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Space Sci-Fi Science

The Impossibility of Colonizing the Galaxy 979

OriginalArlen writes "The science fiction writer Charlie Stross has written an excellent and comprehensive explanation of why, thousands of SF books, movies, and games notwithstanding, human colonization of other star systems is impossible. Although interstellar colonization seems common-sensical to many, Charlie makes a clear-headed and unarguable case, so far as I can see, that it ain't gonna happen without a 'magic wand' or two. Nevertheless it would be interesting to see reasoned responses from the community who believe that colonization is not merely possible, but inevitable — and even, as Hawking has said, vital for the survival of the species. So, who's right — Hawking or Stross?"
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The Impossibility of Colonizing the Galaxy

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  • Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:16PM (#19542453)
    Well it may be physically impossible but also essential for our survival. Thus int he end we're really screwed.
    • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:31PM (#19542567) Journal
      His arguement is sound if you want to talk about space colonies in the next 50 to 100 years, but of course the advanced tech we will have in 100-150 years will look like magic from our prospective. Almost every technology we have today would get you burned for witchcraft in 1857. Automated factories, mobile phones, television, airplanes, nukes ... all the magic from a pre-industrial revolution viewpoint. Add to that the increaseing pace of progress (singularity or not) and I fully expect there will be some "magic wands" before the end of the century. And as of the times when he brings up economic reasons: What does "cost effective" matter if humanity starts to agree vicerally with Hawkins, that colonization is necessary for the susvival of the species?
      • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:13PM (#19542951) Homepage Journal
        but of course the advanced tech we will have in 100-150 years will look like magic from our prospective.

        Are you sure about that? We're pretty blase about technology today compared to the eager visions of an earlier age.

        Then there's the fact that finding new tricks is getting harder and harder.

        Look at 1907 - The automobile, while not a standard item, was at least known. Trains were in extensive use, as were power tools. Automatic looms, various mechanical processes.

        If you took an educated man from 1907 and brought him to 2007, he'd be able to understand just about everything we have except for our computational devices. They even understood a bit about nuclear energy.

        What we've done is expanded our awareness and moved these items from the realm of theory to practicality.

        The problem is, while we have many ideas; they get shot down left and right. I don't see a new source of energy orders of magnitude above previous ones, like what nuclear power provided. Sure, antimatter would work, but it's like non-nuclear hydrogen - it's only a storage method, not a generation method.

        We're still advancing, but nowaday's it's hard, very hard.

        Still, even with this, I remain optimistic - after all, we have thousands of years to reach the stars, if not millions.
        • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by JimDaGeek ( 983925 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:59PM (#19543375)
          100 years is nothing on a cosmic scale. Even 1,000 years is a blink of the eye. If you brought a man from 1,000 years ago to present day, he would indeed be blown away. How about a man from 5,000 years? Or 10,000?

          I don't like articles like TFA. The writer is looking at the world through a narrow straw. Where will we be technologically in 5,000 - 10,000 years?

          If you go back in history far enough, man couldn't travel around the world because the Earth was flat. We now know that is not true. I am willing to bet that in 1,000 years our science of today will look as basic as the state of science from 1,000 years ago. I think man will be able to go faster than the speed of light one day. It is just that our current science doesn't understand how.
        • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @04:29PM (#19543617) Homepage
          If you took an educated man from 1907 and brought him to 2007, he'd be able to understand just about everything we have except for our computational devices. They even understood a bit about nuclear energy.

          Which is to say that what we have today is by and large based off learning from 100 years ago. Except for Liquid Crystal displays. And programming. Data mining. Most of the advanced materials science we take for granted. The amazing science that goes into modern bad food. Instantaneous worldwide communication VIA satellite networks. Cloning. MagLev regulation. Angioplasty.

          To say that we haven't made huge strides in the past 100 years is ridiculous. 100 years ago, a trip from New York to Japan would take months and be considerd a culmination of a life's work. Today it can be undertaken for a month's salary and a half-day in a plane.

          The problem is, while we have many ideas; they get shot down left and right. I don't see a new source of energy orders of magnitude above previous ones, like what nuclear power provided.

          Fusion? Something involving quantum or String, once that mess gets sorted out? Fission has a rough energy conversion of about one thousandth the available energy. Fusion has a current rough energy conversion of about 3 thousandths. That leaves 99.9% of the available energy on the table, if we can figure out how to unlock it.

          The edge of physics is still raw, and still amazing. Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to describe to the average person these days... I've visited the laboratory of a Professor friend of mine, and never cease to be amazed by how difficult it is to describe even low-energy waveform interactions without delving into either highly forced metaphors or obscure mathematical modeling.

          We're still advancing, but nowaday's it's hard, very hard.

          It has always been hard. We've been working on Quantum computing for something like 20 years now, but we were working on regular digital computing for longer than that before it was useful... and we understood electricity pretty well by then.

          Cars took a while, then planes took a while, now we're seeing a nanoscent space travel industry opening up.

          If you were in a small village in Greece where you had to walk everywhere by foot, the next village over would be a long way away. The village four villages over would be a tremendous distance. A whole country over would be a gigantic distance, and going to France, for example, would be way out of your league. Traveling to eastern Asia, the Americas, or Australia would look like a pipe dream.

          Well, we've got a long time to get there. And we've got a lot of little steps on the road to galactic civilization, including permanent space stations, profitable manufacturing, colonization of nearby planets, colonization of planets further our in the solar system, etc. 100 years to galactic expansion is ridiculous... after 100 years, we'd be lucky if we've got a buzzing little colony on the moon, let alone Mars or other solar systems.

        • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Deadplant ( 212273 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @04:37PM (#19543675)
          I'm not sure i agree with you about the technological wonders of 2007.

          Look at 1907 - The automobile, while not a standard item, was at least known. Trains were in extensive use, as were power tools. Automatic looms, various mechanical processes.
          So in 100 years we advanced from basic forms of mechanical locomotion with speeds of maybe 40kph (i'm totally guessing) and ranges in the hundreds of kilometers to vessels with interplanetary range and speeds in excess of 60,000kph (Voyageur 1).
          The Aussies recently tested their new scramjet engine in our atmosphere at mach 10.
          Also, 180kph automobiles with 400+km ranges are available to teenagers.

