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.

Some thoughts on terraforming

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on October 22, 2011

Terraforming is a recurring idea in both science fiction and real proposals for space colonization. In the latter it is often seen as a logical next step after initial settlements on other planets. Actually there are in space colonization theory two different approaches: 1. colonization of celestial bodies (moons, planets and so on) and 2. using space habitats (free-floating space stations intended for permanent settlements).

Terraforming is, of course, part of the first approach. For some reason approach 1 is the most dominant and best known version of space colonization in both science fiction and public knowledge. We of Republic of Lagrange are, however, supporters of approach 2, which we’ll discuss in an other post.

Terraforming is seen by some planetary chauvinists as the ultimate goal of space colonization. But we want to discuss some issues related to terraforming.

The most important problem of terraforming is the rather small amount of planets or other bodies in our solar system which can be terraformed. Actually only two bodies can be terraformed: Venus and Mars. All other proposed candidates for terraforming have too less mass, to maintain an atmosphere. Although the scientific study of terraforming started with Venus, most likely candidate for terraforming is Mars.

A problem with Mars, and to a lesser degree also with Venus, is that Mars is a lot smaller than Earth. Therefore Mars’ total surface area equals Earth’s total dry land area. Calculations show that if Mars is changed into a blue planet approximately half of its surface will be covered with a two kilometer deep ocean, and so reducing the potential area for settlements. If we use Earth’s current population density, this gave living space for some three billion people, that sounds a lot (and it is), but if future space civilization grows to a multiple tens of billions people, the combined surface area of Earth and Mars, whether or not terraformed, is much too less.

The same problem also goes up for Venus, although this planet has some ninety percent of Earth’s total surface area (both land and water). But in order to remove the thick and carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere, some propose to introduce large amounts of hydrogen into the Venusian atmosphere where it should react with CO2 to water and oxygen. However this would cause a Venusian ocean which covers eighty percent of the planet’s surface, with a depth of some hundred meters. A quick calculation the remaining surface will provide Lebensraum for some 4.7 billion people (assuming current terrestrial population density).

Our preliminary conclusion has to be that terraforming only offers a limited amount of land for space colonists. We have to terraform both planets in order to allow a doubling of Earth’s population (at current density).

But is far from the only problem of terraforming, in both cases the total costs will be enormous, Mars will probably be cheaper than Venus, since the former is easier to terraform. And in both cases it will take centuries before the process is completed.

So the question is whether we should go for terraforming Mars and Venus? Honestly, I think we shouldn’t. In each case we need to move vast amounts of resources through the solar system. We could make better use of those materials than for wasting them in terraforming. Free space habitats are cheaper, faster to realize and easier to move. And resources in the solar system allow space habitats to increase mankind’s living space with a factor thousand.

Why colonising the Sun-Earth Lagrange points?

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on June 6, 2012

In this post I will provide more clarity about our position that man should colonize the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system (in this post I simply use the term Lagrange point in order to refer to these).

In two earlier posts I discussed the arguments the colonization of the moon and Mars. Contrary to what most people tend to believe, many space colonization advocates do not support the colonization of these two particular objects. Why? First concern is gravity, in order to stay healthy people need gravity. And since we know that the Moon’s gravity is far too low, and that of Mars is also likely too low, it would be a better idea to use man-made structures, known as space habitats, which provide artificial gravity through rotation.

But gravity is not the only objection for the colonization of objects, one of the most important issues is natural resources. The Moon lacks many resources essential for life, especially hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. The Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), however, are expected to posses nearly all elements we need to maintain a high-tech civilization and also easier to reach in terms of energy consumption (for a more detailed discussion see here).

Energy consumption and energy efficiency are very important issues. Since the Lagrange points require less energy to reach than the Moon, it also mean that it would require less fuel to launch a space craft. Less fuel, means less costs. This also implies that returning valuable resources to Earth, will out compete lunar mining activities. Therefore an asteroidal colony has a greater economic viability than a lunar colony in the long run.

Another concern is less technical, but probably more important, is politics. Since the Moon is generally considered to belong to all humans, setting up a lunar colony and mining operations is very likely to become subject of much controversy. Although it’s technically true that this whole common heritage of mankind bullshit, also applies to asteroids, but I expect that most people will not get any strong feelings about a bunch of mere rocks.

Although most NEAs are not located at the Lagrange points, they can easily be reached from there. Further some planetary scientists that so-called Earth trojans might exist, until now the existence of only one such object has been confirmed, see here for more. Some space advocates propose bring NEAs into earth orbit. I don’t believe this will be a good idea, due to the increased risks an asteroid impact, but it could be a nice idea to bring some valuable asteroids to the Lagrange points, if there are no usable Earth trojans.

