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A Manifesto for Expansion

Michael Michaud gave the speech that follows in 1988 at the 39th International Astronautical Congress, which met in Bangalore, India in October of that year. Reading through it recently, I was struck by how timely its theme of spaceflight advocacy and human expansion into the cosmos remains today. When he wrote this, Michaud was director of the Office of Advanced Technology for the US Department of State, though he reminded his audience that the views herein were his own and not necessarily those of the US government. Michaud’s support of spaceflight and his determinedly long-term approach to our possibilities as a species has distinguished his space writing, which has been prolific and includes the essential Contact with Alien Civilizations (Copernicus, 2006). Although I had thought of updating some of the references below, it seems unnecessary. What counts are the themes. Working well before the recent surge in interstellar interest, Michael here explains why humans need to develop and strive for goals among the stars.

by Michael A.G. Michaud


The history of astronautics is not only a history of scientific and technological progress, but is also a history of persuasion. Advances in astronautics have sprung not only from steady technical advance, but also from advocacy, led by individuals and groups with deep-seated motivations. Those advocates, while often frustrated in the near term, laid the philosophical and cultural foundations that helped speed the coming of the Space Age.(1)

While many justifications have been put forward for space activities, two motivations have consistently underlain the leading edge of the space advocacy: the exploration of the universe around us, and human expansion into it. Throughout the history of astronautics, other motivations have appeared and disappeared, but these two always have been identifiable.

The Spaceflight Advocacy

The Spaceflight advocacy began with visions and ideas, initially in science fiction. Serious theoretical work began with Konstantin Tsiolkovski in the late l9th and early 20th centuries. Hermann Oberth and Robert Goddard further developed the theoretical structure necessary for spaceflight. Initial rocket experiments were conducted by Goddard and others in the United States, by members of the Verein Fur Raumschiffahrt in Germany, and by members of rocket societies in the Soviet Union. The VFR in Germany, the American Interplanetary Society in the United States, and the British Interplanetary Society were advocating interplanetary travel in the early l930’s. Yet rockets of significant scale were not launched until World War II. Despite far-seeing work such as the 1946 RAND study(2), the use of the rocket to enter space had little political support in the 1940s. Yet, a decade later our machines had entered space to stay, and two decades later we landed humans on the Moon.

The original space advocacy, directed toward exploration and expansion beyond the Earth’s atmosphere into cislunar space and later into the solar system, has been spectacularly successful. By 1989, our unmanned spacecraft will have visited every planet in our solar system except Pluto. Both the Soviet Union and the United States — with its allies — are establishing a permanent human presence in low Earth orbit. The industrialization of near-Earth space has been conceptualized since the early 1970s, and the idea of human colonies in free space has been shown to be technically feasible. Advocacies have crystallized around the long-visualized Moon Base and manned mission to Mars; though neither goal has been achieved yet, it is widely expected that both will be early in the 21st century. The U.S. National Commission on Space has proposed an elaborate space transportation infrastructure linking the Earth to the Moon and Mars.(3) We are well advanced in exploring the solar system, and are close to expanding into it.

A major symbolic turning point occurred in February, 1988, with the release of a new U.S. national space policy document. That document committed the United States to a new long-term goal: the expansion of human presence and activity beyond Earth orbit into the solar system.(4) This had been a goal of the spaceflight advocacy for many years, identifiable implicitly in the writings of Tsiolkovski and explicitly at least as far back as the 1920s. In two to three generations (depending on the starting point one chooses), the spaceflight advocacy had won a policy endorsement that would have seemed inconceivable to any but its most optimistic original members: the expansion of the human species outward from Earth.

The Interstellar Advocacy

In recent years, we have seen a small but active advocacy for interstellar flight. In many ways, the interstellar advocacy of today is similar to the spaceflight advocacy of the 1920s and the 1930s. Dedicated and believing that what it advocates is not only right but inevitable, the members of that advocacy are doing the theoretical work and are laying out plans for interstellar exploration and travel. However, they lack the credibility needed to win funding and political support for their proposals.

Like the spaceflight advocacy, the interstellar advocacy first appeared in science fiction, in the 1930s and 1940s. The first significant non-fiction paper was published in 1950.(5) Scattered works appeared during the next two decades, but it was not until the mid-1970s that the interstellar advocacy achieved some public recognition. Landmarks were Forward‘s paper “A National Program for Interstellar Exploration,” published in 1975, and the British Interplanetary Society’s Project Daedalus study, published in 1978.(6) Papers on the theory and technology of interstellar flight began to appear more frequently, particularly in Astronautica Acta and the interstellar studies issues of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. The literature grew to the point that bibliographies were published.(7) Yet the number of advocates remains small, the literature still is specialized and narrowly circulated, and political and financial support is essentially non-existent.

The interstellar advocacy has reflected both the motivation to explore our larger environment and the motivation to expand human presence and activity beyond our solar system. Many of the proposed missions, particularly the early ones, are unmanned probes of nearby star systems. Others are missions of manned exploration, and still others are explicitly intended to carry human colonists to other systems, beginning the human colonization of the galaxy. None of these missions are known to be on the agenda of any space agency. However, more modest precursor missions have been proposed, such as an extrasolar probe, an Oort cloud mission, or the Thousand Astronomical Unit probe, which are extensions of existing solar system exploration technology.

In its 1988 report titled Space Science in the 21st Century, the Space Science Board of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences endorsed an interstellar probe. The Board envisioned a spacecraft that would escape the solar system at a velocity of about 80 kilometers a second, and enter the interstellar medium within 10 years. Such a spacecraft, if launched in the year 2000, would pass the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft new proceeding slowly toward the stars.(8) This endorsement would have been inconceivable only a decade earlier.

The interstellar advocacy is not yet taken seriously by the opinion leaders of any nation, and has yet to win support from any government. That advocacy might do well to reflect on the history of the successful spaceflight advocacy, which took decades to sell its ideas, and only won success in stages. Its progress was not smooth, but was marked by raised hopes and disappointments, starts and stops. Political events and cultural change had significant impacts on the process. The advocacy could not force events beyond what was known of the physical environment and foreseeable technology at any given time. Yet it succeeded in transferring its aspirations to many people, and in eroding conceptions of what was not possible in others. Many of its views have been adopted by the governments of major nations, and are part of popular culture.

