Why should we take the idea of colonising space seriously?
With our rising planet’s population competing for space and resources, some people are convinced we need to look beyond Earth to help ensure humanity’s survival. As Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind space tourism company SpaceX put it recently: “I think there is a strong argument for making life multi-planetary in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.”
Even if you don’t believe this bleak vision, it’s hard to ignore the eternal human instinct to discover the undiscovered – an urge that could push people beyond the safety of our planet. And there might not be as many hurdles as you might think. “We are at the level of technology where we can imagine leaving the planet for a few nearby places in our Solar System,” former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, who will present his ideas at our summit, told BBC Future previously. “The Moon is just around the corner, and Mars isn’t that far away. We have the possibility of at least making the first steps of those voyages in our own lifetimes.”
What could a space colony look like?
One possible idea goes as far back as the 1920s. Austro-Hungarian rocket pioneer Herman Potočnik imagined a circular spacecraft - rather like a flying saucer – that rotates to create artificial gravity while a large, concave mirror could focus sunlight for an energy source. As far-fetched as this may sound, the idea has lingered over the years – most notably in the mid-1970s by the late Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, and again by the space think tank British Interplanetary Society. Before you dismiss the idea of floating colonies completely, it’s worth noting that the British Interplanetary Society predicted we would reach the Moon three decades before it actually happened.