Report from Starship Century

by Paul Gilster on June 14, 2013

We’re fortunate to have had Centauri Dreams regular Adam Crowl not just as an attendee but a speaker at the recent Starship Century symposium in San Diego. Here Adam, in the first of a two-part report, gives us a look at the speakers and their ideas. With regards to comments, please note: In the last week we’ve had a lengthy discussion of inclusivity in the space community that has absorbed two comment threads. Anyone who wants to continue that discussion can do so in our Facebook group. On this site we need to get back on topic, in this case, the ideas on interstellar flight presented at this conference and where they take us.

by Adam Crowl

Adam_Crowl

The Starship is still about 100 years away, but we will begin building it this century. This was the message that Gregory Benford and his mirror-twin, James Benford, were proclaiming together in San Diego, with the help of notables of both science and science fiction. And me. Just how I got involved is another story. Suffice it to say that I know a lot about starships, at least about every variety that has ever been seriously proposed.

The choice of venue and the timing were serendipitous – the Arthur C Clarke Foundation and the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) had been working together on the Arthur C Clarke Center for Human Imagination, and the UCSD is the alma mater of a surprising number of modern day Science-Fiction writers. Over the month of May a variety of events were scheduled, notably a conversation between Jonathan Lethem and Kim Stanley Robinson on May 14, but the biggest was the Starship Century Symposium. Not coincidentally there is also an associated book, though when I began working on my chapter contribution over a year ago I had no inkling of the event coming up. The Symposium provided a good kickoff for the book, which went on sale the first Symposium day.

The details came together quickly and the Symposium proved to be a credit to the organisers. The event proper was on May 21 & 22, but a UCSD function the night before set the scene, with the Chancellor and Sheldon Brown explaining what the Arthur C Clarke Center was and how it came about. UCSD is the alma mater for a surprising number of contemporary SF writers – not just the Benfords, but also David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson and many others – so the idea of Arthur C Clarke’s legacy finding a home there seems fitting.

Across the Pacific

I had arrived in San Diego that afternoon (May 20), after crossing the Pacific with a tail-wind for 12 hours, and had shared a shuttle bus to the La Jolla Shores Hotel, where the invited speakers were staying, with John Cramer. I had met John briefly at the Orlando 100 Year Starship (100YSS) conference, but had corresponded with him on-and-off for some time. He gave me a quick update on his retrocausality experiments (see his Alternate View column for details) and then we arrived. I grew up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast so seeing the Pacific, but looking West, took a moment of reorientation.

Once checked in I needed to stretch my legs so I walked up the nearest street to the local Cafes and shops, only to run into fellow contributor to the book, Ian Crawford – another alien in this strange land of California. We discussed exoplanets and the fate of ocean planets, whether they would dry out or remain drowned, over the aeons. Returning to the hotel to get dressed I ran into Greg Benford – who briefly I confused with his brother Jim, as he was wearing a tie – and had an inkling I might be slightly over-dressed.

As with 100YSS, much of the discussion and interaction happened “off screen”. I spoke to so many people, several of whom told me amazing things, but I then promptly forgot what was on their name-badges. Familiar faces I quickly caught up with, especially Al Jackson, whom Centauri Dreams regulars would know well from Paul’s discussion of Al’s immense contribution to space-flight. Al astounded me by saying he only managed to see one live launch from Cape Canaveral – STS 135 – even though he had worked with many of the Apollo crews in the 1960s. A new face for me was SF writer Allen Steele, whose work I knew of, but hadn’t managed to yet read. A mutual friend, Winchell Chung, has written up much of the technical details of Allen’s novels on his Atomic Rockets website, and has also advised Allen on his more recent works. Other new faces, for me, were the polymath Eric Hughes, who wrote for Wired in the hey-days of Cyber-Punk in the early 1990s; Mark Canter, who is a former editor of Men’s Health magazine and these days writes SF novels with a more anthropological basis, and John Chalmers, an astrobiologist who has worked with Stanley Miller on the chemical origins of life. The audience of Starship Century was of stellar quality, how much more so the speakers.

jackson_steele

Image: Left to right, Al Jackson, Allen Steele, John Cramer and Geoffrey Landis. This and other photos courtesy of Jim Benford.

