Skip to main content

View Diary: Scientific American Gives Details on the Russian Meteor (277 comments)

Comment Preferences

    •  it is certainly risky having all of our eggs (47+ / 0-)

      on one planet.

      ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

      by James Allen on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 03:53:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  All our eggs (34+ / 0-)

        "[It's risky to have] all our eggs on one planet."

        This is a statement I hear a lot, with the assumption that if we got space colonies on other planets we'd be safer from species-extinction events. I apologise if that particular asumption is not where you're coming from, but as this is a common myth among the technologically-literate, I'd like to point out a few problems with it.

        First, space colonies are going to rely heavily on goods and crew shipped up from Earth on a constant basis. Doesn't matter if it's LEO, L5, the Moon, or Mars (or something more exotic like Jovian moons or Venus dirigible cloud cities) - they're not going to be self-sustaining right away. Maybe not for centuries or more.

        And during that initial period, those colonies are going to be much MORE fragile than Earth-dwellers are, and much MORE likely to be catastrophically disrupted by non-catastrophic system disruptions on Earth. A minor economic slowdown, causing the space program budget to be cut back for a few decades? That could kill people on a space colony. So near-term manned space isn't a solution to resilience problems on Earth - rather, at best it's a form of extreme sport or media spectacle, but with a whole string of new failure modes.

        Second, if/when space colonies ever get to that magical self-sustaining point where they can shrug if the zombie apocalypse plague breaks out on Earth - they're not actually going to be isolated quarantine bubbles. Instead, owing to that reliance-on-shipping stage, they're very likely to be part of an integrated cargo transport network. Which means any extinction-level event involving any kind of transmissible vector - plague or nanobots or war - will likely hit the colonies at the same time as it hits Earth. We won't have succeeded in putting all our eggs in multiple baskets after all - we will have just made one bigger basket called "Sol System". And it still won't be that resilient, because space is just a tougher environment than Earth. It's hard to breathe vacuum, and it's hard to drink nickel-iron. So, as with Point One, the Apocalypse Flu will probably take out the colonies before it takes out any significant part of Earth.

        Third. extinction-level events which could render Earth less habitable than the entire rest of the Solar System really aren't that easy to imagine. Asteroid strike? Nope, it might make industrial civilisation awkward, but it won't leave us without oxygen or water - neither of which are present on Mars. There's a huge gap between "societal collapse" and "human extinction".

        We tend to think nowadays that a life without iPads wouldn't be worth living, but that's not actually the case. Life will go on for millennia after the seas rise or the dino-killer hits. Worst case, if someone wanted to preserve the elements of technology and science - just build a smallish greenhouse, put a library in it, seal it, put it underground, and you've already got a much more robust survival mechanism than any number of International Space Stations. You'll get oxygen and water for free and have somewhere to put your poop, too.

        This isn't to say that fighting climate change or species destruction isn't a worthwhile goal. It is, and it's much more so when you realise how special and priceless the Earth is. It's just that, should anyone be thinking that setting up manned colonies on Mars is a solution to "Earth becoming unhabitable" - which I see argued in so many words in science-fan online forums - no, it really, really isn't, and it really won't be, ever. Manned space exploration is a fun thing to do in its own right. But it would take something like a hostile alien attack on the order of Q from Star Trek to render Earth less habitable than space.

        Some of this is mitigated if we find a way to travel to other stars (rather than planets in Sol System) in a human lifetime, and if those stars had habitable Earthlike planets, saving us the billion-year terraforming stage. But unfortunately, we don't have any indication from physics that waro drive is even possible, let alone how we might build one.

        •  Tipped for effort, but I disagree. (11+ / 0-)
          First, space colonies are going to rely heavily on goods and crew shipped up from Earth on a constant basis.
          It's totally uneconomical to keep an offworld colony supplied from Earth.  They would have to continuously improve on self-sufficiency to even be viable in the short-term.  Moreover, it would be a central priority of people trying to establish a colony rather than just a base.  I think you're mistaking bases for colonies and vice-versa.
          Which means any extinction-level event involving any kind of transmissible vector - plague or nanobots or war - will likely hit the colonies at the same time as it hits Earth.
          Plagues can't even wipe out humanity distributed across 7 continents.  War-fighting nanobots is pure science fiction for the foreseeable future.  War is a real danger, but spreading to one other place pretty much means we're spreading to a lot of other places simultaneously.  The probability of generalized human-caused destruction on the scale of the entire solar system is trivial.    
          saving us the billion-year terraforming stage
          Try thousand-year.  We're already "anti-terraforming" Earth just from a couple of centuries of CO2 pollution.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 07:03:34 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  LOL Lewis and Clark with a supply chain? nt (7+ / 0-)

            "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

            by Horace Boothroyd III on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 07:31:04 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  It will be interesting to see (5+ / 0-)

            someone trying to fabricate semiconductors or make plastic or smelt aluminum or forge steel on some other planet.

            I'm still mad about Nixon.

            by J Orygun on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 09:32:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  It will happen. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PaloAltoPixie, MichaelNY

              All (or at least most) of the raw materials are available out there.

