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Dragon Docks with the International Space Station

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Ponder the exacting systems engineering, reliability testing, required qualifications and multiple i/o instrumentation and control involved. Observe the precise, corrective jets to keep the process under control.

This, is how a good future is going to be built: near earth colonisation and Lunar colonisation are the first stages to Solar system colonisation. (Note, they are expected to remain on the ISS for 30 – 119 days.)

Blue Danube is extra, but it speaks to the cultural patterns that lie behind that precise docking exercise and all the rich promise it reflects. END

60 Replies to “Dragon Docks with the International Space Station

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Dragon Docks with the International Space Station

  2. 2
    jawa says:

    The amazing technology displayed by NASA&SpaceX pales in comparison to the true wonder beyond imagination that is observed within the biological systems.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    Jawa, ponder key-lock fitting and docking for DNA transcription, editing and translation into proteins. KF

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    I used to be lukewarm at best on “manned” space exploration, but lately I’m becoming convinced that it’s important, if only for psychological reasons.

    But what would a colonized solar system look like in practical terms? Which planet or moon do we go for first? All the candidates I’m aware of are quite inhospitable. Initially, colonists would be cooped up in some sort of dome I assume. Water, breathable air, and energy would be in short supply. The gravity would probably be wrong.

    Perhaps a giant swarm of autonomous robots could be sent along with materials to build a livable settlement, and the colonizers could follow later?

  5. 5
    jawa says:

    “ponder key-lock fitting and docking for DNA transcription, editing and translation into proteins.”

    Exactly right. Just the TF-binding site DNA sequence logic for tissue patterning and morphogenesis is mind-blowing.

    Those biological wonders are all over the map. For example, the beautiful ballet choreography for the mitotic spindle assembly checkpoints on kinetochores is a sure trigger of uncontrollable drooling -like it would happen to a hungry wolf seeing a juicy beefsteak- for any serious fan of engineering design. It just seems unbelievably surreal. But it’s there, taking place gazillion times, over and over again.

    Then to our even greater amazement, we’re told to believe it all came to be as result of unguided trial and error processes based on the powerfully magic formula RV+NS+T.
    Yeah, right.
    I’d rather believe that I could buy a brand new oceanfront penthouse with direct beach access in the middle of Kansas for $10. 🙂

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Jawa, yup, it is really amazing how hard it is for us to connect dots. KF

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, I need to get back to that topic. Earth orbit, lagrangian points, Moon, Mars then Asteroid Belt and onward Gas Giant Moons. Yes, robotics first for settlement. I suspect, major orbital infrastructure will be key. Yes, space is hostile, that is solvable. They already did Moon concrete and there are new mining technologies etc. KF

  8. 8
    MikeW says:

    Near earth orbit will never be colonized. There will be scientific outposts (e.g. ISS) and perhaps vacation destinations (e.g. Trump Galaxy Hotel), but these will prove to be prohibitively expensive, and will be abandoned after the first gruesome accident. The moon will never be colonized. There may be scientific outposts there, but they will also be prohibitively expensive, and will be abandoned after the first grisly accident. Mars will never be colonized, nor will any other planet or moon. If any misguided expeditions to Mars are launched, they will also prove to be prohibitively expensive, and will be abandoned after the first ghastly accident. For better or worse, our future is on Earth. It is the only place in the Universe that is capable of supporting colonies of advanced life.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    MW, that is one view. The other is, that the pivotal issue is energy and the impetus is, the sol system is our sustainable resource base. Fusion and sustainable fission are the keys to energy. Don’t forget that the massive burn rockets we see are because we are loading in the velocity all at once more or less. In principle one could climb a rope to the Moon. A Bussard drive, if it can be made to work would take us to Gas Giants in 70+ days IIRC. Ion drives are also well worth looking at more generally. As for disasters, in the age of discovery I think average casualties on the voyages were like 85%. We swallowed that and transformed the world. I note, an obvious first prize is minerals in the Asteroid belt. KF

    PS: We are already colonising low earth orbit. This mission went to the micro-colony.

  10. 10
    daveS says:

    I wonder of there’s a semi-realistic Sim City-like game which could be used to model the economics of the colonization process, or at least of collecting minerals in the asteroid belt.

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, such can be built. The belt is a base in itself and a base for Mars and the gas giants. We might cut off chunks and strap on drives to move metal rich blocks to where we want. Of course, high value metals are in mind here. That’s a failed planet. Think of Earth’s core . . . KF

    PS: Think, science and the like then microgravity industry.

