0893: "65 Years"

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Samik
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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 1:19 am UTC

dcnblues wrote:If only there were some place nearby, with terrain conducive to creating large optical and radio reflector dishes, and with some large mass shielding it from the radio and optical interference from this planet... Hmmm. Why am I the only one who thinks optical and radio observatories on the dark side of the moon would be a worthy goal to pursue? I am really frustrated by this.

...

I'm in favor of spending NASA budgets on such projects. You really want to go to Mars? Here's a dummy pressure suit, a weather balloon that can take most of your weight and simulate a 1/3 earth gravity pull, and a bus ticket to Arizona. You'll get to see plenty of orange rocks, and the rest of us can use the several billion for something worthwhile, like a basic understanding of the Universe. I think that would be nice.



dcnblues - our opinions on this matter are not in any way shape or form incompatible. Mars is not the next step. It is a step, but not the next one.

I see no reason I shouldn't live to see a manned lunar orbital station supporting a dark side research base which points scientific instrumentation both inward and outward.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby SW15243 » Wed May 04, 2011 1:48 am UTC

jjane wrote:Doesn't anyone else consider microscopic ecosystems "another world?"

We all walk on those every day...

No. Smaller? Lame.

Behold, evidence!

Spoiler:
Image


I suppose now's a good time to point out that yes, I am an English major.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Wed May 04, 2011 2:22 am UTC

Actually, I think that future tech will rely heavily on biological engineering. Why build something if you can design an organism that will build it for you several times over? Or an organism that shapes itself to your specific needs (Farscape, anyone?)?

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby ijuin » Wed May 04, 2011 6:05 am UTC

You do have a point--why build nano-robots to do things when you can make a bacterium that can do exactly the same stuff? (unless you really need it to work in an environment that would kill bacteria) We can already use bacteria to make bio-diesel and other chemicals, and microorganisms are already ideally suited for building stuff out of protein chains (read: molecular scale assembly of structures).

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Wed May 04, 2011 9:02 am UTC

While those are good ideas for use of microscopic organisms, I was thinking on a larger scale.

As in, a space elevator that builds itself (using a tree as a base).

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 10:40 am UTC

I as well have every expectation that humans in the distant future will take advantage of high levels of biological engineering. Two problems, however:

1.) I tend to think we're much further away from those sorts of technologies than you think. Again, if we wait on them, we'll be waiting a while.

2.) You're still going to need to have experience dealing with building things like space elevators, before you can program one from the ground up in genetic code. You need to know a great deal about every possible parameter of their operation before you can write from scratch code that will satisfy those parameters.

It would be like the Wright Brothers trying to design the SR-71 on paper before first building and testing the Wright Flyer.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Bloopy » Wed May 04, 2011 11:21 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Part 2: Down here on Earth, redirect resources into building environmental-control technologies. Do this under the auspices of things completely unrelated to space travel: global-warming-proofing, alternative energy, advanced agriculture, you name it. Work on better air and water filtering and processing technologies, energy-efficient (indoor) climate control, indoor agriculture (like hydroponics), that kind of thing. Get us to the point that we can build a comfortable, self-supporting little town in the middle of the Sahara or Antarctica or on the bottom of the ocean; doing so is orders of magnitude easier than doing the same thing on the Moon or Mars, and so is a necessary step along the way. Of course we don't aim for that directly: we aim at just expanding civilization from where it is now into increasingly less hospitable climates, and improving the quality of life in the places that civilization gets along fine right now.

By the time we've colonized this world's deserts and seafloors and southern pole, our space-faring robots should be at a point that we can have them start building such colonies on other planets; and they should have nice big stores of refined resources set aside on those other planets by then. Of course we'll have to send along the seeds of life with our robots, but by the time they're mining and building on other worlds for us, having them plant things for us isn't that big a further advance. Start with microorganisms to build the necessary chemical infrastructure: finding carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen isn't all that hard; getting them into forms that plants and animals can use is the tough part. Then send algae, lichen, fungi, mosses, and other simple organisms to turn some rocks and air and water into soil. Then start planting food crops.

This. If we could develop self-sufficient processes, ultimately with stars as the only resource we depend on, entire human civilizations could exist on spacecraft rather than planets. They could fuel up on solar energy and migrate on long journeys to different stars.

...and the internet would be terrible because the ping time to the next city would be years. :P

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Nemo1024 » Wed May 04, 2011 11:42 am UTC

After many years of lurking, this strip finally made me register...
Thank you, Randal for this sobering strip.

