WarDaft wrote:I suppose I can see quadrillions living in space, I can see quadrillions living on planets a lot easier, planets which have all kinds of things that space lacks, like atmosphere, a firm foundation, vaguely consistent temperature, and not dying a slow horrible death due to slight malfunctions of your environmental support systems.
And now I will argue that in space you will eventually have all that a planet offers in addition an environment free of germs and parasites, abundant, cheap and incredibly varied food as well as other goods, abundant and cheap energy, full control over weather and climate, wide open spaces and yet billions of people within minutes of travel.
First I will ask: "Why is modern society so rich? Why are a lot of stuff we use so cheap?". Many people would answer: Technology. I'd say that technology is often an enabler but the real reason behind our wealth is mass production and a global market. Basically it is much easier per unit to make a million than to make ten.
What keeps the price of some things up now? One thing is still limited markets. We are only a few billion people. Some specialized stuff (like science equipment) can only sell in hundreds and the price is orders of magnitude than if there was a general demand. This would change if we were quadrillions, whether on planets or in space. Another thing is limited availability of raw material, some elements are simply rare. Less a problem in space until we are very many people. I'll return to this one.
The final thing is unpredictability. The less a process can be automated, the more human interaction it needs, and the more expensive. On Earth we have all sorts of varying geology and geography which needs to be taking into account when looking for and extracting a specific resource. This means that every case is different and automation is hard.
In space you can find cubic kilometer sized asteroids of close to pure iron, not even ore but usable metal, billions of tons of material at a uniform composition. Once the infrastructure is established processing can be highly automated. Not "we could establish a mine in this area, these ore samples look good, we can maybe build the access road here, around this protected area", but rather "lets take that asteroid next".
With an industry in space solar power would be very cheap. At 1AU you have a full 1.3kW/m2
, rather than the half that reaches through the atmosphere, it is always at the perfect angle heliostats won't have to be engineered to withstand the changing angle with respect to gravity, there is no weather except where it is wanted and there are no nights except where they are wanted. This would make solar power abundant cheap and above all reliable.
You could make cylinders in sizes of kilometers for living in. Solar radiation would reach you through kilometers of air, just like on earth, protecting you from harmful radiation. Weather and climate would be under human control, but a system of that size would have enough inertia that a malfunctioning would not be immediately dangerous. Atmosphere would take months to leak out through a realistically sized meteor hole. Transport between colonies would be easy and frequent. The rotation making artificial gravity means that the edge of a cylinder moves at hundreds of km/h, just lower a pod out on the outside and let go at the right time and it is a free coast through the vacuum to get picked up at the destination. You could work in comfortable cool conditions, go skiing in an arctic cylinder in the afternoon, and then have dinner by a beach in a tropic one. The constant communication and transport between colonies would mean that you have no more risk " dying a slow horrible death" if something malfunctions in one, than you do of dying of starvation in a city if your fridge stops working.
Food would be produced in separate smaller cylinders, since plants are less sensitive to radiation and Coriolis effects they can be made thinner and smaller. An entire cylinder could be sterilized if an infection should happen, so you'd have perfect monoculture with no need for pesticides. Complete climate control will probably give four or five harvests a year for most crops. This would be possible by a degree of automated mass production of cylinders that is just not possible for earthly greenhouses.
And I haven't even gotten into all the fun recreational stuff you could do when you have zero-g and low-g environments close by. A flight along the axis of your cylinder with wings on your arms (and a parachute on your back for safety probably), new sports in reduced gravity. I for example like parkour and juggling. I would love to practice difficult moves in the slow motion of reduced gravity.
Sure you could import enough food from space to support a planet-wide manhattan, except for this: Earth won't have anything to sell
then. I can't see anything earth could export to space, against that gravity well, that cannot be made cheaper up there. The only income of space valuta for an earth society would be tourism. Of course wealthy space people will want to experience the real
wide open spaces of the Earth, but only if it is kept somewhat wild and sparsely populated. No one would want to visit a planet-wide Manhattan, you'd have much nicer cities in space.
Edit: Sorry for hijacking the thread. I have a tendency to rant when talk falls on space colonization.