THE COLONIZATION OF SPACE
In my Mankind’s future series, and other as well, I briefly touched on the colonization of space. In this series, will explore a step by step approach to colonization, and what is needed to achieve livable conditions in space, and on other planets or moons. In the first part of this series we will look at life sustaining systems needed to survive, such as air, food, and water. With current manned space travel, which has been limited to the moon thus far, astronauts have had to bring all of their supplies with them. With the creation of the ISS space station, astronauts are learning to create an ecosystem within the confines of a spacecraft. The first human colonies are likely to be in space, and larger versions of the ISS spacestation.
Onboard the ISS The Biosphere
To obtain such a habitat, the life support system would either have to be a controlled ecological system, or a self sustaining external system. In a controlled system, the air replenishment and CO2 processing typically consists of stored air tanks and CO2 scrubbers. the air is initially supplied by external supply, but is maintained by the use of foliage plants, which create oxygen in photosynthesis, also aided by the waste product of human respiration(CO2). The main goal is for foliage plants to take over complete control of oxygen needs, creating a closed and self supporting system. There is also the problem of processing toxic fumes from synthetic materials used in the construction of artificial habitats.
Water can be derived from condensation in the air, a byproduct of air conditioning and vapors, as well as excise moisture from plants. It can also be mined from asteroids, comets, or moons. In the past, waste water was either ejected into space or stored. A new system could break down human wastes and integrate the processed products back into the ecology. Urine can be used for toilets and to feed aquatic plants, which grow larger from waste water, and solid waste could be used for compost.
Sustaining the appetites of over 1000 space colonists is little more tricky, however. It has been proven that vegetation can grow in 0 gravity, and within the confines of a spacecraft. But to sustain food for a colony that large for an undetermined amount of time is an amazing feat of agricultural engineering, and a real enigma for scientists.
There is also the problem of proteins not found in vegetables that are found in meats, poultry, and fish. One solution are protein supplements and other vitamins, but they would still have to be created in space, or sent there from Earth in cargo vessels. Another solution would be to bring the animals with you, kind of a Noah’s ark-the space version. This, however, would be unproductive, as cattle and swine emit methane gases that would prove fatal to colonists without a proper conversion method. If refined, properly, however, methane could be a useful propellent, or be used in heating units.
These are just the beginning of several issues in the process of colonization. It was recently announced that by 2030, Space X plans to send a colony to Mars. Although scientists are highly ambitious at solving problems, I don’t believe this is an obtainable goal. Although we have studied the planet first hand since 1974, colonization there is a long way off. It is an extreme and hazardous environment, which is where our focus will be tomorrow, when we explore the dangers and risks of living off of our comfortable planet. Until then, here are the links for today:
THE VERY REAL DANGERS OF SPACE COLONIZATION
The farthest we have ever ventured in our solar system is the moon; and that had its share of problems, just look at Apollo 13. If we are ever to live and work in space, we must first face the dangers we will find when we get there. There are several; and each one has its own set of challenges. We have already touched on what we need to sustain our livelihood; food, water, and air. Concerning air, do you know what ratio of gases we need to survive anywhere in the universe? The answer is nitrogen 78%, oxygen 21%, and other gases 1%. Without this mixture of air and gravity pressure, we will either have trouble breathing, or our lungs will collapse completely.
Gravity and pressure can be hostile if we aren’t prepared for it. Just like a swimmer will get the bends, our bodies have the opposite affects in space. Our bone density diminishes, our muscles get weak, and our blood moves slower, and heart iregularity changes. This is what they call space sickness, and astronauts counteract this with exercise. On space colonies, gravity could be a problem in long term situations, such as Mars, where the gravity is merely a third of earth’s. A man weighing 160 1bs would only weigh 38 lbs on Mars. If he ever returned to Earth by comparison, it would seem like he weighed 500 lbs. This problem can be solved in space, using a spinning station, creating a form of pseudo-gravity, but long term bases on planets or moons would have to use another solution.
In my book, I don’t explain everything about the environment, but it is implied that gravity on the Mars based is controlled within the confines of the biodomes. Pressure is lighter there, so it is unlikely that would be an issue, other than a little light-headedness, but it would still need to be controlled as well.
Another potential problem is radiation, in the forms of cosmic rays and solar flares. Mass ejections wreak havoc on Earth, just imagine them in space or on a world not protected by a magnetosphere. There is only one moon around Jupiter that has a magnetosphere, Ganymede, which is a prospect for colonization; if we ever get that far. Artificial and natural shielding is the solution for any radiation that hits the surface of an unprotected planet or spacecraft. Martian soil provides adequate protection if the colony is underground and the soil is thick enough, or a polyethylene shielding can also be effective. Water is also a natural shielding, as I have also explained in my novel.
