This material is provided as a public service to support the student Space Settlement Contest. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of NASA or any other government body.
Brother David Steindl-Rast * Info isn't heavy * Planet parenthood * Richard Brautigan * Juvenile space
Peter Warshall * Space virus or child? * Arab Space Program
Anne Norica * Marc Le Brun * Metallurgical paradise *
Biologist, co-founder of The New Alchemy Institute, co-designer of The Ark on Prince Edward Island, Canada
I have a perspective on the proposed space colonies that might be of use in the debate. I am a biological designer and for the past decade have been simulating a variety of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in contained spaces or "capsules." Some of them, like the tropical marine environment which my friends and I set up in a greenhouse at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, were difficult to design. This "tropical" ecosystem was established to house the blennies and gables (fishes) Bill McLarney and I were bringing back from Central America. Such a contained environment had to be designed well enough to permit the little marine fishes to breed, which is not an easy task. Fortunately, we were able to raise several generations in the north and learn something about them as I was interested in their sexual and social communication. We also simulated conditions of a local pond and an inshore marine area for studies of the effects of environmental perturbations on the social organization and behavior of a number of fish species.
From all this we learned that the social behavior of fishes and other animals can often be an extremely sensitive indicator of the health of a contained ecosystem and the highly social creatures have an intrinsic ability to bioassay their own environments. We also discovered that artificial environments were often unpredictable even when established as diverse ecosystems. Occasionally under conditions we did not fully comprehend, a particular algae species began to predominate, producing an antibiotic which killed the green and blue-green algae and a toxin which wiped out the molluscs and fishes. Sometimes an ecosystem became sick and we had to link it back up to the ecosystem from which it was derived originally. During my period at the Oceanographic Institution I didn't know too much about designing or using sub-ecosystems for self-regulation and biopurification, and was highly dependent upon technology. If a circulating pump blew or an air system quit, the next morning brought putrid smelling pools filled with dead animals floating belly-up on the surface.
At New Alchemy we have evolved biological design ideas to create food producing ecosystems seeded with organisms from around the world. They range in size from a tiny Chinese-type polyculture fish-raising system contained in a solar tube in my house to the Ark on Prince Edward Island which is a wind and solar-powered bioshelter containing a living area for people, a research facility, a family-sized food garden and commercial greenhouse and aquaculture components. The Ark, to be completed this summer, will be as close to a contained living space and biological entity as yet exists. It will be dependent upon its living elements.
The Ark on a smaller scale has many of the attributes of a space
colony, with one fundamental difference. Its gaseous, climatic and
biological health is created through its couplings and linkages
with the exterior environment. This fact is important and should be
kept in mind.
After a decade of living intimately with designed ecosystems I am coming to know that nature is the result of several billion years of evolution, and that our understandiny of whole systems is primitive. There are sensitive, unknown and unpredictable ecological regulating mechanisms far beyond the most exotic mathematical formulations of ecologists. When I read of schemes to create living spaces from scratch upon which human lives will be dependent for the air they breathe, for extrinsic protection from pathogens and for biopurification of wastes and food culture, I begin to visualize a titanic-like folly born of an engineering world view. At this point we don't know enough, being totally reliant on knowledge as well as physical subsidies from nature to survive on earth. In space there are no doors to open or neighbouring ecosystems to help correct our mistakes.
At New Alchemy we have established two backyard fish farm-greenhouses for a comparative look at different biological design strategies. Three summers ago both aquaculture ecosystems continuously produced massive blooms of green algae which, in turn, supported fishes as food, as providers of essential gases like oxygen and as detoxifiers of harmful ones like ammonia. Dense blooms, critical to the success of both systems, were maintained with tiny amounts of ground and roasted soybeans, a trick we picked up from a 1922 issue of a biological journal.
Two seasons ago one of the systems would not produce dense algae populations no matter what we did. It was a puzzle. Fish growth was reduced and the system was vulnerable to extremely low oxygen concentrations in the culture component. Some days the fish stuck their heads out of the water in search of a breatheable medium. The adjacent ecosystem housed in a geodesic dome produced excellent algae blooms.
