Life in the Asteroid Belt

Someday soon, humans will begin a mass emigration to the asteroid belt. The drivers for this diaspora will not be the noble quest for the exploration of space, or the expansion and survival of humanity, but rather the simple desire for more freedom. In space, freedom will reach new levels, with territory for living being free, energy and building materials being nearly free, and perhaps most precious of all, the ability to elect complete freedom from the oppression of government. Many will not elect this complete freedom, deciding to waive some of it in exchange for the security of living in a large city-colony. But the choice will be there, and a complete spectrum of options will exist as various groups cluster together and form their own social structures.

Even though planetary bodies such as the Moon and Mars may be used as stepping stones to reach the asteroid belt, they will not be where most emigrants set their aim. It is the asteroid belt, with it’s richness of free space, and infinite opportunity that will call them.

It is likely (at first) to take several years of planning and training to gather a group and the necessary resources to begin a migration. The migration may take several years of riding a slow transport colony out into the belt, while learning how to survive in space. Those who can’t pay outright for the high transit costs may be able to work an indentureship where they train and learn for two years on the voyage out to the belt, then operate the ship on the two year voyage back to Earth, then train the new emigrants during the next two year trip back out to the belt, then finally disembark from the space colony/transit ship with their transportation costs paid for and fully trained and ready for life in space.

Some emigrants with enough money will simply pay for the shortest, fastest transportation to the asteroid belt and will buy living space on an existing city-colony. But most will need to have some form of financing, that will enable either the transit or establishing a new colony or buying into an existing colony in some form. The financing will be paid off either by direct work exchange or a percentage of the wealth accumulated by work over time. There will be wild stories of small groups striking it rich with asteroid mining claims, but as in most historical “gold rush” scenarios, the majority of wealth built will be found in the selling of infrastructure; the transportation companies, the mining companies, the companies that make and sell mining equipment, the companies that sell building machines, the sale of circuitry and robots and programming.

There will be miners who extract metals and elements from the rocks of the asteroid belt, but frozen water will be just as valuable as any metal, since everybody will need atmosphere to breathe and water to drink. With solar panels to supply energy and a few robots to do the work, extracting valuables from rocks will create a bootstrap effect on the space economy. Other groups will take the valuables and process them into more solar panels, storage batteries, robots, and other machines. Energy and water will be used to grow and process food, so a market for machines that can do that will be created. A variety of electronic specialities will flourish as will programming and information handling. Communication and navigation networks will be needed.

Robotic and remote operations will become commonplace, with medical procedures, educational tutoring, and many other forms of services being performed by robotic systems and remote specialists. The main barrier to this will be the communications delay time. With the Earth orbiting about eight light minutes from the Sun (1 AU) and Mars at around twelve light minutes (1.5 AUs), the inner and outer radius of the asteroid belt ranges from 19 light minutes (2.3 AUs) to 27 light minutes (3.3 AUs). Double that to get the diameter from one outer edge of the belt to the other and the delay can be as much as 54 light minutes. This means most “non-local” communications, even when transmitted “live” will not be received and absorbed until some minutes later, more like current email or text messaging instead of live two way telephone communication.

Unlimited free space and the abundance of low cost energy and building materials will combine to create living styles predicated by vastly larger dwellings than we are accustomed to on Earth. Here, we take for granted the outdoor space that is always available when we become too cooped up in our small buildings, but in space there will be no reserve “escape” to “outside’. The outside space will become interiorized into larger room sizes, broad walkways, and park-like areas inside the city-colonies. Cheaply produced and highly specialized electronics and programming will create the ability to customize any space with modular walls and furniture. Embedded electronics and communication will enable most surfaces to take on any kind of appearance that can be programmed. Living spaces will begin a migration toward a “holodeck” state that will allow constant transformation.

Once the first space cities are built and settled, the colonists will adopt lifestyles that seem opulent by Earth standards. They will live in large, beautiful and variable spaces. They will have advanced electronics, computing, robots and communications technology. They will not have to work in the conventional sense, being able to enjoy basic life support supplied by robotic workers and having the luxury to choose how to spend their time, either furthering some selected endeavour, engaging in socializing or absorbing entertainment. Government, likewise, will become more of an “elective” service with many forms and variations available according to need, desire and social organization. Freedom and wealth will the keywords used by bankers and transportation companies to sell the emigrants on taking the voyage.

SEE ALSO:
Stepping Stones to Space
Migration to Space
Mining Asteroids
Commercial Space Lift
Economics in Space

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