Window Fest


Howdy, Folks!  JJ the astronaut here.  Yes, I love my job:  flying into space and getting things done.  I’m a hardhat with a spacesuit on, and I love every minute of it.  But you know, I think about the future quite a bit.  Especially when we really start moving out there and start colonizing all those big, lovely rocks we call asteroids.

Just what are those folks going to do?  Well, they’re going to adapt to their environment, that’s what.  We all know that.  I’m sure you’ve all read hundreds of stories, books, and articles about asteroid mining, space farms, building spaceships in asteroid shipyards, setting up their own societies, and the like.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such works.  But to get back to what I was saying, what else may come from this migration?

Here’s something that might be happening:  I call them ‘Window Fests’.

Just about everyone knows what an orbit is, but very few stop to really think about them.  A lot of people don’t realize that EVERYTHING in space has its own, unique orbit.

I’ll show you an example:  You go to Saturn and look at the rings.  Most of them are ice chunks, about the size of a house.  They’re mostly made of water ice, and they bang into each other all the time and break up.  That’s why the rings are so colorful from the sun’s lighting, because the ice chunks are all pristine and their surfaces are raw from collisions and exposure.  And remember, they all have their own individual orbits, and they’re in a crowded area.  So there’s always going to be impacts here and there, making their brightness constantly renewed.

It used to be the same with the asteroids.  However, they’re a lot more spread out than Saturn’s rings, and they’re not made of pure water ice.  Right now, the average, good-sized rock in the main belt is roughly 8,000 miles from the nearest neighbor of the same size or so.  They used to hit each other much more often in the early days of the solar system, but they’re kind of settled down and stretched out a little bit more, now.  There’s still the occasional collision, but far fewer than the ‘Bombardment’ days.   After all, the Solar System is not static.  It is changing and evolving all the time, even as the Earth is.  Even so, there are still clusters, or ‘families’ of these rocks that are pretty close together, yet they all orbit around the sun in their own path as well.

Thing is, every one of them, right down to pea size, has its own, unique orbit.  Further out from the sun, they’re a little slower.  Closer in, they go a little faster.  Some travel above the sun’s orbital plane* at a higher angle, some below and with a different angle.  (*’Plane’ refers to the fact that the planets and most of the asteroids are pretty much on the same level relative to the sun in their orbits).  What that means is, for a while, two bodies will get fairly close to one another.  This is what we call a ‘Window’.  It means an opening of time when something can be done between the two bodies that would be much more difficult or even impossible at other times.

Look at any animation of the asteroids and you can see how two given asteroids can be at opposite ends of the Solar System for some times, and yet can be within kissing distance at others.  From the ground, when we see Mars and Jupiter come into alignment, we call it a ‘conjunction’.  So, let’s speculate a little bit.

We can have two good-sized rocks, both being mined and processed, and each with a small colony of people doing the job.  Maybe they’ve built a large diameter, pressurized ‘ring’ spinning around the rock itself, and looking like a spare tire.  This provides the centrifugal force to give artificial gravity.  They would install living quarters, farming space, or even small parkland for leisure times, where a colonist could take a walk and simply breathe fresh air that is not from a suit.  Or maybe there’s an entirely separate ring, orbiting just off the asteroid’s pole, and anchored with a long cylinder.  Inside, the raw materials from within the rock would be passed up for processing.  There can be as many design variations as there are rocks to settle.

For all practical purposes, these colonies are villages.  Just like the pioneer days on earth, each village is essentially self-contained.  Growing its own food, and processing local materials for sustainment, with a little left over for sale or export.  But, these communities are not entirely isolated, however.

As more and more rocks get settled and human numbers grow, then there will be more times when two colonies will orbit close enough to each other for personal contact and trade.  Just as fishing villages had boats and mountain villages had wagons, there are bound to be relatively small, locally operated ships in the same manner.  During the ‘window’ when two colonies are orbiting close to one another, these will be the vehicles used.

By the way, as a somber and yet suspenseful note:  We can’t ignore the possibilities of two such neighbors getting WAY too close, such as a collision! Hopefully, the colonists will have better tracking abilities and some way of adjusting the orbits just a tad, to prevent actual contact.

What’s to trade?  Well, for one thing, many villages, and colonies too, will specialize in some sort of commodity or another.  One colony dominated by Hispanic people might very well grow peppers and various spices.  A bumper crop can easily be exchanged with a colony with largely Nordic folk who would like a little more variety in their diet.  Bamboo could be traded for oak, or corn for an excess of tomatoes.  Woodcraft objects from a colony growing excess trees, for cotton-based clothing grown by a colony specializing in that plant.  -Hey, for that matter, good, reliable toilet paper could well be a sought-after and very profitable exchange item!

Metals?  Jewelry for one thing, and one rock might be an abundant source of copper, while another rock has lots of iron.

But most of all, there will be one commodity measured in value above all else:  People.  There will be a brisk ‘trade’ in people as well.

Stories abound on earth, of young people from different villages who find each other and fall in love.  It was not uncommon in mountainous countries like ancient Greece and parts of China where young men would wander from village to village in small bands.  –Not for raiding or invasion (Although this happened, too), but to challenge the local boys for wrestling contests, foot racing, ball throwing, and the like.  These would be fun, entertaining events.

Then at night, the young maidens would dance.

Inevitably, whether by eye contact, a smile, or a small token exchanged, a pairing would start.  A young man might stay and become a new village man, or the girl would journey back with him to his home village, there to start a new life as a new spouse.  Then too, with a short distance for comms, internet pictures as well.

This is what genetic diversity is all about.  And folks, call me a hopeless romantic, but this will happen Way Out There as well.

But let’s not get carried away.

There’s bound to be times when a young girl will return home in tears, and an outraged father and maybe several brothers as well, will embark on the family vessel to visit a certain rock, to find a certain young man.

-Probably with a preacher and a few shotguns on board!


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.