Here are some cost figures for your consideration:
Cost to get one person safely into low earth orbit and back: ~$10 million
Amount of money American society is willing to spend to prevent the death of one citizen: ~$500,000
Amount of money American society is willing to spend to prevent the death of one African child: ~$200
I cannot fathom how anybody could look at these numbers and endorse interplanetary colonization.
Nuclear accidents are not nearly as big a deal as people think, the risk of an explosion is negligable, less than any current power plants allowing for output ratios (I even saw a wind turbine rip itself apart with explosive force), and the only real risk is a radiation leak, but as you noted, radiation would already be a problem we would need to solve. And the radiation risks from a nuclear plant are not much different than those posed by cosmic radiation.
There is more water in space than I think you know. Much of it frozen harder than rock and floating around, but that only makes it easier to collect and move. Materials are also much more plentiful than I suspect you think. Even conservative estimates on the mineral content of asteroids are so high that even a relatively small one would flood, and destroy, the markets for all precious metals. I wonder if someone identifying this threat to the econimic system was the reason space expansion was abandoned. Materials are far more plentiful, and easier to access, around our solar system than they are on this one rock which was once liquid and seperated the materials sealing away most of the heavey elements we need deep in the core.
As for who, I speculate a lottery offering an option would be fair. And religion has no place in space (or earh, for that matter), perhaps if we simply call it the Babel Project that would solve that problem indirectly. After all, if the name and concept is a defined as an accepted blasphemy they would have to acknowledge that to participate. As a bonus, it woudl be sure to put a few danders up. Spare parts are easy, but as for workers you are still thinking within confines. Manufacturing processes are perfect for complete automation. As for ‘libertarians,’ money takes away far more freedom than it gives, the individual would do much better without a number attached to his value.
Yes, many people need to change thier attitudes, and the only way that will happen is one at a time. That is no reason not to start, no reason not to try. It is reason to do the opposite. We need to wake up, else this dream that is an economic and political machine designed with the false premise of infinite expansion, and dependant on human inequality, will turn into a nightmare. In many parts of the world, it already has.
Stormy, I think you underestimate my interest in and knowledge of astronomy. You have not answered my question. Where will we find this water? Saying “There is more water in space than I think you know” is not an answer.
Even conservative estimates on the mineral content of asteroids are so high that even a relatively small one would flood, and destroy, the markets for all precious metals.
How much gold does Ceres contain? How about Vesta?
Materials are far more plentiful, and easier to access, around our solar system than they are on this one rock
You have no idea how far apart the asteroids are, do you? The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, has about four percent the mass of our Moon, and those little rocks are millions of miles apart. We have sent several spacecraft thought that area without a collision.
Spare parts are easy…
How so? Are you proposing we just send an automated ship on a multi-million kilometer mile round trip to bring back a rock to make these spare parts? Do you know what percentage of asteroids contain metals?
Manufacturing processes are perfect for complete automation…
Sure, as long as the machinery never breaks down.
Stormy, as much as I agree with what you say we need to do, I am sadly convinced it will never happen. You are basing your hopes on dreams of human nature changing overnight, and getting your ideas of the physical feasibility of colonizing the solar system based on ignorance of the size and composition of the asteroid belt. These rocks are more than 200 million kilometers from the Sun and only comprise four percent of the Moon’s mass. And they are not all orbiting in the same circle, they are spread out between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Mars is a bit more than 200 million kilometers from the Sun. Jupiter is about 780 million kilometers from the Sun.
The circumference of a circle is 2(pi)r. I’m sure you can do the math and figure out how big a circle the orbit of Mars describes. Now do the same for Jupiter and you have the area where these asteroids reside. Fetching an asteroid is not as simple as running down to the druggist for new batteries.
If you are right, we will go extinct. And assuming such will never happen can easily become a self fulfilling prophecy.
I am aware the common conceptualization of the asteroid belt is false, it is mostly empty space. But there are plenty of asteroids buzzing around our solar system all the time, at extrememly high speeds. Sending a probe to intercept one as it passed, and alter its course to bring it into a desired orbit around another body would be child’s play, compared to some of the calculations required for a few of the probes we already launched into the outer solar system. Such a procedere might be slow to start, but once we had one under control I expect we would have another under control long before the first was exhausted. We don’t need to go get them, just push one on its way by so it settles into a controlled orbit the next time around. The moon would be an ideal target for this, so an accident didn’t drop said rock, or ice, on earth. Why go hunt an elephant when deer run past your door all the time?
