The title has great opportunity to be both dramatic and romantic….”All roads lead to the moon” or “A straight road from Rome to the moon”. Hmmm
An interesting article on the UK DailyMail about NASA studies into a cheap base on the moon led me to my usual consideration: Surely there are some parallels with past events in history which can help us consider this futuristic event? Surely Ancient Rome will have something to teach us about colonising the Moon and indeed Mars?
Here are a few ideas which quickly sprang to mind:
The expansion of the Roman empire, it’s military with their great engineering skills and their famous Roman roads were usually preceded by Roman merchants on the search for new markets. Perhaps SpaceX is just one of many such mercantile enablers of our space future?
- When the Romans went about colonising a new region they’d establish military camps and build roads to enable movement of goods and troops. These engineering projects used local slaves and building materials.
- Logistics and strategy around getting goods and people to the new location to set up a stable site.
- Choosing the strategic location and indeed the design of appropriate settlements would surely have developed over time. The Romans would surely have learned much from the Greeks who had been great colonisers and founders of cities before them. A great example being Alexander the Great and Alexandria itself. Might this imply a new era of settlement planning and architecture?
- And of course, there must have been great savvy in ancient Rome around how to render such expansionist initiatives economically feasible… In the earliest days of the Roman Kingdom wars were only waged in certain times of the year, not only for weather reasons but also bearing in mind the need to tend the land and harvests. It was later in time that Marius thought of setting up a professional army and going against the past social etiquette.
The parallels could be that in the modern age:
- Much like the ancient Roman merchants, modern private firms are investing heavily: Not only in space travel itself but also in the technologies which are essential for colonisation. First and foremost I think of robotics, self-driving vehicles and so on. All of this brings down the cost of the would-be colonising agency since much of the innovation is being done for them. Perhaps self-driving or remote controlled mining and tunneling machines….
- The robots we build would then be used to go and do much of the work up there, using local materials to build the basic 2D structures like roads. I wonder whether the technique would remain the same of layering materials starting with the finest and pounding the larger blocks into them. The material used happens to be the same as the Romans are best known for: Basalt! However, as mentioned above they would have used what materials were most available locally to avoid lengthy transportation.
So at this point, we have two elements: Slaves (robots) and Roads (using local basalt), but surely we can look further….
- Might the comparison go further? Perhaps the journey is as risky as it was back in the Roman age and the travel times are similar, especially when considering travel to Mars (9 months apparently). To this, we might add the strategy around sending out increasingly stable groups of personnel, trained and capable of differing jobs. The social relations and personal motivations at work when setting up a colony are probably similar too.
- And last but not least, it may be worth thinking of what factors were at play when the empire began to shrink. For example, once the Romans withdrew, the cities and settlements in ancient Roman-Britain began to fall into disuse again…so again, reminding us of various factors at play, such as culture, communications, and support from home-base as fundamental necessities for a distant outpost to be functional.
All of this leads us to consider the often forgotten obvious: Simply getting out there is not sufficient and that multiple factors, many less obvious than others are necessary to the successful establishment of a distant outpost.