Seven steps beyond the horizon

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Seven steps beyond the horizon
Seven steps beyond the horizon

Having set foot on the moon for the first time, Neil Armstrong uttered the catch phrase: “This is a small step for man, but a huge one for all mankind”. Almost half a century has passed since then, the world has changed beyond recognition, but we have not made new truly big steps into space. Meanwhile, for the full development of at least the solar system, we have to make at least seven breakthroughs.

To space

Having set foot on the moon for the first time, Neil Armstrong uttered the catch phrase: “This is a small step for man, but a huge one for all mankind”. Almost half a century has passed since then, the world has changed beyond recognition, but we have not made new truly big steps into space. Meanwhile, for the full development of at least the solar system, we have to make at least seven breakthroughs.

Step one. Mass launch of cargo into orbit Forecast: 2020s

If before each flight a brand new airliner came from the factory, prepared and thrown out after the first carriage of passengers, aviation would not have gone far. However, for more than half a century, astronautics was forced to follow a one-off approach, remaining the lot of rare states capable of such a complex and expensive production. Only recently has the development of technology made it possible to start seriously and on a massive scale the creation of reusable missiles, and the cost of organizing this process has become within the power of big business. The revolution has already begun, and the cost in the market for placing cargo into orbit has been falling in recent years.

Without this "uninteresting" but extremely important step, not a single subsequent one is possible. The general simplification, acceleration and reduction in the cost of sending goods and people into space can be compared to the transformations that distinguish the Internet of 2018 from the Internet of 1998, which was slow and modest. The expansion of the traffic flows connecting the Earth with the orbit will allow fully equipped to approach the next stages of movement up to the very border of the Solar system and beyond, where we do not look yet. These changes are already having a beneficial effect on the spacecraft industry and hopes for the implementation of new futuristic projects.

So, a number of initiatives have already been announced to launch a whole flotilla of satellites to ensure full coverage of the Earth with free and fast Internet, which in 1998 we never dreamed of. In the meantime, competition between states and private manufacturers of space rockets is spreading to ever new areas and has already reached heavy launch vehicles. All key players, including SpaceX and Blue Origin, are implementing their own projects: massive flights to orbit should be crowned with a mighty step beyond it.

Step two. Lunar base Forecast: 2025–35

We are unlikely to succeed in making the Moon at least approximately as comfortable as the Earth. But it is quite possible to turn it, if not into a general "health resort", then at least into a "smithy" of humanity. It can become an important scientific and astronomical center, a place of general tourism. But above all - industrial: there is a mass of readily available solar energy and free vacuum, water ice and iron, aluminum, titanium and even helium-3 in case you ever need to start a thermonuclear reactor. But this is a matter for a very distant future. At the first stage, the Moon will be built a modest base or several bases.


The main player, American NASA, has not yet shown its usual vigor in this. The Constellation program, which was focused on creating a lunar base after 2020, was phased out in 2011. The expensive project was also abandoned in Japanese JAXA. The large-scale three-stage program of Roscosmos, which was designed for 2016–2050, has disappeared into thin air. However, the Europeans from ESA continue to implement their own Aurora program and plan to build a base after 2030. China is aiming to start exploration of the satellite in 2040–2060. and, accordingly, send taikonauts to him starting from the 2020s.

The most promising places for the construction of the base are called the poles of the Moon, where enough frozen water can be found in the eternal shadow of the craters. The other side of the satellite is perfect for building the latest space telescope with a huge parabolic mirror. Scientists will be able to explore the moon itself, and tourists - to take a few steps on its surface and, perhaps, pick up some stones. But the main hopes are pinned on it by the industry: in fact, the natural conditions for fine metalworking and the production of microelectronics are better here than on Earth. Perhaps the implementation of such a project will be helped by the attraction of business giants, and the robotic production of processors will become the first lunar base.

