Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Chatoc Monster of Eden

In my book, ABYSS OF ELYSIUM, part of the story is about the most advanced life support system ever conceived by man. It is the life support system that will keep a human colony alive on Mars – or the moon or in a space colony – or anywhere man needs to breathe, eat, live and survive. Today’s Astronauts like to keep their life support system automated, invisible and in the background. Tomorrow’s astronauts will hopefully be much smarter than that.

While it is true that we may be able to set out and go to Mars for a 1000 day mission – the minimum possible run with today’s technology, it is not altogether certain we have the technology to do so. We can treat it like a grand SCUBA dive and bring our oxygen in a can and scoop up our carbon dioxide with chemicals or resins, eat out of a bag, store our bodily wastes in plastic or blow them out the hatch. But that is one hell of an expensive ride, considering one gallon of water using Apollo technology costs nearly half a million dollars (today’s version of that is even more expensive – but no one is able to figure it out yet).

But complex, advanced life support systems are – well – complex. They are nefariously moody and temperamental. In fact, they mimic the planetary atmosphere and energy balance and all the king’s Cray supercomputers and all the king's geeks still can’t reliably figure it out for more than a few days. In other words, advanced life support systems are inherently chaotic systems. And if you catch one in a particularly bad mood on any given day – it can and will kill you and your crew in a hurry.

What I am driving at here, of course, is a key question – THE key question: what is this dilemma going to cost me? Plenty. And you’re going to pay it. How do I know that? Two reasons: you can’t go where you want to go without it. And two: the first nation that figures it out will rule everything above your head all the way on out to infinity.

Ah – so now am I’m talking about a strategic technology? Yes I am. The sad part about this strategic technology is this: no one in any position of authority has figured this out yet. And if they did, the money would never ever flow toward rockets but toward the research that would make it necessary to build the rockets in the first place.

As concisely as I can state it – one of these days soon we’re going to wake up with a rocket and no place to go. Why? One of these research enterprises will take more than a decade to mount, launch and finish and will cost billions of committed dollars. The nation that does it first will rule the known solar system while everybody plays catch-up. Meanwhile, all eyes are eagerly cast to the skies not giving a moment’s thought to the attached lungs and stomach which will remain disappointingly empty.