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Settlement

in a Really New World.

By, Martha Adams

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What news and action there is today around space settlement options, is only a beginning. In today's world, very little of an appropriate beginning seems visible anywhere. Robert Zubrin of Mars Society has been working on a small scale to good effect with his analog Mars settlements. Economics, an essential aspect of settlements Out There, seems to be getting no attention anywhere.

(Shattering satellites to create large orbiting clouds of debris doesn't seem a good start of any sort. Nor does firing over a hundred large Shuttle external tanks up to orbital velocity and then throwing every one of them back down to burn in re-entry.)

This much doesn't even amount to a shadow of a program. We must plan and game-out economic systems, with an eye to something very likely to work first-try in space. (History shows trying-out economics systems is very experimental and uncertain, even here on Terra.) And at last, some of us go out there into space and build permanent settlements on a small scale, using local resources. And how do we do that and get it right enough?

When the first habs (tuna-can habs, probably) are placed and set up, the nuke is making electric power and any ships are powered down, then the Settlements topic becomes really real.

Then two different things, equally important over the long run.

At the Settlement site, the hard work starts. The work of building a Settlement that doesn't have to phone home twice a week and ask for more supplies. A Settlement able to exist without those very high priced resources and supplements shipped up from Terra, because it makes its own. A Settlement that pays-off the investors who provided and risked the money that put it there. A human place where women have babies, the babies grow up, and the next generation develops in the usual human way -- in this totally new human environment.

And back on Terra, the Base organization is reviewing expectable futures while engaged in building new Settlements to be shipped out asap. These new Settlements are necessary. They must be placed off-Terra as soon as possible. This is because a longterm human presence across our entire Solar System needs the synergies these other Settlements will provide.

* * *

The settlers who undertake to build a human Settlement off-Terra will face a task strikingly unlike that faced by any previous Settlement builders. Some people will see more in that than is actually there. No human nor supernatural imperative blocks construction of permanent towns and cities off-Terra. The same principles of physics, architecture and of human need that apply here on Terra, will apply off-Terra. History is full of examples of people going to new places and making new lives there. Nobody has produced any useful demonstration humans cannot do the same off-Terra. Nobody is going to.

How the recently arrived hardware gets built up into a Settlement will depend upon the site. However, a few things are certain. Lifespaces will be sealed, pressurized, and will be covered by a layer of shielding material as soon as possible. The problem is solar and galactic radiations which, while not quickly fatal, do biological damage over time. The settlers must pile up dust and rubble over their lifespaces, or dig down to build their lifespaces below the surface.

One view of how this could be accomplished appears in Campbell's "The Moon is Hell" [1]. In this science-fiction story the settlers mine into the lunar surface to construct airtight corridors, rooms, and water storage sites. It makes a good story, but where the Lunar and all other surfaces off-Terra have been subject for millions of years to violent meteors bombardment, I question if any solid rock remains that is accessible for such settlement construction by mining. But I do like the idea.

* * *

Having arrived at the Settlement site, the settlers face the sort of work you can see around any large construction site. It will certainly feature a lot of just plain muscle work, but under difficult conditions. The best strength and endurance they can develop in training and retain through their journey from Terra will be less than they need for their new environment. The air they breathe is brought with them or made from local resources. The lifespace they occupy and use is brought with them, but as soon as possible, they must make larger lifespaces from local materials. Their lives will be filled with construction work. Science, art, and life quality objectives must be put-off until the basic Settlement is installed and working.

I've heard mention of using robots for the initial outside work of Settlement assembly. It's a nice idea and I'd like it, but it's a project killer. Robotics technology, a great tool in the imagination and serviceable for many good science fiction stories, is at least decades into the future for Settlements work. But Settlements work is now or as soon to now as we can achieve. An hour spent thinking about bringing robotics technology into today's work, is a needed hour lost.

It is because a robot to do a human's work, must be as fast, versatile, strong, and reliable as a human. It must have some degree of human intelligence. All at an acceptable money price. Yes, I'm impressed with what robots will be able to do someday, but we are far from there now. I certainly don't want some dreamer holding up the entire Settlements project until those robots are built, proven, and coming off production lines at low prices. It's a fundamental error to connect present need to plausible future resources and then let the work wait on getting there.

I think also, robotics technology features a serious risk its surrounding culture moves into a master/servant hierarchical structure.

I expect to see something else, in real life. When Settlement construction starts, humans will be out there digging with shovels and running the construction machineries the old-fashioned way, except they'll be working in space suits. It takes very little playing around with this idea of space suits, to see today's space suit technology does not meet Settlements need. Today's space suits are too heavy, too complex, too vulnerable and too costly for this service. In my view, space suits are one of the key weak spots in the whole concept of building Settlements in space.

Space suits in off-Terra construction work, will be worn like denims around today's Terran construction sites. Space suits like common half wornout plain old denims. That's what the need and the work call for.

Mike Mullane's comments make a strong case that space suit design and construction are, as yet, very far from appropriate to work in for a 16-hour day in a space environment [2],[3]. He mentions a space suit weighing 300 pounds [4]. This might not be a serious problem in 1/6 g or less, however, that's 300 pounds of hi-tech construction. At how much $$ per pound? And what complexity, vulnerable to mechanical failure? I was saying I think today's space suits are not developed to Settlement need yet. There's why.

Further, today's space suit is stiff when inflated, and abrades the wearer's body early-on. And obviously, the suit wears at joints and other places, and sometimes, something will damage it. Thus suit designers and makers must accomodate conflicting objectives of complexity, simplicity and cost. From what I've read on the topic of space suit design, space suit technology has far to go before it constitutes an aid rather than an impediment to people living and working in space.

Which leads me to believe, the arrival of current space suit technology at the Settlement site, will immediately stimulate space suits evolution back on Terra.

Another core topic that will certainly move up to front center very early after the settlers start building their Settlement, is ... cooking.


========== Notes, Resources, and Pointers ==========

[1] John W. Campbell, The Moon is Hell. Paperback. Ace Books, 1973. TMIH was published shortly after WW2, but it reads as if written in the 1930's. The value of this book is in its clear perceptions of engineering issues in construction of a Lunar base.

[2] Astronaut Mike Mullane (sic), Riding Rockets (2006). Hardcover. Scribner. Mullane has a good way with words. His book touches on several key topics often omitted from space settlements discussion. One may also find a few observations relevant to personal character elements that will be required to live in space.

[3] Mullane, Riding Rockets, p. 118. He comments about working in a space suit "pressurized to the consistency of iron." Shortly later he comments, "Moving against the stiffness of the suit also resulted in abrasions ... and wear marks...."

[4] Mullane, Riding Rockets, p. 120. Shuttle space suit weighs 300 lb and it's a major project to get into it.

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