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Are Human Settlements On Asteroids Possible?
Michael Mautner, Ph.D., is a research professor of chemistry in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences. He studies how life might expand beyond Earth, using meteorite soils to find how microbes and even plants might grow on asteroids to support human colonists.
( Asparagus grown in asteroid/meteorite soil)
How are you researching [expanding life in space]?
I study astroecology, the relation between life and its potential resources in space. As to human settlement of the solar system, we shall need [food] in space to live and grow there. Carbonaceous asteroids can provide accessible in situ resources, as they contain complex organic carbon, mineral plant nutrients and extractable water.
I have been studying samples of these asteroids in meteorites to evaluate their soil fertilities and the responses of microorganisms and plant tissue cultures. A variety of soil bacteria, algae, and asparagus and potato tissue cultures grew well in these asteroid/meteorite soils and also in Martian meteorite soils.
Are human settlements on asteroids or other planets feasible? How far off do you see that happening?
I hope for a gradual expansion in space, that has already started. First, we need programs that serve human needs on Earth: communication and weather satellites, solar power collected by satellites and beamed to Earth, possibly a space sun shield against global warming, detection and diversion of threatening asteroids. These programs can start with lunar bases that provide the structural materials. We can then progress to pioneering outposts, followed by large in-space cities and on colonies on asteroids.
In his 1951 novella Asteroid of Fear by Golden Age sf master Raymond Z. Gallun details an asteroid homesteaders' school on Vesta where you can learn to feed your family with an asteroid garden:
Now he started unrolling great bolts of a transparent, wire-strengthened plastic. Patching with an adhesive where explosion-rents had to be repaired, he cut hundred-yard strips, and, with Rose's help, laid them edge to edge and fastened them together to make a continuous sheet. Next, all around its perimeter, he dug a shallow trench. The edges of the plastic were then attached to massive metal rails, which he buried in the trench.
"Sealed to the ground along all the sides, Honey," he growled to Rose. "Next we fit in the airlock cabinet, at one corner. Then we've got to see if we can get up enough air to inflate the whole business. That's the tough partóthe way things are...."
After the massive airlock was in place, they attached their electrolysis apparatus to the small atomic battery, which had been used to run the well-driller. The well was in the area covered by the sheet of plastic, which was now propped up here and there with long pieces of board from the great box. Over their heads, the tough, clear material sagged like a tent-roof which has not yet been run up all the way on its poles.
(Read more about Gallun's asteroid garden)
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