The Larger Context

Both the spaceflight advocacy and the interstellar advocacy reflect larger paradigms of human exploration and expansion.(9) We humans, who have explored and expanded into new environments on Earth, have nearly completed our initial reconnaissance of the solar system, and are on the verge of expanding into it. The day may come when we find the solar system as limiting to our aspirations as the Earth was thirty years ago. We will look outward into an even larger environment, sprinkled with stars and planetary systems. We will explore the nearer parts of the interstellar environment through space-based astronomy and unmanned probes. Then, with our improved knowledge of that environment, our improved technological capabilities, our expanded economic base, and our changed point of view, we may choose to continue the expansion. With that decision, we will assure that humans and their cultures will free themselves of dependence on one star, as they are now freeing themselves of dependence on one planet,

This vision will not be accepted easily by the public — even the informed public. While some individuals accept the outward-looking paradigms of exploration and expansion, most do not, and must be persuaded in stages to at least tolerate such ventures. If the advocacy of interstellar exploration and colonization is to succeed, it must have a long perspective, and must maintain a certain degree of continuity. Yet it also must be ready to seize on events that will speed the coming of interstellar flight. In doing so, it will demonstrate a continuity with the spaceflight advocacy that rests on the shared aspirations of exploration and expansion.

A Manifesto

Humanity should adopt expansion beyond Earth as a major organizing theme for its future. Evidence is strong that life tends to expand into new ecological niches when that is possible, and that such expansion is advantageous for the species. Expansion opens new opportunities for evolution and diversification, and for access to larger resources of materials and energy. Space is the macro-environment for life, the ultimate extension of our ecological range.

Exploration precedes expansion. Even more than the other forms of life we know, humans are motivated to expand by their improving perceptions of their larger environment. They deliberately explore the larger environment of space in the belief that they will benefit from improved knowledge. Astronomy and the unmanned exploration of space are allies of human expansion.

We should be conceptualizing the expansion in stages. The rate of human expansion is constrained by our perceptions, by our technologies, by our economic and human resources, and by our cultures, particularly by the predominant conceptions of what is possible. While there is a growing perception that a permanent human presence on the Moon and the human exploration of Mars are feasible, the creation of a solar system civilization still seems beyond our reach. In the early stages of developing a solar system civilization, we may reject the idea of human interstellar flight: later, with an expanded economic and technical base and greater confidence in our abilities, interstellar voyages will seem more feasible. Each stage will grow from the perceptions and capabilities created in the preceding stage.

Humanity needs to develop the technologies of expansion. Humans dreamed of voyages beyond the Earth for centuries, but could not accomplish those dreams until the technologies of the 20th century made them possible. Without telescopes, we would not have been tantalized by Mars; without rocketry, we could not have seen it in detail; without improved life support systems, we will not be able to journey there ourselves. Technology enables expansion.

Expanding into the Galaxy is an appropriate long-term goal for humanity. To rise above their intra-species disputes, humans need purposes that transcend their divisions. The expansion of humanity outward from the Earth and later outward from our solar system would be a grand shared enterprise for humanity, extending over many generations and giving us a long-term continuity of purpose.

Human expansion will require a continuity of intelligent advocacy. While the drive to expand is strong, cultural values vary with time and place, and the degree of support for expansion will vary with them. At each stage of the expansion there will be arguments against the next stage, which will be called too expensive or impractical; there also may be arguments against expansion because of our own moral imperfection. Advocates will be needed at every stage.


Astronautics already has brought great benefits to humanity, in our ability to communicate with each other, to navigate safely, to preserve the peace, to observe the Earth and the atmosphere, to study the solar system, the Galaxy and the Universe, and to perceive of ourselves as a species. Implicit in astronautics is the idea of expansion, which will bring benefits we can only dimly perceive today. Some have sensed all along that astronautics is linked to our destiny as a species.

We who are advocates of spaceflight, of interplanetary flight, and of interstellar flight are part of a great continuity. We are expressions both of powerful human drives and of an intellectual tradition. We have an endless mission before us, one marked by a succession of stages in which resistance, doubt, and delay must be overcome. Now that the first Spaceflight Revolution is behind us, we have reached a stage of maturity in which we can consciously decide and declare our intent to be human expansionists. We should not be embarrassed to be advocates of human expansion; we should be proud.



1. For studies of the spaceflight advocacy, see William S. Bainbridge, The Spaceflight Revolution, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1976; Frank H. Winter, Prelude to the Space Age: The Rocket Societies, 1924-1940, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983; Michael A.G. Michaud, Reaching for the High Frontier: The American Pro-Space Movement, 1972-1984, New York, Praeger, 1986.

2. Report Number SM-11827, Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship, May, 1946.

3. National Commission on Space, Pioneering The Space Frontier, New York, Bantam, 1986.

4. White House Fact Sheet on Presidential Directive on National Space Policy, February 11, 1988.

5. Leslie R. Shepherd, “Interstellar Flight,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Volume 11 (1950), Pages 149-55.

6. Robert L. Forward, “A National Program for Interstellar Exploration,” in Future Space Programs 1975, a compilation of papers prepared for the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications of the Committee on Science and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives, Volume II, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975, pages 279-326; Project Daedalus: The Final Report on the BIS Starship Study, supplement to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 1978.

7. For example, see Eugene F. Mallove, Robert L. Forward, Zbigniew Paprotny, and Jurgen Lehmann, “Interstellar Travel and Communication: A Bibliography,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Volume 33 (1980), entire issue.

8. Space Science Board, Space Science in the Twenty-First Century: Imperatives for the Decades 1995 to 2015 — Overview, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1988, page 34.

