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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Beyond the Limits to Growth: Social Implications of a Bold Business Venture 

NASA, Artist concept by Denise Watt.
The Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” scenario that has had a profound impact on economic and social policies around the world is based on an model, generated on a mainframe computer forty years ago, assuming that the Earth and its resources are a closed system. In other words, material inputs to production originate only from the Earth itself and residual material from that production remain on the Earth. The “Limits” scenario has, to varying degrees, affected the environmental and industrial policies of various nations over the past few decades. The impact of complex environmental regulation on business is, at least in part, based on this world view.
But the “Limits to Growth” scenario, the modern incarnation of the older Malthusian world view, has had even more profound social consequences through its emphasis on the impact of supposed “overpopulation” on the planet and its resources. Overt population control measures, particularly the brutal one-child policy in China, are a direct threat to human life and liberty. However, a population control influence can be seen on more subtle issues around the world. The demographic trends seen in the “graying” of developed and developing nations indicate a population control effect already underway. Many would even see the recent controversial health care mandates in the US that impact religious, personal and economic liberties as having a population control agenda among the motivations. Thus, any development that either validates or calls into question the “Limits to Growth” scenario can have a profound effect on life in our society and the future of our civilization.
But what if the fundamental assumption of Earth as a closed system is called into question? What if humans have access to resources beyond Earth and are able to relocate some of our heavy industrial activity away from our home planet?
Today’s announcement of the Planetary Resources venture inaugurates an incremental plan that starts with affordable prospecting of Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) but that could lead to actual mining of materials for use in space and on Earth at a time far sooner than many had previously imagined practical. Use of resources from the Moon or asteroids is a prospect that has been discussed by some for many decades. But the difference between dreams and a serious venture is the commitment of serious money to a project. This is a bold venture and there is a great possibility it will not succeed. In that case, though, others will learn from it and some will eventually succeed. History may regard that today’s announcement as the turning point toward a growing extraterrestrial economy.
The proponents of Limits to Growth are not likely to just fold up their tent and go away. In fact, this year’s fortieth anniversary of “Limits to Growth” will probably see its advocates double down on the pessimistic scenario.
It should be said that the opening up of vast new resources does not diminish the case for responsible stewardship of resources on Earth or in space. Also, these social issues may continue to be struggled over on other grounds (“prolife” v. “prochoice”, etc.) However, they should not be decided based on unwarranted fears based on a faulty model using a flawed premise.
The availability of vast new quantities of resources can change social views on the future of civilization, in particular on our ability to welcome future generations by providing them with more abundant resources. In the 21st Century, we are beginning to realize the moral imperative behind human expansion into space: providing resources and opportunities for future generations.

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Spece Resource Business Venture Announced 

NASA, Artist concept by Denise Watt.
After several days of increasingly detailed media reports, Planetary Resources today announced its asteroid prospecting and mining business plan. The consortium was formed by a number of well known billionaire investors assisted by distinguished technical experts including a former astronaut and a famous filmmaker.
The venture, which was hinted at last week and formally unveiled Tuesday at Seattle's Museum of Flight, is sufficiently down to Earth to attract funding from such A-list investors as Google CEO Larry Page, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr. and spacefaring software executive Charles Simonyi. Filmmaker James Cameron has signed on as a senior adviser.
The plan is taking an incremental approach, starting with low cost telescopes in Earth Orbit that will survey for promising Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and later will advance to more sophisticated up close prospecting of prime asteroid candidates. Eventually, resource rich asteroids will be selected for extraction of materials ranging from water, which yields hydrogen and oxygen, enabling more affordable deep space travel, to premium minerals, including platinum grade metals, that have numerous applications on Earth and in space.
Use of resources from the Moon or asteroids is a prospect that has been discussed by some for many decades. But the difference between dreams and a serious venture is the commitment of serious money to a project. This is a bold venture and there is a great possibility it will not succeed. In that case, though, others will learn from it and some will eventually succeed. History may regard that today’s announcement as the turning point toward a growing extraterrestrial economy. Humanity will have access to resources beyond Earth and we will be able to relocate some of our heavy industrial activity away from our home planet.
In the 21st Century, we are beginning to realize the moral imperative behind human expansion into space: providing resources and opportunities for future generations.
UPDATE: Here is a compendium of Space.com features on the Planetary Resources Venture and here are some Spacetoday.net media links.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Blogroll Catch Up 

Been overdue on keeping my blog roll up with the times, so I've just added a few links. Two new effective prolife efforts have emerged in the past few years so I've added 40 Days for Life and Live Action to the blog roll. Also, catching up with Jeff Foust's prolific space new media journalism presence, I've added The Space Review and, in the blogs section, NewSpace Journal.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yuri's Night 



It's that time of year for Yuri's Night, marking the April 12 anniversaries of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering spaceflight (1961) and the first US Space Shuttle flight (1981). Many of the Yuri's Night events are being held tonight and this weekend.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Circus on the Severn Folds Its Tent for the Year (Maybe) 

The Maryland General Assembly finally adjourned for its 2012 session Monday night with the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate pointing fingers at each other over failure to pass a budget-tax plan. Maryland residents have been spared some of the worst contemplated tax increases for now anyway, though assembly leaders and Governor O'Malley hint that a special session might be called later in the year if they get their act together.

Meanwhile, the Assembly session did enough damage already, highlighted by the passage of a "Same Sex Marriage" bill that has generated a movement to enable the voters to revisit the issue in November.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Have a Blessed and Happy Easter! 

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
"Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day."
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Lk 24:1-12

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Homesteading the Frontier 


Rand Simberg and James Dunstan answer questions at this morning's briefing on space property rights.

I attended a Capitol Hill briefing this morning organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Space consultant Rand Simberg presented a proposal for a "Space Homestead Act", in which the US government would recognize property claims on the Moon and elsewhere in space under certain specified conditions. The proposal is here (pdf).

Attorney James Dunstan, while agreeing with Simberg's goal for space property rights, recommends a more incremental approach which he says is already underway, as he describes in his article here (pdf).

Whatever specific approach is taken, both speakers and the CEI agree that it is important to engage the conversation, as ensuring credible space property claims are recognized is a critical condition for opening the frontier in space to significant development and eventual settlement.

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Primary Results 

Mitt Romney was the winner of the primaries held in Maryland, DC and Wisconsin on Tuesday. With Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul showing no signs that they are about to quit, the presidential race will play itself out a while longer. Meanwhile, the Maryland House and Senate nominees of both parties are now lined up for the November general election.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Holy Week 2012 

This week is the one considered Holy by many with a strong Faith in God. For Christians, it is the observance of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the most pivotal events of human history. The Easter Triduum as observed in the Catholic Church is described here. Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI began Holy Week observances with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square

This year, it also happens that Friday night is the start of the Jewish observance of Passover, the celebration of the Jews' passing over to freedom from the bondage of slavery they suffered in Egypt. This event was a historical manifestation of God's power recognized by Jews and Christians alike.

May this week of Holy Days bring blessings and peace to all.

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60 Minutes Does Space 

The CBS Sunday evening show Sixty Minutes has covered developments in the space industry twice in the last two weeks. Last night's segment focused on the hard times facing workers who worked for decades supporting the now-retired Space Shuttle Program. The link to the video is here.

Two weeks ago, Sixty Minutes focused on SpaceX, one of the companies developing the means to restore US access to space through NASA's program to procure commercial services to transport crew members to the International Space Station. Some key members of Congress from both parties are hesitant to fully embrace this approach, though it appears to be the most realistic way to shorten the gap in US human space access. The link to the video for this segment is here

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