We actually have all the technology needed to land and establish a colony on Mars. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (at least the first book, Red Mars), describes in nice detail how such goal could be achieved with present-day technology and resources, but from Earth, which is much worse off economically, than we are now. A highly-recommended read.

Secondly, Russia now conducts a real-time Mars flight simulation project, Mars 500 (http://mars500.imbp.ru/en/index_e.html). This is a successor to several other closed-circuit endurance simulations, performed in Russia and Soviet Union. Interestingly, it is Kennedy, who put a stop to Soviet Union's Mars program, by announcing his Moon Flight program. Initially, Soviet Union came rather far in planning a flight to Mars, considering Moon as an object of limited interest (planning only to send remote controlled Moon landers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunokhod_programme). All changed after Kennedy's announcement, when The Party diverted all resources to compete with the Americans.

Just think what could have been achieved if the two nations cooperated and not competed! (The same goes for Concorde project, by the way.)

The first full-scale aircraft was built by Mozhaiskij in 1882 (http://tinyurl.com/6a78u2r), but it was too heavy with too weak motors to take to the air during the tests in 1883. Write brothers managed to get airborne in their plane in 1903, the first manned flight into space (Yurij Gagarin) was in 1961 (58 years later!) and the first manned landing on the Moon was in 1969 - just 8 years after that!

Given this progression pattern Mars could have been reached about 5 years after that again, but military escalation and various wars diverted the budgets into the military projects, leaving the space programs starving on both sides of the Atlantic. Let us hope that private investments will spur some life into our deep space exploration.

The first trips across the Atlantic by the Vikings and, subsequently, Columbus, were life-threatening, perilous and difficult, but now almost anyone can cross the ocean in a private yacht. We see lots of private one-motor Cessnas and Pipers in the air, while only a few decades ago only a few select heroes could become pilots. The same will surely apply to space and inter-planetary flight. You just wait and see.

So let me finish this post on this rather optimistic note.
Last edited by Nemo1024 on Wed May 04, 2011 2:18 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 12:13 pm UTC

Well, my point #2 probably isn't really valid. It suggests that any task we could perform via biological engineering would have to be performed via mechanical engineering first, which seems pretty obviously flawed reasoning.

You'd still need to know a lot about whatever object it is you were trying to program your DNA (or whatever you're using) to build, but it obviously can't be a requirement that you came by that knowledge directly from building said object. If that were the case, nothing could ever be built using any variety of technology, because you'd have had to have already built it in order to build it.


That said, I can re-purpose point #2 as a corollary of point #1: We've already come across a great deal of the knowledge necessary to design large scale mechanical constructs, so we're much, much further along in the process there than we are with biological constructs.

Not to say we shouldn't be researching bio-engineering - just that we shouldn't wait on it. We should be moving forward towards building mechanical space elevators and whatnot, until our talents for bio-engineering catch up.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby philip1201 » Wed May 04, 2011 2:23 pm UTC

Samik wrote:
philip1201 wrote:In this case, resolution (1) goes unopposed by most among us

You could not have possibly given off a stronger impression of your disagreement with this if you'd tried. Perhaps you did try.

Perhaps we are discussing entirely different things. The way I discuss things on the internet is not by arguing in favor of my plan and against it's polar opposite, but in favor of my plan against one which is for a large part the same (and often a bit further out of the norm). However, that means that in such a debate, I'm pulling towards the 'opposite' side in a metaphorical tug of war. I'm probably at fault for not making clear where I'm standing, but there you have it. I'm not attempting to argue against spending more on space research. The argument from budget (which you appear to have won (I wasn't aware the US budget increased so rapidly these past 3 years, but going on the assumption the crisis would have limited it's increase)) was one against your (to me apparent) pessimism, not against increasing the budget. Unfortunately, you appear to be right.


Samik wrote:Really? You don't think that colonization of Mars has technical challenges that differ from the Apollo missions to enough of a degree to warrant practice runs? Before colonization, you're going to need moderate-term test habitats, and before that, short-term scientific stations, and before that, ultra-short term touchdowns for dry runs a la the moon landings, and before that, approaches and orbital insertions. Before we ever are prepared to establish fully sustainable colonies, there are going to be decades of tests runs. The longer we wait to get started on those, the longer the entire process is going to take. Back to my airplane/windtunnel metaphor: you can't just plan the whole of your future endeavors on paper, and then say, "Whelp, looks like we're set. Let's launch this sucker."
Spoiler:
philip1201 wrote:There's a difference between waiting until it's trivially easy, and waiting until attempting it with no way back isn't guaranteed to lead to the loss of all hands by every relevant test (that is to say, that closed ecological systems have always collapsed).


