I’m on an email list with a bunch of geniuses who are working on a way to build space settlements. For real. The list was organized by none other than Al Globus, the ‘keeper of the flame’ of space settlement at NASA.
An aside: Al recently wrote a ground-breaking paper on equatorial low earth orbit (ELEO) space settlement that anyone who is interested in space policy really needs to read. He essentially discovered a previously unknown low-radiation belt in a 500km equatorial orbit that is ideal for human space operations.
Anyway, as you might imagine, building a space settlement is really hard. Building the ISS, a relatively straightforward space station took twelve years, $75 billion and cost 7 people their lives. Not good.
Even the smallest space settlement will be much bigger, much more complex and probably way more expensive than the ISS. It should go without saying that before humanity attempts to build a permanent community in space, more experience is needed.
Therefore, the path to space settlement begins with building more space stations. Perhaps they will look like the ISS but ideally there will be a variety of architectures so we can learn what works best. After the stations come space hotels. Bigger, more capable, lots of visitors and lots of crew. Over time space hotels will get so big that they will eventually morph into permanent settlements.
The Path to Space Settlement
Space Stations -> Space Hotels -> Space Settlements
Or that’s the idea at least. What do you think?