Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nanotech and Space @ The Future in Review

The Future in Review (FiRE) conference -- called "The best technology conference in the world by the Economist Magazine -- concluded in San Diego. According to this ABC News article, nanotechnology and space were some of the hot topics covered.

Nanotechnology was a very hot topic at the conference.
Although nanotechnology has taken it on the chin lately, it remained a focus of the conference. Josh Wolfe, partner in nano VC firm Lux Capital hosted CEOs from two of his investments, Nanosys' Larry Bock and Kereos' Robert Beardsley.

The two companies are a study in contrasts. Nanosys focuses on inorganic nano structures, using silicon and gallium arsenide, among other materials, to make solar cells, flexible displays, and medical devices. Kereos combines biotech with nanotech to create targeted drugs and personalized medicine to target cancer and other diseases. The session really turned into a fascinating look at where Nanosys is taking nanoparticles.
At the conference, two nanotech companies are focused on two different areas of nanotechnology. Nanosys seems to be purely mechanical, while Kereos is a biotech corporation that utilizes nanotechnology. Later on, the article speaks of some of the most immediate applications of nanotechnology, including "Windshield-wiperless windshields", very powerful phased array antennas, etc. But as the title of the blog post suggests, space was the other big topic. These two companies should be rather familiar:
Elon Musk, chairman of SpaceX, and Chris Farnetta, from Space Adventures, Ltd. showed up to discuss their respective efforts to commercialize space. SpaceX just launched its first commercial rocket, which unfortunately crashed on take-off, but is moving forward with an aggressive launch schedule and according to Musk is "cash flow positive." Space Adventures has already sent three space tourists up to the International Space Station, using Soyuz rockets in a partnership with Russia.
The Chairmen of both corporations have dreams far beyond that of merely "space tourism."
In a later round table, Farnetta and Musk debated the relative value of propulsion technologies and whether the moon or Mars was a better place to colonize. Farnetta saw a lot of value in laser propulsion, where a pulsed beam of CO2 laser pushes a space craft into orbit. "The heaviest and most expensive part stays on the ground, and you are flying the vehicle," he explained, with just a little bit of fuel to maneuver.
Should we go for the Moon or Mars? My personal opinion is neither. I am one to settle a Carbonaceous Chrondrite asteroid instead. My dream is to turn Phobos into a megacity. Of course, we will settle all of these bodies. The whole system will eventually be settled, out to the Oort Cloud. As for a laser beam pushing a space craft to orbit? Hmmm...where did we hear that from? (hint: look up Bifrost) Even with talk about new ways to send things into space, there are many who believe that chemical rockets are a good way to go.
Musk defended the traditional chemical rocket. "The cost of propellants in a Falcon One rocket is $30,000. We pay a $1.90 a gallon for kerosene, and about $0.30 a gallon for liquid oxygen." It's essentially free, argued Musk. "I'm not a big proponent of laser propulsion," he cautioned, "better hope that that surface (on the bottom of the space ship) reflects properly, because if your reflectivity goes down a skoosh, you could be vaporized."
Both were also skeptical about the space elevator.
When asked about another possible way to get into space, the space elevator, both were dismissive. "The main component is made out of Unobtainium," joked Farnetta. Musk agreed. "We want to see a carbon nanotube footbridge," he warned, "before we see one 60,000 miles long."
Let's hope that Musk gets his dream of seeing a nanotube footbridge.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Distant Star IT Infrastructure Archives

It is made clear throughout the TMP book back in 1992 that an advanced communications infrastructure is desirable/necessary on LUF settlements. The description of a a computer/telephone combo seemed to foresee the internet revolution that was just about to explode around the time. In the mid to late 1990s, America was already awash in the net revolution. At around the same time, Distant Star, -- an old LUF netzine -- premiered. Over the next several issues, Eric Hunting has written about how the IT infrastructure should be designed, and how it should meet the everyday needs of the people and of the settlement. Links to these articles are below.