Then there is the problem of dust, debris, and incoming space objects, such as asteroids, comets, and meteorites. There has been an incident with a NASA astronaut where a tiny speck of debris punctured his suit, and there was only seconds to save him. Dust sticks to everything in space because there isn’t any gravity to hold it back. On Mars, dust is a common problem, coming in the forms of storms and dust devils miles high. Colonists would have to contend with this, as well as incoming meteorites, comets, and asteroids that have nothing to slow them down; the less gravity, the faster they would land.
Finally, there is the hostile environment of the moon or planet itself. Extreme heat above 120° or below -40° F will kill us in a matter of minutes in an unprotected environment. One solution is climate control within the confines of the colony, but this won’t help us if we’re exposed to the elements themselves. Spacesuits need to be protected the same way a colony is with climate control, radiation shielding, and a thick but lightweight material.
Weather on distant worlds can be extreme, as we have seen even across our own solar system. Some worlds orbiting other stars are so close to their sun they produces temperatures to 4000°, or too far away and cold, like Pluto, where it is -359°. These worlds are unlikely for colonization, and will likely be skipped over. Moons like Titan, that possesses organic materials, and Europa are more likely candidates.
Tomorrow, we will explore the natural resources that will be needed to start and maintain a space or planetary colony. These include minerals and gases needed in the production of permenent habitats. Until then, here are today’s links.
THE NATURAL RESOURCES OF THE UNIVERSE
When people first came to America in the 1600’s to colonize, they had little resources to work with. They used their axes to build wood homes, and slowly built their towns using the natural resources that were available. Their biggest challenge was getting through the extreme weather of winter, and the lack of nutritious food to eat. The Native Americans showed them how to live in their new environment, and helped them to hunt and grow food that they could survive on.
Surviving in space and on other worlds would be an even bigger challenge for mankind. First of all, there will be no outworlders to help us. The lack of natural resources that we take for granted such as wood for homes, soil to grow food, and even the air we breathe, are factors that would discourage anyone from even trying. Even though these are scarce resources, however, oxygen and water can be found throughout our universe; on moons and planets, including our own. Even Venus, one of the hottest planets in our solar system has recently been shown to have ice at its poles, something we never thought possible.
Asteroids and comets are most likely to have the resources that we need to survive; water, precious gases and metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. Platinum is used in the production of laptop hard drives, iphones and DVRs. Gold is one of the most common elements in space, just not here. Asteroids are the most abundant objects in our solar system, and can bring affordability to luxury jewelery, and make microchips cost practically nothing to make.
Private companies like Space X have been stepping up to the plate for future mining projects. NASA neither has the money or resources to attempt this endeavor, and it is doubtful any other country’s government would spend billions to advance either. After asteroids can safely be mined, the next step would be the moon. Although there isn’t any atmosphere, moon soil is rich in hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used for maintaining air support systems, or rocket fuel. Saturn’s moon Titan is rich in Methane and frozen ice, used for rocket fuel and possible refined drinking water. Our moon also contains silicon, used to make integrated circuits and computer chips.
Mars is rich in iron ore, which can be heated into metals used to build habitats. There is also water at the poles, enough to sustain a small colony for the rest of their lives. In fact, H2O is the most abundant resource in our galaxy. On Europa, there is more water under the surface than any other moon or planet in our system, including Earth. This suggests the possibility of a habitable world, if we can only get to it.
Which brings us to our next phase in colonization. How can we as humans, survive mentally, extended periods in space with out driving each other crazy? Socialization is essential for human beings, and we can’t seem to live without companionship. We will investigate this issue tomorrow, and possible solutions to the loneliness and boredom that comes with space travel and colonization. Until then, here are the links of the day:
CAN A GROUP OF PEOPLE LIVE TOGETHER ON A FOREIGN WORLD WITHOUT DRIVING EACH OTHER CRAZY?
One of the biggest issues space colonists will have to overcome are the many psychological problems involved in long-term space or on a hostile planet. Even in a large base or space station, interaction with other humans can cause tension in high stress environments. Life in space would mostly be confined to the base, and even in a planetary colony, humans would have only limited time outside. Exposure for any length of time on a world like Mars can be a death sentence, with its poisonous atmosphere, extreme cold, and radiation. Disagreements will be inevitable, and spaceship crews and colonists must learn communication skills, and how to solve problems.
The first settlements will be small and confined, with little room to move about. Scientists have been studying the effects on group isolation in Antarctica, Northern Canada, and Siberia. loneliness will be a big factor, even with a station full of people. People will have to leave their family and friends behind; frequent messages must be sent back and forth to maintain crew or colonist morale.
