Reader Philip M. Greeley writes:
So, I’m thinking about two of my favorite topics, guns and space. The latter as in human space exploration, which we’re really, I think, on the cusp of some really big stuff. But more than just exploration is in the offing. Some may call it “exploitation”, but I call it living and working. “Humanization”, if you will.
But if humanity starts living and working in space in any significant numbers, our myriad human flaws will, eventually, come to the fore. It’s inevitable. Wherever you go, there you are.
As humans go into space and stay there, we’ll bring our laws, institutions, customs, and entertainments. Among these will be our rights – to life, liberty, property, self-defense among them. As well we should. Because inevitably, there will be bad actors out there. But more fundamentally, rights go with the humans; wherever humans go, their rights go with them. Responsibilities, too. Which should go without saying.
Which brings us to guns. We have a right to keep and bear arms, and a right to self-defense. I posit that guns will make their way into space and they should. Think about it: even if guns on space stations and lunar and Martian colonies, for instance, are outlawed… well, we all know how that ends, right?
All together, now: “Only outlaws will have guns!” Which we find intolerable.
Think also of this: hardware and tooling, and technical know-how. Space is maybe the pre-eminent frontier for technical fields and those who practice in them. It’s challenging. We’ve got to make or bring everything with us, at least to start. And there’ll be all sorts of people with all sorts of skills going. Who will make the first pneumatic zip gun on an L5 orbiting colony, I wonder? It will happen.
Which brings me to other thoughts: what forms might guns take in space? What will be the predominant technology? Compressed air weapons? Taser-like tools? Will there be specific developments for expanding bullets, or non-toxic smokeless powder or primers? Because on a space station, in a pressurized environment, you really don’t want to breach the hull. And the environment is small, self-contained, and recycled.
Other considerations will be recoil in a zero-g/low-g environment. Low-power, low-recoil rounds will probably predominate. Will there be advances such as shock absorbers on guns, or on-board gyroscopes for stabilization? Compressed hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled firearms? Those who know something about rocket engines will recognize a well-known combination of fuel and oxidizer, whose byproduct is water. Could be one approach.
There is, of course, the manufacturing and machining, too, which is a big consideration and beyond the scope of this post. But we all know about 3-D printing, and that may well be how the early guns in space get there.