You can help develop space settlements!

NSS Director Al Globus is working on a new space settlement design and you can easily help just by taking this short space settlement survey.

It’s a one page introduction followed by eight required and six optional questions. The survey usually takes less than ten minutes to complete. You will not be asked for contact information and there are no ads. Your answers will be used to help form the design of a new generation of space settlements!

Kalpana 2
Image courtesy Bryan Versteeg, spacehabs.com

Settling Space Is the Only Sustainable Reason for Humans to Be in Space

OPINION by Dale Skran, National Space Society Executive Vice President
This article appeared in The Space Review, February 1, 2016

As robotic and artificial intelligence technologies improve and enable increasingly robust exploration without a human presence, eventually there will be only one sustainable reason for humans to be in space: settlement. Research into the recycling technology required for long-term off-Earth settlements will directly benefit terrestrial sustainability. Actively working toward developing and settling space will make available mineral and energy resources for use on Earth on a vast scale. Finally, space settlement offers the hope of long-term species survival that remaining on Earth does not.

Orbital Space Settlement Interior

However, a recent essay by Astro Teller, head of Google X Labs, and his wife Danielle, a physician and researcher takes the bold position that “It’s completely ridiculous to think that humans could live on Mars.” This essay, published by Quartz, repeats with little examination some of the hoariest arguments against space settlement. To support this view, the Tellers quote their 12-year-old daughter: “I can’t stand that people think we’re all going to live on Mars after we destroy our own planet.” This quote contains two mischaracterizations that demand refutation: that “we are all” going to live in space and that we are going to live in space after we destroy Earth. Another canard that has long floated about was given form by the recent film Elysium starring Matt Damon: the rich will leave the poor on the Earth and escape to space settlements. Upon examination, all three of these ideas are strawmen.

There are more than seven billion people on the Earth today. No rational space settlement advocate suggests that any significant portion of that population, or even of those who are rich, will be moving to Mars or anywhere else in space. Instead, we expect that relatively small numbers of highly qualified individuals, or those who are deeply dedicated to living in space, would form the first settlements. Over a significant period of time, thousands more from the Earth would join those settlements as they become increasingly self-sufficient. Over more time, various possible niches for settlement (Moon, Mars, asteroids, free space, etc.) will be occupied, and eventually the population in space will total many millions, most of whom will have been born in space.

So why then do Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and many others, including organizations like the National Space Society (NSS) and Alliance for Space Development, believe strongly that space settlement is essential to human survival? Although this may seem surprising, the Earth is not a “safe space.” The destiny of virtually all species on Earth is extinction in a relatively short span of geologic time. The Tellers claim that “we live on a planet that is perfect for us.” This statement is both completely true and total nonsense. We fit well on the Earth because we have evolved over millions of years to become creatures that are both adapted to live here and to like living here. It is truer to say that we are perfect for the Earth than the reverse.

In fact, the Earth is not such a commodious place. It is subject to periodic calamities of various sorts, ranging from massive asteroid and comet impacts to titanic volcanic eruptions, and from periodic ice ages to disastrous solar flares. In the short run, the Earth seems balmy and comfortable. Viewed from the perspective of deep time, it starts to look more like a death trap, bedeviled by regular mass extinctions.

However, things are actually quite a bit worse. Although there are many potentially bad things that might happen to the human race on the Earth from natural sources, there are many more from unnatural sources. We have been dancing with nuclear disaster for a long time. An apocalyptic atomic war is not inevitable, but it is possible. Add to this scenario the genetically engineered killer virus, “gray goo,” a robot revolt, and other horrors as yet undreamt, and the odds against human survival get longer.

Hence, the need to abandon the fiction of Earth as our eternal and unchanging perfect home and to appreciate both the need for, and promise of, space settlement. Not so the rich can escape to an Elysium in the sky, or so we can all leave behind a polluted and overheated Earth, but simply so that the human species and human culture has a chance at surviving and flourishing in the long term.

The Tellers write, “We haven’t even colonized the Sahara desert, the bottom of the oceans… because it makes no economic sense.” This may be true, but it also makes no sense to settle the Sahara desert, the bottom of the oceans, or Antarctica since these locations are on the Earth, and humans living there will not increase the probability of species survival.

