This is the story seed for every space opera novel ever written, from George Lucas' Star Wars to the milieu of Iain Banks' Culture novels. (Guess what I'm reading right now.) How many of these exoplanets are actually habitable? How many are orbited by habitable moons?
The news coming from Trump’s FCC puppet proposing to end Net Neutrality are not unexpected, but they are still infuriating.
The internet is a great leveler, an innovation machine, an infinite resource, a tool, and a way to stay connected.
It has changed my life, and I firmly believe that it belongs to everyone.
We must demand that open internet access be maintained.
What Ajit Pai is proposing we do by revoking Title II is put the power to control access to the internet in the hands of the government and giant corporations who don’t have your best interests at heart. If Ajit Pai has his way, ISPs will be able to throttle or block content and services as they choose. They’ll be able to jack up your rates, too.
“The FCC has confirmed that they will vote on 12/14 to abolish the regulations that prevent internet service providers from blocking access to certain sites, throttling internet speeds, and otherwise controlling what websites and online services are available to their customers.” Source: 5calls.org
We can’t let it happen. Don’t let them end Net Neutrality.
There has not been a single greater threat to free speech this year.
If our voices are cut off by giving control of internet access over to the hands of the few, that will mark the beginning of a long dark road.
Speak up. Call your representatives using 5calls.org. I know I will be.
The other design I needed to research for The Alien Element is what a realistic lunar dome might look like and be made out of.
You know the Jetson’s style glass dome, straight out of the sci-fi imagination of 1950s America? That’s where I started when I first began to imagine what a lunar dome might look like, and how it all might work.
But technology has improve immensely since the 1950s, and glass domes are not realistic on a moon with no atmosphere and a danger of meteorites, either to live in or maintain. The old vision had become dated. So I went in search of more modern lunar dome concepts.
The newest and most realistic concept I found on Gizmodo. They propose running “moon stuff” (the soil/crust of the moon) through a 3D printer to turn it into a cement-like material. Using that stuff, they’d arrange or print it in a cellular structure, insert inflatables into the interior to hold atmosphere, and connect the domes with tunnels like an ant colony. Pictured here is a render:
There are other benefits, too.
According to ESA’s human spaceflight team’s Scott Hovland: “3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.”
This means that we don’t need to carry building supplies up there. If we use what the moon provides, we same save on hassle and fuel.
Additional ideas and questions came from Quora user Robert Walker, who wrote more about the specifics and logistics of establishing such a base on the Moon or Mars. He suggests putting the colony in a large caldera or smaller crater, using the natural structure for stability, and raising a dome above it. He wrote an even longer piece here. I haven’t read all of it yet, but it’s very interesting and asks all sorts of questions I never even thought about.
That’s one of the joys of doing this kind of research—I’m introduced to so many new ideas.
And then there’s this idea of setting up a colony on the moon, beneath the moon’s surface inside of a lava cave, which scientists have posited could be quite large on the moon. So-called “lava caves” were apparently made during the cooling period while the moon’s surface was forming after the impact with Earth that created it.
Unlike Earth, the Moon lacks a thick atmosphere and magnetic field to protect it against cosmic radiation. The absence of an atmospheric buffer also means that the Moon’s surface receives more frequent meteorite impacts and more extremes of temperature.
For example, the Moon’s surface temperature can vary by several hundred degrees C during the course of a lunar day.
But housing bases underground, inside lava tubes, could offer shielding against these risks.
The lunar tunnels are expected to be larger than those already discovered on our planet, because of the Moon’s lower gravity. No-one has yet definitively discovered an example on the Moon, but spacecraft have revealed cave entrances called skylights that may open into lava tubes.
Skylights! Holy crap, that’s amazing. There are so many great story seeds in these articles.
Clearly, the Jetson-style 1950s vision of the future didn’t hold up over time. Especially not glass domes, and definitely not on the moon where there’s no atmosphere.
Those finnicky laws of nature, they’re just so rigid.
I went for something along the lines of the 3D printed option in The Alien Element. It was a fun challenge that added great ambience to the story.
The Alien Element
A fast-paced science fiction thriller with an edge of the fantastic. A treacherous quest for answers that becomes a harrowing battle against an ancient adversary beyond imagining.
When I decided to rejig the ending of The Alien Element, a lunar nuclear reactor became important to the plot. I’d planned this from the beginning, but I was hazy on specifics.
Realizing I needed to backfill some of the details in the book, and wanting to make sure that it’s as realistic and technically accurate as a novel about teleportation, ancient aliens, and Mayan ruins can possibly be, I started searching around on the interwebz…
And MY GOD was I happy with what I found.
I already had an idea that NASA uses portable nuclear reactors to power their missions to the moon and Mars. I love learning about NASA missions and I found all sorts of fascinating stuff to inspire me.
Like this Technology Review article on how NASA stress-tested a lunar nuclear reactor made with two Stirling engines circulating liquid metal back in 2009. Apparently they plan to put people back on the moon in 2020? Does anyone know if that’s still happening?
This extraordinary substance is the isotope helium-3, invaluable in ensuring the safety of nuclear power stations on Earth, and providing an all-powerful rocket fuel.
It is rare on Earth, being blown away by the solar wind. It is found in Troclotite, a metal of magnesium and iron, again rare but plentiful in the Moon’s crust.
My mind is racing by this point. I can’t possibly use all of this in the book I’m writing. I’m already overwhelmed by the number of threads I must tie together. It’s fascinating to me all the same.
A fully-loaded spaceship’s cargo base could power a quarter of the world for a year. This means that helium-3 has a potential economic value in the order of about £1 billion a ton, making it the Moon’s most valuable commodity except perhaps for astronomy and promoting tourism.
Wow. The idea of people mining the moon, which controls our tides, which influences our weather patterns and ocean life and much more, is absolutely terrifying.
But wait! Here’s more about the radioisotope power systems used by NASA “in numerous long-term missions, from Voyagers 1 and 2 to the Mars rovers”: a brief history on energy.gov.
If you want to know more about the many generations of radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used by NASA for spacecraft, see their page on RTGs at nasa.gov.
Here’s a cool cutaway diagram of a “SNAP-19 RTG used to power NASA’s two Viking landers.”
OK, last thing… from R&D Mag, “Nuclear Reactors to Power Space Exploration”:
Lessons learned from the kiloPower development program are being leveraged to develop a Mega Watt class of reactors termed MegaPower reactors. These concepts all contain intrinsic safety features similar to those in kiloPower, including reactor self-regulation, low reactor core power density and the use of heat pipes for reactor core heat removal. The use of these higher power reactors is for terrestrial applications, such as power in remote locations, or to power larger human planetary colonies. The MegaPower reactor concept produces approximately two megawatts of electric power. The reactor would be attached to an open air Brayton cycle power conversion system. A Brayton power cycle uses air as the working fluid and as the means of ultimate heat removal.
How cool. MegaPower reactors… I like the sound of that.
If you want to see how I use it in the book, check out The Alien Element.