Through the general expansion of space settlement and the development of specific, isolated settlements designed to survive, space settlement increases the likelihood that the human species will survive in the long term.
Image: Richard Bizley, bizelyart.com
One of the major goals of space settlement is to ensure the survival of the human species. Indeed, if humanity does not survive, then the value of all of its efforts is lost.
Space settlements may ensure the survival of humanity from two categories of existential risks—those caused naturally and those caused by advanced human technology. Commonly recognized natural risks include: asteroid impacts, supervolcanoes, gamma ray bursts, etc. Technological causes include biotech, self-replicating chemicals, nanotechnology, and accelerating AI. Certain other human activities could severely harm humanity while not being a complete threat to human existence (e.g. nuclear war). According to the Future of Humanity Institute, human extinction is more likely to result from human technological causes rather than natural causes.
There are two categories of space settlement which could result in humanity surviving existential risks.
(1) The general, longer-term growth and redundancy of space settlement becomes so large that settlements (or a network of settlements) could adjust and survive despite being cut off from Earth even without taking specific efforts to be prepared for existential risks. This is a sort of self-sufficiency which would be good for risks in the longer term but not the nearer-term.
(2) Alternately, in the nearer-term, settlements specifically designed for survival could focus their development upon providing the essential needs of the settlement by using local resources (without engaging in trade), and seeking isolation from risks of extinction. They would need to reproduce from local resources all of the equipment necessary to produce essential needs.
COMPONENTS of survival settlements
- Identification of the essential needs for survival and the reproduction of equipment necessary to provide those needs.
- Development and demonstration of these systems in analogue bases and near-term space settlements.
- “Stress-testing” of these settlements by isolation (i.e. not supplying them) in order to prove that they could survive indefinitely if necessary.
- Provision of a means of relocation for some of the population of the settlement to another survivable location.
- Lack of understanding of the minimum number of humans needed to maintain a human civilization from a genetic, technological, and sociological point of view.
- Lack of identifiable economic drivers to create survival settlements.
- Long time frame to achieve sufficient redundancy in space settlements.
This milestone can be considered achieved when careful analysis concludes that at least some settlements would likely survive recognized existential risks emanating from Earth or elsewhere.
MORE OF THE NSS ROADMAP TO SPACE SETTLEMENT: