Taming the Desert: Could People Create Vast Desert Cities?

A city in the desert. Without water. The only example I can think of that I’ve been to is Las Vegas, but even it draws its water from the nearby Colorado River. There are no true desert cities on Earth.

But would a desert city be possible? The Sahara and Gobi deserts in Africa and Asia, respectively, take up an immense amount of land area that could otherwise be used for human civilization. Obviously, no one is going to throw up a megalopolis in either place anytime soon, and neither region’s surrounding land currently has any water to spare, but what about in the future?

I think the solution for the desert conundrum can actually be found in another place far away: Mars. Mars has significantly less water than even the driest of Earthen deserts, yet humanity still strives to conquer it. Scientists have recently found evidence of flowing, liquid water on Mars, but this does not occur in a consistent manner or in suitable quantities for sustained Martian civilization.

Instead, Martian water will likely come from ice in the ground and be recycled meticulously to preserve every last drop for future Martian colonists. I think a similar system of careful water recycling could be implemented on Earth to create future desert cities. Plants could be genetically engineered to require less water. Buildings could be built underground in the sand dunes to retain most of the moisture within the environment.

These cities would be physically self-sustaining and be able to bar themselves off from the outside world if they pleased (in case of a global pandemic, for example), but they could also be connected to the outside world by vast desert highways, and airports could be built with all of the space the desert provides to give easy access to the more populated areas outside the desert.

And, of course, these desert communities could have access to the rest of the Earth with the internet. I imagine their economies would either be subsistanc-based or highly information-based, so the internet would be imperative.

As humanity progresses, cities will grow. The UN projects the world population to reach 11 billion by 2100. I personally believe this is an underestimation, but even adding just 4 billion more people would place a massive burden on existing infrastructures. Already-crowded countries like India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria are expected to take on the majority of this population growth, and those countries likely could not handle such an increase. I think a diaspora will take place in the future as overcrowded countries crumble from overpopulation, and their peoples will need places to live. The desert is one such place where people could build new communities without overpopulating existing ones.


Winter Storm Helena Approaching the South

This post is meant for people in Georgia/Atlanta only, so I apologize to the rest of you.

With a snowstorm fast approaching, now seems to be a decent time to talk about how to prepare and what to expect. According to this release from the National Weather Service (published to weather.com), a band of Metro Atlanta is likely to receive 2-3 inches of snow accumulation, with higher amounts possible in spots. Obviously, that doesn’t sound like a ton… but this is Georgia. That’s quite a bit. However, seeing as how yesterday they said it’d only be an inch or less, and now they’re saying 2-3 inches, I’m going to go ahead and assume we’ll have 3-5 inches.

Now I’ve never driven in the snow; I don’t plan to this weekend. Most Georgians aren’t experienced winter drivers. My main point in making this post is: have fun, but be safe. Watch for black ice. Drive slowly. Be mindful, even if you are an experienced winter driver, that most people around you are likely inexperienced and nervous. Also, stock up on anything you may need for the weekend ASAP because everyone will panic and raid the stores on Friday when it’s apparent that the snow is coming.

Anyways, here’s to a wintery weekend! Make sure to tweet pictures of your snowmen/winter landscape to me at @ATLknight7.

A New Beginning: My Case for NASA’s Return to the Moon in the Next Decade

In the next decade, NASA plans on returning to the moon with Exploration Missions 1 and 2, with EM-2 being the first crewed mission past low-Earth orbit since the end of the Apollo program. These EMs will mark a new beginning for NASA and space exploration as a whole, a beginning which should mark the trail to Mars and beyond.

The EM crews will be riding in Orion spacecraft launched into space by NASA’s long-developed heavy lift rocket, the SLS. Presumably, NASA’s human spaceflight heads wish to eventually allow Americans to once again set foot on an extraterrestrial object like Mars. I’m thinking that the best course of action would be to start with the Moon first despite the immense costs of developing a lunar program.

Now before you raise your objections, know that I realize these drawbacks to going Moon-first:

  1. Every mission to anywhere other than Mars simply takes away time and money from developing an eventual Mars mission.
  2. Any lunar vehicles would have to be developed independently of Martian vehicles; the gravitational and environmental differences between Mars and the Moon would necessitate this.
  3. A lunar mission(s) would almost certainly ensure that a private entity like SpaceX reaches Mars first.

These are the biggest drawbacks, I think, and they are each fairly substantial. The costs of NASA’s manned spaceflight program would almost certainly skyrocket. I generally oppose questionable spending, but I really think the benefits of a lunar return can potentially outweigh the costs.

  1. As with any space exploration mission, the lunar mission would need to fulfill a scientific purpose. I think the best idea is to begin some on-site (on-moon?) testing for a future, permanent, unmanned lunar base. This lunar base could use the water frozen on the moon to produce fuel for future space missions.
  2. Even if the conditions are different, and extraterrestrial landing is still a landing. The folks at NASA are rusty; this is a new generation. No one has taken part in a manned landing before, so it’d be good to have a practice run before shipping our brave men and women off across the solar system.
  3. The United States of America could use a pick-me-up. The Apollo program was one of the nation’s greatest sources of pride in history. Now in 2016, we have a presidential candidate whose main line of success comes from proclaiming that the United States is no longer great. NASA needs to prove to the world — and more importantly, to Americans — that America still is and will continue to be the greatest nation on Earth.

It may take awhile, but the next President of the United States needs to request a space exploration agenda from NASA that pushes the envelope. A budget increase couldn’t hurt either; NASA does so much and only takes up a minute fraction of the federal budget (currently less than .5%. Less than half of one percent!).

[Photo credit: Image of the Moon by William Cerny]