Love, respect, and appreciate animals

If we journeyed to other worlds and found animals, intelligent or otherwise, there would be an extended, global debate about how we should treat these creatures, just like we have now about the ethics of colonising or terraforming Mars (just in case there are microbes). Would they be ours to exploit, kill, displace? Do we have the right to colonise or terraform a world already inhabited by animals? The arguments would be long and loud. There would be no end to the conference panels, public debates, books, papers, articles, videos on how we should deal with extraterrestrials.

Yet we share this world with innumerable creatures that we treat like shit, and only a courageous few have the balls to stand up and say something about it. Mark my words, our descendants will look back on animal rights activists as the HEROES that they are.

Eating animals and using them for materials is simply wrong. It is destroying the biosphere that we all — humans and animals together — depend on. Perhaps we won’t realise that until it’s gone; then people will cry and wail: “Why didn’t the government do something to prevent this!?!?!” Well, that’s because that is not what governments are for. It isn’t up to the government to make this change, it is up to us.

Exploitation of animals is also extremely cruel, and I believe we won’t really begin to love each other and create a world that works for everyone until we include the animals in that goal.

We share the world with animals. They aren’t simply a resource for us to use up however we like, because when they are gone, it may be quite difficult to bring them all back. When entire ecosystems collapse, it will take some careful engineering to bring them back one species at a time. It’s certain that our descendants will bring back many of the animals that are now extinct, but it will involve extensive restoration of wildlife habitats, advanced genetic engineering, and an end to the wasteful use of land and fresh water for animal agriculture.

Animals feel fear and pain just like you and I. We have empathy; we know that we do not want our kids to feel fear and pain, so we protect them carefully. Why don’t we care about animals the same way? Because they have fur or feathers or scales? We’ve learned (or, are learning) to love all people the same, even if they look a bit different to us, or speak a different language, or wear funny clothes, because we recognise that we have more in common than we have differences. The next step is to understand that the same applies to animals. We have so much more in common with them than we realise. They are our friends and family that we share this Earth together with.

We really have to stop behaving like a cancer and killing this unique and beautiful planetary biosphere that we and the other creatures rely on, and start behaving like an intelligent and responsible species of the cosmos. If we want to enter the next phase of our evolution and expand into space, we must learn how to value good real estate, and there is simply no better property in this region of space than Earth. To love and appreciate our home world means respecting and cherishing the many beautiful creatures we share it with.

Nothing against cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens, but I think it would be a less beautiful world if these were the only animals left. I like the other ones, too, and I’m sure you do as well. Let’s learn to love and respect all the creatures of Earth, just as we would if we found animals on another planet.

Sarah boards Sakura

The ferry sped across Moreton Bay. Sarah looked over the side, watching the dolphins as they swam alongside the boat, surfing the wake and chattering playfully. It was hard to imagine she was leaving Earth. When would she see a dolphin again? Or a cat? She wondered how much she would miss Misha. Terry had promised regular video updates.

There were perhaps 15 to 20 people on the ferry. Most were likely fellow passengers who would accompany her during the flight to Mars, while others were friends or family members making the trip to the launch pad with them, so they could say goodbye at the last minute, or see the launch from up close. She examined the small knots of people on the boat’s deck, wind blowing in their hair, and tried to guess who was going to Mars and why.

For the past few days, surface-to-orbit spacecraft had been collecting passengers from spaceports and smaller launchpad terminals all over Earth, and carrying them up to the Japan Spaceways spaceship Sakura in preparation for the trip. This was the last one to depart Brisbane.

As the electric catamaran sliced through the white-capped waves of the bay, the tall, red-and-white Japan Spaceways rocket became visible. Perched on top of the rocket was the sleek shuttle that would transport her and the other passengers to orbit. At first appearance, the rocket appeared to be standing on its tail in the ocean, but as the ferry approached, the launchpad became clearer: an enormous slab of concrete sitting a meter above the water, waves lapping lazily against the hard, gray, vertical faces. Its form was a long, narrow rectangle, like an airplane runway. At one end was the passenger terminal; a simple, utilitarian building with a tall control tower rising up from its center. In front of this structure was a broad open area, like a car park, where ferries, aircars, and helicopters delivered passengers. A chainlink fence connected the passenger terminal with the edge of the launchpad, effectively separating the open area from the rest of the runway. Dozens of children clung to this fence, peering through it and pointing excitedly, exclaiming at each new thing, their parents patiently standing nearby, all waiting for the launch. Thin white clouds scudded across the blue sky.

A large white-and-red drone bus approached from above, the Japan Spaceways logo emblazoned across its side, its propellers beating the air loudly and drowning out the catamaran’s electric motors and the chattering children. It landed on the open area in front of the passenger terminal, and about 30 passengers alighted. A robotic system fed bags from a storage compartment beneath the vehicle, while friendly Japan Spaceways staff calmly assisted passengers in collecting their bags, and directed them towards the passenger terminal.

Sarah dragged her well-traveled blue suitcase off the catamaran, with her woven, varicolored canvas tote bag slung over one shoulder. She’d worn white shorts, a light blue blouse, and her favorite canvas shoes with short socks for the short flight to orbit. The travel agent had recommended that she not wear a skirt or dress for the shuttle flight, which was in microgravity. She declined an offer of assistance from one of the small robotic carts that were milling about trying to be helpful, and carried her bags across the open area towards the terminal building.

Sarah squinted in the bright sunlight. Through the chainlink fence, she could see the rocket at the other end of the launch pad, surrounded by an enormous steel gantry. She entered the passenger terminal, dropped her suitcase on a conveyor belt, and walked through the busy terminal to join a short queue of passengers waiting to enter a large elevator. As they stepped into the glass box, the group spoke little. There was a palpable air of anxiety and anticipation, and Sarah surmised that most of them hadn’t flown to space before. As the elevator began ascending, Sarah looked through its glass walls at the glittering bay and the shining Brisbane skyline in the distance, as she tried to make herself relax.

The small group rode up 15 floors and the elevator door opened. One by one, they stepped onto the travelator that would transport them several hundred meters to the open hatch of the rocket’s passenger cabin.

*     *     *

The cruise ship Sakura was parked in a circular orbit five hundred kilometers above Earth’s surface. In less than an hour, it would perform a trans-Mars injection burn that would send it on its 12-week journey to Mars.

The surface-to-orbit shuttle slowed and began to yaw under the control of the automatic pilot. Sarah’s stomach was in her throat due to the unfamiliar weightlessness, and she turned her head to look through the towards the closest window, straining slightly against the canvas webbing of her harness. Through the rounded rectangle, she saw jets of cold nitrogen puffing into space from the reaction control thrusters, as the shuttle gracefully rolled into the correct orientation and trajectory relative to the cruise ship.

Beyond the captivating, silent ballet of docking spacecraft, unimaginably distant, an uncountable number of stars hung against the infinite blackness of space.

The salient feature of Sakura was a large torus about two hundred meters in diameter. Four tubular spokes connected this colossal donut with a central hub, which was a long cylinder about twenty meters in diameter and perhaps six times as long. One end of this cylinder was roughly coplanar with the front edge of the torus, and it was towards the circular end of this section that the shuttle now drifted. An enormous red logo with “Japan Spaceways” in bold, dynamic letters was emblazoned along the length of the rod-shaped hub. Sarah gazed through the porthole with the wonderment of a child, absorbing every detail.

She silently thanked Terry for acquiescing to her requirement to fly on the Japanese spaceship. He had originally purchased a ticket for her on a SpaceX Starship, which was significantly cheaper, but three months of living in zero gravity didn’t appeal to Sarah at all. Her online research had turned up far too many stories about people arriving at Mars with wobbly legs, and having to spend weeks in the gym building their muscles back up. Sakura was a new spaceship model developed as a joint venture between Kawasaki and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It provided artificial gravity and had been designed especially for travel between Earth and Mars, although it was also perfectly capable of reaching Luna and other worlds of the System.

Sakura was capable of transporting several hundred passengers. Only a handful of the ships had been built thus far, but the rapid escalation in traffic between Earth, Luna, and Mars during the past few years meant that dozens more had been ordered by various companies and were being fabricated. Since the construction of large commercial spaceports in Singapore 2, Lisbon, and Los Angeles, numerous major airlines were scrambling for market share in the new interplanetary transport industry. Flights to and from Luna were now almost daily, and Boeing, SpaceX, Ripple Aerospace, STAR, and many other companies were developing new interplanetary ships. Others were developing ascent and descent vehicles, environment control and life support systems, spacesuits, surface vehicles, modular space habitats, and more, all contributing to the booming space industry.

Sakura was one of several ships now flying routinely between Earth and Mars. Every twenty-six months, as the distance between the two planets approached its minimum, a flotilla departed each world, headed for the other. Most trips between the two planets occurred at these times, because it was faster and cheaper, and required less propellant. However, the market for travel between Earth and Mars had grown rapidly, spurring investment in small, efficient, fast ships that could make the trip in half the time or less, and could travel between the two planets at almost any time.

Beyond the passenger transit room, Sakura’s cylindrical hub section housed enormous propellant tanks containing liquid methane and oxygen cooled to cryogenic temperatures. A white tanker ship bearing the distinctive turquoise Planetary Resources logo was docked to the underside of the hub, while propellant was transferred. It appeared upside-down from Sarah’s perspective. At the far end of the hub was a cluster of seven powerful rocket engines. Extending from the sides of the hub, near the center, like the wings of some great, space-dwelling bird, were two enormous solar arrays, their panels angled towards the Sun. Perpendicular to these were enormous radiators, which helped prevent the spaceship from overheating.

The shuttle docked neatly with the cruiser’s central hub section and a circular door irised open at one end of the shuttle’s passenger compartment. The “Fasten Seatbelt” indicators dotted around the walls all switched off simultaneously, and the cabin filled with click-clacks and chatter as dozens of passengers unbuckled their harnesses, gathered up their belongings, and attempted to corral floating, excited children.

“Welcome to Sakura,” came the female voice over the speaker system. “Please unbuckle your seatbelts and exit via the forward hatch. For your safety, hold onto the handles and rails at all times. Check that you have all your belongings and that all hand luggage is closed, as loose objects may float away from you. Your checked baggage will be delivered directly to your cabins. We hope you enjoy your flight to Mars, and that you’ll join us again soon. Domo arigato. Thank you for flying with Japan Spaceways.”

The fifty or so passengers began unstrapping themselves from their seats, grabbing at various objects that had escaped their owner’s grasp — tissues, food wrappers, scarves, bags, books. The experienced cabin crew comprised a half dozen young men and women in pristine white-and-red jumpsuits, who good-naturedly helped everyone gather their things in the weightless environment, and guided them gently towards the opening that led into Sakura’s passenger transit room.

Sarah patiently hung back until most of the passengers had exited. Then, using the grab handles spaced along the sides of the cabin, she pulled herself through the open hatch into Sakura. Her long dark, hair floated around her head, and she wished she’d had the foresight to tie it back before leaving her house.

The passenger transit room was an entirely unfamiliar and mildly chaotic environment, filled with exclamations, squeals, laughter, and lots of “excuse me!” and “where do I go?” and “Dad, over here!”. Without any sense of up or down, dozens of people flailed about the large, cylindrical chamber as they sought to orient themselves, figure out their next move, and keep track of the others in their party. Friendly staff floated around, expertly flying from one side to another, catching adrift passengers, and calmly directing each towards whichever of the four tubes that led out of the room would lead them most directly to their cabins.

Sarah’s cabin number was 74, and she gently pushed away from the wall towards the tube labeled “50–75”. A crew member nodded at her, nodding and smiling politely — “Thank you, Foster-sama, enjoy your flight!” — as she glided past. She gently deflected a rotund, red-faced man who inadvertently collided with her — “Excuse me, sir” — reached the entrance to the tube, grabbed the first rung of the ladder that ran its length, and began pulling herself along, now one in a steady stream of people, most of them talking with their traveling companions, excited for the new experience and the journey head.

The passengers spilled one-by-one out of the tube and into a hallway with a square cross-section, about two meters wide and tall, which ran the center of the torus. Although they still floated in microgravity, the floors, ceilings, and walls were all covered in a soft, cream-colored fabric covering an inch of compressible foam, which served to prevent bumps and bruises. Cabin doors were evenly spaced along the hallway, just like a hotel or cruise ship, and each was numbered with large red digits, which provided a sense of up and down. The main anomaly was that the hallway curved upwards in each direction, almost as if one was at the bottom of a valley. Railings ran the center of the walls between each door to help people stabilize and orient themselves.

Disoriented, Sarah grabbed a railing and pulled herself down so that the tube entrance was above, and the doors oriented such that she could read the numbers. She pushed away from the wall just as a pair of giggling boys floated down into the hallway a little too quickly, thumping into the floor. Grinning, unexpectedly buoyant, Sarah used the railings to pull herself gently in the direction of her cabin.

The door to her room slid smoothly open automatically as she approached, and she pulled herself inside. The lighting panels in the walls and ceiling brightened, and the door slid shut behind her.

Sarah had opted for a compact, single cabin. Most passengers flew economy class, which meant sharing a cramped cabin with up to five other people, but she couldn’t conceive of 12 weeks living this way. She had patiently explained to Terry that they’d have to spring for the more expensive business class cabin. He’d grumbled, but had been able to get the additional expense approved.

“Welcome, Foster-sama.” The AI voice was warm and polite, with a slight Japanese accent. “Your luggage has already been stowed beneath your bunk. Artificial gravity will be enabled in approximately five minutes. Please do not eat or drink anything until then. To avoid injury, please do not unpack any luggage or open any drawers, and keep all loose objects in your pockets until artificial gravity has been fully restored. If you require assistance, please ask. I am here to help. You may also listen to music, watch movies, play games, or surf the Internet. Our trip will begin shortly. Domo arigato. Thank you once again for choosing Japan Spaceways. Trans-Mars injection in twenty-five minutes.”

