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Mars Space Politics

Deathmatch On Mars: an Interview With Warren Ellis 94

Posted by timothy
from the read-it-for-the-illustrations dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "Iconic comic book writer (Transmetropolitan, Planetary, Red), cult novelist (Crooked Little Vein), futurist intellectual, and beloved Internet curmudgeon Warren Ellis, known for his impassioned arguments for space travel, talks to Motherboard about Newt Gingrich's presidential plans for lunar colonies and conquering Mars." Warren Ellis does not mince words.
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Deathmatch On Mars: an Interview With Warren Ellis

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    And actually, all politicians in general. But these assholes spewing letting the church govern the USA and lowering the tax rates for the rich to 0% (allowing them to funnel even more money to the Caymans) boggles my mind. No jobs created there, my friends!
    • by ArcherB (796902)

      And actually, all politicians in general. But these assholes spewing letting the church govern the USA and lowering the tax rates for the rich to 0% (allowing them to funnel even more money to the Caymans) boggles my mind. No jobs created there, my friends!

      Strawman. No current politician has suggested handing over control of the government to any church and no one is suggesting that the "rich" pay 0% in taxes.

      • by dragonsomnolent (978815) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:35AM (#38849673) Homepage
        Rick Santorum: "our civil laws have to comport with a higher law: God's law." So no, technically not "handing control over the government" to the church, but....
        • The definition of a true villain is someone who cannot make a statement without using either the flag or the cross to make a point!
          Santorum is a mealy mouthed, phony hypocrite!
          Gingrich is a slimy, bulbous, crooked toad!
          Romney is a lying, crooked, rich, opportunistic predator!
          Paul is just too damn old.

          And Obama? HAH!

          Find a "third" party (there are many) that represent your viewpoints and vote for them!

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @09:32AM (#38849443)
    ...the easier it is to promise
    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @12:42PM (#38850263)
      And it's time for that to stop. That's why I promise that if I receive the nomination of my party and am elected, then by 2016, I will put a stop to politicians promising things that they cannot possibly deliver!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Every new President has a space dream. And Congress has a different dream. In the end they make a compromise that does nothing but keeps jobs in Utah, California, and Florida.

    I wonder how many times we could have gone to Mars and back with the money wasted in these compromises (like the ISS and the Space Shuttle)?

    • It just took not wanting Russia to beat us before, maybe it will just take not wanting China to beat us now.

  • by thesuperbigfrog (715362) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:03AM (#38849539)
    Space travel, real space travel not jaunts into earth orbit, is the most-challenging problem of our lifetimes.

    If you like sci-fi, the Manifold series by Stephen Baxter [amazon.com] (not a referrer link) makes a great argument about space travel and how "big dumb" technology from the past can be harnessed smartly to lower the costs.

    We certainly will need more than reuse of old technology, but it is a start.
    • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:40AM (#38849695)

      I call BS. Artificial intelligence is more difficult, and gets us more benefits in the end. We get any practical space travel as a side effect of solving AI.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        AI has greater benefits, but is also likely to have greater dangers.

        OTOH, there are several people who believe that with proper funding, they could build an AI using just what they've already developed. They may, of course, be wrong, but it's difficult to be certain of that, because computation is still so expensive. To build a computer as powerful as the human brain is something that not even IBM has yet attempted. Watson ran on something that might have a powerful a brain as a terrapin. (That's a wild

    • No. Artificial intelligence is more challenging and almost certainly more beneficial. We get space travel as a side effect of solving AI.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, its a tossup between clean water and population control.

  • by taiwanjohn (103839) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:21AM (#38849621)

    FTFA: "There’s bugger all worth mining on the moon."

    Well, yes, there's nothing there worth bringing back to earth, but that doesn't mean there's nothing of value. Regolith contains several useful elements [moonminer.com], such as oxygen, iron, aluminum, titanium. These are all fairly plentiful on earth, but in space they're worth a small fortune.

    • Tell me again why you wouldn't mine this stuff in the asteroid belt where it isn't at the bottom of a gravity well and then use it to manufacture stuff in space?

      • Re:ISRU... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by taiwanjohn (103839) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @11:06AM (#38849819)

        Well, I never said I wouldn't mine the asteroid belt, but the moon has the advantage of proximity. You can get to the moon in a few days, the asteroid belt is farther away than Mars. Also, the moon's gravity well is conveniently shallow enough to escape with a rail-gun (see: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress), and most of the stuff you need to build and power your rail-gun is available in the regolith.

