It’s Time for Humanity’s Next Step: Space Exploration and Colonization

I would like to take a break from politics for a moment, and if the readers of this blog would indulge me, I want to share a personal fantasy. No, not that kind of fantasy; this is a family-friendly blog after all. I am a sci-fi geek and still remember as a child watching the lunar landings on TV. I remember the Apollo-Soyuz link up in the midst of a very cold and very dangerous world.

If ever I had a favorite program outside of defense, it would be the space program. These days it is gutted, in the wake of the end of the shuttle era. Supposedly they are working on a new program, based on old technology, to return a few people to the moon and bring them safely home — maybe someday, Mars. That’s not good enough.

The space program not only inspired a nation, it inspired a world when the world most needed the inspiration. Aerospace advances have led to the modern world we live in, and yes, many of those advances were originally intended for military purposes: rockets, missiles, and jet aircraft. Yet, without those military programs — including ground-based technology like the internet — our world as we know it, from cell phones to this blog, would not exist.

The United States used to think big. We led the world with our crazy notion that we can do it even if it has been said a million times it cannot be done. Now we think petty; we think nanny; and we think in the circle jerks of right and left politics. There are still big issues that compel our attention, such as war and famine. Further, if my detractors from the anthropological global warming/cooling/climate change crowd are correct, our world is being destroyed by our own actions.

On the last of those, the solution to climate change — or whatever the name is this week — has always been to take money from the United States and a few select western countries and give that money to all of those other countries in the world who are poor and, by the way, would not be required to curb their carbon emissions. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a serious contender for our next president, once pledged at a climate conference US$100 billion per year from the United States alone to help.

While I recognize the United States is broke, if we are going to spend $100 billion each year saving humanity, shouldn’t we do it in a way that will actually save humanity?

Why not instead spend that money on direct colonization of the moon, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn? Taking a bold step towards permanent settlement has the potential to solve many of our largest problems.

Overpopulated with nowhere to grow food? Mars is about half the size of earth and with no oceans, virtually the entire planet could be used for housing and feeding humans. Many of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn would also be perfect locations for future mega cities and farms. The process of going out there would also force a major series of advancements in human technology in every single sphere, and there is already a Martian colonization attempt we can get behind.

I do not pretend that this is a cheap, inexpensive, or easy undertaking. I don’t even pretend it squares with my own conservative-libertarian values. It would have to be done with either a worldwide effort or a major international business consortium — or both.

In order to just build the ship(s), we would have to overcome a number of major design and construction hurdles, not the least of which is the development of a true heavy lift space vehicle. The Shuttle Program was supposed to be that heavy lifter, but it fell short.

That accomplishment alone would revolutionize space travel and provide a profit source to help sustain the construction of the larger vessels needed to accomplish the colonization mission. Colonization would require moving thousands of tons of food, equipment and people across space.

Space travel and colonization would not cure the greatest human ill — our humanity — but it would help us overcome many of the very obstacles that threaten us today. In space there is water ice, methane, and likely gold and other precious metals and a million secrets to be uncovered.

Humanity does not progress in stagnate waters. We progress only when we climb the next mountain, cross the next great ocean and undertake a challenge bigger than ourselves.

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