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50-Year Window to Establish a Space Faring CivilizationHumankind may only have a short window of 50 years to become a space-faring civilization, after which time the opportunity to do so may become too difficult or impractical to pursue. Current policies for space exploration and infrastructure development implicitly assume a gradualistic approach to technology, budgets, and mission execution -- the common thought has been that there will be plenty of time in humankind's future to become a space-based species, and whatever we are unable to accomplish will be borne by the generations that follow. However, considering natural events, available energy, and human tendencies, the timing to make the most effective effort to achieve multi-planet status might be now, before momentum is lost and we become distracted by Peak Oil and changing energy economies -- restarting a space program after such turmoil may be more difficult than would be practical without cheap, storable, high-energy density petroleum. "Space-faring civilization" is defined as an economically profitable space-based economy that demands the presence of humans off-world in order to sustain a high level of prosperity. An initial foothold for a space-based economy that would fit within the 50-year window might include Earth dependence on rare-earth elements or other hard-to-obtain minerals mined from moons or asteroids, or a permanent settlement on another planet. Using published sources, notional mass and energy requirements for a minimal self-sustaining Mars settlement is calculated, and the number of launch vehicles discussed. Setting the launch schedule to match that of current NASA projections, it could take more than 26 years of semi-annual launches to build up such a self-sustaining human settlement -- a cost and commitment that has not been acknowledged nor planned for. Considering the time required to establish a multi-planet species, this paper frames the required window of decision that, if not taken, could condemn the species to Earth subject to whatever natural or human-made calamities that endanger single-planet civilizations.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
External Source(s)
Howe, A. Scott (Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
September 1, 2017
Publication Date
August 31, 2015
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Meeting Information
AIAA Space Conference and Exhibition(Pasadena, CA)
Distribution Limits
human exploration