Step three. Exploitation of asteroids Forecast: 2030–40

And the colony on the Moon, and other space megaprojects, and the Earth itself will require more and more diverse resources for production: from ordinary water to rare earth metals. The use of asteroids promises to meet all the needs in the near future. Most of these celestial bodies are of one of three types: carbon C-type, iron-nickel M-type, and iron-nickel-magnesium S-type. All of them can contain large amounts of impurities - water and oxygen, gold and platinum are found in the composition of asteroids. There is even a speculative estimate by NASA experts who calculated the total mineral resources of the main asteroid belt, having received a mind-boggling figure of about 500 septillion dollars.


On the other hand, there is no reason to doubt the large numbers: an average S-type asteroid about a kilometer in diameter can contain thousands of tons of platinum alone, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. It remains to get all these treasures. To do this, a robotic infrastructure can be mounted on the desired asteroid, which from time to time will be visited by space trucks, and after full depletion, the entire "enrichment plant" will move to the next celestial body. Extremely weak gravity will require the development of special mining technologies, but, on the other hand, it will also facilitate the work with heavy loads.

Another option is to tow a suitable asteroid closer to Earth orbit, where it can be “dealt with” slowly and without creating a production infrastructure that needs to be transported over great distances. Such a project was announced in 2012 by a group of investors led by Google founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Planetary Resources, which they represented then, promised to deliver the asteroid to Earth in a few years. However, the startup has not yet achieved much progress, and the extraction of resources in space remains a matter of the future.

Step four. Colony on Mars Forecast: 2030-50

Plans to go to Mars arose at the same time as the Soviet and American "lunar" projects, but for various reasons were postponed for a long time. Today they have received special relevance: the need for such a flight has already started talking in a much larger number of countries. As far as we know, few experts seriously consider private Mars missions, such as Bas Landsdorp's Mars One or Dennis Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation.However, quite understandable attention is attracted by the statements of the ESA to land its astronaut on Mars no later than 2033, or NASA, where they are targeting the 2030s. And with the usual respect it is worth treating the statements of the head of SpaceX Elon Musk, who promises to soon send an unmanned module to Mars, and in 2024 - a manned spacecraft.


Despite the well-deserved trust, Musk's statements still sound fantastic. Such a flight will take more than a year, and the astronauts must spend this period in isolation and weightlessness. They need to be protected from cosmic rays and solar radiation, provided with air, water and food. Unable to get help from Earth - even communication from Mars orbit will be accompanied by delays of more than 40 minutes - pioneers will have to be able to handle everything on their own. Finally, they will need to be returned to Earth. It is quite difficult to even estimate the costs of solving all these tasks, let alone collect or recoup such investments.

On the other hand, we all understand that sooner or later all this will inevitably happen. It is believed that such a grand event could be followed by a general revival of the world economy, which was observed after the flight of Gagarin. The technologies that will be created at the same time will give an additional impetus to the development of mankind. And for civilization it will be a significant step forward, for the first time - to another planet. It is not for nothing that not only states are showing interest in the project, but also private initiatives of varying degrees of fantasy.

Step five. Space Elevator Forecast: 2050–2100

A rather old idea, expressed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, turned out to be extremely difficult to implement. It would seem: to fix the cable on the Earth's surface (preferably at the equator) and stretch it to the geostationary orbit. The centrifugal force will hold it without additional effort, and it will also lift the payloads to the desired height. However, in practice, at least the cable itself has not yet been made - even the strongest steel beam of this length will break under its own weight. A suitable material should have an almost fantastic lightness and tensile strength. Fortunately, in recent years, there has been hope of getting one.

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We are talking, of course, about graphene nanotubes, known for their incredible strength and low mass. And although it is possible to obtain them a maximum of a centimeter in length, the theory predicts that when production technologies allow making a cable out of them, it will withstand. The future will show what kind of breakthrough this will be: it may turn out to be methods of synthesizing ultra-long nanotubes with a length of thousands and tens of thousands of kilometers, or technologies of "weaving" and production of cables from shorter nanotubes. There is also an alternative material - graphene paper, which is 5–6 times lighter than steel and 10 times stronger than steel.

