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In my other question I tried to find out if it makes any sense to colonize other planets or moons instead of just building space stations. The answer I accepted seems very well elaborated to me and confirmed my assumption that, with the technology and resources needed to build even a base on mars (far more on the moon or any other body), it would be easier to build a space station that could house the same amount of people in a controlled (and more paradise like?) environment.

So assume we tried and did everything. We built bases and perhaps colonies where possible on every planet and moon of our solar system. And we also built space station colonies. Perhaps located in the asteroid belt where they built more and more stations from materials of the asteroids. Someday the whole asteroid belt would be converted to space habitats (like a poor man’s version of Larry Nivens ring world). This assumes that the asteroids give everything needed for this "self-replication".

Now we discover a stable wormhole or other mechanism that gives us easy access to another solar system, similar to our own, except there is no earth (nearest to earth perhaps something like our mars).

With all that technology, knowledge and experience at hand, what could be reasons to colonize the planets there (instead of just building scientific bases or perhaps some mines and space habitats for living in this system also).

If I find no reasons I will colonize the galaxy in my story with space stations and ignore the planets or use them only for mining of things that couldn't be mined easier in asteroids. Until perhaps a perfect second earth is found.

To make it clear "You can't find material XXX in asteroids and have to mine it on a planet" is just a reason to build a mine base with mass driver there. Not a reason to colonize any planet.

Would the love of adventure (explore a planet, where no man has gone before) or stubbornness ("I want solid ground under my feet") of humans be enough to make them colonize planets under harsh conditions instead to live a simple life on a paradise space station? Or any other reason?

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    $\begingroup$ Do you know how long your people will have lived in space by the time the wormhole appears? If it's been >1000 years, they could have a mostly terraformed Mars by that point. $\endgroup$ – Faulkner Jan 11 '17 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to the excellent suggestions above, I'd add that orbital life will be, necessarily, communal, and some people just don't want do depend on other people that much. Think of the folks who live in mobile homes in the middle of the desert or log cabins in the forest: there's a strong pioneer spirit in our DNA, and it's not going away (I mean, without a good eugenics program). To a certain extent it comes down to liberal versus conservative ways of life. $\endgroup$ – Russell Fox Jan 11 '17 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Similar question: Motivations for interstellar colonization $\endgroup$ – Jasper Jan 12 '17 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ a stable wormhole or other mechanism that gives us easy access Does that imply that you can travel to that other system (almost) instantaneously? In that case I don't see how this question differs from colonizing our own system. $\endgroup$ – user3106 Jan 12 '17 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ Why not turn the question around, and ask why anyone (other than serious agoraphobes) would want to actually live in a space habit? Sure, you might want to work there, even go to one for a vacation, but actually live there? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 12 '17 at 19:47

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Planets are AWESOME

My best guess is that people would only want to colonize planets if other solar systems if they have already successfully colonized planets in this solar system. If they've been floating around in the asteroid belt for long enough, they will have had the time to go ahead and terraform Mars. If Mars has been terraformed, then they will have discovered that living on planets is AWESOME!

  1. There's a beautiful wide open sky.
  2. You can shove plants into the ground and they just GROW.
  3. Clean water falls from the sky.
  4. There's so much to discover and see in nature that just can't happen in a captive environment.

The Crazy Gene

So, if your humans have indeed terraformed Mars, and some of them live there...they might get the bright idea to try it on another planet in another solar system. Humans possess a gene, let's call it the crazy gene, that makes us want to venture out into the unknown and discover more. In The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Colbert, Colbert outlines that this gene is what set us apart from the rest of the prehistoric humans and led Homo Sapiens to conquer the Earth.

Everyone wants to be in a history book

Everyone wants to be the first person to discover/colonize/write about something. The tantalizing ability to be the first people to live on a new planet in a new solar system and go down in history is motivation enough to want to live on a new planet. Couple that with the fact that Mars already has been terraformed and its original settlers are revered as historical gods, and you'll get some volunteers right off to settle a new colony.

SCIENCE

Finally, think of the scientific possibilities. If you have a fleet of space stations, then you probably have a decent amount of humans and a decent amount of them are scientists. The reason that anyone goes to the space station right now is to perform experiments (most are zero-gravity experiments). Imagine the situation is reversed and there is the opportunity to live on a PLANET and perform experiments around the clock without the need for artificially simulated conditions. Many scientists would beg to go to a planet's surface and experiment with the atmosphere, magnetic fields, and gravity. They could even possibly discover a quicker method of terraforming. THAT genius would go down in history for sure.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 "You can shove plants into the ground and they just GROW" lol $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Jan 12 '17 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ zero-gravity experiments? $\endgroup$ – DSKekaha Jan 12 '17 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ @ DSKekaha lol oops $\endgroup$ – Faulkner Jan 12 '17 at 16:47
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Survival

The reason we are already looking for other planets to live on. Is that our sun will die and we need to find another star system, if we want to exist longer than that. At the Moment the most interesting systems are the ones around so called "red dwarves", these red dwarves "burn" their fuel much slower and because of that have a far longer lifespan than normal stars.

