Category Archives: technology

Quality of life and Space habitats

Recently there had been some commotion in the Netherlands about the fact that due to increasing speed limits average life span expectations will decrease with 20 days. This is because of so-called particulates produced by burning fossil fuels in cars, and when cars are travelling faster the emission of particulates is increased. Particulates are bad for human health, they can cause cancer and other diseases.

As said above a major source of particulates is road traffic. Since particulates have a negative impact on the quality of life, the governments of space habitats should do anything to reduce the amount of these particulates in the atmospheres of space habitats. Therefore Republic of Lagrangia will prohibit the use of internal combustion engines within any space habitat under its authority.

Advancements in electric vehicle technology will make the use of internal combustion engines obsolete. Breakthroughs in fast charging batteries, but also the invention of ultra-capacitors will remove the biggest obstacle to electric cars: low range and long recharging times. Therefore the prohibition of internal combustion engines will not severely affect people’s freedom of movement or overall economic productivity.

All electricity used in space habitats will be produced by Solar Power Satellites, so there will be neither be any emission of particulates caused by the generation of electricity. We should take advantage from the fact that the atmosphere of space habitats are a closed system, to reduce the number of particulates in space habitats and hence improving quality of life.

See also:

Public transportation in O’Neill cylinders

In vitro blood?

Last month Dutch scientist Mark Post presented the first hamburger made from cultured meat. Today we received the news that the Dutch blood bank group Sanquin, is doing research to produce red blood cells in vitro, also known as erythrocytes.

Just as is the case with in vitro meat induced pluripotent stem cells are used. Only these stem cells aren’t directed to differentiate into muscle tissue, but into red blood cells. The involved researchers motivate this research as follows:

Culturing erythrocytes from immortal induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) potentially solves the donor dependency problem and provides a tool to generate specific low immunogenic erythrocytes. (Sanquin, visited at September 20, 2013).

The production of blood in vitro, called hematopoieses by Sanquin, has several benefits. Blood transfusions have an associated risk for communicable diseases, therefore by using cultured blood instead of donor blood, the transmission of infectious diseases can be eliminated. It also reduce the number of blood donors required.

And this latter benefit is of great importance for space settlers. If as a result of some accident in a space settlement, blood transfusions are needed, in vitro blood might provide this without having to rely on blood transports from Earth. In a small and isolated community, classic collection of blood might prove to be insufficient in some cases. Typically only half a litre of blood is taken from an adult donor at a time, while some surgeries might require several litres of blood.

In vitro blood is just another technological development, which might help us to colonize our Solar System.

Developments in Solar energy technology

The whole idea of space colonization is founded on two facts: the abundance of extraterrestrial mineral resources and the availability of huge amounts of cheap Solar energy. There are basically two approaches to harvest Solar energy for space settlements: photovoltaic cells and solar-thermal power plants. The latter uses the heat from our Sun to heat a fluid, which is used to drive a turbine.

A challenge for photovoltaic arrays, is their efficiency. But there is exciting news from this field, according to The Science Daily, scientists from North Carolina State University have designed a method to increase solar array efficiency up to 45%. This would mean less Solar cells are needed to produce energy.

Practical issues of space colonization: numbers and codes

When we are creating a new society in space, there are a lot of practical issue we have to deal with. Many authors of space colonization tend to ignore those issues, or believe someone else will deal with it. We are happy to be that “someone else”.

Everyday we are dealing with a multitude of numbers, and not only to express quantities. Most of these “numbers” are actually codes or even names, because they identify places, persons, thing etcetera. In this post we will discuss postal codes, telephone numbers and debit card numbers .

Postal codes

We believe, and with us many others, that the advancements in optical character recognition have made the entire idea of postal codes obsolete. Most countries introduced postal codes after the second world war, for a more efficient distribution by making sorting of post easier. Computers can nowadays read most handwritings, and therefore adding a postal code is superfluous.

Introducing postal codes in space settlements is a waste of time and money. Instead an address in a space settlement could be identified as follows: <street> <house number> <city/town> <space habitat><country>.

Given the large distances between space settlements, the most likely methods of communication within a space based society, are email and fax. Therefore the number of mail will be most likely to be very small, another reason against wasting resources for implementing postal codes.

Telephone numbers

Because of the distances in space and associated delay times, telephony is unlikely to become an important method of communication between space settlements. However, it will be important part of intra-settlement communication.

Currently most telephone numbers consist of a string of the decimal numbers, which means that a ten-digit phone number allows for 10 billion possible combination. However, the longer a string of apparently random numbers is, the more difficult it is to memorize it. Therefore we propose to use hexadecimal numbers (0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F)  instead.

A 7-digit hexadecimal number allows for more than a quarter billion combinations, while a decimal phone number of the same length would have only ten million. Therefore hexadecimal phone number can be shorter, and hence easier to memorize.

Debit cards

In order to use a debit card at an ATM or in electric payments, the user need to enter a PIN code. These are often four-digit codes, this length is easy to memorize. But again technological advancements have made this technique obsolete.

Instead of a numerical identification method, we could use biometrics instead. Finger prints and iris patterns are unique. Biometrical data of the costumer can be stored at a debit card, and when (s)he wants to use the card, the iris or fingerprints are checked to those stored at the card. In order to increase security, multi-modal verification could be used (e.g. requiring both fingerprints and iris scans).

The benefits of this method are clear. One cannot, for instance, “forget” his iris or fingerprint. Further the uniqueness of these biometrics makes it virtually impossible to guess to right PIN code by strangers.

