Annalee Newitz: 8 Things We Can Do Now to Build a Space Colony This Century: "We talked to scientists and experts about the fundamental things they think we should do right now...
...if we want to have a space colony in the next 100 years.
Save Earth: NASA astronomer Amy Mainzer, who studies Near Earth Objects at JPL, says our number one priority has to be here on our home planet. She told io9 that it's a pretty inhospitable universe out there, so our space colonies will probably never replace home:
From my perspective, the most important thing we can do to be prepared for any activity far in the future is try not to wipe out life here.... The defining challenge of the next hundred years is to come to grips with creating a sustainable future here, as a minimum precursor to building a sustainable future anywhere else.
Change the Way the U.S. Government Plans Space Missions: Ariel Waldman....
If the nation decides to begin a space colony outside of low Earth orbit, you need to talk about changing the way NASA does business. Currently, NASA engages in a capabilities-based and/or "flexible path" approach in which technologies are developed with no specific set of missions in mind.... The National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Human Spaceflight... recommend[s]... NASA switch to a "pathways" approach... [with[ a horizon goal... [and] a very specific set of stepping stones along the way.... As far as technologies needed for a pathway that leads to Mars, the committee assessed 10 high priority areas in terms of the technical challenges. The 10 high priority areas are: Mars Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL), Radiation Safety, In-Space Propulsion and Power, Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles, Planetary Ascent Propulsion, Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), Habitats, Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Suits, Crew Health, and In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU - using the Mars atmosphere as a raw material).
Develop 3D Printing in Space: Les Johnson suggests:
3D printing and the rocket engine are the two inventions that will eventually enable space settlement. With 3D printing you can cut that supply chain and make all the spare parts you need locally.... A colony cannot survive if it is dependent upon a supply chain from Earth. We must mine asteroids for their raw materials (making solar arrays, colony structural materials, etc from the raw materials in Near Earth Asteroids)....
Let Space Tourists Take Vacations in Orbital Hotels: Seth Shostack... heads up the SETI Institute.... He said that our best bet is to create a thriving space tourism industry today.... He told io9:
At space conferences, people interested in commercializing space want to build small hotel rooms in orbit.... The big problems here are not technical--they are liabiltiy. But there is a market.... at any price point for putting people in orbit. So the first eight space hotel rooms are expensive, but then it's cheaper for next eight....
Figure Out How Ecosystems Work:... Hedvig Nenzen... gave us the lowdown on all the things we need to research now if we ever hope to terraform a barren world:
I'm going to assume that we find a new planet without an ecosystem already on it. Thus, in order to live in space we will have to build something from scratch with species we bring us. Scientists are realizing that it's more and more difficult to make an ecosystem from nothing, and to know how exactly the new ecosystem might work. There are just so many details and parts in an ecosystem that we don't understand yet....
Build a Giant Sun Umbrella with Robots: UC Berkeley economist Brad De Long, who has written a great deal about how robots will change our future economy, noodled around late one night with a few robot-fueled ideas he shared with io9:
It seems clear to me at least that anything done at or inside the moon's orbit over the next century will be better done by teleoperated robots, because beyond the van Allen belt and the atmosphere we become very heavy creatures that need not only water but also sheaths of lead. So I have been trying to think of something we might need to do far enough outside the moon's orbit that teleoperated robots won't do it, and that would be wildly profitable--as the late Jim Baen liked to say, successful space travel and space colonization will be exothermic, not endothermic....
The big one, of course, is the giant sun umbrella at L1, 930,000 miles away. That is far enough that teleoperated robots controlled from a local station shielded against solar storms and cosmic rays might do much better then robots with a 10 second response leg controlled from earth, and that might be a vastly cheaper way of dealing with global warming successfully then hoping for the nuclear/better solar fairies to show up.
Were I NASA, I would be planning for the sunshade now—both the Earth-control 10 second lag teleoperated robot and the local station controlled versions. And, of course, the moon base—perhaps robot only, alas!—for manufacturing the station would make lifting it out of the gravity well to L1 much cheaper.
Study How DNA Repairs Radiation Damage: Sylvain Costes is a molecular biologist at Lawrence Berkeley Labs.... He has some advice.... He told io9:
To colonize another planet, you need to focus on biology. The best way to deal with radiation is to take nutrients that will protect you, like antioxidants. Of course, you need the right ones. NASA and other groups have shown that there are a lot of nutrients blueberries, and more efficient ones, that will protect you against radiation. It won't stop radiation, but it can mitigate the effects....
Costes believes we need to plan for space colonies by discovering better anti-oxidants, adopting a "risk management" approach to space travel. He also notes that it's possible that some people simply may not be able to thrive in space, because their DNA doesn't recover from damage as easily as other people's.
Educate People About Our Connection to Space: Mae Jemison... the most important first step is education:
If we are to have any hope of having a robust, healthy nation of humans living, working, growing up and excelling happily in space we have to reconnect people here on Earth today with their ancient space heritage! The task is to get people to feel that we, like our ancestors, are linked to the stars above, not just the ground beneath our feet. And to know that what we prepare now builds the future. Teach that the reason we can predict aspects of flooding today is because everyday people thousands of years ago noticed the connection of the tides to phases of the moon. And they created calendars based on the movement of the stars. Call weather and crop satellite pictures "images from space," or GPS directions "satellite navigation."... But just a rational discussion won't do it; to feel it, let's make sure that at least once a year we go outside at night with all the lights off and experience a star-studded vista!