Ground Control to Major Tom

A topic that comes up frequently on my radar is, how does the human race leave Earth and settle other planets? I usually bow out of these discussions because a) I have no intention of settling on another planet and b) no space colony would take me, so it’s rather a moot point.

But the subject came up yet again, and I don’t have anything better to write about today, so, let’s talk. What level of colonization/civilization would be necessary, to convince you to leave Earth? What creature comforts would you require in your new home? To use the ‘carrot and stick’ analogy, what sort of ‘carrot’ would someone have to dangle in front of you, to get you to up-sticks and settle on the Moon or Mars?

For me, it’d be nearly impossible. I like green and growing things; I like horses and other animals; I like to be outside, under the sun, without any other people around. It’s very unlikely that any off-planet colony will reach that stage within my lifetime. I’ve lived without electricity and running water (at different times) so those wouldn’t even be necessary. I can’t live without oxygen (duh!) so a colony with no atmosphere would be useless to me and everyone else. Having just moved to a new state, I think it’d be difficult to fit all of my possessions on the spaceship (some of my things are truly irreplaceable). And I actually like my family; I wouldn’t want to be permanently separated from them, and most of them have no inclination to live on another planet.

Would you be willing to leave Earth? As one of the first explorers, or a later colonist? What infrastructure, institutions, and objects would be necessary to make you think of the colony as ‘home’?

18 thoughts on “Ground Control to Major Tom

  1. Well, I’m too old to move off-world but I’d prefer to move to an Earth-like planet (with a degree of modern conveniences) than to move to a “tin-can in space”. 😉

  2. Assuming there wasn’t some imminent disaster which would make life on this planet impossible, I wouldn’t consider leaving. I don’t even like to take short flights.

  3. I want to visit, but I know I wouldn’t do well living in the current versions of tin can long term, with a lack of sunlight and not much in the way of growing things.

    What would it take? A way to get out and walk, and something green and growing to see. Which requires a moonbase or starbase that’s big enough to get out and walk, and grow a park. Also, big enough I could get away from people and recharge my introverted self.

  4. When I was young, I might have. I do fine in isolation and cramped living, provided I have a private space. Nowadays, tho… I’m too planetbound. I still do fine in isolation and cramped living, and can live comfortably without modern conveniences, but in my old age I have the habits of a farmer, and that means all sorts of growing things.

  5. About twenty years off my age.
    When I was younger, just the promise of adventure and advancing the human conquest of space would have been more than enough to make the necessary unpleasant realities worthwhile.
    Now, I have responsibilities. And I ache. And I’m not nearly as mentally agile as I used to be.

    1. Pretty much the same here.

      I would’ve missed my family, but a see-them-every-few-years deal wouldn’t have been that bad.

  6. If they waved rejuvenation at me (and they wouldn’t want me, otherwise) I’d probably consider it.

    If it was in extremely cramped conditions, I’d go for a ‘short’ trip to Mars and enjoy my somewhat extended life on a large enclosed (or series of medium enclosures) environments with science trips out on the surface.

    A slow ship with some semblance of a natural environment? I’d go to the stars, or at least offer myself for the first generation. Even with no idea of what was on the other end of the trip.

    1. Yes.

      Extremely long lives are probably the only real way to get out of the solar system barring FTL.

  7. In terms of strictly carrots, I would need a situation where I could make relatively easy jaunts back and forth to Earth. I’m a sentimental fool, and I’m attached to my home rock. If Mars is a one-way trip, I doubt I’d want to go.

    In terms of sticks, what would make me leave my homeworld….if the choice was renounce Christianity, die, or emigrate, I’d emigrate. If it was change sects, die, or emigrate, I could probably make my peace with being Presbyterian or Catholic or Jehova’s Witness or whomever the winners were in that conflict. Extreme poverty, maybe, although I have a hard time imagining that, say, if there were a global famine on Earth, food would be plentiful in space. As far as other principles, I’d like to say I’d leave if we lost freedom of speech or the right to a jury trial or something, but truthfully if I didn’t think it would effect me personally and immediately, I’d probably try to ride things out on Earth rather than risk going elsewhere.

    1. Issue is, a sect that demands conversion from other sects on pain of death might well have serious problems with its implementation of Christianity.

  8. Short version: I don’t think there will be anywhere that now-me would want to live until near the end of the century. Young-me was less picky, so some folks may start emigrating (as opposed to going on missions to) around 2050 or so.

