Friday, February 3, 2012

Appraising Emptiness

An Essay on Reasons for Outer Space Operations
and Considerations on AGBases
Agricultural Space Station Bases)

D. M. J. March /Jan2012

In any effort to promote the commercialization of space among the private sector, the significance of the profit motive cannot be understated. Though prize moneys (and the specific competitions they create) are certainly excellent precursors for sustainable development, they ultimately cannot be any more than a component of larger plans. Presently, there still remains the rather significant problem of attracting dedicated investors from among the more traditional financial operators. Solving this requires little; there has only to be a demonstrated need and a viable potential for profit to coax more interest from such capitalists. Meeting such basic requirements of good business can help lead those reluctant moneyed entities to more easily consider a wider frame of thinking on the potential returns from any investment in outer space.
A few sufficiently independent and visionary financial mavericks like Richard Branson, Robert Biggelow, Paul Allen and Elon Musk (to name a few) have apparently already come to appreciate the value of exo-planetary resources enough to enter themselves into the sphere of operations. The main attraction for them right now is the simple notion that it exists and is exotic and people want to go take a look. These adventurers are taking substantial financial liabilities upon themselves personally in the process of trying to push us all a little further out along the edge of the envelope. These are noble and forward thinking pioneers indeed, but we cannot expect them to carry this burden on our behalf indefinitely based strictly on their personal beliefs, fortunes and visions for the future. Each of these people has already helped to inspire a future that few people appreciate at present but which will become more obvious and pronounced as time goes on and more people become involved. Hopefully we will all become more excited at the possibilities above us sooner rather than later.
Nevertheless, because of this yet remaining importance of attracting other vast pools of capital to assist with space projects, we should make every coordinated, public, thoroughgoing effort towards developing a comprehensive common understanding of the resources available in space that are not available here at home (or are really less cost effective on the Earth when all things are considered). We need to figure out the magnitude of value of such heavenly resources to help attract others of slightly less vision, but still with substantial capital and intelligence, into action beyond the Earth. Creating studies and plans around these ends can help to demonstrate the good business sense of choosing space destinations for a corporations future plants, projects and sales markets.

In considering the value of outer space we should obviously take in to account the most prominent feature. First, we notice that space is full of, well, empty space. On this point I think about current terrestrial `space problems` such as the examples of ethnic persecution, urbanization, resource scarcity and the root of all such problems and scarcity; Namely a lack of sufficient growing space. This last phenomena can be clearly observed when we think of the problem of bio-fuel crops taking up arable farmland. This is a relatively new problem and is dependent on two modern phenomena; One, the population is becoming so large that we may be facing a shortage of land for the traditional growing of crops. Two, an evolution towards plant-based energy sources which are renewable and not 'fossil based'.
While many presently argue the pros and cons of agricultural subsidy, the actual land that goes uncultivated in North America (to say nothing of Europe or Asia) is scant indeed. In spite of this maximization of land used for cultivation, through the present system, thousands of people every night go to bed hungry. Many even perish for lack of nourishment. There is obviously no extreme abundance to the point where the overflow satisfies the lowest castes. More to the point, the notion that anyone is concerned about the taking away of agricultural lands for the cultivation of bio-fuels speaks to the fact that if we are not at 'peak agra' right now, we will approach it with certainty as long as the population grows and the land area available for the cultivation of crops remains a finite measure.

There is really no question of the probability of an eventual 'peak agra' situation, there will surely be a lack of sufficient land to indefinitely provide food for the people under the current models. It is a certainty if we intend to remain a mono-planetary species. The only question is; which types of crops are most deserving of terrestrial planting and which might be most reasonably slated for development in other spaces, possibly even spaces far away from the Earth?

For example we must consider it on a profit / gram x acre, basis.

Let us construe a table of totally assumed values for illustration:

Corn -.08
Grapes - .12
GMO Biomass for fuel - .69

It would obviously seem to be in the best interests of cultivators to produce grapes and biomass on their land, while the growing of corn and wheat would be better served by those not so concerned with the profit motive. On the contrary to this however, I would say that it might be more practical to reserve land on earth for the cultivation of cheaper, more widely demanded, food-stuffs while suggesting that more expensive (see profitable i.e. industrial, medical or cosmetic) crops be cultivated off-world to help displace some of the short-

term costs of exo-planetary crop infrastructure development. I moreover propose that massive space based growing platforms for these applications can readily and easily overcome any food related concerns as well as help to develop a reasonable and lasting human labour force in the expanse above. In one design proposal of mine, massive greenhouses could be parked along earths orbit around the sun and shipments could be sent to the planet as it passed by quarterly or whatever. Any such 'retrieval units' would need little more than to be appropriately jettisoned and gravity would pull them in. Of course more elaborate systems could be employed, but the bottom line is that repeated shipments to the platforms would not be required beyond basic chemicals required for the growing ( initial soils and some fertilizers and a few seeds to get it going). Water is the greatest concern but because these types of crude materials can be shipped through a variety of methods which are not dependent on low-g launch systems (mag rail launch, electric rotor arm, etc). A cheap system of repeated upward re-supply should not be unfeasible or contrary to cost effective operations. Also, the impetus to uncover such resource deposits away from the Earth could become more attractive as a system of more regular space infrastructure develops around these initiatives. Getting H20 from the Moon may be cheaper and less harmful to the environment here too depending on the systems employed and the environmental impact assessments.
Planting these stations around our solar orbit may be a tad too ambitious, Lagrange points between the Earth and moon might better serve early efforts. Having them at these L-Points would allow for easier maintenance and also special operations, whereas points along a solar orbit would only be accessible a few times a year and would require otherwise permanent habitation by operators.

