Asteroid Resources Could Create Space Habs For Trillions; Land Area Of A Thousand Earths
    By Robert Walker | July 17th 2013 08:16 AM | 20 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Planet dwellers like us naturally look first to other moons and planets for colonization. Yet, asteroids have enough resources to build space habs for trillions, with the same living space per person as for Earth.

    The idea is to use the materials from the asteroids and NEOs to make new habitats. This gives far more living space than the amount you get if you hollow asteroids out, and live inside them.

    The Moon and Mars are our only choices for surface colonization in the near future. Neither is a second Earth; both have many issues at present, especially, the almost total lack of atmosphere. Technically, Mars does have an atmosphere, true, enough for winds and dust storms, but it is so thin it would count as a laboratory vacuum on Earth.

    I'll talk first about space colonization, and some of the inventive ideas that have been suggested. I will then return to Mars and the Moon, talk a bit about the issues they involve, and some of the ideas for solving them, and other possibilities for the more distant future including Landis's intriguing ideas for Venusian cloud cities.

    Maybe there will be some surprises here or things you haven't come across before. It is not a program for the future or any kind of a suggestion for a course of action. It is just a calculation to show the potential of asteroids, and a survey of some of the ideas that various people have suggested. Hopefully it might stimulate some lively discussion.

    Resources are as easy to find in space as on a planetary surface

    This may be your first surprise. We tend to think that the place to look for resources for colonization must be the surfaces of planets. But there are abundant resources in space too. The most important thing for making habitats is water. Liquid water is scarce in our solar system. Ice however is abundant, and many asteroids have significant quantities.

     Some of the interesting types of asteroid are:

    • C-type carbonaceous - minerals with water content and carbon content. Some may have a high percentage of water. The most common type of asteroid.
    • S type (stony) - metallic iron mixed with iron- and magnesium-silicates (common in inner solar system)
    • M type (metallic) - good source of iron and nickel and other metals
    • D type asteroids - organic rich, possibly water ice inside Rare in the inner solar system.
    • Comets and extinct comets - source for water and organics.

    Research on the Grave Nunataks 95229 meteorite produced unexpected amounts of ammonia, containing nitrogen, a building block of life © NASANitrogen may be hard to find in space and indeed also on Mars or the Moon. But some carbonaceous meterorites are rich in nitrogen. So it may be possible to find enough in space for habitats to use.

    Once you have water, you can extract oxygen to create an atmosphere. It's also easy to find carbon compounds in space too, in asteroids. Metals are easy to find in space, indeed one of the first uses of metal on Earth was probably meteoritic iron.

    For orbits around Earth, the Moon, or other orbits close to the Earth, Near Earth Asteroids may have almost all the materials you need you need to set up a colony. For orbits around Mars or close to Mars, then the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos are a natural choice. The composition of the Maritan Moons is not too well understood. Deimos seems either C or D type. Either way it might have water beneath the surface. It has a low density which might suggest water ice. David Kuck in 1997 suggested starting up a Deimos Water Company to supply Earth orbit with water from Deimos. The Kuck mosquitoes are small unmanned craft that drill into Deimos and extract water from below the surface, use part of it as fuel to transport the rest back to Earth.

    However if you take the long term view, if you are building a large colony that will take maybe decades to complete, then you don't need to worry too much about where to get the materials from.

    Cargo Transport On The Interplanetary Super Highway

    Artist's concept of the Interplanetary Transport Network. The green ribbon represents one possible path from among the infinite number possible within the larger bounding tube. Constricted areas represent locations of Lagrange points. Credit NASAIf just using cargo transport, no worry about transfer times, you can transport anything from almost anywhere in the solar system to almost anywhere else at almost zero cost in fuel using the "Interplanetary Transport Network" (aka Interplanetary Super Highway). In a future time when building a new colony is a multiple decade project, maybe it grows gradually over centuries, using materials from as far afield as the Oort cloud.

    You can also use Mars cyclers to cycle materials between Earth orbit and Mars orbit.

    For asteroids, the artist Hop David suggested the idea of Asteroid Cyclers to work in the same way as a Mars cycler, to cycle materials between Earth orbit and "railroad towns" colonies in the asteroid belt  where the mining goes on. 

    These are large spacecraft. Have enough of these and you can have a "carrier service" of spacecraft between Earth and other destinations in the solar system. They require almost no fuel. Once you load the materials on board, the spacecraft simply follows the free fall trajectory and eventually reaches its destination. This saves the need to accelerate the rocket itself, you just have to accelerate the materials you want to put aboard it.

    There is also more space to expand, as colonies can be built almost anywhere, in orbit around Earth or Mars, or the Moon, or in independent orbits around the sun. Your main limit is the availability of resources to make the habitats. On the surface of a planet, you are limited to the surface area of the planet (unless of course you want to start living as troglodytes below the surface).

    Isn't it easier to build on Mars or the Moon?

    This may be another surprise, you may think that it must be easier to work on a planetary surface. But remember on the surface of Mars, and on the Moon, it's not like Earth, you have to work in clumsy space suits, just as you do in space. Tearing the space suit or smashing the visor is as dangerous on these surfaces as in space. You are working in a laboratory vacuum.

    The surface gravity on the Moon or Mars will help in some ways, but in other ways, it is an advantage not to have gravity. In space you can move huge weights around with the lightest of touches, little use of energy.

    Once you have at least one habitat built and spun up to provide gravity, then you can use it to build components for other habitats, with working conditions similar to that on Earth. So any disadvantages involved in working in weightless conditions only really apply to the first habitats built.

    Then, to start with, many of the components for any habitats whether in space or on the Moon or Mars, will have to be transported all the way form Earth to your new habitat. So, surely the most economically viable habitats, for some time, will be those that are most easily accessible from the Earth.

    In the distant future space hab construction will probably get so automated that humans hardly have to do anything except supervise the machinery occasionally to make sure no major mistakes are made.

    They will surely also make extensive use of telerobots and semi-autonomous robots for any construction and repair tasks that are difficult or dangerous to do in spacesuits.

    What type of habitat would we build?

    We would surely start with small habitats, not much larger than the ISS. Some interesting ideas likely to be used in the near future include inflatable habitats (one of them has already flown), habitats with centrifuge sleeping quarters, and habitats that use a tether system to artificaal gravity.

    Science fiction lovers probably think immediately about big habitats with an atmosphere as thick as the Earth's, like the alien spaceships in Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series. Sadly, these are probably impractical for us in the near future, nice though they are to dream about. But smaller habitats are much more practical.

    Artist's impression of Arthur C. Clarke's fictional RAMA by James A. Ciomperlik.

    Here is a video exploration in 3D of a RAMA type habitat

    It's by Eric Bruneton,who did this as a doctoral project

    For huge habitats like this, the weight of the atmosphere itself might become the most important part of the habitat by weight. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is about ten tons per square meter.

    The habitat walls would also need to be extremely strong to contain all that weight. Gerard O'Niel calculated that his twelve miles across spherical habitat could be made with titanium. Perhaps carbon nanotubes or other advanced materails could be used to build huge habs like this in the far future.

