Worlds of Convenience

24 August 2017

Thursday


Three Worlds, Three Civilizations

In August of this year I spoke at the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress 2017. One of the themes of the congress was “The Moon as a Stepping Stone to the Stars” so I attempted to speak directly to this theme with a presentation titled, “The Role of Lunar Civilization in Interstellar Buildout.” The intention was to bring together the possible development of the moon as part of the infrastructure of spacefaring civilization within our solar system with the role that the moon could play in the further buildout of spacefaring civilization toward an interstellar spacefaring capacity.

Most of our spacefaring infrastructure at present is in low Earth orbit.

In preparing my presentation I worked through a lot of ideas related to this theme, and even though Icarus Interstellar was very generous with the time they gave me to speak, I couldn’t develop all of the ideas that I had been working on. One of these ideas was that of the moon and Mars as worlds of convenience. By this I mean that the moon and Mars are small, rocky worlds that might be useful to human beings because of their constitution and their proximity to Earth.

Any agriculture on the moon will of necessity be confined to artificial conditions.

The moon, as the closest large celestial body to Earth, is a “world of convenience”: It is an island in space within easy reach of Earth, and might well play a role in terrestrial civilization not unlike the role of the Azores or the Canary Islands played in the history of western civilization, which, as it began to explore farther afield down the coast of Africa and into the Atlantic (and eventually to the new world), made use of the facilities offered by these island chains. Whether as a supply depot, a source of materials from mining operations, a place for R&R for crews, or as a hub of scientific activity, the moon could be a crucial component of spacefaring infrastructure in the solar system, and, as such, could serve to facilitate the growth and development of spacefaring civilization.

Because Mars is a bit more like Earth than the moon, conditions on Mars may be less artificial than on the moon.

Mars is also a world of convenience. While farther from Earth than the moon, it is still within our present technology to get to Mars — i.e., it is within the technological capability of a rudimentary spacefaring capacity to travel to a neighboring planet within the same planetary system — and Mars is more like Earth than is the moon. Mars has an atmosphere (albeit thin), because it has an atmosphere its temperatures are moderated, its day is similar to the terrestrial day, and its gravity is closer to that of Earth’s gravity than is the gravity on the moon. Mars, then, is close enough to Earth to be settled by human beings, and the conditions are friendlier to human beings than the closer and more convenient moon. These factors make Mars a potentially important center for the exploration of the outer solar system.

The further buildout of our spacefaring infrastructure will probably include both space-based assets and planetary assets, but it is on planets that we will feel at home.

We can easily imagine a future for humanity within our own solar system in which mature civilizations are found not only on Earth but also on the moon and Mars. Since the moon and Mars are both “worlds of convenience” for us — places unlike the Earth, but not so unlike the Earth that we could not make use of them in the buildout of human civilization as a spacefaring civilization — we would expect them to naturally be part of human plans for the future of the solar system. Because we are biological beings emergent from a biosphere associated with the surface of Earth (a condition I call planetary endemism), we are likely to favor other planetary surfaces even as human civilization expands into space; it is on planetary surfaces that we will feel familiar and comfortable as a legacy of our evolutionary psychology.

Our planetary endemism predisposes us to favor planetary surfaces for human habitation.

These three inhabited worlds — Earth, the moon, and Mars — would each have a human civilization, but also a distinctive civilization different from the others, and each would stand in distinctive relationships to the other two. Earth and the moon are always going to be tightly bound, perhaps even bound by the same central project, because of their proximity. Mars will be a bit distant, but more Earth-like, and so more likely to give rise to an Earth-like civilization, but a civilization that will be built under selection pressures distinct from those on Earth. The moon will never have an Earth-like civilization because it will almost certainly never have an atmosphere, and it will never have a greater gravitational field, so Lunar civilization will depart from terrestrial civilization even while being tightly-coupled to Earth due to its proximity.

The moon will always be an ‘offshore balancer’ for Earth, but conditions on the moon are so different from those of Earth that any Lunar civilization would diverge from terrestrial civilization.

The presence of worlds of convenience within our solar system does not mean that we must or will forgo other opportunities for the development of spacefaring civilization. Just as Icarus Interstellar holds that there is no one way to the stars, so too there is no one buildout for the infrastructure of a spacefaring civilization. One of the themes of my presentation as delivered was the different possibilities for infrastructure buildout within the solar system, how these different infrastructures could interact, and how they would figure in future human projects like interstellar missions. Thus the three worlds and the three civilizations of Earth, the moon, and Mars may be joined by distinctive civilizations based on artificial habitats or on settlements based on asteroids or the more distant moons of the outer planets. But Earth, the moon, and Mars are likely to remain tightly-coupled in ongoing relationships of cooperation, competition, and conflict because of their status as worlds of convenience.