See also

Practical issues of space colonization: funerals is space

Space settlements and monetary systems, part 1

Could in vitro meat save the whales?

Animal welfare is an important issue for Republic of Langrangia. How we treat our fellow living beings, is the litmus test of our humanity. One important issue is whaling. During the 20th century commercial whalers almost exterminated many whale species. Until in 1986 the International Whaling Commission put a moratorium on whaling.

Since then there are two camps: one side is for a permanent ban on whaling, arguing that the population of whales is still too small. The other side argues that some species have recovered enough to re-allow limited whaling. Since cetaceans are intelligent animals, we oppose the killing of these animals.

In-vitro meat is a recent scientific breakthrough, which allows people to produce meat in an animal and environmental friendly way. For this method of meat production there’s no need to kill animals, instead stem cells are taken from the animal through a biopsy. One stem cell can, according to the scientists involved, produce up to 10,000 kg of meat, which is in the order of the size of a medium-sized whale.

For research scientists perform regularly biopsies on living whales, and without killing them. Therefore whalers of the future shouldn’t have any trouble with obtaining whale stem cells for the production of in-vitro whale meat.

This approach would solve many issues: first, the IWC can prohibit the killing of whales for ever. Secondly, whalers do not lose their jobs, since they are still needed to collect tissue samples from whales. And consumers can buy whale meat with the knowledge that no whale has been killed and hence that whales will not be hunted to extinction again.


New developments in stem cell research

In our post Breakthrough artificial egg cells we discussed the possibility to create egg cells from skin tissue. In that article we asserted that one of the main advantage of this development is the possibility to avoid surgery to collect egg cells from a woman. However, this procedure still require a biopsy.

But science, especially in the field of stem cell research, is making fast progress. According to the science daily scientists have succeed in harvesting stem cells from urine. The importance of this development is clear, taking urine samples is one of the most convenient medical procedures (from the prospect of the patient/donor).

If scientists can succeed in creating egg cells from urine stem cells, then egg cell donation will become as easy as sperm donation. Since urine samples can be collected everywhere, this also allows to circumvent strict laws against (commercial) egg cell donation which are enacted by some countries.

In my post Alternative for Abortion I discussed Robin Baker’s proposal for a new system of contraception. In this system people are sterilized at young age, while their gametes are stored ex vivo. However, this would involve two invasive medical procedures in case of women. The possibility of creating egg cells from stem cells extracted from urine, will make this system of contraception much more attractive

3D Printed organs: future or fantasy?

The Guardian has published an interesting article about using 3D printers for creating human organs. The idea is quite simple: if you have the required tissue types, the 3D printer is able to print the organ you want. Organs are three-dimensional structures, and because they are standardized, their structure could be stored in a computer file.

Combined with the ongoing developments in stem cell research, this technology might make organ donation obsolete by 2050. This is great news for space colonists, at least if they would need an organ transplant in outer space. If an organ needs to be sent from Earth, it would take months before it arrives at a space settlement in the Earth-Sun’s Lagrange points or in the Asteroid belt. Even if the organ would survive the transport, it might arrive too late for the patient.

See also

3D-Printing, a key technology for humanizing space

Manifesto part 3

3D-printing and space colonization

Good Bye Post Stamps!

Th Dutch Postal Service (PostNL) has introduced a kind of post stamp: digital post stamps. In the Netherlands, people are sending fewer and fewer letters and so fewer people have post stamp in-house. So if you has to send a letter, you need to go a shop to buy an entire sheet of post stamps (the last time I have bought post stamps, has been five years ago or so). It’s not possible to buy single stamps.

However, PostNL has come with a solution. People can now download an app on their cell phone. With this app they can buy a code, instead of putting a stamp you write that code on your letter’s envelope. The code is scant at the post center and recognised as stamp. The code is made up of nine numbers and letters (which gives more than 10 billion combinations, so the chance to guess a valid code are nill).

For those who are able to read Dutch: (If you cannot read Dutch, you can use Google Translate; although this wouldn’t give you a fully correct translation, however it’s mostly understandable).

Smartphones in space

A few days ago I read in my newspaper an article about the use of smart phones in satellites. According to the article, engineers of NASA during a brainstorm session were contemplating that an on board computer of the new generation of small satellites, the smart spheres, should be small, efficient with energy, should have integrated sensors and a usual operating system. The story goes that at a certain moment someone, while the engineers were checking their email on their cell phones, came with the suggestion that modern mobile phones just fit the requirements of said on board computer.

In order to make the smart spheres, of which three are now on board of the ISS, the engineers removed the GSM chip (there is no need that they should be able to make phone calls anyway). The smart ones selected by NASA are based on the android operating system of Google. Because this platform can easily be connected to external components, building a functional satellite is in reach of almost everyone. Another advantage of this approach is that there are tens of thousands people who are android app developers.

The question is whether this “break through” is beneficial for space colonization. The answer is simple: yes. Because smart phones are mass produced, they are relatively cheap. According to the article, the production of the phonestat 2 (a related project, also build around a smart phone computer), costed only 8,000 dollar. Further, this approach is fully in compliance of our policy of using off the shelve components as much as possible. The philosophy behind this policy, is that  by using off the shelve components space colonization will not be only cheaper, it will also be faster. This because we do not have to waste our time be developing every part we need, and why reinventing the wheel over and over again?

Modern smart phones, especially those with an open source  operating system (this also will help to lower costs), will help to make space colonization reality.

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