Infinite Frontier

So here is sub-chapter two, which is part of Chapter 1, Science, of the Random Rationality rewrite. The book is called Random Rationality, so it won’t start making sense until a ways in, so don’t be worried if you see no relation to the first chapter, which can be found here. Would greatly appreciate any feedback, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published. If you share the same love of space as I do; consider signing the petition for increasing NASA’s budget here, or if you’re American, here. Enjoy the read.

 

regards

Humble Idiot


Infinite Frontier

In 1903, the Wright brothers were the first human beings to fly in a heavier-than-air machine, flying their garage-made contraption a total of one-hundred-twenty feet. Sixty-six years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, traveling 828,752 miles, or an increase of 3,704,811% in total distance travelled over and above the Wright brothers’ historic virgin flight. We stopped pushing this boundary in 1972, relegating ourselves to an earthly existence, though occasionally venturing out to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). That, I and many other space enthusiasts, believe was a mistake.

Let’s play a guessing game extrapolating out the exponential progress from 1903-1969. Accounting for the one-third less time we’ve had, since that sixty-six year period, and assuming that the increase in distance travelled due to technological advancement relative to that sixty-six year period is lineal—which it more than likely wouldn’t be. We may have been able to travel 2,413,740% farther than the distance Apollo 11 travelled to get to the moon relative to the Wright brothers’, or approximately 2,012,051,840,341 miles, as the crow flies—or space monkey floats. That’s beyond Pluto…though it wouldn’t get us to Pluto due to the zigzagged nature of space travel (flying around planets using their gravity to slingshot around giving a free speed boost to the spacecraft).

While the number I just came up with is about as valuable as monkey excrement, it’s only meant to make you think big, space big.

Had we continued with the frantic pace of research and development that started in 1957 with the launch of the first manmade satellite, Sputnik, into orbit by the USSR, there is little doubt that there would be footprints on Mars, though they wouldn’t last long, as Mars actually has weather unlike the moon.

Perhaps we would have created different means of interplanetary transportation, and the exponential rise of technology would have propelled us ever forward, creating unparalleled economic growth in its wake. Instead we got the moving around and creation of electronic zero’s on computer screens on Wall Street.

We could have potentially mined asteroids by now, which are chock-a-block full of yummy resources that we want and/or need. Even a relatively small asteroid a mile across has approximately $20 trillion of resources. That’s one-third of 2011 world GDP in one little space rock, and billions of these rocks are just floating around between Mars and Jupiter.

So why did we stop pushing the space frontier? Why did we stop going beyond LEO in 1972? Well, we stopped going for geopolitical reasons. A travesty of politics—beginning the main theme of governmental shortsightedness this book will continually find itself in the midst of.

Throughout the entire history of Homo sapiens, an epoch of some 200,000 years, we have continuously pushed the final frontier. Expanding outwards from the Rift valley in Africa, we pushed into the vast expanse of the Mideast, then to the wetlands of Asia and to the extremes of Europe, making a final push to the lush Americas, and the remote Oceania. Overcoming our limitations and exploring the frontier is a quintessential aspect of human nature.

The frontier need not always be physical either. When we stopped exploring geographically outwards; we started downwards, inwards, and upwards. Downwards into the rocks to determine the age of the Earth and all manner of fossils. Inwards into our bodies to extend both the length and quality of life. And upwards into space to explore our place in the cosmos. 

We found fossils of ancient monsters, exploited the Atom, discovered mathematics, geology, medicine, and physics. In the process expanding our mental horizons, which allowed us to make sense of our little corner of the Universe, and it just so happens that the pursuit of such endeavors made life better for everyone in the process.

Thankfully we haven’t stopped expanding our mental frontiers. We stopped long ago pushing its sister, the physical frontier, and who knows what insights and discoveries we have missed out on as a result. 

Political expedience should not be a factor in discovering new—or more—knowledge. Neither should naïve thoughts that we have too many problems down here to go exploring up there, otherwise we’d never have left Africa! We need to access such endeavors objectively and with standards, though even that has its shortcomings. Nobody could have foreseen the implications of discovering the atom, and the scientist who discovered it, when pressed, would have been unable to properly articulate a satisfactory answer, yet out of the atom came nuclear power and the atom bomb. Out of Quantum Mechanics (QM), came integrated circuits and information technology, and now thirty-five percent of the US economy exists because of QM. Out of Einstein’s relativity, we discovered the means to keep satellites in orbit in tune with equipment on the ground (GPS). Problems down here are often solved by problems up there! When the Hubble Telescope had a malfunctioning mirror, scientists had to make do with observing a blurry Universe, but in the process, they created image-processing algorithms to clear up some of the blurriness, which was later used in mammograms down here on Earth, allowing earlier detection of breast cancer, potentially saving the lives of millions of women. Because of a mistake!

