What's the point in studying space

Cities in Space: "That Could Become Paradise"

Sounds interesting, but unfortunately I hardly know anything about science fiction.

Really not?

No, I find it more fulfilling to think about the physics of such questions and then work out solutions myself. I know, of course, that there is an overlap between my field of research and science fiction and that many of my colleagues are fans. However, I myself have more fun rolling around my own ideas and separating the good few from the bad ones. Maybe in the end I will contribute to helping humanity.

But again, wouldn't it make more sense to put all that energy and money on earth? We're not that far removed from the paradise you imagine.

You can see it that way, you could also build a closed ecosystem here. But the seasons and the climate remain a nuisance no matter where you go. In the tropics, it is usually too warm for the greenhouses that are needed. And at high latitudes, the solar radiation fluctuates too much. When we go into space, everything becomes easier: The sun is always shining there, and you can use mirrors and filters to direct and change it as you want. As you said, this could be paradise. And we would lead a very simple life there again, supported by technology, but in harmony with nature around us.

It all sounds very dreamy.

I think it's important to give young people a perspective that extends beyond the earth. And in this respect we have remained well below our possibilities in the last few decades. Yes, the people out there are very hardworking and productive in their jobs. But are they all really doing something useful? Many would certainly say no. They would probably rather use their intellectual capacity to serve something positive. And here the opening up of the universe simply offers itself. I think many people underestimate the tremendous progress we have made here in the last few years alone.

They allude to SpaceX's successes with reusable rockets that have made launches significantly more affordable. Company boss Elon Musk would like to found a colony on Mars. Isn't that a competition for your space city?

Elon Musk has undoubtedly started a revolution. SpaceX's "Starship" could lower the prices for transportation into space even further if everything goes as planned. What will be possible with this will probably only show in the next few years and decades. However, Musk's Mars plans cause me considerable worries, which is what prompted my study.

How so?

If we really have a million people on Mars, there will be a huge ethical problem. Children will grow up there with only a third of earthly gravity, which should change their bodies. Presumably these people could never return to earth because they literally couldn't get out of bed here. And Mars is not that worth living in either. For Elon Musk, the colony is primarily a kind of emergency plan in case something goes wrong on Earth. But who wants to live in a backup and make compromises in quality of life for it? Unfortunately, far too little is said about all of this.

After all, there is currently a popular TV series called "The Expanse" that plays with this scenario. Earthlings and Martians keep fighting there. It's a real shame you don't like science fiction ...

I think that's how it would work in reality: humanity would evolve into different species in the long term, and all because of different gravity. With space settlements on which the gravity is as great as on Earth, one would not have this problem.

In the 45 years that the idea has been around, little has happened in this direction. Do you get frustrated at times?

Not really, there is nothing you can do about it. I always try to just think about the future. In retrospect, one has to say: at that time we as humanity were simply not ready for these plans. Now maybe we are.