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未来系列:天体开采:为何下一代矿工会所见星辰

FUTURES: Asteroid Mining – Why the next generation of miners will have their eyes on the stars

by A’liya Spinner

4 Vesta

灶神星(4号小行星)

It’s the alarm that wakes Matthew from his allotted four hours of slow-wave sleep, a tinny, drawn-out sound that reverberates through his bunk and rattles the implant in his left eye. Once, that sound had grated on his every nerve, wrenching him out of sorely-needed sleep. Now, he does not complain. He, along with the other three men he shares this shuttered closet with, unstrap from their rigid bunks and dress with practiced, weightless ease into their clunky mining suits. Even in the oxygen-rich sleeping pod, Matthew feels suffocated, and he’s not the only one. Tao, the Asiatic astrominer who sleeps beneath Matthew, begins to cough and gasp as he strains for breath. Rumor has it that their recent illnesses are caused from asteroid dust— brought into the station from poorly-decontaminated work suits— accumulating in their lungs, but the Company has yet to release an official statement or make any noticeable changes to procedure. Matthew suspects they don’t plan to, either; the ICMM health inspector isn’t due for a visit for another five years due to shuttling costs from Earth.

有个闹钟把马修从他所规定的四小时曼波睡眠中吵醒了,那犹如细微悠长的声音在回响整个房间开来,这使他左眼的植入物都连着不停抖动起来;有一次甚至那声音都几乎快捣毁了他的每根神经,这意味着他必须起来了;实际上,目前为止他也不再抱怨了,因为其他三个人也搬了进来。

现在他要从床上下来要接下腰带且熟练、顺应地穿上那笨重的工作服,即使在氧气充足的舱内他也是感到了些许窒息,绝非他独一人这么觉得;睡在马修床下的亚洲天体矿工——陶(Tao)开始咳嗽起来,他同样感到有些胸闷。

有曾传言称这种现象是由小行星的灰尘所引发,这些主要来源于消毒不当的工作服上所携带到太空站的,灰尘逐渐在肺部堆积形成,可该公司未发布任何相关声明、也没有对这件事做出举动;马修也猜疑他们会不管。 由于地球上来回往返的费用来看,ICMM的健康员在未来五年内也不再来了。

Just as Tao’s coughing abates, the implants in their eyes flicker to life, directing them out of the habitat pod and towards airlock 2C, where the roster has placed them for the day. Flashing arrows overlay his vision, leading the way through the cluttered corridors of the mining station. Even though he doesn’t need the guidance, Matthew endures the blinking shapes and the English script that flutters wherever his eye wanders, scrolling through the latest Company updates, alerts, and reminders. He wants to take it out, but his shift manager has told him many times that the Company insists they stay in at all times, “in the case of an emergency”. Really, he knows it’s so they can monitor his movements and whereabouts at all times. It’s illegal technology on Earth, but there are no regulations on 4 Vesta.

就在陶好些之时,他们眼睛里的植入物开始闪烁且引导他们离开这地方走向2C的气闸,也是他们那天所在地,闪烁的箭头覆盖住了他们的视野指引着他们穿过采矿场那乱七八糟的走廊,即使他不需要任何指引但马修仍旧还是忍着他眼中植入物所显示的箭头和图形、字体、各种提醒甚至还有公司的更新公告,确实太想把这玩意取出来了,但值班经理总是告诉他”在紧急情况下”都必须全员呆在家里。

真的!他知道这样就可以随时监控他的行踪了,但对灶神星来说可没有这回事。

Matthew glances out a viewport, at the surface of the asteroid. The mining station stretches on for a mile of interconnected tubes, pods, and heavy equipment, hauled here piece by piece to 4 Vesta by the joint private operations of American, Chinese, and UAE companies. Slow-moving cargo bins— pulled along by thick cables that keep them anchored to the surface of the asteroid, supplementing 4 Vesta’s nugatory gravity— crawl along its dusty surface, loaded with platinum, rhodium, and nickel from the mines where Matthew and his bunk mates must soon venture. Once, he imagines that the view from 4 Vesta’s surface must’ve been spectacular; now, however, it’s simply cluttered by the sprawling station and tall scaffolding from which supply ships come and go. Some of the digging machines spew debris and dust into the thin atmosphere of the asteroid; such destructive machinery has been outlawed on Earth just as the eye implants were, but no one cares what happens to the once-pristine surface of 4 Vesta, even at the cost of the lungs and the lives of their minimum wage miners. As Tao (still punctuating every few meters of movement with a coughing spell) leads the small contingent through airlock 2C, Matthew remembers his former Union job on Earth, working in a refinery, with wistful fondness. That was before the asteroid mines started refining and manufacturing on-site, destabilizing millions of jobs around the planet. That was before a lot of things.

