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Space Science

Why We Need to Expand into Space 460

Posted by Zonk
from the earth-that-was-could-no-longer-sustain-our-numbers dept.
Zentropa writes "Why do humans need to explore and colonize space? To save the planet and our species, argues an opinion piece in Cosmos, an Aussie science magazine. It makes some good points from an angle you may not have previously considered; for example, it's in the universe's best interest to keep us around. We make things fun. 'So what if humans pass into history? It's not just a tragedy for us, but also one for nature. Without us, there is no one to witness its infinite beauty; no one to marvel at a sunset, revel in a view, or thrill to the breaking of a wave on a beach. As the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan once said, "we are a way for the universe to know itself". But we also deserve to continue because we have created things greater than ourselves. Not only scientific and engineering knowledge, valuable as this is -- we have also created new and beautiful ways to see the world through art, music, literature and performance.'"
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Why We Need to Expand into Space

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  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:23AM (#20201011) Homepage Journal
    Are we humans a benefit to the universe, as TFA suggests, or are we a detriment? Each point of view will certainly be represented in the posts that follow. FWIW, I think we are a benefit.
    For those who think that we are detrimental to the universe, I suggest that the only logical thing to do is to kill yourself. Now. For the good of the universe.
    Quit reading; do it now. Thank you.
    • I've never understood how so many people can hate their race so very much. I'm with you in believing that we're a benefit. As the article points out, humans are at their best when expanding, and even if there are other alien species, at least we know that our species has beauty built in; it's better than some alternatives I could think of.

      So, let's start to put some massive amounts of $$$ into shipping people off planet. Hell, if they have need of a programmer, I'd volunteer to go myself.
      • by polar red (215081) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:53AM (#20201149)

        can hate their race so very much
        Because there are people that don't care for their planet, their inhabitants, anything those inhabitants make, or who blatantly refuse to use their brains. And it's those people that are being hated.
      • by Barkmullz (594479)

        I've never understood how so many people can hate their race so very much

        I agree that is an odd point-of-view. However, I do not think it is hatred per se. More of a, "we could be so much more," perhaps.

      • We've got a *lot* of time to get off the planet before the sun flames out, and even the average amount of time between dinosaur-killer-sized asteroid hits is millions of years. On the other hand, we're a long long way from being able to move any significant fraction of the population into space, and we won't succeed at that if we all die from a messed-up planet first.

        The two activities overlap significantly - a critical skill we need to learn for surviving in space is how to run a viable ecosystem, whether

        • by iamacat (583406) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @07:35AM (#20202013)
          Agreed, also we don't need to leave Earth to create more living space, as skyscrapers show. With nuclear and geothermal energy now (with nuclear reactors sequestered in abandoned mile-deep geothermal shafts) and fusion later, we can get by for quite a while without melting Antarctica. Agricultural plants can be grown in hydroponics within the same structures and irrigated with fresh water extracted by reverse osmosis from the ocean. And if we want something on a bigger scale, underground/underwater habitats are a possibility. These might even be resistant to the effects of a stray asteroid.
          • by aurispector (530273) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @08:26AM (#20202209)
            This is all a load of egocentric horseshit. Even a comedy writer like Doug Adams understood how unbelievable large the universe really is, and how unbelievably unimportant humans are in the scheme of things.

            Religion and other romanticisms are just a mental sleight of hand to make up for the fact that the universe will uncaringly grind us all to dust.

            We are far more dependent on the ecosystem of this planet than anyone seems to want to admit. That harebrained experiment with the "biosphere" a few years ago proved that one pregnant roach - or some other bug - can and will screw up the best laid plan.

            All these pie in the sky engineering types should be forced to study cellular structure and function until they all realize that the most complex devices and processes they can design are tinkertoys compared to nature.

            All this talk of consiousness and meaning and the perception of beauty is irrelevant nonsense as we haven't the slightest idea of the true nature and function of the universe. Every time we crack one mystery we find its built upon another that's an order of magnitude more difficult to understand.

            What really needs to happen is for people to start planning on the mundane. Go hold a door open for someone and the human universe will be better off.
            • by rbanffy (584143) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @10:29AM (#20202771) Homepage Journal
              It's not "egocentric", but "homocentric".

