Which way do you think global society is headed? Some people think that we can only go up from here. Others think that we’ll all wind up in a bad dystopian movie. There are a lot of people who think that we shouldn’t move forward until everybody is equal. It is fair to say that some regions on Earth move forward faster than others. However, just because you feel like the hare in the race doesn’t mean that you’re going to win, and just because you feel like the tortoise does not mean that you aren’t making forward progress. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to voluntarily accept second place, but neither should you get upset if you haven’t seen the hare since the starting line. The hare may have stopped for tea with a friend.

It’s a matter of which choice we’re going to make. We shouldn’t automatically assume that our descendants are going to be living in the Star Trek universe in a few centuries. If we ever do, it will take lots of work to create and even more effort to maintain in any meaningful way. (“We have evolved beyond the need for revenge.” “Bullshit!!”) Neither should we all assume that we’re going to be living in the Mad Max universe, or that a rival is going to oblige the rest of us by standing still until everybody else catches up.

The awesome thing about the Blockchain is that it could theoretically create a level playing field in which anyone can participate if they want to, even if they do feel like a turtle sometimes. The awesome thing about outer space is that it’s becoming increasingly accessible to private citizens. (Some spaceflight insiders and enthusiasts will kid around that this is especially true if you are a turtle. Are you a turtle?) If the two can work together, it will make the choice between meaningful human progress and a dystopian world an easier one.

How The Blockchain Can Help Aerospace

Space exploration has traditionally been seen as the exclusive realm of governments that could afford to pay for it. Naturally, the lucky elite of space travelers were exclusively military pilots at first, and then expanded to include scientists and engineers who could pass the tests posed by the governments that sponsored their trips into outer space. This image was enhanced by the fact that the members of the European Union had to band together to form the European Space Agency to do anything meaningful being an equal partner in the International Space Station.

The image began to show some cracks when a private citizen named Dennis Tito paid millions of dollars to the Russians for a trip to the International Space Station. Granted, this was still more expensive than the average person can afford and it made the United States nervous, but suddenly you didn’t necessarily have to be a professional astronaut to take a trip into space. By this point, many people would be grousing that of course things like space travel are going to be the realm of people who can afford it – meaning rich people like Tito – while ignoring the fact that wealthy people and large organizations are usually the early adopters of any new technology.

If new technologies stayed that way, though, the computer would still be an expensive contraption that filled up an entire room and was vulnerable to literal bugs in the system. Only government agencies like NASA would be able to afford one. Now it’s just understood that anyone could own a computer or at least a cheap mobile device, or even build their own if they’re willing to learn how and buy parts. This happened because the technology improved and the price of a computing device went down. (Yes, your smart phone may have more computing power than Apollo 11’s lunar lander did. No, I do not see you using that smart phone to land on the Moon.) The decrease in price and increase in decentralization of computing technology means that there’s no single government agency, corporation or individual that controls it. Anybody can use computing technology in their daily lives.

Some Blockchain insiders believe that decentralization can benefit space exploration as costs begin to come down. The BitNation Space Agency was built around this concept. So is the Facebook group calling itself Space Decentral. Decentralization basically means that anybody can participate without having to jump through a lot of hoops put up by a centralized authority.

Imagine it as being like those workplaces where people can collaborate freely, scoot their desks together, join and leave a project at will, and work on their own personal projects on Fridays if they like. Decentralization might look chaotic to an outsider at first glance, but if that observer watches closely for a while, he’ll notice that the topology of a large enough decentralized network looks more like a detailed road map of the entire U.S. than anything. While you’re going from Point A to Point B and you know it’s going to be a long haul even without any traffic jams, any decent GPS device can easily calculate a new route to save you some time if it gets traffic updates and learns that one stretch of highway along your route has become congested. (Yay for artificial intelligence, right?) This kind of on-the-go rerouting makes it easy to change direction if you’re going the wrong way or need to avoid a traffic jam so you won’t be late for work. It will also make it easy for anyone interested in participating in space exploration to do a quick about-face and choose a Blue Origins rocket instead of a ULA rocket if the ULA is not producing satisfactory results.