The cabin was small and cubic, only about two meters on each side. Still floating, Sarah pushed herself here and there around the tiny space, investigating everything. About one-third of its width was taken up by a comfortable sofa-bed, padded with a layer of soft material several inches thick. She played with the controls, converting it to a bed and then back again to a comfortable armchair. Opposite the sofa-bed was a narrow desk, and in the corner of the cabin was a small sink and mirror. The entire cabin, including the bed frame, desk, drawers, sink, and cupboards, seemed molded from a single piece of light, strong material.

Sarah gently pushed herself towards the far side of the small room and tapped a softly glowing blue button. A thin panel covering a large ellipsoidal window slid silently into the wall, revealing an immense crescent of Earth’s horizon. The atmosphere was a soft, glowing nimbus of pale blue, floating above swirling white clouds, patches of thick green vegetation, fractaline mountain ranges, and great stretches of brown desert. The view was westward and most of Australia could be seen from this angle. She marveled at how much its shape had changed since she was a child. It was dusk, and lights glittered from the fledgling cities being built on the shores of Lake Simpson, the large inland sea that had appeared during the rapid last phase of the melting of the polar ice. Where had formerly been a dry, red, dusty, and largely uninhabited desert was now a vast body of fresh water that bordered four states.

“Activating artificial gravity,” said the AI voice. “Please do not be alarmed. You may wish to hold onto something until you feel steady. Thank you for your patience. Trans-Mars injection in twenty minutes.”

Sarah began to sense a slight effect of gravity, and floated gently down to place her feet on the cabin floor. Through the porthole, Earth began sliding sideways, as the toroidal section of the spaceship began to rotate.

A large screen was sent into the wall above the desk, which displayed various options for using the Internet, playing music or movies or games, or learning more about Sakura, space travel, Mars, or Japan Spaceways. In a sidebar were displayed environmental details: date and time on both Earth and Mars; temperature; atmospheric pressure and composition; and the current level of gravity. Feeling herself gradually getting heavier, she watched the gravity indicator slowly increase towards Earth-normal. She bounced her knees a few times, pleased with the feel of her own weight. Her guts churned a little. She wondered if she needed food and decided she probably did.

Smiling to herself, excited for the flight and feeling upbeat, Sarah opened her canvas bag and spilled the contents onto the small desk: an AI tablet, stylus, two notebooks, several pens, a highlighter, a newish paperback copy of Urban Design in Space Settlements that she’d purchased online, a small case containing AR/VR lenses, haptic gloves, a packet of travel tissues, two nutrient bars, and a small toothbrush. She decided to sort it all out later.

Suddenly feeling excited, hungry, and curious, she resolved to explore the ship. She pulled out her suitcase from under the bed, extracted her toiletries, brushed her hair, brushed her teeth, pulled on a fresh top, and exited the small cabin. The door slid shut automatically. She walked along the corridor, enjoying its gentle upward curve and smooth, clean walls, the colorful lighting and art, and the familiar feeling of gravity. She smiled and nodded cheerfully at other passengers as she made her way towards the lounge.

8-zone model of the Solar System

UPDATE 2019-03-09. I changed the number of zones from 7 to 8, separating the Sun from Mercury and Venus, as I felt these are really distinct settlement zones since the Sun and the space near it probably can’t or won’t be settled.

In this post, I’ll explain the 8-zone model of the Solar System I’ve developed, which I think is helpful for thinking about space settlement. These settlement zones are regions of the Solar System defined more-or-less by the types of objects in them, which have similar features and might be settled in a similar time frame or in a similar way. The inner Solar System and outer Solar System are divided into four zones each.

The image below (not to scale) shows these zones. I’ve assigned each a colour.

Solar System settlement zones
Solar System settlement zones

Zone 1 (Yellow) 0–0.007 AU

In this zone, we find the Sun. It’s a distinct “settlement zone” only in the sense it’s a region of the Solar System that cannot be settled due to the intense radiation and gravitational forces. The outer limit of this zone could be determined by the radius of the Sun, which is approximately 696,000 km, or 698,000 km (about 0.005 AU) if several of the Sun’s outer layers (namely the photosphere, chromosphere, and transition layer) are included. The Sun’s outermost layer, the corona, begins at approximately this radius and extends millions of kilometres into space, but has no upper boundary. Another option is to consider is that the closest a known asteroid comes to the Sun is approximately 0.092 AU. Yet a third option is to consider the Sun’s Roche limit for a terrestrial planet is about 1.1 Gm or 0.007 AU. This is the closest a terrestrial planet could orbit the Sun without being torn apart by tidal forces. I’ve elected to use this value, as it would probably be quite difficult to build a space station closer to the Sun than this.

Zone 2 (Orange) 0.007–0.95 AU

In this zone, we find the hot terrestrial planets, Mercury and Venus. Although very challenging to settle due to the high temperatures and radiation, and lack of water, these two planets have the advantages of proximity to Earth and the Sun, and gravity levels very similar to those of Mars and Earth respectively. There are no moons in this zone, although there are numerous asteroids. The outer limit of this zone is defined by the inner limit of the habitable zone.

Zone 3 (Green) 0.95–1.78 AU

This is the habitable zone, where we find the cool terrestrial planets, Earth and Mars. It’s where at least 80–90% of human activity will probably always be, even once we’ve expanded to different areas of the System. The habitable zone of a star is the region where liquid water is stable on the surface of the planet, which is considered a primary requirement for life. The boundaries of the habitable zone are not well-defined, because a planet’s habitability depends on its size, atmosphere, composition, and temperature, not only the distance from its parent star. However, although calculations of the outer limit of the Solar System’s habitable zone vary significantly, the inner limit has been determined by numerous experts to be 0.95 AU. The outer limit of this zone is defined by the inner limit of the Asteroid Belt.

Zone 4 (Cyan) 1.78–4.2 AU

In this zone, we find the Asteroid Belt, where the vast majority of asteroids are found. This zone represents abundant material resources for building and supplying spaceships, space cities, and infrastructure. The value of these resources to our burgeoning spacefaring civilization suggests we can expect significant exploration and mining activity in this region of the System. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of settlements may eventually be established in this zone.

Zone 5 (Red) 4.2–15 AU

In this zone, we find the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn. This will be the more popular region of the outer Solar System due to its relative proximity to Earth and the Sun, spectacular views, and substantial resources, including numerous major moons that could be settled. The outer limit of 15 AU is somewhat arbitrary, being approximately midway between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, or approximately half Neptune’s orbit.

Zone 6 (Blue) 15–30.33 AU

This is the zone of the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune. This is an enormous region of the Solar System, which may eventually be settled by some hardy souls; although, doing so will require more advanced technologies, especially in the areas of space transportation, communications, and energy. At this distance, the Sun is just another star in the sky (albeit the brightest) and there is nothing to distinguish day or night. We might consider this zone equivalent to the Arctic or Antarctic of the Solar System. It is very dark, cold, and far from home, and may only ever be inhabited by scientists and robots. Its outer limit is defined by the aphelion of Neptune’s orbit.

Zone 7 (Purple) 30.33–200 AU

This zone extends from Neptune to the heliopause, encompassing the Kuiper Belt and Scattered Disc. Only dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies have been found here so far.

Zone 8 (Black) 200–200 000 AU

This is the zone of interstellar space, from which most comets originate. It extends from the heliopause to the very outer limits of the Solar System, encompassing the hypothetical Hills and Oort Clouds. This is the largest zone and the one about which we know the least. Galactic cosmic radiation here is very high. The outer limit of this zone is defined by the largest possible orbit for an object orbiting the Sun.

Settlement pathway

Zone 3 is where we live now, and is by far the best suited to settlement. Earth and Mars are the most hospitable and habitable planets, and Luna (the Moon) will be settled purely due to its proximity to Earth. Space stations will be built in Earth orbit, and the moons of Mars will probably also be developed into space stations. The asteroids in this zone will be the first to be explored and mined.

Human activity will then spread into Zone 2, since Mercury and Venus are the next easiest locations to reach from Earth, and these worlds have many similarities with Earth, Luna, and Mars.

We will then progressively expand deeper into the System, establishing bases in the Asteroid Belt (Zone 4), followed by the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (Zone 5), especially Callisto and Titan. As technology advances, a few people may even wish to expand to the moons of Uranus and Neptune (Zone 6).

Our pathway into the Solar System will therefore probably look like something this:

  • Zone 3 (habitable/cool terrestrials)
  • Zone 2 (hot terrestrials)
  • Zone 4 (asteroids)
  • Zone 5 (gas giants)
  • Zone 6 (ice giants)

It seems unlikely anyone will choose to live in Zones 7 or 8. Only dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies have been found beyond Neptune, and the distances between them are immense. However, these objects represent an enormous store of valuable ices of water, ammonia, methane, and other volatiles. Perhaps mining robots will be put to work out here, creating propellant depots where spacecraft entering or exiting the Solar System can refuel.

Catalina intro

Doctor Catalina Sanchez woke, momentarily startled and disoriented. Where was she? She had a sheet wrapped around her. It was noisy and her head spun. There were people walking past, although none paid her any attention. Ah, of course. The hospital. She was laying on an unused gurney, near the A&E ward. It was usually noisy here, at this time of night, but especially now.

Four days earlier, a tsunami had hit Sydney. Triggered by yet another earthquake in the South Pacific, the wave had built over a period of hours into the largest tsunami ever to hit Australia. It had smashed into beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong, catching almost everyone completely by surprise. Sand, sea life, cars, boardwalks, houses, street signs, trees, garbage, pets, and people were carried inland by the relentless series of waves. An incredible volume of water swept into Botany Bay and Port Jackson, and up the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers and other waterways that fed into them. Popular tourist attractions were completely inundated in minutes, thousands of screaming sightseers being dragged into the murky, debris-filled water.

Over 40,000 people had died within the first few minutes of the event. Tremors were felt as far north as Cairns, and as far south as Tasmania. Numerous coastal towns, already partially flooded due to elevated sea levels, had suffered catastrophic damage. Sydney, however, was by far the most seriously affected metropolis.

Despite not being Australia’s political capital, Sydney was the nation’s de facto capital of tourism, tech, money, and glamour. One of the most innovative smart cities in the world, its population had swelled to over 10 million by the mid-21st century. Iconic skyscrapers, office towers, hotels, and a plethora of architectural masterpieces, from the sublime to the grotesque, had sprung up across Sydney since the beginning of the millennium.

Now, it was a chaotic mess. Most of the city was without power. Sea water, toxic with petroleum and industrial chemicals that had leached into the water from dockside warehouses, flooded homes and the lower floors of apartment buildings and office buildings. Hundreds of people were missing. The Harbour Tunnel was completely submerged, and city engineers had branded the Harbour Bridge unsafe until further notice due to the countless boats that had smashed into its pylons. All available ferries were at capacity, moving people and equipment from one side of the harbor to the other.

Most of Sydney’s hospitals were close to the water, and had been inundated. Volunteers for the State Emergency Service had worked day and night to clear them of the salty, chemical-laden water and debris, and reconnect power and make structural repairs. In the meantime, most of the injured and sick had taken refuge at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Sydney Super Dome, which had been jury-rigged into colossal shelters; or at smaller hospitals, such as the Macquarie University Hospital, where Catalina worked as an emergency room doctor.

For four days Catalina and the other doctors, nurses, orderlies, surgeons, specialists, and volunteers slept when and where they could; under desks, on gurneys and massage tables, in wheelchairs, and even in MRI and CT scan machines. They drank strong, bitter, black coffee, and popped stimcaps two at a time to stay alert. They instructed their neural agents to never let them sleep more than fifteen minutes, and to wake them in case of an emergency.

Catalina pulled herself upright on the gurney, groggily forcing her brain to switch from sleep mode to full alertness. She unconsciously pulled a small roll of stimcaps from the front pocket of her scrubs, peeled one off, and dry swallowed it.

“Hey, Catalina, nice work in there,” said Peter Stanton. He was standing by the gurney, dark brown hair ruffled, looking haggard but kindly. Peter was an experienced trauma surgeon in his late fifties, who Catalina had met when she’d started at the hospital as an intern. Earlier that evening Catalina had assisted him in patching up a unfortunate lifeguard who had banged his head on a rock wall.

“Thanks, Peter,” said Catalina, smiling tiredly. “You too.”

“Do you want to grab a quick coffee? I think we’ve both earned a break.”

“Oh, no,” replied Catalina automatically. She gestured around at the muddy, bloody people, huddled in small, miserable groups in corners and on benches, tending to each other as best they could until medical staff had time to see them. “I have to be here.”

“Crazy, right?” he agreed. “But surely you can take ten minutes. It will do you good. You’ll come back refreshed. I mean… a little, anyway.”

Tired, annoyed, she suddenly flared into anger. “Look, Peter! I said ‘no’, alright? Go away! I have work to do!” She pushed herself off the gurney and adjusted her scrubs, stifling a yawn.

“Come on, Catalina, you obviously need a break.” He reached out to touch her arm. “Just five minutes.”

“Leave me alone!” she flared.

“What? I didn’t… I’m sorry.”

She crumpled. Her shoulders fell forward and she started to cry into the crook of her elbow. “I’m sorry, Peter. I’m sorry! I’m just very tired.” She gestured towards a a boy slouching against a wall, mud all over his face and clothes, a blood-stained bandage around one leg where a snapped tree branch had impaled his thigh. “Can you… can you please help me with him?”