This past growing season both of these backyard fish farms lost their algae blooms as well as their ability to produce oxygen to sustain large, rapidly growing populations of fishes. We had to use a number of management techniques including splashing water and having it flow through beds of oxygenating rooted aquatic plants to sustain these pond ecosystems. The fishes required larger amounts of supplemental feeds to grow. In ecological-economic terms the dilemma was pushing us in the wrong direction. Other systems were producing algae so that we could not explain away our problems as an "Act of God" although it's always tempting to do so.
What was wrong? Three years ago all was well. Then the next season one system failed and the following year so did the other. We started to track down sequential changes which might have been common to both. The explanation or at least partial explanation, illustrates how little we know and bears on the space colony concept. Two years earlier I had planted a small bed of macrophytic or higher aquatic plants in the connected biopurification sub-ecosystem and water lilies in the supplemental food chain sub-ecosystem. The next year others did the same thing in the companion fish culture complex. The year they both produced algae in abundance was the year no higher aquatics were resident in the systems. The disappearance of massive blooms coincided with the introduction of the rooted plants and one or perhaps several of the aquatic plant species produced an antibiotic substance which severely curtailed reproduction of the algae in the fish culture component situated downstream. The antibiotic travelled in the flowing water to the main culture pond.
The higher plants had been placed in the biopurification section to help remove toxins and to provide oxygen for adjacent carbon dioxide producing shell-bacterial filters which have high oxygen demands. They did their job well but elsewhere within the systems the effects were negative. In the future either the higher plants will have to be eliminated, which is unliked, as they serve many critical functions and are used as feeds for the Chinese White Amur fish downstream, or we shall have to break down the antibiotic which inhibit algae reproduction through some as yet unresolved biological means.
I don't mean to overload you with detail, the point being that little is known about chemical competition between higher aquatic plants and specific species of algae. The numbers of combinations of interactions are endless. A number of biologists have studied antibiotic activities between a few algae species in laboratories, but it's all tip of the iceberg stuff.
When one adds the relationships between fish species and algae, the matter becomes more complex and the interactions between the two might have some influence on the biogenesis of oxygen for contained atmospheres. A recent study in Poland by Maria Janusko has demonstrated that the composition and densities of fish species affected both algae production and algae species composition. Bighead Chinese carps, for example, which have a preference for microscopic animals as foods, caused blue-green algae to predominate, while the Silver Chinese carps, which are phytoplankton feeders, resulted in a shift towards the predomination of diatom algae in the experimental lakes. The whole ecology of the lakes was changed by a shift in fish species composition. Here we have a single scarcely understood example of webs that influence not only plant populations but gas production as well. Prediction is almost impossible - but in a space colony where it would be prudent to have the bulk of the oxygen ultimately generated from algae in ponds and carbon dioxide from soil-bacterial complexes, I would consider it unsafe to attempt to simulate liveable enviromnents from our present biological knowledge. Let me elaborate.
A few years ago Howard Odum and Ariel Lugo put together contaminated microcosms (terraria) made up of components of the forest floor in a tropical rain forest. They were seeded with mineral soil, litter, forest floor herbs, algae and small animals to simulate some of the properties of that ecosystem. Most of the capsules were left on the forest floor but others were brought to controlled environment chambers at the Universities of Georgia and North Carolina.
The biotic communities of the terraria varied in the ratio of litter and consumers to plant producers. As a result, the carbon dioxide levels and gaseous equilibria within these contained ecosystems were different.
This is what Odun and Lugo concluded:
This may be an important demonstration of the control of the atmosphere of the planet by the biotic components existing in the system. The physical properties of the atmosphere are a result of biological evolution as much as vice-versa.
