Thursday, December 28, 2006

How To Appeal To Youth

To the dismay of space enthusiasts, recent studies have shown that young people tend to be more indifferent or even opposed to manned space exploration, even compared to older people. Young people were not as supportive of the new vision for space as older people were. This is an alarming trend, and NASA is working to reverse youth apathy towards space. Among their findings:
Even though the Dittmar surveys offer a bleak view, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin believes ventures to the moon and Mars will excite young people more than the current shuttle trips to low-Earth orbit.

“If we make it clear that the focus of the United States space program for the foreseeable future will be out there, will be beyond what we do now, I think you won't have any problem at all reacquiring the interest of young people,'' Griffin said in a recent interview.

Tactics encouraged by the workshop included new forms of communication, such podcasts and YouTube; enlisting support from celebrities, such as actors David Duchovny (“X-Files'') and Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek: The Next Generation''); forming partnerships with youth-oriented media such as MTV or sports events such as the Olympics and NASCAR; and developing brand placement in the movie industry.

Outside groups have offered ideas too, such as making it a priority to shape the right message about the next-generation Orion missions.

And NASA should take a hint from Hollywood, some suggested.

“The American public engages with issues through people, personalities, celebrities, whatever,'' said George Whitesides, executive director of the National Space Society, a space advocacy group. “When you don't have that kind of personality, or face, or faces associated with your issue, it's a little bit harder for the public to connect.''

He said the agency could pick the crews for the moon and Mars trips earlier so the public can connect the faces with the far-off missions of the future.

“You can take advantage of these personalities and these stories about triumph over adversity to create heroes, if you will,'' said workshop leader Peggy Finarelli, a former NASA official who is now a researcher at George Mason University.
I belong to the 18-25 year old demographic, and I disagree with much of what is stated in the article. Using celebrities, Google Video, and YouTube will not cut it, IMO. Just because celebrities are endorsing space travel will not automatically make it click among youth. I don't remember the announcement that Lance Bass was trying to pay for a spaceflight rousing interest in young people for going to Mars. Also, a trip to space at the time costs millions, and would likely be seen among many young people as a "playground for the filthy rich." The reasons for the lack of interest are much deeper.

Consider this: the Boomers grew up with space being something very new. As humans had never left the atmosphere, the fact that men were now orbiting Earth, and later walking on Luna were very profound events. For the first time in history, people were able to look at photographs of the Earth as a blue/green sphere. Also during that time, there was much vision of a future of Mars and Lunar colonies, and people living and working in space. Even the Xers, born in the 1960s and 1970s, were around to see the major milestones, from Apollo, to Skylab, to the STS, and to the Challenger explosion. Space was still relatively new, and the theme of the era was making space travel routine. But of course, we know where that went.

Now, let's get to the Millennial generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s. It is rare to find a Millennial, born even in the early 1980s, who can remember the Challenger disaster. Shuttle flights every few months is something that we've been accustomed to all of our lives. There has not been much happening in space that would excite Millennials. Yeah, every several months, we launch about 3 - 7 people on the space shuttle just to travel a few hundred miles above the Earth's surface. The shuttle can't even make it to Geostationary Orbit, much less Luna. Many of us have been hearing about NASA plans to build a space station "Freedom", "Alpha", or "ISS". And look at where we are today. ISS is a total clusterf--k (excuse my French) of a project. Today, you can't really do anything exciting there. So why should we be excited about NASA starting a moon base? With the record of NASA since the cancellation of Apollo, why should we become interested in a vision that will probably not live up to the hype? If you were a space enthusiast, you might wonder whether we have anti-space people working at NASA.

Also, there is plenty of anti-space rhetoric going around. What is the logic of spending billions of dollars to send a couple of people into space when there are still people in poverty everywhere? Earlier this year, Katie Couric reflected a sentiment expressed by Jesse Jackson shortly after the manned Lunar langings, when she said "I can't help but wonder what all that money could do for people here on planet Earth". I mean, the Earth is warming. The polar ice caps are melting and sea levels will rise. AIDS is devastating much of the world, as are other plagues such as malaria. Billions have no access to clean water and find hardship even in obtaining food. Even in America, there are many impoverished people. So why spend billions of dollars on sending a few people into space every few months, when that money could be used to alleviate hunger here at home? That's a very convincing argument.

