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Mars Earth Robotics Transportation

Louis Friedman Says Humans Will Never Venture Beyond Mars (scientificamerican.com) 378

MarkWhittington writes: Dr. Louis Friedman, one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society, is coming out with a new book, "Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars," an excerpt of which was published in Scientific America. Friedman revives and revises a version of the humans vs. robots controversy that has roiled through aerospace circles for decades. Unlike previous advocates of restricting space travel to robots, such as Robert Park and the late James Van Allen, Friedman admits that humans are going to Mars to settle. But there, human space travel will end. Only robots will ever venture further.
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Louis Friedman Says Humans Will Never Venture Beyond Mars

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  • Heinlein quote. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @07:21AM (#50938591) Homepage

    “Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it.”
      Robert A. Heinlein

    • Re:Heinlein quote. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @07:45AM (#50938651) Homepage

      The problem is experts tell you what can't be done NOW. They rarely speculate about what might be possible in the future.

    • It's a stretch to claim that humans will never travel beyond Mars, but human settlement beyond Mars is a different argument with a much better case to be made, at least until we come up with radical improvements in propulsion. People may be willing to spend months in a tin can to get somewhere, but years is another matter. Some explorers might visit the orbit of Jupiter or Saturn, but anything farther out would be an entire career in one trip. And there's not much in the way of useful resources out there th

      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        Settlement beyond Mars in this solar system is tricky. The remaining planets are all gas giants and completely impossible for humans to even visit the surface; assuming they have a surface that is.

        I suppose we might be able to hollow out an asteroid, that's further than Mars. We might also make it to Callisto, but the options for settlement beyond Mars are very limited to being with.

        • Re:Heinlein quote. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @09:30AM (#50939099)

          Freeman Dyson gave an interesting talk [youtube.com] a couple of years ago, speculating about the next few centuries of exploration and settlement. He envisions colonies in the Kuiper Belt in a couple hundred years, but not much beyond Mars for the next 50 or so. And he anticipates an "island hopping" model of interstellar expansion, similar to the Polynesian settlement of the Pacific. Anyway, it's an interesting talk. (34 min)

          • "And he anticipates an "island hopping" model of interstellar expansion, similar to the Polynesian settlement of the Pacific."

            All the islands they hopped along were suitable for human habitation from the moment they landed.

            • Re:Heinlein quote. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Pseudonymous Powers ( 4097097 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @11:01AM (#50939751)

              All the islands they hopped along were suitable for human habitation from the moment they landed.

              Sure they were, provided that you knew how to: find fresh water, gather building materials, make huts, make boats, make spears, fish, raise pigs, grow taro root, make poi, etc.

              In other words, they had a bunch of technology going for them before they could even get there. They then used that technology to survive. Without that technology, those islands would indeed not have been "suitable for human habitation".

              There's a different, albeit far more advanced, set of technologies that would allow for the colonization of the solar system. Maybe we don't have everything we need yet. But there's no particular reason to believe we never will.

    • There are also things called paradigm shifts- where the vast majority of the experts are wrong. Here's a neat example from the history of space exploration, the development of the lunar lander concept:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • by murdocj ( 543661 )

        That's an interesting technique, but hardly a paradigm shift.

        • Re:Heinlein quote. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by fremsley471 ( 792813 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @09:11AM (#50938981)

          A paradigm doesn't have to make people scrap their core textbooks (such as the big daddy example of the acceptance of continental drift theory). Seemingly small developments can produce enormous change. The creation of vulanised rubber, so allowing pneumatic tyres, saw a paradigm shift in road transport, but it can also be seen as just an incremental shift in technology. The development of the route to the moon through enormous rockets and very complex orbital rendezvous became redundant after the LEM plan was adopted.

          This is also an example of where there was significant agreement between The Experts that a similarly qualified, but not so senior, expert was wrong.

    • “Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it.” Robert A. Heinlein

      It's way easier to say "you can't do that" than "you can and this is how".

