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Home https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ Science https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ A Walk on Future-Moon – July 20, 2044 (Op-Ed)

A Walk on Future-Moon – July 20, 2044 (Op-Ed)



We meet our guide, Pear Månsken, at the Company's No. 5 airlock. Pear's only instructions: Keep them in sight at all times and let them know immediately of any concerns. Beyond that we're free to roam. Stay safe and live. Or do something stupid and die. Not their problem. We have signed the waiver. This is the frontier.

It's July 20, 2044: 75 years to the Earth-day since Apollo 11 Put the moonboots on the ground. But that was way up, near the equator. Today, we're setting out at high lunar latitude, close to the field. Where the cold and dark is just steps away from the hot and bright. This is where the action is: A handful of companies and a few nations of variously competing and cooperating on a mostly friendly quest, mostly for ancient ice . It's not for making margaritas. It's for rocket propellent and life support; what market futures analysts call Cosmic Consumable Commodities: "Triple C's." [1

9690090] Related: Apollo 11's 50th Anniversary: ​​Complete Coverage

These first landings happened long ago, but it's still early days in lunar development. There's a lot of moon to go around. And a lot of businesses going to get it. Some, like Chevron, Maersk, Mitsubishi, Lockheed Martin and Siemens, have been well known for decades. A few, like Astrobotic, Moon Express, Masten, Orbit Beyond and the not-for-profit Draper Lab, have been quietly working since the moon-surge began, around 2018. Others, like Nyota ya Fedha, Lunapole and Polarvarg our chaperon, Pear, works) are well-capitalized startups. India's Sampanna Candrudu, formerly part of the nation's space agency, has now been reincarnated as a public corporation. SpaceX and its sisters, Tesla and The Boring Company, prefer to work as a self-contained conglomerate. (Some would say: "cult.")

lunar enterprise zones most of these companies respect – and sometimes protect one another. Way out here, 238,900 miles (384,470 kilometers) from Earth, with a very high cost of operation, it's difficult for authorities to patrol and enforce restrictions. Safety is in everyone's interests. Frontiers produces good citizens. Or dead ones. Hardly any in between.

Your suit boots up in seconds. The electronics and helmet-immersive display actually came online in much less than a second, but gas-mix-and-atmospheric-pressure diagnostics take one complete loop to verify. The suit and some of your tools checked in with "Moon Mama." Every smart object on Luna (except certain police and military) knows who, where and what each other is; all are connected through the ubiquitous 8G awareness-net.

The Pear shook us into one of Polarvar's short-haul trans-landers. Small rocket hoppers run like a shuttle bus service here. The worksites are widely scattered. There is no much risk of damage to neighbors' staff or property, if things go south. The moon is a palace of robots; many fewer people live here than science fiction writers and space advocates of bygone days expected. So, most nations and non-governmental organizations (non-governmental organizations) are taking a mostly hands-off, "laissez-faire" approach.

The United States Space Guard looks after the interests of American flagged vehicles and facilities. China's military-industrial monolith keeps its indecipherable, but so far, serene, self. And the GC (Gendarmerie Cosmos) tends to meet the emergency needs of the European Union company vessels. Outer space is proving to be the quintessentially asymmetric battlespace. The "Mutually Assured Paralysis" of cyberwarfare has so far proved to be a highly effective peacekeeper. A fully armed Deep Space Force – equipped with overwhelming firepower to intimidate bad actors by ensuring, in advance, their total destruction – has proven to be a costly solution to a problem that has not yet developed. Of course, it someday might.

Where, exactly, Luna fits in humanity's story is still unpublished. Some on Earth worry that, without a tightly preconceived legal framework, unfair distribution of the moon's resources is inevitable. (It is.) Others say that there is no incentive to develop resources that can not be owned free and clear. (There is.) Few are concerned that moon workers could become easy targets for exploitation. But now, it's moon-boom times and hardly anyone is complaining.

