Living on Earth in a Space Home

We should start building affordable houses that could be used on another planet or moon.  I think it would be interesting if Habitat for Humanity stopped building wood framed houses and started erecting  space worthy homes.  If we could build or deliver a space house for less than a wood framed house we probably should.  We need people of all walks of life to live in a house that would be used in space colonization.  We need human feedback for continuous improvement.  More importantly, we need to mainstream the idea of the next generation of homes.

We are facing climate change and increasing world population.  Some people, perhaps whole towns to cities, will need to be moved due to coastal flooding.  This may be the opportunity to move a large population into space houses.  Let’s face it, moving a large population of people may not be wildly welcomed into an area that struggle with a large population.  This will remove large urban areas from consideration.  Other at risk areas with starvation, drought, or refugees could also limit a relocation.    The good news with a space house is if it can survive space, it can survive some difficult areas of Earth as well.

Granted, it is not realistic to setup a town of space homes and expect the transplanted population to be overjoyed.  Thought and planning is required.  The town would not only need a power supply but also a way of self sustaining.  An autonomous space town would need to produce food, air, and maintain a clean water supply.  It would need a host of structures for administration (what is a town without bureaucracy), town services,  health services, education, and communal areas for meetings and entertainment.  Self reliance will be critical since the town could be placed in a searing hot desert or a frigid tundra.  The  town would easily survive at extremes.  It would not just survive but thrive because this town could be deployed to another planet or moon just as easily as Earth.

So, what is a space home?  A home is where you rest, raise family, cook, entertain,  maintain hygiene, and perhaps work.  Most people would not feel at home if missing  key pieces of what a house should provide.  In the article, Terranormous Space Cities, I explored some of the concepts of home in a space context.  Suffice to say, the house will have enough room and amenities that most people would consider it a home.

A space house needs a few extras than a normal Earth house.  It needs to be modular and easy to attach to larger structures but flexible enough to fit in different footprints.  It would be air locked and could maintain air and water for an extended period of time.  It would be rugged and able to survive some of the worst weather but also radiation and vacuum.  The space house would be networked  and can communicate outside itself.  Communications not only provide the house status as part of a network but is also part of communication between inhabitants of the town.  Simply, the house is integrated into the town and its inhabitants.

Last and as important as a good working bathroom, education.  Space house and town living will be different.  Learning how to live in a sustainable way is important to the house itself but also the town.  There will be new jobs to learn and new ways to contribute.  Perhaps if a space town on Earth is running well it could be selected to move to space.

As humans, we need to explore paradigm shifts in what we consider common place.  A house is a fairly common construct and in some cases unchanged for hundreds of years.  However, our planet is changing as well as population and resources.  We need to think differently starting now.  Creating a new mindset around what a home is would definitely challenge the norm.



Growing Genetically Modified Organisms In Space

There remains much controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  From genetically modified food to plants that produce non-food to bacteria that produce specific molecules.  One of the larger concerns is what happens if a GMO gets loose in the wild.  The results could be a new invasive species to a detrimental affect on the food supply.  However, the chance a GMO gains freedom can be dramatically reduced if they are raised in a space station.

Why grow something in space?  A simple answer would be so we do not need to launch whatever we have grown into space.  That is costly.   Seeds and spores travel  much easier and with far less mass than whole foods.  And yet, I think we will grow food but more likely get GMOs to grow the building blocks for other purposes.  I’m specifically thinking of GMOs that would need little water, nutrient, or substrate to produce a product.    For example, growing the substrate a 3D fabricator can use to print parts.  A bacteria to produce a special fuel or fuel additive.  Maybe we use algae to produce oxygen as the product.  The applications are limited only by genetic modification.

Which gets us back to safety of GMOs and their containment.  Fundamental research for the GMO could take place on Earth but ship the prospective GMO to space to scale up to production.  This reduces large accidental releases at any rate.  The question then is it feasible for Earth based researchers to have a robotic lab in space?  Of course it is.  GMOs can be sent to space in an effectively switched off condition but then converted to the final active form once at the space station.  This would further reduce possible exposures.

Genetically modified organisms will be important to produce the building blocks of space colonization.  Reducing the risk of GMOs to fully enjoy their reward will be critical to their success and ours.

Teranormous Space Cities


If we really want humans to live in space we have to go teranormous when it comes to space cities.  Teranormous is bigger than giganormous which dwarfs meganormous.  We are talking huge and epic.  Stop thinking terrestrially and think what we can do with some real space.  Space that could be in  zero gravity and without fear of falling or heights.  We tend to think within the constraints of needing gravity but what if we didn’t?  Let’s go outside the box and get teranormous.

We should probably set some ground rules.  We will assume air is not an issue nor is zero gravity living.  We will also assume we can build as large as we want and cost is no issue.  Another assumption is we have plants that thrive in zero gravity.  At this point, I may have weeded out all the engineers, scientists, and other pragmatists but let’s continue anyway.

As humans, we are accustomed to walking around outside.  We have the earth below our feet and the sky above.  Between earth and sky are trees, giraffes, houses, skyscrapers, etc.  Tall objects help define our perspective and provide a feeling of space.  In other words, we know when we are outside rather than inside.  We can live inside in a small studio apartment but still be able to walk under the expanse of the sky when outside.  This is all fine and good as we have access to air inside and outside.  In a space city environment, outside the city has no air or a toxic environment.  So, in a small space city environment everything may feel inside.  This could cause feelings of being trapped and unable to get away as everything is basically inside.  This is why teranormous is important.  Creating the feeling of outside will not be possible in a habitat that is not large enough.

