|3. The Challenge Beyond|
|The next millennium may show whether our technical and global civilisation becomes a stable form of human evolution, mastering the problems on its home planet and eventually spreading out into the Solar System.||Beyond the challenge of strategic autonomy and the contribution to the protection of humankind and its activities, the challenge is for our civilisation to find ingenious ways of using the resources of space and to expand further into the Solar System. Besides the timeless thirst for exploration and discovery, the challenge is also to provide a growing World population with increased and justly distributed wealth and well-being, through a process of sustained development, to avoid ecological collapse, to secure an abundance of resources, and to foster democracy, peace and security. Over the last 10 000 years, numerous civilisations have come and gone on planet Earth. Ours is the first truly global one, multi-dimensionally intertwined, full of promise yet threatened in many ways. The next millennium may show whether this technical and global civilisation is also comparatively short-lived or becomes a stable form of human evolution, mastering the problems on its home planet and eventually spreading out into the Solar System. If we fail to meet this challenge, our technological civilisation may turn out to be the shortest lived of all of the great civilisations that have shaped human history.|
|Exploring the Solar System
The quest for knowledge and exploration of the unknown is a basic trait of human nature. By building on the lessons learnt and technologies developed in the context of the International
Space Station, truly cooperative international programmes for exploration will continue. Likely targets for such programmes are the Moon and Mars, the moons of other planets, and near- Earth asteroids. These fundamentally different future destinations deserve, even in the near-term, greater assessment of their value to science and their economic potential. The first imperative for Europe is t h e re f o re to invest in forward looking technologies. Space exploration programmes provide a powerful motivation as well as the right framework for such advanced technological developments (see Action 14).
The importance of a renewed Lunar Programme has already been analysed in detail: for science, for f u t u re applications as an inter-planetary staging base, as well as for energy production. This wealth of potential uses will make it increasingly difficult to regard the Moon as belonging to deep space. The Moon may well be Earths biggest continent, torn from our planet in a cosmic collision more than 3.5 billion years ago. Yet even with classical propulsion it is only three travel days away, and its integration into Earths economy, beyond its obvious role as a natural long-term station in space, is a real possibility with considerable social and political implications. Europe should therefore take the initiative in organising and coordinating an international worldwide effort to update the concept of a sustained Lunar Programme, integrating new scientific data, new technologies and new infrastructures (see Action 15).
|Action 14. Establish a European
robotic presence on the Moon, and prepare for a future
Action 15. Take the initiative and leadership in a worldwide effort for an updated international lunar programme.
|A Mars Programme culminating with a human trip to the planet will renew public interest in space. Intelligent use of space resources might be the missing link between our basic drive for prosperity and wealth, and the imperative of protecting Earth from irreversible devastation.||Humankinds expansion
into the Solar System
Mars is an entirely different target. It is not part of Earth, but another planet entirely, with a total surface larger than all of Earths continents, to be explored and perhaps eventually settled. Todays space technology and infrastructure permit the systematic exploration of this planet at affordable cost. Europe, by initiating mission scenarios and technological developments, has to be part of this effort directed at this new world, whose gradual transformation into a habitable planet amenable to permanent human settlement is a breathtaking, but imaginable goal. A Mars Programme culminating with a human trip to the planet will renew public interest in space.
The moons of Saturn and Jupiter are faraway destinations that are completely different from the Moon and Mars. Titan, almost half the size of Earth, might be covered by oceans of organic molecules. Europa might be the only other body in the Solar System containing vast quantities of liquid water, whilst Io has the most violent volcanic activity known.
|Exploiting the Solar System
The Club of Rome has warned of the threat of social and economic collapse as a consequence of overpopulation, excessive pollution and shortages of non-renewable resources. Even modest population growth rates over several decades rapidly overtax any system based on finite resources, and sustained growth will be required over at least the next hundred years to secure a decent standard of living for about 10 billion inhabitants of Earth. This probably means tapping resources outside our own planets limited ecosystem. Intelligent use of space resources might be the missing link between our basic drive for prosperity and wealth, and the imperative of protecting the crown jewel of the Solar System, Earth, with its splendid beauty and richness of life forms, from irreversible devastation. Space resources that are already increasingly in demand today comprise vacuum, microgravity and orbital positions. In the 21st Century, space energy and materials, and possibly space tourism and climate control, will be of real interest for the Earths economy.
