Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cooperation or Competition

Sam Dinkin thinks (via transterrestrial) that getting spacefaring underway takes cooperation and the bickering should stop.

It's a good article, but I can't say that I agree. My take is that the bickering is mostly noise. The real issue is economics (which I have some thoughts on.) So how do I think spacefaring will get underway? It's already underway in that private companies are taking a crack at it. They are spending real money on precursor projects that are in the chain of events leading directly to a spacefaring civilization. It will have arrived when people live in communities that are mostly independant of the Earth. I see people living on Luna, Mars and in freefall... no need to bicker about that.

He also says something I strongly agree with, "Instead of constantly seeking the optimal in technology and space policy, we can make do with the commercially viable." Yes, it's all about the commercially viable which makes the bickering irrelevant. The whole point about space is that it's the new high seas, government will matter less than the captain you're riding with or the community your living with.


Economic development is done by speculators. Down the road from where I live is a retirement community called Sun City. It's a planned community where lots of electric golf carts ply the road. Even the grocery store has parking slots sized for the carts. One day some developer is going to create a planned community on the near side of the moon (one-sixth gravity may have advantages when they fall and can't get up?) It may cost a lot to buy a property and get there, but living there can be cheap as long a abundant energy to grow food and recycle water exists. They'll still use their golf carts! I expect with economy of scale it'll cost no more than 20 million for two people to get transportation to an apartment which includes an annuity to provide for all their basic needs until they expire. Lot's of people will be able and willing to do that. Probably within the next 20 years.

Orbital Habitats

While lagrange points are fine and dandy, orbits around the Earth and Moon have economic purpose. If Earth orbit is half way to anywhere, then that's where the gas pump (refueling depot) is going to be. In Moon orbit will be shuttle service to the surface and back. I believe ships in general will be simpler and more specific than most people imagine. Today we think of ships like the space shuttle that are launched and return to Earth. But general use ships are not going to land in any gravity well. Once launched they will spend the rest of their existance in orbit (or transfer orbits.) Either they will carry a smaller ship for landing and ascent like the old lunar module without leaving pieces of itself behind or they will dock at a station that provides a permanent service to do that like for Luna City or Mars Spaceport.

Most ships on the seas are private or corporate owned and it will be no different in space. People will live on ships they own that provide charter services, sort of a long term roving bed and breakfast with solar sails (governments may have a monopoly on the fast nuclear drives for the forseeable future.)

New Earth: Mars

Mars will have the fastest growing community for the next hundred years because the resources to grow exist in one place. Once established no launches required and no years of waiting, just farm it or go dig it up. Zubrin's 'Case for Mars' sums it up this way, 'There will be a "triangle trade," with Earth supplying high technology manufactured goods to Mars, Mars supplying low technology manufactured goods and food staples to the asteroid belt and possibly the Moon as well, and the asteroids and Moon sending metals and possibly helium-3 to Earth.'

How much will you pay for this asteroid?

Asteroid miners, the stuff of pulp science fiction. What kind of person will spend a fortune and a good part of their life to hit paydirt? This one is a bit harder to imagine, but it would seem to be required if "triangle trade" is going to be a reality. I don't know.

Regarding the title of this post. Obviously some cooperation is going to be required, but economic vitality requires friendly competition. Economics is about self interest as a driving force. This can be and generally is a good thing. Some see this new frontier as a new wild west, but space is a big place with plenty of room to grow. The next few hundred years should be exciting.


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