Decentralization doesn’t mean that you and your devices can’t communicate or collaborate on projects that are important to you. It just means that no centralized authority is going to deny you permission to do your thing and you can always leave and join another team if you feel unwelcome. This is good for aerospace because organizations like the United Space Alliance have been around in one form or another since the 1960s and have been accused of being too big, bureaucratic and centralized to really make for cost-effective innovation. However, new kids on the block like SpaceX and Blue Origins can bring costs down by figuring out how to reuse a first stage rocket. That makes newer and smaller corporations capable of competing for launch contracts on an even footing with the ULA.

That’s the benefit of basic rocket technology not being under anyone’s control now that Robert Goddard’s widow has been bought out. The government paid her off decades ago, actually, but it would be VERY annoying if Goddard’s heirs were forever using those patents to pick and choose who can build a rocket. His heirs would have been an effective centralized authority that controls everything. However, because the patents were effectively released to the general public, it’s just understood that any aerospace startup can either build a rocket, or decide which corporation to buy one from.

How Aerospace Can Help Cryptocurrencies And Blockchain Adoption

“Bitcoin to the Moon” is a fairly common catchphrase referring to the way that Bitcoin’s value can skyrocket. Bitcoin enthusiasts will sometimes tell you that this catchphrase was never meant to be taken literally. However, cryptocurrency insiders should really be making it possible for cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain to go along for the ride when aerospace insiders form permanent bases and, eventually, colonies on the Moon and elsewhere in the solar system.

Due to bureaucracies, often unpredictable funding, and the hacker community’s very real distrust of government, it’s been questioned whether government can even lead innovation in any meaningful way or avoid scuttling gains that have been made before a new innovation even gets very far. The real truth is that many government space agencies are either too bureaucratic to do anything meaningful, aren’t funded at sufficient levels to accomplish goals in any meaningful amount of time, or both. Projects are often canceled after billions of dollars have already been spent on them. The good news is that NASA has been investing in technologies that only need an injection of money to get off the ground. NASA won’t own these technologies; rather, they will be commercialized by private businesses that can sell products based on these technologies to both NASA and private organizations that are willing to make use of them.

This is a good thing because it means that space-related innovations can be used for a decentralized approach to expansion into outer space. One private organization can fund lunar bases on the Moon, another can establish a rudimentary “beachhead” settlement on Mars, and a third can look into mining the asteroid belt. They might compete in the fundraising arena and occasionally make snide comments about the other organizations, but otherwise, they’re not stepping on one another’s toes. As importantly, if they think ahead and stay flexible about exactly where they’re going to launch from, there’s no third party authority to tell them what to do. Aerospace corporations and nonprofit organizations can accomplish more if aerospace is decentralized enough that nobody’s really getting in one another’s way.

Let’s imagine a scenario that could occur a few centuries in the future. There are colonies on the Moon and on Mars, mining rigs have pretty much taken over the asteroid belt, and they’re just starting to experiment with creating “Cloud Cities” in Venus’ upper atmosphere. Each of these might have been sponsored by a different organization, so even two colonies on Mars can look very different from a socioeconomic standpoint because they’ve been founded with different priorities.

Decentralized? Yeah, it is, and the organizations involved will likely try everything that has a smidge of a chance of actually succeeding and some things that actually don’t. For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave out arguments about which socioeconomic model will be the most desirable for a Martian colony. In practical terms, the best socioeconomic model will be the one that maximizes the odds that the colony will be viable over the long term.

Things will get complex when colonies start interacting with one another in a meaningful way. Of course some trouble might be caused by two or more colonies with diametrically opposed societies, but let’s just assume that they won’t be launching heavy artillery at one another for quite a while yet. This is where the Ferengi say, “Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.” Colonists with a good instinct for conditions that will benefit their particular colony might wish to participate in interplanetary trade and will do it in a way that protects their internal sovereignty. That’s where cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain come in.

