The Goal is Survival of the Species
The number one reason for any sort of space industry and associated colonies is to get all of our eggs out of the single basket that is the Earth. Sooner or later, something is going to try and wipe out humanity. I only hope we are prepared when that time comes.
Since getting any small group of humans to agree on a long-term project appears to be difficult, if not impossible, I believe self-preservation and the safety of our descendants is the only real motivator.
I’m also convinced there is no single perfect project. The key will be many similar projects, in competition, with one or more proving to actually work before we move on to the next step. This document is intended merely as a starting point to stimulate conversation. Rather than repeating massive amounts of material, I’ve included links for detailed reading. If you’re not familiar with the background of each section, I encourage you to take the time to familiarize yourself with the current state-of-the-art by following the links.
Any goal as awe-inspiring as establishing off-planet colonies, is comprised of thousands of smaller and smaller projects. Before we can hike the rim wall mountains of a Nivenesque Ringworld, we must be able to imagine, design, and create a society and infrastructure capable of building it. Assuming it is possible, that is still many generations away. But we need to start now.
Although true creative genius appears to be a solitary occupation, humans are actually pretty good at working in teams to accomplish a clear-cut goal. Part of making this happen is the creative collaboration possible with the communications possible on the Internet.
That is where we run into one of the first problems.
The net as we know it cannot work at planetary distances due to the time-lag. Therefore, we need to work out a set of protocols to handle large-scale data transfers. A great deal of work along these lines has already been done.
While we are on the subject, the Internet protocol itself is in drastic need of replacement. Like Windows, there are so many problems inherent in supporting legacy systems, that it is starting to creak. If we’re going to be building for the future, we need a new net protocol that supports such things as IPV6, automatic encryption, secure transactions, and the highest local speeds possible.
All physical connections should be via fiber-optic cable. It is becoming apparent that photonic technology is going to be an important part of future information systems. The first light-base transistors are already in development and a photonic CPU won’t be far behind.
One of the initial steps in creating an off-Earth colony will have to be space-based industry. It is common knowledge that any raw materials needed are available from asteroids and comets. Acquiring and processing these materials will require a major investment. The result will remove most heavy industries from the Earth and prevent further environmental pollution.
The majority of heavy industry and raw material processing will be in vacuum to avoid pollution. Robots will account for almost one hundred percent of the labor.
Aside from a few artistic works, almost all finished products will be via 3D printing.
Bucket loaders, Backhoes, Drills, Graders, Cranes, etc will be a critical part of construction.
Fabricators, Homemakers, Educators, and Managers
Any stable and growing society needs a handful of truly creative geniuses. However, they will only be a small percentage of the population. They will be outnumbered by fabricators, homemakers, educators, and managers who are primarily concerned with just making the world run smoothly.
I have no problem with robots doing much of the heavy lifting and boring jobs.
A pallet of fine art supplies can be handled by robots during transit. But once it arrives, a human will want to open the package and select the ones they wish to use for their creative endeavors.
A fast-food shop can be totally roboticized, but it will be a matter of expedience, not preference. A person with the love and knowledge of good food, will always be in demand. Fine dining is an art form no less than oil on canvas.
While building a colony, we will need people with heavy-construction experience, as well as electricians, plumbers, chefs, bartenders, painters, artists, computer technicians, educators, programmers, EMTs, nurses, doctors, and many more skilled trades that we take for granted.
Knowledgeable, experienced, and willing people must be motivated by more than a dream if they are to risk their lives.
Financial rewards are meaningless if there is nothing worth purchasing. The true rewards for risking you and your family’s lives will have to be tangible property. The chance to grow and prosper on your own territory and leave something behind for your descendants is a known motivator. More on this topic later.
It is obvious that we all need clean air, pure water, nourishing food, and exercise to survive. What is not as obvious are the managerial, sociological, and psychological needs. Any off-Earth colony design must take these into account as well.
“Beyond Earth – Our Path to a New Home in the Planets” by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix, Phd, should be required reading for anyone who is interested in off-Earth colonies or long-term travel.