“Sure… Of course… But just let me…” He stepped forward and gave her a hug.

Catalina collapsed slightly in his arms and sobbed for just a few seconds. There simply wasn’t time, and showing emotions to her colleagues was not in her nature. She shook it off and looked up at the older doctor, forcing a smile. “Thanks, Peter.” She straightened up. “Now, come on, help me over here. This is Toby. He needs stitches. Hey, Toby, this is Doctor Stanton. We’re going to fix up that leg of yours, ok? Just wait, I’ll grab a wheelchair…”

Three more hours of bedlam passed. Peter, Catalina, and the other doctors and nurses treated a never-ending stream of injuries, not to mention those who had nearly drowned or ingested too much salt water.

Finally, there was a lull in activity and Peter took Catalina gently by the arm. “Come with me for a minute.” He led her into the adjacent staff room, where she sat on a hard plastic chair at a white plastic table littered with dirty coffee cups. She slumped forward, resting her head on her arms while Peter made them two cups of coffee. He sat with her. “How are you holding up? Are you ok?”

“No. Yes. I can’t…” She sighed and sipped her coffee. “Oh wow, this is just awful. Thank you, though.” She attempted a weak smile, took another sip, and grimaced. “I’m just really stressed. Not just because of all this, either. I got a job offer.”

“Really? Ok. Where?”

“Mars.”

“Seriously? Wow.”

Catalina chuckled. “I know, right?”

“What did Jenny say?”

Catalina frowned sadly. “She doesn’t know. We broke up. She felt I didn’t have enough time for her, which is fair enough. Plus, with all the people staying at our place since the tsunami, it’s all been a bit crazy.”

“Where have you been sleeping?”

Catalina shrugged, gesturing vaguely at the surrounding environment.

“Oh, no. Catalina, when was the last time you slept?”

“Just before. On the gurney out there.”

“I meant properly.”

“Um. Let me think. Wednesday?”

“Oh, no. Catalina, you are officially off duty for the rest of the evening and tomorrow morning. Here.” He murmured some instructions to his agent. “You can stay at my place. The guest room. Andrea will prepare everything before you get there.”

“Are you sure, Peter?”

“I insist.”

Catalina yawned. “Maybe it’s for the best. Thanks, Peter.” She stood.

“So? What do you think? About the job?”

She shrugged. “I can’t do it. The last flight to Mars for this launch window is in one week. If I’m not on it, I’ll have to wait another 26 months for the next one. But it won’t matter. They won’t hold the position for me. They need someone ASAP. I have to give them my final answer tomorrow morning.”

“So? Just go. Tell Macy. She’ll understand.”

Catalina gestured towards the A&E waiting room. “Are you nuts? Have you seen what’s going on here? I can’t leave now!”

“Catalina, we’re talking about Mars! This is the opportunity of a lifetime! They must hold you in very high esteem. Don’t let this mess keep you here. Sydney Hospital will be open again in a couple of days. Probably. Then things will settle down here. Just tell Macy in the morning.”

“Tell me what?”

Peter and Catalina turned to see the gray-haired, rotund Hospital Administrator. She was stern-faced, but both Catalina and Peter knew that the former matron’s gruff exterior was nothing more than a mask for a big heart and caring, empathic nature.

“Hey, Macy.” Catalina sat back down. “Sorry, I’m super tired, but I guess we can do this now. Will you join us for a minute?”

The Hospital Administrator pulled another white chair out from the table and sat. She swept aside several cups and folded her hands in front of her. “What is it? Please be quick. I am exceptionally busy, as you may be aware.”

“I was offered a job,” said Catalina. “On Mars, at the new hospital in Arcadia. The rapid development of the industrial zone has resulted in a large number of incidents, and they just don’t have the people. They need an ER doctor. Like, yesterday.”

“Well,” said Macy. “Do you want to go? Good money, I bet. And the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Catalina smiled. “That’s what Peter said. Yes, of course I want to go. But I don’t want to leave you with this mess, and the flight leaves in a week!”

“Can you work here until then?”

“Of course,” said Catalina.

“Except I told her to take the night off. And tomorrow morning,” said Peter. “She hasn’t slept properly for days.”

Macy nodded firmly. “Right. Here’s what’s going to happen,” she said, placing her hands flat on the table. “Tonight you’re going to go home and rest. But I want you back here by 10 a.m. tomorrow, and I want your best effort until you go. Then pack your stuff and get on that flight. Okay?” Macy stood, the chair scraping noisily along the tiled floor as the pushed it back. “Tomorrow morning, message Patricia and tell her you’re on your way.” She sniffed. “You may be good, Sanchez, but you’re not that good that we can’t make do without you.”

“Wait,” said Catalina, just before Macy could exit the staff room. “Sorry, Macy. Did Patricia Gladmore contact you?”

Macy smiled, her mask dropping. “Of course she did. Last week. She wanted to make sure my nose wouldn’t get too far out of joint if she stole you away. I told her the truth.”

“What did you say?”

“I said we loved having you here, and that you’d be terribly missed, but I for one wasn’t going to interfere in your life, and that if you want to go to Mars, I’d support you wholeheartedly. I’ve been waiting for you to come and talk to me about it!” She shrugged. “I guess we’ve been pretty busy since then. Good luck on Mars, Sanchez! And if you don’t like it, come back. You’ll still have a job here, if you want.” The grey-haired woman turned and stumped out of the staff room.

The Vegan Ladder

I’ve been talking to people about this idea for ages, yet never gotten around to writing a blog post about it. Finally, it seems to be time.

The last post I wrote about diet was The Space Diet in November 2016, in which I described a “pescavegan” diet that I believed would be suitable for space settlements. A lot has happened since then. In the month following that post I became fully vegan, which means at the time of writing (December 2018) I’ve been vegan for 2 years.

I think almost anyone reading this post will be aware that veganism has become incredibly popular during the past 2 years. It was considered by some “the movement of 2017”, but clearly momentum hasn’t slowed, and in 2018 more people have become vegan than ever before.

People have different reasons for becoming vegan. As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware that animal agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change, ecological destruction, and high extinction rates; that most of our major diseases arise from the consumption of animal-based foods; and that factory farming involves abhorrent cruelty towards animals. Whether it’s for health, environment, or animals, most people can find at least one reason to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

Becoming vegan has never been easier. As the movement has grown, so has the number of vegan restaurants, products, recipes, websites, YouTube channels, and other resources. These days, no matter what favorite animal-based food or meal you can imagine, you’ll probably be able to find a delicious vegan version of it.

The catch is, for many people going vegan just isn’t that easy. That was the case for me. There several issues that I faced during the process of becoming vegan:

  • As a fitness enthusiast, I firmly believed that I needed a high protein diet in order to reach my health and fitness goals. I didn’t believe this was possible, or how to achieve it, on a vegan diet.
  • I had a lot of physical and psychological addictions and habits related to animal-based foods, especially milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, fish, and honey. Even once I had the information about why not to eat these things, my body would still ask for them or be attracted to them.
  • I didn’t know what to eat instead of those foods. When I first went vegan, I found myself getting so hungry that I would end up eating loads of bread and cereal, which was definitely not in line with my health and fitness goals.

The challenge for most of us is that we’ve been eating animal-based foods for a really long time; since we were kids. When we eat them, they affect our bodies in ways that are familiar and satisfying. They provide energy, may trigger a surge of pleasure, and they remind of happy times when we ate these foods before, maybe when we were with our friends or family. Sacrificing these foods can feel like giving up a drug, or separating from a treasured friend, and the body and/or mind resist.

Adding to this problem is the fact that adopting a vegan diet, especially if you stick to mostly whole foods, will make you healthier, slimmer, and happier, which can obviously positively affect many other areas of your life such as relationships and finances. But these positive changes can really challenge our self-image. If we have well-trodden psychological pathways relating to depression, anxiety, body image, self-esteem, or anything like that, it can be very difficult to allow ourselves to experience these positive changes.

Becoming vegan can, therefore, be a real challenge, but it’s a change that’s worth making. So, what’s the answer? The solution for me was to take it one step at a time. I found that changing my diet step-by-step allowed me to make the transition in a way that wasn’t excessively disruptive, and thus was ultimately sustainable.

I didn’t do this deliberately, it was just how it worked out; however, I’ve since developed this concept into a useful process for people to follow, if they want to transition to veganism without suffering, feeling deprived, or freaking out.

You may not find it possible to “climb” the whole vegan ladder. You don’t even need to commit to that goal from the outset. However far you get, you will have made a great difference in your life, contributed to a better climate and environment, and reduced the amount of suffering in the world. And you might find that, after a week or two, or a month, you might feel inspired to take the next step.

If you need a schedule, I suggest you attempt to take one step up the ladder per week, but feel free to move faster or slower through the steps if that feels more comfortable.

Step 1: Go pollotarian. Stop eating mammals.

Processed meat has been classified by the World Health Organization as a Class 1 carcinogen, which means it’s proven to be carcinogenic to humans.  They classified red meat as a Class 2A carcinogen, which means it’s probably carcinogenic. There is mounting evidence of the correlation between the consumption of red meat and certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer.

I think people find it easier to give up eating mammals than other animals because it’s easier to empathize with them. We’re mammals, and it’s easier to demonstrate that mammals experience pain and fear; they don’t want to die, or live in a cage; they have thoughts, feelings, and distinct personalities; and they love and want to care for their offspring and hate to be separated from them. Anyone who owns a dog or cat can attest to these attributes, but what many people don’t realize is that cows, pigs, sheep, goats, etc. are just the same. It’s harder for people to tolerate mammals being treated cruelly.

The farming of mammals, especially cows, is one of the main causes of environmental destruction on the planet. Most of the issues relating to greenhouse gases, ocean dead zones, deforestation, and elevated extinction rates are tied to the production of food from mammals.

Thus, removing mammals from your diet is a great compromise for anyone who feels that they just can’t possibly become vegetarian or vegan. You can substitute red meat with chicken or fish; or (preferably) vegan alternatives like tofu.

If people only gave up eating mammals, the world would be in vastly better shape. When I meet someone who tells me they could never give up eating meat, I try to encourage them to just give up eating mammals. It may not be the ideal outcome but it’s a big step in the right direction.

The word “pollotarian” is not very common and can be hard to explain to friends, family, and waiters. So, let’s promptly proceed to Step 2: pescatarian.

Step 2: Go pescatarian. Stop eating birds.

The next step is to remove chicken, turkey, duck, and other birds from the diet. This includes such cruelty-packed delicacies as duck-liver and goose-liver paté.

The term for someone who has removed all mammals and birds from their diet but still consumes other animal-based foods is pescatarian.

An insane number of birds are killed every year for human consumption. They are treated extremely cruelly by workers, and due to the intense competition in the industry, companies are under pressure to process birds as quickly as possible. Many birds are still alive when scalded in hot water to remove their feathers. They’re not thoroughly washed, and it’s been found that over 90% of supermarket chickens contain traces of feces. It’s also been found that all supermarket chickens carry bacteria, which invade kitchens and are nearly impossible to eradicate.

Don’t be fooled by the “free-range” tag, either. This is a ruse and has nothing to do with chickens being free or living in anything like a natural, happy state. It just means the chickens are all together in one massive building instead of lots of small cages. They still live inside, for the most part, in cramped, dark, smelly, unhygienic conditions, among the corpses of their fallen sisters. Most farm chickens could not survive in the wild.

Step 3: Go vegetarian. Stop eating seafood.

This is the last main category of meat to exclude from the diet. Congratulations, you are now a vegetarian. An equivalent term you might see is lacto-ovo-vegetarian, but if you just say “vegetarian”, most people will assume you still assume you still consume eggs, dairy, and honey.

Some people like to split hairs here and treat different categories of seafood differently. For example, in Jewish culture fish is considered kosher, but crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, prawns) and mollusks (mussels, clams, oysters) are not. Then there are people who will not consume any meat other than mollusks; the argument being, they can’t run away, therefore they don’t experience pain (very strange reasoning if you ask me).

Feel free to split this step into substeps if that makes it easier for you. You can remove mollusks and crustaceans from the diet, which is probably a lot easier than removing fish for most people, then remove fish later.

I assessed these options, and, for a while, I was quite comfortable being a pescatarian (and later, pescavegan) that only consumed fish and no other seafood. I was very interested in the idea of aquaponics (a symbiotic combination of hydroponics and aquaculture), which seems to be an efficient way to produce food, on Earth as well as in space. I believed that eating fish was a good way to get some high-quality protein and healthy fats.

However, I learned a little more about the suffering and disease in fish farming, heavy metals in fish, bycatch, bottom trawling, and massive depletion of the world’s fish populations, and decided I couldn’t possibly justify eating fish if I didn’t really need it. I also learned that there are plenty of plant-based sources of healthy protein and fats. That was it for me. Back to being a vegetarian!

To get plant-based protein, eat plenty of legumes, i.e. beans, soybeans, peanuts, peas, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and lentils; and green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. (Or “greens and beans” as I say!) There are also some processed foods that are high in plant protein, like tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), and seitan (wheat gluten). Plus, if you’re into lifting weights like I am, you can easily add extra protein with a high-quality plant-based protein powder like Prana On’s Power Plant Protein.

It’s also very easy to get healthy fats from plants. I don’t recommend consuming a lot of oils, which are refined foods with a high calorie-to-nutrient ratio, and not exactly what we’ve evolved to consume. I expect a little olive or coconut or safflower oil is not going to be especially harmful from time to time, but preferable choices for your daily diet are whole foods such as olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Step 4. Go pure vegetarian. Stop eating eggs.

