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Posts Tagged ‘space colonization

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • Centauri Dreams hosts a speculative essay by one Adam Crowl imagining how life could endure for eons beyond the death of stars in an aging universe.
  • The Cranky Sociologists’s SocProf studies the interaction between national identity and team sports in an era of globalization and migration.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper analyzing the connection between a star’s metallicity and the likelihood of it hosting giant planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper suggesting that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by itself lengthens the growing season, irrespective of warming.
  • Eastern Approaches looks at the scandal in Poland following the sharing of Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski’s impolitic words about NATO and the American alliance.
  • The Financial Times‘s The World blog wonders what the jeering of a female politician by her male peers means about gender equity in Japan.
  • Language Hat looks at the languages used in soccer.
  • Personal Approaches’ Jim Belshaw deplores the imprisonment of Australian journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.
  • At the Planetary Science Blog, Bill Dunford celebrates the many achievements of the Cassini probe at Saturn.
  • Van Waffle of the Speed River Journal writes about the return of bullfrogs to his local lake this year, in the context of issues for amphibians generally.
  • Torontoist features trans male Alex Abramovich’s writings about the personal and broader importance of pride.

[LINK] “Life in space is impossible”

James Nicoll linked to Dwayne A. Day’s article at The Space Review criticizing recent movies for suggesting that space colonies are pointless and dangerous, or worse, potential homes for only the 1%. As commenters noted, Day’s critique doesn’t take into consideration the fact that, with what we know now, space colonization is pointless and dangerous, and doesn’t note some of the separatist issues lurking behind the space colonization memeplex.

The tag line for the new Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar premiering in November could have been written by a space settlement enthusiast: “Mankind was born on Earth, it was never meant to die here.” Based upon the newly released trailer, however, it appears as if humanity’s salvation is not asteroid mining or Mars settlement, but sending a spaceship to another solar system (because “nothing in our solar system can save us”). Quite possibly the answer is “aliens.”

But at least Interstellar’s message seems to be that there is hope in our stars. For the past several years a theme that has emerged from a number of movies is that space, and spaceflight, is at best a pretty distraction, and not humanity’s future. Human destiny, these movies argue, is on Earth, which we need to stop trashing. These movies indicate that the pro-space movement has essentially failed in its primary message. A few thousand people attending pro-space conferences and claiming that space settlement is the solution is nothing compared to the millions of people around the world who have been exposed to the message that space is at best a distraction. Space is pretty and wondrous, but also dangerous and pointless, and at best, a playhouse for the rich.

[. . .]

One of the biggest and most praised movies of 2013 was Gravity. The film stormed the box office and received rave reviews and numerous Oscars, including one for best director. Although astronauts and spaceflight experts stumbled all over themselves to discuss the technical inaccuracies in the movie while praising it for its visual and excitement, what was lost in all the chattering is that Gravity is one of the most anti-space movies to come along in a long time. It may have done just as much damage to NASA’s image as the frequent reports during the October government shutdown that NASA was the “least essential” agency, based upon the determination that 97% of its employees should stay home.

Gravity makes its message blatantly clear in text at the very beginning: “Life in space is impossible.” But the rest of the film simply reinforces that message. The resounding theme, repeated again and again throughout the film, is that space is a very dangerous place and that people do not belong there. Sandra Bullock’s character, astronaut Ryan Stone, is only in space because she’s fleeing the grief she experienced on Earth, the gravity that killed her daughter in a fall, a fact that her colleague’s ghost tells her when she’s about to give up and die. By the end of the movie, every person who was in space at the beginning of the film, most of whom are never seen, has either abandoned it for the safety of Earth, or died. And low Earth orbit has become so polluted that it is clear nobody is going back. Goodbye Hubble, goodbye space station. Goodbye Mars colony.

The other major film of 2013 that took aim at the pro-space message was Elysium. It lacked the visual grandeur of Gravity but tried to make up for it in heavy-handed symbolism. Its story was more ambitious, but also messily convoluted, and possessing all the subtlety of a sledgehammer: poor, sick masses on Earth, abandoned by the rich who have fled to the sky. This is a relatively straightforward adaptation of the pro-space message touted by groups like the L5 Society and later the National Space Society (NSS), which in the 1970s started proposing space as a means of dealing with resource depletion on Earth. More recently, NSS and others in the pro-space community have embraced space as a tourist destination for rich people, out of the belief that maybe, someday, it will become affordable for the rest of us. The film’s look deliberately borrowed from 1970s-era artwork of space colonies.

The message was so similar to ones that have been around for decades that the National Space Society went so far as to issue a press release separating themselves from the film. Clearly the NSS leadership recognized that their vision had been perverted in the movie. Rather than cities in the sky where people worked in support of providing services to Earth—Gerard K. O’Neill’s original vision for space solar power—the beautiful space station is an escape from the thoroughly unpleasant Earth.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 24, 2014 at 4:00 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders if one way to deal with the overaccumulation of wealth by elites is to get them to spend it in vast showy projects, like a crash program for nuclear fusion or a colonization of the upper atmosphere of Venus.
  • Centauri Dreams reacts to the discovery of the nearby and literally ice-cold brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin argues that a recent American court case regarding a whistleblower highlights a tension between an individual’s freedoms as a citizens and limits as a private individual.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to two papers suggesting that a star’s circumstellar habitable zone could expand inwards if a planet is different from Earth, one pointing to slower-rotating planets and the other to lower-mass planets than Earth.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the fascinating recovery of evidence of hunting nine thousand years ago from the bottom of Lake Huron.
  • Writing at the Financial Times‘ The World blog, Edward Luce is worried about Narendra Modi.
  • Language Log comments on browser plug-ins and other like things which adjust text to fit prescriptivist dictates.
  • James Nicoll seems much less impressed than the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin in the idea of science fiction writers being criticized for their ideologies.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that a chart suggesting there’s a low chance of civil war in Ukraine actually suggests no such thing on closer analysis.
  • Towleroad notes that Russia’s anti-gay laws are now being implemented in Crimea.
  • Window on Eurasia’s links warn of the need for NATO to defend its own, highlight Belarus’ stated interest in a foreign policy that balances the European Union with the Russian sphere, and quotes Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemilev on the Crimean Tatars’ continued dissidence and hope for rescue.

[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

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