Isaac Aimov and the Relativety of Wrong (Science Fiction Lies continued)

In “The Relativety of Wrong” he argues in one essay that it’s easy to see that there are DEGREES of being wrong. He uses a very simple example to make his point. There are two historical views of the Earth. One is that it is flat, and one is that it is round. Neither is right. The Earth is a spheroid. Kinda bulgey in the middle and tapered at the top. But which one is less wrong? Obviously, that the Earth is round is, “pretty nearly true”.

Apparently, in the same volume of essays he had pretty much come to the same conclusion about space travel as depicted in much of science fiction, that faster than light travel was as wrong as the flat Earth explanation of the shape of the planet. In other words there are people who say we should not be messing around with manned space travel because it produces no useful results. They argue that we should be using sophisticated and cheap probes to explore the solar system and beyond. That we as a people should be concentrating on making life better on this planet instead.

The science fiction oriented people argue that we must continued with manned exploration. Moving us further out in the colonization of the solar system, while developing ever new and new space craft. In the process many believe we will find away around the “Speed of Light” problem and launch for the stars. Their first goal is to replace the Space Shuttle, set up building operations on the moon and get ready for a try at Mars.

Asimov flatly asserts in an article in 1987 that we must spend 100 years developing a space infrastructure and space travelers who are aclimated to zero G’s on the moon.

Their most ambitious project? A manned mission to Mars with a two-nation crew, a collaboratively built ship, and the goal of planting both the Stars and Stripes and the Hammer and Sickle on the surface of the Red Planet.

Understandably, the idea had imme­diate appeal. Who could argue with an undertaking that would double the talent pool of both nations’ space programs, halve the costs, and, not incidentally, speed the recent thaw between Moscow and Washington?

But hold on. The proposal does have a flaw. It’s possible that the first people on Mars should be neither Americans nor Soviets. Indeed, it’s possible they shouldn’t be people from Earth at all. Rather they should be moon people. Let me explain.


What is needed instead is not a one­time sprint to a nearby planet, but a slow, patient expansion away from Earth; a long-term program—perhaps taking a century to complete—that would equip us not just for a single interplanetaryjoyride but for the coordinated explore-‘ tion of the deep solar system.

The first thing a long-term Soviet-American space program would need, of course, would be a base from which to launch its vessels. We have any number of sites on Earth, but our planet is nol truly satisfactory. Escape velocity from Earth is 7 miles per second; that makes lift-off difficult. There are only foui bodies in the solar system—the sun. Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune—with a tighter gravitational grip and a highei escape velocity. Then, too, Earth has an atmosphere and weather. Storms in­hibit launches, and even clear air offers resistance.

What we need is a place that is alto­gether otherworldly, a celestial bodi that,  though sizable,  is  lighter thai Earth, with a lower escape velocity, ll would also be convenient if that bod\ had no atmosphere. As a kindly fate has it, our closest astronomical neighbor ii ideally suited for this. It is the moon which has a diameter of 2,160 miles, at escape velocity of but 1.5 miles pa second, and barely a wisp of atmo sphere.   Less  than a quarter-milliot miles away, it can be reached

with pres ent rockets in just three days. It’s asi we’d spent decades launching our ship from some stormy, rock-strewn pon only to discover that all along there: been a smooth-as-glass harbor just a fev miles down the cosmic coast.

Fine. So let’s dust off the old moot ships, fly our engineers to the Sea t Tranquility, and build ourselves a luw Canaveral.


Once we reached the moon, there would be no limit to the ways in which we could use its resources. The moon is a world with a surface area equal to that of North and South America put together. From its raw materials we can get a large variety of metals, concrete, glass, and oxygen. In fact, a moon base that in­cluded mining stations would supply everything we would need for construc­tion except water and the light elements: carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. These would come from Earth.

Using the moon as our source of raw materials and Earth as a reservoir of talent and technology, the space be­tween Earth and the moon could be filled with any number of support structures —solar energy stations, nuclear energy stations, observatories, and laborato­ries. Even some of Earth’s industrial plants could be put into orbit, to take advantage of the unusual properties of space (vacuum, microgravity, extreme temperatures) that facilitate manufac-

20     DISCOVER • JANUARY • 1988

 turing. What’s more, the waste products the factories put out could be much better disposed of in the vastness of space than in Earth’s fragile and finite biosphere. To service and populate all these facilities, space settlements— each holding thousands of people— could be built, designed to mirror Earth’s environment as closely as possible.

Ideally this extension of the human range should be global, operated not just by the United States and the Soviet Union but by the world at large. In fact, as the moon and the space settlements became more populous, international control could be loosened, and the new worlds could become regional self-gov­erning units of an Earth-Space Union.

It may take five generations or more to flesh out such a system, but only then would we be ready to make the most of the next major step: a trip to Mars.

When that project finally did get un­der way, the best thing for the Earth people to do would be to step back and leave it to the space people to make the journey. Space settlers would be much more accustomed to the idea of space flight, much more accustomed to low and varying gravity, much more accus­tomed to living inside a world rather then on it.

The moon couldbecome o new Canaveral, a spring board to the planets.

They would be much more aware of the need for resource control and tight recycling of such necessities as air and water. When the colonists reached Mars, they would find it rich in the light ele­ments. Using these along with the re­sources available from the moon, the Mars settlers, moon settlers, and space settlers could soon become independent of Earth for raw materials. Such economic independence would help speed the next phase of expansion —out to the asteroid belt where hun­dreds of thousands of small worlds exist, many of which could be carved into settlements or used for further mining operations. And these asteroid settle­ments—once equipped with advanced propulsive mechanisms operating like giant outboard motors—might them­selves be steered into the vast expanses of the outer solar system or beyond the solar system altogether. No one making these long trips would be conscious of. having left home, for they would be taking home along with them. The process of migration and settlement could stretch out over millennia, but what’s the rush? Rather than racing into a symbolic, onetime visit to Mars! We should perhaps contemplate this  slow exploration of the galaxy, by a process very much like the dispersal of  dandelion seeds by a helpful wind.


So he is basically saying that both the stay-at-homers and the go-far-and-fast crowds are both wrong. But in that telling essay that I can not find he believes the far-and-fast crowd are wrong and fraudulant as well. In other words really really wrong. More on that in the last blog on the subject I hope.

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