This is the first chapter of my new book “Becoming Multiplanetary”. Please put your feedback in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.