马修像外看了一眼那小行星的表面样貌。

采矿站有管道、吊舱和重型设备所组成且该长度达一英里,由美国、中国和阿联酋公司的联合私营企业把这一切送到灶神星上面去。

由厚厚的缆绳所牵引使货物在小行星的表面上缓慢移动使得被固定在表面上,这样补充了灶神星的重力不足。

这些集装箱载着从小行星上开采来的矿物(铂和铑、镍),马修和他的同事们很快又要协同去采矿了。

有一次他想象从灶神星上观景一定极为波澜壮阔,然而就在此刻这一切的场景只不过是凌乱不堪的站点和高耸入云般的脚手架,然后从补给船上循环往复。

部分挖土机将残余碎片和尘埃喷射到小行星那稀薄的大气层中,而且这种机器已经在地球被禁止了,像眼睛的植入物似的,但没有人在乎这颗小行星看似干净的表面会发生什么,即使是以已命和最低工资为这一切的代价而言。

当陶带领着小队通过气闸2C时,马修想起了他以前在地球上为公会工作过,那是一家炼油厂,甚至有些许怀念之感,那已经是在小行星开始现场精炼和制造、破坏地球上数百万工作之前了,反正都是很久以前的事情。

The mine where he’s been assigned for the day is cramped and dark, and it takes many minutes of hauling his nearly-weightless body end over end down a tether to descend the shaft. His stomach twists painfully, but the auto-updates flashing across his vision tell him that rations won’t be doled out for another few hours; the Company had recently cut back on how often they feed workers, citing supply shortages and the increased cost of transporting all of the bare necessities their miners needed from Earth to the asteroid belt. When some threatened to quit, the Company happily offered them seats on the next departing shuttle— for a price, of course; space travel wasn’t cheap. No one followed through.

马修被分配到矿井中,那里狭窄且犹如伸手不见五指的黑暗,在这没有重力的环境下一直穿梭而行,用缆绳把他拖下矿井要好几分钟的时间,他的胃极其疼,但自动更新的消息从他的视野中一闪而过,显示的是分配的事物要好几个小时才能发放出去,对的,该公司减少了给员工提供事食物的次数,其理由是资源供应短缺了和矿工们必须提高效率(指从地球到小行星带上的运输成本)。

当有些人选择要辞职时,公司当然乐意地给他们提供下一班离开这里的车辆,太空旅行的价格可不便宜,而且没有人会坚持下来。

Deep in the dark, hollow heart of 4 Vesta, Matthew labors, his body aching from two years of muscle atrophy in the nearly-weightless environment. Human hands and brains are cheaper to employ than complex robots, and the work is hard, endless, and dangerous. But it’s necessary. The asteroid mines helped save Earth from ecological collapse— even if the multi-trillion dollar Company now controls global politics with its almost infinite wealth. And the money he earns goes straight to his daughter’s college fund— a worthy cause, even though he hasn’t seen her in over twenty-eight months, and maybe never will again. Through it all— the aching, the coughing, and the darkness— Matthew clings to hope. Because hope is all he’s allowed to have on 4 Vesta.

