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Renaissance Man March 11th, 2013 10:12 PM

The Hard Work of Terraforming
 
I'm trying to imagine the work of terraforming goes down...

What kind of machinery would be used?

How much would be done by automation and how much would you have sophonts putting elbow grease into it?

What would the various jobs entail?

I'm thinking of a labour camp on a desolate planet, where prisoners are forced into terraforming it. But what kind of back-breaking jobs could they do?

Atmospheric processing would be done by big machines...

Maybe they would be useful for seeding the soil with engineered microbes and plants?

CosmicGamer March 11th, 2013 10:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Renaissance Man (Post 425723)
But what kind of back-breaking jobs could they do?

Might be a problem with that concept. Don't see much of it these days.

Machines are better at back breaking jobs, even if there still is a man needed. Backhoe and jackhammer instead of pick and shovel and so on.

Do you want the worst of the criminals getting their hands on tools? Do you want the worst of the criminals to have access to expensive machinery?

Maybe a concept where it's not back-breaking hard labor chain gang and more of a community service or a jobs program teaching people a skill?

Enoki March 11th, 2013 11:30 PM

If you just want massively nasty stuff for manual labor to do then:

Quarry work. The workers are cutting large stones out of a quarry. Say, carboniferoious types to create CO2 for the atmosphere and lime for concrete, granititic for construction, and other sorts for "things." They get primative hand tools to do this and have to manually haul the blocks out of the quarry (ie., they are building the pyramids...)

Hard rock ore mining for minerals needed for construction and such. Radioactives in particular are common and the workers are expendable...

Soil "improvement" by spreading human and animal wastes on large patches of land as fertilizer with a minimum of tools. Maybe a cart with buckets and crummy short handled shovels....

Toxic chemical lake / sea diver. The liquid water on this planet is bound with other toxic chemicals. There are pumps and things down in this swill that need fixing. Who better to send?

Tending things like algae farms and other pond scum / swamp scum that smells and feels horrible. The workers have to wade in and stir the pot to areate the water it is growing in. So, they are soaking wet (think the worst case of bathtub wrinkles), prone to get skin diseases like athelete's body, and smell terrible.

The management's motto is "There is nothing we cannot achieve with imagination and an endless supply of expedable slave labor!"

SpaceBadger March 11th, 2013 11:44 PM

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy has a lot of detail on his ideas for the terraforming of Mars. Red Mars especially covers a lot of the early grunt labor by humans and robots.

whartung March 11th, 2013 11:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpaceBadger (Post 425739)
Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy has a lot of detail on his ideas for the terraforming of Mars. Red Mars especially covers a lot of the early grunt labor by humans and robots.

Yup, but most of it was done via robots building "Mo Holes" (I think) in order to tap the heat of the planet and melt the ice caps. A Mo Hole was a very deep, and rather large, shaft in to the crust of the planet. I don't recall if they did any comet landings or not.

Those are great books.

Renaissance Man March 12th, 2013 12:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Enoki (Post 425734)

Quarry work. The workers are cutting large stones out of a quarry. Say, carboniferoious types to create CO2 for the atmosphere and lime for concrete, granititic for construction, and other sorts for "things." They get primative hand tools to do this and have to manually haul the blocks out of the quarry (ie., they are building the pyramids...)

Hard rock ore mining for minerals needed for construction and such. Radioactives in particular are common and the workers are expendable...

Soil "improvement" by spreading human and animal wastes on large patches of land as fertilizer with a minimum of tools. Maybe a cart with buckets and crummy short handled shovels....

Toxic chemical lake / sea diver. The liquid water on this planet is bound with other toxic chemicals. There are pumps and things down in this swill that need fixing. Who better to send?

Tending things like algae farms and other pond scum / swamp scum that smells and feels horrible. The workers have to wade in and stir the pot to areate the water it is growing in. So, they are soaking wet (think the worst case of bathtub wrinkles), prone to get skin diseases like athelete's body, and smell terrible.

This is what I'm talking about.

I'll totally check out that Robinson series.

There's a perennial question with this stuff: why not robots? Thing is, there's never an answer. Strictly speaking, "colonists" aren't necessary, EVER. In fact they aren't even necessary when the terraforming job is done. Indeed, there's no need to terraform at all if robots are more useful than sophonts. An entire empire could be run on synthetics, directed by small groups of administrators sent from a bunch of garden worlds.

I'm going to accept the premise that despite their life support needs, colonists can be cheaper and ultimately more effective at some tasks than synthetics. Perhaps manufacturing, programming and maintenance costs for synthetics still outstrip the cost of cheap labour or slave labour.

