Thursday, October 13, 2011

Applying Kant to Space: Part 2.5, The Starship of Musts

This is part 2.5of a series applying Kantian Ethics to manned space exploration and space colonization. All quotes are from The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Please read part two before this part.

Imagine for a moment a starship without warp drive. It would have to be fairly large to support a crew of even 100. Even so, the 100 bedrooms would be small compared the the storage needed for food, water and equipment/materials for constructing homes on whatever different star system their multi-generational journey takes them.  And that’s the problem, 100 people is the carrying capacity of the ship and it is a hard limit. These bedrooms are not luxurious, they are the bare minimum for human comfort and any increase in the ship’s crew will make it unethical to squeeze that many people together. Furthermore, life support systems will become overloaded if the population aboard the ship even reaches 101.

However, morally we are unable to limit the number of children. This is because it falls under the categorical imperative I described in part 2; it is something we can not do simply because we morally can not do it. Declaring something a categorical imperative is easy, explaining how it is a categorical imperative and how it is relevant is the next task.

We see how Kant’s law is relevant by applying the following test: try to make the rules that the starship’s crew has to follow to universal rules for all of humanity. That is to say imagine the whole Earth as a starship with a certain carrying capacity. We are free to educate; to give incentives to lower the number of children people choose to have less, but we can not force this rule upon all of humanity since it is impracticable to do so.

But this is not the end. No, we are in conflict with our space-faring goal of reaching the next star system on a multi-generational ship (the hypothetical imperative) should we conform to the categorical imperative. If our ship has a maximum load of 100 people then we are forced to meet this requirement just like we are forced to do homework if we want a degree. 

To solve this conflict we must combine both the hypothetical imperative and the categorical imperative. That means our if-then statement become if we want to build a multi-generational starship then we must design it with a caring capacity that can expand. That way we can address both of the musts in the form of the hypothetical imperative and the categorical imperative.

Photo by Abriael

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Applying Kant to Space: Part 2, What We Must and Must Not Do

This is part two of a series applying Kantian Ethics to manned space exploration and space colonization. All quotes are from The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Please read part one before this part.

Kant used the idea of imperatives to express the two different types of "must dos" in life. The first is called a "categorical imperative...which [is] represented [as] an action objectively necessarily of itself, without reference to another [goal]". The second is called the hypothetical imperative which are actions "good merely as a means to something else".

Photo by Tumnaselda

To make this clearer consider a starship on an 100 year mission. Physical requirements (like run x number of laps in y time) are ok to impose on the crew because one does not have to go on this mission to have a happy life; physical requirement belong to the hypothetical imperative. But imposing thought requirements and belief requirements would violate the categorical imperative.

For example, the captain of the starship and the design team must not place any limitation or requirements on the number of children crew members must or can have because that asks the crew to conform with a certain thoughts and that can make them miserable. It is different from physical requirements because it can be designed around.  Furthermore, it is different because if we find ourselves violating anything that must be done to execute something that could be done then we find ourselves in moral fault. This is because it is far more important, because the proof for categorical imperatives does not rely on our wishes, to preserve categorical imperatives and abandon hypothetical ones.

Yes, this means we might not be able to do the 100 year starship mission at all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Applying Kant to Space: Part 1, An Introduction to Kantian Ethics

Immanuel Kant was born in 1724, long before space dreams entered the mind of the general public. However, his thoughts still resonate today. His ideas resonate because he created an ethics system that was "cleansed of everything that may only be empirical and [based in] anthropology" (Source: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals; all further ) Basically, he found a moral system that all rational beings would have to follow.; a moral system based on pure reason.

Kant's thoughts are important as this blog and the space community exploration the ethics of the field because of the many different cultures involved.  We need some "supreme norm" to evaluate our ethical decisions in space. Otherwise, our discussions get clouded in the wide range of subjective ethics systems around the world.

One example is the need for space. Different cultures have different needs for personal space. Thus, the culture influences the size of hallways and rooms in a space station or settlement. Thus we see why the upcoming discussion is important.

Tomorrow I will explore more of Kant's thoughts.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apollo Poked the Box but we are in a Dip

Seth Godin wrote a blog post about the "contradiction (it seems) between Poke the Box, which argues that you must consistently ship innovations to the market (and frequently fail), and The Dip [both by Mr. Godin], which argues that... the real success comes after the quitters have left the building".

The Apollo program, in fact the whole space race, poked the box in unique way. What they did back then is the biggest example of pushing pass the fear of shipping Seth Godin mentions.What's impressive about this is the cultural changes that took place to allow the space race. People, at one time, thought even short range rockets where impossible. Whole administrations on both sides of the race were against space programs at first.

We are now is the middle of the dip, the part where people quit because this is the most tiresome part of any endeavor. The excitement of the firsts has worn off. But quitting the multi-generational project that is space exploration "in the middle is dumb". We are on the verge of something epic. Every step through the brick wall that is holding humanity back from being space-faring will be awful, absolutely awful, but it will so be worth decades of effort on our part. Efforts that we might not see the fruits of, but efforts humanity will enjoy. No one said this would be easy.

Now is the hardest time in our progress towards space settlement, not our first baby steps, but our first steps as adults. We are allowed to fail over and over in the start, to keep poking at it until a species reaches its firsts in space. But once the project is committed to by showing the public successful baby steps, successful pokes, then, then we must not quit. Even as this struggle tempts us too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How the Race to the Bottom Blows Up Space Dreams

Cheaper and faster, those two ideas dominate current industrial economies and strangles progress towards space faring economies.

Consumption as the Old Driver vs. the Need for New Drivers

We are use to this the model, buy stuff to satisfy our wants and needs at low, low prices. In the space age will will be doing the same things but it will be STEM (Science, Tech, Math and Engineering) and design powered. However, STEM powered things are costly mainly because the people who dream up these STEM based things demand a high pay for their training.