Near-Earth free space settlements and lunar bases are just stepping stones to ones much further out that are quarantined from Earth by millions of kilometers of vacuum. Once the motivation of species survival is put front and center, it becomes clear that a settlement in low Earth orbit, on the Moon, at L5, or on the Martian surface is not nearly sufficient. What is needed is a large set of thriving communities distributed throughout the solar system, and even ultimately in the Oort Cloud surrounding the solar system proper. This vision is not a small thing. It will be the work of many generations, just as was the settling of the New World or, even earlier in history, the human diaspora out of Africa along the Asian coast to Australia and beyond.

The Tellers believe that sustainability on the Earth has no relationship to what we do in space, but the same technologies that enable deep space settlement will have a profound impact on terrestrial sustainability. Space settlements, of necessity, push the limits of food production per square meter and per liter of water. Space settlement agricultural methods can also be applied to growing food in parched California or in vertical farms in crowded urban areas.

Space settlements require humans and technology to co-exist in close proximity. This implies an absolute minimization of pollution and sustained recycling of all waste. Such technologies seem highly applicable to sustainability on Earth as well. We will need to provide the best possible medical care for remote space settlements, which will be far from hospitals on Earth. The technologies that make such medicine effective—“tricorders,” telemedicine, and so on—can also bring medical care to underdeveloped and underserved areas of the Earth.

The Tellers raise the specter of “winter-over syndrome” in the Antarctic, writing that “living on Mars would be way, way more miserable than living in Antarctica,” and concluding, “Nobody wants to live there.” Although it is clear that the Tellers will not be going, the large numbers who signed up for Mars One’s sketchy settlement plans suggest that a lot of people do want to live on Mars. There are real challenges to constructing space settlements, but current Antarctic bases are not true settlements. Nobody lives there with their families, with the exception of the coastal Esperanza Base, where about ten families routinely winter over. No real effort is made to create any kind of human environment that is comfortable over a long period of time. Conditions in Antarctica might be better compared to living in a campground than a self-sustaining settlement. Additionally, the current Antarctic Treaty essentially prevents any extraction or use of the natural resources found there, thus making economically independent settlements infeasible.

Let us not shy from the truth. Conditions in the early settlements in the New World were difficult at best, and the casualty rate was high. We should expect the same to hold true for early space settlements. However, Jamestown and Plymouth gave rise to vast cities and a tamed landscape on a scale of hundreds of years. We now bring to the table technological means that would seem magical to the Jamestown settlers. Even as difficult an environment as the Moon can be developed and settled using technology that either exists currently or is an engineering project, as one book suggests (The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Settlement).

The Tellers think that, from an economic perspective, “Mars has nothing to offer in return.” Here, at least in the short run, they have a point. Although Mars may have more of the natural resources a settlement will need than, say, the Moon, it is at the bottom of a fairly steep gravity well and, for the time being, it is not likely that there will be many Mars-to-Earth exports. However, this is like looking at the resources of the New World via a keyhole, seeing a swamp, and reporting back that there is no point in going there. It is worth keeping in mind the example of “Seward’s Folly.” The purchase of Alaska from Russia was mocked as “Seward’s icebox” and a “polar bear garden.” At the time, the oil and mineral riches of Alaska were undiscovered and undreamt of.

Space itself teems with valuable resources, including continuous and abundant solar energy and mineral wealth on a scale beyond imagination just in the near Earth asteroids (see the book Asteroid Mining 101: Wealth for the New Space Economy). Just as the Tellers were dismissing space resources as irrelevant, the US Congress was laying the legal groundwork for asteroid and lunar mining with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, signed by President Obama on November 23, 2015. The Tellers also seem unaware that their leadership at Google, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, are investors in the asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources.

