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.
Survival of human civilization
Main article: Space and survival
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.
In 2005, then NASA Administrator Michael Griffin identified space colonization as the ultimate goal of current spaceflight programs, saying:
... 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".
Vast resources in space
See also: Steady-state economy § Pushing some of the terrestrial limits into outer space
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 stars in the observable universe 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 with fewer negative consequences
Further information: Holocene extinction
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.
Alleviating overpopulation and resource demand
See also: Human overpopulation § Extraterrestrial settlement
Another argument for space colonization is to mitigate the negative effects of overpopulation.[clarification needed] 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.
Additional goals cite the innate human drive to explore and discover, a quality recognized at the core of progress and thriving civilizations.
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.
Some of these high-value trade goods include precious metals, gemstones, power, solar cells, ball bearings, semi-conductors, and pharmaceuticals.
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.
Further information: Asteroid mining
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.
Farther out, Jupiter's Trojan asteroids are thought to be rich in water ice and other volatiles.
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 12cm, 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.
Further information: Effect of spaceflight on the human body, Space medicine, and Space food
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.
See also: Health threat from cosmic rays
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.
See also: von Neumann probe, clanking replicator, and molecular nanotechnology
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.
In 2002, the anthropologistJohn H. Mooreestimated that a population of 150–180 would permit a stable society to exist for 60 to 80 generations — equivalent to 2000 years.
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.
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.
Main article: Colonization of the Moon
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.
Main article: Lagrange point colonization
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.
The five Earth–Sun Lagrange points would totally eliminate eclipses, but only L1 and L2 would be reachable in a few days' time. The other three Earth–Sun points would require months to reach.
The inner planets
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 has suggested this will make Mercury an ideal place to build solar sails, 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. 
Main article: Colonization of Venus
Main article: Colonization of Mars
Main article: Colonization of the asteroids
See also: Asteroids § Exploration
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.
Moons of outer planets
Jovian moons – Europa, Callisto and Ganymede
Main articles: Colonization of Europa and Colonization of the outer Solar System
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.
Moons of Saturn – Titan, Enceladus, and others
Main article: Colonization of Titan
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[where?], 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.
Other large satellites: Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, Tethys, and Mimas, all have large quantities of volatiles, which can be used to support settlements.
Main article: Colonization of trans-Neptunian objects
The Kuiper belt is estimated to have 70,000 bodies of 100 km or larger.
Freeman Dyson has suggested that within a few centuries human civilization will have relocated to the Kuiper belt.
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.
Hypothetical starship concepts proposed both by scientists and in hard science fiction include:
- A generation ship would travel much slower than light, with consequent interstellar trip times of many decades or centuries. The crew would go through generations before the journey is complete, so that none of the initial crew would be expected to survive to arrive at the destination, assuming current human lifespans.
- A sleeper ship, in which most or all of the crew spend the journey in some form of hibernation or suspended animation, allowing some or all who undertake the journey to survive to the end.
- An embryo-carrying interstellar starship (EIS), much smaller than a generation ship or sleeper ship, transporting human embryos or DNA in a frozen or dormant state to the destination. (Obvious biological and psychological problems in birthing, raising, and educating such voyagers, neglected here, may not be fundamental.)
- A nuclear fusion or fission powered ship (e.g. ion drive) of some kind, achieving velocities of up to perhaps 10% c permitting one-way trips to nearby stars with durations comparable to a human lifetime.
- A Project Orion-ship, a nuclear-powered concept proposed by Freeman Dyson which would use nuclear explosions to propel a starship. A special case of the preceding nuclear rocket concepts, with similar potential velocity capability, but possibly easier technology.
- Laser propulsion concepts, using some form of beaming of power from the Solar System might allow a light-sail or other ship to reach high speeds, comparable to those theoretically attainable by the fusion-powered electric rocket, above. These methods would need some means, such as supplementary nuclear propulsion, to stop at the destination, but a hybrid (light-sail for acceleration, fusion-electric for deceleration) system might be possible.