When I think habitat my mind wanders to colorful plastic interconnecting tubes hamsters sometimes call their homes.  I think similarly when I think about how we approach space habitats.  They are an up sized version of hamster tubular living.  Personally, I like outside and running around a maze of tubes and having small living space will drive me lemming.  Think of the international space station.  It is modular just like the hamster tubes.  Also, just like a hamster in a plastic ball, a space station person can go on a space walk in a fully enclosed space suit.  A space walk is definitively awesome but still not a walk in the park.  Let’s make a decision now to sparingly use tubular living in our future space cities.  Life is enough of a rat race without introducing hamster living that will drive us all lemming.

Space cities are their own islands.  They may need to create basics just to function.  They would need to produce power at the very least.  However, power is not really a community builder or central theme for a city.  Farming on the other hand does build community as food is central to living.  Perhaps our teranormous city should have vast agrarian centers.    The plants certainly will help produce oxygen and scrub carbon dioxide.  Let’s go one step further and say plants are central to our city and will be incorporated throughout.  Plants not only for food and medicine but also aesthetically and perhaps structurally.  The plants would need to be firmly rooted and since there is no rainfall would also need nutrient and water delivery to the roots.  Let’s also add water to our aesthetics.

Water in zero gravity is a challenge.  Unconstrained it is a floating water sphere or better yet a water balloon looking for impact.  Water is beautiful and although we cannot have ponds, fountains, or waterfalls we can create aquariums.  Aquariums are great because gravity is no issue.  Blending plants and aquariums we get aquaculture.  Imagine floating giant aquariums rich with life with plants growing on the outside in elaborate lattices.  How we live and what we eat can be an integral part of the city.  What if the city was encased in a large sphere but the walls of the sphere was a giant aquarium?  Yup, that’s a whole bunch of water and it may be necessary to store for power, oxygen, fuel, farming, etc.  The shielding and thermodynamic properties of water may be central to the safety of our city.

Where the sidewalk ends is zero gravity.  Up and down will be relative as we move in 3D space rather than 2D ground walking.  We will need a means of propulsion and for that matter braking.  Perhaps air jet propulsion or maybe wings?    At any rate, getting around is a 3D experience and resting means hovering.  No more park benches and of course no sidewalks.  Chairs and tables are things of the past and all is needed is a way to anchor so you don’t accidentally float off.   Restaurants will be interesting.

A reservation at Chez Zero Grav is never boring.  Seating is more like anchor zones.  All food is gelatin.  Just kidding but maybe not.  The days of a glass of lemonade, plate full of fried chicken, coleslaw, potatoes, and gravy are gone.  Food and drinks need to be contained so they don’t float off.  Perhaps places to eat will have pods to eat in so other diners don’t inadvertently start food fights.  Going out on a date to slurp from pouches seems unromantic.  Cuisine will need to be rethought.

Litter and personal hygiene in a teranormous city will be a challenge.  Imagine that guy that throws the gum wrapper on the ‘ground’ in zero gravity.  That gum wrapper will continue to float around in 3D space.  Spitting is definitely out as well as other fluid producing uncivil activities.  A sneeze could be downright catastrophic not only producing fluids but also propelling the sneezer.  Accidental littering of both fluid and solid is going to be a problem.  The air handlers will need to handle not just air particulate like dust but also larger floating debris.  They also can’t be like an occasional sewer drain but would need to be incorporated universally throughout the city.

Home is where you secure your stuff.  Imagine a tidy house with everything in its place.  Now imagine an untidy home with all your stuff floating around and possibly out the door into the neighbor’s window.  In zero gravity having stuff is not easy.  Everything not only needs a place but needs to be put away or off it floats.  Because of this people may just have less stuff.  Other than that, the home is still a place to eat, sleep, and entertain.  More importantly, it is a place of privacy.  Living in a teranormous city means you will need places of privacy.

When personal flying is too far you can ride.  Transportation could have mass flying or more likely be more of a secured train system.  Individual cars of varying sizes will be confined to some kind of track.  The last thing we need is aerial collisions with pedestrians.  Very messy and air handler intensive.

Teranormous allows for comfortable building and pleasing visuals.  The city may be built spheroid and does not need to adhere to building from the ground up.  Building can happen in many dimensions as the structure is not fighting gravity.  However, we must leave space and define outside.  Not only should ample space be between large structures like buildings but also long visual spaces as well.  There may be opportunities to trick the eye and create some interesting open space feeling.

Large meeting areas like stadiums will be important to house entertainment and as a large meeting space.  Just think of all the new zero gravity sports.  Actually, that seems like a great blog post!  More on zero gravity fun later.

To wrap up,  teranormous space cities are epicly huge.  They are full of space that feels like outside with pleasing visuals.  They are zero gravity and all the challenges that brings.  They are their own self sufficient island where water and food are central.  Tubular hamster living is a thing of the past.  Most importantly, teranormous space cities are endearingly called home by their populations.







Space Firsties During the Cold War

The Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States began in 1947 and ended in 1991.  During this time was much political positioning and nuclear proliferation.  But also an exciting space race to not only advance science but also feed the propaganda machines.  Being first was big news.  So, let’s take a look at all the news worthy space firsties of the Cold War.

As I see it, the space race during the Cold War between two super powers is a series of sprints.  Each sprint ending in a clear space firstie.  The Soviet Union and United States with help from World War II rocketry embarked on a race to the final frontier, space.

Initially, There was the sprint to put something into orbit.  The Americans started small with fruit flies where the Soviets let the dogs out as first living things to space.    However, placing an object into orbit was won by the Soviet Union in 1957 with a ball shaped satellite named Sputnik.  Followed quickly by placing the dog, Laika, into orbit.  Wait, how are we getting Laika back?  Apparently de-orbiting was second on the list.  Sorry, Laika.  Anyway, with the success of Sputnik the space race begins but also signals the end of the first sprint.

