Colonizing Outer Space/Colonization/Space/Generalities
As we already discussed the most dangerous and costly side of space colonization is getting people there. We can supply a colony automatically and even with an acceptable fail rate, but the transport of humans will be not only more costly but also more technically challenging, the major issue will be the requirements of the colonist during this stage, considerations need to be made for keeping them healthy and fit to perform on arrival.
Mir and ISS have helped to understand most of the problems humans face in a prolonged stay on a space environment. The major issue continues to be the psychological stress of isolation and time of inactivity. But without the extreme risk of an actual interplanetary spaceflight the psychological data might be limited since the stress of such a risky and prolonged voyage will be impossible to fully replicate in a simulation.
Other physical factors still remain to be fully tested even if most seem that can be counteracted by technological solutions, for instance the problem with zero-gravity (or lower gravity in general) and the levels of radiation exposure.
This of course places a greater burden on the selection of candidates for such mission. Some could be experience astronauts, like the one in the Apollo missions, that had pilot experience but most will require to have a possess a greater set of skills as to enable the successful establishment of a colony.
Regarding minimum size for establishing a self sufficient population, in 2002, the anthropologist John H. Moore estimated that a population of 150-180 would allow normal reproduction for 60-80 generations—equivalent to 2000 years.
A much smaller initial population of two female humans 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, while 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.
Effective population size Ne depends on the number of males Nm and females Nf in the population according to the formula:
Care should be taken when selecting volunteers.
Energy can be generated in a multitude of ways on Earth. Notably, there are a number of technologies reliant on burning large amounts of organic material or fossil fuels which will not be sutable for early space colonies, both due to the large amounts of raw material and the large amounts of oxygen and water they require. While space colonies would be unable to make use of some of the technologies avalible to earth based power generation, many work fine or better in space. Furthermore, some environments may offer generation oprotunities not feasable on Earth.
In space, especially on missions close to the sun, solar panels are often used to power satelites and space stations. Noteably solar panels be folded up for launch and later folded out. Unfortunately use on other planets offers some of the same downsides as on earth, namely dust accumulation which require either a cleaning mechanism, or a "Cleaning event" to maintain power on a solar array. This issue was faced by the Mars Exploration Rovers on a number of occasions.
Some areas or missions will not be able to rely on solar panels for consistent power. In these cases a radioisotope thermoelectric generator may be used to reliably and easily generate clean power from the heat released by nuclear decay. Such devices can generate a small amount of power for decades at a time, and have found common use among spacecraft in specific mission categories.
People need air, water, food and reasonable temperatures to survive. On Earth a large complex biosphere provides these. In space settlements, bio-regenerative approaches will be necessary, the use life forms to recycle air, water, and organic waste. Hydroponic gardens and algae tanks are proposed solutions for relatively small, closed system that must recycle all the nutrients without "crashing".
The famous attempt to build an analogue colony is Biosphere 2, which attempted to duplicate Earth's biosphere.
Many space agencies build testbeds for advanced life support systems, but these are designed for long duration human spaceflight, not colonization.
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.
On celestial bodies, oxygen and liquid water can be obtained from purified water ice. On the moon, oxygen can be made as a byproduct of regolith processing. On Mars, oxygen can be obtained from electrolysis of water (extracted from permafrost) or the Sabatier process (C02 extracted from the atmosphere).
The relationship between organisms, their habitat and the non-Earth environment can be:
- Organisms and their habitat fully isolated from the environment (examples include artificial biosphere, Biosphere 2, life support system)
- Changing the environment to become a life-friendly habitat (a process called terraforming)
- Changing organisms to become more compatible with the environment, ie. integrating the habitat into organisms (See also: genetic engineering, transhumanism, cyborg)
A combination of the above is also possible.
Hydroponics, an ancient technique for growing plants with nutrient-rich water instead of soil, has long been touted as the choice for growing plants in space. It is very space and water efficient and can also be part of a closed-life support loop (oxygen regeneration, water filtering and food production). For instance it has been suggested to incorporate plant respiration (of water vapor) into water purification and recovery systems. Research continues on automated hydroponic systems.
To save energy, it is possible to grow plants with colored light, eschewing frequencies they do not use.
Animals, given their low mass efficiency and high energy and space requirements, are unlikely to be raised in space any time soon. More likely sources of animal protein are insects and synthetic meat ("meat-in-a-dish").
Compared to the other requirements, communication is relatively easy for orbit and the Moon. Much of the current terrestrial communications already pass through satellites. Communications to Mars and further will suffer from significant delays making voice conversation impractical.
Communications is not only depended on infrastructure but energy, it requires also technical maintenance.
On Earth, if one needs a new toothbrush and some toothpaste, it is a simple matter of driving to the corner drugstore to pick some up. On Mars or the Moon, the nearest drugstore will be millions of miles away! At least at first. And more to the point, the manufacturing capability of producing all these products is equally inaccessible, down at the bottom of Earth's gravity well.
Even for Earth orbit colonies, launching materials from Earth is very expensive, so bulk materials should come from the Moon or Near-Earth Objects (NEOs - asteroids and comets with orbits near Earth) where gravitational forces are much less, there is no atmosphere, and there is no biosphere to damage. Our Moon has large amounts of oxygen, silicon and metals, but little hydrogen, carbon, or nitrogen. NEOs contain substantial amounts of metals, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. NEOs also contain some nitrogen, but not necessarily enough to avoid major supplies from Earth.
Manufacturing Goods In-SituEdit
One thing to consider will be that the absence, or alterations, in "normal" gravity enables completely novel manufacturing techniques. Liquids with surface tension form perfect spheres in the absence of gravity. Massive material may be moved with little energy. The temperature range available may be quite large, and can be achieved by creative use of shadow and reflectors. Unfortunately, it also introduces new challenges, as in space all debris must be accounted for less it become a travel hazard.
Lacking the technology to have matter replicators as seen seen in science fiction works, today we have the possibility to do 3D printing, also known as rapid prototyping, this allows parts and even entire machines to be created from a digital blueprint, even food could be replicated in this way. This can makes it possible to greatly reduces the need to transport parts.
Self-replication is an optional attribute, but many think it should be the ultimate goal, because it allows a much more rapid 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, etc.) and colonies that just require periodic supply of light weight objects, such as integrated circuits, medicines, genetic material and perhaps some tools.
Cosmic rays and solar flares create a lethal radiation environment in space.
To protect life, settlements must be surrounded by sufficient mass to absorb most incoming radiation. Somewhere around 5-10 tons of material per square meter of surface area is required. This can be achieved with left over material from processing lunar soil and asteroids into oxygen, metals, and other useful materials.
Unfortunately this is not practical, such as in early interplantetary transit, when a high cost exists to transport every kilogram into space and space mining is not yet viable. Ligher weight materials may provide a measure of protection for early colonists. Especially notable is water, which being required weight anyway, makes it an ideal material to offer radiation protection. While it may seem dangerous to irradiate water, remember that there is a difference between an substance being irradiated (Having received radiation) and a substance being radioactive (Actively giving off radiation). While this is not currently done with water, both Cosmonauts, and Astronauts already eat irradiated food, as the process kills a number of pathogens, increasing astronaut safety and shelf life of food products.
In-situ refueling infrastructure across the solar system is one of the highest priorities in space development. By essentially resetting the rocket equation with each stop at a refueling station, fuel for any given mission is tremendously reduced, completely revolutionizing aerospace design. It becomes less desirable to discard a spent stage and more practical to refill it. A Mars spacecraft could exhaust all its fuel reaching Phobos's orbit, refuel at a station on Phobos, and then conduct a propulsive descent - a maneuver that is impractical with fuel brought from Earth. (Source: Greason, J. ISDC 2011 Keynote Speech. http://www.nss.org/resources/library/videos/ISDC11greason.html)
- Electrolysis of water yields Hydrogen and Oxygen, a propellant combination with one of the highest specific impulses. This would be practical on the Moon and asteroids containing water ice.
- The Sabatier reaction has been proposed, notably in the Mars Direct plan, to convert Carbon Dioxide (in situ on Mars) and Hydrogen (brought from Earth) to Methane and Oxygen. Hydrogen must be brought because it is of low abundance on Mars. Thankfully, it has very low mass. (Though there exists abundant water ice on Mars, so this may be another possibility.)
- The ALICE concept, tested at Purdue University, is a solid rocket fuel composed of water ice and nanoscale Aluminum powder. It is attractive because it could be produced on any celestial body with sufficient water and Aluminum, and is much easier to store than cryogenic propellants.
- Nuclear thermal rockets may be able to use water or hydrogen extracted from celestial bodies as reaction mass.
The Mars-500 experimentEdit
The Mars-500 experiment ( http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars500 ), lasting from 2007 to 2011, divided into three stages. The final, 520-day stage of the experiment, which was intended to simulate a full-length manned mission, ended on 4 November 2011, where a team of six volunteers were locked into a cluster of hermetically sealed habitat modules for 520 days, to simulate a mission to Mars using the available technology. To add to their isolation, communications with mission control were artificially delayed to mimic the natural delays of a Mars flight. During the simulation the volunteers (the crew) performed several experiments, all linked to the problems of long duration missions in deep space. The simulation was a success all the volunteers managed to stay healthy in body and mind indicating that a voyage to Mars can be successfully in regards to the psychological aspect of such endeavor.
One way tripEdit
Any one way trip to colonize outer space will be unlike anything else in human history. As the requirements to archive a way back will if not impossible due to lack of the necessary resources at the destination. They could take generations to archive if at all, making that type of voyage, to the colonist, a form of self-imposed exile from Earth. Of course there can be middle-steps, like using robots to create the necessary infrastructure before sending colonists or establishing a consistent resupply and support structure from Earth, but the costs and the added level of uncertain due to the great distances, possible windows for the lunches and time and economic commitment would be huge at today's level of technology and probably impossible on the political cycles most nations use.
In early colonies, especially where crew redundency is impossible, every crew member will likely need to pull their weight for the collective to survive and thrive. In addition to the unusual physical stress resulting from an extended period of time in space, it can be expected that unusual mental stress will also arise. With the stakes so high, early colonists must be psychologically resiliant.
As long as spacecraft can only hold a small number of people, it is highly likely that colonists will be expected to perform a number of tasks beyond a single domain.
Colonists will likely be selected on what they bring to a mission. Without a doubt a colony requires people who know how to keep the colony going, be they engineers, agriculturalists, or some other required vocation.
Another critical qualification for early colonists would be skills which allow the colony to justify it's existance to it's backers at home. These roles would depend highly on the mission, but could include scientists of many sorts, industrial engineers, prospectors, or other vocations.
One should think that while a colony is dependent of supplies from Earth or location nearby, it will be politically dependent and unless a more reasonable global governance is created, self sufficient colonies are more likely to become independent. A colony may revolt and pursue its independent self interest. In terrestrial civilizations, this frequently occurs on the order of 10 to 100 years. Even a loyal colony may decide that it is against its economic or political interests to aid a troubled Earth, or to recolonize Earth. Even then the goal is simply survival of the species will be assured and one should hope many independent colonies could be established as to collectively form a safeguard against one government amassing too much power over the fate of the whole human race.
Any venture to space which does not make economic sense is doomed to be a short term excursion, ended as soon as it's scientific or political purpose is fulfilled. Early colonists will be reliant on the support of Earth to establish and maintain a growing colony, as population, resource extraction capabilities, and other factors required for self sufficiency will likely not be met by an initial colonly.
There are two aspects of Economics especially important to space exploration, profitable activities, and cost reductions.
There are a number of activities that are more profitable in the weightless environments offered by a space station.
Planets, asteroids, moons, and other objects in space often contain materials which are hard to find or make on Earth. Resource extraction may proove profitable enough to justify a colony.
Cost reductions make more types of colonial ventures profitable. This can already be seen in general space travel technology, as once unthinkable space tourism has now become possible for the ultra wealthy.
Ecologic and historical preservationEdit
As we colonize other planetary bodies one should consider for the possibility of discovering native life and even remains of its previous existence. Preservation and study of this life and remains should be a priority over the colonization process, much like we do when we discover archaeologically relevant objects in construction sites.
Natural selection occurs when a species is challenged, when there is a threat to its survival, a threat to the continued existence of fertile descendants. Simply sending humans to another location and waiting 100 000 years does not necessarily yield a different species.
If we colonize distant worlds, we are likely to settle more hostile places, like Mars or Europa, than Earth-like places, which seem to be rarer in the universe. It is expected that in colonizing space, humans will at first have restricted direct contact with the hostile worlds they will inhabit; instead, they will live inside domes and use space suits to work on the outside. Humans, humans' pets, humans' parasites and complex life in general are unlikely to be able to adapt for instance to the 95% carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars or to the -160 °C temperature of Europa, a so we may even consider altering our genetic material and of other living specimens to permit a better adaptation to the new environments.
Heavy building skeletons can be built from stone blocks cut from the suitable large stones found nearby or mined in a quarry. Buildings such as domes, tunnels, castles, cathedrals, pyramids, storehouses, factories, foundries, pools, houses, and others can be built this way very cheaply. Just few robots are needed to be brought from the Earth.
Early colonial architecture must first and foremost offer a safe shelter for colonists to live in. Beyond that, it should be pragmatic to advance the colonial mission. Aesthetic considerations should not be overlooked, and architecture should be appealing to aid the mental health of its inhabitants, and serve as a symbol they can be proud of in the face of adversity.
- ↑ Garner, Rob (30 September 2015). "How to Protect Astronauts from Space Radiation on Mars". NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/real-martians-how-to-protect-astronauts-from-space-radiation-on-mars.
- ↑ "session 2-5". history.nasa.gov. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
- ↑ US EPA, OAR (27 November 2018). "Food Irradiation". www.epa.gov. Retrieved 30 October 2021.