Small groups of like-minded people will settle the Lunar and Solar Frontier, not governments or corporations. This is a cornerstone of Lunar Homesteading. The current paradigm is doing it backwards and that’s one of the big reasons why it continues to fail. The correct order is that people create homes and communities on the frontier first. Governments and corporations then follow.
Sure, this isn’t always the case. There are plenty examples of government (usually military) outposts becoming the core of a new settlement (Fort Worth, TX) and trading posts growing into cities (New York, NY is a good example). The point of this section is to highlight a few well know examples that support the Lunar Homestead concept.
This section isn’t meant to be a full scholarly paper on the subject. That would take way too much work and, honestly, I just don’t have that much interest in it. I’d rather be working on the tech Homesteaders need.
Drawbacks of government settlement
Governments, particularly the U.S. and Russian, have had half a century to move humanity out into the Solar System. All we’ve gotten are 6 white men spending a few days on the Lunar surface and a small amount of people temporarily in Low Earth Orbit. That’s a terribly pathetic showing, in my opinion.
You’d think that government-sponsored settlement would be the best kind. The deep pockets, huge resource base, and ability to create legislation sure would help. Unfortunately, there are some significant drawbacks to relying on the federal government to build Lunar settlements, most of which have already been covered.
- Politics – We’ve already seen the effect politics has on space exploration. Politics dictate where we go, how we go, how long we go, and how we pay for everything.
- Political pork spending determines which programs get funded.
- Politicians are more concerned with the next election cycle than establishing and maintaining long-term funding priorities (or even short-term ones).
- Hyper-partisanship prevents governments from carrying out even the most basic of tasks, let alone something as complex as Lunar settlement. Heck, we can’t even get stuff done that most of the country agrees on.
- Politicians lack the willpower to go against their donors and political base.
- Most of the population doesn’t see the point of spending government resources on space settlement.
- Many believe that money spent on space would be used to solve other problems although there is no evidence that this happens.
- It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect the majority of the voting population to fund programs they don’t see a value in. This happens all the time anyway but that’s only because major political donors back the programs they want.
- Corporate donors are pursuing their own agenda that is usually not aligned with space settlement.
- Everything can change when control shifts hands or the American public gets angered/bored/scared/etc.
- Often, programs are associated with the administration that started them. When the opposing party gains power, these programs are targeted for elimination simply because they “belonged” to the “enemy”. It’s pretty backwards actually.
- The American public is intolerant to deaths and failures when it comes to space. The Space Shuttle Challenger loss grounded the U.S. civilian space program for 32 months . The Space Shuttle Columbia loss directly led to the cancelling of the Shuttle Program , even though there were still three functioning orbiters and no replacement vehicle.
- No settlement mandate for NASA – Just look at NASA’s 2018 Strategic Plan . Nowhere does it mention creating the tech or the infrastructure for permanent human settlement. Anywhere, not just on Luna. Don’t expect NASA to commit a lot of resources for an activity that isn’t part of their official mission. It will take Congress to add settlements to NASA’s reasons for existing.
- Sovereignty – This doesn’t get much mention but it should. When a government spends money on establishing a settlement, they tend to think that they should be in charge. Just ask King George III of the UK (hint – he was the guy that “lost” the American colonies). Where’s the incentive to sink a lot of money into self-sufficient Lunar settlements when history shows they’ll eventually want their freedom?
I’m not going to rant about what I think is wrong, or right, about America and her people. This isn’t the place and, honestly, it doesn’t really matter. Every place has flaws. The point I want to make though is that most people don’t care, or even think, about space settlement. And most of the ones that do don’t think it should be a high priority (we do have a lot of pressing issues to deal with). Some people are actively against spending government resources on space settlement because they believe that it would take money from programs they support. Those of us that think that the permanent human settlement of the Solar System is critical to the continued existence of Earth life (not just human) are a small minority. It’s absolutely unreasonable for us to expect the American people to allocate significant money and resources, over a long period of time, to an endeavor that they perceive as having no value to them. Outreach efforts might change that a little but we should be committed to finding ways to achieve our objectives on our own. Enter Lunar Homesteading.
Drawbacks of corporations
The previous chapter covered the SMIC and New Space. Big business was supposed to be the great savior of space settlement because Big Government was obviously not going to do it. Business has also failed. But it’s not their fault.
The biggest drawback of relying on companies to settle space is that they have to make a reasonable profit doing it. The primary purpose of a corporation is to survive, grow, and make money for its owners and shareholders while minimizing risk. It is unrealistic to expect any business to do anything else.
