TCS Daily

The Ultimate Lifeboat

By James Pinkerton - June 27, 2006 12:00 AM

If one were looking for a non-metaphysical description of human life here on earth, it would be hard do better than Edmund Burke's statesmanlike definition of society: "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born."

Burke's vision of society as an intergenerational partnership was expressed in his 1790 work, the elegiac Reflections on the Revolution in France. In that famous book, reacting to the tumultuous political changes just across the channel, Burke sought to defend England's traditions against French radicalism. More generally, he vindicated Western Christian civilization in its struggle with atheism, relativism, and nihilism. Yet for all its brilliance, Reflections carries an unmistakably melancholy tone, as when Burke sighed, "The age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever." In other words, the onslaught of modern things -- dangerous modern things, in his view -- would overwhelm the stable conservative order that he treasured. Looking around today, even fans of progress would have to concede that Burke was correct when he predicted that rapid change would fracture the familiar face of Europe.

Now, two centuries later, political ideas are as important as ever, and as radicalizing as ever, but in addition, technology has added a new and deadly backdrop to the human drama: Humanity has developed the capacity to destroy itself. Society now can be undone, not only by a malignant majoritarian mob, but also by a techno-malcontented few.

So recently another well-credentialed Briton with a philosophical mind, the physicist Stephen Hawking, has offered us a challenging prophecy, which amounts to a techno-tragic updating of Burke. In Hawking's telling, more than custom and tradition will be fractured -- the planet itself will be fractured. As he said recently in Hong Kong, we are at risk of being "wiped out" from a wide variety of possible dangers, including nuclear war, genetically engineered viruses, catastrophic global warming, and "other dangers we have not yet thought of."

Hawking believes that human destructiveness, combined with bad luck, could destroy not only any Burkean intergenerational partnership among humans, but the entire ecosystem. And of course, he spoke before the latest nuclear scare out of North Korea, which should serve to remind us that the minute-hand of the Doomsday Clock is never far from midnight.

If Hawking is right about this impending risk, then we have a duty to listen, and to act -- even if that means going where no man has gone before. That's how we can keep the partnership between the generations in force; we don't have to keep faith with the past and the future only from the platform of this planet. Admittedly, that's not an idea that Burke entertained in his 18th century life, but as he also famously declared, the challenge to leaders in any era is to sluice the tides of change through the canals of custom -- that is, to deal appropriately with change by harnessing it to traditional goals. So Burke would likely approve of new methods, so long as they were aimed at keeping the sacred generational continuity.

If anyone today is well-positioned to speak wisely about the earth and the cosmos, it's Hawking, who holds the academic chair once held by Isaac Newton. His research and ruminations on black holes and other spacey phenomena have earned him a place in the physics pantheon, as well as a best-selling book and a guest gig in a "Star Trek" movie. Now at age 64, suffering from advanced Lou Gehrig's Disease, Hawking has only a little bit of time left to him. So if he worries about the fate of the earth in the future, it's for our sake, not his. And as he said in Hong Kong, "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species."

So in the name of Hawking, and in the spirit of Burke, we might think about a plan for making sure that the human partnership survives. And while we're at it, why not preserve the plant and animal partnership, too? The challenge of human destructiveness -- combined, it is worth emphasizing, with the naturally occurring malevolence of Mother Nature -- could affect more than just homo sapiens; it could affect all the flora and fauna of the world, too, from the tiniest microbe to the biggest whale. Indeed, in the last half-billion years or so, on at least five occasions, huge extinctions have taken place. In other words, if humanity doesn't destroy us all, the almighty forces of the universe might just finish us off. So with a nod to Noah, a far-seeing fellow if there ever was one, why not build an Ark? The idea of a "space ark," of course, is nothing new, as fans of such movies/TV shows as "When Worlds Collide" to "Battlestar Galactica" to "Titan A.E." can attest.

For a while in this century, it seemed as if politicians were inexorably leading us into space, thus fulfilling, in effect, the space-ark mission. In 1962, John F. Kennedy declared that the US would become "the world's leading spacefaring nation." And in keeping with his own idealism about space, JFK further avowed, "We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won and they must be won and used for the progress of all people."

