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Race To Space: Exploration, Commercial or Tourist Driven?

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Posted on Jun 17, 2009 7:47:16 AM PDT
Very interesting comments. Thanks one and all! (Glad to see you back, Will.)

Sailor: Pardon my ignorance, but what is a "space elevator"?

M.Saddoris: Interesting societal analysis. Personally, I think finding reliable and strong enough anti-grav may certainly change things, but I don't think that much negative upheaval would result. People adjust. And very quickly, if a new technology has enough dollar signs attached to it.

I'm reading a book now, where Christopher Dunn gives his theory for a power source in Ancient Egypt. (Since he measured precise inside corners, flat surfaces and even precise bore holes, of things like sarcophagus, he concluded that the Ancient Egyptians had "precision machining" abilities -- which would need a power source.) His theory is that they used Earth's own vibrations, with a parallel amplifying source, to create an energy to power their machine devices. Using Earth's own energy sources may seem backwards to us, who are looking to the sun for cheap energy. But, if he's right, Dunn presents a compelling case for using Earth's own inner energies as a cheap, easy and limitless power source.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 17, 2009 9:31:20 AM PDT
Sorry, Marilyn. Space elevators are all the range among Space geeks, and I forget that they're not well known outside of that narrow group.

In principle, a Space elevator is pretty simple. Actually building one: not so simple. The idea is that you would place a satellite in a geosynchronous Earth orbit (called GEO, and it's the same orbit communication satellites are in). Using a VERY long tether (22,300 miles!), you attach this satellite to the ground. Then you have elevator cars climb this tether into Space. You only need to provide the energy to climb upward; the Earth's own rotation provides all the horizontal speed needed (that only works at GEO, not any other orbit). Now, climbing the tether would tend to pull the satellite down, so you let out another tether in the opposite direction, and hang a counterweight off of it. Just be sure not to lift anything heavier than your counterweight and you should be fine.

The reason we don't have one already is because the tether material has to be stronger than anything we've got. Material of sufficient strength has been made in laboratories, but they haven't been able to get a tether that maintains that kind of strength over a length of more than a few centimetres. Yet.

Posted on Jun 17, 2009 10:21:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 17, 2009 10:22:58 AM PDT
I'm sorry if I roll my eyes when reading about how the Egyptians needed a "power source" or alien help.

Let's give our ancestors some credit.

Ancient Egyptian Engineers were very clever. First of all, I would like to know what Mr. Dunn thinks is "precision" ( +/- 0.001". +/- 0.02", +/- 0.1"?) .

The human eye can detect something 4-thousands of an inch out of place. "Precision" can be achieved with some pretty simple tools. And- why would power make anything anymore precise?

For instance, the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza is very level. Obviously, Aliens hovering above the work site were needed...


The Egyptian Engineers carved a grid work of channels in the bed rock using simple snap lines. They then filled the channels with water and marked the water line. Then they chipped away at each square in the grid until its surface was even with the water line.

Vola! A very level bedrock surface.

Roman Engineers built long and very straight roads with simple sighting devices. They even dug tunnels through mountains, from both sides, and met in the middle ( with no GPS). They even build huge lathes and other machinery to make large symmetrical items. Their machines and advanced knowledge of hydraulics was lost until the Renaissance.

Even still, Medieval Engineers did some remarkable stuff too ( Notre Dame).

Marilyn, here's an interesting thought for discussion:

At the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, the Romans were using water and wind power to pump water and grind grain on a large scale.

This is the technology that preceded the invention of the steam engine. In fact, the Romans had knowledge of steam power from the Greeks.

Remember the Romans were basically all of Europeans and part of Africa and the Middle East by the end - that's lots of different people with lots of ideas.

Assuming the progression of technology was basically the same as from the steam engine of the 1700's , is it possible that if the Roman empire hadn't collapsed, our present level of technology would be anywhere from 500 to 1000 years ahead of where it is today?

If the Greco-Roman technology progressed steadily and there were no dark ages, would we be living in Star Trek technology today?

Posted on Jun 17, 2009 3:47:00 PM PDT
Thanks for your comments, Sailor and Will.