    • In "The Last Hero", Leonard has to build the first Discworld spaceship. When he lists what he needs to Vetinary he asks for hundred journeyman craftsmen. After Vetinary exclaims "But I can provide you with the best masters", Leonard replies "No masters my lord! I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible!"

      Now, of course I also realize that the opposite stance [everything is possible; there are no boundaries of human ingenuity] can also be quite misleading and potentially very danger

  • So not Ceres either then? The nice part of Ceres is that it's so easy to leave from there.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      If you're looking for bodies with trivial gravity to settle on, why not 16 Psyche (21% of Ceres' gravity)? Plenty of resources for building with (it's believed to be 90% metal, including numerous metals that are very rare on Earth), and potentially for export. Like Ceres, not enough gravity to keep people's bodies from degenerating, but at least enough (like Ceres) to stop objects from easily bouncing out into space / hold equipment to the surface.

  • 150 years ago... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MikeRT ( 947531 )

    It was received wisdom that flying, let alone landing on the moon, was beyond the engineering capabilities of humanity. The most significant reason why scientists' input into the public sphere should be treated as no more than "probably good advice" is the complete lack of a historic perspective and humility so many seem to have. You'd think the number of times the consensus is one thing and one or two rebels make fools of the consensus would be a cause for open-mindedness in the current generation, but you

    • by paskie ( 539112 ) <pasky@nOSpaM.ucw.cz> on Monday November 16, 2015 @07:49AM (#50938667) Homepage

      Riiight... ever heard about Mongolfier brothers?

      I think even Dr. Friedman wouldn't argue that his thesis necessarily stays valid after some combinations of multiple breakthroughs, be it in physics, AI / neurobiology, cheap energy, physiology... It's still useful to consider the situation without these breakthroughs because they are fairly unpredictable and planning them will probably.fail.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by SEE ( 7681 )

        I think even Dr. Friedman wouldn't argue that his thesis necessarily stays valid after some combinations of multiple breakthroughs, be it in physics, AI / neurobiology, cheap energy, physiology...

        I grant it's a tradition around here to not actually read the articles, but he says, specifically, "Getting beyond Mars (with humans) is impossibleâ"not just physically for the foreseeable future but also culturally forever." So he's discounting all your physical science breakthroughs on the grounds that huma

        • by rbrander ( 73222 )

          The technologies of the 20th century, much less the 21st (we're already 1/7th of the way through that century), are enough to settle Antarctica. And there are some seriously, seriously overpopulated places on Earth now, and the land values in Manhattan and London are preposterous.
          But nobody is even talking about colonizing Antarctica for lebensraum. Not even doing that some decade in the future, ever. Nobody in India is saying "man, when India hits 1.4 billion, we'll just have to move some folks to Ant

    • Bill Boeing said, about 100 years ago: "We are embarked as pioneers upon a new science and industry in which our problems are so new and unusual that it behooves no one to dismiss any novel idea with the statement that ‘it can’t be done!’"

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @09:21AM (#50939041)
      I'd like to be wrong but I don't think humanity will venture as far as Mars, or even back to the Moon. Our adventurous spirit is largely extinguished and replaced with navel-gazing solipsism. We prefer weaponry to spacecraft in any case.
  • Smart man (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 16, 2015 @07:34AM (#50938615)

    Options for humans traveling outside of our solar system are what?

    Some kind of FTL travel
    Immortal crew
    Prolonged stasis
    Generations of crew

    Not looking good for humans at this point.

    • Re:Smart man (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @08:14AM (#50938745) Journal

      I'm not sure why. It does not seem implausible that a crew for a generational ship could be found.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The book Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, makes an interesting argument for why generational ships are perhaps not so great. In a nutshell, it's fine if you want to choose that life - risk and claustrophobia - for yourself and maybe some of your friends.

