Life Outside Our Biosphere
The fragile balance of the Earth's ecosystem is constantly being disrupted. Overpopulation is placing heavy strain on the world's resources. We are burning all our fossil fuels to create the energy we need, and clearing our rainforests to make enough farmland to feed everyone. The ozone layer is slowly eroding, exposing us to harmful UV light. The room we have on this planet is just enough to provide for our population now! As the population grows, we will find ourselves more and more crowded, with no room left to expand. Solution: Transfer part of the population off the Earth, to colonies established either on other planets or on orbiting space stations. This will lessen strain on the world's land resources by providing more agricultural area, and will help solve problems associated with overcrowding.
In our solar system, a few planetic possibilities exist for colonization. Mars, one of our closest neighbors, was previously a prime choice until it was explored more in depth. Scientists have now found it to be a red, rocky, barren desert with little atmosphere, no water, and containing no life. If Earthlings were to settle on Mars, we would remain totally dependent on the Earth's resources.
Another close planet is Venus, the second from the sun. This "sister planet" of Earth proved to have extremely hostile conditions. Scientists were hopeful when they found traces of water vapor in the upper atmosphere, but were disappointed when concentrations of sulphuric acid were discovered mixed with the water. Venus has surface temperatures of around 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and an atmosphere one hundred times as thick as the Earth's. (This produces pressure equivalent to pressure two miles under water on Earth.) These conditions project a less than comfortable life on Venus.
The Moon has held Man's curiosity since we were created, leading to such missions as the Apollos. These space missions have taught us a lot about what life on the moon would be like. The moon has little to offer us in the way of settlement: it has little to no atmosphere, and only one sixth of the gravity of Earth. Although the moon might not be the best place for colonies to settle, it would be an excellent source of resources for nearby space stations. ( Scientists can extract oxygen from the rocks, and glass, aluminium, and other metals as well.)
Space stations orbiting in the past have been very dependent on the Earth's supplies for construction and maintenance. The Soviets have launched a brigade of structures called Salyuts. In fact, one of their cosmonauts has lived in space for more than 235 days! They supplied the Salyuts by shuttle craft flying from the Earth and back, carrying supplies and returning with wastes. Americans also launched a space station, called Skylab. This structure, far larger than the Soviets', was too expensive and was abandoned after some months of occupation. These mini-colonies had very primitive conditions, with no gravity and an awkward lifestyle.
Scientists predict that space colonies of the future will be much different from these first primitive attempts, but knowing which design they will adopt is difficult. Most engineers agree that they will be in a round configuration, slowly rotating, causing centrifugal force with effects like the Earth's gravity. Some experts believe that colonies will eventually be around 200 km2, with some large enough to house one million people. Because the colony will be environmentally controlled, natural disasters will be almost obsolete. The only things to worry about will be asteroid showers, which only occur about every one thousand years. Factories and other industrial facilities will be nearby, along with the greenhouses.
One of the biggest benefits of these space stations is the excellent agricultural potential. The orbiting space station is constantly exposed to the sun's rays, and 24 hours a day of photosynthesis in a greenhouse could give the colony all the food and oxygen it could need. If some of these resources could be sent back to Earth, less arable land would be ruined by over farming for starving people. Massive amounts of energy in the universe are unused, and solar panels constantly exposed to unfiltered sunlight may harvest some of this energy. Huge solar panels attached to the station could provide for all of its energy needs, leaving extra to provide for those still on Earth.
The construction of space stations will be a compilation of resources from across the solar system. Initially, we will obtain much of the material from Earth, but we have other sources available to us. Rock, glass, metal, and oxygen taken from the moon would be better than if it were taken from the Earth, because the moon has such low gravity. Our planet has very strong gravity, and removing matter from our planet uses up a lot of energy. Removing metals and rock from the moon is relatively easy, however. Water is another element vital to the survival of future colonists, and some researchers suggest melting ice from Saturn's rings for this valuable resource.
Establishing settlements outside the biosphere we have lived in for so long will be very difficult. It will take cooperation from all the nations in the world, at huge expense to the technologically advanced countries. We will always be dependent on the Earth, and some primitive cultures may never leave it. Colonization of outer space, however, is a good solution to the world's energy, overpopulation, and agricultural problems.
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