12 June 2012

FWS Topics: Will We Ever Leave Earth?

For there to be future wars on off-world colonies circling distance stars, humanity will have to leave the comfort of Terra behind and finally push out into the stars. When we look at works like Star Trek, it seems easy, but then we see works like Avatar and 2001: Space Odyssey and read NASA article on fast-than-light travel, a sicking feeling begins to decedent into the stomach of sci-fi fans. That sick feeling tells our brains that we, as a race, may never leave home. Much like parents today wondering if their post-graduate son or daughter will land a job and leave home, Mother Earth must be wondering the same...So, why would we or wouldn't leave the Earth? In this blogpost FWS will examine motivations and stopping blocks to humanity leaving the Earth.

Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu!...huh...maybe not...

The issue of faster-than-light travel is called by the Atomic Rockets website as the 'elephant in the room' for most science fiction, causing some to believe that true interstellar travel will not be possible beyond the Sol system. Travel between the stars will be similar to what has been seen in movies like Avatar were it takes six years to travel four lightyears. and no way resembles the Enterprise or the Spacing Guild. The simple lack of a Wave Motion Engine or any sci-fi FTL device is one of the largest stopping blocks to humanity pressing out of the Terran star system, not to mention the horrors of time dilation.


It may seem pity, especially when examined by far future generations of humanity, but politics and nationalism have served to be powerfully tools of getting impossible tasks made possible, like the voyages of Columbus, the Spanish expedition to the Americans, and the US beating the Soviets to the moon in 1969. Could these same forces be able to motive mankind back into space? It seems it already has. The Chinese lunar exploration program (CLEP) has announced that they are going to the moon by 2025 or 2030. Oddly, NASA has announced that it would be remounted an lunar effort by the 2020's as well. This not by a random act of fate, the mere fact that the Red Chinese maybe beating the US back to lunar surface strikes a primal cord within our nation's psyche spurring us to recall those heady days when we, the United States, beat the Soviet bear to the moon, and to now beat the Red Chinese to the moon. Some think that if the US does not beat the Chinese to the moon, than NASA will up the stakes, and land on Mars or an asteroid first. That sense of nationalism could flow badly needed funds into NASA, and propel us further and further out, just the sake of being number one.

Avoiding an Extinction Level Event 

At the present time, humanity has all of their eggs in one basket, as Robert. Heinlein observed, and if asteroid of epic portions comes screams our way from the cold void of space, than Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck may not be there to save us. Now, we could not abandon Earth for a space colony with the warning we often get about near-Earth misses today, but, if there were already colonies off-world, than some of humanity would survive. Extinction Level Events or ELEs,  are not limited to just space rocks or roaming black holes, bits of matter, but also to man-made horrors, like nuclear warfare, artificially created super viruses and plagues, or even the an nano-machine gray-goo apocalypse. In the Dark Horse's ALIENS comics of the 1980's, the company brings the xenomorphs to Earth, and they escape bring a near-end to humanity, and only a few escape to the outer colonies in a fleet being readied while soldiers died protecting the shipyards. This was an ELE of their own making. Could reasons like this be a possibility  for having other populations of mankind on other worlds?  Not by itself, unless there was some sort of disaster that motivated mankind, like a small meteor strike or limited nuclear exchange.
Of course, humans are not the most logically species, and this alone would not be a good enough reason to mount interstellar colonial missions. Pity...I just hope Bruce Willis is ready.  

Space Salad anyone?

One of the lines used in the science fiction cinematic masterpiece, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, was one of the reasons given for the Genesis Project is for having planetary environments suitable for farming. I grew up with this reason for space colorization (and this picture) from the National Geographic Our Universe published in 1980, that due to population pressure, and environmental damage, Earth would construct space farming stations devoted to the growing of foodstuffs.
The issue of not enough food is one facing portions of our world now, like sub-Saharan Africa, while other parts, like here, have too much access to food, causing an odd disconnect between different portions of mankind on this subject. For the extreme measure to be undertaken of constructing orbital space farms, the major industrial nations of Terra would  have to be facing their own food storage. Not to mention the economics of space farms and how the starving masses of Earth would afford these space-grown foodstuffs would be at odds. Could a starving African tribes family afford space-grown lettuce, fish or wheat? If the need arose for space farms, my guess would be that convention economics would not longer matter, the shit had the really the fan with entire human races faces mass starvation. And even then, there would have to something so critically wrong with the Earth's ecosystem to not long support traditional farming or even seabed aqua-farms (see Seaquest: DSV). OF course, long before Space Farms, the critical global need for food would be met with Soylent Green...I've only heard good things about it.   