Look here: In a nutshell: red dwarves.

About these red dwarves and the idea to colonize planets around them.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes. But what would favour colonizing planets instead of space habitats in this red dwarf system (under the assumptions of my question)? $\endgroup$ – Hothie Jan 11 '17 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ Because space habitats are very limited. For once you need to bring everything there. It is very unlikely that we will develop space habitats that are able to land, so everything has to get up, on a planet it is already around you. And you have gravity, spacestations are usually in an orbit of something and therefore are in permanent free fall. But humans don't do well within this state, muscles get weak and our body degenerates. Planets don't have this problem at all. $\endgroup$ – Etaila Jan 11 '17 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ I assume that the space habitat have perfect gravity through rotation. And that they can be build out of resssources of asteroid (belts). The answers and comments of the other questions back up that it is easier to mine an asteroid and built a space habitat, than to mine the ressources on a planet (where they may be wide spread and hard to get) to build a planet based colony. $\endgroup$ – Hothie Jan 11 '17 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Hothie hmmm, of course I can be wrong, but I can't imagine that mining resources on a planet and drive it to the next station on this planet would take less energy than bring that stuff out of the orbit, and I wouldn't rely on asteroids, since they have another set of problems, for once they come and go and the other side is, that you have to accelerate every time to the asteroid, including changing direction. On a planet you can stay a very long time until you need to switch again, if you even need to. Till now our earth is providing us with everything in our very wasteful lifestyle. $\endgroup$ – Etaila Jan 11 '17 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Hothie I would say that the main reason for living on a planet rather than on a space station, is because space is really really dangerous. Just by being on a big old rock, you reduce radiation by half and incident asteroids by half. Add in an atmosphere and gravity, and it is almost impossible for you to die from asteroids. $\endgroup$ – Aron Jan 12 '17 at 4:31
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The Same Old Story

The reason why people would colonize planets is for the same reason that cities grow up the way that they do. You start with a small outpost that does a certain thing (e.g mining for a resource). Once you have people living in that outpost and doing work, you now have a need for infrastructure to support them.

Say you start with a nice little mining outpost. Whatever that resource is can't be found out in space, so a dedicated workforce is necessary to extract it and ship it out. So you have miners, engineers, stevedores, overseers, and probably a few other jobs. This base is already looking like it will have a staff of hundreds if not thousands.

All of those people are going to need basic supplies like food and clothing, tools and replacement parts, and little luxuries like tobacco and alcohol (or their equivalents). Not to mention entertainment and things to spend their money and downtime on. Sure, some of that stuff can be brought in from off-world and to begin with most of it will be. But as the outpost gets settled and grows they are bound to find things that are easier or cheaper to build/farm/produce locally. Having an on-site forge means that you can manufacture replacement parts as needed without having to wait for a shipment of things, and in the spare time it can be used to create other items that can be used or sold by people.

Eventually, industry is going to start popping up. Bars, restaurants, general stores, maybe a casino or theater or some other entertainment area. Each of those businesses is going to require more people, who will have their own needs, which will drive demand of different goods and services. People will get sick, so now you need a hospital. People will get into fights, so now you need a police force. Infrastructure will need to be built, so now you need more engineers and architects and people to manage the other people.

None of this is going to be occurring in a romantic vacuum either. People are going to want to bring their families with them when they start this job, or will find someone to start a family with once they are there. With a bunch of kids running around you are going to need some kind of school system, and maybe even a dedicated daycare center to help take care of them.

Between the industries that grow up to supply goods and services, and people starting families, eventually you are going to have a big enough population that new settlements could be founded. If there is some other resource nearby that would be useful to the original outpost, you could have people settle there and start up a satellite community that supports and trades with the main hub. Now the main outpost would bring in even more of some supplies, and would use those to trade with and support its own population and that of any other settlements.

I wouldn't ask why you would colonize planets, I would ask how advanced your tech would have to be not to have some colonization. As far as I can see, the answer would have to be incredibly before any of the usual economic principles stop applying.

