Krafft Ehricke’s Extraterrestrial Imperative

What if you believe in something with all your heart and it still doesn’t come true? If you’re Krafft Ehricke then you tell everyone that you can and hope that all together you can make it happen. At least that’s the message from Marsha Freeman’s semi-biography “Krafft Ehricke’s Extraterrestrial Imperative“. Though reading this book may tell you only a bit of Ehricke’s life, it will tell you a lot more about his dreams that he apparently worked toward, with all his heart.

Krafft Ehricke was a compatriot of Wernher von Braun. Both were Germans who brought the V2 rocket into production. After the war, Ehricke joined the German rocketeer group that travelled to the US. There he made significant contributions to the US space program especially with the Centaur upper stage. It, together with the Atlas rocket, made the solar system accessible to humankind. It was also a crowning achievement of Ehricke’s.

While this book provides a little more description of Ehricke’s life, it’s mostly a collection of Ehricke’s efforts to keep space exploration alive. With the Apollo program funding starting to decrease in 1965, Ehricke apparently took it upon himself to advocate for continued and even augmented expenditures.

He describes the Moon as Earth’s seventh continent. He continually vouchsafes space as being a resource to counter the limits to growth dogma of the 1970s. He also wrote of three Laws of Astronautics; the first being that the only limits of humankind are ones placed by himself. The book’s author uses lectures, documents and letters to support this impression of almost frenzied desire to get humankind space bound.

Accompanying these are many illustrative examples of technical solutions; fusion reactors to support life on the Moon, automated vehicles to prepare landing surfaces on the Moon, and, a fictional account of a trip from low Earth orbit to the Martian surface, and back of course. Together, these show a person keenly interested in and technically capable of getting humanity space bound.

This book does great credit to Ehricke’s extraterrestrial imperative. But, it reflects only on this part of his life. As we know, this part, to have humans space bound, remains for humanity to accomplish. As well, the technical capability remains. Still humanity looks for the necessary desire to make it happen. This book has many logical, reasonable, rational arguments for putting people into space.

Yet, these are from a person writing them 40 years ago. Many of the arguments remain and we are still Earth bound. So while the book has some description of Ehricke and a lot of Ehricke’s passion, it is a reflection of what was and adds little to current initiatives to return people to space.

It is surprising to many that the Apollo program began winding down long before a human stepped upon the Moon’s surface. Yet, many recognized the implication of this retreat and sought to do something about it. Marsha Freeman’s book “Krafft Ehricke’s Extraterrestrial Imperative” describes one man’s passionate efforts to keep this dream alive. Sadly, it is still a dream, shared by many but no more real than from many years ago.

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11 Replies to “Krafft Ehricke’s Extraterrestrial Imperative”

  1. I’m sure there are books out there with “many logical, reasonable, rational arguments for” NOT “putting people into space”.
    When do we get to read about them?

  2. There is a paucity of studies which seek to address this question honestly. I am not in favor of foreclosing a space future which might be realistic. However, there are little biased studies on the energetics, economics and viable prospects for a permanent manned presence in space.


  3. Isn’t survival of the species the most important reason to get into space? Those pesky little things like asteroids, comets, super volcanoes, giant solar flares, ice age, even all out nuclear war, and others, some of which we may not even imagine. These all seem like great reasons for self sustaining colonies, lunar, martian, asteroids, etc.

    1. No species survive evolution, so that is a foregone attempt. What we can be interested in is, as always, survival of individuals and a society with technological and scientific production for needs.

      As we expand into the solar system the travel times will eventually put up enough of an interbreeding barrier for populations that the current species will split into many. If not among the planets where months or years of travel can be an insufficient barrier for rich enough people or where new technology may make travel times shorter, so when we start to inhabit the Oort cloud.

      But it is all good, since misplaced loyalty to an anthropomorphic ideal won’t then stop us from entering the Oort clouds of neighboring stars.

      As for catastrophe scenarios they have never nor will they ever manage to wipe out life on Earth. (I don’t count the eventual unavoidable greenhouse sterilization of Earth as “a catastrophe” but a natural process.)

      The latest science of this year make it even likely that life existed before the Last Heavy Bombardment and survived that. Nothing else can come close AFAIU.

      [Since it may have involved cooking off the oceans now and then. Which life supposedly survived by inhabiting the crust at that time.]