Even after Kennedy's assassination, the space vision continued; we would be running around the solar system soon enough. Remember the movie "2001"? Made in 1968, it took it as a given that travel to and from the Moon would be routine -- and that travel to Jupiter wouldn't be much of a leap.

Well, it didn't happen, for three reasons.

First, the end of the space race. Encrypted in all of Kennedy's proclamations was the logic of Cold War rivalry and American supremacy. Good for us: We won. But after we won, there wasn't much to do. Much of the strategic imperative of the space program collapsed along with the Soviet Union. The Chinese have lately shown interest in space; if their program takes off, for either civilian or military purposes, Uncle Sam will likely rouse himself from his present space-torpor, but that hasn't happened yet.

Second, and more broadly, came the erosion of faith in the future. Starting in the late 60s, a combination of factors -- the Vietnam War, the gloomy-and-doomy excesses of an often Luddite environmental movement, worldwide economic slowdown, plus a general realization that Big Government didn't work very well -- all united to undercut the idea that governments could do much of anything, including run a space program. People still had ambitions, of course; so even if they were skeptical of collective action, individual entrepreneurs and their corporations still undertook bold missions. But alas, none of those undertakings included space travel that was anything more than a joyride. Capitalism is great, but it does not provide insulation against "market failure" in certain sectors -- in this instance, sustained space exploration. There are some things, it appears, that only governments can or will do.

Third, and perhaps even more profoundly, the realization that there is no other intelligent life in our solar system, indeed no life, period. Yes, we might yet find some fossil algae under an extraterrestrial icecap somewhere, but by now it's gallingly evident that we are alone in our corner of the universe -- and maybe even alone in the universe as a whole. And the effect of that understanding has been to diminish enthusiasm for space travel: If there are no Martians, or ETs, or Klingons, or whatevers to meet -- or to fight, guard against, or trade with, or have sex with -- then the whole space trip just isn't as interesting to people.

OK, so that's why we're here, stuck on this mortal coil. As Los Angeles lawyer-inventor-video-maker Greg Piccionelli has illustrated through his "Doomsday Curve," our present situation is imminently mortal and lethal; his video shows the rising destructive capacity of technology, wielded by either individuals or nations -- he even put it to music!

Of course, many people raise objections to Hawking's space-ark plan. For example, Alan Guth, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was quoted in the same round of news stories, reacting to Hawking: "I don't see the likely possibility within the next 50 years of science technology making it easier to survive on Mars and on the moon than it would be to survive on earth." Guth added, "I would still think that an underground base, for example in Antarctica, would be easier to build than building on the moon."

And some are doing just that. In the face of gathering dangers, some farsighted folks, lacking the capacity for spacefaring, are creating their own non-space arks. Survivalists aside, a benevolent bunch looking out for all of us, are the 100 nations that have banded together to establish and endow the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a warehouse for all the world's seed, operated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. The Crop Trust is building a climate-controlled facility on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, far north of the Arctic Circle, which is known informally as "the doomsday vault." In the words of The Washington Post's Rick Weiss, it is to be "the ultimate backup in the event of a global catastrophe -- the go-to place after an asteroid hit or nuclear or biowarfare holocaust so that, difficult as those times would be, humankind would not have to start again from scratch."

Maybe this is the best we can do: figure out how to save plants, at least, in the event of any catastrophe short of the planet being exploded or incinerated out of existence. The Svalbard facility offers a near-perpetual hope of re-greening the planet, if need be -- assuming, of course, that the survivors know about it.

OK, that's good news for seeds, but what about human beings? A few outfits, such as the aptly named Lifeboat Foundation (of which I am a supporter) call for "self-sustaining space colonies," but such voices are distressingly scarce in the public square. And so we sit, vulnerable.

Yet interestingly, even Guth thinks that Hawking is probably right over the longer term: "If he's talking about the next 100 years and beyond, it does make sense to think about space as the ultimate lifeboat."

So that's our two-fold challenge:

First, to survive the next few decades, even as we share this "pale blue dot" with the likes of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Those madmen can't wipe out the whole planet, to be sure, but a loose nuke or two could set off a chain reaction, and we know how chain reactions can end. And eventually, Murphy's Law will get the best of us, no matter what we do -- that's Hawking's point.

