…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.
There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.
40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.
40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.
So, yesterday on Twitter I got to thinking about laser-launched lightsail nanoprobes:
Currently, the big idea is to launch teeny-tiny lightsail probes at neighboring stars to get a look around — current thought is that technology as it is now could handle boosting some 1 gram probes attached to 20 meter lightsails up to 20% of lightspeed.
(I’ve cued the video to a bit about how teeny the working part of the probe would be — if you’re so inclined the whole video is a long, academic discussion of the whole idea that’s pretty decent if that’s your cup of tea.)
With only a few — but even better with a huge cloud, as I briefly fantasize about elsewhere — we could get a fine look at a stellar neighbor and see if there are any planets there that would be practical targets for a generation ship to settle. Think big, I say. Best to get humanity out of this fragile little egg basket we call Earth. Not just into the rest of the Solar System, but into others if we can manage it.
But nanoprobes, good for peeking at the neighbors, could be great for raw astronomy and investigation of the nature of the universe.
The Quanta link in my lead tweet above is about theories regarding the behavior of dark matter. Imagine how useful for that and other questions we itty-bitty humans have about our gigantic universe it would be to launch a gigantic lens of nanoprobes sailing off in a couple of different directions. To fire them out of the plane of the ecliptic and out of the cloud of particles and matter the Sun drags with it through space. To shoot them toward things we want to observe at 20% of lightspeed and compare the observations with what we see when that light and radiation reaches Earth. To fire them off the other way and let them crawl back in time (effectively) to compare to past observations.
To build expanding lenses light-minutes across in interstellar space, peering deeper and more clearly into the universe than humans have ever managed before.
Take some time to really think about it. It’s a breathtaking opportunity for pure science. And pure science, practical-minded friends, pays off in the long run.
Am I the only person who feels a little bit of disappointment along with the excitement of reading about various plans, achievements, and speculations of NASA and other space agencies around the world?
I’m glad there’s talk about the next Mars probe and the possibility of a manned Mars mission sometime…soonish…maybe…in the nebulous indefinite future. I’m glad there are people tinkering with rocketry still, seeking ways to refine current technology. I’m glad there are people researching ion drives trying to make them stronger and more efficient.
But it’s all kind of pale compared to what might have been.
We in the USA like to say, “we put a man on the moon”. Well, we did. And then we didn’t go back. The moonwalkers are dying of old age and we still haven’t been back. Well, what good is that?
If the US isn’t going to do it, I hope someone does. Maybe it will be a private effort and not a national one when it happens.
However it happens, I hope it’s soon. If there’s anything humanity needs, it’s the return of the frontier. There really aren’t any left on Earth, and we’re a restless people. When there’s nowhere new to go, we start to jostle. Sometimes the jostling turns to fighting. We really don’t need to be fighting. Not when we’ve nukes to toss around if we get really mad.
- NASA refuses funding Inspiration Mars’s manned mission to Mars in 2017 (dnaindia.com)
- Details of 1st Private Manned Mars Flyby Mission Unveiled (space.com)
- Space Agencies Of The World, Unite: The U.N.’s Asteroid Defense Plan (npr.org)
- International Space Station Turns 15 (sys-con.com)
- How Greenhouse Gasses Saved Mars (science.time.com)
- Gold rush in space? Asteroid miners prepare to prospect (hispanicbusiness.com)
- Asteroid miners go after most precious resource: water (mining.com)
- Examining Buzz Aldrin’s roadmap to Mars (nasaspaceflight.com)
- To the moon? NASA passes the torch for space commercialization (nbcnews.com)
- NASA shelves fuel-efficient tech, effectively slashes outer planet exploration (slashgear.com)