ASI W9900783r1.0

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#52 February 1992

Section the Artemis Data Book


On Non-Earthlike Planets, Can There Be Any Firesides Around Which To Gather?
by Peter Kokh

Since time immemorial, ever since the taming of fire, we have found warmth, comfort, and company huddled around campfires and hearths. The fireside has been the most social of places, the place where stories were told, myths and legends learned, mighty feats planned, and dreams made. It is the "hearth" that has been the traditional "soul" of the home. In some languages "hearth" and "home" are one word.

Even today, when a dwindling number of modern homes boast the luxury of a fireplace, nestling around the fire is something we all enjoy - when it is cold or damp, when we are out camping, on a clambake or a picnic in the park, or just out on the patio or in the back yard for a barbecue or marshmallow roast. And can any of us forget the bonfires after a high school homecoming football games?

These days, such pleasures are hardly everyday experiences. Rather for us twentieth century "moderns" the idea of fire is more likely to be associated with destruction, devastation, and tragedy. All the same, however infrequently enjoyed, the magic of the controlled fire is universally so positive an uplift that it is still possible to ask: "can it be humanity if there is no campfire?"

Yet on worlds without oxygen-sweetened atmospheres such as the Moon, Mars, and indeed any other planet or moon in our Solar System other than Earth itself, open fire is not possible. On all such worlds, we'll have to huddle within the very limited atmospherules of mini biospheres. And in such tightly bounded life zones, open fire cannot be tolerated, controlled or not. You can't open the window to let the smoke out! Living essentially downwind and downstream from our selves in mini oases of life, we simply cannot afford to compromise the fragile freshness of the air supply.

Yet that is not the last gloomy word, for it only applies to fires in which the combustion products are smoke and toxic gasses. Within the regime of rigorous recycling in such mini-biospheres, there may be the possibility of controlled burning of compost-pile derived methane to produce water vapor along with CO2 for plant nourishment. Such combustion will need to be confined to nitrogen-free chambers so as to avoid unwanted nitrogen oxide byproducts. That in mind, we might wonder if such a methane-oxygen fed flame in a glass-faced chamber might serve as a fireplace substitute?

It should also be possible to devise a tightly confined hearth "substitute" that slowly fed together pure hydrogen and oxygen. If again the burning is confined to a nitrogen-free chamber, the only combustion product would be steam - pure water, which can then be used for drinking or other purposes. In effect, we are talking about a modified fuel cell, in which the 2H2 + O2 = 2H2O reaction is run somewhat faster, not so fast as to be explosive, but fast enough to sustain a flame, perhaps with a harmless enough additive (if one can be found!) to colorize the normally invisible H+O fire.

I'd be surprised if either such device now exists, with little market for them - back here on the open air, open sky Earth. But out on alien shores, a flame-in-a-jar device might create enough symbolic warmth and cheer to become commonplace in settler homes on the Moon or Mars or elsewhere, in gathering spot lounges, even on long trips aboard space liners or on deluxe surface roving coaches. In contrast, siting around the warp core won't quite do it!

In families, old vintage fire-chambers that are religiously maintained in good working order might become treasured (and fought over) heirlooms. In frontier general stores, they might become the item most frequently purchased on a layaway plan. For marriageable space maidens, they might be priority one in the hope chest. If available at all in Martian antique stores, they might fetch handsome ransom-level prices. Now who would have thought of the fireplace-in-a-jar as an interstellar security blanket?

As far as the human diaspora spreads among the stars, it may be around the fireside that we still find common bond as well as temporary anchorage for our wandering souls. It will be our symbolic shield against the cold of the inter-stellar reaches, a magic condenser of unimaginable distances - a spiritual stargate.

We could tinker up such a device now - for profit! The methane version could not be used in draft-tight close quarters but a hydrogen hearth might sell to apartment dwellers, like singles wanting the latest in trendy mood-setting gizmos. Just knowing that we could take a hydrogen or methane hearth or "fire chamber" with us, could make the prospects of life on far flung worlds just a little less daunting, just a little more reassuring.

Owning such a device might even appeal to many a science-fiction fan and would be emigre from Earth. Can you think of a more magical focus around which to gather for an evening of filk or star-lore story telling?

For the wanderlust-driven, owning such a pocket hearth could be a real psychological enabler. See the ad in the employment wanted section: "Have fire chamber, will travel - anywhere!

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