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Because Out There is so different from locally here on Terra, if some of us humans are to live Out There someday, we need to be studying and thinking now about how to do it. The objective is too difficult to begin casually. Locally, here on Terra, we can choose between urban, suburban, country, back country or remote for ourselves: wide ranges of location and climate. We'll have no such choice in space, at least not in any foreseeable future. (I believe, never.)
Recently an old quote from my past returned to my thinking and wanted my attention. The quote is, "Cities are the cradle of civilization," which quote I attribute to historian Arnold J. Toynbee . (The academic world features several Toynbees.) This quote gets my attention because much of what makes us humans human is written into our histories, and Toynbee's history writings lend structure and order to large fields of data and work. Humans off-Terra will require social aggregations something like our Terran cities, but large access and environment challenges will make their construction and longterm success hard to do. To think about our future in space, review the past. For which reason, Toynbee's works complement works of Zubrin  and of Turner .
Us humans in space must survive in a deadly environment we aren't made for; and living alone there will be too expensive and risky for nearly anyone. And when in space, we must not lose the social interactions and synergies with other humans nearby that make our lives ...life. For these among other reasons (such as shared life support systems), when we think about humans off-Terra, we'll be thinking about people living close together in highly structured lifespaces. For a practical model found in service today here on Terra, think submarines. Us humans who remain on Terra will probably see the larger ones of those lifespaces as cities -- but small cities.
In my writing here, I've now said enough about Terran style cities. That's not where we're going, not anywhere off-Terra. This cities idea is more a reference point and a historical resource, than it is an objective for Out There.
I think we won't call those new human places 'cities' at all. Working in the space environment, we'll respond with what some of us think us humans need. We will make our off-Terra urban structures small overall, and these will be distributed thinner in the surface, or rarely, on it, wherever they are built. For these reasons, although I mention Toynbee and cities, my terminology will stick to 'Settlements.'
Those Settlements will be places where humans like us live out lives something like ours here on Terra, but surely different from ours in large detail. Us humans are as communal as the bees whose societies we emulate. (To much greater degree than we admit to ourselves.) Here on Terra, we do our human 'communal' our own human way, and we don't (usually) call our cities 'hives'. When we start building our Settlements out there in space, hard realities will impose their own character on those Settlements. Different from anything here on Terra. The environment and the economics there will force us to it. Can we see in advance what our future Settlements Out There might be like for those of us who could someday live there?
We must foresee much of the character of our Settlements in space, because building those Settlements will be unprecedentedly difficult. (Living in them will be difficult, too.) Parallels from history are useful but they don't reach as far as this. There simply cannot be the "try and try again" so visible in our histories. Not for those off-Terra Settlements. In the space environment, try and try again won't be affordable even if Washington stops doing its wars and trims its military to some appropriate magnitude. Thereby freeing up maybe half a trillion dollars per year: not even then.
When at last, after all possible delays, we are thinking and planning ahead for those human places in future space, certain controlling elements come immediately into view. Here, I've chosen four of those for more attention: Liftoff; Environment; Economics; People.
What does Liftoff, that spectacular, dangerous, and expensive exercise of controlled power over several minutes, have to do with settlements in space which (hopefully) last millennia ?
Liftoff is a way station, a benchmark. It signals that someone somehow has put together an industrial base with its support systems, that is able to accomplish the liftoff. Whoever thinks a well made and active base is not important wants to look at American history. And let's hope our politicians don't lead us to build up again a space oriented industrial base here on Terra, and then discard it again like Apollo, or the Superconducting Supercollider, or (as rumored at writing time) the Ares 1.
Liftoff is the bottleneck (throttleneck) through which we begin our first Settlements. Each new Settlement will start as a single tunacan hab, or two or three of those, while the site is explored to see that the anticipated resources actually are there and accessible. How does that first hab get there? No magic; no providence: it gets there by some of us putting it there. Likewise, for the people in it. Up thru Liftoff.
The initial Settlement will already include an industrial base able to make electric power, to recycle waste materials, and to begin building more settlement. The beginning Settlement must move quickly beyond what I call its "Get Off Zero" state, and to begin, it does it entirely with imported not local machines and resources. Which until we have long-term viable human ecosystems in space, must all come up from the bottom of Terra's gravity well, all up through Liftoff. Thus to think about the future, we begin with a present in which that's not happening. (But our recent history shows it's easily affordable and doable -- it just doesn't seem to compete with expensive but safely remote wars which benefit only a special few of us).
