Earth won't always be fit for occupation. We know that in two billion years or so, an expanding sun will boil away our oceans, leaving our home in the universe uninhabitable—unless, that is, we haven't already been wiped out by the Andromeda galaxy, which is on a multibillion-year collision course with our Milky Way. Moreover, at least a third of the thousand mile-wide asteroids that hurtle across our orbital path will eventually crash into us, at a rate of about one every 300,000 years.
Indeed, in 1989 a far smaller asteroid, the impact of which would still have been equivalent in force to 1,000 nuclear bombs, crossed our orbit just six hours after Earth had passed. A recent report by the Lifeboat Foundation, whose hundreds of researchers track a dozen different existential risks to humanity, likens that one-in-300,000 chance of a catastrophic strike to a game of Russian roulette: "If we keep pulling the trigger long enough we'll blow our head off, and there's no guarantee it won't be the next pull."
Many of the threats that might lead us to consider off-Earth living arrangements are actually man-made, and not necessarily in the distant future. The amount we consume each year already far outstrips what our planet can sustain, and the World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2030 we will be consuming two planets' worth of natural resources annually. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, an international humanitarian organization, reports that the onslaught of droughts, earthquakes, epic rains and floods over the past decade is triple the number from the 1980s and nearly 54 times that of 1901, when this data was first collected. Some scenarios have climate change leading to severe water shortages, the submersion of coastal areas, and widespread famine. Additionally, the world could end by way of deadly pathogen, nuclear war or, as the Lifeboat Foundation warns, the "misuse of increasingly powerful technologies." Given the risks humans pose to the planet, we might also someday leave Earth simply to conserve it, with our planet becoming a kind of nature sanctuary that we visit now and again, as we might Yosemite.
None of the threats we face are especially far-fetched. Climate change is already a major factor in human affairs, for instance, and our planet has undergone at least one previous mass extinction as a result of asteroid impact. "The dinosaurs died out because they were too stupid to build an adequate spacefaring civilization," says Tihamer Toth-Fejel, a research engineer at the Advanced Information Systems division of defense contractor General Dynamics and one of 85 members of the Lifeboat Foundation's space-settlement board. "So far, the difference between us and them is barely measurable." The Alliance to Rescue Civilization, a project started by New York University chemist Robert Shapiro, contends that the inevitability of any of several cataclysmic events means that we must prepare a copy of our civilization and move it into outer space and out of harm's way—a backup of our cultural achievements and traditions. In 2005, then–NASA administrator Michael Griffin described the aims of the national space program in similar terms. "If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets," he said. "One day, I don't know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it."
Mankind is certainly on a suicidal path. I don't believe we have time to build an escape pod. What I really don't understand is why our governments are hell-bent on self destruction. We can solve our energy problems with low cost non-polluting LFTRs see energyfromthorium.com Oil should be used for plastics and lubricants, not burning. What is an economic recession? It is a period where a large portion of the population doesn't have enough money to live. Where did the money go? During the last recession the world's billionaires averages a 27% yearly increase in net worth. This recession was not caused because farmers couldn't grow food, or nobody knew how to build warm houses or make clothes, it was all about transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Greed drives our society even to the point of bankrupting countries and eventually wide spread famine as infrastructure and government services collapse. There are solutions to all our problems, but governments the world over are not interested with possible exception of China.
So much was just glossed over in this article; the author could have expanded it into a 700 page tome I am sure.
It seems logical to me that building cities on Mars should be the first step on our path to colonizing the entire solar system and then the galaxy (and beyond if we can figure out Warp Drive/FTL or Star Gates).
One thing that stuck out as obviously wrong (and dangerous) is the comment about sending astronauts to Mars and expecting them to build the rest of the habitat for future colonists. It is far more logical to send only a group of semi-autonomous robots (along with regular shipments of whatever raw materials cannot be found on Mars, a surprisingly small list by the way). The robots would be much like the rovers on Mars today (with the "set it and forget it" programming model), an operator on Earth sends a series of commands to the robot and it figures out the best way to carry them out. And if it encounters something it can't figure out, or something interesting, it will stop and wait for further instructions.
