Space colonization (also called space settlement, or extraterrestrial colonization) is permanent human habitation off the planet Earth.
Many arguments have been made for and against space colonization. The two most common in favor of colonization are survival of human civilization and the biosphere in the event of a planetary-scale disaster (natural or man-made), and the availability of additional resources in space that could enable expansion of human society. The most common objections to colonization include concerns that the commodification of the cosmos may be likely to enhance the interests of the already powerful, including major economic and military institutions, and to exacerbate pre-existing detrimental processes such as wars, economic inequality, and environmental degradation.
No space colonies have been built so far. Currently, the building of a space colony would present a set of huge technological and economic challenges. Space settlements would have to provide for nearly all (or all) the material needs of hundreds or thousands of humans, in an environment out in space that is very hostile to human life. They would involve technologies, such as controlled ecological life support systems, that have yet to be developed in any meaningful way. They would also have to deal with the as-yet unknown issue of how humans would behave and thrive in such places long-term. Because of the present cost of sending anything from the surface of the Earth into orbit (around $2,500 per-pound to orbit, expected to further decrease), a space colony would currently be a massively expensive project.
There are yet no plans for building space colonies by any large-scale organization, either government or private. However, many proposals, speculations, and designs for space settlements have been made through the years, and a considerable number of space colonization advocates and groups are active. Several famous scientists, such as Freeman Dyson, have come out in favor of space settlement.
On the technological front, there is ongoing progress in making access to space cheaper (reusable launch systems could reach $10 per-pound to orbit), and in creating automated manufacturing and construction techniques.
The primary argument calling for space colonization is the long-term survival of human civilization. By developing alternative locations off Earth, the planet's species, including humans, could live on in the event of natural or man-made disasters on our own planet.
On two occasions, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has argued for space colonization as a means of saving humanity. In 2001, Hawking predicted that the human race would become extinct within the next thousand years, unless colonies could be established in space. In 2006, he stated that humanity faces two options: either we colonize space within the next two hundred years and build residential units on other planets, or we will face the prospect of long-term extinction.
... the goal isn't just scientific exploration ... it's also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time ... In the long run a single-planet species will not survive ... If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets. Now, today the technology is such that this is barely conceivable. We're in the infancy of it. ... I'm talking about that one day, I don't know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. We may well have people living on the Moon. We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets. We may have people making habitats on asteroids ... I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond.
Louis J. Halle, formerly of the United States Department of State, wrote in Foreign Affairs (Summer 1980) that the colonization of space will protect humanity in the event of global nuclear warfare. The physicist Paul Davies also supports the view that if a planetary catastrophe threatens the survival of the human species on Earth, a self-sufficient colony could "reverse-colonize" Earth and restore human civilization. The author and journalist William E. Burrows and the biochemist Robert Shapiro proposed a private project, the Alliance to Rescue Civilization, with the goal of establishing an off-Earth "backup" of human civilization.
Based on his Copernican principle, J. Richard Gott has estimated that the human race could survive for another 7.8 million years, but it is not likely to ever colonize other planets. However, he expressed a hope to be proven wrong, because "colonizing other worlds is our best chance to hedge our bets and improve the survival prospects of our species".
Resources in space, both in materials and energy, are enormous. The Solar System alone has, according to different estimates, enough material and energy to support anywhere from several thousand to over a billion times that of the current Earth-based human population. Outside the Solar System, several hundred billion other planets in the Milky Way alone provide opportunities for both colonization and resource collection, though travel to any of them is impossible on any practical time-scale without interstellar travel by use of generation ships or revolutionary new methods of travel, such as faster-than-light (FTL).
Asteroid mining will also be a key player in space colonization. Water and materials to make structures and shielding can be easily found in asteroids. Instead of resupplying on Earth, mining and fuel stations need to be established on asteroids to facilitate better space travel. Optical mining is the term NASA uses to describe extracting materials from asteroids. NASA believes by using propellant derived from asteroids for exploration to the moon, Mars, and beyond will save $100 billion. If funding and technology come sooner than estimated, asteroid mining might be possible within a decade.
All these planets and other bodies offer a virtually endless supply of resources providing limitless growth potential. Harnessing these resources can lead to much economic development.
Expansion of humans and technological progress has usually resulted in some form of environmental devastation, and destruction of ecosystems and their accompanying wildlife. In the past, expansion has often come at the expense of displacing many indigenous peoples, the resulting treatment of these peoples ranging anywhere from encroachment to genocide. Because space has no known life, this need not be a consequence, as some space settlement advocates have pointed out.
Another argument for space colonization is to mitigate the negative effects of overpopulation. If the resources of space were opened to use and viable life-supporting habitats were built, Earth would no longer define the limitations of growth. Although many of Earth's resources are non-renewable, off-planet colonies could satisfy the majority of the planet's resource requirements. With the availability of extraterrestrial resources, demand on terrestrial ones would decline.