在灶神星的核心地带中,马修仍旧努力工作着,他的身体因两年下来常年在失重环境下而导致了肌肉萎缩且还很痛苦,人类的手脑比复杂机器更便宜而且工作艰苦、仿佛无尽轮回且还很危险,但这都是必要的。

小行星上安装的地雷拯救了地球使其免于生态崩溃,这是一项有价值的事业,虽然已有28个月没有见到这颗小行星了,或许以后也不得以再见。

经历了之后这一切的痛苦、咳嗽和黑暗,马修却继续坚持着、希望着,这因为他对这颗灶神星也唯有希望。

Astromining

天体开采

4 Vesta is a work of science-fiction, but the future it depicts is not completely unbelievable. The notion of asteroid mining has been circulating more than ever as private companies seek ways to tap into the seemingly limitless resources of space for profit, expansion, and innovation, and they’re getting closer every year. United States senator Ted Cruz once said “the first trillionaire will be made in space”, and while the US Space Act of 2015 prohibits anyone from legally owning asteroids, private companies are entitled to materials they mine from bodies in space. 4 Vesta— a real rock in the asteroid belt— may see miners in our lifetime.

灶神星是一部科幻小说,但它所得以描绘的未来绝非完全不可思议。

小行星采矿这一概念都感觉很新潮,私人公司寻找的方法看似是空间资源,其以获得利润、扩张概念和创新且每年都在不断接近。

美国参议员特德·克鲁兹(Ted Cruz)曾说过:“第一位亿万富翁将在太空中诞生”。

尽管美国2015年的《太空法》(Space Act)中禁止任何人合法拥有小行星,但该公司却有权进行天体开采。

灶神星——小行星带中的岩石,可能会在有生之年中得以亲眼所见。

The Appeals

要素

It’s not a secret that Earth’s natural resources may soon be exhausted. Herein lies one of asteroid mining’s primary appeals: asteroids are thought to contain not just nickel, iron, and other common metals, but gold, platinum, rhodium, and many scarce resources no longer bountiful on our homeworld. Not only are these materials financially exciting (the estimated worth of the heavy metals in the asteroid 16 Psyche is $700 quintillion*, not accounting for the inflation that irresponsible mining could cause), but could also provide the raw materials to further facilitate modern industry, food production, and, especially, space expansion. Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, believes that the metals, ice, and rocks mined from asteroids can be used to build settlements or electronic components in situ, cutting down on the costs of shuttling astronauts to and fro, and helping humanity establish their first inhabited compound on the surface of a celestial body other than Earth, while also supporting the continuation of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

地球资源很有可能很快就会枯竭早已不是什么秘密,而则是天体开采的主要缘由之一:小行星上不仅被认为含有普通金属还有金、铂、铑和更多对于地球上来说稀有的资源,这些材料不仅经济上价格昂贵(小行星16号——Psyche[普赛克]中重金属可达700万亿亿美元*,这不包括采矿失误导致的通货膨胀),而且还可能为进一步促进现代工业、食品生产、特别是太空扩张所提供的原材料。

*注:quintillion在牛津词典中的释义(美加地区)是百万的三次方/10^18、在柯斯林词典中的释义是10^30(属于英德地区),此处暂取10^18

Angel Abbud-Madrid——中心主任科罗拉多矿业学院的空间资源则认为:金属、冰和岩石可以用来建立定居点或电子元件,减少宇航员往返的成本并帮助别人类建立第一个位于复合表面上地球以外的天体,另也维持”第四次工业革命”的走向。

Furthermore, there’s a scientific reason to mine asteroids: Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, believes that metallic asteroids (such as the aforementioned 16 Psyche) may be the remnants of the cores of nascent planetoids, destroyed in collisions during the solar system’s violent early history. Studying the composition of these rocks will give scientists a window into Earth’s core and the core of other celestial bodies, where the heat and pressure is too intense for modern instruments to probe, and provide insight into the origin of our planet. This prospect is so exciting, in fact, that NASA has recently approved the design for an unmanned spacecraft to visit 16 Psyche (estimated arrival date: 2026) to study its surface, composition, and geological history.

