Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Colonize the Solar System, Part I

In this article, we'll be looking at potential spots for human colonization in our solar system. This article will be split into several posts, so stay tuned if your favorite potential extraterrestrial spot is not listed. We'll be discussing the advantages, disadvantages, risks, challenges, potential rewards, and other topics related to colonizing various celestial bodies .

The first, and nearest, neighbor is of course the moon. Lunar colonization has been a frequent topic of discussion among science fiction writers for decades (and perhaps even tens of years). When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, his famous words were, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." You can listen to the recording at the Wikipedia article, but we will not reproduce the recording here since we have not been authorized by Neil (he is very protective of the rights to the recording of his voice; according to the article, Hallmark Cards used the recording without permission in a Christmas ornament, and they were sued, with the undisclosed settlement amount being donated to Purdue; while we are not currently making any profit from this publication, we do not want to become entangled in a legal battle with one of the most famous and finest of all great astronauts).

Lesser known were his following words*: "Hey, this is kind of nice. I could put a lunar rock garden over there, the kids wouldn't need a trampoline, and you never have to worry about air polution!" But there weren't any real estate agencies around, and he was unable to locate any earth-bound realtors with property available on the moon. However, modern lunar real-estate agencies abound, including these obviously reputable firms**:
These organizations will gladly take your money, and in return you'll get some paper that declares your rights to lunar property. However, note that, in most cases, air is not included. (Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon? Great food, no atmosphere.)

Lunar colonization isn't as far off as you might think, though. The Artemis Project has as its goal a fully functional, self-sustaining lunar community. The basis for their colonization is self-sustenance through the mechanism of tourism. The bulk of the funding, at least initially, is through tourism and entertainment. You can find their anticipated long-term revenue streams outlined here.

There are obvious technical challenges to supporting a lunar colony. For one, humans breath air, and there isn't any significant atmosphere on the moon. Thus, any colonies would require air scrubbers (for purifying the air) and a periodic renewal of oxygen (this is not much different from the requirements of a space station, however). Meteors would be a potential hazard, since there are obvious signs of meteor impact on the moon's surface (you know, those crater things you see that remind you of a man's face, or a rabbit, or giant holes in a huge rock orbiting the earth). Radiation is another hazard, since there is virtually no atmosphere to block the exorbitant amounts of solar radiation unleashed by the uncontrolled, giant fusion reactor at the core of our solar system (this is commonly referred to as "the sun," although it is also occasionally referred to as "that giant yellow orb in the sky," "Ra," "night deterrent," and "my eyes, my eyes! why did I look at that?"). Power sources remain another challenge due to the long periods of darkness, although this could be overcome by placing solar power grids at the poles of the moon (in places where the sunlight is nearly continual), although that would lead to potential power transmission issues (it's difficult enough to have a reliable power grid on earth, where we can get out and inspect the transmission lines and equipment on a regular basis; who would you call if your power went out on the moon?).

However, there are definite advantages to having a lunar colony. One, it would not take very long to send supplies (the trip to the moon, back in the late 60s, took only a few days; modern technology should only have added a few more days to the trip, mainly due to additional paperwork involved, newly imposed intrasolar speed limits, and the EPA requirement of low vehicle emissions on all outbound rocket propulsion systems, which have caused power to decrease while the cost of fuels and engines have increased; however, some might attempt to rebuild some old Saturn V rockets which, due to their original year of manufacture, are not required to meet the modern emission regulations, similar to my 1967 Mustang which is not required to have catalytic converters; of course the fuel available may not be as suitable to the old Saturn V engines, but at the cost of a moon trip, rebuilding the engines after a round trip probably isn't all that out of the question). And if you get homesick, it's only a few days' journey back to your mom's house. Radio communications don't lag as much as would be the case with other bodies in our solar system (e.g., Venus or Mars, which will be covered in later installations of the "How to Colonize the Solar System" series of articles, or more distant bodies, such as Britney Spears, whom recent attempts at communication have still failed to reach).

The lunar colonies would be good places to perform research, such as the effects of long-term low-g (low-gravity) on humans and other species (such as cats and dogs, which could be extrapolated to determine the effects on animals such as cows and goats, which might be used in colonization missions to other worlds, since cows and goats are good sources of milk and steaks). Lunar based colonies would also provide ideal locations for jump-off points for missions to other bodies in the solar system due to the decreased gravity (thus requiring less fuel to reach escape velocity). And the moon might be an ideal place to mine specific elements, such as Helium-3 (He-3), a variant of Helium that is very rare on earth, but found in abundant quantities on the moon. He-3 is a possible candidate for a sustainable fusion reactor, which would create clean nuclear power. Swiss cheese is, of course, another potential lunar export, although it has not been confirmed that 84% of the moon's surface is made of this material.

A lunar observatory would be a very good investment as well, as the lunar sky is free of most of the problems associated with earth-based observatories. The Hubble Space Telescope has demonstrated the positive aspects of an extraterrestrial observatory (one that is free from earth's atmospheric interference), but its maintenance costs are very high since it requires visits from a spacecraft for typical maintenance. A lunar-based observatory would allow the maintenance personnel and materials to be maintained on-site, allowing near-constant maintenance to keep the observatory in top functional condition. Having this financed by tourists with lots of money and a sense of adventure would offset the cost of the scientific investment significantly.

A final advantage of a lunar colony would be simply the "cool factor" - who wouldn't like to say, "My dad works on the moon?" Of course, you'd probably be part of the lunar colony at that point, as the colonists would likely be in teams of family participants, so pretty much every other kid in your school would have parents with the same type of occupation. Still, that's pretty cool.

For additional material related to lunar colonization, we will direct the reader to these two articles:
Please visit our future articles on Solar System Colonization, where we will tackle other bodies such as Venus (which may provide a good place to test anti-global-warming tactics), Mars, and even more remote bodies such as Saturn's moon Titan (question: why was the Saturn V rocket used to go to the moon instead of Saturn? We're not really sure, but maybe after only a few trips they realized they'd named the rocket after the wrong solar system sphere and terminated the project, hoping no one would notice the blunder).

* Obviously we made up these words; they are not really the words of Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong is one of our heroes, a pioneer of the astronaut genre; his dedication to his work, his post-astronautic ethics (such as no longer signing autographs because they are being used for undeserved profit), and his sticking to his ideals are testimonies of his unwavering conscience. We apologize if we have offended anyone, Neil Armstrong in particular.

** Obviously it is silly to send money to any firm that will "sell you a deed to property on the moon." We humbly request that, if you are planning to send money to these outfits, you kindly consider sending your money to the editors of not-tional geographic instead - we promise we'll put it to at least as good a use as those other bozos, and we'll even send you a piece of paper indicating you own some portion of the moon if that's what you really want, too! And for a limited time, for a donation of $100 or more, we'll even throw in a thermos full of breathable air you can take with you on your first trip to your new property!

1 comment:

Eyes on the Stars said...

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