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What will man become?


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To Sayonara

I have no problem with speculation as long as it is identified as such. I do have a problem with speculation that is presented as if it is fact. In the same way, I enjoy reading fiction, but I do not mistake it for anything else. Honest fiction is great. Dishonest is when someone like Van Daniken comes along and writes a book of fantasy and tells everyone it is fact.

 

Exploiting space minerals will be a lot more difficult than Moontanman seems to think. The biggest problem is simply getting clear of the Earth's gravity well. Once we can do this easily, things will become a lot less difficult. The solution exists in theory in the form of the hypothetical space elevator. There appears to be no barrier in terms of the laws of physics to this elevator, and I think it will probably be built some time in the next 100 years.

 

After that we could get exploitation of space minerals. There will be volunteers to go into space to do it. There are always enough idiots around! The time that will have to be dedicated to such a project, though, is mind boggling. Imagine volunteering to mine the moons of Saturn, and going into space for the many decades required! And this is assuming we have a solution to the problem of lethal radiation.

 

The logical way to do it is to find a lump of rock in space with lots of water. Set up base upon the rock, and mount ion drive engines. Use the water as reaction mass and fusion fuel, and begin the slow deceleration of that rock into Earth orbit. It would take 50 plus years! You would leave the Earth to live in a tin can for pretty much the rest of your life.

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What will man become? Extinct if we don't stop waffling and go and do it. Nuclear power is what we need, everything else is either pie in the sky or to expensive or too long range. If we use nuclear power to take us into space all these things can be well on their way by the turn of the next century.

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Not at all, you are trying to obfuscate the situation. How long do you think it will take to start a significant process of exploitation of Space resources? If we really to this problem to heart it could be in decades. How long before we are unable to really mine necessary materials on the Earth? Nuclear powered space craft like the proposed "Nuclear Light bulb rocket" could speed up the exploitation of space resources considerably but even if we don't use nuclear power in that way the resources of space will not be thousands of years away or even hundreds of years. Decades at worst and maybe just a few years at best depending on how much of our resources we commit to the challenge.

I don't really see how explaining the problem in simple terms is the same as "obfuscating the issue". The issue IS the resource limits.

 

As I have already stated in this thread there are time limits on the usuable volumes of key elements which we are already measuring in decades. And I only mentioned one or two of them.

 

Everything you are proposing is possible, I am not arguing against that at all. But you have to take a step back and look at the massive scope of a long-term, highly resource-intensive project such as expanding into the solar system, and ask yourself who is going to put the capital into that project? How would such a doubtless controversial project survive the countless changes of administration and policy that would occur while it was being planned and run? Which nations will be involved, and what will their priorities be?

 

 

Why not? Are the alien over lords going to come and stop us? There are no unsurmountable problems to keep us from exploiting these resources.

Except the very realistic problem of not having one or some specific materials which you need to make the technology work, as I believe I might have mentioned once or twice already.

 

 

Only if we ***** foot around for a hundred years or so before we begin to exploit these space resources.

How else do you imagine it will happen?

 

Let's say the USA wants to start mining asteroids in 2040. Russia and South Africa have the last remaining stockpiles of platinum that the USA needs to complete fabrication of their mining drone swarm. But oh no, Russia and South Africa actually don't want to sell such a precious commodity to the USA just so that it can be blasted into space, probably never to be seen again; as it turns out they'd much rather put it into their domestic industries and keep themselves afloat for a bit longer.

 

Much of the infrastructure of mining space resources will be made in space from those very resources. It's not like we will have to continually mine the earth to go into space to get the stuff we are mining on the earth. Once we establish the beginning of the operations they can become self sustaining and use those very resources to build on.

I imagine that would be the only sensible method, but you still have that magical step (2) in there which completely ignores the critical element of whether or not the beginning of operations actually can be established.

 

In short, this argument is like trying to lift yourself off the ground by pulling on your own feet.

 

No, you are not thinking ahead, it will not be necessary to put a complete infrastructure in space.

On your first point there, precisely; I am NOT thinking ahead. I am thinking about the painful birth of the system, and the problems it may encounter. YOU are thinking about the grand new age of solar system resource farming, and hand-waving away the problems you don't want to hear about. I admire your vision, I really do, but you aren't being very realistic about the means humanity usually employs for deciding what is the best way to squander our precious resources.

 

On your second point, I am not sure what you mean by telling me that it will not be necessary to put a "complete" infrastructure in place. Surely any system you have for retreiving materials is "the" infrastructure of the time? I did not think I had proposed any requirement for an all-or-nothing, solar system-wide mining operation.

I don't really see how it makes any difference, since at the rate Earth consumes resources we might just as easily run out of critical elements after building one mining platform as we might after building a thousand.

 

 

The infrastructure can be built in space from native materials.

Until there is an actual plan behind this, using actual data for material abundance, and a specific technology tree designed, it is just an assumption. Some less kind people would probably put it in the "fantasy" box, seeing as you want it to be possible but don't know that it is.

 

As this grows more and more can be bled off to the Earth or used to build self contained orbiting colonies in space. We will not have build an entire infrastructure in space from materials mined on the earth to mine these resources

You're not making sense. What you are talking about is the growth and development of an infrastructure.

 

There are already many proposals for mining in space, we need to get there to test out some of the more obvious ones. As i said there is no reason to think any unsurmountable engineering problems exist that will prevent us from mining the resources in space.

