Hawking: The Need for an Interstellar Mission

by Paul Gilster on November 30, 2006

About to receive the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, Britain’s highest scientific award, Stephen Hawking told a BBC radio audience that if the human race were to survive, it would be necessary to go to another star. Here’s a quote from a story on this in the Daily Mail:

“The long-term survival of the human race is at risk as long as it is confined to a single planet… Sooner or later, disasters such as an asteroid collision or nuclear war could wipe us all out. But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe. There isn’t anywhere like the Earth in the solar system, so we would have to go to another star.”

Hawking acknowledges the immense problems, telling his interviewer that chemical rockets like the Saturn V used on Apollo would require tens of thousands of years to reach Alpha Centauri. And while he has an admiration for Star Trek‘s warp drive (and is quite a fan of the series, as Trekkies know), Hawking pins his hopes on antimatter, forseeing future technologies that might reach speeds equal to a high percentage of the speed of light.

Alpha Centauri in six years? Not bad, and if you can get to .86 c, you’ve created time dilation that reduces the travel time for those aboard to three years. That’s just the figure used by physicist and science fiction writer Gerald Nordley when I talked to him in 2004 about a viable manned star mission. Nordley’s view: The first humans will reach Alpha Centauri in about the same time it took Magellan’s crew to circle the Earth — three years. That’s three years shipboard time, six as seen by observers on Earth, and puts Nordley and Hawking very much on the same page.

That the odds on survival here on Earth may be diminishing doesn’t seem to be just Hawking’s view. Consider James Lovelock, also quoted in a Daily Mail story, who points to climate change as the culprit in the coming reduction of Earth’s population from 6.5 billion to 500 million. Lovelock, you may remember, first proposed the Gaia Hypothesis, the notion that the Earth is a balanced system whose parts, like a human body, all mesh to create conditions possible for life.

Speaking to the Institution of Chemical Engineers in London, Lovelock had this to say:

“There is very good evidence of what happened 55 million years ago when as much carbon dioxide was put into the atmosphere by geology as is being done by us now. Temperatures zoomed up by 8 degrees and stayed there for 200,000 years then came back to normal.”

Go back 55 million years and you’re in the tropical era known as the Eocene. If we are about to reproduce Eocene-like conditions, is there anything we can do about it? Lovelock thinks that attempts to remedy ‘global heating,’ as he calls it, are simply buying us time, but doubts the entire human race will be destroyed, with survivors in arctic refuges possibly undergoing new evolution. That’s an outcome quite similar to what happens in Ronald Wright’s unsettling novel A Scientific Romance. Whether it’s true or not, I’m with Hawking in hoping for the interstellar propulsion breakthrough that can offer us a refuge just in case.

{ 35 comments }

philw November 30, 2006 at 12:56

Doomsters ignore 21st century engineering solutions like sunshades in space and other innovative approaches. Cost less than a world war and would be considered by a society really threatened by extreme temperatures.

Why 8 deg C would only make the arctic habitable seems extreme to me.

JD November 30, 2006 at 13:46

At the risk of starting a GW argument I will say “so what”? It would probably be a nice climate to live in. Remember 8 degrees doesn’t mean everything suddenly rises to +8. The “global” average increases by 8. No the planet would not become a deathtrap for humans. The following site is a good quick and dirty graphical display of previouse periods…..

http://www.scotese.com/climate.htm

Co2 is not the major contributor to temperature, it’s a minor player at best, there are quite a few other variables with far greater impact than co2. Also the 8 degree statement is more than a bit of an exaggeration. Earth is currently in an icehouse phase and an 8 degree change would put us into cretacious like temperatures (which seem more like the normal earth average. I would encourage people to study this issue a bit more and look at some of the claims from all parties with a bit more of a jaundiced eye. Lovelock is a sensationalist (the most charitable description I can give him).

Kurt November 30, 2006 at 13:59

Several issues with Hawking’s comments:

First, he neglects the possiblity of the entire O’neill L-5 space colony idea. This would certainly be cheaper to implement than an intersteller space mission. Also, the raw materials in the asteroid belt is enough to build space colony land area of several thousand times greater than that of the Earth. Bear in mind that the L-5 scenario was based on the use of boring 1970′s space and materials technology. We can certainly do better with nano-structured materials like fullerines and the like.