9. For further elaborations by this author on the theme of human expansion, see Michael A.G. Michaud, “Spaceflight, Colonization, and Independence,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Volume 30, Number 3 (March, 1977), 83-95 (Part One); volume 30, Number 6 (June, 1977), 203-212 (Part Two); Volume 30, Number 9 (September, 1977), 323-331 (Part Three); Michael A.G. Michaud, “The Extraterrestrial Paradigm,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Volume 4, Number 3 (September, 1979), 177-192; Michael A.G. Michaud, “Four-Dimensional Strategy,” in Jerry Grey and Christine Krop, Editors, Space Manufacturing Facilities 3: Proceedings of the Fourth Princeton /AIAA Conference, New York, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, October 31, 1979, 49-61; Michael A.G. Michaud, “Improving the Prospects for Life in the Universe,” in William A. Gale, Editor, Life in the Universe: The Ultimate Limits to Growth, Boulder, Colorado, Westview, Press, 1979, 107-117.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Brian Swiderski July 4, 2014, 17:02

    Interstellar advocates should closely watch the progress of experiments being conducted by Harold White at NASA to produce the first experimental confirmation of warp bubble effects. Results so far have been promising – the experiments have shown otherwise anomalous effects that are predicted in Alcubierre’s theory, but non-warp causes have not yet been ruled out.

  • Andrew Palfreyman July 4, 2014, 20:32

    We would appear to be a century or two premature in doing even “the easy thing” of colonising Mars, if we expect humans to arrive there to be welcomed by a ready-made environment. We lack fabrication automation and nanotechnology, and we lack AI.

  • NS July 4, 2014, 23:12

    My takeaways:

    “Exploration before expansion” — yes, let’s learn a lot more about what’s out there before we (say) start seeding Earth life everywhere;

    “…expansion in stages” — develop solar system infrastructure before we make a large-scale interstellar effort (do other stellar systems have resources that ours doesn’t?), although we should probe near-interstellar space at least, even if trips to other stars will take millenia.

  • louis-norman wells July 5, 2014, 9:59

    All my life I have been interested in Astronautics and have followed progress towards Space Flight and the search for life beyond our Planet with mounting hope that there would be significant progress towards these objectives during my lifetime . It is indeed gratifying to be able to see objectives such as the ability to set foot on Mars reach the level of feasibility , but disappointing not to have seen the search for ETL rewarded. While I am a firm believer that evidence of other life forms than our own will be found , I have come to accept that its discovery will be beyond my life time , and that other intelligences may be rarely found . Nevertheless great discoveries are being made and we stand on the threshold of active Exploration of the Solar System, the precursor to voyaging into Deep Space and to destinations beyond the Stars . Our Human destiny without doubt !
    But among the immense problems for which solutions have yet to be found , exists the issue of the limitations imposed on two way communication over long distances by our inability to achieve FTL velocities using Electro-Magnetic propagation technology . While observable on Earth the consequences of propogation delays are of no great concern but as the distances from Earth increase so do the delays, and even within the Solar they will become handicapping , When we become involved in deep space voyaging normal two way conversations or data exchanges will be totally impractical . The need for FTL propogation is a must for the future and yet at present there is no indication that it will ever be feasible . Does this not make scientific researches in this field a priority?

  • Alex Tolley July 5, 2014, 13:46

    @louis-norman wells Hard to imagine that so much exploration and science was accomplished with radio. Darwin’s voyages in the Beagle, Cook’s voyages around the world. Even early SF movies had the astronauts out of touch with Earth and reestablishing it only as they returned. Humans and smart robots can do exploration without being in constant with Earth.

  • Anthony Mugan July 6, 2014, 8:20

    Whilst I very much agree with the sentiments expressed I would argue that much of the developments of the 20th Century were driven by national security or commercial considerations.
    The two world wars provided a major impetus for aviation and early rocketry. The Cold War and the need for ICBMs was a major spur for the early space programme.
    The focus on LEO reflects both commercial opportunities and the national security context.

    Perhaps the growth of China, if it continues without an economic implosion, may spur another phase of national competition in space, but expansion out into the solar system and beyond will need to play to both baser motives as well as the far more admirable manifesto expressed above to gain funding.
    I hope I am too pessimistic but…

  • Eniac July 6, 2014, 9:13


    … if we expect humans to arrive there to be welcomed by a ready-made environment. We lack fabrication automation and nanotechnology, and we lack AI.

    Methinks that fabrication automation suffices completely to achieve this goal. Neither nanotechnology nor AI are required, in any way I can see. Luckily, fabrication automation is also the easiest of the three.

  • Eniac July 6, 2014, 9:16

    The need for FTL propogation is a must for the future and yet at present there is no indication that it will ever be feasible . Does this not make scientific researches in this field a priority?

    Not necessarily. While need is one condition to invest, feasibility is another. With no hope of feasibility in sight, our resources are better spent in making do without.

  • Ole Burde July 6, 2014, 15:01

    Feasability should be the main criteria for investment in most things , with a possible exception for some areas of cutting edge theoretical physics , where practical aplications could be far out in the future .
    In many cases the ability to evaluate feasibility for a given direction of research seems to be the real bottleneck for the advance of tecnology , because without such an evaluation , many resources wil be directed to MUCH less than optimal areas of progress .
    A big chalenge would be HOW to develop a set of general criteria for feasibility , or whatever we should cal it . One idea to start with , would be to borrow a concept from military thinking called ”building om succes ” . When a specifik combat unit achieves a breakthrough or fast advance , this unit should imediately recieve almost unlimited support , because empiricly a weak point has been identified , and-or an eceptionally gifted comander .
    In relation to space-issues this could be applied to such items as the Kepler telescope ( which certainly didnt get any extra resources to speak of ) and perhabs to the area of magneto-inertial fusion using metal rings ( those guys are close to non-existence in NASA budgets ) ….Probably as close to the opposite of Reinforcement Of Succes as you can get without cheating !

  • ljk July 7, 2014, 11:33


    Frederick I. Ordway III – Obituary

    By Lynn McMillen | July 1, 2014 | Filed under: Laughlin Service Funeral Home, Obituaries

    Frederick I. Ordway III, 87, of Huntsville, passed away Tuesday. He was predeceased by his wife, Maria Victoria Ordway.

    Born in New York City and raised in Maine, Fred Ordway was educated in geosciences at Harvard University and did graduate work at the Sorbonne and other institutions abroad. Among his first positions out of school was with a mining company and later became an early employee of Reaction Motors, Inc. (RMI) of New Jersey, a pioneering American liquid propellant rocket. Ordway later moved on to Republic Aviation, Inc. in Farmingdale, NY.

