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Colonizing Other Solar Systems

Without faster than light (FTL) space travel, traveling to other solar systems with current technology will literally take hundreds of years just to reach the solar systems nearest to Earth. Unfortunately, current spacecrafts can only hold enough supplies to last a couple of weeks. Even the International Space Station could only be equipped with enough supplies to last a few months. As a result, huge spaceships would be necessary to colonize other solar systems.

These colony spaceships would have to have enough supplies, mostly from renewable resources, to last hundreds of years without resupplies from Earth. It may be possible to send supplies ahead of time, so that future colonists could pick them up as needed. However, it is much safer and easier to supply the colonists with everything they and their descendants will need until they reach their destination without having them trying to retrieve critical resources. So, let’s review what a huge colony spaceship would require.

First, one of the biggest problems is energy. Colonists and their descendants would require enough power for hundreds of years for their propulsion, light, warmth, electronics, industries, etc. Since these colony spaceships will be too far into deep space to take advantage of solar power and fossil fuels would be take up too much space to store, the only viable solutions is nuclear power and sending enough radioactive fuel to last hundreds of years. Of course, this means that the spaceship would require at least one nuclear power plant and shielding for their citizens. And when these colony spaceships arrive at their destination, the colonists must have sufficient fuel to slow down the spaceship and enough energy to develop new energy sources from the new solar system. I am hoping that future energy sources, such as fusion power, could alleviate this problem.

Second, the second biggest problem is fresh air. These colony spaceships will be huge and be home to at least hundreds, if not thousands, of people; because, there needs such a large population to maintain a healthy genetic gene pool. As a result, huge rooms would be necessary for plants to create enough air for people to breathe. I would assume that genetically engineered plants could be created and harvested to maximize oxygen production and cleaning/filtering of the spaceships’ air. This solution should be much cheaper and easier than having machines to create air.

Third, the next large problem is food. Enough food must be produced at all times. That means these spaceships must be able to produce more than enough food, in case of periodic poor crop yields. Furthermore, since it takes a lot more resources to grow meat, I suspect these spaceships would not produce as much meat as most people are accustomed to, if any at all. However, genetic engineering may alleviate this problem too. Again, these farms must be huge to continuously supply food to thousands of people. Keep in mind that some food actually produces oxygen and some produces carbon dioxide, and that must be calculated in that amount of air necessary. Finally, all biological wastes (including trash, kitchen leftovers, sewer resources, corpses, etc.) would need to be reused as fertilizer and nutrients to grow more food, since there will be no other sources of fertilizer or nutrients. In other words, these spaceships would have to have perfected the science of healthy biospheres for hundreds of years for thousands of people.

Fourth, water would be much easier to store, extract from waste, and cleaned for re-use. With that said, it would still not be an easy task to recycle all water onboard the spaceships for hundreds of years. Even though machines exist today that can do this type of work, they will not function for hundreds of years without manufacturing an replacing parts. However, I believe this is possible with the current level of technology.

Fifth, there must be enough housing and buildings/rooms for living and working for thousands of people, including necessary industries necessary for survival, such as factories, schools, hospitals (including creating medicines), maintenance, etc.

Finally, colonists would need resources to colonize and/or mine resources at their destination solar system when their descendants finally reached where ever they are going. This may include landing spaceships to retrieve supplies and raw resources. On the way to these solar systems, colonists may encounter asteroids and comets that they could mine for more resources, if necessary. However, this would add significant complications to the mission.

It may be better for the initial colony spaceships to be built into an existing asteroid, and the colonists could mine the resources of the asteroid as they travel. However, propelling the additional mass of sufficiently large asteroid may not be worth it.

In conclusion, I think mankind has the technology necessary to create huge spaceships capable of traveling to nearby solar systems; however, several technologies still need to be perfected and improved for long term use in space. Unfortunately, the sheer size and cost of building these colony spaceships would be astronomically huge and therefore very prohibitive. Therefore in my opinion, I think mankind needs to develop better and cheaper technologies to reach for the stars.

by Phil for Humanity
on 08/17/2011

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