Author Topic: Skepticism about space colonization  (Read 11685 times)

Offline Pipcard

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Skepticism about space colonization
« on: 09/13/2017 06:52 AM »
The argument that space colonization skeptics have put forward is that "no one even wants to move to Antarctica (except for a few thousand researchers, and they are not permanent residents), therefore colonization of Mars and other places in space will never happen." People such as myself like to dream of a wonderful sci-fi future in which interplanetary travel for humans is commonplace, but do we know how many people want to actually move to places that are worse than the most inhospitable places on Earth, and are able and willing to pay for it? Will the exoticism of living on Mars and the appeal of making humanity a multi-planetary species wear off after a few hundred or thousand people move there? Can a colony ever be completely independent from Earth such that it can be used as a back-up for humanity?
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 07:08 AM by Pipcard »

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #1 on: 09/13/2017 08:30 AM »
The argument that space colonization skeptics have put forward is that "no one even wants to move to Antarctica (except for a few thousand researchers, and they are not permanent residents), therefore colonization of Mars and other places in space will never happen." People such as myself like to dream of a wonderful sci-fi future in which interplanetary travel for humans is commonplace, but do we know how many people want to actually move to places that are worse than the most inhospitable places on Earth, and are able and willing to pay for it? Will the exoticism of living on Mars and the appeal of making humanity a multi-planetary species wear off after a few hundred or thousand people move there? Can a colony ever be completely independent from Earth such that it can be used as a back-up for humanity?

It seems to me much of the scepticism towards space colonization also stems from resistance in certain quarters to the supposed "elitism" of the concept. The idea that if you create a backup for Earth, it will only be the elite who are able to afford the cost of going there, so rather focus on finding a way to save the masses of humanity on Earth itself.

So it becomes an ideological argument rather than a purely technical one.

To me the answer has to be building a space economy, with the mining of asteroids as the most obvious, medium term source of value in Space. From there, economies of scale would hopefully start reducing the cost of various aspects of spaceflight.

And in the long term, the terraforming of Mars must surely be the end goal, which would make it far more attractive than "living on Antarctica".

Online Eerie

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #2 on: 09/13/2017 08:48 AM »
For a person to permanently move to a new place, two conditions must be satisfied:

1. The new place need to be better than the old one, and not just a bit better, but significantly better to overcome the activation energy barrier of routine and laziness.

2. Travel to the new place needs to be affordable.

To me, this means that no large scale colonization will take place until:

1. Large artificial biospheres can be made and sustained in space (either on planetary surfaces or space habitats). Living in a tin can will be unacceptable for most people. Living in a really big tin can with trees inside is a better proposition.

2. Traveling to space is really cheap. This means either Orbital Rings, Nuclear Fusion, or preferably both.

You may notice that Antarctica today does not satisfy either condition, and yet it is vastly more accessible and inhabited than Mars. I think SpaceX current plan has a reasonable chance to bring Mars to the level of Antarctica. A few research bases, several hundred scientists, regular communications. Pretty cool stuff.

Offline AncientU

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #3 on: 09/13/2017 11:15 AM »
...

It seems to me much of the scepticism towards space colonization also stems from resistance in certain quarters to the supposed "elitism" of the concept. The idea that if you create a backup for Earth, it will only be the elite who are able to afford the cost of going there, so rather focus on finding a way to save the masses of humanity on Earth itself.

So it becomes an ideological argument rather than a purely technical one.

To me the answer has to be building a space economy, with the mining of asteroids as the most obvious, medium term source of value in Space. From there, economies of scale would hopefully start reducing the cost of various aspects of spaceflight.

And in the long term, the terraforming of Mars must surely be the end goal, which would make it far more attractive than "living on Antarctica".

People aren't going to go to Mars or elsewhere in space for creature comfort, they are going to go for ideological reasons -- the classic 'because it's there'

Whether they see the challenge, the adventure, or simply an opportunity to get off this rock... different motivators for different individuals.  Maybe someday the creature comforts in space will exceed those on Earth... wouldn't be that difficult for about half of humanity.
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Offline MATTBLAK

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #4 on: 09/13/2017 11:38 AM »
Colonization of the Moon might not happen, because of the low gravity for long term habitation, the two-week long day and night periods (negligible) and the relative lack of water. The gravity of Mars might be enough and there should be enough water resources for a modest number of people as colonists. But the relatively toxic dust and regolith - and the pesky fineness of the dust - would be a huge engineering challenge. However; the 'supply chain' from Earth to the Moon is relatively short, so true independence would be somewhat moot. And the Moon has bountiful solar power for energy during the day. The long nights might need dedicated nuclear power; though they could probably get by on a combination of fuel cells, battery arrays and Stirling/Brayton engines burning waste products during the nights. I foresee an eventual few 'Antarctica-like' Science and Industrial bases on the Moon - perhaps a couple at the poles, one at a middle-region nearside and at least one on the Farside.

