Friday, April 25, 2008

Reaching the Stars

Humans need to realize that for the foreseeable future we are stuck on our planet and we can not soon leave it.  A better way to recognize this is to look at the numbers.

The stars that are nearest to our sun are about 4.4 light years away from us.  That is over 25 trillion miles away.

Traveling at a million miles an hour that would take almost 26 million years for a group of human colonists to get there.  To get there in just one thousand years would require an average speed of 26 billion miles an hour.   To protect the human inhabitants, the colony ship would have to speed up and then slow down in an orderly fashion.  Consequently the maximum speed the ship reached would have to be far greater.  Needless to say, we have not yet achieved the million mile an hour speed.

Another issue is that, even if the colony ship could attain the necessary speed, one thousand years is around 35 to 40 generations of humans living and dying aboard our spacecraft.   Assuming that the colony ship would be equipped to support these generations of humans, think of all that has occurred here on Earth in the last thousand years and you can well imagine that the social problems those colonists would face.

Even more of an issue is that only 3 stars are even as close as 4.4 light years from us.  None of these seem to have habitable planets.  Even if we expand out to 25 light years from Earth, perhaps only a dozen star systems may possibly be capable of hosting Earth type planets in stable orbits within their habitable zones.  This means that there still may be no habitable planets within 25 light years of Earth.

I am not optimistic that humans will soon colonize our galaxy. The massive technological, social and political issues with exploration and colonization that confront us are beyond daunting.  However, I envision that our robotic surrogates can and will do our exploring for us.

I suggest that we humans must develop machines that will venture beyond our solar system and travel out into the galaxy. These machines would be self-sustaining, capable of self repair and self replication. When each machine locates an appropriate object - planet, moon, asteroid, etc -  it would be capable of safely landing on the object and then it  would proceed to mine the object for materials to replenish and repair itself and construct clones of itself. Each clone would be launched in into a different part of the galaxy where it would repeat the process of exploration and cloning.

All of these machines would have the capability of maintaining contact with each other and humans here on earth. They would collect and transmit data about their journey and a huge database of information would be amassed for our use. At the same time a huge network surrounding our solar system would develop and expand.

Then many millennia from now perhaps humans will have solved all of our technological, social and political problems and be well prepared to venture out into space. The information gathered by these explorer robots would be invaluable to determining destinations for our colonists and provide a communication network for them and their descendants.

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