    Through a meeting with his good friend Arthur C. Clarke, the noted science fiction author, Ordway was contacted by film director Stanley Kubrick and spent three years working as Kubrick’s technical advisor on the landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    After completing his efforts on the film, Ordway was a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and shortly after became a special assistant to Robert Seamans, the first Director of the Energy Research and Development Agency, now called the Department of Energy (DOE). Fred had a long career at DOE but continued with his lifelong interest in the field of rocketry and space travel. Ordway had written numerous books on space travel, some with Wernher von Braun, and also published over 350 articles.

    Survivors include sons, Frederick I. Ordway IV and Albert James Ordway, both of Huntsville; daughter, Marisol O. Lambert of Powhatan, VA; and five grandchildren.

    A private family service will be held at a later date.

    In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The American Cancer Society or to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Foundation, 1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, AL 35805 USA.

    A very relevant page that goes into detail on his 2001 work here:


  • Steve Kilston July 7, 2014, 13:00

    I agree with nearly every point Michaud made, and dispute only his advice for “exploration before expansion”. My model is the Polynesian settlement experience where, as far as I know, the expansion to distant islands was always a one-way trip requiring carrying along one’s people and culture. That may be necessary for any extremely long extension of our direct contact. I don’t worry about causing harm to an exoplanet, because it seems obvious to me than any civilization that can achieve interstellar travel will do so only after having mastered all principles of cooperation and sustainability.

  • NS July 8, 2014, 1:12

    Well, MAYBE such a civilization will have mastered cooperation and sustainability with life from its own world (have we?). What will happen when it encounters a completely alien world is anybody’s guess. Our limited experience suggests that catastrophe (for one or both) is not a possibility that can be ignored. We should explore first even if we have to wait longer before we expand.

  • Eniac July 9, 2014, 1:12

    Compared with the past, our exploratory abilities have far outstripped our ability to travel. Past explorers actually did venture into the unknown. Not anymore. Technology allows us to collect in advance huge amounts of data about any place we might want to be going. It is a given that exoplanets we will send people to will have their Google Maps ready to go before we even start the trip. And the trip itself? Well, there aren’t really any surprises in interstellar space, either, so any adventures will have to be related to equipment malfunction or unrest among the crew.

  • ljk July 9, 2014, 10:54

    I think we may have a few more surprises in interstellar space yet to come…

    July 07, 2014


    NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has experienced a new “tsunami wave” from the sun as it sails through interstellar space. Such waves are what led scientists to the conclusion, in the fall of 2013, that Voyager had indeed left our sun’s bubble, entering a new frontier.

    “Normally, interstellar space is like a quiet lake,” said Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, the mission’s project scientist since 1972. “But when our sun has a burst, it sends a shock wave outward that reaches Voyager about a year later. The wave causes the plasma surrounding the spacecraft to sing.”

    Data from this newest tsunami wave generated by our sun confirm that Voyager is in interstellar space — a region between the stars filled with a thin soup of charged particles, also known as plasma. The mission has not left the solar system — it has yet to reach a final halo of comets surrounding our sun — but it broke through the wind-blown bubble, or heliosphere, encasing our sun. Voyager is the farthest human-made probe from Earth, and the first to enter the vast sea between stars.

    “All is not quiet around Voyager,” said Don Gurnett of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, the principal investigator of the plasma wave instrument on Voyager, which collected the definitive evidence that Voyager 1 had left the sun’s heliosphere. “We’re excited to analyze these new data. So far, we can say that it confirms we are in interstellar space.”

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 9, 2014, 12:41

    The 2nd SPACE Conference examines human exploration and habitation in space

    by Anthony Young

    Monday, July 7, 2014

    There are numerous space exploration advocacy groups well-known to readers of this publication, such as The Mars Society, the American Astronautical Society, and the National Space Society. Last month, a lesser-known such organization, the Scientific Preparatory Academy for Cosmic Explorers (SPACE), held its second conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme of the conference was two-fold: to examine the development of space habitation technology and discussion of the vital need for international space exploration education.

    SPACE was founded in January 2012 on the Isle of Man by a group of undergraduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University. SPACE formed with the support of their professor, Dr. David Hyland, and other working professionals from around the world including optical engineer Roy tucker and space lawyer Virgiliu Pop.

    In just two and a half years, SPACE has established several budding workshop programs related to space disciplines, with ongoing research and development through its Texas-based research company, Experimental Center for Applied Physical Systems (ECAPS), LLC. The First SPACE Conference on the Isle of Man in 2012 featured Art Dula of Excalibur Almaz, Chris Welch of International Space University, and space entrepreneur Christopher Stott, among other noted presenters.

    The 2nd SPACE Conference offered a wide array of presentations ranging from creative vintage science fiction that has become fact in our time, to near-Earth asteroid mitigation, a number of crucial educational outreach programs to spur interest in space in the minds of young girls and boys, to fanciful topics like the multi-generation starship, and the replication of the Mars environment as an actual tourist educational experience and research laboratory.

    During the opening general session, Hyland addressed a number of pressing issues with respect to space exploration and long-term habitation, as well as the desire to explore.

    “We need the stimulating challenges of other worlds,” he emphasized. “We need the challenge of a frontier of the cosmos, and accepting the challenge of this frontier will be ennobling to a spacefaring society.”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    “The Generation Starship: Conception and Actuality,” a paper presented by Simone Caroti, explored the theoretical and ethical issues of a spaceship capable of sustaining hundreds or even thousands of people that would operate, basically, indefinitely. A hypothetical exercise for obvious reasons, it was thought-provoking for the issues raised: How do people cope with the idea of having no home planet, unable to relate to a terrestrial body like the Earth, that their starship is forever traveling to a destination they may never see. Addressing such issues may have practical application to space exploration within our own solar system.


    The cultivation of a new generation of students regarding space in general and the core disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is vital to the America’s capability to excel in space exploration and astronomic discovery. Adrienne Provenzano, an educator from Indiana, presented an expansion of the acronym to include the arts: STEAM. Her paper covered the inclusion of the arts and humanities as central to foster interest, wonder, and appreciation in space education in children and specifically girls. Provenzano quoted Dr. Mae Jemison: “We can’t do this (future space exploration) with just half the population.” To emphasize her approach, several portions of her presentation were presented in song. She has discovered this is particularly well-received by elementary school-aged children.

