Standard Asteroid Terraforming Kit

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The creator of the Standard Asteroid Terraforming Kit thought everyone who wanted to homestead an asteroid would want one. Everything you needed to land on an asteroid and get it transformed into just where you wanted to live. In a box (well, several crates).

Unfortunately, there were problems...

The basic idea was that the whole kit would fall under the "life support equipment exception" of handwavium, and so be just about quirk-free. This is, in fact, true. This kit will ensure you can survive indefinitely on your new asteroid home, but, 'survive' and 'prosper' are two different things.

The kit takes the form of a set of crates, none weighing more than 25kg (55lb). These contain the starter kit, hard tech and waved devices, and a set of skinny robots, all folded up to fit in small crates. There are also three AIs, with their basic three avatar robots, that need to be customised to know what you plan to build. That's one place the problems start...

The customisation process involves choosing different but related roles for each of the three AIs. The idea is that they keep an eye on each other, and help correct each others errors. There are three so they can vote, without a tie. You need to define the final roles that the AIs will take after building has finished, their 'motivation' - they all share in controlling the robots and the terraforming, then environment maintenance, process. One example might be Cook/Companion, Butler/Housekeeper, Gardener/Handyman.

Providing the AIs with lots of information about how to carry out their roles, and not just DVDs of your favourite 'maids' anime, would be wise - otherwise they will have to make it up as they are going along, which could be really bad. Structuring it into a pattern of duties would be good, too, rather than just dumping the appropriate tree of Wikipedia entries into their config files.

The upper bodies, and just the upper bodies for some quirky reason, must be shaped, made-up, and dressed from the naked skinny robot avatar to suit each role. Note that once things are running any spare robot could be converted by its AI into a proper-looking avatar if an original is trashed - but this will take a little time, unless there is a 'spare' already prepared.

The AIs are quite dedicated to their roles, and unless you think through everything very carefully there will be some quirky behavioral traits. Arguably they are sub-human in their overall intellect, though in the terraforming and final role they are quite brilliant. Putting Three Laws constraints on them might be a good idea, but that doesn't mean they have the Zeroth Law ('consider the overall good of humanity'; they're probably not smart enough to be given this), and their Fourth Law ('fulfill your role and purpose') will over-shadow or at least colour all the rest. The more constraints you put on them, the more weird and quirky they'll get, so working with a broad stroke design is probably best. Consulting an author who's good at character design might give you livable results.

Unfortunately, it isn't possible to activate the AIs until just before they start the terraforming process, another quirk, so it's difficult to debug them. They also don't come with an 'off' switch, as they are a critical part of a life support system. Some of these kits have been customised and then not used, because their owners never got to an asteroid. Rumours that owning one of these kits in a customised state brings bad luck on the owner (the kit somehow always survives) are of course superstitious nonsense.

Once you get to the asteroid there can be other problems. First of all, the kit isn't 'magic', and can't give you anything that isn't there to convert. So, an asteroid made of a mineral which can't be chemically converted into air and water can't provide you these. Ditto carbon if you plan to grow things there. The asteroid must have enough CHON and trace element resources for what you want to do - old water-ice comets with plenty of organic material and some minerals are likely best. Of course, there's no reason you can't truck these in yourself, but you'd better keep the terraforming process fed, or there will be problems.

This is also not an 'instant home' job, you're not dealing with magic nanotech that ignores the laws of thermodynamics, here. Depending on the size of the job this will take at least a few months, if not years.

The AIs don't play well with others. While you might get away with one human or equivalent engineer supervising, anyone trying to work with the robots is likely to have an industrial accident. The AIs will be very sad about this, of course, particularly if they are Three Laws, but it is a blind spot, nothing malicious.

If you're interested in the process, it takes at least a month before the mining and reprocessing reaches the stage of making spare parts, for machinery, or to repair or build new robots. If there is more than 25% damage to the robots and equipment before this point its likely the whole terraforming sequence will fail, though it may take some time to totally stall. After this happens the AIs may be grudgingly willing to accept external assistance. Note a similar problem will always occur if more than 25% of the original crates were missing - nothing will even start without all three AIs and their avatars, though.

Cunning people might try and let the AIs nearly finish the job, then 'deactivate' them. Unfortunately, you'll find they are so embedded in the infrastructure, quite a bit of which wont work without them, that you'll probably need to redo at least a third of the work. Deactivating one or two of the AIs and replacing them makes the remainder very upset, and inclined to mope. You don't want a moping life support system - it could drip ice cold water down your neck in the middle of the night, and the sighing sounds from the ventilation system can annoy, as could bright blue milk on your morning cereals.

Finally, the instructions. There aren't any.

Some joker keeps deleting any put up on the web, as well. (Hackers are pretty sure this is somehow a handwavium quirk.) Consulting someone whose used one of these kits, before, seems to work, though. Though any notes you take tend to disappear...

The creator had worked on terraforming so much they considered things obvious that most people would need to carefully think through. After all, you can always ask an AI. One particular example is that the kit is missing the at least 150kg (330lb) of high quality refined organic materials needed to get things started, along with at least 25kg of refined metals and inorganics. Fortunately, these can be recycled from human foodstuffs and common equipment. But, this is the sort of thing you'd like to know, up front.

See! It's easy! Go track one of these down, and buy it, today! [grin]


Dr Empty, Harem Library, Library Membership
Meat Factory

Open Source

Just to make it quite clear, anyone can mangle one of these, in any of their stories, any way they like. Though, remember, it is supposed to produce a survivable environment!

A little detail not mentioned above - though these AIs are described as 'sub-human' intellect, they might be argued to be immature, and given the right stimulus could grow to human levels of intellect. This would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis - an AI could function for tens of years, particularly in an isolated environment, without developing. Continued frustration of an AI's purpose, over an extended period, might work, though this is rather risky.