Commentary: Stephen Hawking on Interstellar Space Colonization

AKA The Human Future or SciFi Fantasy?
AKA Charlie Stross Eats Own Foot

Original Article by a Staff Writer for the Daily Galaxy – Commentary by FHE

Steven Hawking, believing as do we here at FHE, that the earth has a good likelihood of soon (within 1,000 years) being wiped out by global warming, a genetically engineered virus, nuclear war, a rogue comet or Black Hole or the like, has warned and advised that heading to colonize interstellar space ASAP represents the human race’s best hope for survival – e.g. the future of human evolution continued.

NASA historian Steven Dick and Robotics pundit Hans Moravec also subscribe to our primary human survival risk mitigation strategy of getting the hell off the planet – albeit with a homogenous twist that we present as only one of several options. They believe that human evolution will lead solely to future humans to becoming greatly evolved machines that can self-replicate and spread earth life.

Terrific. We’re all agreed. Woo Hoo.

Oh wait, here comes a Scottish, old-enough-to-know-better, science-fiction author named Charlie Stross who has apparently written multiple, off-world, and even alien pieces, showing his what? Senility? Incredible lack of vision? Unimaginative disposition?. He actually wrote (in real words) on his (yes public) blog that he thinks it’s impossible we will colonize space except by use of ‘….a magic wand’. He calls the risk mitigation driver “sentimentality” and our concern for the well-being of our descendants irrelevant (as we will be dead and human extinction should not matter to us).

interstellar-colonization-stephen-hawking-vs-charlie-stross

The best part of the article, and if there is a god may he forgive me for releasing this sentiment out into the universe lest it encourage others to continue the practice, is in the comments to his blog. Good fun and a great lashing for advertising his complete idiocy.

Some comments castigated him for not taking into account the abilities of future civilization types and basing his arguments on today’s technology- worse, given that he is (supposed to be) a transhumanist and a fiction writer of some repute they argue that he would do well to consider the likelihood of a post-singularity civilization and its achievements and not to consider biological humans as having the only part to play in space but that it may be the work of robots and cyborgs.

Besides the fact that I am terribly fascinated by the dichotomy of how a man can earn a living writing off-world science
fiction and not believe we can make it off-world, I absolutely loved this following chastisement the BEST:

“He [Stross] should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we’re talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial super intelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.”

Say Whaaaat?  How and When did I miss the invitation to the convention during which we all got together to scientifically classify and create famous-name/techno-buzzword combination nomenclature for imaginary future civilizations. I want on that mailing list. I hope next year’s is in Las Vegas!

Final Words: Dear Chuck, you are hereby officially notified that your editor must read everything you post from now on. You’re ruining Imagination’s reputation.

*Original in http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/08/space-colonization-the-human-future-or-scifi-fantasy.html

Conclusion and References

Nanomaterials on Earth and Beyond Series

Conclusion:

This article only glances over the many ways in which nanotechnology is changing how things are built on earth and a few ideas on how it can help our journey into space.  Advances in nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes are setting the precedence for making light weight solar sails, advanced energy storage devices, star-trek like tri-coders, and the space elevator.  Nanomaterials injected into concrete and steel has resulted in high strength and light-weight materials that can withstand harsh conditions on earth and elsewhere.  Several research and development activities around the world are constantly improving these materials’ properties and introducing several new nanotechnology-based products.

References:

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Osburn, L, “Literature review on the application of titanium dioxide reactive surfaces on urban infrastructure for depolluting and self-cleaning applications”, 5th Post Graduate Conference on Construction Industry Development, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 16-18 March 2008.

Hogan, J, “Smog-busting paint soaks up noxious gases”. New Scientist, 2004.

Guerrini, G.L. et. al., “White cement and photocatalysis Part 1: Fundamentals”, First Arab International Conference and Exhibition on the use of White Cement,  Cairo, Egypt 28-30 April 2008.

Fujishima, A. et. al. , “Titanium dioxide photocatalysis”,  Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology C: Photochemistry Reviews, 2000,  1,1, 1–21.

Halford, B.,  “Building Small: Nanotechnology makes inroads in the construction industry”, Greenharmonyhome.com, June 2011.

