dioxide freezes at the Martian poles.

6. Atmosphere: Mars has virtually no free oxygen (0.15%) and very little nitrogen. CO2 comprises 95% of the Martian atmosphere.

7. Atmospheric pressure: Mars' atmospheric pressure is so low ( 0.7% of Earth's at sea level) that even when daytime temperatures at the low latitudes do climb above freezing, the water ice turns directly into water vapor. Even if the Martian atmosphere had the same composition as Earth's it would be too thin to breathe.

8. Soil: Soil on Earth is rich in humus (decomposed organic material). Mars has none. On Earth bacteria fractionate the sulphur from the complex compounds in the soil. Mars has none and thus its soil is unusually rich in sulphur.

9. Magnetic field: Mars' magnetic field is very weak and offers very little protection against solar electromagnetic storms. Another MAJOR problem for life on the planet

So explain to me again why colonizing Mars is such a good idea? Colonizing the moon is almost the same as doing it on Mars. Humans will have remain in protective shelters and work outside in pressure suits. Cosmic and solar radiation are a problem at both sites. The moon has the advantage of proximity. The biggest drawback is lack of water, which could "easily" be remedied by capturing and harvesting a comet (that would be a feat, no?)

I'll let Steven den Beste drive home the nail in the coffin on this Martian nonsense.

"We should not plan a manned mission to Mars

For the foreseeable future, anything we could do with a manned mission can be done faster, cheaper and much safer with robots.

There are just too many unknowns in the technology which would be required to send humans. Such a mission must necessarily take at least two years, for orbital reasons. We do not know how to build such a craft which won't break down in that interval.

Worse, we do not have the capability of reasonably building a craft which could carry with it to Mars enough fuel to get back. All the current proposals involve manufacturing the fuel for the return flight on Mars before the return trip begins. This is extremely scary; if it doesn't work, there's no return. And it means that the craft carrying the people must land almost exactly on top of the system which has manufactured the fuel; if they miss by twenty miles, they're dead.

No matter how it's done, it would be grossly expensive. Humans are large and fragile and consume enormous amounts of resources.

Because of this, it's only possible for us to mount a single mission, with a landing at one place. We'd learn a lot about that one place (a radius of at most twenty kilometers around the landing site), but Mars is large and varied. It has the surface area of North and South America combined. Turn it around and assume we were Martians attempting to explore the earth. If our one and only landing happened in the Yukon, how much would we learn about the Mojave Desert, or the Amazon rain forest, or the Mississippi delta?

Robots are better. Robots are smaller, and while it's uncomfortable if we lose one, it's not a tragedy. Robots are current technology; they already work and we've already succeeded with them. They take a one-way trip, and they require no life-sustaining resources while they travel between the planets, except for a small amount of renewable electricity from photocells. They can sustain dozens of gravities during reentry, making reentry far easier to engineer. (And even at that, we've had trouble with that kind of thing.)

Because we can build and send many robots for the cost of a single manned mission, we can land them all over Mars, thus getting a better idea of the entire sphere, instead of a very concentrated look at one microscopic piece of it.

It's been argued that the advantage of humans is versatility, and that if human explorers find something unexpected they have the ability to adapt and investigate it. This argument doesn't wash, because robots can do the same thing. It just takes longer.

If a robot spots something unusual, we can send another robot four or six years later designed specifically to check it out. The result is the same, and I'm not in a hurry.

For the same monetary investment, we can get far more and far better science done with robots than with a manned mission, because we won't be spending vast sums to transport oxygen, food and water to keep fragile humans alive during a long voyage.

And it will be better science, because it will be spread all over the globe.

It will be less glamorous, less spectacular. But those are dreadful reasons for risking the lives of precious humans. And if we send humans, everything has to work perfectly the first time."

10/30/2007 02:05:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The current sad state of our space program is due in no small part to environmentalism.

