Aspera Ad Astra   (2017Feb23)

Thursday, February 23, 2017                                           8:26 AM


The discovery of seven earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star, Trappist-1, makes me wonder how big the ‘goldilocks’-zone is, when talking of a star that isn’t much bigger than Jupiter—and if the orbits of all seven planets could all fit in that little slice of space. Being the same size as Earth means the gravity would be the same—but without placement in the ‘goldilocks’-zone, a planet will be too cold or too hot to live on.

I’m so used to thinking in terms of science fiction that it’s hard for me to get excited about seven planets orbiting a dwarf star forty light-years from Earth. But even from a non-fiction point of view—forty light-years is a ‘fer piece’.

Do the math: one light-year equals 5.8 trillion miles (that’s 10 to the twelfth, for those of you playing at home). Here—we’ll do it the kids’ way: 5,800,000,000,000 miles. That is a very long walk. If we traveled at 1,000 mph, it would take about 6,600 years to travel one light-year. If we traveled at 10,000 mph, it would still take over 660 years to travel one light-year. Thus, in practical terms, a light-year is a distance that a person has never traveled—and has no way of traveling, at present, within a single lifetime. The new solar system that was just found—that’s forty-of-those-things distance from us—that’s just a ridiculous distance away.

Light-years, the unit of distance, was created by and for astronomers—it allows astronomers to discuss the relative distances of stars—but don’t let that fool you into thinking of light-years in terms of human travel—it’s not a human scale of distance.

Plus, if you want to fly through space at 10,000 mph for 660 years, you’re going to need a very big gas tank. Carl Sagan told us that we could avoid this problem by using a Bussard ramjet, a spaceship that collects hydrogen atoms as it moves forward—and uses fusion to propel itself. The Bussard ramjet would use the near-vacuum of space as its fuel—imagine!

But that still leaves you with the need for food, water, and breathable air for however many people for however many years—and even with great recycling tech, that’s a lot of supplies to push through space. And again—forty light-years—if we could travel one light-year, we’d still need to do it forty times to reach that dwarf star with its seven planets.

Also, once you arrive at the dwarf star, you are completely cut-off from Earth—and Earth from you. Forty light-years means that even a radio message would take forty years to go in one direction—which means, if you got on the phone, said ‘hi’, and waited for the other end to say ‘hi’ back—that’s eighty years.

If we ever send people out there, we won’t be ‘colonizing’, we’ll just be sending little samples of humanity out into the cosmos. Maybe their great-grandchildren will communicate with Earth, but never in a “Hi, How are ya” kind of way. Assuming they survived, they would become a totally separate civilization from our own.

And this is the sad truth—space exploration will not ‘save’ the Earth. Sending people to space, even into our local solar system, will help protect the human race from extinction—but it won’t do anything for the people that remain on Earth. And living in space will never be as safe and easy as living here, on the cradle of life.

There is enough raw material in the asteroid belts and the Oort cloud for us to build several ‘earths’—but we will never be able to move significant numbers of people up from Earth ‘s gravity well without a space elevator—and we still don’t have the technology to build one of those.

In summary, space exploration is not easy or simple. It will take more determination than the human race has shown itself capable of, to date, to get there in any meaningful way. People often theorize that an alien invasion would help to unify the human race—and, in the same vein, the destruction of our biosphere would help to motivate people into space. But why do we need a global disaster to get our asses in gear? Can’t we just be grown-ups? Let’s reach for the stars.


Investing In Space   (2016Nov18)


Friday, November 18, 2016                                              1:46 PM

Analyze the situation mathematically—one planet, seven billion people. That’s not good—and there’s only one real solution. Before you get all contrary about that statement let me clarify that I am not suggesting moving ourselves and all our stuff up, out of the gravity well we all live at the bottom of. That’s impractical—and it’s not the argument I’m making.

The energy resources and the natural resources available to us at the bottom of our gravity well have been bounteous and convenient. They are far more convenient than the mechanics of humans in space—and we perceive that as a dividing line—but it is not. With robotics, we have explored much of the solar system—and robotic space exploration is still in its infancy, long-term—and robotic asteroid mining is still only in its planning stages.


Robotic asteroid mining is therefore a volatile investment, to say the least. If we look at the beginnings of the electronic revolution, we see that many companies came and went—picking the right company would have been the wildest of crap-shoots. But investing in all of them would have meant having a stake in the beginnings of firms like Intel, Sun, IBM, Microsoft and Apple. And robotic asteroid mining will have the same volatility—but it will also end the same way—with a handful of those companies making the earlier investments in the old digital boom seem like small potatoes.

So nobody is getting rich on robotic asteroid mining today—but if you are looking for something that will allow your grandchildren to retire in luxury, one hundred years from now—that is where you put your money. There’s no question about it.


