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Where Will You Go From Here?

June 16, 2011

Ideally, the reason for humans to venture into the cosmos would be to explore the final frontier. Unfortunately, the following debate has to do with The prospect of humans leaving Earth in order to survive as a species. This implies that some global catastrophe might cause Earth to become inhospitable to human life. Many things could do that: being in the bullseye of a rogue asteroid; the Sun going nova; invasion by a race of carnivorous aliens; or, more likely, the ravages of global warming and climate change. The movie “WALL-E” depicts Earth in the near future after you humans have trashed it to the point of uninhabitability. Not even a single plant could survive in the wasteland that was left behind. So, in order to continue the species, humans had to take off into space on generational ships that provided a suitable environment for life.

It’s time to be thinking about where you will go from here and how you will get there. Many groups are way ahead of you, like NASA, The Lifeboat Foundation, The National Space Society and The Tau Zero Foundation. At our current level of technology, however, colonizing space is not an option. If Earth becomes inhospitable before space technology makes the necessary quantum leap, our only choice will be to start building cities inside environmentally controlled domes here on Earth. Beyond that, scientists are already proposing how you will perpetuate your species in the cosmos. Knowing how expensive and time-consuming it was to build the International Space Station, launching a large, orbiting habitat from Earth would be impossible. But, such a structure could be built in space using resources mined from near-Earth asteroids.

After completing a $200-million study in 2000, NASA reported that a colony could be dug several feet beneath our own moon’s surface, or covered within an existing crater to protect residents from the constant bombardment of cosmic radiation. The National Space Society is committed to establishing settlements in space, possibly on a planet that has the resources to support life. The most Earth-like destination in out solar system is Mars. Unlike the Moon, Mars has a bit of an atmosphere, which would offer some protection from cosmic rays, has about 40% of Earth’s gravity, and its daytime temperatures occasionally reaching a balmy 70 degrees F. Mars could eventually be terraformed using water from underground ice to form a thin ocean and later a breathable atmosphere. Former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz is developing an ion engine which, he estimates, could cut travel time to Mars from six months to a little more than one. The moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are believed to contain greater quantities of water, carbon or nitrogen. I’d like to stress, however, that humans would not be welcome on or near my home planet of Uranus after seeing what you greedy bastards have done to Earth.

It’s easier to settle a planet than to build one. Beyond our solar system, there are Earth-like planets like Gliese 581, but they are at least 20 light-years away. So, unless we develop faster-than-light warp engines or find a wormhole between here and there, interstellar colonization is out of the question in the forseeable future. It seems the prudent, easier and more desirable course of action would be to revitalize Earth and give it the respect it deserves, learn to mine your needed resources from asteroids instead of from Earth, come up with a plan to deal with killer asteroids and flesh-eating aliens, and don’t worry about the Sun exploding for another billion years at least. Then, when the time is right and you’re not just escaping a cataclysm to save your collective asses, you can boldly go where no one has gone before to seek out new life and new civilizations.

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