Although the Lagrange points are easier to reach in terms of energy consumption, the distance between them and the earth is still huge and as a result travel time is in the order of months instead of days in case of the Moon. This both an advantage as a disadvantage, the latter no need an explanation, but the former does. In case of a conflict with one of the major terrestrial powers, a sovereign moon colony will be an easy prey for a military intervention, while Lagrange point colonies are able to detect such mission months in advance and thus they will be able to act accordingly. Particle beam weapons will made it possible to destroy a hostile space craft within hours after detection, without the need of launching an interception missile. So we can conclude that colonies based at the Lagrange points can more easily obtain and maintain their political independence than any lunar colony.

Colonization of Mars

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on February 3, 2012

In this post I will discuss the pros and cons of the colonization of Mars.

The colonization of Mars is considered by some as the holy grail of human space exploration. Since the end of the second World War many plan for manned missions to Mars are proposed and also the possibility to establish permanent human settlements on the Red Planet is regularly discussed by Space enthusiasts.

Until the 1970s the Moon and Mars were the logical locations for the first human colonies in our Solar System. Because both celestial bodies are relatively easy to reach (a manned mission to other solar systems would take several thousands years with current technology). But at the end of the 1960s scientists like Gerard O’Neill started to explore the possibilities of free space habitats and their designs gave way to a new approach to Space colonization.

The main problem with the colonization of both the Moon as Mars, is the small gravitation of these bodies. Especially in case of the Moon, this would give serious problems for human health, however it is currently unknown of Mars’ gravity would be sufficient for humans. In space habitats the problem of low gravity is solved by centrifugation.

O’Neill e.a. proposed to use lunar and asteroidal resources to build space habitats. The advantage of this is that both the Moon as asteroids have a low escape velocity compared to Earth, while Mars’ escape velocity is roughly half Earth’s. This is one, among many others, reason why we of Republic of Lagrangia are in favor building space habitats in the Lagrange points of the Sun-Earth system.

Although manned Mars missions are a recurrent theme, no such mission has been undertaken. Main reason for this is (shortsighted) politics, not science and technology. Actually it is estimated that the US government has wasted a few times more money in Iraq and Afghanistan, than the price of a manned mission to our Red Neighbor.

But we have to ask ourselves if despite the abundant, and therefore cheap, recourses of the Near Earth Asteroids, there is potential for colonizing Mars. First I would say that regardless of any advantage of space habitats over Mars, there will be people who want to settle on the Red planet, simply because of planetary chauvinism. But there is a good reason for colonizing Mars, I will discuss them later in this post.

From a technical point of view colonization of Mars, is not that difficult (the biggest problem with any manned mission is the trip itself). Actually, one can argue that Mars is easier to settle than the Moon. As Zubrin argues in this article Mars possesses all the elements necessary for human civilization. Therefore Martian colonists will not dependent on importation from Earth as much as Lunar colonists.

Main problem with populating the Red planet, is establishing habitats in which people can function in a normal way. Well one can make domed cities by using Martian made glass or plastic. Another solution is building subsurface structures. In both cases the habitats will be filled with breathable air.

If we have livable habitats on Mars, than the next big problem is power supply. For the colonization of Mars there are essentially two sources of energy: nuclear and solar power. Since Mars is farther away from the sun, it reserves only 42 percent of the amount of solar as Earth.

Deposits with relatively high concentration of thorium and uranium should exist on Mars. These elements can be used for Martian fission reactors, further Zubrin states that the percentage of deuterium is five times higher than on Earth (mainly because deuterium is heavier than normal hydrogen, and therefore possesses a higher boiling point). This can be used as fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. Both fission and fusion power not only produce electricity, but also provide colonists with heath for their habitats.

Although Mars only receives half as much solar power than Earth, solar power is the most promising candidate for powering Martian colonies. Since our planet receives every hour more energy, than the annual global energy consumption, we can safely assume that solar power is able to provide enough energy for Mars.

By solar power most people will think of large parts of Mars covered with solar arrays, however it will be more efficient to build solar power satellites in orbit around Mars. In orbit SPSs will receive sun light nearly continuously and the can be made arbitrarily large. Further, by beaming the harvested energy through high intensity microwaves, less Martian surface is needed for power generation.

Since the escape velocity of Mars is roughly half Earth’s, it doesn’t make sense to build SPSs from Martian resources. In the 1970s it was proposed to construct SPSs for use in near earth space from lunar material, in order to circumvent high launching costs from Earth. Happily there several small bodies in near Mars space: first have the two moons of Mars, which are believed to be captured asteroids. And there are also Mars trojans, a family of asteroids orbiting the L4 and L5 points of Sun-Mars system.

The moons and trojans can not only provide resources for SPSs, but can also deliver huge amounts of volatiles for Martian and other Space colonists.

