Tango III : A Space Settlement Design

The Human Factor

„For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us. -"
Donald Williams, USA


The design of the Space Settlement would by no means be complete if we did not consider the people who will actually go there, that is, the initial colonists or settlers.

Although we rarely think of the population as something that has to be designed or decided upon, the colonization of space is basically a human venture and the correct selection of the population and their adaptation to the space environment is what ultimately will make the difference between a successful or a failed mission.

The human design of the colony is, however, challenging and difficult, for human considerations, contrary to any technical analysis, are obviously subjective, and what may hold true for one person could be considered wrong for another human being.

A common misconception related to eventual colonization of space is to think of the families that will take the leap as adventurers who will set out and endure harsh conditions in a frontier area. Although the space colony will certainly become a human outpost in what has been called the Final Frontier, living conditions must be as comfortable, or even better, than they are on Earth if we wish to attract settlers that will construct a new city or small world and prosper in it. The space settlement is adequately called a colony and not an outpost, for one would expect to find families in the former, and adventurers in the latter.

A new life

The task before us is certainly formidable. We not only have to deal with the human and technical aspects of designing a city for 10000 inhabitants, but also take into account their human interactions and their integration into the man made environment. The analysis is further complicated by the fact that this absolutely open design has to deal with non conventional factors, such as the duration of the day and the week, climate engineering, sunlight, etc. which are things that we take for granted but that will have to be designed here.

Selection of colonizers must ultimately be performed with the initial objective clearly in mind. The goal is to colonize space, and not just explore it. Things must be good and stable, otherwise settlers will soon turn away.

The Colony's relationship with Earth.

The first legitimate question to be asked, which will lead with others into a selection criteria for the colonists, is what sort of relationship the colony will have with its mother planet. The space settlement will be suspended in outer space, still linked physically and emotionally to Earth, but in what status?

Will it become just a space agency's subsidiary, a city, a country, or even a world with the same status as the Earth? If more than one colony is built, will they one day form a United Colonies Organization that will discuss matters with United Nations on Earth?


Again one must revert to original goals. The colonization of space will be done in peace, friendship and cooperation, and as such it is likely to become an international venture.

It has been said many times that the vision of our home planet gives space travelers the distinct and unique feeling that they are no longer citizens of a certain country, but inhabitants of the Earth.

Building a space settlement is a task of such technical complexity that no nation, not even the US, could probably accomplish it on its own. And setting out into space in a multinational enterprise will surely constitute an inspiration and an example of friendship and cooperation for the betterment of a human race.

So the most likely scenario would be constituted by an International Space Agency ( from here on referred to as ISA ) that will organize, design and sponsor the space colony.

Although ISA will surely be integrated by many countries, major participating will obviously come from the countries that have developed an expertise in space exploration and that have pioneered space flight The United States via NASA, Russia, Europe via ESA, China, Australia, Japan, etc will be floating the organization and deciding courses of action to be taken.

ISA will also give countries with less expertise the chance to integrate by performing some rule or other in this venture, and to take advantage of the diverse geographical locations for launch and landing capabilities.

Alternatives for the colonists

Colonists that will populate the settlement will have some sort of formal relationship with ISA.

Possibilities would be:

ISA Employees :

Every colonist and his family must sign a contract that links him to the Agency. In it he will agree to fulfill a certain job, accept and obey orders from his superiors and remain in the colony for a specified period of time.


Individuals would be selected to go up the colony and exercise their profession freely. Perhaps Earth funds will be needed to purchase property and their success or failure will just depend on their skill and the market.

Free-lancers will just obey civil rules, and they would become citizens of the newly formed city or state. They would be free to leave the colony at their own will.

As it can be seen , these two totally different alternatives lead to radically opposite economic systems.

If all colonists are employees then the economy would be centralized and controlled. On the other hand, setting up a self sustaining economy would point towards a free market economy.

Time periods:

Time periods are also very important factors. If personnel is to be hired, they must sign contracts for a certain number of years.

Here two conflicting goals seem to appear. if the objective is to colonize space, contracts must cover a long term to ensure permanence of settlers and their families.

But then again, if we hope to attract highly qualified individuals and their families, conditions must be attractive.

Potential applicants would be understandably uncertain about a very long term commitment in the difficult and harsh conditions to be expected in space.

And we must not forget that even if they are ISA employees, they are human beings and no person can be forced to live in a certain place, especially if that place is as far off and hostile as outer space. So even if they choose not to fulfill their term ISA must provide them with the means to return to Earth . They can be sanctioned in terms of money for not completing their contract, but they must be transported back to Earth in the first available opportunity if they desire to do so.

Trial period:

Another interesting possibility to attenuate the effects of making such a bold move (committing themselves and their families to stay for many years on the settlement ) would be to offer a relatively short ( 6 months to 1 year ) total period contract and only after the trial period is over and both parts ( ISA + the shelter ) are satisfied sign on a longer contract.


Ideally, settlers should be given the choice to return to Earth after they retire from active work. However, if a quasi earth environment is desirable, it would be good for colonists to want to stay on and add their experience to fresh generations of colonists. This could be achieved by offering substantial economic benefits if may choose to stay on.

Children and youths:

A new problem arises when we consider the babies that will eventually born in the colony. We must acknowledge that even if we engineer a nearly perfect quasi Earth, they will not be in Earth and they were simply not asked if they wanted to be born and live in orbit.

Then there is a medical problem: adults would have more or less adapted to the some what different biological setup in the colony : rotation, artificial gravity, a pure atmosphere, recycled water, etc. But even after several years of living in orbit a transition could still be effected and they could eventually return to Earth conditions.

But if a baby is born in the colony, natural evolution will adapt his body to grow up under slightly different conditions and nobody could ascertain at this point whether he could return to live a healthy life on Earth when and if he decides to come back. If he grows up in the colony, for example, his immune system would be especially vulnerable here on Earth. Any solution is imperfect. If babies are returned to Earth upon birth, they will be separated from the rest of their families. And the colony needs children, not only to replace settlers that retive or leave, but also to en lighten the atmosphere (When Alaska was colonized, the first settlers were 40 - 50 years old couples suffering the economic depression. In general they have sons and daughters in their teens. When they were asked about needs in the next ship, they unanimously asked for children ). Then if the children grow up in the colony we are making a major decision for them, for it will be unlikely that they will be able to return.

Alternatives for the colony:

ISA Subsidiary

The first obvious option is that the enclosed habitat where people will live and work will just become a branch or subsidiary of ISA in the same way as people who work in remote locations or in the countryside have their living quarters alongside their workplace itself. The main difference is that in this case, employees can't simply walk away if they choose to. The most similar analogy would be workers in an island in the middle of the ocean with no regular commercial airliner or ship.

Colonists should be offered an initial contract for a trial period and then commit themselves for a long period. Upon retirement, they will be offered the possibility to return to Earth.

The problem of children growing on the settlement or returning to Earth will remain unsolved until some medical evidence is available.


- Organization: if the colony is a corporate branch, it can be run on a tight schedule and directors can keep track of what is happening.

- Planning: absolute control derived from obeisance of corporate rules evidently permit planning and scheduling adequately.

- Economic control: corporate control of the colony also guarantees that eventual profits and returns will be returned back to Earth and its sponsoring organization.


- Lack of individual freedom: This is a very important drawback. If colonists will be employees and live for years at the colony, and at the same time obey a corporate set rules that not only affect him professionally but that will inevitably compromise his own personal life and his family, potential settlers would be understandably worried about their personal freedom. The fact that the settlers houses be owned by ISA and that they will be far from relatives, friends and the rest of the world potentiates this disadvantage. Living in a close community adds to potential settlers apprehensions, and this will discourage people from volunteering.

A possible remedy for this disadvantage would be to state explicitly in the contract all laws and regulations that both the colonists and his family will be subject to and an ISA compromise to respect them. The possibility of returning to Earth freely constitutes another way of solving this problem. Again ISA must sign a written compromise to do so.

- Loss of contact with what is really happening: if all policy is made up on Earth, it may happen that ground officials entertain a misconception of what it really means to live in the colony. Rules will have to be constantly modified to adapt to a unique, never tested scenario.

Policy makers should consult with ISA officials working in the settlement and close attention must be paid to the colonists opinions.

Examples of such discrepancies can be found in the past. The Third Skylab --- was at odds with their counterparts on Earth, and although mission objectives were finally accomplished, it was disturbing.(They even grew beards to show their displeasure, and none of them ever flew in space again).

