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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Colonial Real Estate

In the past few weeks we've looked at some of the possible locations in our solar system which may one day be colonized by humans. The next step is to compare these, but first we must establish our parameters for colonization. Based on our original premise of a colony as a second home for our species in the event of an extinction-level event on earth, we can make the following "wish list".

1) The colony should be large enough to be self-sustaining without a continual influx of new colonists, but should be able to accommodate a gradual or sudden influx of new colonists should the need arise. At a minimum, the initial colony should support 1000 individuals, with the potential to expand to 10,000 colonists or more.

2) The first phase of the colony (supporting the first 1000 colonists) should be able to be completed and self-sustaining within 100 earth years.   

3) The colony should be distant enough from earth to minimize the effect on the colony in the event of an extinction event on earth, but close enough to earth to make communications and commerce otherwise viable.

4) The colony should be reasonably protected against an extinction event of its own, either by radiation, meteorite impact, disease or famine.

5) The colony should have some reasonable approximation of earth's gravity available to the colonists.

6) The colony should have readily available resources for building, radiation shielding, water and fuel.

7) The colony should be economically viable, both independently and as a colony of earth. A colony with no reason to exist will not exist for long. Even with a strong economic incentive colonization may not surpass the minimum needed to attain that economic incentive. For example, Prudhoe Bay is about as important economically as any outpost could be, requires several thousand transient workers to maintain but only 3 people (as of the 2009 census) actually live there. Prudhoe is damnably remote and cold, but compared to any of our candidates it's right next door and a veritable paradise. There's a LOT of money to be had in Prudhoe Bay for anyone enterprising enough to get it, but so far, nobody has. Think about that for a minute. The transient oil-workers make an awful lot of money there. If they had the opportunity to spend that money on site, they'd spend a lot of it. But there's not so much as a bar at Prudhoe Bay. Here's the entire business district of Prudhoe Bay AK:

Any colony which is not able to attract a lot more full-time colonist than Prudhoe Bay, isn't going to succeed as a colony.

8) There should not be an existing ecosystem for the colonists to compete with, either eukaryotic or prokaryotic. There is plenty of real estate to be had in our solar system without instigating a war of the worlds.

9) The colony should be reasonably easy to transport personnel and materials to and from, specifically onto and off of. The easiest surface to land on is one without any atmosphere at all, which allows a landing by thrust-braking alone. This is how the Apollo landers worked. Added atmosphere means added windage. Not impossible, but more difficult. Of the candidates, only Mars has enough atmosphere to allow for (barely) effective atmospheric braking. Also, generally speaking, the lower the gravity the easier the landing.

Alright, so here's our colonial wish list. In the next post, we'll see how each of the candidates measure up to it, and each other.

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