Keep in mind that the inter-colonial legal environment will still be fragile. There will be no United Federation of Planets at first. There might not be a complex judicial system in place yet, or at least not one that is willing to waste time with complex legal arguments. One of the problems that the World Court has is that sometimes one nation or the other will stomp off in a huff and refuse to recognize the validity of its rulings. The primary purpose of a Blockchain distributed ledger is to have a tamper-resistant way to establish the facts.

On the one hand, if war between Mars and Venus is declared, the battleships will travel slowly enough to give cooler heads time to prevail. On the other, a colony won’t be very popular if there’s no way to make them keep up with their end of any given trade deal. That’s where Blockchain-based Smart Contracts, supply chain apps, and notary systems come in. A treaty can be a form of Smart Contract in the sense that if any signatory violates the terms of a treaty, that treaty is automatically invalidated – though it may be helpful to have a diplomatic corps ready to deal with the situation if this happens. A supply chain app can prove that a shipment of supplies comes from a legitimate source and has not been tampered with. Because property rights are essential to any functional economic system, a notary system can establish those property rights, most often by drawing boundaries.

If you’re scratching your head wondering if the speed of light wouldn’t nark the whole thing up, you’re probably right. One thing that interplanetary trade would do is force cryptocurrencies and Blockchain apps to adapt to the unique needs of this kind of environment. It might mean scaling up – something that many Bitcoin users seem to be resisting in a big way right now. It might mean adapting the concept of a Lightning Network in a way that is suitable for traders that won’t want to wait for transactions to confirm before they move on. It will definitely mean having Blockchains that can “talk” to one another even if some of them only get read-only access to the data on other chains that they need to function. (A smart contract can check a notary system to see if a seller genuinely has ownership rights to a few hectares of prime lunar real estate, for instance.) There may be ways to confirm transactions quickly even when there might be a bloated planet between one node and the rest. (Yeah. “Bloated.”) No worries if you think that the obvious technical issues won’t be solved quickly. Cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain have a few centuries to get from Bitcoin to Federation Credits.

The important thing to remember is that human societies tend to have two choices. They can push for progress and become remembered as one of the great human societies like the Romans and Greeks were. Or they can refuse to push the frontier because they are afraid of new ideas and wind up collapsing into oblivion. Which choice will we make?

Experts believe that use of the Blockchain will skyrocket in 2017, the Blockchain will go mainstream by 2020, and the Blockchain sector could be worth $7.74 billion by 2024. Now that I have the attention of investors who want to know where to put their money, the Blockchain has been called the really interesting thing about Bitcoin. It’s a distributed ledger that was basically designed to handle reliable, secure and transparent record-keeping in a decentralized environment such as the one posed by some proposed concepts for the future of space colonization.

Decentralized Space, Decentralized Economy

What makes the Blockchain a good fit for serious expansion into space? Despite some pushback from Blockchain insiders who say that an interplanetary economy won’t be a factor for quite a while yet, there are a handful of individuals who recognize that the Blockchain community and the aerospace community are natural allies. Jeff Garzik has even gone as far as to propose orbiting Bitcoin nodes. In ideal circumstances, both will be highly decentralized and members of each community can work together to keep it that way.

Decentralization doesn’t mean that people can’t voluntarily work together toward a common goal. The Bitnation Space Agency has recognized this even though it does not seem to be very active lately. The new Space Decentral has announced that it is forming a working group that will look into developing a decentralized, P2P space agency. As Bitnation Space Agency Chief Operations Officer Iman Mirbioki put it in a 2015 interview:

“There’s a huge difference between BSA (Bitnation Space Agency) and other companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, etc; they’re all big companies with almost no transparency. BSA is decentralized, which means anyone on the planet can join us and do what they do best. Everyone is welcome to share their expertise and take part of our knowledge. You don’t have to be Mr. Branson to reach space, although even Mr. Branson is more than welcome to join us.”

So this is one promising element in the push for the Blockchain to go mainstream. Wise cryptocurrency and Blockchain insiders are no longer interested in alienating fellow technology sector professionals who could become allies. By getting a jump-start on forming alliances and steering the issue in the right direction, Blockchain insiders can ensure that they don’t get left behind when the interplanetary economy does become a thing.