In the space colonies the only long-range solution is to create ecosystems which create atmospheres upon which the vital support components, including humans, will depend. I suspect it will take decades or even centuries of seeding and reseeding organisims and varying of ratios of litter, soil, lakes, etc. to achieve a liveable environment. Here on earth our oceans act as a buffer protecting us from rapid and harmful misuses of landscapes . . . but only to a point. In the future we will come to realize the importance of wilderness areas on land as biological regulators of the planet and learn to respect them.
The space colony designers have planned to handle the atmosphere question in a variety of ways. All are highly technical, costly, subject to failure, engineering solutions. Initially, they intend to bring aboard supplies of oxygen-nitrogen mixes. if I understand them correctly. O'Neill (page 13, Fall 1975 CoEvolution Quarterly) stated:
Nitrogen constitutes 79% of our atmosphere on earth, but we do not use it in breathing: to provide an earth normal amount of nitrogen would cost us two ways in space colony construction because structure masses would have to be increased to contain increased pressure, and because nitrogen would have to be imported from earth.
I am not sure how the ecosystems illustrated on page 7 the Quarterly are going to like a nitrogen poor atmosphere. Certainly it would make the creation of ecologically-derived food producing culture systems difficult, and atmospheric nitrogen fixing plants might have a hard time.
O'Neill is more optimistic than I am although he acknowledges that semi-closed-cycle ecology will need prior verification. I think he is off the mark when he states that "Isolation and heat-sterilization can halt any runaway biological subsystem."
A resident population of some 10,000 individuals are going to have a difficult time making it in an area circumscribed within a mile's distance. This whole question of carrying capacity in space has been looked at before, albeit in a cursory fashion. During the hey-day of interest in space exploration (summer 1962) a symposium on the ecological aspects of space biology was convened at Oregon State University. Several ecologists present, including Howard Odum and Jack Myers, argued that space biology was presently confined to rather narrow disciplines tending to be simplistic and reductionistic and that if humanity were to explore space for any length of time we would have to take complex ecosystems with us. They went on to say that systems were elegantly miniaturized and perfected with biocircuits, control functions, repair mechanisms, biopurifiers, gaseous regulators and had integrating abilities far beyond the wildest dreams of electrical engineers. Under regimes of total or overall accounting, including hidden subsidies, ecosystems were also efficient.
At the symposium Robert Beyers described eight artificial aquatic ecosystems conveying the message that balanced steady-state ecosystems indeed could be contained. But his miniature ecosystems were in no way intended to produce end products such as human foods, nor was he trying to prove that the wastes from 10.000 people could be utilized.
Odum went one step further. Being optimistic, he stated that space environments for humans were possible, but he didn't let it go at that. He calculated a free energy budget for a self-maintaining, light supported, closed ecosystem climax (stable state). His discussion which appeared in American Biology Teacher [Vol. 25 (423-443) 1963] is worth reading. He feels that multiple seedings will be required, but that biological support in space can be developed given enough time. His estimates of the size of super ecosystems necessary for stable conditions are based upon his energetics and efficiencies calculations at various levels in the biological realm. The space required to support humans artificially makes one damn respectful of planet earth. He calculated that it would take about 2.5 acres of ecosystems combining water and land to sustain safely one person in a space colony. If my crude estimate of the first colony's potential biotic area of one hundred acres free of structures, machinery, storage and what have you correct, Island One could support 40 people, not the 10,000 proposed by the exponents. If Odum is right that means that the other 9,960 people will have to bring along their own gases, food, and waste disposal units, and even at that they might tragically overload the colony.
I think that when people talk of colonizing space they really don't have any genuine perception of what it will involve. All the present support for space comes from earth and until we learn much, much more about contained ecosystems it will continue to do so. It won't be the kind of knowledge that a crash program of space biology will generate, but the very thinking about ecosystems in space potentially has the ability to move part of biology in the direction the New Alchemists are exploring.
I should like to end by stating my bias. The idea of moving nature into the cosmos is staggering. It may be the ultimate human folly, or it may be life's experiment. In using us to extend itself. I do not believe that we as a species have in any way earned the Right of Passage.