The chapter on psychological issues with space travel is well worth your time.
There have been many studies that have shown the minimum number of humans required for a long-term stable population is ninety eight. That is true only if you maintain a strict and carefully controlled breeding program. Unfortunately, humans are not horses or show dogs. We all need some semblance of freedom of choice in our breeding partners.
That is why I would suggest nothing less than ten times that number for a stable colony. Eventually, I would like to see it grow to one hundred times that population, or ten thousand people. It would still require controlled genetics via licensed breeding, but at least each person would have a potential choice between ten partners or more.
In order to attract the wide-spectrum of colonists as we’ve mentioned, any colony is going to have to be based on a Colonial Charter that will define goals, rewards, and a timeline with checkpoints for transfer of power.
“I have explained X Projects many times. The basic idea is simple: the government puts out a contract for competitive bids. The contract will be to build, with the best technology available as of now (or in the very near future) working models of something that illustrates the best we have in the technology we are developing. One example was flying higher and faster. No one expected the X projects to come up with prototypes of commercial – or even military – aircraft. Instead you build the best thing you can and learn from it. An example was the Douglas X-3 Stiletto. It was the first airplane to take off from a runway and go faster than sound. That’s what it did – and while the Stiletto wasn’t a useful prototype of anything, we learned from it, and from that came the F-104 which dominated military airspace for more than a decade. What the X Project did was develop technologies. After that the aerospace industry could develop actual fighters.” – Dr. Jerry Pournelle, posted in October of 2012
Unfortunately, the X projects were abandoned by the government in favor of large grants to private industry that had a vested interest in disposable spacecraft and zero interest in expensive research that wouldn’t pay off for many years. That is a major reason why we went to the moon and thirty-five years later, haven’t done more than populate LEO and geo-synchronous Orbit with thousands of communications and surveillance satellites. It’s been all about the money.
Robot Mining and Manufacturing
One of the many things that need real-world development and testing are alternative construction techniques.
“As if the point needs belaboring, but sure: The future of technology, no matter how far down the line you trace it, will inevitably run into A.I. at some point. So it’s fitting — if not overdue — that an established, esteemed American university would offer up an undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence.”
It has been discussed in dozens of space articles as well as a plethora of science fiction stories, that the millions of asteroids and comets in our solar system contain millions of times the amount of raw materials available here on Earth. The question is, once we have spacecraft that can reach these resources, how do we extract and use them?
Here are a couple of articles discussing the state of the art.
Earth-base Prototype Colony
Closed Systems on Earth
Biosphere 2 was one of the first attempts and doomed to failure from the start.
More recently, the Chinese have tested Lunar Palace One. This as well, is too small and too short of a test.
We will have to build at least one large, environmentally sealed system, here on Earth in order to work out the details before we attempt a serious off-Earth colony. With that in mind, such a colony would have to offer the same sort of reward structure to entice volunteers. In other words, the ability for an individual or family to acquire their own property, and a chance to build something as a legacy.
This sort of colony might also serve as an ark against major environmental disasters. The goal would be to make it so comfortable and stimulating that there will be a long list of volunteers. Eventually, I foresee it turning into a desirable tourist destination.
There it is. That nasty word, government. It deserves serious consideration, however. One of the things folks depend on, whether they know it or not, is the freedom to become a refugee, here on Earth. Members of any off-Earth colony won’t have that option. Therefore, they have no choice but to build a government structure that will assure critical needs and a healthy, happy, and stable environment for the majority of its inhabitants.
I think it can be considered a given that any project of this size will be the work of a large corporation, group of corporations, or government. With that in mind, the first few years of development will use the proven, top-down approach and be run like a military project. While this is the most efficient, it is not appreciated over the long term by the majority if people. The first few inhabitants will be living in close quarters and, in the case of an off-Earth colony, micro-gravity, until the structure is finished, spun up to the proper rotational speed to simulate gravity, and pressurized with something approaching an Earth-normal atmosphere.
