Remember that the main difference between a colony and a base is that the inhabitants of a colony do not intend to ever leave.

In our solar system, the planet Mars is a pretty inhospitable place to live, but there are large numbers of people who'd jump at the chance to colonize the red planet, just for the sheer romantic awe of it all. If a paradise planet was discovered and starships are available, the number of potential Martian colonists would be a drop in the bucket compared to the Paradise colonizers. Which is good for science fiction writers interested in writing about interstellar empires. No colonized planets = no Galactic Empires. This is the trope called Settling the Frontier.

Having said that, I must point out that Charles Stross has an incendiary essay where he is of the opinion that space colonization is implicitly incompatible with both libertarian ideology and the myth of the American frontier. Rick Robinson expands upon that in his essay The Dun Hills of Earth.

As an amusing side note, in a science essay called "The Sight Of Home" Isaac Asimov once calculated how far an interstellar colony would have to be from Terra before Sol was too dim to be seen in the colony's night sky with the naked eye. Turns out that colonies further than 20 parsecs (65 light-years) cannot see Mankind's Homestar, because Sol's apparent magnitude is dimmer than 6.

There are some sub-types of interstellar colonies.

A Space Colony is when a colony is not on the surface of a planet, but instead is a huge space station. They are discussed in detail here.

A Penal Colony or Prison Planet occurs when somehow it is cheaper or more politically expedient to ship prisoners to an interstellar colony instead of putting them in local jails. Penal colony planets are invariably miserable hell-holes. The prisoners may or may not be forced to perform hard labor (often mining), if no labor is required the government thinks that the hardship of simply living on the planet is punishment enough. The morality become questionable if the prisoners start to have children, who then are being punished for the sins of their parents.

A Cult Colony happens when members of some extreme cult want to really get away from all those sinful corrupt heretics that compose the population of Terra. The cult's pathological determination means they are willing to put up with barriers like problematic Generation ships, lack of support, donating all their worldly wealth to the colonization effort, marginal planets nobody else wants, and being cut off from all other human contact. Once the colony is established, the cult is free to become even more fanatical, and can institute even more draconian methods to purge the less than ideologically pure.

A Lost Colony is when somehow a colony loses all of its technology, and Terra loses all record of the colony's existence. The colony reverts to whatever technology is supportable (probably about pre-Industrial Revolution), and may even forget that they are not native to the planet. In pulp science fiction, writers were fond of using the shocker that Terra itself was a lost colony from somewhere else (a couple of such pulp stories also threw in a gratuitous "Adam and Eve" theme). This fell out of favor when evolutionary science had advanced to the point where it could demonstrate that mankind almost certainly evolved on Terra.

The part about Terra losing all records of the Lost Colony can happen many ways:

  • Terra can suffer a nuclear war (which the lost colonists might have been fleeing) thus destroying all the records
  • The colonists are founding a Cult Colony and carefully destroy all records of their destination before leaving
  • The colonists use a sleeper ship aimed at random which after a few thousand years happens upon a habitable planet unknown to Terra
  • The colonists use an experimental faster-than-light starship which malfunctions and lands them in a location unknown to them or Terra
  • Or any combination of the above

When contact is reestablished with Terra, what happens next is influenced by which of the two has the higher technology.

And when a mature colony starts making noices about "No Taxation Without Representation", the time is ripe for a War of Independence.

The always-worth-reading Rick Robinson has written quite a few essays on the topic in his Rocketpunk Manifesto blog. The comments are worth reading as well.

Motives For Colonization

As Rick Robinson mentioned, the real reason for extraterrestrial colonization is so that science fiction authors and game designers will have a marvelous background for their creations.

But who are we trying to kid? Science fiction, particularly hard SF, is not known for engaging the whole range of human experience. This is no knock on it; all the branches of Romance are selective. The truth is that we want space colonies so that they can rebel against Earth, form an Empire, and generally play out History with a capital H, with lots of explosions and other cool stuff along the way.

From On Colonization by Rick Robinson (2009)

A more dubious reason is that the author is writing about Bat Durston, that is, they are being lazy by writing a space western. Westerns are set in the wild west, the corresponding location in science fiction is an interstellar colony.

Understand that I'm talking about lazy writers who are taking a western story and simply removing shooting irons and substituting with Winchester laser rifles or Colt proton blasters. The tired old "calling the jackrabbit a smeerp" trick. Un-lazy writers can and have written award-winning novels which technically are "westerns set in space" but are not pulling a Bad Durston: examples include Heinlein's juvenile novels and the TV series Firefly.

Jets blasting, Bat Durston came screeching down through the atmosphere of Bbllzznaj, a tiny planet seven billion light years from Sol. He cut out his super-hyper-drive for the landing...and at that point, a tall lean spaceman stepped out of the tail assembly, proton gun-blaster in a space-tanned hand.

"Get back from those controls, Bat Durston," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it, but this is your last space trip."

Hoofs drumming, Bat Durston came galloping down through the narrow pass at Eagle Gulch, a tiny gold colony 400 miles north of Tombstone. He spurred hard for a low overhange of rim-rock...and at that point a tall, lean wrangler stepped out from behind a high bolder, six-shooter in a sun-tanned hand.

"Rear back and dismount, Bat Durton," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it but this is your last saddle-jaunt through these here parts."

Sound alike? They should — one is merely a western transplanted to some alien and impossible planet. If this is your idea of science fiction, you're welcome to it! YOU'LL NEVER FIND IT IN GALAXY!

What you will find in GALAXY is the finest science fiction...authentic, plausible, thoughtful...written by authors who do not automaticallly switch over from crime waves to Earth invasions; by people who know and love science fiction...for people who also know and love it.

From the rear cover of the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine (1950)

But there are a few semi-plausible reasons we can use as a fig-leaf for our galaxy-spanning space operas.

Population Explosion

But Terra becoming overpopulated can not be solved by colonization.

Back in the 1960's it was feared that the global population explosion would trigger a Malthusian catastrophe as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse pruned humanity's numbers. That didn't happen, but at the time a few suggested that population pressure could be dealt with by interplanetary colonization.

Noted science popularizer Isaac Asimov pointed out the flaw in that solution. Currently population growth is about 140 million people a year, or about 400,000 a day. So you'd have to launch into space 400,000 people every day just to break even. If you wanted to reduce global population, you'd have to launch more than that. It is a lot easier to use contraception.

The other thing to note is that as nations become industrialized, their population growth tends to level off, or even decline. This removes population pressure as a colonization motive. See Demographic Transition.

Farmer in the Sky

     All in all, I was tired and jumpy by the time I got home. I had listened to the news on the way home; it wasn't good. The ration had been cut another ten calories——which made me still hungrier and reminded me that I hadn't been home to get Dad's supper. The newscaster went on to say that the Spaceship Mayflower had finally been commissioned and that the rolls were now opened for emigrants. Pretty lucky for them, I thought. No short rations. No twerps like Jones.
     And a brand new planet.

     The spuds were ready. I took a quick look at my ration accounts, decided we could afford it, and set out a couple of pats of butterine for them. The broiler was ringing; I removed the steaks, set everything out, and switched on the candles, just as Anne would have done.
     "Come and get it!" I yelled and turned back to enter the calorie and point score on each item from the wrappers, then shoved the wrappers in the incinerator. That way you never get your accounts fouled up.

     Dad sniffed the steaks and grinned. "Oh boy! Bill, you'll bankrupt us."
     "You let me worry," I said. I'n still plus for this quarter." Then I frowned. "But I won't be, next quarter, unless they quit cutting the ration."
     Dad stopped with a piece of steak on its way to his mouth. "Again?"
     "Again. Look, George, I don't get it. This was a good crop year and they started operating the Montana yeast plant besides."
     "You follow all the commissary news, don't you, Bill?"
     "Did you notice the results of the Chinese census as well? Try it on your slide rule."
     I knew what he meant——and the steak suddenly tasted like old rubber. What's the use in being careful if somebody on the other side of the globe is going to spoil your try? "Those darned Chinese ought to quit raising babies and start raising food!"
     "Share and share alike, Bill."

     Dad sat back and lit his pipe. "Want me to clean up tonight?"
     "No, thanks." He always asked; I always turned him down. Dad is absent-minded; he lets ration points get into the incinerator. When I salvage, I really salvage.

From Farmer In The Sky by Robert Heinlein (1950)
Time for the Stars

     I was not even planned on. The untaxed quota for our family was three children, then my brother Pat and I came along in one giant economy package. We were a surprise to everyone, especially to my parents, my three sisters, and the tax adjusters. I don't recall being surprised myself but my earliest recollection is a vague feeling of not being quite welcome, even though Dad and Mum, and Faith, Hope, and Charity treated us okay.
     Maybe Dad did not handle the emergency right. Many families get an extra child quota on an exchange basis with another family, or something, especially when the tax-free limit has already been filled with all boys or all girls. But Dad was stubborn, maintaining that the law was unconstitutional, unjust, discriminatory, against public morals, and contrary to the will of God. He could reel off a list of important people who were youngest children of large families, from Benjamin Franklin to the first governor of Pluto, then he would demand to know where the human race would have been without them? after which Mother would speak soothingly.

     Dad was stubborn. He could have paid the annual head tax on us supernumeraries, applied for a seven-person flat, and relaxed to the inevitable. Then he could have asked for reclassification. Instead he claimed exemption for us twins each year, always ended by paying our head tax with his check stamped "Paid under Protest!" and we seven lived in a five-person flat. When Pat and I were little we slept in homemade cribs in the bathroom which could not have been convenient for anybody, then when we were bigger we slept on the living-room couch, which was inconvenient for everybody, especially our sisters, who found it cramping to their social life.
     Dad could have solved all this by putting in for family emigration to Mars or Venus, or the Jovian moons, and he used to bring up the subject. But this was the one thing that would make Mum more stubborn than he was. I don't know which part of making the High Jump scared her, because she would just settle her mouth and not answer. Dad would point out that big families got preferred treatment for emigration and that the head tax was earmarked to subsidize colonies off Earth and why shouldn't we benefit by the money we were being robbed of? To say nothing of letting our children grow up with freedom and elbow room, out where there wasn't a bureaucrat standing behind every productive worker dreaming up more rules and restrictions? Answer me that?
     Mother never answered and we never emigrated.

From Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein (1956)
Limits to growth, logistic vs exponential

Malthusian growth model

The Malthusian growth model sees population growth as exponential.

P(t) = Poert
P=  P(0) is the initial population size,
r = population growth rate
t = time

Growth of microbe populations are often used to illustrate this. Let's say an amoeba will grow and divide into two amoeba after an day of absorbing nutrients.

Day 1: 1 amoeba
Day 2: 2 amoeba
Day 3: 4 amoeba
Day 4: 8 amoeba

And so on. Population doubles each day. Exponential growth is famous for starting out slow and then zooming through the roof.
On the left is exponential growth in cartesian coordinates. On the right in polar coordinates, radius doubles every circuit.

Malthus imagined a rapidly growing population consuming all their available food supply and then starving to death.

Logistic growth

Sometimes populations have suffered Malthusian disaster. More often rate of growth slows as the population approaches the limit that resources can support. This is logistic growth.

P(t) = Le-rt / (L +( e-rt - 1))

Where L is the maximum population local resources can support.
At the start, logistic growth resembles exponential growth. But as the population nears the logistic ceiling, growth tapers off. Above the blue boundary represents the limit to growth. In red is the logistic growth curve, the thinner black curve is exponential growth.

What slows growth?

In Heinlein's science fiction, war limits growth. This was also the foundation idea of Niven and Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye -- War is the inevitable result of burgeoning populations.

The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse -- plague, war, famine and death are seen as natural outcomes of uncontrolled population growth.

A declining fertility rate is a less ominous way to step on the brakes. It is my hope most people will choose to have small families. And indeed, current trends indicate people are voluntarily having fewer kids. Still, there are skirmishes as various entities compete for limited resources.

Bad vs worse

A growing population, a growing consumer appetite, a limited body of resources. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see growth must eventually level off.

Whether it levels off via the 4 horsemen or moderation and voluntary birth control, either option sucks.  It's disaster vs stagnation.

Above is a Johnny Robinson cartoon from the National Space Society's publication.

I believe our solar system is possibly the next frontier. That has been the thrust of this blog since the start. If we do manage to break our chains to earth, it will be a huge turning point in human history, more dramatic than the settling of the Americas. The potential resources and real estate dwarf the north and south American land masses.

While settling the solar system allows expansion, it won't relieve population pressure on earth. Settlement of the Americas did not relieve population pressure in Europe, Asia and Africa. Mass emigration is impractical.

Rather, pioneers jumping boundaries starts growth within the new frontiers. I like to view the logistic growth spiral in polar form as a petri dish. When a population within a petri dish has matured to fill its boundaries, it sends spores out to neighboring petri dishes. Then populations within neighboring petri dishes grow to their limits.
The first petri dish still has a population filling the limit. They have not escaped the need to live within their means. I take issues with critics who say space enthusiasts want to escape to a new planet after earth has been trashed. Space enthusiasts know earth is fragile, more so than the average person. It is noteworthy that Elon Musk is pioneering planet preserving technologies such as electric cars and solar energy.

But even if mass emigration from Europe or Asia was not possible, the expansion into the Americas energized the economy and zeitgeist of the entire planet. It provided investment opportunities. Also an incentive to explore. This is the greatest benefit of a frontier. Curiosity is one of the noblest human qualities and I hope we will always want to see what lies over yonder hill. And that we will keep devising ways to reach the far side of the next hill. Satisfaction and contentment are for cattle. If we lose our hunger and wander lust we will no longer be human.

From Limits to growth, logistic vs exponential by Hollister David (2016)

Roadblocks To Colonization

If one is dealing with near-future colonization of the non-shirtsleeve planets of the solar system using weak chemical rockets, the difficulties are overwhelming. It is vastly easier to colonize hypothetical human-habitable garden worlds around other stars using handwaving faster than light starships (because the author said so).

The sad fact of the matter is that it is about a thousand times cheaper to colonize Antarctica than it is to colonize Mars. Antarctica has plentiful water and breathable air, Mars does not. True, the temperature of Mars does occasionally grow warmer than Antarctica, but at its coldest Mars can get 50° C colder than Antarctica. In comparison to Mars, Antarctica is a garden spot.

Yet there is no Antarctican land-rush. One would suspect that there is no Martian land-rush either, except among a few who find the concept to be romantic.

I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.

If there were a society with enough technical power to terraform Mars, they would certainly do it. On the other hand. by the time they got around to messing with Mars, they would have been using all that power to transform themselves. So by the time they got there and started rebuilding the Martian atmosphere wholesale, they wouldn't look or act a whole lot like Hollywood extras.

The Sands of Mars

“I won’t jump the gun,” he said, “and I can’t tell you what’s happening now. But here’s a little story that may amuse you. Any resemblance to— — ah— — real persons and places is quite coincidental.”

“I understand,” grinned Gibson. “Go on.”

“Let’s suppose that in the first rush of interplanetary enthusiasm world A has set up a colony on world B. After some years it finds that this is costing a lot more than it expected, and has given no tangible returns for the money spent. Two factions then arise on the mother world.

One, the conservative group, wants to close the project down— — to cut its losses and get out. The other group, the progressives, wants to continue the experiment because they believe that in the long run Man has got to explore and master the material universe, or else he’ll simply stagnate on his own world. But this sort of argument is no use with the taxpayers, and the conservatives are beginning to get the upper hand.

“All this, of course, is rather unsettling to the colonists, who are getting more and more independently minded and don’t like the idea of being regarded as poor relations living on charity. Still, they don’t see any way out— until one day a revolutionary scientific discovery is made. (I should have explained at the beginning that planet B has been attracting the finest brains of A, which is another reason why A is getting annoyed.) This discovery opens up almost unlimited prospects for the future of B, but to apply it involves certain risks, as well as the diversion of a good deal of B’s limited resources. Still, the plan is put forward— — and is promptly turned down by A. There is a protracted tug-of-war behind the scenes, but the home planet is adamant.

“The colonists are then faced with two alternatives. They can force the issue out into the open, and appeal to the public on world A. Obviously they’ll be at a great disadvantage, as the men on the spot can shout them down.

The other choice is to carry on with the plan without informing Earth— — I mean, planet A— — and this is what they finally decided to do.

“Of course, there were a lot of other factors involved —political and personal, as well as scientific. It so happened that the leader of the colonists was a man of unusual determination who wasn’t scared of anything or anyone, on either of the planets. He had a team of first-class scientists behind him, and they backed him up. So the plan went ahead; but no one knows yet if it will be successful. I’m sorry I can’t tell you the end of the story; you know how these serials always break off at the most exciting place.”

From The Sands of Mars by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1951)
Manifold Time

     Reid Malenfant

     You know me. And you know I'm a space cadet.
     You know I've campaigned for, among other things, private mining expeditions to the asteroids. In fact, in the past I've tried to get you to pay for such things. I've bored you with that often enough already, right?
     So tonight I want to look a little farther out. Tonight I want to tell you why I care so much about this issue that I devoted my life toil.
     The world isn't big enough any more. You don't need me to stand here and tell you that. We could all choke to death, be extinct in a hundred years.
     Or we could be on our way to populating the Galaxy.
     Yes, the Galaxy. Want me to tell you how?
     Turns out it's all a question of economics.
     Let's say we set out to the stars. We might use ion rockets, solar sails, gravity assists. It doesn't matter.
     We'll probably start as we have in the Solar System, with automated probes. Humans may follow. One percent of the helium-3 fusion fuel available from the planet Uranus, for example, would be enough to send a giant interstellar ark, each ark containing a billion people, to every star in the Galaxy. But it may be cheaper for the probes to manufacture humans in situ, using cell synthesis and artificial womb technology.
     The first wave will be slow, no faster than we can afford. It doesn't matter. Not in the long term.
     When the probe reaches a new system, it phones home, and starts to build.
     Here is the heart of the strategy. A target system, we assume, is uninhabited. We can therefore anticipate massive exploitation of the system's resources, without restraint, by the probe. Such resources are useless for any other purpose, and are therefore economically free to us.
     I thought you'd enjoy that line. There's nothing an entrepreneur likes more than the sound of the word free.
     More probes will be built and launched from each of the first wave of target stars. The probes will reach new targets; and again, more probes will be spawned, and fired onward. The volume covered by the probes will grow rapidly, like the expansion of gas into a vacuum.
     Our ships will spread along the spiral arm, along lanes rich with stars, farming the Galaxy for humankind.
     Once started, the process will be self-directing, self-financing. It would take, the double-domes think, ten to a hundred million years for the colonization of the Galaxy to be completed in this manner. But we must invest merely in the cost of the initial generation of probes.
     Thus the cost of colonizing the Galaxy will be less, in real terms, than that of our Apollo program of fifty years ago.
     This vision isn't mine alone. It isn't original. The rocket pioneer Robert Goddard wrote an essay in 1918—ninety-two years ago—called The Ultimate Migration, in which he imagined space arks built from asteroid materials carrying our far-future descendants away from the death of the sun. The engineering detail has changed; the essence of the vision hasn't.
     We can do this. If we succeed, we will live forever.
     The alternative is extinction.
     And, people, when we're gone, we're gone.
     As far as we can see we're alone, in an indifferent universe. We see no sign of intelligence anywhere away from Earth. We may be the first. Perhaps we're the last. It took so long for the Solar System to evolve intelligence it seems unlikely there will be others, ever.
     If we fail, then the failure is for all time. If we die, mind and consciousness and soul die with us: hope and dreams and love, everything that makes us human. There will be nobody even to mourn us.
     To be the first is an awesome responsibility. It's a responsibility we must grasp.
     I am offering you a practical route to an infinite future for humankind, a future of unlimited potential. Someday, you know it, I'll come back to you again for money: seedcorn money, that's all, so we can take a first step—self-financing even in the medium term—beyond the bounds of Earth. But I want you to see why I'll be doing that. Why I must.
     We can do this. We will do this. We're on our own. It's up to us.
     This is just the beginning. Join me.

(ed note: thanks to Ian Mallett for bringing this quote to my attention)

From Manifold Time by Stephen Baxter (2000)

Non-Shirtsleeve Colonies

As a general rule colonists like places with breathable atmospheres, so they don't immediately die upon stepping out of the transport spacecraft. Unfortunately, if there are no starships, the only naturally occurring place like that in the solar system is Terra. Everywhere else is a non-shirtsleeve environment, the colonists will have to build and maintain a large pressurized volume to live in.

This might be a purpose-build operation that is part of a grand plan to colonize the place. Or it might be unplanned, usually by some organization establishing some kind of base; then as other bases and boomtowns spring up nearby, the entire establishment morphs into a colony. As previously mentioned: the main difference between a base and a colony is that the members of a colony do not expect to ever leave.

Functionally a colony on an airless world is a space habitat that is sited on the ground instead of floating in orbit. Structurally they will be different. A ground based colony will have access to lots of local resources that a space colony will have to import. In other words: a space colony will probably be constructed out of metal shipped in, while a ground colony will be a series of underground tunnels.

Why? Because radiation from galactic cosmic rays (GCR) and solar proton storms is not healthy for children and other living things. It heinously expensive to ship radiation shielding to a space habitat under construction, but planet-based naturally-occurring lava tubes are practically free.

Planets with no atmospheres will need to build underground for radiation protection. Not counting Terra, Venus and the Gas Giants, the only planets with appreciable atmospheres are Mars and Titan. The Mars Radiation Environment Experiment discovered that the pathetic Martian atmosphere would let through enough radiation to expose the colonists to 73 milliGrays per year (mGy/a, where "a" {per annum} = 8760 hours = 365 days). On Terra people suffer about 0.4 mGy/a from GCR, and close to zero from proton storms. Translation: the Martian atmosphere is not going to do diddly-squat to protect the colonists from deadly radiation sleeting from the sky, so you'd best build the colony underground anyway. Or pile lots of Martian dirt on top of the buildings. Titan got lucky, it actually has a denser atmosphere than Terra.

Old illustrations of lunar colonies liked to depict them under transparent domes, because the artist did not know about the radiation hazard.

Since all the living spaces have to be pressurized and otherwise equipped with life support, they will be limited and the colony will feel cramped. Cubicles will be minuscule, and the connecting corridors will be narrow. Much the same as any underground building or rabbit burrow. Privacy will be very hard to come by.


(ed note: the novel mostly takes place in various Lunar habitats. "Central City" is the main residential section.)

     The colonization of the Moon had been a slow, painful, sometimes tragic and always fabulously expensive enterprise. Two centuries after the first landings, much of Earth's giant satellite was still unexplored. Every detail had, of course, been mapped from space, but more than half that craggy globe had never been examined at close quarters.
     Central City and the other bases that had been established with such labor were islands of life in an immense wilderness, oases in a silent desert of blazing light or inky darkness...
     ...Slowly, with countless heartbreaking setbacks, man had discovered how to exist, then to live, and at last to flourish on the Moon. He had invented whole new techniques of vacuum engineering, of low-gravity architecture, of air and temperature control. He had defeated the twin demons of the lunar day and the lunar night, though always he must be on the watch against their depredations. The burning heat could expand his domes and crack his buildings; the fierce cold could tear apart any metal structure not designed to guard against contractions never encountered on Earth. But all these problems had, at last, been overcome...
     ...Such was the strange world which was now home to some thousands of human beings. For all its harshness, they loved it and would not return to Earth, where life was easy and therefore offered little scope for enterprise or initiative. Indeed, the lunar colony, bound though it was to Earth by economic ties, had more in common with the planets of the Federation. On Mars, Venus, Mercury and the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, men were fighting a frontier war against Nature, very like that which had won the Moon. Mars was already completely conquered; it was the only world outside Earth where a man could walk in the open without the use of artificial aids. On Venus, victory was in sight, and a land surface three times as great as Earth's would be the prize. Elsewhere, only outposts existed: burning Mercury and the frozen outer worlds were a challenge for future centuries...

(ed note: the novel was written in 1955, years before the Mariner 2 mission in 1962 revealed just what a hell-hole Venus actually was)

     The cluster of great domes began to hump themselves over horizon. A beacon light burned on the summit of each, but otherwise they were darkened and gave no sign of life. Some, Sadler knew, could be made transparent when desired. All were opaque now, conserving their heat against the lunar night.
     The monocab entered a long tunnel at the base of one of the domes. Sadler had a glimpse of great doors closing behind them — then another set, and yet another. They're taking no chances, he thought to himself, and heartily approved of such caution. Then there was the unmistakable sound of air surging around them, a final door opened ahead, and the vehicle rolled to a halt beside a platform that might have been in any station back Earth. It gave Sadler quite a shock to look through the windy and see people walking around outside without spacesuits...
     ...He walked out of the station and found himself at the top of a large ramp, sloping down into the compact little city. The main level was twenty meters below him. He had not realized that the whole dome was countersunk this far into the lunar plain, thus reducing the amount of roof structure necessary. By the side of the ramp a wide conveyor belt was carrying freight and luggage into the station at a leisurely rate. The nearest buildings were obviously industrial, and though well kept had the slightly seedy appearance which inevitably overtakes anything in the neighborhood of stations or docks.
     It was not until Sadler was halfway down the ramp that he realized there was a blue sky overhead, that the sun was shining just behind him, and that there were high cirrus clouds floating far above.
     The illusion was so perfect that he had taken it completely for granted, and had forgotten for a moment that this was midnight on the Moon. He stared for a long time into the dizzy depths of that synthetic sky, and could see no flaw in its perfection. Now he understood why the lunar cities insisted upon their expensive domes, when they could just as well have burrowed underground like the Observatory.
     There was no risk of getting lost in Central City. With one exception each of the seven interconnected domes was laid out in the same pattern of radiating avenues and concentric ring roads. The exception was Dome Five, the main industrial and production center, which was virtually one vast factory and which Sadler decided to leave alone.
     He wandered at random for some time, going where his stray impulses took him. He wanted to get the "feel" of the place, for he realized it was completely impossible to know the city properly in the short time at his disposal. There was one thing about Central City that struck him at once — it had a personality, a character of its own. No one can say why this is true of some cities and not of others, and Sadler felt a little surprised that it should be of such an artificial environment as this. Then he remembered that all cities, whether on Earth or on the Moon, were equally artificial.
     The roads were narrow, the only vehicles small, three-wheeled open cars that cruised along at less than thirty kilometers an hour and appeared to be used exclusively for freight rather than pasengers. It was some time before Sadler discovered the automatic subway that linked the outer six domes in a great ring, passing under the center of each. It was really a glorified conveyor belt, and moved in a counterclockwise direction only. If you were unlucky, you might have to go right round the city to get to the adjacent dome, but as the circular tour took only about five minutes, this was no great hardship.
     The shopping center, and main repository of lunar chic, was in Dome One. Here also lived the senior executives and technicians — the most senior of all in houses of their own. Most of the residential buildings had roof gardens, where plants imported from Earth ascended to improbable heights in this low gravity...
     ...The clear, bell-like note, thrice repeated, caught him unaware. He looked around him, but could not locate its source. At first it seemed that no one was taking any notice of the signal, whatever it might mean. Then he observed that the streets were slowly clearing — and that the sky was getting darker.
     Clouds had come up over the sun. They were black and ragged, their edges flame-fringed as the sunlight spilled past them. Once again, Sadler marveled at the skill with which these images — for they could be nothing else — were projected on the dome. No actual thunderstorm could have seemed more realistic, and when the first rumble rolled round the sky he did not hesitate to look for shelter. Even if the streets had not already emptied themselves, he would have guessed that the organizer of this storm were going to omit none of the details. The little sidewalk café was crowded with the other refugees when the initial drops came down, and the first fiery tongue of lightening licked across the heavens. Sadler could never see lightng without counting the seconds before the thunder peal. It me when he had got to "Six," making it two kilometers away. That, of course, would put it well outside the dome, in the soundless vacuum of space. Oh well, one had to allow some artistic license, and it wasn't fair to quibble over points like this. Thicker and heavier came the rain, more and more continuous the flashes. The roads were running with water, and for the first time Sadler became aware of the shallow gutters which, if he had seen them before, he had dismissed without a second thought. It was not safe to take anything for granted here; you had to keep stopping and asking yourself "What function does this serve — What's it doing here on the Moon? Is it even what I think it is?" Certainly, now he came to consider the matter, a gutter was as unexpected a thing to see in Central City as a ox plow. But perhaps even that — Sadler turned to his closest neighbor, who was watching the storm with obvious admiration.
     "Excuse me," he said, "but how often does this sort of thing happen?"
     'About twice a day — lunar day, that is," came the reply. "It's always announced a few hours in advance, so that it won't interfere with business."
     "I don't want to be too inquisitive," continued Sadler, fearing that was just what he was, "but I'm surprised at the trouble you've gone to. Surely all this realism isn't necessary?"
     "Perhaps not, but we like it. We've got to have some rain, remember, to keep the place clean and deal with the dust. So we try to do it properly."
     If Sadler had any doubts on that score, they were dispelled when the glorious double rainbow arched out of the clouds. The last drops spattered on the sidewalk; the thunder dwindled away an angry, distant mutter. The show was over, and the glisten, g streets of Central City began to fill with life once more...
     ...The food, somewhat to his surprise, was excellent. Every bit must have been synthesized or grown in the yeast and chlorella tanks, but it had been blended and processed with great skill. The trouble with Earth. Sadler mused, was that it could take food for granted, and seldom gave the matter the attention it deserved. Here, on the other hand, food was not something that a bountiful Nature, with a little prompting, could be relied upon to provide. It had to be designed and produced from scratch, and since the job had to be done, someone had seen that it was done properly. Like the weather, in fact...
     ... All human communities, wherever they may be in space, follow the same pattern. People were getting born, being cremated (with careful conservation of phosphorus and nitrates), rushing in and out of marriage, moving out of town, suing their neighbors, having parties, holding protest meetings, getting involved in astonishing accidents, writing Letters to the Editor, changing jobs; yes, it was just like Earth. That was a somewhat depressing thought. Why had Man ever bothered to leave his own world if all his travels and experiences had made so little difference to his fundamental nature? He might just as well have stayed at home, instead of exporting himself and his foibles, at great expense, to another world.
     Your job's making you cynical, Sadler told himself. Let's see what Central City has in the way of entertainment.
     He'd just missed a tennis tournament in Dome Four, which should have been worth watching. It was played, so someone had told him, with a ball of normal size and mass. But the ball was honeycombed with holes, which increased its air-resistance so much that ranges were no greater than on earth. Without some such subterfuge, a good drive would easily span one of the domes. However the trajectories followed by these doctored balls were most peculiar, and enough to induce a swift nervous breakdown in anyone who had learned to play under normal gravity.
     There was a cyclorama in Dome Three, promising a tour of the Amazon Basin (mosquito bites optional), starting at every alternate hour. Having just come from Earth, Sadler felt no desire to return so promptly. Besides, he felt he had already seen an excellent cyclorama display in the thunderstorm that had now passed out of sight. Presumably it had been produced in the same manner, by batteries of wide-angle projectors...

     ...CENTRAL CITY, thought Sadler, had grown since he was here thirty years ago. Any one of these domes could cover the whole seven they had back in the old days. How long would it be, at this rate, before the whole Moon was covered up? He rather hoped it would not be in his time...
     ...There were far more vehicles in the streets; Central City was too big to operate on a pedestrian basis now. But one thing had not changed. Overhead was the blue, cloud-flecked sky of Earth, and Sadler did not doubt that the rain still came on schedule...
     ...So they had a lake here now, complete with islands and swans. He had read about the swans; their wings had to be carefully dipped to prevent their flying away and smashing into the "sky."...
     ...Because the illusion of sky was so well contrived, it was not easy to tell when you were about to leave one dome and enter another, but Sadler knew where he was when the vehicle went past the great metal doors at the lowest part of the tube. These doors, so he had been told, could smash shut in less than two seconds, and would do so automatically if there was a pressure drop on either side. Did such thoughts as these, he wondered, ever give sleepless nights to the inhabitants of Central City? He very much doubted it; a considerable fraction of the human race had spent its life in the shadow of volcanoes, dams and dykes, without developing any signs of nervous tension. Only once had one of the domes of Central City been evacuated — in both senses of the word — and that was due to a slow leak that had taken hours to be effective.
     The cab rose out of the tunnel into the residential area, and Sadler was faced with a complete change of scenery. This was no dome encasing a small city; this was a single giant building in itself, with moving corridors instead of streets...
     ...There was a large bulletin board a few meters away, displaying a three-dimensional map of the building. The whole place reminded Sadler of a type of beehive used many centuries ago, which he had once seen illustrated in an old encyclopedia. No doubt it was absurdly easy to find your way around when you'd got used to it, but for the moment he was quite baffled by Floors, Corridors. Zones and Sectors...
     ...The ramp ahead ended abruptly in a broad, slowly moving roller-road. This carried them forward a few meters, then decanted them on to a high-speed section. After sweeping at least a kilometer past the entrances to countless corridors, they were switched back on to a slow section and carried to a huge, hexagonal concourse. It was crowded with people, coming and going from one roadway to another, and pausing to make purchases at little kiosks. Rising through the center of the busy scene were two spiral ramps, one carrying the up and the other the down traffic. They stepped on to the "Up" spiral and let the moving surface lift them half a dozen floors. Standing at the edge of the ramp, Sadler could see that the building extended downward for an immense distance. A very long way below was something that looked like a large net. He did some mental calculations, then decided that it would, after all, be adequate to break the fall of anyone foolish enough to go over the edge. The architects of lunar buildings had a light-hearted approach to gravity which would lead to instant disaster on Earth.

From Earthlight by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1955)
The Menace from Earth

     I was born right here in Luna City, which seems to surprise Earthside types. Actually, I’m third generation; my grandparents pioneered in Site One, where the Memorial is. I live with my parents in Artemis Apartments, the new co — op in Pressure Five, eight hundred feet down near City Hall. But I’m not there much; I’m too busy...
     ...“All city guides are girls,” Mr. Dorcas explained. “Holly is very competent.”
     “Oh, I’m sure,” she answered quickly and went into tourist routine number one: surprise that a guide was needed just to find her hotel, amazement at no taxicabs, same for no porters, and raised eyebrows at the prospect of two girls walking alone through “an underground city.”
     Mr. Dorcas was patient, ending with: “Miss Brentwood, Luna City is the only metropolis in the Solar System where a woman is really safe — no dark alleys, no deserted neighborhoods, no criminal element.”...
     We were in the tunnel outside and me with a foot on the slidebelt when she stopped. “I forgot! I want a city map.”
     “None available.”
     “There’s only one. That’s why you need a guide.”
     “But why don’t they supply them? Or would that throw you guides out of work?”
     See? “You think guiding is makework? Miss Brentwood, labor is so scarce they’d hire monkeys if they could.”
     “Then why not print maps?”
     “Because Luna City isn’t flat like — ” I almost said, “ — groundhog cities,” but I caught myself.
     “ — like Earthside cities,” I went on. “All you saw from space was the meteor shield. Underneath it spreads out and goes down for miles in a dozen pressure zones.”
     “Yes, I know, but why not a map for each level?”
     Groundhogs always say, “Yes, I know, but — ”
     “I can show you the one city map. It’s a stereo tank twenty feet high and even so all you see clearly are big things like the Hall of the Mountain King and hydroponics farms and the Bats’ Cave.”...

From The Menace from Earth by Robert Heinlein (1957)
The Alaskan Town Living Under One Roof

(ed note: Whittier is a real town in Alaska. But the situation is probably very similar to a small colony on an airless planet. Much like a standard railroad town, including season-based workers and a stranded permanent population. Unsurprisingly they also have a plumbing school. Tip of the hat to Markus Glanzer for bringing this article to my attention.)

     An impossibly long, single-lane tunnel is your only way into Whittier, and your only way out. Make it to the other end of those dimly lit miles, and you'll find all the ingredients of a city. Except instead of a sprawling, urban center, this town has been scaled to fit almost entirely into one lonely Alaskan tower.
     The two-and-a-half mile-long tunnel leading into Whittier is never that crowded — it physically can't be. At about 16 feet wide, it can only accommodate traffic flowing in one direction at a time. What it empties out into is a smattering of buildings, few of which still serve their original purpose.
     The two largest of those are the Buckner Building and the Begich Towers. Both were constructed in the wake of World War II along with the railroad leading in, a combined $55 million build that gave the military a home base at the very farthest Cold War frontier. Buckner was abandoned just seven years after its completion; the military realized quickly that it didn't have much use for such a far-flung outpost. Today, it exists as little more than ruin porn.
     Begich Towers (or BTI as it's more commonly known) held on, though. More than that; it essentially became Whittier, housing 75 percent of the town's 200 residents and providing nearly all of its municipal essentials. The first floor alone provides most of your basic city functions. The police department behind one door, the post office behind another. Walk a bit further down the hall and you'll find the city offices as well as the Kozy Korner, your local, neighborhood grocery store.
     A handful of other buildings dot the landscape. A large, military gymnasium now acts as boat storage. There's an inn or two doubling (quadrupling?) as laundromat, bar, and restaurant. But the big, brightly colored fortress below is Whittier's centerpiece, because almost the entirety of Whittier calls it home.
     To get a sense of daily Whittier life, we spoke with Jen Kinney, a writer and photographer who lived in Whittier for several years and became fascinated by a town whose peculiar physical structures have had such a profound effect on its social structures as well.
     "This really was the most community-centered place I had ever lived in my life," Kinney explained over the phone. "But at the same time, because you're so close to everyone, sometimes you feel really claustrophobic. Other times you feel enormously grateful that they're there. And still, other times, even when you're surrounded by all your neighbors, you can feel completely and utterly isolated."...

     ...That sparseness of infrastructure and general isolation is part of what drew Jen Kinney to the mountain-lined inlet years ago...
     ..."Everybody has to play a role. The town just wouldn't function if at least half of the people weren't willing to step in and be an EMT or even just cook for your neighbors when they're sick — everybody functions as part of a larger organism."
     In a town of Whittier's size, it really does take everyone to keep the town functioning. A few residents work on the railroad, some monitor the tunnel, but for the most part, people are employed by the City of Whittier itself. Whether it's snow clearance, building maintenance, city functions, or the school, for those who stay year-round, Whittier itself is their livelihood.
     Because the town is so small, everyone has to play a vital role to keep this self-contained organism alive. Without the the high school teacher, without the volunteer EMTs, — even without the guys sitting at the bar, drinking from 9am to closing — Whittier's social and physical infrastructure just wouldn't quite work.

     The tourists, and seasonal workers who visit Whittier in the summer to work on the dock and at the cannery make sense. They're there for work or just passing through. But what about those who claim Whittier as their sole, year-round residence? According to Kinney, the longer she stayed amongst the town's relatively few walls, the more difficult it became to make any generalizations about what it was that drew her neighbors to Whittier in the first place.
     "For one person," Kinney explained, "living in Whittier was idyllic because they were really social and were constantly able to be around people. And for others, it was really idyllic because they were able to be completely isolated all the time. But as for why people are there and how they ended up there, the range of stories was really staggering."
     For the majority of people, though, Whittier is a transitional town. They'll come, stay for a year, and never live in Whittier again. Or they'll come as a tourist on a summertime cruise. Or to traverse the abandoned Buckner building. But it's the ones who stay the winter that make up its core.
     Kinney recounted to us how one woman found herself in Whittier because her mother, a one-time heavy drinker and partier, traveled to Alaska in the 70s, found a job in there, fell in love, and turned her life around. After mending her relationship with her daughter, the daughter came to visit for two months that eventually turned into 35 years and four generations, all in Whittier.
     Another resident sought out Whittier explicitly as a safe haven from her abusive ex-husband. There, she was able to tell the train conductors not to let him through the tunnel. For her, Whittier meant a safer life.
     What makes Whittier so fascinating to the outside isn't just that this wildly diverse group of people happened upon Whittier, but that they happened upon Whittier together.
     "You have this sort of forced camaraderie where, superficially, these people might not necessarily have anything in common," Kinney elaborated. "In the summer, we would have these bonfires, and everybody would come. The age range might be between 17 and 55, because you can't have much social distinction in a place with so few people....
     ..."I'd lived in New York City, so I was used to being totally surrounded by people all the time; that wasn't what phased me. What was so weird was knowing the person on the other side of every wall. In most cases, I knew exactly who lived next door on my left, on my right, above, and below."...

From The Alaskan Town Living Under One Roof by Ashley Feinberg (2015)

Decay of the Fatherland

I have noticed in a few science fiction novels a variant of the trope "Libertarians In Space". The idea is that when extraterrestrial colonies are opened; all the forward thinking, high-IQ, rugged individualist types will flee corrupt, welfare-bloated, decaying Terra and find a new free life in the colonies (TV Tropes calls them Space Cossacks). The result is that Terra will become a slum and the colonies will become shining beacons of libertarianism.

Often Terra becomes alarmed at their fall from power, and starts putting pressure on the colonies in order to maintain their dominance. Commonly a civil war or revolutionary war occurs (TV Tropes calls it the The War of Earthly Aggression).

Examples include Subspace Explorers by E.E. "Doc" Smith, Space Viking by H. Beam Piper, Take the Star Road by Peter Grant, Red Planet and Between Planets by Robert Heinlein, the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and the Coyote novels by Allen Steele.

I already pointed out how Charles Stross proves this to be a questionable scenario, at least when it comes to colonies where you need high technology just to make air to breath.

The trope seems to be founded on an idealized version of the opening of the American frontier. Which does not make sense, since according to the trope Britain should have turned into a third world country after the American Revolution. Which did not happen.

What it boils down to is: how valid you think the trope is depends upon how valid you think Libertarianism is.

Time Enough For Love

But space travel can't ease the pressure on a planet grown too crowded not even with today's ships and probably not with any future ships—because stupid people won't leave the slopes of their home volcano even when it starts to smoke and rumble. What space travel does do is drain off the best brains: those smart enough to see a catastrophe before it happens, and with the guts to pay the price—abandon home, wealth, friends, relatives, everything—and go. That's a tiny fraction of one percent. But that's enough.

From Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein (1973)

That in itself might not have been serious, had not Earth grown steadily more jealous of its offspring during the two hundred years since the dawn of space travel. It was, thought Sadler, an old, old story, perhaps its classic example being the case of England and the American colonies. It has been truly said that history never repeats itself, but historical situations recur. The men who governed Earth were far more intelligent than George the Third; nevertheless, they were beginning to show the same reactions as that unfortunate monarch.