The space environment will severely impact the structures, physical plants, and Settlements we will build Out There. After the first generation, people Out There will use the space environment in ways us Wellers  cannot imagine. All they build must respond to the deadly environment: people will build under the surface not on it; they will build robust structures designed to survive major accidents. When they are planning places for more people they will ask themselves frequently, How many eggs in this basket?
Space is hard: no place for soft and relaxed people there. This points to a cultural requirement for those future off-Terra humans: an intellectual strength and energy Wellers don't need. One of James White's stories  illustrates a personal character appropriate for living in space. In reading, watch the pilot as he responds to an apparently trivial anomaly in his ship's operation. I see no place in space for faith-based anything. Survivors in space will be tough-minded and reality-based in all they do.
I think Settlements design will be practiced as a severe minimax challenge. My own answer to this challenge is: a Settlement is a network of individual Habs sized to support around 100 persons per Hab. These Habs will be set out in a hexagonal network with interconnecting passages such that failure of any Hab or of a small number of them (meteor strike) won't kill the network. A Hab broken away by accident from the rest of the Settlement, can survive on its own for at least several weeks. Settlements will be made to this discipline because ...because, accidents happen. And Out There, when one does happen, there are no lifespace gray zones: you survive, or life departs immediately. Thus the penalty in space for carelessness or unpreparedness, is personal and group extinction.
Which, if it happens, signals somebody wasn't ready to cope with reality. That's very Darwinian, isn't it?
In a talk that I have prepared about Settlements architecture, I chose "Watts, Water, and Work" as basics the Settlement designer attends to. There's obviously much more to it than that, but it does make a good starting point to get audience attention. The core matter this touches on is, a Settlement is, in a way, a living thing of itself. Set in isolation, it will die shortly. It requires interaction with other Settlements as a part of an economic system, if it is to survive.
Further, it must return profit and growth to the money that set it there. This business requirement is not "abstract" or "mundane," it's a thing you see in all human society, right on up to whole large nations. This requirement is another reason why a single Settlement alone cannot survive long-term. (Note important practical differences between a Settlement and a Base!) Thus accessibility for economic process is a key Settlement location requirement.
Which economic process won't be doing a lot of business back to Terra. Why not? It's that Liftoff thing again: Terra's deep gravity well. It's too expensive, too risky to ship much mass in and out of that well. I think we'll never see a lot of dynamic physical traffic thru the interface of Terra's gravity well like we see locally between regions, across the English Channel, or across oceans. Which focusses our attention upon what may be one of the most compelling basics of space Settlements, this side of air for the people there to breathe. It is: Space settlement is a larger and a harder objective then to simply export some hardware and several people up thru Liftoff.
(If I could see a robust and stable space elevator operating, that might change my thinking. But as I write, the best space elevator project I knew of seems to no longer exist, and I'm seeing no news of further work toward this very desirable objective.)
Space settlement, rather, necessarily begins with exporting an entire self-supporting economic system. A "Base" won't serve; a single Settlement alone can't survive. That is where popular thinking about settling space fails: it doesn't recognize the necessary size of the challenge.
(Which yet doesn't amount in size or cost to any of Washington's local wars.)
We can now set aside the preliminaries and get right down to the bottom of this 'space Settlements' thing. New generations of some of us would live in space? For lifetimes Out There, and bear and raise children Out There? How do us very Terra-adapted humans do that? As a regional culture across all local space, orbiting around our Sol? I.e., permanently?
The easy response to that question is, "Adaptation! We'll adapt. Simple!" Such a response may be followed by extended discussion expressing some individual perception that when we get Out There, a utopia will certainly happen just naturally.
Well, I wouldn't bet money on that, nor much of my time. More likely, our human experience Out There will be difficult, and some of us will die Out There. Before anyone sees any benefits of it, and no utopia ever. In the following I look at three topics: people and gravity; people and fines; people and cultural adaptation.
Re: Gravity. We all experience moments of zero-g. A child may hang upside-down to observe the world in a new perspective -- and briefly experience a minus-one g environment. For a price, one may go to Florida where a company offers parabolic flights for Martian, Lunar, and zero g for a few tens of seconds at each level. Us humans do these things for stimulation and fun.
But we know nothing about the longterm effects of intermediate gravity levels. Less than one g; more than zero g. What does a year or a lifetime in Martian or Lunar gravity do to a basically sound human body? We know compensation such as appropriately designed physical stress reduces the physical degradations we see at zero g. However, we don't yet know the envelope, the limits for this. And for those in-between points, Martian or Lunar gravity, we just don't know at all, because nobody ever did the appropriate long-term research. I had word from a friend working at it, of a satellite experiment to study two or three generations of mice in space at low g. Now the work seems to have ended without the study being done.
