Category Archives: Philosophy

The Martian Movie Poster


Mixed feelings about the scientific accuracy of this film (artists ought to be held to the same standards as scientists…we should no more accept depictions of Martian dust storms toppling a rocket than creationism as a plot catalyst). Nevertheless badass supersedes all. Good to see a masculine educated hero!

Philip Metzger at TEDx Orlando

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 10.30.21 AM“I can remember thinking, truthfully, these words about twenty years ago: ‘That, unfortunately,
the space program is all dressed up – with no place to go’…now you might’a guessed, I don’t
believe that anymore. Now here’s what happened that changed my perspective.  About ten
years ago I became part of a team at NASA that develops technologies to utilize resources in
space […] a robotosphere which will grow to have an economic output a million times that of
the United States. Imagine a million Americas in space. Then in just ten more years: America a
billion times.”

Anatoly Zak: The Russian Silver Age

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 1.31.50 PMAnatoly ~1 hour into episode 2427 of The Space Show:

“This frontier mentality, it exists in Russia as well. You’ll remember, Russia was actually built – over many, many years of its history it was actually built by movement of people from the west to the east. So it was exactly opposite direction like for the United States, all the explorers were moving from the West. Here it was all the explorers were moving from the European part to the Asian. And it was going on much longer than the United States. This expansion started, back, almost in Medieval times, when Russia was still fighting Mongols and Tartars and they were expanding into the East. One by one they were crushing all the kingdoms in the East. All the remnants of this giant Golden Herd, this Mongol empire. And they were slowly taking this land going East until they reached this area where they are right now building this launch site, many time belts, time zones away, from Moscow. So this expansion over land was going on much longer than in the United States. So it is sort of in the dreams of Russians. Much more extensive than in the United States. The length of Russian history is just staggering. Russia is almost more than one thousand years old.

Second, especially during the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century – this educated class, which was extremely sort of world-oriented, this very cosmopolitan people who were thinking about the world, about the design of the universe – they were philosophers, they were revolutionaries, they were musicians – during this period, they call it Russian Silver Age of culture and Russian science. That’s exactly when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky started his research – and at this time he is one of the people who embodies this idea of space exploration, however, many Russian scientists, and even Russian artists, they were thinking about the idea of the universe, an idea of building a better world, so, this world in my opinion of course came together in the thirties, when, first this German societies for rocket development and space exploration were formed, and of course, because at this time there were so many ties between Germany and Russia, it was really easily caught up in the Soviet Union, and of course this revolutionary idea of building a better world, fueled this idea – there was this famous novel called Aelita – that was about this revolution on Mars – so all of this sort of came together with technology, philosophy, history, and this forward movement – building all this progressive, new technology, exploration was developing very actively at that time. That was very fertile ground for all the space exploration gigs, who started exactly like they did in Germany or the United States, which was just small groups of people who were just enthusiasts of this idea.

But then the government, as soon as the government saw the military importance of the – and saw the potential in the military field, they heavily invested into those organizations. They took over pretty much, they militarized them, and, made them work to develop weapons. And of course now we had world war two, all those German missiles, that of course that exploded and all those Russian engineers who were excited about space, as soon as they saw there was a way to implement their dreams using military funding and military backing they immediately jumped onto this idea, and, they used the military missiles as a cover – but as we know from the biography of Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev – all they were interested in was space exploration, they could not care less about ballistic missiles or all this military weaponry but they wanted to use the military to build their space dream. There is still a well educated class in the United States and in Russia which is interested in exploring the universe, building technology to go into space, and those people are still there.”

Bob Zubrin: Economics of Interstellar Starflight

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[Factual Fiction transcript]: Now, deuterium helium 3 – of any substance known in nature – has the highest energy per unit mass. Okay – antimatter has more energy per unit mass but it’s not found in nature you have to make it with energy from something else and currently that’s done with an efficiency of ten to the minus six. Uh, but the – ah, if you have deuterium, ah, helium 3 fusion you can make a rocket, ah, out of that. If you – it can either be magnetic confinement or inertial but either way to repel the plasma away from it. Um. If you dilute that plasmid with other mass – for example with hydrogen – you can lower the specific impulse and increase the thrust. And that would be done for interplanetary travel – or for instance move what I call ‘ice-troids’ which are asteroidal kind of objects made of volatile material like frozen ice or ammonia or whatever, okay, which you might want to do for terraforming purposes or for other reasons. Uh. But, if you actually wanna go to the stars, ah, you want to get the highest possible exhaust velocity, uhp, the deuterium helium 3 reaction gives you an ideal exhaust velocity of about seven percent the speed of light. And if you take into account inefficiencies that are likely to exist in a real rocket maybe you can get five percent the speed of light as an exhaust velocity. With appropriate staging rockets can be built to achieve about twice their exhaust velocity. For example, Space Shuttle main engine has an exhaust velocity of about four kilometers a second to achieve orbit the Shuttle moves to eight kilometers a second. So with various staging techniques and so forth you can get a rocket up to about twice its exhaust velocity.