There were excuses on both sides. there always are. Earth was tired; it had spent itself, sending out its best blood to the stars. It saw power slipping from its hands, and knew that it had already lost the future Why should it speed the process by giving to its rivals the tools they needed?

The Federation, on the other hand, looked back with a kind of affectionate contempt upon the world from which it had sprung. It had lured to Mars, Venus and the satellites of the giant planets some of the finest intellects and the most adventurous spirits of the human race. Here was the new frontier, one that would expand forever toward the stars. It was the greatest physical challenge mankind had ever faced, it could be met only by supreme scientific skill and unyielding determination. These were virtues no longer essential on Earth; the fact that Earth was well aware of it did nothing to ease the situation.

From Earthlight by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1955)
Subspace Explorers

“All right. On this basic factor there’s no disagreement whatever. No doubt or question. Tellurian labor is a bunch of plain damned fools. Idiots. Cretins. However, that’s only to be expected because everybody with any brains or any guts left Tellus years ago. There’s scarcely any good breeding stock left, even. So about the only ones with brains left—except for the connivers, chiselers, boodlers, gangsters, and bastardly crooked politicians and that goes for most Tellurian capitalists, too. Right?"

One of the most important effects of this migration, although it was scarcely noticed at the time, was the difference between the people of the planets and those of Earth. The planetsmen were, to give a thumbnail description, the venturesome, the independent, the ambitious, the chance-taking. Tellurians were, and became steadily more so, the stodgy, the unimaginative, the security-conscious.

Decade after decade this difference became more and more marked, until finally there developed a definite traffic pattern that operated continuously to intensify it. Young Tellurians of both sexes who did not like regimentation—and urged on by the blandishments of planetary advertising campaigns—left Earth for good. Conversely, a thin stream of colonials who preferred security to competition flowed to Earth. This condition had existed for over two hundred years. (And, by the way, it still exists.)

From Subspace Explorers by E.E. "Doc" Smith (1965)
Space Viking

And after they were gone, the farms and ranches and factories would go on, almost but not quite as before. Nothing on Gram, nothing on any of the Sword-Worlds, was done as efficiently as three centuries ago. The whole level of Sword-World life was sinking, like the east coastline of this continent, so slowly as to be evident only from the records and monuments of the past. He said as much, and added: "And the genetic loss. The best Sword-World genes are literally escaping to space, like the atmosphere of a low gravity planet, each generation begotten by fathers slightly inferior to the last. It wasn't so bad when the Space Vikings raided directly from the Sword-Worlds; they got home once in a while. Now they're conquering planets in the Old Federation for bases, and staying there."

He turned to Basil Gorrarn. "You see, the gentleman isn't crazy, at all. That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the Galaxy."

From Space Viking by H. Beam Piper (1963)
Take The Star Road

Louie grimaced. “The reason’s simple, Vince. Look what happened after the gravitic drive came along. Most of those who left were in the top ten per cent of Earth’s population in terms of intelligence , drive and ability. They could see the way things were going here, and wanted no part of it. They sold all they had , cut all their ties, abandoned everything that held them back, and headed out. Not many had the guts or gumption to do that — it automatically culled all but the strongest candidates. Even then, they weren’t accepted into a colony group unless they had skills, knowledge and abilities that were needed; and they had to come up with a stiff fare payment besides, or work their passage, or accept indentured servitude for several years at their destination. Result was, with so many good people leaving, Earth’s average intelligence dropped measurably during the Scramble for Space. It’s never fully recovered . That’s why they try to stop any more of the smart ones from leaving.”

Vince sighed. “You’re right, of course. The intelligence level on most colony planets still trends higher than on Earth.”

From Take The Star Road by Peter Grant (2013)

     “Mars is America,” Tori said, waving his beer expansively. “It’s exactly the same.”
     “It’s not America,” Malik said.
     “Not like it was at the end. Like the beginning. Look at how long it took to travel from Europe to North America in the 1500s. Two months. How long to get here from Earth? Four. Longer if the orbits are right.”
     “Which is the first way in which it’s not like America,” Malik said, dryly.
     “It’s within an order of magnitude,” Tori said. “My point is that politically speaking, distance is measured in time. We’re months away from Earth. They’re still thinking about us like we’re some kind of lost colony. Like we answer to them. How many people here, just at this table have had directives from someone who’s never been outside a gravity well but still felt like they should tell us where our research should go?
     Tori raised his own hand, and Raj followed suit. Voltaire. Carl. Reluctantly, Malik. Tori’s grin was smug.
     “Who’s doing the real science in the system?” Tori said. “That’s us. Our ships are newer and better. Our environmental science is at least a decade ahead of anything they’ve got on Earth. Last year, we hit self-sustaining.”

     “Do you really think Earth hasn’t noticed?” Tori said. “You think the kids back at the labs on Luna and Sao Paulo aren’t looking up at the sky and saying That little red dot is kicking our asses? They’re jealous and they’re scared and they should be. It’s all I’m saying. If we do our own thing, the earliest they could do something about it still gives us months of lead time. England lost its colonies because you can’t maintain control with a sixty-day latency, much less a hundred and twenty.

From Drive by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2012. Prequel to The Expanse
Space Cadets

There is an ideology that they are attached to; it's the ideology of westward frontier expansion, the Myth of the West, the westward expansion of the United States between 1804 (the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and 1880 (the closing of the American western frontier). Leaving aside the matter of the dispossession and murder of the indigenous peoples, I tend to feel some sympathy for the grandchildren of this legend: it's a potent metaphor for freedom from social constraint combined with the opportunity to strike it rich by the sweat of one's brow, and they've grown up in the shadow of this legend in a progressively more regulated and complex society.

My problem, however, is that there is no equivalence between outer space and the American west.

But. But. But.

The west was inhabitable; it supported a healthy set of interlocking ecosystems in most of which a lone human being could find food and sustenance.

These conditions do not apply in space. You don't get to breathe the air on Mars. You don't get to harvest wheat on Venus. You don't get to walk home from an asteroid colony with 5km/sec of velocity relative to low Earth orbit. You don't get to visit any of these places, even on a "plant the flag and pick up some rocks" visitor's day pass basis, without a massive organized effort to provide an environment that can keep the canned monkeys from Earth warm and breathing.

I postulate that the organization required for such exploration is utterly anathema to the ideology of the space cadets, because the political roots of the space colonization movement in the United States rise from taproots of nostalgia for the open frontier that give rise to a false consciousness of the problem of space colonization. In particular, the fetishization of autonomy, self-reliance, and progress through mechanical engineering — echoing the desire to escape the suffocating social conditions back east by simply running away — utterly undermine the program itself and are incompatible with life in a space colony (which is likely to be at a minimum somewhat more constrained than life in one of the more bureaucratically obsessive-compulsive European social democracies, and at worst will tend towards the state of North Korea in Space).

In other words: space colonization is implicitly incompatible with both libertarian ideology and the myth of the American frontier.

From Space Cadets by Charles Stross (2010)
The Declining Significance of the Frontier in Space History?

It began to be perceptible in the late 1960s, and was certainly recognized in the 1970s, that the intermix of frontier imagery, popular culture expectations, and Cold War concerns was beginning to break-down. This was true across broad swaths of American culture, but it was also very apparent when it came to understanding the history of spaceflight. First, the construct of the frontier as a positive image of national character and of the progress of democracy has been challenged on all quarters and virtually rejected as a useful ideal in American postmodern, multicultural society.

Conservative politicians became the bearers of the frontier mythology increasingly used to justify the space program as the Cold War slipped away, while liberals grew increasingly restless with the exploitation and oppression that the frontier myth seemed to imply.

NASA leaders have largely ignored the negative images conjured up in an increasing number of Americans minds by the metaphor of the frontier. For all their hard-headed practicality, for all their understanding of science and technology, they have been caught up in frontier allusion even to the present. For instance, James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator between 1971 and 1977 and again between 1986 and 1989 commented:

History teaches us that the process of pushing back frontiers on Earth begins with exploration and discovery is followed by permanent settlements and economic development. Space will be no different. . . . Americans have always moved toward new frontiers because we are, above all, a nation of pioneers with an insatiable urge to know the unknown. Space is no exception to that pioneering spirit.

Astronaut, then senator, John Glenn captured some of this same tenor in 1983 when he summoned images of the American heritage of pioneering and argued that the next great frontier challenge was in space. “It represents the modern frontier for national adventure. Our spirit as a nation is reflected in our willingness to explore the unknown for the benefit of all humanity, and space is a prime medium in which to test our mettle.”

The image of the frontier, however, has been a less and less acceptable and effective metaphor as the twentieth century became the twenty-first century. Progressives have come to view the space program from a quite different perspective. To the extent that space represents a new frontier, it conjures up images of commercial exploitation and the subjugation of oppressed peoples. Implemented through a large aerospace industry, in their view, it appears to create the sort of governmental-corporate complexes of which liberals are increasingly wary.

Despite the promise that the Space Shuttle, like jet aircraft, would make space flight accessible to the “common man,” space travel remains the province of a favored few, perpetuating inequalities rather than leveling differences. They also assert that space exploration has also remained largely a male frontier, with room for few minorities.

The frontier metaphor has continued to inform space policy to the present. “The compulsion to know the unknown built our nation,” one NASA official had said in 1982. “That instinct drove Lewis and Clark to press across the uncharted continent.” Fletcher accepted the argument of a Space Station as the next step in exploration. Like the image of the pioneer settlement or army post on the American frontier, the Space Station offered a haven from the rigors of the “wilderness” and a jumping off point for forays into the unknown. This same metaphor found ready expression in the present-day effort to develop the Space Exploration Initiative to return to the Moon—this time to establish a permanent colony—and to go on to Mars.

In tandem with the metaphorical frontier of the nineteenth century, NASA also subscribed to an intellectual frontier that fostered scientific activities.

James Fletcher’s comparison of the Space Shuttle to the railroad of more than a century earlier was perhaps a more appropriate, and more negative, image of the frontier than he would have liked to admit. The western railroad and the Space Shuttle both engendered intense economic contests, lucrative contracts, and “no-holds barred” political struggles for primacy and perquisites. Indicative of this reality of the frontier experience in regard to the Shuttle, if not to the myth, Fletcher fell victim to the political pressures of individuals and groups who wanted him to use his office to further the economic well-being of his intermountain region and the people of his religion.

For the space program, as for the earlier experience, the frontier myth presents in a cyclical form the essence of what Americans want to believe about themselves. There are four basic stages of this cycle. The stages come together in the end to create a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds.” The first stage is a separation from civilization. In earlier eras colonists left Europe for America or departed the settled East for the “Wild West.” Now they will leave the Earth and move to a space station or a Moon base.

Second, there is a regression into a form of order that is something less than what had been known in the previous civilization. Frontiersmen had to learn to live in the new environment in which the ideas and even the tools they had mastered in civilization were no longer applicable. Like Jeremiah Johnson in the Robert Redford movie, the frontier taught hard lessons about life and death, survival and freedom. If these were not well received, there would be no success on the frontier. At the same time, the people who participated in the process were changed forever. The space program has a similar learning experience—how to stay alive in a vacuum, how to deal with weightlessness, etc.—and almost none of the lessons learned on earlier American frontiers are transferrable to the new environment of space. If we move outward, we will indeed evolve in the process. For instance, will humans born at a Moon colony, with its 1/6 gravity, be able to function on Earth any longer? An open question, to be sure, but one not unlike Europeans faced with the first settlements in America. Will some future Crevacour ask the question, “what is this new man” (or not to be sexist, this new person), this Lunatic (Moon dweller).

Third, conflict is a central and peculiar feature of frontiering, as Americans struggle against seemingly overwhelming forces seeking to wipe them out. The conflict in the American West was most often played out as humans against environment and as Euro-American against aborigines. In space it is humans against the environment, but it is certainly not at all unlikely that humans will encounter other life in space. The contact of cultures in the frontier was almost always bloody, and I suspect the same would be true in space as well.

The final stage is progress, a step toward some better future. In many instances these have been utopian in outlook. Many earlier Americans saw the frontier as a re-enactment and democratic renewal of the original “social contract,” together with the creation of personal virtue and collective good. This progress ultimately redeems the nation. Futurists view space exploration in the same way, and it has been played out in that way in many a space movie and science fiction novel. Whether this frontier experience actually holds such promise is an open question.

As a final point, I would like to suggest that the frontier myth is an incomplete but uniquely understandable way of looking at the space program. From the beginning of the space age the U.S. effort has been motivated by essentially three priorities. The first was Cold War rivalries with the Soviet Union and the desire to demonstrate the technological superiority of a democratic state over a communist dictatorship. The second was the lure of discovery of the unknown. The third was adventure. The first priority, oriented toward national security, has ceased to be important in this post-Cold War era. But the second and third priorities lie at the heart of the frontier myth and are still just as attractive as they were more than 40 years ago at the creation of NASA.

Libertarians In Space

Earth itself becomes the Old Country, backwards, repressive, ossified in its ways, a place where individualism is cramped. Other planets, moons, asteroids, or artificial space habitats become refuges for misfits, rugged individualists, visionary entrepreneurs, transhumanists, and so on. This often results in The War of Earthly Aggression: Earth becomes a threat to these new islands of freedom in some way, and our heroes must overcome great odds in defending their newfound freeholds.

This trope can cover capital-L Libertarianism, personal and civil liberties plus laissez-faire capitalism, as Heinlein's works often did, but the general idea is more lower-case-l libertarianism, open to broader conceptions of liberty that needn't be, and indeed may challenge the hyper-capitalist variety.

This can be related to Privately Owned Society if we're talking the big-L type of Libertarianism and this society is presented as an ideal, rather than a form of dystopia.

These are some of the sorts of people that might end up as Space Cossacks.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

Space Cossacks
Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me...
Firefly main theme

There is no hope and You Can't Go Home Again. The Empire is spreading out. Even The Federation has too many Obstructive Bureaucrats. There is no way for free men to get out of the reaches of The Government and even mounting La Résistance will be of no avail. So what do you do? You become Space Cossacks. You flee to the border and live in a tough area where you all have to be sharp. You set up as Space Pirates or as Hired Guns or as Intrepid Merchants. Or all of these at once. With you are various dissidents like people who feared being Made a Slave. There might be a Noble Fugitive or two, perhaps even a Defector from Decadence. You and your brave band of Fire-Forged Friends will struggle on to survive and maintain your freedom and heed no laws but your own and respect no authority but that of your Team Mom and/or Team Dad. Songs will be written of your deeds.

The Empire most likely officially considers these guys outlaws, either in the sense that they're to be shot on sight, or in the sense that they're "outside the law" and are to be left alone as long as they stay out of the way. Either way, they probably consider them useful, as they both screen the empire from external threats and tame the fringe worlds into a state ready to be colonised. They may also provide a handy place to send people who are to be Reassigned to Antarctica.

Given the parallels to the Wild West, a Space Western is almost sure to be set amongst such people.

The reference comes from the old Russian custom of disgruntled people fleeing to the steppes and joining a Cossack band.

If they persist for multiple generations they may become Space People.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

The War of Earthly Aggression

Earth might look good if you're living in the capital of the Terran Empire or The Federation, but what about for all the folks on the offworld colonies?

We've got news for you: The colonies have rebelled against taxes, telepathic Gestapo, and pretty much every other injustice that Earth has inflicted on them, spawning a movement that strongly parallels historical insurrections on an interplanetary or even an interstellar scale.

An interesting note is that, since the Earth loyalists are frequently The Federation, the War of Earthly Aggression has a much higher chance of subverting The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified than any other "rebellion" plot-line. As a general rule, however, The War of Earthly Aggression is usually depicted in morally ambiguous terms, with both the loyalists and the rebels having good reasons for the conflict, and often one can find Psychopaths on either side. Occasionally, both sides.

The trope title comes from "The War of Northern Aggression", a political term for The American Civil War. (Go ahead, guess which side applied the label.)

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

Planting a Colony

Colonization is fairly straightforwards, though things can turn nasty if the new planets already have natives.

If your universe contains faster-than-light starships that can visit a new colony planet every afternoon (including week-ends), then establishing a colony is relatively easy. Dump your colonists on the new planet with tents, MREs, and first-aid kits. Then ship in supplies as they need it.

If your universe only has slower-than-light starships such that a new colony will be lucky to see a ship every hundred years, then of course things become much more difficult. If the colonist have forgotten some vital machine, an unstoppable alien plague pops up, or other cosmic disaster strikes, the mother planet cannot do much more than send sympathetic radio messages to the soon to be extinct colony.

What is the minimum number of colonists? For genetic reasons, if the number of colonists is too small and no new colonists arrive via starship, the colony will eventually die out due to inbreeding. This is important on a slower-than-light starship colony mission were every microgram is expensive, you do not want to waste payload mass on unnecessary colonists, and follow-up missions are unlikely. However this is a non-issue with FTL starships bringing new immigrants every week, the new colonists will quickly swell the colony size large enough to avoid genetic problems.

The minimum number of colonists also applies to a Generation starship, which is after all sort of a traveling colony.

If you do not want to fiddle with math below, the bottom line is as follows. If the colony is to survive inbreeding for up to 100 years, you'll need a minimum of 500 randomly chosen colonists or 50 hand-picked colonists all who are unrelated and of breeding age. If the colony is to have enough genetic diversity to survive for thousands of years, you'll need a minimum of 5000 randomly chosen colonists or 500 hand-picked colonists all who are unrelated and of breeding age. That's if I have not made a silly mistake in arithmetic. Now you can skip to the next section.

Most researchers use a rule of thumb invented by Franklin and Soule called the "50/500" rule. The "50" comes from Franklin (Franklin, "Evolutionary Change in Small Populations", 1980) and the 500 comes from Soule (Soule, "Thresholds for Survival: Maintaining Fitness and Evolutionary Potential", 1980). The 50 and 500 are values for a variable called Ne, the "Effective Population Number" (Kimura and Ohta, "Effective Population Number", 1977).

Ne = (4 * M * F) / (M + F)


  • Ne = Effective Population Number
  • M = number of unrelated, breeding-age (UBA) males
  • F = number of unrelated, breeding-age (UBA) females

You will please note that if M and F are equal, the equation simplifies to Ne = M + F, which is kind of obvious.

If M is approximately equal to F, a rule of thumb is that both will be equal to about 10% to 20% of the total population, if the population is a random sample. If the population is nothing but hand-picked colonists, M and F could be 50% of the total population (i.e., the entire population is nothing but unrelated breeding-age males and females).

The larger Ne is, the better. The equation implies that Ne is reduced if there is a large difference between the number of UBA males and UBA females. Ne is also reduced by variations in the number of offspring per female, overlapping generations, and fluctuations in the population from generation to generation.

Franklin calculated that to avoid genetic inbreeding problems in the short term (100 years) Ne had to be a minimum of 50.

f = 1 / (2 * Ne)


  • f = Inbreeding coefficient per generation
  • Ne = Effective Population Number

Domestic animal breeders will accept f = 0.01 (inbreeding rate of 1% per generation), solving for Ne reveals Franklin's value of 50. The colony will experience significant viability problems due to inbreeding when f rises to 0.1, and the colony will probably die out when f reaches 0.5 to 0.6. The life-span of the colony before inbreeding caused extinction is (according to Soule)

t ~ 1.5 * Ne


  • t = number of generations til extinction
  • Ne = Effective Population Number

The number of years in a generation is more or less the average age of a female when she bears her first child. Probably about 25 years.

So a colony with f = 0.01 should last about 75 generations (1875 years), f = 0.1 will last 7.5 generations (190 years) and f = 0.6 will last about 0.8 generation (20 years)

In the long term Franklin figures you'll need Ne to be about 500. The idea is that you need to maintain enough overall genetic variability to evolve in step with the changing environment. Below 500 Franklin says "genetic variance for complex traits is lost at a significantly faster rate than it is renewed by mutation."

Ne can be achieved with a lower number of UBA male and females if a stockpile of frozen fertilized ova from off-world is available for host mothers. In Andre Norton's novels, such a hosted baby is called a "duty child." Breeding-age females will be obligated by the colony by-laws to bear one or two of these duty children in order to increase the genetic diversity of the colony. Soren Roberts notes that modern liberated women nowadays will be highly resistant to bearing duty children, and suggests that artificial wombs be employed instead. This will also help with the problem of couples who are infertile, non-heterosexual, or transgendered. Ne can also be effectively increased by such draconian measures as colony authorities enforcing a mandatory reduction in variations on family size, enforcing an equal number of male and female births, forbidding inbreeding, or through deliberate half-sibling or first cousin breeding (this can paradoxically increase effective Ne, but only after 16 generations). Such draconian measures can almost double Ne.

On Colonization

A post at SFConsim-l leads me to revisit a trope I have commented about here before. Space colonization, as imagined in SF and 'nonfiction' space speculation, is — surprise! — a riff on the English colonization of America, an experience shared by Clarke and Heinlein, albeit from different perspectives. Historically sort of colonization was driven first and foremost by cheap land.

This should be no surprise, any more than the American colonial analogy itself. It is like hydraulics. Provide a cheaper place to live and people will drift toward it, sometimes even flood toward it.

And the heart of the nutshell, as Heinlein once put it, is that there is no cheap land in space because there is no land at all. Land doesn't just mean a solid planetary surface (those are dirt cheap). Land means habitat, and in space the only way to have any is to build it youself. Which makes it expensive, especially since you have to build it up front.

Water can be pumped uphill, and people can be pulled toward expensive places to live by compensating attractions, or pushed there by pressures. But it is not a 'natural' process, and it can easily be reversed, hence ghost towns in rugged, played-out mining regions.

The sort of colonization envisioned in the rocketpunk era, most explicitly in books like Farmer in the Sky, but implicit in the consensus future history of the genre, is just plain unlikely, almost desperately unlikely, this side of the remote future or the Singularity, whichever comes first.

This is not the only possible sort of colonization. People have traveled afar, often spending their adult lives in some remote clime with no intention to settle there, marry, and raise a family, hoping instead to make their fortune and return home. The ones who don't make their fortune may end up staying, but that was not the plan.

Political colonialism often follows this pattern. The British colonized India, but I've never heard that any significant number of Britons settled there. (Human nature being what it is they did leave an Anglo-Indian population behind.)

A similar pattern has been common for trading outposts through the ages, whenever travel times have been prolonged. Even today, with one day global travel, people live abroad for years or even decades as expatriates, not emigrants. This, I believe, is a far more plausible scenario for the long term human presence in space than classic colonization. (And human nature being what it is, a mixed population will leave someone behind.)

Meta to this discussion — and not all that meta — is the delicate cohabitation of 'nonfiction' space speculation and science fiction. Space colonization has been driven first and foremost by story logic. For a broad range of story possibilities we want settings with a broad range of human experience. For this we want complete human communities, which means colonization in something like the classic SF sense.

But who are we trying to kid? Science fiction, particularly hard SF, is not known for engaging the whole range of human experience. This is no knock on it; all the branches of Romance are selective. The truth is that we want space colonies so that they can rebel against Earth, form an Empire, and generally play out History with a capital H, with lots of explosions and other cool stuff along the way.

I've suggested before on this blog that you can, in fact, get quite a lot of History without classical colonies. But another thing to keep in mind is that story logic doesn't necessarily drive real history. We may have an active spacefaring future that involves practically none of the story tropes of the rocketpunk era.

As a loose analogy, robotic diving on shipwrecks has done away with all those old underwater story tropes about divers trapped in a collapsing wreck, or bad guys cutting the air hose, but it has not at all done away with the somber magic of shipwrecks themselves, something the makers of 'Titanic' used to effect.

On the other hand, Hollywood has made two popular and critically acclaimed historical period pieces about actual space travel, and the stories are both an awful lot like rocketpunk.


There is another model of colonization you failed to mention - forced re-location. Worked for Australia, and to a lesser extent in other regions of the world. Expanding population pressures, or a desire to establish off-world colonies to ensure a countries continuance, could conceivably lead to some form of forced colonisation.

Given the prohibitive cost of space travel (now & for the foreseeable future) I find it unlikely that there would be any return of those kinds of colonists; or for that matter, the colonists in the scenarios you paint.


The Grand Banks attracted European fishing boats before Newfoundland attracted European colonists. Antarctica is no worse than Fort MacMurray in the winter: Workers would flock to that continent if we ever discovered viable oil reserves there. If you want to know where people are willing to live, just follow the money (Money draining out of the region is the root cause of people draining out of North America's Empty Quarter).

There are almost certainly large-scale 'deposits' of valuable ore in the asteroids. But is it worth sending up a thousand mining drones, a machine shop, five technicians, and their life support? Are the ore deposits in orbits that don't need too much fuel to get to? Is boron mined under these conditions competitive with boron mined in Turkey?

There's lots of energy available in space, and we seem to be slowly approaching the point where space collectors will be competitive with ground-based collectors. But there aren't a lot of moving parts on solar collectors, so technicians will be thin 'on the ground'.

The plausible mid-future looks more and more like human space as a series of automated mining platforms and research bases, visited by rotating crews of technicians and scientists. The closest thing to colonists are the crews working the cyclers, but even they work on 2-3 year contracts before going home to Earth.

It's very much like the ocean. People work there, they pass through it, but no one really lives there even if they love it.

Citizen Joe:

That model is more of the slave colony model. Although probably more of a commune rather than slavery. The point is that the workers aren't doing it for pay. In fact, on a colony, money (Earth money) has no real meaning. You can't eat it, and it has a really crappy Isp. So everyone has to do the best they can or everyone dies. That means the colony works to be self sufficient so that it can continue to survive. That does not explain the willingness to put up the initial expenditures to found the colony.

Initial funding could be part of a research or political fund. But without some sort of financial gain coming back, there's no reason for corporate investment. Corporate involvement could come from government contracts to maintain communication networks or repair facilities. Ultimately there needs to be some sort of financial return.

I personally like the idea of Helium-3 as the new gold. Assuming the development of He-3 Fusion, particularly the He3-He3 fusion model which throws protons for direct energy conversion rather than neutrons like other forms of fusion. The idea would be that Terrans don't want to pollute the only habitable world known, but still have an insatiable need for power. Thus the development of clean fusion. While there are meager amounts of He3 on Earth and some is available on the moon, He-3 is also the decay product of Tritium (which can be used as a nuclear battery). That decay is mildly radio active, but the production of of Tritium from Deuterium is a fairly radioactive intense process. If you can handle those processes in space, and then ship back the pure He3, that gives a rationale for exploration and continued existence of colonies in space.


One thing no one has mentioned yet is political colonists...those people willing to spend their life savings to travel to the most remote regions to get away from what they consider an intolerable government, or to wait out the end of the world; I don't see why , at some point in the near future, that those groups don't go off-planet to set up their colonies.

Another scenario; a long term scientific or industrial outpost attracts some would-be entrepreneur to set up shop to supply the outpost with some 'luxury' goods or services with the plan to make him rich and then return home...only he doesn't and he (and his family), are forced to remain permanently. Others, hearing about this guy, decide to try to succeed where the first one failed...the impromptu colony grows in fits and starts until, quiet by accident, you have a real city-state that no one planned, it just grew. Of course, then someone feels the need to have to figure out what to do about them...

Rick Robinson:

I am very partial to the ocean analogy. People have gone to sea for thousands of years; it has been central to a lot of cultures, but no one lives there.

Think of Earth as an island, and in the sea around it are only tidal outcroppings like Rockall or coral structures like the Great Barrier Reef. There's every reason to explore these places, and perhaps exploit them economically, but they are not much suited for habitation.

Forced colonization is sort of the counterpoint to what Ferrell raised, 'Pilgrim' colonization. Both are politically motivated.

But both of these require relatively cheap land, again in the sense of productive habitat, even if not appealing land. The point of penal 'transportation' is that it is cheaper to dump your petty criminals out of sight and out of mind than to keep them in jail. (And less upsetting to Englightenment sensibilities than hanging them all.)

The problem for colonization by dissidents is that, for at least the midfuture, only very wealthy groups could afford it, and the very wealthy are rarely dissidents. :-)

The Pilgrims were a very typical dissident group in being predominantly middle class. For story purposes, in settings where you have FTL and habitable planets, these are the sorts of people who could plausibly charter a transport starship and head off to some newly surveyed planet.

This gets back to the meta point. There are a lot of things that work fine as SF literary tropes, but you really have to make a couple of magical assumptions, like FTL, to use them.

Within the constraints of hard SF, though, you probably should find other workarounds.


I tried to plot out a plausible scenario where a small group of ideologically-motivated colonists set up shop in the Jupiter or Saturn moon systems. It just doesn't work. Any launch-cost and travel-time scenario that favoured the colonists also made it easy for larger or better funded groups to get there first.

The closest I came up with was a five-years to Saturn travel-time with Saturnian resources just sufficient to support the colony but not enough to attract megacorp or government attention. But then any reasonable life-support scenario I came up with had the colony dying out in less than a decade.

Ideological colonies will probably follow economic colonies. First the real estate will be developed, then the religious/social loons will move in. The Puritan Great Migration came after King James dumped cash into the Massachusetts colony to build up the economy.


Nice work, as always, and I think most of the points hold water. That being said, I still think there is room for some good old fashioned colonization- if only sometimes, and just barely.

You make a good point that colonization has at least in part been driven by cheap land, and land = habitat. My major addendum would be that habitat is a sliding scale — Las Vegas or Anchorage are not in climates that one would dare call human habitat compared to say, Costa Rica, but the technology of the day — air conditioning, for instance — ended up moving the habitat line, and suddenly the middle of Nevada or Alaska looked very cheap. Io or Ceres might be forever condemned to be a "rock," but someplace like Mars — where plants will grow in the dirt and the air (if pumped up to 0.7psi) and the natural lighting, with a decent probability of tappable aquifers, and gravity sufficient to prevent bone loss, it starts to look more like "land" — equatorial Mars might make for better farmland than quite a few chunks of Earth. Given that indoor and "vertical" agriculture with what amounts to nearly-closed loops are already starting to look cost-effective and environmentally friendly in the present era, and solar panels and nukes are urgently needed to take up the load on Earth, it may be that every city on Earth is packed with off-the-shelf technology that doesn't look much different from a space colony.

I think the legal realities involved also mess with some of the Antarctica analogies. Antarctica is a scientific and tourism enclave by law, not just convenience — mineral exploitation is off limits till treaty review in 2048. Other planets might fall into similar legal zones, but space is big...

The transit times and costs might also open a window for colonies. In Antarctica, the logical window to stay is one season, with Australia and the rest of the world a couple days transit away. If a Martian government/corporation/whatever is sending people onboard a low cost cycler, the trip is six months and the local stay is launch window to launch window, or 18 months, and the trip isn't cheap and the trips will be coed — I find it wholly conceivable that a couple that was of the "right stuff" to volunteer to go might look at those intervals, or a couple of them, as time worth starting a family in, and with a chronic labor shortage meaning high wages, it might not seem so bad to stay. 11 kids have been born in Antarctica, and there are a couple schools so people can bring their kids with them...

From On Colonization by Rick Robinson (2009)

Solar System Colonization

In the near term days before the invention of faster-than-light starships, our own Solar System will be the focus of colonization.

Solar system details, maps, regions, spherical bodies.

Naturally colonizing the solar system is a lot easier if there is in place plenty of space infrastructure. Especially businesses catering to colonists.

In the "disadvantages" section for each location, you can take it as a given that there is no naturally occuring breathable atmosphere. I'm not going to bother adding it to each entry.


Jim Shifflett has an in-depth analysis here of a the pros and cons of a Mercury colony. He goes into much more detail than I do.

Mercury (stats)


  • Crust is probably rich in iron and magnesium silicates. Mercury possibly has the highest concentration of heavier elements in the solar system.
  • There is some evidence that the polar areas have ice and other volatiles hidden in permanently shadowed craters. There certainly isn't any closer to the equator, the solar heat will vaporize it like snowflakes under an acetylene torch.
  • The solar constant is a whopping 6.3 to 14.5 kW/m2, or an average of 6.5 times that of Terra. This makes for abundant solar power. Since Mercury's axial tilt is so low (0.01°) there is a possibility of polar peaks of eternal light.
  • Solar Energy Beamed Power Stations


  • Mercury is the most expensive planet to soft-land on in the solar system (3,006 m/s delta V). All other planets either have lower gravity (for a lower energy cost) or possess an atmosphere usable for aerobraking (which gives you free delta V you don't have to pay for with rocket thrust).
  • Mercury is deep within Sol's gravity well, which increases the delta-V cost to travel to and from.
  • The solar heat can drive temperatures on the equator up to 700 K (427°C), hot enough to melt lead. The equatorial day-night temperature variation will be hard on equipment and habitats. Polar temperatures only get to 273 K (0°C) which is more reasonable for a habitat.

Be aware that there is a lot of science fiction written before scientists discovered that Mercury was NOT tidally locked to the sun with a permanent brightside and darkside. Pre-1965 mostly. The classic is Alan E. Nourse's short story Brightside Crossing, which is still a very entertaining read. Scientists discovered that Mercury actually rotations in a 2:3 resonance with Sol. Sorry, Alan.

There are a few post 1965 SF stories where the equator of Mercury is totally plated over with solar power cells, generally place by Von Neumann self-replicating machines. This is to provide incredible amounts of energy for some great undertaking, which generally turns out to be the large scale production of antimatter.

I don’t think any of us really trusted the Nerva-K under our landing craft.

Think it through. For long trips in space, you use an ion jet giving low thrust over long periods of time. The ion motor on our own craft had been decades in use. Where gravity is materially lower than Earth’s, you land on dependable chemical rockets. For landings on Earth and Venus, you use heat shields and the braking power of the atmosphere. For landing on the gas giants—but who would want to?

The Nerva-class fission rockets are used only for takeoff from Earth, where thrust and efficiency count. Responsiveness and maneuverability count for too much during a powered landing. And a heavy planet will always have an atmosphere for braking.

Pluto didn’t.

For Pluto, the chemical jets to take us down and bring us back up were too heavy to carry all that way. We needed a highly maneuverable Nerva-type atomic rocket motor using hydrogen for reaction mass.

And we had it. But we didn’t trust it.

(ed note: though as it turns out, Mercury has about six times the surface gravity of Pluto, and Mercury also does not have an atmosphere for braking. When this story was written it was thought that Pluto had a much higher gravity)

From Wait It Out by Larry Niven (1968)


Venus (stats)


  • Venus' gravity is 0.904 g. This is practically the same as Terra, and is certainly large enough to prevent bone decalcification and other hazards of low gravity.
  • Venus is conveniently located with respect to Terra. Hohmann launch windows occur every 584 days (compared to every 780 days for Mars). Hohmann transfer time is about 5 months (compared to 6 months for Mars).
  • Venus' atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide. This can be used to grow food. CO2 is also heavier than the nitrogen-oxygen breathing mix humans use, which means an nitrogen-oxygen filled balloon will float in Venus' atmo.


  • The temperature at the equator is actually higher than at Mercury, 723 K (450°C). Higher than the melting point of lead and much higher than the temperatures used in hospitals to sterilize surgical instruments. This is due to the greenhouse effect, mentioned in 1950's school children's astronomy texts decades before the invention of the term "global warming".
  • The atmospheric pressure at the surface is about 92 times that of Terra. This is about the same as the pressure under Terra's ocean at the depth of a kilometer. Humans exposed to this will implode. The Soviet Venera 5 and Venera 6 probes only got down to 18 km above the surface before they imploded.
  • Venus' atmosphere contains clouds of sulfur dioxide and droplets of sulfuric acid. Which will dissolve metals at positions above copper in the reactivity series (iron, aluminium, titanium, etc.).
  • The winds at cloud level are about 300 km/h.
  • If the colony is a floating cloud city, trying to mine the surface for resources will be a nightmare.

Some scientists (most notably Geoffrey A. Landis of NASA's Glenn Research Center) have suggested colonizing Venus by using aerostat habitats and floating cities. In Venus' carbon dioxide atmosphere, a balloon full of a human breathable 21:79 oxygen/nitrogen mix will float. Actually it will have over 60% of the lifting power that pure helium has on Terra.

If a breathable mix balloon could loft a city to an altitude of 50 kilometers above the surface, it would find the environment to be the most Terran-like in the entire solar system. The pressure is about 1 bar (the same as at Terra's surface), temperature in the range of 0°C to 50°C, and about the same protection against cosmic rays.

Since the pressure inside and outside the balloon are about the same, any rips or tears will only slowly diffuse the gases (instead of causing the entire balloon to instantly pop). This will give plenty of time for repairs.

At cloud levels the wind blows about 95 m/s (about 300 km/h). It circles the planet in about four Terran days. A colony floating in this wind would experience a Venusian day of about four Terran days in duration. This is a vast improvement on the Venusian day on the planet's surface, which is about 243 Terran days long.

Thinking more grandly, others have suggested terraforming Venus. These include various proposals to drastically lower the atmospheric pressure and increase the levels of oxygen.

Sol-Venus Lagrange Points

Lagrange Points

"Venus Equilateral".

Cis-Lunar Space

Terra Orbit

Terra-Luna Lagrange Points

Lagrange Points

Terra-Luna L1 is a good location for a way station/cargo transhipment point. From L1 the delta-V to travel to either Terra or Luna is modest.

Terra-Luna L2 is a good location for a communication satellite covering Luna's far side.

L2 is also a good location for an orbital propelant depot, perhaps supplied from Lunar polar ice. This is because L2 is practically at Terra escape velocity already. L2 is sometimes called the "gateway to the Solar System". It is a good place to have a filling station.

It is also an ideal location to initiate an Oberth maneuver to get some free delta-V when traveling to another planet. To do an Oberth, the ship performs a parabolic dive from L2 into a close pass by Terra, and does the burn at the closest approach. Typically an Oberth maneuver around Terra can augment the delta V by a factor of 2 to 7. A typical Mars departure requires a delta V of 4.3 km/s, doing an Oberth the ship can get 4.3 km/s by only doing 1 km/s worth of burn!

Propellant depots will also have a longer life at L2 compared to having them located in LEO. L2 has lower micrometeor levels, lower thermal stress (reducing cryogenic propellant boil off), and lower amounts of corrosive atomic oxygen.

Gerard O'Neill's original plan for a space colony had them located at L5. As a matter of fact, his O'Neill cylinder habitats are commonly called "L5 Colonies." Either L4 or L5 is a good spot since they are stable. In science fiction, often one spot or the other is claimed by rival superpowers (e.g., USA and Russia, or the various nations of Gundam).

The Kordylewski clouds may or may not occupy the Terra-Luna L4 and L5 points.

All of the Lagrange points provide gateways into the Interplanetary Transport Network.


Luna (stats)


  • Mining the Lunar Ice might be the key to the inner planets.
  • Lunar Mineral Mining
  • On the one hand the regolith contains valuable Helium 3, useful for fusion reactors using the 3He+D reaction. On the other hand the He3 found on the surface of Luna is so sparse that it is not worth mining unless you are absolutely desperate. 15 to 50 ppb is pathetically low grade ore.
  • Lava Tubes are ready-made underground caves providing shielding from cosmic radiation. Otherwise digging the caverns for an underground city would be somewhat a chore.
  • Thorium deposits, with the highest concentration at Lalande Crater. That is one reason why that crater is the location of choice for the first lunar colony according to the Virtual Lunar Colony Project.
  • Plentiful supplies of the raw material for Aluminum-Oxygen and other ISRU-Oxygen rocket fuel. Just add electricity or solar heat to separate the oxygen from the metal.
  • Titanium from Lunar Ilmenite ore. On Luna a "High titanium basalt" is one with more than 6% titanium by weight, it can go up to 8%. Other than Terra there are no other known sources.
  • Located conveniently close to Terra. Short Hohmann transit times (about 3 days) and Hohmann launch windows are frequent (every 29.5 days).


  • Radiation

There are details about lunar mining here.

The Ring of Charon

(ed note: Central City is a lunar city. It is totally underground. The "tourist dome" is a tiny glass dome on the surface where tourists can be impressed by the view. "Conners" are lunar colonists. In this quote, there has been a moon-quake.)

Central City was built underground, a series of lens-shaped hollows, kilometers across, known as Sub-Bubbles. The tourist dome sat on the surface, fifty meters directly above one edge of a lens, connected to the interior’s ground level by a long ramp running between the surface level and the airlock. The city side of the airlock complex had been designed with tourists in mind. One whole wall was made up of huge view windows that canted in from the ceiling toward the floor, overlooking Amundsen SubBubble, affording a splendid vista of the bustling city below.

Except now the view windows were shattered heaps of glass on the ground and jagged knife-edges sprouting up from window frames. A sooty wind swept into the overlook chamber.

The city below looked like a war zone. Smoke billowed up from at least three separate fires, only to be caught in a violent wind that flattened it into the sky blue ceiling of the bubble. Wind.

Nothing scared a Conner more than a leak. Lucian forced the worry from his mind. Either the repair crews were handling it or they weren’t. Lucian’s gaze left the ceiling and he looked down at the city again. The lush greenery that the city took such pride in was still more or less there, but whole garden sections had slumped over. Landslides had carried off hillside trees.

As with the chamber itself, the wall facing the dome interior was made entirely of glass. That was both for the benefit of tourists and because there was nothing cheaper than glass on the silica-rich Moon. Whatever the reason, it left Lucian leading twenty-eight people, most of whom barely knew how to walk in low gee, down an incline littered with razor-sharp fragments of glass, trying to stay out of a howling wind that blew through where the glass wall should have been. Somehow he got them down without anyone slicing open an artery.

From The Ring of Charon by Roger MacBride Allen (1990)

Near-Terra Asteroids

Near-Terra Asteroids



  • They require relatively low delta-V to perturb their course into a civilzation-destroying collision with Terra. The Orbit Guard will be keeping a very close watch on these. Especially 99942 Apophis.

Asteroid 3753 Cruithne is sort of but not quite at a Lagrange point. It is often incorrectly called the "second moon of Terra."

Sol-Terra Lagrange Points

Lagrange Points

Sol-Terra L1 never has its view blocked by Sol or Terra. This makes it a good site for solar observatories as an early warning storm monitor for deadly proton storms and other solar disturbances.

Sol-Terra L3 would be a great place for a early warning storm monitor. It could spot large active sunspot regions before Sol's rotation aimed them at Terra. It would also function as the L1 early warning for any spacecraft that happened to be on the opposite hemisphere with respect to Terra. L1 and L3 as a team could provide warnings for the entire solar system.