              And maybe we should care more about "true nature and function of the universe", but I don't blame people for being "pie in the sky engineering types" when they realize how much their keen have accomplished when compared to those other people that insist man is insignificant and who claim to be trying to understand the Universe, but who give us back nothing but lots of more or less useless rhetoric.

              Do you even realize the computer you are using and the network that connects it to millions of other computers forming the most powerful form of communication invented in the last couple centuries is the brainchild of those "pie in the sky engineering types"?

              If what we have achieved disgust you so much, you are free to get back to a cave and live like our ancestors did before they had enough brain to aspire for more.

              Man is not insignificant. Intelligence is the most important thing that happened in this little corner of the universe because, further down the road, intelligence is the only hope the very universe has to survive its cold death.

              And don't worry. It sounds like a huge undertaking, but we have a good many billion years to figure it out. And, in the meantime, we will doubtlessly find brothers out there who are willing to share this effort.

              Because we all know that when you take intelligent life out, the universe is nothing but a cruel, meaningless void.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by monoqlith (610041)
                I would like to suggest not that our accomplishments are insignificant, but rather, that maybe we shouldn't make value judgements at all about their worth, since worth is merely a human valuation. We have no pre-existing reason to declare the brain and its capabilities 'better' or 'best' - The human brain is an adaptively fit machine capable of performances that are marvelous to itself. As far as whether they're marvelous to anyone else, we do not have any grounds for saying that they are. So declaring our
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by smallpaul (65919)

              This is all a load of egocentric horseshit. Even a comedy writer like Doug Adams understood how unbelievable large the universe really is, and how unbelievably unimportant humans are in the scheme of things.

              what does size have to do with importance?

              We are far more dependent on the ecosystem of this planet than anyone seems to want to admit. That harebrained experiment with the "biosphere" a few years ago proved that one pregnant roach - or some other bug - can and will screw up the best laid plan.

    • by maxwell demon (590494) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:56AM (#20201161) Journal

      Are we humans a benefit to the universe, as TFA suggests, or are we a detriment?

      Neither. Humans are completely irrelevant, as far as the universe as a whole is concerned.
      • by kestasjk (933987) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:45AM (#20201359) Homepage
        Conscious things like ourselves are the only way the universe can be concerned about anything.
        • If we die out as a species, then the universe can keep on not being unconcerned about anything. Don't really see the problem for the universe here.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wall0159 (881759)

        From a purely information-theoretic perspective, the presence of people (and life) means that the net entropy of the universe is lower than it would be in our absence.

        "benefit" and "detriment" don't really make sense, wrt the universe, but perhaps life can/will/has helped to postpone the universe's heat-death - if only for a short time.
        • From a purely information-theoretic perspective, the presence of people (and life) means that the net entropy of the universe is lower than it would be in our absence.

          I would guess that the entropy raises moire quickly with life, though it's hard to say without knowing what would be in it's stead. Why do you think it is lower?

          • by wall0159 (881759)

            Well, I haven't done an experiment ;-), but..
            since life on earth hasn't really influenced anything outside of the earth,
            then life on earth hasn't increased the entropy outside the earth.
            While I wouldn't say that life decreases entropy (because it has to increase it somewhere, just to exist), it seems possible that the presence of life means that entropy is lower than it would otherwise be, because of the steady stream of negentropy that's arriving from the sun.

            I'd certainly be very interested to hear any op
    • The universe doesn't care if we exist.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ZetSabre (937999)
        I care, and I'm part of the universe.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by coaxial (28297)
          Yeah, but they ants don't and they out number you untold billions to one.
          • How do you know the ant's don't care? Perhaps that's why they attack our woodwork, as you say there are untold billions of them and they have been around for at least 65 million years, that's a better track record than the puny humans and their wooden nests. :)
    • by mahmud (254877) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:57AM (#20201169)
      Benefit and detriment are human categories. By even considering that something can "benefit" or "detriment" the universe you are essentially anthropomorphizing it. I mean, that if you can "benefit" the universe, it has some agenda which can be fulfilled more efficiently with certain factors present/absent. This doesn't make any sense.

