Friday, March 27, 2015

Space: the Final Frontier or Our New Home?

While humankind populates Earth and flourishes at the moment, it is rapidly depleting the resources that Earth has to offer, making it impossible to sustain its current growth. Even with research and development in renewable resources, we will eventually run out of natural resources and be forced to colonize a new planet, either to inhabit or from which to extract resources.

The first step in expanding off of Earth is to find a suitable planet that we can inhabit. There are two possible locations for space colonization, either on a planet, moon, or asteroid, or in orbit. There are different advantages to both: a planet could provide natural resources and would require a much lesser technological requirement while an expansive space habitat in orbit would require an enormous amount of resources, but it would provide a stable environment. However, a large space habitat that would orbit in space is largely unrealistic with our current technology.

If we choose to live on a planet, moon, or asteroid, there are two choices as well: a location near Earth such as Mars, which we could resupply relatively easily, and exoplanets, which are much farther away but could provide more habitable resources. For long-term or permanent inhabitance, planets close to Earth are unlikely candidates. These planets do not possess “Earthlike” conditions, which can sustain life. These conditions include possessing a similar gravity to Earth to prevent muscle and bone loss, a strong atmosphere to protect the inhabitants from radiation, and a temperate climate, all of which could vary depending on our technology in the future and how we can protect ourselves from them. However, what makes settling exoplanets unlikely is their distance from the Earth. According to NASA, the closest terrestrial exoplanet candidates to Earth are Alpha Centauri Bb and Tau Ceti e, which are 4.23 and 11.90 light years away respectively. However, Alpha Centauri Bb has since been rejected as a habitable planet since it orbits too close to its star.

Plans to establish a settlement on an alien planet would require thousands of people so that the gene pool doesn’t face inbreeding. These thousands of people would all need to be trained before going into space, which seems impractical. One solution to this problem would be sending frozen sperm and eggs on the voyage so that there would be a population boom if the colony manages to start up. This would reduce the amount of people needed to a fraction of what it was before. However, this option is still not desirable, as it would require the facilities and resources to successfully breed thousands of people.

As of now interstellar travel is viewed more as of science fiction than as a viable possibility, since it is effectively impossible given our current technology. Before we plan for these ambitious missions to colonize space, we first must develop the technology in order to do so. As of now, a mission to colonize Mars or the Moon would only serve as a test for colonizing space. It is a much-needed experience so that when we are actually forced to colonize a new planet, the probability of success will be greater and we will know what possible complications may arise from it. We shouldn’t be dissuaded from exploring space; when the technology arises, we will be able to utilize it to its fullest extent.
- Charles Wang