Stephen Hawking: “Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever. Sooner or later we must look to the stars.”
I saw this article Humans-could-reach-Mars-in-ONE-HOUR and it got me thinking. Do we colonise other planets because of mass over-population or because we have to as our planet may become uninhabitable, or just because we can.
Hawking hopes that by using the power of Lasers (see this excellent GP article from Rat Catcher How does a Laser work? ) so that they can send Nanocraft soaring through space at 100 million miles per hour. Nanocraft, which will be powered using a “sail” that is powered by light, as an “inter-stellar sailboat”. This technology exists, but using solar power is, by comparison, very slow, so it has to be lasers.
A Laser Pushed Lightsail with photon recycling is the latest thinking – a variant on the laser-pushed sail, in which the photons reflected from the sail are re-used by re-reflecting them back to the sail by a stationary mirror; a “multi-bounce laser-based sail.” This amplifies the force produced by recycling the photons, resulting in considerably higher force produced from the same laser power. The laser light is reflected back and forth many times improving the force transmitted. Read more here: Laser_propulsion
I do hope they get it to work, our planet is far too crowded in my view.
As a kid I read a lot of science fiction, especially Arthur C Clarke (check out his book Sunjammer), I always dreamed we could go to other planets around other stars, but up until now, I knew this was not a real possibility. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, but it could all start kicking off in the next 20 years or so and take about 50 more years to be viable.
So why would we want to leave our planet? I suspect, barring a few billion people being killed via wars or natural disasters, that as a world, we will not introduce birth control measures that will work. We know China has birth control, but their population still has growth of 0.52%, and there are an awful lot of them, making 0.52% rather significant. So the likelihood is that we will colonise other planets because of over-population, natural or man-made disaster, probably not just because we can.
It is a distinct a possibility that some natural or non-natural disaster starts making our planet uninhabitable (not that global warming crap though). This would certainly get people motivated.
Of note, from the latest figures from Wiki – List_of_countries_by_population_growth_rate only Luxemburg at 55th with a growth rate of 2.21% is in the top 60 for Europe, other notables, out of 238 countries are Switzerland at 122nd with 1.16%, Sweden at 139th with 0.83%, USA at 144th with 0.75% and the UK at 154th position with 0.63%. Top of the list is Oman with 8.45% growth rate, followed by Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, South Sudan, and Niger. The bottom 33 countries all have a negative growth rate, which include Hungary, Greece, Croatia, Ukraine, Portugal, Serbia, Bulgaria, Kosovo and other small countries. (Maybe someone could write an article about this!)
So basically the population of the world, barring mass war, comets raining down on us, mega-volcano eruptions or other natural disasters, will just grow and grow until tipping point is reached.
There will of course be a tipping point, and once this happens, countries will be going to war over land disputes, or more likely, who has the best “god”. This will be a regular activity and provide an awful, though necessary cull. Yes you can argue for better managed countries so we grow more and better food, but it will never solve the problem, you will just reach the tipping point a bit later. The alternative is to colonise other planets, in very significant numbers.
Alpha Centauri is our nearest star system. It has 3 stars. Let’s say they have one or more habitable planets. Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our own, is still 40,208,000,000,000 km away. Very hard to imagine that distance, so bearing in mind it takes about 8 minutes for light from our sun to reach our plant, and a light year is the distance light travels in one year – it is equal to 9.461 x 1012 km. Alpha Centauri A & B are roughly 4.35 light years away from us. Proxima Centauri is slightly closer at 4.25 light years.
With this laser propulsion technology though, that makes it about 20 years for a one-way journey. Why not then also send it back to Earth to re-use again! Other “close” stars include Barnard’s Star at just under 6 light years, Luhman at 6.59 light years, Lalande 21185 at 8.3 light years, all of which have known or suspected planets. We may be lucky and find one or more are habitable.
No matter how many people we can ship out, our planet will still need to be very careful about birth control, for a very, very long time. Some religions do not help this situation. Catholics for example are not supposed to use artificial birth control measures, such as condoms, and some religions, most notably Islam, actively encourage as high a birth rate as humanly possible.
There are of course rather large technical issues to get over. The building of something like 50 spaceships per year, for say 25 years, that can take maybe five or even ten thousand people at a time, orbit them around the Earth or Moon, lots of shuttles taking supplies and lastly people up, probably taking 20 to 30 years to build each main craft, then a few years supplying them for the journey, with enough food and water to get there and back. I say there and back, as it is possible their new planet is not habitable, so they have to come back. If they stay, they have a good supply of food to keep going with whilst they farm. It may be we will have cryogenic technology, or even just a way of putting people to sleep for 20 years or so, which would mean much less payload in terms of food and water being required.
Whilst building the spacecraft, we will have sent out many probes, like those that can reach Mars in one hour, to various stars over the previous 20 to 50 years. They can then report back in detail if there are any suitable planets. We are ready to go!
A big question then is “Who can go”? I suspect only multiple governments from various countries will be able to pay for this enterprise (see what I did there), which means there will be rules! Not just a case of asking for volunteers. What will these rules be? Firstly, it depends which governments are paying, let’s say it was a joint enterprise between the USA and the European Space Agency, they should only allow their own citizens to volunteer, with perhaps a few guest spots for other countries. That’s the easy bit.
Everyone must have a specialised trade or be a farmer. There will be no “bennies” being paid, everyone must pull their weight. Obviously we would look after any infirm or injured people, but the penalty for being inactive is expulsion from the colony, which would pretty much mean a death penalty. This would hopefully stop the “Dindus” from volunteering.
For me, I would only accept people who are married, where one is male and the other female, and they must have one or more children to take with them, and they must be able to breed more. This is not being homophobic, a new planet requires people to breed.
Within this group we need many and varied trades-people, for example:
Scientists – Technical/engineering people, to help maintain the ship en-route, and provide expertise on the new planet. Forces trained personnel, to include soldiers, sailors and airmen. We will need people to be able to make things, so blacksmiths, chemists, metallurgists etc. Medical experts such as surgeons, doctors, nurses, genetic experts.
So if you are not one of the trades above, you need to be a farmer – Food on the ship and the new planet.
The above selections are fairly obvious and no doubt you can think of a few more trades.
Given the time-scale, in around 40 years’ time, people can start deciding if they want to go, and get themselves, their children and any grand-children prepared well in advance.
Unless you believe our planet is utopia. You also have to ask the question “who should not go”.
The powers that be will want representatives of all different skin colours, which for me is fine. In a civilised society we do not have wars about a person’s skin colour, and if anyone had a problem with this they should not be on the mission, and would probably not last long either.
The biggest problem I see is that they will also want representatives from multiple religious groups. Personally I would want them all to be atheists or agnostics, but I recognise that for many people, their belief gives them a sense of well-being and comfort, which will be needed.
In general, every common religion can accept and tolerate any other religion, so perhaps there is room for those with Christian beliefs, Sikhs and Hindus and a few others.
There is one notable exception, which is of course Islam. A religion (though more accurately called a death-cult) that cannot and will not tolerate anyone not being of their faith, to the point where their religion tells them to kill any non-believer, which also includes those not believing in their particular brand of Islam. There is no point at all in having even one of them on a ship. If they want they can build their own and send it to any planet not already colonised, then 100 years later we can prepare for interstellar warfare.
So, if we do start colonising other planets, the mainly affluent countries only could afford to do so, freeing up land and homes for those that are left in their country. The ones who probably never would go off-world are those that are currently out-breeding everyone else, so sadly, there will indeed be a tipping point, barring natural disasters on a major scale.
© Phil the test manager 1207