But, would be nice to develop it before-hand; from: http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/...
Self-replicating technical artifacts such as dogs, corn, and trees have been in use by humanity for thousands of years. While humans cannot lay credit to the original creation of such systems, they can claim the adaptation and selective breeding of these for defense, food, and building materials.
In the past few millennia, many people have become dependent on technology that is not self-replicating. Primarily this technology involves fairly pure forms of metals, plastics, and crystals. These technologies have expanded the earth's human carrying capacity in the short term, but are not sustainable in the long term. Such technologies lack the closed resource cycles, independent operation, redundancy, and resiliency found in natural systems. A symptom of the use of such non-sustainable systems is the fear that a single problem (like Y2K) could cause a major disruption of life-support infrastructure in the developed world.
For example, both Brittle Power (Amory and Hunter Lovins) and Energy, Vulnerability, and War (Wilson Clark and Jake Page), make clear how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. As Brittle Power (pg.391-392) mentions, this vulnerability also holds for food and manufacturing production:
"The production and distribution of food are currently so centralized, with small buffer stocks and supply lines averaging thirteen hundred miles long, that bad weather or a truckers' strike can put many retail stores on short rations in a matter of days. This vulnerability is especially pronounced in the Northeast, which imports over eighty percent of its food. In a disaster, the lack of regional self sufficiency both in food production and food storage would cause havoc, but no one is planning for such possibilities."
And in reference to energy production:
"The Joint Committee on Defense Production notes that American industry is tailor made for easy disruption. Its qualities include large unit scale, concentration of key facilities, reliance on advanced materials inputs and on specialized electronics and automation, highly energy- and capital- intensive plants, and small inventories. The Committee found that correcting these defects, even incrementally and over many decades, could be very costly. But the cost of not doing so could be even higher -- a rapid regression of tens, or even hundreds of years in the American economy, should it be gravely disrupted."
In a long-term space mission or a space settlement, a self-sustaining economy must be created and supported. Therefore, addressing the problem of technological fragility on earth is an essential step in the development of the development of human settlement in space.
The heart of any community is its library, which stores a wide variety of technological processes, only some of which are used at any one time in any specific environment. If an independent community is like a cell, its library is like its DNA. A library has many functions: the education of new community members; the support of important activities such as farming and material extraction; historical recording of events; support for planning and design. And the library grows and evolves with the community.
The earth's library of technological knowledge is fragmented and obscure, and some important knowledge has been lost already. How can we create a library strong enough to foster the growth of new communities in space? How can we today use what we know to improve human life?
The development of the Oscomak infrastructure will be an ambitious undertaking, requiring the involvement of tens of thousands of knowledgeable individuals over a period of years. There is no way one single entity can fund this work. However, there is a way to allow such individuals to cooperate -- as an "open source" community, sharing knowledge and building a distributed repository over the internet.
The revolutionary aspect of this project is to leverage a small investment into a much larger effort by fostering an internet-based community which develops this knowledge and tools using an "open source" model similar to those used by Linux, GCC, Python, and Squeak. Individuals will participate in this process for rewards of status, advertising, friendship, self-esteem, reciprocity, and contribution toward a common goal.
Open-source software projects such as Linux, GCC, Squeak, and Python are an exploding phenomenon. However, successful open-source efforts still need a substantial investment of human capital to create the initial seed and to shepherd the development process over a period of years until it becomes self-sustaining. To date the successful open-source projects have been primarily in the areas of operating systems and programming languages. The next open-source frontiers are applications and knowledge repositories.
It is the aim of this project to create an open-source community centered around applications and knowledge related to space settlement. To gain the broadest participation, the project will also include knowledge related to terrestrial settlements. The initial focus will be on collecting "manufacturing recipes" on how to make things: for example, how to make a 1930's style lathe. Information collected will range from historical interest (fabrication techniques of the stone age to make flint knives) to current (fabrication techniques to make stainless steel knives) to futuristic (fabrication techniques requiring nanotechnology to make diamond knives). This project will involve potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals across the globe. It is expected that ultimately millions of individuals (many in developing nations) will benefit from use of this database directly or indirectly.
We take our lead from several projects on the internet. For example, the Educational Object Economy is a collaborative effort to collect 10,000 educational Java applets (it currently has about one thousand). There are also numerous food-related recipe collections on the internet.
The Oscomak project is an attempt to create a core of communities more in control of their technological destiny and its social implications. No single design for a community or technology will please everyone, or even many people. Nor would a single design be likely to survive. So this project endeavors to gather information and to develop tools and processes that all fit together conceptually like Tinkertoys or Legos. The result will be a library of possibilities that individuals in a community can use to achieve any degree of self-sufficiency and self-replication within any size community, from one person to a billion people. Within every community people will interact with these possibilities by using them and extending them to design a community economy and physical layout that suits their needs and ideas.