In old pulp science fiction, Sol-Terra L3 was a popular location for "counter-Earth", a sinister planet hidden from Terran astronomers by Sol (e.g., Gor, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, or the home of the High Evolutionary). But now satellites and gravitational studies have revealed that there is no planet there. Which is a good thing since L3 is a gravitationally unstable position.

Asteroid 2010 TK7 occupies the Sol-Terra L4 point.


Mars (stats)


  • Deimos is the smaller of the two moons of Mars. In terms of delta-V cost, Deimos is the closest hydrated body to LEO. Since water is one of the most valuable in situ resources, this makes Deimos valuable. There is water ice on Phobos as well, but it is buried more deeply. On Deimos the ice is within 100 meters of the surface at the equator, and within 20 metrers at the poles.
    Rob Davidoff and I worked up an entire future history centered around Deimos, called Cape Dread
  • Martian Mining
  • The Mars-5 space probe did detect uranium and thorium on Mars.
  • The Martian atmosphere does contain about 2.5 percent valuable nitrogen.
  • Mars does have valuable water.


  • For Hohmann trajectories originating from or heading to Terra/cis-Lunar space, Mars has the longest delay between Hohman launch windows (2 years, 1.6 months) of any of the planets in the solar system.
  • The atmosphere of Mars is about 99% vacuum, but it is thick enough to make pesky dust storms (lasting weeks at a time) that can cut down solar cell power to zero, and coat the solar cells with dust that has to be removed somehow.
  • Surface gravity is 3.7 m/s2 (38% Terra), which might be too low for health.
  • Resource-wise, Luna seems richer than Mars, while also having a lower escape delta-V cost.

Sol-Mars Lagrange Points

Lagrange Points

(121514) 1999 UJ7 occupies the Sol-Mars L4 point. Asteroids 5261 Eureka, (101429) 1998 VF31, and (311999) 2007 NS2 occupy the Sol-Mars L5 point.

Asteroid Belt

Asteroid Belt (stats on select asteroids)


See Space Habitat especially Asteroid Bubble

The Millennial Project

Pilgrims with itchy feet and travelin' bones will head for the high frontier; wherever they find it, they'll push it back. These trail blazers, on their way to conquer new lands, will come to the Martian moons in an ever-growing stream. Like the boomers going to Saint Joe, Mo., these space settlers will outfit themselves at the 'rail-head' on Deimos. They will convert their hard-won grubstakes into tools and provisions, and strike out for the new territories. Most will head for the myriad micro-worlds of the asteroid belt. Other hardy souls will venture further afield, to the Trojan asteroids, and even the moons of Jupiter.

Many of these outbound immigrants will be moved by the simple desire to flee the cloying multitudes of the inner worlds. Others will be impelled by that unfailing motivator of mankind: greed. Settlement of the solar system will be greatly encouraged by the adoption of a Millennial Mining Law. The administrative code underpinning the Law can be complex in its particulars, but the essence of the Law itself should be utter simplicity: "First in time is first in right."

If you are the first person to reach a satellite, and stake and register your claim with the Solar Mining Office, it's yours! It is unlikely that an individual could mount a solo expedition to the asteroid belt; so you would probably have to sell shares in your venture to get the capital. At any rate, you and your partners are now the proud owners of a celestial mother lode.

Lets say you've staked your claim to an average carbonaceous chondrite in the outer asteroid belt. What's it worth? Much interesting speculation about asteroid mining has centered on those of the metallic variety.490 When one visits asteroids at the museum, it certainly appears that the nickel-iron types would be worth the most. After all, metals form the back-bone of industrial infrastructure, and their extraction and refinement is at the root of civilization. That is true enough today, but in the New Millennium, metals will be a side show. The real money is in water, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and the other light elements that make up the substance of animate matter. There will be claims staked on metallic asteroids to be sure, but in the first great "land rush", the savvy entrepreneurs will be after carbonaceous chondrites.

If you managed to be the first claimant on a typical smallish asteroid—10 km. in diameter—you would possess a trillion tons of the most valuable resources in the solar system. If, after paying for extraction and transportation costs, consumers in the realms of Asgard and Avallon paid an average of only one dollar per kilogram for light elements, your asteroid would be worth over one hundred trillion dollars.

There are millions of asteroids that are more than a few kilometers in diameter, and billions and billions of smaller ones. Eventually, they will all be claimed, mined, and settled. As the human race grows to maturity, filling up the solar system, the market for asteroid organics will expand continually. Any asteroid prospector can stake his claim with full confidence that eventually there will be a demand for his minerals. It may take time. But asteroid settlers will be some of the only people in the solar system who can live with near perfect self-sufficiency. They can afford to wait.

Like all pioneers, the first settlers in the asteroid belt must be hardy souls with iron wills and rawhide constitutions. They must be capable of facing isolation and deprivation; they must be able to fend for themselves; and most importantly they should be endowed with infinite faith in the future. Like Europeans headed for the California gold fields in 1849, new immigrants to the asteroid belt will flood in from the Old World. They will book their passage on the trans-oceanic vessels of their time—orbital habitats cycling between Earth and Mars. When the pioneers arrive on Deimos, they will equip themselves for their perilous expedition to the new frontier. The planetary civilization on Mars will be able to provide all the technology needed to successfully homestead an asteroid.

In all likelihood, these space pilgrims will join up in "wagon trains" for the trip out. Each band of hardy trail blazers will form their own society, agreeing among themselves on its structure and systems of self-governance.

Each family buys a launch pod and a cargo pod, both tanked up with enough fuel for rendezvous maneuvers. In addition to housekeeping basics, each adult carries the obligatory space suit— the only major piece of equipment brought from Earth. The group pools its resources to buy the essentials: a small ecosphere habitat (with CELSS), a semi-autonomous robotic miner, a pair of multi-purpose utility vehicles, a universal fabricator, and some power bubbles with thermionic generators.

The colonists arrange financing for their expedition long before leaving Earth. All the adults in the group have special skills, and like most people in the Third Millennium, they customarily work as telecommuters. In the group there are engineers, designers, writers, counselors, researchers, and consultants. All of these people work by logging on to interactive telecommunications networks. Most of their jobs are insensitive to short time delays, so they can work without regard to their location in the solar system. The data professionals in such groups have all been selected as much for their ability to work through telepresence as anything else. As telecommuters, they can continue to work in their careers despite being on their way to the asteroid belt.

This has important economic ramifications for the colonists. First, they do not face a cut off in earnings during the two years or so it takes them to reach their destination. Second, it means that they can continue to work and generate revenue after their arrival, even though otherwise isolated on a barren asteroid. This ability to participate in the general economy while physically isolated, is one of the most important factors enabling our rapid expansion into space.

InVestament Bankers

Financial institutions in the Earth-Moon system have very little interest in bankrolling colonists headed for the asteroid belt; too remote, too risky. There is, however, a ready source of funding. The first big colonial push out to the asteroids targeted the giant asteroid Vesta. Vesta orbits close to Mars and is a big asteroid with a unique and valuable composition. The original Vestans flourished, building their tiny world into a major economic force in the outer solar system. Very quickly, the Vestans realized that the highest returns could be made by financing other colonists who desired to settle the wide frontier of the asteroid belt. Psychological barriers and remoteness from the inner worlds, plus very real risks, kept home-world banks out of the game. This allowed the Vestans to charge very high interest rates for colonization loans.

The inVestament bankers understood that loans made to colonists were doubly lucrative. First, the colonists invariably consist of highly motivated groups of mature professionals. (This Darwinian selection is self-enforcing; groups not meeting the rigorous standards are simply not approved for loans.) These hard­core groups inevitably hit the ground running, and very quickly transform their new habitats into productive resource mines. The telecommuting professionals give the groups an economic underpinning which allows them to carry heavy interest burdens. New productivity from asteroid resources enables them to pay back their loans very quickly. The asteroid bankers are consequently able to turn their capital over rapidly, so the investment pool doubles in size every five to ten years. Second, each new group of colonists adds a jolt of synergy to the whole economy of the region, bringing with them demands for goods and services which can be supplied by yet other colonists.

This double-barreled effect—rapid capital turn-over plus exploding demand—creates a very powerful positive feedback loop in the economy. As the Vestans make more and more money on their loans, the investment pool grows, making it possible to make more loans, generating greater profits, in turn increasing the investment pool available for loans, etc. The result is runaway growth of real wealth.

The settlers find it fairly easy, therefore, to borrow substantial amounts of money with no more collateral than their resumes. Colonists typically head out to the edge of the new frontier with an ample stock of capital equipment and a generous line of credit at the FIBV (First Interplanetary Bank of Vesta).

Space Family Robinson

(Let's join a group of these pioneers, and go along to see what it's like to settle a virgin asteroid.)

Long before their expedition even started out, the Robinson group had targeted their bit of celestial real estate. They selected a destination only after detailed consultations with the solar mining office. They chose an asteroid of moderate size—10 km. in diameter—orbiting in the middle of the belt. This particular asteroid is already owned by its original claimant who is in residence there. The leaders of the expedition have been in radio negotiations with the old prospector and have come to terms. The new colonists have agreed to pay the owner an up-front cash bonus and a royalty of 8% on all exports.

There are still many millions of unclaimed asteroids; but this is a group of families and they don't want to face the extra risks of an unknown planetoid. The Solar mining office has conducted extensive surveys and has detailed spectroscopic information on almost every asteroid larger than a few kilometers in diameter. Little else is known about the unclaimed asteroids. By contrast, this asteroid—Sykes 1011—has been pretty thoroughly evaluated. In order to hold his claim, Sykes has been "proving up" his asteroid ever since he first staked it fifteen years before. He has done extensive exploratory drilling, made detailed assays of his cores, taken seismic readings, and otherwise scrutinized his private little world.

The old prospector's diligence has paid off. The rich data base has served its purpose and has attracted a well-heeled group of settlers, Sykes, who has lived for a decade and a half in almost complete isolation, now anticipates a rich pay day. He is going to be amply recompensed for his years of unrequited labor. The prospector's risky investment will pay rich dividends for the rest of his life.

The colonists—named for the largest family, the Robinsons— have been willing to pay a premium price for Sykes' asteroid. His certified assays show that S1011 has an especially high water content of 18%, and unusually high concentrations of tantalum, and cobalt. For extra bonus money and a higher royalty, Sykes has been willing to assign all future development rights to the Robinson group. The Robinsons have done detailed modeling of the economics of their risky venture; they have good reason to believe that they too will ultimately enjoy rich rewards.

The Robinsons launch from Deimos in a replay of their flight from Avallon. Families are catapulted off in their individual pods, and the wave riders skim across the top of Mars' thickening atmosphere, picking up a slingshot boost from the red planet's gravity well. The pods shoot off at precisely calculated trajectories to rendezvous with an orbital habitat cycling between Mars and the main asteroid belt. Unmanned cargo pods, bearing precious equipment follow. After a few days in cramped discomfort on the wave riders, the colonists rendezvous with a cycling habitat. They dock their riders and move into temporary but homey quarters in the outbound ecosphere. There they live comfortably for the 15 to 20 months it takes to reach the asteroid belt. During that time, educations, and careers carry on, without much interruption.

After the cycling habitat reaches an optimal point in its orbit, the colonists will jump off to their destination asteroid. The entire journey has been carefully timed to minimize the duration and energy requirements of this final leg. Everything has gone according to the schedule—arranged years in advance. Delays at any stage of their odyssey could have stranded the travelers at some intermediate point for years. As it is, the colonists are in a perfect position to rendezvous with their chosen planetoid. The Robinsons again board their wave riders and make the short hop to Sykes 1011, arriving at the asteroid with only a few kilograms of propellant left.

Touching down on their new world is more like docking with a giant ship than landing on a planet. The gravity is less than a thousandth of that on Earth. The little convoy sets -down in the midst of a scene of splendid desolation. The horizons of the little world crowd close, unbroken by anything but Syke's radio strobe and a hand-made banner with "Wellcum Robinsuns" spelled out in strips of gold foil.

Like the pioneers of another age—who on arrival in their new Canaans, unhitched the oxen from the wagon and immediately yoked them to the plow—this new breed of settlers also sets promptly to work. The Robinson's group leader, Dr. Zachariah Smith, meets with Sykes—a grizzled old varmint who looks four centuries out of place. Sykes has spent 15 years on the asteroid, living in an empty propellant tank buried under the regolith. He has been utterly alone except for the company of a holographic dog named Rimmer. From the musky smell inside the old prospector's digs, Dr. Smith judges that Sykes hasn't been out of his space suit in the past decade. True to form, Sykes conducts the entire closing over the upturned bottom of a supply canister, never-removing anything but his helmet. 'How in the world,' Dr. Smith wonders, looking at the old character's stained beard, 'can any one chew tobacco gum inside a space helmet?'

With legal formalities out of the way, the first order of business is to launch power bubbles. The group has brought three thermionic generators, each with enough capacity to provide all of the colony's power needs. Fuel is pooled for one of the wave riders, and the generators are towed into close polar orbits around the asteroid. This takes just a small amount of propellant as orbital velocity is only a few meters per second. Once the generators are in stable orbits outside the asteroid's shadow, the bubble reflectors are inflated around them. Properly focused and adjusted, the generators begin to crank out power. The electricity is converted to a narrow beam of microwaves and is transmitted directly to receiving antennas strung along the asteroid's equator.

Useful Materials Produced by Robotic Miner Every Day

With a good supply of power now at their disposal, the colonists begin to transform their Lilliputian planet. They set up and activate the mining station. The robotic augers immediately begin shunting loose regolith into the maw of the machine. Inside the miner, the soil is heated in a plasma arc furnace. As the temperature rises, steam hisses out of the hot ore, and the vapor is pulled off and condensed. When the first silver trickle of liquid water begins to dribble into the transparent collection tanks, a cheer bursts from the jubilant colonists. At this point they know they have succeeded. Their years of sacrifice and hard work have paid off. They have water. Where there is water there is life. Now they know they can survive on this orbital slag heap. They have everything they need to sustain life and build a new world.

The robotic miner is not a large machine; its throughput is only a couple of kilograms per minute. Watching powdered regolith pass through the holding bin is like watching sand trickle through a big hour glass. Even so, the machine produces over 500 kilograms of distilled water and half a ton of oxygen per day. In a highly efficient process, the crushed asteroid ore is melted and most of its usable elements extracted. The molten rock preheats the incoming ore stream and is then extruded from the miner in the form of cooled bricks, slabs, and other structural components.

The colonists garner everything they need from the asteroid. At this stage of development, the principal commodities required by the colony: power, oxygen, and water, are available in abundance.

The next pressing project is to erect a temporary habitat. The temporary structure is just a large fabric bubble with a cable net thrown over the top. The colonists hastily level the bottom of a small crater with their utility vehicles. The bubble is inflated and regolith is shoveled in to cover the whole thing three meters deep. Though palatial by Sykes' standards, it will be rough living for many months, until a proper ecosphere can be built. The colonists move into their temporary domicile, pitching their family tents inside the Spartan space. The temporary habitat is not roomy, and is harshly lit by yellow tritium bulbs. It provides a shirt-sleeve environment nonetheless. On the face of this hostile bit of real estate, adrift in the void, even this rough bubble is a welcoming haven.

Establishing a self-sustaining ecocycle to produce food and recycle wastes is now the colonist's top priority. Coils of algae tubing are deployed and an ecocycle centered on a super critical water oxidizer is organized. At this point, the colonists are dug in for the long haul.

Now they can turn their attention to raising the colony's standard of living. The first step in that direction is the construction of a proper ecosphere. The surface of the asteroid, closely resembles that of the Martian moon Deimos. It is pocked with craters of various sizes, up to a kilometer in diameter. A crater 200 meters in diameter is chosen, and work begins to transform it into a permanent ecosphere. The robotic miner forms a ring of fused regolith around the crater rim while the utility tractors terrace the inner slopes. While forming the foundation ring, the miner extrudes bulk materials and some simple finished goods like reinforcing cable and anchoring bolts.

Refined silicon and other elements are fed into the uni-fab (universal fabricator) which produces the silicone bubble membrane. The uni-fab is a remarkable piece of machinery and represents one of the colony's most expensive and valuable capital assets. The uni-fab is capable of producing virtually any material or machine component. All it requires is a supply of the appropriate raw materials and detailed design instructions for its computer.

The fabricator uses MBE (Molecular Beam Epitaxy) technology to produce parts and materials. MBE is extremely simple in concept: a beam of charged atoms is sprayed onto a substrate, not unlike painting a car. Successive layers of atoms are beamed on until the desired thickness is built up. The composition of the molecular beam can be varied at will, as can the shape and thickness of the final products. With the right materials and instructions, the uni-fab can produce anything, from ball bearings to saran wrap.

The only materials the uni-fab can't produce are living tissues. You could feed in the appropriate instructions and materials needed to form a frog, but all you would get is frog soup.

The uni-fab can, however, easily manufacture just about anything else. It could readily produce all the parts of a camera, for example. You would still have to assemble the components, but all the lenses, fittings, and tiny screws could be manufactured by the uni-fab. Depending on its design, it could be a very fine camera. All the parts would be made with a finish and precision accurate to a couple of angstroms—the width of a single atom. The uni-fab enables the colonists to be self-sufficient in virtually all manufactured products, from toys to computer chips.

While the uni-fab produces the ecosphere's dome material, work progresses on crater preparation. When the inner terraces and anchoring ring are completed, the bubble membrane is installed, and inflation of the ecosphere begins.

An ecosphere 200 meters in diameter will require about half a million kilograms of oxygen. It will take the robotic miner a little over a year to produce this much air. As the ecosphere is inflated, the crater is terraformed to provide a life-rich habitat. Trees, grass, and flowers are planted in profusion. An open stream meanders across the terraces and slowly cascades down the slopes to a small pond. A fountain sprays water in dramatic slow-motion arcs. The soft splashing of water gently falling through the micro gravity will fill the interior with the unmistakable sounds of Earth. Slowly, the robotic miner will produce enough water to form a water shield for the crater dome. When complete, the shield will allow the colonists to pitch pavilions in the gardens and live in the open, among the eight acres of grass and trees under the dome.

The Robinsons will construct the first ecosphere for somewhat the same reasons that Sykes did his core drilling—to attract new settlers. With the ecosphere completed, the otherwise barren little asteroid now beckons with the welcoming green glow of a miniature Eden.

New colonists, looking for opportunities, but less willing than Sykes or the Robinsons to face risk and hardship, will be attracted to the new habitat. This first permanent ecosphere is easily large enough for dozens of families. Several groups of immigrants join the growing colony. This third wave of settlers does not face the harsh wilderness that greeted old Sykes and the Robinsons.

These newcomers can move right in to a comfortable habitat, resuming their lives without much of an interruption. Since the hazards and discomforts are low, individual families, even single people, will be able to immigrate to the new colony.

Despite this lack of hardship, the new colonists will enjoy a large share of the asteroid's abundant wealth. The new comers will pay cash bonuses to the Robinson group. They will literally be buying a 'piece of the rock'. In return, they are supplied with dwelling space, food, water, energy, and amenities. The new arrivals also get a stake in the colony. They earn a position in the corporate identity of the colony and a share of future royalties and profits.

As more and more colonists arrive, the earlier waves grow wealthier. Sykes becomes rich as Midas, but he never does move out of his rickety fuel cylinder. The Robinson group took a big gamble and hit the jackpot. The Robinson's and the other foun­ding families become enormously wealthy, building their own private compounds in some of the asteroid's choicest craters. For generations to come, the descendants of these pioneers will enjoy the status and bank accounts that go with "old money".

New Bern

As the growing community accrues wealth, dramatic new projects can be undertaken. The first of these will be—as on most new worlds—the construction of a mass launcher. The launcher will be built almost entirely of local materials. For example, low-temperature superconducting electromagnets can be made of Alnico—an alloy of aluminum, nickel, iron, and cobalt. All these metals are available on the asteroid. Ultra-low temperatures can be maintained in the magnets by shielding them from radiant heat under a blanket of vacuum insulated regolith and by circulating liquid hydrogen at -252°C. Once the mass driver is complete, the asteroid colony can begin to export commodities profitably.

There will always be an insatiable demand for water and other light elements back in the Earth-Moon system, but importing hydrogen from the asteroids will not be cheap. It requires a change of velocity (Δv) of 11 kilometers per second (kps) to move payloads from the inner asteroid belt to the Earth's orbit. That is the same Av required to lift payloads off the Earth. This fact will put a premium on the cost of living in the vicinity of the Earth. Escaping this cost penalty will be one of the motivations fueling immigration to the asteroid belt. In the self-sufficient colonies of the asteroids, the cost of living will be attractively low. There will always be people willing to pay the premium to live near the Earth, however; so the thirst for hydrogen from the asteroid belt is apt to remain unquenchable.

The colonists on Sykes 1011—now renamed New Bern— produce elemental hydrogen which they liquefy and hurl into space in vacuum insulated canisters of chromium cobalt alloy. The canisters need not be propelled to 11 kps—a very energy intensive proposition. Instead, they are impelled at a few tenths of a kps onto an orbital path that rendezvouses with the large asteroid Ceres. On Ceres there is a large interplanetary mass driver with huge cargo capacity. Hydrogen, metals, and other commodities from all over the asteroid belt are consolidated into bulk shipments. Big cargo carriers are flung off on journeys to the inner planets that can take years. The colonists' shipments of hydrogen, vitallium and other commodities are automatically credited to their accounts on Vesta.

The economy of New Bern thrives. Underpinned by the work of telecommuters, and supplemented by commodity exports, the colony grows richer. The colonists invest heavily in semi-autonomous factories. Highly specialized products are manufactured for niche markets all over the Solar system. The colonies on New Bern specialize in precision medical instruments and implants. Their vitallium endoskeletons come to be highly prized by people going through trans-geriatric metamorphosis.

New ecospheres spring up. All the best crater sites on the asteroid are domed over. As new immigrants arrive and children are born, the population burgeons. There is no shortage of room on the asteroid. It seems a tiny world, but it is big enough to accommodate a large city. The surface area of the asteroid is 314 million square meters. That is enough room for a population of three million people. It's hard to fathom, but even this many colonists wouldn't be crowded. Each person would have as much room as the marine colonists on Aquarius, where almost 40% of the area is dedicated to park land and open space. The same ratios would apply on the surface of the asteroid. Half the surface area could be dedicated to gardens, lakes, playing fields, and other open spaces, and there would still be ample room for a large population. All the industry, and much of the colony's supporting infrastructure, is put underground. The surface is left free for living.

Eventually, the whole surface of the asteroid is enclosed inside an ecosphere. With a membrane surrounding the asteroid, the whole surface can be terraformed and inhabited. Lush plant life will cover the asteroid's surface. People will live in their pavilions, set among the trees and flowers blanketing the once barren landscape.

A water shield for an ecosphere 12 kilometers in diameter would weigh 2.25 billion tons. This would require just over two percent of the asteroid's water supply. Inside the bubble membrane will be an oxygen atmosphere amounting to 86 million tons—requiring only a tiny fraction of the asteroid's oxygen.

The ecosphere will provide a tremendous volume of livable space. At some places, the asteroid's 'sky' will be two or three kilometers high. Trees will be able to grow thousands of meters tall, dwarfing even the Never-trees in the craters of the Moon.497 In the minuscule gravity, flight will be almost effortless. As in Lothlorien, many people will live in the branches and hollow trunks of the gigantic trees. Swiss Family Robinson will have come full circle.

As mining progresses, the asteroid's interior will become honeycombed with caverns and tunnels. Robotic miners will cut through the rich carbonaceous ore of the planetesimal like termites boring through fruit cake. Even after the asteroid is fully enclosed in an ecosphere, mining will continue deep in the interior. Exports will be spit out through rigid magnetic launch tubes that penetrate the outer shield membrane. Over time, the interior of the asteroid will be hollowed out and terraformed.

A large fraction of the asteroid's bulk will be converted into the living substance of people, plants, and animals. Every kilogram of water or metal ever removed from New Bern will be found somewhere in the solar system: bound up in the radiation shield of some other colony, rustling in the leaves of a tree, or coursing through the veins of a child. Nothing will be wasted, but everything will be transformed.

Over time, New Bern will mature into a vibrant miniature world. It will possess a unique history and culture all its own. The process that creates New Bern will be played out all over the asteroid belt at various times. The transformation of the belt will begin in the inner zones closest to the Sun and will proceed apace until the remotest asteroids have been settled, encapsulated, and terraformed. As the human population grows, each planetesimal will become the center of an expanding community, nourished and sustained by its asteroid's resources. As Solaria blossoms and ripens, the entire asteroid belt will become thickly sprinkled with free-floating ecospheres and terraformed asteroids.

From The Millennial Project by Marshall Savage (1992)
Tour of Our Terraformed Solar System: The Asteroids

Ah, the asteroid belt. There’s not a lot to see here; the view out of our windows as we arrive looks about as empty as everywhere else. And yet, this bleak void is the birthplace of humanity’s space colonization efforts. These boring space rocks were gold to the early spacefarers – well, platinum to be specific.

The Early Mining Colony

We set down in a hollow asteroid barely a thousand years after humanity first began to explore the void. Even now, we’re traipsing about in a tourist trap. The mineral resources and strategic location of this rock are a thing of the past; the cramped living quarters and maintenance tunnels are packed with floating tourists from Earth and Mars.

The tour guide tells us that “colonies” such as this weren’t that impressive at first; just temporary quarters for highly-paid remote-mining equipment operators. (A bit of a gender politics question: men are overwhelmingly overrepresented in very high-risk occupations, and suffer far more work-related injuries. In a (presumably) much more egalitarian future, will this still be the case? What will the gender breakdown of the early asteroid miners look like? Just one of those fun questions sci-fi writers get to answer.) Over time, the living space grew and the meager stations evolved into full-fledged communities. Yet even now, only a handful could be considered comfortable or urban – and only the largest bother producing their own centripetal “gravity.” We travel through the large common area on guide ropes strung between rooms. We could “free-fly” in this low-gravity environment, like the ancient miners did, but the last thing the station managers want is a bunch of landlubber tourists with no sense for gravity-free environments literally bouncing off the walls.

Traveling In Style: Inside an Asteroid

We’re done with this tourist trap; there’s more than one asteroid colony, and we’re sick of hearing tour-guides talk about the “ancient space miners” – we want to see some real mining in action. And if you want action these days, you head to Vesta.

How are we getting there? Well, we could just take our spacetimeship, but while we’re here in the asteroid belt, we might as well see what it’s like to travel in an actual asteroid. Eventually we find what we’re looking for: a colossal, spinning stone cylinder with a huge docking port on one end. We transmit credit information, fly through a series of airlocks, and find ourselves in a vast green-and-blue tube. We’re in a spinning paradise where travelers en route to Vesta can enjoy a quiet stroll through the garden, or gaze up at the “stars”: overhead streetlights and lanterns. The gravity is low-tech and the ride is slow, but nothing beats a hollowed-out asteroid for safety (putting half a mile of solid rock or ice between you and the radiation-rich void of space is a good idea for a lot of reasons), efficiency (carving out the middle of an asteroid and throwing an airlock on the top of the hole is a lot easier than constructing a starship from scratch – plus, you can sell all the platinum you just dug out"), and luxury (did I mention the view? The view of a tiny garden world curving all around the horizon is impressive, if a bit disorienting. Halo players may have a feel for what this looks like.).

Getting a Glimpse of Vesta

When we visited Mars, newswaves were abuzz about the Vesta (4 Vesta is the second-most massive asteroid in the Asteroid Belt, and only one of two with a differentiated metal core: it has an outer rocky layer covering a deliciously lucrative metal center.) project. And now, gazing at the camera monitors that pass for windows here, you see why. You’re witnessing the largest-scale mining operation in the history of mankind: the complete disassembly and processing of Vesta’s metal-rich core. It’s an unfathomably vast reservoir of raw metal, but considering the scale of some of humanity’s recent undertakings,(enormous solar panels near the Sun, colossal space stations orbiting Earth like extra moons, generation ships for traveling to a recently-discovered Earthlike planet many light-years away, etc.) it’s only just enough.

We dock at a half-asteroid space station with a good view of the action, and chat up some miners over dehydrated ice cream sandwiches. They’re really more like remote-control robotics operators and zero-G detonation experts than miners; actual humans almost never set foot on half-disassembled Vesta itself. Most of the personnel here are international observers, safety bureaucrats, heritage engineers extracting and safeguarding Vesta’s old colonies, and protesters from HACS: the Historical Asteroid Conservation Society. As we chat, we see bright flares in the distance. The miners fill us in: these are carefully positioned detonations for weakening and blasting away Vesta’s crust, and shuttles firing their engines to intercept any large pieces that drift past the perimeter control drones.

Skipping Ahead to Full Terraforming

It’s been a fun trip so far, but nothing in the current asteroid belt seems terraformed per se; some of the hollow asteroids are filled with little scraps of wilderness, but they’re more like terrariums (Terrarriums are exactly the name Kim Stanley Robinson gives these hollow-cylinder asteroids in his novel 2312. This novel wasn’t the first to feature mobile, Earth-like asteroid habitats, but it arguably discusses them with the most rigor and detail.) or zoos than whole worlds with ecosystems. (The lack of natural sunlight doesn’t help matters.) Even Ceres, largest and most planet-like of the belt asteroids, is too small for meaningful terraforming; there’s a large dome city and a few low-gravity skiing resorts, but nobody expects that it will ever resemble Earth in any meaningful way.

We’ve traveled space long enough – it’s time to travel, well, time. Let’s visit a small asteroid colony in the far-distant future. Skeptics, are you ready to be pedantic and annoying? Because we’re going to a blue-and green EARTH-LIKE asteroid. Sorry, but we’re going there. On the other hand, if you like The Little Prince or Super Mario Galaxy, this is the trip for you.

It’s the distant future’s distant future. The current biohacking trends make humanity nearly unrecognizable. Being entirely blue is in fashion now; last year it was scales and prehensile hair. Impossibly large solar collectors ring the sun… mostly as relics, since everyone uses direct matter-to-energy fusion cells now. We’ve passed a number of ships that look like ancient sailing vessels, complete with a full crew on deck. It’s hard to tell whether they’re air-agnostic androids or if the ship is surrounded by a pocket of air held in via an invisible shield. It looks like these “sailing” ships, the space whale, and dozens of other oddities that hardly appear spacefaring to our ancient eyes are headed to the same place we are. TerraTwin Corporation has invited the whole Solar System to witness the unveiling of their latest vanity project: the smallest-ever fully habitable Earth!

They have the resources, the talent, the power, and most importantly, the tech. Gravity is now bound to humanity’s leash. (A staple for most space-based sci-fi, even the near-future and semi-low-tech settings (for example, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica) have largely mastered gravity. The science is a bit iffy, but less impossible than FTL travel. Simple action-at-a-distance gravity control is possible if we combine a complete understanding of gravity with cheap fusion power; if we’re lucky, this could happen less than a century from now.) This has a number of bizarre implications, and we’re about to see the latest example. The company de-lenses the light just outside the port window, revealing… the Earth. Well, a version of the Earth that’s barely ten times the size of your ship.

It’s a legacy model; Greenland and Antarctica are white with what looks like real snow (the snowman on Greenland is a nice touch). Small cottages dot the tiny “continents” where the major cities would be: the vacation homes of ultra-rich celebrities and TerraTwin executives.

We’re allowed to land – because hey, who’s going to say no to time travelers (You have such nice, loving grandparents; it would be a shame if they’d never met.) – and we find the world to be both gorgeous and disorienting. This place is NOT for the agoraphobic; the horizon falls away much too quickly, giving the sensation of being atop a hill with nothing but space below. The gravity and the sky seem exactly Earth-like, but as you pick up the Rock of Gibraltar and give it a throw, you see it follow a bizarrely curved trajectory – it disappears behind the horizon before you can see where it landed.

More curious is the Sun. We’re in the far reaches of the Asteroid belt, yet the sun looks as big and bright as it does on Earth. Now the little moonlet we saw orbiting this miniature Earth makes sense: it’s an orbiting spotlight – an artificial sun. After all these years, humanity has decided to spite Galileo and prove Aristotle right. (Aristotle’s heliocentric theory of the solar system (whereby the sun and all planets orbited the earth) was so influential that it even became enshrined in Catholic doctrine. Galileo was put under house arrest until he died when he spoke out against this theory.) This fake sun orbits in such a way that it covers up the actual sun (two suns would break Earth canon, you see).

The asteroids may be barely-noticeable space grit in the 21st century, but their mineral wealth (mostly their abundance of platinum-group elements, which are exceptionally rare on Earth) and accessibility predestines them to undergo the Solar System’s most remarkable transformations. Over the centuries, they will be mining outposts, military bases, tourist traps, enormous hollow ships, quaint homesteads, impossible-looking cities, and even gardens.




  • Strategic Location could make it the main base for asteroid mining infrastructure.
  • Strategic Location could make it a transport nexus to send mineral resources to Mars, Luna, and Terra.
  • Large deposits of valuable water ice (possibly up to 200 million cubic kilometers of water) coupled with a very low escape velocity (514 m/s) make it a useful source water, hydrogen, and oxygen; as well as an orbital propellant depot. Ceres might have more fresh water than Terra (but Terra has far more brackish salt-water).
  • Low gravity well makes delta V cost of coloniziation lower than all planets and most moons (including Luna).
  • A colonized Ceres could assist with the colonization of the Jovian moons, or other outer solar system objects.
  • Ceres' orbit has a greater semi-major axis than Mars, so it has much more frequent Hohmann launch windows to/from cislunar space (every 1 year, 3.3 months) than Mars does (every 2 years, 1.6 months). Of course the transit time is higher (cislunar-Ceres 1 y, 3.5 m; cislunar-Mars 8.5 m), and delta V cost is higher due to Ceres' orbital inclination (cislunar-Ceres 9,477 m/s; cislunar-Mars 5,748 m/s).


  • Solar power available at Ceres aphelion is 150 W/m2 (1/9th power available at Terra, 1/4th power available at Mars). Which is very low but still workable.
  • Surface gravity is 0.27 m/s2 (2.8% Terra), which is probably too low for health.
  • Ceres has no magnetic field to ward off cosmic rays. Colony will require shielding and/or be buried underground.

Jovian System

Jupiter, Ring, Galilean Satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Moons (stats on Galilean Satellites, stats on all Jovian Moons, stats on Jupiter)


  • Jupiter's magnetic field can be used
    • As a power source. 2.0 × 1013 watts potential between Jupiter and Io.
      This can be harvested with electrodynamic tethers.
      Alternatively, you mount microwave beamers on copper rods and launch them from Io at Jupiter. As the rods cut the magnetic lines of force they generate electricty. This is converted into microwave and beamed back to Io. Rod is destroyed when it hits Jupiter, but so what, they are cheap.
    • For transportation
    • For spallation of useful elements into needed isotopes
  • Harvesting Jupiter's Atmosphere
  • Nitrogen for fertilizer from Jupiter's atmospheric ammonia.
  • Callisto's Water Ice.
  • Ganymede's Water Ice.
  • Europa's Water Ice.


  • Jupiter's radiation belt is about a million times more intense (and deadly) than Terra's Van Allen radiation belts. Europa, Io, and Ganymede are inside the radiation belt, Callisto is outside.
Manned exploration of Jupiter and Radiation hazard

Here's a quick analysis for planning and realism purposes for manned exploration of Jupiter's Galilean satellites:

Satellite Daily
rate (Sv)
rate (Sv)
Io 36 13149 2 min 4 min 20 min 40 min 1.33h 2 h 2.67h 4 h 6.67h 33.33h
Europa 5 1972 13.33 min 26.66 min 2.22h 4.44h 8.89h 13.33h 17.78h 26.67h 44.44h -
Ganymede 0.08 29.22 15h 30h 6.25d 12.5d 25d 37.5d 50d 75d - -
Callisto 0.0001 0.037 1.37y 2.74y - - - - - - - -

The single year limit is 50 mSv, while the maximum 5-year cumulative exposure is 100 mSv (or 20 mSv per year). LD stands for Lethal Dose, LD x/y means "x" percent of individuals die within "y" days. LD 50/30 thus means half of people exposed at this level of radiation would die within 30 days. Some values have been omitted as the time required to reach the lethal dose level exceeds the time for lower lethal dose rates to be achieved or, in the case of Callisto, because it would simply be unreachable with the low radiation rate observed.

A few observations point to the obvious:

Astronauts on Io would experience fierce radiation flux, reaching their maximum cumulative radiation dose accepted by various safety regulations for a period of 5 years in only 4 minutes outside on the surface!!! Europa isn't much better, with less than half an hour of exposure. Ganymede is also a fierce environment, despite radiation being much less intense than at Io. With minimal shielding, Callisto would provide a safe working environment no worse than a nuclear power plant or research facility.

For shielding purposes to limit exposure to below regulatory levels for 5-year periods, the number of halving thickness of shielding material stands as follows:

Satellite Number of
Io 20 3.6 m
Europa 17 3.06 m
Ganymede 11 1.98 m
Callisto 1 18 cm

As ice is less dense than water, about 10% more would be required.

Sol-Jupiter Lagrange Points

The Jupiter Trojan asteroids are composed of the Greek node at L4 and the Trojan node at L5. Surveys suggest that counting asteroids with a diameter of two kilometers or more, the Greek node contains 6.3 ± 1.0×104 and the Trojan node contains 3.4 ± 0.5×104. The largest trojan is 624 Hektor of the Greek node, with a average diameter of 203 ± 3.6 km.

The Hilda familiy are asteroids sort of in L3. They are actually in a 3:2 mean-motion resonance with Jupiter. There are about 1,100 known asteroids in the familiy, with the largest being 153 Hilda with a diameter of 171 km. 153 Hilda is a carbonaceous asteroid.

Saturnian System

Saturnian Moons (stats on Titan, stats on all Saturnian Moons, stats on Saturn's Rings, stats on Saturn)


  • Nitrogen for fertilizer from Saturn's atmospheric ammonia.
  • Nitrogen for fertilizer from Titan's Atmosphere. The stratosphere is 98.4% nitrogen, the only dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere in the Solar System outside of Terra.
  • The atmosphere of Saturn is a rich source of Helium-3, valuable as fuel for fusion reactors using the 3He+D reaction. It can be harvested by atmospheric scooping.
    Jupiter is closer to Terra and has 3He as well. But Jupiter's gravity is fierce! If the scoopships used solid core nuclear thermal rockets they'd need a whopping mass ration of 20 to escape back to orbit (43 km/s delta V). They wouldn't be able to carry enough 3He to be economical. Saturn on the other hand has a much lower gravity. NTR scoopships could manage with a mass ratio of 4 (26 km/s delta V), which is much more reasonable.
    Tanker ships would need only 18 km/s delta V to travel from Saturn to Terra.
    I worked up a sketchy future history centered around Saturn, called Ring Raiders.
  • According to Robert Zubrin, terraforming Mars could require large crashing ice asteroids onto its surface. The farther out the asteroid's orbit is from the Sun, the less delta V is required to re-direct it to Mars impact. Saturn would do nicely. Most of the ring fragments are solid ice, and Saturn is quite far from the Sun. And you can be quite sure that the Orbit Guard will closely monitor the operation.
  • Titan Space Plastic using the hydrocarbon seas as feedstock.
  • From an author's standpoint, civilization in Saturn's rings would resemble a classic Niven-like "Belter" asteroid civilization.
    According to Jerry Pournelle in a gas giant's system of moons, Hohmann delta V requirements are quite reasonable. This contrasts with the excessive Hohmann requirements for, say, travel among the asteroids. Crude NERVAs using various ices as reaction mass work just fine. Indeed, in the outer moons, a backyard kerosene rocket will do. Most of the Saturnian moons are almost entirely composed of ices so there is plenty of reaction mass for a fleet of ships.
    Hohmann transit times are relatively short, as are synodic periods of launch windows.
    Gas giants are also pretty far away from Terra, to encourage wars of liberation and local autonomy or other entertaining events that ordinarily Terra would put a stop to.
    While Jupiter is closer, it also has a nasty radiation belt. Saturn doesn't. Saturn's radiation belt is far weaker than Jupiter's blue glowing field of radioactive death, being more on par with Terra's Van Allen belt. This would mean that the various moons of Saturn could be independent nations, fighting each other over "whatever" without having to worry about interference from Terra.
  • From an author's standpoint, Saturn and its moons have all sorts of anomalous weird features that can be inspirations for novels and short stories.
Delta V required for travel using Hohmann orbits: Moons of Saturn
Created by Erik Max Francis' Python Hohmann orbit calculator.
  • Start and destination planets are labeled along axes.
  • Values are in m/s.
  • Values below the diagonal in blue are delta V's needed to go from orbit around one satellite to orbit around the other, landing on neither.
  • Values above the diagonal in red are delta V's needed to go from the surface of one satellite to the surface of the other, taking off and landing.
  • Diagonal values in gold are delta V's needed to take off from the surface of a satellite and go into circular orbit around it, or to land from a circular orbit.

A backyard kersosene rocket (exhaust velocity 3,330 m/s) with a mass ratio of 2 will have about 2,300 m/s of deltaV, mass ratio of 3 will have 3,660 m/s, and a mass ratio of 4 will have 4,620 m/s. As you can see this could easily do almost half of the possible trips.

A NERVA rocket using water as reaction mass (exhaust velocity 4,042 m/s) with a mass ratio of 2 will have about 2,800 m/s of deltaV, mass ratio of 3 will have 4,440 m/s, and a mass ratio of 4 will have 5,600 m/s.

A NERVA rocket using hydrogen as reaction mass (exhaust velocity 8,093 m/s) with a mass ratio of 2 will have about 5,600 m/s of deltaV, mass ratio of 3 will have 8,890 m/s, and a mass ratio of 4 will have 11,200 m/s.

