We consider ourselves a space able race, but we have really only got as far as close range satellites, semi-reliable probes to other planets and moons, a limited space station, and had very limited trips to the moon.
The plans are for other visits to the moon, colonisation of mars and interstellar trips. But a lot of people regard the latter two as planning a cycle trip to Australia when you’ve just bought a bicycle with stabilisers and plan to set out next week.
The satellites we have are mostly in near earth orbit just a few hundred miles up. Our single space station is pretty primitive and a similar distance. Our probes record most of the basic information that we want and are now more likely to succeed than fail. And the moon has been visited 6 times in a period of about three years, the last 47 seven years ago, and the next visit possibly in 3-5 years time, but may never happen.
We have had many clever and brave people to plan missions and take the risks.
A lot of the problems come down to cost. Much of the space program has been done on the cheap, often with minimal cost being the prime mover rather than the goal. All of the disasters have had a driver of ‘we’re going ahead’ because of the financial, status and marketing drives, safety taking second place against the glory of succeeding. It’s better to try and fail on my watch than to succeed on another’s. The management having a warped idea of what constitutes acceptable risk.
But why try. We are on a single planet where people have a belief that it has always existed, and always will exist as long as we don’t muck it up. It’s like villagers on a small island who dispute the existence of tsunamis. Nobody credible alive has seen one therefore they are no risk, and the very few old people who claim to have must be a bit wacky and senile. The earth has a target painted on it. Sooner or later all life on the planet will end, but the fact is we need to not be on it otherwise we go with it, along with every other species. There have been a number of extinction events, but even the scientists dispute some of the causes, the only thing being agreed upon is that they exist. Astronomers have seen events happen in the sky that would for the earth be like a grain of sand in a blast furnace. People are doubtful of the timing though. There are those who view the chance in the short term as remote as winning the lottery. Nobody has ever one that. There are those who see events conspiring and it could happen in the next few years. It that the case it’s a result of lifekind 0 extinction 1.
So how do we make it off the planet? We have low earth orbit, but without a firm base it can only be living under a blanket across a couple of chairs, playing at survival. Close or integrated system it’s not, and would go if there weren’t constant supplies, there being 119 so far since 1998. If earth went underneath it, give it 3 months. To have something substantial you need either a moon or asteroid. A base on Mars, well we can’t even manage a base on the Moon and that’s only a 3.5 days away, ranging from 0.221 to 0.253 million miles, Mars being at least 330 days away, variably ranging from 48.65 to 234.57 million miles away. Usually if you don’t catch it right within a narrow corridor, you don’t catch it at all with no hope of correction, rescue or survival. Personally at the current level of technology I put the odds of survival about 1 in 50, probably losing all the astronauts on the first 3 missions, maybe as far as the first 6.
Why would I think this. It’s mainly down to entropy and system integration. Space is pretty empty except for radiation. There are odd bits of matter slowly coasting around at tens’s of thousands of miles an hour (say 20 times the speed of a bullet), but the radiation is the main problem in that it not only degrades cell tissue, it also degrades everything else. Plus any system in use has a tendency to failure. It’s extremely rare to find a system that becomes more reliable as it gets used. The brain is one weird construct, gaining from entropy elsewhere, but that’s structure for you, empiricists look the other way. This means that there is a constant level of entropy that a system has. The disorder, or you could call it efficiency of the system means is always looking for a way of falling apart. But the bigger the system, usually the better the buffering and the more things to replace each part. But you can only go so far with replacement.
If we look back at the various space programs, Russia got into space first, with the US following, many countries putting things up there after. The US got to the moon, Russia sending up many more unmanned missions. It’s likely that the Russian programme cost more than the US one, sophistication being high on both, but there was one difference: the US had a higher level of systems integration. Dependences and interlinked systems are more prone to catastrophic failure, but they are also more reliable and durable. There were many risks taken, but I’m very doubtful that any other country could have managed to land men on the moon. It’s likely that is Russia tried they would either not have made it, or not have made it back.
If you look how each part of the US spacecraft functions, it’s like a watch with careful trade-offs. For instance, why pure oxygen? This is because the other gasses are mainly pure bulk. But 100% oxygen is dangerous and can’t be breathed directly. To get the right concentration for the astronaut’s cells you put it at 20% pressure. Same amount of oxygen. This has the side advantage of not needing as much pressure containment, so the vehicles don’t need to be as strong or as heavy. Useful in rockets. Bad on the ground though, where it is a hazard, only for space. So you take only the oxygen you need for breathing. Link it to the fuel, mainly hydrogen, using both for fuel cells to power the systems and charge minimal batteries, and in the engines for take off and manoeuvring. You breathe out co2, so you need active filters to take it out and return it to you at a lower level, again powered by batteries and fuel cells. The heat generated by the systems warming the components so they don’t freeze and making sure the liquids and moveable parts don’t go solid. All this adds up to integration.
