The future of space travel appears bleak right now, but it is not going away. Mankind will live, work, and travel, in space. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
George Friedman, a geopolitical scientist and author of “The Next 100 Years” predicts that the World War III will be the first war in which some battles will be fought in space. The reason for this is space-based weapons not unlike the ones seen in Bond movies “GoldenEye” and “Die Another Day.” The Japanese will challenge the American military dominance over space much the same way they challenged the American dominance over the seas nearly 70 years ago. Friedman’s predictions are not guaranteed to come true, but given his sound arguments, I agree that at least some of the events he predicts are likely to happen.
I believe that that civilians will begin to colonize space after the war. Several changes in our world will make this possible:
1. The transition of human civilisation Type 1 status (on the Kardashev Scale) within the next century or two – which means we will finally have a fully realised global civilisation.
2. The technological revolution in robotics. Robots will perform tasks too dangerous for humans, effectively making the colonization of space much easier for us.
3. The construction of space elevators. We have an infrastructure of roads, an infrastructure of railways, and an infrastructure of airports. By the end of the 21st century we will have an infrastructure of space elevators, eliminating the need for expensive and dangerous launches.
4. The general reduction of costs due to the combined effect of innovation and economies of scale.
The biggest space-based industry is likely to be mining (for minerals and construction materials). The second biggest will probably be tourism. The third, of course, will be the continuing exploration space and planning for further expansion.
… But everything I have said so far is about the next 200 years or so. What about the centuries beyond? What will be the next major step?
If our conquest of space should coincide with our transition to Type 1 status, it should be no coincidence that the next big step will coincide with our transition to Type 2 status, in roughly 3000 years. The next big step will be the construction of a Dyson Swarm, which is basically a sphere of tiny habitable planetoids that will orbit the sun at the same distance as the Earth.
Space travel at this time will be as common place and road and air travel are today. Huge factories and machines will be built and operated in space, and who knows – perhaps we will have the technology to explore Gliese and other extrasolar planetary systems in our cosmic backyard. So what will space travel in the future look like?
I can’t say will happen after that.