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    $\begingroup$ Basically this. You could just as well ask why people live on boats, or islands, or mountains, or in the frozen tundra. Very insightful writeup. $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Jan 12 '17 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ And there's the second part, where you can get rid of the things you didn't like where you used to live. Say, forbidden drugs or taxes (of course, they might make a comeback later, but that might be a decent motivation). In more general terms - make your own life, on a new world - on the ultimate frontier. Political and religious motivation has been driving individual colonists all over the world. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Luaan That is another good point, and would mostly run parallel to the whole expansion point that I made. Get enough people together and you are going to get clumps of them that have the same beliefs. If you have a group who believes/wants something that the majority don't then you have a prime candidate for colonization a la the Pilgrims. Basically, the real answer to the OP is going to be human nature $\endgroup$ – D.Spetz Jan 12 '17 at 14:07
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Some advantages to planetary colonization over space stations:

  1. Resources

Resources would be far easier to obtain on a planet. It would be far more efficient to build mining operations on a planet and send them across land than it would be to send spaceships to asteroids, set up mining colonies there, and ship back over distance. Also, the soil and rock on a planet, as well as any gases in the atmosphere could be used for various reasons including expansion and repairs.

  1. Atmosphere

The presence of an atmosphere would protect the colony against smaller meteors and other space debris. Also, the presence of an atmosphere could lend itself to eventually be converted to one suitable for human life.

  1. Growth/Expansion

Because a planet is a solid object, additional space for expansion could be dug out, whereas any expansion to a space station would have to be attached and done so externally while exposed to space. This would be much riskier, and the lack of gravity would make for additional concerns, and make rescue operations much more difficult than on a planet

  1. Survival

A planet would allow for multiple bases, spread out, more redundancy, and less risk of total annihilation of all concerned. As our own solar system will eventually die, establishing planetary bases would be essential to ensure our survival.

  1. Maintainability

As with expansion (above) it's far easier to simply walk outside to fix/maintain/expand a facility than it is to risk a space walk in weightlessness.

  1. Magnetosphere

This is more of a concern than you may realize, because combined with an atmosphere, this would protect the colonies from radiation, thus requiring less shielding on the planet.

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    $\begingroup$ Gravity also makes a lot of things "easier". Also, our bodies appear to be optimized for existence in a gravity well. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Jan 11 '17 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ Gravity can be reasonably simulated by rotating the station, but can cause significant costs to operations. the rest of this all depends on the particular planet in question. Not every planet has a strong magnetosphere, nor is maintainability necessarily simpler (corrosives and oxidation are a problem for durability not to mention weather), resources are not necessarily available in quantities and variety needed nor easily extracted even if found (processing could be significantly more difficult).This is premised on planets being Earth-like and resource abundant. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 12 '17 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi Gravity can be simulated internally but those space-walks are still going to be in zero g. Maintainability will be simpler because you can dig down, no exposure to the elements that way. external maintenance would require walking outside with whatever protective gear you need. if there's a problem, or you needed rescue, one could just walk out and get you. Get stuck in space and it' a good deal more difficult. $\endgroup$ – Richard U Jan 12 '17 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @RichardU the gravity comment was at nijineko commenting on our bodies being adapted for living in gravity. I'm not worried about a spacewalk as robotics/remote-waldos should handle most of that, and would likely be simpler than if in a hostile atmosphere or weather event (certainly no toxic/corrosive issues). You can only "just walk out and get you" if the conditions are like a calm Earth day - many places on Earth are not so friendly, and conditions on any other body we know of are no better than in space, and often worse (Mars is as good as we get, and probably still better off in space). $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 12 '17 at 18:44
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Space is dangerous

A space station is basically a really, really tiny planet. So imagine you lived on an asteroid big enough to house a few thousand people. What would you need to survive? What would you do if something went wrong? Now, compare that to what would happen if you lived on an earth-sized planet and something went wrong.

Flying rocks

One of the biggest dangers in space is flying rocks. A tiny one can put a good sized hole in just about anything you can manufacture. Most machines that humans build don't work well with holes added to them willy-nilly. A space habitat needs passive or active micrometeorite defenses. If the active system fails, it's only a matter of time before the passive system (i.e., really thick hull) fails and you have a Very Bad Day(TM). A planet, on the other hand, only needs a passive defense, and it's pretty much always available: it's called "an atmosphere". If you lose that, you've screwed up something really big, and you have other problems to worry about.

Cosmic rays

Radiation is everywhere. If you're close to a star, the solar wind will bombard you with all kinds of high-energy particles that you really don't want going through your body. Again, you can have an active defense like a magnetic shield, or passive defense like a massive lead hull (very expensive). A habitable planet has two excellent passive defenses: that good ol' atmosphere, and a magnetosphere (well, not all planets have one, but you should modify it if it doesn't).

Ecosystem

A space hab must have a closed ecosystem. But the stability of an ecosystem is a function of its size. Trying to make a closed ecosystem on the ISS would be insane, and probably impossible. Even if it worked, it would undoubtedly operate on a razor-thin margin. A giant hab with thousands of people would be better, but if some disease started ripping through your food supply, how long would the inhabitants last? What if resupply ships were too far away? Very easy to make the Donner Pass in Space.