The worlds of convenience within our solar system may be joined by artificial habitats.

The possibility of multiple human civilizations within our solar system presents the possibility of what I call “distributed development” (cf. Mass Extinction in the West Asian Cluster and Emergent Complexity in Multi-Planetary Ecosystems). In the earliest history of human civilization distributed development could only extend as far as the technologies of transportation allowed. With transportation and communication limited to walking, shipping, horses, or chariots, the civilizations of west Asia could participate in mutual ideal diffusion, but the other centers of civilization at this time — in China, India, Peru, Mexico, and elsewhere — lay beyond the scope of easy communication by these means of transportation and communication. As the technologies of transportation and communication became more sophisticated, idea diffusion is now planetary, and this planetary-scale idea diffusion is converging upon a planetary civilization.

An interplanetary internet would facilitate idea diffusion between the worlds of our solar system.

Today, our planetary civilization has instantaneous communication and rapid transportation between any and all parts of the planet, and planetary scale idea diffusion is the rule. We enjoy this planetary scale idea diffusion because our technologies of communication and transportation — jets, high speed trains, fiber optic cables, the internet, satellites, and so on — allow for it. So fast forward to a solar system of three planetary civilizations — i.e., three distinct and independent civilizations, though coupled by relationships of trade and communication — and with an interplanetary network of communication and transportation that allows for idea diffusion on an interplanetary scale. The pattern of distributed development among multiple civilizations that characterized the west Asian cluster of civilization could be iterated at an interplanetary scale, driving these civilizations forward as they borrow from each other, and no one civilization must make every breakthrough in order for the others to enjoy the benefits of innovation.

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Starship Congress 2015

6 September 2015

Sunday


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The events of Starship Congress 2015 at Drexel University in Philadelphia have now wrapped up. September 4th and 5th were busy days full of attending sessions and interactions with other participants. After the first day of events I gave a partial rundown on events on Paul Carr’s The Unseen Podcast in Episode 22: Report from Starship Congress. I have not yet had time write up my experiences of the congress in detail. I also did not have time to take in any of the historic sights of the city, though the weather in Philadelphia has been quite nice.

Andreas Tziolas holds forth on his vision for a starflight academy and asymmetrical education.

Andreas Tziolas holds forth on his vision for a starflight academy and asymmetrical education.

The organizers of Starship Congress — primarily Andreas Tziolas and Mike Mongo of Icarus Interstellar, but of course many others contributed to the effort — had chosen Drexel University as the venue for Starship Congress 2015 because the university hosts an active student chapter of Icarus Interstellar. The organizers emphasized that they hoped to build on the student participation in the previous Starship Congress in 2013 (cf. Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4), and this proved to be a wise decision. Student engagement was impressive. The students not only brought energy and enthusiasm, they also showcased considerable ingenuity and hard work in their presentations of their projects.

David Evinshteyn of the local Drexel chapter of Icarus Interstellar gives a presentation of their Zeus starship.

David Evinshteyn of the local Drexel chapter of Icarus Interstellar gives a presentation of their Zeus starship.

On the afternoon of the second day of the event I gave my presentation, “What kind of civilizations build starships?” (Most of the conference was streamed live on Youtube, and you can watch the entirety of my presentation there.) The organizers had generously allowed me 45 minutes to speak, so I had time to develop some points in detail. Over the past few years, and in other presentations, I have emphasized that we have no science of civilization. I took this point further in this presentation in attempting to show how discussion of civilization to date has been in terms of folk concepts, and suggested ways in which the study of civilization might be developed employing fully scientific concepts.

Zach Fejes gave a very polished and professional talk on 'Project Voyager: How We Get There'

Zach Fejes gave a very polished and professional talk on ‘Project Voyager: How We Get There’

I drew on the work of Carnap and Hempel, so I was employing what might be characterized as a rather conservative philosophy of science, going back to the logical empiricism of the mid-twentieth century. This approach to the science of civilization might well be pursued with more recent resources in the philosophy of science, but I strongly feel the need to try to start with a blank slate, as it were, and to re-think civilization from the ground up from the perspective of systematically articulating concepts of civilization that can transform the study of civilization into a rigorous science.

Taking notes at Starship Congress 2015.

Taking notes at Starship Congress 2015.

Because of my preparations for my presentation and the congress I have not been posting much here. I hope to write more on Starship Congress 2015, and some of the ideas I encountered will eventually find themselves into further posts.

