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Authors: Jerry Pournelle

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BOOK: A Step Farther Out
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The SPINOFF documents are written by Neil Ruzic, who's also the author of an excellent book on the future uses of the Moon called WHERE THE WINDS SLEEP. Between the SPINOFF annuals and Ruzic's book you can find plenty of answers to the silly question about why we should spend money on space.

In fact, the problem is knowing where to begin, Weather predictions? Remember when the weatherman was a joke? Now true, the Weather Bureau makes some mistakes even yet; but not very many, and almost never when it comes to hurricanes. You can show that the space program has pretty well paid for itself just in better weather forecasting alone.

Those concerned about pollution will be pleased to hear that Earthwatch satellites finally give us a chance to see the real effects of pollution. Mining prospecting has been revolutionized by satellite photography. The international Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome can, from satellite data, get a good forecast of famine areas and global food production.

That's all satellite stuff Industry benefits are nearly incalculable, and I don't mean frivolities like Teflon frying pans. Test procedures and quality control: the inspection methods developed for man-rating spacecraft and boosters are now routinely used in building better plows, tractors, automobiles, skis, hiking boots and packframes, electronic equipment, and darned near anything else you can think of.

In my early days in the space program one of the hardest jobs we had was monitoring physiological conditions in a stress environment. Just getting an ordinary electro-cardiograph (EKG) through a pressure wall required great ingenuity. We invented a number of such devices; we had to. My own inventions are long since obsolete—but the space medicine technology that grew out of our early efforts is routinely used in hospitals and clinics all over the world. Mass spectrometers to analyze exhaled breath; microminiature EKG systems worn by hospital patients and displaying abnormalities to the duty nurse; blood analysis equipment; even heart condition diagnosis from moving vehicles; all routine, and all developed as part of the NASA package.

Your tires last longer, you can buy large fiberglass structures, firemen can keep your house from burning, your electrical system is simpler, crash helmets work better (remind me sometime to tell you about the purchase order for "nine freshly-killed human male corpses, ages 21 to 40 at time of death, must not have any abnormalities of brain or upper spine; expendable research item; no salvage value." The Purchasing Officer's reaction to that was, uh, interesting); driver-training simulators work, paint lasts longer, and golf clubs do a better job of driving the ball.

"Whoa. That's all technology, and technology is evil. It causes pollution, and kills people in wars, and—"

And at that point my usual reaction is a loud "Aaargh!" and a burning desire to find a drink Quickly. Especially when it was said by a young person wearing a thin wristwatch and polyester imitations of honest blue denim, driving a Mercedes, and feeling committed because he hasn't eaten table grapes for
weeks. I
should control that reaction, of course; but if I were able to do that I'd probably still be in aerospace management instead of living the unnatural life of a writer.

Still, such people ought to be answered; our whole future may depend on it. Let's try.

* * *

California's Governor Jerry Brown has built himself quite a reputation by pushing "Alternate Technology" and the philosophy that goes with it. "Make do. Expect less. Conserve. Smaller is better. Recycle. Be satisfied with what you have. There's Only One Earth."

Now there are some attractive points about all that. Moreover, the vision of a stable, low-to-zero-growth economy, concentrating on adventures of the mind, with a lot of "cottage industry" can be a noble one. It's probably possible, too—for us, and for a while.

It is not a philosophy likely to appeal to the poor of this world. Like it or not, a conservation-oriented low-growth world economy dooms most of the world's people to wretched poverty. But what has that to do with
Can we not, ourselves, change our ways and let others go theirs?

Probably not. Like it or not, we've got most of the technology—and we don't have enough to develop the Earth to a point of satiation. If all the world gets rich through the same wasteful processes we employed, we're probably in big trouble. Worse, what of our grandchildren? The Earth's resources will not last forever; and what then?

I've argued here before that this generation is crucial: we have the resources to get mankind off this planet. If we don't do it, we may soon be facing a world of 15 billion people and more, a world in which it's all we can do to stay alive; a world without the investment resources to go into space and get rich. Usually I think it won't come to that; it's only in odd moments—such as when faced with The Question—that I get depressed.