So, second, to develop a robust spacefaring capacity. It's likely that the Pentagon will be moving forward with its own plans for "milspace," but if we are thinking about preserving civilization, and not just a few colonels, we will have to do more. Let's have a political debate, let's argue, let's logroll -- but let's get it done.

Above all, we must resist the temptation to hide from the problem -- or attempt to hide from the problem. It's no coincidence that back in the 60s, as support for the space program was falling, the desire to get high was, well, rising. That is, as technological forms of tripping faded away, trips of the pharmaceutical kind took off. And in the wake of psychedelic drugs came the efflorescence of New Age religion and, yes, one must also say, the explosion of the Internet. To put it another way, stargazing gave way to acid-dropping, and then to navel-gazing, and then to web-surfing. What a long strange trip it's been, indeed.

For sure, a lot of this inner-space tripping has been fun, and some of it has been wildly profitable. And there's more to come, as "virtual reality" takes off.

But there's one huge problem: No matter how far we go, virtually, we haven't actually gone anywhere, physically. Our corporeal selves are still here on earth, still vulnerable to whatever fate befalls the earth. All those cyber-savvy yuppies in the World Trade Center had their cell phones and Blackberries with them on 9-11, and those machines worked fine, even unto the end. But the vaunted products of the Digital Revolution couldn't save those poor high-techsters from the grim-reaping reality of the massed kinetics of fiery fuel.

And that's the point about the earth, too. If it goes, we go. And so we should go elsewhere, so that when the earth goes, we have another place to go. And while we're at it, we should take our pets and plants, too. We wouldn't want to be without them, just as they wouldn't want to be without us -- even if they don't know it. It's our job to know things, and to act accordingly. And if we fail at that mission, then we really will have failed in upholding our end of the Burkean bargain -- that is, partnering not only with the living and the dead, but with those who are yet to be born.

James Pinkerton is TCS Daily's media critic.



Stephen Hawking
What if we establish a colony on the Moon and the giant asteroid heading for earth misses and hits the Moon?

William Casey,PE
West Mifflin, PA

Gee! Guess we have to give up on the idea of simply taking care of what we have
And, fortunately, our physicists are just putting the finishing touches on a cheap anti-gravity to get us off the planet, and a faster-than-light hyperdrive to give us somewhere else to go.

Remember what Robert Heinlein wrote
"The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket to hold all of mankind's eggs."

Right now we are "addicted" to solid fuel propulsion. This type of propulsion will get us nowhere. Currently, neither government nor private parties appear motivated to anti-up the considerable resources necessary to develop more suitable alternatives, such as Fusion-Ion propulsion with speeds of 1%+ SOL, which would enable mobility within our solar system. We must hope that a growing world economy, healthy space competition and the reality of finite earth resources will eventually lead to the investment commitment required.

Also...Anti-Gravity (aka...dark energy) is apparently the strongest and most prevalent force in our cosmos. This is evidenced by the accelerating dispersion of galaxy-clusters. A reasonable goal whould be to survive long enough to figure out how this force works and if/how we can tap it.

Gates Buffet
Maybe they could be convinced to invest in a commercial space venture that would get us off planet and stimulate economies.
Instead of moving to Mars, create our own living space such as O'neil's L5 or Babylon 5.

Isn't it interesting how we see the things of man as fundamentally different from the things of "nature".

We cannot survive on earth which we are designed for, so our only salvation (we "are" talking about "salvation") is to seek "refuge" on already dead planets. Planets where survival itself will be tenuous at best.

On earth, even after the worst disaster, at least there will be plenty of freely available materials, oxygen carbon, hydrogen, and oceans of water with which to rebuild.

If we fear the worst, then should we not be preparing to move under water, deep into the oceans, which would provide a stable environment and food source?

I mean we have much technology already in development for oil drilling in the deep sea.

Also Mars would require containers in which to live.
We would parish quickly from all of the old viruses.

The problem is a simple one. If you need "all" of your human resources for acquiring the innate things of life, then any very small catastrophe means a wipe out.

Try living in the Antarctic for six months of freezing darkness then come and tell me how important Mars is.

I think the guy is highly over rated even as physicist.
Even his mother said that he didn't really do anything of merit until he got sick, then he couldn't do much else.

