Homo Sapiens evolved to adapt to changing circumstances most readily when divided into smaller groups through circumstances, geography and our own contrary nature. Climate change, new diseases that either evolve or cross over from other animals and other environmental changes have had an enormous impact on our development. Humanity is alive and growing in numbers in large part because we have a tendency to separate into groups. No matter what has happened throughout the history of our planet the groups have been varied and separate enough that some of them survive the large scale upheavals. We are living proof that our nature and our skill set allow us advantages when it comes to mankind surviving and evolving through events that have driven other animal species into extinction.
I am betting that within the next few thousand years humanity will have colonized space. There is a set of natural stepping stones that we will follow. The moon and Near Earth space are obviously attractive for their resources and what they allow us to do that would be too destructive on the surface of our own planet. Eventually the Moon will have a large population base with it’s own sets of cultures. Lunies will be manufacturing and growing food, exporting their surplus to other planets and settlements in space. The LaGrange points that are stable orbital positions around Earth will be chock-a-block with manufactured environments, factories, hotels and zero gravity hospices. Before that point is reached we will have been putting people permanently onto Mars. Lots of them will be volunteers. Perhaps some of them will be people that different Earthly nation-states move involuntarily. After Mars it will be out to the Asteroid Belt, attractive for it’s ready resources and maybe a chance to get out of the crowded Inner System. Meteorites have shown a wide range of almost pure elements and new alloys. We have to accept that the Asteroid Belt would be providing such resources in abundance. Then people will move out to the Kuiper Belt – those thousands of mineral and volatile-rich objects which extend from beyond Neptune out to a good 30 to 50 AU. Finally we will be burrowing into the Oort Cloud which reaches an estimated 3 light years out in all directions from our solar system. The colonization of the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt and the Trans-Uranian Objects that compose the Kuiper belt and the Oort Cloud will entail extended isolation of a multitude of human societies in ways we can barely begin to imagine. This division and isolation plays directly into one of the core reasons that humanity has evolved and changed and succeeded in surviving the way it has to date. Speciation will happen. We will evolve in extreme ways. Ways that make the changes the Pan-Gaia division into continents fostered – changes that helped lead to the different races we know today – seem like nothing at all. Evolution will be self imposed by genetic engineering, selective breeding and (here is a bugaboo word but it will happen folks, it will happen) eugenics. Evolution will happen also through the natural processes that come with having isolated communities adapting to an extreme range of wildly differing circumstances. All of these circumstances will be fraught with powerful mutagenic forces. Mutation will be caused by exposure to radiation, temperature changes, chemicals and trace minerals. There will also be also the changes caused by adapting to mutated diseases and plants and animal life. Organisms that will come along either as fellow travellers or stowaways on our journey out into space and then mutate themselves. There will be an incredible explosion in the number of varieties of post Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Our cousins – some for kissing and some for cussing. You can count on it.
The idea that asteroids are a logical place to colonize is not a new one (Larry Niven wrote some interesting SF with that as part of the background story – the strongest and richest societies of the next few hundred years were would exist in the Belt).
Mass + energy = viable living quarters along with all the other requirements for life to succeed. That is a viable Heinlein truism (yes, a theme of my using Speculative Fiction authors as a seedbed is found here). Humanity has the ability to do a lot, and what we don’t know right this minute can be developed without reaching into the overly speculative realms of fiction. Asteroids are full of resources. Metals, carbonaceous compounds, water and oxygen . . . it is all there. The math for optimal spinning of properly sized asteroids to create 1 g environments for maintenance of human health over the long term can readily be worked out. The possibilities of actually heating up asteroids with solar mirrors, and spinning them to form hollow bubbles which can be settled on the inside like giant inside-out farms has been considered. The gravity well cost when dealing with the smaller planets (I count the different moons that the larger planets have as planets themselves) and asteroids is so much less than the huge, deep gravity hole we live in down here on Earth. We could build magnetic launchers on the Moon to move material back and forth from the Belt, and points further out, and do this within the next century. We could do this easily.
I’m pretty sure that there will eventually be multiple redundant power sources that could take an icy dwarf planet such as Pluto and cook out oxygen and water from it’s mass for a very long time. Eons of time. That’s why I said mass plus energy = living quarters. The critical useful components of these dwarf planets are considered to be, in part at least, a reasonably high fraction of their mass. The amount of oxygen, water and complex carbon compounds available in even one Pluto sized dwarf planet would be staggering. There are at least 4 other dwarf planets (Plutoids) that we know of as of this writing. And the garnering of more needed resources when the original supply gets lost through entropy, waste, accident, usage or what have you is certainly doable. Eventually people will be living for thousands of years in an environment where such dwarf planets are estimated to exist in enormous quantities – the tens and hundreds of thousands ( http://nineplanets.org/kboc.html ). The folks living in these environments would be our distant (no pun intended) descendants. I’m willing to bet that if Stone Age people found ways to adapt to the high Arctic, the Kalahari and the Andes, our descendants will come up with solutions in the future for the even more extreme environments found beyond our atmosphere.
Consider the societies that would develop. Some currently existing groups would be willing to cut all ties with Earth because we don’t agree with their specific agendas. Some of these groups have extremely wealthy people who could bankroll them in their quest for autonomy. For certain some future diaspora groups would be bugfuck crazy. The societies they will develop would give you nightmares. I don’t want to put my mind there, frankly. That doesn’t change the fact that such isolated societies are possible. Or even probable. Perhaps the scariest part of all this future scenario lying before us, at least to me, is the virtual certainty that eventually some extremist freaks will start lobbing chunks of asteroids at each other, aiming them at the cities that spring up on places like Ceres, Mars and the Moon, and of course they would bombard Earth itself. Freaks pull this kind of shit because freaks tend to develop and run their own incredibly self centred and destructive agendas. And that scenario will be even more likely when you realize that there will certainly exist a chauvinistic perception amongst the different new evolutionary branches that will sprout up. The perception that The Others are inhuman/unclean/dangerous. Once our descendants learn how to move planetoids and comets around the next Pandora’s Box is wide, wide open.
There are also all the beautiful things that can happen. People are capable of enormously positive things. We generally want to share in positive accomplishments and support them. It is mainly a matter of escaping from the ideological and extremist mindset that allows a lot of the positives both to happen and to continue to happen. The amazing list of what we can some day do will only expand once we are actively living and loving and laughing out there in space. Humanity will exist in numbers beyond what we currently think possible. For every single polymath or genius such as DaVinci, Einstein or Picasso we have known so far, there will be thousands of brilliant, trained, open minded DaVincis, Einsteins and Picassos spilling out across the Solar System. And once we are rooted in the Oort Cloud we are really out there. The outer reaches of the Oort Cloud are light years from the sun. They probably interact with the outer reaches of our nearest neighbor which is the Alpha Centauri star system. Think of that. Tens of thousands of years from now, humanity in all it’s various new forms will be climbing out of our own Oort Cloud and heading down into the next solar system in the same way we once journeyed step by step out of Africa, across Asia and Europe, down into Australia and the far reaches of the Americas.
Possibilities – there are nothing but possibilities and they are amazing and various and manifold.