Providing launch and satellite services are proven industries and that is why we see many successful businesses in these areas. However, Lunar settlement is all risk with no short-term reward. Even the long-term rewards are poorly defined and still very risky. To mitigate risk, the business should be profitable within a reasonable amount of time. Reasonable, however, is a pretty flexible term. It’s more reasonable to expect a settlement to run in the red for a decade or more.
Here’s some of the ways people have proposed to make Lunar settlements profitable:
- Mining helium-3 (potentially needed for nuclear fusion power) is a non-starter. Lots of people like to talk about how helium-3 is the only physical product that can be profitably mined on Luna and shipped to Earth. Sorry but nope. One study calculated that it would take 1,700 to 2,000 mining vehicles, mining 630 tons of regolith per second, to meet 10% of the global energy demand in 2040 . That’s insane, even if we do eventually figure out how to make fusion work. Which has been “20 years away” for many decades.
- Space tourism is still unrealized because launch costs are still very high and there are no people or cultures to experience in space. Natural beauty and the experience of “being there” is great but most people travel to experience new places and things. Sure, the occasional billionaire will shell out big bucks for a trip to space. But that’s not tourism, it’s an “ego” experience. Lunar tourism will be a thing when visitors can spend days to weeks experiencing unique Lunar settlements. And then go home. Without going into bankruptcy.
- Solar Power Satellites (SPS) are an incredibly good idea. Build large solar collectors and place them in geosynchronous orbit. Change the solar energy collected into electricity, beam it to Earth with microwaves, collect the microwaves, turn it back into electricity, and send the electricity into the grid. Simple, “free”, environmentally friendly electricity available 24/7 (mostly). Each SPS would have to be rather large and we would need a lot of them. The thinking is that Lunar industry could supply all of the large, massive components and dramatically reduce the number of launches from Earth. Unfortunately, access to cheap fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) makes SPS completely unviable for now. Additionally, we can’t even get the Earth’s most powerful governments to agree on the simplest climate change protocols, let alone fund a huge “Manhattan-style” project. There just isn’t an economic reason to create Lunar settlements to support the construction of an SPS at this time.
- Lunar produced fuel for cis-Lunar rockets could be a very profitable industry once there are enough people on Luna to require a low-cost transportation system. Nobody builds a transportation system and then waits for people to show up to use it. Transportation systems are created when there are already enough people in place to actually use the system. And don’t even get me started on the short-sightedness of burning the limited amount of Lunar hydrogen in rocket motors. We’re smarter than that and we can surely build better rockets that only use commonly available fuels. Metal/Oxygen rockets are one alternative. Besides, Homesteaders don’t wait for cheap transportation options. They just GO.
No one has been able to figure out how to make Lunar settlement profitable and so we don’t have Lunar settlements.
Government and businesses FOLLOW Homesteaders. Not the other way around. Governments move in to provide services and collect revenue once people are established in a location. Businesses move in once there are enough people to support them. Homesteaders FIRST then everything else will follow.
Examples of successful homesteaders
Throughout history, it has been individuals, families, and small groups (homesteaders) that have carved settlements out of the frontier. This isn’t a comprehensive listing of all frontiers and mass migrations throughout history. It’s just a few examples of what homesteaders have accomplished.
Of course, it rarely ended well for the people already living there and who considered the area already settled. But that’s a whole other issue and luckily not one that is relevant to Lunar Homesteading (there’s no life on Luna to begin with). The indigenous people can be considered homesteaders in their own right. They settled into an area and carved out a life. That’s what our Lunar Homesteaders are going to do.
I apologize if this section seems America-centric. I’m sure there are lots of other examples I could use but I went with what was familiar to me. Send me a message about other successful frontier settlements created by small groups and I might include it in the next edition.
Humanity has settled many frontiers since we first left Africa 80,000 years ago . Each of these frontiers presented new challenges to our human ancestors, especially given our level of technology at the time. Asia and the Middle East had to have been jarringly different from what those early settlers had experienced in Africa. Even more so when we eventually moved into Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. Humans have been pushing back the frontier for a very long time.
We don’t know much about these early forays into the global frontier. That’s why it’s call pre-history. However, we do know a couple of important things.
- Early humans were able to successfully settle new and challenging environments with the most basic of technology. We overcame difficult environmental conditions, such as crossing the temporary land bridge connecting Asia to North America. We eliminated at least two (Neanderthals and Home erectus), and possibly three (it’s unclear if the inhabitants of Flores island were a separate species), rival species . And we created new and better tools that enabled us to thrive. We adapted.