        So, first you go to the moon, and start mining the resources: oxygen for propellant and life support; iron, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium for building things. Once you can deliver these goods to lunar orbit, you start building the habitats and cargo ships you'll need in order to mine the asteroids. In the meantime, you can do a more close-up assay of the moon's resources. Given the number of asteroids that have impacted on the moon over billions of years, there's a good chance you could find some major sources of platinum, palladium, nickel, etc..

        In this scenario, the main things you'll need to import to the moon will be carbon and ammonia. Carbon is essential to life, and useful for making high-grade steel; ammonia gives you nitrogen and hydrogen, both of which are scarce on the moon, but necessary for human settlement.

        • by Muros (1167213)
          We should be doing all this already, with robots. No need to send people in the first decade, at least not for the work involved. The moon is easy communication range. We should at least be developing robost on earth capable of operating in space and building the things we want built.
          • Yes, any sensible moon-mining scheme would be highly automated, but there will be a human presence on the moon, for various reasons from research to tourism, so it only makes sense to accommodate that market too. If SpaceX can achieve its "holy grail" of a completely reusable rocket, the price of a ticket will come down by a couple orders of magnitude. That will be a real game changer, and ought to bring a much greater presence on the moon in all categories.

        • The math suggests we're a long way off. According to Wikipedia, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers together cost about 1 billion to build, launch and operate. According to a quick Google search, gold currently costs 56,000 dollars per kilo. Imagine we had somehow managed to include the ability to mine and return metals into the mission at no additional cost, and that Spirit and Opportunity ran into some rich gold deposits. They would together have to send back 16,800 kilograms worth of pure gold, or roughly
          • Where to start... I guess the most crucial factor is launch costs, both from Earth and from Luna.

            Earth: Our gravity well is so steep that you really need a chemical rocket to escape. There are some promising experiments with lasers and such, but that's a good 10 years in the future. (Sky-hooks and space elevators are probably more like 30~50yrs away, at least.) The real trick with chemical rockets is to make one that's reusable. You wanna launch your satellite on a Delta rocket? No problem... that'll be $10

          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            They would together have to send back 16,800 kilograms worth of pure gold, or roughly 100 times the weight of a rover in gold, for the mission to start turning a profit..

            Wouldn't it have to be even more than that? Adding an extra 16,800 kg of gold to the world supply will surely lower the price...

        • by HiThere (15173)

          For that matter, the moon's gravity well is shallow enough that you could build a space elevator using Kevlar for the cable. This would make lunar based material cheaper in earth orbit that stuff from the asteroids. (But asteroids or comets are a batter source of volatiles, even so.)

          Once there's an industrial base in space, then space will pay for itself. That first step is a big one though.

          For a starter, to me it seems like the most important problem to solve is how to run a closed ecosystem. And it's

      • It might be easier to develop a mine and its associated processing plant on the moon than on an asteroid. The moon's gravity makes for an easier working environment than weightlessness. It's also not that big an impediment: the LM ascent stage is not much of a rocket; despite that, it can get you to orbital velocity from the lunar surface.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)

        Because the gravity well on the Moon is inconsequential. Escape velocity on the Moon is less than a quarter that on Earth, but more importantly, there is no significant atmosphere. That means you can build launch rails to accelerate spacecraft magnetically. Since the Moon is tidally locked, and the Earth always faces the same direction, your launch rail could be statically built and launch craft into Lunar transfer orbit with no fuel consumption. With current "first world" utility rates, you would be lo

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:24AM (#38849631) Homepage

    I almost gave up on the second question - because it by then it was already clear he was pretty much clueless. (Though most people won't realize it, because they've grown up on the same fairy tales about the Shuttle.) The third cinched it, and I did give up with his nonsense about the Saturn V. He's just another fanboy pining for the glory days.

    This is a prime example of celebrity journalism - his words are only considered as being valuable because he's famous (at least in a narrow circle). What's next Slashdot? Interviewing Clint Eastwood for his opinions because he's played an astronaut?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why don't you enlighten the rest of us and explain what's wrong with his answers, you arrogant elitist?

    • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:54AM (#38849765)
      Yes, you could probably get better answers on the technology side from just about any engineering student a few months into their course or anyone that bothered to read the news clippings from Apollo onwards, but it does give us a different perspective.
      It's no less irrelevant than Newt running at all. I'm not from the USA but aren't you guys worried about the FBI arms deal sting and the possibility that the guy was willing to turn traitor? Surely any other possible candidate is a better choice.
      • Yes, you could probably get better answers on the technology side from just about any engineering student a few months into their course or anyone that bothered to read the news clippings from Apollo onwards, but it does give us a different perspective.

