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Dr. Doug Plata, Monday, 7-13-15 July 14, 2015

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Dr. Doug Plata, Monday, 7-13-15


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Guest:  Dr. Doug Plata.  Topics:  Achieving Early Earth Independence with space settlements.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.


We welcomed Dr. Doug Plata back as our guest to discuss his paper which is on TSS blog for your perusal, “Achieving Early Earth Independence Through ISRU and Sufficient Supply.  During the first segment of our 1 hou 45 minute program, Doug told us the genesis of his ideas and concepts culminating in his submitting his paper to the NASA Challenge InnoCentive Challenge (www.innocentive.com/ar/challenge/9933746).  After referencing the NASA Challenge, Doug started describing his ideas in detail.  Much of what he described he said was summarized in the Introduction of his paper.  We talked about both the Moon and Mars but Doug explained that the competition was focused on Mars so he also focused on Mars though he still supports the Moon and cislunar development as the rational and initial starting points.   Issues he discussed included supplies, types of potential habitats, the definition of and clarifications for mass independence including defining both self-sufficient and self-sustaining.  He also brought up the earth return option and more.  BJohn sent in several questions but his initial one asking about becoming 90% Earth independent led to a most interesting discussion.  While Doug’s paper does not have page numbers, check out Table 3, “Estimated Equivalent Mass Independence.  Doug took us through the critical numbers and his analysis so don’t miss this important discussion.


In the second segment, Doug suggested three rationales for the settlement.  One was to push technologies needed for sustainable living in space.  The second was the big one according to his perspective and focused on reducing the resupply costs for the settlement.  The third one was also big and focused on assuring survival of the human species.  He discussed each rational in detail.  As part of the discussion, he referenced a space settlement as an insurance policy for humans, he talked about the earth return option, radiation, GCRs,  and more.  He also showed that by leaving the crew on Mars for an extra year, the mission would be less costly.  Listen to his discussion about this and see if you concur with him.  Doug was asked about the previous program with Al Globus and LEO settlements, especially over the equator.  He said that such settlements, while potentially interesting, cannot be self-sufficient or Earth independent and his focus was on gaining Earth independence.  Again, don’t miss this discussion.  Gravity, artificial gravity and spin rates were discussed as was the concept of self-sustaining versus self-sufficient for a colony.   Doug advocated for using the word colony rather than settlement but I took issue with that, especially if one hopes to communicate with people including Congress outside the space industry.  As the show was ending, Paula asked Doug about the fact that space settlers may not want to achieve Earth independence and it seemed his work was formulated around the assumption that everyone wanted Earth independence ASAP.  This was a great last question and discussion.  Doug provided a good summary of today’s discussion as we closed the show.


Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above.  You can reach Dr. Plata through his websites or me.



1. Andy Hill - July 19, 2015

I think that it is a good idea for NASA to start with a year long mission, as the one done by the Russians was quite a while back and hopefully there are better diet and exercise regimes now also, didn’t the Russian have some permanent health issues after his long stay in space?

Also if I were signing up for this not sure I would want to do an open ended mission with no fixed duration, astronauts do have families after all and with present level of knowledge on long term stays I think its prudent to start with a year.

The real question is why it has taken NASA so long in getting round to doing longer than six month stays.

2. ericmachmer - July 17, 2015

David thank you for speaking against the use of the word “colony”. The tone deaf use of this word creates a striking, severe, utterly unnecessary self-inflicted hurdle to communication of our community’s noble goals, especially to persons who are not yet space advocates.

“Colony” generates divisions and stumbling blocks we need to take seriously. This term diverts conversations with lay persons – folks on the fringes of the space-advocacy community – who ought to be among the most passionate enthusiasts of off-Earth resource development, global internet constellations, Earth observation satellites, space-enabled affluence, and so on. Unfortunately intelligent influential persons casually interested in the value of human expansion through our solar system – spouses of conference attendees, congressional representatives during March Storm, even everyday folk such as conference hotel staff and friends and family – react negatively to use of the term “colony”. It is a nonstarter. It shuts down education. Words such as “colony”, “colonialists” and so on can change the tone and direction of an otherwise lively informative useful discussion.