I'm not talking about engineering problems; I'm talking about resource limits. You have to speculate to accumulate, and humans are not good at doing that on a planetary scale.

 

No someone will succeed, all we have to is have the will to try and not get bogged down in negative thinking.

It really isn't just a question of positive thinking; it's a question of what is and what is not possible, whether through the limits of what can be done technologically or the limits placed on our ability to fuel such a technological feat.

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Realistically, we are not going to be able to exploit space minerals for 100 plus years, no matter how urgent we see it. We need a space elevator first, if not many. And that will take 100 years.

 

Again, realistically, we will turn to lower purity ores for our minerals. As I have argued many times before, there is plenty of material right here on Earth. Enough for centuries. For example : someone mentioned lead. The Earth's crust contains 14 parts per million, meaning a total of more than 10 trillion tonnes. If we ever learn to tap the mantle, that number increases massively.

 

In the ocean, lead is a little under 3 parts per trillion. That is : a total of about a million tonnes.

 

Rather than charging off into space to mine these materials, could we not learn to exploit a higher proportion of what is already here in planet Earth?

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Realistically, we are not going to be able to exploit space minerals for 100 plus years, no matter how urgent we see it. We need a space elevator first, if not many. And that will take 100 years.

I agree, both with the timescale (as a minimum) and with the principle of establishing a practical and future-facing basis for operations now, with a technology that reduces energy requirments and increases payload mass per unit travel window.

 

Again, realistically, we will turn to lower purity ores for our minerals. As I have argued many times before, there is plenty of material right here on Earth. Enough for centuries. For example : someone mentioned lead. The Earth's crust contains 14 parts per million, meaning a total of more than 10 trillion tonnes. If we ever learn to tap the mantle, that number increases massively.

 

In the ocean, lead is a little under 3 parts per trillion. That is : a total of about a million tonnes.

 

Rather than charging off into space to mine these materials, could we not learn to exploit a higher proportion of what is already here in planet Earth?

It is true that there are many abundances of elements to be found on Earth, but there are two issues here:

 

Firstly, if we are so desperate as to invest the energy, R&D, and funds into a very difficult extraction process to winkle the last million tonnes of something out of the planet, then would this not be somewhat of an indicator that we are already royally screwed?

 

Secondly, this reservoir of resources on Earth should be seen as a sort of emergency reserve, to be accessed only if strictly necessary (or even possible) if space mining turns out to take a lot longer getting established than we plan for. Because there are three realistic alternatives here:

  1. Stay on the planet, use the resources that are here, and eventually run out;
  2. Try to mine for materials in space, horribly mis-judge, and destroy our own resource pool;
  3. Invest the correct resources in the development of space mining operations for the whole planet, and source alternative resource pools off-planet for everything that is critical to our civilisation.

 

Option 3 is obviously the most difficult to achieve. I would like to be optimistic about mankind's future, but with the current state of civilisation across our world I suspect that self-interest and resource partitioning will really work against most of the ways in which we might seek to spread out into the solar system.

 

The only way I can see it working would be through commercial ventures, but this would of course be incredibly slow. Also I am not sure there are many corporations capable of sustaining such a massively high-risk and high-capital project.

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I don't see what scarce materials would be required in large quantities to build rockets and space infrastructure. And as the price of raw materials increases, the value of space mining increases as well. Some countries or very rich individuals would go for space mining. The bottleneck with space exploration is not raw materials, it is technology and production. How much does NASA spend on raw materials, hmm? How much on technology, testing, and production?

 

As for the space elevator, it does have some problems. I personally might prefer a nuclear lightbulb rocket. If nothing else, that technology would allow us to travel as well as just exit earth's gravity well.

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Exploiting the resources of space ie the asteroids would give us an almost unlimited amount of resources. Yes they can be brought to the Earth easily, it's taking back into space that is difficult.

I'd also like to point out that Moontanman is making the same mistake as Lance, only on the order of a star system rather than a planet.

 

The OP is asking about humanity millions if not billions of years into the future. On that timescale, even the resources of the entire solar system are not "almost unlimited". The risk of us over-developing our solar system to the point where we cannot make the jump to other systems is only marginally lower than the risk that we over-develop our planetside civilisation to the point where we cannot spread off-world. And the difference is only attributable to us learning from mistakes made during a successful run of that latter process.

 

I don't see what scarce materials would be required in large quantities to build rockets and space infrastructure. And as the price of raw materials increases, the value of space mining increases as well. Some countries or very rich individuals would go for space mining. The bottleneck with space exploration is not raw materials, it is technology and production. How much does NASA spend on raw materials, hmm? How much on technology, testing, and production?

I suggest that you look into exactly what components and materials are required to construct even a simple spacecraft. Also consider while doing this that future technologies, although being largely based on current technologies, will likely require more complex resource investments.

 

You might also want to look into how many Stop Work Orders are issued for space projects because the costs skyrocket (again, pun not intentional) way beyond what is reasonably proportionate for the mission. For example, the Pluto-Kuiper express was originally red-flagged by NASA at $650 million.

Edited by Sayonara³
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Unless they want to build spacecraft out of solid gold, I don't see how the raw materials* would come even close to the cost of the spacecraft. And in the future, we are likely to use carbon (which should be plentiful) as the building material for most of the ship, other than stuff like engines of course. Whatever the future technology, it would result in less materials necessary, both for the ship itself and for any mining enterprise.

 

*Except perhaps fuel, which won't run out but instead require energy.