BROTHER DAVID STEINDL-RAST
Benedictine monk, founder of "Houses of Prayer" movement
You've done it again! If the publicity you are giving to O'Neill's idea of space colonies catches on, it could have an impact comparable to those first photographs of Earth from Space. Isn't it fascinating how quickly we moved from recognizing our planet as "Spaceship Earth" to designing an Earth Spaceship?
Let me first tell you what the idea did to me personally. When I picked up this issue of CQ, I was at best moderately interested. When I put it down, I knew that I had read some of the most important information of my lifetime. Here was a challenge. It would not leave me.
In fact, it has been growing on me ever since. Not so much the idea of shipping off our surplus population (that'll take a while and have its problems), but the possibility of tapping a practically inexhaustible source of energy by putting electric power plants in space. That does something to me far beyond its practical implications. It renews my experience of the abundance of nature. Yes, I remember the time when we thought of ocean and atmosphere as inexhaustible. But as we realized the implications of the term Spaceship Earth we ran the risk of thinking small instead of living frugally, which is quite a different thing. O'Neill's invention restores my childhood confidence in Mother Nature. And only now do I realize how important that is for our spiritual wellbeing.
Also, I suddenly find myself looking with different eyes at machines. Anything more complex than a pencil sharpener still makes me feel a bit uneasy. Is it going to break down? If so, I know I won't be able to fix it. Machines just isn't one of my talents. But for the first time the other day I felt something like respect, affection almost, when I watched that computer the teller was consulting at our local bank. After all, down here we can still make do with simple tools, if we are willing to pay the price and live austerely. In Space that's different. And that again is spiritually significant. I had long suspected that simplicity could not be reached by going back, but only by going forward, beyond complexity.
Of course, I see problems, too. One set of problems springs from the fact that we are dealing here with a controlled environment. It must be highly controlled if it is to work. But this entails the double danger of its becoming boring and vulnerable. I don't know enough about the technical aspects to assess the material vulnerability of so complex a system. (I hope it's not too likely that some schoolboy could inadvertently shoot a hole in the vault of the sky with his slingshot, and the air goes out as from a balloon.) The vulnerability I have in mind is of a different sort. When control is necessarily extensive, power accumulates and thus the danger of usurping this power. If scores of people have hijacked airplanes, how about hijacking a little world out there in Space?
Boredom is another shadow following control. How are we gomg to make room for the unpredictable, the wild the surprise, for the untoward even, to save us from boredom? How much architectural variety sprang from the resistance a not fully conquered environment offered in the past. Now, that we can adopt any style we want, will every imitation be tried out? It's bad enough to come upon a Dutch windmill next to the Damascus gate in Jerusalem. I hope this kind of thing and the resulting boredom will be spared us in outer space. How boring, to make a space colony look like an island in the Bahamas or a township in New England! Why not make it look as much as possible like a space colony, and discover what that will be?
Another area of concern may still be connected with control: the inevitably high socialization of a space colony. One has to have lived as a member of a village community (or of a monastery, in fact) to appreciate the impact of social interdependence. Of one thing I am sure: there will have to be a sociological safety valve built into a space colony, a breathing space, a place to be alone for a time. A return trip to Earth might not quite be feasible every time you develop the kind of global cabin fever one must foresee. But there may be room for temporary hermits, say, on that belt of agricultural cylinders. There won't be need for someone to do a little hoeing of those space potatoes, will there? At any rate, monks ought to be able to teach us something in preparation for space colonizing. They have for quite a while experimented with intentional, often self-contained communities, and with the creative tension between cenobitic (communal) and eremitical (solitary) life.
