Space Settlement and War
This illustration by artist Rick Guidice and released by NASA depicts a possible O'Neill space settlement.
Credit: NASA/Rick Guidice.

"War is not healthy for children and other living things" goes the 60's poster.

It's true -- and yet we still fight wars. Why? Because war serves several important functions. One of the most important is to gain or preserve control of resources, particularly territory. For example, the European desire to expand in the 15th through 20th centuries could only take place on Earth, and inevitably sparked a long series of wars both in and out of Europe, culminating with the vast trench-warfare slaughter of World War I. Today there is an entirely peaceful and far more powerful alternative, space settlement. Space settlement is to territorial and resource wars as computer word processing is to the quill pen. Sure, you can write a book with a quill and ink pot, but why bother when you've got a PC and MS Word?

Space settlement means people living and working beyond Earth, not only on the Moon and Mars, but also in giant rotating spacecraft -- orbital space settlements.

In the 1970's Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill, with the help of NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University, showed that we can build giant orbiting spaceships and live in them [reference]. These settlements can be wonderful places to live; about the size of a California beach town and endowed with weightless recreation, fantastic views, freedom, elbow-room in spades, great wealth and true independence. Territorial and resource wars can be made obsolete by space settlement because of one simple fact: the vast majority of the resources available to mankind are not on Earth, they are in space. While exploiting space resources will be monumentally expensive, this cost is minor compared to the cost of war. A really first-class space settlement program might cost $100 billion a year, whereas the U.S. military budget is about $600 billion. Moreover, space settlement can deliver far, far more resources than even the most successful imaginable Earth-bound military.

Consider:

  • If the materials in the single largest asteroid, Ceres, were used for orbital space settlement construction, we could build territory equal to over 200 times surface area of the Earth (1). This is enough to provide every single nation as much territory as if they conquered the entire Earth. Furthermore, conquering Earth is probably impossible, whereas building space settlements is merely incredibly difficult.
  • The total energy resources of this solar system are about 2.3 billion times the energy available on Earth. This is simply the Sun's energy output -- and the Sun is an enormous nuclear fusion reactor that works perfectly right now, today, and is perfectly safe -- or at least isn't going away. Furthermore, we know, more or less, how to exploit space solar power ([reference]).
  • There are thousands of asteroids in orbits that cross Earth's, and just one of them, 3554 Amun, contains roughly $20 trillion dollars worth of precious metals.

Space settlement can make resource wars a thing of the past, something we only read about in history books, because space settlement can deliver far, far more resources at far, far less cost. Less money, less death, less destruction, and infinitely less stupidity.

Resources and territory are not the only reasons for war, but they cause a lot of them. The U.S. has spent far more defending oil access in the Mid-East than it would cost to build space settlements. Perhaps it's time to change direction. Perhaps it's time to make Earth a bit healthier for children and other living things. Perhaps it's time to choose life over war. Perhaps it's time to start building space settlements.

Footnotes

(1) This works because most of the mass of space settlements is in the hull, not filling three-dimensional space. The hull is very thin compared to a planet or large asteroid so uses far less mass for the same living area. Rotation is used to provide a feeling similar to gravity with far less mass.

Al Globus serves on the National Space Society Board of Directors and is a senior research associate for Human Factors Research and Technology at San Jose State University at NASA Ames Research Center.

NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

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