Boy, was I a gullible teenager

The Third Industrial Revolution — G. Harry Stine


G. Harry Stine [1] was an engineer, an SF author (under the pen-name Lee Correy), and for about thirty-five years, off and on, author of a science fact column for Astounding/Analog. He was a big space booster. His 1975 book, The Third Industrial Revolution was a best-selling popularization that predicted a great age of space exploitation that would begin in the 1980s.

Of course Stine was also a True Believer in the Dean Drive. Maybe fourteen-year-old James should have taken warning from that. In fourteen-year-old James’ defense, he was somewhat credulous when it came to SPACE!


Introduction (Barry Goldwater):

In this short introduction, former Presidential hopeful Goldwater expresses support for Stine’s ideas and hope for the future. At no point does he digress into gibbering nonsense, which just goes to show how much the Republican Party has degenerated since he was their candidate.

Of course, in a better world he would not have quoted noted Nazi Party Member number 5,738,692 SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Wernher von Braun as a champion of progress.

I note with some interest the phrase “over the ten-year life cycle of the Space Shuttle.” This is a point that comes up a few times in the book; neither Goldwater nor Stine expected the Shuttle to stay in service as long as it did. It would surely be replaced by something better.

I also noticed that when he says “[…] commercial markets for space manufacturing and processing over the ten-year life cycle of the Space Shuttle could amount to as much as $20 billion,” A: he’s very careful not to say that it will, for certain, and B: he doesn’t provide the cost of the Space Shuttle program over those ten years. No way readers can tell if there’s a net profit.

This whole “here’s a fact and here’s a total lack of context for that fact” is very popular among space boosters.

The Coming Revolution:

The first industrial revolution is industrialization; the second is automation. The first two have (in Stine’s view) reached their natural limits. However, they have set the stage for the third industrial revolution, which will be enabled by the vast resources available IN SPACE.

It may interest people to know helium 3 is not one of those resources. While the Project Daedelus people had raised the idea of obtaining helium 3 from an extra terrestrial source, they wanted to get it from Jupiter, which has lots of helium in general (personally, I’d head to Uranus or Neptune, which also have lots of helium and much lower escape velocities). Also, nobody was trying to justify space exploitation by pointing at a fuel we cannot burn in fusion plants we don’t have. That came later, in the 1980s. Praise Reagan!

In stark contrast to Goldwater’s cautious optimism, Stine does not hesitate to assure the reader that there gosh darn WILL BE massive commercial exploitation of space resources and that this will BY GOLLY happen in the next few decades (which is to say, starting about thirty-five years ago). This is good because as Heinlein put it, “this planet is used up; time to go find another one.”

One of the things I find fascinating about space boosterism is that while on the one hand many boosters viewed tree-huggers and their fellow travellers with disdain, on the other hand boosters were more than happy to latch onto the Club of Rome models as proof that humans needed to start strip-mining the asteroid belt for resources and we needed to do it soon. OR DOOM. Stine is pretty skeptical humans will sit back and settle for DOOM.

Something I didn’t expect to encounter were frequent references to noted anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, whose 1954 The Story of Man seems to have had a great influence on Stine. Well, at least it wasn’t The Origin of Races. I should not have been all that surprised, because there are links between Coon and Stine’s branch of SF. Back in the 1960s Coon had written the introduction for Harrison and Stover’s Apeman, Spaceman. Only a few years ago, former Analog editor Ben Bova was passionately defending Coon.

Industry: What is it and who needs it?:

A simple guide to industry in twelve simple elements!

Getting There:

America’s space rockets suck because they are basically incrementally improved German space rockets (built by the government, which is not going to help contain costs) and German space rockets suck because they are not space rockets at all but rocket propelled artillery shells. Happily, not only are better designs possible (as we can see from the fact that unrelated transportation methods through different mediums are cheaper), but it is inconceivable that space transportation costs will not show the same steady decline as the cost of travel by car and by aeroplane.

Part of this chapter uses material borrowed (with credit) from D. M. Cole, which just goes to show space boosterism was beginning to ossify even back in the Disco Era.

The Black Beyond:

Space is full of Stuff! Valuable, valuable Stuff!

Which is true, but Earth is also full of Stuff! Valuable, valuable Stuff! A whole planet full of Stuff! And Earth comes pre-stocked with humans and humans can exploit Earth Stuff without dying from radiation, lack of gravity, or lack of air. And it’s not on the other side of a large delta-vee.

Stine suggests that space miners could get around the high escape velocity of the gas giants by simply skimming through the top of gas giant atmospheres. How exactly this gets around the issue that the material at the top of a gas giant’s atmosphere is still at the bottom of a very deep gravity well is unclear to me. Various space agencies have used a similar technique on worlds like Earth and Mars and Venus; they call it “aerobraking.”

Stine uses a little trick I’ve seen used elsewhere, which is to provide a list of possible components of carbonaceous chondrites (also lifted from Cole, with credit), but without providing a similar list for the Earth’s crust for context. Rather annoyingly for space perverts, not only does Earth have a lot of Stuff, it also has processes that concentrate that Stuff; there are a number of elements for which Earth and worlds with Earth-like ecologies and geologies would be the most convenient source.

