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Reading – WaitButWhy article on SpaceX and colonizing Mars

August 19, 2015


Perspective changing/defining one for lay people like me. Almost everything in this article is very interesting/etc. Still, I collected some gems out of this gem. Just in case its entertaining to read….

Great Gems:

‘For thousands of years, The Story of Humans and Space had been the story of staring out and wondering. The possibility of people leaving our Earth island and venturing out into space burst open the human spirit of adventure.

  1. I imagine a similar feeling in the people of the 15th century, during the Age of Discovery, when we were working our way through the world map chapter of Where Are We? and the notion of cross-ocean voyages dazzled people’s imaginations. If you asked a child in 1495 what they wanted to be when they grew up, “an ocean explorer” would probably have been a common response.In 1970, if you asked a child the same question, the answer would be, “an astronaut”—i.e. a Situation explorer.’
  2. ‘about one-third) of the satellites are much farther out, in a place called geostationary orbit (GEO). It’s right at 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above the Earth…GEO is ideal for something like a TV satellite because a dish on the Earth can aim at the same fixed spot all the time.’
  3. ‘There’s a big problem happening in the world of satellites. In addition to the 1,265 active satellites up in orbit, there are thousands more inactive satellites, as well as a bunch of spent rockets from previous missions. And once in a while, one of them explodes, or two of them collide, creating a ton of tiny fragments called space debris…The issue is that at the incredible speeds at which space objects move (most LEO objects zip along at over 17,000 mph), a collision with even a tiny object can cause devastating damage to an active satellite or spacecraft. An object of only 1 cm at those speeds will cause the same damage in a collision as a smallhand grenade. ‘
  4. ‘Awkwardly, Pluto was still a planet when New Horizons launched, and everyone spent the years following Pluto’s demotion avoiding making eye contact with the New Horizons team.’ [LOL :-)]
  5. ‘Curiosity is a now-famous rover. A car-sized lovable lander robot dropped down on Mars’s surface in 2012, Curiosity is studying a bunch of things inside a large crater, with its primary objective being to figure out if there’s ever been life on Mars.’
  6. ‘An AU is an “astronomical unit”—the distance from the Earth to the sun—which is about 93 million miles (150 million km)..’ [ Voyager 1 is the farthest at 131 AU]
  7. ‘At this rate, Voyager 1 will reach Proxima Centauri, the closest star to us, in about 73,000 years.’ [ Its speed is 61000 km/h! ]
  8. ‘But there came a point when ground telescopes ran into a limit on what they’d be able to see, no matter how advanced they became. You know when you look at a light through a glass of water and the light is all bendy and silly? That’s what’s happening when stars twinkle, except instead of water, we’re looking at them through the Earth’s atmosphere. …….In 1990, NASA launched the first truly badass space telescope, the Hubble.’
  9. They even did some repairs on the hubble telescope, in the space, few years after it was launched. As the lens was slightly off.
  10. ‘As I began working on this post, I realized I didn’t really know what the ISS was for or what anyone did while they were there. Every time I see a video of what goes on inside the space station, it’s just some adult floating around having playtime.’ [LOL :-)]
  11. ‘When a species becomes so powerful that they can achieve giant grand-scale life leaps in under a century, they can essentially play god, in many different ways. Let’s call that reaching the God Point. If progress is indeed accelerating, it makes sense that an advanced species would eventually hit the God Point,’
  12. ‘Musk came up with a way to help—he’d put a plant on Mars. The plan—called Mars Oasis—was to perform a charitable mission to Mars that would carry a small robotic greenhouse to the planet. The greenhouse would use an arm to scoop some Martian soil, plant a seed, and then once a plant had grown, the greenhouse would send back what Musk calls “the money shot”—a photo of a sturdy green plant amidst the alien red background and the first (known) life on Mars.’
  13. ‘But A) I think I’d like to put 1,000,000 people on Mars to B) Now there are 1,000,000 people on Mars—that one seems extra difficult.Elon Musk is more ambitious than you.’
