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Geoman

I think this section could be beefed up.

Ultimately the cost for anything will boil down to three things 1) the cost of labor to make it 2) the cost of the materials to make it 3) the cost of the energy to make it.

With AI and robotics, cost #1 goes down to a very low number indeed. With nanotech and 3d printing, the cost for #2 is also falling. And with solar power, the cost for #3 is falling. As each of these costs fall, they feed into declines in the other sectors, for example, robotics makes manufacturing solar cells cheaper, which makes energy cheaper.

In space, there is the potential for an order of magnitude drop in energy and materials costs. Solar energy is plentiful, and twice as strong as on the surface of the Earth. Many rare elements, such as gold and platinum, occur in great abundance. What has always prevented exploitation of these resources is the lack of AI - putting people in space to control the process was always a very expensive proposition. Having a robot do it...well, it pretty much removes the last obstacle.

There are now two companies that plan to mine asteroids. Looking over their plans...it could work. seriously, for a reasonable and finite investment, they might just be able to conduct mining.

what if gold or palladium became available at a few buck a kg? Wouldn't that spur all sorts of technological advancements that have be stifled due to the price of these materials?

AI and space has the potential to cut the costs of elements and energy to fractions of what we see right now. What if the U.S. simply mined enough gold in place to put the U.S. back on the gold standard? Oh yeah, and pay off the national debt. In gold. The extreme economic changes that could result from such a situation are hard to imagine.

agimarc

The most valuable substance to be mined off planet will be water ice. Given any sort of a power source, water ice becomes propellant, atmosphere, growing medium and radiation shielding. The cool thing is that the farther from the sun you get, the more you find. Even Mars gets wetter the more you look at it, though the water is generally tied up as water ice. The solar system even delivers substantial icy bodies into the inner solar system via the earth orbit crossing asteroids and comets. Fully half of the earth crossing asteroids are thought to be inactive comets with substantial percentages of water and other ices. Some of them are very close to earth orbit in terms of delta-v for a trip, though the trip times will be long. Enabling technology for this would be reactor(s) of some sort for power / propulsion (think the old Nerva as an example). I came across a guy who worked with Gene Shoemaker who worked out how low temperature nuclear powered steam rockets will open the solar system pretty quickly. URLs available upon request. Cheers -

Kartik Gada

Agimarc,

You are correct about water, *if* humans are to be in space.

However, I believe that AI will be what is sent into space, so water stops being crucial for the support of intelligence travelling across space.

agimarc

Correct that water would not be required for maintenance of a human crew. OTOH, it would still be needed for propulsion.

Your idea of sending AI echoes a Freeman Dyson proposal a few decades ago to send large numbers of very smart, very small spacecraft for probes. He called them space chickens if I recall properly.

Don't disagree that AI will do a lot of the heavy lifting / traveling / operating in space. In the absence of a Singularity where we merge with our tech, there will still be a finite percentage of the general population that will want to travel into space and to other places. And they will figure out how to do it. We only need about 20k of them off planet for a robust breeding population. I think that number is easily reachable, perhaps even with current tech. Note that I chose 20k as the estimated human population following the Toba eruption some 70k years ago.

We are already seeing the marketplace start cutting orders of magnitude off the lift cost. Compare what SpaceX is charging today per pound vs what shuttle was. And this has only been going on for a short time. I think you see a similar exponential decrease in the cost of launching and flying now that the marketplace has kicked in a bit. Cheers -

Kartik Gada

agimarc,

Perhaps. But since sending humans into space will never be cost-effective, it may not happen for humans in their current form.

Even if humans do manage to self-finance, I wonder if the selection of the 20K will be marred by a paralyzing degree of 'political correctness'. For one thing, it is logical that women outnumber men in the initial population, just for reproductive efficiency. Gender will balance out within a generation.

agimarc

My guess is that those who want to go are not particularly pc. I think they will self-select and go on one way trips, perhaps in family units not unlike New World settlers did half a millennia ago. And it won't be the governments that do the deed.

One way trips are currently technically feasible, as most of the cost is associated with bringing the crew back.

Someone did an analysis of the actual costs for a person / family to reach the New World and compared it to the wealth of western families today. As I remember the piece, those numbers are very close. And your DUES / ATOM will make it even closer.

Locations? Mars is obvious. So is the south pole of the moon. Not so obvious would be various earth orbit crossing bodies - think of them as truck stops, various large asteroids, perhaps the Jupiter Trojans.

If we start seeing reactors being developed for power and propulsion, this takes off pretty quickly. Cheers -

Stephen murray

Related. Humans are going to the moon via the private sector.

http://www.spacex.com/news/2017/02/27/spacex-send-privately-crewed-dragon-spacecraft-beyond-moon-next-year

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