So let’s get off where we were last time. Now provided you manage to find a way to lift a whole lot of people of earth extremely cheaply and in bulk, and as such space colonisation becomes viable, where do you go?
Now before anything else happens, man will probably return to the moon. In force. The moon isn’t a particularly extraordinary target for colonisation- it’s not any more habitable than anywhere else in the solar system (well it does get more sunlight than the jovian moons and it isn’t a ball of melting lava like mercury) or is it particularly rich in rare metals such as platinum, nor does it have a particularly large supply of He3. In fact the Moon only has one useful attribute as a site for colonistation compared to the hundreds of other bodies for colonisation.
It’s close. The moon has an average distance of about 380,000km, or 1.26 light seconds. A ballistic flight to the moon takes three day, a powered one take three hours at 1G (half accel, half decel). This is compared to Mars where Curiosity took 9 months on a ballistic trajectory.You can have near realtime communications from the Moon to Earth, while everything else has a lag of at least 10 minutes or so (for Venus) while Jovian moons can take more than an hour. While Mars, Venus and the outer planets will be well and beyond earth’s neighbourhood, in whatever form it takes, the Moon will always be of great interest (or concern) to the earth.
And because it’s so close, even though it would make far more sense to settle around Jupiter from a strictly pragmatic view, the Moon will be the first place that we colonise, because it’s close. Because colonists on the moon can look up and spot the country where they came from, and if the travel is cheap enough, visit friends for christmas or go somewhere Skiing, The Alps maybe, or antartica, and if they can’t they can video conferance.
The Moon will play a pivotal role in the opening eras of the space age as the only large source of both fuel in the form of water ice for chemical rockets, He3 for fusion fuel, and an abundance of terrestial metals and rocks to build stuff out of. When i say stuff, i mean spaceships, space stations, cities, and basically anything else in orbit.
Because of Earth’s strong gravity and atmostphere, it will be prohibitively expensive to build anything substantial in orbit via earth. the next generation of spaceships will probably not resemble the Space Shuttles at all- for a ship that never intendeds to enter the atmosphere aerodynamics are useless.
Now this means whoever controls the moon in the first decade or two will control space by way of controlling the industrial capacity and mineral wealth of space. And whoever controls space holds the orbitals above earth.
And whoever controls the orbitals has the ability to kill cities with rocks.
Obviously this will make control of the moon an interesting question. The Moon treaty by the UN states that the Moon is the commons of all mankind, but due to the legal wording of it it also prevents any kind of private property on the moon, one of the points that caused all the spacefaring nations to kill it off. At the moment the Moon treaty is only signed by a handful of nations that don’t actually have any space capacity.
Clearly eventually a more realistic agreement will need to be organised. The Moon is a legal nightmare, because while countries and potentially large corporations are the only ones with the capability of putting any kind of infrastructure there in the first place, but if the moon becomes useful then it’s inevitable that the vast majority of nations on the earth- the ones that at present can’t hope to launch anything more than a satellite into orbit, will complain and protest. The situation isn’t actually helped by the construction of an orbital elevator, if anything it only aggrevates the monopolization of space travel by the great powers.
Now let me define great powers-
USA- obviously. As long as the USA exists as a single state, the sheer size and wealth of it’s land and geopolitical dominance of North America it will always be a major factor.
China- China may well implode under the economic and demographic pressures that comes to a fore in the next few decades. Provided China’s identity crisis government can successfully deal with the world’s largest ageing population and adapt it’s economy to deal with the shifts in manufactoring methods in the first half of the 2050s though, it will be a player.
Russia- Russia has perhaps a stronger tradition of spaceflight than the US does, and the collaspe of the USSR and the emergence of the Federation of Russia only proved that in whatever form Russia emerges it will always have a foot in space.
India- India is quickly ramping up its own space agency, and a combination of population pressure and a roaring economy will see it have a vested interest in space colonisation over the next century.
Japan- Don’t let Japan’s recent slump fool you. “only third” largest economy in the world is still a massive economy, and Japan has the unusual cultural and national identity to do whatever it sees as necessary to survive as a nation. It was this perspective that saw Japan modernise rapidly in the 1860s to resist european domination, saw it invade countries around it to gain it’s own colonial empire like the old world powers of europe and spark the pacific war, and it’s the same mentality that will see Japan rise off the surface of the earth if it feels it needs to (which may happen due to the advent of 3D printing and other additive manufacturing methods).