      Another thing which I find silly, is the tendency to view ourselves distinct and separate from the universe no matter what. Of course it's good to abstract the rest of the world as separate from us when going about your everyday business. However, when dealing with universal notions, such as humanity's relationship to the universe, we should acknowledge that humanity is just a property of the universe, a physical manifestation of the laws governing the cosmos.

      The universe cannot care whether we colonize the space or not. On the other hand - space colonization is the obvious thing for us to do, due to our very nature. Expanding and filling all the available space and exploring the unknown is what we have always done, no reason to stop now.
      • "I mean, that if you can "benefit" the universe, it has some agenda which can be fulfilled more efficiently with certain factors present/absent. This doesn't make any sense.

        It may not make any sense, but that is the philosophical viewpoint at least 90% of the population subscribe to.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eebra82 (907996)
      "Are we humans a benefit to the universe, as TFA suggests, or are we a detriment?"

      Why must we be either a benefit or a detriment?

      From my point of view, only living things can perceive a detriment and a benefit. With that assumption, what in the universe would care if we blow up a planet on the other side of our galaxy.

      For all I know, the universe doesn't care if we blow up everything there is, since atoms do not bother. Our race would be a detriment/benefit to other civilizations, however, if such
    • To the universe???

      To the universe we are infinitecimal little microscopic bugs on a tiny little blue dot on the outside of a small insignificant little galaxy. We are absolutely nothing to the universe.
    • by Boronx (228853)
      "I suggest that the only logical thing to do is to kill yourself. Now."

      Most of us are a benefit, but some of us are just pricks.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ozmanjusri (601766)
      For those who think that we are detrimental to the universe, I suggest that the only logical thing to do is to kill yourself.

      I'd like to agree with you, but you're wrong. We're antithetical to the continuation of this universe. The good news is that I'm pretty sure any intelligent life would be.

      The problem is the universe is too simple for the likes of us. Once you truly understand the nature of spacetime, it's simple to see how to switch between matter, time and energy states. In many ways it looks lik

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geminidomino (614729) *
        Wow, I'm glad to see someone takes the same view as I do, even though you sure went a long way around it. ;)

        We'll never travel space. Any technology capable of producing enough energy to even make anything past mars a destination could also be used to create a weapon of unfathomable destruction...

        Which do YOU think it will be used for first?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by istewart (463887)
          We have already been in a situation in which weapons of unfathomable destruction were poised to destroy all of human civilization. So far, we've only lost two cities to nuclear weapons, and those two were enough to make everybody who's ever wanted to use one step back and think for a minute. They also serve as some small precedent for the effects of the hypothetical weapon you suggest. Basically, if we've made it through over half a century's worth of possessing the ability of self-annihilation, I think we'
      • by smallfries (601545) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @09:46AM (#20202527) Homepage
        I'm amazed that you've managed to prove quite so concisely that nobody on slashdot reads the posts, let alone the articles. So after reading your post I'm wondering which form of psychotic disorder you suffer from, and if you've been diagnosed.

        So, you've had an epiphany about power generation that says that anyone with basic technical skills could build a device in a week that would produce free limitless power. Is there any particular reason that you haven't gone ahead an built this device? If it's that easy, and all of the physicists and engineers are pissing in the wind with fusion power then why not demonstrate to them the error of their ways?

        When you "see signs" that others know about this, do you also experience paranoia that they are coming to get you? Or witness strange meaning in coincidences that are all around you? I really don't know what's scarier, that so many people replied without actually mentioning anything that you'd said, or that somebody with mod points thought that you were insightful about easy the power generation problem is...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by hoover (3292)
      Nothing wrong with expanding, but avoid exponential growth at all costs.

      As Daniel Quinn has pointed out in his excellent novel "Ishmael", growing as a species is fine and dandy as long as you don't wage war on your surroundings.

      Totalitarian agriculture (that's the term he uses for our way of life as a global culture, being totally dependent on the massive surplusses our food production yields) is the fire burning beneath our cultural cauldron, causing us to overrun the planet, its resources and most other s
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by donaldm (919619)
      I highly doubt the Universe cares about us since it mainly consists of empty space and unless the matter and/or energy of the universe become sentient this will continue until the whole Universe dies. The interesting thing is some matter has become sentient and can look at the Universe with wonder and an inquiring mind. This is our species and at the moment we are only aware of one intelligent life form in our entire Universe, however the Universe is incomprehensibly huge and we would have to be arrogant to
    • by Eggplant62 (120514) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @06:28AM (#20201779)
      Oh, I don't know. I don't think so. Neither does the guy who created this video [ernestcline.com], titled, "Dance, Monkeys, Dance."