But us space enthusiasts know better. We know that space has the potential to help solve the problems we have here on Earth. But is this ever communicated to the public? I have never read anywhere outside a space-themed book or website about how space can be used to solve problems here on Earth. I have never heard, or heard of, anyone saying in public that space offers the opportunity for wealth beyond our wildest dreams, the opportunity for a much better environment, or the opportunity to solve our energy-shortage problems. Never. Is the media just blocking out these messages, or are the space enthusiasts not working hard enough to get the message out? We are constantly bombarded with messages of an impending energy crisis, that fossil fuels are running out and there is no known energy source able to provide the amount of energy that fossil fuels provides. When alternatives are spoken of, either it is terrestrial solar power or hydrogen. A lot of people would be astounded to learn that we've already found a solution to this crisis, and have known of it since the 1970s. Why is it that space solar power, lunar solar power, or even helium-3 (which is understandable since we don't even have fusion reactors yet) never get mentioned as viable alternatives, even though they provide the opportunity to provide surplus energy for more than 10 billion people? OTECs are also able to power the world, but this is never mentioned either.

If the 2004 and 2006 elections have proven one thing, it is that the Millennials tend to lean on the leftist/liberal side of the ideological spectrum. I myself am a liberal, and a leftist. As a result, space has to connect with the issues that concern left-wing politics. And given the benefits that space can offer, this should be the easiest thing in the world. Until we connect with the general public on how space can tackle our most dire problems here on Earth, we will have a hard time convincing people that space is worth the money. How many people even browse the science section of the bookstore? Many people will steer clear from it. Only a small fraction of the population has even heard of the books The Millennial Project, Mining the Sky, or The Case For Mars. It was books like these that turned me into a space enthusiast. And where is the vision for space? There is actually plenty of vision, but that vision is inaccessible to most people. John S. Lewis -- author of Mining The Sky -- decried the "lack of visionary leadership in recent years". Today, you don't see much of a future about space. Sure, we have Battlestar Galactica, but that does not present an inspiring vision of a space faring future. If you want to draw in a new generation, you have to inspire them. You have to connect space with their hopes, dreams, and aspirations of a better world and a better life for themselves. For some, this might mean mining materials on the Lunar surface and then fabricating the material into solar panels in orbit or on Luna that can provide unlimited energy for all. For others, it might mean power cheap and plentiful enough so that even an impoverished village in Ghana can improve their living conditions.

Another thing is that there needs to be more space related jobs. Those of us who are nerds and geeks will find much more opportunity creating software than working for NASA. There needs to be more employment in the space industry, and there needs to be a chance that they could go into space.
Interest in "New Space" (commercial) human spaceflight efforts such as the X-Prize flights of SpaceShip One is increasing, relative to the results of the previous study.
Efforts like this connect the youth to a possible space future. And if there are companies offering space flights, this means that one could potentially get a job engineering and constructing space vehicles and space infrastructure. And if the prices drop and more people have access to space, then the youth will become more interested. So the issue with space is that there is not enough communication to the masses about what a space faring future could entail for us. We need to get that message across. We need to tell everyone that we can solve our energy crisis by embarking on space travel. We need to let people know that the resources in space are practically infinite. And we need to let people know that space gives us an opportunity to return Earth to its natural beauty and splendor. We also need to, at every point, counter-act any message that states that space is useless. Next time Katie Couric or someone else talks publicly about the need to turn away from space, we as a community need to fill up their (e)mail boxes and voicemails with the truth. We much not allow anyone to spread ignorance about space without a hard fight.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Orion's Asteroid Architecture has an article about Orion hardware for a human flight to an asteroid. I prefer sending humans to a NEO (preferably a CC type that contains plenty of volatile elements) over sending them to Luna or Mars.
“There are many asteroids that have very low relative velocities with respect to Earth,” Lu observed. Identifying an “ideal” NEO is one that’s both slow moving and comes close to Earth – sort of a match made in heaven.

“Those are easy targets,” Lu said. They wouldn’t require a lot of rocket oomph to rendezvous with, he said.