 

For example, consider in the far future we might be able to make working nanotechnology. There already exists a type of nanotechnology that is only microns big but can self-replicate; unfortunately it requires liquid water to function. If we can make anything even close to that but that can function in space, a few grams or kilograms of payload would be enough to harvest all the asteroids in the solar system.

 

However, I think that we should start mining space before any such magical future technology. I think that a moon base would be the ideal starting point for such a venture. The moon is close by, has no atmosphere (so materials could be rail-gun launched), and has plenty of material. I have no idea how many materials it would take to build a colony, but it would pay back thousands or more times as much in raw materials.

 

In any case, as the cost of materials increases, and the risk (due to better technology) decreases, someone is bound to start mining space.

 

As for the projects that were canceled, was that due to the cost of materials, or the cost of people, technology, and testing?

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I think a factor that is often overlooked in this type of discussion is the view that minerals are used up. They are not, of course. Only fossil fuels fit that category. We cannot use up these resources.

 

Take lead. What happens to lead that is mined and used? It does not evaporate. It is actually still there - just more distributed. If our sophistication in mineral extraction continues to grow, we will eventually get to the point where we can re-harvest the lead that has been mined, extracted, and used. Certain companies are already experimenting with mining land fills to recover materials that have been dumped.

 

Lead that enters the oceans will probably precipitate out and become part of oceanic sediment, that can be mined. The lead still in solution may possibly be removed by advanced ion exchange systems.

 

And on top of that, there is the lead in the Earth's mantle. It makes the 10 trillion tonnes in the crust look like a mere bagatelle. While the original Mohole Project was abandoned, the future may involve reaching the mantle and learning to extract minerals from the molten magma.

 

When we consider the sheer abundance of minerals on Earth, it makes me wonder why we are discussing space mining at all.

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skeptic, when we talk of a resource as being depleted, we do not mean it has simply vanished, we mean that it is tied up in a bit of technology that is used.

 

for instance, say we went on a mega building spree and ended up using all the iron for structures. this iron is still there, but it is no longer available as a resource as we are using it all at that moment in time.

 

on a smaller scale so it is easier to understand, say you are a teacher of a class of 30 kids, you're letting them draw for a while so you can have a sneaky nap, but wait! the box of crayons only has 25 in it. according to you we can just get more crayons from the box because they don't disappear. but the thing is, they didn't disappear, they were all in use.

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If you are truly interested in exploring this question you posted, then I highly suggest you consider studying the late Terence McKenna. The best way to become familiar with his ideas and theories, is download ALL of his audio lectures, which can be found online. It' sometimes hard to get, because people constantly try and make a buck off his amazing thoughts. But you can definitely find sites where you can download all if his work. If you are interested, also contact me because I have all his audio lectures and willing to share.

 

But anyway,man is becoming....That is all we know for sure. However if you look at the process that brought us to the point in which we find ourselves, it's obvious that whatever the universe has in store for us, it's close to the tipping point.

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LostLabyrinth - to asnwer your origial question: For mankind to evolve in any signficant way three things are neeeded:

 

1. Environmnental pressure for gene selection

2. Reproduction.

3. Ideally, a gene pool which is relatively small and isolated from the main pool.

 

 

Pressure for selection may be as a result of any unforseeable situation, The earth could get hotter and drier. Or colder and wetter. A new virus could wipe out half the population. People who are good at art could become more successful than accountants. There a lot of different scenarios!

 

The most likely pressure with increasing use of technolgoy would probably to be that brainpower becomes more useful than muscle power. BUT - any 'brainy ' genes will only tend to dominate if the parents produce more surviving children than others. If they dont - the gene pool might even drift towatds more muscle power.

 

Populations are now so mobile that the world is one gene pool. It is hard to see how any particular genes could become more dominant since there are so many variables. Medicine allows the less fit to survive, and reproduce. Reproduction is not related to basic success of survival as is used to be. Reproduction is aritfiically controlled in many cultures - look at China

 

So barring some massive catastrophe on the planet, I would bet on the human race staying pretty much the same.

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ia

 

With the deepest of respect to you personally, but that idea is ridiculous. For a start, you used an incredible example. Iron makes up 5% of the Earth's crust by weight. (5E17 tonnes, or 500,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes!) It is physically and totally impossible for humans to use it all up. And do you really think we can tie up 10 trillion tonnes of lead at one time?

 

The real truth is that 'used up' means dispersed into a form we cannot currently exploit. That does not mean we cannot exploit it in the future with improved technology.

 

Another example : There are plants and bacteria with the ability to concentrate certain minerals from low concentration sources. Researchers are even now searching for the genes in those organisms that permit this feat. There is a research team trying to develop genetically modified plants to grow on the tailings of gold mines, and concentrate gold inside their tissues. This is a trivial example. Much more important would be a genetically modified kelp able to concentrate phosphorus inside its tissues from sea water. There is no theoretical bar to their success, and I suspect it is only a matter of time before this, and other similar forms of biological technology, will be a part of the lives of posterity.

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ia

 

With the deepest of respect to you personally, but that idea is ridiculous. For a start, you used an incredible example. Iron makes up 5% of the Earth's crust by weight. (5E17 tonnes, or 500,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes!) It is physically and totally impossible for humans to use it all up. And do you really think we can tie up 10 trillion tonnes of lead at one time?

 

i done it to illustrate a point, i just used iron as an example, i used it because it is a common resource that is a little more commonplace than stuff like platinum, dysprosium or other rare metals. you could apply it to any particular element if you so desire. you can't have just missed the point, i think this is a deliberate strawman.