The operating costs of the space elevator should be very low, allowing for increased cargo and passenger traffic between the Earth and near-earth orbit. If the end of the cable rises above 140 thousand km, the speed of the sliding weight will approach 11 km / s and will allow it to be sent to the border of the solar system. However, this requires solving a lot of problems of both technical and political nature. Who will participate in the construction of the Cyclopean engineering structure? Who will finance and operate it? How will infrastructure protection be organized? Having answered these questions, it will be possible to start work, bring the stationary station to the required height and, slowly forming in orbit, lower the cable down. A similar project can be implemented on Mars, fortunately, the lower gravity makes much more modest requirements for both the space elevator and its cable.

Step six. To the far limits Forecast: 2100–2200

Solving the main problems with the launch and ensuring the possibility of a long stay of man in space will open up completely new opportunities for the development of the distant regions of the solar system, including the resources of the large asteroid belt and the system of gas giants Saturn and Jupiter. Most likely, this will require the creation of a new type of engines - nuclear, thermonuclear, or based on as yet unknown principles, but this task will certainly be solved by that time. Moreover, some satellites of giant planets may be suitable bodies for colonization, study and development.


Near Jupiter on Europa there is a vast ocean of water, with which hopes for extraterrestrial life are even pinned. And water is both the potential for the production of rocket fuel and oxygen for breathing. Exceptionally high levels of radiation can pose a serious problem, but a colony can also be established under the surface of the ice to hide from it. In addition, near Saturn on Titan there are whole seas of liquid methane and mountains of other organic compounds suitable for large-scale synthesis of everything necessary. Water ice is also present here.

Among other candidates for the construction of the colony, Callisto is also called - the second largest moon of Jupiter, capable of becoming a convenient transshipment base and refueling station for ships operating in remote regions of the solar system. The colony may also arise on Ceres - the largest body of the main asteroid belt, which will become a transport and control center for hundreds of mining enterprises, factories and factories working on neighboring bodies.

Step seven. Terraforming Mars Forecast: 2500 BC

Earth is not forever. Sooner or later, people will have to master other celestial bodies in earnest, equipping everything necessary for life there for a long time. And although we do not have worlds ready for habitation close by, humanity will be able to create them on the basis of neighboring, not yet very hospitable planets. The first candidate for "turning into Earth" - terraforming - will, of course, be Mars. Gravity here is only a third of the Earth's, a day lasts 24.5 hours, and the axis of rotation is tilted by 24 ° (near the Earth - by 23.5 °), providing a seasonal climate cycle. There remains a very small thing: to make its rarefied carbon dioxide atmosphere similar to the dense nitrogen-oxygen terrestrial; increase the average temperature from -62.7 ° C to the earth's 14.4 ° C, melting ice reserves; create a global magnetic field to protect against cosmic particles. Populate with life.


It is difficult to say exactly how this task will be solved in the distant future, but already now there are many ingenious ideas and concepts for terraforming a neighboring planet. Biologists propose to use cyanobacteria that are resistant to extreme conditions, which will gradually transform the Martian soil into full-fledged soil and, by photosynthesizing, change the composition of the atmosphere. Engineers talk about building automated factories that will pre-saturate the air with greenhouse gases - primarily methane. There are projects and crumbling of Mars with ice comets and asteroids: they will allow the planet to warm up, deliver the necessary gases to its atmosphere and water to the surface. And the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, does speak about the possibility of massive thermonuclear bombardment, which will create the necessary greenhouse effect.

There are still few ideas for launching a "magnetic dynamo" in a cooled and solidified core. But this may not be necessary: ​​the global magnetic field, which protects the surface from bombardment by charged particles, can only cover the planet from the right side, and a project is known to place a powerful magnetic system between the Sun and Mars that deflects the flow of such particles.One way or another, it is assumed that the whole process may take hundreds or even thousands of years, but in the end we will turn the deserts of the Red Planet into another green and blooming world, the younger brother of our "star cradle".

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