As the internet has grown, it has enabled collaborative work which has created many success stories, including Linux, Python, GCC, Squeak and other projects. We want to harness that power and apply it to organizing technological knowledge in concert with many interested individuals.
The main project goal is to develop an on-line library of technology ideas, techniques, and tools, including a range from high-tech processes like plastics to medium-tech like ceramic houses to low-tech like spinning wheels. Also included will be biotechnology processes, like perennial agriculture, companion planting, sheep farming, and eventually cloning and DNA synthesis.
One process to be included is a way to convert the high-tech computerized library to a low-tech paper one as desired. Key to the whole endeavor will be to present everything in a how-to fashion. Also needed is a way to map out and simulate the interrelations of processes; for instance, sheep raising requires veterinarians, antibiotics, feed, fencing, and shears; shears require a blacksmith, metal, and a furnace. This latter feature also would be used to keep track of the product flows into, out of, and within a community's entire economy.
Vannevar Bush, "As We may Think", The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945: Volumne 176, No. 1; Pages 101-108
"Presumably man's spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory. His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.
The applications of science have built man a well-supplied house, and are teaching him to live healthily therein. They have enabled him to throw masses of people against one another with cruel weapons. They may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome."
Robert Muller, Assistant Secretary-General (retired), United Nations, quoted in Surviving: The Best Game on Earth by Norrie Huddle, Schocken Books, New York, 1984, pg. 251 - 252.
"The present condition of humanity was best described by the philosopher Gottfried Leibnitz a few hundred years ago when he said that humans would be so occupied with making scientific discoveries in every sector for several centuries that they would not look at the totality. But, he said, someday the proliferation and complexity of our knowledge would become so bewildering that it would be necessary to develop a global, universal, and synthetic view. This is exactly the time and juncture at which we have arrived. It shows in our new preoccupations with what is called 'interdisciplinary', 'global thinking', 'interdependence', and so on. It is all the same phenomenon.
One of the most useful things humanity could do at this point is to make an honest inventory of what we know. I have suggested to foundations that they ought to bring together the chief editors of the world's main encyclopedias to agree on a common table of contents of human knowledge. But it can be a dangerous idea. Why? Well, when the Frenchman Diderot invented the first encyclopedia, the archbishop of Paris ran to the king of France to have the book burned because it would totally change the existing value system of the Catholic church. If we developed a common index of human knowledge today it would similarly cause a change in our value systems. We would discover that in the whole framework of knowledge the contest between Israel and the Muslims would barely be listed because it is such a small problem in the totality of our preoccupation as a human species. The meeting might have to last several days before the editors would even mention it! This is exactly the point: some people don't want to develop such a framework of knowledge because they want their problem to be the most important problem on earth and go to great lengths to promote that notion.
So that is what I believe to be most necessary for global security: an ordering of our knowledge at this point in our evolution, a good, honest classification of all we know from the infinitely large to the infinitely small - the cosmos, our planet, humanity, our dreams, our wishes, and so on. We haven't done it yet, but we will have to do it one way or another."
In 1928, J.D. Bernal (in the book The World, The Flesh and the Devil) proposed creating a network of self-replicating space habitats which duplicate themselves from sunlight and asteroidal ore. He wrote:
"Imagine a spherical shell ten miles or so in diameter, made of the lightest materials and mostly hollow; for this purpose the new molecular materials would be admirably suited. Owing to the absence of gravitation its construction would not be an engineering feat of any magnitude. The source of the material out of which this would be made would only be in small part drawn from the earth; for the great bulk of the structure would be made out of the substance of one or more smaller asteroids, rings of Saturn or other planetary detritus. The initial stages of construction are the most difficult to imagine. They will probably consist of attaching an asteroid of some hundred years or so diameter to a space vessel, hollowing it out and using the removed material to build the first protective shell. Afterwards the shell could be re-worked, bit by bit, using elaborated and more suitable substances and at the same time increasing its size by diminishing its thickness. The globe would fulfill all the functions by which our earth manages to support life. In default of a gravitational field it has, perforce, to keep its atmosphere and the greater portion of its life inside; but as all its nourishment comes in the form of energy through its outer surface it would be forced to resemble on the whole an enormously complicated single-celled plant. ... Yet the globe would be by no means isolated. It would be in continuous communication by wireless with other globes and with the earth, and this communication would include the transmission of every sort of sense message which we have at present acquired as well as those which we may require in the future. Interplanetary vessels would insure the transport of men and materials, and see to it that the colonies were not isolated units. ... However, the essential positive activity of the globe or colony would be in the development, growth and reproduction of the globe. A globe which was merely a satisfactory way of continuing life indefinitely would barely be more than a reproduction of terrestrial conditions in a more restricted sphere."
It is the ultimate aim of the Oscomak project to begin to create the social and technological infrastructure required to bring this seventy year old dream into reality.
