To save humanity, let’s colonize space

A long time ago, I tried to write an essay — hopefully to be published in a magazine — on why humanity should practice space colonization. Not for the usual reasons, either, which was my problem: trying to put what I was thinking into words became more and more difficult the more I thought about it! The actual reason was fine; but defending and explaining that reason was difficult.

After witnessing the incredible changes over the past few weeks, though, I wanted to try and sketch out a basic idea again. I was moved first by the incredible ignorance that was a response to the anti-Confederate flag movement, then by the King v. Burwell decision, which alarmed me, and then the joyous Supreme Court decision that finally allowed same-sex marriage across the nation. In short, I think there are three basic reasons for colonizing space — one obvious, the other two may or may not be so much — and moreover, I think we should be working on colonizing space now.

Reason 1: Avoiding Natural Disasters

Let’s get the lowest hanging fruit out of the way: a primary reason for colonizing space is to have a backup for humanity in case anything happens to the Earth.

I’m not tremendously worried by human induced climate change, nuclear war (despite what Vox says), or human caused existential crises. While we’ve demonstrated our tremendous appetite and capability for destruction, we humans also have an even more tremendous appetite and capability for adaptation, problem-solving, and creation. I am certain that, even if climate change was a problem, we would devise technology to mitigate and perhaps even nullify it, such as completely renewable energy or weather maintenance systems.

I’m also not deeply worried about an asteroid or cometary impact, but at least unlike the human ones, those seem more plausible. Then you add in other possibilities: magnetic field reversal, the Yellowstone caldera exploding, a natural pandemic like an antibiotic resistant superbug wiping out humanity, etc. There are a few. And there are a couple of human caused events that would make me worry, namely creating artificial superintelligence (even though I think that scenario is unlikely), “grey goo”, or a human created superbug.

In any case, should any one of these come to pass on Earth, humanity could be doomed. I don’t know if we’d survive an asteroid impact. Civilization, at the very least, would be utterly gone. In order to ensure humanity would survive these events, we need to begin colonizing space. It’s a pretty straightforward reason. Some may argue why humanity should fight so hard to continue, but to be honest, isn’t that a silly question?

Reason 2: Preserving Liberalism

Here’s where I started to stumble.

On the one hand, I’m actually fairly optimistic for the future of liberty, at least in the Western world (and also the Third World, but it will take longer.) I see the rise of technology as being mostly beneficial. Things like Uber, AirBnB, the Internet of Things, iPhones, Tor, blockchain technology, fusion, advanced computing, etc. are all great at decentralizing society down to the level of the individual, in addition to utilizing capital more efficiently and making things cheaper (as long as government stops manipulating prices and currency.) Looking at the public opinion trends, I think we’re in for a period of dramatic decentralization as people “cut out the middleman”, so to speak. I think this will also lead to a resurgence in individualism and (classical) liberalism, naturally, as people don’t need government or coercive methods in order to get things done.

But on the other hand, I could be very well wrong. I see evidence of this all the time. The NSA spying is one big piece of evidence in favor of this: government will simply harness technology to spy, manipulate, and control us. Then you see the luddite idiocy against Uber and other advancing technologies, such as GMOs (which, I’ll have you know, have saved the lives of tens of millions of people and gone a long way towards ending hunger.) There’s the people who have been victimized by poorly run public education systems, who have no sense of history or how the physical world even works. And after the mythical frontier was more or less closed up a century ago, we’ve seen governments close inward on themselves and become more and more controlling, manipulative, and authoritarian. In the United States, the federal, state, and local governments have wormed their way into nearly every aspect of our lives. Business and government are now tightly interwoven, which makes it difficult to pinpoint problems while simultaneously keeping us down. When you need to ask for permission and navigate a maze of regulations designed to protect big business in order to make your own business, all of society suffers as a result. When you need to ask for permission and comply with regulations to speak, all of our liberty is harmed.

There are two parts to this argument: for starters, I think that opening up an entirely new frontier — a frontier completely devoid of indigenous aliens, so we need not worry about Manifest Destiny causing such horrors — will naturally build an ethos of independence and freedom. It will first attract people who are already like that, but even those who aren’t so deeply independent will become that way, as you must be in order to survive. Colonists will be operating from large distances from government authorities — even if they were just colonizing Lagrange Points and not other star systems — and coercion, while a tool, probably won’t even be needed to get people to work together. We need that sense of a frontier again, I think, in order to rekindle that sense of freedom.