 

also, there may be 10 trillion tonnes of lead but how much of that is extractable? and not all of it will be, below a certain concentration it is just not feasible to extract any more. like the million or so tonnes in the ocean, 1/ thats a tiny amount of lead, 2/ you have to pump ALL THE OCEANS through your extraction plant. several times as well as your waste water will dilute the remaining lead. now who is using ridiculous scenarios?

 

The real truth is that 'used up' means dispersed into a form we cannot currently exploit. That does not mean we cannot exploit it in the future with improved technology.

 

nope, it means it is currently being utilised. unavailable for use because it already HAS a use. to use it for something else would mean destroying what it is being used for.

 

Another example : There are plants and bacteria with the ability to concentrate certain minerals from low concentration sources. Researchers are even now searching for the genes in those organisms that permit this feat. There is a research team trying to develop genetically modified plants to grow on the tailings of gold mines, and concentrate gold inside their tissues. This is a trivial example. Much more important would be a genetically modified kelp able to concentrate phosphorus inside its tissues from sea water. There is no theoretical bar to their success, and I suspect it is only a matter of time before this, and other similar forms of biological technology, will be a part of the lives of posterity.

 

it doesn't matter how well you can extract the substance, its how much of it is actually there, and its a finite amount.

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To ia

I agree that only a portion of any resource will be extractable. But how much? The history of mineral exploitation is the history of extracting more and more of a resource and tapping lower and lower concentrations. We are now extracting one gram of gold per tonne of rock, and that will get lower still.

 

With iron, as I pointed out, the resource is so vast that to suggest it being exhausted is pure fantasy. With lead, and 10 trillion tonnes in the Earth's crust, plus a much vaster amount in the mantle, the question becomes purely, what fraction will we learn to exploit? Even a very small fraction will be enough for humankinds needs for centuries.

 

I agree that getting lead from seawater is unlikely, but there are a number of other resources in the oceans in much larger amount. Lithium for example, which will become vitally important for battery technology. Uranium, present in the ocean at a total of 4 billion tonnes, is already being extracted in small amounts by a Japanese pilot plant.

 

To lancelot

 

If you want to speculate about substantial human evolution, in the natural way as opposed to gene manipulation on zygotes, then you need to look at space exploration and colonisation.

 

An article in Scientific American by a couple of NASA scientists, on star travel, suggests that humans will be travelling to other star systems in 1000 years. The expected velocity will be about 0.1c. To get to Alpha Centauri would take about 55 years.

 

Given enough thousands of years (still an eye blink in terms of evolutionary time), humans will colonise a large number of places. Each will, however, be genetically isolated. Imagine the potential for human evolution with a few thousand colonies and each genetically isolated, and each in a substantially different environment.

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When we consider the sheer abundance of minerals on Earth, it makes me wonder why we are discussing space mining at all.

 

There are many reasons here:

1) Lots of us support space colonization, which would require space mining.

2) Material mined in space are in space, and don't need to be lifted out of earth's gravity well.

3) Some materials are very rare on earth, but more common in space. Perhaps these will be more easy to mine in space, even if there is plenty on earth.

4) Space mining does not damage the earth environment.

5) Space mining is not (AFAIK) under the jurisdiction of any country, so that you wouldn't need a permit.

 

I'm sure there are other good reasons we might want to mine space.

 

Populations are now so mobile that the world is one gene pool. It is hard to see how any particular genes could become more dominant since there are so many variables. Medicine allows the less fit to survive, and reproduce. Reproduction is not related to basic success of survival as is used to be. Reproduction is aritfiically controlled in many cultures - look at China

 

So barring some massive catastrophe on the planet, I would bet on the human race staying pretty much the same.

 

Studies show that we are evolving (aka changing) at a faster rate than ever before. We have a much larger population, so there is room for more variation. We have changed the previous rules of natural selection, so that there are new criteria for fitness (for good or bad), another driver of evolution. And soon, we will be genetically engineering ourselves at a pace that will make evolution largely irrelevant.

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SkepticlAnce - yes, colonisation is a possibility. I concede that. Genetic engineering could also come into play in a big way in a small colony.

 

Mr Skeptic : "Studies show that we are evolving (aka changing) at a faster rate than ever before". which studies are those?

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Mr Skeptic : "Studies show that we are evolving (aka changing) at a faster rate than ever before". which studies are those?

 

http://www.physorg.com/news116529402.html

“We used a new genomic technology to show that humans are evolving rapidly, and that the pace of change has accelerated a lot in the last 40,000 years, especially since the end of the Ice Age roughly 10,000 years ago,” says research team leader Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah.

 

Original Study

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The farthest out in time as in forever I guess in time I would tend to think life having to somehow meld with the universe really, if to actually I guess be able to constantly persist forever I really think this would have to occur. I don't life at that point being human in any sense of now, how could it be? Not that people cant change, but with reality I do just don't see human in a genetic sense or in any modern sense being able to be the specie that gets to live forever if life even comes in the specie format at that time. I mean who knows what issues like molecular biology will eventually lead to in terms of understanding for instance. Life at some point in the far far future could consist itself of organisms that are planets if not entire solar systems and beyond, who knows ultimately the cap of understanding to such, I don't.