    You could deal with the weight problems in another way, by having numerous criss-crossing stays across the centre of the habitat like a suspension bridge, but that would ruin much of its appeal :).

    Space habs we could build with present day technology

    Our space habitats for quite some time will be smaller. They could vary in size from small ones, not much larger than the ISS, with a centrifuge for sleeping quarters and the rest of the habitat in zero g, all the way up to huge Stanford Torus type habitats with interiors large enough for cities, lakes, forests and hills.

    NASA artwork from the 1970s for the Stanford Torus design
    Stanford Torus Interior (NASA), population 10,000, NASA space colony art from the 1970s
    This was something we could build already with 1970s technology. The idea was to use it to make solar power satellites to beam energy back to Earth (as microwaves). The projected cost was over $200 billion in 1975 US dollars to build, so about 20 times cost of the Apollo program. After 28 years (so by now) they thought it would be paying for its annual costs by sale of clean electricity to the Earth, though it would be 70 years before it paid back its initial costs. By reducing costs of electricity, it would benefit poor people and poorer nations more than the wealthy, as they spend a higher proportion of their earnings on power. (Details in chapter 6 of their study).

    Video fly through of a Stanford Torus style space habitat by Uzi Bento

    Stanford Torus showing how the mirror works. The station is edge on to the sun, and the mirror is at 45 degrees to the sunlight and reflects the light to the habitat where it is reflected by more mirrors into the inside of the habitat. Image NASASunlight is usually brought to the habitat via mirrors in these designs e.g. here is how it's done for the Stanford Torus.

    This is a modern update of the design, Habitat 2, with  a big 2 km across mirror (aluminised Mylar) - the animation leaves out the cosmic radiation shielding for artistic reasons: 
    Video of Habitat 2 and mirror

    Sunlight gets reflected around the cosmic radiation shielding into the habitat. UV light can be absorbed on the way. Cosmic radiation, as highly energetic particles, goes right through the mirror.

    Cosmic radiation shielding is an engineering design issue. In the Stanford torus design then the habitat rotates inside static shielding. The smaller Kalpana one is a more recent idea. It is for 3000 people, and the radiation shielding rotates with the habitat (unlike the Stanford torus). It has multiple levels inside, with different sizes of cylinder one inside the other, plants grow in an inner low g cylinder and has a zero g habitat right at the centre.

    I'll talk about this shielding issue some more below.

    Video of Kalpana One

    Another recent idea is the Vademecum, which introduces the novel idea of a truncated ellipse cross section for smaller habitats. This has a flat floor, which gives you uniform gravity in a small habitat, and also needs less atmosphere. Artist's impression here along with other space settlement designs. It won the NASA - NSS Space Settlement Contest, for ages up to 18, in 2006. It was designed by a 16 year old Belgian schoolchild.

    Here is a 1989 design for a Bola Mars habitat. 

    A NASA artist's concept of a vehicle which could provide an artificial-gravity environment of Mars exploration crews. The piloted vehicle rotates around the axis that contains the solar panels. Levels of artificial gravity vary according to the tether length and the rate at which the vehicle spans.

    Smaller designs may consist of a spacecraft joined to its spent rocket motor, in a rigid structure that rotates end on end to generate artificial gravity. The smallest ones might just have a centrifugal sleeping quarters like the Nautilus X.

    Nautilus X design for deep space exploration vessel with centrifugal sleeping quarters

    For all these smaller habitats, the air pressure is maintained by pressurizing the habitat, just as for the ISS. So normally the atmosphere is not a significant design constraint for the habitat.

    This is their 1970s design: Space Settlements: A Design Study - with details of the Stanford Torus Design in Chapter 4.

    You might also like: Theodore Hall's doctoral thesis about architectural design considerations for artificial gravity, designs to help humans orientate themselves to the novel gravitational situations.

    Shielding issues

    You might be concerned about meteorite or comet impact. However, bodies like that could be diverted.Yes, it is hard to divert a comet or large meteorite to avoid the Earth if it is on a collision course, it wouldn't be hard at all to divert it enough to avoid a small habitat a few kilometers across, given enough advance warning. Smaller ones could simply be destroyed before they get to the habitat, and micro-meteorite shielding isn't hard to arrange.

    The main reason for shielding is to deal with cosmic radiation. This is much harder to deal with and needs a fair amount of material.

    With the larger habitats, the mass of the shielding is a significant issue. However, the mass might not be such a design constraint as you think, as the radiation shielding doesn't have to rotate with the habitat. It's probably much easier to keep the radiation shielding as a separate structure kept away from the inner habitat with a gap between the two.

    In the Stanford Torus design that means that the inner habitat is moving at around 200 mph relative to the shielding, but they thought that would not be a significant engineering issue. It would need a lot of attention to failure modes, but we do have plenty of experience on Earth of high speed trains and such like moving at such speeds.

    Plants growing in the ISS under zero g (NASA, 2009)Another idea though, this is my own idea which I haven't seen anywhere else yet, but it seems reasonable and feasible. The idea is to have centrifuge based dwellings for humans with normal g inside a large habitat with much gentler artificial gravity. There is no reason for the entire habitat to rotate to generate artificial g for the humans inside. 

    Plants particularly can do well in zero g, as has been shown in experiments on the ISS. Before these experiments, it was generally assumed that plants need gravity to have a sense of direction so that their roots grow downwards and their leaves and stems upwards. But apparently not, they can do just fine without gravity (see also What happens to plant growth when you remove gravity?).

    In a self contained biosphere perhaps a lot of the land area will be used for plants. So, why not rotate the whole habitat at a much gentler rate? It could rotate, say, fast enough for a hundredth g (just to give a sense of direction and help humans working on the surface, and to help any plants that need a sense of "which way is up", and insects).

    When you first build the habitat, you just build it for plants and associated micro-organisms and pollinators. Heavy shielding is not an issue if you rotate the habitat at such a gentle rate. Instead of 4.45 metric tons per square meter, you have, at a hundredth g, effectively only 44.5 kilograms per square meter by weight to deal with. So the shielding rotates with the habitat, at a hundredth of the speed, so only 2 mph instead of the 200 mph for the Stanford torus design if updated to a hundredth of g force, it would also be easy to go outside the outer hull, with little danger of falling off and easy to recover someone who does, and easy for a spaceship to dock directly with the outer hull of the habitat.

    Then as colonization proceeds, the colonists would build individual houses inside the habitat. These could have centrifuge sleeping quarters. Then as larger houses and hamlets are built, they could rotate slowly, maybe in raised spinning "observation decks" with a tower in the center to get down to ground level.

    So for instance a spinning hamlet inside a large Stanford Torus type habitat, 200 meters across could rotate at a relatively gentle 2 revolutions per minute (2.11 rpm), with the outer rim going around at about 70 miles per hour to generate a g force of 1 g. Inhabitants could sleep there, exercise there, and then go out to the low g environment for recreation and gardening etc.

    If it turns out that humans can tolerate lower gs long term such as lunar g, if a tenth of 1 g is okay for human health, then your 100 meter diameter hamlet could rotate once per minute (0.95 rpm), with the permiter going at a sedate 22 miles per hour (perhaps with an inner centrifuge at a faster rate for sleeping quarters). When you want to travel somewhere else in your sky cycle, you probably just launch it directly from the outer rim of your hamlet :).

