May 9th, 2007
On April 26, 2001, Keith Henson was convicted of interfering with a religion — a misdemeanor under California law — for picketing outside Scientology's heavily armed, razor wire-enforced base, outside Hemet California. He split for Canada, becoming the world's first "Scientology fugitive," and he's back in the U.S. dealing with a variety of court cases related to Scientology.
Henson was just thrown back in jail. As best as I can make out from the limited information currently available, Henson and his lawyers were scheduled for a hearing at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, May 8th. They were apparently unaware that warrants had recently been signed by the Governors of California and Arizona, and after the hearing, Henson was handed over to the Yavapai County Sheriff Department for incarceration until a hearing on Wednesday May 9th at 9 a.m. (A note received this afternoon — May 9th — from Henson's wife, Arel Lucas, says that he will remain in the lockup at least until Monday, May 13th. She invites people to write to him at: Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, Howard Keith Henson, 255 E. Gurley St. Prescott, AZ 86301. She also reminds you that the prison authorities read the letters before passing them on.)
Henson's travails in his ongoing battle with Scientology and the law have been amply covered here.
I heard about Henson's renewed captivity as I was editing this interview I did with him for The RU Sirius Show on March 29th. While we talked about scientology a bit, the main focus was on another one of Henson's interests. Just before he was originally arrested in his conflict with the Scientologists, he was scheduled to talk at a European Space Agency conference on how Space Elevators could completely solve the carbon and energy problems.
Keith Henson has been a space buff since he was eight years old. Back in 1975, he and others — including nanotech guru K. Eric Drexler — founded the L5 Society. They promoted space colonies and solar power satellites built out of metals extracted from moon rock. The L5 Society eventually became the National Space Society.
Jeff Diehl joined me in interviewing Keith Henson on the show.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.
RU SIRIUS: So what's your favorite Tom Cruise movie?
KEITH HENSON: (Laughs) None of them. My dislike for the cult has spilled over into everything that's associated with it. But I do have to admit Tom has been very effective at taking Scientology down. He certainly did more damage to their image in a year than I did in ten. And he and Katie aren't done yet, I betcha.
RU: He played a creepy head-fucker quite effectively in the film Magnolia. It's worth seeing if you decide to break your Cruise fast.
It's been said that you fear the Scientologists will get to you in jail. Some people who are otherwise sympathetic have expressed skepticism about this. Do you have any evidence, any reason to fear the thuggery of Scientologists in the tank?
KH: I sure do. I have evidence that I accidentally acquired a few weeks ago that the Riverside courts themselves were engaged in outright criminal acts — that is, using the power of the courts to entrap me into a crime.
RU: That's a pretty heavy charge. Can you substantiate it?
KH: You can find a letter I wrote about this back in 2001 on my website. I just never imagined I would get paper evidence pulled out of the county's court files. Well, recently, I was handed a paper out of the Riverside court files that had never been listed as part of the files. Obviously somebody went looking for a warrant to send over to Arizona and pulled it out without looking at the date. I know now, of course, that Riverside Court illegally keeps secret documents that are not listed in the docket. So I accidentally found out that it's the very warrant that would've been used to arrest me at that deposition. It's dated September 15, 2000, and sure enough, they listed the charge of "Failure to Appear" on it. And that's just not a crime that happened on September 15. So the arrest warrant could not possible have been filled out that day. It was most likely filled out weeks before the date on it. And by issuing a warrant for a crime that never happened — the court itself was complicit in a serious criminal act. If a person were convicted of this, they could spend many years in prison.
RU: Well, obviously the Scientologists are very well-connected. But you've received a lot of public support. Does that make you safer?
RU: Have any establishment figures come to your side?
KH: Mostly, no. It's amazing how some people who are considered really brave heroes get terrified by the Scientology cult. I hesitate to say which one of them panicked when I asked him to make a phone call for me to keep me in Canada. But if you think about it, you could probably figure it out.
RU: Well, I'm sure it's not Jerry Brown, who used to be an L5-er and is now the Attorney General of California. Did you ever have any interactions with him?
KH: Not directly. I've got an email from his office that says that I should essentially file a complaint against the District Attorney and the courts.
RU: Did you have any interactions with him back when you were in L5?
KH: I'd never met Jerry back in those days. I met other people in his administration like Rusty Schweickart, who was a good buddy with Jerry Brown.
RU: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your upcoming case.
KH: (Laughs) Which one? I've got three of them open at the moment. There's a motion to correct an injunction the Riverside court was not permitted to issue; a bankruptcy case that has got tangled up recently with O.J. Simpson's; and this extradition business in Arizona. That last one requires the California governor to sign an extradition warrant, and there's been enough complaints to him about it that I don't think he's going to do it. (ed: He did, on May 1)
RU: It's weird to hear O.J. Simpson's name come up. I don't suppose you can talk any more about your connection with OJ. There could be a book contract in there for you — the book industry loves OJ!
KH: Well, I can give you a quick thing. It turns out that that the lawyer for the other side in a bankruptcy case involving my bank worked against OJ Simpson – I think it was for the Goldbergs. So he asked for a delay in my case.
RU: We will contemplate all aspects of your possible connections with the OJ case over the coming weeks and months and maybe get back to it. "If the e-Meter doesn't fit, you must acquit" or something.
You've been working on ideas for power satellites recently. What is that, and how old is the idea, and how did you wind up back in the space engineering area again?
KH: Well, it's actually connected to the Scientology cult. I couldn't be employed while I was trying to hide out from them. They have agents inside the IRS, so when you use your social security number, they just pull it and come and get you. So I spent a lot of the time in the past year working on a post-Singularity novel. I didn't want to write about wars and violence, which is in the cards if we don't solve the energy crisis. So I had to make the people in the novel able to solve that. There are only a few ways to get the amount of power needed to replace the fossil fuel sources that we've been using up — and power satellites are one of them. Power satellites are a way to put solar power collectors where the sun shines more of the time, and no clouds are in the way. They're just giant solar collectors in orbit with microwave transmitters and gigantic receivers on earth. They're an old idea. It's been 38 years since Peter Glazer invented them. I revived the idea to cope with energy and global warming for this novel. It's one of the few ways you can deal with both.
RU: So, just to be really clear: how does it resolve energy and global warming problems?
KH: Well, there are a few approaches that are big enough to replace the energy that we get from oil and coal. Power satellites are one of them, and if you have the capacity to build power satellites, you can build planetary-scale sun shades as well.
RU: Aren't there terrestrial energy alternatives to this?
KH: The only ones I know about are fusion and fission plants — a lot of fission power, huge fusion plants. But they both suffer from a really nasty problem. It's just too easy to divert neutrons toward making high-quality plutonium — like 99% plutonium 239. And with that, it becomes very easy to make terrorist nukes. I wrote about it.
RU: OK. So apparently these things could be a threat. Let's get back to the power satellites. Tell us more about those.
KH: Okay. There are three parts to the power sat. Making the energy out of sunlight in space — there can be enormous structures — lightweight structures in geosynchronous orbit. And you would probably use solar cells on the thing, but you could even use steam turbines. And then you have a big transmitter to turn the power into a microwave beam of huge size. And then you need a gigantic antenna on the ground that converts the microwaves back to electricity.
RU: How big would it be?
KH: Well, if you could fit one in an area of forty square miles — that's the size of a medium city — the ground antenna would be about 50 miles. That sounds like a lot of land, but the receiving antenna is just light mesh. It doesn't block the sunlight, so you can put it over farmland and still farm underneath it. Terrestrial solar power takes a lot more land.
RU: Might this not kill off all the bees or something? Might not living under this antenna do something else strange to people?
KH: Well, yeah...
RU: I mean, for instance, people are talking about cell phones killing off all the bees.
KH: Well actually, that's ridiculous. Cell phones were around a long time before the bees started disappearing.
RU: That's too bad, because I'm putting, like, a dozen cell phones on my front porch...
KH: (Laughs) But I'll tell you this — the power level that you get in a power satellite, out in the middle of the thing, isn't any more power than you get to your head when you've got a cell phone running. It's pretty low.
JEFF DIEHL: So could you fly through this beam?
KH: Well, yeah. I propose that we use much higher-powered beams, and then we just have a restaurant on wheels, where you put the thing in a duck flyway. And you just move the restaurant around to the north side in the spring and the south side in the fall, and the ducks just fall out of the air completely cooked. (Laughter.)
RU: So you and a number of people have been talking about this for a long time. Why haven't we moved in this direction?
KH: Well, the big holdup is the transport cost to orbit. Rockets are just terrible, efficiency-wise. I mean, you see this enormous blast of … well, you've seen the launches of the Apollos. It's just terribly wasteful. But using nanotubes, we can build a space elevator.
JD: Getting the stuff up there is just a one-time expense, right?
KH: It is, sort of… and it isn't, sort of. You have to power these things because there's no free lunch. But you can probably haul up a couple of hundred tons of material at a time. You have to push it clear out to geo-synch, and then you have to unreel it in both directions. Anyway, once you've built one of these things, it only costs you to run it. Now, for a long time, people working on a related idea have been hung up on a pathway that was just plain wrong. They've been trying to use, design, figure out how to use climbers that use beamed power — mostly lasers — to beam the materials up there. The idea there is to have electric driving wheels on the things, powered by lasers. That's better than rockets, which are around maybe 1% efficient. But the best estimates I've gotten from the people that are working on it are that they would be around 7%, which is still just terrible.
So working on this novel, I came up with a moving cable design, because — if you're going to try to solve the energy problem, the traffic you need going into space is enormous. It's a couple of thousand tons a day.
Anyway, the idea is an elevator that runs on a bunch of pulleys up into space and you just power the thing from the bottom.
RU: So how fast is this baby gonna take me up into space?
KH: I'm not sure. The faster you go, the more throughput you get. I think you can run it maybe as high as a thousand miles an hour. At that speed, it's 22,000 miles out there, so at that speed it would take you 22 hours to get to geo. You've got to bring your lunch and dinner… and I guess even breakfast.
Of course, we're not transporting people, and I think you'd actually want to run faster than that. But remember, I'm driving this thing as an endless loop from the ground. So that means the lowest part of the thing is in the atmosphere. And running up through the atmosphere at a thousand miles per hour is all sorts of supersonic shock waves and everything else like that.
RU: Now you have to use nanotube cable to do this, right? So is this cable technically plausible at this point?
KH: They've actually measured the strength of nanotube cable, and it's strong enough to do the job. If you can get it up to 63 gigapascals, you can just run it over a pulley at geosynch. But if you can't do that, there's a way that you can run intermediate stepped pulleys in the thing where you can get a constant diameter cable, and a stepped number of strands in parallel on it. It has to be nanotube. Steel isn't anywhere near good enough. With nanotubes — they've measured it as handling almost 6 million pounds per square inch. And it's only 30% denser than water, so it's strong enough and light enough — but it's a bit expensive.
RU: How expensive is it?
KH: (Laughs) Carbon nanotubes, if you buy them at $75 million a ton...
RU: So you can actually buy these now?
KH: Oh yeah.
RU: I could… wait a second, what if I just wanted one nanotube.
KH: (Laughs) Well, one nanotube, you'd blow away with your breath. In fact, you'd blow away an entire pound of the things. Anyway, the elevator takes about a hundred thousand tons, so unless the price comes down, that's $7.5 trillion worth of elevator cable. But my guess is that the stuff will come down to cents per kilogram. There's a neat method that's not really been sufficiently investigated. If you can figure out how to get metal solvent to precipitate nanotubes...you're in business!
RU: How long would it take the power satellite to pay back the energy that it takes to get itself into orbit?
KH: It takes roughly a gigawatt of power to drive the motors that drag all this stuff up into orbit. You wind up with a five gigawatt power satellite. It takes one day for this thing to re-pay the energy. When it comes online, it's generating 5 gigawatts every day.
After you account for everything on it — all the energy to refine the metals and make the solar cells, or whatever else you're using — it may well take something like a hundred days. But you get 24-hour sunlight, unfiltered by clouds, and no night. And you can really use much lighter structures for it.
The idea is that the cable would bring up enough materials to build one. So if you're talking about building 60 or 70 power satellites in a year's time, that would displace all the existing coal plants in the U.S. And if you keep doing it, in a few years you displace all of them in the entire world.
