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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What A Noah's Ark of the Stars Can Only Be

Posted by on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 8:38 AM

When we begin to think about the survival of life in the terms of microbiology, and not the survival of the most dependent forms of life, the very limited terms of zoology, then we can finally say that we are thinking in a serious way about "the colonization of outer space." We have, however, very long before we come to appreciate this kind of post-human understanding, which is why we, in the age of science and technology (to use LKJ's words), are no better than the silly Noah story when it comes to the architecture and science of deep-space transportation...

Rachel Armstrong, who has performed innovative research in the architecture world, is part of Project Persephone, the Icarus task force that is looking into how to sustain human and other life forms in space. They specialize in developing "habitable starship architecture," which moves far beyond our current cities and urban design capabilities, offering adaptable environments.
Think about bacteria; forget about us.


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ankledeep 1
Icarus is a terrible name for a project about sustaining life in space. Space flight didn't seem to work out so well for him. And Persephone? She gets forcibly abducted by her uncle and taken to a cold dark lifeless place where eating the local produce means she has to stay there? THAT sounds like a successful metaphorical model for a space program.
Posted by ankledeep on May 28, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 2
Why spend money to send bacteria into the void? Human interstellar travel is pointless and unsustainable. People have no concept of the vastness that we face. We occupy a particle of space/time.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on May 28, 2014 at 9:34 AM · Report this
Why go as far as bacteria...yeast would do just as well, and it can be freeze dried and probably survive without packaging (or arks).

If we want to find life, we'd be pumping bursts of Fleischmann's Active Dry out of the solar system right now, so it implants itself on watery planets for us to discover a billion years hence when it's evolved into us.

Even better, let them come here and visit the old folks.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on May 28, 2014 at 9:43 AM · Report this

Au contrare, the people engaging in these sorts of theoretical design studies have a very clear understanding of the vastness of space, as well as our own (current) technical limitations. That's why they're exploring multi-generational options, rather than, say, science fictional Faster Than Light travel, because the former is actually achievable, albeit at great expense and utilization of resources.

That being said, such "space arks" are not going to go the literal "two of each kind of beast" route, which is extremely resource-dependent, but rather, would most likely include much smaller and easier to store samples of extant DNA from as many sources as possible; think of it more as a repository along the lines of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Even assuming no humans would either take the ride or survive the tens of millenia it would take to reach a relatively nearby habitable planet, it might still be feasible (in a mere century or so) to develop an automated system capable of reconstituting terrestrial species from their DNA, once the vessel reaches a destination with a compatible environment capable of sustaining life as we know it.

If nothing else, that would serve to jump-start the process of reconstituting terrestrial biology, rather than starting completely from Square One as it were, and which in turn would offer a reasonable chance that those species surviving the transfer to a completely new environment would actually still look - and behave - like their originals on earth, at least initially.
Posted by COMTE on May 28, 2014 at 10:29 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 5
@4 Why? Why spend such resources on what would never be known, have no assured success or even ever reach a habitable planet in a million years? Let alone seed a planet with life that, from what we know, would take billions of years to produce anything like humans. It would have to be starting from square one. Life produced our atmosphere and that took a very long time indeed. The chances we'd find an atmosphere already in place are zero.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on May 28, 2014 at 10:44 AM · Report this
venomlash 6
@3: Evolution is not teleological. JBITSMFOTP.
Posted by venomlash on May 28, 2014 at 11:21 AM · Report this

Not exactly zero, and frankly, the odds are improving on a daily basis. A decade ago we were barely able to even identify extrasolar planets, and even those were gas giants that created significant gravitational perturbations with regards to their parent star; now we find literally scores of smaller, rocky, earth-like (at least in the sense of mass and location in the "Goldilocks zone" of their home systems where liquid water could at least theoretically exist), and it is now only a matter of a few years before we'll have telescopes in orbit sophisticated enough to perform detailed spectral analyses of a planet's atmosphere, thus being able to considerably narrow the search for habitable planets capable of supporting something analogous to terrestrial biology. Meanwhile, research is being done in areas of propulsion, life support & other technologies required for such long-duration voyages. Maybe it'll take us another century or two to reach that level, but in cosmological terms, that's practically nothing.

As for why? Well, we're going to burn through what's left of our own resources eventually, some sooner than later, and if we DON'T start getting ourselves out there to locate and exploit the far vaster resources available even in our own solar system, we're pretty well screwed anyway. And once we've figured out how to successfully live on Mars, or in the asteroid belt, or some of the less inhospitable outer moons, we'll actually have mastered about 90% of the skills required to make the next leap outward from there; after that, it's only a matter of overcoming the obstacles of time and distance.

It was only a mere 110 years ago that we first started flying airplanes; before then, the consensus was it couldn't be done. From there it took another 57 years to get into space; again, something most people thought was an impossible pipe-dream - until we did it. And from there it was less than 9 years until we landed on the moon; all of it considered the stuff of science fiction, until it became fact.

The simple truth is, our ability to overcome even this seemingly insurmountable challenge is only limited by our imagination and our will to do so; given enough time, opportunity, money, diligent research and practice - and yes, just a bit of luck - crossing the sea of stars is no more impossible than crossing an ocean, or a continent.
Posted by COMTE on May 28, 2014 at 12:03 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 8
@7 Frankly, I don't give a shit if we survive long enough to get to another planet. We will bring our inability to to be good stewards with us. It just means we'll fuck up every planet we're on. Face it, if we can't fix our mistakes here, we can't fix them anywhere else.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on May 28, 2014 at 12:29 PM · Report this
So, you've never learned from YOUR mistakes?
Posted by COMTE on May 28, 2014 at 12:41 PM · Report this
treacle 10
"Think about bacteria; forget about us."