The Tellers say that “we won’t survive [on Earth] unless we learn to live in a resource neutral way.” This statement assumes that that Earth is a closed system, which it is not. The Earth is flooded daily with vast amounts of solar energy that, if exploited, could power just about any civilization we wish to maintain (see the book The Case for Space Solar Power). There is no technical limitation to providing continuous, carbon-free power from space solar power satellites beaming power back to the surface of the Earth anywhere it might be needed. The main opposition to this idea derives from an unwillingness to consider centralized power systems on ideological grounds, combined with the unexpected reality of very cheap natural gas today. Even the most conservative consideration of near-Earth asteroid resources suggests that there is no reason to view the Earth as a closed system to which nothing can be added.

The time for the settlement of Mars will come, but first we need to build on our success in developing the resources of Earth orbit, in the form of navigation, Earth observation, communication, and weather satellites, by fully developing the economic potential of the Earth-Moon system. Space settlements must flow out of the development of the economic resources of space if they are to be sustainable in the long term. NSS has developed a complete description of milestones toward the development of space settlements.

A key first step toward space settlement is ensuring a gapless transition from the existing International Space Station to commercially owned and operated LEO space stations as described in the NSS position paper “Next Generation Space Stations.” Next will come the development of the resources of the Moon and nearby asteroids leading to the creation of a self-sustaining Earth-Moon economy. Once we have established an asteroid-Earth-Moon economy that makes the resources found in this region fully available for projects ranging from the construction of solar power satellites to fueling future Mars missions, trips to Mars will be far less of a reach than they are today.

In view of the above, Astro Teller was probably right to turn down the “space cadet” who wanted Google X to spend money on Mars settlement. Currently Google’s money would be better spent in low Earth orbit, among the asteroids, and on the Moon, joining forces with the growing number of entrepreneurs seeking their fortunes in space. But wait—Google is doing exactly that by sponsoring the Google Lunar X PRIZE to encourage private groups to send landers to the Moon, and investing $900 million in Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Given that corporate Google (now Alphabet) has just made a massive investment in a company founded to settle Mars, the Tellers’ essay sounds a bit like sour grapes. In any case, the Tellers are completely wrong in their disregard of the potential economic benefits of space development and the underlying motivation for space settlement.

Interviews of NSS Chairman Mark Hopkins

Mark HopkinsMark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee, was interviewed on The Space Show on January 4 on the subject of space settlement in general and interstellar space settlement in particular. You can download the 90-minute program here:

You can hear other interviews of Mark conducted by Dr. Karl Hricko on the show “Contours” on member-supported public radio station WNTI operated by Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ.:

Mark was also on a special edition of The Space Show in March 2007:

National Space Society Partners with Voices From L5: A Space Settlement Podcast

The National Space Society is proud to announce its partnership with Voices From L5. This exciting new podcast will open new discussions on space settlement, focusing on the humanities and social sciences, and educate the public on the science of space settlement. Space settlement is the concept of humankind moving our economy into space, with people living and working in space.

Voices from L5
NSS vice president for Public Affairs Lynne Zielinski said, “We are thrilled to strengthen our online community and outreach by branching into the vibrant world of podcasts, and we are very excited to be working with Voices From L5. This podcast project will explore topics such as law, art, politics and sociology to generate excitement among a whole new generation of space settlement enthusiasts.”

Voices From L5 was founded in early 2015 and has already reached hundreds of new science fans by making space settlement topics accessible and interesting for non-experts.

To learn more about Voices From L5 visit:
https://www.patreon.com/VoicesFromL5

For previous podcasts visit:
http://www.podcastchart.com/podcasts/voices-from-l5

NSS Director Al Globus Featured on The Space Show

Al GlobusNSS Director Al Globus appeared on the internet radio program The Space Show on July 12, speaking on his latest research on Low Earth Orbit space settlements which can be made at much lower mass than previously thought due to lower radiation requirements and higher rotation rates.

The full program, which runs just under two hours, can be found online here and a more thorough description with commentary can be found here.

Al’s latest papers on the subject are listed below.