 

I do really though see humans or life at that point having to really become the universe, for instance what if the big crunch is a reality, all of history would be a loss, how would you survive something like that? What could survive something like that, what if the big rip is true? I do not think life at that point in time will just decide to lay down and die without some kind of a struggle, and to which would could be an outcome?

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Unless they want to build spacecraft out of solid gold, I don't see how the raw materials* would come even close to the cost of the spacecraft.

Well as I already indicated this is possibly more to do with your lack of interest in the composition of complete space flight systems, rather than it being a very cheap enterprise.

 

I acknowledge that much of the cost of a mission (which can run into the billions) is spent on ground support, logistics, and impressive salaries, but the fact is that raw materials are an important factor too.

 

It's funny that you should mention gold. In point of fact, gold is used extensively in all manner of space systems and many of the detector assemblies and payloads which they carry. Doubtless there is enough gold on Earth to build many such systems, but not an endless number of them and - this is the important bit, the same "you can't have your cake and eat it" theme that hasn't yet been convincingly dispelled - once you blast that gold into deep space you probably aren't going to get it back, which means it can't be used for anything else (e.g. currency). So you lose the mass, the cost, AND the value.

 

Other elements which have been mentioned in this thread already are uniquely crucial to some existing and emerging technologies which make certain space operations possible, and they are in extremely short supply because their abundance on Earth is in the order of one part in 1x1027 or less. Glossing over that fact is highly disingenuous, particularly when one acknowledges that new technologies developed for harvesting materials in space, and possibly also refining them and using them in construction, are likely to require material combinations which aren't currently used, or aren't currently high demand enough to noticeably deplete any particular reserves.

 

 

And in the future, we are likely to use carbon (which should be plentiful) as the building material for most of the ship, other than stuff like engines of course.

I don't think that is really very likely at all, given the physical properties of carbon. Certainly it will be used in space systems, but not for the superstructure, instrumentation, data systems, energy systems, or hull. Given that you excluded propulsion already I am not sure what is left. I suppose that you could argue that, for example, most of the mass of a space elevator which uses a carbon-nanotube tether is carbon, but these are an orbital link system which means that their existence does not harm my proposition that resource paucity could halt interplanetary migration.

 

Also, you seem to be making the error that you expect the largest portion of the ship's mass to correspond to an investment in the most precious material, which is not necessarily going to be the case at all.

 

 

Whatever the future technology, it would result in less materials necessary, both for the ship itself and for any mining enterprise.

That's pure speculation.

 

It also betrays a fairly fatal flaw in your reasoning. I don't believe, having read that off-the-cuff comment, that you have considered what sort of scope an off-planet mining operation will need to have in order to become more economically viable to its designers, supporters and investors than the alternative choice of mining the guts out of Earth and passing on the consequences to future generations.

 

*Except perhaps fuel, which won't run out but instead require energy.

I don't really understand what you mean by this. "Fuel" is stored energy, so the sentence is a bit confusing.

 

For example, consider in the far future we might be able to make working nanotechnology. There already exists a type of nanotechnology that is only microns big but can self-replicate; unfortunately it requires liquid water to function.

Interesting, but a source would help people to evaluate the relevance.

 

If we can make anything even close to that but that can function in space, a few grams or kilograms of payload would be enough to harvest all the asteroids in the solar system.

Again, you can't have your cake and eat it. Think about how (i) conservation of mass and (ii) inertia might affect this plan.

 

However, I think that we should start mining space before any such magical future technology.

Exactly my point; earlier is better. However the socio-political mess which our civilisation has created for itself will probably prevent any useful attempts until it is too late.

 

I think that a moon base would be the ideal starting point for such a venture. The moon is close by, has no atmosphere (so materials could be rail-gun launched), and has plenty of material.

Not to be too pedantic, but the moon does have an atmosphere. Don't think it has enough mass to significantly impact the railgun idea though (about 10 tons in total, hardly worth mentioning!)

There is quite a lot of aluminium and silicon up there, which is obviously very helpful and certainly worth exploring further.

 

I have no idea how many materials it would take to build a colony, but it would pay back thousands or more times as much in raw materials.

To determine that you'd need to do a serious cost-benefit analysis, taking into account the cost of not only building the colony, but maintaining it and the people living/working there. This would need to be weighed against the benefit of the materials and research that we would get out of it, and of course all the related risks.

 

Note that I'm not saying that I would expect such an analysis to produce the answer "no thanks", but that without any such investigation your claim is a hollow assumption that simply repeats your proposition and does not supply it with anything of evidential value.

 

In any case, as the cost of materials increases, and the risk (due to better technology) decreases, someone is bound to start mining space.

Sigh.

 

Unless a critical theshold says it's too late to start.

 

As for the projects that were canceled, was that due to the cost of materials, or the cost of people, technology, and testing?

Usually a combination of all of them. But the point to take away is not "projects in the future will only be cancelled for exactly the same reasons as projects in the past" (which would be factually incorrect in any case), it is that often the cost or physical viability of even highly beneficial mission proposals vastly exceeds the investment which its backer is willing to make.

 

 

I am not going to reply to SkepticLance's comments on resource availability any more, because he is using his usual tactic of ignoring the rational objections and simply waiting for a bit then re-stating his proposals later on in what looks like a war of attrition against the people who disagree with him. This is not a form of debate which I really want to waste much time on, so I won't be engaging SL until he addresses the outstanding points that I have raised which conflict with his ideas.

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Unless they want to build spacecraft out of solid gold, I don't see how the raw materials* would come even close to the cost of the spacecraft.