The corporations have seen that ethical behavior tends to enrich their investments. And it keeps them off the homepages of news sites. Fair treatment of labor (which is mostly robotic anyway), respect for international standards of the mining industry, respect for historical sites (eg Apollo and Lunokhod), and basic environmental awareness all turn out to be good corporate marketing strategies, the storyboards of slick stock prospectuses.

Because the risks are so gloomy – and the potential benefits so sunny – everyone on the moon is playing, more or less, on the same team. But there will, almost inevitably, come a time when they are not. Then, solar system civilization will have lots of ethical dragons to slay.

Digging for paydirt

Back in the Apollo days our easy ramble around these moon rocks would have been a lot more arduous and dangerous, with just primitive paper maps and no space-based positioning system. Digging samples were all manual labor then. No robots around to help. Just simple tongs, scoops and rakes. The mightiest machine was a Black & Decker cordless electric hammer drill. With a lot of effort, astronauts could get up to 10 feet (3 meters) down through the compacted surface dust called regolith.

To ice-mine the moon you need much heftier tech. The deep frozen water is rock-hard and often rock-bound. You are there to find out just how hard it will be to free up that paydirt at a new site. Before you arrived, Polarvarg survey drones, carrying imaging spectrometers and radar, flagged the site as promising.

Then, a small army of company rovers explored the nearby "cold traps." They found some tiny particles of ice lying on the surface, like dusty snow. More turned up, buried about half a meter down, in larger, purer crystals like gravelly hailstones. And some have appeared in much larger, deeper blocks – harder to get but much more rewarding. By tradition and law, a human (that's you) must come to verify the find on-site, so he or she may attest to it later, should there be a territorial challenge. Despite all your high-tech gear, you are really just a simple scratch-ass prospector, looking for a stake on a parcel of moon.

But you're also here to do some new science. About half of it is "economic geology." That, historically, has been to understand where certain rock aggregates form in order to fast-track commercial quarrying. Aside from the 1970s Apollo data set, and some rover work on Mars, we've only had one planet to study in detail. Your work on how the moon made its minerals will help mining companies locate ore bodies on Earth.

And, of course, here on Luna itself: Almost everywhere you look, you can find titanium and aluminum for building space structures. Mature companies like Made in Space and Tethers Unlimited, which began in LEO (low Earth orbit), are here on the surface drawing feedstocks for their space-based flexible fabricators. There are also plenty of silicon for circuits – especially photovoltaic solar collectors (although small nuclear reactors provide local power to most lunar worksites).

All those craters punched into the crust conveniently reveal differentiated metals. Essential for small electronics and large power systems, local concentrations of rare earth elements abound.

Related: Moon Mining Could Actually Work With The Right Approach

The moon is a mining paradise, and it is of vital strategic international trade importance to the nations and transnational corporations that dig and refine it. ] Power politics

The biggest player is China. The moon's gentle light has long signaled aspirations and the promise of abundance in several Asian cultures. With a long-range view, the Chinese Communist Party government has been carefully, over decades, woven its lunar development into its identity. China's effects on the activities of other nations and corporations working in space have been less adverse than some western military planners had feared, but more disruptive than many internationalists had hoped.

Next year (2045), the People's Republic of China celebrates its 100th anniversary. The state-sponsored Chinese Academy of Space Technology Corporation is very close to completing two large solar-power satellites manufactured from mostly lunar materials. Each will downlink and a steady stream of up to 500 megawatts of electricity, harvested above Earth's atmosphere, from a high orbit, clear of weather and nighttime darkness. The power comes through low-density microwaves to large receiving antennas in China's countryside. It would be more efficient to send energy down by laser, but China – for now – seems to respect international agreements crafted to prevent directed energy weapons in space

These big satellites are just the next step in a China program 30 years ago, it has been increasing the amount of energy over ever-increasing vertical distances. If the "500s" prove, China will immediately begin work on a pair of much larger solar-energy satellites, each 10 times more powerful. It will not be so much a gargantuan spacecraft as a constellation of several hundred thousand very small ones. Each subunit has a clone of the last, all built mostly of materials from the moon, by an army of robotic fabricators.

