The Expansionary Times

The Examiner

The Latest in Moon Habitat Technology: Bigelow's Inflatable Moon Base, Or Just Use Dini's 3D Printer

The Latest in Moon Habitat Technology: Bigelow's Inflatable Moon Base, Or Just Use Dini's 3D Printer


April 30, 20105:38 PM MST

Even as the Obama Administration reduces America’s commitment to manned space missions, Japan, China, Brazil, Russia and the European Space Agency are moving full-steam ahead with plans to colonize the Moon, Mars and various mineral-rich near-Earth asteroids.


For a variety of reasons many countries see the Moon as the logical first step in their space exploration efforts, just as the US did 40 years ago. Scientists like geologist Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt claim that the Moon’s surface possesses an abundance of the isotope helium-3, the key to the second generation of fusion reactors projected to produce vast amounts of electricity. Because the Moon’s gravitational pull is much lower than Earth’s, it would be advantageous for work crews servicing Earth-orbiting satellites such as Japan’s proposedSolar Power Satellite that could provide energy to 300,000 homes to be based on the Moon. Certainly, the Moon is a perfect setting for humans to develop the skills needed for future space expeditions to Mars, near-Earth asteroids, and other celestial destinations.


For a Moon mission to be successful it is crucial that those engaged in long term lunar mining and exploration missions be housed in safe, comfortable, and dependable habitats. In 1969 the LEM, the craft that transported Neil Armstrong and company to the Moon’s surface, also served as their living quarters for the few days they spent on the Moon. Tomorrow’s miners and colonists will need a Moon baseconsisting of multi-purpose structures that can house them for months at a time.


Two inventors have offered very divergent though equally imaginative designs for a future Moon base. Space hotel visionaryRobert Bigelow is designing inflatable modules capable of housing up to 18 astronauts. His moon base consists of three inflatable units, each offering 11,653 cubic feet of space and equipped with its own independent power and propulsion and units. The three modules would be joined together not on the lunar surface but in lunar orbit, and would then be flown down to the Moon’s surface.


The next idea incorporates a technology, the 3D printer, which is currently being used here on Earth to construct a variety of relatively modest objects such as ashtrays, bowls, and small models of cars and other products. Italian inventor Enrico Dini wants to use an oversized 3D

printing machine to construct a Moon habitat! And evidently the European Space Agency is taking his proposal seriously.




Dini’s device works much like any other 3D printer. A designer sits at a computer running CAD (computer-assisted design) software and enters on the screen a blueprint for an object, an ashtray, for instance. This program than “instructs” thousands of nozzles attached to the D-shaped printer to discharge ultra-thin layers of sand which are bound together with a magnesium-based resin.


Like mWhat makes Dini’s Moon base concept so audacious is the gargantuan scale of the project. Dini has already created some imaginative life-size sculptures with his oversized printer. He speculates that his machine is already capable of fabricating an entire house from sand, and four times faster than standard construction technology. agic, the machine manufactures an extremely hard and durable ashtray.




So if you can fabricate a house, he reasons, why not an entire Moon base? In his scenario the printer, situated on the Moon, would robotically construct the habitat out of the dust found on the lunar surface, and complete the project before the astronauts actually touch down on the lunar surface.




Once on the Moon our space pioneers should find other uses for Dini’s machine. Space explorers, miners and colonists will often be required to invent and construct a host of implements literally on the spot. For instance, workers performing mining operations on the Moon might discover that they require new types of tools not yet invented. Since the 3-D fabrication technology enables the user to create whatever object he or she can imagine, our miners need only design those tools on a computer screen, and the 3-D printer manufactures them. Similarly, they could fabricate engine parts, furniture, and other items they find are necessary for mission success.




The fact that the Bigelow and Dini proposals are receiving serious consideration from such entities as NASA and the ESA clearly illustrates the crucial role civilian inventions and ingenuity will play in future government space missions. It is only a matter of time before the private sector’s space technologies rival those being created by the government and the military.



As US Abandons Manned Flight, China, Russia, Europe Train For Space Colonization with Mars500

As US Abandons Manned Flight, China, Russia, Europe Train For Space Colonization with Mars500


June 7, 20103:12 PM MST

As I have indicated in Seizing The Future, The Future Factor and other books, there are a host of military and economic reasons for a nation to explore and colonize space. Not the least of these is gaining access to the mother lode of rare minerals and energy resources found on the

Moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars. There is also a more transcendent reason for pursuing this mission: As I argued in The Future Factor, our species is destined to establish a human presence throughout the universe, and ultimately to transform and perfect it.


From the 1950s to the 1970s the United States and the former USSR dominated space exploration. Now, a number of countries, including a variety of European and Asian countries as well as Brazil have been sending up communication and military satellites and making preparations for ambitious manned space missions. A few years ago China became the third nation to launch a human into space. Japan just announced its plans to establish a robotic moon colony by 2020.


To prepare for human space flight to distant orbs, a number of countries this week initiated a project called Mars500, a mission designed to examine the physical and psychological stresses astronauts might encounter during a 520-day trip to Mars.


