Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I think I'm still playing catch-up to many of Charlie Stross's ideas, but while on my interminably long train ride it occurred to me that if we haul our fat asses off this planet, it'd be a better idea to just leave them in space rather than drop them down some other gravity well.
In the classical vision of the Future of Humanity, we see sleek starships plopping people down on various alien worlds -- perhaps terraforming them so that their local terrain will better match the Starbucks, Staples, and Best Buys we hot-drop from orbit there.
But, really, why bother with the planets? Gravity's a drag. Hoisting heavy loads of cargo 36,000 km out of a 9.8 m/s*s sinkhole only to drop it onto some other sinkhole doesn't make any sense. Gravity is an energy tax on everything we do.
Were we to just hang out up in space, we could hit the minerals we dug out of an asteroid with a short, and very energy-efficient, burst of acceleration and off it would go to wherever we want. Our main decision would just be trading off how much energy we're willing to spend versus time we're willing to take.
Things like the space elevator might still be handy -- but they could be much easier to set up on something like our own moon. Lower gravity means less stress on the cable, and less work to lift objects off the surface.
In fact, a Death Star would even have practical applications -- simply blow up the Earth, turn it into an asteroid belt, then mine the pieces.