FAQ about Space

So apparently many of you still harbour issues with my insane space idea. Thats ok, you aren't stupid, just horribly misinformed. Thats like being stupid, only I get less punches in the face for saying it. So today I'm going to run down a couple of the biggest issues people had with space mining, colonisation and other similar subjects. Thanks to Joe, Keef and Hannah (I.E all but 1 of my readers) for helping me out with the questions. Your contribution to the betterment of mankind will not go unseen.

1. How do you land on a friggin asteroid?

Its easier than you think! in fact the Japanese have already done such a task. That part is actually pretty easy. In space you can go alot faster than you can on earth with alot less power. Most NEOs that we'll be mining only go about 2KM/s. That sounds like a lot but the Shuttle (an outdated model by 1980s standards) goes at about 28,000km/h just chillin in orbit.

2. How do you mine an asteroid without air or gravity?

Again, this sounds really difficult and brings images of rocks floating around, foundries burning down cause the superheated metal is just floating around. But in reality its not that much different from here on earth. Its actually easier in some ways. See the asteroid isn't like minerals on earth now. They are literally massive blocks of metals. much richer ores than the ones we have here on earth.  This makes extraction much much easier.

As for the actual mining process. Well, there's a handful of ways we can do this. ranging from Magnets to strip mining to just plain scraping that shit up. The best way to go about the whole process would be to take up materials for a automated processing facility (an engineering problem, easily overcome), deploy automated gathering robots or have them guided by hand from earth. This probably sounds like it'd be very expensive, but automated systems would actually be much cheaper than sending people up there in rotating shifts.

3. How do you get that stuff back to earth?

Either by producing the necessary fuels in situ and just fly it home, or drop it into the ocean with a specially developed air brake or parachute system. This is probably one of the more difficult issues with the mining process, but the tech is there for this already.

Aside from that, minerals in space would optimally be used to build things in space. The aim of space mining is to set up an infrastructure to allow building things in space. Hotels, ships, habitats and so on. This doesn't mean that minerals won't be sent back to earth, only that the majority will be used to make it cheaper to transport materials around between Space and Earth.

4. What about manpower?

The first round of mining will definitely be automated with minimal human input, guided robots most likely, so thats not much of an issue. however as space begins to develop I can envision massive amounts of jobs, both for scientific work, and labour jobs. Training I envision will be expensive at first, you are teaching people to do things no one has ever done, but as time goes on, the process improves with every iteration and it becomes easier and easier to do.

5. How long till all this is possible?

It's all, every single bit of it, from basic robots moving rocks on an asteroid to massive Island 3 habitats, possible right now, today in Space Year 2010. Why aren't we there yet would be your next question.

6. Well why aren't we there yet?

A number of reasons, prime would be that its not seen as profitable yet. In most peoples eyes Space seems like such an insanely expensive place to go. There's a million and one political reasons and also the fact that very few people really care about space development as a whole these days. The 70s where a big publicity stunt and thats pretty much how we view Space as a whole. Hopefully this will change as asteroid mining becomes more and more desirably with earth's resources slowly running out.

A huge issue is rising launch costs.  This issue disappears once you have the infrastructure in Space. But for now its the biggest stumbling block for space development. A lot of people seem to think launch costs will decrease once interest in space development picks up. We can only hope so.

7. What minerals could you get?

Quite a huge number of things actually, ranging from Oxygen, Water, and Hydrogen to Gold, Silver, Iron and Nickel.  So long as it doesn't rely on dead animals (like oil) you could probably find it somewhere in space.

The next lot of questions deal with space stations and colonisation. They tie into mining but are primarily about Humans living in Space.

8. Would station be small? Claustrophobic?

Probably not. It depends on what station we're in. Almost all stations we have designs/ideas for are built for human comfort while in space. The psychological aspects of space travel are well known and its important to make sure miners, builders or whoever are comfortable and happy while suspended 300 miles above the earth in the inky blackness of cold space. Stations could range anywhere from a small, house sized Asteroid base to Massive twin 10kM long cylinders.

9. How would you power it? No nuclear stuff in space remember?

Thorium reactors, maybe even Fusion if it exists at the time.  I like to only think about things we can build now though, so we'd likely power anything small with solar arrays (Solar power is alot better up there than it is here). Anything bigger and we have to use Thorium reactors paired with Solar. Waste isn't much of an issue in space as firing at the sun is an actual genuine way of dealing with waste up there. Heres an excellent video showing how great Thorium reactors can be. Eventually though, space development should push development of Hydrogen fuel sources, seeing how its very abundant up there.