We also need it as an exit valve so people can leave bad institutional designs. This is the more organized part: libertarians and classical liberals can work to colonize the cosmos, while Earth descends into more authoritarianism. Statists have been saying for ages “If you don’t like it, then leave,” and while we’ve always derided that response as meaningless since nobody really has the means to leave…what if we did? And not just leave the country, but the entire planet? As much as I like the beauty of Earth, why not take them up on that offer? If we could create our own island in space, an environment customized to our needs, we could create something close to a technoutopia. And why not? I’m not talking about terraforming; I’m talking about building O’Neill and McKendree cylinders, or even a Bishop Ring (if we could figure that out.)

I really do think the liberal tradition of Locke, Smith, Kant, Bastiat, Emerson, Mill, Hayek, Friedman, Nozick, McCloskey, Powell, Gurri, Kuznicki, Boaz, Zwolinski, and many, many others, is the best way for humanity to thrive and prosper. Respecting each other as individuals and basing society on voluntary transactions not only is right in a moral sense, as it respects our natural rights as sophont beings, but also leads to the best material and social outcomes. Of course, if socialists, greens, corporatists, and what-have-you also want to leave Earth to create new colonies to preserve their political philosophies, they have that option too. I just find it very doubtful they will do that (well, maybe some socialists would.)

I could be wrong here, and I probably have not explained this very well. It’s difficult for me to put into words, but, as simply as I can manage: I think the causes of human freedom, independence, innovation, and liberalism need to be saved, and colonizing space will save them.

Reason 3: Human Transcendence

The last one is also tricky, though for other reasons. While colonizing space to preserve liberalism is hard for me to put into words, colonizing space to make way for human transcendence is hard because I have no idea what that entails.

It may seem odd that I would advocate for something that I don’t know the basic parameters about, but this ties into a core theme of libertarian writers: the freedom to experiment and innovate. One of the best parts of the free market system is the wild experimentation that comes about, finding new ways to fulfill people’s needs. It’s the engine that has driven much of the progress of the last two centuries, giving us electricity and the Internet and modern medicine and holographic technology and even giant piloted robots. However, it’s hard to say what is coming next (except, perhaps, driverless cars and 3D printing organ tissue), because someone has to think it up and try to market it.

In much the same way, I think space colonization would go far in helping humanity overcome it’s physical limitations and reach new heights. No, I’m not saying we’re going to ascend to a higher plane of existence once we’re beyond the Earth’s gravitational field — though, you know, anything is possible. Rather, I think that having colonies in space will provide us with places to experiment and devise new technologies. Who knows what wonders zero-gee manufacturing will bring us? Perhaps in space we’ll start genetic engineering humans to be adapted to space, a sort of homo sapiens cosmoi — and what other technologies will that bring? What sort of social and religious structures would develop and evolve in space? And finally, in space, once we have a sizeable population free of Earth, what will think of the little blue marble from where we came?

It’s not that I think that humanity will become staid and conservative staying on Earth — the recent changes in American society, and the rapid pace of that change — has demonstrated that we can still develop down here at the bottom of the gravity well. But you have to wonder if there isn’t something else we can learn and develop from being in space. I think there is something. I just don’t know what. But I think it would be exciting to find out.

Conclusion: We can and we should

I’m not going into the how of space colonization, but it is clearly not beyond our abilities. And if it is clearly not beyond our abilities, and there are very good reasons to establish human populations beyond Earth’s atmosphere, then why not do it?

I’m not going to pretend I’ve articulated the best argument for this, but I think it’s a good start.I welcome criticism, so I can refine it. But most importantly, I want people to start thinking about this in real life terms, and not science fiction. If we want humanity to advance and develop, and moreover, to just survive, we’re going to have to take the idea seriously. Not just the plaything of science fiction authors or rich billionaries like Elon Musk and Robert Zubrin, we all need to consider it.

Our future depends on it.

A Plethora of Links to End 2014

2014 is just about gone, and for the large part, I say: Good riddance. In many ways, 2014 was an awful year for civil liberties, freedom, and for people in general. Yet on the other hand, there are some positive things to report.