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.
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,[full citation needed] 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, SpaceXFalcon 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.
Terrestrial analogues to space colonies
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.
Many space agencies build testbeds for advanced life support systems, but these are designed for long duration human spaceflight, not permanent colonization.
Remote research stations in inhospitable climates, such as the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station or Devon IslandMars 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 first known work on space colonization was The Brick Moon, a work of fiction published in 1869 by Edward Everett Hale, about an inhabited artificial satellite.
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.
M. Dyson wrote Home on the Moon; Living on a Space Frontier in 2003; Peter Eckart wrote Lunar Base Handbook in 2006 and then Harrison Schmitt's Return to the Moon written in 2007.
As of 2013[update], 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.
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
The Case for Colonizing Mars
by Robert Zubrin
From Ad Astra July/August 1996
Mars Is The New World
Among extraterrestrial bodies in our solar system, Mars is singular in that it possesses all the raw materials required to support not only life, but a new branch of human civilization. This uniqueness is illustrated most clearly if we contrast Mars with the Earth's Moon, the most frequently cited alternative location for extraterrestrial human colonization.
In contrast to the Moon, Mars is rich in carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, all in biologically readily accessible forms such as carbon dioxide gas, nitrogen gas, and water ice and permafrost. Carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen are only present on the Moon in parts per million quantities, much like gold in seawater. Oxygen is abundant on the Moon, but only in tightly bound oxides such as silicon dioxide (SiO2), ferrous oxide (Fe2O3), magnesium oxide (MgO), and aluminum oxide (Al2O3), which require very high energy processes to reduce. Current knowledge indicates that if Mars were smooth and all its ice and permafrost melted into liquid water, the entire planet would be covered with an ocean over 100 meters deep. This contrasts strongly with the Moon, which is so dry that if concrete were found there, Lunar colonists would mine it to get the water out. Thus, if plants could be grown in greenhouses on the Moon (an unlikely proposition, as we've seen) most of their biomass material would have to be imported.
The Moon is also deficient in about half the metals of interest to industrial society (copper, for example), as well as many other elements of interest such as sulfur and phosphorus. Mars has every required element in abundance. Moreover, on Mars, as on Earth, hydrologic and volcanic processes have occurred that are likely to have consolidated various elements into local concentrations of high-grade mineral ore. Indeed, the geologic history of Mars has been compared to that of Africa, with very optimistic inferences as to its mineral wealth implied as a corollary. In contrast, the Moon has had virtually no history of water or volcanic action, with the result that it is basically composed of trash rocks with very little differentiation into ores that represent useful concentrations of anything interesting.
You can generate power on either the Moon or Mars with solar panels, and here the advantages of the Moon's clearer skies and closer proximity to the Sun than Mars roughly balances the disadvantage of large energy storage requirements created by the Moon's 28-day light-dark cycle. But if you wish to manufacture solar panels, so as to create a self-expanding power base, Mars holds an enormous advantage, as only Mars possesses the large supplies of carbon and hydrogen needed to produce the pure silicon required for producing photovoltaic panels and other electronics. In addition, Mars has the potential for wind-generated power while the Moon clearly does not. But both solar and wind offer relatively modest power potential — tens or at most hundreds of kilowatts here or there. To create a vibrant civilization you need a richer power base, and this Mars has both in the short and medium term in the form of its geothermal power resources, which offer potential for large numbers of locally created electricity generating stations in the 10 MW (10,000 kilowatt) class. In the long-term, Mars will enjoy a power-rich economy based upon exploitation of its large domestic resources of deuterium fuel for fusion reactors. Deuterium is five times more common on Mars than it is on Earth, and tens of thousands of times more common on Mars than on the Moon.
