I’m a great admirer of Princeton astrophysicist Richard Gott, who periodically breaks into the popular press because of his quirky predictions about the human future. This is not to say that I necessarily agree with his applications of the Copernican principle, many of which have proven accurate, but rather that long-term predictions ignite both my native skepticism and my fascination with what may be coming down the road. And Dr. Gott says intriguing things indeed, such as this response to the Fermi question: ‘Where are the extraterrestrials?…a significant fraction must be sitting on their home planets.”
As you would imagine, controversy follows such thoughts, and the follow-on that we are probably a rather typical civilization with only a tiny window for getting into space that should be exploited as soon as possible. Most species go extinct — will we be any different in the face of pandemic, nuclear war or incoming asteroid? The latest Carnival of Space is now up at Alice’s Astro Info, including Wayne Hall’s description of Dr. Gott’s talk on these matters at the IdeaFestival in Louisville at the end of September. From which this:
Contrary to most science fiction, we’re likely to be one of the bigger and more successful civilizations in the universe. But if we are not alone, he says that other intelligent species may still be on their home planets or have become extinct through a random event, because they quit the effort to colonize space.
If our survival is important – we after all spend billions on defense in the United States – then getting to space permanently should be considered a defense strategy.
It would take some doing to get everyone as fired up about the space imperative as Story Musgrave, an astronaut and friend of Gott, who says he would have volunteered at any time for a one-way ticket to Mars or the Moon. But there are many who are deeply committed to a permanent human future in space, whether or not they ever go themselves. They are people whose vision may shake loose the research funding and engineering to make a successful off-world colony a reality one day. I always speak in these pages about incremental strategies for moving forward to new technologies, but reading Dr. Gott occasionally reminds me that not everyone is so sanguine about the amount of time available to us. I’ve quoted him before on this but it’s still germane: “…one of the things we should understand about time is that we have just a little.”