This topics series is mildly chaotic, but generally, moving down the list goes to earlier writings.
Back in the early 1940's, I started reading an American periodical titled Astounding Science Fiction. A regular monthly feature there was a section titled "Brass Tacks." It was a place for letters from readers, with editorial responses to what they said. Here is my own "Brass Tacks," but my version of it centers around my perception of the urgent need for off-Terra space settlements now. And as I write, I remember and acknowledge John W. Campbell, Astounding's editor then. Whatever Campbell may have lacked in life, it sure wasn't opinion. And opinion is what you'll find here.
However, I avoid Dean Machines and Dianetics and fringe science generally. I avoid the extremest variety of that stuff, faith-based. Faith-based fails. That failure, and the remarkable vulnerability of many people to "faith-based" despite recent centuries of disproof together with the successes of science, are the only fact and truth in "faith-based."
The off-Terra challenge calls for things that work: for machines that work; for ideas and thinking that work; for hardnosed reality based bricks-and-mortar management that works; for people that work. Thermodynamics is in; future tech we can imagine having someday, is out until it is accomplished and proved. Space and the future are seductive topics for indefinitely extended intellectualizing, and I notice a lot of people around who would like to do something, who wind up doing that. But reality tells us...
"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers
The immense importance of permanent human settlements in space -- ASAP -- must focus the agenda on building and placing hardware with people living there. I'm ok with blue-sky dreams and ideas, for those outline a future to work and to live for. That's good to have in discouraging times. Like now, as our once hopeful America is coarsened and degraded to the tune of relentless Congressional gridlock (My way or No way!). And by the fermenting angry human residue of recent wars. And by blatant political rigging and corruption to benefit those among us who least need ...yet more, and more yet, for themselves and for their friends: never mind that other 99% of us.
Today's world urgently needs a future that doesn't look like a new draft of Orwell's '1984' or like some religious ideolog's vision of a past that never was, to be imposed by legalized authoritarian force upon everyone -- except the few very rich among us. So let's get on with settling space. Now. Using what we have in hand -- today.
If I rage and rant sometimes (moderately, by today's standards), it's about today's useless and hurtful, faith-based religious ideologies, and about my impression we are losing our opportunity to resolve the most serious problem facing our species -- the problem of assuring our longterm existence in a hostile universe. (The least fact-based study of today's favorable reality and climate, quickly returns certainty that one way or another, it can end, at any time, without notice. And probably will.)
Be reminded (again) that I am agent here for nobody but myself. I find my topics in newspapers; in listening to people; in social events; by thinking about things; and even from the once good but now terribly degraded Usenet.
Seen at ISDC 2009. A report the Russians are about to undertake a 500+ days analog space travel project. It's not yet a Zubrin-style 5-year analog settlement project, but it's a far step ahead of NASA or the American space business community.
In 2011 December the Russians have completed their analog Mars travel project. Most reports about it reflect success. To analog model 520 days took, no surprise, 520 days. And setup and closing time. (A report seen online about it from Wired has the word "fake" three times in its title. Interesting.) Whoever thinks about such topics, knows if anyone is to build space settlements, they must first model them to get a toehold on how to do it, Out There. And when America or anyone else does this modeling, the work will run in real time. Key point: these analog projects are things you can't run in effigy, fast in super-computers. You must do them one day per day.
These analog settlements projects don't appear in science fiction works because, after all, those stories are sold to be read and a story must move along or the reader will drop it. But in reality, analog settlements are essential, to a point that one may read much about a country's future in space by seeing if -- or not -- it's doing this essential basic preparation. The requirement is several such analog experiments, not just one of them.
That is, several, so that early analog projects provide thinking and learning to advance later analog projects. This work cannot be hastened by doing the analog projects in parallel. Time! It is a limit. And the work is done for two necessary objectives: to model productive survival in a future reality; and to build a group of experienced and tested people to eventually go Out There and do it -- for life. For generations of life there; not a few hours or days in some "base" somewhere near by. (And with supplies ferried in to the base constantly at costs approximating a very small war.)
In 2011 December, nothing of required scale seems to be happening or proposed in America. Which today reality offers a key resource for speculation by those asking, "Is America a space-faring nation?"
The following are small topics that bear upon Adra's core thesis. I may develop some of them later as full grown editorials.
Re: "Seldon crisis." In the late 1940's, Isaac Asimov published his Foundation Trilogy in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. For these stories he imagined a mathematical science of history, "psychohistory" (which sounds to me like an idea from John W. Campbell, Astounding's editor). The stories were "Foundation," "Foundation and Empire," and "Second Foundation." The psychohistory thread thru these stories included a series of crises termed "Seldon crises." The Seldon crisis was a very effective plot device, and I find the concept useful when trying to resolve today's complexities into some structure.
A Seldon crisis is a point in ongoing affairs when tensions over well defined issues approach conflict but change and resolution seem possible if..., and so you go on reading the story. This literary plot device seems, to me, very useful when thinking about today's realities. Today, in the early 2000s, affairs here on Terra have reached something like a Seldon crisis. I guess that within about two decades, we'll see settlements and a business ecology evolving in space -- or we won't, the opportunity will close for us, and it will never happen. I believe this choice will be seen, in future decades, as today's crisis that determines the future to come. And that whatever the consequences, they will be profound and permanent.
(To see a lively structured history, useful here, read Frederick Jackson Turner's paper, "The Role of the Frontier in America." Much of Turner's work that is relevant to space settlements may be found thru http://books.google.com).
Re: This Universe. I recognize a reality too much discourse about the future neglects to mention. Namely: it's not so that we have some Friend Out There and we can (or should) leave those troublesome long-term outlook things entirely up to Him.