But the biggest problem with the Moon, as with all other airless planetary bodies and proposed artificial free-space colonies, is that sunlight is not available in a form useful for growing crops. A single acre of plants on Earth requires four megawatts of sunlight power, a square kilometer needs 1,000 MW. The entire world put together does not produce enough electrical power to illuminate the farms of the state of Rhode Island, that agricultural giant. Growing crops with electrically generated light is just economically hopeless. But you can't use natural sunlight on the Moon or any other airless body in space unless you put walls on the greenhouse thick enough to shield out solar flares, a requirement that enormously increases the expense of creating cropland. Even if you did that, it wouldn't do you any good on the Moon, because plants won't grow in a light/dark cycle lasting 28 days.
But on Mars there is an atmosphere thick enough to protect crops grown on the surface from solar flare. Therefore, thin-walled inflatable plastic greenhouses protected by unpressurized UV-resistant hard-plastic shield domes can be used to rapidly create cropland on the surface. Even without the problems of solar flares and month-long diurnal cycle, such simple greenhouses would be impractical on the Moon as they would create unbearably high temperatures. On Mars, in contrast, the strong greenhouse effect created by such domes would be precisely what is necessary to produce a temperate climate inside. Such domes up to 50 meters in diameter are light enough to be transported from Earth initially, and later on they can be manufactured on Mars out of indigenous materials. Because all the resources to make plastics exist on Mars, networks of such 50- to 100-meter domes couldbe rapidly manufactured and deployed, opening up large areas of the surface to both shirtsleeve human habitation and agriculture. That's just the beginning, because it will eventually be possible for humans to substantially thicken Mars' atmosphere by forcing the regolith to outgas its contents through a deliberate program of artificially induced global warming. Once that has been accomplished, the habitation domes could be virtually any size, as they would not have to sustain a pressure differential between their interior and exterior. In fact, once that has been done, it will be possible to raise specially bred crops outside the domes.
The point to be made is that unlike colonists on any known extraterrestrial body, Martian colonists will be able to live on the surface, not in tunnels, and move about freely and grow crops in the light of day. Mars is a place where humans can live and multiply to large numbers, supporting themselves with products of every description made out of indigenous materials. Mars is thus a place where an actual civilization, not just a mining or scientific outpost, can be developed. And significantly for interplanetary commerce, Mars and Earth are the only two locations in the solar system where humans will be able to grow crops for export.
Mars is the best target for colonization in the solar system because it has by far the greatest potential for self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, even with optimistic extrapolation of robotic manufacturing techniques, Mars will not have the division of labor required to make it fully self-sufficient until its population numbers in the millions. Thus, for decades and perhaps longer, it will be necessary, and forever desirable, for Mars to be able to import specialized manufactured goods from Earth. These goods can be fairly limited in mass, as only small portions (by weight) of even very high-tech goods are actually complex. Nevertheless, these smaller sophisticated items will have to be paid for, and the high costs of Earth-launch and interplanetary transport will greatly increase their price. What can Mars possibly export back to Earth in return?
It is this question that has caused many to incorrectly deem Mars colonization intractable, or at least inferior in prospect to the Moon. For example, much has been made of the fact that the Moon has indigenous supplies of helium-3, an isotope not found on Earth and which could be of considerable value as a fuel for second generation thermonuclear fusion reactors. Mars has no known helium-3 resources. On the other hand, because of its complex geologic history, Mars may have concentrated mineral ores, with much greater concentrations of precious metal ores readily available than is currently the case on Earth — because the terrestrial ores have been heavily scavenged by humans for the past 5,000 years. If concentrated supplies of metals of equal or greater value than silver (such as germanium, hafnium, lanthanum, cerium, rhenium, samarium, gallium, gadolinium, gold, palladium, iridium, rubidium, platinum, rhodium, europium, and a host of others) were available on Mars, they could potentially be transported back to Earth for a substantial profit. Reusable Mars-surface based single-stage-to-orbit vehicles would haul cargoes to Mars orbit for transportation to Earth via either cheap expendable chemical stages manufactured on Mars or reusable cycling solar or magnetic sail-powered interplanetary spacecraft. The existence of such Martian precious metal ores, however, is still hypothetical.
