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Civil Engineering in Space (Let's Do Lunch)

written by: John Moehring•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 4/27/2010

After the minor details of space travel have been worked out, what are we going to do when we arrive? Where are we going to live while doing it? Most importantly, where will we go for lunch? An article series that goes beyond space traveling and into the Civil Engineering realm of space living.

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    A Little While Ago, In A Galaxy Right Around Here

    1982: Poor E.T. It's bad enough he can't get past the moon's orbit yet as an astronaut, let alone as a passenger. He has to construct his own extrasolar communication system with help from a creative ten year old native. And to add insult to injury, he can't even take undergraduate classes in building his own off-world home, let alone a complete civil infrastructure.

    2009: E.T. made his debut over 27 years ago. What has transpired since then? Just about ten years ago a couple of predictions were made regarding space travel in the year 2010:

    Space travel will have the same impact in the 21st century that aviation had in the 20th century. Revenues will rise to more than $1 trillion/year, with commensurate impact on employment and the worldwide economy. And:

    The new frontier of the hotel industry will be space tourism. Competition for guests will become more intense as the cost of booking a room drops to less than $50,000.

    This was in 2001, about the time a well to do business man named Dennis Tito paid and trained his way as the first space tourist. Add the backdrop of popular space oriented films like E.T., Star Wars, and others, and these statements seemed almost plausible at the time. Now with the year 2010 right around the corner, it does not appear these predictions will be entirely accurate. But there has at least been progress in giving E.T. a chance to pursue the formal education needed to build those predictions closer to reality.

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    Lunch, Anyone?

    Most academic offerings to date focus on how to get into space, how to travel in space, performing research in space, how to manipulate space travel for military advantage, and space tourism. And of course, how to return from space. But what happens once the complexity and uncertainty of getting there and back is replaced by the everyday thrill of wanting to do something upon arrival? Like, going out for sushi, on Mars . . . ? Just think of the infrastructure that would have to be constructed and maintained for an earthling to be able to engage in such an activity. A lot of civil space engineering, to be sure. And before there are qualified engineers, there need to be qualified educational programs, both academic and practical.

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    What's On The Menu

    So this series of articles will focus on the not too distant need for expanding the discipline of Civil Engineering into space exploration. As we know, Civil Engineering consists of many sub-disciplines including, but not limited to, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, urban engineering, materials engineering, surveying, and construction engineering. As such it requires specialized knowledge of mathematics, materials, physics, geology, mechanics, dynamics, soils, and a plethora of other scientific studies. Sounds similar to some of the background an astronaut would require, less aerospace training and physical endurance requirements perhaps. So to push the Civil Engineering discipline into the realm of space may not be such a leap after all. It may only require a few small but thoughtful steps (apologies in advance for the paraphrasing, Mr. Armstrong).

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    It Never Occurred To Me Until Now

    Is engineering and building a bridge on the moon going to be that much different than on earth? Will bridges even be required off earth? Or a need for any traffic infrastructure, for that matter? Septic systems? Beach front developments overlooking undulating oceans of dust instead of water? Should be interesting to think about, at least.