Feasible Missions – Part Four
Lunar vs Martian Colonies
In this final installment of the “Feasible Missions” series, we’ll compare and contrast the two most plausible colony options currently available to our species. The Lunar colony models and the push for a sustainable Martian colony are both regularly in the news. Which one is better for us, or for the space programs talked about in earlier articles?
The answer to that depends in part, on the space program asking the question. First, as we’ve discussed before, the moon is closer to home and that is a big plus. Mars may ultimately prove to have more resources, but it is much farther from Earth. For either of the colonies to be successful, we need more than resources and overcoming distance.
For robust national space programs, like NASA, the European Space Agency or the Russian successors to the Soviet space program, the answers may be very different from SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace or the fledgling efforts of asteroid mining companies like Planetary Resources. A program with thousands of employees, multiple work sites on Earth and annual budgets worth billions of dollars will have a different approach. Smaller and necessarily more targeted programs will have to compete with the larger well-established programs on every level.
That brings us to an idea I have touched on before. One single approach to colonization is not necessarily in the best interests of our species survival. Several attempts in more than one direction are intuitively better for our chances of survival than putting all our proverbial eggs in one basket. Although beyond the scope of this article, Lunar, Martian, Asteroid Belt and a variety of proposed orbital stations should be developed either in concert or as stand-alone projects.
The main concern in all of our would-be colonies is sustainability. Humans have a hard enough time sustaining life on Earth, let alone in the vacuum of space, where the entire environment is out to kill living things. The means to achieve a sustainable presence beyond low Earth orbit is twofold. We need technologies that do not yet exist, and a pioneering social approach to colonization not seen on Earth since the mid-nineteenth century.
The technologies are solutions to problems we have talked about in previous articles. We need construction processes, viable environmental systems, radiation shielding, power supply systems, communications systems, and agricultural solutions that we have yet to make substantial progress towards. A lack in any of these primary infrastructure technologies will significantly impact life expectancy and quality of life.
The other component, a pioneering mentality, is no less important. Far from the comforts of civilization, colonists will have to rely on one another to face the perils of their new home, regardless of which colony is attempted. Far from the often romanticized wild west of American history, colonies in space will require detailed social planning and harmony to survive.
I propose, rather than focusing our efforts on a Mars versus Moon contest, we instead look at an integrated approach for three specific feasible objectives. Our first priority should be the once proposed Deep Space Gateway renamed LOP-G (Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway) by the current NASA administration as a point to marshal resources for any further expansion. From the gateway station, we can send other missions to Mars, the moon, and further into the solar system.
Coincidentally, this is the current exploration plan favored by most national space programs to date. The 14 member International Space Exploration Coordination Group which includes NASA, ESA, JAXA (the Japanese space program), CSA (the Canadian space program), and the Russian Roscosmos. This station, the successor to the International Space Station will be a testbed for emerging technologies needed for further human exploration of our solar system.