Drivers for Starflight

Day One, May 22, began with breakfast watching the breakers and discussing interstellar matters with James Benford. Instead of the UCSD Shuttle ride, I had a lift with Jim and Allen Steele as another passenger. Arriving, the puzzle was where to sit. With so many luminaries in attendance, one doesn’t just sit next to Freeman Dyson without introduction. Jim, Greg and Sheldon Brown [video] opened the day officially, and I sat back to listen to Peter Schwartz [video], renowned futurist and long term strategist for some very large companies, discuss the scenarios of the future that might get humanity to the stars.

schwartz

Peter covered three basic scenarios, though many more can be generated. The full details can be found in the Starship Century anthology, but in essence Schwartz saw three ideologies that could launch us to the stars. Firstly, “God’s Galaxy”, which implies a future Earth dominated by religion, sending forth missionaries to the unconverted of the Galaxy. Secondly, “The Dying Earth”, in which we’re seeking a second home, basically the back-story of “Firefly” and countless other SF treatments. Thirdly, “Interstellar Trillionaires”, in which the ultra-rich of a fully developed interplanetary economy launch forth for adventure or curiosity’s sake. Of course, what applies to us might also apply to other civilizations, with the logical implications for Fermi’s Paradox. Peter’s response to that was to suggest that “they” might be too sparsely spread in space-and-time for it to yet be an issue.

Next up was Freeman Dyson [video], who has a deserved reputation as a big thinker, as well as at least one near-miss with a Nobel Prize. In interstellar matters, his seminal popular piece “Interstellar Transport” (1968) described one of the few interstellar propulsion systems we could almost build now – nuclear fusion pulse propulsion. What I hadn’t realised was that the testing ground for “Project Orion”, the USAF/NASA nuclear pulse rocket, was in San Diego – of course, the test models only used high-explosives, but the video available of those tests is quite inspiring.

Since the heady days of the 1960s, Freeman has argued more for biotechnology playing a role in our interstellar plans. His lecture covered several ideas he has produced over the last 50 years, namely plant-derived habitats that we might grow on the cold bodies of the outer solar system, and the most efficient means of getting between the stars – send information. Eventually, he suggests, we might launch “biosphere seeds” to other star systems and grow new habitats for Earth-derived life as well as ourselves. Naturally this had ethical reactions from the audience as well as the rattling of chains by the Ghost of Fermi – if we can do it Out There, why hasn’t Someone done it here? After the lecture, during a break, I suggested to Ian Crawford that we might not know our biosphere’s genome well enough to tell if such a scenario hasn’t happened here.

dyson_benford

Image: Freeman Dyson and James Benford in animated conversation.

If Freeman Dyson created controversy, the next speaker, Robert Zubrin [video], practically invited it by daring to suggest that greenhouse warming might be preferable to billions of people living in poverty. Zubrin’s talk covered the economic Big Picture of what was needed to create an interstellar capable civilization, but also provided a chance for Robert to vent spleen about more radical environmental ideologues. Naturally he has a book which covers that particular argument, so I will refer the reader to that for more details. On interstellar matters, he made a powerful case that 100 to 200 years of continued development would see humanity ready to set forth to the stars in the first generation of fusion-propelled starships.

My one quibble was the “Energy at Retail Prices” fallacy being used to estimate the economic scale of interstellar flight – a 1,000 tonne spaceship moving at 0.1c and using energy at 10% efficiency would cost $125 trillion in energy bought at the retail rate of $0.1/kW-hr. The problem is that one doesn’t buy energy for a starship and just charge up the batteries. Instead a starship is more like an energy generator – using either solar energy or fusion fuels – and this requires a wholly different economic measurement. The estimates can vary significantly as a result.

stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s talk [video] was something else again. Not what I expected from an SF writer at all. Instead of Big Picture discussions, he described a vast 20 kilometer tower that he, and his Arizona State University team, have designed. His talk was thus a detailed look at an advanced theoretical engineering design study in progress. The challenge of such an immense structure, possibly hundreds of millions of tonnes of steel, working in such a changeable environment as the Earth’s atmosphere is fascinating, as is the associated novella in the anthology. But how does it relate to interstellar flight? Naturally the first thing I thought of was as an anchor for a space elevator. Greg Benford suggests another use in the anthology, in his story following as a coda to the Stephenson story. In the current design there is a big empty volume – for future use. A space to fill, for the next generation’s imagination. A reminder, like the Pyramids became, that what one achieves in the present will look different to the people who come after you.

tzf_img_post

{ 31 comments }

A. A. Jackson June 14, 2013 at 10:54

I have three more ‘starship’ conferences to go this year , if another does not spring up I will go to 5 this year!
(One in London in October I found out about at the meeting.)
This San Diego meeting was a gem, Jim and Greg really know to pull off something this good.
I was impressed with UCSD’s campus , had no idea it was so beautiful.

I most impressed with Freeman Dyson’s talk, no surprise, nearly 90, he is still one step ahead of everybody. (See Greg Benford’s review of the new Dyson biography Maverick Genius: The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson
http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v66/i6/p52_s1?bypassSSO=1 )

Whew! Robert Zubrin, what a piece of work, after listing to his talk, if his reasoning is this loose , I don’t really want to read his book.

I liked Geoffrey Landis talk about nuclear rockets , later we both puzzled over was there any of the Rover or Nerva hardware in a museum somewhere, we could not remember ever seeing it.

Paul Davies gave a good talk on the last day, another good speaker, saying there was a big mystery as to how organic life originated for inorganic material. He made a distinction on how the physical sciences and biology went about their business. I did not understand what was on his slide about this, I wanted to ask him why there are such fields as biophysics, biochemistry and molecular biology (I didn’t get a chance to). Francis Crick was , after all, a physicist.

Adam was to modest to mention he gave an excellent summary of the history of interstellar flight propulsion.

Paul Gilster June 14, 2013 at 13:08

I’ve read Adam’s paper, though not the rest of the book yet. The paper was terrific, and broke some new ground that I want to discuss in an upcoming post here. I’ll try to get to that in a week or so. Re NERVA, I thought there was still some hardware in Huntsville?

Gregory Benford June 14, 2013 at 14:46

Good job, Adam!
Zubrin’s economic analysis has a lot of detail he skipped; best to read the whole long article in the book.
On that: a special release of STARSHIP CENTURY is available now at:
https://www.createspace.com/4240458
It’s a big book, half science and half sf, 140,000 words in all.
The official release is mid-August, from Amazon and others, plus ebooks. For now, above is the only way to get it.

Kelvin F.Long June 14, 2013 at 17:29

Great write up Adam,
Looking forward to reading part II.
And well done to the Starship Century organisers for doing such a great job. The live streaming was very much appreciated.

Best wishes
Kelvin F.Long

Eric Hughes June 14, 2013 at 18:28

Just a small correction, Adam. I didn’t write for Wired (not that I recall); Wired wrote about me in the context of cypherpunks, the privacy and cryptography advocacy movement I co-founded.

Adam June 14, 2013 at 19:51

Thanks Eric – better to be the news than write it!

Roland Dobbins June 15, 2013 at 5:30

While listening to Freeman Dyson on any topic is illuminating, why in the world are all you people wasting so much of your valuable time nattering about starships when we don’t even have decent spacesuits which don’t require rebreathing, much less SSTO , SPS, or any form of nuclear propulsion?

Time, effort, and *money* are required to achieve economically viable ongoing access to space. SSTO, decent spacesuits, and young oil-rigger types to wear them are what’s required for on-orbit construction – which is the major gating factor for everything else.

Marc June 15, 2013 at 10:23

Yes, NERVA hardware is in Huntsville. I’d insert the photo here if such postings could handle that.

Marc

johnq June 15, 2013 at 23:06

>why in the world are all you people wasting so much of your valuable time nattering about starships when we don’t even have decent spacesuits which don’t require rebreathing . . .