Need Gas?

There is a current political debate about the future use of oil and its byproducts and how long the supplies will last. Based on projected future demand of growing markets like China and India, it is believed that Terra has around 120 years left. Of course this all varies when we talk about the future of social lifestyles (mass transit being acceptable or smaller, more compact cities), price of a barrel of gas, and the usage of alternative fuels and nuclear power. Does this mean that one of the prime motivations for governments and corporations to get off their collectives asses and get to space will be when the gas runs out and mobile marauder gangs start plaguing Australia? No. By the time crude oil hits $250 a barrel, the unwashed masses will finally give up their V10s and buy alternative fuel or even EV cars, like the Nissan Leaf. This trend happens every time gas prices spike, and we saw it during the gas crisis of the 1970's, touching off the slow death of the American auto industry and the rise of the smaller Japanese car in American homes. It is likely that within two generations, purely gasoline vehicles would be a relatively small market when compared with today, and it is also likely that hydrogen power will replace the long-range gasoline vehicle and EV cars would make the 'urban car' for the family.
If there was verified petrochemicals on Luna or even Mars, the motivation could be there, but the price would be nosebleed high, and it would make little sense economically, to space import petrochemicals from millions of miles and months of travel away. NASA scientists have confirmed petrochemicals, like Methane, existing on the Saturn moon of Titan, and I do not see my brother's company, Shell Oil, mounting an off-world mining operation. The power needs of mankind could be met with fusion and cold fusion replacing coal-fired plants, further extending the supply of fossil fuels. The thing is that before the world runs out of Oil, mankind will have moved on to other things, or that some ELE will render the question moot...Zombies, anyone? Asteroid mining is often shown one of the better reasons for of-world space mission and a presence in space, to bring needed ores to Earth. This is likely to happen, given the nature of our economic drive to buy new things, like cars and i-pads, causes places like China to be hard pressed to delivery rare-earth minerals for a larger consumer base. Robotic space mining mission could mine the moon and asteroids for ores and minerals that Earth has run out of. This is already being explored, by Jason Cameron no less. 
Some sci-fi series, like the Anime Outlaw Star and the Mass Effect games talk about new undiscovered ores, like Element Zero or Dragonite fueling the ability of mankind to go to the stars. One of the more famous uses of mined outer space ores for space travel is Tylium from BSG. Or in the case of the old D&D Spelljammer series, magic can be used to conquer the stars. In the 1990 Total Recall, it seems the entire reason for the Mars Federal Colony (what a great sci-fi concept that was never fully explain in the film) was to mine some sort of ore found only on Mars called 'turbinium'. This also the basis for the RDA to mount the massively expensive Earth/Alpha Centauri run for the Unobtanium ore that allows for room temperature superconductive, and Earth to survive via fusion plants and FTL ships.
Just remember, Earth first, we'll strip-mine the other planets later!

Have Spacesuit-Will travel!

Given the issues of the new internet economy, growing populations, and less jobs available, a return to space could open up more jobs, especially if nearby planets have needed ores or resources. Space construction workers and miners would be needed in great numbers, and much like what we saw in Iraq, even if the work is dangerous, people will go if their families need the money.  It is likely that no matter how much President Obama wants to be reelected, he will not put forth a space jobs creation bill. It is more likely that space jobs would be a secondary effect of other factors for returning to space. 

Dirty Jobs Go to Space!

As my father would say, "if the hippies win..." And in the future, orbital manufacturing and off-world industrialization could solve the issue of enivormental impact and the critical need of industrial goods all at the same time. These dirtier jobs and the business that create them could go out into space without the EPA breathing down their backs, and make their product that is most likely banned back on terra firma. Much other reasons for leaving Earth, it boils down to dollars & cents, if something is more profitable in space, than companies, like what they done by going overseas, will go out into outer space to turn a profile. Several sci-fi works have used space as a means to depose of radioactive wastes by dumping them into the sun...talk about a dirty job! 

