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Thread: Space habs, and the livin' ain't easy

  1. #31
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    Just my personal opinion on the subject.

    I was born mid sixties and grew up through quite a tumultuous period, not least because of the cold war. I vividly remember such things as "duck and cover" and constant propaganda from Western media*. There being no Internet, it would have been difficult to fact check any "news" for veracity.

    Anyway, this is not meant to be political, it's just the background to my interest in science fiction. From an early age I've read Azimov, AC Clarke, HG Wells, Bradbury, Vonnegut and many many others. Fanciful dreaming some might say, but I have a different view. All these writers wrote about the future, mostly the far future and that, to someone growing up amidst a culture of war, enmity and the seeming risk of imminent annihilation, gave a sense that all was not lost.

    Ultimately, stories of the future offer hope. And that to me is the reason to keep striving - for the future.
    The Earth is too small a place to contain the human race, it's intelligence won't be restrained. I think we have a duty to explore and colonies will be a result of that exploration not the initial driver.


    * This is not to say there was no Soviet propaganda, just that the only source we had was the western media who are naturally biased. It's harder for that to happen these days.

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Thereís mining and thereís communication. Space is relevant. There is also military competition unfortunately. But no commercially viable excuse for a colony.
    Not yet. But drop the cost to space, and that can change. Not instantly, but as part of space development.

    We have proto colonies for example on Antarctica, a bleak place but balmy compared to the moon or Mars. People go there mainly for science, and there is tourism which is commercially viable. Why not drum up enthusiasm for a few hundred people to go live there and make a colony supported by air drops? Many could afford that, I guess. But having visited Antarctica, itís a great experience but I have no interest in living there for the rest of my life.
    A key issue with Antarctica is that treaties currently limit what can be done there. Commercial mining or other development is pretty much not possible. I would have expected at least a resort or two by now, if allowed.

    As DavidLondon mentioned, there were ideas for a domed city. I read about one of those proposals years ago. The idea presented was a moderate sized domed city with a nuclear power plant providing both power and heat, built near the coast on one of the areas not covered with ice. Cost was an issue, but the biggest issue was that nobody controlled the land - again, treaty issues. I expect such a city could be quite comfortable and it would be a novel place to live.

    OK I know I am being negative, but this is an important debate because a lot of money is being spent with colonisation as a stated objective. And a lot on new generations of nuclear weapons too. Maybe the enthusiasts hope to escape the consequences of those?
    The only thing Iíve ever seen argued is this: If people on Earth are ever stupid enough to start a nuclear war or just get caught in a monumental mistake that starts a large nuclear war, civilization could easily collapse worldwide. It would be hard to maintain life-rafts for civilization on Earth because desperate people could invade better surviving locations. Maintaining civilization off Earth could help bring Earth out of a collapse it might not ever otherwise escape, and like it or not, nuclear weapons arenít going away. So there is an insurance argument to be made.

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  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    ... Maintaining civilization off Earth could help bring Earth out of a collapse it might not ever otherwise escape, and like it or not, nuclear weapons aren’t going away. So there is an insurance argument to be made.
    I have to concede that, the insurance argument is solid and like most insurance, all insurance, the few benefit while the majority pay. And I have to agree that tax payers do not have much influence on warmongers. I find it ironic that the technology, rockets, guidance, computers, aerodynamics…all shared by space exploration and advanced military capability! Our strengths are our weaknesses.
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  4. #34
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    But in this insurance, the ones who pay are very unlikely to be the ones who benefit. So the insurance argument is super altruistic. There is a spectrum of altruism like most personality attributes, so maybe that tells us something.
    sicut vis videre esto
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    I would support a small domed village on Antarctica or the ocean floor, to test out the technology for use in space/moon/planet.
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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    I would support a small domed village on Antarctica or the ocean floor, to test out the technology for use in space/moon/planet.
    That kind of experiment has been done with varied psychological success. I think the technology is easier than the psychology. Training is important. Prisons also teach about confinement.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    That kind of experiment has been done with varied psychological success. I think the technology is easier than the psychology. Training is important. Prisons also teach about confinement.
    I am suggesting a glass dome as we see in science fiction.
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    And why would others pay to keep it going?
    OK no need to explain if no commitment from others is required.
    OK, there's the real questions.