I doubt the link below from the archives of Dr. Enzmann answers your question, but it does give his always interesting thoughts on the design of a “starsuit” (if you will).

http://enzmannstarship.blogspot.com/2013/05/suited-for-stardom.html

johnq June 15, 2013 at 23:13

>He gave me a quick update on his retro-causality experiments (see his Alternate View column for details)

Forgive me, but the link was only to his website TOC of the collected articles he has done for Analog. It stops at 2011 and I’m fairly certain his work on the retro-causality experiments are more recent than that. I could be wrong. In any event, I could not locate the article in question, which admittedly may entirely be my fault. Could a more precise link be given?

Rob Henry June 16, 2013 at 0:42

Seems that Adam Crowl had the same thoughts as me on that economic model used to estimate when the first starship will be launched, namely that it is too simplistic. I have since revised that opinion for the following reasons…

1) Economic growth has continued so long at such as steady rate throughout the western world since the industrial revolution, that extrapolating it a little further seems one the most reasonable bets in prediction.
2) I no longer believe that the recent uncoupling of gdp from energy usage (as the economy becomes more and more services oriented) is a showstopper. That very uncoupling itself can bee seen as due to a lack of end uses for that energy. Thus if new uses appear (eg building a starship), so should that coupling.
3) The thought that “a starship is more like an energy generator – using either solar energy or fusion fuels – and this requires a wholly different economic measurement” is not the problem it first seems. This may be a true statement but it is surely misleading until you can definitively answer the following. How much is our energy usage due to our ability to buy energy, and how much of it is due to our ability to build machinery that can transform and utilise it.

Rob Henry June 16, 2013 at 1:59

I find the statement about our biosphere being seeded interesting: “ I suggested to Ian Crawford that we might not know our biosphere’s genome well enough to tell if such a scenario hasn’t happened here.”

I have always found the Cambrian explosion too fast for my liking. I note that the eye has often been given as an example of something that would appear on other planets because it seems to have appeared independently about thirty different times during this brief period. The inexplicable bit though is that often these independent origins have appropriated several of the very same precursor genes. The protein crystallin and gene eyeless, are two that spring to mind, but I believe that there are half a dozen others.

Adam June 16, 2013 at 4:21

Hi Roland

No discussion is a waste. And starships are aspirational and inspirational. Also you need to wait for Part 2 for some more near-term concepts. But you clearly missed the fact that Neal Stephenson covered a very near-space concept – the Stratospheric Tower. You will need to read his novella in the anthology for some ideas of how some of your other concerns could be met on the way to the Stars.

As for SSTOs – they are not The Key to Cheap Access To Space (CATS) – after the “Great Disappointment” of the STS and its failed successor, the X-33, I think the development penalty and inherent difficulty of achieving orbit via rockets alone in One Stage, should dissuade anyone of that idea. SKYLON can do it – but it’s only a rocket part of the way. And SpaceX are pursuing CATS by doing it in Two-Stages, as “Apollo” should have taught us +40 years ago.

andy June 16, 2013 at 5:03

I count 20 speakers on the speakers list, of whom only 2 are women. Disappointing, but unfortunately not unexpected. The ethnic backgrounds of the speakers appear to present a similarly disappointing lack of diversity.

Would be interesting to know what the membership of the audience was.

At least, I presume the aim is to get humanity into space, not just have a bunch of white guys playing golf on the Moon again. If so, where are the voices for the rest of humanity?

Doug M. June 16, 2013 at 6:29

Just for the heck of it, I checked out the Zubrin talk.

It was pretty bad. Lots of simple extrapolations. Almost ten minutes spent attacking Malthus and Paul Ehrlich. (There has been some research on growth since 1968. You wouldn’t know it from this, though.) His economic plan for achieving the quadrillion-dollar economy needed for insterstellar flight is — not kidding here — “have lots of babies, let the population grow to 50 billion or so, the private sector will develop fusion power, and off we go”. It wasn’t even a toy model. More like, all we have to do is stand back and this will magically happen. Well, stand back and not let the evil anti-growthers strangle progress. Because you’re either pro-growth or you’re a radical environmentalist who hates humanity. And pro-growth means pro-population growth and pro-burning lots of fossil fuels, because here is a graph that shows that in the past those things were correlated with growth, so they are necessary for growth. So we must not be against population growth or burning more fossil fuels. Seriously: that’s the plan.

