Why We Will Live in Space
Elon Musk has claimed we’ll soon colonize Mars. Many people, including some space scientists, disagree. But "space" is not limited to the Moon and Mars.
In her recent Scientific American article, entitled Why We’ll Never Live in Space, science writer Sarah Scoles displays a surprising lack of imagination.
While imagination does not substitute for technological advancement, it often inspires such. Interview any scientist or engineer who has worked on space-related projects, and it’s likely that he or she was stimulated in this direction by the works of Robert Heinlein, Gerard O’Neill, or other visionaries.
Heinlein was a science fiction writer, who not only predicted that the Moon landing would be followed by a decades-long interregnum in space progress but also, to within four years, the arrival of American fascism.
Dr. O’Neill was a Princeton professor of physics who envisioned a space development program, as contrasted to the largely performative efforts of the 20th century. Everything described in O’Neill’s magnum opus, The High Frontier, published half a century ago, is now rapidly becoming feasible.
Following Caltech’s recent proof of concept demonstration, multiple nations are planning to build solar power satellites (SPS) to replace Earth-based sources of electricity. China has announced plans for a demonstration SPS in the 2030s, with a full two-gigawatt system planned for 2050. Britain, Japan, and the US military have similar plans.
Unlike Earth-based solar power, SPS will provide continuous power 24/7, wherever on Earth required, without need for storage. Power will be beamed via microwave transmission to rectifying antennas, possibly in deserts, and converted to electricity to supply power as needed. According to NASA, these microwaves will be so diffuse that they will pose no harm to passing birds or even cattle grazing underneath them.
SPS systems will soon be able to replace the need for fossil fuel power plants on Earth, if such remain in operation after the 2050s. (New, small modular nuclear reactors, completely safe and manufacturable like cars, are also coming soon, from Rolls Royce, Westinghouse, and some startup…