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GoatLord

What's the best way to go about planetary colonization?

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Not that any of us can reasonably answer this question, but any insight would be interesting. I figure that terraformation is so vital to living on another planet, that an enclosed colony on an atmosphere-less moon would not be worth it; I don't see even the poorest people living in that drastic of setting, but that might be overly optimistic.

Mars is ripe for picking, since it can be terraformed the most easily out of any out of the local planets. Plants could be genetically modified to grow in the harsh Martian soil and climate. I think this process would initially only involve colonies of experts, for getting the agricultural end of things moving.

Outside of Mars, you'd have to travel to another star system to find a habitable world, and right now I find it very difficult picturing how we're going to orchestrate something of that magnitude. Mars is probably the best bet, but right now things are looking suspicious with Mars One.

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OK, I admit I misinterpeted the thread's title as something having to do with plants and colons.

Seriously however, I don't think we have any viable terraforming technology right now. If we had, it could be used to turn deserts and polar regions/tundras into fertile farmland or something, or the very least reclaim heavily contaminated land.

If we can't do that on our very own planet RIGHT NOW, without even having the problem of breathable air or having placed some hundred millions miles between us and the nearest supply depot, it's moot debating whether we could do the same on Mars.

The first colonies are undoubtedly gonna be enclosed prefab structures or domes, and the first colonists are gonna be hand-picked and specially-trained scientists with exceptional physical endurance (this means most of them will be accomplished officers in the military with several academic titles and research experience under their belts, as well).

I suggest that you read Arthur Clarke's "Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations". The scientific theories used to justify how Moon or Mars (or planetary) colonization/tourism might become possible, are still 100% sound and valid today. The only thing that looks terribly outdated (the book is from the time of 2001: A Space Odyssey), is the depiction of everyday technology such as electronics and computers: they simply are described like extrapolated versions of the 70s state-of-the-art (e.g. rather than Internet and Youtube, there would be "micro-film libraries").

It's surprising how in those older works the speculation is that Man somehow managed to solve all energy problems on Earth as well as in Space (so that it's no problem having autonomous robot servants, spaceships that can fly regular routes to Mars and back, WITHOUT their weight consisting 99% of fuel), but nobody seems to have gotten the digital revolution right.

Reality is exactly the opposite: the best propulsion we have for spacecraft is still based on expensive and hard-to-refine chemicals (which wouldn't get us past the Moon, at least not for any manned ship which is also supposed to make the return trip), while we have computers used in ways almost no sci-fi book set in the near future got right.

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GoatLord said:

What's the best way to go about planetary colonization?


Very carefully, I'd imagine.

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Kontra Kommando said:

Rule number 1: Stay way from derelict space crafts.

Rule number 2: Never study or pick up alien statues from planets near to Saturn.

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I think one of the first things that would be necessary are large enterprises in coordination with governments; with interests in mining other planets for resources. If the planet could be exploited, than perhaps a colony would be necessary to administer its operation.

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Let's assume atmospherical and thermical conditions too harsh to allow plants and humans to survive on the planet, and impossible to be artificially changed.

As the minimum requirement to be efficiently colonizable, the planet must have enough sunlight to feed plants. If the atmosphere was cloudy, atmosphere filters (or anything) could be used to clean it up, at least to allow sunlight to come down to the surface. Basic inhabitable structures (for plants and few humans) could be built on Earth / already colonized planet with sufficient material resources. Or perhaps assembled in space near Earth / already colonized planet. Preferably built by (solar powered) robots, to be producable in larger numbers and be firm and durable. Then they would be transported to the new colonized planet as a base of the colony. They would land somewhere on the planet, relatively near each other. Having multiple ones is better in case that one (or two) has unexpected problems and goes out of order / dies out.

Each of these prefabbed 'buildings' would grow its own plants inside - fast growing plants capable of producing enough oxygen. The buildings would also deploy (solar powered) robots that would root the building in place and start extending it - using components they brought with themselves, or components supplied by Earth in additional modules that keep being sent to the planet. The robots would also extract soil from the planet, separate beneficial minerals from it and give it to the plants to extend their growing space. This is how the colony would grow. Activity of the robots would be either fully autonomous, or partially directed by several humans who inhabited the buildings. At this point, there would be absolute minimum of humans present on the planet, if any at all.