      I think it puts the whole idea into perspective. We're just another variety of life on this planet that's managed to evolve to the point of self-awareness, tool-using, and altogether too much self-importance. The idea that the universe would suffer from the human species becoming missing is folly.

      Hah, look around you. If you think all you see is a good thing when compared to what things would have been like without us, you're nuts.
  • by Mal-2 (675116) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:33AM (#20201059) Homepage Journal
    Let's face it, the universe doesn't give a shit about humans one way or the other. It will evolve toward its final configuration -- heat death, the Big Rip, the Big Crunch, whatever -- with no regard to any intelligences living within it.

    Humanity will also never occupy more than a tiny corner of the universe, as most of it is just too damn far away to be accessible. No matter what we do, our effects will be "local". Thus, we as a species should do what is best for ourselves (and for any other intelligences we may encounter, if we ever do) and our living conditions and not worry about "what the universe thinks", because if it thinks at all, it sure isn't thinking about US.

    Mal-2
  • Babylon 5 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ars Dilbert (852117) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:34AM (#20201069) Homepage
    John Sinclair: "No. We have to stay here, and there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics - and you'll get ten different answers. But there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on: whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us, it'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-tsu, Einstein, Maruputo, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes - all of this. All of this was for nothing, unless we go to the stars."
    • by tm2b (42473)
      Close: Jeffrey Sinclair
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geminidomino (614729) *
      Plus, you're mixing commanders.

      That line was uttered by Cmdr. Jeffery Sinclair, who was replaced by Capt. John Sheridan...

      *sigh* ...and another week without getting laid. When will I ever learn? :(
  • I disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by astrashe (7452) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:43AM (#20201113) Journal
    I grew up with the space program, and I remember watching the moon landing on tv when I was a little kid. It was pretty much the coolest thing ever. For most of my life, I've been a big space supporter.

    I'm not any more.

    We do a lot of cool stuff in space -- the Hubble is a great example. But I think it's mostly a military program. The program is thick with screcy, and so much of it seems to be part of this strangelovian plan to militarize everything.

    If we were actually going to do that cool stuff in a transparent way, I'd be all for it. But we're not. We're going to lob satellites into orbit to support networked weapons systems, and to spy on people, and all the rest.

    The cool stuff is mostly bait and switch to get us to accept the ugly stuff without examination or complaint.
    • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by edthecoder (1141463) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:43AM (#20201353)
      I don't agree.

      We are sending probes to explore the planets, the asteroids and further. Unfortunately science always goes in its own pace, and the amount of investments is small compared to the money that goes to wars. But we are making progress.

      Take look at New Horizons [jhuapl.edu], who will explore Pluto and beyond. It will take a few years, but I'm sure it will give images to us from a planet, that no one has ever seen before. And there are several other interesting projects running, not only US-based, but also Japanese (Hayabusa [wikipedia.org] took the first sample of an asteroid) and now even China is making progress in its space program [wikipedia.org].

      Keep up the good hope!

    • by turing_m (1030530)
      "If we were actually going to do that cool stuff in a transparent way, I'd be all for it. But we're not. We're going to lob satellites into orbit to support networked weapons systems, and to spy on people, and all the rest."

      That stuff is already there and will be funded no matter who is in charge. So that argument is a red herring.