Since asteroids have very low gravity (you can actually jump with enough force to escape the gravty well altogether on many asteroids), not much fuel would be needed for a return trip back to Earth.
Burrows said that resource mining in the distant future is part of that learning process.
Distant future? Why leave asteroid mining to the distant future? Just what do they mean by "distant future" when they talk about a human mission to an asteroid in 2020? Why not start as soon as you get there? By 2020, fabbers should be cheap and small enough to easily bring on such a trip based upon what fabbers are able to do today.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Undersea Settlement

The goals of the LUF include not only space settlement, but also the settlement of the world's seas. Dennis Chamberland, the blogger at, is writing a book about the settlement of the world's seas which is scheduled to be released at the end of the winter season. In the latest post about the book, Chamberland notes that many interesting developments have been occurring in the seas. Several companies are building undersea resorts. Increased undersea tourism is almost certain lead to the permanent settlement of the oceans, the mining of the oceanic floor, and eventually the rise of underwater cities.

Homebrew Space Community?

At The Speculist, there is a blog entry about the requirement of nanomanufacturing (or at least, fabbing), for the settlement of space.
"Industrial facilities" - would be prohibitively expensive with our present level of technology. The factory pictured below has hundreds of thousands of square feet - and that's just for one product. That kind of maufacturing just can't be duplicated on Mars.

Of course, many people disagree, as you can see from the comments in that post. I don't think that anyone would argue that such technologies will make things easier, though.

No one really knows how far away nanomanufacturing is. Fabbing, however, is already here. You can buy the parts for your own Fabber and build it for less than $3000. There are also many online-based manufacturers, such as eMachineshop. For those of us who are engineers (I am a student in the profession), we can start designing and perhaps even building the technologies that we will use in space. There is already one organization dedicated to this endeavor. OSCOMAK aims to build an open source repository on manufacturing techniques and blueprints for the technologies to build a space settlement. We can get started today.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Our Uninhabitable Earth

One of the main arguments against the settlement of space is that there is nothing there. They look at Luna, orbital space, and the planets and know that they are natively uninhabitable to humans. There is no breathable air on any of these worlds. Liquid water is practically impossible to come by. (Actually, NASA just stated that they discovered liquid water on Mars, but that's for a different blog entry.) There is no known life on these worlds. The temperatures on these worlds are either too hot (as it is on Venus and on the sunlit sides of Luna and Mercury), or too cold (everywhere else in the solar system). Why leave our "paradise" for some dead world? As was stated in the closing sentences of The Dark Side of the Moon, "Everything that is good can be found on Earth," so why leave it?

Is Earth really the paradise it seems? I think not. The truth of the matter is Earth is mostly uninhabitable to humans. This fact escapes most people both pro and anti space because we take our living conditions for granted. Humans have settled practically every piece of land on this planet, except for the ice caps. But as technology improves, even settlement on Antarctica (which would no doubt be like a space settlement, given the extreme cold) will become feasible.

I am writing this blog entry sitting in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2006, St. Louis experienced two major weather emergencies. Many many remember that last July, St. Louis was hit by two derecho events with winds surpassing 90 MPH amid a heat wave. The storm knocked power out for over 600,000 customers (over 1.1 million people) in the area for up to two weeks. Temperatures were around 100 F (with the heat index above 115 F) for several days after the storms. Several people were killed by the excessive heat in the absense of air conditioning. Just a few days ago, around the turn of December, St. Louis was hit by one of the worst ice storms in its history as 1 - 2 inches of sleet and freezing rain accumulated across the area, followed by a few inches of snow on top. Today, 6 days later, there is still over 100,000 customers in the St. Louis area without power, after peaking at 500,000, similar to July. Several days of cold weather (low temps in the teens and single digits at night) have killed several people whose power was knocked out. These temps were not even close to record territory for the St. Louis area (all time highest temp of 115 F and lowest temp of -22 F). These are temperatures that St. Louis experiences over the course of a normal summer or winter, but the lack of heating and air conditioning many homes uninhabitable.