Yes. Because I have repeatedly suggested that we should launch missions we are not ready for, haven't I?

No, my position is not that we should be setting up colonies right now. Of course we need to be endeavoring on less ambitious missions first. This is exactly the point that I have been arguing this entire thread.
We can have this debate without putting words in each other's mouths.

Apologies for copying the formula.
Yes, because I've repeatedly suggested we shouldn't ever test this equipment, haven't I?
No, my position is not we shouldn't go to Mars when there is serious gain to be had (and if the US would announce to go to Mars now, there wouldn't be). Of course we need to test the waters before we jump right in. This is exactly the point I've been arguing this entire thread.

Indeed we can.

Just what are you trying to tell me?

1. There's no way we can influence the budget distribution set out by the US government. It is trivial that we who are assembled here wish to increase NASA's budget, given the nature of xkcd and those that read it.
2. The way the US budget is distributed isn't all that bad for people who like space. (as you successfully argued, it's worse than I thought, but most of NASA's "productive" projects are still on, and they are great too).
3. The US promising to go to Mars now at the cost of other NASA programs is not beneficial for space exploration in the long term. If I had the liberty to choose how to spend NASA's budget, it would have to be quite a lot bigger than now before I would consider a manned Mars mission in the '20s.


Samik wrote:Could you have pulled any more arbitrary a number to attribute to me out of the air?

I wasn't attributing it to you. What I was trying to say was that, assuming you would get the politicians to give 1% extra to NASA, so they could maintain their current programs (0.5%) whilst still engaging in some sort of Ares project, I would then prefer to have them spend that recently added 2/3 of NASA's new total budget of 1.5% on other projects, for the sake of productivity at least.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 3:03 pm UTC

philip1201 wrote:Apologies for copying the formula.


Fair enough. I can't really get on you for ad hominem argumentation if I'm getting all defensive and condescending.

Although to be fair, I never suggested that you said we shouldn't.


1. There's no way we can influence the budget distribution set out by the US government. It is trivial that we who are assembled here wish to increase NASA's budget, given the nature of xkcd and those that read it.
2. The way the US budget is distributed isn't all that bad for people who like space. (as you successfully argued, it's worse than I thought, but most of NASA's "productive" projects are still on, and they are great too).
3. The US promising to go to Mars now at the cost of other NASA programs is not beneficial for space exploration in the long term. If I had the liberty to choose how to spend NASA's budget, it would have to be quite a lot bigger than now before I would consider a manned Mars mission in the '20s.


Regarding:
1: Of course you are correct. I have my own ideas in mind of what sort of difference I am and am not capable of making, but that's not really the point of this thread.
2: I suppose this is really dependent on just how much you 'like space'. We've already established that I am an outlier here. (There are a few additional points I would like to make about this, but I want to cite sources, and I can't recall them off the top of my head, so I'm going to have to do some digging.)
3: At no point in this thread have I ever argued for going to Mars now. That's the real crux of this whole series of disagreements, I think. This is what I have argued for:

a: an aggressive policy towards the space program in general,
b: that manned missions are a critical component of this, even in the near term.

Mars has been talked about a lot in here as an objective, but never as the next step (by me anyway).


I wasn't attributing it to you. What I was trying to say was that, assuming you would get the politicians to give 1% extra to NASA, so they could maintain their current programs (0.5%) whilst still engaging in some sort of Ares project, I would then prefer to have them spend that recently added 2/3 of NASA's new total budget of 1.5% on other projects, for the sake of productivity at least.


Ok, I understand. I would not suggest the total of the 1% to be spent on new projects (I would not suggest any specific breakdown - there are individuals who's job it is to know more about this than I). I am perfectly fine with funneling some of those newly acquired resources into existing projects, or newly commissioned terrestrial or low-Earth-orbit localized projects.

Unlike most in this thread, however, I will continue to argue that at least some of that funding should be going towards preparing for manned missions (such as the lunar facilities I described a few posts ago).

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 3:09 pm UTC

philip1201 wrote:Perhaps we are discussing entirely different things. The way I discuss things on the internet is not by arguing in favor of my plan and against it's polar opposite, but in favor of my plan against one which is for a large part the same (and often a bit further out of the norm).