Be that as it may, did problems in the motherland stop Christopher Columbus, Captain James Cook, or Marco Polo, from exploring and discovering new sections of the Earth. It certainly didn’t stop the Iraqi and Syrian farmers who left the Fertile Crescent ten-thousand years ago due to over-utilization of resources and travelled to modern-day England and everywhere in between? (Eighty-percent of the current British population are descended from those Iraqi and Syrian farmers) 

 No, the problems of their time didn’t slow them down, but spurred them on, and possibly helped to alleviate their problems. For example: 

  • Need more efficient shipping routes, sail the seven seas, map the coastlines, create maps, and plan better next time (We then went onto invent GPS, cars, ships, planes, and meteorology)
  • Old World becoming stagnant, cross the Atlantic and start the New World, which eventually went onto become the dominant financial and military superpower of the world
  • Minerals and resources becoming more expensive and/or scarce, mine deeper or farther away using new techniques and technologies

New, useful and beautiful things are always discovered when pushing that final frontier ever farther; therein lays its significance and the crux upon which our seven-thousand year old civilizations stand. Without it, we are cave dwellers, rendering the 1.6% genetic difference separating us from chimps nothing more than an unnecessary and wasted gift. It’s that mix of new problems in the face of old ones that forces upon us a different mode of thinking, along with practical experimentation that can then be taken back to society, allowing for its economic or geographic expansion. This is the foundation of human prosperity, where new processes, tools, social orders, and technologies spring forth as a result of new understandings. Without this engine of discovery and growth, history has shown us time and time again that society rots from the inside out and empires crumble. You can only coast on the achievements of your forefathers for so long.

 Why do all empires decline? Every single empire in the history of civilization has fallen from its peak due to a failure to anticipate change, and the propensity of government to maintain the status quo—a lesson to be learned in today’s heated political climate. To anyone afraid of change, history shows us that those who fear and push back against economic, scientific, and social change are on the losing side of that battle almost hundred-percent of the time. What are you pushing back against today?   

 It’s not religion, communism, monarchy, government, or any other factor of society that drives this innate human desire to discover—in point of fact, they are its antithesis with their desire for the status quo. It is change that is the instigator, and nothing forces change more than the unknown.

 Our final frontier, if you can call it that, since it is infinite, is space. We’ve conquered LEO, with the manned International Space Station, but we must not stop there. We should aim for permanent habitation of the moon and its exploration, which is chock-a-block full of helium-3—which will became necessary with nuclear fusion technology coming online in the coming decades. We should aim for capture of an asteroid, landing a person on Mars to establish humankind as a multi-planetary species, and have a back-up of Earth’s biosphere in case of a calamity, and then march, actually coast, ever forward. 

 Space doesn’t end. It is infinite and at each turn, there will be a blessing in disguise, maybe in the form of new resources, vast energy reserves, or new scientific understandings expanding our view of the Universe. And who knows, perhaps life, maybe even a sentient alien race. But we are guaranteed something, and the human race as a whole will be the benefactor. 

 This is not to say there will be no risk. Crossing the road entails risk. Getting into a car entails risk, but the rewards will far outweigh the risks, especially in our desolate solar system.

 Space has untold riches just waiting for us. We could diversify our eggs and sperm out of the proverbial single basket that is Earth, thereby increasing the chances of long-term human survival in the event of disaster. The technologies that we would invent to survive in space would be applicable to all our problems here on Earth, and it would greatly accelerate the day we live in a sustainable economy that doesn’t destroy the fragile ecosystems of our small home.

 Through our exploration of only a small section of space, we have already invented technologies that have served a multitude of needs down here at ground level:

  • More nutritious infant formulas that allow a better quality of life for those infants unable to be breast-fed
  • UV sunglasses protecting our eyes from harsh sunlight
  • Memory foam used in helmets and prosthetic legs, saving countless lives and treating injuries
  • Camera optics used in a third of all cell phone cameras capturing life’s beauty
  • Digital imaging techniques such as CT scans and MRIs, potentially saving the lives of thousands, if not millions
  • GPS and weather forecasting, allowing the efficient transportation of goods and people worldwide, increasing the quality of life of billions
  • Smoke detectors that have saved countless people from horrible deaths
  • And 1,723 other inventions that NASA has catalogued with the addendum that this list is far from exhaustive

Space exploration is the most awe-inspiring work that can be undertaken by humankind, simultaneously inspiring a new generation into becoming scientists and engineers instead of bankers and insurance salesmen, and expanding economies and horizons in a real sense. The understanding it brings fosters human innovation in a way that benefits all of humankind, not just those living in the void of space.