Implementing ARCS: An Information Technology Plan for Aquarius

The JoeyPAD and WebController

The MicroServer and Distributed Computer

Aquarius Wired: Voice and Data Communication Over Satellite-Based Internet

Introducing the Web and the Net

National Geographic Channel - Space Race: The Untold Story

National Geographic Channel - Space Race: The Untold Story - "See how the greatest race in history, also held the greatest secrets."

The two day event starts Sunday, June 4th 9 PM on the National Geographic Channel. Must TiVo TV!

The website contains clips from the show and a time line of events from 1937 through 1968.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Space Elevator and Green Nanotech Webcasts

On May 30th, 2006, from 12:30 to 1:30 PM, there will be a webcast on nanotechnology and space elevators. The webcast should be available on this site. On that same site, you can find archived videos of past conferences on nanotechnology, including products available today using nanotechnology, using nanotech for agriculture and food production, and on green nanotechnology.

New Space Elevator Book Released

Liftport is company dedicated to building a space elevator. The company has recently released a new book called LiftPort - The Space Elevator: Opening Space to Everyone. Excerpts from this PR is below:
“LiftPort - The Space Elevator: Opening Space to Everyone” covers both the scientific issues relating to the physical construction of the world’s first space elevator, as well as the social issues and business impact the space elevator can bring. Nonfiction chapters on topics relating to the science of building the space elevator, such as “Powering a Space Elevator” and “Rockets and the Space Elevator” are interspersed with others on the social and business issues of the space elevator, along with short stories and essays by such noted science fiction authors as Kim Stanley Robinson and Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

“LiftPort - The Space Elevator: Opening Space to Everyone” is published by Meisha Merlin and will be available after May 30, 2006, in Barnes & Noble bookstores or online through Early purchases can be made now directly through LiftPort at List price is $16.95. In addition, the book includes an entry form for a contest sponsored by LiftPort to win one of five chances to receive 1000 LiftPort stock options.

A multi-city U.S. tour featuring book signings by Michael Laine of LiftPort is planned for this summer; starting on May 30th in Washington DC where Laine will be making a presentation on the LiftPort Space Elevator and nanotechnology as it relates to the space elevator at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. The presentation is open to the public. For more information on the presentation, please contact Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at 202.691.4320 or visit their web site at For more information on additional tour dates, or to schedule a signing or an interview during the tour, please contact LiftPort.

A revolutionary way to send cargo into space, the LiftPort Space Elevator will consist of a carbon nanotube composite ribbon eventually stretching some 62,000 miles from earth to space. The LiftPort Space Elevator will be anchored to an offshore sea platform near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, and to a small man-made counterweight in space. Mechanical lifters are expected to move up and down the ribbon, carrying such items as people, satellites and solar power systems into space.
The TOC can be found here. I will review this book next month, but in the meantime, a review is already up at the Space Elevator Blog.

Replenishing the Worlds Fish

According to an article in the May 15, 2003 issue of Nature Magazine, large fish are in danger of becoming extinct.
The cover story of the May 15th issue of the international journal Nature reveals that we have only 10% of all large fish-- both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish, marlin and the large groundfish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder-- left in the sea. Most strikingly, the study shows that industrial fisheries take only ten to fifteen years to grind any new fish community they encounter to one tenth of what it was before.

"From giant blue marlin to mighty bluefin tuna, and from tropical groupers to Antarctic cod, industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean. There is no blue frontier left," says lead author Ransom Myers, a world-leading fisheries biologist based at Dalhousie University in Canada. "Since 1950, with the onset of industrialized fisheries, we have rapidly reduced the resource base to less than 10% – not just in some areas, not just for some stocks, but for entire communities of these large fish species from the tropics to the poles."