It is a lossy proposition: Converting sunlight to electricity, then back to electromagnetic waves for the downlink, then back to the electricity is not very efficient. Chinese government economists are well aware that it will take many decades to fully recoup the construction costs. But they are investing in future generations. They are not accountable to impatient shareholders. And they are focused far beyond the moon.

Roadhouse high

Some space moguls are focused squarely on Earth: In lower orbits, with grand views of the planet below, a number of high-end boutique hotels have sprung up. "Blown up" would be more accurate; Most of these are very large inflated structures. But do not think lightweight "balloons" or "blimps." Their skins are actually much tougher than the metal hulls of traditional spacecraft. These expanded envelopes are built with sandwiching strong, lightweight synthetic fabrics tightly together. Layering with different densities protects against micrometeors and human-made space junk. Sewn into this hardy hide has impressively large windows.

Bigelow Aerospace (BA) is the dominant – but not the only – company to offer rentable " space in space. " The nightly rack rates are, well, astronomical. And there's no such thing as a "walk-in." But there is a good population of well-heeled leisure guests and B2B travelers to make a business. And the accommodation modules are not BA's only offering. You can find variously sized BA blow-ups popping up wherever pressurized volumes are needed. These elegant edifices come from Earth tightly packed in the large payload fairings of heavy-lift launchers. But they run on the Triple C's from the moon.

Drumming up business

Back here on the lunar surface, that affable dude in the purple-striped moon suit, working a few meters to the west of us, is Seok Wolgwang Choi. An American of Korean Heritage, he encourages English speakers to call him "Sammy." He talks and moonwalks with an easygoing way. But that bright orange bag over his shoulder reading "Danger: Explosives" looks more like a little ominous.

On Earth, geophysicists employed by mining companies thump the ground, reading the resulting sound waves to map what lies below. Astronauts on Apollo missions 14 and 16 did a bit of that. They emplaced mortars to fire rounds into the nearby terrain. And they deployed seismometers to capture the resulting moon wiggles. On Apollo 17, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt – the only geologist to walk the lunar terrain during Apollo – went farther. Jack, and his commander Gene Cernan, placed explosive charges in the regolith a few kilometers from a geophone array at their landing site. The igniters were set for several days; the guys had long since left the surface by the time the explosions were triggered.

More than half a century later, Sammy, too, likes making the moon go boom. His dangerous but lucrative career is about blowing stuff up in the name of "Lunar Active Seismic Tomography." He also retires in LASTing lunar impressions, mostly because his company cuts him in for profit-sharing on the find

But you and Sammy are also here to do some pure, not-for-profit science. Understanding the moon's evolution reveals the grand story of the solar system's formation. As you select rock samples, with the help of a keen-eyed geology team on Earth peering through your suit-cams, you are again moonwalking in the footsteps of giants:

Before Apollo, just about everyone thought all those shady holes seen from Earth had been built by the volcanoes. By the time John Young and Charlie Duke left behind Apollo 16's Lunar Module lower stage, in April of 1972, most scientists were quickly realizing that the surface of the moon is mostly about the impacts

The moon itself appears to be the child of a gargantuan crash between a Mars-size protoplanet and the early Earth. Fathoming the implications of that event, astrophysicists realized that the planets we see today are not the first ones this solar system has had (except, perhaps, Giant Jupiter). Nor do the planets now orbit where they originally formed. This revolutionary recognition arose directly from studies of the moon rocks hand-picked, packed and shipped home by 12 people between July 1969 and December 1972.