My God, My Planet

One of the driving forces for American colonization was the freedom in these new lands to practice their own beliefs without being punished or jailed. The new world was seen as a promised land by peoples like the Puritan settlers, to create a shiny city on the hill for their believe system, far and away from the grasp of the Church of England. In addition, the colonial regions of America offered new souls to save and adding new members to the flock. Could this be a motivator for space colonization? For this to occur, current Terran would have to change a great deal. At current, most of the Western world is pretty tolerant of other faiths, as long as they did not interrupter the governmental process. It would take a hell of a lot to force any faith to organize and pay for off-world colonization as we understand it today. It is more likely that off-world churches would alter from their Earth-based origins, much like the Latin American form of Catholicism. I could see the major branches of Terran religious undertaking the riggers of space colonization if there was a one-world government that completely banned religion as a whole.   
Mirroring some 19th century American history, the 1997 film Starship Troopers mentions 'separatists Mormon Settlers' illegally setting up Port John Smith colony on planet Dantana which lays in the Arachnid Quarantine Zone. Religion is also used in the Ashley Wood World War Robot universe to explain the bitter conflict between Earth and Mars. The rift is over Terra being terribly religious, causing Atheists to escape to Mars. This is similar to the original founders of the Fremen people, the Zensunni Wander, who were running from religious persecution causing them to settle on the hostile Arrakis where they believed they would be safe.
And what about social considerations? Would the Red and the Blue American states or even the Tea Party decided that they've had enough of the bullshit, and raise rockets to settler their own space colonies? In Ray Bradbury epic 1950's masterpiece, the Martian Chronicles, Southern African-Americans suffering under the tyrannical system of racial oppression pooled their resources and constructed rocketships in their backyards to escape to Mars where cheap lands and no racial laws existed in story Way in the Middle of the Air (which happens in June of 2003!). Social reasons are one of reasons given behind why Khan and 84 others escaped Earth during the last of the Eugenics Wars onboard the DY-100 starship, Botany Bay.  

Earth is NOT Room Enough

By the year 2100, if some war or Zombies have not stopped the growth of the human population, it will 15 billion, and science fiction writers since the 1940's have been thinking and writing about population explosions leading to deep space exploration and off-world colonization. When I was in 5th grade, our library got a very nicely done book on the future of manned space travel, and I must have read that damn thing fifty times. In it, it told of space stations being constructed in orbit and L5 to house the overpopulated Earth. This thought has haunted me for years...could mankind spread to every livable corner of Terra and occupy it with Soviet-style apartment building complete with a MacDonald's and Starbuck's on every block? I thought about this when my family traveled to New Mexico through portions of Texas, and seeing that much open unused space led me to believe that Earth could never be overpopulated in the true sense of the word. Now, it could happen that cities like Los Angeles of Blade Runner could expanse, taking farm lands, and all the choice locations. 
Granted, our sun has several more billions years of fuel before in destroys the Earth, which could led to massive overpopulation, but I am sure an answer would be found be then. I hope...
While overpopulation is popular with sci-fi creators, like myself, and is seen in Blade Runner, Soylent Green, and The Caves of Steel, there would be greater issues to massive amounts of humans living on one world before the concern of simple not enough space would propel space programs to open space apartments on Luna or Mars. Problems like a lack of food, clean water, waste, power needs, and a failed ecosystem would likely be first prior to simple overpopulation.

The Closest 7-11 is 225 Million Miles Away

For there to be space colonies, there has to be space colonists, and the mission that pioneered that development off-world. One of the issue with deep space travel is only time, it is separation of millions of miles be you on Mars and the supply chain back home. Like most Americans, I am very accustom to being one button click or short car ride from what I want, which has fueled the internet economy, and on space colonies, that would not be so. Much like our ancestors that walked across the Alaskan land bridge or walked out of Africa, or even took a covered wagon cross the central state plains, they were separated from the hub of civilization, and help. Until space colonization became commonplace, one of the stopping blocks to leaving Earth would be the untold hardships of being years away from help, resupply, and hell, even a good 7-11. That feeling isolation could be attractive to some, but to others, they would rather stay on a dying Earth. 

"This is for the Species, Boys and Girls!"

In the book Orphanage by Robert Buettner and the 1980's Marvel comic Strikeforce Moritiuri or even Space Cruiser Yamato and Robotech, the presences of an hostile alien species forces mankind to either further develop its space program or even to restart to deal with the threat. In the pages of Orphanage and Space Cruiser Yamato, the alien conquers have setup advanced bases within the solar system to launch strikes. These tangible targets cause the Earth to construct their deep strike space vehicles to kick some alien ass out of the solar system. Much like with the attack on Pearl Harbor, an alien presence in the solar system could shake everyone awake to deal with the threat. While this a wild reason for mankind getting back into space, it certain would be motivating and could get us some rayguns finally.

When Mother Nature Strikes Back!