Synodic Periods and Transit Times for Hohmann Travel table for Moons of Saturn
Created by Erik Max Francis' Python Hohmann orbit calculator.
Epimetheus1405d, 13h2d, 16h1d, 10h1d, 2h22h20h17h17h
Janus8h2d, 16h1d, 10h1d, 2h22h20h17h17h
Mimas10h10h3d, 1h1d, 21h1d, 11h1d, 5h1d, 0h23h
Enceladus12h12h14h5d, 0h2d, 18h1d, 23h1d, 12h1d, 9h
Tethys15h15h17h19h6d, 2h3d, 6h2d, 3h1d, 22h
Dione19h19h21h1d, 0h1d, 4h6d, 23h3d, 7h2d, 20h
Rhea1d, 4h1d, 4h1d, 6h1d, 10h1d, 13h1d, 19h6d, 7h4d, 19h
Titan3d, 9h3d, 9h3d, 12h3d, 16h3d, 22h4d, 5h4d, 20h19d, 23h
Iapetus14d, 22h14d, 22h15d, 3h15d, 11h15d, 19h16d, 8h17d, 6h21d, 20h
  • In both sections, "d" means "days", and "h" means "hours"
  • Synodic periods (i.e., Hohmann launch window frequency) are above the diagonal in red
  • Transit times are below the diagonal in blue

Uranian and Neptunian Moons

Uranian Moons (stats on all Uranian Moons, stats on Uranian Rings, stats on Uranus)


Neptunian Moons (stats on all Neptunian Moons, stats on Neptunian Rings, stats on Neptune)


Neptune Trojans

Trans-Neptuian Objects

Kuiper Belt

Scattered disc


Oort Cloud

Galactic Neighborhood

If you are mapping your empire, you will need to figure some sizes. If you decide upon the empire's radius and want to know how many stars and stars with Terran-type planets, use the rules of thumb:

Nstars = Rly^3 * 0.01

NhStars = Rly^3 * 0.0022


  • Rly = empire radius in light years
  • Nstars = number of stars
  • NhStars = number of stars with human habitable planets

If you decide upon the number of stars in the empire and want to know it's radius:

Rly = cubeRoot(Nstars * 97)

Rly = cubeRoot(NhStars * 464)

(If your calculator does not have a cube root button, you can use the "Xy" button instead. Type in the number, hit Xy, type in 0.333333333 then hit the equal button.)

Note: the above equations are based upon the work of Jill Tarter and Margaret Turnbull. They were not trying to figure out which stars could host a human habitable planet. They were trying to figure out which stars could host a planet that was not so hideously uninhabitable that no possible form of life could live there. In other words, many of these planets could host alien life forms but would quickly kill an unprotected human being.

If my slide rule isn't lying to me, this works out to an average distance between adjacent stars of 9.2 light years, and an average distance of 15.4 light years between adjacent habitable stars.


In his Flandry of Terra novels, Poul Anderson specified that the Terran Empire was four hundred light years in diameter. How many stars will it probably have? A sphere 400 light years in diameter has a 200 light year radius. 200^3 * 0.01 = 8,000,000 * 0.01 = 80,000 stars. Anderson cites a figure of about four million stars, which means one of us is a bit off the mark (probably me).


You have decided that the NeoRoman Star Empire will contain 10,000 habitable planets. How wide is it? cubeRoot(10,000 * 464) = cubeRoot(5,643,000) = 167 light years radius = 334 light years in diameter.

Note that these rules of thumb were derived by me using an analysis of the Habcat database, and thus could be wildly inaccurate. If you can find better figures, use them, but these are better than no figures at all.

Galactic Survey

If your planet or interstellar empire is pushing colonization, you'll need to know where the good planets are. The office of Galactic Survey (whatever you call it) has that job.

The astronomical section will use telescopes or whatever to locate all the unexplored solar systems on the frontier. The scout section will send robot probes or manned expeditions to likely systems for a closer look at any planets that are possible colony sites. Sometimes a starship with a single person (called a "first-in scout") will to the initial once-over, and will tell Galactic Survey which planets are worthy of a full expedition.

The astronomical section can weed out some star systems unlikely to contain habitable planets. There are certain spectral classes of stars which are unlikely to to live long enough to nurture a habitable planet, others are unlikely to have any planets at all. The astro section can also spot the danger signs of indigenous intelligent alien species. That will be turned over to the first-contact and military branches of government.

The first-in scout can be a robot probe, but this poises a risk. In alien star systems, there is a huge chance of the probe encountering a situation totally outside the bounds of its knowledge set and initiative. In Larry Niven's "Known Space" series, there are quite a few colonies founded on really nasty planets because the scouting ram-robot space probes were programmed by people with insufficient imagination.

Scouting a new planet is a notoriously dangerous job. The scouts will have to discover the hard way what a new planet has to offer in the way of deadly plagues, hideous carnivorous animals, poisonous plants, geological death-traps, and killer weather. Not to mention alien inhabitants.

Scouting becomes really tricky if they stumble over intelligent aliens. If the aliens have starships, it is vitally important that they do not discover the location of any human planets. But chances are any aliens discovered will be either apes or angels. If it is the former the scout can play god over the primitive cave-man aliens. If it is the latter the scout will be placed in an alien petri dish and studied in an alien lab. It is highly unlikely that the alien's technological development will be equal with the humans, no matter what you saw in Star Trek.

In any event scouts will have some sort of training for "first-contact" situations.

The traditional way that scouts look for intelligent aliens is to check the radio waves for alien transmissions, and to check the neutrino detectors for evidence of alien fission or fusion power plants. This allows the scout to spot aliens at a range far enough to beat a hasty retreat. Usually.

Sometimes surveys will come in waves, with grand names like "The Third Uranographic Survey". Otherwise the surveying will be a constant low-level effort. In some science fiction novels (notably Andre Norton's "The Sargasso of Space") the Scout service will hold auctions for the right to establish colonies or to have monopolies of any trade goods on newly discovered planets. The former type is of interest to potential colonists, the latter is of interest to interstellar traders (both megacorporations and independent free traders).

Wings of Victory

Our part in the Grand Survey had taken us out beyond the great suns Alpha and Beta Crucis. From Earth we would have been in the constellation Lupus. But Earth was 278 light-years remote, Sol itself long dwindled to invisibility, and stars drew strange pictures across the dark.

After three years we were weary and had suffered losses. Oh, the wonder wasn't gone. How could it ever go—from world after world after world? But we had seen so many, and of those we had walked on, some were beautiful and some were terrible and most were both (even as Earth is) and none were alike and all were mysterious. They blurred together in our minds.

It was still a heart-speeding thing to find another sentient race, actually more than to find another planet colonizable by man. Now Ali Hamid had perished of a poisonous bite a year back, and Manuel Gonsalves had not yet recovered from the skull fracture inflicted by the club of an excited being at our last stop. This made Vaughn Webner our chief xenologist, from whom was to issue trouble.

Not that he, or any of us, wanted it. You learn to gang warily, in a universe not especially designed for you, or you die; there is no third choice. We approached this latest star because every G-type dwarf beckoned us. But we did not establish orbit around its most terrestroid attendant until neutrino analysis had verified that nobody in the system had developed atomic energy. And we exhausted every potentiality of our instruments before we sent down our first robot probe.

The sun was a G9, golden in hue, luminosity half of Sol's. The world which interested us was close enough in to get about the same irradiation as Earth. It was smaller, surface gravity 0.75, with a thinner and drier atmosphere. However, that air was perfectly breathable by humans, and bodies of water existed which could be called modest oceans. The globe was very lovely where it turned against star-crowded night, blue, tawny, rusty-brown, white-clouded. Two little moons skipped in escort.

Biological samples proved that its life was chemically similar to ours. None of the microorganisms we cultured posed any threat that normal precautions and medications could not handle. Pictures taken at low altitude and on the ground showed woods, lakes, wide plains rolling toward mountains. We were afire to set foot there.

But the natives—

You must remember how new the hyperdrive is, and how immense the cosmos. The organizers of the Grand Survey were too wise to believe that the few neighbor systems we'd learned something about gave knowledge adequate for devising doctrine. Our service had one law, which was its proud motto: "We come as friends." Otherwise each crew was free to work out its own procedures. After five years the survivors would meet and compare experiences.

For us aboard the Olga, Captain Gray had decided that, whenever possible, sophonts should not be disturbed by preliminary sightings of our machines. We would try to set the probes in uninhabited regions. When we ourselves landed, we would come openly. After all, the shape of a body counts for much less than the shape of the mind within. Thus went our belief.

Naturally, we took in every datum we could from orbit and upper-atmospheric overflights. While not extremely informative under such conditions, our pictures did reveal a few small towns on two continents—clusters of buildings, at least, lacking defensive walls or regular streets—hard by primitive mines. They seemed insignificant against immense and almost unpopulated landscapes. We guessed we could identify a variety of cultures, from Stone Age through Iron. Yet invariably, aside from those petty communities, settlements consisted of one or a few houses standing alone. We found none less than ten kilometers apart; most were more isolated.

"Carnivores, I expect," Webner said. "The primitive economies are hunting-fishing-gathering, the advanced economies pastoral. Large areas which look cultivated are probably just to provide fodder; they don't have the layout of proper farms." He tugged his chin. "I confess to being puzzled as to how the civilized—well, let's say the 'metallurgic' people, at this stage—how they manage it. You need trade, communication, quick exchange of ideas, for that level of technology. And if I read the pictures aright, roads are virtually nonexistent, a few dirt tracks between towns and mines, or to the occasional dock for barges or ships—Confound it, water transportation is insufficient."

"Pack animals, maybe?" I suggested.

"Too slow," he said. "You don't get progressive cultures when months must pass before the few individuals capable of originality can hear from each other. The chances are they never will."

For a moment the pedantry dropped from his manner. "Well," he said, "we'll see," which is the grandest sentence that any language can own.

We always made initial contact with three, the minimum who could do the job, lest we lose them. This time they were Webner, xenologist; Aram Turekian, pilot; and Yukiko Sachansky, gunner. It was Gray's idea to give women that last assignment. He felt they were better than men at watching and waiting, less likely to open fire in doubtful situations.

The site chosen was in the metallurgic domain, though not a town. Why complicate matters unnecessarily? It was on a rugged upland, thick forest for many kilometers around. Northward the mountainside rose steeply until, above timberline, its crags were crowned by a glacier. Southward it toppled to a great plateau, open country where herds grazed on a reddish analogue of grass or shrubs. Maybe they were domesticated, maybe not. In either case, probably the dwellers did a lot of hunting.

"Would that account for their being so scattered?" Yukiko wondered. "A big range needed to support each individual?"

"Then they must have a strong territoriality," Webner said. "Stand sharp by the guns."

From Wings of Victory by Poul Anderson (1972)
Tales of Known Space

After more than a century of space travel, Man's understanding of his own solar system was nearly complete. So he moved on to industrial development.

The next hundred years saw the evolution of a civilization in space. For reasons of economy the Belters concentrated on the wealth of the asteroids. With fusion-driven ships they could have mined the planets; but their techniques were more universally applicable in free fall and among the falling mountains. Only Mercury was rich enough to attract the Belt miners.

For a time Earth was the center of the space industries. But the lifestyles of Belter and flatlander were so different that a split was inevitable. The flatland phobia — the inability to tolerate even an orbital flight — was common on Earth, and remained so. And there were Belters who would never go anywhere near a planet.

Between Earth and the Belt there was economic wrestling, but never war. The cultures needed each other. And they were held together by a common bond: the conquest of the stars. The ramrobots — the unmanned Bussard ramjet probes — were launched during the mid twenty-first century.

By 2100 AD, five nearby solar systems held budding colonies: the worlds were Jinx, Wunderland, We Made It, Plateau, and Down. None of these worlds was entirely Earthlike. Those who programmed the ramrobots had used insufficient imagination.

From Tales of Known Space by Larry Niven (1975)
A Gift From Earth

A ramrobot had been the first to see Mount Lookitthat. Ramrobots had been first visitors to all the settled worlds. The interstellar ramscoop robots, with an unrestricted fuel supply culled from interstellar hydrogen, could travel between stars at speeds approaching that of light. Long ago the UN had sent ramrobots to nearby stars to search out habitable planets. It was a peculiarity of the first ramrobots that they were not choosy. The Procyon ramrobot, for instance, had landed on We Made It in spring. Had the landing occurred in summer or winter, when the planet's axis points through its sun, the ramrobot would have sensed the fifteen-hundred-mile-per-hour winds. The Sirius ramrobot had searched out the two narrow habitable bands on Jinx, but had not been programmed to report the planet's other peculiarities. And the Tau Ceti ramrobot, Interstellar Ramscoop Robot #4, had landed on Mount Lookitthat. Only the Plateau on Mount Lookitthat was habitable. The rest of the planet was an eternal searing black calm, useless for any purpose. The Plateau was smaller than any region a colony project would settle by choice. But Interstellar Ramscoop Robot #4 had found an habitable point, and that was all it knew.

The colony slowboats, which followed the ramrobots. had not been built to make round trips. Their passengers had to stay, always. And so Mount Lookitthat was settled, more than three hundred years ago.

From A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven (1968)
Lilith: A Snake In The Grass

In a galaxy whose system was based on perfect order, uniformity, harmony, and a firm belief in natural laws, the Warden Diamond was an insane asylum. It seemed to exist as a natural counterpoint to everyplace else, the opposite of everything the rest of the Confederacy was or even believed in.

Halden Warden, a scout for the Confederacy, had discovered the system, nearly two hundred years earlier, when the Diamond was far outside the administrative area of the Confederacy. Warden was something of a legend among scouts, a man who disliked most everything about civilization, not the least other people. Such extreme antisocial tendencies would have been dealt with in the normal course of events, but there was an entire discipline of psychology devoted to discovering and developing antisocial traits that could benefit society. The fact was, only people with personalities like Warden's could stand the solitude, the years without companionship, the physical and mental hardships of deep-space scouting. No sane person in Confederation society, up to Confederation standards, would ever take a job like that.

Warden was worse than most. He spent as little time as possible in "civilization," often just long enough to refuel and reprovision. He flew farther, longer, and more often than any other scout before or since, and his discoveries were astonishing in their number alone.

Unfortunately for his bosses back in the Confederacy, Warden felt that discovery was his only purpose. He left just about everything else, including preliminary surveys and reports, to those who would use his beamed coordinates to follow him. Not that he didn't make the surveys—he just communicated as little with the Confederacy as possible, often in infuriating ways.

Thus, when the signal "4AW" came in, there was enormous excitement and anticipation—four human-habitable planets in one system! Such a phenomenon was simply unheard of, beyond all statistical probabilities, particularly considering that only one in four thousand solar systems contained anything remotely of use. They waited anxiously for the laconic scout to tell them what he would name the new worlds and to give his preliminary survey descriptions of them, waited anxiously not only in anticipation of a great discovery, but also with trepidation at just what Crazy Warden would say and whether or not his message could be deciphered.

And then came the details, confirming their worst fears. He followed form, though, closest in to farthest out from the sun.

"Charon," came the first report. "Looks like Hell.

"Lilith," he continued. "Anything that pretty's got to have a snake in it.

"Cerberus," he named the third. "Looks like a real dog."

And finally, "Medusa: Anybody who lives here would have to have rocks in his head."

The coordinates followed, along with a code confirming that Warden had done remote, not direct, exploration—that is, he hadn't landed, something that was always his option—and a final code, "ZZ," which filled the Confederacy with apprehension. It meant that there was something very odd about the place, so approach with extreme caution.

Cursing Crazy Warden for giving them nothing at all to go on, they mounted the standard maximum-caution expedition—a full-scale scientific expedition, with two hundred of the best, most experienced Exploiter Team members aboard, backed up by four heavy cruisers armed to the teeth.

The big trouble with Warden's descriptions was that they were almost always right—only you never figured out quite what he meant until you got there.

From Lilith: A Snake In The Grass by Jack L. Chalker (1981)
Sargasso of Space

"And what pot of gold has fallen into our hands this time, Captain?" That was Steen Wilcox asking the question which was in all their minds.

"Survey auction!" the words burst out of Jellico as if he simply could not restrain them any longer.

Somebody whistled and someone else gasped. Dane blinked, he was too new to the game to understand at once. But when the full purport of the announcement burst upon him he knew a surge of red hot excitement. A survey auction — a Free Trader got a chance at one of those maybe once in a life-time. And that was how fortunes were made.

"Who's in town?" Engineer Stotz's eyes were narrowed, he was looking at the Captain almost accusingly.

Jellico shrugged. "All the usual. But it's been a long trip, and there are four Class D-s listed as up for bids — "

Dane calculated rapidly. The Companies would automatically scoop up the A and B listings — there would be tussles over the C-s. And four D-s — four newly discovered planets whose trading rights auctioned off under Federation law would come within range of the price Free Traders could raise. Would the Queen be able to enter the contest for one of them? A complete five- or ten-year monopoly on the rights of Trade with a just charted world could make them all wealthy — if luck rode their jets.

"How much in the strong box?" Tau asked Van Rycke.

"When we pick up the voucher for this last load and pay our Field fees there'll be — but what about supplies, Frank?"

The thin little steward was visibly doing sums in his head. "Say a thousand for restocking — that gives us a good margin — unless we're in for a rim haul — "

"All right, Van, cutting out that thousand — what can we raise?" It was Jellico's turn to ask.

There was no need for the Cargo-Master to consult his books, the figures were part of the amazing catalogue within his mind, "Twenty-five thousand — maybe six hundred more — "

There was a deflated silence. No survey auctioneer would accept that amount. It was Wilcox who broke the quiet.

"Why are they having an auction here, anyway? Naxos is no Federation district planet."

It was queer, come to think of it, Dane agreed. He had never before heard of a trading auction being held on any world which was not at least a sector capitol.

"The Survey ship Rimwald has been reported too long overdue," Jellico's voice came flatly. "All available ships have been ordered to conclude business and get into space to quarter for her. This ship here — the Giswald — came in to the nearest planet to hold auction. It's some kind of legal rocket wash — "

Van Rycke's broad finger tips drummed on the table top. "There are Company agents here. On the other hand there are only two other independent Traders in port. Unless another planets before sixteen hours today, we have four worlds to share between the three of us. The Companies don't want D-s — their agents have definite orders not to bid for them."

"Look here, sir," that was Rip, "In that twenty-five thousand — did you include the pay-roll?"

When Van Rycke shook his head Dane guessed what Rip was about to suggest. And for a moment he knew resentment. To be asked to throw one's voyage earnings into a wild gamble — and that was what would happen he was sure — was pretty tough. He wouldn't have the courage to vote against it either —

"With the pay-roll in?" Tau's soft, unaccented voice questioned.

"About thirty-eight thousand — "

"Pretty lean for a Survey auction," Wilcox was openly dubious.

"Miracles have happened," Tang Ya pointed out. "I say — try it. If we lose we're not any the worse — "

It was agreed by a hand vote, no one dissenting, that the crew of the Queen would add their pay to the reserve — sharing in proportion to the sum they had surrendered in any profits to come. Van Rycke by common consent was appointed the bidder. But none of them would have willingly stayed away from the scene of action and Captain Jellico agreed to hire a Field guard as they left the ship in a body to try their luck.

From Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton (1955)
The X Factor

The rack of travel disks might have been taken out of a spacer — perhaps it had been.

He studied that rack, his lips shaping numbers as he counted the disks, each in its own slot. More than a hundred worlds — keys to more than a hundred worlds — all visited at some time or another by Renfry Fentress. And any one of those, fitted into the auto-pilot of a spacer could take a man to that world —

Blue tapes first — worlds explored by Fentress, now open for colonization — ten of those, a record of which to be proud. Yellow disks — worlds that would not support human life. Green — inhabited by native races, open for trade, closed to human settlement. Red — Diskan eyed the red. There were three of those at the bottom of the case.

Red meant unknown — worlds on which only one landing had been made, reported, but not yet checked out fully as useful or otherwise. Empty of intelligent life, yes, possible for human life as to climate and atmosphere, but planets that posed some kind of puzzle. What could such puzzles be, Diskan speculated, for a moment pulled from his own concerns to wonder. Any one of a hundred reasons could mark a world red — to await further exploration.

From The X Factor by Andre Norton (1965)
Voyage of the BSM Pandora

(ed note: this is from a solo-play tabletop boardgame where the player explores several star systems. The game is a sequel to The Wreck of the BSM Pandora, where an accident temporarily renders the crew unconscious and releases all the alien critters.)


The Ares Corporation BSM Pandora is a standard long range cruiser, Titan class, specifically equipped to study new planetary systems and collect extraterrestrial lifeforms. Although the prototype BSM cruiser was originally designed in 2689 A.D., the first ship was not completed until 2753; the Pandora's hull was orginally laid down in 2773, but it was not launched until 2784 (the third BSM crusier to come off the line).

The Pandora uses the standard binary LRC design. The FTL module (70 × 28 × 26 meters) uses the module 31 FTL drive (Monopole Corp.). The STL module (46 × 27 × 26 meters) uses the model HB2 STL drive (FRG AG). The main computer is a Fuji 5500 (AMC Ltd.), with sub-system processors belonging to the Huron 7600 series (General Electric).

The Pandora's FTL drive gives the ship an almost limitless operational range; the standard tour of duty is ten years, thus limiting the ship to an effective operational range of 112 light years (34.35+ parsecs).

The standard BMS mission consists of two parts: first, a survey of planetary systems for potential human habitats (either G2 — G2.5 readily habitable or Geneva Treaty 2098, Section IIIA, Subsection 4 — Terraformible Class habitable), and second, the collection of extraterrestrial biological specimens for study aboard ship or later transfer to Biological Mission Control, Arestia City, Mars...

Transcript of Transmission from Eridani 6-K Mission:


Roger, Skraaling. Subject appears marsupial to me. Perhaps an early mammal...


Skraaling, stop looking and use your tranqs!


Skraaling... Gedipus here. Prowler at 5 o'clock. Come on, you jerks, keep awake. Where there's hervivores, there's carnivores...



OH, MY GOD....



After sub-Titan shuttle safely docks with Titan-class cruiser, the following operational checklist will be adhered to in the transfer of specimens into the Stage area.

  1. All crew members will evacuate Stage area.
  2. ALL airlocks to Stage area will be secured.
  3. Collecbot will be activated.
  4. Collecbot will open specimen Store Space.
  5. Collecpod will move energy cage to Store Space lock.
  6. Environment differential will be adjusted to minimum between cage and Store Space.
  7. Collecbot will transfer specimen from cage to Store Space.
  8. Collecbot will secure Store Space.
  9. Collecbot will administer anti-tranq to specimine.
  10. Specimen will be allowed to waken. (Note: NO CREW MEMBER WILL BE ALLOWED TO ENTER STAGE AREA!)
  11. Specimen will be allowed to test Store Space.
  12. If all specification prove safe (see Securing Specimens), crew members will be allowed to enter Stage area.
  13. If specification proves safe, collecbot will tranquilize specimen and transfer it to hibernation chamber (see Hibernation Transfer).

Colonizable Worlds

If your first-in scouts have given you the luxury of lots of human-habitable worlds to choose your colony sites from, naturally you will pick the ones closest to being paradise planets.

If all the planets range from miserable hell-holes to utterly uninhabitable you have roughly three options:

  • Change the planet (see Terraforming)
  • Change the colonists (see Pantropy)
  • Give up your colonization program

HABITABLE. Any PLANET that people (mainly EARTH HUMANS) can live on without having to wear a space suit or at least an oxygen supply. Habitable Planets fall mostly into two classes.

     1) Paradises. These are almost exactly like Earth — more precisely the Garden of Eden, or at least coastal California. Summers are baskingly warm, winters briskly cool, and the rain falls only at night. Landforms have dramatic variety, a typical planetscape resembling San Francisco Bay, only with the Sierras in place of the Oakland hills. These Planets teem with native life forms that we can eat (and tasty to boot; see FOOD), but none — either carnivores or microbes — who eat us. It is easy to understand why COLONIZATION happened on these Planets. Who wouldn't want to live on one, if you could?

     2) Hells. These nominally Habitable Planets pose greater challenges for interstellar real estate promoters. The entire Planet usually has only one climatic zone, and it isn't mediterranean. Desert Planets seem to be most common, followed by ice-age Planets, steaming jungle Planets, and howling windswept steppe Planets. The local life is mostly inedible, but it can eat us with no problem, and does so whenever it can catch us. It is difficult to understand why Colonization happened on these Planets. Perhaps they produce something valuable in TRADE, but if so the Colonists never seem to benefit, since they are mostly poor. If even limited TERRAFORMING is available, you would think that someone would give these Planets a bit of touch-up.


From HABITABLE by Rick Robinson
Garden Worlds, Park Worlds

In the old days, interstellar colonization was pretty simple and straightforward (once you had a starship handy). Heinlein, naturally, provided the real estate pitch:

"Imagine a place like Earth, but sweeter than Terra ever was … forests aching to be cut, game that practically jumps into the stew pot. If you don't like settlements, you move on until you've got no neighbors, poke a seed in the ground, then jump back before it sprouts. No obnoxious insects. Practically no terrestrial diseases and no native diseases that like the flavor of our breed." (Starman Jones, Ballantine pback, p. 68.)

Nova Terra, to be sure, was the pick of the lot. In the same book Heinlein alludes to harsh colony worlds – and later on, an Eden planet turns out to have non-prelapsarian locals already in possession, who intend to stay that way. But given a sky full of stars and a ship to get you there, why settle for the also-rans? Heinlein also supplied a host of secondary tropes, such as the utility of horses that can fuel themselves from a handy pasture and (given a stallion and a mare) manufacture their own replacements.

Unfortunately, as commenter Ian M. noted a couple of months back (in comments spinning off a post about the Moon), it is desperately unlikely to work out that way. Suppose a planet with complex life, and enough of it to have built up an oxygen-rich atmosphere. It may look like Paradise, or at any rate Earth. Convergent evolution might well produce para-forests and para-grasslands, just as dolphins have a similar configuration to fish. But dophins aren't fish, and alien life almost certainly will not be like us. Hydrocarbon life anywhere will be built out of the same basic building blocks, but with differing architectural details – and our digestive keys will not fit its nutritional locks.

The good news is that the local tigers and local germs won't find us tasty and nutritious. But by the same token we can't eat the local venison or berries, and chances are only slightly better that our cattle can graze on the grass. Plants have a far less demanding diet, and might well grow nicely in any soil that has nitrogen fixed in it. In fact they might grow too well, at least the ones that don't rely on bees or other terrestrial creatures as their dating service.

Terrestrial plants, devoid of natural enemies, might crowd the native stuff out of any remotely suitable environment – wrecking entire ecosystems. But this too could go both ways. To local para-algae we could be walking Petri dishes: warm, moist, and fertile. Our bodies' defenses, if any, are likely to take the form of allergic reactions, not terribly helpful to us.

In short, any garden worlds out there are probably not for us. Those valleys with forested slopes above babbling streams filled with flashing para-trout are the ultimate nature preserves, to be appreciated but not subdivided for housing tracts. Yes, theoretically we might simply wipe out the native life, then recolonize with a terrestrial ecosystem including ourselves. I don't think you have to be a Jain to find something repulsive about this.

Which leaves the option of terraforming. For every nature-park world we will probably find dozens that didn't quite make it. We do not yet know whether life arises wherever there is liquid water to be had – we may begin to find out on Mars and Europa. But if a planet has oceans but no life it is a candidate for terraforming, and only the ecopoetic or gardening stage is required – no need to sling comets from the outer system to provide water, or hoover up 90 bars of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Worlds with limited 'primitive' life may even allow a sort of biological nonaggression pact, the native forms going quietly on in their own local ecosystems. There are still ethical questions (we're precluding or at least greatly altering their evolutionary prospects), but not like the ethics of sterilizing a rich, living world.

Yet even interstellar colonization is not as simple as it used to be.

Ian M:

In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, the world Barrayar seems to have been a particularly bad choice in real estate. Humans are allergic to practically every plant on the planet, and terraform by slash-and-burn agriculture and bulk dumping of fertilizer. It's one of the few SF settings I've seen that touch on the biochemical issues of colonization.

If your planning horizon is short enough (Say, because you're transplanting undesirables to a new world) the prospect of a planetary triple toe loop probably doesn't bother you. On the other hand, any culture that practices terraforming obviously does think in the long term and I think the idea of transporting prisoners to other worlds is unlikely even with FTL. Why dump the prisoners on Ceti Alpha V when it's cheaper to dump them on Antarctica?

Using Earth as a baseline, the prime real estate would probably be any world that has not yet hit it's equivalent of the Devonian era. So long as complex life is confined largely to the seas, terraforming the land is remarkably straightforward. It's a lot of hard work, but it's not hard work that fights back and evolves to destroy your work. And the presence of marine ecosystems means you don't have to terraform the oceans (Or only have to introduce species like salmon, eels, or tortoises, that return nutrients to the land from the ocean). I did some calculations for terraforming ocean volumes comparable to the Earth's, and was quickly reminded that humans are just a thin biofilm confined to a narrow portion of the habitable world.

Completely lifeless worlds are your next best bet. But you should probably check out the local neighborhood and find out why the place is lifeless...

In his novel Nemesis Isaac Asimov included a fictional life-signs scanner that worked by detecting complex repetitive electromagnetic events. Something like that wouldn't spot anything without a rudimentary nervous system, but it was an interesting idea. Throw in spectrographic analysis, telescopic studies, and automated surveys, and any colonists should have a good idea of what they're getting into even if they are the first humans to set foot on the planet.


" To local para-algae we could be walking Petri dishes: warm, moist, and fertile. Our bodies' defenses, if any, are likely to take the form of allergic reactions, not terribly helpful to us."

I find this to be a highly questionable assertion. Without even going into far afield things like amino acid chirality, most earth-born bacteria and virii do a poor job jumping across species. It can't recall the last time I caught a cold from a tree. :)

But beyond that I think you vastly underestimate the sheer hostility of the environment that is the human body. While you may be right about our response being an allergic reaction, our bodies aren't the only factor. Those foreign bacteria will be trying to compete with the fauna you already carry around with you. Fauna that has been selected for ruthless survival in that environment over uncountable generations.

Think like this — a gang wants to move into the city to do their business. You are talking about how they would do against the cops, but completely ignoring the fact that Don Corleone is going to have some very pointed ideas about them moving in on his territory.

From Garden Worlds, Park Worlds by Rick Robinson (2009)
Starship Troopers

I never have learned the co-ordinates of Sanctuary, nor the name or catalogue number of the star it orbits — because what you don't know, you can't spill; the location is ultra-top-secret, known only to ships' captains, piloting officers, and such . . . and, I understand, with each of them under orders and hypnotic compulsion to suicide if necessary to avoid capture. So I don't want to know. With the possibility that Luna Base might be taken and Terra herself occupied, the Federation kept as much of its beef as possible at Sanctuary, so that a disaster back home would not necessarily mean capitulation.

But I can tell you what sort of a planet it is. Like Earth, but retarded.

Literally retarded, like a kid who takes ten years to learn to wave bye-bye and never does manage to master patty-cake. It is a planet as near like Earth as two planets can be, same age according to the planetologists and its star is the same age as the Sun and the same type, so say the astrophysicists. It has plenty of flora and fauna, the same atmosphere as Earth, near enough, and much the same weather; it even has a good-sized moon and Earth's exceptional tides.

With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it's short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth's high level of natural radiation.

Its typical and most highly developed plant life is a very primitive giant fern; its top animal life is a proto-insect which hasn't even developed colonies. I am not speaking of transplanted Terran flora and fauna — our stuff moves in and brushes the native stuff aside.

With its evolutionary progress held down almost to zero by lack of radiation and a consequent most unhealthily low mutation rate, native life forms on Sanctuary just haven't had a decent chance to evolve and aren't fit to compete. Their gene patterns remain fixed for a relatively long time; they aren't adaptable — like being forced to play the same bridge hand over and over again, for eons, with no hope of getting a better one.

As long as they just competed with each other, this didn't matter too much — morons among morons, so to speak. But when types that had evolved on a planet enjoying high radiation and fierce competition were introduced, the native stuff was outclassed.

Now all the above is perfectly obvious from high school biology . . . but the high forehead from the research station there who was telling me about this brought up a point I would never have thought of.

What about the human beings who have colonized Sanctuary?

Not transients like me, but the colonists who live there, many of whom were born there, and whose descendants will live there, even into the umpteenth generation — what about those descendants? It doesn't do a person any harm not to be radiated; in fact it's a bit safer — leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there. Besides that, the economic situation is at present all in their favor; when they plant a field of (Terran) wheat, they don't even have to clear out the weeds. Terran wheat displaces anything native.

But the descendants of those colonists won't evolve. Not much, anyhow. This chap told me that they could improve a little through mutation from other causes, from new blood added by immigration, and from natural selection among the gene patterns they already own — but that is all very minor compared with the evolutionary rate on Terra and on any usual planet. So what happens? Do they stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them, until they are living fossils, as out of place as a pithecanthropus in a spaceship?

Or will they worry about the fate of their descendants and dose themselves regularly with X-rays or maybe set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in their atmosphere? (Accepting, of course, the immediate dangers of radiation to themselves in order to provide a proper genetic heritage of mutation for the benefit of their descendants.)

This bloke predicted that they would not do anything. He claims that the human race is too individualistic, too self-centered, to worry that much about future generations. He says that the genetic impoverishment of distant generations through lack of radiation is something most people are simply incapable of worrying about. And of course it is a far-distant threat; evolution works so slowly, even on Terra, that the development of a new species is a matter of many, many thousands of years.

From Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)
The Song of Distant Earth

(ed note: on the planet Thalassa, a human colony has been established. Of course they plant Terra vegetation.)

By Terran standards, the waterfall was not very impressive — perhaps one hundred metres high and twenty across. A small metal bridge glistening with spray spanned the pool of boiling foam in which it ended.

To Loren’s relief, Mirissa dismounted and looked at him rather mischievously.

‘Do you notice anything… peculiar?’ she asked, waving towards the scene ahead.

‘In what way?’ Loren answered, fishing for clues. All he saw was an unbroken vista of trees and vegetation, with the road winding away through it on the other side of the fall.

‘The trees — the trees!’

‘What about them? I’m not a — botanist.’

‘Nor am I, but it should be obvious. Just look at them.’

He looked, still puzzled. And presently he understood, because a tree is a piece of natural engineering — and he was an engineer.

A different designer had been at work on the other side of the waterfall. Although he could not name any of the trees among which he was standing, they were vaguely familiar, and he was sure that they came from Earth … yes, that was certainly an oak, and somewhere, long ago, he had seen the beautiful yellow flowers on that low bush.

Beyond the bridge, it was a different world. The trees — were they really trees? — seemed crude and unfinished. Some had short, barrel-shaped trunks from which a few prickly branches extended; others resembled huge ferns; others looked like giant, skeletal fingers, with bristly haloes at the joints. And there were no flowers …

‘Now I understand. Thalassa’s own vegetation.’

‘Yes — only a few million years out of the sea. We call this the Great Divide. But it’s more like a battlefront between two armies, and no one knows which side will win. Neither, if we can help it! The vegetation from Earth is more advanced; but the natives are better adapted to the chemistry. From time to time one side invades the other — and we move in with shovels before it can get a foothold.’

How strange, Loren thought as they pushed their bicycles across the slender bridge. For the first time since landing on Thalassa, I feel that I am indeed on an alien world …

These clumsy trees and crude ferns could have been the raw material of the coal beds that had powered the Industrial Revolution — barely in time to save the human race. He could easily believe that a dinosaur might come charging out of the undergrowth at any moment; then he recalled that the terrible lizards had still been a hundred million years in the future when such plants had flourished on Earth …

From The Song of Distant Earth by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1985)


Terraforming is using planetary engineering to make a planet's environment more like a prime vacation spot, or a least one where an unprotected human being won't instantly die.

It generally takes hundreds to thousands of years for the process to be complete. It also requires access to incredibly large amounts of advanced technology, planetary-sized stocks of raw materials, and an energy budget comparable to all of Terra combined.

Martyn J. Fogg wrote the definitive book on the topic, sadly out of print. His web page has lots of terraforming information.

Terraforming a world inhabited by sentient beings is considered to be attempted genocide, or at the least to be very rude. Extreme moralists go to the point of only allowing terraforming on planets that are totally lifeless. Examples include Sir Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and sort of in Roger Zelazny's "The Keys to December".

There are some science fiction novels where aliens invade not by full-blown terraforming but simply by introducing alien hyper-invasive species to alienoform the Terran ecosystem (the functional equivalent of introducing xenomorph-bunnyrabbits to Australia). Examples include David Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr series and Philip E. High's No Truce With Terra

Terraforming Ganymede with Robert Heinlein


THEY SAID, OF COURSE, that it was impossible. They always do.

Even after the human race had moved into the near-Earth orbits, scattering their spindly factories and cylinder-cities and rock-hopping entrepreneurs, the human race was dominated by nay-saying stay-at-homes. Sure, they said, space worked. Slinging airtight homes into orbit at about one astronomical unit’s distance from the Sun was–in retrospect–an obvious step. After all, there was a convenient Moon nearby to provide mass and resources. But Earth, they said, was a benign neighborhood. You could resupply most outposts within a few days. Except for the occasional solar storm, when winds of high-energy particles lashed out, the radiation levels were low. There was plenty of sunshine to focus with mirrors, capture in great sheets of conversion wafers, and turn into bountiful, high-quality energy.

But Jupiter? Why go there? Scientific teams had already touched down on the big moons and dipped into the thick atmosphere. By counting craters and taking core samples, they deduced what they could about how the solar system evolved. After that brief era of quick-payoff visits, nobody had gone back. One big reason, everyone was quick to point out, was the death rate for those expeditions: half never saw Earth again, except as a distant blue-white dot.

Scientists don’t tame new worlds; pioneers do. And except for bands of religious or political refugee-fanatics, pioneers don’t do it for nothing. To understand why mankind undertook the most dangerous development project in its history (so far), you have to ask the eternal question: Who stood to get rich from it?

By the year 2124, humans had already begun to spread out of the near-Earth zone. The bait was the asteroids–big tumbling lodes of metal and rock, rich in heavy elements. These flying mountains could be steered slowly from their looping orbits and brought to near-Earth rendezvous with refineries. The delta V wasn’t all that large.

There, smelters melted them down and fed the factories steady streams of precious raw materials: manganese, platinum, cadmium, chromium, molybdenum, tellurium, vanadium, tungsten, and all the rare metals. Earth was running out of these, or else was unwilling to further pollute its biosphere to scratch the last fraction out of the crust. Processing metals is messy and dangerous. The space factories could throw their waste into the solar wind, letting the gentle push of protons blow it out to the stars.

Early in the space-manufacturing venture, people realized that it was cheaper in energy to tug small asteroids in from the orbits between Mars and Jupiter than to lift them with mighty rocket engines from Earth. Asteroid prospecting became the Gold Rush of the late twenty-first century. Corporations grubstaked loners who went out in pressurized tin cans, sniffing with their spectrometers at the myriad chunks. Most of them were duds, but a rich lode of vanadium, say, could make a haggard, antisocial rockrat into a wealthy man. Living in zero-gravity craft wasn’t particularly healthy, of course. You had to scramble if a solar storm blew in and crouch behind an asteroid for shelter. Most rock-hoppers disdained the heavy shielding that would ward off cosmic rays, figuring that their stay would be short and lucky, so the radiation damage wouldn’t be fatal. Many lost that bet. One thing they could not do without, though, was food and air. That proved to be the pivot-point that drove humanity still further out.

Life runs on the simplest chemicals. A closed artificial biosphere is basically a series of smoldering fires: hydrogen burns (that is, combines with oxygen) to give water; carbon burns into carbon dioxide, which plants eat; nitrogen combines in the soil so the plants can make proteins, enabling humans to be smart enough to arrange all this artificially.

The colonies that swam in near-Earth orbits had run into this problem early. They needed a steady flow of organic matter and liquids to keep their biospheres balanced. Supply from Earth was expensive. A better solution was to search out the few asteroids which had significant carbonaceous chondrites–rocks rich in light elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen. There were surprisingly few. Most were pushed painfully back to Earth orbit and gobbled up by the colonies. By the time the rock-hoppers needed light elements, the asteroid belt had been picked clean. Besides, bare rock is unforgiving stuff. Getting blood from a stone was possible in the energy-rich cylinder-cities. The loose, thinly-spread coalition of prospectors couldn’t pay the stiff bills needed for a big-style conversion plant.

From Ceres, the largest asteroid, Jupiter looms like a candy-striped beacon, far larger than Earth. The rockrats lived in the broad band between two and three astronomical units out from the Sun–they were used to a wan, diminished sunshine and had already been tutored in the awful cold. For them it was no great leap to Jove, hanging there 5.2 times farther from the Sun than Earth.

They went for the liquids. Three of the big moons–Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto–were immense iceballs. True, they circled endlessly the most massive planet of all, three hundred and eighteen times the mass of Earth. That put them deep down in a gravitational well. Still it was far cheaper to send a robot ship coasting out to Jupiter, looping into orbit around Ganymede, than it was to haul water from the oceans of Earth. The first stations set up on Ganymede were semiautomatic–meaning a few unlucky souls had to tend the machinery.

If they could survive at all. A man in a normal pressure suit could live about an hour on Ganymede. The unending sleet of high-energy protons would fry him, ripping through the delicate cells and spreading red destruction. This was a natural side effect of Jupiter’s hugeness – its compressed core of metallic hydrogen spins rapidly, generating powerful magnetic fields that are whipped around every ten hours. These fields are like a rubbery cage, snagging and trapping particles (mostly protons) spat out by the sun. Io, the innermost large moon, belches ions of sulfur and sodium into the magnetic traps, adding to the protons. All this rains down on the inner moons, spattering the ice.

It was not feasible to burrow under the ice to escape –the crew had to work outside, supervising robot ice-diggers. The first inhabitants of Ganymede instead used the newest technology to fend off the proton hail: superconducting suits. Discovery of a way to make superconducting threads made it possible to weave them into pressure suits. The currents running in the threads made a magnetic field outside the suit, where it brushed away incoming protons. Inside, by the laws of magnetostatics, there was no field at all to disturb instrumentation. Once started, the currents flowed forever, virtually without electrical resistance.

Those first men and women worked in an eerie dim sunlight. Over half of Ganymede’s mass was water ice, with liberal dollops of frozen carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane, and minor traces of other frozen-out gases. Its small rocky core was buried under a thousand-kilometer-deep ocean of water and slush. The surface was a thin seventy-kilometer-deep frozen crust, liberally sprinkled over billions of years by infalling meteors. These meteorites peppered the surface and eventually became a major facet of the landscape. On top of Ganymede’s weak ice crust, hills of metal and rock gave the only relief from a flat, barren plain.

This frigid moon had been tugged by Jupiter’s tides for so long that it was locked, like Luna, with one face always peering at the banded, ruddy planet. One complete day-night cycle was slightly more than an Earth-week long. Adjusting to this rhythm would have been difficult if the Sun had provided clear punctuation to the three-and-a-half-day nights. But even without an atmosphere, the Sun from Ganymede was a dim twenty-seventh as bright as at Earth’s orbit. Sometimes you hardly noticed it, compared to the light of Jove’s nearby moons.

