June 21, 2010

"Obama plan to land on asteroid may be unrealistic for 2025."

Headline that made me laugh.

Anyway, what's unrealistic? In 2025, he won't be President. So it's totally realistic of him to blab about crap he won't have to do. And I'm quite happy to have him dreaming about the distant future instead of inflicting things on us right now.
The moon is 240,000 miles away. A trip to an asteroid would be 5 million miles — at a minimum.

Why go?
Why not!
Asteroids have always been passed over as a destination for human explorers. Then-president George H.W. Bush wanted NASA to go to Mars, while his son, George W. Bush, chose the moon. During the past six years, NASA spent $9 billion building a spaceship, rocket and other gear to help reach the second Bush's goal of returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020.

In February, Obama took steps toward killing Bush's moon program, which was beset by technical troubles and money woes. Two months later, in a speech at Cape Canaveral, Obama announced that the astronauts' next stop is an asteroid.
A President's got to be about going somewhere... somewhere else.
So far, the Obama administration has been quiet on the need for a major sum of money to accomplish his goal.
Ha.

What do you do once you get to an asteroid?
•Humans can't walk or drive on an asteroid.

... [E]ven the biggest asteroids have practically no gravity. So anything in contact with the surface could easily drift away.
Like thoughts in the cranium of a President.
"You don't land on an asteroid," says former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, a longtime advocate of asteroid studies. "You pull up to one and dock with it. ... And getting away from it, all you have to do is sneeze and you're gone." He envisions a spaceship hovering next to the asteroid and occasionally firing its thrusters to stay in place.

Astronauts wouldn't walk on an asteroid. They would drift next to it, moving themselves along with their gloved hands.
La la la. Float along!



In gloves!
To keep from floating into space, crewmembers could anchor a network of safety ropes to the asteroid's surface, but "that has its own risks, because we don't understand how strong the surfaces of asteroids are and whether (they) would hold an astronaut in place," says Daniel Scheeres, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado.
Lasso an asteroid!
The minimal gravity also means that any dust the astronauts stir up will hang in a suspended cloud for a long time. Because there's no weather on an asteroid, there's no erosion to smooth the dust particles.

"It's all going to stay pretty razor-sharp. ... It's not the most friendly stuff in the universe," Korsmeyer says. Keeping humans safe as they explore an asteroid "is going to be really tricky."
Dodge razor-sharp dust!

Go 5 million miles to paddle your gloved hands across the surface of a rock and stir up a cloud of razor-sharp dust particles that will — once you leave — hang there endlessly.

IN THE COMMENTS: Lemondog says:
Any chance the little prince could speed it up???!

Mebbe......next year?


Now we know the B in B-612 stands for Barack.
Just so, you might say to them: "The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists." And what good would it do to tell them that? They would shrug their shoulders, and treat you like a child. But if you said to them: "The planet he came from is Asteroid B-612," then they would be convinced, and leave you in peace from their questions.
OMG! He's not a natural born citizen! But he was charming, he laughed, and he found quite a lot of sheep.

90 comments:

Joaquin said...

This can't be real??? An asteroid! Why?

Juba Doobai! said...

Obama put the M back in moron. He has such a personal and ideological hatred of President Bush that anything the latter did would be automatically rejected by Obama. Hence his boondoggles with Gitmo, Afghanistan, NASA, taxes, etc. I can't figure out if Obama hates Dubya cuz he's white and Obama isn't or because Dubya's a capitalist and Obama's a stone cold communist. Can't figger it out.

edutcher said...

One presumes, having spent the last 18 months trying to be Jimmy Carter, he now wants a shot at being Jack Kennedy.

Problem is, when he does, he sounds like Ol' Bucketmouth relating his adventures with the Wascawwy Amphibious Attack Wabbit.

WV "nocholiz" What the waiter says to Ms. Taylor when offering her a spicy chip.

Rialby said...

I can only hope and dream this is just a ruse to cover for the fact that we may have to knock an asteroid out of the sky some day. That's probably just wishful thinking.

lemondog said...

Any chance the little prince could speed it up???!

Mebbe......next year?

Methadras said...

Is there a peanut farm in this idiots future? Dear God, even astronauts are mocking this fool. Why must we endure another 2 years of this retard?

GMay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GMay said...

The only thing I can think of is trying to mine asteroids for their minerals.

