Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: gravity wells

Welcome to Rana Station

Where did Rana Station Come From?

The first of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, What’s Bred in the Bone, is now available on Amazon as a paperback or in Kindle format. It explores ideas I’ve been developing for a long time.

Its setting, Rana Station, is almost a character in its own right. That’s partially because of the culture, partially because of the communities, and partially because of the incessant need to grow food everywhere possible.

I chose the classic Stanford Torus as the basis for my design, but–like many sf authors–I’ve adapted it.

Here's the original 1975 Don Davis painting of a Stanford Torus space habitat. It has a large mirror at an angle to the wheel part of the structure, to shine light into secondary mirrors. There's a central hub structure and what look like the spokes of a wheel connecting the outer ring to the center.
The Stanford Torus space habitat design: In this 1975 painting by Don Davis, we see the single stationary mirror that would capture solar energy and reflect light to the secondary mirrors around the single torus.

For one thing, there isn’t a single torus on Rana, but rather a series of eight tori, counter-rotating for better balance and stability, and linked by a long central “Hub,” kind of like an axle linking the eight habitat wheels. For another, the tori are bigger, based on tech first extrapolated for a Bishop Ring.

I have tried numerous times and in numerous ways to visualize for myself how Rana would look on approach. The best way I’ve managed so far to approximate an exterior view is a “quick & dirty” extrapolation in Adobe Illustrator, using a PNG of a bicycle wheel with a transparent background. 

It’s still not right, because it doesn’t recreate the space docks and the manufacturing structures. but if you think of the spokes as symbolic of all the elevators from various parts of the 1-G habitat to the Hub, it does give a general idea of what the “wheels” would kinda look like.

Eight bicycle wheels in pairs (one pair is smaller in diameter than the other three pairs) are lined up along a central Hub, to approximate the eight wheels of Rana Station.
Admittedly, both quick and dirty, but it gives a general feel. The smaller wheels represent the ozzirikkians’ habitat wheels. Never met an ozzirikkian? You can change that! Read the book! You’ll meet several.

If you think this “wheel” structure looks familiar, that’s because it does. Ever since the Stanford Torus was introduced, it’s seemed to many the most earth-like, understandable, and workable of the space-colony habitat designs . . . at least, as far as movies and TV go.

This is an artist's conception of the space-based habitat in the movie "Elysium." It looks like a long strip of flat valley floor that curves upward the farther it is away from the viewer, until it disappears above the edge of the "sky" surface, which is some kind of mostly-clear looking window-like curving structure.
Interior concept art for the Elysium space station, 

We aren’t likely to be able to provide “artificial gravity” that works like magnetism and switches on or off, at least, not by using any laws of physics that we currently know. Therefore, the gravitation needs to be provided by centrifugal force, created by building rotating megastructures in space.

I’ve created several posts about space station designs that I considered and studied in the course of my “Space Station DIY” series, when I was trying to figure out what kind of space station design I would use for the setting.

I considered  space stations/colonies in generalDyson structures, Bernal spheres, and O’Neill CylindersBut the torus seemed to me the most likely to provide a reliable 1-G environment that was comprehensible to terrestrial human brains.  I liked it better, and I got to be the decider because it’s my story. 

I’m planning future posts about aspects of life inside those wheels, including a look at some of the maps and 3D elevations I’ve been creating as paper sculpture, to help me more realistically understand, develop and describe the settings inside this world I’m creating. Stay tuned.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Wikipedia for a good file of the painting by Don Davis  – NASA Ames Research Center (ID AC76-0525), of the original Stanford Torus, which is now in the Public Domain.

To my chagrin, I can’t relocate the source of the PNG image I used to create my “quick & dirty” Rana Station visualization.  I apologize! 

Thanks also are due to Geeks of Doom, who provided the Elysium concept art. 

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 3. Worth their weight in diamonds

This is the third in a series of posts that question some of the classic tropes in science fiction. This series was inspired by observations made while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.

The book is a really wonderful space opera, first in The Expanse series, which later inspired the creation of the SyFy Channel show, The Expansein its third season as I write this. But it does seem to accept unexamined some of science fiction’s time-honored (and, in my mind, outmoded) tropes.

In particular, my comments center upon Ceres Station, its population, and its governance, as portrayed in the book. I compiled a short list of outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres:

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.

Last week I took issue with the idea that there would be abundant, expendable excess humanity available in the extrapolated setting and time span.

The primary reasons why humans won’t be that abundant are the difficulty of achieving a viable pregnancy in most space (or space-adjacent) environments, and the lowered rates of childbearing among well-educated women who can control their fertility, a reality we already have seen played out in developed nations for several decades.

Today, I’d like to look at the reasons why the humans who do get there won’t be expendable at all. ASIDE from the human rights angle, which ought to be the FOUNDATION of any discussion about the “expendability” of human lives, if we’re not going to have lots of excess babies in space, then Earth is probably exporting the vast majority of the people who live in space.

Every human being who is technically educated to the point of being employable Out Therethen hauled up out of the gravity well is going to be an extremely valuable commodity. 

Hauled up out of the gravity well” alone gives you one reason. In 2009, Michio Kaku explained the cost of transporting someone to Mars this way, in a Forbes article: “imagine your body made of diamonds.

The XKCD Web Comic gives us ALL the gravity wells (in the solar system, that is)!

Even now, it doesn’t cost as much to put a human in orbit as it did in the early days of the Space Race, and that cost will inevitably continue to go down. But I guarantee you it’ll never be so cheap and easy that “anybody can do it.” 

Nor should “anybody” do it. Space is dangerous. Learning how to survive there takes a lot of training and highly specialized (not cheap) equipment. Which brings me to my next point: the “technically educated to the point of being employable” part.

If humans are neither able nor inclined to breed like rabbits in the tunnels of Ceres, that means in space most of the “grunt labor”–and more of the advanced processes than you might imagine–will be done the way more and more of it already IS, here on Earth: by robotsRobotic manufacturing processes are already essential to the current aerospace industry, and this trend won’t go away. I examined this and related automation issues in a series of posts about the automation of labor that started last March. 

Who will manage, troubleshoot, and integrate those robots? That’s the role for highly technically skilled and trained humans. Humans with master’s degrees and doctors’ degrees, sure–but also highly skilled technicians, to keep everything running as it should. We’re already experiencing a critical shortage of skilled labor, and the push into space will only add competition to entice workers in this job niche.

Typically, competition for workers means good salaries, signing bonuses, enticements, and perks added to sweeten the offer. If you want a model for what the workforce of the future will look like, look at Silicon Valley and the current aerospace industrynot the coal mines and textile mills of yesteryear.

Skilled workers, designers, and more are needed to put Spacex rockets into orbit–and the need for such teams will only grow as human expand their enterprises into space.

Moreover, companies are going to have to treat their employees with respect, or those intelligent, educated people will find ways to organize for change, mutiny, or jump ship to sign on with a competitor. How has science fiction not figured this out yet?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover image; the XKCD Web Comic, for the gravity wells size comparison chart; to Cerasis, for the photo of robots manufacturing something (I can’t tell what, though, and Cerasis author Adam Robinson didn’t include that information in the article); and to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, for the photo of the Spacex Team.

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