Sunrise was legislated to begin at Saturday midnight. That made the week symmetric, and scientists love symmetry. Around late afternoon of Monday, Jupiter eclipsed the Sun, seeming to clasp the hard point of white light in a reddish glow, then swallowing it completely. Europa’s white, cracked crescent was then the major light in the sky for three and a half hours. Jupiter’s shrouded mass flickered with orange lightning strokes between the rolling somber clouds. Suddenly, a rosy halo washed around the rim of the oblate atmosphere as sunlight refracted through the transparent outer layers. In a moment the Sun’s fierce dot broke free and cast sharp shadows on the Ganymede ice.

By Wednesday noon it had set, bringing a night that was dominated by Jupiter’s steady glow as it hung unmoving in the sky. This slow rotation was still enough to churn Ganymede’s inner ocean, exerting a torque on the ice sheets above. A slow-motion kind of tectonics had operated for billions of years, rubbing slabs against each other, grooving and terracing terrain, erasing craters in some areas.

In the light gravity–one-seventh of Earth’s–carving out immense blocks of ice was easy. Boosting them into orbit with tug rockets was the most expensive part of the long journey. From there, electromagnetic-thruster robot ships lugged the ice to the asteroids, taking years to coast along their minimum-energy spirals.


“Ice might be nice, but wheat you can eat.”

So began one of the songs of that era, when the asteroids were filling up with prospectors, then miners, then traders. Then came settlers, who found the cylinder-cities too crowded, too restrictive, or simply too boring. They founded the Belt-Free State, with internal divisions along cultural and even family lines. (Susan McKenzie, the first Belt Chairwoman and a proud native of the Outermost Hebrides, was three generations removed from her nearest Earth-born Scot relative. Not that Belters stopped to think about Earth that much anymore.)

By then, the near-Earth orbital zone was as comfortable as a suburb, and as demanding. The few iceteroids available in the asteroid belt had already been used up, but ice from Ganymede, originally hauled to the asteroids, could be revectored and sent to the rich artificial colonies. As the colonies developed a taste for luxury, increasingly that meant food. No environment can be completely closed, so human settlements throughout the solar system steadily lost vapors and organic matter to the void. No inventory ever came up 100 percent complete. (Consider your own body, and try to keep track of a day’s output: feces, urine, exhaled gas, perspiration, flatus, sheddings. Draw the flow chart.) The relatively rich inner-solar-system colonies soon grew tired of skimpy menus and of the endless cycle in which goat and rabbit and chicken were the prized meats.

Inevitably, someone noticed that it would be cheap to grow crops on Ganymede. Water was plentiful, and mirrors could warm greenhouses, enhancing the wan sunlight. Since Ganymede was going to ship light elements to the asteroids and beyond anyway, why not send them in the form of grains or vegetables?

Thus began the Settlements. At first they were big, domed greenhouses, lush with moist vegetables or grain. The farmers lived below in the sheltering ice. Within two generations, humans had spread over a third of the moon’s purplish, grooved fields. In the face of constant radiation hazard, something in the human psyche said mate!–and the population expanded exponentially.

Robot freight haulers were getting cheaper and cheaper, since the introduction of auto-producers in the Belt. These were the first cumbersome self-reproducing machines, sniffing out lodes of iron and nickel, and working them into duplicates of themselves. An auto-producer would make two replicas of itself and then, following directives, manufacture a robot ion rocket. This took at least ten years, but it was free of costly human labor, and the auto-producers could work in lonely orbits, attached to bleak gray rocks where humans would never last. The ion rocket dutifully launched itself for Ganymede, to take up grain-hauling chores. Every year there were more of them to carry the cash crops sunward.

Working all day in a skinsuit is not comfortable. Day-to-day routines performed under ten meters of ice tend to pall. Fear of radiation and cold wears anyone down. For the first generation Ganymede was an adventure, for the next a challenge, and for the third, a grind. One of the first novels written in Jovian space opens with:

Maybe I should start off with a big, gaudy description. You know–Jupiter’s churning pinks and browns, the swirling white ammonia clouds like giant hurricanes, the spinning red spots. That kind of touristy stuff.

Except I don’t feel like writing that kind of flowery crap. I’m practical, not poetic. When you’re swinging around Jupiter, living meters away from lethal radiation, you stick to facts. You get so vectors and grease seals and hydraulic fittings are more important than pretty views or poetry or maybe even people.

The psychological profile of the entire colony took a steep downward slope. Even the kids in the ice warren streets knew something had to be done.

In the long run, no large colony could live healthily with the death-dealing threats to be found on any of the Jovian moons. Therefore, erase the dangers.

All sorts of remedies were suggested. One serious design was done for an immense ring of particles to orbit around Ganymede, cutting out most of the incoming high-energy protons. Someone suggested moving Ganymede itself outward, to escape the particle flux. (This wasn’t crazy, only premature. A century later it would be feasible, though still expensive.) The idea that finally won looked just as bizarre as the rest, but it had an ace up its sleeve.

The Ganymede Atmosphere Project started with a lone beetlelike machine crawling painfully around the equator of the world. Mechanical teeth ground up ice and sucked it inside, where an immense fusion reactor waited. The reactor burned the small fraction of heavy water in the ice and rudely rejected the rest as steam. From its tail jetted billowing clouds that in seconds condensed into an ammonia-rich creek.

This fusion plant crept forward on caterpillar treads, making a top speed of a hundred meters an hour. Its computer programs sought the surest footing over the black-rock outcroppings. It burned off toxic gases and left a mixture of water vapor, ammonia, oxygen, and nitrogen, with plenty of irritating trace gases. The greatest danger to it was melting itself down into a self-made lake. A bright orange balloon was tethered to the top. If the crawler drowned itself, the balloon would inflate and float the plant to the surface, to be fished out by a rescue team.

The trick was that the fusion-crawler wasn’t made with valuable human labor, but rather by other machines: the auto-producers. Decades before, the auto-producers had begun multiplying like the legendary rabbits who overran Australia. Now there were hundreds of them in the Belt, duplicating themselves and making robot freighters. The Belters were beginning to get irritated at the foraging machines; two had been blown to fragments for trespassing on Belters’ mines. Simple reprogramming stopped their ferocious reproduction and set them to making fusion-crawlers.

Freighters hauled the crawlers out to Ganymede, following safe, cheap, low-energy trajectories. The crawlers swarmed out from the equator, weaving through wrinkled valleys of tumbled stone and pink snowdrifts, throwing out gouts of gas and churning streams. The warm water carried heat into neighboring areas, melting them as well. A thin gas began to form over the tropics. At first it condensed out in the Ganymede night, but then it began to hold, to spread, to take a sure grip on the glinting icelands below.

The natives saw these stolid machines as a faint orange aura over the horizon. Crawlers stayed away from the Settlements, to avoid accidents and flooding. Their rising mists diffused the fusion torches’ light, so that a second sun often glowed beyond the hills, creeping northward, its soft halo contrasting with the blue-green shadows of the ice fields.


From Terraforming Ganymede with Robert A. Heinlein by Gregory Benford (2011)
Terraforming Ganymede with Robert Heinlein part 2

Why Go?

Both Heinlein and those who followed knew that inevitably, as humanity opened the Solar System to exploration and commerce, it would be cheaper in energy to tug small asteroids in from the orbits between Mars and Jupiter than to lift them with mighty rocket engines from Earth. So I began constructing a future history that led to Farmer in the Sky and beyond. I’ll present it here, as in Part 1, as a popular historian would. There we left our colonists with some crunched gravel and grit, but had not really introduced biology. Heinlein didn’t use biotech either—this was around the 1950s, and DNA had barely been discovered. But I have the advantage of sixty years of progress, and have even started some biotech companies myself (Genescient, LifeCode). So I envision how we’ll use that to make a new world…


Any atmosphere can blunt the energy of incoming protons and screen against the still-dangerous Sun’s ultraviolet, but to be breathable, it has to be engineered. Once a tiny fraction of the ice plains were melted into vapor, a greenhouse effect began to take hold. Sunlight striking the ice no longer reflected uselessly back into space; instead, the atmosphere stopped the infrared portion, trapping the heat. Once this began, the fusion-crawlers were a secondary element in the whole big equation.

The fresh ammonia streams and methane-laced vapors were deadly to Earth-based life. A decade after the first fusion-crawler lumbered through a grooved valley, hundreds of them scooped and roared toward Ganymede’s poles, having scraped off a full hundred meters of the ice crust. They had made an atmosphere worth reckoning with. Ice tectonics adjusted to the shifting weight, forcing up mountains of sharp shards, uncovering lodes of meteorites, which in turn provided fresh manufacturing ore for yet more fusion-crawlers.

The first rains fell. A slight mist of virulent ammonia descended on the Zamyatin Settlement. It collected in a dip on the main dome, dissolving the tenuous film on it. After some hours, the acid ate through. A whoosh of lost pressure alerted the agriworkers. They got out in time, scared but unshaken. These were farsighted people: they knew one accident wasn’t reason to kill the project that gave them so much hope.

The only solution was to change the atmosphere as it was made. Further rains underlined the point – it became harder to work outside because the vapors would attack the monolayer skinsuits. The fusion plants were no help. They were hopelessly crude engines, chemically speaking, limited to regurgitating vapors that had been laid down three billion years before, when the moon formed. They could not edit their output. As they burrowed deeper into the ice fields, the situation worsened.

Io, the pizza planet, had once enjoyed a more active stage. Its volcanoes had belched forth plumes of sulfur that had escaped the moon’s gravity, forming a torus around Jupiter that included all the moons. On Ganymede, this era was represented by a layer of sulfur that now occasionally found its way into the deep-dug crawlers’ yawning scoops. The result was a harshly acidic vapor plume, condensing to fierce yellow rains that seared whatever they touched. Fifty-seven men and women died in the torrents before something was done.

The fusion-crawlers had been a fast and cheap solution because they were self-reproducing machines. The answer to bioengineering of the atmosphere lay in a tried-and-true method: self-reproducing animals. But these creatures were unlike anything seen on Earth.

The central authority on Ganymede, Hiruko Station, introduced a whole catalog of high-biotech beings that could survive in the wilds of near-vacuum and savage chemicals. Hiruko Station’s method was to take perfectly ordinary genes of Earthside animals and splice them together. This began as a program in controlled mutation but rapidly moved far beyond that. Tangling the DNA instructions together yielded beings able to survive extreme conditions. The interactions of those genes were decidedly nonlinear: when you add a pig to an eel, flavor with arachnid, and season with walrus, do not expect anything cuddly or even recognizable.

There were bulky gravel gobblers, who chewed on rocky ices heavy with rusted iron. They in turn excreted a green, oxygen-rich gas. The scooters came soon after, slurping at ammonia-laden ice. These were pale yellow, flat shapes, awkward and blind on their three malformed legs. They shat steady acrid streams of oxy-available mush. Hiruko Station said the first plant forms could live in the bile-colored scooter stools. Eventually, plants did grow there, but they weren’t the sort of thing that quickens the appetite.

Both gravel-gobblers and scooters were ugly and dumb, hooting aimlessly, waddling across the fractured ice with no grace or dignity, untouched by evolution’s smoothing hand. They roved in flocks, responding to genes that knew only two imperatives: eat and mate. They did both with a furious, single-minded energy, spreading over the ice, which was for them an endless banquet.

Hiruko Station liked the results, and introduced a new form – rockjaws – that consumed nearly anything, breathing in the ammonia-rich atmosphere, and exhaling it back as oxygen and nitrogen. Rockjaws could scavenge far more efficiently than the gravel gobbler, and even bite through meteorites. Metallic jaws were the key. The high-biotech labs had turned up a method of condensing metal in living tissues, making harder bones possible.

Rockjaws were smart enough to stay away from the Settlements (unlike the others, who constantly wandered into greenhouses or tried to eat them). At this point the long-chain DNA-tinkering of Hiruko Station ran afoul of its own hubris. The rockjaws were too smart. They were genetically programmed to think the loathsome methane ices were scrumptious, but they also saw moving around nearby even more interesting delicacies: gravel-gobblers. And they were smart enough to hunt these unforeseen prizes.

Hiruko Station later excused this miscalculation as an unfortunate side effect of the constant proton sleet, which caused fast genetic drift and unpredictable changes. Hiruko Station pointed to the big inflamed warts the creatures grew and the strange mating rituals they began to invent – none of this in the original coding. The scooter flocks were showing deformities, too. Some seemed demented (though it was hard to tell) and took to living off the excretion of the gravel-gobblers, like pigs rooting in cow manure.

First Hiruko Station tried introducing a new bioengineered animal into the equation. It was a vicious-looking thing, a spider with tiny black eyes and incisors as big as your finger. It stood three meters high and was forever hungry, fine-tuned to salivate at the sight of any mutation of the normals. This genetically ordained menu was quite specific and complexly coded, so it was the first thing to go wrong with the ugly beast. Pretty soon it would hunt down and eat anything that moved – even humans – and Hiruko Station had to get rid of it.

That led to a surprising solution to other rising societal stresses. The only way to exterminate the spiders was by hunting them down. Many men and women in the Settlements volunteered for the duty. After some grisly incidents, they had grudges to settle, and anyway it gave them a reason to get out of the domed regularity of their hothouse gardens and manicured fields. Thus was revived a subculture long missing from Earth: the Hunt, with its close bonding and reckless raw life in the alien wilderness.

These disorderly bands exterminated the spiders within a year. Hiruko Station found it was cheaper to pay the hunters a bounty to track down and destroy aberrant scooters, rockjaws and gravel-gobblers, than it was to try for a biotech fix. It was also healthier for the psyche of Ganymede’s settlers. The Settlements were tradition-steeped societies – internal discipline is essential when an open valve or clogged feed line can kill a whole community. The Hunt provided an outlet for deeply atavistic human urges and pressures, long pent and fiercer for their confinement.


The atmosphere thickened. Hiruko Station added more mutant strains of quick-breeding animals to the mix, driving the chemical conversion still faster. The biotechnicians found ways to implant microprocessors into the animals, so that they wouldn’t get out of control. That was expensive, though, so hunting continued, echoing the heritage of mankind that came down from the plains of Africa. Bounty hunters were hard to fit into the labor scheme, and the socioplanners kept trying to phase them out, largely from sheer embarrassment. But Earthside 3D programs lapped up tales of the rough ‘n’ ready bountymen and –women of the Hunt, giving what the planners felt was a “false image” of the Settlements. Mutation of the released gene-engineered animals was rapid, however, and the biosphere was never truly stabilized. The hunters became an institution. To this day, they are an unruly crew who don’t fit into planners' orderly diagrams.

Rain lost its sulfuric tang. Steam rose at morning from the canyons, casting rosy light over the Settlements. The moon’s first rivers cut fresh ravines and snaked across ice plains.

All this hung in delicate balance. Huge sodium-coated mirrors were spread in orbit nearby, to reflect unceasing light on the paths ahead of the fusion-crawlers. This speeded evaporation and was used also to hasten crops to ripeness. But Ganymede was, after all, an ice world. Too much heating and a catastrophic melting of the crust would begin. If the crust broke or even shifted, moonquakes would destroy the Settlements.

Thus it was a careful hand that started up the first Ganymede weather cycle. Solar heating at the equator made billowing, moist clouds rise. They moved toward the poles as colder air flowed below, filling spaces the warm air left. As they moved, masses of warm clouds dropped sheets of rain. This meant there was only one circulation cell per hemisphere, an easier system to predict than the several-cell scale of Earth. Rainfall and seasons were predictable; weather was boring. As many on Luna and in the asteroids had learned long before, low gravity and a breathable atmospheric pressure gave a sensational bonus: flying. Though Ganymede would always be cold and icy, people could soar over the ice ecology on wings of aluminum. Compared to the molelike existence of only a few generations before, this was freedom divine.

There came at last the moment when the air thickened enough to absorb the virulent radiation flux. Years later, a foolhardy kid stepped outside an airlock five hours before the official ceremony was to begin, and sucked in a thin, piercingly cold breath. She got back inside only moments before oxygen deprivation would have knocked her out, but she did earn the title she wanted: first to breathe the free air of Ganymede. Molecules locked up for billions of years in the ice now filled the lungs of a human. Her family was fined a month’s labor credit by her Settlement.

By this time Europa’s cracked and cratered face was also alive with the tiny ruby dots of fusion-crawlers, chewing away at that moon as well. They crept along the cracks that wrapped the entire moon, melting the wall away, hoping to open the old channels below the cracks. In spots the churning slush below burst forth, spreading stains of rich mineral wealth. Jove itself, hanging eternally at the center of the sky, was now the only face unmarked in some way by mankind.

Not to be outdone, the Republic of Ganymede hastened the heating of their air. They laid a monolayer over the top of the atmosphere, spinning it down from orbit and layering it in place, letting it fall until the pressure supported it. All the while, weaving sheets stitched themselves together and automatically locked as the smart-layers stretched. This gossamer film stopped the lighter molecules from escaping into space, feeding the chemical reactions balanced in the atmosphere and hastening the greenhouse effect. Chlorfluorocarbons, especially, did their complex work. The designers of the atmospheric cap left holes large enough to let orbital tugs slip through. With control modules fitted to the boundaries of these openings, they could be closed at will. From the Ganymede surface, Callisto, Europa and Io swam in the sky, lambent with halos of gauzy, scattered light.

Rain hammered the plains of Ganymede and evaporated within hours. But the gas density rose and water did its ancient trick of passing through phase transitions at the change of a degree or two. The first lake on Ganymede formed in a basin of dirty meteorite rock eight kilometers wide. This created a ready source of fresh water and soon elaborate homes were carved into the spongy rock overlooking the view. In insulated suits people could sail and even swim. Mirrors hung in orbit, focusing sunlight on fields that slowly turned an odd blue-green, patches spreading wherever water trickled.

Space continued to yield up mineral riches. Near-Jovian space held many useful nuggets the size of cities, both the Trojan asteroids, locked in stable resonance at Jupiter’s Lagrange points, and the wide-wandering Transjovians. At first, ready access to manufacturers made producing metal-rich products much cheaper on Ganymede, where the skilled workers and robot factories already were. This briefly cut into the asteroid commerce from the outer planets, but there were other commodities flowing both ways along that same slow route.

Interplanetary trade increased. Stations around distant Saturn drew food and other perishable supplies from Ganymede to support their key energy industries. Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were fast becoming "the Persian Gulf of the Solar System" – a phrase referring to an era centuries past, when fossil fuels in a single Earthside zone provided the major energy sources. Now the outer planets were the largest sources of deuterium and helium-3 to drive the fusion economy. Saturn was the most valuable of the three, because of its relative proximity, low radiation, and excellent system of moons. The largest of these--gloomy, ruddy Titan--was now explored and its resources identified. Some tried to make a go of it at the bottom of that chilly bowl of primordial soup. Few stayed – something in the human psyche cried out to see the skies. Robots busily labored on, untouched by such biological considerations, in murk where only people with acute claustrophila could be happy.

There were many other moons, though, some ripe for development and colonization, some just icy rocks with a number, not a name. A portion of these were set aside as preserves, where scientists and selected tourists could see how the ice worlds had once been. Some never felt the explorer’s boot, held for far-future technologies to understand. Humanity had learned from the Age of Appetite to preserve bleak wastes and allow them to become future frontiers.

As always, economics called the tune. Moons just now boiling off their ices had to find innovative ways to compete with long-established Ganymede. They quickly realized that not capping their atmospheres would make it simple to profit from the new business of slinging asteroids, using atmospheric braking effects to dissipate incoming energies.

Simple chunks — nickel, iron, differentiated silicates rich in rare ores, the usual—came arcing in on long slow ellipses. Deftly dropping their momentum with a brush through uncapped atmosphere simplified and shortened their delivery orbits. Vast fortunes were made and lost with bewildering speed in the early days of the Second Asteroid Rush. Demand continued to escalate, as the off-Earth populations increased in numbers and affluence, but transport was the key to supply. The Jovestar Conglomerate crashed when their monopoly market faltered. Their legal crews, moving quickly, had locked up mineral rights of the obvious first million Trojan asteroids, and their grip on those could not be broken. But the Transjovians were still out there for the plundering, if only they could be cheaply moved to near-Ganymede orbit. The siren song of fabulous wealth ensured that it happened sooner rather than later.

The Europa entrepreneurs jumped into the fray, taking advantage of every last commercial possibility. Since their atmosphere was open to space, they had long sent asteroids zooming through it, en route to easy orbits in Ganymede’s neighborhood. The incoming asteroids, linked to guiding tugs, also heated up Europa’s air, and properly marketed, provided a valuable tourist attraction, with their well-choreographed displays of burnt gold, electric blue, and ruby amber. As the trajectories of these rockships became more graceful and regularly scheduled, they began to carry passengers. Later, atmosphere-grazing in protected fallsuits became popular. In the freewheeling ethical climate of the time, bookings were permitted for those who signed on as suicides. Indeed, the rates were even lowered, contingent on use of long-obsolete suits. The in-fall failure of century-old systems sealed the decision for some with second thoughts.

Some time later, a large Earthside foundation proposed capping the Callisto atmosphere. They intended the largest work of art possible – a gaudy, beribboned design of loops and swirls that could be seen (properly magnified) throughout the Solar System. The glorious monolayer film would have changeable polarization and colors, so that later generations of artists could express themselves through it.

This idea was opposed by a rare coalition of environmentalists – Keep Callisto Clean – and business interests, who wanted to horn in on Europa’s atmospheric deceleration franchise. The foundation lost its zoning permit. Undeterred, they set about plans to move Pluto into a long, looping orbit, which passed through the inner Solar System. Suitably decorated, they said, Pluto would make a magnificent touring art gallery.

Ganymede, oldest and wealthiest of the Jovian colonies, was becoming relatively luxurious. A shining complex of high-end hotels and shops went up, surrounding a sybaritic waterpark that took full advantage of low gravity. Reservations to surfglide at the wave pool became the most hotly sought date in the Settlements. The songs of The Beach Boys, fallen into obscurity as Earth’s rising oceans made crashing waves a source of societal terror, became wildly popular again. Surf culture was resurrected, albeit in forms no twen-cen California Girl could have foreseen.

Soon there was talk of starting a power-generating plant on Io. Not one using the volcanoes there – those had already been tapped. This plan proposed hooking directly into the currents that ran between Io and Jupiter itself – six million amperes of electricity just waiting to be used. Work began. Soon they would harness the energy that drove the aurora.

The forward vector of humanity had by now passed beyond the Jovian moons. Near Earth, the first manned starship was abuilding, soon to depart for Alpha Centauri. Given the engineering abilities of humanity, the matter of whether an Earthlike planet circled there seemed beside the point. (As it turned out, there was no such world within 18 light years.) Humans could survive anywhere. Better, they would prevail, and learn to enjoy just about anything. Any place where sunlight and mass accumulated, mankind would find a way to form a roiling, catch-as-catch-can society – and probably make a profit doing it.

Of course, there was Jupiter itself. It and the other gas giant planets had formed the backdrop for all this drama, but that was all. Many a Ganymede native, perhaps as he lounged beside a lake in a heated skinsuit or banked and swooped through gossamer clouds, peered up at the swollen giant and idly wondered. Jupiter occupies two hundred and fifty times as much of the sky as Luna does from Earth; it was never far from the minds of the millions who lived nearby.

So it was probably inevitable. A physicist on Luna had developed a new theory of Jove’s interior, accounting for all the latest data on pressure and temperature and chemical composition. She found that there had to be stratified bands of pure hydrogen metal near the surface of Jupiter. Such hydrogen metal might be close to the outer layers of rock, shallow enough to mine.

Her theory suggested that once compressed into being by Jupiter’s huge gravitational pressure, metallic hydrogen would be a stable form. At great expense, laboratory tests synthesized a few grams of the stuff. It was incredibly strong, light and durable. It could even survive a slow transition up to low pressure. If you could go down there and mine it...

The pressures deep in that thick Jovian atmosphere were immense. Where they had even been measured at all, the conditions were brutal. The technology for handling the mines was completely undeveloped. It was an insane idea.

They said, of course, that it was impossible. They always do.

How Do We Terraform Ceres?

In the Solar System’s Main Asteroid Belt, there are literally millions of celestial bodies to be found. And while the majority of these range in size from tiny rocks to planetesimals, there are also a handful of bodies that contain a significant percentage of the mass of the entire Asteroid Belt. Of these, the dwarf planet Ceres is the largest, constituting of about a third of the mass of the belt and being the sixth-largest body in the inner Solar System by mass and volume.

In addition to its size, Ceres is the only body in the Asteroid Belt that has achieved hydrostatic equilibrium – a state where an object becomes rounded by the force of its own gravity. On top of all that, it is believed that this dwarf planet has an interior ocean, one which contains about one-tenth of all the water found in the Earth’s oceans. For this reason, the idea of colonizing Ceres someday has some appeal, as well as terraforming.

Ceres also has the distinction of being the only dwarf planet located within the orbit of Neptune. This is especially interesting considering the fact that in terms of size and composition, Ceres is quite similar to several Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) – such as Pluto, Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and several other TNOs that are considered to be potential candidates for dwarf planets status.

The Dwarf Planet Ceres:

Current estimates place Ceres’ mean radius at 473 km, and its mass at roughly 9.39 × 1020 kg (the equivalent of 0.00015 Earths or 0.0128 Moons). With this mass, Ceres comprises approximately a third of the estimated total mass of the Asteroid Belt (between 2.8 × 1021 and 3.2 × 1021 kg), which in turn is approximately 4% of the mass of the Moon.

The next largest objects are Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea, which have mean diameters of more than 400 km and masses of 2.6 x 1020 kg, 2.11 x 1020 kg, and 8.6 ×1019 kg respectively. The mass of Ceres is large enough to give it a nearly spherical shape, which makes it unique amongst objects and minor planets in the Asteroid Belt.

Ceres follows a slightly inclined and moderately eccentric orbit, ranging from 2.5577 AU (382.6 million km) from the Sun at perihelion and 2.9773 AU (445.4 million km) at aphelion. It has an orbital period of 1,680 Earth days (4.6 years) and takes 0.3781 Earth days (9 hours and 4 minutes) to complete a single rotation on its axis.

Based on its size and density (2.16 g/cm³), Ceres is believed to be differentiated between a rocky core and an icy mantle. Based on evidence provided by the Keck telescope in 2002, the mantle is estimated to be 100 km-thick, and contains up to 200 million cubic km of water, which is equivalent to about 10% of what is in Earth’s oceans, and more water than all the freshwater on Earth.

What’s more, infrared data on the surface also suggests that Ceres may have an ocean beneath its icy mantle. If true, it is possible that this ocean could harbor microbial extraterrestrial life, similar to what has been proposed about Mars, Titan, Europa and Enceladus. It has further been hypothesized that ejecta from Ceres could have sent microbes to Earth in the past.

Other possible surface constituents include iron-rich clay minerals (cronstedtite) and carbonate minerals (dolomite and siderite), which are common minerals in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. The surface of Ceres is relatively warm, with the maximum temperature estimated to reach approximately 235 K (-38 °C, -36 °F) when the Sun is overhead.

Assuming the presence of sufficient antifreeze (such as ammonia), the water ice would become unstable at this temperature. Therefore, it is possible that Ceres may have a tenuous atmosphere caused by outgassing from water ice on the surface. The detection of significant amounts of hydroxide ions near Ceres’ north pole, which is a product of water vapor dissociation by ultraviolet solar radiation, is another indication of this.

However, it was not until early 2014 that several localized mid-latitude sources of water vapor were detected on Ceres. Possible mechanisms for the vapor release include sublimation from exposed surface ice (as with comets), cryovolcanic eruptions resulting from internal heat, and subsurface pressurization. The limited amount of data thus far suggests that the vaporization is more likely caused by sublimation from exposure to the Sun.

Possible Methods:

As with the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, terraforming Ceres would first require that the surface temperature be raised in order to sublimate its icy outer layer. This could be done by using orbital mirrors to focus sunlight onto the surface, by detonating thermonuclear devices on the surface, or colliding small asteroids harvested from the Main Belt onto the surface.

This would result in Ceres’ crust thawing and turning into a dense, water vapor-rich atmosphere. The orbital mirrors would once again come into play here, where they would be used to trigger photolysis and transform the water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen gas. While the hydrogen gas would be lost to space, the oxygen would remain closer to the surface.

Ammonia could also be harvested locally, since Ceres is believed to have plentiful deposits of ammonia-rich clay soils. With the introduction of specific strains of bacteria into the newly created atmospheres – such as the Nitrosomonas, Pseudomonas and Clostridium species – the sublimated ammonia could be converted into nitrites (NO²-) and then nitrogen gas. The end result would be an ocean world with seas that are 100 km in depth.

Another option would be to employ a process known as “paraterraforming” – where a world is enclosed (in whole or in part) in an artificial shell in order to transform its environment. In the case of Ceres moons, this could involve building large “Shell Worlds” to encase it, keeping the newly-created atmospheres inside long enough to effect long-term changes. Within this shell, Ceres temperature could be increased, UV lights would convert water vapor to oxygen gas, ammonia could be converted to nitrogen, and other elements could be added as needed.

In the same vein, a dome could be built over one or more of Ceres’ craters – particularly the Occator, Kerwan and Yalode craters – where the surface temperature could slowly be raised, and silicates and organic molecules could be introduced to create a terrestrial-like environment. Using water harvested from the surface, this land could be irrigated, oxygen gas could be processed, and nitrogen could be pumped in to act as a buffer gas.

Potential Benefits:

The benefits of colonizing and (para)terraforming Ceres are numerous. For instance, it would take comparatively less energy to sublimate the surface than with the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. Under normal conditions, Ceres’ surface is warm enough (and it is likely there is sufficient ammonia) that its ices are unstable.

Also, Ceres appears from all accounts to be rich in resources, which include water ices and ammonia, and has a surface that is equivalent in total land area to Argentina. Also, the surface receives an estimated 150 W/m2 of solar irradiance at aphelion, one ninth that of Earth. This level of energy is high enough that solar-power facilities could run on its surface.

And being the largest body in the asteroid belt, Ceres could become the main base and transport hub for future asteroid mining infrastructure, allowing mineral resources to be transported to Mars, the Moon, and Earth. Its small escape velocity, combined with large amounts of water ice, means that it also could process rocket fuel, water and oxygen gas on site for ships going through and beyond the Asteroid Belt.

Potential Challenges:

Despite the benefits of a colonized or transformed Ceres, there are also numerous challenges that would need to be addressed first. As always, they can be broken down into the following categories – Distance, Resources and Infrastructure, Hazards and Sustainability. For starters, Ceres and Earth are (on average) approximately 264,411,977 km apart, which is 1.7675 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun (and twice that between Earth and Mars).

Hence, any crewed mission to Ceres – which would involve the transport of both colonists, construction materials, and robotic workers – would take a considerable amount of time and involve a large expenditure in fuel. To put it in perspective, missions to Mars have taken anywhere from 150 to over 300 days, depending on how much fuel was expended. Since Ceres is roughly twice that distance, we can safely say that it would take a minimum of a year for a spacecraft to get there.

However, since these spacecraft would likely be several orders of magnitude heavier than anything previously flown to Mars – i.e. large enough to carry crews, supplies and heavy equipment – they would either need tremendous amounts of thrust to make the journey in the same amount of time, would have to spend much longer in transit, or would need more advanced propulsion systems altogether.

And while NASA currently has plans on the table to build laser-sail spacecraft that could make it Mars in three days times, these plans are not practical as far as colonization or terraforming are concerned. More than likely, advanced drive systems such as Nuclear-Thermal Propulsion (NTP) or a Fusion-drive system would be needed. And while certainly feasible, no such drive systems exist at this time.

Second, the process of building colonies on Ceres’ surface and/or orbital mirrors in orbit would require a huge commitment in material and financial resources. These could be harvested from the Asteroid Belt, but the process would be time-consuming, expensive, and require a large fleet of haulers and robotic miners. There would also need to be a string of bases between Earth and the Asteroid Belt in order to refuel and resupply these missions – i.e. a Lunar base, a permanent base on Mars, and most likely bases in the Asteroid Belt as well.

In terms of hazards, Ceres is not known to have a magnetic field, and would therefore not be shielded from cosmic rays or other forms of radiation. This would necessitate that any colonies on the surface either have significant radiation shielding, or that an orbital shield be put in place to deflect a significant amount of the radiation the planet receives. This latter idea further illustrates the problem of resource expenditure.

The extensive system of craters on Ceres attests to the fact that impactors would be a problem, requiring that they be monitored and redirected away from the planet. The surface gravity on Ceres is also quite low, being roughly 2.8% that on Earth (0.27 m/s2 vs. 9.8 m/s2). This would raise the issue of the long-term effects of near-weightlessness on the human body, which (like exposure to zero-g environments) would most likely involve loss of muscle mass, bone density, and damage to vital organs.

In terms of sustainability, terraforming Ceres presents a major problem. If the dwarf planet’s surface ice were to be sublimated, the result would be an ocean planet with depths of around 100 km. With a mean radius of less than 500 km, this means that about 21% of the planet’s diameter would consist of water. It is unlikely that such a planet (especially one with gravity as low as Ceres’) would be able to retain its oceans for long, and a significant amount of the water would likely be lost to space.


Under the circumstances, it seems like it would make more sense to colonize or paraterraform Ceres than to subject it to full terraforming. However, any such venture would have to wait upon the creation of a Lunar base, a settlement on Mars, and the development of more advanced propulsion technology. It was also require the creation of a fleet of deep-space ships and an army of construction and mining robots.

However, if and when such a colony were created, the resources of the Asteroid Belt would be at our disposal. Humanity would effectively enter an age of post-scarcity, and would be in a position to mount missions deeper into the Solar System (which could include colonizing the Jovian and Cronian systems, and maybe even the Trans-Neptunian region).

From How Do We Terraform Ceres? by Matt Williams (2016)
Ecosystem to bring

(ed note: Our heroes and heroines are building a space ark to fly a few survivors to the planet Bronson Beta, before the planet Bronson Alpha splatters Terra like a bug on an automobile windshield)

"In the early days on this world, the great majority of plants did not reproduce by seeds, but by the far more resistant spores, which have survived as the method of reproduction of many varieties. So we will count upon a native flora which, undoubtedly, will appear very strange to us. Of course, as you know, we are taking across with us our own seeds and our own spores."

"I know," said Tony, "and even our own insects too."

"An amazing list—isn't it, Tony?—our necessities for existence. We take so much for granted, don't we? You do not realize what has been supplied you by nature on this world of ours—until you come to count up what you must take along with you, if you hope to survive."

"Yes," said Tony, "ants and angleworms—and mayflies."

"Exactly. You've been talking with Keppler, I see. I put that problem entirely up to Keppler.

"Our first and most necessary unit for self-preservation proved to be the common honey bee, to secure pollination of flowering plants, trees and so on. Keppler says that of some twenty thousand nectar insects, this one species pollinates more than all the rest put together. The honey bee would take care of practically of this work, as his range is tremendous. There are a few plants—Keppler tells me—such as red clover, which he cannot work on; but his cousin the bumblebee, with his longer proboscis, could attend to them. So, first and foremost among living things, we bring bees.

"We also take ants, especially the common little brown variety, to ventilate, drain and work the soil; and, as you have observed, angleworms also.

"Since we are going to take with us fish eggs to hatch into fish over there, we have to take mayflies. Their larvas, in addition to providing food for the fish, are necessary to keep the inland waters from becoming choked with algæ and the lower water plants.

"In the whole of the Lepidoptera there is not, Keppler says, one necessary or even useful species; but for sheer beauty's sake—and because they take small space—we will take six butterflies and at least the Luna moth.

"And we must take one of the reputed scourges of the earth."

"What?" said Tony.

"The grasshopper—the locust. Such an insect will be vitally necessary to keep the greenery from choking our new earth; and the one best suited for this job is, paradoxically enough, one of mankind's oldest scourges, the grasshopper. He is an omnivorous feeder and would keep the greenery in check— after he got his start. Our first problem may be that he will not multiply fast enough; and then that he multiply too fast. So to keep him in check, and also the butterfly and the moth, we will take parasitic flies. We will have to have these—two or three of the dozen common Tachinidæ have been chosen.

"These will be the essential insects. Here on earth, with a balanced and bewilderingly intricate economy already established, a tremendously longer list would be vital to provide the proper checks and balances; but starting anew, on Bronson Beta, we can begin, at least, with the few insects we have chosen. Unquestionably, differentiation and evolution will swiftly set in, and they will find new forms.

"We are bringing along vials of mushroom and other fungi spores. Otherwise vegetation would fall down, never disintegrate, and pile up till everything was choked. A vial the size of your thumb holds several billion spores of assorted fungi— in case the spores of the fungi of Bronson Beta have not survived. They are absolutely essential.

"Also, besides our own water supply for the voyage, we are taking bottles of stagnant pond-water and another of sea-water containing our microorganisms such as diatoms, plankton, unicellular plants and animals which form the basis for our biotic economy and would supplement, or replace, such life on the other globe.

"About animals—" He halted.

"Yes, about animals," Tony urged.

"There is, naturally, still discussion. Our space is so limited, and there is most tremendous competition. Birds offer a somewhat simpler problem; but possibly you have heard some of the arguments over them."

"I have," said Tony, "and joined in them. I confess I argued for warblers—yellow warblers. I like them; I have always liked them; and meadow larks."

"The matter of dogs and cats is the most difficult," Hendron said, closing the subject.

From When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (1932)
The Song of Distant Earth

(ed note: The starship Magellan is visiting the Terran colony on the planet Thalassa. Their destination is the planet Sagan 2, to found a new colony there. The starship crew gives a seminar for some Thalassan scientists.)

‘Here it is,’ she began. ‘I’m sure you’ve all seen this map of Sagan — the best reconstruction possible from fly-bys and radioholograms. The detail’s very poor, of course — ten kilometres at the best — but it’s enough to give us the basic facts.

‘Diameter — fifteen thousand kilometres, a little larger than Earth. A dense atmosphere — almost entirely nitrogen. And no oxygen — fortunately.’

That ‘fortunately’ was always an attention-getter; it made the audience sit up with a jolt.

‘I understand your surprise; most human beings have a prejudice in favour of breathing. But in the decades before the Exodus, many things happened to change our outlook on the Universe.

‘The absence of other living creatures — past or present — in the solar system and the failure of the SETI programs despite sixteen centuries of effort convinced virtually everyone that life must be very rare elsewhere in the universe, and therefore very precious.

‘Hence it followed that all life forms were worthy of respect and should be cherished. Some argued that even virulent pathogens and disease vectors should not be exterminated, but should be preserved under strict safeguards. “Reverence for life” became a very popular phrase during the Last Days and few applied it exclusively to human life.

‘Once the principle of biological noninterference was accepted, certain practical consequences followed. It had long been agreed that we should not attempt any settlement on a planet with intelligent life-forms; the human race had a bad enough record on its home world. Fortunately — or unfortunately! — this situation has never arisen.

‘But the argument was taken further. Suppose we found a planet on which animal life had just begun. Should we stand aside and let evolution take its course on the chance that megayears hence intelligence might arise?

‘Going still further back — suppose there was only plant life? Only single-cell microbes?

‘You may find it surprising that, when the very existence of the human race was at stake, men bothered to debate such abstract moral and philosophical questions. But Death focuses the mind on the things that really matter: why are we here, and what should we do?

‘The concept of “Metalaw” — I’m sure you’ve all heard the term — became very popular. Was it possible to develop legal and moral codes applicable to all intelligent creatures, and not merely to the bipedal, air-breathing mammals who had briefly dominated Planet Earth?

‘Dr Kaldor, incidentally, was one of the leaders of the debate. It made him quite unpopular with those who argued that since H. sapiens was the only intelligent species known, its survival took precedence over all other considerations. Someone coined the effective slogan: “If it’s Man or Slime Moulds, I vote for Man!”

‘Fortunately, there’s never been a direct confrontation — as far as we know. It may be centuries before we get reports from all the seedships that went out. And if some remain silent — well, the slime moulds may have won…

‘In 3505, during the final session of the World Parliament, certain guidelines — the famous Geneva Directive — were laid down for future planetary colonization. Many thought that they were too idealistic, and there was certainly no way in which they could ever be enforced. But they were an expression of intent — a final gesture of goodwill towards a Universe which might never be able to appreciate it.

‘Only one of the directive’s guidelines concern us here — but it was the most celebrated and aroused intense controversy, since it ruled out some of the most promising targets.

‘The presence of more than a few percent oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere is definite proof that life exists there. The element is far too reactive to occur in the free state unless it is continually replenished by plants — or their equivalent. Of course, oxygen doesn’t necessarily mean animal life, but it sets the stage for it. And even if animal life only rarely leads to intelligence, no other plausible route to it has ever been theorized.

‘So, according to the principles of Metalaw, oxygen-bearing planets were placed out of bounds. Frankly, I doubt so drastic a decision would have been made if the quantum drive hadn’t given us essentially unlimited range — and power.

‘Now let me tell you our plan of operation, when we have reached Sagan 2. As you will see by the map, more than fifty per cent of the surface is ice-covered, to an estimated average depth of three kilometres. All the oxygen we shall ever need!

‘When it’s established its final orbit, Magellan will use the quantum drive, at a small fraction of full-power, to act as a torch. It will burn off the ice and simultaneously crack the steam into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen will quickly leak away into space; we may help it with tuned lasers, if necessary.

‘In only twenty years, Sagan 2 will have a ten per cent O2 atmosphere, though it will be too full of nitrogen oxides and other poisons to be breathable. About that time we’ll start dumping specially developed bacteria, and even plants, to accelerate the process. But the planet will still be far too cold; even allowing for the heat we’ve pumped into it, the temperature will be below freezing everywhere except for a few hours near noon at the Equator.

‘So that’s where we use the quantum drive, probably for the last time. Magellan, which has spent its entire existence in space, will finally descend to the surface of a planet.

‘And then, for about fifteen minutes every day at the appropriate time, the drive will be switched on at the maximum power the structure of the ship — and the bedrock on which it is resting — can withstand. We won’t know how long the operation will take until we have made the first tests; it may be necessary to move the ship again if the initial site is geologically unstable.

