Adrian Graham

Space X concept for martian colony

Space travel for billionaires

The sub-orbital joyride is becoming a reality. The next goals are Moon and Mars colonies. And while this is still some way off, it did get me thinking. Extrapolating on these recent events... what would an interplanetary space colony be like socially and culturally? Who would have thought that billionaire entrepreneurs would be competing with, and potentially overtaking, NASA?

While there’s been a fair amount of snickering about these wealthy heads of industry, and their comic resemblance to megalomaniac James Bond villains, the technical achievements of their organisations remains impressive, especially regarding SpaceX. Space X’s owner, Elon Musk, has spoken about a Mars colony as well as the need to find a ‘backup planet’ in case Earth is ravaged by a meteor strike.

Jeff Bezos believes that humanity should colonise the solar system. He’s talked about planetary mining and the opportunity to move Earth’s heavy industries off-plant to preserve its valuable eco-system:

If we’re out in the solar system, we can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. This would be an incredible civilisation.

What kind of world would billionaires in space or the CCP end up building? In the conceptual artwork, these colonies resemble a kind of suburbia in space. Without the tradition of a government or civic organisations, what would the society and law enforcement resemble? Would it be a kind of Wild West in space?

I’m thinking here of the film Outland and the novel Thin Air. If the CCP ran a colony it might resemble 1984-on-Mars. And, if Earth is ravaged by a meteor storm, who gets to choose the lucky few who are handed one-way tickets to a ‘backup planet’?

It’s going to be a while before space travel becomes a reality for the rest of us. It might never even happen. Meanwhile, most of us will be staying right here on Earth. I’m happy to be an ‘Earther’ (to use the lingo of The Expanse). That’s fine with me. And, while we’re here, maybe we should be taking more care of our own planet?

What will cities of the future look like?

Paris Smart City 2050 by Vincent Callebaut Architectures.
Paris Smart City 2050 by Vincent Callebaut Architectures.

As eco-driven climate change fears increase, speculative fiction offers an insight into the city of the future. Will the future cities be gleaming high-tech worlds, or dystopian hells?

In reality, cities don’t change as much as some science fiction writers might hope. Cities in the West are generally less industrial and less polluted than they once were, but they remain dependent on complex transport networks, and the resulting pollution caused by delivery trucks and commuter traffic. In artwork and models, the architecture of eco-cities usually looks like International Modernism with trees. What will these spaces be like in twenty years time? How easy will they be to maintain?

More radical visions of the eco-city of the future resemble Hobbit-like dwellings based around a village micro-communities. These settlements can sometimes look like Native American Indian encampments. The small settlement (in balance with the surrounding landscape) is a recurring trope in science fiction and fantasy fiction. But it’s hard to see this kind of thing successfully scaled up to city proportions. What if everything we needed was 15 minutes walk away?

The 15 minute city is an idea that’s been proposed to reduce pollution. It’s a reimagining of the community village concept. Could it reduce pollution by getting rid of commuting and the need to travel? Superficially, it sounds great. But I wonder if people want to live within a restricted area? People enjoy the freedom of moving around. Delivering change is always difficult. There are huge social frictions to change, cultural factors, human behaviours, national and local politics.


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