- Settlers will eventually reclaim independence: The history of colonization shows that settlers can take orders but eventually will reclaim their independence. This has happened in most colonized territories. However, there is a slight difference in our case. In most colonies the land was there and somebody just grabbed possession of it. ISA will create this settlement out of nothing (not really, for construction and other materials will come from the Moon and the asteroids and eventually the Earth) so it will be legitimately entitled to property rights over the settlement.

City, territory, country or even a new world:

The other option is awarding the colony an independent political status. It could become a city and deal at the same levels as other cities, a state, another country in the concert of nations, or even a new world. It will elect its government and deal consequently with Earth.


-Freedom: colonists would feel that they don't really have a corporate affiliation, but that they would rather move into the settlement as free citizens of a new territory. This would undoubtedly become an incentive for settlers.

- Self organization: If the colony is to thrive and prosper, it must be agreed that nobody would know their affairs better than the colonists themselves.


- Lack of political control: if the colony is independent, its Govermment could decide upon courses of action that are contrary to ISA's policy and the original goals. The colony will live throw complex evolution process and should be guided carefully in order to survive in good health.

- Economic control: Building and assembling the colony would require huge efforts from ISA. Expected returns in the form of energy beamed back to Earth are essential in order to justify the endeavor.

Political system:

Taking into account the above observations, some of the advantages are decisive. ISA will be a non profit governmental International organization, that will incur in huge efforts in order to design, construct and run the space settlement. the birth and evolution of the colony, both in their social and technical aspects will be dedicatedly planned processes, that would be carefully monitored and controlled.

The enormous investment will only be justified if some real return, like solar energy beamed back to Earth, is probable.

For all the above considerations, it becomes fairly obvious that at least at the beginning the space settlement cannot constitute an independent territory.

Although, as we have seen, there are some disadvantages to this scenario, the colony will initially become an ISA subsidiary and all settlers ISA employees.

The colony simply cannot be turned loose and it must be carefully watched over. Every step in its development must be closely planned.

Returns in the form of energy must be stripped back to Earth. The economic system must provide for nearly economic self sufficiency but not political independence.

Internally, ISA would redistribute returns amongst participating countries depending on their degree of involvement and investment.

To alternate the disadvantages of these course of action, colonists will be granted with rights, a specific set of rules that will be written on their contract and most important of all, the right to return to earth at any moment they wish to without any personal consequences ( economic sanctions could be considered).


The colony will of course initially be governed by officials appointed by ISA.

A likely political organization could consist of a major or administrator, and some sort of congress or Board to assist him. Then the experts would be in charge of specific areas, like in any city.

Officials coming from Earth would serve an initial period and then it would be desirable for ISA to appoint as many settlers as possible into government. Some positions should still be held by ISA based personnel, and regular visits from Earth should also be made.

As time passes and the colony becomes more stable in all aspect, ISA could start thinking of a mixed government, appointing colonists to the congress or council.


Most laws should be similar to the ones existing on Earth. A smooth transition should be effected from Earth to the colony an viceversa.

However, the confinement of the colony and the fact that it is far off and isolated from earth makes offenses potentially more dangerous.

Special considerations have to be made with respect to pollution. any action that could lead to contamination of a reduced atmosphere should be very severely punished.

Attempting to sabotage life support systems or damaging the external shell, that is any act that could compromise the lives of the settlers, should also be considered serious.

Criminals should be immediately deported, and will await the following flight in a local prison. Perhaps when signing their contract they could also write an agreement to accept harsher punishment on Earth for the crimes they commit in the colony.

The problem of low immune defenses leads to special regulations in the case of contagious or injections diseases. Persons could be quarantined and watched closely until infections are isolated. Visitors to the colony would be scrupulously scrutinized and need to pass a rigorous health examinations.

Human psychology.

Even though the colony will be engineered so that life is as comfortable as possible, in some cases even more so Man on Earth, there some factors that can be denied.

In the first place, the distance from our home planet is an important psychological elements even if very reliable rockets are arrive frequently, colonists are bound to feel that they are living on the edge of the unknown in a certainly very remote location.

In the first place, the distance from our home planet is an important psychological element. Even if very reliable rockets arrive frequently, colonists are bound to feel that they are living on the edge of the unknown and in a certainly very remote location. Like in an airplane, colonists would only be separated from deadly outer space by some cm. of composite material shielding.