But the technology and logistics for that is so far away from present capabilities that it's skipping a few steps necessary to be try to pull it off - namely a forward launch/supply point like, oh, let's just say...the Moon?

Which of course won't feasibly work as a forward base for such operations until we get our manned space program back on track to continue research and innovation.

But since both of these ambitions/programs have been axed by Obama, the asteroid thing looks really stupid even beyond the initial silly impression you get from reading the proposal.

Lem said...

This post is Althouse in top form.

I laughed my ass off.

Firehand said...

The idea of mining asteroids for metals and minerals has been around for a long time, and has real potential.

BUT.

You have to fund the space program, or get it the hell out of the way of the private sector, for the tech to be developed to go there, mine, and bring the stuff back. And Obama & Co. don't want to do either of these from what I can tell; they just want to talk about it. Endlessly.

rhhardin said...

It sounds like a mission to Uranus.

amba said...

He must've been reading The Little Prince.

HDHouse said...

This would compare unfavorably with Bush and Mars how?

Sixty Grit said...

I hope he does land on an asteroid. The sooner the better.

HDHouse said...

didn't Japan do this recently?

traditionalguy said...

It makes as much sense as the Pixie Dust and faked science of CO2 as pollution. Lying is an art form with the media and the Lawless One's government. The Lawless One knows that his PR skills of smiling and lying is his only talent. Therefore reality is a poison to him; and that makes our free speech traveling uncensored over the internet the most dangerous foe the Lawless One faces.

Scott M said...

@HDH

The Japanese did not recently land a man on an asteroid, to my knowledge, no.

The asteroids are eventually going to be very important in human civilization, but as has already been said, there are a bunch of steps being skipped here. The moon is absolutely the single most accessible target for manned missions and simply makes more sense.

Not only can we easily get there (relative in manned space terms) using already developed tech, but the Moon is a logical base of operations for the next manned mission, be it Mars or the belt. Ferrying up, or indeed, manufacturing Mars mission components at a permanently manned moon base would allow the mission to completely do away with the requirement of launching from Earth and all the fuel/weight problems that brings.

A permanently manned moon base is the next logical step for humans in space. There's a shitload more water up there than anyone ever imagined. Combined with the O2 already bound up in the regolith, you've got everything you need to survive minus the hardware to get you started.

Montagne Montaigne said...

Even Glenn Reynolds has had nice things to say about Obama's space policy, Anne. You really don't know what you're talking about.

Your level of derision towards Obama reminds me of the stoner paranoia about Nixon and the liberal preoccupation with Bush during the 00's. Except, you know, Obama hasn't committed the illegal acts that Nixon did, and he didn't start the war of choice that Bush did. And he's only been president for 2 years. It took a lot longer than that for the particularly notably president-obsessions of the left to develop. Guess things move faster these days.

Meade said...

amba said...
He must've been reading The Little Prince.

Maybe he is the little prince.

Comrade X said...

we choose to go to the asteroid in the next decade and do the other things, not because they make sense, but because I saw Armegeddon

Revenant said...

It is hard to think of many manned space missions with less scientific value than a return trip to the moon, but a trip to an asteroid qualifies. Bravo, Obama.

Don't get me wrong -- it would be very cool. I've got plenty of science fiction books on my bookshelf that talk about human-inhabited asteroids. But that's a lot of money to spend on "cool", especially while we're running trillion-dollar deficits.

Hoosier Daddy said...

It took a lot longer than that for the particularly notably president-obsessions of the left to develop.

You have to reach a staggering levels of denial to make that kind of statement.

Scott M said...

It is hard to think of many manned space missions with less scientific value than a return trip to the moon, but a trip to an asteroid qualifies. Bravo, Obama.

Possibly for you, but a permanent, self-sufficient research base on the moon would out-science your one-off mission to the belt in short order. I'm not quite sure how the belt can be justified over a real, functioning moon base in the short term.

If you're just talking about planting flags and bringing back rocks, bueno for the sixties mindset. People that study potential moon uses know better.

virgil xenophon said...

Sixty Grit wins the thread!

Almost Ali said...

I'm trying to get worked up about this, Obama's 37th or 38th pipe-dream, but I can't. Not when the president himself is infinitely more interested in the trappings of office, the parties, the limos, and tooling around in Air-Force-One. I mean, it's the gig of a lifetime. With irrevocable benefits.

