While the prior page was more about colonization motivation and methods, this page is more about good planets, hell-hole planets, scouting good planets, and changing hell-hole planets into good planets.

Galactic Neighborhood

First off, galactic empires tend to be spherical. This is because they generally start from a point (the homeworld) and expand in all directions like blowing up a balloon.

Which means they are subject to a sort of cube law. This means if the radius of an empire expands a teeny-tiny bit, the volume of the empire will expand lots and lots. Specifically if the radius doubles the volume will increase about eight times (23). This is because the equation for a volume of a sphere is 4/3 πr3, but the dramatic increase in volume is not obvious by just eye-balling the equation.

If you are mapping your empire, you will need to figure some sizes. If you decide upon the empire's radius and want to know how many stars and stars with Terran-type planets, use the rules of thumb:

Nstars = Rly^3 * 0.01

NhStars = Rly^3 * 0.0022


  • Rly = empire radius in light years
  • Nstars = number of stars
  • NhStars = number of stars with human habitable planets

If you decide upon the number of stars in the empire and want to know it's radius:

Rly = cubeRoot(Nstars * 97)

Rly = cubeRoot(NhStars * 464)

(If your calculator does not have a cube root button, you can use the "Xy" button instead. Type in the number, hit Xy, type in 0.333333333 then hit the equal button.)

Note: the above equations are based upon the work of Jill Tarter and Margaret Turnbull. They were not trying to figure out which stars could host a human habitable planet. They were trying to figure out which stars could host a planet that was not so hideously uninhabitable that no possible form of life could live there. In other words, many of these planets could host alien life forms but would quickly kill an unprotected human being. The equations were derived by me using an analysis of the Habcat database, and thus could be wildly inaccurate. If you can find better figures, use them, but these are better than no figures at all.

If my slide rule isn't lying to me, this works out to an average distance between adjacent stars of 9.2 light years, and an average distance of 15.4 light years between adjacent habitable stars.


You have decided that the NeoRoman Star Empire will contain 10,000 habitable planets. How wide is it? cubeRoot(10,000 * 464) = cubeRoot(5,643,000) = 167 light years radius = 334 light years in diameter.


In his Flandry of Terra novels, Poul Anderson specified that the Terran Empire was four hundred light years in diameter. How many stars will it probably have? A sphere 400 light years in diameter has a 200 light year radius. 200^3 * 0.01 = 8,000,000 * 0.01 = 80,000 stars. Anderson cites a figure of about four million stars, which means one of us is a bit off the mark (probably me).


Why, I shall tell you what we are and these are, John Ridenour. We are one more-or-less intelligent species in a universe that produces sophonts as casually as it produces snowflakes. We are not a hair better than our great, greenskinned, gatortailed Merseian rivals, not even considering that they have no hair; we are simply different in looks and language, similar in imperial appetites. The galaxy—what tiny part of it we can ever control—cares not one quantum whether their youthful greed and boldness overcome our wearied satiety and caution. (Which is a thought born of an aging civilization, by the way).

Our existing domain is already too big for us. We don't comprehend it. We can't.

Never mind the estimated four million suns inside our borders (Terran Empire has diameter of 400 light-years, 200 light-year radius). Think just of the approximately one hundred thousand whose planets we do visit, occupy, order about, accept tribute from. Can you visualize the number? A hundred thousand; no more; you could count that high in about seven hours. But can you conjure up before you, in your mind, a wall with a hundred thousand bricks in it: and see all the bricks simultaneously?

Of course not. No human brain can go as high as ten.

Then consider a planet, a world, as big and diverse and old and mysterious as ever Terra was. Can you see the entire planet at once? Can you hope to understand the entire planet?

Next consider a hundred thousand of them.

No wonder Dietrich Steinhauer here is altogether ignorant about Freehold. I myself had never heard of the place before I was asked to take this job. And I am a specialist in worlds and the beings that inhabit them. I should be able to treat them lightly. Did I not, a few years ago, watch the total destruction of one?

Oh, no. Oh, no. The multiple millions of … of everything alive … bury the name Starkad, bury it forever. And yet it was a single living world that perished, a mere single world.

No wonder Imperial Terra let the facts about Freehold lie unheeded in the data banks. Freehold was nothing but an obscure frontier dominion, a unit in the statistics. As long as no complaint was registered worthy of the sector governor's attention, why inquire further? How could one inquire further? Something more urgent is always demanding attention elsewhere. The Navy, the intelligence services, the computers, the decision makers are stretched too ghastly thin across too many stars.

And today, when war ramps loose on Freehold and Imperial marines are dispatched to fight Merseia's Arulian cat's-paws—we still see nothing but a border action. It is most unlikely that anyone at His Majesty's court is more than vaguely aware of what is happening. Certainly our admiral's call for help took long to go through channels: "We're having worse and worse trouble with the hinterland savages. The city people are no use. They don't seem to know either what's going on. Please advise."

And the entire answer that can be given to this appeal thus far is me. One man. Not even a Naval officer—not even a specialist in human cultures—such cannot be gotten, except for tasks elsewhere that look more vital. One civilian xenologist, under contract to investigate, report, and recommend appropriate action. Which counsel may or may not be heeded.

From OUTPOST OF EMPIRE by Poul Anderson (1967)

Galactic Survey

This section has been moved here.

Colonizable Worlds

If your first-in scouts have given you the luxury of lots of human-habitable worlds to choose your colony sites from, naturally you will pick the ones closest to being paradise planets.

If you are really outta luck and all the planets range from miserable hell-holes to utterly uninhabitable you have roughly five options:

Which option you chose will depend upon just how badly do you want to have colonies. If you just want some show-planets so you can claim you have an honest to Asimov interstellar empire, well, there are cheaper ways to get some status. However if the Blortch Hegemony has decided to exterminate the human race lock, stock, and laser emitter; well, you might have no choice but to ensure that our species does not have all its eggs in one basket.


The divergence of human exocivilizations both from terrestrial civilization and from each other will be in evidence to the careful observer early on in their development.

While living on Mars will not be easy, it will be far more planet-like than living in an entirely artificial habitat. We are the kind of beings that evolve on a planetary surface, i.e., our bodies and our minds both were shaped by our planetary endemism, and this homeworld effect is expressed in our characteristic modes of life and thought. Human instincts for planetary life will be seamlessly exapted for life on Mars, and, farther in the future, for life on other planets.

The Martian settlers would have a homeworld, albeit a homeworld other than Earth. Martian parents will indicate a point of light in the sky as Earth to their children, and these children may or may not be interested depending on their inclination to astronomy (for Earth would now be an object of astronomy), but their lives will be on Mars, i.e., Mars will be the site of the lived experience of planetary endemism, and the lived experience of planetary endemism is the homeworld effect.

One can imagine, whatever the comforts of a well-constructed artificial habitat, that the residents of O’Neill cylinders (as well as Stanford toruses and Bernal spheres, if such are built), if they are born on Earth, will continue to think of Earth as their homeworld, and this will result in the societies of artificial habitats being more tightly-coupled to terrestrial civilization than Martian societies. The viewpoint of residents of artificial habitats will more closely reflect terrestrial viewpoints than those of Martian settlers. The ever-present, palpable immediacy of the overview effect for those in artificial habitats in Earth’s vicinity will be a continual reminder of the connection to terrestrial civilization, reinforcing the tie.

If residents are born on the habitat, the tie to Earth is likely to be somewhat weakened, and they may feel the want of a homeworld, if only on a subconscious level. Perhaps they will evolve a distinctive sense of identity apart from planetary endemism, or they may go in search a of world to call home. These two possibilities suggest an eventual bifurcation of the population upon lines of inherent geocentrism, with this cognitive expression of individual variability becoming a source of social tension and eventually a selection pressure on the population.

Both experiences—those of Mars and those of artificial habitats—will be strongly selective, and they will select different traits, both of body and mind. The adaptive radiation of humanity in the cosmos will begin with these early spacefaring settlement efforts, but biological and cognitive adaptation to changed circumstances will still be in the far future when the first settlers are making themselves at home on Mars, and the first artificial habitats are being built and occupied. During the earliest stages in the development of spacefaring civilization, the adaptation will primarily be that of individual attitudes.

As spacefaring civilization continues to develop, artificial habitats are likely to be constructed at a distance from Earth beyond which the overview effect tapers off, and eventually where Earth is just another star in the sky, as on Mars. Here, the selection pressure either to evolve a distinctive conception of humanity in space, or to find a homeworld, would be magnified. If spacefaring civilization endures for biologically significant periods of time, and populations evolve under these selection pressures, the early attitudinal differences within populations will become the basis of speciation and adaptive radiation. One might call this the founder effect for spacefaring civilization.


Unsustainable Interstellar Civilization

Yes, I'm an environmentalist, so if you think I believe truly this, you'll also believe that Charlie's an ardent royalist. Nonetheless, there's this meme floating around the SFF universe that the only way we'll make it to the stars is if we solve all the sustainability problems that plague global civilization today. This is correct, if we're stuck with STL (slower than light) interstellar transportation, because you can't live bottled up in a starship for centuries without mad sustainability skillz. However, if FTL (faster than light) transportation is possible, sustainability no longer matters.

Yes, I know FTL isn't physically possible. Whatever. As a plausible explanation for how it came about, consider the following scenario: Following WWIII, the global internet was destroyed, simply to prevent cyberattacks from continuing to wreck civilization all over the world. The internet backbone was physically severed, and Kessler syndrome destroyed satellite communications. No WMDs were deployed in WWIII, but it turned out the price of democracy (and autocracy) was isolation. That left a number of large data centers sitting idle, so some bright bulbs decided to repurpose these behemoths for deep learning and evolutionary engineering, to solve society's problems. One of the problems they threw at the data centers was The Theory of Everything; they fed in vast libraries of particle accelerator and cosmological data, and out popped the Theory. It didn't make any sense, but when they plugged numbers into the equations, the resulting predictions were accurate. One of the weird things about how the Theory of Everyhing handled spacetime was that C wasn't the limit we think it is now. When this theory was plugged into an evolutionary engineering system with an absurdly optimistic set of output specs, after some huge number of iterations, the system spit out a working FTL drive. Again, the design made no sense, but it could be built and flown, and it worked. Why it works is a mystery, because the systems weren't designed for helping humans decipher their outputs.

When you have FTL, you don't need long-term sustainability, so long as the rate at which successful colonies are founded is greater than the rate at which established colonies fail, with successful colonies being those that can build their own starships and found their own colonies. There are actually a number of Earthly species that live this way, and there's a whole little scientific field, metapopulation dynamics, that studies them. If humans can learn to pull off this trick with our extraterrestrial colonies, in theory we can expand indefinitely, especially if we expand slowly enough to return to this section of the galaxy in, say 50-100 million years, after which the planets we formerly colonized have fallowed long enough for us to colonize them again (basically by recycling the top kilometer or two of crust).

The way it works is that, once the first settlers on a new planet demonstrate that they won't die horribly from allergies, pathogens, or getting buried under the excrement of herds of titanosaurs, they then spread out to build mining settlements all over the planet, high-grade all the most accessible mineral deposits, drill for oil, and grow the infrastructure needed to build starships. With starhips built and trade links established, they grow into a mature colony over the course of a few centuries, all the while founding as many daughter colonies on new planets as possible. Eventually, they run into serious pollution problems, loss of usable mineral deposits, changing climate (both natural through the equivalent of Milankovich cycles, and anthropogenic), and a biosphere that coevolves to exploit the colony, because that's just what life does (think pesticide resistant bugs, coyotes, superweeds...). At that point, the colony starts to fall apart. Interstellar trade shifts away from it (after all, whatever's causing them to collapse them might be contagious). Ultimately the survivors hang on to become a truly resilient indigenous population in a backwater world--or all die horribly as their critical infrastructure fails. Their fate doesn't matter to our interstellar civilization, because it has literally already moved on to new frontiers, boldly going where no man has gone before. So long as they can find new worlds to conquer, they can go on forever.

Oh yes: planets, you ask. Why planets and not, say, asteroids? Or ice moons? The short answer is gravity, radiation shielding, atmosphere, and biosphere. We still haven't figured out how to complete a human life cycle in space, and it's not clear it's possible. We require gravity, and unless someone invents a usable gravity generator, we need planets to warp space for us. Even if someone does invent a gravity generator, on a planet you get gravity as part of the price of entry. If that planet has an active core, you also get a magnetosphere, which helps a lot with radiation shielding, plus things like plate tectonics. We don't have decent, light radiation shields either, so until people start building force fields that keep out radiation, a magnetosphere is essential. A nice, oxygen-rich atmosphere also does a lot to moderate the radiation experienced on the surface, and again, with a planet with a biosphere, you get this for free. And you can (to a first approximation) breathe the air. And yes, an alien biosphere can be counted on to cause problems. However, life does a lot of useful things, one of which is concentrating elements into ore bodies (something bacteria do with some elements). A combination of plate tectonics and an active biosphere means that you've got possibilities for a lot of concentrated ore bodies, petrochemicals like oil, and useful biochemicals--all the stuff you need to build a starship. While asteroids have these elements, they don't have them so much in concentrated ore bodies, so you've got to spend a lot of energy refining asteroids into useful feedstocks and dealing with the slag. The bottom line is that alien biospheres are dangerous, but so is living on an asteroid, and I suspect the former is the less dangerous option, at least for humans.

Hotspot Colonies

So you've found a fine, middle-aged planet, and you want to settle it (there's a little aside here about the evolution of planetary crusts that I won't go into here--ask in comments). Where do you site the first colony? My suggestion is to locate it on a mid-ocean, hotspot volcano, like Hawai'i, Iceland, or Tenerife. The advantages are that you're dealing with an isolated, fairly simple ecosystem, and if island species are sufficient to overwhelm your immune system and rot your brain (or cover you in piles of dung), you wouldn't have survived the mainland either. As the Polynesians and Guanche demonstrated, it's possible to terraform an island using neolithic technology, so you can probably establish an island colony with the contents of one or a few starships, even with 21st Century tech. Moreover, islands are quite fertile, both from the elements coughed up by the volcano and also from the excrement left behind by sea life hauling out on the island or using it as a rookery. Yes, what I'm recommending will result in the extinction of many no-doubt fascinating, even cuddly, island species, but if you're planning to do that on a massive scale anyway (it's called terraforming for a reason) and you have to start small, then it makes sense to start on mid-ocean volcanoes and see if you can establish a beachhead there. If living on an idyllic, isolated volcanic island causes your children to die horribly, then it's likely that you're not going to be able to successfully colonize this world anyway.

To successfully colonize a planet, though, you can't stop at one island chain. Islands may be good for agriculture, but they're missing things like the rare earths lithium that you'll need for electronics and batteries. Mainland settlements are necessary for the long-term success of a colony. At a minimum, there have to be mines and oil wells, extractive operations to feed back to the main colonies on the islands. At a maximum, the entire planet can be colonized and terraformed. But for a first colony, I'd suggest targeting a hotspot volcano in the middle of a big ocean. We know how to settle those on Earth.

Yes, I know there's a lot of planetology I'm ignoring here, like the story of planetary crust evolution. If people are interested, we can discuss it in the comments.

Dwarf culture

Red dwarf exoplanets, I mean. Can life even exist on a planet orbiting a red dwarf star? I have no clue, although reading the dueling model papers is fun. Here I'm assuming it's possible, but whether this is plausible is something to hash out in the comments. Anyway, assuming oxygenic biospheres can form on planets orbiting red dwarf stars, and assuming humans can live there...well, life gets interesting. The problem with red dwarf stars is they have the bad habit of emitting large blasts of x-rays and coronal mass ejections, so for humans, the best place for a long-term colony is either underground or behind a mountain. Being in the shade of a volcano isn't a bad idea.

Shade? That's the second issue. Red dwarfs are cool little stars, and that means that the habitable zone where water is liquid is far closer than Mercury is to our sun. A year for a habitable dwarf exoplanet is on order of days to weeks. As a result, the planet almost certainly has no moon(s) and it is tidally locked to the star. Tidal lock means that the planet rotates one day in one year, so that one side of the planet always faces the red dwarf, while the other is in perpetual darkness. The planet stays habitable because all the water on the planet flows to either the front side (so there's a huge ocean under the sun, due to a massive day/year long tidal bump) or the backside (where it freezes, except that heat from the ground below melts water at the base of the glacier, and this flows somewhere). Anyway, the star evaporates water and heats air, which together drive formation of huge storms under the sun, but which also move a lot of water and hot air around the rest of the planet, driving a planet-wide atmospheric circulation cell, so that hot air travels towards the back of the planet, while cold air moves to fill in the gap, and the whole thing reaches some sort of windy stable system.

There's probably no volcanic islands directly under the red dwarf (the sea's too deep there), and you wouldn't want to live there anyway, with perpetual hurricanes. The better place to live is closer to the terminator between day and night, where the sea is shallower and there are perpetual shadows behind the volcanoes. Or you can dig in. Earthly crops, unless they're massively genetically engineered to have photosystems that don't need ultraviolet light, will have to be grown in greenhouses, but with the sun in the same place in the sky, even setting up massive solar farms is pretty trivial, assuming you don't simply posit a fusion planet to power it all.

As for human culture on a red dwarf planet, that's where it gets weird. To start with, it's underground or in the shade. Sunbathing is a risky sport at best, and you'd better be wearing a dosimeter when you're casting a shadow. Timekeeping is even weirder. Humans have circadian rhythms as does most terrestrial life, so keep track of days, weeks, and so forth is useful in a red dwarf culture. However, there's no reason for everyone to stay on the same day-night cycle, because the sun never changes position. Why not organize the colony around shifts, say, three eight-hour shifts in a 24 hour notional day. It doesn't correspond to what's going on with the local sun, but it helps the colony be more productive and keeps everyone on time.

This is where dwarf culture comes into being. Since I like corny slang, I suspect that, in an FTL culture, "dwarf" will shift from meaning vertically challenged and refer to anyone who grew up on a red dwarf planet. After all, an underground culture where daylight is unending but which shift you work is culturally important is pretty alien to someone who grew up on Earth, with its days and nights, seasons, going outside, and not worrying about solar flares. In terms of interstellar politics, dwarves from different colonies may find that they have more in common with each other than they do with people who grew up on swiftly spinning planets like Earth. Since there are a lot of red dwarf stars out there, factional splits between dwarf and "normal" colonies could have huge political implications for how interstellar civilization works. Working out the details is where the fun begins for the writer.

Habitable Planets


HABITABLE. Any PLANET that people (mainly EARTH HUMANS) can live on without having to wear a space suit or at least an oxygen supply. Habitable Planets fall mostly into two classes.

     1) Paradises. These are almost exactly like Earth — more precisely the Garden of Eden, or at least coastal California. Summers are baskingly warm, winters briskly cool, and the rain falls only at night. Landforms have dramatic variety, a typical planetscape resembling San Francisco Bay, only with the Sierras in place of the Oakland hills. These Planets teem with native life forms that we can eat (and tasty to boot; see FOOD), but none — either carnivores or microbes — who eat us. It is easy to understand why COLONIZATION happened on these Planets. Who wouldn't want to live on one, if you could?

     2) Hells. These nominally Habitable Planets pose greater challenges for interstellar real estate promoters. The entire Planet usually has only one climatic zone, and it isn't mediterranean. Desert Planets seem to be most common, followed by ice-age Planets, steaming jungle Planets, and howling windswept steppe Planets. The local life is mostly inedible, but it can eat us with no problem, and does so whenever it can catch us. It is difficult to understand why Colonization happened on these Planets. Perhaps they produce something valuable in TRADE, but if so the Colonists never seem to benefit, since they are mostly poor. If even limited TERRAFORMING is available, you would think that someone would give these Planets a bit of touch-up.

From HABITABLE by Rick Robinson

In the old days, interstellar colonization was pretty simple and straightforward (once you had a starship handy). Heinlein, naturally, provided the real estate pitch:

"Imagine a place like Earth, but sweeter than Terra ever was … forests aching to be cut, game that practically jumps into the stew pot. If you don't like settlements, you move on until you've got no neighbors, poke a seed in the ground, then jump back before it sprouts. No obnoxious insects. Practically no terrestrial diseases and no native diseases that like the flavor of our breed." (Starman Jones, Ballantine pback, p. 68.)

Nova Terra, to be sure, was the pick of the lot. In the same book Heinlein alludes to harsh colony worlds – and later on, an Eden planet turns out to have non-prelapsarian locals already in possession, who intend to stay that way. But given a sky full of stars and a ship to get you there, why settle for the also-rans? Heinlein also supplied a host of secondary tropes, such as the utility of horses that can fuel themselves from a handy pasture and (given a stallion and a mare) manufacture their own replacements.

Unfortunately, as commenter Ian M. noted a couple of months back (in comments spinning off a post about the Moon), it is desperately unlikely to work out that way. Suppose a planet with complex life, and enough of it to have built up an oxygen-rich atmosphere. It may look like Paradise, or at any rate Earth. Convergent evolution might well produce para-forests and para-grasslands, just as dolphins have a similar configuration to fish. But dophins aren't fish, and alien life almost certainly will not be like us. Hydrocarbon life anywhere will be built out of the same basic building blocks, but with differing architectural details – and our digestive keys will not fit its nutritional locks.

The good news is that the local tigers and local germs won't find us tasty and nutritious. But by the same token we can't eat the local venison or berries, and chances are only slightly better that our cattle can graze on the grass. Plants have a far less demanding diet, and might well grow nicely in any soil that has nitrogen fixed in it. In fact they might grow too well, at least the ones that don't rely on bees or other terrestrial creatures as their dating service.

Terrestrial plants, devoid of natural enemies, might crowd the native stuff out of any remotely suitable environment – wrecking entire ecosystems. But this too could go both ways. To local para-algae we could be walking Petri dishes: warm, moist, and fertile. Our bodies' defenses, if any, are likely to take the form of allergic reactions, not terribly helpful to us.

In short, any garden worlds out there are probably not for us. Those valleys with forested slopes above babbling streams filled with flashing para-trout are the ultimate nature preserves, to be appreciated but not subdivided for housing tracts. Yes, theoretically we might simply wipe out the native life, then recolonize with a terrestrial ecosystem including ourselves. I don't think you have to be a Jain to find something repulsive about this.

Which leaves the option of terraforming. For every nature-park world we will probably find dozens that didn't quite make it. We do not yet know whether life arises wherever there is liquid water to be had – we may begin to find out on Mars and Europa. But if a planet has oceans but no life it is a candidate for terraforming, and only the ecopoetic or gardening stage is required – no need to sling comets from the outer system to provide water, or hoover up 90 bars of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Worlds with limited 'primitive' life may even allow a sort of biological nonaggression pact, the native forms going quietly on in their own local ecosystems. There are still ethical questions (we're precluding or at least greatly altering their evolutionary prospects), but not like the ethics of sterilizing a rich, living world.

Yet even interstellar colonization is not as simple as it used to be.

Ian M:

In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, the world Barrayar seems to have been a particularly bad choice in real estate. Humans are allergic to practically every plant on the planet, and terraform by slash-and-burn agriculture and bulk dumping of fertilizer. It's one of the few SF settings I've seen that touch on the biochemical issues of colonization.

If your planning horizon is short enough (Say, because you're transplanting undesirables to a new world) the prospect of a planetary triple toe loop probably doesn't bother you. On the other hand, any culture that practices terraforming obviously does think in the long term and I think the idea of transporting prisoners to other worlds is unlikely even with FTL. Why dump the prisoners on Ceti Alpha V when it's cheaper to dump them on Antarctica?

Using Earth as a baseline, the prime real estate would probably be any world that has not yet hit it's equivalent of the Devonian era. So long as complex life is confined largely to the seas, terraforming the land is remarkably straightforward. It's a lot of hard work, but it's not hard work that fights back and evolves to destroy your work. And the presence of marine ecosystems means you don't have to terraform the oceans (Or only have to introduce species like salmon, eels, or tortoises, that return nutrients to the land from the ocean). I did some calculations for terraforming ocean volumes comparable to the Earth's, and was quickly reminded that humans are just a thin biofilm confined to a narrow portion of the habitable world.

Completely lifeless worlds are your next best bet. But you should probably check out the local neighborhood and find out why the place is lifeless...

In his novel Nemesis Isaac Asimov included a fictional life-signs scanner that worked by detecting complex repetitive electromagnetic events. Something like that wouldn't spot anything without a rudimentary nervous system, but it was an interesting idea. Throw in spectrographic analysis, telescopic studies, and automated surveys, and any colonists should have a good idea of what they're getting into even if they are the first humans to set foot on the planet.


" To local para-algae we could be walking Petri dishes: warm, moist, and fertile. Our bodies' defenses, if any, are likely to take the form of allergic reactions, not terribly helpful to us."

I find this to be a highly questionable assertion. Without even going into far afield things like amino acid chirality, most earth-born bacteria and virii do a poor job jumping across species. It can't recall the last time I caught a cold from a tree. :)

But beyond that I think you vastly underestimate the sheer hostility of the environment that is the human body. While you may be right about our response being an allergic reaction, our bodies aren't the only factor. Those foreign bacteria will be trying to compete with the fauna you already carry around with you. Fauna that has been selected for ruthless survival in that environment over uncountable generations.

Think like this — a gang wants to move into the city to do their business. You are talking about how they would do against the cops, but completely ignoring the fact that Don Corleone is going to have some very pointed ideas about them moving in on his territory.

From GARDEN WORLDS, PARK WORLDS by Rick Robinson (2009)

I never have learned the co-ordinates of Sanctuary, nor the name or catalogue number of the star it orbits — because what you don't know, you can't spill; the location is ultra-top-secret, known only to ships' captains, piloting officers, and such . . . and, I understand, with each of them under orders and hypnotic compulsion to suicide if necessary to avoid capture. So I don't want to know. With the possibility that Luna Base might be taken and Terra herself occupied, the Federation kept as much of its beef as possible at Sanctuary, so that a disaster back home would not necessarily mean capitulation.

But I can tell you what sort of a planet it is. Like Earth, but retarded.

Literally retarded, like a kid who takes ten years to learn to wave bye-bye and never does manage to master patty-cake. It is a planet as near like Earth as two planets can be, same age according to the planetologists and its star is the same age as the Sun and the same type, so say the astrophysicists. It has plenty of flora and fauna, the same atmosphere as Earth, near enough, and much the same weather; it even has a good-sized moon and Earth's exceptional tides.

With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it's short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth's high level of natural radiation.

Its typical and most highly developed plant life is a very primitive giant fern; its top animal life is a proto-insect which hasn't even developed colonies. I am not speaking of transplanted Terran flora and fauna — our stuff moves in and brushes the native stuff aside.

With its evolutionary progress held down almost to zero by lack of radiation and a consequent most unhealthily low mutation rate, native life forms on Sanctuary just haven't had a decent chance to evolve and aren't fit to compete. Their gene patterns remain fixed for a relatively long time; they aren't adaptable — like being forced to play the same bridge hand over and over again, for eons, with no hope of getting a better one.

As long as they just competed with each other, this didn't matter too much — morons among morons, so to speak. But when types that had evolved on a planet enjoying high radiation and fierce competition were introduced, the native stuff was outclassed.

Now all the above is perfectly obvious from high school biology . . . but the high forehead from the research station there who was telling me about this brought up a point I would never have thought of.

What about the human beings who have colonized Sanctuary?

Not transients like me, but the colonists who live there, many of whom were born there, and whose descendants will live there, even into the umpteenth generation — what about those descendants? It doesn't do a person any harm not to be radiated; in fact it's a bit safer — leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there. Besides that, the economic situation is at present all in their favor; when they plant a field of (Terran) wheat, they don't even have to clear out the weeds. Terran wheat displaces anything native.

But the descendants of those colonists won't evolve. Not much, anyhow. This chap told me that they could improve a little through mutation from other causes, from new blood added by immigration, and from natural selection among the gene patterns they already own — but that is all very minor compared with the evolutionary rate on Terra and on any usual planet. So what happens? Do they stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them, until they are living fossils, as out of place as a pithecanthropus in a spaceship?

Or will they worry about the fate of their descendants and dose themselves regularly with X-rays or maybe set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in their atmosphere? (Accepting, of course, the immediate dangers of radiation to themselves in order to provide a proper genetic heritage of mutation for the benefit of their descendants.)

This bloke predicted that they would not do anything. He claims that the human race is too individualistic, too self-centered, to worry that much about future generations. He says that the genetic impoverishment of distant generations through lack of radiation is something most people are simply incapable of worrying about. And of course it is a far-distant threat; evolution works so slowly, even on Terra, that the development of a new species is a matter of many, many thousands of years.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)

Hostile Planets

If one is dealing with near-future colonization of the non-shirtsleeve planets of the solar system using weak chemical rockets, the difficulties are overwhelming. It is vastly easier to colonize hypothetical human-habitable garden worlds around other stars using handwaving faster than light starships (because the author said so).

But if you are hell-bent on establishing a settlement on a non-shirtsleeve planet, there are basically four options:

  • Dome Colony: people live inside air-tight domes with shirtsleeve environments and only venture out while wearing a planetary exploration suit
  • Terraforming: through massive planetary engineering over hundreds of year alter the entire freaking planet into a shirtsleeve environment
  • Pantropy: through genetic engineering breed a new species of human for which the hostile planet's existing environ is a shirtsleeve environment. The more extreme the environment of the hostile planet, the more of a challenge it will be to breed something that can live on it
  • Somaforming: through some outrageously advanced technology transform the body of a Terra-normal human being into a creature that can live on the hostile planet

     Faced with unlivable, deadly, unEarthlike conditions on all the actual real estate within practical reach, it became obvious that there were only two ways to go (unless you ignored the problem altogether, which many writers blithely did and do, and create a magic Faster Than Light drive or spacewarp device with a snap of your authorial fingers), and the “realistic space story" from then on tended to follow one or the other of them.

     Science-fiction writer James Blish described those two ways rather succinctly: You can change the planet to accommodate the colonists, or the colonists to accommodate the planet.

     The first of these methods, changing the planet to provide more Earthlike conditions for the colonists, has become known in the genre as “terraforming," and it is the territory explored in the anthology you hold in your hands, which deals with the creation of new, inhabitable worlds out of old, uninhabitable worlds by science and technology.

     The second method, redesigning humans so that they are able to survive on alien planets under alien conditions, has become known as “pantropy” (a word coined by Blish himself), and is the territory explored (along with other deliberate, engineered changes to the human form and nature) in the companion anthology to this one, Supermen: Tales of the Posthuman Future.


The sad fact of the matter is that it is about a thousand times cheaper to colonize Antarctica than it is to colonize Mars. Antarctica has plentiful water and breathable air, Mars does not. True, the temperature of Mars does occasionally grow warmer than Antarctica, but at its coldest Mars can get 50° C colder than Antarctica. In comparison to Mars, Antarctica is a garden spot.

Yet there is no Antarctican land-rush. One would suspect that there is no Martian land-rush either, except among a few who find the concept to be romantic.

I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.

If there were a society with enough technical power to terraform Mars, they would certainly do it. On the other hand. by the time they got around to messing with Mars, they would have been using all that power to transform themselves. So by the time they got there and started rebuilding the Martian atmosphere wholesale, they wouldn't look or act a whole lot like Hollywood extras.


“I won’t jump the gun,” he said, “and I can’t tell you what’s happening now. But here’s a little story that may amuse you. Any resemblance to — ah — real persons and places is quite coincidental.”

“I understand,” grinned Gibson. “Go on.”

“Let’s suppose that in the first rush of interplanetary enthusiasm world A has set up a colony on world B. After some years it finds that this is costing a lot more than it expected, and has given no tangible returns for the money spent. Two factions then arise on the mother world.

One, the conservative group, wants to close the project down — to cut its losses and get out. The other group, the progressives, wants to continue the experiment because they believe that in the long run Man has got to explore and master the material universe, or else he’ll simply stagnate on his own world. But this sort of argument is no use with the taxpayers, and the conservatives are beginning to get the upper hand.

“All this, of course, is rather unsettling to the colonists, who are getting more and more independently minded and don’t like the idea of being regarded as poor relations living on charity. Still, they don’t see any way out until one day a revolutionary scientific discovery is made. (I should have explained at the beginning that planet B has been attracting the finest brains of A, which is another reason why A is getting annoyed.) This discovery opens up almost unlimited prospects for the future of B, but to apply it involves certain risks, as well as the diversion of a good deal of B’s limited resources. Still, the plan is put forward — and is promptly turned down by A. There is a protracted tug-of-war behind the scenes, but the home planet is adamant.

“The colonists are then faced with two alternatives. They can force the issue out into the open, and appeal to the public on world A. Obviously they’ll be at a great disadvantage, as the men on the spot can shout them down.

The other choice is to carry on with the plan without informing Earth — I mean, planet A — and this is what they finally decided to do.

“Of course, there were a lot of other factors involved political and personal, as well as scientific. It so happened that the leader of the colonists was a man of unusual determination who wasn’t scared of anything or anyone, on either of the planets. He had a team of first-class scientists behind him, and they backed him up. So the plan went ahead; but no one knows yet if it will be successful. I’m sorry I can’t tell you the end of the story; you know how these serials always break off at the most exciting place.”

From THE SANDS OF MARS by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1951)

Dome Colony

As a general rule colonists like places with breathable atmospheres, so they don't immediately die upon stepping out of the transport spacecraft. Unfortunately, if there are no starships, the only naturally occurring place like that in the solar system is Terra. Everywhere else is a non-shirtsleeve environment, the colonists will have to build and maintain a large pressurized volume to live in.

This might be a purpose-build operation that is part of a grand plan to colonize the place. Or it might be unplanned, usually by some organization establishing some kind of base; then as other bases and boomtowns spring up nearby, the entire establishment morphs into a colony. As previously mentioned: the main difference between a base and a colony is that the members of a colony do not expect to ever leave.

Functionally a colony on an airless world is a space habitat that is sited on the ground instead of floating in orbit. Structurally they will be different. A ground based colony will have access to lots of local resources that a space colony will have to import. In other words: a space colony will probably be constructed out of metal shipped in, while a ground colony will be a series of underground tunnels.

Why? Because radiation from galactic cosmic rays (GCR) and solar proton storms is not healthy for children and other living things. It heinously expensive to ship radiation shielding to a space habitat under construction, but planet-based naturally-occurring lava tubes are practically free.

Planets with no atmospheres will need to build underground for radiation protection. Not counting Terra, Venus and the Gas Giants, the only planets with appreciable atmospheres are Mars and Titan. The Mars Radiation Environment Experiment discovered that the pathetic Martian atmosphere would let through enough radiation to expose the colonists to 73 milliGrays per year (mGy/a, where "a" {per annum} = 8760 hours = 365 days). On Terra people suffer about 0.4 mGy/a from GCR, and close to zero from proton storms. Translation: the Martian atmosphere is not going to do diddly-squat to protect the colonists from deadly radiation sleeting from the sky, so you'd best build the colony underground anyway. Or pile lots of Martian dirt on top of the buildings. Titan got lucky, it actually has a denser atmosphere than Terra.

Old illustrations of lunar colonies liked to depict them under transparent domes, because the artist did not know about the radiation hazard.

Since all the living spaces have to be pressurized and otherwise equipped with life support, they will be limited and the colony will feel cramped. Much the same as any underground building or rabbit burrow. Cubicles will be minuscule, and the connecting corridors will be narrow. If the colony is lucky enough to have the luxury of connecting corridors. Since pressurized volume is at a premium the cubicles may wind up doing double duty as corridors, with the associated loss of privacy.


(ed note: This is taking place inside space-ark ships fleeing the destruction of their planet, not a pressurized planetary colony. But the same principle obtains)

      There were, for example, many more women among both passengers and crew than had originally been planned. They had been packed on board, in the plans as well as in fact, at what had been effectively the last minute—that is to say, when the Interstellar Expeditionary Project had been converted into a survival armada—for the same reason that the IEP had first planned to include women only among the officers: because they were regarded as too rare and valuable to risk suicide. Originally, it had been very clear, the IEP was to have been like the usual interplanetary probe in this respect: something that one threw away drones on.

     Because of this change in plans and procedures, the women on board the Javelin had far less privacy than did the men, despite every attempt at rearranging the ship, simply because there were fewer facilities of all kinds available for them.

     This drawback was in addition to the fact that there was very little privacy available for either sex, or for both as a unit. There were few corridors anywhere in the ship; they had been torn out. Cabins, where they existed at all, simply gave on other cabins, so that in proceeding from one task to another one was constantly forced to happen upon and bull through the most personal kinds of scenes. This was so commonplace that even the habit of apologizing for it was dying out, and the habit of seeking privacy, though much more stubborn, was dying away in its wake.

     There was a theory current aboard ship that this kind of physical openness—and it was not merely erotic, but included everything from scratching to plumbing—was good; but it was equally easy to find partisans of the opposite view. One aspect of it, however, was undeniable: it was fatal to sexual possessiveness and jealousy. The customs of some five centuries back, when love-making had been regarded as often a team sport and almost always a spectator sport, were undergoing an obvious renaissance on board the Javelin (though the fact was not read into the Grand Log, nor was it reported from any other ship in the fleet; as usual, the letter was showing itself far more durable than the facts).

From ...AND ALL THE STARS A STAGE by James Blish (1960)

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism.

It is an unwritten rule of space journalism that any article about Moon or Mars bases needs to have a conceptual drawing of habitation domes. Little scintillating blisters of breathable air clustered between pointy antennas.

Look, I get it. Domes are cool. I’ve built several. And while I don’t regard myself as an expert on Mars urban planning, I believe domes are not a very good solution for building cities on Mars.

I’m going to motivate this post by describing constraints on “the mission”. There is a time and place for discussion of short term exploration missions with a few plucky astronauts, but as far as I’m concerned, the SpaceX Mars vision is the biggest, baddest vision for exploration and industrialization, and the obvious design reference for this blog.

The goal is to build a self-sufficient city on Mars. This will require enormous quantities of money, time, cargo, and people. The goal is to understand ways to reduce the requirements while increasing the probability of success. Given that human capacity to solve problems isn’t infinite, a good mission architecture allows the technical teams to focus on the core self-sufficiency problem rather than working around counterproductive constraints. As an example, one of the main weaknesses of the Lunar Gateway is that so much engineering effort is required to build the space station, which diverts attention and resources away from the more direct challenges of building landers and surface base hardware. Similarly for Mars – the last thing anyone needs is an architecture that requires undue design work and places hard limits on future growth.

For generations, engineers have internalized a hard mass constraint on Mars missions, resulting in scores of proposals that struggle to keep a handful of humans alive for a few years in a spaceship that weighs just dozens of tons. But while it may be just possible to do an Apollo-style human Mars landing with a few SLS-loads of stuff, building a city requires either non-existent self-replicating robots or much, much more cargo. Hence the significance of the SpaceX Starship, which plausibly can launch not tens, but millions of tonnes of cargo to Mars.

The Starship provides a mechanism to retire the Mars city mass constraint, just as Starlink can retire the capital constraint. What are some other important constraints?

Consider the raw material constraint. A self-sufficient city can be either open or closed, but total recycling of all materials with either huge reserve stocks or perfect efficiency, such as would be required for a slow interstellar spaceship, is much much more difficult than an open system. In an open system, an effectively infinite supply of natural raw materials can be used, and wasted, as needed. The Mars city solves this problem by building on the surface of a planet that is made of all the raw materials it could need.

The next constraint of concern is the labor constraint. Self sufficiency means different things to different people, but a sufficiently healthy and well-trained individual human can survive indefinitely in many places on Earth. Indeed, small groups of cooperating humans have been capable of survival since the dawn of technology, and even crossed oceans before the wide-scale adoption of metals.

That said, the surface of Mars is next level in terms of its sheer hostility to life. It’s a pitiless frozen vacuum. The Earth’s south pole in the middle of winter is closer to a beach in Hawaii than the nicest place on Mars on the nicest day of the year. So when we think of self-sufficiency on Mars, the traditional “pioneer with 20 acres and a mule” just won’t cut it. Like the bottom of the ocean or the stratosphere, human survival is possible only with advanced technology. Self sufficiency on Mars means the ability to build all the requisite advanced technology, and to do it faster than it wears out.

Instead of a small group of generalists, the Mars city will need teams of specialists to replicate every part of the modern industrial stack, from raw material extraction and processing through to advanced lithography, and everything in between. This process is enormously labor intensive, requiring on the order of 100 million humans on Earth. On Mars, SpaceX hopes to get by with “only” a million people and a lot of manufacturing automation. Even then, the high marginal cost of keeping an extra human alive changes almost everything we take for granted about how jobs are done here on Earth. For more in this vein, check out the relevant chapter in my book in Mars industrialization.

For the purposes of this blog, however, we need merely agree that humans building a self-sustaining city on Mars will be extremely busy. And so we come to the space constraint.

No matter what people are doing on Mars, the mission designers will do everything they can to make their jobs as easy as possible, to maximize productivity. The next most important constraint on productivity is space. On the domestic level, Marie Kondo can help us make the best of our inability to avoid accumulating worthless possessions. On an industrial scale, it turns out that manufacturing difficulty is exacerbated by not having enough space. Factories need room to move things, store things, and lay out assembly lines.

When cars were first built, factories were multilevel buildings in cities with elevators and total vertical integration. Today, most manufacturing plants are laid out over a single level in areas with lower land value, and cover millions of square feet.

So it must be on Mars. We cannot industrialize a new planet in pressurized trailer homes or tuna cans or subterranean tunnels. Nor can we operate efficient factories in space suits. The city will need unimaginably enormous climate controlled spaces to enable millions of people to work efficiently in a shirt sleeves environment.

What about domes?

A prefabricated dome assembled on Mars would certainly have more interior volume than a lander or short tunnel. On the other hand, domes have significant drawbacks that are underappreciated by their advocates, many of whom haven’t actually ever tried to build one!

Domes feature compound curvature, which complicates manufacturing. If assembled from triangular panels, junctions contain multiple intersecting acute angled parts, which makes sealing a nightmare. In fact, even residential dome houses are notoriously difficult to insulate and seal! A rectangular room has 6 faces and 12 edges, which can be framed, sealed, and painted in a day or two. A dome room has a new wall every few feet, all with weird triangular faces and angles, and enormously increased labor overhead.

It turns out that the main advantage of domes – no internal supports – becomes a major liability on Mars. While rigid geodesic domes on Earth are compressive structures, on Mars, a pressurized dome actually supports its own weight and then some. As a result, the structure is under tension and the dome is attempting to tear itself out of the ground. Since lifting force scales with area, while anchoring force scales with circumference, domes on Mars can’t be much wider than about 150 feet, and even then would require extensive foundation engineering.

Once a dome is built and the interior occupied, it can’t be extended. Allocation of space within the dome is zero sum, and much of the volume is occupied by weird wedge-shaped segments that are hard to use. Instead, more domes will be required, but since they don’t tesselate tunnels of some kind would be needed to connect to other structures. Each tunnel has to mate with curved walls, a rigid structure that must accept variable mechanical tolerances, be broad enough to enable large vehicles to pass, yet narrow enough to enable a bulkhead to be sealed in the event of an inevitable seal failure. Since it’s a rigid structure, it has to be structurally capable of enduring pressure cycling across areas with variable radii of curvature without fatigue, creep, or deflection mismatch.

Does this sound like an engineering nightmare? High tolerances, excessive weight, finicky foundations which are a single point of failure, major excavation, poor scaling, limited interior space, limited local production capability. At the end of the day, enormous effort will be expended to build a handful of rather limited structures with fundamental mechanical vulnerabilities, prohibitively high scaling costs, and no path to bigger future versions.

Is there a better alternative? I think so.

What we need is a method for pressurizing vast areas of the Martian surface with relatively little hassle, labor, and raw material. For a long time, I thought the key might be gigantic masonry vaults, but I’m increasingly convinced that tensile structures are inherently better due to much lower mass requirements. The same goes for digging tunnels, which is so labor intensive that almost noone lives underground. In contrast, a thin, flexible tensile membrane supported by its own pressure seems to be a step in the right direction. But how would this work?

UV resistant polymers as as ETFE are routinely used for exterior cladding of structures that need transparent, curved, lightweight, waterproof barriers. Some of these structures are even pressure stabilized. A multilayer ETFE fabric incorporating Kevlar fibers is an ideal material for both performance yacht sails and transparent pressurized structures on Mars. This material can be thermally or chemically welded in the field for ease of integration, modification, and repair.

To transmit pressure load into the ground, a pressurized ETFE membrane must be periodically anchored to the ground by steel cables that can be arbitrarily long, supporting ceilings high enough to permit cloud formation! Unlike a dome foundation, cable anchors can be pile driven from the surface with generic hardware and without trench excavation. Both ETFE and steel can be readily produced from local resources. Importantly, the cables are located in discrete areas and offload all the pressure, so that couplings to the surface at the perimeter don’t have to resist enormous pullout forces and can be done with a set of relatively simple buried steel membranes.

Conceptual sketch of section of tented area

Within the pressurized structure, membrane tunnels, shelters, and bulkheads can be readily deployed to ensure any desired level of redundancy or compartmentalization. Tall structures can be supported from the ceiling in tension, reducing material requirements.

Despite its light weight and versatility, inflatable tensile structures have a long history and is not as exotic as it may sound. It is used for both Zodiac dinghies and inflatable mattresses! It has even been used to make a fully functional inflatable plane!

Such an approach has many advantages over rigid dome construction, but the most important one is that it crushes the space constraint. What is the per capita area requirement on Mars? In a future post I’ll estimate this more rigorously but I believe it’s on the order of 10,000 sqft. If a Mars base is doubling its population every launch window, then the 5000->10000 person increment requires the addition of about a thousand acres of enclosed area, in just two years. This is about 3000 standard prefabricated domes (roughly one per person!), or less than two square miles of additional membrane, with distributed concurrent anchor construction. Only one of these methods scales easily!

Within the pressurized volume, people can build houses, schools, factories, farms, forests, or anything else they want. The space is versatile and flexible. For more in this vein, see my earlier post on Mars urban planning.

What are the potential drawbacks of such an approach? Thanks to great comments on Hacker News and Twitter, I have a good idea of what people are worried about.

Anchoring. Some have suggested anchoring to a second membrane on the ground, to avoid anchors and to isolate from Mars dirt (that may have toxic chemicals) and to avoid perfusion of gas through the ground. While enclosing membranes are great for bridges, corridors, and air handling, I think building directly on the dirt is the best approach. Provided the perimeter walls are deep enough, the risk of substantial leaks are low. All pressure structures leak, so the key is to ensure that there’s a ready supply of new gasses to make up the difference. As for perchlorates, they decompose in water at room temperatures. In other words, spraying a newly pressurized area with warm water should be adequate to neutralize the extremely thin layer of dust. Finally, farming on directly covered land won’t require moving millions of tonnes of dirt through an airlock.

Radiation. As explained in this blog post, I believe that unshielded radiation exposure on Mars is not one of the major problems to deal with. While it’s possible to build some kind of laminated inflatable structure with pockets of transparent water, in practice living and sleeping spaces will have modest shielding, and exposure in the “outdoors” will be part of life, just as excessive sun exposure on Earth can cause increased risk of cancer.

Underground living. Quite a number of readers pointed out that natural caverns, canyons, and Boring Company-dug tunnels are options. While I agree these have their uses, they also have significant drawbacks. Underground spaces are incredibly labor and energy intensive to build – to the point that basically no private underground structures of any size are routinely constructed. Even natural caverns are location specific, difficult to expand, difficult to ensure structural stability, and lack natural light. I think TBMs will be used extensively to operate pressurized underground mines for minerals not abundant on the surface. But in general the easiest level to build is at ground level.

How does redundancy work? What happens if there’s a hole? Fiber-reinforced ETFE has really good ripstop properties, so a hole won’t suddenly spread over the whole area, leading to instant catastrophic failure. Still, the air will leak out stopped only by choked flow. If the leak rate is lower than the maximum replacement rate, no problems. The hole is found and patched. If the leak rate exceeds the maximum replacement rate, then the pressure will start to drop – which also reduces the leak rate. If the pressure drops below the level needed to tension the anchoring cables, then the whole ceiling will gradually deflate like a bouncy house at the end of a party. As the pressure drops, occupants will need to evacuate to “air shelters”, which would take the form of sealable corridors within the main structure. The membrane will gradually drape itself over whatever structures/former trees/non-spikey supports remain.

Additionally, the pressurized volume must be segmented by vertical bulkheads into separate compartments, so even total collapse (or toxic chemical leak) in one section doesn’t affect other sections. A collapsed membrane could still be repaired by robots or workers in space suits, and once the hole is patched, repressurized.

For particularly important areas, multiple membranes or layered membranes can be deployed to reduce the odds of a leak all the way through.

How much steel is required? Pressure at sea level on Earth is around 100 kPa, or 100 kN/m^2. On Mars, we can make do with lower pressure and enriched oxygen, reducing structural pressure loads, but the gravity is also lower so the total amount of rock needed to anchor is about the same. A 40 kPa atmosphere on Mars needs about 3-4 m of rock to completely react out the pressure load, though to be on the safe side the anchors would be driven somewhat deeper than this. According to The Engineering Toolbox, a 20 mm steel cable is adequate to lift 40 kN, implying an average steel fill fraction of 0.05% to anchor the roof, regardless of cable configuration. Span between anchors is determined by ground conditions and overall desired membrane tension, but I think 50 m is about the sweet spot. With a mass of 1.5 kg/m, the membrane could be flown as high as 6 km before the mass of the cable (to say nothing of its cost) was enough to hold down the membrane without an anchor.


So when one thinks of a city on Mars, don’t think of some quaint potato patch in a dome that’s too small for a game of tennis. Think instead of a gently puckered transparent plastic sky that stretches over the horizon in all directions, supported by a sparse forest of steel cables with endless open space between. A new savanna.

From DOMES ARE VERY OVER-RATED by Casey Handmer (PhD) (2019)


This paper examines the possibilities of establishing Martian settlements beneath the surface of ice-covered lakes. It is shown that such settlements offer many advantages, including the ability to rapidly engineer very large volumes of pressurized space, comprehensive radiation protection, highly efficient power generation, temperature regulation, copious resource availability, outdoor recreation, and the creation of a vibrant local biosphere supporting both the nutritional and aesthetic needs of a growing human population.


The surface of Mars offers many challenges to human settlement. Atmospheric pressure is only about 1 percent that of Earth, imposing a necessity for pressurized habits, making spacesuits necessary for outdoor activity, and providing less than optimum shielding against cosmic radiation. For these reasons some have proposed creating large subsurface structures, comparable to city subway systems, to provide pressurized well-shielded volumes for human habitation [1]. The civil engineering challenges of constructing such systems, however, are quite formidable. Moreover, food for such settlements would have to be grown in greenhouses, limiting potential acreage, and imposing either huge power requirements if placed underground, or the necessity of building large transparent pressurized structures on the surface. Water is available on the Martian surface as either ice or permafrost. These materials can be mined and the product transported to the base, but the logistics of doing so, while greatly superior to anything possible on the Moon, are considerably less convenient than the direct access to liquid water available to nearly all human settlements on Earth. While daytime temperatures are acceptably close to 0 C, nighttime temperatures drop to -90 C, imposing issues on machinery and surface greenhouses. Yet despite the cold night temperatures, the efficiency of nuclear power is impaired by the necessity of rejecting waste heat to a near-vacuum environment.

All of these difficulties could readily be solved by terraforming the planet [2]. However, that is an enormous project whose vast scale will require an already-existing Martian civilization of considerable size and industrial power to be seriously undertaken. For this reason, some have proposed the idea of “para terraforming,” [3] that is, roofing over a more limited region of the Red Planet, such as the Valles Marineris, and terraforming just that part. But building such a roof would itself be a much larger engineering project than any yet done in human history.

There are, however, locations on Mars that have already been roofed over. These are the planet’s numerous ice-filled craters.

Making Lakes on Mars

Earth’s Arctic and Antarctic regions feature numerous permanently ice covered or “sub glacial” lakes [4]. These lakes have been shown to support active microbial and planktonic ecosystems.

Most sub Arctic and high latitude temperate lakes are ice-covered in winter, but many members of their aquatic communities remain highly active, a fact well-known to ice fishermen.

Could there be comparable ice-covered lakes on Mars?

At the moment, it appears that there are not. The ESA Mars Express orbiter has detected highly-saline liquid water deep underground on Mars using ground penetrating radar, and such environments are of great interest for scientific sampling via drilling. But to be of use for settlement, we need ice-covered lakes that are directly accessible from the surface. There are plenty of ice-filled craters on Mars. These are not lakes, however, as while composed of nearly pure water ice, they are frozen top to bottom. But might this shortcoming be correctable?

I believe so. Let us examine the problem by considering an example.

Korolev is an ice-filled impact crater in the Mare Boreum quadrangle of Mars, located at 73° north latitude and 165° east longitude (Fig. 1). It is 81.4 kilometers in diameter and contains about 2,200 cubic kilometers of water ice, similar in volume to Great Bear Lake in northern Canada. Why not use a nuclear reactor to melt the water under the ice to create a huge ice-covered lake?

Let’s do the math. Melting ice at 0 C requires 334 kJ/kg. We will need to supply this plus another 200 kJ/kg, assuming that the ice’s initial temperature is -100 C, for 534 kJ/kg in all. Ice has a density of 0.92 kg/liter, so melting 1 cubic kilometer of ice would require 4.9 x 1017 J, or 15.6 GW-years of energy. A 1 GWe nuclear power plant on Earth requires about 3 GWt of thermal power generation. This would also be true in the case of a power plant located adjacent to Korolev, since it would be using the ice water it was creating in the crater as an excellent heat rejection medium. With the aid of 5 such installations, using both their waste heat and the dissipation from their electric power systems, we could melt a cubic kilometer of ice every year.

Korolev averages 500 m in depth, which is much deeper than we need. So rather than try to melt it all the way through, an optimized strategy might be to focus on coastal regions with an average depth of perhaps 40 meters. In that case, each cubic kilometer of ice melted would open 25 square kilometers of liquid lake for settlement. Alternatively, we could just choose a smaller crater with less depth, and melt the whole thing, except the ice cover at its top.

Housing in a Martian Lake

On Earth, 10 meters of water creates one atmosphere of pressure. Because Martian gravity is only 38 percent as great as that of Earth, 26 meters of water would be required to create the same pressure. But so much pressure is not necessary. With as little as 10 meters of water above, we would still have 0.38 bar of outside pressure, or 5.6 psi, allowing a 3 psi oxygen/2.6 psi nitrogen atmosphere comparable to that used on the Skylab space station. Reducing nitrogen atmospheric content in this way could also be advantageous because nitrogen is only a small minority constituent of the Martian atmosphere, making it harder to come by on Mars, and limiting the nitrogen fraction of breathing air would also facilitate traveling to lower pressure environments without fear of getting the bends. Ten meters of water above an underwater habitat would also provide shielding against cosmic rays equivalent to that provided by Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.

Construction of the habitats could be done using any the methods employed for underwater habitats on Earth. These include closed pressure vessels, like submarines, or open-bottom systems, like diving bells. The latter offer the advantage of minimizing structural mass since they have an interior pressure nearly equal to that of the surrounding environment, and direct easy access to the sea via their bottom doors, without any need for airlocks. Thus, while closed submarines are probably better for travel, as their occupants do not experience pressure changes with depth, open bottom habitats offer superior options for settlement. We will therefore focus our interest on the latter.

Consider an open-bottom settlement module consisting of a dome 100 m in diameter, whose peak is 4 meters below the surface and whose base in 16 meters below the surface. The dome thus has four decks, with 3 meters of head space for each. The dome is in tension, because all the air in it is all at a pressure of 9 psi, corresponding to the lake water pressure at its base, while the lake water pressure at its top is only about 2.2 psi, for an outward pressure on the dome material near the top of 6.8 psi. The dome has a radius of curvature of 110 m.

The required yield stress of the material composing a pressurized sphere is given by:

σ = xPR/2t (1)

Where σ is the yield stress, P is the pressure, R is the radius, t is the dome thickness, and x is the safety factor. Let’s say the dome is made of steel with a yield stress of 100,000 psi and x=2. In that case, equation (1) says that:

100,000 = (6.8)(110)/t, or t= 0.0075 m = 7.5 mm.

The mass of the steel would be about 600 tons. That’s not to bad, for creating a habitat with about 30,000 square meters of living space.

If instead of using steel, we made a tent dome from spectra fabric, which has 4 times the strength of steel and 1/9th the density, the mass of the dome would only need to be about 17 tons. It would, however, need to be tied down around its circumference. Ballast weights of 90,000 tons of rocks could be used for this purpose. Otherwise the tie down lines could be anchored to stakes driven deep into the frozen ground under the lake.

An attractive alternative to these engineering methods for creating a dome out of manufactured materials could be to simply melt the dome out of the ice covering the lake itself. For example, let’s say the ice cover is 20 m thick, and we melt a dome into it that is 12 m tall, 100 m in diameter, and has a radius of curvature of 110 m. Filling this with an oxygen/nitrogen gas mixture would provide a habitat of equal size to that discussed above. The pressure under 20 m of ice (density = 0.92) is 0.7 bar, or 10.3 psi. The roof of the dome is under 8 m of ice, whose mass exerts of compressive pressure of 0.28 bar, or 4.1 psi, leaving a pressure difference of 6.2 psi to be held by the strength of the ice. The tensile strength of ice is about 150 psi, so sticking these values into equation (1) we find that the safety factor, x, at the dome’s thinnest point would be:

150 = x(6.2)(110)/[(8)(2)], or x = 3.52

This safety factor is more than adequate. Networks of domes of this size could be melted into the ice cover, linked by tunnels through the thick material at their bases. If domes with a much larger radius of curvature were desired, the ice could be greatly strengthened by freezing a spectra net into it.

The mass of ice melted to create each such dome is about 80,000 tons, requiring 1 MWt-year of energy to do the melting. It would also require about 90 tons of oxygen to fill the dome with gas. This could be generated via water electrolysis. Assuming 80% efficient electrolysis units, this would require 1950 GJ, or 62 kWe-year of electric power to produce. Such large habitation domes could therefore be constructed and filled with breathable gas well in advance of the creation of the lake using much more modest power sources.

Compressive habitation structures can be created under ice that are much larger still. This is so because ice has 92 percent the density of water, so that if a 50 meters deep column of ice beneath the lake’s ice surface were melted, it would yield a column of water 42 meters deep and 8 meters of void, which could be filled with air.

So, let’s say we had an ice crater, section of an ice crater, or even a glacier 5 km in radius and 70 meters or more deep. We melt a section of it starting 20 m under the top of the ice and going down 50 m. As noted, this would create a headroom space 4 m thick above the water. The ice above this void would have a weight of 7 psi, so we would fill the void with an oxygen/nitrogen gas mixture with a pressure of 6.999 psi. This would negate almost all the weight to leave the ice roof in an extremely mild state of compression. (Mild compression is preferred to mild tension, because the compressive strength of ice is about 1500 psi – ten times the tensile strength.) Under such circumstances the radius of curvature of the overhanging surface could be unlimited. As a result, a pressurized and amply shielded habitable region of 78 square kilometers would be created. Habitats could be placed on rafts or houseboats on this indoor lake, or an ice shelf formed to provide a solid floor for conventional buildings over much of it.

The total amount of water that would need to be melted to create this indoor lake city would be 4 cubic kilometers. This could be done in about 4 years by our proposed 5 GWe power system. Further heating would continue to expand the habitable region laterally over time. If the lake were deep, so that there was ice beneath the water column, it would gradually melt, increasing the headroom over the settlement as well.

Terraforming the Lake

The living environment of the sublake Mars settlement need not be limited to the interior of the air-filled habitats. By melting the ice, we are creating the potential for a vibrant surrounding aquatic biosphere, which could be readily visited by Mars colonists wearing ordinary wet suits and SCUBA gear.

The lake is being melted using hot water produced by the heat rejection of onshore or floating nuclear reactors. If the heat is rejected near the bottom of the lake, forceful upwelling will occur, powerfully fertilizing the lake water with mineral nutrients.

