Monday, March 14, 2011
Back in 2009 a thread started on the xkcd forums about colonizing Ceres vs. the Moon and Mars, one that received a few replies and then dropped down. Google Alerts let me know two days ago that the thread had been revived, and subsequent replies resulted in a total of 122 posts for the thread. Since this is one of my favourite subjects I decided to add my thoughts as well on page 4, which has bumped the thread back up again.
My thoughts on the subject haven't changed (since the facts haven't changed either), and in short are:
The Moon is by far the easiest location to colonize now. Lack of launch windows, quick communication, lots of sunlight at the poles, the ability for other nations (Japan/China/India), etc.
Ceres and Venus are next in terms of difficulty. Landing is not so hard on either - Ceres because it has no atmosphere and Venus since we wouldn't actually land there, just float around the 50-60 km altitude mark. Both require further investigation though.
Mars is next, and the largest problem is landing - the atmosphere is thick enough that you need a heat shield, but so thin that it doesn't slow you down much on the way down. Launch windows are also pretty bad. The only way to colonize Mars would be a one-way mission, but even then we'd have to figure out how to land first. Mars should continue to be explored by unmanned probes for now.
I wrote in more detail on the forum though so read it there if you're curious.