The big question: Why go to space at all?

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. To put it bluntly: Why? I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about space exploration and humans living on Mars. I believe deeply in the value of this mission and have done so ever since a crafty Dr Zubrin himself thrust a paperback copy of “The Case for Mars” into my 9 year old mitts on an Australian book tour. Clearly a questionable influence! Personal conviction amongst a tiny minority, however, will only get us so far. Throughout history, space exploration has failed to attract even a weak majority … Continue reading The big question: Why go to space at all?

Mars exploration architecture comparison

Part of my series on misconceptions in space journalism. About a year ago I wrote a blog on lunar exploration architectures. Like the articles written since, I was motivated to convert my confusion and frustration on the subject into a more positive opportunity to explore and explain. The Mars exploration counterpart has been overdue. Like Lunar exploration concepts, there are many different approaches and I think it’s a fair starting point to assume that they are all locally optimal given their own set of (rarely explicitly articulated) assumptions and goals. This blog is a good faith exercise in reverse engineering … Continue reading Mars exploration architecture comparison

Even the dirt is poisonous!

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. NASA’s incredible campaign of rovers and landers have taught us amazing things about the Martian environment. Just in my lifetime, the technocratic dream of building cities has become orders of magnitude more concrete, due in large part to our rapidly expanding knowledge. The human story is so central even to robotic exploration that scarcely a discovery goes by without a series of articles explaining how and why it might make building a city more or less difficult. Many of the blogs in this series riff on this theme. One of … Continue reading Even the dirt is poisonous!

Long duration life support

Part of my series on countering questionably common misconceptions in space journalism. While humans evolved in Africa, they have proven quite versatile and can inhabit perhaps 10% of the Earth’s total surface with a minimum of fuss. That is, neolithic technology is adequate to support human populations anywhere on Earth that isn’t ocean, an ice sheet, above 18,000 feet of altitude, or incredibly hot or dry. That isn’t a dig at neolithic technology. Brilliant humans have existed since the beginning and staying alive back then was much harder than it is now. What I mean is that neolithic technology can … Continue reading Long duration life support

What about Venus?

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. From time to time, one reads of studies promoting the concept of crewed missions to Venus. Usually this crops up as part of the perennial debate about going to the Moon, or Mars, or an asteroid, or a deep space space station, or nowhere at all. “What about Venus?” cry the sorts of people who would jump into a Mac vs PC argument advocating Solaris while fondling a beard that reaches their knees. Reader, this could be me, except I lack the necessary hair production talent. The basic idea is … Continue reading What about Venus?

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is not an instruction manual

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. Well, dear reader(s), we’re getting close to the bitter end here. I’m on shaky ground. This blog is about misconceptions that are neither common nor found in space journalism. But someone once said something that annoyed me and so now we have a blog about it. To begin with the usual disclaimer, I’m not a book critic. Nor have I ever been to the Moon. I have, however, written reviews or technical commentaries on this blog of several books, including “The High Frontier” and “The Martian”. “The Moon is … Continue reading “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is not an instruction manual

Welcome to my secret underground lair!

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. While I’ve amused myself by taking potshots at popular visions for space cities including domes, modular space stations, and O’Neill cylinders, I realized embarrassingly recently that I’d missed yet another terrific example! Tunnels! And secret underground lairs of all kinds. InnSpace Mars city design Of course, the usual disclaimers still apply. I’m a housebound socially isolated COVID-fearing glorified recovering physicist who claims to be able to write software, inelegantly chuntering opinions into the internet’s screaming maelstrom. Isn’t there something more useful I could be doing with my time? More seriously, … Continue reading Welcome to my secret underground lair!

Don’t stage off Starship!

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. The SpaceX Starship is a game changer for space exploration. It is intended to be far bigger, cheaper, versatile, and available than any other launch platform. In particular, it is designed to provide for a yearly orbital capacity measured in millions of tonnes. In SpaceX’s world, the days of parsimonious mass budgets and shoestring exploration plans are gone. The mission is to rapidly build a self-sufficient branch of civilization on another planet, and bombarding it with incredible quantities of cargo is a good start. As SpaceX Mars Development Engineer Paul … Continue reading Don’t stage off Starship!

Let’s breed space humans

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. Space development advocates routinely envision cities in space or on other planets, which implies the eventual existence of humans born off the Earth. For some reason this topic is surprisingly divisive, so I feel compelled to add my voice to the noise. The concern is that humans may be unable to reproduce in a weightless, or reduced gravity environment. For example, the surface of the Moon is 1/6 g, while Mars is about 3/8 g. Both are a lot of fun if you can get time in a vomit comet! … Continue reading Let’s breed space humans

What would it be like to work on Mars?

“[People and robots] wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. In both science fiction and fact-based journalism there are a bewildering variety of future visions for human existence in space. Indeed, a primary function of science fiction is to examine the human condition by juxtaposing our evolutionary legacy with hypothetical future technology. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson used Mars as a fertile landscape to explore alternative sociopolitical structures in his epic Mars trilogy. My … Continue reading What would it be like to work on Mars?