An ecosystem covering millions of square miles will be thousands of times more stable than even a very large space hab. It would be able to host far more diversity in the food chain than is necessary to have a reliable supply. A space hab might be able to grow enough food to feed humans, but it is unlikely that it could grow an enjoyable diversity of food. The space available on even a small planet would explode the farming/animal husbandry options.

Manufacturing

How do you get new goods on a space hab? You can recycle, you can mine nearby asteroids, or you can import raw or manufactured goods from planets. If there is any kind of disruption in the flow of materials or goods, the space hab could be crippled for new manufacturing (if it even has a meaningful manufacturing capability). This is especially relevant for warfare. Imagine trying to build fleet from space habs. If I were your enemy, I would know that all I need to do is disrupt your supply lines, and thereby cut off your ship-building capability entirely. I could destroy your navy before it is even built!

A planet can not only provide the raw materials for a space navy, it can provide a secure staging area for defensive weapons if you choose to attack my shipyards. I can build massive power generators in remote parts of my planet without putting my population at risk. If you build powerful generators near your space hab, they either need to be close enough to endanger your population, or far enough that I can attack them without dealing with your hab defenses. That limits the kinds of defensive weapons you can field.

Defense

In the event of a full-scale war, I would much rather use the natural deterrents of atmosphere and land to provide shelter than having to build every last shield in space. If my population relies on transported raw materials, my supply lines are a constant vulnerability. You could attack continuously, wearing down whatever defenses I have, until I run out of materials to rebuild. You have your choice of beam weapons, missiles, and kinetic kill vehicles to attack my space hab, which is presumably not very mobile, making it a sitting duck. And because volume is expensive in space (and makes me even more vulnerable), my people are crammed into a small area that is extremely trivial to target. Having to defend a space hab is a terrible military position.

On a planet, I can disperse my population, making any concentrated attack a waste of resources. I can tunnel underground, forcing you to either waste energy blasting through the surface, or landing for an invasion. Beam weapons will be attenuated by the atmosphere/magnetosphere for certain frequencies and beam types. Missiles will have to contend with potential counter-measures from all over the planet's surface, or in any number of orbits. Kinetic bombardment is made more favorable by the planet's gravity well, and may be the best attack. But if you can launch something big enough to kill my planet, then you can surely blow up any space hab you like with the same rock. If you are forced to invade, then I will have the advantage of native soil.

Conclusion

If I'm the leader of a space-faring civilization, I will choose to colonize planets over space habs every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I would only build habs in remote strategic locations where I want a presence but no suitable rock exists. Habs might be a nice vacation spot if you want exotic properties (controllable gravity, day/night, etc.), but not a sound basis for a large civilization. It is risky, costly, and foolish.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes dangers exist for space stations, but planets are not magical places of harmlessness. Your concept of an ecosphere imagines that planets would have environments and ecology just like Earth, when quite the opposite is far more common - food production on station or on planetary colony would likely be identical (though on planet you don't have the option of low-gravity production environments). Why do you imagine planets get uninterruptible supply of any kind of material? Why are stations unable to have missile defenses but planets are invulnerable? Too many unsupportable assumptions here. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 12 '17 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Well, you can terraform a planet, but you can't terraform a space hab. Even if the planet is totally hostile, building a planetary hab only takes half the resources, because the "floor" is "free". Gravity also helps you keep a lot of stuff where it's supposed to be. Planets may not have all the materials you need, but any rocky planet at least has a bunch of metals. Space habs can have active defenses, but their passive defenses suck compared to a planet. If you need giant missile batteries to defend your hab, that takes material and needs to be defended. I can just bury silos in rock. $\endgroup$ – Lawnmower Man Jan 12 '17 at 21:08
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To get away from idiots.

What is holding people up from creating that perfect society? You know, the one where kids can walk to school unescorted and nobody has locks on their doors because it is inconceivable that anyone would open somebody else's door uninvited?

Idiots. Antisocial jerks who just don't want to play along with your society.

You can try to build your Utopia on Earth, but most of the good places are taken and filled up with idiots and jerks. Let's face it, most of the human population are idiots and jerks who need years of training and conditioning just to tie their own shoes, and all of that socialization still doesn't prevent them from taking your stuff if it isn't nailed down or chained to something really big. Having to nail your stuff down or chain it to large objects is super inconvenient.

So if you want to make a society on Earth that doesn't suck, you have to do something about all of those idiots and jerks. The most common approaches, such as relocating them to some other place with a suitable habitat or turning them into fertilizer, have distinct drawbacks.

That leaves relocating yourself and like-minded associates to some other place that is hard to get to. The "hard to get to" part is pretty important, as the idiots will definitely follow you if you're just going across the street.