I don't think it will come to that, because the vision of the future is so clear to me.

We need realize only one thing: we do not inhabit "Only One Earth."

Mankind doesn't live on Earth. Man lives in a solar system of nine planets, 34 moons, and over half a million asteroids. That system circles a rather small and unimportant star that is part of a galaxy containing tens of billions of stars. Only One Earth, indeed! There are millions of Earths out there, and if we use up this one, we'll just have to go find another, that's all.

We needn't use up this one. In a previous chapter I went through the numbers: how we can, with present-day technology, deliver here to Earth as much metal for each person in the world as the US disposed of per capita in the 60's. We can do that without polluting our planet at all, and we can keep it up for tens of thousands of years. The metal is out there in the asteroid belt. For starters we don't even have to look very hard; most of the asteroids were once spherical, large enough to have metallic cores, and now the worthless gubbage topside has been knocked away, exposing all that lovely iron and lead and tin and such we'll need to give the wretched of the Earth

Why not? The refinery power's there; the Sun gives it off for free. We have a propulsion system to get us to the asteroids; Project NERVA was cancelled, but the research was done, and it wouldn't be that hard to start up again. Nuclear-powered rockets would be rather simple to build, if we wanted them.

But first we'll need a Moonbase. We can get that the hard way, carrying stuff up bit by bit from the top of disintegrating totem poles, but there are easier ways.

We could do it in one whack Project ORION was also cancelled, but we could build old Bang-Bang in a very few-years if we wanted to. ORION used the simplest and most efficient method of nuclear propulsion of all: take a BIG plate, quite thick and hard; attach by shock-absorbers a large space-going capsule to it; put underneath one each atomic bomb; and fire away.

Believe me, your ship will move. When you've used up the momentum imparted by the first bomb, fling another down underneath. Repeat as required. For the expenditure of a small part of the world's nuclear weapon stockpile you have put several
pounds into orbit, or on the Lunar surface.

But that will cause fallout.

Yes; some. Not very much, compared to what we have already added to background radiation, but perhaps enough that we don't want to use ORION—although, he said happily, ORION is one reason why I think we'll eventually do what has to be done, even if this generation fails in its duties to the future. ORION is cheap and the bombs won't go away; if we're still alive in that grim world of 15-20 billion and no space program,
going to revive Bang-Bang and get out there.

ORION gets a few big payloads to orbit or the Moon. A more systematic way would be to build a big laser launching system and make it accessible to anyone with a payload to put into orbit. Freeman Dyson calls laser launch systems "space highways." The government builds the launch system, and can use it for its own purposes; but it also gives private citizens, consortiums, firms, a means of reaching orbit.

Dyson envisions a time when individual families can buy a space capsule and, once Out There, do as they like: settle on the Moon, stay in orbit, go find an asteroid; whatever. It will be a while before we can build cheap, self-contained space capsules operable by the likes of you and me; but it may not be anywhere near as long as you think

The problem is the engines, of course; there's nothing else in the space home economy that couldn't, at least in theory, be built for about the cost of a family home, car, and recreational vehicle. But then most land-based prefabricated homes don't have their own motive power either; they have to hire a truck for towing.

It could make quite a picture: a train of space capsules departing Earth orbit for Ceres and points outward, towed by a ship something like the one I described in "Tinker." Not quite Ward Bond in "Wagon Train," but it still could make a good TV series. The capsules don't have to be totally self-sufficient, of course. It's easy enough to imagine way stations along the route, the space equivalent of filling stations in various orbits.

Dyson is fond of saying that the US wasn't settled by a big government settlement program, but by individuals and families who often had little more than courage and determination when they started. Perhaps that dream of the ultimate in freedom is too visionary; but if so, it isn't because the technology won't exist.

