October 31, 2010

How to get Offworld

Everybody’s heard of Gliese 581g. It is claimed to be the first rocky exoplanet ever discovered that is within the Habitable Zone. I wont bore you with details. But let us explore the effects of that discovery upon the populace. What are the reactions of the public? It seems that more people became more aware about the idea of interstellar space travel. And within some high-profile organizations, prospects on how to move off-world were speculated upon. DARPA and NASA even planned a Hundred-Year Starship program to explore other star systems.

"The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the NASA Ames Research Center have teamed together to take the first step in the next era of space exploration—a journey between the stars." ~DARPA

Yes, we are seeing seeds of action being generated by exoplanet discoveries. The impact of exoplanet discoveries upon humanity is that now we are beginning to think “Offworld”. We are beginning to plan missions to explore worlds not only the within our Solar System but somewhere beyond the light of other Suns.

The allure of sending humans to outer space is stronger than ever. But is it actually feasible? This fragile flesh and blood could be too brave for its own good. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (so to speak).

Even a trip to Mars may be a one-way mission for us puny earth-based creatures. But if we are really serious to set up a “human” colony on another planet, then we should send a couple--to begin with. They should be willing to make love on Mars and bear children on that planet. I’m curious how that "natural" way of adapting a human’s genetics to a particular planet would pan out. I’m pretty sure martian gravity, among other things, would have a profound effect on a local Mars-born baby (you might be thinking about height now). It all seems like science fiction at first glance. But wait till you hear about the prospect of modifying humanity's genetics to adapt to outer space, as NASA's Worden speculated upon.

But that brings me to the question: once you modify a human being, would he be still “human”? If we genetically-modified humans so much as to survive interstellar or interplanetary travel, would that scenario give birth to the “post-human” being?

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."
~ John Wooden

Thinking about such things has led me to write a speculative story on how we could send an essence of humanity to extrasolar worlds. Not of flesh and blood nor bones--but of heart and soul, and the enduring human spirit of exploration. That story is called Boltzmann's Brain.

DARPA’s Starship (PDF)
NASA/DARPA Hundred Year Starship (PopSci)