      I'm naive enough to think that if we push for space exploration hard enough, it might just happen. At the very least, it's in our nature to explore and to colonize.
  • "It's not just a tragedy for us, but also one for nature. Without us, there is no one to witness its infinite beauty; no one to marvel at a sunset, revel in a view, or thrill to the breaking of a wave on a beach."
    Nature doesn't care the least bit if someone witnesses its infinite beauty (which is a purely human term anyway; not the nature is beauty, but nature, or rather some part of it, fits our perception of beautiness). It doesn't care if we thrill to the breaking of a wave on a beach. Nature has no wish
  • Methods... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by headkase (533448) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:54AM (#20201153)
    Expanding into space is not a trivial thing. To paraphrase Douglas Adams: "Interstellar distances do not fit into the human imagination." Not only does it take a long time to get anywhere, but when you get there you are unlikely to have enough resources left to survive there or even get back home. So if biological organisms are too resource intensive (food, air, etc) for the timescales involved and it is not feasible to store/produce/mine resources to sustain them along the way then we must consider alternate forms of intelligence to handle the logistics of human space settlement. When, not if, we develop machine intelligence then those having much simpler resource needs - ideally just electricity - the intelligence could travel between the stars exploring and seeding planets as it goes and generally carrying on the human lineage for millenniums to come. If we as a species decide that our form should be replicated to the stars then we can include on our ships the human genetic code stored and when a suitable world in chanced upon reproduce the genetic code back into a human (grow them in a tank) and raise the humans on-board until maturity teaching them out of human knowledge also stored on the ship (robot nannies for the first generation). Once you get up to large scales such as galaxies and clusters the facts of how long and resource intensive it is to operate on those scales almost requires something like what I've written above.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by matthewcraig (68187)
      Thank you for posting one intelligent post in the discussion. What no one seems to grasp, possibly because of television shows like Star Trek, are the fantastic times required for reaching even our nearest nearby star, obviously besides our Sun. Beyond the Centauri cluster, the scale of time required get longer almost exponentially. All these arguments whether it is worthwhile to travel to other solar systems, yet no one is asking whether it is even physically possible. It's not. I wrote up my comments [slashdot.org]
  • by Glowing Fish (155236) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:03AM (#20201199) Homepage
    You just can't expand into time.
    You also can't expand into say, love, or the scent of almond, or square root of negative 1.
    When it comes to extension, expansion is only possible in space.
    Duh.
  • by coaxial (28297) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:09AM (#20201223) Homepage
    Sadly, I can't find my post when last time space colonization came up, but basically it came down to this: There is no chance in hell of interplanetary, and especially interstelllar colonization. Why? It is so completely impractical. Charlie Stross wrote a huge write-up about it [antipope.org], but the money quote actually comes from Bruce Sterling [well.com]:

    I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.


    Now mod me down for goring the sacred calf.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      I'm going to remember you when the space "gold rush" starts.

    • Yeap -- right there with you. Set up self-sustaining arcs, like the ISS, except much much further away? We already have got to send supplies up to the ISS every three or four months, now imagine doing the same thing out to Mars. ... Away from the magnetic shield that repels most of the Sun's radiation and 50-100 million km away.

      I'm all for space exploration -- but we are doing a great job with robotic probes! Let's continue research and make them fully autonomous. We can send up hundreds more for the pr
  • Enough. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swokm (1140623) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:10AM (#20201225)
    Ho-ly shit. What the hell is wrong with you people?

    Do they raise geeks on shitty, whiny junior high poetry instead of Heinlein and Asimov now?! Damn! Moving forward into space doesn't have fuck to do with GOD or the "meaning of life". It's the next goddamn step. You all of you whiney bitches saying "oh, what's the point... humans are sooo terrible" are just refusing to help because you're to damned selfish. Selfish because you don't think your children, or your neighbors children, or anybody's grandchildren should get the same thrill you did when you first saw the Shuttle take off in grade school. Or the first moon landing. Or the first manned orbit. Or the first mother fucking flint scraper.

    What assholes. No wonder you don't want the human race to expand into outer space -- you assume we are all just like you! Fine. Stay in Middle Ages Europe, afraid to fall of edge of the fucking planet. Yeah, it's hard. Life is hard. Get used to it. But ruin it for everyone else -- even in the future -- by not even trying? Pathetic.

    I wonder why Carmack or even Branson are so interested? Oh wait, they must be "god freaks" or idiotic enough to believe that we are eternal as a species and there will be no Big Rip, Big Crunch whatever according to 90% of these posts. It sure as hell isn't gonna make them money while they are alive.

    THIS is slashdot? If the human race goes out like a punk, I'm blaming all of you.