    You can do the calculations yourself with Theodore Hall's handy Spin Calc artificial-gravity calculator

    How much material is needed for space habitats with surface area same as the land area on earth?

    This is an easy calculation, and one that I think you might find rather surprising. It doesn't matter much how big your habitat is, unless you want to build one of the really huge RAMA type habitats, or really small ones. Most of the weight is needed for radiation shielding. For the same total habitable area you need roughly the same amount of radiation shielding (perhaps within a factor of two or so). So I'll use the design for the Stanford Torus (doughnut shaped habitat) as a basis since it was worked out in some detail.

    Before I get down to the details, maybe you'd like to try a quick guess?

    The diameter of the Earth is 6,371 km. The diameter of the largest asteroid, Ceres is 950 km. The diameter of the moon is 3474.8 km.

    How big do you think the asteroid needs to be, approximately, to get enough material to cover the entire land area of the Earth?

    • 10 km
    • 50 km
    • 100 km
    • 500 km
    • 1000 km (similar to Ceres)
    • 3000 km (similar to Moon)
    This is for the habitats themselves and also for radiation shielding to protect the inhabitants from solar flares. 

    Or if you prefer, what size is needed for habitats large enough to match the surface area of Mars? By coincidence, Mars has almost exactly the same land area as the Earth, so its the same question.

    I'm about to do the calculation, so if you want to guess, now is your last chance before I reveal the answer. 


    The radiation shielding is the biggest contribution to the mass.  The Stanford torus (doughnut shaped) design uses 4.5 metric tons per square meter. A more recent NASA calculation comes up with 4.41 metric tons per meter squared using lunar dust. Other materials can shield with less material, but common materials like water are similar. You can reduce the mass with Graded Z shielding, used for satellites, or with active shielding (e.g. using magnetic shields), but let's stick with the simple mass shielding, perhaps it's the most likely to be used for large colonies with plenty of mass available to use.

    The radiation shielding contributes 99% of the mass. In the Stanford Torus design, they use lightweight structures for everything else. They found that the torus was the best of the designs they tried, with 10 million tons of material for a habitat of 0.68 square kilometers.

    So that's a little under 15 metric tons per square meter of living area. It is more than the 4.5 metric tons because you need to shield the torus all the way around (sides and roof as well as floor). Ceres has a density of 2.077 kilograms per cubic meter. So you end up with about 7.5 cubic meters total for shielding for one square meter of living area.

    So let's see what volume we need. The land area of the Earth in square kilometers: 148,300,000 sq km (Mars is 144,798,500 km²) 7.5 meters is 0.0075 km so we need 1,112,250 kmof material.

    Now we just need to solve for the radius. (google calc: (1,112,250/(4i/3)*p)^(1/3) )

    It turns out, you need an asteroid 64 km in radius, or 128 km in diameter. If you guessed 100 km give yourself a big gold star :). 

    The density of Ceres is twice that of water. Asteroids vary a lot in density. An iron / nickel asteroid of the same weight could be smaller and a C-type asteroid would be larger. 

    Asteroids such as Ceres could supply materials for hundreds of times the land area of Earth

    Ceres, largest asterooid, is now classified as a "dwarf planet" and will be first visited by a spacecraft the "Dawn" spacecraft in 2015. The nature of the white spot is unknown. May have ice below the surface. Image HST.There are dozens of asteroids in the asteroid belt larger than 128 km in diameter. Any of these could, on their own, supply material for habitats with total living area more than the Earth.

    The largest, Ceres at 952 km diameter has a mass of 9.43 * 1017 metric tons. The Earth's 148,300,000 square kilometers at 15 tons per square meter needs 2.2245 * 1015 metric tons.

    So Ceres has enough material for Stanford Tori for over 400 times the surface area of the Earth.

    So, if you can mine Ceres, there is enough material to for space habitats large enough to replicate the tropical rain forests, deserts, Antarctica, Siberia, Himalayas etc etc. as well as all our cities teaming with humans, and do all of that over four hundred times over

    One Rotation of Vesta by the Dawn Spacecraft (Ceres is Dawn's Next Target)The next largest asteroid is Vesta, a rocky asteroid about 525 km in diameter,almost a dwarf planet, differentiated, probably with an iron-nickel core over 200 km in diameter. It has a mass of  2.59076×1017 metric tons. At eight metric tons per square meter, that's enough for a habitable area of over 100 times the surface area of Earth.

    The entire asteroid belt has a mass about three times that of Ceres, so enough for about 1200 times the surface area of Earth.

    Most of this mass is the shielding. You can build multi-story houses, in the larger Stanford Torus type space habitats just as for Earth. Obviously the earlier habitats will be small but later on they will surely be large. 

    One thing we can't reproduce in this way are the Earth's oceans, as they are so deep that the amount of water is vast. The total volume of the oceans on Earth is, astonishingly, over 1.3 billion cubic kilometers, you would need to spread your net further than Ceres to supply that much water ice, perhaps to the Kuiper belt. So probably our near future colonies won't have so much by way of deep habitats for whales, giant squids etc.  

    Deep sea habitats also are a problem structurally, because a 100 meter deep sea will weigh 100 tons per square meter, quite an engineering challenge. You would probably need numerous stays like a suspension bridge. But maybe fish and whales don't need to live in full g? If they can manage with much lower g forces, perhaps dedicated few kms across water-world type habitats could perhaps be feasible in the not so distant future, spinning habitats that a whale could swim around in endlessly without ever finding an edge?

    Everything else is there in abundance, as far as we can tell. This is enough material for several trillion colonists with similarly spacious living conditions to those we enjoy on the Earth. 

    What about resources immediately accessible from Earth or Mars orbit?

    If you look at the resources available for Mars orbit - then the moons of Mars, and the Near Earth Orbit asteroids (easily accessible to mining companies on Earth) are the obvious resources to start with.

    Deimos the tiny outermost moon of Mars has a mass of 1.48 * 10^12 metric tons, which at 15 metric tons per square meter is enough to make Stanford Tori with about 100,000 square kilometers of living area.

    That's roughly the size of Iceland, larger than Scotland, or Norway, more than twice the size of Switzerland, which could be useful for Mars orbital colonies.

    In terms of US states, that's about the size of Oregon or Colerado

    So it is clear we aren't going to run out of resources for making space habs in orbit around Mars any time soon :)

    As for Near Earth Asteroids, the largest is 1036 Ganymed at about 34 km across. It's an S type asteroid. So probably good for construction, but not much by way of water. If this was used to make space habitats It goes on a big looping orbit and though it counts as a Near Earth Asteroid, it spends much of its time nearly as far away as Mars.

    4660 Nereus, one of the easiest of the NEAs to reach, easier than the Moon, it's about 0.3 kms acrossObjects easily accessible from Earth for the very near future, are rather smaller. There's a list here at the NASA Near Earth Object Program. A few may be as large as 100 meters across or larger. Nereus, pictured to the right, is 300 meters across, and easier to get to from Earth than the Moon.