Apropos of “we must not stop burning fossil fuels, Carbon is Progress”, did I mention that Zubrin makes a living these days running Pioneer Energy, a consulting company for the oil industry? No? Well, neither did he. Starship Century was an informal gathering of friends, so presumably there was no sort of disclosure requirement.

Also, Helium-3, fuel of the future. Mentioning Lunar Helium-3 as a possible energy source is usually an excellent marker that a talk or paper is not to be taken seriously.

“The United States produces half the world’s inventions.” (It does not.)

“We can make it to the stars, as long as we remain free!” (Yes, because unfree regimes have no track record of achievement in space.)

“Just imagine what would have happened if someone had listened to Malthus and imposed controls on population growth. (We don’t have to imagine it. The Chinese have had strict controls on population growth since 1979.)

“Maybe there’s global warming, I don’t know, I’m not a meteorologist… When I was a boy, the weather was about the same as it is now.” (Good to see a science talk that’s grounded in hard data.)

I’m sure some of the other talks were better; the Stephenson one, in particular, sounds pretty interesting. I picked the Zubrin talk first precisely because I suspected it would be bad. He’s been getting steadily worse for a decade or so now — pretty much since he stopped being an engineer and turned himself into a CEO and op-ed writer. The last time I listened to something of his, he was at least showing real technical chops. This time, not so much.

Doug M.

Doug M. June 16, 2013 at 13:27

Just watched Neal Stephenson’s tower presentation. Much much better, even if it doesn’t really belong here. Moderator Benford attemped t to justify it because “it’s about thinking big”. Yeah, don’t think so. But it was interesting anyway.

I liked that they got a bit into the nitty gritty. And it definitely made me want to read the Landis paper that inspired it. (Which a brief search doesn’t turn up; it doesn’t seem to be the Tsiolkovsky tower one.)

“Go off and play in your sandbox and come back when you’ve solved your little materials problem” made me LOL.

So, this presentation kept my interest, taught me a couple of things I hadn’t known before, gave me a chuckle, and made me want to find out more. Gotta call that a success.

Doug M.

Dmitri June 16, 2013 at 14:05

I’m sorry in advance for off topic but this is relevant as better disclose the truth late than never. I’ve heard the reason of crash by the other plane jet turbulence but I hear first time about the supersonic boom. Anyway it doomed Gagarin and his co-pilot and Tereshkova’s life was decided because of her heroic world statue.

http://rt.com/news/gagarin-death-truth-revealed-674/

Paul Gilster June 16, 2013 at 15:52

andy writes:

At least, I presume the aim is to get humanity into space, not just have a bunch of white guys playing golf on the Moon again. If so, where are the voices for the rest of humanity?

We have talked about multiculturalism and interstellar flight in the course of two threads in the past week; this would be the third, which is why I’m asking people who want to continue with the topic to go to the already existing thread on ‘Public Engagement in Deep Space’:

http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=28005

where further comments can be posted.

Or, if you prefer, feel free to begin a discussion of this on our Facebook group at:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/tauzerofoundation/

coolstar June 16, 2013 at 21:26

Thanks to Doug M. for listing the idiocies of Zubrin’s talk. Had no idea he had become such a wing-nut. I’ve recommended his early books on bootstrapping to Mars to students. Also, I couldn’t agree more with Doug M. about mining He-3 from the moon. Hope you don’t mind if I borrow your line!

Rob Flores June 17, 2013 at 13:53

DOUG M.

Zubrin can go off the edge sometimes,

But I have a question for you.

Do you really think a continuous population decline will
encourgage space exploration/settlement?

If an extra solar planet already has microbial life on, should humans
go and colonize there?

If the Public is not motivated to support substantive space efforts do
you think the elite leaders will?

Maybe It would take extra population growth, strong economies
to push humanity to settle far afield, it has happened that way before.