      Again I would suggest that not harking to foregone ideals will enable sound night sleep. of course, the self-interest I started out mentioning demand that we don’t satisfy ourselves with that. It is a good idea to add those to the reasons we should investigate à la Manu and LBC, so rising such concern is not an entirely bad idea.

      [I think I mentioned this before, but rising “catastrophism” as a concern is mostly a wasted effort with dubious moral effects. And FWIW IMO the basic idea is a derivative of “conspiracy theories” or vice versa, since the statistical and model building mistakes are the same.

      Nature or humans are not, in general, out to get you. They eventually will, but that is entirely accidental or part of the process (aging).]

      1. Inspired by postman1 and my current “post party depression” (alcohol induced, I fear :-o), I will take the opportunity to sum up my notions of if life survived LHB under the feeble rationalization that catastrophe survival touches on the question “why space”.

        The short version is that there is as of yet no definite sufficiently statistically significant test, but that there may be many still insufficiently significant ones. Without the many references then:

        1. Did life exist before LHB?
        Tested by:
        – having new models suggesting rapid crust formation after Earth-Moon formation
        – diamonds @ ~ 4.4 Ga showing liquid water
        – putative Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt rocks @ 4.3 Ga (or putatively > 3.8 Ga at least, overlapping with LHB @ 4.1 – 3.4 Ga according to latest LHB tail impact finds) showing sulfur isotope ratios consistent with a biological cycle (unpublished but presented data, I believe, found then googling)
        – zircons @ ~ 4.2 Ga showing carbon isotope ratios consistent with a biological cycle.

        2. Could life survive LHB?
        Tested by:
        – modern impact models showing that cells procreate and migrate faster than the LHB sterilized
        – models showing a likely survivable Goldilocks crustal zone ~ 1 km down
        – Moon impact data showing few if any cases of impactors capable of crust penetration and subsequent mantle upthrust. (I’m not going to do the math again, I have a recent UT comment on that as ref.)

        3. Did life survive LHB?
        Now we get to even remoter indirect evidence that may not be relevant but still seem to test the proffered hypothesis.

        Tested by:
        – having probiotic chemistry properties of slowest organic reactions accelerated in high temperatures and todays type of enthalpic enzymes kicking in with lowered temperatures suggesting metabolic processes first kicked in as temperature decreased globally
        – having evidence of necessarily low temperature (~20 – 60 degC) RNA world LUCA
        – having phylogenetically oldest proteins showing low temperature (~ 20 – 40 degC) adaptation amino acid set, and then independent evolution towards thermophily. Of course, the later is undated so incidental with LHB, not necessarily correlated or causative with it.
        – having massive genome transition state data showing a robust phase of Archean Expansion (AE) starting of @ ~3.4 Ga after a bottleneck showing almost wholesale gene birth and very little in the way of HGT, correlated with the LHB tail end and indicative of previous environmental stress and low and isolated populations, and subsequent niche formation on a massive scale overpowering the so called “Cambrian Explosion” [This is the new Nature “Rapid evolutionary innovation during an Archaean genetic expansion” paper by David et al btw; I highly recommend it for a fascinating read!]
        – having new models suggesting rapid crust formation after Earth-Moon formation and subsequent lower temperatures (same data as above, different hypothesis tested)
        – having low temperatures (~ 40 degC) *after* the LHB @ ~ 3.2 Ga (cherts) and ~ 3.1 Ga (salt water inclusions chemistry), suggesting the possibility of low temperatures before.

        Altogether 13 tests of minor and unquantifiable statistical significance. Except that *if* the new date for the LHB tail is ~ 3.4 Ga and the new methods of David et al tying genome data to environmental data (by way of dating, genome behavior, protein enzyme function, and, my suggestion, niche formation), then it *may* be that the AE phenomena, if it stands as robustly outside David et al methods as inside them, is quantifiably tied to LHB survival.

        Well, at least it is starting to rack up there. When this year (rather that year, 2010) started, I had no idea whether life existed before LHB or not. Now I have both an interesting hypothesis and some interesting tests!

        Armchair science is grand. At least, until the real science gets there. 😀

      2. Ooops, I forgot other carbon isotope finds @ ~ 3.8 – 3.4 Ga consistent with biological cycles, and phototaxically grown stromatolites @ 3.5 Ga both indicating LHB survival (if 3.4 Ga tail) and lower temperatures (< 73 deg C for photosynthesis).