The first goal would be to connect the buildings to each other. Then build further to width and height, and (if possible) start serious efforts at mining / material extraction for manufacture. Once the growth of the colony gets stable, more and more people can be sent to inhabit it, and less and less supplies from Earth can be provided (unless material extraction from the planet turned out to be impossible).

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I think a solid first step is to make space colonies and then go for Mars once proper space colonization is met. That way there's some kind of home base nearby to go back to if Mars doesn't work out.

Then, start doing some experiments such as what scifista42 said.

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Maes' comment about terraforming reflects an increasing common opinion: we can't terraform Earth so why are we talking about doing it to Mars? He's bang on about the nature of Mars colonies too. The first few hundred visitors (at least) will be similar badass overachievers to most current and past astronauts.

While I think rockets can get enough stuff to and from Venus and Mars, I agree that other than for exploration, the moon and space stations are a better near-term idea. Really, even those would probably spend the first few centuries mostly being used for science and possibly manufacturing. Colonizing space is just so damn hard.

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I think the Moon and Mars are the only two we even have a slight chance of getting anywhere with in the next few hundred years, if ever. That would require several governments around the globe to cooperate and invest in space travel and exploration, which would be amazing, but there are much ""better"" things for them to invest in, like weapons, so I don't know if we really have a chance at all. I really hope I'm wrong.

If we DID ever get to that point, I think somehwere between what Scifista and Maes posted would be the best way to go about it. Mars is where we should have our sights set.

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Interplanetary travel may not be too far off into the future if recent developments in drive technology come to fruition, like the EmDrive, Photonic Laser Thruster or the NanoFET.

Personally I think it would be easier to mine the Moon for minerals (assuming they are valuable enough) and establish bases there, getting an initial 'foot in the door' for developing an Earth <-> Moon industry.

This could make going to Mars a lot less expensive if we have already have an established presence like this, however I am no expert in this field.

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Make sure you have the powers of Maud'Dib's offspring. Where else are you going to have the prescience to navigate and coordinate the actions of an intergalactic union? Also, how will you conduct ji'had and form a unified front even when your central administration resorts to feudalism?

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Rule 4: If it bleeds, you can kill it.

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Aliotroph? said:

we can't terraform Earth

It's be redundant.

However, we're currently veneraforming Earth.

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This is a really interesting topic. It's also interesting because apparently we can't just do it step-by-step: why not "terraform" our Earth's orbit first? Why not terraform Moon?

I see why Mars might be easier… its equator summer day temperature is even comfortable to humans! But the distance aspect seems daunting. All this waiting required just before sending a rocket there, and more waiting needed to return may be too much. Living months (if not years) on Mars with absolutely 0 living resources (other than the landing ship) is not a good thought. What the hell is that Dutch Mars (Mars One?) tourism company thinking?

Kinda scary to think that the distance to any planet can be greater than the distance to the Sun, depending on revolution.

I wish GoatLord's dreams about life extension to become a reality first, just so we have time to colonize this part of the System. At the rate we're going, it seems like several generations of time are needed to terraform anything.

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The Moon couldn't be terraformed, firstly because it cannot keep an atmosphere. If you want an Earth-like atmosphere, you need a strong enough gravity to keep it and a magnetosphere to prevent solar winds from blowing it away. (And even then, the Earth cannot retain all of its own atmosphere: any helium gas released outside will quickly escape into the vacuum of space.) To a lesser extent, Mars and even Venus have the same problems. Venus' gravity is nearly the same as the Earth (so it has managed to keep a thick and dense atmosphere) but it has no strong magnetosphere so the lighter elements like free hydrogen get blown away into space.

The best case for moon colonies would be an Asimovian "Caves of Steel" approach where people live in vast underground complexes. The surface could be covered by solar panels and the occasional glass cupola to get a look at the Earth.

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Gez said:

[terraforming earth] It's be redundant.


Not all that much, if you consider that one of the incentives to colonize (and transform) other worlds is that our own will eventually become too overcrowded and hostile, with many regions unsuitable to sustain life (ongoing desertification, pollution, floods, seawater seepage etc.) or, if the sea level will really rise, vast stretches of land will simply cease to exist.

If we had a terraforming technology (and all the related technological conquest that space travel would imply, especially near-unlimited energy), why not apply it to our own home world first?

