22 January 2009

Titan - Socialist in Space

I was checking out the History Channel's Universe series when they started talking about Titan, and how it has an atmosphere 1.5X thicker than earth's, how it has rivers of Methane and Natural Gas (our new gas pump?). At any rate, figured I'd check out some articles across the internet to see what others had written about Titan and I come accross this very well written article that I've copied below. The article itself was fantastic but some of the responses this guy got was just absolutely HILARIOUS!

One of the posters said we should build windmills over there for energy. On a planet that a lake twice as large as Lake superior of pure Liquid Natural Gas! A planet where it rains methane, We should build inefficient windmills! Another poster claimed that we should leave Titan alone, as a nice preserve. Of course the fact that we're the ONLY creatures in the universe that we know of that can actually appreciate a preserve, this fact simply eluded him. Truth is, even if we did colonize Titan, we're talking about a moon that's 50% larger than our own, with half the gravity. Not a place we could necessarily put millions of people on.

Even if we could engineer a microbe that would eat the methane and exhale Oxygen (which is what many scientist thing happened on this planet), we'd still have to deal with the Nitrogen Cyanide in the Atmosphere, of which even tiny amounts could kill us. Either way, all attempts should be made to colonize other planets, just so we have a "Backup Place" to go to if we see a killer asteroid heading to earth.

Personally if I could somehow terraform these planets to make them habitable for humans, I would not care if it destroyed the Desolate Lifeless environments that are already there. Who cares, if this planet is destroyed, there would be no one left to appreciate any planets or moons that we've "preserved" for the future.

Here's the story.

Colonization of Titan-- The Future Persian Gulf?

(Note: this is a continuation of the The Space Colonization Series)
In terms of potential locations in the outer solar system, Saturn's moon Titan is usually mentioned right off the bat. It is a prime location for human survival in the outer regions because of its great abundance of all the necessary organic materials. The atmosphere contains large amounts of methane and nitrogen and it is believed that both liquid water and liquid ammonia are locked under the surface and occasionally pushed out through volcanic activity. Water and methane could be used as both propellants for a rocket and for a colony's power supply. Nitrogen, methane, and ammonia could be used as a source of fertilizer for growing food. The water could also obviously be used for drinking and for oxygen.

Now, looking in an even more speculative nature, Titan would be a major target for a future fusion based economy. We will soon run out of oil on Earth and we will inevitably need to find another source of power. If we ever make a break through on fusion power we know we will need two things that aren't readily available on Earth: helium-3 and deuterium. Saturn has a relatively high amount of these resources available and Titan would be an ideal spot to mine and collect from.

True color image of Titan taken by Cassini. More images of Titan from NASA.

The Cold, Hard Facts

True color image of Titan Surface taken by Huygens. More information from NASA.
Titan is cold. Really, really cold. The temperature is about -180 degrees Celsius. This type of cold also isn't quite as easy to deal with as the cold we would encounter in space or on the Moon. No, Titan's thick atmosphere makes this very difficult. Thermo-insulation becomes a much bigger problem. Fortunately, this problem could potentially be solved be building a protective layer around a habitat. By evacuating a space in between an outer shell and the inner habitat heat loss could be lowered to a more manageable level akin to a lunar habitat's requirements for thermal insulation.

The thick atmosphere does provide some advantages, however. At about 1.47 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth--equivalent to 5 meters under water on Earth--the atmosphere would protect inhabitants from potentially deadly doses of radiation that would be of concern on outposts on Mars, the Moon, or the asteroids. The quality of Titan's atmosphere also greatly decreases the engineering complexity of any aerobraking and landing techniques.

At least one more advantage exists for its atmosphere when combined with Titan's relatively low gravity of 0.14 g's. This unique combination makes flying much easier. So much easier, in fact, that a human could simply strap on some wings and take flight (with a pressurized suit on of course). Other than for human enjoyment and recreation, easier flight requirements could be taken advantage of for more near-term, exploratory missions like sending probes that float around the atmosphere in blimps, hot air balloons, or autonomous planes. Alas, like the atmosphere of Titan, the low gravity also has its disadvantages. Namely the health problems associated with low-g environments.

Personally, I believe Titan will never be more than a mining or research outpost but who knows? Perhaps it could some day be terraformed and become a bastion for thousands or even millions of colonists in the future. It does, after all, contain an abundant amount of the necessary organic materials needed for life as we know it. What do you think? Could you see Titan in our future?

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