Score:  Soviets 2, Americans 0

In 1959, the Soviet Union goes big and aims for the moon and America takes some selfies.  However, the Soviet made Luna 1 misses the moon but takes the participation ribbon for the first artificial object leaving Earth’s orbit.  Luna 1 did also detect the first solar winds.  The Americans take the first photograph from orbit with thanks to Explorer 6.

Score:  Soviets 4, Americans 1

Next milestone was the first man into space.  Congratulations to Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union who in 1961 was the first man to space as part of Vostok 1.  The Soviet Union was on a winning streak and in 1965 also added the first space walk to the win column.  Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov performed the first space walk lasting twelve minutes during the Voskhod 2 mission.  The Soviets are making good ground and take a substantial firstie lead.

Score:  Soviets 6, Americans 1

Feeling a little behind in 1961 and to get in the heads of the Soviets, President Kennedy announces that America will land the first man on the moon.  This confidence came from the Freedom 7 (a.k.a Mercury-Redstone) mission. Astronaut, Alan Shepard, racked up the first human-piloted spaceflight, first human-crewed spaceflight, and first complete human spaceflight.  <mic drop>  With a boost of speed in 1962 the United States also takes the first man to orbit the Earth, John Glenn.

The Soviets proving space is not just a man’s playground launched Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova to orbit as part of the 1963  Vostok 6 mission.  The Americans would wait until the Space Shuttle era for their first woman to space.  And in 1983 a mere 20ish years later Sally Ride road the Space Shuttle Challenger into space.  To date, Sally Ride is also the youngest astronaut to space.  However, this is firsties and so no points to the Americans.

Score:  Soviets 7, Americans 5

For a couple years unmanned spacecraft firsts took the spotlight.  In 1965, the Americans have a successful Mars flyby with Mariner 4.   The Soviets insert the Venera 3 probe into Venus orbit and stick the landing in 1966.  Note: as Google searches go I’d stay away from the keywords “probe” and “Venus”.

Then 1966 went crazy with firsties.  The American Gemini 8 manned mission has the first space docking.  The Soviets orbit the moon with the Luna 10 space probe.  The American unmanned lunar lander, Surveyor 1, soft lands on the moon.  The two super powers are neck and neck when tragedy strikes.

Score:  Soviets 9, Americans 8

In 1967, both super powers stumble and briefly fall.  Three astronauts die in the American’s Apollo 1 mission on the launch pad.   The Soviet Soyuz 1 has numerous failures including a parachute not opening killing the astronaut on reentry.  Each super power loses 1 point as set backs.

Score:  Soviets 8, Americans 7

Undeterred the Americans rally.  Apollo 8 orbits the moon and celebrates the fist holiday at the moon, Christmas of 1968.  Yes kids, it is the first time Santa Claus orbited the moon.  Finally, in 1969 Apollo 11 lunar lander and crew lands on the moon.  Since the lander found a sweet parking spot why not get out and look around a bit?  So, Neil Armstrong did just that and became the first man on the moon.  Last, the astronauts launched from the moon and returned to Earth.  All of which was not a hoax perpetrated in a sound studio in Hollywood.  The Americans have taken the lead for he first time in firsts!

Score:  Soviets 8, Americans 10, Santa Claus 1

The Soviets had to do some kind of moon thing to try and tie things up.  In 1970, the Luna 16 robotic probe landed, played in the moon dust, made the first moon pie, and brought the moon pie back to Earth.  By “moon pie” I mean rock.  Go you Luna 16.

Reaching down deep the Soviets spur the living in space part of the race.  Salyut 1 in 1971 becomes the first orbiting space station.  In the same year, three cosmonauts moved in for 23 days with a classified amount of vodka.  However, all three cosmonauts died on reentry.  So, 2 firstie points for first space station and living in it.  Minus 1 point for crew death.  However, the score is now tied!

Score:  Soviets 10, Americans 10

America turns towards more distant frontiers.   Mars is the next place to place a footprint.  In 1971, Mariner 9 orbits and completes the first map of Mars.  Later, in 1976, the Viking 1 orbiter would show Mars smiling.  Clearly shown in the Cydonia region  as revealed by “The face on Mars“.  Smiling in the way the Mona Lisa is smiling at any rate.

The Soviets also are looking for little green peeps in 1971 with a series of Mars firsts.  Mars 2 impacts Mars for a first and not the last crash into Mars.  Mars 3 softly lands and sends signals back to Earth.  This feels like only 1 point as Mars 2 had a greater mission than to just crash.  Giving the Americans a tenuous lead.

Score:  Soviets 11, Americans 12

Pioneer 10 is launched in 1972 and has many firsts.  The first mission to the asteroid belt and leave the inner solar system.  In 1973, the first Jupiter flyby. Ten years later it will be the first spacecraft to leave the solar system and pass Neptune’s orbit in 1983.  Unfortunately, communications were lost in 2003 where it told its sister, Pioneer 11, “I told you so”.  Also unfortunately, Pioneer 11 lost communications ability in 1995.  This gives Pioneer 10 the official robotic firstie last word.  More importantly is Pioneer 10’s stardom (pun intended).  Several science fiction movies have featured Pioneer 10.  Pioneer 10 was always known as a bit of a diva.

Score:  Soviets 11, Americans 15

In 1975, the Soviets collaborate on space and Indian ports.  India builds their first satellite, Aryabhata, which the Soviets launch for India.  The collaboration allowed Soviets to use Indian ports for tracking ships and launching vessels.  A power failure crippled the satellite after four days.  However, the Soviets claimed the satellite worked longer.  This may also be the first intergovernmental space help desk issue.  For the help desk issue I’m giving India the point.

