While the expressed #Space policy goal of the incoming Trump administration has been to explore the solar system with astronauts by the end of the century is bold enough, people as varied as Stephen Hawking and Glenn Reynolds are thinking even more daring. They, as well as two rivals in the commercial space business, are urging that Earth starts colonizing space to preserve human civilization.
The number of things that could kill off the human race already is scary enough, ranging from asteroid strikes to nuclear war. As technology advances, the things that can wipe us out just begin to add up. Science fiction catastrophes like killer nanobots, rogue artificial intelligence (think Skynet from “The Terminator”) and bioengineered plagues are just a few of the things on the horizon that could end the human race.
In words that millennials can understand, the entire planet is no longer a safe space.
How space colonization will shake out is something to be determined. SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to build a city on Mars. Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos dreams of O’Neill-style space colonies scattered across the solar system. The best approach is to try both of the ideas. The wider spread humanity is, the less likely that the end times will be postponed indefinitely.
How colonizing space translates into practical political policy is a question that has yet to be answered. The inevitable objections from the environmental left will have to be dealt with the spectacle of abandoning a ruined planet. One does not have to be a climate change hysteric to be for diversifying energy sources away from fossil fuels. Fusion power would be the killer app, perhaps fueled by lunar mined helium 3, which would have the added benefit of linking space colonies with saving the mother planet.
The other political problem consists of the inability of the current political system to engage in long-term thinking. A space colony effort would have to be broken down into incremental steps, each of which can be accomplished in the short term. Step one could be a return to the moon to access its resources.
The long term goal for this century should not just be exploration, but settlement. By 2100, humans should be living in space, independent from Earth. Only then will we be assured that we’re going to be around for the long term.