  4. Interesting, and I hadn’t heard of Ehricke, so thanks for putting your review on UT, Mark!

    He describes the Moon as Earth’s seventh continent.

    Now that is a good meme, it rather accurately captures the closeness and the value of the Moon. (Even though it would take half a day to fly to most continents, IIRC 2-3 days to the Moon.)

    Too bad it didn’t caught on.

    Say, couldn’t UT’s banner roll some space adages over each download, with “The Moon is Earth’s seventh continent” among them? Perhaps we (i.e. space fans) can reboot the adage and have the meme go to fixation this time.

    He continually vouchsafes space as being a resource to counter the limits to growth dogma of the 1970s.

    But this is an unsupported claim, and I have to pitch in with the sensible comments of Manu and Lawrence which reflect my own thinking.

    It would take an exponentially increasing industry to even begin thinking of catching up to uninhibited population growth. This is how it works on Earth which has an established resource base to make it happen.

    But specifically here, space is still in the exploration stage and any industry would be like the support lines of an army, i.e. AFAIU a system linear in capacity growth potential and weaker over time as transport length grows.

    And generally there can be only so much market over a localized volume of space, as we run up against the transport times put in place, first by technology (still slow chemical rockets) and eventually by nature (speed limit of light).

    In time we can explore and we can colonize the local galaxy if we wish, but we can’t trade anything over it. (Even trying to transmit information would be more like giving gifts than establishing a profitable trade.)

    That still doesn’t counter population growth, since we can’t transport out colonizers at the current growth rate, it is (always was) too late for that. So we have to solve that problem here.

  5. One other question I meant to bring up earlier. Isn’t Australia the seventh continent? I know it is a matter of definition, but that is what I was taught so many decades ago. It’s a minor thing, but I think the moon would have to be the eighth. Does anyone know if the book is a good read?

    1. Obligatory wiki link – apparently you can have several different sets of 4-7 continents.

      I assume Ehricke wanted to make the Moon as important as possible by minimizing the number, while not going “all out” and make the meme ridiculous. Unless I’m mistaken (writing in some haste now), by area the Moon would be the smallest continent (@ 0.074 of Earth area), so that is at least not arguable.

      1. Oops, misplaced the decimal point. The Moon is slightly smaller than Asia. Go Moon!

  6. I must confess I find arguments about survival of our species by moving into space somewhat problematic. A species of life is in an optimal situation if it is in a rich biological environment which has a diversity of life that it is interconnected with. Space offers the complete opposite.

    Our species has endured a number of genetic bottlenecks, including the one at our inception. These reduction in our genetic diversity make our species weaker or less resilient to environmental pressures. It is entirely probable that our species is heading into the next bottleneck.

    The Sci-Am article written by EO Wilson is worth reading, and he spells out the problem we face in running out of environment, or crushing down the life support system that sustains our species. This implies some sort of implosion of the human condition in coming fairly quickly, and I suspect it will largely transpire this century. This could push the number of our species to very small numbers, particularly if the global ecosystem crashes into what might be called a safe mode — e.g. a mass extinction where life on Earth is seriously reduced.

    The next bottleneck will reduce the genetic diversity of our species further, which makes our long term evolutionary prospects very dubious. Homo neanderthalensis experienced a serious bottleneck around the time our species came about, and this reduced their range and their populations declined continually afterwards. Our species is likely to find itself living in small remnant populations in a mass-extinction environment that is severly reduced in its biological diversity and productivity.

    I think this scenario above is far more likely than any opposite trend of evolutionary radiance or speciation as we inhabit the asteroids and further out to the Oort cloud. BTW, it is damned cold out there.

    The question on the workability of moving into space is whether we can actually make space industry into a positive socio-economic process. So far it is in economic terms a money sink. Lots of money is pumped into it, little comes back. The only positive cash flow situation is with com-sats, where the commodity exchanged is massless. Maybe the next step in this direction is with solar power satellites. However, the principal issue is whether we can move into space in ways which plug into the socio-economic structure of the world in a positive manner. If that can’t be done then we are not going anywhere out there except for a few intermittent space voyages. Even that seems to be closing down.


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