Tag Archives: space

Venus

For those who do not believe in hell, I have bad news: you are dead wrong. At any given moment this place is located between 41 million and 258 million kilometres away from Earth. Temperature over there is 462 degrees Celsius and its atmosphere is filled with acid. We call this place Venus.

At first sight Venus does not seem to be an interesting place for space colonists. In this post I will discuss the value of the second planet for future space colonization.

One of the most remarkable features of our twin-sister planet, is her thick atmosphere, (yes, this deserves her very own Wikipedia lemma). Her atmosphere’s main component is carbon dioxide (96.5%), followed by nitrogen (3.5%) and traces of other compounds.  One of these other compounds is sulphuric acid. This mineral acid is very corrosive, but nevertheless it is used in many important industrial processes. Hence the mining of sulphuric acid is quite interesting for space settlers.

Mining sulphuric acid from the atmosphere of Venus is in many aspects quite similar to mining helium 3 from the outer planets. So Venus might be used as a training ground for helium mining on, say, Uranus. Technologies developed for this economic activity can be used in the Outer Solar System, with modest adaptations.

But also Venus’s large nitrogen reserves are quite interesting. Nitrogen is essential for terrestrial life, and it’s one of the basic ingredients of fertilizers. Through the Baber-Bosch process ammonia is produced from nitrogen and hydrogen. And ammonia has, besides the production of fertilizers, many industrial applications.

And what to think of the enormous amount of carbon dioxide on Venus? Carbon dioxide can directly be used for growing crops, which utilize photosynthesis to convert water and carbon dioxide into biomass and oxygen. But these carbon dioxide reserves could also be used to produce graphene and synthetic diamonds. These substances have interesting properties for use in electronics.

In order to produce either graphene or diamonds, one has to reduce carbon dioxide to pure carbon. One way to do this is the Bosch reaction. In this process we let carbon dioxide react with hydrogen gas, the end product is carbon and water. Hydrogen gas has to be imported from outside Venus, but the water can be dumped on Venus itself, since there’s more than enough water in outer space.

At 50 km above the surface of Venus both temperature and atmospheric pressure are similar to those at Earth at sea level. But since carbon dioxide is has higher density than breathable air, the latter would be a lifting gas at Venus. A balloon, also known as aerostats, filled with air would float in the atmosphere of Venus. We can use such aerostats as a platform for our mining operations, and even as the site for processing the collected gases.

Though Venus herself is not suitable for colonization, her atmosphere is full of valuable resources for space settlements and their inhabitants. The greatest challenge to any mining activity in the atmosphere of Venus, is her relatively high escape velocity, which is slightly less than Earth’s.

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

Exogenesis and Space colonization

Reading this post, I was reminded to the concept of exogenesis. No, this is not a combination of exodus and genesis, rather it is a scientific hypothesis about the origin of life. Basically exogenesis is the idea that life on Earth has extraterrestrial origins, in this the concept is similar to panspermia.

Panspermia and exogenesis have a subtle difference, although some consider exogenesis as a particular type of panspermia. As originally proposed by Fred Hoyle, panspermia is the idea that life in some primitive form has always existed. At some point in the distant past, some of these life-forms has landed on Earth. This is, however, no alternative for evolution by natural selection, rather it’s the rejection of abiogenesis. More recent versions of panspermia, state that life is transferred from one planet to another.

Exogenesis on the other hand, is the idea that either life has come into existence in outer space or that at least, certain necessary chemical compounds for life has originated in space. Subsequently, some of these life-forms or compounds has arrived on Earth, thereafter they evolved to terrestrial life. In short, exogenesis places abiogenesis outside our planet instead of rejecting it completely.

There are several arguments in favour of exogenesis. Some scientists believe that organic compounds can be formed more easily is three dimensionally at high velocities in outer space than on Earth. A more empirically argument is the detection of organic compound in interstellar clouds.

If exogenesis is true, then Space colonization is in fact about the return of life to where it came from. Or more poetically, we might say that the seeds of life came from outer space and needed to be planted in a suitable womb, the Earth, in order to develop. Now the time has come that Life has to been born and to expand over the Galaxy.

See also:

UFOs from our own Solar System?

On the Ethics of Colonizing Mars and Space

Both the colonization of Mars and Space colonization has ethical concerns. In this post we will discuss some of the more important issues.

