For as long as humans have had the concept of space, we’ve dreamed of living among the stars. But what would it take to live out in space? Can we realistically hope to achieve such a grandiose goal any time soon? Today we’re going to overview the potential for settling our own solar system, starting with the moon and Mars.
There are a number of people and programs currently hoping to settle the moon in the near-future. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, hopes to make it a base for heavy industry with the help of his company Blue Origin, which is already successfull in the space tourism industry. The project would start around 2020. The Russians are hoping start a small base with inhabitants arriving in 2030. Meanwhile the Moon Village Association, a non-profit located in Vienna, is hoping to get as many countries and companies as possible to work together to create a “Moon Village” similar to the Internstional Space Station. All of these projects would start quite small, but would hopefully be critical stepping stones to further colonization of the moon and space in general.
On the Mars side of things, the American companies SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing are hoping to colonize the Red Planet, a much more distant target. SpaceX hopes to land as many as 1 million humans on Mars in the next 50 to 100 years, with manned missions starting as early as 2022. Colonization of Mars will be a key moment in human history because unlike projected settlements on the moon, a Mars colony could end up being an entirely self-sufficient society, capable of surviving with little or no help from Earth.
But that’s still all very “first steps” stuff. Further into the future we can hope to colonize the rest of the solar system one settlement at a time, beginning with the space at least as close to the Sun as the Asteroid Belt. That includes the planets Venus and Mercury, but it also includes the virtually countless smaller asteroids that could be transformed into space habitats. Unlike when settling a planet, we would expect to mine these space objects for the material to form giant enclosed habitats, not settle on the tiny surface area.
One plan for such an early habitat is the Kalpana One, which would be a large cylinder that would rotate to provide artificial gravity in the form of centripetal force. It would hold about 3,000 people, and would have an interior surface area of 520 kilometers. Later settlements could be much larger, but would likely follow the same basic principles of design. Even beyond that, the concept of a Dyson Sphere or Dyson Swarm, a sort of man-made bubble of habitats all around around our sun, could offer hundreds of millions of times the surface area of the Earth.
Humanity looks forward to a bright future in space, even just around our own star. The best part is, settling the solar system could provide enough habitable space to drastically lower the population on Earth, a very good thing if you’re concerned about global warming or even just preserving wild spaces. By making use of the rich natural resources in space, we can give our planet time and space to breathe, and still have more than enough of just about any resource we want.