Imagine trying to feed the entire world without the usage of farms. Impossible to picture? Hunting and gathering cultures used to feed themselves this way. Edible plants and animals were scattered throughout the environment. Because of this, a large tract of land was able to feed only a few people at best. Because of resource restrictions, a single tribe could only sustain about 50 people maximum.

At that point, human consumption matches, and then exceeds what the natural environment can produce. The agricultural revolution changed all of this. Now, food production can be concentrated and controlled, allowing for far higher amounts of food than can be obtained by merely hunting and foraging. "Fishing" is equivalent to hunting and foraging. Capturing fish through traditional means severely depletes the oceans, the same way hunting and foraging does for land-based food.

One solution to the problem is to farm the seas. One of the major goals of the LUF has been to farm the seas to bring more food to everyone, and to relieve the land masses of over farming. The May 24th issue of Wired Magazine has an article on plans to farm the seas.
The answer lies in aquaculture: increasing the supply of fish by farming them as though they were livestock. "Without aquaculture, you'd be talking about a tripling or quadrupling of fish prices by 2020 or 2030, which would have very negative impacts on nutrition in developing countries," says IFPRI's Mark Rosegrant, one of the study's authors. Already, a third of the annual global fish harvest comes from farms, both on land and in shallow water just offshore. But today's methods won't be able to produce the volume of fish needed for tomorrow - they're too dirty, costly, and politically unpopular. Preventing catastrophic overfishing will require aquaculture on an unprecedented scale, and that means forging out into the open ocean. It will demand a shift as dramatic as that of the agricultural Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s - a Blue Revolution that is already under way.

The University of New Hampshire experiment, along with similar installations in countries from Portugal to China, is just the beginning. In the future, ocean ranches will be everywhere, except they'll be vastly bigger and fully automated - and mobile. Launched with lab-bred baby fish, these enormous motorized pens will hitch months-long rides on ocean currents and arrive at their destinations filled with mature animals, fattened and ready for market.

The open oceans -- as suggested in both this article and in The Millennial Project -- are largely devoid of life. Farming in these regions would increase the amount of food and necessary nutrients (such as Omega 3, which is largely found in aquatic animals) to people around the world. This scheme will also be used to repopulate the seas with fish.

Monday, May 22, 2006

CNN Future Summit - CNN Future Summit: "CNN Future Summit brings together some of the brightest minds of our time to see how science and technology are shaping our future. With a landmark television event in June and weekly stories on this site, we’re inviting you to take part in an on-going discussion of the technologies and how they’ll change our lives."

The first episode, to air on June 15, will cover issues related to robotics, cybernetics, genetics, and stem cells. The panel for the first episode was chosen be a nominating commitee of scientific visionaries.

Many of these technologies will have an impact on future space colonization efforts. Of particular interest will be whether they delve into the issues of sea and space migration on future episodes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Call of the High Frontier

Why does the LUF support the settlement of the high frontier? This article from explains some of the reasons. One of the core values of the LUF is saving the Earth from ecological destruction.
Just as the Human Genome Project is mapping out the intricate details of our genetic code, there will need to be the equivalent of a Gaia Genome Project to take inventory of the varied ecosystems across Earth, mapping out the interaction between the environment and its inhabitants. It may be that certain soil bacteria, insects, and plants are critically important in as yet unknown ways.
As the NASA environmental page states, space technology is a very important tool for understanding, protecting, and repairing the global biosphere. There are various satellites in orbit that constantly keep track of what's occurring on Earth. As terrible as Hurricane Katrina was, it would've been much, much worse without space technology to monitor every single movement of the storm. The satellites also keep track of pollution, ozone depletion, climate, agriculture, diseases, quakes, potential places to drill for oil, etc.

