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    • CommentAuthorfro
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2008
    I agree with you about human supervision for manned craft, these things are never going to be completely infallible. For satellites and probes it seems reasonable to let the printer do its thing, but on the other hand if you've built a manned facility with these things then having a separate unmanned one to build different things seems a bit silly.
    Of course if you miss when shooting the raw materials up and put a slug of titanium through a station which you've got astronauts living on they're not going to be pleased about that.

    It's not really a comparable situation but what level of input do humans have in car production lines these days?
  1.  (2145.82)
    Anyone know of radiation levels in the outer solar system and what kind of shielding they would require?
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2008
    A cheap and dirty way of shielding is water - the stuff soaks up radiation surprisingly well. As for different types of radiation, we'd be worrying more about output from the large gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, than from solar radiation.
      CommentAuthormuse hick
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2008

    found this, which may be of interest
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2008 edited
    Charles Pellegrino's Valkyrie starships which would be capable of moving at fractions of the speed of light, and his relativistic kill vehicles originally relied on an exotic fuel source, anti-hydrogen produced in quantities large enough to serve as a nuclear propulsion catalyst. I always wondered if it might be possible to gain a similar effect with some sort of exotic wellstone material (programmable matter) that was programmed to "think" it was anti-matter..

    I don't see large scale anti-matter as ever being viable, nor do I see anti-gravity or human teleportation as realistic goals (simple inorganic matter like salts maybe). But we do have nuclear power right now, and we have experimented with nuclear propulsion, so that would have to be our best bet. Look at what worked with NERVA, but move to a liquid-core design similar to particle bed reactors, and throw in a bunch of nuclear powered Ion Thrusters for steering.

    Pack lots of water for primary shielding, and use a reactive claytronics hull for secondary shielding against charged particles, with self repair, and you are good to go.
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008 edited
    I haven't read this entire thread, so my apologies if I'm echoing anyone else, but here are my thoughts:

    True space travel -- that is, travel not just slightly out of our atmosphere, but macro-scale interstellar/intergalactic travel -- is not going to happen with the current assumptions we in the mainstream are making about space. The current assumptions we're making about space involve the notion that, if we can just design a spacecraft powerful enough to propel itself at, close to, or beyond the speed of light, then we can facilitate true space travel. Of course the physics are important, but most people lack a sophisticated understanding of time (the fourth dimension), which is really the key issue.

    People think of space as being "the final frontier" -- and it is (at least for us naive humans who have not even traveled through space!) -- but it's not the next one. The next (and, really, current) frontier we absolutely must conquer before we can facilitate true space travel is the human mind. Right now we have a crude understanding of it at best, but the brain is the most complex structure in our bodies for a reason: because it evolved first. And because it evolved first, this necessarily means that it dictates everything that we put our hands to.

    I'm no neuroscientist, but I believe -- as with anything else -- that there is a fundamental way that we can understand the brain's evolutionary function: it is a mechanism which evolved to help us gradually perceive and subsequently navigate dimensions. Right now the human brain has evolved to be able to fully perceive AND navigate three dimensions -- though, while we're currently able to perceive time as the fourth dimension, and we have a fairly good scientific understanding of it, we have not quite prepared ourselves to navigate it just yet. We can brainstorm ideas as to what kind of vessel would physically be able to carry our bodies from point A to point B in a certain amount of time, but sustaining our bodies during that time is only going to be possible if we can fundamentally harness the power of the human brain's ability to sustain its own vessel -- the human body.

    This is kind of a long-winded way of saying we need to learn more about suspended animation. However, we need to focus on how we can achieve such a thing by subtly tricking the human brain into sustaining the body on its own, albeit without relying on consciousness as a guide for self-monitoring -- not by designing a sort of "iron lung" contraption that will serve as a sort of surrogate motor cortex, because the brain is necessarily an analog mechanism whereas just about anything we design will inevitably be rigid, calculated and fundamentally out of sync with our bodies. Tricking the brain may not necessarily be as simple as hooking a machine up to it -- in fact, it's probably not even going to be something that we are going to consciously design. Mass media is already altering our fundamental experience of reality and perception of history in startling ways, and I'd say that there's a reasonably good chance that its continued evolution will play a big role in significantly changing our collective ability to fully comprehend the dynamics of spacetime.