              Pour yourself into the future.

              by Troubadour on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 09:58:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  It will require a radically innovative way (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PaloAltoPixie

              to create water from the available atmosphere, and super efficient storage and recapture of moisture from any source. Water and energy costs go hand in hand.

              •  Not really. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                PaloAltoPixie, MichaelNY, elginblt

                Mars (to cite one example) is covered in highly oxidized compounds.  The main limiting factor is energy to remove the oxygen, but solar energy is still practical at Mars' distance from the Sun, and for the first few years colonies can rely on fission nuclear reactors.  Eventually they may also rely on fusion.

                Pour yourself into the future.

                by Troubadour on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 10:52:54 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  it WILL be interesting (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Troubadour, MichaelNY

              but hardly impossible. Earth is made up of the same stuff as most planets, we just have more water.

              I imagine building materials will be whatever is native to the area though, like how homes here on earth were made of adobe in the southwest, sod in the midwest and wood in the northeast a few centuries ago.

              I imagine a colony on the mood would process regolith into some sort of cement. And there IS water on the moon. Not much, and it's not liquid, but it's up there. Mars has water as well, quite a lot really, compared to other not-earth planets, it's all in ice at the poles and under the surface though. There is evidence that there may even be liquid running water during some seasons.

              There are a lot of challenges to colonizing other worlds, but they are not insurmountable.

              "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." -Henry Ford

              by sixeight120bpm on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 08:05:02 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  mood=moon (0+ / 0-)

                paragraph 3 should read "I imagine a colony on the moon..." I am bad at words.

                "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." -Henry Ford

                by sixeight120bpm on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 08:07:17 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  With the right atoms & sufficient power (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Troubadour, In her own Voice

              you can in theory reproduce & manufacture just about anything short of sentient life. (Which has its own tried & true methods. ;) ) The right atoms are pretty much everywhere you look in the solar system, in planetary atmospheres, asteroids, satellite regolith. The power is there for the taking via solar panels--which don't even have to be especially efficient since there's a lot of room to mount them & a lot of sun to catch.

              With sufficient power you can perform element & even isotope separation using mass spectrometers, which have been around since at least 1901. With sufficient power you can use 3D printers to build up practically any structure you want--right now it's a niche process because it's expensive, but again, sufficient power plus sufficient materials...Microgravity is more of a help than a hindrance in most cases, so you do this in freefall (& where "gravity" is necessary you spin up the facility to generate the necessary acceleration).

              Put all this together with the necessary software & you're within shouting distance of a Santa Claus Machine. I wouldn't disagree with this caveat from Wiki--

              A mature Santa Claus machine requires significant advances in technology to be possible, including the ability to take any collection of matter and reconfigure it into any other type of matter.

              Scientifically, it requires two parts: a disassembler and an assembler. Both are available today in primitive forms, each requiring a decade or so of engineering[citation needed] to achieve the maturity for a real Santa Claus machine.

              --but there seems to be no gigundous theoretical barrier to the design & fabrication. Ten years seems about right for the technology, but sooner would not surprise me at all.

              Once you have machines that can disassemble local material & reassemble it into key devices & replacement parts for key devices (including itself!) you are in business Out There--& heaven help the galaxy...

              BALTIMORE RAVENS--SUPER BOWL XLVII CHAMPIONS! WOOO-HOOO!

              by Uncle Cosmo on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 11:00:44 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  I'm with Troubadour. (5+ / 0-)

            The sun going into its red giant phase will doom humanity if we remain earth bound. There should be plenty of time for space colonies to get beyond dependence on earth before that occurs, unless we don't try.

            •  Red giant phase is projected for 5.4 billion years (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              MichaelNY

              from now.  (Wikipedia, Red Giant, citing Sackmann, I. -J.; Boothroyd, A. I.; Kraemer, K. E. (1993). "Our Sun. III. Present and Future". The Astrophysical Journal 418: 457. )

              Homo sapiens sapiens has been around about one hundred thousand years, or about two one hundred thousandths of five billion years.

              Any guesses about whether we will cook up something sooner that might destroy us?

              I think I'll focus my energy on nearer-term threats, like:  global warming/climate change, mass species extinction, nuclear warfare, food shortages, water shortages, lack of proper sanitation, poverty, etc.

              "Who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?" - George H.W. Bush

              by rsmpdx on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 02:07:17 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  All this off-world colonization stuff (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            realalaskan

            requires huge and wide-ranging technological advance. Kinda seems obvious to me that by the time we can terraform another rock, we can change the definition of "human".

            Upload me. I'm ready.

            The Curiosity rover is much more human than Opportunity or Spirit. In ten years we'll be sending electronics into space that are an order of magnitude more human than any of these.

            We are presently weak, whiny, fragile, wasteful, stinky, needful, thinking bags of water.

            Change humans and we can live anywhere.

            I for one welcome our robot overlords.