Score:  Soviets 11, Americans 15, India 1

Viking 1 lands on Mars in 1976 and embarks on many firsties for the Americans.  The first ever lander on Mars.  The first clear pictures of Mars up close.  The first testing for biological evidence.  The first accidentally overwritten control software.  Uh, oops.  Mental note, when uploading the new battery software do not make room by deleting the antenna positioning data.

Things are then a  bit slow for three years but they were building years.  In 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are launched.  The Soviet Salyut 6 space station has not one but two docking ends making it the envy of 1977 space stations.  Navstar 1 American made GPS satellite is launched in 1978.

Then 1979 happens.  US built Pioneer 11 is the first to fly by Saturn.  Europe successfully launches its first French built launch vehicle.  Last but certainly not least, Skylab crashes into the Australian grasslands and becomes the first satellite to do so.  I guarantee Skylab hit at least one rabbit but no koalas.

We have not done points for awhile so let’s take a look.   The score is close coming into the Viking 1 paragraph for the super powers.  Viking 1 awards Americans 3 firstie points with no points for software bugs for 18 points.  I’m not rewarding 1977 and 1978.  Pioneer 11 gets a point for Americans but Skylab is a set back point so that is a wash. Europe managed some points as well.  So, looks like we are at Americans 18, Soviets 11, India 1, Europe (thank you France) 1.

The Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off in 1981 as the first reusable orbital space vehicle for a firstie point.  But wait, that’s not all.  In 1983 the first American woman, Sally Ride,  rides to space aboard the Space Shuttle ChallengerValentina Tershkova enjoys a been-there-done-that moment and no point for the Americans.  The first Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU – phonetically pronounced “muh muh you” which is generally accompanied by “gesundheit!”) is the first in untethered spacewalks in 1984 earning a point.  Also in 1984 is the Space Shuttle Challenger crew repair of the Solar Max satellite.  Tragically, both shuttles on later missions were destroyed killing their crews.  Challenger’s tragedy was in 1986 and Columbia’s in 2003.  The 1986 set back loses 1 point.  Recent shuttle missions have been to the International Space Station in case the orbiter became too damaged for reentry the crew would be safe.

In 1985, a comet is buzzed by the International Cometary ExplorerVoyager 2 does a flyby of Uranus.  Heh heh, he said “Uranus”.

Score:  Soviets 11, Americans 20, India 1, Europe 1, International 1

Mr. Gorbachev tear down that wall!  Yup, its 1989 and near the end of the cold war when the Berlin Wall falls.  Voyager 2 zips by Neptune for the first flyby of the blue planet.

Space races take money and resources and when your competition is trying to bankrupt you in an arms race it makes space firsties difficult.  In 1991, the Soviet Union collapses under economic strain and internal conflict.  The last firstie in the Cold War goes to the Americans for an asteroid flyby of 951 Gaspra by the Galileo Jupiter probe.  Galileo is heading to Jupiter to orbit and study the gas giant.

Final Score:  Soviets 11, Americans 22, India 1, Europe 1, International 1

The Soviet Union enjoyed an early lead but in the end the United States takes double the space firsties.  We also start to see international involvement overtime and that is true today.  In 1998, the International Space Station was built in space.  This was a joint effort between the USA (NASA), Russia, Europe (ESA), Canada, and Japan.  The European Space Agency (ESA) alone is most of Europe with 22 member states!  Not to mention all the shared data to scientists around the world.  Space exploration and study has now become a borderless effort and one more akin to an Earth wide effort.  Any firstie now will go in the Earth column.


Special thanks to for an excellent 50 years spaceflight timeline.  Also to Wikipedia for an awesome Timeline of Space Exploration.


Space Data Centers

The letter:

Dear Human,

Would you like to move to space?  Live in comfort at one of many off world locations?  Experience new art, embrace new job opportunities, and try zero G sports.  All of this is waiting for you.  Call us today!


The call back:

<ring … RING!>

operator: Hello, HumansToSpace.  The next chapter of your life begins with us!

caller:  Um … I’m calling about a letter I received regarding off world opportunities …

operator:  YES! <sales pitch here>

caller:  I have a question.  Can I watch my favorite streaming movies and video chat?  I’m also an avid online gamer with a rather large guild doing some epic WoW raids …

operator:  Absolutely!  You can stream any movie or video chat with anyone in the same off world location.  Online games are also available at the same off world location.

caller:  WOAH,  what?!  What happened to the freedom of the internet and social media?  That cannot happen in one location but needs to be available for everyone, everywhere.  I’m a guild master for Thrall’s sake!  I can’t just leave my Earthly guild mates.  If I’m to live off world I can’t just leave my friends.

operator:  Oh, you have friends. <uncomfortable silence>  This certainly makes things harder.  Any interest in the now on sale off world location of Io?

caller:  Not until it has connection with Earth and all off world locations.  Thank you, goodbye.

The above illustrates a few concepts.  The first being that I’m playing with a new way to start a blog post.  More importantly, the internet has provided interconnectedness (not a word, yet) between online humans.  That connectedness (nearly a word) is not something many of us with good relationships would want to give up.  Living off world should never require losing online relationships.  Which is why we need to create the internet in space.

The idea of putting data centers in space is a newer concept.  However, ConnectX is starting to make space data centers a reality.  Fortune had an article covering some of ConnectX’s technology.  Powering with solar is a no-brainer, cooling in space is easy, but transmission technology is the hard part.  How do you get petabytes of data to a space data center in reasonable time?  There are several techniques being researched that can use a laser to carry information or a twisted radio signal.  Certainly, these types of data transmissions are becoming feasible to handle large data transmission.  And with a few name servers, some routing, etc., etc. you get an internet in space.