DeVolder, M.F.L. et. al., “Carbon Nanotubes: Present and Future Commercial Applications”, Science, 2013, 339, 535-539.

O’Donell, S. et. al. , “Potential Impact of Carbon Nanotube Reinforced Polymer Composite on Commercial Aircraft Performance and Economics”, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2005, 1-10.

Mann, S., “Nanotechnology and Construction”, European Nanotechnology Gateway- Nanoforum Report, 2006.

Bauhofer, W., “A review and analysis of electrical percolation in carbon nanotube polymer composites”, Compos. Sci. Technol. , 2009, 69, 1486.

O’Rouke, M.J. et. al. “Electromagnetic Interference Shielding via Carbon Nanotubes” , Biennial Research and Technology Development Report- Johnson Space Center, 2007, 63-65.

Greenemeier, L., “Staying Out of a Jam: Air Force Looks at Nanotube Sheets for Electromagnetic Shielding”, Scientific America, October 2009. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=carbon-nanotube-emi-protection

Chou, T.W. et. al. , “An assessment of the science and technology of carbon nanotube-based fibers and composites”, Composites Science and Technology, 2010,  70,  1, 1-19.

Coleman, J.N. et. al. “Mechanical Reinforcement of Polymers Using Carbon Nanotubes”, Advanced Materials, 2006, 18, 6, 689-706.

Beigbeder, A. et. al., “Preparation and characterisation of silicone-based coatings filled with carbon nanotubes and natural sepiolite and their application as marine fouling-release coatings”, Biofouling, 2008, 24, 4, 291-302.

Kashiwagi, T. et. al., “Nanoparticle networks reduce the flammability of polymer nanocomposites”, Nat. Mater. , 2005, 4, 928-933.

Grebler, S. et. al. “Nano in the Construction Industry”, Nano Trust Dossiers- Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences , 2012, 32, 1-6.

Sanchez, F. et. al.  “Nanotechnology in concrete-a review.” Construction and Building Materials, 2010, 24, 11, 2060-2071.

The Gärtnerplatz Bridge website, http://www.gaertnerplatzbruecke.de.

Brain, M. “What if we lived on the moon? – Moon Colony Resources”, Howstuffworks website. http://science.howstuffworks.com/what-if-moon-colony1.htm

Peter, C.C. et. al. , “Moon Dust Telescopes, Solar Concentrators, and Structures”, American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #212, #25.07; Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 2008, 40, 223. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080604-lunar-cement.html

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MMFX Steel, http://www.mmfx.com/

Siceloff, S., “Shuttle Liftoffs Require Precision Launch Pad”, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, 2011.  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/launchpadflyout.html

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Placido, F., ‘Thin films and coatings: atomic engineering”, Proceedings, 1st Inter. Symp. on Nanotechnology in Construction, 2003.

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Norris, A. et. al. “Temperature and Moisture monitoring in concrete structures using embedded nanotechnology/Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors”, Construction and Building Materials,2008,  22, 111-120.

Song et. al. “Health monitoring of concrete piles using piezoceramic-based smart aggregates”, Proc. SPIE, Health Monitoring of Structural and Biological Systems, 2010, 7650.

Li et. al.  “Carbon Nanotube Based Chemical Sensors for Space and Terrestrial Applications”, Meet. Abstr., 2009, 19,6, 7-15.

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Intro | Nanomaterials | Nanocrete |
Nanosteel | Nanosurfaces | Nanosensors | Nanoenergy | Space-Elevator | Conclusion-Ref

Bringing it all Together: The Space Elevator

Nanomaterials on Earth and Beyond Series

A Russian scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, first proposed the space elevator in early 1895. It is essentially a long cable extending from earth’s surface into space with its center of mass at geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), 35,786 km in altitude. The cable will have electromagnetic vehicles traveling along it, which would act as a mass transportation system for moving people, payloads, and power between Earth and space. The cable would be tethered to the top of a base tower approximately 50 km tall and the other end attached to a large counterbalance mass beyond geostationary orbit, perhaps an asteroid moved into place for that purpose (42). -article continued below illustration-

nanotechnology-and-the-space-elevator-earth-and-beyond-series

nanotechnology-and-the-space-elevator-earth-and-beyond-series

For space elevator to be a reality, there is a need for very strong materials that don’t collapse on there own weight. CNTs are sought out as the material for building these space elevators. According to Ben Shelef co-founder of the Spaceward Foundation (43), the hindrance for achieving this space elevator technology is the unavailability of a macroscopic thread that takes full advantage of CNTs incredible strength.  Beyond tethering technology, all other challenges are relatively simple. In addition to university research in this topic, NASA has sponsored a $4M Space elevator competition.

