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Room 101


Future History - The Next Hundred Years in Space?

I've always had an interest in science fiction and the future of space travel. So this fortnight, I thought we might try something a little different...a possible timeline for the next hundred years or so in space. But first, some thoughts on why space is so vitally important to our future as a species in the first place.

With the state of the world economy; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the fallout between the west and Russia; climate change (whatever its cause); food prices; and the cost of oil, gas and other natural resources climbing; many people are probably thinking we should leave space until we sort out our problems on Earth first. What these people fail to realise is, far from a strain on resources and an unnecessary distraction, space could be the solution to all of these problems.

Most of the worlds troubles, from war to poverty and pollution, are largely down to too many people sharing (or fighting over) too few natural resources. Space colonies could, potentially at least, provide us with all the living space and natural resources mankind could ever need. Knocking both these key problems on the head for good. However, the longer we wait here on Earth, the worse our problems will probably get.

In the timeline I've tried to predict future events and breakthroughs as best I can. The first third is pretty much based on NASA's plans for the future, but after 2033 I've had to rely more on the writings of futurists and visionaries like Michio Kaku, Robert Zubrin and Ray Kurzweil, plus some old fashioned guess work. If any of these predictions seem too fantastic or impossible to achieve in the next hundred years, just think how far we've come over the last century or so. Back in 1903, many mainstream scientist still thought heavier-than-air flight was impossible...never mind travelling faster-than-sound or walking on the Moon! So, when it comes to the future, its probably best to keep an open mind and wait and see.

Here is the timeline:

2010 - International Space Station (ISS) is completed. NASA's shuttle fleet is finally retired.

2015 - Initial launch of the Orion/Ares-1 spacecraft the shuttles replacement.

2018 - Man returns to the Moon and work begins on a permanent Lunar base.

2021 - Early asteroid mining expedition is sent to 4660 Nereus. An Apollo and Mars-crosser asteroid, with an orbit that frequently takes it very close to Earth."

2025 - Work on the Moon base is completed.

2030 - Manned missions to Phobos and Deimos the moons of Mars.

2033 - First manned mission to Mars. Perhaps the last great accomplishment of the United States. Weakened by its many Terror Wars it is reduced to a second rate power. China, India and to a lesser extent United Europe emerge as the big three superpowers of the 21st century but it is the large corporations that hold the real power.

Many more Mars missions follow. Gradually small camps evolve into larger and larger bases.

2045 - The Technological Singularity occurs. Computers advance beyond the limits of human intelligence and become the new leading source of great invention and breakthroughs in the world. In the years leading up to and after this event the definition of what it means to be human becomes more and more complicated.

(After this it becomes incredibly hard to make predictions, if the Singularity does indeed occur things could progress much faster than we ever dare imagine.)

2050 - The first commercial fusion reactors are built. Large-scale industrial mining of Helium-3 (a non-radioactive isotope of helium that can be used in nuclear fusion) begins on the Moon, leading to a larger and larger human presence there. Larger-scale mining of near-Earth asteroids also commences.

2053 - The bases established on Mars in the 2030s have grown into villages. Small-scale permanent settlement on Mars begins.

2080 - The completion of the first space elevators allow larger scale colonisation of Mars to begin. Small towns begin to develop on the red planet. In time these towns will grow into cities.

2090 - Mining of the Asteroid Belt begins.

2100 - Serious terraforming attempts begin on Mars. Quantum leaps in technology allow the process to be completed within 100 years. This century long wait will force many on an increasingly overpopulated and totalitarian Earth to migrate to the outer solar system and beyond.

Also, by the turn of the century, antimatter becomes affordable enough to use as propellant for some special robotic missions. Near-Light-Speed space travel is made possible and Von Neumann probes (small self replicating robots with artificial intelligence) are sent beyond the solar system. Travelling just under the speed of light they are able to reach our nearest stars within a decade and via micro wormholes send data back to Earth instantaneously.

2101 - A sleeper-ship is used for the first manned mission to Jupiter. The mission lays the foundation for future missions and the eventual colonisation of Jupiter's many moons (in particular the Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) over the next 50 years. Other colonies are also established in this time period most noteably on Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons.

2108 - A century after the famous Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva was completed we have a far greater understanding of the Multiverse. Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel is developed eventually taking mankind beyond the solar system.

No doubt many of these predictions will turn out to be vastly wrong but more often than not I think I might have underestimated what the future holds. As Michio Kaku writes in Hyperspace:

"What makes futurology such a primitive science is that our brains think linearly, while knowledge progresses exponentially. For example, polls of futurologists have shown that they take known technology and simply double or triple it to predict the future. Polls taken in the 1920s showed that futurologists predicted that we would have, within a few decades, huge fleets of blimps taking passengers across the Atlantic. But science also develops in unexpected ways."

One thing we can be sure of though is, ultimately, without a significant and long term investment in space we have no future.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.

Michio Kaku, Hyperspace (Oxford University Press, 1994)
Robert Zubrin, The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (Pocket Books, 1998)
Terraforming of Mars (Wikipedia)
Space Elevators (Wikipedia)
Self Replicating Spacecraft (Wikipedia)
Wormholes (Wikipedia)
Colonization of Mars (Wikipedia)
Colonization of the Outer Solar System (Wikipedia)
Technological Singularity (Wikipedia)
Asteroid Mining (Wikipedia)
4660 Nereus (Wikipedia)
Bush unveils vision for moon and beyond (CNN)
Moon Base Announced by NASA (National Geographic)
Russia plans to put a mine on the Moon to help boost energy supply (The Independent)

Contact Richard :: boxstacker(at)aol.com

Richard Thomas is also a columnist for Alien Worlds magazine. Check it out !

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