Mars can use solar power, of course. But during the nights and long dust storms a combination of nuclear reactors and Stirling/Brayton technology may be needed. And of course with the long supply lines from Earth - independence will eventually be more of an imperative.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 02:07 PM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline RonM

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #5 on: 09/13/2017 02:36 PM »
Getting past research bases and becoming colonies is going to require a viable economy. It's hard to convince the skeptics on the economic issue because we don't have enough data to imagine a viable economic model. To get the data we need research bases.

The first step is to convince skeptics, especially the ones who control spaceflight budgets, that research bases on the Moon and/or Mars is worth the money. Then it's up to the next generation to convince skeptics expanding to colonization is a good idea.


Offline Lar

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #6 on: 09/13/2017 02:44 PM »
There are old threads (some that went in the weeds, repeatedly and thus got locked and restarted) about how money can be made on Mars. Although there is a lot of detrius and frowny face laden posts in them, they are worth reviewing. Depending on your viewpoint either there is LOTS of money to be made (as there was in the Westward Expansion, except this time with no natives having their property stolen) OR there is NO money to be made at all, and once the billionaires get bored, game over. Or somewhere in between.

see http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=41937 and its two predecessor threads. Pages and pages of frowny faces to wade through but there is some meat amongst the chaff.

Because those that say that there has to be an economic impetus are correct. National pride carries you a ways but then if it's not sustainable, it won't sustain.

That said, I don't think it is necessary for space based civilization to be 100% non dependent on earth. The solar economy will be like earth's current economy, with a web of interdependencies, and goods are sourced from where it is most economical to source them, after factoring in transport and all other costs (such as government imposed ones)
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Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #7 on: 09/13/2017 02:47 PM »
My biggest problem with any space colonization is straight forward.

You will be living in a tin can for the rest of your life. Space is expensive, living space is expensive, living space much beyond the size of an overcrowded  jail cell is just not cost effective. With out good reason, you will never venture outside of that tin can. We fail to understand how much space we actually have available here on earth.

Of course the flip is you will have to grow crops, so large spaces will be needed somewhere, but who is to say they won't be wall to wall racks of grow beds.
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Offline RonM

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #8 on: 09/13/2017 02:59 PM »
As long as living in space is so expensive colonists have to live in small tin cans colonization won't work. Physical and mental health of the colonists will be paramount. A colony will have to generate enough income to afford adequate living space.

Offline AncientU

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #9 on: 09/13/2017 03:10 PM »
My biggest problem with any space colonization is straight forward.

You will be living in a tin can for the rest of your life. Space is expensive, living space is expensive, living space much beyond the size of an overcrowded  jail cell is just not cost effective. With out good reason, you will never venture outside of that tin can. We fail to understand how much space we actually have available here on earth.

Of course the flip is you will have to grow crops, so large spaces will be needed somewhere, but who is to say they won't be wall to wall racks of grow beds.

I think the ISS model of living in space is a common viewpoint for obvious reasons.  If that is all the better we can do is assumed, then I'm skeptical about colonization, too.  That said, I'm skeptical that the ISS model is all the better we can do.
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Online Bynaus

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #10 on: 09/13/2017 03:19 PM »
First of all, the main reason that there are no settlements in Antarctica has nothing to do with its remoteness and relative hostility, and everything with the Antarctic treaty, which forbidds the establishment of permanent settlements by any of the parties of the treaty.

Humans have permanently (or at least semi-permanently) colonized all of the Earth's surface accessible to them, including Greenland, Siberia, the hot deserts, and remote pacific islands (perhaps they would eventually even have colonized Antarctica, given a few more millennia) - and they have done so with very simple technology (at least, simple from our point of view).

