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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘space colonization

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster writes about a need for some paradigm to support extraterrestrial colonization.
  • At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell is skeptical about the long-term environmental effects of the Crimea crisis, as domestic fracking in Europe will start looking to be more secure than Russian imports.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the support of Poland for Ukraine.
  • Far Outliers notes the plight of German ships, civilian and military, in the Pacific at the time the First World War was declared.
  • A Fistful of Euros links to the first George Bush’s infamous “Chicken Kiev” speech of 1991 counseling against Ukrainian independence.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Pereltsvaig reviews recent media coverage of the Crimean crisis, and wonders about the consequences for Russia.
  • Marginal Revolution links to some recommended books, fiction and otherwise, on Crimea.
  • The Planetary Society Blog invites regular non-astronomers to join the hunt for an asteroid.
  • Otto Pohl places the issues of the Crimean Tatars in the context of the forcible homogenization of European nation-states. Other communities also vanished.
  • Towleroad notes Republican Congressman Steve King who apparently doesn’t believe in protecting LGBT right because it’s not immediately visible. (Like religion?)
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin argues that making Russian leaders pay personal costs, via passport bans and the like, is a good thing.

[LINK] “Winter in the Antarctic Shows What It Will Take to Live on Mars”

Scientific American‘s Clara Moskowski writes about the lessons of life at Antarctica’s Concordia Station for crews on future long-range missions. (I’d learned of Concordia a few years ago in connection with extraterrestrial life; Concordia’s usefulness for social sciences also makes sense.)

This week 13 people will begin a nine-month mission inside a small, remote station largely cut off from the world. Outside their habitat there is little air, extremely cold temperatures and no sunlight. The crew must eat only what they’ve stockpiled and recycle their precious water for reuse. Despite appearances, however, these people are not going to space, but to the next best thing: Antarctica.

The European Concordia Research Station is set to begin its 10th winter season on the southernmost continent, where the sun will not rise for more than three months starting around May. In addition to conducting astronomical, atmospheric and glacier research, among other projects, the crew will serve as test subjects on a mock mission to Mars. After all, their experiences are the closest we can come to learning how astronauts will fare on a real long-distance space voyage without actually sending them off Earth. “We’ll never be able to be 100 percent prepared for everything,” says Oliver Angerer, project manager for Concordia at the European Space Agency (ESA). “We can only do the best we can by learning as much as we can from similar situations.”

Scientists will closely monitor how the Concordia crew members fare physically, mentally and emotionally. “You have limited space for a bunch of people, no contact with the outside world in a normal way, no sunlight or normal circadian triggers,” says Peter Gräf, life sciences program manager at the German Aerospace Center, who has worked on numerous Mars analogue missions. “You have a bunch of people you have to get along with, and you have no alternatives and no escapes.” Studies will track how their diet and metabolism correlate with mood changes, whether their sleep is disturbed by the lack of sunlight and pressure changes, and how the isolation and stress of the situation affect crew dynamics. All of these data will eventually be used to help plan the first official missions to Mars and other deep-space destinations.

Concordia station, which is jointly operated by the French Polar Institute and the Italian Antarctic Research Program, is just one of several Mars analogue missions undertaken by the world’s space agencies and science organizations. In 2010 Russia, the ESA and China collaborated on the Mars 500 mission, which sent six volunteers inside a sealed habitat for 520 days on a mock mission to and from the Red Planet. NASA routinely sends astronauts to the desert as well as deep under the sea on the Aquarius research station to simulate space missions. And the nonprofit Mars Society is planning a yearlong mission simulation at its Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in northern Canada starting in summer. “By practicing these missions you can find out what technologies you need and what technologies you don’t need,” says Mars Society president Robert Zubrin. “You can find out what the real requirements for crew psychology are. And I think these things do one other thing: they focus people’s attention on what the space program should be doing.” Simulating a mission to Mars, he says, can excite the public and galvanize support for a real journey there.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 14, 2014 at 9:45 pm