Second, even with anti-matter propulsion, the energy requirements and, hence, anti-matter quantities needed to propel a space craft containing “meat-humans” at relativistic velocities are simply enormous. You might make 0.1c with anti-matter propulsion, and that would still require huge quantities of anti-matter.

The reality is that, if no concept of FTL proves possible, only virtual humans (uploaded human indentities) will be travelling to the stars. Meat humans will have to be content with settleing the solar system (which including the kuiper belt, is actually quite large). Without FTL, the most feasible scenario for intersteller migration is sending virtual humans with self-replicating “seed” technology to the target star. Upon arrival, the replicating “seed” creates the industrial infrastructure, following by the biotech vats to create the new bodies for the virtual humans to download back into for physical life.

Without FTL, I see this as the only realistic scenario for intersteller settlement.

Don’t even get me started on the global warming thing.

Adam November 30, 2006 at 16:14

Hi All

It’s head in the sand to reject climate change and its anthropogenic origins. Carbon dioxide is the main controllable input into the climate system which is forcing the system. Do you want to believe that climate change is real and uncontrollable? If it’s caused by the Sun – for which there’s no evidence – then there’s nothing we can do to reverse a rise or a fall. But carbon dioxide is the kind of thing we can do something about. Or should we all keep fighting over oil and choking on coal-ash?

Interstellar migration isn’t an escape route. There’ll be no economic excess to build escape craft if it all goes to hell in a hurry. In-space infrastructure will assist but it won’t save us. There’s always the “Orion option” for off-planet evacuation – using megaton nukes to launch multi-million ton vehicles – but the economic levels required are more than a beleagured planet is likely to muster.

It’s time we stopped wasting trillions on pointless unproductive activity – defense spending – and funnelled it into doing something useful like climate mitigation. Government needs to really face the issues and stop fighting over god-damn oil – a lesson left unlearnt from 30 years ago.

Adam

JD November 30, 2006 at 16:23

Your wrong Adam.

Hans Bausewein November 30, 2006 at 16:43

Alpha Centauri in six years?
Add 4 years waiting for the message sent back home!

Stuart November 30, 2006 at 18:32

It’s really simple: ship two fertilized eggs to the new planet. They will grow into human beings (with no memory of Earth, however), and their descendants will settle the new planet.

You could call them Adam and…. oh, I don’t know…. Steve??

andy November 30, 2006 at 19:52

As for the whole global warming thing, I suspect that in the long run carbon dioxide pollution is going to be a worse issue. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more carbon dioxide gets dissolved in the oceans and hence more acidic oceans (carbonic acid anyone?), which is bad news for organisms using calcium carbonate as a structural material – i.e. an awful lot of them. A megaengineering project such as a starshade isn’t going to solve that one.

roid November 30, 2006 at 23:51

When thinking about long romantic space cruises where you don’t know what’s going to be at the other end (ie: lets just go this way till we find a nice planet), it conjures up thoughts of living in space forever. Giving up on planets and accepting your spaceship as home.

But it would be easier to live in a postapocalyptic +8Celcius Earth than in the vacuum of space. If you can build a spaceship/spacestation to support “until further notice” human space travel, then why bother launching it into space at all? If the ship can be a closed selfsustaining system in space – it can be a closed selfsustaining system on post-apocalyptic Earth, easier.

Any planet we come across will need some sort of terraforming to make it habitable to humans. Even if we find a planet that already has it’s own native lifeforms – they will probably be breathing someting crazy like methane and living in 100C. It’ll be anything but habitable for humans. If we find a planet to settle on, we’ll still need to spend Centuries terraforming it. And do you think we’ll simply give up and move on if we can’t get it to within -/+ 8 Degrees Celcius of what we want? Hell no, after waiting for thousands of years to get that far i think we’ll have the perspective to just put up with it.

Taking to the skys and evacuating Earth in a panic because the temperature is raised 8Celcius? I doubt it. It’d be easier to stay here and fix the relatively small problems we’ve caused on Earth. If we can’t fix a triffling problem of 8C on our own planet, what hope do we have of terraforming any OTHER planet who’s atmosphere is likely UNBREATHABLE?