These robots would build the Mars cities. There are a number of good options for safe habitat on Mars; none of them are on the surface of the planet because the thin atmosphere would not protect against meteorites and cosmic rays. Domed cities look cool in a CGI movie but no human should be trusting enough to gamble their life (and that of their children and everyone else there) on a few panes of glass. The canyons on Mars make the Grand Canyon look downright tiny by comparison, we could drill into the cliff side of a canyon and make an underground habitat with easy access for arriving spacecraft and Mars shuttles. There are a number of giant lava tubes that would similarly enable us to dig into the walls of the lava tube and tunnel out a habitat of any size we would need.
Tunneling machinery could be sent in first to carve out miles of tunnels and caverns. Then other robots would take over and seal the walls with Martian concrete, install equipment, setup hydroponic farms of enormous size, install the airlocks, hook up the SMRs and seal up the habitat so that it can be tested for a few years before humans arrive. Remember the debacle with BioSphere 2; the concrete and bacteria in the soil locked up too much oxygen and the humans were in danger. Fortunately for them, rescue was just an airlock away in the form of huge amounts of supplemental oxygen that was trucked to the site. Colonists on Mars wouldn't be able to call for help, their habitat had better be perfect and thoroughly tested before humans attempt to make it their home.
I thought that some kind of simulacrum, a stand-in for the future human inhabitants would be needed to test the environmental dependability of the habitat. I envisioned a machine that processes oxygen and spews out CO2, etc., in precisely the amounts that a human would. This would be a part of the testing phase before sending even one person to Mars. In addition, robots would operate and thoroughly test all the airlocks, computers, communications equipment, displays, etc., using them just as a human would in order to ensure their proper functioning before the testing phase is complete.
The entire city should be built, hydroponic farms should be producing food, basically everything should be in place and in finished working order before sending people there. That means everything would be finished and fully setup by the robots before any person left Earth orbit.
Once all the testing phases are complete then we put humans on a VASIMIR powered space craft for the 39 day journey to Mars.
This way the colony could be any size desired and full scale human habitation could commence as soon as the Mars city (or cities) are built and tested. Size should be no limit, I would envision cities built by these robots as large as New York City or as small as we want to make them. No limit except the funding.
Once the robots are finished building and testing one city they simply move a few miles away and the whole process starts all over again. City after city could be built in this way. No domes.
Interesting science fiction. Don't let cold realities like low gravity leading to bone and muscle atrophy, killer radiation or the gravity of Mars not being strong enough to create a thick atmosphere, stop you from sending colonists to certain death without any plan of a return trip.
The only realistic plan presented is the spinning space colony which would for the near future at least remain in low earth orbit. One-G gravity, protected by our Van Alan radiation belt and close access to hospitals and other services are required while we slowly make it bigger and 100% self-sufficient which will require support for thousands of people not a mere 150. It needs to have trees, farmland, cows, insects, birds, a complete eco system for long term survival and comfort of an independent society. Hopefully the only thing they will leave behind is a greed rewarding financial system forcing one group into effective slavery at the behest of the "superior" group.
@Roy, I agree with you on the Martian atmosphere being unable to offer much protection against solar radiation and especially solar flares, which would be deadly.
That's why I believe that underground cities on Mars would be the only way to survive on Mars. We're talking about colonizing after all, not just sending some jock up there to play a round of golf and sing the national anthem and then come home to the parades and a seat in congress.
Not only is Mars atmosphere too thin but also (even more important) Mars has *no* magnetic field to protect us from the radiation from the sun, that which Earth's magnetic field protects us from nicely. On Mars you would face a much higher cancer risk and even risk of death.