Despite the technical feasibility of the colonization of Mars, he have to ask why we should do it. In this article, Eric Drexler provide several arguments against the colonization of Mars. In essence the main contra argument is that Mars has a too high escape velocity to be competitive with asteroidal mining schemes. And since mining would be the prime motive for Martian settlement, this seems to be the end the Martian Dream. Due the relatively large travel time between Earth and Mars, tourism is unlikely to become a big drive settling the red planet. For the space tourist industry Lunar colonies are more attractive, since the Moon can be reached in just a few days.

However there is one reason for colonizing Mars worth to be considered, Zubrin argues that Mars could produce food for colonies in the Asteroid belt. Crops can easily be grown on the red planet. We have only the build greenhouses and launch sites. Question is whether this should be necessary. Assuming that the first settlers in the Asteroid belt are mainly involved in mining, they have to import their food. In order to launch food from Earth to the asteroid belt we need to overcome Earth’s gravity (escape velocity) and we need energy to change from the orbit of the Earth around the Sun to the Belt (delta V). For Mars both the escape velocity as the delta V are lower, so transporting food from Mars to the Belt consumes less energy and is therefore cheaper. However if we assume that before the Belt man will first colonize Near Earth asteroids, we have to consider the possibility of transporting food from them to the Belt. Well, free space habitats have zero escape velocity, while delta V is roughly the same as for transport from Earth.

Despite its technical feasibility, we of Republic of Lagrangia believe that colonizing our Red Neighbor should only happen, if ever, after the colonization of the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system.

Further reading:

http://www.nss.org/settlement/mars/zubrin-colonize.html

http://www.nss.org/settlement/L5news/1984-case.htm

Space colonization and invitro meat

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on January 19, 2012

Even since the time of Gerard K. O’Neill space colonist advocates are concerned on the issue of producing of meat in future space colonies. One of the main concerns is the conversion rate of meat. This means the amount of food which is needed to feed livestock to produce an amount of meat, e.g. the conversion rate for cattle is 10:1, which means 10 kg of food is needed to produce 1 kg of beef.

Anyone would know that agricultural space is a precious commodity in space settlements, especially in the early years. So it’s unlikely that in the first years of space colonization there will be a native meat industry. But the cost of importation of meat, even without any kind of tariffs, will be prohibitive high. And due to our preferred location in the Sun-Earth’s L4/L5 points, it will take months before a cargo meat will arrive from Earth to our colonies.

A possible solution for this problem are the use of plant protein based meat analogues. In recent years meat analogues are rather good in mimicking real meat products, so good that is sometimes hard to distinguish from real meat. Another solution is in vitro meat, in this process animal tissue is cultured in the lab. The main advantage of this is that it is a lot easier to transported (deep frozen) samples of tissue of several kinds of animals to distant space colonies than entire herds of animals.

Another advantage of in vitro meat is that it offers the possibility of a broad range of kinds of meat to choose from. Furthermore the technology used can also be applied for medical purposes. Therefore we can conclude that in vitro meat is a valuable technology to be developed by Space colonists.

See also: http://www.new-harvest.org/img/files/Invitro.pdf

Molecular farming and Space colonization

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on October 22, 2011

Here on Earth, many people are fearing the risk of contamination of genetic engineered crops. But in space there is no risk of contamination of terrestrial crops, by their genetically engineered counter parts. And this provides space colonies an economic advantage.

While it is likely that here on Earth governments will put (irrational) restrictions on genetic engineering, Spacer governments can introduce more liberal legislation on trans gene crops. This mean that space colonies can engage in molecular farming, and that they can export the compounds of therapeutic value to Earth.

This scheme is lucrative if terrestrial governments continue to block or restrict the growing of pharmaceutical crops. Since pharmaceutical molecules have a rather high value per unit mass, exporting those can be very profitable, while back on Earth people will oppose their production there.

Time will tell us if molecular farming will be a viable source of revenue for space colonies, but the possibility is there.

On the economy of Space Colonies

This post was originally pubished on blogspot.com on January 19, 2012

In this article, I’ll restrict myself to space colonies in Near Earth space.

Since space colonization cost a huge amount of money, it is necessary that the first space colonies are making profits. For the purpose of this article I’ll assume that space colonies will be financed primarily be issuing corporate bonds at international stock markets. Continue reading On the economy of Space Colonies

Is Helium 3 really the future?

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on February 22, 2012

In another post I have presented arguments against returning to the Moon. Although more and more people are discovering that the prospect of mining Near Earth Asteroids is superior to Lunar mining activities, there are still people, like Newt Gingrich, who believe that humans should establish a base on the Moon. As Eric Drexler argues, returning to the moon is a waste of money. Continue reading Is Helium 3 really the future?

Review of “Statehood in Space” by Phillip Bosshardt

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

Introduction

On the site of the National Space Society I found the following article of interest. In this posting I will provide some critical comments. The article is about statehood in space, which is our ultimate aim. Since the article is composed of five parts, I will present my comments for each part separately. Continue reading Review of “Statehood in Space” by Phillip Bosshardt

For the establishment of secular, liberal, humanist and republican space settlements