Author Topic: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?  (Read 6946 times)

Offline Proponent

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #20 on: 03/07/2011 01:48 AM »
Politics aside (I know, not realistic, but entertain me), I want NASA to be focused on the things commercial operators simply can not do.

NASA should concentrate on all those bleeding edge jobs that are beyond anyone else's capabilities.

The commercial organizations should then follow NASA, maybe one or two generations of technology behind that bleeding edge, and fill-in the capabilities that have, by then, been proven, and do so at a substantially reduced cost.   NASA Transhab > Bigelow BA-330 is a perfect example of what I think should be happening.

This way we get continual forward progress across the entire industry, as NASA keeps opening up new frontiers, to be followed by commercial investments in order to exploit and utilize those continually-expanding horizons.


Of course, that would in be a perfect world.   How we get from where we are today, to there, is a whole other topic.

I agree whole-heartedly with every word of this except that how to get from here to there isn't a "whole other topic," it's a "whole 'nother topic." :)

Offline Proponent

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #21 on: 03/07/2011 02:03 AM »
No one is suggesting that we go completely commercial.  Space exploration and development is in the interests of the entire country thus should be funded largely by the government.

The thing is that both explorers and settlers rely on the same thing, and that is space infrastructure and technology. 

The one's that you refer to as pro-explorers support these big government projects to build space infrastructure that is only useful for human space exploration.  Single purpose rockets like those in Constellation have absolutely no commercial or military application whatsoever. 

The one's that you refer to as pro-settlers support funding infrastructure that is cross-conpatiable with commercial and military systems, thus achieving better cost-effectiveness than single purpose rockets.  Rockets like those that SpaceX is building are able to haul military and commercial satellites into orbit, as well as, haul cargo and crew up to the space station. 

I basically agree, but I'd characterize the debate between pro-commercial and pro-government camps as being about whether the government should buy launch vehicles and capsules from private companies or should merely buy launch services.  Rand Simberg suggests that in this context the term "commercial" be replaced by "competitive", since, for the time being, there's little prospect of any entity besides the government needing to launch 100-ish-ton payloads.  It's imaginable, though unlikely anytime soon, that (government) demand for large payloads would reach such a scale that a commercial entity selling launch services would decide that the most profitable way of doing so would be by building a Saturn V-sized rocket.  The point is, ideally it would be up to the launch-services provider to decide what vehicle to offer.

Offline Robert Thompson

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #22 on: 03/07/2011 02:43 AM »
NASA should crank ECLSS (CELSS at small scale), intensive waste rehabilitation, intensive high density agriculture. (e.g. composting toilet, LED grow lights, spaceship/habitat high density aeroponics/hydroponics, plausibly aquaculture for ~g environments). Advantages I can think of:

1) reduce mass up, over, down
2) enable longer resupply times for habitats (0 to ~g gravity well)

And if NASA brought intensive high-density agriculture to perfection, they'd:
3) have patentable technology for urban areas
4) contribute to the mandate for international / developing nation outreach
5) enable non-destructive habitation of presently unpopulated earth areas (I'm not saying I want this, I'm saying reserve capacity is never bad)
6) reduce destructive ecological footprint of present populated areas, in general
7) publicly demonstrate immediate relevance of space research

Settlers will need either completely closed ECLSS or very frequent and expensive resupply.
If propulsion experiences a quantum leap enabling frequent resupply, then ECLSS won't be a show stopper.
Short range explorers can get by without ECLSS.
Long-range explorers will need it as much as any settler, and perhaps more.

NASA can crank this further with competitive CCDEV. Eg, more things like http://www.paragonsdc.com/,
http://www.paragonsdc.com/docs/CCT-ARS%20Press%20Release.pdf

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #23 on: 03/07/2011 03:22 AM »
Another thing to add to the ECLSS, ISRU, agriculture mix is: chemical/biochemical production of macronutrients like sugar, fat, and protein. I've been researching this for a few days.