So in reality, I'm really worked up by the fools who voted this jive-turkey into office, who wept their tears of boundless joy on fields of foolery, who jived and jumped for a psychotic pipe-dream.

Iapetus said...

MM needs to read Scott M's post, which explains why a manned mission to an asteroid is preposterous. You don't launch a deep space mission from Earth because of the enormous weight of the required spacecraft. You launch such a vehicle either from Earth orbit or from a way station on the lunar surface. When it comes to science and technology, Obama doesn't know what he is talking about, nor does he care. Unless it has to do with "climate change," in which case he is interested only because of how much damage and pain he can inflict on America.

MadisonMan said...

The only asteroid work I want to see being done is asteroid avoidance and or destruction, particularly if any asteroids go through the so-called keyhole.

Hoosier Daddy said...

If you're just talking about planting flags and bringing back rocks, bueno for the sixties mindset. People that study potential moon uses know better.

Well if you want to look at the real long term, sooner or later we're going to grow out of this planet, in terms of livable space and resources thus if the human race is going to perpetuate, we're going to have to figure out interstellar travel at some point.

That's not taking into account a life killing solar flare or planet killer asteroid.

Rich B said...

Maybe we could make him the president of all the asteroids and dwarf planets. Only a ceremonial title, but he would be qualified for it.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Obama has experts to tell him which asteroid to kick.

Almost Ali said...

I can understand the BOMB-MA-voting illiterates, but the educated should have their credentials pulled.

Kensington said...

And I'm quite happy to have him dreaming about the distant future instead of inflicting things on us right now.

If only there'd been some way to prevent him from being in a position to inflict things on us, particularly as he'd been all "change" and "transform" for a year before he got in a position to inflict things on us.

*sigh*

I know, I know...

Revenant said...

Possibly for you, but a permanent, self-sufficient research base on the moon would out-science your one-off mission to the belt in short order.

How?

What is the scientific research that (a) requires a human to be physically present and (b) is better carried out on the Moon than on Earth?

Cedarford said...

"HDHouse said...
didn't Japan do this recently?"

Yes, Japan rendezvoused with an asteroid, scoped it, surveyed it, and will return with a small sample. All for 1/80th to 1/90th the cost of a manned mission.

The problem with manned space missions:
You gain little but cost massively more with manned missions. The only argument is that they "inspire!!!" us.

ScottM - While a manned Moon base makes more sense than an asteroid mission, it makes no sense in itself. Too much money, endless supply logistics needed for it. (need to build and deliver 2 nuke reactors or endless fuel landings since AC is essential with the moon at 200 DEG in sun and down to -300DEG in the 26 days of total darkness.
Far more easy to send unmanned probes to do the job. They last, have better sensors, don't need supplies - and are backed by near-instant communication with whatever scientists, military, experts back on Earth are needed to define the mission and operate the craft.
Water on the moon possibly mineable in the future? With a 100 billion dollar nuclear powered reprocessing facility? Well, that's nice....

traditionalguy said...

Just don't let BP win the lowest bidder contracts to develop our Moon Base. That moon is our territory, of course, since we planted the there flag first and own it by right of its discovery. (Ask the Pope). And the BP guys seem to have no interest in protecting American territory.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

I can't get worked up about Obama's 2025 plan. In reality, this plan is unlikely to survive beyond early 2013.

Scott M said...

What is the scientific research that (a) requires a human to be physically present and (b) is better carried out on the Moon than on Earth?

Actually, you know what? You're right. I forgot about all of those robot-only research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic.

If you really believe robots are better for the moon, due to study and serious consideration, all the snark in the world here isn't going to change your mind. On the other hand, if you're just relaying things you've heard elsewhere, maybe take some time to really consider all of the advantages of what would begin as proof of permanent sustainability on the lunar surface. It would invariably become an outright human colony. If the benefits of that don't out shadow what mere robots can accomplish, we're pretty much done trying to change other's mind.

The Drill SGT said...

The article (or Obama) was a bit naive about the basic physics of a trip to an asteroid.

No Saturn V, and certainly nothing smaller could make the trip. (from an Earth as opposed to orbital laucnh. Why?