It's a common faith-based belief in our society that some supernatural Power overlooks us all, guaranteeing joy and re-birth to believers (and Hell to those of incorrect disposition). This belief is often reinforced in America as a "necessary" cultural element. It obviously originates in the small child's simplistic, daddy-based idea of all reality. But the faith-based institutions use this infantile perception, each one developing and shaping it to its own style. Attention is diverted from fact-based reality to a structured fantasy, buttressed by warning that any contradiction to the fantasy must be opposed by intensified unreasoned belief. Another common response from the faith-based institutions is, "Heresy!" See topics "Inquisition" and "Epistemology."
In fact, there is no supernatural Power anywhere to bail us out if things take a bad turn here. Look at today's news, for instance. Thus, if we cannot outgrow our ignorant and childish beginnings and recognize the research-based view of reality and of ourselves that our science finds, we are lost. Finished. Some crank among us, or the violent universe around us, will sum up all our history and all our works and aspirations, into a vanishing zero. Obviously, over great time, that will happen anyway. But as I see today's news, the point at which this happens could be years or only months away, not millennia into a remote future.
(Gamblers may find these times and the Washington news exciting. I don't.)
As for the natural violence of astronomical space, we've been very lucky so far. No supernatural force orders and guarantees today's approximate stability here on Terra. We too, could disappear without a trace. Ask the dinosaurs. Some of us living in space, far off-Terra, would only be a prudent safety measure against this. It would improve the odds our species won't exit like they did. And it gives us a better view, from out there, of the universe out there. The usefulness of this is not much acknowledged, but in fact, it's a compelling argument supporting the urgency of setting space settlements out now.
Science to date tells us our universe is totally ignorant and uncaring of our future or of our existence. Things happen out there! Some astronomers think a hot gamma-ray supernova as far off as 30,000 light years could kill our world. (That's one risk among many, not a thing to specifically watch out for.) If we ignore that universe, we ignore a risk something from Out There comes in here, and makes us just another one of those short-lived species, briefly successful and then gone.
I believe the greatest risk we face as a species, originates in mental health issues and from what a few of us, too often seen as Great People, impose out of their mental illness upon all of us. Weapons, for example: hand weapons to nukes. Such mindless tools contribute no value to our present nor to any good future. But they are here, in today's world, in stupendous quantity. However, this immediate and obvious risk at hand, does not abate nor change any astronomical process that might kill us over the (slightly) longer run.
Re: The Future. The past is fixed, but we have an option to learn from it. The future is malleable, giving us an option to realize in it our lessons from the past. Someone (I think it was Burt Rutan) made a really profound and useful comment about this at the National Space Society's ISDC 2005 Annual Conference: "To predict the future," he said, "make it."
It's nice to believe we have pretty much all the time in the world to do that, once we get around to working at it. After all, we can look back at a couple of millennia of history, and if some of it doesn't look too great, well, we can do better today. Now I point to the serious flaw in this plausible argument.
"All the time in the world." Up to when? Up to when something astronomically violent restructures our solar system, after which our Terra no longer exists? Or is merely thrown out to interstellar space with no local Sol to warm it? Up to when some local human smashes Terran society in the belief its economic and social systems will then magically reconstitute into some imagined, correct and gratifying, ideological perfection?
There is certainly a deadline out there. That's a reality, and if we don't see it today coming our way now, that's no reason to set the matter aside and ignore it. The deadline is certainly in our future, and right now is none too early to give it the kind of attention large countries usually give to their wars. (Am I suggesting something here? Yes!)
Appropriate planning recognizes that not knowing what the deadline is nor how far off it is, makes no case against rational early preparation against it. (When we know the details, there may no time remain for action.) Which is why I'm talking urgency when we don't -- today -- see some specific killer steamroller event coming down onto us.
Re: Space Settlements. Watching the news for something about space, you'll occasionally see impressive PR and graphics of large hardwares set out on display. (Seems to me, these appearances synchronize with Presidential politics.)
For instance, things like escape towers and throttleable engines for Lunar touchdown, up to immense machines that can fly up to low space orbit -- and nothing about off-Terra lifespaces, settlements, and economics. (Do not confuse "bases" there with permanently occupied lifespaces there.) The thoughtful viewer of today's PR may guess various reasons why that PR is made -- as it is. Without choosing among the possibilities, my guess is that this is bad news. Carefully (and expertly) concealed under this noisy and seductive PR is the powerfully central basic that nobody is thinking beyond a very few years into the future. Hardly beyond that loudly touted temporary construction, the International Space Station.
The ISS seems to continue a program that is meant to be slow. Why is that? I simply observe that a snail-slow space program must have serious flaws. 1) International competition is a hard fact on Terra, and owing to the riches and values that will naturally grow from space settlement, space will enlarge not loosen this competition. We risk arriving on Luna or Mars to find someone else already there and they may be territorial about it. And 2) it's just not going to happen that any large program (i.e., it costs 10% of a war cost) will survive the vicissitudes of political process in Washington. (Think Super Collider in Texas, and that every incoming President will want to make his own mark on longterm programs.)
And 3) the unknown deadline I mentioned a few paragraphs up this page.
Our official American space program, thru NASA, originates in Washington. It is therefore, political not technological, whatever the PR of large and impressive machines may suggest. From what I've read about this, to penetrate to details of how this program works, is to progress thru layer after layer, like trying to look thru an onion to its core. Some people can do this: I'm not one of them. But I can look at outcomes to guess what's happening deep inside. And one of those outcomes is, there seems to be no space settlements work going on whose objective is space settlements now.
(Work in America, that is.)