Think of the vastness of space, of our solar system alone—instead of one planet, you have several. And you have those asteroid belts—basically planets’ worth of resources, pre-chewed for your convenience. They come in three popular flavors—mostly ice (meaning water), mostly metal, and the assortment-pack asteroids, which have a little bit of everything in them.

Transportation is the problem. It’s hard to bring anything up there—and it’s hard to bring anything back down. The mechanics of accessing things outside of our gravity well have been considered and summarized many times. It is often referred to as ‘bootstrapping’ humanity’s escape from Earth. It is a zero-sum game—if humanity establishes access to the resources of space, it will survive—if we use up the planet’s resources past the point where we can attempt this, we will be trapped on Earth forever.


Less visionary people will counter that we cannot waste so much of our resources on such an outlandish scheme. They ignore the fact that seven billion people will quickly become fourteen billion, and soon thereafter, twenty-eight billion. The math doesn’t work. The false economy of turning our backs on space merely extends humanity’s expiration by a few years—whereas access to the solar system extends it for the foreseeable far-future.

Notice that I’m not saying ‘the people of Earth’, I’m saying humanity. The people of Earth will over-populate it, they will make a desert of it, and they will die in droves, maybe even die out completely—that’s just math.


I imagine you’re thinking of birth-control—why not have population control? Well, you can’t control population growth—ask the Chinese. Any void created by one group is filled by another—you may suppress foreign workers, or deny them human rights—but they are still mouths to feed and capable of breeding more of themselves. Only a global government could do the job—but an overcrowded planet with dwindling resources is not fertile ground for a global government, is it? Checkmate.


I mean—you could destroy civilization, I guess. That would slaughter most of the people—especially in the developed countries. But people, like weeds, would just grow back—the harder those post-apocalyptic survivors worked to re-build society, the faster we would get right back to where we started. If it seems cold-blooded to destroy civilization, murdering billions—think how psychotic it would be to do all that, just for a ‘delay of game’.


No, people can use tools and think critically—but in our biology we are still no different from fungus—if we run out of room to expand, we fill up the available space until we choke on our own waste. Yet, while the people of Earth face a dire future, humanity itself has an out.

First of all, we don’t need to send everything out of our gravity well—if we can establish a working asteroid-mining system, we can begin to process raw materials in space as well, and manufacture our needs without Earth. Bootstrapping would require a massive amount of Earth’s resources—but once a foot-hold has been established, space-dwellers will eventually free themselves from any needs formerly required from the surface-dwellers.


The automation of factories and the use of robots create problems on Earth—they take jobs away from people. But in space, it is very convenient that we are just now beginning to produce robots with impressive ability. Anyone who goes to space will never do more than supervise the activities of the robots and automated facilities—and they don’t even need to be in space, necessarily, to do the supervising.


The hardest thing about space is growing food there—but while that is difficult, it is not impossible. That too will have to be bootstrapped—biomes will have to be created using soil samples and such from Earth—but once begun, such biomes will be self-sustaining. And, while we could never send all the people into space—we don’t really need to. Just send a few—they’ll take it from there . (Just make sure you have a diverse genetic sampling.)


So, to re-cap, we can do little in space until we’ve developed a foothold, using robotics—and while we can’t send all the people to space, we can send their genome. Humanity saved. But we were speaking of investments in the future. What, you may ask, do I get out of saving humanity?

Here’s the part where luck has something to do with how this all plays out. I don’t know if you’ve heard—but scientists came up with a plan for free energy a long time ago. All you have to do is create solar panels in Earth orbit and transmit the energy to the surface as microwaves. No fuel required, no pollution emitted—unlimited free power. Why don’t we do that? We don’t do that because nobody wants a microwave-cannon with the power of the sun pointed at whatever part of Earth’s surface it happens to be pointed at.


There are many things that science won’t do, or can’t do. If you remember, the space-shuttles always landed dead-stick (in the words of one of the pilots, ‘it flew like a brick’). If asteroid mining developed sufficiently, it could send raw materials back to earth—instead of mining for metal, we could have steel gliders in from space. Sounds crazy, I know—but it can be done.

One of the things science can’t do (right now, at least) is create a material strong enough to support Clarke’s space-elevator. But if we are lucky enough to find such materials and building techniques in the near future, we could create a conveyor belt capable of both sending things to space, and getting stuff back from space, without any great need for energy, or rockets, or rocket fuel.


If we got lucky in that way, then the development of the solar system’s resources wouldn’t just save humanity, it would save the people of Earth as well. It would provide more resources than we could imagine, it would provide a cheap and easy way for people to leave Earth—or return. It would mean that the benefits of going to space would not be confined only to the people in space.

That would be great—a lucky break for everyone. But there is no guarantee that any of this will happen—there isn’t even any guarantee that we will begin to try to do any of this. The only guarantee is that, if we do it, it won’t be easy. My only purpose in writing this is to set the facts in evidence before you.


