Friday, 23 December 2011

When's the next space-bus to Kepler, please?

If you were the head of NASA's Space Division, and had unlimited budget, what would you spend your money on? Okay, let's assume the world economic mess is 'fixed' and world poverty is eradicated, back to the question: where would you focus?

Well, our own backyard seems an obvious place to start, Mars being everyone's first choice, because Venus is too hot and the Moon has no atmosphere, right? And the gas giants have too much gravity, though their moons might be interesting, if a little icy, and maybe there are some exotic particles hanging around Jupiter that might help answer some of our big questions about the universe. But what would we do on Mars, or the Moon or any other moons for that matter? We could do research, a bit of mining, maybe, but transport costs would likely make it a bad business model...

So, what about terraforming? Thinking of Mars again, maybe strips at a time. Could Mars be reclaimed one day? But do we really have any clue how to terraform?

Okay, let's think interstellar. Many do, but the word on the street is 'not in the forseeable future': see NASA's website here. We have lots of ideas, but they are still more at the speculation stage than the science stage.

But we keep discovering planets, right? Sooner or later, we're going to find one or two like Kepler 20 & 22 that are either 'terraformable', or downright habitable. Why go there, you may ask? After all, in America most people don't even have a passport, let alone an inter-stellar visa. Well, give it another 50 years, and let's just say that one or two (billion) might be interested in a fresh start...

When I was a kid, I won a high school debating contest on whether to put money into space research or not. This was in the 70s (I got teary when Armstrong put his feet onto the Moon, by the way). My final clinching argument was that if there was a global calamity (no, not the current one, a real one like a man-made swine or bird flu virus breaking out of one of those oh-so-safe labs, and don;t get me started on nannites...), then we might need somewhere to go. You see, I think it'd be a shame if First Contact arrived and we weren't around to party. Aliens would look around, see interesting stuff and hear our cool music and lofty speeches, and think, gosh, that's a shame, they might have been fun.

So, back to the question: what do you spend your money on?

We're actually blocked by our lack of understanding of the laws of physics. We need more geniuses, and we need to get out into the rest of the Solar System, because it's likely some of the answers are out there rather than in CERN's Hadron Collider.

Now, back to reality, because budgets are short these days. In which case spend it on physics, and on beautiful minds that can unravel today's conundrums, and work out how to break the light speed barrier, or at least bend it. I personally reckon we have about fifty years to make a breakthrough. If you study the statistics of wars (which follow a Poisson distribution, incidentally), or look at how accidents arise, and mix into the pot that everything is so connected these days that small Wars or accidents could turn global, fifty years sounds generous.

So, think fast, boys and girls with beautiful minds, think hard and fast... And NASA - give them some more funding!

The Eden Paradox is a near-term Scifi thriller about our first inter-stellar trip to what we hope will be Eden. But in this galaxy, there are no free lunches...


  1. Have you ever read Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" trilogy? It was my inspiration for transforming my desert back yard into a lush habitat with minimal water.

    I vote for Mars.

  2. Hi Aser
    I never finished the trilogy, but it was one of the best in world-building and a sense of place. Will have to come and see your back-yard for some inspiration :-) Or else I could re-read Dune there :-)


© Barry Kirwan |
website by digitalplot