The cries of “Spend the money here on Earth” (where the hell do you think it is being spent, SFB?) and the rising tide of the environmental movement caused a refocus from exploration to the industrial uses of space in the early 1970’s. Even the most ardent space advocates talked about “moving industry to space” and “making the Earth a giant park”.

In reality, the misguided attempt to turn the manned space program into a “save the planet” effort and the unmanned programs (which were already saving the planet) into a justification for the manned program was an absolute disaster.

10/30/2007 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

And tarnsman:

It is not about the science.

It is about our spirit.

It is about what we do next after we have figured out how to produce enough food and shelter and basic comforts for anyone who cares to work.

It is about the challenge.

It is about the human race's attempt to reach a level of Self Actualization.

10/30/2007 06:01:00 AM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

As Sir Elton says:

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don’t understand
It’s just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

10/30/2007 06:22:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

The moon is a convenient training and proving ground. It's close enough that, for some emergencies, a rescue mission is possible. And there will be emergencies. I want us to go to Mars too, but the moon is too conveniently close not to practice on.

And the current best theory about its formation hold that the impactor was about Mars' size, it's responsible for about 10% of Earth's mass. Enough, that combined with Earth's oceans, guaranteed plate tectonics.

As for fusion, I have my fingers crossed for Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC), focus fusion, or other non-ITER techniques.

10/30/2007 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Science Times »
The Manhattan Project
The first headquarters of the nation’s secret effort to build the bomb lay in Manhattan.

10/30/2007 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I think the political way to think about natural resources on the moon is to look at the Law of The Sea Treaty (LOST). The Guardian is thinking of an opportunity lost for having a world body control the resources and taxing it.

LOST Runs Silent, Runs Deep

10/30/2007 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said:

"The current sad state of our space program is due in no small part to environmentalism."

A bunch of factors resulted in the sad state of our Space Program. The biggest problem is Cheap Access to Space (CAtS). The cost to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is $10000/kg. Despite the best efforts of some of mankind's brightest engineers, no one can crack that number. Supposably the magic number for feasible space industrialization is $100/kg (we're currently two orders of magnitude too expensive). The Space Shuttle was an attempt at cracking CAtS. The Shuttle was originally sold as providing access to LEO at $1000/kg. However that number was a lie as was most of the claims connected with the Space Shuttle. After the Columbia accident, the decision was made to abandon the Space Shuttle and develop the Orion capsule (also called the "Crewed Exploration Vehicle" (CEV)). CEV is essentially a scaled up Apollo command module (traceable to late 1950s technology). The abandonment of CAtS and reversion back to 1950s technology is a disaster for the Space Program.

Tansman made a series a comments indicating an educated and well informed layman's understanding of Space Exploration. I'll touch upon the minor errors:

1) Martian atmospheric molar concentrations are: Carbon Dioxide 95.5%, N2 2.7%, Argon 1.6 % and O2 0.13%.

2) An object on the Martian surface can get as warm as 20 C at noon near the Martian equator at the lower altitudes. However it does get to less than -150 C at night because the Martian atmosphere has almost no heat capacity (Martian surface atmospheric density is 1% the Earth's surface atmospheric density or about 6 millibars pressure at the lower altitudes depending upon the year and time of day). Oddly a big problem with designing a Martian pressure suit is heat rejection because of poor thermal conduction into the atmosphere (the astronaut gets too hot). Some pressure suit designs call for having a big marlin fin out the astronaut's back to act as a radiator.

3) There is no liquid water on the surface of Mars despite the Martian atmosphere being saturated with water. During the Martian night, water in the atmosphere condenses out as frost. Some scientists have misrepresented surface images seen on Mars as water flowing on the surface. These images are actually very fine dust (Australian bull dust) flowing like water. It is believed there is significant subsurface ice on Mars at the lower latitudes. There is water ice mixed with dry ice on the surface of Mars in the polar regions.

4) The surface gravity on Mars is about 38% of Earth's gravity. This is believed sufficient to maintain human health.