Assuming that the ice cover is reduced to less than 30 meters, there will be enough natural light during daytime to support phytoplankton growth, as has been observed in the Earth’s Arctic ocean [5]. The lake’s primary biological productivity could be greatly augmented, however, by the addition of artificial light.

The Arctic ocean exhibits high biological activity as far north as 75 N, where the sea receives an average day/night year-round solar illumination of about 50 W/m2. If we take this as our standard, then each GW of our available electric power could be used to illuminate 20 square kilometers of lake. Combined with the mineral-rich water produced by thermal upwelling, and artificial delivery of CO2 from the Martian atmosphere as required, this illumination could serve to create an extremely productive biosphere in the waters surrounding the settlement.

The first organisms to be released into the lake should be photosynthetic phytoplankton and other algae, including macroscopic forms such as kelp. These would serve to oxygenate the water. Once that is done, animals could be released, starting with zooplankton, with a wide range of aquatic macrofauna, potentially including sponges, corals, worms, mollusks, arthropods, and fish coming next. Penguins and sea otters could follow.

As the lake continues to grow, its cities would multiply, giving birth to a new branch of human civilization, supported by and supporting a lively new biosphere on a new world.


We find that the best places to settle Mars could be under water. By creating lakes beneath the surface of ice-covered craters, we can create miniature worlds, providing acceptable pressure, temperature, radiation protection, voluminous living space, and everything else needed for life and civilization. The sublake cities of Mars could serve as bases for the exploration and development of the Red Planet, providing homes within which new nations can be born and grow in size, technological ability, and industrial capacity, until such time as they can wield sufficient power to go forth and take on the challenge of terraforming Mars itself.


1. Frank Crossman, editor, Mars Colonies: Plans for Settling the Red Planet, The Mars Society, Polaris Books, 2019

2. Robert Zubrin with Richard Wagner, The Case for Mars: The Planet to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1996, 2011.

3. Richard S. Taylor, “Paraterraforming: The Worldhouse Concept,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 45, no. 8, Aug. 1992, p. 341-352.

4. Sub Glacial Lake, Wikipedia, accessed May 15, 2020.

5. Kevin Arrigo, et al, “Massive Phytoplankton Blooms Under Sea Ice,” Science, Vol. 336, page 1408, June 15, 2012 Accessed May 15, 2020.

From SUBLAKE SETTLEMENTS FOR MARS by Robert Zubrin (2020)

(ed note: the novel mostly takes place in various Lunar habitats. "Central City" is the main residential section.)

     The colonization of the Moon had been a slow, painful, sometimes tragic and always fabulously expensive enterprise. Two centuries after the first landings, much of Earth's giant satellite was still unexplored. Every detail had, of course, been mapped from space, but more than half that craggy globe had never been examined at close quarters.
     Central City and the other bases that had been established with such labor were islands of life in an immense wilderness, oases in a silent desert of blazing light or inky darkness...
     ...Slowly, with countless heartbreaking setbacks, man had discovered how to exist, then to live, and at last to flourish on the Moon. He had invented whole new techniques of vacuum engineering, of low-gravity architecture, of air and temperature control. He had defeated the twin demons of the lunar day and the lunar night, though always he must be on the watch against their depredations. The burning heat could expand his domes and crack his buildings; the fierce cold could tear apart any metal structure not designed to guard against contractions never encountered on Earth. But all these problems had, at last, been overcome...
     ...Such was the strange world which was now home to some thousands of human beings. For all its harshness, they loved it and would not return to Earth, where life was easy and therefore offered little scope for enterprise or initiative. Indeed, the lunar colony, bound though it was to Earth by economic ties, had more in common with the planets of the Federation. On Mars, Venus, Mercury and the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, men were fighting a frontier war against Nature, very like that which had won the Moon. Mars was already completely conquered; it was the only world outside Earth where a man could walk in the open without the use of artificial aids. On Venus, victory was in sight, and a land surface three times as great as Earth's would be the prize. Elsewhere, only outposts existed: burning Mercury and the frozen outer worlds were a challenge for future centuries...

(ed note: the novel was written in 1955, years before the Mariner 2 mission in 1962 revealed just what a hell-hole Venus actually was)

     The cluster of great domes began to hump themselves over horizon. A beacon light burned on the summit of each, but otherwise they were darkened and gave no sign of life. Some, Sadler knew, could be made transparent when desired. All were opaque now, conserving their heat against the lunar night.
     The monocab entered a long tunnel at the base of one of the domes. Sadler had a glimpse of great doors closing behind them — then another set, and yet another. They're taking no chances, he thought to himself, and heartily approved of such caution. Then there was the unmistakable sound of air surging around them, a final door opened ahead, and the vehicle rolled to a halt beside a platform that might have been in any station back Earth. It gave Sadler quite a shock to look through the windy and see people walking around outside without spacesuits...
     ...He walked out of the station and found himself at the top of a large ramp, sloping down into the compact little city. The main level was twenty meters below him. He had not realized that the whole dome was countersunk this far into the lunar plain, thus reducing the amount of roof structure necessary. By the side of the ramp a wide conveyor belt was carrying freight and luggage into the station at a leisurely rate. The nearest buildings were obviously industrial, and though well kept had the slightly seedy appearance which inevitably overtakes anything in the neighborhood of stations or docks.
     It was not until Sadler was halfway down the ramp that he realized there was a blue sky overhead, that the sun was shining just behind him, and that there were high cirrus clouds floating far above.
     The illusion was so perfect that he had taken it completely for granted, and had forgotten for a moment that this was midnight on the Moon. He stared for a long time into the dizzy depths of that synthetic sky, and could see no flaw in its perfection. Now he understood why the lunar cities insisted upon their expensive domes, when they could just as well have burrowed underground like the Observatory.
     There was no risk of getting lost in Central City. With one exception each of the seven interconnected domes was laid out in the same pattern of radiating avenues and concentric ring roads. The exception was Dome Five, the main industrial and production center, which was virtually one vast factory and which Sadler decided to leave alone.
     He wandered at random for some time, going where his stray impulses took him. He wanted to get the "feel" of the place, for he realized it was completely impossible to know the city properly in the short time at his disposal. There was one thing about Central City that struck him at once — it had a personality, a character of its own. No one can say why this is true of some cities and not of others, and Sadler felt a little surprised that it should be of such an artificial environment as this. Then he remembered that all cities, whether on Earth or on the Moon, were equally artificial.
     The roads were narrow, the only vehicles small, three-wheeled open cars that cruised along at less than thirty kilometers an hour and appeared to be used exclusively for freight rather than pasengers. It was some time before Sadler discovered the automatic subway that linked the outer six domes in a great ring, passing under the center of each. It was really a glorified conveyor belt, and moved in a counterclockwise direction only. If you were unlucky, you might have to go right round the city to get to the adjacent dome, but as the circular tour took only about five minutes, this was no great hardship.
     The shopping center, and main repository of lunar chic, was in Dome One. Here also lived the senior executives and technicians — the most senior of all in houses of their own. Most of the residential buildings had roof gardens, where plants imported from Earth ascended to improbable heights in this low gravity...
     ...The clear, bell-like note, thrice repeated, caught him unaware. He looked around him, but could not locate its source. At first it seemed that no one was taking any notice of the signal, whatever it might mean. Then he observed that the streets were slowly clearing — and that the sky was getting darker.
     Clouds had come up over the sun. They were black and ragged, their edges flame-fringed as the sunlight spilled past them. Once again, Sadler marveled at the skill with which these images — for they could be nothing else — were projected on the dome. No actual thunderstorm could have seemed more realistic, and when the first rumble rolled round the sky he did not hesitate to look for shelter. Even if the streets had not already emptied themselves, he would have guessed that the organizer of this storm were going to omit none of the details. The little sidewalk café was crowded with the other refugees when the initial drops came down, and the first fiery tongue of lightening licked across the heavens. Sadler could never see lightng without counting the seconds before the thunder peal. It me when he had got to "Six," making it two kilometers away. That, of course, would put it well outside the dome, in the soundless vacuum of space. Oh well, one had to allow some artistic license, and it wasn't fair to quibble over points like this. Thicker and heavier came the rain, more and more continuous the flashes. The roads were running with water, and for the first time Sadler became aware of the shallow gutters which, if he had seen them before, he had dismissed without a second thought. It was not safe to take anything for granted here; you had to keep stopping and asking yourself "What function does this serve — What's it doing here on the Moon? Is it even what I think it is?" Certainly, now he came to consider the matter, a gutter was as unexpected a thing to see in Central City as a ox plow. But perhaps even that — Sadler turned to his closest neighbor, who was watching the storm with obvious admiration.
     "Excuse me," he said, "but how often does this sort of thing happen?"
     'About twice a day — lunar day, that is," came the reply. "It's always announced a few hours in advance, so that it won't interfere with business."
     "I don't want to be too inquisitive," continued Sadler, fearing that was just what he was, "but I'm surprised at the trouble you've gone to. Surely all this realism isn't necessary?"
     "Perhaps not, but we like it. We've got to have some rain, remember, to keep the place clean and deal with the dust. So we try to do it properly."
     If Sadler had any doubts on that score, they were dispelled when the glorious double rainbow arched out of the clouds. The last drops spattered on the sidewalk; the thunder dwindled away an angry, distant mutter. The show was over, and the glisten, g streets of Central City began to fill with life once more...
     ...The food, somewhat to his surprise, was excellent. Every bit must have been synthesized or grown in the yeast and chlorella tanks, but it had been blended and processed with great skill. The trouble with Earth. Sadler mused, was that it could take food for granted, and seldom gave the matter the attention it deserved. Here, on the other hand, food was not something that a bountiful Nature, with a little prompting, could be relied upon to provide. It had to be designed and produced from scratch, and since the job had to be done, someone had seen that it was done properly. Like the weather, in fact...
     ... All human communities, wherever they may be in space, follow the same pattern. People were getting born, being cremated (with careful conservation of phosphorus and nitrates), rushing in and out of marriage, moving out of town, suing their neighbors, having parties, holding protest meetings, getting involved in astonishing accidents, writing Letters to the Editor, changing jobs; yes, it was just like Earth. That was a somewhat depressing thought. Why had Man ever bothered to leave his own world if all his travels and experiences had made so little difference to his fundamental nature? He might just as well have stayed at home, instead of exporting himself and his foibles, at great expense, to another world.
     Your job's making you cynical, Sadler told himself. Let's see what Central City has in the way of entertainment.
     He'd just missed a tennis tournament in Dome Four, which should have been worth watching. It was played, so someone had told him, with a ball of normal size and mass. But the ball was honeycombed with holes, which increased its air-resistance so much that ranges were no greater than on earth. Without some such subterfuge, a good drive would easily span one of the domes. However the trajectories followed by these doctored balls were most peculiar, and enough to induce a swift nervous breakdown in anyone who had learned to play under normal gravity.
     There was a cyclorama in Dome Three, promising a tour of the Amazon Basin (mosquito bites optional), starting at every alternate hour. Having just come from Earth, Sadler felt no desire to return so promptly. Besides, he felt he had already seen an excellent cyclorama display in the thunderstorm that had now passed out of sight. Presumably it had been produced in the same manner, by batteries of wide-angle projectors...

     ...CENTRAL CITY, thought Sadler, had grown since he was here thirty years ago. Any one of these domes could cover the whole seven they had back in the old days. How long would it be, at this rate, before the whole Moon was covered up? He rather hoped it would not be in his time...
     ...There were far more vehicles in the streets; Central City was too big to operate on a pedestrian basis now. But one thing had not changed. Overhead was the blue, cloud-flecked sky of Earth, and Sadler did not doubt that the rain still came on schedule...
     ...So they had a lake here now, complete with islands and swans. He had read about the swans; their wings had to be carefully dipped to prevent their flying away and smashing into the "sky."...
     ...Because the illusion of sky was so well contrived, it was not easy to tell when you were about to leave one dome and enter another, but Sadler knew where he was when the vehicle went past the great metal doors at the lowest part of the tube. These doors, so he had been told, could smash shut in less than two seconds, and would do so automatically if there was a pressure drop on either side. Did such thoughts as these, he wondered, ever give sleepless nights to the inhabitants of Central City? He very much doubted it; a considerable fraction of the human race had spent its life in the shadow of volcanoes, dams and dykes, without developing any signs of nervous tension. Only once had one of the domes of Central City been evacuated — in both senses of the word — and that was due to a slow leak that had taken hours to be effective.
     The cab rose out of the tunnel into the residential area, and Sadler was faced with a complete change of scenery. This was no dome encasing a small city; this was a single giant building in itself, with moving corridors instead of streets...
     ...There was a large bulletin board a few meters away, displaying a three-dimensional map of the building. The whole place reminded Sadler of a type of beehive used many centuries ago, which he had once seen illustrated in an old encyclopedia. No doubt it was absurdly easy to find your way around when you'd got used to it, but for the moment he was quite baffled by Floors, Corridors. Zones and Sectors.

     "Going somewhere, mister?" said a small voice behind him.
     Sadler turned round, and saw a boy of six or seven years looking at him with alert, intelligent eyes. He was just about the same age as Jonathan Peter II. Lord, it had been a long time since he last visited the Moon.
     "Don't often see Earth folk here," said the youngster. "You lost?"
     "Not yet," Sadler replied. "But I suspect I soon will be."
     "Where going?" If there was a "you" in that sentence, Sadler missed it. It was really astonishing that, despite the interplanetary radio networks, distinct differences of speech were springing up on the various worlds. This boy could doubtless speak perfectly good Earth-English when he wanted to, but it was not his language of everyday communication.
     Sadler looked at the rather complex address in his notebook, and read it out slowly.
     "Come on," said his self-appointed guide. Sadler gladly obeyed.
     The ramp ahead ended abruptly in a broad, slowly moving roller-road. This carried them forward a few meters, then decanted them on to a high-speed section. After sweeping at least a kilometer past the entrances to countless corridors, they were switched back on to a slow section and carried to a huge, hexagonal concourse. It was crowded with people, coming and going from one roadway to another, and pausing to make purchases at little kiosks. Rising through the center of the busy scene were two spiral ramps, one carrying the up and the other the down traffic. They stepped on to the "Up" spiral and let the moving surface lift them half a dozen floors. Standing at the edge of the ramp, Sadler could see that the building extended downward for an immense distance. A very long way below was something that looked like a large net. He did some mental calculations, then decided that it would, after all, be adequate to break the fall of anyone foolish enough to go over the edge. The architects of lunar buildings had a light-hearted approach to gravity which would lead to instant disaster on Earth.
     The upper concourse was exactly like the one by which they. y had entered, but there were fewer people about and one could tell that, however democratic the Autonomous Lunar Republic might be, there were subtle class distinctions here as in all other cultures that man had ever created. There was no more aristocracy of birth or wealth, but that of responsibility would always exist. Here, no doubt, lived the people who really ran the Moon. They had few more possessions, and a good many more worries, than their fellow citizens on the floors below, and there was a continual interchange from one level to another.
     Sadler's small guide led him out of this central concourse along yet another moving passageway, then finally into a quiet corridor with a narrow strip of garden down its center and a fountain playing at either end. He marched up to one of the doors and announced: "Here's place." The brusqueness of his statement was quite neutralized by the proud there-wasn't-that-clever-of-me smile he gave Sadler, who was now wondering what would be a suitable reward for his enterprise. Or would the boy be offended if he gave him anything?
     This social dilemma was solved for him by his observant guide.
     "More than ten floors, that's fifteen." So there's a standard rate, thought Sadler. He handed over a quarter, and to his surprise was compelled to accept the change. He had not realized that the well-known lunar virtues of honesty, enterprise and fair-dealing started at such an early age.
     "Don't go yet," he said to his guide as he rang the doorbell. "If there's no one in, I'll want you to take me back."
     "You not phoned first?" said that practical person, looking at him incredulously.
     Sadler felt it was useless to explain. The inefficiencies and vagaries of old-fashioned Earth-folk were not appreciated by these energetic colonists—though heaven help him if he ever used that word here.
     However, there was no need for the precaution. The man he wanted to meet was at home, and Sadler's guide waved him a cheerful good-by as he went off down the corridor, whistling a tune that had just arrived from Mars.

From EARTHLIGHT by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1955)

     I was born right here in Luna City, which seems to surprise Earthside types. Actually, I’m third generation; my grandparents pioneered in Site One, where the Memorial is. I live with my parents in Artemis Apartments, the new co-op in Pressure Five, eight hundred feet down near City Hall. But I’m not there much; I’m too busy...
     ...“All city guides are girls,” Mr. Dorcas explained. “Holly is very competent.”
     “Oh, I’m sure,” she answered quickly and went into tourist routine number one: surprise that a guide was needed just to find her hotel, amazement at no taxicabs, same for no porters, and raised eyebrows at the prospect of two girls walking alone through “an underground city.”
     Mr. Dorcas was patient, ending with: “Miss Brentwood, Luna City is the only metropolis in the Solar System where a woman is really safe — no dark alleys, no deserted neighborhoods, no criminal element.”...
     We were in the tunnel outside and me with a foot on the slidebelt when she stopped. “I forgot! I want a city map.”
     “None available.”
     “There’s only one. That’s why you need a guide.”
     “But why don’t they supply them? Or would that throw you guides out of work?”
     See? “You think guiding is makework? Miss Brentwood, labor is so scarce they’d hire monkeys if they could.”
     “Then why not print maps?”
     “Because Luna City isn’t flat like — ” I almost said, “ — groundhog cities,” but I caught myself.
     “ — like Earthside cities,” I went on. “All you saw from space was the meteor shield. Underneath it spreads out and goes down for miles in a dozen pressure zones.”
     “Yes, I know, but why not a map for each level?”
     Groundhogs always say, “Yes, I know, but — ”
     “I can show you the one city map. It’s a stereo tank twenty feet high and even so all you see clearly are big things like the Hall of the Mountain King and hydroponics farms and the Bats’ Cave.”...

From THE MENACE FROM EARTH by Robert Heinlein (1957)

(ed note: Whittier is a real town in Alaska. But the situation is probably very similar to a small colony on an airless planet. Much like a standard railroad town, including season-based workers and a stranded permanent population. Unsurprisingly they also have a plumbing school. Tip of the hat to Markus Glanzer for bringing this article to my attention.)

     An impossibly long, single-lane tunnel is your only way into Whittier, and your only way out. Make it to the other end of those dimly lit miles, and you'll find all the ingredients of a city. Except instead of a sprawling, urban center, this town has been scaled to fit almost entirely into one lonely Alaskan tower.
     The two-and-a-half mile-long tunnel leading into Whittier is never that crowded — it physically can't be. At about 16 feet wide, it can only accommodate traffic flowing in one direction at a time. What it empties out into is a smattering of buildings, few of which still serve their original purpose.
     The two largest of those are the Buckner Building and the Begich Towers. Both were constructed in the wake of World War II along with the railroad leading in, a combined $55 million build that gave the military a home base at the very farthest Cold War frontier. Buckner was abandoned just seven years after its completion; the military realized quickly that it didn't have much use for such a far-flung outpost. Today, it exists as little more than ruin porn.
     Begich Towers (or BTI as it's more commonly known) held on, though. More than that; it essentially became Whittier, housing 75 percent of the town's 200 residents and providing nearly all of its municipal essentials. The first floor alone provides most of your basic city functions. The police department behind one door, the post office behind another. Walk a bit further down the hall and you'll find the city offices as well as the Kozy Korner, your local, neighborhood grocery store.
     A handful of other buildings dot the landscape. A large, military gymnasium now acts as boat storage. There's an inn or two doubling (quadrupling?) as laundromat, bar, and restaurant. But the big, brightly colored fortress below is Whittier's centerpiece, because almost the entirety of Whittier calls it home.
     To get a sense of daily Whittier life, we spoke with Jen Kinney, a writer and photographer who lived in Whittier for several years and became fascinated by a town whose peculiar physical structures have had such a profound effect on its social structures as well.
     "This really was the most community-centered place I had ever lived in my life," Kinney explained over the phone. "But at the same time, because you're so close to everyone, sometimes you feel really claustrophobic. Other times you feel enormously grateful that they're there. And still, other times, even when you're surrounded by all your neighbors, you can feel completely and utterly isolated."...

     ...That sparseness of infrastructure and general isolation is part of what drew Jen Kinney to the mountain-lined inlet years ago...
     ..."Everybody has to play a role. The town just wouldn't function if at least half of the people weren't willing to step in and be an EMT or even just cook for your neighbors when they're sick — everybody functions as part of a larger organism."
     In a town of Whittier's size, it really does take everyone to keep the town functioning. A few residents work on the railroad, some monitor the tunnel, but for the most part, people are employed by the City of Whittier itself. Whether it's snow clearance, building maintenance, city functions, or the school, for those who stay year-round, Whittier itself is their livelihood.
     Because the town is so small, everyone has to play a vital role to keep this self-contained organism alive. Without the the high school teacher, without the volunteer EMTs, — even without the guys sitting at the bar, drinking from 9am to closing — Whittier's social and physical infrastructure just wouldn't quite work.

     The tourists, and seasonal workers who visit Whittier in the summer to work on the dock and at the cannery make sense. They're there for work or just passing through. But what about those who claim Whittier as their sole, year-round residence? According to Kinney, the longer she stayed amongst the town's relatively few walls, the more difficult it became to make any generalizations about what it was that drew her neighbors to Whittier in the first place.
     "For one person," Kinney explained, "living in Whittier was idyllic because they were really social and were constantly able to be around people. And for others, it was really idyllic because they were able to be completely isolated all the time. But as for why people are there and how they ended up there, the range of stories was really staggering."
     For the majority of people, though, Whittier is a transitional town. They'll come, stay for a year, and never live in Whittier again. Or they'll come as a tourist on a summertime cruise. Or to traverse the abandoned Buckner building. But it's the ones who stay the winter that make up its core.
     Kinney recounted to us how one woman found herself in Whittier because her mother, a one-time heavy drinker and partier, traveled to Alaska in the 70s, found a job in there, fell in love, and turned her life around. After mending her relationship with her daughter, the daughter came to visit for two months that eventually turned into 35 years and four generations, all in Whittier.
     Another resident sought out Whittier explicitly as a safe haven from her abusive ex-husband. There, she was able to tell the train conductors not to let him through the tunnel. For her, Whittier meant a safer life.
     What makes Whittier so fascinating to the outside isn't just that this wildly diverse group of people happened upon Whittier, but that they happened upon Whittier together.
     "You have this sort of forced camaraderie where, superficially, these people might not necessarily have anything in common," Kinney elaborated. "In the summer, we would have these bonfires, and everybody would come. The age range might be between 17 and 55, because you can't have much social distinction in a place with so few people....
     ..."I'd lived in New York City, so I was used to being totally surrounded by people all the time; that wasn't what phased me. What was so weird was knowing the person on the other side of every wall. In most cases, I knew exactly who lived next door on my left, on my right, above, and below."...



Andy Weir’s new novel, Artemis, is a heist story set on the first lunar town, named Artemis. The book has had a large number of book reviews in the press mostly dealing with its literary qualities. Reviewers though have not quite dealt with the realism of the setting, a town on the Moon named Artemis which lives off tourism, mining and through providing a base camp to space agencies (ESA and ISRO are specifically mentioned) exploring the moon. Over the years many rationales have been given to colonize the Moon. This is the only story I have read – granted I have not been able to read that much science fiction – where tourism is the primary driver of colonization. Andy Weir has said that he first created an economy of the town and then went on to write the novel. His description of a tourist dependent city though has several assumptions that, while mostly true for some American destinations, are quite odd for tourist destinations outside the US. This is an analysis by a person who comes from a country whose economy is highly dependent of tourism, has visited some 30 countries and lived in 5 of them. I am trying to keep this review as spoiler free as possible so as not to ruin the enjoyment of the book to anyone who has not read it, though I hope that those that have not read the book will be able to follow my arguments and form their own opinions. I will also admit freely that I am a biased reviewer; much as I criticize Weir for having an American bias when creating his city, I admit that I have a Greek bias.

Literary Setting

Artemis is the story of Jazz (for Jasmine) Bashara, a young Saudi born woman who has lived most of her life in Artemis and belongs to the first generation to have grown up there. She is the only narrator of the story. We spend the entire novel in her head, and most likely she qualifies as an unreliable narrator in that what she understands is not necessarily what is actually happening. She works as a porter, delivering cargo from the cargo ships to various destinations in Artemis and doing smuggling on the side. One of her clients hires her to do a heist, and following the law of unintended consequences she finds herself forced to do another job with higher stakes to save the city. I will leave the plot description at that, which generally corresponds with the blurb, so as to avoid spoiling it. In the course though of the story she experiences Artemis from a variety of viewpoints, including as a tourist to the Apollo 11 site and describes a functioning town on the Moon as she understands it. Andy Weir has created a variety of characters that, as has been noted, ticks off a large number of diversity boxes, though it also has been noted that the different people he mentions do not quite act as people of their described background do today. On the other hand, considering that the book is set decades into the future on the Moon, we cannot be certain if people will act that way then. Just like The Martian the time the book is set is not given, and while through orbital mechanics you could work out that The Martian was set in the 2030s, the only mention of time is that Star Trek is 100 years old. My sense was that this would place the setting in the 2060s though other sources on the web claim that it is the 2080s.

Andy Weir has an agreement with Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the writers behind the pen name James S. A. Corey so that their works are set in the same Universe. The Expanse main series begins 150 years after the short story “Drive” which is about the invention of the Epstein Drive, a revolutionary type of high power high efficiency ion engine by one of the first colonists of Mars. The idea is to form a coherent future history of humanity with a strong basis on science rather than just space opera, from the third expedition to Mars to, well, I am not sure what the end game of The Expanse will be, intergalactic conflict? The Expanse can help fill some of the details in Artemis, the general Wild West type lawlessness of Artemis is what will evolve to the Ceres which, as Detective Miller comments, “has no laws, only cops”. To the best of my knowledge though we have not had published information on what is the actual extent of the collaboration between the three authors so I will be speculating here out of necessity. My critique of the novel should not be understood as dismissal of it. It is after all far easier to tear down than to build, and Weir has done an admirable job in world-building. While Artemis is not as good as the Martian I truly enjoyed Artemis and could not let it down until I finished it.

Tourism in the United States and in Europe

On the two sides of the Atlantic tourism takes very different forms. It is very well known in Europe that Americans only get two weeks of paid vacation per year –the poor for that matter get nothing- as opposed to the European norm of 4 or 5 weeks. The US is more economically polarized than Europe and a far more consumerist: What a European will spend on vacation; an American is more likely to spend on a bigger house, bigger car, bigger appliances etc. The typical American worker will take a day or two off next to a holiday and go with his family to the nearest beach/national park. They will take that one time trip to New York City/Washington DC/Disneyland/Las Vegas, college students will go on Spring Break but generally vacation is not as important as for Europeans. Andy Weir’s lunar vacation is the very American special vacation type: Rather than go to that trip to Las Vegas his vacationers go to Artemis. Since vacation is special anyway, they might as well splurge on it. For a European though some year the vacation may be special, but it is something that will happen every year. European destinations are designed so that you want to come every year, this does not seem to be the case in Artemis.

Another thing that Weir fails to understand is seasonality. Different groups of people come at different times of the year at the same destination, and the destination needs to be flexible enough to leave all satisfied. While in Greece have winter destinations like Arahova and Kaimaktsalan and city break destination like Athens which receive tourists all of the year, some 70% of tourists in Greece arrive between June and September. The tourist season goes as follows in Greece: Two weeks before Orthodox Easter is the High School senior 5 day field trip. 12th graders, accompanied by their teachers but not their parents, visit destinations such as Corfu and Rhodes in theory for educational purposes –they do visit the museums and archaeological sites- and in practice to go clubbing; to drink, sing and dance until the break of dawn or until a student gets smashed and the rest are returned to their hotel while a teacher accompanies him or her to the hospital. Next week is what we call in Greece Catholic Easter –for us Orthodox Christians it is Palm Sunday- and we see European tourists come for their break. Greek tourists join them since the next two weeks are a school holiday due to Orthodox Easter. The two weekends afterwards are the college student party trips to places such as Mykonos and Santorini, similar to American college student Spring Break. By that time it already mid-May foreign childless tourists abound. July and August, when schools are off, are the main tourist months with the peak of the peak being the first 20 days of August. After Dormition (August 15) people start returning home from vacation, school starts in Europe in late August though in Greece on September 10. We still get tourists though until the end of September. Weir’s tourist city somehow it lacks a tourist season, seasonal employees and for that matter tourist destinations beyond the Apollo 11 site.

Physical setting

General Description

Artemis, population at the time of the novel being 2,000 is referred as a city. Physically it is located in Tranquility Bay on the Moon some 40 km from the Apollo 11 landing site. I have an issue with the use of the term city: in Greece that a village has a population of less than 2000 inhabitants, a town 2,000-10,000 and a city of over 10,000. For this reason I use in this article the ancient Greek term polis to refer to the settlement. I believe that this term is also more appropriate than city because it also has the connotations of an independent city state rather than just an urban settlement. Artemis has the appropriate size for a small ancient Greek polis: Plato considers that the perfect size for a polis is 5040 citizens, which in his time meant free adult men, and that when it gets to 10,000 citizens it is too big. As Nikias though put it (in Thucydides’ History 7.77.7) “men make the city and not ships and walls empty of people”; which in our case I would amend to “men and women”. We do not know the demographic breakdown of Artemis, how many men versus women, what the age distribution is except that children under 6 were not allowed when Jazz moved and that at the time of the novel the minimum age is 12. Pregnant people are moved to the Earth to give birth. In The Expanse this problem has been solved, but not in Artemis. A lack of children creates very interesting problems, which I discuss later.

Using the analogy of Greece I can attempt to estimate how many tourists visit. As mentioned in 2018 we expect 30 million tourists, 70% of them (21 million) visit the four regions of the Ionian Islands, North Aegean, South Aegean and Crete which per the 2011 census are populated by 1,338,946 people. If we use a similar 15 tourists per inhabitant ratio for Artemis then it should have 30,000 tourists visiting it every year. That would make it a minor tourist destination. Can 30,000 people a year afford to spend something in the order of $100,000 to visit the moon? In view of the studies over who can afford a Virgin Galactic suborbital hop today, I think the answer is yes.

Artemis is described as a playground for rich tourists served by an underclass of workers, one of which is Jazz. Weir has rightly noted that since robots can do everything in space much cheaper than people, tourism becomes the only reason to visit space. Monetary unit of Artemis is the Soft Landed Gram or slug, which is in reality an account with the Kenyan Space Agency that is used to exchange funds on the Moon. Artemis is composed of 5 domes that have different functions: As Weir said during New York Comic Con “Armstrong is industry, Aldrin is the tourist center with casinos and hotels and stuff, Conrad is where the blue-collar folks live, the low-income people. Bean is sort of like suburban life; it’s middle-income folks. And then Shepard is where the really rich people live”.

Those who permanently live in Artemis are retirees who have moved their savings there to avoid taxation, workers in the limited industry that Artemis hosts, service employees for the tourists and Space Agency scientist. In other words Artemis is a cross between the Wild West of the western movies, Monte Carlo and McMurdo Station in Antarctica. These three functions though often clash. For example Monte Carlo is a police state; it has the highest per capita police force per its population in Europe. Somehow though in Artemis a single Mountie, Rudy Dubois, is capable of providing security that the tourists and locals need.

McMurdo station which is the main base of operations for Antarctica has on its own a population of 2,000 people mostly made of supporting crew to the scientists. Will automation in the late 21st century be such that the Moon, which is larger than Antarctica, can have a base of support smaller than that of Antarctica today? We can only guess.

Travelling to Artemis

Andy Weir has written an article where, based on the ratio of the cost of airplane fuel to ticket price for a trip he calculates that the cost of a roundtrip to Artemis will be US$70,000 in 2015 dollars. His premise is that future spaceships will have similar economics to today’s airplanes. If he was to choose passenger ferries as the economic base I am sure he would come with a different number, but I am willing to go along with his price. What I do doubt are his assumptions for the trip specifics. While it is not mentioned explicitly, all would be lunar tourists travel to the Kenya Space Center and blast off to the moon from there. We are not told of any other launching sites sending people to the moon and when one of the characters who is from Hong Kong leaves Artemis, Jazz tells her Kenyan pen pal and accomplice Kevin to track him in a way that assumes that he could only be leaving towards Kenya. The trip from Earth to the Moon and from the Moon to Earth takes 7 days each way. Why do visitors to Artemis need to fly to Kenya first rather than leave from a spaceport closer to their home? For one thing every visitor to Greece does not enter through Eleftherios Venizelos Athens International Airport and then travels to their final destination. Elefterios Venizelos airport is a hub for connections to Greece especially if you are flying a transatlantic flight or your final destination is pretty small but European tourists will often fly directly to Corfu, Mykonos, Rhodes, Heraklion, Santorini or wherever they are going, especially if they are in a low cost or charter flight. Airplanes though are not the only way to visit the Greek island, very often tourists will go by boat. While Corfu has a direct connection to Italy and the islands of the east Aegean direct boats to Turkey, the typical port of origin for a trip to Greek island is my home city Piraeus, the port of Athens. Greece has 107 inhabited islands per the 2011 census, from Piraeus you can get a boat to most. Not all ships travel at the same speed, summer visitors have the option of taking a slow boat, a fast boat or a hydrofoil, in addition to the airplane of that island has an airport with a regularly scheduled flight. Why is Kenya Space Center the only origin to passenger flights to Artemis and why are they slow 7 days trips when Apollo took 3 days other than reasons of novel plot? Shouldn’t there be fast flights to those willing to shell out the money? This is not just an issue of convenience but also of competitiveness as a tourist destination. Studies about Greek tourism get often printed on the Greek press and one of the problems we have is that we are too far away from the countries most of visitors originate compared to our competitors. For a British traveler Crete is twice the air time distance than Ibiza. I cannot guess what travel times will be when Artemis is set, but for a busy CEO who gets very limited time off work, spending two weeks to and from the destination does not seem to be wise. Then again it could be that a trip to Artemis is something like a cruise: It is the cruise ship that is the destination and the passengers just get out for day trips.

We are not told of what engine the crewed spaceships use though the Hermes on The Martian used an ion engine and in The Expanse ion engines are described as the old type used. We are not told how many passengers each ship carries. We are not told if there are specialized cargo ships that make the trip without passenger carrying bulky or heavy loads, or if the passenger ships are the only way to ship stuff. We are not told if the ships have artificial gravity, as the Hermes did, if they have their engine constantly firing to provide gravitation as happens to the ships of The Expanse or if they follow an Hohmann transfer orbit style one firing and coasting in microgravity for most of the trip. All we know is that there is regular service to the Kenya Space Center. My guess is that the ships doing the line between KSC and Artemis have are similar to the Adriatic ferries between Greece and Italy: There are several different accommodation types ranging from deck tickets to luxury suites. Also there are all sorts of amenities on boards such as at least two restaurants, bars and a disco. I also guess is that on the disco they play Nicki Minaj’s Starships, Prodigy’s Out of Space, PPK’s Resurrection and similar relevant space songs.

Foundation of Artemis

The person behind the foundation of the city is Fidelis Ngugi, formerly Kenya’s Minister of Finance. We are told that she managed to create the Kenyan Space Program and later Artemis out of nothing by taking advantage of Kenya’s equatorial position and offering unspecified incentives. Andy Weir never specifically mentions how the whole project started. We are not told who actually financed the construction of the city and of what nationality is the capital that did so. Retirees and criminals provide the capital that expanded and currently sustains the city. Is Kenya the origin of the capital that built the city? On the one hand Kenya has hosted a space program in the Broglio Space Center, located on the San Marco offshore platform. The Italian Space Agency operated the platform and used it to launch the American Scout launch vehicle 9 times between 1967 and 1988. On the other hand as a Piraean when I take a walk at the Marina of Zea in Piraeus I see a lot of megayachts flying the Liberian flag, but rarely if ever the Kenyan flag. Commentary on the web has noted the initiative to mine asteroids, but has not noted that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is also offering its own money to start ups as part of the initiative. Will Kenya of a few decades in the future be able to offer significant money, as opposed to just a favorable legal status, in order to be the host country of the lunar city? Also considering the kind of status this sort of project confers to a country, why wouldn’t any of the major powers try and be the host country, especially if they are the ones providing the capital? McMurdo Station is located in Antarctica in the New Zealand claim and has people from all over the world, but from the description I have had from classmates that have worked there, it is at its core an American town.

Another thing we are not told about the city is who the people that founded it were and how they were selected or allowed to live there. Was a tender put out for colonists and who was allowed to answer? We know that Ammar Bashara, Jazz’s father, was not one of the original colonists but moved very early on. The smelter is managed by Loretta Sanchez who invented the -fictional- process used to smelt aluminum and seems to have been there since the start. The city grew with the push pull phenomenon typical of the settlement of the United States: an immigrant would arrive and he or she would bring his relatives – compatriots to live with him, leading to ethnic enclaves. The environmental systems are run by Vietnamese, welders are Saudis, Hungarians control HIBs which are a sort of maintenance robots. When Artemis was founded was there an original person doing that job from that particular country? And how was each job selected, was there an immigration type agreement to hire people of one job only from one country in exchange for that country actually funding the Artemis project? Is there some sort of limitation to immigration to Artemis? For the last parts we are led to believe that this is not the case. Jazz does not know of any agreement forcing all welders to be Saudis for example, is offered other jobs when young and is specifically told that the city welcomes retirees who bring their savings with them without limitations of origin.

The American example of immigration as the choice of the individual is not the only one that exists. The foundation of past poleis has been more of a state affair. Herodotus (4.150-153) mentions how Cyrene in modern day Libya was founded by the people of Thera (also called Santorini) (translated by A.D. Godley):

When Grinnus king of Thera asked the oracle [of Apollo in Delphi] about other matters, the priestess’ answer was that he should found a city in Libya. “Lord, I am too old and heavy to stir; command one of these younger men to do this,” answered Grinnus, pointing to Battus as he spoke. No more was said then. But when they departed, they neglected to obey the oracle, since they did not know where Libya was, and were afraid to send a colony out to an uncertain destination. For seven years after this there was no rain in Thera; all the trees in the island except one withered. The Theraeans inquired at Delphi again, and the priestess mentioned the colony they should send to Libya. So, since there was no remedy for their ills, they sent messengers to Crete to find any Cretan or traveller there who had travelled to Libya. In their travels about the island, these came to the town of Itanus, where they met a murex fisherman named Corobius, who told them that he had once been driven off course by winds to Libya, to an island there called Platea. They hired this man to come with them to Thera; from there, just a few men were sent aboard ship to spy out the land first; guided by Corobius to the aforesaid island Platea, these left him there with provision for some months, and themselves sailed back with all speed to Thera to bring news of the island. But after they had been away for longer than the agreed time, and Corobius had no provisions left, a Samian ship sailing for Egypt, whose captain was Colaeus, was driven off her course to Platea, where the Samians heard the whole story from Corobius and left him provisions for a year […] As for the Theraeans, when they came to Thera after leaving Corobius on the island, they brought word that they had established a settlement on an island off Libya. The Theraeans determined to send out men from their seven regions, taking by lot one of every pair of brothers, and making Battus leader and king of all. Then they manned two fifty-oared ships and sent them to Platea.

Reading Artemis I got the sense that most of those that have made the move are middle class to wealthy people who had a hunger to change scenery. The working class of Artemis seems to belong to the richer 10% of the globe rather than the poor masses of the Third World. The majority though of people who migrate today tend to be poor and often refugees. A $35,000 one way ticket price is not necessarily an obstacle for someone from a poor country to migrate to Artemis. Per the media smuggling into Europe from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East or South Asia already costs in the order of $10,000. Per a Washington Post article a North Korean family paid in 2017 $30,000 to smuggle itself to South Korea. It is not at all necessary that the originating country pay for the trip: During the 2015 Aegean immigrant crisis in Greece we got the sense that the Visegrad countries would rather pay to send refugees on the moon than allow then to settle in their own country. Could it be that in several years into the future rich countries will pay to send the poor to colonize space in the same way that they financially support today refugee camps in Third World countries rather than allow refugees to settle in the rich countries? My personal opinion is that if all it takes to settle in Artemis is just paying a ticket to get there, it can easily turn into a dumping ground for the undesirables of the world. There is one major stumbling block for this: The prohibition on children under 6 (originally) and 12 (currently). One of the principal reasons for the postwar depopulation of the Greek islands was the lack of educational facilities. Entire families would move just so their child could go to high school. If children are not allowed, which is also a major limitation to tourism, we are likely to see entire families return to earth as soon as the mother gets pregnant. A city without children, while common in fantasy literature, is not viable in the real world.

Life support

Artemis has a pure Oxygen atmosphere at a pressure that is equivalent to the partial pressure of Oxygen on the earth’s surface. In the real world American spacecraft up to Apollo had a pure oxygen atmosphere, but even Skylab had a mixture of 75% Oxygen 25% Nitrogen due to fears of toxicity from long term exposure to pure oxygen. All other spaceships and the ISS have atmospheric composition and pressure closer to Earth sea level. Ships to Artemis that come from Earth begin with sea level atmosphere and slowly change it over the trip to pure Oxygen. The aluminum smelter produces huge amounts of Oxygen which is then piped in the polis. CO2 from breathing is separated and piped for agricultural use. On earth aluminum smelting produces CO2 rather than O2. The Sanchez process though uses rods made from Carbon and Chlorine that somehow produce O2. The pure oxygen atmosphere, other than serving an important plot point, is a design choice by Weir. I strongly feel though that he has not thought through all the implications. For one thing how do the trees in Aldrin Park that Jazz visits survive under pure oxygen in low atmospheric pressure is a mystery. If all the CO2 in the atmosphere is collected and pumped to the food farms, what could they be possibly photosynthesizing? Also plants get mixed signals at low atmospheric pressure leading them to show water stress even when fully watered. Finally without nitrogen, how would the nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil fix N2 into nitrates? It could be that nitrogen for the plants is artificially provided through fertigation. Still though, a pure oxygen atmosphere is not very conductive to healthy soil functions.

Another question that is never addressed is what happens to other types of waste. Per Weir water is composed from local Oxygen and Hydrogen that was transported from earth and is continuously recycled. This implies tertiary treatment of wastewater. We are not told where the wastewater treatment plant is. What do they do with biosolids, a.k.a. activated sludge? Do they recover the nutrients? Do they compost it and use it as soil amendment? Do they just dry it and dump it out of the airlock? For that matter what do they do with solid waste in general? In The Expanse there is a universal recycling system, even used instead of burial for the dead. Who collects the garbage in Artemis? Who cleans the street and, more importantly how often do they go on strike? If anything tourists do not like to visit places that are dirty.

Artemis as a tourist destination

Artemis hotel capacity guesses

Weir has said, and it is noted in the novel, that the population of Artemis is 2,000 people. He does not mention though how many people visit the polis as tourists. I will use Greek analogies to try and give an estimate. In a place whose economy is dependent on tourism there are three types of inhabitants: the permanent population, those having temporary accommodation such as a second home who live part of the year –a category that can also include seasonal workers- and tourists which in general far outnumber the local population.

There are several forms of accommodation for tourists. In Greece formal tourist accommodations fall in three categories: hotels, rooms-to-rent (ενοικιαζόμενα δωμάτια) and campgrounds. I am pretty sure that everyone is familiar with hotels. They are generally categorized into star categories depending on the services they offer. Even a 1 star hotel though must meet a minimum number of requirements. Rooms-to-rent is an accommodation type that is described in tourist guides to Greece as “like a bed and breakfast without the breakfast part”. They are often owned by a local and are a family run business. Generally they are required to be licensed by Greek National Tourist Organization (GNTO), like hotels though they have much looser standards than hotels. They are quite popular with Greek tourists because they are cheaper than hotels but they often offer fewer services. Their rooms are often optimized for family vacations. A typical studio has one big room with two queen beds, a kitchenette and refrigerator plus a separate bathroom. They might not even have a reception and it is very rare that they offer breakfast. Very often bookings are not available on the internet, though you can often find the owner/manager’s phone number and call them at any time to book a room in advance. One of the rather typical scenes of summer in a Greek island is rent-a-room owners waiting right behind the catapult of an arriving ferry boat yelling the name of their room and their price in (tourist) English and whatever other language they can speak, trying to get clients among those that did not book accommodation before arriving on the island. In general this is the hardest part of hotel type accommodation to track, the Hellenic Statistical Authority has trouble tracking them because there are several that belong to the informal part of the economy. In other countries there are similar types of non-hotel permanent accommodations such as youth hostels, which are rare in Greece.

Camping in Greece can be in organized campgrounds or outside them, a practice known in Greece as free camping. In general free camping is forbidden in Greece, especially right now with the ongoing refugee crisis. There are several organized campgrounds, private and public, authorized by GNTO and tracked by the Hellenic Statistical Authority. In the last decade the sharing economy has also appeared in Greece with lodgings appearing in AirBnB and similar websites. The Greek government’s first reaction has been to crack down on the practice because of unfair competition to authorized and taxpaying hotels, rooms to rent and campgrounds. The problem that arose that often those putting their vacation home on the internet are people who are foreign citizens that are not permanent residents of Greece. Thus the government has been working with the websites to ensure that this kind of practice is legalized provided the owners of the accommodation pay the kind of heavy tax burden that formal accommodations have. Unfortunately it is difficult to find how many beds are available through the sharing economy, and even less so to find data on how many people have a summer house in a tourist destination that might bring over a friend for a visit.

Greece has 107 islands which mostly live off tourism. Several of them are of similar population to Artemis. On table 1 is a list of islands that had a winter population between 1,500 and 2,500 inhabitants in the 2011 census along with the accommodations they have. Now note that none of these four islands has an airport, though they have heliports mostly for medical evacuations. Visiting them from abroad means for Paxi landing in Ioannis Kapodistrias Corfu International Airport, going to the harbor and taking a ferry boat. For the other three islands which are in the Aegean it means landing at Eleftherios Venizelos, getting to the port of Piraeus and taking a boat trip lasting several hours. For hotels and campgrounds I used the Hellenic Statistical Authority to find capacity. For rooms to rent I used a variety of online sources, most important being the magazine “Diakopes” which has an online website ( that mentions the capacity of rooms to rent. While there are several sources giving names and phone numbers of rooms-to-rent, only Diakopes had number of beds.

Of these 4 islands the only one I have visited is Paxi in late August 2009, which is in the Ionian Sea, where I stayed in a lighthouse. On top of the tourists staying in hotels, rooms to rent, campgrounds and sharing rooms with friends or strangers on the sharing economy, there were also several yachts both docked on the ports and marinas but also anchored offshore. It is very hard to guess how many people were there visiting, but my guess would be that they were more than the winter population. When complaining about the shortage of medical facilities the local governments gave some numbers to the press: Amorgos claims that while their winter population is 1,800 people, their summer population reaches 10,000. Kea claimed one year to have 5,000 people at the peak and another 10,000. Now islanders are known to exaggerate in order to get more resources from the national government. Table 1 shows that Paxi is rather less developed than other three islands in the Aegean that have a similar population to Artemis. The tourist peak in Greece comes in the first 20 days of August, when it is very hard to find any kind of vacancy, all the bed in Table 1 are definitely slept on by at least one person. If Artemis has the kind of tourist density of Paxi, I would conservatively guess that at the peak it has at least as many tourists as permanent residents, thus 2,000 people. If it has the tourist density of Ios, then at the tourist peak it has over 10,000 tourists.

Somehow all the tourists fit in Aldrin, having rooms that are bigger than Jazz’s cramped submarine bunk type room in Conrad. Weir thinks that a place that per his main character lives off tourism can do so while having significantly fewer tourists than residents at the peak of the tourist season. Granted, it is a long and expensive journey to Artemis, and Artemis also lives off the limited industry it has, supporting the scientists and the retirees. Still in Mediterranean tourist depended town such as Portimão in Portugal, Malia in Greece, Kusadasi in Turkey or Agia Napa in Cyprus, which I have all visited, tourist accommodation and services take more urban space than accommodation and services to locals. Also during the off season the tourist districts are ghost towns, everything boarded up in the main thoroughfare and if something is open it is most likely quite empty of visitors. Jazz never mentions the off season, likely because Weir thinks that as a destination it is not very seasonal. The question of hotel ownership, which is tied to the issue of who provided the capital that built Artemis, is never raised.

The Artemis tourist experience

Artemis follows the day night cycle of Kenya, which is simulated through artificial lighting. Weir describes a polis that generally follows a typical 24 hour cycle as is familiar to him: people wake up in the morning, go to work during the day and sleep at night. When Jazz sneaks out in the middle of the night for her job, she finds the place deserted. This is not how places that receive tourists always work: for one thing you will have many tourists suffering from jet lag. When I last visited Greece I would wake up at 1 am at first, it was 11 am in California. At the end of the 7 day trip, assuming the spaceship follows Kenya time, tourists would have adapted to the change. This is not the case though with shorter trips. Another issue is that individuals have their own time preference, and a comment that we make in Greece is that every nationality has its own cycle: Swedes are known to wake up early in the morning and sleep early even when on vacation. On the other hand we Greeks, who are known sing and dance until the break of dawn, sleep in the morning, waking up no earlier than noon. Working hours and arrangements of the tourist zones adapt to the tourists rather than force the tourists to adapt to them. I was utterly shocked when in Agios Nikolaos in Crete where I worked for 6 months in 2008/9 I discovered that the souvlaki grill was selling meat on Good Friday, until I realized that they were catering to the tourists, not to Greeks. Similarly I remember eating yaurtlu kebap in Chania at 4 am after a night out dancing at a local night club with friends while the store was starting to cook tiropita, bougatsa and other breakfast items for the morning crowd. They would start coming around 5 am when the boat from Piraeus was due and Western tourists were expected to wake up. Furthermore the last time I was in Thassos the super market had gained a large selection of vodkas to serve the needs of Eastern European tourists that are frequenting it. This was not the case during my childhood when foreign tourists were mostly West Germans that drunk beer.

The tourist experience is a two way street, both the locals and the tourists create the destination. However there is an innate tourist experience which is depended on the availability of the attractions at the destination. When I went to Mykonos as a student on I went there to take part of the Mykonos experience: Waking up briefly in the morning to catch hotel breakfast, sleeping again and then after finally waking up after noontime going to Super Paradise Beach to dance with some 2,000 others, mostly students to the electronic dance music played by the DJ. After 6 or 7 pm we would return to the hotel, have dinner, walk around and eventually end up at a more typical night club -the hottest place at the time was called “Space Dance”- no earlier than 11 pm. Afterwards we would go to Cavo Paradiso which opened at 2 am on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday night, though it was wiser to show up after 4 am to listen to lounge music (and drink) while waiting for the sun to rise. Of course Mykonos has many other things to do: a waterpark where we had fun one afternoon before going to Super Paradise, awesome beaches to swim and do watersports, an archaeological museum which I did visit. More importantly, it is the visitation point for the sacred island of Delos where Apollo and Artemis were born which is completely protected as an archaeological site. The Mykonos Experience is not typical of Greek islands: Paros and Naxos for example are more oriented towards families while Tinos receives pilgrims who visit the Church of the Virgin Mary which holds a miraculous icon purportedly painted by the Evangelist Luke. This does not mean that you cannot do most things on most islands; it’s just that each island has a somewhat different tourist character. What is the typical tourist experience in Artemis? What is it that drives people to take such a long trip to the moon?

Jazz impersonates a tourist at some point, so we get to see at least part of it. She wakes up in the morning at a hotel, takes the train to the Apollo 11 site and goes out on an EVA to enjoy the site from behind a fence. The other thing mentioned is going out on a hamster type ball in the lunar surface and bouncing around and visiting the night life, which in Jazz’s case means silently drinking without music. She does mention though clubs where you can dance; she just doesn’t like that kind of entertainment. The Mykonos experience I mentioned is something that you can only really do for a long weekend. More than that you get tired of the dancing, and just go out to experience the beaches, cultural heritage, physical environment, different settlements on the island and other type of attractions. The Artemis experience mentioned above in the end will also fit a long weekend. Day 1 you go to Apollo 11, day 2 on a hamster ball and Artemis is not exactly described as the sort of place where you can go on bar crawls lasting days. Who would really travel two weeks just to spend 3 days on Artemis? There is always people-watching, when you sit on a coffee shop on a main thoroughfare and watch people going by. I remember when in the last year of my undergrad studies we visited Monte Carlo with the university, classmates of mine engaged in people-watching while I went with others to the Oceanographic Museum. As they told us afterwards they were near the casino and would see expensive sports cars driving there to let their patrons off. Apparently my male classmates ogled the cars while my female classmates were salivating over the expensive designer clothes that the fashion models in the passenger seats were wearing. Why doesn’t Artemis have other attractions, such as guided rover geology tours of the surface around the polis, guided tours of the smelter or the nuclear reactor, some amusement park type destination? If you want people to visit, you need to offer them things to do that will take a longer time to accomplish than the trip getting there.

Visitors to Artemis

Tourists described in the novel are families with older children, a married Arab woman without her husband and retirees. This does not quite capture the gamut of categories that choose to go on tourism. If you visit Greece during the school year you will run into foreign schools on educational trips. Much as a trip to Artemis is far more expensive, I see no reason why schools should not be there. I am pretty sure that students of Swiss boarding school, British Public schools or American Preparatory Academies can afford to take a trip to Artemis. Alternatively busy parents can send their kids with the nanny while they are running their corporation. Much as Artemis is rather expensive and too long a trip for Spring Break, the current price for Semester at Sea ranges between $23,950 and $31,950. I am pretty sure that a Semester at Artemis program would appear. We are likely to see corporate retreats for the upper management at Artemis, though scientific conferences seem unlikely: grants will pay a few thousand for a trip of a professor with a few students but not $100,000 each. No religious site is mentioned in Artemis, so we are not likely to see pilgrims before the first monastery is founded there, if not a few generations later after said monastery has produced important personalities. For that matter The Expanse describes a solar system without monasteries of any kind, which I find very weird. If indeed the world of The Expanse is a continuation of today’s world, I see no reason why this kind of religious expression would disappear considering how common it is around the world.

No sporting events are mentioned in the text and thus it is unlikely we would see mass sport tourism. In general it is hard to have physical sports on the moon due to low gravity: you need real training to send a soccer ball in the goal post as opposed to kicking it off the stadium. What would be likely to see is e-sports, a.k.a. video games so long there is no 3 second lag. There are several channels showing e-sports on basic cable, if the company making them wanted they could sponsor a tournament to the moon to raise publicity. Medical tourism is a very high possibility, a case is even mentioned, but for now Artemis lacks the infrastructure to really support it. In the case mentioned a wealthy Norwegian has moved with his daughter to Artemis because of her condition. This is quite realistic to expect. What Weir though seems to ignore is how generous is the welfare state is outside the United States. National Health Systems of wealthy countries do pay for rehabilitation abroad today. Jazz should not be surprised that there is a Norwegian there for that purpose, but that there isn’t a colony of recovering people taking advantage of lunar gravity with the cost being underwritten by their national health systems. As a general note though, tourists crave safety and strong law and order. People do not visit a place so as to get robbed there. Surprisingly Artemis does not offer that, there is only one Mountie that is supposed to offer security for all the people all the time.

Life in the polis

Law and Order

When people are on vacation, they often do things they would not dare do at home, especially after a few drinks. On top of that policing tourists often creates a moral dilemma: How much of their behavior do you police and following which legal and moral code? Tourists come from another society that often has differing values. Do you want to enforce your own society’s values on them? Do you create a tourist enclave under foreign law and if so, how much do you allow of your own people to partake in the vices of the tourists? What should be the case about behavior which is considered normal or at least tolerable in your society but not in the visitor’s society? Should the tourist enjoy the advantage of both societies without either’s obligation? These are issue on top of the more generic issues between law and society for the local population. We really do not see much of tourists being policed in the novel. What we do see is policing of the locals. I was utterly shocked when I read in the novel that Andy Weir’s version of law and order in Artemis features lynch mobs! Why would you ever want to go to a place where your everyday behavior might lead the locals to lynch you and you have no recourse? Tourists are by far the most fickle people over security, they demand absolute security from all dangers real or perceived; this is not what Artemis is offering. This is even more prominent in places that cater to the rich. Monte Carlo is a police state, this is part of the appeal. Italians can display their expensive cars and expensive clothes and jewelry without fear of being robbed, which is a real danger in Northern Italy.

When you live in a tourist country, things that tourists do will make the news. Over time you learn to recognize patterns in behavior, which may or may not correspond to how they act in their home country. Tourists want to participate even partially in the life of the destination, but also want to be part of their home country to which they will return after all. The most typical tourists request is that they watch a home sporting event taking place when they are outside. I most certainly remember when I last was in Thassos every seaside cafeteria/bar in Limenaria was advertising how they were the best place to see the Champions League qualifying game between Partizan Belgrade and Steaua Bucharest. I have no idea how the game went or its aftermath though my sense is that nothing happened afterwards. The issue arises when a game, especially of the kind that attracts passion, has a questionable call. A celebration by the team that the call was in favor can lead to a knuckle fight between groups of fans. While you can expect the establishment’s security to kick you out, this might just lead to a street brawls between mobs of sport fans. Is one Mountie really capable of breaking up a fight between 100 fans? Should Artemis then make watching sports illegal? It is simply not just an issue of sports.

We have had cases in Greece of a tourist killing another tourist because he made advances on that tourists’ girlfriend in a club. I remember the case of a 200 kg female Scandinavian tourist going from bar to bar, causing damage to the places after her advances to male patrons were rebuked, getting thrown out until eventually she made it to the main road, stopped a car by sitting on it and causing hood damage, and then dragging out the driver and sexually assaulting him. But much as these are all sporadic events, and I am sure that everyone living in a tourist country has such stories to share, there is the systematic event known as closing time. In Greece in general the idea of closing time was legislated in the mid-1990s and abandoned after popular outcry: adults do like to be told when to sleep. Still just because tourists do not all leave at the same time, this does not mean that they do not do stupid things on the way out, just that it does not have a specific time it happens. When leaving the bars at closing time in Blacksburg, Raleigh or Fresno the sober will notice the massive police presence out at the time. Drunk people can assault other people for no reason. Getting drunk reduces sexual inhibitions, and this not just leads to sexual assault but also to sexual activity in full public view. A major Cypriot newspaper had in its front page pictures of tourists at Agia Napa behaving indecently at 4 am. Cypriot police did respond to the public outcry by increasing police presence, but this was only up to a limit: Party places live off people behaving in ways that are unacceptable at home. Bar and hotel owners are known to lobby for light treatment, send them to a room or at most to a prison cell for a night, do not send them in prison for long or outlaw the behavior completely. As mentioned earlier there is a strong possibility that Artemis would be a place that never sleeps. Is Rudy capable on his own of managing mobs of drunkards at Aldrin?

Much as tourists are known to get rowdy and be a danger to themselves and others, they also need protection from the locals. I remember a case of bouncers beating a tourist to a coma and killing him because they thought wrongly that he was a potential thief. Dangers to the tourist do not need to be though so obvious. In the novel a barkeep is creating an adulterated distilled alcoholic drink which he tests on a willing Jazz. This sort of behavior is extremely dangerous; in Greece we have had people go blind after drinking adulterated drinks that had excessive methanol. It has not only been tourists: a soldier on the Evros border was visited by his family which crossed into Turkey and bought a bottle of Yeni Raki which they gifted to him. He went permanently blind from drinking it. There are also several other activities that tourist police does in order to preserve the quality of the tourist experience and name of the destination. If a taxi driver, hotelier or restaurant owner overcharges you, the tourist police is where you find recourse. If the restaurant serves you rotten food, there should be police force for that. If the owner of the establishment is not giving you receipts, cooks the books and cheats on his taxes, he should not be allowed to compete with legitimate businessmen. Rudy is shown having great knowledge of criminal activity in Artemis all the way down to domestic abuse, but is he also the kind of person that performs analysis on food and drink, criminal fraud investigations, has knowledge of taxation and economic laws enough to smell a scam? If so, I guess then that after Artemis he ought to apply for the Avengers or the Justice League, he definitely has the qualifications.

