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3 Reasons Why We Haven’t Conquered Space Yet, #3: Show Me the Money!

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Karina Fabian

An excursion to the New World cost a proverbial handful of jewels, but a trip to the Strange New World of space could cost as much as the GNP of a small nation. That’s more than most people or investors are willing to risk – and Kickstarters can only go so far. Space is an industry for the already rich.

Oh, but the potential for enormous profits! You’ll hear articles and magazines talk about how one platinum-rich asteroid or moon mine can bring in riches galore, but they can be misleading.

 

To 3He or Not to 3He: Helium-3 and Nuclear Power

Helium-3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It’s potentially valuable for nuclear fusion, because you can combine it with Deuterium to create nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion, as opposed to nuclear fission, would be a clean and efficient form of energy – if we can make it work. (More on that later.) While deuterium is abundant enough in Earth’s oceans, helium-3 (or 3He) is nearly non-existent, and we don’t have an especially viable substitute. However, 3He is prevalent on the moon. Visionaries claim that the moon could provide clean energy and further mankind’s technological progress.

Unfortunately, with every great vision comes hard reality. The promises of 3He mining are challenged by the economic realities of extracting it and finding a market.

First, the abundance and effectiveness of helium-3 mining is questionable. As a standard, let’s use the Artemis project estimate that 25 tonnes of 3He (25,000 kilograms) could theoretically power the US for a single year. A recent paper by Ian A. Crawford of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of London looked over the studies done on the concentration of 3He on the moon, and found it’s concentration in the lunar regolith to be between 4 and 20 parts per billion, depending on where you mine. That means you need to mine 1000 kilograms of regolith to get a single gram of helium-3. Then, in order to harvest the 3He along with other solar-impacted isotopes, you need to heat the regolith to 600 degrees Celsius. This calls for a huge initial investment in infrastructure.

An additional challenge is the attitude about what form Earth energy industries should take. Politically and popularly, renewable energies are the favored direction. Nuclear energy, even the potentially clean and efficient nuclear fusion, is not renewable. Crawford himself describes helium-3 as a “fossil fuel” despite the fact that the sun continually generates it naturally. The astronomer-turned-planetary-scientist told Space News that the investment required and infrastructure needed is enormous and might better be used to develop “genuinely renewable energy sources on Earth.” This attitude could make it hard for space entrepreneurs to find investors, particularly if there’s no established market yet.

 

Nuclear fusion generators have been the holy grail of nuclear science since the 1960s. The idea of nuclear energy is that when certain atoms break apart (fission) or band together (fusion), they release great amounts of energy. If the energy can be harnessed, you have an effective source of energy. We can bust apart atoms easily, but fusing them takes more pressure and heat than we can effectively sustain without a huge investment of space, money and time – and we still don’t get a payoff worth the investment. As Steve Crowly, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy told Popular Mechanics in 2013: “For $25 billion, I could build you a working reactor. It would be big, and maybe not very reliable, but 25 years ago, we didn’t know we’d be able to make fusion work. Now, the only question is whether we’ll be able to make it affordable.”

Lockheed Martin said in October 2014 that is has had a breakthrough that will allow it to do just that – but physicists are skeptical in the absence of hard evidence, which the company has not yet provided.  Lock-Mart is using deuterium and tritium for its fusion, but it may provide a market for 3He, if it can prove its technology and if other companies can recreate it.

 

Flooding the Market with Rock: Will Asteroid Mining Bring a Boom or a Bust?

A more secure market comes with asteroid mining. Many asteroids contain useful and sometimes rare minerals that are already in use and demand here on earth, such as gold and platinum. Companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are looking at the most effective and cost effective way to mine asteroids. NASA has estimated the cost of a capture and return mission at $2.6 billion dollars. According to Asterank, a database of over 600,000 asteroids, the most cost effective asteroids bring a profit of $1.4 billion to $1.25 trillion. These are the kind of numbers that give enterpreneurs hope.

However, they assume a stable market for the metal in question. Historically, if you flood the market with a commodity, the price goes down. An article in the Economist notes that even a doubling of a supply of a mineral such as platinum might lower the price so much that the company no longer profits. And when one 150-mile asteroid can contain as much platinum as is mined on Earth in a year, it’s possible that the market might crash under the influx.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it, anyway, but companies need to carefully consider their economic models. They may not see the short-term massive profits that many people consider a lure.

 

So Why Do It?

We are no more doomed to being stuck on the Earth than the Old World was to remain on the shores of Europe and Asia. In some ways, we have an advantage: we know what’s out there, and we know the challenges. Space holds great benefits for humankind once we master its challenges and tap its resources.

