Humanity has long since established a foothold in the Artic and Antarctic, but extensive colonization of these regions may soon become economically viable. If we can learn to build self-sufficient habitats in these extreme environments, similar technology could be used to live on the Moon or Mars.
The average temperature of the Antarctic coast in winter is about −20 °C. As if this weren’t enough, the region suffers from heavy snowfall, strong winds, and six-month nights. How can humanity possibly survive in such a hostile environment?
So far we seem to have managed well; Antarctica has almost forty permanently staffed research stations (with several more scheduled to open by 2008). These installations are far from self-sufficient, however; the USA alone spent 125 million dollars in 1995 on maintenance and operations. All vital resources must be imported—construction materials, food, and especially fuel for generating electricity and heat.
Modern technology and construction techniques may soon permit the long-term, self-sufficient colonization of such extreme environments.
Why would anyone want to live there? Exceptional scientific research aside, the Arctic is though to be rich in mineral resources (oil in particular). The Antarctic is covered by an ice sheet over a mile thick, making any mineral resources it may have difficult to access. Its biological resources, however, have great potential. Many organisms adapted to extreme cold have evolved unusual biochemical processes, which can be leveraged into valuable industrial or medical techniques. Alexander Bolonkin and Richard Cathcart are firm believers in the value of this chilling territory. “Many people worldwide, especially in the Temperate Zones, muse on the possibility of humans someday inhabiting orbiting Space Settlements and Moon Bases, or a terraformed Mars” Bolonkin points out, “but few seem to contemplate an increased use of ~25% of Earth’s surface—the Polar Regions.”
Indeed, the question of space exploration is intriguing. We would all like to know whether there is life on Mars, but robot probes can only perform the experiments they take along with them. Only humans are flexible enough to explore a new territory in detail and determine whether there are enough resources to sustain a long-term presence. Does modern technology really permit the design of lightweight, energy-efficient habitats suitable for other worlds?
That would be cool if it did! Although a few domed cities in the polar regions couldn’t hurt mankind’s overall survivability, space — and developing effective countermeasures — have a lot more security to offer.