But tourists are not the only people on Artemis, there are locals. As mentioned, locals come from many cultures, each with each own values. Artemis though does not have any written laws. If you do something wrong Rudy will beat you, if it is something very wrong you get deported to Earth. Rudy though is not the only source of law, ad hoc morality polices form from among the Artemisians and lynch whoever did something that is against their code of justice. The major problem is, what really informs said code of justice? We are given an example in the novel of someone being lynched for living with teenagers. What if said person was the owner of the largest employer in Artemis? Would people lynch him, or would they protect him and feed his sexual urges with unsuspecting teenagers in order to protect their jobs?

The problem is what happens when we talk about less important things that are offensive to one group but not another. I remember when I was in Portugal in Praia da Rocha near Portimão in Portugal a group of preteen non-Portuguese tourists, each with a beer bottle at hand, walking on the main thoroughfare at the seaside. In Portugal, and in Greece for that matter, this is legal behavior; there is no minimum alcohol age and walking in public with an alcohol container is fully legal. Me and my Portuguese friend were commenting that this is disgraceful behavior but in the end those kids were only imitating their parents, who would also be going on a bar crawl soon. In the US this sort of behavior is considered criminal, both for the kids and their parents (child endangerment). Should American-Artemisians form a morality patrol that trashes stores selling alcohol to minors and lynches store owners, kids and their parents that tolerate this sort of behavior? What happens if the relatives of those so attacked go and attack the lynching mob and their relatives? In Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the only theater trilogy that has survived from antiquity, we have Agamemnon returning from 10 years leading the Greeks in the Trojan War where he is killed while taking a bath by his wife Clytemnestra for cheating on her in Troy, with the help of her lover. Then their son Orestes kills his mother in vengeance for his father’s death, but is then haunted by the Erinyes or Furies, spirits of matriarchical vengeance. Mad from the tormenting of the Erinyes he flees to Athens, where the Areopagus, the court of law for issues of murder, tries him and finds him the killing justified with the goddess Athena casting the tie breaking vote. The theme of Oresteia is moving from a primitive society of the holy law of vengeance to a human political society of laws and courts. Alas Artemis is a primitive society in anarchy, not a socially developed political society. But then again the political system of Artemis is even more problematic that lynching.

Institutional structure

Artemis, with a population of 2,000 people, is approximately the size of a small ancient Greek city state. After reading the novel though it is obvious that politically Artemis is absolute monarchy ruled by the administrator and founder, Fidelis Ngugi. Rudy DuBois enforces the law, which at times he makes up, but he defers to Ngugi, not the people of Artemis. In her person she holds legislative, executive and judiciary power. King Battus as the founder of Cyrene never had the kind of power Fidelis has.

Ancient Greek city states had for the most part a tripartite power structure: at the top there was a king or some other type of titular leader, in the middle there was an assembly of selected men, the modern equivalent would be Parliament and at the bottom there was the General Assembly of all male citizens, the ecclesia of the people. The specific power vested at each level of the governing structure and the composition of each body, let alone the name, depended on the specific city and the time. Macedonia was a monarchy ruled by the king. Below him were the Royal Friends (Vasiliki Eteri) who, in addition to forming the cavalry in battle, advised the king and below them were the Foot Friends (Pezeteroi) who formed the infantry but were also the body that selected who would be king among the male members of the Royal House, would remove a bad king and appoint regents if the king was a minor. In Athens, which was a democracy, the head of the state was the Archon whose main job was to preside over the religious ceremonies of the state. Below him was the Parliament (Voule) which would prepare laws but all the power was at the hands of the ecclesia, the assembly of all free Athenian males which would vote laws, declare wars, sign peace, appropriate money and generally do all acts of power. A citizen who would not take part in politics was called an idiotevon, which is where the word idiot comes from: someone so dumb he is not even interested in politics.

It seems that the polis of Artemis-on-the-Moon is inhabited by idiots living in an absolute monarchy for not only do we not hear of any political body, we do not even hear of any political process. There is no city council or assembly of the citizens. We do not hear of any political discussion for that matter in the entire novel. Worse of all the whole plot of the novel confirms the aphorism about dictatorship that I heard in Barcelona when referring to Franco’s regime: In a dictatorship everyone is oppressed, but if you have the right connections you can do whatever you wish. Jazz is a pawn in a plot of a powerful person to append the current economic structure of the polis. When you do not have an institutional structure in place, violence becomes the only recourse. Much as Weir has tried to build a techno-utopia, scratch under the surface and you see a dystopia where the law of the jungle rules. There is a not so benevolent leader on top who has decisions over life and death among the inhabitants. Those on her good graces can do whatever they please. The rest must suffer lynchings if what their actions do not please some constituency and can suffer arbitrary loss of property, if not life without any hope for recourse.

The issue with the lack of laws and courts not just a theoretical concern. In order to survive and grow Artemis needs external investment. Playgrounds for the rich such as Monte Carlo, Gstaad, Paris and London are also places where the wealthy park their wealth in various forms such as real estate or various financial instruments. Large investors demand a stable institutional framework that spells out what is allowed and forbidden, what are the potential economic benefits and costs and what is the recourse that can be taken if there is a dispute among parties. Say that the property of an absentee landowner is squatted by an Artemisian. What is the course of action he would partake? Ask Fidelis or Rudy directly? What if both prove derelict in their duties because the squatter is strongly connected? Should the landowner hire a mob to evict the squatter? What about the case that we are talking about the landowner demanding higher rent than is in the rental contract and then hiring a mob to expel the tenant? Laws are out to protect everyone from the arbitrariness of others. The irony is that we do see state employees in action: Artemis has a policeman, the inspector that Jazz bribes as part of her smuggling, those controlling the environmental systems and those picking up the garbage. What rules and regulations determines their conduct is never quite told and at times we are led to believe that they just do what they want.


Artemis is somehow both a generally tax free zone and not a financial center. Monte Carlo is a major financial center; wealthy individuals use it in order to hide their assets from their home tax authorities and a safe refuge from political upheaval. The only country that has free access to Monte Carlo’s asset information is France. This comes from an agreement between Prince Rainier and Charles De Gaulle after the French president complained how the Principality is used as a tax haven by rich French. The agreement is that the French are allowed to see French assets but in exchange Value Added Tax of Montegascin industry collected in France is passed on to the principality. Some two thirds of the Principality’s state income comes from VAT in France. In the 1950s, before the agreement with France, Aristotelis Onassis tried to take over the Principality and reduce Prince Rainier to a figurehead. He saw that having sovereign cover to his business would allow him to do things that he could not simply do by only having a corporation. Still Onassis kept the base of his businesses there. Monte Carlo hosts an entire ecosystem of financial services supported by lawyers, financial analysts and other similar jobs. It has though a series of laws to ensure that the wealthy actually reside in the Principality. Corporations cannot take advantage of its tax status unless 3/4th of their turnover comes from within the Principality. Why Artemis does not cultivate this kind of services, considering that having access to cheap capital for financing would allow development of the colony, is unknown, or more in universe a major failure by Fidelis Ngugi.

Agriculture and Food

Per Weir himself the only food grown in Artemis is the green algae Chlorella. It is grown in vats under artificial illumination and then processed through the addition of artificial flavors into gank, the food of Artemis. All other food is transported from Earth and it is quite expensive since at the conversion rate of the slug being 6 slugs per US dollar, each thing transported costs $166/kg. Weir is far from the only person to claim that in the name of efficiency the only crop grown and eaten in space will be algae; that idea seems to be quite popular online. As an agronomist I really do not understand why a concept from the 1940s which from the 1960’s on it had become obvious that did not pan out has such a following among the futuristically inclined. For one thing it was not a topic discussed at the Tri-Societies meetings (Agronomy Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, Crop Science Society of America) when I attended them as a PhD student, as a promising future food source. Searching around the web growing algae for food is more in the purview of the Phycological Society of America. I went to their website to find a snapshot of their current research so I looked up their 2016 Annual Meeting program, which is the most recent on the web. The majority of the sessions and talks were about the biology of algae and seaweed in general, their use as indicators of environmental health though there was once session about algae use as biofuel. I went to Google Scholar and searched “Chlorella production methods”. Of the first 10 papers returned 7 had the word biodiesel in the title, of the other three one was a general review paper on production methods, the second had the word biodiesel in the abstract and the third is a patent to produce a high value ketocarotenoid. Simply put Chlorella production as a food source is not a major research priority today. I realize though that people do not get their information through a search in the scientific literature, as the sections above and below show neither do I when I try to understand a topic on which I am not a specialist. So I looked up the Wikipedia page. It seems that Chlorella specifically, and algae in general, were identified as a promising technology to fight world hunger in the 1940 because it can be grown supplementary to field crops on local ponds and because they can capture 8% of solar radiation in photosynthesis. As Wikipedia though continues in the Chlorella article:

Although the production of Chlorella looked promising and involved creative technology, it has not to date been cultivated on the scale some had predicted. It has not been sold on the scale of Spirulina, soybean products, or whole grains. Costs have remained high, and Chlorella has for the most part been sold as a health food, for cosmetics, or as animal feed. After a decade of experimentation, studies showed that following exposure to sunlight, Chlorella captured just 2.5% of the solar energy, not much better than conventional crops. Chlorella, too, was found by scientists in the 1960s to be impossible for humans and other animals to digest in its natural state due to the tough cell walls encapsulating the nutrients, which presented further problems for its use in American food production.

Eating Chlorella and single cell protein has several disadvantages, beyond the unpalatability. Per Wikipedia eating 50 g/day of single cell protein, and algae qualifies as such, is toxic to monogastric animals such as humans. The reason given is that it contains too much nucleic acid for animals to digest well. Since Wikipedia is not always the best resource I tried to source the statement to something more academic. Turns out review articles on the use of Chlorella mention toxicity due to metal contamination, but do not mention anything about excessive nucleic acid. Thus I looked up to see articles on Chlorella and algae in general as animal feed. Simply put there haven’t been that many recent papers but what I did find was that it is possible to have animal fed up to 10% algae without animal mortality rising. The specific effects depend on the animal species and dose, with some having positive outcomes from substitution and others negative. There haven’t been that many experiments since the discouraging experiments of the 1960s to 1980s because algae derived foods cost 10 times as much as normal animal feed. I could not find experiments on humans to see what a full algae diet would mean, if anything the recommendations online on eating Chlorella are in the order of 2 or 3 g per day with even enthusiasts eating about 15 g/day. The average person eats 1,878 grams of food per day which ranges from 1,012 kg for Somalis to 2,729 for Americans ( Is it safe to eat that much Chlorella per day, every day for your entire life? Is Chlorella capable of providing all the nutrients humans need to survive? Per the internet six types of nutrients are necessary for human survival: proteins, carbohydrates, lipids (fats), vitamins, minerals and water, with fiber mentioned as a seventh component in other sites. This categorization is pretty consistent with the nutrition requirements for animals that I am familiar with as an agronomist. Is Chlorella alone, even with additives and artificial flavors, capable of providing the right nutrients of the right biological value (think saturated versus unsaturated fats or why olive oil is superior to butter) at the proper quantities for a proper human nutrition. My feeling from my experiences as an agronomist and from life experiences in general is that it is not.

Efficiency is a very fluid concept and one needs to balance a large series of parameters. Per my college textbooks factors affecting agriculture are categorized into climatic and edaphic (soil based) factor. Climatic factor include solar radiation, temperature, humidity, wind, evapotranspiration and CO2 concentration. Edaphic factor are soil structure such as mechanical properties, soil composition and nutrients. In following Weir’s efficiency fallacy, rather than choose radiation efficiency I choose nitrogen use efficiency. The crop with the highest Nitrogen Use Efficiency is almonds with a value of 70% when the rest of the major crops are closer to 40%. Thus if we are to follow Weir’s logic Artemisians should only eat almonds which they turn to almond milk, almond oil and other almost products. Artemis’ food production facilities should look then like Fresno, after all most of the world’s almond crops are produced in California’s Central Valley.

ESA’s MELiSSA project is, to the best of my knowledge, the most advanced ongoing project to create an artificial ecology that produces sufficient nutrient food for all. I have talked about them before here in Centauri Dreams. They use 9 crops (wheat, tomato, potato, soybean, rice, spinach, onion, lettuce and spirulina) and they have enlisted Michelin starred chefs to make food that is tasty in addition to nutritious. Also their configuration is tied to the life support system, turning human waste to food. A mature MELiSSA system will not need the aluminum smelter pumping oxygen into the system; it will be able to recycle the entire nutrient supply. So far MELiSSA is in development of the regenerative systems to supports its cycle but it has made significant progress into creating palatable balanced food. Their finding, which is also corroborated by other space food research, involves the use of energy bars for space nutrition: put the entirety of a balanced meal in a compact calorie laden bar that takes little volume to store and can be eaten rapidly. This is far less innovative than it seems: the food that hoplites brought while on campaign away from home was pasteli, a bar made of sesame seed and honey. It seems that the food eaten by astronauts exploring Mars will be a descendant of what Alexander’s pezeteroi ate while conquering half the known world.

But what would be the required area to locally feed Artemis using hydroponics? A number I remember from my undergrad days is that hydroponics requires 250 to 500 m2 of growing area to feed a person for a year. Now growing area does not meet geometric area, if you grow three crops of potatoes in an area of 100 m2 then you have a growing area of 300 m2 but a geometric area of 100 m2. This is very important when you consider that crops grown hydroponically have a faster growth cycle than soil grown crops. Assuming 250 m2 per person, to feed 2,000 people you would need 500,000 m2. Per Figure 1 the domes have a diameter of 200 m, or a radius of 100 m meaning that their area is π*1002 = 31,416 m2. Dividing the two values we need the surface area of 15.9 domes. However the dome does not have only one level, after all Aldrin Park alone takes 4 levels. Conrad bubble has Up 19 and Down 6, thus at least 25 levels.

Another common fallacy that Andy Weir falls into is related to artificial flavors. He seems to believe that they can be sourced on the Moon. Artificial flavors are not, for the most part, mineral flavors. Their many sources are petroleum and coal. These are not known to be found on the moon, thus they would need to be imported from earth. If so, why do they not just import natural flavors and have beef flavored gank made with bouillon?

Speaking of flavor, if Jazz has been eating gank since she was 6, by now she should find it very tasty because of what I call the black broth effect. Spartans ate a staple soup made of boiled pig’ legs, blood, salt and vinegar, known in Greek as μέλας ζωμός. By all accounts it was horrible to taste: a Sybarite upon eating it remarked “Now I know why Spartans do not fear death, to die is to be relieved from eating it”. Yet Spartans ate it with pleasure and often did not like other food. When a Spartan delegation visited the Lidyan king Croesus and asked what they wanted, they rejected the luxurious Asian foods he offered and wanted black broth. Jazz ought to welcome eating gank after 20 years on it.

In terms of drink what is mentioned is beer and hard liquor. Hard liquor comes from earth but we are led to believe that that beer is local, even though Artemis does not grow barley or for that matter rye and wheat. It is very likely that Weir has in his mind a definition of beer that significantly differs from the Reinheitsgebot that includes the use of Chlorella in brewing, otherwise at $166/kg Jazz should not be able to afford getting drunk. If some sort of beer-like concoction is grown locally, why is yeast not also consumed afterwards as food as is the case with marmite and vagamite? Or is the yeast used in the creation of gank? We are not given an ingredient list for gank after all.


Artemis is not a major industrial location nor is industry a major employer. Two major heavy industries are mentioned, Sanchez Aluminum and the Nuclear Power Plant. One light industry is specifically mentioned too, Queensland Glass. Other than that the tourist trinket shops sell models of the Apollo Lunar Landers made out of lunar dust that seem to be factory made rather than hand maid. Sanchez Aluminum is the biggest industry employing 80 people. As mentioned earlier they use a fictional process for smelting of Aluminum that also produces oxygen as a byproduct. In actual aluminum industry what they use is carbon rods made from tar and coal. Sanchez Aluminum consumes 80% of the power produced by the nuclear power plant. We are not given specifics on the nuclear power plant, but there is good reason to believe that the nuclear fuel cycle takes place on earth rather than the Moon. Artemis, simply put, is not energy independent. The specifics of the light industry inside Armstrong are not spelled out beyond the glassworks.


We are told of Jazz’s backstory through a series of letters with her Kenyan pen pal Kevin and Jazz apparently has had teachers who told her that she has a lot of potential. We are led to believe that these teachers live in Artemis. All four Greek islands of table 1 have elementary, middle and high school. In these islands though children are allowed to be born, this is not the case with Artemis where children under 6, and eventually under 12 are not allowed. We have seen islands be depopulated by families moving to the nearest city so that their children can go to middle or high school. Realistically the entire family would move from Artemis as soon as the woman got pregnant, not just the mother. Not allowing children is not conductive to the long term development of a place, and the school system is the epicenter of the problem.

Speaking of the school system, who does it work for and what is being taught? Who sets up the school curriculum and who do the teachers answer to? Who decides what is to be taught in say Physics class? Where can the students appeal if they do not like their grades? Who has written the school books and what is their ideological slant? In the US homeschooling is driven by many reasons but for most parents choosing it, it is to avoid the secular wickedness of public schools. In Greece debates over what is in the school history books are known to bring down governments. Is Fidelis the one who in the end decides what is the next generation of Artemisians getting taught? Does she promote democracy as the preferred regime, or is education used to justify her absolutist regime? The educational system of the Byzantine Empire taught students about democracy in the Ancient Greek city states which it considered its direct ancestor (see for example emperor Leo the Wise’s Tactics or George Sphrantzes Chrlonicle) and about the Roman Republic (after all it saw itself as the Roman Empire) but considered the absolute monarchical regime as the best possible. The Byzantine Emperor was the Ideal Perfect King of Plato’s Republic. What are Young Artemisians taught that ought to be their place in the polis and in the Solar System? Are Artemisians taught that they are God’s chosen people in the way that youth of the Byzantine Empire were? Are they taught that Artemis is a unique exceptional state in the mode of American Exceptionalism? Are they taught that the individual is only worth as the cog in the machine of juche and must submit to the will of the Dear Leader to create the perfect socialist regime? We are not told.

We are not even told what is the official language of Artemis, though we are told to believe that it is English. A major omission that I saw is the lack of multilingual education, at the very least in order to cater to the tourists. When Jazz showed up in the hotel impersonating a female Arab tourist who did not speak good English, why did the receptionist did not speak Arabic to her or call someone who did? Having lived in a tourist zone, the first requirement for receptionists is multilingualism. In Agios Nikolaos of Crete I did run into ads requesting night receptionists that spoke French, I seriously considered staying in the city after my agronomist contract ended to work as one since I am fluent in four languages. Who in Artemis would teach Cantonese, Arabic (to mention tourist languages specifically spoken in the novel) or any other language and who would certify the tests? Even if they use state certification from Earth, who would be the one administering the tests on the Moon?

Artemis apparently has no university though it hosts quite a large number of PhDs exploring the moon as members of their space agencies. Monte Carlo has a university more specialized towards business. It is located in Stade Louis II, taking up the space below the bleachers. Since Artemis has the staff, it could host a university that would also attract people from Earth to immigrate there as students. Then again, it would also need an education authorization body and we have not seen any such bodies in the novel.

Health Care

Health care in Artemis is provided by exactly one doctor, Dr. Melanie “Doc” Roussel. She has a small private medical clinic that is capable of limited medical care and hosts a few beds. No nurse is mentioned or any other medical personnel and apparently it lacks intensive care. If you come down with something serious in Artemis and Doc Roussel cannot cure it, you will die unless you can survive long enough for a 7 day trip back to Earth. No other medical practitioner on the surface of the moon is mentioned. Now this is a rather typical case for the rural United States as I have learned from experience but for a European this is unacceptable. ESA has a medical doctor stationed at the Concordia station in Antarctica doing medical research on the isolated researchers there during winter, as part of human factors research for space exploration. Why would ESA, or any space agency for that matter, allow its personnel to be in such a medically limited location as in Artemis? For that matter McMurdo Station, which also has a population of 2,000 people does have a hospital staffed by the National Science Foundation. Per what I could find of the internet it has a staff of 5: 3 doctors, 1 nurse practitioner and one plain nurse. It is not just the scientists that need a hospital, the tourists also need a place to mend alcohol intoxication or broken bones and, more importantly, for retirees. I will leave aside the possibility of medical tourism. In the studies on how make Greece a more attractive destination for European retirees to live there one thing consistently mentioned is that retirees demand a large and well equipped hospital near because being elderly they have significant medical needs.

The Greek islands host medical facilities for the locals and the tourists. While there are private doctors in all of Greece, the Greek public national health system provides services to all of the population of Greece. Our health system is composed of hospitals, health centers and farm clinics and it follows the administrative division of the country. There is a publically owned hospital in the capital of every prefecture in Greece (the American equivalent is the county) and below that there are health centers and farms clinics in the subperfectures and municipalities depending on the population. To use the example of the four islands from table 1, Amorgos health center has a pathologist, a general doctor, a microbiologist and a pediatrician. There are also 4 farm doctors –the Greek state requires medical school graduates to work two years as farm doctors before they are allowed to start medical specialization- plus two ambulance drivers and one lab technician. Ios has 6 doctors of which one is a general practitioner, one is a pathologist, one orthopedic, one pediatrician and two farm doctors. Also it has 3 nurses and one midwife. The locals complain that this is insufficient. Kea has two general doctors, one pediatrician, one nurse, one lab tech and one ambulance doctor. Paxi has one pathologist, one general practitioner, one pediatrician, one dentist, 3 nurses, one medical equipment technician, one physical therapist and one general duties technical secretarial staff. The people complain that they do not have specialized doctors such as cardiologists, psychiatrists, gynecologists or ophthalmologist. They have only one ambulance driver but considering that they get only 1 to 2 incidents a month that require transportation they find it sufficient. Now the Paxians are I would say a bit over complaining. Per article 5 of Greek law 4486/2017 these are the staffing analogies that primary health facilities should have: 1 General Practitioner per 2,000 to 2,500 adults, 1 pediatrician per 1,000 to 1,500 children, 2 radiologists per 25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants, 1 biopathologist per 25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants, 1 cardiologist per 25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants and 1 dentist per 10,000 inhabitants. Since Paxi isn’t that big, for specialists they should be able to find them in Corfu or Igoumenitsa. Alas though Artemis does not have any other medical facilities closer to earth, so it ought to have a small hospital with a staff of around 10 people and an intensive care unit. How though would the people to pay for health care if there is no health insurance on the Moon?

Labor conditions

Going on vacation most often means that you have paid leave on your work contract with your employer. If you are self-employed you can close your business, which is likely to happen at time when business is low anyway. But what are the labor conditions of those working in Artemis, servicing the tourists? In addition to slugs what else is part of each paycheck? Do Artemisians get paid time off themselves? Do they get retirement or health insurance? If they have a complaint with their boss, who is to arbitrate it? I think that it is safe to guess that employees of Earth based space agencies and their contractors have to broad protections and rights their Earth bound colleagues do. Since Artemisian employees are generally unionized we can expect those working for major employers such as Sanchez Aluminum to have some benefits to go with the paycheck. It is obvious though that Jazz has absolutely no benefits in addition to whatever she scrapes by her gig. For that matter, the person that she bribes so that she can do her smuggling also does not seem to have any benefits: if he was certain of his future, why would he need a bribe? Rather the whole premise of Jazz taking The Big Job is that she can retire, most likely because there is no retirement system. Most certainly we do not hear of people discussing just how many stamps or days they needed to get before the system gives them a pension or they qualify for unemployment benefits. Granted, Jazz hangs out at a bar where people drink in silence, rather than the modern day ecclesia: a coffee shop where people constantly talk about politics, gossip, sports and relationships. Still the only time that a union is mentioned is Ammar Bashara saying that it is stupid to pay 10% of his paycheck as union dues, it is just taxation. If members of the welder’s union get health care and pension as part of their contribution, then Ammar is the one being stupid. The labor conditions of Artemis are what the communists in college when I was an undergrad were deriding as the evil medieval future that was coming if we did students did not rise in a worker’s revolution against capitalism. Considering that the people rose against Existent Socialism and brought its end 8 years before I first entered college, I was not keen on revolting. They did have a point though: the Uber-ization of work means that my generation works in worse labor condition than my parents’. Weir believes that this will continue on, until by the time of Artemis workers have no rights and we are back in the era of Karl Marx and the Reserve Army of Labor.

Up until the late 19th century your prosperity in life was associated with the years you were able to be productive. Starting with Bismarck and Napoleon III we have seen in Europe the construction of the welfare state: The idea that everyone deserves a minimum of rights in life, such as a safe and healthy job, health care so that being sick does not mean going bankrupt, income at the end of life when you are too sick and frail to work, financial support when you are between jobs, paid vacation so that you can look forward to when you are doing a monotonous job. Now there is a long discussion over what and how much the welfare state should cover and when does it become a hammock holding back the economic well-being of society. What is certain is that Artemisians do not have any sort of safety net. When I was living in Agios Nikolaos in the winter of 2008/9 I would see every 15 days people lining up at the unemployment office to receive benefits. I was told that they were hotel workers who do not work in the off season while the hotel is closed, the tourist season after all does not last more than 6 months for most of Greece. The relationship is mutually beneficial to the hotel owners and the state: The money that their seasonal employees get in the winter is money that they will not demand in the summer as higher wages. Unemployment status in Greece also gives health insurance under some limitations. What is surprising about Artemis is that an informal welfare state also appears to be nonexistent. As a good grandson I took care of my grandparents at the end of their lives, just as they had taken care of me as a baby. In Artemis children under 6 originally and 12 by the time of the novel are not around. Would young Artemisians feel responsibility to take care of their grandparents if all they really knew of them was the grumpy old person who is telling teenager you what not to do? Also monasteries are known to act historically as retirement communities: The Byzantine historian Sphrantzes at the end of his life wished to retire and discovered that the only way he could get elderly care was as a monk. So he was forced to divorce his wife, which they both loved each other very much and they both took monastic vows in separate monasteries. It is during this time that he wrote his Chronicle, giving an inside view of the Fall of Constantinople since he was a personal friend of the Last Emperor, Constantine XI. Artemis is a place for the rich to go and die, the rest are better off if they do not reach old age.

From THE POLIS OF ARTEMIS ON THE MOON by Ioannis Kokkinidis (2018)


Terraforming is using planetary engineering to make a planet's environment more like a prime vacation spot on Terra, or a least one where an unprotected human being won't instantly die.

It generally takes hundreds to thousands of years for the process to be complete. It also requires access to incredibly large amounts of advanced technology, planetary-sized stocks of raw materials, and an energy budget comparable to all of Terra combined.

Martyn J. Fogg wrote the definitive book on the topic, sadly out of print. His web page has lots of terraforming information.

In some science fiction colonists on Mars want to make the planet shirt-sleeve habitable. However, the martian colonists commonly chafe under the heavy-handed rule of Terra or have recently concluded a bitter revolutionary war of independence. So patriotic martians are loath to use the term Terraforming. Instead they'll use a term like "habitablization" or something planet-neutral like that. Such a term will also be needed if Terra's climate changes such that it is no longer habitable.

Technically, when aliens try to transform a planet's environment into something that their species finds comfortable, the proper term is Xenoforming. Which is a kind of parochial term, but being more specific brings the same mess as apohelion, apohermion, apogee, aposelene, apoareion, apojove, and apochron. Astronomers soon gave up and adopted the generic term apsis.

Xenoforming or Terraforming a world inhabited by sentient beings is considered to be attempted genocide, biological warfare, or at the least very rude. Extreme moralists go to the point of only allowing terraforming on planets that are totally lifeless. Examples include Sir Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and sort of in Roger Zelazny's "The Keys to December". Examples of terraforming used as biological warfare can be found at the above link.


(ed note: The starship Magellan is visiting the Terran colony on the planet Thalassa. Their destination is the planet Sagan 2, to found a new colony there. The starship crew gives a seminar for some Thalassan scientists.)

‘Here it is,’ she began. ‘I’m sure you’ve all seen this map of Sagan — the best reconstruction possible from fly-bys and radioholograms. The detail’s very poor, of course — ten kilometres at the best — but it’s enough to give us the basic facts.

‘Diameter — fifteen thousand kilometres, a little larger than Earth. A dense atmosphere — almost entirely nitrogen. And no oxygen — fortunately.’

That ‘fortunately’ was always an attention-getter; it made the audience sit up with a jolt.

‘I understand your surprise; most human beings have a prejudice in favour of breathing. But in the decades before the Exodus, many things happened to change our outlook on the Universe.

‘The absence of other living creatures — past or present — in the solar system and the failure of the SETI programs despite sixteen centuries of effort convinced virtually everyone that life must be very rare elsewhere in the universe, and therefore very precious.

‘Hence it followed that all life forms were worthy of respect and should be cherished. Some argued that even virulent pathogens and disease vectors should not be exterminated, but should be preserved under strict safeguards. “Reverence for life” became a very popular phrase during the Last Days and few applied it exclusively to human life.

‘Once the principle of biological noninterference was accepted, certain practical consequences followed. It had long been agreed that we should not attempt any settlement on a planet with intelligent life-forms; the human race had a bad enough record on its home world. Fortunately — or unfortunately! — this situation has never arisen.

‘But the argument was taken further. Suppose we found a planet on which animal life had just begun. Should we stand aside and let evolution take its course on the chance that megayears hence intelligence might arise?

‘Going still further back — suppose there was only plant life? Only single-cell microbes?

‘You may find it surprising that, when the very existence of the human race was at stake, men bothered to debate such abstract moral and philosophical questions. But Death focuses the mind on the things that really matter: why are we here, and what should we do?

‘The concept of “Metalaw” — I’m sure you’ve all heard the term — became very popular. Was it possible to develop legal and moral codes applicable to all intelligent creatures, and not merely to the bipedal, air-breathing mammals who had briefly dominated Planet Earth?

‘Dr Kaldor, incidentally, was one of the leaders of the debate. It made him quite unpopular with those who argued that since H. sapiens was the only intelligent species known, its survival took precedence over all other considerations. Someone coined the effective slogan: “If it’s Man or Slime Moulds, I vote for Man!”

‘Fortunately, there’s never been a direct confrontation — as far as we know. It may be centuries before we get reports from all the seedships that went out. And if some remain silent — well, the slime moulds may have won…

‘In 3505, during the final session of the World Parliament, certain guidelines — the famous Geneva Directive — were laid down for future planetary colonization. Many thought that they were too idealistic, and there was certainly no way in which they could ever be enforced. But they were an expression of intent — a final gesture of goodwill towards a Universe which might never be able to appreciate it.

‘Only one of the directive’s guidelines concern us here — but it was the most celebrated and aroused intense controversy, since it ruled out some of the most promising targets.

‘The presence of more than a few percent oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere is definite proof that life exists there. The element is far too reactive to occur in the free state unless it is continually replenished by plants — or their equivalent. Of course, oxygen doesn’t necessarily mean animal life, but it sets the stage for it. And even if animal life only rarely leads to intelligence, no other plausible route to it has ever been theorized.

‘So, according to the principles of Metalaw, oxygen-bearing planets were placed out of bounds. Frankly, I doubt so drastic a decision would have been made if the quantum drive hadn’t given us essentially unlimited range — and power.

‘Now let me tell you our plan of operation, when we have reached Sagan 2. As you will see by the map, more than fifty per cent of the surface is ice-covered, to an estimated average depth of three kilometres. All the oxygen we shall ever need!

‘When it’s established its final orbit, Magellan will use the quantum drive, at a small fraction of full-power, to act as a torch. It will burn off the ice and simultaneously crack the steam into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen will quickly leak away into space; we may help it with tuned lasers, if necessary.

‘In only twenty years, Sagan 2 will have a ten per cent O2 atmosphere, though it will be too full of nitrogen oxides and other poisons to be breathable. About that time we’ll start dumping specially developed bacteria, and even plants, to accelerate the process. But the planet will still be far too cold; even allowing for the heat we’ve pumped into it, the temperature will be below freezing everywhere except for a few hours near noon at the Equator.

‘So that’s where we use the quantum drive, probably for the last time. Magellan, which has spent its entire existence in space, will finally descend to the surface of a planet.

‘And then, for about fifteen minutes every day at the appropriate time, the drive will be switched on at the maximum power the structure of the ship — and the bedrock on which it is resting — can withstand. We won’t know how long the operation will take until we have made the first tests; it may be necessary to move the ship again if the initial site is geologically unstable.

‘At a first approximation, it appears that we’ll need to operate the drive for thirty years, to slow the planet until it drops sunward far enough to give it a temperate climate. And we’ll have to run the drive for another twenty-five years to circularize the orbit. But for much of that time Sagan 2 will be quite livable — though the winters will be fierce until final orbit is achieved.

‘So then we will have a virgin planet, larger than Earth, with about forty percent ocean and a mean temperature of twenty-five degrees. The atmosphere will have an oxygen content seventy percent of Earth’s — but still rising. It will be time to awaken the nine hundred thousand sleepers still in hibernation, and present them with a new world.

From THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1985)

(ed note: Chekov and Captain Terrell are looking for a totally lifeless planet to test Dr. Carol Marcus' "Genesis Device." Since the device will instanly kill any life forms already on the planet Dr. Marcus is quite firm that "lifeless" means LIFELESS.)

CAROL: Now let me get this straight. Something you can transplant?
CHEKOV: Yes, Doctor.
CAROL: Something you can transplant? I don't know.
TERRELL: It might only be a particle of preanimate matter.
CAROL: Then again it may not. You boys have to be clear on this. There can't be so much as a microbe or the show's off. Why don't you have a look? But if it is something that can be moved I want...
TERRELL: You bet, Doctor. We're on our way!
From movie STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

      The “skin” was a suit of nanoplast, containing billions of microscopic computers, designed to filter out all the local toxins—arsenic, lanthanicles, bizarre pseudoalkaloids. All were found in local flora and fauna; inhaling them would kill a human within hours. ln the old days, planets had been terraformed for human life, like Andra’s own home world Valedon. Today they would call that ecocide. Instead, millions of humans would be life-shaped to live here on planet IP3, farming and building—the thought of it made her blood race.

From MICROBE by Joan Slonczewski (1995)

(ed note: Hollister David calculates how much more expensive it is to terraform Mars compared to making orbital habitats.)

Those who advocate Mars settlement like to say Mars can be terraformed. First I will take a look at what it would take to terraform Mars.

How much air do we need to add to Mars?

From NASA's Mars Fact Sheet, surface density of the Martian atmosphere is about .02 kg/m3. That is about 1.5% of Earth's surface air pressure of 1.27 kg/m3. Mars' atmosphere is virtually a vacuum.

Mars surface gravity is about 38% earth gravity. That means given an atmosphere of comparable temperature and composition, Mars atmosphere scale height is 264% earth atmosphere scale height. But Mars surface area is about about 28% that of earth's. 2.64 * .28 is about .75. To get comparable air density, we would need Mars' atmospheric mass to be about three quarters that of earth's atmosphere.

The total mass of the Martian atmosphere is about 2.5 x 1016 kg. Earth's atmosphere is about 5 x 1018 kg. So to make Mars surface air density earth like, we'd need 3.6 x 1018 kg of air added to Mars.

But do we need sea level air density? No, there are people who survive at higher elevations. This list of the world's highest cities show several places at around 5000 meter elevation. Granted the dwellers of the highest city La Rinconada, Peru don't live comfortably. But they demonstrate humans can endure air density half that of sea level. If half is sufficient, Mars only needs 1.8 x 1018 additional kilograms of air.

Would be Mars terraformers like to point at the frozen CO2 at the Martian poles. If Mars temperature is raised just a little, they hope the vaporized carbon dioxide would create a greenhouse effect that would cause more carbon dioxide to be vaporized. Their hope is that a runaway greenhouse effect could substantially boost Mars' atmosphere from frozen volatiles already in place.

According to Wikipedia, there is thought to be a 1 meter thick layer of CO2 at Mars north pole, a cap about 1,000,000 meters in diameter. At the south pole there is an 8 meter thick layer of CO2 over a cap having a 350,000 meter diameter. That's about 1.6 x 1012 cubic meters of CO2. Dry ice has a density of 1.6 thousand kg/m3. If all of that CO2 is vaporized (an optimistic assumption) that totals about 2.5 x 1015 kg of atmosphere. Short by almost 3 orders of magnitude, a miniscule contribution toward the needed 1.8 x 1018 needed kilograms.

Zubrin and McKay believe runaway greenhouse could boost Mars atmosphere to 300 to 600 millibars. Besides the polar dry ice, they also mention CO2 in Martian regolith. I believe most of Zubrin's optmistic estimates are influenced more by wishful thinking than hard data. But for the sake of argument I'll grant 300 millibars of CO2. 300 millibars of CO2 is not breathable. But let's say green plants combine Martian water and CO2 to make sugars and starches plus oxygen. Taking the carbon out of 300 millibars of CO2 leaves about 220 millibars of oxygen. Earth's 1000 millibar atmosphere is 1/5 oxygen, so perhaps a 220 millibar oxygen atmosphere would be breathable. But it would also be an extreme fire hazard. Apollo 1 taught us a pure oxygen atmosphere isn't a good idea.

Even with Zubrin's very optimistic scenario, it seems we'd still need to import 1.5 1x 1018 kilograms of nitrogen.

Can we add to Mars' air with comets?

Zubrin and McKay suggest  it'd take .3 km/s to nudge an ammonia asteroid in the outer solar system towards Saturn and then Saturn's gravity could throw the ammonia snowball Marsward.

     "Consider an asteroid made of frozen ammonia with a mass of 10 billion tonnes orbiting the sun at a distance of 12 AU. Such an object, if spherical, would have a diameter of about 2.6 km, and changing its orbit to intersect Saturn's (where it could get a trans-Mars gravity assist) would require a DV of 0.3 km/s.
     If a quartet of 5000 MW nuclear thermal rocket engines powered by either fission or fusion were used to heat some of its ammonia up to 2200 K (5000 MW fission NTRs operating at 2500 K were tested in the 1960s), they would produce an exhaust velocity of 4 km/s, which would allow them to move the asteroid onto its required course using only 8% of its material as propellant. Ten years of steady thrusting would be required, followed by a about a 20 year coast to impact.
     When the object hit Mars, the energy released would be about 10 TW-years, enough to melt 1 trillion tonnes of water (a lake 140 km on a side and 50 meters deep). In addition, the ammonia released by a single such object would raise the planet's temperature by about 3 degrees centigrade and form a shield that would effectively mask the planet's surface from ultraviolet radiation.
     As further missions proceeded, the planet's temperature could be increased globally in accord with the data shown in Fig. 12. Forty such missions would double the nitrogen content of Mars' atmosphere by direct importation, and could produce much more if some of the asteroids were targeted to hit beds of nitrates, which they would volatilize into nitrogen and oxygen upon impact.
     If one such mission were launched per year, within half a century or so most of Mars would have a temperate climate, and enough water would have been melted to cover a quarter of the planet with a layer of water 1 m deep."

This scheme presupposes we could land a 20 gigawatt power source on a rock in the outer solar solar system. For comparison the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the largest nuclear power plant in the United States, produces about 3.3 gigawatts. So we're sending 6 Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plants out past Saturn. McCay's scheme stipulates using the comet's mass as reaction mass. So now we have a mining and transportation infra structure on the comet that digs up the ice and places this reaction mass in the nuclear rocket engine.

If we have the wherewithal to establish such infrastructure, we certainly have the ability to build habs on these rocks.

Asteroidal Real Estate

How much asteroidal real estate could 1.5 1x 1018 kilograms of air give us? An O'Neill cylinder 8 kilometers in diameter and 32 kilometers long would give us 804 square kilometers of real estate. Such a cylinder would have a volume of 1.6e12 cubic meters. On earth's surface, our air has a density of about 1.27 kg per cubic meter. So that volume at 1 bar density would be 2e12 kilograms of air.

1.5e18/2e12 = 750,000. Three quarters of a million O'Neill habitats. Recall each cylinder has 804 square kilometers of real estate. 750,000 * 804 km2 = 603 million km2. Mars' surface area is 145 million km2. So if we put the asteroidal resources to use where they're at, we get 4 times as much real estate.

Some would point out that O'Neill cylinders are very extravagant pieces of mega-engineering. I completely agree! It's my belief that humans don't need a full g to be healthy, I believe .4 g (a little more than Mars' gravity) would suffice. In which case the hab radius could be 1.6 km. Such a hab would have only  321 km2 of real estate but a volume only 2.6e11 cubic meters. 2.6e11 m3 * 1.27 kg/m3 = 3.3e11 kilograms. 1.5e18/3.3e11 = ~4.5 million. 4.5 million of the smaller O'Neill habitats. 4.5 million * 321 = 1460 million square kilometers. Or about as much real estate as 10 Mars planets.

If the goal is to provide more real estate and resources for humanity, terraforming Mars is an extravagant waste. We should ditch planetary chauvinism and go for the small bodies.

Robert Walker also takes a look at terraforming Mars.



THEY SAID, OF COURSE, that it was impossible. They always do.

Even after the human race had moved into the near-Earth orbits, scattering their spindly factories and cylinder-cities and rock-hopping entrepreneurs, the human race was dominated by nay-saying stay-at-homes. Sure, they said, space worked. Slinging airtight homes into orbit at about one astronomical unit’s distance from the Sun was–in retrospect–an obvious step. After all, there was a convenient Moon nearby to provide mass and resources. But Earth, they said, was a benign neighborhood. You could resupply most outposts within a few days. Except for the occasional solar storm, when winds of high-energy particles lashed out, the radiation levels were low. There was plenty of sunshine to focus with mirrors, capture in great sheets of conversion wafers, and turn into bountiful, high-quality energy.

But Jupiter? Why go there? Scientific teams had already touched down on the big moons and dipped into the thick atmosphere. By counting craters and taking core samples, they deduced what they could about how the solar system evolved. After that brief era of quick-payoff visits, nobody had gone back. One big reason, everyone was quick to point out, was the death rate for those expeditions: half never saw Earth again, except as a distant blue-white dot.

Scientists don’t tame new worlds; pioneers do. And except for bands of religious or political refugee-fanatics, pioneers don’t do it for nothing. To understand why mankind undertook the most dangerous development project in its history (so far), you have to ask the eternal question: Who stood to get rich from it?

By the year 2124, humans had already begun to spread out of the near-Earth zone. The bait was the asteroids–big tumbling lodes of metal and rock, rich in heavy elements. These flying mountains could be steered slowly from their looping orbits and brought to near-Earth rendezvous with refineries. The delta V wasn’t all that large.

There, smelters melted them down and fed the factories steady streams of precious raw materials: manganese, platinum, cadmium, chromium, molybdenum, tellurium, vanadium, tungsten, and all the rare metals. Earth was running out of these, or else was unwilling to further pollute its biosphere to scratch the last fraction out of the crust. Processing metals is messy and dangerous. The space factories could throw their waste into the solar wind, letting the gentle push of protons blow it out to the stars.

Early in the space-manufacturing venture, people realized that it was cheaper in energy to tug small asteroids in from the orbits between Mars and Jupiter than to lift them with mighty rocket engines from Earth. Asteroid prospecting became the Gold Rush of the late twenty-first century. Corporations grubstaked loners who went out in pressurized tin cans, sniffing with their spectrometers at the myriad chunks. Most of them were duds, but a rich lode of vanadium, say, could make a haggard, antisocial rockrat into a wealthy man. Living in zero-gravity craft wasn’t particularly healthy, of course. You had to scramble if a solar storm blew in and crouch behind an asteroid for shelter. Most rock-hoppers disdained the heavy shielding that would ward off cosmic rays, figuring that their stay would be short and lucky, so the radiation damage wouldn’t be fatal. Many lost that bet. One thing they could not do without, though, was food and air. That proved to be the pivot-point that drove humanity still further out.

Life runs on the simplest chemicals. A closed artificial biosphere is basically a series of smoldering fires: hydrogen burns (that is, combines with oxygen) to give water; carbon burns into carbon dioxide, which plants eat; nitrogen combines in the soil so the plants can make proteins, enabling humans to be smart enough to arrange all this artificially.

The colonies that swam in near-Earth orbits had run into this problem early. They needed a steady flow of organic matter and liquids to keep their biospheres balanced. Supply from Earth was expensive. A better solution was to search out the few asteroids which had significant carbonaceous chondrites–rocks rich in light elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen. There were surprisingly few. Most were pushed painfully back to Earth orbit and gobbled up by the colonies. By the time the rock-hoppers needed light elements, the asteroid belt had been picked clean. Besides, bare rock is unforgiving stuff. Getting blood from a stone was possible in the energy-rich cylinder-cities. The loose, thinly-spread coalition of prospectors couldn’t pay the stiff bills needed for a big-style conversion plant.

From Ceres, the largest asteroid, Jupiter looms like a candy-striped beacon, far larger than Earth. The rockrats lived in the broad band between two and three astronomical units out from the Sun–they were used to a wan, diminished sunshine and had already been tutored in the awful cold. For them it was no great leap to Jove, hanging there 5.2 times farther from the Sun than Earth.

They went for the liquids. Three of the big moons–Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto–were immense iceballs. True, they circled endlessly the most massive planet of all, three hundred and eighteen times the mass of Earth. That put them deep down in a gravitational well. Still it was far cheaper to send a robot ship coasting out to Jupiter, looping into orbit around Ganymede, than it was to haul water from the oceans of Earth. The first stations set up on Ganymede were semiautomatic–meaning a few unlucky souls had to tend the machinery.

If they could survive at all. A man in a normal pressure suit could live about an hour on Ganymede. The unending sleet of high-energy protons would fry him, ripping through the delicate cells and spreading red destruction. This was a natural side effect of Jupiter’s hugeness – its compressed core of metallic hydrogen spins rapidly, generating powerful magnetic fields that are whipped around every ten hours. These fields are like a rubbery cage, snagging and trapping particles (mostly protons) spat out by the sun. Io, the innermost large moon, belches ions of sulfur and sodium into the magnetic traps, adding to the protons. All this rains down on the inner moons, spattering the ice.

It was not feasible to burrow under the ice to escape –the crew had to work outside, supervising robot ice-diggers. The first inhabitants of Ganymede instead used the newest technology to fend off the proton hail: superconducting suits. Discovery of a way to make superconducting threads made it possible to weave them into pressure suits. The currents running in the threads made a magnetic field outside the suit, where it brushed away incoming protons. Inside, by the laws of magnetostatics, there was no field at all to disturb instrumentation. Once started, the currents flowed forever, virtually without electrical resistance.

Those first men and women worked in an eerie dim sunlight. Over half of Ganymede’s mass was water ice, with liberal dollops of frozen carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane, and minor traces of other frozen-out gases. Its small rocky core was buried under a thousand-kilometer-deep ocean of water and slush. The surface was a thin seventy-kilometer-deep frozen crust, liberally sprinkled over billions of years by infalling meteors. These meteorites peppered the surface and eventually became a major facet of the landscape. On top of Ganymede’s weak ice crust, hills of metal and rock gave the only relief from a flat, barren plain.

This frigid moon had been tugged by Jupiter’s tides for so long that it was locked, like Luna, with one face always peering at the banded, ruddy planet. One complete day-night cycle was slightly more than an Earth-week long. Adjusting to this rhythm would have been difficult if the Sun had provided clear punctuation to the three-and-a-half-day nights. But even without an atmosphere, the Sun from Ganymede was a dim twenty-seventh as bright as at Earth’s orbit. Sometimes you hardly noticed it, compared to the light of Jove’s nearby moons.

Sunrise was legislated to begin at Saturday midnight. That made the week symmetric, and scientists love symmetry. Around late afternoon of Monday, Jupiter eclipsed the Sun, seeming to clasp the hard point of white light in a reddish glow, then swallowing it completely. Europa’s white, cracked crescent was then the major light in the sky for three and a half hours. Jupiter’s shrouded mass flickered with orange lightning strokes between the rolling somber clouds. Suddenly, a rosy halo washed around the rim of the oblate atmosphere as sunlight refracted through the transparent outer layers. In a moment the Sun’s fierce dot broke free and cast sharp shadows on the Ganymede ice.

By Wednesday noon it had set, bringing a night that was dominated by Jupiter’s steady glow as it hung unmoving in the sky. This slow rotation was still enough to churn Ganymede’s inner ocean, exerting a torque on the ice sheets above. A slow-motion kind of tectonics had operated for billions of years, rubbing slabs against each other, grooving and terracing terrain, erasing craters in some areas.

In the light gravity–one-seventh of Earth’s–carving out immense blocks of ice was easy. Boosting them into orbit with tug rockets was the most expensive part of the long journey. From there, electromagnetic-thruster robot ships lugged the ice to the asteroids, taking years to coast along their minimum-energy spirals.


“Ice might be nice, but wheat you can eat.”

So began one of the songs of that era, when the asteroids were filling up with prospectors, then miners, then traders. Then came settlers, who found the cylinder-cities too crowded, too restrictive, or simply too boring. They founded the Belt-Free State, with internal divisions along cultural and even family lines. (Susan McKenzie, the first Belt Chairwoman and a proud native of the Outermost Hebrides, was three generations removed from her nearest Earth-born Scot relative. Not that Belters stopped to think about Earth that much anymore.)

By then, the near-Earth orbital zone was as comfortable as a suburb, and as demanding. The few iceteroids available in the asteroid belt had already been used up, but ice from Ganymede, originally hauled to the asteroids, could be revectored and sent to the rich artificial colonies. As the colonies developed a taste for luxury, increasingly that meant food. No environment can be completely closed, so human settlements throughout the solar system steadily lost vapors and organic matter to the void. No inventory ever came up 100 percent complete. (Consider your own body, and try to keep track of a day’s output: feces, urine, exhaled gas, perspiration, flatus, sheddings. Draw the flow chart.) The relatively rich inner-solar-system colonies soon grew tired of skimpy menus and of the endless cycle in which goat and rabbit and chicken were the prized meats.

Inevitably, someone noticed that it would be cheap to grow crops on Ganymede. Water was plentiful, and mirrors could warm greenhouses, enhancing the wan sunlight. Since Ganymede was going to ship light elements to the asteroids and beyond anyway, why not send them in the form of grains or vegetables?

Thus began the Settlements. At first they were big, domed greenhouses, lush with moist vegetables or grain. The farmers lived below in the sheltering ice. Within two generations, humans had spread over a third of the moon’s purplish, grooved fields. In the face of constant radiation hazard, something in the human psyche said mate!–and the population expanded exponentially.

Robot freight haulers were getting cheaper and cheaper, since the introduction of auto-producers in the Belt. These were the first cumbersome self-reproducing machines, sniffing out lodes of iron and nickel, and working them into duplicates of themselves. An auto-producer would make two replicas of itself and then, following directives, manufacture a robot ion rocket. This took at least ten years, but it was free of costly human labor, and the auto-producers could work in lonely orbits, attached to bleak gray rocks where humans would never last. The ion rocket dutifully launched itself for Ganymede, to take up grain-hauling chores. Every year there were more of them to carry the cash crops sunward.

Working all day in a skinsuit is not comfortable. Day-to-day routines performed under ten meters of ice tend to pall. Fear of radiation and cold wears anyone down. For the first generation Ganymede was an adventure, for the next a challenge, and for the third, a grind. One of the first novels written in Jovian space opens with:

Maybe I should start off with a big, gaudy description. You know–Jupiter’s churning pinks and browns, the swirling white ammonia clouds like giant hurricanes, the spinning red spots. That kind of touristy stuff.

Except I don’t feel like writing that kind of flowery crap. I’m practical, not poetic. When you’re swinging around Jupiter, living meters away from lethal radiation, you stick to facts. You get so vectors and grease seals and hydraulic fittings are more important than pretty views or poetry or maybe even people.

The psychological profile of the entire colony took a steep downward slope. Even the kids in the ice warren streets knew something had to be done.

In the long run, no large colony could live healthily with the death-dealing threats to be found on any of the Jovian moons. Therefore, erase the dangers.

All sorts of remedies were suggested. One serious design was done for an immense ring of particles to orbit around Ganymede, cutting out most of the incoming high-energy protons. Someone suggested moving Ganymede itself outward, to escape the particle flux. (This wasn’t crazy, only premature. A century later it would be feasible, though still expensive.) The idea that finally won looked just as bizarre as the rest, but it had an ace up its sleeve.

The Ganymede Atmosphere Project started with a lone beetlelike machine crawling painfully around the equator of the world. Mechanical teeth ground up ice and sucked it inside, where an immense fusion reactor waited. The reactor burned the small fraction of heavy water in the ice and rudely rejected the rest as steam. From its tail jetted billowing clouds that in seconds condensed into an ammonia-rich creek.

This fusion plant crept forward on caterpillar treads, making a top speed of a hundred meters an hour. Its computer programs sought the surest footing over the black-rock outcroppings. It burned off toxic gases and left a mixture of water vapor, ammonia, oxygen, and nitrogen, with plenty of irritating trace gases. The greatest danger to it was melting itself down into a self-made lake. A bright orange balloon was tethered to the top. If the crawler drowned itself, the balloon would inflate and float the plant to the surface, to be fished out by a rescue team.

The trick was that the fusion-crawler wasn’t made with valuable human labor, but rather by other machines: the auto-producers. Decades before, the auto-producers had begun multiplying like the legendary rabbits who overran Australia. Now there were hundreds of them in the Belt, duplicating themselves and making robot freighters. The Belters were beginning to get irritated at the foraging machines; two had been blown to fragments for trespassing on Belters’ mines. Simple reprogramming stopped their ferocious reproduction and set them to making fusion-crawlers.

Freighters hauled the crawlers out to Ganymede, following safe, cheap, low-energy trajectories. The crawlers swarmed out from the equator, weaving through wrinkled valleys of tumbled stone and pink snowdrifts, throwing out gouts of gas and churning streams. The warm water carried heat into neighboring areas, melting them as well. A thin gas began to form over the tropics. At first it condensed out in the Ganymede night, but then it began to hold, to spread, to take a sure grip on the glinting icelands below.

The natives saw these stolid machines as a faint orange aura over the horizon. Crawlers stayed away from the Settlements, to avoid accidents and flooding. Their rising mists diffused the fusion torches’ light, so that a second sun often glowed beyond the hills, creeping northward, its soft halo contrasting with the blue-green shadows of the ice fields.



Why Go?

Both Heinlein and those who followed knew that inevitably, as humanity opened the Solar System to exploration and commerce, it would be cheaper in energy to tug small asteroids in from the orbits between Mars and Jupiter than to lift them with mighty rocket engines from Earth. So I began constructing a future history that led to Farmer in the Sky and beyond. I’ll present it here, as in Part 1, as a popular historian would. There we left our colonists with some crunched gravel and grit, but had not really introduced biology. Heinlein didn’t use biotech either—this was around the 1950s, and DNA had barely been discovered. But I have the advantage of sixty years of progress, and have even started some biotech companies myself (Genescient, LifeCode). So I envision how we’ll use that to make a new world…


Any atmosphere can blunt the energy of incoming protons and screen against the still-dangerous Sun’s ultraviolet, but to be breathable, it has to be engineered. Once a tiny fraction of the ice plains were melted into vapor, a greenhouse effect began to take hold. Sunlight striking the ice no longer reflected uselessly back into space; instead, the atmosphere stopped the infrared portion, trapping the heat. Once this began, the fusion-crawlers were a secondary element in the whole big equation.

The fresh ammonia streams and methane-laced vapors were deadly to Earth-based life. A decade after the first fusion-crawler lumbered through a grooved valley, hundreds of them scooped and roared toward Ganymede’s poles, having scraped off a full hundred meters of the ice crust. They had made an atmosphere worth reckoning with. Ice tectonics adjusted to the shifting weight, forcing up mountains of sharp shards, uncovering lodes of meteorites, which in turn provided fresh manufacturing ore for yet more fusion-crawlers.

The first rains fell. A slight mist of virulent ammonia descended on the Zamyatin Settlement. It collected in a dip on the main dome, dissolving the tenuous film on it. After some hours, the acid ate through. A whoosh of lost pressure alerted the agriworkers. They got out in time, scared but unshaken. These were farsighted people: they knew one accident wasn’t reason to kill the project that gave them so much hope.

The only solution was to change the atmosphere as it was made. Further rains underlined the point – it became harder to work outside because the vapors would attack the monolayer skinsuits. The fusion plants were no help. They were hopelessly crude engines, chemically speaking, limited to regurgitating vapors that had been laid down three billion years before, when the moon formed. They could not edit their output. As they burrowed deeper into the ice fields, the situation worsened.

Io, the pizza planet, had once enjoyed a more active stage. Its volcanoes had belched forth plumes of sulfur that had escaped the moon’s gravity, forming a torus around Jupiter that included all the moons. On Ganymede, this era was represented by a layer of sulfur that now occasionally found its way into the deep-dug crawlers’ yawning scoops. The result was a harshly acidic vapor plume, condensing to fierce yellow rains that seared whatever they touched. Fifty-seven men and women died in the torrents before something was done.

The fusion-crawlers had been a fast and cheap solution because they were self-reproducing machines. The answer to bioengineering of the atmosphere lay in a tried-and-true method: self-reproducing animals. But these creatures were unlike anything seen on Earth.

The central authority on Ganymede, Hiruko Station, introduced a whole catalog of high-biotech beings that could survive in the wilds of near-vacuum and savage chemicals. Hiruko Station’s method was to take perfectly ordinary genes of Earthside animals and splice them together. This began as a program in controlled mutation but rapidly moved far beyond that. Tangling the DNA instructions together yielded beings able to survive extreme conditions. The interactions of those genes were decidedly nonlinear: when you add a pig to an eel, flavor with arachnid, and season with walrus, do not expect anything cuddly or even recognizable.

There were bulky gravel gobblers, who chewed on rocky ices heavy with rusted iron. They in turn excreted a green, oxygen-rich gas. The scooters came soon after, slurping at ammonia-laden ice. These were pale yellow, flat shapes, awkward and blind on their three malformed legs. They shat steady acrid streams of oxy-available mush. Hiruko Station said the first plant forms could live in the bile-colored scooter stools. Eventually, plants did grow there, but they weren’t the sort of thing that quickens the appetite.

Both gravel-gobblers and scooters were ugly and dumb, hooting aimlessly, waddling across the fractured ice with no grace or dignity, untouched by evolution’s smoothing hand. They roved in flocks, responding to genes that knew only two imperatives: eat and mate. They did both with a furious, single-minded energy, spreading over the ice, which was for them an endless banquet.

Hiruko Station liked the results, and introduced a new form – rockjaws – that consumed nearly anything, breathing in the ammonia-rich atmosphere, and exhaling it back as oxygen and nitrogen. Rockjaws could scavenge far more efficiently than the gravel gobbler, and even bite through meteorites. Metallic jaws were the key. The high-biotech labs had turned up a method of condensing metal in living tissues, making harder bones possible.

Rockjaws were smart enough to stay away from the Settlements (unlike the others, who constantly wandered into greenhouses or tried to eat them). At this point the long-chain DNA-tinkering of Hiruko Station ran afoul of its own hubris. The rockjaws were too smart. They were genetically programmed to think the loathsome methane ices were scrumptious, but they also saw moving around nearby even more interesting delicacies: gravel-gobblers. And they were smart enough to hunt these unforeseen prizes.

Hiruko Station later excused this miscalculation as an unfortunate side effect of the constant proton sleet, which caused fast genetic drift and unpredictable changes. Hiruko Station pointed to the big inflamed warts the creatures grew and the strange mating rituals they began to invent – none of this in the original coding. The scooter flocks were showing deformities, too. Some seemed demented (though it was hard to tell) and took to living off the excretion of the gravel-gobblers, like pigs rooting in cow manure.

