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Mar 28, 2007

Dr. Vinge: We Must Reduce Launch Costs Now

Posted by in category: space

Mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge, who coined the term “Singularity”, is an advocate of the Lifeboat Foundation’s mission: get some people off the Earth and get them self-sustaining as soon as possible, as an insurance policy against existential risk. In his “What if the Singularity does not happen?” talk for the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, Vinge calls the continuing pursuit of space under current-day launch costs as a “sham”:

Well, launch to LEO still runs $5000 to $10000/kg. As far as I can tell, the new Vision for Space Exploration will maintain these costs. This approach made some sense in 1970, when we were just beginning and when initial surveys of the problems and applications were worth almost any expense. Now, in the early 21st century, these launch costs make talk of humans-in-space a doubly gold-plated sham:

    • First, because of the pitiful limitations on delivered payloads, except at prices that are politically impossible (or are deniable promises about future plans).
    • Second, because with these launch costs, the payloads must be enormously more reliable and compact than commercial off-the-shelf hardware — and therefore enormously expensive in their own right.

I believe most people have great sympathy and enthusiasm for humans-in-space. They really “get” the big picture. Unfortunately, their sympathy and enthusiasm has been abused.

Continue reading “Dr. Vinge: We Must Reduce Launch Costs Now” »

Mar 27, 2007

United Kingdom Destroys “Legacy” Chemical Weapons Stock

Posted by in category: chemistry

Via the Global Security Newswire:

WASHINGTON — The United Kingdom announced today that it had finished destroying thousands of decades-old chemical weapons (see GSN, June 6, 2002).

The elimination of the last known “legacy” munitions containing agents such as sulfur mustard and phosgene is in keeping with the nation’s obligations under the Chemical Weapon Convention, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The British military began using chemical weapons in World War I, and maintained an offensive program until 1956. The Porton Down research facility was already regularly destroying weapons when the treaty entered into force in the United Kingdom in 1997. A total of 7,000 munitions have been destroyed since 1989, with work ending on March 7.

Continue reading “United Kingdom Destroys ‘Legacy’ Chemical Weapons Stock” »

Mar 27, 2007

China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US most vulnerable to asteroids

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, lifeboat, space

Using maps of population density, the researchers charted the places likely to suffer the most casualties from asteroids. As might be expected, countries with large coastal populations turned out to be most vulnerable, with China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US in the top five spots.

The team focused on smaller asteroids because they hit the Earth more frequently. An asteroid a few hundred metres across hits the planet about once every 10,000 years, on average, while those larger than 1 kilometre hit only every 100,000 years or so. Small asteroids are also harder to spot. They considered a range of impact energies corresponding to asteroids between 100 and 500 metres across, striking with typical solar system speeds of about 20,000 kilometres per second.


Simulations show the asteroid impact locations that would produce the most casualties in red. The Pacific coast of Asia is a particularly deadly place for an asteroid to strike because of tsunamis, while a direct strike on some densely populated inland areas could also cause a heavy toll (Illustration: Nick Bailey et al/University of Southampton)

The US faced the worst potential economic losses, since it has a lot of infrastructure on coastlines facing two different oceans. China was second, followed by Sweden, Canada, and Japan.

The Lifeboat asteroid shield project helps to address these risks and Tsunami warning and response systems would also help mitigate loss of life from ocean impacts.

Mar 26, 2007

New Mexico Gets Ready for Spaceport America

Posted by in category: space

From Physorg.com:

New Mexico’s governor Bill Richardson worked with the southwest desert state’s legislature to secure 33 million dollars for the final design of “Spaceport America,” the world’s first commercial spaceport.

Now the voters in the Dona Ana County municipality where the project is to be located will weigh in, in a referendum scheduled for April 3 on a new sales tax to fund the project.

Continue reading “New Mexico Gets Ready for Spaceport America” »

Mar 25, 2007

Israeli Technology Turns Radioactive Waste Into Energy, Glass

Posted by in category: nuclear energy

Despite bringing us “pollution free” power, one of the unfortunate side effects from the nuclear age is radioactive waste. This deadly byproduct has the power of not only destroying the land around it in our present age, but for thousands of years into the future.

Although there have been various discussions on how to “deal” with this deadly waste product, it seems that some Israeli scientists have found an ingenious way of not only removing it but providing an incentive along the way.

(Israel 21st Century) “It also makes a good recyclable material for building and paving roads,” he assures them. Earlier, Shrem told ISRAEL21c that EER can take low-radioactive, medical and municipal solid waste and produce from it clean energy that “can be used for just about anything.”