    So my point is that, at this early stage in the "space age", we are being incredibly naive with our current approach to building rockets. The general assumption is that we need massive amounts of propulsion while we're in space to make sure we get to our destination in a relatively timely fashion (e.g. within the typical human lifespan) -- but in that very statement we are allowing time to dictate how we travel, instead of allowing the infinite nature of time to influence how we think about travel in the first place. We only really need propulsion to give us a certain amount of inertia so that, once in space, gravity (or the lack thereof) will do the rest. We may be moving "slowly" in three dimensions, but we'd only be moving "slowly" if we were fully conscious of the passage of time. I really don't think we need a vessel to be all that powerful if we can trick our minds and our bodies into perceiving that we've just been napping for the past 50 million years.
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008 edited
    I should clarify my point about time being the fourth dimension -- actually, it is the fourth AND fifth dimensions. Technically, we are able to fully perceive and navigate the fourth dimension in the sense that we can perceive and anticipate the future to a certain degree, but our anticipation of the future fully depends on our analysis of the past. So, while we perceive time as moving in one direction (toward the future), it is necessarily bidirectional -- not because it's possible to travel backwards in time (it isn't, and it never will be, no matter how cool it would be), but because our ability to perceive the past inherently influences our future. So I guess what I mean to say is that we are able to fully perceive and navigate four dimensions, but our current conception of time's bidirectionality is very limited, and until we have a collective biologically instilled sense of how that works, we're not going to be able to fully navigate spacetime.
  2.  (2145.88)
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008 edited
    Okay some more thoughts on this topic:

    1. It's relatively easy NOW to say "Well sure com-sats and weather-sats and Earth observation satellites and GPS are worthwhile but we already have those, what's the ISS going to do for us?"

    But when Sputnik went up, virtually none of that had been thought of. A similar analysis back then would probably have argued that there was little or no economic benefit to space travel.

    What benefits are we going to derive from the ISS, moon landings, planetary missions?

    There's only one way to find out.

    2. You now have a whole bunch of countries with space programs - the US, the EU, Russia, China, Japan and India for starters. Even if one or more of those countries decides there's no economic benefit to space travel, the others are probably going to continue - and whatever benefits there are will accrue to those others.
  3.  (2145.90)
    I keep trying to find something useful to add in here....all I got:

    Every government who has the money to burn on a military should fund it.

    Corporations should fund it. Mad dictators should fund it. Crazy ass loner billionaires should fund it. We do not need an economic justification; the day humanity reaching for a new frontier and wanting to explore requires dollar to sense rationalization we have fucking lost. Dirty space travel with men and woman who are willing to risk death just to be the first. Long term clean travel from green think tanks with extra money. Military ships to see whats strategic. Giant ego rocket with bill gates face on it. Crazy ass rocket built by lunatic on a patch of big sky country.

    Don't care which, want all of them now.
  4.  (2145.91)
    I want to re-read ORBITER now. Again.

    Dirty or clean, it doesn't matter how at this point. We need to get out into space, asap.
  5.  (2145.92)
    But when Sputnik went up, virtually none of that had been thought of. A similar analysis back then would probably have argued that there was little or no economic benefit to space travel.

    No, see, this is what eventually crocked human spaceflight. Sputnik was political. Apollo was political. The gains were political. And once the political gains had been achieved, those funding the spaceflights no longer gave a shit, and that was that.
  6.  (2145.93)
    @ Warrenellis

    Sad but true, I suppose. Politics and Government funding have always been the biggest 'achievers' in spaceflight. (Honorable mention to the Wright Brothers. All they had was a bike shop and their ideas!) I've watched what Virgin Galactic has done with some interest but what they're doing seems to be for the market of tourism. Perhaps the idealistic goals of spaceflight always need to be veiled in some kind of 'imminent threat' scenario or marketing scheme for people to move forward into space...
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008
    Well, even though Virgin Galactic does nothing to hide the fact that it's a corporate endeavor, it's still pandering to the sense of wonder and excitement that SHOULD be taking us up into space. That's at least a step in the right direction. And considering that at first only super-rich people will be going up, some of those super-rich people might be impressed enough to fund Virgin Galactic or other private groups (please tell me there will be more). Corporate scheme or no, this is probably one of our better hopes for space travel.

    Discounting, of course, a Red Thunder-style homebuilt spacecraft, which would be the coolest thing any human has ever done since someone decided to write down sounds.
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008 edited


    Hey man, don't get me wrong, I think it would be totally badass if we could develop some kind of ultra-extreme rocket that will bend spacetime to our will and cater to our weaknesses as human beings. But I honestly just can't say I believe that's how space travel is ultimately going to happen. First of all, everybody knows that -- at least at our current rate -- it would take a totally unreasonable and unmanageable amount of resources to propel ourselves across the universe within a human lifetime. And second, the path of history consistently dwarfs the assumptions we make in the present -- there are so many technological achievements in the world that started out as incredibly cumbersome, inefficient, costly undertakings based more out of human curiosity than out of broad practicality, and future generations would look upon those things as monuments to human naivety. One day, I can guarantee the shuttle that took man to the moon and the shuttle that will take us to Mars in a few decades will become a part of that legacy.