First Hiruko Station tried introducing a new bioengineered animal into the equation. It was a vicious-looking thing, a spider with tiny black eyes and incisors as big as your finger. It stood three meters high and was forever hungry, fine-tuned to salivate at the sight of any mutation of the normals. This genetically ordained menu was quite specific and complexly coded, so it was the first thing to go wrong with the ugly beast. Pretty soon it would hunt down and eat anything that moved – even humans – and Hiruko Station had to get rid of it.

That led to a surprising solution to other rising societal stresses. The only way to exterminate the spiders was by hunting them down. Many men and women in the Settlements volunteered for the duty. After some grisly incidents, they had grudges to settle, and anyway it gave them a reason to get out of the domed regularity of their hothouse gardens and manicured fields. Thus was revived a subculture long missing from Earth: the Hunt, with its close bonding and reckless raw life in the alien wilderness.

These disorderly bands exterminated the spiders within a year. Hiruko Station found it was cheaper to pay the hunters a bounty to track down and destroy aberrant scooters, rockjaws and gravel-gobblers, than it was to try for a biotech fix. It was also healthier for the psyche of Ganymede’s settlers. The Settlements were tradition-steeped societies – internal discipline is essential when an open valve or clogged feed line can kill a whole community. The Hunt provided an outlet for deeply atavistic human urges and pressures, long pent and fiercer for their confinement.


The atmosphere thickened. Hiruko Station added more mutant strains of quick-breeding animals to the mix, driving the chemical conversion still faster. The biotechnicians found ways to implant microprocessors into the animals, so that they wouldn’t get out of control. That was expensive, though, so hunting continued, echoing the heritage of mankind that came down from the plains of Africa. Bounty hunters were hard to fit into the labor scheme, and the socioplanners kept trying to phase them out, largely from sheer embarrassment. But Earthside 3D programs lapped up tales of the rough ‘n’ ready bountymen and –women of the Hunt, giving what the planners felt was a “false image” of the Settlements. Mutation of the released gene-engineered animals was rapid, however, and the biosphere was never truly stabilized. The hunters became an institution. To this day, they are an unruly crew who don’t fit into planners' orderly diagrams.

Rain lost its sulfuric tang. Steam rose at morning from the canyons, casting rosy light over the Settlements. The moon’s first rivers cut fresh ravines and snaked across ice plains.

All this hung in delicate balance. Huge sodium-coated mirrors were spread in orbit nearby, to reflect unceasing light on the paths ahead of the fusion-crawlers. This speeded evaporation and was used also to hasten crops to ripeness. But Ganymede was, after all, an ice world. Too much heating and a catastrophic melting of the crust would begin. If the crust broke or even shifted, moonquakes would destroy the Settlements.

Thus it was a careful hand that started up the first Ganymede weather cycle. Solar heating at the equator made billowing, moist clouds rise. They moved toward the poles as colder air flowed below, filling spaces the warm air left. As they moved, masses of warm clouds dropped sheets of rain. This meant there was only one circulation cell per hemisphere, an easier system to predict than the several-cell scale of Earth. Rainfall and seasons were predictable; weather was boring. As many on Luna and in the asteroids had learned long before, low gravity and a breathable atmospheric pressure gave a sensational bonus: flying. Though Ganymede would always be cold and icy, people could soar over the ice ecology on wings of aluminum. Compared to the molelike existence of only a few generations before, this was freedom divine.

There came at last the moment when the air thickened enough to absorb the virulent radiation flux. Years later, a foolhardy kid stepped outside an airlock five hours before the official ceremony was to begin, and sucked in a thin, piercingly cold breath. She got back inside only moments before oxygen deprivation would have knocked her out, but she did earn the title she wanted: first to breathe the free air of Ganymede. Molecules locked up for billions of years in the ice now filled the lungs of a human. Her family was fined a month’s labor credit by her Settlement.

By this time Europa’s cracked and cratered face was also alive with the tiny ruby dots of fusion-crawlers, chewing away at that moon as well. They crept along the cracks that wrapped the entire moon, melting the wall away, hoping to open the old channels below the cracks. In spots the churning slush below burst forth, spreading stains of rich mineral wealth. Jove itself, hanging eternally at the center of the sky, was now the only face unmarked in some way by mankind.

Not to be outdone, the Republic of Ganymede hastened the heating of their air. They laid a monolayer over the top of the atmosphere, spinning it down from orbit and layering it in place, letting it fall until the pressure supported it. All the while, weaving sheets stitched themselves together and automatically locked as the smart-layers stretched. This gossamer film stopped the lighter molecules from escaping into space, feeding the chemical reactions balanced in the atmosphere and hastening the greenhouse effect. Chlorfluorocarbons, especially, did their complex work. The designers of the atmospheric cap left holes large enough to let orbital tugs slip through. With control modules fitted to the boundaries of these openings, they could be closed at will. From the Ganymede surface, Callisto, Europa and Io swam in the sky, lambent with halos of gauzy, scattered light.

Rain hammered the plains of Ganymede and evaporated within hours. But the gas density rose and water did its ancient trick of passing through phase transitions at the change of a degree or two. The first lake on Ganymede formed in a basin of dirty meteorite rock eight kilometers wide. This created a ready source of fresh water and soon elaborate homes were carved into the spongy rock overlooking the view. In insulated suits people could sail and even swim. Mirrors hung in orbit, focusing sunlight on fields that slowly turned an odd blue-green, patches spreading wherever water trickled.

Space continued to yield up mineral riches. Near-Jovian space held many useful nuggets the size of cities, both the Trojan asteroids, locked in stable resonance at Jupiter’s Lagrange points, and the wide-wandering Transjovians. At first, ready access to manufacturers made producing metal-rich products much cheaper on Ganymede, where the skilled workers and robot factories already were. This briefly cut into the asteroid commerce from the outer planets, but there were other commodities flowing both ways along that same slow route.

Interplanetary trade increased. Stations around distant Saturn drew food and other perishable supplies from Ganymede to support their key energy industries. Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were fast becoming "the Persian Gulf of the Solar System" – a phrase referring to an era centuries past, when fossil fuels in a single Earthside zone provided the major energy sources. Now the outer planets were the largest sources of deuterium and helium-3 to drive the fusion economy. Saturn was the most valuable of the three, because of its relative proximity, low radiation, and excellent system of moons. The largest of these--gloomy, ruddy Titan--was now explored and its resources identified. Some tried to make a go of it at the bottom of that chilly bowl of primordial soup. Few stayed – something in the human psyche cried out to see the skies. Robots busily labored on, untouched by such biological considerations, in murk where only people with acute claustrophila could be happy.

There were many other moons, though, some ripe for development and colonization, some just icy rocks with a number, not a name. A portion of these were set aside as preserves, where scientists and selected tourists could see how the ice worlds had once been. Some never felt the explorer’s boot, held for far-future technologies to understand. Humanity had learned from the Age of Appetite to preserve bleak wastes and allow them to become future frontiers.

As always, economics called the tune. Moons just now boiling off their ices had to find innovative ways to compete with long-established Ganymede. They quickly realized that not capping their atmospheres would make it simple to profit from the new business of slinging asteroids, using atmospheric braking effects to dissipate incoming energies.

Simple chunks — nickel, iron, differentiated silicates rich in rare ores, the usual—came arcing in on long slow ellipses. Deftly dropping their momentum with a brush through uncapped atmosphere simplified and shortened their delivery orbits. Vast fortunes were made and lost with bewildering speed in the early days of the Second Asteroid Rush. Demand continued to escalate, as the off-Earth populations increased in numbers and affluence, but transport was the key to supply. The Jovestar Conglomerate crashed when their monopoly market faltered. Their legal crews, moving quickly, had locked up mineral rights of the obvious first million Trojan asteroids, and their grip on those could not be broken. But the Transjovians were still out there for the plundering, if only they could be cheaply moved to near-Ganymede orbit. The siren song of fabulous wealth ensured that it happened sooner rather than later.

The Europa entrepreneurs jumped into the fray, taking advantage of every last commercial possibility. Since their atmosphere was open to space, they had long sent asteroids zooming through it, en route to easy orbits in Ganymede’s neighborhood. The incoming asteroids, linked to guiding tugs, also heated up Europa’s air, and properly marketed, provided a valuable tourist attraction, with their well-choreographed displays of burnt gold, electric blue, and ruby amber. As the trajectories of these rockships became more graceful and regularly scheduled, they began to carry passengers. Later, atmosphere-grazing in protected fallsuits became popular. In the freewheeling ethical climate of the time, bookings were permitted for those who signed on as suicides. Indeed, the rates were even lowered, contingent on use of long-obsolete suits. The in-fall failure of century-old systems sealed the decision for some with second thoughts.

Some time later, a large Earthside foundation proposed capping the Callisto atmosphere. They intended the largest work of art possible – a gaudy, beribboned design of loops and swirls that could be seen (properly magnified) throughout the Solar System. The glorious monolayer film would have changeable polarization and colors, so that later generations of artists could express themselves through it.

This idea was opposed by a rare coalition of environmentalists – Keep Callisto Clean – and business interests, who wanted to horn in on Europa’s atmospheric deceleration franchise. The foundation lost its zoning permit. Undeterred, they set about plans to move Pluto into a long, looping orbit, which passed through the inner Solar System. Suitably decorated, they said, Pluto would make a magnificent touring art gallery.

Ganymede, oldest and wealthiest of the Jovian colonies, was becoming relatively luxurious. A shining complex of high-end hotels and shops went up, surrounding a sybaritic waterpark that took full advantage of low gravity. Reservations to surfglide at the wave pool became the most hotly sought date in the Settlements. The songs of The Beach Boys, fallen into obscurity as Earth’s rising oceans made crashing waves a source of societal terror, became wildly popular again. Surf culture was resurrected, albeit in forms no twen-cen California Girl could have foreseen.

Soon there was talk of starting a power-generating plant on Io. Not one using the volcanoes there – those had already been tapped. This plan proposed hooking directly into the currents that ran between Io and Jupiter itself – six million amperes of electricity just waiting to be used. Work began. Soon they would harness the energy that drove the aurora.

The forward vector of humanity had by now passed beyond the Jovian moons. Near Earth, the first manned starship was abuilding, soon to depart for Alpha Centauri. Given the engineering abilities of humanity, the matter of whether an Earthlike planet circled there seemed beside the point. (As it turned out, there was no such world within 18 light years.) Humans could survive anywhere. Better, they would prevail, and learn to enjoy just about anything. Any place where sunlight and mass accumulated, mankind would find a way to form a roiling, catch-as-catch-can society – and probably make a profit doing it.

Of course, there was Jupiter itself. It and the other gas giant planets had formed the backdrop for all this drama, but that was all. Many a Ganymede native, perhaps as he lounged beside a lake in a heated skinsuit or banked and swooped through gossamer clouds, peered up at the swollen giant and idly wondered. Jupiter occupies two hundred and fifty times as much of the sky as Luna does from Earth; it was never far from the minds of the millions who lived nearby.

So it was probably inevitable. A physicist on Luna had developed a new theory of Jove’s interior, accounting for all the latest data on pressure and temperature and chemical composition. She found that there had to be stratified bands of pure hydrogen metal near the surface of Jupiter. Such hydrogen metal might be close to the outer layers of rock, shallow enough to mine.

Her theory suggested that once compressed into being by Jupiter’s huge gravitational pressure, metallic hydrogen would be a stable form. At great expense, laboratory tests synthesized a few grams of the stuff. It was incredibly strong, light and durable. It could even survive a slow transition up to low pressure. If you could go down there and mine it...

The pressures deep in that thick Jovian atmosphere were immense. Where they had even been measured at all, the conditions were brutal. The technology for handling the mines was completely undeveloped. It was an insane idea.

They said, of course, that it was impossible. They always do.


In the Solar System’s Main Asteroid Belt, there are literally millions of celestial bodies to be found. And while the majority of these range in size from tiny rocks to planetesimals, there are also a handful of bodies that contain a significant percentage of the mass of the entire Asteroid Belt. Of these, the dwarf planet Ceres is the largest, constituting of about a third of the mass of the belt and being the sixth-largest body in the inner Solar System by mass and volume.

In addition to its size, Ceres is the only body in the Asteroid Belt that has achieved hydrostatic equilibrium – a state where an object becomes rounded by the force of its own gravity. On top of all that, it is believed that this dwarf planet has an interior ocean, one which contains about one-tenth of all the water found in the Earth’s oceans. For this reason, the idea of colonizing Ceres someday has some appeal, as well as terraforming.

Ceres also has the distinction of being the only dwarf planet located within the orbit of Neptune. This is especially interesting considering the fact that in terms of size and composition, Ceres is quite similar to several Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) – such as Pluto, Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and several other TNOs that are considered to be potential candidates for dwarf planets status.

The Dwarf Planet Ceres:

Current estimates place Ceres’ mean radius at 473 km, and its mass at roughly 9.39 × 1020 kg (the equivalent of 0.00015 Earths or 0.0128 Moons). With this mass, Ceres comprises approximately a third of the estimated total mass of the Asteroid Belt (between 2.8 × 1021 and 3.2 × 1021 kg), which in turn is approximately 4% of the mass of the Moon.

The next largest objects are Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea, which have mean diameters of more than 400 km and masses of 2.6 x 1020 kg, 2.11 x 1020 kg, and 8.6 ×1019 kg respectively. The mass of Ceres is large enough to give it a nearly spherical shape, which makes it unique amongst objects and minor planets in the Asteroid Belt.

Ceres follows a slightly inclined and moderately eccentric orbit, ranging from 2.5577 AU (382.6 million km) from the Sun at perihelion and 2.9773 AU (445.4 million km) at aphelion. It has an orbital period of 1,680 Earth days (4.6 years) and takes 0.3781 Earth days (9 hours and 4 minutes) to complete a single rotation on its axis.

Based on its size and density (2.16 g/cm³), Ceres is believed to be differentiated between a rocky core and an icy mantle. Based on evidence provided by the Keck telescope in 2002, the mantle is estimated to be 100 km-thick, and contains up to 200 million cubic km of water, which is equivalent to about 10% of what is in Earth’s oceans, and more water than all the freshwater on Earth.

What’s more, infrared data on the surface also suggests that Ceres may have an ocean beneath its icy mantle. If true, it is possible that this ocean could harbor microbial extraterrestrial life, similar to what has been proposed about Mars, Titan, Europa and Enceladus. It has further been hypothesized that ejecta from Ceres could have sent microbes to Earth in the past.

Other possible surface constituents include iron-rich clay minerals (cronstedtite) and carbonate minerals (dolomite and siderite), which are common minerals in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. The surface of Ceres is relatively warm, with the maximum temperature estimated to reach approximately 235 K (-38 °C, -36 °F) when the Sun is overhead.

Assuming the presence of sufficient antifreeze (such as ammonia), the water ice would become unstable at this temperature. Therefore, it is possible that Ceres may have a tenuous atmosphere caused by outgassing from water ice on the surface. The detection of significant amounts of hydroxide ions near Ceres’ north pole, which is a product of water vapor dissociation by ultraviolet solar radiation, is another indication of this.

However, it was not until early 2014 that several localized mid-latitude sources of water vapor were detected on Ceres. Possible mechanisms for the vapor release include sublimation from exposed surface ice (as with comets), cryovolcanic eruptions resulting from internal heat, and subsurface pressurization. The limited amount of data thus far suggests that the vaporization is more likely caused by sublimation from exposure to the Sun.

Possible Methods:

As with the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, terraforming Ceres would first require that the surface temperature be raised in order to sublimate its icy outer layer. This could be done by using orbital mirrors to focus sunlight onto the surface, by detonating thermonuclear devices on the surface, or colliding small asteroids harvested from the Main Belt onto the surface.

This would result in Ceres’ crust thawing and turning into a dense, water vapor-rich atmosphere. The orbital mirrors would once again come into play here, where they would be used to trigger photolysis and transform the water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen gas. While the hydrogen gas would be lost to space, the oxygen would remain closer to the surface.

Ammonia could also be harvested locally, since Ceres is believed to have plentiful deposits of ammonia-rich clay soils. With the introduction of specific strains of bacteria into the newly created atmospheres – such as the Nitrosomonas, Pseudomonas and Clostridium species – the sublimated ammonia could be converted into nitrites (NO²-) and then nitrogen gas. The end result would be an ocean world with seas that are 100 km in depth.

Another option would be to employ a process known as “paraterraforming” – where a world is enclosed (in whole or in part) in an artificial shell in order to transform its environment. In the case of Ceres moons, this could involve building large “Shell Worlds” to encase it, keeping the newly-created atmospheres inside long enough to effect long-term changes. Within this shell, Ceres temperature could be increased, UV lights would convert water vapor to oxygen gas, ammonia could be converted to nitrogen, and other elements could be added as needed.

In the same vein, a dome could be built over one or more of Ceres’ craters – particularly the Occator, Kerwan and Yalode craters – where the surface temperature could slowly be raised, and silicates and organic molecules could be introduced to create a terrestrial-like environment. Using water harvested from the surface, this land could be irrigated, oxygen gas could be processed, and nitrogen could be pumped in to act as a buffer gas.

Potential Benefits:

The benefits of colonizing and (para)terraforming Ceres are numerous. For instance, it would take comparatively less energy to sublimate the surface than with the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. Under normal conditions, Ceres’ surface is warm enough (and it is likely there is sufficient ammonia) that its ices are unstable.

Also, Ceres appears from all accounts to be rich in resources, which include water ices and ammonia, and has a surface that is equivalent in total land area to Argentina. Also, the surface receives an estimated 150 W/m2 of solar irradiance at aphelion, one ninth that of Earth. This level of energy is high enough that solar-power facilities could run on its surface.

And being the largest body in the asteroid belt, Ceres could become the main base and transport hub for future asteroid mining infrastructure, allowing mineral resources to be transported to Mars, the Moon, and Earth. Its small escape velocity, combined with large amounts of water ice, means that it also could process rocket fuel, water and oxygen gas on site for ships going through and beyond the Asteroid Belt.

Potential Challenges:

Despite the benefits of a colonized or transformed Ceres, there are also numerous challenges that would need to be addressed first. As always, they can be broken down into the following categories – Distance, Resources and Infrastructure, Hazards and Sustainability. For starters, Ceres and Earth are (on average) approximately 264,411,977 km apart, which is 1.7675 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun (and twice that between Earth and Mars).

Hence, any crewed mission to Ceres – which would involve the transport of both colonists, construction materials, and robotic workers – would take a considerable amount of time and involve a large expenditure in fuel. To put it in perspective, missions to Mars have taken anywhere from 150 to over 300 days, depending on how much fuel was expended. Since Ceres is roughly twice that distance, we can safely say that it would take a minimum of a year for a spacecraft to get there.

However, since these spacecraft would likely be several orders of magnitude heavier than anything previously flown to Mars – i.e. large enough to carry crews, supplies and heavy equipment – they would either need tremendous amounts of thrust to make the journey in the same amount of time, would have to spend much longer in transit, or would need more advanced propulsion systems altogether.

And while NASA currently has plans on the table to build laser-sail spacecraft that could make it Mars in three days times, these plans are not practical as far as colonization or terraforming are concerned. More than likely, advanced drive systems such as Nuclear-Thermal Propulsion (NTP) or a Fusion-drive system would be needed. And while certainly feasible, no such drive systems exist at this time.

Second, the process of building colonies on Ceres’ surface and/or orbital mirrors in orbit would require a huge commitment in material and financial resources. These could be harvested from the Asteroid Belt, but the process would be time-consuming, expensive, and require a large fleet of haulers and robotic miners. There would also need to be a string of bases between Earth and the Asteroid Belt in order to refuel and resupply these missions – i.e. a Lunar base, a permanent base on Mars, and most likely bases in the Asteroid Belt as well.

In terms of hazards, Ceres is not known to have a magnetic field, and would therefore not be shielded from cosmic rays or other forms of radiation. This would necessitate that any colonies on the surface either have significant radiation shielding, or that an orbital shield be put in place to deflect a significant amount of the radiation the planet receives. This latter idea further illustrates the problem of resource expenditure.

The extensive system of craters on Ceres attests to the fact that impactors would be a problem, requiring that they be monitored and redirected away from the planet. The surface gravity on Ceres is also quite low, being roughly 2.8% that on Earth (0.27 m/s2 vs. 9.8 m/s2). This would raise the issue of the long-term effects of near-weightlessness on the human body, which (like exposure to zero-g environments) would most likely involve loss of muscle mass, bone density, and damage to vital organs.

In terms of sustainability, terraforming Ceres presents a major problem. If the dwarf planet’s surface ice were to be sublimated, the result would be an ocean planet with depths of around 100 km. With a mean radius of less than 500 km, this means that about 21% of the planet’s diameter would consist of water. It is unlikely that such a planet (especially one with gravity as low as Ceres’) would be able to retain its oceans for long, and a significant amount of the water would likely be lost to space.


Under the circumstances, it seems like it would make more sense to colonize or paraterraform Ceres than to subject it to full terraforming. However, any such venture would have to wait upon the creation of a Lunar base, a settlement on Mars, and the development of more advanced propulsion technology. It was also require the creation of a fleet of deep-space ships and an army of construction and mining robots.

However, if and when such a colony were created, the resources of the Asteroid Belt would be at our disposal. Humanity would effectively enter an age of post-scarcity, and would be in a position to mount missions deeper into the Solar System (which could include colonizing the Jovian and Cronian systems, and maybe even the Trans-Neptunian region).

From HOW DO WE TERRAFORM CERES? by Matt Williams (2016)


Genesis, third planet of the star system 59 Virgo, can be found 43.5 light years from Earth. 59 Virgo, a smallish type F8V star, is hotter and younger than Earth's sun. Although it's expected to have a shorter life-span than Earth's sun, it still has several billion years to go.

No large moon like Earth's orbits Genesis, but it possesses an asteroid-like belt of more than 250 moonlets orbiting between ten and twenty thousand kilometers from its surface. Most of these satellites have an irregular shape and tumble slowly in their orbits. From the planet's surface, the naked eye can plainly see more than 100 of them forming a beautiful night time display. The largest measures about twenty-eight kilometers long, but it lies so far out that it appears only slightly larger than a star when viewed from the ground. Composition of the moonlets varies from nearly pure iron to siliceous rock. No one knows if the moons ever formed part of one larger moon, or if they are the captured remnants of a prehistoric meteor shower. The moon belt exerts negligible tidal forces on the oceans, since the moons are distributed evenly around the planet. Principal tidal action is due to the pull of the sun, 59 Virgo.

Genesis is barely larger than Earth, with a diameter less than one percent greater and a gravitational attraction at the surface only one percent higher. Land covers 21 percent of its surface. The bulk of it is divided into four continents: Harvestland, Virginis, Barrenland, and Maiden Spring. Three continents have less area than Earth's average continent, but one, Harvestland, has more surface than Earth's Eurasian land mass. The continents take a more closed form than continents on Earth and are separated by larger ex- panses of open ocean.

Genesis orbits 59 Virgo once every 347 days in nearly circular orbit. Its day clocks iust over 12 hours, the shortest among the present colonies. Genesis inclines 27° degree toward its ecliptic plane, making its arctic regions larger than Earth's and its seasonal temperature variations more extreme. Its short day lessens extreme daily temperature variations, however. The planet's atmospheric pressure at mean sea level gauges just 55 percent of Earth's, but since the atmosphere contains 31 percent oxygen, Humans can breath it. The lower atmospheric density reduces the heat transferred from the poles to the equator by atmospheric convection, causing somewhat greater temperature variations with latitude than Earth's. Lower density also reduces the effective wind pressure, so even though wind velocities average somewhat higher than Earth's, their destructive and wave-generating forces are lower.

Genesis is believed to be much younger than the Earth, perhaps by as much as 1.5 billion years. The planet appears to contain more residual heat than Earth and exhibits much greater volcanic activity. Flying over the surface, one rarely loses sight of active volcanoes.


Except for its blue sky and white clouds, the natural surface of Genesis looks more like Earth's moon or Mars than a habitable planet. Not one tree or one blade of grass breaks the monotonous expanse of cold grey rock, stony rubble and sand. No native animals, not even the smallest insect-like creatures, scurry across the empty waste. There is no food, no soil, no single living thing!

If ancient space travellers had landed on Earth half a billion years ago, they would have viewed a similar scene. Life on all habitable planets began in the sea. Genesis is such a world in its earliest stage of development; so its only life exists in the oceans. Because life evolves from the simple to the complex, most life on this young planet seems elementary when compared with the other colony worlds.


Sea life consists mainly of microorganisms. These tiny monocellular species fill all the functions in the life cycle from tiny one-celled photosynthetic plants, resembling Earth's diatoms, to tiny bacteria-like creatures that consume the dead remains of plants and animals. Larger plants take the forms of simple seaweed while still other small plants containing only a few thousand cells float freely in the water. Animals range in structure from tiny multicellular free-floaters and larger free-floaters resembling iellyfish to numerous species of tiny animals with external skeletons. The latter creatures look like the trilobites which dominated Earth's seas in the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. Earth's phylum of arthropods, which today includes lobsters, insects, and spiders, traces its ancestry to the trilobites. All animals on Genesis exhibit extremely simple behavior patterns; they have few instincts apart from the desire to eat and avoid being eaten. Complex adaptations like the spider's web, the hermit crab's borrowed shell, and the symbiosis between ants and aphids have not even begun to emerge.


The discovery of Genesis by Captain Ben Alan and the crew of the Aurora in 2240 adtc, did not bring universal jubilation on Earth. No statement illustrates the anguish this planet caused the pioneering movement than the following passage from Ben Alan's personal log.

“Our excitement reached frenzied levels as we made final preparations to land on the planet's surface! The beautiful, blue sphere below us possessed breathable atmosphere, warm temperatures, no radiological hazards, and no evidence of intelligent life. As the landing craft began its descent, we stared intently at the main screen which amplified the view below. We broke beneath a layer of clouds and glimpsed our first clear view of the grey landscape.

“Just our luck! We came down in a desert! Thinking that surely it couldn't go on forever, we pressed forward, travelling at 1200 kilometers per hour, 7000 meters above the surface. Four hours later upon reaching the seacoast, hydrocarbon scanners had not revealed the slightest chemical traces of life. Even Earth's most barren wastes would not have produced such readings. We continued parallel to the shore for fourteen hours more, circumnavigating the entire continent without sensing a living thing on the land. Yet carbon readings in the sea revealed some life there and proved our sensors were functioning. ln desperation we touched down and still clad in our biosuits, stepped from the shuttle into an awful landscape littered with ugly black rocks and totally devoid of any life. We took microspopic samples from many places, but even stagnant pools of water in the rocks didn't reveal a single living cell.

“Fatigued and feeling uneasy, we returned to the ship. The next day and for fourteen days after, I dispatched landing parties to the surface. At last the awful reality dawned on us. This planet is a desert. True, some elementary life exists in the sea which probably accounts for the oxygen atmosphere, but how could Humankind survive on those dreadful rock plains below?”

Aurora remained on Genesis for four months, studying what native life there was. When it returned to Earth, Alan's report classified Genesis uninhabitable, but he appended the following comment to his recommendation.

“Despite the planet's inhospitable environ- ment, l believe that someday Humans will live on it. The planet contains the fundamental conditions necessary to support our form of life. When our technology advances enough to allow us to transport much larger payloads across the interstellar space, then we will be able to bring enough equipment and enough supporting life forms from our mother planet to permit life as we know it to thrive there."

He went on to exercise his preogative as captain and named the planet, an unprecedented custom for a world considered uninhabitable.

For 20 years no planetologist challenged Alan's conclusion. The problems of colonizing his barren planet seemed insurmountable. The elementary shellfish of Genesis’ seas could have provided some minimal sustenance to a Human population, but nothing approaching a normal Human diet could be cultivated on its barren continents. Humans need more than food too. Few would voluntarily agree to spend their lives in a desolate wasteland. Grass, trees, and other living animals may not seem like necessities of life, but early in the history of space travel, scientists learned how important they could be. After more than two years on the first permanent Martian base, the total bleakness of that planet's landscape began to have serious psychological effects upon the trained and experienced travellers that staffed them. No large and inexperienced group of pioneers could have coped with Genesis indefinitely.

Yet even before the discovery of Genesis, events were under way that eventually made its colonization possible. Contact with the Ardotians in 2217 adtc created a tremendous increase in the level of both Human and Ardot knowledge. Within a few years, the formulation of the Comprehensive Unified Field Theory led to the development of highly efficient matter-antimatter reactors. These reactors allowed people to transport far greater cargoes across interstellar space at a fraction of the cost.

Both Humans and Ardotians soon became interested in Ben Alan's barren planet again. They reasoned that Genesis provided a rare opportunity for an advanced civilization to create a biologically perfect world, a world without disease, pests, vermin, even weeds! lt would provide the ultimate test of intelligent life's ability to shape and control its environment. Because of their scientific interest in Genesis, the Ardotians offered to supply engines for the largest starship ever built, if the people of Earth would undertake the planet’s development and provide the life-support modules, equipment, and supplies for the vessel. All the Ardotians asked in return for their contribution were detailed reports about the progress of the experiment.

Earth's lnternational Council for Space Exploration began planning for the first colony on Genesis soon after receiving the Ardotian offer; yet another 20 years passed before the launching of the first “Noah's Ark.” The magnitude of the project seemed overwhelming. ln the space of a few years, Humankind would attempt to leap half a billion years of evolution. Techniques for creating living soil from barren rock had to be developed. The proper mix of desirable Earth species had to be selected, and safeguards to insure that Genesis would not become contaminated by pests and diseases from Earth had to be refined. Finally, a large-scale evacuation plan had to be drawn up, should the entire proiect fail catastrophically. No detail escaped scrutiny. As a final check, Ardotian computers analyzed the entire plan, independently assessed its probable outcome and made several important recommendations.

Planners chose the southernmost tip of Harvestland for the first settlement, which pioneers named Malthus. Situated at the edge of the southern tropic zone, the climate is warm and the ocean is protected from violent storms. The colony organization followed the lines of a socialist de mocracy, similar in concept to the highly successful kibbutz used in the 20th century redevelopment of Israel.

The first 3000 pioneers brought food for five years, although the starship made the round trip to Earth annually, bringing still more food, equipment and new colonists. Pioneers lived in temporary housing constructed from parts of the ship that brought them, early precursors to the residential spires of today's pioneering vessels. ln the early years, most efforts focussecl on cultivation of Earth's native life forms. lt took two years to prepare the soil for planting the first crops. At the same time, the pioneers began to develop aquaculture of both native and imported species to hedge against possible failure of the primary food supply. The first pioneers had no resources for manufacturing or processing industrial goods. Most of them were biologists or farming technicians, with a smattering of the mechanics, programmers, and comtechs needed to keep their equipment functioning.

Life's foothold on the planet was assured as food production became self-sustaining at the end of the fourth year. After that the slow process of building basic industries began, first with the importation of mineral recovery equipment, followed by critical manufacturing processes. Development of Genesis has proceeded steadily, if more slowly than on worlds more bountifully endowed by nature. Today, 92 years later, it boasts a modern, industrial society with many of the luxuries and conveniences of Earth.

After six months, soil preparation crews an equipment began to work. Giant combination soil preparation machines, larger than any previous built, performed the task. (See figure 3.13.) In one operation, these mechanical monsters broke rock into coarse chunks using laser drills, then ground fine with ultrasonic grinders and mixed it with nutrients and mulch from giant hoppers they dragged behind them. In past proiects, the pulverization depth reached about a meter below the surface, but the depth to which these large trees’ roots would grow dictated that rock be broken up three meters deep and pulverized to a depth of 1.5 meters.

Earth's natural soil is very fine-grained, but organic mulch within it inhibits its natural tendency to compact and congeal into a solid mass. On Genesis, soil technicians must add a synthetic mulch prepared from seaweed. Since the mass of the synthetic humus cannot equal the mass of natural humus, special chemical treatments must augment it. The addition of fixed nitrogen and other necessary plant minerals follows the mulch, and the soil is chemically balanced. As a final step, technicians seed the new soil with a hardy grass, specially bred from Earth grasses, called “prep grass.” After two years the prep grass is plowed under to provide further mulch and natural nutrients to the soil. The addition of bacteria and worms of appropriate species complete the formation of synthetic soil.

While the prep grass grew we began sprouting seedling trees in the mature soil of the developed area not far from my home. Since no natural barriers existed to blunt the ferocious gales that blew off the south Genesean Ocean, protecting the young trees from wind damage became our most pressing problem. Solid shelter of any kind would have been prohibitively expensive, but fortunately a wind-breaking field had been developed a few years earlier. The field employed a special configuration of the g-field to slow inrushing air to a standstill in the space of two decimeters. Unfortunately, the field would kill anyone who accidently walked through it, so its perimeter had to be guarded by sensors, coupled to visual, sound, and telepathic alarms to warn stray children or absent-minded scientists who might not heed posted warnings.

After two years huge transplanting machines began to move the seedlings from the nursery beds to the forest site. The machines passed over the seedling beds, picking up the young trees together with their roots and a clump of soil, then travelled out to the newly plowed forest and deposited the seedlings in holes dug by the machine itself. Each machine carried about 1000 seedlings and planted at the rate of two per minute.

The machines planted the trees in a predesigned pattern that allowed for optimum tree growth and insured that mature trees would someday provide natural shelter for future seedlings, thus avoiding the need to raise the young trees in a sheltered nursery. A major conflict arose among the forest planning staff over the pattern in which the trees would be planted. Some wanted to plant the trees in regular rows resembling a European garden, while others wanted an irregular, pseudo-random pattern that would resemble a natural forest. The regular pattern made the trees easier to care for and would have cost less, but fortunately the “naturalists” won out. The forest, now quite mature, is one of my favorite vacation spots on Genesis. It gives me great satisfaction to walk among the towering trees and feel that I helped place them there. Despite the fact I aligned with the ordered pattern camp, I am glad that the trees now grow in a naturalistic pattern, for I have come to appreciate the marvelous “order” in nature's randomness.

From HANDBOOK FOR SPACE PIONEERS by L. Stephen Wolfe and Roy L. Wysack (1977)

      Satlin is 104 million miles from its primary, a small white orb with an overabundance of heat radiation. The Satlik call it, “Godheart”—not because of any specific religious significance, but because of its refusal to be easily understood or explained by human beings. It is just far enough off the main sequence to confound most explanations for its existence, and the best rationale is simply that it is trying to burn itself out in one hell of a hurry, that being the quickest way to remove itself as a certifiable anomaly.
     Satlin too is an anomaly, refusing any easy explanation. There is evidence that it was once the core of a massive Jupiter-type planet, a gas giant that had its outer layers burned off at some point in the past when its star was nova. The composition of its mantle and core structure tend to support this theory; however, there is also evidence that the planet was once a rogue and was captured by this star—for instance, the irregularity of its orbit; the plane of it is 60 degrees off the ecliptic. The planet also has too much water in its crust; on the other hand, its orbit is nearly circular. There is just enough evidence of either origin to make Satlin’s history uncertain. If anything, the planet is one more proof of the innate perversity of the universe.
     But, because the likelihood of a habitable planet around Godheart is slim, Satlin is not a planet that one would either predict or expect; hence its belated discovery far after the Diaspora of colonization had spread beyond it. Satlin is the only planet circling its primary, except for a ring of asteroids and assorted other rubble scattered in a belt some 225 million kilometers out. (The orbit of the asteroid spill establishes the plane of ecliptic for this star system. Because of the severe angle of Satlin’s orbit, twice a year she experiences heavy meteor showers of debris wandering inward from the belt. Since terraforming, most of this matter is burned up in the atmosphere, but occasionally larger chunks of rock have to be bumped out of the way.) The planet’s general unlikelihood lends some credence to the legend that the pilgrims were steered toward this world by an “angel”—the same angel that delivered “the Savior” to them and gave them Choice. As with many other aspects of the world, even its material sciences are bound up in mysticism.
     The planet has no life native to it. Before terraforming, it was a hard-baked ball of rock, almost totally lacking atmosphere, and bathed by actinic radiation strong enough to kill. The planet is 15,140 kilometers in diameter, larger than Earth, but with far less heavy metals and density. Gravity is only .84 Earth-normal. There are three small moons, massing less than one-third Luna (total), and scattering of asteroids. All of them are more than 300,000 kilometers out and exert only minor tidal effects. To the unaided eye, they are point-sources, not disks.

     The early colonists beheld a world that was barren and pocked; its cratered face was forbidding to look upon—she was world battered by cataclysm, lonely and hostile. If she had water, she held it within herself; what polar caps she wore were mostly CO2. What atmosphere she wore was thin and inhospitable, less than 1.2 psi. She turned upon her axis only once every 53:33:12 hours, producing extremes of day and night beyond the parameters of viability. The 26:46:36-hour day was too long and too hot, even before high noon temperatures on dayside became lethal; oceans, if any, would have boiled. Conversely, the equally long nights were too cold; freezing temperatures on nightside were generally reached eight to ten hours before dawn. In the higher latitudes, it was not uncommon for CO2 to crystallize out of the air was the night progressed. This continual heating and cooling put the planet’s crust under heavy strain, making it prone to volcanism and a great number of (usable) geothermal vents. Earthquakes were not uncommon.

     After more than nine years of surveying and simulations, preliminary terraforming began with the construction of an atmosphere. Several ice-asteroids had been nudged out of orbit and pushed into eventual collision course with the planet; they began to arrive within a year of the completion of the primary simulations and their courses were corrected for specific target areas. The largest of these ice-asteroids was more than nineteen kilometers in diameter. When melted it would provide enough water to cover the surface of the planet to a depth of one centimeter. To import a whole ocean in this manner would take several centuries, more energy than the colonists had to work with, and probably would have reduced Satlin to rubble by the continual battering of asteroid collisions. The colonists were gambling instead that the small polar caps already in existence, as well as the core samples they had taken, were evidence of additional water trapped in Satlin’s mantle. The asteroid collisions opened thousands of holes in the planet’s surface and vented billions of tons of rock and hot gases into the air and created both an atmosphere and an ocean in a single generation. The pilgrims watched from their safely distant orbit and waited, not without prayer. Of course, the water that they did import was not wasted; although its primary purpose was to startle the mantle of the planet into releasing more of the treasure, eventually it flowed downward to its destined lake and ocean beds—the seven asteroids used added less than six percent of the total resultant atmosphere and ocean; the bulk of the planet’s resources were already there, waiting to be tapped. A few hard knocks were all that was needed.

     Satlin was less water than Earth, and it is spread across a vaster surface; the asteroid collisions were aimed to provide channels of interconnection for the oceans that would later flow down through them. Satlin’s oceans are generally shallow, warm, and for the most part, fresh. They have not had time to accumulate significant salt content. The seas circle the planet in wide belts, flowing from crater bed to crater bed. Many shore-lines are steep and inaccessible, being the formerly sheer mountains of crater walls. Beyond them, there are vast remains uninhabited and uninhabitable. For the most part, they are unexplored, although many legends seek refuge in their mystery.

     The present-day map of Satlin shows more than half a million small islands dotting the seas like stepping stones; many of them are shaped like crescents—the map is a swirling pattern of loops and circles, the legacy of the planet’s cratered past. Larger craters have become long circular chains of mountainous islands sketched around peaceful seas or inland deserts. Smaller craters have become dry pocks within the seas, depending on their elevation and the integrity of their walls. As a result, much of the planet’s habitable surface also remains unexplored and only casually seeded. A number of areas have been purposely unseeded to allow for future preserves and research enclaves. Others have been allowed to grow wild.
     The islands are thickest in the waters bordering the highlands where the oceans are their shallowest. The bulk of the Satlik population is settled in areas of this kind—between the desert and the dark blue sea. A typical example is the triangle of Luskin, Chung and Carlisle, west of Hull. Here the water averages less than a meter; it is possible to walk across the intervening straits, if one is patient enough. The “magic triangle” formed by these three peaks is known for its excellent offshore gardens, a favorite of boaters and bathers alike.

     Terraforming Satlin was not the easy process that this altogether too brief description seems to imply; in fact, the bulk of the work occurred after the initial formation of the atmosphere. The construction of a viable and sustaining ecology was—and still is—the primary concern of the Satlin Authority. The presence of an atmosphere provided significant filtering of the ultraviolet given off by Godheart—but the prolonged rotation of the planet still made the days too hot and the nights too cold. Secondary terraforming demanded some adjustment—an adjustment that helps to explain the still rigid control of Satlin Authority; theirs is a historical mission of maintenance, one which is regarded with reverence bordering on awe by most inhabitants. A series of controlled-shape (spider-frame, magnetic harness) optically thick, ionized plasmas, functioning as unphazed photon-interference fields (self-generating above compacted density thresholds), reflective on both sides, have been placed in synchronous orbit over selected localities. These shields provide necessary eclipses and darkdays. The Weather Authority controls day and night over every inhabited locality on the planet. Every decision affecting the Satlik ecology is subject to review by Authority.
     The shields of Satlin are something of an engineering marvel; the first of them took twenty-three years to construct; later fields would take less than fifteen. Each field is elliptical, in a synchronous orbit 84,000 kilometers; the long dimension is oriented north-to-south. Lacking significant mass-effect, the plasma is relatively immune to the effects of light pressure, although orbital corrections are occasionally necessary due to certain masscon perturbations of the focusing satellites. Each shield umbrellas the area of Satlin it is synchronous to, producing a period of 7:46 hours, centered on zenith, of total eclipse, every day; thus dividing the normal Satlin day into two days of 9:30 hours each. Each eclipse provides enough cooling to keep the shielded locality within the parameters of viability.
     Coming around toward nightside, the field functions as a mirror. A period of 10:30 hours, centered on midnight, becomes a darkday of illumination reflected off the underside of the field and focused on the same locality. Adjacent shields (when there are adjacent shields) provide additional illumination until their own localities approach darkday or are past it. Darkday occurs for a locality when its shield is directly opposed to the sun; before or after, the moonstar’s light spills onto adjacent darkdays, leaving its locality in night, but the bulk of any region’s illumination always comes from its own moonstar because the moondrops of adjacent shields are too far off their reflective axes.
     Because a shield covers a larger arc of sky than either the Godheart or Satlin’s own shadow-cone, it will appear as a phasing organ of light in the night sky; first, a glowing lens, growing brighter—too bright to look at directly; then as the shadow-cone begins to slide across it, an oval with a sidewise bite out of it, becoming a crescent, then an elongated ring—a silver-brilliant eye of zenith—then the process reverses, the ringstar becoming a crescent open to the opposite side, then an egg with a missing bite, then a glowing orb sliding back into dimness. “Noon” of the darkday is its twilight; its brightest moments come at the hours of morning and evening. Throughout, the adjacent shields can be seen as large moondrops in the eastern and western skies; larger even than the sun, they turn through phases as the planet rotates. Night and day, the sky of Satlin is a dome of wonder.
     Although not ideal, the adjustment works. Since initial colonization, the Satlik have opened up fourteen shielded regions: Goah, Dhosa, Allik, Tartch, Nona, Bundt, Lagin, Kessor, Kabel, Weerin, Oave, Dorinne, Astril and Asandir. The first nine of these are in the southern hemisphere, the latter are northern shields. The bulk of Satlin’s population lives in a belt that stretches across half of the South Wilderness Seas and diagonally up into the north, on the islands bordering the continent of Lannit.

     The third phase of terraforming—what most persons consider the actual process—began with the early seeding of massive doses of organic catalysts, bacteria, lichens, fungi and various tailored one-celled organisms designed to turn a reducing atmosphere into an oxygen one. The sea was seeded with diatoms and algae and plankton, the land with earthworms and mushrooms and ferns; as the atmosphere began to stabilize, creating a green-house effect, the heat absorption and radiation properties of the growing biosphere began to stabilize. The polar caps began to grow again, this time H2O; oxygen began to appear in significant quantities, aerobic bacteria followed; each encouraged the other. The introduction of more complex organisms followed that; plants and small water animals to feed on them; insects, both land-crawlers and airborne; fish, small ones to feed on the plankton, larger ones to feed on the small ones. An ecology was being born. Land-growing plants were followed by small animals to feed on them, and almost immediately by predators to keep them in check. Each new creature had at least two major food sources and one major predator following after.
     The Satlik bio-circle was monitored and watched; each new creature was carefully considered; simulations and ecology models were manipulated for years to establish the parameters of every change—and even so, each change was introduced only on a local scale until it was known that it was functioning within the predicted limits. Stingfish, for example, were not introduced as predators except on a controlled breeding basis; no fertile stingfish have very swum free in the oceans of Satlin for fear the resultant population explosion would quickly decimate all other species—including humans.
     The Pilgrims arrived at Godheart almost five centuries ago; after the “storms of ice and fire” that lasted fifty years, after the “great hesitation” while the atmosphere quieted, the first colonists began to land and settle. It would be a hundred and fifty years before they could walk the surface without O-masks; and then the islands were still mostly barren; there were some saplings, shrubs and bushes, some forms of grass, but mostly moss and ferns, vines and creepers, piquant flowers—vast fields of them—and a sense of virgin newness over everything, a sense that persists on Satlin even today. In fifteen generations, despite a devastating plague in the seventh, the Satlik have increased their numbers to nearly 100 million individuals. The work of ecological tailoring continues, as does the process of “thickening” the atmosphere. Despite the lesser gravity, the atmosphere is still not dense enough to support an economical aircraft. The primary method of transportation is the boat, mostly shallow-draft barges or catamarans, equipped either with sail or field-effect motors, or both. Due to an overall mean temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, cloud-cover tends to be thick, and also quite low. It is said that one can reach up and grab a handful of clouds on Satlin. (Not quite, but . . .) Breathable atmosphere extends only to an upper limit of 2400 meters above sea level. Above that, O-masks or pressure suits are required. Because of the atmospheric limits, as well as the relative ease of ocean transportation, most settlements are on coastlines; there are only observatories above the 1000-meter level. Air pressure at sea level is 11.1 psi.

     Because of the small size of the planet’s moons, tidal effects are negligible; for a variety of reasons, this tends to aggravate the planet’s tendency toward massive storms. The seas of Satlin are not always quiet ones, hurricanes often span hundred-kilometer wave fronts—the larger scours have stretched as much as five hundred kilometers from edge to edge. The shallowness of the Satlik atmosphere tends to compress storms downward, making them grow sidewise in compensation and increasing their strength correspondingly; but however damaging the storms are to specific localities, they are an ecological necessity, helping to maintain a weather balance, making the unshielded areas of Satlin less forbidding and uninhabitable and increasing the overall livability of the planet. Following a hurricane, for instance, the humidity of the Satlik atmosphere is generally several points higher. Without such aid the atmosphere would tend to go so dry as to be unbreathable. Even so, it is common in Satlik buildings to have a small indoor pond, or several bowls of water; although these are often presented as decorative devices, their primary function is to provide local evaporation of water; they are primitive, but effective, humidifiers.
     Although air travel on Satlin is limited to experimental craft, intra-orbital shuttles are not uncommon; launched from mountain catapults, these craft do not have to fight thick atmosphere or heavy gravity to reach orbital velocity, and are able to make efficient use of their fuel. The Satlik people have only recently begun to redevelop their orbital industries; progress in many areas had been badly interrupted by the Devastation, the above-mentioned plague. In summation, Satlin is a young world, rugged and severe; although seemingly pleasant in its current development, the system is actually artificial and quite fragile and could easily be disrupted. (Note: rigorous political authority is a necessary necessary insurance here, one that is demanded by the Satlik.) The Satlik bio-circle has very little margin. Overall mean viability: 74%. Stability: 21 degrees/180 degrees.

From MOONSTAR ODYSSEY by David Gerrold (1977)
Terraforming Venus

Other than Terra, there are no shirt-sleeve habitable planets in the solar system. On any of the other planets or moons, if you step outside wearing only ordinary clothing you will die hideously in a minute or two.

The two other terrestrial planets in the solar system's circumstellar habitable zone are Mars and Venus.

Scifi authors initially focused on Mars; since you could see canals, seasonal changes, and other home-like features. Unfortunately, the closer you got, the worse Mars looked. Space probes got near enough to see that canals were an illusion, there were lots of lunar-like craters, the seasonal changes were continent-wide dust storms, and the atmospheric pressure was barely more than pure vacuum. Scifi authors reluctantly stopped writing stories about scantily-clad Martian princesses, tentacled alien invaders looking for higher-class real-estate, Martian odysseys; and moved on.

Venus initially looked like a planet shrouded in a permanent pea-soup fog. Ah, the scifi authors figured the planet is obviously in the grip of global steamy swamp climate. No doubt full of dinosaurs, everybody's favorite monster. We can write lots of scifi adventures set on this planet. After all, the astronomers were calling the planet Venus more or less Terra's "sister planet", right?

Some scifi authors even postulated some kind of planetary parallel development. You start with a planet that is lifeless but fertile. Life develops, and progresses through the age of dinosaurs up to the the age of Man. Then the planet eventually becomes old and worn-out: a arid desert inhabited by a dwindling tribe of decadent aborigines. Under this theory, the planet Mercury is still in the lifeless phase, Venus is in the dinosaur phase, Terra is in the age of man, and Mars is at the desert phase. A few minutes of logical thought will show this theory is utter hogwash.

Then space probes got close to Venus and exploded this view as well. Atmospheric pressure at the surface was 92 times that of Terra, i.e., strong enough to implode your spacecraft like a cheap beer can. Atmosphere was also practically pure carbon dioxide, utterly unbreathable if you wanted to live. Temperature was even hotter than Mercury, despite the fact Mercury was quite a bit closer to the Sun. Venus had a surface hot enough to melt lead.

So scifi authors gave up writing about habitable extraterrestrial solar system planets. But wait!

In the 1930 scifi classic Last and First Men, science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon wrote about future humans concerned about the immanent fall of the Moon wiping out all life on Terra. Since there was no other habitable planets in the solar system to evacuate to, they would have to make one. Mars did not have enough of an atmosphere, but Venus did. True, the atmo was mostly carbon dioxide, but adding a huge amount of plant life would fix that. In 1941 Jack Williamson (the Dean of Science Fiction) coined the catchy term "terraforming", and popularized it in his stories. He invented a few other terms as well, such as "genetic engineering", but I digress.

Other authors were quick to pick up on the implications. Venus might not be habitable now, but it may be a unique fixer-upper opportunity. The result would be a new virgin habitable planet fully as large as Terra. One could terraform Mars as well, but you would have to be constantly replenishing the atmosphere as it escaped the puny gravity. A habitable Venus would allow scifi authors to write about alien planets without having to invent a faster-than-light drive first. As a bonus, the new planet would allow writing scifi stories using much the same plot as standard pioneer cowboy stories (minus the native Americans).

In 1955 Poul Anderson wrote The Big Rain, an impressive short story about the massive project to terraform Venus. This story, like Last And First Men, postulated using living organisms to make the atmosphere breathable. But Anderson was thinking more in terms of mutated bacteria, since those multiply much faster than plants with leaves.

And in 1961, Dr. Carl Sagan proposed a real-world project of actually terraforming Venus by adding blue-green algae into the upper atmosphere. Perhaps he was inspired by the science fiction stories. Alas later, when the huge amount of carbon dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere became clear, Sagan came to the conclusion that blue-green algae would not work. They would drastically increase the amount of oxygen in the air, while covering the entire surface with a deep layer of highly flammable carbon. One spark would start a planetary fire, burning all the oxygen and carbon back into carbon dioxide and setting the project right back to square one.


The terraforming of Venus is the hypothetical process of engineering the global environment of the planet Venus in such a way as to make it suitable for human habitation. Terraforming Venus was first scholarly proposed by the astronomer Carl Sagan in 1961, although fictional treatments, such as The Big Rain of The Psychotechnic League by novelist Poul Anderson, preceded it. Adjustments to the existing environment of Venus to support human life would require at least three major changes to the planet's atmosphere:

  1. Reducing Venus' surface temperature of 462 °C (735 K; 864 °F)
  2. Eliminating most of the planet's dense 9.2 MPa (91 atm) carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide atmosphere via removal or conversion to some other form
  3. The addition of breathable oxygen to the atmosphere.

These three changes are closely interrelated because Venus' extreme temperature is due to the high pressure of its dense atmosphere and the greenhouse effect.


Prior to the early 1960s, the atmosphere of Venus was believed by astronomers to have an Earth-like temperature. When Venus was understood to have a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere with a consequence of a very large greenhouse effect, some scientists began to contemplate the idea of altering the atmosphere to make the surface more Earth-like. This hypothetical prospect, known as terraforming, was first proposed by Carl Sagan in 1961, as a final section of his classic article in the journal Science discussing the atmosphere and greenhouse effect of Venus. Sagan proposed injecting photosynthetic bacteria into the Venus atmosphere, which would convert the carbon dioxide into reduced carbon in organic form, thus reducing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the knowledge of Venus' atmosphere was still inexact in 1961, when Sagan made his original proposal for terraforming. Thirty-three years after his original proposal, in his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot, Sagan conceded his original proposal for terraforming would not work because the atmosphere of Venus is far denser than was known in 1961:

"Here's the fatal flaw: In 1961, I thought the atmospheric pressure at the surface of Venus was a few bars ... We now know it to be 90 bars, so if the scheme worked, the result would be a surface buried in hundreds of meters of fine graphite, and an atmosphere made of 65 bars of almost pure molecular oxygen. Whether we would first implode under the atmospheric pressure or spontaneously burst into flames in all that oxygen is open to question. However, long before so much oxygen could build up, the graphite would spontaneously burn back into CO2, short-circuiting the process."

Following Sagan's paper, there was little scientific discussion of the concept until a resurgence of interest in the 1980s.

Proposed approaches to terraforming

A number of approaches to terraforming are reviewed by Martyn J. Fogg (1995) and by Geoffrey A. Landis (2011).

Eliminating the dense carbon dioxide atmosphere

The main problem with Venus today, from a terraformation standpoint, is the very thick carbon dioxide atmosphere. The ground level pressure of Venus is 9.2 MPa (1,330 psi). This also, through the greenhouse effect, causes the temperature on the surface to be several hundred degrees too hot for any significant organisms. Basically, all approaches to the terraforming of Venus include somehow removing practically all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Biological approaches

The method proposed in 1961 by Carl Sagan involves the use of genetically engineered bacteria to fix carbon into organic compounds. Although this method is still proposed in discussions of Venus terraforming, later discoveries showed that biological means alone would not be successful.

Difficulties include the fact that the production of organic molecules from carbon dioxide requires hydrogen, which is very rare on Venus. Because Venus lacks a protective magnetosphere, the upper atmosphere is exposed to direct erosion by the solar wind and has lost most of its original hydrogen to space. And, as Sagan noted, any carbon that was bound up in organic molecules would quickly be converted to carbon dioxide again by the hot surface environment. Venus would not begin to cool down until after most of the carbon dioxide has already been removed.

Although it is generally conceded that Venus could not be terraformed by introduction of photosynthetic biota alone, use of photosynthetic organisms to produce oxygen in the atmosphere continues to be a component of other proposed methods of terraforming.

Capture in carbonates

On Earth nearly all carbon is sequestered in the form of carbonate minerals or in different stages of the carbon cycle, while very little is present in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. On Venus, the situation is the opposite. Practically all of the carbon is present in the atmosphere, while very little is sequestered in the lithosphere. Many approaches to terraforming therefore focus on getting rid of carbon dioxide by chemical reactions trapping and stabilising it in the form of carbonate minerals.

Modelling by astrobiologists Mark Bullock and David Grinspoon of Venus' atmospheric evolution suggests that the equilibrium between the current 92 bar atmosphere and existing surface minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium oxides is quite unstable, and that the latter could serve as a sink of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide through conversion to carbonates. If these surface minerals were fully converted and saturated, then the atmospheric pressure would decline and the planet would cool somewhat. One of the possible end states modelled by Bullock and Grinspoon was a 43 bars (620 psi) atmosphere and 400 K (127 °C) surface temperature. To convert the rest of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a larger portion of the crust would have to be artificially exposed to the atmosphere to allow more extensive carbonate conversion. In 1989, Alexander G. Smith proposed that Venus could be terraformed by lithosphere overturn, allowing crust to be converted into carbonates. Landis 2011 calculated that it would require the involvement of the entire surface crust down to a depth of over 1 km to produce enough rock surface area to convert enough of the atmosphere.

Natural formation of carbonate rock from minerals and carbon dioxide is a very slow process. Recent research into sequestering carbon dioxide into carbonate minerals in the context of mitigating global warming on Earth however points out that this process can be considerably accelerated (from hundreds or thousands of years to just 75 days) through the use of catalysts such as polystyrene microspheres. It could therefore be theorised that similar technologies might also be used in the context of terraformation on Venus. It can also be noted that the chemical reaction that converts minerals and carbon dioxide into carbonates is exothermic, in essence producing more energy than is consumed by the reaction. This opens up the possibility of creating self-reinforcing conversion processes with potential for exponential growth of the conversion rate until most of the atmospheric carbon dioxide can be converted.

Bombardment of Venus with refined magnesium and calcium from off-world could also sequester carbon dioxide in the form of calcium and magnesium carbonates. About 8×1020 kg of calcium or 5×1020 kg of magnesium would be required to convert all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would entail a great deal of mining and mineral refining (perhaps on Mercury which is notably mineral rich). 8×1020 kg is a few times the mass of the asteroid 4 Vesta (more than 500 kilometres (310 mi) in diameter).

Injection into volcanic basalt rock

Research projects in Iceland and Washington (state) have recently shown that potentially large amounts of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere by high-pressure injection into subsurface porous basalt formations, where carbon dioxide is rapidly transformed into solid inert minerals. Other recent studies predict that one cubic meter of porous basalt has the potential to sequester 47 kilograms of injected carbon dioxide. According to these estimates a volume of about 9.86 × 109 km3 of basalt rock would be needed to sequester all the carbon dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere. This is equal to the entire crust of Venus down to a depth of about 21.4 kilometers. Another study concluded that under optimal conditions, on average, 1 cubic meter of basalt rock can sequester 260 kg of carbon dioxide. Venus's crust appears to be 70 kilometres (43 mi) thick and the planet is dominated by volcanic features. The surface is about 90% basalt, and about 65% consists of a mosaic of volcanic lava plains. There should therefore be ample volumes of basalt rock strata on the planet with very promising potential for carbon dioxide sequestration.

Recent research has also demonstrated that under the high temperature and high pressure conditions in the mantle, silicon dioxide, the most abundant mineral in the mantle (on Earth and probably also on Venus) can form carbonates that are stable under these conditions. This opens up the possibility of carbon dioxide sequestration in the mantle.

Introduction of hydrogen

According to Birch, bombarding Venus with hydrogen and reacting it with carbon dioxide could produce elemental carbon (graphite) and water by the Bosch reaction. It would take about 4 × 1019 kg of hydrogen to convert the whole Venusian atmosphere, and such a large amount of hydrogen could be obtained from the gas giants or their moons' ice. Another possible source of hydrogen could be somehow extracting it from possible reservoirs in the interior of the planet itself. According to some researchers, the Earth's mantle and/or core might hold large quantities of hydrogen left there since the original formation of Earth from the nebular cloud. Since the original formation and inner structure of Earth and Venus are generally believed to be somewhat similar, the same might be true for Venus.

Iron aerosol in the atmosphere will also be required for the reaction to work, and iron can come from Mercury, asteroids, or the Moon. (Loss of hydrogen due to the solar wind is unlikely to be significant on the timescale of terraforming.) Due to the planet's relatively flat surface, this water would cover about 80% of the surface, compared to 70% for Earth, even though it would amount to only roughly 10% of the water found on Earth.

The remaining atmosphere, at around 3 bars (about three times that of Earth), would mainly be composed of nitrogen, some of which will dissolve into the new oceans of water, reducing atmospheric pressure further, in accordance with Henry's law. To bring down the pressure even more, nitrogen could also be fixated into nitrates.

Futurist Isaac Arthur has suggested using the theorized processes of starlifting and stellasing to create a particle beam of ionized hydrogen from the sun, tentatively dubbed a "hydro-cannon". This device could be used both to thin the dense atmosphere of Venus, but also to introduce hydrogen to react with carbon dioxide to create water, thereby further lowering the atmospheric pressure.