[NEWS] Some Saturday links

  • First off, congratulations to friend of the blog Jonathan Edelstein for his role in setting an unjustly imprisoned man free in New York State.
  • The National Post repots on calls to send a mission to Europa.
  • Der Spiegel‘s English-language edition reports on the continuing ethnic divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, specifically in relationship to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by Serb nationalists in 1914 that started the First World War.
  • Business Week notes that the ongoing crisis in Thailand is hampering the country’s economy, observes the ongoing issues with accumulating space junk, documents a Russian HIV/AIDS pandemic made worse by Russia’s non-constructive dealings with the causes of HIV’s spread, and notes that mass immigration from the European Union–especially Germany–is a major political concern in Switzerland.
  • CBC notes that the recent ice storm hurting spending at growing Canadian chain Dollarama, reports that an immunity deal has been struck with an ex-Tory worker charged with involvement in the robocalls scandal, and observes that the so-called IKEA monkey man has been ordered to pay 83 thousand dollars in legal costs to the sanctuary that took in her pet monkey Darwin.
  • National Geographic explores the question of whether or not there might be planets better-suited to life than the Earth, and whether these planets should be the subject of searchers.
  • The Advocate reports on the case of a transgendered woman in Louisiana, Pamela Raintree, who helped save a local anti-discrimination ordinance by offering the ordinance’s opponent the first stone to throw at her, in keeping with the Bible’s mandating of death.
  • MacLean’s argues that Turkey is set for an inevitable crash as its economic and political and social contradictions come to a knot.
  • Universe Today notes that, after the success of the Chang’e 3 moon rover, China now wants to land astronauts on the moon and set up a crewed facility.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • Centauri Dreams notes the thinking of Martin Rees and Freeman Dyson on the diaspora of life beyond Earth, noting that it’s going to require as much adaptation to new environments as it will (would?) the adaptation of existing environments.
  • D-Brief notes theory about planetary system formation suggesting that suggestive gaps in protoplanetary discs of gas and dust don’t necessarily reveal planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird links to the recent paper suggesting that tide-locked red dwarf planets are much more likely to be habitable than previously thought.
  • Geocurrents analyses the possibility that Iran might be divided between a conservative Persian-speaking core and reformist peripheries.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan notes evidence from Ethiopia suggesting that there has been immigration into Africa as well out of the continent.
  • Registan describes a Chinese copper mining project in Afghanistan that never quire took off.
  • Savage Minds’ Rex reviews William McNeill’s biography of historian Arnold J. Toynbee.
  • Strange Maps maps the leading causes of death by continent.
  • Supernova Condensate describes the possibility of life-supporting environments on Europa, not only in the subsurface ocean but in lakes located in the ice crust.
  • Window on Eurasia quotes a Tatar nationalist who argues that Tatarstan can be to Russia what Lithuania was to the former Soviet Union, i.e. the unit which breaks the country apart.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Bag News Notes’ Michael Shaw takes a look at NSA Edward Snowden, as good as look as can be taken.
  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster reflects on Iain M. Banks as a designer of megascale structures.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird reports on Chinese interest in paying for the reconstruction of a Nicaragua canal.
  • Eastern Approaches notes that the iconic Gdansk shipyards, which fostered the growth of solidarity, are at risk of closing.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig writes about the coverage of the news of the last speaker of the Baltic Finnic language of Livonian, in all of its flaws.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen likes a book describing why some East Asian economies hit the First World and others didn’t, while Alex Tabarrok advocates for a new regime in the United States for the approval of medications.
  • New Apps Blog’s Lisa Guenther uses a documentary on the fate of the long-term incarcerated to start a discussion on what we grow to tolerate.
  • Normblog’s Norman Geras interviews Daniel Libeskind.
  • The Signal’s Bill LeFurgy writes about word processing, the killer app that jumpstarted the computer revolution.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Ukrainians generally haven’t assimilated the Crimean Tatar history of deportation into their own and quotes from a Kazakhstani writer who argues that real, broad-based Russian influence is much more threatening to Kazakh identity than anything the Chinese have done or are likely to do.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Bag News Notes’ Michael Shaw takes a look at the pictures indicating extensive use of tear gas against protesters in Istanbul.
  • In a guest post at Centauri Dreams, Larry Klaes takes a look at a 2011 anthology of papers examining the dynamics of spacefaring societies (ours and others’), Civilizations Beyond Earth: Extraterrestrial Life and Society.
  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram, visiting Brazil’s preplanned capital of Brasilia, starts a discussion about planned cities.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the breakdown of the current coalition government in the Czech Republic.
  • Geocurrents examines two Stalin Second World War-era ethnic cleansings, the first of the Volga Germans (now largely resettled in Germany) and the second of the Crimean Tatars (now largely returned to their Crimean homeland within Ukraine).
  • Normblog’s Norman Geras wonders why many elements of Communist culture remain cool, despite its linkages with oppression.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer takes a look at mass transit in Colombia’s capital of Bogotá, noting that the current light rail system isn’t the best imaginable but is the best possible given the politics.
  • Gideon Rachman notes the politics of green space, including parks, as exemplified by the Istanbul protests.
  • Technosociology’s Zeynep Tufekci argues that online-driven protests do all fit a certain style.

