To follow up Monday’s pessimistic post with some optimism in the same Antifragile-inspired thought-domain, here are some speculations on how space exploration could become more robust (fairly realistic) and possibly antifragile (woooo everybody put on your tinfoil hats!)

Some robustification ideas:

  • In-space manufacturing via 3-D printers or other means
  • Fuel depots, raw material launches and other ways to distribute launch risk
  • CubeSats and chip satellites
  • More sources of value in space – on demand surveying for 3rd world countries, perhaps.

Some antifragility ideas (far more cool. Far more crazy):

If you think about it, antifragility is actually the driving force behind the justification for asteroid mining. As I understand it, the thought is that while it won’t be strictly more cost-effective to mine resources from space, it’s a much more stable source of those resources. Thus, if China, the current primary supplier of rare-earth metals, decides to choke the market for some reason, we could count on space as a stable alternative. Space as a source of resources becomes more attractive with increases in the volatility of political situations on earth. The ability to benefit from shocks and randomness is the hallmark antifragility, so asteroid mining’s ability to gain from political instability makes it a contender to be the first space-thing in the antifragile club.

The other crazy idea is to leverage the antifragility of biological systems for space. I don’t mean putting people and animals in space, I mean that the spaceships would BE people and animals.  This idea has been explored in science fiction, most notably in Starcraft’s Zerg and the Yuuzhan Vong (I really do try to avoid Star Wars references, but sometimes I can’t help myself.) Using living systems to fulfill roles that for now we see as mechanical is pretty far down the line, if at all, but Freeman Dyson is pretty bullish on the possibility and, while I’m not sure whether he’s right or wrong, I don’t see any reason not to be optimistic as well.