Massive change that happens overnight is always catastrophic. If we are to survive we need to change as quickly as we can safely handle. I do have faith in humanity, perhaps too much, but that is one faith that I think would be stupid to give up. If we didn’t believe in ourselves we would never do anything, and this is the direction we are going. People say ‘I am only human’ and seem to mean something other than ‘I am only an intelligent being capable of independant creation and creative problem solving.’ ‘Only human’ sounds to me like ‘only the best life as we know it has to offer.’
Of course, thousands of years of religious insanity have perverted our senses so bad that pride and pleasure are sources of guilt, and a couple hundred years of economic insanity has perverted our creative nature so bad we design things to break. Not a single car made this year will still be running in twenty. We need to enjoy building things durable, efficient and strong enough we can take pride in them if we are to have a chance of survival outside this small, temporary, bubble.
I am aware the common conceptualization of the asteroid belt is false, it is mostly empty space. But there are plenty of asteroids buzzing around our solar system all the time, at extrememly high speeds. Sending a probe to intercept one as it passed, and alter its course to bring it into a desired orbit around another body would be child’s play, compared to some of the calculations required for a few of the probes we already launched into the outer solar system
You could not be more wrong about this. Intercepting an asteroid is like shooting a flying bullet. You are wrong about several other things, also. Why won’t you answer my questions?
You asserted earlier that even one small asteroid would yield enough precious metals to destroy the world’s precious metals market. Statement such as that indicate you are basing your opinions on hope, not facts. Do you know when our first probe arrived at an asteroid? Read about it here. Where did you get the information about precious metals in asteroids?
I asked you earlier what percentage of asteroids contain metals. You have not answered that, from which I have to conclude you do not know the answer.
There is more water in space than I think you know. Much of it frozen harder than rock and floating around, but that only makes it easier to collect and move.
Once again, if they are so common where are they? I know. Apparently you do not or you would not so cavalierly state how easy they would be to collect and move. Do you know where comets come from? Those frozen balls of ice and rock are not just “floating around,” they are moving at very high speeds, and they are impossible to detect until they come into the inner solar system. How do you propose finding them in the first place when we can only detect the very largest Kuiper Belt objects?
Nuclear accidents are not nearly as big a deal as people think…
Unless you are stuck on a rock where everything is recycled. Do you know how much water it takes to keep a nuke plant from melting down even under normal operating conditions? Where would our colonists find the spare water in an emergency?
If you are right, we will go extinct. And assuming such will never happen can easily become a self fulfilling prophecy.
As painful as it is, facing reality is a far better survival strategy than betting the farm on wishful thinking and ignorance.
Compared to terraforming another planet, moving everyone under the oceans or to Antarctica would be child’s play. (At least on Earth we have oxygen and liquid water galore). As would changing the world’s economy to low-CO2-producing!
Of all options, by far the most expensive and risky is to move a self-sustaining population off-planet. It’s not something we’re remotely ready to do yet, and if we could do it, it would cost trillions.
And if we’re talking about moving a small (>>1 million) population off planet and screwing everyone else, why not just advocate killing off six billion people here on Earth? That would also go a long way towards solving our ecological problems. Point is, it would be genocidally unethical to advocate such a strategy. It’s really no solution to advocate something that only helps a tiny percentage, especially if it would be much cheaper and easier to solve the original problem here on Earth.
Sure, someday we will need to think about moving off-Earth, if humans survive long enough. But that’s not for our generation to consider, and likely not for many generations to come.
I read an article some years back about a near hit asteroid with an estimated 14 trillion dollars worth of platinum on it. It was based on that I made several of mine assertions. During my search for corraborating evidence to satisfy you I found a quote of john s lewis claiming “...the smallest known M-type asteroid, the near-Earth asteroid known as 3554 Amun (two kilometers in diameter): The iron and nickel in Amun have a market value of about $8,000 billion, the cobalt content adds another $6,000 billion, and the platinum-group metals add another $6,000 billion. ” Realizing that I may be treading close to an appeal to authority, he is a fairly repected astonomer and professor, and even if his estimates are exaggerated ten fold my assessment of the effect on the market would still apply. Considering the lack of conctrete data as of yet, it seems reasonable to use the estimates of such an individual as a very rough yardstick.
