Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

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

Geoman

We will colonize the moon and mars soon. Within the next decade.

Magellan's crew circumnavigated the globe 1522. It took 4 years. The second circumnavigation was....Drake in 1580. 55 years later. It also took 4 years. The third circumnavigation was 1584. Four years after the second. 4 years to complete. The forth was 1588. Four years. But completed one year faster. The fifth was One year later. The sixth was in 1590. One year later. By that point we stopped counting individual circumnavigations because they became so common.

Now the international space station circles the globe every 92 minutes.

Our last landing on the moon was 1972. 48 years ago. Anyone think we won't land on the moon again in the next 7 years? And that once we do, we won't land again every few years?

SpaceX is saying their entire star ship rocket program, with a flight around the moon and/or landing, will cost around $10 billion to develop and first launch. Apollo's cost was...$152 billion in today's dollars. 1/15th the cost.

The cost to put a man on the moon per person was $12.6 billion. And the deaths of three astronaut, and near deaths of three more. Companies are now saying they can land people on the moon for <$750 million per person. Again, right around 1/15th the cost.

In 2019 dollars, U.S. GDP was $5.4 trillion in 1972. Today it is $20 trillion. We have 4 times more money to pay 1/15th the cost for a lunar landing. And the economy is still growing, and the lunar landing costs are still declining.

We will land on the moon and mars soon, because the costs to do so will become trivial expenditures.

Kartik Gada

Geoman,

I am not so sure that the decline in launch costs will lead to more humans in space.

While there has been a 15x cost improvement in launching humans, the improvement in AI has been 10,000X during the same time. AI, hence, is still far cheaper than a human in space, for any exploratory or research purpose. The trendline you describe might in fact continue via unmanned, rather than manned, missions.

Given the small size of AI, thousands of AIs in small, smartphone-sized hardware units can be launched in all directions (as against the one-ton crafts like Voyager I &2, etc.).

Humans in space for recreation is still the only market. But I still say that a time when thousands of people are at least as far away as the Moon, and remain so on a long-term basis, is very, very far away, if it ever happens at all.

Geoman

Well, we could send robots to Antarctica, and Fiji. Problem is loads of people want to visit those places in person.

Traffic on Everest gets worse every year.

You're saying since it is easier for us to look at pictures of Disneyland, there is no reason to go.

These won't be exploratory trips any more than a cruise around the world is a exploration. This is going to be tourism. This is going to be colonization.

In fact the robots will go first, build the base, then the humans will show up in their khakis toting folding chairs. We'll do it because why the hell not do it?

Imagine Space X, with starlink, pulling in $3-5 billion in profit each year. Musk has more than enough money - he's shown a proclivity for wanting to do interesting things with it. So he lands on the moon and mars just for fun, as a stunt, or because some government pays him to be the first.

Once starship is built, well, the solar system is our oyster. The moon, mars, Venus and the asteroids anyway. Add a simple nuclear drive, built on the moon, and anywhere in the solar system is accessible. You don't think someone will pay a $1 billion a ticket to cruise out to Jupiter?

I'm not saying we'll do it because we can only explore in person, we'll do it because it is fun and exciting.

Kartik Gada

Geoman,

I'm not saying we'll do it because we can only explore in person, we'll do it because it is fun and exciting.

Perhaps, but that day is far away. A trip to Mars, at present, would involve three people in a little can for 6 months, inhaling and exhaling the same air all that time, and then again when at Mars. No fun.

A luxurious experience to, at, and from Mars, while possible someday, is still very far away, and will happen later than thousands of AIs taking up residence at Jupiter and further distances.

Lets see if there is tourism of any scale to the bottom of the Marianna's Trench first, before we can say Space tourism is within even 10 years of that point.

Geoman

Deep sea tourism.

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/titanic-wreck-dives/index.html

https://www.popsci.com/deep-sea-tourism/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/3/120325-james-cameron-mariana-trench-challenger-deepest-returns-science-sub/

Everest:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/26/world/asia/mount-everest-deaths.html

Antarctica:

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-visit-antarctica-travel-tourism-increase-luxury-2019-12

On a planet of 10 billion people, with a total world GDP of >$200 trillion, you're saying there won't be 100 or a thousand people willing to relocate to the Moon or Mars? I think you'll have no problem finding a few hundred brave souls to colonize whatever you set your sights on.

Climbing Everest is NOT fun. It is not a luxury excursion. Yet hundreds of people are attempting it each year. Each is spending $50k for the privilege.

Kartik Gada

Geoman,

Deep sea tourism that goes down 2000 feet to a wreck is different from Challenger Deep. Challenger Deep is more analogous to a precursor to space. Note that James Cameron went by himself, paying out of his own pocket. That is not a market where a civilian can just buy a ticket.

Plus, something that is 1-3 days is different from a two-year Mars trip, one year of which is transit.

you're saying there won't be 100 or a thousand people willing to relocate to the Moon or Mars?

Not at $50 million/ticket. At $50,000, maybe.

And this is before they realize that a) they are in a tin can with two other guys for 6 months each way, all inhaling and exhaling the same air, and b) 99% of the volunteers will be male.

Let us see this number get above 20 consistently before we can actually confirm something is happening :

https://www.howmanypeopleareinspacerightnow.com/

Geoman

Well, Cameron is a civilian, and paid for his ticket.

You seem to be hung up on the price of the ticket or the ease of obtaining one - If visiting the moon is a million bucks a person, there will be plenty of travelers, given there are 50 million millionaires on earth. You don't think there will be a hundred willing to buy a ticket? Heck, they'll be giving tickets away as game show prizes at that price.

Musk has >$50 billion and wants to build a Mars colony. I suspect he'll pay for everyone's "ticket." even if it is $50 million per ride. If it costs him $5 billion so be it. Its not just the reduction in cost, but the increase in wealth.


https://www.space.com/minor-planets-beyond-neptune-dark-energy-survey.html

139 new objects discovered all at once in orbit beyond Neptune. The researchers started out with 7 billion dots, which they whittled down to 22 million "transients" after ruling out objects that appeared in roughly the same spot on multiple nights. Those 22 million were further culled to 400 planetary candidates. Of those 319 were small trans neptunium objects. 139 were new to science.

It's not just robotics. Increasingly we don't even need to send robots anywhere - just crunch huge masses of data to get the answer.

Kartik Gada

Geoman,

We'll see. But I doubt it, since it is not necessary for scientific progress or ATOM advancement.

Again, at the moment there are only 3 people in space (that too in low Earth orbit), there have rarely been over 10, and there have never been over 15.

https://www.howmanypeopleareinspacerightnow.com/

When that number is consistently above 20 (a pretty low bar), then we can see if that is an indication of some fundamental shift having begun. If that then subsequently rises above 50, then we may have something.

I am not saying that it will never happen, but rather that thousands of small hardware units with advanced AI will be diffused throughout the solar system long before there are 20 humans on the ground on Mars at once. Also, interest in space will move towards SETI and asteroid mining (also with robots) rather than the concept of humans on Mars or even the Moon.

It is true that telescopic power rises at 26%/yr. But small hardware with AI sent by the thousands will provide views from many angles at low cost.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)