There is a current heated debate about if Global Warming even exists, and man's impact on the global ecosystem health, however, most sci-fi creators have accepted it and used it to propel humans into space. I did the same for my book, as well as my favorite B-Movie Slipstream,  the recent Ronald Moore pilot Virtuality, the book Man After Man, and the 1990's NBC sci-fi show, Earth 2, and, of course, Firefly. All of these list the destruction of Earth's environment making mankind's life on their mother planet hostile to their existence, fueling expeditions to the stars. This maybe one of the best causes for us finally leaving the Earth, but the situation would have to be do-or-die, if it was just the surface of the Earth, than the possibility of seabed colonies or even airborne city-ships becomes more possibly than off-world colonization. 

From the Fox Mulder corner...

I don't like to clutter this blog up with my personal believe about aliens and UFOs, but in this case, I think its time to bring in the Fox Mulder prospective. For people that believe, or want to be believe, some of the reason given above have been answered, by someone or something else. They believe that alien lifeforms, have and are visiting Earth on a regular basis, and not for any clear reason. Does this mean, if UFOs are indeed interstellar vehices, there is some engineering secret to solving the issues of FTL travel that  mankind will possess? Could some government (like the US and USSR) have recovered crashed alien spacecraft and are, at this moment, reverse engineering advanced technology? In someways, it gives me hope, as odd as it sounds, that if aliens are coming here from outer space, than we too can venture out there. Get your rayguns ready! Of course, it all could be swamp gas and/or new world order black project spaceplanes...


  1. Good post, William- you've raised some very important issues both for SF creators and anyone who dreams of widespread space travel. For anyone to mount exploratory voyages into deep space and eventually establish outposts on other planets, there must be a clear reason for someone to support these expeditions. That, and we need to find some solutions to the problems surrounding deep space travel. Interplanetary travel is not so difficult, other than coming up with reasons to do it and solving the medical issues associated with microgravity.

    Interstellar travel is quite challenging. Ordinary rocket engines- even futuristic fission, fusion, or antimatter rockets- require far too much propellent for even the slowest interstellar journey. The crew would likely have to survive an extended journey of many decades or more likely centuries. A number of ideas have been put forward- nuclear pulse starships, laser pushed sails, particle beam pushed magsails, beam core antimatter drives, etc.- but it is clear that building a workable STL starship will require advances in propulsion technology, energy generation, materials science, life support, and so on.

    Then we have to figure out how and where we will establish a viable colony in the target star system. We often assume alien planets will be similar enough to Earth that humans could live there. However, many problems could face the first generation of settlers- ecosystems that do not provide any edible food or drinkable water, diseases to which human immune systems can not adapt adequately, toxic substances, or perhaps even hostile xenomorphs. It may be very foolhardy to fly to another star just hoping that the habitable planet orbiting it will be suitable for humans.

    Finding the long range focus needed to launch interplanetary or interstellar colonization missions may be even harder. Perhaps future humans will go into space to mine valuable minerals or manufacture precision electronics in microgravity, but that alone will result in the space equivalent of oil rigs, not widespread colonization. Even if Earth's environment changed drastically and ruined most of our farmland and living space, it would be easier to construct floating cities, undersea farms, or even flying cities than trying to live on another planet that has an even more hostile environment. Social reason are a possibility, but whoever is going will have to feel pretty unwelcome on Earth. There is the slight problem that we can't exactly cobble together rockets in our backyards yet. Then again, private companies keep cobbling together their own rocket-ships, so the day when space travel is available to all may be approaching...

    There some speculative propulsion concepts like reactionless field drives, vacuum energy, and studies of FTL kinematics that might change our prospects for interstellar travel. I don't know if any of these ideas can actually work, but we may not be limited to rockets forever. As for crashed alien spaceships- I've never seen any hard evidence for such craft, but I think we will be able to imagine a way to achieve interstellar travel even without alien help. Keep those rayguns ready...

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with focus. It seems that we have not had focus on manned space missions since the 1960's, I mean look at the shuttle, a space bus with no where to go until the ISS was constructed, then it gets shitcanned.
    I do believe, Mr. Phoenix, that you caught one of things I missed...the medical reasons for not going into space! I cannot believe I missed that one...
    I think when humanity achieves Fusion that will a major step towards advanced interstellar travel, but the desiree will have to be there for people wanting to live away from everyone and everything.
    I wish I had the money to take a ride on the Virgin Galactica, the Spaceport is in my parents homestate of New Mexico, and seems very fitting for a spaceport some how...maybe that is why the aliens came to Roswell?
    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi William!! You are quiet right that we have not had focus on manned missions since the 1960s- and even then the moonshots were only supported because we thought the Soviets would get there first. The nightmare of a "Red Moon" hovering over our heads, perhaps hosting Soviet moon bases and missile silos, was a strong motivator for the Apollo missions.

