We are living in science fiction times. I can say “Alexa, turn on the lamp in the living room,” and the lamp in the living room will come on. I can see who is standing on my front porch from by back bedroom on the TV and from my cell phone anywhere I am; I don’t even have to get out of bed. And if my house wasn’t 110 years old with ancient wiring, I would be able to do more.
But this is all coming. Once they discover a price point, it happens.
My house has a little bit of Star Trek in it, sure, but what about space travel? We walked on the moon 50 years ago, a few months before I turned seven. When will we get Captain Kirk pulling on his socks in the room with a green-skinned space princess?
Well, we are working on it. When the US put men on the moon, it was a tremendous singular effort without much infrastructure built up and without a transparent connection to profit on the other end. Yes, there were a lot of spin offs; there were a lot of technical problems solved; but at the end it wasn’t any easier to make cheese and it didn’t lower the price of bread. It helped us win the Cold War; it caught our imaginations; but then it just lay there.
It is now 50 years later and we are living in a different world. Everybody I know above a certain age is walking around with a phone in their pocket. Everybody can connect with a world of information in minutes, in seconds if they actually know what they are doing. We’ve got satellites orbiting the planet that can tell us where we are to within a few feet. You can put a satellite dish on your stinking roof for goodness sake. We’ve got an old one we use as a birdbath.
There are several well-funded, innovative, private-enterprise space-launch companies who are learning to do launches faster, cheaper, better than the government.
The infrastructure is being built.
But there needs to be a pay-off. What is the carrot on the stick?
It is not going to be using space colonies to reduce population pressure on the earth. We’ve got six billion people on the planet. If we put a million in a rocket and sent them into space, we would still have six billion people on the planet.
I am not saying that we won’t have colonies, but they will be entities in their own right, not population release valves. They will, at least at first, be used as colonies always have been: Markets. We sell them things they need to stay alive; they provide natural resources.
Let me give you an example of what I am thinking about. You may have seen the movie The Martian starring Matt Damon. (I’ve seen it three times and listened to the audiobook at least as many.) In The Martian, Mark Watney, played by Damon, extended his life by growing potatoes on Mars. To do this, he made his soil by using his own poop.
So this. A colony has people in it. People need food. It is far too expensive to ship food from Earth to Mars for more than just a few people, so the food will have to be grown in space. As a consequence, they will need space farms.
These farms will need soil, and it would be far too expensive to take large quantities of dirt into space. Therefore, they will have to be making soil in space. While I am not an expert on this, I am guessing the procedure will be basically the same as what Mark Watney did: poop plus regolith. (Regolith is dust and bits of stone; calling it regolith makes it sound spacy.)
I don’t know if I will live to see this, but maybe my grandsons will. There will be people in space making money off poop. I hope they are Americans. I know they will be politicians.
— Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.