1. it's a lot farther, by orders of magnitude.
2. when we went to the moon we didnt have to match velocity to an object. we went into orbit around the moon. a relatively imprecise action that conserved all that energy we spent getting there. when we departed, we only applied a fraction of additional energy on a different vector to return home.
3. To get to an asteroid, you are going to need to go a lot farther a lot faster, then do quite a bit of braking to match orbits. Then when you want to return, your gonna need another large thruster to get home.

Think about buiding something in orbit that is 100 times as big and complicated as the current ISS, do it from a standing start in the next 15 years and do it with no money.

PS: Asteroids are not round smooth rocks, they tumble. it is quite likely that attempting to get close to one could cause a collision that would make the Apollo 13 mishap small by comparison, but instead of being 4 days from home, you might be 3 months.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The Little Prince being a foreigner is why the Jones Act prevented Obama from accepting his help in cleaning out the active volcanoes.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

The Drill SGT said...
I should have pointed out that the Japanese mision took 7 years.


flight time, not planning time.

Robert Burnham said...

Regardless of whether the idea has merit or not, it is actually a lot easier to send a spacecraft (manned or robotic) to an asteroid than it is to land on the Moon.

What counts is not distance, but what rocket engineers call "delta vee." This is the change in velocity required to get you from point A to point B in space.

Turns out that going from low-Earth orbit (where the space shuttle flies and the space station orbits) takes only a little additional velocity to leave Earth orbit and coast out to rendezvous with an asteroid. And while asteroids have little or no effective gravity, that also makes keeping station with them, or landing on them, quite easy.

Return is also simple because there's little gravity to escape — and your rocket burn to come back to low-Earth orbit is about what it cost you to leave that orbit.

Getting to the surface of the Moon, however, adds the substantial additional cost of fuel to slow you as you reach the Moon — you don't want to make the Moon's newest impact crater — and then return, assuming you're flying people there. (Lucky thing, robots ain't squeamish about never coming back.)

So feel free to debate the idea on its merits. But the plan's technical feasibility is well within the space-faring capabilities right now of the US, Russia, the E.U., and others.

lemondog said...

This would compare unfavorably with Bush and Mars how?

Dunno...

Howzit compare with Obama and Mars?

President Barack Obama set a bold new course for the future of US space travel, planning to send American astronauts into Mars orbit within the next three decades

PatCA said...

Oh, I read the headline as Obama himself wanting to land there!

If we suit him up and send him right now he might make it. Sheriff Joe could finish out the term. I'm down with that.

Tibore said...

Ok, the USA Today story is missing some important context. Note the distance: 5 million miles. Whereas Mars - a planet closer to the earth at points in its orbit than the asteroid belt - is on the order of 30-million plus. The 5 million mile distance as well as the date clues us into the fact that this mission may either be targeting asteroid 2004 MN4 - which is expected to do a very close flyby in the year 2029 (~20,000+ miles from the earth) - or be a preparation for a project that addresses the possibility of asteroids which come similarly close. Given where 2004 MN4 will be in 2025, I'm betting money that it'll be the target, and it'll be a very legitimate target specifically because of 1. It's relatively short distance, and 2. It's closest approach to earth, which will actually be a distance shorter than what geosynchronous satellites orbit at.

The point is that 2004 MN4 is a legit target for study to begin with because of both those factors. There's plenty else to criticize Obama for; his stances on Israel and Iran are two that come immediately to mind. This project looks good, to be honest, and I don't think it deserves criticism simply because it happened to be a proposal of the Obama administration. Let's rip on the President for what he really gets wrong; this mission shouldn't be one of those things.

Pogo said...

Now that he's screwed up the national economy, fubared the international scene, and scourged the coastal waters with oil, Obama wants to fuck up space.

If only he would delve into metaphysics, so he could have failed in all known realms of existence.

Calypso Facto said...

Maybe he wants to use the asteroid to "plug the hole"! Or is 2025 too aggressive a timetable for the O?

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

If we suit him up and send him right now he might make it.

There hasn't been a more likey astronaught since Dr. Smith set sail for Alpha Centauri.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I for one welcome our new asteroid overlords.

david7134 said...

I am sure that being from outer space, Obama would have no difficulty landing on an asteroid.

But seriously, after getting back from the ball game and waiting for the White House concert of the evening, he say a rerun of "Space Cowboys" and thought that would be a good idea.

Methadras said...