    Nereus is irregular in shape, but has a volume of 0.019 cubic kilometers approximately. Assuming similar density to Ceres, with our thickness of 7.5 meters, or 0.0075 km, that's enough for 2.53 square kilometers of surface living area.

    Just using these NEAs that are easiest to get to, we still have enough materials available for some pretty huge starter habitats. We aren't going to run out of materials for those any time soon.

    Planetary Resources is one company with plans to mine NEAs for their resources possibly in the near future. They have a neat idea to use 3D printing in space to create components for their spacecraft in the future. With the rapid advances in 3D printing technology, perhaps ideas like this could transform space colonization.

    Space habs can provide far more land area for colonization than planetary surfaces in our solar system

    It is pretty clear that in the future, given time, free orbiting space habs or habs orbiting planets will house a far larger population than the surface of any planet, so long as humans continue to colonize the solar system.

    Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt, image NASAEventually we could potentially have tens or hundreds of trillions of people living in space habitats, especially when you take account of the materials in the Kuiper belt, Oort clouds etc.

    We don't even need to live in the Kuiper belt etc (though I'm sure some will once fusion power is practical with mini suns powering the habitats)

    Via the "Interplanetary Transport Network" you can simply move all the material you need to wherever in the solar system you want to put it, over time especially with an automated robotic spacecraft controlled transport network.

    That is, if we chose to do that. It might be that we decide not to expand so much and keep our total population lower. There is no moral imperative to expand and fill the galaxy, and since the sky is not already full of colonizing ETs, perhaps most ETs decide to stop expanding when they get to a certain stage. If so we might do the same. But as far as materials are concerned, the materials are there to colonize our solar system with trillions, and indeed our galaxy as well eventually.

    Innovative ways to supply materials from Earth

    For some time many materials may be easiest supplied from Earth for the first colonies, before asteroid and NEO mining is well established. For lightweight electronic components this isn't a major issue. But heavy materials might be more of an issue.

    There are however several innovative solutions suggested that could make supply of the colonies from Earth cost much less than you would expect. The other way around, return of materials from the colonies to Earth is relatively easy because of aero-braking in the thick Earth atmosphere. Energy can be exported directly to Earth using micro-wave transmission to receivers in remote locations on Earth.

    • Slingatron - a spinning wheel with a spiral pattern engraved into it which by rotating at high speeds could send small rockets into orbit with supplies. They would be small and strong, like "smart projectiles". There are several other mechanical or chemical ways to "fire materials into orbit" from Earth.
    • Air breathing space planes like Skylon - these could fly from reinforced runways on the surface of Earth straight to orbit, like a conventional plane
    • JP Aerospace's orbital airship. Over several days the ion propulsion system accelerates the 6000ft (2000m) long Orbital Ascender...JP Aerospace's Orbital Airship. An airship can't fly straight to orbit because if strong enough to survive the winds at low altitudes, it would be too heavy to fly to orbit. But if you put a floating staging post at about 30 to 43 kilometers above the ground, you can then have airships designed to fly in the upper atmosphere that could float at higher levels and simply accelerate slowly,  until they reach orbital velocity. Passengers fly up to the orbital platform in conventional airships, then transfer to the orbital ships.  These are in between a spaceship and an airship in design, and would be the largest vessels ever constructed, 2 km long (compared with 380 meters for the largest current supertankers). However, they can be amazingly light and don't need much strength, because they don't need to withstand strong winds or indeed much air at all. They would remain permanently at high altitudes.
    • Space fountain and space loops. This uses a similar idea to the way you can balance a golf ball on a jet of water, to keep structures at high altitudes, to make literally a bridge into space. It uses less energy than you would think because most of the energy gets recovered when the matter returns back to Earth, it then bounces back and keeps it going as an active structure. Vehicles then can travel along that road, accelerating all the time, you literally drive faster and faster until you reach orbital speeds. It seems a zany crazy idea but when you look at it more carefully, perhaps it might work, it's no more crazy than some other ideas that we now take for granted. It is much easier to construct than the Space Elavator which requires materials we don't yet have.
    • Many other ideas see the wikipedia article: Non rocket spacelaunch.

    It is hard to tell which of these will actually be adopted. Most are ideas, gleams in the inventor's eye, yet some like Skylon are at reasonably advanced stage of development, with many of the practical issues addressed. With so many ideas to explore, seems not too unlikely that one or the other will be feasible in the not too distant future.

    So trade between the colonies and Earth seems like it might well be feasible in the reasonably near future. We could start almost right away, with small habitats and high value materials (such as platinum, and beaming energy back to Earth) plus earnings from space tourism. Eventually it seems possible you could have extensive trade of just about anything.

    No practical need for surface of Mars for colonization

    Mars is no des. res, not at present anyway. It's got an atmosphere, yes, but the atmosphere is so thin it would count as a laboratory vacuum on Earth. Its nights are bitterly cold; even at the equator they go well below the lowest temperatures ever recorded in Antarctica. From time to time it gets covered in global dust storms so you can't see the sun.

    The photos from Mars make it look like much more habitable than it is. That's because they are coloured adjusted to simulate Earth lighting conditions to help geologists to identify rocks on Mars. The surface to human eyes would seem a dull muddy red brown with hardly any variation in the colour, unless you use enhanced vision of course.

    Peaks of eternal light

     ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute))The poles of the Moon seem to have some possibilities for colonization, because they have water ice almost certainly frozen within crater floors, in the coldest places known in the solar system (colder than the surface of Pluto). Close to those, are the so called "peaks of eternal light" where the sun almost never sets (except during solar eclipses). The ones identified so far are small, just a few hundred meters across, in an ocean of eternal darkness. There are some spots at the North pole of the Moon that may be 100% illuminated. Some near the South pole may be illuminated nearly all the time

    There is enough light to keep the temperatures constant at about -50 C, and to give almost constant power from solar energy greatly simplifying construction of a lunar habitat. Small though they are, you could have small colonies that live on the peaks of (almost) eternal light and use water ice from the surrounding ocean of eternal darkness.

    These probably need to be kept pristine in the very near future for scientific study, but after that, once we know what is there and understand it, maybe they can be colonized and the water used for habitats.

    These may be the most easily habitable spots for humans outside of Earth in the solar system.

    Away from these lunar poles, the Moon is more of a challenge because of its two week long night. This is a long period to last without solar energy. 

    Here are some ideas to play around with, the first two are my own:

    •  Could giant mirrors, perhaps in the L1 position, supply this light to a colony during the lunar light? 
    • What about slowly rotating giant habitats, like a huge roundabout, to create artificial gravity on the Moon, so that at least within the habitats you can enjoy Earth  normal gravity? (It's the same idea as the rotating hamlets inside a slowly rotating Stanford Torus above). This might also help with health problems from low G, if there are any (nobody seems to know yet).
    • What about generating a thin atmosphere? This is an idea suggested by Mithridates. The idea isn't to terraform the Moon, but rather to create a thin atmosphere similar to that of Triton. The thin atmosphere would be enough to reduce the danger from the smallest micro-meteorites. It would also create a basic weather system that would help to equalize the atmosphere, and might be a natural product of colonization.