Second, Antarctica isn't really as isolated and "secure" from interference by terrestrial governments as the surface of, say, Mars is. If you have a settlement on Mars, you only need to fear interference from governments which have the capability to send people there, and if they decide to interfere with you somehow, you will see them coming for a much longer time than an Antarctic colony would.

Therefore, I don't think Antarctica is a good example to argue that space colonization will forever stay a fantasy.

Overall, I think it really just depends on the costs. If they come down so that many people can afford to go, people eventually will go to all of these places (Mars, Moon, Ceres, Mercury, Titan, etc.) to visit (research, tourism), and at least some of them will want to stay. These people will then figure out the technological adaptations needed to survive indefinetly in the local environment, just as other humans have done over the many millennia in many different environments as they spread over the Earth. The human mind is very adaptive and malleable. If you never knew "fresh air", you will not miss it (instead, you might actually fear it). If all you have known in life are artificially lighted lava caves, this is the place you will love to call home.

Say, a NASA-led Mars-program costs 400 bn today, and might send 4 people to Mars. There is simply no-one in the world who can privately afford to pay 100 bn / person (well, perhaps Putin could, but he seems to have other priorities ;) ), so there is no other solution than to have a wealthy government do it (or not). This alone explains in a straightforward way why there is no space colonization so far: colonization is a decision based in the individual (who wants - or doesnt want - to go), but that individual just cannot afford to go to Mars today.

If SpaceX can reduce the price to Mars to 200 k per person, this is a completely different world. Think of it this way: lowering the "activation energy" by almost 6 orders of magnitude WILL change the balance of the equation.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 03:23 PM by Bynaus »

Offline savuporo

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #11 on: 09/13/2017 03:24 PM »
The argument that space colonization skeptics have put forward is that "no one even wants to move to Antarctica"..
Antarctic is covered by extensive treaty system that mostly prevents economic development of it, for very valid good reasons i might add. If that was to disappear somehow ( and there are plenty of people who would want that to happen ) the population would quickly match or exceed that of the oil rigs. There would likely be way more machines than men, though.



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Online Eerie

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #12 on: 09/13/2017 03:53 PM »
The argument that space colonization skeptics have put forward is that "no one even wants to move to Antarctica"..
Antarctic is covered by extensive treaty system that mostly prevents economic development of it, for very valid good reasons i might add. If that was to disappear somehow ( and there are plenty of people who would want that to happen ) the population would quickly match or exceed that of the oil rigs. There would likely be way more machines than men, though.

Nobody wants to move to Svalbard or Greenland, either, even though there's no treaty there. In fact, you don't even need visa to live in Svalbard indefinitely*. And it's way easier to reach than Antarctica.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Svalbard
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 03:54 PM by Eerie »

Offline savuporo

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #13 on: 09/13/2017 06:00 PM »
u
The argument that space colonization skeptics have put forward is that "no one even wants to move to Antarctica"..
Antarctic is covered by extensive treaty system that mostly prevents economic development of it, for very valid good reasons i might add. If that was to disappear somehow ( and there are plenty of people who would want that to happen ) the population would quickly match or exceed that of the oil rigs. There would likely be way more machines than men, though.

Nobody wants to move to Svalbard or Greenland, either, even though there's no treaty there. In fact, you don't even need visa to live in Svalbard indefinitely*. And it's way easier to reach than Antarctica.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Svalbard

Not exactly supported by facts. Permanent population density per unit area in Svalbard is way higher than in Antarctica. People from Thailand have settled there.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 06:02 PM by Lar »
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Offline Pipcard

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #14 on: 09/13/2017 07:02 PM »
That said, I don't think it is necessary for space based civilization to be 100% non dependent on earth. The solar economy will be like earth's current economy, with a web of interdependencies, and goods are sourced from where it is most economical to source them, after factoring in transport and all other costs (such as government imposed ones)
It is necessary if the justification for space colonies is that they are humanity's "back-up hard drive"
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 07:02 PM by Pipcard »

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #15 on: 09/13/2017 07:44 PM »
That said, I don't think it is necessary for space based civilization to be 100% non dependent on earth. The solar economy will be like earth's current economy, with a web of interdependencies, and goods are sourced from where it is most economical to source them, after factoring in transport and all other costs (such as government imposed ones)
It is necessary if the justification for space colonies is that they are humanity's "back-up hard drive"

Just because you can, in theory, also survive independently from Earth if you hunker down doesn't mean you have to do it all the time.

