There was an interesting comment by Doug Plata a few days ago that I wanted to repeat as a blog post. Background was discussing the idea of long-term stays on the Moon, similar to my old Lunar One Way to Stay (for a while) concept:
I would also like to point out that extending crew stay really blurs the line between what is a base and what is a settlement. I maintain that the real definition of settlement is when people are settling down. If people are settling down then that is a settlement. Settlements are not necessarily determined by size, economic independence, economic productivity, or the ability to have children. In particular, if retirees are moving away from Earth to stay, their settlement may start with a few people, the money for their settlement comes from their savings not from mining, and they will have no children with them. Yet, as the off-Earth retirement community grows, it will become increasingly obvious that it is a real settlement – Private housing, life support production, growing their own food, community meetings, perhaps it’s own governance structures, etc.
By way of historic analogy, consider a Mormon couple being sent to some distant valley to settle down, build their home, start growing their own food, raising animals, and preparing for the arrival for others. There may be no ore in the area and they may grow food for themselves. Relatives in the city might occasionally send them manufactured items that they couldn’t produce themselves. But they are settling and could rightly be recognized as being the first settlers for that area. Same with settling off Earth.
So, what does it take to do this initial type of settlement off Earth? It takes a habitat, adequate, ongoing life support including maintaining equipment, long-term protection from radiation and insufficient gravity amongst other things. These things are already needed for a permanent base. So, really, the only difference is that a base is a worksite and an initial settlement is a home. And a home is where you have a family. And a family can be as small as a husband and wife.
So, I for one think that the start of settlement doesn’t have to be many decades, trillions of dollars, nor need new, super massive rockets. Additionally, since a base can have a public (government) value and a base could be an initial settlement then a public-private program (e.g. Lunar COTS) could be funded largely by government funds yet also achieve the space advocacy goal of starting settlement.
I believe that this is very doable, I think that we should do it as a priority, and I think that it best that a free country, in particular the US, should do it before someone else finds out that the historic step of starting humanity’s first off-Earth settlement is as much a matter of choosing to do so rather than some huge technical or financial obstacle.
Food for thought.