          If you took an educated man from 1907 and brought him to 2007, he'd be able to understand just about everything we have except for our computational devices. They even understood a bit about nuclear energy.
          They (a few people) understood a bit about nuclear energy. Now we have the power the literally obliterate the entire habitable surface area of the planet. We have ships the size of small towns that can run for 25 years without refueling while putting out more electricity every day than all of civilization had done up until 1907.

          Then there is the whole computerization thing... that is kinda a hard one to dismiss.
          The advances in Information Technology are probably THE most significant advance during that century.

          Then there is the revolution in biotech.
          This one is arguably more significant than computerization.
          We have gone from categorizing life forms by their colours and shapes to a basic understanding of DNA and proteins and for the first time beginning to understand what life IS and to control/create it.
          We now have a basic understanding of the mechanics of biological systems. When this progresses to 'a mastery' of the mechanics of biological systems we will have what could easily be described as god-like powers to design and create life.

          What else.... um, how about all the cyborgs walking around these days?
          Sure, an open-minded person in 1907 could conceive of an artificial heart or lung but we've got 'em and we can fit you with one if your heart stops working. (sometimes)
          Of course we can also make your boobs bigger or your penis harder... You can even have someone else carry your baby to term if there is a problem with your uterus.

          What else... um, the majority of people in the western world can sit down at their desk on whim and look down on any part of the planet from space.

          Actually physically leaving the planet is a vacation option for the rich. (this one would have to blow the mind of a 1907'er)

          I think we're blase not because our advances are meager but because our advances have been so frequent and mind-blowing that we've come to expect new tech that is twice as good as the old tech every few years.
        • Quantum technology (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Stephen Ma ( 163056 )
          If you took an educated man from 1907 and brought him to 2007, he'd be able to understand just about everything we have except for our computational devices. They even understood a bit about nuclear energy.

          Hmmm... how about the technology we have for seeing and manipulating single atoms?

          Could our man of 1907 have foreseen that light could be slowed and even halted?


          Dark energy?

          Bose Einstein Condensates?

          Or even the humble laser, the basis of most of our entertainment these days? Quantum me

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by QuantumG ( 50515 )

          Then there's the fact that finding new tricks is getting harder and harder.
          Uhhh.. we haven't even discovered the Higgs yet.

          Talking about propulsion like we know what we're talking about, when we don't even understand where inertia comes from, is pretty stupid.

        • Man from 1907 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @06:22PM (#19544617) Journal

          "If you took an educated man from 1907 and brought him to 2007, he'd be able to understand just about everything we have except for our computational devices. They even understood a bit about nuclear energy. "

          He'd freak out. Too much social change along with technological change.

          Flat-screen TVs. Gay, lesbian and transsexual rights. Cell phones (with mp3 and video), even for kids. A speed limit of over 30 mph!!! Airplanes that can fly faster than the speed of sound, faster than a speeding bullet. Permanent press fabrics. Microwave cooking. Fast food. Tofu. Sushi. Light beer.

          Genetic screening. Debit cards. Credit cards. Routine heart transplants. Smoking banned in most places. Abortion on demand. "God is dead." Televangelists. No-fault divorce. Divorce on demand. Mickey Rooney and Liz Taylor (8 marriages each). Britney Spears and pop-tarts in general.

          Photocopiers. Samizdat. Color printers. Glossy advertising printed so cheaply that it is literally thrown out. Remote controls of all sorts. VCR. DVD. USB fobs with the space for 1000 copies of The Bible. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie.

          Playboy centerfolds. Hustler. Downloadable porn. AIDS. China being the biggest exporter of consumer goods. "Average" houses worth 250,000 to 1 million. Tanning booths.

          No spitting on the sidewalk. Poop and scoop. Deodorants. Ballpoint pens. Nylons. Artificial fabrics of all types. Polyester (okay - NOBODY understands polyester). Rap music. Parking restrictions. Jaywalking being illegal. State lotteries.

          T Shirts. Jeans, capri pants and slacks for women. "Casual business attire." Disposable watches, calculators. The near-death of pencils and erasors. Surgery as fashion statement. Michael Jackson. Boy George. Madonna.

          "You can't hit your wife." "You can't hit your kid." "You can't beat your animals." "You can't threaten someone." You CAN burn the flag. You CAN call the President an idiot to an audience - and you'll even get laughs.

          Black and latino movie stars being the big box office draws, and a black woman - Oprah - being the #1 entertainer. "The Joy of Sex" This guy [goatsc.cz]. Try explaining him to anyone in 2007 ...

          He'd think either the world went crazy, or he did.

          • Re:Man from 1907 (Score:5, Insightful)

            by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @10:58PM (#19546335) Homepage Journal
            I think he would freak out, simply because it's too much change in a short time. But I don't know if it would be too much different than an average culture shock of some villager walking into the big capital city 1,000 years ago. But a lot of what you list, from new technologies to various cultures practices, have been found all throughout history. Here's just a few:

            Gay, lesbian and transsexual rights.

            Various cultures have had gay rights, or even elevated positions for gays or transgendered persons. Examples: Ancient Greeks, Sacred Hermaphrodites and transgendereds in Hindusism, Berdache shamans in Apache culture.

            Smoking banned in most places.

            Smoking was considered unhealhy, devilish, and lower-class stuff when tabacco first found it's way into Europe. It was also considered a medicine and health promoter in certain circles.

            and Abortion on demand

            Abortion and infanticide has long been practices in tribal societies and non-Monotheistic, Godess-worshipping cultures.

            "God is dead."

            Hereticism and atheism is nothing new. Greeks.

            No-fault divorce. Divorce on demand

            Practiced in various tribes and in Muslim countries, and places where men and women had more equal rights.

            Photocopiers. Samizdat. Color printers.

            Rapid printing presses.

            Glossy advertising printed so cheaply that it is literally thrown out.

            Colorful decorations that were thrown out and flowers that wilted for days-long religious ceremonies are old practices.

