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Friday, February 15, 2008

How close does it have to be?

Well, they've just discovered a smaller planetary system (I almost said "solar system," but I think that's reserved to our own star.), using a nifty new technique called microlensing.

They figure that, given how quickly they found the two gas giants in that planetary system, they're going to find a lot more. Only problem-- that star is 5000 light years away, which means that live television newscasts reporting about Enoch (Methuselah's daddy) inventing the eyed needle are just now getting to that star.

Too far.

But how far is close enough?

Let's just say we manage, using RamJets, light sails, or (most likely) nuclear pulse propulsion, to get a starship to average 10% of c. That would take us about 40 years to reach our closest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri. Hm. A 30 year old man would arrive at aged 70, and would find that he had no one to yell at to turn that damned music down, because there's nothing there.

Well, we're already planning to send one kind of exploratory craft or another to Alpha Centauri B.

Well, whoopie. Time to put some men and women on a ship, and send them. Why? Because Longshot and Daedalus both will take ~100 years to get there, plus another 4.5 years to report back.

Bull puckey. Longshot's expected payload is 30 tons. Double it --triple it--- and send humans.

Back to that original question: how close (by which I mean "how short a time") does it have to be? 5000 years is too far. 30 years or so is okay. Now we're bargaining. 200 years?

Surely what with cryogenic sleep, embryonic storage, robot technology, and a skeleton crew, we could do a few generations?

Would you do it?

Are you thinking that we should?

I do.

Get this thing moving. We don't have all that much time.

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18 Comments:

At Friday, February 15, 2008 7:05:00 AM, Blogger Don Gwinn said...

Generations might end up being the only way to go. Remember, you've got to have a colony when you get there. I do think it makes sense to establish working bases on Luna and Mars before we make that jump, though. No sense in sending people if they can't survive there.

And yes, I just might go if I got the chance, but I wouldn't. Those first colonists will have to be world-class at something the group needs. It might sound like we'll be short of volunteers, but remember, we're talking a very small number of people actually making the trip. Not very many volunteers required.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 8:36:00 AM, Blogger Farmgirl said...

I've been waiting for someone in the scientific community to implement, perfect, or even admit that such technologies are plausible, for a long time.

They really need to get cracking if I'm going to put Farmmom in a nursing home on the moon like I've been threatening all these years.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 9:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hades' Bells! I'm 53 years young. Send me! I've looked at the stars since I was a wee lad, and dreamed of traveling among them.

I can be packed and at the ramp in an hour; after all, how much stuff would I need?

Oh, wait! If it's a "generational" ship, they won't want me; I'm no longer capable of impregnating a female. Damn!

JonnyB

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 9:54:00 AM, Anonymous jimbob86 said...

If I did not have the responsibilities I have here, I'd do it.

ver-word: baldz - gave me a an image of that septuagenarian "Turn that Crap Down" guy that you mentioned.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Shrimp said...

This kind of reminds me of a discussion of what might have happened to the discovery of our own country, had NASA been running the exploration.

"Lewis and Clark" would have been reduced to just "Lewis" and he would have been told he could only go as far as the Mississippi. After reporting how far away the other end of the continent appeared to be, we would have been told it was too expensive, too dangerous and simply impossible to get to the Pacific.

In the last decade, we've seen private enterprise come up with some rather ingenious ideas for getting to Mars, and the X Prize has pushed ordinary people into believing that we can get into space, after all.

NASA foolishly tells us that it's too dangerous, too costly and impossible. A typical government agency, they believe the only way to do something is if it can be done at enormous cost and with little to no risk (because they don't want the blame or the embarassment).

At a conference a few years back, discussing the idea of going to Mars, one person concluded that it was simply too dangerous. People might die. An exasperated man from Australia yelled, "It's a frontier. People are supposed to die. That's the whole point."

I think he understands exploration better than most. If it wasn't risky, it wouldn't really be worth the time and the trouble. We've gotten used to the idea that safety is of the utmost importance, and all else shall bow down before it.

I'm not suggesting we should forsake safety altogether, but let's understand that everything involves a level of risk. Some things are riskier than others, and the reward must be equal or greater than the risk. There are plenty of people that believe the exploration of Mars in particular, and the exploration of space in general, is worth that risk.

People die everyday. Sometimes people die trying to explore things. Some things are worth exploring, even if people die trying. If people aren't willing to die for it, then it's probably not worth doing.

It's not like we'd be sending people against their will! If they weren't willing to die trying to get to Mars, find someone who wants to go, even at the expense of their own life. I know that Australian would be first in line, given the choice and the chance.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 10:53:00 AM, Blogger Gay_Cynic said...

Yes, we should.

And, for that matter, we should be establishing local orbital and planetary colonies (a la Heinlien), and laying the groundwork for asteroid exploration.

Why?

Presently, we're like the farmer with all his chickens eggs in one basket. Except, we're tossing the basket back and forth amongst ourselves, and not all of the players are terribly reliable.

With the whole realm of ABC (Atomic, Biological, Chemical) weaponry available to ever less trustworthy sorts requiring ever less tech knowledge engage in such hobbies - getting more than one basket seems prudent.

As humanity becomes ever more able to wipe itself out, it seems only prudent to make it a more difficult task. Malice aside, in some instances even "oops" can be catastrophic.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 12:46:00 PM, Anonymous Stingray said...

We should, but one small detail you're forgetting: After we get that ship up to .1C, remember that such speed is pretty much the cutoff point for ignoring velocity-produced time dialation.

So the people on board won't actually be aging the full X years the folks back on earth would see pass, which means we have broader options for who to send, but also a new problem.

The one thing that really bugged me about the "Aliens" universe is the vast time Ripley spends in cryosleep. If memory serves, it's greater than 50 years between popping the first critter out the airlock, and getting picked up by a salvage crew. We're industrius little primates, and as evidenced by the last 50 years, that's a loooooooong damn time to come up with new kit and new travel methods, and we're supposed to swallow that popping off for a Rip Van Winkle won't see vast, major, and severely dramatic changes in the non-snoozing population?

So that brings up the new problem. Communicating with the outbound ship would still be do-able, obviously, but trickier thanks to the speed. At some point it's going to come up that we either need to pick up our outbound popscicles via the latest and greatest fast ship, or if they're not frozen for the trip, we need a heads up for them that they aren't exactly going to be alone when they land, please do not panic and start shooting everything.

We absolutely need to start getting off this rock, but no matter what happens the first generation to launch is gonna kind of take it in the shorts when we come up with a better way sometime between launching the first and when they're supposed to arrive.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Stingray, it's been a while since I read up on the relativistic effects of speed, but I thought that you had to get above .5 c before things really changed. I know that the whole mass-increase thing only occurs as you get very close to c.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 2:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I predict that eventually space ships will travel at the speed of thought; we will simply think we are where we want to be and instantly be there. An ability already mastered by the captains of the UFOs that have visited our planet.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 2:24:00 PM, Anonymous Stingray said...

It is like the mass effect (they use basically the same equation), and behaves asymptotically. .1C is the generally accepted point where the effects are no longer small enough to ignore, and at .5C it qualifies as, and this is the scientific term, "pretty damn big." The .1C effects won't be huge, so we won't have a bunch of 35 year olds popping out at age 40 while everyone back on earth is dust or anything, but it will factor in.

The key part of the equation is the Lorentz factor, which is the square root of (1 - velocity^2/c^2), which starts producing nontrivial results around 30,000 km/s (which will make getting the ship up to .1C in the first place more difficult, but that's a mechanical problem, not a people problem).

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 3:49:00 PM, Blogger perlhaqr said...

I'd go.

I'd be willing to risk tremendous risks to go. I'd fly to Mars in the space ship equivalent of a motorcycle.

Be better than staying here.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 3:50:00 PM, Anonymous ChrisO said...

Don Gwinn said...

Those first colonists will have to be world-class at something the group needs.

Scary Douglas Adams prophesied that the useless third of humanity would be on the first ship out, not sure which scenario I prefer

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Will said...

This subject would make for a very interesting web site! The various interrelated problems that come to mind has me feeling like I'm in a pin-ball game. Neat!
First conclusion is that it would only happen as a private enterprise. No way would the USA be able to make this go. Too many idiots in power would demand concessions be made for loony toon ideas pushed by special interest groups. In fact, I suspect that the only cohesive group able to make it happen would be religion based. The exception would be if the world was looking at an extinction/planet busting scenario that could not be averted. Only then could a govt bring the single-minded focus to bear on the attempt. Of course, there would be people trying to scuttle any attempt to re-locate humans in that situation, for various sick reasons.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 4:36:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

I'll pick up over here on a theme I started on Tam's blog.

It's not enough to want to go somewhere, there has to be both an economic reason to do it and the technical ability to do it.

If you have one without the other, it's not going to happen. You have to have both.

At this time, we lack both an economic incentive and the technical know how to launch generation ships.

Matt says we could go to mars now, and I agree. We could send a manned mission to mars with today's technology. What we lack is a good economic reason to go. The crawly robots seem to be doing a pretty good job of data collection, and so far there's nothing there worth sending humans to visit.

Right now several companies are working on private space initiatives. Mostly for tourism, but some are investigating manufacturing.

Unfortunately it's not economical now to do much outside Earth's gravity well. Once the $/Kg into orbit drops to something within an order of magnitude of regular airplanes then you'll see space development.

If Lewis and Clark had had to pay the 1804 equivalent of $20 million per person for a week ($1.5 million in 1804 dollars) of travel west of the Mississippi, they wouldn't have gone either.

Personally, I wish things were different. I remember watching the Apollo 11 landing live on TV. I was promised Moon bases, space stations and cities on Mars by now. It always seems to be 30 years away.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 8:55:00 PM, Blogger John B said...

I sort of follow the science fiction principal exemplified by Bill Gates. By the time the ~100 year journey ships get there, they'll be greeted by the crews of the succeeding generations of ships that will have made the journey at faster speeds.

 
At Friday, February 15, 2008 9:17:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Probably not. You can only accellerate a human body so quickly, and you can only accelerate advances in technology so quickly. A trip that takes 100 yrs at 10% C will take 50 years at 20% C. What are the chances that we'll send both crews to the same location?

What are the chances that we'll make the leap to 20% c (which right now is unfathomable) in that short a time?

 
At Saturday, February 16, 2008 11:06:00 AM, Blogger phlegmfatale said...

I wouldn't go, but I can think of a few people I'd see off with tears of joy.

 
At Saturday, February 16, 2008 3:14:00 PM, Anonymous Stingray said...

"A trip that takes 100 yrs at 10% C will take 50 years at 20% C. What are the chances that we'll send both crews to the same location?"

Approaching 1:1, I'd say. Unless the first ship is roughly the size of Rhode Island, they're gonna need some resupply and fresh blood. A best case scenario would have us headed to a world that's basically a clone of earth, where natural resources there could (eventually) be harvested and used. Even in that best case, there's going to be a lot of need for heavy mining gear, processing equipment and other non-colony-level gear to make it a long term success. In a more likely case where we go to a place that isn't exactly like here, and may not be terribly hospitable, such needs would be even more pressing since using stuff already there would be harder. You can only fit so much kit in one bag after all.

 

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