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Sunday


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Day 4 – Congress Summary | Sunday August 18th, 2013

Day 4 of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress began with a presentation by science-fiction artist Stephan Martiniere and, because Monsieur Martiniere is an artist the audience was treated to a wide variety of his work. He told the story of his life in pictures, and linked it throughout to developments of the Space Age, which was an artful touch. …

After this Andreas Hein launched into a sober assessment of technologies necessary to interstellar flight in “Project Hyperion: Disruptive Technologies for Manned Interstellar Travel”. Much of what Mr. Hein presented were ideas that I had independently worked out for myself, describing the S-curve of technological maturity and how technological succession can extend this S-curve upward. Using these analytical tools, Hein assessed which technologies would be necessary to any interstellar mission, and which technologies might prove to be disruptive breakthroughs that rendered other technologies obsolete, ending with the suggestion that investments in technologies must be balanced across a spectrum of low risk/high probability of use and high risk/high gain technologies.

Next came Aaron Cardon, a doctor, with “Ideal Biological Characteristics for Long-Duration Manned Space Travel.” This presentation was much more interesting to me than I expected it to be, and suggested to me that designs of a long term interstellar mission would not be uniformly good or bad for human health, but rather that some starship design parameters may compromise human physiology while others may actually optimize human physiology. For example, Dr. Cardon stated that the circadian rhythm of the human body, if taken out of the context of our 24 hour rotation of the Earth may be closer to 26 or 28 hours, which an artificial environment could easily accommodate. Dr. Cardon also spoke about some of the psychological and sociological consequences of long-term missions — something covered in yesterday’s Odyssey presentation — including the dramatic shift that would need to take place in making the transition from an open frontier to prioritizing social cohesion, and how human intuitive heuristics may pose a risk in artificial environments. This talk gave me much to think about.

Rob Swinney gave an update of Project Icarus, which was the seed from which Icarus Interstellar originally grew, and discussed a number of design parameters of the starship project that is, essentially, the successor to the Daedalus project. This was followed by a presentation that was not on the program, Robert Kennedy on “Dyson Dots: Geoengineering is the Killer App.” Mr. Kennedy demonstrated how the interests of those seeking to mitigate anthropogenic climate change coincide with those seeking space industry, since space-based geoengineering could both address climate change and result in space industry. Specifically, we could construct a “Dyson dot” between the Earth and sun that would cast ever so slight a shadow on the Earth, marginally lowering terrestrial insolation. Moreover, the sun side of this Dyson dot could be covered in photovoltaic cells, which could generate a significant amount of electricity. Mr. Kennedy rightly noted that this approach is both scalable and reversible, which are real virtues in this context.

Jim Benford then presented, “Shouting to the Cosmos: The METI Debate” — METI being Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, in contradistinction to SETI or the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. Benford represented that school of thought that feels messaging ought to be discussed before it is undertaken on any great scale, and he contrasted this to the views of some in the field who support vigorous efforts to create a “beacon” and to attempt to send messages out into the cosmos. Benford rightly noted that today a wealthy individual could sponsor such a beacon and engage in METI without anyone to stop such activity. He suggested that international consensus, peer-reviewed publication of messaging details, consultation, and perhaps also an enforcement mechanism were in order.

Benford laid out the case both for and against METI, which was quite interesting to me. There were several stated assumptions and derivations from this assumptions, but each assumed something fundamental that was formative to the given position. Those in favor of METI believe that interstellar travel is impossible, while those opposed to unregulated METI assert that EM leakage cannot be detected. As it happens, I can’t belong to either camp because I disagree with both assumptions. I think that interstellar travel is possible, and I think that it is pretty clear that the EM radiation leakage (unintended signals) of a peer industrial-technological civilization can be detected.

Benford took the trouble to point out contradictions in the position of those advocating unregulated METI, but it seems to me that the glaring contradition in Benford’s position was that he asserted that EM leakage could not be detected, but he openly admitted that an advanced ETI could pretty easily build an antenna large enough and sensitive enough to hear us. The way he gets around this contradiction is something that I have thought about a bit, and I wrote about it last year in The Visibility Presumption. I want to go into this in a little more detail because it is so interesting.

Benford asked the rhetorical question of why ETI would be looking in our direction, in all the vastness of the cosmos. This is a rhetorical question so long as one maintains an unproblematic conception of the cosmological principle, but it becomes a live question and not merely rhetorical once the classical cosmological principle is called into question. Benford’s position perfectly exemplified the cosmological principle, i.e., that we occupy no privileged place in the cosmos, therefore there is no reason for ETI to point their antenna in our direction. I will not here dispute the idea of our not occupying a privileged cosmological position (advocates of the anthropic cosmological principle have spent enough time doing this), but there is a very different way to think about this that undermines the assumption of there being no reason for ETI to look in our direction.