This was a hard one for me. When I was vegetarian I decided I would get most of my protein from eggs. I would consume 5–6 eggs after a workout, just scrambled in a pan with a cup or two of veggies. I used to remove the yolks until I decided that whole eggs were healthier (not to mention quicker to prepare).

Perhaps due to confirmation bias and cherry-picking with my research, I had convinced myself that eggs were a healthy food. I didn’t know at this time that many experts (including the FDA) actually do not consider eggs a healthy food. This is mainly due to the high level of saturated fats in the yolks. However, there’s also the rather obvious question of how healthy any food can be if it comes from woefully unhealthy animals.

The scientific term for a food or diet that excludes meat and eggs, but includes dairy, is lacto-vegetarian. However, I much prefer the term used in India, which is pure vegetarian. A lot of Indian and Hare Krishna restaurants serve pure vegetarian meals.

Step 5. Go almost vegan. Stop consuming dairy products.

[I put “almost vegan” because I don’t know the term for a vegan who eats honey. I doubt there is one. Usually, these people just call themselves “vegan” and try to convince everyone (and themselves) why honey is vegan (it isn’t).]

Giving up dairy can be especially difficult because of the addictiveness of cheese, which contains casomorphins, an addictive compound similar to morphine, and also because dairy is in many products that we associate with pleasure, such as milk chocolate, ice cream, yogurt, and more. We also love to have milk with our cereal and coffee, cheese on our pizza, and so on.

Take heart — there are now plenty of great vegan milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream substitutes that will not disappoint. Most of these are made with nuts, especially coconuts, almonds, cashews, and macadamias.

Many vegetarians hold to the false belief that the dairy industry does not involve killing, and thus dairy is an ethical food. Sorry, but there is plenty of suffering and murder inherent in modern dairy farms. Male calves are frequently killed on their first day of life, just like male chicks in the egg industry. All calves are taken away from their mothers, causing some of them to chase the trucks carrying away their babies, and to cry for days after.

Also, consider that, if milk is a suitable food for humans, why does it need to be pasteurized; a process that kills all the bacteria and viruses in the milk? Why are so many people lactose intolerant? Many cows in a dairy farm are sick with serious diseases like mastitis and cancer, and since they can’t give antibiotics to just the sick cows, they give it to all of them. Those antibiotics end up in the meat and milk, which affects our own gut biome and immune systems.

Cow milk is for baby cows, not humans.

Once dairy is eliminated from the diet, you’re almost vegan. But not quite. One tiny step to go.

Step 6. Go vegan. Stop eating honey.

There’s a long-standing debate within the vegan community as to whether or not honey is vegan. Many beekeepers are quick to point out that honey production supports honeybee populations (which have been declining), and that only surplus honey is removed from the hives. However, honey production involves a lot of bee injuries and deaths.

Honey comes from animals and is, therefore, by definition, not vegan.

In my opinion, you can’t really justify honey-eating with the argument that “it maintains bee populations”. Consuming milk and beef maintains cow populations, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

I found honey hard to give up. I used to consider it a superior sweetener to sugar because it has a lower glycemic index. It’s also much better than artificial sweeteners that contain aspartame, which many experts believe to be toxic, and can have adverse effects on mental health. So I used to enjoy honey in coffee and tea, and on muesli and toast. However, once I understood why it wasn’t vegan, I gave it up and embraced stevia, a plant-based sweetener, which is becoming widely available.

Whether you consider honey as vegan or not, you’re probably better off giving it up anyway. There are much healthier plant-based sweeteners, such as date sugar and molasses.

Congratulations! You made it. You can now confidently call yourself vegan. Your gut bacteria will change and you will surely start feeling better. Part of that good feeling is all your bodily systems working more efficiently, as the toxic load of animal-based foods is removed. Part of it is a satisfied feeling that comes from doing something really good for yourself, the planet, and the animals, and being at the leading edge of human evolution.

Now it’s time to try out all those great places your annoying vegan friends have been telling you about 🙂

The Solar System

This is a longish chapter, but one that I hope readers will find interesting and educational. We’ll review the structure of the Solar System, along with the meanings of the different terms used to categorize the various objects it contains. This will provide a good foundation for the discussions that follow.

Overview

At its simplest, our Solar System comprises the Sun and 8 planets. When I went to school there were 9 planets, because Pluto was included, but Pluto has since been reclassified as a dwarf planet. (I’ll explain the difference between “planet” and “dwarf planet” shortly.)

The 8 planets are organized into 2 groups of 4 planets each. This isn’t a coincidence, and I’ll explain why. The 4 inner planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars — are called terrestrial planets. The 4 outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — are called giant planets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, giant planets are much larger than terrestrial planets.

Separating these 2 groups is the Asteroid Belt, which is a large collection of about a million small objects, called asteroids, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. These objects range in size from about 1 meter up to 946 kilometers in diameter, which is the largest asteroid, Ceres. Ceres is also a dwarf planet.

Beyond Neptune is the transneptunian region, where many small objects are found called transneptunian objects (TNOs). These include Pluto and other dwarf planets, and comets. The transneptunian region is organised into large groups of objects with similar orbital characteristics: the Kuiper Belt, the Scattered Disc, and the hypothetical Hills Cloud and Oort Cloud.

The Solar System is thus organized into 3 major regions:

  1. The inner Solar System, where the Sun, terrestrial planets, and asteroids are found.
  2. The outer Solar System, where the giant planets are found.
  3. The transneptunian region, where all dwarf planets except for Ceres are found, plus the comets and many other small objects.
The Solar System (not to scale)
Large-scale structure of the Solar System showing the theoretical Oort Cloud
The inner and outer Solar System

Planets

The original meaning of the word “planet” was “wanderer”, referring to objects that looked like stars, but moved across the sky, unlike the stars and constellations that appear fixed in place. In the ancient world, the Sun and Moon were classified as planets, and Earth was not. The 7 planets of antiquity were the 7 wandering celestial objects that could be seen with the naked eye: The Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

The current definition of “planet”, according to the IAU (International Astronomical Union), is an object that:

  1. Orbits the Sun.
  2. Is gravitationally rounded, which is to say, its mass is large enough for gravity to have pulled it into an rounded shape.
  3. Has cleared its orbital neighborhood of smaller objects; or, to put it another way, it is not part of a large group of objects in the same region of space.
The planets of the Solar System, to scale

The difference between terrestrial and giant planets is that giant planets have huge atmospheres of hydrogen and helium gas. These are the most abundant gases in the Universe, but also the lightest, and terrestrial planets are not large enough for their gravity to hold onto them.

The terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars

The terrestrial planets can be thought of as 2 pairs: the hot terrestrials, Mercury and Venus, which are too close to the Sun for water. Both of these worlds are very dry. Then there are the cool terrestrials, Earth and Mars, which have an abundance of water.

The giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune

The giant planets can also be thought of as 2 pairs. Jupiter and Saturn are the larger; having formed closer to the Sun, they accumulated a lot more material and especially a lot more hydrogen and helium gas. These 2 are known as gas giants. Uranus and Neptune have less gas, but large icy cores, and are therefore known as ice giants.

The frost line

The reason we have these 2 distinct groups of planets, with the smaller, rocky, terrestrial planets close to the Sun, and the larger, gassy, giant planets farther out, is because of water.

Hydrogen and oxygen are 2 of the most abundant elements in the Universe, and they combine rather easily to form water, which means we find water throughout the Universe. In the vacuum of space, water doesn’t exist as a liquid; only as ice or water vapor.

The frost line (also known as the snow line) is the distance from a star beyond which it’s cold enough for water to freeze. Closer to the star than the frost line, water exists only as vapor, except for in certain places on the surface of planets or moons where the conditions are suitable for liquid water or ice.

The frost line was at about 3 AU from the Sun during the formation of the Solar System, when the Sun was cooler, but is now at about 5 AU. (As a reminder, an “AU” means an “Astronomical Unit”, which is equal to the distance from Earth to the Sun, or about 150 million kilometers.) For context, Mars orbits at about 1.5 AU (below the frost line), and Jupiter orbits at about 5.2 AU (above the frost line).

Closer to a star than the frost line, water vapor is blown away by the solar wind. Thus, as the terrestrial planets were forming, they didn’t accumulate water; just rock and metals.

Farther from a star than the frost line, water freezes to ice, which can be accumulated by planets as they accrete. Because the giant planets were formed from the abundant ice in the outer Solar System, as well as rock and metals, they grew much more massive; so massive, in fact, that they were also able to hold onto the light gases hydrogen and helium. As these gases are super-abundant, the atmospheres of the giant planets grew very large.

The water on Earth and Mars wasn’t obtained during their formation but was delivered to them later by comets, which are icy objects that formed in the transneptunian region. Comets fall into the inner Solar System and sometimes crash into the surfaces of planets and moons, depositing ice. The cool terrestrial planets were able to hold onto this water by having low enough temperatures to prevent it from boiling away into space. On Luna, Mercury, and Venus, however, the temperatures were too high, and almost all of the water brought to these worlds by comets sublimed to vapor and was lost to space. We do find water ice in the floors of permanently shadowed craters at the poles of Luna and Mercury, because comets crashed there, but the temperatures in these places are always so low that the ice has never sublimed to vapor.

Dwarf planets and minor planets

Astronomers used to consider everything orbiting the Sun as either a major planet, minor planet, or a comet. This has varied slightly and everything orbiting the Sun is now classified as a planet, dwarf planet, or small Solar System body (SSSB). Both classification systems exist side by side. The term “planet” is simply shorthand for “major planet”. A dwarf planet is a minor planet that is gravitationally rounded. All other minor planets, plus comets, are SSSBs.

Main classifications of small objects orbiting the Sun

The IAU Minor Planet Center (MPC) maintains a database on all minor planets and comets. Most are numbered. At the time of writing, the MPC database lists 516 386 numbered minor planets, 241 240 unnumbered minor planets, and 4 014 comets. The full designation of Ceres, the first minor planet ever found, is actually “1 Ceres”, and Pluto’s is “134340 Pluto”. Pluto’s number is large because it was only recently classified as a minor planet, and was assigned the next available number.

The distinction between major and minor planets is not based on whether or not the object is gravitationally rounded. For a long time, Ceres was considered a planet, but it became clear that it shared its orbital neighborhood with many small objects (i.e. the Asteroid Belt). This marked it as a different kind of object than the major planets, which had already mopped up almost all of the small objects in their orbital neighborhood. The category of “minor planet” was then introduced, with Ceres as the first member.

Pluto was also believed to be orbiting by itself and not in a group, and was therefore considered a major planet. Being so far from the Sun, no other objects were detected orbiting near Pluto for a very long time. Eventually, however, many objects were found orbiting beyond Neptune, and it was realized that Pluto also shared its orbital neighborhood with a large number of minor planets (i.e. the Kuiper Belt). This raised the question of whether Pluto should also be reclassified as a minor planet, or if Ceres should again be classified as a major planet, or if some new classification was needed for these unique objects.

Ultimately it was decided that a new definition of “planet” was needed (the IAU definition given above) along with a new category of object, namely “dwarf planet”, to describe gravitationally rounded objects that orbit in the same region of space as large groups of other small objects. Dwarf planets are considered a subcategory of minor planet because they’re found among large populations of other minor planets.

There are currently 5 official dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. However, there are hundreds of candidate objects that may be classified as dwarf planets once we learn more about them. These include Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, Salacia, Ixion, and many others, which are as yet unnamed. We don’t yet know how many dwarf planets there are, but there could be hundreds or even thousands of them.

There are trillions of SSSBs. An SSSB is anything in the Solar System bigger than about a meter wide, except for planets, dwarf planets, and moons; therefore, it includes all comets and minor planets except for dwarf planets.

Asteroids

Asteroids are minor planets, typically of the inner Solar System, although trojans and centaurs (see below) are also sometimes considered types of asteroid. Only the largest asteroid, Ceres, is a dwarf planet; all others are SSSBs. The vast majority of asteroids are found in the Asteroid Belt, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. 

Not all asteroids are found in this region of space, however, and many can be found orbiting between and near the terrestrial planets. Those that come close to Earth are called near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). These are an important group primarily because they’re the first asteroids that will be explored and mined, and because some of them have the potential to hit Earth.

The 4 largest asteroids are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. These 4 alone comprise almost half the mass of all asteroids combined.

Orbits of the 4 largest asteroids

Trojans

A trojan is a type of minor planet with the same orbit as a planet, leading or trailing the planet by 60º. These positions in a planetary orbit are points of gravitational stability known as the L4 or L5 Lagrange points.

Almost all currently known trojans are co-orbital with Jupiter. It’s estimated there could be about a million Jupiter trojans larger than 1 kilometer in diameter, although it is believed that Neptune may have 10–100 times more large trojans than Jupiter. No Saturnian trojans have yet been discovered, probably because of Jupiter’s powerful gravitational pull.

Jupiter trojans share the same orbit as Jupiter, leading or following by 60°
Planet # known trojans
Mercury 0
Venus 1
Earth 1
Mars 4
Jupiter 6 515
Saturn 0
Uranus 1
Neptune 13

Centaurs

Centaurs are minor planets with orbital radii between that of Jupiter and Neptune. They have characteristics of both asteroids and comets, hence the name. There are an estimated 44 000 centaurs with diameters greater than 1 kilometer.

Comets

Comets are icy objects with long, elliptical orbits that bring them from the transneptunian region into the inner Solar System. As they come closer to the Sun than the frost line, the icy nucleus of the comet begins subliming to water vapor, causing dust and water vapor to be released into space. The solar wind blows this material away from the comet, giving it a long, visible tail called a coma.

Comets spend most of their time in the transneptunian region, only descending into the inner Solar System for a small fraction of their orbital period.