You can intellectualize motivations to become a spacefaring civilization, but
if they are not grounded in real politics they it’s just an mental exercise.

Gregory Benford June 17, 2013 at 14:06

Thanks to Doug M. for commenting on the Zubrin talk, though he does put words in Zubrin’s mouth. I have yet to see anyone attack his main point about the scaling of GDP with population and time, though.
There’s a to-&-fro about this and other talks at
http://www.starshipcentury.com/category/blog/excerpts/
You can buy a Special Release of the printed book (but not ebooks, until August)
at
https://www.createspace.com/4240458

Doug M. June 17, 2013 at 15:44

@coolstar, be my guest. And Zubrin was always a bit of a winger, but he really seems to have gone off the edge since making the shift from engineer to CEO / pundit a decade or so back.

@Rob, I’m not sure what you mean by “continuous population decline”.

@Gregory, I’m paraphrasing Zubrin, but I don’t believe I’m mischaracterizing him. He really does say that population growth is good, and strongly implies that it’s always good, and that population control is bad. (See, e.g., his Edison/Pasteur example.) And he really does claim that all economic growth up to date has been associated with increased burning of fossil fuels — he had a slide for exactly that point — with the very clear implication that we’d need to continue burning fossil fuels indefinitely (“up to 7200 TW of reserves!”).

As to attacking his main point — sure, world GDP has increased over time. That’s trivial and, frankly, useless; the only conclusion we can draw from it is that if we wait, GDP will continue to grow.

GDP has also increased along with population. Hey, remember what we all learned in freshman stats class about correlation and causation? Does Zubrin demonstrate convincingly that population growth caused GDP growth? No — he doesn’t demonstrate it at all. He just notes that they’re correlated.

Doug M.

Doug M. June 17, 2013 at 16:00

I do note in passing that most current space activity is taking place from countries that have low, zero, or even negative population growth. The sole exception is India.

US — low
EU — low and declining
Russia — negative
China — low and declining
India — moderate
Japan — negative
S. Korea — low and declining
Brazil — low/moderate and declining

No country that has a high rate of population growth currently has a space program, and no country that has a space program has a high rate of population growth.

Doug M.

David Cummings June 18, 2013 at 6:53

I’m a long-term Stephenson fan so I’m going to read more about his tower. I am skeptical about one of its proposed uses: “refueling docked planes”. Exactly how does a jet plane “dock” with a stationary object? Before answering that, here’s another question: What’s the goal of providing this refueling, to allow intercontinental commercial flights? Hmmm…

Anyway, those pushing the idea of the tower should stick to the idea of it being a more efficient way of getting payloads into orbit, though I guess a skeptic could ask: I wonder how many payloads we could get into orbit spending all that tower-construction money on launches with existing rockets?

Anyway, I do promise to read and learn more about this… but only because it’s from Stephenson, who I greatly admire and respect.

One more question: I don’t see in the discussions of this idea any mention of this being built at a very high-altitude location. If not, why not? Why not start from a high base. (If I just missed that, I apologize in advance.)

Rob Flores June 18, 2013 at 15:54

Doug M.

So how will you motivate settlers of human colony to reproduce
to a point of growth. If the colony is many light years away it’s not
as if emigrees could get there in a hurry.

Don’t trivialize population decline, it will have serious consequences
and consequences we probably have not even forseen.

ljk June 19, 2013 at 9:24

Rob Flores said on June 18, 2013 at 15:54:

“Doug M.

“So how will you motivate settlers of human colony to reproduce
to a point of growth. If the colony is many light years away it’s not
as if emigrees could get there in a hurry.

Don’t trivialize population decline, it will have serious consequences
and consequences we probably have not even forseen.”

There is a BIG difference between a colony on an alien world with a few hundred to a few thousand humans and our planet Earth with over seven billion humans at present and growing every second. Space colonization even in the Sol system is not going to be the answer to offsetting human overpopulation here.

And Zubrin was advocating that having fifty billion people on Earth would be great for stimulating space development? Already we are seeing what a rotten economy with no real end in sight is doing to NASA and science in general and somehow 43 billion more mouths to feed will increase the space budgets?