Direct removal of atmosphere

The thinning of the Venerian atmosphere could be attempted by a variety of methods, possibly in combination. Directly lifting atmospheric gas from Venus into space would probably prove difficult. Venus has sufficiently high escape velocity to make blasting it away with asteroid impacts impractical. Pollack and Sagan calculated in 1994 that an impactor of 700 km diameter striking Venus at greater than 20 km/s, would eject all the atmosphere above the horizon as seen from the point of impact, but because this is less than a thousandth of the total atmosphere and there would be diminishing returns as the atmosphere's density decreases, a very great number of such giant impactors would be required. Landis calculated that to lower the pressure from 92 bar to 1 bar would require a minimum of 2,000 impacts, even if the efficiency of atmosphere removal was perfect. Smaller objects would not work, either, because more would be required. The violence of the bombardment could well result in significant outgassing that would replace removed atmosphere. Most of the ejected atmosphere would go into solar orbit near Venus, and, without further intervention, could be captured by the Venerian gravitational field and become part of the atmosphere once again.

Removal of atmospheric gas in a more controlled manner could also prove difficult. Venus' extremely slow rotation means that space elevators would be very difficult to construct because the planet's geostationary orbit lies an impractical distance above the surface, and the very thick atmosphere to be removed makes mass drivers useless for removing payloads from the planet's surface. Possible workarounds include placing mass drivers on high-altitude balloons or balloon-supported towers extending above the bulk of the atmosphere, using space fountains, or rotovators.

In addition, if the density of the atmosphere (and corresponding greenhouse effect) were dramatically reduced, the surface temperature (now effectively constant) would probably vary widely between day side and night side. Another side effect to atmospheric-density reduction could be the creation of zones of dramatic weather activity or storms at the terminator because large volumes of atmosphere would undergo rapid heating or cooling.

Cooling planet by solar shades

Venus receives about twice the sunlight that Earth does, which is thought to have contributed to its runaway greenhouse effect. One means of terraforming Venus could involve reducing the insolation at Venus' surface to prevent the planet from heating up again.


Solar shades could be used to reduce the total insolation received by Venus, cooling the planet somewhat. A shade placed in the Sun–Venus L1 Lagrangian point also would serve to block the solar wind, removing the radiation exposure problem on Venus.

A suitably large solar shade would be four times the diameter of Venus itself if at the L1 point. This would necessitate construction in space. There would also be the difficulty of balancing a thin-film shade perpendicular to the Sun's rays at the Sun–Venus Lagrangian point with the incoming radiation pressure, which would tend to turn the shade into a huge solar sail. If the shade were simply left at the L1 point, the pressure would add force to the sunward side and the shade would accelerate and drift out of orbit. The shade could instead be positioned nearer to the sun, using the solar pressure to balance the gravitational forces, in practice becoming a statite.

Other modifications to the L1 solar shade design have also been suggested to solve the solar-sail problem. One suggested method is to use polar-orbiting, solar-synchronous mirrors that reflect light toward the back of the sunshade, from the non-sunward side of Venus. Photon pressure would push the support mirrors to an angle of 30 degrees away from the sunward side.

Paul Birch proposed a slatted system of mirrors near the L1 point between Venus and the Sun. The shade's panels would not be perpendicular to the Sun's rays, but instead at an angle of 30 degrees, such that the reflected light would strike the next panel, negating the photon pressure. Each successive row of panels would be +/- 1 degree off the 30-degree deflection angle, causing the reflected light to be skewed 4 degrees from striking Venus.

Solar shades could also serve as solar power generators. Space-based solar shade techniques, and thin-film solar sails in general, are only in an early stage of development. The vast sizes require a quantity of material that is many orders of magnitude greater than any human-made object that has ever been brought into space or constructed in space.

Atmospheric or surface-based

Venus could also be cooled by placing reflectors in the atmosphere. Reflective balloons floating in the upper atmosphere could create shade. The number and/or size of the balloons would necessarily be great. Geoffrey A. Landis has suggested that if enough floating cities were built, they could form a solar shield around the planet, and could simultaneously be used to process the atmosphere into a more desirable form, thus combining the solar shield theory and the atmospheric processing theory with a scalable technology that would immediately provide living space in the Venusian atmosphere. If made from carbon nanotubes or graphene (a sheet-like carbon allotrope), then the major structural materials can be produced using carbon dioxide gathered in situ from the atmosphere. The recently synthesised amorphous carbonia might prove a useful structural material if it can be quenched to Standard Temperature and Pressure (STP) conditions, perhaps in a mixture with regular silica glass. According to Birch's analysis, such colonies and materials would provide an immediate economic return from colonizing Venus, funding further terraforming efforts.

Increasing the planet's albedo by deploying light-colored or reflective material on the surface (or at any level below the cloud tops) would not be useful, because the Venerian surface is already completely enshrouded by clouds, and almost no sunlight reaches the surface. Thus, it would be unlikely to be able to reflect more light than Venus' already-reflective clouds, with Bond albedo of 0.77.

Combination of solar shades and atmospheric condensation

Birch proposed that solar shades could be used to not merely cool the planet but that this could be used to reduce atmospheric pressure as well, by the process of freezing of the carbon dioxide. This requires Venus's temperature to be reduced, first to the liquefaction point, requiring a temperature less than 304 K (31 °C; 88 °F) and partial pressures of CO2 to bring the atmospheric pressure down to 73.8 bar (carbon dioxide's critical point); and from there reducing the temperature below 217 K (−56 °C; −69 °F) (carbon dioxide's triple point). Below that temperature, freezing of atmospheric carbon dioxide into dry ice will cause it to deposit onto the surface. He then proposed that the frozen CO2 could be buried and maintained in that condition by pressure, or even shipped off-world (perhaps to provide greenhouse gas needed for terraforming of Mars or the moons of Jupiter). After this process was complete, the shades could be removed or solettas added, allowing the planet to partially warm again to temperatures comfortable for Earth life. A source of hydrogen or water would still be needed, and some of the remaining 3.5 bar of atmospheric nitrogen would need to be fixed into the soil. Birch suggests disrupting an icy moon of Saturn, for example Hyperion, and bombarding Venus with its fragments.

Cooling planet by heat pipes, atmospheric vortex engines or radiative cooling

Paul Birch suggests that, in addition to cooling the planet with a sunshade in L1, "heat pipes" could be built on the planet to accelerate the cooling. The proposed mechanism would transport heat from the surface to colder regions higher up in the atmosphere, similar to a solar updraft tower, thereby facilitating radiation of excess heat out into space. A newly proposed variation of this technology is the atmospheric vortex engine, where instead of physical chimney pipes, the atmospheric updraft is achieved through the creation of a vortex, similar to a stationary tornado. In addition to this method being less material intensive and potentially more cost effective, this process also produces a net surplus of energy, which could be utilised to power venusian colonies or other aspects of the terraforming effort, while simultaneously contributing to speeding up the cooling of the planet. Another method to cool down the planet could be with the use of radiative cooling This technology could utilise the fact that in certain wavelengths, thermal radiation from the lower atmosphere of Venus can "escape" to space through partially transparent atmospheric “windows” – spectral gaps between strong CO2 and H2O absorption bands in the near infrared range 0.8–2.4 μm (31–94 μin). The outgoing thermal radiation is wavelength dependent and varies from the very surface at 1 μm (39 μin) to approximately 35 km (22 mi) at 2.3 μm (91 μin). Nanophotonics and construction of metamaterials opens up new possibilities to tailor the emittance spectrum of a surface via properly designing periodic nano/micro-structures. Recently there has been proposals of a device named a "emissive energy harvester" that can transfer heat to space through radiative cooling and convert part of the heat flow into surplus energy, opening up possibilities of a self replicating system that could exponentially cool the planet.

Artificial mountains

As an alternative to changing the atmosphere of Venus, it has been proposed that a large artificial mountain, dubbed the "Venusian Tower of Babel", could be built on the surface of Venus that would reach up to 50 kilometres (31 mi) into the atmosphere where the temperature and pressure conditions are similar to Earth and where a colony could be built on the peak of this artificial mountain. Such a structure could be built using autonomous robotic bulldozers and excavators that have been hardened against the extreme temperature and pressure of the Venus atmosphere. Such robotic machines would be covered in a layer of heat and pressure shielding ceramics, with internal helium-based heat pumps inside of the machines to cool both an internal nuclear power plant and to keep the internal electronics and motor actuators of the machine cooled to with in operating temperature. Such a machine could be designed to operate for years without external intervention for the purpose of building colossal mountains on Venus to serve as islands of colonization in the skies of Venus.

Introduction of water

Since Venus only has a fraction of the water on earth (less than half the earth's water content in the atmosphere, and none on the surface), water would have to be introduced either by the aforementioned method of introduction of hydrogen, or from some other extraplanetary source.

Capture of ice moon

Paul Birch suggests the possibility of colliding Venus with one of the ice moons from the outer solar system, thereby bringing in all the water needed for terraformation in one go. This could be achieved through gravity assisted capture of for example Saturn's moons Enceladus and Hyperion or Uranus' moon Miranda. Simply changing the velocity enough of these moons to move them from their current orbit and enable gravity assisted transport to Venus would require large amounts of energy. However, through complex gravity assisted chain reactions the propulsion requirements could be reduced by several orders of magnitude. As Birch puts it "Theoretically one could flick a pebble in to the asteroid belt and end up dumping Mars into the Sun".

Altering day–night cycle

Venus rotates once every 243 Earth days—by far the slowest rotation period of any known object in the Solar System. A Venusian sidereal day thus lasts more than a Venusian year (243 versus 224.7 Earth days). However, the length of a solar day on Venus is significantly shorter than the sidereal day; to an observer on the surface of Venus, the time from one sunrise to the next would be 116.75 days. Therefore, the slow Venerian rotation rate would result in extremely long days and nights, similar to the day-night cycles in the polar regions of earth — shorter, but global. The slow rotation might also account for the lack of a significant magnetic field.

Arguments for keeping the current day-night cycle unchanged

It has until recently been assumed that the rotation rate or day-night cycle of Venus would have to be increased for successful terraformation to be achieved. More recent research has, however, shown that the current slow rotation rate of Venus is not at all detrimental to the planet's capability to support an Earth-like climate. Rather, the slow rotation rate would, given an Earth-like atmosphere, enable the formation of thick cloud layers on the side of the planet facing the sun. This in turn would raise planetary albedo and act to cool the global temperature to Earth-like levels, despite the greater proximity to the Sun. According to calculations, maximum temperatures would be just around 35 °C, given an Earth-like atmosphere. Speeding up the rotation rate would therefore be both impractical and detrimental to the terraforming effort. A terraformed Venus with the current slow rotation would result in a global climate with "day" and "night" periods each roughly 2 months (58 days) long, resembling the seasons at higher latitudes on Earth. The "day" would resemble a short summer with a warm, humid climate, a heavy overcast sky and ample rainfall. The "night" would resemble a short, very dark winter with quite cold temperature and snowfall. There would be periods with more temperate climate and clear weather at sunrise and sunset resembling a "spring" and "autumn".

Space mirrors

The problem of very dark conditions during the roughly 2 months long "night" period could be solved through the use of a space mirror in a 24-hour orbit (the same distance as a geostationary orbit on earth) similar to the Znamya (satellite) project experiments. Extrapolating the numbers from those experiments and applying them to Venerian conditions would mean that a space mirror just under 1700 meters in diameter could illuminate the entire nightside of the planet with the luminosity of 10-20 full moons and create an artificial 24-hour light cycle. An even bigger mirror could potentially create even stronger illumination conditions. Further extrapolation suggests that to achieve illumination levels of about 400 lux (similar to normal office lighting or a sunrise on a clear day on earth) a circular mirror about 55 kilometers across would be needed. Paul Birchs suggested keeping the entire planet protected from sunlight by a permanent system of slated shades in L1, and the surface illuminated by a rotating soletta mirror in a polar orbit, which would produce a 24-hour light cycle.

Changing rotation speed

If increasing the rotation speed of the planet would be desired (despite the above-mentioned potentially positive climatic effects of the current rotational speed), it would require energy of a magnitude many orders greater than the construction of orbiting solar mirrors, or even than the removal of the Venerian atmosphere. Birch calculates that increasing the rotation of Venus to an Earth-like solar cycle would require about 1.6 × 1029 Joules (50 billion petawatt-hours).

Scientific research suggests that close flybys of asteroids or cometary bodies larger than 100 kilometres (60 mi) across could be used to move a planet in its orbit, or increase the speed of rotation. The energy required to do this is large. In his book on terraforming, one of the concepts Fogg discusses is to increase the spin of Venus using three quadrillion objects circulating between Venus and the Sun every 2 hours, each traveling at 10% of the speed of light.

G. David Nordley has suggested, in fiction, that Venus might be spun up to a day length of 30 Earth days by exporting the atmosphere of Venus into space via mass drivers. A proposal by Birch involves the use of dynamic compression members to transfer energy and momentum via high-velocity mass streams to a band around the equator of Venus. He calculated that a sufficiently high-velocity mass stream, at about 10% of the speed of light, could give Venus a day of 24 hours in 30 years.

Creating an artificial magnetosphere

Protecting the new atmosphere from the Solar Wind, to avoid the loss of hydrogen, would require an artificial magnetosphere. Venus presently lacks an intrinsic magnetic field, therefore creating an artificial planetary magnetic field is needed to form a magnetosphere via its interaction with the Solar Wind. According to two NIFS Japanese scientists, it is feasible to do that with current technology by building a system of refrigerated latitudinal superconducting rings, each carrying a sufficient amount of direct current. In the same report, it is claimed that the economic impact of the system can be minimized by using it also as a planetary energy transfer and storage system (SMES). Another study proposes the possibility of deployment of a magnetic dipole shield at the L1 Lagrange point, thereby creating an artificial magnetosphere that would protect the whole planet from solar wind and radiation.

From the Wikipedia entry for TERRAFORMING OF VENUS

If living space is in short supply on the home planet, one logical alter-native is to move some of the population and growth activities to other worlds. The typical habitable solar system will have from 7-13 planets and as many moons, but it is highly unlikely that more than one of these has a natural environment tolerable to interplanetary pioneers. As with Sol's family of worlds, most will be too hot or too cold or too dry or too wet to permit immediate habitation.

Terraforming is a form of planetary engineering on a grand scale. Just as buildings and cities are designed to suit human comfort, it is entirely feasible to consider the modification of planetary environments to suit human (or alien) needs.1977 Worlds which are unearthlike can be made more earthlike and may then be colonized and exploited by man.

There have been many proposals and suggestions as to how to go about terraforming the planets and moons of our own solar system. Only a few of these will be considered briefly here, because it turns out that in all cases the energy and mass requirements are well within the operating budgets of Type I planetary civilizations. In other words, from the point of view of a Type II culture terraforming techniques should represent a fairly primitive technology.

Perhaps inspired by Poul Anderson's short story entitled “The Big Rain,“ published in 1955, Dr. Carl Sagan in 1961 proposed a terraforming project to modify the environment of Venus.1481 Our sister planet has a hellish climate, with temperatures upwards of 750 °C and pressures of 90 atm at the surface. To prepare it for human habitation it will be necessary to lower the surface temperature and pressure, and to elevate by at least two orders of magnitude the fraction of molecular oxygen present in the atmosphere. Most of the air is carbon dioxide, and this must be eliminated as well.

Sagan suggests the injection of blue-green algae into the Venusian atmosphere at high altitudes where it is relatively cool. These tiny organisms would consume the CO2 by growing more algae cells with water and aerial nutrients. Molecular oxygen would be expired as a waste product. Over a period of several years the carbon dioxide level begins to drop, thus reducing the green-house effect and cooling the planet overall.2633 When the ground was sufficiently cool, cargo landers armed with fusion bombs could be de-orbited and set down on the surface. These machines, able to burrow like moles and detonate beneath the surface, may be used to trigger new volcanic chains in order to help percolate more water into the dry atmosphere.2836 Eventually the first “big rain“ will fall. Says Sagan: “The heat-retaining clouds will partly clear away, leaving an oxygen-rich atmosphere and a temperature cool enough to sustain hardy plants and animals from Earth.“

How reasonable is the astronomer's proposal? In 1970 a number of biologists conducted experiments to see if earthly algae would actually grow under the extreme initial conditions found on Venus.2847,2846 It was discovered that the most suitable strain is Cyanidium caldarium, a single-celled form that is found in hot springs on Earth. This algae produced oxygen vigorously in a hot, high-pressure atmosphere of CO2. In a typical experiment the researchers found that each million algae cells were increasing the oxygen concentration in the test tank by 380% per day.

To terraform the atmosphere of Venus is not a very difficult undertaking from the standpoint of energy and mass requirements. If we dispatch an armada of 500 seeding probes to our neighbor world, each armed with a thousand in-dependently-targetable payload capsules containing 1 ton of Cyanidium caldarium per capsule, this would result in the dispersal of a kilogram of living blue-green algae cells over each square kilometer of the planet's surface. The total mission mass is about 109 kg, and the total energy required is about 1018 joules -- both well within the budgetary limitations of a Type I civilization.

1481. Carl Sagan; "The Planet Venus"; Science 133 (24 March, 1961):849-858.
1977. A Forecast of Space technology:1980-2000; (Science and Technical Information Office, NASA, Washington, D. C.; 1976). SP-387.
2633. Gregory Benford; "The Exploration of Venus"; in (#2631):79-105.
2836. Gregory Benford; "Beyond Grayworld"; Analog 95 (September 1975):78-97. (S/F)
2846. J. Seckbach, F. W. Libby; "Vegetative Life on Venus?" Or Investigations with Algae Which Grow Under Pure Carbon Dioxide in Hot Acid Media at Elevated Pressures"; Space Life Sciences 2 (1970):121-143.
2847. J. Seckbach, F. A. Baker, P. M. Shugarman; "Algae Thrive Under Pure Carbon Dioxide"; Nature 227 (August 15, 1970):744-745.

      Clearly humanity must leave its native planet. Research was therefore concentrated on the possibility of flight through empty space, and the suitability of neighbouring worlds. The only alternatives were Mars and Venus. The former was by now without water and without atmosphere. The latter had a dense moist atmosphere; but one which lacked oxygen. The surface of Venus, moreover, was known to be almost completely covered with a shallow ocean. Further the planet was so hot by day that, even at the poles, man in his present state would scarcely survive.

     But though the mere navigation of space was thus easily accomplished, the major task was still untouched. It was necessary either to remake man's nature to suit another planet, or to modify conditions upon another planet to suit man's nature. The former alternative was repugnant to the Fifth Men. Obviously it would entail an almost complete refashioning of the human organism. No existing individual could possibly be so altered as to live in the present conditions of Mars or Venus. And it would probably prove impossible to create a new being, adapted to these conditions, without sacrificing the brilliant and harmonious constitution of the extant species.

     On the other hand, Mars could not be made habitable without first being stocked with air and water; and such an undertaking seemed impossible. There was nothing for it, then, but to attack Venus. The polar surfaces of that planet, shielded by impenetrable depths of cloud, proved after all not unendurably hot. Subsequent generations might perhaps be modified so as to withstand even the sub-arctic and "temperate" climates. Oxygen was plentiful, but it was all tied up in chemical combination. Inevitably so, since oxygen combines very readily, and on Venus there was no vegetable life to exhale the free gas and replenish the ever-vanishing supply. It was necessary, then, to equip Venus with an appropriate vegetation, which in the course of ages should render the planet's atmosphere hospitable to man. The chemical and physical conditions on Venus had therefore to be studied in great detail, so that it might be possible to design a kind of life which would have a chance of flourishing. This research had to be carried out from within the ether ships, or with gas helmets, since no human being could live in the natural atmosphere of the planet.

     We must not dwell upon the age of heroic research and adventure which now began. Observations of the lunar orbit were showing that ten millions years was too long an estimate of the future habitability of the earth; and it was soon realized that Venus could not be made ready soon enough unless some more rapid change was set on foot. It was therefore decided to split up some of the ocean of the planet into hydrogen and oxygen by a vast process of electrolysis. This would have beets a more difficult task, had not the ocean been relatively free from salt, owing to the fact that there was so little dry land to be denuded of salts by rain and river. The oxygen thus formed by electrolysis would be allowed to mix with the atmosphere. The hydrogen had to be got rid of somehow, and an ingenious method was devised by which it should be ejected beyond the limits of the atmosphere at so great a speed that it would never return. Once sufficient free oxygen had been produced, the new vegetation would replenish the loss due to oxidation. This work was duly set on foot. Great automatic electrolysing stations were founded on several of the islands; and biological research produced at length a whole flora of specialized vegetable types to cover the land surface of the planet. It was hoped that in less than a million years Venus would be fit to receive the human race, and the race fit to live on Venus.

From LAST AND FIRST MEN by Olaf Stapeldon (1930)

      The city crouched on a mountainside in a blast of eternal wind. Overhead rolled the poisonous gray clouds; sometimes a sleet of paraformaldehyde hid the grim red slopes around, and always the scudding dust veiled men's eyes so they could not see the alkali desert below. Fantastically storm-gnawed crags loomed over the city, and often there was the nearby rumble of an avalanche, but the ledge on which it stood had been carefully checked for stability.

     The city was one armored unit of metal and concrete, low and rounded as if it hunched its back against the shrieking steady gale. From its shell protruded the stacks of hundreds of outsize Hilsch tubes, swivel-mounted so that they always faced into the wind. It blew past filters which caught the flying dust and sand and tossed them down a series of chutes to the cement factory. The tubes grabbed the rushing air and separated fast and slow molecules; the cooler part went into a refrigeration system which kept the city at a temperature men could stand—outside, it hovered around the boiling point of water; the smaller volume of super-heated air was conducted to the maintenance plant where it helped run the city's pumps and generators. There were also nearly a thousand windmills, turning furiously and drinking the force of the storm.

     None of this air was for breathing. It was thick with carbon dioxide; the rest was nitrogen, inert gases, formaldehyde vapor, a little methane and ammonia. The city devoted many hectares of space to hydroponic plants which renewed its oxygen and supplied some of the food, as well as to chemical purifiers, pumps and blowers. "Free as air" was a joke on Venus.

     "But why have the camp so far from the city?"
     "It's the best location from a supply standpoint. We get most of our food from Little Moscow, and water from Hellfire, and chemicals from New America and Roger's Landing. The cities more or less specialize, you know. They have to: there isn't enough iron ore and whatnot handy to any one spot to build a city big enough to do everything by itself. So the air camps are set up at points which minimize the total distance over which supplies have to be hauled."
     "You mean action distance, don't you? The product of the energy and time required for hauling."
     Yamashita nodded, with a new respect in his eyes. "You'll do," he said.

     The wind roared about them. It was more than just the slow rotation of the planet and its nearness to the sun which created such an incessant storm; if that had been all, there would never have been any chance of making it habitable. It was the high carbon dioxide content of the air, and its greenhouse effect; and in the long night, naked arid rock cooled off considerably. With plenty of water and vegetation, and an atmosphere similar to Earth's, Venus would have a warm but rather gentle climate on the whole, the hurricanes moderated to trade winds; indeed, with the lower Coriolis force, the destructive cyclones of Earth would be unknown.

     Such, at least, was the dream of the Venusians. But looking out, Hollister realized that a fraction of the time and effort they were expending would have made the Sahara desert bloom.

     Presently someone got out a steel and plastic guitar and strummed it, and soon they were all singing. Hollister listened with half an ear.
"When the Big Rain comes, all the air will be good,
and the rivers all flow with beer,
with the cigarets bloomin' by the beefsteak bush,
and the ice-cream-bergs right here.
When the Big Rain comes, we will all be a-swillin'
of champagne, while the violin tree
plays love songs because all the gals will be willin',
and we'll all have a Big Rain spree!"

     The first airmaker on their tour was only a dozen kilometers from the camp. It was a dark, crouching bulk on a stony ridge, its intake funnel like the rearing neck of some archaic monster. They pulled up beside it, slapped down their helmets, and went one by one through the air lock. It was a standard midget type, barely large enough to hold one man, which meant little air to be pumped out and hence greater speed in getting through. Gebhardt had told Hollister to face the exit leeward; now the three roped themselves together and stepped around the tank, out of its shelter.

     Hollister lost his footing, crashed to the ground, and went spinning away in the gale. Gebhardt and Johnny dug their cleated heels in and brought the rope up short. When they had the new man back on his feet, Hollister saw them grinning behind their faceplates. Thereafter he paid attention to his balance, leaning against the wind.

     Inspection and servicing of the unit was a slow task, and it was hard to see the finer parts even in the headlights' glare. One by one, the various sections were uncovered and checked, adjustments made, full gas bottles removed and empty ones substituted.

     It was no wonder Gebhardt had doubted Hollister's claim. The airmaker was one of the most complicated machines in existence. A thing meant to transform the atmosphere of a planet had to be.

     The intake scooped up the wind and drove it, with the help of wind-powered compressors, through a series of chambers; some of them held catalysts, some electric arcs or heating coils maintaining temperature—the continuous storm ran a good-sized generator—and some led back into others in a maze of interconnections. The actual chemistry was simple enough. Paraformaldehyde was broken down and yielded its binding water molecules; the formaldehyde, together with that taken directly from the air, reacted with ammonia and methane—or with itself—to produce a whole series of hydrocarbons, carbohydrates, and more complex compounds for food, fuel and fertilizer; such carbon dioxide as did not enter other reactions was broken down by sheer brute force in an arc to oxygen and soot. The oxygen was bottled for industrial use; the remaining substances were partly separated by distillation—again using wind power, this time to refrigerate—and collected. Further processing would take place at the appropriate cities.

     Huge as the unit loomed, it seemed pathetically small when you thought of the fantastic tonnage which was the total planetary atmosphere. But more of its kind were being built every day and scattered around the surface of the world; over a million already existed, seven million was the goal, and that number should theoretically be able to do the job in another twenty Earth-years.

     That was theory, as Gebhardt explained over the helmet radio. Other considerations entered, such as the law of diminishing returns; as the effect of the machines became noticeable, the percentage of the air they could deal with would necessarily drop; then there was stratospheric gas, some of which apparently never got down to the surface; and the chemistry of a changing atmosphere had to be taken into account. The basic time estimate for this work had to be revised upward another decade.

     There was oxygen everywhere, locked into rocks and ores, enough for the needs of man if it could be gotten out. Specially mutated bacteria were doing that job, living off carbon and silicon, releasing more gas than their own metabolisms took up; their basic energy source was the sun. Some of the oxygen recombined, of course, but not enough to matter, especially since it could only act on or near the surface and most of the bacterial gnawing went on far down. Already there was a barely detectable percentage of the element in the atmosphere. By the time the airmakers were finished, the bacteria would also be.

     Meanwhile giant pulverizers were reducing barren stone and sand to fine particles which would be mixed with fertilizers to yield soil; and the genetic engineers were evolving still other strains of life which could provide a balanced ecology; and the water units were under construction.

     These would be the key to the whole operation. There was plenty of water on Venus, trapped down in the body of the planet, and the volcanoes brought it up as they had done long ago on Earth. Here it was quickly snatched by the polymerizing formaldehyde, except in spots like Hellfire where machinery had been built to extract it from magma and hydrated minerals. But there was less formaldehyde in the air every day.

     At the right time, hydrogen bombs were to be touched off in places the geologists had already selected, and the volcanoes would all wake up. They would spume forth plenty of carbon dioxide—though by that time the amount of the free gas would be so low that this would be welcomed—but there would be water too, unthinkable tons of water. And simultaneously aircraft would be sowing platinum catalyst in the skies, and with its help Venus' own lightning would attack the remaining poisons in the air. They would come down as carbohydrates and other compounds, washed out by the rain and leached from the sterile ground.

     That would be the Big Rain. It would last an estimated ten Earth-years, and at the end there would be rivers and lakes and seas on a planet which had never known them. And the soil would be spread, the bacteria and plants and small animal life released. Venus would still be mostly desert, the rains would slacken off but remain heavy for centuries, but men could walk unclothed on this world and they could piece by piece make the desert green.

     A hundred years after the airmen had finished their work, the reclaimed sections might be close to Earth conditions. In five hundred years, all of Venus might be Paradise.

From THE BIG RAIN by Poul Anderson (1954)
Transplant Ecosystem

Colonists are going to want to grow local food they can eat, the native plants and animals can be unsuitable as food in so very many ways. Since plants and animals depend upon a circle of life, terraformers will have to transplant a minimal but viable Terran ecosystem that is self-sustaining. And try to avoid importing anything that is a threat to said ecosystem, such as potato blight. Just on general principles you want to avoid a monoculture to prevent a repeat of the potato famine.

And of course also import useful things that are not food, such as Bamboo.

There are some science fiction novels where aliens invade not by full-blown terraforming but simply by introducing alien hyper-invasive species to alienoform the Terran ecosystem (the functional equivalent of introducing xenomorph-bunnyrabbits to Australia).


(ed note: In the novel, our hero was cryogenically frozen and was awakened many centuries in the future. He is forced to become a Bussard Ramjet pilot, delivering Biological Package Probes to a series of planets around nearby stars.)

     He came awake suddenly, already up on one elbow, groping for some elusive thought.
     Why haven’t I been wondering about the biological package probes?
     A moment later he did wonder.
     What are the biological package probes?
     But the wonder was that he had never wondered.
     He knew what and where they were: heavy fat cylinders arranged around the waist of the starship’s hull. Ten of these, each weighing almost as much as Corbell’s own life-support system. He knew their mass distribution. He knew the clamp system that held them to the hull and he could operate and repair the clamps under various extremes of damage. He almost knew where the probes went when released; it was just on the tip of his tongue… which meant that he had had the RNA shot but had not yet seen the instructions.
     But he didn’t know what the probes were for...
     ...He looked up during study period the next day and found Pierce watching him. He blinked, fighting free of a mass of data on the attitude jet system that bled plasma from the inboard fusion plant that was also the emergency electrical power source, and asked, “Pierce, what’s a biological package probe?”
     “I would have thought they would teach you that. You know what to do with the probes, don’t you?”
     “The teaching widget gave me the procedures two days ago. Slow up for certain systems, kill the fields, turn a probe loose and speed up again.”
     “You don’t have to aim them?”
     “No. I gather they aim themselves. But I have to get them down below a certain velocity or they’ll fall right through the system.”
     “Amazing. They must do all the rest of it themselves.” Pierce shook his head. “I wouldn’t have believed it. Well, Corbell, the probes steer for an otherwise terrestrial world with a reducing atmosphere. They outnumber oxygen-nitrogen worlds about three-to-one in this region of the galaxy and probably everywhere else too—as you may know, if your age got that far.”
     “But what do the probes do?”
     “They’re biological packages. A dozen different strains of algae. The idea is to turn a reducing atmosphere into an oxygen atmosphere, just the way photosynthetic life forms did for Earth, something like fifteen-times-ten-to-the-eighth years ago.” The checker smiled, barely. His small narrow mouth wasn’t built to express any great emotion. “You’re part of a big project.”
     “Good Lord. How long does it take?”
     “We think about fifty thousand years. Obviously we’ve never had the chance to measure it.”

From RAMMER by Larry Niven (1971)

...he watched the cover panels roll back from the probe airlocks. Cold vapor flashed out, danced and gleamed and vanished from sight. The spray of compressed air pushed out thick-bodied probes (biovats) studded with antennae and lmobs. A mile beneath Pegasus they flashed as small thrusters locked in their proper attitudes relative to the planet below. Now Seavers looked down, saw the probes reflecting golden sun, in the distance watched the onrush of the glowing terminator line heralding nightfall.

All this was still unfolding as his mind raced ahead, at first only minutes into the future as the biovats within the probes came to life, poised, waiting for their moment. Then the timers counted through and small wasplike rocket engines screamed, only for seconds but enough to break the balance that poised the probes so delicately between gravity and outward spiraling force. The probes now yielded to gravity and fell Earthward on a long slanting descent. A panel opened in the lead probe and a thick package ejected. Seconds later another, and then another and another and still more. Each probe clicked and shuddered and hissed and released panels and springs, and the thick packages fell blunt-nosed into atmosphere. At five miles every second the probes soon glowed red with frictional heat and then spattered chunks of blazing ablation material from the thick nose cones. The heat dissipated rapidly, never reaching the precious payload behind the shield. Finally the speed fell to something sensible, friction was far behind, and more relays clicked in each probe.

The first probe began to tumble. Small tubes extended and a thin spray whipped away by centrifugal force from each tube. For two hundred miles the probe tumbled, ever lower, ever slower, still spraying its cargo of superseeds, genetically altered seeds for grass, wheat, alfalfa, corn, hay, all manner of plants, all mutated for swift growth under the most hostile of environments.

All along the flight path of Pegasus the larger probes fell away and spat flame and fell, the thick packages ejected and began their entry into the high atmosphere of Earth. The Tumblers kept spraying across an area of Earth fifty-nine degrees north and south of the equator. Much of their payload would fall into the sea. Just as much would fall to ground in a gentling rain of life.

Beneath the Floaters, the ablation heatshields fell away to lighten the load. Springs snapped out stiffly, blowing away door panels, ejecting long ribbons of nylon. Parachutes slowed down descent, valves opened, and helium gushed from containers into flyweight plastic. The balloons filled and halted descent and now the Floaters went to work, riding the high atmosphere, easing their precious cargo into the thicker, lower atmosphere in a long-lasting trickle to cover the greatest area. Eggs, billions of eggs of spiders, honeybees, beetles, butterflies, earthworms rained gently to the largely barren land below.

The Tumblers and Floaters separated. The Tumblers, their containers finally empty, continued their madcap descent all the way to impact against the ground or disappeared forever in some faceless body of water. Not yet the Floaters. They would drift for days and then for weeks, releasing their spore at timed intervals until, at last, the helium would seep through the balloon plastic and lift would decay. Those still aloft, having escaped storms and lightning and cold, would then descend silently, also to be absorbed by earth or water and disappear: unseen, unnoticed, unheard, but with an impact that could not be measured.

Marc Seavers knew thaf after their swooping curve about the Earth when they came back into direct observation of what remained of Hestia on the moon, no sign would be visible of the biovats that had left Pegasus. When again they fell down the farside of the planet in relation to the moon, Noah would send forth the flowers and plants and insects of the future.

From EXIT EARTH by Martin Caidin (1987)

      The Survey-Ship Tethys made the first landing on the planet, which had no name. It was an admirable planet in many ways. It had an ample atmosphere and many seas, which the nearby sun warmed so lavishly that a perpetual cloudbank hid them and most of the solid ground from view. It had mountains and continents and islands and high plateaus. It had day and night and wind and rain, and its mean temperature was within the range to which human beings could readily accommodate. It was rather on the tropic side, but not unpleasant.
     But there was no life on it.
     No animals roamed its continents. No vegetation grew from its rocks. Not even bacteria struggled with its stones to turn them into soil. So there was no soil. Rock and stones and gravel and even sand—yes. But no soil in which any vegetation could grow. No living thing, however small, swam in its oceans, so there was not even mud on its ocean bottoms. It was one of that disappointing vast majority of worlds which turned up when the Galaxy was first explored. People couldn't live on it because nothing had lived there before.
     Its water was fresh and its oceans were harmless. Its air was germ-free and breathable (in reality, no-life = no-oxygen-atmosphere). But it was of no use whatever for men. The only possible purpose it could serve would have been as a biological laboratory for experiments involving things growing in a germ-free environment. But there were too many planets like that already. When men first traveled to the stars they made the journey because it was starkly necessary to find new worlds for men to live on. Earth was over-crowded—terribly so. So men looked for new worlds to move to. They found plenty of new worlds, but presently they were searching desperately for new worlds where life had preceded them. It didn't matter whether the life was meek and harmless, or ferocious and deadly. If life of any sort were present, human beings could move in. But highly organized beings like men could not live where there was no other life.

     So the Survey-Ship Tethys made sure that the world had no life upon it. Then it made routine measurements of the gravitational constant and the magnetic field and the temperature gradient; it took samples of the air and water. But that was all. The rocks were familiar enough. No novelties there! But the planet was simply useless. The survey-ship recorded its findings and went hastily on in search of something better. The ship did not even open one of its ports while on the planet. There were no consequences of the Tethys' visit except that record. None whatever.
     No other ship came near the planet for eight hundred years.

     Nearly a millennium later, however, the Seed-Ship Orana arrived. By that time humanity had spread very widely and very far. There were colonies not less than a quarter of the way to the Galaxy's rim, and Earth was no longer overcrowded. There was still emigration, but it was now a trickle instead of the swarming flood of centuries before. Some of the first colonized worlds had emigrants now. Mankind did not want to crowd itself together again! Men now considered that there was no excuse for such monstrous slums as overcrowding produced.
     Now, too, the star-ships were faster. A hundred light-years was a short journey. A thousand was not impractical. Explorers had gone many times farther, and reported worlds still waiting for mankind on beyond. But still the great majority of discovered planets did not contain life. Whole solar systems floated in space with no single living cell on any of their members.
     So the Seed-Ships came into being. Theirs was not a glamorous service. They merely methodically contaminated the sterile worlds with life. The Seed-Ship Orana landed on this planet—which still had no name. It carefully infected it. It circled endlessly above the clouds, dribbling out a fine dust—the spores of every conceivable microorganism which could break down rock to powder, and turn that dust to soil. It was also a seeding of molds and fungi and lichens, and everything which could turn powdery primitive soil into stuff on which higher forms of life could grow. The Orana polluted the seas with plankton. Then it, too, went away.

     More centuries passed. Human ships again improved. A thousand light-years became a short journey. Explorers reached the Galaxy's very edge, and looked estimatingly across the emptiness toward other island universes. There were colonies in the Milky Way. There were freight-lines between star-clusters, and the commercial center of human affairs shifted some hundreds of parsecs toward the Rim. There were many worlds where the schools painstakingly taught the children what Earth was, and where, and that all other worlds had been populated from it. And the schools repeated, too, the one lesson that humankind seemed genuinely to have learned. That the secret of peace is freedom, and the secret of freedom is to be able to move away from people with whom you do not agree. There were no crowded worlds any more. But human beings love children, and they have them. And children grow up and need room. So more worlds had to be looked out for. They weren't urgently needed yet, but they would be.

     Therefore, nearly a thousand years after the Orana, the Ecology-Ship Ludred swam to the planet from space and landed on it. It was a gigantic ship of highly improbable purpose. First of all, it checked on the consequences of the Orana's visit.
     They were highly satisfactory, from a technical point of view. Now there was soil which swarmed with minute living things. There were fungi which throve monstrously. The seas stank of minuscule life-forms. There were even some novelties, developed by the strictly local conditions. There were, for example, paramecia as big as grapes, and yeasts had increased in size until they bore flowers visible to the naked eye. The life on the planet was not aboriginal, though. All of it was descended and adapted and modified from the microorganisms planted by the seed-ship whose hulk was long since rust, and whose crew were merely names in genealogies—if that.
     The Ludred stayed on the planet a considerably longer time than either of the ships that had visited it before. It dropped the seeds of plants. It broadcast innumerable varieties of things which should take root and grow. In some places it deliberately seeded the stinking soil. It put marine plants in the oceans. It put alpine plants on the high ground. And when all its stable varieties were set out it added plants which were genetically unstable. For generations to come they would throw sports, some of which should be especially suited to this planetary environment.
     Before it left, the Ludred dumped finny fish into the seas. At first they would live on the plankton which made the oceans almost broth. There were many varieties of fish. Some would multiply swiftly while small; others would grow and feed on the smaller varieties. And as a last activity, the Ludred set up refrigeration-units loaded with insect eggs. Some would release their contents as soon as plants had grown enough to furnish them with food. Others would allow their contents to hatch only after certain other varieties had multiplied to be their food-supply.
     When the Ecology-Ship left, it had done a very painstaking job. It had treated the planet to a sort of Russell's Mixture of life-forms. The real Russell's Mixture is that blend of the simple elements in the proportions found in suns. This was a blend of life-forms in which some should survive by consuming the now-habituated flora, others by preying on the former. The planet was stocked, in effect, with everything that it could be hoped would live there.
     But only certain things could have that hope. Nothing which needed parental care had any chance of survival. The creatures seeded at this time had to be those which could care for themselves from the instant they burst their eggs. So there were no birds or mammals. Trees and plants of many kinds, fish and crustaceans and tadpoles, and all kinds of insects could be planted. But nothing else.
     The Ludred swam away through emptiness.

     There should have been another planting centuries later. There should have been a ship from the Zoological Branch of the Ecological Service. It should have landed birds and beasts and reptiles. It should have added pelagic mammals to the seas. There should have been herbivorous animals to live on the grasses and plants which would have thriven, and carnivorous animals to live on them in turn. There should have been careful stocking of the planet with animal life, and repeated visits at intervals of a century or so to make sure that a true ecological balance had been established. And then when the balance was fixed men would come and destroy it for their own benefit.
     But there was an accident.
     Ships had improved again. Even small private spacecraft now journeyed tens of light-years on holiday journeys. Personal cruisers traveled hundreds. Liners ran matter-of-factly on ship-lines tens of thousands of light-years long. An exploring-ship was on its way to a second island universe. (It did not come back.) The inhabited planets were all members of a tenuous organization which limited itself to affairs of space, without attempting to interfere in surface matters. That tenuous organization moved the Ecological Preparation Service to Algol IV as a matter of convenience. In the moving, one of the Ecological Service's records was destroyed.

     So the planet which had no name was forgotten. No other ship came to prepare it for ultimate human occupancy. It circled its sun, unheeded and unthought-of. Cloudbanks covered it from pole to pole. There were hazy markings in some places, where high plateaus penetrated its clouds. But that was all. From space the planet was essentially featureless. Seen from afar it was merely a round white ball—white from its cloudbanks—and nothing else.
     But on its surface, on its lowlands, it was pure nightmare. But this fact did not matter for a very long time.

     Ultimately, it mattered a great deal—to the crew of the space-liner Icarus. The Icarus was a splendid ship of its time. It bore passengers headed for one of the Galaxy's spiral arms, and it cut across the normal lanes and headed through charted but unvisited parts of the Galaxy toward its destination. And it had one of the very, very, very few accidents known to happen to space-craft licensed for travel off the normal space-lanes. It suffered shipwreck in space, and its passengers and crew were forced to take to the lifecraft.
     The lifeboats' range was limited. They landed on the planet that the Tethys had first examined, that the Orana and the Ludred had seeded, and of which there was no longer any record in the Ecological Service. Their fuel was exhausted. They could not leave. They could not signal for help. They had to stay there. And the planet was a place of nightmares.
     After a time the few people—some few thousands—who knew that there was a space-liner named Icarus, gave it up for lost. They forgot about it. Everybody forgot. Even the passengers and crew of the ship forgot it. Not immediately, of course. For the first few generations their descendants cherished hopes of rescue. But the planet which had no name—the forgotten planet—did not encourage the cherishing of hope.
     After forty-odd generations, nobody remembered the Icarus anywhere. The wreckage of the lifeboats was long since hidden under the seething, furiously striving fungi of the soil. The human beings had forgotten not only their ancestors' ship, but very nearly everything their ancestors had brought to this world: the use of metals, the existence of fire, and even the fact that there was such a thing as sunshine. They lived in the lowlands, deep under the cloudbank, amid surroundings which were riotous, swarming, frenzied horror. They had become savages.

     They were less than savages, because they had forgotten their destiny as men.

(ed note: The planet had become a hideous place covered in fungus and infested with gigantic man-eating insects.)

From THE FORGOTTEN PLANET by Murray Leinster (1954)

(ed note: Our heroes and heroines are building a space ark to fly a few survivors to the planet Bronson Beta, before the planet Bronson Alpha splatters Terra like a bug on an automobile windshield)

"In the early days on this world, the great majority of plants did not reproduce by seeds, but by the far more resistant spores, which have survived as the method of reproduction of many varieties. So we will count upon a native flora which, undoubtedly, will appear very strange to us. Of course, as you know, we are taking across with us our own seeds and our own spores."

"I know," said Tony, "and even our own insects too."

"An amazing list—isn't it, Tony?—our necessities for existence. We take so much for granted, don't we? You do not realize what has been supplied you by nature on this world of ours—until you come to count up what you must take along with you, if you hope to survive."

"Yes," said Tony, "ants and angleworms—and mayflies."

"Exactly. You've been talking with Keppler, I see. I put that problem entirely up to Keppler.

"Our first and most necessary unit for self-preservation proved to be the common honey bee, to secure pollination of flowering plants, trees and so on. Keppler says that of some twenty thousand nectar insects, this one species pollinates more than all the rest put together. The honey bee would take care of practically of this work, as his range is tremendous. There are a few plants—Keppler tells me—such as red clover, which he cannot work on; but his cousin the bumblebee, with his longer proboscis, could attend to them. So, first and foremost among living things, we bring bees.

"We also take ants, especially the common little brown variety, to ventilate, drain and work the soil; and, as you have observed, angleworms also.

"Since we are going to take with us fish eggs to hatch into fish over there, we have to take mayflies. Their larvas, in addition to providing food for the fish, are necessary to keep the inland waters from becoming choked with algæ and the lower water plants.

"In the whole of the Lepidoptera there is not, Keppler says, one necessary or even useful species; but for sheer beauty's sake—and because they take small space—we will take six butterflies and at least the Luna moth.

"And we must take one of the reputed scourges of the earth."

"What?" said Tony.

"The grasshopper—the locust. Such an insect will be vitally necessary to keep the greenery from choking our new earth; and the one best suited for this job is, paradoxically enough, one of mankind's oldest scourges, the grasshopper. He is an omnivorous feeder and would keep the greenery in check— after he got his start. Our first problem may be that he will not multiply fast enough; and then that he multiply too fast. So to keep him in check, and also the butterfly and the moth, we will take parasitic flies. We will have to have these—two or three of the dozen common Tachinidæ have been chosen.

"These will be the essential insects. Here on earth, with a balanced and bewilderingly intricate economy already established, a tremendously longer list would be vital to provide the proper checks and balances; but starting anew, on Bronson Beta, we can begin, at least, with the few insects we have chosen. Unquestionably, differentiation and evolution will swiftly set in, and they will find new forms.

"We are bringing along vials of mushroom and other fungi spores. Otherwise vegetation would fall down, never disintegrate, and pile up till everything was choked. A vial the size of your thumb holds several billion spores of assorted fungi— in case the spores of the fungi of Bronson Beta have not survived. They are absolutely essential.

"Also, besides our own water supply for the voyage, we are taking bottles of stagnant pond-water and another of sea-water containing our microorganisms such as diatoms, plankton, unicellular plants and animals which form the basis for our biotic economy and would supplement, or replace, such life on the other globe.

"About animals—" He halted.

"Yes, about animals," Tony urged.

"There is, naturally, still discussion. Our space is so limited, and there is most tremendous competition. Birds offer a somewhat simpler problem; but possibly you have heard some of the arguments over them."

"I have," said Tony, "and joined in them. I confess I argued for warblers—yellow warblers. I like them; I have always liked them; and meadow larks."

"The matter of dogs and cats is the most difficult," Hendron said, closing the subject.

From WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (1932)

Jackson had seen the visual records of the approach to the world which had been renamed Ararat. They retained enough tech base for that, though no one was certain how much longer the old tri-vids would continue to function, and a much younger Jackson had watched in awe as Ararat swelled against the stars in the bridge view screens of Commodore Isabella Perez's flagship, the transport Japheth.

Of course, calling any of the expedition's ships a "transport" was a bit excessive. For that matter, no one was certain Perez had actually ever been an officer in anyone's navy, much less a commodore. She'd never spoken about her own past, never explained where she'd been or what she'd done before she arrived in what was left of the Madras System with Noah and Ham and ordered all two hundred uninfected survivors of the dying planet of Sheldon aboard. Her face had been flint steel-hard as she refused deck space to anyone her own med staff couldn't guarantee was free of the bio weapon which had devoured Sheldon. She'd taken healthy children away from infected parents, left dying children behind and dragged uninfected parents forcibly aboard, and all the hatred of those she saved despite themselves couldn't turn her from her mission.

It was an impossible task from the outset. Everyone knew that. The two ships with which she'd begun her forty-six-year odyssey had been slow, worn out bulk freighters, already on their last legs, and God only knew how she'd managed to fit them with enough life support and cryo tanks to handle the complements she packed aboard them. But she'd done it. Somehow, she'd done it, and she'd ruled those spaceborne deathtraps with an iron fist, cruising from system to system and picking over the Concordiat's bones in her endless quest for just a few more survivors, just a little more genetic material for the Human race.

She'd found Japheth, the only ship of the "squadron" which had been designed to carry people rather than cargo, at the tenth stop on her hopeless journey. Japheth had been a penal transport before the War. According to her log, Admiral Gaylord had impressed her to haul cold-sleep infantry for the Sarach Campaign, although how she'd wound up three hundred light-years from there at Zach's Hundred remained a mystery. There'd been no one alive, aboard her or on the system's once-habitable world, to offer explanations, and Commodore Perez hadn't lingered to seek any, for Noah's com section had picked up faint transmissions in Melconian battle code.

She'd found Shem in Battersea, the same system in which her ground parties had shot their way into the old sector zoo to seize its gene bank. The Empire had used a particularly ugly bio weapon on Battersea. The sector capital's population of two billion had been reduced to barely three hundred thousand creatures whose once-Human ancestry was almost impossible to recognize, and the half-mad, mutant grandchildren of the original zoo staff had turned the gene bank into a holy relic. The Commodore's troopers had waded through the blood of its fanatic defenders and taken thirty percent casualties of their own to seize that gathered sperm and ova, and without it, Ararat wouldn't have had draft or food animals . . . or eagles.

From A TIME TO KILL by David Weber (1997)

      THE MAIN RAMP FELL to the bare, burnt rock ground without a sound since there was no air to carry it. For a moment he stood there, a space-suited silhouette against the lights from within the ship. Then he walked down the ramp to place his thick soled boots upon the hard ground.
     The landscape of pitted, charred, glazed rock blurred as Fleet Commander Grey, a citizen oi the obsolete national division known as the United States of America, stood surveying the home planet of Mankind.
     This lifeless region was once known as the District of Columbia. It was no exception to the general rule, no minor spot of ruin and devastation. The entire planet was now but a ball of scorched rock.
     His hand went briefly to the blue and gold insignia of a Fleet Commander on the helmet and shoulders of his silver space suit. He resisted the urge to claw those painted markings off. Tears rolled down his sunken cheeks as his eyes swept the barren wastes.
     He had been born on this planet, in this city that no longer was. He had sworn to protect it, and every other city of every other planet of the United Stars of Man.
     He had failed. He had not kept his word. The United Stars were dead now, lifeless, airless worlds like the Earth. His slight muscular body trembled with rage and futility.
     Why? he screamed silently, clenching his hands until they ached. He ignored the pain; the physical sensation was as nothing to that he felt in his heart.
     More than just a world had died here; an ethic of being had been swept from the galaxy. Contradictory, obstinate, unreasoning, the greatest race the galaxy had known was gone.
     Not that there was anything particularly holy about the passing, for Man the race had been in the midst of one of the interminable wars of his history. For no good reason, they fought the Shraix, golden creatures whose ancient empire commanded an even larger volume of space than their own. Oh, there were great battles! Glories were being won on both sides …
     And then a third force, a civilization incredibly more ancient than either Human or Shraix, stepped in and annihilated both.
     The worlds of Man and Shraix were scorched clean of life and artifacts. And of the outposts, fleets, secret bases— of every being of two great races, only Command Division, 43rd Terran Fleet, survived. Everything else had been detected and destroyed, leaving no life trace to indicate that they had once been there.
     The tears stopped, the last tears Man would ever know. Commander Grey turned back to survey the remnants of his command, the heavy cruiser, Crusader, and the protective light missile ships that was all that remained of Command Division, 43rd Fleet. This display of former military might was all that was left of Man.
     And Grey knew why! It was the only thing that kept him alive, that kept him from opening his face plate there on that airless plain, as a number of his men and women already had.
     His, the crack 43rd, was to have been the first fleet to be equipped with the new device that would have given victory to the hard pressed fleets of Man: the Ramdic Shield. A fleet so equipped would have been undetectable at FTL speeds since vibrations in the fabric of space were cut to a minimum and radiations from the Ramdic FTL Drive were neutralized.
     Eager to test the device, he had taken the Command Division out on a communications-silenced shakedown cruise instead of waiting for the eleven remaining home divisions to have theirs installed. While the 43rd cruised outside the fabric of normal space, the unknown murderers struck. The attack, the computer section calculated, had totally destroyed the worlds of Man and the Federated Stars of the Shraix in less than thirty seconds!
     Grey, Commander of the last few men and women alive, cast one final look around at the desolate, barren planet. There was a coldness in the region of his heart. He stared up at the uncaring stars, bright and brittle over the airless World, and made a personal vow.


     He recognized the futility of his vow, but even more futile was the senseless destruction of those two races.
     Man and Shraix would be avenged—in full!
     Slowly he entered the ship. It was a long walk to the Command Room, the nerve center of a fleet that was no more. He could have taken a gravity tube, but he wanted the time to think.
     All heads swiveled around to watch him as he entered. He ignored their pleading eyes, snapping orders, his training taking over. The Crusader rose to become part of the umbrella that had protected it. He followed Standard Operating Procedures: scouts ahead, flankers out, rear guard behind. All radiating devices were cut off; all communications prohibited except for tight beamed directional rays.
     He gave more orders; the twenty warships pointed their blunt, black noses at Mercury and began accelerating.
     The blowers whirred loudly in the Command Room as the uniformed officers stood stiffly at attention. Grey knew they were trying not to think of the fellow men and women they had just buried, of the men and women under sedation in the Med-wards, or of those in straitjackets in compartments aft.
     He read their faces. Young and old, man and boy, woman and girl; there would be no help from any of them. Numbed and shocked, they all looked at him. At twenty-seven, he was younger than the most senior of them. They had once resented his meteoric rise to Fleet Commander—but that was all forgotten now.

     The future of humankind was in his hands.

     As he hit the com-switch, he found himself staring at the red-headed woman rating who hooked him into the fleet’s broadcast system. He hesitated a moment, and then she smiled at him, shyly.
     He spoke. “Men and women of the 43rd Fleet, we’ve been together a long time. We’ve fought many battles, we’ve buried our fallen comrades on alien worlds; We’ve grown to know and love and respect one another.”
     Suddenly the past years of fighting came back; the assaults upon the Shraix defensive sphere, the silent, deadly battles in deep space with the nearest star light-years away; the times they had fought, alongside their sister fleets, turning back the thrusts of Shraix suicide fleets.
     “It will not be easy to do what must be done, yet I know you will do it.” He remembered the time when the 43rd had encountered a complete Shraix invasion force—six fleets—and held them until reinforcements had arrived. Then there was the time they had been assigned to take out a key Shraix planet and how the 43rd had fought its way through everything the Shraix could throw at them for two hundred light-years to accomplish their mission. And, like the others, he remembered the long fight coming back, and the ships that had not made it.
     “We’re proceeding to Mercury. Indications are that the robot supply dumps there were unknown to the attacker. We may be able to construct additional ships fitted with the Ramdic Shield. Suitably armed, and manned by crews consisting of one fertile man and one fertile woman, Command Division, 43rd Fleet will then be disbanded forever. All ranks abolished. The United Stars themselves must be forgotten. We must break completely with the past. There will be no time for nostalgia, homesickness or tears. We can never go back. The past is finished, as is the Earth.
     “Once away, no ship shall ever contact another again. The race must survive, somehow. The single ships will disperse to the far corners of the galaxy, seeking out colony worlds. It will be the duty of each ship to populate their world.
     A grizzled gray-haired Woman in her sixties held up her hand. She wore the arm patch of a biotechnician. Grey recognized her.
     “Impossible, Commander. One couple can’t populate a planet. Genetic drift—inbreeding. You’ll have total disaster within a very few generations.”
     “Duplicates of the Master Life Banks were included in the Mercury Dumps, Technician. I propose each ship carry a miniature Life Bank. The Women can host other ova, while the sperm of the ages is available for the taking.
     “We’re setting a monumental task for the children that are yet to be born. We must locate the home base of the enemy, learn his secrets—above all, we must bide our time. The day of vengeance may not come for a thousand—for ten thousand years.
     “But it will come! That I promise! That I promise as a Man!”

From CROWN OF INFINITY by John Faucette (1968)

In another area of the ship, Koenig awakens in a tastefully appointed rest chamber to find himself under the scrutiny of a strikingly beautiful woman. She apologises for the assault, but Koenig and Bergman were intruding. Introducing herself as Kara, the vessel's Director of Reconstruction, she tells him the plight of her people. The distress signal was triggered 900 years ago, when all but one of their nuclear reactors exploded. Most of the vessel was heavily damaged. Thousands survived the explosions, but fell victim to the radiation. Out of 50,000 Darians, only the fourteen in the command area were shielded from the catastrophe. As Koenig boggles over the magnitude of the disaster, Kara states this chance encounter could be vital to their survival.

Neman and Kara reveal their sacred cause: a gene bank containing genetic material preserved and protected before radiation damaged their people. When they reach the new world, it will be used to produce the new Darian race. They confess the survivor tribes are dying out and, without them, all life on the ship will perish. The Alphans' resources will enable them to complete the voyage and save their race. Koenig refuses to commit himself until the rest of his party is found.

Morrow follows Helena's trail to the command area and is reunited with Koenig and Bergman. He relates the grisly events in the Survivors' camp and the fact that the doctor was brought here, though he has lost track of her and her captor. Koenig accosts Kara, presenting her with these facts. Frightened, she leads them to a room where they encounter the ultimate Darian horror—the gutted bodies of those Survivors recently offered to the god Neman. The savages have been harvested for the organs needed to maintain the well-being of the fourteen 'true' Darians. Rendered sterile by the radiation, Neman, Kara and the rest were forced to prolong their lives with transplant surgery.

Koenig is enraged when he discovers an unconscious Helena in this charnel house. As Kara revives her, he comes to the realisation that this was the intended fate of the Alpha people had they joined the Darians. Weapon in hand, Neman appears and confirms this fact. The Darian commander tries to tempt Koenig, offering unlimited life for him and his friends in exchange for the population of Alpha. Disgusted, Koenig refuses.

At this time, Carter and company arrive and the Survivors begin pillaging the command area. The genteel Darians are swiftly overwhelmed by the savages. Neman enters his command centre to find Hadin approaching the gene bank. When he runs to protect this sacred object, he is grabbed by Hadin. The disillusioned savage declares that Neman is not a god—then smashes his head through the gene bank. His skull fractured, Neman dies, drenched in the material that was to be the salvation of his race. Hadin then seizes a horrified Kara.

From the Wikipedia entry for SPACE 1999: MISSION OF THE DARIANS

(ed note: The end of the world is due in about two years. The International Space Station has been made into a space ark. In biology department, they are concerned with genetic diversity)

      “Do you know about the black-footed ferret?” she asked.
     “No,” Doob said. “I think you can pretty much assume that my answer to all questions about biology and genetics is going to be in the negative.”
     “Ninety percent of their diet was prairie dogs. Farmers killed almost all of the prairie dogs and so the population of black-footed ferrets crashed to the point where only seven remained. From that breeding stock, it was necessary to bring them back.”
     “Wow, only seven . . . so inbreeding must have been an issue?”
     “We speak of heterozygosity,” she said, “which just means the amount of genetic diversity within a species. In general, it’s a good thing. If you have too little of it, then you start to see the sorts of problems that we associate with inbreeding.”
     “But if the breeding stock is reduced to only seven . . . then that’s all you have to work with, right?”
     “Not quite. Well, technically yes, I suppose. But by manipulating some of the genes, we can create heterozygosity artificially. As well as getting rid of some of the genetic defects that would otherwise propagate through the whole population.”