One of my 2015 resolutions is to stop posting so much political stuff. I know, I know – I say this almost every month, and yet it never happens. I'm going to try, though, this year, especially since I'm making the effort to make some resolutions. (I'm even going to print them out and put them up on my wall in my bedroom and in my office.) So in honor of that, I wanted to post some last political and semi-political links before the year ended, links that have been sitting on my mind:

THE BAD

2014 was a really rotten year for privacy, civil liberties, and in particular for public-police relations. For a long time I thought of writing up a list of all the issues of police overreach and brutality, but I don't have to. Radley Balko, one of the best journalists on the planet, rounded up 2014's civil liberties violations as a "Let me give some predictions for 2015" post. It's chilling to think that, in the nation that is supposedly the leader of the free world, we have so many horrible things going on – most, but not all, being conducted by state and local governments.

I mean, seizing someone's assets, then charging them with a crime, so they can't pay for their own defense? Arresting parents for letting their kids play without supervision? Claiming that your SWAT team is a private corporation and is thus immune to open records laws? Push for extrajudicial tribunals for people who may or may not commit crimes against a certain class of individuals, tribunals where "innocent until proven guilty" and the rule of law are thrown out the airlock? Punishing people who haven't been convicted of a crime?

These are not the signs of a healthy liberal democracy, they're the signs of a damaged one that needs repair, fast.

One story in particular has stood out to me. As many have defended the police in the recent incidents and stories, one thing they may have failed to notice is that even black police officers feel threatened by the "boys in blue". I think once cops are fearful of other cops, then we have indisputable proof that there is a serious problem. And yet people still ignore it. Read the link above for a maddening, frustrating look at what is wrong with policing today. (That one really grinds my gourd, because I think it will be ignored by most.)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, in 2014 progressives became nattering nabobs of negativity – or, in other words, conservatives. reason magazine highlights how 2014 heralded the return of "Neo-Victorianism", and I'm thankful that Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote that article because I've been struggling to find the right word for this new trend. It's the trend of using coercion and bullying to enforce a set of social norms, mostly deployed by feminists, it seems. The four major areas are increasing art censorship, a hysteria over sex-trafficking (that trampled over individual rights while simultaneously punishing sex workers, many of whom don't think they're victims and like their jobs, thank you very much), a dragging out of hate speech to absurd lengths that means you shouldn't say anything that could potentially offend anyone at any time, and a trend of treating women as dainty little flowers that need to be coddled and protected rather than being allowed to develop into strong and independent individuals.

It's all rather sickening. It too, is not a sign of a healthy democracy.

And let's not get me started on the various abuses by the NSA. Let's just not go there for once.

The Good

There are, however, some great things to look forward to in 2015 that continue from 2014.

The first is in terms of war and crime. Steven Pinker, a wonderful academic, details in a great article for Slate that planet Earth is actually becoming a very peaceful world. I found the article particularly interesting for the following tidbit:

But the red curve in the graph shows a recent development that is less benign: The number of wars jumped from four in 2010—the lowest total since the end of World War II—to seven in 2013. These wars were fought in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Syria. Conflict data for 2014 will not be available until next year, but we already know that four new wars broke out in the past 12 months, for a total of 11. The jump from 2010 to 2014, the steepest since the end of the Cold War, has brought us to the highest number of wars since 2000.
[…]
The 2010–2014 upsurge is circumscribed in a second way. In seven of the 11 wars that flared during this period, radical Islamist groups were one of the warring parties: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel/Gaza, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen. (Indeed, absent the Islamist conflicts, there would have been no increase in wars in the last few years, with just two in 2013 and three in 2014.) This reflects a broader trend.

That "broader trend" being religious hostilities, with "all but two of these countries" having those hostilities being "associated with extremist Islamist groups." I always find myself on a narrow tightrope when it comes to Islamism; on the one hand, I always find conservatives are far too hostile and kneejerk when they want to just fight Muslims and bomb them; on the other hand, I think that many libertarians and leftists slide Islam's problems under the rug and prefer not to notice. Don't kid yourselves, guys: although Christianity has issues, it has largely been tamed and neutered by modernity. Islam hasn't. And Islam has got loads of problems.

But even despite that, the world is far more peaceful than the news reports make it out to be. Outside of the Middle East, we have the conflict in Ukraine – and that has basically been frozen. The drop in oil prices has crushed the Russian economy, so I don't know if Putin will continue to help his "allies" in Donetsk and Lugansk. There are conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, but to be honest I know very little about them.