            The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie.

            Music is nothing new. Other people's music is always weird.

            Playboy centerfolds. Hustler. Downloadable porn.

            Porn? As old as the cavemen. How about being suprised by the lack of whorehouses and streetwalkers?


            In the olden says, you would find people with open sores dying in the streets. Obivious, disgusting disease was everywhere. AIDS is a relative benign fatal affliction. One of the diseases from the 1800s, I forget which one, would cause a seemingly healthy man to collapse in the street, dead a few hours later.

            "Average" houses worth 250,000 to 1 million.

            Mansions and palaces are nothing new. He would be surprised by our amount of wealth.

            No spitting on the sidewalk.

            A function of wealth and our sewer/plumbing system. Plumbing and sewers go back to the oldest cities.

            Artificial fabrics of all types.

            On the surface, not distinguishable from an unfamiliar natural fabric.

            Rap music.

            White people have been freak out by blacks with drums (i.e. African culture) for a long time.

            State lotteries.

            Gambling and games of chance, even state-sponsored - Very old.

            T Shirts. Jeans, capri pants and slacks for women.

            Other people always dress weird. Indians in the jungle are running around naked! Women have their breasts exposed!

            "You can't hit your wife." "You can't hit your kid." "You can't beat your animals."

            This is pretty new. But you find a lot of non-violent, pacifist religions all throught history and the world. Case in point - Judaism (don't abuse your domestic animals, slaughter them humanely), Early Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism.

            "You can't threaten someone."

            BIG offense in oral cultures. Likely a capital crime.

            You CAN burn the flag.

            Political protest is nothing new. Greek rulers worried about it all the time.

            You CAN call the President an idiot to an audience - and you'll even get laughs.

            Who doesn't make fun of their boss or political leader? The only place you couldn't do this was in facist, tightly controlled Kingdoms. Ever heard of the court Jester? It was more a problem for upper-class ind

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by LionKimbro ( 200000 )
        Have you ever read Stross?

        He's not exactly what we would call a stranger to the concept of the Singularity... [accelerando.org]

        If I've skimmed TFA correctly, what he's saying is that it's Post-Humans that are going to go afield; Not what we today call "humans."

    • by wkitchen ( 581276 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:46PM (#19542707)

      Well it may be physically impossible but also essential for our survival. Thus int he end we're really screwed.
      Getting screwed in the end? What a bummer.
    • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by psykocrime ( 61037 ) <{ku.oc.rekcahppc} {ta} {emircdnim}> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:00PM (#19542853) Homepage Journal
      Thus int he end we're really screwed.

      I don't see any way that we aren't screwed anyway. Unless everything we think we know about
      cosmology and physics is wrong, the Universe is going to eventually experience one of two things: Heat Death [wikipedia.org] or collapsing into a Singularity [wikipedia.org]. Neither of those
      scenarios seems to leave much hope for the continued existence of human life.

      Assuming the cosmological theories are sound; the only way to even theorize about human life continuing perpetually requires going back to "magic wands" like dimension-hopping or something.

      Bottom line, IMO, is that human life has a hard-coded expiration date, and in the end we're all dead and the universe is just a cold, dead, empty wasteland.
      • Re:Both right? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dsanfte ( 443781 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:56PM (#19543349) Journal
        Quite frankly I agree, but I want to see a human around at that very last moment, before that singularity crunches or the last hydrogen fuel source is exhausted, fighting it right up to the bitter end. I want it never to be said that we didn't fight for life and living, right up until the end.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:16PM (#19542455)
    You are comparing some sci fi writer with Hawking? C'mon.

  • Assertions (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enselic ( 933809 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:19PM (#19542467) Homepage
    "So, who's right -- Hawking or Stross?"

    They are not saying opposite things, one is saying that we can't colonize other solar systems, the other that we must. They are probably both true.
  • Executive summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by charlie ( 1328 ) <charlie.antipope@org> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:22PM (#19542507) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to note that I'm not saying space colonization is impossible per se ... but that (a) it is really really difficult without breakthroughs in a number of key technologies (that we can't be certain will happen), (b) we're not going to see any economic return on investment from it, and (c) the motivations for it are essentially quasi-religious and ideological in nature.

    Using "the high frontier" and appeals to settler gumption and heroic individualism isn't the right paradigm; if it's going to happen we need to abandon certain cherished illusions (dwelt on at length) and start doing some hard thinking about what we really want.

    • by giampy ( 592646 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @04:44PM (#19543739) Homepage
      Agreed on b) and c), but ideology, partecipating in a project bigger than oneself, could still be a big motivation, provided it does not interfere with other motivations, that is, povided it does not cost too much.

      So, the way i see it, there is only one solution, which is to dilate the time scale as well.

      But, imagine space elevators will be common in 500 years, then some no-profit organization initiates an open-source design of a huge generation ship, something the size of los angeles or bigger, for example, that carries enough mass to shield from radiation, and it is big enough to generate some gravity by centrifual force, without rotating too fast. Eventually it could host lakes, trees, houses, ... you get the idea.

      So, what do you do to keep the cost down ? you go slow, so the design takes perhaps 500 to 1000 years, then the construction begins, so either materials are sent into space, like one kilogram is sent each week, but this is tough, or we hijack a small size asteroid to build it, or both.

      How long will it take, 10000 years ? so be it ! Assume perhaps other 10000 years to build the thing, and let's throw in other 30000 for debugging, testing, and because shit happens ...

      then the ship sails, it goes one AU per year, maybe, but so what ?

      The issue is not to get somewhere fast, is not to be there when the next civilization scale disaster strikes the earth ...

      So, even if it takes 50000 years we can still send out 80000 ships within the next 4 bllion years before the sun wipes out the face of the earth ...

      80000 it's not too bad, but hey, i'd be even happy with a thousands ships,
      which gives roughly 4 million years to build each one.

      I know, i am assuming a LOT, especially on the capabilities of human beings of caying out projects with such a bigger time scale, but, all things considered, why rule it out ??