Why exacly do you think that knocking an asteroid (which is MUCH faster than a bullet) into a desired trajectory would be harder than putting a satellite in orbit around one via a trajectory set up months prior? You underestimate our species pretty badly, methinks. For the record, we can also shoot flying bullets. Or more accurately, we can build something that can.
As for cooling a nuclear plant, I speculate that it might be easier to do such in an enviroment without atmosphere to trap heat and where the average ambient temperature is -130c, like the poles of the moon.
Where is all this water in space? Well, for someone so interested in astronomy I suppose you might have missed the chemisty class where it was explained that ice is, in fact, merely water that has been sufficiently cooled. That ice makes up about 70% of comets should already be in your database (such sarcasm in serious conversation is not really my style, but your condecending attitide is quite grating). And for the purposes of collecting and using comets would be functionally identical to asteroids, just nudge one into orbit where we can reach it.
I am beginning to get a very distinct impression of elitism here, and I think that such is counter productive.
Edit - And doug, your response indicates you are not familiar with the progression of this discussion, or my own position. I would never advocate anything that would only help a tiny percentage of people; my loyalty, and concern, is for all humans. Including those yet to be born.
No, it is not elitism Stormy, just frustration that you will not answer questions yet keep throwing out wishful thinking as facts. Those comets you speak of are in the Kuiper Belt, which is beyond the orbit of Neptune. Retrieving them is no trivial matter. As I mentioned, we cannot even see comets until they loop into the inner solar system, so your statement that “collecting and using comets would be functionally identical to asteroids” shows a profound ignorance of the solar system’s size.
The New Horizons probe left Earth in January 2009 and is scheduled to rendezvous with Pluto in July 2015. That 6.5 year one-way trip translates into more than 13 years round trip for any comet retrieval mission. Returning would take longer than going out because the craft will not be able to get gravitational slingshots from Jupiter and Saturn, and it will take time to lasso the comet before dragging it home. This assumes, of course, we are able to spot likely comets from such a distance, which we cannot do with current technology.
And, of course, Doug nailed the central issue. While you and I have been arguing the logistics of colonizing the solar system, Doug pointed out the inherent unfairness and moral corruptness of sending a few privileged few off-planet while leaving billions of people behind; especially because doing so would divert precious resources the billions need.
I was in the process of adding an edit to the effect that we can calculate the path of any comet we have seen even once indefinately, excepting collisions, and that our methods for detecting are improving steadily even without concentrated effort. Either way, a combination of prediction and calculation would render the process as simple as what I outlined for asteroid harvesting, if on a different timeframe. I am very familiar with the scales, and distances involved, but am growing increasing insulted by your repeated assertions that I am ignorant.
I even offered a solution to that ‘central issue’ but that likely went unheard as well. The real central issue is human survivability, I had thought you actually understood that.
I am very familiar with the scales, and distances involved, but am growing increasing insulted by your repeated assertions that I am ignorant.
This is the first post of your that indicates you have any appreciation for the scales involved. I cannot read your mind. When you refuse to answer questions and keep posting things without basis in fact then what conclusion should I reach? One obscure astronomer states an extraordinary claim about an asteroid and you jump on it without evidence, but when I refuse to believe it I and ask for facts I am an elitist. You haven’t even answered my question about what percentage of asteroids contain metals.
So, your answer is to wait for comets to come into the inner solar system and grab them? OK, how much water ice do those comets contain, and how long will it take to capture enough of them to gather the water necessary for a habitat to support 10,000 people?
Stormy, your technological optimism is unjustified. For example, let’s consider your claims regarding the value of various metals in asteroids. In truth, a billion tons of gold in an asteroid has absolutely zero value right now, because gold only has value if people can get their hands on it. In order to get our hands on that gold, we have to transport enough fuel to the asteroid to power the rockets that would alter its course. Do you realize that the cost of getting something into low earth orbit is something like $4000 per pound? To get to geosynchronous orbit costs about $10,000 per pound. To escape earth’s gravity and get up to the asteroid belt would cost much more; let’s say $50,000 per pound. That’s the cost to get fuel, engines, power equipment, and mining equipment up there. And of course, you’ll also need to loft enough stuff to bring it back. We’re talking thousands of tons of stuff, meaning many billions of dollars. And remember, it’s not just capital costs. Every single kilogram of material that you want to bring back down to earth (or some other planet) will require thousands of dollars in transport costs. Is gold, platinum, silver, or any other metal that valuable?