- Governments and corporations were not involved. They weren’t even invented yet. Neither were agriculture, towns, or cities. All humans had were small groups working together.
- The original exodus from Africa might have involved 1,000 to 50,000 people, according to DNA evidence . That’s not a lot of people in the grand scheme of things. And based on modern hunter-gatherer societies and mathematical modeling of group processes; early human communities probably consisted of around 20 bands each with around 25 members . So around 500 members for a typical tribe. Or, to put it into LH terms, 20 Homesteads located relatively close to each other; each with around 25 people. Now we’ve got a Lunar tribe.
Sure, prehistoric humans didn’t need the same level of technology we do to settle Luna. But Lunar settlers don’t have to worry about having their heads cracked open by a Neanderthal or being eaten by a bear. Settling the frontier was tough back then and it’s tough now. That’s just how frontiers operate.
Plymouth Colony (1620 – 1691)
Plymouth Rock, Pilgrims, Indians, and Thanksgiving. It doesn’t get much more American than that. The Plymouth Colony is a good example of a small group of people successfully settling a frontier. I didn’t know it until I wrote this section, but the Plymouth Colony is pretty much the model for Lunar Homesteading that I envision.
The Pilgrims were a group of English Puritans looking for a place to practice their religion without persecution. They fled England in 1608 and emigrated to the Netherlands . However, the combination of Dutch cultural influence and continued harassment from English authorities motivated them to leave Europe and establish a settlement in the New World .
In June of 1619 the congregation obtained a land patent from the Plymouth Company  (aka the Virginia Company of Plymouth and Bristol ). This was one of two organizations entrusted by King James I to grant land charters and confirm property . The members of the Plymouth Company consisted of merchants, planters, Knights, and adventurers . It wasn’t so much a “company” as an investment group.
Once the Pilgrims had the OK from the King’s representatives, they then had to get financing. Establishing a settlement in the New World (or a new world) can be pricey. The Pilgrims contracted with a group called the Merchant Adventurers (cool name!) to fund their expedition . The Merchant Adventurers was a trading company made up of individual merchants, similar to a guild . The Merchant Adventurers would fund the Pilgrims (ship rental, supplies, etc.) up front and the settlement would repay the Merchant Adventurers’ expenses and pay out interest from the profits the settlement made .
Due to a series of misadventures, only the Mayflower left England on September 6, 1620. The 106-foot-long ship held 102 passengers and 30 crew members . They had a pretty rough 2-month passage (including one death)  and ended up establishing their settlement in the wrong spot, 65 miles north of their charter . The story is pretty interesting and well worth reading about. It was a tough first winter as well, with 45 out of the original 102 settlers dead . Unfortunately, people die on the frontier. That’s a fact we will have to accept about Lunar Homesteads as well.
The settlement was a success because they endured the hardships and thrived. They found a way to pay off their debt and purchase supplies (fur hunting primarily) . A year after landing, a second ship brought 37 new settlers and returned to England with £500 worth of goods ($119,000 at Purchasing Power Parity) to start paying off their debt . Unfortunately, the French captured the ship and drove the settlement even further into debt .
Ships continued to bring new settlers and the colony had almost 300 people at the start of 1630 . Thirteen years later (1643) it is estimated that the colony had around 2,000 people . It is estimated that Plymouth Colony had a population of around 7,000 by the time it was merged with the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 .
The relevant point here is that a small group (101 people) established a successful settlement on the frontier using private funding. Plymouth Colony isn’t the only example of this however. Many of the original European settlements in North America followed a similar model and were successful (Massachusetts Bay Colony, Rhode Island Colony, Jamestown, Newport, etc.).
The Great Trek
From 1835 to 1840, an estimated 6,000 people left the South African Cape Colony (about 20% of its total population at the time) and migrated eastward . A total of 12,000 people were involved overall . This was called the Great Trek. The primary reason for this migration was that the Boers (rural descendants of the area’s original European settlers) wanted to live without interference from the British Empire, who had taken control of the region .
This is another example of small groups working together to successfully settle a new area. In fact, the people who made the Great Trek identified themselves as Voortrekkers, which means “fore-trekkers”, “pathfinders”, or “pioneers” in Dutch and Afrikaans . This doesn’t imply that the Voortrekkers or Boers were good people, however. Two of the main reasons they didn’t get along with the British were that the British opposed the Boer’s harsh treatment of the native peoples and their ownership of slaves . Great Brittan’s decision to abolish slavery in all of its colonies in 1834 was the last straw for the Boers, who needed slave labor to keep most of their family-run farms afloat . The Great Trek was also used in the 1940’s to whip up national fervor and start apartheid . Before we get too judgmental, remember that in 1834 slavery was in full swing in America and the U.S. Federal government was actively involved in removing Native Americans from their lands by force. Jim Crow laws were in effect in the 1940’s in America as well.