Related: Lunar Legacy: 45 Apollo Moon Mission Photos [19659042] Well suited

They made it look easy. It was not easy. On the downlink slow-scan video stream, you see the Apollo moonwalkers bouncing merrily around in gravity only 16% that of Earth. But, listen closely and you will hear them breathing pretty hard at times. Swaddled in layers of nylon, neoprene, aluminized Mylar, Dacron, Kapton, Teflon-coated fabric –

Each Apollo A7L "moon suit" – called the Extra-Vehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU – was rated for 30 trips outside. None got more than three. Apollo was a spare-no-expense program before the eyes of the world. Risks to astronauts have been minimized at astronomical costs. With President Kennedy's directive to "return him safely to Earth" ringing in every program manager's ears, everything was expendable, except for the crew

But you and I, working our industrial jobs here on Future Moon, hundreds of excursions before refurb or retirement. We need to go out often – even if you just check, or fix, the machines that do most of the work. So, our suits have shape-memory materials on the inside for comfort and haptic feedback "pulsers" in the fingertips for touch. And self-healing polymer layers guarding against tool punctures and micrometeoroids. Look closely at your suit's outer layer. It's a patchwork of panels, each hosting a network of tiny wires. That's your electrodynamic dust armor. It periodically sparks away clingy motes of lunar soil. Or tries to. Dust is a constant headache here on the moon.

Btw. It's time for a new acronym, is not it? EVA – "extravehicular activity" – has served for people exiting and reentering capsules, shuttles, stations and movable modules. But what will we call a storm outside a permanent habitat on a planet surface? I nominated simply: "a stroll outside." People are really living in space now – on the moon, around asteroids, in growing settlements in a plethora of orbits. I say: If you have a gravity vector, it's a "walk." If you do not, it's a "float" or a "fly." If the atmosphere is thicker than Earth's, it's a "swim." See? Easy!

We climb on a "flatbed" to save some steps. A direct descendant of Apollo's Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), our ride is basically just wheel motors and a big battery with a platform and a bit of open truss work to keep items (including humans) on board.

Well connected

Apollo moonwalkers could look down at their chest-mounted remote-control units and easily see the small square "flags" – status indicators – warning if oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, pressure or vent conditions drifted out of normal operating ranges. Comfy, here, in our 2044 lunar couture, we see the mini-gauges floating before our eyes on the HUD (heads-up display).

But suit health is the least of our inputs. We find ourselves immersed in a serious expansion of augmented reality. Active mapping with locators, task checklists, action prompts, graphical instructions; these all rotate, prioritized for our sensory consumption by the AI ​​agents our Company bosses have trained to help us live our best living lives

Essential to that life: your psychological health. Extended stays in sterile monochrome environments demand colorful, life-affirming cues. So, you brought the Earth with you to the moon. All those task-oriented cues share your sight and sound field with social messaging, and with a bit of art from time to time.

The claustrophobic confines of a helmet is emotionally expanded by well-designed AR, the harsh landscape outside softened by the occasional visual or audible reminder of your lush homeworld. You find it comforting – indeed, vital – to travel with live avatars of friends and family. They pop up from time to time, and you're always glad to interact with them, despite the 2.5-second delay time to and from Earth. On the barren, insensitive moon, you will often want to phone a friend.

And you'll have local friends here too: human and robotic. The "Buddy Team" approach – pair bonding – is wired deeply within us. It's the secret of humanity's success. Watching the paired Apollo crews in action, you could see it immediately. They could improvise on the fly, clear each other's wires, be one's other eyes.

You call up a video clip from 1971 – one of Apollo 15's sorties . Projected on your HUD: The sloped flank of Spur Crater. Dave Scott is using tongs to lift rock sample No. 15415 up from the lunar regolith. He's saying to Jim Irwin: "Okay, babe; open the bag," which, of course, Irwin has already started doing. That chunk of anorthosite will come to be known as the Genesis Rock – and a window of 4.1 billion years back, and a geological time capsule from just after the moon's origins.