  • ljk July 9, 2014, 13:22

    Living in Space 6: Beyond O’Neill

    By Liam Ginty on July 8, 2014 in Space Settlements

    One would be forgiven for thinking that space colonization was born and died with Gerard O’Neill. The shadow he cast over the field is a long one, and the work he and his fellows did on the subject permeates every aspect of space colonization.

    Although not as celebrated or publicized, work on space colonization has continued to this day – new papers, theories, concepts, and designs for habitats are released every year, and with the sudden interest in asteroid mining, the world is primed for a new look at space colonization.

    In this conclusion to Living in Space, we will take a look at where the field of space colonization is now, and where it might be heading.

    Full article here:


    And see this paper online here:


  • ljk July 10, 2014, 9:51

    Weird, Unseen Images from the Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

    Moon children, polka-dot aliens, suckling ape suits, and many more intergalactic wrong turns are chronicled in a new behind-the-scenes book.

    BY BRUCE HANDY JULY 9, 2014 12:00 AM


    To quote:

    This has been a banner year for those of us who are as obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s great film 2001: A Space Odyssey as the movie’s ape-men are obsessed with the big black monolith that shows up on their veldt. Several episodes of the recent half-season of Mad Men referenced the movie, sometimes obliquely, sometimes winkingly (both Kubrickian modes).

    Now, Taschen, the high-end, occasionally overwrought art-book publisher, is releasing what it brags is “the most exhaustive publication ever devoted” to the film. At four volumes and 1,386 pages, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is indeed exhaustive. And exhausting. And expensive: the super-deluxe “art edition,” which comes with an exclusive lithograph and is signed by Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, sells for $1,500 and is limited to 500 copies. (The normal-deluxe “collector’s edition” of the book, unsigned by any Kubrick survivors, retails for a mere $750.)

    Publisher’s page on this ridiculously overpriced set:


    If you want to introduce new generations to 2001, charging hundreds of dollars at a minimum is not the way to go. But gaining new fans is probably not their primary goal.

  • ljk July 10, 2014, 10:01

    Project Astrolabe: Navigating the Future of Civilization

    J. N. Nielsen

    posted by Andreas Tziolas on July 10, 2014

    Introducing Project Astrolabe

    Icarus Interstellar will be adding Project Astrolabe to its programs, which will be concerned with the core issues of civilization’s evolution, longevity, and existential risk. It will be the purpose of Project Astrolabe to bring to the study of civilization in the universe the same active engagement that Icarus Interstellar brings to the design of interstellar spacecraft, and in so doing to shed light on the place of human civilization in the universe.

    Carl Sagan wrote that, “…every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.” (Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Chap. 21) This insight shows us the close connection between interstellar travel and the future of civilization. Moreover, the high technology civilization that will make interstellar travel possible and which will therefore provide a further futurity for civilization will force that same civilization to confront a range of challenges, including the degree to which our technology transforms the lives of human beings, the architects of civilization.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    What’s next?

    The next obvious steps for determining our place within the cosmos – currently within our technological capability, but not being pursued for lack of funding – are larger and more sophisticated telescopes in space. A next generation space telescope may have the ability to get spectroscopic readings of the atmospheres of exoplanets, with could reveal biosignatures and possibly also what might be called technosignatures (if, for example, we could detect industrial pollutants in an exoplanet’s atmosphere). A very large radio telescope erected in space, purpose-built for eavesdropping on other civilizations, might be able to detect the passive EM spectrum emissions of a civilization innocently transmitting, but not with sufficient power to be easily detected (as we have been radiating for a hundred years). Another mission of existential importance would be to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa to sample its sub-cryosphere oceans for life, as any evidence of an independent origin for life would have much to teach us. These are potentially exciting projects with exciting findings that make me eager and not anxious for the future.

    Another obvious step is that being debated in respect to SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and METI (messaging interstellar intelligence). If we really want to quantify signs of technological civilization in the universe, we need to think about how SETI and METI programs are or will be integral to any interstellar effort, as both are about the quest for knowledge as an active engagement with the world.

    In parallel with these efforts, we will want to study the technological trends emerging from our rapidly changing civilization, for what they portend for the future. What technologies our science develops for us, and which among these technologies prove to be practicable and adaptable to the peculiar architecture of our civilization, will shape every detail of the future, and may prove the difference between human civilization being viable or non-viable. Every particular interstellar propulsion technology, or life sciences technology, or computing technology – everything, in short, that goes toward building a technological civilization – interacts differently with the individual life making use of such technologies and the socioeconomic structure within which the individual finds a home.

    The study of the future of civilization, then, requires that we engage with questions of detail in regard to the particular means of securing our long-term future, as well as engaging with the big picture of difficult issues that will be posed by future developments, such as the economics of spacefaring civilization, transhumanism, computational infrastructure, and the profound moral dilemmas of expanding the terrestrial biosphere and human civilization beyond Earth.

    Nick Nielsen will lead Project Astrolabe in these investigations, with Heath Rezabek as Deputy Project Lead. You can read the Project Astrolabe Project Proposal Outline here.

    If you’re interested in joining the study team, please email info@icarusinterstellar.org with a short statement of interest and brief background information. We are looking for people with interest and/or experience in anthropology, sociology, transhumanism, futurism and other disciplines relating to assessing the past and future of social and technical evolution and thought.

  • ljk July 11, 2014, 13:27

    If we want people to reach for the stars, they have to be able to see them to know that they are there first:


    Space and astronomy buffs sometimes forget how little the general public thinks about the Cosmos in their daily lives. If they are denied even seeing the stars, this only makes our efforts to establish a permanent space presence and interstellar missions even more difficult.

    Remember, the general public includes many with the power and purse strings to make space exploration happen, plus the public can sway their elected leaders if they speak loudly and massively enough. Or influence things by not saying anything on particular subjects.

    Science and space efforts do not operate in a vacuum, despite what some space buffs would like to imagine or realize otherwise.