        Well, that's my problem with the article up to the point where I gave up... It doesn't give us a different perspective. It's just the same old space fanboy echo chamber/urban legend. It has nothing whatsoever to do with technology, but rather with basic ig

    • I gave up when someone who looks like RMS's little brother called someone else "wiggy" (paranoid)

    • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Saturday January 28, 2012 @12:10PM (#38850095) Journal

      He's just another fanboy pining for the glory days.

      That's not how I read him. Now Zubrin, who he mentioned, is unreasonably anxious to get out there. Why should we visit Mars? To show the world it's possible? To research the place? And if the latter, why send people instead of more robots? Only reason to send people is as a prelude to the ultimate goal of colonization, which we're a long ways from being able to do. If we can't colonize Antarctica, which at least has breathable air, we sure can't colonize Mars. We have plenty of deserts we are currently unable to utilize much. At this point, we really cannot even just visit Mars, as we did the moon. It's a nice dream, but it is just a dream. And I see that he realizes all this.

      I've spoken with Zubrin, and I asked him why the rush, why not wait 50 years or a century for technological improvements to make a Mars visit easier? He didn't want to wait, he felt our current capabilities were enough that we could do it now. And therefore we should. We should go "while we are young" is what he said. How romantic. But romance won't get us to Mars, and sure isn't a justification for trying.

      • by TheLink (130905)

        We don't even have space stations with decent radiation shielding and artificial gravity. To me those are one of the first requirements for practical long distance space travel. Once you have those, getting anywhere within the solar system is no longer a suicide trip.

        Meanwhile the best use for moon/mars trips is for sending people we don't want (even if it's only figuratively): http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1282675&cid=28478857 [slashdot.org]

        • by tragedy (27079)

          But we've shown that people can live in space longer than a trip to Mars would take without devastating permanent effects. Plus they're now having some luck with medications to prevent bone loss. We also have radiation shielding sufficient for a trip to Mars. It's not good enough to prevent raised risk of cancer, but there's enough people who don't care about the raised cancer risk willing to go that it doesn't matter.

      • by tragedy (27079)

        Why is it that people always think that Antarctica is more hospitable than Mars? You can get stuff to Antarctica more easily, but, as far as habitability of enclosed structures, it's not as clear cut as you think. For starters, the sunlight on Mars is pretty much guaranteed. At is distance from the sun, only 44% of the amount of sunlight that hits Earth's atmosphere hits the atmosphere of Mars. However, since Mars has such a thin atmosphere, more of it gets through, especially at glancing angles. Also, the

  • ... from New Jersey

    This quote made my day.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:49AM (#38849737)

    Something practical, like provide electricity to earth, or a ubiquitous free satellite internet, or something besides, "It's really cool!" That's not going to go any further than revolutionary fervor did in sustaining communism. In the near to medium term, if you talk space, you'd better talk money. Mars and the moon have no profit possibilities. Near earth orbit, which is affordable, more easily achievable and potentially profitable needs to be our next focus. I'm sure this is what the Chinese will do, and what we in the USA no longer have the common sense to see.

    • by tragedy (27079)

      I'm curious what you think about government money being spent on sports? Where do you stand on the amount of money England and the City of London are spending on the 2012 Olympics? You literally could fund a Mars mission for the amount that's being spent. Of course, governments always claim that they'll recoup the investment on new sports stadiums, etc. through increased business. Pretty much every final accounting ever done on any such project, however, has shown that just doesn't happen. As far as I can

      • I think the amount of money spent on sports by governments AND private enterprise is ridiculous, frankly. By extension, I think the amount of effort, time and money spent on entertainment worldwide is pathetic and absurd, when we're looking at overpopulation and energy depletion converging in a most unpleasant manner by the end of the century.

        • by tragedy (27079)

          Well, fair enough then. I think there are still benefits to the effort, but they're mostly intangibles, speculation, and things that won't pan out for centuries. We might be able to bring launch costs down enough that mining gold/rhodium/platinum would be profitable... Aside from that, Mars resources would mostly be useful to the Martians. But its hard to get people to care about things that benefit foreigners while having no bearing on themselves. Especially when those foreigners don't exist yet. You've m

    • by qwak23 (1862090)

      Space is no different than things like high energy particle physics, the money sunk into them is essentially a long term investment. Business, I would imagine, tends to shy away from really long term investments, probably because people involved would like to be alive when they pay off. Yet in each field, there are many short term pay offs, though these are unpredictable again making them bad investments from a business perspective. That's the thing with science, since we're exploring the unknown, we ju

      • You need both profitable capitalistic endeavors and government research R&D to exploit space and to get the synergistic effect of both entities working on technologies of different types for different ends.