An international team of six researchers will experience this simulated manned mission to Mars housed in a virtual spacecraft sitting inside a large hangar at Moscow's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

The spacecraft is actually a series of interconnected steel cylinders called "Bochka," or barrel. Inside the spacecraft are small (32 square feet) windowless living quarters, personal cabins furnished with a bed, desk, chair and shelves. The self-contained environment is equipped with enough food, water, and other supplies to last the whole trip as well as video games, books, and other materials to amuse the crew during their leisure hours.


The crew will spend the first 250 days “flying” to Mars, and after landing will explore the simulated model of the Martian terrain attached to the spacecraft module. Then the crew will embark on a 230-day return flight, finally exiting the enclosed environment in November, 2011.


The six-person crew was chosen from hundreds of applicants. The commander, a recently- married Russian commander named Aleksei Sitev, 38, has worked at Russia’s cosmonaut training centre. The doctor, Sukhrob Kamolov, 32, and one of the researchers, Aleksander Smoleyevsky, 33, are also Russian. Other researchers include Wang Yue, 26, from China’s space training centre, and Diego Urbina, 27, an Italian- Colombian. The flight engineer is 31 year old Frenchman Romain Charles.


Mars500 will provide these countries with a wealth of knowledge about the technological obstacles and psychological trials and tribulations a space crew will encounter both during the flight to Mars and while on the planet itself. By mission’s end China, Russia, and theEuropean Space Agency will be years ahead of the US on the space learning curve.


Clearly the US is falling behind in the global space race. Recently the Obama administration decided to direct NASA's funding away from manned space flight to the Moon and beyond. The US is even ending its shuttle program this year.

Although the President did give lip service to the goal of colonizing Mars in the mid-2030s, many critics, including Mars Society president Robert Zubrin, were unmoved by this weak and ambiguous commitment to space exploration. "It basically means that they don't have to start working on it while they're in office," Zubrin said.




Sadly, it appears that Obama plans to expend little energy or resources on the space program for the remainder of his term. He will provide the occasional “vote of confidence” to private companies such as SpaceX when they successfully launch rockets they have constructed.


However, while SpaceX’s recent successful launch ofFalcon 9 is laudable, many have suggested that the company was merely replicating technological feats NASA achieved half a century ago.




The Mars500 program must serve as a wake-up call to the administration and the American public that the rest of the world is about to venture “where no man has gone before,” and leave America in its “space dust” in the process. The next Congress must pressure the President to reconsider his decision to decelerate the US space program, and convince him to begin the process of restoring the American space program to its former glory.




Public, in Split with Government and Media, Still Supports Offshore Drilling

Public, in Split with Government and Media, Still Supports Offshore Drilling


May 20, 20106:34 PM MST

The US is experiencing one of its worst oil spills in 30 years due to the Deepwater Horizon rig blast in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, over the last several days websites, TV newscasts and newspaper front pages have bombarded Americans with stories and images depicting the devastating human and ecological impact of the accident.



In spite of this grim news, Americans have continued to voice their support for oil drilling off the US coastline. National and statewide polls taken by Rasmussen, MSNBC/Wall St. Journal and the Pew Research Center since the Gulf oil blast reveal that anywhere from 54% to 60% of Americans still favor offshore drilling for oil and gas.




Political leaders and media elites, on the other hand, have used the Deepwater oil debacle as an opportunity to demand that we reduce or stop all US offshore drilling immediately. Within a few days of the Gulf spill, President Obama was backing off from his decision made only weeks before to pursue oil drilling off the Virginia and Florida coasts. He halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another massive oil leak. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger soon thereafter withdrew his support for a plan to allow new wells to be drilled from an existing platform off the coast of Santa Barbara. A group of Democratic West Coast senators, including Boxer and Feinstein of California and Maria

Cantwell from Washington State, are rushing to introduce a bill that would permanently outlaw oil and natural-gas drilling in the outer Pacific shores.


The media has also piled on. Time magazine ran a sensationalistic cover story entitled “The Big Spill,” more or less predicting the end of drilling in US waters. Business Week’s cover read “Worth It?--The endangered future of offshore drilling.”


The public is delivering a message to our timid leaders: Although the production of energy is a messy, risky, and expensive process, the fact that our very standard of living depends on the continual development of such resources makes such risks necessary. So do not stop drilling for oil!


Unless a new major energy source such as nuclear fusion emerges in the foreseeable future, we will continue to depend on oil, coal, gas, and nuclear to heat our homes and power our industries. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, by 2030 fossil fuels will supply 80 percent of our energy need, much as they do today. Oil is the single largest fuel in the primary fuel mix in 2030, even though its share drops from 34 percent now to 30 percent.


What about those “green and clean” energy sources the Obama administration and environmentalists claim could someday replace fossil fuels and nuclear power? The IEA is quite blunt: Wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, energy and other non-hydro energy sources will account for no more than a meager 2 percent of all energy use in 2030.