It should be possible to use the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert Martin air and water into precursors which can be converted into glucose. Glucose, if pure enough, can be consumed by astronauts. Also, glucose can be fed to fungi and made into high-quality mycoprotein for consumption by astronauts (like the meat-substitute Quorn, which is based on a single-cell fungi grown in big vats, with the mass of the fungi doubling every 5 hours). This is to add to hydroponically grown vegetables (it's hard to grow enough calories to sustain an astronaut, but relatively easy to grow enough tomatoes and lettuce which can help provide micronutrients in a palatable manner).
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline khallow

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #24 on: 03/08/2011 04:57 PM »
If only there were two groups. As I see it, you have several more. There's the science types who prefer small scientific missions. The publicly funded types who are in it for the money. And the stay on Earth people who don't think humans have any business in space. Consider in addition location and you've fragmented things into rather small pieces.
« Last Edit: 03/08/2011 04:57 PM by khallow »
Karl Hallowell

Offline Gregori

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #25 on: 03/08/2011 05:52 PM »
We have to thoroughly explore places like Mars first before we try to settle them. We don't know if its a good idea or sustainable idea yet. There are places on Earth that would be orders of magnitude easier to settle than the Moon or Mars, yet there is no huge rush to colonize them. Exploration must come first.

Having said that, a base might not be a bad idea. It allows you to explore large regions of territory, and to do experiments on using local materials. Expensive equipment can be built up at the bases, and reused for decades instead of being disposed of on each mission as with Apollo.

New modules can be constantly added to the base to support more researchers and do different kinds of analysis. And if equipment breaks, humans are there to fix it. It would be a mix of ISRU, Humans and Robotics. We could then find out over a decade or two what health effects of being on the Moon and Mars are to Humans, and what resources can be cost effectively used.

International partners can contribute experiments and modules to the Base without having to have a whole mars program.

Offline khallow

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #26 on: 03/08/2011 07:27 PM »
We have to thoroughly explore places like Mars first before we try to settle them. We don't know if its a good idea or sustainable idea yet. There are places on Earth that would be orders of magnitude easier to settle than the Moon or Mars, yet there is no huge rush to colonize them. Exploration must come first.

There's not much reason to settle those places on Earth since more habitable areas are closer by (and treaty often has killed off some of the incentive for wanting to live there). On Mars, you wouldn't have a nicer place close by.
Karl Hallowell

Offline Cog_in_the_machine

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #27 on: 03/09/2011 03:13 PM »
Don't forget the other topic that is related:
Sponsorship - Gov't vs commercial.  That is where most of the debate.  It doesn't matter if you are a Explorer or Settler if you can't settle the source of funding.

Well Jim,  I get the strong impression that the Setters and Explorers polarize on that issue in particular.  Settlers tend to fall strongly into the pro-commercial camp because commercial implies the beginning of a Space Economy to support and drive colonization.

Explorers, on the other hand, don't trust commercial, because they can't see or predict a 'profit motive' for the big and exciting exploration projects they want to see. (ie Mars)

I'm quoting this, since it highlights a problem in this neat little divide the OP proposed.

I support R&D and commercial, I think human settlements have a very shaky justifications behind them and I also think that using humans to explore space should be the lowest on the priority list (robots have had that angle pretty much covered for decades).

So as weird as it is, here's my reasoning:

Funding for R&D is vital, because without it, there is absolutely no hope that space technology will ever budge from the bog it's currently sitting in.

Commercial procurement seems to be a good optimisation method. Technologically it's not all that innovative, in the sense that they're building on work NASA did. That's not really an issue, since like I said, commercial's strength is optimisation of existing systems and possibly even cheaper DD&T of new systems that use conventional technologies (in short, it gets non-cutting edge stuff done cheaper).


Settlements can be rather diverse, so let's put it like this:

Full-blown colonies - not in this or the next century (possibly ever on any celestial body in the solar system).
Small research stations, propellant factories or what have you - costly, but feasible.

In short, if thinking that big colonies are fantasies that shouldn't even be considered for the next dozen of decades, then I guess I'm an "explorer". Although I do think that outposts across various celestial bodies in the solar system are doable and a decent milestone to aim for.