Why do we care?  One reason is floor space on Earth can be limiting where as space has plenty of room.  Solar is free and there is a lot of it in space with no cloudy days.  So, it is practical.  Moreover, it is important to moving to off world.  As illustrated in the above caller dialogue, most people want the freedom to communicate with whom they choose when they choose.  This means the space web/ internet needs to be available not just rotating around Earth.  Think bigger and webbier (ok, that may never be a word).

The space inter web needs to be available to Earth, the moon, the asteroid belt, moons around Jupiter, moons around Saturn, and beyond.  The Earth is in orbit around the sun so anything in orbit around Earth will move.  Which means a static location will lose touch when the Earth is on the other side of the sun.  Granted there are few static locations in space.  A better example would be a location around Mars would like to communicate with Earth.  Both planets orbit the sun at different velocity.  They will be closer sometimes and much further at other times.  Distance as well as large celestial object blockage erode the orbiting data center idea.

To smooth out data transmission, what is needed are many data centers which redundantly communicate.  Let’s call it a communication array.  I totally stole that from Star Trek!  The array has equidistant communication hubs.  Such that all communication times are about the same.  Also, closer proximity reduces data loss.

Interestingly, there is something like this on the internet.  Amazon Web Services (AWS), which I am most familiar with, has edge points.  Basically, information is copied and cached to the edge points and then when requested from your browser the closest edge point is used.  This reduces the transmission time over the internet.  In other words, someone in Seattle, Washington will have the same download times as someone in Sydney, Australia.

The internet and online relationships are ingrained in many of us and spreading to many more.  We are connected through our laptops, phones, cars, and appliances.   It is unreasonable to think that when we begin to migrate to space that our online experience and interconnectedness should change.







Gamification For Space

There are many little problems or ideas that need to be tested especially around going to and living in space.  Testing ideas on a small scale with large data sets can greatly improve understanding and future success of novel ideas.  The largest pool of testers is everyone with a computer of any kind whether portable, mobile, or not.  The most receptive community within computer owners to test new ideas are gamers.  Gamers are fault tolerant, problem solvers, and tend to be power computing users.  Gamers are a resource to tap for testing new concepts.  That is, if you can make testing a game.

Gamification is using game rules and rewards as an interactive experience.  Learning software for kids has employed gamification for years.  For example, pick the correct letter or number and get a reward like a happy monkey.  Pick the wrong letter or number and the llama is sad.  Pick enough correct letters or numbers and unlock the baby panda.  At any rate, do something good and get a reward or screw up and your llama is sad.  Fairly low risk for incremental reward.

SETI@home has gamified the search for extraterrestrial life.  Download their software and start modeling gobs of radio telescope data.  The data is visualized nicely in a screen saver and the amount of data processed is recorded online.  In essence, turning data processing into a game with points for processing packets of data.  A person can sign up as a user and join groups and be part of a larger community.  User groups apply all member’s processed data.  Each day a user of renown is shown with their data and what groups the user is part.    Users are rewarded by being singled out for running large amounts of data and groups are championed by users to become the numero-uno-head-hancho group.  Be the first to run the data packet that contains an intelligent life signal and completely change humanity’s view of themselves in the universe.  Epic alien pwn!

What we see from kids games to SETI data processing is discreet incremental rewards make the game.  Specifically, atomic sets of work need to be accomplished in order to count towards a reward.  Penalties could set back reward progress or simply not count.  The tricky part is making the work towards a reward meaningful and actually rewarding.  Otherwise, the game will not continue to be played.

It is time to gamify some problems.  Living in space has some complications we would like to resolve or at least test.  Here are a few ideas we could test that could be related to a larger game:  raise your own food, recycle everything, and generate energy.  What we know is each idea needs to have an atomic, step wise progression to rewards.  Perhaps also penalties.  Time to build a game.

A typical game component could be to grow your own food.  There are already plenty of home hydroponic kits.  Nothing new here and the reward is already fresh herbs, etc.  The test is not to grow known plants but to test growing new plants with different nutrients, substrates (what the plant grows in), and light.  To gamify we will need a measurable atomic unit.  Our unit will be the completion of a grow cycle or the time from seed to mature plant.  The data is whatever we want to test.  The reward is completing the growth cycle.  The penalty is not advancing to new types of plants.  Therefore, the growing of a plant needs to be individual and modular to be able to record data and grant reward.

A plant module could contain a seed or seeds, nutrient, substrate, an LED light and sensors.  The module should be cheap to make and easy to distribute.  Setup and data collection must be super simple.  The module should be small and completely recyclable (parallel to recycle game).  Meaningful measurements could be light received per time period, moisture, temperature, root density, pH, ppm of nutrients through electrical conductivity, and/ or photo absorption.  It is important measurements are made by the system at regular intervals and not a human.  However, extra points for comments during the test could be a reward.  Comments could be as simple as “This tastes like licorice.”  or “It tastes like burning!”  At any rate, the data needs to be collected, stored, and transmitted to a central location.

Time to package and transmit some data.  We need to preserve the integrity of the data and make sure it is not changed either erroneously or maliciously.  To do this, all data will need to be packaged and secured during collection and prior to transmitting to a central repository.  The package will have relevant meta information to know what the package contains, dates, and who created.  Also, the package will have a hash created to know if the package was altered, then compressed, and finally secured against change through encryption.  Once the data is transmitted to the central repository an automated vetting process could be employed to remove corrupt data packages.  From collection to transmission the data should not be available to be manipulated.  Also, gaming the system by transmitting fake packages should be protected against.

Time now for some rewards.  Data has been received and found to be intact and without error.  That should be worth some points.  In fact, more points could be given as a bonus for something like uploading 10 packages of data.  More bonus for 25 packages and other milestones.  Get enough points and unlock new plants, new modules, or perhaps a sunflower bobble head.  Reward yourself by unlocking enough points and get a free online course in hydroponics!  Team up and earn rewards for your school.  Rewards can be anything but should be relevant to the game and worth acquiring.