  • Space Settlement Population Rotation Tolerance (PDF 10MB), Al Globus and Theodore Hall, preprint, June 2015. This paper reviews the literature to find that space settlement residents and visitors can tolerate at least four, and proabaly six, rotations per minute to achieve 1g of artificial gravity. This means settlements can be radically smaller, and thus easier to build, than previously believed. Combined with the next paper on radiation shielding, the first space settlements can be two orders of magnitude less massive and closer to Earth than previous designs, making launch from Earth practical.
  • Orbital Space Settlement Radiation Shielding (PDF 2MB), Al Globus and Joe Strout, preprint, May 2015. The major result of this paper is that settlements in low (~500 km) Earth equatorial orbits may not require any radiation shielding at all based on a careful analysis of requirements and extensive simulation of radiation effects. This radically reduces system mass and has profound implications for space settlement, as extraterrestrial mining and manufacturing are no longer on the critical path to the first settlements, although they will be essential in later stages. It also means the first settlements can evolve from space stations, hotels, and retirement communities in relatively small steps.

Interview of Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee

Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee, was interviewed on the subject of interstellar space settlement on the program “Contours” on FM radio station WNTI on May 28. WNTI  is a member supported public radio station providing non-commercial FM broadcast service for northern New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania, operated by Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ. The 21-minute interview was conducted by Dr. Karl Hricko and is posted here with permission.

www.nss.org/settlement/Mark.Hopkins.Contours.28.May.2015.mp3

International and U.S. Students and Teachers Headed to Toronto for 34th Annual International Space Development Conference®

Students competed in prestigious NSS-NASA Ames Space Settlement Design Contest – Video narrated by Matthew McConaughey

Hundreds of students and teachers from the United States and countries across the globe will converge in Toronto this month for the National Space Society’s (NSS) 34th annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC)® to celebrate and engage people in the goal of space settlement. The event is set for May 20-24, 2015 at the downtown Hyatt Regency in Toronto, Canada.

Students attending the conference, grades 6-12, will be sharing their imaginative ideas about how people will be living and working in space. They are attending the conference as a result of their participation in this year’s Space Settlement Design Contest, co-sponsored by the National Space Society and NASA Ames Research Center. The contest challenges students to design a space settlement, which must realistically address concerns such as atmosphere, food, gravity, radiation shielding, energy production, and recreation for human space colonists.

Students at last year’s ISDC were filmed and appeared in the movie Interstellar‘s companion series The Science of Interstellar (video clip above). Students this year will meet Interstellar‘s science advisor and world renowned physicist Kip Thorne, who will be receiving this year’s prestigious NSS Pioneer Award for Mass Media.

“The students attending the ISDC are so passionate and excited to be there to share their ideas and projects. There is so much to learn from them, their cultures, and creative insights,” said Lynne F. Zielinski, NSS Vice President of Public Affairs and chair of NSS’ Education and Outreach Committee. “We are always dazzled by their insightful and futuristic designs. Their enthusiasm is infectious and gives us all hope that we will soon be living and working in space ourselves. These students are the ones to take us there.”

Alexander C. Reeves
Alexander C. Reeves, Contest Grand Prize Winner

Each year, NSS invites contest participants to attend the organization’s ISDC. Throughout the conference, students will provide oral presentations about their space settlement designs, along with colorful artwork related to the contest. The NSS-NASA Ames Space Settlement Design Competition’s Grand Prize winner, Alexander C. Reeves of Ann Arbor, Michigan, will receive the $5,000 NSS Bruce M. Clark, Jr. Memorial Scholarship.

Alexander and his teacher, Dr. Deano Smith from Greenhills School, will be in attendance at ISDC. Reeves created The Freyr Project, an orbital settlement that provides a home and societal structure for 20,000 individuals and is designed to be part of a pseudo-modular system for long-term space settlement. The 247-page report is available here: settlement.arc.nasa.gov/Contest/Results/2015/areeves_Freyr.pdf.

This year’s competition received 994 entries from 3,007 students sponsored by 380 teachers. Entries came from 21 countries: Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Pakistan, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Romania, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.

ISDC is the yearly conference of the National Space Society, a non-profit organization that has hosted the gathering since 1982. The event brings together leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and business people from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors. The Canadian Space Commerce Association is hosting ISDC 2015.

