UFOs: Spacious accommodations

WooT! Time for another Unqualified Friday Opinion!

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, life as we know it has an expiration date. When that will be exactly depends on both us and our legacy, but at some point in the  future, something will have to give. The most sensible thing, should we consider reproducing at the rate we are, will be to find accommodations elsewhere. Perhaps this is on the moon, Mars or simply in space. Some of the challenges we are aware of, a few of them we can currently address, but most I think are still going to need centuries of work to figure out.

"Open the lavatory doors HAL, this is even less funny than last time."

Earth is a pretty safe place for we fleshy things that dwell upon it. We have a country club-like atmosphere we can breathe and that shields us from virtually everything that wants to recklessly slam into us and ruin our day. The temperature is well suited to having liquid water around, which we’re mostly made of, so that’s good. We have a magnetic field protecting us from a lot of the bad stuff that would fry us or turn our chromosomes to soup, plus gives us some free entertainment. All in all, it’s great. It’s also currently our only option

If there’s one thing humans can’t stand, it’s not having options. When earth starts getting more crowded, we’re going to feel some urgency to have a “plan B”. Since living at the earth’s core is impractical, we’re going to want to check out our options out in the final frontier.

In 200 years, this will be considered a "cozy" two family townhouse.

Sounds exciting! My relatives will be flying all over space like Captain Picard and solving problems on alien worlds in 44 minute segments! How cool!

Well, depending on how our technology moves forward, we may or may not be warping all over the galaxy. 50 years ago, everyone was pretty sure we’d have flying cars by now, and we know how that turned out. There are a few things that currently stand in the way of our interstellar habitation, most are pretty nasty too.

Cosmic rays are a huge bummer. Way out in the distant reaches of everywhere, stars are exploding and hurling radiation at us at close to the speed of light. Some of this radiation is very dangerous and once you leave Earth, you leave the safety of its embrace. Astronauts that have left the Earth’s magnetosphere experience streaks flashing through their eyes. This is cosmic radiation causing brain damage. Lame! It’s estimated that if you hung out on magnetic field free Mars for two years, you’d lose 40% of your brain to cosmic ray damage.

“Yeah man, but we’ll just put up our deflector shields and be fine while we lounge around and drink sythohol in Ten Forward.” OK, let’s say we figure out deflector shields and can protect ourselves, I suppose we’ll HAVE to get past that hurdle anyway. Let’s consider how we’re going to take care of ourselves otherwise. If we live on a space station, or even on the moon or Mars, we’ll have to power our stuff, grow our food and have some way to manage a mode of habitation that is truly alien to us. Just the psychological strain of living on a small moon base might be more than most people could handle. Sure, the view might be nice, but it’s not like you can easily go for a walk.

Plus, we have evolved to live on the largest hunk of rock in the solar system and once we spend enough time on a smaller body with lower gravity, we might not ever be able to return to Earth. We’re built to Earth specs and those are hard to replicate. Mars, for example, has 38% of Earth’s gravity. So, if you weigh 200lbs on earth, you weigh 76lbs on Mars. This might make for some exciting basketball in the martian future, but this also means an earthling’s body would adjust dramatically to these new conditions. These adjustments include your body altering the amount of blood in your veins and your heart losing mass. Living on the moon or in a zero/micro gravity environment would only exacerbate this.

For the sake of this post’s readability, I’m going to skip right over the whole terraforming issue and save that for another time.

"There's got to be a Starbucks around here somewhere."

While the future is unknown, it is there. We have no idea what will come. We’re working on these issues now though, in some ingenious ways. The prospect of colonizing new parts of space is something I think comes as a very natural idea, despite all the hurdles we have to face. Maybe someday, not in the coming centuries, but the coming millennia, we will find a way to leave the glow of our home star and find a home on a planet much like Earth. Science fiction is rotten with stories about worlds that are habitable and already have life, while today’s exoplanet surveys bring the discovery of such a place closer every day. Fortunately for any one we find, its distance will keep it from us for a long, long time.

Carl Sagan once said that if we do find life on another world, we should leave it alone, even if it is nothing more than a bacterium. How would you like it if some aliens had decided to move here 200 million years ago and set up a theme park with dinosaurs? We might never have happened. Interference is nearly impossible to avoid and we should be mindful of this. The good news is we’re going to have a LONG time to think about it.

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