Really, though, I've been doing the same thing. I've been arguing for the value of manned missions in conjunction with terrestrial and low-earth-orbit missions, as opposed to just terrestrial and low-earth-orbit missions, with manned missions put off until some time a ways in the future.


This part of it probably all comes down to our disagreement about those of my statements that suggest that our ambitions have been scaled back in recent years. As I said in the post above this one, I'm going to have to collect my thoughts / sources on that one, to make a case. I'll get back to you.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Ono » Wed May 04, 2011 4:45 pm UTC

Ideas sleep furiously. wrote:I heard something interesting on a documentary, not sure of it's accuracy, but it went something like;
"If there were gold bars stacked up on the moon, the cost of bringing them back to earth would be greater than their worth."

It was a documentary about mining Helium3 or something like that from moon rocks.


Only if you decide to use a shuttle or a similar vehicle to do the job a primitive, cheap mass driver(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_driver) would do, as Heinlein envisioned (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moon_Is_a_Harsh_Mistress).

About the amount of time it'll take for us to 'reach for the stars' - that reminds me of the european colonization of America. It is often taught that the 14th and 15th centuries are the beginning of it, but the vikings paid a visit around the 11th (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinland).

So we're in the insipid, but quite inspiring early days of space exploration - hoping for the next wave to kick in in less than 4 centuries.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Wed May 04, 2011 5:11 pm UTC

Ono wrote:
Ideas sleep furiously. wrote:I heard something interesting on a documentary, not sure of it's accuracy, but it went something like;
"If there were gold bars stacked up on the moon, the cost of bringing them back to earth would be greater than their worth."

It was a documentary about mining Helium3 or something like that from moon rocks.


Only if you decide to use a shuttle or a similar vehicle to do the job a primitive, cheap mass driver(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_driver) would do, as Heinlein envisioned (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moon_I ... h_Mistress).


The moon has no atmosphere so a mass driver is indeed a good way to get stuff off the moon. However this is rather major infrastructure. It would take a huge investment to establish a mass driver.

In the near term ISRU propellant could drastically cut cost of transportation to and from the moon. There are good indications there are exploitable ice deposits at the lunar poles.

Here is a delta V map of our cislunar neighborhood:
Image

Round trip delta V budget between moon to EML1: 5 km/sec

Round trip delta V budget between EML1 and LEO: 4.5 to 7.6 km/sec (depending on much aerobraking drag passes are used)

I envision 3 types of vehicles:
Image

Not only do the red and green vehicles have a smaller delta V budget, they also don't have to deal with re-entry. The shuttle sheds 8 km/sec over 1 hour of aerobraking which inflicts terrible abuse. The red and green trucks don't need wings, a thermal protection system. The don't suffer the re-entry mass penalties the yellow vehicle would. These might be single stage reusable vehicles.

Earth to LEO (The yellow vehicles) may always require multi-stage expendables.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 5:34 pm UTC

HopDavid wrote:I envision 3 types of vehicles:

[truck images]

Not only do the red and green vehicles have a smaller delta V budget, they also don't have to deal with re-entry. The shuttle sheds 8 km/sec over 1 hour of aerobraking which inflicts terrible abuse. The red and green trucks don't need wings, a thermal protection system. The don't suffer the re-entry mass penalties the yellow vehicle would. These might be single stage reusable vehicles.

Earth to LEO (The yellow vehicles) may always require multi-stage expendables.



I think that's pretty much exactly how it's going to have to be done. Sometimes you just can't beat a picture.

Implementing a system such as that would give us invaluable experience at managing a wide variety of operations under a wide variety of conditions.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Edrees » Wed May 04, 2011 6:18 pm UTC

I'm not sure if this comic was being funny or serious...not a good one.
Last edited by Edrees on Wed May 04, 2011 6:20 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Wed May 04, 2011 6:19 pm UTC

Samik wrote:I think that's pretty much exactly how it's going to have to be done. Sometimes you just can't beat a picture.


Thanks!

Samik wrote:Implementing a system such as that would give us invaluable experience at managing a wide variety of operations under a wide variety of conditions.


There are possible practical uses. To get a communication sat from LEO to GEO requires more than the satellite's mass in propellant. Propellant in LEO would effectively double the mass of GEO bound payloads launched from earth's surface. It would make de-orbiting space trash much more doable.

Presently our orbital assets are so hard to reach that the paradigm is design-launch-discard. Making satellites easy to reach would enable upgradeable modular satellites that are amenable to receiving maintenance and repair. Our appetite for bandwidth will only climb, so this is a huge potential market.