This "space elevator" idea sounds ... unique, Sailor. Thanks for the explanation. But as they search for a tether that is strong enough, I applaud anything and everything that could positively play into our mortibund space program. ( recently had an article that inserting carbon nanotubes in aluminum made it as strong as steel, but with only one-third the weight. These are are the more mundane "advances" that could get us en masse into space one day.)

Will, I only read an excerpt of Dunn's book, "The Giza Power Plant", in another book. No where does he mention "aliens". His premise is that "superior primitive civilizations" might have indeed existed, that we are yet to fully understand because we don't know how to interpret the remnants or artifacts. And the idea of a power source created by Earth's normal vibrations or frequencies, enhanced by the micro-crystals in granite, is fascinating. Roman engineering and technology were indeed remarkable. But it is more accessible to us because its basic principles are recognizable and easily understood, since we've basically just "added on" to what the Romans were doing centuries ago.

Posted on Jun 27, 2009 2:02:47 PM PDT
M. Saddoris says:
did the post die?

Posted on Jun 28, 2009 10:05:51 AM PDT
Pretty much. If you have something to add, though, I at least wouldn't be against resurrecting it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 28, 2009 4:59:31 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 29, 2009 9:24:55 AM PDT]

Posted on Jun 29, 2009 9:24:25 AM PDT
The only real news that would apply to this discussion, I used to start another discussion. last week reported that our world's first "spaceport" has broken ground near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It is teaming with Branson's Virgin, for eventual space flights at $200,000. (Even if it's just up and down, with a little weightlessness, it's a bargain compared to the Russians charging something like 25 Million to go the the space station.)

Posted on Jul 12, 2009 1:46:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 19, 2009 5:50:29 AM PDT
Another news tidbit, to confirm our suspicions that private enterprise will get us into space in a meaningful way first. (7/10/09) reports that PowerSat Corp. estimates that they can make a 2500 megawatts, orbital solar power plant for $3-4 billion. It could begin transmitting power to commercial customers in 10-12 years.

The "commercial customers" I assume are based on Earth. But wouldn't it be great to have such an orbital power plant that could "transmit" power to even the moon or Space Lab? (Then again, this could be weaponized, so let's see if it ever gets built.)

Posted on Jul 19, 2009 5:47:00 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 19, 2009 7:15:17 AM PDT
To anyone still following this thread, below are new books (available here at AMAZON) that discuss the latest on craft propulsion:



"Any country that doesn't explore, is going to ultimately recede." Scott Parazynski (former NASA Astronaut, Apollo 11)

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2009 10:14:30 PM PDT
Most people today don't seem to realize it, but the initial impetus for the US space program was sheer anti-communist hysteria. Read any newspaper or magazine article on the subject of "space" that was published in the US after the USSR launched Sputnik I. The commentators were practically urinating on themselves in fear of the "commies" having the "high ground" of space. That fear prompted the political establishment to give NASA a virtual blank check to "win the moon race." Once that was accomplished, enthusiasm and adequate funding for actual space exploitation fairly quickly faded away to the current "subsistence" level.

Space exploration "for the sake of discovery and knowledge" is all very good and noble. In fact, it's the essence of NASA current rationale. Which is a major reason why NASA is such a bureaucratic, hidebound organization. You would think that, in the forty years (exactly) since the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon, NASA would have developed a propulsion system that isn't a direct descendant of the V-2. Well, they haven't. Why? Because there's no incentive for NASA to make space travel cheaper or more available to more people.

It might seem crass, but the only way space travel can ever become as common as is air travel today is for somebody to be able to make a buck (or a pound or a yen or a euro) out of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2009 10:30:21 PM PDT
Well, I'm cautiously optimistic about Virgin Galactic, even though I can't afford a ticket and probably won't live long enough for the price to come down to something reasonable -- say, around $15,000. One possibility that no one seems to have considered is the following: just when some private company is beginning to show a profit, NASA (or some other arm of the government) confiscates the technology for reasons of "national security." Yeah, I AM pessimistic about bureaucrats and politicians.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2009 10:43:50 PM PDT
Check out the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) system that's being developed by Franklin Ramón Chang-Díaz at his firm, the Ad Astra Rocket Company. Among other things, Chang-Diaz is a former astronaut.

Posted on Jul 21, 2009 9:09:38 AM PDT
To suspect that the government will be inefficient, that they won't take the issue seriously enough, and that maybe they just don't care, that is pessimistic. And I'm sorry to have to admit, but such pessimism is all to often justified.

