Research by a Martian colonization enthusiast
When I was a kid, I dreamed about space adventures. I knew: by the time I grew up, humanity would have reached other planets, and I would be a scout among stars.
For years I watched hopelessly how people spent money and effort on anything but space exploration. I almost gave up. Then, Elon Musk appeared. He gave me — and thousands of other dreamers — a feeling that we still might see human feet touching the red dust of Mars.
The feeling is not enough. I needed proof. I wanted to be sure: this time, I would not be fooled.
This is what I found:
12. Will we ever colonize outer space?
“That depends on the definition of ‘colonize.’ … if the idea is to construct a self-sustaining environment where humans can persist indefinitely with only modest help from Earth… then I’d say this is very far in the future, if it’s possible at all…We haven’t bothered to colonize areas underwater on Earth yet. It’s far more challenging to colonize a place where there’s hardly any atmosphere at all.”
— Catharine A. Conley, NASA planetary protection officer
“That’s an interesting idea,” I thought. “Underwater is almost another world.”
I researched that subject, and this is what I found.
1. Living in a submarine city is psychologically more comfortable.
What would you prefer: spending seven months in a metallic can in open space, or enjoying a week voyage in the Atlantic Ocean?
Seven months is a considerable period. Astronauts don’t spend more than half a year outside Earth. Studies show they are subject to depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, boredom, and emotional instability, nonetheless. Professor Nick Kanas, a Nasa-funded expert in the psychological effects of space exploration, says that when Earth is out of view for an extended time, “crewmember psychology may result in increased feelings of isolation, homesickness, dysphoria, or even suicidal or psychotic thinking.”
After seven months of isolation, even most trained people are subject to mental illness. Suppose they arrive in their dusty red destination. What kind of civilization will they build there?
When you travel to a submarine city, you don’t leave your home planet. Your family, friends, and your former life are close at hand. You don’t even need to fight your Internet addiction! For years, the net has been growing on the seabed. Life underwater will be as close to aboveground as possible.
2. Ocean colonies are safer.
Being close to civilization offers one more advantage: safety. All logistics issues won’t be issues at all: entering an underwater city will be easier than reaching a distant village in Kazakhstan. The best place for our city will be in the Atlantic Ocean, close to the equator: tsunamis and earthquakes are rare in this region, and the water temperature is relatively warm.
Whichever resources our submarine city needs, they will be readily provided from either the United States or Mauritania. Martian colonists will have to rely on themselves because help from the Earth will take months to arrive. The movie “Martian,” released in 2015, showed this situation brilliantly.
3. Ocean colonization boosts our technology and science.
One of the major arguments for Martian colonization is its contribution to our science and technological development. Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs), Video Enhancing and Analysis Systems, Portable Cordless Vacuums — these are just a few technologies we got thanks to NASA space exploration. However, ocean colonization might be as profitable for us. To build an underwater city, we’ll have to solve two significant problems: water pressure and corrosion. We’ll also need to make it safe for the environment. This will require finding new materials, inventing new technologies, developing new managerial decisions. All our achievements will find their place in our surface life as well.
4. An underwater colony will pay for itself faster than a Martian one.
Even the most eager Martian apologetics don’t think Mars will ever be profitable in terms of trade.
Elon Musk says:
“I don’t think it’s going to be economical to mine things on Mars and then transport them back to Earth because the transport costs would overwhelm the value of whatever you mined, but there will likely be a lot of mining on Mars that’s useful for a Mars base, but it’s unlikely to be transferred back to Earth. I think the economic exchange between a Mars base and Earth would be mostly in the form of intellectual property.”
“Another alternative is that Mars could pay for itself by transporting back ideas. Just as the labor shortage prevalent in colonial and 19th century America drove the creation of Yankee Ingenuity’s flood of inventions, so the conditions of extreme labor shortage combined with a technological culture and the unacceptability of impractical legislative constraints against innovation will tend to drive Martian ingenuity to produce wave after wave of invention in energy production, automation and robotics, biotechnology, and other areas. These inventions, licensed on Earth, could finance Mars even as they revolutionize and advance terrestrial living standards as forcefully as 19th Century American invention changed Europe and ultimately the rest of the world as well.”
Ocean colonization will pay for it with the ideas, but also it may bring the investors real money. Accordung to the US Geological Survey, the deep sea contains more nickel, cobalt, and possibly rare earth metals than all land-based reserves combined. Mining in international territories is not allowed, but the underwater city will be able to do this (although this is a political issue which has to be solved). Tourism and seafood export are less effective but considerable options.
Moreover, we might use the seabed as a place for growing real food, following the group of Italian enthusiasts who grow strawberries in submarine capsules. As transportation is so much easier for the underwater city, the money will flow fast, too. What is profitable has to be done.
Constructing an underwater city is relatively cheap, too.
Sending 12 astronauts to Mars will cost $10 billion each, Elon Musk said. $120 billion is the lowest price for a Mars colony, not counting materials, machines, technologies and other stuff required for a settlement.
Compare this with $26 billion — the estimated price for a Japanese project Ocean Spiral.
Even if we double this price (which always happens with daring projects), it will just $2 billion more than Russia spent on the Olympics in 2014.
We can allow it, can’t we?
5. After inhabiting oceans, it will be easier to colonize other planets.
Easier and cheaper as it is, underwater colonization is still psychologically challenging. The main reason we haven’t colonized oceans yet is the fact people feel too comfortable on the steady ground. Most of us don’t want to leave their familiar way of life. We are not motivated.
Sooner or later, humanity will have to find another inhabitant. Starting with our backyard seems more feasible than traveling to a brand-new planet. As life in an underwater city will be much closer to what we are used to, it is a natural step we have to take before going to cold, dusty, empty Mars.
6. Ocean colonization solves the problem of overpopulation.
How many people can Earth support? BBC claims 11 billion people is our home planet capacity, even if we change our consumption habits. The world’s population now is over 7.3 billion. According to United Nations predictions, it could reach over 11 billion by 2100.
You and I may still be alive by that point. Even if not, that’s our kids and grandkids who will be at the edge of survival.
Ocean colonization is one of the solutions to the overpopulation. Oceans cover 70% of Earth. If we count only equatorial and subequatorial territories, it’s still more than 5 million sq mi for the Atlantic and about 7,8 million square miles for the Pacific. The surface area of all habitable land on Earth is 24,642,757 square miles. So, we can make our planet 50% larger! This will solve the problem of overpopulation for a few generations. And as inhabiting oceans makes colonizing other planets easier, this is a long-term solution as well.
7. Ocean colonization improves our chances of survival as a species.
This is the number of people killed in natural disasters every year. Economic costs vary from year to year but have grown in the last ten years.
Natural disasters are not dangerous underwater. If our city is deep enough, significant catastrophes like a middle-size asteroid hitting Earth will not affect it. Of course, only a separate outer world colony will help us survive a severe nuclear war, but for this purpose, the settlement should be totally independent, which is not going to happen soon.
So, is it time for a new dream?
I think, yes. Colonizing oceans is profitable, challenging, feasible, and doable. There are still a lot of questions to be answered. How will we construct an underwater city? What will people do there? What political, moral, and social troubles will they face?
To get answers, check out my article “What Will the Underwater City of the Future Look Like?” Follow me if you want to know more! Together, we’ll make it happen.