    So, my view is, any settlement that needs some outside supplier to keep it going is a stepping stone, not an endpoint. A self supporting community (probably not a single habitat but an economy and ecosystem of mining, manufacturing, and exchange) that does not rely on Earth's input.

    That's not any kind of near-future accomplishment, it requires a mature infrastructure and lots of experience in the field, especially in creating balanced ecosystems for life support. A long term result.

    The details in the meanwhile to get there are not easily described as there's a lot of variables at play; will governments or for-profit corporations or both dominate human space activity in the next century? If nations, which nations with all their differing philosophies of management? What laws if any will apply or be enforced? Will space bodies become de facto property owned by specific organizations regardless of what's on paper? How will the economy of large projects evolve? How much research money will be poured into development of space tech? Will new innovations occur in the applicable fields?

    And probably hundreds more factors that we don't have the experience yet to think of.
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    That kind of experiment has been done with varied psychological success. I think the technology is easier than the psychology. Training is important. Prisons also teach about confinement.
    I agree. As I said, a society built for a space habitat will be quite different from the ones that are widespread on Earth. There are analogies in small groups that live under stressful conditions, but also island cultures that have remained metastable.

    There are some limited experiments that can be done on Earth, but the limitation is, they're all on Earth. Those being tested will know that they can simply open a door and be back in the real world. To experience the isolation of space is a distinct psychological factor, as astronauts can readily attest, and knowing that you're months or years of travel from your closest neighbors will also have a major effect. There will be unforeseen results for a lifelong space dweller that can't be simulated on one planet, we can only learn that from direct experience under space conditions and distances. Right now no human has been further than the Moon for more than a few days. We will learn from a Mars landing more than anything so far, but they're not going there to live, just to visit.

    A very long term process both in technology and in human factors. Multi-generational.
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  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    OK, there's the real questions.

    So, my view is, any settlement that needs some outside supplier to keep it going is a stepping stone, not an endpoint. A self supporting community (probably not a single habitat but an economy and ecosystem of mining, manufacturing, and exchange) that does not rely on Earth's input.

    That's not any kind of near-future accomplishment, it requires a mature infrastructure and lots of experience in the field, especially in creating balanced ecosystems for life support. A long term result.

    The details in the meanwhile to get there are not easily described as there's a lot of variables at play; will governments or for-profit corporations or both dominate human space activity in the next century? If nations, which nations with all their differing philosophies of management? What laws if any will apply or be enforced? Will space bodies become de facto property owned by specific organizations regardless of what's on paper? How will the economy of large projects evolve? How much research money will be poured into development of space tech? Will new innovations occur in the applicable fields?

    And probably hundreds more factors that we don't have the experience yet to think of.
    There are many earthbound examples of others paying, some US states for example are subsidised by others, but there is an overall gain, the whole is more than the sum etc. But with space colonies, it would be one way subsidy and effort, many rocket launches. Mining would be a trade, but surely robot mining is likely. Even tourism needs no permanent colony, viz Antarctica.

    How much of that is worth paying as a premium against total catastrophe on Earth?
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    There are many earthbound examples of others paying, some US states for example are subsidised by others, but there is an overall gain, the whole is more than the sum etc. But with space colonies, it would be one way subsidy and effort, many rocket launches. Mining would be a trade, but surely robot mining is likely. Even tourism needs no permanent colony, viz Antarctica.

    How much of that is worth paying as a premium against total catastrophe on Earth?
    Well, as I said, it would be as part of a large scale space access, which seems to be the way we're trending now, and would have multiple applications beyond habitation. I can't speak for others' motives, only my own. To me, it seems like human survival is a goal worth large investments indeed.

    However these are not going to be large investments in an absolute sense. We spend vastly more on things that bring no benefits to humanity. What is the practical value of sports? It makes money because it's hyped in our culture, nothing more. Sports as entertainment goes through cycles of popularity. Rome loved it, we love it, but it's hardly a major human achievement.

    Priority in resource allocation is largely a matter of trends and fads. We use what we need to survive, but most of the wealth of the world is not spent on what we need, especially in an industrial society with vastly more surplus wealth than at any time in human existence. Take space investment from the surplus wealth.
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    ADDED:

    We already know there are people with the motivation to pour significant amounts of resources into the goal of space colonies, Musk et al. Debating whether those motives are valid or not is moot.

    The question now is, how would it be accomplished? What steps may be taken? For sure, billionaire dreams will not be sufficient* to get the job done.


    *ADDED TO THE ADDED: Not by themselves, anyway. SpaceX's efforts are certainly helping make space access cheaper and larger scale, which is a major contributor.
    Last edited by Noclevername; 2021-Jun-16 at 06:00 PM.
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    My guess, initially, and probably for quite some time, human exploitation of space will be driven by dreamers whose goal is other than money, like Elon Musk, and, as technological advance starts to make it look feasible, people who are in it to make money / gain resources, like business entities and governments. As time goes on human exploitation of space gradually increases. Mining, energy, science, etc., and all infrastructure to support it, like ships, fuel production, manufacturing, food production, etc. Then, once it reaches the point where all of the necessities for a settlement to have a chance are established, that's when people will start trying to found settlements, or they'll simply happen. Like a facility that starts out as living quarters for workers with a population that is all temporary, but then gradually evolves a permanent population which initially makes a living solely by providing services for the temporary worker part of the population and maintaining the facility.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    The question now is, how would it be accomplished? What steps may be taken? For sure, billionaire dreams will not be sufficient* to get the job done.
    A big item is that some real money needs to be put into development of life support systems, with emphasis on use in long term habitats, so we can nail down what works and what doesnít.

    Most work so far has been about using mechanical systems in mass limited habitats (basically for spacecraft, where mass and complexity need to be kept low). A Mars habitat, for example, would be very different since air and water can be found and produced in situ. There it probably makes sense not to try for extreme closure at the cost of extra complexity, but it will need to be at least partly bioregenerative, since people will need food, and that will be part of long term living in habitats.

    Iíve tried to do literature searches on current work in this area and it is shocking how little there seems to be. There needs to be a lot more work done on this, so we arenít guessing or assuming what is needed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darrell View Post
    Like a facility that starts out as living quarters for workers with a population that is all temporary, but then gradually evolves a permanent population which initially makes a living solely by providing services for the temporary worker part of the population and maintaining the facility.
    Mmm, I think that turning a worksite into a permanent settlement with families depends on factors like how easy it is to extend the existing living space and life support. This means modular pods and biospheres capable of working together.

    On Mars you can build another dome next to the first until you have a collection big enough to be called a city. Space station habitats have to be purpose-built for expansion.
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    So what about a semi-bootstrapping scenario? One boot only

    A semi-independent space community, making most of their own simple stuff like structural materials and shielding, water/rocket fuel, maybe some metals such as aluminum for solar reflectors, but the finicky parts are still shipped up from Earth. The items that require manufacturing techniques not practical in space, the seeds and embryos to supplement limited bio-diversity and gene pools. Catalysts that spacers can build around, like snowflakes crystalizing around a dust mote.

    I can see this as a intermediate stage between full dependence on Earth, and totally autonomous space economy. Gradually weaning themselves off the home planet over generations as the space infrastructure becomes more complex and capable.
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    I can see full material and ecological autonomy from Earth taking a century or so, give or take a couple of generations.

    Advances in space access and propulsion and ISRU will be important, but my view is that getting stable biosphere life support right will be the bigger stumbling block than technology. We have shown a startlingly consistent tendency to underestimate the complexity and interaction of living systems. We will have to tend our gardens very carefully to stay alive in space.

    I think much of the early development in ET human population will remain concentrated between LEO and the Moon's orbit; a huge volume, but relatively "nearby". But the true tests of our capacity for survival will take place BEO, with help and support months-to-years away. Mars seems an obvious point of interest, especially the Martian moons. It is in the further reaches that it will be necessary to develop self-sufficiency.