Online registration is currently open with a variety of options, from single-day registration passes to full conference registration with meals. Discounts are provided for youth, full-time students, seniors, and members of the National Space Society and its affiliates. This year, local Toronto and Ontario residents also receive a substantial discount.

“We would like to invite local attendees interested in space to the annual conference of the world’s premier space public interest group,” stated Aggie Kobrin, the conference organizer and NSS board member. “Kids today are somewhat lacking in inspiration to pursue STEM fields and this conference is making giant strides to solve this problem.”

For more information, visit ISDC2015.nss.org

Elon Musk’s Plans for Mars

From CBS This Morning: 2-minute video after 30-second advertisement.

Transcript after about 40 seconds:

“We’ve got to restore American ability to transport astronauts with domestic vehicles, and that’s what we hope to do in about two years.

“The next step beyond that is to maybe send people beyond low Earth orbit to a loop around the Moon, possibly land on the Moon — although I’m not super interested in the Moon personally because obviously we’ve done that and we know we can — but maybe just to prove the capability.

“Then we need to develop a much larger vehicle which would be sort of what I call a large colonial transport system. This would really be — we’re talking about rockets on a scale, a bigger scale than has ever been done before, that make the Apollo Moon rocket look small. And they would have to launch very frequently as well.

“That’s what’s needed in order to send millions of people and millions of tons of cargo to Mars, which is the minimum level to have a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.

“We might be able to complete that [rocket] in about 10 or 12 years, and hopefully the first people we’d send to Mars would be around the middle of the next decade.”

Space Settlements Represent Hope for Humankind

The National Space Society (NSS) offers a comparison of its vision for space settlement to that promoted by many dystopian science fiction movies of today.  NSS has supported the concept of rotating space settlements in orbit or deep space since the epochal publication by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill of his seminal article on space colonies in Physics Today (1974).

Since those days, concepts of democracy and egalitarian societies have been integral to our vision. A goal of NSS is the creation of a free, spacefaring civilization with people living and working in space. We believe in democracy to build and operate space settlements, whether in space, on the Moon, on Mars, or even on planets around other stars.

A large part of the space movement today is founded on improving life on Earth by creating an ability to operate in space. This includes the ability to divert threatening asteroids, detect solar outbursts that could destroy our electrical grid, and build solar power collection/transmission satellites that could produce huge amounts of carbon free energy in space for use on Earth, enriching all of humankind. In fact, an early justification for building space settlements was to house the labor force needed to build the solar power satellites that would provide a global solar power source to all nations, helping to prevent the ecological and economic collapse and chaos depicted in many dystopian movies of today. NSS believes that we are making the future every day and that we want to build a hopeful future.

NSS is happy that space settlements are beginning to appear in popular culture such as the recent motion picture Elysium.  NSS applauds the cinematic skill that resulted in the depiction of the physical appearance and operation of a rotating orbital space settlement. While NSS accepts that a conflict is fairly fundamental to a good story, we would like movie viewers to keep in mind that the tyrannical government depicted in the movie does not represent the path of humans in space envisioned by the NSS and its thousands of members.

Newly Illustrated Versions of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement Now Available

A newly illustrated version of the National Space Society publication Milestones to Space Settlement: An NSS Roadmap is now available in three new formats from nss.org/roadmap:

(1) A free downloadable PDF edition [6 MB]

(2) a free online full-screen flip-book edition

(3) a quality full-color magazine-style printed edition for $9.95 (think Father’s Day?)

Some new and striking art work appears for the first time in these new editions of the NSS Roadmap. Let these artists show you some of the possible paths to space development and settlement. These new editions provide additional ways to read and distribute this material to help promote the NSS Vision.

The NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement discusses milestones to be reached for the settlement of four destinations: the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and orbital space settlements. The Roadmap takes no stand on which may or should come first but supports all four destinations.

As originally announced in Ad Astra magazine, this Roadmap was adopted by the NSS Board of Directors in 2012, updating the original NSS Roadmap published in 2000. On May 24th the 2013 International Space Development Conference will feature a Roadmap Track and Press Conference about the Roadmap.