  • Eniac July 12, 2014, 20:50


    I think we may have a few more surprises in interstellar space yet to come…

    These “tsunami waves” are very delicate phenomena that would not be noticeable at all except to the very sensitive instruments designed to detect them. Let’s face it, academically there may be a few interesting things left undiscovered in interstellar space, but to practically affect the mission? Not. It is just very, very empty out there. Excitement will have to be brought along.

  • NS July 13, 2014, 21:19

    A little late and it may have already been posted elsewhere, but some info on an experimental method for emergency medical treatment that may also be applicable to “suspended animation”:


  • ljk July 14, 2014, 14:55

    The New Space Race, and Why Nothing Else Matters


    The Fiscal Times

    July 11, 2014

    Forty-five years ago this July 20th, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon. Their mission represented an emphatic American victory in the first space race, which began in earnest in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched a notably unattractive satellite, Sputnik, into orbit.

    Since then, however, America’s national space program has essentially foundered. It improved space travel by building and then scrapping the Space Shuttle, without ever accomplishing – or attempting – a mission as bold or impactful as the one in 1969. It’s time for a new one. To win the next space race, the US should announce its support for private property rights in space, and NASA should take a back seat.

    Full article here:



  • ljk July 14, 2014, 14:58

    JULY 09, 2014

    Perfecting Venus atmospheric Colonies and using Venus resources to make Cloud Cities

    At about 50 kilometers (30 miles) altitude, the atmospheric density on Venus is close to “sea level” density on Earth, and temperatures are basically Mediterranean, you get plenty of sunlight, and the CO2 atmosphere is sufficiently denser than air on earth that a breathable air mix provides about half the buoyancy on Venus as Helium does on Earth. Basically, at 50km you could build multiple-km-scale flying cities that would be extremely roomy since more air space means you can support more mass. Or in other words, Lando Calrissian, eat your heart out.

    Sure you can make a super large city like that float in the Venusian atmosphere, how do you get it there in the first place? There’s also the question of why you’d want to, but I want to focus this series on how you might build your castles in the sky. What I’d like to suggest in this blog post series is that the Venusian atmosphere may provide most of the raw materials needed to build such flying cities using in-situ resources, and many of those resources may be readily extractable.

    For Mars, Venus, and other planetary environments that have atmospheres, the atmosphere itself can provide a feedstock for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Both atmospheres have a mix of gases and condenseable vapors that can be processed in the gas-phase.

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 14, 2014, 15:00

    JULY 09, 2014

    A roadmap to colonizing Venus – making concrete, plastics, water, fuel and cooking food

    Selenian Boondocks had developed a roadmap for the phases for proving out ISRU Venus Resources:


    Phase 0–Terrestrial Analog ISRU Prototyping: This is where we’re at now. As far as I know there has been almost no experimental development of the sort that some of our commenter have suggested which would use simulated Venusian atmosphere to attempt various approaches for extracting the different constituents for further processing. Obviously that which hasn’t even been tried in the lab is nowhere near ready to try in situ. This stage will likely be characterized by small, non-flight like, breadboard/brassboard-level prototype processes.

    Phase 1–Venus In-Situ Demonstration: The first real Venus ISRU development phase will likely be in the form of small experiments mounted on robotic atmospheric balloons. We’re likely talking about experimental apparatus of less than 200kg, which are not so much focused on producing large masses of extracted materials, but just demonstrating and validating basic extraction processes. These steps will likely be focused on the concepts we’ve talked about so far of condensing out and separating condenseable species, and processing the atmospheric species to remove key hazardous materials, to demonstrate the ability to extract safe feedstocks for future larger-scale processes.

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 17, 2014, 9:14

    ScienceShot: Scientist Creates Music From Voyager Space Probe Data

    By Thomas Sumner

    23 January 2014 11:15 am

    As the Voyager space probes plunge into the inky cosmic void, each carries a golden record with 27 songs ranging from Mozart to Chuck Berry. Now, with help from a musical physicist, the twin space probes boast a song of their own. Each craft carries a cosmic ray detector snapping hourly measurements of the number of protons whirring past them.

    Over the last 37 years, the probes recorded more than 320,000 such measurements. Domenico Vicinanza, a musician with a Ph.D. in physics, mapped each value with a corresponding note on the musical range, with larger counts corresponding to higher notes.

    Stringing and mixing the notes together, Vicinanza assembled the spacecraft’s musical score. In the song, Voyager 1 plays the piano while Voyager 2 accompanies on the string instruments. Each overlapping note during the song corresponds to the spacecraft simultaneously measuring cosmic rays while soaring through space billions of miles apart.

    While Vicinanza admits he composed the musical arrangement purely as a fun way to present the Voyager mission data, he says transforming data sets into music in this way can help scientists recognize trends and patterns they might otherwise miss. And that makes for music that’s definitely out of this world. [Oy, they actually said it, one of the most overused cliches when it comes to writing articles about space ever. Again, oy.]


  • ljk July 17, 2014, 9:20

    Voyager may not have entered interstellar space, after all
    Two scientists argue that probe is still in solar bubble


    7:00 AM, JULY 17, 2014

    Nearly a year after NASA trumpeted Voyager 1’s departure from the sun’s protective bubble, two mission scientists argue that the spacecraft never left. Many astronomers are doubtful about the assertion, but the debate illustrates that the transition from solar bubble to interstellar space is not clear-cut.

    “My tendency is to think we are out in interstellar space, but I’m not completely convinced,” says Eric Christian, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is not on the Voyager team. “I don’t blame skeptics for looking at other explanations.”

    Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 completed their tours of the outer planets in 1980 and 1989, respectively. Since then, scientists have eagerly anticipated the probes’ departure from the heliosphere, the bubble of particles that encircles the sun and planets, and their entry into the unexplored space between stars. (The probes won’t exit the solar system for another 30,000 years or so (SN: 10/19/13, p. 26), since the sun’s gravitational influence continues well past the boundary of the heliosphere.)

    Full article here:


    I have seen people whine about how the Voyager scientists and NASA cannot seem to make up their minds about this subject. To me it just shows we are truly in the unknown and to feel anything other than awe and wonder is just another example at how impatient and short-sighted most humans are.