So if you have a rocket that can do about five percent the speed of light, exhaust velocity you can make starships that have ten percent the speed of light final velocity. Then once they get up to speed I believe interstellar spacecraft can be slowed down using a magnetic sail which is basically deploying a loop of super-conducting wire which is in interstellar space creating a magnetic field, using that – it, it it, basically that would repel the interstellar plasma that would create drag, interstellar gas would be ionized and turned into plasma and repelled its just like solar wind hitting the Earth’s magnetosphere and it goes around it many of you have seen diagrams of that kind of thing. Well that actually creates drag around the Earth – fortunately not that much so we’re not falling into the sun at the moment, but, the, uh, it could be used to slow down interstellar spacecraft down to the – what you might call interplanetary class velocities, at which point more conventional technologies could be used to maneuver to the planet of interest.

So, and, and I might comment upon this. Fusion is a promising energy source for Earth, um, the program was going fairly well until the 1980s when it was internationalized. Ah, and, ah – no I mean that, because I worked in the fusion program. Until the 1980s we had a rather dynamic program because of the competition of the US program against the Soviet program the European program the Japanese program. All four were constantly challenging, trying to upstage each other at conferences, show their latest results their plans for the next machine and so forth – and this put some competitive drive into it. Ah, around 1985 the bureaucrats got together and said, “why are we doing this wasteful competition, let’s merge our programs into this thing called ITER” – the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor – it then took them thirty years to agree on where to put it. But they went to a lot of fun meetings in the meantime in Kyoto Geneva everywhere. And, ah, and and and the progress basically stopped after 1990, when no new national machines were made.

But we’re now moving into a more affluent world, and, just as we are seeing privately funded spacecraft companies we’re going to see privately funded fusion companies. Ah, because there’ll be people in the private sector who have resources to give this kind of thing a try. And I think we’ll have much more determined kinds of programs focused kinds of programs and I think it will eventually succeed.

You know fusion, the other thing about fusion, is, uh – well put it this way, steam engines were first developed for, um, pumping out mines, of water. But they didn’t really become efficient until they were developed for the purpose of propelling steam, boats. And nuclear reactors – the first practical incarnation of the nuclear reactor was to propel submarines, okay, and uh, I think developing fusion reactors for space propulsion might put the discipline on it to make inexpensive efficient fusion reactors which could then become available for commercial utilization. So I think there’s ah, ah, interplay here, between technology that’s developed for spaceflight and spaceflight using that technology to make much more available various resources for Earth, and as well as practical energy resource for Earth, and, as that technology’s developed towards its limit opening up a path to the stars.

The biggest problem in the world today is poverty. It’s not global warming or terrorism. Poverty. Poverty kills people. Through starvation, malnutrition, disease, ignorance, brutality, through every mechanism we can think of. We cannot be satisfied with the way things are. We cannot stop progress. No one in this VR would be satisfied if they were at half the world average. Or below half the world’s average – which half the world’s population is.

The main issue here is the continuation of progress, ok, there, there’s really, two ideas in contest here, on, on Earth, and, they have very real consequences. Ideas have consequences. Okay, there is this idea – which is essentially anti-humanist – uh, which is uh, that the world’s resources are fixed, and so, each additional person is a detriment to the well-being of everyone else, and, every nation is fundamentally the enemy of every other nation, and, every race the enemy of every other race, um, and ah, we should all try to keep each other down, okay, and, you know, the the the only outcome of this world view can be stagnation tyranny war and genocide. And in fact we’ve seen this. Uh, in the twentieth century. Hitler 1941 the laws of existence require killing so that the better may live. Okay, you know, and, and if these ideas are accepted now they could lead to the worst ideas you could possibly imagine.

I mean, if these ideas are accepted by the Chinese leadership for example then the existence of the United States population is intolerable because we’re four percent of the world’s population using twenty-five percent of the world’s oil. On the other hand – and if these ideas are accepted by American strategic thinkers they can have nothing but animosity toward the rise of China and other third-world to affluence ‘cause now there’s going to use up the oil that we want and so forth. Okay, but, if you take the other point of view, that human beings on net are creators – and by the way, this idea is demonstrably true, because if human beings on average destroyed more than they created there’d be nothing here. Okay.

It must be the case that human beings on average create more than they destroy, but, and if you embrace that truth, then, you see every new person born on the world as potentially a friend, every nation a friend and potentially a friend of every other nation. The US is the greatest friend of China not just because we buy their DVD players but because that four percent of the world’s population is producing half the world’s inventions. It’s true, we are. But we can be proud of that because we’d be a lot better off if the Chinese were doing their share so it’s really good for us if the sons and daughters of Chinese peasants go to the university to become scientists and engineers, so they can start contributing their talent to the general flow of human progress. So we’re not enemies at all. Okay, because, the real resource is human creativity. Okay, so, the, and, and the only thing sustainable is human progress – if you try to enforce stasis on society and limit us to one particular technology or form of resources, yeah then that one will run out. It is the capacity to create that creates resources.