  12. 12
    drc466 says:


    I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with MW on this one. One of the major problems with evolutionary theory is that it is founded on a process of “extrapolate ad infinitum” – because micro, therefore macro. This problem also affects fields like AI research and, yes, space colonization efforts. Scientists have an alarming tendency to believe that because technology was able to solve smaller problem X (e.g. we sent man to the moon), it is just a matter of time before it solves bigger problem Y (e.g. we can send man outside the solar system).
    Some problems are simply beyond technology’s reach (e.g. accelerate mass past light speed, make a 40G turn in a jet fighter without killing the pilot). Space colonization certainly appears to be one of those. For a quick short list of unsolvable problems, simply lay out all of the finely tuned parameters that make earth habitable, that don’t exist on the moon or Mars. Magnetic field, atmosphere, water cycle, natural resources (e.g. fossil fuels, ores). See also, e.g., experiments in contained BioSpheres here on earth (verdict: non-viable long-term), low/no-gravity effects on humans, etc. Getting to/from places in the solar system is the least, simplest problem to overcome.
    Even the main rationales for space colonization don’t make sense. Backup for earth’s destruction? Space colonies would rely on earth’s resources to survive, so if earth becomes uninhabitable the colonies would die off too. Also – what are the odds of any earth tragedy making the earth MORE inhospitable than, say, Mars? Even a “dinosaur-killing asteroid” leaves earth more hospitable. And as far as “profit” from space colony operations, unless we discover some resource/product that can only be mined/created off-earth, and requires an entire colony to mine/manufacture, the cost of supporting a colony would far, far exceed any benefit. Mining asteroids is like drilling for oil – you don’t “colonize” the oil rig with families, you just transport workers there and back in shifts.
    Sure, the technology exists to build what basically amounts to a giant submarine and plop it onto the moon’s surface and shuttle a few hundred families up there – but to what end? At what cost? How long until they all die off from gravity/uv/air/water/nutrition-related health deficiencies? Who’s going to volunteer to live up on a barren surface watching their kids grow so weak they can’t ever leave? And die young?
    Nope – space colonization will forever be a staple of sci-fi stories, along with warp drive, artificial gravity, free energy, and planetary terraforming. Fun to dream about, but about as practical as planets populated by elves and fairies.

    P.S. The common definition of a “colony” implies long-term settlement, not short-term visitation. Columbus discovered the New World – he didn’t “colonize” it. So no, we are not “colonizing” low earth orbit, we just send people out for a visit occasionally, then thank them for their service as they deal with the short and long term health problems they experience afterward.
    P.P.S. Don’t take my dismissal of colonization as antipathy for exploration – I’m a big fan of all things that improve our knowledge and understanding of God’s creation. The more we know about space, and our solar system, the less viable the “Chancedidit” explanations become, and the less reasonable a 5BY+ age for our solar system appears. But I try to be pragmatic in my evaluations of what the future holds, and as an engineer, I just don’t see a practical outcome for space colonization.

  13. 13
    MikeW says:

    Drc466, thank you for your well-reasoned comment. Books like “Rare Earth” and “Improbable Planet” have compiled documentation from the latest astrophysical research on just how utterly exceptional the Earth is in its capability of supporting advanced life. There are thousands of complicated and inter-related environmental factors that must be coordinated on a planetary basis for humans to exist and thrive here. In fact, the evidence is growing that cosmic resources from the entire Universe over its entire history were required to be marshaled, organized and configured, to produce the Earth’s life-supporting environment. “Terra-forming” on a planetary scale for human colonization is infinitely beyond any of humankind’s current or future capabilities.

  14. 14
    FourFaces says:

    This is very impressive and congratulations to SpaceX and NASA. But there’s no way we’re going to colonize the Moon and the solar system, let alone the star systems beyond, with a bunch of primitive cockamamie spaceships that propel themselves by throwing stuff out the back. Space colonization awaits a major breakthrough in physics. It’s coming. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  15. 15
    Latemarch says:

    We are going to first have to master fusion.
    Then we will have to find a way to warp the quantum field and surf it with that fusion energy before we will be able to utilize the solar system.

  16. 16
    FourFaces says:

    LM @15,

    I don’t think we need to master fusion or warp the quantum field. We need a completely new physics that actually explains (at a fundamental level) phenomena like gravity or even simple motion, as opposed to writing math equations.

    One day, in the not too distant future, physicists will wake up from their centuries-long stupor and realize that (1) distance is but an illusion/creation of the mind and that (2) we are immersed in an immense multi-dimensional lattice-like field of energetic particles without which nothing could move. Then we’ll go out and conquer the universe.

