The internet archive now has full editions of Ares Magazine up. Issue 16 has a couple of articles referenced by Winchell Chung over on Atomic Rockets. Page 1-7 is, “Galactic Empires,” by Robert Freitas. On page 15 is another article by Dr. Freitas, “Crimes, Crazies and Creole Cookery,” which begins, “Consider a family having a picnic in a park. The blanket is spread in a large, open clearing and the food unpacked. Ants begin to appear, innocently searching for nourishment. One of the children tracks them down to their anthill, pours a pint of kerosene down the hole and ignites it. The insects are destroyed. The picnic continues uninterrupted.” Winchell Chung’s always useful Atomic Rockets site had a nice discussion on alien technology.
“The second thought is that such technology can be very very dangerous. Especially if the aliens seem more technologically advanced that you are. Even if the items are not deliberately booby-trapped, monkeying around with, say, alien nanotechnology could result in the lab and most of the surrounding terrain melting into grey goo. As an analogy, imagine an 1850′s Victorian Era scientist dismantling a live nuclear reactor trying to figure out how it works. Radioactivity hadn’t been discovered yet, much less nuclear fission. So they would be at a loss trying to explain the disaster that happened after they removed all the nuclear damper rods for closer examination.”
Given the trouble that scientists with a much higher level of technological knowledge got into, I wouldn’t want to be one of those Victorian scientists. The Straumli Realm in Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire upon the Deep” is one possible example of how that could go with a rather more Clarkian technology. In Rocketpunk Manifesto(bookmark that blog), Rick Robinson extrapolates the growth of population in space based upon a few basic assumptions. Namely, six people in permanent residence in 2009, a 4% growth rate and compound growth. He then extrapolates back: three people in 1991, 1 person in 1963. I can quibble about how well these actually fit reality. How many people were in space full-time in 1963. During the shuttle years, no more than eight people could go up, typically for no more than two weeks, seldom more than four times a year; this comes to 64 person weeks, or just over one person in space year round. Including Russia might have doubled that number, but not much more. I figure the actual equivalent number of person-years in space didn’t significantly exceed one until after Mir went up in 1991. I also have to quibble about his assumptions regarding the inflection point for space population. I agree that logically all exponential growth patterns have ultimately to be logistic, that is to say as some carrying capacity is approached, growth must necessarily slow. However, I’m not convinced of the absurdity of 1.4 billion people in space in 2500 or possibly even 3.5 trillion in 2700(that last strains my credulity, but more because I have trouble thinking of that many people than any rational objection). Although life in space is intrinsically expensive, wealth represented by energy and raw materials. Let’s look at energy. Solar energy in this case. From Wikipedia world energy consumption in 2008 was 143.851 PWh/yr(5.17864 x 1020 J/yr) including solar energy and whatever else. The total luminosity of the Sun(from Wikipedia) is 3.839×1026 W or (1.211 x 1034 J/yr). This allows for an upper limit population on the order of 20 trillion times the supportable population in 2008. I’ll assume that the actual supportable population of the Earth in 2008 was greater than the actual population of about six and a half billion, I’ll also assume that the energy resource requirement in space is close to a million times what is required to support a person on Earth. That gives us a supportable population of about 156 quadrillion people. The scale of the Solar system sets a high standard for absurdity. With my quibbles in mind, it still makes an interesting sort of model for future space development. About 30 people in space by 2050. By 2101 the model predicts 220 people in space and over 10,000 by 2200.
As Mr. Robinson says, when building a Future History, it pays to have a fairly wide cushion of “Vague Era” between the present and your storied future to prevent it from turning into an Alternate Future too soon. This model definitely works for that. Asking questions about things too near in the future, or answering them, pretty much sets the writer up for a fall unless the person isn’t actually a science fiction author but a prophet. For myself, at the moment I’m focussing on being a science fiction writer, so hopefully I’ll be forgiven for letting the blog slide a bit. The way things go around here sometimes, you may not even notice my absence.
See you soon,