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Bob Zubrin at the Ames Research Center Director’s Colloquium

Factual Fiction transcript (starting ~50:00 min):

Mars is where the science is, it’s where the challenge is, and it’s where the future is. It’s where the science is because, okay, Mars was once a warm planet, it had liquid water on its surface for more than a billion years – which is about five times as long as it took for life to appear on Earth after there was liquid water here. So if the theory is correct that life is a natural development from chemistry, or if we have liquid water of various elements and sufficient time – life should have appeared on Mars even if it subsequently went extinct. And if we can go to Mars and find evidence of past life, we will have proven that life is a general phenomena of the universe.

Okay, or, alternatively, if we go to Mars and find plenty of evidence of past bodies of water but no evidence of fossils or life we could say that the development of life from chemistry is not sort of a natural process of high-probibility but includes elements of free chance and we could be alone in the universe. Furthermore if we can go to Mars and drill? Because there’s liquid water underground on Mars – reach the ground water, there could be life there now. And if we could get hold of that, look at it and examine its biological structure, bio-chemistry, we could find out if life as it exists on Mars is the same as Earth life.

All Earth-life at the biochemical level is the same. We all use the same amino acids, the same methods of replicating information – RNA and DNA and all that. Is that what life has to be?? Or could life be very different from that. Are we what life is or are we just one example drawn from a much vaster tapestry of possibilities. This is real science. This is fundamental questions that thinking men and women have wondered about for thousands of years. The role of life in the universe. This is very different from going to the moon and dating craters in order to produce enough data in order to produce a paper to publish in the Journal of Geophysical Research and get tenure, okay. The, the – um…okay, um – this is, this is, okay, hypothesis driven critical science. This is the real thing.

Second, the Challenge. Okay, you know, I think societies are like individuals. We grow when we challenge ourselves, we stagnate when we do not. Humans to Mars would be a tremendously bracing challenge for our society, it would be tremendously productive – particularly among youth. Okay, Humans-to-Mars program would say to every kid in school today, “Learn your science and you could be an explorer of new worlds.” We’d get millions of scientists, engineers, inventors, technological entrepreneurs, doctors, medical researchers out of that. And the intellectual from that would enormously benefit us. It would dwarf the cost of the program.

And then finally it’s the future. Mars is the closest planet that has on it all the resources needed to support life and therefore civilization. If we do what we can do in our time to establish that little Plymouth Rock settlement on Mars, then, five hundred years from now there’ll be new branches of human civilization on Mars and I believe throughout nearby interstellar space. But – wha – you know look: I ask any American what happened in 1492 they’ll tell me, “Well Columbus sailed in 1492” and that is correct, he did. But that’s not the only thing that happened in 1492. In 1492 England and France signed a peace treaty. In 1492 the Borgias took over the Papacy. In 1492 Lorenzo de’ Medici the richest man in the world died. Okay, a lot of things happened. If there had been newspapers back in 1492 – which there weren’t, I wish there had been – then those would have been the headlines – not this Italian weaver’s son taking a bunch of ships and sailing off to nowhere. Okay, but, but Columbus is what we remember – not the Borgias taking over the Papcy. Okay.

Well 500 years from now people are not going to remember which faction came out on top in Iraq! Or Syria, or, whatever. And the, the, the – who was in and who was out. And, and you know, but, they will remember what we do to make their civilization possible. Okay. So, this is the most important thing we can do. The most important thing we can do in this time. And if you have it in your power to do something great and important and wonderful in your time then you should.

Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO, SpaceX

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Why Mars? From two perspectives I think it’s important…um…exploration is really what separates humans from, from other living, moving “species” and, if, we decide that where we are today is “it”…um – I’m not saying there aren’t things to learn about here on Earth – but it just seems kind of like a big disappointment, that, we’d say “okay we’re here, this is it, we’re done” – you know “let’s just…hang in there, till then end”. Um, it just seems like a not very inspirational, ah, outlook and perspective. And the other piece – which is the scary piece – and um, it’s really risk management. For humans. The uh…I think the probability of a significant event happening on Earth is – is very high. Ah, or – ’scuse – when will it happen? I don’t know when it will happen but I’m pretty certain there will be a catastrophic event and ah it would be nice to have humans living in more than one spot. Um…yeah…I think that’s important. It’s risk management for humans.

Thirty nine minutes eight seconds of Gwynne! Yes please : )

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“There is not a business case, right now, for Mars – let’s be clear…there is no busi – Mars isn’t gonna pay me. I mean, I’ll get paid to take robotic spacecraft – to Mars – um, but there is no business case on Mars – it’s not, it’s not really, well it’s not at all why we’re doing this. Um…I don’t – I can’t think of another thing that would be as important as promoting humanity beyond one location – we’re a single point failure…right? And there is no question that something dramatic is gonna happen here on Earth. I’m not saying it’s next week, not next year, probably not within the next hundred years, maybe not within the next thousand years – but, I’m pretty sure something terrible is gonna happen, on Earth, and if this is the only place we have, then we’re done, so… -Cause how boring. You know? If this is it. I just can’t believe that this is it. I don’t think that this is it. We’ve gotta go somewhere else.”