  14. ‘He read books like this and this and this and this and basically memorized all of them. Rocket expert Jim Cantrell, who met Musk around that time and was on the failed trip to Russia with him, says “He would quote passages verbatim from these books. He became very conversant in the material.”2To supplement his reading, Musk asked a lot of questions of a lot of people. Cantrell, who calls Musk “by far the single smartest person that I have ever worked with,”’
  15. ‘As Musk started to talk more and more seriously about making space his next big pursuit, Musk’s friends were worried about him. Wouldn’t you be? Imagine if your friend made a huge amount of money selling an internet business and then told you he was going to spend almost all of it trying to become the first entrepreneur to succeed at building a space launch company—because it was important that human life become multi-planetary. You wouldn’t feel good about this. One of Musk’s friends did his best to talk him out of the insane project by putting together a montage of rockets blowing up and forcing Musk to watch it.But Musk is an odd duck, and he continued along unfazed’
  16. ‘There seem to be lots of stories like this that reflect on SpaceX being unusually meritocratic—I met with Zach Dunn, the Senior Director of Launch Engineering, who seemed to be about 12 years old. Dunn told me he started as an intern just a few years ago. Early on, when he assumed Musk had no idea who he was, Musk surprised him by telling Dunn he thought he was a very strong engineer, which made Dunn realize that Musk is acutely aware of everyone at the company. A few years later, Dunn was put in charge of launch engineering and more than 100 employees’
  17. ‘By the time 2006 rolled around, Musk had decided to revolutionize the automotive industry as a side project, and with $70 million of his PayPal fortune tied up in Tesla, that left about $100 million for SpaceX. Musk said this would be enough for “three or four launches.” ‘
  18. ‘here’s what SpaceX really does: It’s an innovation machine, trying to solve one big problem—the astronomical cost of space travel—because that’s the key to making humanity a space-faring civilization that can become multi-planetary and back itself up on other hard drives. It supports itself by taking things to space for people, for money.’
  19. ‘Let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way right now—Falcon 9 is the world’s largest dick-shaped sculpture. It’s something every SpaceX employee has learned to endure, an unmentionable fact that hovers over their professional lives, and it’s something we’re all going to live with as well’ [LOL 🙂 ]
  20. ‘Falcon 9’s third launch made history again, when on a demo mission for NASA, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to attach to the ISS’
  21. ‘(Falcon 9 Launch) Timing is critical down to the second. Even one second off schedule will mess up the rendezvous with the ISS.’
  22. ‘After the demoralizing third failure of Falcon 1, Musk wrote to his employees, “It is perhaps worth noting that those launch companies that succeeded also took their lumps along the way. A friend of mine wrote to remind me that only 5 of the first 9 Pegasus launches succeeded; 3 of 5 for Ariane; 9 of 20 for Atlas; 9 of 21 for Soyuz; and 9 of 18 for Proton. SpaceX is in this for the long haul and, come hell or high water, we are going to make this work.” This puts SpaceX’s June 2015 failure in perspective and lets it serve more as a reminder of how impressive its 20 for 24 start has been.’
  23. ‘cutting edge technology has made it the world’s cheapest option for space delivery. For years, the US government has relied on two major aerospace companies—Boeing and Lockheed Martin, along with their joint venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA)—for domestic launches. ULA charges the government—and the US taxpayers—$380 million per launch. For a similar launch, the US government only pays SpaceX $133 million.’
  24. ‘A Falcon 9 trip to GTO (the highest satellite orbit) now costs $15 million less than a launch on China’s historically-cheap Long March rocket. As for the other major player in the launch market, Musk has said, “My family fears that the Russians will assassinate me.”’
  25. ‘I asked Musk about the difficulty of competing against ULA. His response: “These are not pushovers, it’s the military-industrial complex. You know in movies, how they do terrible things? Well yeah, those guys.”’ [ just wonder, how even such geniuses are harassed by the entrenched bureaucracy! Even after having proved their clear vantage.]