Well as I already indicated this is possibly more to do with your lack of interest in the composition of complete space flight systems, rather than it being a very cheap enterprise.

 

I don't know what they are, true. But I don't have a source to tell me either. I would be incredibly surprised if raw material other than fuel were even close to 10% of the cost of a space ship.

 

I acknowledge that much of the cost of a mission (which can run into the billions) is spent on ground support, logistics, and impressive salaries, but the fact is that raw materials are an important factor too.

 

It's funny that you should mention gold. In point of fact, gold is used extensively in all manner of space systems and many of the detector assemblies and payloads which they carry. Doubtless there is enough gold on Earth to build many such systems, but not an endless number of them and - this is the important bit, the same "you can't have your cake and eat it" theme that hasn't yet been convincingly dispelled - once you blast that gold into deep space you probably aren't going to get it back, which means it can't be used for anything else (e.g. currency). So you lose the mass, the cost, AND the value.

 

That is negligible though. I would wager that we are getting more of any type of raw material from meteors falling to earth than we are loosing through sending into space. If ever we were sending large amounts of material into space, large enough amounts to deplete the earth before the sun goes out, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

 

Other elements which have been mentioned in this thread already are uniquely crucial to some existing and emerging technologies which make certain space operations possible, and they are in extremely short supply because their abundance on Earth is in the order of one part in 1x1027 or less. Glossing over that fact is highly disingenuous, particularly when one acknowledges that new technologies developed for harvesting materials in space, and possibly also refining them and using them in construction, are likely to require material combinations which aren't currently used, or aren't currently high demand enough to noticeably deplete any particular reserves.

 

I never glossed over the fact that it takes raw materials to build space ships. I've said that the raw materials cost will be far lower than the other costs of the space program. Most of the weight of the space ship is going to be common materials, btw.

 

And in the future, we are likely to use carbon (which should be plentiful) as the building material for most of the ship, other than stuff like engines of course.

I don't think that is really very likely at all, given the physical properties of carbon. Certainly it will be used in space systems, but not for the superstructure, instrumentation, data systems, energy systems, or hull. Given that you excluded propulsion already I am not sure what is left. I suppose that you could argue that, for example, most of the mass of a space elevator which uses a carbon-nanotube tether is carbon, but these are an orbital link system which means that their existence does not harm my proposition that resource paucity could halt interplanetary migration.

 

Also, you seem to be making the error that you expect the largest portion of the ship's mass to correspond to an investment in the most precious material, which is not necessarily going to be the case at all.

 

My expectation that carbon will be a primary future building material was based on its physical properties -- namely, carbon is lightweight and can form materials with the highest tensile strength and compressive strength that I know of, and especially so for its weight. While a skin may be needed to protect the carbon from oxygen, I don't see any other disadvantages in the future. Obviously in the present we have enough trouble making nanotubes and diamonds that they are not likely to be used for big structural supports.

 

Whatever the future technology, it would result in less materials necessary, both for the ship itself and for any mining enterprise.

That's pure speculation.

 

It also betrays a fairly fatal flaw in your reasoning. I don't believe, having read that off-the-cuff comment, that you have considered what sort of scope an off-planet mining operation will need to have in order to become more economically viable to its designers, supporters and investors than the alternative choice of mining the guts out of Earth and passing on the consequences to future generations.

 

Perhaps I should have said that the future technology would require less than or equal materials necessary. If not, we could always use old technology.

 

*Except perhaps fuel, which won't run out but instead require energy.

I don't really understand what you mean by this. "Fuel" is stored energy, so the sentence is a bit confusing.

 

I meant that fuel would seem the raw material that would be the most expensive for the space ship, because most of the mass of the spaceship is fuel and also because the fuel is consumed each flight. But given energy we can easily make fuel.

 

And no, we are not going to run out of fuel due to the small amounts that get used in space and won't return to earth.

 

For example, consider in the far future we might be able to make working nanotechnology. There already exists a type of nanotechnology that is only microns big but can self-replicate; unfortunately it requires liquid water to function.

Interesting, but a source would help people to evaluate the relevance.

 

Look in the mirror :D If we can build nanotechnology that can self-replicate in space, all you would need is to put one cell on each asteroid, and then let them assimilate the asteroid and restructure themselves into a spaceship. This would be hard to do, but I imagine it would be easier than to use up all of earth's raw materials.

 

If we can make anything even close to that but that can function in space, a few grams or kilograms of payload would be enough to harvest all the asteroids in the solar system.

Again, you can't have your cake and eat it. Think about how (i) conservation of mass and (ii) inertia might affect this plan.

 

That's why I said "payload".

 

However, I think that we should start mining space before any such magical future technology.

Exactly my point; earlier is better. However the socio-political mess which our civilisation has created for itself will probably prevent any useful attempts until it is too late.

 

I thought we were going back to the moon by 2020 and planning on building a colony there besides?

 

I think that a moon base would be the ideal starting point for such a venture. The moon is close by, has no atmosphere (so materials could be rail-gun launched), and has plenty of material.

Not to be too pedantic, but the moon does have an atmosphere. Don't think it has enough mass to significantly impact the railgun idea though (about 10 tons in total, hardly worth mentioning!)

There is quite a lot of aluminium and silicon up there, which is obviously very helpful and certainly worth exploring further.

 

On that note, you could call the hard vacuum in the intergalactic void a very thin atmosphere as well.

 

I have no idea how many materials it would take to build a colony, but it would pay back thousands or more times as much in raw materials.