A manned mission to the moon is pointless. At this point it would be better to send robotic missions to the moon to glean the level of titanium, H3, and other minerals that we can get too. Just build a mini probe, scoop up a pound or two, then rocket launch off the moon back to the erf!!!

Mick said...

A law professor would do some research and maybe write a post about Obama's Natural Born Citizenship problem, one would think. It takes more than native birth. As Laurence Tribe said at the Res.511 hearings(inadvertantly speaking the truth), a Natural Born Citizen is one "born within a nation's territory AND ALLEGIANCE".
Are you that afraid of the "birther" smear Prof. Althouse? Also, is a pic on a website proof of anything? Could you bring your laptop to the passport office and tell them that your BC is on SCRIBD?

Revenant said...

Well if you want to look at the real long term, sooner or later we're going to grow out of this planet, in terms of livable space and resources

Are we? The world's population is stabilizing, and is likely to begin a long-term decline. It is unlikely we'll need more living space; it is unlikely we'll need all the space we're currently using. As for resources, we have access to effectively unlimited energy resources (e.g., solar) on Earth and in near-Earth orbit, and our material resources don't actually LEAVE Earth unless we launch them into space. :)

In the long term our reserves of readily accessible natural resources will be tapped, and we'll switch to energy-intensive recycling efforts instead. Considering that any material brought to Earth from the asteroid belt has a physical minimum energy cost of around 150 megajoules per kilogram (realistically, more like 1 gigajoule or so), recycling looks to always be the cheaper alternative.

Pogo said...

There's more bang for the buck in Soylent Green than asteroids, at least as far as a Democrat-controlled economy.

The Drill SGT said...

Turns out that going from low-Earth orbit (where the space shuttle flies and the space station orbits) takes only a little additional velocity to leave Earth orbit and coast out to rendezvous with an asteroid. And while asteroids have little or no effective gravity, that also makes keeping station with them, or landing on them, quite easy.

Return is also simple because there's little gravity to escape — and your rocket burn to come back to low-Earth orbit is about what it cost you to leave that orbit.


doesn't that presume a low velocity long flight time route?

That works for an unmanned scooper mission, but wont for a manned mission. Radiation, oxygen, food and madness won't support a 7 year mission profile like the Japanese did.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Alan Greenspan says we can't afford to go to Asteroid B-612, and this plan is irrational Exuperance.

Steven said...

Five million miles? I guess if you insist strictly on the mission being in 2025.

In 2023, asteroid (1998 HH49) will pass a mere 730,000 miles from the Earth.

In 2027, asteroid 137108 (1999 AN10) will come as close to the Earth as the Moon.

In 2029, asteroid 99942 Apophis will be ten times closer to the Earth than the Moon.

Revenant said...

"What is the scientific research that (a) requires a human to be physically present and (b) is better carried out on the Moon than on Earth?"

Actually, you know what? You're right. I forgot about all of those robot-only research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic.

I asked you a polite question and you replied with sarcasm. Is this because you don't have an answer or because you think it isn't worth your time to provide one?

Do we use manned exploration for the Arctic and Antarctic? Sure, because that's cheaper than unmanned exploration. If it cost several billion dollars to send a small team to Antarctica for a couple of days, we would send robots instead. And people who can't get past the whole "it doesn't count as exploration unless rugged square-jawed men are present on the scene boldly fighting the elements" mental block would undoubtedly bitch and moan that we weren't spending those billions to send humans instead.

If the benefits of that don't out shadow what mere robots can accomplish, we're pretty much done trying to change other's mind.

When were you planning to start trying to change someone's mind? As soon as someone asked you to explain your claim you skipped straight to sarcasm. Apparently you think your beliefs are so self-evidently brilliant that no explanation is necessary.

Brian said...

And one of those sheep was named Althouse.

Dead Julius said...

Dude, I smoke pot almost every day and I'm more attached to reality than our President is.

Scott M said...

Apparently you think your beliefs are so self-evidently brilliant that no explanation is necessary.

I'm glad we understand one another in so few back and forths.

Look, it's a moot point in any case. I have always been a very strong supporter of all things space, manned and unmanned. The reality of it is that President Obama would do well that a nation that must borrow money every year just to pay it's own bills shouldn't be doing things like sending a manned mission to an asteroid (or the moon for that matter).

