Feature by S.T.

The sun was setting, the red landscape met the blue sky at the horizon and from it emanated a purple hue. While walking back to the base you could see the protective glass dome from a distance, however you could not see into it clearly. Living on Mars creates an inevitably tedious lifestyle for those who choose to do so, as does any extraterrestrial lifestyle. A suit to support and protect you is essential, and you will most likely always need to be supported and protected from the dangers of outer space when Earth’s atmosphere isn’t protecting you. The year? Anywhere from 2100 to 2500 AD.

Humans develop technologically at an exponential rate. According to Alex R., who holds a degree in and is a Ph. D. candidate for astrophysics, human colonization of Mars or the Moon is likely to happen within the next few centuries. As for contact with our nearest neighboring solar system, Alpha Centauri, it takes light approximately 4.24 years to travel there, and, Alex predicts, the amount of time that it would take to send any mass to Alpha Centauri would span centuries. Current technologies being developed by aerospace/propulsion engineers and space agencies involve using a laser beam or argon gas propulsion systems to accelerate objects away from our solar system with increasing velocity, meaning that over time objects continue to accelerate and gain momentum. This solution to space travel in a timely manner is not complete though, as it would require an immense amount of energy to slow the object in question down to a velocity from which it could enter the orbit of a celestial entity and potentially land on it. In other words, we may be able to speed up an object enough to get to another solar system within a few decades, but slowing the object down requires an even more tedious and energy-consuming effort; hitting the breaks in outer space is harder than tapping the accelerator.

Another issue that must be addressed is the lack of a magnetosphere in outer space. As Alex described it, the magnetosphere is a type of natural magnetic field that the Earth emits due to molten iron shifting within the Earth’s core. As described by NASA, this magnetic field blocks solar and cosmic radiation that pollute outer space. Without protection from this radiation humans would not survive long. Lead is known to block radiation, as is water. A feasible solution to the issue of radiation would be to cover astronaut suits in lead, and even to use water’s protective property to our advantage by way of a two layered dome surrounding any habitation or base. One way to visualize this dome is to consider a two-pane window. Fill the gap between the parallel panes with water, and then shape the windows into a dome, and, wallah! You have yourself a (slightly opaque) radiation-absorbent dome.

Even with advanced and intricate supportive technologies, extraterrestrial life for a human, an astronaut, would not be simple. Every time you left your base you would need to wear a suit, food would likely be very precisely rationed, and you would need a lot of training using the technologies you’d be accompanied by. Without training and technological adeptness, you would not be able to maintain the machines that support your life, and when those machines faltered, your life would become dependant on your ability to fix them. Without massive amounts of training and preparation, premature death would be inevitable. Something that often evades consideration about extraterrestrial colonization is the mentality of the first space colonizers. One would not only have to be physically ready, but also mentally ready to pioneer space inhabitation. The first pioneers, and likely many others, would not be given the opportunity to return to Earth. Their lives adopt and invariable purpose; an obligation to research and science. As a space pioneer, you would be with the few same people for the remainder of your time. It’s hard to imagine that many people are prepared to take on this kind of responsibility and commitment.

It is important to consider the reality of space travel and its real importance to humans as a whole. Many factors play into the progress of extraterrestrial colonization technologies and plans. Alex, who also holds degrees in business and economics, mentioned an important point about human behavior. That point being incentive. What incentives do humans really have to invest in and develop technologies for extraterrestrial colonization? The Earth is a very comfortable habitat for us, who would really benefit from leaving? Unless we discovered an impending catastrophe, such as a massive meteor on a collision path with Earth, the deterioration of the sun, lack of essential resources, or extreme overpopulation, we don’t have very much realistic incentive to focus on extraterrestrial colonization. That being said, some groups and agencies see things differently. A colleague of Alex’s is currently employed by Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company that expects to begin mining in the near future and predicts that they will be able to harvest many valuable resources that have the potential to yield huge profits, which is a substantial incentive to progress space technologies. As demonstrated throughout history, humans have the  Just as the search for resources lead to the colonization of America, the same drive may lead humans to colonize extraterrestrial entities in the distant future. Image that large amounts of a valuable metal are found on Mars. Companies would begin to build foundation there in order to more effectively harvest the metal, and eventually they would need to begin to employ physicists and engineers to oversee the facilities on Mars in close proximity. As space travel became cheaper, more people would begin to have the option travel to Mars, colonies would establish themselves over time around the mining facilities. Initially these colonies would consist solely of company employees, but, just as colonies in America attracted merchants and adventurers, Mars colonies would begin to attract people other than company employees. People would open restaurants to feed the employees, many other services would begin to be offered to the people of the colonies, and soon enough, the colonies on Mars would begin to develop their own economy and social infrastructure. This is just one hypothetical possibility out of many, but one to consider as it closely resembles human history in the way that we expand our reach to new frontiers.

So, considering the obstacles and issues we face with humans getting to and living in extraterrestrial environments, how real and apparent is the idea of extraterrestrial colonization? According to Alex, the colonization of the Moon or Mars seems very likely to occur within the next few centuries. But the colonization of another solar system such as Alpha Centauri? Even our nearest solar system would take centuries to reach, and the time it would take to develop the technologies needed to support such a mission is likely to fall within the order of thousands of years. But who really knows? At the exponential rate that technology is being developed now it might not be so outlandish to think that humans might reach Alpha Centauri within a thousand years from now. What would life be like away from Earth? Different. There would be lots of necessary precautions and procedures in place to maximize astronauts’ chance of survival. The pioneers of space will be giving their lives to science in order to progress human knowledge and progression.

Will humans ever be able to live independently of Earth? “I don’t see why not”, respond Alex R. when prompted with this question. If we can then we will, in time. A lot of time. Humanity as a whole has only just taken the first few steps into the frontier of space. The knowledge contained in the Universe is vast, and what we know is merely a hydrogen atom within a drop of water in an ocean of oceans. In roughly 1 billion years the sun will become hot enough to boil the sea, but humans will cease to exist on Earth before then. Accordingly, we probably have a few hundred million years until the Earth becomes uninhabitable by humans. If we are to continue existing after our time on Earth runs out, we will need to figure out how to leave and become independent of Earth. The likelihood that the human race can exist independently of Earth by then is extremely high, but still in the very far future.

The road to extraterrestrial colonization is one taken by many; scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc. and the need for new generations of these people is constantly growing. The future will be built by those who are driven by knowledge and understanding, those who want to maximize their potential and explore the Universe in ways not thought of yet. New technologies are being invented every day, and this trend will only speed up over time. The Universe is an infinitely exciting place for those who pursue its mysteries and contents. These people are the reason why extraterrestrial colonization is inevitable, their insaciable curiosity is the drive for progression and the pathway to success. It took us only 63 years to get to the Moon from the first time we got off the ground in 1903. That is less than a lifetime. With this rate of progression, we are well on our way to Alpha Centauri, space, and beyond.

After entering the dome, you remove your suit, you lay down in a bed. In your mind, as you’re falling asleep, you gawk at where humanity has come in the last few hundred years. Who knows what we will accomplish in the next hundred years?

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