Prev NEXT  

Advertisement

How Will We Colonize Other Planets?

Heading for a Planet in Another Star System

the Dawn spacecraft blasting off
The Dawn spacecraft began its 1.7 billion-mile journey in 2007 to study asteroids, thanks to a trio of solar electric ion propulsion engines.
NASA

If we're going to colonize a planet in another star system, we have to answer two questions. First, do any Earth-like planets even exist outside of our solar system? Thanks to NASA's Kepler telescope, the answer to this question is yes. Kepler, which was decommissioned in 2018, located nearly 2,700 planets — what astronomers call exoplanets — orbiting stars anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand light-years away. Many of the exoplanets are gas giants similar to Jupiter and Saturn. But others are "super Earths," rocky planets slightly bigger than ours [source: Howell]. Some of those might possibly have the right conditions to be hospitable to human colonists.

The second question is purely logistical: How do we get to a planet located trillions of miles from our own? To answer this question, scientists will have to rethink space travel. For example, the idea that a single crew will fly to a remote planet is highly unlikely. Instead, spacecraft might need to carry family groups capable of living in space for generations [source: Feltman].

Advertisement

Scientists will also have to come up with better propulsion systems to cut the travel time. Nuclear fission- and fusion-based engines might be feasible, but more likely candidates include solar sails, ion-propulsion systems or antimatter rockets [source: Stromberg].

Light sails work by directing laser light onto a huge aluminum-foil sail. As photons strike the sail, they transfer momentum and push the sail forward. Ion-propulsion systems use solar panels to generate electric fields that accelerate charged atoms of xenon. Such an engine powered the Dawn mission, which hurled an unmanned spacecraft to two asteroids, Vesta and Ceres, before its mission was completed in November 2018. Antimatter rockets are the most efficient and achieve the highest speeds, but the technology is relatively untested. Such a rocket mixes equal amounts of antihydrogen and hydrogen, which annihilate each other in a combustion chamber to release enormous amounts of energy [source: Stromberg].

In the end, a combination of technologies may be the solution, proving once again that conquering deep space will require cooperation and collaboration among scientists of different disciplines and nationalities.

Last editorial update on May 17, 2019 10:52:48 am.