This is like planning a trip to Orlando on credit cards when you're already buying groceries and gas on a different card because your paycheck goes pffft the second it's cashed.

In any case, we're lucky enough to be alive at would could well be the true future of space exploration and travel. Commercialization looks like it's about to take off bigtime. Assuming we're all around in 2025, I'm betting it's even odds the national governments will either be falling behind or neck-and-neck with private space firms.

ricpic said...

It was passing through the Asteroid Belt on the Jupiter Mission that made HAL all farblondget.

Roger J. said...

I will defer to the engineers on the feasibility, but it does seem to me asteriod landings are at least grounded in real newtonian physics. I would rather see our engineering talent used to stop the underwater spill than devoted to an asteoid landing--except the engineering in the latter endeavor seems a bit more difficult than an asteroid landing.

Scott said...

"farblondget?" Sounds like Yoda talking about his girlfriend in Sweden.

Then I found this table of similar words. Now I know.

Pogo said...

This Obama's version of saying Squirrel! when the BP disaster is brought up.

Robert Burnham said...

@ The Drill SGT: Yep, it takes time — that's the tradeoff for using low delta-vee. Spend more on fuel and you get there faster.

The long flight of Hayabusa was because it had a small engine (with little delta-vee >> slow flight time). Also, it ran into serious trouble at Itokawa (the asteroid) and had to take a very long roundabout return.

Flight controllers actually thought they'd lost the spacecraft and blown the mission at Itokawa. But then they retrieved it, at the price of a slow return to Earth.

As for solar flares, yes, that's a real concern that no one has a good answer for, saving the radiation shelter that's on the space station.

It's basically back to duck and cover.

Steven said...

Considering that any material brought to Earth from the asteroid belt

If you're dumb enough to mine the asteroid belt instead of near-Earth asteroids, yeah, it's a long haul. That's why you go after Atens and Apollos.

Edmund said...

For an explanation of the asteroid mission, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEX-gaM5dsk

wv: feignuch - someone that has had the ability to pretend removed.

Cedarford said...

I say we nuke an asteroid, for fun!

Do it on the 4th of July, which would make Leftists even more angry and Euroweenies already hysterical we "broke a nuclear treaty" even more hysterical.

Use a biiiiig, biiiig nuke, too! 100 Megaton. Vaporize the sucker, break out the beer and hot dogs!

=================
The other thing is for those proposing to mine an asteroid, it is very energy efficient to simply alter an asteroid's course and send it down into the Earth, where the miners are..even if they are cockroach miners that evolved after humans disappeared.

A smaller asteroid, though, might not just add new resources, but settle present Earthly problems.

One landed right on the ME, for example.
The Korean Crater Lake, formerly known as N Korea..

Robert Burnham said...

Mining asteroids, or any other off-Earth source of minerals, makes no economic sense whatever.

The explanation of why is a long one, but it comes down to the fact that raw materials are the least costly part of whatever you're making with them.

(The cost of bauxite ore is only a small part what a new Boeing 757 costs; ditto with iron ore and your car.)

It gets worse. Bringing the raw materials from space down to Earth's surface in a non-destructive way will cost you more than whatever those materials are worth from local suppliers here.

Why? You have to put the raw materials inside some kind of reentry-proof container, which won't be made out in space, but here on Earth and then sent out into space. More $$$ spent.

I have a strong suspicion that the the economics don't work even for high-value items like lithium for batteries. (And besides, if you deliver tons of the stuff, you destroy its market value, which makes the economics of space resources even dodgier.) (If this doesn't seem clear, just imagine what the price of gold would be if it were common enough to give every human being a ton of it.)

Then there's the prospecting job of finding an asteroid sufficiently rich in lithium, and close enough in a delta-vee sense, for the whole exercise to be worthwhile.

The only "space resources" that work are those that are used in space, close to the location where they are mined. Also, it's critical to use the raw materials in virtually unprocessed form. There's won't be factories in space for a long time yet ( = several human generations).

Quaestor said...

GMAY wrote: "The only thing I can think of is trying to mine asteroids for their minerals"

Evidence from meteoroids suggests that those asteroids which are solid enough to be mined are mainly composed of iron and nickel, two minerals which aren't sufficiently rare to justify the costs. asteroids may contain significant amounts of iridium, but it's not that important economically.

Eric said...

