Life Outside Our Biosphere

The fragile balance of the Earth\'s ecosystem is constantly being
disrupted. Overpopulation is placing heavy strain on the world\'s resources. We
are burning all our fossil fuels to create the energy we need, and clearing our
rainforests to make enough farmland to feed everyone. The ozone layer is slowly
eroding, exposing us to harmful UV light. The room we have on this planet is
just enough to provide for our population now! As the population grows, we will
find ourselves more and more crowded, with no room left to expand. Solution:
Transfer part of the population off the Earth, to colonies established either on
other planets or on orbiting space stations. This will lessen strain on the
world\'s land resources by providing more agricultural area, and will help solve
problems associated with overcrowding.
In our solar system, a few planetic possibilities exist for colonization.
Mars, one of our closest neighbors, was previously a prime choice until it was
explored more in depth. Scientists have now found it to be a red, rocky, barren
desert with little atmosphere, no water, and containing no life. If Earthlings
were to settle on Mars, we would remain totally dependent on the Earth\'s
Another close planet is Venus, the second from the sun. This "sister
planet" of Earth proved to have extremely hostile conditions. Scientists were
hopeful when they found traces of water vapor in the upper atmosphere, but were
disappointed when concentrations of sulphuric acid were discovered mixed with
the water. Venus has surface temperatures of around 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and
an atmosphere one hundred times as thick as the Earth\'s. (This produces
pressure equivalent to pressure two miles under water on Earth.) These
conditions project a less than comfortable life on Venus.
The Moon has held Man\'s curiosity since we were created, leading to such
missions as the Apollos. These space missions have taught us a lot about what
life on the moon would be like. The moon has little to offer us in the way of
settlement: it has little to no atmosphere, and only one sixth of the gravity of
Earth. Although the moon might not be the best place for colonies to settle, it
would be an excellent source of resources for nearby space stations. (
Scientists can extract oxygen from the rocks, and glass, aluminium, and other
metals as well.)
Space stations orbiting in the past have been very dependent on the
Earth\'s supplies for construction and maintenance. The Soviets have launched a
brigade of structures called Salyuts. In fact, one of their cosmonauts has
lived in space for more than 235 days! They supplied the Salyuts by shuttle
craft flying from the Earth and back, carrying supplies and returning with
wastes. Americans also launched a space station, called Skylab. This structure,
far larger than the Soviets\', was too expensive and was abandoned after some
months of occupation. These mini-colonies had very primitive conditions, with
no gravity and an awkward lifestyle.
Scientists predict that space colonies of the future will be much
different from these first primitive attempts, but knowing which design they
will adopt is difficult. Most engineers agree that they will be in a round
configuration, slowly rotating, causing centrifugal force with effects like the
Earth\'s gravity. Some experts believe that colonies will eventually be around
200 km2, with some large enough to house one million people. Because the colony
will be environmentally controlled, natural disasters will be almost obsolete.
The only things to worry about will be asteroid showers, which only occur about
every one thousand years. Factories and other industrial facilities will be
nearby, along with the greenhouses.
One of the biggest benefits of these space stations is the excellent
agricultural potential. The orbiting space station is constantly exposed to the
sun\'s rays, and 24 hours a day of photosynthesis in a greenhouse could give the
colony all the food and oxygen it could need. If some of these resources could
be sent back to Earth, less arable land would be ruined by over farming for
starving people. Massive amounts of energy in the universe are unused, and
solar panels constantly exposed to unfiltered sunlight may harvest some of this
energy. Huge solar panels attached to the station could provide for all of its
energy needs, leaving extra to provide for those still on Earth.
The construction of space stations will be a compilation of resources
from across the solar system. Initially, we will obtain much of the material
from Earth, but we have other sources available to us. Rock, glass, metal, and
oxygen taken from the moon would be better than if