Any peer civilization (i.e., any civilization like us) is going to be looking for peer civilizations because this intrinsic curiosity, at least in part, defines our civilization. In looking for peer civilizations, any advanced ETI will show at least as much ingenuity as we have shown in the search for ETI, since ingenuity of this kind is another quality that, at least in part, defines our civilization. We are now, at the present level of our technology, less than twenty years from the spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres, which could reveal markers of life and civilization. Any advanced peer civilization would have already done this (spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres), and they would have done this for the kind of planets that can host peer civilizations — small, rocky planets in the habitable zones of main sequence stars. In other words, ETI would have already by now done the spectroscopy of Earth’s atmosphere, and in so doing they would have focused in on the Earth as a place of great interest, in the exact same way that we would focus on an “Earth twin.” This would mean that they would focus all their best radio antennas on us, just as we could focus intensively on a planet that would likely host life and civilization.

It would be relatively easy for an advanced ETI of a peer civilization to build a custom antenna for nothing other than the possibility of detecting our EM leakage, since they had already identified us as a promising target for SETI and perhaps also METI.

In the question and answer session following Benford’s talk a new wrinkle in all this appeared. My co-presenter from Day 2, Heath Rezabek, suggested that someone opposed to unregulated METI could broadcast a counter-signal to a METI signal and essentially silence that signal.

The possibility of a counter-signal is an idea that can be scaled up, so that it is possible that what Paul Davies calls the “eerie silence” and David Brin has called the “Great Silence” is not something natural, but could be imposed or generated.

One metaphor that has been used to explain the eerie or great silence is that no one shouts in a jungle. This is plausible. If the universe is a dangerous place filled with predators, you don’t want to call attention to yourself. But it is just as plausible that everyone is “shushed” in a library as that everyone keeps quiet in a jungle, and therefore it is just as plausible to think of our universe as a library as to think of it as a jungle.

And with that discussion I had to leave the 2013 Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress at noon in order to catch my flight back to Portland.

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My co-presenter Heath Rezabek and myself on the final day of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress.

My co-presenter Heath Rezabek and myself on the final day of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress.

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Here is an incomplete schedule for the day’s events (incomplete because Robert Kennedy’s presentation is not mentioned below.

8:30am Coffee
8:45am Introduction to Day 4
9:00am Keynote: Stephan Martiniere, “FarMaker Speed Sketch Awards”
9:45am Presentation 1: Andreas Hein, “Project Hyperion: Disruptive Technologies for Manned Interstellar Travel”
10:10am Presentation 2: Aaron Cardon, “Ideal Biological Characteristics for Long-Duration Manned Space Travel”
10:35am Break
10:40am Presentation 3: Rob Swinney, “Project Icarus”
11:25am Presentation 4: Jim Benford, “Shouting to the Galaxy: The METI Debate”
11:50am Break
12:00am Session Chair Panel, “Discussion of Tracks”
12:45pm Icarus Project Lead Panel, “Progress Report and Future Objectives”
1:30pm Mike Mongo, “Build a Starship”
1:45pm Richard Obousy, “Building an Interstellar Community”
2:00pm Icarus Starship Congress Ends

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Saturday


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Day 3 – Interstellar Future (50 years +) | Saturday August 17th, 2013

Day 3 of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress began with Harold “Sonny” White discussing recent attempts to scientifically test the ideas behind the Alcubierre drive, which would be a form of spacecraft mobility (one can’t quite call it propulsion) that would have the effect of superluminal velocity. The proposed drive does not violate general relativity because space itself can expand or contract faster than the speed of light, even if no physical body can travel at the speed of light. The Alcubierre drive, and other concepts that have followed, involve distorting space around a spacecraft while the spacecraft itself, and its occupants, never exceed the speed of light. White also discussed Q-thrusters (quantum vacuum plasma thruster), which would thrust against quantum vacuum fluctuations. This would not yield the kind of science fiction-like travel of the Alcubierre drive, but it sounded closer to being in reach. On his last slide he showed a figure of 29.9 years to make it to Proxima Centauri with Q-thrusters, which require a lot of energy but don’t require fuel. With this in mind, I note that we can pretty readily (today) manufacture a nuclear reactor that can be fueled upon construction and run continuously for 30 years without refueling (as with the compact nuclear reactors on submarines and aircraft carriers). If we could build Q-thrusters, we could also supply them for long enough to get to the nearest star, and that is an impressive thought.