    The type and purpose of a space community will play a large role in determining its population, if or how much it can expand, what types of folks live there, if transient people pass through, etc. A small team of robot drivers at a mining site have little potential to become independent; but remember, the ones who got rich from the California Gold Rush were not the miners, they were the folks who sold goods and services to the miners.

    There could very well be something akin to WWII "amenities ships" or gambling riverboats for workers or scientists (or soldiers) at distant outposts, mobile space stations that bring the vacation to you. And Cyclers could basically be orbital hotels or cruise ships.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Advances in space access and propulsion and ISRU will be important, but my view is that getting stable biosphere life support right will be the bigger stumbling block than technology. We have shown a startlingly consistent tendency to underestimate the complexity and interaction of living systems. We will have to tend our gardens very carefully to stay alive in space.
    Maybe, but I’ve mentioned before what I sometimes call “cheating” or limited closure. A Mars habitat can get air and water from ISRU and mechanical processing and use significant mechanical recycling if only to reduce ISRU requirements. It only needs biologicals for food. The complexity typically comes from attempts at high closure in a small system. After all, we don’t have much difficulty running greenhouses. And such habitats wouldn’t need to be dependent on plants, either. Fungi (as in mushrooms) can be a great food source. Also certain bacteria can be grown on mostly hydrogen and oxygen and then be used to feed small animals. A system with limited closure and maintenance of large food reserves in case temporary problems come up could be much simpler than extreme closure systems focused on biological cycling. In the long run, higher closure is an important goal but more open systems would be very useful for early habitats.

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    Incidentally, Biosphere 2 failures are instructive here. For one thing, they tried for extreme closure, bioregenerative only. They didnít count on, for example, the concrete absorbing CO2. Ultimately they had to let some air in, but they should have simulated a system to add oxygen, nitrogen, CO2 and water in controlled amounts as needed, and then could have measured that.

    Another issue is they tried for far too much biological complexity, trying to fit different ecologies next to each other in a small area. Naturally, much of it died out, and they had issues with pests, like ants, which became one of the dominant features of what remained. It was an interesting approach from a science standpoint but for their purposes they should have kept it simple.

    They didnít realize that they needed much more sunlight for sufficient productivity, and they ended up very hungry. They needed supplemental artificial lighting, a larger food production area, or reflectors to bring in more natural light, or some mix of these.

    One mostly psychological issue is that they needed a more varied diet to keep their spirits up. Growing some spices or bringing small amounts of those that arenít practical to grow into the habitat would have helped a lot.

    What strikes me is that I think a somewhat differently designed habitat based on these lessons could have been far more successful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Incidentally, Biosphere 2 failures are instructive here. For one thing, they tried for extreme closure, bioregenerative only. They didn’t count on, for example, the concrete absorbing CO2. Ultimately they had to let some air in, but they should have simulated a system to add oxygen, nitrogen, CO2 and water in controlled amounts as needed, and then could have measured that.

    Another issue is they tried for far too much biological complexity, trying to fit different ecologies next to each other in a small area. Naturally, much of it died out, and they had issues with pests, like ants, which became one of the dominant features of what remained. It was an interesting approach from a science standpoint but for their purposes they should have kept it simple.

    They didn’t realize that they needed much more sunlight for sufficient productivity, and they ended up very hungry. They needed supplemental artificial lighting, a larger food production area, or reflectors to bring in more natural light, or some mix of these.

    One mostly psychological issue is that they needed a more varied diet to keep their spirits up. Growing some spices or bringing small amounts of those that aren’t practical to grow into the habitat would have helped a lot.

    What strikes me is that I think a somewhat differently designed habitat based on these lessons could have been far more successful.
    Interesting and that points to the scientific goal of the experiments. Doing that with enforced enclosure, i.e. in space, will show more factors as you suggest. I expect more Earth bound experiments will happen with improved ideas. These will be relevant to various Earth bound survival strategies as well as preparing for living off planet.