Tansman mentioned the Martian ozone layer and magnetic fields in passing reference to the surface radiation problem on Mars. Tansman did not mention the single biggest problem with Mars colonization which is secondary cosmic radiation. Primary cosmic radiation is the biggest problem with getting people to Mars. It is impractical to shield against primary cosmic radiation in spacecraft due to mass considerations. The only practical relief is to minimize exposure time. The best response is a fast transfer orbit to keep exposure under 180 days. This normally requires use of an electric propulsion system coupled to a nuclear power source. The best relief against secondary cosmic radiation on the Martian surface is use of the Martian regolith (soil) as a shielding material. Canyon colonies with the Martian colonists living in the walls of canyons is a good solution. Canyon colonies provide a quick and dirty approach towards local terraforming Mars. A canyon is glazed over and pressurized to above the partial pressure of water. Cooling water from a nuclear reactor is allowed to flow down the floor of the canyon and then recirculated back through an aquaduct to the reactor. Waste heat from the reactor keeps the canyon colony at a uniform acceptable temperature. Energy from the reactor is the life blood of the colony.

Again, Mars colonization is difficult but not impossible. The basic question concerning Space Colonization is whether human beings should live beyond the Earth or die with their planet of origin. If for some philosophical or moral reason it makes no sense for humans to live beyond their planet of origin then making space colonies also makes no sense. However if one accepts that humans have a moral right (obligation!) to live beyond the Earth then the next question is which world is the easiest to colonize beyond the Earth. That answer is obviously Mars.

10/30/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I think saltwater will wind up being a source of unlimited energy. Right now there are no major labs in the USA that are not working on figuring out why Kanzius radio waves burned saltwater. The issue was joined in a major way this fall when materials scientist Rostum Roy. certified the process and took it to the DOE for further research.

Note: as of this moment Kanzius is not claiming that the process results in a net energy output. What he is claiming (and what several patents suggest) is that the process is totally unlike electrolysis.

10/30/2007 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

One assumes that we would live on the Meridiani or in the Utopia Planitia. Four miles below that with a resultant increase in pressure is the Vallis Marineris which is in keeping with eggplant's scenario. Providing the base facilities at what I've heard as an estimated temperature of near 70 degrees in the Martian summer. Oxygen could be manufactured from the H2O at the poles and the atmospheric pressure could help protect from a decompression fault. UAVs in the design stage like ARIS could provide a real time prospecting and science program. Mars will never be the equal of Earth but some of the major objections could be minimized by facilities placement, it would seem to me.

10/30/2007 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...


Your points about the value of robotic exploration versus human exploration are spot on. Even serious work of exploitation such as mining or even terraforming are best done by robots.

There are three great resources in space: matter, energy, and space for habitation. The first two are best retreived by robots. And the last will require significant advancements on autonomous robotics in order to be realized.

The value in manned exploration at this point is simply the knowledge that can be gained in developing more methods for sustaining human life in challenging and limited environments. That is certainly a worthy quest, imo, but considering the costs involved I believe far greater rewards can be obtained with an emphasis on robotics.

10/30/2007 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Somsel said...

So how would we get to Mars?

Nixon killed the means to get there.

With chemical rockets, astronauts require almost a three year round trip, much of it spent in interplanetary space subject to cosmic radiation exposure that would be near-lethal and certainly above any but theraputic exposures allowed today.

With a nuclear powered rocket, a round trip could be done in six months with much lower radiation exposure. Health consquences would be acceptable.

A flight-ready nuclear rocket engine was ready for space testing but Nixon pulled the program after his election. Little has been done since besides paper studies and some materials research.

The much heralded pebble bed reactors owe their core technology, TRISO fuel, to the US nuclear rocket program.

Odd how space spinoffs show up in the darnest places.

BTW, Mr. Eggplant is right about the He-3 reaction.

10/30/2007 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Mike W said...

Great justifications for space exploration here.

1) He-3. That is, if other tech becomes available. In other words: "Gee, if we had some bread, we could make a ham sandwich, if we had some ham."