     “Anyway,” Doob said, “it’s obviously of interest to us now.”
     “If the Cloud Ark’s as populous as they claim it’s going to be, and if people come up with frozen sperm samples and ova and embryos and all of that, then the human population is probably all right. We’ll have enough heterozygosity to make a go of it. My work here is going to be more concerned with nonhuman populations.”
     “Meaning . . .”
     “Well, you’ve probably heard that we’ll be growing algae as a way to generate oxygen. Which is only the start of a simple ecosystem that will have to be developed and grown, and become much less simple, over the years to come. Many of the plants and microorganisms that will make up that ecosystem will be cultivated from initially small breeding populations. We don’t want to have a repeat of the Irish potato famine, or something analogous, with the plants we rely on to make it possible to breathe.”
     “So your job will be to do with them what was done in the case of black-footed ferrets.”

     “Part of my job, yes.”
     “What’s the other part?”
     “Being a sort of Victorian museum curator. Did you ever visit Clarence’s home in Cambridge?”
     “No, I’m sorry to say. But I heard his collection was magnificent.”
     “It was crammed with all of these stuffed birds and boxed beetles and mounted heads of beasts, gathered by Victorian gentleman-collector types in pith helmets, doing their bit for science on the fringes of the empire. Not scientists as we’d define them today but contributors to the scientific ideal. These things overflowed the museums and Clarence acquired them by the lorry-load, especially after Edwina died and couldn’t forbid it. Anyway, I’m that person now, except that the samples are all digital, and they are all on these things.” She tapped a thumb drive that was floating around her neck on a chain. “Or their rad-hard equivalents.” She pronounced the technical term with a dubious and ironic tone of voice, suggesting that she and the International Space Station would take a while getting used to each other. “You know the general story—I’ve heard you talking about it on YouTube.” She switched into a credible imitation of Doob’s flat midwestern vowels: “‘We can’t send blue whales and sequoias up on the Cloud Ark. And even if we could, we couldn’t keep them alive there. But we can send their DNA, encoded as strings of ones and zeroes.’”

     “You’re going to put me out of a job,” Doob said.
     “Good. Then I’ll put you to work here,” Moira said. “This is labor intensive as hell, and they’re not sending me enough help.”
     “I thought it was all automatic.”
     “If the Agent had given us another couple of decades to improve our gene synthesis technology, it might have become so,” Moira said. “As it is, we’ve been caught in a bit of a gawky adolescent phase. Yes, we can take one of these files”—she tapped the thumb drive around her neck—“and we can create a strand of DNA from it, beginning with a few simple precursor chemicals. But the amount of human intervention is still ridiculous.”
     “I’m guessing that is some pretty high-level human intervention too.”
     “My Jamaican grandfather worked in the engine room of a navy ship,” Moira said, “which is how our family ended up in England. When I was a little girl, he took me on a tour of one of those ships, and we went down into the engine room, and I saw it, the engine, with all of the bits exposed; the bloody thing was naked and men had to go crawling around on it with oil cans, lubricating the bearings by hand and so on. That’s a bit like where we are now with synthesizing whole genomes.”
     “But for now,” Doob said, “that’s far in the future, right?”
     “Yes, thank God.”
     “For now you’re going to be tinkering with intact organisms.”
     “Yes. Just so. Still quite difficult, but I think manageable.”

     Moira would be astonished if some girls weren’t pregnant already, but no one had approached her about getting an embryo frozen.
     And any normal person who followed Moira forward through Zvezda and “down” into the cold storage facility would understand why. There was nothing about this place that tickled the nerve endings that mattered to people who wanted to start families. It was clinical/industrial to a degree that was almost laughable.
     But by the same token she hoped it would seem impressive to the new arrivals, who showed up right on time for their appointment. They had arrived several hours ago on a passenger capsule launched from Cape Canaveral: long enough for their antinausea meds to kick in and for them to pull themselves together a little bit. It was a small contingent from the Philippines: a scientist who had been working on genetically modified strains of rice, a sociologist who had been working with Filipino sailors who spent their whole lives on cargo freighters—she’d be working with Luisa, presumably—and a pair of Arkies who, judging from looks, were from ethnic groups as different as Icelanders were from Sicilians. One of them was carrying the inevitable beer cooler. As Moira knew perfectly well—for she did this at least once a day—it contained sperm, ova, and embryos collected from donors scattered around the country of origin—in this case, the Philippines. She accepted it with due ceremony, like a Japanese businessman taking another’s business card, and flipped the lid open for inspection. A few chunks of dry ice were still visible on the bottom; good. The finger-sized vials were all contained within a hexagonal cage. She sampled some of them with a pistol-shaped infrared thermometer and verified that none of them had thawed out. Then, after putting on some cotton gloves to protect her skin from the cold, she pulled a few out and spot-checked them just to verify that they had been sealed, labeled, and bar-coded in accordance with the procedures specified in the Third Technical Supplement to the Crater Lake Accord, Volume III, Section 4, Paragraph 11. They had. She’d have expected nothing less from Dr. Miguel Andrada, the geneticist.
     She also guessed that Dr. Andrada suspected, at some level, that none of these samples had a snowball’s chance in hell of ever developing into sentient life-forms, but this was not a subject to talk about now. For the benefit of the others, Moira gave a little canned speech, trying to make it sound spontaneous, thanking them and, by extension, the people of the Philippines for having entrusted her and the Cloud Ark with these most precious contributions, and hinting, without promising, at a future in which a cornucopia of vibrant humanity would spring forth from each little plastic vial. It was expected that these people would go forth now to their arklets and text or Facebook the news down to their friends and family at home. The promise in those words was meant to keep people on Earth from getting too rambunctious while they waited for the end; and if that failed, as it had in the case of Venezuela, well, J.B.F. could just nuke them.

(ed note: The corrupt government of Venezuela tries to interfere with the critical Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. The Venezuelan troops are slaughtered by US thermobaric weapons, and the Venezuelan is obliterated in a nuclear strike.)

     “May I see how it all works?” Dr. Andrada asked, after the rest of his delegation had been sent on their way. So it was just the two of them now, hovering in a long, slim docking module that projected to the nadir side. “Below” them its far end was sealed off by a hatch with a keypad. Most of Izzy was open to anyone who wanted to wander in and poke around; they didn’t get a lot of riffraff. But the HGA, the Human Genetic Archive, had a kind of quasi-sacred status and was kept under the digital equivalent of lock and key.
     Dr. Andrada was a small, wiry man with prominent cheekbones. Like some other ag geneticists Moira had known, he had a callused, tanned, leathery look, the result of spending a lot of time in experimental plots, digging in actual dirt. Except for a nice pair of eyeglasses he could have passed for a farmer anywhere in Southeast Asia. But he had a Ph.D. from UC Davis and had been on the fast track for a Nobel Prize before the Agent had intervened.
     “Of course,” Moira said. “I’d fancy a chat anyway, about how we’re going to grow things other than humans up here.”
     “We need to talk about that,” Dr. Andrada agreed. She drifted down, performing a slow somersault so that she could address the keypad, and punched the button that turned on the iris scanner. After a few moments, the device agreed that she was Dr. Moira Crewe and unlocked the hatch. Bracing herself with a handle on the wall, she pulled it open, then allowed herself to drift through into the docking module beyond. There was barely room in this for both her and Dr. Andrada. White LEDs came on automatically. Clipped to the wall was a simple nylon web belt with a few small electronic gadgets holstered in it. Moira took this and buckled it around her waist.
     They had entered through the hatch on the module’s zenith side. To port and starboard were openings that had been sealed off by round plastic shields. Each of these had a handle projecting from its center. The closest to Moira was the one on the port side, so she grabbed the handle, squeezed it to release a latch, and then pulled it out of the way.
     Dr. Andrada flinched at the frigid air that washed into the space in its wake. They were looking down a straight tube about ten meters long, large enough for one person to work comfortably, or for two to pass each other if they didn’t mind bumping bodies. Its walls were studded with long neat rows of smaller hatches about as wide as a splayed human hand, each with its own little handle. Hundreds of them. Closer to the entrance these bore neat machine-printed labels and bar codes; farther away they were blank. Next to each one of them was a blue LED; these provided the space’s only illumination.
     “Would you like to do the honors?” Moira said.
     “If I don’t freeze to death first!” Dr. Andrada said.
     “Space is cold,” Moira said. “We rely on that.”
     She gave him a minute to put on the cotton gloves, then opened the cooler and held it out. He removed the little rack containing the samples. Moira zapped its bar code with a handheld scanner from her belt. Dr. Andrada pulled himself into the cold storage module and began to drift deeper into it, gingerly prodding the walls in a way that marked him out as a new arrival to zero gravity. “Take the first one that’s unlabeled,” Moira said. “Leave the door open, please.”
     Dr. Andrada coughed as the chilly air made his throat spasm. He opened one of the small hatches and slid the sample rack into it. In the meantime Moira was using a handheld printer to generate a sticker identifying the sample in English, in Filipino, and in a machine-readable bar code language. Once Dr. Andrada had returned to the central module, she went up to the open hatch, verified that the sample rack was properly seated in the tubular cavity beyond, then closed the hatch and affixed the sticker to its front. Printed on the hatch was a unique identification number and a bar code conveying the same thing, which she zapped and then double-checked.
     The LED next to this hatch had turned red, signaling that the compartment’s temperature was too high. While Moira checked her work, it turned yellow, which suggested the cold was “soaking in.” Later she’d pull it up on the screen of her tablet and verify that it had gone blue.
     She flew back out to the docking module and grabbed the round shield that sealed off the cold store. “Now you know what these are for,” she said. “Thermal insulation.” She snapped the shield back into place. “I could open the other one,” she offered, “but you would see the same thing.”
     “Thank you anyway,” said Dr. Andrada, “but I have never been so cold in my life!”      They went back “up” to Zvezda and then proceeded forward to the complex of modules where most of the genetic engineering gear was stored. There was nothing to see here but boxes. They could just as easily have gone aft to one of the tori, but Moira knew from experience that new arrivals didn’t benefit from switching back and forth between zero gee and simulated gravity.

From SEVENEVES by Neal Stephenson (2015)

(ed note: on the planet Thalassa, a human colony has been established. Of course they plant Terra vegetation.)

     By Terran standards, the waterfall was not very impressive — perhaps one hundred metres high and twenty across. A small metal bridge glistening with spray spanned the pool of boiling foam in which it ended.
     To Loren’s relief, Mirissa dismounted and looked at him rather mischievously.
     ‘Do you notice anything… peculiar?’ she asked, waving towards the scene ahead.
     ‘In what way?’ Loren answered, fishing for clues. All he saw was an unbroken vista of trees and vegetation, with the road winding away through it on the other side of the fall.
     ‘The trees — the trees!’
     ‘What about them? I’m not a — botanist.’
     ‘Nor am I, but it should be obvious. Just look at them.’
     He looked, still puzzled. And presently he understood, because a tree is a piece of natural engineering — and he was an engineer.
     A different designer had been at work on the other side of the waterfall. Although he could not name any of the trees among which he was standing, they were vaguely familiar, and he was sure that they came from Earth … yes, that was certainly an oak, and somewhere, long ago, he had seen the beautiful yellow flowers on that low bush.
     Beyond the bridge, it was a different world. The trees — were they really trees? — seemed crude and unfinished. Some had short, barrel-shaped trunks from which a few prickly branches extended; others resembled huge ferns; others looked like giant, skeletal fingers, with bristly haloes at the joints. And there were no flowers …
     ‘Now I understand. Thalassa’s own vegetation.’
     ‘Yes — only a few million years out of the sea. We call this the Great Divide. But it’s more like a battlefront between two armies, and no one knows which side will win. Neither, if we can help it! The vegetation from Earth is more advanced; but the natives are better adapted to the chemistry. From time to time one side invades the other — and we move in with shovels before it can get a foothold.’
     How strange, Loren thought as they pushed their bicycles across the slender bridge. For the first time since landing on Thalassa, I feel that I am indeed on an alien world …
     These clumsy trees and crude ferns could have been the raw material of the coal beds that had powered the Industrial Revolution — barely in time to save the human race. He could easily believe that a dinosaur might come charging out of the undergrowth at any moment; then he recalled that the terrible lizards had still been a hundred million years in the future when such plants had flourished on Earth …

From THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1985)

Thick, weedy grass and flowers covered much of the land of the campus (of the L5 space colony). At first J.D. could not figure out why it looked so familiar to her, until she realized that the ecosystem of Starfarer, planned as a natural succession, reproduced the first growth in a forest after a big fire. Of course the campus lacked the black tumble of half-burned trees, snags, uprooted trunks.

From STARFARERS by Vonda McIntyre (1989)

(ed note: the idea is that interstellar colonists or space colony builders trying to establish a plant ecosystem will find themselves mimicking Mother Nature's natural process of succession. Because both are trying to establish an ecosystem in an alien or barren environment.)

Ecological succession is the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time. The time scale can be decades (for example, after a wildfire), or even millions of years after a mass extinction.

The community begins with relatively few pioneering plants and animals and develops through increasing complexity until it becomes stable or self-perpetuating as a climax community. The ʺengineʺ of succession, the cause of ecosystem change, is the impact of established species upon their own environments. A consequence of living is the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt alteration of one's own environment.

It is a phenomenon or process by which an ecological community undergoes more or less orderly and predictable changes following a disturbance or the initial colonization of a new habitat. Succession may be initiated either by formation of new, unoccupied habitat, such as from a lava flow or a severe landslide, or by some form of disturbance of a community, such as from a fire, severe windthrow, or logging. Succession that begins in new habitats, uninfluenced by pre-existing communities is called primary succession, whereas succession that follows disruption of a pre-existing community is called secondary succession.

From ECOLOGICAL SUCCESSION entry in Wikipedia

(ed note: Primary succession is establishing an ecosystem on sterile ground. You see this in nature on a newly formed volcanic island rising from the sea, where there isn't even any soil to start with. In rocketpunk this would be done inside a newly constructed space colony, seeding the sterile ground.)

Primary succession is one of two types of biological and ecological succession of plant life, occurring in an environment in which new substrate devoid of vegetation and other organisms usually lacking soil, such as a lava flow or area left from retreated glacier, is deposited. In other words, it is the gradual growth of an ecosystem over a longer period.

In contrast, secondary succession occurs on substrate that previously supported vegetation before an ecological disturbance from smaller things like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires which destroyed the plant life.


In primary succession pioneer species like lichen, algae and fungi as well as other abiotic factors like wind and water start to "normalize" the habitat. Primary succession begins on rock formations, such as volcanoes or mountains, or in a place with no organisms or soil. This creates conditions nearer optimum for vascular plant growth; pedogenesis or the formation of soil is the most momentous process.

These pioneer plants are then dominated and often replaced by plants better adapted to less harsh conditions, these plants include vascular plants like grasses and some shrubs that are able to live in thin soils that are often mineral based.

For example, spores of lichen or fungus, being the pioneer species, are spread onto a land of rocks. Then, the rocks are broken down into smaller pieces and organic matter gradually accumulates, favouring the growth of larger plants like grasses, ferns and herbs. These plants further improve the habitat and help the adaptation of larger vascular plants like shrubs, or even medium- or mountainous-sized trees. More beasts are then attracted to the place and finally a climax community is reached.


A good example of primary succession takes place after a volcano has erupted. The lava flows into the ocean and hardens into new land. The resulting barren land is first colonized by pioneer plants which pave the way for later, less hardy plants, such as hardwood trees, by facilitating pedogenesis, especially through the biotic acceleration of weathering and the addition of organic debris to the surface regolith. An example of primary succession is the island of Surtsey, which is an island formed in 1963 after a volcanic eruption from beneath the sea. Surtsey is off the South coast of Iceland and is being monitored to observe primary succession in progress. About thirty species of plant had become established by 2008 and more species continue to arrive, at a typical rate of roughly 2–5 new species per year./p>

From PRIMARY SUCCESSION entry in Wikipedia

(ed note: Secondary succession is when an ecosystem is diminished to a smaller population of species and it is doing its darnedest to expand. You see this in a forest burnt to the ground by a forest fire. In rocketpunk this would be done in an interstellar colony on an alien planet, trying to remove the alien ecosystem locally and replacing it with a Terran ecosystem that can be used to do things like, you know, grow food to eat.)

Secondary succession is one of the two types of ecological succession of plant life. As opposed to the first, primary succession, secondary succession is a process started by an event (e.g. forest fire, harvesting, hurricane) that reduces an already established ecosystem (e.g. a forest or a wheat field) to a smaller population of species, and as such secondary succession occurs on preexisting soil whereas primary succession usually occurs in a place lacking soil.

Simply put, secondary succession is the ecological succession that occurs after the initial succession has been disrupted and some plants and animals still exist. It is usually faster than primary succession as:

  1. Soil is already present, so there is no need for pioneer species;
  2. Seeds, roots and underground vegetative organs of plants may still survive in the soil.


Many mechanisms can trigger succession of the second including facilitation such as trophic interaction, initial composition, and competition-colonization trade-offs. The factors that control the increase in abundance of a species during succession may be determined mainly by seed production and dispersal, micro climate; landscape structure (habitat patch size and distance to outside seed sources); Bulk density, pH, soil texture (sand and clay).


Imperata grasslands are caused by human activities such as logging, forest clearing for shifting cultivation, agriculture and grazing, and also by frequent fires. The latter is a frequent result of human interference. However, when not maintained by frequent fires and human disturbances, they regenerate naturally and speedily to secondary young forest. The time of succession in Imperata grassland (for example in Samboja Lestari area), Imperata cylindrica has the highest coverage but it becomes less dominant from the fourth year onwards. While Imperata decreases, the percentage of shrubs and young trees clearly increases with time. In the burned plots, Melastoma malabathricum, Eupatorium inulaefolium, Ficus sp., and Vitex pinnata. strongly increase with the age of regeneration, but these species are commonly found in the secondary forest.


Soil properties change during secondary succession in Imperata grassland area. The effects of secondary succession on soil are strongest in the A-horizon (0–10 cm), where an increase in carbon stock, N, and C/N ratio, and a decrease in bulk density and pH are observed. Soil carbon stocks also increase upon secondary succession from Imperata grassland to secondary forest.

Post-fire succession

For more details on this topic, see Fire ecology.


Generation of carbonates from burnt plant material following fire disturbance causes an initial increase in soil pH that can affect the rate of secondary succession, as well as what types of organisms will be able to thrive. Soil composition prior to fire disturbance also influences secondary succession, both in rate and type of dominant species growth. For example, high sand concentration was found to increase the chances of primary Pteridium over Imperata growth in Imperata grassland. The byproducts of combustion have been shown to affect secondary succession by soil microorganisms. For example, certain fungal species such as Trichoderma polysporum and Penicillium janthinellum have a significantly decreased success rate in spore germination within fire-affected areas, reducing their ability to recolonize.


Vegetation structure is affected by fire. In some types of ecosystems this creates a process of renewal. Following a fire, early successional species disperse and establish first. This is then followed by late successional species. Species that are fire intolerant are those that are more flammable and are desolated by fire. More tolerant species are able to survive or disperse in the event of fire. The occurrence of fire leads to the establishment of deadwood and snags in forests. This creates habitat and resources for a variety of species. Fire can act as a seed dispersing stimulant. Many species require fire events to reproduce, disperse, and establish. For example, the knobcone pine ("Pinus attenuata") has closed cones that open for dispersal when exposed to heat caused by forest fires. This particular conifer grows in clusters because of this limited method of seed dispersal. A tough fire resistant outer bark and lack of low branches help the knobcone pine survive fire with minimal damage.

From SECONDARY SUCCESSION entry in Wikipedia
Loser Ecosystems

A common concept in science fiction is a planet with an ecosystem that is either more advanced or less advanced that on Terra. TV Tropes calls it Evolutionary Levels. As the link makes clear, it is pretty much utter hogwash. Yet the concept persists, because it's a trope. Try to avoid this trope if at all possible.


I never have learned the co-ordinates of Sanctuary, nor the name or catalogue number of the star it orbits — because what you don't know, you can't spill; the location is ultra-top-secret, known only to ships' captains, piloting officers, and such . . . and, I understand, with each of them under orders and hypnotic compulsion to suicide if necessary to avoid capture. So I don't want to know. With the possibility that Luna Base might be taken and Terra herself occupied, the Federation kept as much of its beef as possible at Sanctuary, so that a disaster back home would not necessarily mean capitulation.

But I can tell you what sort of a planet it is. Like Earth, but retarded.

Literally retarded, like a kid who takes ten years to learn to wave bye-bye and never does manage to master patty-cake. It is a planet as near like Earth as two planets can be, same age according to the planetologists and its star is the same age as the Sun and the same type, so say the astrophysicists. It has plenty of flora and fauna, the same atmosphere as Earth, near enough, and much the same weather; it even has a good-sized moon and Earth's exceptional tides.

With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it's short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth's high level of natural radiation.

Its typical and most highly developed plant life is a very primitive giant fern; its top animal life is a proto-insect which hasn't even developed colonies. I am not speaking of transplanted Terran flora and fauna — our stuff moves in and brushes the native stuff aside.

With its evolutionary progress held down almost to zero by lack of radiation and a consequent most unhealthily low mutation rate, native life forms on Sanctuary just haven't had a decent chance to evolve and aren't fit to compete. Their gene patterns remain fixed for a relatively long time; they aren't adaptable — like being forced to play the same bridge hand over and over again, for eons, with no hope of getting a better one.

As long as they just competed with each other, this didn't matter too much — morons among morons, so to speak. But when types that had evolved on a planet enjoying high radiation and fierce competition were introduced, the native stuff was outclassed.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)

      One night, during their absence, and close to the front door, something grew. The scientists, after long conference, decided it was a plant but it didn't look like a plant.
     It was a triangular mirror balanced on a cable-like stem as thick as a man's wrist. The "mirror" followed the sun and, at evening or on dull days, folded itself up geometrically into a neat square black box.
     Two days later there was another growth. This was a small brass colored sphere about the size of a walnut perched on the top of a thin black rod about two feet in height.
     An intrigued expert touched it with his hand and was flung untidily to the path. He was not dead but the local hospital had some difficulty bringing him round. A diagnostician pronounced near-lethal electric shock.

     The door of Lipscombe's house had been open and on the path was—It had looked like an oxygen cylinder some six feet in length and supported itself on thin legs like black cables. On top, near the thicker end, something spun rapidly, catching the sunlight. He'd had the curious impression that something was watching through it and the thought radar vision had occurred to him before the soldiers had bustled him out of the room.

     After much security checking they were finally admitted to a pleasantly furnished recreation room where a group of obvious scientists were arguing fiercely.
     "But, my dear fellow, why should such a conclusion strike you as pure fantasy?"
     "Because the conception in itself is preposterous—the term natural electronic life is a sheer absurdity."
     "Why should it be? When one considers the incredible complication of normal organic life why should not a simpler, less complex life form evolve in a different environment. A planet with a highly radio-active crust, a chemical atmosphere and, possibly, rich surface metal deposits and you have the perfect incubator for electronic life to develop. Consider, an almost pure copper deposit, a few drops of acid from the chemical atmosphere, a natural vein of metallic ore and you have not only natural electricity, but the basis for a natural circuit, or, if you prefer it, an electronic nervous system. Have you read what Mayer deduced during his experiments with radio-active crystals, for example?"
     "I have, but the fact that these artificial cells developed apparent reflexes is no basis for presupposing the preposterous."
     "My God, man, you conceded yesterday that we can make organic life cells in a laboratory. You must also concede, therefore, that this same organic life has evolved naturally on this planet. Why, then, knowing also that electrical life has also been constructed in a laboratory will you not admit the possibility of electronic life evolving naturally?"
     "I still find the conception of intelligent life housed in a metallic body and based on series of circuits wildly improbable. The theory of outworld invasion by what you call an electronic life form is, in my opinion, sheer imagination and owes nothing whatever to applied science."

     "And mine." Dyson was still pacing restlessly up and down. "What good do they think all these troops and weapon experts will do? They're still thinking in terms of an outworld alien invader with super weapons and they're not. Why the hell can't they see that? This is a minor occupation force sitting on its presumed backside in one of the safest conquests it's possible to conceive. They've introduced their own ecology into this environment and, because it's dominant in respect of our own, we're going under. Oh yes, I know it looks horrible and alien to our own but the principle is the same. We have sparrows and they introduce hawks. We have oak trees but along comes a strangling ivy; it's as simple as that. Some of the alleged machines our troops are now reporting may be equivalent of wolves or tigers and not armored vehicles at all. Once or twice they have opened up with something new, but this, I think, is reflex. At times we may be an irritant and the aliens take a smack at us like a dozing man slapping at a fly. They can afford to doze, chuck a few seeds out of the window, let loose some hawks and nature will do the job for them. Not too far in the future they can step out of the front door into world which is seeded, prepared and ready for them. Their peculiar ecology will have removed anything alien which might once have cluttered up the place."

     Dyson turned and stared moodily out of the window. "Candidly, I don't think we stand much chance."

From NO TRUCE WITH TERRA by Philip E. High (1964)

He soon discovers that the challenge facing America and other, lesser nations, isn’t just disease. It’s an alien invasion.

The most obvious symptom of the invasion are car-sized predators nicknamed ​“chtorr” after the sound of their cries as they descend on prey. Aggressive, voracious, and nearly impossible to kill with any weapon Americans are permitted to own, the great beasts are only one of the disasters buffeting the world. Hundreds of other novel species have appeared on the planet, each one harmful to native ecosystems in their own way. The Earth is being transformed and not in a manner that seems likely to leave a niche for humans.

The best part of the book is the invasion itself, which is of a fairly unusual sort. Rather than descending on the Earth in CGI-friendly starships, whatever or whoever set the process in motion instead is seeding the Earth with lifeforms that easily consume and displace native lifeforms. One is reminded of the spread of invasive species across the New World following 1492, except in this case there is nothing analogous to the Europeans. The speculation is that the Chtorr homeworld is older than Earth3 and its lifeforms therefore more advanced than terrestrial. It’s my impression this is a somewhat obsolete way of looking at biology, but whatever the reason — maybe we’re dealing with a purpose-built terraforming package — what’s happening to Earth has parallels in what happens when previously isolated islands come into contact with continental lifeforms.

There is no proof given in this volume that there is actually an intelligence behind the sudden appearance of the Chtorran lifeforms on Earth. With no enemy in sight, there is nobody we could ask to stop. As it happens, this may not matter since the Earth-Chtorran conflict is a one-sided curb-stomp in favour of the invaders. Even if we could talk to the aliens, why would they listen?

3: The novel speculates that older, more advanced ecologies will by their nature be immune to anything more primitive ecologies can throw at them. This model seems unlikely to be correct, if only because advanced and primitive are value judgments. Evolutionary biologists use those terms to describe divergence between earlier and later forms of a particular species. Not for ecosystems.

One possibility that might explain why the Chtorran invaders are immune to terrestrial viruses and biological counter-measures is if they were purpose-built. Another (and the explanation I liked in the 1980s) is that we’re being invaded from our own distant future.

From VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by James Nicoll (2020)
review of A MATTER FOR MEN by David Gerrold

      Terraforming: techniques whereby an extrasolar planet is rendered more habitable for humans and/or other Terran life. Prior to the discovery of the Alderson Drive (q.v.), terraforming referred primarily to hypothetical projects to render planets such as Mars and Venus inhabitable. While technically practical, the discovery of worlds with oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres and carbon-based life cycles has made such endeavors non-cost-effective. Habitable planets have proven to be relatively common, and the basic similarities in their biologies&emdash;e.g. the prevalence of close analogs to DNA&emdash;has given considerable support to the 'panspermia' hypothesis that the basic building-blocks of life are introduced from space, where complex hydrocarbons and amino acids are formed spontaneously. Differences in detail, for example the "handedness" of sugars or, less seriously, the presence or absence of various vitamins, pose severe problems to human colonization. A random introduction of Earth bacteria, plant life and simple animals is an excellent trial indicator of the suitability of a roughly Earthlike world for human settlement.

     As a general rule, the less advanced the ecology, the easier the introduction of Terran forms will be. On Tanith (q.v.), which contrary to surface appearances is in a post-Miocene, post-mammalian stage of evolutionary progress, only intensive protection by man allows any Terran plant or animal life to survive at all. The native species are simply more efficient. Most oxygen-atmosphere planets are less formidable, and selective introduction of higher animals is possible once the native ecosystems are disorganized by human activities. Most favorable of all are worlds like Meiji (q.v.), Xanadu (q.v.), or Churchill (q.v.), where the native ecologies are notably simpler than the Terran; here the introduced forms, with some simple genetic engineering to compensate for factors such as differences in length of year, often replace the local life-forms spontaneously.

     An extreme example is Sparta, (q.v.), where the relative youth of the planet and the great rapidity of continental formation and subsidence meant that the local ecology had barely begun to colonize the landmasses at all. Faced with an entire planet of virgin ecological niches, the introduced plants and animals exploded across the continent, completely replacing the meager native species (analogs of mosses, lichens and ferns, with some amphibious insects) almost overnight. In turn, the introduced species have engaged in complex and fluctuating interactions as plant-herbivore-predator associations are worked out to fit the patterns of a world never quite like Earth. A stable ecology may take millennia to form…

From PRINCE OF SPARTA by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling (1993)


If changing an entire planet to suit human colonists is out of the question, the next best thing is changing the colonists to fit the planet (much cheaper as well). This is done by extreme genetic engineering, James Blish coined the term "pantropy". This can go beyond humans engineered to handle slightly hotter or colder temperatures: it can theoretically lead to engineering "people" with totally different biochemistries, breathing methane and having bones composed of water ice.

This appears in James Blish's Pantropy series, Roger Zelazny's "The Keys to December ", Charles Sheffield's Proteus in the Underworld and Olaf Stapedon's Last and First Men.

Understand this is not taking a person and giving them a treatment to transform their bodies into something that can breath methane and survive sub-sub-zero cold. This is about genetically engineering their as yet unborn children. You take a person's germ cells into the lab, and genetically engineering the living daylights of the the cells so they will grow into a child that can breath methane and survive sub-sub-zero cold. Maybe someday Mommy and Daddy can wear a space suit and visit their offspring, happily walking around in their shirt-sleeves on a planet that would instantly kill an unprotected standard human being. In other words, the treatment create mutants. Since the aim was colonizing the planet, the mutations are designed to breed true in the mutant's offspring. The pantropy techs are creating an entire new species.

Taking an already born person and transforming their bodies so they can live on a hostile planet is called Somaforming.


The facts were simple and implacable. Sweeney was an Adapted Man — adapted, in this instance, to the bitter cold, the light gravity, and the thin stink of atmosphere which prevailed on Ganymede. The blood that ran in his veins, and the sol substrate of his every cell, was nine-tenths liquid ammonia; his bones were Ice IV; his respiration was a complex hydrogen-to-methane cycle based not upon catalysis by an iron-bearing pigment, but upon the locking and unlocking of a double sulfur bond; and he could survive for weeks, if he had to, upon a diet of rock dust.

He had always been this way. What had made him so had happened to him literally before he had been conceived: the application, to the germ cells which had later united to form him, of an elaborate constellation of techniques — selective mitotic poisoning, pinpoint X-irradiation, tectogenetic micro-surgery, competitive metabolic inhibition, and perhaps fifty more whose names he had never even heard — which collectively had been christened “pantropy.” The word, freely re-translated, meant “changing everything” and it fitted.

Even the ultimate germ cells were the emergents of a hundred previous generations, bred one from another before they had passed the zygote stage like one-celled animals, each one biassed a little farther toward the cyanide and ice and everything nice that little boys like Sweeney were made of.

Item: the Authorities. Long before space travel, big cities in the United States had fallen so far behind any possibility of controlling their own traffic problems as to make purely political solutions chimerical. No city administration could spend the amount of money needed for a radical cure, without being ousted in the next elections by the enraged drivers and pedestrians who most needed the help.

Increasingly, the traffic problems were turned over, with gratitude and many privileges, to semi-public Port, Bridge and Highway Authorities: huge capital-investment ventures modelled upon the Port of New York Authority, which had shown its ability to build and/or run such huge operations as the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, Teterboro, LaGuardia, Idlewild and Newark airports, and many lesser facilities. By 1960 it was possible to travel from the tip of Florida to the border of Maine entirely over Authority-owned territory, if one could pay the appropriate tolls (and didn’t mind being shot at in the Poconos by embattled land-owners who were still resisting the gigantic Incadel project).

Item: the Tolls. The Authorities were creations of the states, usually acting in pairs, and as such enjoyed legal protections not available to other private firms engaged in interstate commerce. Among these protections, in the typical enabling act, was a provision that “the two said states will not … diminish or impair the power of the Authority to establish, levy and collect tolls and other charges …” The federal government helped; although the Federal Bridge Act of 1946 required that the collection of tolls must cease with the payment of amortization, Congress almost never invoked the Act against any Authority. Consequently, the tolls never dropped; by 1953 the Port of New York Authority was reporting a profit of over twenty million dollars a year, and annual collections were increasing at the rate of ten per cent a year.

Some of the take went into the development of new facilitiesm, most of them so placed as to increase the take, rather than solve the traffic problem. Again the Port of New York Authority led the way; it built, against all sense, a third tube for the Lincoln Tunnel, thus pouring eight and a half million more cars per year into Manhattan’s mid-town area, where the city was already strangling for want of any adequate ducts to take away the then-current traffic.

Item: the Port cops. The Authorities had been authorized from the beginning to police their own premises. As the Authorities got bigger, so did the private police forces.

By the time space travel arrived, the Authorities owned it.

They had taken pains to see that it fell to them; they had learned from their airport operations — which, almost alone among their projects, always showed a loss — that nothing less than total control is good enough. And characteristically, they never took any interest in any form of space-travel which did not involve enormous expenditures; otherwise they could take no profits from sub-contracting, no profits from fast amortization of loans, no profits from the laws allowing them fast tax writeoffs for new construction, no profits from the indefinitely protracted collection of tolls and fees after the initial cost and the upkeep had been recovered.

At the world’s first commercial spaceport, Port Earth, it cost ship owners $5000 each and every time their ships touched the ground. Landing fees had been outlawed in private atmosphere flying for years, but the Greater Earth Port Authority operated under its own set of precedents; it made landing fees for spacecraft routine. And it maintained the first Port police force which was bigger than the armed forces of the nation which had given it its franchise; after a while, the distinction was wiped out, and the Port cops were the armed forces of the United States. It was not difficult to do, since the Greater Earth Port authority was actually a holding company embracing every other Authority in the country, including Port Earth.

And when people, soon after spaceflight, began to ask each other, “How shall we colonize the planets?,” the Greater Earth Port Authority had its answer ready.

Item: Terraforming.

Terraforming — remaking the planets into near-images of the Earth, so that Earth-normal people could live on them.

Port Earth was prepared to start small. Port Earth wanted to move Mars out of its orbit to a point somewhat closer to the sun, and make the minor adjustments needed in the orbits of the other planets; to transport to Mars about enough water to empty the Indian Ocean — only a pittance to Earth, after all, and not 10 per cent of what would be needed later to terraform Venus; to carry to the little planet top-soil about equal in area to the state of Iowa, in order to get started at growing plants which would slowly change the atmosphere of Mars; and so on. The whole thing, Port Earth pointed out reasonably, was perfectly feasible from the point of view of the available supplies and energy resources, and it would cost less than thirty-three billion dollars. The Greater Earth Port Authority was prepared to recover that sum at no cost in taxes in less thap a century, through such items as $50 rocket-mail stamps, $10,000 Mars landing fees, $1,000 one-way strap-down tickets, 100-per-desert-acre land titles, and so on.

Of course the fees would continue after the cost was re-covered — for maintenance.

Alternative? Nothing but domes. The Greater Earth Port Authority hated domes. They cost too little to begin with, and the volume of traffic to and from them would always be miniscule.

Experience on the Moon had made that painfully clear. And the public hated domes, too; it had already shown a mass reluctance to live under them.

As for the governments, other than that of the United States, that the Authority still tolerated, none of them had any love for domes, or for the kind of limited colonization that the domes stood for. They needed to get rid of their populating masses by the bucket-full, not by the eye-dropper-full.

If the Authority knew that emigration increases the home population rather than cuts it, the Authority carefully reframed from saying so to the governments involved; they could rediscover Franklin’s Law for themselves. Domes were out; terraforming was in.

Then came pantropy.

If this third alternative to the problem of colonizing the planets had come as a surprise to the Authority, and to Port Earth, they had nobody to blame for it but themselves.

There had been plenty of harbingers. The notion of modifying the human stock genetically to live on the planets as they were found, rather than changing the planets to accommodate the people, had been old with Olaf Stapledon; it had been touched upon by many later writers; it went back, in essence, as far as Proteus, and as deep into the human mind as the werewolf, the vampire, the fairy changeling, the transmigrated soul.

But suddenly it was possible; and, not very long afterwards, it was a fact.

The Authority hated it. Pantropy involved a high initial investment to produce the first colonists, but it was a method which with refinement would become cheaper and cheaper.

Once the colonists were planted, it required no investment at all; the colonists were comfortable on their adopted world, and could produce new colonists without outside help. Pantropy, furthermore, was at its most expensive less than half as costly as the setting-up of the smallest and least difficult dome.

Compared to the cost of terraforming even so favorable a planet as Mars, it cost nothing at all, from the Authority’s point of view.

And there was no way to collect tolls against even the initial expense. It was too cheap to bother with.

(ed note: example of propaganda from The Authority. They had to kill pantropy dead; or bye-bye graft, kick-backs, and lucrative fees.)


If a number of influential scientists have their way, some child or grandchild of yours may eke out his life in the frozen wastes of Pluto, where even the sun is only a spark in the sky — and will be unable to return to Earth until after he dies, if then!

Yes, even now there are plans afoot to change innocent unborn children into alien creatures who would die terribly the moment that they set foot upon the green planet of their ancestors. Impatient with the slow but steady pace of man’s conquest of Mars, prominent ivory-tower thinkers are working out ways to produce all kinds of travesties upon the human form — travesties which will be able to survive, somehow, in the bitterest and most untamed of planetary infernos.

The process which may produce these pitiful freaks at enormous expense is called “pantropy.” It is already in imperfect and dangerous existence. Chief among its prophets is white-haired, dreamy-eyed Dr. Jacob Rullman, who…

From A TIME TO SURVIVE by James Blish (1956)

Song of the Rings, by Clancy-Daniel-Mitre. A collection of early human-symb collaborative poetry.

Circa 240-300 O.E. Open read-rating.

     Of all the things received over the Ophiuchi Hotline (an extraterrestrial technology information broadcast), none is more wonderful than the symb. In the early part of the third century, symbs were seen as the salvation of the human race. Futurists saw the day when each human would be paired with a symb partner and forever free of reliance on airlocks, hydroponic farming, and recycled water. Each human would be a tiny model of lost Earth, free to roam the solar system at will.
     It's easy to see what inspired the optimism. The symmetry of the concept is overwhelming. Each human-symb pair is a closed ecology, requiring only sunlight and a small amount of solid matter to function. The vegetable symb gathers sunlight in space, using it to convert human waste and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. At the same time it protects the fragile human from vacuum and the extremes of heat and cold. The symb's body extends into the lungs and through the alimentary canal. Each side feeds the other.
     What we didn't bargain for is the mind of the symb. Since it has no brain, a symb is nothing but a lump of artificial organic matter until it comes in contact with a human. But upon permeating the nervous system of its host it is born as a thinking being. It shares the human brain. The early experimenters learned that, once in, the symb was there to stay. Since that time relatively few have opted to surrender their mental privacy in exchange for Utopia in the Rings (of Saturn).
     But out of the disappointment we have been given a precious gift. Ring society is not human society. We live in rooms and corridors; they have all of space. We each have the right to be the mother of one child in our lifetimes; they breed like bacteria. We are islands; they are paired minds. It is a relationship that is difficult to imagine.
     Somewhere in that magical junction of two dissimilar minds a tension is created. Sparks are struck, sparks of dazzling creativity. All Ringers are poets. Poetry is a normal by-product of living. To those of us without the courage to pair, who wait for the infrequent contacts of Ringers with human society, their songs are beyond price.

(ed note: Parameter is a human, Solstice is her symb, together they form the partner Parameter/Solstice.)

     Parameter floated over a golden desert that no horizon could contain. She faced the sun, which was a small but very bright disc just to anti-spinward of Saturn. Satum itself was a dark hole in space, edged by a razored crescent with the sun set in it like a precious stone.
     She saw none of this. She perceived the sun as a pressure and a wind, and Satum as a cold, deep well that pulled.
     The sunrise had been delicious. She could still taste the flavors of it flowing through the wafer-thin part of her body that had opened to receive it. She was a sunflower.
     Sunflower mode was a lazy, vegetable time. Parameter had Solstice, her symb, disconnect the visual centers of her brain so she could savor the simple pleasures of being a plant. Her arms were spread wide to the light and her feet were planted firmly in the fertile soil that was her symb. It was a good time.
     Seen from the outside, Parameter was the center of a hundred-meter filmy parasol, slightly parabolic. She was a spider sitting in the middle of a frozen section of soap bubble, but the section was shot through with veins, like the inner surface of an eyeball. Fluids pumped through the veins, some milky, some deep red, others purplish-brown. From a point near Parameter's navel a thin stalk extended, with a fist-sized nodule at the end of it. The nodule was at the focus of the parabola and received the small percentage of sunlight that was reflected from the sunflower. It was hot there, a steamy center for Parameter to revolve around. In the nodule and in the capillaries of the sunflower, chemical reactions were going on.
     Activity in her brain was damped down to almost nothing, interrupted only by the passing peaks of Solstice, who never went completely to sleep.
     "Parameter." It was not a voice, even when Parameter was more fully conscious. It was words forming in her head, like thoughts, but they were not her own thoughts.
     “ (Recognition; slight reproach; receptivity)"
     "Come on. Wake up."
     "What is it?" Coming awake was effortless.
     “Are you ready for vision now?"
     "Sure. Why not?"
     Solstice, functioning as a switchboard in the back of the cerebrum, closed the contacts that would allow Parameter's visual cortex to communicate with her forebrain: She saw.
     “What a lovely moming."
     “Yeah. Very nice. Wait till you see the morning papers. You won't be so happy."
     “Can it wait? Why ruin it?" Parameter felt no sense of urgency. It had been a century since she felt rushed.
     “Sure. Let me know when you're up to it."
     Parameter communicated wry amusement to her symb. (Picture of herself buckling on sword, dagger, donning brass helmet and picking up embossed shield.) Solstice responded. (Picture of Parameter climbing a staircase, gazing at the stars, failing to see she was reaching for a top step that wasn't there.)
     Parameter stretched, causing the filmy parasol to undulate slowly. She made tight flsts of all four hands—she had no feet, having surgically replaced them with oversized hands at the time of her pairing—then spread twenty fingers. One hand caught her attention. It was pale, but was turning pinker as she watched. She had the coloring of an albino; the skin under her nails was amber, turning quickly to orange. Solstice was packing up, pumping liquids around, getting ready to move.
     Nothing she saw was real. Her eyes were protected behind the opaque substance of Solstice; no light had fallen on her retinas in over seven years. Had she looked at the sun with her eyes, as she seemed to be doing, cells would have been destroyed. What she saw was the product of nerve impulses sent to different areas of her brain by Solstice's sensory receptors. But it looked to her as though she were floating naked in space, feeling the raw sunlight on her body. The illusion was complete.
     "Okay. What's up?"

From THE OPHIUCHI HOTLINE by John Varley (1977)

Born of man and woman, in accordance with Catform Y7 requirements, Coldworld Class (modified per Alyonal), 3.2-E, G.M.I. option, Jarry Dark was not suited for existence anywhere in the universe which had guaranteed him a niche. This was either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you looked at it.

So look at it however you would, here is the story:

It is likely that his parents could have afforded the temperature control unit, but not much more than that. (Jarry required a temperature of at least -50 C. to be comfortable.)

It is unlikely that his parents could have provided for the air pressure control and gas mixture equipment required to maintain his life.

Nothing could be done in the way of 3.2-E grav-simulation, so daily medication and physiotherapy were required. It is unlikely that his parents could have provided for this.

The much-maligned option took care of him, however. It safe-guarded his health. It provided for his education. It assured his economic welfare and physical well-being.

It might be argued that Jarry Dark would not have been a homeless Coldworld Catform (modified per Alyonal) had it not been for General Mining, Incorporated, which had held the option. But then it must be borne in mind that no one could have foreseen the nova which destroyed Alyonal.

When his parents had presented themselves at the Public Health Planned Parenthood Center and requested advice and medication pending offspring, they had been informed as to the available worlds and the bodyform requirements for them. They had selected Alyonal, which had recently been purchased by General Mining for purposes of mineral exploitation. Wisely, they had elected the option; that is to say, they had signed a contract on behalf of their anticipated offspring, who would be eminently qualified to inhabit that world, agreeing that he would work as an employee of General Mining until he achieved his majority, at which time he would be free to depart and seek employment wherever he might choose (though his choices would admittedly be limited). In return for this guarantee, General Mining agreed to assure his health, education and continuing welfare for so long as he remained in their employ.

When Alyonal caught fire and went away, those Coldworld Catforms covered by the option who were scattered about the crowded galaxy were, by virtue of the agreement, wards of General Mining.

From "KEYS TO DECEMBER" by Roger Zelazny (1966)

(ed note: The protagonists are going to visit a space colony around Saturn populated by a space nation called the Istini.)

"And the Isinti?"

"They haven't isolated themselves. They've been isolated by an almost superstitious fear of the unknown. They're the first people to live entirely in a gravity-free environment. And you know what's been said about that."

Moore had heard the conjecture. The human body had been designed by eons of evolution to function within a gravitational field. Regardless of what had become of the Isinti, it was generally accepted that no Isinti would ever again function within, or even survive within, a gravitational field. The Isinti, unlike the rest of humanity living in space, had utterly and irrevocably cut their bonds with man's biological heritage. For the remaining span of their existence, they would survive only by their skills in providing an artificial environment in the hard vacuum of space.

(ed note: Upon arrival at the colony, the protagonists find themselves in a room. A large video display lights up and they hear the voice of their Istini host.)

The screen before them danced with white snow on a dark-blue background. Suddenly, the screen came to life. A white line drawing of a naked male figure on a dark background appeared.

"The form of the human body evolved to function in the Earth environment. The Isinti live within the psyche of Homo sapiens, but our bodies live in new environments. Consciousness must expand to fill previously unconscious roles.

"Many changes are necessary for a human body to function in a zero-gravity field and utilize inherent advantages fully, most involving body chemistry, internal structure, and functioning of the organs, especially the cardiovascular system. Certain structural modifications were deemed advantageous. First, a smaller overall size."

The line drawing shrank to half its former size, but the head remained the same, giving the line drawing a childlike appearance with the facial features occupying the lower third of the skull.

"Next, the elimination of body rigidity and excess muscular development."

The body thinned down considerably, the arms long and curved with an apparently flexible bone structure, but with proportionately oversized hands and long, slender fingers.

"The legs, designed primarily for support and locomotion upon a two-dimensional plane within a gravity field, can be entirely reconfigured."

The drawing changed again. Now, the legs extended perpendicular from the torso, parallel to outstretched arms, the entire pelvis changed. The feet became another pair of hands complete with five long and slender fingers.

"These changes are on a genetic level. We give live birth to children like ourselves. You have requested to speak with me in person. You are curious and fascinated, but shocked and uncomfortable as well. We seem to have destroyed our natural beauty and denied our human heritage. A deep level of your mind protests the sacrilege that which we have committed upon ourselves, a biological prejudice that cannot be countered by intellectual rationalization. You do not wish to meet me in person. I would not appear to be human to you."

From BATTLEFIELDS OF SILENCE by William Tedford (2007)

(ed note: A pantropy ship of the Colonization Council crashes on the planet Hydrot around Tau Ceti. They decide to create colonists for the planet even though the colonists will be unaware of their origins. Ordinarily the ship crew would educate the colonists, but the crew will be dead in a month, the FTL radio is broken, and the Colonization Council has no idea they are there.

Since the ship lost its germ cell banks, they will have to use germ cells from the crew. This means that some of the created colonists will look like and have the same personalities as the crew. Dr. Chatvieux will have a corresponding colonist named "Shar", pilot la Ventura will be "Lavon", communication officer Strasvogel will be "Stravol".

The fun part is there is no suitable place for colonization except for the tiny ponds. So the colonists will be microscopic. In the story they interact with the local equivalent of parameciums, diatoms, and the dreaded rotifers. The colonist call the latter "Eaters" because they prey on men.

After conquering their pond, the colonists build a "spaceship." This is a huge (2 inch long) wooden tracked vehicle, driven by diadoms harnessed to a wooden gear transmission. It holds water so the crew can breath in the waterless space between ponds, and can downshift gears to have the power to penetrate the surface tension of the pond roof.

In the next pond they find other colonists who are dying out because they cannot cope with the rotifers. However the spaceship crew is armed with underwater crossbows and quickly give the rotifers what for.

This would be fun background in a role-playing game, in the spirit of Bunnies & Burrows. For one thing, you can use an elementary school textbook about protozoan of pond water as the Monster Manual.

The story was selected in 1970 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards. It can be found in many collections. But don't get the one in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, that version is abridged.)

      “This place isn’t dead,” Chatvieux said. “There’s life in the sea and in the fresh water, both. On the animal side of the ledger, evolution seems to have stopped with the Crustacea; the most advanced form I’ve found is a tiny crayfish, from one of the local rivulets, and it doesn’t seem to be well distributed. The ponds and puddles are well-stocked with small metazoans of lower orders, right up to the rotifers—including a castle-building genus like Earth’s Floscularidae. In addition, there’s a wonderfully variegated protozoan population, with a dominant ciliate type much like Paramoecium, plus various Sarcodines, the usual spread of phyto-flagellates, and even a phosphorescent species I wouldn’t have expected to see anywhere but in salt water. As for the plants, they run from simple blue-green algae to quite advanced thallus-producing types—though none of them, of course, can live out of the water.”

     “The sea is about the same,” Eunice said. “I’ve found some of the larger simple metazoans—jellyfish and so on—and some crayfish almost as big as lobsters. But it’s normal to find salt-water species running larger than fresh-water. Ana there’s the usual plankton and nannoplankton population.”…
     …Chatvieux turned to Saltonstall, “Martin, what would you think of our taking to the sea? We came out of it once, long ago; maybe we could come out of it again on Hydrot.”
     “No good,” Saltonstall said immediately. “I like the idea, but I don’t think this planet ever heard of Swinburne, or Homer, either. Looking at it as a colonization problem alone, as if we weren’t involved in it ourselves, I wouldn’t give you an Oc dollar for epi oinopa ponton. The evolutionary pressure there is too high, the competition from other species is prohibitive; seeding the sea should be the last thing we attempt, not the first. The colonists wouldn’t have a chance to learn a thing before they’d be gobbled up.”
     “Why?” la Ventura said. Once more, the death in his stomach was becoming hard to placate.
     “Eunice, do your sea-going Coelenterates include anything like the Portuguese man-of-war?”
     The ecologist nodded.
     “There’s your answer, Paul,” Saltonstall said. “The sea is out. It’s got to be fresh water, where the competing creatures are less formidable and there are more places to hide.”
     “We can’t compete with a jellyfish?” la Ventura asked, swallowing.
     “No, Paul,” Chatvieux said. “Not with one that dangerous. The pantropes make adaptations, not gods. They take human germ-cells—in this case, our own, since our bank was wiped out in the crash—and modify them genetically toward those of creatures who can live in any reasonable environment. The result will be manlike, and intelligent. It usually shows the donors’ personality patterns, too, since the modifications are usually made mostly in the morphology, not so much in the mind, of the resulting individual.
     “But we can’t transmit memory. The adapted man is worse than a child in the new environment. He has no history, no techniques, no precedents, not even a language. In the usual colonization project, like the Tellura affair, the seeding teams more or less take him through elementary school before they leave the planet to him, but we won’t survive long enough to give such instruction. We’ll have to design our colonists with plenty of built-in protections and locate them in the most favorable environment possible, so that at least some of them will survive learning by experience alone.”…

     …“Saltonstall, what would you recommend as a form?”
     The pantropist pulled reflectively at his nose. “Webbed extremities, of course, with thumbs and big toes heavy and thorn-like for defense until the creature has had a chance to learn. Smaller external ears, and the eardrum larger and closer to the outer end of the ear-canal. We’re going to have to reorganize the water-conservation system, I think; the glomerular kidney is perfectly suitable for living in fresh water, but the business of living immersed, inside and out, for a creature with a salty inside means that the osmotic pressure inside is going to be higher than outside, so that the kidneys are going to have to be pumping virtually all the time. Under the circumstances we’d best step up production of urine, and that means the antidiuretic function of the pituitary gland is going to have to be abrogated, for all practical purposes.”
     “What about respiration?”
     “Hm,” Saltonstall said. “I suppose book-lungs (trigger warning: spiders), like some of the arachnids have. They can be supplied by intercostal spiracles. They’re gradually adaptable to atmosphere-breathing, if our colonist ever decides to come out of the water. Just to provide for that possibility. I’d suggest that the nose be retained, maintaining the nasal cavity as a part of the otological system, but cutting off the cavity from the larynx with a membrane of cells that are supplied with oxygen by direct irrigation, rather than by the circulatory system. Such a membrane wouldn’t survive for many generations, once the creature took to living out of the water even for part of its life-time; it’d go through two or three generations as an amphibian, and then one day it’d suddenly find itself breathing through its larynx again.”
     “Also, Dr. Chatvieux, I’d suggest that we have it adopt sporulation. As an aquatic animal, our colonist is going to have an indefinite life-span, but we’ll have to give it a breeding cycle of about six weeks to keep up its numbers during the learning period; so there’ll have to be a definite break of some duration in its active year. Otherwise it’ll hit the population problem before it’s learned enough to cope with it.”
     “And it’d be better if our colonists could winter over inside a good, hard shell,” Eunice Wagner added in agreement.

     “So sporulation’s the obvious answer. Many other microscopic creatures have it.”
     “Microscopic?” Phil said incredulously.
     “Certainly,” Chatvieux said, amused. “We can’t very well crowd a six-foot man into a two-foot puddle. But that raises a question. We’ll have tough competition from the rotifers, and some of them aren’t strictly microscopic; for that matter even some of the protozoa can be seen with the naked eye, just barely, with dark-field illumination. I don’t think your average colonist should run much under 250 microns (0.25 millimeters), Saltonstall. Give them a chance to slug it out.” (in the movie Fantastic Voyage, the crew was miniaturized to the size of 0.4 microns)
     “I was thinking of making them twice that big.”
     “Then they’d be the biggest animals in their environment,” Eunice Wagner pointed out, “and won’t ever develop any skills. Besides, if you make them about rotifer size, it will give them an incentive for pushing out the castle-building rotifers, and occupying the castles themselves, as dwellings.
     Chatvieux nodded. “All right, let’s get started. While the pantropes are being calibrated, the rest of us can put our heads together on leaving a record for these people. We’ll micro-engrave the record on a set of corrosion-proof metal leaves, of a size our colonists can handle conveniently. We can tell them, very simply, what happened, and plant a few suggestions that there’s more to the universe than what they find in their puddles. Some day they may puzzle it out.”

(ed note: The colonists are created by pantropy and seeded in the ponds. The crew dies. In one of the ponds, over several generations, the colonists use cooperation and tactics to eventually rid their pond of the rotifer menace. A colonist name Lavon tries to explore "space" by crawling up a plant stalk which pierces the surface tension. The experience almost kills him because in Air nobody can hear your liquid scream. He recovers by creating an out-of-season spore. Then he talks with the "scientist" Shar.)

     “You have answered me,” Shar said, even more gently than before. “Come, my friend; join me at my table. We will plan our journey to the stars.”…
     Shar XVI had, as a matter of fact, discovered certain rudimentary rules of inquiry which, as he explained it to Lavon, he had recognized as tools of enormous power. He had become more interested in passing these on to future workers than in the seductions of any specific experiment, the journey to the stars perhaps excepted. The Than, Tanol and Stravol of his generation were having scientific method pounded into their heads, a procedure they maintained was sometimes more painful than heaving a thousand rocks.
     That they were the first of Lavon’s people to be taxed with the problem of constructing a spaceship was, therefore, inevitable. The results lay on the table: three models, made of diatom-glass, strands of algae, flexible bits of cellulose, flakes of stonewort, slivers of wood, and organic glues collected from the secretions of a score of different plants and animals.

     Lavon picked up the nearest one, a fragile spherical construction inside which little beads of dark-brown lava—actually bricks of rotifer-spittle painfully chipped free from the wall of an unused castle—moved freely back and forth in a kind of ball-bearing race. “Now whose is this one?” he said, turning the sphere curiously to and fro.
     “That’s mine,” Tanol said. “Frankly, I don’t think it comes anywhere near meeting all the requirements. It’s just the only design I could arrive at that I think we could build with the materials and knowledge we have to hand now.”
     “But how does it work?”
     “Hand it here a moment, Lavon. This bladder you see inside at the center, with the hollow spirogyra straws leading out from it to the skin of the ship, is a buoyancy tank. The idea is that we trap ourselves a big gas-bubble as it rises from the Bottom and install it in the tank. Probably we’ll have to do that piecemeal. Then the ship rises to the sky on the buoyancy of the bubble. The little paddles, here along these two bands on the outside, rotate when the crew—that’s these bricks you hear shaking around inside—walks a treadmill that runs around the inside of the hull; they paddle us over to the edge of the sky. I stole that trick from the way Didin gets about. Then we pull the paddles in—they fold over into slots, like this—and, still by weight-transfer from the inside, we roll ourselves up the slope until we’re out in space. When we hit another world and enter the water again, we let the gas out of the tank gradually through the exhaust tubes represented by these straws, and sink down to a landing at a controlled rate.”
     “Very ingenious,” Shar said thoughtfully. “But I can foresee some difficulties. For one thing, the design lacks stability.”
     “Yes, it does,” Tanol agreed. “And keeping it in motion is going to require a lot of footwork. But if we were to sling a freely-moving weight from the center of gravity of the machine, we could stabilize it at least partly. And the biggest expenditure of energy involved in the whole trip is going to be getting the machine up to the sky in the first place, and with this design that’s taken care of—as a matter of fact, once the bubble’s installed, we’ll have to keep the ship tied down until we’re ready to take off.”
     “How about letting the gas out?” Lavon said. “Will it go out through those little tubes when we want it to? Won’t it just cling to the walls of the tubes instead? The skin between water and gas is pretty difficult to deform—to that I can testify.”
     Tanol frowned. “That I don’t know. Don’t forget that the tubes will be large in the real ship, not just straws as they are in the model.”
     “Bigger than a man’s body?” Than said.
     “No, hardly. Maybe as big through as a man’s head, at the most.”
     “Won’t work,” Than said tersely. “I tried it. You can’t lead a bubble through a pipe that small. As Lavon says, it clings to the inside of the tube and won’t be budged unless you put pressure behind it—lots of pressure. If we build this ship, we’ll just have to abandon it once we hit our new world; we won’t be able to set it down anywhere.”
     “That’s out of the question,” Lavon said at once. “Putting aside for the moment the waste involved, we may have to use the ship again in a hurry. Who knows what the new world will be like? We’re going to have to be able to leave it again if it turns out to be impossible to live in.”