When You Don’t Throw The Baby Out Of The Bathwater

When discussing the current problems with the global economy, some people will try to convince you that the problem is money. They want to convince you that, if we did away with using a common medium of exchange, economic problems will disappear overnight. However, the problem isn’t money itself. The problem is a financial system that was never truly designed for a global economy. If set up correctly, Blockchain apps can fix that by not only addressing issues related to security and transparency, but also including all people who wish to participate on a level playing field.

Blockchain technology has gotten the attention of entrepreneurs who have a stake in making sure that their supply chain isn’t being tampered with, for instance, because they do not want to lose money due to unethical, fraudulent or illegal activity that they had no direct control over. The Blockchain is capable of reliably flagging any shipment that isn’t logged as coming from a valid source so that the shipment can be investigated. This is obviously a good thing when counterfeit products have an economic impact of $650 billion every year and could actually put consumers’ lives at risk.

Naturally, future space colonies will have enough trouble on their hands without having to worry about whether the hardware that was just launched might be counterfeit and dangerously flawed. This, of course, assumes that the hardware being launched is a brand-new space habitat that the colonists will rendezvous with later. It is true that these colonists will have very little use for banks once they are self-sufficient, but it is also true that colonies might fail if a corporation back on Earth cheated them. That means an automatic market for Blockchain-based supply chain apps, smart contracts, and reputation systems. If a colony did not receive what was promised, its members can log that as part of a hybrid Smart Contract and reputation system so that other future colonists will know that another entity that they might do business with didn’t deliver in that instance. Records on a Blockchain will always exist on the relevant Blockchain, cannot be altered in any way once they are created, and can be checked at any time because the Blockchain was designed to be transparent. That makes the Blockchain useful for future colonists who want a reliable way to store transaction records that can be referred back to later whenever needed.

The important thing to remember in a case like this is that the negative parts of human nature, such as greed, are unlikely to go away anytime soon (short of, of course, giving up our carbon-based bodies), but the answer is not to blame it on an inanimate concept like a medium of exchange. The Blockchain may not entirely solve this problem, but can provide a reliable and tamper-resistant way to refer back to what happened when somebody steps on someone else’s toes and causes a dispute over it.

Interplanetary trade is going to become a thing in the coming centuries. Mining companies are going to be hauling loads of valuable ore mined in the asteroid belt. We’ll have trade between colonies. One thing that’s missing, though, is the fact that banks don’t exist on Mars. And of course some people would say, “Who needs banks, anyway?” They aren’t completely wrong even if their colony might not become a stop on the interplanetary Silk Road because traders think that the trip out to their colony is unprofitable. However, what they get right is that new technologies can make traditional forms of currency like gold, silver and paper money obsolete.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin can confirm transactions at literally the speed of light or, if you’d rather not wait out the time delay between Earth and Mars, temporarily store transaction data in a sidechain until it can sync up with the main system. Call them a prototype for Federation Credits that make it possible for Lieutenant Uhura to go shopping on Space Station K-9 without carrying a bulky purse around, if you like. Cryptocurrencies can already do four things:

  • Provide nearly instant (or at least very fast) settlements regardless of the locations of the sender and the receiver in a transaction

  • Provide a highly portable medium of exchange that doesn’t rely on a middleman and doesn’t care about international politics

  • Provide a tamper-proof means of determining the details of any given transaction on demand

  • Reward the production and deployment of resources

Bitcoin Provides Fast Settlements

The economy of many developing countries such as the Philippines depend on the remittances sent home by migrant workers. The value of these remittances are not to be underestimated because some estimates show that remittances sent to developing countries reached $700 billion in 2016. The problem here is that traditional remittance services could take days to process money that migrant workers send across international borders to their families. The delays could become worse if someone who has gone to Mars on a work contract wants to send some of his earnings home to his family. It’s very possible that the family may be living in poverty and may suffer even further hardship while waiting for that money to clear.