Obviously, a project like designing such a habitat network is vast in scope, and will involve many thousands of people. The revolutionary aspect of this project is the use of the internet to allow large numbers of interested individuals to work together to accomplish this goal. A small investment used in this way can have a large outcome by leveraging the collective contributions of large numbers of individuals.
Long before space applications are feasible, this library will someday be at the center of a Community Development Corporation incorporating both the library and physical technology. If the library and CDC proves successful, it will start replicating in nearby neighborhoods until it spans the globe. Someday this network will have the resources to launch a project to create the first Bernal sphere.
The result of the interaction between tools and people will be a library of possibilities that individuals in a community can use to achieve many degrees of self-sufficiency and self-replication within any sized community from one person to a billion people. At the core of this knowledge-gathering process is the notion of a "manufacturing recipe" defining a possible manufacturing process. Within every community people will interact with these possibilities by using them and extending them to design a community economy and physical layout that suits their unique needs.
Aerospace designers will be able to use this knowledge base for designing long duration space missions, lunar colonies, or space habitats that are replicated from sunlight and asteroidal ore. By including such a knowledge base, crews on such long-duration missions will be able to adapt their available technology to new needs by creating new tools and products on an as-needed basis. One can think of this library of possibilities as like the DNA of a cell, with the cell deciding which processes to use based on environmental conditions.
In addition to the obvious result, the knowledge repository, the work will also produce research knowledge on the use of collaborative environments to build shared repositories of technological knowledge. We anticipate writing a series of papers on the project to share the understanding gained by shepherding the repository.
The success or failure of this project can be judged on three counts:
The level of interest as shown by accesses and downloads of the software and knowledge base.
The level of participation as shown by contributions to the knowledge base and collaborative improvements to the software tools.
The degree to which this database is used for education (such as in the Space Settlement contests) and in design (such as in mission planning for long duration space flight).
The race is on to make the human world a better (and more resilient) place before one of these overwhelms us:
Autonomous military robots out of control
Nanotechnology virus / gray slime
Ethnically targeted virus
Other unforseen computer failure mode
Global warming / climate change / flooding
Nuclear / biological war
Unexpected economic collapse from Chaos effects
Terrorism w/ unforseen wide effects
Out of control bureaucracy (1984)
Religious / philosophical warfare
Economic imbalance leading to world war
Arms race leading to world war
Zero-point energy tap out of control
Time-space information system spreading failure effect (Chalker's Zinder Nullifier)
Unforseen consequences of research (energy, weapons, informational, biological)
No single design for such a community or technology will please everyone, or even many people. Nor would a single design be likely to survive. So the project will gather information and develop tools and processes that all fit together conceptually like Tinkertoys or Legos.
The recipes database will consist of primarily macro and micro manufacturing technology. It may also include some information applicable to nanotechnology manufacturing (such as the atomic composition of products, or ways to combine nanosynthesized components). The database will include information about patented processes with an eye towards the future when such patents have expired and can be freely used in space habitat construction.
In addition to the recipes database, a cross-platform simulator will be developed that will allow users to select recipes from the database and simulate an arbitrary technological infrastructure, such as one based primarily on extruded plastics (with feedstock derived from corn or algae). It will also be possible to print detailed reports on such infrastructures.
The simulation will be able to be used in a scenario mode in which simulated settlers are provided for by the users' actions. Several users may collaborate while the simulation runs to support the settlers by building a web of manufacturing processes selected from the recipes database. The goal of the scenario will be to construct a schematic connecting the resources of the solar system (sun, moons, asteroids, comets, etc.) to the web of manufacturing processes in order to deliver manufactured goods to the settlers. The simulation will evaluate the sustainability of the users' choices based on time constants (for example, time to depletion of air, water, or a critical material or tool). This will create an intrinsic motivation to explore the database as well as to contribute to it.
Eventually, various design and simulation tools will be created to assemble and organize this information in order to design communities with various levels of self reliance (given specific inputs of energy, raw materials, and manufactured goods). The software will also help to determine the minimal amount of technology needed to create these various communities and infrastructures (as a "seed" factory deployed onto in-situ resources such as an asteroid). At some point ten to forty years in the future, seed factory designs created using this database and simulator will be created and launched at near-earth asteroids to bootstrap space settlements.
We will develop software tools to enable the creation of the Oscomak knowledge repository: to collect, organize, and present information in a way that encourages collaboration and provides immediate benefit. Manufacturing "recipes" will form the core elements of the repository.
Our choice of software tools will emphasize cross-platform and open-source issues to maximize the potential for collaboration. Participants will download the software (and source) and some subset of knowledge modules in the repository, modify existing modules and/or create new modules, and communicate with other participants by sharing their changes. Many concurrent scales of collaboration will be supported, including local copies of the repository, small-group servers (for individuals with a particular interest, for example), and a central high-speed server which will coordinate activities. Changes to the software tools will work in the same way.