The bacteria are doing just fine traveling inter-planetary space on rocks kicked out by large asteroid & comet strikes. That's very possibly how life seeded on Earth in the first place. Did you watch the latest episode of COSMOS, "The Immortals"? It discusses this very question.

The bacteria will take care of themselves, WE have to take care of us, so of course we need to think about how to colonize other planets, and maybe make a new home near a red dwarf star.

Anyway, if a new planet has to start with only bacteria, it will be billions of years before sentient life emerges again... if they're lucky. And it won't be 'humans'. I think maintaining a level of sentience in the Universe --esp. since we don't know of any other sentient life out there-- is a very worthy effort.
Posted by treacle on May 28, 2014 at 12:45 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 11
@9 So why are we making plans to run away from them? The assumption is we won't solve our problems because the problem is us.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on May 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 12

Do let us know when we develop an energy source that will enable any of that. Or did you miss the fact that we're running out of our non-renewable cheap energy?

Even assuming no humans would either take the ride or survive the tens of millenia it would take to reach a relatively nearby habitable planet, it might still be feasible (in a mere century or so) to develop an automated system capable of reconstituting terrestrial species from their DNA

You've been watching too much Prometheus. Jesus Christ.
Posted by keshmeshi on May 28, 2014 at 1:14 PM · Report this

Why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Humans are highly adaptable, we're also explorers; we've been doing both since we first walked out of Eastern Africa a couple hundred thousand years ago. What makes you think we're not physically capable of solving these problems (political will is another matter entirely) on the one hand, while simultaneously extending our reach into the solar system and beyond? That's the same attitude people in the 1960's expressed when they stated, "why spend all that money going to the moon, when we have pressing needs right here on earth?" without seeming to consider the rather obvious fact that every single penny of those billions of dollars WERE indeed spent right here on earth putting hundreds of thousands of American citizens to work, advancing our scientific knowledge and technical expertise, creating entire new avenues of commerce and innovation, all of which have had a direct impact on improving the lives of millions, if not tens of millions of our fellow human beings. Much of our understanding of the processes of Global Climate Change currently afflicting our planet is a direct result of the spin-off technologies engendered by our exploration of space, particularly in the areas of earth sciences and environmental studies.

So, the idea that exploring even further beyond our own shores is somehow "running away from our mistakes" makes about as much sense as saying, Thorfinn Karlsefni or Columbus or Zheng He were running away from whatever problems may have existed in their respective homelands, when in fact they were seeking new opportunities for knowledge, commerce and settlement.
Posted by COMTE on May 28, 2014 at 1:27 PM · Report this

There's already abundant energy to meet all of our industrial and consumer needs literally within arms reach. Solar power is essentially inexhaustible: the amount of raw solar energy that falls on the earth in a single hour would be more than sufficient to power all of our electrical activity for an entire year. Ion propulsion, a relatively cheap, highly efficient, and technically viable system has already been successfully utilized on several robotic probes and would be easily adaptable for human-scale missions. With each passing day we are making small, incremental steps towards mastering fusion technology, which will eventually make most of our 19th and 20th Century energy uses obsolete. Anti-matter technology is fairly well understood, even if the technical challenges are far beyond our current level of expertise. And good old nuclear fission propulsion has been well-understood since the early 1950's. Any and all of these are viable, and in fact desirable, means of pushing ourselves up-and-down Sol's gravity well - and beyond. We won't be around to see the results of most of the current research in these areas, but that's no reason to think our children or grandchildren will not eventually master their use.

As far as consumables are concerned, the asteroid belt represents a literally untapped wealth of mineral resources. In addition, we now have irrefutable evidence of the presence of large quantities of both oxygen and water ice on Europa, not to mention what's locked away in the hundreds of thousands of large ice balls in the Oort Cloud, some of which are periodically drawn into the inner system to become comets.

In any case, these are all just technical challenges, which we can overcome, if we have the desire and incentive to do so. Based on the current state of our planet and civilization, I'd say we have plenty of the latter already; we just need a lot more of the former to pull it off.
Posted by COMTE on May 28, 2014 at 2:31 PM · Report this
Dirtclustit 15
I'd like to see to see the world's greatest sham job to just hit the moon, with no requirements of landing any cargo of life or non-life, just to be able hit it.

Everyone knows we have optics that are strong enough to see it, and to see where we never landed jack shit, and seeing how for less than half of NASA's budget for just one year there would be no hungry humans, but for males, their egos, and propensity to always be distracted, I'll bet you can see how many fingers I am holding up Charles Mude
Posted by Dirtclustit on May 28, 2014 at 4:44 PM · Report this
venomlash 16
@15: We do have optics precise enough to hit the places where we landed. That's how we're able to shine lasers on mirrors that we left there and by measuring the "wobble" in the reflected light determine that the moon is in fact vibrating from a fairly recent impact (hundreds or thousands of years ago).…
You have many ignorant and bizarre opinions, but your insistence that the moon landings were faked is superlative in that regard. I hope Buzz Aldrin punches you in your stupid face.
Posted by venomlash on May 28, 2014 at 6:58 PM · Report this

Also, these.

Posted by COMTE on May 28, 2014 at 10:46 PM · Report this
Solution. Put all republicans on this spaceship to the future. Promise them they can take all the weapons they can carry, all the hate they can burden themselves with, there will be NO blacks, NO Hispanics, not one person that isn't white anglo saxon protestant and they can run their own country! We will even let them have that piece of shit mcconell and throw in boner as a consolation prize! This is a win win for all conservatives to think about. We could even send that bleach blonde crack from faux new to show them her anorexic legs and turn on all the impotenet republican men. Now that what I call a good deal.
Posted by longwayhome on May 29, 2014 at 9:23 PM · Report this

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