During the trip to Mars the spacecraft should be designed so that the water supply surrounds the crew areas, which would provide almost enough protection from normal exposure just by that design choice, and in addition, an artificial magnetic field would be created around the ship to provide further protection. Artificial magnetic fields are easy to create: every television and electrical wire that carries standard electrical current (like in your house) creates a magnetic field around it.
Mars gravity is 38% of the Earth's gravity. That isn't going to cause any problems with bone density as long as you stay active -- inactive people right here on Earth can face bone problems as well. The lack of gravity on the trip to Mars is the only concern but with the knowledge we're gaining on the International Space Station will be invaluable. Rotation of part of the space craft could provide artificial gravity but that would make it a LOT more expensive to build.
The only way to make sending humans to Mars possible we need to use a VASIMIR rocket, (google it). Without VASIMIR it would take 6 months to get to Mars. With VASIMIR it takes 39 days. Big difference.
How are the contents such as soil, plants and water going to not spill out of this environment. Perhaps an electromagnetic field would do but that would take a lot of energy. Solar panels are expensive and cheaper forms of electricity generation are impossible in space. Maybe a system which takes heat from plasma reactor engines in these artificial habitats would do, but this technology is out of reach. Also we must produce food. Hydroponic farming and genetically modified products are a good solution. I personally think this article has forgotten to mention solutions to problems like these. Also in another article Popular Science said that humans cannot reproduce in space. That basically means that we will still have to inhabit some kind of planet or habitat reserved for making babies.
Pleased to see this in the article: "Human DNA might even be packed along with these civilization-building nanorobots and used to spawn people when the time was right."
This way, generation ships become unnecessary. For the cost of one generation ship, we could build a million mini-ships containing self-replicating nanobots and DNA, and thereby colonise a million systems.
the ancient polynesians that discovered hawaii, crossing thousands of miles of the pacific in oversized canoes, would call us pansies. and rightly so.
In the long term, the only plausable thing will be to manufacture a Generation Starship to send humans to other stars. Such a ship must be able to supply its own hardware to replace any component that is worn out. E.g. it will need to have machines that can reproduce copies of the same machines. In today´s technology, the closest thing you get is 3D printers that are mostly made by another 3D printer. It is not a microfactory yet, but it will become that given enough time. Eventuall this technology will mature to the point that it can be sent into space and used to manufacture a whole ship.
In contrary to what most people believe, we have made all the scientific discoveries to make a working Starship. With enough resources, we will also be able to make the technology that is needed for mining and natural resource extraction, so that microfactories can produce whatever we need outside of our Earth gravity well.
Eventually, such a Starship will need to have a population. And sending 10000 humans into orbit will probably be the costlier part of the mission.
Although I realize that PopSci, particularly with articles like this can border on sensationalism, after all you do have to sell copies, Tihamer Toth-Fejel's justification at the beginning of the article made me put the magazine down and stop reading the article. I only read fully after I determined to comment.
To say, “The dinosaurs died out because they were too stupid to build an adequate spacefaring civilization" shows a complete lack of understanding of evolutionary thought. Then to further expand a fallacious concept with this comment. "So far, the difference between us and them is barely measurable.”, borders on, well, I'll be polite, it's just not sound thinking. One benefit of this was that I had opportunity to sit down with my kids and show illustrate to them "story line thinking" vs rational thinking.
Casinos on the moon - that about says it all about human nature and how far we'll likely get in space exploration in the next 100-200 years. Technologically, we could probably have a space-faring craft with a multi-generational crew in that time frame. Sociologically though, it's a pipe dream. First consideration: such a craft would have to be staffed with an incredibly dynamic crew. This would have to be a conglomeration of some of the most highly technically skilled people needed to accomplish a multi-year, let alone multi-generational mission. Think high-achieving, highly-motivated and creative engineers, doctors, scientists, many cross-trained in multiple skill sets. Not only would these have to be high-achieving, high-drive people; they would also have to possess and incredible amount of self-discipline and social/emotional intelligence.