     “Which is your model, Than?” Shar said.
     “This one. With this design, we do the trip the hard way—crawl along the Bottom until it meets the sky, crawl until we hit the next world, and crawl wherever we’re going when we get there. No aquabatics. She’s treadmill-powered, like Tanol’s, but not necessarily man-powered; I’ve been thinking a bit about using motile diatoms. She steers by varying the power on one side or the other. For fine steering we can also hitch a pair of thongs to opposite ends of the rear axle and swivel her that way.”
     Shar looked closely at the tube-shaped model and pushed it experimentally along the table a little way. “I like that,” he said presently. “It sits still when you want it to. With Than’s spherical ship, we’d be at the mercy of any stray current at home or in the new world—and for all I know there may be currents of some sort in space, too, gas currents perhaps.
     Lavon, what do you think?”
     “How would we build it?” Lavon said. “It’s round in cross-section. That’s all very well for a model, but how do you make a really big tube of that shape that won’t fall in on itself?”
     “Look inside, through the front window,” Than said. “You’ll see beams that cross at the center, at right angles to the long axis. They hold the walls braced.”
     “That consumes a lot of space,” Stravol objected. By far the quietest and most introspective of the three assistants, he had not spoken until now since the beginning of the conference. “You’ve got to have free passage back and forth inside the ship. How are we going to keep everything operating if we have to be crawling around beams all the time?”

     “All right, come up with something better,” Than said, shrugging.
     “That’s easy. We bend hoops.”
     “Hoops!” Tanol said. “On that scale? You’d have to soak your wood in mud for a year before it would be flexible enough, and then it wouldn’t have the strength you’d need.”
     “No, you wouldn’t,” Stravol said. “I didn’t build a ship model, I just made drawings, and my ship isn’t as good as Than’s by a long distance. But my design for the ship is also tubular, so I did build a model of a hoop-bending machine—that’s it on the table. You lock one end of your beam down in a heavy vise, like so, leaving the butt striking out on the other side. Then you tie up the other end with a heavy line, around this notch. Then you run your line around a windlass, and five or six men wind up the windlass, like so. That pulls the free end of the beam down until the notch engages with this key-slot, which you’ve pre-cut at the other end. Then you un-lock the vise, and there’s your hoop; for safety you might drive a peg through the joint to keep the thing from springing open unexpectedly.”
     “Wouldn’t the beam you were using break after it had bent a certain distance?” Lavon asked.
     “Stock timber certainly would,” Stravol said. “But for this trick you use green wood, not seasoned. Otherwise you’d have to soften your beam to uselessness, as Tanol says. But live wood will flex enough to make a good, strong, single-unit hoop—or if it doesn’t, Shar, the little rituals with numbers that you’ve been teaching us don’t mean anything after all”
     Shar smiled. “You can easily make a mistake in using numbers,” he said.
     “I checked everything.”
     “I’m sure of it. And I think it’s well worth a trial. Anything else to offer?”
     “Well,” Stravol said, “I’ve got a kind of live ventilating system I think should be useful. Otherwise, as I said, Than’s ship strikes me as the type we should build; my own’s hopelessly cumbersome.”

     “I’ve got a question,” Stravol said quietly.
     “All right, let’s hear it.”
     “Where are we going?”
     There was quite a long silence. Finally Shar said: “Stravol, I can’t answer that yet. I could say that we’re going to the stars, but since we still have no idea what a star is, that answer wouldn’t do you much good. We’re going to make this trip because we’ve found that some of the fantastic things that the history plate says are really so. We know now that the sky can be passed, and that beyond the sky there’s a region where there’s no water to breathe,, the region our ancients called ‘space.’ Both of these ideas always seemed to be against common sense, but nevertheless we’ve found that they’re true.

     Yet despite the bleeding away of the years, the spaceship was still only a hulk. It lay upon a platform built above the tumbled boulders of the sandbar which stretched out from one wall of the world. It was an immense hull of pegged wood, broken by regularly spaced gaps through which the raw beams of its skeleton could be seen.
     For that matter, part of the vehicle’s apparent incompleteness was an illusion. About a third of its fittings were to consist of living creatures, which could not be expected to install themselves in the vessel much before the actual takeoff.

     Lavon turned from the arrangement of speaking-tube megaphones which was his control board and looked at Para.…
     …Lavon shifted to another megaphone. He took a deep breath. Already the water seemed stifling, although the ship hadn’t moved. “Ready with one-quarter power… . One, two, three, go.”
     The whole ship jerked and settled back into place again.
     The raphe diatoms along the under hull settled into their niches, their jelly treads turning against broad endless belts of crude caddis-worm leather. Wooden gears creaked, stepping up the slow power of the creatures, transmitting it to the sixteen axles of the ship’s wheels.…

     …The slapping of the endless belts and the squeaking and groaning of the gears and axles grew louder as the slope steepened. The ship continued to climb, lurching. Around it, squadrons of men and Protos dipped and wheeled, escorting it toward the sky.
     Gradually the sky lowered and pressed down toward the top of the ship.
     “A little more work from your diatoms, Tanol,” Lavon said. “Boulder ahead.” The ship swung ponderously. “All right, slow them up again. Give us a shove from your side, Tolno, that’s too muchthere, that’s it. Back to normal; you’re still turning us I Tanol, give us one burst to line us up again. Good. All right, steady drive on all sides. It shouldn’t be long now.”…
     …The sand bar began to level out and the going became a little easier. Up here, the sky was so close that the lumbering motion of the huge ship disturbed it. Shadows of wavelets ran across the sand. Silently, the thick-barreled bands of blue-green algae drank in the light and converted it to oxygen, writhing in their slow mindless dance just under the long mica skylight which ran along the spine of the ship. In the hold, beneath the latticed corridor and cabin floors, whirring Vortae kept the ship’s water in motion, fueling themselves upon drifting organic particles.…
     …Now the sky was nothing but a thin, resistant skin of water coating the top of the ship. The vessel slowed, and when Lavon called for more power, it began to dig itself in among the sandgrains and boulders.
     “That’s not going to work,” Shar said tensely. “I think we’d better step down the gear-ratio (increase spin force at the expense of spin velocity), Lavon, so you can apply stress more slowly.”
     “All right,” Lavon agreed. “Full stop, everybody. Shar, will you supervise gear-changing, please?”
     Insane brilliance of empty space looked Lavon full in the face just beyond his big mica bull’s-eye.…
     …Surely, he thought, there must be a better way to change gear-ratios than the traditional one, which involved dismantling almost the entire gear-box. Why couldn’t a number of gears of different sizes be carried on the same shaft, not necessarily all in action at once, but awaiting use simply by shoving the axle back and forth longitudinally in its sockets? It would still be clumsy, but it could be worked on orders from the bridge and would not involve shutting down the entire machine—and throwing the new pilot into a blue-green funk.
     Shar came lunging up through the trap and swam himself to a stop. “All set,” he said. “The big reduction gears aren’t taking the strain too well, though.”
     “Yes. I’d go it slow at first.”
     Lavon nodded mutely. Without allowing himself to stop, even for a moment, to consider the consequences of his words, he called: “Half power.”
     The ship hunched itself down again and began to move, very slowly indeed, but more smoothly than before. Overhead, the sky thinned to complete transparency. The great light came blasting in. Behind Lavon there was an uneasy stir. The whiteness grew at the front ports.
     Again the ship slowed, straining against the blinding barrier. Lavon swallowed and called for more power. The ship groaned like something about to die. It was now almost at a standstill.
     “More power,” Lavon ground out.
     Once more, with infinite slowness, the ship began to move. Gently, it tilted upward. Then it lunged forward and every board and beam in it began to squall.
     “Lavon! Lavon!”
     Lavon started sharply at the shout. The voice was coming at him from one of the megaphones, the one marked for the port at the rear of the ship.
     “What is it? Stop your damn yelling.”
     “I can see the top of the sky! From the other side, from the top side! It’s like a big flat sheet of metal. We’re going away from. it. We’re above the sky, Lavon, we’re above the sky!”
     Another violent start swung Lavon around toward the forward port. On the outside of the mica, the water was evaporating with shocking swiftness, taking with it strange distortions and patterns made of rainbows.
     Lavon saw space.

     It was at first like a deserted and cruelly dry version of the Bottom. There were enormous boulders, great cliffs, tumbled, split, riven, jagged rocks going up and away in all directions, as if scattered at random by some giant.
     But it had a sky of its own—a deep blue dome so far away that he could not believe in, let alone estimate, what its distance might be. And in this dome was a ball of reddish-white fire that seared his eyeballs.
     The wilderness of rock was still a long way away from the ship, which now seemed to be resting upon a level, glistening plain. Beneath the surface-shine, the plain seemed to be made of sand, nothing but familiar sand, the same substance which had heaped up to form a bar in Lavon’s universe, the bar along which the ship had climbed. But the glassy, colorful skin over it—
     Suddenly Lavon became conscious of another shout from the megaphone banks. He shook his head savagely and said, “What is it now?”
     “Lavon, this is Tol. What have you gotten us into? The belts are locked. The diatoms can’t move them. They aren’t faking, either; we’ve rapped them hard enough to make them think we were trying to break their shells, but they still can’t give us more power.”
     “Leave them alone,” Lavon snapped. “They can’t fake; they haven’t enough intelligence. If they say they can’t give you more power, they can’t.”
     “Well, then, you get us out of it.”
     Shar came forward to Lavon’s elbow. “We’re on a space-water interface, where the surface tension is very high,” he said softly. “If you order the wheels pulled up now, I think we’ll make better progress for a while on the belly tread.”
     “Good enough,” Lavon said with relief. “Hello below—haul up the wheels.”
     “For a long while,” Shar said, “I couldn’t understand the reference of the history plate to ‘retractable landing gear,’ but it finally occurred to me that the tension along a space-mud interface would hold any large object pretty tightly. That’s why I insisted on our building the ship so that we could lift the wheels.”
     “Evidently the ancients knew their business after all, Shar.”
     Quite a few minutes later—for shifting power to the belly treads involved another setting of the gear box—the ship was crawling along the shore toward the tumbled rock. Anxiously, Lavon scanned the jagged, threatening wall for a break. There was a sort of rivulet off toward the teft which might offer a route, though a dubious one, to the next world. After some thought, Lavon ordered his ship turned toward it.
     “Do you suppose that thing in the sky is a ‘star’?” he asked. “But there were supposed to be lots of them. Only one is up there—and one’s plenty for my taste.”…
     …“Well, if you’re right, it means that all we have to do is crawl along here for a while, until we hit the top of the sky’ of another world,” Lavon said. “Then we dive in. Somehow it seems too simple, after all our preparations.”
     Shar chuckled, but the sound did not suggest that he had discovered anything funny. “Simple? Have you noticed the temperature yet?”
     Lavon had noticed it, just beneath the surface of awareness, but at Shar’s remark he realized that he was gradually being stifled. The oxygen content of the water, luckily, had not dropped, but the temperature suggested the shallows in the last and worst part of autumn. It was like trying to breathe soup.
     “Than, give us more action from the Vortae,” Lavon said. “This is going to be unbearable unless we get more circulation.”
     There was a reply from Than, but it came to Lavon’s ears only as a mumble. It was all he could do now to keep his attention on the business of steering the ship.
     The cut or defile in the scattered razor-edged rocks was a little closer, but there still seemed to be many miles of rough desert to cross. After a while, the ship settled into a steady, painfully slow crawling, with less pitching and jerking than before, but also with less progress. Under it, there was now a sliding, grinding sound, rasping against the hull of the ship itself, as if it were treadmilling over some coarse lubricant the particles of which were each as big as a man’s head (about 30 microns. Smallest grain of sand is 2,000 microns, grain of silt is 62 to 4 microns).
     Finally Shar said, “Lavon, we’ll have to stop again. The sand this far up is dry, and we’re wasting energy using the tread.”
     “Are you sure we can take it?” Lavon asked, gasping for breath. “At least we are moving. If we stop to lower the wheels and change gears again, we’ll boil.”
     “We’ll boil if we don’t,” Shar said calmly. “Some of our algae are dead already and the rest are withering. That’s a pretty good sign that we can’t take much more. I don’t think we’ll make it into the shadows, unless we do change over and put on some speed.”
     There was a gulping sound from one of the mechanics. “We ought to turn back,” he said raggedly. “We were never meant to be outhere in the first place. We were made for the water, not for this hell.”
     “We’ll stop,” Lavon said, “but we’re not turning back. That’s final.”…
     …There was a wooden clashing from below, and then Shar’s voice came tinnily from one of the megaphones. “Lavon, go aheadi The diatoms are dying, too, and then we’ll be without power. Make it as quickly and directly as you can.”…
     …He rasped into the banked megaphones. Once more, the ship began to move, a little faster now, but seemingly still at a crawl. The thirty-two wheels rumbled. It got hotter.
     Steadily, with a perceptible motion, the “star” sank in Lavon’s face. Suddenly a new terror struck him. Suppose it should continue to go down until it Was gone entirely? Blasting though it was now, it was the only source of heat. Would not space become bitter cold on the instant—and the ship an expanding, bursting block of ice?
     The shadows lengthened menacingly, stretching across the desert toward the forward-rolling vessel. There was no talking in the cabin, just the sound of ragged breathing and the creaking of the machinery.
     Then the jagged horizon seemed to rush upon them. Stony teeth cut into the lower rim of the ball of fire, devoured it swiftly. It was gone.
     They were in the lee of the cliffs. Lavon ordered the ship turned to parallel the rock-line; it responded heavily, sluggishly. Far above, the sky deepened steadily, from blue to indigo.
     Shar came silently up through the trap and stood beside Lavon, studying that deepening color and the lengthening of the shadows down the beach toward their own world. He said nothing, but Lavon was sure that the same chilling thought was in his mind.
     Lavon jumped. Shar’s voice had iron in it. “Yes?”
     “We’ll have to keep moving. We must make the next world, wherever it is, very shortly.”
     “How can we dare move when we can’t see where we’re going? Why not sleep it over—if the cold will let us?”
     “It will let us,” Shar said. “It can’t get dangerously cold up here. If it did, the sky—or what we used to think of as the sky—would have frozen over every night, even in summer. But what I’m thinking about is the water. The plants will go to sleep now. In our world that wouldn’t matter; the supply of oxygen there is enough to last through the night. But in this confined space, with so many creatures in it and no supply of fresh water, we will probably smother.”
     Shar seemed hardly to be involved at all, but spoke rather with the voice of implacable physical laws.
     “Furthermore,” he said, staring unseeingly out at the raw landscape, “the diatoms are plants, too. In other words, we must stay on the move for as long as we have oxygen and power—and pray that we make it.”
     “Shar, we had quite a few Protos on board this ship once. And Para there isn’t quite dead yet. If he were, the cabin would be intolerable. “The ship is nearly sterile of bacteria, because all the protos have been eating them as a matter of course and there’s no outside supply of them, either. But still and all there would have been some decay.”
     Shar bent and tested the pellicle of the motionless Para with a probing finger. “You’re right, he’s still alive. What does that prove?”
     “The Vortae are also alive; I can feel the water circulating. Which proves that it wasn’t the heat that hurt Para. It was the light. Remember how badly my skin was affected after I climbed beyond the sky? Undiluted starlight is deadly. We should add that to the information from the plate.”
     “I still don’t get the point.”
     “It’s this: We’ve got three or four Noc down below. They were shielded from the light, and so must be still alive. If we concentrate them in the diatom galleys, the dumb diatoms will think it’s still daylight and will go on working. Or we can concentrate them up along the spine of the ship, and keep the algae putting out oxygen. So the question is: Which do we need more, oxygen or power? Or can we split the difference?”
     Shar actually grinned. “A brilliant piece of thinking. We may make a Shar out of you some day, Lavon. No, I’d say that we can’t split the difference. Noc’s light isn’t intense enough to keep the plants making oxygen; I tried it once, and the oxygen production was too tiny to matter. Evidently the plants use the light for energy. So we’ll have to settle for the diatoms for motive power.”
     Lavon brought the vessel away from the rocky lee of the cliff, out onto the smoother sand. All trace of direct light was now gone, although there was still a soft, general glow on the sky. , “Now then,” Shar said thoughtfully, “I would guess that there’s water over there in the canyon, if we can reach it. I’ll go below again and arrange”
     Lavon gasped.
     “What’s the matter?”
     Silently, Lavon pointed, his heart pounding.
     The entire dome of indigo above them was spangled with tiny, incredibly brilliant lights. There were hundreds of them, and more and more were becoming visible as the darkness deepened. And far away, over the ultimate edge of the rocks, was a dim red globe, crescented with ghostly silver. Near the zenith was another such body, much smaller, and silvered all over…
     Under the two moons of Hydrot, and under the eternal stars, the two-inch wooden spaceship and its microscopic cargo toiled down the slope toward the drying little rivulet.

(ed note: my slide rule says if the colonists are 0.25mm long, and the 2 inch ship is 50.8mm long, then the ship is about 203 man-lengths long. So if you were 1.77 meters tall, the equivalent ship would be 1.77×203 = 359 meters long, a quarter of a mile or a bit more than 3 NFL football fields long.

As a retcon, I personally think a 2 centimeter ship is less outrageous. That would only be 141 meters long, about one and a third NFL football fields.)

     The ship rested on the Bottom of the canyon for the rest of the night. The great square doors were unsealed and thrown open to admit the raw, irradiated, life-giving water from outside—and the wriggling bacteria which were fresh food. No other creatures approached them, either out of curiosity or for hunting, while they slept, although Lavon had posted guards at the doors just in case. Evidently, even up here on the very floor of space, highly organized creatures were quiescent at night.
     But when the first flush of light filtered through the water, trouble threatened.
     First of all, there was the bug-eyed monster. The thing was green and had two snapping claws, either one of which could have broken the ship in two like a spirogyra strand. Its eyes were black and globular, on the ends of short columns, and its long feelers were thicker through than a plant bole. It passed in a kicking fury of motion, however, never noticing the ship at all.
     “Is that—a sample of the kind of life they have here?” Lavon whispered. “Does it all run as big as that?” Nobody answered, for the very good reason that nobody knew.
     After a while, Lavon risked moving the ship forward against the current, which was slow but heavy. Enormous writhing worms whipped past them. One struck the hull a heavy blow, then thrashed on obliviously.
     “They don’t notice us,” Shar said. “We’re too small. Lavon, the ancients warned us of the immensity of space, but even when you see it, it’s impossible to grasp. And all those stars—can they mean what I think they mean? It’s beyond thought, beyond belief!”
     “The Bottom’s sloping,” Lavon said, looking ahead intently.“The walls of the canyon are retreating, and the water’s becoming rather silty. Let the stars wait, Shar; we’re coming toward the entrance of our new world.”

     Now the Bottom was tilting upward again. Lavon had no experience with delta-formation, for no rivulets left his own world, and the phenomenon worried him. But his worries were swept away in wonder as the ship topped the rise and nosed over.
     Ahead, the Bottom sloped away again, indefinitely, into glimmering depths. A proper sky was over them once more, and Lavon could see small rafts of plankton floating placidly beneath it. Almost at once, too, he saw several of the smaller kinds of Protos, a few of which were already approaching the ship—
     Then the girl came darting out of the depths, her features blurred and distorted with distance and terror. At first she did not seem to see the ship at all. She came twisting and turning lithely through the water, obviously hoping only to throw herself over the mound of the delta and into the savage streamlet beyond.
     Lavon was stunned. Not that there were men here—he had hoped for that, had even known somehow that men were everywhere in the universe—but at the girl’s single-minded flight toward suicide. “What—”
     Then a dim buzzing began to grow in his ears, and he understood. “Sharl Than! Stravoll” he bawled. “Break out crossbows and spears! Knock out all the windows!” He lifted a foot and kicked through the port in front of him. Someone thrust a crossbow into his hand.

     “What?” Shar blurted. “What’s the matter? What’s happening?”
     The cry went through the ship like a galvanic shock. The rotifers back in Lavon’s own world were virtually extinct, but everyone knew thoroughly the grim history of the long battle man and Proto had waged against them.
     The girl spotted the ship suddenly and paused, obviously stricken with despair at the sight of this new monster. She drifted with her own momentum, her eyes alternately fixed upon the ship and jerking back over her shoulder, toward where the buzzing snarled louder and louder in the dimness.
     “Don’t stop!” Lavon shouted. “This way, this way! We’re friends! We’ll help!”
     Three great semi-transparent trumpets of smooth flesh bored over the rise, the many thick cilia of their coronas whirring greedily. Dicrans, arrogant in their flexible armor, quarreling thickly among themselves as they moved, with the few blurred, pre-symbolic noises which made up their own language.
     Carefully, Lavon wound the crossbow, brought it to his shoulder, and fired. The bolt sang away through the water. It lost momentum rapidly, and was caught by a stray current which brought it closer to the girl than to the Eater at which Lavon had aimed.
     He bit his lip, lowered the weapon, wound it up again. It did not pay to underestimate the range; he would have to wait.
     Another bolt, cutting through the water from a side port, made him issue orders to cease firing “until,” he added, “you can see their eyespots.”
     The irruption of the rotifers decided the girl. The motionless wooden monster was of course strange to her, but it had not yet menaced her—and she must have known what it would be like to have three Dicrans over her, each trying to grab from the others the largest share. She threw herself towards the bull’s-eye port. The three Eaters screamed with fury and greed and bored in after her.
     She probably would not have made it, had not the dull vision of the lead Dicran made out the wooden shape of the ship at the last instant. The Dicran backed off, buzzing, and the other two sheered away to avoid colliding with her. After that they had another argument, though they could hardly have formulated what it was that they were fighting about; they were incapable of exchanging any thought much more complicated than the equivalent of “Yaah,” “Drop dead,” and “You’re another.”
     While they were still snarling at each other, Lavon pierced the nearest one all the way through with an arbalest bolt. The surviving two were at once involved in a lethal battle over the remains.
     “Than, take a party out and spear me those two Eaters while they’re still fighting,” Lavon ordered. “Don’t forget to destroy their eggs, too. I can see that this world needs a little taming.”

     The girl shot through the port and brought up against the far wall of the cabin, flailing in terror. Lavon tried to approach her, but from somewhere she produced a flake of stonewort chipped to a nasty point. Since she was naked, it was hard to tell where she had been hiding it, but she obviously knew how to use it, and meant to. Lavon retreated and sat down on the stool before his control board, waiting while she took in the cabin, Lavon, Shar, the other pilots, the senescent Para.
     At last she said: “Are—you—the gods—from beyond the sky?”
     “We’re from beyond the sky, all right,” Lavon said. “But we’re not gods. We’re human beings, just like you. Are there many humans here?”
     The girl seemed to assess the situation very rapidly, savage though she was.
     She tucked the knife back into her bright, matted hair—aha, Lavon thought confusedly, there’s a trick I may need to remember—and shook her head.
     “We are few. The Eaters are everywhere. Soon they will have the last of us.”
     Her fatalism was so complete that she actually did not seem to care.
     “And you’ve never cooperated against them? Or asked the Protos to help?”
     “The Protos?” She shrugged. “They are as helpless as we are against the Eaters, most of them. We have no weapons that kill at a distance, like yours. And it’s too late now for such weapons to do any good. We are too few, the Eaters too many.”
     Lavon shook his head emphatically. “You’ve had one weapon that counts, all along. Against it, numbers mean nothing. We’ll show you how we’ve used it. You may be able to use it even better than we did, once you’ve given it a try.”
     The girl shrugged again. “We dreamed of such a weapon, but never found it Are you telling the truth? What is the weapon?”
     “Brains, of course,” Lavon said. “Not just one brain, but a lot of them. Working together. Cooperation.”

From SURFACE TENSION by James Blish (1952)

      “Well, there’s one thing about that last place, Riggs,” Hawley observed, “it had enough of an atmosphere to look a little like Earth.” He swung a leg nonchalantly over the arm of his seat.
     “Yes, sir,” Riggs got out, “but I’ve never seen quite so vicious a cloudburst as the one we landed in.”
     Hawley laughed. “That’s one of the places where a live observer would go mad in three months, right?"

     “You bet,” Riggs replied, drawn into conversation in spite of himself. “Makes you fed kind of queer, do you know it,” he went on, “to go from planet to planet, and never see a sign of intelligent life ? Why, take a look at this system here. At least four of these nine planets could be inhabited, especially if the settlers were willing to do a little selective breeding. They all have oxygen atmospheres, their gravities are close to Earth’s, and temperatures and pressure aren’t impossible at all. You’d think they’d be inhabited.”

     Hawley shook his head. “There’s too much prejudice against it. They’ll have to develop a new race. Those planets won’t be colonized from Earth, but as soon as the few colonies that are in existence now get going, they’ll start colonizing all over the Galaxy. They’ll have a heritage of pioneering behind them, not so much attachment to the place they live in. That’s what’s the matter with Earth. Population groups stagnated for so many thousands of years that the attractions of staying home are too great. You really can’t blame them.”

From SPACE RATING by John Berryman (1939)


Soma means "the parts of an organism other than the reproductive cells." Somaforming is a scifi term meaning to alter a person's body after they are born. Altering a person's body before they are born is more "pantropy" than "somaforming". Usually somaforming can be reversed or changed again, pantropy is permanent.

There are a few older science fiction story about transforming an already-born standard human into something else for purposes of settling an inhospitable world, but nowadays that seems far fetched. In The Impossible World they have the miracle drug "adaptene". In Farthest Star they have teleportation by duplication. But the duplicate can be "edited" e.g., a water breather can be transformed into a air breather. And in Enchanted Village I guess the astronaut can adapt into a life form suitable for the Martian village because the village is, well, enchanted.

Obviously for purposes of settlement, pantropy is superior. Because a somaformed person's children are going to be Terra-normal people, making it real hard to increase the settlement's population. Chances are that a somaformed woman's womb will be a lethal environment to an embryo. And somaforming a person's entire complement of germ cells is a daunting task.

However this technique would come in handy for humans temporarily visiting a hostile environment. Say, for planetary explorers just for the duration of their visit. Or for living in a spaceship in free fall, with all the maladies it inflicts upon the standard human body.

There are other uses in scif for somaforming, besides colonizing inhospitable planets.

In Charles Sheffield's Proteus series, somaforming can be used instead of surgery to medically heal injuries and correct congenital defects. Eyesight can be corrected, lost limbs regenerated, all sorts of diseases can be treated. In fact pretty much anything medical can be cured with somaforming, so doctors and conventional medical practices are illegal.

More controversially, somaforming could also be used for sex reassignment therapy or related matters. From a "technology changing society" standpoint: just imagine how paranoid racist people would become if somaforming could perform changes such as, say, changing the color of one's skin…


(ed note: The protagonist has just woken up from twenty-eight years of space torpor, while the slower-than-light exploration starship crawls to the new solar system at half the speed of light. While she slept, her body was temporarily somaformed to adapt to the target planet.)

     On the chance that our methods have been forgotten or misrepresented — or you simply never learned about them — let’s take a moment to discuss somaforming.

     Say what you will about Homo sapiens, but you can’t argue that we’re a versatile species. On Earth, we can survive a decent swath of both heat and cold. We eat a mind-boggling variety of flora and fauna, and can radically change our diets according to need or mood. We can live in deserts, forests, tundras, swamps, plains, mountains, valleys, shorelines, and everything in between. We are generalists, no question.

     But take us away from our home planet, and our adaptability vanishes. Extended spaceflight is hell on the human body. No longer challenged by gravity, bones and muscles quickly begin to stop spending resources on maintaining mass. The heart gets lazy in pumping blood. The eyeball changes shape, causing vision problems and headaches. Unpleasant as these ailments are, they pale in comparison to the onslaught of radiation that fills the seeming void. In the early decades of human spaceflight, six months in low-Earth orbit — a mere two hundred miles up — was enough to raise your overall cancer risk a few notches. The farther you head into interplanetary space, away from the gentle atmospheric shores of Earth, the worse the exposure becomes.

     Human spaceflight was stalled for decades because of this, crippled by the technological nut that could not be cracked: how do you keep humans alive in space during the length of time it takes to reach other planets? We beat our heads against the drafting table, trying to build tools that could do what our anatomy could not. We wrapped our brains around algorithms, trying to create artificial intelligence that could venture to other worlds for us. But our machines were inadequate, and our software never woke up. We knew there was life on other worlds, yet we couldn’t leave our own front yard. And while probes and space telescopes shed ever more light on our galactic neighbourhood, there’s only so much you can see looking through a peephole. To properly survey a place, you need boots on the ground. You need human intuition. You need eyes that can tell when something that looks like a rock might be more than a rock.

     It ended up being far easier, once the science matured, to engineer our bodies instead.

     We don’t change much — nothing that would make us unrecognisable, nothing that would push us beyond the realm of our humanity, nothing that changes how I think or act or perceive. Only a small number of genetic supplementations are actually possible, and none of them are permanent. You see, an adult human body is comprised of trillions of cells, and if you don’t constantly maintain the careful changes you’ve made to them, they either revert back to their original template as they naturally replace themselves, or mutate malignantly. Hence, the enzyme patch: a synthetic skin-like delivery system that gives our bodies that little bit extra we need to survive on different worlds. If I were to stop wearing patches, my body would eventually flush the supplementations out, and I’d be the same as I was before I became an astronaut (plus the years and the memories).

     Somaforming is an elegant solution, but not an immediate process. If enzyme patches are still used medically, you know this already — if you’re diabetic, for example, and can’t produce insulin on your own. But if you’ve never worn a patch (or if they’re old news by now), you might imagine something more dramatic than is accurate. I once spoke to a kid at an outreach event who was very disappointed to learn that applying a patch does not result in instant transformation (complete with an animation sequence and a theme song, I’d imagine). We astronauts are not superheroes, nor shape-shifters. We’re as human as you. While our bodies are wondrously malleable things, they still need time to adjust. Life-saving organ transplants or helpful medicines can often be met with some level of physiological resistance; the same is true of somaforming. It is more preferable, by far, to be unconscious while your body sorts itself out (unconscious while in space torpor).

     Again, I’m as biased as can be, but I believe somaforming is the most ethical option when it comes to setting foot off Earth. I’m an observer, not a conqueror. I have no interest in changing other worlds to suit me. I choose the lighter touch: changing myself to suit them.

     At first glance upon waking at Aecor, I did not look particularly different. The enzyme patch on my shoulder — regularly swapped out during torpor by a helpful robotic mechanism — had been supplying me with the same sort of basic astronaut survival kit that I’d maintained since my first training mission in low-Earth orbit. My blood produces its own antifreeze to survive the extreme temperatures of both space and ground. My skin passively absorbs radiation and converts it into sustenance. These additions I have had for a long time. But as my weightless body shifted in microgravity, drifting like kelp in a gentle sea, a new supplementation made itself clear.


     I can think of at least one lab tech back home who would frown at me for calling it glitter. Technically, what I possessed was synthetic reflectin, a protein naturally found in the skin of certain species of squid. But … come on. It’s glitter. My skin glittered, and for a moment, I felt childlike glee, like I’d emptied a bunch of craft supplies on myself, like I’d had my face painted at a carnival, like I’d flown here in a cloud of pixie dust. But it was practical, the astroglitter. Aecor is roughly as far from its star as Uranus is from our own, which makes for a sun no bigger than a fingerprint in the sky. Night and day do not look dramatically different. Here, glitter served the same purpose for us that it does for sea-dwelling animals back home: it catches and refracts light. While we would be clothed for the majority of the work day, being able to spot your crewmates’ glittery faces on a pitch-black ice field certainly wouldn’t hurt. We also needed to limit the use of work lights on said pitch-black ice fields, because light means heat, and we didn’t want to cause melt. And indoors, reflectin means less energy spent on indoor lighting, which is great when on a world where solar panels are useless and everything runs on battery.

     Besides which: I glittered. It felt like a damn shame to put my clothes on, but I managed it all the same.

From TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE by Becky Chambers (2019)

(ed note: In Sheffield's Proteus novels he postulates a breakthrough technology called Purposive Form Change. It is an advanced form of biofeedback that allows a person to program a form-change tank with the desired change, get in, and let the tank guide them in making drastic changes to their bodies. Congenital defects and injuries can be fixed, lost limbs re-grown, eyesight corrected, hormonal imbalances remedied. Doctors are obsolete.

But more to the point the person can also drastically alter their appearance, capabilities, and even their biochemistries.

In other words it is a kind of somaforming that can adapt a given person to live on another planet, instead of only being able to adapt a person's offspring.

Obviously organizations with a vested interest in terraforming will have a problem with this.)

(ed note: Trudy has Bey on Mars, showing him the asteroid-fall. This is part of the terraforming of Mars.)

      "Other way." Trudy placed gloved hands on his shoulder and spun him around, just in time to see one to the south. A ball of fire came flaming across the southern sky from west to east. It vanished from sight in twenty seconds. One minute later a brighter flash of crimson light lit the south-eastern horizon. The sky in that direction already glowed with incandescent streaks and plumes.
     "Now the other." She had Bey's arm and was turning him again, this time toward the north. "Get ready for the quakes, they come every few minutes."
     A second fireball ripped the northern sky, again traveling from west to east. Before it could pass out of sight the shock of an earlier impact was arriving. A surface wave came rippling in from the south and shifted the ground beneath Bey's feet in a double up-and-down that had him swaying and sent die rubble-strewn desert into new patterns of cracks and small fissures.
     Bey hardly followed the trajectory of the second object. The ground beneath your feet was not supposed to move like that. He felt much less safe.
     "That was a big one." Trudy still had her hand on his arm, steadying him. "Close to maximum size, at a guess."
     Which meant it was about a hundred meters in diameter; a rough-edged chunk of water ice, dirtied throughout with smears of ammonia ice, silicate rock and metallic ore, had smashed into the surface and vaporized on impact.
     "What's the energy release?" Bey felt a second, smaller ripple of movement.
     "About a thousand megatons, for one that size."

     Like a really big volcanic explosion back on Earth. Bey was watching events that were equal in energy to several Krakatoa eruptions — except that these were happening every few minutes rather than every few decades. It was the hail-storm of the Gods, with hailstones the size of Melford Castle hitting the ground at forty kilometers a second; and mortal humans, not gods, were responsible for it.
     The chunks of ice had been on their way for a long time. Even with a strong initial boost the journey in from the middle of the Oort Cloud, a quarter of a light-year out, took a comet fragment at least thirty years. And even with the most precise direction by the Cloudlanders during the first phase of the trajectory, a fragment's fusion motor usually needed a small corrective burn as it came closer to Mars. The specification was a tight one: tangential impact along a due west-to-east line of travel, striking between latitudes twenty and twenty-five degrees north or south of the equator. The thin atmosphere of Mars ablated a little from the bolide, but most of it would make it all the way to the surface and strike at over forty kilometers a second.
     Space-based lasers in orbit high above Mars watched for correction rocket malfunction. At the first sign of a guidance problem the fragment would be disintegrated in space, long before it could become a danger to dwellers on the planet.

     The rain of comets had begun a century ago and continued ever since. It was slow work. Even with a hundred years of added volatiles from orbit and the help of bespoke ground-based organisms to split oxygen from iron oxide, it took a Martian eye to see much difference in the planet's atmosphere. The water vapor was up to only a thirtieth that of Earth, the oxygen content one fortieth.
     The contribution of the comet fragments to changing the Martian day was even harder to appreciate. Arriving tangentially at forty-two kilometers a second, every one made an addition to the planets angular momentum. Mars was gradually being spun up like a gigantic top, whipped by in falling chunks of frozen volatiles; but a century of impacts had shortened the period by less than a second. If anyone hoped to see a time when the Mars day of twenty-four hours and thirty-nine minutes was reduced to exactly equal that of Earth, they would have to be prepared to live a long, long time.

(ed note: Bey has been taken to meet the Old Mars Policy Council. They are devoted to the terraforming of Mars.)

     The glass doors swung open, to reveal a lobby beyond, escalators, and a bank of elevators. Fermiel went in, but he remained right by the entrance. A great cube of grey stone stood there, as tall as a human. He pointed to one face of it, where a plate of hardened transparent plastic had been set into the rock.
     "The original." Rafael Fermiel tried to sound casual, but the reverence showed through. "There have been millions of copies, but this is the original."
     Bey stepped closer. Behind the impermeable plastic sheet stood an oblong piece of yellowed paper. He could see the printing and the couple of dozen signatures scrawled at the bottom, but the words were almost too faded to make out.
     "Be it known by all who follow … " he read aloud.

     And then he knew. "The Declaration! I thought it was lost — a century ago."
     "It was. It was buried when the Ladnier Cavern collapsed. We found it last year during a secondary excavation. Are you amazed now, Behrooz Wolf?"
     "More than amazed. I am overwhelmed." Bey leaned close. Of the original Mars colony, three men and three women had died during the first few days. The remaining twenty-four signatories were all here, immortalized by far more than a crumbling piece of paper a century and a half old. Their names were engraved on the memory of every child born on Mars.

     (The leader of the Council said) Let us get right down to business. That" — he pointed to the engraving on the far wall — "was not placed in this room by accident. The Declaration guides and motivates all the council's work. We begin and end each of our meetings with its words. I now ask that we do so again, familiar as it may already be to most of us." Be it known by all who follow …
     The Mars Declaration was indeed familiar to Bey, and to the whole solar system — as a unique historical document. But no one else, in Bey's experience, treated the words with anything like the reverence accorded them here.
Be it known by all who follow that Mars is now a home for humans. We, the surviving crew of the exploration ship Terra Nova, pledge never to leave this world. We will not obey any order to return to Earth, no matter how or by whom delivered. We will venture no more into space. We will remain here to live, to labor, and to die.

Since we will not survive to see the end of our work, we give our dream to those who come after. This we believe:

That Mars, before our arrival, was barren of life.

That Mars will never after this be without the life forms of Earth.

That Mars is destined to be one day fertile and blooming, as a second Earth.

That human children will breathe the air of this New Earth, and sit at ease beside its flowing rivers…

     Its flowing rivers. Bey was sure that the crew of the Terra Nova had known nothing of the deep caves of Mars, had never imagined a Mars Underworld of simulated Earths like the ones that he had just seen.
     Their vision had been of the surface. Its flowing rivers. Bey saw again in his mind's eye the old, dried-out watercourses and jagged, rusty rocks, the desolate wilderness beneath a thin, dry atmosphere and a diminished sun. But on that frigid red desert, without life-support equipment, stood a handful of long-legged bipeds. How did Mars appear to them, the new forms that Trudy Melford had shown him?
     Bey tried to make the mental shift of viewpoint, to look on Mars through other eyes. He was still struggling when he became aware that everyone else at the long table was sitting patiently waiting. And he was less than a third of the way through reading the text of the Declaration.

     "We know what you must be thinking, Mr. Wolf." Rafael Fermiel spoke softly and sympathetically. "You have seen our work, creating the ecosystems for New Earth within Mars. On your last trip you visited the surface, and saw our progress in the Mars conversion process. Day-to-day changes are too small to notice, but the atmosphere constantly thickens and every year holds a little more water vapor. Had you gone farther north, you would have seen temporary pools of surface water near the cometary fragment impact points. The goals of the Declaration are being realized. Full terraforming will one day be completed. But there are complications."
     "The new surface forms?" (form-changed humans adapted to live in the current Martian surface conditions covertly created by an unknown organization) Bey had made no promise of secrecy to Trudy Melford.
     "Exactly. Not so much their existence and present numbers as their implications. There are powerful groups on Mars who insist that the new forms point the direction of the future. 'It is far easier to change humans,' they tell us, 'than planets. Why not do as the Cloudlanders and Colonies do, and adapt form to setting?' We know and reject those arguments. We also believe that the most powerful voice in those dissenting groups is the newest one, and the one with most to gain from the use of form-change."

(ed note: Bey is talking to Georgia Kruskals, the creator and leader of the form-changed Martian surface forms)

     (Bey said) "One more question, then it will be your turn. You say you are known and hated in Old Mars. Why?"
     "You can answer that for yourself, Behrooz Wolf, if you think for a second."
     "I think I know, but I want to confirm it. Old Mars is afraid of you. They see you as interfering with their plans."
     "Interfering, and worse." The broad mouth widened. It was a smile, toothless and tongueless. Bey guessed that both those features lay far back, out of sight within the long snout. "Isn't it obvious that Old Mars sees us as a major enemy? The policy council is committed to terraforming Mars, making it into a world in Earth's image. They take the Mars Declaration and they misunderstand it. The first colonists wanted Mars to be a world where humans can live. The policy council read that statement, and think terraform. But our existence proves that more change is unnecessary. If the comets ceased to arrive and Mars remained as it is today, humans can be quite at home on its surface. We prove that fact daily. Our version of the Mars Declaration would recognize a simple truth: It is easier to change a human than to change a planet."

(ed note: The Greater Earth Port Authority liked terraforming and hated pantropy because it got in the way of their profits. The Old Mars Policy Council has different reasons, but they too favor terraforming and feel threatened by form-change.)

(ed note: Bey is talking to Robert Capman, an old friend who has form-changed into a Logian. As such he is hyper-intelligent and very long-lived. Bey discovers that the Logians are bankrolling the Old Mars Policy Council's Mars terraforming operation. But why?)

     (Bey said) "So it seemed to me that the means were there. The thing missing was motive. Logians can't survive on either Mars or Earth. Why would they choose to help Old Mars in its efforts to terraform the planet?
     "I couldn't answer that question. But it suggested another idea: If the Logians were favoring the Mars terraforming efforts, that action opposed Georgia Kruskals desire to keep the surface just the way that it is. She can live there without a suit, in today's conditions — provided that she has continuing access to form-change equipment. And that led me to one more thought: the people of every inhabited world in the system make use of form-change, but usually they do not depend on it. Everywhere, on every major body from Europa to Cloudland, the natural environment of each world is being changed so that humans can live there in their original form, without dependence on form-change. People in Cloudland choose to adopt a different shape, but that's for convenience, not necessity. I have been to Cloudland, just as I am, and managed very well. But I couldn't survive on the surface of Mars for five minutes. Unless it is terraformed, any human living there will depend on the use of form-change every day, just to remain alive."
     Bey paused, as though he had arrived at some profound and significant conclusion. Sondra, listening closely, could not begin to guess what it might be. And yet watching the body language of Bey Wolf and Robert Capman, it was clear to her that a crucial moment had been reached. The style of their interaction had changed. Bey was leaning forward expectantly, while Capman was nodding slowly in a gesture not at all like the bobbing motion of the Logian smile.

     And when he finally spoke, it sounded like a total change of subject. "Behrooz Wolf." The deep voice was slow and sad. "You have known me for many, many years. How would you describe my work, and its relationship to the science of purposive form-change?"
     If the question surprised Bey, he did not show it. He replied at once. "You have contributed more than anyone in the whole field since the original work of Ergan Melford, two hundred and fifty years ago. Until you adopted the Logian form and moved to Saturn, your whole life's work revolved around the theory and practice of purposive form-change."
     "Very well. And your work?"
     "I won't try to estimate the value of what I've done. Someone else should make that assessment. But I can honestly say that for more than half a century I have worked constantly on form-change problems; and nothing else in my life has been as important to me as that effort."
     "We seem to be in total agreement. We have each devoted most of our lives to the same single end: the advancement of purposive form-change techniques. We have each — despite your modesty — made deep and far-reaching contributions to the subject, more than any other living persons." Capman's massive head lifted, and he stared straight at Bey. "So you, Behrooz Wolf, will find it as disturbing as I did, when I realized that purposive form-change, in widespread, necessary, and universal use, poses a great and terrible threat to the future of humanity. Does that answer your question?"

     The gasp came from Sondra, not from Bey. He sat totally silent and still as Old Mars Policy Council continued: "I should add that my interest in form-change work and its effects did not cease when I assumed the Logian form. We Logians are not human in appearance, and we sometimes appear to have superhuman powers; but in our concerns we remain all human. And we operate with a very long time-frame."
     "You say it's a threat." Bey spoke in a low voice and his face had become paler than usual. "I don't see why. Form-change has done more good for more people than any other discovery in history. I'm not talking about trivial nonsense like cosmetic change, I mean the important things like birth defect correction and medical treatment and healthy old age."
     "All hugely important, and all hugely valuable. But not the whole story." Capman swung to face Sondra.

     "Miss Dearborn, you visited the Fugate Colony. Do you think you could mate with a Fugate?"
     "Never." Sondra recalled the lumbering seventy-foot tall figures. "I mean, I didn't actually see their sex organs, but if they're anything like in proportion … Anyway, they were repulsive. I wouldn't want to mate with one of them, even if I could."
     "Which is perhaps of far greater practical importance." Capman turned back to Bey. "You have heard the modern dictum, echoed throughout the solar system: Easier to change people than planets. With today's form-change methods that is certainly true. As Georgia Kruskal is demonstrating, forms can be created that thrive in extreme natural environments. But the idea of matching people to settings neglects a profound problem. The celestial bodies of the solar system display an amazing diversity, in atmosphere, gravity, composition, temperature, and size. If humans seek to adapt to each situation, the inhabitants of each world will diverge from every other.
     "The long-term effect of such a divergence has been known since the time of Darwin and Wallace. It is termed speciation. Today, humans constitute a single species. At some time in the far future there could be many; different in size and form and function, fragmented in purpose, unable and unwilling to interbreed. And all thanks to the use of purposive form-change. If such a future is to be avoided, currently accepted thinking must change. It must become: Better to change planets than people. Terraform Mars and Europa, as is happening today. Terraform Venus, terraform Titan, terraform Oberon, terraform Triton, terraform the worldlets of the Kuiper Belt and Cloudland. Modify environments. And by doing so, allow humanity to continue as a single species."

From PROTEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD by Charles Sheffield (1995)

      Four men, two by two, had gone into the howling maelstrom that was Jupiter and had not returned. They had walked into the keening gale-or rather, they had loped, bellies low against the ground, wet sides gleaming in the rain.
     For they did not go in the shape of men.
     Now the fifth man stood before the desk of Kent Fowler, head of Dome No. 3, Jovian Survey Commission.
     Under Fowler's desk, old Toswer scratched a flea, then settled down to sleep again.
     Harold Allen, Fowler saw with a sudden pang, was young—too young. He had the easy confidence of youth, the face of one who never had known fear. And that was strange. For men in the domes of Jupiter did know fear—fear and humility. It was hard for Man to reconcile his puny self with the mighty forces of the monstrous planet.
     "You understand," said Fowler, "that you need not do this. You understand that you need not go."
     It was formula, of course. The other four had been told the same thing, but they had gone. This fifth one, Fowler knew, would go as well. But suddenly he felt a dull hope stir within him that Allen wouldn't go.
     "When do I start?" asked Allen.
     There had been a time when Fowler might have taken quiet pride in that answer, but not now. He frowned briefly. "Within the hour," he said.
     Allen stood waiting, quietly.
     "Four other men have gone out and have not returned," said Fowler. "You know that, of course. We want you to return. We don't want you going off on any heroic rescue expedition. The main thing, the only thing, is that you come back, that you prove man can live in a Jovian form. Go to the first survey stake, no farther, then come back. Don't take any chances. Don't investigate anything. Just come back."
     Allen nodded. "I understand all that."
     "Miss Stanley will operate the converter," Fowler went on. "You need have no fear on that particular score. The other men were converted without mishap. They left the converter in apparently perfect condition. You will be in thoroughly competent hands. Miss Stanley is the best qualified conversion operator in the Solar System. She has had experience on most of the other planets. That is why she's here."
     Allen grinned at the woman and Fowler saw something flicker across Miss Stanley's face—something that might have been pity, or rage—or just plain fear. But it was gone again and she was smiling back at the youth who stood before the desk. Smiling in that prim, school-teacherish way she had of smiling, almost as if she hated herself for doing it.
     "I shall be looking forward," said Allen, "to my conversion."
     And the way he said it, he made it all a joke, a vast, ironic joke.
     But it was no joke.
     It was serious business, deadly serious. Upon these tests, Fowler knew, depended the fate of men on Jupiter. If the tests succeeded, the resources of the giant planet would be thrown open. Man would take over Jupiter as he already had taken over the other smaller planets. And if they failed— If they failed, Man would continue to be chained and hampered by the terrific pressure, the greater force of gravity, the weird chemistry of the planet. He would continue to be shut within the domes, unable to set actual foot upon the planet, unable to see it with direct, unaided vision, forced to rely upon the awkward tractors and the televisor, forced to work with clumsy tools and mechanisms or through the medium of robots that themselves were clumsy.
     For Man, unprotected and in his natural form, would be blotted out by Jupiter's terrific pressure of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch, pressure that made terrestrial sea bottoms seem a vacuum by comparison.
     Even the strongest metal Earthmen could devise couldn't exist under pressure such as that, under the pressure and the alkaline rains that forever swept the planet. It grew brittle and flaky, crumbling like clay, or it ran away in little streams and puddles of ammonia salts. Only by stepping up the toughness and strength of that metal, by increasing its electronic tension, could it be made to withstand the weight of thousands of miles of swirling, choking gases that made up the atmosphere. And even when that was done, everything had to be coated with tough quartz to keep away the rain—the liquid ammonia that fell as bitter rain.
     Fowler sat listening to the engines in the sub-floor of the dome-engines that ran on endlessly, the dome never quiet of them. They had to run and keep on running, for if they stopped, the power flowing into the metal walls of the dome would stop, the electronic tension would ease up and that would be the end of everything.
     Towser roused himself under Fowler's desk and scratched another flea, his leg thumping hard against the floor.
     "Is there anything else?" asked Allen.

     "You're going to keep on sentencing them to death," she said. "You're going to keep marching them out face to face with Jupiter. You're going to sit in here safe and comfortable and send them out to die."
     "There is no room for sentimentality, Miss Stanley," Fowler said, trying to keep the note of anger from his voice. "You know as well as I do why we're doing this. You realize that Man in his own form simply cannot cope with Jupiter. The only answer is to turn men into the sort of things that can cope with it. We've done it on the other planets.
     "If a few men die, but we finally succeed, the price is small. Through the ages men have thrown away their lives on foolish things, for foolish reasons. Why should we hesitate, then, at a little death in a thing as great as this?"
     She was the top-notch conversion unit operator in the Solar System and she didn't like the way he was doing things.
     "Miss Stanley," he said and his voice was curt, "young Allen is going out soon. Please be sure that your machine—"
     "My machine," she told him, icily, "is not to blame. It operates along the co-ordinates the biologists set up."
     He sat hunched at his desk, listening to her footsteps go down the corridor. What she said was true, of course. The biologists had set up the co-ordinates. But the biologists could be wrong. Just a hair-breadth of difference, one iota of digression and the converter would be sending out something that wasn't the thing they meant to send. A mutant that might crack up, go haywire, come unstuck under some condition or stress of circumstance wholly unsuspected.
     For Man didn't know much about what was going on outside. Only what his instruments told him was going on. And the samplings of those happenings furnished by those instruments and mechanisms had been no more than samplings, for Jupiter was unbelievably large and the domes were very few.
     Even the work of the biologists in getting the data on the Lopers, apparently the highest form of Jovian life, had involved more than three years of intensive study and after that two years of checking to make sure. Work that could have been done on Earth in a week or two. But work that, in this case, couldn't be done on Earth at all, for one couldn't take a Jovian life form to Earth. The pressure here on Jupiter couldn't be duplicated outside of Jupiter and at Earth pressure and temperature the Lopers would simply have disappeared in a puff of gas. Yet it was work that had to be done if Man ever hoped to go about Jupiter in the life form of the Lopers.
     For before the converter could change a man to another life form, every detailed physical characteristic of that life form must be known—surely and positively, with no chance of mistake. When a man was put into the converter and the switch was thrown, the man became a Loper. He left the machine and moved away, out of sight, into the soupy atmosphere.

     Allen did not come back.

     Some danger they did not know about? Something that lay in wait and gobbled up the Lopers, making no distinction between Lopers that were bona fide and Lopers that were men? To the gobblers, of course, it would make no difference.
     Or had there been a basic fault in selecting the Lopers as the type of life best fitted for existence on the surface of the planet? The evident intelligence of the Lopers, he knew, had been one factor in that determination. For if the thing Man became did not have capacity for intelligence, Man could not for long retain his own intelligence in such a guise.

(ed note: as it turns out, there was no threat to the explorers who were turned into Lopers. There was, however, a threat to the human race)

From DESERTION by Clifford Simak (1944)

      “That rat didn’t die." Andra walked around the holostage. Before her, projected down from the geodesic dome, shone the planet’s image: Iota Pavonis Three, the first new world approved for settlement in over four centuries. As Andra walked around, the swirl of a mysterious continent peered out through a swathe of cloud. She stopped, leaning forward on her elbows to watch. What name of its own would the Free Fold Federation ultimately bestow on IP3, Andra wondered; such a lovely. terrifying world.

     “Not the last time, the rat didn’t." The eyespeaker was perched on her shoulder. It belonged to Skyhook, the sentient shuttle craft that would soon carry Andra from the study station down to land on the new world. A reasonable arrangement: The shuttle craft would carry the human xenobiologist through space for her field work. then she would carry his eye on the planet surface, as she did inside the station. “The rat only died down there the first eight times.”

     “Until we got its ‘skin’ right.” The “skin” was a suit of nanoplast, containing billions of microscopic computers, designed to filter out all the local toxins—arsenic, lanthanides, bizarre pseudoalkaloids. All were found in local flora and fauna; inhaling them would kill a human within hours. In the old days, planets had been terraformed for human life, like Andra’s own home world Valedon. Today they would call that ecocide. Instead, millions of humans would be life-shaped to live here on planet IP3, farming and building—the thought of it made her blood race.

     “We got the skin right for the rat,” Skyhook’s eyespeaker pointed out. “But you’re not exactly a rat.”

     From across the holostage, an amorphous blob of nanoplast raised a pseudopod. “Not exactly a rat,” came a voice from the nanoplast. It was the voice of Pelt, the skinsuit that would protect Andra on the alien planet surface. “Not exactly a rat—just about nine-tenths, I’d say. Your cell physiology is practically the same as a rat; why, you could even take organ grafts. Only a few developmental genes make the difference.”

     Andra smiled. “Thank the Spirit for a few genes. Life would be so much less interesting.”

From MICROBE by Joan Slonczewski (1995)

(ed note: again, something like Adaptene is more handwavium than it is unobtainium)

The builders of the New York World's Fair of 1939 had called it the "World of Tomorrow." They would have been utterly amazed, however. to see what reared on those some grounds a century later.

To the eye, it was simply a group of giant windowless buildings: the conditioning chambers of ETBI—Extra-Terra Bio-Institute. But within them, in sealed cubicles. were a hundred varieties of temperature, pressure, lighting, and the other strange conditions of extra-terrestrial environments. It was a large-scale biological project that had meant much in Earth colonization of the planets.

One building was devoted solely to Martian conditioning. Men and women emerged from there with bodies whose metabolism was suited perfectly to Martian environment, with its utterly dry, wispy air, freezing climate, and light gravity. They were taken to Mars in specially conditioned space ships, a steady stream of them.

Mars had been the first to be colonized. Already the resident population of Earth people on the Red Planet was over five million. A dozen industries thrived there. Beautiful ceramics from Martian clay were much in demand on Earth. And the exquisitely fine cloths from Martian spider webs.

Another building conditioned colonists to withstand the torrid dampness of Venus, ten times as trying to humans as the hottest jungles of Africa or South America. These people reaped tremendous harvests of the Cloudy Planet's boundless fertility. Crops ripened in a short month in the hot, steamy plains that stretched endlessly under veiled skies. Imported grains from Earth grew in riotous abundance. More than half of Earth's staple food supplies came from the rich farms of Venus.

All this would have been impossible to normal, unconditioned Earth people. They would have had to labor in sealed suits against adverse environment, with all the insurmountable handicaps of such methods. But with people whose metabolism had been altered to fit the new conditions, they lived and breathed as freely as though born on those planets.

But how had human metabolism. the stabilized result of millions of years of evolution on Earth, been changed? In the final analysis, it all centered about the use of one remarkable product of biological science, developed twenty-five years before.

It was called, for the press and public, just “adaptene," but only the most trusted officials of the Institute knew what it was by formula. By its very nature, it had to be shrouded in secrecy and kept from the hands of unscrupulous individuals. The Earth Union Government controlled exclusively the manufacture and use of adaptene.

Adaptene was the parent substance of all hormones in the living body. It controlled all metabolism, and therefore all the body processes to the last one.

Most remarkable of the applications of this near-miraculous substance had been the conquest of Jupiter's inimical environment. It so seemed impossible at first. At Jupiter's surface was a crushing gravity, almost three times that of Earth, that made human bones and muscles crack in a few hours.

A moisture-choked heat, from the Titanic layers of pressing gases, promised constantly parched throats and slowly boiling skin. Worst of all, the atmosphere itself was laden with gases besides oxygen, never meant for earthly lungs—methane, ammonia, and even traces of searing bromine that exuded from volcanic sources and gave the whole atmosphere its brownish tinge.

The natural life-forms of Jupiter's wild environment were adapted by millions of years of evolution. How could Earthmen, nurtured in a gentler climate, meet that terrible challenge?

It was tried. A series of conditioning rooms had been prepared, with successively greater air pressure, heat and foreign gases. In a way, it was like the Twentieth Century compression chambers, which had been used to prepare divers for the great pressures under the sea. Three Earthmen, given strong doses of adaptene, had gone from chamber to chamber. Leaden suits were prepared for them and weight added day by day. Their metabolism had faithfully undergone the necessary changes!

At the end of three months, they had reached the final conditioning room, which practically duplicated Jupiter's conditions. Their skins had become tough and heat-resisting. Their lungs filtered out methane, ammonia and bromine automatically, retaining only the necessary oxygen. Their muscles, motivated by superactive adrenalin, easily supported five hundred pounds of weight without tiring. All this through the magic touch of adaptene, working in its mysterious way throughout every cell and vein.

The men had been sent to Jupiter. One of them succumbed to the continued harshness of life there, but the other two survived. With this proof of success, other men were bio-conditioned, and soon a settlement was founded and work begun to extract the chemical riches of Jupiter's soil.

Now, in 2050 A.D., bio-conditioned Earthmen were to be found on ten different worlds of the Solar System—Mercury, Venus. Mars, Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Saturn and Titan. Adaptene had burst the former bonds of the narrow range of condition under which the human body could survive.

It did not matter whether the atmosphere was thin or thick, whether life-supporting oxygen was scarce or overabundant, whether frigid cold or suffocating heat existed, whether the force of gravity was weak or bruisingly powerful—adaptene made metabolic corrections for all variations.

They were still humans, these made-over colonists on other worlds. Science had changed their bodies some-what, but not their minds. They lived and loved and worked in alien surroundings with as much of the measure of well being and happiness as came to Earth-living humans. Their children were easily bio-conditioned from birth onward by adaptene. It was only the start, but colonization was rapidly gaining momentum toward a great empire in which Earth people lived on all the worlds of the Solar System—by the virtue of adaptene.

ETBI, where the bio-conditioning was carried on, was a separate branch of the Earth Union Government, along with the Space Navy, Interplanetary Exploration and Planetary Survey Bureaus. The exploitation of space was a highly organized process.

First the ships of the exploration service mapped and explored, on any new world. Then the Planetary Survey experts tabulated all raw resources, mineral and otherwise. The Space Navy stepped in next, to establish outposts and fueling stations. Finally ETBI sent its tailored, permanent colonists to dig in and develop the planet. And a new world had been added to man’s growing roster!

From THE IMPOSSIBLE WORLD by Otto Binder (1939)

      Daptine is the secret of it. Adaptine, they called it first; then it got shortened to daptine. It let us adapt.