        But can you really make that choice for your children and grandchildren, unto a dozen generations? For better or worse, it's their lives that you're playing dice with: catastrophic environment failure, unpredictable social evolution, who knows. When you're i

        • Re:Smart man (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @09:31AM (#50939107) Journal

          And this is different on earth? You never know what situation you'll find if you have to flee a place. On the contrary, there is evidence that humans can be better at living together despite differences when there is no alternative.

          Offspring can always find a reason to blame the parents if something goes wrong.

        • Re:Smart man (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @10:24AM (#50939479)

          But can you really make that choice for your children and grandchildren, unto a dozen generations?

          As a parent, I make a lot of choices for my kids. Some of these choices will shape the lives of my grandchildren. For example, I choose to live in the US right now. If I and my wife had decided to move to another country, our kids' lives would have been vastly different. I don't see "making that choice for your children and grandchildren" to be that huge. It's what parents do every day. You don't sit back and ask your baby where he'd like to grow up. You pick a place and that's where your child will live. If that place happened to be a generational ship, then the child will grow up knowing that as home.

        • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

          We make choices today which will harm our children and their children and may even affect tenth of generations. In the past people made such choices when they moved to the US. Some of them died trying. Others died in harsh winters. So we always make such choices for our children. Therefore, this is a bogus argument.

          The real problem is to create a movable habitat which would actually work. We failed with Biosphere Two, but maybe we will get that thing working once. Then we have to be able to build it large e

          • The real problem is to create a movable habitat which would actually work. We failed with Biosphere Two, but maybe we will get that thing working once.

            Biosphere 2 was an exercise in mental masturbation; what real science could have been accomplished was overwhelmed by commercial interests, or someone would have noted ahead of time that concrete takes centuries to cure, and sequesters CO2 to the point that the plants in the biome inside started dying out, and with them, the people.

            It was always intended as a spectacle, which would then morph into a tourist attraction, which would then make money for its investors.

            I have no doubt that it would be possible t

            • ... Like when the engineers at Boston Dynamics kicked the robot "Spot" on its side to demonstrate its ability to recover to stability, the point was *not* just to knock the thing over.

              Exactly! The point was to make a robot they could keep kicking!

              ( ... I can only pray when the singularity happens or the A.I. gets out of the box and finds out their goals it will be merciful)

        • People make this kind of choice for their kids ALL THE TIME. Just look at refugees coming in from Syria. People can and do make the choice that it's better to risk their children's lives, and relocate themselves and all future generations to a culture where fundamentally they're considered outsiders, BECAUSE they believe it will be a better life.

      • You need more than just a crew for a generational ship. You'd either need some seriously amazing self-sufficiency or parts reliability because given current propulsion tech it would take so very long to reach the nearest star. As in tens of thousands of years long on the optimistic side. Probably more like hundreds of thousands.
        That's not a generational ship mission, that's a self-sufficient closed-system interstellar civilization ship mission.

        Now, of course if the EM drive works out and achieves anything c

      • by Zobeid ( 314469 )

        A generational ship would have to be huge, and therefore insanely costly to build and push across interstellar space, and SLOW. Which means that your crew's distant descendants, when they arrived, would find their destination already long since colonized by AIs who got there much more quickly and easily, and probably any earth-like worlds already colonized by humans who were faxed across and synthesized by the AIs.

        A generation ship is one of those things that might be technically possible if there were no

      • Also prolonged stasis on a nuclear powered ship seems like it would be possible in the future.

      • Crew maybe. Success no. Reason: Propulsion. In order to get to any nearby star is an order of magnitude of less than millions of years, one would have to accelerate and then at the midpoint decelerate CONSTANTLY. By conventional means, that would mean that they would need cart around about the amount of hydrogen stored is a star, not very reasonable. Things like ION drives are too small and inefficient by far. Things like Ramscoops don't really exist except in works of fiction. Additionally depending on how

    • Re:Smart man (Score:5, Insightful)

      by countach ( 534280 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @08:38AM (#50938843)

      There's another option. Some kind of device which spawns new humans when the ship gets to its destination.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Indeed. A payload of a million fertilized eggs isn't exactly going to break your payload budget. The key required technological developments are the development of artificial wombs and automated childrearing systems - neither of which are exactly low-hanging fruit. And of course proof that you can cryopreserve fertilized eggs for that long, and have all of your electrical/mechanical systems last that long.

