Save the Planet, it’s the only one we’ve got… or is it?

In honor of President Obama’s newly announced space exploration plan, I am reposting one of my favorites from the old site. Original comments can be found at the old site.

On this blog, we’ve discussed how many current fisheries practices are completely unsustainable, because we are simply taking too many fish from the oceans. We’ve also discussed how we can’t just stop fishing because too many humans need the food.

We’ve  discussed the energy crisis, and how some the present methods our civilization uses to power our lives are destroying the planet through pollution, environmental destruction, and emissions that cause global warming. We’ve also discussed the fact that people need energy.

We’ve discussed how some current mining practices, such as top-mining, are an environmental catastrophe. However, it is undeniable that we need the minerals that come from mining.

Many more problems are facing the world today. There simply isn’t enough room for all the people we have, and there are more people every day (and less room for them because of sea level rise). Many people today simply don’t have enough fresh water to drink, and thousands die each day from this– a problem that is only getting worse as population increases. The present economic crisis, one of the worst of all time, means that in addition to millions being out of work, governments don’t have money for solutions to these problems.

Things look pretty grim…. but is there any kind of solution that can solve all of these problems at once? A universal solution, as it were (pardon the pun)?

To find it, we need to think well outside of the box. In fact, we need to look in a whole new direction.

A scene from Roswell, image courtesy 25frames.orgA scene from “Roswell”, image courtesy 25frames.org

If you didn’t catch it, yes, I am suggesting that we look to outer space to solve these problems. I really hope that I have earned enough of your respect that you are still reading… or that I’ve at least made you curious enough to read on.

Space technology can make starvation a thing of the past, and also make overfishing unnecessary, by providing more than enough food for the entire population of humans. A NASA study from the 90’s found that an algae called Spirulina grows extremely rapidly in zero gravity, high sunlight conditions… the exact kind of conditions that you find in high orbit above Earth. This algae is already a dietary staple in parts of Southeast Asia, and with very slight genetic modification could be a stand alone food source. It could also be fed to crustaceans like crabs, who also grow extremely rapidly in zero gravity conditions. We’re not even talking about advanced technology here- we’re talking about big glass spheres full of salt water. The only technology involved is getting the spheres to and from orbit, and we’ll get to that later. I’ve tried Spirulina and it’s not terribly tasty, but it beats starving to death, and with mass production it’ll be as cheap as any other food staple.

Processed spirulina, from supplementsandnurtritionguide.com Processed spirulina, from supplementsandnurtritionguide.com

Space technology can provide more than enough energy for everything that a growing population of people could possibly want to use energy for. There is a lot of talk today about “alternative energy”, and one of the most common methods discussed is solar power. However, Earth-based solar power has serious limitations. The sun’s energy doesn’t all make it to the surface of the planet. According to Princeton Physicist Gerard O’Neil, surface-based solar power is approximately 1% efficient, while photovoltaic cells orbiting Earth are almost 90% efficient. This energy can be transmitted as microwaves to Earth-based receivers without losing much power, and despite how scary that sounds, scientists say that transmitting energy as diffuse microwaves is completely harmless.  It is not bad for the atmosphere, it is not bad for people, and it is not bad for any organisms that happens to pass through the path of the energy. The only environmental impact is placing large microwave receivers in the desert, but this is less of an impact than the solar arrays already there. Most importantly, a few large orbital solar arrays could provide far more power than all of the coal power plants on Earth.

Space based solar array, image courtest NASA.govSpace based solar array, image courtesy NASA.gov

The power associated with space technology can also provide more than enough drinking water to quench a growing population’s thirst, and make dying from dehydration or water-borne disease nothing bad a bad memory. While 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, 97% of that water is in the oceans! Desalination technology, making sea water into drinkable fresh water, is presently prohibitively expensive. However, one of the biggest associated expenses is energy, and the enormous amount of energy from space-based solar power can make the cost more than reasonable.

Resources harvested by space technology can provide enough money to get us out of this global recession, and can in fact take humanity to new levels of prosperity. According to experts such as Milennial Society founder Marshall Savage, the moon has, at present market value, over $400 trillion worth of Silicon. Much of it wouldn’t really require mining so much as scooping and sorting moon dust. The asteroid belt has, among other things, hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of titanium (again, present market value). Obviously this much of a product entering the market would change the value, but you get the point- there are a TON of extremely valuable resources there for the taking. The expanding space industry would require both of these elements(silicon and titanium) in large quantities… and by some estimates, taxing this lucrative industry 1% would generate enough revenue to provide public education (through grad school) and cradle to grave health care for every man, woman, and child in the human race. If we tax this industry a little more, we could also pay for everything else that all world governments currently pay for, thus eliminating the need to tax anything or anyone else. That’s how valuable the resources in space are.

