January 8, 2012

Mars colony thoughts...

Putting Scientists on Mars in Permanent Colonies (Thanks to Rand):

...Eminent physicist Paul Davies has a proposal for you: a one-way ticket to the Red Planet. As it's typically conceived, a round-trip Mars mission would take about two years and cost at least $80 billion. But you could cut 80 percent of the expense, Davies says, by nixing the return and initiating a permanent Mars colony. The hard part, he says, isn't subsisting in a hostile environment millions of miles from home but changing the Space Shuttle-era culture of timidity. That's starting to happen, though: The NASA Ames Research Center teamed up with Darpa to put $1.1 million into a study of manned interstellar travel. Even so, no one's going anywhere, Davies argues, unless we can bring the price down. To do that, the ticket has to be one-way.

Wired: Who would sign up for a mission with no return?

Paul Davies: That's the least of our worries. About 1,000 people volunteered after I wrote about this in the Journal of Cosmology. Of course, most are starry-eyed adventurers, not serious scientists who want to be on Mars to do great science....

This makes perfect sense to me. I'd be up for it if I did not have a happy family. Our "official" culture would hate it, because it is a culture devoted to destroying souls by means of fostering selfishness and dependence on the welfare state. It would be reflexively opposed for the same reason defending oneself with a gun is hated by liberal nihilists.

Another cultural idea that needs to be overcome is the author's own idea that space has to equal scientific research. I'd say that the real reason for space colonies should be to enlarge the human spirit. And that "starry-eyed adventurers" should be preferred! And since the starry-eyed types would surely be picked for intelligence and general competence, they could easily collect scientific data, or perform experiments. Or be scientists, without being filtered by our usual credentialism. Which I suspect is a dying artifact of the Industrial Age.

Actually, the idea that scientists are some sort of specialized and exalted caste that can do things no one else can is just silly. 95% of what's done by the average scientist could be picked up by a smart amateur in a year or two. We have seen it happen in the climate debates. (Link, link.) Actually, I'd argue that 95% percent of the people labeled "scientist" aren't really scientists at all. They are just technicians. A scientist is a truth-seeker. That's what the word really means. How many of our current white-coat-wearers would follow a truth faithfully if they knew it was going to, say, get Republicans elected? Or cause the scientist to fail to become tenured? Ha.

Davies says, "But I think it's unethical to send young people, since there are serious health risks. You need highly trained scientists with a life expectancy of less than 20 years." Is this true? He doesn't mention any specifics. I'd guess he means radiation risks, which I would think could be overcome. Space travel itself would pose problems, but I imagine that any Mars base would be mostly underground. One could dig trenches with explosives, assemble pre-fab tube-sections, and then fill over using more explosives. I wonder if the various minerals that can make cement are available on the Martian surface?

I would venture to say that the assumption that only older people should go to Mars is not so much a practical necessity, but rather a result of the vertigo that many people seem to feel when thinking about outer space. It is frightening because its possibilities are limitless. We shrink space to our psychological size by limiting it to fabulously expensive and inefficient government-only exploration and science.

Alas, if one thinks about space colonies, then the number one question that should be asked can't be asked. At least not in the context of the liberal/secular worldview most associated with space and the natural sciences. And that question would flow from Mark Steyn's apophthegm, here, that "There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies." Well, actually, folks, there are none. It doesn't seem to work.

If one is actually contemplating space colonies, and not old age homes for scientists, then the book to read is How Civilizations Die, by David P. Goldman (AKA Spengler). Because we are in fact surrounded by dying societies, and it would be grossly impractical for anyone to ignore this factor. It would be bad engineering. Demographers are in complete agreement that reproducing at sustainable rates is most closely related to faith. (More specifically, faith that has discovered how to live with modernity. Faith that is just an attribute of a sheltered pre-modern culture won't do it. Those crash when exposed to modernity. Think Islam, or Ireland.) Read the book, and think.


Posted by John Weidner at January 8, 2012 3:10 PM
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