Image courtesy of http://www.squidoo.com
Space Habitats. Artificial space constructs inhabited by humans…Habs!
Why am I talking about habs?
Because I honestly believe that unless we get over this old-fashioned idea of planet living, the earth and us humans will we forever be at the mercy of natural events such as weather storms, volcanism, earthquakes, climate change, asteroid impact, etc.
Sure, Earth is a pretty place. I kinda like it, of course I do – I live on the thing – but it doesn’t mean that we cannot create strictly monitored and controlled environments tailored to ourselves…
I’m a Sci-Fi author and one of the exciting parts of writing a story or novel set in a probable future is to look at present scientific ideas and guess how they may develop.
In my new novel, ‘Blue into the Rip’, set four-hundred and fifty years from now in the twenty-fifth century, we come across a vast artificial habitat created underground (under what is now the Amazon Desert!). It has a fusion sun within a self-contained ecosystem. It has fields and cities, lakes and towns and even a weather cycle. The Amazon is also reborn here as an independent mini-habitat – a hydroponic jungle in which our hero and the other space cadets live and sleep.
So Just What is a Space Habitat?
Any place where humans live day-to-day away from the confines of Earth is known as a ‘space habitat’. We have one at the moment: The International Spacestation (ISS).
Image: The International Space Station (ISS)
The ISS is the biggest object ever flown in space. And is the ninth habitable space station ever built. If you look at the correct part of the sky at night, it is easily observable. Indeed, it is the third brightest object in the sky.
Are humans living in it?
Is the spacestation self-contained? Can it sustain itself without any external help?
No. Food, fuel, oxygen filters and other essentials need to be delivered from Earth to keep the ISS going.
So…self-sustainability is important to this notion of space living?
Yes, it is what space living will be all about.
A viable space habitat must have self-sustaining systems similar to those found on Earth. It should have its own water and oxygen cycles, it should generate and grow its own food, have systems to create energy and gravity - and it should also be able to protect those systems against harmful solar and cosmic radiation.
Since this idea came about in the mid-70s, there have been many designs for space living. And all are pretty much viable, but one thing is similar to all designs…
They will have to be big. ENORMOUS.
Image: The asteroid ‘Eros’. A possible future human habitat? Courtesy of http://solarsystem.nasa.gov
Early habitats will come from simple practicality. At some point in the future, humans will start mining asteroids. They are a great source of water and raw materials.
Where will humans live while they are doing this? Inside the asteroid itself, of course.
Whatever a space habitat looks like – be it a rotating wheel, tube, hollowed out asteroid or even a spacecraft – they will all have the same needs…
Humans live on Earth. We are perfectly adapted to the tug of our own particular gravity well. Our bodies take this tug for granted. Our musculature and internal organs all developed under what we call 1G (one gravity, which is equal to the gravitational pull of the Earth on our bodies).
Even though humans are surprisingly adaptable to weightlessness, the long term effects are detrimental - the record for a long-duration mission is still held by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who completed a 438-day tour of duty aboard the Mir space station in 1995. Our bodies lose muscle, bone density decreases and our hearts become weaker. Humans cannot live in weightlessness and survive indefinitely.
So how do we simulate gravity?
If we place a large tube in space, say the size and length to allow humans to stand upright, and apply spin to it, centrifugal force will push on anyone on the inside outwards.
If we get the speed of the spin just right, it can simulate 1G.
Increase the size of this tube so that it has a diameter of thousands and thousands of miles, add land, seas and atmosphere, and you have an environment similar to that of Earth.
Space habitats do not have to be spinning tubes, they can be of varied design, but they must simulate gravity. Below is an artist’s impression of a looped habitat – a sort of ‘spinning wheel in space’ with humans living on the inner rim:
Image courtesy of http://visions2200.com
Water & Weather Systems
If you create a habitat large enough – either by super construction or by hollowing out an asteroid - all that is needed to create a water cycle is…um…water – lots of it.