[LINK] “Spaced out”

Via Bruce Sterling I came across an article by Greg Klerkx at Aeon Magazine, “Spaced out”. The author takes a look at the apparent paradox that in our post-Cold War era, just as the technology necessary to support a viable manned presence in space is appearing, interest in space colonization is dropping off. He draws interesting parallels with ocean colonization.

Most of what we have learned about living in space is that we should not live in space. We are designed for gravity; without it, strange things happen to both body and mind. For each month spent in space, humans can lose up to two per cent of their bone mass. This means that each day, for hours on end, the ISS becomes the world’s highest-flying gym to keep its occupants fit. But even with such precautions, some returning space travellers require months of rehabilitation to readjust to life on Earth. Others, despite having access to the best facilities and treatments available, experience headaches, sight loss, and undiagnosed physical and psychological frailty for the rest of their lives.

But these are mere hardships, not showstoppers, and those who’ve pioneered at the edges of human experience have always managed to endure them. Physiological challenges aside, life aboard the ISS is not unlike life on a submarine or in an Antarctic research station: isolated, cramped, and relentlessly task-focused. ‘But,’ the space futurist will say, ‘who is to say these limitations are permanent?’ After all, we might one day be able to create artificial gravity, which would significantly minimise the damage done to the human body in space. We might one day be able to build, launch and populate some version of the floating paradise envisioned by Tsiolkovsky and O’Neill, giving us greenery and companionship in space — and some measure of Earthly elbow room.

‘One day’ is the sustaining trope of today’s astropreneurs, and it is mother’s milk to the clever engineers and researchers at NASA and the European Space Agency, who continue to churn out studies and CGI animations pushing, ever pushing, for a humans-in-space future. One day, anything is possible: science and science fiction, hand in hand, have conspired to make us believe this is true. One day, living in space might be as easy as living on Earth.

But will it matter to anyone? That we might be able to live in space does not mean that we still want to, or that the arguments put forward for doing so will still resonate across the cultural landscape. Indeed, a closer look at the four space stations now in orbit reveals that the living-in-space dream is, in fact, in serious trouble.

No amount of spin can mask the incredible expense of the International Space Station, which has thus far cost an estimated $150 billion to build and operate. For that price, NASA could build, launch and operate several dozen Mars Curiosity rovers. The station’s scientific value is routinely criticised as being paltry, particularly when compared with other high-end science projects such the Large Hadron Collider, which was built for about $10 billion, less than a tenth of the price of the ISS. The ISS is routinely promoted as a stellar example of cross-cultural collaboration, but it’s unclear whether the multi-national consortium that runs it will keep it operating past 2020.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

[LINK] Centauri Dreams on cometary civilizations

Writing at his blog Centauri Dreams, Paul Gilster in the previous days has made three posts about the audacious possibility of colonizing the Oort cloud, drawing on earlier writers referenced in the posts. The Kuiper belt and the scattered disc, zones of the solar system stretching far beyond the orbit of Neptune, are remote enough: frigid, distant, icy. The Oort cloud, the cloud of innumerable comets orbiting our sun at a distance of sizable fractions of a light-year, are more remote yet.

The first post was “Into the Oort Cloud: A Cometary Civilization?”. Resources are available.

Embedded with rock, dust and organic molecules, comets are composed of water ice as well as frozen gases like methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and an assortment of compounds containing nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur. Porous and undifferentiated, these bodies are malleable enough to make them interesting from the standpoint of resource extraction.

[. . .]

Put a human infrastructure out in the realm of the comets, in other words, and resource extraction should be a workable proposition. Terra talks about colonies operating in the Oort Cloud but we can also consider it, as he does, a proving ground for even deeper space technologies aimed at crossing the gulf between the stars. Either way, as permanent settlements or as way stations offering resources on millennial journeys, comets should be plentiful given that the Oort Cloud may extend half the distance to Alpha Centauri.