    • by DamnStupidElf ( 649844 ) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @05:27PM (#19544165)
      Space colonization will be hard for current humans. Not for robots, and not for AI. Information can travel at light speed, so there's no need to pack humans into heavy life support systems when you can just ship a trillion tiny nanoassembly factories out at 50% light speed and let statistics handle the reassembly at the other end of the trip. Once the factories are running, send the information for whatever it is we want to travel at light speed and let them assemble it, whether it's the newest robot model or schematics for a reconstructed human.

      I see the economics for space travel coming sometime after the singularity. Once we have the ability to build huge AIs that can control nano-machines to build even bigger AIs, we will run out of resources in the solar system. At that point, it will be logical to spread to any other star system that can be used as a resource to build more hardware to run our software. Even if it's horribly inefficient, it will still be more than what will be available to us in this solar system. We can also explore the universe right here with much better sensors. The universe has been sending tons of information about itself to us at light speed for the last 15 billion years, we just have to collect and interpret it properly. Then we (humans and our varied descendants) can explore the resulting datasets. There's no reason we can't have swashbuckling space adventure faster than the speed of light in a future MMORPG.
  • I call BS (Score:5, Funny)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:23PM (#19542513)
    And as soon as I settle the rebellion on the outlying planets in the Sprouticus system I will be bringing my Imperial Battle Fleet to explain the situation to Mr Stross. Perhaps I will banish him to one of my penal planets, he can amuse the inmates with his so called logic.
  • Mac'D's (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:25PM (#19542527)
    $10 says we see a McDonalds on Mars before NASA arrives.
  • Clarke's first law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:25PM (#19542529)
    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    Generation ships. Suspended animation. Bussard Ramjets.

    Baby steps throughout Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud.

    • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:41PM (#19542661) Homepage
      Bussard ramjet

      I think the current view is that the efficiency of these things is questionable at best.

      Suspended animation

      It will requires several miracles in molecular biology before we can hibernate the way other mammals can. And no known organism larger than a microbe can survive for the durations interstellar travel will require.

      Generation ships

      Requires the ability to do space construction on a large scale, which requires a thriving space industrial presence, which requires several miracles down here first.
      • by Afecks ( 899057 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:59PM (#19542839)
        Congratulations, you just proved that interstellar travel isn't currently possible.
      • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:16PM (#19542969) Homepage Journal
        actually, it will only require one.. a method for freezing water that doesn't cause it to expand.
        the biggest problem with cold storage of humans is ice expands when it freezes, bursting cells.
        the whole basis of ice-9 was finding a new arrangement of h20 so that it wanted to become a solid when it touched other cells.. but it was a different 'stack' of molecules.

        what if you could either 1-find a way to stack h20 so it stayed the same size (most things shrink when they freeze, water is an exception) or 2- find a substitute molecule that could replace the water in a human corpus... one that also doesn't expand when frozen....

    • >Generation ships. Suspended animation. Bussard Ramjets.

      AKA junk sci-fi fed to credulous geeks who don't know any actual space science. It's the nerd equivalent of Creationism.

      Stross quite correctly points out that there is no known (or even theoretically possible) energy source or propulsion system that will make interstellar exploration economically self starting and maybe not even viable. Not fission, not fusion, not antimatter, not some quantum whamadoodle, *nothing*.

      I have yet to see any of these
  • by HEbGb ( 6544 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:26PM (#19542533)
    This article is incredibly short-sighted and unreasonably pessimistic. He's using current technology, economics, and incentive to make specific conclusions about something that will most likely happen in the next few hundred years. Just consider how much science and technology has changed in the last 100 years - can you possibly imagine what will be possible 100 years from now, much less draw conclusions about feasibility?

    I think that technology's march is not only inevitable, but accelerating. To outright dismiss these possibilities is completely unreasonable and irrational.
    • by aminorex ( 141494 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @04:06PM (#19543429) Homepage Journal

      Rather than merely throwing one's hands up in the air and saying "it's too expensive, so it won't happen", which I think we all knew, isn't it more interesting to ask when it will no longer be too expensive? What was the cost of producing 2e18 joules in 1000 AD? 1900 AD? 2000 AD? Restricting ourselves to the post-Edison era, from 1882 to date, I observe that one man-year of US per-capita GDP will buy an exponentially increasing amount of energy:

      1882 - 1
      1900 - 2
      1932 - 8
      1941 - 26
      1960 - 114
      1970 - 231
      2005 - 442

      Thus, it requires 1.25 million man-years of economic output to send his "capsule" load to the stars today. But in 100 years, it may take 3000 or less, and in 500 years it should be easily within the entertainment budget of a single household.

      Of course past history is no guarantee of future performance!
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:27PM (#19542545)
    It ain't like "discovering" the Americas. For that, all that was required was some ships to get over there and some hard work when you arrived. What you needed to survive is available, get to work.

    It's vastly different with "space colonisation". First of all, you gotta get off this planet. Not a trivial task. We barely get payload into orbit, and to leave the gravity of earth, you even need a bit more thrust. Then there's the distance. We're not talking weeks or months on the ocean, we're talking years and decades in interstellar travel. Air is limited and gravity isn't, problems that don't exist when "colonizing" on a planet.

    And when you arrive, your chances to actually get a hospitable planet are slim to nil. You will have to bring air, food, water and so on along. At best you'll have energy in the form of solar energy at your hands, and that's all you got.

    Colonizing the galaxy is possible. And I side with Hawking in the opinion that it is our destiny, if we want to survive as a species. But I wouldn't bet my money on a Star Trek like progress, where in merely 200 years we'll have colonies all over the galaxy. First of all we have to find a solution to the light speed problem. Until then, generation ships sound like the only way of colonisation, and that is for sure no way to create what we would consider today colonies. We could not keep in touch with them.
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:30PM (#19542557)
    For a science fiction writer, he certainly seems to have limited his vision. In 1870, people would say we could not get to the moon because horses would not survive in the vacuum of space. Yet a short hundred years later, man was walking on the moon.

    He needs to envision new technologies and sciences to free us from this solar system. Who knows what will be invented and discovered in the next two or three hundred years? He certainly does not.