But the sociological aspect of the need for solitude is still not the most important one in this context. There is a spiritual dimension to it. A space colony, even the largest possible one, will entail limitations of a kind we never come to know on earth. Now, there's one aspect of limitation which many people enjoy. It's what we find attractive about a compact car, a snug backpack, a ship where every inch of space is used to advantage. But the other side of limitation is a threat to us: every limitation points to our ultimate limitation, to death. We'll need solitude and silence to come to terms with death. All the more so in a setting where the limitations are too pronounced to hush death up, to gloss over it as we tend to do here. The hermit, as I see it, brings into society the lifegiving energy that flows from a radical confrontation with death. Ask Gerry O'Neill if he needs a starter group of space hermits I think I'd know some volunteers.
Meanwhile, what can one do to help? What a rallying point space colonizing could be for our whole human family! Not because it can be done "without any sacrifice on our own part" as we are promised. The frontier is always an area of sacrifice, and the High Frontier demands higher sacrifices because the stakes are higher. Sacrifices won't scare people off when the cause is inspiring. On the contrary. They'll rise to the challenge.
Suppose you collected - not yet money - only pledges of say, $1,000 per person conditionally. No one has to pay a penny unless and until the pledges add up to the total estimated cost. Only then does everybody pay. You could even make your contributors shareholders in this profitable enterprise. But we better let Mike Phillips work that out. Meanwhile let's make as much noise about space colonies as we can. If Columbus had gotten a little more publicity he wouldn't have been lobbying (a one man lobby) from 1485 to 1492. We can't afford seven years in 1976!
Info isin't heavy
. . . I want to help. Each man sees things in terms of his own craft; as an information system designer it occurs to me the, one element of space colony construction has a very small gravity well transit penalty - this element is information. The available resources in space are energy and materials; the 'cook book' for transforming these into useful artifacts can be sent up from earth at a very modest cost using mature data processing and communications technologies. These technologies are on a rapidly declining cost curve.
Money and Politics
Building space colonies will be a very expensive venture; the break-even point for the investment is at least tens of years in the future. How to get money out of existing governments? A most interesting possibility is linked to disarmament The U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. have given considerable lip service to disarmament and to cooperation in space technology ventures. Here is a chance to get their money where their mouths are. The combined defense budgets of both countries exceed 170 billion dollars per year. O'Neill estimates that the space colonies project could be funded conservatively at 12.7billion dollars per year; about 7% of the defense budgets. Funding a joint space colony project represents an interesting form of disarmament. Verification becomes much simpler - no need to count ICBMs, bombers, etc. Expenditure levels on the space colony project would be directly visible in terms of progress toward concrete goals.
Los Altos, California
. . I keep getting the vision of the planet as a plant which has flowered and wants to go to seed. Perhaps all the insanities of our time come basically from a frustrated planetary reproductive urge. . .
Poet, novelist, author of Troutfishing in America
Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! I think for the time being, the remaining years of this century, we should limit our exploration of outer space and concentrate our creative energy and resources on taking care of our mother planet Earth and what lives here.
Owls hoot in the early Montana evening when the
air is very still and floats the scent of pine trees.
I like this planet.
It's my home and I think it needs our attention
and our love.
Let the stars wait a little while longer.
They are good at it.
We'll join them soon enough.
We'll be there.
. . . Dixie and I have been discussing the space cities in the light of Margalef's ecological theory. We've considered that a healthy ecosystem, human or not, needs a dynamic patchwork of juvenile and mature sub systems; the juvenile systems to promote evolutionary experiments, and the mature systems to remember the best results. Of course the systems will always be moving towards "climax" through succession, while occasional rejuvination will occur due to cataclysm (i.e., change too swift for life to swiftly adapt). Now, the state of Europe in pre-Columbian times was of a climaxing human ecology with dwindling frontiers of juvenility. Had the new world not been discovered, Europe would have certainly calcified to the point where it could not change rapidly enough, and a disaster would have probably nearly destroyed civilization. (The Great Plagues may very well have been such a disaster at an earlier time of "over maturity." Bateson's notion that unused flexibility disappears is also relevant here.) But the New World was discovered, and opened up a new frontier both to exploitation and evolutionary experimentation. Democracy was one of the (apparently) successful experiments exported back to the old world; super-industrialization was another.
