We can’t even make the same car for Europe and the US, how will we colonize space?

There was a great podcast recently on Planet Money (Episode 533) about how we can’t buy the same car in Europe and in the U.S. because all the regulations are different. How smooth the exterior is, what color are the turn signals, how are the airbags designed — all different. This is a huge cost to manufacturers, who pass the costs on to us, of course, the car buyers.  The manufacturers all hate the current scheme of things but no one can change this because there is so little cooperation between the bureaucracies in Europe and the U.S.

So, how are we, this little civilization so fractured, ever going to be able to figure out how to colonize space? The challenges are immense, even if we do figure out some sort of faster than light travel. And I don’t for a minute believe we’ll ever have instant travel from here to there. It just doesn’t make sense. The universe is not gonna be that kind to us. I love all the sci-fi I read, and various authors attack different parts of the colonization problem (like gravity differentials, levels of heavy metals, cool stuff like that) but many gloss over the whole time displacement problem. Einstein, I think will get us in the end. So, one thing I have not seen is…how do you coordinate technology development from one world to the next, one epoch to the next, and still foster trade?

And face it folks, if there is no trade, it’s an awful boring universe. Who’d bother traveling from New Fritadonia to Timbukthree if they weren’t gonna make a buck? No trade–no pirates, no smuggling, no travel, no drama. You just gotta have trade.

Think about the chaos of interstellar trade: you spend 18 bazillion joules of energy to ship 5000 widgets to New Fritadonia or wherever, and in thirty or forty years, they get there, and it turns out “sorry, we’ve legislated that widgets need to be rubber-coated.” These are no good. You bet the farm on this shipment, expected to retire on it, maybe you took the ride so you wouldn’t be middle aged by the time this thing gets there and pow, you’re out of luck.

And what if your widgets are just the buggywhip of the 23rd century? “Oh, anti-gravity boots, how quaint, we haven’t seen those in years.” Ouch. This has to be solved.

About H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.
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