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A Space Farer's Dream Prize

James Scarrow

December 10, 2012

Dear Emily: Thanks so much for the opportunity to express a personal vision for our future in space. I’ve wanted to write these thoughts out for a long time it seems! I dream of mankind becoming a truly space-faring race. To do this we must become comfortable actually living long-term in space, not just visiting space briefly, only to scamper back to our gravity hole like a marmot scared by the big outdoors. I’d like to see more work done to develop space sustainability technology, both in terms of atmosphere and food sustainability. I think the Planetary Society can dream up a catalytic role in some parts of this development. I would like to see initiatives related to the use of soft materials for space habitats rather than this continued emphasis on the “man-in-a-can” technology we see today. For long-term living in space we need lots of space inside our space habitats. Tough woven materials would provide a far more friendly material for space habitats due to their lightness, insulating features, flexibility, and reparability characteristics. In order to be a truly space-faring race, we first need practical and long-term access to space. This can never be accomplished with rocket technology, which is only good for the expensive periodic visits to space we have today. The only technology on the horizon today that could provide continuous long-term access to space is the Space Elevator concept. We can produce carbon fibre nanotubes today in the lab, and with an increase in volume, concentration, and length, a carbon nanotube ribbon strong and light enough to support itself and an Elevator is easily possible. It is also the only technology that would be capable of moving the necessary volume of materials into space cheaply enough to kick-start the building of a true space-based infrastructure that could become self-sustaining. We are not that far off being able to produce this material commercially. I’d like to see more emphasis and public exposure to this technology by the Planetary Society, highlighting the state of this technology, who is investing in it, how much money is on the table, and what its potential is. As a result, I would envision the manned exploration of Mars and beyond by a space-faring race looking much different than what I see and hear today. So please read a space-farer’s dream. I hope you enjoy this dream as much as I did. Regards, James Scarrow ps I can’t stop thinking about that dream prize. So, would a reinforced stick with a directed explosive charge built into the blade’s sweet spot, in low gravity, give enough force during a swing to propel…….. But that’s another dream.   So, here is a space-farer’s dream: Aided by extended and continuous public exposure from the Planetary Society, political and commercial interest in carbon nanotube technology is accelerated until the required nanotube concentrations are achieved in the lab and commercial processes are developed. This new material’s huge spin-offs to the aeronautics and transportation sectors generate massive profits for the developers of this technology. The Planetary Society wisely invested modestly in the shares of a few of these start-ups and is now awash in funding. After the deployment of a Space Elevator using carbon nanotube technology, the huge economic spin-offs yank the world out of its ongoing economic doldrums, generating a new space-based economy, producing benefits such as solar power concentrators that beam power down to any location on earth using microwave lasers. Also prominent are manufacturing habitats in orbit used to produce high performance electronics and exotic materials only possible from production in a near-vacuum in micro-gravity. During the time that the Elevator was developed and deployed (and duplicated), ongoing work by long-sighted private concerns such as the Planetary Society have funded on-the-ground mini-projects working on environmental sustainability in space in conjunction with universities and high-school students around the world. An orbiting inter-planetary habitat can be seen from the ground, looking like a small second moon. A close-up look reveals a huge but relatively light cloth structure made of a woven carbon-fibre nanotube fabric that makes Kevlar look like cheap paper. The habitat is supported by internal atmospheric pressure, spinning to provide artificial gravity to its outer habitation layers, with a multi-wall design with gas-filled space between outer walls to absorb small meteor impacts without the puncture of the inner barrier, and lasers to vaporize meteors larger than dust particles. It has a reflecting outer layer to balance heat absorption and internal generation with heat loss. It includes a photovoltaic outer coating to provide electrical power, large vegetation zones exposed to filtered sunlight, and fully automated robotic “farmers”. A large spacious crew quarters with top-of-the-line virtual reality (VR) systems driven by the latest instant communications technology based on 3-way particle entanglement, provide a very comfortable living zone. Finally, a magnetic repulsion system is included to protect against harmful solar emissions. Overall, the habitat looks like a giant futuristic mirrored disco ball. Now that’s a space ship! The habitat, built in medium orbit, tested for long-term habitation, is pushed by large Ion thrusters over a couple of years into an inter-planetary orbit intersecting Earth and Mars, during which the robotic farmers grow and store oxygen and dehydrated food produced. After orbit stabilization, the first Mars explorers with only their personal luggage are lifted by the Elevator and flung by the Elevator, like a stone from a slingshot, into an intersection trajectory with the inter-Mars habitat as it passes Earth. A relatively short comfortable journey measured in months takes the crew to Mars where they switch to a Mars orbiting habitat before dropping down to the surface to work until it is time to return to Mars orbit and connect with the inter-Mars habitat for the return journey back to Earth. A new crew switches places with the returning crew to continue exploratory work on the surface of Mars that can only be done by humans. A consortium of ambitious business people have proposed a Mars tourism plan to defray the mission costs, which are surprisingly inexpensive due to the replacement of expensive obsolete rocketry with Elevator technology. Billions on Earth experience space life, incredible starscapes, and a virtual presence on the surface of Mars using the VR systems brought along on the mission. The relatively small cost of the VR systems and the small subscription cost to billions of users, simultaneously provide virtual tourism experiences to Earth-bound citizens, more than paying for the whole mission with the resulting revenues. In the meantime another habitat with an Earth-Jupiter orbit is in the works for the human exploration of Europa. This habitat turn out to be relatively inexpensive since the same technology involved in the inter-Mars habitat can be re-used, and it seems the missions pay for themselves with the tourism spin-offs. Already people are lining up to purchase a time slot for VR hikes on the ice flows of Europa, and the opportunity to sky-gaze at the magnificent visage of massive Jupiter and its ever-changing clouds hanging overhead. A media buzz is created when some clown announces a plan to build a skating rink on Europa and setup the first ever hockey game in outer space; a prize to be awarded to the first player to send a slap-shot into Europian orbit.

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