“I believe that space travel will one day become as common as airline travel is today. I’m convinced, however, that the true future of space travel does not lie with government agencies — NASA is still obsessed with the idea that the primary purpose of the space program is science — but real progress will come from private companies competing to provide the ultimate adventure ride, and NASA will receive the trickle-down benefits.”  – Buzz Aldrin

As we can access space resources, we will see benefits. A supply of helium-3 will make fusion research much easier. Even if the market falls out on platinum or other rare elements, their newfound commonality will open the way for other uses, just as it did for aluminum. But even more, if we ever want to have a sustainable, growing manned presence outside our atmosphere, we need to have established access to these resources. Right now, the biggest expense for anything having to do with space is getting the materials off the Earth. If we can establish industry outside our gravity well, our space exploration can truly take off.

Even now, visionary men and women are forging ahead to make the dream of conquering space a reality. They are pushing the boundaries of law as well as those of science. They will build new economic models along with technological ones. Unlike in Columbus’ day, however, it will take more than the sponsorship of a queen to make their mission a go. We need to offer our support, from letting our political leaders know space is a priority to joining in the economic challenges to accepting the risks involved in this dangerous adventure – and in instilling that sense of adventure in our children. Only then will we leave the home port of Earth and sail the starry skies.

And with any luck, there will be Dragons – at least, if Elon Musk has his way.

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image illustration via shutterstock / 

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7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Last New Year's #Resolution: write down your days more. Write what you want to make happen. Write how you want your #soul to transform. Then set about reprogramming yourself with the mass of word possibilities in front of you.

1. My New Year’s Resolution Fulfilled!

Dear Liberty Island Leaders Adam Bellow and David S. Bernstein,

Above you’ll see the concluding image from my list of resolutions. I’ve planned this all year — to make my 10th anniversary of joining Facebook also my last day using the service. I began weaning myself from Facebook then, removing the app from my phone and iPad and only using it when on my computer, justifying it as a tool for work.

Turns out that November 27, 2004, was when the addiction began — I was a junior in college at the time. One of the many counterculture thinkers I discovered would influence my understanding of culture, technology, corporations, the Bible, media, my own career direction, and now this decision to abandon the internet’s Coca Cola. (On my counterculture books list from 2012 I included several of his titles; more will appear in the expanded, giant-size counterculture conservative canon of books that have shaped and influenced me.) The primary, strongest arguments for why everyone should leave Facebook come from media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, who bailed in 2013. He identifies the prime problems; my case is an expansion of his.

2. The Douglas Rushkoff Reason: The Newsfeed Cannot Be Trusted.

I read this article on CNN from Rushkoff back in February of 2013 when it came out and couldn’t really argue with his reasons for quitting. I tried to in an email to Doug to justify my continued Facebook usage but all I could say was that it was convenient for my work as an editor. Here are two problems with what Facebook does with your data without your knowledge or permission. First, the reality is that now when you send something out to all your “friends” on Facebook, chances are only a tiny portion of them are likely to see it:

More recently, users — particularly those with larger sets of friends, followers and likes — learned that their updates were no longer reaching all of the people who had signed up to get them. Now, we are supposed to pay to “promote” our posts to our friends and, if we pay even more, to their friends.

Yes, Facebook is entitled to be paid for promoting us and our interests — but this wasn’t the deal going in, particularly not for companies who paid Facebook for extra followers in the first place. Neither should users who “friend” my page automatically become the passive conduits for any of my messages to all their friends just because I paid for it.

And second, the new advertising strategy of using your image and your likes to market to your friends:

That brings me to Facebook’s most recent shift, and the one that pushed me over the edge.

Through a new variation of the Sponsored Stories feature called Related Posts, users who “like” something can be unwittingly associated with pretty much anything an advertiser pays for. Like e-mail spam with a spoofed identity, the Related Post shows up in a newsfeed right under the user’s name and picture. If you like me, you can be shown implicitly recommending me or something I like — something you’ve never heard of — to others without your consent.

The essence of the Facebook experience is pulling up one’s newsfeed and scrolling through it to find something that interests us. Since Rushkoff laid out his case, we now know even more: that Facebook has in the past intentionally manipulated users’ emotions as part of an experiment.

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Hand to Mouth Accidentally Confirms Stereotypes About Poverty

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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I put off writing this for as long as I could.

I told myself I still had the same headache I had yesterday.

And hey, there’s an Auction Hunter marathon on, and…

Then the irony hit me:

This had been my idea, to write a response to Hand to Mouthauthor Linda Tirado’s viral internet “Why I’m poor” post-turned-book.

And that one of the reasons I’m not poor anymore is because I work even when I don’t feel like it, and it feels like a summer day even though it’s the end of September, and…

So here goes:

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Video: George Gilder Explains Why Capitalism Creates A Better World

Monday, March 10th, 2014 - by Prager University

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7 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 I Invite You to Burgle From Me Bilbo-Style

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

I am now going to announce my 2014 #radical #book reading plan, in preparation of my new year's resolutions post coming shortly today.

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My wife and I flew back to Indiana last week to spend Christmas with the family. We had a ball! Among the highlights was when we all went to see The Hobbit part 2 on IMAX 3-D. The whole family is pretty religious about Tolkien, the movies especially. Dad is the expert, capable of explaining the changes from book to screen while assuring us that Peter Jackson’s changes still make for an extraordinary film without messing up anything major.

