Image Credit: Loony Tunes
Note: Article inspired by NASA Watch, The Planetary Society and 21st Century Waves
Warning: This is an extremely long article, so you may want to grab a quick snack as you read through this post.
Anyone who has ever played board games such as Risk and Monopoly knows that the overall purpose of the game is for one player to dominant the board by either taking territory or securing financial resources ahead of their rivals.
The same rule also applies to the final frontier as evidenced by the space race emerging in Asia, as well as between the US and China.
While every nation probably has their own “road map” for conquering the final frontier, there are no less than five critical locations (ranging from asteroids to dwarf planets to even moons) that a space faring nation must secure if they desire to remain (or become) a solar space power in our star system.
First Stop: Luna
Orbiting a mere light second away from Earth, the Moon could easily be described as humanities second home due to its proximity towards our birth world.
Although the lunar surface may lack water (at least in abundance), its white regolith can be “easily” converted into breathable oxygen, allowing our species to survive beyond our earthen cradle without the need to constantly borrow air from our home world.
Often seen as free on planet Earth, oxygen in space will be literally worth its “weight” in gold, and any nation that can find a way to inexpensively produce lunar oxygen will have an advantage later on over its rivals (and may even be able to sell the precious gas for a profit).
While its oxygen rocks could enable humanity to live off world, its reduced gravity may make the tiny sphere appealing to asteroid miners seeking out near earth objects (aka NEO’s).
Since micro-gravity has a way of eroding bones and muscles, destroying immune systems, weakening hearts and strengthening deadly bacteria, asteroid miners may prefer to live lunar side (with frequent trips to mine these NEO’s), than to spend the majority of their time floating next to a space rock in micro-gravity.
Even though a space faring nation (both current and aspiring) could develop a sustainable presence around the Moon (and nearby space rocks) due to its resources and location, it may be wise to travel beyond Earth’s orbit towards more promising worlds (in order maintain its status a future space power).
Next Stop: The dwarf planet Ceres
Although some would consider it “insane” to skip the red planet, heading to Ceres first will ensure that a future space power has the resources to fund its expansion (note: despite the fact that doing so means sacrificing the prestige of sending the first man or woman to Mars).
Ceres strategically orbits within the metal rich region of the asteroid belt, making this dwarf planet prime real estate (at least to asteroid mining corporations).
Any nation establishing a colony on Ceres would be able to send teams of astronauts to secure nearby metallic space rocks as their own, potentially selling them to future allies or harvesting the mineral resources for themselves.
While the dwarf planet lacks any resources of its own, Ceres is suspected of hosting more “fresh water” than Earth itself, which would enable future asteroid minors to potentially grow their own food off world without depending on frequent supplies from Earth.
It would also allow Ceres to act as a interplanetary rest stop between Mars and Jupiter, not to mention a safe haven as well (just in case the asteroid belt becomes infested with space pirates).
Since most of humanities attention will probably be focused on Mars after the Moon, there will probably be very little competition establishing a dominant presence on Ceres (if not conquer it entirely for themselves).
Third Stop: The Martian moon called Phobos
Despite its popularity in science fiction, Mars will probably attract very few visitors due to the extreme difficulty in landing large payloads on the surface of the red planet.
Coupled with the fact that Mars lacks major resources of any kind (note: at least that we know of), the crimson world may only be inhabited by scientists, various cults and individuals disillusioned by Earthen (and Lunar) governments.
Even though the red planet may not be of much economic worth (at least initially), one of its asteroid moons Phobos could be converted into an enormous space station in order to make it easier to process metals harvested from the asteroid belt.
Since the sunlight on Mars is much stronger than in the asteroid belt, a future mining corporation could use the Sun’s rays to melt asteroid metals en mass before exporting them towards Earth (and Luna).
Although working on an asteroid moon may be profitable, living upon one may not due to the side effects of micro-gravity.
Even though a future miner could always counter the effects of micro-gravity with various drugs and electronic shocks, it may be wiser to settle upon the red deserts below as Mars’s gravity is approximately 38% Earth norm.
In order to reduce the cost of transporting personal (and equipment) to and from the Martian surface, a future space power may need to construct an “orbital space elevator“ on the near side of Phobos.
While constructing this would ultimately open up Mars to the rest of humanity (which a future space power could charge a fee for rivals to use), it would also allow them to import water from the Martian surface (instead of depending upon either Earth or Ceres for supplies).
Fourth Stop: The Jovian moon Callisto
Often regarded as a dead world, the Jovian moon Callisto may be of high worth to any space faring nation, due to the fact that it is one of the few radiation safe worlds in our star system.
Even though Mars and the Moon may have “celebrity status” throughout our solar system, neither of the worlds has a global magnetic field to protect their spheres from the wrath of the Sun.
Callisto on the other hand is not only protected by Jupiter’s magnetic field, but it orbits just beyond the gas giant’s radiation belt, enabling future colonists to raise families (and pets) upon this world without fear of growing a third eye ball.
While Callisto may not have any immediate value outside of being a midway point between the inner solar system and Saturn, establishing an outpost here would enable a future space power to “easily explore” its brother Ganymede.
Although Ganymede’s orbit takes it into the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belts, a properly shielded colony could use Ganymede’s global magnetic field to raise an abundance of crops with the help of bees (instead of relying upon ants who may not need a magnetic field to pollinate our green friends).
While it would probably be impossible for one space faring nation to conquer both of these worlds for themselves, conquering these moons early on (especially Callisto) could give a rising space power significant influence over the future of the Jupiteran system (not to mention the next gas giant as well).
Last Stop: The methane moon called Titan
Even if humanity finds a way to harvest the helium-3 locked away within Luna’s crust (not to mention the atmosphere of Uranus), the cost of mining it m
ay put it out of reach for most interplanetary commercial spacecraft.
Since supplies of Uranium and Plutonium could easily become unavailable for space travel (as many nations on Earth may need them for energy or defense), finding an inexpensive alternative could determine whether or not a space faring nation thrives or merely survives in the depths of our star system.
One way to guarantee that a future space power has the neccessary fuel to maintain its fleet (at least inexpensively) is to establish outposts near Titan’s methane lakes (which may contain an abundance of methane/ethane within them).
While it would not be surprising to see Titan heavily colonized in the fairly distant future (by various countries), securing this world early on would enable a space faring country to establish tremendous influence throughout the solar system (or at least within the ringed system of Saturn).
What about the other worlds?
Although their are plenty of other interesting worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury to the frozen wasteland of Neptune’s moon Triton, these worlds may not attract that much interest in the future (at least as far as we can tell right now).
Even though everyone probably hopes that humanity would put aside their differences and explore the final frontier in peace, six thousand years of recorded history seems to hold a dim view regarding this viewpoint (as one can glimpse the wars that have raged upon our planet).
Whether or not humanity decides to conquer every sphere and space rock within our solar system only time will tell.
But either way, these four worlds (plus one asteroid moon) may be the key that determines which space faring nation not only dominates our solar system, but perhaps guides us unto the next one as well.