A  hypothetical asteroid mining operation, image courtesy NASA.govA hypothetical asteroid mining operation, image courtesy NASA.gov

Space technology can, EVENTUALLY, provide humanity with all the living space we could ever want. This won’t happen anytime soon, but all I’m sayin’ is that it’s a big universe. We don’t need to overpopulate this planet. We can go somewhere else.

The biggest logistical problem with all of this is getting to and from space. Right now, there is no cheap way to accomplish that goal… but we’re making great progress! Several years, ago, the Ansari X Prize of $10 million was awarded to Spaceship one, the first private spacecraft to take off from Earth, reach “space” (100 km above the surface), land, return to space a few days later, and land again. Here’s the best part: one solution to this problem can be applied to all of these potential benefits! Once we have a working model, it can be used for transporting mining equipment and mined silicon as easily as it can be used for transported space-grown Spirulina.

Space Ship One, image courtest Wikipedia.orgSpace Ship One, image courtesy Wikipedia.org

But who will pay for all of this? Not you! No space technology advocates are calling for a single taxpayer dollar to be spent on this. There are already plenty of people willing to invest money in these projects. If my arguments don’t convince you that this is feasible and that there is money to be made here, perhaps this list of space technology investors will: Jeff Bezos (Founder, Amazon.com, and billionaire), Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder, billionaire) ,Richard Branson (Virgin Atlantic Airlines founder, billionaire),  John Carmack (Video game entrepreneur and creator of “Doom”, multi-millionare), Elon Musk (Paypal founder, multi-millionaire), and many more. These people know where there is a profit to be made, and they aren’t alone. The founder of a successful hotel chain is investing in low-orbit space hotels, which will theoretically be marketed for the honeymoon crowd (and I’ve heard tell that certain elite Universities would be willing to invest money in this to create a “study abroad in space” program). Dozens of aerospace and mining companies are also investing in this kind of technology, as well as thousands and thousands of smaller private investors. The money to get this going is there, and it won’t cost you a cent.

Why don’t we do it then? Space technology advocates aren’t seeking money from the government. They are seeking PERMISSION to get going. None of this is happening because of  obscure cold-war era policies that limit how much non-government entities can do in space. It’s already been relaxed for communications satellites, but many restrictions are still in place.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I fervently believe that humanity’s future lies in the stars, and I am not alone! Other than the brilliant, visionary engineers and entrepreneurs I have already quoted, many others support this worthy goal. Chief among these advocates  is the smartest man on the planet, Stephen Hawking. There are also entire organizations of advocates. My favorite is the Space Frontier Foundation. The National Space Society and the Moon Society also have lots to add to the conversation.

In summary: Food provided by space technology holds the key to eliminating hunger, and to saving the oceans by eliminating the need for overfishing. Energy provided by space technology can power a growing population of human beings, and do so without harming the planet. This energy can also power desalination and save the lives of millions of people. Harvesting the resources from our solar system can bring the human race to a new levels of prosperity… and  can eventually even lead to new homes for our civilization.

Do any of you really believe that we are better off keeping an outdated cold-war era policy on the books than we would be if we let humanity take it’s natural course and expand to the stars? We are not asking anyone to sacrifice anything to make these things happen. All we’re asking is that you don’t get in the way.

~WhySharksMatter

  1. Thanks for reposting this! This is one of my favorite articles.

    You could probably add that seafood grown in space won’t be contaminated with MeHg, too, depending on where the water in the potential space-sphere farms comes from.

  2. I feel like space technology is definitely something that the government needs to “bite the bullet” and get started on before it’s too late. There appears to be so many advantages associated with the idea and I feel like it definitely wouldn’t hurt to try it and see where it goes from there. It’s one thing if we didn’t have the money or if all the advantages were believed assumptions. However, that is not the case with this innovative plan to save the world.

  3. I quote you…
    Things look pretty grim…. but is there any kind of solution that can solve all of these problems at once? A universal solution, as it were (pardon the pun)?

    My comment…
    Outer space is NOT the solution to the problems here on our planet. We civilized have demonstrated our ability to double our world population in 36 years. Mars, certainly the most accessible, and certainly the easiest of the nearby planets to render suitable for humans, has a land area almost exactly the same as our planet (becasue it has no oceans). Thus we are able to overcrowd Mars to the identical extent our own planet is overcrowded in just 36 years.

    Of course there is a solution to “all these problems”, and it is also the “universal” solution you crave — we civilized human beings must reduce our world population (or the Environment will do it for us — brutally). In the time civilization has existed, we have increased out population by more than 650 times — it is amazing the the bounty of the Environment has sustained as long as it has, but when it finally does fail, the infrastructure of civilization will quickly follow, and the starvation of human beings will follow almost immediately — because there is so little food and other resources “in the pipeline”. In a few weeks it will be over, and if atomic weapons are brought into the fray, it is unlikely any human beings will be able to exist in the `universal’ radioactivity that will result. We will have bequeathed the surface of our planet to the descendants of the single cells creatures that live a mile or more below the sea-floor, and who, except for the unfortunate few of them brought to the surface by the “Ocean Drilling Program”, must be totally unaware of civilized human beings and their follies.

