This post was originally published on blogspot.com on June 6, 2012
In this post I will provide more clarity about our position that man should colonize the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system (in this post I simply use the term Lagrange point in order to refer to these).
In two earlier posts I discussed the arguments the colonization of the moon and Mars. Contrary to what most people tend to believe, many space colonization advocates do not support the colonization of these two particular objects. Why? First concern is gravity, in order to stay healthy people need gravity. And since we know that the Moon’s gravity is far too low, and that of Mars is also likely too low, it would be a better idea to use man-made structures, known as space habitats, which provide artificial gravity through rotation.
But gravity is not the only objection for the colonization of objects, one of the most important issues is natural resources. The Moon lacks many resources essential for life, especially hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. The Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), however, are expected to posses nearly all elements we need to maintain a high-tech civilization and also easier to reach in terms of energy consumption (for a more detailed discussion see here).
Energy consumption and energy efficiency are very important issues. Since the Lagrange points require less energy to reach than the Moon, it also mean that it would require less fuel to launch a space craft. Less fuel, means less costs. This also implies that returning valuable resources to Earth, will out compete lunar mining activities. Therefore an asteroidal colony has a greater economic viability than a lunar colony in the long run.
Another concern is less technical, but probably more important, is politics. Since the Moon is generally considered to belong to all humans, setting up a lunar colony and mining operations is very likely to become subject of much controversy. Although it’s technically true that this whole common heritage of mankind bullshit, also applies to asteroids, but I expect that most people will not get any strong feelings about a bunch of mere rocks.
Although most NEAs are not located at the Lagrange points, they can easily be reached from there. Further some planetary scientists that so-called Earth trojans might exist, until now the existence of only one such object has been confirmed, see here for more. Some space advocates propose bring NEAs into earth orbit. I don’t believe this will be a good idea, due to the increased risks an asteroid impact, but it could be a nice idea to bring some valuable asteroids to the Lagrange points, if there are no usable Earth trojans.
Although the Lagrange points are easier to reach in terms of energy consumption, the distance between them and the earth is still huge and as a result travel time is in the order of months instead of days in case of the Moon. This both an advantage as a disadvantage, the latter no need an explanation, but the former does. In case of a conflict with one of the major terrestrial powers, a sovereign moon colony will be an easy prey for a military intervention, while Lagrange point colonies are able to detect such mission months in advance and thus they will be able to act accordingly. Particle beam weapons will made it possible to destroy a hostile space craft within hours after detection, without the need of launching an interception missile. So we can conclude that colonies based at the Lagrange points can more easily obtain and maintain their political independence than any lunar colony.