The futurism of the past (50s and 60s style) has us going to the moon for the weekend. In fact those humans who have been into orbit total barely 500, and no one has been to the moon since 1972. Space is not only dangerous, above all it is extremely expensive to get there – around $25,000 per every kilo carried into (geosynchronous) orbit. Space is useful (GPS, anyone?), but that satellites are economic owes more to the miniaturisation of electronics than any efficiency in getting there, which has hardly improved since the 1960s.
Yet space travel not only has a romantic appeal (“the last frontier”), if feasible and attractive (that is made cheaper and safer) colonisation of space is IMHO vitally important to mankind, for several reasons:
A human survival capsule for existential risks. Ironic that while all the religious apocalpyses have not happened, modern technology has given us some plausible mechanisms. Perhaps global warming is restricted to 2 deg C (current consensus) but if it is 6 deg, we are all dead. We now know that climate changes are often not gradual and slow, but abrupt, due to non linear positive feedback loops e.g. at the onset of an ice age…. It has been a pleasant surprise that MAD (mutually assured destruction) did prevent a nuclear war so far; but will this persist for ever? Then there are unknown effects on the global ecosystem, because we have the power but not the commonsense or knowledge, like James Lovelock’s parable of Dr.Intensli Eeger.
Lots of resources out there.
There are too many hairless apes on this planet already, but the ideal demographics is a birth rate which leads to a stable or slowly increasing population. In the long term, we can reduce the earth’s population while still expanding the human population. Thus there is a moral dimension, we can help Gaia recover from our impact while expanding her domain.
It’s exciting. Forget all the bad news in the media, in reality life in the developed world for many is safe and boring, and there is little scope for heroism. Plenty of people would want to do it.
The succeeding posts will outline ideas on a feasible path to colonise space. I will only employ known physics, and reasonable projections of current technology. So no warp drives, and no super-intelligent robots (in any case, this is about getting humans into space, not AIs).
First Step: Cost Effective Launch