        Where would the internet be without DARPA? Where would it be today without online commerce?

        Manned space exploration did produce a lot of technology and can still do so, but if you want a continued presence in space, show the voters and entrepreneurs the money.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a Republican and a Floridian, coming here and promising us a moon base is about the most cynical, callous thing a presidential candidate can do. I already didn't like him that much (as a person), and now he just lost my primary vote (as a candidate). As insane as it may sound, my only viable option left is Ron Paul.

  • So, what do you think of Gingrich, who you describe as King, criminal, mental patient, and "historian", and his plan to return to the Moon and go to mars?

    FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU.......!!!!

     

    • So, what do you think of Gingrich, who you describe as King, criminal, mental patient, and "historian", and his plan to return to the Moon and go to mars?

      FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU.......!!!!

      Why the angst? He was only being polite.

  • http://www.opednews.com/articles/What-if-Low-Energy-Nuclear-by-Christopher-Calder-120103-869.html [opednews.com]
    "If LENR is real, then aircraft capable of flying at full speed for months on end without refueling will be possible. Vertical takeoff and landing aircraft could become commonplace, and flying wingless cars as seen in Star Wars movies will be buildable for those brave or reckless souls who don't worry about the potential for engine failure. LENR jet engines should be relatively quiet, resulting in nearly silent

  • by Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @12:25PM (#38850161)

    I'm sorry, I've had enough of this crap from science fiction writers about space flight. I don't want them, (or crony politicians promising money for votes) to be guiding our government's decisions. Just because space flight is romantic and awe-inspiring doesn't mean we should do it. There's only one good reason for the kind of space travel they're advocating and it's the old don't-put-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket idea. But if the Earth were destroyed I don't have a lot of hope for people making it on the Moon or Mars. They'd still be completely dependent on resources from back home. Just try running a self sufficient society in the middle of the Sahara and see how long it lasts. At lest in the desert you still have oxygen to breathe and the temperatures are in the realm of habitable. Neither of which are true for the Moon or Mars.

    They're also completely ignoring the fact that technology has become completely unpredictable for anything over 20 years from now. They have no idea what new things we'll discover in the next 100 years that could have profound impacts on space travel. Impacts that would make their current proposals completely meaningless. They sound like a salesman in the late 70s telling his company that they need to make their mainframes bigger and add more tape drives.

    Our space-tech is either going to advance at a humdrum, linear pace, in which case we're never getting out of this solar system. Or it'll advance by leaps and bounds in which case just going back to the Moon, or building a rocket capable of going to Mars is pointless in the long run.

    There's also no reason to have people on these flights other than to have a good old fashion feel-good PR story. You can have robots do anything you'd want a human to do and more. And you don't have to waste any money on food, oxygen, extra fuel, extra space, waste expulsion, and a return trip.

    But what I love most about the interview is this quote:

    I tentatively suspect that if President Obama gets his second term, and loosens up some cash...

    You know, we must have already perfected space travel because I have no clue what planet Warren Ellis currently inhabits, but it's certainly not ours. Yeah, Obama has a whole bunch of cash lying around that he can just 'loosen up' at any given moment. It's not like we're running a huge deficit with programs and funding being cut left and right.

    • by lacaprup (1652025)
      Some good points, but you're forgetting the beneficially technological offshoots of the space program. If Kennedy hadn't pushed us to the Moon in the 1960s, we wouldn't have gotten the offshoot technologies that we did as soon as we did, Further, don't just pass off the PR benefits like they are nothing. Astronauts were childhood heroes to many people in the US, and the space program was a dream. That sort of national sentiment is important... if not quantifiable.
      • Some good points, but you're forgetting the beneficially technological offshoots of the space program. If Kennedy hadn't pushed us to the Moon in the 1960s, we wouldn't have gotten the offshoot technologies that we did as soon as we did

        I totally agree, but the moon is way different than what they're talking about. I think striving for human space travel to Mars and back is possibly in the same realm. But permanent self-sufficient colonies on multiple planets that could survive after the destruction of the E

        • by Rennt (582550)

          It's like saying, "Let's work really hard on our steam technology and maybe it'll turn into atomic energy."

          That is more or less how technology is developed, in a macro sense. We sure couldn't have skipped the industrial revolution and gone straight to atomic.

          You can't expect technology for interstellar colonisation* just to exist in the future without resources spent on research and development at some intermediate future point. Not having the tech now is the reason to start working on it. Now. Perhaps we could start with a manned mission to Mars!