Edg Duveyoung December 1, 2006 at 0:07

As knowledge of the universe is more finely determined, the television shows from a star system that’s twelve billion light years away might ultimately be as “gather-able” as today’s orbital-casting is grabbed by the twelve inch satellite dish on the side of your house.

Then, well, is there a limit? Seems not. We can see light that’s red-shifted into almost exhaustion by the vastness it travels to get to us.

The stars of the farthest reaches have somehow managed to get these potentially-informational photons to us. Some of them, even twelve billion years ago were already ancient. What content can be found in the modulated radiations off of these stars’ children that only now wash upon our shores? What scenes are there for us to unfold even now if we had but the sensitivity to receive and the intellect to unlock those transmissions? The butterfly theory works for all time. The flap of a delicate wing across the universe has had time to affect us here and now — as if arrows shot through eons by God.

Who here has not suddenly found themselves immersed into a large screened, HD, surround-sound presentation (available at any Best Buy for free) and “lost themselves” into the environment, the holodeck? Who here can’t at least imagine receiving distance I Love Lucy moments of alien species and losing themselves as much? Just gotta have the Arecibo folks for your cable company.

If you go to a football game, you get a different experience than watching it on TV, but millions cherish the transmitted experience. The roar of triumph coming out of the family-room from a Thanksgiving crowd of burping Packers fans is not any less sincere than the ones coming from the thousand dollar seats on the frozen tundra.

Maybe just maybe, we won’t have to travel anywhere — they, well they’re already here now aren’t they, and intimacy, connection, involvement won’t be an issue.

We’ll be the issue.

Can we identify with what’s actually what? In our microscopes, are we prepared to see love when two amoebae first touch pseudopodia? Might try that mightn’t we? Might be good practice for when we get the tuners zeroed in on two icky-types french kissing on another planet in the galactic hit, All My Chillingdren. “Tad-icky and Dixie-icky exchange mitochondria” says the Cosmic TV Guide.

And if we can live vicariously inside the psychic spaces we imagine housed inside the helmets of millionaire thugs beating themselves up in a snowstorm for our Sunday entertainment, then just so can we imagine that distant yet to be evolved civilizations will one day be able to enter into our mind-sets and laugh as heartily as we do when Lucy starts stuffing her mouth full of chocolates from the conveyor belt. Could be an audience out there already laughing milk out of their vents, ya know?

I’ve never been to a pro-football game, but yeah, you bet I have been — with better seats than can be bought. And I have traveled everywhere like this. Everywhere. I’ve was visiting the Crab Nebula just this morning. And later I’ll be exploring the mind of Achilles by having Brad Pitt portray him here at my place via my screen, and I’ll be there for his experiences as he scores his kind of touchdowns long long ago.

Who needs star ships? Who needs visitors? Who needs dialogue? Who needs interactivity? I can flesh all that out if you give me decent reception. I’ll imagine all I want, and it’ll instantly feel right. I don’t care what the real Achilles felt. If I was standing ten feet from him on the battlefield, maybe then I’d be more concerned about his feelings, but between me and Brad, I’ll come up with something just fine for me, and I won’t think a bit about how skewed my interpretations of history really are.

The geeks might care about the actual thoughts of Greeks — might want some truth. You know how they are.

But if I “get to a planet” this way — even on my death bed. If I get to a planet and I can identify even once with a three mile wide single celled methane ocean creature, I’ll be Kirk discovering new worlds in my own mind. “Columbus eat your heart out” — my last words.

Faint nothings became canals on Mars and stayed so in the popular imagination for decades. We’ll have visited the stars long before we can visit them.

Tonight: Desperate Housedroids — The metallic era.

Edg

Eric James December 1, 2006 at 1:20

It’d sure be neat if spaceships could get around without emitting propellants, but first we’d have to figure out a way to break the natural symmetry of isolated systems.

Anyone got any ideas?

Adam December 1, 2006 at 5:13

Hi Eric

There’s some action on that front – for example the enhanced gravitomagnetic field recently reported, and Robert Shawyer’s EM-drive uses a neat relativity trick with microwaves to create a forward acceleration. Both ‘fringe’ ideas but with some experimental validation, unlike all the other ‘space-drives’ out there.

Thing is as far as we can tell a space-drive will need power and – unless it uses beamed power – any reactionless rocket will run up against mass-energy limitations just like reaction rockets do.

