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A space program with current and future benefits for the human race.

Since the shutdown of the shuttle, we're in serious need of a space program; a direction. I propose a program taking, perhaps hundreds of human generations if not a couple thousand to fulfill, but I believe we need to start seriously planning our space destiny. The human race will eventually out-grow earth. We need to seriously think about settling Mars and Venus, known as "terraforming". We also need to come up with serious plans to deflect asteroids or comets from hitting earth. I propose step #1 of this plan: finding ways to move large objects in space. Then, we can begin to terraform Mars and Venus. Venus needs a moon to speed up its rotation and give it tides and such like. Mercury would fit that bill. Mars should have its two moons put together into one, and perhaps bulked up by additions of asteroids to give Mars stability as our larger moon does for us. Mars then needs to also be bulked up to near earth size, so it can retain an atmosphere; use material from the asteroid belt. As our abilities in these sciences progresses, comets from the Oort cloud could be brought in to give both planets an ocean and water. The space-faring nations of earth should come together to begin planning this. If nothing else, defense against asteroids and comets should be a world-wide goal.

Until we can step out on Mars or Venus, take a breath of air, and get a drink of water, colonization is a ridiculous thought. There's not enough mineral wealth on Mars to pay for a colony. We have to do some serous long-range planning so future generations can realistically make these two planets livable homes for the humans of earth.

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    Jun 9 2012: Somebody needs to write-up some proposals for NASA funding for a few of the ideas already suggested in this very young post. Some examples: Joining Two Martian Moons Into One; Substantially Increasing the Size of Mars; Relocate Mercury To An Orbit Around Venus; Establish Balloon Cities In the Troposphere of Venus; Send Robots to the Moon to Prepare Habitat For Humanity; Establish An Extraterrestrial Refuge From the Explosion of Yellowstone Park. Please keep track of these seminal ideas for technology applications and write a closing statement. It should be a good read!
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    Jun 7 2012: The most difficult step with respect to space colonization is starting where we are today. Science fiction has taken us so far into the future we don't know how to get there. Ultimately sci-fi writers only care about entertaining the reader with a good story and we're left feeling like a Papua New-Guinean cargo cult left to worship trinkets.

    Starting with where we are means you have to justify space colonization using the same economic arguments we use for any major project on Earth, like a power plant, bridge, or airport. We have to show investors that after giving us their money, they'll get it back within a reasonable amount of time, and ideally with a profit. Otherwise from their perspective they're throwing it away. When the French and English colonized the Americas, it was through private investment, and the investors were able to see a return. The same mechanism must be in place for space.

    I've been interested in colonization my whole life, and in the last 10 years I've focused heavily on the economics of space. While we shouldn't be afraid to dream big, at the end of the day, we have to pull back our imagination to only what is currently possible or be based on what is possible. Sadly this means no interstellar travel or terraformation. What we CAN do within our lifetime is lay the economic foundation upon which everything else will be built. We can build the first cities, the first mines, the first factories, the first self-sustaining ventures, and so on. The best thing you can do at this point is either get involved on the technology or science side. Learn aerospace/mechanical/robotics engineering or astronomy/planetary science/geology/biology.

    I encourage you to learn more about Von Braun and Korolev, and watch the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon" and the movie "The Right Stuff".
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    Jun 7 2012: How about we start with self contained space stations. Build them on the rotating cylinder design to produce half "g". Initial construction in Earth orbit then moved to lagrangian points or put into orbit around mars or venus to use as a base for terraforming experiments.
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    Jun 6 2012: just saying Venus has a surface temperature of 460 degrees C, also the air is poisonous, rains H2SO4,
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      Jun 6 2012: the venus is the prime interest of colonialization. high above the clouds, and the troposphere, where the atmospheric pressure is around 1atm, the temperature is comfortable 20 degs centigrade. no acid at all. we can build floating cities using large balloons. compared to other planets, venus is paradise.
    • Jun 8 2012: Yeah, I know Venus is bad. I read somewhere that if you stepped out of a spacecraft on Venus, you'd be squashed, cooked, corroded and asphyxiated all at the same time. But the point of terraforming is making a planet livable according to earth paradigms. Having Mercury as a moon and speeding up Venus's rotation is step #1. Removing that acid cloud cover would probably be next. We are discovering "extremo-phile" bacteria on earth that are happy living in oceanic volcano vents; maybe they could be genetically engineered to survive on Venus and begin producing a breathable atmosphere like the algae did for us a couple billion years ago. Like I say, this is a plan for hundreds of generations; we can't solve all problems now; we must leave them for future generations. Right now, though, we need to lay the foundations which would be finding ways to move asteroids and comets out of a collision path with earth. Thanks for your thoughts.
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        Jun 11 2012: Even without the thick atmosphere Venus will still be too hot for humans unless we move it further from the sun. The bacteria idea would also work better if the temp was a bit lower.
  • Jun 6 2012: The space program needs a realistic motivation, that the world can understand and support; and a realistic goal. My suggestions:

    Motivation: Preserve our species from extinction. Right now we have all our eggs on one planet. Science has shown that there are many ways we can be wiped out, and it could happen soon. Yellowstone is overdue to blow.

    Goal: A sustainable, self-sufficient colony on the moon.

    Recent discoveries, particularly of surface water, suggest that this is plausible. Our exponential technological progress makes this scenario plausible: First, send robots. These robots would be smart enough to handle unexpected situations. (Some human trips will be needed to fix the glitches.) The robots would build everything needed for the humans, including indoor farms for food. Next send humans. Since their basic needs would be provided by robots, these humans will be engaged in pursuits to further spread our eggs throughout the solar system.

    There might be one insurmountable problem with a moon colony, and that is the smaller gravity. Haven't figured that one out yet.
    • Jun 8 2012: "Motivation: Preserve our species from extinction." I agree; that's the beginning point of my idea, find a way to deflect asteroids and comets from this planet, then, building on that experience, use that science to start bulking up Mars, securing Mercury as a moon for Venus, and terraforming those two planets so the human race in the distant future will have new places to live.