news.discovery.com : Let's Build an Interplanetary Space Station
...by Ray Villard
Thu Oct 14, 2010 01:09 PM ET
The 2011 NASA budget indefinitely delays a manned trip back to the moon. A lunar return was central to the former Bush administration’s "Vision for Exploration." The plan was to use the moon as an outpost for testing out the technologies needed to send humans to Mars.
But there are alternatives for reaching the same goal. We could establish an interplanetary space station, without moving around the International Space Station, as reported by my colleague Ian O’Neill this week.
How could this be envisioned? Simply claim squatter’s rights on a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) asteroid and do some renovation.
...A carefully selected asteroid with the right density and strength could be hollowed out for an underground base to be established. This would provide a stable temperature, and shielding from micrometeorites and solar radiation. Solar power would be plentiful. This kind of engineering was talked about for a moon colony, but the freight costs to land people and equipment on an asteroid are much lower.
...The asteroid would need to posses water so that colonists could extract oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel. Water has already been found on asteroids. They are the prime suspect for irrigating Earth over 4 billion years ago.
Living in an asteroid’s microgravity would be similar to the environment experienced by crews aboard the International Space Station. Any number of experiments on deep space habitability could be carried out.
Experiments could also be performed for mining asteroids. Raw materials could be robotically excavated and literally catapulted off the surface. Also, experiments could also be done in asteroid propulsion as a test for deflecting an Earth-threatening asteroid.
A large enough NEA could be hollowed out and spun up to create artificial gravity on the interior wall. It would be a natural version of the space colonies envision by Gerard O’Neill in the late 1970’s. The asteroid’s regolith could be processed to basically fabricate all kinds of “concrete” structures on the interior, much like the interior world imagined in Arthur Clarke’s 1972 novel “Rendezvous With Rama.”
As unromantic as a trip to an asteroid might seem in lieu of the moon or Mars, this could be a much more important step toward establishing us as a truly “extra-terrestrial” civilization that harvests the resources of the solar system. We could ultimately realize numerous “city-state” asteroid-colonies in space.
Image credits: NASA/JAXA