In the past few years I’ve become increasingly antagonistic towards the environmentalists. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT for trashing the place, pumping crud into the atmosphere, or leveling the remaining rain forests. As a matter of fact, if it were up to me, we’d reverse a lot of that, drain Lake Mead, Grand Coulee, and hundreds more, and build a lot of safe, clean, and cheap nuclear power plants to replace the radiation and crud spewing coal-fired plants.
What gets me is this irrational belief in a “sustainable growth” future. Try that in a logic table. “Fallacious” is being kind. It’s just plain ignorant. This blue (at least for the moment) earth is more like a lifeboat. There is a finite amount of everything with an infinitely expanding population. If you think I am just saying “Someday we ruin the planet if we don’t clean up our act” I suggest you look around. It is ALREADY ruined. Try to find even a secondary forest, much less a primary. All of west Texas is a wasteland with only a few tiny specs that have any vague resemblance to the Texas of 500 years ago.
The same is true world-wide. From the time I was in northern Thailand during the Vietnam War to 15 years later when I revisited, 60% of the country had been clear-cut. It made me cry, and it made me realize this planet is doomed unless we take steps to change the future. When I was young in the 1950’s there were endless places in Texas and Arkansas you could camp in pristine, if secondary, forests on streams clean enough to drink from. Mostly all gone now in only half a century and the destruction is speeding up. I could give example after example, but if you aren’t convinced you probably wouldn’t be anyway, so I am going to move on to the only solution I can see.
This Earth is our womb, and we’ve been carried full term. Time to move on! We MUST move into space, primarily to ensure the survival of our children, but also to save this Earth and allow it to heal. Yes, it will take time, but much less than you might think as progress will come rapidly if we just realize how critical it is and get started. I was stunned when the Nixon administration canceled the remaining Apollo missions and started the dismantling of the US space effort pursued by every administration (except Reagan) since and completed by Obama. However, the commercial sector is really taking off and I am becoming more optimistic. The moon and nearby asteroids are ROTTEN with scare resources worth untold trillions of dollars. There is hardly a problem I can think of on this Earth, hunger, disease, poverty, energy, even war, that cannot be eliminated or alleviated by a world-wide effort to exploit our solar system. entrepreneurs will increasingly invest to reap the wealth of the solar system, but we as a people should invest as well to speed progress and ensure that space doesn’t become a wild west with no cavalry. Consider how history would have been very different if the government had not provided the massive land grants that promoted the building of the western railroad in the 19th century and provided the forts that ensured peace and security. The opening of the west would have been delayed for many decades. Further, that investment paid for itself many, many times over. We spent a couple of trillion borrowed dollars to save an obsolete, poorly managed industry and a bunch of crooked banks a couple of years ago. Yes, we got most of it back. If we’d spent half that on space technology, we’d have gotten 10, 20, or more times the return and the banks would be bursting at the seams. So would our pockets.
We’ve had the technology for over 50 years. We have a nuclear rocket engine called “NERVA” (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicular Applications) that proved safe and reliable in the early ’70s that was cancelled by the Nixon administration along with Apollo. A complete one still sits at the Goddard Research center. This engine, teamed with VASIMR, the low thrust long duration engine in an advanced state of development by Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz and his Ad Astra company could open the entire solar system to safe, high-speed access. Instead of thinking “space cadet,” simply consider this: We have built and operated nuclear powered ships for over 60 years that carry thousands of sailors safely and efficiently for years on a fueling. We have what are in many ways similar to spacecraft in the form of nuclear submarines that can stay in “inner space” for months recycling water and air. The moon has everything necessary to build spacecraft of this scale and we have the engines to power them.
With the enormous boost to the US and world economy from the influx of resources from space advances would come incredibly rapidly. Yes, it’s now very costly to get a pound into low earth orbit…but it’s basically free to get things back whether human or inert ores. However, even the cost of getting to LEO could be reduced to small fraction of the current with the space elevator. You may giggle and move on now, but if you don’t understand this concept and don’t believe Dave please run it on the web. It’s solid science and engineering mooted decades ago and we can build it if we have the vision and will. There could be a time in as little as 50 years when people commute from settlements near a space elevator to jobs in LEO, and thence by spacecraft on the moon, and elsewhere. Thousands could choose to immigrate to new homes off planet.
In a hundred years, we could begin to re-shape Mars into a habitable place and even the moon could support millions using advanced technology. We would eventually begin to draw down the population of Earth such that she might begin to heal. Wouldn’t that be glorious?
Finally, there are probably many, many thousands who would jump at the chance to live on board an “ark” to the stars. Yes, even with improvements on the engines mentioned here such a trip might take decades or longer. However, a ship carrying thousands could be built large and comfortable with all the amenities of living in Manhattan or similar urban centers, or even better. Children would be born there and grow up knowing it as home. Finally, it would arrive at a new earth. Some might even decide to stay and move on to another earth.
Patient reader, unless we destroy ourselves or the planet is wiped clean by an asteroid hit, these things will come to pass. To look at fiction for a moment, consider how many plausible ruined Earth movies and books you’ve seen, read, or heard about. Recently, the “Hunger Games” has been viral. The question is “Why must we wait until the eleventh hour to stave off such a future?”
Whether atheist or believer, I challenge you to come up with a better plan to fix things on this earth and “go forth and multiply.” I am all ears…
NOTE: Of course, singularity may preempt (See “Quantum Computing” below) all of the above…but I like to hedge my bets!