As an aside, Thorium isn't really a nuclear material in the same way Uranium or Plutonium is. I can see media twisting it to look like such though. One of the future space races greatest allies will be a very well funded PR department.

10. How connected will we be with earth?

Point a dish in the right direction and you can have internet. Yes, you will be able to play xbox live in space. Which leads nicely to the next question

11. What would you do for fun?

Whatever you want! Space stations will all have areas of zero-gee, which I'm sure alot of people will have fun with. Other than that you'll be able to get satellite TV  and internet if you like. Being that you live in a space station with a massive abundance of minerals? I'm guessing entertainment will be aplenty to be honest. I once read a paper that said people would build space hot rods and have races around the cylinders and such. Sounds pretty dumb but there's nothing really stopping you.

12. Can it be self sustaining? How?

To begin with, any space endeavour is going to be very reliant on earth. For minerals, fuels, food, all kinds of supplies. But by the time we have O'Neil cylinders any space colony will be completely and utterly self sustaining. Massive solar arrays and endless supplies of hydrogen providing unlimited power to the station, hydroponics and solar reflectors used to grow all the food needed, water from recycled waste and processed asteroids, oxygen from the same place.. Not that import and export wont happen, but it certainly wouldn't be necessary at that point.

13. Would it be safe?

Yes. in short. The station would be built to withstand the micro asteroid impacts that occur frequently in space, with modular systems allowing the station to be sealed instantly if a breakage did occur.  massive impacts that could utterly wipe out the station would only occur once every 3000 years, and remember. This is a space station completely designed to mine asteroids. I have faith that future station dwellers will be able to deal with such a problem.

14. Isn't living in space really unhealthy? Lost bone mass an stuff?

Normally yes. If you go live in space without any kind of gravity then you're boned. However. All space stations are built around centripetal force. Thats the force that keeps stuff in a bag when you spin it around. In short it simulates gravity by pushing you to the outside of the station. This defeats any bone mass from living in zero gee.

This actually means you'd be healthier in space. Slightly lower than usual gravity, a regulated atmosphere and genetically optimised foods mean that you'd be able to lift more, run further and live longer that those pathetic Earthers.

15. Governments, Gangs, drugs, economics and social issues

I honestly don't know anything about these issues yet. I'm not a psychologist or an economist so I can only speculate on what would happen on the station in regards to these subjects, and I don't want to pretend to know stuff I don't. Sorry, I've failed you. Hari-kari here I come.

Thats just about all the questions I could find or come up with. Thanks again for everyone who helped out here and if you still have any concerns over this subject or aren't completely sold on the idea yet, usually I'd tell you to throw yourself off a space-train bridge but in case you didn't notice. I'm super passionate about this subject and actually love talking about it, unlike most of the subjects on this blog. I'm really just trying to get it across that space isnt this unattainable, useless goal that so many see it as today, so  leave a comment or send me an email with your question and I'll answer it, and I won't even call you a moron in the process.

Some links if you're interested in the subject

Mining the sky. A fantastic book on Asteroid Mining

An economical study of asteroid mining
A nice article about space stations

Book 10 - Flim Flam By James Randi

A short book detailing many examples of psychics, dowsers, mediums and countless others who claim to hold amazing abilities. And their intense failures.

Randi is known world wide as The Skeptic. Once a magician, he has turned his knowledge of misdirection and trickery to uncovering those who use such talents not for entertainment, but to claim mystical abilities. The book details some of Randi's bigger encounters, exposes some of the more prolific technquies used by these people and demonstrates Randis famous cash prize. Its a very interesting read at times.

The issues I had with it were twofold, the first isnt Randi's fault and I dont hold it against the book. The book was written a while ago. This comes through alot in the writing obviously and obviously all the targets he examines in the book are dated. This didnt detract from the book really, and was more just me being a dong.

Second though, Randi is not a writer. Some parts of the book were difficult to grasp at first scan and more than once it was hard to make out the meanings of his awkward sentences. This is still a minor issue, it doesn't come up much.

The exploration of the media's attitude toward mystics was pretty interesting, and all the more relivent these days with the New Age focus on things, and the media is still going on about mystics and Ghosts and so on.

A good read if you're interested in the subject, though I'd suggest seeking out a more recent book.
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