As I’m trying to construct a future world for my novel to take place in, I’ve stumbled across some interesting problem areas that aren’t often dealt with in science fiction. My story takes place in a future where people have colonized the Solar System to a certain extent, but when the story takes place, the offworld population is pretty sparse – think the American West circa 1840 or so.
On the other hand, that’s still a fair number of people. My thinking is that the population on the Moon, Mars, and low Earth orbit altogether is probably around 15,000, with another 10,000 or so scattered around the rest of the solar system (most of these in the asteroid belt). Compared to the 10 billions on Earth, that’s not very many.
And even though it’s commonplace, even economical in this setting, it’s still dangerous and expensive. So, what do you do when you’ve got a madman on your habitat? Suppose that he’s just mentally ill, or even temporarily disturbed. You can’t just deal with him as you would on Earth (which is to say, force him to deal with this own issues) because there’s a very real chance that he indirectly threatens the lives on everyone he lives with.
When your life is totally dependent upon the air, water, and food that you’ve brought with you, or that you manage to grow in a completely uninhabitable environment, you can’t afford to be circumspect with threats. I’m not Robert Heinlein and I wouldn’t presume that folks would just throw the poor guy out an airlock, but they would definitely have to deal with him somehow.
Worse, every bit of mass that you move around the Solar System costs a nontrivial amount of money. You can’t just buy him a bus ticket home – to move him even from Mars to the Earth at an ideal time might cost $10,000 or more. Granted that’s not much compared to what it costs now, but it’s still not throwaway money. Maybe this would be paid for by insurance.
There’s another question that I’ve hinted at here too: what happens if this guy is also poor? In this setting, humanity has reached the point where not everyone in space is the ideal of an “astronaut.” You don’t need a PhD or an engineering degree to get into space; there are miners needed at the asteroid belts, doctors for all the colonies, mechanics to maintain equipment, and folks to serve others with recreation, food, and so forth.
So someone could have a gambling problem, lose all his money, and get fired. And he’s on the Moon. Or Mars. Or Callisto. What do you do with him then? To people have to pay money out of their paychecks just in case they get fired and have to be sent home? Maybe taxes would pay for it. Oh man, I can just hear the pundits now.
But that’s another post.