The size of the colony, especially in the ring like structure, will inevitably give the colonists a sense of complement. Living the space settlement, even if 10.000 people share the habitat, will be a trying psychological experience.

In order to alleviate a quasi oppressive feeling large views have to be available to the colonists. The ring type structure will display several meters of mirrored view of the Sun, the stars and eventually the Moon and the Earth. The cylinder will probably reveal a fascinating view. There will be no clear cut horizon.

The colony, with houses, parks, etc., will gently slope upwards and finally make the whole Sun. So if a colonist looks up at the sky, he will distinctly se a couple of 1000 meters up securely the other sides hanging down!. The two mirrors caps of the cylinder will reveal to hugely awesome views of outer space, complete with stars, Earth and Moon and not one but two Suns! (The psychological implicancies of this should be studied).

So, in a sense, the confinement and lack of variety will somewhat compensated by a chance to expand one 's horizon into large views.

Lack of variety can also be attenuated by adding some impredictability to the climate. Temperature extremes are by all means undesirable, but some mild changes in weather could be instrumented.

Another possibility would be to move the mirrors in such a way that different views of space will be possible.

Duration of the day:

Having decided that days and nights are essential to the mental health of the colonists. The problem now will be refocused on the actual duration of the day.

It seems strange that the actual length of the day could be a variable to be decided upon. Here on Earth, there is obviously nothing that can be done about it, for we are toed to the opining rate of our mother planet. But in the space colony the actual length of the day will depend on the speed with which the mirror folds back on to the structure, the day's duration could be varied accordingly.

In our study group, two proposals were put forward. One of them was to adopt our terrestrial day of 24 hours. the other one was to extend the day for 3 hours, that is, to make a 27 hours day.

Arguments in favor of a 27 hours day were put forward. the rhythm of modern life such that the conventional 8 hour cycle (work, sleep, relax) is no longer valid. People work longer hours and don't sleep enough or simply can't relax, practice sports, study or be with their families during the week. Many of us keep waiting for the weekend to come, where we live our 'normal' lives.

If the duration of the day were augmented then people could work the long hours they do now and then have a couple of extra hours for leisure. It was suggested that one extra hour of work is barely a small percentage of the total time worked, whereas

Some other plausible arguments opposed the extension of the day, if the day becomes 3 hours longer then the colony's calendar would not keep pace with terrestrial calendars and days, months and even years would be different. It was also said that human would soon adopt to the new scheme and that eventually most of the 3 hours would be used up to work, thus offsetting any gains.

In order to make any scientific decision, medical and psychological studies should be conducted. At least some experimentation could be performed by subjecting volunteers do a 27 hours schedule.

An 8 day week:

Along the same line of thought an 8 day week could be instituted. Half one extra day (in between our Fridays and Saturdays) could be devoted to do work and the others would enjoy a longer weekend (which would be advantageous to faster tourism here on earth but going backpacking into space is not very healthy) but would have to work an extra half day. Then again Earth and Space calendars would not keep pace and workaholics would still use up the extra half day in working.

Colonist selection criteria

The other major point to resolve has to do with a criteria for selecting colonists.

Human standards are difficult to define, for the simple reason that establishing, whether psychological, ethnical, religious or even about qualifications can become discriminative

When our study group discussed each and everyone of issues involved, many heated arguments arose, which didn't happen when dealing with more objective technological issues.

However one point was strongly agreed upon: all decisions with respect to selection standards will not be based on discriminative preconceptions. One of the main reasons for this venture is to write humanity and try to achieve a common goal in a spirit of friendship and cooperation.


Age distribution selection will be based on demographic studies to ensure the growth of the colony.

Marital Status

Whenever possible, whole families would be preferred with the idea of colonization in mind. However, simple men and women could also foster the first intercolony marriages.


There is no reason to think that more men than women should populate the colony ( This study group is made of 5 girls and one boy). Perhaps initially when physical requirements are more harsh a greater proportion of men should built and assemble the colony.

Once the colony is up and running, percentages should be kept fairly even.


If, as expected, more than 10000 colonists volunteer to pioneer space settlements, then nationality criteria should follow the involvement and investment of ISA member countries.

That is places must be allocated to nationals of countries according to their participation in the project.

Ethnical and religious background

No distinction with made with resoect to races and creeds. It is likely that the colony`s population will again reflect the composition of ISA.

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