Ditch the Red Planet and build a gargantuan floating habitat around the dwarf planet Ceres instead.
In a yet to be peer-reviewed paper, astrophysicist Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki describes his vision of a “megasatellite” of thousands of cylindrical spacecrafts, all linked together inside a disk-shaped frame that permanently orbits Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Each of these cylindrical habitats could accommodate upwards of 50,000 people, support an artificial atmosphere and generate an Earth-like gravity through the centrifugal force of its own rotation, Janhunen wrote.
But why Ceres? Its average distance from Earth is comparable to that of Mars, Janhunen wrote, making travel relatively easy — but the dwarf planet also has a big elemental advantage. Ceres is rich in nitrogen, which would be crucial in developing the orbiting settlement’s atmosphere, Janhunen said (Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 79% nitrogen.) Rather than building a colony on the surface of the tiny world — Ceres has a radius roughly 1/13th that of Earth — settlers could utilize space elevators to transfer raw materials from the planet directly up to their orbiting habitats.
This orbital lifestyle would also address one of the biggest caveats Janhunen sees in the idea of a Martian surface colony: the health impacts of low gravity.
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