Space? Again, Eric?

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Welcome to 2013. We don’t have hover cars or Hal 9000 (that dude’s already 12 years late) but we do have Gagnam Style and fiscal cliffs.

Actually, despite my love of apocalyptic stories and interest in the lightweight, yuppie version of survivalism, I’m really pretty optimistic about the future. Not that tragedy won’t strike. It always does. But I think humanity will be around for a long time.

That probably explains my interest in space exploration, not to mention things like the legalization of marijuana or other so-called controversial issues, like gay marriage, euthanasia or genetic engineering. It’s like this: If I know something is coming a hundred years from now, why not just get on with it today?

Does anyone really believe pot will be illegal in the year 2113? My guess is a two mom family will be downright old-fashioned by then. And in a world with a growing population and ballooning medical expenses, does anyone really think governments will be fighting to stop people from taking their own lives when they’re terminally ill?

The point isn’t that we liberalize everything. But we should (intelligently) liberalize almost everything. Wanna make your cellphone the beneficiary of your will? Great. Crazy’s fine as long as it doesn’t hurt other people.

Another example is space exploration. It needs to happen, so let’s get on with it. Stephen Hawking has rightly pointed out that the best chance for the continued survival of our species is having sustainable colonies on other planets (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/stephen-hawking/8996654/Prof-Stephen-Hawking-man-faces-nuclear-armageddon-and-must-colonise-space.html) .

I’m contradicting myself, I realize. I’m the guy who bashes big-spending bureaucrats. How much would space colonization cost? That issue is hard to sidestep. One ameliorating factor, though, could be incentives to private industry. Some of the cost of a Mars missions could be made up with the granting of mineral rights, licensed products, TV deals, et cetera.

I remember when I was a kid and was inspired by images like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Internal_view_of_the_Stanford_torus.jpg

The emotion pictures like that evokes is tempered with a healthy dose of reality but the core dream is undiminished: this should be the century humanity colonizes the solar system.

A permanent base on the Moon and Mars.  Visits by humans to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. A multi-launch robotic mission en route to a distant exo-planet.

We’re a long way from any of these, in terms of commitment. But not in terms of technology. What is primarily lacking is will and money, not knowledge. That’s why it was heartening to me when a billionaire announced his intention to get to Mars (http://io9.com/5932837/the-billionaire-genius-who-tony-stark-is-based-on-wants-humans-on-mars-within-15-years). The nice thing about billionaires is that they don’t require committees or approval ratings. They can just say, “Yup, I’m doing it,” and there’s a reasonable chance it will happen.

Just a side note: the tycoons of past centuries, many of them monstrous in their business practices, saw value in leaving legacies, whether it meant founding universities or creating libraries. For a while there it looked like this century’s wealthiest citizens had nothing more lofty in mind than appearing on “Housewives of Who Gives A Crap”. It’s good to see them stepping up with bigger plans.

A new space station is currently in the works http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigelow_Next-Generation_Commercial_Space_Station

 Looks like the real deal, but we’ll see.

A lot more speculative but also way cooler is the 100-year starship concept: http://100yss.org/news and http://100yss.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Washington-Post-article-23-May-2012.pdf

The concept of sending out a multi-generational “colony” ship has existed in science fiction for a long time. What is more interesting, though, is the idea that more powerful rockets, combined with increased longevity, could see people travel from one star to another well within a human lifespan. It’s not warp speed, no, but it holds out the promise of interstellar travel without breaking Einstein’s speed of light limit (don’t discount warp drive completely yet, though: http://techland.time.com/2012/09/19/nasa-actually-working-on-faster-than-light-warp-drive/)

 

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