Morale is important to maintain an effective and productive colony, Choosing an effective leader, who listens to the crew’s problems and opinions, knows how to resolve conflicts, and puts the safety of the crew above his own, is essential. Aesthetics, such as live plants, natural lighting, and diversity in design, are all important to keep the colonists from being depressed.
Another problem will be lack of privacy. Have you ever as a kid, gone off a school trip, camp out, or been in a hotel? Well, then you know what I’m saying. Colonists will not only have no privacy from each other, their every move will be on surveillance cameras back on Earth. Constant supervision has been known to cause stress, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
The Mars One Project, which hopes to colonize Mars by 2030, is led by Space X, a company founded by billionaire rocket designer Elon Musk. Led by a team of scientists, their mission is to send 20 colonists to Mars and establish a permanent base there. Many issues are being addressed, including psychological problems that may arise. Leaving your own comfortable world and heading to one where you may die before you even get there, is traumatic enough, without adding loneliness, isolation and depression as well.
How future colonists deal with emotions is key to survival. There isn’t any room for error, and they need to be able to focus on their endeavors without conflict. This is where mental conditioning may be beneficial to our future explorers. Having the right mental attitude will ensure that they are able to achieve their tasks. Having hobbies, exercising, multimedia, and other activities will keep them from getting bored and less likely to have mental issues.
Tomorrow, we will look at the physics involved in building a base or orbiting space station, and whether it is even possible or just a dream. Until then, here are today’s links:
HOW TO BUILD A CITY IN SPACE
Now that we have explained the many aspects of a permanent space station or Martian base, just how would you go about building such a thing? One thing we have learned from the ISS, is that we longer have to build all the hardware on Earth; some of it can be brought up on cargo ships and assembled in space, taking advantage of the zero gravity conditions.
As we advance in technology, autontomis machines will be capable of starting a colony. First sets of hardware might make crude solar cells, metal, 3D printed metal parts, and rocket propellents. Possible space elevators, working on a weight-counterweight design, may someday carry supplies to the station. It may use a cable without the use of rockets to propel a vehicle up and down, using the Earth’s own gravitational force.
Currently, on the ISS Space station, the effects of space and gravity have already helped scientists understand Physics better. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a device which investigates antimatter, cosmic rays, and dark matter. The coldness and zero gravity conditions in space allow physicists to test theories that can’t be tested on Earth, including building quantum sensors that will make them be able to actually see gravity and how it works.
The biggest challenge, like we have stated previously is gravity. You can build shielding to protect them from radiation, and give them oxygen so they can breathe, but you cannot recreate the force of gravity-or can you? Like we have said previously, to create gravity in a weightless environment, we have to trick gravity. Now one way is to somehow get the astronauts to stick to the floor, like vellcro or magnets on their shoes. We have seen this used in one of the Star Trek movies with anti-gravity boots. But the real solution is to rotate the station fast enough that it creates a pseudo gravity, using a centrifugal force, which is really not a force at all, but a lack of force. If you’ve ever been on a spinning ride, you may have tried to raise your arm, but the gravity pulls it back down. Pseudo gravity is the same concept, spinning the station fast enough to create its own artificial gravity. The faster the rotation, the stronger the gravity. Arthur C. Clarke got this one exactly right, in his 2001: A Space Odyssey!
On Moon and planetary missions, where microgravity is present, this model won’t work. Perhaps colonists will have to establish stations orbiting worlds instead of living on the worlds at first. There are many things explorers need to consider when living on a world like Mars. The year is twice as long as ours, the atmosphere is very thin and has low gravity that may detoroiate our bodies, there is no liquid water, and it is cold. On the other hand, it rotates at practically the same speed as us, and their days are only 40 minutes less than ours. Another form of artificial gravity will have to be created for settlers to survive.
Power can also be a problem. In orbiting stations, moon bases, and even Mars bases, solar energy would be the way to go. As we venture further away from the sun, however, a more efficient form of energy has to be used. Enter nuclear or ion based systems, such as fusion or fission reactors to power a base, or perhaps already used Radioisotope Thermoelectric generators. These are more favorable because they work on electromagnetism and not an atomic reaction. Uranium isotopes, however, are rare and difficult to create, and are currently being discontinued for this reason.
So, there you have it; the basics of space colonization. Once the challenges have been overcome, anything can become possible. Steven Hawking has stated that man’s only chance of survival is to leave this planet and live elsewhere. Our planet is resilient and will survive for many years to come, but unless we use our knowledge, we will perish like the dinosaurs. Cosmic events are more common than we think, and there will be a catyclismic event within the next few centuries, whether we prepare our not. Even if we do, it will be too hot to live here, as our sun gets warmer and warmer, towards its final demise. With that thought in mind, I’ll leave you until Monday, when I’ll present a new series. Have a good weekend. Here are today’s links: