Planetary chauvinism

This post was originally posted on blogpot.com on July 31, 2012

In this post I will deal with the subject of planetary chauvinism and more specifically I will explain what planetary chauvinism is and why it is dangerous.

Essentially planetary chauvinism is the idea that human life should be based on the surface of a planet or planet-like object, such as the moon. In several earlier posts I have presented my objections against terraforming, lunar settlement programs and the colonization of Mars. All of these “space” colonization proposals are based on planetary chauvinism.

The origins of planetary chauvinist attitudes are simply based on psychology and ignorance. Many people believe that since humans have always lived on a planetary surface for ever we should do so in the future. Of course this is a logical fallacy, some practices we humans have done for centuries, slavery for instance, are now universally rejected or abolished. The other pillar of planetary chauvinism is ignorance, although many are familiar with space station like mir and the ISS, not very much people seem to know about the designs of space habitats capable of accommodating several thousands of people. Nor are there many people who realize that asteroids instead of planets or the moon are the true treasures of our solar system.

The question is why planetary chauvinism is dangerous. Many so-called “space programs”, regardless whether they are pursued by governments or private parties, are focused  on creating permanent bases on the moon or Mars. Although a lot of people seems to know about the dangers of low gravity on human health, the simple solution, rotating space habits in free space, is almost unknown outside the space advocacy movement. Not only is the low gravity of the moon and Mars a problem, but space habitats are actually cheaper than terraforming Mars, building domed cities on the moon. Why should we waste money on settling other planets, while with less money we can do the same job with free space habitats?

But the main danger of planetary chauvinism is that it will undermine the public support of any future space settlement program. Many ordinary people nowadays associate space colonization with settlements on Mars or on planets in other system. Since most people understand that these projects are costly and will take centuries to complete, they will tend to argue not to spend any money on those projects, regardless whether this is through taxation or private donations.

Planetary chauvinism with its narrow mind undermines the attempts to show the general public the real prospects of space development programs: the utilization of the resources from Near Earth Objects and the creation of space habitats. And by doing so planetary chauvinism is working against any serious space settlement program, therefore it is important to combat planetary chauvinism.

Breakthrough artificial egg cells

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on November 24, 2012

The following article on BBC News describes a new technology to create egg cells, and although this technology currently only works for mice, I think this is an important development. In this post I will discuss why discoveries like this one are important for space colonization programs. In an earlier post I discussed some applications for artificial reproduction in space colonization.

My main point in that post was the need of a large gene pole. A low degree of genetic diversity will lead to inbreeding, which is usually associated with increased risk of genetic disorders. Unless we will apply strict genetic screening of immigrants, space populations will likely only exist for some generations. Even with genetic screening, we have the problem that most people are carriers of a few defect genes. The only way to solve the problem of a small gene pool, is to increase diversity. This can be done in two-way: massive immigration or import of human gametes.

Large scale immigration has multiple side issues: from a technical point of view we have to deal with the bottleneck to space, current rocket based space launch systems have limited capacity to send people to space. (We believe that all proposals for non-rocket space launch, are unlikely to developed soon, see also this post.) All best case scenarios predict that only a few hundred people can emigrate to space each year.

Another issue related to mass immigration is social-cultural and political. Space communities will most likely have very restrictive admission policies, and will select only those potential immigrants on whether they have certain desired qualifications and whether they do share the political ideology of a particular space colony. For example a more socialist oriented space colony is not likely to be willing to accept immigrants who are opposed to socialism.

The second solution for increasing genetic diversity is by importing human gametes. Human sperm can easily be collected on Earth, space governments could offer reasonable cash amounts to men in return of their sperm. Once collected, sperm is easily stored and transported, one launch could easily carry the sperm of several thousand males. The collection of human egg cells is much more difficult, eggs or ovary tissue can only be collected through surgery. It is clear that buying human eggs is much more expensive than human sperm, we have now also to pay for the surgery.

However this problem would be solved if we would be able to make egg cells from skin tissue, which can be collected in almost every reasonable hospital in the world. The procedure of collecting skin tissue is much less intrusive for women. Tissue cultures are just like sperm samples easy to store and transport into outer space.

Sperm donation and artificial egg cells will make it possible for Space communities to develop gene banks with high genetic diversity without the difficulties arising from (mass) immigration.

More:

Artificial sperm is also possible http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14404183

Why rockets are necessary for Space Colonization

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on May 11, 2012

In this posting I will argue why we should stick with chemical rockets for our program of space colonization.

Many proponents of space colonization are in favour of several types of non rocket space launch. Most commonly proposed are space elevators and projectile launchers, their advocates favor these because they believe that is launch methods will lower the costs of launching objects into orbit (and beyond). At this moment it costs us$10,000 to us$25,000  per kilogram to launch something into space (Wikipedia, see here) and its argued that the minimum energy required for space launch is much less than with rockets and so it would, in theory, to lower the costs of space launch (the Wikipedia article don’t show any explanation for this claim, so I am somewhat skeptical about it).

Although multiple launch schemes are proposed in the past, however no one, save for chemical rockets, has actually proven to be successful. Yes, there have been a multiple test of several proposed systems, but none of them has ever launched anything in space. Chemical rockets are proven technology, quite easy to build. This will lower our development costs, this is very important if we want to start with space colonization as soon as possible. Although the several proposals for non rocket space launch will work in theory, and they may lower launch costs, we cannot know when these methods are ready to use. Here we can compare this with the research on nuclear fusion power, which has started at same time as nuclear fission, but today there are still no commercial fusion power plants (at this moment they are not expected before the 2050s).

If, say, research will show that rail guns are the most efficient method of space launch, but it will take fifty years before this will be operational, then we should not go for it. Why? Because no one will invest in such project if there is no guarantee that it will work, while in the meantime it will not generate any revenue. Unlike in the case of fusion power research, which is funded by governments, we cannot afford to waste our time with developing speculative technology. Many space advocacy groups have lost their credibility because they were not able to come with realistic plans to get started with space development within the next ten to fifteen years. With realistic plans I mean plans that not rely on governmental funding and have clear ideas about generating revenue for repaying investors. In an upcoming post I will present a plan, which I believe will satisfy my criteria. Instead many “space advocacy” groups are wasting their time and their money with lobbying, not very successful if we look at the miserable state of the US space program. Also in an upcoming post I will argue why space tourism will not helpful for space colonization, this because many space advocates believe that space tourism will act as a catalyst for space development.

Since at this moment chemical rockets are the only proven method of space launch and we do not have the time for develop more speculative technologies, we should stick with chemical rockets. Even if could reduce launch costs, we have to take into account development cost and since we cannot predict the actual amount of time and money spent in research, we cannot afford to take this risk. Not that I am against research, but we should devote most of our funds and time for solving the real issues of space colonization, not for reinventing the wheel over and over again. This is actually what NASA is doing, while the Russians are using the same launch system for decades, with several improvements over time.

Rockets are maybe not the most efficient launch system, but at least they work.

Noah’s Ark 2.0

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on April 23, 2012

In our post on meat production in outer space we briefly addressed the problem of transporting herds of animals from Earth to Space colonies. Transporting small animals like dogs and cats, will not a big deal. But larger animals like cattle or horses are much more difficult. The primary problem is with mass, launching a certain mass of payload from the surface of the Earth, cost much more mass of fuel, see Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation. This equation tells us that it will be almost impossible to launch an elephant from Earth to Space colony. Recall that from an orbit around our blue planet to the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system, will only take a little amount of energy and propellant mass.

If we want to bring animals to Space colonies, we should take as little as possible. In theory we should take only a couple, one male and one female, and then breed from them as many as necessary. But there is one big problem with this approach: inbreeding. In order to reduce the negative effects of inbreeding we should increase the number of transported animals, and so increasing transportation costs. There is a simple solution for these dilemma: nowadays sperm and eggs (female gametes) can easily be stored. And by this method a relatively small space craft can transport a large collection of genetic information of several species and multiple individuals of each species. When this cargo of sperm and eggs arrives at the Space colony, scientists can create new embryos by using in vitro fertilization.

You may argue that even if we create embryos we will still need some female of each specie. This is true to a certain degree, yes we need a womb, but this doesn’t need to be one of the same species. Currently scientists are researching interspecific pregnancy, this made it possible to implant, say a horse embryo, into a cow. A potential problem with this technology is as follows: a certain female animal may carry only a young with a smaller than a certain size, for example: a domestic cat cannot give birth to a bovine calf. But even this problem is possibly to solve. We can imagine that some small animal A gives birth to little bigger (at adulthood) animal B, which on her turn can give birth to an ever bigger (at adulthood) animal, etcetera. Of course this procedure will take some time, but it is possibly our only option.

A technologically more advanced solution will be the use of artificial wombs. In theory these can be made of any size, and will allow us even to breed elephants in Outer Space. However, currently is this technology not fully developed, so at this moment interspecific pregnancy is our best option. But if reproductive technology advances artificial wombs will provide us an ideal solution.