Well... I see the greatest resource challenge upcoming the challenge in energy resources. Everything else is based on energy -- with enough cheap energy, you can overcome any and all of the remaining resource issues.
And the ridiculous thing about that is that we're awash in a great ocean of energy. There is energy everywhere around us -- it is one of the most common things in the Universe.
The problem is, we don't have enough ways of converting that energy into the useful *work* that our technological society requires. At least, not in economical ways.
I see umsf as a means to a greater understanding of the Universe, and thereby a greater understanding of how mass and energy interact at grand scales. Just as important is the particle physics research being conducted around the world, which grants us a greater understanding of the same interaction at tiny scales. We need to continue to improve our understandings of mass/energy interactions in order to reach new quantum improvements in our energy technology.
I see msf as a driver to find applications that allow human exploration of the Solar System. I mean, what are the challenges of human exploration at present?
- First, it's incredibly expensive to climb out of a gravity well (particularly our own), due to the speeds at which energy must be added to, or subtracted from, your vehicles. After all, there is enough total energy in a 747 at take-off to launch its entire mass into orbit. It simply lacks the ability to apply that energy fast enough to increase its speed to that required for orbit. It's not the amount of energy so much as the speed with which you can add it. And, of course, when landing or going into orbit around other planets, it's how fast you can shed it.
- Second, we'll need a way of manipulating energetic cosmic particles to keep them from penetrating our spacecraft and crews, if we want them to survive long interplanetary flights (an application of managing the mass/energy interface that has truly abundant implications for terrestrial technologies).
- Third, we'll soon want a way to travel from planet to planet in days and weeks, not months and years. Advanced propulsion technologies may well drive breakthroughs in energy production, conversion and management.
So, I see these "unprofitable" activities of umsf and msf as technology drivers that can lead a path to a truly Utopian world. But I fear that we may hit the energy wall before we've put enough resources into the sf infrastructures to allow those drivers to generate the breakthroughs we need.
There -- I don't think I was political in that whole explanation!
-the other Doug