Well, space can help save the Earth's biosphere, but that still does not justify the settlement of space. Of course, anything that argues "the case for space" is incomplete without a discussion of solar power from space and declining resources on Earth.
As the initial tide of space colony interest waned in the late 1970s, there was less talk of visionary ideas and more about economic justifications. The main industry was seen as mass-production of solar power satellites, collecting energy in space and beaming it down to antenna farms for use on Earth. When the second round of 1970s oil shortages hit at the end of the decade, the idea looked even more attractive. But this was in the day when oil was rising from $15 a barrel to $37 by 1980. By 1986, oil was down to $15 again, and the sense of urgency faded. Today, with oil running over $50 a barrel and the supply a constant source of uncertainty, such a novel energy source could begin to look more inviting again.

A Great Theme of establishing a permanent human presence in space—as a way to develop new energy sources to maintain high standards of living for the growing population of Earth, and as a way to back up Earth’s living populations and preserve our collected knowledge, and to create new living spaces for those wanting new ways of life—would provide a guiding principle for vital policy decisions.

As long as we live in a world where limited resources must be allocated among a growing population, we are ultimately doomed. All our efforts to increase food production and extend individual longevity will end up trading a sooner catastrophe for a later one of greater scope. So far, we are succeeding in a kind of pyramid scheme with Earth’s resources, but in time the pressure of human numbers will strain and drain them. When resources become scarce and populations dense, individual freedoms are unaffordable luxuries.
These are some of the reasons that space activists typically use when justifying the space program, exploration, and settlement. Doomsday arguments, however, are not sufficient to justify the exloration and settlement of space. Economic arguments, as above, are often sufficient, though. Besides, expeditions to the New World, and most settlements in the New World were justified on economic grounds. Columbus promised the Spanish monarchy plenty of gold. The Jamestown settlement than began early in the 17th century was justified on economic grounds. Besides the doomsday and economic justifications, there are better reasons to settle space.
There are now practically no new nations created on Earth without episodes of bloodshed. Short of revolution and war, there are few options available for those who dream about establishing a new society somewhere, as various ideological and religious groups have historically done. But even today, there are many people who would welcome the chance to settle a new frontier, where new ways of life could be tried. If enough people believed there was an opportunity to leave whatever they didn’t like about society behind and start over with a new nation aligned to their shared passions, I believe that could stir the pioneer spirit that still slumbers in many.
Since the beginning, the LUF has had a vision of a new form of democracy that offers more freedoms and more liberties than representative democracy, and a new economy that offers vast material wealth and a life of mostly leisure. The dream of creating new societies with new rules has long been a drive for exploration and settlement of new lands. This drive was present even in Biblical times, when Moses led the Hebrews to the Promised Land. The creation of pilgrim and separatist settlements in the Northeast US during the 17th century exemplifies this drive. Even today, people are designing and creating new nations. The main problem is, of course, the lack of available land. Creating oceanic and space settlements would meet the demand for the dreamers and visionaries around the world. Those new societies that work very well will be copied, while those that didn't work so well will be discarded. Imagine trying to start a nation with US values in the 18th century had we not yet settled America. Starting such a society in already overcrowded Europe would've been exceedingly difficult. Perhaps, that's why the American Revolution was largely successful while the French Revolution degenerated into despotism and a continent-wide devastating war. Are you someone who still believes that socialism can work? Are you being persecuted for your beliefs or your physical attributes? Do you dream of a new society, but would rather avoid bloodshed if possible? Then starting a new society on virgin land would be very attractive. This is enough of a reason to create space settlements.

Why the LUF?

My wife asked my at some point "What is the point with LUF? You guys talk about colonising other planets, but don't we have enough problems on the Earth now? Wouldn't it be better to spend that money on fixing poverty, climate problems, pollution and wars, to mention a few things, without actually spending all that money on going to Mars?" Then she went on "If we can't sort out the way we deal with these things down here, then we are just going to make the same mistakes if we get to Mars. And then we don't deserve to spread out and destroy another planet."

