04:29 GMT +3 hours26 November 2014
Live
Analysis & Opinion

Time to say goodbye to Planet Earth?

Analysis & Opinion
100
MOSCOW. (Andrei Kislyakov, scientific commentator, for RIA Novosti) - This year will be remembered for the Russian-Georgian conflict over South Ossetia and the protracted economic crisis. Moreover, it turns out that, if humankind wants to survive, it will soon have to colonize some other planet.

A new report issued by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns of the danger to future prosperity if the reckless over-consumption of the Earth's natural resources is left unchecked.

WWF's Living Planet Report 2008, produced with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network (GFN), shows more than three quarters of the world's population are now living in nations that are ecological debtors, where national consumption has outstripped their country's biological capacity.

Presently, human demand on the world's natural resources measure nearly a third more than earth can sustain. In addition, global natural wealth and diversity continue to decline.

In the next 30 years, the world will face shortages of the most essential resources and an imminent political and economic disaster. Consequently, humankind must either drastically change its way of life or settle on another planet somewhere out in space.

The second option no longer lies just in the realm of science fiction. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world are telling specialized UN commissions and committees that life here is becoming more difficult, and that space colonies must be established as soon as possible.

National governments would have to forcibly distribute increasingly scarce resources if humankind decides to stay on Earth and refuses to accept some kind of an austerity plan. This would inevitably sow discord among nations.

Since 1975, scientists, engineers, sociologists and economists from 29 countries have been working on space-colony concepts that could help solve the over-population problem.

Valentin Glushko (1908 - 1989), one of the three principal Soviet "Chief Designers" (along with Vladimir Chelomei and Sergei Korolev) of spacecraft and rockets during the Soviet/American Space Race, also designed a space colony.

Analysts say a wheel-shaped orbital station measuring 1,600 meters (one mile) in diameter and utilizing the rich experience of Soviet-Russian Salyut and Mir spacecraft is now feasible.

The entire toroidal (Torus shape) station would rotate around its central axis and create artificial gravity. It would accommodate 10,000 people and the required infrastructure, including stores, schools and closed-loop cycle industrial facilities and agricultural farms.

A gigantic ring-shaped mirror floating above the station would focus sunlight into another ring-shaped mirror, which, in turn, will reflect the light into ring-shaped windows for agricultural plantations. A rod mounted on the station axis would house an automated industrial plant for processing natural resources, such as lunar ore. The entire facility would get its energy from solar batteries.

Scientists propose simulating the terrestrial environment aboard the space colony whose atmosphere would contain the same amount of oxygen as the Earth's atmosphere and about 50% of its nitrogen. Consequently, atmospheric pressure inside the station would be half of that at sea level on Earth. This would minimize station weight and simplify construction-assembly works.

The station could be assembled by specialized smart robots/manipulators like a mechanical arm, developed in 2001 by cybernetics experts from St Petersburg for servicing the International Space Station (ISS). Such robots feature special software, do not require human operators, can see and feel objects and also have ultrasonic and gamma-ray radar.

As any self-contained economy prioritizes food production, space colonies could utilize intensive plant-growing methods for harvesting grain and other crops at large plantations illuminated by sunlight round the clock.

Professor Gerard Kitchen "Gerry" O'Neill of Princeton University (1927-1992) predicted optimistically that the first space colony would be built after the establishment of the first lunar ore-mining base in the first quarter of the 21st century. By 2100, an entire cluster of ring-shaped space colonies accommodating hundreds of thousands of people could be created.

Unlike the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the innovative space-colonization concept requires new-generation technology enabling humankind to take another step forward but without upsetting the Earth's fragile environmental balance. What really captures the imagination is that space colonies would facilitate the creation of new public institutions based on genuine inter-dependence and concern for the preservation of natural resources and the environment.

One could also suppose that people with different cultural and religious backgrounds could live in different space colonies and create their own future. Some might want to build an English Rural Scene, while others would create a Tirol-style landscape or a tropical paradise.

Although Professor O'Neill's optimism and the entire project seem a bit far-fetched, modern airplanes, including the Antonov An-124 Ruslan strategic airlifter and the Boeing B-747 jumbo jet, would have surely stunned the Wright brothers -Wilbur (1871-1948) and Orville (1867-1912) who invented the airplane and made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on December 17, 1903.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.