I've seen news recently about a Japanese open-space porch installed to the ISS for environmental studies. Nice idea. Wrong priority. We need that intermediate-gravity study and if anyone is really looking for necessary ISS research work, that's it. With mice today, if that's the best we can do today; with people asap.
Re: Fines. A second potential show-stopper that wants serious research has to do with fines. With the ultra-fine rocks dust that seems to exist in space in large amounts. Similar dust is found on Luna and on Mars. Early lunar explorers could not avoid breathing some of this dust (..."smells like gunpowder,") but we don't know how serious a problem it amounts to. We do have good reason to study the matter.
That comes from local / Terran experience and research concerning pollution. Tests with mice suggest fines exposure promotes atherosclerosis. Other research suggests fines from the lungs, moved out and embedded where the pulmonary veins enter the heart, cause atrial fibrillation. In these consequences we may see serious life-shortening consequences of fines exposure. What do those fines mean to us humans in space? To date, we don't know.
Re: Cultural adaptation. You can see culture as social consensus among the people in a place, concerning how to deal with inner and outer realities. In future Settlements, outer realities will certainly evoke large cultural differences between the people Out There and us others back here on Terra. The necessary changes for people in space to adapt there will be hard to do, and the people who do them will turn out different from us Terran humans. Thus we are led to be thinking about the "soft sciences" and about social workers where we may have believed we had only a hard-technology environment to deal with.
The outcome of this reality is that socially, a Settlement Out There will be a very reactive place. Its social dynamics will be much more strong and work much more fast than most people here on big roomy Terra would expect. If this turns out to be a good thing, or a very bad thing, we don't know. We can however, make a choice. To promote good development, we must do studies in advance to understand what's required; what we need to make happen.
And to do that, in planning early and in space later, will require trained and experienced social workers. On site, in the work. If you want to manage a battle front in a war you don't send off an academic expert in military history to do it. You send someone who has been there, done that. In a like way, planning and achieving Settlements in space, will require people experienced in the kind of intense human processes that will go on there. Which calls for what some of us may see as the least technically oriented people to be found anywhere: social workers.
Thus I arrive at some of what we are up to in space, after all the current political noise and action. And we see, yet other major problems beyond the ideological, hardware, and economics issues so visible today. We are building new communities, new human places, far off Terra, but they will still be recognizably human communities. These must interconnect richly thru recognizably human social and business networks, each to all.
Which leads me to ask, Can't we do better than we see today? National objectives that point nowhere but down; research and engineering objectives splattered all over a large map? Wouldn't it be foresighted and good, if we'd just recognize a central objective of Settlements Out There Now and move in the appropriate directions? I think if we did that, not just America but this entire world would be much the better for it.
------------------------------------------------- Notes, Resources, and Pointers:
 Anyone who looks at today's human world before moving on to think about the future, wants to read some of Toynbee's works about history. He may have written the quote I have attributed to him that is my seed for this Brass Tacks piece (I haven't placed it in his writings). See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_J._Toynbee.
 Robert Zubrin with Richard Wagner, The Case For Mars. Paperback. Simon & Schuster Touchstone, 1996. ISBN 0-684-83550-9. LC QB641.Z83.
 About 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner's paper on the frontier in American history opened a new field of study. His concept of the stages by which a frontier region becomes developed and Settled, offers a useful parallel for thinking about how future space Settlement could be done. Space is hard, but thru Turner, the past can guide the future. See his work in http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/turner/, or in http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/225turner.html.
 In recent Terran history: Athens, 5000-7000 yrs. Rome, 3000-5000 yrs. Petra, 3000 yrs. See Wikipedia. When in history does a classical settlement become a classical city? So this reckoning is very loose, but I think these numbers provide perspective on what we can guess for off-Terra Settlements.
 Def. 'Wellers': Humans who thru choice or necessity, live out their entire lives at the bottom of the Terran gravity well. Raised from birth in such an easy and improbable environment, they will usually be unfit to live anywhere else in this universe.
 See James White, Lifeboat (1972). The story line is that a nuclear space ship experiences a catastrophe: the first hint is, the water (reaction mass) in the ship's tanks is more warm than expected. The story develops in typical White style, with the ship's pilot as a central character. As you read the book, watch how the pilot's character is appropriate to the environment he lives in. Good reading, too.
Another book by White could bear on my topic here, but I haven't read it. See James White, The Watch Below (1966).
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