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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.