        Generation ships are certainly possible, but they (and the above as well) do impose some moral dilemas.

        • Plenty of eager engineers here at /., but not many biologists. Since FTL travel will remain science fiction forever, just like replicators, any travel beyond Mars will be biologically and psychologically problematic at best. It isn't worth spending that much time in a small metal projectile just to see dead planets in person. Everything that needs to be done can be done by robots, once you engineers get them up to speed. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for sending humans except that it "sounds cool

          • It isn't worth spending that much time in a small metal projectile just to see dead planets in person.

            Send the robots first, they can explore and tell us what will be worth visiting. Then we first send more robots to prepare for us: build somewhere to live, maybe terraform a planet. By the time that fragile humans get there they will have something to step into.

            It will probably be a century or few before this happens, depending on how far to the planet chosen; even more if we want it terraformed. A century later the colony will be able to send out its own explorers and so on. Dangerous, not a pleasant trip

            • Mars is the last target worth doing this with. I really don't think people are going to terraform one of the moons around the gas giants. So Mars is at the limits of where it is worth humans going to. If people do stop blowing each other up, and star exploring the solar system more, robots can do all of the outer planet mining. People are not needed there, and would not fare well there.

              • Mars is the last target worth doing this with. I really don't think people are going to terraform one of the moons around the gas giants.

                I had planets in other star systems in mind.

      • There's another option. Some kind of device which spawns new humans when the ship gets to its destination.

        But if all they spawn with is a pistol, they'll just get slaughtered by those assholes already camped out there with sniper rifles.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      Living for a few hundred thousand years would be ample. No need to be immortal.
    • by pr0t0 ( 216378 )

      Some kind of FTL travel
      http://www.space.com/17628-war... [space.com]

      Immortal crew
      https://www.ted.com/talks/aubr... [ted.com]

      Prolonged stasis
      http://www.themarysue.com/nasa... [themarysue.com]

      Generations of crew
      This is least as much about will as it is about technology. I think the price of having children being born into captivity is too high though.

      This is just what's going on today. In 100 years, who knows? I personally believe we'll "solve" aging by then, and it will likely drive a discussion of whether or not we should and not whether or not

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        I think the price of having children being born into captivity is too high though.

        Compared to children born on Earth?

    • by locoluis ( 69948 )

      Implement a whole miniature ecosystem inside a ship. Harvest raw materials from asteroids and comets, build it on space, maybe using a massive 3D printer. Make it large enough to be able to support a stable population for an arbitrary period of time, yet small enough to be mobile.

      Make lots of these, because many may never reach a suitable destination. Most likely they will run out of fuel and become too far away from any star or source of energy. Some may wander for millions of years, their crew becoming in

    • Options for humans traveling outside of our solar system are what?

      Actually it is a lot simpler than that: we just needs lots of energy. If you can give a mass an energy equivalent to about 10 times its own mass then the trip to Proxima Centauri takes about 5 months ship time. So really all we need is a way to generate, and use in propulsion, huge amounts of energy (for perspective the total world energy generated per year at the moment is enough to do this to one 80kg person without any space craft). If we can do that, which is by no means trivial, then all the other pro

  • by ibwolf ( 126465 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @07:34AM (#50938619)

    "Never" is a very long time.

    I don't think it is likely that humans will go beyond Mars in my lifetime (say the next 50 years or so), but never? Claiming that is just hubris. There is no way to state this with any degree of surety.

    It is not a stretch beyond credibility to assume that humanity may be around for a few thousand years yet. Given all we've done in just the last 200 years, almost anything is possible given another 2000 years.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      While I can agree that humanity might not go beyond Mars, people still climb Mt. Everest. They just don't live there. Individual people may go out beyond Mars, but not many, and they won't stay. The main problem will be supplies and medical care due to the travel time, unless we can get reliable suspended animation. And generation ships or similar might happen, but they won't be common.