          * It's a bit of an absurd success threshold to set (We'll b

    • The decision to go into space depends entirely on your goals. It is easy to imagine a stable, sustainable, happy human population on earth. We are no where close to that yet, but it is a goal that we can reach for, and I think achieve.

      I can also imagine a goal of human expansion into space. The solar system is with reach of easily foreseeable technology. It might take centuries to ready fully self-sufficient colonies, but again they don't require impossible technology. Interstellar is more difficult, but sp

      • by jamvger (2526832)
        Except that, in the long run, the planet is not sustainable. In less than a billion years, all the water will be gone. While it is easy to imagine that future generations will develope amazing launching technologies, it's also easy to imagine Mad Max and the fall of the oil-users. If we don't use it, now, we might lose it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by 0123456 (636235)

        It is easy to imagine a stable, sustainable, happy human population on earth.

        If you're a dumb hippy listening to old John Lennon records, yes. In the real world, 'sustainable' is impossible in the long term and in the short term means an authoritarian state that would make 1984 look like utopia with an end to all innovation.

        Either we get off this planet soon or we die. 'Sustainable' is just more hippy BS.

    • by bidule (173941)

      Our space-tech is either going to advance at a humdrum, linear pace, in which case we're never getting out of this solar system. Or it'll advance by leaps and bounds in which case just going back to the Moon, or building a rocket capable of going to Mars is pointless in the long run.

      Maybe the "leaps and bounds" are due to discrete events. Did we master the oceans because everyone tried to replicate Columbus bonanza?

      Someone, sometime, is going to try and succeed. Then everyone else will try to follow. Maybe trying today will fail, but maybe not trying today or tomorrow will mean we will still fail in 50 years. You cannot succeed without effort.

  • John Michael Greer's post on the end of the space age [blogspot.com] confirmed for me what I'd concluded myself: the stars are not for us. Nor the planets. Not even the moon. If you are a person of unwavering faith in the myth of infinite progress then you won't accept what he says. It may even seem ridiculous. Yet for those who've had nagging doubts, it can hit like a punch in the gut to finally hear it stated this firmly and this eloquently.

    I was 8 years old when the Eagle landed on the moon. If there's ever a tim

    • Never is a really long time. And who said anything about "infinite progress?" That your dreams haven't been fulfilled, and probably won't be in your lifetime, doesn't mean anything about what will or won't happen in the future. Maybe we'll destroy ourselves. Maybe we'll build nuclear pulse propulsion ships (probably not a good idea, but ...), maybe a lot of things. You don't actually know, and so you say "never."
      • by Roderic9 (2454194)

        I sort of understand where IcyHando'Death is coming from - I was 10 when I woke up to the real world and realised that the flying cars and spaceships I had been reading about in comics didn't actually exist. But I got over it and I am not as depressed about the lack of progress since 1969 as he is.
        However, I do agree with his last few sentences, including "This last one has reached higher than any other, boosted by an enormous non-renewable energy supply, but that supply is now in decline and so are we, lik

    • John Michael Greer's post on the end of the space age confirmed for me what I'd concluded myself: the stars are not for us.

      His post is fine, but it doesn't show that we won't make it to the stars.

      The question of the stars revolves around one point: is it technologically feasible to reach the stars?

      If there are discoveries waiting for us, like hyperspace, wormholes, FTL or some other unfathomable principle of physics, then we will make it to the stars. Maybe not in this generation, or as the United States, maybe it will be by whomever succeeds the US. Technology moves forward beyond generations and empires, it doesn't need t

      • by tragedy (27079)

        Chemical rockets existed well before Newton was born and would have been familiar to him during his lifetime in the form of fireworks. There are actually records of him making fireworks as a boy.

    • by dasunt (249686)
      Considering it took hundreds of years between the first European visit to the "New World", and successful, permanent colonization, I wouldn't write off the moon and Mars just yet.
  • What if a president's non-public (hidden) agenda involved successfully destroying a space station, ruining a nation's space agency, and belittling a nation's populace into lowering their brows and focusing on supporting his regime in stupider matters like killing populations and stealing their resources, or controlling the world's economies with extortion?

  • "Absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun sideshow, but I don’t believe it says anything about the country other than that working democracy is like making haggis, in that you really don’t want to see what goes into that shit. It does say a lot about the state of the GOP, and I can’t help but wonder if the party moderates are just letting this parade of mental patients and unelectable criminals simply happen, so that they can detoxify the party after the inevitable

  • Shuttle was such a crocked piece of shit that it couldn’t reliably go more than two hundred miles up. And sometimes exploded trying even that.

The person who's taking you to lunch has no intention of paying.

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