To determine that you'd need to do a serious cost-benefit analysis, taking into account the cost of not only building the colony, but maintaining it and the people living/working there. This would need to be weighed against the benefit of the materials and research that we would get out of it, and of course all the related risks.

 

Note that I'm not saying that I would expect such an analysis to produce the answer "no thanks", but that without any such investigation your claim is a hollow assumption that simply repeats your proposition and does not supply it with anything of evidential value.

 

Note however that I said that you would get more raw materials than you sent, not that it would be cost effective. However, if raw materials are so valuable, than certainly someone would be willing to mine some.

 

In any case, as the cost of materials increases, and the risk (due to better technology) decreases, someone is bound to start mining space.

Sigh.

 

Unless a critical theshold says it's too late to start.

 

The only threshold that might do that would be when we run out of humans in world war III. What sort of threshold were you thinking of?

 

As for the projects that were canceled, was that due to the cost of materials, or the cost of people, technology, and testing?

Usually a combination of all of them. But the point to take away is not "projects in the future will only be cancelled for exactly the same reasons as projects in the past" (which would be factually incorrect in any case), it is that often the cost or physical viability of even highly beneficial mission proposals vastly exceeds the investment which its backer is willing to make.

 

I'm not saying that that is why projects in the future will be canceled, but we still have a loooooong way to go for the costs of raw materials to become the greatest cost.

 

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If you tell me where to find out how much of each element it takes to build a rocket, I can calculate how much of the percentage of the cost is raw materials.

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I don't know what they are, true. But I don't have a source to tell me either. I would be incredibly surprised if raw material other than fuel were even close to 10% of the cost of a space ship.

 

That is negligible though. I would wager that we are getting more of any type of raw material from meteors falling to earth than we are loosing through sending into space. If ever we were sending large amounts of material into space, large enough amounts to deplete the earth before the sun goes out, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

You're missing the point of me identifying that space technology requires resources which are scarce. Human civilisation uses them elsewhere now, and will increasingly do so in any future in which space mining is a theoretically attainable endeavour.

 

That is what the repeated references in this thread to "you can't have your cake and eat it" from myself and others actually mean.

 

I never glossed over the fact that it takes raw materials to build space ships. I've said that the raw materials cost will be far lower than the other costs of the space program.

I didn't say that you are glossing over the flat fact that building requires materials; I am saying that you are disregarding the ongoing point that the scarcity of rare elements is a more realistic problem for a space mining operation than the scarcity of common elements. In other words, it's all very well pointing out that we have enough steel, carbon, or whatever to build the hull and the bulkheads of a hypothetical mining vessel, but that's not going to mean anything if we can't source enough unused tellurium (for example) to make a useful number of these vessels operable.

 

This problem is repeated throughout all kinds of technologies, and as time goes by the problem will worsen. This occurs because (i) civilisation grows more technologically complex and more densely mechanised, which sequesters resources, and (ii) resources which were previously not high-demand can be made so by emerging technologies. Competition is the natural result.

 

There is the additional problem I mentioned earlier which relates to nation states with a controlling share in the planet's reserves of certain materials, and/or access to the only or few sites where these materials can be found. This was pretty much ignored by everyone despite its obvious importance.

 

Most of the weight of the space ship is going to be common materials, btw.

But the biggest materials cost when building a spacecraft is not necessarily going to be due to the material of which the greatest mass is required.

 

My expectation that carbon will be a primary future building material was based on its physical properties -- namely, carbon is lightweight and can form materials with the highest tensile strength and compressive strength that I know of, and especially so for its weight.

Those are useful properties for some space applications, but I would hazard a guess that you have started with the "useful properties of carbon" list and neglected to check it against the "problems a space vessel will encounter" list.

 

While a skin may be needed to protect the carbon from oxygen, I don't see any other disadvantages in the future.

Errr... I am not going to say what I wanted to say here because I think you may be envisioning some system which hasn't occurred to me. Having said that, whatever it is you have in mind could stand further explanation.

 

Obviously in the present we have enough trouble making nanotubes and diamonds that they are not likely to be used for big structural supports.

Even when we can make them with relative ease, it won't remove the demand burden on reserves of the materials that carbon nanotubes and artificial diamonds cannot replace, so the point is moot.

 

 

Perhaps I should have said that the future technology would require less than or equal materials necessary. If not, we could always use old technology.

That simply moves the goalposts. The argument is "finite mass means finite concurrent applications", not "things get used up more quickly as time goes on" (although that is also the case in many instances, which I briefly talked about when I gave those metal forecasts which Lance ignored).

 

Technology is spreading and diversifying. Its spread is becoming more pervasive and occurring over greater ranger. Demand for virtually every element you would need to build a functioning spacecraft is rising. The rise will accelerate. This demand makes it harder for everyone to get the volumes they need. It is a very basic concept and I personally don't think that its involvement in this topic is so complicated or subtle or arcane that it should be difficult to grasp.

 

You also have no way of demonstrating that a future technology will not require "more" materials. More materials compared to what? What will you measure the first ever space mining vessel against? Nothing, because there haven't been any. So try the other direction: hypothetically, do you think it will be as streamlined and efficient as a 12th generation vessel designed for the same purpose? I should hope not.

 

 

I meant that fuel would seem the raw material that would be the most expensive for the space ship, because most of the mass of the spaceship is fuel and also because the fuel is consumed each flight. But given energy we can easily make fuel.