2) It's our 'destiny' --To pump billions upon billions into the vast dry hole that is space, because this is ennobling. (And if you like international flights in economy class, then you'll love space travel.) Space exploration should be judged alongside every other scientific endeavor clamoring for funding. They are ennobling, too.

10/30/2007 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

James Kielland said:

"I believe far greater rewards can be obtained with an emphasis on robotics."

Robotic exploration of space is certainly important. However there is an unasked question in the robotic versus human exploration debate:

Will robotic space exploration continue to be funded after human space exploration has been terminated?

I believe the answer is certain to be "No!". Take away the human element and robotic space exploration is just another form of pure scientific research. At that point robotic space exploration must feed from the same funding trough as energy research, cancer research, fundamental physics, etc. In terms of bang-per-buck, Space Exploration loses big time against more pedestrian forms of scientific research. Kill off manned Space Exploration and robotic exploration will die as well.

10/30/2007 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

The single greatest mistake in the space program was JFK's Moon Landing goal. That ensured that manned exploration focused on a stunt rather than a more capable longer term approach. I.E., we decided on a trip to the circus rather than to build the Interstate system.

From Apollo came Shuttle, designed first and foremost to save the Apollo empire after the stunts wore thin. And Nixon did not think it up; NASA did.

Shuttle resulted in the creation of a NASA goal to cancel all unmanned vehicles. No competition would be allowed, since any would soon be found to be superior, given that the Shuttle was the most expensive and most limited launch system ever devised.

A nuclear rocket engine development was underway in the 80's under the USAF. It looked very promising, but the USAF had no need for it, NASA could not figure out if it needed it, and a certain congressman and the Federation of American Scientists decided to kill it for their own reasons - which mainly seemed to be that they thought it would be fun to do so (I wrote the replies to all their questions).

We have not solved the problem of low cost launch to orbit because:
1. Shuttle sabotaged it in the late 1960’s.
2. Congress refused to fund new booster development in the 80's
3. The USAF finally, finally started to develop new, real, space boosters starting in 1993 - or about 25 years later than it should have been done. And even those were of necessity very limited due to items 1 and 2.

And robotic exploration will continue because we use the unmanned launch systems to accomplish it – the same systems that launch the things we need, which are not optional.

10/30/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said:

"The single greatest mistake in the space program was JFK's Moon Landing goal. That ensured that manned exploration focused on a stunt rather than a more capable longer term approach. I.E., we decided on a trip to the circus rather than to build the Interstate system."

Apollo was important but I won't argue with the above statement because I agree with it in principle.

I would argue that the greatest single mistake was cancelling the X-20 Dyna-Soar (doing so set the future tone of the Space Program). The second greatest mistake was scrapping the Saturn-V (inexcusable). The third greatest mistake was making the Space Shuttle partially reusable (using SRBs and the ET instead of a reusable booster). The fourth greatest mistake was putting the ISS into a highly inclined orbit. The fifth greatest mistake was basing Mars exploration on exobiology...

I could go on but I think you can see my drift.

10/30/2007 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

After Congress made it clear in the late 60's that starting over again as if Apollo had never begun was unacceptable (which is what a real sustained manned exploration program would have required), NASA's fallback was a vehicle very much like Dyna Soar.

The USAF cancelled Dyna Soar because the satellites developed in the 60's did not require a manned presence to accomplish their missions, and in fact could do those missions better without men on board. UAVs are new proving that this same realization applies to airplanes. Given this fact, cancelling the X-20 was the right decision.

However, the Nixon Admin told NASA that they could do a bit better than just an X-20 sized vehicle to keep the country in the manned space business. The Space Shuttle was the result. Sometimes more political support is in the end, bad. Both Apollo and Shuttle prove this.

Shutting down the Saturn 5 program (a magnificant vehicle to be sure, I have eaten dinner with one a mere arm's length over my head more than once) simply was a requirement, simply because it was designed to carry a couple of men to the Lunar surface for less than 24 hours and was good for nothing much else. Way too big for all our usual missions and way too small to send men further than the Moon, or for that matter, for even weekend stays on the Moon.