|The Sun is the prime non-polluting
Action 16. Assess the economic viability of collecting solar energy on Earth, in space and on the Moon, as well as of asteroid mining.
|In this context, the classical notion of Earths extent may have to be revised. Its true dimensions may be defined by the spherical volume about 3 million kilometres in diameter, within which Earths gravity dominates over that of the Sun. This volume receives at least 30 000 times the amount of solar energy collectible on Earth and is wholly accessible from geostationary orbit with little additional energy. Greater Earth -this volume within which objects re m a i n permanently related to Earth - is therefore a domain that can serve the planet in p roducing energ y, relaying signals and monitoring the environment. Exploration and scientific programmes will show what resources could be exploited in the Solar System. A first vital re s o u rc e , abundant and freely available in space, is of course energy. As energy consumption on Earth rises, the increasing use of non-renewable fuels, with their associated pollution, must be reversed. The Sun is the prime non-polluting energy source, and assessments and demonstrations of collecting and converting this energy are therefore of growing interest. A thorough evaluation of the Earths needs for energy and other resources in the 21st Century, and a realistic assessment of the planets own reserves, might lead to space-based systems which would provide large amounts of clean and cheap energy. A fresh look should compare the different options and their economic viability: solar energy collected on Earth, in orbit, or on the Moon (see Action 16). Demonstration projects for related technologies could be conducted as part of the exploration programmes.|
|If resources from asteroids could
be used in space, a substantial reduction could be
achieved in the cost of space transportation for future
exploitation of the Solar System. By 2050 space tourism
and sub-orbital travel will have become one of the
largest and most rapidly expanding commercial
applications of space.
Action 17. Increase European awareness of space-based weather-modification concepts in order to be prepared and able to avoid dangerous dependencies and consequences.
similar evaluation should be made for resources other
than energy, together with an assessment of the long-term
resource potential of the Moon and near-Earth asteroids.
The first task is to establish the composition of these
asteroids. It is much easier to rendezvous with and land
on an asteroid than on the Moon because of the
asteroids very much weaker gravity. For the same
reason, it is relatively easy to return to Earth from an
asteroid. If re s o u rces fro m asteroids could be used
in space, for instance liquid oxygen and hydrogen used as
fuel, then a substantial reduction could be achieved in
the cost of space transportation for future e x p l o i t
a t i o n of the Solar System. Once the technology for
such a space-based transportation infrastru c t u re
existed, a practically unlimited amount of physical
resources, from volatiles to rare metals, would be within
reach of a space-based economy. Space tourism may well
develop in the 21st Century. It could start with virtual
exploration based on data relayed from spacecraft, extend
to sub-orbital flights allowing passengers to experience
weightlessness, and ultimately expand to include longer
stays in orbital hotels or on the Moon. The extent and
speed of development of space tourism is intimately
linked to the progress in space-transportation
technology, just as tourism on Earth exploded with the
development of jet aircraft. The reality of the potential
market - millions of customers ready to pay tens of
thousands of Euros for a trip into space - cannot be
denied. Considering the growth of traditional tourism,
from the first recorded flight in 1906 to an average of
two million travellers in the air at any given moment in
1998, it would seem fair to postulate that by 2050 space
tourism and sub-orbital travel will have become one of
the largest and most rapidly expanding commercial
applications of space.
Finally, space resources may, in the long-term, be used for the modification of local weather conditions or even the mitigation of climate change from space. Large reflecting structures in orbit might offset greenhouse effects, and there may be ways of restoring appropriate ozone concentrations in the stratosphere by space-based means. Furthermore, there is a considerable security interest, for example for improving local weather conditions to allow optical observation. The awareness of such applications should be increased and their feasibility and potential consequences assessed (see Action 17).