Meanwhile, Fraser Nelson in The Spectator (UK) reports on how we're winning the war on disease. In 1990, diseases claimed roughly 37,500 years of life per 100,000 people; now they claim only about 26,000 (judging by my eyes on that chart.) Starvation has dropped by over ten percentage points. Infant mortality has plummeted. These are all extremely good news to hear.

The last one is a story on upcoming disruptive technologies, many of which are going to build on 2014 discoveries. I post this one because I have a bit of a quibble with the author, Vivek Wadhwa. Although I think most of his points are relatively sound, inasmuch as I, not being an expert in these areas, could judge them, his section on energy has problems. First, he leads off by saying that fracking is a harmful technology – newsflash, it isn't. Second, he says that solar power will hit grid parity by 2020, which I think is unlikely considering how expensive solar power is. (Seriously, the people I know who study energy saw a similar story by Wadwha and they claimed it hurt their brains.) Third, Wadwha claims that if we have unlimited energy,

we can have unlimited clean water, because we can simply boil as much ocean water as we want. We can afford to grow food locally in vertical farms. This can be 100 percent organic, because we won’t need insecticides in the sealed farm buildings. Imagine also being able to 3D print meat and not having to slaughter animals. This will transform and disrupt agriculture and the entire food-production industry.

Wadwha might be right about unlimited energy and unlimited clean water, but even if he is, the rest doesn't follow. Water isn't the only resource. Why would we grow food locally? It's not necessarily more efficient than growing food on larger farms elsewhere. Secondly, what about the time involved? When Wadwha says "locally," I see the localist woo argument about people growing food in their backyards. But that takes time, and who wants to waste time growing your own food when you can buy it at the store and instead spend your time going to sports events, watching TV, writing blog posts, or going on romantic getaways? Wadwha ignores that, and it hurts, both his piece and my head.

I'm also a little miffed he didn't mentioned Lockheed Martin's new fusion reactor project (more on that later), but I totally agree with him on synthetic meat – which I think will be a huge advance – and he makes good points about 3D printing, finance, and healthcare. In all areas, we're talking about some radical decentralization.

The Awesome

Okay, the last bit. The really cool stuff.

Scientists did some really cool things in 2014. I mean, some really scifi things. Quantum teleportation for instaneous communication, blood based nanites to repair your body, 3D food printers, hoverboards – 2014 was a really cool year for tech.

Meanwhile, the one news item that really made me jump was Lockheed Martin's announcement that in five years they'll have a prototype for a commercial fusion reactor. There are a lot of questions and criticisms of this, with many having doubts – but if anyone is going to deliver a power source that is clean and nearly limitless, it's going to be Lockheed Martin. And I hope it turns out correct, because I think that:

  1. It would provide enough energy to avoid the coming energy shortfalls as our iCivilization keeps getting bigger
  2. It would go a long way towards making climate change a nonissue
  3. It would go a long way towards getting the US out of the Middle East as we wouldn't have to worry about the oil reserves there
  4. It would weaken OPEC, Venezuela, and Russia (yes that's a cheap geopolitical shot but I think it's valid)
  5. A fusion rocket could get us from Earth to Mars in 30 days rather than six months
  6. It could power the warp drive that NASA is working on
  7. As energy is one of the largest input costs, this could make everything cheaper across the board by a considerable factor
  8. Bonus – Gundams.

I'm really hoping that 2015 will turn out to be even cooler.

And finally, for one last speculative item, there's a guy in Nebraska building a warp drive in his garage. Okay, okay, it's pretty far out there, man, but when you read stuff like this:

He turns around and points to the back of his garage door, where a red laser — beamed at the weight and reflected back against the door to demonstrate the movement happening in the case — drifts from its original spot. Slowly, in incremental amounts, the weight is drawn toward the V-shape motor.

You gotta wonder.

I’m With Elon: Let’s Colonize Mars

So Elon Musk wants to screw Earth and colonize Mars. Excellent, I completely agree. Let’s get started.

The interview Musk gave to Ross Anderson of Aeon Magazine is fantastic. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a forceful advocacy for space colonization, which is refreshing. It seems like the cause of space has languished over the past couple of decades while people want to focus on more down to Earth matters. I think they’re forgetting that many of our down to Earth matters could probably be solved by going outward and exploring new frontiers – and settling them!

