- transitioning to an ever expanding settlement -


Will the first settlement be in Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars or somewhere else?

There are a number of factors which seem to favor the Moon over the other locations for the first settlement. For starters, we have specific, near-term dates for when the first crew back to the Moon will happen. For both NASA and SpaceX, that time would be in the mid-2020s.

Whereas there have been astronauts in low Earth orbits for about 20 years now, little if anything indicates that those activities are leading directly to settlement there. There are specific people pointing to Mars for settlement. But even Elon Musk indicates that a lunar base will be developed prior to going to Mars. The relatively short round-trip travel time to the Moon will strongly favor the rapid development of the Moon over Mars. And the presence of material resources for the production of parts using local materials strongly favors the Moon over Earth orbit.

Finally, being able to remain in interactive, video communications with loved ones on Earth likewise strongly favors the Moon over Mars for older settlers who want to maintain convenient contact with family, friends, and colleagues.

It is pretty clear that the initial habitat, operations, and base will be at one of the lunar poles -- likely the southern lunar pole. The reasons for this are two-fold:
   1) There are peaks there with nearly continuous sunlight.
   2) There are permanently-shadowed craters with proven water ice and organics.

The lunar south pole has enough high-sunlight areas and permanently-shadowed craters to provide nearly a million residents. So there is a lot of room for the growth of a settlement up to country-level.

But the Moon's surface is as large as the continent of Africa. So there are plenty of other places on the Moon open for settlement. Simple dirt roads with self-driving cargo vehicles could deliver water and organics to settlements at more equatorial latitudes. But those settlements would probably need to have nuclear power in order to provide power throughout the two-week lunar night.

Mars with its abundant resources (such as the carbon and nitrogen-containing air) would be an excellent place for a settlement. But with a Starship able to make about 72 round trips to the Moon for every one round trip to Mars, and with the Mars settlers being significantly separate from loved ones, the Mars settlement will probably grow substantially slower than a Moon settlement. But Mars has a surface area about the size of the entire land surface of the Earth. So many settlements and indeed many countries could one day be found on Mars.

Equatorial LEO (ELEO) has been identified as an important orbit with significantly lower radiation levels. It is conceivable that a path through tourism to settlement is possible. It could start with a space hotel in a highly-inclined orbit (covering most of the Earth). As the technology developed, the hotels could increase in size. Ultimately that technology could be applied to ELEO where a small but fully-fledged rotating space settlement could provide full artificial gravity for its residents of all ages.

Given the Moon's proximity to Earth and immediate access to resources, it will likely be the first place for settlement.

Next: Settlement How Soon?