UncleRice on August 03, 2011, 11:11:41 am
As I see it, the true goal of the US space program, the ICBM and the spy satellite, has been achieved, so travelling into space will have to become monetarily profitable if much of any of it is going to happen. The single biggest cost currently is the fuel it takes to get there. Find a cheap way into space, whether it is some nuclear engine or some artificial worm hole that will send you a thousand miles or more up, and all the other technical issues will be small potatoes.
Stupid criminals put on a mask and rob people with a gun.
Smart criminals put on a suit, call themselves politicians, and rob people with writ of law.

J Thomas on August 03, 2011, 12:47:20 pm

Unfortunately, with electronics, we are heading in the worse direction, with chip fabs getting ever bigger and more expensive.

To a large extent we do that because we can. Consumer electronics consumers have little idea what they're buying, and consumer software substitutes raw power for everything else except artistic imagination.

We might easily build tiny chips that don't make much heat, that do more limited tasks incredibly fast. That could be packaged "like a wide spot on the cable". We don't, because we choose not to.

And we could scale up those tiny chips to ten thousand times the size, and one hundredth the speed, and one thousandth the fixed cost, but there is no market.

It doesn't have to be this way. Maybe in coming decades it won't be.

quadibloc on August 04, 2011, 08:39:39 am
We might easily build tiny chips that don't make much heat, that do more limited tasks incredibly fast. That could be packaged "like a wide spot on the cable". We don't, because we choose not to.
Well, small and low-power chips do exist for various applications.

Microsoft chose not to continue making Windows 3.1 available, and so people have had to buy larger and more powerful microprocessors, instead of smaller and cheaper ones with the same power, to have desktop computers that can run current applications. Windows 3.1 could run in 2 megabytes; to use the X Window system, even with fvwm and an old version of Linux, took 16 megabytes.

I guess we could choose to use computers like the original Asus Eee, for example. But while the current situation is the result of choice, it's choice in a marketplace where what is available and what everyone else is using strongly constrains the choices of individuals - it's not where people are individually choosing the current kind of computer, from an assortment of equally viable alternatives, as the best kind of computer for them.

Thanks to viruses on the Internet, people can't even opt for the strategy "I've got Windows 98, I can play DVDs on my computer, who needs to upgrade".

gemcat on August 07, 2011, 02:09:28 pm
In a word, small. The chief value of materials in space is their location. Many kinds of materials may be discovered in space but there are two common materials - nickle-iron and rock like material. Refining is not necessary since there was no atmosphere to produce what we call ore. Both these materials can be used by application of heat and manipulation. Not only that there is material in L5 that could be used. All you have to do is get a robot out there, lease some telemetry (from the GBT for example), and start fabricating stuff. For simplicity I recommend making the nickle-iron into wire and pulverizing the rock. Structures of all kinds can be woven from wire and electro-coated with rock dust. The materials can be heat fused in layers to produce solid walls. Machines already perform these functions on earth, you just have to miniaturize them for transport. Even if you cannot do high-tech you can ship microchips cheaper than mining equipment and your robots can build larger bodies when appropriate. Let the rich guys build space ships - we could have space habitats ready when they arrive. This kind of operation would not cost billions. Maybe there are enough people right here to fund it. You could begin with a prize for a team of robots that can assemble a plastic model. How much fun is that!