RU: Is there anything you can imagine that might go wrong with these solar panels?
KH: Oh, tons of things can go wrong with it. One of the nasty problems is you've got to clean all the stuff out of lower orbits.
RU: Space junk.
KH: Yeah, you've got to clean up the space junk. So part of the project is 50 or 100 ion tugs that are capable of running around and gathering up all this stuff.
RU: Sounds like Pac-Man.
If I remember correctly, you're talking about 50 square miles, the size of a medium-sized city? And where might we try locating this thing, on the ground?
KH: You gotta put it on the equator, or really close. There's only one place that the U.S. owns that's on the Equator — it's called Baker Island. It's right smack out in the middle of the Pacific. It's 13 miles north of the equator, but if you put a ship anchored 12 miles south of there, it'd still be in U.S. territorial waters. And guess what we use for a ship?
KH: The Enterprise.
RU: Well, that belongs to the Navy. So you get the Navy's cooperation? Is that in the plan?
KH: I think so.
RU: The US government is going to give up a perfectly good island that they could put prisoners on?
KH: (Laughs) The point is to put it under U.S. law, maybe. That's the trick. I don't know whether you want to do that or not, but if you do — that's the place you can do it. You actually need the Enterprise, because you need the initial power to get the thing up there. The Enterprise puts out about two-tenths to the gigawatt. So you can bootstrap this thing. The Enterprise is due to be decommissioned in seven years. So we've got seven years to put the business plan together.
JD: It's nuclear-powered, right?
KH: Yes, it's the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
RU: In seven years, the carbon nanotubes can perhaps come down in price a little bit. I imagine that once they start being used more, the price on those should come down quite a bit. Is there stuff being made out of this now? What are likely to be some of the first products that will be made from these before we build a space elevator?
KH: There are a few things that are being made out of them now. They're used for the scanning probes on scanning/tunneling microscopes, for instance. But they're going to be useful for all kinds of things. A quarter-inch cable made from carbon nanotubes can pick up a 150-ton locomotive up with these things.
JD: When can I hold a carbon nanotube in my hand… something made out of carbon nanotubes?
KH: If it was a really fine tube stretched really tight — like, say a thousandth of an inch in diameter — and you ran your hand through the thing, you'd have two pieces of hand.
RU: Let's go back to your origins. You've been interested in space for a really long time. Three decades ago we had the L5 Society. I've heard that the guy who now runs NASA Ames is sort of into the Gerard O'Neill concept of space colonies, so maybe that will come back. What do you think has happened with the movement towards space, and do you see some hope in the civilian programs? What do you think about human beings moving up there?
KH: I don't think it's going to happen.
KH: No. Not to any serious extent. And the reason is… Second Life.
JD: Virtual reality?
KH: By the time we have the ability to get into space cheaply, it's going to be late 2030s or early 2040's. We may well be so far into the Singularity time that there won't be hardly any population left.
RU: Really?! So that's your analysis. You think that human beings will have been replaced? Or we'll have a Singularitarian disaster of some sort?
KH: I don't know. Even a singularity that isn't a disaster could easily wind up removing people's desire to go into space. Space was an adventure.
RU: There's also the idea that humans need a frontier. You think that disappears into cyberspace?
KH: It could easily happen. I was amazed by the fact that there are 300,000 people in Second Life, a year after it started.
RU: Yeah, I actually suspect that this is the Second Life, and that's the Third Life. And each version of it seems a little worse than the previous one.
Returning to our creepy friends in Scientology, there's a religion written by a science fiction writer. Rumor is, that L. Ron Hubbard started the religion to prove that he could. But it's sort of a science fictional religion. And certainly the areas that you've dealt with in your life have sort of a science fictional aspect also. So it's like some science fictional battle. There seems to be a great novel in there somewhere.
KH: Yeah, it's kind of interesting. My own connection with it started clear back when I was in 7th grade, and my mother read me Farmer in the Sky.
RU: Which is not by Hubbard, it's by Robert Heinlein.
KH: Heinlein. Hubbard was, at best, a third-rate science fiction writer. But he did manage to latch on to a technology that indeed works — it parts people with their money. By the way, if you want to find my theory paper on why this occurs, just Google sex drugs and cults.
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