One presumes, having spent the last 18 months trying to be Jimmy Carter, he now wants a shot at being Jack Kennedy.

The problem is this is pretty well-trod (well-trodden?) ground. Pretty much every president since Reagan has done this, most recently Bush with his moon and Mars plans - "oh, right now we're throwing a couple million into a study. In five years, when I'm out of office, the funding really needs to start ramping up. I'll leave it to the next guy to figure out the details."

By now pretty much everyone realizes this is just posturing, so he won't even get the PR boost he's looking for. And it's kind of dumb, quite frankly, because what Americans are worried about right now is all those unfunded liabilities hanging over us. Proposing yet another one just plays into his opponents' hands, particularly since he can't satisfactorily articulate a reason for the endeavor.

Revenant said...

If you're dumb enough to mine the asteroid belt instead of near-Earth asteroids, yeah, it's a long haul. That's why you go after Atens and Apollos.

The problem with going after Atens and Apollos is that they aren't large enough; there isn't enough material on one of them to build a processing plant with. That means moving the plant from asteroid to asteroid or moving the asteroids to the plant. Either way you're talking about a lot of energy expenditure.

Eric said...

Evidence from meteoroids suggests that those asteroids which are solid enough to be mined are mainly composed of iron and nickel, two minerals which aren't sufficiently rare to justify the costs.

There isn't any element you could mine on an asteroid that would justify the cost. Even if you could find a rock made of something expensive like Lutetium, which is $10k/oz at current prices, it's expensive because it's rare. You'd have to sell so much of it it would no longer be very rare and the price would crash.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

The main reason to develop a sustainable permanent human presence in space is because, right now, we're one real catastrophe away from extinction.

What's happening in the Gulf right now isn't even a blip compared to the worst that could happen if somebody really did have the brain flatulence to nuke the hole:

Clathrate Gun Hypothesis

Eight billion eggs or so, and all in one basket. We need to do something about that.

Paddy O said...

I'm keeping my mind open about landing on an asteroid until I hear what Andy Williams thinks about all of this.

Eric said...

Eight billion eggs or so, and all in one basket. We need to do something about that.

We can't make truly independent space colonies with current technology, so the people in space would perish soon after the rest of us. We're not even close, and we couldn't bear the cost even if we did have the technology.

In any event it doesn't make sense. Let's say Putin goes crazy and pushes the button, causing a global nuclear war involving all twenty or so nuclear powers. When the dust settled... well, actually that would take centuries. When it was over, space would only be a little bit less habitable than the earth instead of a whole lot less habitable.

So if extinction is your concern you'd be better off putting a bunker a mile or so underground filled with whatever you would have put on your space colony. You wouldn't even have to dig the hole - there are gold mines in South Africa that go that far down.

Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious...service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Russian Ambassador: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.

Steven said...

Revenant, the only thing worse than going to the asteroid belt is doing on-site processing in the asteroid belt. How exactly were you planning to power the processing? Shipping out heavy, expensive nuclear reactors? Solar panels in a place with one-ninth the light intensity of Earth orbit? Sure, that kind of mining is economically impossible. It's also the ludicrously, insanely wrong way to do it.

You go to low delta-v near-Earth bodies, you set up solar panels to power things, you set up rock crushing gear, and you set up catapults. You then have this machinery throw pieces of the asteroid one way so the asteroid itself moves the little bit to reach Earth orbit.

Then you do your processing in Earth orbit or on Earth, where you don't have to endure light-minute lags to correct problems and multi-month trips to replace failed processing equipment.

GMay said...

I said the only reason I thought he could be proposing this is for mining, but we're so far away from that that it just doesn't make sense.

The ony other thing I can think of is to study how to destroy/or redirect one to prevent an impact. Really though, there's more value to manned space programs from here to the moon than chasing asteroids in my opinion.

Mark said...

Eric, everything you say is true, except I would point out that the state-of-the-art in surviving in space isn't going anywhere without a pretty massive investment of time and treasure.

I know it isn't economical. I say we do it anyway.

(BTW, you would probably enjoy a movie called A Boy and His Dog, blurbed as "A rather kinky tale of survival."

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Revenant said...

So if extinction is your concern you'd be better off putting a bunker a mile or so underground filled with whatever you would have put on your space colony.

Aw, you beat me to it.

