Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Is Earth just a big spaceship?
When considering space travel one runs into the problem of how to cross enormous distances in order to get to anything interesting. Sure, we can get to the moon, and some of the closer planets in our own solar system. But to get to the closest star (other than the sun) would take over four years, even if travelling at the speed of light. Unfortunately, we can't go anywhere near the speed of light at this point. So even for a modest voyage to the closest star, assuming that we had a speedy spacecraft, there will still be a significant risk of death in the time interval between leaving earth and returning safely with the (hopefully) exciting news of the voyage. For objects that are much further away we have about as much chance as a snowball in hell of surviving the journey.
What's a race to do?
Well, maybe one day we will be smart enough to build a spaceship big enough and sophisticated enough to sustain life for an indefinite period of time. Then, we could launch the spaceship and have it travel on, effectively forever. We'd need to somehow ensure that details of the mission were passed on from generation to generation, using documents or their electronic equivalents. In order to do that we'd need to invent a supply of energy that was essentially "everlasting", that would allow us to survive the long trip. Something nuclear perhaps? We'd also need to take along not just supplies, but renewable food, such as plants that we could grow and harvest.
Come to think of it, doesn't that sound a bit like the planet that we already live on? Earth is heated by an energy source with a very long lifetime, has crops, animals, and intelligent (well...)
people on it. I wonder, is it possible that the solar system itself was created by another, very advanced, civilization, billions of years ago, in order to either travel to distant corners of the universe for exploration, or to survive some catastrophe that was befalling it? And if earth is just a big spaceship, then I wonder - how the hell do we steer it?
Time for today's quote:
In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted.
~ Bertrand Russell
Until the next time gentle reader, I remain,