Nick Bostrom has argued that from a utilitarian perspective, space colonization should be a chief goal as it would enable a very large population to live for a very long period of time (possibly billions of years), which would produce an enormous amount of utility (or happiness). He claims that it is more important to reduce existential risks to increase the probability of eventual colonization than to accelerate technological development so that space colonization could happen sooner. In his paper, he assumes that the created lives will have positive ethical value despite the problem of suffering.
In a 2001 interview with Freeman Dyson, J. Richard Gott and Sid Goldstein, they were asked for reasons why some humans should live in space. Their answers were:
Although some items of the infrastructure requirements above can already be easily produced on Earth and would therefore not be very valuable as trade items (oxygen, water, base metal ores, silicates, etc.), other high value items are more abundant, more easily produced, of higher quality, or can only be produced in space. These would provide (over the long-term) a very high return on the initial investment in space infrastructure.
The mining and extraction of metals from a small asteroid the size of 3554 Amun or (6178) 1986 DA, both small near-Earth asteroids, would be 30 times as much metal as humans have mined throughout history. A metal asteroid this size would be worth approximately US$20 trillion at 2001 market prices.
Space colonization is seen as a long-term goal of some national space programs. Since the advent of the 21st-century commercialization of space, which saw greater cooperation between NASA and the private sector, several private companies have announced plans toward the colonization of Mars. Among entrepreneurs leading the call for space colonization are Elon Musk, Dennis Tito and Bas Lansdorp.
The main impediments to commercial exploitation of these resources are the very high cost of initial investment, the very long period required for the expected return on those investments (The Eros Project plans a 50-year development), and the fact that the venture has never been carried out before — the high-risk nature of the investment.
Major governments and well-funded corporations have announced plans for new categories of activities: space tourism and hotels, prototype space-based solar-power satellites, heavy-lift boosters and asteroid mining—that create needs and capabilities for humans to be present in space.
Building colonies in space would require access to water, food, space, people, construction materials, energy, transportation, communications, life support, simulated gravity, radiation protection and capital investment. It is likely the colonies would be located near the necessary physical resources. The practice of space architecture seeks to transform spaceflight from a heroic test of human endurance to a normality within the bounds of comfortable experience. As is true of other frontier-opening endeavors, the capital investment necessary for space colonization would probably come from governments, an argument made by John Hickman and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Colonies on the Moon, Mars, or asteroids could extract local materials. The Moon is deficient in volatiles such as argon, helium and compounds of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. The LCROSS impacter was targeted at the Cabeus crater which was chosen as having a high concentration of water for the Moon. A plume of material erupted in which some water was detected. Mission chief scientist Anthony Colaprete estimated that the Cabeus crater contains material with 1% water or possibly more. Water ice should also be in other permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles. Although helium is present only in low concentrations on the Moon, where it is deposited into regolith by the solar wind, an estimated million tons of He-3 exists over all. It also has industrially significant oxygen, silicon, and metals such as iron, aluminum, and titanium.
Launching materials from Earth is expensive, so bulk materials for colonies could come from the Moon, a near-Earth object (NEO), Phobos, or Deimos. The benefits of using such sources include: a lower gravitational force, no atmospheric drag on cargo vessels, and no biosphere to damage. Many NEOs contain substantial amounts of metals. Underneath a drier outer crust (much like oil shale), some other NEOs are inactive comets which include billions of tons of water ice and kerogen hydrocarbons, as well as some nitrogen compounds.
Recycling of some raw materials would almost certainly be necessary.
Solar energy in orbit is abundant, reliable, and is commonly used to power satellites today. There is no night in free space, and no clouds or atmosphere to block sunlight. Light intensity obeys an inverse-square law. So the solar energy available at distance d from the Sun is E = 1367/d2 W/m2, where d is measured in astronomical units (AU) and 1367 watts/m2 is the energy available at the distance of Earth's orbit from the Sun, 1 AU.
In the weightlessness and vacuum of space, high temperatures for industrial processes can easily be achieved in solar ovens with huge parabolic reflectors made of metallic foil with very lightweight support structures. Flat mirrors to reflect sunlight around radiation shields into living areas (to avoid line-of-sight access for cosmic rays, or to make the Sun's image appear to move across their "sky") or onto crops are even lighter and easier to build.
Large solar power photovoltaic cell arrays or thermal power plants would be needed to meet the electrical power needs of the settlers' use. In developed parts of Earth, electrical consumption can average 1 kilowatt/person (or roughly 10 megawatt-hours per person per year.) These power plants could be at a short distance from the main structures if wires are used to transmit the power, or much farther away with wireless power transmission.
A major export of the initial space settlement designs was anticipated to be large solar power satellites that would use wireless power transmission (phase-locked microwave beams or lasers emitting wavelengths that special solar cells convert with high efficiency) to send power to locations on Earth, or to colonies on the Moon or other locations in space. For locations on Earth, this method of getting power is extremely benign, with zero emissions and far less ground area required per watt than for conventional solar panels. Once these satellites are primarily built from lunar or asteroid-derived materials, the price of SPS electricity could be lower than energy from fossil fuel or nuclear energy; replacing these would have significant benefits such as the elimination of greenhouse gases and nuclear waste from electricity generation.
Transmitting solar energy wirelessly from the Earth to the Moon and back is also an idea proposed for the benefit of space colonization and energy resources. Physicist Dr. David Criswell, who worked for NASA during the Apollo missions, came up with the idea of using power beams to transfer energy from space. These beams, microwaves with a wavelength of about 12 cm, will be almost untouched as they travel through the atmosphere. They can also be aimed at more industrial areas to keep away from humans or animal activities. This will allow for safer and more reliable methods of transferring solar energy.
In 2008, scientists were able to send a 20 watt microwave signal from a mountain in Maui to the island of Hawaii. Since then JAXA and Mitsubishi has teamed up on a $21 billion project in order to place satellites in orbit which could generate up to 1 gigawatt of energy. These are the next advancements being done today in order to make energy be transmitted wirelessly for space-based solar energy.
However, the value of SPS power delivered wirelessly to other locations in space will typically be far higher than to Earth. Otherwise, the means of generating the power would need to be included with these projects and pay the heavy penalty of Earth launch costs. Therefore, other than proposed demonstration projects for power delivered to Earth, the first priority for SPS electricity is likely to be locations in space, such as communications satellites, fuel depots or "orbital tugboat" boosters transferring cargo and passengers between low-Earth orbit (LEO) and other orbits such as geosynchronous orbit (GEO), lunar orbit or highly-eccentric Earth orbit (HEEO).:132 The system will also rely on satellites and receiving stations on Earth to convert the energy into electricity. Because of this energy can be transmitted easily from dayside to nightside meaning power is reliable 24/7.
Nuclear power is sometimes proposed for colonies located on the Moon or on Mars, as the supply of solar energy is too discontinuous in these locations; the Moon has nights of two Earth weeks in duration. Mars has nights, relatively high gravity, and an atmosphere featuring large dust storms to cover and degrade solar panels. Also, Mars' greater distance from the Sun (1.5 astronomical units, AU) translates into E/(1.52 = 2.25) only ½–⅔ the solar energy of Earth orbit. Another method would be transmitting energy wirelessly to the lunar or Martian colonies from solar power satellites (SPSs) as described above; the difficulties of generating power in these locations make the relative advantages of SPSs much greater there than for power beamed to locations on Earth. In order to also be able to fulfill the requirements of a moon base and energy to supply life support, maintenance, communications, and research, a combination of both nuclear and solar energy will be used in the first colonies.
For both solar thermal and nuclear power generation in airless environments, such as the Moon and space, and to a lesser extent the very thin Martian atmosphere, one of the main difficulties is dispersing the inevitable heat generated. This requires fairly large radiator areas.
In space settlements, a life support system must recycle or import all the nutrients without "crashing." The closest terrestrial analogue to space life support is possibly that of a nuclear submarine. Nuclear submarines use mechanical life support systems to support humans for months without surfacing, and this same basic technology could presumably be employed for space use. However, nuclear submarines run "open loop"—extracting oxygen from seawater, and typically dumping carbon dioxide overboard, although they recycle existing oxygen. Recycling of the carbon dioxide has been approached in the literature using the Sabatier process or the Bosch reaction.
Although a fully mechanistic life support system is conceivable, a closed ecological system is generally proposed for life support. The Biosphere 2 project in Arizona has shown that a complex, small, enclosed, man-made biosphere can support eight people for at least a year, although there were many problems. A year or so into the two-year mission oxygen had to be replenished, which strongly suggests that they achieved atmospheric closure.
The relationship between organisms, their habitat and the non-Earth environment can be:
A combination of the above technologies is also possible.
Cosmic rays and solar flares create a lethal radiation environment in space. In Earth orbit, the Van Allen belts make living above the Earth's atmosphere difficult. To protect life, settlements must be surrounded by sufficient mass to absorb most incoming radiation, unless magnetic or plasma radiation shields were developed.
Passive mass shielding of four metric tons per square meter of surface area will reduce radiation dosage to several mSv or less annually, well below the rate of some populated high natural background areas on Earth. This can be leftover material (slag) from processing lunar soil and asteroids into oxygen, metals, and other useful materials. However, it represents a significant obstacle to maneuvering vessels with such massive bulk (mobile spacecraft being particularly likely to use less massive active shielding). Inertia would necessitate powerful thrusters to start or stop rotation, or electric motors to spin two massive portions of a vessel in opposite senses. Shielding material can be stationary around a rotating interior.
Space manufacturing could enable self-replication. Some think it's the ultimate goal because it allows an exponential increase in colonies, while eliminating costs to and dependence on Earth. It could be argued that the establishment of such a colony would be Earth's first act of self-replication. Intermediate goals include colonies that expect only information from Earth (science, engineering, entertainment) and colonies that just require periodic supply of light weight objects, such as integrated circuits, medicines, genetic material and tools.
The monotony and loneliness that comes from a prolonged space mission can leave astronauts susceptible to cabin fever or having a psychotic break. Moreover, lack of sleep, fatigue, and work overload can affect an astronaut's ability to perform well in an environment such as space where every action is critical.
A much smaller initial population of as little as two women should be viable as long as human embryos are available from Earth. Use of a sperm bank from Earth also allows a smaller starting base with negligible inbreeding.
Researchers in conservation biology have tended to adopt the "50/500" rule of thumb initially advanced by Franklin and Soule. This rule says a short-term effective population size (Ne) of 50 is needed to prevent an unacceptable rate of inbreeding, whereas a long‐term Ne of 500 is required to maintain overall genetic variability. The Ne = 50 prescription corresponds to an inbreeding rate of 1% per generation, approximately half the maximum rate tolerated by domestic animal breeders. The Ne = 500 value attempts to balance the rate of gain in genetic variation due to mutation with the rate of loss due to genetic drift.
Assuming a journey of 6,300 years, the astrophysicist Frédéric Marin and the particle physicist Camille Beluffi calculated that the minimum viable population for a generation ship to reach Proxima Centauri would be 98 settlers at the beginning of the mission (then the crew will breed until reaching a stable population of several hundred settlers within the ship) .
Location is a frequent point of contention between space colonization advocates. The location of colonization can be on a physical body planet, dwarf planet, natural satellite, or asteroid or orbiting one. For colonies not on a body see also space habitat.
Due to its proximity and familiarity, Earth's Moon is discussed as a target for colonization. It has the benefits of proximity to Earth and lower escape velocity, allowing for easier exchange of goods and services. A drawback of the Moon is its low abundance of volatiles necessary for life such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon. Water-ice deposits that exist in some polar craters could serve as a source for these elements. An alternative solution is to bring hydrogen from near-Earth asteroids and combine it with oxygen extracted from lunar rock.
The Moon's low surface gravity is also a concern, as it is unknown whether 1/6g is enough to maintain human health for long periods.
The Moon's lack of atmosphere provides no protection from space radiation or meteoroids. The early Moon colonies may shelter in ancient Lunar lava tubes to gain protection. The two-week day/night cycle makes use of solar power more difficult.
Another near-Earth possibility are the five Earth–Moon Lagrange points. Although they would generally also take a few days to reach with current technology, many of these points would have near-continuous solar power because their distance from Earth would result in only brief and infrequent eclipses of light from the Sun. However, the fact that the Earth–Moon Lagrange points L4 and L5 tend to collect dust and debris, whereas L1-L3 require active station-keeping measures to maintain a stable position, make them somewhat less suitable places for habitation than was originally believed. Additionally, the orbit of L2–L5 takes them out of the protection of the Earth's magnetosphere for approximately two-thirds of the time, exposing them to the health threat from cosmic rays.
See space habitat
Colonizing Mercury would involve similar challenges as the Moon as there are few volatile elements, no atmosphere and the surface gravity is lower than Earth's. However, the planet also receives almost seven times the solar flux as the Earth/Moon system.
Geologist Stephen Gillett suggested in 1996 that this could make Mercury an ideal place to build and launch solar sail spacecraft, which could launch as folded up "chunks" by mass driver from Mercury's surface. Once in space the solar sails would deploy. Since Mercury's solar constant is 6.5 times higher than Earth's, energy for the mass driver should be easy to come by, and solar sails near Mercury would have 6.5 times the thrust they do near Earth. This could make Mercury an ideal place to acquire materials useful in building hardware to send to (and terraform) Venus. Vast solar collectors could also be built on or near Mercury to produce power for large scale engineering activities such as laser-pushed lightsails to nearby star systems.
Colonization of asteroids would require space habitats. The asteroid belt has significant overall material available, the largest object being Ceres, although it is thinly distributed as it covers a vast region of space. Unmanned supply craft should be practical with little technological advance, even crossing 500 million kilometers of space. The colonists would have a strong interest in assuring their asteroid did not hit Earth or any other body of significant mass, but would have extreme difficulty in moving an asteroid of any size. The orbits of the Earth and most asteroids are very distant from each other in terms of delta-v and the asteroidal bodies have enormous momentum. Rockets or mass drivers can perhaps be installed on asteroids to direct their path into a safe course.
The Artemis Project designed a plan to colonize Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Scientists were to inhabit igloos and drill down into the Europan ice crust, exploring any sub-surface ocean. This plan discusses possible use of "air pockets" for human habitation. Europa is considered one of the more habitable bodies in the Solar System and so merits investigation as a possible abode for life.
NASA performed a study called HOPE (Revolutionary Concepts for Human Outer Planet Exploration) regarding the future exploration of the Solar System. The target chosen was Callisto due to its distance from Jupiter, and thus the planet's harmful radiation. It could be possible to build a surface base that would produce fuel for further exploration of the Solar System.
Three of the Galilean moons (Europa, Ganymede, Callisto) have an abundance of volatiles that may support colonization efforts.
Titan is suggested as a target for colonization, because it is the only moon in the Solar System to have a dense atmosphere and is rich in carbon-bearing compounds. Titan has ice water and large methane oceans. Robert Zubrin identified Titan as possessing an abundance of all the elements necessary to support life, making Titan perhaps the most advantageous locale in the outer Solar System for colonization, and saying "In certain ways, Titan is the most hospitable extraterrestrial world within our solar system for human colonization".
Enceladus is a small, icy moon orbiting close to Saturn, notable for its extremely bright surface and the geyser-like plumes of ice and water vapor that erupt from its southern polar region. If Enceladus has liquid water, it joins Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa as one of the prime places in the Solar System to look for extraterrestrial life and possible future settlements.
The Kuiper belt is estimated to have 70,000 bodies of 100 km or larger.
The Oort cloud is estimated to have up to a trillion comets.
Looking beyond the Solar System, there are up to several hundred billion potential stars with possible colonization targets. The main difficulty is the vast distances to other stars: roughly a hundred thousand times further away than the planets in the Solar System. This means that some combination of very high speed (some percentage of the speed of light), or travel times lasting centuries or millennia, would be required. These speeds are far beyond what current spacecraft propulsion systems can provide.
Many scientific papers have been published about interstellar travel. Given sufficient travel time and engineering work, both unmanned and generational voyages seem possible, though representing a very considerable technological and economic challenge unlikely to be met for some time, particularly for manned probes.
Space colonization technology could in principle allow human expansion at high, but sub-relativistic speeds, substantially less than the speed of light, c. An interstellar colony ship would be similar to a space habitat, with the addition of major propulsion capabilities and independent energy generation.
The above concepts all appear limited to high, but still sub-relativistic speeds, due to fundamental energy and reaction mass considerations, and all would entail trip times which might be enabled by space colonization technology, permitting self-contained habitats with lifetimes of decades to centuries. Yet human interstellar expansion at average speeds of even 0.1% of c would permit settlement of the entire Galaxy in less than one half of a galactic rotation period of ~250,000,000 years, which is comparable to the timescale of other galactic processes. Thus, even if interstellar travel at near relativistic speeds is never feasible (which cannot be clearly determined at this time), the development of space colonization could allow human expansion beyond the Solar System without requiring technological advances that cannot yet be reasonably foreseen. This could greatly improve the chances for the survival of intelligent life over cosmic timescales, given the many natural and human-related hazards that have been widely noted.
If humanity does gain access to a large amount of energy, on the order of the mass-energy of entire planets, it may eventually become feasible to construct Alcubierre drives. These are one of the few methods of superluminal travel which may be possible under current physics. However it is probable that such a device could never exist, due to the fundamental challenges posed. For more on this see Difficulties of making and using an Alcubierre Drive.
Looking beyond the Milky Way, there are at least 2 trillion other galaxies in the observable universe. The distances between galaxies are on the order of a million times farther than those between the stars. Because of the speed of light limit on how fast any material objects can travel in space, intergalactic travel would either have to involve voyages lasting millions of years, or a possible faster than light propulsion method based on speculative physics, such as the Alcubierre drive. There are, however, no scientific reasons for stating that intergalactic travel is impossible in principle.
Space colonization can roughly be said to be possible when the necessary methods of space colonization become cheap enough (such as space access by cheaper launch systems) to meet the cumulative funds that have been gathered for the purpose.
Although there are no immediate prospects for the large amounts of money required for space colonization to be available given traditional launch costs, there is some prospect of a radical reduction to launch costs in the 2010s, which would consequently lessen the cost of any efforts in that direction. With a published price of US$56.5 million per launch of up to 13,150 kg (28,990 lb) payload to low Earth orbit, SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets are already the "cheapest in the industry". Advancements currently being developed as part of the SpaceX reusable launch system development program to enable reusable Falcon 9s "could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale." If SpaceX is successful in developing the reusable technology, it would be expected to "have a major impact on the cost of access to space", and change the increasingly competitive market in space launch services.
The President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy suggested that an inducement prize should be established, perhaps by government, for the achievement of space colonization, for example by offering the prize to the first organization to place humans on the Moon and sustain them for a fixed period before they return to Earth.
The most famous attempt to build an analogue to a self-sufficient colony is Biosphere 2, which attempted to duplicate Earth's biosphere. BIOS-3 is another closed ecosystem, completed in 1972 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
Remote research stations in inhospitable climates, such as the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station or Devon Island Mars Arctic Research Station, can also provide some practice for off-world outpost construction and operation. The Mars Desert Research Station has a habitat for similar reasons, but the surrounding climate is not strictly inhospitable.
The Russian schoolmaster and physicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky foresaw elements of the space community in his book Beyond Planet Earth written about 1900. Tsiolkovsky had his space travelers building greenhouses and raising crops in space. Tsiolkovsky believed that going into space would help perfect human beings, leading to immortality and peace.
Others have also written about space colonies as Lasswitz in 1897 and Bernal, Oberth, Von Pirquet and Noordung in the 1920s. Wernher von Braun contributed his ideas in a 1952 Colliers article. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dandridge M. Cole published his ideas.
Another seminal book on the subject was the book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space by Gerard K. O'Neill in 1977 which was followed the same year by Colonies in Space by T. A. Heppenheimer.
As of 2013, Bigelow Aerospace is the only private commercial spaceflight company that has launched two experimental space station modules, Genesis I (2006) and Genesis II (2007), into Earth-orbit, and has indicated that their first production model of the space habitat, the BA 330, could be launched by 2017.
Robotic spacecraft to Mars are required to be sterilized, to have at most 300,000 spores on the exterior of the craft—and more thoroughly sterilized if they contact "special regions" containing water, otherwise there is a risk of contaminating not only the life-detection experiments but possibly the planet itself.
It is impossible to sterilize human missions to this level, as humans are host to typically a hundred trillion microorganisms of thousands of species of the human microbiome, and these cannot be removed while preserving the life of the human. Containment seems the only option, but it is a major challenge in the event of a hard landing (i.e. crash). There have been several planetary workshops on this issue, but with no final guidelines for a way forward yet. Human explorers would also be vulnerable to back contamination to Earth if they become carriers of microorganisms.
A corollary to the Fermi paradox—"nobody else is doing it"—is the argument that, because no evidence of alien colonization technology exists, it is statistically unlikely to even be possible to use that same level of technology ourselves.
Colonizing space would require massive amounts of financial, physical, and human capital devoted to research, development, production, and deployment. Earth's natural resources do not increase to a noteworthy extent (which is in keeping with the "only one Earth" position of environmentalists). Thus, considerable efforts in colonizing places outside Earth would appear as a hazardous waste of the Earth's limited resources for an aim without a clear end.
The fundamental problem of public things, needed for survival, such as space programs, is the free rider problem. Convincing the public to fund such programs would require additional self-interest arguments: If the objective of space colonization is to provide a "backup" in case everyone on Earth is killed, then why should someone on Earth pay for something that is only useful after they are dead? This assumes that space colonization is not widely acknowledged as a sufficiently valuable social goal.
Seen as a relief to the problem of overpopulation even as early as 1758, and listed as one of Stephen Hawking's reasons for pursuing space exploration, it has become apparent that space colonisation in response to overpopulation is unwarranted. Indeed, the birth rates of many developed countries, specifically spacefaring ones, are at or below replacement rates, thus negating the need to use colonisation as a means of population control.
Other objections include concerns that the forthcoming colonization and commodification of the cosmos may be likely to enhance the interests of the already powerful, including major economic and military institutions e.g. the large financial institutions, the major aerospace companies and the military–industrial complex, to lead to new wars, and to exacerbate pre-existing exploitation of workers and resources, economic inequality, poverty, social division and marginalization, environmental degradation, and other detrimental processes or institutions.
Additional concerns include creating a culture in which humans are no longer seen as human, but rather as material assets. The issues of human dignity, morality, philosophy, culture, bioethics, and the threat of megalomaniac leaders in these new "societies" would all have to be addressed in order for space colonization to meet the psychological and social needs of people living in isolated colonies.
As an alternative or addendum for the future of the human race, many science fiction writers have focused on the realm of the 'inner-space', that is the computer-aided exploration of the human mind and human consciousness—possibly en route developmentally to a Matrioshka Brain.
Robotic exploration is proposed as an alternative to gain many of the same scientific advantages without the limited mission duration and high cost of life support and return transportation involved in manned missions.
An additional concern is the health of the humans who may participate in a colonization venture, including a range of physical, mental and emotional health risks.
Organizations that contribute to space colonization include:
Although established space colonies are a stock element in science fiction stories, fictional works that explore the themes, social or practical, of the settlement and occupation of a habitable world are much rarer.
It is as inescapable as the laws of physics that humanity will one day confront some type of extinction-level event. . . . [W]e face threats [that include] global warming . . . weaponized microbes . . . the onset of another ice age . . . the possibility that the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park may awaken from its long slumber . . . [and] another meteor or cometary impact . . . . [from one of the] several thousand NEOs (near-Earth objects) that cross the orbit of the Earth. . . . . Life is too precious to be placed on a single planet . . . . Perhaps our fate is to become a multiplanet species that lives among the stars.
“We can then conclude that, under the parameters used for those simulations, a minimum crew of 98 settlers is needed for a 6,300-year multi-generational space journey towards Proxima Centauri b,” say Marin and Beluffi.
[Bigelow Aerospace] has the financial capacity to pay for at least two BA 330s habitats which should be ready by the end of 2016.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is a professional society for the field of aerospace engineering. The AIAA is the U.S. representative on the International Astronautical Federation and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences. In 2015, it had more than 30,000 members among aerospace professionals worldwide (a majority are American and/or live in the United States).Colonization
Colonization (or colonisation) is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.
Colonization refers strictly to migration, for example, to settler colonies in America or Australia, trading posts, and plantations, while colonialism to the existing indigenous peoples of styled "new territories". Colonization was linked to the spread of tens of millions from Western European states all over the world. In many settled colonies, Western European settlers eventually formed a large majority of the population after killing or driving away indigenous peoples. Examples include the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. These colonies were occasionally called 'neo-Europes'. In other places, Western European settlers formed minority groups, which often used more advanced weaponry to dominate the people initially living in their places of settlement.When Britain started to settle in Australia, New Zealand and various other smaller islands, they often regarded the landmasses as terra nullius, meaning 'empty land' in Latin. Due to the absence of European farming techniques, the land was deemed unaltered by man and therefore treated as uninhabited, despite the presence of indigenous populations. In the 19th century, laws and ideas such as Mexico's general Colonization Law and the United States' Manifest destiny encouraged further colonization of the Americas, already started in the 15th century.Colonization of Europa
Europa, the fourth-largest moon of Jupiter, is a subject in both science fiction and scientific speculation for future human colonization. Europa's geophysical features, including a possible subglacial water ocean, make it a possibility that human life could be sustained on or beneath the surface.Colonization of Titan
Saturn’s largest moon Titan is one of several candidates for possible future colonization of the outer Solar System.
According to Cassini data from 2008, Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth. These hydrocarbons rain from the sky and collect in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes. "Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material—it's a giant factory of organic chemicals", said Ralph Lorenz, who leads the study of Titan based on radar data from Cassini. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan." Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth's oil and gas reserves. The dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves.
Radar images obtained on July 21, 2006 appear to show lakes of liquid hydrocarbon (such as methane and ethane) in Titan's northern latitudes. This is the first discovery of currently existing lakes beyond Earth. The lakes range in size from about a kilometer in width to one hundred kilometers across.
On March 13, 2007, Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that it found strong evidence of seas of methane and ethane in the northern hemisphere. At least one of these is larger than any of the Great Lakes in North America.Colonization of Venus
The colonization of Venus has been a subject of many works of science fiction since before the dawn of spaceflight, and is still discussed from both a fictional and a scientific standpoint. However, with the discovery of Venus's extremely hostile surface environment, attention has largely shifted towards the colonization of the Moon and Mars instead, with proposals for Venus focused on colonies floating in the upper-middle atmosphere and on terraforming.Colonization of the asteroids
The asteroids have long been suggested as possible sites for human colonization. This idea is popular in science fiction. Asteroid mining, a proposed industrial process in which asteroids are mined for valuable materials, especially platinum group metals, may be automated or require a crew to remain at the target asteroid.Colonization of trans-Neptunian objects
Freeman Dyson has proposed that trans-Neptunian objects, rather than planets, are the major potential habitat of life in space. Several hundred billion to trillion comet-like ice-rich bodies exist outside the orbit of Neptune, in the Kuiper belt and Inner and Outer Oort cloud. These may contain all the ingredients for life (water ice, ammonia, and carbon-rich compounds), including significant amounts of deuterium and helium-3. Since Dyson's proposal, the number of trans-Neptunian objects known has increased greatly.
Colonists could live in the dwarf planet's icy crust or mantle, using fusion or geothermal heat and mining the soft-ice or liquid inner ocean for volatiles and minerals. Given the light gravity and resulting lower pressure in the ice mantle or inner ocean, colonizing the rocky core's outer surface might give colonists the largest number of mineral and volatile resources as well as insulating them from cold. Surface habitats or domes are another possibility, as background radiation levels are likely to be low.Colonists of such bodies could also build rotating habitats or live in dug-out spaces and light them with fusion reactors for thousands to millions of years before moving on. Dyson and Carl Sagan envisioned that humanity could migrate to neighbouring star systems, which have similar clouds, by using natural objects as slow interstellar vessels with substantial natural resources; and that such interstellar colonies could also serve as way-stations for faster, smaller interstellar ships. Alternatively Richard Terra has proposed using the materials from the Oort-cloud objects to build vast starlight collecting arrays to power habitats, thus making an Oort-cloud community essentially independent of its central star and fusion fuel supplies.Domed city
A domed city is a hypothetical structure that encloses a large urban area under a single roof. In most descriptions, the dome is airtight and pressurized, creating a habitat that can be controlled for air temperature, composition and quality, typically due to an external atmosphere (or lack thereof) that is inimical to habitation for one or more reasons. Domed cities have been a fixture of science fiction and futurology since the early 20th century, and may be situated on Earth, a moon or other planet.Embryo space colonization
Embryo space colonization is a theoretical interstellar space colonization concept that involves sending a robotic mission to a habitable terrestrial planet, dwarf planet, minor planet or natural satellite transporting frozen early-stage human embryos or the technological or biological means to create human embryos. The proposal circumvents the most severe technological problems of other mainstream interstellar colonization concepts. In contrast to the sleeper ship proposal, it does not require the more technically challenging 'freezing' of fully developed humans (see cryonics).Generation ship
A generation ship, or generation starship, is a hypothetical type of interstellar ark starship that travels at sub-light speed.
Since such a ship might take centuries to thousands of years to reach even nearby stars, the original occupants of a generation ship would grow old and die, leaving their descendants to continue traveling.L5 Society
The L5 Society was founded in 1975 by Carolyn Meinel and Keith Henson to promote the space colony ideas of Gerard K. O'Neill.In 1987 the L5 Society merged with the National Space Institute to form the National Space Society.McKendree cylinder
A McKendree cylinder is a type of hypothetical rotating space habitat originally proposed at NASA's Turning Goals into Reality conference in 2000 by NASA engineer Tom McKendree. As with other space habitat designs, the cylinder would spin to produce artificial gravity by way of centrifugal force. The design differs from the classical designs produced in the 1970s by Gerard K. O'Neill and NASA in that it would use carbon nanotubes instead of steel, allowing the habitat to be built much larger. In the original proposal, the habitat would consist of two cylinders approximately 460 km (290 mi) in radius and 4600 km (2900 mi) in length, containing 13 million square kilometers (5.1 million square miles) of living space, nearly as much land area as that of Russia.
As originally proposed, the McKendree cylinder is simply a scaled-up version of the O'Neill cylinder. Like the O'Neill cylinder, McKendree proposed dedicating half of the surface of the colony to windows, allowing direct illumination of the interior. The habitat would be composed of a pair of counter-rotating cylinders which would function like momentum wheels to control the habitat's orientation.Pale Blue Dot (book)
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space is a 1994 book by Carl Sagan. It is the sequel to Cosmos and was inspired by the famous Pale Blue Dot photograph, for which Sagan provides a poignant description. In this book, Sagan mixes philosophy about the human place in the universe with a description of the current knowledge about the Solar System. He also details a human vision for the future.Planetary engineering
Planetary engineering is the application of technology for the purpose of influencing the global environments of a planet. Its objectives usually involve increasing the habitability of other worlds or mitigating decreases in habitability to Earth.
Perhaps the best-known type of planetary engineering is terraforming, by which a planet's surface conditions are altered to be more like those of Earth. Planetary engineering is largely the realm of science fiction at present, although recent climate change on Earth shows that human technology can cause change on a global scale.Politics of outer space
The politics of outer space includes space treaties, law in space, international cooperation and conflict in space exploration, and the hypothetical political impact of any contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.
Astropolitics, also known as astropolitik, has its foundations in geopolitics and is a theory that is used for space in its broadest sense. Astropolitics is often studied as an aspect of the security studies and international relations subfields of political science. This includes the role of space exploration in diplomacy as well as the military uses of satellites, for example, for surveillance or cyber warfare.
An important aspect of the geopolitics of space is the prevention of a military threat to Earth from outer space.International cooperation on space projects has resulted in the creation of new national space agencies. By 2005 there were 35 national civilian space agencies.Space and survival
Space and survival refers to the idea that the long-term survival of the human species and technological civilization requires the building of a spacefaring civilization that utilizes the resources of outer space, and that not doing this could lead to human extinction. A related observation is that the window of opportunity for doing this may be limited due to the decreasing amount of surplus resources that will be available overtime as a result of an ever-growing population .
The earliest appearance of a connection between space exploration and human survival appears in Louis J. Halle’s 1980 article in Foreign Affairs, in which he stated colonization of space will keep humanity safe should global nuclear warfare occur. This idea has received more attention in recent years as advancing technology in the form of reusable launch vehicles and combination launch systems make affordable space travel more feasible.Terraforming
Terraforming or terraformation (literally, "Earth-shaping") of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life.
The concept of terraforming developed from both science fiction and actual science. The term was coined by Jack Williamson in a science-fiction short story ("Collision Orbit") published during 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction, but the concept may pre-date this work.
Even if the environment of a planet could be altered deliberately, the feasibility of creating an unconstrained planetary environment that mimics Earth on another planet has yet to be verified. Mars is usually considered to be the most likely candidate for terraforming. Much study has been done concerning the possibility of heating the planet and altering its atmosphere, and NASA has even hosted debates on the subject. Several potential methods of altering the climate of Mars may fall within humanity's technological capabilities, but at present the economic resources required to do so are far beyond that which any government or society is willing to allocate to it. The long timescales and practicality of terraforming are the subject of debate. Other unanswered questions relate to the ethics, logistics, economics, politics, and methodology of altering the environment of an extraterrestrial world.The Case for Mars
The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must is a nonfiction science book by Robert Zubrin, first published in 1996, and revised and updated in 2011.
The book details Zubrin's Mars Direct plan to make the first human landing on Mars. The plan focuses on keeping costs down by making use of automated systems and available materials on Mars to manufacture the return journey's fuel in situ. The book also reveals possible Mars colony designs and weighs the prospects for a colony's material self-sufficiency and for the terraforming of Mars.The Mars Project
The Mars Project (German: Das Marsprojekt) is a non-fiction scientific book by the German (later German-American) rocket physicist, astronautics engineer and space architect, Wernher von Braun. It was translated from the original German by Henry J. White and first published in English by the University of Illinois Press in 1953.
The Mars Project is a technical specification for a manned expedition to Mars. It was written by von Braun in 1948 and was the first "technically comprehensive design" for such an expedition. The book has been described as "the most influential book on planning human missions to Mars".