Spaceflight vs. Covid-19

Virgin Galactic says they are unsure how COVID-19 will affect their future operations.  After all, it is largely financed by profits from Virgin Atlantic, an airline.

SpaceX was going to send cargo ships to Mars in 2022 and crew in 2024 to start building not a base, but a city.

SpaceX Mars Colony

I guarantee you the US Government’s plans are nothing like that.  Boot-prints and gone.  And little chance of ever pulling it off within the political funding cycle.  I should know.  I worked on it for 45 years.  That number should tell you something right there.

Musk was going to finance SpaceX’s Mars plans from selling electric cars (Tesla) and internet service (Starlink).  Well, COVID-19 has nicely shut down his electric car factory and he is suing Alameda County.  Fat lot of good that’ll do by the time it is settled.  He should just go ahead and move it.  But even then, a lot of people are not going to have money to buy the cars.  At least 40% of the world has been shut down.  And there was actually complaint about him launching a Starlink payload during the shut down.

What you are seeing is the first hints of a Fermi Catastrophe.

A Fermi Catastrophe is one kind of solution to the so-called Fermi Paradox.  There are lots of stars older than the sun, and so Earth should have been visited by an extraterrestrial civilization, or at least their probes.  We’ve no evidence for it (despite conspiracy theorists – they call them theorists because there is no physical evidence).  So where are the aliens?

My theory is they were all destroyed by a social catastrophe.

If you thought I was going to say by a virus, sorry to disappoint you.  COVID-19 is not by itself lethal to civilization.  By the wildest estimates it might kill only one in 200 people, raising by half the annual death toll, and then be gone, lost to herd immunity.

COVID-19 is potentially lethal to our civilization because of our reaction to it.  We are killed by our own efforts to avoid getting sick.  Much like most patients who die, do so because of their own immune reactions.  The virus is already declining when they die.

My argument briefly is as follows:

  1. The energy and coordination needed for interstellar travel requires an integrated planetary civilization.  Or businessmen equivalently powerful.
  2. A planetary civilization, regardless of form of government, will be dominated by consensus.  Even assuming it forms a consensus to attain interstellar capability, it still must then deal with other problems as they arise using consensus.  That is, a single planet-wide approach, more or less.
  3. Due to the time required to develop and execute interstellar missions, many unrelated problems of intense magnitude will confront this civilization.
  4. Due to the consensus approach, it must make the correct choice every single time.  Evolutionary diversity of approach no longer exists.  Therefore we could say this civilization is designing itself.
  5. We don’t have examples of successful systems any more complicated than an aircraft ever having been “designed.”  An aircraft is extremely simple compared to either a civilization or a life form.  The longest civilizations of the past lasted barely more than 1000 years, not nearly enough time to reach interstellar capability.
  6. Economies are not designed.  Lots of governments tried that (e.g. communism) and it never works.  Major modifications to our economy are usually terrible.  The long-term damage from the COVID lockdown is still not comprehended by governments.
  7. Non-planetary civilizations don’t consume all the resources necessary to make a civilization, and their fall does not happen everywhere on the planet, it is not catastrophic.
  8. Successful businessmen who might finance interplanetary or interstellar travel will eventually be crushed by one of the consensus decisions of their civilization.
  9. Some situations are not even determinable in advance.  A solution can only be expressed as probabilities, but the civilization must choose one consensus approach.  Eventually, however small the chances of their being wrong, it catches up with them.
  10. Therefore eventually a catastrophe befalls every would-be interstellar (i.e. consolidated-planetary) civilization, and its members who might be capable of organizing and funding such efforts.  This prevents them from becoming an interstellar civilization, and so I call it a Fermi Catastrophe.

Note, Fermi just asked “Where are they?”  The Fermi Paradox was postulated and described in 1975 by Michael Hart.  It was simply inspired by Fermi’s question.  Lacking any other valid argument with which to dispute Hart’s conclusion (which goes much further than I do), it has become popular of late to criticize him for dragging Fermi’s name into it.  That is really spurious argumentation (the Strawman Fallacy, i.e. attacking something other than Hart’s actual argument, something that can be easily attacked).

The following distinguish Hart’s, Fermi’s and my arguments:

  1.  Interstellar travel is too difficult (Fermi’s assumption).  Civilizations are confined to planets.
  2.  Civilizations don’t exist because they would achieve interstellar travel and we don’t see them (Hart).
  3.  We can’t prove it one way or another if the prohibition against interstellar civilizations prevents us from investigating.  So the distinction is irrelevant (Shuler).



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