There might be other considerations when planning your colony, but the "better society" angle will be hard to overlook after the first colony is established. Consider: Transport to your colony will be difficult and expensive, and the number of slots for colonists will be limited, so when interviewing for those slots you will be focusing on getting only the best and brightest. In other words, the colony will be built from only the smartest and most capable individuals that humanity has to offer. Idiots need not apply.

The society such people could build would be enviable, which is why the idiots would want to get there. To the idiot's way of thinking, "Wouldn't it be great to live in a place where nobody ever locked their bikes? I could steal bikes whenever I wanted to!"

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  • $\begingroup$ You're going to get idiots. It's inevitable. Any system which is based on avoiding idiots is doomed to failure. (For just one example, what do you do about the idiots born in your colony?) A system, however, which had a workable method to improve intelligence (not just IQ but actual intelligence, judgment, insight) would have a chance to have no idiots. (The attainment of that ideal would depend on the system for application of the method, since great ideas which are not applied don't achieve anything.) $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Jan 12 '17 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Wildcard Sure - but the motivation has always existed. Just because it's ultimately futile doesn't mean that people don't try - each of us is very likely going to die, and yet we don't just stop living, do we? $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ Idiots, criminals, viruses, bacteria... While harmful in large doses probably provides the inertia upon which complex systems generate greater intelligence and sophistication over time. Novelty from arms races, so to speak. It was once proposed that consciousness evolved as a means of hiding one's emotional state from those who learned to take advantage of that information (because before the emergence of internal dialogue, most of what we thought we'd just blurt out loud in real-time). Complex systems are messy but long-run stable. They achieve this by internalizing information about threats. $\endgroup$ – Martin Erlic Jan 12 '17 at 14:51
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Humans are a parasitic species and are driven to expand and consume available resources. At no point in human history did anyone ever refrain from colonizing a new, resource rich area. Although we might eventually have the technology to form a self sustaining, enclosed ecosystem and stop the expansion and pillaging of nature, right now we do not have that tech, and maybe it is not an achievable goal. Perhaps expansion and growth is a requirement for life itself, since we don't know of any counter examples. Either way, i think its safe to say that humans will colonize th other side of the wormhole, simply because they can.

Furthermore, MONEY. It is safer, easier and cheaper to do many things on the surface of planets. Small mining colonies will appear around resource mining sites, providing support and entertainment and tangental services for the mining work. It'll be too expensive to ship hookers down from orbit every saturday night, so local brothels and liquor stores will open, local food, local tool repair, clothing, etc and this will slowly grow to towns and small cities.

If planets with organic chemistry are found then that will be a lucrative natural resource which is very rare in the asteroids. Complex hydrocarbons, algae, plants and possibly even animals provide a wealth of complicated compounds and molecules not easily produced off-world. It would be natural for farms and trading posts to form around these. Even without organic chemistry, planets with atmospheres can provide more interesting chemistry than sterile, static asteroids.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes. But if space habitat colonies are easier to build (as I assume) as even a mars colony (for the same amount of people) why colonize planets instead of just building space habitats instead? Yes. We will expand over the whole galaxy. Converting every asteroid belt into space habitats. Perhaps mining the planets to build more when all asteroids are consumed. But are there reasons to colonize the planets (except if we find an earth 2 of course)? $\endgroup$ – Hothie Jan 11 '17 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ Resources. You need minerals to build stuff out of. Planets have more. I guess build some kind of space elevator, rail tracks to the mines, and start to consume. Small colonies will appear around the mines and the natural trading hubs. The exploration and development of the american wild west is a clear precedent. The gravity well is the only major difference in space, and that can be overcome with space elevator technology to a large degree. Things are usually easier and cheaper on the surface, too, so that's where it'll happen. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Jan 11 '17 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ This seems to be debatable. Comments and answers of the other questions hint that it may be easier to get the needed ressources to build a habitat from an nearby asteroid, than to get the needed resources to build a planet based colony from the planet itsef, because they are more widespread and harder to access there. $\endgroup$ – Hothie Jan 11 '17 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Hothie "Easier" is relative and not necessarily a major priority. With our current capabilities, infrastructure and technologies, mining on Earth is by far our best option, regardless of how much "easier" mining asteroids would be in theory. And planets can be made self-sustaining, which is a very attractive prospect in the long run. Ultimately, people might simply prefer living on planets. Space habitats would probably be even more cramped than the densest cities on Earth today - there are plenty of limits to consider, like material strength, heat budgets, living costs... $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Hothie And resources are ridiculously abundant on Earth - after all, that's the reason why we're not mining asteroids quite yet. The problem is that a lot of the processes that drive those resource deposits are associated with life in some way - oxidative atmosphere created the banded iron formations, liquid water is a powerful deposit-creating-agent etc. We're not really all that good at astrogeology to guess how resources might be located and deposited on other planets - the worst case scenario is "evenly throughout the mass", which would make them rather useless for mining. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:21
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People in general prefer familiar environments, so much so that if you look carefully at modern inhabited landscapes, the humans have essentially recreated the open African Savanah environment that Genus Homo evolved in over 5 million years ago.

