The National Space Society conducted an Internet survey of 1,075 subjects to shed light on their views regarding the desirability of living in a small space settlement in orbit close to the Earth. This was motivated by studies suggesting that early space settlements can be significantly smaller than previously believed and located very close to Earth, making construction, occupation, and operation vastly easier to execute. The primary goal of the survey was to determine how small, both in land area and population, a settlement could be and still attract a sizeable number of potential settlers. Roughly 6% of all respondents said they could be happy living in a space settlement no bigger than a large cruise ship with no more than 500 people and they would be willing to devote at least 75% of their wealth to be able to live permanently in orbit. While this is a small fraction of the subjects surveyed, when expanded to all space enthusiasts world-wide it should be more than enough to populate a number of small settlements.
At least 30% of all respondents said they agree with at least one of:
1. They would like to live permanently in a space settlement.
2. A settlement no greater than the size of a large cruise ship is enough.
3. No more than 500 people is enough.
4. They would be willing to devote at least 75% of their wealth to move in.
However, only 6% accepted all four of these conditions. That only six percent of respondents were willing to say they could live in an expensive, small, close settlement is not surprising. Living in space is not a small step.
Fortunately, as the global population is over 7.6 billion and many are space enthusiasts, six percent of the total population of space enthusiasts is likely a rather large number of people, certainly more than enough to fill up quite a few 500 person settlements. It is also encouraging that only 8% of respondents flatly rejected living in Kalpana Two. Even some non-space enthusiasts were open to being convinced to move on board.
Interestingly, females responded only a little less enthusiastically than males, even though only 80% identified as ‘space enthusiasts’ as opposed to 97% of the males.
Our concerns about technically capable people being willing to live in a small settlement may not be warranted. 63% of respondents said they could live with 1,000 or less people and 69% said they could live on a settlement no larger than the size of a small college campus. 62% said they could accept both conditions.
Almost half of respondents made less than $50K/year and only three more than $500,000. All of these three were very enthusiastic and checked “I cannot wait to go.” Two were willing to pay “Everything I’ve got.” They did want a larger population, checking “501 to 1,000,” “1,001 to 5,000,” and “More than 10,000” for population size. None said they would be happy on a cruise ship sized settlement. Interestingly, none of them entered anything for the openended questions. The attitudes of the wealthy are important because even with the most optimistic scenarios travel to and from a settlement could easily cost $100,000 or more per person. The cost of transporting the materials for construction using the same optimistic scenario would likely be over $1 million per resident.
This is good news for early space settlements: the first ones can be a mere 500 km away, maybe 100 m across, and have a mass less than 20 times that of the International Space Station (ISS). Thus, building the first space settlement is not necessarily a massive project with gargantuan upfront costs, but rather a difficult albeit tractable engineering problem with large upfront costs.