Things that are miniaturised usually turn out more reliable than things that aren’t. They use less power in each separate part so have less of a local power spread. The down side in space is that they are more open to radiation degradation. The smaller the unit, the greater the effect, so you trade off further integration against reliability, with alternate routes and bigger numbers of similar modules. But size offers buffering and longevity. It’s no surprise that old machinery although quite clumsy, inefficient and big, is a lot easier to repair and get working again than most things modern.
Take the Apollo mission. Saturn V rocket, total weight 3000 tonnes. This will put a 30 tonne Command and service module, design life 11 days combined, plus a 15 tonne lunar module, design life 3.5 days on a path to the moon. You get there and back, and a Command capsule, design life of about 12 days, weighing 12 tonnes to be returned.
So that works out to a figure of 100% on launch
15% on going to moon
13% landing on moon
12% taking off again
8% returning to earth orbit and
4% landing back on earth.
So on weight terms alone we lose 96% getting the astronauts back to earth with 12 tonnes, but getting to just the moon we only lose 87% or could put 30 tonnes there. Ten trips 300 tonnes. A hundred trips, 3000 tonnes or 7 x ISS. Unmanned supplies to the ISS are a lot less costly and about 6 tonnes a time, but it is almost as easy to supply the moon, so that could have been 600 tonnes on the moon, the ISS weighing about 420 tonnes.
Mars is a glamorous target. It is another planet and is full of mystery. The moon is boring. Been there, done that. But even scientists are swooning at the name, forgetting why we need space travel, and trying to ignore the effects of almost certain failure, and fudging data and simulations will have. Entropy, sorted, it goes something like this. Radiation, sorted, it goes something like this. Environmental systems and supplies, sorted, it goes something like this. Landing, sorted, we’ve had a few successes. Survival in a near airless, dry desert environment, sorted, it goes something like this. Timing, sorted, all will go to schedule. Take-off, sorted, we’ll make the fuel from next to nothing while were there. Launch vehicle and component failure, sorted, after all it will be modern. We’ve simulated bringing bits of rock back, but not done it once in 70 years of missions. We won’t worry that we haven’t even attempted a rover capsule taking off into Mars orbit, let alone getting the route to earth right, also we won’t worry that we haven’t even returned an orbiter to earth.
So where does that leave us. We should still investigate Mars. That is our next step after. But we mustn’t jump steps. The moon is world enough. Everything that applies to Mars also applies to the Moon and vice versa. The space program is dying from financial, environmental and social constraints, but it is also suffering from commercial justification. If we had an imminent asteroid or other disaster people might become more focused, but it’s getting that focus before people just accept their extinction as just one of those things. At least if we sort out the environment we will have a pretty coffin to go into the incinerator with.
So we have the moon. We first need to find an area that can be enclosed with a minimum of effort. Volcanic tubes, caverns, etc., would be best, but due to the next to no atmosphere they normally would run into fields rather than cones, etc. So we are looking at basaltic lava flows that happened after earlier meteorite impacts, flowing into and around the holes. Where the lava flowed from, would be possible, and ‘holes’ where impacts had not been filled in, but just below the lip adding support. These could be gradually covered with a geodesic dome, especially if ice was discovered within the edges, and using low-pressure oxygen. A low-pressure balloon structure would be best.
The habitats could be dug into the side of the crater, using sub-balloons to extend it. Auto-positioning banners of solar cells could then be raised like flags for power on the edges of the craters with fused terrain reflectors onto those and light pipes, providing heating, lighting and industrial power, and nuclear reactors linked by flow pipes in other craters around. Probably subterranean mining could produce minerals such as uranium for self supply. Water is on the moon and could be purified and recycled, running hydroponic systems, or cracked into hydrogen and oxygen for the inhabitants. The idea is to become a self-sufficient unit as fast and with as minimum a system loss as possible. If it can’t be done here, there’s no way it can be done tens of millions of miles away.
There may be a need for diverting and landing small comets on unused target craters to provide additional resources.
The other plan, but a lot more risky if things went wrong, is to hijack an asteroid or comet and put it initially into close earth orbit. That could mean in a geosynchronous orbit around earth at 36,000 miles, but a better plan would be to have it in earths orbit around the sun, either following or in front of the earth at a set distance, booster controlled, or say about 220,000 miles at an Earth-moon LaGrange point. It would be like the moon but with little landing and take-off requirements. The best size would be around say 2 miles in diameter, bigger and it starts to get hard to manoeuvre, smaller and you don’t have the room. It really depends on the initial density of the material and how much you lose. You could then go through the process of hollowing it out and ejecting the contents. This will make it more useful and easier to handle, as a hollowed out rock can be strong but light as in building materials and construction. You would end up almost with a strong honeycomb type structure. If it was an ice/rock mix you could use it as a resource, refreezing and sealing pockets within in a space igloo type affair.
