Can humans survive for a long time in deep space? maybe

A new theory suggests that successful long-term human habitation in deep space would require a self-recovering Earth-like ecosystem to sustain technology, infrastructure, and society. Critical elements include replicating 1G of Earth’s gravity and maintaining a reliable oxygen supply, water availability, waste management, and a functioning farming system, all of which require significant energy potentially greater than our current capabilities.

Is it possible for humans to live long term in deep space? The answer may be lukewarm, according to a new theory that outlines the complex challenges of preserving gravity and oxygen, securing water, growing food, and managing waste while away from Earth.

It’s been called the pankosmorio theory – a word coined to mean “all the borders of the world” – and it’s described in a paper published in Frontiers in astronomy and space science.

“For humans to sustain themselves and all their technology, infrastructure and society in space, they need a natural, self-recovering Earth-like ecosystem,” said co-author Morgan Irons, a PhD student conducting research. With Johannes Lehmann, Professor in the College of Integrative Plant Sciences at Cornell University. Her work focuses on the stability of soil organic carbon under gravitational and variable gravity conditions. “Without these types of systems, the mission fails.”

The first key is gravity, which life on Earth needs to function properly, said co-author Lee Irons, father of Morgan Irons and executive director of the Norfolk Institute, a group that aims to solve human resilience problems on Earth and in space.

“Gravity induces a gradient in fluid pressure within the organism’s body to which the involuntary functions of the life form correspond,” he said. “An example of gravitational imbalance is the negative effect on the eyesight of humans in Earth orbit, as they do not experience the weight necessary to induce a pressure gradient.”

Morgan Irons said it would be unwise to spend billions of dollars on creating a space settlement only to see it fail because even with all the other systems, you need gravity.

The evolution of humans and all life on Earth in the context of 1G Earth’s gravity. “Our bodies, our natural ecosystems, all energy movements, and the way we use energy are all fundamentally based on having 1g of gravity,” she said. “Nowhere else in space does 1G of gravity exist; nowhere else in our solar system does it exist. This is one of the first problems we have to solve.”

Oxygen is another major factor. Earth’s ecosystem generates oxygen for humans and other life forms. If a technologically advanced primary and backup system fails to supply oxygen to a lunar base, for example, it spells immediate doom for the astronauts. “There are reserves everywhere in the nature of the Earth,” Irons told me. Think of hundreds of thousands of[{” attribute=””>species of plants that generate oxygen. That’s the kind of system reserve we need to replicate to be truly sustainable.”

Such an ecological system of an outpost would need an enormous amount of energy from the sun. The more distant planets and moons from the sun in our own solar system get decreased amounts of energy.

“You’ll need a lot of energy,” Lee Irons said. “Otherwise powering the ecological system of an outpost will be like trying to run your car on a cell phone battery or probably even worse, trying to run your entire house and household on a cell phone battery.”

Reference: “Pancosmorio (world limit) theory of the sustainability of human migration and settlement in space” by Lee G. Irons and Morgan A. Irons, 6 March 2023, Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.
DOI: 10.3389/fspas.2023.1081340

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