Adam

Edg Duveyoung December 1, 2006 at 9:42

http://tinyurl.com/4zr55

The above may seem to not apply to this discussion, but give it a try. Click on the Bluejay video — it’s about a musical prodigy.

To me, this kid, this child, is living proof that the human nervous system is exactly the receiver-of-alien-messages that I was talking about above. We might be centuries from discovering how to detect, interpret and amplify cosmic messages, but nature seems to have anticipated this need by creating at least some brains that can be ultra-sensitive to the point of being sufficiently beyond our common understanding of human experience such that “godly” or “magic ” is the first notion one thinks when encountering this incredible mind.

I’d love for this notion of mine — that this kid is receiving messages instead of creating them out of whole cloth — to be considered by the huge minds here. Am I just an easy pushover for new age concepts and eager to project them as interpretive veneers anywhere that they might find the least purchase? Or, is this kid — merely rare — and merely doing something that would be something we’d expect from a best-of-the-best human nervous system, and there’s no need for an off-planet dynamic to explain his accomplishments?

My jury’s still out, but you know what explanation I’m rooting for, eh?

I have another notion that you may find even harder to believe: that all of us are the equal of this kid. I’ll write about this later, but, please, if you can, watch the video with the notion that the mind-brain might be more like a radio than a computer program.

Then have at these concepts here for our mutual delight. I’ll be reading for sure.

Edg

hiro December 1, 2006 at 15:37

Let’s see, i assume that we have fusion propulsion around 2050, antimatter propulsion will be available in late 22th century. None of these two can reach 3/4 c. Sigh, we need more exotic ideas.

dagon December 1, 2006 at 16:00

I am stunned to what degree he underestimates the rest of the solar system as stepping stone. Hasn’t he read any science fiction literature the last 10-20 years? I can easily see centuries, maybe even millennia of meaningful human (or posthuman) expansion in the solar system, including cometary halo or transuraniun rubble, before we even start scattering interstellar.

The O’neil scenario was mentioned before, and validly so. I am worried about two (immediate) extreme possibilities in this regard:

(1) humans won’t make it into space, period, maonly because of political reasons. We squander our chances, do not experience a “singularity”, live on for another fewthousands years, untill something bad, or series of disasters happen and humanity slowly (or quickly) dies out in something resembling the KT event (leaving only small resilient animals) – or

(2) Robots are increasingly used in space exploration and eventually exploitation untill it makes absolutely no sense and then, whether or not we experience a singularity, robotic (or postrobotic) systems evolve/function (to be) so efficiently in space that human expansion in the same medium becomes undesireable or implausible; we’d have a solar system with a lot of industrial robotic activity, directed my mankind or operating independently.

Sure there are all kinds of variants and combinations thinkable, but the likelyhood of all these roddenberrian possibilities are left stagnant, as hawking suggests.

philw December 2, 2006 at 10:27

Adam, you need to read what’s posted rather than knee jerk implications of head in the sand and move right to a political speech on GW. My post was not head in the sand denial; it ASSUMED the hysterical GW prognostication and proposed one very viable achievable engineering solution. A solution that could boost economies rather than destroy them. Neglecting defense spending is trendy folly but we’d best return to the threats and alternatives. I agree with those here who cite the 70s sytle O’Neill colonies as a much more 21st century achievable way to sustain humanity against global threats man-made and external.

Eric James December 3, 2006 at 20:06

Adam Says: December 1st, 2006 at 5:13

Hi Eric

There’s some action on that front – for example the enhanced gravitomagnetic field recently reported, and Robert Shawyer’s EM-drive uses a neat relativity trick with microwaves to create a forward acceleration. Both ‘fringe’ ideas but with some experimental validation, unlike all the other ’space-drives’ out there.

Adam,

I have little faith in either. It seems apparent that the first one is likely to be a locally conserved force, and the other has such audacious claims for it that I fear it’s extremely unlikely to be real.

For instance, it’s claimed it can float in the air in a gravity field, but not accelerate away. If buoyancy isn’t involved, holding a position over the ground in a gravity field is the same as accelerating in free space at the rate of 1g (according to GR). Therefore either GR is all wrong, or the claims for this device are. Until I see it do this with my own eyes, I’m inclined to believe GR prevents this.

