Space settlements are fun topics for movies. There are a lot of space advocates thinking about how to do it, and looking to NASA to take the lead. It’s fun to think about, but it’s not happening.
Some people in the space advocacy community have a long term goal that goes beyond going back to the Moon or sending human expeditions to Mars: they want to see people working and living—permanently—in space. From the early visions of space colonies by the L-5 Society to the modern-day desire of Mars Society members to establish an outpost of human civilization on the Red Planet, these people want to do more than explore space; they want to see people making it their home. Should that vision be part of national space policy—or is it already?
Over the last 18 months advocates of space settlement have been getting mixed messages from the White House and NASA leadership on this topic. In his speech at the Kennedy Space Center in April 2010, President Obama appeared to endorse, albeit indirectly, the concept of space settlement: “Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.” Obama never used the “s-word”—settlement—but the idea of living and working in space in “indefinite” ways certainly sounds like it.
But at a town hall meeting at the Johnson Space Center in late September, NASA administrator Charles Bolden seemed to suggest space settlement was not part of the agency’s vision. “Bolden says we’re not looking for other places to live, [we're] going to explore to better understand our place in universe and life on Earth…”