 Thankfully, private companies are stepping up to the plate in droves to take over where once government solely had the means. In 2012, SpaceX successfully launched a private spaceship and docked with the International Space Station twice. Another new company, Planetary Resources, has been formed to mine asteroids sometime this decade or next. Last;y, the newly formed company, Golden Spike, is offering tickets to goto the moon for $1.5 billion by the end of this decade. Though the niche they are creating is yet a delicate newborn that needs support. 

 

Exploration is the most sublime expression of what it is to be human, and space exploration is the ultimate expression of this humanity.” Elliot G. Pulham and James DeFrank

13 comments

  1. “Neither should naïve thoughts that we have too many problems down here to go exploring up there, otherwise we’d never have left Africa! ” Yes, but well…no. We didn’t leave Africa because of some sense of eventual pay-off later. Rather, people expanded their territory for immediate benefit and you can draw a line now and say, “‘Africa’ ends here,” and declare that at some point our expansion took us past that line, but that is not very analogous to space travel.

    Like the first African ex-patriots, I’m not thinking that much about the future of the human race. I’m not naive, just selfish and I would prefer that we keep our focus on improving our current conditions. Space money would be better spent on education. Eventually we might be able to learn enough to get to the point where we can invest in a very long term goal.

    Right now it seems probable that overpopulation and global warming will destroy life (or at least civilization) here in basket Earth long before we are able to get our DNA into any other baskets. We should focus on preventing that destruction because even if sprinting to get to a new home was the primary focus of our technological efforts, population bloom, followed by run away greenhouse gases and mass starvation, is on track to win that race.

    1. The way I see it, is that currently NASA gobbles up 0.04% of the federal budget. Out of all that, we got MRIs, microships, meteorology, as well as satellites that predict climate-change, so spending money up there helps us down here. There is an anthology of other benefits that we have received from the space industry and at a negligible cost. We should be worried bout cutting down on the military, reforming entitlements. There are hundreds of billions of dollars to be saved there, and very little from not focusing on space.
      We are all selfish to some extent, but the reason we have society is because we learned how to delay instant gratification for long-term planning. This is one of the primary benefits of government: it directs the nation towards a goal. The more we understand other planets, the more we understand Earth. The more we understand Earth, the better we can plan. The more technologies invented to survive in a closed ecosystem millions of miles away, the more we can adapt society to live sustainably.

  2. I’m no expert, far from it, but I’ll give you my two-cents.

    My alarm bells went off with: “so it won’t start making sense until a ways in.” To me that seems to be the wrong way to approach it. I enjoyed the waypoints you presented, but I was left wondering why I was reading. First rule of writing is the narrative hook. Everything else falls in place after that. The reader has to understand why they’re inside your landscape. It’s an investment they want to make (they’re reading, after all) but you shouldn’t tease their patience. Although extremely well-written, you come across as being aloof and off on some distant page, unseen, unfelt, throwing crumbs back. I have no doubt you can engage the reader, your writing is very good, so do it. Dive in. Perhaps the sense-making bits (“a ways in”) should be up front? Throw the meat out. Let us know what this feast (and it does appear to be a wonderful feast) is all about. Shock the reader. Capture the mind first, then paint in the details of this canvas.

    A minor correction, though. Santos Dumont was the first man to fly a heavier than air powered craft. I know in America you’re taught it was the Wright Brothers, but in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and even in Australia (Yes, the rest of the world) its Dumont. The Americans claim he didn’t make a turn so it can’t be considered “flight.” Truth is he circled the Eifel Tower, made many turns, and achieved straight line flight in front of thousands of onlookers. The Wright Brothers are Americans trying to re-write history, so I’d correct that bit if you’re looking to an audience outside the States.

    1. Hi John. Thanks for your comment! Actually, I made a small error and decided to post Chapter 1, instead of the Introduction, where I explain the randomness and where it leads in a general sense. A silly mistake, but I gotta run with it. In the next chapter, I’ll throw the meat out in front, so thanks for the duly needed snap back into reality.

      About Dumont.. My girlfriend is Brasilian. She never misses an opportunity to remind me. But if I recall correctly, when he went around an Eiffel Tower, it was in a Dirigible, which is lighter than air, and his first fixed wing flight was not until 1906…

      1. About Dumont, i guess the conjecture comes done to definitions of ‘flight.’

        Ah-ha, you have a Brazilian girlfriend! I have a Brazilian wife! Men of similar taste 🙂 If i’d known what i know today i would have moved here straight after university. Have you ever been down this way?

        1. I was just there a few months ago! We went to Rio, Natal, and Brasilia. Natal is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been too, with Rio in close second. Where abouts you live there?

          1. We’re in Sao Paulo state. Spent 6 years in Sao Paulo city (a ghastly place) then escaped north to Sao Jose dos Campos. Love it here. If you ever get the chance get down to the SP coast. Astonishing beauty. Truly remarkable.

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