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, energy is the key. On Fusion, we may be a bit closer than many may be aware: and BTW one of the interesting points is using AI to manage plasma. I have also long been a supporter of pebble bed modular reactors. For Luna and Mars, the key environment answer is, go underground. A few feet of rock or even dirt work wonders; and we have found ways to make concrete. Beyond that I am not talking Arks etc, but first fulfilling deep key human needs to grow, explore, develop. Similar to the settlements of the Americas, adaptations and solutions to admittedly big problems will come. Meanwhile, the same technologies transform our ability to manage Colony Earth. You will also note that I don’t even mention trans Neptunian space much less interstellar space. Nor, the inner sol system. This is a transitional Century and we had better not make the strategic error China did, post 1405-26. They walked away from exploration and left both a power vacuum and a legacy of inwardness that ill-prepared them for the future when it came sailing across the Indo-Pacific oceans. KF

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, fine tuning, as in highly privileged planet? H’mm . . . KF

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    LM, as just one speculation, if Bussard’s Polywell can be made to work, a fusion drive can get us to trans sol sys distances in respectable time. No, exotic new physics is not what we have to do first. KF

  20. 20
    daveS says:


    It could also be fine tuning, as in the mud puddle analogy. 🙂

  21. 21
    FourFaces says:


    Folks, energy is the key.

    I don’t know. We have all the energy we need IMO. What’s lacking is a fundamental understanding of nature. We’re not going to travel to and colonize the other star systems beyond our own with mass propulsion, regardless of whether we use chemical or fusion rockets. We’ll need a new radical physics that will allow us to travel light years (or any distance) instantaneously. I believe it’s possible because I’m convinced that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, distance is abstract and doesn’t exist physically. Only positional properties exist, not unlike characters in a video game.

    By the way, I’m not alone in this. Neither Gottfried Leibniz nor Immanuel Kant believed in the existence of a physical space in which we move.

  22. 22
    kairosfocus says:

    FF, I am not interested in travelling light years but only across our home system. In that context, exotic speculations on energy take a back seat to the in reach high density energy sources we have, fusion and fission. They dominate other technologies that traffic in eV per atom, moving to MeV per atom, due to the different forces in play. KF

  23. 23
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, nope, too much contingency in setting up the stage then again in life using alphanumeric, algorithmic code. KF

  24. 24
    ET says:

    We need to find the source of dilithium crystals so we can then mine them and use them to power our space fleet. 😎

  25. 25
    daveS says:

    If there’s no such thing as physical distance, why do we need energy to travel? 🤔

  26. 26
    FourFaces says:


    Even colonizing the Moon, our nearest neighbor, would be prohibitively expensive with current propulsive technologies and with proposed future methods.

  27. 27
    FourFaces says:


    According to Newtonian physics, energy/force is needed only for acceleration, not inertial motion. But instantaneous nonlocal interactions are proof of nonspatiality.

  28. 28
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Skylon

    >>Skylon is a series of designs for a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane by the British company Reaction Engines Limited (REL), using SABRE, a combined-cycle, air-breathing rocket propulsion system. The vehicle design is for a hydrogen-fuelled aircraft that would take off from a purpose-built runway, and accelerate to Mach 5.4 at 26 kilometres (85,000 ft) altitude (compared to typical airliners’ 9–13 kilometres or 30,000–40,000 feet) using the atmosphere’s oxygen before switching the engines to use the internal liquid oxygen (LOX) supply to take it into orbit.[3]:5 It could carry 17 tonnes (37,000 lb) of cargo to an equatorial low Earth orbit (LEO); up to 11 tonnes (24,000 lb) to the International Space Station, almost 45% more than the capacity of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle;[4] or 7.3 tonnes; 7,300 kilograms (16,000 lb) to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), over 24% more than SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle in reusable mode (As of 2018.[5][6]) The relatively light vehicle would then re-enter the atmosphere and land on a runway, being protected from the conditions of re-entry by a ceramic composite skin. When on the ground, it would undergo inspection and necessary maintenance, with a turnaround time of approximately two days, and be able to complete at least 200 orbital flights per vehicle. >>

    Food for thought, KF

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    ET, you are forgetting, coding for transparent Al on a Mac Classic, while doing retrocausality using a cloaked Bird of Prey. KF

  30. 30
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N Ion drive to Mars

    >>Mars Engine’ Shatters Records for Ion Propulsion

    These propulsion systems already help satellites stay in position and spacecraft explore the solar system. Now engineers want to build a bigger one that could take us to Mars.
    By Jay Bennett
    Oct 24, 2017


    Ion thrusters are among the most exciting propulsion systems for future deep space exploration, and the technology’s viability has already been demonstrated on dozens of spacecraft. The thrusters ionize a fuel source, generally xenon, and then accelerate the charged particles to tens of thousands of miles per hour using electric and magnetic fields. The beam of ions blasting out the back of the thruster is an efficient way to move satellites in the near-vacuum of space.