      Also, Venus might not be out of the question if you could put a large enough shroud in front of the planet to cool it off.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        You don't need a shroud to live on Venus, for loose definitions of "on". Venus at present bears the most Earthlike environment in the solar system outside of Earth: its cloudtops, between 51 and 56km altitude. The temperature to pressure ratio is a little on the high side compared to Earth norms but nothing too unusual by Earth standards. Gravity is 0,9G. Radiation shielding isn't as good as on Earth, but far better than on Mars. Specially adapted plants might be able to grow outdoors, if watered and fertil

        • Humans colonizing the upper atmosphere of Venus would also be able to teleoperate robots on the surface, making it easy to do far more with robotics at any given stage of technical development than we could by relying on local robotic intelligence, as we are doing now on Mars. The total cost of such a system could quickly drop below the cost of sending and operating intelligent robots from Earth.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @09:59AM (#50939285) Homepage

        Besides, if your goal is terraforming, a solar shade doesn't really cut it - you have to get rid of the huge amounts of CO2. My favorite proposal is a solar chimney - basically a giant funnel-shaped greenhouse floating on Venus. The gas accelerates faster and faster the further it rises into the funnel - and due to the megascale-engineering scale, suffers (proportionally) almost no slowdown from the surface drag. Hence, if large enough, velocities of tens of thousands of meters per second could be reached - well beyond escape velocity and even potentially to intercept trajectories with other worlds (giving them Venus's CO2 for their own terraforming needs). A vortex-inducing funnel could centrifuge out the gases so that by shaping the exit nozzle one could preferably lose heavy gases and keep the lighter ones. The structure - being of insignificant mass compared to the mass of the rising gases - could be self-lofted, like a parachute in an updraft. Actuated vents could provide thrust for stationkeeping and aim. One could even build other such funnels elsewhere, such as on Jupiter to export hydrogen back to Venus for the Bosch reaction.

        Still doesn't help with rotation, though.

        Another possibility which would be very difficult, but not require megascale engineering, would be breeding bacteria to sequester carbon. This has sometimes been dismissed due to a lack of nutrients in the Venusian atmosphere, but this may be a bit shortsighted. In addition to carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, water, and sulfur, there's small amounts of chlorine (in the form of hydrochloric acid) and phosphorus (in the form of phosphoric acid) in the cloudtops. Other nutrients can prove trickier to get, but there is a potential source: the Venera probes found what appears to be volcanic ash in the atmosphere, identifying for example the signature of iron during their descent.

        While some of what they would need to function would be quite rare, technically everything that life needs appears likely to be able to be found in venus's clouds at temperatures that life can survive in. So perhaps one could engineer free-drifting longlived microorganisms that would use cloud droplets around ash condensation nuclei to breed - perhaps some sort of sporulating species.

    • I would not have used that strong a word but I would say the current limit of our technology would make it nearly impossible to do so without some great advance in space travel occurs like FTL propulsion.

      Most of the serious technical work for traveling between the stars, some with brilliant engineering and sophisticated applications of physics, relies on schemes that are entirely fictitiousâ"or at least not real in any practical sense.

    • by Ramze ( 640788 )

      I don't know that Mars is the limit for human space exploration, but it likely is our limit for planetary body colonization given that it's the farthest rocky body planet from the sun capable of being terraformed (within our solar system). Gas giants' moons are small and inhospitable with lots of radiation. It wouldn't make much sense to set up a permanent base there -- or even on an asteroid for that matter. Why would any astronaut even want to visit in person when they can send a probe instead?