There are a zillion other considerations like this. This notion of colonizing space is absurd. In terms of making life better for humanity, we’ll get a lot more happiness per dollar by concentrating on crude things like feeding people and providing simple medicines. Yeah, I know, it’s not technologically sexy, but what’s your goal: techie toys or human happiness?
I already said comets are 70% ice. Two posts up. As the core range in size from 50 meters to 40 kilometers across, that would be up to twenty thousand cubic kilometers of water for a median sized one (20k diameter) were it spherical, cut that in half to be conservative and account for the irregular shape. So 10’000 km3 of water… I don’t think we would need many.
So me simply saying I am familiar with the scales involved is a greater indication to you that I am aware of the scales involved than anything I have said thus far? I really hope I don’t need to point out the flaw with that position.
As for the content of asteroids, I imagine the mineral content will actually be fairly similiar to earths, only without the distillation I mentioned earlier that isolated the heavier metals here deep in the earth’s core. They are, ultimately, made from the same stuff. Since the surface density of the planet is just over half of the earth’s average (3000 kg/m3 compared to 5500 kg/m3), it is a pretty safe bet that there is a lot of very heavy elements there. Just image how much heavy metal would have to be moved from the core to the surface to create an equal distribution of density; and that is what I expect we will find to be the composition of most asteroids.
Being able to reason is far more important than what you know.
Edit - I just double checked, and apparantly comets are 85% ice, not 70%. And found that my estimate of thier max size was off, I corrected my estimates accordingly for the size, but still used the 70% for the quantity of water, better to be conservative.
Most comets are only about 16 km diameter, so your size estimate is off by several orders of magnitude. You still have not addressed the time-scale necessary to capture the water for your proposed colony. Saying “I don’t think we would need many” is not an answer. Show me the math. Using 16 km as the diameter and 85 percent water for a typical comet yields about 1800 km^3 per comet; which is less than 1/1000 your estimate of the water in each comet. Capturing a comet moving 1.6 million km/hr in the inner solar system will require tremendous amounts of energy.
Only 10 percent of asteroids contain metals, and as of today we have very little other than speculation as to their composition. You are right, however, when you state it is a safe bet that there are heavy elements in asteroid interiors, most probably iron with traces of so-called precious metals.
Chris brought up an important point. As with comets, retrieving the asteroids for their metals would consume vast amounts of energy; more than we could possibly retrieve from the asteroids. Expending energy to capture asteroids is a losing game, especially in light of Doug’s comment that we could save more people for less expenditure if we concentrate on solving our problems here on Earth.
Damn, that estimate was way off… I suppose I deserve that for using a calulator without double checking. I would edit it to correct it, but deny/hiding my mistakes is not my style. Regardless, even 1800 cubic kilometers is no small amount, and assuming a functioning recycling system should be sufficient for at least a small colony.
I actually said the opposite of what you are agreeing with; I speculate that heavy metals in asteroids are relatively evenly distributed, whereas on earth they have been have been distilled via planetary differentiation. So my supposition is that there is as much metals in them, on average, as there is in the earth, only without it all being trapped in a super heated deposit under 6 trillion trillion kilograms of rock.
Once again, all limitations of energy could be surpassed if we embraced and refined nuclear energy.
Doug, think about what you just said. We will need to worry about human survival in a long time, if we are still around. If we do not worry about it NOW we will not be. Climate change, human induced or not, is but ONE of the myriad of threats waiting to wipe out our species. Asteroids, GRB, yellowstone, the list goes on. OK, well yellowstone probably wouldn’t extinct us, but it would dwarf our own greenhouse gas emissions instantly. Besides, isn’t the presumption that ‘it isn’t a problem for our generation’ kinda the whole cause of the climate change panic? What I am proposing is that we take this warning, in the form a shifting enviroment, as a swift kick in the ass to expand into, and create, new ecological niches so that our species can not be completely erased by a single event.
Human survival means addressing weakness, and our survival being dependant on this planet is such a weakness. Oh I like the planet, don’t misunderstand me, but the sooner we don’t need it the sooner we can stop exploiting and poisoning it, and the sooner we will be safe from events that would kill all humans on earth.