Are we going to colonize space in this century

Pronounced ... posthuman Will we soon colonize alien planets?

On September 11, 2019, scientists from University College London announced that they had found water vapor in the atmosphere of a super-earth. Even if the planet K2-18b may not be suitable for human life, this exciting news gave wings to our fantasies about human colonization of strange planets.

On July 20, 2019, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the epoch-making moon landing. This event also reminds us that since that exciting, grandiose moment, humans have not visited another planet for half a century. At that time, the whole world believed that today we would have colonized alien planets for a long time. But that is not the case. Why?

The Cold Star Wars

The reason has to do with the fact that the allocation of resources came to an end. Because space projects were at the center of competition between the US and the Soviet Union, they were a priority and benefited from significant investment. After the Cold War, these astronomically high budgets for space travel were no longer “justifiable”. Leading countries shifted their focus. The consequence, as the famous science fiction author Cixin Liu sums up: “Instead of exploring real space, which is full of difficulties, people today simply prefer to experience virtual space with VR (Virtual Reality). Just like someone said: 'You promised me an ocean of stars, but in reality you gave me Facebook'. "

However, the situation has changed over the past ten years. There was some encouraging news in 2019, showing that we are still moving small steps into space. NASA is working to bring astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, and American presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is pushing for a $ 2 billion project to build a lunar base. NASA's Artemis program is already planning to set up a manned lunar base near the lunar South Pole by 2024 and shortly thereafter to establish a long-term presence around and on the moon.

Changed situation

This time business enterprises are also taking the lead. SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, is building a 100-passenger spacecraft called the Starship, as well as a giant rocket called the Super Heavy, which could start flying missions as early as 2021. And Blue Origin, led by Jeff Bezos, recently unveiled its Blue Moon lunar lander, which will take off at the helm of the company's large New Glenn rocket. NASA has selected 13 companies to partner on 19 new, concrete technology projects it plans to help reach the Moon and Mars.

Given the combined efforts of government agencies and business corporations, the chances that our generation will experience the first extraterrestrial colonization seem real and imminent.

First extraterrestrial colonization in sight

But of course we have to be careful not to repeat the same mistakes as we did on earth. To date, people have left 181,000 kilograms of garbage on the moon, including five ranger probes, excrement from NASA astronauts, and other garbage from unmanned missions by space agencies in Russia, Japan, India and Europe. It would be very unwise to harm other planets in the same way as the earth.

Colonizing space not only encourages the rise of new technologies to improve human life, but it also helps people gain a deeper understanding of our situation. As space philosopher Frank White put it: "Only by looking at our earth from space can we deeply understand how strongly we humans are interconnected and interdependent, and how sensitive and wonderful the earth's ecosystem is." Hopefully these early colonization projects will teach humanity this lesson from a different perspective.

"Pronounced ..."

In our column series “Pronounced…”, Liwen Qin, Maximilian Buddenbohm, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas write alternately every week. Liwen Qin observes technical progress and how it affects our lives and our society in "Outspoken ... posthuman": in the car, in the office and at the supermarket checkout.


Liwen Qin is the founder and CEO of Trends Eurasia GmbH, a Berlin consulting company that connects the digital markets between Germany and China.

Translation: From the English by Elisabeth Meister
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet editorial office
October 2019

Do you have any questions about this article? Write us!