Just because Hawking worked himself deep into some esoteric mythology based on the puny side of E=MC^2 doesn't make him smart.
Einstein? A genius? Give me a break. The money has always been in E=M, "C" was Faraday's baby along with EMR, and Einstein’s wife checked his math. How smart do you have to be for this?

Sure Einstein got the math right. But considering just how long it has been since then, and how dramatically things have changed without any help from Einstein, thanks anyway, he may well have gotten it right for all the wrong reasons. Your worshiped genius may well turn out to be history’s second biggest clown, next to that pee brain Darwin.

posting error
My appologies taBonfils
I meant to post my stuff as part of the main thread, not in direct resonse to your post.

Why can't we do both?
On the other hand, big asteroids tend to make a hash out of all that "taking care of" that has gone on in the past.

Worst possible disaster -- but let the market provide
is sun going nova. That would end human life. However, I'd bet we'd get a few centuries warning that this would happen.

Asteriod impacts would be unimaginably destructive but almost certainly wouldn't make humans extinct. 95 or 99 percent or even 99.9 percent loss is possible, and could have killed all humans 1000 or even 500 years ago, but now I think there'd have to be survivors. We'd also have a good chance of destroying the 'roid on the way in, I think.

But the much more likely disasters are human caused: war, climate change, pollution, runaway plague. Why not spend energy trying to avert these instead of loopy space fantasies our technology is still about a century away from making feasible or desireable?

here's a thought: let the market provide for Noah's ark. Isn't that the TCS way

Nuclear rockets
The Air Force has already developed nuclear rockets. NOVA had a show on it in the 90’s. They had built and done underground testing on a rocket about the size of a Semi that had the same thrust as a Saturn V. This was an out growth of the Minerva project tests of the 60’s and 70’s. The problem was that they could not do more testing or build a real working prototype because of the band of using nuclear material in space and public reactions.

I’m sure they could dust off the plans and add more modern controls and materials without to much issue. But there is also the issue of NASA to throw a wrench in the works. They tend to frown on anything not done by themselves and all they want to do now is run a parts delivery service for the station.

This article and comments have been dominated by small and short term thinking
We don't need to go to the stars, and neither do our physical children. It's only our genetic blueprint that needs to go to the stars so as to serve as a how to manual for reconstitution by curious aliens.

Given that there are other intelligences out there, one of them will eventually survive long enough to become capable of growing an organism from it's basic construction manual.

We need to start broadcasting the human DNA and RNA for reconstruction by any alien civilization that receives it.

Sure, our descendants will end up in zoos and research labs all over the galaxy, but some will be well run research labs and some will be very nice zoos; and inevitably one of them will not be perfectly guarded. . .

A few things
1. Novas happen during the collapse of a red giant star. Our sun is about a billion years away from becoming a red giant, let alone approaching the end of its existence as a red giant. Long before the sun enters its red giant stage, all life will have ended on earth anyway.

2. Large asteroids are a little more destructive than you suggest. The Cretaceous impactor came in at about 100 kps. With its size of 2-3 km in diameter, it was sufficient to exterminate virtually all life over about 30 kg. Moreover, even if it's broken up somewhat, it's still an enormous mass traveling at extremely high velocity, and hence poses just as much danger. The only real defence concept I've seen thus far that could work is to deflect it, but that still involves an enormous expenditure of energy to affect a very small orbital change.

3. As to human-induced disasters, what you suggest has some basis, but there's an interesting historical fact. In all of the years of recorded history in the past millenium or two, there's only one period in which total human population was known to decline on a year-over-year basis, namely the Black Death in the 14th Century. The real disasters for the environment, based on the historic record thus far, are nature- not human-induced.

The problem is
that the premise is that these things are inevitable.

For example:

Once we started combining animal and vegetable proteins into chimeras we made it plausible for pollen to become, itself, a virus.
A virus that kills both plant and animal concurrently.

It is plausible along two vectors.
One vector is raw know-how which increases exponentially with technology - Pandora's Box - you can't put everyone in jail or undo the creeping spread of the know-how.
The other vector is plant know-how. The plants themselves will be busy mutating the virus along with those who know-how.
These two vectors are a bound binary construct. Binary math says there will be an explosion of change in this scenario like there is in all other binary scenarios.