    Orbital Mars colonies, an exciting location for a habitat

    Colonies in orbit around Earth or the Moon would be the easiest to construct, but the most exciting location  in the near future could be Mars orbit. It's population can explore the surface of Mars,, driving vehicles and operating robots on the surface via telepresence.

    All our rovers on Mars to date have been slow moving, taking months to travel kilometers. That's mainly because of the light speed delays. There is just no point in making a faster rover because we couldn't control it from Earth, not over the rough terrain on Mars. Rovers operated from orbit around Mars wouldn't have those issues.

    Some of the advantages of an orbital colony over surface colonization of Mars are:

    • Telerobots can be sterilized, humans can't be. Human explorers on the surface might not be able to keep Mars free of Earth life.. 
    • Any spot over half of the surface is accessible directly via telepresence, so rovers and telerobots at multiple locations can be accessed by the same operator
    • No need to get into a spacesuit to explore Mars
    • Enhanced vision, and shared streaming of all video streams easy to do.
    • Super-human powers possible - the telerobots on the surface can be made stronger, smaller, larger, more agile, than a human.
    • No dust storms to block out sunlight
    • Steady temperature, avoiding the extreme cold of the Martian night.

    For more about this see Can Human Explorers Keep Mars Clean of Microbes, For Science?

    Eventually colonists in similar habitats could use telerobots to explore Jupiter's atmosphere, Titan, Triton, the surface of Venus, Europa's oceans, and other locations that are impractical for humans to explore directly because of:

    •  Gravity is too high (Jupiter)
    • Too hot (Venus)
    • High levels of radiatin (surface of Io for instance)
    •  Too cold, humans would melt the surface just by walking around (Triton, Titan, Pluto)
    • Danger of contamination with Earth life (Mars, Europa, Encladus, possibly Triton and Titan if they have cryovolcanoes too)
    In this way we can explore anywhere in our solar system almost without limits at all.

    Far future possibilities

    The Moon is a possible location for paraterraforming - where you cover an entire planetary or moon surface with greenhouses and habitats and live in those, if you can overcome the issues of the long dark nights. The entire surface of the Moon might one day be covered in habitats. Lunar soil has been shown to be good for plants, if you can supply water, though nitrogen would need to be imported to get it started.

    Further in the future, who knows, maybe it will be possible to terraform Mars, once we understand the planet well from a scientific point of view, and know what we are doing. It would take centuries, but perhaps could get to the point where plants can grow there and the atmosphere is thick enough so that you only need a breathing apparatus and no spacesuit.  It could be paraterraformed too, covered in habitats.

    Screenshot from Star Wars of cloud city of Bespin, floating in gas giant. Perhaps it might be easier than you think to make floating cities, in the dense CO2 atmosphere of VenusThere is also Landis's intriguing possibility of floating cloud cities in the dense Venusian atmosphere, floating at the level where the atmospheric pressure exactly matches that of Earth. Since Venus's atmosphere is the dense gas CO2, you don't even need to use hydrogen (though hydrogen would be safe to use on Venus), as our own atmosphere is already a lifting gas there. The room you are in would float in the Venusian atmosphere, if you could make its walls strong enough, and resistant to the sulfuric acid rain.

    On Mercury, small colonies perhaps could use the polar ice deposits if those exist. But both of those are likely to be significant challenges.

    Terraforming Venus may be possible in the future, over centuries but is a major issue because of the huge atmosphere. It is hard to get rid of it permanently. Even if you can somehow blast it into space, Venus may gather it all up again in its gravitational field later. Perhaps it could be done, but you are talking about mega scale planetary engineering. This problem has exercised the minds of many thinkers, with some imaginative solutions suggested  Wikipedia has a good article on this subject if you want to stretch your mind and try to think of a way to do it.

    Interesting though these ideas are, it's hard to see how they could house the trillions that could potentially colonize space settlements.

    See also


    Thor Russell
    Interesting, I didn't know there was such a vast amount of material available. In terms of actually making these habitats is there any essential element on earth that our current tech depends on that would limit building these factories? How would the plants get sunlight when there is shielding in the way? sun -> solar panel -> artificial light or fusion to artificial light, perhaps it would be easier to synthesize food as it would be much more efficient if achieved.
    Thor Russell
    Yes, surprising isn't it. The only essential element I've seen mentioned is Nitrogen, that they might need to import Nitrogen for agriculture. You get some in meteorites though, highest in C1 Meteorites which also have organic compounds including amino acids. 
    This is an old detailed study from 1979 that goes through many of the elements individually, gives you an idea of the variety. Has a table for nitrogen which it puts at 0.3% by weight in C1 Chrondites. That's about the same as the nitrogen content of soil, so it's not too bad.

    Many of the valuable metals are more abundant in meteorites than on Earth.
    Overview of composition of meteorites : Meteorite compositions
    Overview of the prospects for asteroid miningInterview with some asteroid mining companies and experts

    Sunlight is usually via mirrors in these designs e.g. here is how it's done for the Stanford Torus.
    This is it in a modern update of the design: Habitat 2 with a big 2 km across mirror (aluminised Mylar) - leaves out the cosmic radiation shielding for artistic reasons

    So it gets reflected around the cosmic radiation shielding into the habitat. The cosmic radiation, as highly energetic particles, would just go right through mirrors and so wouldn't get reflected into the habitat with the sunlight, which just needs a thin mirror to reflect it. Spins edge on to the sun.

    So long as the habitat is reasonably close to the sun, there would be plenty of sunlight for plants, and natural daylight for the residents. There is no need for RAMA type artificial lighting so long as they are reasonably close to the sun. 

    Surely before not too many decades we'll have fusion power, and almost unlimited energy. Until then yes the plans use solar panels for electricity.

    Ah! But not once do you mention or consider the human factor. It will do you in every time.

    You're dreaming!! We can't take care of what we have nor do we get along with those who are here--we can't even eat right and work together for the betterment of society--we steal, murder, rape, the smartest 'bug' here we are a mess! And where are all the resources going to come from to get all these habitats built that will then allow us to then get more "easy to get materials from the asteroids"...from? We can't even complete the ISS and what about the low gravity? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! First, We need to find a way out of our oil dependence and then get an unlimited supply and source of energy (like the stars...) and have people willing to not operate their lives greedily using up resources needlessly---like the way we drive cars...and even gratify ourselves with car racing.... We need to acquire a different mindset and worldview). I applaud your positive futuristic campfire fictional story...but our sun will red-giant and the moon drift away (as its distance slowly increases) and mankind will be replaced by the insects long before we get our act together to even come close to accomplishing anything near what you have, "shouted around the 'camp fire' world that I know of. Nice Bedtime story.

    Well many people have been dreaming about these ideas since the 1970s. Many ideas that seem every day to us now, were distant dreams a couple of decades ago. 
    Personal computers for instance. When I was a child in the 60s, the very idea hadn't been thought of. It was so futuristic, with computers so huge and expensive to build, that sci fi writers like Asimov were still stuck in the mindset of a gigantic central computer running everything in a country or the entire world.
    I've seen enough changes in my lifetime to know that things can change, and rapidly, and after the change, it is surprising how quickly it gets taken for granted.

