Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To Mars, but not too far beyond it



Space travel can be frustrating.

All those pesky rules of physics we're confined by and the incessant needs of the soft, squishy human body. It's difficult to surmount. That's why our minds will travel on without us.

At least that's part of what is argued in Human Spaceflight From Mars to the Stars by Louis Friedman, Director Emeritus of The Planetary Society. In his book, Friedman appears to take a fairly realistic approach to human expansion into space. The upshot of his thesis being, "Mars, but not too far beyond that." Once Mars has been colonized, we could continue our exploration of space through robot probes. These probes, Friedman contends, may make human space exploration unnecessary as we can experience space through them. In working to understand what he means, I realized that Friedman might be something of a transhumanist. From the linked article:

"Human exploration and colonization of Mars will keep us busy for hundreds, even thousands, of years. During that time, there will be advances in nanotechnology, space sailing, robotics, biomolecular engineering, and artificial intelligence. These advances are occurring even now, affecting our outlook about what it means to be human and engage in human activity. Those technologies will not merely allow us to stay home on Earth and Mars, but our minds will extend our presence throughout the universe so that we will not need or want to extend our bodies there – even if we could, which I think is doubtful."

Yes, I keyed in on that part of his statement: "our minds will extend our presence throughout the universe so that we will not need or want to extend our bodies there – even if we could, which I think is doubtful." Virtual reality, or even direct data link from the brain to a space probe, making our physical presence in the void cumbersome, expensive by comparison, and unneeded. Remote exploration would seem a decent compromise between the starry-eyed and the supercilious detractors. What of the human yen for exploration? Would our spirit of adventure and our need for a "quest" take us to the outer planets and beyond? Friedman likens such endeavors to today's "extreme sports." They might be cool to watch but few of us actually want to do it. Humans in deep space might happen, but there won't be many, so his thinking goes.

Of course I also wonder about asteroid mining and how far out people might be willing to go to make a buck or two.

Friedman does have nifty ideas for settling on Mars, including terraforming. By all means let's go to it. Maybe we can at last put to rest these matters of faces and of "banyan trees."



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