The Rivers of Progress

Most if not all people disagreed with my thoughts on bringing in various technologies in the last few posts about the architecture Doug Plata is laying out at On many blogs, and especially with many of the commenters  on those blogs, I could dismiss their concerns almost out of hand and be right most of the time. On this blog, and with the known high quality of the majority of the commenters disagreeing with me, there is necessarily something else going on. Obviously I could be wrong with them pointing it out. Or there could be misunderstanding as I am not a professional writer that is crystal clear in laying out my ideas.

There is another possibility that came up in the email exchanges with Doug. How many of the disagreements spring from variations in  the ideological base of the individuals involved. Life experiences and historical knowledge of space development does not resolve our differences. It can explain some of them so that we can move forward in developing ideas and eventually hardware.

Our viewpoints on space development could be viewed in the way a river develops. Most rivers in the eastern US grow on their way to the ocean. Rivulets, and creeks, and canals, other rivers, and lakes feed them up as they flow such that the river at the ocean is huge compared to its’ humble origins. In the southwestern US, some rivers have some of their vitality tapped off in so many places that the flow at the ocean is a fraction of the size of some upstream locations. Cities and farms and dams can reduce it to nothing in some cases. There are lawsuits about upstream usage before downstream availability.

Some of the discussion about space development mirrors river development. The question being if a given technology or suggestion is a tributary making the river bigger and stronger. Or is it a city or irrigation system draining the vital juices preventing the full flow to the destination. Much of spaceflight history is that of pet projects and congressional set asides draining the river en route such that the salt water flows upstream into the delta regions poisoning the  freshwater plants that depend on the river. SLS is the current flagship for that view with the funds going to it and its’ precursors being more than sufficient for real progress if it had been properly focused. SLS could be seen as a city in the desert that built a dam that keeps the water from flowing to the downstream drought.

The various ideas I throw out could be tributaries or dams depending on the ideological approach involved. If funds are diverted from the main goals for endless toy  development, potential dam. If they must fund their own way to the river, potential tributary. Whether or not the technology of a concept will work is important. Where the funding comes from, and which strings are pulled to get it is critical.

So in the recent discussions, who is right? There are a lot of variables that could make it either, both, or neither.

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I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.

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8 Responses to The Rivers of Progress

  1. DougSpace says:

    Hi John. When I requested a review of my architecture, I didn’t intend for it to cause five lengthy posts. I’m wondering if this is all a bit much.

  2. john hare says:

    My apologies Doug,

    I tend to post when I have time, have something that interests me, and haven’t worn out before. I’ve had more time than usual lately, Lunar development interests me, and I haven’t really blogged about other peoples’ Lunar development architectures before. Obviously I have no experience in reviewing or I would have gone through your architecture point by point in proper sequence instead of piling on my own prejudices. The later posts are more justifications of the divergences in the early posts than anything else.

    Also, along with most commenters here, I tend to notice things I would have done differently or disagree on. Your inflatable habitat seems clean and logical for instance, so I skipped it, along with all the other sections I agree on.

  3. Paul451 says:

    It was fun to see a bit of activity on the site and play with some ideas.

    Moar posts!

  4. matterbeam says:

    While I appreciate the discussion of promising near future technologies, especially the lunar rotovator, I had to consider their worth in light of the ‘within this administration’s term’ objective stated on DougSpace’s website. Technology readiness is primordial, and so rotovators did not seem appropriate to me.


    If a permanent lunar base is established, with funding secured for a sufficient period, then it would be the perfect stepping stone to launch off a serious study of potential expansions from.

  5. James Walker says:

    Ideological differences are always going to cause problems. There’s a simple way to determine though if an ideological difference is the cause of an argument:

    Is the argument fun?

    If you are on the same ideological page as someone you are arguing with, you will enjoy the argument, as you are both striving towards the same goal, and are implicitly reaffirming each other’s basic beliefs.

    If though you are arguing past each other, finding each other’s comments jarring or even pointless – yep, ideology.

    It’s layered though. Pretty much anyone here will believe that space exploration is good, expansion is good, technology is good; nihilists and Luddites should be thin on the ground. So there is an underlying layer of agreement that you can safely assume – should you run into an ideological problem, try to return to that shared ground, and show *why* what you believe will benefit the shared ground.

    There’s also the possibility of ‘masked’ arguments – seeming to argue for one thing but actually for something else.

    A division that occurred to me today: the push to colonized the outer planets seems linked to the possibilities of mining Deuterium, while the push to colonize Mercury is linked to the development of solar sails.
    So someone arguing for Saturn may actually be pushing for an expansion of thermonuclear science, or visa versa; someone arguing for Mercury for the development of solar sails – or visa versa. Arguing the claimed topic will be fruitless as you aren’t talking about what they really want.

    (Oh, assuming solar sails are the way to go – would this make Venus more interesting, as a supply base of Mercury?)

  6. Paul D. says:

    the push to colonized the outer planets seems linked to the possibilities of mining Deuterium

    What? This makes no sense to me.

    Deuterium is extremely plentiful on Earth. If you want higher D/H isotope ratios (under the somewhat dubious assumption that isotope separation costs will dominate), Mars or (especially) Venus beat the outer solar system (and realize the D/H ratio on the gas giant planets themselves is low, even compared to Earth.)

  7. James Walker says:

    The major proponent seems to be Robert Zubrin, who calls Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as “the Persian Gulf of the Solar System”, as the largest sources of deuterium and helium-3 to drive a fusion economy, with Saturn the most important and most valuable of the three.
    His book “Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization” fleshes this idea out.

    He could well be horribly wrong, I wouldn’t know.

  8. Paul D. says:

    He’s not wrong that the outer solar system is the largest source of deuterium.

    He is wrong if he thinks that means mining deuterium is any kind of reason to go to the outer solar system.

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