With the advent of the Augustine Commission II an opportunity has arisen for a discussion on the philosophy of space. Therefore the purpose of this missive is to look at where many in society see our future going, and to show where space either supports the positive aspects or negates the negative ones. Without this connection, we have no future in space for human spaceflight and the drums of doom will continue to sound over our world.
The reason for human spaceflight beyond the pure adventure is as old as mankind, moving outward to build a better life and make money. Obtaining riches for God and country as well. To put it in the modern vernacular it would be to “save the planet”, which really means save the humans on the planet. I have the February 29, 2009 copy of the magazine, New Scientist on my desk. The front cover has the words “Earth 2099” and following it the words
Vast New Deserts
Sounds like fun huh. The entire issue is about how climate change, resource depletion, and over population leads to a secular Malthusian apocalypse of civilization and that the only solution is to radically scale back the scope of our current civilization in order to insure the survival of much reduced humanity. This mindset goes back in the modern era to the book “Limits to Growth” by Meadows (who was just honored by the Japanese Emperor for his work in this area), that itself was a result of a study carried out by a group of European banking and corporate executives called the Club of Rome.
It turns out that a well known space advocate, Dr. David Webb, mentor to people like Peter Diamadis, myself, and an entire new generation of space advocates, was on the committee that funded this study. Dr. Webb asked them after the study, “why they did not consider the resources of space as a possible solution to the problems that the study illustrated” (there was a single dismissive paragraph in the book about space resources)? The answer was that these bankers and executives (in 1968) did not believe that there were any resources and that they could be accessed if there were. Dr. Webb at that time (as related to me in the late 1980’s) dedicated his life to the education of our new generation of space advocates in order to counter this mindset.
I use the New Scientist issue as a foil as it pretty much represents the arguments today that descend from the Club of Rome study and those that advocate the contraction of our industrial civilization and perpetual life on our one small planet as the only possible future that we have. Space advocacy at its finest rejects the notions embodied in this mindset and lays down the gauntlet to posit that not only is the future bright, it is unlimited through the economic development of space, our solar system, and the incorporation of its resources into our economic system here on the Earth. Rather than belabor this through highly technical explanations, a vision of the Earth in the year 2100 is laid out for inspection to see if it is more desirable than the bullet points above for the year 2099.
As people around the globe and the solar system celebrate the advent of the year 2100 what a difference in comparison to the fear and apprehension of the turn of the second millennium of 2000! There was so much angst and worry about how to make a single planet civilization work at the time, that and the wars that were brewing over what was then seen as a struggle over a decreasing resource base by an increasing number of people. The earth was still at that time mired in the primitive hydrocarbon economy, sucking vast quantities of fossil oil from the Earth, a clearly unsustainable proposition as even they acknowledged at the time. The problem was that inexpensive fossil fuels kept civilization in a relatively energy poor state that we would never tolerate today, along with the pollution that simple internal combustion engines engendered. To illustrate the differences following are status reports on various sectors of the solar economy.
The population of the Earth stabilized at around 9 billion souls at the mid century mark as projected by the U.N. a half century earlier. Fortunately advances that we already take for granted were well underway that allowed this population to be fed and clothed, though not at the level of wealth that is enjoyed today. In the latest planetary censuses the Earth’s population has actually decreased to 8.2 billion people as the declines in the poverty level to insignificant numbers led to reduced family sizes. This trend had started as early as the first decade of the 21st century in Europe and Japan, with China and India following the trend by the fourth decade of our now previous century. It took longer for what used to be called the developing or third world, but in the last 20 years drops in population have been recorded there as well. However, there is still a population explosion going on, just not on the Earth today.
Beginning with a revitalized cooperative American, European, Japanese, and a sizeable investment by China and India as well, the Moon began with a permanent population of about 25 by the year 2020. However, today, that number has swelled to over 200,000 with an economy leveraged by more than 700,000 robots to generate an economy larger than the advanced nations of the 20th century. This was enabled by the discovery of large near surface deposits of Thorium, first indicated by the Lunar Prospector spacecraft of the late 20th century, along with the 300 million tons of water and several hundred billion plus ton nickel iron metal fragments discovered by American and Indian spacecraft of the early 21st century.
The resources of the Moon and its industrial base have been the source of materials and technologies that have helped mankind spread throughout the solar system since. From the first nuclear fission and later fusion powered VASIMR large solar cruisers, massive multi-kilometer GEO coms platforms, to the recently completed L5 and L3 habitats (the original L5’ers were off by 100 years in their L5 by 95 chant), the Moon has provided over 500 million tons of materials for the solar economy. Also, the yearly importation to the Earth of over 100,000 kilograms per year of platinum group metals, reduced the cost of these materials by a factor of 50, which made fuel cells cheaper than internal combustion engines, which resulted in a swift decline in the demand for oil and an increase in the demand for hydrogen, effectively ending the hydrocarbon era by 2040.