Stine also claims

we have the rocket technology today that would allow us to move a one-mile diameter planetoid from its orbit between Mars and Jupiter to an orbit around Earth.

Sadly, Stine does not show his math.

Energy Enough for Everything:

The Sun puts out a lot of energy and surely it will be easier in the future to exploit this energy usefully in space.

Stine also touches on the waste heat issue: there’s only one practical way to get rid of heat in space and that is by radiation. The, uh, warm equations relating to radiation imply large radiators will be a common feature on space facilities.

Room with a View:

In addition to various materials, the Solar System also offers a wide variety of environments that may prove to be useful.

Made in the Solar System I:

A short discussion of interesting processes (like flame in free fall) that cannot be duplicated on Earth.

Made in the Solar System II:

Another discussion of processes that may prove useful in space. Mostly interesting for this bit:

The total number of combined industrial processes that could be obtained by combining these 43 items in all different combinations is staggering. The number is truly astronomical: 1.642 x 10^53.

That’s 1642 followed by 50 zeroes!

And More of the Same:

Anyone want to guess what this chapter is about? Anyone? Anyone?

This would be where I first ran into the idea of mixing immiscible materials in space, as well as foamed steel and ultra thin films.

Engineering with Atoms:

Inexplicably not named “Yet More of the Same”, this gets into interesting chemical processes that might be possible in space, as well as the potential to grow flawless crystals in free fall. I seem to recall growing flawless crystals turned out to be a lot harder than people hoped it would be. Sadly enough, this is all too often true of activities that were predicted to be easy-peasy IN SPACE.

The Space Factory:

Stine tries to envision what the space industries of his next fifty years (so 1975 to 2025) would look like.

By the end of the Twentieth Century, Earth is likely to be surrounded by several space factories in different orbits.

Ah, well.

People and Human Institutions in Space:

Even though space industrialization will be very highly automated (a detail a lot of space boosters overlooked or downplayed so as to focus on the idea of people in space [2]), humans will still be involved at some level and wherever you get humans, you get a need for the usual human institutions.

Stine draws a parallel with the Old West. The unpleasant detail of the Indian Wars is left out, although it seems obvious to me that it is the kind of thing the earliest colonists should keep in mind. Sure, the next wave could go somewhere empty, but just killing off the first wave and taking their stuff is a lot easier.

Return to Eden:

Moving industry to space would let us clean up the Earth. It would also let humans increase the general wealth, which would be good, and raise the general level of education, which Stine also approves. He’s not sure what to do about population growth and I am bit sad that while he does mostly talk about convincing Third Worlders to have fewer children, he also repeats Heinlein’s ha ha funny that

what the world really needs is a safe, oral contraceptive combined with a habit-forming soft drink.


The Action:

The Third Industrial Revolution won’t happen by itself! It needs imaginative competence, as one might find in “a person who reads Fate Magazine as well as Product Engineering.” It needs to avoid Not Invented Here Syndrome! And don’t think Johnny Foreigner won’t be plotting to settle space first: no less than “twenty-one percent of the [Shuttle’s] quick getaway specials and 44 percent of the “dedicated” complete Space Shuttle payloads out of 1991 are from foreign nations, companies or organizations.”

Interestingly, the only nations Stine sees as having the right combination of drive, resources, and know how to exploit space in the near future are the United States of America, Germany, and Japan; the Soviet Union might be able to compete in space by 2000 and who knows when Red China will finish industrializing? Stine totally has the chance to play the Red or Orange Menace card here and he muffs it.




Self-explanatory. One of Stine’s favourite sources appears to be G. Harry Stine.


Self-explanatory but also a pleasant surprise: many popular works like this one lack decent indexes.


The Third Industrial Revolution was strong on firm assertion and short on useful math which might be used to double-check Stine’s claims. I don’t think Stine was being willfully misleading here; I think the lack of detailed analysis is required to remain a True Believer. As soon as you start spoiling the beautiful visions of the Coming Space Race Done Right This Time! with petty details like how bountiful Earth is, how hard it is to keep people alive for indefinite periods in deep space (which Stine flatly states is a solved problem), and so on, it is all too easy to lose faith in the inevitability of deep space factories and such.

Still, even by 1975 I’d put some non-trivial effort into learning how to run the applicable equations, It would have been easy, for example, to compare the projected composition of the planetoids with the known composition of the Earth’s crust. Some of the ideas Stine tosses around (like evading the delta vee cost of removing material from Jupiter by skimming the atmosphere) were obviously silly and yet … I ate up this nonsense as if it were artisanal chocolate. I am a bit disappointed by Stine, but not surprised that he was so very slipshod. I am very disappointed in myself at fourteen. Still, I might not have bothered to learn the science if the nonsense had not caught my imagination first. so I guess the experience was not a total loss.

1: Not to be confused with former Galaxy editor Jean Marie Stine, who was Hank Stine back in the 1970s.

2: This disinterest in automation in space may be related to the curious way in which some SF authors discount space probes as not real space exploration.

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