‘At a first approximation, it appears that we’ll need to operate the drive for thirty years, to slow the planet until it drops sunward far enough to give it a temperate climate. And we’ll have to run the drive for another twenty-five years to circularize the orbit. But for much of that time Sagan 2 will be quite livable — though the winters will be fierce until final orbit is achieved.

‘So then we will have a virgin planet, larger than Earth, with about forty percent ocean and a mean temperature of twenty-five degrees. The atmosphere will have an oxygen content seventy percent of Earth’s — but still rising. It will be time to awaken the nine hundred thousand sleepers still in hibernation, and present them with a new world.

From The Songs of Distant Earth by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1985)
Wrath of Khan

(ed note: Chekov and Captain Terrell are looking for a totally lifeless planet to test Dr. Carol Marcus' "Genesis Device." Since the device will instanly kill any life forms already on the planet Dr. Marcus is quite firm that "lifeless" means LIFELESS.)

CAROL: Now let me get this straight. Something you can transplant?
CHEKOV: Yes, Doctor.
CAROL: Something you can transplant? I don't know.
TERRELL: It might only be a particle of preanimate matter.
CAROL: Then again it may not. You boys have to be clear on this. There can't be so much as a microbe or the show's off. Why don't you have a look? But if it is something that can be moved I want...
TERRELL: You bet, Doctor. We're on our way!
From movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


If changing an entire planet to suit human colonists is out of the question, the next best thing is changing the colonists to fit the planet. This is done by extreme genetic engineering, James Blish coined the term "pantropy". This can go beyond humans engineered to handle slightly hotter or colder temperatures: it can theoretically lead to engineering "people" with totally different biochemistries, breathing methane and having bones composed of water ice.

This appears in James Blish's Pantropy series, Roger Zelazny's "The Keys to December ", and Olaf Stapedon's Last and First Men.

A Time to Survive

The facts were simple and implacable. Sweeney was an Adapted Man — adapted, in this instance, to the bitter cold, the light gravity, and the thin stink of atmosphere which prevailed on Ganymede. The blood that ran in his veins, and the sol substrate of his every cell, was nine-tenths liquid ammonia; his bones were Ice IV; his respiration was a complex hydrogen-to-methane cycle based not upon catalysis by an iron-bearing pigment, but upon the locking and unlocking of a double sulfur bond; and he could survive for weeks, if he had to, upon a diet of rock dust.

He had always been this way. What had made him so had happened to him literally before he had been conceived: the application, to the germ cells which had later united to form him, of an elaborate constellation of techniques — selective mitotic poisoning, pinpoint X-irradiation, tectogenetic micro-surgery, competitive metabolic inhibition, and perhaps fifty more whose names he had never even heard — which collectively had been christened “pantropy.” The word, freely re-translated, meant “changing everything” and it fitted.

Even the ultimate germ cells were the emergents of a hundred previous generations, bred one from another before they had passed the zygote stage like one-celled animals, each one biassed a little farther toward the cyanide and ice and everything nice that little boys like Sweeney were made of.

Item: the Authorities. Long before space travel, big cities in the United States had fallen so far behind any possibility of controlling their own traffic problems as to make purely political solutions chimerical. No city administration could spend the amount of money needed for a radical cure, without being ousted in the next elections by the enraged drivers and pedestrians who most needed the help.

Increasingly, the traffic problems were turned over, with gratitude and many privileges, to semi-public Port, Bridge and Highway Authorities: huge capital-investment ventures modelled upon the Port of New York Authority, which had shown its ability to build and/or run such huge operations as the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, Teterboro, LaGuardia, Idlewild and Newark airports, and many lesser facilities. By 1960 it was possible to travel from the tip of Florida to the border of Maine entirely over Authority-owned territory, if one could pay the appropriate tolls (and didn’t mind being shot at in the Poconos by embattled land-owners who were still resisting the gigantic Incadel project).

Item: the Tolls. The Authorities were creations of the states, usually acting in pairs, and as such enjoyed legal protections not available to other private firms engaged in interstate commerce. Among these protections, in the typical enabling act, was a provision that “the two said states will not … diminish or impair the power of the Authority to establish, levy and collect tolls and other charges …” The federal government helped; although the Federal Bridge Act of 1946 required that the collection of tolls must cease with the payment of amortization, Congress almost never invoked the Act against any Authority. Consequently, the tolls never dropped; by 1953 the Port of New York Authority was reporting a profit of over twenty million dollars a year, and annual collections were increasing at the rate of ten per cent a year.

Some of the take went into the development of new facilitiesm, most of them so placed as to increase the take, rather than solve the traffic problem. Again the Port of New York Authority led the way; it built, against all sense, a third tube for the Lincoln Tunnel, thus pouring eight and a half million more cars per year into Manhattan’s mid-town area, where the city was already strangling for want of any adequate ducts to take away the then-current traffic.

Item: the Port cops. The Authorities had been authorized from the beginning to police their own premises. As the Authorities got bigger, so did the private police forces.

By the time space travel arrived, the Authorities owned it.

They had taken pains to see that it fell to them; they had learned from their airport operations — which, almost alone among their projects, always showed a loss — that nothing less than total control is good enough. And characteristically, they never took any interest in any form of space-travel which did not involve enormous expenditures; otherwise they could take no profits from sub-contracting, no profits from fast amortization of loans, no profits from the laws allowing them fast tax writeoffs for new construction, no profits from the indefinitely protracted collection of tolls and fees after the initial cost and the upkeep had been recovered.

At the world’s first commercial spaceport, Port Earth, it cost ship owners $5000 each and every time their ships touched the ground. Landing fees had been outlawed in private atmosphere flying for years, but the Greater Earth Port Authority operated under its own set of precedents; it made landing fees for spacecraft routine. And it maintained the first Port police force which was bigger than the armed forces of the nation which had given it its franchise; after a while, the distinction was wiped out, and the Port cops were the armed forces of the United States. It was not difficult to do, since the Greater Earth Port authority was actually a holding company embracing every other Authority in the country, including Port Earth.

And when people, soon after spaceflight, began to ask each other, “How shall we colonize the planets?,” the Greater Earth Port Authority had its answer ready.

Item: Terraforming.

Terraforming — remaking the planets into near-images of the Earth, so that Earth-normal people could live on them.

Port Earth was prepared to start small. Port Earth wanted to move Mars out of its orbit to a point somewhat closer to the sun, and make the minor adjustments needed in the orbits of the other planets; to transport to Mars about enough water to empty the Indian Ocean — only a pittance to Earth, after all, and not 10 per cent of what would be needed later to terraform Venus; to carry to the little planet top-soil about equal in area to the state of Iowa, in order to get started at growing plants which would slowly change the atmosphere of Mars; and so on. The whole thing, Port Earth pointed out reasonably, was perfectly feasible from the point of view of the available supplies and energy resources, and it would cost less than thirty-three billion dollars. The Greater Earth Port Authority was prepared to recover that sum at no cost in taxes in less thap a century, through such items as $50 rocket-mail stamps, $10,000 Mars landing fees, $1,000 one-way strap-down tickets, 100-per-desert-acre land titles, and so on.

Of course the fees would continue after the cost was re-covered — for maintenance.

Alternative? Nothing but domes. The Greater Earth Port Authority hated domes. They cost too little to begin with, and the volume of traffic to and from them would always be miniscule.

Experience on the Moon had made that painfully clear. And the public hated domes, too; it had already shown a mass reluctance to live under them.

As for the governments, other than that of the United States, that the Authority still tolerated, none of them had any love for domes, or for the kind of limited colonization that the domes stood for. They needed to get rid of their populating masses by the bucket-full, not by the eye-dropper-full.

If the Authority knew that emigration increases the home population rather than cuts it, the Authority carefully reframed from saying so to the governments involved; they could redisoover Franklin’s Law for themselves. Domes were out; terraforming was in.

Then came pantropy.

If this third alternative to the problem of colonizing the planets had come as a surprise to the Authority, and to Port Earth, they had nobody to blame for it but themselves.

There had been plenty of harbingers. The notion of modifying the human stock genetically to live on the planets as they were found, rather than changing the planets to accommodate the people, had been old with Olaf Stapledon; it had been touched upon by many later writers; it went back, in essence, as far as Proteus, and as deep into the human mind as the werewolf, the vampire, the fairy changeling, the transmigrated soul.

But suddenly it was possible; and, not very long afterwards, it was a fact.

The Authority hated it. Pantropy involved a high initial investment to produce the first colonists, but it was a method which with refinement would become cheaper and cheaper.

Once the colonists were planted, it required no investment at all; the colonists were comfortable on their adopted world, and could produce new colonists without outside help. Pantropy, furthermore, was at its most expensive less than half as costly as the setting-up of the smallest and least difficult dome.

Compared to the cost of terraforming even so favorable a planet as Mars, it cost nothing at all, from the Authority’s point of view.

And there was no way to collect tolls against even the initial expense. It was too cheap to bother with.

(ed note: example of propaganda from The Authority)


If a number of influential scientists have their way, some child or grandchild of yours may eke out his life in the frozen wastes of Pluto, where even the sun is only a spark in the sky — and will be unable to return to Earth until after he dies, if then!

Yes, even now there are plans afoot to change innocent unborn children into alien creatures who would die terribly the moment that they set foot upon the green planet of their ancestors. Impatient with the slow but steady pace of man’s conquest of Mars, prominent ivory-tower thinkers are working out ways to produce all kinds of travesties upon the human form — travesties which will be able to survive, somehow, in the bitterest and most untamed of planetary infernos.

The process which may produce these pitiful freaks at enormous expense is called “pantropy.” It is already in imperfect and dangerous existence. Chief among its prophets is white-haired, dreamy-eyed Dr. Jacob Rullman, who…

From A Time to Survive by James Blish (1956)
Keys to December

Born of man and woman, in accordance with Catform Y7 requirements, Coldworld Class (modified per Alyonal), 3.2-E, G.M.I. option, Jarry Dark was not suited for existence anywhere in the universe which had guaranteed him a niche. This was either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you looked at it.

So look at it however you would, here is the story:

It is likely that his parents could have afforded the temperature control unit, but not much more than that. (Jarry required a temperature of at least -50 C. to be comfortable.)

It is unlikely that his parents could have provided for the air pressure control and gas mixture equipment required to maintain his life.

Nothing could be done in the way of 3.2-E grav-simulation, so daily medication and physiotherapy were required. It is unlikely that his parents could have provided for this.

The much-maligned option took care of him, however. It safe-guarded his health. It provided for his education. It assured his economic welfare and physical well-being.

It might be argued that Jarry Dark would not have been a homeless Coldworld Catform (modified per Alyonal) had it not been for General Mining, Incorporated, which had held the option. But then it must be borne in mind that no one could have foreseen the nova which destroyed Alyonal.

When his parents had presented themselves at the Public Health Planned Parenthood Center and requested advice and medication pending offspring, they had been informed as to the available worlds and the bodyform requirements for them. They had selected Alyonal, which had recently been purchased by General Mining for purposes of mineral exploitation. Wisely, they had elected the option; that is to say, they had signed a contract on behalf of their anticipated offspring, who would be eminently qualified to inhabit that world, agreeing that he would work as an employee of General Mining until he achieved his majority, at which time he would be free to depart and seek employment wherever he might choose (though his choices would admittedly be limited). In return for this guarantee, General Mining agreed to assure his health, education and continuing welfare for so long as he remained in their employ.

When Alyonal caught fire and went away, those Coldworld Catforms covered by the option who were scattered about the crowded galaxy were, by virtue of the agreement, wards of General Mining.

From "Keys to December" by Roger Zelazny (1966)

Rate of Empire Expansion

Once you have decided that your Terran Empire is X number of light years wide or contains Y number of stars, it would help to have a realistic number for the amount of years it will take for the empire to expand to that size. Or from the other side, if you have decided how long the empire has been around, it would help to be able to figure out how many stars and how wide it is. This is a little more difficult.

The SETI scientists are always fretting about the Fermi paradox. As a result, there have been a couple of attempts to model the speed of galactic colonization by a hypothetical alien race. These can be used, keeping in mind that they always assume slower-than-light starships. Such models have inhabited planets colonizing nearby worlds. When the population of the colonies grows large enough, they send out their own colonization missions.

A comprehensive but mathematically intensive model is Burning the Cosmic Commons by Robin Hanson. Another interesting model is Computer Simulation of Cultural Drift: Limitations on Interstellar Colonisation by William Sims Bainbridge. I would like to explain how to use them, but I'm still trying to digest the models myself.

Newman & Sagan

Newman & Sagan (Galactic civilizations; population dynamics and interstellar diffusion. Icarus, 46, 293-327) attempted to apply the gas diffusion equation to interstellar migrations.

∂P/∂t = αP (1 - P/Ps) + γΔ2 ∂/∂x (P/Ps ∂P/∂x)


  • P = population of a settlement
  • Ps = the carrying capacity of a settlement
  • t = time
  • x = spatial coordinate
  • α = local population growth rate (percentage of current population)
  • γ = emigration rate (percentage of current population)
  • Δ = mean separation of settlements
  • ∂ = partial differential (Yes, I know. Scary Calculus. But don't panic)

The solution to the equation is:

P/Ps = 1 - exp((x - vt) / L)


  • L = Δ sqrt(2γ / α) = gradient length scale
  • v = sqrt(αγ / 2) = wave speed

However, when Newman and Sagan analyzed the problem, they came to the belated realization that the local growth rate (α) greatly exceeds the emigration rate (γ) so that L <<Δ. Translated into English, this means that the galactic colonization resembled an explosion more than it did a slow gaseous diffusion. Which means the equation is worthless for this purpose. Back to the drawing board.

Eric M. Jones

Eric M. Jones found a more promising approach. In Discrete calculations of interstellar migration and settlement( Icarus Volume 46, Issue 3 , June 1981, Pages 328-336. Costs $15 for the article) he uses a Monte Carlo simulation (i.e., rules are established then a lot of dice are metaphorically thrown). Jones found the following equation will approximate the Monte Carlo results:

v = Δr/ [(Δ/vs) + (1/α) ln(2α/γ)]


  • Δr = average radial distance traveled (i.e., distance as meaured from the center of the empire)
  • Δ = average distance traveled
  • vs = ship speed
  • Δx/vs = average travel time (years)

Jones says one can usually assume that Δr = 0.7Δ and neglect the travel time, resulting in:

v = 0.7αΔ / ln(2α/γ)

Assuming the mean separation between settlements (Δ) is 7.2 light years (2.2 parsecs), local population growth rate (α) is 10-3 per year, and the emigration rate (γ) is 10-4 per year, this means the colonization wave will travel at about 2 x 10-3 light-years per year (5 x 10-4 parsecs per year). This would colonize the entire galaxy in a mere 60 million years.

The emigration rate could become much larger. In the 1840's the great Irish emigration reached a whopping 0.01/year. The population of Ireland at the time was about four million, so the emigration was an incredible 40,000 per year or about one hundred per day.

Using the upper equation, with my figure of 8.3 light years for Δ, and a slower-than-light ship speed of 10% c, I figure an expansion wave speed of 1.93 x 10-3 light-years per year. Unfortunately, upping the speed of the ships has little effect. At 50% c it's 1.97 x 10-3 ly/yr, at 100 c it's still 1.97 x 10-3 ly/yr, at ten times the speed of light it's 1.98 x 10-3 ly/yr, and at one thousand times the speed of light it is still 1.97 x 10-3 ly/yr!

At this speed, it would take about 50,000 years to expand to a 100 light year radius empire, which seems like an overly long time to me.

But maybe not. Mr. Jones is talking about a population growth of 10-3 or 0.1% per year. The United States has a growth rate closer to 0.6%, and some nations are crowding 3.0%. If our empire had a growth rate α of 0.6% and a modest emigration rate γ of 10-4 per year, it could reach 100 light years in radius in about 6900 years. And if it had a draconian γ of 10-2, it could reach that size in a mere 260 years.


Issac Kuo questions the assumptions contained in Eric M. Jones's model:

One thing I don't like about these models is that they tend to be based around "average" trip distances and speeds. However, the rate of expansion will be determined by the "pioneering" trip distances and speeds.

The sorts of interstellar propulsion I find plausible involve an incredible amount of initial investment and economic buildup, but then the marginal costs for additional colonization missions are small. This suggests that the third generation of colonization missions might as well be long range missions. The second generation of colonies will have saturated the nearby systems so the only direction to expand is into long range missions.

For example, suppose it takes 5000 years to build up from an initial colony into something that can send out missions of their own. In the meantime, the home system could be sending out colonization missions at a rate of one per decade. By the time the first generation of colonies is up for sending out colonization missions, the nearest 50 systems have already been colonized. The first generation then sends colony ships to fill out the nearest 2500 systems.

Assuming no one has yet bothered to try any long range colonization missions, the result is a compact ball of 2500 colonized systems, of which only a thin shell on the outside can expand with short range missions.

It seems to me plausible that at least some of the "core" systems will embark on long range missions. Maybe some of those long range missions will merely just barely outrun the expanding border. That's a rather short-sighted strategy. Other long range missions will daringly punch across the galaxy, starting up seeds which won't run into the "slowpoke" border for dozens of millenia.

The result is an overall frontier of expansion that is defined by sporadic long range "seed dots". They fill out eventually, but it's entirely plausible for the overall rate of expansion to be entirely defined by far reaching long range high speed missions from the home system or early generation systems.

Issac Kuo

Rick Robinson had this to say:

Just glancing though your section there, the key challenge for a lot of purposes is time scale — and oddly, it doesn't have much to do with ship speed; an STL civilization might expand over the long haul nearly as fast as an FTL one.

The key issue - and this comes up in all sorts of contexts — is how long does it take for a planet to go from raw young colony to major world, the kind that could and might send out colonies of its own? This is the basic problem you have to solve for settings in which anyone has a space fleet of their own but Earth.

Let me try to put a few numbers on it.

The threshold for having a space fleet is arguably lower than for colonization, because a planet of 100 million people could probably maintain starships, but probably is not feeling a big population squeeze. To be sure, on some planets the habitable area will be pretty much filled, and even on the more earthlike ones the human presence is getting pervasive, so some impulse to colonize might be developing.

Whether a planet of 10 million people - the equivalent of a single large urban region — could realistically have a diversified enough economy to maintain and operate a fleet of starships seems a bit iffy, unless they are putting a massive effort into it, so massive that it may stunt their other prospects.

The most likely scenario for a world of 10 million people sending out a colony might be that they've decided their current home sux, and they're going to try their shot at another one.

Looking at the other end, how many people for a viable colony. I'd say 10,000 at the low end, with 100,000 seeming a lot more comfortable. That's the population of one semirural county. How many machine shops and such does it have, how much can they specialize for efficiency, and oh yeah, you need raw material, a mining sector and all that.

If you can't make it you have to import it, paying starship freight instead of truck freight, and what have you got for sale? The market for colony-world curios is going to get crowded fast, and if you really do have something to sell, you'll probably need more than a one-county economy to produce it in commercial quantities.

So I would say that you usually have to put 100,000 people onto a colony planet for it to thrive. Colonies with fewer than that can hang on, but if subsidies are cut off they may die off outright, or be stuck in a marginal existence; only lucky ones will overcome it and do okay.

For a colony to really go as a largely self-sufficient post industrial world it had better have on order of a million people — more or less the equivalent of Bakersfield and environs. I am certain that Australia has a Bakersfield, but I do not know what it is. Maybe our Oz contingent can inform us.

But once again, if they can't make it or pay starship freight for it they do without it, and the equivalent of Bakersfield has a tough challenge producing nearly all the needs of post industrial civilization. And for exports it is good to have one sizeable airport that can double as the shuttle port and provide steady employment for a lot of the techs.

Big proviso, so hold your pitchforks. This is predicated on the 23rd century, or 28th or whatever, having about the same productive efficiencies of scale that we are used to. If you have got replicators where you shovel dirt in one end and get a washing machine or air car out the other, things are different. But you still need a wide range of human skills, very hard for small communities to provide, maintain, and keep active.

So maybe my figures could all be squeezed down by an order of magnitude, so that a colony of 10,000 is fairly viable, a colony of 100,000 can maintain a full industrial base, and one of a million people can keep its own starships in service. That helps for story settings, but you wouldn't generally expect worlds like that to be active colonizers.

Finally, and most central to time scale, how fast do colony populations grow, either from immigration or birth rate? I would call a million emigrants from Earth each year a benchmark figure for large scale colonization. That's several thousand people each day, one huge ship or several merely big ones, and it still takes a century of sustained effort to plant 100 colonies, each of a million people.

From the colony's point of view, people are another expensive import, if you have to pay them to come. If they can afford a ticket and house stake they will only go to desirable colonies. If someone is paying to ship people to you, you may want to know why, because colonies could be a good place to dump dissidents, minor troublemakers, and similar riffraff.

On the export side, I'm more dubious of shipping off refugees, because by definition you're dealing with lots of them, and shipping them all off world is horribly expensive. Much more so than just plucking the town crank and town pickpocket off the streets and getting them to volunteer for emigration.

But by and large you expect that mass colonization involves people who weren't doing so great on Earth, because the supply of nut enthusiasts like people on this board who would actually like to colonize is limited, and a million people a year is a lot.

The other side of colonial growth is reproductive growth. Doubling the population each generation is about the historical sustained maximum. That corresponds to 10x per century, so Deseret World might go from 100,000 people to 10 million people in 200 years.

But even doubling per century is a pretty robust population growth rate. That's roughly 1.2x per generation. Unless you're growing 'em in vats, about half the women are having three or four kids, and one way or another the society encourages and accommodates itself to this.

It's no given that post industrial societies will generally have this population growth rate, though colony worlds may not follow the current trend in industrialized societies toward ZPG or even less.

If colony populations do tend to grow, I suspect the driving force is not the Heinleinian trope of ranchers with half a dozen marriageable — and "husband-high" — daughters, but the pervasive shortage of skilled specialists of all sorts. How this is transmitted to social attitudes I'm not sure, and no doubt can vary widely.

A colony with population doubling each century will go from 100,000 people to 10 million people in about 700 years, pushing us into the second half of the millennium.

Looking at it broadly, say that the age of colonization is around 2250-2350. That is a fairly common time frame for interstellar SF with a geocentric setting; (Star) Trek is vaguely in this era, AD2300 of course, and it's implied by some of Heinlein's interstellar stories.

After a century or so colonization from Earth sputters out, because all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, and it is increasingly costly to reach virgin planets.

Emigration from Earth to the existing colonies can continue after that, but at some point the rate will likely fall. Successful colonies will no longer want people dumped on them, unsuccessful colonies can't absorb them, so emigration falls to the level of people who can pay to go and want to go, or who the colonies are willing to pay for.

So. At some point around 2400, colonization has tapered off and emigration is tapering off. We can guess that there are at least a dozen or so full colony planets - if you can reach any you can probably reach about that many (and you need a good handful for a decent scenario).

The upward limit is about 100 or so true colony worlds, set - regardless of how many worlds are in reach of your FTL - by the postulated size of the colonization wave. A hundred million people, a hundred worlds - an average of about a million immigrants per colony, though the distribution may well be oligarchic by a power law, a handful of colonies getting a large share of total immigrants, growing to populations of up to a few tens of millions, while most have less than a million and kind of struggle along.

Beyond and between the colonies there may be planets never made into self-sustaining colonies, but remaining as outposts, and likely with some permanent populations. If someone pulls the plug on these, though, don't miss the last bus out. Same with space stations and such.

As with the chronology, I think this is a fairly classical scale for a mid-interstellar setting — when there are already established colony worlds, that you can get to by starliner, not just outpost transport or even colonization ship.

There are enough worlds for a diverse interstellar setting, but few enough that people who deal with space, at least, will have some notion of them all as distinct places. (The way "Spain" conveys something to you, or "New Delhi," but "Florianópolis" probably does not.

A few of these colonies already in 2400 have upwards of 10 million people and some potential to colonize themselves, but these were the immigration magnets, so they probably still feel short-handed if anything, not inclined to send lots of people off.

It will take 200 or 300 years for smaller colonies with rapid population growth rates to start pushing up into the 10 million population range, and might have the impulse and capability to colonize. But it might take closer to 500 years for a substantial number of the original colonies to have much motivation to colonize.

The early goers, though, will have filled in the next layer of easy pickings. Here is where your FTL really matters - whether you can light off freely into the vastness to hunt for a suitable planet, or are constrained by a colonization sphere that is starting to grow again.

But broadly speaking, it seems that secondary colonization couldn't be expected in any serious way until sometime well after 2500, and perhaps not in a big way till sometime around 2700-3000.

Rick Robinson

Growing a Colony


With respect to increasing the population of a colony, women are a more critical item than men.

If you wanted to create ten new babies in a year, the minimum requirement is one man and ten women. A single man can create ten babies in one year by impregnating ten women. But the only way for women to make ten babies in one year is with ten women, not one. Hunters know that if you do not want to make your prey extinct you'd better only hunt the bucks, not the does. The same goes when fishing for crabs and the like, throw the she-crabs back into the water.

Which means that with respect to growing the new colony, the colony can better afford to have a few men eaten by alien land-sharks than women. In new colonies, women might find themselves somewhat protected and forbidden to engage in dangerous occupations. The colony needs all the women it can get, the men are expendable.

There will also be an iron-clad tradition of "women and children first."

Once the planet is fully colonized, such cloistering will not be needed, but old habits die hard. In many science fiction stories, people from Terran cultures are often taken aback at the old-fashioned women-as-objects-to-be-protected attitudes of colonial cultures.

This trend might be moderated if the colony makes extensive use of artificial wombs. Though that assumes a colony industrial infrastructure capable of supporting such a high tech device.

Remember that in the early days when both the colony's population and genetic diversity is low, families may be forced to have "duty children", from fertilized ova imported from off-world. This helps prevent the dangers of in-breeding.

From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplus age, excrescence, adornment, luxury or folly which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.

From Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein (1973)
Feet of Clay

(ed note: Wee Mad Arthur is a gnome, about six inches tall. He is a rat exterminator, hunting them with a crossbow.)

A minute later Wee Mad Arthur emerged into the daylight, dragging the rat behind him. There were fifty-seven neatly lined up along the wall, but despite his name Wee Mad Arthur made a point of not killing the young and the pregnant females. It's always a good idea to make sure you've got a job tomorrow.

From Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett (1996)
Male-Female Ratio

As you could see with the example of Tristan de Cunha, most of the men died when that boat sank, but the colony was able to survive. The same thing would probably not be true if the majority of the women had died.

In general (at least with mammals), the ratio in size between males and females for a given species represents the mating ratio for that species. So, if males and females are the same size, then usually one male will be mating with one female (for a given mating period), and if males are twice the size of females, one male will mate with two females. The larger size is related to the number of other males they have to fight for access to the females.

In our species, males are slightly larger than females, suggesting that populations with slightly low male to female mating ratios (3 men / 4-5 women) have been the 'optimal' state over the last five million years or so. Note that this is not necessarily the actual ratio of males to females in the population, nor does it mean that the colonists could not adopt an even lower ratio at the outset, since one male can fertilize a large number of females at one time. Of course, the fewer males you have, the lower the Y-chromosome diversity will be.

For agriculturalists, children are valuable laborers, but for most of human existence, population was strictly regulated to remain in line with the carrying capacity of, say, the Outback or the Arctic. We can learn from extant foraging communities and from the archaeological records of their ancestors. Their rituals and taboos, their regulations of sexuality to keep populations low, might once again be of great value to our species.

Once space colonists arrive at their desired exoplanet, however, things will change yet again. The migrant population will be expected to explode upon arrival because—as we have learned in conservation biology on Earth—larger populations of any organism are always safer from extinction (local or general) than smaller populations. This will drive yet another shift in the cultural details of sex and sexuality, re-enacting the demographic shift from foraging to farming that occurred millennia before, back on Earth.

From Star-Crossing Lovers by Cameron M. Smith (2013)
Cultural Analysis

Because of this holistic experience of studying a small, relatively self-sufficient community and trying to figure out all its parts and how they fit together, I find most discussions of space settlement curiously incomplete. Typically, they go to great lengths to explain how habitats will be built on a planetary surface or in space, how food will be grown in these habitats, and how the community will earn its way by mining or manufacturing some valuable product; then they skip on to few details about domestic architecture, local government, and the like.

Thatching a Roof in Polynesia

A communal working group thatches a roof on the island of Nukuria, a Polynesian atoll located in the Bismarck Archipelago near New Guinea. In this atoll community of some 200 inhabitants, people work cooperatively on such chores as roof thatching, much as early American farmers used to help each other out with barn-building “bees.”

The isolation, small size, and relative self-sufficiency of such island communities allows the anthropologist studying them to gain a holistic perspective on all facets of life from birth to death. This holistic perspective in turn may enable anthropologists to foresee critical human elements in future space settlements that planners who are inexperienced in the functioning of small, relatively self-contained communities may ignore.

(ed note: imagine the inhabitants of a tiny asteroid colony cooperating in a "dome raising" bee for a new resident. )

Among the crucial elements of human life omitted, or glossed over, in these futuristic projections is the most basic one for the survival of any society: reproduction. How mating, the control of birth, and then the rearing of children are to be arranged is seldom even mentioned in discussions of space settlement. Yet, if our ventures in space were limited to communities of nonreproducing adults whose number would have to be constantly replenished with recruits from Earth, we could hardly expand very far into space.

Of course, it could be argued that no great attention will be required in this area—that people will carry into space whatever reproductive practices are current in their earthside societies. But, would that mean a high percentage of single-parent households and low birth rates? A distinguished demographer, whom Eric Jones and I invited to a conference on space settlement, explained his lack of professional interest in the subject by saying that he really did not think there would be much population expansion into space. He argued that the nations most likely to establish space settlements are those which have passed through the demographic transition from high to low population growth and that, furthermore, the highly educated, technology-oriented people who would be the ones to colonize space are those inclined to have the fewest children, perhaps not even enough for replacement of the population.

A population’s demographic past is not necessarily a reliable predictor of its future, however, as we should have learned after the surprise of the post-World War II baby boom in the United States. It seems obvious that, when people perceive that it is to their advantage to have many children, they will do so. For example, Birdsell has documented how, in three separate cases of the colonization of virgin islands by small groups, the population doubled within a single generation. Unless radiation hazards, low gravity, or some other aspect of the nonterrestrial environment constitutes an insuperable obstacle to our breeding in space, there is every reason for optimism about the possibility of population expansion in space.

Nonetheless, the export into space of some current features of mature industrial societies, such as the high cost of educating children, the desire of both parents to have full-time professional careers, and the lack of institutions to aid in child rearing, would certainly act to slow expansion. Space settlers interested in expanding their populations should structure community values and services in such a way that people would want to have more than one or two children and would be able to afford to in terms of both time and money.

Some of the practices from our remote past might even be relevant to our future in space. Suppose, for example, that the harshness of the airless, radiation-intensive environments of space, combined with the economics of constructing safe human habitats, dictates that the first space settlements would have to be small, containing well under a hundred people. Pioneering space colonies might therefore be in the size range of the hunting and gathering bands in which most of our ancestors lived before the discovery of agriculture and the consequent rise of urbanization. If so, space settlers might face some of the same problems relating to reproduction as did their distant predecessors: the genetic dangers of inbreeding, random imbalances in the sex ratio of children born into the group, and what might be called the “kibbutz effect,” wherein children reared close together are not markedly attracted to one another upon coming of age.

Our predecessors could avoid these problems with one simple institution: the practice of exogamy, whereby youths had to marry someone from outside their natal group, thus enlarging the effective breeding community to encompass hundreds of persons, not just a few dozen. Of course, it could be argued that sperm and egg banks, in vitro fertilization, and even in vitro gestation and genetic engineering may be so advanced by the era of space colonization that there would be no need for exogamy. Yet, marrying outside of one’s group can bring benefits that may not be obtainable by other than social means.

Exogamy can promote social solidarity by binding together otherwise separate and scattered communities into a network of units which, in effect, exchange marriageable youths. Although the Australian aborigines, for example, lived scattered over their desert continent in small bands averaging 25 men, women, and children, they were linked together in tribes of some 500 people. This larger tribal community was more than a breeding unit. At appointed times, the members of all the bands would gather together to arrange marriages, conduct rituals, and enjoy the fellowship of friends and relatives from other bands. Just as this tribal community provided the aborigines with a needed wider social group, so might a space age confederation of intermarrying space colonies help their pioneering inhabitants fight the loneliness of space.

Of course, a space age exogamy system would probably not replicate all the features of its archaic predecessors. Take, for example, the custom of female bride exchange, whereby the marriageable young women were sent to other groups, which in turn supplied brides for the young men who remained at home. Space age young women would surely object, on the grounds of gender equality, to any rule that required that they leave home to marry, while their brothers could stay. Conversely, adventuresome young men might not relish the idea that they must remain at home and import their brides. More than likely, if the ethos of space communities is explicitly expansionistic, then both males and females will vie for the opportunity to leave their natal community and, taking a mate from another established community, go off to found a new colony.

From Space Migrations: Anthropology and the Humanization of Space by Ben R. Finney. Collected in Space Resources NASA SP-509 vol 4

“Is it true that you found bodies aboard?” Converse asked after Drake had been speaking for several minutes.

“It’s true.”

“And that one of them was a woman?”


“What would a woman have been doing aboard a warship?”

“She was wearing the uniform of a weapons tech,” Drake replied, “I presume she was a member of the crew.”

“Women spacers, imagine that!” someone said.

“It takes no imagination at all!” a contralto voice said from the edge of the crowd. Drake turned to gaze up at the new participant in the discussion. The woman was a reddish-brunette, with striking eyes, a heart shaped face, and an ample figure. She was dressed in a clinging, backless evening gown. She pushed her way into the inner circle and seated herself on the arm of an overstuffed chair that was part of the small conversational grouping around the settee. She turned to face the man who had made the comment about woman spacers.

“The fact is that there have been many women spacers throughout history. The first was a woman named Valentina Tereshkova. By the time Antares exploded, the Grand Fleet of Earth was nearly twenty percent female. Some of the commercial starship crews had an even larger percentage of women. Check your history books if you don’t believe me.”

“I stand corrected,” the man who had made the comment said. He glanced nervously down at the empty glass in his hand, and then backed out of the inner ring of listeners.

“It’s true, you know,” the woman said, continuing in the same lecturing tone. “The Altan ethic restricting women from the so-called “risk professions” is a result of our ancestors’ need to populate this planet. It was not unusual for pioneer women to give birth to six, eight, or even ten children each. Raising such a brood leaves very little time for anything else, I assure you.”


A colony has to rapidly boot-strap a technological infrastructure. While this is underway, the colony will have to use whatever primitive technology that can be supported, such as horses.

Marcin Jakubowski has a vision: an Open-sourced blueprint for civilization. He and the people at Open Source Ecology are trying to develop what they call a Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). This is a a modular, DIY, low-cost, open source, high-performance platform that will allow a small community to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts. It is more or less a "civilization starter kit". It seems to me that this would also work admirably as technology seed package for an interstellar colony.

The GVCS is a set of fifty machines that support each other, allowing a a technolgy base to be grown and maintained. Each of these machines relies on other machines in order for it to exist. The various components designed to have the following properties: Open Source, Low-Cost, Modular, User-Serviceable, DIY, Closed-Loop Manufacturing, High Performance, Heirloom Design, and Flexible Fabrication. There is a list of the fifty machines here. In the links below, the interesting part of the description is the "product ecology." This is a table showing From (which of the other machines are used to build the machine in question), Uses (which of the other machines are needed to run the machine in question, and required feed stocks), Creates (the output of the machine), and Enables (the industries and other machines that are enabled by this machine).

I do note this seems aimed at creating a major industrial base. By which I mean: machines for creating thread, cloth, and clothing seem to be absent. I guess they assume they will have the blueprints to 3D print a spinning wheel and loom.

CEB Press produces Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) from onsite soil
Cement Mixer
Dimensional Sawmill pattern-cuts lumber
Universal Seeder
Hay Rake
Microtractor a small, 18 hp version of the full-sized tractor
Rototiller and Soil Pulverizer
Hay Cutter
Bakery Oven cooks bread
Dairy Milker
Microcombine small-scale harvester-thresher
Baler compresses hay and other dispersed material into bales
Well-Drilling Rig a device for digging deep water wells
CNC Precision Multimachine for milling, lathing, drilling to make precision parts
Ironworker Machine cuts steel and punches holes in metal
Laser Cutter
Plasma Cutter
Induction Furnace
CNC Torch/Router Table cuts precision metal parts using a plasma torch
Metal Roller shapes metal bar stock
Rod and Wire Mill
Press Forge
Universal Rotor a tractor-mounted rotor that can be fitted with a wide array of toolheads
Drill Press
3d Printer Manufactures objects by additive technology
3d Scanner Can scan an object and generate a blueprint suitable for a 3d Printer or CNC Precision Multimachine
CNC Circuit Mill CNC (computer numerical control) mill produces electrical circuits by milling and drilling copper-clad circuit boards
Industrial Robot a robotic arm which can perform certain human tasks — such as welding or milling
Power Cube a multipurpose, self-contained, hydraulic power unit that consists of an engine coupled to a hydraulic pump
Gasifier Burner a clean and efficient burner that gasifies the material that is being burned prior to combustion
Linear Solar Concentrator produces heat or steam from solar energy
Electric Motor/Generator turns electricity into torque and vice-versa
Hydraulic Motors
Nickel Iron Batteries
Modern Steam Engine
Steam Generator
50 kW Wind Turbine Generates 50 kW of electricity from wind power
Universal Power Supply
Aluminum Extractor from Clay dissolves aluminum from aluminosilicate clay, then extracts it by electrolysis
Bioplastic Extruder extrudes plastic stock into various forms
Simplified Automobile
Simplified Truck

During the early years of a colony's development, GAILE provides the basic industrial equipment necessary to the survival of a modern society. This equipment varies from one colony to the next depending upon such factors as climate, landing sites, terrain, mineral and food sources available, and the general development plan formulated by the pioneers themselves. The following is a typical list of items GAILE might provide:

  1. A gigawatt torroidal fusion core power plant
  2. A computer complex including data files containing all of Human knowledge
  3. Basic seed crops for up to ten years food supply
  4. Cell banks containing fertilized eggs of domestic animals
  5. A biolaboratory for analysis of native life, control of disease and the development of food sources better adapted to the new environment
  6. Automining and refining equipment for the production of industrial materials
  7. Factory equipment capable of producing, on a limited basis, all forms of mechanical and electronic equipment up to and including computer master switching centers and class one robots
  8. A few antigravity vehicles for local transportation of people and goods
  9. Modular sections which also can serve as temporary housing for new immigrants are carried on GAILE's starships

With this basic equipment and the knowledge stored in their central computer, pioneers have been able to construct modern industrial societies from wilderness within 100 years.

From Handbook for Space Pioneers by L. Stephen Wolfe and Roy L. Wysack (1977)

The Prerequisite Problem

One problem with outfitting a new colony with infrastructure is the prerequisite problem. Often in order to manufacture item Alpha you will need tool Beta. And if you do not have tool Beta you will have to manufacture it, whereupon you will discover that manufacture requires tool Gamma. And so on.

The solution is to be sure you bring the tools required to manufacture the tools and items at the bottom of the chain of dependencies. This will allow you to boot-strap your way upwards. The Civilization Starter Kit was designed with this in mind.

Prerequisite Problem

(ed note: Stevens and Nadia are marooned on a planet, and have to build an "ultra-radio" to call for help. Steve quickly runs into the hard facts of infrastructure, how everything depends on something else)

"Not necessarily—there's always a chance. That's why I'm trying the ultra-radio first. However, either course will take lots of power, so the first thing I've got to do is to build a power plant. I'm going to run a penstock up those falls, and put in a turbine, driving a high-tension alternator. Then, while I'm trying to build the ultra-radio, I'll be charging our accumulators, so that no time will be lost in case the radio fails.

"It's going to be a real job—I'm not try to kid you into thinking it'll be either easy or quick. Here's the way everything will go. Before I can even lay the first length of the penstock, I've got to have the pipe—to make which I've got to have flat steel—to get which I'll have to cut some of the partitions out of this ship of ours—to do which I'll have to have a cutting torch—to make which I'll have to forge nozzles out of block metal and to run which I'll have to have gas—to get which I'll have to mine coal and build a gas-plant—to do which...."

"Good heavens, Steve, are you going back to the Stone Age? I never thought of half those things. Why, it's impossible!"

"Not quite, guy. Things could be a lot worse—that's why I brought along the whole 'Forlorn Hope,' instead of just the lifeboat. As it is, we've got several thousand tons of spare steel and lots of copper. We've got ordinary tools and a few light motors, blowers, and such stuff. That gives me a great big start—I won't have to mine the ores and smelt the metals, as would have been necessary otherwise. However, it'll be plenty bad. I'll have to start out in a pretty crude fashion, and for some of the stuff I'll need I'll have to make, not only the machine that makes the part I want, but also the machine that makes the machine that makes the machine that makes it—and so on, just how far down the line, I haven't dared to think."

As Stevens had admitted before the work was started, he had known that he had set himself a gigantic task, but he had not permitted himself to follow, step by step, the difficulties that he knew awaited him. Now, as the days stretched into weeks and on into months, he was forced to take every laborious step, and it was borne in upon him just how nearly impossible that Herculean labor was to prove—just how dependent any given earthly activity is upon a vast number of others.

Here he was alone—everything he needed must be manufactured by his own hands, from its original sources. He had known that progress would be slow and he had been prepared for that; but he had not pictured, even to himself, half of the maddening setbacks which occurred time after time because of the crudity of the tools and equipment he was forced to use. All too often a machine or part, the product of many hours of grueling labor, would fail because of the lack of some insignificant thing—some item so common as to be taken for granted in all terrestrial shops, but impossible of fabrication with the means at his disposal.

At such times he would set his grim jaw a trifle harder, go back one step farther toward the Stone Age, and begin all over again—to find the necessary raw material or a possible substitute, and then to build the apparatus and machinery necessary to produce the part he required. Thus the heart-breaking task progressed, and Nadia watched her co-laborer become leaner and harder and more desperate day by day, unable in any way to lighten his fearful load.

From Spacehounds of IPC by E.E. "Doc" Smith (1931)

The Deadlock Situation

If you have to competing actions that are both waiting for each other to finish, you will have the dreaded Deadlock situation. In the quote below from Bind Your Sons to Exile, the colony does not have enough workers so everybody is working overtime. The solution would be to manufacture labor-saving devices and automation. Unfortunately the colony cannot spare the workers to manufacture the labor-saving devices. Deadlock.

