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

Lunar water is not that exciting

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. Water, the staff of life. What a shame, then, that the Earth’s Moon always seemed to be so dry! So dry, in fact, that in most places if there was concrete available it would be a better source of water than average moon dirt. Not everywhere, though. For decades now, permanently shadowed craters near the pole have been thought to trap volatiles, including water, in their intense cold. More recently a series of missions have confirmed the presence of some water. Scarcely a month goes by without some breathless headline … Continue reading Lunar water is not that exciting

Space-based solar power is not a thing

This post is part of a series on common misconceptions in space journalism. It’s also part of the sub-series on space resources, and why commercial exploitation of space resources is less inevitable than you might think. It is an expansion and update of a previous post on some of my¬†unconventional space opinions, all of which will eventually be revisited in this series. In this blog we’re going to avoid reasoning by analogy which, in space, will lead us astray. Space is so different from the familiar here on Earth that the only way to be sure we’re on the right … Continue reading Space-based solar power is not a thing