Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Concepts and Work for TEDx Brussels Talk this Winter

Chugging along. All of this gets folded into my talk on 'The Terrain and the Map', a talk on evolution and exploration in the genus Homo, this Winter.

First, wrapping up work on something lingering since 2004, when I realized that what I'd learned of hauling a sledge in Iceland could be of use on Mars. Nobody is going to Mars to sit in a can all day, the whole point will be to be out and about, exploring the terrain. There are good reasons to do this sometimes afoot, rather than by mechanized vehicle, so what we know from similar such sledge- or cart-hauling here on Earth will be of use. Figure draft for an article for Journal of the British Interplanetary Society or Acta Astronautica. Deals with such a nonmechanized cart and such issues as wheel size, axle height, trace length and so on. Will be coauthored with my buddy Louis-Philippe Loncke, who has plenty of manhauling experience himself! Draft figure below.

And some concepts, beginning with a quote from primatologist Alison Jolly;

"in each [major transition in evolution], living organisms have gained internal information and control...the original genes, coalescing to live like modern viruses within the prebiotic soup did just that...[later assembling] a cell...after another billion years, these cells [built] multicellular bodies that supported their gametes and fed them, protected them, and carried them about. Each [major transition in evolution] has required greater input of energy. Each has required construction or coordination of a vast external sphere, a new environment, to clothe the naked reproducing creature within...In this light, current human technology lies in the same tradition of other biological innovations [with a] quantum leap in knowledge of how to control our environment...It would be hubris to claim that no other organism has so transformed the Earth's environment. After all, plants and their offspring created our oxygenated atmosphere. We are...approaching the same power. We have tilled the land, felled the forests and polluted..the oceans. We have suspended a nuclear sword of Damocles over the head of the biosphere...We do not know yet if our technological venture will succeed or fail." -- p. 459-460 of Jolly, A. 1985. The Evolution of Primate Behavior. New York, MacMillan.

Well there is another possibility -- our technology might fail (actually, be completely abused) on Earth and be responsibly used beyond Earth if we can manage to live beyond Earth. Some people do learn, and mature; we have recycling today in many countries whereas a generation ago it was an alien idea. Slavery, in name anyway, is largely eliminated. The incidence of total warfare has actually decreased since the 19th century. But it might be too late on Earth, the structures of power and influence too fossilized to change in time before a general disintegration of civilization elements and a return to a Dark Age of local warlords. Last time we did that it was a thousand years before we got out. So I support space exploration, at very little federal cost (heck, I don't WANT the federal government to 'lead'!) and at the same time as our efforts to improve Earth life. But we have to spread out. That means reinvention of space technologies from the ground up. Or at least, re-evaluation.

I have four steps in mind:

1. Review existing designs. If they're good and of reasonable cost, keep them. If they're bloated old federal or military projects, consign them to history. This might sound easy but requires a considerable 'turning of the back' to a generation of being told that the federal way is the ony way, that only NASA or the ESA or ROSKOSMOS can do it. This is why completely private groups--unattached to the federal supply-line and all that it implies--like Copenhagen Suborbitals, the Sweden Rocket Research Group, Peter Madsen's ‎Raketmadsens Rumlaboratorium and my own Pacific Spaceflight are important. We may make innovations and redesign with no worry of loss of federal contracts. We're free to explore design and drive technological revolutions--if we turn out to be smart enough! Of course,it might not just be smarts that are required. A lot of the deep dark secrets of pressure suit design, I've learned, for instance, are a lot of mumbo-jumbo and deliberate obfuscation and concealment by various contractors to the federal contract-granting vault. Sometimes the revolutions in technology will simply be in realizing that what you have been told about space technologies is simply false.

2. Begin rebuilding systems and subsystems, e.g. rocket boosters, at lower cost and with many tests to arrive at best designs by selection on slight variation. This is the principle of evolution (a good track record of 3.5 billion years of field testing billions of processes and designs!) and evolutionary computing on this principle is used in commonly in aricraft engineering today.

3. Begin testing these new systems. We must be safe, but only safe enough. NASA recently proudly announced that after four years, its new manned spaceflight capsule is 'set to be ready to test in several years'. That endless approach is too cautious and has kept us in low Earth orbit since 1973. From Mercury to moon landing was just over a decade. To test we must rediscover our cojones and get to work. NASA is today a timid, navelgazing bureaucracy. Until they get their act back together as regards an aggressive schedule for development and testing, others will have to do it. And, others should; space exploration is for the many, not the few. There will be dangers, but, as SR-71 Test Pilot Bob Gilliland said of his first 'Blackbird' flight; "When we got going...for the actual first flight [of the SR71]...it had 383 'open items'. These are things that are supposed to be working that aren't working. So it was a bare-bones type of operation for the first flight. And you might say these kind of things could be dangerous, but there were plenty of people who wanted to be in my position, I assure you of that. "

4. Bypass the legalities of flying to and beyond Earth orbit and begin living in space. All manner of regulations will be used by federal governments to control space access. This must be overcome, and early, to prevent federal manipulation of human space activities. The universe does not belong to any government but to all humanity. This will largely be a legal battle.

(c) 2014 Cameron M. Smith

1 comment:

Amy Magruder said...

While NASA does seem to be staging their feet I think that the problem lies more with the lack of public interest in space exploration. The average person I'd more interested in the newest IPhone then the future of exploration in space.