    If scientists could scale ion thrusters to accelerate larger spacecraft, they could propel missions to Mars and beyond.>>

    Impulse power . . . and, gateway to nuke rocket engines.


    PS: Here at UD last Christmas

  31. 31
    ET says:

    I thought the reason for going to the Moon is for a base to launch vehicles even further. That’s because we won’t need to burn tons of fuel lifting off from the Moon.

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:

    ET, indeed, that is part of the reason to go back to the Moon after nearly fifty years. KF

  33. 33
    BobRyan says:

    When thinking of colonization and the inclusion of cost and technology, it is not about what exists currently. Computers were expensive when they first came out. They took up a lot of space and were not capable of doing much. Any talk of personal computers was laughed at. It was believed they would always require too much space and the costs would remain prohibitive to most of the people.

    The average computer in a watch is more powerful than what was used to get us to the moon. Technological advances have made personal computers commonplace throughout much of the world. What was once impossible has become possible.

    We are close to a major breakthrough with hydrogen and that will change everything.

  34. 34
    jawa says:

    KF @6:

    “it is really amazing how hard it is for us to connect dots.”

    Yes, it is.

  35. 35
    kairosfocus says:

    BR, it is true that it can be very hard to spot breakthrough opportunities. That’s why we should recognise and value entrepreneurs and innovators, also why we need incubators for innovation. In the 1960’s the Moon Shot programme threw out spin offs that drive technology to today. After the Moon shot, politics shifted focus and we became locked in for decades. We need to re-learn the value of hard to spot opportunities. KF

  36. 36
    daveS says:


    I suppose I could see some of these things happening in the extreme long-term, perhaps over hundreds or even thousands of years of incremental development.

    One problem is that at the moment, we’re just repeating feats that were accomplished ~60 years ago. Manned space programs have been boring and lame since the space shuttle era. And it’s going to be a while before there is a truly groundbreaking manned mission. Now, if someone pulls off a successful Mars landing and return, at a reasonable price, then perhaps the enthusiasm will return.

  37. 37
    Seversky says:

    Anyone else read The High Frontier by Gerard K O’Neill?

  38. 38
    daveS says:

    Correction: I didn’t read the O’Neill book after all. I confused it with something else.

  39. 39
    daveS says:

    PS to my post #36, I don’t expect our space programs to “pay for themselves” by providing net tangible benefits. Of course there will be spin-offs and perhaps some money to be made here and there, but their most important function is to evoke a sense of wonder and awe, for example in this video showing two boosters landing simultaneously.

  40. 40
    Seversky says:

    It’s a long time since I read it. As I remember, he was trying to create a credible scenario for creating large solar-powered rotating habitats – a bit like the Babylon 5 station – in Earth orbit and at Lagrange points near Earth. The interesting part was that he tried to build an economic case for them by suggesting that they could pay for themselves by selling excess electricity to terrestrial grids sent down as a microwave beam. Much as I love 2001, I always wondered how on Earth they would have paid for the giant space-station and Moon-base.

  41. 41
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, the usual route is Sci-Tech, military or strategic, then commercial spinoffs. Computers as an industry went net wealth producing in the 1980’s IIRC. It took 40 years. Single stage to orbit and mass rockets look to tame a lot of costs. Ion drives and fusion look to shift the logistics. A cluster of Industrial Civilisation 2.0 technologies that collectively are near von Neumann self replicators, point to transformation on earth too. Similarly, energy breakthroughs look to shift the dynamics of Earth too. KF

  42. 42
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: The FFC-Cambridge metalysis process and derivatives look promising to transform winning of key metals KF

  43. 43
  44. 44
    doubter says:


    I’ll second the praise for this exhaustive and thorough debunking of the science fiction (or more accurately science fantasy) notions of near future solar system colonization.

    Of course, there is some rather small probability that portable fusion power technology will actually become available. It’s a very small possibility based on the history of 60 years of failure in fusion power research despite billions poured into it.

    Anyway, if that happens our society would first have to overcome the resultant turmoil and economic tsunami that would inevitably ensue.

    In this unlikely eventuality travel to and establishment of stations on Mars and the asteroids would become more practical. But despite this I think the extremely hostile environments will forever prohibit establishments of actual self-sustaining colonies. We’re stuck with the poor old Earth.