A Mars Transfer Vehicle would be an upper stage initially lofted to LEO. If this is an empty stage with no propellant, radiation shielding, air or water, it could be lofted with a 70 tonne to LEO launch vehicle. Once in LEO it could receive enough propellant to go to EML1. At EML1 it could fill up on propellant once again as well as water for radiation shielding, water to drink, nitrogen and oxygen to breathe. Trans Mars Injection (TMI) from EML1 is 1.2 km/sec vs 3.6 km sec for TMI from LEO.

At this point it is not known if there's exploitable ISRU propellant at Phobos. If there is, a system of single stage reusable vehicles could ferry cargo and passengers between Mars, surface and LEO. That there's exploitable ISRU propellant on Mars is fairly well known.

Image

(each little blue "gas pump" in the above graphic represents a propellant source or an orbital propellant depot)

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Wed May 04, 2011 6:42 pm UTC

HopDavid wrote:There are possible practical uses.


Oh, absolutely. I've been staking the position throughout this thread that their are mission profiles that will provide us with immediate tangible benefit at the same time as valuable operational experience.

HopDavid wrote:The rest.


Where were you a few pages ago? I feel like I've been fighting off the hordes for this entire thread, and only just now found an ally.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Wed May 04, 2011 9:01 pm UTC

Samik wrote:
HopDavid wrote:There are possible practical uses.


Oh, absolutely. I've been staking the position throughout this thread that their are mission profiles that will provide us with immediate tangible benefit at the same time as valuable operational experience.


I would like to mention yet another emerging technology on earth that could be a major game changer for lunar exploitation:

Telepresence and telerobots.

This notion was the underlying device of Cameron's Avatar. While biological telerobots like those in Avatar are implausible for some time to come, Cameron's movies also have much more believable metal telerobots. In Aliens, Sigourney Weaver gets in a motion capture suit within a robot to duke it out with the Alien. The mercenaries in Avatar would use very similar devices for grunt work as well as hand to hand combat. It is a small step from these to a robot operated with a remote motion capture suit.

In Titanic, Cameron worked with Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pioneer Bill Stone for the underwater ROV's used to check out the sunken ship. Cameron also used underwater ROV's for his documentary Aliens of The Deep.

Motion capture is used in the movie industry. For example, Mike Myers will don motion capture sensors to operate the virtual puppet known as Shrek.

Wii is a motion capture pioneer for gaming. Also Kinect. I believe this market will lead to better and less expensive motion capture over time.

There are needs for better telerobots for earthly industry. They would have been very helpful for BP's Gulf oil disaster as well as the Japanese nuclear plant damaged by Tsunami. Any hard to reach and/or dangerous workplace might benefit from telerobots. The mining company Rio Tinto is pushing the state of art for telerobots.

Lunar communication light lag is about 2.7 seconds. If telerobots don't completely eliminate the need for canned meat (humans in habs), it could still be a force multiplier that would much reduce the upmass needed to start building useful infrastructure on the moon.

I believe the most potent game changing technology for enabling space development is progressing nicely right here on earth.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HungryHobo » Wed May 04, 2011 10:28 pm UTC

it's more of subset of general robotics, I imagine that it will be even more valuable as AI is used to fill in the gaps and detail and handle the lag, tell the machine that you want to grab that rock over there and it handles the movements and balancing the bot etc so that it doesn't fall over during the few seconds of lag.
Give a man a fish, he owes you one fish. Teach a man to fish, you give up your monopoly on fisheries.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Wed May 04, 2011 11:09 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:it's more of subset of general robotics, I imagine that it will be even more valuable as AI is used to fill in the gaps and detail and handle the lag, tell the machine that you want to grab that rock over there and it handles the movements and balancing the bot etc so that it doesn't fall over during the few seconds of lag.


Indeed there are developments that would compensate for slow reaction time. Big Dog displays ability to balance. Google's robotic cars display ability to avoid collisions.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Velo Steve » Thu May 05, 2011 12:37 am UTC

As one of those old enough to remember the first moon landing but young enough to likely outlive the Apollo astronauts, I found this especially sad. Is it possible that I have lived through the birth and death of humanity's best chance of getting beyond this planet?

I hope the optimists here are right, and that we will see another wave of exploration before we lose the ability to make it happen.

Steve

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Thu May 05, 2011 1:04 am UTC

Samik wrote:I as well have every expectation that humans in the distant future will take advantage of high levels of biological engineering. Two problems, however:

1.) I tend to think we're much further away from those sorts of technologies than you think. Again, if we wait on them, we'll be waiting a while.