Amplify the game by creating interdependence of modules.  The plant growing module could be receiving energy from the solar panel module and/ or the windowsill wind power module.  The water could be from the water purification/ condensation module.  Extra points for using interdependent modules.  Escalating points for running modules only from power they create.  Perhaps certain mega modules are a connection of a set amount of smaller modules for a specific set of interdependent tests.  Mega modules could really rack up the points fast!  That sunflower bobble head could be yours so much sooner.

Gamification of small tests can create volumes of relevant data.  The rewards can be simple to educational.  However, the greatest reward would be to involve people and make them feel a contributing part of eventually living in space.


Escaping Earth

It is expensive and resource intensive to launch objects into orbit.  NASA’s space shuttle and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 with Dragon are designed to reduce resource and cost of launches.  Recovering spent rockets and of course the vehicle, help to lower costs.  However, turning around a vehicle quickly is still a challenge.  Refueling the rockets is part of the turn around time. What if we did not use rockets and had a system with rapid turn around?  I have an idea and it is not just my own.

I have an idea on how to launch vehicles into orbit without rockets.  Albeit, this is a rather novice view, it may not be completely unfeasible.  What if the vehicle with payload was accelerated overtime in a super accelerator?  Then slowly redirect the vehicle towards space via a very long, angled tunnel.  Take the idea of a supercollider and expand it to a gigantic level and attach a long tunnel off a tangent.  Basically, a circular mass driver.

Let me step you through the process.  An orbital vehicle has been readied with some payload and is entered into the accelerator.  The vehicle hovers in a magnetic field and is accelerated using the same field similar to mag lev.  Prior to acceleration the tunnel has all air removed to become a vacuum.  The vacuum will reduce drag during the acceleration process.  The orbital vehicle has no issue with a vacuum as it will survive the vacuum of space.  The vehicle is then accelerated at 1G  or 1 x Earth’s gravity.  For you math folks 1g = 9.8m/s^2 or 32 ft / s^2 .  Accelerating at 1G is more comfortable for people but other non-human remotely flown payloads could accelerate much faster.  As the vehicle accelerates it tilts onto its side and begins to move to higher acceleration lanes.  This allows for more than one vehicle to be accelerated at once and could also be used to create a controlled deceleration if needed.  The speed of the vehicle has now reached escape velocity of over 40,000 kilometers per hour (25,000 miles per hour), to enter orbit.  When escape velocity is reached the vehicle is launched through a tunnel with a gradual incline.

The tunnel is critical to the rocket-less acceleration.  The gradual incline would cause the vehicle to exit the tunnel at about 2 miles or 3.2 km in elevation.  As an example, Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains is short of this elevation by ~0.62 miles or ~1km.  The elevation is key to lower resistance as the air is thin at that altitude.  At very high speeds slamming into a wall of atmosphere would be like a reverse orbital entry.  Not the most desirable for keeping vehicle stress and damage to a minimum.

I have one last concept to keep this vehicle rocket-less, employ a gyroscope.  As the vehicle is accelerated an on-board gyroscope is also accelerated.  By the time the vehicle exits the tunnel it will have a wound gyroscope that can help with movement in space.  Directing the gyroscope allows for acceleration and braking.

The vehicle itself could be a one time use to space only.  Granted moving from space to Earth is also critical.  However, not all vehicles need to be built for round trip.  A one time use vehicle could be recycled into other space vehicles including a return vehicle.  Building a modular vehicle easily assembled into other vehicles or space station modules greatly increases the value of the launch vehicle.  Therefore, no recovery but rather a vehicle that is easily manufactured and has post launch value.

So, where do we build this colossal accelerator? If we use the Rocky Mountains as the incline then there is some very flat space to the east in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and New Mexico.  Construction like this would create many jobs both high and low tech.  Materials and vehicles would need to be manufactured creating still more jobs.  It would also be safe, clean, quiet technology versus a launch pad with rocket blasts and fuels.  If constructed correctly, it would be something you would want in your backyard.

This is an epic idea that will pay for itself.  Something the entire United States would need to be behind and contributing towards.  A move towards space that has not been seen since JFK’s space race.  It would resoundingly differentiate the United States from other nations.  A new economy with as yet unrealized new jobs would be born around moving payloads to space.  Hopefully, not alienating other nations but bringing all nations together as space becomes easily attainable.  The first nation to accomplish this monumental feat will lead the new space economy.  All because we chose to reignite the space race by not using rockets.






Marooned on Earth

You are marooned on a single planet with over 7 billion of your species.  The population continues to climb and resources are becoming scarce.  Food and potable water are serious issues across the planet.  Mass extinctions are occurring.   Life threatening disease affects over 24 million people on one continent.  Worse, the climate seems to be getting warmer, the seas higher, and the weather more severe.  The near planets are not habitable and take time and resources to reach.  Celestial events like asteroid impacts and massive solar flares could annihilate your species.  In the near term, it looks like you will not be able to leave your planet.  A new mindset may need to be adopted.  The mindset that we are not living on a planet but are marooned and unable to escape.

Take a moment and think of being marooned on a small island.  Survival becomes paramount.  Water, shelter, rescue, and food are the priorities in that order.  Imagine limited resources of food, water, and building supplies compounded with the fact that each week you spend on the island another person appears.  But wait there’s more, on a daily basis the tide gets a little higher.  More people, less resources, dwindling space, and you don’t know when but sometime in the future a tidal wave will hit the island.  There is no hope of rescue.  Only the inhabitants of the island can rescue themselves.  After a quick scouting mission it seems like the islands visible from yours are uninhabitable.  Day to day subsistence living will not save a future generation.  What can you and the people on the island do to ensure their children’s survival?  Perhaps, start looking at what it means to live on the water or on one of the inhospitable islands.

