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Old 08-08-2019, 01:54 PM
Sam Stone is offline
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Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 28,209
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
I don't know why people keep on insisting on that. It will take a long time to ramp up production in space, but there's no reason that high tech couldn't eventually be produced in space. After all, here on Earth we had to invent ways to do it and gradually increase our abilities, there's no reason we would do the same in space. The first step is producing raw materials, then gradually making more and more sophisticated production facilities.
It is a matter of manpower and diversity of materials. The supply chain for even minor products is incredibly long, and involves many people with very specialized skills.

If we were to list the supplies required to build, say, a computer chip, it would be thousands of ingredients long. If we were to calculate how many people were responsible for ultimately building that computer chip, it would run into the millions. Surviving on a hostile world indefinitely would require computer chips to be manufactured, along with millions of other goods.

In fact, it's entirely possible that our high-tech, complex society advanced at a rate limited not by invention or discovery, but simply by population size. In other words, if you landed on an exact equivalent of Earth with 100 people and all the textbooks ever written, it might take just about as long to build up to Earth-level tech as it did the first time, because to do it you need billions of people. You need people to mine materials, but before they can do that they need mining tools. Before they can have mining tools, they need to be able to smelt steel. To do that, they need sources of concentrated carbon. And on, and on it goes.

Imagine what it would take to stand up a precision chip fab, starting with no goods at all. Even on Earth such facilities cost billions, employ thousands of people, and require all kinds of exotic goods to already exist before they can even start building. Your chip fab project would employ tens of thousands of people, and that's just one thing among thousands you would need. Rubber? Where do you get that in space? What alternatives are there? Do we need to start planting rubber trees? Where does the soil come from? And the Nitrogen? Oh yeah, gotta figure out how to get that too...

Now, given infinite time of course you could make a self-sustaining colony somewhere, theoretically. But there is a serious chicken-and-egg problem: Long before it is self-sustaining there will be hundreds of thousands or millions of people there, and they will need to be supported. Who is going to support millions of people on another planet for thousands of years until they get their act together? No one.

This is the fallacy of Musk's Mars colony idea. As soon as you land the first permanent installation with people in it, you have created a cost center for Earth. There's nothing on Mars we want or need, so it's all cost and no benefit. Opposition to maintaining it would start almost immediately. Instead, you want to keep shipping more people and more facilities, increasing the annual cost, for thousands of years? It will never, ever happen.

If we want a self-sustaining space program and not another set of flags-and-footprints missions, the place to start is to figure out WHY we are doing it. And we'd better have a damned good reason that makes economic sense, or it will not continue to be developed.

Right now, the only plausible locations to profit from space are low Earth orbit, the Moon and the asteroids. Mars is a science and exploration destination, but as noted space philosopher Elton John noted, it's not a place to raise your kids.