Railway to the stars

It is Sunday, so I will take a detour.

Actually- a partial detour.

A short story, resurrecting something that I created in 2007 as a joke- United Hamster Front.

But first a small introduction (skip it if you read already about UHF on Stage6 or Facebook).

Back from the past

If you read my scribblings on stage6.divx.com, you know what I am referring to.

Otherwise, a short recap: on stage6.divx.com, an online social network where you could have a blog, post pictures, and post movies, whenever there was a technical issue a message appeared: “we are feeding the hamsters” (or something like that).

Well, as in any beta test online, it came a time when it was way too successful: so, something that probably was created as a sideshow to increase the market share of DivX, a video compressing format, started draining more resources than probably planned (eventually the plug was pulled).

But, once in a while, the “feeding the hamster” messages were quite frequent.

Would you write to Microsoft “shouting” because a shortcut on Word is not of your liking? I doubt.

I saw myself what happens when I created online few smaller (free) communities, and on stage6, with few orders of magnitude more users, sometimes it felt as if people had been piling up a life of resentment against (paid) software providers, just to dump it on the poor guys giving them a (free) service.

So, I started writing something about my concerns for the health of the hamsters, as they probably were overfed, and they needed more exercise- just to lighten it up, and as a form of support to the providers’ team.

Eventually, it became a dialogue, and… I created a kind of “hamsters’ rights group”, called “United Hamster Front” (yes- UHF, to celebrate the amount of static available online).

I had few followers on stage6 (about 400), and some migrated also on facebook- and I kept writing stories and so on (I am still connected to some communities worldwide generated by the diaspora).

My favourite bent was to see the hamsters and our dogs and cats not as our pets, but as wiser companions, who sighed at our continuous silly waste of resources and excessive conflictuality.

And, naturally, whenever there was something that required a larger perspective than bi-lateral agreements between few countries, the hamsters were volunteering to be a kind of “temporary buffer” or “gap filler”.

Examples? Obviously Antarctica, the monitoring of undersea cables, and… space, the last frontier.

Yes- I like Star Trek, but, despite my pointy hears as I was told in high school, I am no trekkie :D)

E.g. to clean up the debris left from over 50 years of building an orbital junkyard: not everything that goes up in zero gravity comes back down to Earth.

And now: Railway to the stars

10 years since the ISS has been transferred to orbit around Mars. Time flies.

After the ninth GPS satellite network was completed, finally we came up to our senses.

The commercialization of space was beginning, with the first Japanese hotel on the moon opened, and regulating launches worldwide became a nightmare.

But duplicating costs wasn’t the smarter choice: also because, in the end, we were all using the same basic approaches.

Not for the launches themselves- but because all those multi-stage launches started making the “highway to the Moon” as some of those picnic area on Sunday evening, with a tiny difference: you can run over trash on a highway, but, in space, that is not really an option.

And avoiding a discarded stage while entering orbit is not like using your maglev skateboard.

We managed to create a unified “space traffic control” on Earth- but the issue was who was going to build, man, repair the “traffic lights” to relay communication and other information from sensors in space.

The first idea was to create a multinational “space traffic cop”.

Creating a joint-venture whose personnel would receive the best knowledge from each of the contributing partners was another nightmare: how can you avoid that then some proprietary technology is shared back on Earth?

Considering that there are no Martians free from allegiance to any individual nation or company, thinking only about the common good also during a crisis…

…eventually the first experiment was done by extending the agreement with the hamsters (they had been already working on space debris removal before)- and having the “space traffic control” manage a licensing fee system with the launching companies and organizations.

And while they were there… they started also building our shared railway to the stars, with energy production and mini-factory posts along the way- our future “gas stations”.

Eventually, after the first few generations of self-replicating robots will be able to evolve without going berserk , it is expected that the hamsters will give way to the new robots.

It will take some time- that’s why our robots continue to have a 3 generations replication limit: more than that, and the errors or self-repair modifications in duplication make them unpredictable.

For the time being, it is just a distant sibling of the early XXI century Internet, adding to data also energy generation, but it is reassuring to know that also when the connection is not available, there is somebody sharing our approach working up there.

Background

Hitchhiking the ISS to Mars would be funny- I wonder how the towing would work.

My first idea was to put it in orbit around Europa, but then I thought: also if a propulsion system were to be design (time is not an issue- but an hamster crowd pushing it would not be feasible), how can we get something so large across the asteroid belt without damages?

And, anyway, it is going to be retired in the not-too-distant future, why waste it and just destroy it?

In a future commercialization of space, probably there will be eventually smaller operators, using pre-built standard components- not as a bus operator, but almost.

Therefore, finding who is willing a) to share the technology with competitors b) pay the cost would be an headache.

Also because the infrastructure would be long-term, while most of the new operators would be high-risk and unable to really commit the human and financial resources needed- hence, the need for self-financing, and human resources answering only to a kind of “unified service provider”.

A way to reduce the risk that the budget needed to finance the activities is under constant threat due to external pressures: if it is an independent organization that spreads across a relatively large “customer base” the cost, it is easier to be self-financed.

On the joint-venture issue: I saw it “on the ground” in my DSS/EIS activities in the late 1980s, and later on I had to study companies and, in some cases, help solve some similar issues for SMEs.

As for the hamsters… well, somebody would need to train them, isn’t it?

But it is easier to train somebody for the long-term if you know that they have no other choice but staying in the new organization, as whatever they learn works only with the infrastructure they are working on, in that specific configuration.

Small companies usually come with a strong allegiance to the company and the the “social side” of the company.

When you create joint-ventures… usually you transfer people: but it takes time also in large companies to build a new “social side”, and with small ones the typical alternative (“burn the boats”, as Ulysses says in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, i.e. no way back) is not feasible: would be felt as a betrayal of the social side, reverberating also within the contributing organizations, and damaging their social cohesion.

About the space Internet: well, the technology is already there, and it is closer to the pre-radio (or “wireless”, as in the old parlance) naval signalling, with flags and other visual tools.

Basically, as I reported in other articles, on the Earth the Internet “relays” keep sending again data packets if they are not received, asking to the original source.

In space, you need to be in a kind of “radio sight”- therefore, to work, you would need to send a packet from point A to point B, where the packet is copied and kept until it can be send and is confirmed and received by the point C, and so on.

You cannot just broadcast and hope 😀

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