Colonies in Space

Science fiction writers envisioned humans colonizing outer space decades before the Russians sent Sputnik into orbit.

Probably the earliest fictional account of a human colony on another planet is Edison's Conquest of Mars written by Garrett Serviss in 1898. Serviss wrote the novel in response to H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, published in the same year and built around Martians' desire to conquer Earth.

The Serviss book was quickly followed by another novel of space colonization -- The Struggle for Empire, written by Robert Cole in 1900. Since then, dozens if not hundreds of science fiction stories, novels, and films have portrayed human colonies on other planets or on giant spaceships traveling throughout the galaxy. These include J.B.S. Haldane's "The Last Judgment" (1927), Olaf Stapledon's "Last and First Men" (1930), and Miles J. Breuer's and Jack Williamson's "Birth of a New Republic" (1930).

Science fiction writer Willy Ley wrote a nonfiction book about space stations, vThe Conquest of Space (1949); the book was a collection of his articles from Collier's, written with rocket scientist Werner von Braun. James Gunn used the book as a reference for his novel Station in Space (1958).

For decades, the U.S. federal government has been talking on and off about space exploration and colonizing outer space. As science writer Tim Ferris points out, "If we take the long view, the ultimate goal of manned space exploration is to establish permanent homes for humanity elsewhere in the solar system."

Many NASA scientists credit Ray Bradbury with instilling within them the curiosity and desire to explore and colonize outer space in general and Mars in particular. The rotation of Mars gives it a 24-hour day similar in duration to an Earth day, which is favorable for plant growth. Scientists also believe Mars may have geothermal reservoirs below the surface that could be used to supply energy.

For a colony on another planet to be self-sustaining, it would need an energy source. If the planet cannot provide enough energy through solar collection or geothermal reservoirs, a small nuclear reactor could be built.

The colonists would have to erect structures for housing and community living, as well as a greenhouse for raising plants. The plants would provide food as well as generate breathable oxygen. You would have to wear a space suit any time you venture outside the colony buildings.

Raw materials for constructing the buildings - metals and minerals - could possibly be mined from the planet's surface, if they are present in sufficient quantities and accessible via current mining methods. Astronomers believe the large rocks of the asteroid belt orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter may also be rich in metals and mineral resources. Robert Heinlein's 1952 novel The Rolling Stones (Ballantine) is about a family that has a mining operation in the asteroid belt.