space colonization and the future of mankind

Discussion in 'SFF lounge' started by TL Rese, Nov 22, 2011.

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    TL Rese

    TL Rese fantasy writer

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    i don't mean to take over the forum by starting a zillion threads, but
    we got into a pretty interesting digression over on the ‘alien civilizations’ thread about space colonization, so i thought i’d open the topic up into a general forum discussion.

    so, is space colonization possible? if so, when? how would it be done? moreover, what would this mean for life on earth?

    personally, i think the moon will be the first to be colonized in a few centuries, using some method of terraforming. i think space colonization will be beneficial in case some catastrophe were to strike earth, and also provide extra resources like water and minerals, and prob also boost the economy in terms of space tourism and real estate.

    what do you think?
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    Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    The Moon doesn't have enough mass to hold an atmosphere, so it can't be terraformed, if such technology existed. It will be used a base to assemble and launch spaceships because the low gravity means a huge saving in fuel compared to Earth. Eventually, that construction will probably move to Mars where the gravity is higher, but the increase in fuel costs would be offset by the more comfortable living conditions. The asteroid belt will be mined for base metals and rare elements - they are already beginning to run out on Earth so the economics of that are already making sense. I doubt people will live out there though. They would stay for short spells.

    I think it will be a long time before we leave the Solar System. That is still science fiction.
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    clovis-man

    clovis-man Prehistoric Irish Cynic

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    I've always thought that Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy offered a very plausible set of ideas about how terraforming could be accomplished.
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    Starbeast

    Starbeast Benevolent Galaxy Being

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    Humans will be stuck on Earth for a long time, probably till doomsday. I got tired of NASA boasting throughout the decades: "We're going to do this! We're going to do that! With our technology humankind will expand out into our galaxy and live on other worlds! Blah bah blah..."

    I don't listen to their noise anymore.

    Just the other day I heard a few NASA scientists were excited because they think there are cities on Pluto........oh brother.........
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    chrispenycate

    chrispenycate resident pedantissimo Staff Member

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    If we go on long enough, without a total social collapse (from what ever cause) I believe we'll do it. Probably all wrong, but do it anyway.

    The moon? Quite likely, although I doubt whether it will ever be terraformed. Not because it is technically impossible – no, it couldn't hold an atmosphere long term, in planetary terms, but a couple of hundred thousand years? And that's longer than humanity has been around. The trouble is that crashing a couple of comets against it to provide the volatiles will annoy the underground residents who settled in a couple of generations earlier, and when you have the technology to soft land them there's nowhere left on the surface uninhabited enough to risk it. So I see colonising there as basically underground; and we don't yet know much about how well humans function in very low gravity. If foetal development requires a near Earth gravitational field (quite possible – even likely) then it's going to take genetic modification for true colonisation of a lot of the real estate in the solar system, or lots of centrifuges.

    But if the beanstalk boys have their way, and the space elevator is built fast, the first colony might be in geostationary orbit. Yes, I mean colony, not half a dozen engineers hanging around in a tin can.

    If you want to be able to haul battleship-mass lumps into orbit, your counterweight needs to be the size of Hawaii. Now, this is small in planetary terms, but easily big enough to be worth homesteading. Obviously, you don't lift this into orbit from Earth; you go looking for a convenient sized piece of junk in space you can manoeuvre into place (and what a gorgeous target for terrorists; your very own extinction event, just requiring a 2% error of calculation). Since an orbital tower is built from the roof down (actually from the central floors up and down) you start, as with all planned cities, with a population of construction workers and support professions, and some of them won't want to go back home. Instant slum, instant colony. Again, the gravity problem, but free fall construction workers would be the ones with the solutions.

    And most of the places in the solar system open to human occupation are going to be small, or much to big. Mars and Venus are the only reasonable sized bodies, with a couple of gas giant moons within useable. So the gravity problem will be solved, one way or another. For convenient transport of whatever is produced in space, we can not afford to go too deep into any gravity well apart from Earth's (unless some radical drive development changes the equations). Mars, while the easiest to terraform, is not convenient for delivery of anything but information; and can a scientific research station merit the title of "colony", with the relative independence this implies, even if tours of duty are long enough that offspring are born and raised outside the Earth's direct influence?
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    Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    Quokka

    Quokka wandering

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    Similar to what I posted in the alien thread I think within our own solar system will be relatively simple given enough time. Whether that's planets, moons or satelites will depend on what the advantages are, resources, science etc with the technology at the time.

    I'm thinking something like in the 100-500 years range, I might live to see someone stand on Mars or even experience low orbit myself but maybe not much more.

    100 years, that just about covers our entire history of manned flight and if developments slow down for the next 100 years it'd be very unusual (I want to say a first but I cant back that up :) ). Of course to Europa and back isn't a dune at Kitty Hawk either.