Tantalizing fusion

For all that long stretch since its formation, moon has never had much of an atmosphere. Nor much of a magnetic field. So, whatever particles the sun threw at Luna tended to stick to the fine-grained surface.

Some of that residue has been helium-3 (He-3), implanted by the solar wind . A bit more helium-3 has been deposited here by cosmic rays from deep space. It is a tantalizing substance: two protons and a neutron, the only stable isotope that contains more protons than neutrons, besides simple hydrogen itself.

In the bad old Cold War days, when the nations of Earth had more than 70,000 active nuclear weapons pointed at each other's cities, helium-3 was a headache. It would build up as tritium decayed in the stored warhead, effectively reducing its explosive effectiveness. Missile maintainers would siphon off the He-3 to be sold for medical imaging and other peaceful uses.

But helium-3 can be put to work in a fusion reactor, releasing high levels of energy, without throwing off radioactive byproducts. At least in theory.

Neil Armstrong inadvertently collected the first sample of lunar helium-3 in 1969 – about 25 parts per billion of soil he scooped up to fill one collection box. Other Apollo missions brought some back as well. But the potential for power generation by helium-3 fusion was not realized until researchers at the University of Wisconsin put the clues together in 1985.

Like water ice, helium-3 survives in greater abundance in the shadows. Here on Future Moon, prospectors have found concentrations up to three times greater than the Apollo samples in the deep, dark zones of polar craters, coincidentally where most water ice is mined. Getting both He-3 and H2O out requires heating the soil up. So, it makes sense to harvest both in these unique polar locations, where spots in almost constant sunlight at 257 degrees Fahrenheit (125 degrees Celsius) lie near the practically permanent shade at minus 274 F (minus 170 C). The field of the moon turns out to be a slightly easier place to work, because more of the high ground is illuminated, more of the time. And it's easier to negotiate the gentler northern topography down into the mining sites.

But the economy of helium-3 fusion does not seem to be as bright as the idea. Concentrator-bots must sift through more than 100 tonnes of lunar soil to yield a single gram of helium-3. It takes more than 100,000 times that quantity to operate a 1-gigawatt reactor for a year. The power that comes out is worth about $ 175 million (mid-21st century value). So you need to run your reactor for over 25 years to pay off its cost.

These reactors are so expensive because helium-3 does not really like to fuse with itself, which is the "cleanest," least radioactive process. Getting He-3 / He-3 fusion to work requires immensely high plasma temperatures, achieved by smashing atoms together extremely fast. It takes a supermassive, highly accurate machine. And, although helium-3 itself is not radioactive, no one has shown that significant secondary radiation breeding will not compromise safety over time

There are richer sources of helium-3 in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. But that's a long way to go. Someday, fusion-driven rockets might use some of their own helium-3 payload to push the rest inward to human space and outward to the Deep System

For now, helium-3 remains a provocative potential fuel in search of a practical way to burn. Still, it is poetic to imagine the fusion fire of our primal star giving its offspring (us) and means to ignite local fusion power for our own sustenance, and carrying that fire into places the sun does not reach

Related: Superfast Spacecraft Propulsion Concepts (Images)

Back to the Ice Mines

We've rolled up the rim of the Haworth Crater. Looking through her spotting scope, Janelle Oladele, director of Ops at the rock-ice extraction site, is speaking: "Alexa, bring the thermal thermal group online." (A lot of lunar AI is named Alexa because, well, Blue Origin, which was started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos .) We watch her array of parabolic mirrors, set along the peaks, focus sunlight down into the shadows. As the beams converge, they dazzlingly light up and a few square meters of the crater floor for the first time in three billion years.

We realize that they've slew the long way around to avoid cooking and under extractor bots and a pair of human overseers stationed nearby. We humans – and they the machines – are essentially a single organism now, extending life into lifelessness.