    --
    It's about time I earned some negative points. Fuck.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      I think Carmack is interested because it is:

      1. Fun.
      2. A challenge.
      3. A way to stick it to the man.

      By "the man" I basically mean NASA. Billions of dollars. Thousands of engineers. Metric butt loads of paperwork. That's what you need to get people into space right? Bollocks! If 8 guys, one girl and an armadillo [armadilloaerospace.com] can put people into space using garage grown engineering, and on a part time basis, no less, then anyone can!

      As for making a profit, watch 'em.
    • by jb.hl.com (782137)
      While I agree with the general sentiment, I did get an odd image from your post of Bluto ranting semi-coherently in National Lampoon's Animal House (e.g. "What's all this lying around shit?!" etc etc).

      Sorry, it just sprang to mind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by roman_mir (125474)
      Relax dude, we'll either make it off this planet or will die. Really, if we make it off the planet, so then whatever, we'll see some stuff elsewhere. If we don't so whatever, we won't. Obviously we should do everything we can to try things out for fun basically and because we can. But don't forget that you personally and I and all of us here will die before it will be even possible, so with this knowledge comes out the question: Why do you give a shit if 10000000 years from now some humanoid whose speci
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by smallpaul (65919)
        Yeah, what's wrong with a pride in not so much species, but in consciousness itself? Caring about your species is just an extension of caring about other humans which is quite natural. You don't have to partake, but it is more fun to do so than to play the cynic.
  • by Fyz (581804) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:10AM (#20201227)
    I've always been sorta partial to Lee Smolin's hypothesis that universes can beget universes. The consequence of this assumption is that the parameters of universes, like the constants of nature there, will evolve by natural selection into sets of universes more likely to breed.

    It's not totally implausible that having parameters conducive to life and complexity in general would be a good reproduction strategy down the road.

    Now, where did i put my bong?
  • by MeepMeep (111932) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:20AM (#20201271)
    From the FA (emphasis mine):

    The first thing to do is reduce our impact on the planet: make technologies more efficient and our cities, transport systems and industrial processes less damaging to ecosystems. We rely on the web of life to sustain us: we need bees to pollinate, trees to make oxygen and worms to aerate the soil, or we would swiftly perish.

    And after that? Do we mandate population controls? Do we nominate an arbitrary age at which people need to 'retire', as in the dystopian fictional vision of Logan's Run? Because populations will continue to grow, especially as child mortality falls and science finds ways of extending human lives. The logical thing to do is to expand beyond Earth : to build colonies on Mars, floating habitats in Earth's Lagrange orbits, mines on the Moon and the asteroids, and expand deeper into our Solar System.


    So if I'm understanding correctly, his proposal is that after the Earth is 'full' at some optimal value x, any excess population is then shipped off into space?

    Since the world population http://www.ibiblio.org/lunarbin/worldpop [ibiblio.org] has a net increase of about 2 or 3 people per second, or about 200000 people a day, he just needs to figure out how to build enough starships to ship 200000 people offworld every day.

    SpaceX believes that $500 per pound to orbit is achieveable http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=10 [spacex.com]. Assuming each of those 200000 people weighs an average of 150 lbs (and ignoring things like, oh, I dunno, air, water, food, and habitable space), his proposal would be expending $15,000,000,000 per day, forever, to keep the population of Earth at some optimal number.

    Now, I'm all for keeping an open mind about spreading humanity's risk of complete annhilation by spreading to other planets if possible, but to use the argument that this will solve Earth's putative population problem seems...flawed.

    • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday August 12, 2007 @06:11AM (#20201725) Homepage Journal

      SpaceX believes that $500 per pound to orbit is achieveable http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=10 [spacex.com]. Assuming each of those 200000 people weighs an average of 150 lbs (and ignoring things like, oh, I dunno, air, water, food, and habitable space), his proposal would be expending $15,000,000,000 per day, forever, to keep the population of Earth at some optimal number.
      So, err, what do you think they're going to do when they're in space? Float around and wait for aide packages from Earth?

      You're absolutely right that it costs a lot of money to get stuff off Earth. Thing about space is, there's so much resources up there for the taking that just about anyone who manages to "mine" just one asteroid, or crater on the Moon, or the atmosphere of a gas giant, is going to be rich beyond the ability of Earth's markets to measure.

