MindBullets 20 Years


Settlers declare independence, threaten trade route to Mars

Chinese officials today announced that they have lost control of their dark-side of the Moon base, Yuèliàng.

The colony already produces some 80% of Chinese processed metals from their Mars mining operations. It has a population of nearly 750,000 people, almost half of whom have never lived anywhere else.

The Chinese Moon colonists have been unhappy for years and revolt was expected, but it shows all of us how fragile are the bonds between the off-Earth settlers and their cousins below.

After environmental concerns resulted in high Earth-based carbon taxes in the 2050s, manufacturing was forced onto the Moon. Earth’s population now relies on the Moon for almost 45% of all processed metals and plastics. Off-planet energy supplies account for 35% of Earth consumption.

The Moon colonies of the US, EU and Brazil have all offered direct support to the Yuèliàng colonists. “We’re not sure if this means a general revolt and it is very worrying,” says Rupert Brooks of the US foreign service.

Describing the loss as “temporary”, General Zhu Chengu of the Chinese Territorial Army declared that they will retake their base shortly.

Analysts don’t believe that this is likely. “They have only one space elevator and that has a limited capacity to ferry troops into orbit. The elevator orbital pod is already controlled by the Yuèliàngans and they’re not letting anything up or down without their approval,” says retired US General Walter Kovacs.

British military historian, Bryce Cooper, agrees. “China’s entire strategy of putting their Moon base on the dark side was so that it couldn’t be threatened by military attack from Earth. It’s perfectly defended and China’s economy is being strangled. They’ll be forced to recognise Yuèliàng’s independence.”

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

The concept of a space elevator was first considered in 1895 when Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris to consider a tower that reached all the way into space, built from the ground up to an altitude of 35,790 kilometers above sea level (geostationary orbit). He noted that a ‘celestial castle’ at the top of such a spindle-shaped cable would have the ‘castle’ orbiting Earth in a geostationary orbit (i.e. the castle would remain over the same spot on Earth’s surface).

The real limitation was that a cable 35,790 kilometers long would have to be immensely strong to withstand the incredible tension it would be under, as well as its own weight. With the invention of carbon nanotubes in the 1990s, engineer David Smitherman of NASA/Marshall’s Advanced Projects Office realized that the high strength of these materials might make the concept possible. In March 2005, NASA introduced an annual challenge – the Space Elevator Challenge – in order to promote investment and innovation in the area.

The economics of space elevators are simple. It costs well over US$ 11,000 per kilogram to lift a payload into space using conventional rockets. In 2000, the cost of using a space elevator was estimated at US$ 220 per kilogram.

A system that permits low-cost space exploration will open up the planets in Earth’s solar system to mining and exploration. The most obvious targets for exploration are the moon and Mars, both of which can host space elevators using existing 2009 technology because of their much lower gravitational fields.

The countries that are first able to build viable space elevators will have a tremendous advantage in claiming the riches beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

2025: NASA Space Elevator Challenge has a Winner
LiftPort CEO, Jerry Humbolt is a very depressed man. His company, founded in 2003, has but a single purpose: building and launching a space elevator. Their website has a clock that has been counting down for more than 30 years with a speculative launch date of 27 October 2031.

In January, NASA’s Space Elevator Challenge has a winner. And the winner is Chinese.

“The US government put so many obstacles in our way – from health and safety standards, to environmental legislation – that we just couldn’t overcome,” Humbolt sighs.

The Chinese Communist authorities put in place a campaign as far back as 2005 to produce a space elevator. “I think they may have invested something like US$ 60 billion in it over the last 20 years,” says Margery Jackson, a space analyst at the EU Space Center.

What the Chinese have built, though, is not a full space elevator. They have developed technology that is capable of producing a 35,000 kilometer tether, as well as the energy and power systems necessary to make it all work. They have yet to build.

“We recognize that the Americans still have a chance at constructing such a device, but we are probably ten years ahead of them,” says Lao Chen, Dean of Science at Peking University.

“Even once that cable is complete, it can take them as much as ten years to get it up there,” says Haroun Mourat, a professor of physics at the Indian Institute of Technology. “We still intend to get there. Maybe not first, but we’ll get there.”

2033: Espionage at the top
At 15h43 on 21 March 2033, a cable snaps. A 22,000-kilometer-length of carbon-nanotube-composite plunges out of the sky from China’s space elevator rockets. The site of their tether is on Butaritari Island, near Kiribati on the equator. The cable causes damage as far afield as Australia. But the real tragedy happens in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, where 350 people are killed and buildings felled when the cable sweeps through the city.

The Chinese immediately accuse the US – whose fledgling space elevator project is five years behind their efforts – of sabotage. “It is nothing less than what we would expect from them,” says Lao Chen, Director of the Chinese Space Elevator Authority.

