What is out there to exploit? Forget short-term. Seriously, what is out there? Most humans are primarily concerned with what’s a few feet under them, and a few kilometers above them. In those terms, there is enough raw material just in the asteroid belt to make dozens of Earths, maybe hundreds or thousands. That’s not incentive, because it’s not short-term enough?
A stellar semaphore system sounds like an excellent idea.
I’ve always wondered how far we could have gotten if we stayed on the ‘to the moon and beyond’ space exploration, instead of ‘settling’ with the space shuttles for 40 years. Could we have developed the technology to travel that far in 2 or 3 generations instead of 30,000 generations?
I realize we have been experimenting with solar sails and other space travel technologies, but imagine if we focused on it, instead of tinkered with it…
The chances of discovering a bio-signature is far more likely than discovering an intelligent (and technologically advanced) species by probably by a huge exponential factor. Unless we get incredibly, incredibly lucky.
If one day we do detect a bio-signature, which becomes ever more convincing the more we study it, then the chances are far more in favor of it being non-sentient, and plant or microbial-like. Still, it would be the biggest discovery ever made.
So, I don’t think humanity would immediately start trying attempts at communications, or sending “We Are Here!” signals, but merely to gain more data on life and how it can exist in the universe. Having only one data point, the earth, is a major sticking point when it comes to biology, and novel bio-chemistry.
The desire to obtain knowledge and to study extra-terrestrial life as much as possible, as soon as possible would be overwhelming in the scientific community. I’m simply curious what the most realistic and probable measures the global scientific community would take, this century, upon such a discovery.
My thoughts too. If there wasn’t a tech that could get something there within at least a few hundred years, it’d be pretty pointless. Also, it sounds like propulsion is the least of the engineering problems.
So, resolving power in telescopes and other direct and non-direct detection techniques, I imagine, would get a huge boost in incentives and funding. What’s the most bang for our buck?
Thank you for the interesting and informative link.
It would be nice if many more board citations came from such unimpeachable
authority as the great scientific institution commonly known as Caltech.
On a practical level I head no idea, before persuing the Caltech link, that ground-based
telescopes are in the offing which will provide resolution “several times sharper”
than the Hubble Space Telescope. That being the case, just imagine the resolution
we might obtain in a century or so, especially if we build and man our best optics
on the Moon.
And on a historical level, speaking of the name “Hubble", I was astounded to read
that the cosmological redshift was first discovered by Vesto Slipher at the Lowell
Observatory rather than by Edwin Hubble at Palomar over 10 years later. Nor did I
know Willem de Sitter interpreted the redshift as evidence of universal expansion
as early as 1917.
You’re undoubtedly correct, and yet, I’d launch the probe anyway. Even if my archaic probe gets passed 3 or 4 times over by more advanced probes, I’d rather that happen than have our descendants 4000 years from now curse us for not acting sooner.
That is to say, as long as launching a probe now could be done at a reasonable cost.
A good point. At best, it’s something on the way, in which some instruments might have a small chance of working, and at worst, it could also be designed as a “message in a bottle” of sorts not unlike gold plaques and gold records NASA and Carl Sagan designed and attached to the Pioneer and Voyager crafts respectively; but perhaps more judicious and tailored to the destination.
All told though, I’m getting the sense it’d be a maddening discovery: Here we’d have good evidence of an extrasolar world, originating life of its own and evolving a novel ecosystem, with no real way to examine and explore it, other than the most superficial and broad observations.
I will be absolutely pleased if you can show me any significant example of an exploration before the polar expeditions (which are the first purely scientific ones I can think of) that was not explainable by resource searches, population pressure, war, or mission work. As a species, I don’t believe we have tended to just go exploring for the heck of it until very recently.
I’m not actually sure that’s plausible on any realistic timeframe–certainly long before that happens, we’ll have decided to invest more into space exploration.
Most people who take space exploration seriously as a thing to do that I’ve ever had the pleasure (and displeasure) of talking to in fact do discuss the resources in space and do think about population pressure. I happen to disagree with them that we are in the midst of serious population pressure or a resource crunch at all now but I am concerned that in this case, if we do start experiencing it, we may find ourselves without the resources in question at which point it could be too late.
I don’t see why this is plausible at all. When the real problems come in the form we’re discussing, the argument against taking away already marginal resources for exploration would actually get stronger in such a case, making exploring space for the purpose of alleviating those problems more difficult.
I think that there’s a reason that we ended up with the Shuttle (despite the end of the Cold War). Rocketry is a dead-end technology so far as space exploration goes. The only improvement on it that anyone has come up with is Project Orion, which isn’t feasible from Earth and only any good for moving whole cities worth of people.
If, after we got to the Moon, there had been a clear next progression for rockets that would get us to Mars and back in a feasible amount of time for a worthwhile expense, we’d have jumped ahead with it regardless of whether we were still racing the Ruskies or not. But there isn’t. We would have to discover a fuel that has 1000x the energy density of what we currently use, for the same cost, and without being massively poisonous, to start making space exploration something that could be done freely and merrily. It’s unlikely that we’re going to discover such a thing.
In a sense, the problem isn’t that we didn’t keep our focus on space exploration, it’s that we started attempting it too early, before we had a technology that made it a realistic prospect, and now we’re saddled with it and there’s no one saying that we need to shut down all of the NASA projects and put them towards coming up with something that is actually a serious platform for space exploration (like the space elevator, the launch loop, the space fountain, etc.) We might have to give up space exploration for 20-30 years, but at the end of that time, we’ll have something real.
In the absence of written records, we have evidence of human populations expanding more or less steadily into essentially all survivable territories. Which is pretty much what tends to happen with population of most animal species (and plants, for that matter). So some sort of abstract wanderlust isn’t needed to explain the evidence.
Various definitions are possible. One useful one might be along the lines of a benefit that covers the cost of the trip. Humans are typically quite eager for that sort of exploration.
Suppose some consortium of mega-rich folks offered a giant pile of money to anyone who could come up with a scheme to spend it on missions to the asteroid belt that would within 50 years reliably return to mankind a tangible benefit of value at least equal to the money spent. What would you suggest?
It’s not clear if you are implying it, but if you are, I wasn’t trying to appeal to an “abstract wanderlust.”
I think such a definition of short-term certainly covers day-to-day living, but I think most of human written history involves thinking a bit farther than that, and indicates we’re willing to risk a bit more than that in the process.
I honestly don’t believe, with the already increasing research into bio-petroleum and associated plastics, that it’ll be much of an issue. Increasing development of biotech pushes a lot of those woes back a long time.
It’s all risk/reward–when there’s not much left here, it’s easier to justify spending more to searching/acquiring more elsewhere. Same as anything else–why are we only getting to exploiting oil shales and researching biodiesel and bioplastics now? Because the easier to get stuff is starting to get rarer.
When iron or other metals start becoming rarer in our crust, long before it becomes an issue we’ll notice a diminishing rate of mining and start looking to asteroids or whatever.
I don’t want to sound like a Malthusian but I don’t share such optimism. I don’t think anyone alive today has cause for concern, but, it will take at least that long to get a viable space program going, given the state of the art now. There’s a bit of a generational moral hazard here.
It’s easy to say that when you are a monarch or in a similar dictatorial position. These forces have largely guided such exploitation of foreign resources.
Yes, of course, marginal crop land looks pretty sweet when all the good stuff is used up already. But how are we going to tippy-toe into space? If you have that theory worked up, how it will happen, I am all ears.
At which point it will also be horribly more expensive.