    The Universe does not give a flying fig about human perceptions and needs. That includes any kind of boundaries when it comes to space.

  • ljk July 24, 2014, 10:08

    July 23, 2014

    Voyager spacecraft might not have reached interstellar space

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 24, 2014, 13:29


    Is Voyager 1 in Interstellar Space?

    By Marc Boucher on July 23, 2014 1:24 PM.

    AGU: Voyager Spacecraft Might Not Have Reached Interstellar Space, AGU

    “In 2012, the Voyager mission team announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft had passed into interstellar space, traveling further from Earth than any other manmade object.

    But, in the nearly two years since that historic announcement, and despite subsequent observations backing it up, uncertainty about whether Voyager 1 really crossed the threshold continues. There are some scientists who say that the spacecraft is still within the heliosphere – the region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles – and has not yet reached the space between the stars.”

    NASA Responds: NASA Voyager Statement About Solar Wind Models

    “A paper recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes an alternate model for the interaction between the heliosphere — a “bubble” around our planets and sun — and the interstellar medium. It also proposes a test for whether Voyager 1 has, indeed, left the heliosphere.

    NASA’s Voyager project scientist, Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, responds.”

  • ljk July 28, 2014, 10:27

    Terraforming Venus – A Comparison of Methods

    by Adam Crowl

    July 28, 2014

    Venus has long been considered Earth’s twin, but since the late 1950s we’ve realised she is Earth’s “Evil Twin”, with a 92 bar mostly CO2 atmosphere, very little water and a 116 day ‘sol’. How do we make her a more pleasant place?


    To quote:

    What can be done to make Venus more Earth-like? Firstly, contra the apparent evidence, Earth has about as much carbon dioxide as Venus – but on Earth it’s bound up in the rocks as carbonate minerals. On Earth the exhalations of the mantle, in the form of volcanic gases, have mostly dissolved in the oceans and have largely been locked up chemically. Venus, in a sense, is Earth absent water and unable to bury her atmosphere.

    A common suggestion is to remove the atmosphere of Venus via blowing it or throwing it into space. Venus’s atmosphere masses 478,000 trillion tonnes and to launch it all into space requires a minimum of 54 MJ/kg – the equivalent of 6.1 trillion megatonnes of TNT or the total fusion of 73 billion tonnes of deuterium. However applying all that energy efficiently is a herculean challenge. Using asteroid collisions adds additional heat to the planet, which merely adds to the problem we meant to solve.

    However the 127,400 trillion tonnes of carbon locked up in the atmosphere is a resource quite unlike any other. The entire asteroid belt contains a fraction of the total carbon available in the atmosphere of Venus. Eventually the carbon could be exported off world, thus disposed of in time, but how do we get it out of the air and cool the planet down?

  • ljk July 29, 2014, 10:40

    Apparently the SyFy (ugh on spelling) Channel is coming out with a new series called Ascension. The plot revolves around a Worldship launched to Proxima Centauri in 1963 using an Orion propulsion method.

    Yes, 1963. And as with just about every story involving people trapped in a big tin can for decades on end, there are growing problems aboard the vessel.

    The details are here:


    Will be any good? Scientifically accurate? I hope for the best but fear the worst. Or at worst, it will merely mediocre. Perhaps at least it will wake up some people about the idea of multigenerational starships.

  • ljk August 20, 2014, 10:01

    A Troubled Start to a Triumphant Mission: 37 Years Since the Launch of the Voyagers

    By Ben Evans

    A quarter-century ago, this week, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the first machine fashioned by human hands to travel close to the giant planet, Neptune. It was a stunning finale to a 12-year voyage, which had also featured encounters with three other gaseous worlds, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, and the adventure continues to the present day as Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, explore the outer reaches of the Solar System and the first wisps of conditions beyond. Yet today (20 August) is a special date in Voyager 2’s history, for it was on this day, in 1977, that the spacecraft parted company with its planet of origin for the final time and set sail for the stars. Two weeks later, on 5 September, Voyager 1 followed. Their launches and early weeks of operations were filled with drama and provided a fitting prelude for the exciting missions which were to come.

    Voyager 2 rose from Earth at 10:29 a.m. EDT on 20 August 1977 to begin its voyage of exploration, but only after having suffered a double computer failure as its Titan IIIE-Centaur launch vehicle sat on Launch Complex (LC)-41, which is today known as “Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41”, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. This launch complex has supported dozens of space missions, boosted by a range of Titan and Atlas rockets, since December 1965, and most recently hosted the launch of the latest Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, atop an Atlas V on 1 August 2014.

    Even after the computer problems were rectified, Voyager 2 suffered another glitch as the Titan IIIE-Centaur roared into the clear Florida sky. They appear to have been caused by the spacecraft suffering robotic “vertigo” as it rolled and pitched in its ascent trajectory. It also separated from the final stage of the booster too quickly, which convinced its on-board computers that its primary attitude control system had failed and it promptly switched to a backup. Fortunately, its attached Centaur upper stage remained in control, autonomously correcting the error before releasing the spacecraft. At length, matters settled down. Seventy-one minutes after leaving Cape Canaveral, Voyager 2 fired its solid-propellant motor for 45 seconds to heave it out of Earth and onto a course for its first planet, Jupiter.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    The near-calamitous circumstances which thus surrounded the launch and early operations of both Voyagers make it all the more remarkable, not only that both spacecraft are still functioning—with Voyager 1 currently more than 128 Astronomical Units (AU), or 12 billion miles (19.2 billion km), and its twin about 105 AU, or 9.7 billion miles (15.7 billion km) from Earth—but that they have endured for so long.

    Current estimates are that their plutonium-fed Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) will continue to supply electrical power until about 2025, during which time they will continue to probe the outer reaches of our Solar System. Their success is a testament to the ingenuity of both human beings and the technologies and equipment of their far-flung emissaries.

  • ljk September 24, 2014, 12:08

    Wednesday’s Book Review: “Mankind Beyond Earth”

    Posted on September 24, 2014

    Mankind Beyond Earth: The History, Science, and Future of Human Space Exploration. By Claude A. Piantadosi. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Vii + 279. Bibliography and additional readings, index. Hardcover with dustjacket. ISBN: 978-0-231-53103-0. $31.50.

