Conestoga Mountain

Clyde

There are so many parallels between moving out into space and the great western movements in the USA during the 1800s. Intrepid pioneers, vast distances, great dangers, hardships, and lethal adversaries. BUT, you could win a big place of your own if you could make it. A real big place.
Hello, gang, it’s me again. Astronaut Clyde Belshe at your service. Shuttle driver, swordsman, pistol champ, card player, and dreamer.
Forget the cowboys and Indians. Forget the gun battles. The real hero of the old west was the slow but sturdy Conestoga Wagon. This was a heavy, clumsy wagon. A workhorse that could only travel at 4 – 5 miles per hour on a good day. But it could carry several tons of cargo, a family, and had a removable canvas-covered top for its own protection. Furthermore, it was powered by living engines that could live off the land as it went. It could carry a family, their possessions, and all their tools, weapons, and grain to clear the land, dig a well, and construct a dwelling. This could be the basis for starting a farm, a ranch, or even a paying way station for other travelers. Totally self-sufficient, they could live all by themselves way out yonder.
Eventually, they were able to start small communities grew to trading centers, workshops, inns, and eventually, a city of their own.
It’ll be the same as we move out into the asteroids.
Immense distances, frightful dangers, and an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness that’ll be hard to beat. However, if a family or a small group of families (Just like the old wagon trains) DO make it out there, and if they DO survive, then they will be like emperors.
They will have territories, resources, and rewards of a scale that will be hard to imagine by today’s standards. Think of the pioneers of the 1800’s and what they ate, drank, slept in, and how they got around. Now compare it with how things are done today. I know it’s all a cliché, but just look at the obvious.
Yes, in addition to the dangers out there, there will be hard work. Gut straining, back-breaking, soul-testing labor. And the living conditions at first will be cramped, smelly, and generally appalling. Yet again, if they make it, it will be a big deal indeed.
Let’s get back to the vessels our future pioneers will be using. For want of a better term, we’ll call them ‘Conestoga Ships’ for now. They won’t be too big, and they will look clumsy and bulky. Not all like the sleek vessels we see in science fiction shows. On the other hand, they’ll have technological resources that will help tame those asteroids and make them into dwelling places and commercial resources, just like the days of ‘Westward Ho!’
Coming along even now, there is an array of developing tools and techniques which will make these dreams plausible and doable. Some of them surprisingly simple, such as solar mirrors to provide heat, light, and power for industry and construction. Most of the existing machinery we have now, such as rock crushesand steam-powered engines. Readily available vacuum, We already have rock crushers, grinders, and magnetic separators. There’s plenty of talk about what computers can do.
As for the more exotic stuff, we are bringing on-line 3-D printers that can work with metal, plastics, and even biological cells. It’s not a great leap to imagine a first-aid kit that can generate replacement tissues and organs, aided by a med program running a small but versatile robot for detail work. The other model printers can make tools and fittings on demand, mined from the rock itself.
There will also be stills and separation machines to extract water, oxygen, and volatiles from space ice, or even cook them directly out of the mined asteroids themselves. Just like trees of old, the smaller rocks or broken off pieces, whether processed or not, can always be melted, shaped, and placed to provide radiation shielding, interior walls, or even serve as heat sinks for solar light reflected directly into them, and then provide radiant heating by simply cooling off.
Now before you think I’m talking just about spaceships, I’m not. After all, we need to get out there, and it can be a long trip. How to do this?
Actually, we have a huge potential transportation already in place.
There are some 8,000 near earth asteroids and dormant comets in our neighborhood right now. But they’re not just hanging around. Hundreds of them, roughly the size of small mountains (Two to three thousand feet in diameter), are actually in their own orbits, which are long ellipses that stretch out from the Earth-Mars neighborhood right out into the main asteroid belt itself.
Take one of the Amor-class asteroids, known as 4503 Cleobulus. It travels from Earth to Mars, and almost all the way out to Jupiter. It goes right through the main asteroid belt. Round trip is about 4 ¼ years. Yes, that means 2 years and a few weeks one way. That’s a long voyage.
However, energy-wise, it’s a free ride.
An asteroid like this one, even if it’s a rubble pile, can be drilled out, sealed on the inside, and then the exterior hard-baked preventing spillage once you spin it for gravity. Install life support, plant some greens and place some livestock, and you’re good to go. A travelling colony. Instead of Conestoga ships, you now have a Conestoga mountain.
Arriving Conestoga ships can dock, moor, or even stow themselves inside. The crew families can earn their keep by helping with the food and maintenance chores for the colony. They will become part of the community. They won’t feel isolated, and they will have shared resources. They can keep their ships in a safe environment for repairs and further modifications, replenish their consumable stocks, and even produce further resources for their own.
Furthermore, the journey outwards will provide them with priceless training and experience. To handle the environment out there. Once a suitable outer rock or ‘clan’ of smaller rocks have been identified and accessed, a selected group of families can return to their ships, cast off, and land on their new digs.
This would not be static. Due to the dynamics and changing orbital windows, these travelling colonies would be arriving at a totally different group of asteroids for two or three decades, establishing a new group of homesteads every time. However, if more and more traveling colonies are created back on earth, then it’s possible that a main belt colony could be visited perhaps once a year, or even more.
Now don’t get me wrong! I know it’s all simplistic and lah-de-dah dancing and playing out in space, and suddenly you have a golden palace and a lush oasis. We know there will be hundreds of thousands of critical details that will have to be addressed. We also know thousands of people will be sweating in their suits and running on treadmills just to stay alive. We won’t even discuss how many banquets will consist of soybean mash and recycled water.
But after a while, after a heart-breaking long while, maybe even two or three generations down the line, those things will come true. When you’re truly self-sufficient and have plenty of room, then the sky is no limit at all.
However, it will only be wild and free for a few decades at most. Sooner or later, the bureaucrats will arrive.
Let’s have another drink!

A web comic about the space industry. Every Monday one page and one article is added until the complete 39 page story is finished. See what happens when the space industry tries to be profitable, and the astronauts find they’re in for a big surprise.