Now while perhaps a small group of a few hundred to a few thousand such volunteers might be assembled, the collective financial will of the many peoples required to put such a project together would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Link that to the drive that compels the author to imagine lunar casinos, that is, the fact that no human venture will move forward unless we can figure out a way for corporations to drain humans of their productive capacity as part of the venture, means that we will continue shooting ourselves in our collective feet until we give up the drive for individual selfish greed and move toward a more socialist/collectivist and egalitarian society.
This article more or less mirrors the diagnosis and prescription of Marshal Savage's "The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps." An updated version of the book can be found at tmp2.wikia.com.
The Living Universe Foundation (www.luf.org) has grown out of this work.
Maybe my comment is a little un-scientific but haven't you watched War of the Worlds? By the means of simple observation, the aliens died because they are not immune to the viruses and bacteria here (which we are). If we colonize another planet, we need to evolve to achieve the immunity of the viruses and bacteria there. Unless, we develop shielding techniques.
This ship, however, can be used through space tourism and studying distant planets.
I would like to respectfully disagree with the fundamental line of thought of this article. I think that humans are much better off on Earth than in tiny capsules. I've been confined to small spaces for weeks at a time and it is no way to live or grow up. Constructing a 20-mile long cylinder in space is not easy enough for humans to do. How can you outrun human's greed for resources in a capsule filled with items that cost $3500 per pound to get there? Some small group may escape the sun but that's very very far away in time: Homo Sapiens have been around for 200,000 years, and the sun will not begin to expand for at least 2,000,000,000 more years. Asteroids ARE a relevant problem, to be solved only by being able to change their course/explode them. And even if 99.9% of humans died tomorrow, there would still be more than enough to repopulate the planet in a few generations (~7 million people). Let's try to pencil out how you could get 7 million people to survive for one year in a spaceship: Each person needs 5 pounds of food per day and maybe 10 pounds of water per day for drinking and cleaning. Counting only the cost of the supplies, it would cost $19 million per person per year, so about 134 trillion dollars to feed 0.1% of the human race for a year in space. And then how much does the spaceship and the exodus cost? How long will you be traveling and what else do you need before you get there? It is not within our means to do something so extravagant, and people should be more interested in exploring the ocean and the mantle (where there is more good stuff) than the void.
having a goal always precedes the means to accomplish said goal. The idea of flight came before being able to fly. Don't shoot down the idea because it's not fully possible "right now". Sure we may have millions of years to get this right. But it all starts now.
If we don't take the first step of the journey, we will never be able to make the last step.
There is no such thing as impossible, there is only that we are "not able to do it right now".
Those that understand the prophesy knows that we have a limited time on the planet. There is 2 planets reserved for earthlings in 8000 years. There is zero chance that we will be allowed to invade the galaxy at our own discretion. The human race faces 2 catastrophic genetic attacks. The 1 o' 7 angels and Adam and Eve.
Humans are stuck on this rock for it's entire lifespan. Cyborgs on the other hand will live on other planets and moons. Humans just are not built for space travel/living for more than a few months without extensive modifications. Ever see astronaugts that come back after extended missions? They look like death.
humans would require extensive modifications to live in space or other planets/moons/ space stations. Our blood would be removed and replaced with nanobots that would provide us with air/ food and remove waste. Our internal organs would be replaced with advanced organs. Our bones skin and brain would be intact. Our sex organs would most likely be removed. It would make a lot of sense for humans to be nutered and become single sex humans. Multiplication would be done in the lab. Our brains would be highly modified, Increasing memory speed and our minds be uploaded to a back up drive.
This isn't 'popular science' but a bunch of malarkey.
The comment by Toth-Fejel is not entirely correct. It was not necessary for the dinosaurs to build a space-faring civilization in order to survive. The reptiles, for example, were put into a hyperspace co-dimension where they evolved into the intelligent Nagas. The Nagas' skin has small green scales. They lost their tails so they could stand straight up. They lay eggs and put them into egg incubators at their hospitals. At the moment they are involved with building astronomical telescopes on the edge of the galaxy to see into deep space.