            It rubs the loofah on its skin or else it gets the falafel again.

            by Fishgrease on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 09:53:05 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Nah. We can terraform now. (0+ / 0-)

              We're already doing it on Earth, only in the wrong direction - "Venusforming."  

              Singularity post-human magic is not only unnecessary, but far more difficult to realize than just setting up civilizations in other places.  It's also pointless, like saying "Why build ships - just become a fish!"

              Pour yourself into the future.

              by Troubadour on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 11:02:06 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  I'm with you and agree with those who (8+ / 0-)

          think the vast unexplored terrain and resources under the sea will provide a place of refuge, a new source of basic resources and drive innovation long before we establish a colony on mars, etc.

          Putting a man on mars is sexy (right now) because there are a lot of big egos with too much money and nothing really to do with it, and they are not inspired by solving the various problems that plague the earth's poorest and disadvantaged.

          Don't get me wrong, the mission to the moon, the space shuttle, the space station, and all our probes, and now the Rover, these are all important discovery projects. But we have already contaminated our atmosphere and everywhere we have been and will take our problems with us wherever people try to establish a colony.

          •  More instances of human civilization (6+ / 0-)

            means more possible solutions being attempted.  It's called distributed computing, and it makes everyone more likely to find the right path.

            Pour yourself into the future.

            by Troubadour on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 07:35:14 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Great analogy (4+ / 0-)

              But I've become convinced that there is much to be gained by exploring under the sea, and we are spending a fraction of the money there, and that short-changing ourselves the longer we wait.

              When people talk about mass extinction I think it's such a land-centric point of view. It turns out that the capacity to create light in the darkness of the ocean evolved independently many times. And of course, creatures of the sea evolved an enormous variety of eyeballs and pigments to exploit or hide from those signals.

              •  The problem with undersea as a solution (4+ / 0-)

                is that it's high-pressure, and also dependent on the food chain in the top few meters of the ocean, which is vulnerable to disruption.

                Pour yourself into the future.

                by Troubadour on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 10:55:11 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Absolutely the ocean should be explored (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Troubadour, LilithGardener

                but why must Mars and the Marianas Trench be mutually exclusive? We can do both. I imagine exploitation of the seabed will likely come sooner than extraterrestrial exploitation simply due to free market forces as people expand the search for raw materials. We've been going underwater way longer than we're been leaving the atmosphere.

                This does strike me as a "be careful what you wish for" though.

                "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." -Henry Ford

                by sixeight120bpm on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 08:17:16 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Absolutely we can do both (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  sixeight120bpm

                  I'm not arguing for any cuts to space research and exploration.

                  But we spend a fraction of research / exploration dollars on undersea research and development.

                  Our explorations and trips in space have lead to enormous innovation, and I think if the oceans were explored with 100x or 1000x more funding we will find innovative ways to deal with the main problem and even harness it to accomplish some needs - the pressure rises quickly with depth.

                  Undersea dwelling compartments, though, might be completely viable in geodesic domes, that connect or detach, for example. An undersea elevator "pod" might simply move up and down on the basis of pumping air or removing air, or moving water from one compartment to another, allowing buoyancy to do the work, in a manner similar to scuba where a diver uses weights on the belt to sink, and air in their lungs to rise.

        •  Na (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour, millwood, Ender, jayden, elginblt

          We'll just build one of these in a field in Iowa.

          Sorry, couldn't help myself.

        •  I disagree on your assessment of colonies (7+ / 0-)

          I think any extra terrestrial colony would have to strive for self sufficiency from the start to have chance of success. It would be tied into the larger economy (solar instead of just global at that point, i suppose), but it isn't unreasonable to expect any future colony to be able to grow it's own food (using greenhouses and some as-yet-undiscovered tech, no doubt), and no colony will be placed where there isn't at least SOME water.

          The point is that the further you cast the seeds, the more plants grow and the more likely it is that some will survive the wildfire... or something. that metaphor got away from me, I think.

          even besides that, the more presence we have in the solar system, the more options we have for dealing with threats like asteroids. Say we spot an incoming planet killer of a space rock, headed straight for earth. It will be a hell of a lot easier to deal with it if we already have space based infrastructure in place. It'll be way easier to launch a mission from a staging post on the moon, for example, than from Cape Canaveral. And as long as we are bound be relativity, the more staging posts we have in the solar system, the more places we can go and the more options we have.

          For instance, say an asteroid is headed for earth, but because of where we are in our orbit, we can't get to it in time. The asteroid IS, however, passing close enough to Mars for our colony there to launch a mission to deflect the rock.

          I appreciate your arguments that no colony would be immediately self sufficient, or sealed off from catastrophe, but I can see no situation in which having an expanded presence in the solar system does anything but increase humanity's long term survival.

          You are spot on with the basic survivability of earth though. Short of the core stopping (Which wouldn't be a big deal, Hilary Swank can fix it), and earth losing it's EM shield There really aren't many things that can conceivably wipe out all life on earth at this point, and as long as Earth is even marginally habitable, humanity is adaptable enough to survive.

          "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." -Henry Ford

          by sixeight120bpm on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 09:14:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site