Using a system called plasma gasification melting technology (PGM) developed by scientists from Russia’s Kurchatov Institute research center, the Radon Institute in Russia, and Israel’s Technion Institute — EER combines high temperatures and low-radioactive energy to transform waste.

Continue reading “Israeli Technology Turns Radioactive Waste Into Energy, Glass” »

Mar 22, 2007

Sergio Tarrero Joins Lifeboat Foundation Staff

Posted by in category: lifeboat

We welcome one of our most generous donors, Sergio M.L. Tarrero, to the Lifeboat Foundation staff as our International Director of Audiovisual Communications. Mr. Tarrero is currently working on a documentary on existential risk. His bio begins as follows:

Sergio Martínez de Lahidalga Tarrero, BSc, is a screenwriter and filmmaker deeply concerned with the institutionally mediated transmission of socially corrosive beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. His abiding interest in the forces that drive people apart, particularly those deriving from religious doctrine, inspired him from a young age to ponder what it would take to move people to embrace the primacy of rational thinking over enculturated dogma. In Sergio’s view, an important idea to disseminate widely is that an ethical and contemplative life does not depend on theological postulates.

Read his whole bio here. In a world where the audiovisual medium is one of the most tangible and memorable forms of communication, Sergio’s filmmaking skills will contribute invaluably to the Lifeboat Foundation’s core mission.

Mar 21, 2007

New Sensor Detects Gaseous Chemical Weapon Surrogates In 45 Seconds

Posted by in category: chemistry

From ScienceDaily.com:

Using lasers and tuning forks, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a chemical weapon agent sensing technique that promises to meet or exceed current and emerging defense and homeland security chemical detection requirements. The technique, called Quartz Laser Photo-Acoustic Sensing, or “QPAS,” is now ready for prototyping and field testing.

PNNL, a Department of Energy national laboratory, has demonstrated QPAS’s ability to detect gaseous nerve agent surrogates. In one test, researchers used diisopropyl methyl phosphonate (DIMP), which is a chemical compound that’s similar to sarin. QPAS detected DIMP at the sub-part-per-billion level in less than one minute. The miniscule level is similar to letting one drop of liquid DIMP evaporate into a volume of air that would fill more than two Olympic-size swimming pools.

Continue reading “New Sensor Detects Gaseous Chemical Weapon Surrogates In 45 Seconds” »

Mar 20, 2007

Nuclear Terrorism Blast Maps

Posted by in category: nuclear weapons

That’s what the radius of destruction would look like if a 10 kT nuke were detonated on top of my house! Put in your own zip code, and see how bad it would be for you.

I found this page by following a link from NTI, the global security organization founded by Ted Turner. Warren Buffet is another billionaire who supports NTI and encourages his shareholders to read books and watch films about the threat of nuclear terrorism.

You can order a free DVD of Last Best Chance, a film warning against nuclear terrorism, by visiting here.

Mar 20, 2007

U.S. Envisions A New Generation Of Nuclear Weapons

Posted by in category: nuclear weapons

Science Daily — Almost 62 years after detonation of the first atomic
bombs, the United States is considering controversial proposals to
produce a new generation of nuclear weapons and revamp its nuclear
weapons complex, according to an article scheduled for the March 19
issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN senior editor Jeff Johnson points out that the
proposals come at a time of growing fears about potential new nuclear
powers, such as North Korea and Iran, and potential diversion of
nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists. The U.S. Department of
Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which
oversees design, production and maintenance of nuclear weapons,
developed the proposals.

One part of the plan, for instance, calls for production of the
“renewable, replacement warhead (RRW),” a new nuclear weapon that NNSA
says will be easier and environmentally cleaner to manufacture and
more difficult for potential terrorists to disassemble or detonate.

The article describes details of the RRW, envisioned for production by
2012, and discusses differing opinions about the new proposals for the
U.S. nuclear arsenal, now believed to number about 10,000 warheads.

Mar 20, 2007

Reducing nuclear bomb casualties

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, nuclear weapons

Some information on how to reduce nuclear bomb casualties

If you are downwind of the blast, look at tree tops to see direction of wind and then flee perpendicular to the wind. Because the plumes are significantly longer than they are wide, moving as little as one to five miles perpendicular to the plume can mean the difference between life and death. People in areas upwind of the detonation site, on the other hand, are safest staying where they are.

Today’s hospital burn units provide exemplary but time consuming care to burn victims, who typically arrive sporadically and in small numbers. A nuclear attack would bring a sudden surge of patients, but the medical system could dramatically minimize fatalities by training staff and equipping non-medical people to treat second-degree burn victims in much larger numbers. The focus must be on cleaning the wounds to avoid fatal infections, administering painkillers and then moving on to the next patient. And all of this must occur in the field, since thousands of victims would not make it to a hospital.