The Final Frontier

Our days on Earth may be numbered. Great minds have postulated that humanity must spread itself across multiple planets in order to avoid being entirely wiped out by one natural disaster. Physicist Stephen Hawking has gone so far as to predict such a catastrophe will occur on Earth in the next 100 years, which doesn't give us much time to pack our rocket ships.

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Will humanity be ready to colonize space before doomsday? We asked Futurism readers when they thought humans will colonize off-planet, and the results revealed quite a consensus. More than 70 percent of people who took the poll thought a colony will be established during the first half of the 21st century, and the decade with the most votes — a whopping 36 percent of participants — was the 2030s.

Satish Varma, a software engineer, explained why he voted for this decade. Varma wrote in his response that our technological advances in spacecraft design, artificial intelligence (AI), and bionics will be the driving forces that finally propel us into space long term. "Currently there are some promising advances in space exploration and artificial intelligence by companies like SpaceX, Google, and Tesla in a short time frame," Varma wrote.

Varma's observations are right on — both SpaceX and Blue Origin have recently reached significant milestones in developing reusable rockets, which will be key in making space travel economically viable. Google has recently developed an AI that can learn almost as fast as we can, making the technology much more promising for real-world applications, like flying spaceships.

What The Experts Have to Say

The technologies have enticed governments and companies around the world to take the idea of space colonization seriously. The two most popular targets for human occupation are currently Mars and the Moon. The Moon gets a little less attention these days, but scientists have estimated that we could build a colony there over the pan of six years and for as little as $10 billion. The Chinese and European space agencies are carefully examining the possibility of a Moon base, as such a resource would greatly reduce the cost of traveling to other planets — including Mars.

On the Mars front, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced its intention to establish a settlement on the Red Planet by 2117. Other nations are likely to beat the UAE in reaching this goal, however, as the U.S. government has tasked NASA with getting humans on Mars by 2033, and China has set an even more ambitions goal: by the end of the decade. These government efforts align with readers' predictions.

But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hopes to prove just how much more efficient private companies are than government bureaucracies. His plan, too, is to send humans to Mars by 2020, but that isn't his only goal. He wants to make travel to the Red Planet affordable, setting the price cap at $200,000 in his new plan that focuses on establishing a self-sustaining space civilization rather than a simple exploratory expedition. Such an establishment will be paramount to the future of the human species, Musk said.

"History suggests there will be some doomsday event, and I would hope you would agree that becoming a multi-planetary species would be the right way to go," Musk said at a press conference last year. "I want to make Mars seem possible... like something that we can do in our lifetimes."

With all these efforts to get humans off world over the course of the next few decades, it seems like a good bet a Martian colony is not only something this generation could see, but something it will.

See all of the Futurism predictions and make your own predictions here.

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