The EU- the last 50 years have proved that even at a 500 year low in their importance and power, it’s unlikely that Europe will ever stop being a major player in the same way the US and China will always be important in the long run. Then again, with it’s contracting populations any EU expansion into space will be probably be a reactionary move in order to maintain the balance of power and safeguard the security of the union.
Brazil- Brazil has a huge number of people, a huge amount of natural resources, and therefore a lot of potential. Brazil and the other south american countries may be a great power in 50 years time. How much of a role Brazil plays depends on how unified the South American states are, and at what stage population pressure is at. It will probably lag behind India as a member of the new powers.
UAE/Arabia: Long term, the UAE and Arabia are facing ruin. As soon as the oil runs out the region will begin to collaspe economically. the UAE has attempted to counter this by turning it’s cities into cultural centres, but that doesn’t work terribly well long term. Of course if space elevators become viable before the oil runs out, then things become interesting. the UAE or Arabia, or both could attempt to build a space elevator and make a dash to the moon in order to secure their nations future in He3 and space rocks rather than oil. Unlike any of the great powers listed above, space colonsiation might be a matter of “life or death” to the arab states in their current form, this list may also include Iran, Egypt and other middle eastern states.
In addition there are a few major corporations which may have a vested interest in space. At the moment the only real example is Google, who has been looking at space for a while now through various investments and research through it’s X lab. There’s also Planetary Resources a company with backing from a lot of the big names in the IT industry, including Google founders.
Those are as i can see it the players. So the question is which one, if any of them wins.
There’s a strong argument that none of them will. Earth hasn’t had to contest a territorial claim by another power on the principle of Terra Nullius (empty land) for more than two centuries. I should know as I live on the result of that particular claim in Australia and even today our nation’s legal right to exist is endlessly questioned. However if the debate and de facto settlement over Antarctica is any guideline, then some collaborative decision should be expected. Antarctica when all is said and done is a good deal more habitable than the moon, it’s only much less strategically important.
China is unlikely to even consider any claim by America or Russia on the Moon. America will object it outright, or be under heavy political pressure to do so. Europe probably couldn’t even come a decision within a time period less than several years, and the rest of the world will be shouting bloody murder for all to hear against the idea of any of the Great Powers controlling the access into space. It doesn’t change that they will with very few exceptions, but that won’t stop people complaining about it.
Finally there’s the proverbial white elephant in the room, the UN Moon treaty. No one of importance as i discussed early has signed it (as i covered early), but it does make national sovergnity over sections of the Moon substantially harder to achieve legally and gives a massive boon to the assembled forces of South American left wing republics, African nations and the Middle east. Finally it’s unlikely that any corporate entities involved are going to speak out in extending national controls beyond the gravity well.
If there is to be a settlement on the moon than you need something quite special. Practically the only body that can provide the diplomatic power to administer the region during it’s colonisation is the UN. the Moon may well end up being a UN mandate until such a time that it can become independent. And the UN itself is far from an impartial organisation. The collective interests of the earth may well be drastically different from the collective interests of the moon.
The first settlements on the moon will be interesting social experiments. Putting a man on the moon in the 1960s was a technical achievement and a monument to the engineering genius of NASA. Putting a man on the Moon in 20 years time will be a simple matter of copy cat and processing power coupled with cash. As such while the Great Powers shall dominate the lunar population, a huge portion of the world may be represented. If it’s a one way trip, you don’t need to do R&D and you can rely on international support in the case of an emergency, than the costs of sending people to the moon goes down drastically. However they can’t establish their own bases on the moon- they’ll have to join existing ones most of the time, and so this raises questions.
So while the bulk of the mission might be carried by the Powers, as a UN mandate you can’t really deny the say, Estonians or Egyptians the right to settle on your international mandate base. This carries an inherent problem.
How is the politics of such a settlement meant to work? If there are 35 different nationalities, all of which will probably be in no small way proud of their heritage, then how do you get a sense of community? How do you even decide what language to talk in? The UN might be able to get away with 6 working languages, but a settlement of 3000 people won’t function if everything needs to be signposted in 6 different languages and every inhabitat needs to be able to cater to the nationalistic preferences of each.Further more who is meant to pay for what? If international projects have told us anything, handling projects at a national level is usually cheaper than divvying up the work between half the nations on the globe.
The entire role which the UN should have in the developement is debatable. The UN as I said earlier, is a representation of earth. However having the policy on international settlement protocols or mining procedures debated over by the UN general Assembly is absurd as it is inefficent. Neither hould it be the proviso of the Security Council. If the UN does take the Moon as a mandate, than a third major body of the UN with equal powers to the other two is needed, one that manages to fill the ideals of the UN while actually governing effectively.This will probably mean not only giving the UN something more than figurehead leaders and disgraced politicians as national representatives, but also real economic power and potentially a military of it’s own.
