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Future of space: great promise, but many challenges yet to be solved
Dick Pelletier   Nov 27, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Will living in offworld space colonies ever be embraced by mainstream humanity? Of course, no one can accurately predict how the future will unfold, but by examining today’s knowledge, we can create plausible scenarios of how space development might take place during the 21st Century.

We begin our glance into this future by focusing on how research efforts promise to improve healthcare, as we trek through the current decade and into the 2020s. Biotech scientists hope to strengthen our bodies and minds and protect us from disease, including many of the damaging effects of aging. Video.

And expected molecular nanotech advances during this same period will enable building products and materials inexpensively, mimicking the ways that biology creates plants, animals, and us. Experts predict that by building goods labor-free with low materials costs, nanotech will improve wealth worldwide. Video.

With concerns over health and failing economies removed from the spotlight, by mid-century, space exploration is expected to take center stage, as many future watchers believe that a new era of world peace and prosperity will be achieved as countries begin collaborative efforts to develop the high frontier.

Intelsat Vice President Richard Dalbello sees the space industry as the jewel of our economy. "It drives innovation, creates jobs, and positions us to begin mankind's greatest dream – to explore other worlds."

Potential benefits from space exploration include asteroid mining that could yield new minerals and ores, and some entrepreneurs are talking of harnessing solar power in space and beaming unlimited energy back to Earth, which some believe might one day replace our dependency on fossil fuels.

However, to live in space will be demanding for those willing to leave Earth for a radically different world. Mars' extreme weather and killer solar rays will require domed or underground habitats.

Alternatively, many forward thinkers believe we could reengineer the genes of these brave pioneers making them immune to the effects of Mars' harsh climate. Of course, gene therapies like these cannot be performed today, but as medical technologies advance, they may become possible in the future.

Although these solutions might sound more like fiction than science, if, as many future watchers predict, humanity is destined to one day leave this comfortable third rock from the sun and develop new worlds to call home, radical technologies like these could one day become the reality of our times.

If we are to become a space faring society, we must learn to survive in hostile places. Mars could be a key stepping stone along that path, an alien world, yet one that is not too difficult to reach from Earth.

Another issue in exploring space is the vast distances that have to be covered. This means that great speeds and/or very long travel times are needed. The time required to reach other solar systems using even the most futuristic of tomorrow's propulsion methods range from decades to thousands of years.

Officials at NASA's Glenn Research Center have been searching for different options to manage these vast distances. Arc Millis, former manager of the now inactive Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, believes that one day, humans will develop means to break the light-speed barrier with new energies; and could even harness wormholes for instant access to faraway regions of the universe. Article explains.

Throughout history, great nations have been at the forefront of the frontiers of their time. Britain became great in the 17th century through its exploration and mastery of the seas. America's greatness in the 20th century stemmed from its domination of the air. For future generations, the frontier will be space.

Will we evolve into a space-faring civilization? NASA Glenn's Geoffrey Landis believes that within 50 years, Earthlings will break the light-speed barrier and begin scattering its citizens throughout the galaxy. As we trek deeper into the future, aided by technologies we cannot even imagine today, it is easy for this writer to believe that by the end of the 22nd Century, more humans will live in space than on Earth.

And of course we will always keep in touch with these hearty space pioneers, because sharing experiences of life in a strange new world will enrich us all. Comments welcome.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


“... it is easy for this writer to believe that by the end of the 22nd Century, more humans will live in space than on Earth.”

Um?  Not likely, unless global catastrophe kills off most of the people here.  Even if we discovered a veritable Utopia in space, it is difficult for *this* writer to believe that we could offload four billion people there in 100 years.

Unless we mess up Earth’s biosphere much more majorly than I project, I would guess that the vast majority of people will want to stay here, in familiar surroundings.  I would guess that even given faster-than-light travel, we’d have a hard time getting more people off Earth than live in, say, New York City.

@Kennita: In all likelihood you’re right, barring the relatively dubious scenario of a Kurzweilian hyperintelligent ring of omnicomputroniumization expanding outwardly at the speed of light being achieved within a century.

Hey people, it sounds like you’re trying to place today’s crude 2012 world 188 years into the future. Fortunately, that’s not how time treats us.

For example, if we compare today with 188 years in the past, the year 1824, things are definitely not the same. We now have automobiles, airplanes, and telephones, TVs, computers, the Internet and much more. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine what life would be like without all these conveniences.

Similarly, what might the next 188 years bring us? Today’s information-loaded Internet is growing exponentially along with the NBIC group of technologies. It may take a David Brin-type creative expert to dream of all the magic in store for humanity in this fast-approaching future.

I remain convinced that by the end of the 22nd century, 188 years from now, more humans could live in space than on Earth. In fact, I’ll take this a little further. Within a half millennium or so, it is possible that no humans would be left on this third rock from the sun. We could evolve into a digital-only species requiring no matter of any kind; or maybe we’ve found paradise in an alternate universe.

Wild; of course! Possible; maybe.

Ah yes, 188 years, not 88 years. The distribution will definitely significantly be tipped more in your favor by then, though the extent seems to be radically uncertain, given how far out it is and the unpredictable consequences of singularity. By then we might have the means to create computronium or something approaching it (fully achieved in ~250 years, at today’s Moorian rate, iirc), and for the purposes of this scenario we can consider computronial mass to be proportional to the amount of human-analogue intelligences. The relevant question then becomes: do we send out seeding probes to other planets to have them convert them to computronium to remain there, or is the added benefit of having a bigger, concentrated Earthbound brain enough to outweigh the costs in mass-energy to transport it back to Earth from the other planets? The consolidated brain may have certain qualitative tradeoffs versus a peppering of the solar system and beyond of separate planet-brains that are currently beyond our ken.

There’s also the fiscal cliff to be worried about (  If you ask me if it does happen it would greatly delay most of the technologies we hope for.

@Christian: If you mean the intentionally-inflicted power grab posing as a “crisis” by regressive oligarchs, then yes, that is one of the multifarious monkey wrenches thrown into the epistemic black hole that makes a mockery of our attempts to grok from this side of the event horizon.

SHaGGGz is correct, Chris; the cliff is a scare tactic.

Great article and I fully agree with it.

Look back to the last 188 years and America had a little population of 9 million, compared to 300 today

New York did not free its last African slaves until 1829 and it took decades and a bloody war until the last slaves were free, today there is a black president.

If we told good folk of science the world in 2012 back in 1829 of women and blacks in the white house, men and women living in space on a perm basis and planes that regularly fly faster than the speed of sound, they would have laughed as fantasy.

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