    • by canuck57 ( 662392 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:11PM (#19542933)

      For a science fiction writer, he certainly seems to have limited his vision. In 1870, people would say we could not get to the moon because horses would not survive in the vacuum of space. Yet a short hundred years later, man was walking on the moon.

      While true, he did accurately cover the issues. Going to the moon is a very small proposition in scale that even the nearest star. And I thought realistically so, the introduction of biology into it, something 99.999% of sci-fi total skirts. When you get there your not just going to go into a field and pick some crops for food... the local bugs will kill you. Not from their sting or bite, but from the micro-organisms mankind has never seen before. It works the other way too. Taking just a 1 cc mix of earth diseases, sending them to another planet would wreak havoc for years in the local environment. Even if most died, just one introduces a whole new disease not including mutations. In fact, "Aliens invading earth..." is a farce. They would be suit bound for their entire visit.

      If man were to populate a planet, assuming we solve a lot of the logistical problems, we would need to setup a hermetically sealed station for many years of operation, likely the lifetime of it's initial occupants. Those occupants would have to work for the rest of their lives to adapt, genetically alter and sculpt a human that could live with the local biological hazards. A non-trivial task.

      Which makes me wonder, what we have sent already out there, is it biologically safe inside and out? Maybe 20 cells of skin inside a battery casing? Would not take much. Most native North American Indians were not shot or killed, they died of European diseases....and many European ships never made it home for the same reason. And we live on the same planet.

      Now what if some species has sent us a container of bios mass...and it just hasn't arrived yet? Or perhaps they did some 750,000 years ago...

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @05:16PM (#19544077)
        It's much less likely that an alien microbe will affect us in any way than it is that we'll be able to step out of our space ship and eat the local fruit. In other words, very, VERY unlikely.

        Even here on Earth, most infectious microbes infect one or maybe a handful of species. The really promiscuous ones infect a bunch of closely related species. Now consider that from a cellular biology point of view (that is, the microbe's) most of the organisms on the planet are nearly identical.

        You expect to step out on an alien planet and have the local microbes go "ooh, human! We've been waiting for this!"??
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jstomel ( 985001 )
        The likelihood of any hypothetical "bug" from an alien world being being biochemically compatible with humans is very very tiny. It approaches zero. Even if we and it are descended from the same pangenic life spores, we would have evolutionarily diverged a long, long time ago. The odds that we would be able to go out on a hypothetical life inhabited alien planet and just be able to eat whatever happens to be growing is larger, but still very small. However, assuming said life is carbon based, the odds t
  • Impossible .... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BuR4N ( 512430 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:30PM (#19542561) Homepage Journal
    I wonder how many inventors etc that have heard that proclamation during the centuries, if we acknowledge this as the truth, the game is over even before it starts.
  • Magic Wands (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zedrick ( 764028 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:31PM (#19542563)
    I didn't read TFA, but (from the summary):

    Charlie makes a clear-headed and unarguable case, so far as I can see, that it ain't gonna happen without a 'magic wand' or two

    So, what's the problem? Science has given us dozens of "magic wands" the last century, why would it stop now? In 50 years will will probably have lots of amazing thingamajings that we can't even begin to imagine now, like perhaps some StarTrekish warp-drive.
  • by gumpish ( 682245 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:36PM (#19542609) Journal
    The Singularity will hit us before any of the problems he describes would become tractable.

    And when it does, the question of how do you launch a meatbag in a life-support coffin to go X distance in Y time will be meaningless.
  • by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:37PM (#19542625)
    Well, of course we will. But we wont have our bodies.

    The first big tech is a brain/silicon bridge. Hawking is very correct on this. If we do create reconstructing nanobots and high-AI, we need good interfaces. In fact, we would at first need a device described in the Story of Manna [marshallbrain.com], in which a glucose fuel cell, a computer hooked up to nerves, and a wireless link are installed on C2-C4 of the vertebrae.

    Once we can maintain body computers, we can focus on yet even more miniaturization and also focus on near-Earth travel (Moon and Mars). However, it will come time that our bodies will die, yet our brains will live. That will usher in the time we have "Brains in a Jar".

    And yet, our tech will not be yet complete for star travel. We will need to be able to completely pattern a brain for all information and encode it so a certain computer can run it... a human brain image. Only when we can completely digitize our brains can we even cope with any stresses of space travel.

    However, when we are pure data, we can travel rather rapidly: we can spread nanobot spores that create factories (mini factories) on different planets and asteroids and can copy to the nanites what is received by maser or any other transmission method. When we can convert our brains to pure information, then we can transmit and travel at C.

    Then again, who knows what the real physics laws are... It'd be fun to see how far physics comes in 20000 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jez9999 ( 618189 )
      That will usher in the time we have "Brains in a Jar".

      Ah, but how do you know you're not already a brain in a jar? :-)
  • by gummyb34r ( 899393 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:37PM (#19542627)
    at the time of writing that. That explains everything to me.

    I am currently suffering from a bad cold, and it's screwing with my ability to think straight. So rather than risk damaging my real work in progress, I decided to tidy up some thoughts I've been kicking around for a while, and bolt together this essay. Which will, I hope, begin to highlight the problems I face in trying to write believable science fiction about space colonization.
    A couple of days, sweat and hot drinks and it will still be pretty possible again! I am damn sure.

    PS: Btw that is the funniest NB I have read for a long time...
  • Energy requirements (Score:5, Interesting)

    by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:38PM (#19542637)

    He states that to get a Mercury Capsule sized vessel to 0.1c takes about the energy consumption of the planet for 5 days. OK, sounds about right. He then states that this makes it impossible (accounting for inefficiencies). I'm less willing to buy that.

    First reason: rockets are power hungry, yet we've done them before. When the Saturn V launched, instantaneous energy consumption in the US went up 6%. Sure, it's many orders of magnitude smaller, but the idea is the same: you store up the energy over a long period (antimatter, say), and then take it out in a hurry.

    Second reason: energy consumption of the world is climbing, and will continue to do so. It may get briefly more expensive as we have oil problems, but renewable and nuclear sources will counteract that (if they don't, space colonization is pretty much a moot point). Wait a hundred years, and the energy requirement will merely read like the largest project humanity has ever undertaken, not something entirely ridiculous.