The analogy to our present dilemma should be obvious. World civilization has spread to the point where frontiers are scarce and flexibility is being gobbled up. In the Last W.E.C., Stewart, your proposal for "outlaw zones" was a recognition of the need for juvenile systems for necessary experiments to take place. But space cities provide a more expansive and open-ended frontier of juvenility to restore healthy balance to our culture. Our alternative, as we see it, is Apocalypse. To O'Neill and company we say, "Bravo!" and ''Let's get on with it!" . . .
B. Alan Scrivener
Biologist, watershed consultant, CQ Natural History editor, author of Septic Tank Practices
My curiosity focuses on soil, Earth. Rather than say "10,000" humans are impossible to feed in a Space Colony," I would insist that O'Neill has drastically underestimated the problems of space agriculture.
I cannot judge the physics, but O'Neill's understanding of plant growth leaves me totally uninterested in this project. No details are needed. Just consider:
Comments like "the main reason for anything but a pure oxygen atmosphere is just fire protection." An enzyme (nitrogenase) is responsible for taking atmospheric nitrogen and changing it into high energy ammonia (NH3).The ammonia is necessary for protein production. Here's the catch: oxygen must be kept away from nitrogenase. Too much oxygen, then no ammonia and no protein. It's hard enough on Earth to keep nitrogenase active (see below) without upping the amount in the atmosphere to 80%. O'Neill doesn't even mention nitrogen-fixing bacteria-the creatures that make all this possible.
O'Neill doesn't mention sources for the trace elements. For instance, molybdenum is needed to make nitrogenase.
O'Neill doesn't even mention the crucial elements like phosphorus. The universal energy "currency" of all living organisms is ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
O'Neill doesn't understand the simplest chemical processes involved in photosynthesis. For instance, photosynthetic compounds tend to mistake oxygen for carbon dioxide. When oxygen is incorporated in place of carbon dioxide, plants cannot produce carbohydrates. Remember, the early atmosphere of Earth had much more carbon dioxide. Plants (like soybeans) adapted to these heavy CO2 atmospheres and still produce more protein in artificially high CO2 environments.
The two major elements needed for photosynthesis (carbon for carbohydrates) and nitrogen-fixation (nitrogen for proteins) are the scarcest mean elements according to O'Neill. How many times do we have to be told that life means organic life and organic life is just one great theatre of carbon molecules.
Not to sound too sour grapes but these CQ articles are prime examples of contemporary American schizophrenia: a technological romanticism totally removed from agricultural practicality.
The only benefit of Space Colony research might be the tiny slough off of relevant information about semi-closed-system agriculture. More sensibly the billions should be spent directly on Earth agriculture. (P.S. I am totally unimpressed by the scare tactic that we must exploit space or starve. Just another way to dilute energy into the BIG & TECHNO rather than the small and planetary.)
My own romance would make O'Neill and all potential space cadet(tes) serve five to ten years in a major Earth watershed (like the Hudson or Brahmaputra or Congo or Danube). After acquiring intimacy with the Earth, then, maybe, we should allow exportation of planet consciousness in outer space. To send techno-romantics as ambassadors of Earth Mind is abrasive to my Taoist soul.
I have included a simplified organic mandala of a small part of the nitrogen-fixation process . O'Neill might want to meditate on its implications for outer space food production.
Note that the whole process is a buffer system. Starting with water and carbon dioxide, fuel is made by photosynthesis. The fuel is used to alter nitrogen to ammonia. The genes are genes of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live symbiotically with the plant. Any alteration in atmospheric conditions will change the total process. Four crucial elements (Carbon, Nitrogen, Hydrogen and Phosphorus) are scarce to nonexistent on the Moon.
Space virus or child?
. . . Space colonization isn't something to rush into, and then be locked into, as a means to profit. Developed with care, as an end in itself, the space colony can be a most fertile inspiration, forcing/leading us to learn the meanings in the structure of communities, the balance of biological sufficiency, and the qualities of a sane technology, lest we export the amorphous, imbalanced insanities we live with now.