Regarding the space economy, I'd say that if a market for people in space really emerges, it would likely be in the realm of launchers, orbital transportation and generally hauling humans to and from Earth orbit (the Moon at best). Any commercial venture beyond those spheres is a rather big pie in the sky at this point and won't exist unless the government blazes the trail once again. This is precisely why I think NASA should focus on Mars. They figured out and, most importantly I think, demonstrated how to get people to the Moon and back safely. The technology to do that is well established now and that's why we have people thinking about commercializing it somehow. They didn't establish the capability and infrastructure to "go there and stay", but that was not and should not be their primary goal. First and foremost, they are trailblazers for the commercial sector. That's why imo they should get out of the launcher market. If they blaze that trail any further, they'll incinerate the atmosphere. If commercial really can usher in a new golden age of HSF, leave the Moon to them and see if they live up to their claims. It's close and potential resources are being mapped as we speak. All the commercial folks need to do is find a business case (preferably one with the least government involvement as possible), which is something they're supposed to be good at. In the mean time NASA should start figuring out how to expand horizons again. If nothing else, they have the kind of revenue stream that can absorb failed projects and cancellations.


That was a bit of a ramble, but I think Ross expresses the gist of my position in one sentence:

Politics aside (I know, not realistic, but entertain me), I want NASA to be focused on the things commercial operators simply can not do.
^^ Warning! Contains opinions. ^^ 

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #28 on: 03/09/2011 03:44 PM »
As Iceland seems to show, a thriving settlement is possible even in a harsh environment if there's plentiful locally produced energy. If there's any "geothermal" energy on Mars, this could happen.

I'm sure there will be a settlement (or at least a substantial base) within this century on Mars (assuming any kind of progress or growth happens on Earth), though I'm not sure it will be thriving. If there's any kind of technological advancement and economic growth in the coming century anywhere near like what we saw during the 20th Century, all bets are off except the bounds of physics. I'm sure there will be wars and cold wars during the coming century as there was in the past. There will be brilliant leaders in some countries that will arise and do various things that cannot be predicted (some good and some bad), except that austerity will not be an iron-clad rule.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #29 on: 03/09/2011 09:19 PM »
As Iceland seems to show, a thriving settlement is possible even in a harsh environment if there's plentiful locally produced energy. If there's any "geothermal" energy on Mars, this could happen.

I'm sure there will be a settlement (or at least a substantial base) within this century on Mars (assuming any kind of progress or growth happens on Earth), though I'm not sure it will be thriving. If there's any kind of technological advancement and economic growth in the coming century anywhere near like what we saw during the 20th Century, all bets are off except the bounds of physics. I'm sure there will be wars and cold wars during the coming century as there was in the past. There will be brilliant leaders in some countries that will arise and do various things that cannot be predicted (some good and some bad), except that austerity will not be an iron-clad rule.

First of all with nuclear power you can pretty much bring enough energy anywhere to live off of.  Even in space due to it high energy density I believe that it would be economically feasible to power nuclear power plants on Mars with Uranium from Earth.

Assuming we use U-235 with an energy density of 88 million MJ per kg, and a 10% efficiency, and a 1 million dollars per kg transportation cost from Earth to Mars.  It comes out to 45 cents per k-watt hour in transportation cost. 

However if you were to live on Mars you would probably use Uranium that exists there not here as well as build the reactor with materials there.

As practically all spacecraft are now, future settlements will likely use a combination of solar and nuclear power.

Offline Robert Thompson

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Re: Explorers and Settlers: is this why we disagree?
« Reply #30 on: 03/13/2011 04:53 AM »
I thought of adding this several days ago, and did not because it would seem sensational, since there had not been another major event like the Indonesia tsunami or Katrina in some time.

Intensive recycling of water, at the very least, would have emergency applications in cases where a substantial number of people have been evacuated or relocated to a nearby safe spot for some nontrivial duration. The safe spot may have insufficient infrastructure / plumbing / electricity etc for such a particularly large number. But recycled water (pathogen-free, particle-free) in such a situation would be a huge boon to food, hygiene and medical logistics. Humans can survive much longer without food than without water. Instead of trucking in water rations, truck in rehydratables.

Back to the OP: Explorers travel widely to survey exploitables, and sink no costs - just fuel, food, logistics, etc. Settlers sink costs in the locale to properly exploit resources. If local phenomena/disaster strikes, the sunk costs of settlers factor into their decision to remain or start over elsewhere. The mobility afforded by intensive and complete ECLSS will allow settlers many more options in considering whether, how or in what time to recoup sunk costs.

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