Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time know that I am both an avid follower of developing technology and an aspiring science fiction writer. Today I was discussing the possibilities for near term space missions. In particularly, we were talking about the fact that although a manned mission to Mars was exciting, a more practical mission would be to capture an asteroid and transfer it to one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.
Lagrange points are places where the gravitational forces of two large bodies combine to equal the centrifugal force of a smaller body. There are five Lagrange points in such a system. The smaller body doesn’t need any propulsion to maintain its position at a Lagrange point. This makes it an ideal place to build a space station or even perhaps a colony. The material from asteroids would be the most cost effective stuff to use to build such a colony. It is very expensive in terms of the cost per pound to lift material from the surface of Earth. Moving the same amount of material from place to place in space is relatively much cheaper.
A mission to Mars on the other hand requires much longer exposure to the dangerous cosmic radiation of space, a dangerous landing on Mars, and practical isolation from the rest of humanity due to the expense and length of such missions. Where a trip to Mars takes about nine months at shortest, a trip to a Lagrange point takes only days.
That is not to say that I don’t want us to mount missions to Mars. Rather I think we would have a lot better chance of mounting successful missions to Mars if we practice the skills required closer to home. Also, if we can demonstrate the economic value of space with less expensive, near Earth missions, we will be more likely to be able to interest investors in the larger investments involved in such activities as terraforming Mars so that it could support a human colony.
The discussion turned to why would we want to colonize Mars in the first place given that it is on the edge of the so called Goldilocks zone where surface temperatures are tolerable for human habitation. I mused that it was the only candidate that we had technology capable of reaching within a reasonable timeframe. I mentioned that even at relativistic (near light) speeds, it would take centuries to get to the nearest stars making such trips effectively one way.
At that point it occurred to me that there might be a way short of superluminal drive technology. If we are able to develop functional immortality, that is, we learn to cure all diseases and suspend or reverse aging such that the only way that people die is accidents. Then the length of trips between stars might become tolerable to individuals.
The discussion triggered a lot of productive ideas for possible future science fiction stories. I will add them to my list of ideas for future exploration.
Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.