2.) You're still going to need to have experience dealing with building things like space elevators, before you can program one from the ground up in genetic code. You need to know a great deal about every possible parameter of their operation before you can write from scratch code that will satisfy those parameters.

It would be like the Wright Brothers trying to design the SR-71 on paper before first building and testing the Wright Flyer.


I'm not saying we should wait until we can grow a space elevator from a seed. Just that, looking far into the future, it seems mechanical engineering won't be nearly as useful as biological engineering.

The prevalence of metallic and plastic objects in sci-fi is, IMO, unrealistic. I think that we're more likely to find organisms specifically designed to perform particular tasks in the future.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby WallCrawlingHero » Thu May 05, 2011 1:12 am UTC

My wife, two friends and I just got back from a trip to watch STS-134 launch. Unfortunately there was a failure three hours before the scheduled launch time and it was scrubbed and it still hasn't launched. We're from Austin (one of my friends is from Phoenix) plus we're young and poor so it isn't really an option for us to take more time off work to go out to Florida to watch another launch. Even though we were disappointed we didn't get to watch the shuttle go up we still had plenty of time to go to the Kennedy Space Center and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. It was amazing to see how excited people were for those scientific exploration missions and a little depressing how quickly we as a country got over space travel. We met a girl at the Space Center. She was maybe 4 years old dressed in an orange flight suit and she was so excited about the prospect of one day making it into space that it made us hope a little more for the future of space exploration. This comic did make me a little sad, but I loved the alt+text and I can only hope that eventually we'll realize that there is something to be gained from funding our space program.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby ikotomi » Thu May 05, 2011 7:19 am UTC

Am I the only person that isn't bothered by the fact that this graph is not labeled?

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby scarletmanuka » Thu May 05, 2011 10:02 am UTC

DragonHawk wrote:"The dinosaurs are extinct because they didn't have a space program." -- Larry Niven

Seems to me to be begging the question. If the dinosaurs did have a space program and managed to establish extra-solar colonies, what evidence would we have at this point of either?

ikemike11 wrote:I wonder if the interstellar civilization described in the "Ender's Game" universe would be reasonable. If we manage to (I know it's a longshot) unite the world before we destroy it, build extraordinarily fast spacecraft or develop a way to slow aging, and adapt or adapt to new planets, it might be possible.
I wonder what the benefits of an interstellar human civilization would be, besides being a "backup" for humanity. Assuming the light-speed limit cannot be broken, so interstellar trade would be impossible.

The "Ender's Game" universe also had instantaneous interstellar communication, via ansible, so there goes the light-speed limit anyway. Greg Egan's "Schild's Ladder" does have an interstellar civilisation which obeys the lightspeed limit though. Want to visit another planet? Say goodbye to however many years it takes for your digitised signal to be sent there.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Thu May 05, 2011 4:41 pm UTC

FourTael wrote:I'm not saying we should wait until we can grow a space elevator from a seed. Just that, looking far into the future, it seems mechanical engineering won't be nearly as useful as biological engineering.

The prevalence of metallic and plastic objects in sci-fi is, IMO, unrealistic. I think that we're more likely to find organisms specifically designed to perform particular tasks in the future.

Well, from that perspective, if we go far enough into the future, biological engineering is likely to be a fad as well. I mean, it's every bit as arbitrary as mechanical engineering - just because metal and silicon were the easiest materials for us to begin to manipulate, and carbon and DNA were the easiest materials for evolution to manipulate, doesn't mean that either are the materials that have the highest potential ceiling for constructing complex objects.

You need data storage, data processing, data transmission, and some sort of mechanism for generation of energy.

Maybe we'll ultimately end up building everything through something similar to crystalline growth, or via direct manipulation as the molecular level (or below it), or via focused energy fields harnessed by some process we're not yet knowledgeable of.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Thu May 05, 2011 6:31 pm UTC

The advantage of biological engineering is that you're creating an organism that does whatever you need done for you. We built cars. We then built machines to build those cars. Then we built machines to build those machines.

With biological engineering, the cars build themselves, and repair themselves. Nothing needs to be done past the design phase.

Can any of your suggestions eliminate the design phase? If not, they don't really hold much advantage over biological engineering.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Thu May 05, 2011 7:18 pm UTC

FourTael wrote:The advantage of biological engineering is that you're creating an organism that does whatever you need done for you. We built cars. We then built machines to build those cars. Then we built machines to build those machines.