For this reason i think that the Moon will probably be arranged in a series of small settlements that eventually develope into a city state like organisation, probably presided over a joint lunar council or organisation that manages the whole affair, similar to the UN of earth only much much much tighter. Earth side nations will vy for influence over lunar states, large mining and shipping companies shall probably exert a similar amount of pressure, and of course the different cities will be at each other’s throats. However this way no one loses. Earth as a whole doesn’t have to fear potential war with the moon, big nations don’t have to worry about other great powers activities on the moon as much, every other nation no longer needs to worry about complete dominance of space by the great powers, mining corporations and shipyards operate with great local leeway and the lunarians themselves get a measure of independance and autonomy.
However there are of course other potential outcomes. Nationalistic pride could prevail over internationalism and diplomacy, and the various colonies on the moon could be directly controlled by nations on earth. A momumentous event on earth or a powerful figure of the moon could see the moon as a unified entity under an independent and central lunar government, or even the much loved Sci Fi concept of rule by mega corporations. One thing is certain though. Unless something suitably disastrous happens on earth, it’s only a matter of time.
However it is much easier to form a union than it is to break apart one, as the unification of Germany in the 1870s taught us, so long term a lunar unification, or even a unification with earth, is probable especially as greater external threats demands first the unification of the moon and then the unification (at least a military and diplomatic level) of everything in earth’s orbit. The question on that regard is not if but when.
But I Digress.
But Long term, Lunar colonies will do what colonies always do- become substantially different from their countries of origin, with different cultures, different agendas, and different natures. The US is technicaly only been independent for just under two and a half centuries, a relatively short time in the play of history, but in that time the US has gone from being backwater to the undisputed world power, with a unique culture and society.
The Lunar colonies will experience a similar drift, but drastically accelerated. Although the moon is pratically next door to earth, there are several factors which make the moon drastically different from any terrestial colony. First of all is the obvious cultural shifts. We live in a society that takes certain things for granted. Free and virtually unlimited oxygen. Perfect temperatures ,air pressure and 1G gravity as standard. We shape our architecture and our society around these facts. For example it’s doubtful that our society could take living underground for most of our lives.
But that’s what Lunar colonists will grow up in. Dome cities appeal to both our atheistic and our cultural bias, but it’s an expensive and inefficient way of building a colony. It’s far cheaper (and healthier due to cosmic radiation and meteor impacts) just to hallow out city sized spaces kilometers below the lunar surface. Economic barriers will play their part too, even if space elevators are built demand will make tickets back up the gravity sell at a premium well a premium for the first generation or so.
However perhaps the most literal barrier is the gravity. If you grow up on the moon, you walk around weighing 1/6th of what you do on earth for every second of your life. That has dire ramifications on the human body, especially in children. It won’t be that 2nd generation colonists will die or necessarily experience long term health conditions because of this, well at least not ones that can’t be corrected by treatment or potentially genetic engineering.
However unless you manage to have constant invasive nanites (lots of little robots that live inside you and basically constantly make repairs and improvements) or something to regulate body growth, skeleton strength and muscle tone/make up, you’re going to get a population of very tall, very thin colonists. There’s nothing necessarily bad about this- well as long as they stay on the moon.
That’s the catch you see. If you grow up on the moon than there’s a high probability that your body will suffer badly in earth’s gravity. It’s not just that a man that is used to walking around weighing 10 kg now weighs 60, also that the skeleton structure and muscles are completely unprepared for earth’s gravity.
While A Lunarian may be able to live on earth, it will probably take years of strength training, a special diet, and even surgery for extended periods in Earth’s Gravity well. And while it is possible that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s popular, or even common. Human beings are essentially lazy and the vast majority of the lunarians shall probably not ever bother to ever set a foot on earth, the same way that a huge number of people in every country never leave its shores.
Moreover, how many people would be prepared to perform a physical feat greater than climbing everest? Because to a Lunarian, that’s exactly what it will feel like.
So how is a third generation Lunarian meant to feel any sort of attachment to a planet that it can never set foot on and everyone that comes from appears abnormally stout? Short answer? they won’t.
Oh dear this post kinda dragged on a bit didn’t it? Anyway I might possibly pick up on what the impact of a unified moon will have on long term earth next post.