Establishing a self-sustaining foothold in space is the big issue—everything else is a side-issue: wars, governments, even money are trivial things by comparison. It is human nature to expand—we can’t help ourselves. But we are trapped in a bottle right now, running out of room to grow—running out of materials, destroying environments. You may think of space exploration as childish—but I think of the short-sightedness of failing to go to space as even more childish. It is little different from hiding under the covers, hoping the boogeyman will go away.

In short, investing in space is a long shot, not to mention a really long-term investment that will require decades to make a return. But I believe that if we don’t develop space, no investment in anything has much of a future. So, in balance, it’s where the smart money will go. And remember—it’s not always necessary to be smart—sometimes you can simply listen to what the smart people say. And this is what they are saying, as far as I understand it.


Faith In Outer Space   (2015May03)

Sunday, May 03, 2015                                                       11:40 AM

Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible for me to abstain from religion without being burnt at the stake or beheaded. That’s a good thing. It makes things better all around, for women, for gays, for children—the judgmental authoritarianism that allows the religious to marginalize women, condemn gays, and abuse children is prevented from becoming part of our legal system. And where such dogma is already infused into society, we have legal recourse to remedy the situation, as with the present argument in the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage.

Those with the notion that religious freedom should allow them to treat others differently, such as denying service to gays, do not understand the difference between religion and law. Belief is a mental phenomenon, not a physical one—where belief informs action, however, things get stickier. You can choose to live your own life as a believer, but imposing those beliefs on others is not ‘freedom’, it is its opposite—ingenuous piety notwithstanding.

Having gone from a civilization wherein religion was a given, to a civilization where religion is optional, we have achieved personal freedom. Those of us entirely without religion are tempted to view this as progress, with the inherent suggestion that religion is obsolete and will, one day, fade away. But believers see religious freedom as an accommodation to the variety of religions rather than as a step away from religion in general.

There’s a difference. We can be proud that human beings are the ‘only race’, the reason that God created the universe—or we can have the pride of a young race that is joining the galactic community by reaching the stars. If the former, we are encouraged to stay in our cradle, this fragile planet with limited resources and time. If the later, we know that we must leave this planet, colonize the solar system and perhaps beyond—or just wait to die out when the planet does. We can condescend to the stay-at-homes by justifying space exploration through its useful by-products, the science and the tech—but the real reason is just that we have to leave.

I can imagine some protest at that statement but be assured that I’m speaking in general terms. We don’t all have to leave—you, personally, don’t have to leave—I’m not expecting to get the opportunity to leave Earth within my lifetime. But eventually some of us have gotta go. Enough people have to populate the solar system to ensure the survival of the race beyond the Earth’s expiration date, whenever that may be.

The end of the Earth may not be coming soon, but it’s coming. We know that now—we know that Earth was once uninhabitable, that it will be again—we know that Earth floats amongst a sea of extinction-level-sized asteroids and meteors, any one of which could ‘hit the jackpot’ at any time. And beyond all the cosmological constraints, we also have to face the fact that our use of planetary resources may reach a tipping point long before any of these lesser probabilities manifest themselves.

We need to start getting our raw materials from further away, someplace where we’re not trying to breathe and drink water and grow food. And the human race could also use a little elbow room—one planet for seven billion people requires a lot of natural resources and a lot of real estate. Our solar system is begging to be colonized and developed. And our planet is begging for a break.

Does religion get in the way of this? Well, religion is authoritarian—it wants to be in charge. And those in charge are uncomfortable with change. Space exploration certainly qualifies as change. You do the math.

However, some changes might benefit us. Earth’s population may not benefit directly—even with the ability to emigrate to space, population growth on the surface wouldn’t change significantly. Overpopulation will eventually bleed this planet dry. But at the same time, a colonized solar system would see population growth as a good thing—and restless young people on Earth would have a frontier to turn to. If we’re going to overpopulate ourselves to death, it seems a small thing to allow some of that excess population to take a stab at perpetuating the species outside of our gravity-well. Think of it as back-up.


“The Explosion of the Spanish Flagship during the Battle of Gibraltar”  by Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen, c. 1621    (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum website)

I’m All About Soil Moisture (2015Jan31)

Last day of January–the Winter won’t last forever, after all….

Well, they finally launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory today.
In honor of which, I have two improvs and a song of Mendelssohn…

20150130XD-Twofer (5)

20150130XD-Twofer (1)

20150131XD-Twofer (2)

20150131XD-Twofer (4)

20150131XD-Twofer (6)

20150131XD-Twofer (7)

Some Music (2013July08)

Here are some song covers with lots of pretty pictures to look at:


XperDunn plays Piano     July 7th, 2013

Three (3) Song Covers :    “I Think We’re Alone Now”    “If I Fell”    “Kansas City”




XperDunn plays Piano    July 7th, 2013    Improv – Starship Blues




XperDunn plays Piano     July 7th, 2013       Improv – Sabbos Goy



XperDunn plays Piano    July 6th, 2013      Improv – Wing Dang It