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Some obvious and serious challenges face any future-oriented Settlements program. Here, I point to five show-stopper challenges and obstacles (my choices from many "show-stopper" options).
1) Our American Presidential election cycle. Each incoming President must leave his mark on Space. Every four or eight years. See the quote I've placed at Adra's top. This Cycle effect seems to be disastrous to longterm programs.
2) NASA. NASA seems to be a research and production oriented branch of the American government. Lots of news and PR out there now says this. By picking up again some of the half-century old Apollo machinery with recent digital art and PR added to the mix, NASA looks like they are really accomplishing some future oriented and productive engineering.
(The preceding paragraph written before Obama arrived in the Presidential Office. He seems to be delivering abundant demonstration of what new Presidents may do. NASA is a principal tool thru which Presidents ...do their thing.)
I think today's NASA is best seen as a political organization, a shield against outspoken people and organizations that seriously advocate space settlement. This would not be the first time a large political structure, loudly touted as promoting advances, is tasked to quietly block them. Behind NASA are many industries and their lobbyists, a lot of money, and Washington with its large constituency of faith-based conservatives unable to see beyond their fences, churches, and Books. This money and these people act against change and growth and Settlements in space. As already demonstrated, they certainly can retard this evolution by several generations. This would be a terrible loss even if countries overseas (China, among others) were not coming onto the field now and moving very much faster than NASA and Washington.
3) Utopia thinking. To place Settlements in space is to struggle against too much to do and too little resource to do it. Utopia thinking is a distraction. Beware utopia thinking! It is easy to do. It's seductive. It's an escape that seems more desirable, more doable, and more convincing than the reality. It's good business for artists, whose images append a synthetic reality to dreams and planning. However, the best art fails to move the work toward the objective. And it does little to test the required engineering thinking behind the objective. (Elsewhere in Adra, I discuss another serious risk to space settlements as "Chowder and Marching Societies.")
4) The idea that one Settlement is enough to start. That once this first Settlement and its industrial base are shipped off-Terra, the organizational objective is accomplished. What needed doing, is done. Let's see how this works out, we can take a break now and more Settlements can follow later on, someday....
Not so! Because, one single Settlement off-Terra, is a failed Settlement. No environment off Terra offers the immediate richness of resource available on Terra. The Settlements planners must choose early-on what will replace Terra's local richness in the lives of those humans living far off Terra. Only something engineered and made by people can do that. Other Settlements. One Settlement alone will never get off life support. An interdependent network of commerce can replace Terra's richness, but to serve, that network must be started in parallel with the initial Settlements.
5) Space suits. The old Hippie saying that "Fish discover water last" works to full effect here. The useful time available to a human suddenly in space, is around ten seconds. No place anywhere off Terra we know of, offers anything like the atmosphere and environment we all experience here on Terra. But we have lived all our lives in this environment, so we rarely notice it. Off Terra, that all changes.
To see what it becomes, read Gary Harris, The Origins and Technology of the Advanced Extravehicular Space Suit. This book is published by the American Astronautical Society (2001) and available from Univelt, Inc. at http://www.univelt.com/. Off Terra, space suits are necessary and hard to do. Us humans won't become resident across our Solar System until we know how to do space suits.
Thus upon examination, the topic of Settlements in space (and the work to build them) expands like popcorn. Sufficient knowhow and technologies to accomplish those Settlements were developed long ago. Back in Apollo time. Now we "only" need the money, the people and the industries to extend and finish what was begun then (and become very rich in the process). If something can be imagined today, that signals that tomorrow, it may exist. (For instance, Clarke's thoughts in the later 1940's about communications satellites, and today's Clarke Belt.)
Yet hoped-for results don't always follow, however needed and appropriate they may be. America's failure to move on from its Apollo program into the future then envisioned for space, originated in Washington. Killing Apollo "saved" money from space to spend in the current war (at that time, Vietnam). Nothing I see in today's news offers hope the forces at work then, are gone now.
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