Now imagine the island is Earth, your species is human, and the sea is space.  Deciding to move people to space and other planets is a huge endeavor.  It is hard to obtain ample funding and resources to explore off world living.  It is most likely easier to get funding and resources for a new aircraft carrier.  It may be easier to get an aircraft carrier than a space ship or space station because of the wrong mindset.  We think an aircraft carrier will protect us and this may be true short term.  However, an aircraft carrier may not be able to affect future generations.

Let’s think about our little island again.  Due to dwindling resources and myopia, all the large game and easy to gather food are gone and you are relying on grassy plants and small fish for food.   Faced with dwindling resources and a need to diversify from the island, would a cannon be a welcome suggestion?  In this case, a cannon does not build a boat nor feed anyone.  It could make a good anchor but really is not its purpose.  A cannon is a means to an end which could be used to force boat building or take someone’s food.  However, this is the least industrious way of getting work done.  If the cannon were one choice and the other a sail for the boat, which is the better decision?  Assuming protection is not the immediate concern then a sail would be a welcomed addition to the boat.  What if everyone believed the sail was the best choice and because of this group thinking it reduced the need for the cannon?  If everyone was on-board with the boat and sail idea perhaps future choices about the boat would be much easier.  In other words, if people believe the survival of future generations are paramount then less would be spent on fleeting endeavors like weapons.

Marooned without chance of rescue means survival needs to be prioritized.  Survival in this case is not the current generation but rather two or three generations away.  We need to stop thinking of living on Earth but rather surviving as an entire species.  The best survival of the species would be divergent plans.  A plan to live beneath the sea, a plan to live on another planet, a plan for massive space stations, a plan for moon living, and a plan to expand to the edge of our solar system.  All these plans need to be resourced and begun now.  Our generation may make insignificant progress but no progress is unacceptable.  We need to position future generations to maintain humanities survival.

Two to three generations is not a distant future.  A grandparent looks at the second generation in their grand children.  If really lucky, a great grand parent can glimpse the third generation.  As a grand parent or great grand parent how will you explain to children that a generation believed they were not important enough to survive.  In fact, your generation was so callous you decided not to give them a chance.

How do we survive?  How do we all survive for millennia?  We survive together.  As a species and a planet.  We change our mindset from subsistence to survival.  Survival is based on We not Us and Them.  We all love our children bringing us to the same table, together.  Because, in the end, we are all on the same island, Earth.




Aliens and the Human Brand

If Aliens come to Earth or we run into them in space they may have some prejudice to humans.  Through some off world observation, humans could be perceived as either threats or peaceful.  If humans were a product how have we been marketing ourselves?  What is the human brand?

Humans are a species that use mutually assured destruction to keep the world at peace.  Not necessarily peace of mind but a deterrent to war.  A casual outside viewer may look at this as a bit aggressive.  An alien that does not speak our language or understand our cultures let alone the political landscape might regard humans as hostile.  Humans tend to be wary when first interacting with each other.  As an alien, it would be a safe approach to presume we could be hostile.

This is not to say that humans are always hostile.  Quite the opposite.  We have a love for beauty and art.  We design and build awesome architecture.  We have all kinds of music from classical orchestral to Lady Gaga. We plant gardens and have beautiful flowers with wonderful fragrances.  We enjoy the beauty and company of other species like birds, dogs, cats, hamsters, and other pets.  We can write down our ideas and create literature or compositions for all to enjoy.  We love and care for our children and elderly.  Heck, we have freaking Christmas and New Years with all the decorations, Whos in Whoville, and good will.  It would certainly seem humans would at the very least prefer to be peaceful.

However, looking at a sample of art may elude to a hostile belief.  Just think of all the Jesus nailed to the cross art.  Also, images of God’s wrath like the flood story with Noah.  Without explanation these images seem hostile.  The explanation might not help either.  For example, here is a snippet from a possible conversation with an alien:

Alien: <looking at a crucifix> “Why do you nail prophets to wood?”
Human: “It is wood but we call it a cross.  The cross was used as part of an execution type the Romans employed called crucifixion.”
Alien: “Okay, why kill the prophet?”
Human:  “Because God had a plan that required the prophet, Jesus, to die for our sins.”
Alien:  “Ah … God.  This was the entity who flooded the Earth and reigned fire and brimstone on cities? Or is this the entity that rules in a fiery domain?”
Human:  “The fiery ruler is Satan or the Devil.  Bad people who have sinned go to hell.”
Alien:  “I do not understand. Did Jesus not die for everyone’s sins?”
Human:  “Um … yah.  Maybe ask the Pope in your next meeting?  I’m just trying to take your falafel order.”

I am sure after a better explanation including why wars have been fought over religion will certainly clear up all misunderstandings.  Then again, explaining the cruelty of humans to one another based only on skin color might be tricky.  Especially if all humans look the same to aliens.

Based on a perceived hostile nature of humans I think we may be missing a peaceful alien encounter opportunity.  We may attract the wrong kind of alien.  The alien that would find humanity interesting could be more of a warlord.  A warlord type alien may view humans as a challenge or a hunting trophy.  The movies we make about alien visitation generally confirm this fact.

Looking on the bright side, what if we are visited by a peaceful alien race?  After we get past the pleasantries like “Where are you from?” and “How’s the weather on your planet?” what next?  A whiny list of diseases to cure, technology we want, and pleas to go for joy rides in their space ship?  What do we offer other than never ending requests for help?  After we get an infinite supply of energy, anti-gravity, and gravity generator what then?  What new unknown technology would we receive and what would we do with it?