Planets will have arbitrary gravities, atmospheres, radiation environments and day/night cycles. With some super science, lots of energy and time it is possible to move planets around and change their rotational periods. British researcher Paul Birch wrote several papers on terraforming and moving both Mars and Venus, so if we can conceptualize this now, then it should be doable in the far future.

Of course the real issue is "efficiency", or in economic terms "opportunity costs". For the same amount of time and expenditure of energy, you could build and operate millions of free flying colonies in space, and each one would be designed by default to rotate to provide 1 "g" and have a 24 hr day/night cycle. For most people, the near term payoff would be much more attractive than setting up solar windmills and high speed pellet streams and all the other associated technology needed to move planets around, and then still having to wait decades for the planet to get into the right position. (There is the other issue that the planet itself might be destabilized from the move, so you need to wait additional time for the earthquakes to end before you can even start terraforming!).

So especially after a long term space civilization has been in existence, and people are used to building their environments to suit, they may look own planets as raw resources to be mined and shot into space by robot workers, while the people bask in the filtered sunlight by a beach made to order.

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    $\begingroup$ There have always been people who want to carve out a new life in the wilderness, relying on the outside world as little as possible. Those have always formed the seeds of colonies on Earth, and if we get rich and productive enough, would spread to other systems as well. It would be a bigger challenge than anything we've ever accomplished, but that's been true of all the previous challenges as well :P $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:10
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Radiation

Planets have large amounts of mass and, frequently, a magnetosphere, which will shield colonists from solar radiation. In the case of inert lumps of rock, like Mars or Luna, the body of the planet(-oid) will provide shielding for half of the solar day. On a planet with an active core, like Earth, the shielding is effective all of the time. In a space station outside of a planetary magnetosphere there is little to no shielding against X-rays, hard X-rays, or gamma radiation. Your colonists in space habitats will have extremely high rates of cancer and birth defects.

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    $\begingroup$ The magnetosphere doesn't protect against radiation - it protects against charged particles (solar wind, cosmic particles). The bulk of the atmosphere is what protects us against (most) radiation, with a few bonus points from gases like ozone. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:25
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Cost

You're right, building a space station is cheaper - for the first couple hundred thousand people.

By the time you get to a couple million people, your infrastructure costs are going to be enormous. All that free land, free water, free gravity, free air, free recycling, etc. is going to start looking pretty good.

When you have a billion people, will space stations even be an option?

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Another reason to colonize a planet would be because humans evolved in one. We don't know about the psychological consequences of being raised without temperature changes, not to be exposed to air, dirt, different water pressures, nature or just to see the horizon or the sea. Besides It would be difficult for somebody being raised on earth to adapt to living in a space station for the rest of their lives.

I think the best bet for humanity's survival would be to find an earth-like planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree strongly with this point. Contemporary economists especially are famous for ignoring the psychological costs of various seemingly rational investment decisions. But in the same vein, could we not also bio-engineer the humans we decide to send away to eek an existence out in space with the characteristics they would need to live in more inhospitable locales? Then again, terraforming is likely cheaper in the long-run than trying to figure out exactly what qualities would be required to live on prospective new planets. And of course, these would always change depending on the setting. $\endgroup$ – Martin Erlic Jan 12 '17 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you presume humans of the future would not be able to understand psychology, and would be incapable of having any variation in environment? These kinds of variations would be trivially easy in space stations - pressure differences, temperature, humidity, lighting, etc available all the time as desired. The only lack is that seeing the ocean would be artificial, but I don't see that as a fundamental human need, especially considering the millions of people living right now that have never seen one in person. The only oddity is a horizon sloping upward... I think we will cope. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 12 '17 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ One thing is to talk about depression or PTSD another thing is to suffer from it. This has not being fully tried yet so we can only speculate but If I had to decide between living an earth-like planet with beaches, waterfalls, deserts, mountains, islands, etc or living indoors in a space station for all your life I would be very clear to me. $\endgroup$ – user31264 Jan 13 '17 at 7:54
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Survival of the species, our biological prime directive. If we can build sufficient number of self-sustained (with space mining etc) space habitats, we are in no particular hurry. However, if technological capability collapses for any reason, space habitats become space graves very rapidly. The chain from raw asteroud material spread over interplanetary distances to humans successfully maintaining their population in space is a long chain with a lot of very fragile links.

So, we need planets, terraformed planets in other solar systems, and we need to populate them with self-sustaining colonies which will survive even if access to space disappear, even if advanced infrastructure is destroyed.