Even at its slowest, Bitcoin rarely takes more than an hour to process a transaction. On the rare occasions that it does, there’s usually some kind of logjam in the network from processors trying to handle a vastly higher number of transactions than normal. When the time delay in communications between Earth and Mars is factored in, a remittance sent by a worker on Mars to his or her family back on Earth will almost never take more than a day to process. This means that an impoverished family back on Earth will be able to use the money sent to them much faster than they would with a traditional remittance service.

Many cryptocurrency insiders say that the logjam problem, plus the high transaction fees that Bitcoin users have been paying lately, make a good case for offloading microtransactions on the level of buying a cup of coffee at your favorite cafe to users’ choice of the most popular “alternative” cryptocurrencies. In fact, Bitcoin is actually regarded as the least efficient cryptocurrency. The person or group using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto deliberately made it inefficient by using an encryption algorithm called SHA-256, which was originally designed to provide government level encryption for security purposes. Mining rigs designed to provide processing power for Bitcoin are clunky, noisy, generate a lot of heat, and suck up a lot of electricity. If the price of Bitcoin wasn’t so high, it’s unlikely that Bitcoin would ever have been able to command many petaflops’ worth of processing power.

Some developers of alternative cryptocurrencies, “altcoins,” have selected or developed more efficient algorithms that could make cryptocurrency-based remittances even faster. One popular, less resource-extensive algorithm is known as Scrypt, which was introduced with Litecoin. One of the most efficient cryptocurrencies is known as Groestlcoin, whose developers claim that the Groestl algorithm can be mined on a portable device like a laptop rather than specialized hardware like a typical Bitcoin mining rig.

There are some startups that are working on bootstrapping Bitcoin’s strengths to pay out the remittances in local currencies, such as Rebit.ph and Coin.ph subsidiary SendMoney. Companies like these will be able to send international and, more importantly to us, interplanetary remittances faster and cheaper than traditional remittances by taking advantage of cryptocurrency-based technologies.

Cryptocurrencies are Portable, Free of Middlemen and Politically Neutral

If you’re reading this, you’re probably connected to the Internet and can download a Bitcoin wallet in the Google Play store right now. If you’re using an Android device, I like the Mycelium wallet, Jaxx and Coinomi, though any wallet you choose will take some time to sync up with the Bitcoin network.

This is important because future interplanetary traders aren’t going to want to haul bulky paper currency or coins along their route and they aren’t going to want to wait weeks for a credit card payment to clear or, worse, risk some jerkoff customer issuing a fraudulent chargeback. Most cryptocurrencies don’t allow for chargebacks, which protects the vendor from losing money to fraud, but they do allow the trader to carry his currency on a mobile device on his belt. This is convenient for both the trader and the consumer and this allows the trader to save the trouble and expense of transporting bulky physical currency or waiting weeks for settlement.

In fact, you don’t even need third parties, AKA middlemen, when you’re using cryptocurrencies in their pure form. You don’t need banks, you don’t need Paypal, and you don’t even need those Bitcoin remittance services I mentioned. You just send the money over what amounts to a decentralized peer-to-peer network. This can actually help you save money because you’re reducing the number of people who have their fingers in the pie and taking their cut of any given transaction.

And, of course, Mars doesn’t have banks. With cryptocurrencies, future Martians can simply skip the step of establishing centralized financial institutions. The centralized system is being replaced with a new common standard, a decentralized cryptocurrency that is being secured by dedicated processing power. If you were here a few years ago, you might remember Lennart Lopin’s presentation on Marscoin. If you prefer a currency for interplanetary trade, though, you might try Solarcoin or Orbitcoin. Cryptocurrencies can entrench themselves in the future Martian economy while banks are still putting their pants on.

And cryptocurrencies are politically neutral. Cryptocurrencies are like Honey Badger; they just don’t care about debates on what a perfect Martian society would look like and they’re not going to be stopped by a silly wall no matter what any presidential candidate says. They can jump right over national borders and even reach regions that Paypal and financial institutions won’t touch for as long as users can connect to just one node on any particular cryptocurrency’s network. Anyway. Any given group of Martian colonies would still be able to trade with one another even if they disagree on matters of socioeconomic policy if they can simply agree on just one cryptocurrency to act as their standard for a medium of exchange.