My reasons are different than Musk’s, are, though. Musk seems to be afraid that, since we haven’t discovered any interstellar aliens in our searches of the night sky, something bad must have happened to all of them:

Musk has a more sinister theory [to the Fermi Paradox, basically –Jeremy]. ‘The absence of any noticeable life may be an argument in favour of us being in a simulation,’ he told me. ‘Like when you’re playing an adventure game, and you can see the stars in the background, but you can’t ever get there. If it’s not a simulation, then maybe we’re in a lab and there’s some advanced alien civilisation that’s just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mould in a petri dish.’ Musk flipped through a few more possibilities, each packing a deeper existential chill than the last, until finally he came around to the import of it all. ‘If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilisations, and I mean strange in a bad way,’ he said. ‘And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilisations.’

Personally, I’m more in favor of the Great Filter being life itself. Wait But Why has a great blog post on the Fermi Paradox and all of its implications, and count me as a guy who thinks that life is much harder to happen than Ross Anderson seems to think (going off what he writes in Aeon; it might be he’s just summarizing what others think and that’s not his own opinion.) I don’t look at this as a bad thing; instead, we now have the entire cosmos open to ourselves. We are the Ancients, the Precursors, the Progenitors of life in a barren and empty universe.

But not if we screw it up before we get out there.

I’m not talking about the existential fears that most people talk about. I’m not worried about nuclear war or plague or global warming killing us. To be sure, we have some problems for this century: we need to stamp out religious and ideological extremism that leads to violence; find new and renewable sources of energy to keep powering our civilization; and maybe not build artificial superintelligences in our basements. But I think these (well, to one extent or another) are all manageable. The problem I fear is one of philosophy, political science, and sociology. We need space colonization to overcome the dimming of the (classical) liberal vision.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long, long time. Well, over a year, to be more exact, but it’s been fluttering in my head for longer. The problem is that I’m finding it very hard to put it into words why we must colonize Mars – and the rest of space – to preserve classical liberalism and by extension civilization, freedom, and all those good things.

I look at the growth of government over the past century and I see it as expansion turning inwards. There is less for us to go out and explore, now. We no longer have a frontier, a Wild West where the government’s arm is distant and individuals rely on themselves. It seems very romantic, because it is very romantic – and of course, there were problems. Colonization uprooted and destroyed indigenous cultures all over the world, caused pain and suffering by bringing diseases, bloodshed, and slavery. The Wild West was not as dangerous as the Western movie genre made it out to be, but there was racism, crime, and an eye for an eye mentality in some parts. My point, being, though, was that as there was a frontier, there was an argument for freedom. Government could not expand inwards on people because there was somewhere to expand outwards.

But then the 20th century came. By now, there was nowhere left to expand to. The only uncolonized parts of our world are the Artic, the Antartic, and the bottom of the oceans – the first two being extremely inhospitable and undesirable, the latter uninhabitable until somebody decides to invent SeaQuest in the real world. (Get on that, Musk.) Now, the expanding mass of government ran up against a solid wall, and as it hit this wall it folded back in on itself and expanded back towards its center. Now it was expanding on top of itself, layering itself upon itself, burying beneath itself the seeds of liberalism and freedom. Where else could it go now but onto its own people?

We lost the frontier. On top of that, we continued to multiply. I hate thinking in this manner, but the law of supply and demand comes back to haunt me. We have all these people now, and we keeping having more, and I wonder, as supply goes up, does demand go down? It used to be you could know everyone in your community. Now, do we just look at others as statistics? Not even fully autonomous human beings? Do we think everyone around us is a p-zombie? It seems very crass on one hand – how can we apply supply and demand to people – and yet very conservative on the other – here I am talking about community and how the modern era has increased the distance between us and yadda yadda yadda. Not being that sort of conservative – or really, any conservative at all – it’s hard for me to put this into words.

Unfortunately, I don’t have to. From China, we have a couple of videos and stories of how low human life is valued:

Then there was the toddler who was run over by two vehicles and ignored by scores of passersby before finally receiving help. Again, this is from China.

These are just the two things that come to the top of my mind. I don’t know if it’s because there are a lot of people in China, if there’s something deeper in Chinese culture, or if these are really bad examples. But that is what I think of when I see rising population. Is this something we can overcome? Is it bound to happen?

Then there is the issue of running out of work for people. I know many scoff at the idea, but there is some concern of “technological unemployment”. My friend Travis Thornton has blogged about this subject before. Now personally I am all in favor of a post-scarcity economy, and I think it’s absolutely delightful that we’re heading towards one…but are we going to need a new thing to give us meaning? Why can’t that thing be a settled, terraformed Mars?

