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The people who build Settlements and live there will measure their time in minutes and days; weeks and months. Years, eventually: just like us now. But after the early work of siting, planning, lifting tons of materials off Terra out to the site; after all the work to build a viable lifespace where there is none now ... after all that, then what? Decades later? What are we as humans up to out there? How do we recognize "permanence," and achieve it? That's just a matter of time.
This is the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it's there. Time! So far, there seems not much work done on the topic. About the long-term future. Maybe the ideological, political, and economic challenges around getting those Settlements out there are so much, nobody has energy left over for attention to this later matter, least of things?
In fact, this topic needs attention now. Because first, it's a large and difficult topic and no hurried process at some moment of perceived need, will resolve it. And second, because where time brings you depends strongly upon your starting direction choice. Which choice among people working near the topic today, seems to be denial of it. And finally, time moves at its own rate of ten years per decade, if us humans like that or not. And what will that bring us to?
We see our future through our past. To those who live in the first Settlements, that basic lies at the center of a practical problem. In their new place, those settlers will have no past. Back on Terra, their friends and the Base system that put them where they now are, will be asking, What now?
It's just a matter of time.
Time past is valuable. Us Terrans, having evolved here on Terra over several millions of years, have a large body of practical information at hand. It concerns how to live here, how to live with each other, how to reproduce; the short and long term consequences of things we do or might do. We have all our science and engineering, and the thinking of our best people. Never mind that here on Terra, we ignore this a lot. When we need it, we usually expect that's around here somewhere, and we reach out and find it. We use this old information and long experience to anticipate how things we do today may work out tomorrow. And to guess the general character of our expectable future. Here on Terra.
In tomorrow's Settlements, that will be all different. Adults and children there will face a hard environment, having only weeks or months of resource, not millenia, from the past. Even now, little biological research is apparent into the practical consequences to our bodies and to our reproductive processes, of low or zero gravity environment.
What fills the empty spots will have been built up from our best thinking here on Terra, and from analog experiments such as Robert Zubrin of Mars Society is doing. I guess that three decades after the first Settlement is built and brought to life, we'll have filled in much of the missing practical detail. The people there will have some idea then what's useful, or not. Sorry, not any sooner, not before the settlers go out there and do those Settlements.
Do read and study John W. Campbell, 'The Moon is Hell' (pub. 1951). Yes, the writing seems heavily redolent of the 1930's. But Campbell is one of the Great Minds of the 20th Cent. This work of his is still a Great Book for anyone with a working concern for space settlement, 30's redolence or not.
Of course good minds here on Terra will think things through and develop scenarios. Many science fiction writers have worked out their own constructs of the possibilities. Others than Campbell come to mind. Rudyard Kipling, 'With The Night Express.' Fritz Leiber, 'A Pail of Air.' And Bruce Sterling's six Schismatrix works. (If I've missed your favorite, sorry.)
But the best writers and thinkers can only outline possibilities. In reality, time will tell. Decades of time, as we measure it on our classical Terran calendar.
Well known to engineers, is that every line you draw in your plan, every PERT chart entry, represents options set aside. "Your design is finished when nothing to remove remains." The immediate practical meaning of this is that the Settlement to be has implicit limits its designers set on it. Thru choice -- or accident. How this works out can only be seen. Over time.
Your future Martian or Spacer may look out from her airlock doorway at an incredible sky that reaches to infinity. But the "unlimited" future you guess for her, will in fact be sharply circumscribed by the culture and the hardware just through the airlock behind her. Standing there, then, she cannot change that past we today impose upon her. When do we start thinking about that far-away stuff? If getting it right for her, then, concerns us now, right now is not one minute too early to be doing this work.
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