In addition to the materials, vacuum manufacturing on the Moon, beginning in the year 2018 when the European ITER tokomak reactor exceeded all of its design goals for fusion power generation (due to the extremely conservative estimations of its scientists and engineers), the implementation fusion power began in earnest. The tokomak was complimented by the Inertial laser fusion system designed by the Americans that began serious operation in 2010 that also exceeded expectations. Together the two technologies, along with the serious early century investment in nuclear fission as an energy bridge provided the energy for the switch to hydrogen, while the platinum sponge fuel tanks, which stored more hydrogen than could be stored in liquid form, revolutionized transportation on a planetary basis.
Here now in the year 2100 the Earth is generating more than 100 terawatts of clean energy and the transition from heat based (boiling water), to MHD power generation is well underway. On the Moon, the vacuum proved to be ideal for the rapid implementation of gen II fusion reactors, allowing the retirement of the first gigawatt class thorium reactor, built in 2027, last year. Just last year General Atomics boasted that raw lunar energy production increased to over 1.25 terawatts, enough to ensure growth in the lunar economy for the next five years until the gen IV MHD reactors come on line in 2105 which will push the total to over twenty five terawatts.
Today the Moon’s economy is still growing at a compound rate of 8% as it has for the past several decades with no end in sight. With the introduction of the 25 gigawatt MHD gen IV space fusion reactor that directly couples to the VASIMR MHD engine, the trip from lunar orbit to the massive Phobos and Deimos spaceports around Mars has been reduced to three weeks and the trip to the growing mines and habitats in the asteroid belt and the Helium III atmosphere mines at Uranus are only six weeks away now. It is estimated that when the multiple refueling points being established in the Ooort belt in the next five years are completed that the new Diaz class cruisers with a crew of fifty could reach the Earth class planet (Episilon Eridani III) discovered 85 years ago in less than 25 years. Recent fast probes sent by multiple nations have verified life and habitability metrics there as well as at Alpha Centauri IV, and Tau Ceti V. The National Space Society has already ordered the second Diaz off the assembly line, with funds raised from their 190 million strong member base.
Next Time, Mars and the Rest of the Solar System
Note to Readers: While this may seem like science fiction of the most fantastic kind, it is achievable, with the technologies and the means that we have in our grasp today. Which future do you want? Earth 2100 looks to be a lot more fun than Earth 2099 to me and there is nothing that stands in the way of it happening except us.
This is why the question why must be answered first before an architecture is chosen. If the why is the economic development of the solar system as spoken of by John Marburger, it means something completely different than if a solely science based program is implemented. An architecture based upon the economic development of the solar system means that you go somewhere on the Moon and stay and build rather than send everything from the Earth in sorties to pick up yet more rocks without a larger plan. Mars today is a bridge too far and would result in nothing more than a few flags and footprints. The asteroids? Sure, but with a several month timeframe for a sortie, and two years for exploitation, they are today too far away. The Moon, with its 2.5 light second round trip distance for telepresence operations and three day transit time, along with plentiful resources, is the logical place to start.
The rest of the architecture falls out from there. Any serious effort with ISRU begins with energy. However, cost constraints puts nuclear out of the picture, at least initially. This drives us to one of the poles of the Moon, preferably the North with its much greater accessibility to the surrounding near side Maria and polar water resources (even without the cold traps). Solar power is easy to implement today and should be used to provide a megawatt of power as the first milestone of energy. With this much solar power in almost full sunlight, serious ISRU for the production of metals and breathable gasses, which are then used to build habitable structures far larger than could be brought up from the Earth can commence. With large structures comes agriculture and small animal husbandry, which cuts the logistical burden from the Earth by an order of magnitude and allows for a growing human population.
With the production of metals, including Aluminum, large tanks, engines, and space vehicles can be constructed and even if the amount of water is small on the Moon, oxygen and aluminum makes a good fuel for launching single stage to orbit cargo vehicles from the surface, with more advanced technologies growing as the capability grows on the Moon. The more the local economy grows, the more people are in demand, and it is highly likely that if this approach is taken, that the future that I just scratched the surface of, will result in some form or another.....
Space is there for a prosperous future in the year 2100, or there is always Earth 2099. Which would you choose?
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