So, answer to your question: we want to not just colonize but fully terraform other planets to increase the odds of our species surviving.

Now you need to come up with reason for us to want to survive so much, that we are willing to pour resources into planetary colonization. Perhaps a close call, like computer or biological virus outbreak which is barely stopped, or a very close call of a comet destroying the Earth, created the will to do this, or maybe it is a religion or philosophy, which advocates this and has enough followers to also fund it. Many possible reasons, worth of its own question (if it hasn't been asked before).

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The reason to do this is the expansion. The expansions of the Humanity. The reason to do anything in the space is the expansion.

It is not a bad thing - there is nobody (known) there from which we would conquer land, planets or any resources. They are free. Ethical problems would exist only if they had already owners.

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I don't think we would colonize many planets once we were capable of building space habitats of sufficent quality

Although space habitats require an enourmous amount of time and energy, planets do too.

  • The gravity well of a planet means that it takes an incredible amount of enegry to get on & off the thing. Space habitats don't need to be landed on, only docked with.

  • Almost all planets will need to be terraformed (assuming that you don't want to live in an enclosed colony on the surface) so, after finding a new planet, you need to seed it and wait thousands of years.

The only reason I can think of to keep using planets is that people "just like them". Maybe that means they just visit them, or maybe they colonise them if they permanently move to another solar system? This is pretty thin though, so I reckon that there will come a point when humanity's response to whether to colonise a planet or stay on their ship would be "Why bother?".

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    $\begingroup$ Planets care for themselves, space stations need endless maintenance. This means that long-term survival on an earth-like planet is practically guaranteed. If you manage to build a space elevator on your planet, the gravity well is not a problem, either. $\endgroup$ – Burki Jan 11 '17 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki "Planets care for themselves" Again, only if it's been terraformed. If not then the ground-based colony structure requires maintenance too (whether it's the same amount or not, we can only guess) $\endgroup$ – Richiban Jan 11 '17 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Or if it was habitable in the first place. But even if terraforming was necessary, that would provide a selfsustaining habitable world for the next couple millenia or even millions of years, which is nothing to be sneezed at. $\endgroup$ – Burki Jan 11 '17 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ We're talking about plausible interstellar travel here. Waiting a few thousand years for the terraformation of a planet is entirely within the scope of investments in such a world. Send the formers in advance, if you like. But even in the meantime, planets can make survival much easier - easier to get rid of heat (and thus build up infrastructure), easier to get all the various resources (if you want iron, go find an asteroid; but we need thousands of materials to survive - even with perfect synthesis, that means something like 60 different elements to be mined, refined and reshaped), space. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:36
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A big reason not mentioned so far is the idea of factions and territory. For example, England, France, Spain, and Portugal rapidly settled North America in attempts to be the territorial rulers of the landmass. From this they often gain exclusive resources as well as general support. You mentioned that they would just want to mine with a mining station, however it's often the case that a large community builds up around an industry. Sometimes the community will move when the resource runs out, but often they will not. California still has a huge population, even though few people there mine gold any more.

In addition to the faction getting these resources, they also control a larger area of space. This can be useful for tactical reasons ( re-stocking military ships, trading ), as well as overall notoriety. Big contracts other places go the factions/groups with the biggest support base and resources. Colonies can get this, while simply mining operations cannot.

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    $\begingroup$ Those colonies were mostly about protectionism - the ability to enforce prices and who you can trade with. The colonies were sold tools at artificially increased prices, while their own production was exported at artificially lowered prices. But since that requires violence, it relies on force projection - and it's hard to imagine how an empire could project force over interstellar distances. By the time your retaliationary fleet gets there, all the rebels have long died of old age :P However, running away from such empires would be a good motivation. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 13:30
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One word: MAINTAINANCE. Space stations require multiple systems for maintaining life support resources - air, water, food, waste-disposal, general cleaning, etc. - and all of these systems require constant vigilance to prevent catastrophic failure. Do YOU trust humans to sustain that level of diligence over generations? - 'cause I don't.

On the other hand, for a planet, once you establish a robust ecology, it is AMAZING how badly people can treat it, yet it still supports their existence [e.g look at Earth. Now.]