The main reason I propose that these AGBases (agro-bases) should be constructed outside of Low Earth is because of their large projected size, the availability of solar energy, and the safety that distance provides from space debris and satellite networks around the planet. These early experiments could also work hand in hand with our initial efforts to push the species further out into space as well. While eventually leaving them at points around our solar orbit would greatly help to enhance our awareness of our place in the solar system, points between the Moon and Earth could quickly help us to understand orbital mechanics better in the main stream. Much depends on how quickly we truly intend to move outward in the coming decades. Regardless though, given the exponential nature of the growth of the species, it is essential that we begin to plan and construct (at least initial) space-agra projects as soon as possible. Any primary investments can surely be recovered later as the need for this infrastructure truly manifests and more people come on board. Waiting until the specter of scarcity raises its head across the North American and European continents should not be an acceptable action plan. Even a severe climate related (or other) food event in the present could result in severe price increase and/or scarcity for many. Having these Agro-projects, even in the developmental phases, can be considered an insurance against such calamity ever striking the population... what's that worth?

With the increased threat of rapid, global, biological contamination also now evident, the very availability of an isolated 'space' in which to conduct cultivation and other sorts of preservationist activity cannot be understated either. There are many many reasons we can note, in both the present and the future, which justify steady and elaborate R&D in the area of outer space agricultural development. In addition to the basic production of these sorts of biomass in space for strictly-human consumption, bio-fuels and other elements can be procured from the 'waste' of simple food production and can then be used in various apparatus. Depending on the scale of operations, this also has the potential of providing an economic and practical reason for continual commercial operation in space, including; fuel sales, the transport of astronauts to private facilities, between facilities for supply or maintenance work, or materials/tools delivery,3D printing, etc, etc. Space is a new frontier for our species, only somewhat less foreboding than the depths of the ocean but space also helps us to map, understand and utilize the ocean whereas the ocean does not provide the same level of return for space, though it is a great training ground for journeys to other worlds. Just as we have a seed bank in the Antarctic, a living storehouse of plants as well as people in space is certainly a valuable and useful precaution at the very least.
There is also presently a great risk of complete GMO contamination for the flora of the Earth. If we were to make any catastrophic mistake in this regard, the effects could mean near-to-total extinction of our species (or several plant species at least) without our having the proper precautions in place. I would strongly advocate that much of any AGBase bio-products could be produced of the “purest” genetic composition and that such heritage should there be intentionally preserved. Heritage plants, as completely free from synthetics and manipulation as possible, would be the only types allowed on select Heritage Class stations. Of course, as part of the nature of space, commercial efforts could also construct modules or stations that have only GMO products which presents its own health and corporate interests not available to heritage-based models or on the Earth.

The bottom line however is that we need to really get to the business of integrating an expended view of space operations within the public domain again. During the former space race everyone from Disney Studios to President Kennedy was producing public information and paying for the airtime to disseminate the work and wonders of this exciting new frontier. We need stimulation in this area more than ever. The outlook for mono-planetary living is not very appealing. Continued threats, wars and depression are the agenda looking forward. We need that nostalgic old inspiration, to create a better place that is working towards a symbiotic and ever expanding relationship with the Earth and all humanity. Space can ultimately be used to help the Earth in any ways that we can presently imagine. This is mostly because, right now, it is basically empty. We have dipped our toes in the ocean of the cosmos, but a time will come where we wade out. Then finally we will find ourselves swimming - sometimes happily sometimes not - but there we will be nevertheless and ever-after, swimming free among and betwixt the infinitely numbered pinpricks of light that beckon us ever further into their embrace.



Image1 : PHOTO FROM EX.29 on ISS. NASA 2011. NASA BLOGS @
Cosmonaut Sergi Volkov tending to little green friends on the ISS. This represents the level of current cultivation on the ISS c.2010-2011.

Image2 : Image by Space Artist Phil Smith. Mars Foundation 2005. Lifeboat @
Rendition of a Canadian Astronaut tending plants on Mars. Illustrating the utility of exo-planetary greenhouses.

Image3 : Photo of Englands largest greenhouse, Thanet Earth. Thanet Earth 2009. Blogspot @
An image from the largest commercial greenhouse in England. Similar in same; Gotham Green


The official NASA Blog.

The site of lifeboat which has a focus on using space for the long term maintenance of humanity and its presence on the Earth.

The site of space artist Phil Smith, please take a look. Inspiring work.

New York arga producer utilizing rooftop greenhouses for the year-round production of approx 100 annual tons of veg.

Proprietors of the largest commercial greenhouse in England.

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