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Will Humans Conquer the Solar System? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
Humans have big plans for the rest of the solar system! In the near future we could see humans living on the moon, manned missions to Mars and even colonisation of the Asteroid Belt... But could humans ever conquer the solar system? In this video, Unveiled reveals how long it could be before the human race becomes an intergalactic species in space...
Transcript

Will Humans Conquer the Solar System?


Human beings have successfully mapped most of planet Earth, but there are still some areas that remain unexplored - like most of the ocean, Antarctica, and parts of the Amazon rainforest. While we continue to chart our own world, however, we’re also setting our gaze outwards and aiming much further afield.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; Will humans conquer the solar system?

When we talk about conquering an entire star system, there’s a lot more to know and do than simply mastering our own planet. Life as we know it has only occurred on Earth, so in order to succeed across the rest of the solar system, we’d first have to learn to live elsewhere. To even explore the furthest reaches of the Kuiper Belt and beyond would take some time, though… with Neptune, the most distant solar system planet from us, being twelve years of continuous travel away at current, achievable speeds.

To truly “conquer” our local region of space, we’d have to journey to and discover each and every planet and moon in person, setting up strategic bases at various points to expedite the process. At first, we’d no doubt have to make regular trips back to Earth to refuel, reset and to recount what we’d seen… but before long those return trips to Earth would be a rare thing. Instead, we’d have to have human outposts at various points in the solar system, filled with explorers who are stationed there permanently - people who dedicate their lives to living off-Earth.

Naturally, it would seem to make most sense to conquer the celestial bodies closest to us first. The journey times would be shorter and the risks, arguably, lower… so the first port of cosmic call would be the moon. Earth has already planted its flags here, of course, but if we truly wished to expand into the rest of the solar system then learning to live on the lunar surface would be priority number one. Establishing a permanent residence on the moon is reportedly what NASA’s Artemis Program intends to achieve by the 2030s - so we might not even need to wait too long for the first step to be made! Being only three days’ journey time from Earth, the moon is often billed as the perfect place to train and develop methods for extraterrestrial living. But there are other economic and scientific reasons for targeting the moon first, as well. Simply put, it’s much cheaper to launch rockets from the lunar surface, which means - were Earth to run a lunar base - we’d be able to launch larger payloads into the rest of the solar system, and we’d require less fuel to do so. It works so well thanks largely to the moon’s lack of atmosphere which, incidentally, also makes it a better place to study the cosmos from - given the clearer view of the sky that we’d enjoy from the surface. For these reasons, it’s already widely thought that Earth’s future space missions will all launch from the moon; we wouldn’t even need to compensate for weather up there!

Say we succeeded in setting up a lunar base to launch from, then; all indications are that it’s “next stop: Mars”. Prospective missions to Mars (many of which are already well in the pipeline) will most likely mark our first attempts at living on a foreign planet and contending with a foreign atmosphere. The Red Planet could be “make or break”. Future trips to Mars will tell us whether or not we can even hope to survive off-Earth conditions or if we’ll ever be able to terraform another planet into something as Earth-like as possible. If we ever were to conquer the solar system, then our arrival on Mars will’ve been critical. Right now, NASA already has a “Moon to Mars Program”, anticipating the significance of humanity’s growth from a one-planet species to a two-planet force.

Conquering the Martian surface (or the surface of any planet) is more than just building a physical base, however. It’s learning how to grow food in foreign soil, how to find water, and how to quickly and safely react to unpredictable conditions. It’s really impossible to calculate how long achieving all of that would take us, but it could well be centuries at a minimum. Spreading out across a star system is long and laborious work!

In the event that we did ever tame Mars into something that’s not only reachable but also survivable for human beings, then we’ll have proven our credentials as a planet-hopping people. The next moves would still bring their own significant problems, but we would now have the knowledge that living somewhere other than Earth was possible. Mastering the rest of the inner planets would mean overcoming the extreme temperatures and pressure on Venus - a planet which currently crushes even our toughest rovers into dust - and surviving a close approach to the sun in order to reach Mercury.

Earth’s arrival on Mercury would arguably constitute the most significant step toward total solar system domination since the earliest days of our quest, back when we built bases and launch pads on the moon… And that’s because, as lunar launches will’ve enabled us to venture further than we ever had before, a presence on Mercury would mean taking the first steps toward harnessing the power of the sun; toward building a Dyson Sphere. In an ideal scenario, we’d find a way of harvesting the materials needed for the structure from Mercury itself, negating the need to send anything backwards and forwards from Earth. By the time we arrive on Mercury, it’s probably safe to assume that we’d be significantly more technologically advanced in general, so we might even be able to remotely manage a Dyson Sphere project by employing an AI crew. Suddenly, with the first steps now achieved, the spread of humanity would entail much less risk to the humans themselves.

Getting to Jupiter means first passing through the Asteroid Belt - which would certainly be a lot easier in reality than it’s made to seem in the movies. Despite the sheer number of asteroids in the belt, they’re spread out over such an enormously large area that safe passage is very likely. But that doesn’t mean that the belt should be skipped. In fact, those asteroids could offer plenty of priceless materials and elements in our bid for cosmic expansion. So, while various projects to tackle various planets were underway, humanity would also have asteroid mining missions combing the belt for anything of use. Even here we’d need a constant human presence.

As for bases close to the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, we’d most likely turn to their moons; like Europa and Titan. While neither is a perfect candidate for off-Earth living, both are already thought to have a higher potential for harbouring life. Even in an advanced age where we’re technologically proficient enough for long-distance space travel to be achievable, however, the worlds these moons are drawn too could still pose problems. The gas giants do grow gradually denser but neither has a well-defined surface to plant roots on. With Jupiter and Saturn it would be much more the case that we’d need to permanently suspend ourselves in their atmospheres - perhaps in slow-moving orbiter ships - to try to understand how the planets work, and whether they could teach us anything about what lies ahead… Because, in time, we’d proceed on to Uranus and Neptune, before turning our sights even further out.

By the time of our arrival on Neptune, we should’ve already mastered everything else between it and the sun. While we’d be foolish to underestimate the ice giants, we’d also by then have accumulated a wealth of knowledge to make approaching them and surviving them a lot easier. But, as part of this momentous journey to the furthest solar system planets from us, we might also have learnt more about what lies beyond them. The “edge of the solar system” is something that’s forever up for debate, but to truly “conquer” we’d need to travel to and past it. In so doing, we could wind up solving the Planet Nine mystery; we could discover even more far-flung worlds after that; and we should finally be able to confirm beyond doubt the existence of the Oort cloud.

With a first-hand grip on exactly how our particular star system is structured, we’d finally be able to realistically consider interstellar travel. Were humans, after probably thousands of years of voyaging, ever to find themselves situated on the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, staring into the abyss… then the next step would be to leave the solar system altogether; to head toward different, distant stars.

There’s a long, long journey ahead of us, and countless advances to be made - some of them almost unimaginable for us today. But that’s how humans could conquer the solar system.
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