Meteoroids

There are a great many objects in the Solar System that are too small to be categorized as SSSBs. These are roughly classified as:

  1. Meteoroids, which are between about 1 mm and 1 m in diameter.
  2. Micrometeoroids, which are between about 1 µm and 1 mm in diameter.
  3. Nanometeoroids (also known as cosmic dust), which are smaller than about 1 µm in diameter.

Moons

Objects that orbit other objects in space are called satellites. Those made by humans are called artificial satellites, whereas those formed by natural processes are called natural satellites. The natural satellites of stars are planets, minor planets, and comets; those of substellar objects are called moons.

Planet / dwarf planet # known moons
Mercury 0
Venus 0
Earth 1
Mars 2
Ceres 0
Jupiter 79
Saturn 62
Uranus 27
Neptune 14
Pluto 5
Haumea 2
Makemake 1
Eris 1

Many SSSBs also have moons. In total, about 330 of these minor-planet moons have been discovered so far.

Some moons in our Solar System are massive enough to have become gravitationally rounded. There’s no official term for these objects, but the term “major moon” is by far the most common. Conversely, natural satellites that are not massive enough to have become rounded are known as “minor moons”.

Our Solar System has 19 major moons:

  1. Orbiting Earth: Luna (the Moon)
  2. Orbiting Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto
  3. Orbiting Saturn: Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Titan, and Iapetus
  4. Orbiting Uranus: Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon
  5. Orbiting Neptune: Triton
  6. Orbiting Pluto: Charon
The major moons of the Solar System

The transneptunian region

Beyond Neptune, we find a vast region of the Solar System aptly named the transneptunian region. This is by far the largest region of the Solar System and the one we know least about. As far as we currently know, it’s entirely populated by minor planets and comets, although astronomers have not ruled out the possibility that one or more major planets may yet be found in this region of space. It extends as far as approximately 100 000–200 000 AU, which is about the largest possible orbital radius for an object orbiting the Sun.

The transneptunian region includes:

  • The Kuiper Belt, which comprises small objects in stable orbits between about 30 and 55 AU. It includes the dwarf planets Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and others, their moons, plus lots of SSSBs.
  • The Scattered Disc, which comprises minor planets in unstable orbits between about 30 and 100 AU. These orbits are unstable because they come close enough to Neptune that its gravity perturbs them. It includes the dwarf planet Eris and others, and their moons, plus lots of SSSBs.
  • The Hills Cloud (also known as the “inner Oort Cloud”), a hypothetical disc-shaped region that extends from about 250–1 500 AU to about 20 000–30 000 AU. It potentially contains billions of minor planets, plus, potentially, 5 times as many comets as the Oort Cloud.
  • The Oort Cloud, a hypothetical spherical region that may extend from the Hills Cloud to as far as 50 000–200 000 AU. It is also believed to contain billions of minor planets and comets.

Objects that orbit beyond Neptune are collectively known as transneptunian objects (TNOs). All TNOs discovered so far are minor planets or comets, although it’s believed possible that another major planet may yet be found beyond Neptune. TNOs are further classified according to their group, and thus as called Kuiper Belt Objects, Scattered Disc Objects, Hills Cloud Objects, and Oort Cloud Objects.

Pluto and Eris are the largest TNOs found so far

The heliosphere and heliopause

The heliosphere is a bubble in space defined by the interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium. The boundary of the heliosphere is called the heliopause, which is where the force of the solar wind is balanced by the stellar winds of other stars. The heliopause is found in the transneptunian region, approximately 100 AU from the Sun upwind of the stellar winds, and about 200 AU downwind.

This is a logarithmic scale with distances from the Sun shown in AU.

Roughly speaking, the Kuiper Belt and Scattered Disc are within the heliosphere, whereas the Hills and Oort Clouds are beyond it.

Beyond the heliopause is the interstellar medium, where the stellar winds from other stars are stronger than the solar wind. However, the Sun’s gravity dominates that of nearby stars out to a much greater distance, which is why it is believed that billions or trillions of objects orbit the Sun beyond the heliosphere in the Hills and Oort Clouds. 

In a similar way to how the Earth’s magnetosphere blocks radiation from reaching the surface, the heliopause blocks about 75% of galactic cosmic rays. Thus, cosmic radiation beyond the heliopause is approximately 4 times greater than inside it, which may be a significant deterrent to space explorers and settlers planning on leaving the Solar System.

Why space settlement?

Why are we particularly interested in space settlement, rather than simply space exploration, or even just the development of space industry? What are the benefits of actually living there?

Abundant resources

Space represents an unlimited supply of valuable resources, including energy, metals, carbon, water, hydrocarbons, gases, and minerals; the building blocks of every useful resource required by our civilization. If the burgeoning human population on Earth is consuming too many resources for one planet, as some experts claim, then space is the answer. Not only can resources from space be used on Earth, but also in space by the new communities we create there. Having access to abundant resources for constructing and powering space cities and vehicles will give rise to a vibrant space economy and civilization, ultimately spanning the Solar System.

  • Metals, carbon, silicon, water, oxygen, ammonia, and more are available in abundance from asteroids. There are literally millions of asteroids in our Solar System, many the size of large mountains, composed of valuable materials. Metals, carbon, and silicon can be used to build space stations and ships, and water and oxygen can provide them with propellant and critical life support resources. Ammonia can be used as fuel, fertilizer, a source of nitrogen and hydrogen, and more.
  • Solar energy can be collected in space, where the Sun always shines, without impedance by atmosphere or clouds. Solar-powered satellites can be placed in the orbits of Earth, Luna, Mars, and other worlds, to provide continuous energy to settlements on the surface.
  • Hydrocarbons, such as methane, can be accessed from icy asteroids and moons. On Earth, much of our technology is still heavily dependent on hydrocarbons, which we mainly utilize for electricity and heat. However, even as we transition to sustainable energy, hydrocarbons will remain important for the production of plastics, lubricants, and other products, and are a valuable rocket fuel.
  • Fusion fuels such as deuterium, tritium, and helium-3 (see Table 1, below) can be found in lunar regolith, Martian ice, and in the atmospheres of the giant planets. If fusion becomes a commercially viable energy technology, space will give us access to more fuel than we will ever need. Fusion may be the preferred method of powering settlements in the Outer Solar System, and new forms of high-speed space travel.
  • Rare earth elements, required for many modern technological products, can be found in concentrated deposits on both Luna and Mars. These elements can be difficult to refine and recover, which is why such ore deposits are extremely valuable.

Accessing the resources of space will enable the building and supply of space settlements. In this way, settlement of space is analogous to the Americas or Australia, when settlers utilized locally sourced wood, stone, water, animals, and other resources, to build and supply new settlements.

Although space exploration and settlement will initially be supported using resources from Earth, once we begin tapping the resources of space it will become much easier and cheaper to build and do more. Luna, Mars, and especially the asteroids, all have much shallower gravity wells than Earth, which means sourcing resources from these bodies for use in space will eventually be much cheaper. Plus, construction on the surfaces of these bodies will be much cheaper than if materials were supplied from Earth.

As our technological capability increases, we are able to access resources everywhere more easily and cheaply, increasing their supply and reducing cost. However, the exponentially increasing demands of our growing population can sometimes be difficult to meet. Access to the resources of space, and progressively improving the efficiency with which we can obtain these resources, will eliminate that problem, perhaps forever. This abundance will mean an improved quality of life for all people and other creatures on Earth, and everywhere else in the Universe where we may spread.

Main isotopes of hydrogen and helium.

Isotope name# protons # neutrons Symbol Nucleus name Abundance
hydrogen-1
(a.k.a. protium
or light hydrogen)
1 0 1H proton 99.98%
hydrogen-2
(a.k.a. deuterium
or heavy hydrogen)
1 1 2H or D deuteron 0.02%
hydrogen-3
(a.k.a. tritium)
1 2 3H or T triton trace
helium-3 2 1 3He helion 0.000 2%
helium-4 2 2 4He alpha particle 99.999 8%

Asteroid defense

Space research will help to ensure the survival of humanity and other Terran species once we learn how to prevent or limit the damage that could be caused by asteroid impacts. It’s possible that Earth will again be hit by a large asteroid, maybe even as large as the one that wiped out most life on Earth 66 million years ago. While major collisions of this type are extremely rare, there are still plenty of large asteroids out there, and impacts will continue to occur. The effect of a major impact could be globally catastrophic.

Advances in astronomy are improving our ability to detect potential impactors in advance, but the development of an asteroid mining industry may enable us to redirect them or break them into pieces.

It’s fortunate that many asteroids are made of highly valuable materials, because if we aren’t sufficiently motivated by the risk of a major impact to develop the technology to redirect or break asteroids, then maybe the potential for vast profits will do the trick.

Space settlement will provide an additional layer of protection, because if an asteroid arrives which is too large, or moving too quickly for us to divert, and it hits Earth, then the people living in space settlements — especially those on Mars, which may have the potential to be self-sufficient and independent from Earth — will survive, even if people on Earth do not. This underlines the importance of establishing a self-sufficient branch of human civilization on Mars.

Asteroids are nature’s way of asking: “How’s that space program coming along?” — Neil de Grasse Tyson

Confidence

Space settlement will greatly improve our confidence as a species. We’ve seen this before; the Apollo program gave humanity (or at least the US) immense confidence. For many years afterwards, people had the attitude of: “If we can go to the Moon, we can do anything!”.  Similarly, once we start sending people to Mars, we will again believe that we can do anything. We will start to see ourselves as an advanced, spacefaring species capable of achieving great things on vast scales. When people are living in space, no-one will seriously suggest that we cannot feed everyone, clean the oceans and the atmosphere, or construct a global renewable energy grid. We will just point to our cities in orbit, or on Luna and Mars, and say: “Just look at what we can do! We can do anything!”

A new frontier

Space exploration and industry will open the way to the final frontier, but space settlers will claim it for their own. A physical frontier is arguably essential for human evolution, due to its powerful stimulating effects on the mind. Frontiers break us out of established living patterns. Comfort and safety have their virtues, but too much can be dangerous, potentially encouraging slothfulness, decay, weakness, and complacency. Frontiers, by contrast, can be difficult and dangerous, but they encourage innovation, resourcefulness, and growth.

It will be much more of a challenge to live permanently in space, or on Luna or Mars, than it will be to simply visit, because ongoing supply and maintenance of settlements will require significant local agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and other capabilities. Space settlement entails much bigger challenges than exploration, and will require bigger thinking and better planning. It will mobilize capital and human resources to a much larger degree, and will require significant innovation. The process of settling new worlds will push humanity to higher levels of achievement than we ever dreamed possible.

The frontier also advances and develops the higher spiritual functions of the human mind, not only stimulating new technological ideas, but also philosophical ones. Our physical frontier is thus paralleled by an intellectual frontier, and it may be that expansion into the Universe is necessary for ongoing development of our intellect, consciousness, wisdom, and civilization. The frontier forces us to rethink the established patterns of our culture in the context of new environments and new technologies, producing a new society which is at least partially legacy-free. It encourages reinvention, not only of physical systems, but also of social, political, and economic ones. The space frontier will afford us the opportunity to foster the good aspects of ourselves, and leave the bad ones behind.

More science!

Living in space will give us much more scientific knowledge than can be gained from simply visiting. The more time we spend somewhere the more we learn about it, and this is as true in space as anywhere else. If we really want to understand Mars, we need to be there, on the ground, experiencing its unique astronomical cycles, climate, weather, rocks, dust, sky, landforms, etc., and its relationship with the Sun, its moons, and other celestial bodies. When we make Mars our home, it will become part of us, as we become part of it. We’ll really learn a lot as Mars’ unique environment challenges us in many unforeseen ways. Over time we will unlock more and more of its mysteries, and the increase in our scientific understanding, as well as our technological capabilities, will open up more new worlds for settlement.

More technology!

The frontier, and the freedom and incentive to invent new things from available resources, has always produced new technologies. We only have to look at the history of the frontier in America, Australia, and many other regions of Earth for evidence. Expand into new environments always involves challenges, yet the resources available to meet these challenges may be scarce, different, or unfamiliar. However, if the desire to expand (or, indeed, survive) is powerful enough, then solutions will be found. Such situations bring out the best in human creativity, and is what drives innovation.

It will be much harder to reside permanently in space than to merely explore it. The process of learning how to live on Luna and Mars, and the development of the space economy, will produce tremendous innovation. We will develop robots and telerobotics for tunneling into rock and carving out habitable volumes; efficient and inexpensive renewable energy technologies; efficient food production systems; advanced water recycling and purification systems; super-intelligent computers, vehicles and robots; new technologies for manufacturing and recycling; high-speed space transportation; low-latency, high-bandwidth space communications systems; artificial gravity; and many other new and wonderful technologies, all of which will accelerate humanity to new levels of achievement.

Right now, we’re observing exponential advancements in technological development due to the rapid evolution of the Internet, emergence of a common language, crowd-funding, and an abundance of venture capital. This trend will only continue as we expand into space, and the unique challenges of space development trigger a cascade of new inventions.

Many new technologies that are being developed now, and that will be developed as we learn how to live in space and on Luna and Mars, will find applications on Earth and elsewhere as we expand to new places in the Solar System.

More environmental benefits!

Space settlement will help to create a cleaner, healthier Earth. Living in space requires in-situ production of energy, water, air, food, and materials; efficient recycling and waste management; environment control and life support; mining and manufacturing; advanced robotics and telerobotics; and much more. These same technologies, applied on Earth, will reduce waste and pollution, increase abundance and health, and enable people to live in new regions, while also improving living conditions in many existing regions, and reducing our environmental footprint.