Possible Life on Mars

Similarly, nobody really mourns for those who do not exist on Mars, feeling sorry for potential such beings that they cannot enjoy life.

David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been. The Harm of Coming into Existence. 2006.

One of the arguments against colonizing Mars is concern for possible Martian lifeforms. Some people argue that introducing terrestrial life to the Red planet, would be bad for native Martian life. Most scientists believe that, if Martian life (still) exists, it will most likely consist of bacteria or similar organisms.

The question we should ask ourselves is whether such Martian bacteria has any moral standing. According to English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, beings have moral standing if they can suffer. Bentham’s student John Stuart Mill, has introduced another important principle in moral philosophy, the harm principle. According to this principle our liberty is limited by the liberty of others; we may do what we wish as long as we do not harm other beings.

If we combine Bentham’s axiom of suffering with Mill’s harm principle, we can conclude the following: we may not beings who have the ability to suffer. As far as we know, bacteria cannot suffer, therefore they have, according to Bentham, no moral standing. For this reason we cannot conclude that bringing terrestrial lifeforms to Mars is immoral, because native Martian life might became extinct.

A related argument is that if terrestrial lifeforms are introduced to Mars, the original lifeforms cannot be distinguished from the introduced ones. This would interfere with scientific research to life on Mars. Although this might be regrettable, we might ask ourselves whether this would outweigh the benefits which colonizing Mars would offer to humanity.

A third concerned with the possibility of Martian bacteria is the health risk for colonists. This fear is understandable, however it is quite unlikely. Infectious diseases are generally limited to certain organisms. So is HIV dangerous for cats, apes and humans, whilst crocodiles are immune for it. Because parasites are adapted to a certain host organism, they cannot infect other organisms. (This also implies that all stories about fighting alien invaders with biological warfare are implausible.)

Of course, there is one caveat to this reasoning. Martian microbes might be poisonous to us.

Environmental impact on Earth

Another concern regarding space colonization, is the environmental impact of rockets. This is a serious problem, the pollution due to launching rockets into space do damage to our atmosphere. This pollution has all kinds of harmful effects to people, not the least to public health. The harm principle dictates that we should reduce the impact of rockets.

The precise environmental impact of a rocket depends on its type, especially on the kind of fuel used. Many rockets use poisonous fuels such as hydrazine, a hydrogen-nitrogen compound. By burning hydrazine both water (H2O) and nitrogen n-oxides  are produced, especially the latter is problematic since they are one of the causes of acid rain.

Hydrogen rockets, which produce water vapour as exhaust, are the most environment-friendly type of chemical rocket. Although there some technical difficulties with managing hydrogen rockets, the space shuttle program has shown that these can be overcome. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas, in fact one of the strongest, however this gas also stays in the atmosphere for a short time.

On the other hand, space colonization will also solve some environmental problems. For instance, asteroid mining would eliminate the need for mining on Earth. And mining is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation.

The costs of space colonization

Space-flight is expensive and so is space colonization. Therefore some people argue that given the large amount of poverty in the world, it is wrong to spend billions of dollars to a space colonization programs. However, these people are unaware that space colonization might be a solution for the problem of poverty.

The Solar System contains a lot of resources, so much that John Lewis has calculated that an equal distribution of these resources, would give every human on Earth a 100 billion dollars, which is much more than Bill Gates’ net wealth. Of course, this is somewhat extreme and this calculation is based on current prices of resources. When asteroid mining will increase the supply of this resources, their prices will fall. However, this price fall is not bad, since materials will become cheaper and so will the general price level. In this manner poor people can do more with their money.

Further, space colonization might increase employment, both in Space and on Earth, by creating all kinds of jobs. Even if the direct employment as result of space colonization will be limited, there is also the possible increase of indirect employment. Employees in the space industry will demand all kind of goods and services, which will create many more jobs etcetera.

Conclusion

Space colonization faces several difficult ethical question, however, it is also a potential solution for some ethical problems such as environmental damage and poverty.

UFOs from our own Solar System?