Putting the ISS in that highly inclined orbit was another legacy of the "spend the money on Earthly priorities" pro-environmental argument that helped inspire the Shuttle in the first place.

Browse around over at and you will find we address these kinds of ideas frequently.

10/30/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said...

"The USAF cancelled Dyna Soar because the satellites developed in the 60's did not require a manned presence to accomplish their missions, and in fact could do those missions better without men on board."

This was the argument that McNamara and others used to justify cancellation but I claim the argument was faulty. Dyna-Soar was the logical evolutionary next step from the X-15, i.e. a hypersonic glider mounted on an ICBM derivative booster. Dyna-Soar would have flight qualified the hypersonic aerodynamic and thermal protection technologies associated with a lifting entry vehicle. The next logical step beyond Dyna-Soar would have been a fully usable small payload orbit vehicle mounted on a reusable booster. The next step beyond that would have been a fully reusable launch vehicle that could really achieve $1000/kg. By terminating the Dyna-Soar and going with capsules, that whole line of development was derailed. That error was compounded when NASA attempted too large of a technological step by going with the Space Shuttle after termination of the Apollo Program.

This thread has almost expired so I won't respond to any follow-on comments.

10/30/2007 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

Feh! I write in a lot more haste then I wish to so I will say less than I wish to. But for the proceeding discussion? We have here a neat textbook picture as to why, in my nastier moments, I feel the Space Movement is impotent by reason of not having it's act together. :P

Mars First types deny the viability to Moon colonization - How much such denial stems from the subliminal awareness that Mars and Luna would be competing for colonists as well as funds being an interesting question. (T.J. Dunbabin described the Greek colonies in Sicily as being so many scorpians poured into the same bottle. One gets the impression of Mars, Venus, Asteroid and Luna colonization advocates as being scorpians trying to sting one another before the egg even hatches. >_<).

Meanwhile, robotics otatku(And in this case I am using otaku in the *Japanese* sense of the word! :P), try to pour scorn on the idea of not only colonization but manned exploration at all in the hopes that by doing so they may grub a few extra pennies for *their* particular little hobbyhorse.

And none of them see that by doing so they diminish their own little pet cause in the eyes of the general public as well. O Juneval, if only thou hadst been living in this hour! ^O^

Here's a reality, guys! Robots live to serve man, not man robots so any robotic exploration that does not have human settlement in mind is merely a waste of money. Anytime you speak against manned exploration you merely undercut the right of the tinkertoy probes to exist. Here's a 2nd reality: If there aren't other places in the Solar System to settle that are viable then Mars isn't going to be viable either. You won't find many historical colonies in Greek or American history that didn't find it worthwhile to trade with other colonies as well as with the metropole. Luna being viable as a place to colonize strengthens the case for Mars rather than weakens it by giving Mars both waystop and trading partner.

All that said,...

Luna may very well prove to be an exporter of food and fertilizer. I should note that the use of lunar regolith in the growing of plants has long been known in certain circles.

It would appear that experiments with sugar beets has gone a long way towards establishing that this particular plant would be viable in Lunar conditions.,M1

Those who are interested in the matter may wish to get in touch with the Lunar Reclamation Society or else visit their home page. ^_~

10/30/2007 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger BrianFH said...

Aside from the Moon and Mars, some of the nickel-iron asteroids have immense quantities of base and precious metals for the taking. Nudging one into orbit would require a few small ion boosters and a few years. With that resource already out of the gravity well, lots of otherwise hyper-pricey projects become thinkable.

11/01/2007 07:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

These world government weenies don't know when to stop. First they'll call for "fair use" of the Moon, then Mars, the asteroid belt, then all the way to the Kuiper belt!

Why stop at our solar system. If our species lives long enough to visit another star, these idiots will try to parcel that out too.

11/01/2007 11:25:00 AM  

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