Futurism is fickle

Futurism is fickle in its means of presentation. London-based architects Foster and Partners have announced a partnership with the ESA to ‘3D print structures on the moon‘, positing a lunar architecture more akin to the Flintstones than the Jetsons. What the lunar base lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up in relatively simplicity and believability, making it perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the shiny vision of the future that has dominated for the past half century and more.

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Looking back at plans for space bases, space flight and more, and the dominant aesthetic has always been the result of function crossed with science ficion-derived expectation. The Lunar and Mars Outposts and Habitats collated by NASA’s Center for Advanced Engineering Environments are certainly shinier than the Foster proposal, but the ambition is somewhat higher (which is not to say it’s not an ambitious idea to put a 3D printer on the moon).

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The British Interplanetary Society’s Project Daedalus proposal was an archetypal late industrial-era starship concept. Created in the mid 1970s, Project Daedalus represents the peak of the military-industrial complex-influenced era of space exploration. For some reason the project hit a major nerve, and it lives on in the Icarus Interstellar Project, ‘dedicated to achieving interstellar flight by the year 2100.’

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Related, Nathan Fowkes’ re-imagining of Daedalus from 1994. The project also inspired this massively complex proposal for a Self-Reproducing Interstellar Probe, essentially self-perpetuating factory ships:

‘Assuming humanity is the launching civilization, REPRO is constructed and fueled in Jovian orbit much like Daedalus. After inspection and certification for flight readiness the Oth Stage is ignited, propelling REPRO to about 12%c after a burn time of 4 years. Following a coast phase of 43 years to Barnard’s star, the empty Oth Stage hulk is jettisoned and the remaining vehicle structure is rotated 180° so that it points backwards along the direction of flight. Stage I and Stage 2 are ignited in turn, dropping the payload down to interplanetary velocities (<10 km/sec) in about 4 years.

REPRO has a number of subprobes much like Daedalus but these are not constrained to perform simple flyby explorator missions since REPRO has fully decelerated. Orbiter, balloon/floater, rocket plane, and even surface lander missions on interesting planets or moons in the target solar system are possible. Detailed planetological data may be accumulated and processed, and a variety of xenobiological investigations under taken in the search for alien life and intelligence. Sophisticated messenger probes of the kind envisioned by Bracewell could eventually be dispatched to parking orbits around selected planetary bodies in the target system.

Theory suggests that most single star systems should be accompanied by at least one jovian planet, possibly more. In order to reproduce itself, REPRO needs 1.01x1010 kg of fusion fuel mined from a jovian atmosphere and 5.60x108 kg of nonfuel mass. Upon arrival in the target system, the vehicle uses its remaining 2nd Stage fuel to guide itself into orbit around a small moon of a jovian gas giant. About half the payload, 4.43x105 kg, is designated SEED. SEED is deorbited to the surface of the jovian moon where, over the next 500 years, it builds and launches a number of interplanetary probes. Its primary function, however, is to produce FACTORY, an automated manufacturing complex whose output (following rearrangement of its modular building-blocks) is exactly one new REPRO every 500 years.

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Other things. The View from the Top of the Shard, an interactive presentation that suffers from some of most intrusive and aggressive watermarking ever seen in an online image. The image was also taken several months ago, long before the building’s viewing deck opened, even for previews / sort of related, playing SimCity in multiplayer / 15 Years of Apple’s Homepage / Obscure Design Typologies: Fumigation Tents. Like circuses without the clowns / bunker photographs by Marc Wilson.

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