I can see that a relativistic effect might induce a very small thrusting force, but it would have to be much smaller than simply throwing the same photons out the back end.

Thing is as far as we can tell a space-drive will need power and – unless it uses beamed power – any reactionless rocket will run up against mass-energy limitations just like reaction rockets do.

I wouldn’t be too sure of that. It depends on the type of hysteris effects achieved. If we can accelerate as efficiently as a car, only in space, phenomenal speeds might be achieved using relatively insignificant amounts of energy. However, we must first overcome the symmetry of momentum in isolated systems (good luck).

george scaglione December 16, 2006 at 14:48

i have hawkings “the universe in a nutshell” waiting for me on my coffee table as soon as i can finish up afew more things and i have read and reread a couple of his earlier books to include “a brief history of time”. i respect him as the current day einstein and i agree 100% with his ideas on space exploration and colonization. in my humble opinion his idea on colonization of another star as a way to insure our survival is 100% correct.i have given the same reason in other postings before too.NOT that i am comparing myself to dr hawking. still…since “warp drive” might be a long way off i most sincerely wish that we would pay serious attention to the development of matter/anti matter ! would ultimately make even the exploration of our own solar sysytem that much easier! and yes i regret that while we think about issues such as these we continue to relay upon ever more antiquated space shuttles.any ideas ? comments? my friends. i happily anticipate what you all might have to say! thanks your friend george scaglione

Administrator December 17, 2006 at 8:31

George, you’ll probably also enjoy Robert Forward’s book Mirror Matter, which goes into the antimatter question extensively. It’s a bit dated now, but Forward was a great believer in antimatter research and for a time circulated a newsletter about developments in the field among his fellow scientists. I have a hunch that if he were still with us, Dr. Forward would have found a way to use the Net to keep the antimatter publication alive and bring it to a wider audience. Interstellar studies lost a great voice when this good man passed away.

george scaglione January 10, 2007 at 9:43

thank you for the tip on the book paul i am only sorry i did not see it sooner i am only just now checking out a couple of places here that i have not been for awhile. yes it is always a tragedy to loose a voice for the interstellar.however i do know that alot of good people are thinking about alot of subjects in that regard. therefore the first steps are being taken. yours truly george

ljk April 27, 2007 at 9:09

Hawking takes zero-gravity flight

BBC News Apr. 27, 2007

*************************

British physicist Stephen Hawking
has completed a zero-gravity flight
in a specially modified plane
provided by Zero Gravity
Corporation. Hawking, who suffers
from motor neuron disease, was able
to float free, unrestricted by his
paralysed muscles and his
wheelchair. He believes private
space ventures are vital to reduce
the cost of…

http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6726&m=25748

Timothy J Mayes May 19, 2007 at 12:49

the most economical star ship design for large craft is a nuclear pulse
drive vehicle . But a 1 stage nuclear pulse driven vehicle is limited to
a maximium of 10-20 % of light velocity .
tim

Timothy J Mayes June 26, 2007 at 0:42

The .10 C nuclear pulse drive starship is within our reach right now
. When we find a new earth lets use it to go there at 18,600 miles
a second 10 % of light velocity .
tim.

george scaglione June 26, 2007 at 10:14

tim thank you i just read your comment above can not say as how i dis agree but i think you are speaking about the original orion project if i am not mistaken.it already was under serious development for a while until some treaty or other squelched it! a real shame.imho by the time we really do get around to designing our first star ship ,so much new thinking and new technology will have been realized that the propulsion will be a whole new thing that we maybe now do not know so much about! thank you again respectfully,your friend george

John November 8, 2007 at 5:33

Hawking might be right but for the wrong reasons.

If we had continued the Apollo program we would now be close to having established a self-sustaining lunar base which would have secured humanity from several existential threats. From there we could settle other planets/moons and eventually have the technology to make it to a neighboring star and then the galaxy.

The fact that we have no evidence of an alien civilization leads me to conclude that either our assumptions are wrong or that civilizations such as ours are routinely extinguished throughout their solar system but not beyond before they can leave their solar system. For this reason it is a race to leave our solar system before we are extinguished by our own technology. Since no other civilization has achieved this it means that our odds are low.