This was followed by Eric Davis presenting “Faster-Than-Light Space Warps: What’s It All About?” which was a wonderfully clear and intuitive presentation of faster than light possibilities. Mr. Davis suggested that one may someday, “design spacetime to your specifications,” and returned to this theme of engineering spacetime. Next was Hal Puthoff with “Engineering the Spacetime Metric for Interstellar Flight,” which the speaker characterized as “general relativity for engineers.” The speaker presented an alternative formulation of general relativity in terms of the dielectric constant, which should make many problems in general relativity more tractable for engineers. Marc Millis presented “From Sci-Fi to Sci-Method — Space Drives,” which, continuing the exposition of interstellar flight in relation to general relativity, emphasized the remaining theoretical ellipses of general relativity, specifically, that general relativity did not decisively resolve the problem of inertial frames of reference. He had some interesting things to say about Mach’s principle (a topic of some interest to me, which I have been intending to study more closely). Next were two quite technical talks, Jeff Lee on “Singularity Propulsion — Acceleration of a Schwarzschild Kugelblitz Starship” and Gerald Cleaver on “The Quirks of Quark Engines.”

Then came Lance Williams on the “Rise of the Scalar Field, and its Implications for Interstellar Travel.” Williams offered, “the promise of gravitational control,” and ended with the statement that, “Electromagnetic control of gravity is necessary for human control of gravity.” This was very much in the same spirit of the earlier lectures today which emphasized the human ability to engineer spacetime itself. And, certainly, if Alcubierre drives or artificial gravity become a reality we will have a world that is everything that science fiction authors have imagined, and more besides. In the question and answer session following Williams’ talk, in response to a question Williams emphasized that his use of a 5-manifold in his exposition (following Kaluza of Kaluza-Klein fame) was of a fifth macroscopic dimension, and he drew a clear distinction between the compactified dimensions of string theory and macroscopic dimensions in physical theory (which, I might add, warmed my heart). A string theorist in attendance had earlier assured him that string theory had all the dimensional resources his approach could need, but Williams ended by saying that physics had been “locked in” to string theory and QED gravitation for the past century, with the clear implication that this had gone on long enough.

After this the Congress broke for lunch, but instead of eating I went back to my room for a nap. I overslept and returned only for the last few minutes of Rachel Armstrong’s presentation, which was a disappointment for me since I had recently written on my other blog about some of Armstrong’s ideas on urbanism.

Ken Roy then presented “Shell Worlds: an Approach to Terraforming Small Rocky Worlds,” which proposed that smaller worlds (like about the size of Mars) could be completely contained within a structure holding in the atmosphere built somewhere between 2 and 20 kilometers up from the surface. This he contrasted to “traditional” terraforming, and he maintained that shell worlds had certain advantages, as, for example, the ability to construct “designer biospheres,” to have the same time zone all around a planet (since all lighting would have to be artificial, and so forth. Roy also mentioned “paraterraforming,” which term I had not previously heard, and said that it also involved a contained atmosphere, but he didn’t go into much detail on what exactly constitutes paraterraforming.

Next was a joint presentation by a filmmaker and a social scientist, “Odyssey: Global Personality Test for Crewing a Generation-Starship,” which is both a social science project and a film project. Odyssey takes as its presupposition a generational starship and asks how a crew would be selected for this mission. Starship crew questions can be a lot like “lifeboat” exercises in asking who one would include and who one would leave to die, and this exercise in starship crewing certainly had this feel for me. The robust assumptions made by those who designed the project, and the forcefulness with which they asserted these assumptions — Are you prepared to leave everything and everyone you have ever known forever? — were a good splash of cold water for those contemplating generational starships. I think that they must have chosen quite intentionally to tightly constrain the exercise in order to inject some sense of discipline into this question, often raised among interstellar advocates. For me personally, this presentation of a generational starship in which the individual is systematically subordinated to the good of the mission was a kind of dystopian vision of regulation that constitutes the antithesis of the vision of freedom through space travel that attracts me.

There were a couple presentations on SETI efforts, Thomas Hair on “Radio Transients and Base Rate Bias: Bayesian Argument for Conservatism” and Al Jackson on “Extreme SETI.” Hair proposed “the long stare” as a thought experiment in SETI, and gave a Bayesian analysis of the kind of data that would be collected from a concentrated SETI focus on a small part of the sky (think of it something like the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, but for SETI instead of observational astronomy). Hair also suggested that SETI was shifting to a search for “ephemeral leakage,” by which I believe he meant picking up unintended signals from alien civilizations — like what an alien civilization might hear from us at a distance of many lightyears. Al Jackson was difficult to hear, as his speaking voice wasn’t very loud, but he focused on SETI efforts to find mega-engineering projects of highly advanced civilizations, such as detecting starships, gravitational machines, and “surfing” black holes.