    The shuttle was originally supposed to be a part of a much larger program involving space stations, chemical and nuclear space tugs, and missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA was still trying to follow Von Braun' s vision of space exploration- first a reusable launch vehicle to haul stuff to orbit, then a space station, then lunar taxi craft, then interplanetary vehicles to go to Mars. Nuclear rockets were to play an important role, but US nuclear rocket programs were cancelled because politicians did not want to commit to the goal of sending a human rocket expedition to Mars.

    Fusion rockets are exciting. It might even be easier to use fusion for a propulsion system than to produce power on Earth, since most fusion reactors naturally create a hot high speed plasma stream and space provides a natural vacuum for such reactors. One problem is that current proposals for fusion reactors are massive devices, so most proposals for fusion rockets end up with massive, heavy low-thrust rockets. Future technology may solve this issue.

    Most of the unnamed "ion engines" or "thrusters" on many of our favorite SF spaceships seem to be fusion powered plasma engines of some sort. Such engines would not work in the atmosphere, so a spacecraft would have to revert to a thermal rocket mode or even heat air gathered from the atmosphere to produce a series of propulsive shockwaves. The biggest problem with these "thrusters" is building a fusion reactor that has a power to weight ratio high enough to lift itself.

    It would be nice if Virgin Galactic could drive down the cost of space travel so that you or I could go- but for now, it seems as though space is being regarded as just another playground for the wealthy. I don't see Hollywood actors or wealthy businesspeople giving up their extravagant lifestyles to forge an independent existence on the Moon or Mars. It is exciting to see private companies building spaceships, but what we need is a Volksrocket, not a suborbital joy ride. I would like to see an affordable, robust vehicle that can transport small numbers of humans beyond Earth orbit. I think that we really need to make space accessible for ordinary people, not only government personnel and wealthy people on a holiday.

    Christopher Phoenix

  4. However it plays out I see space colonization as a lot of stories of people at the mercy of corporations who will shut off the air if they try to form a union or some other organization that will make their lives less slave like. Slavery has been a constant throughout human history. Imagine what it will be like being trapped in a hostile environment with Halliburton as your "Lord High God" of the off-world labor camp you were sentenced to for speaking outside the designated free speech zone. People on earth won't be aware of this though. All they will see are the commercials selling this wonderful new life in the off world colonies but when the get there they will see "ARBIET MACH FREE".

  5. In an addition to my last comment I would like to bring up the nightmare of Santa Domingo. The French plantation owners found it was cheaper to work the slave to death and get new ones than it was to take care of them. This of course led to a sparticus type of killing spree that wiped out the slavers and their families. Now lets move ahead to a time when Unical has a "deuterium" mining and processing operation in the asteroid belt out past Mars. I just made up deuterium...a source of cheap and abundant energy That is radio active and highly toxic in many other ways. One would need robots to mine this stuff but robots are expensive and the techs that keep them running are even more expensive. But since the earth is infested with useless eaters why not use them up. Give them a jackhammer and an environment suit and send them down the shaft. Or course They will die slowly and in agony but the savings would be enormous. Unlike the Haitian revolution which was successful at least for a while, This situation will be a little more difficult. All management has to do is shut off the air, food and send in The brave colonial marines with some war droids, drones and whatever other terrors that our wonderful world of science has created. It would be a lot like Yemen, Afghanistan, El Salvador, the list is endless. There will be lots of Archbishop Romeros, Ghandies and so on who will die for the cause of others. You'll never hear about them but you will hear that Unical's stock is going up once the labor dispute is settled, and there will be lots of fresh new slaves, as earth is full of "human refuse" as Rush Limbaugh called them. If that isn't bad enough imagine that some pig in upper management wants to add your eleven year old daughter to his private sex and torture collection. What are you going to do? Say no? The last time you said no they turned loose the Xenomorphs again. This the world to come because it's the world now, and has always been. You can't say no, You can't fight back.....What do you do? This sounds like an interesting scenario for a very interesting wargame. The reason I see corporations doing this is because they are doing it now. In space far from earth their power will be absolute. We could call the wargame "I Am Sparticus". I'm am looking forward to your ideas and opinions because this game could have a big impact on the minds of future slave of the Astrocorporations. ALL HAIL THE SPACELORD MABUS.