  26. Rajeev Badyal,SpaceX’s VP of Avionics Engineering, who is in charge of the satellite project ‘explained that SpaceX’s constellation of 4,000 solar-powered satellites will work together intelligently to cover every part of the Earth and beam lightning-fast internet to places where it’s badly needed. He talked about how really only a few places on Earth (Europe, the US, parts of India and East Asia, etc.) are truly blanketed with good internet, and how this would be a game-changer for many other parts of the world’
  27. ‘That’s why SpaceX has a long term plan to build a rocket that will make Falcon 9 look like a hot dog—The Mars Colonial Transporter.The MCT rocket will be a giant, powered by a much more powerful SpaceX engine, called the Raptor, that’s currently in the works—and its spacecraft will be able to hold at least 100 people
  28. ‘Today, no one is talking about Mars, and very few people think of Mars as a relevant part of the near future. But unless I’ve missed something big or something unexpected happens, in about 10–20 years,people will start going to Mars. You could go to Mars in your lifetime. Crazy things are on the horizon.’
  29. ‘“send an automated spaceship to Mars just to make sure you can send something there and back”—this should happen before 2020. Then, there would be a handful of unmanned cargo missions to bring equipment, habitats, and supplies, so that when the first people start arriving, they’ll be able to not die—they’ll need access to water, a place to live, the tools to convert compounds on Mars to oxygen, fertilizer to grow crops, etc’
  30. ‘“It’s not going to be a vacation jaunt. It’s going to be saving up all your money and selling all your stuff, like when people moved to the early American colonies.”1 But he also points to the excitement and novelty of getting to found a new land—an experience that stopped being possible on Earth centuries ago: ‘
  31. ‘While we were on the topic, I asked Musk what he thought the government of Mars would be like. His answer: “Creating the Mars government will be like creating the United States. It’s an opportunity to reboot government and say from first principles, ‘What should government look like?’ I suspect people would do more of direct democracy than representative one. In the old days, it would take three months to take a vote—there was no mail system, mail barely worked and would take weeks, and a lot of people couldn’t read or write. It was extremely unwieldy so they had to have a representative democracy. On Mars, there could be instant electronic voting on issues, which would be much less subject to corruption, and laws could be made way simpler—you’d put a word limit on law.”’
  32. ‘By 2040, Musk thinks there will be a thriving colonial Martian city’
  33. ‘He said he’d like to go later in life, then return to Earth, and eventually head back to Mars for retirement and stay for good—but only on one condition: “I’ll go if I’m certain that SpaceX will be fine without me, and that path will continue.”’
  34. ‘So the next challenge after colonizing Mars will be something even harder—we’ll have to turn Mars into our home. We have a word for this. Terraforming. Terraforming a planet means changing its conditions to match Earth’s. And that’s the power of technology—with enough of it, we could literally Earthify an entire planet.’
  35. ‘One day, probably more than 1,000 years from now, Mars will be completely terraformed. When that day comes, you’ll see a picture like this’ [ earth like picture of trees]
  36. ‘and you won’t know which planet you’re looking at. Earth and Mars will be two normal places that take three months to travel between—just like America and Europe only 100 years ago, before airplanes allowed you to zip back and forth between them. Someone could choose to live their life on Earth but go to college on Mars. ‘
  37. ‘Maybe the Solar System’s Grand Congress will make “Earth history” a required class in school, and students all over will grow up yearning to one day visit what they’ll refer to as the Cradle of Civilization, to see its huge animals, famous cities, and ancient ruins.’
  38. ‘The light of consciousness that flickered on millions of years in the past on humble little Earth will spread throughout the galaxy and into other galaxies, branching into thousands of different life forms. Most beings in the lineage will be hazy on where it all started, but those who know their history will be able to tell you all about the Great Leap, that pinnacle moment in antiquity when their primitive ancestors emerged from the womb and became conquerors.’ [flourish!]

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