From Joshua Sherman
“We had an expansive run in the ’60s and ’70s. You might have thought, as I did then, that our species would be on Mars before the century was over. But instead, we’ve pulled inward. Robots aside, we’ve backed off from the planets and the stars. I keep asking myself Is it a failure of nerve or a sign of maturity?” Carl Sagan via Pale Blue Dot
What happened? So many in the US cheered for the space programs of NASA as we launched so many space-craft both manned and unmanned into the depths of space towards our nearest satellite the moon. Ever since the return of Apollo 17 we haven’t had a manned mission go further than low-earth orbit (leo). I’m more inclined to agree with the late Dr. Sagan that it is a failure of nerve on our part, but I think there’s even more than that; more like a lacking of public interest. Fortunately a new space race has been under way since the late 1980s, and I’m delighted to say this race isn’t predicated on fears of nuclear paranoia.
It’s 2017 and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) is no longer the only household name on the block in aerospace. Agencies like SpaceX, Blue Originis, Virgin Galactic, Lockheed, and a handful of other entities are stepping up to the plate to contribute to mankind’s quest to usher life beyond Earth into the stars. The question now is where do we set up shop next; and several questions dealing with our basic Pavlovian needs such as shelter, food (and cultivation), and all the necessities for keeping one’s environment comfortable enough to live and work and play.
My own suggestion would be to setup a 3-prong campaign that would advance in incremental phases wherein the beginning is a space colony followed by a lunar colony followed by a Martian settlement. The first phase would start with the construction of a politically independent space colony further out than the ISS geocentrically orbits, which is a paltry few hundred miles overhead. A space-born colony makes more sense, as opposed to aiming for another rock, for the sheer immensity of “room” that’s available; it’s space… plenty of room! The biggest hurdle to overcome is the gravitational difference; not everyone’s physiology is suitable to work much less live comfortably in a 0-g environment. Several space station concepts have been introduced through science fiction culture throughout the 20th and 21st centuries that deal with creating the illusion of gravity through a Huygenian principle called centrifugal force (not a real force so much as the consequence of inertial force) including but not limited to habitation wheels, the Stanford Torus, and an O’Neill Cylinder; if you’ve seen Mission to Mars, Elysium, or The Martian then you have seen the “wheel” or Torus ring in action. These concepts solve the gravity problem, but they also all rely on the one principle; what happens when something goes wrong with that system? Let’s take Murphy’s Law to heart on this. I am not familiar with any pragmatic solutions to the problem of gravitational failure, but if you’ve ever seen the 2016 film Passengers losing gravity isn’t anything of a picnic occasion.
So let’s put aside the problems of gravity for now. There are still numerous benefits of starting with a space colony and the 0-g environment; think of the drydock that was featured in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond at Yorktown station. In short, the need to put a space capsule on a rocket and blast it into orbit becomes nullified, and the resources can be put to better use! Another benefit would be that, with all the room available on a large enough space station, mass-production industrial and agricultural endeavors could be undertaken; presently, the ISS has a plant growth system called Veggie that has been running since 2014, and it will soon be joined by a supplemental program called the Advanced Plant Habitat. Imagine a space station that had a dedicated greenhouse for the thousands of species of plant life we have down here!
My own desire would be to take the same agricultural experiment and start cultivating and farming industrial hemp, which has been shown to replace most current mediums for construction and insulation materials; then use the hemp to construct as much of the new space colony as can be accommodated. I mentioned earlier that the colony ought to be politically independent, which would help with cultivation of hemp and many other crops that some nations have prohibited from use or cultivation. There’s actually such a space station currently underway that is vying for political sovereignty and recognition from the United Nations, but right now it’s only in the logistical stage. Asgardia, as it has come to be called, was conceived of by Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyli. Igor’s own desire is to have a colony with no less than 150 million inhabitants from around the world.
From Billie Cullison
Looking up at the sky, humans see another horizon to explore. Since we first evolved, we’ve been traveling, spreading out and exploring the mysterious world we live on. It’s the basis of our existence here. We venture out, whether by instinct or curiosity, and now we sit poised to journey upward.
Our planet now sits in turmoil, as politicians debate the issue, or rather fact, of climate change with scientists. As dramatic climate effects wreak havoc, we must start looking for answers. On one end, clean energy is a hot topic, from solar to wind to geothermal, there are people working around the clock to find a successful way to implement these processes, but as there is a lot of money invested in fossil fuels, I expect they face an uphill battle, if they aren’t waging war already. The strangest fact of this matter is that is seems climate change deniers seem to fail to grasp one critical point, climate change will wipe out humanity. Not only are climate change activists looking to conserve species of animals and plants, but also us. The Earth as a planet will not be destroyed by the amount of CO2 pumped into its atmosphere, it will continue to revolve around the sun, but humanity cannot withstand the kinds of climate change caused by ourselves.
In the instance we are too far gone, we must look up for answers. Is there a way for humanity to make a home on another planet? There is a lot of talk of Mars. The closest planet to us, it seems like a logical option for transfer, but there are many problems with this idea. There are key differences between Earth and Mars’ atmospheres. As Mars has an atmosphere composed of over 95% carbon dioxide, compared to Earth’s 0.038%, and as it is thinner than Earth’s, the idea of just picking up and shifting humanity there is unlikely. Watching Mark Watney grow potatoes in the Martian dirt gave a lot of people hope about our eventual colonization of the Red Planet, and soon too. (The character of Mark Watney was born only a year before me.) Though I believe we are still quite a ways away from the construction of a full blown society on Mars, I also believe that there is so much potential in this line of exploration and I look forward to seeing the progression of humanity as we look toward our crimson neighbor.
In addition to Mars, in the news lately we have seen an abundance of talk of the 7 planets in the goldilocks zone of TRAPPIST-1 and the potential of life there. If you’re anything like me, the mention of extraterrestrial life got your Starfleet senses tingling and you were just itching to know more. Discovered by Michaël Gillon and his team at the University of Liège in Belgium, these planets are a groundbreaking look into the potentiality of life on other planets. We cannot fully understand the implications of finding life on other planets and what that would mean for us, what questions is create and what answers we could find. We may truly uncover that we are not alone in the universe, and that alone is worth the hours and money spent looking up into the big blue yonder. In my opinion, Mars is still the most promising prospect for future development, but who knows what we will discover next.
These facts bring up one major idea, we need scientists looking up. Whether for an escape route or find the answers to questions humanity has asked for centuries, we can unearth these mysteries by stepping into the blackness, by leaving the safety of Earth and searching through the unknown, and we can only do this through the efforts of institutions such as NASA, the International Space Station, and countless other organizations who see the darkness of space, not as something to fear, but as something to dive into.
From Joshua Sherman
Space station concepts
NASA’s project Veggie https://www.nasa.gov/content/veggie-plant-growth-system-activated-on-international-space-station
NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat project
More on hemp
Hemp in plastics
Hemp in electronics
More on Asgardia