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Imagine a time a few years in the future when you apply for a job, are called for an interview, and then told before you accept the job offer that you’ll be performing your duties in outer space at what can best be called a space factory. Would you blanch at the idea or gladly accept it?
According to Discover Magazine, space industry is about to become a very real thing, and many high-powered business figures are already excited by the prospect:
“What if the key to protecting our planet … was leaving it? Well, in part, at least. As worries about climate change mount, and the race to obtain resources from space heats up, some experts and über-rich CEOs are seriously considering moving our industry off-planet. That means using robots to build satellites and space stations by mining asteroids, the moon and other planets. A plot ripped from science fiction? Most definitely. But much of the technology to build this off-earth infrastructure already exists.”
Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida, says space could be the savior of mankind, allowing us new places to live and even providing much-needed energy for an Earth that’s projected to exhaust the power needed to run the world’s computers by as soon as 2040:
“The solar system can support a billion times greater industry than we have on Earth. When you go to vastly larger scales of civilization, beyond the scale that a planet can support, then the types of things that civilization can do are incomprehensible to us … We would be able to promote healthy societies all over the world at the same time that we would be reducing the environmental burden on the Earth.”
The concept of factories in space isn’t a new one. Back in 2016, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos suggested the move in order to protect Earth, remarking:
“You shouldn’t be doing heavy energy on Earth. We can build gigantic chip factories in space.”
Bezos also noted that most of the energy for these space factories could come from the sun:
“The Earth shades itself, in space you can get solar power 24/7.”
The question now is whether or not there’s enough time left to try relocating industries to other worlds. Metzger notes:
“Are things off the Earth going to become economically viable fast enough, so that we can move the industry off the Earth fast enough to prevent all of the environmental damage?”
With each passing year, climate change does massive damage to the planet, causing flooding, supercharged storms never seen before, and famine. Yet we seem unable (or unwilling) to change the equation by actively fighting against the things that cause such drastic shifts in weather patterns.
Another problem that will confront any moves to take industry into the cosmos is who will claim what portions of the heavens and even the potential for warfare over scarce resources:
“As we look beyond Earth for resources and fresh opportunities, another problem looms. Testing and building technology in space may actually be the easy part of the equation — the more problematic concerns might be political and social. If certain countries get to space resources first, they could monopolize them, worsening wealth inequalities here on Earth.”
And then there’s the ethical question of whether or not humans will merely take their problems into outer space and pollute or militarize other worlds the same way we have our own. Recently, two researchers from Cornell University wrote that 90 percent of the solar system needs to be designated as a protected “wilderness” area. Their reasoning was hard to argue with:
“We have no good reason to believe that such an off-world economy would behave in a radically different way from terrestrial economies. Once we have exploited our solar system, there is no other plausible and accessible new frontier.”
Here’s more on space manufacturing:
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