The Secure Blockchain Ledger

Stick around any moderately active cryptocurrency forum for a while and you’ll probably catch frequent mention of the Blockchain. Records on the Blockchain ledger are generally processed in batches called blocks. Once the first block, known as the genesis block, has been created, each subsequent block has a timestamp and a unique hash that has been calculated using the hash of the previous block. Each block effectively becomes a link on a chain that depends on the previous link to remain connected to the chain in any meaningful way.

Once the blocks have been created, they won’t be destroyed by anything short of a catastrophic meltdown of the network that contributes to the Blockchain (unlikely because a decentralized network does not have any single point of failure). They also can’t be altered in any way. Anyone who attempts to tamper with a Blockchain would have to do two things. He would have to create a fork in the chain at the point he wishes to make changes to, which would send up a lot of red flags for an alert Blockchain expert. He would also have to control more processing power than the original Blockchain for his fork to be considered a valid one. Considering that, at Bitcoin’s price peak in 2013, its decentralized network controlled a total of 1,000 petaflops, this could become quite expensive to an attacker.

The other way to attack a cryptocurrency would be to create fake nodes that don’t relay transaction data to the rest of the cryptocurrency network. It can be done, but as Chainalysis proved last year when it ran what was called a “partial Sybil attack,” such an attempt would be remarkably easy to detect. So easy, in fact, that it was detected by members of the Bitcointalk community. When your Bitcoin transaction isn’t being confirmed because the data isn’t being relayed, you kind of notice. Cryptocurrency experts can detect them and get them shut down as quickly as possible.

Cryptocurrencies were designed to be decentralized. This is another element that makes it possible for them to function without a third party, but it also means that a cryptocurrency network won’t care much whether there’s a node on Earth, a second on Mars, and a third on Pluto – except for the speed of light issue that would make rapid confirmation of transactions difficult. Sidechains can be set up to run parallel to the main Blockchain and temporarily store data until it’s convenient to exchange data with the Blockchain to speed up confirmation.

Another interesting thing about the Blockchain ledger is that it doesn’t really care about what kind of data is being stored on it. If you wish to prove that you had control of a document at any given point in time, you can encrypt it on the Bitcoin Blockchain and save the hash information for later lookup. But of course, owners of Bitcoin mining rigs might become annoyed if a lot of people are using Bitcoin to effectively execute a “poor man’s copyright” with large files. So it can be moved to a separate Blockchain-based storage system such as Storj. If you are living in an environment like Mars where there’s no judicial system in place yet, you want to sign a contract but you also want to make sure the other signatories keep up their end of the deal, you might make use of an Ethereum smart contract that will give you your money back if they flake.

Cryptocurrencies Reward The Production And Deployment Of Resources

Securing most cryptocurrency networks relies on computing power. Which Martian colonies are going to invest in mining infrastructure, and what’s the payoff? Bitcoin and Marscoin reward the use of processing power to maintain the network with the chance to earn coins. Solve a hash function, get mining fees and a new block of coins.

But, as I said, Bitcoin mining rigs are clunky, noisy energy hogs. What colony wants that? Perhaps a colony might prefer a “Proof of Stake” cryptocurrency that effectively pays interest on currency that a colony might already own. If they become active participants in trade between colonies, they can be rewarded for producing surplus resources that they can sell to other colonies. One like Solarcoin, which rewards new currency based on the production of solar energy, might become more common with colonies that produce some or all of their power with solar panels. The important part: rewarding he production of resources that can be used for a colony to survive and thrive on Mars so that it can participate in the future interplanetary economy when trade starts happening.

The important thing here, of course, is to provide incentives for any colony who wants to use a particular cryptocurrency to also help maintain it. That means also providing incentives to produce and utilize resources like any processing power that the colony can spare, energy that can then be used by the colony, or the generation of surplus materials that can be sold on the open market.

Bitcoin In Space
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Bitcoin and space. When both are decentralized, they are natural allies.