      The off-worlders will be so rich they can buy the services of anyone they need. And if they see a need to bring them into space, then they will. Seems a lot more likely that the whole Earth will be seen as a cheap source of labor, much as third world countries are seen by first world countries today. I think the term "first worlder" might become derogatory this century.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770)
        So, err, what do you think they're going to do when they're in space? Float around and wait for aide packages from Earth?

        You're absolutely right that it costs a lot of money to get stuff off Earth. Thing about space is, there's so much resources up there for the taking that just about anyone who manages to "mine" just one asteroid, or crater on the Moon, or the atmosphere of a gas giant, is going to be rich beyond the ability of Earth's markets to measure.


        You bet your ass they'll need help. All kinds of hig
  • by misleb (129952)
    Sounds to me like the "humans" he's talking about are really just people of European descent. Not humans in general. I'm sure if you looked at world discovery from the perspective of other cultures, things wouldn't look nearly so romantic in terms of finding new frontiers and exploiting new lands. And in many cases you'll find victims of such behavior. I think we really should consider getting our shit together here before any serious attempts to colonize space. Otherwise we're just repeating all the same d
  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:52AM (#20201391) Homepage Journal
    It would be a tragedy for the universe? What the FUCK? There are billions of stars in the galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the universe. And the universe doesn't have a consciousness...

    Go to a beach and pick of a grain of sand, and that single grain is a more important part of that beach that this planet is of the universe...

    And a few little animated molecules on an insignificant speck are somehow so important?

    There are possibly millions of other sentient species in the universe. Who's to say we're the most interesting? And who's to say our species is more interesting and unique than, say Tyrannosaurus Rex was?

    From the perspective of US, of course we're important. From the perspective of ants, ants are more important. From the perspective of the entire universe, there IS no perspective of the entire universe, it doesn't fucking have one. If we cease to exist, or rather WHEN we cease to exist, it's just another wiggle in the vibrations of the stuff of the universe.

    That's not to say the extinction of humans wouldnt be a tragedy, but get over your inability to see past your own perspective and realize that the tragedy would be for US and us alone. It would be a tragedy for humans. It would not be a tragedy for anyone or anything else. For most things, it wouldn't be noticed. For some things, it would be a boon - opening up new niches for life to spread into. Things would replace all the megafauna we've hunted to extinction. To an outside observer, the earth might even look nicer - with a more diverse ecosystem. Unless the outside observer is a car nut.

  • Unbelievable... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NEOtaku17 (679902) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @05:25AM (#20201527) Homepage
    I knew people on /. were generally pessimistic but the majority of these posts are outright anti-human. For all of you who believe the universe and/or the planet would be better of without our race than stop being a hypocrite and off yourself for the good of the universe. What a bunch of sad weaklings you are; complaining about human exploration and equating our technological advances to meaningless endeavours. Man up Slashdot! Have some fucking pride in your own accomplishments and have some hope for the future. Just because you yourself are a worthless human doesn't mean the rest of us are and deserve to be destroyed. Simply sickening.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vic-traill (1038742)

      For all of you who believe the universe and/or the planet would be better of without our race than stop being a hypocrite and off yourself for the good of the universe.

      I knew this would show up sooner or later - "Earth, Love it or Leave it!".

      People engage in a conversation, you don't like what they say, so ya tell them to kill themselves, and it gets modded to +5: Insightful. Jesus, there's a good reason to despair for humanity right there.

  • It's not just a tragedy for us, but also one for nature. Without us, there is no one to witness its infinite beauty; no one to marvel at a sunset, revel in a view, or thrill to the breaking of a wave on a beach.

    .. and why should this 'nature' care about our flattering gaze? How ridiculous.

    We are no less nature than a rock, orchid, river-in-valley scene. Strawberry cheesecake, RFID card readers, Teletubbies, pulp-fiction and compiler flags are as much a part of 'nature' as anything else. It's the 21st cent

  • not an argument (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tsjaikdus (940791) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @05:55AM (#20201653)
    we have also created new and beautiful ways to see the world through art, music, literature and performance

    Although I wish it were true, there's actually no absolute value in that. Without humans, these intellectual achievements have no meaning. Meaning only exist in the mind of other humans.
  • Given the naturalistic worldview that is most likely held by the editors of Cosmos and majority of its readers, in which the universe is impassive, unthinking and unfeeling, it is in fact no tragedy at all "for nature" if mankind ceases to exist. That kind of thing only "matters" if there is someone for it to matter "to".

