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Earth-like ecosystem necessary for humans to live in deep space

Can humans truly adapt to long-term living in deep space? This question has been a topic of debate and speculation for decades. However, a new theory published in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, called the Pancosmorio theory, provides a somewhat tentative answer. 

Pancosmorio, a term coined to mean “all world limit,” describes the challenges and complexities involved in maintaining gravity and oxygen, obtaining water, developing agriculture, and handling waste far from Earth.

Morgan Irons, a doctoral student at Cornell University, co-authored the paper alongside her father, Lee Irons, executive director of the Norfolk Institute. Morgan’s research focuses on soil organic carbon persistence under Earth’s gravity and varying gravity conditions. She also collaborated with Johannes Lehmann, a professor in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

“For humans to sustain themselves and all of their technology, infrastructure, and society in space, they need a self-restoring, Earth-like, natural ecosystem to back them up,” said Morgan. She further emphasized that without these kinds of systems, any mission to colonize space is bound to fail.

Solving the gravity problem

One of the most significant factors in sustaining human life in space is gravity. Earth life has evolved within the context of 1G of gravity, which is essential for the proper functioning of living organisms. 

“Gravity induces a gradient in the fluid pressure within the body of the living thing to which the autonomic functions of the life form are attuned ” explained Lee Irons. He pointed to the negative effect on human eyesight in Earth orbit as an example of gravity imbalance.

Morgan Irons emphasized the importance of solving the gravity problem before investing billions of dollars in space settlements. “Our bodies, our natural ecosystems, all the energy movement, and the way we utilize energy is all fundamentally based upon 1G of gravity being present.” 

Morgan noted that no other place in our solar system has 1G of gravity, making this one of the first problems that must be addressed. 

Generating enough sustainable oxygen

Another vital factor for sustaining life in space is oxygen. Earth’s ecosystem generates oxygen for humans and other life forms. 

Lee Irons highlighted the need for a reserve system in case a technologically advanced primary and backup system fail to provide oxygen for a moon base or another outpost. “A reserve exists everywhere in Earth’s nature. Think of the hundreds of thousands of species of plants that generate oxygen. That’s the kind of system reserve we need to replicate to be truly sustainable.”

Creating such an ecological system for a space outpost would require an enormous amount of energy from the sun. However, the more distant planets and moons in our solar system receive decreased amounts of solar energy. Lee Irons emphasizes the need for abundant energy, comparing powering the ecological system of an outpost to running a car or an entire household on a cell phone battery.

In conclusion, the Pancosmorio theory highlights the complexities and challenges involved in maintaining a self-sustaining, Earth-like ecosystem in deep space. 

While the answer to whether humans can endure long-term living in space remains a lukewarm maybe, the theory underscores the need for innovative solutions to the problems of gravity, oxygen, and energy to make space colonization a viable possibility.

Technology needed for humans to colonize space

For humans to successfully colonize space, numerous technological advancements and innovations must be developed to address various challenges. Some key technologies include:

  1. Advanced propulsion systems: Developing faster and more efficient propulsion systems is crucial for reducing travel time between Earth and potential space colonies, as well as for exploring more distant regions of our solar system and beyond.
  2. Artificial gravity: As the Pancosmorio theory highlights, gravity is crucial for the proper functioning of living organisms. Therefore, creating artificial gravity systems, such as rotating habitats or centrifugal force-based solutions, will be necessary to mimic Earth-like conditions in space colonies.
  3. Life support systems: Reliable and closed-loop life support systems are essential for providing breathable air, clean water, and waste management. These systems must be highly efficient, regenerative, and capable of handling contingencies.
  4. Space agriculture and food production: Colonists will need a sustainable food supply, which means developing space agriculture and advanced food production methods that can function in microgravity or low-gravity environments.
  5. Radiation protection: Space is filled with harmful radiation, which poses a significant risk to human health. Technologies to shield astronauts and colonists from radiation, both during space travel and while living in space habitats, are vital.
  6. In-situ resource utilization (ISRU): Utilizing local resources, such as water and minerals found on the Moon or Mars, can reduce the cost and logistical challenges of transporting supplies from Earth. Technologies for extracting, processing, and using these resources will be crucial for self-sustaining colonies.
  7. Energy generation and storage: Reliable and efficient energy sources, such as advanced solar panels, nuclear reactors, or other novel energy generation methods, are essential for powering space colonies. Additionally, developing robust energy storage solutions will ensure a stable power supply.
  8. Habitat construction and infrastructure: Technologies for constructing habitats and infrastructure in space, including 3D printing, modular design, and the use of local materials, will be necessary for establishing permanent settlements.
  9. Communication systems: High-speed and reliable communication systems will be needed to maintain contact between Earth and space colonies, as well as among colonists within settlements.
  10. Medical and health technologies: Prolonged exposure to space environments can lead to numerous health issues. Developing advanced medical technologies and countermeasures for diagnosing, treating, and preventing these health problems will be essential for the long-term survival of space colonists.

These technologies represent only a portion of what will be required for successful space colonization. As research and development continue, we can expect further innovations to emerge, addressing the myriad challenges associated with human settlement beyond Earth.


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