I put this in the same category with those who advocate we need to build Worldships to evacuate at least some of the human population to another star system in the event of an impeding global disaster. In such a situation it is far more likely that mass panic and social collapse will only doom our species to remnants on this planet and any attempt to evacuate off world will only create mobs destroying such efforts in their attempts to either get away or make sure no one else goes, either.

How difficult is it to figure out that a happy, educated public living in a stable society has a much better chance of permanently colonizing and exploring space than a population burdened with survival and the governments that will likely go martial law in their desperate attempts to control the situation.

Doug M. June 19, 2013 at 9:51

I’ve lived for years in as country (Germany) that has had near zero or negative population growth for years now. Not only have they foreseen many of the consequences, but — being German — they’ve planned ahead for them and are now implementing those plans.

I’ve also spent some time in Japan. Japan’s population has been declining for over a decade now; they’re currently losing about 200,000 people per year. And since Japan, unlike Germany, has very low rates of immigration, it looks like it will continue to decline for many years to come. Yet Japan remains one of the world’s most advanced economies. Japan’s economy grew at a rate of 3.5% last quarter (much faster than the US or Britain); the Japanese are world leaders in research and innovation, with the highest per capita rate of approved patents in the world; and Japan has a small but excellent space program.

So while I’m not inclined to trivialize population decline, neither am I buying a toy model that claims output inevitably increases as a power function of rising population. That’s not even wrong.

Doug M.

Dmitri June 19, 2013 at 13:20

Some facts regarding economics of space flight.

Roscosmos asks from NASA for a seat to the ISS $70mln, all inclusive.

Sarah Brightman will be next space tourist to the ISS. The start will be in 2 years and she will spend 10 days on the ISS. Cost – $50 mln.

Roland Dobbins June 22, 2013 at 5:51

@Adam – SSTO was bungled by the U.S. Government, once NASA took over the DC-X and promptly destroyed it. X-33 was never intended to produce flyable hardware, it was a boondoggle program for enriching contractors, that’s all.

And to all those who call Bob Zubrin a ‘wingnut’ – just because someone values actual observable data over the current secular religion of so-called ‘Global Warming’ (or ‘Climate Change’, since it’s obvious no significant warming is taking place) doesn’t make him a ‘nut’ of any variety.

It’s always those who proclaim themselves to be ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ and ‘open-minded’ and ‘tolerant’ who are the quickest to shout down those with whom they disagree.

Doug M. July 1, 2013 at 9:05

Actually, nobody mentioned climate change at all. You’re the one who brought it up.

Doug M.

Doug M. July 1, 2013 at 10:00

No, whoops, I mentioned that Zubrin mentioned it briefly. My bad.

Don’t want to necro a thread, and really don’t want to have another iteration of the online climate change discussion. So I’ll just say that my opinion of Zubrin’s competence and veracity has been falling steadily ever since he stopped being an engineer and turned himself into an op-ed writer, political commentator, and CEO. There was a time when he brought something to the table — new ideas (his “hypersonic skyhook” was a truly novel concept, and has long deserved a closer look), energy, organization, outreach. But that was 20 years ago.

As for “shouting down those who disagree”, Zubrin has done his best to turn the Mars Society — especially its American branch — into a top-down authoritarian system where only the Right Sort of People are welcome. If you’re not an enthusiastic Zubrinite, a libertarian/conservative, or willing to keep your mouth shut, you’re not going to feel very welcome there. Take a look at the current board of directors — Zubrin himself, a far right wing minister who’s associated with the John Birch Society, and a lawyer who’s a libertarian/conservative and a long-time personal friend of Zubrin’s. (And it’s been those same three guys for — what, a decade now? )

My brief against Zubrin isn’t that he’s a wingnut climate change denialist. It’s not even that he’s espousing a silly “population equals growth” economic model (though it is a deeply silly model). It’s that he’s an authoritarian, egocentric jerk who is doing no good, and much harm, to the cause of space advocacy.

Doug M.

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