Thursday, May 18, 2006

EXODUS TO SPACE

Phase 1 : Blueprint

To start we need infrastructures in orbit. This includes a station in space that will serve as a logistic center. Initially this station will construct towing ships to gather mineral rich asteroids.

The main challenge is to face with technical difficulties in working in vacuum and weightless environment. This is also a phase where huge investments is poured in without seeing any visible returns. Parts for the station have to be launched from earth using either rockets or projectiles and assembled in space.
Once the functional station is assembled, the next part is to build space worthy vessels to approach mining sites. Initially, the objective is to identify and examine asteroids, which are mineral rich rocks in space. The nearest source is at the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Suitable asteroids (small and rich enough) will then be towed to Earth’s orbit, which is not a big problem as the working environment is at zero gravity (g).
At orbit, machinery will then be launched from the station to cut the asteroids into smaller pieces and send to earth.
The station will be served with minimum direct human participation and extensive automation for the following reasons:
First, the high cost of life support will cause the station management to keep the number of human beings to be as small as possible. On earth, the air we breathe is free but in space it has to be manufactured and recycled. Thus an additional pair of lungs in the station will incur significant cost. This will encourage extensive automation in the stations.
The routine for station staff will work like our present ship or offshore platform crew, away from home for a few months in the station and come back to earth for another few months. They will consist of technical experts involved in the maintenance of the automations and the mining crew involved in towing and cutting asteroids.

Secondly, the absence of gravity in the free falling state of the orbit will cause permanent damage to the bone structure of people staying for too long. Currently studies show the astronauts exposed to zero gravity experienced calcium loss in their bones, causing their bones to become brittle and weak. This represents occupational risk. A small human crew will minimize this problem.

The next question is, can we manufacture gravity in space? Yes but the cost is too high. Theoretically we can simulate gravity by spinning the station. The centripetal force produced by spinning will push every object in the station toward its wall, thus giving the impression of weight.

What we need to do is to build a station shaped like a wheel and make it spin. However the cost for such construct is too high and it required huge energy consumption to spin the wheel. It is not wise to add to the existing high cost. Therefore artificial gravity, while is possible will not be implemented.
As long as the asteroid towing and cutting operation remain profitable, the 2nd Phase will be developed.

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