Friday, August 6, 2010

The mighty Industries of Space!

Going to provide a short update to the terrible secret of space; more background sci-fi.

In the end it was batteries. Batteries that finally broke the confines of gravity and lifted mankind into space. Not literally, of course.

It was a great scientific breakthrough. Using the technique we made batteries that were tens of times stronger. Cellphones that you could talk on for a hundred hours before they needed a recharge. Electric cars that you could drive across the country and never need to refuel. All kinds of medical gear made smaller and more portable, ready to jump off the ambulance and save lives. When I think of how life was before we invented these things I don't understand how they got along. Durable, lasting, portable power sources. How could we do without?

There's a catch of course. There's always a catch. An essential part of the manufacturing process requires microgravity. The same sort of conditions that you could never find on the surface of the earth, that only occurs in orbit. But orbit is oh so expensive to get into.

In the end, it was a country in the Andes mountains that set up the first industry in space. You'd think it'd be America. Or Russia, or China, or even India. All of those countries had the technological edge. They also had safety standards. Don't get me wrong, raw space is incredibly dangerous, you can't get there without some safety devices. But the more developed countries were forced, over time, to adapt to ever more stringent workplace standards. Even China and India, as time wore on. If a company based out of Alabama wanted to get into space, it'd have to comply with so many OSHA standards, file so much paperwork, field such a large legal team and all the other headaches of the business world. Don't get me wrong; those safety standards have their place. Lots of people died to get that first assembler into orbit. Even so, the world will always remember the launching pads of the Altiplano as taking the greatest leap of space exploration since Neal Armstrong took his small step.

One dirty little factory. Six astronauts, working in two man shifts, seven days a week. One dinky little, rickety as all getout shuttle struggling past the iron bands of gravity. And yet, when that shuttle came down... Do you remember Sir Frances Drake? The second ship to circumnavigate the globe. It came back from the far east stuffed with precious metals, jewels, silks and spices. Made his investors into rich men, all from one shipload. Every time that shuttle came down it was like Drake made his triumphant return into London. Those first loads of batteries were worth their weight in gold. Double. Triple.

Sure there were accidents, but never enough to stop them from going back up. The legend goes, I've never confirmed this myself, that whenever the shuttle would explode they hired scores of peasents to scour the countryside for debris, trying to find any batteries that survived intact. I'd believe it; one of those things was enough to pay for half a dozen searchers.

It didn't last long. You know what happens when you start making money hand over fist? A lot of sharp company pays attention, and starts copying you. You'd be amazed at how quickly those environmental concerns and safety regulations got waived once people realized how much money there was to be made. And when you've got your department of defense pressing down on you to not let us be dependent on foreign suppliers, well, you've got incentives. To their credit America had much more efficient and much safer facilities, but nobody cares about second place.

Soon orbital facilities were popping up like dandelions in spring. All over orbit you'd find another countries premier battery manufacturing company doing there best to get in on the action. It was a real headache for the diplomats and air traffic controllers, let me tell you. A veritable gold rush in orbit. Actually, the gold rush analogy is pretty good.

You know who gets rich in a gold rush? The suppliers. The prospectors in a California soon-to-be ghost town never really get rich and go back east like they always planned. You know who makes the money? That lady who bakes the pies they eat when they're living high. Those orbital workers got paid plenty for the strain and risks associated with the job. Are you surprised they wanted a place to spend it?

They followed the same pattern. The first one was small and crude, the next one was bigger and flashier. And then it grew. You reach a critical point where you're putting enough people into a place and suddenly you need more people up there to support them. And good heavens what do you do when people start having babies? The first true city in space was named Boomtown, set in geosynchronous orbit over Arizona. The manufacturing satellites had to be kept higher still, but once you're that high in orbit it's just a small energy expenditure to jump up and down, when your satellite swings over. And the strategic location-- close to Vegas, ensured that they got the bulk of the tourist trade.

As supply rose, the batteries got cheaper and cheaper. Tourists suddenly provided the next major revenue stream. The free market had driven the costs of pushing a payload into orbit ever downward, and it liberalized space tourism from the ultra-rich to merely the very well off. If you raise a boy on the old Heinlein stories then he's always going to want to get into space. There's plenty of cash to be made fulfilling that dream. Soon another industrial boom fueled the expansion into space, and another.

In all this time, the biggest expense was always getting men and material up into orbit. Asteroid farming naturally followed. Why go to the expense of shipping your copper up from the surface when you can crack it out of a nearby space rock? First you extract the metals from the ore. extracted from the rock. They grind up the chunks of leftover stone and chemically them into workable soil. Even the slang gets reprocessed. Men are awfully clever about using every part of the buffalo when the situation calls for it.

They also dug mines on the surface of the moon. At 1/6th earth surface gravity, the moon provided a compromise between the vast distances to the asteroids and the heavy energy burden of lifting them off from Earth. Much later, foundries were established on Mercury. It's much more difficult, but when the money's there, men brave all sorts of hazards and difficulties to grab it. They once asked J. Thompson Martin, the capitalist who commissioned the first mission prospecting the asteroids, why he went out to such great distances. He famously responded "Lady, if I could see a dollar's profit on the dark side of Pluto I'd walk the entire way if need be."

In the end that's how it happened. There was money in space, so we went there. And all it took was batteries.

Well, there you go. There's the explanation for why we're up in space, and why we have the different structures and industries and whatnot up there. Briefly, I'm going to talk about this in game terms.

You've got three kinds of installations up there. Space industries are the first. Large chunks of machinery, robotized wherever possible but never 100%. The second are Space Habitats, the cities where people live or at least try too. Like Boomtown. The third kind are Space Stations, which are more military in nature. They're the only ones that come armed, but boy do they ever!

I expect that you'll be able to recruit personnel out of the space habitats, and assemble weapons or some such from space industries. Furthermore they're going to be important strategic concepts. Of course, that's going to have to wait until I start figuring out resource types and uses and so forth. Another day... another day.

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