It seems that we have evidence that we are heading in this direction. We appear to be within zero to three decades of several potentially existential threaths including: 1) a physics experiment gone bad, 2) nanotechnology, and 3) biotechnology. With all due respect to Hawking & others GW and asteroids are simply not existential threats. Secondly, we seem very far from being able to launch a craft that could deliver humanity to a neighboring star system and there is practically no political will to do so.

What’s needed is to delay the day that the existential threat arrives while developing the earliest and cheapest mission with a possibility of establishing humanity in a neighboring star system.

For me this would be a slow (200 yrs), multiple, low weight (<1 kg) crafts, sun diver or beamed propulsion, using Earth’s existing electrical power beamed to space, magnetic or solar sails, multi-bounce tech if using lasers, magnetic decel, robotic prep of the landing site, cell-based humanity (embryo), stem cell-derived uterus & blood, and rearing with a combo of primate/android/siblings/video projector.

Such a mission would use existing physics, plausible power sources, within reach biotech, and a few decades of NASA-level funding. It could also succeed even if humanity were extinguished provided that the craft were launched before this happened.

Regarding delaying the existential threat it would be helpful to shock the public and politicians into action by having an R&D group which openly seeks to develop a contained existential threat. The reaction might cause restriction on harmful knowledge while causing the prioritization of an interstellar mission.

george scaglione November 9, 2007 at 10:27

john thank you i like your ideas above they seem well thought out and within the realm of current possibility.you know,political will or not.there is no doubt in my mind that advanced space missions are only just a matter of time before they are really seriously considered.hope to hear from you again soon,your friend george

Kate Stansfield March 4, 2008 at 3:38

After watching the programme on BBC last night Stephen Hawkings Master of the universe it occured to me ( I am not a scientist) that Stephen’s explanation of the black hole was akin to a gardener scattering seeds. Those tiny negative particles are seeds but in reverse because it seems matter rather than increase it but the result is growth all the same a new galaxy.
As for the human race I would say we are already on our way to the stars

ljk March 7, 2008 at 11:30

A brief history of Hawking

Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe

Two-part television series on C4

Starts Monday 3 March, 9–10 pm

One could say that Stephen Hawking is the epitome of
the general public’s view of a scientist — someone who
dedicates their life to science with a blind determination
to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos.

Struck down by motor neurone disease in his early twenties
while doing his PhD, Hawking is now almost totally paralysed
and can only communicate via his synthesized voice box.
Yet it is this oracle-like voice and his dogged determination
to understand our universe that have helped him become one
of the most recognisable physicists alive today — even if he
may not be the latter-day Newton or Einstein as the media like
to suggest.

Full article here:

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/indepth/33167

ljk March 7, 2008 at 13:57

For those who get PBS Television – Tonight on Charlie Rose:

Stephen Hawking & Lucy Hawking

Friday March 7, 2008

A conversation with Dr. Stephen Hawking & Lucy Hawking.
They discuss their book George’s Secret Key to the Universe,
an adventure story about two children who find a sort of
computer portal through which they can slip into the solar
system and beyond.

Be sure to check with your local PBS affiliate to see when
Charlie Rose will be airing in your city.

http://www.charlierose.com

ljk April 6, 2008 at 22:21

STEPHEN HAWKING: “OUT OF A BLACK HOLE” (TOP STORIES)

At 8 p.m. on April 9, Stephen Hawking will return to Caltech’s
Beckman Auditorium to present a talk intended for a general audience
called “Out of a Black Hole.” Hawking will explain that black holes
aren’t as black as they are painted. Things can get out of a black
hole to the outside and, possibly, on to another universe. Admission
is free, and no tickets are required. There will be at least 500
seats available to guests without tickets in Beckman Auditorium, and
370 overflow seats in Ramo Auditorium, on a first-come, first-served
basis. In addition, the audio portion of Hawking’s presentation will
be broadcast outside Beckman Auditorium.

Details: http://events.caltech.edu/events/event-5301.html

ljk April 22, 2008 at 10:40

Stephen Hawking calls for Moon and Mars colonies

NewScientistSpace April 21, 2008

*************************

Stephen Hawking has called for a
massive investment in establishing
colonies on the Moon and Mars,
arguing that the world should devote
about 10 times as much as NASA’s
current budget — or 0.25% of the
world’s financial resources — to
space.