    Rather a nice quote from Arthur C. Clarke:

    Clarke's Law of Revolutionary Ideas: Every revolutionary idea — in sciencepoliticsart, or whatever — seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases:

    (1) "It's completely impossible — don't waste my time";
    (2) "It's possible, but it's not worth doing";
    (3) "I said it was a good idea all along."

    See Wikiquote

    There are ways that it can be economic from an early stage.

    •  Tourist hotels in space of course. There are already companies aiming to build hotels in orbit too. Including the Bigelow inflatable space habs, one of which has already flown. it's Genesis I.
    • Supply to LEO, Planetary Resources wants to mine the asteroids to supply materials to LEO at far lower cost than from Earth. 
    • Materials for Earth - despite the expense, for instance platinum is rarely used on Earth because there is so little of it but is a useful metal (not just valuable), and is abundant in some meteorites and M-type asteroids.
    • Solar energy from space. This was the idea for the Stanford Torus in the 1970s that it would build many satellites to beam solar energy back to Earth.

    The likes of Space-X and Spaceship One, reducing the price of launches to orbit, could all help to make it more economic and viable. 

    Long term, we might build the likes of Skylon a British air breathing space plane design able to take off into orbit from a runway, then you could get substantial emigration to the space colonies and then they would really begin to expand (every year a billion or so, a substantial part of the world's population, take air flights so if spaceflight gets as easy as that, the entire population of the Earth could emigrate to space quite quickly if it wanted to).

    Of course smaller habs before big ones unless there is some big initiative to build a space colony. As soon as they get large, surely most of the resources would come from space.

    It looks as if asteroid mining might well get underway before any space colonies are built, so by then the capability to get materials from asteroids may be well established.

    I think it's not impossible. It might not happen of course, and many other things could happen in its place, but I think that would be a sadly missed opportunity. 

    Yes, we need to get off to a peaceful start, aggression in space would be extremely dangerous. But the huge quantities of materials available probably means there isn't that much to fight about especially for private individuals and companies, so that's in our favour. 

    Just ideas, to think over, hope they can be inspiring, no-one can predict the future, I totally agree. 

    If it does happen I expect small steps, rather than big sudden changes, things like that creep up on you over a period of a decade or two. Have been caught out in that way several times myself, and I would simply have never believed or predicted that personal computers would be possible when I was a child.


    I don't want to sound pessimistic and again your enthusiasm is refreshing.  Hank?  Who is going to do all this INITIAL exploring and building and habituating in space so that the tourists (not just the few rich ones) can boost up the tourist trade business? ANS?  Us! The USA (maybe some few countries in Europe and too perhaps Japan and China -- of course China first wants to have their oil booming society like we did in the days of 34 cent per gallon gasoline - the 60's and 70's!!).  Hank?  Have you ever been to India and seen some of the difficult living conditions there...or in say Mexico City and/or Brazil?  The population is exploding and these people need to eat--people will do drastic (even nasty) things when they get hungry and thirsty. Australia (and too soon perhaps Southern California) must use desalination plants to get fresh water.  There will be wars over oil and too eventually water!! So while our planet (with its horde of people) is like a fast moving large ocean liner called the Titanic we are then going to do what?  Spend resources to go into outer space to mine asteroids? Yes your comments about the growth of computers is correct, and scientists were wrong too about many things in the past from flies coming to life from putrid meat to where fire comes from -- phlogiston and too plate tectonics and lets not forget (ole Nick)Copernicus who was right about a sun-centered solar system but was too afraid to publish least he end up like Giordano Bruno (a fried free thinker).  I watched us land on the moon...and the talk was thick about building on the moon and mining it. Aaaah, that was some 40 plus years ago (geeisssh where did the time go?).  Hank...we will never mine an asteroid before we first 'mine' the moon of all its cheese!  and we will never 'DO' the moon either until we solve our societal issues, our survival issues, our security issues, our prejudices (that cause terrorists to strike and then cause wars) and even our religious and educational issues.  If science found some amazing energy source (as a point of discussion they may have) the government would try to control it and/or if it got out there would be more power struggles just like when we went nuclear (and the arms race we had with Russia) -- we darn near blew up the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Now look at the silly construction going on in the oil rich parts of Saudi Arabia (like Dubai) they are turning the ocean into a palm tree boat city and too building a world in the sea with little islands...!  They should be using the oil to build massive solar collection fields in the desert to make electricity instead they are going greedy with too much wealth and squandering that oil resource--just like we did with the automobile and aviation and all other industry that depends on petroleum. 

    It there are smarter aliens out there and they are watching us then they must also be smart enough to know that a society does not treat perishable non-recoverable resources in such a childish manner and then grow up without doing ultimate damage.  If the Fermi Paradox and the Drank Formula has any merit then 'they' have marked us as "off-limits" to...keep the virus quarantined.

    But keep playing the positive music (I like music) and while I'm enjoying your tune (and positive attitude) I'll be dressed in my best, and sipping my the waves consume us all to the dark depths of the dustbin of history. For later when we are gone and the 'aliens' do land no one will be here and they will then just have to wonder who we were...or if we had positive dreams about visiting the stars.   
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat

    These are all fascinating and wonderful ideas Robert, for what could be an amazing future in space but its also difficult to imagine it ever taking place, when for example, on this planet right now, the offshore gas rig that suffered a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico many months ago, is still leaking and is still on fire and is now partially collapsed and the owner of the rig is a leading advocate for cutting government oversight of the offshore drilling industry.

    It is also difficult to imagine this amazing future in space when also, right now on this planet, over a year after the tsunami  hit Japan's coastal nuclear power station and caused six reactors to go into meltdown, 'Japanese researchers say the cost of cleaning up from the Fukushima nuclear disaster could top $50bn (£32.6bn), more than four times the amount allocated by the government.'

    'The figure does not include compensation for those affected by the explosion and the subsequent fallout, or the multibillion-dollar price tag for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which the government and regulators say will take at least 40 years to complete.''The meltdowns forced over 100,000 people to flee the contaminated zone around the plant, while tens of thousands more have since left the Fukushima area voluntarily.' 

    'On Monday, Tepco admitted for the first time that radiation is leaking into the Pacific, further complicating the clean-up operation and contradicting its earlier claims that contaminated groundwater had been contained before it had reached the ocean. The company faced severe criticism over the fact that it had sat on an internal report that revealed the groundwater leak for several days.'

    'The head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was established in the aftermath of the disaster, said earlier this month, that he believed radioactive material had contaminating the sea close to the plant since the accident occurred.' 

    In the meantime radioactive seawater from Fukishima keeps spreading around the world. I suppose that at this rate, we will probably need a new planet or asteroid to live on, if we continue to destroy and mismanage this one so badly?

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Cosmic Egg, first just to say I'm not Hank, I'm Robert, easy for this sort of thing to happen online, just so you now.
    Anyway, I think I've given a wrong impression somehow. Sorry about that.
    I'm not suggesting we do some big expensive short term program to build these habitats. Not advocating any course of action at all.

    The idea of the article was just to show the potential in space. Whether we realize that is up to us.

    I'm taking a long view here. Just saying, there is all this potential in space. Also that if we do space colonies then free flying habitats seem easier to build than surfaces of other planets, safer too, better in many ways.