There are certain conditions that must exist in order to created the nasty Deadlock in the first place. And there are some standard solutions to Deadlock.

Deadlock Problem

(ed note: Moria is the first inhabited asteroid. The mining colony is just barely hanging on by its fingernails, with not enough equipment and not enough workers)

The valve system (for the hydroponic garden) was a maze, and the instruction sheet for the operators looked like an airline schedule: close Valve C-4 at 2240 hours, then pump fifteen strokes on Pump #5; open Valve 73-A at precisely 2244 hours and give seven strokes to Pump #6, then nine more on Pump #5.

I looked at the maze of plastic pipes, valves, and pump handles. It would take 150 hours or more to understand any of it. "Couldn't you automate some of this?" I asked.

Jesse sniffed, then chewed on a stem he'd broken off one of the plants. "Used to chew tobacco," he explained. "Pity we can't grow any here. Miss the stuff." He worked his jaw sideways and swallowed. "Sure we could, Duke. Back on Earth we had seven acres of greenhouses. Full hydroponics operation. Doris and I ran the whole show with three hired hands. Timers to run the pumps, solenoid valves to run the. timers — sure we could."

"So why don't you?"

He laughed. "No pump motors. Every electric motor we get ends up in the mine operations. Not enough solenoids for the valves. No timers. But we make do. Doing all right, too."

The whole place was like that. There were dozens of simple improvements we could make, only we couldn't because we couldn't spare anybody to make the tools to make the parts to make the improvements. How do you make labor-saving devices if all your labor is on overtime to begin with?

Eventually I came up with a plan. "What we need is wire," I told Commander Wiley.

"Yeah. I know." He got two beers out of his cupboard. It was his only luxury, and nobody grudged it to him. Wiley worked harder than anyone else, and we never knew when he slept. "They didn't send us much last shipment—"

"We can make it," I told him. "I want to build a wire-drawing mill."

"And what do you use for insulation? Don't mean to belittle your work, Duke, but we've thought of that one — "

"Sure. I did some checking with Flo in organic synthesis. She thinks she can make me some enamel that'll work for motor insulation." I sucked up a slug of beer and laughed. "Of course, first she's got to make starting chemicals. Since everything in her plant is on continuous production runs of stuff we need to stay alive, she'll need new reaction vessels. But the reactions need stirring, so either somebody's got to stand there and twirl the stirrer or we need an electric motor — "

"Only you need insulated wire to make the motor," Wiley said. He wasn't laughing. "Every problem is like that. A ball of snakes."

"That's not all, either," I said. "To make my wire-drawing gadget I need some precision milling. The mill operators right now do about half skilled work and half stuff anybody could do. I could get milling done by putting some of the farm people to the unskilled work in the mill, except that to get the farmers loose I need solenoids and pump motors to automate the farms to release the labor to do the milling to make the wire-puller to make the wire to make the solenoids — "

I wasn't laughing either. "Do we try it?" I asked.

He thought about it for a moment. "Yes. I like it. There's positive feed-back. You get started, and. I'll see if I can't pull a couple of people off the refinery. Let's do it."

Fifteen hundred hours later we had wire. We also cobbled up hand-turned coil-winding machines, which were easy because most of the parts could be cast. Pretty soon everyone in the station was carrying around a coil-winder and making motor and solenoid coils during their off-hours. We wound coils white we ate, while we watched TV casts from Earth, during general station-crew assemblies; I think some of the farmers' learned to wind coils in their sleep.

From Bind Your Sons to Exile by Jerry Pournelle (1976)
There's a Hole in My Bucket

(ed note: this children's song describes a deadlock situation)

There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With a knife, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With a knife, dear Henry, dear Henry, with a knife.

The knife is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The knife is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, on what?

On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, water.

In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, in what?

In the bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
In the bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, a bucket.

But there's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Traditional children's song

The Economics of Horses

Let's look more closely at the horse-doesn't-need-United-Steel argument. On a planet, it is highly inadvisable to utilize technology that cannot be supported by the planet's technology infrastructure. The home world might be using high tech goodies like The Jetsons, but the dirt poor colony worlds will be using stuff that is much less advanced.

The late lamented TV show Firefly got that right. Unthinking viewers were confused by a show that featured starship crew members riding horses through western style towns, but this actually makes lots of sense.

Think about it. On a new colony planet with no infrastructure, automobiles are worthless. A vehicle that requires gasoline as fuel isn't going to work very well on a planet with no oil wells nor oil refineries. Importing gasoline from off world will just drive the price out of reach for everybody. Not to mention the lack of a local source for spare parts (requires iron ore mining, steel mills, coal mining, electrical power plants, and factories to manufacture spare parts). And local repairmen. If the vehicle itself is an off world import it too will be much too expensive for the locals to afford. Without a car assembly plant, there will be no new cars.

It make much more sense to import a breeding pair of horses and seeds of crops horses will eat.

Examples of this can be found in Robert Heinlein's TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE (especially the "tale of the adopted daughter") and in Andre Norton's THE BEAST MASTER, LORD OF THUNDER, and THE SIOUX SPACEMAN.

It was extremely expensive in terms of uranium to keep an interstellar gate open and the people in this wagon train could expect to be out of commercial touch with Earth until such a time as they had developed surpluses valuable enough in trade to warrant reopening the gate at regular intervals. Until that time they were on their own and must make do with what they could take with them … which made horses more practical than helicopters, picks and shovels more useful than bulldozers. Machinery gets out of order and requires a complex technology to keep it going but good old “hayburners” keep right on breeding, cropping grass, and pulling loads.

From TUNNEL IN THE SKY by Robert Heinlein (1966)

Frawn herds ranged widely, and men, who perhaps on the other worlds of their first origin had depended upon machines for transportation, found that the herder here must be otherwise equipped. Machines required expert tending, supply parts that had to be imported at astronomical prices from off-world. But there remained a self-perpetuating piece of equipment that the emigrants to the stars had long known at home, used, discarded for daily service, but preserved because of sentiment and love for sheer grace and beauty — the horse. And horses, imported experimentally, found the plains of Arzor a natural home. In three generations of man-time, they had spread wide, changing the whole economy of both settler and native.

From THE BEAST MASTER by Andre Norton (1959)

Dart Rifles:

Strictly speaking this is not a military weapon, but it is widely used for hunting and the like on colonies so colonial militia sometimes use them for sniping.

The weapon fires a dart pneumatically, so it is as hard to detect as a needle rifle. The dart is reunsable and either drugged or poisoned. Its penetration is poor.

Since the air pressure can be (and usually is) hand pumped and the darts are reusable, colonists like it. All they have to buy are tubes of drugs (and these may be locally obtainable) rather than expensive ammunition or powercells.

From Space Marines {miniature wargaming rules} by A. Mark Ratner (1977)

Corporal Anuraro showed me how to get into the canoe without swamping it. We don't have those things in Arizona. As they paddled me ashore, I thought about how silly the situation was. I was being paddled in a canoe, a device invented at least ten thousand years ago. I was carrying a pair of light-amplifying field glasses based on a principle not discovered until after I was born. Behind me was a steamboat that might have been moving up the Missouri River at the time of Custer's last stand, and I got to this planet in a starship.

From WEST OF HONOR by Jerry Pournelle ()

(ed note: Lazarus is telling Minerva the story of the time he and his wife Dora were on a pioneer planet and wanted to travel via mule-drawn Conestoga wagon to a new homestead.)

But why didn't I have Zack put us down on the spot on the map I had picked as being our likely place of settlement?- with everything we would need to start farming: and thereby avoid a long, dangerous trek. Not risk death by thirst, or by lopers, or the treacheries of mountains, or whatever.

Minerva, this was a long time ago and I can explain only in terms of technology available there and then. The Andy J. could not land; she received her overhauls in orbit around Secundus or some other advanced planet. Her cargo boat could land on any big flat field but required a minimum of a radar-corner reflector to home on, then had to have many metric tons of water to lift off again. The captain's gig was the only boat in the Andy J. capable of landing anywhere a skilled pilot could put her down, then lift off without help. But her cargo capacity was about two postage stamps—whereas I needed mules and plows and a load of other things.

Besides, I needed to learn how to get out of those mountains by going into them. I could not take Dora into there without being reasonably sure that I could fetch her out again. Not fair! It's no sin not to be pioneer-mother material—but it is tragic for both husband and wife to find it out too late.

So we did not do it the hard way; we did it the only way for that time and place. But I have never put the effort into a mass calculation for a spaceship at liftoff that I put into deciding what to take, what to do without, for that trek. First, the basic parameter: how many wagons in the train? I wanted three wagons so badly I could taste it. A third wagon would mean luxuries for Dora, more tools for me, more books and such for both of us, and (best!) a precut one-room house to get my pregnant bride out of the weather almost instantly at the other end.

But three wagons meant eighteen mules hauling, plus spare mules—add six by rule-of-thumb—which meant half again as much time spent harnessing and unharnessing, watering the animals, taking care of them otherwise. Add enough wagons and mules and at some point your day's march is zero; one man can't handle the work. Worse, there would be places in the mountains where I would have to unshackle the wagons, move them one at a time to a more open place, go back for each wagon left behind, bring it up—a process that would take twice as long for a three-wagon train as for a two-wagon one, and would happen oftener, even much oftener, with three wagons than with two. At that rate we might have three babies born en route instead of getting there before our first one was born.

I was saved from such folly by the fact only two trekking wagons were available in New Pittsburgh. I think I would have resisted temptation anyhow—but I had with me in the light wagon we drove from Top Dollar the hardware for three, then I spent that extra hardware on other things, bartering it through the wainwright. I could not wait while he built a third wagon; both the season of the year and the season of Dora's womb gave me deadlines I had to meet.

There is much to be said for just one wagon-standard equipment over many centuries and on several planets for one family in overland migration if they travel in a party.

I've led such marches.

But one wagon by itself—one accident can be disaster. Two wagons offer more than twice as much to work with at the other end, plus life insurance on the march. You can lose one wagon, regroup, and keep going.

So I planned for two wagons, Minerva, even though I had Zack debit me with three sets of Stoga hardware, then did not sell that third set until the last minute.

Here's how you load a wagon train for survival: First, list everything that you expect to need and everything that you would like to take:

  • Wagons, spare wheels, spare axles
  • Mules, harness, spare hardware and harness leather, saddles
  • Water
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Blankets
  • Weapons, ammunition, repair kit
  • Medicines, drugs, surgical instruments, bandages
  • Books
  • Plows
  • Harrow
  • Field Rake
  • Shovels, hand rakes, hoes, seeders, three- five- & seven-tine forks
  • Harvester
  • Blacksmith's tools
  • Carpentry tools
  • Iron cookstove
  • Water closet, self-flushing type
  • Oil lamps
  • Windmill & pump
  • Sawmill run by windpower
  • Leatherworking & harness-repair tools
  • Bed, table, chain, dishes, pots, pans, eating & cooking gear
  • Binoculars, microscope, water-testing kit
  • Grindstone
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Churn
  • Buckets, sieves, assorted small hardware
  • Milk cow & bull
  • Chickens
  • Salt for stock & for people
  • Packaged yeast, yeast starter
  • Seed grain, several sorts
  • Grinder for whole-grain flour, meat grinder

Don't stop there; think big. Never mind the fact that you've already overloaded a much longer wagon train. Search your imagination, check the manifests of the Andy J., search the ship itself, look, over the stock in Rick's General Store, talk with John Magee and look over his house and farm and outbuildings—if you forget it now, it's impossible to go back for it.

  • Musical instruments, writing materials, diaries, calendars
  • Baby clothes, layettes
  • Spinning wheel, loom, sewing materials—sheep!
  • Tannin & leather-curing materials and tools
  • Clocks, watches
  • Root vegetables, rooted fruit-tree seedlings, other seed
  • Etc. etc. etc. . .

Now start trimming—start swapping—start figuring weights.

Cut out the bull, the cow, the sheep; substitute goats with hair long enough to be worth cutting. Hey, you missed shears!

The blacksmith's shop stays but gets trimmed down to an anvil and minimum tools—a bellows you must make. In general anything of wood is scratched, but a small supply of wrought-iron stock, heavy as it is, must be hauled; you'll be making things you didn't know you could.

The harvester becomes a scythe with handle and cradle, three spare blades; the field rake is scratched.

The windmill stays, and so does the sawmill (surprise!)—but only as minimum hardware; you won't tackle either one soon.

Books—Which of those books can you live without, Dora?

Halve the amount of clothing, double up on shoes and add more boots and don't forget children's shoes. Yes, I know how to make moccasins, mukluks, and such; add waxed thread. Yes, we do have to have block-and-tackle and the best glass-and-plastic lines we can buy, or we won't get through the pass. Money is nothing; weight and cubage are all that count—our total wealth is what mules can take through that notch.

Minerva, it was lucky for me, lucky for Dora, that I was on my sixth pioneering venture and that I had planned how to load spaceships many years before I ever loaded a covered wagon—for the principles are the same; spaceships are the covered wagons of the Galaxy. Get it down to the weight the mules can haul, then chop off 10 percent no matter how it hurts; a broken axle—when, you can't replace it—might as well be a broken neck.

Then add more water to bring it up to 95 percent; the load of water drops off every day.

Knitting needles! Can Dora knit? If not, teach her. I've spent many a lonely hour in space knitting sweaters and socks. Yarn? It will be a long time before Dora can tease goat shearings into good yarn—and she can knit for the baby while we travel; keep her happy. Yarn doesn't weigh much.

Wooden needles can be made; even curved metal needles can be shaped from scraps. But pick up both sorts from Rick's Store.

Oh my God, I almost missed taking an ax!

Ax heads and one handle, brush hook, pick-mattock—Minerva, I added and trimmed and discarded, and weighed every item at New Pittsburgh—and we weren't three kilometers out of there headed for Separation before I knew I had us overloaded. That night we stopped at a homesteader's cabin, and I traded a new thirty-kilo anvil for his fifteen-kilo one, traded even, with the pound of flesh nearest my heart tossed in for good measure. I swapped other heavy items that we would miss later for a smoked ham and a side of bacon and more corn for the mules—the last being emergency rations.

We lightened the loads again at Separation, and I took another water barrel in trade and filled it because I now had room for another and knew that too heavy a load of water was self-correcting.

I think that extra barrel saved our lives.

From TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE: "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" by Robert Heinlein (1973)

(Lysander is the prince of the planet Sparta. Blaine is the governor of the planet Tanith. BuRelock is the Bureau of Relocation, who forcibly transport undesirable people from the over populated Earth to dump them on the various colony planets.)

"We have an excellent liqueur, rum based with flavoring from the Tanith Passion Fruit, but perhaps it's a bit early in the day for something so sweet. Tanith whiskey, perhaps?"

"Thank you." Lysander sipped gingerly at the dark whiskey. "That's quite good."

"Glad you like it. Bit like Scotch only more so. Some find it strong."

"Sparta's whiskey is descended from Irish," Lysander said. "We think it's better than Earth's best. We had a master distiller from Cork!"

"Much the same story here," Blaine said. "Whole family from near Inverary. Can't imagine what they did to annoy BuRelock, but up they came; Tanith's benefit and Earth's loss. One of my predecessors set them up in the distilling business."

From PRINCE OF MERCENARIES by Jerry Pournelle (1989)

The Economics of Slaves

Now there is a more nasty implication of the horse-doesn't-need-United-Steel argument. If a new colony can economically utilize horses, they can also economically utilize slaves. Or indentured servitude or debt bondage, with the hapless people theoretically capable of buying their freedom, but in reality they will perpetually owe their soul to the company store.

In the early United States, as the north started to build their industrial infrastructure the slavery in the south could not compete economically. But before the industrial infrastructure existed, slavery made economic sense. Especially in that period when North America was initially being colonized.

Please note that this mainly applies when the colony is located on a planet with a shirt-sleeve environment, where people can breath the air and survive the temperatures (i.e., life-support is free). If the colony is located in, for example, a space station, then the life-support costs of human beings might make industrial infrastructure the cheaper option.

Also note that along with pirates, slavers are considered Hostis humani generis, Enemy of Mankind.

The economics of slavery is covered in the short story "Logic of Empire" by Robert Heinlein (1941).

Ostensibly a tale about a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his struggle to free himself from the oppressive circumstances in which he is plunged, this story also serves to explain how slavery develops in a new colony.

Even in the future, the technology available to a new colony is always initially low. If a machine to do a necessary job is too expensive to import (say a wheat harvester, a water pump, or even a washing machine), a human must do it instead. If too many jobs must be done by hand and there is a shortage of labour compared with independent resources that free labour could take up ("land", although this condition is not clear in the story), a market for slavery develops. Decades later, while there is still an abundance of land, this market remains because the colony itself has quotas to meet and debts to repay — they cannot spare the resources to develop local industries to make the machines themselves and free labour does not have to bid its price down enough to outcompete slave labour.

From Logic of Empire entry in Wikipedia

Long before space travel, when we hadn’t even filled up Terra, there used to be dirtside frontiers. Every time new territory was found, you always got three phenomena: traders ranging out ahead and taking their chances, outlaws preying on the honest men — and a traffic in slaves. It happens the same way today, when we’re pushing through space instead of across oceans and prairies. Frontier traders are adventurers taking great risks for great profits. Outlaws, whether hill bands or sea pirates or the raiders in space, crop up in any area not under police protection. Both are temporary. But slavery is another matter — the most vicious habit humans fall into and the hardest to break. It starts up in every new land and it’s terribly hard to root out. After a culture falls ill of it, it gets rooted in the economic system and laws, in men’s habits and attitudes. You abolish it; you drive it underground — there it lurks, ready to spring up again, in the minds of people who think it is their ‘natural’ right to own other people. You can’t reason with them; you can kill them but you can’t change their minds.”

From CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein (1957)

Ander Nordholm had been a government man. He and his daughter were classed as outsiders and strangers by the colony group, much as were the other representatives of law from off-world—the Ranger Franklyn, Post Officer Kaus and his two guards, the medical officer and his wife. But every colony had to have an education officer. In the past too many frontier-world settlements had split away from the Confederation, following sometimes weird and dangerous paths of development when fanatics took control, warped education, and cut off communications with other worlds.

Yes, the Nordholms had expected a period of adjustment, of even semi-ostracization since this was a Believer colony. But her father had been winning them over—he had! Charis could not have deceived herself about that. Why, she had been invited to one of the women’s “mend” parties. Or had it been a blind even then?

But this—this would never have happened if it had not been for the white death! Charis’s breath came now in a real sob. There were so many shadows of fear on a newly opened planet. No safeguard could keep them all from striking at the fragile life of a newly planted colony. And here had been waiting a death no one could see, could meet with blaster or hunting knife or even the medical knowledge her species had been able to amass during centuries of space travel, experimentation, and information acquired across the galaxy.

And in its striking, the disease had favored the fanatical prejudices of the colonists. For it struck first the resented government men. The ranger, the port captain and his men, her father—Charis’s fist was at her mouth, and she bit hard upon her knuckles. Then it struck the medic—always the men. Later the colonists—oddly enough, those who had been most friendly with the government party—and only the men and boys in those families.

She could return; or she could remain here until the hunt found her—to take her as a slave down to the foul nest they were fast making of the first human settlement on Demeter; or somehow she could reach the mountains and hide out like a wild thing until sooner or later some native peril would finish her.

Her safety depended upon what the settlers would decide. She had no means of concealing her back trail. In the morning it would be found. But whether their temper would be to follow her, or if they would shruggingly write her off to be finished by the wild, Charis could not guess. She was the one remaining symbol of all Tolskegg preached against—the liberal off-world mind, the “un-female,” as he called it. The wild, with every beast Ranger Franklyn had catalogued lined up ready to tear her, was far better than facing again the collection of cabins where Tolskegg now spouted his particular brand of poison, that poison, bred of closed minds, which her father had taught her early to fear. And Visma and her ilk had lapped that poison to grow fat and vigorous on it.

There was a spacer, a slim, scoured shape, pointing nose to sky, the heat of its braking fire making a steam mist about it. But this was no vision — it was real! A spacer had set down by the village!...

Charis faced around toward the ship and waved vigorously, looking for the insignia which would make it Patrol or Scout.

There was none! It took a moment for that fact to make a conscious impression on her mind. Charis had been so sure that the proper markings would be there that she had almost deceived herself into believing that she sighted them. But the spacer bore no device at all. Her arm dropped to her side suddenly as she saw the ship as it really was.

This was not the clean-lined, well-kept spacer of any government service. The sides were space-dust cut, the general proportions somewhere between scout and freighter, with its condition decidedly less than carefully tended. It must be a Free Trader of the second class, maybe even a tramp — one of those plying a none-too-clean trade on the frontier worlds. And the chances were very poor that the commander or crew of such would be lawfully engaged here or would care at all about what happened to the representatives of government they were already aligned against in practice. Charis could hope for no help from such as these...

Charis had known some Free Traders. In fact, among that class of explorer-adventurer-merchant her father had had some good friends, men who carried with them a strong desire for knowledge, who had added immeasurably to the information concerning unknown worlds. But those were the aristocrats of their calling. There were others who were scavengers, pirates on occasion, raiders who took instead of bargained when the native traders of an alien race were too weak to stand against superior off-world weapons.

"It is simple, my friend." The trader's insolent tone to Tolskegg must have cut the colonist raw, yet he took it because he must. "You need labor. Your fields are not going to plow, plant, and reap themselves. All right, in freeze I have labor — good hands all of them. I had my pick; not one can't pull his weight, I promise you. There was a flare on Gonwall's sun, they had to evacuate to Sallam, and Sallam couldn't absorb the excess population. So we were allowed to recruit in the refugee camp. My cargo's prime males — sturdy, young, and all under indefinite contracts. The only trouble is, friend, what do you have to offer in return?...

So that was it! Charis drew a deep breath and knew there was no use in appealing to this captain. If he had shipped desperate men on indefinite labor contracts, he was no better than a slaver, even though there was a small shadow of legality to his business...

"You present a problem." The captain spoke to her again. "There is no processing station here, and we cannot ship you out in freeze-"

Charis shivered. Most labor ships stacked their cargo in the freeze of suspended animation, thus saving room, supplies, all the needs of regular passengers. Space on board a trader ship was strictly limited...

And as her eyes adjusted she saw that they had indeed set down in a wasteland.

Sand, which was a uniform red outside the glassy slag left by the thruster blast, lapped out to the foot of a range of small hills, the outline of which shimmered in heat waves. There was no sign of any building, no look of a port, save for the countless slag scars which pecked and pitted the surface of the desert sand, evidence of many landings and take-offs.

There were ships — two, three, a fourth farther away. And all of them, Charis saw, were of the same type as the one she had just left, second- and third-class traders. This seemed to be a rendezvous for fringe merchants...

"This is our chance, the big one, the one every trader dreams of having someday- a permit on a newly opened world. Make this spin right and it means-" His voice trailed off, but Charis understood him.

Trading empires, fortunes, were made from just such chances. To get at the first trade of a new world was a dream of good luck. But she was still puzzled as to how Jagan had achieved the permit for Warlock. Surely one of the big Companies would have made contact with Survey and bid in the rights to establish the first post. Such plums were not for the fringe men. But it was hardly tactful under the circumstances to ask Jagan how he had accomplished the nigh to impossible...

From ORDEAL IN OTHERWHERE by Andre Norton (1964)


Colonists will need a good supply of building material, preferably from a renewable resource. One that renews really really quickly, unlike petroleum. As it turns out there already exists such a thing, the wonder plant Bamboo.

Don't sneer. In the real world bamboo has a thousand and one uses. Blasted stuff grows so fast it looks like you are seeing it under time-lapse photography. Three to one hundred centimeters in 24 hours. It does not grow like a weed, instead weeds dream of growing as fast as bamboo.

And if you have long and skinny tubes, you can grow the stuff in a space habitat or asteroid colony. It probably grows taller in microgravity as well.

Bamboo also has a composition very similar to switchgrass, aka the feedstock used for bioethanol fuel. A recent study in China showed that bioethanol production from bamboo in China is both technically and economically feasible, as well as cost-competitive with gasoline (scientific paper here). Just the thing for a new colony that does not want to invest in the mining infrastructure required for the production of petroleum.

The useful substance Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood in the absence of oxygen. Naturally this can be done using bamboo, producing Bamboo charcoal. The difference being that bamboo grows a heck of a lot faster than trees do, and interstellar colonists are in a hurry to become self-sufficient. As with conventional charcoal, bamboo charcoal can be used as a fireplace fuel, and as an activated charcoal filter. The latter is particularly useful if the colonists are unsure about how pure the water supply is. Not to mention its use in the production of whisky and vodka.

As a bonus, making bamboo charcoal also produced "bamboo vinegar" (pyroligneous acid). This is a primarily mix of acetic acid, acetone and methanol. But it also contains 400 different organic chemical compounds which can be applied for many purposes including cosmetics, insecticides, deodorants, food processing, and agriculture.

Exit Earth

(ed note: in the novel Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and among the few survivors are the people in the space arks Noah and Pegasus)

Lester Rajani dominated the meeting. He is an expert on agriculture and forest growth. He is from Pakistan, and among the people in that part of the world he is famous as Mr. Bamboo. He has performed miracles in genetic alterations of bamboo plants. I never expected to be talking bamboo in my report logs, but there is a reason. Rajani may have saved us all. This man with dark skin and the deep, brooding eyes of a Russian poet is a genius. I am glad he fought me as hard as he did. For a while I judged him to be crazy.

The day I married Tanya and adopted her children was the same day I became intensely interested in Lester Rajani's work with bamboo growth, I write these extra pages so our sons may read them one day and pay homage to this man from a backward country who may have saved the future for them.

Rajani has a most extraordinary perception of the future. Apparently he has always had this trait. Marc Seavers tells me he considers Rajani the embodiment of a famous name in American history; he calls the man from Pakistan the Johnny Appleseed of the future. All nations have their Johnny Appleseeds; in the future our young ones must honor Rajani. Somehow he knew that our single greatest tool and supply source, while we were in space but most especially when we returned to Earth, would be bamboo, the giant grass that built and sustained so much of the world before our ultimate disaster. Let me emphasize that the Soviet, like the other technological societies, abandoned bamboo in favor of metals, ceramics, and plastics.

How foolish we have been! How utterly stupid we are in our present situation, to rely upon materials that are so limited to us! Ranjani spoke to me as he would to a child. He taught me that bamboo is the only truly renewable source of a thousand goods and uses. He spread his plants everywhere in Noah and in many parts of this ship. How can one argue with a man who uses space no one else does and grows his giant grass in incredible speed and profusion? It is strange to be a student to this man, but so be it. Rajani had me learn about the Giant, a bamboo native of Burma which grows more than a foot thick and better than one hundred and forty feet high. He pestered me so much that I gave him a full afternoon for his teaching. He seized on this fiercely. Among things I was ordered to learn was that, in the Giant bamboo, columns of living tissue are scattered throughout hollow culm walls, and that its joints, or nodes, provide tremendous strength. Why do I persist in writing all this? I said that Rajani might be the one who saves us all; I repeat it now. Who else but Rajani could grow a plant that becomes a building and construction material, a dozen tools, a variety of containers . . . the uses are boundless.

"You will need this giant bamboo, along with the more critical plants, when we make planetfall," he told us. "The Earth will be stripped of its precious fertile soil. There may be nothing growing but grass and weeds and bushes. Without the insects there will be no flowers. What we bring back will determine our future. There will be no trees. We must bring instant trees to Earth for the future generations, and it is the Giant that will do this. See here? It never takes from the soil, but enriches it. It binds loose soil together and firms it. Do we need scaffolding? Paper? Medical supplies? Heat and energy? Furniture? Wagons and boats? Drinking vessels. Conduits for water. For anything! And look how it grows! Aboard this ship seven feet a day! Under Earth gravity, crushing and relentless, it is still four feet every day."

Lester Rajani spoke also to the children. They must learn to work, plant, harvest, respect and love bamboo as he did, he told them, and he told them stories. I will repeat one here as he told it. The American woman-astronaut, Stacy Thorpe, has typed out the moment—

"Once upon a time, long ago and far away, so far away that no one knew where it really was, there were dragons who lived in Ishmoteer. This was a fabled and a truly marvelous land. Now the dragons here were considered to be magic, because with only the great bamboo forests about them, they did wondrous things. Using only their bamboo, they grew food and they built houses, they made their own furniture and floor mats and even their cooking utensils. They made wheels and wonderful chariots, and little cages for their pet crickets, because dragons have pets, also. They made paper for writing and telling stories and for very fine painting, They made all sorts of marvelous things. They made drums and flutes and fifes and pipes and clarinets and bongos and laughing music with their instruments. They made perfume, and fine jewelry, and even crutches for the dragons who stubbed their big toes. They made vases for their flowers and long tunnels to carry water and ovens and stoves for cooking and baking. They made writing pens and combs and shoes and when they went high into the mountains where there was snow they made sleds and toboggans and even skis. These dragons of Ishmoteer built soaring bridges and wonderful temples, they made candles from bamboo, and on warm summer evenings they sailed their bamboo boats and played music and sang songs"

"Were the dragons really real?" an excited little boy asked.

"And was there really an Ishmoteer?" cried a young girl.

Rajani smiled upon the children who had glided through the bamboo thickets of Noah, growing tall and straight under the ultraviolet suns crafted by man, glistening in the light of charred bamboo in the decorative lamps, looming over the bamboo chairs and benches, holding drinks in bamboo cups and gourds. Rajani brought a bamboo flute to his lips and an airy tune flew forth. He lowered the flute and his eyes shone.

"Of course the dragons are real," he told the children. "And do you know where Ishmoteer is?"

"Tell us! Tell us!"

"Why, look around you. This is Ishmoteer, and we are its dragons."

No, to survive we needed a physical barrier across the front of each ship, wide enough to span the vessel's full diameter and more. A barrier that could cause an incoming rock particle to disintegrate and somehow break up its force before it struck the main structure of a ship. (ed note: a Whipple shield)

"I can build you such a barrier," Lester Rajani said to me. He entered my command office and calmly told me he could do what our engineers, scientists, technicians, construction crews, metallurgists—the whole useless lot of them—could not. And he could do it quickly, without damaging or weakening any part of our two ships.

I asked him how long it would take to perform this miracle. He told me four to seven days. I almost threw him from my quarters but he was too quiet, too confident. Give me your construction teams and all the extra hands, the spacetugs, and in one week at the outside he would have the needed barriers in place. And, he added, he would be able to replace the barriers and keep replacing them as necessary. I would have thrown him from my sight except that in my sudden anger I lost my temper and my feet spun out from beneath me and I could barely move. But even as my hands groped for his throat he smiled at me. Never will I forget his question.

"Commander Tereshnikov, are you aware that in many instances bamboo is stronger than steel?"

Stronger than steel! Of course I did not know any such thing and I told him so in most unpleasant terms. He informed me he had already been preparing the barriers. None of this made much sense until I told him to speak with greater clarity and take each move one at a time. Here, as I recall it, is what he said:

"Bamboo can be made stronger than steel. It is much lighter than steel, so it is easier to handle. I start all this maybe fifteen days ago. Much of our Giant bamboo is ready for cutting. So we cut the tall grass, and we have been heating and drying them until two days ago. Then we have been containing them in a heat-soaking oven. This enables us to straighten them and cut them to any length we need. Have you ever been to Hong Kong? Of course not. If you had then you would recall that in that city all the scaffolding for building construction, no matter how tall, is made from bamboo poles tied together with strips of bamboo. After a typhoon you would see steel structures twisted and smashed—but not the bamboo. It endures, just as it has endured for centuries. I do not believe you have seen the most famous of all historical bridges. There is a great suspension bridge at Siuchuan in China that spans the Min River. The bridge is suspended by bamboo cables. The cables are wound about capstans and are tightened when needed."

I asked this madman from Pakistan just how long the bridge had lasted before it fell into the river. Again, I quote to the best of my ability:

"How long has this bridge lasted? When we left Earth it had been standing for more than one thousand years. Since five centuries before Columbus crossed the ocean. It still carries—I beg your pardon, it carried until the final destruction—full convoys of trucks. And it was still bamboo. A thousand years, a thousand years."

How would this man make us the barriers we needed? To him it was simple. The engineers adapted machine shop presses to create a pressure oven within which they laminated bamboo with plastic. What emerged were great woven and plasticized sheets, one layer over the other, of a thick and strong shield. How was he so certain all this would work? He and his people had been producing these thick sheets for weeks. He would never have wasted a minute of my time unless he was absolutely certain everything would work the way he said. His plan that he gave to me was that construction crews in pressure suits would bring the plasticized sheets to the bow of the ships. There, using scaffolding made of bamboo—he smiled as he called it the Hong Kong Treatment—the crews would build huge bow plates. The full growth of Giant bamboo, he explained, requires only sixty days. He had brought enough seedlings to produce bamboo for a hundred years.

Of course I gave full permission for Rajani to commence this critical work immediately. I notified all engineering and other personnel who would be involved that Rajani was the project chief and that I would consider any hesitancy in cooperating with him to be a direct challenge to me.

After this amazing farmer from Pakistan left me, I thought greatly on the meeting. I marveled at our incredible good fortune.

From Exit Earth by Martin Caidin (1987)
Clarke County, Space

(ed note: Clarke County is an L5 space colony)

Torus S-16 was sometimes known as the Bamboo Farm. Unlike the other agricultural tori in the colony, which specialized in either food crops or algae production and thus were lined with long rows of hydroponics tanks, the Bamboo Farm resembled the Okefenokee Swamp. Instead of tanks, the upward-curving floor of Torus 16 was covered with vast, shallow pools of water and Mississippi Delta mud, imported at great cost from Earth. From this artificial swamp grew tall, dense glades of Arundinaria Japonica: Japanese bamboo.

The reason for bamboo cultivation in Clarke County were simple and practical. it was necessary to maintain an inexpensive, renewable supply of building material for structures within the colony; new walls were always being built, new homes and offices were always being planned. Yet it was prohibitively expensive to import huge amounts of wood from Earth, and even genetically tailored species of timber took much too long to grow in the colony, although a relative handful of decorative trees had been transplanted and grown in the biosphere and habitation tori. While lunar concrete was cheap and available resource—most of the larger structures, like the LaGrange Hotel, Bird Stadium, and the campus buildings of the International Space University were built with mooncrete—something less utilitarian than mooncrete was desired for houses, shops, and other small buildings.

The New Ark came up with bamboo as the perfect substitute. On Earth, the American strain of Japanese bamboo grew to heights of ten feet; in the lesser gravity of the space colony the reeds often topped twenty feet. Bamboo grows much faster than trees, and as a cultivated crop, requires less management. Since buildings in Clarke County were not subject to strong winds or extremes of temperature and only occasional rainfall, lightweight bamboo walls were more than adequate. It gave the homes in Big Sky and in the habitat tori a definite gone-native look., but the houses were sturdy and easily built.

As a bonus, surplus stalks were milled and refined as paper—one more item that did not have to be imported from Earth. Also, Clarke County paper was uses extensively on the Moon and Mars, which provided an additional boost to the colony's economy.

From Clarke County, Space by Allen Steele (1990)
Bootstrapping Clothing

(ed note: making cloth and clothing from bamboo fiber)

Bamboo has bast fibers, similar to flax and hemp. Most things referred to as 'bamboo fiber' are actually rayon made with bamboo as a feedstock, but true bamboo fiber is possible. The raw material is high in lignin, so processing is often a combination of mechanical chopping and chemical or enzyme boosted bacterial retting. Lots more details here:

The tenacity of those fibers is less than half that of cotton. The resulting cloth won't be as durable or tough, but still falling between wool and rayon. That is to say, still useful and with a reportedly pleasant feel.

The yield of bamboo basts can be as high as 53 tonnes per hectare (5.365kg/m² or 14.7g/m² per day). As long as the net fiber yield is at least 15% of the gross bast mass then it is competitive with cotton. If it is over 31% then it is competitive with hemp.

yield source:

If we look back a ways (1909), at least one author noted yields as high as 44 tons per acre (an eye-popping 98.6 tonnes per hectare) and fiber yields as high as 44%.

source: Congressional Serial Set: pulp and paper investigation hearings. 1 January 1909. (available free)

Let's go with the modern optimistic yield (while noting that high-intensity hydroponics can almost certainly double that value) and a fiber yield of, say, 38%. That would give a fiber yield of 5.6g/m² per day or about 6.1m² per person. The plants require a three-year lead time and a third of the stand is harvested each year. Waste from this process would be suitable for paper or fuel alcohol.

I think the main drawback would be that bamboo grows very tall. A dwarf species could be found that grows to 4m after three years, but it's not certain the yield numbers would still apply. Even so, that's about 25m³ per person. Cotton by contrast grows to perhaps 130cm. Allowing 20cm for lighting and nutrient systems, that same 4m space could house two stacked crops. If a mild dwarf variety of cotton was developed that matured to 110cm or less, three stacked crops could occupy the same space and would become competitive again on a floor-space and volume basis.

Another drawback is that bamboo requires several years to develop for this purpose. Peak fiber yields occur at three years. Peak structural strength is typically seen around 5 years. For paper pulp or wattle it can be taken at 1-2 years.

Those drawbacks are certainly opposed by several advantages unique to bamboo. It's a structural material, can be used similar to wood (buttons, flooring, furniture) and resists bacterial and fungal attack. Bamboo resists high-pH environments and can be embedded in concrete; it could serve as the tension member in a reinforced regolith-block construction if metal is scarce.

From Boostrapping Space: Clothing by Chris Wolfe (2015)
Bioethanol Production from Bamboo

As a member of the Graminae family, the composition of bamboo is highly similar to other grasses utilised for biofuel purposes (e.g. switchgrass, Miscanthus). Its cell wall is comprised of the polymeric constituents cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The complex physical and chemical interactions between these components prevent enzymes from readily accessing the microfibrillar cellulose during the saccharification stage of its conversion into biofuel. As a result of this recalcitrance, a pretreatment stage is needed to maximise hydrolysis of cell wall sugars into their monomeric form.

Alternative approaches to reduce bioethanol production costs are still needed however, to ensure its competitiveness in a possible future scenario where neither tax exemptions nor subsidies are granted to producers. These measures may include improving sugar release with more effective pretreatments and reduced enzyme usage, accessing low cost bamboo feedstock or selecting feedstocks with higher/more accessible cellulose.

Littlewood et al.

In their study, the Imperial College London team used liquid hot water (LHW) pretreatment to enhance sugar release from bamboo lignocellulose while minimizing economic and environmental costs. Pretreatments were performed at temperatures of 170-190°C for 10–30 minutes, followed by enzymatic saccharification with a commercial enzyme cocktail at various loadings.

The economic analysis found that the lowest enzyme loading had the most commercially viable scenario (production cost of $0.484 per liter (US$1.83/gallon US) with tax exemption and a $0.16/liter (US$0.606/gallon US subsidy)) even though it produced the least amount of bioethanol and generated the greatest level of co-product electricity.

This economic result was primarily due to the significant enzyme contribution to cost, which at higher loadings was not defrayed adequately by an increase in the amount of sugar released, the team said.

A cost breakdown and sensitivity analysis of the 10 FPU/g glucan scenario demonstrated that the cost of raw materials was the greatest contributor, with bamboo and enzyme purchase accounting for 51% and 17% of the MESP, respectively.

The supply-chain model showed that bamboo would be competitive with gasoline at the pump in scenarios with enzyme loadings of 60 FPU/g glucan and lower.

Colony Culture

Cultural Analysis

Speculation about revolutionary developments is not, however, immediately relevant to a most pressing question about human adaptation to space: How can groups of people live and work together without psychological impairment or the breakdown of social order in the space stations, lunar bases, and Mars expeditions now being planned? Psychological and social problems in space living constitute, as both Soviet and American space veterans attest (Bluth 1981, Carr 1981), major barriers to be overcome in the humanization of space.

Coping with isolation from Earth, family, and friends and with the cramped confines of a space module or station has been enough of a challenge for carefully selected and highly trained spacefarers of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. As those cosmonauts who have been “pushing the endurance envelope” the farthest attest, staying longer and longer in space provokes severe psychological strain (Bluth 1981; Grigoriev, Kozerenko, and Myasnikov 1985; Oberg 1985, p. 21).

Now life in space is becoming even more complicated as “guest cosmonauts” from many nations join Soviet and American crews; as women join men; and as physicians, physicists, engineers, and other specialists routinely work alongside traditional cosmonauts and astronauts of the “right stuff”. How will all these different kinds of people get along in the space stations of the next decade and the lunar bases and martian outposts which are to follow? What measures can be taken which would reduce stress and make it easier for heterogeneous groups of people to work efficiently and safely and to live together amicably for months or even years in these space habitats?

Among social scientists it has been primarily the psychologists (Helmreich 1983), with a few jurists, sociologists, and political scientists joining in, who have tried to address these problems of space living. However, inasmuch as among the diverse lot of people who call themselves anthropologists there are those who are intensely interested in interpersonal relations and small group behavior, it should not be surprising that anthropologists might also be attracted to work in this field. Interestingly, some recent recruits come from maritime anthropology, where they have worked on the dynamics of small-boat fishing crews.

These and other anthropologists interested in space can bring to the field a degree of “hands-on” experience in working with “real” small groups—be they fishing crews, Antarctic scientists, or hunting and gathering bands.

Here I wish to suggest two specific areas in which this cultural perspective of anthropology could be useful: (1) in addressing the problems of cross-cultural relations among heterogeneous space crews and societies and (2) in the application of cultural resources to develop models for space living.

Cultural factors should not, however, be viewed solely in terms of impediments to successful space living, for they may also constitute valuable human resources to be tapped in adapting to space. In addition to seeking to promote cultural harmony among heterogeneous space crews, we might also seek out, from the multitude of cultural traditions among the Earth’s societies, those practices and institutions which could best promote harmonious and productive life in space.

As an example, consider interpersonal problems in a space habitat. J. Henry Glazer, an attorney who has pioneered the study of “astrolaw,” warns against exporting to space communities the adversarial approach to dispute resolution based on “medieval systems of courtroom combat” (Glazer 1985, p. 16). In small space habitats, where people cannot escape from one another but must work out ways of interacting peacefully and productively, adversarial proceedings would irritate an already sensitive social field. And how could the winners and losers of bitter courtroom battles live and work with each other afterwards?