As far as scientists can tell, the solar system is brimming with the stuff – in asteroids and comets and floating in space as ice. Bring enough water into your habitat and you can create lakes and seas. Add heat, add night and day, light and dark, and pretty soon, you will get rain, clouds and a water cycle. With this in place, the next step is vegetation and a breathable atmosphere.
The whole business of breathing in space is a problem. Unless you have a way to scrub the harmful C02 out of the air to replace it with breathable oxygen (or an external oxygen supply and filters), you will suffocate very quickly.
How do we breathe in our space habitat?
The answer is straightforward - the Earth has provided the answer.
In our proposed space habitat, we already have lands and seas. The next step is to introduce soil and controlled plant organisms.
Soil, at its very basic level, is rock particulates stuffed with microorganisms and water. If we are using comets and asteroids as a source for water, we can also use them to create soil. Add seed bacteria and plants, and it should be possible to kick-start the oxygen cycle – and with plants, we get food and sustainable animal life.
Energy & Heat
We have a vast rotating tube in space. We have gravity, land and sea, plants and oxygen but…
Where is our energy going to come from?
All our energy comes from the sun, be it directly from sunlight or from the burning of fossil fuels. All of it. Any space habitat in the solar system will probably use sunlight as a primary power source.
This energy (sunlight and radiation) can be collected using vast arrays of solar panels or can be reflected inside the hab to simulate day and night. The hab’s artificial light will simulate the seasons and help control the weather systems. It can produce all the energy needs for the population without any pollution.
It is also possible that, by the time we create these habitats, we may also have developed fusion energy – a clean form of energy production that mimics the sun itself. Research into this power source has been ongoing for decades and a major breakthrough is expected within the next fifty years. We could illuminate and heat a space habitat independent of natural sunlight using this process.
The good thing about both kinds of energy? They’re, free, clean and in constant supply. Yes, all energy will be green energy. Cool.
Cosmic & Solar Radiation
A typical solar flare from our sun (a regular occurrence) produces x-rays, gamma rays and streams of dangerous energetic particles. Cosmic rays also arrive continuously from deep space. These particles can tear through DNA molecules and may lead to cancers and other diseases. Nasty.
Space is a hostile place for us humans.
How are we protected on Earth?
The answer is…magnetism. The Earth’s molten iron core generates electric currents that extend far out into space. It shields us from 99.9 per cent of this harmful radiation.
Below is a rendition of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere. See how harmful solar radiation is deflected around the planet:
Like a force field?
Yes, exactly. Without it there would be no life on Earth. Just look at Mars. It has no global magnetic field. Particles from the sun have stripped away most of Mars’ atmosphere, resulting in very poor protection against radiation at the surface. The idea of populating Mars is straightforward, but like anywhere else in the solar system, humans would need to make their habitat underground to avoid this harmful radiation. And who wants to live underground?
Of course we can successfully survive under the surface, and I have given examples of this in my novel, but living in a space habitat, with ‘sun’, ‘sky’, plants, animals, lands and seas – in an environment that pretty much mimics life on Earth - is an infinitely more preferable human experience.
Okay, I get it but…this doesn’t sound very easy
No. It’s not. But it’s a lot easier than terraforming moons or planets. How long would it take to generate an atmosphere? How would they protect an entire planetoid from harmful radiation? Would that be even possible? No, I firmly believe space habitats are the only solution to the problems of space living.
And besides, it would be amazing!
For more information about space habitats and some cool images and articles, please check out my Pinterest ‘Space Habitats & Orbital Colonies’ board: http://www.pinterest.com/KevHeritage/space-habitats-orbital-colonies/
Or chat to me on Twitter @KevHeritage
To find out more information about my sci-fi novel, BLUE INTO THE RIP, a young adult, time-travel, climate-change adventure, please visit:
Amazon Kindle: http://ow.ly/rhOzo
Smashwords (Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, iPad/iPhone, Palm, PDF etc.): http://ow.ly/rhODf
All text, images and image ownership information provided for this guest blog by Kev Heritage.