Resource-Development and Environmental Challenges for Life on the Space Frontier
Successful, safe, and sustainable human habitation of space depends on a host of resource-development and environmental factors. Improved technology in space-transportation systems and in situ resource utilization (ISRU) can support an expanded human presence in the Solar System and beyond. ISRU includes energy sources, metals, as well as water and volatiles. Almost all planets and asteroids in the Solar System possess resources in differing degrees of abundance and accessibility. Helium-3, a potential source of energy for both electricity generation and space transportation, as well as regolith-bonded hydrogen, mainly occurs on airless bodies (the Moon, asteroids, and Mercury). Water ice is superabundant on Mars but is also present in polar regions on the Moon and Mercury, as well as comets and volatile-rich asteroids. M-type asteroids contain a variety of precious metals such as platinum and palladium. Lunar metals such as titanium, magnesium, and iron occur in basaltic mare, and along with helium-3 and hydrogen, can be mined with currently available technology. Environmental constraints on humans in space (microgravity, radiation and temperature flux, absence of atmosphere or atmospheric toxicity, and absence of soil organics) can be overcome through engineered habitation structures and terraforming. Although microgravity on asteroids and comets poses challenges for mining, these problems can be overcome through advanced materials-collection with mass-drivers for moving refined materials into near-earth or Cis-Lunar orbit. Orbital depots for fuel and life-support materials have benefits for the economics of launch and transit missions and can also serve as temporary accumulation areas for materials transport to Earth's surface. Manned depots in orbit can be made more human-friendly by using ice as a counterweight for rotation-induced gravity. Currently envisioned, shallow-subsurface habitations on the Moon and Mars can allow humans to cope with hostile radiation environments on planetary surfaces. Future advances in technology and planetary engineering, involving surficial domed structures and ultimately terraforming, can potentially greatly expand human accessibility to planetary terrains. For each resource or environmental challenge in space there are existing technologies that are fully capable of supporting a sustained human presence in space.
AAPG Datapages/Search and Discovery Article #90259 ©2016 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 19-22, 2016