To suspect that the government will actively (and competently) conspire to thwart our desires is not merely pessimism; that's paranoia. Of course, sometimes paranoia is also justified (sometimes, they really are out to get us). But justified or not, let's call it what it is.

Posted on Jul 21, 2009 9:18:44 AM PDT
To suspect that the government will be inefficient, that they won't take the issue seriously enough, and that maybe they just don't care, that is pessimistic. And I'm sorry to have to admit, but such pessimism is all too often justified.

To suspect that the government will actively (and competently) conspire to thwart our desires is not merely pessimism; that's paranoia. Of course, sometimes paranoia is also justified (sometimes, they really are out to get us). But justified or not, let's call it what it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2009 6:02:00 PM PDT
You make some extremely valid points regarding the capabilities of ancient and medieval societies. I think that many of us, particularly those with only vague notions of science, engineering, and technology, tend to look down on previous cultures as being "unsophisticated" and/or "primitive". To those with that attitude, could YOU make a stone spear point and attach it to a spear shaft, using only materials found in nature?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2009 6:04:22 PM PDT
Here's another reference regarding the space elevator:

Edwards B.C. and Westling E.A. The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System. San Francisco, CA: Spageo Inc.: 2002.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 22, 2009 4:10:51 PM PDT
Hi Walter!

I assume you were responding to my posting on the possibility of "superior primitive civilizations". I was referring to a book called "Forbidden History", which is available here on Amazon. This book is a compilation of the best articles from a speculation magazine. Most of the writers are scientists, and they've backed up their admittedly controversial speculations with rigorous research. Fascinating stuff!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 22, 2009 5:10:40 PM PDT
Greetings, Marilyn!

To be honest, I wasn't referring to speculative "superior primitive civilizations" at all. I was referring to the data that has been literally dug up by many paleontologists and archeologists over many years, from large artifacts, such as cities and pyramids, to the very small items, such as Clovis points and needles carved from bone. My point is that ancient and prehistoric humans possessed a wide variety of (mundane, NOT supernatural) skills and technologies, many of which have been lost by "modern" humans.

Posted on Jul 22, 2009 8:04:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 22, 2009 8:11:02 PM PDT
I've tried my hand at flint knapping. I utterly SUCK at flint knapping. I'm no good at making fire and if I had to survive with an atlatl I'd BETTER hunt mammoths, because I'm lucking if I can hit anything smaller.

To be fair, I might get better if I more than dabbled. Half-dabbled.

There are things like the Baghdad battery and the Antikythera mechanism which make it clear that we don't yet know everything about even the written period of Western history. We know less about the non-Western world and about pre-history.

This seems pretty obvious, and I won't be surprised if we find that, say, running water or map-making existed and was lost long before we think it was. I would be surprised to discover ancient flying machines or electronic computers or spaceflight. That would surprise me a great deal.

I'm not trying to say where any of you stand on all of this, just saying where I do.

Posted on Aug 31, 2009 8:59:04 AM PDT
To anyone still following this discussion, (August 28, 2009) has announced that the Russian Space Agency and NASA are in talks for a joint, manned mission to Mars. (They hope that by combining budgets, a joint Mars mission could become a reality.)

Posted on Aug 31, 2009 11:09:43 AM PDT
Thanks for the link. I'm starting to think I could LIVE at NextBigFuture.

Posted on Aug 31, 2009 11:40:04 AM PDT
Zack G.C. says:
Marilyn, have you never read Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise?
It's about space elevators.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2009 11:41:05 AM PDT
Hi Sailor!

I remember you as the "space elevator" guy. Do you ever read Dave Barry's humor column in the Miami Herald?

He did a hilarious column recently on Space Elevators. He basically compared problems to Earthly elevators, and advocates (if I remember this correctly) a laser to cut off the arm of anyone holding the elevator door open longer than 6 seconds.


In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2009 11:56:41 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:

"Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise?"

It was one of two novels that featured elevators published that year.

A Japanese team is seriously considering constructing one:

And the results of their first climber competition came in a few weeks ago:
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Discussion in:  Science Fiction forum
Participants:  93
Total posts:  2795
Initial post:  Jun 2, 2009
Latest post:  Aug 31, 2013

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