The two major weather events in the same year in the same city has shown just how uninhabitable Earth really is. To illustrate this even more, we have to go very far back in history. Before the discovery of fire and before humans started wearing animal fur, humans were confined to the tropical regions of the planet. Especially in ice age conditions, and even during interglacial episodes similar to today, man could not survive beyond the tropics. For people living during this era of human history, most of the world was uninhabitable. North America, Europe, Asia (north of the Himalayas), most of South America, Australia, and even most of Africa were as uninhabitable as the Moon and Mars were 50 years ago. To these people, the little stripe of inhabitable land in Africa (and probably South Asia) was Eden, while every other place was no-man's land. Put these people in a place as far south as northern Florida today, and they would die off before that winter ended. In spite of Florida's reputation as a land of endless summer, they do get below freezing in the winter. Jacksonville in Florida even dipped to -2 F during the cold wave of 1899, and even Miami has seen subfreezing weather. In fact, there is no place in the contiguous US that does not experience life threatening cold from time to time, if you happen to be free of clothing. Even Nairobi in Kenya doesn't escape cold weather, where temps can fall to near freezing at night. Beyond temps, there are also unfriendly ecosystems. Desert is uninhabitable. Even the most primitive societies living in deserts are technologically advanced enough to live there. Where there are no edible plants, humans have to use weaponry to kill animals for food.

But humans have done the "impossible." With the discovery of fire, they were able to move away from Eden, and into the immediate surrounding areas where temperatures can drop below 50 F, and as low as freezing, at night. The invention of tools and weapons have greatly expanded the menu for humans (Mammoth steak), as did the fact that humans could now cook their food. The invention of fur-based clothing has made it possible for humans to survive even in the tundra. Humans have long inhabited Siberia, where temperatures regularly drop below -50 F at night, and can fall even as low as -90 F. For most people (including myself), that kind of cold is inconceivable. But the technology of using the fur of the animals that thrive in this kind of cold for clothing makes living there possible.

Humans have done more impossible things. Some of the first civilizations have sprung up in the hard desert regions. These people have taken rather desolate regions and turned them into rather green cities. The Nile Valley Civilizations of Egypt and Nubia have left magnificent Pyramids that stand to this day. Mesopotamia was another early civilization built between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East. Modern day Baghdad is located within what used to be Mesopotamia. These are all in major desert regions. The technology of irrigation allowed these people to grow large amounts of food locally, which led to the formation of urban regions. Irrigation has since been repeated around the world in other civilizations. Las Vegas and Phoenix are both built in uninhabitable deserts.

The vast majority of humans are living in uninhabitable regions of the world. In effect, we are settlers. For hundreds of thousands to even millions of years we have been a species that utilize technology to survive in places which are natively uninhabitable. We live in environmentally controlled conditions. Using clothing, we modify the air very close to our bodies. In the Sahara, clothing is normally used to reflect sunlight and to keep the air behind the cloth, and thus the body, cool. For most other places, clothing is used to keep warm air near our bodies, and to keep heat from escaping. In the regions of the world where artificial heat is required for the survival of humans, shelters are used to modify the air to a comfortable temperature. In the Arctic, fires burn inside Igloos to create comfortable temperatures, even if temperatures outside are -50 F. In European homes, fireplaces have long been used to provide an artificial environment that is survivable throughout the winter.

Space (as well as sea) settlement is simply the next step. When humans need to venture outside of their settlement, they will merely take their space suits as humans will need an artificial environment. Most of the time, though, humans will reside in buildings that create an artificial environment. Some of these will rotate to simulate gravity (until a replacement gravity generator can be invented). All will create breathable air, drinkable water, and food. By building an artificial environment, we can grow crops in the most of ideal conditions. Or, using today's cutting-edge technology, we can print our food in an ink-jet printer. We can recycle the water we use, and the air we breathe. We can recycle our own biological wastes.

Just as our ancestors turned hard desert into green cities, we can do the same in space. We can create an oasis on Luna. Like in our desert civilizations, water and crops (or the seeds of crops) will have to be imported. For our space settlements, air will also have to be imported. Asteroids, many of which are Near Earth Asteroids, can provide the life support materials we need. Like those humans who live in the cold regions of the planets, we will have to modify our air for survival, and we will have to keep that air from escaping our habitat. In orbit, our habitats can spin to create artificial gravity. We will be able to create even more ideal conditions than those found naturally on Earth.

Can "everything that is good" be found on Earth? Most of it. But what we think of as "good" can be created elsewhere. What about "what is bad"? Most of what we think of as "bad" can also be found on Earth. Everything "bad" that has happened to humans has by default happened on Earth. 75,000 years ago, a supervolcanic eruption and a sudden return to hard ice age conditions nearly killed off the human species. It's been over 1 million years since most humans have lived in their truly natural habitat. Human survival for at least that long has depended on the settlement of seemingly uninhabitable places. We have settled a planet that was mostly uninhabitable, and will do the same in space.