    Was particularly inspired to write it because you get so many news stories about people who want to colonize Mars. There have been quite a few here in the UK recently, and they don't seem to look at the issues much at all - the inhospitability of Mars or the contamination issues of exploring it.

    But if you look at it, a bit closer, Mars doesn't seem that good at all as a colonization target. It's too far away, is expensive to get to, and when you get there is no des. res. The "peaks of eternal light" on the Moon seem far more hospitable than Mars for instance. And space colonies may be better even than those, for long term settlement, I think.
    Mars is great as an exploration and scientific study target. But for that then telerobotic exploration from space makes more sense because the very thing that is interesting about it is its biological potential, so you want to be ultra careful not to contaminate it, and space colonies around Mars seem likely to cost much less to set up than colonies on the surface anyway, and able to do ISRU just as easily from Deimos or Phobos etc.

    If people do want to do a big colonization effort, then space habs may be the best idea.

    But if not, well I don't have a problem with that :). I think it is probably rather good if it happens slowly because then you can work through any issues more slowly rather than try to fix everything at once.

    So it was more to do with that, if you want to do space colonization, then space habs seem to be getting overlooked in comparison with planetary habitats and thought it was worth saying a bit about how much material is available for space habs.

    Agree there are lots of short term problems in the world. And of course important to deal with those. However at the same time, to have some long term thinking as well - I think that's important too. It's not either, or. I think we need both. E.g. dealing with global warming involves longer term thinking of order of decades, maybe half a century or so. Over a similar timescale to global warming, then space colonies and asteroid mining, and energy and materials from space, or emigration to space colonies, may well also be feasible. Perhaps by 50 years from now all this may be commonplace. Don't expect it to happen next year or next decade, except in a small way.

    Also long time life is about more than surviving and I see nothing wrong with imaginative expensive engineering projects, along with everything else that is going on, not if it takes the place of other important things of course. And poverty and hunger and dealing with environmental issues, I agree totally is really important to deal with.
    I think the Apollo missions for instance were inspiring. Also Voyager and many of the NASA missions, it's a tiny percentage of all spending. Hardly anyone complains when countries spend probably many times the amount on weapons and weapons research.

    Hope that's a bit clearer.
    And it is all just thoughts to stimulate ideas and discussion. Please don't feel I'm attempting to provide answers for anyone :).

    I think I'll add something at the top of the article to make this a bit clearer to the reader.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thanks for replying Robert. You've written a great article, full of stimulating ideas for discussion. Sorry I felt compelled to make my rather depressing comment above. I also want to be all happy and excited about our capabilities for the future but each day, more of these disastrous articles keep surfacing, revealing mankind's ongoing, pretty appalling environmental track record. 
    Hopefully our planetary management skills will improve and if not we will definitely need to explore your wonderful thoughts and ideas, in order to colonize our next asteroid or planet :)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Thanks, glad you liked it and that's okay of course good to look at the negative sides of things.
    With the stories you just posted, that oil well was only burning for a few days, no oil spill, just checked the stories. It's not as bad as the deep horizons spill in 2010 which is the one that took three months to cap and continued to leak from time to time small spills after it was capped. 

    I'm most concerned about Arctic drilling actually, because the oil doesn't evaporate so easily, ice covers it, and it can persist in the environment for decades, and the conditions make it much harder to do anything - it might well be that you can't contain the oil until the next summer so it continues to gush from the oil all winter under the ice. 

    Also, we don't need the Arctic oil, with present technology, because if we burn all the known oil reserves it will go well over the limits for disastrous global warming. We've had a few stories about that here in the UK, with a recent one, a group of MPs saying that the UK should do more about it even though we are not directly involved in exploiting oil in the Arctic.

    I also looked up the WWF report which is here:

    I didn't know about the extent of the Japanese radioactivity in the Pacific. It's mainly cesium isotopes, so that seems rather like the Chernobyl disaster which lead to many of our grasslands here in the UK getting contaminated, It's a short lived isotope so the problem eventually clears up but takes some years. 

    It's had the effect that the the majority of the Japanese public is in favour of reducing use of nuclear power and most of the nuclear power stations were shut down temporarily for inspections, from 30% of its power reduced to 0%, since then 4 have restarted against opposition from the public. Long page about it here:

    There is a lot going right though as well as wrong. For instance, is long ago now, but without the green revolution then the majority of the World population would surely be starving by now.

    I'd say that nowadays advances in solar and thermal power , and other alternative power sources is one of the big positives. My house gets all its hot water in the summer from solar panels, actually made by an Australian company as it happens. Potentially we get enough sunlight to get all our energy from solar power, from just a small area of desert, so not sure we really need nuclear power long term, or oil or gas for power, once prices of solar electric come down a bit further.  

    Anyway those are just a few thoughts I think we have a rough few decades still probably, but perhaps there might be easier times ahead after that, hope so!

    Helen, didn't know about those things, though with the nuclear power plants not surprising more was involved than they expected. Don't know what to say except hope they can get something sorted out.
    I think a lot of our problems we take with us, and if the idea is to do a space colony as a way to make a fresh start, and to get away from a world which we give up on, I see that as a disaster. Apart from anything else, nowhere else in our solar system is even remotely as hospitable as Earth. So if we make a failure of Earth we have no chance at all anywhere else, in my view. And would be many decades before any space colony anywhere would even begin to approach self sufficiency. Maybe in food - but that is hard enough, no-one has quite shown it is possible yet to have a totally self sufficient cycling habitat, ISS is nowhere near. 

    As for other things, surely for a long time they would be dependent on Earth and trading with Earth for many things, and would probably not aim to be totally self contained any more than any Earth country aims to be self contained.

    But as part of a healthy Earth once we get over the next few decades, and also indeed could be part of the solution too, e.g. space mining, or beaming clean energy back to Earth, I can see that working, just as satellites are already part of our lives and help in many ways. If that's the way we go.

    But I'm no advocate, don't aim to change peoples minds or to get them to follow particular courses of action. I am much more a believer in the value of extensive debate and sharing ideas and see what comes out of it all.

    Hope that helps.
    Gerhard Adam
    Robert, you've written some excellent articles that achieve exactly what you set out to do; stimulate the imagination and to elicit points to ponder regarding our future in space.

    While it wasn't your intent, I couldn't help but be struck by the dichotomy that such discussions always raise regarding our political and economic beliefs.  In everything ranging from the Star Trek view of the future to the more pragmatic examples you've raised the one thing they all have in common is that they consider "humanity" as a whole, regarding "our" future.

    The irony, to me, is that such thinking is necessarily a much more socialist view of society than the competitive "greed machines" we seem to be perpetuating.  While many may think that such a comment is sacrilege, it is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot count on widening the chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and expect to have a successful future as a species.

    So, regardless of what economic model one may envision for the future, it is becoming apparent that the traditional models have set us up to fail on ventures greater than our own parochial interests.  If we are to ever strive towards something like the Star Trek era, then we must learn to put aside our short term interests and learn to look into the future with more imagination [beyond merely greater profits].
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thank You Robert for putting my head back together and how I scrambled you in as Hank (I just don't know how I did that). Just to let you all know I came on here as "Anonymous49" but thought they would run me through a log in and sign up I seem to have it (they--it's not ME!) all scrambled up. Whatever...aaaarrrgggggg.

