Experts in the field of space exploration say we need to get off the planet Earth and colonize space. Leaders in the field have become much more vocal in the past several years that humankind needs to start considering space colonization as a means to preserve our species.
However, there are many largely unaddressed questions, both moral and practical that have not been presented alongside the space colonization platform. It’s called “reality” and it’s not nearly as rosy as the dream.
Astrophysicists and cosmologists around the globe seem to be in agreement that life on Earth is fragile and bereft with risks. Scientists like Dr. J. Richard Gott, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton who says we should get a colony up and running on within 46 years, and men like Professor Stephen Hawking, who is a well known space colonization advocate, may be absolutely right about the risks, but are they right about the solution?
Even if we have a space station on Mars, how will that save the human species? is not a hospitable environment. Even in a beautifully self-contained where colonists could grow their own food, and recycle air and water—it is very difficult to believe that they would not need some type of reinforcements from Earth to exist long-term. However, if they’re up there in case something happens to the Earth (say we get hit by a asteroid)—they’re doomed already. Let’s say in the best case scenario they can survive without any type of reinforcements for a few hundred years—prolonging the existence of just a few people for such a short time period doesn’t seem to be much of an answer.
Then there is the other argument—that we don’t even need a planet at all. Dave Brody of the National Space Society says “orbiting colonies” are the way to go.
"Just because you evolved on a planet does not necessitate that you continue to live on one. And there are some profoundly good reasons not to do so. Like that big honkin' ‘gravity well’ that you have to expensively and dangerously blast your way up out of each time you need to go someplace. And the bigger the planet, the worse the penalty."
Maybe Brody is onto something, but the same logic can be applied to this idea as to colonizing mars—long-term sustainability with no parent planet with vast resources to send reinforcements makes the likelihood of this being a long-term solution quite slim. Also, with both of these plans there would have to be some serious population control.
The prospect of terraforming a planet, moon, or other body by deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, or ecology to be similar to those of Earth in order to make it habitable by humans sounds lovely, but is still completely hypothetical. Since we currently are nowhere near possessing the technological or economic means to terraform another planet (and perhaps never will)—I’ll skip that option for now.
As it stands now, our best bet to preserve the human species in the long-term would be to find a habitable planet and figure out how to get there (even if it took a few generations). But here’s where things get really messed up. What are the odds of a truly habitable planet—one that is temperate, has water, and supports plant life—not already having life on it. The odds aren’t bad that there would already be indigenous life. Are we prepared to become “space invaders”. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the lifeforms are cognecent and unappreciative of our intrusion? Should we bring along weapons, just in case?
I’m the first to agree that all of the scenarios mentioned, seem far, far away and perhaps incredibly unlikely. But the truth is, some of the greatest and most brilliant minds on the planet are big advocates of space colonization and nearly every space agency has some sort of future plan to colonize. The dilemmas brought up are theoretically real. Maybe while we’re reaching for the stars, we ought to figure out what it is we’re really reaching for.
Posted by Rebecca Sato