In many ways I think she is right. However, I do believe that we have all the eggs in one basket at the moment and it is not impossible that humanity will get wiped out by a stray comet, as we saw a nice example of on Jupiter with Shoemaker-Levy not so long ago. Does humanity deserve to spread our wings beyond the planet Earth? I believe that we do. I think that the universe is a beautiful place. But if there is nobody to observe it, what point is there then with something of beauty? And to date, we have not found any trace of anyone else out there observing. Although we have barely started looking yet.

But, on the other hand, I do believe too that we need to sort out or mess here on the planet. And a mighty mess it is. For the last couple of years I have been studying environmental science at Stockholm University and it is depressing to learn about all the fascinating ways we are destroying the planets ecosystems. What you read in the press is not even a beginning of a description of what is going on. I had an idea about this before I started this programme at the university, but I did not realise that it was as bad as it is.

I knew that I needed to do something else with my life than to "sell better computer marketing tools to marketing people, so that they can make more money for the faceless shareholders" most who do not need more money anyway. So I quit my job to take a year sabbatical to think about things. I worked some on OTECnews and with The GreenOcean Project (I still do) before I ended up at the university. The sabbatical turned out not to be a year, but a full degree programme at the university.

So what does this have to do with the LUF? Well, the LUF was inspired by The Millennial Project, a book by Marshall T. Savage, which you can read about in some of the links on this site. Some of the first parts of the vision outlined in the book was how to use Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) to generate renewable energy, produce fresh water in abundance, supply nutrients for mariculture (aqua-culture in the ocean) and cold water to cool and humidify greenhouses (greenhouses are a later addition). All in a very environmentally friendly way. Much more so than using traditional methods of today.

I got interested in this part of the vision, partially because there are plenty of people interested in private space programmes today, and I think that you guys don't need my help to get those space planes off the ground (so to speak) but much fewer people are spending money on OTEC. Which is a very promising part of the required solution to the massive problems which are facing humanity today, in the shape of climate change, water shortage, over-fishing and soil destruction. All which are going to be a real problem. Not to forget that we have a growing population. We are going to be 9-10 billion people "real soon now" and these people have to be fed, watered and housed.

I believe that we need to get our eggs distributed to multiple baskets, but we have a problem of our own making in front of us which could be problematic enough to deal with if we do not get our act together. The effort spent on renewable energy, combating over-fishing of our oceans and water and soil issues are nowhere near enough what needs to be done to ensure we do not face a crisis in one or several of these areas in the next 20 years or so. 20 years may seem like a long time to you. But when you look at how long time it takes to get significant changes done in these areas you soon realise that we are pushed for time.

So I cheer you guys on when you work on a way to get people to Mars, but I spend my time trying to ensure that there will be people and ecosystems around to supply the substantial amounts of resources that are going to be needed to go to Mars. It would be real stupidity to have shiny new Mars rockets and but failing ecosystems, mass water shortages and starvation. But then, humanity does seem to favour stupidity...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Better solar nanotubes to split water for hydrogen

Science & Technology at Scientific Light Work -- [ NANOTECH ] -- Better solar nanotubes to split water for hydrogen:
"The path to the hydrogen economy is getting visibly brighter--literally. Nano-tubes that break apart water molecules to liberate hydrogen can now do so more efficiently and could soon use the optical spectrum of sunlight.

In dissociating water with sunlight, engineers have available three technologies: One is solar cells, which hold the record for water-splitting efficiency but are comparatively expensive. Another approach uses microorganisms, which are inexpensive but so far produce only minuscule amounts of hydrogen. The third option is photocatalysis, which relies on momentarily freed electrons in a semiconductor. Electrons that encounter water molecules replace the electrons in the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen. They thus break water apart and generate hydrogen gas. Photocatalysts are potentially less expensive than solar cells and produce more hydrogen than microorganisms...."

This article requires a subscription to Scientific American DIGITAL, or you can get the May 2006 issue of Scientific American.

Other links describing similar or related technologies:

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Hello. Welcome to the LUF Blog. Here, we will make posts about LUF-themed issues, such as ocean settlement, space settlement, environmental repair, etc.