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    D, in 1903, there had been decades of failure in achieving heavier than air flight. That was part of why it took years before the Wrights’ achievement was acknowledged. KF

  46. 46
    daveS says:

    I was just browsing some information on human-powered flight and found this photo of a Herr Lilienthal begging for a caption.

  47. 47
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, glider. KF

  48. 48
    daveS says:

    Yeah, I followed some links and drifted from the original topic a bit.

  49. 49
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, heavier than air, powered controlled flight. KF

  50. 50
    daveS says:


    I’m curious about this question: Was it reasonable for people to believe in ~1895 that flight (as would later be demonstrated by the Wrights) was impossible? I guess Lord Kelvin made such a claim then (he was wrong a number of times I gather).

    I’m trying to put myself into the shoes of someone in the late 19th century, which is pretty difficult since there are airplanes all over the place. But it’s hard for me to understand what people thought was so impossible. These days you can cross the English Channel in a human-powered “airplane”. It’s not practical, but it just shows that heavier than air, powered controlled flight is far from impossible, even without advanced technology.

  51. 51
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, actually, the human powered aircraft is specifically dependent on fairly advanced materials technology and likely low drag design. An engine powered vehicle is less critical to design. Yes, power source and so high-energy-concentration fuels plus the internal combustion engine with good enough power to weight ratio were critical to success as at Dec 17, 1903. Which BTW used a vehicle that seemed aerodynamically inferior to the 1902 machine, less stable and less controllable. The deeper point is, that pessimism and the barrage of endless rhetorical objections we so often see are best answered by incremental demonstrations of actual function, which then cumulatively justify scaling up. In the case we are actually looking at, it is the associated want of long-term vision and commitment that will tend to box the future into a business as usual track to mediocrity or even catastrophe. Such BAU is sustained on interests of dominant factions that reap benefits from it. The answer is to move to broader stakeholder-based, transparent participative governance, foster gap analysis of outcomes between Business As Usual and reasonably credible Alternatives, building critical mass for innovation. The sort of heavy handed appeals to “consensus” and dominant narrative framing we are routinely seeing (now, complete with censorship and marginalisation) are signs of a ruinous BAU locked in in the interests of power brokers. KF

  52. 52
    Seversky says:

    Personally, I have always had a soft spot for autogyros. Bring back the Fairey Rotodyne!

  53. 53
    daveS says:


    I think a bigger factor is that there’s just no money for these projects (speaking as a resident of a poor town in a rural region of the US). Our roads are in terrible shape, the water system is in need of an upgrade, the school buildings are antiquated. People are not going to be interested to hear about colonizing the solar system when critical infrastructure is crumbling. Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are welcome to partner with NASA (and I’m glad they are). However, the “peasants” have not bought in to the very ambitious space program that you have described.

  54. 54
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, there has never been enough, apart from sustained transformative growth. Needs, there are indeed and will always be. But once we see the trends then the need to invest in transformational long waves becomes evident. You are right, there is lack of vision, that is at the heart of the problem and reflects what was squandered across fifty years. So the answer is, if investment in transformation seems too costly, have you pondered the true cost of stagnation? KF

  55. 55
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, helicopters took over. KF

  56. 56
    daveS says:


    I think you admonished us that we had to pay more attention to the residents of conservative rural counties. But it looks like you are dismissing their concerns as a “lack of vision”. I can tell you their vision is very clear and pragmatic. It most likely doesn’t include having their grandchildren living on Mars. Well, maybe some of the Mormons would be up for that, but most of us aren’t. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, if people don’t want to spend trillions trying to colonize the solar system, you can’t stop them.

  57. 57
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, I hear you, but note equally that there is a serious question of the discussion that was not had. The timeline would not imply Grandchildren living on Mars or Moon, that would be too short a timeframe, at least if these would represent a mass population. We need to have a serious discussion, first. That is going to start with Industrial Civ 2.0 and a discussion of our alternatives. KF

  58. 58
    kairosfocus says:

    DS,. we have been ever so busy on ruinous, manipulative divide- polarise- and- rule power games and linked manipulated crises and issues for a generation that we have largely locked out the sort of discussion that has any real hope of building a sound future. KF

  59. 59
    daveS says:


    I suppose that’s true to an extent.

    Have you suggested to your own government that they begin investing in space colonies, by the way?

  60. 60
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, here we have some more basic issues to deal with our friend to the south. Though, GT energy is part of the picture. Similarly, investing in Sci-Tech education, digital infrastructure and digital productivity are relevant! The Global Village Industrial Civ 2.0 stuff is also relevant. DV, soon. KF

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