Gaia And the Stampeding Space-bound Elephants

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Quotes of the Day

This story begins with legs.
Limbs to cross dry land, climb trees and explore the ever spreading forests
Powerful legs to support the weight of the mighty dinosaurs!
--SolSeed Diversitas ritual.
On this Earth, rockets barely work.
Payloads can only be a few percent of the total mass for LEO…
If we define slightly heavier Earths,
say Earth1.1, Earth1.2... …
what happens?
Is there some point
where chemical rockets simply will no longer be able to put things in space,
or does the payload mass simply become ridiculously tiny?…
Given [a number of liberal] assumptions …
[at 1.5 g a Saturn V would be required to launch 1 tonne into a low orbit] …
Up above 10 g,
something really interesting happens
that is kind of a theoretical limit.
The mass of the rocket
reaches a measurable fraction
of the mass of the entire planet it’s launching from. …
At 10.47g, the rocket is the planet …
…as the linear scale of a given rocket stage increases,
its mass,
and thus the required thrust force to lift it,
goes up by the cube of the scale,
but the area available at the base of the rocket
to mount engines
goes up by only the square of the scale …
At the 3g mark,
for example,
the 274 first-stage engines
would require a stage about 90 meters in diameter and
9 meters tall,
at which point the engineering inefficiencies
associated with the fuel tank proportions
will be becoming serious.
--Stack Exchange Space Exploration Beta (

Why do I think space is really important ...
How do you decide that anything is important?
The lens of history is a helpful guide here. ...
If look at things over a broad span of time,
things that are less important ... fall away.
And if you look at things from the broadest possible span of time
as it relates to life itself, ...
Primitive life started around 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago,
and what are the important steps in the evolution of life?
Obviously there was the advent of single celled life,
there was differentiation between plants and animals,
there was life going from the oceans to land,
there was mammals,
consciousness, and
I would argue also on that scale
should fit life becoming multiplanetary.
--Elon Musk, National Press Club Luncheon 2011-09-30

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

You are sitting astride your elephant as she stands ankle deep in the water of the Indian river on boulders placed decades ago to build the NASA causeway. You are watching the sunrise. Nearby, the road on the causeway rises up onto the causeway bridge. Beside the road, a sign hangs slightly askew on its post. Through graffiti sprayed onto the sign you can make out the original wording, "Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex" and an arrow pointing drivers across the bridge. But no cars are heading across the bridge now because it is blocked by protestors with their own signs, "Earth First", "Space is For the 1%", "Rockets Aren't Safe" and so on. Terra is standing nearby, wearing Gaia who is watching a few fish lazily swimming in the river. The launch pads are silent. There have been no launches in months.

"Gaia," you ask, "How can we motivate people to return to space? Ever since the accident people have turned away from it."

"Threaten their children." Gaia responds without giving it much thought, still watching the fish. The fish seem unaware of the alligator that they are swimming towards.

"Gaia," you cry in surprise, "That is a terrible thing to say!" The alligator lunges forward suddenly gobbling a fish.

Gaia looks non-plussed, "It worked for the euthycarcinoids." she says matter-of-factly as several of the fish jump out of the water onto the rocks in fear.

"Who were the euthycarcinoids?" you ask confused. The alligator moves off and most of the fish flop back into the water. Terra tosses you two breathing masks, one sized for your elephant and one for you.

"Arthropods from the late Cambrian." Gaia says waving her hand at the horizon as one last fish struggles, flopping about, to find its way back to the water.

In the distance, the horizon seems to rise up and fear fills you, "Tsunami!" you cry and your elephant breaks into a run charging up onto the causeway road and turning toward the bridge in the hopes of getting high enough before the tsunami reaches you. Gaia just laughs and you can see why. The Tsunami is coming in fast and the bridge is too far away. Long before your elephant can reach the bridge the water breaks over the causeway and you and your elephant are swept away.

You feel the undertow catch you and you are carried, tumbling, deep underwater and far out the estuary. When the water calms you find that you are swimming above a benthic colony of arthropods illuminated by the sun directly overhead but refracted through the waves above you. Terra is swimming beside you. She is still wearing Gaia, but Gaia is only a face mask and a bikini with animated embroidery of Cambrian sea creatures, trilobites, sponges, brachiopods, jelly fish, sessile echinoderms and various vermiforms. Terra's skin repeatedly cracks and heals as she moves, revealing her incandescent interior and releasing columns of steam bubbles. Your elephant has put on her breathing mask and reaches up with her trunk and expertly fits yours in place.

