Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eyes of the World

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Every once in awhile a reminder surfaces about the importance of intelligent data in understanding the things that we're doing on our home planet. The International Space Station, currently marooned without adequate US funding or a Space Shuttle program, relies on the European Space Agency to keep the research platform aloft and functioning. As this video shows, it provides a way of opening our eyes to a vital understanding of how our planet works, and the effects of human habitation have had on it over the last few hundred years. It's also part of a network of earth satellite systems that provide not just information, but communications and earth studies that are critical to our industries on earth.

As a joint project with Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, it represents a collaborative model as well as a potential alternative methodology of developing an on-orbit infrastructure for lunar settlement and mining, as well as Mars exploration. It could be of the biggest elements of a strategy to deal with climate change management and new resource extraction that doesn't affect our planet. Moving some of the industrial and energy activity to orbital and lunar facilities avoids carbon pollution as well as moving the focus of global attention to an exciting and dynamic strategy that creates partnerships and generates wealth for participating countries. It creates a larger frame of reference that puts resource and water conflicts on this crowded planet into perspective, thus helping us solve the problems on earth as well. It presents us with the alternative model of "many futures" rather than just the old military grandstanding of the one-shot deal space race.

An article published in the December issue of Scientific American lays out an incremental approach to developing a Mars mission, published by two scientists from JPL. It has great diagrams of how to make the incremental process work for a Mars mission, which involves multiple feedback loops, recycling of materials that steps out of the gravity well into an industrial space infrastructure that supports many kinds of futures that we couldn't possibly envision now. The article (preview only) is available online, the meat of it is in the published magazine or digital subscription.

The information and technologies involved with multi-platform satellite earth observation data can be critical drivers of a new on-orbit infrastructure that serves clean industry and technology. Then you can truly benchmark cause and effect, provide a science-based methodology for dealing with the water, agricultural and resource extraction activities that we are now facing from climate change. Growing this infrastructure gives industry a place to expand and push the leading edge in all kinds of sciences, and escape the limits of gravity and resources that our planet necessarily imposes on us in the unforgiving laws of physics: cause and effect.