Introduction

A few years ago I found an interesting article by Gregory Lee Matloff: The Reenchantment of the Solar System: A Proposed Search for Local ET’s. In this very speculative article Matloff argues for the possibility that intelligent extraterrestrials may have colonised our Solar System already. This hypothesis may have serious consequences for the humanization of Space. First we will discuss how plausible Matloff’s hypothesis really is, then we will discuss the possible consequences.

Dr. Matloff argues that extraterrestrial space ships may have crossed interstellar space and may have arrived in our Solar System in a distant past. These local ET’s might live in artificial worlds that masquerade as natural objects like comets. Subsequently he describes two types of civilisations that might be interested in migrating to other star systems than their. This might be a nice subject of a science fiction novel, however his description is nothing but speculation (I would say mostly garbage).

Plausibility

Whether Matloff’s typology makes any sense, is quite irrelevant as long as we can imagine any group of intelligent extraterrestrials with whatsoever motivation to leave their own star system and to cross interstellar space for a few thousand years. The main question is whether such migration is feasible from a technological perspective. Therefore Matloff discusses several suggested propulsion systems. Some of them are simply impossible, such as hyperdrive. Others are not feasible (yet), such as the Bussard ramjet or antimatter rockets. Since we do not know whether any of these system will work in practice we cannot assume that extraterrestrials has developed them.

However, there proposed propulsion systems which are feasible now. Matloff mentions fusion pulse propulsion and Solar sails. They are feasible because they can be build with present day technology, so we can reasonably sure that more advanced extraterrestrials would be able to handle these systems. So if there is civilisation with at least our level technology, they would be able to leave their stellar system and to cross interstellar space.

The next variable we have to consider is whether they can sustain themselves during the voyage, which will take several thousands of years. In theory a civilisation slightly more advanced than ours should be able to build a generation ship. The main problem on such ship would be an adequate energy supply, all other stuff could be recycled if enough energy is available. Nuclear fusion seems to me as the most likely source of energy for such ship, since a relatively small amount of hydrogen will be required annually and could be collected en route.

Another possibility would be sleeper ships, in which the crew is in suspended animation. Or our ET’s could live for several centuries. And if they can travel at near light speed, time dilatation will enormously reduce travel time for the crew. From our perspective their trip would take several thousands of year, but for the immigrants only a few decades.

Therefore it would be possible for a group of extraterrestrial nomads to cross interstellar space. And there so no reason why it couldn’t have happened. As yet we have no evidence for the presence of any extraterrestrial intelligence in our Solar System. But the absence is no evidence of absence, after all it is easier to proof something does exists than to proof that something does not exist (the best way to prove a negative, is to prove something cannot exist).

Detecting ETs in our Solar System

So if ET’s are in our own Solar System, where do we have to look? Matloff’s answer: in the Oort cloud and the Kuiper belt, because these are the outer layers of the Solar System. Any “invader” has to pass them, and since these outer regions contains millions of minor Solar System objects, it would be a nice place to settle down.

If intelligent extraterrestrials has settled the Kuiper belt or Oort cloud, how can we detect them? Especially if they, as has been suggested by Matloff, have disguised their habitat as natural objects. If this would be the case, then it would be a hard job to find them with optical telescopes. However, Matloff has pointed out that these habitats should have an internal temperature several hundred degrees centigrade higher than their environment. (The temperature in the Outskirts of the Solar System is in order of -200 degrees centigrade.) Therefore these world should emit more infrared radiation than we should expect from a natural object in that part of the Solar System.

Fermi Paradox

By scanning the skies for objects with unusual high infrared emissions, we might detect potential alien hide outs. But if intelligent ET’s has already colonised our Solar System, we might wonder why they have not visited us already? This is the so-called Fermi-paradox. One of the traditional replies to this questions, is that aliens would have to travel several light years just to visit us, which would take several hundreds of years for them to complete. Such investment for satisfying a curious interest would not justifiable.

But the Fermi paradox becomes much more relevant, if we assume that intelligent ET’s might live in our Solar System. However, there a few simply explanations. The first one is the most simple one: the simply do not know about our existence. This might seem quite strange to most people, but it is a very reasonable option. Many people would be tempted to think that aliens living in our Solar System cannot possibly miss our planet. However, this would be a kind of what I would call psychological geocentrism. The planet Uranus is larger than our planet and it is much closer to us than Pluto, one of the innermost Kuiper belt objects, and we were not able to discover this particular planet until the invention of the telescope.

For this reason, we cannot assume that intelligent beings who have immigrated from other stellar systems might have discovered Earth. It is quite reasonable that they have never been in the inner Solar System. Why? That is because it cost more energy to through something to the Sun, than out of the Solar System. So unless they have a strong reason to explore the inner Solar System, they would stay in the outskirts.

If they should have discovered Earth, some thousands of years ago if not longer, then they might have visited our planet in a distant past. However if it was some fifty thousand years ago, they might have concluded that our planet contained our planet contained some primitive life. Recall that fifty thousand years ago, there were only a few ten thousand humans on Earth, and their effect on the biosphere was negligible. In this case the aliens might have concluded that our planet was not quite interesting and they have ignored us since.

UFOs

If either of both scenarios would be true, this might solve another problem. Reported sightings of UFOs have only been made since the 1940s. So if Earth would regularly be visited by aliens, why are there no reports of those visits from before the twentieth century? If you live at more than a few astronomical units away from our planet, it is a hard job to detect whether there is intelligent life. At least that was the case until the early 1900s, when started to use Radio waves for communication.

Since man-made Radio waves leave our planet in all directions. Some of these waves might have been detected by intelligent ETs living in Outskirts of our Solar system. Unlike aliens living at distant star systems, these aliens might travel to Earth within a few years. Before we started to emit artificial radio waves, those aliens had simply no reason to visit us.

However, when the learned that there was a sudden outburst in radio waves from the center of the Solar System, this might have caused some worry among them. Whether it would be a natural phenomenon or the sign of intelligent life, this is a potential danger for their existence. So these aliens might have decided to start a mission to check out this sudden spectral emission.

Of course, this hypothesis is no prove that UFOs are indeed alien spacecraft. Most reported sightings of UFOs are misidentified natural phenomena such as birds, planets, aircraft etcetera or outright lies. There are only a very few genuine reports of unidentified flying objects. The idea that intelligent life might live in the outskirts of the Solar system, is only a possible explanation for some UFO sightings.

Consequences for Space colonies

If there are intelligent extraterrestrials in our own Solar System, this would have serious consequences for any Space settlement. These aliens might be hostile, and they might have the means to destroy space habitats. It’s impossible to know their attitude to us, until we have discovered them, which might be too late. Therefore Space colonists should be prepared to deal with this possibility.

If these aliens exist, they are likely technologically more advanced than us. Therefore governments of Space communities should develop adequate strategies for dealing with potential hostile intelligent ETs. Although we hear from time to time, that governments are designing plans to deal with the threat of an alien invasion, we seriously doubt the soundness of such plans. The problem is that such plan might be based on false assumptions, and we cannot be sure whether their developers know what they are dealing with. Our impression is that all talk of such plans is just propaganda for the general public, in order to prevent panic.

However it’s also possible, that those aliens will choose to be as quiet as possible in order to prevent their discovery. They might choose to leave the inner Solar System to us, just for keeping the peace. This would depend on the state of their military and their moral dispositions.

Space colonization and survivalism

One of the major arguments used by advocates of space colonization is the survivalist argument. This argument states that Space colonization is necessary to prevent the extinction of the human species. However, we of Republic of Langrangia do not endorse this particular argument.

Before we can continue, we should emphasis the distinction between the survivalist argument and the environmental  or demographic argument. The latter argument states that Space colonization is necessary to solve our ecological problems due to human population. By moving (large) parts of mankind into Outer Space we will reduce the pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystem.

The existence of the human species on Earth is subject to several threats, such as supervolcanoes and asteroid impacts.  However the question is whether the extinction of our species in itself is a bad thing. According to the South-African philosopher David Benatar have people no duty to procreation because people who have never existed cannot be harmed by their non-existence (Benatar p. 30-40, 2006), subsequently the eventual extinction of homo sapiens as such cannot be not a bad thing.

Measures taken to protect human life shouldn’t be made for the sake of the prevention of human extinction, but only to save the lives of currently existing people. Since only a relatively small portion of humanity can be moved into Outer Space, Space colonization fails as a method to save people’s lives in case of an extinction event, in which billions will still die.

The survivalist argument is a particular weak argument for Space colonization. Although it might have a high emotional “value”, it is philosophically suspect. Therefore we believe that Space advocates should rely on arguments which emphasize the benefits of Space colonization for currently existing people.

