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Engineering Newsletter

Timoty replies to Kelly:

>Fusion is an extreamly usefull general purpose technology.  Anti-matter is
>far less so, and far more dangerous on the scale we would need.  I wouldn't
>expect a lot of anti-mater ships in 50 years.

You shouldn't see anti-matter as a fuel, but more as efficient energy
storage. Why is anti-matter not a fuel? Because we have to make it.
Coparing these two is like comparing a petrol car with an electric car. The
energy for an electric car has to come from other fuels. Although the weight
advantage with electric cars may not be evident yet there are other
advantages. One of the advantages is the independancy of the origin of the
fuel source. If it is fusion, fission or solar energy all are easely
converted to electric energy which is relative easy to handle.
So what car-batteries are for us now, anti-matter will be for fast spacevessels.

>Oh, that would be beyond the resources and tech of the project.  Also it seem
>a waste of time.  Sort of novelty project for the record books.  With no
>practical reason to stay perminently there the bases would be prefab ghost
>towns.  Future missions to other solar systems would have to be based out of
>dynamic, growing, large scale, civilizations.  Not out of a staging camp in
>the middle of nowhere.

If it really is to get a entry in the record books and not much more that
would really be a shame of all resources. If people really want to do that,
I see the end of humanity near.
About growing civilizations, I don't think that western cultures will expand
that much. In the US the birthrate is 2.05 per female, in Europe it's about
1.8. So that would mean that population will decrease.
The mean reason that Earth's population is still increasing are the less
developed countries which have birthrates of 4 to 7.
I think that families in developed countries have less children because of
the care these children need (financial but also social/tutorial).
So this means that we probably never need to go to other places.

But if we want to explore and discover new places we may want outposts at
many places. So building small colonies would not be that crazy then.
These colonies would have two purposes, the outpost and a research function.
There would probably many researchers that like to check a foreign planet.

>Forever?  Do you expect earth to keep funding these people in this base
>forever?  With continuous supply flights from sol to keep them going?  We
>couldn't even keep the moon program going for more than a few months after it
>planted its flag.

After some time they could have build a small colony with all facilities
needed to live and work. The energy they need comes from TC itself. So Earth
would need funding them, but since they have build a "nice" place in the
middle of an interesting place they may be interested to hear something of them.
You may argue that building a colony is difficult in an alien environment,
but by that time we will have some experience in building things on the Moon
or Mars.

>> Why don't you expect them to do that? I still don't see that as suicide,
>> they can live perfectly healthy lives.
>Thats like condeming somone to spend the rest of their lives in an
>apartment/shoping mall!  Good researchers will want to retire or go on to
>other projects.  Not sit around in a worn out ship, in the middle of nowhere,
>with nothing to do.

Other projects, they have all the choice they could have. Who's going to
tell them that they cannot do what they want. The only limits are the ones
of themselves.
The people going there aren't the people who really want to retire, these
are people that are born for exploration and research. (They really exist)
My guess is that they wouldn't sit all the time in some ship or compartment,
but that they would allow themselves to go to the planets surface (in

>Sorry, no.  In large projects like this the sum of the parts is the lowest
>common denominator of everyone.  It becoming a big issue in the U.S.  The
>more people you get on a project, the less energy and inovation is avalible.
> Things get bogged down, lost in committe misunderstanding, ecetera.  Costs
>can go up to hundreds of times what a small tight group could do it for.

And do you know why this happens, because everyone wants his own share and
no one is prepared to accept an idea of an other because that will mean a
loss of personal profit.

>Thats one of the reasons that over the last decade or two, NASA has been
>incapable of trying, or developing, cutting edge technologies or programs.

Maybe even one country is too big?

>> Exploration isn't much fun? What else drives people to such far places...
>Curiosity, greed, a chalenge, desire for fame or acomplishment.  Exploration
>is generally horiobly uncomfortable and life threatening.  But its very
>chalenging, and its atractive to know your one of the few to ever do
>something, know something, etc...  Even if you know its killing you.

Sorry, I had a more lossy idea about the word exploration than you did, I
meant approximately what you wrote.

>Like an anthro professor my wife had.  He loved studying aborigional tribes
>in the backwaters of the Amazon, but he frely admitted everyone who does it
>expect that they've paid with decades off their life expectancy.

So that means a return trip won't be necessary.

>Since your dealing with radically differnt life forms.  Its unlikely the old
>rules, or solutions, would hold.  We mostly will be starting from scratch.
> After all, we have no experience with alien biospheres.

I doubt if they are so radically different, all lifeforms have to abide the
laws of nature. Maybe some of them have found tricks that have not been
found on Earth but that is why we are going there.
And still if we know what doesn't work the chances of finding something that
does work are enlarged.

>We're in a serous bind.  The tech we can expect in 50 years isn't enough for
>a T.C. flight.  Or all but the most modest interstellar flights.  NOr would
>they be that likely to be interested in footing a huge program.  Yet if we
>back up the date by a hundred years we could be much more confident that they
>could do it, and do it affordably, but we wouldn't have any credible idea

So maybe we should say "a priori" that certain techniques are available. And
discuss how and why these could be used.

>Put another way.  Are we that likely to be so afraid of human extinction,
>that we'll rush to do such a project in 50 years?

You can never tell :) people are worring about many things (like asteroids
colliding with Earth or the Asimov :))
If humanity ever becomes extinct, it will be likely that it is not because
of natural disasters.

>Oh certainly.  The united states gets several million of them a year!  But,
>another star doesn't offer much opportunity.  It isolated, expensive, no
>markets to go to, few resorces that you can get at.  No home world to go to
>on vacation to.  Your very dependand on the supply line from Sol, and their
>for far less independant than you would be in a colony in Sol.

You indeed can't go on vacation, and it probably never will have more than
1000 inhabitants for the first 100 years. But as every place where people
live, they will adapt themselves and the environment. Not all people want to
become rich by selling stuff, a lot of them just want a place to life as
they like with the "sky" as the only limit. As I said before dependancy is
only a short time (if at all), once there is TC-light and gravity they can
grow food just as on Earth. So the first necessaries of life should not be
that difficult.

>Also, the kind of people we would send on such a ship.  Would be the ellete
>that would have a lot of opportunity back home.  The people who want a new
>start, wouldn't be sent on the ship.

If you are 25 to 30 how sure can you be that you are a member of that elite.
Also it doesn't have to be a new start but a first very defiant start.