    I also want to thank Gerhard for saying better (and smoother) what I 'spieled' out in my ramblings (believe me I love to ramble & jump in and out of rabbit holes...I just LOVE it!--really!! My mind is all over the place and I have not even considered any beer yet...ha ha ha).

    Dreaming is not bad, trying new things is not bad, striving for perfection is not bad...even striving to keep one conscience clear and untroubled is not bad. What is bad is the constant drone of entropy impacting all that is material (and energy) and the constant effort to organize information so it is useful and available when it is needed. (really it is all about ENTROPY). With any effort in space, as Robert has allowed us in grand detail and great vides and pictures, if the information can not be recognized as valuable so that we could then organize it to be available when we need it then no design of any sort be it wheelbarrow or Daedalus (spaceship) could ever be built.

    So although our social system is horrible lacking (as we have all commented to) we also need to be as organized as ant (or termites) and too motivated as busy bees that regardless of the outside attack we push forward irrespective of the consequences. Yet too the problem is that we are NOT ants, termites, or busy bees. We do not live in a colony driven by a queen ant or bee...we are individuals who strive to satisfy individualists goals all of which (are desires) which never seem this materialistic world. Maybe the materialistic world is just an illusions and we are deluded and totally confused by our purpose (if there is even any purpose)!

    Like I mentioned previously we are a "messed up bug" and ironically we all know it but seem powerless to affect any positive change. Frustrating...huh?

    Gerhard, thanks, glad my ideas are stimulating. Politics and economics are decidedly my weak points so I probably can't contribute too much there. For sure though we can be inspired by many things other than profit.
    Some entrepreneurs find the profit motive inspiring and exciting. For many others I think it is rather uninteresting thing that you have to do to get by, or something that someone else has to think about while they get on with their job, and it's quite other things that are the real inspirations in their lives. How you think of that in economics or politics I don't know, they tend to find a way to reduce everything to economics, but I think even if you can do that, the root inspiration is quite other most of the time, the thing that actually motivates those involved in the activities.
    Sometimes you end up a different place from where you expected from the original inspiration, but that's okay. 

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't think there's any question that the motivation and inspiration you're talking about are deeply seated ideas in the minds of those that would accomplish them.  However, I don't see that as the problem.  The problem are those political and economic powers that will block them.

    That's what I was referring to regarding the dichotomy of those interests.  We haven't gone back to the moon, or done much significant in space because of politics and economics.  Not due to a lack of imagination or enthusiasm by those that would perform the work.

    This is the real problem of politics and corporatism.  When all the economic power lies in the hands of a few, there is little doubt that the objectives we imagine as desirable for all of humanity will never come about unless they coincide with the economic interests of those making the decisions. 

    The irony is that even recent history has demonstrated society's ability to engage in long-term, multi-generational projects that clearly were not bound solely by economics.  Whether it be the building of the pyramids to the old cathedrals of Europe.  It is that spirit which we have lost and unless we regain it, I don't see much future for our imaginations.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, I can see what you are saying. The Stanford Torus was a 25 year project to build it and 70 years for payback so close to "multi-generational". 

    I don't know how long it would take to build the same thing starting from scratch nowadays. Our technology has moved on, yet, you still have to get the space mining established, and other stages first, wouldn't be surprised if it is a couple of decades project still.

    But perhaps it's better to start small and get experience with building smaller habs first. I'm not sure this is a situation where a big multi-decades project like the Stanford Torus is the way to go myself, not right away.

    For the big space habs, one issue is the external shielding  - is it safe to have the stationary external shielding right next to the space hab going past it at 200 mph? For smaller habs, you can rotate the shielding at the same speed as the hull so its not an issue, it might also be possible with larger habs with redesign (lots of internal stays like a suspension bridge) or new materials. 

    The larger habs also have the issue of wobble control which could cause the equivalent of Earthquakes. Then, with the mirrors etc you are building huge structures e.g. a mirror 2 km across which has never been done before in space.
    The introduction to this article about Kalapana One goes into those issues. But chances are his solution also has issues too, because it is such a large novel undertaking. I expect it's probably hard to know in advance what will be serious issues and what will turn out to be relatively easy to overcome.

    Surely all this and other issues can be solved - as we have with many big mega-engineering projects on Earth. But like building the tallest buildings on Earth - we gradually learn while building larger and larger buildings, or like bridges where cable stayed bridges are often used in situations where suspension bridges were built before, so expect will be the same in space.

    Building the Stanford Torus in space right now is a bit like attempting a multi-story skyscraper when you haven't yet built a two story house, seems to me, because of the novel environment of space (same for the lunar surface too just as novel).

    Yes, no-one has gone back to the Moon, but it is no longer a NASA only thing, with India, Russia, China, Japan, Europe, the Google Lunar X prize. The Ansari X prize lead to Virgin Galactic. Then Space X shows what one entrepeneur can do.

    I wouldn't be surprised if we do get a return to the Moon in the not too distant future. 

    If we ever attempt terraforming that will be a multi-generational project, and it may be well beyond us for that reason, because we might attempt "quick solutions" that probably wouldn't work, it might be something that can only be done somewhat more slowly, anyway I'm going to do a post about that soon.


    Hi everyone, I've just added a couple of new sections, one on

    "Innovative ways to supply materials from Earth"

    and another on

    "Shielding issues"

    Sorry that the comments got closed on this article. Default is for comments to close automatically, have opened it to comment again.
    I've just found out that someone else did exactly the same calculation in the 1970s and came up with the same answer, that the asteroids have enough material for living area of a thousand times that of the Earth.

    It is in the book "Colonies in Space" by T. A. Heppenheimer

    "The first answers they came up with indicated there was more than a thousand times the land area of Earth as the potential room for expansion. They concluded that the surface of a planet was not the best place for a technical civilization. The best places looked like new, artificial bodies in space, or inside-out planets."
    Robert, a couple more references for you, which I didn't find in your post or the comments.

    John S. Lewis, "Mining the Sky" (Helix Books, 1997). A detailed and inspirational study of the resources of the Solar System by a University of Arizona professor of planetary science. He estimates that the resources of the asteroid belt could support a population of 10^16 people.

    Stephen Ashworth (myself), “The Long-Term Growth Prospects for Planetary and Space Colonies”, JBIS, vol.65 no.6 (June 2012), p.200-217. My own reworking of the space colony idea, concluding that space colonisation offered about 500 to 1000 times more living space than planetary colonisation in our Solar System, but ending up with a slightly smaller figure than Lewis.

    Best wishes,
    Oxford, UK

    Stephen, thanks for those references.
    Links: “The Long-Term Growth Prospects for Planetary and Space Colonies” 
    Mining the sky, and google book info

    Is your article available online anywhere? Or other of your work? If so would be nice to link to it too and of course interested to read it. I haven't got library access to scientific journals any more, and same probably for many readers of this page, though I know, that some of the journals don't permit articles to be shared online.

    Best wishes,

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