After hearing Basiago's description of the wormhole elevator that transports people in an elevator from Earth to Mars, it occurred to me that it would be possible to place the second wormhole opening in orbit around the planet Mercury. Then we would pass spent uranium fuel rods through the opening here on Earth directly into orbit there. Then the rods could be launched into the sun to destroy them.
Until anti-gravity is discovered or a space elevator is constructed - the gravity well will keep any large scale plans from happening.
I'll most likely get flamed for this post, but hey here goes what most likely will be regarded as "nothing" anyways.
"why are we here?", "how are we here?", "where do we go when we die?"...these questions are innate in each human that has ever existed to the present, and all collective knowledge to date has not been able to provide answers to those questions. Yet, humans explore, humans are curious, and as argueably feeble as our attempts and pursuits are or have been to date, collectively we still "hope", we still "dream", we still "wonder", and for now we are still "here".
Geo-Politics, Macro Economics, Nationalism, "demand and consumption" are a few examples of petty descriptors concerning humanity's self induced silliness and folly, right?
It's this jaded/cynical knucklehead's opinion that in order to explore anything outside of Earth's fragile biosphere we are going to need to collectively figure out how to coexist as a species in harmony with our fragile biosphere, so we can explore outside of our biosphere...
We haven't remotely "cured" ourselves as a species on our own home planet, let's give pause before we go out and "infect" destinations with "humanity".
The sun is shrinking not expanding. How does an expanding sun follow any of the natural laws? "All thinks tend toward decay." They get smaller, not larger. Think of a decaying heap of compost; it gets smaller with age.
I didn't even get past the intro for this article and I wanted to take this site out of my bookmarks.
I submit to all you PopSci readers, what if the speed of light is just another theoretical limit like the speed of sound?
If we can produce a strong enough nuclear powered ion thruster, it could theoretically accelerate long enough to pass the speed of light.
Most of you commenters are really too out of it to bother with commenting...the aticle is about a plan to preserve mankind when human existance comes to an end here on earth...this is inevitable...can not be avoided, period...a prudent plan for this eventuality is...well...prudent. Unless a way is found to terraform Mars and overcome the other perils this would involve, we are destined to come to an end because basic physics traps us in this solar system. Intelligent machines are the only life that will escape this fate and they will be our children, passing on our legacy to their children. Everything comes to an end, even us.
wtf @ mtmomx2 and mrwrite85...pick up a science book and quit making it up, please take it off your bookmark captian clueless, oops, that's not nice, but you did ask for it
@QuantumQuantum (aka Jaded/Cynical Knuclehead) Now don't take this personally, but if I could coexist with you on this planet what possible reason would I have to want to leave?
If we wait until humanity has gotten over its shortcomings we'll have to wait for the universe to end to leave, greed and personal space are the driving force for exploration. And who is to say that those destinations we're aiming for don't have a cure for humanity.
@mtmomx2 Of course the sun is shrinking right now it gives off millions - billions of tons of matter every day in the form of cosmic rays. The problem comes at the end of it's life where solar processes will theoretically cause the sun to expand to a size that would engulf the earth. And if that's wrong and the sun just shrinks at some point it will be too small to sustain life on Earth. Either end is bad.
Nuclear energy may last a long time compared to other forms but it does run out.
The more you accelerate the more energy is required to accelerate further, no matter how close you are to the speed of light however it will always take an infinite amount of energy to reach the speed of light.
I kind of agree with drchuck1, you both need some time with a science book, encyclopedia, even wikipedia might be ok.
"one-in-300,000 chance of a catastrophic strike"
Scientist said that the chance of a meltdown in a nuclear reactor was 1 in 10,000 years of operation. We now have 5 meltdowns in a 500 year of operation period. actually much more than this if you consider the meltdowns that have occurred in Russian nuclear subs (3) and military and experimental reactors.
I no longer am putting trust into scientist doomsday calculations.
construct our own death star duh
AnthonyG65 "two thumbs up"