Alternatively you could have the advantage if it were on a separate elliptical orbit to be used as a way station between various planets and moons. Ideally on one side just outside Mars’ orbit, not getting too close to Jupiter’s effects and on the other side going just inside the orbit of Venus, as getting too close to the sun would cause problems. Dock when it’s close to earth and get off when it’s close to Mars or Venus, and the reverse in the other direction. The orbit would have to be carefully timed and maintained.
But even so, it’s utility as a lifeboat would mean there would now be more than one target. In an earth following orbit there would be the tendency for the attraction between the earth and the body to make them collide, so the distance has to be dependent on the size of the body and the efficiency of the rocket motor or pair of recoil cannons mounted on it. In near earth orbit gravity is still at about 90% that allows for free fall. The distance would have to be much greater to allow for the inverse square to be countered by the speed of the damping mass to be ejected compared to the mass and attractivity of the asteroid and earth. It can’t be too big as you don’t want pot shots hitting the earth, but it might be a method of integrating mineral exports from the asteroid into earths orbit for collection and return to earth. Other transfers such as passengers could be used to also counterbalance the attraction, but you would need a calculated schedule to be integrated with the exports and trimming masses. If it was sufficiently close though, you would have a drag effect from earth’s gravity to keep it in a similar orbit around the sun as earth. Not too close though and it would need to be carefully maintained. Is there a point at which a certain mass would have an angular inertia counterbalancing attraction to the earth and pull to keep it in a stable concurrent orbit around the sun?
But the best place for survival separation would be around Jupiter, especially if you could do a forced sub-brown dwarf type ignition using simultaneous large thermonuclear devices. Where these have been detected and smaller than normally expected in star models, I’ve always wondered if one or two may be intentional using stellar firelighters.
So we have our second site, but if something happens to our sun and we cannot find a short-term substitute, we are reliant on travelling to the next star. It depends on if the speed of light can be exceeded or we can side step and use a warp type system or dimension jump.
There are two main camps, those who believe the speed of light can be passed or at least side stepped and those that don’t.
If you have the belief in things like star trek and warps, etc., then this is not a problem, but where is everybody? Are we just simply a nature reserve for monkeys? Also no one seems to have an idea at the moment on how to do it. Conventional science suggests we will need at least energy equivalent to sun like powers to do this, but we only have one and it might be imprudent to start meddling with it. Which is the constant energy, which is the detonate, and which is the off switch? So at the moment this is possibly 1,000 years in the future, and we can’t even manage fusion yet. A thing that I don’t think likely outside of near zero gravity, not freefall like the ISS. Too many factors to warp a contained field, especially if you’re using a Tokamak type system.
As for warping space, we only supposed to have seen ripples generated by something like two black holes colliding, those being minute variations and not really the level to bend space to allow a spacecraft to travel. Finding the power of two suitable black holes may be somewhat of a problem for terrestrial science. We haven’t detected the bow wave or signs of someone warping space, which I’m sure would happen, so it may just be science fiction that can never become fact.
Other people favour anti-gravity or the negation of inertia, but so far nobody’s managed to get it off the ground, so to speak. CERN is always looking for something which may be used to alter the normal laws of physics, but even spending billions of pounds on it there is still a vast difference between a few odd particles, an understanding, and a production line. The phrase ‘no such thing as a free lunch’ has always applied to physics, and nobody in its history has managed to find a way around it. An example, nuclear energy, has never been absolutely clean, simple, or free, and still ranks as a pretty expensive but reliable form of energy.
If life receives constant set backs, either of the reset or reboot type, then it’s more likely than not, that is has happened many times in earths past. Again, if it hasn’t, where are they? A reset is where society is reset back to the end of a stone age, a reboot, back to simpler organisms.
If faster than light travel is impossible, even for those we would consider the gods, then we have a problem. Our level of systems integration only works for say a week at the most before we have problems. Unmanned craft can operate between -100 and +200°C, and 0 to 1000 atmospheres, but living organisms exist mainly between 10 and 40°C and 0.2 to 10 atmospheres. They can live outside this range, but will have major problems long term, so the narrow bands are near required permanent environments. This is where entropy sets in, where even the most efficient integrated systems, unless of an adequate size will degrade into being unusable. How many 1%’s does it need once a month for this to happen and a system becomes unviable? Even at 1/100th of a percent a year, after 10,000 years a system would probably be uninhabitable.
So for rockets, unless you want to spend 50,000 years in what needs to be perfect hibernation and end up looking like desiccated coconut from radiation damage, they are pretty useless. You’re probably looking at maybe in a sealed area 99% cell damage, unless the craft and occupants are very small and very well insulated.