此外天体开采还有一点:亚利桑那州立大学的行星科学家吉姆·贝尔认为:金属行星(如普赛克)有可能是早期该相关小行星核心的(残存)碎片,在太阳系早期活动中被碰撞且摧毁。

研究岩石的构成将会为科学家们开一扇明窗:了解地球核心和其他天体核心;可这些地方热量和压力过大以至于仪器无法探测,不过这个想法为我们了解地球的起源提供了帮助。

这一前景如此感到期待,就连NASA最近都批准了一艘无人飞船的设计蓝图,这将可以访问16号小行星——普赛克了(预计2060年既到),这得以研究他的表面、相关成分和历史。

But there’s perhaps an even more important reason to look to asteroids for metals and ice, and that’s to protect our homeworld from the abuse of mining. Methods like fracking use ecologically-damaging amounts of water and can leak toxic chemicals into aquifers and nearby land, and have been controversial across the world for their negative environmental impacts. But even the recent efforts to promote clean energy has come with a cost. Cobalt, for instance, is a necessary component in lithium-ion batteries, which power anything from cellphones to electric cars— and as the demand for these things increases, so too does the demand for cobalt. But just because it’s a source of clean energy doesn’t mean cobalt is a perfect or ethical resource. Over 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from Congo— one of the Earth’s poorest nations— where over 100,000 people, including children, work in hand-dug mines with minimal safety precautions. Injuries and deaths are common, and the unregulated mining exposes surrounding communities to toxins that cause respiratory ailments and birth defects. Since 2010, the governments and corporations of the world have become increasingly aware of this exploitation, and are moving— slowly— to correct it. Yet even with global attention and regulation, electric cars still need lithium-ion batteries, which means the mining must continue. But asteroids could solve this crisis by offering a safer and more equitable method of obtaining cobalt and other precious metals, making electric cars and other clean sources of energy cheaper, more accessible, and more ethical for humanity as a whole.

但或许还有一个重要因素:我们在小行星上搜寻金属和冰,那是保护家园以免遭滥开采之手;水力压裂法使水资源开始对生态造成破坏且将有毒化学物质泄露到富含水层和附近土地上,这种方法对生态环境的负面影响以至于在全球引发争议,但即使是最近所推广的清洁能源也是无济于事。

例如:钴是锂离子电池的必要组成部分,而锂离子电池为从手机到电动汽车或任何东西都提供着动力,然而随着对这些需求得以增加,所以理所应当的钴需求也会随之增加,因为钴仅作为清洁能源使用罢了,不意味着这就是一种理想的使用资源。

世界上超过60%的资源来自刚果,这还是世界上最贫穷的国家之一。

在刚果中包括儿童在内就超过10万人没有在任何安全措施防范下开始手工挖矿,受伤和死亡更是在常见不过了,不受任何管控使一切周围环境都会暴露在毒素下,从而导致呼吸系统疾病和基因缺陷的产生。

从2010年以来,世界各国政府和企业逐步意识到这种剥削特且在缓慢地改进这一切,即使有全球的管控,电瓶车也仍旧需要锂电池,这同样也意味着会持续进行。

但天体会提供更安全、更公平的方法来获取钴等其他金属资源,让电瓶车和其他清洁能源得以更便宜甚至是获取,而对于整体人类而言无异于更符合逻辑,可以解决这一能源危机

The Barriers

阻碍

So if asteroid mining has so much potential, why aren’t we doing it already? The unfortunate truth is that mining celestial bodies is not as simple as it may appear on paper. The major issue is funding: space travel is incredibly expensive, and not all private companies or government agencies are willing to risk millions on experimental technology. While the rewards are great— for example, water collected on asteroids can be a potentially powerful fuel source for rockets, and the temptation of riches is certainly enticing— rockets still need to be built, launched, and regularly returned in order to make a profit off of the endeavor. Some companies are hoping to crowdfund the cost, such as Mitch Hunter-Scullion’s Asteroid Mining Corporation, while other private endeavors (SpaceXBlue Origin) are aiming for less lofty goals— such as permanent settlement on the moon— instead of shooting for the asteroid belt.

既然如此,若天体真有如此潜力,为何我们还没开始?