Of course, thousands of people moving into territory already claimed by other people is going to result in a lot of bloodshed. Entire Voortrekker parties were wiped out as well as indigenous tribes. The Great Trek is considered one of the decisive factors that led to the collapse of the Zulu Kingdom. Again, this kind of bad behavior shouldn’t be a factor for Lunar Homesteads as there are no indigenous people to conquer and kill. Humans are great at coming up with reasons to do terrible things to each other so I wouldn’t put it past people to find way.
The Voortrekkers didn’t all travel in one huge group. There were multiple parties consisting of groups of families and individuals, usually ranging from 49 to 200 people . The largest First Wave party contained over 700 people . These groups were self-funded and self-governing. No external government or business influences.
The Great Trek resulted in five-six large Voortrekker settlements with a total population of about 2,000 by early 1837 . The Natalia Republic was formed in 1839 and annexed by the British in 1843 (now considered one of the four founding provinces of South Africa) . The Orange Free State became officially independent in 1854, joined the Union of South Africa in 1910, and was a founding member South Africa in 1961 . The population of the Orange Free State in 1875 was 100,000 people and by all accounts it was politically and economically successful . Finally, the South African Republic (also known as the Transvaal Republic) was officially recognized in 1852 as an independent state of 40,000 Voortrekkers . By 1870 the population had reached 120,000 people . In 1902 the South African Republic was conquered by the British empire and eventually became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910 .
Not bad for a relatively small group of families and individuals. If you gloss over the whole racist/slavery thing.
Americans started heading west of the Appalachian Mountains almost immediately after winning the Revolutionary war in 1781 (although it officially ended in 1783) . From the 1770’s to the 1830’s, pioneers consisting of family groups settled the new frontier that stretched to the Mississippi River . Lots of settlements were created during this time but we’re just going to look at one.
Marietta, Ohio was established in 1788 by the “American Pioneers of the Northwest Territory” , making it the first permanent settlement of the new United States in the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio . Of course, people have been in the area for a very long time, as evidenced by the 1,500+ years old ruins .
The American Pioneers of the Northwest Territory were a band of men that included Revolutionary War veterans and members of the Ohio Company of Associates (a land speculation company formed to settle the territory around the Ohio River ) . Known as ‘The forty-eight”, the “first forty-eight”, and the “founders of Ohio”; was a group of 48 men were carefully selected for their character, bravery, and skills . Interestingly, all of the men in the group were from New England and were descended from Puritan settlers (maybe even from Plymouth Colony) . The Company raised the money to purchase the land rights (and the necessary supplies I assume) from the federal government by selling shares and each man was responsible for outfitting himself .
At the time of its creation in 1787, the Northwest Territory was a vast wilderness with a handful of French colonial settlements (with about 4,000 traders) and sparsely populated Native American tribes (about 45,000 people total) . The 260,000 square mile territory was called “the vast interior” and “the howling wilderness” and contained no roads, bridges, towns, stores, or other signs of civilization . There were dozens of towns and settlements (some with thousands of people) in the newly formed state of Ohio by the time the territory was dissolved in 1803 . That’s pretty impressive for just 16 years of intense settlement.
Anyway, the American Pioneers set out as two parties; one from Massachusetts on December 3, 1787 and the other from Connecticut on January 1, 1788 . After a difficult 700-mile walk (in the dead of winter) from New England to the wilderness of western Pennsylvania along a single dirt “road”; the two groups met up at Sumerill’s Ferry in western Pennsylvania . There they constructed two flatboats (again during a Pennsylvania winter) and three log canoes . They floated down a series of rivers until they reached their destination on April 7, 1788 . The initial settlement started with 48 men but within a few months the families of the American Pioneers started arriving, and by the end of 1788 there were 137 people living in Marietta . The town has been continuously inhabited ever since.
The American West
When you hear the word “frontier”, most people think of the American West. Cowboys, outlaws, frontier justice, Indians (Native Americans), gold, and lots of alcohol. And guns. Lots of guns. However, there were also families, pioneers, settlers, farmers, and people just trying to carve a home out of the frontier. Those are the people we’re interested in (at least for LH purposes).