Hawking's premise is:
It is not a matter of if anymore. That is a closed question. It is just a matter of when.
Viruses from vegetable based Chimeras are just one, of a plethora of vectors.

Climate is in a chronic state of change with all kinds of natural pollutants (ask anyone with allergies), and life goes on.
It is a non-issue for humanity as a whole.

HIV/AIDS is spreading, and the rate of spread seems stable if not slightly increasing. It will continue to spread.
How come there is no quarantine?

But that's the catch,
There may not be anyone else out there. It turns out that the conditions to allow complex life forms to exist are somewhat more scarce than was appreciated when Carl Sagan wrote Cosmos. He also underestimated the time factor, which he acknowledged in subsequent publications.

If you're interested, the best novel I ever read on this subject is an old classic by James Gunn called The Listeners.

To get there from here...
...from a small blue planet, to a celestial ark (ever read "Phoenix Without Ashes", the novel adapted from the original screenplay written by Harlan Ellison, or seen the aborted attempt at production of that screenplay -- to which a furious Ellison applied the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird -- "The Starlost"), is a bit more complex than the imagination might want to entertain. Leaving aside all the wonders we gain because of the sheer size of the earth, like self-repair and isolation of disasters, there is this nagging problem of where to get the energy. Even nuclear reactors need to be refueled sometime, and the energy required to warm a deep-space ark is staggering. Oh, and would you suggest just dumping the nuclear leftovers overboard?

Yes, but...
1. My nova suggestion was made just because I think it's a form of catastrophe that would certainly blank out all human life. I agree, we'd have plenty of warning.

2. I'm quite aware of how destructive an asteroid strike could be. The Cretaceous event wasn't the worst: that would have been the Permian terminal impact. However, even that, given the warning we would have and the resources we now possess, would not end human life.

3. The black death was far, far, from the most destructive epidemic. That distinctiion would go to the measles /smallpox /typhus/ whooping cough outbreaks that made the population of the America's crash to a fraction of the pre-Columbian population between 1500 and 1600. The entire population of some island -- Cuba and Hispaniola, for example, vanished. In many areas, mortality was 90 percent or more.

4. Two words: atomic war.

Is it natural selection or is it DNA?
Would they know that we breath oxygen before they started building us?
Would they know to use water?

If they have been watching our movies, they might think that we are the ones with all the neat toys.

Do you think they would be pissed off if the got here and were disappointed?

And if they do get here and they have been watching our movies and they been making copies and sharing those copies with their friends, holly smoke we will have to sue the poor buggers or maybe even put them in jail.

Worse if we send them the DNA and they get to the patent office first!!!
They may claim we have no right to reproduce without paying royalties or licensing fees.

And we think we got problems "now".

1. Certainly, and the warning would be several millions of years, give or take. The events which happen suddenly with no warning, such as Shelton's Supernova, only happen in Blue Giants.

2. If it didn't get all of us, it would get what we eat and it would certainly reduce numbers below which a technological civilization requires to survive and maintain its technical base.

3. The events of the 1500-1600s were disastrous to the aboriginal population in the Americas, but world population still rose throughout those centuries, which is the point I was trying to make. The total mortality effects were small compared to the disaster of the Black Death, particularly when the Asian casualties are included. There is another historic plague which had a similarly huge effect early in the 2nd Century, when Trajan's legion brought home the measles, red variety I believe, with similarly large effect. However, given the much lower information available on world population, global conclusions are much more scattered about that one.

4. True, but it hasn't happened yet. And given the well-understood consequences, may have sufficiently terrified most people into understanding that their use is suicidal.

All of which leads me to conclude that, yes, we need to deal with problems on Earth, but that Robert Heinlein's premise is still a reasonable one.

only smart aliens will be able to reconstitute us
Smart enough aliens will be able to figure out the necessary environment from the nature of the reactions likely to occur in a cell constructed by our DNA.

Dumb aliens will just have to invent their own pets and zoo specimens.

Energy, Government and Myth
Maybe once Bill and Warren have fixed health care and education worldwide, a few resources will be available to invest in the final frontier. The biggest contraint is energy...or more specifically, how to tap the more than adequate energy available in our cosmos. Solar, Fusion, Anti-matter and Zero-point energy are some of the research possibilities. A properly designed and managed project funded by 5 billion per year for 10 years should lead to some practical technologies. Trusting that NASA, DOE or our President will save the day is a hair short of a death wish. I mean...the Federal Government cannot even protect the US borders...the most clearly mandated responsibility it has (based on the Constitution). We're the Government and we are here to "save" you is a myth that, ironically, only exists in Hollywood.

What if they get here and they all smoke pot.

we are dooomed I tell you doooooomed

sob sob

I've never read the novel, but I will
The beauty of broadcasting our formula is that it will only take one alien intelligence to reconstitute us, and we can be reconstituted by as many aliens as receive our signal in as many locations as it is received.

The problem with physically moving humans out to the stars is that it's so darn slow, and thus takes a very long time to spread the eggs. The same precautionary argument that is made for spreading beyond the earth is also applicable to spreading beyond the solar system and beyond the galaxy for that matter, since surely someone will eventually invent a galactic core black hole energy beam generation and aiming control device. . . and that will get cheap enough to fall into the hands of terrorists. . .

It was somewhere suggested that the search for ET should be looking for engineering tools rather than signals. Looking for weapons would also probably be productive. Really forward looking civilizations might well be sterilizing whole spiral arms to make them safe or using shock waves to encourage the formation of new stars to serve as living space for their millionth generation progeny.

We want our clones to be living in the zoos of those bad boys.

But if that's the case
we'll be too mellow and really won't care.

What's with this "us" business Gulliver
Surely you don't think we intend to take you along.

Why am I not surprised that eric doesn't care if 99.9% of humans die?

oh yeah right
Dumb alien?
WE are the dumb aliens.

Why do you think there have been no visitors from outer space?

either that or

They have been watching our news and our movies and they have got them figured out backwards.
They think the news is our entertainment and the movies are the news.

on the other hand
they could hogg all the good stuff and then where would be.

on one hand, you complain about the amount of energy, then you casually suggest dumping nuclear material overboard.

you usually make good sense but this one threw me
You wrote "A properly designed and managed project funded by 5 billion per year for 10 years should lead to some practical technologies."

Perhaps the problem is the proper design and management, but it seems to me that our government has been spending a hell of a lot more than $5 Billion per year on research since the 1950's and we still aren't any closer to all the earth shaking energy and physics breakthroughs that were written up in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics back in those days.

Not saying that all the dough has been wasted, but it is hard to see how efficient it has been.

Latest example was the genome project started by Government with great fanfare which then immediately bogged down in old technology while a piddling little company solved the problem.

Same thing with fusion. Every increasing investment in ever more complex machines that use ever more resources and energy to produce. . . more "investment".

c'mon now
he meant like "them" "not" us, no no no never us.
and any way
it's a conspiracy so what can you really do?

1. no disagreement, except that I'm not sure we know about all possible solar problems.

2. I don't think so, even worst case. Certainly, it would set us back, but the question is human extinction.

3. The effects of the American pandemices on total world population depend on estimates of total American population pre-pandemic. These vary widely. On the high end, I believe they indicate popoulation loss.

4. We've only had nuclear weapons for 50 years. Many tens of thousands of them exist, in a wider and wider circle of hands. I don't think we're likely to get through another 50 years without one being used somewhere. Particularly if climatic instability leads to wars, as they certainly might, given huge flows of refugees. Artificial pathogens -- manufactured influenza, for example, are just about as threatening, though they don't destroy infrastructure.

5. Um, sure, except how? The technology is about 50 years away.

Estimating v. caring
We're talking about disasters that might potentially wipe out the human race. A statement that casualties from an asteroid strike come in at 99 percent is not a statement that the author 'doesn't care" about the casualties, it's an estimate of casualties.

With the level of competence "you" display here ... won't be able to go anywhere, or take anyone along.

If we're leaving anyway why not dump the trash?
You wrote "Oh, and would you suggest just dumping the nuclear leftovers overboard?"

Who can tell what may result from a little fertilization with the end products of the ark. The first algae spewed their trash all over the place and that worked out pretty well.

You have to shed all of these provincial notions if you're going to think on a galactic or universal size and time scale.

sounds like you are saying
that a big asteroid would take care of us.

any way mars won't work.
big chunks of earth would fly off and some of it would land on mars, and then you got the problem of the viruses contamintaing a pristine life giving Mars.


and then there would be all the litter.

Getting to work would be a real pain at -160 also I am just not that fond of red.

Red makes everyone look sexier.

Good for population growth, unless all the women decide they want to have careers and refuse to have more than 1.5 kids.

Mom's are not so fond of crummy little cramped houses with screaming kids echoing around the frozen aluminum walls.

Then of course that wouldn't be a problem for long because with no atmosphere to burn up the trillions of micro meteorites the walls would become peppered with holes and that would let some fresh air in and dampen the reverberation.

Red Swiss cheese.

I'm feeling nauseated

Does the trip come with return tickets?

worse than that
I would have to quit smoking.


I have no competence, and I am proud to say so.

No competence means less to carry, thus saving on fuel!
ha ha got ya

So if you only bring competent people on the journey, who is going to do all your cleaning and stuff, illegal Mexicans?

>f you only bring competent people on the journey, who is going to do all your cleaning and stuff, illegal Mexicans?

illegal Mexicans don't have the luxury of being incompetent.

i agree
Well maybe we could help them by giving them the money you plan on pissing away on mars.
I think if you put it to vote, most of them would agree.
You liberals want to give them the vote right?
I think they would prefer more churches and lots and lots of prayer over stupid intelectual ideas like time travel and evolution.

Maybe we could use the Harvard endowment to feed the world's poor rather than feeding the pathetic egos of mars travellers.

now we're thinking
great great great idea.

That is the way to go.

When we get really good at that, then we could spread them in a ring around the sun.

If energy is the major concern we should be heading toward venus not mars.

Venus would come into close range of any of three major space colonies quite frequently.

Temperature is irrlevant. Energy is the main concern.

that is interesting
We are only considering technical know-how.

Let us assume that warp travel is a non starter.

We are talking about long periods of time. Just to get out of the solar system could take hundreds of years to accomplish.

The journey to the next star system could take longer to accomplish from today than the length of time civilized man has graced the earth.

Do you think we are capable of such continuity of purpose?

Sure we may acquire the tools to get the job done, that doesn't mean we have the ability to keep the objective front and centre.

Living on mars would be like living in high tech jails.

Ten years is a long time. two generations becomes rather arduous for such constant chronic hardship.

The difference between the life boat and the ark, and mars, is huge. There is no rescue. And no one leaves the ark or the life boat on mars ever.

Once we leave earth behind we are enclosed in small containers for ever. If not forever for several thousand years anyway.

Terraforming Earth
Reminds me of a very good science fiction story I read a few years ago:

Terraforming Earth
by Jack Williamson

A wealthy man named Calvin DeFort has utilized his vast fortune to plant a base in Tycho (on the Moon) that will serve as a safeguarded repository of knowledge and frozen biological material. Staffed by self-repairing robots, this enclave is configured for the very long run.

Just before the Impact, in the midst of chaos, the final ship takes off for Tycho, bearing five of DeFort's cohorts (but not himself) and two who forcibly boarded by gun. Over untold millions of years, these seven will be cloned over and over again by their Robo nursemaids, in the battle to re-establish humanity as a viable race, first on Earth and then among the stars...

Jack Williamson invented the very word "terraforming," and in this fresh, ingenious novel he proves that--at age 93--he still owns bragging rights to the concept. Without delving over-deeply into the actual mechanics of such a hypothetical global re-engineering, a la Kim Stanley Robinson or Pamela Sargent, Williamson nonetheless zeroes in on the emotional and spiritual aspects of playing god, and delivers an adventure-packed saga full of an old-fashioned but eternally relevant sense of wonder...

continuity of purpose is the talent of a mole or a bark beetle
You asked "Do you think we are capable of such continuity of purpose?"

Our descendants who get to the stars will be the luckiest ones from among the meanest and most shifty ones. They will be the descendants of the crazy SOB who takes over the ark and cuts the throats of all the other men, no doubt because he hears voices in his head.

Just as we are the luckiest ones from among the meanest and most shifty descendants of those bedraggled clunks who wandered or were chased out of Africa a couple of hundred thousand years ago.

That's why I earlier suggested broadcasting our construction manual. So that we have the potential of establishing pockets of infection all over the universe.

Paradigm Shift
"Perhaps the problem is the proper design and management, but it seems to me that our government has been spending a hell of a lot more than $5 Billion per year on research since the 1950's and we still aren't any closer to all the earth shaking energy and physics breakthroughs that were written up in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics back in those days."

The Government has had plenty of opportunities to address the "energy" and "propulsion" issues. There apparent lack of progress is at best dissappointing. I was "dreaming" that Bill, Warren and friends would take a shot at it. They could offer 50 billion for the first craft that can safely navigate open space at a speed in excess of 1% SOL, carry so many crew, haul so many kg's of cargo, etc...Ok, maybe 50 bill. is too much for even Bill and Warren. So, we will all convince Congress to offer matching funds. Remember, no one gets paid without results. Considering where we are today (dumping money into obsolete and risky 70's technology), we need something dramatic to change the paradigm.

If you must pick on people. . .
If you must pick on cripples you should pick on Gulliver.

He's easily easiest to needle of all who post here. You don't even have to bait your hook. He'll swallow a bare hook.

Beware though. It is literally impossible to get in the last word on Gulliver. He always answers back even if things devolve to "says who?" "says me" "oh yea" "yea"

Bill and Warren are spending their money on getting to. . .
I think Bill and Warren are spending their money on getting to Heaven rather than on getting to the heavens.

"Our descendants who get to the stars will be the luckiest ones from among the meanest and most shifty ones."

Well when a guy's just gotta eat, "who" doesn't really matter all that much.

Mean nasty brutal takes a lot of energy.
Burns precious calories.
Smart and thoughtful burns lots of prescious calories too.
Both types would never survive childhood.

Quick, agile, durable with good sensory ability, and a voracious sexual appetite.

Mean and brutal men kill their own families.
Boys in primitive society would kill their fathers to protect the siblings and mother.

Gratuitous violence in pursuit of an Abstraction like power or property would be signs of an organised peoples.
Sufficiently organised to pass learned skills through dance or song. Language would be a later thing. talking a lot scares away prey.

If you have to discuss it, your too late already.

We have no examples of our more primitive selves. Primitive means simple. Tribes require organisation and organisation requires principles, principles are abstractions. Having the capacity to abstract probably occured long before having the time to abstract.

terraforming - one subject on which science fiction was dead wrong
The science fiction writers made terraforming sound hard and expensive. Now it turns out that we're doing it without even trying - assuming the global warming types are right.

And single celled plants did it a couple of billion years ago without guidance or design - assuming the creationists are wrong.

Hawking is correct that we ought to be making plans to preserve the species, ours at least, but the "Ark" concept has many faults listed by many scifi writers. Thus far the best suggestion by far has been to persuade a suitable human population to inhabit the asteroid belt, which is much less lunatic, pardon the pun, than it would seem.

In the first place, once free of one gravity well solar travelers would do well to avoid entering another for the simple reason that space travel is far less expensive if one can avoid wasting the staggering amounts of energy required to reach escape plantetary velocity. After all, there's nothing special in the hole but the inside of the hole, ie, gravity. If the asteroid folk truly require weight they can easily manufacture a useful substitute using present technology. Next, resources such as iron and other metals would be near at hand given the propulsion technology required to get to the belt in the first place. As a bonus, pollution from extraction and refining processes would be far less of a problem than on a planetary surface. And of course there would be exports to, as well as imports from, earth which benefit both economies. In fact, it might be possible, if the current dip in the rate with which human's propogate serves to naturally reduce population, to return much of the earth to a more pristine state.

Ultimately, the possibility of a disaster seriously threatening our extinction is one that is better addressed within the solar system than by spending centuries and untold resources fleeing to another star system.

more scare mongering
If every other scare monger who predicted the end of the world, including supposed real scientists like hawkings, has ALWAYS been wrong so far, why would we give them any credence now? There's much less chance of nuclear war since we won the cold war. We've NEVER run out of any so called finite resouce either. I think it could be that people are so spoilt and decadent and lazy from not having to do much work anymore that they get into such mischief.

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