“History is going to bifurcate along two directions,” said inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk said at last year’s International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species, which I hope you agree that is the right way to go.”
Despite Musk’s elaborate plans of launching a million people to Mars to set up a self-sustaining colony, the reality is that Earth is pretty much the only option we have, at least for now.
Ellen Stofan, the former chief scientist of NASA, said, “I don’t see a mass transfer of humanity to Mars, ever. Job one is to keep this planet habitable. There isn’t a planet B.”
However, the idea of a Planet B – the Moon – may have just gotten a lot easier.
A new study from Brown University found that there may be an ocean of water deep under the Earth’s moon. If that’s true, and if that’s water we could retrieve, it would much easier to set up shop on the lunar surface.
Transporting water from Earth to the Moon is logistically difficult and prohibitively expensive. But if we could tap into a well on the Sea of Tranquility, humanity might be able to sustain a long-term colony. Perhaps there might even be resources convertible into rocket fuel.
And then, if we could launch a Mars mission from the Moon instead of having to break free of the Earth’s gravity and atmosphere, the whole process of colonizing the red planet also becomes somewhat more feasible than previously thought.
This is all still a long way off. Even the ever-optimistic Musk has tempered his wild-eyed goals of Mars terraforming and colonization. The likelihood of humanity having a truly interplanetary future still seems like the stuff of science fiction, rather than science fact.
At the same time, many thought President Kennedy’s call to land on the moon by the end of the decade was foolhardy, yet somehow it happened even under severe technological limitations in the 1960s.
Consider that the Apollo program sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon – with Michael Collins manning the spacecraft – using computers that had roughly 0.015 % of the capacity of a modern smartphone. Given that we have exponentially more technological resources at our disposal half-a-century later, shouldn’t we expect exponentially better results?
(Photo of Earth’s Moon by NASA.)