    The basic error he's making is that he's arguing we can't do it with today's technology. Yup, I agree, but that's not the interesting question. I'll leave the question of whether things like generation ships can work from a social standpoint to others more qualified, but I'm confident they can *eventually* work from a technical one.

    • by Xeriar ( 456730 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:39PM (#19543191) Homepage
      He states that to get a Mercury Capsule sized vessel to 0.1c takes about the energy consumption of the planet for 5 days. OK, sounds about right. He then states that this makes it impossible (accounting for inefficiencies). I'm less willing to buy that.

      Case in point, if we built a Dyson Swarm around the Sun, we could construct AU-long coilguns to fire million-tonne vessels towards stars at 86% of c on a per second basis. Combine this with similar infrastructure at your target star, and you have an absolutely massive infrastructure-building potential.

      In fact, if we continue to progress past the next two centuries, such coil arrays would seem almost certain.
  • Hawking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:41PM (#19542667)
    Forget even what we can do in the next 100 or 1000 years.

    There's not a "hypothetical" end of the planet as he suggests, it will happen with certainty, but not for a very, very long time. So... what will we be able to do in 1,000,000 years or so? Usually I'm not for this kind of "the future will be amazing beyond our wildest dreams" stuff, but when you're talking that sort of timescale, I really don't see how you can use the word "impossible."
  • Dark City (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigitalCrackPipe ( 626884 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:44PM (#19542691)
    The article make great points as for how colonization cannot happen, but that doesn't mean there aren't other ways yet to be discovered.

    One area he didn't discuss: move a mini-planet through space ala 'Dark City'. Or for a more obscure reference, read 'Wolfbane' where the entire planet is moved across the galaxy and sustained by an artificial sun orbiting Earth (ok, so there were complications with the alien race who kidnapped Earth...). However, these are all scifi ideas in and of themselves, not a setup for a future colonization setting.

    He is right about colonizing the rest of Earth though. Or maybe even finishing exploring it.
  • Impossible? (Score:5, Informative)

    by SlayerDave ( 555409 ) <elddm1NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:45PM (#19542699) Homepage
    I read the entire article (which was excellent and well-reasoned), and nowhere did the author say space colonization was impossible. His argument is that it would be prohibitively expensive and technically impractical, but certainly not impossible. Colonization, especially of extrasolar planets, is extremely unlikely, but it is definitely physically possible, given the economic and and political will to do so.

    Very bad summary, subbie.

  • by ArbitraryConstant ( 763964 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:46PM (#19542721) Homepage
    The requirements to colonize other worlds are prohibitive for the time being, I don't think anyone denies that. But throwing out numbers as though they negate the possibility doesn't make sense.

    We're doing things now that would have been impossible a hundred years ago. A hundred years ago they could do the math and decide that, say, flying into orbit, or building an electronic computer might be possible, but the gap that remained to be filled was the expertise it took to do everything involved sufficiently well. Right now, we have the same proof of concept for possible propulsion technologies (eg Orion), or space elevator technologies (eg carbon nanotubes) that they had back then for manned flight, but we can't do them sufficiently well, on a sufficiently large scale for economic space travel.

    That's fine. The relevant technologies will advance without the need for any specific focus on space travel. The technology of space travel will be the synthesis of many different technologies that are going to happen anyway. So, if it's too hard to do immediately, fine. That doesn't discredit the idea. It just means we can't do it now.
  • Quantum mechanics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by archnerd ( 450052 ) <nonce+slashdot@org.dfranke@us> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:48PM (#19542735) Homepage
    I'd say wait on judging such a thing to be impossible until a well-established Grand Unified Theory comes together. Quantum mechanics could still be hiding plenty of "magic wands" that we don't know about yet. Interstellar travel certainly seems more plausible today than an atomic bomb must have seemed to Isaac Newton.
  • That's funny... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:53PM (#19542777) Journal
    ...I recently finished reading a treatise on how mankind could slowly but surely adapt to living in outer space itself. Given enough time and tech, I suspect that we won't even need terrestrial extra-solar planets in order to move beyond our own solar system. As long as there are Kuiper-Belt objects and asteroids which contain the compounds we need to sustain and grow ourselves, waiting for us when we get there, we'll have everything we need.

    The rest is a matter of supplying enough non-solar power and enough of the non-recyclable material for the trip.


  • Magic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Barkmullz ( 594479 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:58PM (#19542819)

    that it ain't gonna happen without a 'magic wand' or two

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    - Arthur C. Clarke

    'nuff said.

  • Not worth reading. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:00PM (#19542849) Journal
    His argument in a nut shell.

    It's really far away and it would take a long time to get there.
    We don't need to save humans, if the humans on earth die then who cares about anyone else.
    It would cost Earth a lot of money and wouldn't bring back a return on the investment soon.

    Basically, he has an Earth centric view that outright dismisses the survival or our species and places money before the advancement of man in the bigger picture.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:15PM (#19542963)
    Cos just over the last 10,000 years we've evolved to be able to metabolise cow milk, over the last 100,000 or so we've evolved white skins in cool regions to improve production of vitamin D, our limbs have shortened in proportion to the rest of the body and become more muscular to aid with heat retention etc etc etc etc etc.

    And that's all in the blink of an eye... On interstellar and galactic timescales... You're going to have to tell me what a human being is.

  • by mfterman ( 2719 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:22PM (#19543015)
    was not that we can't colonize space, but more that the classic SF view of people setting up space stations orbiting the sun, domed or underground colonies on the Moon and other planets, and space freighters setting up some sort of interplanetary trade (space pirates optional), much less interstellar freighters shipping people and goods between star systems ain't gonna happen barring a miracle that breaks the laws of physics as we know them. Which is not to say it can't happen but there are interesting consequences to such feats.

    A lot of the focus in the essay was on human beings settling off Earth. If we go with robots, heavily altered human beings and various other forms of transcended beings, then colonization of other worlds is perfectly possible, as long as we adapt the people for harsh climes. But that's not the point of the essay. Humanity for the most part was evolved to live on Earth and getting us to survive anywhere else is next to impossible or of dubious effort at best.