The second was “Life Among the Comets”. This one imagined sources of energy for these deep-space colonies, including nuclear energy but also mirror farms.

[M]irror farms are themselves components of even larger arrays, spread out perhaps 200,000 kilometers from the cometary nucleus. Growing the community would mean creating comet clusters by moving new comets into range, which would allow populations up to 100,000 or so to exist, though spread out widely through the cluster. With perhaps a light-day of separation between communities living in such clusters, the colonists would be in constant electromagnetic communication with other settlements scattered throughout the inner and outer Oort.

As wondrous a science fictional setting as this provides (and vast mirrors inevitably call to mind the continent-sized sails of Cordwainer Smith’s “The Lady Who Sailed the Soul”), I’d like to think there are more practical ways to produce the needed energy. But what? Fission doesn’t fly out here because the heavy elements are found in only minute amounts. Remember, we’re not talking about a colony world that is sustained by regular supplies from the inner system. We have to exploit local resources, and that takes us to the deuterium available in comets.

The third, “Into the Orion Arm”.

A small but growing human population in the Oort Cloud will master cometary motion, taking advantage of the fact that at 10,000 AU, the speed needed to orbit the Sun is just 300 meters per second. Compare this to the Earth’s 30,000 meters per second and it should be obvious that it takes only a small change in velocity to alter a comet’s orbit. We’ll have learned this in theory if not in practice because it factors into the engineering needed to divert a potentially dangerous comet from striking our planet decades in the future. Learn how to bump comets to change their orbits and you start thinking about what else you might do with such an object.

Interstellar space must be littered with comets that have been ejected from our system through the 4.6 billion years of its existence. Some estimates run as high as 1000 Earth masses in cometary material, so the resource base between us and the nearby stars should be plentiful. If Oort Cloud comets are separated by about 20 AU, these interstellar comets may be hundreds of thousands of AU from each other. The Oort Cloud should be in perpetual flux as some interstellar comets enter and move through it while other comets are pushed back out.

The whole idea strikes me as very implausible, given the vast distances and scarcity of resources needed to support life. Even if there are–quite plausibly–rogue worlds, dwarf planets like Pluto and even larger worlds, in the area of the Oort cloud, that still leaves vast spaces without resources. The whole area of the Oort cloud is likely to be lacking in the metals–conventional metals such as iron and copper, not just elements heavier than hydrogen–that play critical roles in industry, even if other materials are present. As for the sociology of scattered groups of dozens of people separated from realistic likelihoods of physical context, I’m confident in fearing the worst.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 1, 2013 at 2:27 am

[LINK[ Centauri Dreams on colonizing the Kuiper Belt and beyond

A couple of posts in the past week by Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster have considered the question of a far-future colonization of the ice dwarfs of the Kuiper belt, the cloud of icy bodies orbiting beyond Neptune’s orbit of which Pluto is the most prominent member. Inspired by Karl Schroeder’s blog post about the distinction between habitable and colonizable worlds, and by a recent talk given by engineer Ken Roy, Gilster speculates. In “Interstellar Expansion: Colonizing Ice Dwarfs”, he sets things up.

Pluto is a case in point. Here we have a surface that appears to be a shell of nitrogen ice covering water ice. When New Horizons gets to the Pluto/Charon binary in 2015, one thing to look for is an equatorial bulge that could have been left over from the early days of Pluto’s formation. No bulge makes the case for stretching of the ice shell over Pluto’s lifetime, strengthening the possibility some are noting that the ice dwarf could contain an ocean beneath about 165 kilometers of crust, an ocean that may be just as deep as the crust is thick

[. . .]

Build a settlement on an ice dwarf in the outer system and you are not only creating space for living and doing science, but also building the technologies that will one day be used in interstellar colonization missions. But Roy noted that the science fictional image of a domed city in a harsh landscape just won’t work here. Induce Earth-class atmospheric pressure inside such a dome and even a small one (1000 feet in radius) would require a four-inch thick layer of steel to keep the dome intact. Moreover, ice dwarfs have but feeble gravity, creating medical issues from muscle atrophy to bone problems, loss of body mass, sleep disturbance and more. A better choice, then, is to move inward, creating the colony deep within the ice dwarf itself.