    I think we're already close to being able to put someone anywhere in our own solar system. There's no point today and may not be for awhile but if it was a challange, say that or the alien invansion/ independance day senario... 50 years, prioritised resources, deaths and failures socially and politically acceptable...

    Without debating launch windows I'd give us at least 50/50. There's a huge difference between planting a flag and a self sustaining colony but with the rate of advancement who knows how long it will remain impractical.

    The big step, to other worlds is so far advanced that we're probably way too many steps back to even get close to guessing how it will be done. As with Arthur Clarke's idea, it's still in the realm of magic.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2011
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    NASA might well have done that by now - or at least sent someone to Mars - if the US public had bothered to remain interested in what they were doing and so persuaded the US Administration to continue to fund their manned exploration projects. You got the Space Shuttle because it was supposed to be cheaper, and that's what the public wanted.
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    Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    Not to go too off-topic Ian but I don't agree completely with what you just said. The only reason that the "public" (that's American public since they paid for it) were interested at all was because of the Cold War politics and the "space race" generated by the JFK speech. Sending men in "tin cans" would never come to anything more useful than "we got there first", although it did fire my own imagination as a child, and no doubt most other children of a certain age.

    The Space Shuttle was meant to be a proper "workhorse" and to be "fully" re-useable. Budget cuts imposed on NASA meant that didn't happen. It was built "on the cheap" and it obviously had some serious design flaws too, and it did not do what it was meant to do. I expect they have still learnt many lessons from the design that will be useful in the future though.

    The public fell out of love with space; the cold war was over and they realised how much it had actually cost them. Politicians have tried to get "the public" interested in Mars - George W Bush made a speech - but with the recent financial woes I can't see any government spending that kind of money without an economic incentive. Virgin sending very rich people up to space hotels is one way, but the shortage of rare elements may bring mining companies into the fold. Mining Companies really do have that kind of money to spare.

    The only thing sad about that is that after scouring the Earth's crust and dumping the waste in the holes created, the first thing we want to do on a new planet is the same.
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    Interference

    Interference Destroyer of Words

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    Did I hear Branson say "Stephen Hawkins can make this trip, so anybody can" or something along those lines?

    Who is this "Stephen Hawkins" chappy and why should we care about his space-flying suitability?

    Now, if it had been Hawking, well that would have been worth commenting about....
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    The viewing figures for the Apollo missions plummetted after the first one, and were only briefly revived by the Apollo 13 disaster. By Apollo 17, putting men on the moon was no longer front page news. Yes, they'd beaten the Soviets, but NASA still had huge exciting plans for extending the Apollo infrastructure. But budget cuts made *before* Apollo 11 put paid to them.

    The US government was unwilling to fund the Shuttle, until the military stepped in and assumed part of the costs. But that meant making changes to the design - which had been around for over a decade - to accommodate their desires. The end result was a badly-designed compromise that did nothing especially well. And was considerably more expensive to operate than planned. Again, the Apollo infrastructure of tried and tested designs could have been used to build space stations, moon bases, and even send people to Mars.

    That "cost" was a lie. It actually amounted to about $2 per person per year. The Vietnam War cost the US tax-payer much more. The Iraqi War is costing the US tax-payer much more. The exploitation of space requires really long investment times, and I don't think the shareholders of companies are willing to put up with that. In our neoliberalist economy, it's profit now and profit often.
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    Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    I totally agree actually, but for some reason no one questions the amount spent on making war. Even while David Cameron was telling us how bad the UK finances were, with his other hand he was signing off an excursion to Libya.
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    TL Rese

    TL Rese fantasy writer

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    i'm not an astronomer, so correct me if i'm wrong - i don't think the moon can hold an atmosphere forever, but at least for a very long time. i think people in the far future can conceivably generate artificial gravity and replenish an atmosphere as needed.

    creating a colony below ground on the moon might be technologically easier, but one of the biggest challenges to space exploration/colonization is financial, as mentioned, and few people are going to pay for an apartment underground on the moon. but if the moon were transformed into a luxurious living space (not impossible, considering how we've transformed deserts like vegas and dubai), with gorgeous views of earth, then there would be your financial incentive - people would be lining up to go there. plus, i see space tourism as being potentially lucrative - the beginnings of which are already starting to happen. as a kid, i dreamed of going into outer space - now, i mite actually be able to do it w/in my lifetime.

    if our economy ever recovers, space exploration would be a worthy long-term investment. prob better than war, but not all wars are the same. - helping to take down evil dictators and guys like hitler was money well spent, i say.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    On the contrary, all wars are the same. People get killed. And someone somewhere makes a profit. Do you think it's right for one country to invade another and effect regime change because it is mistreating its citizens? Perhaps they're pepper-spraying them while they're on a peaceful demonstration? Or smashing up their camp in a tent even though they're not breaking any laws? Perhaps you mean evil dictators who do things like that...
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    TL Rese