     Man, he said, had first reached Mars in 1985. It had been uninhabited by intelligent life (there is plenty of plant life and a few varieties of non-flying insects) and he had found it by terrestrial standards uninhabitable. Man could survive on Mars only by living inside glassite domes and wearing space suits when he went outside of them. Except by day in the warmer seasons it was too cold for him. The air was too thin for him to breathe and long exposure to sunlight—less filtered of rays harmful to him than on Earth because of the lesser atmosphere—could kill him. The plants were chemically alien to him and he could not eat them; he had to bring all his food from Earth or grow it in hydroponic tanks.
     For fifty years he had tried to colonize Mars and all his efforts had failed. Besides this dome which had been built for us there was only one other outpost, another glassite dome much smaller and less than a mile away.
     It had looked as though mankind could never spread to the other planets of the solar system besides Earth for of all of them Mars was the least inhospitable; if he couldn’t live here there was no use even trying to colonize the others.
     And then, in 2034, thirty years ago, a brilliant biochemist named Waymoth had discovered daptine. A miracle drug that worked not on the animal or person to whom it was given, but on the progeny he conceived during a limited period of time after inoculation.
     It gave his progeny almost limitless adaptability to changing conditions, provided the changes were made gradually.
     Dr. Waymoth had inoculated and then mated a pair of guinea pigs; they had borne a litter of five and by placing each member of the litter under different and gradually changing conditions, he had obtained amazing results. When they attained maturity one of those guinea pigs was living comfortably at a temperature of forty below zero Fahrenheit, another was quite happy at a hundred and fifty above. A third was thriving on a diet that would have been deadly poison for an ordinary animal and a fourth was contented under a constant X-ray bombardment that would have killed one of its parents within minutes.
     Subsequent experiments with many litters showed that animals who had been adapted to similar conditions bred true and their progeny was conditioned from birth to live under those conditions.
     “Ten years later, ten years ago,” the Head Teacher told us, “you children were born. Born of parents carefully selected from those who volunteered for the experiment. And from birth you have been brought up under carefully controlled and gradually changing conditions.
     “From the time you were born the air you have breathed has been very gradually thinned and its oxygen content reduced. Your lungs have compensated by becoming much greater in capacity, which is why your chests are so much larger than those of your teachers and attendants; when you are fully mature and are breathing air like that of Mars, the difference will be even greater.
     “Your bodies are growing fur to enable you to stand the increasing cold. You are comfortable now under conditions which would kill ordinary people quickly. Since you were four years old your nurses and teachers have had to wear special protection to survive conditions that seem normal to you.
     “In another ten years, at maturity, you will be completely acclimated to Mars. Its air will be your air; its food plants your food. Its extremes of temperature will be easy for you to endure and its median temperatures pleasant to you. Already, because of the five years we spent in space under gradually decreased gravitational pull, the gravity of Mars seems normal to you.
     “It will be your planet, to live on and to populate. You are the children of Earth but you are the first Martians.”

     Tomorrow is the day of our freedom. Tomorrow we will be Martians, the Martians. Tomorrow we shall take over the planet.
     Some among us are impatient, have been impatient for weeks now, but wiser counsel prevailed and we are waiting. We have waited twenty years and we can wait until the final day.
     And tomorrow is the final day.
     Tomorrow, at a signal, we will kill the teachers and the other Earthmen among us before we go forth. They do not suspect, so it will be easy.
     We have dissimulated for years now, and they do not know how we hate them. They do not know how disgusting and hideous we find them, with their ugly misshapen bodies, so narrow-shouldered and tiny-chested, their weak sibilant voices that need amplification to carry in our Martian air, and above all their white pasty hairless skins.
     We shall kill them and then we shall go and smash the other dome so all the Earthmen there will die too.
     If more Earthmen ever come to punish us, we can live and hide in the hills where they’ll never find us. And if they try to build more domes here we’ll smash them. We want no more to do with Earth.
     This is our planet and we want no aliens. Keep off!

From KEEP OUT by Fredric Brown (1954)

Boom Town

A "gold" strike in an asteroid belt, a large industrial operation, or the establishment of a military base in a remote location may create a "boomtown". The sudden appearance of large numbers of asteroid miners or enlisted people is an economic opportunity for entrepreneurs to sell them whiskey, prostitutes, gambling, tattoo parlors, and other hard to find luxuries at inflated prices.

Not to mention simple supplies and tools, also at inflated prices. Remember, in the California Gold Rush of 1849, it was not the miners who grew rich, instead it was the merchants who sold supplies to the miners.

Civilian entrepreneurs may find it expedient to connect their ramshackle spacecraft together to make impromptu space stations or to stabilize part of the ground to make an impromptu landing field. For an amusing look at the development and economy of a boomtown watch the movie Paint Your Wagon. Then simply transpose the situation from the North American frontier into the asteroid belt.

But remember that boomtowns can wither away into ghost towns overnight, if mineral strike dries up or the military base is closed. This is called a "bust".


A boomtown is a community that undergoes sudden and rapid population and economic growth, or that is started from scratch. The growth is normally attributed to the nearby discovery of a precious resource such as gold, silver, or oil, although the term can also be applied to communities growing very rapidly for different reasons, such as a proximity to a major metropolitan area, huge construction project, or attractive climate.

First boomtowns

Early boomtowns, such as Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester, experienced a dramatic surge in population and economic activity during the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 19th century. In pre-industrial England these towns had been relative backwaters, compared to the more important market towns of Bristol, Norwich, and York, but they soon became major urban and industrial centres. Although these boomtowns did not directly owe their sudden growth to the discovery of a local natural resource, the factories were set up there to take advantage of the excellent Midlands infrastructure and the availability of large seams of cheap coal for fuel.

In the mid-19th century, boomtowns based on natural resources began to proliferate as companies and individuals discovered new mining prospects across the world. The California Gold Rush of the Western United States stimulated numerous boomtowns in that period, as settlements seemed to spring up overnight in the river valleys, mountains, and deserts around what was thought to be valuable gold mining country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, boomtowns called mill towns would quickly arise due to sudden expansions in the timber industry; they tended to last the decade or so it took to clearcut nearby forests. Modern-day examples of resource-generated boomtowns include Fort McMurray in Canada, as extraction of nearby oilsands requires a vast number of workers, and Johannesburg in South Africa, based on the gold and diamond trade.


Boomtowns are typically characterized as "overnight expansions" in both population and money, as people stream into the community for mining prospects, high-paying jobs, attractive amenities or climate, or other opportunities. Typically, newcomers are drawn by high salaries or the prospect of "striking it rich" in mining; meanwhile, numerous indirect businesses develop to cater to workers often eager to spend their large paychecks. Often, boomtowns are the site of both economic prosperity and social disruption, as the local culture and infrastructure, if any, struggles to accommodate the waves of new residents. General problems associated with this fast growth can include: doctor shortages, inadequate medical and/or educational facilities, housing shortages, sewage disposal problems, and a lack of recreational activities for new residents.

The University of Denver separates problems associated with a mining-specific boomtown into three categories:

  1. deteriorating quality of life, as growth in basic industry outruns the local service sector’s ability to provide housing, health services, schooling, and retail
  2. declining industrial productivity in mining because of labor turnover, labor shortages, and declining productivity
  3. an underserving by the local service sector in goods and services because capital investment in this sector does not build up adequately

The initial increasing population in Perth, Australia (considered to be a modern-day boomtown) gave rise to overcrowding of residential accommodation as well as squatter populations. "The real future of Perth is not in Perth’s hands but in Melbourne and London where Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton run their organizations", indicating that some boomtowns’ growth and sustainability are controlled by an outside entity.

Boomtowns are typically extremely dependent on the single activity or resource that is causing the boom (e.g., one or more nearby mines, mills, or resorts), and when the resources are depleted or the resource economy undergoes a "bust" (e.g., catastrophic resource price collapse), boomtowns can often decrease in size as fast as they initially grew. Sometimes, all or nearly the entire population can desert the town, resulting in a ghost town.

This can also take place on a planned basis. Since the late 20th century, mining companies have developed temporary communities to service a mine-site, building all the accommodation shops and services, using prefabricated housing or other buildings, making dormitories out of shipping containers, and removed all such structures as the resource was worked out.

From the Wikipedia entry for BOOMTOWN

(ed note: the Boom attractor is an asteroid strike)

Mr. Blue:

Some station societies would form in a very organic fashion.

Let's say there's a big rush to mine (X) in the asteroid belt and a lot of independent prospectors head out to strike it rich.

Bill figures he can make a fortune selling space suits, mining tools and the like, so he loads up a freighter and sets up shop. Sally also had the idea of setting up a hydroponic farm/ yeast vat/ and restaurant, and also headed that way. As it's a pain for a miner to make two different stops, Bill and Sally decide to dock their freighters (man, there is no way to say that without sounding dirty) and maybe even set up an extra hab for a hotel...

Pretty soon, as word gets round, other enterprising individuals begin to connect. Bits and pieces are added — an empty fuel tanker as a bar, a repair yard, or even an official buyer for (X) — sure, he doesn't pay as much, but it's a lot better that flying it to Mars yourself. And other services begin to set up shop.

Then, Billstown becomes an interplanetary destination in it's own right. After all, where else on the 'Belt can one get their ship fixed, pick up some spare hands, have a good meal and a drink, and, um, visit the Seamstresses (hem hem).

Of course, once the mining runs out (or whatever else), the boomtown becomes a ghost town. Any spaceworthy ships will be flown off, everything else may be left behind, or salvaged.

But, if the location is good enough, this random jumble of habs, freighters, and other items can become something better...

(ed note: in Terry Pratchett's marvelous Discworld series of satirical fantasy novels, the "Seamstresses" was a euphemism for the local brothel)

From comments to Transport Nexus

(ed note: the Boom attractor is a strategic location at the crossroads between four star systems)

Ms. Thomas leaned over to look around the end of her console in Mr. Pall's direction. She cast me a look and gave her head a little shake, before refocusing her attention on the plot. After a few ticks of fiddling, she grunted. "Hmmph. I really hate to say this, Captain, but it looks like someplace that might be called High Tortuga."
I got out of the chair and went to look over her shoulder. It looked like a collection of ships, cans, and assorted other metal arranged in a haphazard pattern. As we watched, one small blip split out from the mass and began accelerating away.
"Any idea what that is, Ms. Thomas?"
"Yes, Captain. I believe that's Odin's Outpost. It's grown a bit since I saw it last."
I leaned in to look at the display. At our range there wasn't a lot of resolution but it was enough to see what looked a lot like a freight marshaling yard when viewed from a hundred-thousand kilometers out. "What pray tell is an Odin's Outpost, Ms. Thomas?"
"It's kind of a way station, Skipper. It's not really much of anything. Officially, it's not there. It's been so long since I jumped out here, I'd practically forgotten it. We skimmed by it on some of the doubles we did back on the Hector. We got close enough to give it a good scan on short range, but I've never been close enough to get a direct look."
"Looks like a collection of cans and some small ships, Ms. Thomas."
"I think there's a ship at the heart of it, Captain. The story on the Hector was that this guy, Odin, jumped in and his burleson drives went out on him. He couldn't jump back. He flew around out here for awhile and the next ship through rendered assistance, so he was able to get out eventually. The story goes that when it was over, he took it into his head to come back out and set up this way station. Started as a shipload of food, fuel, and spare parts." She nodded at the screen. "It's more now."
"He just sits out here in the Deep Dark, Ms. Thomas?"
She shrugged. "It appears so. Skipper, but he's really near the crossroads between the Breakall-to-Dree run and the course from Welliver-to-Jett. Those four systems are almost on the same plane so if you've jumped clean, you'll go through this relatively small volume of space no matter which direction or which pair you're jumping to."

"Having the only bar in a billion klicks must be handy for Odin," I said.
She snickered. "Yes, sar. That it is. He's been out here something like thirty stanyers. Nobody's quite sure how he's making a go of it, but apparently enough ships come through that need spare parts or forgot the toothpaste to make it worth his while."
"Blackmarket, Ms. Thomas?"
"I don't know. Captain. With plenty of time, the right incentives, and a twisted mind, anything is possible."

We saw two in the short time it took to slide past Odin's Outpost, not including the smaller craft that seemed to be coming and going from the Outpost itself.
"What do you suppose they're doing, Mr. Hill?"
"Mr. Pall thinks they're pirates, Skipper."
"What do you think, Mr. Hill?"
"They look like fast packets. Skipper. I'd bet on casino junkets."
"Why casinos, Mr. Hill? Gambling's legal in all of the systems around here."
"Yes, Skipper but not in Grail or Fischer. Those are both in range of a fast packet."
"Yes, but why jump way out here?"
He shrugged. "Exotic destination for people with disposable income. I bet there's a lot of people who are in it for the adventure. They run these junkets on the quiet, even out of Diurnia. And I'd bet he has a pleasure dome in there, too, fully stocked with hot and cold running pleasures. All untaxed and unregulated by the Confederated Planets Joint Committee on Everything."
"And plenty of room to dispose of the bodies, eh, Mr. Hill?"
"Can't be too many or the authorities would begin to notice, but who's to say. Skipper."
"The ultimate free port, eh, Mr. Hill?"
"So it would seem, Captain, but free is a matter of opinion."
"Interesting observation, Mr. Hill."
He shrugged. "Some see fences as keeping dangers out. Other see the same fences keeping them in."


(ed note: the Boom attractor is a strategic location in the neutral zone between two star empires)

      I need a team. I can’t dive a ship the size of a Dignity Vessel alone even if I want to. First of all, it won’t be safe. Second, I would spend the rest of my life mapping the damn thing. And third, no one would believe me if I decide that my information is right.

     I take the Business (her starship) to Longbow Station. Longbow sits at the very edges of Empire Space. When the Colonnade Wars began, Longbow belonged to the group the Empire now calls the rebels. Some maps place Longbow in the Nine Planets Alliance; others place it in the Enterran Empire.
     Both the Empire and the Alliance long ago learned to leave Longbow alone. Longbow is such an important trading hub that both sides decided it was better—and safer—to let the station be just a little bit lawless, and to govern itself, than it was to attempt to take over the place.
     As a result, a lot of people with iffy allegiances live on Longbow. You quickly learn that it’s better not to ask people’s politics or their past history.

(ed note: in other words, it should be named "Casablanca")

     Longbow started as a docking berth five hundred years ago. You can still see the original station, tucked inside one of the modular units that was new a hundred years before.
     Over time, Longbow became a major hub. Instead of replacing sections, the owners simply built onto the existing parts. So the station looks like a child’s toy, held together by spit and static. Depending on how you approach it, you can’t even see where the ships dock.
     The station looks like a creature with a thousand tentacles and no center core.
     But there is a center core. It’s buried underneath all the rebuilding. Very few people make it to that core. Only longtime spacers even know where the core is, which is fortunate, since the old spacers’ bar on Longbow doesn’t let tourists and first-timers through the door.

     The old spacers’ bar is the only bar on Longbow that doesn’t have a name. No name, no advertising across the door or the back wall, no cute little logos on the magnetized drinking cups. The door is recessed into a grungy wall that looks like it’s temporary due to construction.
     To get in, you need one of two special chips. The first is handheld—given by the station’s manager after careful consideration. The second is built into your ID. You get that one only if you’re a legitimate spacer, operating or working for a business that requires a pilot’s license.
     I have had the second chip since I was eighteen years old.
     And I know that the people I will find in that bar will be as experienced as I am. As experienced, as space-worn, and as skeptical.
     They’ll also be on break or looking for work.
     In essence, any divers I see inside will be exactly what I need.

From DIVING INTO THE WRECK by Kristine Rusch (2009)

      Despite the best efforts of the Kaper Tourism Bureau and their informational videos on all the exciting things to do on its wind-scoured glaciers, the system’s two marginally habitable planets didn’t have much to recommend them to anyone who wasn’t an extremophile biologist. It was dirty, dull, and dangerous.

     It was, however, a mining boomtown. A lithium discovery had sent three different mining consortiums into a flurry of construction that had attracted the usual round of transient laborers chasing jobs that were as dangerous and temporary as they were well paying. Chasing them came the customary retinue of gambling dens, drug dealers, drinking halls, and damsels of discretion from across the galaxy to profit off the good fortunes of the laborers.

     Kaper Station was a Wild West frontier town orbiting an ice cube at thirty thousand kilometers an hour, and in another five or ten cycles, it would be a ghost, left to slowly decay until it spiraled into its parent planet in a final fireball that would cleanse the universe of all the impropriety, vice, and debauchery that had taken place here.

     But that was the future. In the now, business was booming.

From STARSHIP REPO by Patrick Tomlinson (2019)

Top down= navy bases and scientific research facilities. These are built for a specific purpose, and generally have little economic rational behind them, although military bases may develop garrison towns and eventually grow into larger settlements (especially when the military rational passes). If the military reason for the base fades away without any compelling economic rational to replace it, it is usually abandoned (think of Hadrian's Wall, the Maginot line or old ICBM silos).

Bottom up= trading ports, crossroads, tollgates and locks, marketplaces. They start small but their economic usefulness attracts more people and more activity, in a positive feedback loop leading to towns and cities (i.e., Boomtowns).

Thucydides in a comment

Refugee Camp

A Boom Town is a site that (temporarily) fills up with people who are attracted to something wonderful at the site. A refugee area is a site that fills up with people who are running away from something awful.

Asylum seekers and refugee are running away from people who are killing them. They are sometimes placed in sites called Refugee camps.

Hobos are running away from their poverty. They would travel by stowing away on railroad freight trains. Sites near train junctions are called hobo jungles. Their they wait for the next train, or use as a place to stay while they obtain money or food by performing odd jobs.

If the housing is made of flimsy temporary materials the site can be called a Tent City. Formal tent cities are constructed by the authorities, informal tent cities are made by the refugees. Keep in mind that the failure of a flimsy temporary tent is an annoyance, while the failure of a flimsy temporary space habitat can kill large numbers of refugees.

A town created out of scavenged materials is a Shanty town. These can be constructed as such from the start, or be the result of a formal or informal tent city that has existed for too long. These too can kill many people if the jury-rigged life support system fails.

An example of an official refugee camp is The Dipple in Andre Norton's CATSEYE.

An example of a Hobo Jungle is the Okie Jungle in James Blish's SARGASSO OF LOST CITIES. The spacegoing cities of CITIES IN FLIGHT gather in the sargasso for reasons that have less to do with physics and more with economics. The antigravity Okie cities are sort of the migrant laborers of the galaxy. The stellar currency is based on germanium, some idiot figure out how to synthesize it and inadvertenly obliterated the economy of the entire galaxy. Since everybody is now broke, the flying cities cluster in what is basically an interstellar hobo jungle.

Of particular interest to science fiction writers is the combination of refugee camp and spacecraft. Presented for your approval is the refugee camp / shanty town / hobo jungle that formed in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic coldcocked the entire cruise industry. Now, imagine this happening in a science fiction future with spacecraft instead of ocean liners.

Something vaguely similar to the cruise ship shanty towns can be found in the scifi movie Titan A. E.

Evil aliens destroy Terra. The pathetically few survivors flee in starships that have to be frantically jury-rigged to be generational ships.

Later some starships rendezvous in the less desirable regions of the galaxy, where there are no alien empires with notions about finders-keepers. They welded themselves together into ramshackle makeshift space stations called "drifter colonies." The welding was done with a total disregard for OSHA compliance, so the drifter colonies tend to resemble an explosion in a junkyard.

Here humanity ekes out a pitiful existence, at the bottom of the galactic status hierarchy. They become the homeless refugees of the galaxy, living as laborers for various alien empires or huddled in the slums of the drifter colonies.


      Tikil was really three cities loosely bound together, two properly recognized on the maps of Korwar's northern continent, the third a sore—rather than a scar—of war, still unhealed. To the north and west Tikil was an exotic bloom on a planet that had harbored wealth almost from the year of its first settlement. To the east, fronting on the spaceport, was the part of Tikil in which lay the warehouses, shops, and establishments of the thousands of businesses necessary for the smooth running of a pleasure city, this exotic bloom where three-quarters of the elite of a galactic sector gathered to indulge their whims and play.

     To the south was the Dipple, a collection of utilitarian, stark, unattractive housing. To live there was a badge of inferiority. A man from the Dipple had three choices for a cloudy future. He could try to exist without subcitizenship and a work permit, haunting the Casual Labor Center to compete with too many of his fellows for the very limited crumbs of employment; he could somehow raise the stiff entrance fee and buy his way into the strictly illegal but flourishing and perilous Thieves' Guild; or he could sign on as contract labor and be shipped off world in deep freeze with no beforehand knowledge of his destination or work.

     The War of the Two Sectors had been fought to a stalemate five years ago. Afterwards, the two leading powers had shared out the spoils—"spheres of influence." Several major and once richer planets had to be written off entirely, since worlds reduced to cinders on which no human being dared land were not attractive property. But a fringe of frontier worlds had passed into the grasp of one or the other of the major powers—the Confederation or the Council. As a result, the citizens of several small nations suddenly found themselves homeless.

     At the outbreak of the war ten years earlier, there had been forced evacuations from such frontier worlds; pioneers had been removed from their lands so that military outposts and masked solar batteries could be placed in their stead. In this fashion, the Dipple had been set up on Korwar, far back from the fighting line. During the first fervor of patriotism the Dipple dwellers met with good will. But later, when their home worlds were ruined or traded away across the conference tables, there was resentment, and on some planets there were organized moves to get rid of these rootless inhabitants…

From CATSEYE by Andre Norton (1961)

There was a spacer, a slim, scoured shape, pointing nose to sky, the heat of its braking fire making a steam mist about it. But this was no vision — it was real! A spacer had set down by the village!

Charis faced around toward the ship and waved vigorously, looking for the insignia which would make it Patrol or Scout.

There was none! It took a moment for that fact to make a conscious impression on her mind. Charis had been so sure that the proper markings would be there that she had almost deceived herself into believing that she sighted them. But the spacer bore no device at all. Her arm dropped to her side suddenly as she saw the ship as it really was.

This was not the clean-lined, well-kept spacer of any government service. The sides were space-dust cut, the general proportions somewhere between scout and freighter, with its condition decidedly less than carefully tended. It must be a Free Trader of the second class, maybe even a tramp — one of those plying a none-too-clean trade on the frontier worlds. And the chances were very poor that the commander or crew of such would be lawfully engaged here or would care at all about what happened to the representatives of government they were already aligned against in practice. Charis could hope for no help from such as these.

Charis had known some Free Traders. In fact, among that class of explorer-adventurer-merchant her father had had some good friends, men who carried with them a strong desire for knowledge, who had added immeasurably to the information concerning unknown worlds. But those were the aristocrats of their calling. There were others who were scavengers, pirates on occasion, raiders who took instead of bargained when the native traders of an alien race were too weak to stand against superior off-world weapons.

"It is simple, my friend." The trader's insolent tone to Tolskegg must have cut the colonist raw, yet he took it because he must. "You need labor. Your fields are not going to plow, plant, and reap themselves. All right, in freeze I have labor — good hands all of them. I had my pick; not one can't pull his weight, I promise you. There was a flare on Gonwall's sun, they had to evacuate to Sallam, and Sallam couldn't absorb the excess population. So we were allowed to recruit in the refugee camp. My cargo's prime males — sturdy, young, and all under indefinite contracts. The only trouble is, friend, what do you have to offer in return?"

So that was it! Charis drew a deep breath and knew there was no use in appealing to this captain. If he had shipped desperate men on indefinite labor contracts, he was no better than a slaver, even though there was a small shadow of legality to his business.

From ORDEAL IN OTHERWHERE by Andre Norton (1964)

      2199: Rigelians encounter the small star empire of the Andaloni. War breaks out immediately. For the first time, the Rigelians have encountered a race with spacegoing technology.

     2200: Rigelian possession of the strikefighter gives them a great advantage, and Admiral Tohu Fommu conquers the Andolani colony planet of Corell. Risking the wrath of the priests, he crowds the surviving colonists aboard captured freighters and sends them to Ardell, the next colony system. The priesthood denounces his actions as a failure of homtet (extreme xenophobic pathological intolerance of all non-Rigelians). For his failure, he is reduced to Tarwix hukozh (racial ostracism).

     2201: Ardell, swamped with refugees, suffers an organizational collapse and is easily captured. Fommu's successor, realizing what has happened, immediately transports the surviving Andaloni colonists to the next world. The collapse of the Andolani Empire snowballs. Success of this ploy leads the priesthood to accept that new conditions require more imaginative interpretations of homtet and that Fommu did, in fact, act correctly. But Fommu refuses rehabilitation, declaring that the permanence of ostracism must remain inviolate. He lives the rest of his life in solitary dignity and comes to be regarded as the greatest Rigelian since Ozho Fwari the Great.

     2203: Rigelian-Andaloni War finally ends with extermination of the Andaloni.

From TIMELINE: MODERN RIGELIAN HISTORY Nexus #12 vol. 2 no. 12, Task Force Games (1985)

      Hazleton walked over to the shaft and peered down. Then he said, “Boss, that damn thing is a good-conduct ribbon. The Earth cops issued them by the tens of thousands about three centuries ago to any rookie who could get up out of bed when the whistle blew three days running. Since when is it worth five hundred Oc?”
     “Never, until now,” Amalfi said tranquilly. “But the lieutenant wanted to be bribed, and it’s always wise to appear to be buying something when you’re bribing someone. I put the price so high because he’ll have to split it with his men. If I hadn’t offered the bribe, I’m sure he’d have wanted to look at our Violations docket.”
     “I figured that; and ours is none too clean, as I’ve been pointing out. But I think you wasted the money, Amalfi. The Violations docket should have been the first thing he asked to see, not the last. Since he didn’t ask for it at the beginning, he wasn’t interested in it.”
     “That’s probably exactly so,” Amalfi admitted. He put the cigar back and pulled on it thoughtfully. “All right, Mark, what’s the pitch? Suppose you tell me.”
     “I don’t know yet. I can’t square the maintenance of an alert guard, so many parsecs out from the actual Acolyte area, with that slob’s obvious indifference to whether or not we might be on the shady side of the law—or even be bindlestiff. Hell, he didn’t even ask who we were.”
     “That rules out the possibility that the Acolytes have been alerted against some one bindlestiff city.”
     “It does,” Hazleton agreed. “Lerner was far too easily bribed, for that matter. Patrols that are really looking for something specific don’t bribe, even in a fairly corrupt culture. It doesn’t figure.”
     “And somehow,” Amalfi said, pushing a toggle to off, “I don’t think the City Fathers are going to be a bit of help. I had the whole conversation up to now piped down to them, but all I’m going to get out of them is a bawling out for spending money, and a catechism about my supposed hobby. They never have been able to make anything out of voice tone. Damn! We’re missing something important, Mark, something that would be obvious once it hit us. Something absolutely crucial. And here we are plunging on toward the Acolytes without the faintest idea of what it is!”

     “Boss,” Hazleton said.
     The cold flatness of his voice brought Amalfi swiveling around in his chair in a hurry. The city manager was looking up again at the big screen, on which the Acolyte stars had now clearly separated into individual points. “What is it, Mark?”
     “Look there—in the mostly dark area on the far side of the cluster. Do you see it?”
     “I see quite a lot of star-free space there, yes.” Amalfi looked closer. There’s also a spectroscopic double, with a red dwarf standing out some distance from the other components—”
     “You’re warm. Now look at the red dwarf.”
     There was also, Amalfi began to see, a faint smudge of green there, about as big as the far end of a pencil. The screen was keyed to show Okie cities in green, but no city could possibly be that big. The green smudge covered an area that would blank out an average Sol-type solar system.
     Amalfi felt his big square front teeth beginning to bite his cigar in two. He took the dead object out of his mouth.
     “Cities,” he muttered. He spat, but the bitterness in his mouth did not seem to be tobacco juice after all. “Not one city. Hundreds.”
     “Yes,” Hazleton said. “There’s your answer, boss, or part of it. It’s a jungle.
     “An Okie jungle.”

     Amalfi gave the jungle a wide berth, but he had O’Brian send proxies (remote control spy drone ships) as soon as the city was safely down below top speed. Had he released the missiles earlier, they would have been left behind and lost, for they were only slightly faster than the city itself. Now they showed a fantastic and gloomy picture.
     The empty area where the hobo cities had settled was well out at the edge of the Acolyte cluster, on the side toward the rest of the galaxy. The nearest star to the area, as Hazleton had pointed out, was a triple. It consisted of two type Go stars and a red dwarf, almost a double for the Sol-Alpha Centauri system. But there was one difference: the two Go stars were quite close to each other, constituting a spectroscopic doublet, separable visually only by the Dinwiddie circuits even at this relatively short distance; while the red dwarf had swung out into the empty area, and was now more than four light years away from its companions.
     Around this tiny and virtually heatless fire, more than three hundred Okie cities huddled. On the screen they passed in an endless, boundaryless flood of green specks, like a river of fantastic asteroids, bobbing in space and passing and repassing each other in their orbits around the dwarf star. The concentration was heaviest near the central sun, which was so penurious of its slight radiation that it had been masked almost completely by the Dinwiddie code lights (they turn down the brightness to keep the monitor from being whited out) when Hazleton first spotted the jungle. But there were late comers in orbits as far out as three billion miles—spindizzy screens do not take kindly to being thrust into close contact with each other.
     “It’s frightening,” Dee said, studying the screen intently. “I knew there were other Okie cities, especially after we hit the bindlestiff. But so many I could hardly have imagined three hundred in the whole galaxy.”
     “A gross underestimate,” Hazleton said indulgently. “There were about eighteen thousand cities at the last census, weren’t there, boss?”
     “Yes,” Amalfi said. He was as unable to look away from the screen as Dee. “But I know what Dee means. It scares the hell out of me, Mark. Something must have caused an almost complete collapse of the economy around this part of the galaxy. No other force could create a jungle of that kind. These bastardly Acolytes evidently have been exploiting it to draw Okies here, in order to hire the few they need on a competitive basis.”
     “At the lowest possible wages, in other words,” Hazleton said. “But what for?”
     “There you have me. Possibly they’re trying to industrialize the whole cluster, to make themselves self-sufficient before the depression or whatever it is hits them. About all we can be sure of at this juncture is that we’d better get out of here the moment the new spindizzy gets put in. There’ll be no decent work here.”
     “I’m not sure I agree,” Hazleton said, redeploying his lanky, apparently universal-jointed limbs over his chair. “If they’re industrializing here, it could mean that the depression is here, not anywhere else. Possibly they’ve overproduced themselves into a money shortage, especially if their distribution setup is as creaking, elaborate, and unjust as it usually is in these backwaters. If they’re using a badly deflated dollar, well be sitting pretty.”
     Amalfi considered it. It seemed to hold up.
     “We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “You could well be right. But one cluster, even at its most booming stage, could never have hoped to support three hundred cities. The waste of technology involved would be terrific—and you don’t attract Okies to a money-short area, you draw them from one.”
     “Not necessarily. Suppose there’s an oversupply outside? Remember back in the Nationalist Era on Earth, artists and such low-income people used to leave the big Hamiltonian state, I’ve forgotten its name, to live in much smaller states where the currency was softer?”
     “That was different. They had mixed coinage then—”
     “Boys, may I break in on this bull session?” Dee said hesitantly, but with a trace of mockery in her voice. “It’s getting a little over my head. Suppose this whole end of this star-limb has had its economy wrecked. How, I’ll leave to you two; on Utopia, our economy was frozen at a fixed rate of turnover, and had been for as long as any of us could remember; so maybe I can be forgiven for not understanding what you’re talking about. But in any case, inflation or deflation, we can always leave when we have our new spin-dizzy.”
     Amalfi shook his head heavily. “That,” he said, “is what scares me, Dee. There are a hell of a lot of Okies in that jungle, and they can’t all be suffering from defects in their driving equipment. If there were someplace they could go where times are better, why haven’t they gone there? Why do they congregate in a jungle in this Godforsaken star cluster, for all the universe as if there were no place else where they could find work? Okies aren’t sedentary, or sociable, either.”

(ed note: as previously mentioned, what happened is the currency and economic system of the entire galaxy has collapsed.)

From SARGASSO OF LOST CITIES by James Blish (1953)

With the cruise industry on life support, fleets have put to sea for an indefinite stay with many of their crewmen trapped on board.

Of all the industries that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry has probably been hit the hardest. Not only are their operations shut down, but they became the face of a global nightmare early on, with hulking pleasure ships being turned into floating prisons rife with infection. Now, according to satellite imagery and transponder tracking data, with no revenue and nowhere to go, cruise ships are seeking refuge in clusters out in the Caribbean and Atlantic, attempting to ride out a storm that they were never designed to handle. 

Storing cruise ships in port is not a cheap proposition, nor is there enough space to accommodate them in traditional berths. Beyond that, the international crews that man these huge vessels are not allowed to step on land due to infection risk. With the vast majority of these ships flagged in relatively small and poor countries that have little capability to impact the situation, the only place for them to go is out to sea. And that's precisely where many of them have been. 

One armada, in particular, off Coco Cay and Great Stirrup Cay—the former is owned by the Royal Caribbean cruise line and the latter is owned by the Norwegian cruise line—in the Bahamas is remarkably large. 

The sad flock of cruise ships is spread out loosely in three groups spanning some 30 miles—from one just off the islands, to another roughly ten miles west, to another some 30 miles west. Keep in mind that it seems these groups are in constant flux, with the formation and general makeup of the ships in each group changing fairly regularly. 

The westernmost group is made up of Carnival cruise ships. The two other groups are mainly made up of Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruise liners—Royal Caribbean owns Celebrity.

When we looked over a broader area, we noticed that there are multiple other little huddles of cruise ships that can be found throughout the Caribbean. More are anchored just off major embarkation points along the Florida coastline and elsewhere, as well. Overseas there are similar huddles of ships that spot the map.

Although there are no passengers aboard these ships, some of which cost well over a billion dollars to build, there are plenty of people still on board. Much of their crews are literally trapped on these vessels. As the world cut back travel due to COVID-19's explosive spread around the globe and cruise ships became very unwanted guests at long-established ports of call, cruise line workers were trapped at their floating workplaces far from home. 

Many of the countries they hail from are not wealthy enough to repatriate them even if they could, so for now, they are stuck in a hellish paradise of sorts on gargantuan pleasure boats that have been banished to the sea—barely moving islands onto themselves. Meanwhile, they too have loved ones to worry about back home, but have no way of impacting their situations directly.

CNN writes what it is like for crewmen trapped on the vacant luxury liners:

Isolated, denied the swift repatriations offered to passengers and, in some cases, made to endure tough conditions without pay, some of those sequestered at sea have been describing the bureaucratic tangle that has trapped them, often within meters of shore.

"I'm hoping we don't get forgotten about, to be honest," says MaShawn Morton, who works for Princess Cruises. "It seems like nobody cares what's happening to us out here."

As of May 5, there were over 57,000 crew members still aboard 74 cruise ships in and around US ports and the Bahamas and the Caribbean, according to the US Coast Guard. Many more hundreds were stuck on vessels elsewhere across the world's oceans.

With no passengers to look after and their quarantines completed, the employees are left wondering why they haven't been allowed home.


American Alex Adkins, a senior stage technician on Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship, has been waiting at sea since mid-March when the vessel's guests were offloaded in Miami. "Since then, we've had no guests and we've just been floating off the coast of Barbados," he says. 

For the first week, the crew took advantage of the Freedom of the Seas' pool and the gym, enjoying facilities empty of guests. Then, they went into a mandatory two-week self-isolation, says Adkins.

Adkins tells CNN that crew members have since been told that they're no longer considered working employees and they were paid out through the end of April.

CNN's report does note that some repatriation efforts are beginning to take shape, but that exactly how they will play out for all the crewmen on board these ships remains unclear. The reality is, these big vessels need a sizeable crew onboard to exist, especially without a port to dock in. 

On March 13th, due to the quickly unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry shut down all operations. This was at first supposed to be a 30-day measure, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. subsequently issued a do not sail order that could last for months to come. As a result, the future of the industry is very much in doubt. 

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and others say they will start operating again this summer, while Norwegian now says the entire industry might not survive, at least in the form it once was. It isn't clear how restarting cruise operations would be possible with the virus still widely circulating. These ships become huge liabilities during an outbreak and end up being geopolitical footballs that nobody really wants to touch. There is also the factor of direct legal liability for operators that are embarking passengers that could potentially die from a disease that has proven to be very hard if not impossible to contain aboard once it rears its ugly head. 

So, as you can see, the viability of the cruise industry and the massive ships—big moneymakers during the best of times, but huge money pits when cruisers are not on board—is far from certain. It is hard to imagine what would happen to all of these ships, some of which are modern marvels, if they simply had no demand for their services on the horizon. Few industries exist where such huge capital outlays can turn into equally large liabilities under these highly unique circumstances. Whereas air travel and hotels, both industries that are in great jeopardy, still serve a necessary service during a pandemic and during the economic recovery that hopefully follows, these decadent and hulking ships serve no purpose other than entertainment.

So, unless the COVID-19 situation takes a miraculous turn for the better, it's hard to imagine a set of circumstances where throngs of cruise ships aren't left out to sea. 


(ed note: Drifter Colonies are good examples of welded balls of dead starships)

      She’d been four when her family had left Earth (when the Drej Empire destroyed Earth), and had a few memory holos of that first trip into space. One was very clear, a man pointing at a control panel, the shiny plastic of the panel glinting in the dim shiplights, and the faint smell of hot electronics.
     There was something about it that had stuck with her. Something good about controls.
     Controls could take her places.
     She’d begun training as soon as she was old enough, but that wasn’t possible. It hadn’t been easy just surviving.

     Her family had been split up in the mass exodus from Earth, those who made it at all, and her grandmother alone had supported her when they reached the drifter colonies.
     The Earther ships had run as far as they could from the devastating Drej. Other aliens, who had befriended Humanity, who had been so helpful when there were enough resources to be had, grudgingly granted leases to minor moons or asteroids in a variety of systems—at a price, of course.
     The ships that had run were joined into huge orbiting colonies over these rocks. Huge orbiting colonies with little or sometimes no future.
     Naturally, the aliens had given the Humans the very worst of their real estate; what minerals and resources the drifters managed to scrounge went straight into maintaining the colonies. Making a profit had to come from somewhere else. Like most places with few resources, a variety of options had been tested.
     Some of the colonies tried gambling. Others, like Houston, worked to develop a labor pool that could be hired. Nobody was much impressed with Humans, but if they could do the job, and do it cheaper, they’d get hired.

     Cale walked with Akima through the drifter colony marketplace. The colony, called New Bangkok, was a study in contrasts, and the marketplace fit right in. Tables and stalls that wouldn’t have been out of place in a medieval village stood on top of pitted plasteel, right next to emergency life-support stations. The stations looked exactly like the kind found on Tau-14, bubbles to run to in the event of a hull breach.
     Which might be likely on a hulk like New Bangkok; like most drifter colonies, it was made up of hundreds of ships that had come from Earth and been assembled into a form for which they had never been designed.

     Stranger than the look of the colony, however, were the people. Cale couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was an odd air about them. They weren’t particularly strange on themselves—they bustled around just like people on Tau-14. He did notice a sense of poverty to them—he saw few shipsuits that didn’t have patches— but no one looked like they were starving.
     And then, as he watched a group of children gathered around an ice-cream stand, it hit him: This was a community that was made up of Humans. He hadn’t seen more than a handful of nonhumans since they’d entered the station airlock.

     We’re the majority here.

     Maybe that explained the lack of caution and the confidence of everyone he saw. On Tau-14, Humans were second class, always careful not to offend nonhumans lest they pay the price. Here, they didn’t have to.
     For as long as Cale could remember he’d been in the minority. Even during the time he’d spent on Tek’s home world, being Human had meant being an outsider.
     Seeing such a community was very different.

     Ahead of him, Akima was picking over some odd-looking shoes. A nearby sign proclaimed FROM EARTH!
     Cale moved up alongside her. “You going to get some more Earth junk?” he asked.
     Akima tumed to him. “You don’t get it, do you Cale? This junk is all that’s left of where we came from. It isn’t just stuff. Each piece is a reminder of what it means to have a place—to have a home.”

     So he’d waited next to Akima. To his surprise, after only an hour or so, the woman had retumed with a man who’d said he was the mayor of the oldest section of New Bangkok, the original ship collection. The habitat had expanded since then, but some of the original refugee ships, which early colonists had joined with a variety of makeshift conduits and couplings, were still there. The mayor had explained that his ship was so old that it hadn’t meshed well with the more modern majority.
     “Besides,” the old man had said, “I wanted to be ready to run again—if we ever needed to.”

From TITAN A. E. by Dal Perry and Steve Perry (2000)

Ghost Town

A ghost town is the abandoned skeletal remains of a space or planetary station that was formerly a boomtown. This happens when whatever money source that was fueling the boom dries up. The boom has gone bust.


A ghost town is an abandoned village, town, or city, usually one that contains substantial visible remains. A town often becomes a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, prolonged droughts, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, pollution, or nuclear disasters. The term can sometimes refer to cities, towns, and neighbourhoods that are still populated, but significantly less so than in past years; for example, those affected by high levels of unemployment and dereliction.

Some ghost towns, especially those that preserve period-specific architecture, have become tourist attractions. Some examples are Bannack, Calico, Centralia, Oatman, and South Pass City in the United States, Barkerville in Canada, Craco in Italy, Elizabeth Bay and Kolmanskop in Namibia, Pripyat in Ukraine, and Danushkodi in India.

The town of Plymouth on the Caribbean island of Montserrat is a ghost town that is the de jure capital of Montserrat. It was rendered uninhabitable by volcanic ash from an eruption.


The definition of a ghost town varies between individuals, and between cultures. Some writers discount settlements that were abandoned as a result of a natural or human-made disaster or other causes using the term only to describe settlements that were deserted because they were no longer economically viable; T. Lindsey Baker, author of Ghost Towns of Texas, defines a ghost town as "a town for which the reason for being no longer exists". Some believe that any settlement with visible tangible remains should not be called a ghost town; others say, conversely, that a ghost town should contain the tangible remains of buildings. Whether or not the settlement must be completely deserted, or may contain a small population, is also a matter for debate. Generally, though, the term is used in a looser sense, encompassing any and all of these definitions. The American author Lambert Florin's preferred definition of a ghost town was simply "a shadowy semblance of a former self".

Reasons for abandonment

Factors leading to abandonment of towns include depleted natural resources, economic activity shifting elsewhere, railroads and roads bypassing or no longer accessing the town, human intervention, disasters, massacres, wars, and the shifting of politics or fall of empires. A town can also be abandoned when it is part of an exclusion zone due to natural or man-made causes.

Economic activity shifting elsewhere

Ghost towns may result when the single activity or resource that created a boomtown (e.g., nearby mine, mill or resort) is depleted or the resource economy undergoes a "bust" (e.g., catastrophic resource price collapse). Boomtowns can often decrease in size as fast as they initially grew. Sometimes, all or nearly the entire population can desert the town, resulting in a ghost town.

The dismantling of a boomtown can often occur on a planned basis. Mining companies nowadays will create a temporary community to service a mine site, building all the accommodation, shops and services required, and then remove them once the resource has been extracted. Modular buildings can be used to facilitate the process. A gold rush would often bring intensive but short-lived economic activity to a remote village, only to leave a ghost town once the resource was depleted.

In some cases, multiple factors may remove the economic basis for a community; some former mining towns on U.S. Route 66 suffered both mine closures when the resources were depleted and loss of highway traffic as US 66 was diverted away from places like Oatman, Arizona onto a more direct path.

In other cases, the reason for abandonment can arise from a town's intended economic function shifting to another, nearby place. This happened to Collingwood, Queensland in Outback Australia when nearby Winton outperformed Collingwood as a regional centre for the livestock-raising industry. The railway reached Winton in 1899, linking it with the rest of Queensland, and Collingwood was a ghost town by the following year.

The Middle East has many ghost towns that were created when the shifting of politics or the fall of empires caused capital cities to be socially or economically unviable, such as Ctesiphon.

The rise of condominium investment caused for real estate bubbles also leads to a ghost town, as real estate prices rise and affordable housing becomes less available. Such examples include China and Canada, where housing is often used as an investment rather than for habitation.

Human intervention

Railroads and roads bypassing or no longer reaching a town can create a ghost town. This was the case in many of the ghost towns along Ontario's historic Opeongo Line, and along U.S. Route 66 after motorists bypassed the latter on the faster moving highways I-44 and I-40. Some ghost towns were founded along railways where steam trains would stop at periodic intervals to take on water. Amboy, California was part of one such series of villages along the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad across the Mojave Desert.

River re-routing is another factor, one example being the towns along the Aral Sea.

Ghost towns may be created when land is expropriated by a government, and residents are required to relocate. One example is the village of Tyneham in Dorset, England, acquired during World War II to build an artillery range.

A similar situation occurred in the U.S. when NASA acquired land to construct the John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC), a rocket testing facility in Hancock County, Mississippi (on the Mississippi side of the Pearl River, which is the MississippiLouisiana state line). This required NASA to acquire a large (approximately 34-square-mile (88 km2)) buffer zone because of the loud noise and potential dangers associated with testing such rockets. Five thinly populated rural Mississippi communities (Gainesville, Logtown, Napoleon, Santa Rosa, and Westonia), plus the northern portion of a sixth (Pearlington), along with 700 families in residence, had to be completely relocated off the facility.

Sometimes the town might cease to officially exist, but the physical infrastructure remains. For example, the five Mississippi communities that had to be abandoned to build SSC still have remnants of those communities within the facility itself. These include city streets, now overgrown with forest flora and fauna, and a one-room school house. Another example of infrastructure remaining is the former town of Weston, Illinois, that voted itself out of existence and turned the land over for construction of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Many houses and even a few barns remain, used for housing visiting scientists and storing maintenance equipment, while roads that used to cross through the site have been blocked off at the edges of the property, with gatehouses or simply barricades to prevent unsupervised access.

Flooding by dams

Construction of dams has produced ghost towns that have been left underwater. Examples include the settlement of Loyston, Tennessee, U.S., inundated by the creation of Norris Dam. The town was reorganised and reconstructed on nearby higher ground. Other examples are The Lost Villages of Ontario flooded by Saint Lawrence Seaway construction in 1958, the hamlets of Nether Hambleton and Middle Hambleton in Rutland, England, which were flooded to create Rutland Water, and the villages of Ashopton and Derwent, England, flooded during the construction of the Ladybower Reservoir. Mologa in Russia was flooded by the creation of Rybinsk reservoir, and in France the Tignes Dam flooded the village of Tignes, displacing 78 families. Many ancient villages had to be abandoned during construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China, leading to displacement of many rural people. In the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste, the town of Arenal was rebuilt to make room for the man-made Lake Arenal. The old town now lies submerged below the lake. Old Adaminaby was flooded by a dam of the Snowy River Scheme. Construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River in Egypt submerged archaeological sites and ancient settlements such as Buhen under Lake Nasser. Another example of towns left underwater is Tehri by the constructruction of the Tehri Dam in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.


Some towns become deserted when their populations are massacred. The original French village at Oradour-sur-Glane was destroyed on 10 June 1944 when 642 of its 663 inhabitants, including women and children, were killed by a German Waffen-SS company. A new village was built after the war on a nearby site, and the ruins of the original have been maintained as a memorial.

Disasters, actual and anticipated

Natural and man-made disasters can create ghost towns. For example, after being flooded more than 30 times since their town was founded in 1845, residents of Pattonsburg, Missouri, decided to relocate after two floods in 1993. With government help, the whole town was rebuilt 3 miles (4.8 km) away.

Craco, a medieval village in the Italian region of Basilicata, was evacuated after a landslide in 1963. Nowadays it is a famous filming location for many movies, including The Passion of The Christ by Mel Gibson, Christ Stopped at Eboli by Francesco Rosi, The Nativity Story by Catherine Hardwicke and Quantum of Solace by Marc Forster.

In 1984, Centralia, Pennsylvania was abandoned due to an uncontainable mine fire, which began in 1962 and still rages to this day; eventually the fire reached an abandoned mine underneath the nearby town of Byrnesville, Pennsylvania, which caused that mine to catch on fire too and forced the evacuation of that town as well.

Ghost towns may also occasionally come into being due to an anticipated natural disaster – for example, the Canadian town of Lemieux, Ontario was abandoned in 1991 after soil testing revealed that the community was built on an unstable bed of Leda clay. Two years after the last building in Lemieux was demolished, a landslide swept part of the former town-site into the South Nation River. Two decades earlier, the Canadian town of Saint-Jean-Vianney, Québec, also constructed on a Leda clay base, had been abandoned after a landslide on 4 May 1971, which swept away 41 homes, killing 31 people.

Following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, dangerously high levels of nuclear radiation escaped into the surrounding area, and nearly 200 towns and villages in Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus were evacuated, including the cities of Pripyat and Chernobyl. The area was, and still is, so contaminated with nuclear radiation that many of the evacuees were never permitted to return to their homes. Pripyat is the most famous of these abandoned towns; it was built for the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and had a population of almost 50,000 at the time of the disaster.

Disease and contamination

Significant fatality rates from epidemics have produced ghost towns. Some places in eastern Arkansas were abandoned after more than 7,000 Arkansans died during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919. Several communities in Ireland, particularly in the west of the country, were wiped out due to the Great Famine in the latter half of the 19th century, and the years of economic decline that followed.

Catastrophic environmental damage caused by long-term contamination can also create a ghost town. Some notable examples are Times Beach, Missouri, whose residents were exposed to a high level of dioxins, and Wittenoom, Western Australia, which was once Australia's largest source of blue asbestos, but was shut down in 1966 due to health concerns. Treece and Picher, twin communities straddling the KansasOklahoma border, were once one of the United States' largest sources of zinc and lead, but over a century of unregulated disposal of mine tailings led to groundwater contamination and lead poisoning in the town's children, eventually resulting in a mandatory Environmental Protection Agency buyout and evacuation. Contamination due to ammunition caused by military use may also lead to the development of ghost towns. Rerik West, an area of Rerik, Germany, had been home to a Group of Soviet Forces in Germany barracks during the German Democratic Republic, but following German reunification it was abandoned due to ammunition contamination from the barracks. Located on a peninsula separated from Rerik by a small isthmus, in 1992 it was turned into a restricted area while the rest of the town remained populated.

From the Wikipedia entry for GHOST TOWN

The tunnel outside was white where it wasn't grimy. Ten meters wide, and gently sloping up in both directions. The white LED lights didn't pretend to mimic sunlight. About half a kilometer down, someone had rammed into the wall so hard the native rock showed through, and it still hadn't been repaired. Maybe it wouldn't be. This was the deep dig, way up near the center of spin. Tourists never came here.

Havelock led the way to their cart, bouncing too high with every step. He didn't come up to the low gravity levels very often, and it made him awkward. Miller had lived on Ceres his whole life, and truth to tell, the Coriolis effect up this high could make him a little unsteady sometimes too.

Ceres, the port city of the Belt and the outer planets, boasted two hundred fifty kilometers in diameter, tens of thousands of kilometers of tunnels in layer on layer on layer. Spinning it up to 0.3 g had taken the best minds at Tycho Manufacturing half a generation, and they were still pretty smug about it. Now Ceres had more than six million permanent residents, and as many as a thousand ships docking in any given day meant upping the population to as high as seven million.

Platinum, iron, and titanium from the Belt. Water from Saturn, vegetables and beef from the big mirror-fed greenhouses on Ganymede and Europa, organics from Earth and Mars. Power cells from lo, Helium-3 from the refineries on Rhea and lapetus. A river of wealth and power unrivaled in human history came through Ceres. Where there was commerce on that level, there was also crime. Where there was crime, there were security forces to keep it in check.

Eros supported a population of one and a half million, a little more than Ceres had in visitors at any given time. Roughly the shape of a potato, it had been much more difficult to spin up, and its surface velocity was considerably higher than Ceres' for the same internal g. The old shipyards protruded from the asteroid, great spiderwebs of steel and carbon mesh studded with warning lights and sensor arrays to wave off any ships that might come in too tight. The internal caverns of Eros had been the birthplace of the Belt. From raw ore to smelting furnace to annealing platform and then into the spines of water haulers and gas harvesters and prospecting ships. Eros had been a port of call in the first generation of humanity's expansion. From there, the sun itself was only a bright star among billions.
The economics of the Belt had moved on. Ceres Station had spun up with newer docks, more industrial backing, more people. The commerce of shipping moved to Ceres, while Eros remained a center of ship manufacture and repair. The results were as predictable as physics. On Ceres, a longer time in dock meant lost money, and the berth fee structure reflected that. On Eros, a ship might wait for weeks or months without impeding the flow of traffic. If a crew wanted a place to relax, to stretch, to get away from one another for a while, Eros was the port of call. And with the lower docking fees, Eros Station found other ways to soak money from its visitors: Casinos. Brothels. Shooting galleries. Vice in all its commercial forms found a home in Eros, its local economy blooming like a fungus fed by the desires of Belters.

The architecture of Eros had changed since its birth. Where once it had been like Ceres—webworked tunnels leading along the path of widest connection—Eros had learned from the flow of money: All paths led to the casino level. If you wanted to go anywhere, you passed through the wide whale belly of lights and displays. Poker, blackjack, roulette, tall fish tanks filled with prize trout to be caught and gutted, mechanical slots, electronic slots, cricket races, craps, rigged tests of skill. Flashing lights, dancing neon clowns, and video screen advertisements blasted the eyes. Loud artificial laughter and merry whistles and bells assured you that you were having the time of your life. All while the smell of thousands of people packed into too small a space competed with the scent of heavily spiced vat-grown meat being hawked from carts rolling down the corridor. Greed and casino design had turned Eros into an architectural cattle run.

From LEVIATHAN WAKES by "James S.A. Corey" 2011.
First novel of The Expanse

Top down= navy bases and scientific research facilities. These are built for a specific purpose, and generally have little economic rational behind them, although military bases may develop garrison towns and eventually grow into larger settlements (especially when the military rational passes). If the military reason for the base fades away without any compelling economic rational to replace it, it is usually abandoned (think of Hadrian's Wall, the Maginot line or old ICBM silos).

There is also devolution (of space stations), the port cities of the Hanse are no longer economic powerhouses, and I can see Luna going the way of Detroit after it becomes more economical to harvest 3He from the atmosphere of gas giants (the Pearson elevator to L1 is a minor tourist attraction, and L2 is a brownfield of abandoned mass catchers in parking orbits. Only criminal gangs and Libertarian squatters make their homes in and around Luna).

Of course lots of compound scenarios can exist as well; an occupying power builds a fort overlooking a captured port, or the squatters become the nexus for urban renewal because they (insert "x" here)...

Thucydides in a comment

Example: Depot into Story Plot

For the science fiction author writing about a solar system future, things like orbital propellant depots might be more than just the background of the story. With a little effort, they can help a bit with the plot as well. A good way to start is to remember "everything old is new again", that is, find a historical analogy and set it in the science fiction future. Keeping in mind that current events are "historical" as far as the future is concerned. Here is an example:

This is an article from magazine, about how self-driving trucks are going to decimate the economies of small towns in suddenly non-strategic locations.

SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS ARE GONNA HIT US we drove by town after town, we got to talking about the potential effects self-driving vehicle technology would have not only on truckers themselves, but on all the local economies dependent on trucker salaries. Once one starts wondering about this kind of one-two punch to America’s gut, one sees the prospects aren’t pretty.
     We are facing the decimation of entire small town economies, a disruption the likes of which we haven’t seen since the construction of the interstate highway system itself bypassed entire towns...
     ...We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples. So now we’re talking about millions more whose employment depends on the employment of truck drivers. But we still can’t even stop there.
     Those working in these restaurants and motels along truck-driving routes are also consumers within their own local economies. Think about what a server spends her paycheck and tips on in her own community, and what a motel maid spends from her earnings into the same community. That spending creates other paychecks in turn. So now we’re not only talking about millions more who depend on those who depend on truck drivers, but we’re also talking about entire small town communities full of people who depend on all of the above in more rural areas. With any amount of reduced consumer spending, these local economies will shrink...
     ...This is where we’re at and this is what we face as we look towards a quickly approaching horizon of over 3 million unemployed truckers and millions more unemployed service industry workers in small towns all over the country dependent on truckers as consumers of their services.
     The removal of truckers from freeways will have an effect on today’s towns similar to the effects the freeways themselves had on towns decades ago that had sprung up around bypassed stretches of early highways. When the construction of the interstate highway system replaced Route 66, things changed as drivers drove right on past these once thriving towns. The result was ghost towns like Glenrio, Texas.
With the patience that carved the Grand Canyon over eons, nature reclaims Glenrio, where the clock stopped with the bypass of Route 66. The replacement of Route 66 with a four-lane superhighway that allowed motorists to zip past rather than wander through ultimately allowed Glenrio to decline.

To transpose this situation into one's science fiction future, you have to look for analogies. Cargo spacecraft are obviously trucks, orbital propellant depots are gas stations. The positioning of the depots is like Route 66, optimized for the spacecraft and destinations. The small towns are boomtowns that grew up around the depots, maybe even growing into orbital colonies.

Then we transpose the historical events:

  1. Orbital propellant depots are established so as to allow cheap chemical rockets access to transport goods too and from points in the inner solar system. This is the network of automobile gasoline stations on Route 66.

  2. boomtowns spring up to relieve spacecraft crews of accumulated flight pay burning a hole in their pockets.

  3. The boom-towns grow into Star-Towns, maybe even becoming a full orbital colony. The gas stations on Route 66 have become small towns.

  4. Now some disruptive technology throws a monkey wrench into the works.
    Historically it was the network change of switching from Route 66 to the national highway system, bypassing the gas station towns.
    Currently it is the self-driving trucks that need less gasoline, and certainly do not need sleeping motels, restaurants, or brothels.
    In our science fiction future, the network can be changed by, say Beams-Я-Us setting up routes for cheap laser thermal rockets. The self-driving trucks are similar to the advent of nuclear rockets (requiring less propellant) or unmanned rockets (requiring no sleeping, fancy food, or prostitutes).

  5. Deprived of their revenue stream, the boom-towns and orbital habitats start dying, becoming ghost towns like Glenrio, Texas.

Such an emotionally-charged situation can drive a science fiction story plot.

The locals are going to be very angry at whoever invented the disruptive technology which doomed their town. An employee of Beams-Я-Us who is stupid enough to visit such a dying boom-town is likely to get beat up in some dark corridor, maybe even suffer a tragic air-lock "accident."

Hot-heads living in the town might be tempted to stage something drastic in order to draw media attention to their plight. Terrorist actions are easy when one has access to so many concentrated forms of energy.

On the street, it is "rats deserting a sinking ship" time. Desperate individuals will do almost anything to board a spacecraft bound for someplace better. On the other hand, squatters with nowhere else to go will move into abandoned habitats.

The local government will be frantic to find a new revenue stream. If they cannot find a legal one, the solar system underworld has lots of illegal ones.

And of course there will be a few stubborn crazy-coot old-timers who refuse to leave, haunting the empty modules.

In my effort to transpose the situation, I had to play fast and lose with some inconvenient particulars. Master Artist William Black's pointed out a few items I swept under the rug. But the point is the technique of finding analogies allowing one to transpose a past or current situation into the future. Try reading a few historical or current news items with this in mind and see what you can come up with.

     I don't think boomtowns would spring up around propellant depots, rather propellant depots will be an asset positioned by volatiles mining outfits—which operate extraction sites and send product to the depots, which may be at some distance from the extraction sites.
     Propellant depots will be positioned at the site of large scale in-space activities, not the center of the activity, but part of the infrastructure supporting it.
     I don't see propellant depots existing in isolation. There will not be truck-stop towns in space, which I think are an artifact of physical highways.
     I see asteroid mining boomtowns as distinctly different phenomena from their historical namesake here on Earth, the primary difference being mobility.
     The asteroid mining boomtown moves where the resources are, just like the mining outfits will do. When the strike dries up the boomtown moves, along with the core set of corporate operations, right on to the next site.
     I see propellant depots being end-user distribution points, the depots will be clustered anywhere there is large scale in-space operations, resource mining or manufacturing and freight transfer points— like gateway stations at EML2, or at Phobos and Deimos, Ceres, elsewhere as well, but you see what I am getting at.


Regarding the "orbital depots" bit, the boomtown going bust when bypassed sounds a lot like the Lost Fleet series.

In the backstory, there's a "jump" type FTL with limited range—jump from one system to another in the web, then on and on. But midway through a hundred-year interstellar war, both sides figure out and build incompatible implementations of the same new "hypernet"—basically a Stargate thing. Important systems get on the hypernet, and all the systems that were only important because ships had to pass through on their way to someplace really Until a Lost Fleet stuck behind enemy lines has to head back to their home space by the old-fashioned jump network after they get lured into a trap using the key to the enemy hypernet.

Pretty fun read, and sort of a macro version of the same situation. The series explores some of the different ways such systems might fail.

From a comment by Rob Davidoff (2016)

Space Colony

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