One obvious suggestion is that systems which are designed to detect interpersonal problems early and head them off through mediation should be considered for space living. Glazer, for example, calls for a new kind of legal specialist—not an adversarial advocate, but someone who settles disputes on behalf of the interests of all spacefarers on a mission. He draws his model from the Tabula de Amalfa, the maritime code of the once powerful Mediterranean naval power of Amalfi. Their code provided for a “consul” who sailed aboard each merchant vessel with the power to adjudicate differences between master, crew, and others on board (Glazer 1985, pp. 26—27; Twiss 1876, p. 11). In addition to looking to this and perhaps other maritime analogs, it is tempting to suggest that, with an eye to the more distant future of large space settlements, we also examine major contemporary societies in which harmony and cooperation is stressed. The example of Japan, with its low crime rate and relative paucity of lawyers, comes to mind—although its utility as a model for international efforts may be limited in that Japan is such an ethnically homogeneous society

Once we have learned how to live together amicably in space and to work safely and efficiently there, once we have developed ways of avoiding the health problems of ionizing radiation, microgravity, and other hazards of nonterrestrial environments, and once we have learned how to grow food in space and to produce air, water, and other necessities there, then humankind can actually settle space, not just sojourn there. New cultures and new societies will then evolve as people seek to adapt to a variety of space environments. This process of building new cultures and societies will undoubtedly contain many surprises. Yet, all the resultant sociocultural systems must provide the basic prerequisites for human existence if they are to be successful.
Bluth, B. J. 1981. Soviet Space Stress. Science 81, vol. 2, no. 7, pp. 30—35.
Carr, Gerald Paul. 1981. Comments from a Skylab Veteran. The Futurist 15:38.
Glazer, J. Henry. 1985. Astrolaw Jurisprudence in Space as a Place: Right Reason for the Right Stuff. Brooklyn J. Int. Law 11 (1): 1—43.
Grigoriev, A. I.; O. P. Kozerenko; and V. I. Myasnikov. 1985. Selected Problems of Psychological Support of Prolonged Space Flights. Preprint of a paper delivered at the Int. Astronaut. Fed. Congress, Stockholm.
Helmreich, Robert L. 1983. Applying Psychology in Outer Space. American Psychologist 38: 445—450.
Oberg, Alcestis R. 1985. Spacefarers of the ’80s and ’90s: The Next Thousand People in Space. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Twiss, Travers. 1876. The Black Book of the Admiralty, Vol. 4. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.
From Space Migrations: Anthropology and the Humanization of Space by Ben R. Finney. Collected in Space Resources NASA SP-509 vol 4


'An entirely old one, rather. The Tyranni are destroying the right of twenty billion human beings to take part in the development of the race. You've been to school. You've learned the economic cycle. A new planet is settled' — he was ticking the points off on his fingers — 'and its first care is to feed itself. It becomes an agricultural world, a herding world. It begins to dig in the ground for crude ore to export, and sends its agricultural surplus abroad to buy luxuries and machinery. That is the second step. Then, as population increases and foreign investments grow, an industrial civilization begins to bud, which is the third step. Eventually, the world becomes mechanized, importing food, exporting machinery, investing in the development of more primitive worlds, and so on. The fourth step.

'Always the mechanized worlds are the most thickly populated, the most powerful, militarily — since war is a function of machines — and they are usually surrounded by a fringe of agricultural, dependent worlds.

'But what has happened to us? We were at the third step, with a growing industry. And now? That growth has been stopped, frozen, forced to recede.

It would interfere with Tyrannian control of our industrial necessities. It is a short-term investment on their part, because eventually we'll become unprofitable as we become impoverished. But meanwhile, they skim the cream.

'Besides, if we industrialized ourselves, we might develop weapons of war. So industrialization is stopped; scientific research is forbidden. And eventually the people become so used to that, they lack the realization even that anything is missing. So that you are surprised when I tell you that I could be executed for building a visisonor.

'Of course, someday we will beat the Tyranni. It is fairly inevitable. They can't rule forever. No one can. They'll grow soft and lazy. They will intermarry and lose much of their separate traditions. They will become corrupt. But it may take centuries, because history doesn't hurry. And when those centuries have passed, we will still all be agricultural worlds with no industrial or scientific heritage to speak of, while our neighbors on all sides, those not under Tyrannian control, will be strong and urbanized. The Kingdoms will be semicolonial areas forever. They will never catch up, and we will be merely observers in the great drama of human advance.'

From The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

Living Systems Theory

In 1978 James Grier Miller published his Living System Theory. His central thesis is that the systems in existence are open systems composed of twenty critical subsystems that process inputs, through-puts, and outputs of various forms of matter-energy and information.

This is relevant to our interests because LST can be used to analyze Space Stations, Spaceports, Planetary Bases, and Colonies. Spacecraft as well, for that matter. Such analysis can spot areas that can be optimized, places that are bottlenecks, and prime targets for sabotage attacks.

LST can also apply to a team of people, such as a spaceship crew. Here is a document where a member of the US Army tried to apply LST to armored fighting vehicle crews.

LST might allow the creation of a definition of "life" more sophisticated that "something that dies when you stamp on it". Current definitions are equivocal, controversial, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Which could prove embarrassing or worse if future space explorers stumble over an alien phenomenon that may or may not be a life form.

Robert Freitas Jr. even speculates that LST might be the foundation of a science of Cliology or the psychohistory envisioned by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation trilogy.

All of which should bring a smile to the face of science fiction authors and game designers searching for plot complications and critical paths. This will also have applications to games in areas similar to Resource management and Base Construction in Starcraft-like games. Not to mention spacecraft construction games similar to Kerbal Space Program.

Miller discusses applying LST to space exploration in Applications of Living Systems Theory to Life in Space, which can be found online here, and in PDF form here(on Volume 4, section VI). Other good reading on LST include Tank Crews and Platoons as Living Systems by Billy L. Burnside, A General Theory of Living Systems by Robert A. Freitas, Jr. and The Appropriateness Of Using The Living Systems Theory By James Grier Miller As A Diagnostic Tool by Lars Lorentsson.

The two types of resources handled are Matter-Energy and Information.

There are twenty different subsystem types. Two of these subsystems—Reproducer and Boundary—process both matter-energy and information. Eight of them process only matter-energy. The other ten process information only. Most of the subsystems are in pairs: e.g., the Matter-Energy Storage subsystem and the Memory subsystem are just like each other save that one is for matter-energy and the other is for information. See the table below.

There are five type of flow: Matter, Energy, Information/Communication, People, and Money. People flows are classed as matter-energy + information. Money flows are classed as a subclass of information.

Flows of Matter, Energy, and People connect to matter-energy subsystems. Flows of Information, People, and Money connect to information subsystems. Any of the five flows can connect to Reproducer and Boundary subsystems

And there are eight levels of living systems: Cell, Organ, Organism, Group, Organization, Community, Society, and Supranational System. This shows that living systems are fractals: a Organism living systems is composed of several Organ living systems. Robert Freitas Jr. suggests that there may be three more levels: Interplanetary Society, Interstellar Community, and Galactic Civilization.

According to Dr. Miller, a living system needs to have all twenty subsystems in order to stay alive. If any one subsystem is blocked or destroyed the system eventually dies. At a given level the system must either possess all twenty subsystems or at least have all missing subsystem functions available by being "dispersed".

Dispersed means one or more of the subsystems are absent but their jobs are delegated to another level (upward or downward). For instance, on the level of an organism's internal organs (Organ level), the "Reproducer" subsystem is absent and its job is dispersed upward to the level of the entire organism (Organism level). A single internal organ cannot reproduce itself, that function is delegated one level upward. An entire organism can reproduce itself by using a womb, in the process of which each individual internal organ is also reproduced.

Subsystems can also be dispersed outwardly/laterally/horizontally, that is, delegated to another position at the same level. In an army tank battalion, the battalion requires Matter-Energy Storage subsystems in the form of huge fuel tanks. Instead of each armored fighting vehicle in the battalion having its own Matter-Energy Storage subsystem, that function is dispersed horizontally to fuel tanker trucks that are also part of the battalion level.

The Subsystems of Living Systems
Subsystems which process both matter-energy and information
1. Reproducer, the subsystem which carries out the instructions in the genetic information or charter of a system and mobilizes matter, energy, and information to produce on or more similar systems. Please note it is intended to reproduce the entire system, not create replacement for individual components of the system.
Example: the charter of a group.
2. Boundary, the subsystem at the perimeter of a system that holds together the components which make up the system, protects them from environmental stresses, and excludes or permits entry to various sorts of matter-energy and information.
Example: A cell wall. Guards patrolling the fences and gates of an organization's property.
Subsystems which process matter-energySubsystems which process information
3. Ingestor, the subsystem which brings matter-energy across the system boundary from the environment.
Example: an organization's procurement or receiving departments.
11. Input Transducer, the sensory subsystem which brings markers bearing information into the system, changing them to other matter-energy forms suitable for transmission within it (e.g., writing a phone conversation down on paper).
Example: military scouts, telephone operators, personnel distributing mail, intelligence gathering units.
12. Internal Transducer, the sensory subsystem which receives, from subsystems or components within the system, markers bearing information about significant alterations in those subsystems or components, changing them to other matter-energy forms of a sort which can be transmitted within it.
Example: group ombudsman or sensor of group changes, internal inspection or auditing unit in an organization.
4. Distributor, the subsystem which carries inputs from outside the system or outputs from its subsystems around the system to each component.
Example: an organization's truck drivers and supply clerks.
13. Channel and Net, the subsystem composed of a single route in physical space or multiple interconnected routes over which markers bearing information are transmitted to all parts of the system.
Example: talking, telephones, radio.
14. Timer, the subsystem which transmits to the decider information about time-related states of the environment or of components of the system. This information signals the decider of the system or deciders of subsystems to start, stop, alter the rate, or advance or delay the phase of one or more of the system's processes, thus coordinating them in time.
5. Converter, the subsystem which changes certain inputs to the system into forms more useful for the special processes of that particular system.
Example: an organizations subsidiary groups operating oil refineries, electric generating plants, slaughter houses, etc.
15. Decoder, the subsystem which alters the code of information input into it through the input transducer or internal transducer into a "private" code that can be used internally by the system.
Example: language translation teams, deciphering secret messages, interpreting intelligence data, interpreting directives and regulations.
6. Producer, the subsystem which forms stable associations that endure for significant periods among matter-energy inputs to the system or outputs from its converter, the materials synthesized being for growth, damage repair, or replacement of components of the system, or for providing energy for moving or constituting the system's outputs of products or information markers to its subsystems.
Example: components involved in the cooking of food, factory production, maintenance and repair of equipment, building construction.
16. Associator, the subsystem which carries out the first stage of the learning process, forming enduring associations among items of information in the system. Information can come from input transducer, internal transducer, or memory.
Example: scientists
7. Matter-Energy Storage, the subsystem which places matter or energy at some location in the system, retains it over time, and retrieves it.
Example: refrigerators, lockers, stock rooms, fuel storage tanks.
17. Memory, the subsystem which carries out the second stage of the learning process, storing information in the system for different periods of time, and then retrieving it.
Example: filing sections, librarians, computer operators.
18. Decider, the executive subsystem which receives information inputs from all other subsystems and transmits to them outputs for guidance, coordination, and control of the system. This is the only subsystem that cannot be "dispersed" to another system above or below this system. It can be laterally dispersed i.e., decision making can be decentralized.
Example: group leader, headquarters or executive office of an organization.
19. Encoder, the subsystem which alters the code of information input to it from other information processing subsystems, from a "private" code used internally by the system into a "public" code which can be interpreted by other systems in its environment.
Example: speech writers, lobbyists, advertising departments.
8. Extruder, the subsystem which transmits matter-energy out of the system in the form of products or wastes.
Example: cleaning crews, sewage disposal units, delivery trucks and drivers, crews manning trains, barges, or other delivery systems.
20. Output Transducer, the subsystem which puts out markers bearing information from the system, changing markers within the system into other matter-energy forms which can be transmitted over channels in the system's environment.
Example: radio operators, public relations departments, news-releasing agencies.
9. Motor, the subsystem which moves the system or parts of it in relation to part or all of its environment or moves components of its environment in relationship to each other.
Example: moving crews, car pools.
10. Supporter, the subsystem which maintains the proper spacial relationships among components of the system, so that they can interact without weighting each other down or crowding each other.
Example: building managers and designers, walls, tables, chairs.
The Appropriateness Of Using The Living Systems Theory By James Grier Miller As A Diagnostic Tool

It is thus important to mention functions that serve as threatening to the system and its survival. LST is not only concerned with the attributes and functionality of healthy living systems, but also with aspects that function as menacing for the system (Tracy, 1992).

Processes that function as menacing for the system must be exposed and outlined, in order to find ways of dealing with them in appropriate ways. These malfunctions can cause the system to go towards states that is pathological. LST makes it possible to determine whether the condition of a system is pathological, by establishing a set of situations that, if not dealt with in time, functions as mortal for the system (Miller, 1995).

Miller & Miller (1991) has identified eight such situations:

  1. Lacks of matter or energy inputs
  2. Excesses of mater or energy inputs
  3. Inputs of inappropriate forms of matter or energy
  4. Lack of information inputs
  5. Excesses of information inputs
  6. Inputs of maladaptive genetic information in the template
  7. Abnormalities in internal matter or energy processes
  8. Abnormalities in internal information processes

Examples of each of these pathological situations are here given from the project management view (since this work is concerned with information systems development processes).

  1. Lacks of matter or energy inputs: The equipment needed for the project did not arrive when agreed upon (computers, hardware, laboratory equipment, etc.).
  2. Excesses of mater or energy inputs: Too much material and equipment arrived and had to be sorted with (equipment must be sent back to the supplier, invoices had to be corrected and revised).
  3. Inputs of inappropriate forms of matter or energy: The wrong kind of equipment arrived for the project (the wrong hardware or software, computers, laboratory equipment, etc.).
  4. Lack of information inputs: The project manager does not get the needed information in time during different phases in the project.
  5. Excesses of information inputs: The project manager gets too much information from various sources and finds it difficult to screen out appropriate information from inappropriate information.
  6. Inputs of maladaptive genetic information in the template: The account manager finds irregularities in the bookkeeping.
  7. Abnormalities in internal matter or energy processes: When the computerised production system was implemented, the system broke down and an analyse shows the new system had some incorrectness in the code.
  8. Abnormalities in internal information processes: A further investigation shows that the incorrectness in the code was due to some misunderstandings in the mapping of the new production flow.
Living systems theory and organizations in games

I have always liked the games which let the player manage people. Most just simplify the process, leaving him with mindless automatons who just follow orders and, sometimes, maybe leave or attack when conditions become unbearable. Very rarely your underlings will have any ambitions beyond serving you and getting paid. Rome and Crusader Kings 2 are precious examples of the game where your vassals may plot against you.

Still, I sometimes dream about a game where the main difficulty would be managing an organization. Dealing with internal backstabbing, competition, disloyalty, corruption and inefficiency. Orders could be subverted, reports falsified, work deliberately sabotaged. I would also like it had some more forms of intra-organizational hostility than outright violence and hard-coded espionage options: AI should be able to see weaknesses in the enemy's organizational structure and act accordingly. Which manufacturing process to sabotage, which underling to bribe to turn a blind eye, which manager to best approach to strike a lucrative deal. Of course, this won't happen nowhere in near future.

One of the things we lack is a nice, simple model to describe an organization. Something standard enough that could incorporate anything from primitive tribal villages to corporations, governments and espionage organizations. Sounds hard, but I think I have recently found something.

Living systems theory is quite old (1978). Its main principle is that all living things operate at least a bit similarly. They need to take matter and energy from the outside any organize it using information to resist entropy, maintaining a stable state. Moreover, they tend to organize in levels: cell, organ, organism, group, organization, society, supra-national system, each level behaving somewhat similarly.

Have you ever criticized corporate personhood? Well, according to this theory, they are at least living beings. The same with nations or churches.

The book has over 1000 pages, so I'm just going to sum up the things that may be useful.

1. Variables and stresses

You can point out some numeric that a living system just needs to keep stable. A cell needs to keep its cell barrier intact to prevent the contents to spill out, enough food and oxygen to keep its internal processes running, proper temperature, etc. A corporation needs enough workers on proper positions, liquid assets to pay them and buy materials, enough materials to produce and products to be sold. If one of them goes beyond their normal boundaries it causes a stress. Most, if not all, activity of a living systems is reacting to existing and anticipated stresses.

This is important, because it tells a lot how an organization works. They are pretty inactive unless one of their important variables is, or will be, threatened. Even the most benevolent organizations will eventually evolve to care mostly for their own survival mostly, or dissolve. Moreover, they usually tailor their response to the threat magnitude. Until it happens, they are pretty content to just sit there.

Why don't all organizations just focus on gathering resources? Why are there churches, fund-raising organizations, hobbyist groups? According to the theory it is an example of specialization. An organization is composed of groups of people, so it needs to bring them in somehow. Some of them are created by the society (their suprasystem) to perform some necessary tasks and processes. If they cease to be needed, people will leave them and the society will eventually stop to support them. So churches need to satisfy their members' religious needs, soup kitchens need to feed the poor. Otherwise they are maladapted and won't survive.

In short: just stick to what makes an organization thrive. Ignore the rest.

2. Subsystems

Every living system needs to perform some particular functions to survive, so we can expect them to have some particular subsystems.

Obviously they need to react. Otherwise we have no living system, just a lump of concentrated matter. This is where the decider comes handy.

All living systems need to separate themselves from the outside world a bit, keeping harmful matter-energy and information outside. The boundary does that. on higher levels, from groups upward, it is much more fluid, but it is there. A family won't just let anyone into their house or let their valuables to be taken away.

Matter-energy flows in through ingestor, is distributed by distributor, processed by converter and, eventually, producer or stored in matter-energy storage. Wastes and completed products go through the extruder outside.

Information flows in through input transducer or is generated inside with internal transducer, then is translated by decoder into a form comprehensible to the decider.  Channel and net transmit the information, associator and memory make learning possible. Encoder re-translates the information that needs to go out into something else (like speech) and output transducer transmits it outside.

Last, but not least, the reproducer lets the system, well, reproduce.

What's important with these subsystems that they are abstract. The heart, for example, is only a part of the distributor. Lungs act as parts of ingestor (inhaling oxygen), extruder (exhaling carbon dioxide) and converter (binding oxygen with blood cells). Same goes for groups and upward.

Components are probably the most valuable part of this theory. Game AI could be programmed to recognize crucial parts of organizations and act accordingly without hard-coding everything. If a human village needs water to survive, then — in a siege — an obvious solution would be to cut off the stream, or send someone to poison the well. If breaking into the bank vault is too difficult because of the walls, then perhaps entering through the ingestor disguised will be more fruitful. If a nation is bothered by terrorist cells popping out, it needs to learn how they reproduce and prevent that — by arresting potential members or spreading its own propaganda to counter their influence.

There are also various hypotheses about how living systems govern themselves — how power and authority work, what are the most common stresses, how information-processing components distort the information (almost always to maximize their rewards and minimize punishments from the suprasystem), how are the signals encoded, etc. I am currently just walking around the book and thinking, how to best tackle the problem. Matter-energy processes seem pretty simple, but information will need a lot of work.

As all living systems have a genetic code, it seems almost natural to borrow the concept of memes from Dawkins. Decoder would translate gathered data to some simple symbols (hunger, danger, food, peace, etc.), which could be connected by the associator and stored. The decider could make the decision based on symbol being given — an individual who connects "corporation" with "danger", approached by its executive will do something else, than the one who connects it with "money". The main problem is that I'm not really sure how the symbols should interact with each other to even have some semblance of a coherent thought process. I will need to research more.

Tank Crews and Platoons as Living Systems
(ed note: this is an example of applying Living System Theory (LST) to US Army crews of tanks (armored fighting vehicles). This provides useful real-world examples of the subsystems.
Note that this was written before the 20th subsystem (Timer) was added to LST.
A tank crew is a team composed of four soldiers: tank commander (TC), gunner, loader, and driver. A tank platoon is composed of five tanks and their crews.
"Tables" are gunnery qualification tables, a test tank crews have to pass in order to be rated as qualified to operate a tank in combat.)

The target engagement processes of tank crews and platoons are further described below, in the context of the 19 critical subsystems prescribed by LST. The descriptions are necessarily brief, and do not cover all contingencies and details which might arise. However, they do provide an initial framework for understanding all structures and processes of tank crews and platoons; the utility of this framework for guiding research and improving operations is assessed in later chapters.

1. Reproducer. This subsystem does not exist at the levels of tanks crews and platoons; neither a crew or platoon can reproduce itself. Individual crew members and equipment components can be replaced (as part of the ingestor or producer subsystems), but intact crews and tanks cannot be created. During gunnery qualification tables, crews and platoons which cannot complete the course are rated unqualified. Qualified units cannot be obtained, except through continued training of existing crews and platoons. The reproducer subsystem is upwardly dispersed, at least to the level of division replacement. In the event of war, during the early stages of which it is anticipated that many crews and platoons would be lost, the reproducer process must be performed by the reserve system. It seems probable that a currently significant pathology of the overall military system is the lack of an adequately responsive reserve force. The reproducer process of military units is ultimately upwardly dispersed to the level of society, since Congress and the public provide the manpower and funds for replacement and reserve units. The bureaucracy involved in dispersal to this level probably prohibits the effective performance of such a reproducer process within the time-frames of modern warfare. The fact that this subsystem is critical for survival of the species sufficiently emphasizes the severity of this problem.

2. Boundary. The boundary of a tank crew is easily defined as the hull, turret, and cupola of the tank occupied. During Table VIII, all crew operations are performed within this perimeter. During wartime operations, this boundary may be somewhat extended, since individual crew members may leave the tank to scout, detect targets, or prepare firing positions (the possibility of components leaving the boundary of a system is not specifically addressed by LST). The importance of this subsystem during wartime is obvious, since penetration of the boundary by hostile fire usually means the death of the system. The boundary is maintained by keeping hatches closed, by using terrain features for protection during movement, and by firing from hull-down or turrets-down (partially exposed) positions. For platoons, the boundary can be considered as downwardly dispersed to individual tanks. It could also be defined in a less precise physical sense as the platoon sectors of fire or area of responsibility but the former definition seems to be more appropriate within the strict LST framework.

3. Ingestor. The matter-energy ingested by tank crews and platoons includes ammunition, fuel, water, food, and maintenance items (firing pins, flashlights, cleaning kits, etc.). These items are provided by the battalion supply system (S4) and are ingested (brought across the boundary) by various means. Fuel is ingested through hoses, ammunition is ingested through a hatch by the loader and other personnel, and food and water are brought in by individuals in canteens and rations. This process is thus to a large extent downwardly dispersed to individuals or outwardly dispersed to other personnel. During Tables VIII and IX, ingestion is accomplished prior to the exercise.

4. Distributor. The best example of the distributor process in tank crews and platoons is the stowage of ammunition in racks and the loading of the main gun and coax machine gun by loaders. The type of target anticipated may dictate a type, of ammunition to be preloaded in the main gun (termed battlesight ammunition), and, at the platoon level, anticipation of a variety of targets may dictate the preloading of different types of ammunition in different tanks. During target engagement the types of ammunition to be loaded are specified as an element of fire commands. Ammunition is placed in racks by loaders as directed in anticipation of the types of targets to be encountered. Other examples of the distributor subsystem in tanks include the distribution of matter-energy via fuel lines and electrical circuits.

5. Converter. This process does not occur extensively in tank crews and platoons, since it is largely outwardly dispersed; i.e., matter-energy is provided to these systems in a useable form. Components to which conversion is dispersed include ammunition manufacturers, ration preparers, fuel refineries, etc. Examples of the occasional occurrence of this process at the tank crew level include the setting of detonation time on a certain type of anti-personnel ammunition (BEEHIVE) by the loader, and the heating of rations.

6. Producer. The primary product of tank crews and platoons is firepower (steel on target). This is generally produced using the main gun by the TC issuing fire commands, the gunner laying on target and firing, and accomplishment of the firing sequence by the weapons system (detonation of ammunition charge in the breech). Firepower may also be produced by the TC or gunner firing their machine guns. Other products of tank crews and platoons include smoke for masking movement, and illumination of targets by use of searchlights or flares. Maintenance processes are also included in the producer subsystem; prepare-to-fire checks (sight purging check, computer check, rangefinder check, etc.), misfire procedures, and light maintenance tasks are performed by tank crews, while heavier maintenance tasks are dispersed to full-time maintenance personnel. Individual personnel replacement can also be considered as part of the producer subsystem, and it is upwardly dispersed from the crew and platoon levels, ultimately to the personnel assignment system (Military Personnel Center). The important role of crew and platoon personnel in incorporating and training new members should not be overlooked, however. The producer processes of tank crews and platoons are thus largely either outwardly dispersed or accomplished at the crew level; platoons disperse producing to crews in a coordinated fashion (e.g., one tank may provide illumination while others fire).

7. Matter-energy storage. Matter-energy is stored at the level of tank crews in ammunition racks, fuel tanks, batteries, water cans, etc. No matter-energy storage per se takes place at platoon level; the process is downwardly dispersed to individual tanks and crews, or outwardly dispersed to other units in the battalion. Components involved here include the supply, mess, and transportation sections of the battalion support platoon.

8. Extruder. The principal products of tank crews and platoons are removed from these systems through the main gun tube and machine gun barrels. Extruding for platoons is thus downwardly dispersed to individual tanks and crews (TC's, gunners, and loaders). Empty shell casings and other waste materials are kept on tanks during exercises such as Tables VIII and IX and are disposed of through hatches at appropriate later times. Cleaning of tanks is accomplished by individual crew members.

9. Motor. At the crew level this subsystem obviously includes the tank driver, engine, track, and other parts responsible for the movement of the tank. The TC may also be included, since he provides direction to the driver. The turret and gun elevation system are also parts of the motor subsystem, since they are involved in movement of parts of the tank. Thus all crew members, except perhaps the loader, are involved in the motor process. The motor subsystem for platoons is downwardly dispersed to the level of crews, since there are no platoon vehicles or movement independent of the five tanks. In Tables VIII and IX the primary motor function may be simplified to following a well-worn pathway; in actual combat it is a complex process, involving the use of terrain features for protection and the selection of optimal firing positions. In platoons the motor process must be coordinated among five tanks; for example, bounding overwatch techniques may be used, in which part of the platoon moves while the rest provides protection.

10. Supporter. In a physical sense the supporter process is governed by the interior design of the tank. Each crew member has an assigned position within the tank, and movement is restricted by the limited space available. For example, the loader has a limited operating area and he must stay clear of the recoil pathway of the main gun. This supporter process for platoons is downwardly dispersed to individual tanks. In a more abstract sense, the supporter subsystem is provided by command or leadership. The TC commands crew members to remain at their positions and accomplish specific tasks. One of the most important roles of the platoon leader is to maintain the proper spatial relationships among five tanks. Terrain features also play a role here. In LST the supporter subsystem is described in a physical sense; whether command or motivational support belongs here or elsewhere is a subject of later discussion.

11. Input transducer. Information is brought across the boundaries of crews and platoons in various ways. The TC receives instructions from higher echelons through the tank's radio, as does the platoon leader. These communications are primarily received from the next higher echelon (platoon leader or sergeant to TC, company personnel to platoon leader), but other radio frequencies may be monitored to provide additional information. During Tables VIII and IX, instructions are received from exercise controllers or scorers. Crew members acquire information used to detect, locate, and identify targets by observing the environment, with or without using sights. Each crew member has a clearly delineated sector of observation responsibility whether on a lone tank or as part of a platoon. Scanning is done continuously, first with unaided vision, then with magnified optics, searching strips 50 meters deep from right to left. Target acquisition information may also be obtained from dismounted observers equipped with binoculars and communications to the crew or platoon. The sense of hearing, as well as vision, is important in this process. Targets can be located at night using night vision devices or indirect illumination. The range to located targets can be determined by the TC using a rangefinder or other range estimation techniques, During target engagement, all crew members assist the TC in observing and sensing the effects of rounds fired. Information markers may also be brought onto tanks by individual crew members carrying training aids, checklists, etc. For example, the driver may post a card detailing starting and stopping procedures in the tank where he can easily see it. All crew members are thus involved in the input transduction process, and this process for platoons is largely dispersed to crews and individuals,

12. Internal transducer. The TC has primary responsibility for the process of monitoring information from within a tank crew, but all crew members are involved to some extent. The driver monitors gauge and instrument readings and changes them into verbal form for communication to other crew members or written form for recording in the vehicle logbook, as necessary. The gunner monitors the state of various switches, sights, and other parts of the fire control system. The loader selects appropriate types of ammunition based on shape and color,, and observes for weapons misfires or stoppages. The TC monitors the performance of the other crew members; for example, he observes the route selection and starting and stopping procedures of the driver, the ammunition selection and response of "up" by the loader, and the target acquisition by the gunner. If he observes that the gunner cannot identify and acquire a target or adjust fire correctly, he takes appropriate action to correct him or override his controls. All crew members thus continuously observe the state of each other and the tank and change their observations into appropriate verbal communications or actions. The same sorts of internal monitoring are carried out at individual and crew levels within a platoon. In addition, the platoon leader and platoon sergeant must monitor the states and positions of the other four tanks by visual observation and radio communications.

13. Channel and net. The primary communications channels in a tank crew are verbal ones using the intercom system; similarly, in a tank platoon FM radios are used. Flares, flag sets, arm signals, or other prearranged communications may also be used in a platoon in particular circumstances. In future warfare it is anticipated that jamming may lead to effective elimination of the channel and net subsystem. Since all subsystems are critical for system survival in the LST framework, alternative means of communication must be found. Platoons cannot be trained to perform satisfactorily in all situations without communications.

(ed note: this paper was written before the "timer" subsystem was added to the theory. I renumbered the items below to match.)

15. Decoder. Information is changed into internal codes or language in tank crews and platoons primarily through the issuance of fire commands by the TC or platoon leader. In general, the initial fire command issued by the TC consists of six elements (in practice, only four elements are frequently used). The first element alerts the crew of an immediate engagement (e.g., "gunner"). The second element informs the crew what ammunition and weapon is to be employed, and if the searchlight will be used (e.g, "HEAT"). The loader loads the specified ammunition in the main gun, if necessary, and responds "up". The third element describes the type of target to be engaged (e.g., "tank"), and the next two elements specify the direction and range of the target (e.g., "direct front, one thousand"). After the gunner has indicated that he sees the target (announced "identified"), the TC gives the execution element ("fire") and the gunner announces "on the way" and fires. The TC may delay firing by announcing "at my command", and he may override 'the gunner and fire the round himself by announcing "from my position". The gunner continues to fire and the loader continues to load until the TC announces "cease fire". Subsequent fire commands may include standardized announcements of sensings of rounds (where round went in relation to target) and corrections of the sight picture (where gunner is aiming). There are many other details and considerations in fire commands that cannot be listed here; the important point is that a tank crew has an extensive internal language primarily controlled by the TC. The platoon leader issues similar fire commands to all tanks in the platoon, with appropriate designations for individual tanks and the entire platoon, and elements for control of the pattern of fire. There are many instances, other than fire commands, of decoding in crews and platoons; for example, the TC decodes information into instructions for the driver, and the platoon leader provides movement instructions to TC's. Crew members other than the TC may perform decoding by announcing observations of targets, sensings of rounds, etc. Similarly, at the platoon level, TC's may decode information and provide it to the platoon leader in a standard format. Decoding is a frequently occurring process in tank crews and platoons, and it must be well enough practiced to occur rapidly (automatically) during target engagement. TC's and platoon leaders have a prime responsibility for decoding, but all crew and platoon members are involved to some extent,

16. Associator. This process of forming associations as input to problem-solving does not occur at crew and platoon levels, but is downwardly dispersed to individuals. Hopefully, during exercises such as Tables VIII and IX individuals are learning (developing associations) to perform their duties better and more rapidly. They are also learning to function together as a team, but from the LST perspective this represents individuals learning to work with other individuals, and not group learning per se. The extensive personnel turbulence ongoing in crews and platoons would seem to be a great inhibitor of this associating process. An example of associating during target engagement is target recognition by the TC or gunner; i.e., an object of a particular size and shape is observed and recognized as a dangerous enemy target to be fired upon. The incoming sensory information is thus associated with information stored in the individual's memory, and appropriate responses are made. Other examples include the TC's or platoon leader's assessment of the situation by evaluating target threats, routes, etc.

17. Memory. Information storage in crews and platoons is largely dispersed to the level of individuals; i.e., members bring information into the crew or platoon based upon their past training or experience. Examples of information storage by the crew are the entering of items (zero readings, gun tube wear, vehicle mileage, etc.) in the vehicle logbook and the preparation of range cards. An example of memory at the platoon level is the writing and use of platoon standing operating procedures (SOP's) and platoon fire plans. The platoon leader retrieves the necessary information for distributing and controlling fire from the fire plan. During Tables VIII and IX part of the memory process is outwardly dispersed to an observer or scorer, who records the results of the crew's or platoon's target engagements. Of course, a large portion of crew and platoon information storage is outwardly dispersed to preparers of technical manuals, field manuals, and other documents. Use of such institutional memory hopefully prevents units from having to reinvent the wheel too many times.

18. Decider. While all crew and platoon personnel are involved in making decisions to some extent, primary responsibility for this process resides with the TC and platoon leader. During Table VIII the TC decides which targets to engage in what order. During Table IX the platoon leader decides how to distribute the tanks and how to distribute and control their fire. Gunners may make decisions about adjustment of fire and drivers may make decisions between routes to be taken, but they do so under the direction of the TC, Decision making in these military units (as in most) is thus highly centralized within the component formally recognized as leader. As discussed earlier, the TC's and platoon leader represent echelons of decision making in a platoon, thus leading to its categorization as an organization.

19. Encoder. Information is normally prepared for external transmission from the crew by the TC and from the platoon by the platoon leader. This may involve some consolidation of information, but normally little encoding is necessary since higher Army echelons generally use the same codes as crews or platoons. In combat situations TC's or platoon leaders may encode information on fuel status, ammunition status, enemy movements, targets destroyed, etc. In Tables VIII and IX the encoding process is to some extent outwardly dispersed to observers.

20. Output transducer. The TC and the platoon leader normally use radios to output information from the crew and platoon, respectively. The types of information output in combat situations are generally those listed under encoding above. Output transducing is not an important process during Table VIII, but reporting procedures are evaluated during Table IX.

From Tank Crews and Platoons as Living Systems by Billy L. Burnside (1979)
A General Theory of Living Systems

Dr. Miller lists nearly two hundred cross-level hypotheses of possibly general validity. Most of them have been discovered on one particular hierarchical level, and have then been tentatively extended and at least cursorily checked at two or more different levels. I cannot possibly list and discuss all of Miller's propositions here, but a few of my favorites include the following:

Hypothesis 3.3-1: Up to a maximum higher than yet obtained in any living system but less than one-hundred percent, the larger the percentage of all matter-energy input that it consumes in information processing controlling its various system processes, as opposed to matter-energy processing, the more likely the system is to survive.

In other words, a system cannot be "too smart." It is probably true that more complex species devote a larger fraction of their total cell mass to information processing than lower species, and no one has yet discovered a species that failed to survive because too much of its body was neural tissue. Modern organizations and advanced societies are committing continually higher percentages of their available matter-energy to the communications media and other forms of information processing, vastly more than "primitive" societies do.

Hypothesis A system which survives generally decides to employ the least costly adjustment to a threat or a strain produced by a stress first and increasingly more costly ones later.

This is a restatement of the principle of least effort. Amoebas, for example, will eat nearby food first before swimming to engulf more distant morsels. Artificially-increased acidity in a dog's bloodstream will be compensated first by hyperventilation or "overbreathing" (an attempt to produce alkalosis), and if this does not work, then by increasing the rate of chloride excretion into the urine (a more complicated adjustment). When goals are frustrated, people resort first to goal-shifting, then to rationalization, then repression, and finally psychosis if all else fails. An army, in order to repel an attack, may sacrifice first a squad, then companies of regiments, and finally, if still unsuccessfull, entire divisions may be thrown into battle.

Hypothesis Systems which survive make decisions enabling them to perform at an optimum efficiency for maximum physical power output, which is always less than maximum efficiency.

In other words, surviving systems are designed for peak loads, not normal loads. The most efficient system survives only if it can also put out maximum physical power when needed, especially in combat or competitive situations. The "fight-or-flight" response of many animals diverts blood from the gut to the extremities, enhancing fighting energy and providing faster clotting to seal wounds. The cooks in an army under attack are allowed to leave their camp stoves and pick up rifles to participate in a maximum defensive effort to preserve the organization. In wartime, a society may conscript soldiers, increase taxes, commandeer vehicles and living quarters, and divert industry to the production of specialized war material.

Hypothesis 5.2-8: A system usually associates with other systems which have arisen from similar templates rather than with those derived from dissimilar templates.

That is, "birds of a feather flock together." There are many examples at all levels of living systems. When different types of embryonic cells are mixed together randomly, they sort themselves out and grow together only with other cells of the same type. Organ transplants tend to be rejected by the receiving organism. Family members often keep non-members out of personal relationships. Ethnics arriving in the United States for the first time tend to live near others of the same ethnic group. Companies doing business in similar fields meet in conventions among themselves more often than they meet with other types of companies. Nations of comparable origin and heritage tend to vote together in the United Nations.

Hypothesis 5.2-13: Under threat or stress, a system that survives, in the common good of total system survival, temporarily subordinates conflicts among subsystems or components until the threat or stress is relieved, when internal conflicts recur.

In other words, external threats unite warring factions. If a man and wife are having an argument and a well-meaning neighbor tries to intervene, the pair will temporarily suspend their differences and join in the ejection of the interloper. Public opinion is less likely to support an employee strike in organizations that provide essential services (hospitals, police, fire departments) than in organizations providing less-essential services. During war-time or periods of national disaster, societal, economic and social differences are often submerged in an attempt to meet the common threat—or the society may not survive. Supranational systems may close ranks in the face of a perceived threat to global stability, as for example the United Nations peacekeeping forces stationed in and around the Middle East and elsewhere.

Dr. Miller himself has experimentally examined several cross-level hypotheses suggested by the general theory of living systems. His personal interest lies in the processes of the channel and net subsystem and the problems of information overload and underload in living systems. Drawing on his earlier investigations of individual neuron response to data input overloads, and applying the systems approach, Miller formulated the following two cross-level hypotheses:

Hypothesis 5.1-1: As the information input to a single channel of a living system—measured in bits per second—increases, the information output—measured similarly—increases almost identically at first but gradually falls behind as it approaches a certain output rate, the channel capacity, which cannot be exceeded in the channel. The output then levels off at that rate, and finally, as the information input rate continues to go up, the output decreases gradually to ward zero as breakdown or the confusional state occurs under overload;


Hypothesis 5.1-25: Channels in living systems at higher levels in general have lower capacities than those in living systems at lower levels.

Miller set out to verify or disprove his hypotheses. First he checked the published literature at each level and found surprisingly strong support. Encouraged, he returned to the laboratory and set up a number of experiments designed to test the two hypotheses at the five levels of cell, organ, organism, group and organization. (It's hard to perform controlled tests on whole societies and supranational systems.) At each level, the response of the channel and net subsystem to a variety of information input rates was measured and recorded. The median maximum transmission rates per channel were found to be as follows: 4000 bits/sec for the cell, 55 bits/sec for the organ, 4.75-5.75 bits/sec for the organism, 3.44-4.60 bits/sec for the group, and 2.89-4.55 bits/sec for the organization.

These results support the hypotheses. By extending his knowledge of nerve cell behavior to other levels, Miller has discovered what may well be a general property of all living systems: When information input rate goes up, output rate increases to a maximum and then decreases, showing signs of overload. Apparently cells, organs, organisms, groups and organizations each react to data overloads in much the same way, with lower maximum bit rates at higher levels of living systems. Organizations as a whole can process more information than groups or individuals because they can use multiple channels.

From A General Theory of Living Systems by Robert A. Freitas, Jr., ANALOG Magazine March 1980

Other Thoughts

An interstellar domain can have no definite borders; stars are scattered too thinly, their types too intermingled. And there are too many of them. In very crude approximation, the Terrestrial Empire was a sphere of some 400 light-years diameter, centered on Sol, and contained an estimated four million stars. But of these less than half had even been visited. A bare 100,000 were directly concerned with the Imperium, a few multiples of that number might have some shadowy contact and owe a theoretical allegiance.

Consider a single planet; realize that it is a world, as big and varied and strange as this Terra ever was, with as many conflicting elements of race and language and culture among its natives; estimate how much government even one planet requires, and see how quickly a reign over many becomes impossibly huge.

Then consider, too, how small a percentage of stars are of any use to a given species (too hot, too cold, too turbulent, too many companions) and, of those, how few will have even one planet where that species is reasonably safe. The Empire becomes tenuous indeed.

And its inconceivable extent is still the merest speck in one outlying part of one spiral arm of one galaxy; among a hundred billion or more great suns, those known to any single world are the barest, tiniest handful.

From "Hunters of the Sky Cave" by Poul Anderson
Conquest of Space

Sergeant Imoto: Some years ago, my country chose to fight a terrible war. It was bad, I do not defend it, but there were reasons. Somehow those reasons are never spoken of. To the Western world at that time, Japan was a fairybook nation: little people living in a strange land of rice-paper houses... people who had almost no furniture, who sat on the floor and ate with chopsticks. The quaint houses of rice paper, sir: they were made of paper because there was no other material available. And the winters in Japan are as cold as they are in Boston. And the chopsticks: there was no metal for forks and knives and spoons, but slivers of wood could suffice. So it was with the little people of Japan, little as I am now, because for countless generations we have not been able to produce the food to make us bigger. Japan's yesterday will be the world's tomorrow: too many people and too little land. That is why I say, sir, there is urgent reason for us to reach Mars: to provide the resources the human race will need if they are to survive. That is also why I am most grateful to be found acceptable, sir. I volunteer.

General Samuel T. Merritt: Thank you, Sergeant Imoto. You're not a little man.

From Conquest of Space (1955)
The Green Hills Of Earth

Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet
Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

We rot in the molds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

[ --- the harsh bright soil of Luna ---
--- Saturn's rainbow rings ---
--- the frozen night of Titan --- ]

We've tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet ---

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

Robert A. Heinlein

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