Right... don't really see how this is relevant. You are still talking about craft mass, which is neither here nor there, and your assertions about fuel cost don't really have anything to do with the topic. In fact I think you are basing this "most of the mass of the spaceship is fuel" on rockets launched from the surface of the planet, which doesn't inherently have anything to do with space-based mining.

 

Well, I mean obviously fuels are materials which could theoretically become too scarce to allow space travel, but let's assume (to make things easier) that we have unlimited energy from mumble mumble mumble.

 

 

And no, we are not going to run out of fuel due to the small amounts that get used in space and won't return to earth.

As with all the other elements and materials I have mentioned, I am not making the claim that we will run out because we have shot it all into space. I am making the claim that the paucity of certain resources might prohibit those space efforts being realised in the first place. Such resources don't even have to be entirely physically unavailable; politically or economically unavailable will do just as well.

 

I realise I talked about not getting the gold back from deep space earlier on. That was to illustrate the effect of losing mass, cost, and value at the same time, and should not be confused with my main point.

 

Look in the mirror :D If we can build nanotechnology that can self-replicate in space, all you would need is to put one cell on each asteroid, and then let them assimilate the asteroid and restructure themselves into a spaceship.

Ah right, you are not actually talking about simple self-replication then. You are talking about something that relies on orders more complexity and a great deal more of your assumptions being correct. And lots of total implausibility as well. We could make a whole other thread about the problems with this idea.

 

And you still have the problem of time. It's nice to imagine such cheerful technologies as nanobots but when you are talking about the technology needed to mine the solar system, the further into the future you cast your gaze, the worse the resource strain will be for the civilisation operating in that period if they are at that technological level.

 

That's why I said "payload".

I am not sure it matters any more, in light of the above.

 

I thought we were going back to the moon by 2020 and planning on building a colony there besides?

Well, firstly I said useful efforts, and secondly that political promise does not insure all known and unforseen resources against depletion or sequesterment before interplanetary migration requires them.

 

Note however that I said that you would get more raw materials than you sent, not that it would be cost effective.

...

 

It's difficult to know what to say to that because - from comments like that one - I'm having trouble imagining what sort of a crazy venture you are planning.

 

However, if raw materials are so valuable, than certainly someone would be willing to mine some.

Not in dispute. The issue of contention is whether or not by that point we will be sufficiently capable for it to make any difference.

 

 

The only threshold that might do that would be when we run out of humans in world war III. What sort of threshold were you thinking of?

I have repeatedly stated throughout the thread what sort of threshold I am talking about. I am talking about the sort of threshold which involves the entire usable supply of materials which are necessary for the manufacture and operation of spacecraft being irrecoverably utilised elsewhere, (and therefore unavailable for the ventures which ironically might push the threshold up considerably.)

 

 

I'm not saying that that is why projects in the future will be canceled, but we still have a loooooong way to go for the costs of raw materials to become the greatest cost.

Arrrgh. Whether or not they are the greatest cost to a project is simply irrelevant. What matters is their availability to the project in totality, which is a product of material costs, project budgets, and physical availability.

 

If you tell me where to find out how much of each element it takes to build a rocket, I can calculate how much of the percentage of the cost is raw materials.

Forget it; the whole composition thing is just making this discussion too complex to follow, without really making the main points any more or less credible. The only really pertinent point to take from spacecraft composition is that half-decent space tech does require access to some very scarce elements.

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Sayonara said :

 

"I am not going to reply to SkepticLance's comments on resource availability any more, because he is using his usual tactic of ignoring the rational objections and simply waiting for a bit then re-stating his proposals later on in what looks like a war of attrition against the people who disagree with him. This is not a form of debate which I really want to waste much time on, so I won't be engaging SL until he addresses the outstanding points that I have raised which conflict with his ideas."

 

But the problem is a lack of rational argument against my points. Simply stating that resources are finite is not an argument against my point that most such resources are present in amounts that mean they will not run out for hundreds or thousands of years. Indeed, if a future equivalent of the old mohole project means our descendents can tap the molten magma in the Earth's mantle, the amounts of resources will be so vast as to approach infinity for all practical purposes.

 

The mohole project, for those not in the know, was to drill beneath the ocean, where the Earth's crust is thinner, through the Mohorovicic discontinuity, into the mantle, and sample magma for research. http://www.nationalacademies.org/history/mohole/ The technology was available to do this 35 years ago. Today we could do it better. Tapping magma would be an amazing source of energy, and very probably access to a wide range of heavier elements. After all, heavier elements, like lead, sink, and are in much higher concentration below the Earth's crust.

 

The only real argument is cost. As we move to lower and lower purity ores, will the cost of extraction become prohibitive? Only time will tell.

 

The other point is substitution. For example : silicon is one of the most abundant elements, and silicon compounds can be used for a vast range of possible raw materials, including amazing ceramics. Aluminium and iron are both available in quantities that mean no shortages are possible for hundreds of thousands of years. Carbon, as has been pointed out, is abundant. It can, in theory, be converted into extremely valuable allotropes including diamond, buckyballs, graphite, buckytubes. If you extend this to organic compounds, we have a resource of almost infinite variety.

 

I think that the idea of human progress being stopped due to lack of available resources represents terrible and totally unrealistic pessimism. Changing costs mean that the materials used in 100 years will not be the materials we use today. The materials they use then will be superior. After all, the whole history of the science/engineering topic of materials use is a history of continuous improvement, and lowering costs.

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