Friday, March 31, 2023

MINING THE ASTEROIDS Part 6 – "Dedicated to something Greater Than Themselves" Will Be the Factor Driving Asteroid Mining

They say you have to learn to WALK before your can FLY, so before we start driving asteroids around the Solar System (and I can’t believe that Russia, China, the EU, India, Brazil, and the United States will give a happy thumbs up to that action (which just put in my mind that MOVING asteroids into Earth orbit will have to be a true, multi-national effort with multi-national crews…which, of course, will lead to incredible stress and possible conflict…)) let’s look at how we’ll start walking…

Humans have been taking pictures of asteroids, and doing flybys for twenty or more years. Recently, we’ve started landing on asteroids:

So, let’s say, “We can do it!” (Make sure you wear ruby slippers and click your heels together with your eyes closed...)

I was surprised to see “The Believers Shall Inherit the Solar System” in the May/June 2022 issue of my favorite magazine, ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact, NOT because of its conclusions, but because of the fact that I’ve been thinking about this very idea.

I’ve been writing about how Humans might effectively mine the minerals since November of 2021. After reading it, I first thought I’d totally missed the boat. After some thought, I realized that there are parallels between Raymund Eich’s solution to the challenge of feasibly mining the asteroids. (Eich has a B.A. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry, from Rice University. He currently files patent applications. In a typical day, he may talk with biochemists, electrical engineers, patent attorneys, and rocket scientists.)

I proposed tapping prisoners who had been sentenced for life-without-parole and creating a captive workforce to mine the asteroids (a timeless solution to mining dangerous ore or in dangerous conditions), but offering them freedom if they successfully reach their goals and removing their influence and “contamination” from the surface of Earth.

He suggests that “Whether in service to God, nation, or historical forces…colonist are dedicated to something greater than themselves.”

Diametrically opposed forces, “For God/Ideology vs Self Serving Egocentrism”, I’ve been wondering if they could be harnessed together and form an even more potent force.

In a note (on an envelope) I’d written to myself in November of last year, I said, “Mining asteroids might breed separatist communities; essentially hollow asteroids that might be repurposed into new worlds – places where Humanity might start to change. One of them the Confluence of Humanity (one of a pair of Human governments in direct opposition to each other in a universe with NO ALIEN SAPIENTS) who grow designer Humans to fit virtually any environment and splice ANY DNA into Human DNA, as well as creating artificial genes. Results are evaluated and any that don’t work out as planned are euthanized as per procedure. The Empire of Man is convinced of the superiority of unaltered Humans (less than 65% Human DNA (as referenced against the Human Genome Project 2022: "officially launched in 1990. It was declared complete on April 14, 2003, and included about 92% of the genome. Level "complete genome" was achieved in May 2021, with a remaining only 0.3% bases covered by potential issues. The final gapless assembly was finished in January 2022.), and is mechanically technologically advanced.

A Confluence ship, in orbit around Jupiter designs Humans to work in the Jovian atmosphere, “prospecting and mining H3”; they also mess around with organic ambulances as high tech ones are prohibitively expensive. They begin to design people low-g Humans – but they are forever unable to return to Earth. They become true citizens of space.

Eichs postulates that making money isn’t enough of a motivation to leave Earth, given the massive investments required to start an off-Earth mining colony versus the expected return. He also has to throw in a couple of imaginable-but-undeveloped technological advances that are little more than ideas and inklings right now. He firmly believes that the driving factor for the colonization of the Solar System (including mining the asteroids and the other planets) is UNCHANGED from all of Human history. He writes, “The details of their causes varied, but all these [pre-America] colonization movements have in common a cause greater than individual self-interest. Whether in service to God, nation, or historical forces, the colonists were dedicated to something greater than themselves.”

In my scenario, where prisoners form the base of forced labor, the stick is the asteroid; the carrot is not only freedom, but the possibility of turning their skills from valuable to the state, to valuable to themselves; ie, the will get paid for their work as miners once they complete a one-year orbit around the Sun.

What if I combined the two? What if the prisoners are selected on the basis of their dominant ideology? Place prisoners who tend toward Buddhist beliefs together. Capitalists can be grouped together – it might make a rather interesting story if you selected con artists serving time. Sort of like “Oceans 11” in space…but who would they be conning? Hmmm…Other combinations might work as well. I postulate that the prisoners – all of them serving life sentences – will be drawn from multiple countries, multiple prison systems. Maybe group their crimes together, but intentionally induce a sort of Babylon (NOT Babylon 5!) effect. None of them speak the same language – how do they learn to communicate. Your average asteroid would carry an extensive library (devoid of the POLITICAL SCIENCE, heavy on engineering, science, agriculture, animal husbandry, genetics, and other subjects that wouldn’t help them break out.

So, the asteroids would be particular mixes of prisoners…

Eich mentions one other thing: “A spiritual leader. [The phrase] might raise alarms…but all gurus and spiritual guides look like madmen to outsiders. And without a leader’s ability to create a ‘reality-distortion field’, who would cut ties with family and friends and go on a months-long, one-way journey, at the end of which wait years of toil to turn a lifeless planet or asteroid into a home?” My idea of using forced labor makes the “incarceration” limited – a year or so in orbit around the Sun, drop off the mined ore, and if it was a successful orbit, then the survivors are allowed to go free. Of course, I could add a “vote” – the forced labor could indicate which of their comrades deserve freedom. Lazy workers or those who only “took up space” would be locked up during the transfer, and released once the asteroid was on its way again.

There are a number of possibilities, nuances, and more importantly, STORY IDEAS here! Another one I thought of while writing this, a mystery: an asteroid mining facility returns empty. No sign of the prisoners. No sign of any life at all. And no bodies. What happened to them? Only time will tell. As Eich concludes: “…hundreds more possibilities to both entertain and make us thing as only science fiction can do.”

Extras to the article in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact: