I originally wanted to name this post, “If we make it to the stars.” Many people wonder about the other notion, “Will we make it to the stars”, but lately I have been thinking more on the lines of “if”. Because I never really doubted that one day human beings may find a way to travel to another star system, it may take 500 more years to do it, but yes, one day, I think we will in fact do it. So more important to me is, “if we make it to the stars”.
So, if we make it to the stars, if it does happen what would we do once we got there? If in the future interstellar travel was not a big deal, and if we managed to somehow warp our way over to Alpha Centauri, and landed on one of its rocky planets, would we mine for gold? What would cause us to make the tremendous effort to travel to a neighboring star system? It certainly would not be to collect any kind of rocks, gold or otherwise. We saw how that went with the Apollo missions, moon rocks soon become quite boring, and the moon is right on top of us, so to speak. I think that there would be just a few scenarios that would jumpstart us towards interstellar travel.
First of all there would have to be some giant leap, or breakthrough in technology enabling us to get there much more efficiently. Right now the options for interstellar space travel are fairly slim.
On standard rocket fuel it would take us a mind boggling 75,000 years to reach the nearest star.
This of course really brings into perspective the vast gulfs of space that separate star systems. Obviously rocket power is much too slow. There have been some other designs on the table for a while now though. Ever since the 1950’s there have been calls to build a nuclear pulse propulsion system. Sure why not? By the late 1950’s we had enough nuclear power to blow up the earth, so why not use it in a more productive means to propel us through interstellar space? There are those today that say a reworking of the design could bring speed as fast as 80% of the speed of light. That means that to get to Alpha Centauri, which is 8 light years away could be achieved around ten years.
(Checkout my previous post on Mars)
So just imagine, this were being contemplated right now, and a project to launch a manned crew to our nearest neighbor was under way for the next decade. What would cause us to undertake such a journey, and if we did what would we do? One option would be to colonize. But we tend to get complacent. So what could galvanize us to reach for the nearest star? One scenario I would like to call the Earth 2 (TV show from 1995) scenario may be what it would take.
In the Earth 2 scenario, some major crisis has occurred, environmental or otherwise that has caused us to give up on trying to fix our own planet and instead drives us to find another one. So we decide to move, and completely take over our neighbor. In this instance hopefully the neighbor in question is unoccupied, so we don’t have an interstellar Christopher Columbus day. But for this scenario let us imagine no intelligent civilization exists, it is just an empty piece of real estate. The first trip would be a kind of a scouting mission of course, but since it is just a ten year journey; plans are made to evacuate most of earth to the new colony within 100 years. So in that case, if we went, we would colonize.
But what if, there was no need, or no real desire to colonize, even if there was an earth like planet? If then, what would we do? I’m sure even if the general public did not want to be involved, the drive for scientific research would continue. Just as we have teams of scientists in the frigid wastes of Antarctica, I am sure no matter what the local weather conditions. If the transportation of interstellar travel were solved, we would have a few way stations on some planets around Alpha Centari, We would have a few research bases with teams of scientists at least. Even if transportation had been reasonably solved these would be some very isolated research stations. Since it would still take any communication 8 years to travel, this would make the next idea of what we would do rather rough. That idea being, if we could, I’m sure if nothing else, we wouldn’t hesitate to create a reality TV series out of it. Just get ready Big Brother Alpha is waiting for its debut!