“A goal of a base on the Moon by 2020
and of a manned landing on Mars by 2025
would reignite the space…

http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=8486&m=25748

ljk April 30, 2009 at 12:12

James Lovelock: In Search of Gaia

John Gribbin & Mary Gribbin

Cloth | 2009 | $24.95 / £14.95

272 pp. | 6 x 9 | 19 halftones.

In 1972, when James Lovelock first proposed the Gaia hypothesis–the idea that the Earth is a living organism that maintains conditions suitable for life–he was ridiculed by the scientific establishment. Today Lovelock’s revolutionary insight, though still extremely controversial, is recognized as one of the most creative, provocative, and captivating scientific ideas of our time. James Lovelock tells for the first time the whole story of this maverick scientist’s life and how it served as a unique preparation for the idea of Gaia.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with Lovelock himself and unprecedented access to his private papers, John and Mary Gribbin paint an intimate and fascinating portrait of a restless, uniquely gifted freethinker. In a lifetime spanning almost a century, Lovelock has followed a career path that led him from chemistry, to medicine, to engineering, to space science. He worked for the British secret service and contributed to the success of the D-Day landings in World War II. He was a medical experimenter and an accomplished inventor. And he was working with NASA on methods for finding possible life on Mars when he struck upon the idea of Gaia, conceiving of the Earth as a vast, living, self-regulating system.

Deftly framed within the context of today’s mounting global-warming crisis, James Lovelock traces the intertwining trajectories of Lovelock’s life and the famous idea it brought forth, which continues to provoke passionate debate about the nature and future of life on our planet.

Details here:

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8854.html

The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?

Peter Ward

Cloth | 2009 | $24.95 / £14.95

208 pp. | 6 x 9 | 11 line illus. 2 tables.

In The Medea Hypothesis, renowned paleontologist Peter Ward proposes a revolutionary and provocative vision of life’s relationship with the Earth’s biosphere–one that has frightening implications for our future, yet also offers hope. Using the latest discoveries from the geological record, he argues that life might be its own worst enemy. This stands in stark contrast to James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis–the idea that life sustains habitable conditions on Earth. In answer to Gaia, which draws on the idea of the “good mother” who nurtures life, Ward invokes Medea, the mythical mother who killed her own children. Could life by its very nature threaten its own existence?

According to the Medea hypothesis, it does. Ward demonstrates that all but one of the mass extinctions that have struck Earth were caused by life itself. He looks at our planet’s history in a new way, revealing an Earth that is witnessing an alarming decline of diversity and biomass–a decline brought on by life’s own “biocidal” tendencies. And the Medea hypothesis applies not just to our planet–its dire prognosis extends to all potential life in the universe. Yet life on Earth doesn’t have to be lethal. Ward shows why, but warns that our time is running out.

Breathtaking in scope, The Medea Hypothesis is certain to arouse fierce debate and radically transform our worldview. It serves as an urgent challenge to all of us to think in new ways if we hope to save ourselves from ourselves.

Details here:

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8855.html

alpal June 16, 2009 at 10:48

On the question of interstellar travel for a robot vehicle:

What about using free hydrogen in intergallactic space & ionising it
then using it as rocket fuel to fire out the back?
Maybe that way relativistic speeds could be obtained?
Remember too that the faster you went the more hydrogen per second
you would be able to collect.
You would not have to carry your own fuel.
The fuel is already in space.
I wonder if the Voyager spacecraft can detect & tell us if there
is enough free hydrogen out there?

Administrator June 16, 2009 at 14:04

alpal, you’re describing a Bussard ramjet, which would scoop up interstellar hydrogen and use it as fusion fuel. Numerous problems arose with the idea, unfortunately, including the fact that the magnetic ‘scoop’ actually acts as a brake. But the concept has led to active studies in magnetic sail technologies, and some believe that the use of the CNO fusion cycle (as opposed to the proton burning Bussard was talking about) may revive the ramjet idea.

alpal June 16, 2009 at 20:52

Sorry – I am not talking about fusion fuel but ionising the hydrogen gas so that
it could be fired out by the use of electric coils.
This is the technique used in particle accelerators.

Where the electric power to do that would come from is another matter.

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