Space habitat design produces insight into air and water recycling, food production, waste management, mass and volume optimization, and more. We know how much volume and energy people really require to live, and it’s much less than what we habitually use on Earth. This suggests opportunities for more efficient use of land, water, energy, and other resources.

Learning how to live in space will teach us how to live, affordably and safely, in more exotic niches of Earth; in particular, underground. This will reduce the need to destroy Earth’s biosphere for the sake of cities or agriculture.

Food systems developed for space will be high-tech, potentially modular, and capable of producing a healthy, nutritionally complete diet, reliably, unaffected by weather, and requiring only a fraction of the usual energy, water, land, and fertilizer. This technology can be used on Earth to feed people while reducing land requirements for agriculture, potentially freeing up cleared land for restoration of the biosphere. It may even be possible to reduce the total amount of land and fresh water we require for food production, even as Earth’s population grows.

Backing up life

Space settlement can help to ensure the long-term survival of numerous Terran species. Species can become extinct due to hunting, predators, climate change, rising or falling sea levels, loss of habitat or food sources, pollution, or disease. Generally speaking, extinction is caused by an inability to adapt to changed conditions or to migrate to more suitable areas.

There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history, in which a large percentage of Earth’s species became extinct within a short time frame. These were caused by supervolcanoes, climate change, and asteroid impacts.

When we begin to inhabit other worlds, we will take many species with us, including bacteria, plants, fungi, and animals. Once a species is living across multiple worlds, it will be protected from most possible causes of extinction, because of the extremely low probability that all worlds where that species is present will become uninhabitable at the same time. And, if a species does become extinct on one world, its population can be restored from individuals of the same species from other worlds.

An Earth-compatible planetary biosphere on another world could potentially support millions of Terran species. If a world already hosts a compatible biosphere then it would be unethical or at least unwise to transplant Terran species to that world, due to the risk of unbalancing the local ecosystem and adversely affecting indigenous species, just like when cane toads, rabbits, and other species were introduced to Australia. However, if a world lacks such a biosphere, but can be engineered to support one — i.e. terraformed — then potentially millions of Terran species could be transplanted there and thus protected. Mars is widely believed to be terraformable, which is a major part of its appeal.

Right now we’re losing countless species across the planet due to climate change and habitat destruction. The current extinction rate is estimated to be on the order of 1 000 times greater than the usual background rate, and this accelerated rate of species loss has been called the “sixth mass extinction”. Unfortunately, space settlement is not a solution to this particular problem, and we must learn to value the natural environment more highly and protect it from farming, mining, and industry. Nonetheless, many species on Earth will always be under pressure due to the large human population, and the sooner that some can spread to new worlds, the better.

Population management

Population growth of species is often imagined to be exponential. However, this is only true while resources are plentiful. Limits on available resources cause the growth rate to gradually decrease as the population approaches the carrying capacity. This curve is called a logistic function.

On Earth, we have already passed the “point of maximum growth”, when the growth rate of Earth’s human population peaked in 1969 at about 2.1% (see graph below). Experts predict that Earth’s population will stabilize at around 11–12 billion.

Birth rates worldwide are decreasing in line with economic development.

In developing countries, especially where there’s significant gender inequality, the number of children per family is often higher. This is due to a higher infant mortality rate, lack of social security (because the more children a family has, the more income there is to support the elderly who can no longer work), and because females earn less, which creates an incentive to have more children in order to have more boys.

However, in developed countries, it’s common for couples to have two or fewer children, due to better nutrition, health care, education, and social services, and because women have access to higher education and are free to pursue options other than motherhood.

Death rates are also decreasing. The average human life span is increasing as medical science and technology improve, and life spans of over a century and potentially much longer will be more common in the future (especially when people stop consuming so much animal-based food, refined carbohydrate, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs). Premature death is also less likely due to a steady decline in war, crime, famine, disease, and dangerous work.

The decline in both birth and death rates produces an aging population, in which a decreasing number of young people are supporting an increasing number of elderly people. This may not be as much of a problem in a highly automated, post-scarcity economy, but a birth rate that is too low is undesirable regardless. In addition to their important contribution to the economy, we need young people for the energy, idealism, and vision that they bring to the world.

The human population, as with any species, has a tendency to increase, because we’ve evolved for survival and reproduction. However, it cannot increase indefinitely on a single planet because of the limitations on natural resources.

To be fair, the carrying capacity of Earth will steadily increase, as technological advancements, especially in areas such as renewable energy, food production, desalination, genetics, and recycling, make it possible for humans to utilize available resources more efficiently and to live in more places, including the polar regions, on oceans, in deserts, underwater, and underground. However, this will only delay the inevitable, and there will always be a maximum sustainable carrying capacity while we remain confined to a single planet.

Space settlement is the only practical way to continue increasing the human population beyond the maximum carrying capacity of Earth. The number of people who can move to or be born in space will increase exponentially as we get better at building space settlements, and especially at planetary engineering. Birth rates can then be maintained at a high enough rate to ensure a sufficient youth population, and deaths due to resource shortages can be avoided as people move off-planet.

Once we start living in space, limits on the human population will then be defined by the maximum carrying capacity of the Solar System. This, too, will increase over time as we improve our technology and learn how to live in more places.

The terraforming of Mars will probably be the most important project we can undertake to increase the carrying capacity of the Solar System, as this will provide land, water, and other resources to enable the large-scale habitation by millions of organisms; not only humans but many other Terran species as well. Perhaps we can terraform Venus, too.

The human population will eventually reach a sustainable maximum within the Solar System, and that may be enough; since, by that time, our long-term survival will be assured, at least until the death of the Sun. However, considering human nature, and the research already being done into terrestrial exoplanets and interstellar travel, it seems far more likely that we’ll expand to nearby star systems and continue to prosper and increase for billions of years to come.

And here’s us, at the beginning of history, dreaming it.

Why space?

This is a chapter from a possible future book about building a city on Mars. Please let me know what you think in the comments, or by email. Thanks!

All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct. — Carl Sagan

The benefits of space research are not universally appreciated or understood. Some feel that it diverts resources away from other important problems, or that it doesn’t produce a sufficient return on investment. However, a closer look will reveal that everyone benefits from space research and development, not only those nations who conduct missions, and we benefit significantly.

The most common argument against space research is that there are more serious problems on Earth that we should focus our attention on, such as disease, poverty, economic inequality, climate change and/or other social and environmental problems, before trying to expand into space. While this viewpoint may seem valid on the face of it, the facts are:

  • There have always been, and probably always will be, problems on Earth.
  • These problems are being addressed, and conditions on Earth worldwide are getting better every year.
  • Expansion into space will assist in addressing all these issues anyway.

If we wait for Earth to be “fixed” before going to space, we will never go. There were problems in Spain when Chris Colombus set sail for the New World, and in England when James Cook departed for the Pacific, yet these voyages of discovery produced increased prosperity and scientific understanding, countless innovations, and the discovery of vast and beautiful new lands. To be fair, they also involved genocide followed by generations of suffering for indigenous peoples, but we probably won’t have this problem on the other worlds of our Solar System.

Things have never been better on Earth. We’ve never had less slavery, disease, poverty, war, hunger, or homelessness. We’ve never lived longer, had so many tools, had such immediate access to all kinds of information, or been able to connect and communicate with so many others. Generally speaking, life is getting better for everyone, worldwide, all the time. The reason why many people believe the opposite is partially due to the popular fantasy that the past was safer and more comfortable than it actually was. On top of this, the media reports much more bad news than good, leading to a false perception of our present situation.

Investment in space does not diminish the ongoing improvement of life on Earth, but encourages it. Observing trends in technological innovation and social entrepreneurship, we can discern that:

  1. Humanity’s problems are being and will continue to be solved, regardless whether or not we invest time and money into space research. Lots of people are working on all kinds of important problems, relating to food, water, health, peace, energy, and so on, and this won’t suddenly stop when we start building bases on Mars.
  2. Space research produces significant technological innovation, while also developing minds, benefitting national economies, giving us insight into the cosmos and ourselves, and improving international relations, all of which add up to making life on Earth a whole lot better.

A popular misconception is that space research consumes a large fraction of public funds. However, it’s actually small compared with other categories of government spending. NASA, for example, which is by far the best funded of all space agencies, receives $18 billion per year. This may seem a lot, but it’s actually less than 0.5% of the US federal budget. Compare this with $600 billion spent on the military, or the $90 billion spent on corporate subsidies.

One of the main reasons why space attracts criticism is because it attracts a lot of media attention, which tends to make it a target. Space launches, missions, and discoveries are spectacular and observed by millions. In comparison, significantly larger areas of government expenditure are hidden, or are dull in comparison, and attract much less attention.

Interest in exploration, development, and settlement of space is growing quickly, especially among students. Humans are explorers by nature, and there will always be those of us who desire to see what’s beyond the horizon; those whose souls exult in the idea of huge areas of open land where they can create something new. Some people crave the feeling of the frontier, which is a feeling of immense creative freedom, self-determination, and unlimited possibility. There’s a profound sense of adventure and purpose embedded in the building of something new and timeless like a frontier town, and this is highly attractive to a certain type of people. Why struggle to fit into a dysfunctional or overcrowded society when you can go somewhere new and create a better one, that embodies your values, instead of theirs?

Some humans seem to have a dream of exploration and expansion written in their DNA. These are the ones who will go to Mars, and beyond, and lift our species to a higher plane of existence than ever before. Space is for dreamers and visionaries. We need such people in our society, because they play such a tremendously important role in our evolution. Their imagination and energy pull us upwards and onwards, to the stars.

There are numerous benefits of space research and exploration.

Scientific discovery

Unique scientific insights are gained by studying the space environment and other worlds. Space research leads to increased understanding in literally every branch of science, including life sciences such as biology and medicine; physical sciences such as physics, astronomy, chemistry, and planetary science; social sciences such as psychology and political science; and formal sciences such as mathematics and computer science.

Everyone on Earth benefits from the advancement of science. The better we understand the Universe, the better we can manage the resources available to us, the more empowered we are to invent new things that make our lives better, and the better the decisions we can make about how to manage and develop our global civilization. Technology is built on scientific understanding. Scientific discovery enables improvements in the production of food, water, energy, materials, buildings, machines, medicines, and every kind of technological product from phones to power plants.

Scientific knowledge is increased by inquiry, investigation, and exploration, whether by peering into atoms, cells, mineral grains, oceanic depths, or the far reaches of space. We’ve learned much about Earth by examining stars, galaxies, other planets, and moons, and we continue to learn more every day. The wealth of data collected by planetary spacecraft such as Mars rovers, for example, teach us more about planets in general, not only Mars.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the Universe gives us the knowledge necessary to secure the survival of humanity and many other Terran species, while creating many opportunities for human advancement and evolution. Space research presents specific challenges that lead to unique achievements and breakthroughs, and expansion into space will provide numerous other benefits beyond simply knowledge.

Technological innovation

Space research has produced innovation in materials, communications, computing, transportation, consumer products, and countless other areas. Directly or indirectly, these advancements improve everyone’s quality of life.

These new technologies have not only benefited people living and working in space or the space industry. Technologies developed for space frequently find applications on Earth, and this will continue to be the case. Some examples from the near future include:

  • Orbital and suborbital vehicles will displace airplanes, to some degree, by providing services such as rapid transport, package delivery, and resource distribution.
  • Communications technologies developed for space will provide everyone on Earth with broadband Internet access.
  • Water recycling and food production technologies developed for space can be applied on Earth to improve the efficiency of water and food production and consumption.
  • Renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, and geothermal, developed for Mars and other worlds, can be deployed in remote regions of Earth.

Inspiration and education

Space exploration, especially human spaceflight, is the grand adventure of our time, and inspires many people, particularly young people still choosing their career paths, to become astronauts, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. People associate space with the future, advanced technology, robots, spaceships, and distant, exotic worlds, all of which activate the imagination. It’s the reason why science fiction exists as a distinct genre and why many bright young people aspire to work in the space program. Science fiction inspires, and is inspired by, human activities in space.

Increased enrollment in STEM courses provides huge benefits to national economies, as many of the newly educated find work in science or engineering-related sectors instead of (or in addition to) space, such as mining, agriculture, health, communications, IT, biotech, chemicals, construction, defense, and others. Those with a more artistic nature have been inspired by space to produce enduring and inspirational literature, music, and art.

The fact that space research captivates students’ interest greatly facilitates science education. Some school science teachers have started to pitch their lessons in the context of space, or even teach dedicated space science courses, purely because students perceive space as cool and interesting. This engages their attention, enthusiasm, and creativity. Agencies like NASA provide educational content and multimedia at no cost, in addition to opportunities for students to engage with astronauts and the ISS (International Space Station). College and university students benefit from summer programs, internships, and scientific research published by NASA and other space agencies.

Economic returns

Space research helps to build up a nation’s and the world’s intellectual capital, providing valuable experience for scientists, engineers, communicators, and managers who will often migrate from space agencies to science or technology-related industries, academia, or the military. Companies, universities, and governments then benefit from their unique experience and knowledge, which has positive effects on the economy.

People with a background in space are well-respected in the wider community, and with good reason: space presents very difficult problems with little room for error. Involvement in space research not only develops skills, but also confidence, and many ex-space-agency people have gone on to create innovative new companies.

The new technologies that arise from space research also create economic benefits. Commercial applications for products spun off from space research lead to the formation of new companies and revenue streams.

Environmental benefits

Space research, exploration, and settlement will benefit Earth’s environment.

Earth observation satellites already provide valuable data about weather, climate, the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the oceans to scientists on Earth, which greatly assists with our understanding of Earth’s environment and climate change.