But there is one commercial resource that is known to exist ubiquitously on Mars in large amount — deuterium. Deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen, occurs as 166 out of every million hydrogen atoms on Earth, but comprises 833 out of every million hydrogen atoms on Mars. Deuterium is the key fuel not only for both first and second generation fusion reactors, but it is also an essential material needed by the nuclear power industry today. Even with cheap power, deuterium is very expensive; its current market value on Earth is about $10,000 per kilogram, roughly fifty times as valuable as silver or 70% as valuable as gold. This is in today's pre-fusion economy. Once fusion reactors go into widespread use deuterium prices will increase. All the in-situ chemical processes required to produce the fuel, oxygen, and plastics necessary to run a Mars settlement require water electrolysis as an intermediate step. As a by product of these operations, millions, perhaps billions, of dollars worth of deuterium will be produced.
Ideas may be another possible export for Martian colonists. Just as the labor shortage prevalent in colonial and nineteenth century America drove the creation of "Yankee ingenuity's" flood of inventions, so the conditions of extreme labor shortage combined with a technological culture that shuns impractical legislative constraints against innovation will tend to drive Martian ingenuity to produce wave after wave of invention in energy production, automation and robotics, biotechnology, and other areas. These inventions, licensed on Earth, could finance Mars even as they revolutionize and advance terrestrial living standards as forcefully as nineteenth century American invention changed Europe and ultimately the rest of the world as well.
Inventions produced as a matter of necessity by a practical intellectual culture stressed by frontier conditions can make Mars rich, but invention and direct export to Earth are not the only ways that Martians will be able to make a fortune. The other route is via trade to the asteroid belt, the band of small, mineral-rich bodies lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. There are about 5,000 asteroids known today, of which about 98% are in the "Main Belt" lying between Mars and Jupiter, with an average distance from the Sun of about 2.7 astronomical units, or AU. (The Earth is 1.0 AU from the Sun.) Of the remaining two percent known as the near-Earth asteroids, about 90% orbit closer to Mars than to the Earth. Collectively, these asteroids represent an enormous stockpile of mineral wealth in the form of platinum group and other valuable metals.
Miners operating among the asteroids will be unable to produce their necessary supplies locally. There will thus be a need to export food and other necessary goods from either Earth or Mars to the Main Belt. Mars has an overwhelming positional advantage as a location from which to conduct such trade.
The primary analogy I wish to draw is that Mars is to the new age of exploration as North America was to the last. The Earth's Moon, close to the metropolitan planet but impoverished in resources, compares to Greenland. Other destinations, such as the Main Belt asteroids, may be rich in potential future exports to Earth but lack the preconditions for the creation of a fully developed indigenous society; these compare to the West Indies. Only Mars has the full set of resources required to develop a native civilization, and only Mars is a viable target for true colonization. Like America in its relationship to Britain and the West Indies, Mars has a positional advantage that will allow it to participate in a useful way to support extractive activities on behalf of Earth in the asteroid belt and elsewhere.
But despite the shortsighted calculations of eighteenth-century European statesmen and financiers, the true value of America never was as a logistical support base for West Indies sugar and spice trade, inland fur trade, or as a potential market for manufactured goods. The true value of America was as the future home for a new branch of human civilization, one that as a combined result of its humanistic antecedents and its frontier conditions was able to develop into the most powerful engine for human progress and economic growth the world had ever seen. The wealth of America was in fact that she could support people, and that the right kind of people chose to go to her. People create wealth. People are wealth and power. Every feature of Frontier American life that acted to create a practical can-do culture of innovating people will apply to Mars a hundred-fold.
Mars is a harsher place than any on Earth. But provided one can survive the regimen, it is the toughest schools that are the best. The Martians shall do well.
Robert Zubrin is former Chairman of the National Space Society, President of the Mars Society, and author of The Case For Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must.
See also these articles by Robert Zubrin:
The Promise of Mars
The Significance of the Martian Frontier