而事实则是这绝非易事,其面临的主要问题就是资金:太空旅行特别贵,且并不是所有私人企业或政府机构都愿意为这计划冒险投资的,即使是巨大回报也是如此。

比如:在天体上收集的水可为火箭推进器燃料的潜在能源,确实财富的诱惑是如此具有吸引力,可火箭仍旧需要建造、发射并定期往返,则得以赚取利润。

一些公司期望众筹成本,例如比如米奇·亨特-斯卡利恩的小行星采矿公司,而其他私人公司(如SpaceX, Blue Origin)的目标则不那么的长远:在月球上永久定居却不是小行星带。

The other major roadblock is simply that our technology is not yet advanced enough to make asteroid mining plausible. In order to be possible and cost-effective, considerable amounts of infracture would need to be built in low-Earth and near-Earth orbit where transport vessels could be refueled, off-loaded, and repaired by astronauts and scores of robots. Similar structures would need to be constructed around the proposed asteroids, too, along with on-site refineries to make the process as efficient as it can be. Once this scaffolding is in place, there are a myriad ways that asteroids may then be mined, but just planning something so large and relatively self-isolated presents an engineer’s nightmare of automated robots and complex machinery. To some, it may seem too daunting to even dream of attempting.

另其主要阻碍则是技术不够先进,无法让天体开采得以实现。

若想实现且提高成本的话,需要在近地相关得轨道上建造大量基本设施,这得以宇航员和大量机器为人运输船加油、卸载和维修,类似构成同样需要在天体周围搭建包括现场精炼厂,以得以是过程更高效,一旦这脚手架建成则会有很多种方式进行天体开采,这仅是庞大计划、相对自我隔离的事物,可对于发明这些自动化机器人、机器甚至是复杂机械的来工程师带来沉重负担。

这对于某些人来说这一切都是如此的令人恐惧,根本无法敢去尝试。

But just because the technology isn’t plausible today doesn’t mean that asteroid mining will always be out of reach. In 1980, NASA published a study called “Advanced Automation for Space Missions” that explored a number of hypothetical scenarios and technologies; one such idea was an automated factory on the moon that was able to use “local resources” to self-replicate and expand until it had grown to such a size that it could begin to harvest mineral ores and helium-3. The same theory can be applied to asteroid mining, where self-replicating spacecraft assemble copies of themselves using harvested materials to greatly cut down on the cost to the original companies who released them, while multiplying the eventual return. Fans of science-fiction may recognize this hypothetical as being very similar to the premise of David Brin’s short story “Lungfish”, but the idea’s not just science-fiction anymore. According to a 2016 study that analyzed recent developmental trends in robotics, self-replicating supply chains could be just a few decades away.

虽仅只因目前技术做不到,但可绝非意味着这一切永远的遥不可及。

1980年的NASA发表了名为”太空任务高级自动化”的研究项目,这探索了许多遐想场景和相关技术,其中之一则是在月球建立自动化工厂,”就地取材”进行自我复制和扩张,直到发展可收集矿石的规模。

同理论也适用于天体开采,自我打造的航天收集的资源可组装自己以极大降低公司成本,同样成倍增长最终收益。

科幻小说的粉丝们可能会认为这个假设与大卫·布林的短篇小说《肺鱼》的假设非常相似,但这个想法不再只是科幻小说;2016年的一项研究分析了机器人领域最近的发展趋势,结果显示自我复制的供应链可能在几十年后即可出现。

So while today we may look at asteroid mining as expensive, dangerous, and implausible, the same may not be true for our children. It’s impossible to predict exactly what breakthroughs may be achieved in the upcoming years of discovery and space expansion, especially with increased interest from international governments and corporations in space travel. Whether we want it or not, asteroid mining is in humanity’s future— so rather than dismiss the notion entirely, we should take this time to consider how it could “go wrong”, and do our best to protect our planet and its people to ensure that space truly is the shared reward of all mankind. 

尽管至今为此仍旧认为天体开采是昂贵、危险甚至是无法触及,但对于子孙后代而言绝非如此;在未来的探索和扩张中,很难准确预测任何突破性技术,尤其是随着国际政府和公司对于这项太空旅行的兴趣逐渐增加。

不管我们意愿如何,天体开采矿业是人类未来,而不是要彻底打消这一念头,应该多些时间思考相关事物且保护这个地球目前唯一家园和人类,得以保证这一切可为全人类共享。

Can We Do Better Than 4 Vesta?

能否做到比《灶神星》更好?

