A New Age of Discovery or an Eventual Collapse

Robert Zubrin was interviewed on the History Unplugged podcast about the critical transformation of humanity with from a new age of discovery. I will review Zubrin key points to understand old age of discovery and how it will apply to the colonization of the solar system in the decades ahead. I will also look at the fall of the Roman Empire.

The discovery of the New World irrevocably changed the economy of the Old World. Triangle trade, manufactured goods went from Britain to the Americas, which sent food staples to the Indies, which sent cash crops back to England. It also caused investment dollars to flood into exploration ventures. As far back as the 1500s, tracts of land were sold in Kentucky through British crown land patents, helping fund the Virginia Colony of London, which set up Jamestown. Most importantly, it gave Europe a terra nova where the old social hierarchies no longer mattered. New forms of egalitarianism developed.

Robert Zubrin, head of the Mars Society, describes the historical transformation that lies in the decades ahead.

A new Triangle Trade will be developed between Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt. Investment dollars will flood into speculative ventures such as asteroid mining. And all sorts of new human societies will be possible.

Zubrin foresees more rapid innovation, including global travel from any point on Earth to another in an hour or less; orbital hotels; moon bases with incredible space observatories; human settlements on Mars, the asteroids, and the moons of the outer planets; and then, breaking all limits, pushing onward to the stars.

Zubrin says it is not just the easily foreseen wealth and economics but the growth of new knowledge and unforeseen discoveries on new frontiers. This will most importantly protect us from being catastrophically set against each other by the false belief that there isn’t enough for all.

The Rise and Fall of Western Roman Empire

Nextbigfuture notes the rise and fall of the Western Roman Empire. People have cited the roman empire as rising for three centuries, stable for five centuries and collapsing for two centuries (5th century BC to 5th Century AD).

The Rise of Rome was a story of the development of great military and a series of engineering innovations. They used engineering to drain swamps and unify villages and tribes into one city and culture. They created the first true roads (Via Appia). They developed new military organization and methods. They created a single currency for the empire.

More recent analysis showed that the Western Roman Empire was an empty shell by the 3rd century. The Roman economy ceased to function, as shown by the data on lead production. Lead production tracks the fall in the industrial activity of the Empire.

Barbarians invaded an already weakened Roman Empire.

Extracting gold and lead became more and more expensive starting in the second century as mines were depleted. There were still resources but they became too expensive to extract with the technology that was available.

Constant growth makes it easier to avoid decline. Having the resources of the solar system will make it a billion times easier to sustain growth.

Immunity from Natural Space Threats

Colonizing the solar system means humanity becomes almost immune to destruction by natural events. An asteroid can devastate one planet every billion years or so.

The sun eventually becoming a red giant or even going Nova can only destroy the inner solar system.

If our sun exploded as a supernova, the shock wave wouldn’t destroy the whole Earth, but the side of Earth facing the sun would boil away. The whole would increase in temperature to roughly 15 times hotter than our normal sun’s surface. Earth wouldn’t stay in orbit around the sun. The sudden decrease in the sun’s mass might free the planet to wander off into space. Our sun isn’t the sort of star destined to explode as a supernova. It would take extreme technological intervention to cause a supernova of our sun.

Supernova’s that are less than 50 to 100 light-years away would hit the earth with gamma rays, X-ray and wipe out plankton and our ozone. The estimate is that one dangerous supernova event in Earth’s vicinity every 15 to 240 million years.

Safe, Sustainable Minimum Levels of Population

A safe and self sustaining level of population for a space colony is 40,000 people. This is a level where even if no more supply ships come from Earth or Earth gets wiped out then the colony could grow back to our level of civilization. However, a colony of 40,000 people would be far more vulnerable than our current civilization. It would be like the people on an island in the Pacific.

A vibrant and secure multi-planetary solar system civilization would have a billion or more people on Mars and a hundred million on the moon and billions in orbit and in the asteroid belt.

SOURCES- Brian Wang Analysis, History Unplugged podcast, Robert Zubrin, Resilience, Wikipedia
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com