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In this Base piece, I'm writing as though no resources exist today for bringing together a Settlements program. In fact, many partial resources exist today. These include SpaceX, which recently orbited a test satellite (Yay SpaceX!!), and three major social organizations: the Mars Society, the National Space Society, and the Planetary Society. Many smaller organizations exist around the world. These range from small groups and programs in academic institutions to the busy and successful Ariane project. The resources for a space settlements program are out there, however, some assembly required.
However, if we view those resources as a system to do a job, the system is faulted thru and thru with boundaries, personal conflicts, and great distances between elements. It is severely balkanized. It is nothing near a close-knit, large and consonant organization, able to keep itself in active existence for a few decades, working against the challenge that is its reason to exist.
The Settlements challenge is to design, build, and place several Settlements off-Terra. It's wrong to suppose there is anything easy about doing this, and at the very beginning, there's a risk. It is, to imagine the work and accomplishment and make a lot of very nice artwork. So much easier than to do it. And then to somehow get stuck there. I think that here in America, I see indication that's happening here, but that's another topic.
Back to Settlements. First, you have to find a place to go to, and get up out of Terra's gravity well to go there. Then, each Settlement is a siamese triplet. A lifespace; a power supply; an industrial base. You don't see that kind of complication here on Terra, where you can breathe the air and eat the food in such liberal supply (in some parts of it) from its immense natural ecology.
Terra's natural life support makes Terra different from anywhere else in the known universe. Wherever humans go off Terra, they must make local machine systems to replace Terra's ecology. Air to breathe; water to drink; food; recycling waste: this begins a long list. After the lifespace, this machinery is the second necessary part of the siamese triplet that is a Settlement.
For long-term service, like several decades for a beginning, the Lifespace looks easy. In fact, it's difficult. That is because it must be appropriate for us humans to live in it along with each other, and our work. Elsewhere in Adra, I have some comments about the social workers that I feel are central to space settlements success.
The second necessary part of a Settlement is its electric power supply. The stark reality is no electricity, no life. Humans living off-Terra will need electric power to run their machineries for work and survival. Energy. One can imagine thermal power, steam power, solar power and the like, but electric power is the most useful and versatile of any power. So the second siamese triplet member of a young settlement is a long-lived nuclear power generator.
(In my 50-min Settlements talk saved into my Topics area, a slightly different take on these requirements leads me to my three basics: Watts, Water, Work.)
Building one of these three-part Settlements is going to be a large challenge, where in fact, the need is to build several. With each one of them optimized to where it is to be placed. Answering this challenge is beyond any existing organization, except perhaps, NASA. Wishful thinking says fine, we have NASA today. Realistic thinking says, look how long we've had NASA and where are we today? (I've written more on this topic in my CEP entry pages, one link up from here.)
Which leads me to conclude, things look discouraging now. Like a frost in spring. If settling space were a game the score would be, Big Challenge: score 1. Resource applied against it: score 0. Power to change this state of things, nothing in sight. I've met many wonderfully optimistic workers with plenty of wonderfully optimistic ideas, but I don't see a Base out there anywhere.
The Base organization needs, first, one or a very few Leader People. The whole organization depends upon the presence of such people. An appropriate person is, first, charismatic; and in our American culture, probably a man. (I think a woman is better over time, but I said "American culture" and that is my working context.) He is a person people respond to warmly. He is a minimalist and inclines to a sparse lifestyle. His background will be broad but will include physics as a major element. His social skills are better than excellent.
The Base must be somewhere real. Some people speak of "virtual organizations" not limited by geographical, national, and other impediments. As are made possible by modern computer and communications technology. Great idea! Very good if used where appropriate, which will almost certainly be some short-term, information-intensive, hardware-lightweight objective. I believe if this is tried for Settlement work, it will collapse (losing money urgently needed for the work). Virtual organizations are good for small and local objectives, but to build and put out those Settlements requires a strong and stable organization in a dedicated place where people work together in person.
The Base requires money: a lot of it. Money for analog experiments answering questions Zubrin and others haven't researched yet because in absence of specific Settlements context they couldn't be asked. Money to support a lot of people, i.e., many hundreds or a few thousands, over years. Money to make mistakes and then recover from them. Money to buy and build needed hardware and at last, to build individualized Settlements and their industrial bases and power sources. Money for other purposes: I recall seeing a hierarchy of degree of political corruption in various countries, in which America stood about #20 from the (least corrupt) top.
The Base comes first. Its social organization and physical plant, want to be well developed before going far into building Settlements. Its objectives include building a robust organization, raising a lot of money, doing several analog model Settlements, choosing Settlement sites, designing and building actual Settlement hardware to carry up into space. Its builders must resist distraction to ego-boosting fun and diversions. Unproductive noise and excitements, art and banquets, consume time and money needed for the work, and must lead only to no Settlements. A large group of people must focus for decades on the work at hand: The Base comes first!
Our social organizations are as necessary for us humans as for our distant relatives, the bees and the ants. One can imagine a single human working alone to accomplish a large objective (see the fantasy video, 'The Astronaut Farmer'), but in real life, it doesn't happen. To achieve the several Settlements needed to begin a self supporting human presence in space will require many people, a large physical plant, and a lot of money and work, all applied toward appropriate objectives.
In writings about modern business technology, I see mention of "virtual business" organizations, formed quickly ad-hoc from pieces sprinkled across the country or globally across Terra. I think a Base organization can use such technology very well but not within its central management and production systems. Like a wheel, it needs a center to turn on. Its parts must be placed close together around that center.
Note that among us humans, a social organization that is strong, productive, and directed to an objective that is defined well enough, does not "just happen." Rather, a few dedicated and charismatic people must pull it together and keep it together. Somehow. We have good studies and knowhow about organizations management, about what wins or fails, and why. The organization that gets us out into space, must first be made to exist. It won't appear by accident, nor because some of us think Warm Pure Thoughts, nor because it's simply necessary to do.
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