However we build our Moonbase, it's a very short step from there to asteroid mines. Obviously the Moon is in Earth orbit; with the shallow Lunar gravity well it's no trick at all to get away from the Moon, and Earth orbit is halfway to anywhere in the solar system. We don't know what minerals will be available on the Moon. Probably it will take a while before it gets too expensive to dig them up, but as soon as it does, the Lunatics themselves will want to go mine the asteroids.

There's probably more water ice in the Belt than there is on Luna, so for starters there will be water prospectors moving about among the asteroids. The same technology that sends water to Luna will send metals to Earth orbit. I've already described one ship that can do the job. There are others. The boron fusion-fission process is a good example.

Take boron-11 (
). Bombard with protons. The result is a complex reaction that ends with helium and no nuclear particles. It could be a direct spacedrive. For those interested, the basic equation is

 + p = 3(
) + 16MeV

and 16 million electron volts gives pretty energetic helium. The exhaust velocity is better than 10,000 kilometer/second, giving a theoretical specific impulse (I
) of something over a million. For comparison the I
of our best chemical rockets is about 400, and NERVA manages something like 1200. The boron drive needn't be used very efficiently to send ships all over the solar system.

Meanwhile, NERVA or the fission-ion drive I described in an earlier column will do the job. In fact, it's as simple to get refined metals from the asteroid belt to near-Earth orbit as it is to bring them down from the Lunar surface. It takes longer, but who cares? If I can promise GM steel at less than they're now paying, they'll be glad to sign a "futures" contract, payment on delivery.

It's going to be colorful out in the Belt, with huge mirrors boiling out chunks from mile-round rocks, big refinery ships moving from rock to rock; mining towns, boom-towns, and probably traveling entertainment vessels. Perhaps a few scenes from the wild west? "Claim jumpers! Grab your rifle—"

Thus from the first Moonbase we'll move rapidly, first to establish other Moon colonies (the Moon's a
big place)
and out to the asteroid belt. After that we'll have fundamental decisions to make.

We can either build O'Neill colonies or stay with planets and Moons. I suspect we'll do both. While one group starts constructing flying city-states at the Earth-Moon Trojan Points, another will decide to make do with Mars.

Mars and Venus aren't terribly comfortable places; in fact, you probably won't want to land on Venus at all until it has been terraformed. Between Mars and Venus, Venus is the easier to make into a shirt-sleeves-inhabitable world. It requires only biological packages and some fertilizers and nutrients, and can be done from Moonbase or, in a pinch, from Earth itself Still, though Venus may be the simpler job, Mars is likely to come first, simply because you can live there before terraforming; there will be dome colonies on the Red Planet.

I wrote a story ("Birth of Fire") describing one Mars-terraforming project: melt the polar caps and activate a number of Martian volcanoes to get an atmosphere built up. Isaac Asimov described the final step many years ago: get your ice from Out There, at Jupiter or Saturn, and fling it downhill to Mars. Freeman Dyson points out that there's enough ice on Enceladus (a Saturnian moon) to keep the Martian climate warm for 10,000 years. The deserts of Mars can become gardens in less than a century.

Dyson's scheme didn't even involve human activity on Enceladus; robots and modern computers could probably accomplish the job. They've only to construct some big catapults on the surface of Enceladus, and build some solar sails. Dyson suggests robots because the project as described would take a long time, and human supervisors might not care for the work; but I suspect we could get plenty of volunteers if we needed them. Why not? No one could complain that the work was trivial, and you couldn't ask for an apartment with a better view than Saturn's Rings!

Moonbases. Lunar cities. Mining communities in the asteroid belt. Domed colonies on Mars, with prospects for terraforming the planet and turning it into a paradise. An advanced engineering project headquarters on Enceladus. Pollution controlled on Earth, because most polluting activities would go on in space. Near-Earth space factories. Several to hundreds of city-states at the Trojan Points of the Earth-Moon system. A space population of millions, with manned and unmanned ships stitching all the space habitats together. This is not a dream world; this is a world we could make in a hundred years!

BOOK: A Step Farther Out
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