So where does that leave us and any alien civilization? Probably imminent extinction. Aliens, being cleverer than us we hope, would either accept this and try for palliative care for its inhabitants. At least perish in luxury, or they would think, if we can’t survive, how about in proxy or something similar?
This is where planned panspermia comes in.
The principle is to contaminate the universe with their basic cells. That way, they may exist again, but probably not knowing about where they originally came from. Some people regard the Human Race as pollution, so that will not impress those and it’s not worth trying to discuss it with them, but others will see this as a possible lifeline for life itself and may think of it positively. The chance that somewhere in the cosmos there is a chance that elephants and pandas may exists again, though probably in a slightly different form, has its appeal.
You would need a lot of craft that can stand the rigours of deep space. Probably cooled with liquid nitrogen until you get out into space where the lack of heat will keep it frozen. At that temperature most cells would possibly survive indefinitely, if it were not for the radiation. You can only provide a certain amount of protection, and then it is really a numbers game. Totals numbers against time and irradiation, but as previously stated you might get 99% loss.
They would drift into planetary and solar orbits and either is found or come down on the sun, planet, or moon. Again, if it’s too hostile it ends there, unless it is a frozen world where conditions may change. But if they were coated with the same sort of material as space shuttles, a suitable planet may ablate them and impact fragment the contents, especially if inside the contents were still frozen. Life could have a chance. The odds are tremendous, even of hitting a planet, but consider that the solar system probably used to abound with bits of rock that made up the planets. If something comes into our solar system it has an outside chance of hitting something, even the sun. Now going through 10,000 solar systems, the odds are slightly higher.
You would need a world library of as many cell specimens as possible to provide a bank for the ‘Life Capsules’, as you cannot pre-define a starting point. You should have a DNA list engraved on platinum discs so that an alien culture could use as a template for fragments to re-create various species. Normal planetary forces may incorporate DNA fragments in a possible life form, but you can’t guarantee it, so if a life form developed which was not strictly according to earths standard of life, they may be curious and regenerate those types using the templates. But there is always a possibility that life is channelled into certain forms by the laws of physics and statistical chance, so our forms may be simply the natural route available.
We cannot be sure when the mankind, or all life on the planets off switch is going to be hit, but we are in the position of having enough technology for thinking about continuation at least somewhere. Its possible this has already been done.
Of course, if life so far has just been a sort of galactic relay race, with past ancient civilizations trying this as they think they couldn’t manage to continue with what they knew, not doing so may be the equivalent of mankind dropping the baton and extinction of all life being crowned the winner.
A continuation capsule would need to be easily eroded or de-encapsulated. You would not have the benefit of a controlled re-entry system, so it would need to not only survive this but also to break up when the package has been delivered. A container that doesn’t allow for extreme temperatures or is unbreakable and last forever is pretty useless in this matter.
Alternatively you could send it to be implanted in a moon, comet or asteroid. This would offer much greater protection against cosmic radiation than a capsule. A lot of moons, comets and asteroids are only temporary partners of a planet or solar system. It takes quite a lot to capture any of them and during the life of a planet or star they follow short to long-term stable orbits. Our moon for instance is only a temporary structure as far as life of the universe goes, and is moving away from the earth year by year. In 5 billion years at best it will be 50,000 km farther out, if the suns change doesn’t disrupt all the orbits by then and swallow the earth. The moon has a chance of being flung into another wider orbit or possibly out. So a capsule on an outer planet or moon may become viable, especially if it was something like Europa.
The ideal place to launch from would be either something like a platform in space in an earth or moon orbit, or something like a launch cannon on something like the moon or maybe even a suitable asteroid. The cells being just cells could be buffered against the initial launch, as they are not an integrated living entity or life as we know it Jim, that would suffer from the sudden acceleration, but a carefully concocted mix. Think cosmic egg. If we send out one capsule that is better than not sending out one. Send out ten and the chances go up more than just ten times. Send out 100,000 and you’re getting into the realms of likelihood.
But there is also one other advantage to this. If technological life existed and we discovered such a capsule, how would it bear on history and the knowledge of life, especially if technical works went with it. If a past civilization had worked out practical fusion power, how would it affect our world?
Temporary support medium
Liquid or solid nitrogen
Shaped space shuttle type tiles
Radiation limiting material
Tables for the deterioration rate of organic and non organic materials by space radiation, within and outside planetary shadows.
Blueprints for DNA types on platinum disks for recreating from fragments
Books, art, music on platinum disks
Launch vehicle, moon or asteroid cannons
Lots of them
Time to do it
This is just a simple diagram of the concepts needed. Please feel free to add or change this document as the only profit that is likely to be seen from it is some form of survival for something similar to our form of life.