OMG space is full of radiation, and why I’m not worried

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. “With no magnetic field, Mars has no defense against harsh solar radiation. If I were exposed to it, I’d get so much cancer, the cancer would have cancer.” ― Andy Weir, The Martian “The Martian” is one of the hardest science fiction novels ever written. In a previous post, I gave its technical accuracy an A+. Andy is a smart person who takes the trouble to do the research and get things right. That said, there is a common misconception that humans traveling in space will have their faces melted off by … Continue reading OMG space is full of radiation, and why I’m not worried

On reasoning backwards from architecture to implicit requirements

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. Rigor is the underpinning of success when designing any kind of technological application. Throughout my career I have found myself on the frontiers not only of my own knowledge, but human knowledge in general. There is no handy reference or list of answers to check my work, so I was forced to develop my intuition for detecting problematic reasoning. I routinely employ these skills both to defend my own work against errors and to constructively critique the work of others. In this vein, I have previously I discussed the dangers … Continue reading On reasoning backwards from architecture to implicit requirements

In space, no-one can reason by analogy

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. Humans evolved a rare symbolic reasoning ability during our emergence over the last million or so years. As running apes, we lacked the usual evolutionary features such as sharp teeth, claws, spines, poison, and armor. Instead, we deployed social structures and intelligence to bootstrap science and technology from stone tools to synthetic elements. Symbolic reasoning, and indeed much of scientific progress, is the process of understanding things in terms of other things. By creating abstractions, humans are able to quickly solve new problems, predict the future, and ultimately pass on … Continue reading In space, no-one can reason by analogy

There are no gas stations in space

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. Humans like to reason by analogy. It’s a powerful problem solving technique because so much of our experience generalizes, while first-principles thinking is computationally costly. In space, however, thinking by analogy is almost always wrong, because our terrestrial experience shares so little with the realities of space travel. One concrete example of this is our intuition around fuel. Humans need to eat to stay alive, and similarly we charge our devices and fuel our cars. All of them can perform their essential duties with a well-contained, discrete battery or fuel … Continue reading There are no gas stations in space

No really, space based solar power is not a useful idea, literature review edition

This blog is part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. It’s an extension of my post dismantling the case for space-based solar power. As a writer in the public sphere, I am fortunate to have almost always received positive feedback for my writing. That said, I do listen to criticism and my post on space-based solar power was criticized for failing to address the substantial published literature on this topic. One interlocutor recommended reviewing the Japanese literature on the subject, and provided some links to (English, fortunately) articles on aspects of the problem. While I am … Continue reading No really, space based solar power is not a useful idea, literature review edition

Self replicating robots do not exist

Or, there is no shortcut to industrial transcendence. Part of my series on countering popular misconceptions in space journalism. This blog expands point three of Unpopular Opinions in Space. In previous posts I’ve highlighted the difficulty of profitably selling raw materials in space, whether mined ore, water, or beamed solar power. Without such bulk beachhead products it is difficult to imagine the large scale investment needed to gradually move industry into space. Part of the reason space is so difficult and expensive is that it requires a lot of technically sophisticated hardware to keep humans alive. There are few inhabited … Continue reading Self replicating robots do not exist

There are no known commodity resources in space that could be sold on Earth

This blog is part of a series tackling common misconceptions in space journalism. One common trope of space journalism these days concerns the mining of asteroids or the Moon, sometimes combined with environmental handwringing over the aesthetic destruction we may bring to these soulless dino-killing space rocks. Moon mining, we are told, is a gold rush about to happen. In the process, a few people will get super wealthy selling shovels or shiny metal of some kind, and hopefully a few big cities will get built in space. Indeed, space mining is sometimes seen as the “killer app” necessary to … Continue reading There are no known commodity resources in space that could be sold on Earth