We need to be aware of this. It feeds into a longstanding, misguided but legitimately raised concern that funding spent ‘on space’ should be spent to ‘help the least advantaged’…when in fact it does, and is the sole reason many of us are space development advocates at all. This is not a shallow rhetorical issue of political correctness. Use of “colony” is not mitigated by clumsy qualifications like “it has no political meaning – by ‘colony’ I mean what an ant colony is” (which only adds an extra layer of tone-deaf nuttiness frankly).

We need to work actively against such terminology. (For example, changing wikipedia entries titled ‘Mars Colonization’ to ‘Mars Settlement’ – thus far to no avail – or SpaceX’s MCT spelled out to Mars Community Transport or whatever…will take time and conscious effort.) Use of “colony” creates genuine, real impediments to educating everyday voters on the value of space enterprises to all humanity.

Lyrics to “Whitey on the Moon” by Gil Scott-Heron:

A rat done bit my sister Nell
with whitey on the moon
her face and arms began to swell
and whitey is on the moon
I can’t pay no doctor bills
but whitey is on the moon
ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still
with whitey on the moon ya know?
the man just upped my rent last night
cause whitey is on the moon
no hot water, no toilets, no lights
but whitey is on the moon
I wonder why he’s uppin’ me? cause whitey is on the moon
well I was givin’ him 50 dollars a week
and now whitey is on the moon

Taxes takin’ my check
the junkies make me a nervous wreck
the price of food is goin’ up
and as if all that crap wasn’t enough a rat done bit my sister Nell
with whitey on the moon
her face and arms began to swell
with whitey on the moon
with all that money I made last year
put whitey on the moon
how come I aint got no money here?
Hmmm whitey on the moon
ya know I just about had my fill
of whitey on the moon
I think I’ll send these bills air mail special to
whitey on the moon

Help can’t even help now
and whitey is on the moon
aid for my brothers and sisters
how whitey is on the moon
guess we’ll just sit by dyin’
with whitey on the moon
dogs have better luck at their tails tryin’
whitey is on the moon
fed up us people are
and whitey is on the moon
the slogan poverty or bust
later to whitey on the moon

B John - July 17, 2015

I emailed David with the same comment (without the song)! It is great that David brings this up. Curing the “colonization” meme could be one of the single most important things for improving public opinion for space exploration/settlement. As a Swede I never thought about it before (no colonization in our history one way or another), but one would think that Americans care, since the US was formed by the world’s first successful revolution against colonialism.

3. Andy Hill - July 17, 2015

Why not have people wear weights to compensate for the reduced gravity on the Moon or Mars? I know this wouldn’t solve all the issues but it could help with bone and muscle loss. Make it out of Lead and you have increased the radiation shielding they have.

Give everyone a suit of armour to walk around in (without the sword and lance);-)

B John - July 17, 2015

A plate armour battle dress might be useful for the “colonization”. 😀

What NASA is actually working on, is a skin tight suit. Its light thin material squeezes the body to help solve at least the problem with keeping the 2/3 of that which is us that is water, into the same place it is when we walk on Earth. Lowering pressure in the upper body and increasing it in the legs. (Maybe it could be commercialized on Earth too, as a replacement for a diet, or for the kinky market?) Here’s a lecture about it, or you could google project leader “Dava Newman”:

4. Matt - July 16, 2015

Hi Dr. Livingston,

I just listened to Your TSS-podcast with Dr. Jack Burns and I have listened for many episodes of Your SpaceShow in the past, but I had never such strong urge to writing You as I have right now. The moment that made me write in is around the 1 hour and 20 minute mark where You point out that Your government is on a tight budget for space projects as well as not seeing the future revenues from investing in (commercial-) space projects.

You say that You feel sick of it and powerless, yet it’s people like You that do actively contribute to the space community by managing a platform on which space professionals and enthusiasts can come together and discuss ideas which, some day, may come to fruition!

I think You’re doing great and I wanted to write in to tell You that.

Kind regards,

5. DougSpace - July 14, 2015

Something that I forgot to mention is that people can look at concepts for a self-sustaining settlement in one of two ways. The analogy way is to say, “All of the needs to sustain me are provided by a large, modern, industrial society. So, we need a large, modern, industrial society to become self-sustaining”.

The first principles way of looking at it is, “What are the minimum needs to achieve a self-sustaining base”? That would be air, air pressure, temperature protection, water, food, the equipment to produce these supplies and its own equipment. Looking at it from this perspective, achieving a self-sustaining base becomes a finite set of problems to be solved.