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    $\begingroup$ So, in your opinion, planetary station, e.g. on a Mars-like planet doesn't need maintenance like a space station? Where does air and food come from? Where does the waste go to? Earth-like planets are ruled out by the OP. $\endgroup$ – Alexander von Wernherr Jan 12 '17 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps there is a difference between organic and technological ecosystems that would make one more preferable to the other in terms of maintenance? I seem to recall reading something about this in Stuart Kauffman's "At Home in the Universe." It appears that both biological and economic ecosystems are in a sense the same kind of open non-equilibrium thermodynamic system, but one is probably better at maintaining a self-replicating "atmosphere" than the other. Still, would you rather spend a lot of time and energy producing such a biologically terraformed planet... (1/2) $\endgroup$ – Martin Erlic Jan 12 '17 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ ... or a (relatively) small amount of time and energy building less maintainable technological solutions to colonization? This probably depends on the time horizon of possible calamities and the expectations of the agents and institutions involved in coming up with the decision of where to settle. Is the home sun about to explode or is there plenty of time remaining? (2/2) $\endgroup$ – Martin Erlic Jan 12 '17 at 14:24
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First of all I would like to correct a few of you. Only OUR star system is called the 'solar system' as only our star is called 'solar'. Therefore the term you should use 'star system'. Now onto the question at hand, the sheer cost of producing an artificial sustainable habitat in space would be phenomenal, we're talking 10s of billions. They are also far less attractive unless of course you create a completely synthetic eco-system.

Planets have the benefit of being FREE and completely expendable. They have a vast amount of easy to obtain resources and if you're talking about Sci-Fi then perhaps their atmosphere can be terraformed? Also they are much more beautiful and spacious, whilst a space station is confined and isolated. Planets over all are far more convenient.

New scientific discoveries and break throughs can not be accomplished if you are isolated in space. However researching other planets, air compositions, biology etc..

Also I would like the fact that the sun still has roughly 4 billion years left and humans will likely not have to worry about the consequences of a giant swallowing the Earth.

I hope this helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you're going to be pedantic, please be correct when doing so. There are a lot of solar systems, but there is only one Solar System. Additionally, not every star system has planets; the more accurate term in this context would be planetary system. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 12 '17 at 18:04
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At its core, this can be answered with a simple economic calculation in the form of a cost-benefit analysis (CBA), but the outcomes will vary greatly on information we collect, probably in the future, about the real costs of choosing one approach over the other.

First, enumerate the number of possible environments in which humans might prefer to spend the majority of their lives in a way that is pleasing to them, i.e. space stations, domes, tunnels, ring worlds, terraformed surface colonies, etc. Then ask, would a large enough amount of people prefer to live in an environment similar to that of Earth such that the economic incentives for firms or governments would actually be aligned with a terraforming orientation? Or would it be the case that people, when confronted with the real costs of the entire affair, simply don't care as much as they might have once thought and so resign to living within artificial structures such as space stations or protected surface or sub-surface structures such as domes or tunnels?

1) Is the cost of terraforming a planet in such a way that humans can live natural lives in a way that is similar to that of their memory of living on Earth (or conducive to their natural predisposition for Earth-like environments) greater than the benefit otherwise accrued?

2) Or, perhaps more related to the OP's main question, is the cost of building artificial structures on otherwise environmentally hostile extra-Earth planets greater than than the benefit otherwise accrued?

This question will likely depend on the supply of livable space and the time horizon of our desperation. If our sun is very close to dying, then yes it would probably be both cheaper and less risk-averse to set up space stations in stable orbits around massive structures that produce substantial gravity, i.e. planets or moons. If it turns out that we develop the technology to live as we do on Earth on other planets vastly prior to any kind of calamitous species-threatening event, then we may or may not choose to terraform planets to live on their surfaces depending on the array of alternatives available to us.

If full-dive virtual reality (in which our conscious experiences can be totally overridden by programmatic environments) is invented before our space-faring age proper, then the actual physical cost of living will become so low, i.e. measured in single Watts of electrical energy. It is probably more likely then that we would prioritize our space colonization efforts in a way that minimizes cost as a function of the amount of space required to fit a sack of human flesh snugly into a pod sufficient for generating a pleasurable conscious experience for an entire lifetime in virtual reality. The thinking goes, "Well, since the sun is about to blow up, or since VR life is so much better than RL life and given that it's also incredibly cheap, let's just find room for a bunch of servers and some sleeping pods so we can at least live full VR lives in space rather than risk our species existence altogether, or rather than exerting all that effort to build worlds that we can just simulate anyway."

If it turns out that for whatever reason people never adapt to living full-dive Matrix-type lives then the question would come down to the environmental conditions and possible hostile negative affects of living either in orbit or beneath an alien atmosphere (if there is one?). And again, this will come down to technology. Can we properly deflect UV radiation in space with some kind of shield for long periods of time without experiencing technical shortages? If this technology is never mastered, then we might kill two birds with one stone by terraforming a planet, allowing us to live Earth-like or similar lives while protecting ourselves from the dangers of radiation in space.

In conclusion, think about the technologies your world possesses and how expensive or possible each one is and how this would impact the thinking of the agents and institutions involved in making these decisions, whether it be colonizing planets or setting up server farms for VR-possessed human beings.

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