The final presentation for this session was Giorgio Gaviraghi, “Code of Ethics for Alien Encounters.” Gaviraghi’s talk yesterday was the most far-reaching and speculative, and he once again put himself out on a limb with a series of hypothetical inmperatives contingent upon the level of development achieved by civilizations potentially in contact. If I had had the chance to ask a question I would have asked if these various hypothetical imperatives could be traced back to any one categorical imperative that was the motivation for the code of ethics he proposed. I had a chance later to speak very briefly to Gaviraghi, but didn’t have enough time to raise this question.

Another panel discussion, like yesterday’s, considered another three questions. This wasn’t as interesting to me as yesterday’s discussion, but in the final question on extraterrestrial contact Kelvin Long said, “ideas can do as much damage as war,” which was a good comment, and Gaviraghi (who replaced Armen Papazian) made a statement that I particularly liked. I didn’t take down his words verbatim, and I may have misunderstood his intent, but what it sounded like to me was that what we can learn about civilization as a result of extraterrestrial contact may tell us something about our own civilization. If this is what Gaviraghi meant, I enthusiastically agree, and it shows another parallelism between biology and civilization, because exactly the same thing is true in biology. As Carl Sagan noted, a single instance of extraterrestrial life would de-provincialize biology.

After the Congress broke for dinner for a couple of hours we assembled again and heard Peter Garretson speak on “Space – A Billion Year Plan for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I agreed with pretty nearly everything that was said here, and I really wanted to ask a question, but there was no question and answer period following his talk. Garretson gave a presentation very indebted tot he vision of Gerard K. O’Neill, involving solar power satellites and O’Neill colonies, and this was much appreciated, as he rightly noted that any space capacity you could want to have would be in place by the time you had built a system of solar power satellites.

After the Congress was over for the day I realized that I often learned more from the question and answer sessions than from the presentations, and it occurred to me that a lot of this material might be better suited to a seminar format rather than a lecture format. A lecture format could be modified to accommodate more questions and answers, but not all talks generate the same level of interest. I think if I were to organize a congress of some sort I might consider making a rule that all presentations had to be made extemporaneously in order to keep them spontaneous, and encourage the audience to raise their hands with a question in the midst of a lecture to keep the exchange going throughout. Slides could be limited to images, graphics, or charts only (in order to generate discussion without being read), and speakers could be asked to finish with a one-sentence “take away” message, perhaps purposefully provocative, once again, to generate discussion.

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Here is the complete program of today’s events:

8:30am Coffee
8:45am Introduction to Day 3
9:00am Keynote: Sonny White, “Warp Field Physics: an Update”
9:45am Presentation 1: Eric Davis, “Faster-Than-Light Space Warps: What’s It All About?”
10:10am Presentation 2: Hal Puthoff, “Engineering the Spacetime Metric for Interstellar Flight”
10:35am Break
10:45am Presentation 3: Marc Millis, “Transgalactic Travel Guide” & “From Sci-Fi to Sci-Method – Space Drives”
11:10am Presentation 4: Jeff Lee, “Singularity Propulsion – Acceleration of a Schwarzschild Kugelblitz Starship”
11:35am Presentation 5: Gerald Cleaver, “The Quirks of Quark Engines”
12:00am Presentation 6: Lance Williams, “Rise of the Scalar Field, and its Implications for Interstellar Travel”
12:25pm Lunch
1:15pm Keynote: Rachel Armstrong, “Project Persephone”
2:00pm Presentation 7: Ken Roy, “Shell Worlds: an Approach to Terraforming Small Rocky Worlds”
2:25pm Presentation 8: Sheryl Bishop, “Odyssey: Global Personality Test for Crewing a Generation-Starship”
2:50pm Break
3:00pm Presentation 9: Thomas Hair, “Radio Transients & Base Rate Bias: Bayesian Argument for Conservatism”
3:25pm Presentation 10: Al Jackson, “Extreme SETI”
3:50pm Presentation 11: A. Caminoa & G. Gaviraghi, “Code of Ethics for Alien Encounters”
4:15pm Break | Description of Evening Event
4:30pm STARSHIP CONGRESS: Long-Term Questions
6:00pm Dinner (Individual)
8:00pm Event 3a | Peter Garretson: “Space – A Billion Year Plan for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”
8:45pm Event 3b | “Dream of Starships” with Hailey Bright

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Friday


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Day 2 – Interstellar This Lifetime (20 – 50 years) | Friday August 16th, 2013

Today I was present for the whole of Day 2 of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress, which included by own stint of giving a co-presentation with Heath Rezabek on “Existential Risk for Interstellar Advocates.”

The day began with Michael Minovitch giving an updated perspective on the Bussard ramjet, which by his calculations could obtain 0.7 G acceleration, which puts it in the class of what I have elsewhere called the “game changer” of a 1 G starship. A 1 G starship would allow human beings to travel very long distances within the cosmos in ordinary life spans, which is a point that Carl Sagan also made in his Cosmos television series. Moreover, Mr. Minovitch was quite serious about the possibility of building a Bussard ramjet with contemporary technology, or what we might call nearly contemproary technology. He even suggested that the space shuttle could be take out of math balls to ferry the required parts into orbit for building a Bussard ramjet in the near future.

Many of the day’s talks involved ongoing work on familiar starship designs. It might sound a bit odd that I should say, “familiar starship designs,” because we haven’t yet built any starships, but anyone familiar with the literature can name off a short list of designs that have currency in the community of those who think about such things. For example, Srikanth Reddy gave a detailed structural analysis of the Daedalus starship design, while Friedwardt Winterberg gave a review of several different familiar starship designs, as did Kelvin Long in his talk, “Rise of the Starships.” Winterberg presented one idea that was unfamiliar to me, which was a way to approach the problem of collisions of a starship with micrometeorites, which would impact with devastating force at relativistic velocities. Winterberg suggested that a matter-anti-matter drive could be occasionally turned around and blasted forward to clear a trail for the starship.

Winterberg prefaced his talk with a wonderful quote from Wernher von Braun:

“The importance of the space program is to build a bridge to the stars, so that when the Sun dies, humanity will not die. The Sun is a star that’s burning up, and when it finally burns up, there will be no Earth… no Mars… no Jupiter.”

This is, of course, the essence of existential risk consciousness, and I think that many of those involved with spaceflight are involved because they see the crucial role that spaceflight plays in existential risk mitigation, even if they have never heard the term, “existential risk.” My co-presentation with Heath Rezabek was focused on existential Risk. Heath started with the outline of the idea and some of his proposals, and I followed with a sketch a existential risk in the context of a growing interstellar civilization.

There were many excellent presentations among the above that I have not mentioned here: Robert Freeland on the use of a magsail to slow down a starship, Gwyn Rosaire on nuclear rockets, who clearly presented nuclear rocket technology as part of a developmental process of starship drives, and Armen Papazian on post-scarcity economics for the space age.

The most widely-ranging talk was that of Georgio Gaviraghi on “A Kardashev III Approach to Extra-Solar Colonization.” Gaviraghi gave his own interpretation of Kardeshev which seems to have become commonplace, but he went much further, speaking of singularities in the plural and suggesting that exponential technological growth may result in a K2 and oK3 civilization much earlier than we usually suppose.

After the individual talks there was a panel discussion during which three questions were asked, the panel discussed them, and audience members commented on them. The questions where whether human beings should wait to go to the stars until we have “fixed” things on earth, whether interstellar exploration should be by AI or should be a strictly human undertaking, and whether some policy needs to be adopted in light of the possibility of encountering alien forms of life. These questions generated a lot of interesting comments.

The discussion of the last of the three questions ranged widely over proposed rules for contact with alien life and the unlikelihood that any policy would be impossible to enforce. Kevin Long asked, “Who speaks for alien life?” Several people suggested that if we encounter alien life we should sample it and leave it alone. Someone asked the equivalent of whether human beings want to be an invasive species. Joe Ritter implied his sympathy for directed panspermia. Many seemed to suggest something like the precautionary principle in any exchanges with alien life, and that we should never bring it back to Earth.

My co-presenter, Heath Rezabek, stood up and gave his perspective on this debate, which I thought was quite interesting. Heath suggested that after human beings have spent some time traveling around the cosmos, and had seen a great many barren rocks, that if, after this, we were to find another beautiful blue-green planet like our own, covered in complex life, by that time we may have realized that such things are rare and ought to be treated with respect. I think there is a lot of merit in this observation, and it also incorporates a developmental perspective on human engagement with the cosmos. While we may not learn out lessons reliably, we do sometimes learn our lessons, so that the possibility can’t simply be dismissed.

There is more to say, and I took lots of notes, but I am tired now and must content myself for the moment with this inadequate sketch of the day.