Related Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Allen, Mike and VandeHei, Jim. "Elon Musk: There's a 70% chance that I personally go to Mars." Axios. Nov. 25, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.axios.com/elon-musk-mars-space-x-14c01761-d045-4da0-924b-322fb6a109ce.html
  • Allison, Peter Ray. "How We Could Survive on an Asteroid." BBC.com. June 13, 2018. (April 14, 2019) http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180612-will-we-ever-colonise-an-asteroid
  • Associated Press. "Optimism That Earth-Like Planets Exist." CBS News. Jan. 7, 2010. (April 14, 2019) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/07/tech/main6069284.shtml
  • Beardsley, Tim. "The Way to Go in Space." Scientific American Presents: The Future of Space Exploration. 1999.
  • Cool Cosmos. "What is the temperature on the Moon?" Caltech.edu. (April 14, 2019) http://coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu/ask/168-What-is-the-temperature-on-the-Moon-
  • Ceriotti, Matteo. "Here's how we could build a colony on an alien world." The Conversation. Feb. 26, 2017. (April 14, 2019) https://theconversation.com/heres-how-we-could-build-a-colony-on-an-alien-world-54923
  • Chang, Kenneth. "Senate Panel Near Agreement on Bill to Roll Back NASA Changes." New York Times. July 8, 2010. (July 31, 2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/09/science/space/09nasa.html?_r=2&ref=science
  • Coppinger, Rob. "Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder Elon Musk." Space.com. Nov. 23, 2012. (April 14, 2019) https://www.space.com/18596-mars-colony-spacex-elon-musk.html
  • European Space Agency.
  • Fecht, Sarah. "Six Reasons NASA Should Build a Research Base on the Moon." National Geographic. Dec. 21, 2013. (April 14, 2019) https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131220-lunar-research-base-mars-mission-science/
  • Feltman, Rachel. "We could move to another planet with a spaceship like this." Popular Science. May 4, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.popsci.com/realistic-generational-spaceship
  • Gallant, Roy A. "National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe." National Geographic Society. 1994.
  • Gent. Edd. "Moon bases being planned now may show us how to live off-planet." NBC News. March 13, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/moon-bases-being-planned-now-may-show-us-how-live-ncna855826
  • Grush, Loren. "Why mining the water on the Moon could open up space exploration." Verge.com. Aug. 23, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.theverge.com/2018/8/23/17769034/nasa-moon-lunar-water-ice-mining-propellant-depots
  • Howell, Elizabeth. "Kepler Space Telescope: The Original Exoplanet Hunter." Space.com. Dec. 7, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.space.com/24903-kepler-space-telescope.html
  • Kharpal, Arjun. "Stephen Hawking says humans must colonize another planet in 100 years or face extinction." CNBC. May 5, 2017. (April 14, 2019) https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/05/stephen-hawking-human-extinction-colonize-planet.html
  • Kushner, David. "Dream Chasers." Discover Magazine. September 2010.
  • Malik, Tariq. "Trump's NASA Budget Eliminates Crewed Mission to Asteroid." Scientific American. March 16, 2017. (April 14, 2019) http://bit.ly/2Gch7d3
  • McKay, Christopher P. "Bringing Life to Mars." Scientific American Presents: The Future of Space Exploration. 1999.
  • NASA. "Can Plants Grow with Mars Soil?" NASA. Aug. 7, 2017. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nasa.gov/feature/can-plants-grow-with-mars-soil
  • NASA. "Constructing Next-Generation Space Habitat Demonstrators." Nasa.gov. July 16, 2012. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/technology/deep_space_habitat/constructing-demonstrators.
  • NASA. "Ice Confirmed at the Moon's Poles." Nasa.gov. Aug. 20, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nasa.gov/feature/ames/ice-confirmed-at-the-moon-s-poles
  • NASA. "Journey to Mars." NASA. (April 14, 2019) htmlhttps://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars/index.html
  • NASA. "Landing on the Surface." NASA. Aug. 27, 2015. (April 14, 2019) http://w3.nexis.com/new/auth/checkbrowser.do?t=1231732175310&bhcp=1
  • NASA. "Mars Terraforming Not Possible Using Present-Day Technology." https://mars.nasa.gov/news/8358/mars-terraforming-not-possible-using-present-day-technology/
  • NASA. "Moon to Mars Overview." Nasa.gov. April 5, 2019. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nasa.gov/topics/moon-to-mars/overview
  • NASA. "NASA Begins Testing Habitation Prototypes." Nasa.gov. March 27, 2019. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-begins-testing-habitation-prototypes
  • NASA. "What We Learned from Dawn." NASA. Oct. 31, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/spacecraft/index.html
  • National Space Society. "NSS Space Settlement Nexus." NSS.org. (April 14, 2019) https://space.nss.org/space-settlement-national-space-society/
  • National Space Society "Space Settlements." Nss.org June 17, 2010. (April 14, 2019) https://space.nss.org/settlement/nasa/
  • Piper, Kelsey. "The case against colonizing space to save humanity." Vox Oct. 22, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/10/22/17991736/jeff-bezos-elon-musk-colonizing-mars-moon-space-blue-origin-spacex
  • Redd, Nola Taylor. "Lunar Shelter: Moon Caves Could Protect Astronauts." Space.com. May 5, 2016. (April 14, 2019) https://www.space.com/32795-moon-lava-tubes-protect-astronauts.html
  • Rees, Martin. "Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide." DK Publishing. 2012. (April 14, 2019) http://bit.ly/2GgX0uc
  • Rieland, Randy. "If Humans Want To Colonize Other Planets, We Need To Perfect Space Cuisine." Smithsonian.com. March 28, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/if-humans-want-to-colonize-other-planets-we-need-to-perfect-space-cuisine-180968611/
  • ScienceDaily. "Suspended Animation Induced in Mice with Sewer Gas: Effects are Reversible." March 25, 2008. (April 14, 2019) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080325083254.htm
  • Smith, David. "New moon mission will not distract from effort to reach Mars, Nasa boss says." Guardian. May 9, 2018. (April 14, 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/09/nasa-moon-mars-missions-jim-bridenstine
  • Sparrow, Giles. "Spaceflight: The Complete Story from Sputnik to Shuttle — and Beyond." Dorling Kindersley Limited. 2007.
  • Stromberg, Joseph. "Can We Power a Space Mission To An Exoplanet?" Smithsonian. June 28, 2013. (April 14, 2019) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/can-we-power-a-space-mission-to-an-exoplanet-3948923/
  • Weed, William Speed. "Star Trek." Discover Magazine. August 2003. (April 14, 2019http://discovermagazine.com/2003/aug/cover/?searchterm=space%20colonization
  • Wall, Mike. "US to Return Astronauts to the Moon by 2024, VP Pence Says." Space.com. March 26, 2019. (April 14, 2019) https://www.space.com/us-astronauts-moon-return-by-2024.html
  • Woerner, Jan. "Moon Village." Esa.int. 2016. (April 14, 2019) https://www.esa.int/About_Us/Ministerial_Council_2016/Moon_Village
  • Zubrin, Robert. "Sending Humans to Mars." Scientific American Presents: The Future of Space Exploration. 1999.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement


Advertisement


Recommended

Advertisement

Advertisement