The Race to the Bottom

Seth Godin in a recent post said “[t]here's a race to the bottom, one where communities fight to suspend labor and environmental rules in order to become the world's cheapest supplier. The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win”. Seth Godin goes onto explain that companies were able to charge a higher price and workers were able to earn more because of inefficiencies in the system. Now, as we remove each inefficiency, wages and prices drop. It seems we are stuck in this cycle.

Macro-engineering is the Solution

Macro-engineering project change the game. They remove inefficiency but rise wages because of a higher quality product being produced. This is why space is so important, we can make better stuff in zero gravity. We can produce more energy in space. It is the difference between bargain beef and organic beef.

Photo by gynti_46

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Subtlety of What's Next in Space

This is my entry for the Coalition for Space Exploration's "What’s Next?" Contest, please enjoy.

Photo by rAmmoRRison

We will not have cities on other planets in one hundred years, but subtle progress towards space habitation. This includes increased reliance on the undergraduate community, motivating them to continue space related careers. Isolating space programs economically, by the use of space resources to fund these high flying endeavours, will protect them from the recession and political movement. The diffusion of space centers and research throughout the nation will decrease the political tension in the space field. Increased focus on life cycle engineering during space system design is forced upon us because of the space junk problem. There is also the troubling public opinion towards science in general; it is no longer respected but is often regarded as “opinion”. All of the above items are next if becoming a space-faring species is in the cards for humanity.

One of the first lessons I learned in my ongoing undergraduate career is that attending a university is hard and learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is harder. The joy of a STEM career is not enough to motivate students to complete their STEM majors, especially when other majors, like finance, seem more profitable. Space agencies will have to find ways to encourage undergraduate participation in the progress towards a space-faring society. This should be enough to keep STEM retention high.

Photo by blueforce4116

Global markets are currently volatile, so volatile that I fear we can no longer depend on them to fund space ventures using Earth’s resources. Private companies and governments must look at using space resources to fund high flying dreams. This will allow space development to continue no matter what happens on Earth. Furthermore, it will bring people into space ventures as money making opportunities open up in the high frontier.

Currently, with government being the major consumer of space services, space companies are exposed to political movements. At times like these, NASA is on the chopping block. However, independently funded space ventures are free from the tides of public opinion, even if they are ran by the government. No one will cut programs with short-term profit and technological benefits with no tax burden on the public. We also have the side benefit of speedier space development when funded with space resources.

Space projects are increasingly seen as only pork-barrel projects; not as projects of benefit to the greater public. However, this will change as humanity’s adventure into space increases in speed. Instead of adding onto the current space complexes, we will see spaceports rise all around the nation as demand for space services (especially telecommunications) increases. If people are able to see the impact of space in their local economies, they will have less reasoning behind the already baseless claim of the porky nature of space exploration.

However the space community does have self-made problems. The “[s]pace junk problem reache[d a] tipping point'” recently, “with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures"1. If humanity wants to be space-faring, all future designs must focus on the whole life cycle of the device and include a way to safely de-orbit the object. I also fear that our attitudes are far riskier to development of the high frontier than a sphere of deadly space junk.

Science is no longer regarded as fact and I am troubled by this trend. This general attitude impacts the space field because of its high tech nature and need for heavy R&D. For example, if people are denying global warming, it becomes harder to convince them to launch more weather satellites or look into radiation. What we need is an increase in STEM education to allow people to connect with the scientific community better.

1: O'Neill, Ian. "Space Junk Problem Reaches 'Tipping Point'." Discovery News. Sep 2, 2011. Web. 26 Sep. 2011. .

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I'm sorry for the offensive ad that was ran on my site. I have remove the Entrecard network as a result. Please accept my apology.

Image by butupa

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Help NASA with Space Habitation

College seniors and graduate students can build prototypes to be used in space in the eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge. If NASA likes your proposal, they will send you $5-$45 thousand to build your idea. Stop procrastinating and build the space age.

Important Dates
  • March 14, 2011 - Date of Announcement / Release of RFP
  • March 29, 2011 Questions for TIM #1 Due
  • April 1, 2011 Notice of Intent Due
  • April 5, 2011 Technical Interchange Meeting Telecon #1
  • April 12, 2011 Questions for TIM #2 Due
  • April 19, 2011 Technical Interchange Meeting Telecon #2
  • May 6, 2011 Proposal Due Date
  • May 23, 2011 Award Announcements

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The NASA Aeronautics Scholarship Program

The Aeronautics Scholarship Program (ASP) offers our nation's research leaders of tomorrow exceptional funding:
Undergraduate Students
  • $15,000 awarded for each school year, to be used for educational related expenses
  • $10,000 Summer internship at a NASA Research Center
  • 2 years of support
Graduate Students
  • $35,000 stipend
  • $11,000 awarded each year, to be used for educational related expenses
  • $10,000 Summer internship at a NASA Research Center
  • 2 years of support, with an option for a 3rd year
The NASA ASP online application is now open.
If you think you have the stuff to run with the nation's top program, than apply. Hurry, applications are due Jan. 15, 2012.

NASA Seeks Bight Undergraduates To Fly Research In the Vomit Comet

Undergrads, now is your chance to make a splash in the scientific community and do your own research with NASA.

Teams interested in conducting student-driven research should submit a letter of intent by Sept. 14. This step is optional, but serves as an introductory notice that a team plans to submit a proposal for the competition. Proposals for student-driven experiments are due Oct. 26, and selected teams will be announced Dec. 7. The actual flight experience will take place in June 2012.

This opportunity will set you up for a career in space, so what are you waiting for, my permission. Get a team together and start designing.
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