    TL Rese fantasy writer

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    well, i think this is getting off on a tangent, but it's fair to say that it would've been disastrous if hitler had won the war. as for libya, i have a libyan friend whose uncle was killed by gaddafi's henchmen - not a quick death, either, wks and wks - after gaddafi's death, my friend was singing the praises of the UK, france, etc. for their help. and he was not alone. maybe that makes me bias. but it's not human nature to speak ill of the dead, so when you have people celebrating your death, then you've prob f*cked up big time.
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    Metryq

    Metryq Cave Painter

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    That would be a radical leap in both our understanding of nature and of human engineering. At the moment we don't really know what gravity is—we've measured it, noted certain phenomena that seem to be related, and invented a number of mathematical models. The alchemists "understood" chemistry far better than we understand gravity because at least they could manufacture many desired compounds.

    A civilization that could manufacture gravity could terraform any body that was otherwise suitable. (This also assumes that manufacturing gravity on a planetary scale would be economical when compared to other solutions.)

    Man's greatest advantage over all the other life on Earth is his adaptability. Humanity has indulged in some truly fantastic irrigation and dirt-moving projects (like turning the desert of Los Angeles into a livable area). Outside of scratching the uppermost surface of the Earth, Man's engineering has a long way to go before it's changing whole planets. (Sorry CAGW fans, I'm not buying it.) Mankind will probably have reached other stars, setting up enclosed colonies along the way before taking a shot at terraforming. As Chris noted, by then, all the old places will have lots of settlers fully adjusted to their way of life. But by then, we'll have reached other worlds more closely suited to us.
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    TL Rese

    TL Rese fantasy writer

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    i agree that we'll probably have small enclosed colonies before we start terraforming, but i don't think terraforming will forever be beyond the realm of possibility, esp. when we're talking about the far future, in terms of hundreds, even thousands of years. as amazing as our own technology looks to ourselves now, it'll probably look primitive to future generations thousands of years from now.

    in terms of gravity, don't we do the opposite currently? w/ artificial weightlessness to train astronauts. we might even be able to increase gravity now, as well, because i watched some documentary awhile back where brian cox (the physicist) went into some NASA device that simulated extreme gravity on other planets. if we could do this basic stuff now, then i don't see why people in the far future won't be able to do it on a bigger and better scale. we do have a long way to go, but it doesn't mean we won't get there ever.

    as for radical leaps in our understanding of nature, we might be on the brink of one now with the faster-than-light stuff. this development is HUGE! and can significantly restructure our current scientific understanding.
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    Metryq

    Metryq Cave Painter

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    Simulated "weightlessness" is nothing more exotic than 30 seconds freefalling in a cargo plane, and centrifuge training for astronauts and combat pilots is even easier. Neither of those is controlling gravity. And no, the hoverboards in Back to the Future II don't really exist. (I knew a coworker who believed they were real. No amount of arguing on my part could convince him otherwise, yet he was unable to tell me why the same technology had not been adapted for many other uses.)

    As others have pointed out (either in this thread or recent others on this general topic), Mankind has to survive for another few thousand years, or however long it takes. Given a blank check, anything is possible. But given thousands (plural) of years, Mankind may have adapted to living in space and other places in ways we can't even begin to imagine.

    Many people suggested the most brute force solutions to the Longitude problem, including setting up and supplying a grid of manned barges across the oceans. That would be like building an elevator to the Moon. Harrison came up with a solution that was all the more brilliant for its simplicity. Today, we actually have a "grid" of unmanned clocks in the sky, but I doubt even the most insightful visionary of the 1700s could have imagined GPS.
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    Quokka

    Quokka wandering

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    Is the idea of artificial gravity really the result of tv shows and movies needing to justify why Flash Gordon isn't bouncing around his cabin? Maybe anything that doesn't use acceleration/rotation is a long way off but I've always liked the idea used in a lot of SF books of humanity eventually using bioengineering or evolution to specialise and adapt themselves to different environments.

    The idea of living in one earth gravity might seem very strange to a future generation.

    If terraforming is a long way off I think 100 years could be plenty of time for technology involing metals, nano tubes etc to make it possible for a bio dome type set up on the moon that spans hundreds of kms... eventually, I'm sure they'd start smaller :).

    Whether an enclosed area that is large enough to provide a self sustaining space is practical from a saftey point of view is another question?
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    odangutan

    odangutan New Member

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    I'm not entirely sure whether the question should be 'is space colonisation possible' but more 'is space colonisation probable'; the amount of collaboration required to organise something along these lines is beyond human capabilities, let alone the technological requirements.

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