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There are three crunch times in the overall work to place Settlements off Terra. These are: 1) successful establishment of financing and of a Base organization that can undertake the project; 2) the first Liftoff of a Settlement; and 3) (very slow) success over Time. #s 1 and 3 of these extend over years; #2, Liftoff, extends over minutes.
No technological nor supernatural imperative blocks us from going out to space and establishing permanent residence there. However, the same gravity well that keeps our atmosphere around Terra, makes a major engineering challenge out of getting away from Terra. The math and engineering and the hands-on howto doits are well established, if poorly used. History is full of examples of people going to new places and making new lives there, and living off-Terra is only different in (large) detail. But this issue of getting out to space and living there is complicated today by a central question with no good answer: Why is that not done yet?
That's a deeply important (and troubled) topic. It obviously has deep roots in Washington, here in America. I expect to be working on it in coming time, elsewhere in Adra. In the mean time, the movie on DVD, 'Orphans of Apollo', is well worth purchase, viewing, and addition to your work library.
Today's method for getting tonnage off Terra calls for large, powerful and expensive rocket boosters that climb up into the sky on a controlled chemical powered blast. System failure during this process can only result in disaster. Maybe someday we can do this liftoff objective more nicely.
Michael Laine recently started a company to develop a space elevator, a long strip of material extending from Terra's surface out to (and probably a little beyond) geostationary orbit. This engineering objective is at the limit of what technology can accomplish, but accessible. However, Laine's company seems to have crashed, perhaps an early victim of the economics we are all thinking about as I write in 2008 October. Perhaps he can restart it, or someone else can.
Laine's space elevator is a carrier about the size of a large bus. It climbs a 6 foot wide strip of material right up into the sky, powered by a diesel engine on Terra surface. (Well, on the Pacific Ocean.) This idea isn't as spectacular as a large booster rocket lifting off, but it seems simpler, more reliable, and safer over many launches. I think that over the long run, space elevators are the best route for travel and commerce between Terra and the rest of the Solar System.
In the mean time, we get into space any how we can, and today we use those big rocket boosters to get off Terra.
The Base installation having done its work, there exist a Settlement packed for travel; a nuclear power source and its industrial base packed for travel; and the Settlement's first people are prepared after extended analog Settlement experience locally.
The Settlement and its people may be shipped out in two or three packages. The people go up last, after the Settlement hardware is successfully landed on site. I don't try to outline a specific setup for how all this gets done. My reasoning leads me to expect this Liftoff stage may extend as long as two years. (But a shorter window for a settlement on Luna -- bad idea -- or on an appropriate asteroid -- maybe better than Mars.) See Zubrin, A Case for Mars, Chapter 3, Finding a Plan, Fig. 3.2.
As I write, there seem to be two lines of work going on in America to build the required big boosters and their support industries. (Other governments seem to see the future value of space better than Washington does. Will the off-Terra solar system residents in coming generations speak Mandarin?) One American line of work is NASA; the other, independent business operations including SpaceX and Bigelow. The NASA work, allocated into little baby steps over several political cycles, is a setup for failure because each incoming Administration will want to make its mark by "renewing" the program. (Why so slow today when 50 years ago, we did it fast?) But the independent business operations offer hope, if Washington does not barge in and break them (ref: ITAR and etc.).
(A further risk to the independents: that large companies with big money at hand will swallow up the small companies, putting an end to their original thinking. Thus slowing development and preserving a status quo that works fine -- for the large companies bottom lines.)
Whoever finally gets Out There, it will be a large, complex, and difficult operation to get them there. This will require a small group of people to set goals and manage progress toward them; a larger group of people to carry out the work; a dedicated group of people to raise the money it takes to support the work. All this will call for several gifted leaders, and throughout the whole project, an appropriate organizational culture.
As many of us will know from our own experience, even small organizations develop their own internal cultures. Larger ones, more so. Hierarchies, dress codes, how stacked or flat the organization is, all that. Further, there's the art or science of raising money and those valuable people who have mastered it. Thus, under the one title of the organization, we find great complexity and interdependence, which must all be built up from zero. Today, there's a large body of knowledge and expertise that underlies building such goal-oriented groups. Within my CEP topic area, some of that appears by reflection and implication.
If you have not yet read Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon (pub. 1949), you must do that. Note that in Heinlein's construction of the story, (see RAH, Requiem, about 1939) old D.D. does not reach Luna until the very end of his life.
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