The near-future shown in 4 Vesta— similar to the old, dark days of unregulated coal mining— is improbable, but represents a scenario of irresponsible technological exploitation that is not quite so unbelievable if one looks back to the complicated history of industrial progress around the world. In 4 Vesta, asteroid mining is a minimum wage job with few prospects that puts astrominers at the mercy of the vastly wealthy company that employs them. These miners have no choice but to work at 4 Vesta, and other asteroids like it, because the celestial mining industry has destroyed manufacturing and refinery jobs on the homeworld. Even though the Earth of 4 Vesta’s future has been saved from ecological destruction, it came at the price of human rights and dignity. It’s both horror-dystopian and somehow believable, but it doesn’t have to happen, and probably won’t— if we act responsibly.

《灶神星》所描写的与过去无节制的、黑暗的煤炭开采类似的情景未必会出现,而更有可能出现的是一种负责任的技术开发,如果我们回顾一下世界工业发展的复杂历程就会更容易相信这一点。

小行星采矿是一份薪水微薄、前景渺茫的工作,这让异星矿工处于雇佣他们的公司的支配之下,宇航员矿工们则别无选择,只能在灶神星和其他类似的行星上不断工作,因为太空采矿工业会给地球上的制造业和炼油业带来灭顶之灾;尽管在《灶神星》中展示的未来可以让地球免于生态破坏,但它却是以牺牲人权和尊严为代价的,同样的它令人又敬又怕,但如果我们采取负责任的行动,它便不大可能发生。

Rather than send astronauts on long missions to hazardous asteroids (which may pose temperature and radiation risks that stall colonization), artificial intelligence may pioneer missions to the asteroid belt, monitored and course-corrected safely from Earth, minimizing the risk to human life. And while mining and refinement of metals from space may decrease the demand for certain jobs, it will create many more— after all, someone still needs to design, weld, and maintain the low-Earth orbit infrastructure, spacecraft, and mining equipment. Nor will sourcing minerals from asteroids bring the end of Earth-based mining; Congo can continue to export its cobalt, but no longer will the demand be so high that international companies can afford to turn a blind eye to the abysmal conditions miners are subjected to in poorer nations. And while it’s true that mining will probably make a certain few companies inordinately wealthy, the infrastructure and technology that will eventually result from astromining will benefit science, exploration, and commercial business beyond just the elite few who will fund it at the beginning. Working together, the governments, agencies, and companies of the world— with the help of engineers, activists, and everyday workers and visionaries— can create a global system for the betterment and enrichment of humanity as a whole.

相比于把宇航员送到危险的小行星上执行长期任务(太空存在温度和辐射风险,因而很难长期居住),人工智能更有可能成为开拓小行星带的先驱者。人们可以在地球上对智能进行安全监控和航向修正,最大限度地降低外星开采对人类生命安全的风险。

尽管从太空开采和提炼金属可能会减少对某些工作的需要,但仍需要有人来设计、制造和维护近地轨道基础设施、航天器和采矿设备,从小行星上开采矿物也不会终结地球上的采矿:刚果可以继续出口钴,但需求量不会依然像今天一样高,以至于国际公司甚至宁愿对较贫穷国家的钴矿商所面临的糟糕状况视而不见。

采矿确实会让一些公司暴富,但太空采矿带来的基础设施和技术最终将服务于科学、探索和商业,而不仅仅是那些在一开始就为其提供资金的少数精英,各国政府与世界各地的机构和公司在工程师、活动家、普通工人和有远见的人的通力合作下可以创建一个全球性的体系,以为整个人类带来福祉。

So, can we overcome greed, shortsightedness, and division, and do better for ourselves and our children than 4 Vesta? We’ve done it before, all around the world. And while it may sometimes seem like the odds are stacked against progress, there’s always hope for a better and fairer future, and someday that hope— along with dedication, patience, and ingenuity— may someday take us to the stars.

那么,我们应该能否克服贪婪、短视和分裂,让我们自己和我们的子孙的生活比《灶神星》所展示的更好呢?我们曾经在世界各地都这样尝试过,虽然有时候进步力量成功的可能性似乎很低,但我们总是希望拥有一个更美好、更公平的未来,总有一天,希望、奉献、耐心和聪明才智,会把我们带到星空之上。

翻译:SGCS翻译组

STARSET_Mirror

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