The computer is a good example of how humans handle new technology.  The personal computer was created and made available to anyone that could afford one.  The number of personal computers in households was initially low.  Why would I want an expensive calculator?  Software was difficult to use relying on function key combinations.  The CRTs where small and monochromatic.  There were no mice and the joystick had no joy.  Not too much fun.

Then games started to be created for the personal computer.  Text based at first then pictures.  Zork and Wizardry dungeon diving games became a must have for the newly created gamer persona.  Personal computers in homes started to increase. CRTs became bigger and had more colors.  The joystick technology moved towards joy but were more meh-sticks.  Games and entertainment started to affect computer sales.

That was the long way of saying we will make a game out of whatever the alien gives us for new technology eventually.  I can already think of some fun applications for the personal black hole generator.  The alien may find turning technology into fun a bit amusing or at least interesting.  Perhaps fun is not an alien concept and could be perceived as rude.  I certainly hope not because amusing generally lasts longer than violent or worse, boring.  It is the primary reason we don’t eat otters.

Whatever alien race contacts us humans it looks like they will decide what they want to do with humanity.  We may have very little say.  Before we have an alien encounter we may want to work on our brand as peaceful humans.  If peaceful is too difficult a brand for humanity then perhaps fun loving would be a good second choice.

Death and How to Ignore a Possible Apocalypse

Knowing we will die, how do we ignore death?  To be precise, how do most humans wake up in the morning and get out of bed knowing they will die at some point?  How do most children after learning about death grow into relatively sane adults?  How do Earthlings ignore the possibility of an extinction level event?

Humans are an interesting animal in that they know they will die and simply try to ignore it.  Humans are sentient meaning they understand the concept of ‘me’ and the concept that ‘me’ will die.  Think back to when you first realized you would one day die.  The realization was probably a bit terrifying but also confusing.  An explanation was certainly required to understand that everyone dies including loved ones.  It also brought other questions like where the hamster ‘farm’ really is located.

Naturally, a discussion is important about what happens after we die.  This is where beatific and horrific views of afterlife expound.  If you are good, you go to some form of heaven. If naughty, you may go to a bad place like hell.  Alas, I am christian, so please feel free to provide your own personal favorite heaven and/or hell.  There is also limbo concepts where it is not heaven nor hell.  Limbo always seemed like an upgraded hell to me.  Afterlife also helps the children understand where the hamster ‘farm’ could be and just how much fun Lucky is having in hamster heaven.

Now I may have some bad news for Lucky and her possible lack of a soul.  To get to afterlife requires a soul or a spirit that is able to move on.  Some afterlife rule making groups do not believe animals have a soul.  As such, animals cannot go to their respective animal heavens.  This concerns me as the sentient animals, the humans, have excluded some really magnificent animals from heaven.  For example, all those images with light streaming from heaven past the white doves now seems so unfair.  Hey look doves it is heaven!  Oh wait, you are not allowed.  I prefer to believe that life is interconnected so that heaven is inclusive rather than exclusive.

Which brings me to my actual point, we can ignore death because we have rationalized around it.  All the above hamster drivel was to illustrate how adept we are at creating an afterlife that helps keep us functioning in life.  It is a natural outcome of sentient questions like “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?”, and “Where will I go?”  Yet, hamsters do not ask these questions but are highly motivated to not die.  They are also pretty keen on running on a wheel for hours.  Perhaps we have a basic will to survive and not give up on life.  The will to survive seems to be something we share with even the smallest forms of life.

Birthdays are a great example of rationalizing death.  Each year you have a birthday and celebrate the day you were born.  However, that is not what is actually happening to you.  Your birthday is a celebration of how long you have lived and been part of your birthday celebration.  Some folks will get upset at the thought of celebrating a birthday.  Others, embarrassed at their age.  The truth is you have survived to your birthday anniversary.  This is an especially powerful thought when you realize you could die at any time.  Life is fragile and from the moment you are born you could die.  Fairly simple.  Therefore, look forward to your birthday and confidently give your age.  You survived and you deserve some recognition.

How are humans able to ignore an impending apocalypse?  Let us first look at the smorgasbord of events that can kill us humans.  A super virus pandemic.  Rapid climate change affecting food growth, water, and spurred by over population.  A good old fashioned hide-under-your-desk nuclear holocaust.  A super volcano eruption like the one under Yellowstone.  Let us all hope Old Faithful stays faithful.  A giant natural gas release from the sea floor.  The magnetic poles shifting where north becomes south and vice versa without the involvement of east and west.  Huge asteroids smashing into Earth like the one that killed the dinosaurs.  A giant solar flare frying away our atmosphere.  A zombie hamster attack.  Agreed, the last event about the hamsters is highly unlikely unless they involve the super virus.  At any rate, we know we will die and worse we know that humanity could become extinct.

Each of the apocalyptic events above do have some meager attention.  There are scientists working on how to circumvent extinction level events.  However, all except the nuclear holocaust are underfunded and understaffed.  It is probably better to describe the efforts as proofs of concepts.  To me, this is what exemplifies ignoring a problem.

Humans have never been so close to doing something about preserving the species.  The advancement of technology is more rapid than ever.  However, we may need key advancements sooner in response to a future solution.  In other words, if we don’t plan and fund our survival now then we may not have the solution when we need it.  I personally do not want to disappoint our future.

The old saying, “Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.”, holds true for humanity’s survival.  As it is important to protect the Earth, so too is it important to not have all the humans in one location.  For humans to avoid extinction we must spread out into space.  We cannot depend on a good defense alone.

Unfortunately, we humans can rationalize ourselves into believing we are safe.   After all, we have this great notion of heaven waiting for us.  We can ignore the possibility that generations or mere years from now we may face an extinction level event. Perhaps it is best not to think about death.  It just makes us all feel strange and uncomfortable.  Then again, we should feel worse for not allowing a future generation to live.