Development of food production systems for space has led to innovations in high-efficiency, environment-controlled indoor farming. This may be the future of food production for cities worldwide, freeing up huge areas of agricultural land that can be returned to the biosphere, thereby reducing species loss, restoring biodiversity, absorbing carbon, and aiding in the reversal of desertification and climate change.

Because of the advantages of low-gravity environments, and because there aren’t any trees, cities, or oceans in the way, it may also eventually be possible to move some of our mining and manufacturing operations off Earth and into space, thereby further reducing ecological destruction and pollution.

Greater world peace

One of the truly great and often unsung benefits of space is the way it brings us all together in a grand adventure. Space exploration seems to speak to something in our souls; perhaps what makes us human is a deep-seated desire to do more, see more and be more. The future calls to us. You can go to almost any country in the world and find people, especially students, fascinated by space exploration and settlement. This shared interest has brought together people from around the world in countless space projects, conferences, expeditions, and competitions.

Much of the conflict on Earth is about resources, suggesting that access to the unlimited resources of space will significantly reduce conflict. If energy, water, metals, etc. are available in virtually limitless quantities from space, there will be much less interest in invading or influencing other countries. Space may be expensive but so is war. Thus, space development leads to greater world peace, and reduces the destruction and wastage of resources associated with war.

History has shown that collaboration in space leads to improved international relations. Because human spaceflight is expensive and difficult, only a few nations have yet attempted it, and they’re often eager to cooperate and share resources and data. Scientists are usually idealistic seekers of understanding, and often eager to share knowledge and experiences with those from other countries if it will yield insights or clues into the workings of our Universe.

Cooperating in space delivers positive outcomes for participating nations in the form of data, technological progress, scientific understanding, educational resources, and improved international relationships.

Exploration and settlement of Mars is so exciting that all major space agencies are currently developing plans. The challenge of sending people to Mars is so great that collaboration between multiple space agencies will almost certainly be necessary, and many have already agreed to do this. This is important for peace, because the spacefaring nations are the superpowers of the world, and the more they cooperate, in whatever field, the less likely they are to engage in major conflict.

Space settlement represents an open future, rather than a closed future. In a closed future, in which we do not expand beyond Earth, we may have to compete more and more intensely for dwindling resources, which could divide us, creating conflict. An open future is one where the potential exists to create abundance for all. It’s a future of peace.

The Overview Effect

Perhaps the greatest positive effect that increased human activity in space will have on our world will come from what is called the “Overview Effect”. This term was coined in 1987 by Frank White, author of “The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution”. The book details the results of his research, interviewing 29 astronauts and cosmonauts, about how viewing Earth from space affected their ideas about themselves, Earth, and the future.

Seeing Earth from space induces a profound shift in perspective. Our planet appears to the observer as a living being, whole and unified. National and state borders are not visible. These artificial separations cannot be seen when observing Earth from space; only the beautiful continents and oceans, and the thin blue haze of atmosphere. It gives the viewer a cosmic perspective, causing them to see Earth as a unified and unique, living planet, suspended in the blackness of space.

Most of our cultural and societal ideas, and politico-economic systems and policies, are based on a belief in separation, especially between people of different nations, races, religions, etc., or between people and the planet. These separations are quite imaginary. We are all part of Earth, tightly bound to it via energy flows, and thus to each other. When seeing the Earth from space, our unity becomes profoundly apparent.

As a growing number of people perceive Earth in this way and experience the Overview Effect, the illusion of separate nations and peoples will dissolve. Many will bring these realisations back to Earth, bringing humanity closer to global unity, world peace, and increased environmental awareness and social responsibility.

The Overview Effect helps make the case for space tourism, space stations, and lunar settlement. The human eye has a field of focus of about 60° (not counting peripheral vision), which means to see the whole Earth requires an altitude of about 6 371 km. This is just above the inner Van Allen radiation belt. From anywhere higher than this out to Luna and well beyond, the viewer will be able to see the entire Earth pretty well. However, considering the financial, health, and engineering challenges of constructing space stations in Earth orbit, the largest group of people to experience the Overview Effect will most likely be those who visit or live on the near side of Luna, for whom Earth will be constantly in view.

Impressed by the profound importance of the Overview Effect, a group of leaders from the space movement, including luminaries such as Anousheh Ansari, Rick Tumlinson, Edgar Mitchell, and George Whitesides, formed the Overview Institute (http://www.overviewinstitute.org) in 2008 to foster and promote the idea. In December of 2012, a documentary about this topic was released titled “Overview”, which you can watch at https://vimeo.com/55073825.

Anyone living in a space settlement, or living on the Moon, would always have an overview. They would see things that we know, but we don’t experience, which is that the Earth is one system, we’re all part of that system, and that there’s a certain unity and coherence to it all. — Frank White

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. — Edgar Mitchell, Apollo astronaut

Becoming Multiplanetary

This is the first chapter of my new book “Becoming Multiplanetary”. Please put your feedback in the comments below or email me at shaun@astromultimedia.com. Thank you!

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

We stand at the brink of a unique and exciting new era in human evolution, as we break the bonds of gravity and atmosphere, and begin our expansion into space. Soon, we will become a multiplanetary, spacefaring species. As Elon Musk said, nothing as significant has occurred in the history of life on Earth since it crawled out of the sea and onto land.

Of all the worlds we might inhabit, none have received as much attention and enthusiasm as Mars. For numerous reasons, this planet stands out above all other destinations, and it’s where we will focus the majority of our attention during the first major phase of human expansion into space.

There’s something about Mars that is incredibly compelling. Perhaps it’s the twenty-four-hour day; the rocky terrain reminiscent of the deserts of Jordan, Arizona, or Australia; or the colorful sky and dusty breezes. Mars feels very familiar compared to other worlds, much less “alien” than any other worlds we know of beyond Earth. It’s a planet we intuitively perceive as one we will eventually explore and inhabit.

Our species currently faces unprecedented environmental, economic, social, cultural, and geopolitical challenges. At the same time, we are evolving into a truly global culture. The growing ubiquity of the Internet, emergence of a global language, proliferation of communication devices, improved living conditions and international relations, and relative ease of air travel, are deeply connecting all humanity and destroying old tribal divisions of nation, race, and religion. We’re witnessing the emergence of a new global culture, with characteristics of tolerance, compassion, empathy, entrepreneurialism, scientific literacy, technological affinity, and care for the planetary environment. These values are most obvious in the young. A new, unformalized system of ethics is tacitly emerging, based on global unity and the sanctity of life. The worldwide interconnection of minds is gradually causing the concept of disparate, competing nation-tribes to disappear.

The rapid evolution of global communications has led to exponential advancement in every branch of science and technology, as well as business and finance. An inspiring and vibrant startup culture is producing disruptive innovation and countless new enterprises every year, delivering a steady stream of new products and services to the global market. This is happening in virtually every sphere: communications, energy, agriculture, construction, transportation, and many others, including space.

For over half a century, the Universe beyond our atmosphere has been the domain of government space agencies, outside the reach of private enterprise. However, we’re now observing the development of a new paradigm where entrepreneurs are creating their own opportunities in space. Companies such as SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Moon Express, Golden Spike, Deep Space Industries, Planetary Resources, Shackleton Energy, Astrobotic, ispace, Reaction Engines, Ripple Aerospace, Saber Astronautics, Gilmour Space Technologies, and many others are embracing the tremendous opportunities in space. Companies like these are leveraging the scientific and technological revolution, and a growing pool of young engineering talent, and developing unique plans for commercial operations in space. This produces network effects: the more space businesses there are, the more opportunities in space become possible, which in turn inspires and empowers other entrepreneurs to create yet more space-based businesses.

Private space enterprise is no longer the domain of the billionaire, either. Thanks to the affluent and optimistic venture capital culture that developed during the Internet revolution, all manner of new technology businesses are finding capital, and even fresh graduates are forming space startups. As the space industry grows, investors become more confident in the sector. Venture capital funds typically reserve a substantial chunk of their capital for high-risk, moonshot ventures, and space is increasingly attracting this money.

The grassroots space settlement movement is playing an important part in evolving and communicating the vision. Although the creation of the Mars Society, Artemis and Moon Societies, National Space Society, Planetary Society, and others in the late 20th century brought together and stimulated discussion among hundreds of scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts in the US and elsewhere, in recent years the social media revolution has engaged technophilic pro-space millennials worldwide, taking the conversation to new heights. The infosphere is bubbling over with ideas, designs, and plans for free space, Luna, and Mars. A number of popular space settlement design competitions have emerged: the Cities in Space Competition, part of the annual New Worlds conference; the Space Settlement Design Contest, part of ISDC (International Space Development Conference); and the Mars City Design Challenge, a worldwide Mars settlement design contest that has captured the imagination of hundreds of enthusiastic would-be Mars settlers worldwide. The growing enthusiasm for Mars has produced countless books, websites, computer games, board games, documentaries, TV specials, and even independent settlement initiatives; and it’s only the beginning.

This influx of ideas, technology, and capital into the space sector, along with the awareness of the tremendous business opportunities in resources, science, media, tourism, sport, manufacturing, property, transportation and more, is ushering in a new era of space development. It will take us from Earth to Earth orbit, then Luna, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond. In the 21st century, the Solar System will be opened up for settlement. This is a major new chapter in human history. In the words of Mike Griffin, former NASA Administrator: “One day there will be more people living off Earth than on it.”

Advancements in science and technology are transforming almost every aspect of global society, but it will arguably be space settlement that produces some of the greatest long-range benefits for humanity, providing us with many of the necessary material, technological and intellectual resources to overcome the present and future challenges we face on Earth. Space exploration and settlement will inspire thousands, perhaps millions, of young people to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) topics, significantly benefiting the global economy and environment, as these young minds apply themselves to problems other than space. This effect has occurred before, during the Apollo program, but in our modern, hyperconnected, global society, it is orders of magnitude greater.

Numerous benefits will result from human expansion into space. Perhaps most importantly, the propagation of humans and other Terran species to new worlds will ensure our long-term survival. Developing the technologies for living in space will also open up new niches on Earth, enabling us to build cities on the surface of oceans, underwater, underground, in deserts, and maybe even in the air. In addition, learning how to more efficiently utilize and recycle the natural resources of Earth will free up more of its surface for supporting a rich and diverse biosphere.

The frontier of human expansion has always stimulated innovation and disrupted many aspects of society; not only technological, but also economic, political, philosophical, and cultural. Because Earth has lacked a physical frontier for some years, the foundational institutions and systems that form the bedrock of our societies have not evolved significantly. We have experienced enormous scientific, technological, and philosophical advancements, with the potential to create better societies, but we need fresh territory where they can be tried. Free space, Luna, and especially Mars, will give us that. The space frontier will rekindle the human spirit of creativity and reinvention, providing countless opportunities for adventurers, entrepreneurs, technologists, and leaders who wish to experience and participate in the development of new branches of human culture and civilization. Perhaps this is why space calls to us, and why it has always been a catalyst for peace, innovation, inspiration, and evolution. It’s simply our destiny.

The 21st century will forever be remembered as the one during which humanity became multiplanetary. Momentum and enthusiasm for space settlement are increasing, as relentless and inexorable as a king tide. We are going, and we are going soon.

When Elon Musk gave his presentation about the SpaceX Mars architecture at the International Astronautical Congress in 2016, he said: “What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible. Make it seem as though it’s something that we can do, in our lifetimes. And that you can go. And there is really a way that anyone can go if they wanted to.” This idea of generating belief within the public about Mars settlement is of critical importance. If people don’t believe that something is possible, then they won’t give it serious attention, contribute their own creative energy, or invest time or money. We must develop a clear and believable vision, in order to attract the attention, enthusiasm, ideas, money, facilities, equipment, people, and other resources necessary to make it happen. The purpose of this book is, therefore, to foster the belief that we can, should, and will settle space.

In the first part of the book, my goal is to make the case why the construction of the first city on Mars is possibly the most important project in the entire program of human expansion into the Solar System, and this is where we should focus our energies, starting now. Subsequent parts of the book will explore different aspects of the city design, and build a clear picture of the various major priorities, and how they can be addressed and the city built.

Sarah’s Trip to Mars, Chapter 1

From:	Terry Wakowski

To: Sarah Foster

Date: 21 November, 2064

Re: New assignment

Sarah, can you please come to the office today? I need to talk
to you about a new project and it requires a face-to-face.
Let me know.

TW

Sarah pondered the email. Flying to the city would throw off her schedule for the whole day, but it was never wise to say no to Terry. Normally he just emailed her about new writing assignments and she couldn’t imagine what would inspire an in-person meeting. Terry usually avoided them like the plague.

Sarah went to the bathroom, stripped off her T-shirt and shorts, took a quick shower, washed her hair, and got changed into some fresh clothes. In November in Brisbane it was warm, so she selected a blue summer dress with white spots, to pair with her favorite blue Chuck Taylors, short white socks, and bright blue eyes. She brushed her long, dark hair while looking in the mirror, then grabbed a cold Granny Smith from the refrigerator.

“Ben, can you call me an Uber, please? Destination CBD.”

“Of course, Sarah,” replied the AI. “Estimated arrival time is three minutes.”

With a gesture, the sliding glass door of her apartment opened onto a small balcony overlooking a broad green park. She stepped onto the balcony and took a few deep breaths, munching on the apple, enjoying the spring breeze. The city had changed so much from when she was a girl, growing up during the most intense period of climate change. It wasn’t all that safe to breathe the air outside back then, laden as it was with smoke and chemicals. But now, everything was clean and beautiful. Humanity had bounced back from the trials and tribulations of the 2030s and 2040s stronger than ever. Brisbane had changed a lot since she was a little girl. Many families had moved inland to the new settlements, but Sarah’s family had elected to stay and rebuild the city. And now look at it!