    And then there is the fact that for the energy/time cost of manufacturing widgets on one planet in our system and shipping it to another part, it would be a lot cheaper/faster to simply send the schematic by electromagnetic transmission and then have some manufacturing facility on the destination planet build it there. Moving matter is expensive. Moving information is a lot cheaper. Space freighters, whether interplanetary or interstellar, don't make any sense. Just because it worked for sea ships doesn't mean it works for space ships.

    Does Charlie Stross think we couldn't send sentient robots to Mars to build a colony of sentient robots? I doubt it, but that wasn't the point of the essay. The question is whether humans could settle Mars, and he's rightfully skeptical of that. So am I. If anything from this world settles Mars and forms a viable self-sustaining colony there, it won't be human as we conceive of it.
  • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @03:41PM (#19543229)
    As Xenu proved by colonizing this planet, space travel already exists.
  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <{ten.knilhtrae} {ta} {nsxihselrahc}> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @04:05PM (#19543427)
    He said "without a magic wand". Then he listed a couple of possible magic wands.

    FWIW, he neglected (not missed, merely skimmed over) "MacroLife", which would allow glactic colonization without magic beyond nuclear fusion...but *wouldn't* be particularly economic. Perhaps.

    Since the MacroLife concept isn't widely spoken of, let me elucidate:
    1) You build a space-based factory.
    2) You build a colony nearby to manage it.
    3) People get comfortable living in the colony, and enlarge it, and make it self-sufficient.
    4) There's a political dispute.
    5) People living in the colony attach an engine, and depart slowly for "elsewhere".
    6) You don't want a tremendously high speed, because you collect materials along the way.

    This will require large numbers of technical advances. Closed cycle life support systems are only one of many, but the only one that approaches "magic wand" status is controlled fusion. (I don't think that fission would suffice. Refueling would be too difficult.)

    1) This is slow.
    2) This isn't something that one intentionally creates.
    3) Most of the colonies will probably decide to stay put. That's fine, while in situ they provide a net economic gain.
    4) Espect to have, perhaps, 5 colonies departing / century on an average, with a fairly large population of colonies.
    5) The motives will be political or religious rather than economic. Those who leave must be prepared to suffer a considerable economic hardship.
    6) The colonies need to contain a viable population. This probably means 5,000 people and a staic population...though various work-arounds are possible.

    Conterindicators: Advanced robotics would probably mean that the space colony wouldn't be overseeing the running of the space factory, but it might be a way for an initially wealthy group to excape overpopulation, and the associated governmental restraints. Or there might be other motives. Or there might not. This whole thing could be a "could have happened, but didn't".

  • by mrmeval ( 662166 ) <<mrmeval> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday June 17, 2007 @04:12PM (#19543503) Journal
    He sounds like one of the mundane SF proponents. Mundane SF is the idea that there never will be nanotech, there never will be AI, there never will be space travel....you get the picture.

  • Very impossible... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @05:13PM (#19544037) Homepage Journal
    The calculations: 2*10^18 J

    Tzar Bomba - 50MT = 2*10^17 J

    Meaning nuclear power equivalent to ten russian bombs would suffice to reach 0.1c
    Meaning about 100 to reach what would be c if not for Einstein (but which is still between 0.6 and 0.8c and sounds like much nicer speed than 0.1c)

    Releasing the energy gradually, accelerating at comfortable 1g you can reach newtonian equivalent of 1c in about a year. You can continue accelerating to make the trip less boring for the travelers due to time dillatation (for us, their speed won't change, for them - travel time will get much shorter) or drop into cruise speed for another 30 years. Then decelerate at 1g for a year again (or start deceleration halfway, keep the value of 1g all the time and you have the problem of artificial gravity solved). and you're 20 light years away from Earth in less than 30 years.

    Sure nuclear power is just plain energy and you'd need more than a bunch of russian nukes, but the point is the energy is available and the time is not nearly as ridiculous as it would seem (and time dillatation can easily replace hibernation as a method of time compression for the travelers).
  • transatlantic voyages were impossible 1000 years ago. I guess my problem with this guy is that he's using today's technology to prove that something is impossible. If we were constantly doing that we'd just have to admit that everything that hasn't been accomplished is impossible. 40 years ago fantastic search engines that can basically answer any question you ask would have been considered impossible. In that analogy, you could say it took us two years to develop a chip that can execute X instructions per seconds, how can we possibly imagine a computer that can make 1 billion calculations per second? Who knows what kind of capabilities we'll have in 100 years? I don't. Is it possible that we develop some kind of nuclear fusion engine? Or a antimatter engine? I don't know, but I would never say something is impossible. I believe in the saying that when someone says something is 'impossible', they are usually wrong.
  • missing the point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jeremy_Bee ( 1064620 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @05:57PM (#19544413)
    To those (many) people who are interpreting this as a battle between Hawking and Stross... your really just not paying attention.

    Hawking merely states the obvious, which is that eventually, in the fullness of time, if we cannot survive without the Earth, then we shall certainly perish with it or because of some earth-bound, environmental/social calamity. This is self-evident, but does not equate to a belief that we will one day "colonise the galaxy." The chief variables in regards whether that happens or not are actually social or historical, not technological (as Stross rightly points out at the beginning of his article). The hope of galactic colonisation is perhaps built on the the same realisation that Hawking so aptly describes, but the two arguments are completely separate entities.

    To those who's answer to Stross (and this seems to take care of most of the rest of the posts), is merely the invocation of some further "magic" technology... aside from the fact that this is just side-stepping the issues Stross brought up, it ignores one final fact about interstellar colonisation (sci-fi style), that Stross failed to mention, and that is the inherant biological limitations.