References

Benatar, David 2006. Better Never to Have Been. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Pandeism as the core of future Spacer religion?

As you probably already know, Republic of Lagrangia endorses secularism. However this doesn’t prevent us from speculating what form the religion(s) of the future will take. Most prospective Space settlers or Spacers, will likely be quite scientifically mended and will therefore accept scientific facts like the big bang and evolution. However many people, even if they fully accept modern cosmology and biology, will still feel uncomfortable without some sense of divinity.

Many people make great difficulties with combining their acceptance of modern science with some kind of religion. One of these attempts has been made by Bernard Haisch in his book The God Theory. According to his theory, god created the universe by becoming the universe. Haisch’s theory is in fact a kind op pandeism, according to Wikipedia pandeism is:

Pandeism (or pan-deism) combines aspects of pantheism and deism. It holds that the creator of the universe actually became the universe, and so ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity.[1][2][3] Pandeism is proposed to explain as to deism why God would create a universe and then abandon it,[4] and as to pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.

Since this theological position is fully compatible with modern science, pandeism might become popular among Spacers with religious inclination living in a highly secular society. Although pandeism in itself is no religion, it might help people to deal with their psychological need for some spirituality without giving up their believe in science.

Why we still need cash

A few years ago economist Willem Buiter proposed to abolish cash money. He argues that with modern technology, such as debit cards, we do not need cash any longer and that only criminals have an interest in maintaining cash. Although he might be right, Buiter overlooks one key aspect.

The problem with electronic systems is that they vulnerable for Solar flares, a sudden outburst of charged particles from the Sun. The nasty thing with Solar flares is their capacity to destroy electronic equipment. So if your computer is hit by such flare, all your data will be lost for ever.

From RationalWiki we have the following quote regarding bitcoins:

There is also the matter of built-in deflation. As more and more bitcoins get mined, it requires more and more processing power to mine new ones. Also, if your wallet file is deleted, your bitcoins are gone for good.

So if a Solar flare hits the earth or a Space habitat, and all computers are robbed of their data, a cashless economy will lose all its money. However, electromagnetic storms cannot destroy cash, therefore it would be wise to keep at least a part of our money in the form of cash.

Space colonization and vegetarianism

In a previous post we critically reviewed Elon Musk’s Mars colony plans and we mostly destroyed his idea. However, there is one good aspect to Musk’s plan. According to this article, Musk’s colony would be an all-vegetarian society. The question is, of course, why does Elon Musk want a vegetarians-only? [For the purpose of this post we will consider vegans as a subcategory of vegetarians.] Continue reading Space colonization and vegetarianism

Mars One and the Olympic games

Bas Lansdorp, the founder and director of “Mars One”, thinks that it will be possible to fund a manned mission to Mars through a reality soap. In order to defend this Mr. Lansdorp is tireless in referring to the Olympic Games. However Mr. Lansdorp ignores the financial reality of the Olympic Games.

If you are seeking an opportunity to invest your money, the Olympic Games are a very, very bad choice. According to The Guardian the estimated costs of the 2012 Olympics were at least 11 billion pounds, and according to Wikipedia the 2012 Olympic had no net loss OR profit. The article also shows that most OGs since 1976 were break even, or had a profit of a few million USD.

Of course, we aren’t sure how reliable these figures are, but these and other data suggest that the Olympics have a very low or negative return on investment. The reason why we are sceptical in regard of the figures of the costs/profits of the Olympics is that both politicians and the IOC have interest to lie about the real costs of the Olympics.

The truth is that the IOC is able to run “profits” from the games, whilst all costs resulting of the externalities caused by the Olympics are shifted to the government. All great part of the costs of the games are hidden, indirect costs. These are often hard to estimate and easy to keep out of the books. And more importantly the IOC never takes responsibility for them.

When Mr. Lansdorp is referring to the Olympics, he takes great risks. More and more people are realising that the Olympics are, financially speaking, a huge scam, where the IOC takes all earning, whilst shifting all costs to the taxpayer. By associating himself with ruthless criminals, he gives not only the Mars movement but the general Space movement a bad name.

See also our post Mars One for a critical review of Mr. Lansdorp Mars program.