As the World Turns


"We are not going anywhere in the future. There's no place to go."

That's rather short-sighted, limited thinking. Maybe we're not going anywhere tomorrow, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be laying the foundations for those who might be able to down the road.

Besides, the kinds of skills you need for interplanetary travel are also pretty much the skills you need to "deflect these drifting objects."

And if you do worry about a massive extinction-causing asteroid strike, doesn't it make sense not to put all of humanity's eggs in one basket if you can?
We are not going anywhere in the future. There's no place to go. We are stuck on earth.

If we survive another 1,000 years with our current technological rate of advancement (not impossible by any means) you'd be utterly wrong on that note. Before anyone says anything, either, like "relativity says xyz," in regards to reaching other stars... yeah, I know. But remember that in certain very accepted circles both Newton and Einstein were dismissed early on. It's quite likely that we'll have e=mc2 scale breakthroughs again that will lead us off. In our lifetimes? Unlikely. But eventually? Likely.

Also, Charles, the idea of patrolling all of space for this sort of thing is a lot bigger of a job than you likely realize. You know we only police about 5%-7% (the last I heard) of the sky? And that, if something big were coming, we really don't have any way to stop it?

Sending Ben Affleck up with a nuke is not an option.
Well said corydon.
@1 is absolutely correct. And Charles, do you have any idea how miniscule the chances of something like this hitting an urban area are?
The Oort Cloud will be the death of us, God Bless and Good Riddance.
While I would apply the saying 'never say never' to the idea of space colonization, I do think Charles is right in that our priorities are a bit skewed. Yes, eventually we may be able to expand beyond Earth, but it's not an escape from our situation here and now. Problems like rampant population growth, environmental damage, etc. need to be dealt with and compensated for, and entertaining fantasies of space pilgrims will only distract from that.
this is nothing new - and it's neither time travel nor "breaches" relativity - it is predicted by and conforms to the theory of relativity - time on earth would pass normally for earth and time on the spaceship would feel normal to the passengers - but there would a relative difference in the experience of time between them due to the speed of the ship relative to the earth
Dream killer

On the contrary, developing technologies that enable a significant number of human beings to survive OFF the earth may in fact be its ONLY hope in the long-term. Because, at the rate we're going now the only OTHER thing that could "save the planet" would be another mass-extinction event that essentially wipes out about 75% of humanity, thus solving both the overpopulation and environmental problems in one fell-swoop.

Those are basically the choices: we can either devolve back to a pre-industrial agrarian society that can sustain roughly 3 billion here on earth, or we can advance to become a truly space-faring species capable of sustaining tens of billions.
Interesting observation. I read about the asteriods missing us in this morning's paper. I agree. I think we're stuck here (the earth) forever. I also believe we're alone in the universe. I don't have a problem with that. Sure, we may figure out a way to "colonize" elsewhere. But, I think the thing to remember is we should take of this planet and avoid extinction. That's probably all the "universe" wants of us.
Sure space isn't designed for human life, we didn't evolve there. Give the genetic engineers some time Charles, jez, they're not even legally allowed to work on this problem yet. And eventually we'll just be AIs with no need for grown food or living space, a few lines of code and there's your holodeck, & we're free to colonize the Sol system.
Uhm, we ARE monitoring Near-Earth Asteroids and Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.

Take a look at

Here are the two that just missed us:

2010 RX30, missed by 0.6 Lunar Distance, 16 meters across; and
2010 RF12, missed by 0.2 LD, 9 meters across.

Sure, based on the evidence of Jupiter being struck like 3 times in the last decade, we should definitely be working out a way to deflect big rocks. But ALSO looking for ways to colonize Mars and make interstellar travel work. It's not a zero-sum game, you know. We can do both, lift people out of poverty AND put whitey on the moon.

That we choose not to says everything about out ruling class' and societal choices, and nothing about our actual capabilities.
Apropos of @10's comments - I offer only this: American Stonehenge
If it is one thing our space exploration has taught us it's this: The cosmos is a big, cold, deadly place that hates life. So it makes sense to develop early warning systems to protect our miraculous living planet from killer asteroids. But wasting time, money and resources on trying to develop a space-faring civilization is stupid. What we should do is make the effort to become a successful planet-dwelling species, something we are a long way from becoming.
those babies are god's little messengers.
these were warnings.
more to come.
no need to skip toward gommorah.
Cuz ya know, continued research and development in the field of human space travel could never lead to any discoveries that make us a more successful planet dwelling species. NASA's budget is under 20 billion, why can't you zero-sum budget people start with the DoD? Their budget is a smidgen larger.
Again, on the contrary @15. What the cosmos REALLY is is a big, sometimes-very-cold-sometimes-very-hot-sometimes-just-right place that CAN be deadly (too much oxygen can be deadly as well; it's all a matter of proportion), but that may in point of fact be teeming with life - it's just that the distances between potential habitats is greater than our current technological ability to bridge.

20 years ago the very existence of other planets outside our own system was only a theory; as of today, astronomers have cataloged more than 200 exo-solar planets, and as they continue to refine their techniques, they are discovering increasingly larger numbers that appear to share some earth-like characteristics, although to-date none have been found with what we would consider life-sustaining environments.

But, that doesn't mean other forms of life couldn't conceivably make these planets home; and as our skills improve, it's really only a matter of time before someone detects a planet that for all intents and purposes would be ideally suited for human habitation.

That's when the real fun begins, because, humans being the inquisitive little monkeys they are, KNOWING other earth-like planets exist in the cosmos is going to spur the desire to visit them, to explore them, and someday (and yes, for all practical purposes we may be talking millennia from now) perhaps even live on them.

Or, we can follow your path and stay where we are, eventually (even with the most judicious and benign environmental practices in place) consuming all the planet's available natural resources, until there's nothing left. At which point, not having made any sort of contingency plans whatsoever, we'll die out along with all our accomplishments:

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind."

Pretty smart guy that Shakespeare.

(None of which should be interpreted to suggest we SHOULDN'T be trying to clean things up around here. As any diligent camper will tell you, the best policy is to always leave your campsite in a little bit better shape than you found it. But, that also implies LEAVING the campsite at some point to explore new ones down the trail.)

The late Russian space theorist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky summarized the debate quite succinctly when he said: "The earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever."

To conclude: the only stupid thing about a space-faring civilization is NOT becoming one.
Guess we'd better all start voting for Goodspaceguy.
No, Charles was right the first time -- manned space travel will be remembered as largely a short-lived 20th Century boondoggle. It's ridiculously impractical.

If in the future, we're ever able to travel offplanet, it's going to be because we built better bodies to do it in. Or were able to download ourselves into robots.

Hard sci fi writer Charles Stross wrote up the sad truth about the whole farcical notion of space travel better than I could, here:…

"We're human beings. We evolved to flourish in a very specific environment that covers perhaps 10% of our home planet's surface area. (Earth is 70% ocean, and while we can survive, with assistance, in extremely inhospitable terrain, be it arctic or desert or mountain, we aren't well-adapted to thriving there.) Space itself is a very poor environment for humans to live in."

"A simple pressure failure can kill a spaceship crew in minutes. And that's not the only threat. Cosmic radiation poses a serious risk to long duration interplanetary missions, and unlike solar radiation and radiation from coronal mass ejections the energies of the particles responsible make shielding astronauts extremely difficult. And finally, there's the travel time. Two and a half years to Jupiter system; six months to Mars."

"Colonize the Gobi desert, colonise the North Atlantic in winter — then get back to me about the rest of the solar system! "
So, your response @20 is "oooh, it's too dangerous! Better leave it alone!" Apparently it's not occurred to you that practically everything humans do - and certainly everything that's progressed human civilization in the past million years or so since Homo Erectus first learned how to use fire - has some element of risk attached to it. If our ancestors had only played it safe, none of us would be here today. If we continue to play it safe, eventually we'll use up all the resources on earth (regardless of how quickly and how well we become benign, conscientious stewards of the planet), and we'll go extinct anyway.

And I imagine the Inuit and the Lapps and Mongolians who've been thriving in such inhospitable environments for thousands of years would beg to differ with your assessment of places where humans are well-adapted to living.

New propulsion technologies, some that have been studied since the early 1970's (e.g. ion thrusters, plasma drives, nuclear thermal rockets, et al), can easily cut the travel time to Mars down to a mere five weeks; less than five months to Jupiter. And groups like Robert Zubrin's Mars Project have been working out the details of "live off the land" strategies that could reduce that travel time even further, by making it possible for missions to manufacture bulk consumables like water, oxygen and methane in situ rather than lugging tens of thousands of metric tonnes of the stuff along for the ride. Using current, off-the-shelf technology, we could plant a flag on Mars in a decade, for a total program cost of somewhere between $20 B and $50 B, much of which would be shared by private industry (in exchange for the rights to the spin-off technologies), and by partner governments. This, BTW is between one-tenth (at the high-end estimate) and one-twenty-fifth what the U.S. Department of Defense spends EACH YEAR (not counting the War On Global Terror OR the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan).
And just for fun, here's what a super-massive extinction event looks like...
@21, no, COMTE, the gist of my response is that there is no place on the planet as inhospitable as the most hospitable place off planet, and no way to justify the expense of sending someone there. Your war budget arguments are wasted on me - I don't agree with a dime spent on any of that stuff, either, but good luck talking the rest of the country (never mind world) out of spending their cash on a military "defense", never mind shifting those funds to launching people into the void.

I'm just trying to inject some realism, here -- I love sci fi as much as the next guy, but this world is where we've evolved to survive, and even then only in a tiny slice of it. Let's just enjoy our brief time in the sun before the inevitable mass extinction that gives the next species a chance to thrive. Hey, the dinosaurs had a good 160 million years between extinction events that set the stage for them and then burned down the theater. We've only been around for 200,000; plenty of time to kill.
Finally, someone else who understands the obvious. Thank you Charles!