Ever since I was a kid first encountering The Hobbit as a cartoon and as my Dad read it during bedtime I loved the scene of Bilbo talking with the dragon Smaug, buried amidst the endless piles of pilfered Dwarven gold. That fantasy of limitless wealth to swim in seems a recurring one from childhood. I loved how Scrooge McDuck had a money bin that he’d dive into and pass through as though it were water:

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I kind of imagine myself doing that these past few years editing PJ Lifestyle except instead of gold coins it’s the amazing writing of the PJ columnists, freelancers, and the authors in the books I’m researching. From family advice to tech news to TV and family commentaries to history/religion/ideology debates PJ Lifestyle has been accumulating a diverse range of exciting ideas and cultural challenges. Here was my attempt to organize this some last year via an ever-evolving self-improvement routine inspired by Charlie Martin’s 13 Weeks program:

December 31, 2012: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
February 1, 2013: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
April 10: The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen
May 8: Every American Needs to Read Books to Understand Islam
July 6: We Must Read Tons of Books With A Clear Purpose
October 5: 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading
November 17: Half Through 13 Weeks For Radical Readers and Madman Writers, Turning Up the Heat

To give Lifestyle some degree of structure I’ve sought to organize some of the themes each week by day — when the story isn’t a timely, breaking news piece. I’ve applied this also to my daily reading plan, drawing from a different pile of books and shifting subjects to try and make fresh connections for stories to assign to PJ’s writers and work on myself. Here’s my reading plan for the next 13 weeks cycle — join us starting the week of Sunday, January 5 for week 1 — and then how they’re inspiring me to make changes in my own life.

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I tend to hate Game of Thrones for the way it blends cruel violence with soft-core porn and romanticizes sex slavery but this meme is tolerable, I suppose, given its parenting subtext.

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‘Poor in Kenya Is a Lot Different Than Poor in America, Isn’t It?’

Saturday, July 20th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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Every Saturday morning at PJ Lifestyle, join parenting writer Rhonda Robinson as she documents her strategies for getting her family’s finances back into shape. Check out the previous installments in her ongoing series:

Week 1: 5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship

Week 2: Where to Start When Your Financial Ship is Sinking

Week 3: Keeping Afloat With A Budget

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This week was rough.

I had to remind myself of a conversation I had a couple years ago with a young man from Kenya.

He had a basketball scholarship at Vanderbilt University. His girlfriend was a good friend of my daughter. The couple came to our home to visit for the first time. He was extremely tall, a mild mannered guy with a huge smile. Teasingly I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

He explained he was getting his degree in social work. “Not a lot of money in that,” I chuckled.

He just flashed a blindingly bright smile and looked down shaking his head. “That’s ok,” he said. “I’m not really in it for the money. I just really want to help people.”

At that moment I realized something and asked, “Poor in Kenya is a lot different than poor in America, isn’t it?”

He laughed, then said with a more somber tone, “Poor in Kenya means you have a dirt floor if you’re lucky enough to have a house.” He described the conditions that people in his home town live in.

It was then I realized that my idea of poor meant I don’t get to have what I want when I want it. I have to wait, maybe even save for it. That’s not really poor. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Even when we were our “poorest,” we still owned a home. I’ve never looked into my children’s eyes and saw hunger that I couldn’t feed. During that time, we also owned and maintained a vehicle. My family had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted.

By most standards around the world, I’m rich. In fact, I’m so rich that I can drive my car into a separate room of my house. Clean water is at my fingertips, and fresh food grows in my yard.

For most of us, being poor in America is more a frame of mind than real poverty.

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Conrad Black, Nixon, and the Red Scare: The Flight of the Eagle Concludes

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

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While serving time for whatever he supposedly did, newspaper baron Conrad Black taught history classes for his fellow prisoners.

Naturally, this prompted predictable “Geneva Convention” jokes among Black’s many detractors.

Even some of the prisoners were probably thinking, “This sure ain’t New Year’s Eve at Folsom.”

But ending up with Lord Black instead of “the Man in Black” isn’t the worst “punishment” I can imagine, although I can’t fathom how inmates without even GEDs coped with the former’s formidable vocabulary.

As I’ve stated before when talking about his latest book, Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America From Colonial Dependence to World Leadership, most of us could do far worse than have Conrad Black as a history teacher.

His enthusiasm is contagious, his erudition bracing, and his breadth of knowledge impressive.

(Maybe too impressive: While it purports to be a history of the United States, Flight… actually covers plenty of European ground, especially the continent’s martial and monarchical history from the eighteenth century onward. This isn’t a bonus if, like me, the very words “Habsburg” and “Crimea” can knock you into REM sleep faster than any hypnotist.)

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How Does Economic Order Evolve From Carnivore Capitalism?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

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image courtesy shutterstock / Stu Porter

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