Your elephant follows Terra/Gaia as she swims down to the bottom to observe the arthropods. You are carried along in her wake. You vaguely remember studying the euthycarcinoids in University. They were an extinct clade of arthropods with segmented oval bodies, many legs, and long tails. The ones below you have 20-centimeter bodies with 20 legs, two antennae and two eyes and 30-centimeter bifurcated tails. Each one is guarding a gelatinous pile of eggs in the middle of a shallow depression in the benthic mud.

Terra signals you to turn on the radio in your breathing mask. You do and then you watch as Terra pulls on the animated embroidered image of a small arthropod from the Gaia’s bikini bottom. As she does it appears to become a real arthropod and she drops it onto the nearest euthycarcinoid, labelled Dr. Mitchell in your breathing mask’s heads up display.

“What was that?” you ask Gaia.

“A bug.” She says.

As it lands on Dr. Mitchell, over your mask radio, you hear a woman talking to her children. As you watch Dr. Mitchell, her movements seem to suggest that she is the woman talking and that her eggs are replying. On the radio a child is asking, "Mama, why do the bad people want to hurt us?"

Dr. Mitchell responds, "Sweetheart, they believe our SolSeed religion is evil. Now lie down and rest. You don't have to worry. Mommy will protect you." but no sooner does she say this than you hear a woman scream. On the radio, it sounds like the woman is several rooms away, perhaps down a hallway. You glance to your left and see three Anomalocarii attacking a nearby euthycarcinoid nest. The mother of that nest, labelled by your HUD as Dr. Perry, is trying to defend her eggs but the Anomalocarii (labelled Pete, Chris and Nate) are each about a meter long, each with two powerful front facing limbs covered in sharp spines. Dr. Perry is only about the size of one of those limbs and Nate easily sweeps her aside as Pete and Chris close in on her helpless eggs.

Over the radio, you hear Dr. Mitchell say to her eggs, "Quickly! Run! To the silo! Come on!" She scoops her eggs onto her back with her surprisingly agile little legs and begins to crawl away from the Anomalocarii. You can see euthycarcinoid mothers doing the same all across the colony. Unable to get near Dr. Perry's eggs because Pete and Chris are already crowded around them, you see Nate track Dr. Mitchell's movement. Nate follows her. The lateral edges of his flattened body are made of overlapping plates which undulate down the side of his body pushing him efficiently through the water. Over the radio, you hear gunfire which is strange because neither the Anomalocarii nor the euthycarcinoids are armed with guns.

“Gaia, surely the euthycarcinoids would have found their way onto land without the Anomalocarii chasing them.“ you shout over the loud bangs of gunfire, “What about the spirt of exploration?”

Dr. Mitchell is swimming now, using her tail to propel herself into ever shallower water. Nate is following, edge plates undulating rapidly. Nate is gaining on Dr. Mitchell. Once again you hear gunfire and then, just as Nate is about to grab her, she reaches a broken outcrop surrounded by a pile of sharp rocks. The outcrop forms an island surrounded by a loose jumble of boulders infilled with sea water.

“New environments are dangerous,” Gaia replies, “The spirit of adventure tends to fade in the face of danger.”

You find it easier to follow by climbing onto the rocks than to swim. Nate has lost her trail. Dr. Mitchell is hiding in amongst the rocks. From above, you can see down between the rocks and you see that all of the euthycarcinoid mothers seem to have rendezvoused here and are milling about between the rocks trying to get farther away from Nate. You climb up onto your elephant to get a better view. Then you notice that Pete and Chris are circling around the rocks also. The euthycarcinoids are trapped. The sun is getting low in the western sky. Will darkness provide an advantage to the euthycarcinoids or the Anomalocarii?

Gaia continues to explain, “In the face of danger, organisms take the time to move cautiously.”

A male voice speaks over the radio, "It is only a matter of time before they force their way into the silo. There is only one way out."

Gaia continues, “Caution doesn’t just take time, it often costs energy.”