    Psychologically the knowledge that in extremis there is an easy escape plan must be significant. Just as in the Martian movie, there was a rocket set aside for escape, the idea, even a low success probability lifeboat, is likely to feature in plans.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Maybe, but I’ve mentioned before what I sometimes call “cheating” or limited closure. A Mars habitat can get air and water from ISRU and mechanical processing and use significant mechanical recycling if only to reduce ISRU requirements. It only needs biologicals for food. The complexity typically comes from attempts at high closure in a small system. After all, we don’t have much difficulty running greenhouses. And such habitats wouldn’t need to be dependent on plants, either. Fungi (as in mushrooms) can be a great food source. Also certain bacteria can be grown on mostly hydrogen and oxygen and then be used to feed small animals. A system with limited closure and maintenance of large food reserves in case temporary problems come up could be much simpler than extreme closure systems focused on biological cycling. In the long run, higher closure is an important goal but more open systems would be very useful for early habitats.
    A greenhouse can fail without life-threatening consequences, also it's part of a world-sized ecosystem for free. We'd have to have everything from microbes to mildew in some sort of balance. Yes, outside volatiles will always be needed to make up inevitable losses. Complete isolation would be impossible, some form of comet and asteroid mining will have to take place, as shipping everything up a gravity well likely costs too much energy. Hopefully we can avoid a scenario like The Expanse where water shipments become a chokehold.

    Early habs can count on residence being temporary, a more stable situation would be needed for lifetimes. But you're right about building up reserves, of just about everything including including replacement volatiles. Any space habitat for permanent living more than a couple of decades will basically be a collection of flying farms with a few humans added for flavor
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Interesting and that points to the scientific goal of the experiments. Doing that with enforced enclosure, i.e. in space, will show more factors as you suggest. I expect more Earth bound experiments will happen with improved ideas. These will be relevant to various Earth bound survival strategies as well as preparing for living off planet.

    Psychologically the knowledge that in extremis there is an easy escape plan must be significant. Just as in the Martian movie, there was a rocket set aside for escape, the idea, even a low success probability lifeboat, is likely to feature in plans.
    Any space "city" will have to be designed with that in mind. An orbital station or Mars surface facility will no doubt be built of multiple autonomous modules and/or compartments, with enough life support in each to accept at least part of a refugee population. This also supports the idea that we will be filling space with corn more than colonists.
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    Speaking of chokeholds, phosphorus may become the gold of the future. It's relatively plentiful on Earth (and Mars) but might be hard to extract from space bodies. The distribution of other biologically necessary elements might also define who holds the all cards and who has to play whatever they're dealt.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Growing some spices or bringing small amounts of those that aren’t practical to grow into the habitat would have helped a lot.
    In some of the fiction that I (occasionally attempt to) write, the Spice Trade has come back to the space age with a vengeance, especially the stuff that requires large agricultural resources for small returns like saffron, nutmeg, or cinnamon. "The Spice Mines Of Kessel" indeed. Of course coffee and chocolate will also be at a premium.