    Columbia University Press has caught the spaceflight bug. In the last few years it has published four books relating to spaceflight: Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space (2014) and Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks (2011) both by James Clay Moltz; Space as a Strategic Asset (2007) by Joan Johnson-Freese; and this book, Mankind Beyond Earth: The History, Science, and Future of Human Space Exploration. All of these have in common a focus on space policy. They are long on politics, and unfortunately they are short on history.

    That is certainly true of Claude A. Piantadosi’s study despite its affirmation in its subtitle that it offers history as well as other elements to the discussion. Piantadosi unflinchingly seeks to “reenergize Americans’ passion for the space program.” He firmly believes that human exploration, settlement, and exploitation of the Moon and Mars is the destiny of humanity, and invokes the image of the “final frontier” as the raison d’être for aggressive space activities.

    Full article here:


  • ljk December 30, 2014, 16:21

    We better plan on a major disruption in the Oort Cloud within the next million years or so:


  • ljk January 5, 2015, 11:07

    How Long Would It Take to Colonize the Universe?

    Written by MADDIE STONE

    January 2, 2015 // 12:00 PM EST

    Hollywood loves to depict future humans as intrepid spacefarers, traversing the unfathomable distances of the cosmos in stylish fighter jets with souped up faster-than-light drives. Given that we’ve yet to land boots on Mars, it’s easy to write off such yarns as pure fantasy.

    But let’s imagine, for a moment, that we actually desired to become a galaxy-spanning, or even universe-spanning, civilization. Could we—at least in theory—do so, without bending the fundamental laws of physics?

    Physicist Jay Olson believes we can. Yes, it’ll take a million generations and yes, it’ll probably involve insanely advanced technology, but at the end of the day, an intergalactic diaspora may not be as crazy as it sounds. In his recent​ paper, Olson treats the grand question of whether, and how, an intelligent civilization might spread on a cosmic scale.

    “In thinking about some of the ideas people have been discussing lately—the limits to technology and technological singularity, for instance—it occurred to me that it was possible to imagine life expanding on a cosmological scale,” said Olson.

    So, Olson set out to test the ambitious idea using a mathematical model. Not only does he show that intelligent life can theoretically come to fill the vast void of space in a fraction of the universe’s lifetime, but universe spanning civilizations may influence the evolution of the cosmos itself—a profound and entirely novel suggestion.

    Let’s start with the assumptions here, of which there are plenty. First and foremost, Olson focuses his model on “aggressively expanding” civilizations: That is, civilizations that are spreading across space in every possible direction, to the utmost of their ability, ad infinitum.

    Such a civilization may be working toward some sort of vast cosmic engineering goal. You know, like building a galaxy-spanning superbrain or whatever. Or perhaps we’re talking about an artificial intelligence that, thanks to a minor programming disaster, decides to chew through energy and matter until the end of days.

    “It’s possible someone might create a recursively self-improving AI to accomplish a simple, open-ended task, and switch it on without sufficient safeguards,” Olson said. “Very suddenly, it might come to dominate a huge region of space in its quest to fulfill simple goals.”

    Alien motives aside, Olson’s model also makes a number of scientific assumptions. Fundamental principles of the physical universe cannot be violated, meaning—sorry Trekkies, sorry Whovians—no faster-than-light speed, no violations of basic thermodynamics, no time travel.

    On the other hand, Olson assumes that aggressively expanding civilizations will have maxxed out technologically. This means that certain science fictional technologies—Dyson spheres and self-repli​cating spacecraft, for instance—are fair game.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    So basically, we’re looking at super advanced civilizations seeding the universe within the boundaries of physics. Functions in the Olson’s models describe how quickly a civilization’s frontier expands and how long it takes for a given volume of space to become saturated with life.

    “Since this stuff is brand new, and parameters are highly debatable, my main concern was coming up with a default scenario where you could kick the parameters in any direction you want with an end result that the universe is saturating with life,” Olson said.

    Olson’s models depict life bubbling effervescently across space, expanding outward in ever-growing spheres of influence. If a civilization can travel at anywhere from 1 to 50 percent the speed of light, it’ll take somewhere on the order of five to ten billion years to saturate the observable universe.

    You know, no biggie.

    By tweaking parameters and competing different expansion scenarios, Olson also uncovers some interesting tradeoffs. As the velocity of a civilization’s probes increases, the volume of space that species occupies grows exponentially. Yet, it’s not just how fast a civilization can move that matters for cosmic domination, but how quickly it comes to use all the resources in a given swath of space—how quickly it saturates space.

    “If the universe is mostly empty, you’d want to take the fastest strategy possible, but if the universe is crowded, it’d be more important to have a higher density of probes, so your species can saturate the cosmos before anyone else,” Olson said.

    Perhaps the most provocative finding in all this is that the physical universe itself might be affected by aggressively expanding life. As civilizations burns through matter to fuel their cosmic diasporas, they start filling the universe up with waste heat, which can lead to a small uptick in the temperature of the cosmos. What’s more, the expansion of the universe itself might be slowed—just a wee bit—by this extra radiation.

    See, the gravity that stitches the cosmos together comes from a few different sources: the cosmological ​constant, the energy density of stars, and pressure, resulting from the motion of particles. The waste heat produced by advanced life, Olson finds, can contribute small—but detectable—pressure to the cosmos.

    “It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that you’d one day be able to look at a graph of the evolution of the universe and see a little blip that indicates life,” Olson said. “To me, that’s a very profound finding.”

    One might wonder how any of this speculation, fascinating as it is, could matter to crowded world of seven billion hungry, polluting humans. But new searches for extraterrestrial techno-signatures are popping up across the scientific community, and thought experiments like Olson’s may help direct such efforts. If we were to discover intelligent life out there, the finding could reap immeasurable benefits for humanity.

    “People have started searching for waste heat signatures that could indicate intelligent, energy-harnessing life forms,” Olson told me. “But we need more detailed models to figure out what these signatures might actually look like, and where in the universe we should be hunting.”

    That is, we need to keep our imaginations—and our telescopes—pointed to the most distant horizons. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up being the guys who bubble their way across the universe until the end of time.