    Leaving aside the “how much gravity do humans need?” issue and assuming Lunar gravity is sufficient…

    If we don’t figure out a way to cheat light speed, extra-solar-system colonization is so far in the future as to be irrelevant. Mars _might_ be teraformable, but it would take a long time and probably require cometary bombardment, which means you don’t want colonists on the surface until that is complete. Despite the technology available, what are the odds that any politician would ever support a permit to crash ice comets into Mars? Venus is even more of a challenge: While bombarding it to add water, you want all the comets to come in at the same angle to fix its rotation/day length.

    Luna seems the obvious first choice due to technological limits (we’ve never even tried to live somewhere without air – even underwater you can electrolysize oxygen out) and near real-time assistance (or remote control) from Earth. Loonies will live in caves. The surface is deadly and venturing out will be rare (once there is a full-blow city, not just a high-tech tent). The day length is also very inconvenient, so windows (or a dome – seriously?!?) may exist, but they wouldn’t be “everyone has one” things. The good news: Digging and support is much easier in lunar gravity.

    Luna is also a good place for a giant pushing laser because putting it on the far side means that no one has to worry about it being used against Earth. That could drastically cut down the reaction mass needed for for moving about without the “but they could burn New York!” complaints. Green stuff on the moon has the same problem as anywhere else in the inner system: Where does the nitrogen come from? (more below)

    Asteroids are probably next. They’re beyond real-time assistance, but they’re also not in a giant gravity well (i.e. Mars) so getting things on and off them is easier. Although after we’ve smacked a couple gigatons of ice into Mars, getting things onto it may become easier as aerobraking becomes possible. Refining, or at least separating, in place makes a great deal of sense, so there will need to be some people around. Domes are stupid, which means more tunnels, but there’s also no gravity, which we know is very bad for us, so embedding a spinning cylinder seems almost obvious. Ceres seems to be the logical starting point. It’s big enough that we can start mining there while building the habitat(s) and we don’t have to worry about mining away our settlement or having the asteroid fragment into gravel if we use explosives.

    The “big three” moons of Jupiter are appealing as the third choice. They have good inter-moon travel times, enough gravity to hold stuff down, and appealing resources. If the gravity is insufficient, one can build O’Neil truncated cones (rather than cylinders) that add to native gravity. While I’m not aware of any one of them being particularly “nitrogen rich”, there’s probably enough to make soil.

    Short-term, off Earth living will probably pretty much suck. Medium-term, O’Neil cylinders dug into asteroids are probably the way to go. One does not want the commonly portrayed “naked” cylinder because everyone inside would be fried by radiation. If you need to cover it something, digging it out is easier than building a shell. One’s water supply as ice might work, but where does the ice come from? Europa, of course. Where does the dirt come from? It’s either scoop nitrogen out of Earth’s atmosphere or grab it from Titan. Somehow I don’t think politicians will go for giant ships “stealing” the atmosphere.

    There are definitely a number of chicken/egg problems involved in that and a lot of longer-than-usual term thinking. With just slightly better automation, we could build a decent sized O’Neil cylinder, but we have no way of economically filling it. There need to be other reasons to start shipping stuff in-system from Jupiter and Saturn. “We need nitrogen for our soil” seems a bit short of compelling as a reason to send a decade-long mission to Titan. On the other hand, “we need water for our asteroid base” might be sufficient to start lifting it off Europa, which would be very easy to build a space elevator on.

    The above (and a lot more) has destroyed my space opera universe. I wanted many planets and aliens. It’s just not going to happen within known physics. I’m trying to rebuild the stories during the era when O’Neil cylinders start being built in solar, rather than earth, orbit.

    1. Shouldn’t be a problem finding ammonia ice, if we go far enough out. As we get better measurements of size and mass, it looks like Ceres’ crust is 40% ice and 60% rock, with possible interior layering.

  9. I think I like the idea of going to space more than I would actually want to go myself. Bare minimum, though, is the ability and infrastructure necessary to synthesize pharmaceuticals. My thyroid makes me kind of useless without it, and that means I’d never get picked for an early colony.

    I also know from recent experience that I’m much happier with modern labor-saving conveniences and green space. Much like you, I’d hate to leave my family behind, and I love being out in nature.

  10. I’d take a one way trip to Mars. (I have a very pleasing to me theory that we ought to send old people who have already had families here.) I do have conditions, though. I wouldn’t go if it weren’t actually a colony with the goal of self-sufficiency. I also wouldn’t go if that goal of self-sufficiency didn’t include livestock. Most protein might be from insects (which I’d figure out how to accept) but any colony that didn’t include up to placental animals isn’t serious about humans being permanent (and reproductive) residents either and could only be considered tourism, even if one-way.

    If a *visit* were possible, then I’d visit and come home again.

  11. I’d move to a permanent colony, about the only thing I’d worry about is having an interesting job that could fill my time. A lot of the things mentioned above would be welcome but nto necessary.

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