At 160 meters, the ceiling of a colony hollowed out within Pluto would be fully supported by the air pressure inside. Artificial light would be essential, of course, and we still have a gravity problem, for Pluto’s gravity is only 6.7 percent that of the Earth — a 200 pound person on Earth weighs but 14 pounds on Pluto. Roy suggests a rotating torus in this setting could provide living and working spaces at 1 Earth gravity. At 1 revolution per minute, a 1790-meter torus supported by maglev rails could accommodate, by Roy’s estimation, 10,000 people living in conditions that would more or less resemble the worldships so often imagined by science fiction writers.

We’re assuming technologies that can create large rotating structures in low-gravity environments, with the ability to move spacecraft at velocities of 0.001 c to build and supply the colony. We’re also assuming proven fusion power plants and considerable expertise in mining and construction. We would put these tools to work to extract local silicates and metals from the surface and, perhaps, rock from buried impactors. We would be working in an environment rich in H2O, but also in methanol, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, ethanol, ethane and long-chain hydrocarbons, all within a salty ice mantle.

In “Resources Between the Stars”, Gilster concedes that these icy worlds are likely to be very poor in the metals and other heavier elements necessary for life, never mind civilization. He turns to rogue planets, too.

We know little about these worlds, but it’s assumed that great numbers of them are out there, doubtless the result of gravitational interactions in young solar systems that caused them to be ejected. Dorian Abbot and Eric Switzer (University of Chicago) call these ‘steppenwolf’ planets because they ‘exist like a lone wolf wandering over the galactic steppe.’

Louis Strigari (Stanford University) has estimated that as many as 105 objects larger than Pluto exist for every main sequence star. If that’s anywhere like the case, then rogue planets ranging between the size of Ceres and Jupiter should be out there in abundance, and we can hope to put some constraints on their numbers through future gravitational microlensing surveys and even exoplanet transit studies, which may catch a rogue planet’s transit. Some studies show that radiogenic heating from the planetary core could keep an ocean under crustal ice liquid for billions of years even out here, where there is no star to provide warmth.

Deep space is not without resources, as we’re learning every day. Roy told the audience in Huntsville that cometary objects from the Kuiper Belt to the Oort Cloud should offer CO2, ammonia, methane, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, while we can exploit asteroids for silicates and metals. We can only imagine what resources might be available in unattached worlds moving between the stars. This is all work for a civilization that has built a thriving deep space infrastructure, but then, thinking about the future is what we do here.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2013 at 8:29 pm

[LINK] “A tale of two worlds: habitable, or colonizable?”

In a post at his blog, Canadian science fiction writer Karl Schroeder makes the distinction between “habitable” worlds and “colonizable” worlds. To illutrate, he uses two recently discovered exoplanets: Alpha Centauri Bb, a planet somewhat more massive than the Earth orbiting Alpha Centauri B in a scorching three-day orbit; and, Gliese 667Cc, a super-Earth that orbits stable red dwarf Gliese 667Cc squarely in its habitable zone. Gliese 667Cc could support liquid water on its surface, and thus conceivably an Earth-like environment. Alpha Centauri’s world, though, might be a better prospect, for all that the half of its surface permanently exposed to its sun is a magma sea. Why?

Because 581g is a super-earth, the gravity on its surface is going to be greater than Earth’s. Estimates vary, but the upper end of the range puts it at 1.7g. If you weigh 150 lbs on Earth, you’d weigh 255 lbs on 581g. This is with your current musculature; convert all your body fat to muscle and you might just be able to get around without having to use leg braces or a wheelchair. However, your cardiovascular system is going to be under a permanent strain on this world–and there’s no way to engineer your habitat to comfortably compensate.

On the other hand, Centauri Bb is about the same size as Earth. Its surface gravity is likely to be around the same. Since it’s tidally locked, half of its surface is indeed a lava hell–but the other hemisphere will be cooler, and potentially much cooler. I wouldn’t bet there’s any breathable atmosphere or open water there, but as a place to build sealed domes to live in, it’s not off the table.

Also consider that it’s easier to get stuff onto and off of the surface of Bb than the surface of a high-gravity super-earth. Add to that the very thick atmosphere that 581g is likely to have, and human subsistence on 581g–even if it’s a paradise for local life–is looking more and more awkward.

Colonizable worlds, Schroeder goes on to suggest, have accessible surfaces, elements needed for life and industry in sufficient quantity, and a “manageable flow of energy at the surface” (Venus’ surface fails as its uniformly superhot). Mars comes off badly, actually, on account of its low nitrogen content.


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