Back in 2016, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) posted a standing offer of $ 1,360 per lb. ($ 3,000 per kilogram to any individual or company who could deliver hydrogen and oxygen made from moon to LEO (low Earth orbit).) It was a "cash-on-the-barrelhead" proposition for Lunar Triple C's made by the most experienced

ULA's bid is a jump-started industry – one based on using material from space to get around and build things in space. It's much cheaper to get mass-up "off the moon but from the" down "of the deep gravity well of Earth

Still, getting out of the moon does require rockets or electromagnetic launchers the moon, but it is not, for the most part, being built on the moon, nor on the surfaces of Mars or Venus. and human needs will drive us into free orbits between Earth and moon for a very long time ime to come

A self-coordinated phalanx of bots is swarming in behind the beam as it tracks the southwest. They fade beneath a growing bank of fog in front of them, and a cloud of dust behind. We thank Director Oladele for letting us watch the parade.

Home, the home in the moon

Town, it turns out, is mostly underground. The same exposed conditions that allowed the moon to accumulate helium-3 leave humans naked to kill, the cancerous effects of solar energy particles (SEPs) and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). When you're out of the moonwalking, you are a sitting duck for the first energetic protons following a very large solar flare that can travel at almost the speed of light. But it takes at least 20 hours for the most dangerous bulk of a coronal mass ejection (CME) to reach the Earth-moon system. And most CMEs are not directed to us. So, we can usually count on some warning.

A meter or so of dirt piled on top of your habitat keeps you safe. It matters most for long-term contract people who build up cumulative doses over time. They've got to say they live "in" the moon, not "on" it. Gopher-bots, built by the SpaceX-spawned Boring Company, have been worming their way between landing zones, residential towns and processing plants, creating networks of transport and storage tunnels. The small "hidey holes" are dug (or mounded) at every worksite: If the solar flux suddenly jumps, humans can shelter-in-place

Related: Anatomy of Sun Storms & Solar Flares )

Pear points out a long ridge as the hopper climbs to clear it; and a lava tube lies beneath its hump. Built, in the moon's hot youth, by flowing magma, these hollow structures offer intrinsically shielded open spaces and naturally occurring access through "skylights" where bubbles or meteoroids have popped open the surface. Apollo 15 explored Hadley Rille – probably a lava tube with a collapsed roof – whose floor was more than a kilometer wide, with walls up to 1,000 feet (300 m) high. Many large lunar lava tubes have been surveyed. Temperatures inside them are much more than out on the surface. Someday people can live comfortably in them . But, here in 2044, we still seem a long way from a human population explosion on the moon.

You'll probably sleep well back at the Company's quarters tonight, once you've had a shower and a drink. Both are possible, courtesy of that ice you saw released today.

Looking around the bar, you realize that miners have not changed much in centuries. Smudges of soot go along with the job, no matter how disconnected and suit-protected one tries to be. Moon dust is nasty stuff. Not as toxic as Mars' dust, but dirty, abrasive and pervasive. And always that specific odor: Apollo astronauts likened it to spent gunpowder.

The dark side

The "Wild West," the pioneering mentality of this moon rush can not last. Someday – perhaps soon – there will be tougher questions to answer:

  • The first time a dead tourist family sues the spacecraft line that brought him there, which justice system will adjudicate?
  • If a rogue nation – or a private mercenary army – destroys a competitor's ice refinery, whose retaliatory force will respond?
  • Will children born here on Luna be afforded the citizenship rights of their parents? Would they be physically capable of living on any higher-gravity world?
  • As genetic and genomic engineering grows ever more powerful, what ethics will apply to human or animal testing performed in, say, a lunar company town
  • What if a bug born in a bio-lab on Luna turns out to be virulent on Earth
  • As every military planner knows, you take the high ground as soon as you can: Who's in charge of the moon-based ability to throw or purposefully divert big rocks around the sky?
  • When does a defense system against asteroids become an offensive weapon?
  • Who decides when the risk of diverting an asteroid close to Earth, in order to mine, outweighs the benefit

A long, long time now – when civilization on the moon has become fully self-sustaining – residents may wish to claim sovereignty over that world's resources. If, say, a solar-power satellite serving Earth is made of lunar materials, do the daughters of the moon workers who built it get stock in the Earth-based utility company that profits from it? Old contracts and treaties may be torn up in the process. Hot, cold or social disinformation wars can be fought. Given our human history, all of those are likely.

The bright side

You're going home. For all but a very few people, "home" still means "Earth." Like the Apollo teams, 75 years ago, you caught a lift to LLO (low lunar orbit) aboard a high hopper. You  transfer to an OTA (orbital transfer vehicle). Unlike Apollo, the OTA will drop you at one of those flying flophouses with the big windows in low Earth orbit. You're not waiting around on Luna for an Aldrin Cycler, the cheaper way to travel. But you're also not jumping a "starship-class" luxury direct liner, which is rated for direct travel between all worlds.

You drop from the High Hyatt Hotel in a dedicated atmospheric transfer vehicle (ATV). Some of that lunar ice is still with you: Your ATV is fully refueled with propellent mined on the moon.

Safely slowing down on powered descent, you get set to touch down on dirt that's full of life — unlike the lunar regolith. Some call our old world by its old name, "Terra," which means "land." By far the best planet for tens of kiloparsecs in any direction. Though the price declines with each launch, it still costs a bundle to get you to and from the moon. You wrestle with justifying your journey. While you were off ego-tripping through the cosmos, how were you helping Earth?

Your excursion was mostly — but not entirely — carbon-neutral. You launched on engines burning cold methane, "cryo-CH4." Once you got to low Earth orbit, however, lunar hydrogen and oxygen — and free sunlight — took you everywhere else. Had you gone deep into the solar system, you'd probably have been on nukes (nuclear electrical or nuclear thermal propulsion).

The old idea that Earth must deal with an ever-increasing population by shipping billions of us off-planet to colonize elsewhere will not, and cannot, work. But opening the resources of space can, in time, unburden Earth of much of the industrial impact of humanity. As Bezos, and Gerard O'Neill before him, (and Ehricke before him, and Tsiolkovsky before him) suggested: Move heavy tech off-planet, get better habitat on-planet.

Sadly, the only other way to ensure our species' success seems to require cultivating a cancerous body of increasingly restrictive rules, with ever more ironclad enforcement. Hardly anybody, outside of a few authoritarians with badly damaged personalities, wants that.

There is one additional emerging cause for hope: "the population plateau." Beginning in the second half of the 20th  century, some nations have seen their populations peak and begin to recede. This trend correlates with the spread of certain nonmilitary technologies. As this permeates worldwide, it reverses the human population burst, which began with the rise of agriculture and the unintended terraforming of planet Earth. Machine proliferation on farms means we don't have to breed as many human farmhands. Birth rates continue to decline in Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. The U.S., Canada and even China are tiptoeing toward population stability.

Though technology implies increased energy use, cleaner ways to get that power are emerging. Some of the most promising — solar satellites and like fusion power — correlate with space development.

Beyond tech, the empowerment of women is vitally important for maintaining a healthy civilization. Advanced education, self-determination, wage equality, child care: It is not, of course, necessary to go to space to do these. But, thanks to social networks of (mostly) female and non-binary engineers, most space industries have baked a responsibility to fulfill each of these requirements into their companies' cultures. And the mass of these exerts a beneficial gravitational pull on societies in general.

There's a grand virtuous cycle at work here: A maturing space-based infrastructure to lighten the burden on Earth's biosphere also happens to further open the solar system's resources. It looks like while offloading stress from our home planet, we get opportunities in the rest of space for very little additional investment. Starting with Triple C's from the moon, we can go anywhere.

Follow the author @DavidSkyBrody. Follow us @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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