This file from Adra, http://www.mhada.info.


Resources for Space Settlements

Reading, Study, and Work. By,

Martha Adams

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The term "Video" as used here, points to anything from old movies on film to the latest DVD, TV, and on-screen internet productions. No actual video files are here. This file identifies and discusses some of these materials, with an eye to improved thinking about human settlements off-Terra. The nuisance 'Digital Restrictions Management' features applied to some of them are not discussed here. I expect you have found some method to cope with that. The topic here is their usefulness for serious space settlements work.

To think about us humans putting out space settlements far off Terra, is to think about a reality that does not exist today. The objective of this thinking, if you're in tune with Adra, is to think about designing and building space settlements such that people can live productively in them and advance our human future as they do so. But where you're thinking about a reality that does not exist, there's a serious problem.

The problem is, the day to day development of reality is complex far beyond any knowledge of it that you may have; and it's chaotic; and it's emergent. That's less bad than it sounds: it's the character of everyday life. The human response to this reality is, you use any resource you can find to guess what is coming at you. Or where you are going. And for that, each item listed here is a useful speculation about something that might be. Take up the following items, one by one, and study them. And then -- move on.

Links. Use the below list to fast-forward to a particular option, if you know your way around here. If you don't, reading the paragraphs below this list will probably prove helpful.


As you think about human settlements in space, you are thinking about placing human society and culture in space. Ready or not, you've just stepped from relatively clean and simple science and engineering problems, into issues of grungy, fermenting, sometimes violent, and constantly changing human society. Down and dirty; and the necessary compression of full size humans into small lifespaces Out There will only provoke more challenge. And as I review my impressions from people I hear talking about settlements in space, I think few of them are ready for that. For this reason, my videos collection here, is biased.

By not entirely rational choice, I've arrived at this collection of largely non-utopian videos. If you want a quick description of what it's like in this humans in small spaces topic, the following does it nicely:

"When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remind yourself, your initial objective was to drain the swamp."

These are videos that I believe people should study who intend to think to some effect about topics of placing human settlements in space. For best effect, do not finger the obvious failings in these works. These videos are made for the business reason to return a profit. Too much reality fails, here in America: people turn away from that. Rather, study these and think about how they may reflect some reality which you could not experience directly -- or which you might not want to experience.

Videos are a powerful learning resource, within their limits. The seductive risk is to slip too easily from active observation to passive and uncritical absorption. Don't do that with these! Rather, pull out a notepad and keep notes....

I list these videos here because I think they are severely relevant to issues around building settlements in space, and to the movement of some of our human race to Out There. My collection here is directed in part, to express my divergence from the thinking of people who seem to believe settlements in space will prove to be, somehow, utopias. I'm as ready as anyone to accept a Pollyanna point of view. But, this space settlement thing is for real.

I did not choose these videos to talk about here, because I found them nice. These videos all contain moments of powerful insight, and moments of "How could they do that" wrongness in their fundamental making. If the wrongness elements trouble you, then you may find it helpful to study how such videos get made. The market as seen by the producers and by their money support, is all-important. That is outside our topic here. I list these videos as resource and study materials: often imperfect, but if you refine as you watch (patiently), these videos usefully complement other resources.

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================================================================= Videos Notes -----------------------------------------------------------------

=== 1984 ===

England seems to be producing some very good materials about character and consequences of totalitarian government. George Orwell published his book 1984 away back in 1949. Which book if published new today, would be too-much up to date. Orwell's book imagines a society and studies character and consequences of a hypothetical class-structured and totally controlling government. In the decades since then, the book became this vid / movie, and its content has acquired an unforeseen reality.

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=== Apollo 13 ===

This video is best viewed immediately after reading Gene Kranz, Failure Is Not An Option. Thus, the movie and the book reinforce each other, leading to better perception of both. We have an important lesson from that Apollo 13 experience.

Some people, especially in NASA and Washington, argue that we need to send explorers to places like Luna and Mars, who after a relatively short visit there, fire up their Return Vehicle and come back. Others point out that the cost of going there to stay, is about the same as going and returning; but it pays off a lot better. However. It turns out, for some reason, the return trip is much more risky than the outgoing trip. Why is this?

Apollo 13 shows us why this is. Their catastrophic hardware failure happened as they were outgoing. They had their fuel and food, and even an extra vehicle -- the Lunar Lander -- to use for their survival. If that unexpected (and unforseeable) failure had happened any time after the Lander separated to go down to Luna, the final story must have been very different from how things actually turned out. It was a very near miss. Read the story to learn how near a miss that really was. Resources, resourcefulness, and just plain luck made the difference.