Just pretend that we're trying to reclaim a planet surprisingly similar to our own, which however could use a few touches ;-)

Not enough dry land/too much sea to work with? Well duh, dig soil from the sea bottom and start expanding the existing continents, while at the same time lowering the sea level. Too many deserts which cause bloody wars and mass migrations of starved and parched little black people? Well duh, apply your mad terraforming and agricultural engineering sk1llz to make them into productive farmlands to keep everybody well-fed and happy!

And why limit ourselves to just the dry land on the surface? There are many 'Earths" hidden beneath our own which we could exploit, not to mention the sea itself. Once we've really mastered and balanced our own world, only then it will make sense to see elsewhere for new land and resources.

Of course, this turn of events carries the risk that we'll turn into a race of "groundhogs", rather than space explorers, as more and more resources will be diverted to Earth-bound mega-engineering projects, but certainly, any terraforming skills that will be usable on an alien world will have to be picked up and honed here, on good old Earth.

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If a megaengineering project goes awry on Mars, well, who cares? It'll just make the next megaengineering project a little bit harder.

If a megaengineering project on an overcrowded Earth goes awry, who cares? Well, just the five billion people who die as a result of this little oopsies. Plus all the unique biodiversity that was lost. Gee, maybe we should have tried that on an empty planet instead?

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And again we come to the chicken & egg problem: to be good at megaengineering, you have to try it in a place with a lower difficulty level (Earth) before you can even think of even trying it on a place where you'll be much more hard pressed from all possible aspects (physical resources, manpower, supply channel, even life support!).

Yes, any megaengineering project has the potential to cause immediate, measurable consequences on the biosphere. On the other hand, that's exactly the thing about megaengineering projects. It's by design, not by accident.

And of course, by the time such a project will be considered feasible and get the green light, any other alternative will be less preferable (e.g. just let everything turn into a sea-flooded desert and let the little brown and black men drown and die as they try migrating towards the dry, fertile lands), and surely it will be more feasible than having to research spacefaring technology on top of that.

It'd be pointless to have megaengineering tech available but put it on ice until you you also have economically viable space travel.

Either way, both technologies will require some major breakthrough in energy production. Maybe an "atomic age" reboot of sorts, where even the most remote construction crew will be able to haul its own multi-megawatt-capable, portable fusion reactor or something.

And spaceships, the very least, need to be able to separate between propellant and fuel. The very concept of having to carry separate oxygen and fuel and burning them up to produce thrust is ridiculous, if you hope to get past the moon.

If we get to the point where we can at least just carry easily replenishable water and use fusion power to convert it to steam to propel and maneuver spaceships (or even boost them off planetary surfaces), then we'll be talking. Until then, Earth's orbit is the limit.

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GoatLord said:

Mars is ripe for picking...


Nitrogen; every plant/animal/zZaRDoZz/ DNA molecule requires it, earth is swimming in the stuff, but Mars has very little. It is the chemistry cock blocker that tends to be ignored in terraforming threads.

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zZaRDoZz said:

Nitrogen; every plant/animal/zZaRDoZz/ DNA molecule requires it, earth is swimming in the stuff, but Mars has very little. It is the chemistry cock blocker that tends to be ignored in terraforming threads.


Ever read Clarke's "Report on Planet Three"? I'm not going to spoil it too much for you, but it involves assumptions about life, only not from our perspective ;-)

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Isn't Mars' smaller gravity a deal breaker for human long-term living health?

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printz said:

Isn't Mars' smaller gravity a deal breaker for human long-term living health?


Most terraforming schemes have genetic manipulation on the table. 38% gravity isn't healthy for non-modified humans, as you say, long-term, but not quite a deal breaker.

As long as rockets have a 1 in 50 failure rate, people shouldn't be a part of any plans to terraform Mars really. Better than 9 tenths of all resources/energy are spent keeping humans alive/moving them around if included.

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zZaRDoZz said:

As long as rockets have a 1 in 50 failure rate, people shouldn't be a part of any plans to terraform Mars really. Better than 9 tenths of all resources/energy are spent keeping humans alive/moving them around if included.

nope, human beings are a resource that we have a slight surfeit of. Let's exploit that.

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Mars and the Moon are basically the only realistic options as far as I can see.

I don't see humanity ever leaving the solar system, though possibly artificial intelligences created by humanity will some day.

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I'd have thought a Project Orion style nuclear pulse propulsion generation ship would be feasible, given sufficient will, as they have a theoretical maximum velocity of 10% of the speed of light. Particularly for the nearer stars to our sun.

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