Enoki March 12th, 2013 01:16 AM

As the Russians found at Chernobyl... Robots are prone to breakdown at the most inconvienent times. "Liquidators" (ie., unsuspecting humans not told the full danger and forced to do the work) were cheap and plentiful. Besides, if you are going long term they breed more of themselves willingly if you know what I mean... :eek:

Icosahedron March 12th, 2013 01:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Renaissance Man (Post 425748)
There's a perennial question with this stuff: why not robots? Thing is, there's never an answer. Strictly speaking, "colonists" aren't necessary, EVER. In fact they aren't even necessary when the terraforming job is done. Indeed, there's no need to terraform at all if robots are more useful than sophonts. An entire empire could be run on synthetics, directed by small groups of administrators sent from a bunch of garden worlds.

Population pressures are what often instigate colonies. New planets may not require colonists, but colonists require new planets. If you only have a single planetful of people, why would you need an interstellar empire? A robotic empire would never exist, because it has no purpose.

Renaissance Man March 12th, 2013 02:26 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Icosahedron (Post 425753)
Population pressures are what often instigate colonies. New planets may not require colonists, but colonists require new planets. If you only have a single planetful of people, why would you need an interstellar empire? A robotic empire would never exist, because it has no purpose.

Playing the devil's advocate here, but if we were to take the aforementioned premise, the robot empire would serve to secure resources, and defend those resources from other robot empires. Malthusian pressures could be cheated by lower birth rates and better technologies. It's conceivable that populations could reach a kind of affluent homeostasis.

But in the end I don't buy it either.

Colonists go into the harsh darkness of space because of human avidity. New vistas, new markets, onward and outward.

epicenter00 March 12th, 2013 05:19 AM

I would actually think more than backbreaking work, there'd be a lot of mind-breaking druggery work involved: stuff that involves long hours and lot of boredom. I can probably put a lot of danger in there too.

I've thought about this in my "slaves of the future" posts I've posted at various times on this board in the past. I won't go over them again.

When I think of slaves / indentured workers / prisoners put to work, I would imagine in a futuristic terraforming prison-world, they actually wouldn't be ignorant beef put to work like traditional slavery.

For one thing, I'd imagine they'd have access to tools, even tools that'd seem like they'd make good weapons. Your reluctant populations would instead be controlled by access to items required for further life, for instance oxygen or food. They might have some sort of slow-acting toxin they have to get an antitode for periodically if you're feeling sadistic.

They'd be somehow "force-taught" technical skills. Some sort of high tech method that injects knowledge direct into the brain through chemical means or some sort of sleep teaching. Perhaps psionics if you have psionics. The method would be cheap, quick, and reliable. One can imagine a tired, bored, Zhodani psionic mercenary just walking down a long line of chained up prisoners, putting his hand on forehead of each one, followed by a scream and loss of bladder control by the prisoner. Worker comfort isn't a big deal - workers might suffer from periodic headaches for months or years afterwards.

The world might have a breathable atmosphere or not. This operation would have a lot of old, second-hand (at best) equipment being used for process, stuff that's been used before. It's dinged-up and worn, and prone to breakdowns, but it's field-repairable in many cases.

In case you're wondering, that's the purpose of the workers - they actually are slaves to the machines. The machines are the ones who are actually doing the work of terraforming the world, the humans are there to do what they can do pretty well and cheaply - fix the machines. The machines and the deadlines for fixing the machines are more important than anything else. The humans are sent out there to fix a device anytime it breaks down, regardless of when or where.

It doesn't matter if a huge earth-shifter fell 200m into a ravine during a hurricane-level storm. A team of workers are sent out there in the equivalent of a range truck. They're to inspect the earth-shifter, and attempt to fix it. If they cannot, they're to salvage what they can from it for future repairs. That there's continuing danger of landslides, flash floods, or whatever isn't such a big deal; it's relatively cheap to get more prisoners. It's the equipment that's expensive to buy and ship. Similar situations might arise with gas catalyzers that are on the verge of failure, perhaps even explosion. A team is rushed there to try and save the equipment. If it explodes, well, that's too bad. If the team fixes it, great!

Then there's soul-killingly boring work like going out and following the huge armies of machines around. The purpose is to climb aboard each huge machine and inspect each one, from top to bottom, ticking off a checklist to ensure the machine isn't about to fail in some way. Other technicians would go on long, lonely circuits of atmospheric sampling machines dotted all over the southern hemisphere to inspect them, record their information in a notebook (as a backup to their regularly transmitted information, just to make sure as long as someone's out there anyway).

Those huge algae pool stirrers mentioned in an above post? Machines would definitely be better for that task. However, someone has to come by and fix the ones that break down as well as take apart the ones that are working and inspect them for damage. That's human work. At the same time, perhaps they have to take samples of algae and check it via a simple chemical test kit at different depths to ensure no mutations or anything like that are occurring.

Of course, there's also "rescue" work. Given the dangerous conditions, workers often get into accidents and such. Other teams of workers are sent out there to retrieve the wounded who aren't beyond help. Those who are hopeless can just be left there. Regardless, the vehicle they went out there must be salvaged for useful spare parts, siphoned of fuel and oil, the spacesuits stripped from the bodies to be reused, and so on.


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