Consider that the building of worlds is the work of gods. Evolution is metamorphosis; when you leave Earth in a world we have created we will be literally and metaphorically leaving the cradle. The question is whether we break out of a ruin like a virus exploding from a shattered cell, or leave Earth as a child leaves a playpen, no longer needed but ready for the next sibling. The virus is a degenerate fragment that just replicates on; the child grows towards limits we haven't yet found.
Doug and Missy Mink
Arab Space Program
While I am as potentially patriotic as the next person to his country of origin, I don't think we here in the U.S. have the surplus to put into such a project right away. And while we don't, OPEC does.
The oil rich nations have billions more than they themselves can spend, and are looking for some capital intensive scheme to start paying off about the time their oil runs out. They have the most to lose and the most to gain from a competitive, and clean, energy source. When you throw in abundant, exponential growth of both resource and demand, and long-range schemes, it becomes all the more inviting. They of course know first hand the economic-political clout in controlling an energy source. Big investment, Big profits. . .
If your idea about their space station program and our shuttle program is correct, what could follow is an alliance by U.S. and U.S.S.R., racing the first OPEC nation or nations who get started on this. A hassle over nationalism may come when unemployed aerospace engineers head in droves to the jobs waiting for them in Araby. I wonder if they would live in domed cities, many square miles in area, which had been built not only as protection from the desert clime, but also as models of the colonies to be constructed in space.
This cartoon is the summation of my commentary on the subject . . I tend to feet abandoned faced with scientific jargon (the necessity of it aside) and become punchy when some obvious questions - to me - get passed over. A few of the remarks are from friends but most are mine. I realize some of the questions have already been discussed, but I threw them in anyway purely for compositional balance. By the way, the scientists are caricatures of no one in particular - just composite stereotypes.
MARC LE BRUN
CQ Personal Computers editor
Is it a good idea? Where we rub up against the limits of our environment it begins to pinch, to form a blister. By your "Law of Paradoxical Effects" the combination of two more-or-less closed systems (Earth and Colonies) results in a more-open system. Both materially and in more ephemeral ways. A blister is a self-healing process. The question is: Do the Space Colonies lance the blister (and thereby interrupt the healing) or do they provide a bigger (and presumably better fitting) shoe? Is the immediacy with which we are beginning to feel environmental pressures an important factor in our growth towards a more mature world civilization? Will our expansion into solar space delay our coming to grips with important social and ethical questions for perhaps millenia? I believe the Colonies can provide some respite from some pressures, but humanity will always be grappling/growing with itself and the rest of the universe. Between frontier and homeland the issues will vary, but never the vitality of the struggle.
. . . you seemed to me to play down the possibilities for heavy metallurgy out there. Now, this is the basis par excellence for industrial civilization. It uses more energy, water, more of earth's mineral substance, her oxygen, & puts out more heat, than any other branch of human work. (1 ) All that heat, expanded into the solar wind, would be nothing. (2) If ores could be obtained cheaply out there, they would start out at the top of earth's 4,000 mile well; going to market would cost only potential energy plus friction. (3) Thin, reflectively-coated mylar films, billowed out into big solar sails, could be used to fuse, smelt, refine such ores. (4) Zero-gravity would render massive castings easy to move about and work. (5) Vacuum-purity in metallurgical processing yields the strongest alloys; these would sell at a premium on earth, and if they were produced in sufficient quantity, they would amount to corners in the international market. just as English steel "cornered" the European steel market by the 18th Century - nothing comparable available. (6) Liquids in a vacuum (e.g., molten alloy) tend to form spheres. Therefore, just as shot was formed by free-fall in "shot towers" back in olden times, so could ball bearings be produced in zero-gravity. How about - all the ball bearings needed in a single year? Mucho $$! (7) Also, electromagnetic forces could be used to work the metals in zero-g.
Americans would love to get out there & pull off an economic coup like that!
J. F. Muggs
San Francisco, California
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