    Essentially all the `major problems’ we civilized face are a direct result of our population and its monotonic increase for 10,000 years. Won’t each of these problems simply disappear as our population decreases below the point where they first appeared? Won’t the intrinsic wealth of each person increase as the population decreases?

    We don’t need to rape other planets to make space for our lust. We need to gain the Wisdom to realize there is no need for us to overpopulate out planet, other planets, and the Universe to find happiness. We certainly must realize by now that of all human societies we know of, civilization certainly does not lead to happiness.

  4. A very interesting post. I agree that space exploration should be a priority and that there is great potential in many of the experiments performed out there.

    I think being an astronaut would have to be the coolest job, don’t you think? Not only to be able to go to space, but to work towards finding solutions to problems we face here on earth.

  5. I agree with Robert. We always try to design our way out of the problems we create rather than actually getting to the core of things. Prevention is better than cure.

    Has anyone heard of peak oil? This is when the world oil reserves reach their peak output (which many scientist and experts, including those in the oil industry, have predicted has already happened) and then rapidly dry up.

    How in the future are we going to launch anything into space with no oil? How are we even going to achieve the most basic things we now take for granted in this modern age? Think about it. Almost everything around you has taken oil to produce and/or transport.

    Now the solution to this is ‘powering down’ and creating ‘community resilience’. That is living more locally, producing all essential goods locally and finding ways to live more simply using less energy.

    This ideology is spreading rapidly the world over through the Transition Town movement (Google it)

    Everything is about progress these days but when you stop to think about it are we really progressing? Are our lives getting any better? We’re spending more time stuck in traffic, we’re working longer hours, we’re spending more time conversing via social network sites rather than face-to-face, the foods we eat are more processed, more chemical laden, less nutritious and our diets are less diverse and overall unhealthy. We are finding new cures for diseases but more diseases are appearing than ever before. Earth is considered to be more than 20% over-populated. It is not sustainable. Since the dawning of the industrial revolution (the beginning to all this madness) more of our natural environment is being polluted and destroyed than ever before and we are now paying the price.

    So are we really so much happier in our modern lives?

    Over 45,000 years ago the indigenous people of my country (Australia) were living happily in harmony with the land. They had everything they needed. Around 200 years ago the first Europeans came to their shores led by Captain James Cook.

    Although Cook’s discovery eventually led to the downfall of the aboriginal people, he remarked in his journal that their lives were perfectly complete. He went on to say that they possessed a lifestyle far more superior to that of his fellow county men back home.

    The aboriginal people didn’t see themselves as superior to any other species on the planet as we now do. They saw every tree and animal as sacred and they, themselves an equal integral part in the circle of life. We have become so disconnected from our role on the planet. Yes, we may seem more intelligent than every other animal on this planet but the fact is with all our smarts we are the ones destroying the planet and we’re doing a great job of it. I don’t consider that intelligent in the slightest.

    The reality is this: We are not the most important species on this planet. Worms can live without us but we cannot live without them, the same is true for bees and sharks are many other animals. Sharks have survived millions of years through various mass extinctions. As far as anyone knows we have only be here around 130,000 years. We should not be exploiting the planet at the expense of these other great beings.

    If we cannot look after Earth how are we going to treat our surrounding moons and planets? The incredible amount of man-made space debris we’ve dumped in our 40 years of space exploration is already out of control and causing massive problems.

    Don’t put your faith in technology. Where has technology gotten us? From climate change to the deterioration of our health, well-being and societies technology is leading us down a path to disaster. I urge you instead to keep your faith in our natural world. It is there we will find everything we need to happily survive well into the future.

  6. Space exploration should be a priority. Space has a mystical appeal to everyone for a reason. Anything we find out there will also probably help us find out about our planet as well as others. This single aspect could change the future forever if one, two, or more planets were discovered.

  7. Space exploration for the search to inhabit a new planet should be a major priority because the way we living on earth and how global warming is steadily increasing year by year and not slowing down period. People just don’t care these days till a major crisis hit them unexpectedly and then its too late. We should try to conserve this earth as long as we can because we do not know how long will it be before we figure out how to inhabit another planet. Not many people going to reduce their ecological footprint and the majority rules. Really aint no point in trying to reduce it like David said when over the half the world aint doing it. A few hundred people compared to trillions of people wont make a difference.

  8. I’ve always believed that there is a much bigger and possibly better world out there. This is the first time I have read something about Space exploration, but it seems like it could benefit our population enormously. It may not happen in our lifetime, but in our future generations- Space exploration needs to be taken into account. Sea levels are going to continue to rise, more children are going to continue to be born, and our country is only going to continue to go into more debt. If Space exploration can cause any of that to even make a slight positive difference, I think it’s worth a shot.