    Granted we are learning lots of things about the physical universe that we wouldn't have known had we not been guided by an obsessive curiosity, and the bulk of that knowledge will serve us well in the long run, but I think that ultimately the true realization of space travel will be a much simpler undertaking than we currently are willing to accept. I'm not trying to channel Timothy Leary here or something, I'm just saying there are some fairly obvious major practicality issues involved in space travel which are tied to our fundamental human experience of reality, whether we like to admit it or not, and these impracticalities often get eschewed in favor of the layman's excessively eager and wide-eyed theorizing. I think eventually we're going to hit a theoretical wall and realize that time is our greatest resource because it is infinite, and when you're dealing with something as infinite as space, you need an infinite resource on your side, and that's the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

    But who knows, maybe the CERN supercollider will prove me wrong this summer...!
  7.  (2145.96)
    Will space travel ever be feasible?

    Oh yes indeed. We will be taking flights to the colonies of Jupiter's many moons (Radiation can go to hell!) and other wonderful spacey things like that.

    But knowing my luck, that reality will arrive the day after I so happen to have some sort of freak and fatal accident involving the house cleaning unit (it's the future and there will be robots, damnit!).
    • CommentAuthoruser84001
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008
    Virgin Galactic does not need any funding as they are owned by a billionaire (that’s million with a B), and yes there are plenty more companies offering space flight, and even though it appears that only the "super rich" will get to experience space flight first, we are working on ways to involve everyone.

    Space is not as expensive as NASA or anyone for that matter would lead you to believe. Even though the V2 was an instrument of war in the 40's it was the world’s first sub-orbital vehicle that cost just $13,000.00 to make - yes you read that right - thirteen thousand dollars. In today’s dollars that same cost is only $1.3 million. At the time the V2 was being constructed Germany had the ability to put together an assembly line that could have produced 1,000 V2 rockets per month all during a war they were losing.

    NASA's little Joe rocket - designed, built and flown in the 50’s to test the very same technology that would eventually take humanity to the Moon was built for $200,000.00 in today’s dollars you can build the same rocket for $2 million. Why is launching a rocket so expensive, because everyone who can - has their hand jammed in the same government cookie jar that is being funded by the average American tax-payer while the rest simply look the other way.

    Russia actually laughs each time they find someone willing to spend what is now $40 million dollars for a flight to the space station onboard a rocket that cost less than half that to produce.

    The average sub-orbital vehicle will hold 6 passengers. Each will pay $200k
    The actual cost to launch that ship into sub-orbit is roughly $80k

    Sub-orbital companies today can already afford to sell seats priced as low as $50,000.00 and still make a profit, they simply choose not to because the market can afford to give them more because if its not expensive it wont win contracts or get noticed as a viable system, investors wont be interested enough.

    The Lynx offered by XCOR will take you to a height of 37 miles for a total price of $100,000.00 but its still only half way to sub-orbit. For $29,000.00 you can rent a Mig-31 Foxhound in Russia and a pilot will not only take you up to 15 miles (which gives you the same view and experience as the Lynx) but he will also let you fly it for a few moments.

    Space is not that expensive and their are companies in this industry who are quietly working on a solution..... Trust me!
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008
    There's a huge difference between suborbital and orbital.

    Before I buy the idea that Virgin Galactic or any other private company can drastically cut the price of putting humans into orbit, they'll actually have ot put humans into orbit. Spaceship One didn't even come close to that.
  8.  (2145.99)
    I'm thinking the slower, cautious way here.

    After we had established residency on the moon, I'm imagining large cylinders much like those in Macross or Babylon 5. They would provide gravity, surface area, and bulk for protection. If we don't use the moon for material and factories, it's easy for me to imagine a cylinder like this solely being used as a factory, the center providing null gravity for tearing apart asteroids for material, moving large structures around easily and the surface area being used for the machinery to refine ore, etc. All of this is based on the bare-bones idea of getting a foothold in space and establishing the easiest/most efficient path to being able to produce vehicles large enough for many people to inhabit and provide for themselves. I know any number of problems can and will occur, but I'm having trouble imagining anything else but trying to do what we've always done; Go towards the next horizon.
    • CommentAuthoruser84001
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2008
    Its going to take at least a decade for the private sector to establish residency on the moon, but you can count on orbital space tourism beginning in 2010.