Thus with nanotechnology, space flights and space colonization will not be merely science fiction but a reality.

Intro | Nanomaterials | Nanocrete |
Nanosteel | Nanosurfaces | Nanosensors | Nanoenergy | Space-Elevator | Conclusion-Ref

Nanomaterials and Energy

Nanomaterials on Earth and Beyond Series

nano-filled-solar-panel-surfaces-prevent-dust-blockage-for-years

nano-filled-solar-panel-surfaces-prevent-dust-blockage-for-years

Sun is the ubiquitous source of energy in our solar system, and solar cell applications for space date back to 1950. Traditional solar cells made of mostly silicon or germanium are bulky and have very poor efficiency (efficiency is the ratio of the electrical output to the incident energy from sunlight and calculated based on a cells power output, surface area of the cell and the input light).  Because of poor efficiencies (Silicon cells have 18% efficiency) (33) solar cells need to be arranged in large arrays to generate enough power. In fact the mars rover currently has multi-panel solar array for power. The solar panel is subjected to degradation due to anticipated dust coverage on the solar panels. EcoSolargy (34) is attacking this problem on earth using nano- coating techniques mentioned in previous sections to fill tiny holes that typically would accumulate dirt, dust, or water, and has increased efficiency by 35 percent over a 20-year period.  This is a huge step for space installations where sand storms and space dusts are common.

nanomesh-from-graphene_from-nanotechnology-on-earth-and-beyond

Graphene Nanomesh

Nanotechnology is also paving way for flexible, low cost and light weight solar cells especially with organic photovoltaic cells made of graphene and zinc oxide nanowires. Princeton university researchers recently demonstrated 3 times higher efficiency than conventional solar cells by applying a “nano-mesh” to plastics (35). The nano-mesh dampens reflection, traps light and converts them into electrical energy (existing technologies cannot fully capture all the light entering the cell). While these solar cells are marketed towards flexible chargers for laptops and cellphones, “Wall-E” like robots roaming the extra-solar planets’ surfaces or mining asteroids for minerals are not too far in the future.

On the storage side, small amounts of CNT powder (1% by weight) are blended with active materials and a polymer binder (such as LiCoO2 cathodes and graphite anodes) that have wide usage in lithium ion batteries for mobile computers and phones (36). CNTs enhance the capability and cycle life by providing increased electrical connectivity and mechanical integrity. CNTs are also used as catalyst support in fuel cells, which can potentially reduce platinum (Pt) usage by 60% compared with carbon black (37).

nano-enhanced-honda-ultracapacitor-example

nano-enhanced-honda-ultracapacitor-example

Furthermore doping i.e. intentionally introducing impurities into CNTs may enable fuel cells that do not require platinum (Pt) (38). But the most promising of energy storage for space applications would be in ultracapacitors.  Ultracapacitors can store significantly more charge than regular capacitors, they can be recharged within seconds over a million times, have 10 to 100 times greater power densities, and can hold that charge over a very long period (39). CNT used in a 40-F ultracapacitors (40) produced an energy density (amount of energy stored per unit volume) of 16 Wh/Kg and a power density (amount of power stored per unit volume) of 10 KW/kg (a standard Li-Ion battery has a power density of 250-340 W/kg at 3.5 V).Accelerated testing forecasted a 16-year lifetime for these batteries.  Ultracapacitors could be applied to many emerging technologies such as electric vehicles (NASA has been testing this technology on their light hybrid electric transit buses), satellite propulsion and pulse power applications (41).

An important application where all the technologies mentioned earlier in this article will have a huge impact is in the realization of a “space elevator”.

Intro | Nanomaterials | Nanocrete |
Nanosteel | Nanosurfaces | Nanosensors | Nanoenergy | Space-Elevator | Conclusion-Ref