Offline high road

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #16 on: 09/13/2017 08:19 PM »
First of all, the main reason that there are no settlements in Antarctica has nothing to do with its remoteness and relative hostility, and everything with the Antarctic treaty, which forbidds the establishment of permanent settlements by any of the parties of the treaty.

no treaty has ever stopped all parties in any treaty, and especially no third parties, if enough money can be made or power gained. But antarctica doesn't have a lot of that going around. Neither does anything below earth orbit at this point.


To Eerie: (i'll fix my quotes when i get to a laptop) more than a few settlements were started because of religious reasons, ridiculous idolations of the new locations, or to get away from other people. Yes, starting a new colony means you have to live in an even more interdependent community, but at least you get to think you chose the people who came along.

Being succesful in the long term is another matter. Can Mars ever be fully independent? Not unless it absolutely has to. Just like any country on earth suffers when trading partners collapse. But it only has to provide enough value to earth to pay for a limited supply of imported goods to be able to thrive. History and current circumstances prove that people are willing to pay ridiculous sums for certain hyped commodities (bottled water, gems, relics, etc.) and new locations usually have no lack of exotic stuff once you get to do enough exploration.

For the backup thingy: it just doesn't hold up as validation to sustain off world colonies. There are few things the universe can throw at us that would make earth a worse place to live than Mars, but leave Mars unaffected. Millions of times as many more could be saved by bunkering up on earth than by sending them to Mars.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 08:46 PM by high road »

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #17 on: 09/13/2017 08:55 PM »
My biggest problem with any space colonization is straight forward.

You will be living in a tin can for the rest of your life. Space is expensive, living space is expensive, living space much beyond the size of an overcrowded  jail cell is just not cost effective. With out good reason, you will never venture outside of that tin can. We fail to understand how much space we actually have available here on earth.

Of course the flip is you will have to grow crops, so large spaces will be needed somewhere, but who is to say they won't be wall to wall racks of grow beds.

I think the ISS model of living in space is a common viewpoint for obvious reasons.  If that is all the better we can do is assumed, then I'm skeptical about colonization, too.  That said, I'm skeptical that the ISS model is all the better we can do.

I am skeptical that any colonization would be that roomy,  Due to the cost in terms of man hours, resources, and power, I would argue the personal space would be more along the lines of hot bunking in Economy Minus. At least initially.

The first manufacturing capability that would be needed is to make metal tubes (steel, Al, who knows) that habitation can be made out of.  In reality, a tube much wider than a 737 would be a monumental effort. Maybe we can make air tight concrete structures on Mars (will still need metal rebar). That is when housing costs would drop to an affordable level for a colony. 
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Offline Lar

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #18 on: 09/13/2017 09:26 PM »
That said, I don't think it is necessary for space based civilization to be 100% non dependent on earth. The solar economy will be like earth's current economy, with a web of interdependencies, and goods are sourced from where it is most economical to source them, after factoring in transport and all other costs (such as government imposed ones)
It is necessary if the justification for space colonies is that they are humanity's "back-up hard drive"

So if we don't get 100% closure[1], but we have a vibrant space civilization with 100s of billions of people living and working in space, we failed? Not sure I agree. As said by Bynaus, the ability to replicate something doesn't mean that it makes economic sense to do so.

1 - there is only one Mona Lisa, so we never will get 100% closure.
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Offline john smith 19

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Re: Skepticism about space colonization
« Reply #19 on: 09/13/2017 10:09 PM »
see http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=41937 and its two predecessor threads. Pages and pages of frowny faces to wade through but there is some meat amongst the chaff.
Indeed it would be, except the original thread was never moved back from moderation. It's still missing. Perhaps you could move it back as well?
Quote from: Lar
Because those that say that there has to be an economic impetus are correct. National pride carries you a ways but then if it's not sustainable, it won't sustain.
That would make Mars like Apollo, a "flags and footprints" mission, and hence unsustainable.  :(
Quote from: Lar
That said, I don't think it is necessary for space based civilization to be 100% non dependent on earth. The solar economy will be like earth's current economy, with a web of interdependencies, and goods are sourced from where it is most economical to source them, after factoring in transport and all other costs (such as government imposed ones)
Which sounds fine, unless those transport costs are so big that there is no effective way to sell those goods at a profit.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2017 10:10 PM by john smith 19 »
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