From the twelfth floor, the large park appeared as a blanket of light and dark green dotted with patches of bright color from wattles, eucalypts, bottle brush, and countless other large Australian trees. The jacaranda trees were in full blossom at this time of year, unmistakable as islands of bright purple. The park was dedicated to wildlife, like most parks now, and home to an impressive range of native species: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, and numerous other marsupials; brightly colored lorikeets, pink galahs, black and white cockatoos; and many frog and lizard species. Wildlife corridors connected the park with other parks to the east and north, in a vast green network that enabled the animals to move across the city almost entirely unimpeded.

The drone car arrived and hovered at the edge of her balcony, its rotors beating the air and blowing Sarah’s hair around. She held her hair back with one hand, opened a gate in the balcony railing with the other, and stepped into the waiting car. The door slid shut, almost completely shutting off the noise from the rotors. The car banked away from the balcony as it ascended to the regulation altitude.

“Good morning, Sarah,” said the car’s AI. “Thank you for choosing Uber. I understand you wish to travel to the Brisbane Central Business District. Would you like to go to your work location, your favorite cafe, or somewhere else?”

“Work, please,” said Sarah. She peered out of the window for a while, looking at the small houses below, and the cyclists moving slowly along the tan, paved paths that weaved among the trees.

There were hardly any roads left, now. The Council kept tearing them up and replacing them with bike paths, parks, and community gardens. All the bitumen and road base went for recycling, to get the metals out. Sarah thought back to the devastation of just 20 years ago. Countless buildings across the city — indeed, the world — had been destroyed by flooding, fires, storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis. In Brisbane, the Council had abandoned sentiment and ruthlessly cleaned up and recycled almost all of it. Every lump of concrete and steel, every stick of charred wood, every shattered roof tile, every crumpled car, every shard of smashed window glass, every plastic bag, every abandoned computer, every old washing machine. All of it had been carted off to the recycling factories and decomposed into its component atoms. And they built a new city.

The drone flew north, over the luxurious waterfront suburbs of Sunnybank and Tarragindi; and then, the river.

When Sarah was a child the Brisbane River was just a few hundred meters wide near the old CBD. Now it spanned kilometers, an enormous, glittering blue fractal of crystal clear water stretching hundreds of kilometers long, interspersed with innumerable islands, peninsulas, and tendrils of land where people had once lived, but for the most part, had now been repurposed as nature parks for water birds and mangroves. Brisbane’s iconic bridges were no more; no longer usable, these, too, had been recycled. Plenty of tunnels beneath the river, though. Less than half of the new city was above ground.

There were thousands of every kind of water vessel and recreational activity as far as Sarah could see in either direction: sailboats, luxury yachts, windsurfers, kayaks, rowboats, speedboats, jet skis, and minisubs. The Brisbane River had become one of the world’s great waterparks, as well as home to a staggering variety of native birds and fish. Once muddy brown from dredging and utterly toxic due to the tonnes of industrial chemicals that had leached into it during the floods, the river had been thoroughly cleaned by the huge filtration machines that also provided the city with fresh drinking water.

The ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland had completely melted during the first half of the 21st century, producing an overall rise in sea level of eighty meters, and thus worldwide flooding in coastal areas. As 30 million cubic kilometers of ice melted into the world’s oceans, the weight on continental plates in the polar zones decreased substantially, causing them to rise; while the weight on plates in tropical and temperate zones increased, causing them to sink. As these plates scraped against each other, earthquakes were produced of unprecedented magnitude. Most of the quakes occurred under the ocean, producing tsunamis that destroyed many coastal settlements. Fortunately, the towns and cities most affected by tsunamis were also those most affected by flooding, and in many cases had already been evacuated or abandoned, at least partially.

Climate change had precipitated the largest global mass migration in human history, as millions of people migrated inland, uphill, and away from the unspeakably hot conditions at the equator. With the ice caps fully melted, and humanity finally cured, through pain, of its addictions to fossil fuels and animal agriculture, the planet began to gradually settle into a new equilibrium. Perhaps the greatest blessing in history was that climate change had not substantially affected the new StarLink global satellite-based internet. Energy and food production were global priorities, and online communities shared ideas, designs, resources, and technologies, rapidly developing thousands of high-tech farms and global food distribution programs.

Then had come the machines. So many machines. Robots were created to build farms, plant trees, turn polar and equatorial deserts into fertile land, and clean up the countless tons of debris that littered the world. The engineers who designed, built, and programmed the machines were as gods, the saviors of humanity.

Total recovery would take years. Brisbane was a success story that other cities looked to as an example of what might be, but in many parts of the world — south Asia, central Africa, much of the Americas — the damage was severe, and reconstruction efforts were hampered by heat, dust, and storms. It would take time.

The car began descending into the new CBD, located in Spring Hill. The glittering towers, some of them hundreds of meters tall, drew gradually closer. The Uber smoothly weaved through the streams of other passenger drones cruising between the buildings, before parking alongside a ledge on the 57th floor of the Australian Metals Company building. The company she freelanced for, World Media Productions, leased the entire floor.

The drone’s door slid open. “Have a pleasant day, Sarah,” said the car in a friendly tone.

“Sure. Thanks,” said Sarah. She stepped out of the vehicle onto the broad ledge. A glass door in the wall of the building slid aside automatically, and Sarah entered the building.

Inside, the air was cool, crisp, with an aroma of fresh pine needles. The large open space was a chaos of standing desks, colorful couches and bean bags, and long wooden tables. In one corner, there was a photographic studio; in another, an art space. The walls were lined with colorful posters, mostly showing past magazine covers, awards, and signed photographs of famous artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and politicians. A beverage dispenser stood against one wall. There were perhaps fifteen staff writers and content creators in the office today, taking up various positions around the workspace. Most were working in AR or VR, making gestures in the air in front of them with expressions of focused concentration, as they dictated text and manipulated graphics and video with their hands and minds.

Sarah knew this handful of people was just a small fraction of World Media Productions’ true resources, which included tens of thousands of freelance journalists and content creators, just like her, around the globe. WMP was a hub of news and entertainment. The latest news about almost anything of interest on the entire planet flowed into WMP’s office in Brisbane, New London, and Tokyo, in the form of ad-hoc reports and amateur video streamed from handheld or head-mounted cameras and corneal implants, and flowed out again, often within minutes, as curated, edited, polished, entertaining, and informative news reports, feeding into millions of brains worldwide within milliseconds. Staff writers were, in fact, mostly content reviewers, since AIs did most of the work of filtering incoming content for quality and interest, and editing it into something that humans would appreciate, benefit from, and pay for.

A message notification popped up in Sarah’s AR, and she mentally tapped it. It was from Terry: “Hey Sarah. Glad you’re here. I’m in my office.” She weaved through the workspace, making a beeline for Terry’s office, which was down a short corridor that led to several meeting rooms, a secure conference room, a recreation room, a bathroom, and a kitchen. A green door slid aside as she approached.

Terry Wakowski, a short, white-haired man in a pink and white collared shirt, rose to meet her. He stood behind a large, black, carbon-fiber desk. The entire wall of the office opposite the door was one enormous screen, displaying hundreds of video feeds with all the latest news items from around the world. He made a gesture as he walked around the desk, and the display changed to display an underwater scene, as if the screen was a window looking out onto a vibrant coral reef, active with hundreds of colorful fish. A grey nurse shark swam lazily past.

“Hi, Sarah. Thanks for coming in. Grab a seat.” Now in front of the desk, he leaned back on the edge of it, crossing his feet. The floor of the office was covered in a clean, synthetic carpet, dark blue, flecked with orange, yellow, and pink.

There were four office chairs arranged in front of Terry’s desk and Sarah selected the nearest and made herself comfortable. “It’s ok, Terry. Good to get out of the house, to be honest. Good to see you, too. What’s up?”

“This series on new city building projects has gone rather well,” said the white-haired journalist. “We especially appreciated your work on Singapore 2. First class reporting. Really.”

“Thanks, Terry. I enjoyed doing it.” The series had lasted for a year, and they’d documented 12 of the latest city development projects around the world. Some were entirely greenfield; in other cases, the new city was built on the ruins of the old. They’d produced episodes for New London, Singapore 2, Cairo, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, The San Frangeles Conurbation, Medellín, Amsterdam, Jakarta, Nairobi, and Brisbane. For each city, they produced a three-hour documentary, with hours of bonus video content, documentation, and, in some case, detailed architectural drawings, master plans, and even VR models and simulations. All had been made available online for people to explore and learn from. They’d looked at urban planning, architecture, transportation systems, resource management, waste management, ergonomics, smart city concepts, underground development, and more. Sarah had been the lead journalist and presenter for Singapore 2, a unique project to construct a new capital city for Earth, where the Unified Earth headquarters would be located. Most of the original city had been submerged, but the Singaporean engineers built a new one below, above, and around the old city. Singapore 2 spread across the surface of the ocean as well as the ocean floor, and down into the rock below it. It had continued to grow beyond the borders of the original island, out into Singapore Strait.

He was nodding. “The shows have been wildly successful. Unexpectedly so. But it’s clear why: with Earth’s population now beginning to recover, humanity is currently building new cities at a faster rate than ever, so there’s enormous interest in how to do it right.”

“Great!” said Sarah, nodding. “So, we’ll continue the series? Twelve more cities?”

Terry nodded. “Quite possibly. At least, I’ve decided we should do at least one more.”

“Which one? I hear the new developments around Mexico City are pretty amazing. They’ve built huge extensions to the city inside the surrounding mountains. Also, apparently Neo Tokyo is going to blow people’s minds! Let me do that one. You know I love Asia.”

Terry shook his head and grinned. He made a gesture, and the enormous wall screen changed to an orange-brown landscape of rocks, dust, and dunes streaked with black sand. Thin streams of dust peeled away from the peaks of the dunes, lifted by the wind. At one end of the image was a large transparent dome, with an incongruous island of greenery within. In the background, standing on its tail, was the unmistakable image of a SpaceX Starship. He stood and turned towards the wallscreen, folded his arms, and regarded it quietly.

“Wait, is that Mars?” said Sarah. “You’re going to make a documentary about Arcadia?”

Terry nodded, smiling at her. “You got it. It’s a big project. Much bigger than San Frangeles. It will take months to complete. It takes three months just to get there, and we estimate several more months will be needed after that to fully explore the city and get all the raw footage. We probably only have the budget to do this once, so we’re going to find out as much as we can. This will be a much more comprehensive analysis of a new city development than any of these Terran cities we’ve studied. By the time this project is done, we’ll have at least three times as much content about Arcadia as we published for any of the Terran cities. We’ll help you edit and organize it, of course.”

“Wait, what… You want me to go to Mars?”

“You’re the best I’ve got, Sarah. Besides, no-one else wants to go. Everyone else has things that keep them here, like partners, kids, friends, hobbies, social groups, sports, and so on.”

Sarah laughed. “Right, so, what you mean is, I’m the best you’ve got left after you asked everyone else.”

Terry smiled. “Sarah, it’s good money. Really good, and a great opportunity. You’ll only be on Mars for about a year and a half, plus about half a year in space, of course. You’ll probably only need to do a few months of actual work once you get there, and the rest of the time will be yours to do as you wish. All expenses paid. Two years pay, and you won’t need to spend anything all that time. Not many reporters get an opportunity like this even once in their lives. And if you pull this off, you’ll be able to write your own ticket.”

She shook her head. “There’s no way I’m going to Mars.”

“Why not?”

“What about my life here?”

“What life? I mean, what about it?”

“What about Misha?!”

“Give your cat to a friend. Adopt it out. I’ll take care of it if I have to.”

“What about my Scrabble club!”

“Don’t you play online?”

“Well… yes…”

“They have internet on Mars, Sarah, and it’s quite good. The lag from Earth is just a few minutes. You’ll still be able to play games online, chat with friends, get all the latest news and so on.”

“But… I like Brisbane,” said Sarah.

“You’ll like Arcadia,” said Terry. “It will be an adventure! And it’s only two years. Brisbane will be here when you get back.”

Sarah mused for a moment, looking at the huge wall screen. It was just like looking through a window onto the Martian landscape. Almost as if she was there. She stood and walked a little closer to the screen. A pressurized rover, like a large van with huge knobby tires, rolled over the nearest dune. Was this even real? It looked like something from a movie.

“It looks super boring.”

Terry laughed. “Take a book! Honestly, Sarah, it’s really not boring at all. They provide everything you can think of to make people feel relaxed. Not only on Mars but in the spaceship, too. Mental health is taken very seriously. Arcadia is more like a cruise ship than a city. Plenty to do. Games, activities, live music, social events, lots of good food. Plenty of eligible bachelors, too, I hear. Engineers, mostly, who went out there for work and stayed. Young, well-paid engineers.”

“Maybe it would be alright,” said Sarah.

“I’ve already discussed it with Patricia Gladmore, the current City Administrator. You’ll be given access to every part of the city. Anything you want to know. Also, they’ll assign you a great apartment to stay in. Close to the tram, nice restaurants, a gym, everything you need.”

Sarah turned towards the CEO of World Media Productions. “Terry… I’m not sure what to say. I’m honored that you would consider me for this amazing project, but I also need to think about it. When would I have to leave?”

Terry smiled. “Actually, the next flight to Mars is in about a week.”

What? These spaceships depart every two years and you tell me one week before?”

Terry shrugged and folded his arms. “It’s just how the timing worked out. So, by all means, think about it, but try to let me soon, ok? As in, tomorrow would be good. I’ve reserved you a seat just in case.”

“Okay, Terry. Fine! I’ll sleep on it, and tell you in the morning.”