    As biological entities on Earth, we must eat to survive, and the proteins and amino acids we eat are derived from the environment around us. We are symbiotic with our environment as a whole and inseparable from it. Even if we found an "earth-like" planet, and even if panspermia turns out to be as accurate a hypothesis as it seems to be lately, divergent evolution would mean that a "space-potato" from another planetary system would never be consumable by an earth person. Despite whatever nutritive properties the space potato had for the local fauna, our intrepid astronauts would starve to death. The amino acids would simply not fit. This applies to every plant or animal in that particular environment. The concept of interstellar trade in foodstuffs especially is nonsensical and things like "Romulan Ale" are fictions that can never be.

    From the biological perspective, colonisation would mean either bringing the totality of our environment with us (terraforming all worlds with earth biology and destroying entire planetary ecosystems wherever we go), or transforming ourselves through genetics to "fit" the environments we find. Even then, such altered individuals would be as bound to their new world as we are to the old. Using Mars, (a local and rather famous example), we could not live there without turning it into a second Earth, or by turning ourselves into "Martians." Didn't anyone ever read "The Martian Chronicles"? ;-)

    Thus no matter what, even with "magic" technology that eliminates all the gravity, time, energy and FTL problems, individuals from earth would still never be able to colonise other planets as they do in most sci-fi stories.

    As many have long suspected, the concept of "colonising the galaxy" probably has more to do with the territorial ambitions of empire than with any logical view of a possible future, and will likely be as humorous to those very future generations as Medieval opinions about the "superlative" nature of their medical technology are to us today.

  • My guess (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TopSpin ( 753 ) * on Sunday June 17, 2007 @07:18PM (#19544975) Journal
    The first interstellar humans will arrive at the next star in the form of embryos (or their virtual equivalents) to a pre-built space colony constructed by machines. It will take thousands of years. Today we can only begin to speculate about some the technology involved. Several hundred years from now our decedents will have more than speculation to work with.

    Charlie Stross is correct within the narrow confines of his self imposed conditions. Physics tells us that the mass and energy involved in sending live people to nearby stars within a lifetime simply does not compute. Now, and perhaps never. Enormous generation ships have rather obvious problems also, the most intractable (after the flight actually begins, some time after the vessel is somehow built) would appear to be the inevitability of multiple in-flight, and possibly fatal, dark ages.

    Given our very recent enlightenment about the frequency of extrasolar planets, it's rather likely that most brown/yellow dwarfs have, in addition to large planets, a vast collection of debris. This debris happens to be made of rather useful stuff including ice (water; hydrogen and oxygen,) carbon and metals (silicon, iron, etc.) in effectively unlimited quantities. The stuff is conveniently parked in stable orbits in condensed form with mass low enough to obviate concerns about atmospheres or escape velocity.

    We already interact with space debris with fair competence. We fire bullets into comets [1] and skitter around on asteroids [2] with so little collective effort that most people are oblivious to it. Scaling that up a few hundred times may be within the grasp of humans today, never mind what we'll be capable of in 2507.

    We know how to collect energy from stars [3]. We've even figured out how to beam it around with reasonable efficiency [4]. Given long enough intervals our ability to gather sufficient energy to refine arbitrary amounts of matter is assured.

    Automation is a big missing piece at the moment. We can not yet build machines with enough intellect to operate unassisted in a complex environment. We have a long way to go on this one. However, I nurture a bit of faith on this. It's based on the possibility that we're not as smart as we think and, therefore, the challenge isn't a great as we assume.

    Humans operate on the power obtained from plants, bits of meat and common gasses. The mass of the entire human nervous system is measured in tens kilograms and requires only a part of the available energy. The billions of years evolution has had to refine these resources into a competent system has produced complexity that we have only begun to fathom. Yet we progress at an astonishing pace. Contemporary machines can recognize speech, walk, fly, drive, swim, navigate and play games. The computational capacity to do these things must often be mobile and, therefore, small and low power. We are figuring out natures algorithms and I think that eventually we'll be able to produce low mass machines capable of orbital navigation, self-repair and refining operations all driven by enough goal seeking intellect to build habitats without human assistance.

    My hypothetical mission profile looks something like this:

    At some point during the next few centuries there will exist enough wealth, technical knowledge and stability to permit the building, in solar orbit, of a flotilla of moderately sized unmanned interstellar ships. This moment need not be particularly lengthy in duration or broadly coordinated; an important point given the volatility of our species. Once under way, the mission will not be subject to the fate of humans around the native star.

    The flotilla will be launched in the direction of some likely star, powered by low thrust high delta-v engines and require centuries or millennia to arrive. Along the way some fraction of the machines will fail and require in-transit repair or recycling on arrival. The remainder will be sufficient. The builders will have high confidence in these devices b
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @08:13PM (#19545301)
    Aztec Elder: "Assuming that there even IS another land across the great Eastern Ocean, it will never be reached! Listen as I entrance you with my 3 wise points of wisdom. . .

    "Point 1: The Distances are really huge! If your hut was this sea shell, and the next city down the coast (which as we all know takes a full week to paddle to in our finest grass row-boat), is this pink rock I place one hand span away from the sea shell, then the Land Across the Ocean would be, -wait for it- fifty Aztec miles away! Think about that! It can't be done, durn it!"

    Assembled audience: "ooooh."

    Aztec Elder: "Point 2. Blah blah blah."

    Assembled audience: "aaaah."

    Aztec Elder: "Point 3. Blah blah blah."

    Assembled audience: "Say, what are those huge boat-looking things on the horizon. . ?"

    -FL -Who keeps leaving these circles in my durn field?!

  • Imagine if you will (Score:5, Interesting)

    by briancnorton ( 586947 ) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @09:32PM (#19545747) Homepage
    Let's pretend that Jules Verne in 1895 was asked about the feasibility of destroying a city with a single bomb. His calculations would invariably conclude that he needed 7 million (?) tons of dynamite, or more dynamite than had been produced since it was invented, and enough to fill the 50 Roman Colosseums, presenting invariable logistic problems requiring 1,000,000 trucks bridges, ships, etc, OR, a "Magic Wand." The next 50 years saw the creation of powered flight, twinkies, and Nuclear weapons. In the following decades, we can now fit something like 100 mt of nuclear power onto an ICBM/bomber. (and the yield estimate he links to has to be way off)Mp>My point is that Magic Wands are the safe bet here.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes