Colonising space – Where do we begin?
Let’s begin by saying it is essential to all of humanity that we expand our horizons and venture out in to the deep dark that is our universe. Our sun will eventually expand and engulf the earth in what may be a spectacular view experienced by the potential plethora of colonies watching the final days of our beautiful planet. This doesn’t mean we have the the 2-3 billion years until this happens to be forced to leave, but where will we go?
The obstacles we encounter in both reaching and sustaining life in this new home must be studied in extreme detail. Throughout the following paragraphs we discuss and consider the challenges today’s great minds are trying to overcome.
The ability to have sustainable colonies within habitats orbiting the earth may be the most plausible beginning for man’s first home away from home. The fact that this tackles many of the distance problems other candidates pose may be enough to make this the obvious first step. There are many reasons for this, we shall list just a few.
Supply distance is a major roll in getting a colony off the ground, and as it is possible to achieve orbit within only a few hundred miles from earth; a resupply would be incredibly fast and cost effective. This is level of orbit is called (LEO) or Low Earth Orbit.
Solar energy and protection are both provided for by this location. Due to the the potential of building within LEO, the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts will provide protection from potentially deadly solar storms, while allowing a potentially constant supply of solar energy.
No solid foundation can be taken with both pros and cons in mind. The building of huge structures in space is relatively easy compared to on earth, this is due to Earth-built structures of the same size collapsing in under their own weight. However the cost of sustaining these structures can be extortionate. We can see some of the potential technologies being pioneered on the International Space Station.
The Moon, we’ve been there before and it could be time to go back. It’s our second closest option and our first which includes colonising a new land mass. There are however other issues that could threaten the health of our colonists.
Drastically different gravity is a serious issue to the health of those born and raised on the moon. Such issues could include loss of calcium in load bearing bones, which would leave them brittle and weak. Not to say what the decrease in gravity would do to the liquids in our bodies.
Lack of reliable energy source is a problem in many colonising scenarios and the Moon is no exception. The Moon’s lack of heavy metals means that solar energy is currently our best bet. The two week long days and nights make solar energy acquisition and storage an expensive endeavour.
Ice is available on the moon however this is under the surface and will require the colonists to extract it before making it useful. The separation and location of the ice makes it hard for extraction leading to the need for additional water on the initial voyage.
Mars has been the most popular option for interplanetary colonisation for a while now and the benefits the planet can provide show why. Surprisingly this is not the most earth-like place we have the potential for colonising, that title is taken by the clouds of Venus which will be reviewed more in depth at a later date.
An atmosphere is present on the red planet, however it is relatively small. This will allow an additional amount of radiation shielding along with the small magnetic field that also provides some protection. It will also allow some spacecraft manoeuvres such as aerocapture to reduce the speed of an incoming spacecraft.
Ice and lots of it! The red planet is home to huge ice deposits in the form of subsurface ice, polar caps and high terrain glaciers. This is well distributed and allows for easy access for the potential colonies.
Exploration of the red planet has been happening on the ground since 1997. With the knowledge we already have of the red planet we would be able to pick and chose the best locations based on mineral deposits and sustainable environment.
We will briefly visit the possibilities of colonising Mercury, the clouds of Venus and the asteroid belt in a following article.
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