Instead of picking a particular city, I want to talk about a famous route that opened up a large region of the U.S. to settlement. Here’s a couple of hints. “You have died of dysentery” and “Ma was bitten by a rattlesnake”. Yep, I’m going to talk about the Oregon Trail. In addition to being a beloved (and wildly successful) educational computer game; the Oregon Trail was also the facilitator for a huge mass human migration.
The Oregon Trail (OT) is 3,490 km (2,170 mile) large-wheeled wagon route that runs east-west . This route ran from various starting points along the Missouri river, converging along the lower Platte River Valley, and then leading to the rich farmlands of Oregon . Settlers passed through the Great Plains as they were called “the Great American Desert” and were considered “unfit for human habitation” (mostly because of the lack of surface water and timber) . Plus, it was illegal to homestead the Great Plains until after 1846 because the U.S. government was reserving those lands for Native American resettlement . The eastern portion of the Oregon Trail also connected to the California Trail, Bozeman Trail, and Mormon Trail .
The Oregon Trail was originally created by trappers and fur traders (the mountain men) around 1811 and was only passable by horseback or on foot . These men weren’t interested in setting up sustainable communities, they were there for the valuable pelts.
The Dalles Methodist Mission was the first small group of settlers to use the OT . In 1836, this small band of missionaries (including the wives of the two leaders) set out for Fort Walla Walla to introduce western culture and Christianity to the local Native Americans . They were the first group to use wagons all the way to Fort Hall, where they then switched to pack animals for the rest of the trip . Other missionaries (mostly husband and wife teams) using wagons and pack teams soon followed .
By September of 1840 a small group of families were the first to reach Fort Walla Walla with their wagons, thereby opening the entire OT to vehicles . After that, an increasing number of settlers started using the OT. In 1841, a band of 70 pioneers left Independence, Missouri and 100 settlers left in 1842 .
The number of settlers using the OT jumped to 1,000 (men, women, and children) in 1843 . Dubbed “The Great Migration of 1843” , this huge increase was due to a severe depression in the Midwest combined with really effective propaganda about the virtues of Oregon . This wagon train consisted of more than 100 wagons and a herd of 5,000 oxen and cattle . The 1845 migration consisted of nearly 3,000 people . Every year, the OT was improved (bridges, ferries, better road conditions, etc.) allowing more people to use it with less difficulties .
The Mormons sent 2,200 people in 1847 to establish what will become Salt Lake City in Utah . This group was charged with establishing the initial settlements that would house, feed, and support the thousands of settlers expected to follow them . The settlements in the Salt Lake Valley quickly became the major resupply point for people moving further west . This is exactly how I envision Lunar Homesteading to work.
Using the OT was also a dangerous undertaking with an estimated 9,400 to 21,000 deaths overall . Most of these deaths were from disease, although attacks from Native Americans weren’t far behind . Snakebites were a fairly rare cause of death . Still, the vast majority (96%) of the settlers safely made it to their destination .
Overall, the Oregon Trail was used by about 400,000 people (individuals and families) . About 60% to 80% of OT travelers were farmers looking for a new place . Use of the trail substantially declined once the Panama Railroad (1855) and the First Transcontinental Railroad (1869) were completed, as they were faster, cheaper, and safer .
The Oregon Trail existed because there were places for people to go. The trail wasn’t cut through the wilderness first and THEN people went. This is how Lunar Homesteading would work. The Homesteaders will create the destinations, THEN the transportation infrastructure will be built out and improved on to accommodate the increasing number of settlers following in their wake.
As a side note, the Oregon Trail still exists and anyone can travel along it if they want to experience a bit of the pioneer life.
Historically, it has been individuals, families, and small groups (Homesteaders) that have carved settlements out of the frontier. It was Homesteaders that left Africa to settle Europe and Asia. It was Homesteaders that crossed the land bridge connecting Asia to North America. It was Homesteaders that created the Colonies out of the American frontier. And it was Homesteaders seeking a better life who transformed the American west. These are only a few examples of what small groups of determined humans can accomplish.
I firmly believe that small-scale settlement is the key to opening up the solar system. Governments and big business didn’t move humans out of Africa. They didn’t settle the American West. They aren’t responsible for any voluntary (key word) mass settlement of people. They may set up the environment that encourages people to leave and help expand and enhance existing communities. But on the whole, large scale settlement is the product of individuals, families, and small groups. They take the risks and establish the first settlements. Business and government build upon those initial communities.