Now let's look at this from a Mars exploration point of view. And think, what if, consumables and hardwares mostly used up, the Return Vehicle suffers such a failure? With up to six months before arriving back to Terra? Then what? For which reason, I have heard (and participated in) serious discussion about the choice the first humans to visit Mars -- might go, and stay.

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=== Children of Men ===

This is the most recent British dystopia vid that I know of, and it's a very good piece of work. When I was over in England, the culture there seemed decidedly nice to me -- I liked it there -- and not then nor now do I see the roots in British culture to be making these dystopia videos. Orwell and etc. But somehow, they do it; and they do it very well.

Nothing of this character and quality is coming out of Hollywood these days. In fact, so far as I am concerned, nothing is coming out of Hollywood. ...Well, not much: Peter Jackson did some good work recently, and he's done another, "Sicko," which has provoked the Bush administration to attack him. (Excellent PR.) I wonder if that sort of thing accounts for the character of Hollywood's productions these days?

I thought this vid's ending was too quick and optimistic for a good fit to the rest of it. I'm not complaining. It's a good vid and it's an education to watch it and to think about it afterwards.

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=== The Farmer Astronaut ===

I have heard some brief comment to effect this movie is unrealistic. I saw that already, from brief TV shorts appearing when it was first released. I'm ok with that: it looks to many like science fiction, but it's clearly a fantasy. We could use a few dreams around here of a better future, as we've been moving sharply away from anything of that sort under these religious conservative administrations.

To be reviewed and discussed when I have been able to view a copy of it.

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=== Flight of the Phoenix ===

A cargo plane crash-lands in the Gobi desert. The people aboard the plane think they will be found and rescued shortly -- or maybe that won't happen. At last they save themselves by flying out, in or on a minimal airplane they build from the wreckage of the plane they crashed in.

I might write comments in here about movies in which people do remarkably dumb things, just to set-up conflict situations. But the story does highlight the importance of social process for humans surviving difficult situations.

One detail really troubled me about that story. At its end, the survivors get their craft into the air and head off into the sunset. But nowhere in the story, do they figure out where they are and thus which direction to fly to reach civilization before they run out of fuel. For this and other details, more attention to matters any good writer would pick up immediately, would have greatly improved the overall work.

Where is the Gobi desert, and how high is it? How does it approximate a Mars environment, and upon what particular details does the approximation fail?

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=== Lord of War ===

I rate this ugly, ugly vid to be one of the best works I've seen in all my life. Its makers tended to a detail often glossed over: documentation. This work is not reality, quite: it's one step removed from reality to make a chaotic world reality into a meaningful, terribly meaningful, story.

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=== Ordinary People ===

The original movie appeared in 1980, which seems to me quickly after Judith Guest's book of the same title, published 1976. The "ordinary people" of the story are people like you would find down the street, facing a mental health issue. (Also found down the street, but usually hidden by denial.) This is a powerful story about mental health and about the simple basic that concerning mental health, denial fails.

This movie is almost unique in having a mental health worker -- in this case, a psychiatrist -- who is approximately credible.

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=== Outland ===

I've noticed this movie getting a lot of knocks because "it's a made-over Western." I would like to mention in passing, that people knowledgeable about fiction writing point out that there are very few basic plots, perhaps as few as three or four (Robert Heinlein). If you are one of those who avoid movies said to be "poorly made," don't avoid this one on that account.

Outland is placed in a mining settlement apparently near Jupiter -- in space. This movie came out in 1981. It stars Sean Connery, who I think fits very well indeed into the overall story. It's good to see for 1) the view of underlying business politics in action; and for 2) its construction of what life in space might be like.

And, it's a mighty good story.

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=== Robocop ===

Three Robocop movies seem to have been produced: the one you want to see is the first, which appeared in 1987. It is an interesting and sometimes (black) humorous story from a world in which the dividing line between 'human' and 'machine' has largely disappeared. If that happens, then how is the world different from now?

An interesting scene is a well armed Police robot, equal to any challenge in battle -- but it can't go down stairs. Which is interesting: the Japanese are now making humanoid robots that can go down stairs; but in one video scene I had out of cyberspace, I saw one of them take a very bad fall. Learning experience.

