1. Telerobotics will mature to become cheap and widespread. Full-immersion video games will hone user interfaces and train a generation of skilled operators.
2. Telerobotic tourism will grow, especially with texture-transmitted sex. At least one 'garage' of miniature telerobots will work permanently in orbit to repair and recycle satellites.
Reusing space junk will be more cost-effective than deorbiting it. Tele-tourists will plug in to the space experience for $10/minute.
3. Humans will industrialize the Moon without ever setting foot on it. The initial seed lander will cost less than $1 billion US 2010 dollars.
(India sent a probe to the Moon for less than $80 million. Our new payload will be mostly off-the-shelf telerobotics.)
4. Lunar raw material will be electrically launched into low Earth orbit, where telerobots make it into useful things. A new industry in cheap, massive satellites will boom. These will include:
* The usual: communications, global positioning, observation of weather/traffic/mapping/ecology etc.
* Solar power stations.
* More telerobot garages.
* Large LEO environments filled with telerobotic tourists/scientists and experimental terrariums of non-human life.
An additional source of funding will be telerobotic tourism on the Moon. Not just for fun; entrepreneurial junkets will rent puppet time to develop new technologies of their own on the lunar surface.
Anyone who finds a better way of mining, refining, repairing, launching, or AI control gets a piece of the very big pie.
5. Eventually LEO terrariums become inhabited with real humans. We only need to launch the ape bodies; all food and water will be waiting for them in orbit.
6. From here, O'Neill had it more or less right. Once a basic living habitat is perfected in near-Earth space, copies can spread to nearby Lagrange points and orbits between Earth and Mars.
Before this migration, the main issue to solve will be radiation shielding...
7. For a long time, people will rarely set foot on planets. The cultural-industrial pattern will be: Move a giant habitat into low orbit around a world, and puppet telerobots on the surface to explore and exploit. Railguns will launch raw materials into orbit, where new habitats are built. When done, move on.
Colonizing a planet is a unique problem for every planet, but colonizing space is a single problem that, once solved, can be ported across a volume containing many worlds.
A few notes on one of these ubiquitous space habitats:
* It will be many-chambered, as a precaution against leaks.
* Hopefully it will have windows, but sealed, electrically-lit rooms will be a lot easier to engineer. Maybe 3d media technology and telepresence will help avert claustrophobia.
With or without windows, we can and should still have green, semi-wild park lands inside.
* One approach to radiation shielding is for the habitat to be enclosed in its own magnetic field, like a little Earth. Another approach is to embed the habitat in a shell of water. Maybe both can be used.
* Spinning for gravity. Even though no space habitat has done it yet, all evidence says that people need weight to stay healthy. So likely our habitat, or a large part of it, will be a cylinder, or a boleadoras, or a torus.
* Farther from the Sun, habitat energy use will shift from solar to nuclear, which will require much more predatory mining of worlds and rocks.
Close to gas giants, perhaps electricity can be harvested from the planet's spinning magnetic field using a wire mesh.
* Habitats closer to the Sun can harvest more solar energy, and sell it to darker regions (such as Earth) via laser. This may be the first motivation to start migrating.