The moon terraformed, covered in blue seas, green forests, and whispy white clouds.
I have to admit, a terraformed Luna would look cool.
TerraformedMoonFromEarth“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I realize these thoughts are not entirely coherent or cogent. Like I said, I’m having difficulty putting what I’m thinking and feeling into words. That’s why I’m doing this blog post, to solicit feedback and comments and see if I’m on the right track. But essentially, what I see is that, to preserve classical liberalism, individual freedom, and a culture of the same, we need to start colonizing planets. We need to go with Musk and start doing this right now. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Mars. We should also colonize the Moon (though terraforming it would be a waste of time I think, since it doesn’t have enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere, unless you paraterraform), and we should probably also build O’Neill and McKendree Cylinders. Eventually, we might even terraform Venus, build Banks Orbitals and a Ringworld (okay, fine, we can have one Halo off in the corner for all the first person shooter types) and then from there…

The galaxy will be our oyster.

But not if we get stuck here. It’s not the asteroids that will kill us, or the threat of alien invasion, or potential nuclear war or grey goo or artificial superintelligence. If anything does us in, it will be the banal overlayering of bureaucratic, authoritarian government, run by busybodies and people of little vision. Humanity needs a new frontier, and there are many out there: uninhabited, barren, lifeless, ready for us to come. We need that frontier to rekindle our spirit of freedom, and get us moving again. Take the germ of liberalism, and spread it across the stars.

That’s my vision for the future. And that means I’m right there with Elon Musk. Let’s go to Mars.

Dude, we live in space!

And space is dangerous:

That’s the sound of a meteorite coming down from outer space and blowing up in the atmosphere just over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia. Yeah.

I’m not entirely sure what’s happened, as I just heard about this when I came into work, but it appears that 500 people are injured and there has been a lot of damage.

The Soviet Russian fanblog “Russian Machine Never Breaks” has a roundup of videos and tweets on the meteorite. Obviously I am not going to compete with them, so I’ll just link to more roundups.

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society has a good roundup of videos.

And Phill Plait, who is probably the best astronomer out there today, of course is watching it and has been blogging on it for Slate. (No, this is not part of the asteroid near-miss that’s expected to come later today.)

The moral of the story is…we live in space. We’re affected by it. And while events like these are astonishingly rare, we should still sorta prepare for them. And by the way, though I’m a libertarian, I absolutely believe in a publicly-funded global SPACEGUARD program. It’s a simple public good, which is actually within the realm of government (as Adam Smith, who is practically the godfather of capitalism and free markets, actually said.)

But…crikey. 500 1000 people injured in Russia from a meterorite. Good thing this didn’t happen 30 years ago during the height of the Cold War. There might not be any humans left.

UPDATE: The Guardian’s video is a good compilation, including what happened to folks inside buildings:


They also have a live update blog going on. It looks like injuries may have risen to 1000.

Finally, they also have a column up about the “meaning” of meteor strikes, including this gem:

Like all random events and misfortunes, we want these things to mean something. The Russian fringe politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, rushed to the microphones to claim that the shower of stones that broke windows with their sonic boom, injuring 400 people, was a dastardly test of a new American weapon. Advocates of a renewed space programme have instantly told us that the asteroid pass proves that we need to be in space so that anything that comes closer can be, somehow, shoved out of Earth’s way. More generally, all over Twitter, people are calling on passing rocks to land on, for example, the Sun offices (over publication of photographs of the late Reeva Steenkamp) as once they would have called for the thunderbolts of Zeus, the wrath of Jehovah or Betjeman’s friendly bombs.

The trouble with wanting random events to acquire significance by afflicting unpleasant, otherwise untouchable powerful figures is that everyone does it. The religious right, Christian and Islamic, are fond of regarding tsunamis and hurricanes as instruments of wrath – Pat Robertson came up with a particularly unpleasant version of this when he attributed Haiti’s problems to divine punishment for an alleged satanic pact made by that country’s successful slave revolution. Nor is this confined to the religious right; rightwing sci-fi writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, in their 1977 novel of a comet’s impending collision with Earth, have a character who survives the impact say that the good thing about the calamity was that women’s lib was over. Heavenly vengeance is really an idea that has no place on the left.

Naturally the Guardian is more left-wing, but you can’t help but nod your head and agree with the author. The only thing this meant was that a rock fell out of the sky.