With biological engineering, the cars build themselves, and repair themselves. Nothing needs to be done past the design phase.

What I mean is, what gives you the impression that carbon based constructions are the only kind that can behave in such a way? is it something about carbon itself?

All the rules for construction of a human body are contained in DNA. As I said, data storage, data processing, data transmission, and a generator. Provide those, and you can, in theory, accomplish what you ask with other materials as well.
FourTael wrote:Can any of your suggestions eliminate the design phase? If not, they don't really hold much advantage over biological engineering.

Of course you're never going to be able to skip the design phase. I'm arguing they could behave in much the same way as bio-engineering (unattended growth, self-repairing and -maintaining), with considerable added advantages. You don't think direct manipulation on the atomic or subatomic level would allow you to create materials and structures that biological engineering can't achieve?

I'm not saying these things are guaranteed to be possible, or are even likely. Just that if we're looking into the distant future, without respect to the things we're capable of now, I don't think bio-engineering will have the final say.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Thu May 05, 2011 7:55 pm UTC

Samik wrote:You don't think direct manipulation on the atomic or subatomic level would allow you to create materials and structures that biological engineering can't achieve?


Well, considering the fact that cells work at the atomic level... not really.

Remember: The human body doesn't work solely with carbon. Our bones are made up mostly of calcium phosphate, for example. Biological engineering doesn't mean using technology that consists of 100% carbon. In fact, you don't even need 50% carbon. All you need to do is design an organism that uses whatever material you want it to use (or just whatever's available) for whatever you want it to make. A bio-engineered car could still be mostly metal.

Though I think that a bio-engineered car would be able to make better use of a different material.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Thu May 05, 2011 7:55 pm UTC

FourTael wrote:
I'm not saying we should wait until we can grow a space elevator from a seed. Just that, looking far into the future,


Arguing about the far future is akin to discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Thu May 05, 2011 8:04 pm UTC

FourTael wrote:Well, considering the fact that cells work at the atomic level... not really.

Remember: The human body doesn't work solely with carbon. Our bones are made up mostly of calcium phosphate, for example. Biological engineering doesn't mean using technology that consists of 100% carbon. In fact, you don't even need 50% carbon. All you need to do is design an organism that uses whatever material you want it to use (or just whatever's available) for whatever you want it to make. A bio-engineered car could still be mostly metal.

Though I think that a bio-engineered car would be able to make better use of a different material.

Well this is really exactly what I was trying to get at. What you are gradually homing in on describing is less bio-engineering and more nano-technology. You're just defining bio-engineering as making devices that are constructed and programmed correctly to perform certain specific very-small-scale tasks, which cumulatively result in desirable larger-scale effects. That is not what most people mean when they talking about bio-engineering.

The ability to perform functions generally conflated with biology is not in any way the exclusive province of "biological" material.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Thu May 05, 2011 9:12 pm UTC

HopDavid wrote:
FourTael wrote:
I'm not saying we should wait until we can grow a space elevator from a seed. Just that, looking far into the future,


Arguing about the far future is akin to discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.


Fair enough. I won't argue about future tech, then.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Thu May 05, 2011 9:18 pm UTC

FourTael wrote:Fair enough. I won't argue about future tech, then.

Well that's no fun.

What I (and HopDavid, I think) were trying to get at is that this discussion has been primarily focused on near-future technologies (next couple of decades). Introducing arguments about the benefits of distant future technologies, interesting though they may be, was something of a non sequitur, in that how far in the future you chose to set your sights was fairly arbitrary.

This is pretty clearly seen by how the conversation has shifted from what our near term space program goals should be to what the ultimate endpoint of our technological evolution will look like.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby FourTael » Thu May 05, 2011 9:46 pm UTC

Hey, I didn't bring up biological engineering. I was just pointing out that it is very useful aside from making goats that you can milk for spider silk.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Thu May 05, 2011 10:18 pm UTC

FourTael wrote:Hey, I didn't bring up biological engineering..

Aaaaaah. I couldn't believe I would have lost track of the conversation that badly, so I went back and looked, and found this, which appeared to be an unsolicited introduction of the idea of bio-engineering to the thread.

Then I clicked on this post's spoiler, and dawn rose over Marblehead.



In any case, I never sympathized with HopDavid's position that far future tech is not even worth talking about. I am resistant to any sentiment that near term technological projects are unimportant because they'll all eventually be replaced by more advanced forms of technology, which, to me, made the concept of bio-engineering irrelevant to the original topic of conversation - conducting manned operations beyond low earth orbit in the near future.