It's interesting from my point of view, that the Robocop as shown in the movie, is well along toward being an autonomous individual that would walk outdoors and function -- in space.

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=== Soylent Green ===

This is a movie, originally released in 1973, starring Edward G. Robinson in his last role (which he fills most excellently) and also, Charlton Heston as a young man. The story setting is New York City in year 2022.

Now, Terra's resources are limited; but us humans can multiply without limit (until reason or nature set a limit, and these days, reason is weak). Thus sooner or later, a collision is certain, and some sort of social response to it. Will this response be good and appropriate? I've already touched on that. Soylent Green is an all too plausible construction of how such a future might go.

There are two good reasons for space settlers to study this story. The first is, its realizable society. Which is a direction an off-Terra settlement might inadvertently choose for its evolution, and that would be a very bad thing.

And the second reason for space settlers to look at it is: that such a society could not mount any life and settlement program into space. It is a kind of story that could happen here; indeed, it is happening here. And when that society arrives, us humans are permanently locked down to this planet, and in future generations we'll diminish to nothing. Just like our many predecessor species, and for basically, the same reasons.

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=== THX 1138 ===

This movie is Kubrick's first work, developed from a project he did while in school (college). It was originally released in 1971. I do not recall when I first saw it but I do recall it shocked me. Then.

Now the world is changed, and too much of that change is not, in human terms, progressive. Which is a whole another story: I see this movie now as a cautionary tale for whoever plans an off-Terra settlement.

My reasoning is this. Down thru history, planners of Great Projects have held out great prospects for their scheme, when completed. I will not expand on that; but I have in mind the Egyptian pyramids, whose construction was likely preceded by descriptions of the wonders to follow, and what are those pyramids and the society around them now? At the other end of the range we find the recent Big Dig in Boston, forecast to cost around $2 billion. Today the cost (that is admitted in public) is around $15 billion; another $330 million of additional costs turned up recently. Boston experienced severe inconveniences during this work, and now that it is done, what did that accomplish?

All of which illustrates a principle for Settlements planners to keep in mind. And when I look at current plans for Settlements on Mars and elsewhere, I believe that when space Settlements begin to be translated into reality, this reality will be less like those utopian projections and much more like the interior of a Russian submarine I visited recently.

And, much more like the reality we see in THX 1138. In this movie, the people all live in an underground city, watched over by an all-powerful elite and their assorted instruments. This parallels the setting of Orwell's '1984' and it illustrates again the terrible human risks of total-control planning. But -- how are Settlements planners going to avoid going this total-control route?

Because, all life in our basically hostile universe, exists only within a protective shell. (In fact, that's so here on Terra, too; if you think about it.) Off Terra, the shell will be human made, necessarily at minimum cost. Which means, among other things, minimum tolerable size. The utopian pictures of nice off-Terra settlements that we see around, certainly won't happen in our time nor soon after it. Thus life in early Settlements must be close and cramped. Our Settlements planners need to look at India and China. How do they do that crowding, in their society? How can we adjust our culture to cope with it and not lose ourselves? I see a lot of mighty serious work to be done here.

And because, all this Settlement stuff will take money -- lots of it. And what will the people who supply the money demand as insurance? Control! Lots of it. Now, a talent for money does not correlate with sensitivity nor talent for human social psychology and related work. Thus the control they demand (and they get it else no investment money provided) will be strict and probably puritanical.

All of which, adds up to early Settlements being not the projected utopias we all see (and enjoy) pretty pictures of. Rather, they will of necessarily be tightly regulated pressure cookers. For a preview of which, see 'THX 1138'.

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=== V For Vendetta ===

'V' is yet another of those really good dystopia videos coming out of England. Actually, it's appeared as a book; as a comic; and as a video. It is more a fantasy than are the other English dystopia works, thus more symbolic. But every bit as real in its meaning.

I want to digress a moment, about fiction and fantasy, vs reality. In my experience, writing reality is generally a poor way to express reality. To do reality, requires fiction. Nonfiction is useful and powerful in its place, but only fiction can get right down to reality. Further, no nonfiction can be placed beyond the moment it's written. Nonfiction beyond now is no longer nonfiction. It has become something else, however knowledgeable and expert its writer. Only fiction can peer beyond the moment of now, into the future. That is why several items here and elsewhere in Adra, are fiction works.

'V' reflects a reality one of the Kennedys caught a few years ago in his wonderful phrase, "Those who stop evolution, force revolution." The writer of 'V' has made a very good story out of this dry basic.

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