Welcome to the Future, Part 1

27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012.

This is truly a great list here from the folks at BuzzFeed. The past year–indeed, the past decade–have seen some amazing technological leaps and discoveries. The science fiction world of even the 1980s, or even the mid 1990s, is within our grasp. And I suspect that by 2022, only ten years from now, ideas that we have floating around now in our heads will be within our grasp too.

The only thing I quibble with is 18. No doubt that’s cool. But are solar panels really reaching the point where they’re competitive with fossil fuels? No. Not by a long shot. I don’t care if that thing is half the price of traditional solar panels. You need more than just the input cost to make that kind of evaluation. What kind of energy levels do you get out of it? Is it anywhere near enough energy to supply the world? I don’t think so. Robert Bryce in the Wall Street Journal notes that demand for electricity increases so fast we would have to add one Brazil worth of power generators to the energy sector every year. You can’t do that with solar panels; they just don’t generate enough.

Also, 13, 19, and 26: they’re cool and all, but is that really the “future”? Hardly. They are discoveries out there, but the “future” is really predicated on technology. That stuff is just seeing things from very far away and in the past. Even though 19 is really cool.

Otherwise, though, a stupendous list. I look forward to the next article BuzzFeed writes in 2013.

You may ask why I put down “Part 1” in the title. That’s because I was originally planning on doing a “Welcome to the Future” post in January, after the apocalypse ended, because in 2013, that’s when the notion of the “future” in terms of science fiction really hits home. But I’ll save that for January.

Until then, welcome to the future. It’s already here. And it’s getting better all the time.

The Real Reason for Space Colonization: Spreading Liberty

Rand Simberg nails it:

“And one of the reasons that we need to get into space as soon as possible is not (as I naively thought over thirty years ago, when I first got interested in this) because we are running out of earthly resources, but because we need a new frontier into which to expand human freedom, lest that, the most vital resource, be lost on humanity’s birth world.”

We need to go out into space not just for resources and science, which are both important, but most importantly so that we can keep liberty alive. Because looking around today on Planet Earth, while I have hope for the future, it’s not doing so well. I earnestly believe, though, that if we establish a colony on Mars (and do it properly), the situation of living on another planet will naturally lead to a libertarian (or left-libertarian) society. You’ll have to pull your own weight, as there really won’t be any welfare to rely on. And you’ll have to let people live their own lives to a great extent, because you A) won’t have that policing bureaucracy to do it and B) most people who go to live far away are going to do so because the folks back home are too prying.

Anyways, I’ve always thought that a Martian colony would be pretty libertarian by necessity. Maybe I’m wrong.

Read Simberg here: http://www.transterrestrial.com/?p=45312

Battlestar Galactica, Eternal Return, and Life Out There

I’ve been watching the reimagined Battlestar Galactica lately, after I bought the first two seasons on Amazon’s Instant Video. It is really a stunning example of American television, what can happen when we focus on telling a compelling story and stop trying the “Hit Every Cliche To Get Every Demographic” game. There are a couple of things that bother me with the show, but quite frankly I think Galactica is one of the most intriguing TV shows we’ve had on air in the past, oh, 10-12 years?

To be honest, I like both versions of Battlestar Galactica. I like both of them for different reasons. The original was a fun, out of your mind space fantasy that almost was sort of a creation tale. Bad acting, bad writing, atrocious special effects, but fun–sort of like an archaic Michael Bay, though I think it did a better job at getting the point across. It was also fairly bright for a people who just had their homeworlds destroyed. The reimagined series had amazing special effects, amazing writing (well, initially, at least), fascinating philosophical questions, and a dark, edgy vibe that did turn me off at one point, but paradoxically also kept me orbiting nearby, intoxicated by its ragged edge that drew oh so much blood. And both had great music: the original Colonial Theme and prologue music (plus that short riff when the Vipers take off from Carillion to aid the fleet, I cannot get that out of my head right now); the reimagined theme and, well, just about anything by Bear McCreary. That man is a god. (But not the jealous god. I don’t know what he could be jealous about.) In all fairness, while both are good, the reimagined series–for all its faults–is superior.

And let’s be honest, only the reimagined series has the frakking hotness that is Katie Sackoff in a jumpsuit.

As I watch the reimagined series again, I’ve been thinking a bit about Galactica–and like a worm, two memes buried its way into my head and stayed there.