    Small crops that are copious producers of high nutrient density will probably dominate space cuisine for centuries.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Small crops that are copious producers of high nutrient density will probably dominate space cuisine for centuries.
    Scratch that... the bulk of food value would probably come from vat-grown cultures developed during the early years of long-term interplanetary travel; algae, yeasts, bacteria, fungi. It's theoretically more efficient than plant crops, uses less complicated equipment, can be tucked into the odd corners of a space ship or station, and produces less waste biomass. It also will blandly drive an even more burning need for herbs, spices, and flavorings, even if it's supplemented with the occasional hydroponic fresh vegetable or aquaponic fish. And there's always insect larvae as a protein source, yum.
    Last edited by Noclevername; 2021-Jun-26 at 10:18 PM.
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    The challenges make it not worth it for now, but we'll end up with them sooner or later. There's no way to avoid that. Earth has about 100 million years of viability left for big complex organisms. At about a Ĺ-billion, the oceans and all atmospheric water vapor are gone and the rest of the atmosphere is getting pretty weak too, with Earth shifting toward being essentially a bigger Mercury. But the sun will still have several billion years left of throwing lots of free energy at us. Interstellar distances will have remained depressingly ludicrous, and the work of terraforming will always be several orders of magnitude worse than the work of building even a relatively large rotating cylinder/disk in space, so we will definitely have gone for the latter. Even if we also add the former to it, similar fates await the colony planets too, so the space disks/cylinders will be all that's left. There's simply no other choice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
    The challenges make it not worth it for now, but we'll end up with them sooner or later. There's no way to avoid that. Earth has about 100 million years of viability left for big complex organisms. At about a Ĺ-billion, the oceans and all atmospheric water vapor are gone and the rest of the atmosphere is getting pretty weak too, with Earth shifting toward being essentially a bigger Mercury. But the sun will still have several billion years left of throwing lots of free energy at us. Interstellar distances will have remained depressingly ludicrous, and the work of terraforming will always be several orders of magnitude worse than the work of building even a relatively large rotating cylinder/disk in space, so we will definitely have gone for the latter. Even if we also add the former to it, similar fates await the colony planets too, so the space disks/cylinders will be all that's left. There's simply no other choice.
    I think a 100 million years away disaster is not going to motivate many people in the here and now.

    There's other near-term reasons for expansion beyond one planet. Besides the big one of creating lifeboat egg-baskets there's also the vast capacity for experimentation and diversification of human social, cultural, and even physical evolution through having many worlds large and small, made to order. We can theoretically do so on a limited scale here on Earth, but IMO it requires a degree of privacy from the greater society to form a new culture not mixed and diluted by the existing influences; I'd argue that this is practically impossible in the crowded and intrusive here and now.

    Add to that the immense (not infinite but practically open-ended) potential resources we'd have within human grasp to do so, and enough to do things like seeking to explore other stars.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    A greenhouse can fail without life-threatening consequences, also it's part of a world-sized ecosystem for free.
    Which is why you would have a large backup food supply in case there are temporary problems with the greenhouse, have separate units for biological isolation and wouldn’t depend on only the greenhouse for air and water recycling (though it might be part of it) for an early Mars habitat.

    We'd have to have everything from microbes to mildew in some sort of balance.
    Not really, you just need to maintain conditions to grow the plants reasonably well. You don’t have to worry if you produce too much or too little oxygen, use more or less nitrogen than predicted or produce too much CO2 or need more of it in a properly designed Mars habitat.

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  29. #59
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Speaking of chokeholds, phosphorus may become the gold of the future. It's relatively plentiful on Earth (and Mars) but might be hard to extract from space bodies. The distribution of other biologically necessary elements might also define who holds the all cards and who has to play whatever they're dealt.
    It can be an issue, but that is relatively easy to recycle. Heck, we could do a much better job now if it was economic to do so. Though I wouldnít be surprised if new colonists would be expected to bring additional locally limited resources with them or pay for them when they arrive, and also pay for the extra resources newly born kids would cost if they add to the population.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." ó Abraham Lincoln

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  30. #60
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Which is why you would have a large backup food supply in case there are temporary problems with the greenhouse, have separate units for biological isolation and wouldnít depend on only the greenhouse for air and water recycling (though it might be part of it) for an early Mars habitat.
    I absolutely agree there needs to be backup supplies and compartmented biospheres; "two is one and one is none" at minimum. There also has to be enough closure and recycling to reliably last an indefinite time, that's what makes the difference between a short term camp and a permanent lifetime settlement.

    Not really, you just need to maintain conditions to grow the plants reasonably well. You donít have to worry if you produce too much or too little oxygen, use more or less nitrogen than predicted or produce too much CO2 or need more of it in a properly designed Mars habitat.
    What you really need is to steadily and reliably maintain the conditions to grow humans well.

    Any farmer can tell you how hard it is to "grow the plants reasonably well"... on Earth where air is free and outside backup is available.

    We will have mistakes early on, and some of the attempts will fail, because humans have a strong tendency to constantly underestimate how hard something is. There are and will always be unforeseen consequences and complications even in non-living systems. Living systems are orders of magnitude more complex and vulnerable to disruption.
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