Actually, though, this illustrates another point, which is that we as a species have given no indication that we give a rat's ass about avoiding unlikely species-extinction events. Building viable offworld colonies for humanity would take a substantial percentage of humanity's total economic output for decades or centuries -- but so far we're unwilling to even invest a token few billion dollars in Earth-based bunkers that would let our species weather all but the nastiest of extinction events.

The truth is that people are not going to invest a big pile of their money in a species insurance policy that amounts to "if disaster strikes, you and all your loved ones will still die horribly but some distant strangers will survive to have kids and pass on the human genome". We're just not that philanthropic.

GMay said...

"The truth is that people are not going to invest a big pile of their money in a species insurance policy that amounts to "if disaster strikes, you and all your loved ones will still die horribly but some distant strangers will survive to have kids and pass on the human genome". We're just not that philanthropic."

True, but that doesn't mean someone else isn't going to try and use your money for species insurance. See: AGW hysteria and the reordering of the global economy. Of course, this is presuming the con artists are actually concerned with the planet, or the species, or whatever gravy train their faux compassion is drawn to.

Revenant said...

You then have this machinery throw pieces of the asteroid one way so the asteroid itself moves the little bit to reach Earth orbit.

Let's assume a modestly-sized Apollo asteroid with a mass of 50,000,000,000kg and a delta-V of 1km/s (on the low end for NEOs). That gives us an energy cost of 2.5xE16 joules to achive that delta-V. You need a heroically large solar panel to get the rock to Earth in less than decades, and with each passing day your equipment investment is depreciating and your loan interest is accruing.

We'll be generous and pretend you won't have to take out an insurance policy to cover kicking a giant rock towards Earth and assume the rest of the trip is uneventful. When it finally does get here it'll be worth around $2.5 billion, assuming it is 70% pure iron ore. And you still have to mine the ore and get it down to Earth for it to be worth anything at all.

Then you do your processing in Earth orbit or on Earth, where you don't have to endure light-minute lags to correct problems and multi-month trips to replace failed processing equipment.

If delays of a few months are an issue then you can definitely rule out moving the asteroids to Earth. But in either case you have to assume that either robots or remote units are doing the work, or you're maintaining a human presence in space to do the work. Even if you could do this at 1/10th the cost of the ISS (unlikely, given the scale of the project) you're still looking at around $100 million per person per month in space.

Revenant said...

True, but that doesn't mean someone else isn't going to try and use your money for species insurance. See: AGW hysteria and the reordering of the global economy.

That's not the same thing. AGW is sold as a preventable threat to us, our loved ones, and our descendants. If Al Gore was going around saying "we're all doomed, but if we spend a zillion dollars a chosen few -- not you, but somebody -- will live" nobody would give him any money. :)

Eric said...

I know it isn't economical. I say we do it anyway.

I didn't say it wasn't economical though I don't disagree. I said we couldn't bear the cost. Shelling out that kind of cash, even on a worldwide basis, would have a large measurable effect on peoples' standard of living. It's just not going to happen.

I would certainly like to see further experiments along the line of Habitat II, which would be comparatively cheap. Well, comparatively they would be free. Before we even think about addressing the gravity, energy, and radiation problems of deep space let's at least get to the point where we can comfortably run a closed-loop environment for a few years.

The other thing I'd like to see as a precursor to any colonization effort is a cheaper way to get to orbit. It could be a space elevator, tethers, beamed power, antimatter rockets... whatever. What we have today is simply too expensive to do anything except blow wads of cash on vanity projects.

Once we've mastered those two technologies the other stuff becomes doable. Then we can talk about whether or not it's practical.

amba said...

Wonderful! Lemondog mentioned The Little Prince eleven minutes before I did (I didn't see that) AND found the perfect illustration. I love that book. Just recently, after a big fish barbecue, told a friend that I felt like a boa constrictor that had swallowed an elephant.

GMay said...

Rev,

It's all in the packaging. I wouldn't put it past someone to try it in about 20 years or so with the promise of saving most of the species. (After all, it's not like carbon offsets or relocating manufacturing to third world cesspools were going to affect the atmosphere in the slightest.)

Smilin' Jack said...

An asteroid is a large rock. We have large rocks here on Earth--I've heard of one in Gibraltar. If Obama wants to give me a billion dollars, I'd be happy to go there and report back to him personally on the experience.