(Note: this is a continuation of the The Space Colonization Series)
In terms of potential locations in the outer solar system, Saturn's moon Titan is usually mentioned right off the bat. It is a prime location for human survival in the outer regions because of its great abundance of all the necessary organic materials. The atmosphere contains large amounts of methane and nitrogen and it is believed that both liquid water and liquid ammonia are locked under the surface and occasionally pushed out through volcanic activity. Water and methane could be used as both propellants for a rocket and for a colony's power supply. Nitrogen, methane, and ammonia could be used as a source of fertilizer for growing food. The water could also obviously be used for drinking and for oxygen.
Now, looking in an even more speculative nature, Titan would be a major target for a future fusion based economy. We will soon run out of oil on Earth and we will inevitably need to find another source of power. If we ever make a break through on fusion power we know we will need two things that aren't readily available on Earth: helium-3 and deuterium. Saturn has a relatively high amount of these resources available and Titan would be an ideal spot to mine and collect from.
True color image of Titan Surface taken by Huygens. More information from NASA.
Titan is cold. Really, really cold. The temperature is about -180 degrees Celsius. This type of cold also isn't quite as easy to deal with as the cold we would encounter in space or on the Moon. No, Titan's thick atmosphere makes this very difficult. Thermo-insulation becomes a much bigger problem. Fortunately, this problem could potentially be solved be building a protective layer around a habitat. By evacuating a space in between an outer shell and the inner habitat heat loss could be lowered to a more manageable level akin to a lunar habitat's requirements for thermal insulation.
The thick atmosphere does provide some advantages, however. At about 1.47 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth--equivalent to 5 meters under water on Earth--the atmosphere would protect inhabitants from potentially deadly doses of radiation that would be of concern on outposts on Mars, the Moon, or the asteroids. The quality of Titan's atmosphere also greatly decreases the engineering complexity of any aerobraking and landing techniques.
At least one more advantage exists for its atmosphere when combined with Titan's relatively low gravity of 0.14 g's. This unique combination makes flying much easier. So much easier, in fact, that a human could simply strap on some wings and take flight (with a pressurized suit on of course). Other than for human enjoyment and recreation, easier flight requirements could be taken advantage of for more near-term, exploratory missions like sending probes that float around the atmosphere in blimps, hot air balloons, or autonomous planes. Alas, like the atmosphere of Titan, the low gravity also has its disadvantages. Namely the health problems associated with low-g environments.
Personally, I believe Titan will never be more than a mining or research outpost but who knows? Perhaps it could some day be terraformed and become a bastion for thousands or even millions of colonists in the future. It does, after all, contain an abundant amount of the necessary organic materials needed for life as we know it. What do you think? Could you see Titan in our future?
- Colonizing Mercury
- The Space Colonization Series
- The Manifest Destiny: Mark II (Essay on our destiny as humans to colonize space)
- Lunar Dirt Factories? A look at how lunar regolith could be the key to permanent outposts on the Moon!
- Why Mine the Asteroid Belt?
- A Floating City on Venus
- About This Blog--My Purpose