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Space Colonization: Future or Fanatsy?


Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of space travel. Some even believe that colonizing new planets or moons our best hope for the future. The popular idea is that we’ll eventually need some fresh, unexploited new worlds to inhabit.

In a recent Galaxy post we wrote that Stephen Hawking, world-celebrated expert on the cosmological theories of gravity and black holes who holds Issac Newton's Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University, believes that traveling into space is the only way humans will be able to survive in the long-term.

"Life on Earth," Hawking has said, "is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers ... I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space."

Another of his famous quotes reiterates his position that we need to get off the planet relatively soon. "I don't think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years unless we spread into space."

The problems with Hawking’s solution is that while it may save a “seed” of human life- a few lucky specimens- it won’t save Earth’s inhabitants. The majority of Earthlings would surely be left behind on a planet increasingly unfit for life.

In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars.

Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.

Renowned science-fiction writer, Charlie Stross, argued last week in his High Frontier Redux blog that space colonization is not in our future, not because it's impossible, but because to do so effectively you need either outrageous amounts of cheap energy, highly efficient robot probes, or "a magic wand."

"I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar," Stross opens his post, "domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore."

"The obstacles facing us are immense distance and time -the scale factor involved in space travel is strongly counter-intuitive."

Stross adds that "Planets that are already habitable insofar as they orbit inside the habitable zone of their star, possess free oxygen in their atmosphere, and have a mass, surface gravity and escape velocity that are not too forbidding, are likely to be somewhat rarer. (And if there is free oxygen in the atmosphere on a planet, that implies something else — the presence of pre-existing photosynthetic life, a carbon cycle, and a bunch of other stuff that could well unleash a big can of whoop-ass on an unprimed human immune system."

Stross sums up by saying that while "I won't rule out the possibility of such seemingly-magical technology appearing at some time in the future in the absence of technology indistinguishable from magic that, interstellar travel for human beings even in the comfort of our own Solar System is near-as-dammit a non-starter."

Stross's blog  received over 450 comments as of this writing. The most prescient follows:

"First, Stross's analysis fails to take into account future civilization types; I get the sense that he takes a normative view of today's technological and economic realities and projects them into the future. This is surprising, not only because he's an outstanding science fiction visionary, but also because he's a transhumanist who has a very good grasp on what awaits humanity in the future. Specifically, he should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.

"Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs (which is how the term 'cyborg' came to exist in the first place)."

Posted by Casey Kazan. Image Credit: Our thanks to


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Space colonization is our future, or bust. I'll take Hawking's angle, but we gotta quit poking each other in the eyes first.* Otherwsie the Universe will blow the whistle, and we'll be out of the game due to our slacking, and the game will move to someone else's court.

* except when it's absolutely hillarious

Regarding the article, good job bickering and one upping each other people you scientific ninnies. Now how about you pay attention to the message of Hawking:

1. Humanity is approaching a cataclysm (nature: many possibilities)

2. If we don't do something to spread our seed, we, and our culture, may be lost.

3. HOW we spread our seed is open to debate. Frankly, I vote "all of the above". If our only remnants are robots and cyborgs, that's not exactly "saving humanity", and Hawking's prediction will still have become a reality.

Pointing out the obvious to those far more educated than himself,
--The Humble Milkman

Before we get out to explore the universe, we have to get started...We really can't postulate about interstellar travel stuck on this gravity well we call the earth.
First get out of the well, then find a place to hang out to evolve to the next level (or not).
Let's face it, if we want to optimize settlement we need lots of surface area and the asteroid belt would be the best place to maximize disbursement. Sure there will be problems, but that is what humans do best...
We could use the tools already available, without the magic wand..
Please see for a concept
(your tame microbiologist)

Everyone discusses how hard life would be in space or on another planet. Would life on a hostile Earth of the future be much different? Maybe we should focus on continued life on this planet in the face of hardship. If we could survive in dome cities on Mars, why could we not do it here and save the bulk of humanity and not just the "seed"? Even a "destroyed" Earth would be closer to ideal than a completely alien world.

That being said; I don't disagree with Stephen Hawking. We will have to leave eventually but practicing/learning here seems logical.

It's definitely a fanatsy.

I have two words: manifest destiny. That is what I feel as someone interested in seeing the future, what achievements mankind will achieve, and what technologies we will create.

I, until now, felt that this was absolutely the only way, no other option, most logical and reasonable thing to do for the next step of mankind. To colonize in space, that is.

Then again, I am also a child of Toonami.

A simple matter of fact is that if humans don't leave this planet then we will go extinct. It could take 1000 years or it could take 10,000. Our planet truly spends most of its time in ice age, how will we survive when the equator has weather similar to Canada's winter now? How can we feed our livestock when we cannot grow plants? Not to mention that our sun is already very old. It will take quite a bit longer than the ice age cycle but eventually it will go supernova. Earth will not last forever, and if humans are to survive we have no choice but to leave. Space travel technology, just like all other technology, will increase exponentially. 100 years ago there was no such thing as an electronic device, and now I am in my living room communicating to people around the world - casually - on a worldwide network made of millions of computers.

Even as we speak we have rovers on the martian surface finding frozen water, we have probes circling distant gas giants. We have the worlds greatest minds theorizing metaphysics and ways to use interconnected gravity pulls of all the bodies of the universe to make space travel easier. Extra-terrestrial colonization may be hundreds of years away, but it is coming. On the grand scale of humanity, its very close.

We need viable space travel technology before we escape certain death on this planet when the Sun disintegrates the planets out to the orbit of Mars.

The U.S. spends more on WMD and the military than all of the rest of the nations of the world combined.

There must be a human-species-wide effort (nations working together) to develop the technology or the gig is up.

Perhaps machine evolution will be the only way?

I was reading about space colonization more than twenty years ago. According to designers of space conquest projects, the humanity should be landing on the surface of Mars nowaday.

Interesting new research shows that organisms are not hardwired for fixed ways of working at all, but can actually change themselves naturally. For most organisms, ignorant cautiousness and its pressure to react fast are the primary obstacles, but in modern human society justification is the main problem. There is evidence from metastudies that tolerant social environments creates extreme recoveries after brain damage that reductionist neurology and psychology cannot explain (Kurt Ficher, Christina Hinton et al.: Mind, Brain and Education). This is linked to the fact that justification paralyzes self-correction (the same fact that have misled most psychologists to dismiss free will as an illusion). This self-correction without justification can be used to keep peace and avoid boredom during long spaceflight, solve problems with weightlessness, cosmic radiation, diseases, ageing, as well as adapting to weird alien environments upon arrival. This is explained more in the articles "Brain" and "Moderating the free will debate" on topic page "Psychology", the articles "Self-organization" and "Inheritance of acquired characteristics" on topic page "Evolution" and on topic page "Advice of ways to stop justifying" on Pure science Wiki. Please feel free to read and contribute to Pure science Wiki, the link there is

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