(Picture from here.)
I have my own reasons for wanting human beings to become a space entrenched species. The biggest is we need more than one habitat.
And, yes, I know we need to keep earth safe. We need to save it. We need to make sure that we don’t destroy it and with it ourselves. I understand the long term consequences of ignoring it. Yes. Yes. Yes.
But I deny this is an either-or situation.
The earth will no doubt survive us. It’s not clear we are going to survive us. We are well on the way to making earth extremely difficult to maintain a large civilization. I’m not worried about our long-term survival. We are as hard to kill as a cockroach. But I do worry that we’re going to find it harder and harder to maintain a sophisticated civilization in the face of 1, 2, 5, 7 degree C warming. We’re not stopped and it’s getting worse.
A space entrenched species has a lot to offer back to earth. But first, we have to get there.
The little habitats that have been talked about are not going to do the trick. We need thousands, if not millions, of people on the Moon and other paces in order to make a real difference. We need true industrial societies. Cities. Farms. Factories.
The Moon has to be first. It’s close. It’s comparatively easy. It has lots of minerals. The earth can send supplies—it’s not cheap. It’s not easy. But it’s possible. Mars is different. We have to either send everything there that will be needed or have an infrastructure set up that everything that is needed will be manufactured there. And there can be no aid—the absolutely best case travel time to Mars, using nuclear rockets, is three months. Otherwise, it’s nine months.
Apollo made it to the moon in three days.
We can’t take all the stuff we need to the Moon. We have to make it there. And, like the song says, if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere. The same techniques for building on the moon can be transferred (appropriately modified) to other locales. We probably can’t 3d print our dwellings on Mars using the chemicals we might use on the Moon, but we will be able to 3d print our dwellings.
So: what do we need?
Robots, for one. Lots and lots of robots.
Humans need precious infrastructure to live: oxygen. Water. Pressure. Protection for radiation. Just like Mars, it’s unreasonable to send a big enough workforce to do it alone on the Moon. A lot of it will be automated.
We need robots to find water. We need robots to make shelter. We need robots to extract oxygen. Essentially, we need robots to build the space for us to live. We need robots to mine the moon—give it up for capitalism. It does get the job done.
The obvious step for establishing a locale for humans on the moon is to build and send the robots to do it. Along, probably, with a human crew to supervise them and kick the machines to get them back on track. Three days to send a repairman is tough but doable. A year (I’m looking at you, Mars) is not. But it’s probably preferable to have someone on site.
That gives us an established base. Nice and good.
But doing it this way not only builds us a place, it creates the infrastructure to expand. Specialized machines are all fine and good but they must be repaired and replaced. That means factories that make robots and robot parts. Machine shops. Configurable manufacturing—now, we’re talking humans.
Along with this comes support structures. Farms. Power. Entertainment. An economy. In short, a functioning society. This is far, far more doable on the Moon than Mars.
I heard that guy in the back. The moon has 1/6 gravity. How are people going to survive?
Yeah. And Mars has 1/3. I suspect neither is very good for humans. But, look. If it’s solved on the Moon, the solution automatically is applicable on Mars. (And by solution, I mean something physiological. People needing to spend a third of their time exercising just to be able to return isn’t practical.)
Once, that society is on the moon, then other mechanisms allow expansion everywhere else. Because there is essentially no atmosphere and the escape velocity is so low, external launch mechanisms are usable. Notably, electromagnetic ones. (For a good pro/con discussion, see here.) High acceleration mechanisms can be used to return mining payloads. Lower acceleration means can be used to transport humans. One idea I read in one of the previous references was to fire from the lunar surface towards earth and use the earth gravity well to do course corrections.
I have this vision of factories on the moon build significant launch structures to be deployed on earth.
Eventually, the knowledge learned on the moon can then be adapted to space based manufacturing in asteroids. I am not negating planets in this—planets are useful. But this path gets us both: Mars, the Moon, and beyond.