I was recently watching Kevin Smith’s Clerks for the something-th time. There is this scene where Randal and Dante engage in a chat about the fate of the contractors working on the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
Randal. Something just never sat right with me the second time they destroyed it. I could never put my finger on it-something just wasn’t right.
Dante. And you figured it out?
Randal. Well, the thing is, the first Death Star was manned by the Imperial army-storm troopers, dignitaries- the only people onboard were Imperials.
Randal. So when they blew it up, no prob. Evil is punished.
Dante. And the second time around…?
Randal. The second time around, it wasn’t even finished yet. They were still under construction.Dante. So?
Randal. A construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.
Dante. Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at.
Randal. Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.
Dante. All right, so even if independent contractors are working on the Death Star, why are you uneasy with its destruction?
Randal. All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed- casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. (notices Dante’s confusion) All right, look-you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia-this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.
This got me thinking about the costs of a construction job of that magnitude. The proposal would be to build a large steel weaponized and habitable sphere in space with a diameter of 140 kilometers (87 miles). Some economics students at Lehigh University decided to take the materials calculation on. They estimate that it would take 1.08×1015 tonnes of steel or 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion) tonnes of steel. Consider that today, the sum of the planet’s steel production is 1.3 billion tonnes per year. At our current production levels, it would take 833,315 years to produce the steel needed and would cost, at 2012 rates, $852,000,000,000,000,000 (852 quadrillion dollars), which is 13,000 times the world’s GDP.
It’s unlikely we could extract enough iron from the the Earth’s crust to produce that much steel. Fortunately, the interior of the planet is full of enough iron to build two million death stars. However, extracting too much iron from the Earth’s interior would be really bad. Remember, all that iron makes Earth into a huge magnet, whose magnetic field protects life on Earth from solar wind, cosmic rays, ultraviolet radiation, charged particles and other really harmful space stuff. Then again, if you built just one Death Star, turned it toward the Earth and fired, it would be a moot point.