Continue reading Battlestar Galactica, Eternal Return, and Life Out There

Odds of Scientist Being a Fool Likely 99%

Don’t want to knock the guy, but if he says this:

“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today. “I have almost no doubt about it.”

Then he’s probably not a really good scientist. At least from my understanding, scientists weren’t supposed to say things like that. Gotta be humble. Gotta recognize the limits of your knowledge. Gotta know that if you say something is definite, the universe, being the practical joker it is, will deliberately do the opposite.

Is it incredibly likely? Maybe. Is it 100%? No. Nothing is guaranteed. Although I would be very interested if it did have life. Whether or not that life would be intelligent, I’m not so sure if I’d be okay with that.

The Final Frontier

I love space. Love love love it. I don’t get enough to write about it though, especially when it comes to politics. It just takes a back seat (which is something that annoys me, let me tell you.) But yesterday, I was able to publish a post on just that subject over at United Liberty, thanks to the final launch of the space shuttle.

And then I got cited by Doug Mataconis over at Outside the Beltway, one of the premier political blogs in the country.

Awesome. Now to put the final touches on this next story I’m working on.

For rent: Kennedy Space Center

For rent: Kennedy Space Center facilities, launch pads – Science Fair: Science and Space News – USATODAY.com.

For once, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

Straight off the bat, this could be a huge moneymaking opportunity for NASA. Start-up costs are a major consideration in any endeavor, and building the proper launch facilities is quite expensive, I’d imagine. But renting out the KSC from NASA, well, I dunno how much NASA would charge, but it would have to be cheaper than building your launch facilities from scratch, and they’re probably better than most commercial launch sites, at least if you’re intending to send up manned spacecraft (that aren’t Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.)

But secondly, this could also help re-ignite the drive to space. Since the 70’s we’ve been languishing in the space exploration department thanks to politics, which have bogged down any sort of continuation into the final frontier, while not really opening up the field to private organizations that are actually interested in it. See, this is the major problem with putting anything under the thumb of government: the politicians are only going to follow the majority of the public, that 51% (or less, in some cases) of voters that will put them in office, which means that if the majority of the public loses interest in space, we’re not going to do anything with it; and the minority who are interested can’t do anything about it because they would have to go through an indifferent, disinterested government. At least let them use their own resources–waste them, even–on getting into space, but let them do it. What harm could come of it? In fact, their purchasing of materials and labor would probably have given the economy a boost.

But, even if we’re a few decades late on this front, better late than never. I’m quite sure all the “private” spaceflight for the next 20 years will be some sort of public-private partnership, which I am told is the “worst of both worlds,” but I feel it must be better than having a fully public program. At least we’ll be getting people up there, and onto more than just the ISS. Who knows, maybe…the Moon? Mars? Or even the stars? (Okay, I did that just to make a rhyme.)

The Red Planet, ready for its close-up.
We need to get our redstone from somewhere.

I’m going to get lumped with other sci-fi writers out there for saying this, but so be it: it’s vital we get back into space. The last space race was a huge technological leap forward for our entire planet, and with what we have now, think of what could happen if we go to another one. Teflon is so 1980s; tomorrow we’ll have transparisteel! But not only that, there’s also the environment to consider. I’m not exactly the biggest greenie weenie out there, but I still care about Mother Earth, and its clear that we’re poisoning her, no doubt about it. We’re also running low on natural resources, at least those we need to sustain our global society, so we need to start looking for other places to get resources from.

And finally there’s the whole issue of just having an offworld colony as a “backup.” I don’t really think we’re going to have a mass extinction event in the next 100 years, but even so, there’s no harm in having an offworld colony. It might actually be good, stimulating trade, and most importantly, a sense of adventure that I feel has not been nourished very well for the past generation; sure, we feel it, but the only time it gets satiated is in a movie theater or playing a video game. No, I’m talking about really taking care of it. Then there’s the political possibilities; the last time we had a major colonization effort in the “New World,” there was a revolution and the establishment of the first modern representative democracy, with limited government and checks and balances. If we start colonizing Mars–or just space in general if we want to go the orbital habitat route, although that’s more effort-intensive–who knows what sort of political and societal revolutions we’ll engender. It could be the spark to re-ignite a stagnate global civilization. But we won’t know if we don’t go out there.

I look upon this with great interest and great hope. I’m sure something will get botched up, it always does, but hopefully there will be more good than bad coming out of this.