Despite the claim, the Chinese government refuses a UN investigative team and seems to want the discussion to go away. “We suspect poor building and quality standards in the Chinese project,” says Elliot Pastor, a mechanical engineer at LiftPort, which is building a private space elevator on Johnston Atoll, near Hawaii. The US government says the same, but only off the record.

2037-2046: Security of tenure 384,403 kilometers away
The technical difficulties of building a space elevator are as nothing in comparison to the difficulties of securing property title on the Moon.

On 1 July 2037, the US complete their space elevator. Within months they build and staff a permanent space station in geosynchronous orbit. In October, the Brazilians complete their base. In 2038, the EU, LiftPort and India all complete theirs within months of each other.

The Chinese, now five years behind everyone else, demand a United Nations Security Council meeting. The Security Council is still bruised from the long fight that saw England and France lose their seats to the EU, Russia lose their seat, and India and Brazil gain seats. The potential for new conflict is vast.

The first debates are acrimonious, with China accusing everyone else of conspiracy. The defunct Outer Space Treaty between the ex-USSR and the US agreed that no nation should own the moon. The pressure is on for, with every passing day, the Americans, Brazilians, Europeans and Indians are ferrying materials to the moon in order to start building their bases.

It is decided that the UN will own the moon and that anyone who wishes to can purchase property directly through them. In order to prevent property squatting, purchasers must be able to demonstrate that they can take physical possession of the property within 25 years.

The Chinese opt for property on the dark side, while everyone else opts for property along the light/dark border.

2047-2055: Climate Change offers Moon manufacturers their reward
BHP Billiton Chairman, Alastair Dalton, is smiling. The first titanium ingots mined and processed on the moon touched Earth this morning, at 04h43 on 4 March 2047.

“It’s been a long process but we’ve worked closely with LiftPort over the last decade. We have a team of about 100 people up at our mine on Mira Terra and they have delivered the future.”

Moon economics may never have taken off, except for Climate Change. In 2053, after negotiations that spanned almost half a century, the United Nations secretary general, Hans Scholl, makes the following announcement, “The UN Security Council has today agreed to introduce a universal carbon tax of EUR 150 per ton of CO2.” It is expected. Flooding has seen the last point of the island archipelago of the Maldives disappear. Millions of people have lost their homes and livelihoods.

The expense drives inflation to unprecedented levels. Suddenly, the Moon is a very attractive manufacturing destination. Years of technological breakthroughs now come into play. Water deposits in the moon mantle are collected and processed to produce air and water. Solar technology creates initial energy, while nuclear power stations are being set up.

2063 – 2072: From first marriages to first babies
“We realized we had a problem when we discovered a brothel in one of the outer-rim settlements on Richard’s View,” says Anthony Saxon, manager of Virgin Moon’s colony. Tourism, migration and population growth are putting pressure on fledgling infrastructure.

Even with a cost of US$ 150,000 per person for resettling, the list of people wanting to move to the moon is vast. In May 2063 alone, 42 couples are married. By the end of 2063, 83 babies have been born.

The private colonies are the most pragmatic. “We don’t want to manage the private lives of people. Really, we’re not interested. Certainly, we’re a US company, but we’re not the US government,” says Fletcher Barns of BHP Billiton. Their approach is to create a contract and a constitution. Private lawyers administer the law and centralized courts sort out any problems. Real criminals are simply deported to Earth.

“It’s the Chinese I worry about,” says Barnes. “One way or another, we’ve all worked together to figure out how to make the colonies work. We don’t want revolution but we do need to maintain order and build and maintain infrastructure. Our settlers understand and are involved. We have elections and let them organize themselves while maintaining our rights as the property owners. The Chinese…”

Chinese colonists complain of unsafe conditions and long working hours. Stories from the few refugees who escape and survive the 2,000 kilometer trek to the nearest bases tell of terrible deprivation at Yuèliàng.

All of that is forgotten in 2072, though, when the first mining ships return from Mars, bringing with them whole new types of minerals to be processed on the moon.

2074: Yuèliàng is lost
The first indication of the revolt on the moon is when a large group of refugees are spotted heading for the Brazilian base, Sin Rio. A few hours later, traffic from the Chinese earth orbiter stops and a message is broadcast that nothing will be permitted up until the Chinese government gives independence to Yuèliàng.

US and European military strategists flood the web to discuss and pontificate on the meaning of what will happen next. The Chinese call a special meeting of the UN Security Council. They demand a collective response. However, Brazil, India and the US are all ex-colonies. The EU is an ex-colonizer. They can hardly block a legitimate claim for independence. Their decision to do nothing effectively blocks the Chinese.

Tea-baggers, a diverse group of young protestors taking their names from the Boston Tea Party which triggered the US war of independence, take to the streets and the web in support of the Yuèliàng base. Both the Indians and Brazilians send supplies to Yuèliàng.

Chinese factories start to shut as metals and minerals supplies falter. In a bind, the Chinese government capitulates.

With this first step to an independent off-Earth colony, humans have finally become a space-faring species.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.