Dr. Mitchell speaks, "But that is only experimental. It is a prototype. There is no guarantee we would make it to space, let alone to the belt. We are not ready yet."

Gaia continues, “Too much caution, can make adventure infeasible.”

Stampeding Elephants by Genevieve Townsend

Another female voice speaks, you notice one of the euthycarcinoids who seems to be moving in conjunction with the speech, labelled Dr. Sullivan, "I don't think we have a choice. We can wait for them to break in and kill us or we can take our chances with a partially tested prototype."

Gaia finishes, “But faced with two dangerous alternatives, organisms may choose the lesser of two dangers.”

The euthycarcinoids all gather toward the far side of the rock pile. You can see a beach only a few hundred meters away, waves breaking toward it almost as soon as they pass the outcrop. The water is barely calf deep all the way from the rocks to the beach. Beyond the beach is a desert with not a plant in sight. The sun is setting beyond the desert. Over the radio you hear people climbing metal stairs and ladders, the sounds of people strapping into seats, call outs about fuel pressures, oxygen pressures, engine chill, actuator tests.

“But humans are different.” You say, “our rational minds can assess the risks and put only as many safety measures in place as are needed.”

Then a final count down from 10 seconds to 0. As the count reaches 1 there is a powerful roar over the radio, a set of rocket engines bursting into life. But all you see is euthycarcinoids churning the water ready to swim for it toward the beach. As zero hits you hear the call outs, "Silo Door Retract" and "Lift Off" and the euthycarcinoids charge forth all tightly together swimming hard for the beach. Pete, Nate, and Chris follow but are obviously too fearful to close in. The swarm of euthycarcinoids looks like a single huge creature. There must be 80 of them all together. Also, very soon they are in very shallow water and the bulky Anomalocarii obviously cannot move through the shallow water being entirely adapted for swimming in deeper water.

“Really?” Gaia is surprised, “Those protestors on the bridge seem to want more safety measures put in place, because of the accident. The fact that the accident was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke doesn’t sway them.”

Curious, your elephant jumps down from the rocks and follows through the shallow water. Terra is running along side of you, Gaia clinging to her body. In a about 2 minutes the euthycarcinoids partially emerge from the shallow-water crawling on wet sand as waves wash up and down the beach around them. Waves pull them back and forth making progress difficult toward the actual dry beach. Over the radio you hear, "Stage separation" and then "Second Stage Ignition" and then "Reactor warm up has begun". But you see no reactors or stages or rocket engines. Just a struggling group of arthropods being buffeted by uprush and backwash.

“It doesn’t make sense!” you respond to Gaia, “People should be rational.” As you sit atop your elephant she takes you closer to the action which is becoming difficult to see in the gathering darkness.

They continue to struggle and soon they are making headway again and it seems obvious that they will eventually get onto the beach. When they do, you hear over the radio, "Second stage cut-off" and "Reactor Temperature Nominal; Ready for VASIMIR start up." Your elephant carries you up onto the beach also and you feel the heat of the dry sand which had been exposed to the Sun under a cloudless sky only a few hours ago. The euthycarcinoids are running quickly up the beach.

“What do your rational minds have to do with anything?” Gaia laughs, “You know that your elephants make all of your decisions.”

Time seems to stretch and contract strangely. It feels like it takes them months but maybe it is just minutes. After all they only run a few hundred meters and then they find a freshwater pond beyond a low ridge, out of reach of the surf. Over the radio you hear, "Orbital Insertion burn for 654 Zelinda has begun."

“We just need the right danger to arise and your elephants will stampede into space.” Gaia looks up at the stars emerging as the sun finally completely sets.

As the euthycarcinoids charge into the cool water of the pond you hear further call outs: "Orbital Insertion burn cut off.", "Docking Trajectory calculated.", "Docking Trajectory Transfer Burst Nominal", "Docking Trajectory Nominal", "Docking Successful", and "Welcome to 654 Zelinda and SolSeed Colony."

You look at Terra/Gaia who are now standing beside you watching the euthycarcinoids enthusiastically digging shallow depressions in the mud on the bottom of the pond and piling their eggs carefully at the center of each bowl-shaped depression. "What was all the rocketry stuff coming over the radio?" you ask.

Terra shrugs and Gaia replies, "You must have got some metaphorium dust stuck in your receiver during the Tsunami."

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