  • That's the most fat-headed, self-indulgent tripe I've read in a long time. Humanity doesn't "deserve" to survive or to be extincted. The universe doesn't "owe" us anything and we don't justify the universe by our existence.

    The only thing the author has shown is that he needs to pull his head out of his arse and be sent for a good long spell in a total perspective vortex [wikipedia.org].
  • by toby (759) * on Sunday August 12, 2007 @08:17AM (#20202179) Homepage Journal
    The word is "romanticisation" ("z" optional in some English speaking territories).

  • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Sunday August 12, 2007 @01:25PM (#20203973) Homepage

    To decide whether it makes sense to spend resources on manned space travel, you should look at why mankind has explored and colonized new lands in the past.

    Natural resources - Early man followed the food. There were edible plants and animals outside of Africa, so if you were hungry where you were born it made sense to go elsewhere for food. Civilized man sought spices, minerals, and lumber. It was lucrative to send out a ship and bring those back. Do the same economics apply to manned space travel?

    Religious freedom - America was settled in part by people seeking freedom from religious or economic oppression in the Old World. Do you expect space colonies to escape from the burdens of Earthbound society?

    Reduction of overpopulation - Colonization of America didn't do much to decrease the population of Europe. The number of emigrants was small compared to the existing population. For space travel, the number would be miniscule. You'd need to launch a thousand spaceships a day with a thousand passengers each to actually decrease the population of Earth. If overpopulation exists and a fertile underpopulated land is available then it's a good deal for those who make the journey. But it won't help those who stay behind, and we have found no hospitable planets outside our own.

    Exploration - Curiosity and pursuit of knowledge are worthwhile reasons for exploration. Men went to the North Pole and the Moon because that was the only way to learn about them. With modern technology we could send a thousand robotic probes across the solar system for the cost of one manned trip to Mars.

    Adventure - People still climb mountains just for the sense of adventure. You can build a rocket or buy a ticket on Spaceship One if that's worthwhile to you. But you shouldn't expect the government to fund your trip to the Moon any more than it would pay for your trip to Kilimanjaro.

    Preservation of the species - If you're worried about a natural disaster, you could send a few dozen people to live in a deep mine or on the bottom of the ocean. They'll be just as safe as on the Moon or Mars. Plus they'll have protection from extreme temperatures and solar radiation. The journey would be a lot cheaper and less hazardous.

    To maintain the spark of life - Life is interesting. It's a pity when some branch of Earth's diversity of life perishes. The universe would be a boring place without life (although there'd be nobody left to miss it). If we're the only life then that's good justification to spread it. But are we alone? Does other life exist? Is it common? Is it like us? Those are questions worth answering. Those are missions I'd be happy working for. Are those missions that would be helped or hindered by focusing on manned space travel?

    AlpineR

  • by FridayBob (619244) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @08:55PM (#20207033) Homepage
    For us to live off-planet is really, really difficult. Face it: we're perfectly adapted to living on Earth -- not in space. We may have been able to achieve the most amazing things with technology over the past 100 years, but let's be honest: it has its limits and one of them called cost. We've only got PCs and the Internet because the chip industry made mass-production and low prices possible. Not so with rockets and portable closed-ecosystem environments. And even if we do ever get the latter to work, living off-planet will still be too complex, too expensive and too dangerous.

    Think of it this way: Wouldn't it be silly for a race of intelligent fish to try to colonize the land? Actually, that's exactly what they did, but only after they themselves adapted to the environment over millions of years of evolution. Similarly, I think that if we are ever going to colonize space on a large scale, we're going to have to adapt our bodies first. For example, resistance to vacuum, radiation, zero-g, and increased tolerance for heat and cold would be steps in the right direction. Will the results of such an engineering project still be human? I guess that will depend on what you define as human, but I figure that it's something we're going to have to do if we ever really want to leave this planet.

    So, the good news is that there's reason to be optimistic: yes, we will eventually be able to colonize space! The bad news is that it'll likely take a couple of hundred years before we have that kind of capability, and once we have it we may not want to use it. Either way, we're going to have to figure out how to survive here on Earth for the time being.

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

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