As I said, however, the tide of conversation has clearly shifted (and I don't really have much more to say anyway).

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Thu May 05, 2011 11:38 pm UTC

Samik wrote:In any case, I never sympathized with HopDavid's position that far future tech is not even worth talking about. I am resistant to any sentiment that near term technological projects are unimportant because they'll all eventually be replaced by more advanced forms of technology, which, to me, made the concept of bio-engineering irrelevant to the original topic of conversation - conducting manned operations beyond low earth orbit in the near future.

As I said, however, the tide of conversation has clearly shifted (and I don't really have much more to say anyway).


I was drawn to this conversation by an effective cartoon calling attention to the decline of human spaceflight.

Near term human spaceflight and development of space is a topic I'm very interested in. My apologies if I derailed the thread.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby Samik » Thu May 05, 2011 11:50 pm UTC

HopDavid wrote:Near term human spaceflight and development of space is a topic I'm very interested in. My apologies if I derailed the thread.

I don't think anyone really 'derailed' the thread, least of all you.

I remember one time, at some holiday dinner, my Uncle secretly recorded the entire circum-dinner conversation of my very Italian family. At some point, he revealed what he had done, and started playing back the recording. We all listened to (and got many good laughs out of) the entire darned thing, beginning to end, in awe of how hilariously chaotic it all was.

Conversations between large groups of people have a tendency to evolve in unpredictable ways, when not moderated to any real extent.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby ijuin » Fri May 06, 2011 6:57 am UTC

scarletmanuka wrote:
DragonHawk wrote:"The dinosaurs are extinct because they didn't have a space program." -- Larry Niven

Seems to me to be begging the question. If the dinosaurs did have a space program and managed to establish extra-solar colonies, what evidence would we have at this point of either?

I would say that the main argument against a global or continent-scale industrial society predating our own is the fact that we have found no signs of any large-scale mining of minerals by anybody before us. All of the metals and fossil fuels and whatnot that we have discovered are in an apparently pristine form as opposed to being somebody's garbage dump or ruined city (e.g. they are all in ores that would form out of vulcanism or sedimentation rather than just oxidation of previously purified metal). We have also not found any large deposits of tailings or depleted rocks from which the ores have all been extracted. What this all implies is that the amount of time since the last large industrial civilization on Earth is at least long enough for the Earth's continental crust to turn over sufficiently to either subduct or bury deep underground all such evidence.

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Re: 0893: "65 Years"

Postby HopDavid » Fri May 06, 2011 5:57 pm UTC

ijuin wrote:
scarletmanuka wrote:
DragonHawk wrote:"The dinosaurs are extinct because they didn't have a space program." -- Larry Niven

Seems to me to be begging the question. If the dinosaurs did have a space program and managed to establish extra-solar colonies, what evidence would we have at this point of either?

I would say that the main argument against a global or continent-scale industrial society predating our own is the fact that we have found no signs of any large-scale mining of minerals by anybody before us. All of the metals and fossil fuels and whatnot that we have discovered are in an apparently pristine form as opposed to being somebody's garbage dump or ruined city (e.g. they are all in ores that would form out of vulcanism or sedimentation rather than just oxidation of previously purified metal). We have also not found any large deposits of tailings or depleted rocks from which the ores have all been extracted. What this all implies is that the amount of time since the last large industrial civilization on Earth is at least long enough for the Earth's continental crust to turn over sufficiently to either subduct or bury deep underground all such evidence.


According to Dawkin's model, our bodies and brains are machines for spreading and perpetuating the genes we carry. The urge to spread life beyond earth might be explained by this imperative.

If dinosaurs were building a generation star ship to another star system to spread their DNA, the same motive would lead them to settle our much closer neighbors in the solar system. A civilization capable of making a generation starship would also be able to develop real estate on Mars and asteroids as well as the moon. So I believe remnants of a spacefaring civilization would endure in other solar system locations besides earth.

The best candidate for extraterrestial archeology, in my view, is the cold traps at the lunar poles. They're colder than Pluto, and cold helps preserve stuff. There's no weather or active geology to erase history. Accumulating layers of volatlle ices captured in the lunar cold traps would protect against micrometeorite damage.

I would give a 1000 to 1 odds against discovery of such a civilization. But whether or not such a civilization existed, I do believe the layers of lunar ice would reveal the history of our solar system. Much the same way the fossil record in sedimentary rock layers tells the history of life on earth.


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