Once the colony structure is finished and there is gravity and a stable atmosphere, the next wave of colonists will arrive. This will include artists, agriculturalists, silviculturalists, landscape designers, ecologists, animal husbandry experts, chefs, actors, musicians, etc… you get the idea. While they must be willing to follow orders in order to get things done at first, they will quite rapidly, and understandably, want some say in how their colony develops. Please note the critical phrase “their colony”. For eventually it will be theirs and not the property of the original project developers.
That is where a Colonial Charter will come into play. This critical document will have been in development for many years prior, and take inspiration from The US Constitution and many similar documents.
The Colonial Charter
While it will have to address privacy, freedom of speech, and similar concerns, the most important and unusual thing it will have to define is the right to reproduce. Due to size and available resources, the colony will have a fixed maximum population. In order to avoid genetic disasters, each female will only have a limited number of genetic partners. It should be noted this does not mean the woman has to marry a specific man. It merely means that she can only become pregnant by a specific set of males. She may marry another, become a lesbian or even a single mother if she wishes. The genetics are critical, however. With that in mind, there are several apparent options. I’m sure there are others that I’ve not considered.
A genetic ancestry file for every person accepted into the program will be maintained in electronic format. An Artificial Intelligence system will be charged with creating a list of potential partners for every colonist. What must be established in the Charter, is how the women are allowed to select the other genetic donor for their offspring.
One option would be for the female or couple to look over anonymous genetic donor profiles and select one for artificial insemination.
Another option would be for a computer algorithm to maximize genetic diversity by selecting the donor sperm.
There is an old tradition of hand-fasting where a couple have a ceremony and are considered married for a year and a day. This allows enough time for the woman to become pregnant. Should the couple find themselves in agreement, they might convert this to a long-term contract until such time as the child becomes a legal adult. If the woman decides that while the man is a good genetic choice, she has developed a personal dislike for him, then they can alternate parenting while each one seeks other partners.
Privacy vs Security
It is known that humans have a psychological need for a certain amount of privacy. As anyone who has lived in a small town knows, eighty thousand people really isn’t that many. The coconut telegraph is always in operation and usually a much faster source of news than professional channels.
With that in mind, people will have to feel secure from unreasonable search and seizure in their homes. Something similar to the warrant system will have to ensure this.
If a person is suspected of breaking the law, they will have the right to an attorney, to hear the exact charges against them, and a chance to respond in their own defense.
These rights and others will have to be codified in the Colonial Charter.
“Government is instituted for the common good: for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” – President John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA
Any colony is going to require revenue to support maintenance, research, salaries, and all other government-level projects.
The Forth Estate
Blogs, scheduled news programs, and other news services must clearly state whether a piece is straight reporting or an opinion. The Colonial Charter must include severe penalties for slander while allowing anyone to report any item they find interesting.
The old maxim “I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death, your right to say it” must form the soul of the charter.
“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” – John Godfrey Saxe 1869
Political office should be a public service with term limits on every elected position.
Salaries should be in line with any other management level position.
Public servants should get the exact same social and retirement benefits as any other employee.
When someone applies for election, ALL of their financial matters become public. This is to combat corruption. If you don’t want your dealings made public, then you are not eligible to hold public office.
It should be noted that there is a huge difference in the mind-set of police and military officers. The military is for breaking things and killing people. Police must serve and protect.
This should be the guiding principle while training law enforcement, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and damage control teams.
Once the hardware, software, and wetware bugs have been worked out with an Earth-based prototype, the next logical step would be a lunar colony. This assumes a lunar presence in the form of several small research stations that have already been in use for several years, totally dependent on regular supply runs from the mother planet. They would, of course, be run under Captain’s Rules.
The first step would be to construct a large-scale solar array near one of the lunar poles. The array would have to power several manufacturing facilities that will be needed. Local materials will have to be used to build the required equipment and supplies.
Extensive and detailed mapping is also a critical step. It is evident that there are cavern structures on the moon, but how extensive, how stable, and what other subterranean structures, are just a few of the questions that demand answers.