B John - July 15, 2015

No no no, that is wrong! We do need an advanced industrial society in order to survive as a civilization. Industry is really the first principle for our existence. Being a human is being industrial. All life is intimately socially and sexually interconnected with each other and every single piece of life is highly specialized and interdependent. Isn’t that true?

We need the unfathomable billion years old biosphere of Earth in order to survive. Some gas and a heater and water in a tin can might keep us alive for a while, but I doubt for as long as even a couple of generations. We are very complex and little understood beings, I think we need a bit more than frozen hamburgers to stay alive.

Everyday we only meet biological matter, or matter formed by biological processes. Have you ever touched anything which doesn’t have a biological origin? I did touch a meteorite in a museum once. But I cannot recall ever meeting anything of non-living origin other than that. Life is our environment, this is what we were evolutionarily made for. I think it will be hard to do without it.

I agree with almost everything you say, but this self-sustainability idea has some dangerous problems, I’m convinced.

DougSpace - July 15, 2015

Hi B. John. The sufficiently supplied concept in my paper is a stop-gap measure to buy enough time to implement protocols not only so that the small settlement can implement protocols to reproduce equipment but to begin to introduce increasing levels of biological systems. Although I didn’t mention it on the air, in my paper I make mention of a BioPreserve from which biomes of increasing size could be produced. But reproducing a full biosphere is beyond our current capabilities and would have to be left to future generations. Do you have any ideas about how that could be done such as terraforming or paraterraforming Mars?

B John - July 16, 2015

First I want to recommend Robert Walkers blog, he has been a guest on the Space Show. He is very well informed and reasons realistically about the possibilities of life on Mars and how we should handle that for planetary protection.

Terraforming Mars by giving it an atmosphere is sci fi to me and might very well always be impossible. But some organisms on Earth are believed to be able to survive underground on Mars. At least some areas seem to have liquid underground water at least seasonally. I’m sure we could even run some kind of agriculture there with upcoming bioengineering breakthroughs. And then there are the caves which could be sealed off and turned into as an Earth like environment as we wish. I suppose the great cooled volcanoes have huge lava tubes inside of and under them. Maybe there are such interior hollows which have been filled with higher gas pressure than the atmosphere and which are still some heat and where there’s liquid water and life already?

Problem with life on Mars is that it maybe only exists in one single location. And one day when we encounter it, it could prove to be some kind of nano-pest that kills all life on Earth when we bring it home (which we cannot avoid in the long run). Maybe such a space bug is why Mars’ surface is dead? It sounds fantastic, but microbiology is so fantastic that I don’t trust human judgements about the risks involved.

I appreciate your presence on the Space Show. You are always well informed and productive and much more objective than I myself manage to be.

B John - July 16, 2015

Mars might become useful for biological experiments which might be dangerous to perform on Earth, but which would benefit from aspects of the Martian environment. Space is already used a science laboratory. That’s how humanity discovered physics, by calculating Mars’ orbit and figuring out the very surprising idea that planets move like apples fall.

The basic math of life is frightening. Evolution has made us really hard to kill, but this is only in relation to our environment which consists of other life on Earth with which we are related. Life uses 20 amino acids (out of at least several hundred that are chemically possible) and the average protein is about 350 amino acids long. That’s 20^350 possible combinations. And I think there are about a million different proteins, between 100 and 30,000 amino acids long. Even during billions of years evolution in Earth’ biosphere has not been able to try out any significant portion of them, way less than even 1 in 10^100.

So evolutionary history might not be helpful when we encounter another lifeform which is also based on DNA and protein, but which doesn’t have, and never had, even one single protein in common with us. Our intelligence and industrialized civilization will never figure out the combinatorics of life. The number of atoms and time in the visible universe is literally too small to compute that, even if it was all turned into a computer. Quantum biology is another scary thought. If life is actually using quantum computations, then not even quantum computers will be able to simulate it.

DougSpace - July 15, 2015

One more thing. You mention surviving as a civilization. You truly do need our current level of development in order to preserve our civilization. But my paper is looking at the initial steps in which the human species establishes an independent foothold but would come nowhere close to preserving any civilization. Although I did not mention it during the show, in my paper I made brief mention of an information preserve which would be something like the crowd sourcing of information drawn from the Internet. Some of that would be very practical whereas other info would provide a broad variety of information which distant generations could draw upon while their own civilization developed.

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