Americans continue to support offshore drilling because they know that the US needs oil, and is better served developing its own supply as soon as possible than remaining dependent on foreign oil. Currently 60 percent of America’s oil consumption comes from foreign sources at a cost of

$1 billion per day! As energy expert Dr. Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at the University of Oxford put it in a recent New York Times interview, “Americans have concluded that mining their own waters, despite its environmental risks, is more appealing than continuing to depend on producers like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.”


We can only hope that Senators such as Boxer and Feinstein will come to agree with Americans that banning drilling off our own shores will only perpetuate our dependence on foreign oil sources. The federal Minerals Management Service conservatively estimates that the Pacific outer continental shelf represents 10.5 billion barrels of undiscovered oil, a whopping 12 percent of the total believed to be recoverable from the entire U.S. coastline. Instead of calling for drilling bans, the Senators’ should be working with experts to devise ways to make drilling safer. They could demand, for instance, that so-called relief wells capable of stopping an underwater spill be drilled alongside every new well.


Americans’ cultural memory of the economic devastation caused by the OPEC oil boycotts of the 1970s and the more recent oil spikes in 2007 has prompted them to take a more realistic attitude toward energy development. They instinctively grasp that when oil reaches $150 a barrel and gas at the pump surges to $4.00 per gallon, personal and national economic hardships follow.

It is unfortunate that our media elites and government leaders do not yet share the public’s view that a cheap and abundant energy supply is vital to the nation’s future economic growth. Perhaps Americans will explain it to them in November.



Oil Spill, Cleanup, Drilling Moratorium Hurting Obama, Democrats in Polls

Oil Spill, Cleanup, Drilling Moratorium Hurting Obama, Democrats in Polls


June 26, 20104:08 PM MST

Rarely do technological mishaps, no matter how severe, dramatically undermine Americans’ confidence in their political leaders. Even the 1986 Challenger and the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disasters did not drastically harm the approval ratings of the Presidents in office at the time, Reagan and Bush.


However, recent polls indicate that President Obama’s slowness in reacting to the Gulf oil

spill and his eventual handling of the spill’s cleanup have eroded his standing in the eyes of the American people and could negatively affect the Democratic Party’s political prospects in the upcoming Congressional elections.


A just published WSJ/NBC poll shows how much the spill has hurt his approval ratings and eroded Americans’ trust in his leadership. For the first time since the NBC/WSJ poll has been tracking the President’s approval rating, more people disapprove of Obama’s job performance than approve--45% approve, 48% disapprove. Worse, 60 percent of those polled believe the US is on the wrong track, the highest level since he took office.


Over the course of 2010 a number of factors—the growing national debt, a 10% unemployment rate, fears of higher taxes, and seemingly interminable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq —have been eroding Obama’s standing with the American people.


The two-month-old Gulf oil debacle has further weakened Americans’ faith in Obama’s leadership skills. In April 2009, 54 percent of those surveyed gave the president high marks for his ability to handle a crisis. Now, only 40 percent do. The percentage of people who see Obama as “decisive” has shrunk from 57 percent in July 2009 to only 44 percent today. Not surprisingly, while 61 percent of respondents perceived the President as being a strong leader in July 2009, now only 49 percent hold that view.


Recent Rasmussen polls of likely voters bear even worse tidings for the Obama administration. In a poll released June 19th, shortly after Obama’s Oval Office speech, 41% of those interviewed approved of Obama’s performance as President, 58% disapproved. This 17% gap has closed somewhat over the last week, to about 7-10%.

It is not surprising that Obama's speech dealing with the Gulf spill did nothing to halt his decline in the polls. Critics found his address to the nation uninspired and short on specific solutions to the Gulf crisis.




Worse, only 32 million people even bothered to tune in to this well-advertised policy speech, sharply down from the 49 million who watched his January State of the Union address.


As Peggy Noonansaid, the American public was “voting with its clickers.” It seems that people are simply tuning Obama out.




Obama has tried to show the public that he has a handle on the Gulf situation. He has made four visits to the Gulf, given an Oval Office address on the issue, and scared BP into turning over $20 billion to help pay for the spill’s environmental and economic damage.




In spite of this public relations blitz, 50 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Obama’s handling of the spill, with only 42 percent approving. Gallup, in a separate survey, found that the public blames  Obama more than they do  BP for the post-spill cleanup mess.




The reasons for their disapproval go beyond his handling of the immediate crisis. As discussed in my earlier articles, the public opposes Obama’s “solution” to the crisis, a six-month moratorium on U.S. offshore drilling. Americans know that our economy runs on oil, and fear that the President’s drilling moratorium could increase the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The public perceives Obama’s temporary drilling halt of as a panic move that could have a far- reaching negative impact on the economy of the Gulf region and the nation as a whole.




Democrats running in November are right to worry that Obama’s sinking poll numbers will impact their chances for re-election. For the second straight month the WSJ/NBC polls showed that 45 percent of Americans want a GOP-controlled Congress after this year’s elections, while only 43 percent want a Democratic-controlled Congress.




As Democratic pollster Peter Hart stated, “The Republican Party has a major advantage in the fall, and this poll just reconfirms that.”







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