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Here is the complete program of today’s events:

8:30am Coffee
8:45am Introduction to Day 2
9:00am Keynote: Michael Minovitch, “Interstellar Space Travel with Reasonable Round-trip Travel Times”
9:45am Presentation 1: Jason Cassibry, “Vehicle Requirements for an Alpha Centauri Flyby in 50 Years”
10:10am Presentation 2: Srikanth Reddy, “Structural Analysis of the Daedalus Reaction Chamber & Thrust Structure”
10:35am Break
10:45am Presentation 4: F. Winterberg, “Cheating the Death of the Sun by Relativistic Interstellar Spaceflight”
11:30am Presentation 3: Robert Freeland, “Trading a Mag-Sail vs. Fusion for Full Deceleration”
11:55am Presentation 6: Gwyn Rosaire, “The Nuclear Thermal Rocket’s Role in Promoting Interstellar Exploration”
12:20pm Lunch
1:15pm Keynote: Kelvin Long, “Rise of the Starships”
2:00pm Presentation 7: Armen Papazian, “Money Mechanics for Space”
2:25pm Presentation 8: Chris Wimer, “Using Game Mechanics to Increase Funding and Improve Public Knowledge”
2:50pm Break
3:00pm Presentation 9: Heath Rezabek & Nick Nielsen, “(Xrisk 101) Existential Risk for Interstellar Advocates”
3:25pm Presentation 10: A. Caminoa & G. Gaviraghi, “Critical Path and Interstellar Routes”
3:50pm Presentation 11: A. Caminoa & G. Gaviraghi, “A Kardashev III Approach to Extra-Solar Colonization”
4:15pm Break | Description of Evening Event
4:30pm STARSHIP CONGRESS: Mid-Term Questions
6:00pm Dinner (Individual)
8:00pm Event 2 | “Starship Congress Cocktail Evening with Sarah Jane Pell”

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Thursday


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Day 1 – Interstellar Now (Next 20 Years) | Thursday August 15th, 2013

There is a song by Roger Bartlett that I know from a very early performance by Jimmy Buffett (from his A1A album), which starts out like this:

If you ever get the chance to go to Dallas,
Take it from me, pass it by.
‘Cause you’ll only sing the blues down in Dallas,
Take it from me, don’t go and cry.

I don’t know what happened to either Roger Barlett or Jimmy Buffett in Dallas, but I hope my experiences are not anything like those recounted in the song.

I am in Dallas for the Icarus Intersteller Congress, and I have unfortunately missed the first day. Due to work I couldn’t be here for the events of Thursday.

The Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress is one of three starship gatherings this year, one which already took place in -, this one in Dallas, and the third iteration of the 100YSS conference which will take place in Houston in September of this year (I wrote of these three conferences earlier in Starship Conferences Galore!). I’m sorry to say that I didn’t make the deadline for submitting a proposal for a presentation at this year’s 100YSS, so I won’t be going this year.

Here’s what I’ve missed so far:

8:00am Registration Open | Coffee
9:00am Introduction to Day 1
9:15am Keynote: Jim Benford, “Sail Ships”
10:00am Presentation 1: Les Johnson, “Status of Solar Sail Propulsion: Sneaking up on an Interstellar Capability”
10:25am Presentation 2: Charles Quarra, “The Laser Starway: a Light Bridge to the Closest Stars”
10:50am Break
11:00am Presentation 3: Eric Malroy, “Lightsails and Nanotech”
11:25am Presentation 4: Martin Halbert, “Scenarios for Long-term Interstellar Distributed Data Networks”
11:50am Presentation 5: D. Messerschmitt, “Interstellar Communications Design to Minimize Energy Consumption”
12:15pm Lunch; “Starship Century” (Jim Benford) and “Going Interstellar” (Les Johnson) Book Signing Event
1:15pm Keynote: Pavel Tsvetkov, “Direct Fission Fragment Energy Conversion for Near-Term Interstellar Exploration”
2:00pm Presentation 6: John Hunter, “The Hydrogen Gas Gun: Part of the Interstellar Roadmap”
2:25pm Presentation 7: Rob Adams, “Building, Repairing and Upgrading Vehicles in Space”
2:50pm Break
3:00pm Presentation 8: Philip Lubin, “DE-STAR – Beamed Relativistic Propulsion”
3:25pm Presentation 9: Andreas Tziolas, “Project Tin-Tin: Interstellar Nano-Probes”
3:50pm Presentation 10: Buldrini & Seifert, “Innovative Ultra-FEEP Thrusters for Interstellar Precursor Missions”
4:15pm Break | Description of Evening Event
4:30pm STARSHIP CONGRESS: Near-Term Questions
6:00pm Dinner (Individual)
8:00pm Event 1 | “Stakeholder Stage: Celebrating the Impact of DARPA 2011″

That’s a lot to miss in one day.

The plan of the Starship Congress is for day one to focus on the next twenty years, day two to focus on 20 to 50 years in the future, day three to focus on events beyond 50 years, and on the fourth day there will be a summary of the events of the congress.

Tomorrow I am to give a joint presentation with Heath Rezabak on “Existential Risk for Interstellar Advocates,” so wish me luck. If you can show up to be in my cheering section, all the better.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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