Can caverns be sealed to hold atmosphere?
Stable crater walls?
What mineral resources are readily available?
What about frozen water supplies?
What about Helium3?
If there aren’t enough stable caverns, then the next most useful feature will be craters. These would have to be roofed over, protected with a layer of regolith, and sealed to provide a large open area.
The first steps I envision are a series of unmanned craft designed to be disassembled and components used for airlocks, infrastructure, furniture, etc. These craft will also carry semi-autonomous robot tractors for excavation and back filling of the lunar regolith.
Once the basic structures are inflated, powered up, and buried with regolith, humans will be brought up to supervise the rest of the project.
The massive solar power arrays mentioned previously will be used to break down sub-surface ice that has already been discovered, and turn it into a pressurized atmosphere for our colony. Initially, this will not be breathable as the proper mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and trace gasses will have to be adjusted to support plant and animal life.
Once the colonial atmosphere is breathable without special equipment, the first wave of colonists, including families, will be brought up.
Small groups of specialists in agriculture, silvaculture, and animal husbandry will be given the monumental task of combining human waste products with lunar dust and other minerals to make large areas of usable soil. Fast growing trees, grasses, lichens, mosses, as well as food plants such as corn, tomatoes, and squash, will help with both atmosphere and soil improvement.
Beneficial insects such as earthworms, beetles, bees, and butterflies must also be imported and allowed to spread. The exact mix and what species are required is just one more reason to build a full-scale test colony on Earth.
Once things have stabilized, more colonists will be brought until an optimum population is reached. I would anticipate this as being somewhere around 80% of the maximum the infrastructure would be able to support. Another 10% would be utilized for tourist activity. The remaining 10% would be reserve space for emergencies in the form of refugees.
When the colony has achieved 80% occupancy, elections will be held under rules specified in the Colonial Charter and management duties will peacefully transfer to the civilian leaders.
It has been obvious since the late sixties that the best place for a near-Earth orbital colony would be one of the Lagrange Points. The Earth – Moon L4 and L5 points have been suggested on many occasions.
Smaller asteroids and comets will have to be carefully maneuvered into a stable spot where their raw materials can be refined using giant solar arrays. An excellent example of this can be found in John Ringo’s “Troy Rising” science fiction series.
Several giant, micro-gravity 3D manufacturing facilities, will produce the finished materials to construct the robots which will, in turn, create and maintain the colony.
Once the colony is stable and populated, tourism will provide a major revenue stream. Within a few years, it may also serve as a jumping-off point for deep-space exploratory ships and transports between other colonies.
Assuming the Alcubierre Drive or some similar FTL system isn’t perfected, the sheer distances between solar systems will mean the only way to explore outside our own solar system will be via generation ships.
This also assumes we are still using the same bodies and some transhumanist rapture of the nerds hasn’t allowed us to escape into a cyber-universe.
I would suggest basing the design on a minimal population of one hundred thousand inhabitants. An established and stable colony would be a good starting point. If a permanent population of one hundred thousand plus has been peaceful and happy for three generations or more, then the inhabitants might choose to modify and adapt their home for a multi-thousand year journey to another solar system.
Solar power is the quick and easy answer while within the Goldilocks zone in any solar system. Unfortunately, once you move out to the orbit of Jupiter or farther, there is too little solar radiation to run a colony. This brings up the critical issue of how do you maintain the level of power a colony ship of this size would need? Conventional nuclear reactors are not the answer as even a fusion plant wouldn’t be reliable over a century or more.
One of the Science Fiction suggestions has been something based on the Casimir effect of Zero Point energy.
Another suggestion is to put the entire population, animals, plants, insects, etc… into some form of suspended animation and let the ship run itself until it arrives within the Goldilocks zone of another solar system. This was represented in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic science fiction novel “Rendezvous with Rama”.
Allowing time for acceleration and deceleration to even 10% of light speed, a trip to our closest neighbor would still take centuries.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is merely a starting point for what I hope to be a series of long term discussions. Comments and questions are welcomed.