Very exciting news came out the other day; at least as far as all of us children of the Space Age are concerned. Those of us who grew up in the 1960s were promised Moon bases, space stations with Howard Johnson’s restaurants, and missions to Mars. 2001 A Space Odyssey showed a glimpse of the future that we expected to see. Regular trips into space by commercial airlines (spacelines?), a city on the Moon, even a mission to Jupiter by the turn of the century. Instead, after the initial excitement of the Moon Race we were treated to space buses into the lower orbitals, satellite launches, and lots of robotic probes. Now the information sent back by those satellites and probes, especially the Hubble, were exciting. But the thrill of men and women going into space was subsumed under a work a day attitude for NASA. Now granted, the Cold War sucked in a lot of money that might have gone into planetary exploration. And the two shuttle disasters made the powers that be more cautious. But realistically pioneers have always taken risks, and some have always been burned. Ships went out into the unknown and never came back. Fragile aircraft crashed on a whim. But because there was money to be made the pioneers forged on. That was the catalyst that made people risk all to gain all.
The other day Producer James Cameron and the executives of Goggle announced that they were starting up a company to mine the asteroids. While they certainly will not be able to carry out this dream by themselves, they hope through some practical demonstrations to attract capital that can be used to grab a foothold in space and expand. The simple fact is that the most expensive part of the exploration and exploitation of the Solar System is getting off the Earth in the first place. It is horribly expensive to put things into orbit and beyond. But once beyond it becomes almost ridiculously cheap to go further. The pursuit of space by private companies has been in the news lately, but Cameron and Google’s announcement is the most ambitious to date. And they have a reasonable timetable for its accomplishment.
So what is our future in space as a species? If, of course, we don’t just blast each other out of existence, still a possibility, but with the end of the Cold War standoff less of one. We will definitely colonize the moon, build orbital habitats and go on to the other planets. Asteroid mining of course, including bringing some of the smaller ones to Earth orbit to use for the materials needed to build the orbital infrastructure. Colonies on Mars eventually, and even on the moons of the gas giants and the larger asteroids. Beyond that? Once we control the energies then the Terraforming of Mars is a distinct possibility. Venus not so much, but not impossible. Maybe even our moon with a mantel of atmosphere. We may never reach the stars, though even if Einstein remains the ultimate authority that may be possible. Once megascale production becomes mundane then generation ships may not be far behind. Beyond the light speed barrier, wormholes, warp drive? We just don’t know. Some would say that star ships are impossible, but real scientists are looking into the possibilities of hyperlight travel, or at least some way around the distance barriers, some of which we can’t even imagine.
So the news is hopefully the beginning of something really big. It probably won’t happen according to any projected time frame that we can formulate today. It probably will contain some unforeseen pitfalls, as well as unforeseen promise. Some will grow rich and powerful, while others spend all and lose everything, just as merchants and explorers did in the past. People will die, dreams will be realized, new cultures and nations will be born out there in the Solar System. Wars will be fought. Never believe that everything will be peace and love and joy in the greater Solar System. But I believe with these new steps outward we will forge on. This is an exciting time to live in, and I truly hope I see some of this come to pass.