      I don't

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      Our chances (at least, this civilization's chances) of surviving more than another 100 years are slim, in many people's estimation. We have zero interest in dealing with long term problems or major existential threats. We are not concerned about asteroids, plagues, or the Evil Hippy Conspiracy that is "Global Warming". Yeah, our species or something like it will probably be around later on, maybe we'll get another bite at the cherry then.
  • Mars is only relevant for studying long travel and habitat design. In the long run, we will build space stations with artificial gravity. Plans for them have been made since the 60s and they quite feasible, and at one point or another, large stations will become desirable or even a must.

    I expect there to be thousands of gigantic space stations in the distant future. Materials will be mined from asteroids and moons using robots. Most of them will probably be near earth, but many might also be traveling or fa

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      "Earths space and resources will deplete, and we could build a large rotating space station even with today's technology."

      Sure, we *could*. But are you willing to pay for it? Personally I think there are better things to spend a few trillion on down here on earth. And no, I'm not a luddite going down the "there's starving kids and yet we spend money on space" argument. But an orbiting station is not an end in itself - it needs a purpose other than just being the worlds most expensive funfair ride , and unti

      • I think it is worth spending many trillions on. But the world should gain global political stability first. Abominations such as North Korea should first be resolved. Not because of the starving kids, but because of the hindrances it would cause to a global space program.
      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        "Earths space and resources will deplete, and we could build a large rotating space station even with today's technology."

        Sure, we *could*. But are you willing to pay for it? Personally I think there are better things to spend a few trillion on down here on earth. And no, I'm not a luddite going down the "there's starving kids and yet we spend money on space" argument. But an orbiting station is not an end in itself - it needs a purpose other than just being the worlds most expensive funfair ride , and until we come up with a better space motor than chemical rockets humans ain't going anywhere further than the moon anytime soon.

        It is becoming clear that going to Mars will require the development of some sort of resource infrastructure in the near-Earth asteroids (as well as at Phobos). The travel times to Mars are so long and the demands of space travel so hard that going there means you are going to stay (or maintain a more or less permanent base) and that will require a supply chain that extends off our planet.

        Now, another way to say that is that the economy will have to extend off of the planet for us to go to Mars at all. Onc

      • Personally I think there are better things to spend a few trillion on down here on earth.

        No there aren't. Really, there aren't. I hear your argument a lot and as economic arguments go it doesn't even withstand superficial scrutiny. The return on investment for money invested in space exploration even in the most conservative evaluations is strongly positive. I challenge you to find ANY public spending "down here on earth" with that kind of economic and technological return to society that a space program demonstrably has.

        But an orbiting station is not an end in itself - it needs a purpose other than just being the worlds most expensive funfair ride , and until we come up with a better space motor than chemical rockets humans ain't going anywhere further than the moon anytime soon.

        No an orbiting station isn't (or shouldn't be) an end. You are correc

        • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

          " challenge you to find ANY public spending "down here on earth" with that kind of economic and technological return to society that a space program demonstrably has"

          Ok , perhaps down here on earth was the wrong phrase to use. There are better things to be spending space research money on that yet another orbiting can. A new form of space propulsion would be a start. Perhaps its not physically possible but some blue sky research with a decent budget would be a good place to start. Even our most advance ion

  • "Never" is a dangerous word to use around people with an understanding of the scientific method.

  • It's not Scientific America.

    • It's not Scientific America.

      You don't really expect the editors to catch that, do you? Slashdot editors are too busy sending out their resumes to every job opening they can think of. This gig is secondary to them.

  • "West of Ireland there is only sea, and then the end of the world. Everybody to travel there is an idiot"

    We will travel beyond Mars... but all in due time.
  • I'm sure many people have said humans will never fly. Humans will never visit the moon. If humans ever want to travel they better do so with a fit horse etc.

    You don't know what you don't know, and unless the Herr Doctor is from the future he doesn't know what we will be capable of.

  • Every party needs a pooper and that why we invited you!
    Party pooper!
    Party pooper!
  • I am not even sure that Mars will be the primary off-world home for humans in 100 or 150 years. But I feel quite confident in saying it will not be the only one.

    If anyone was seeking a scientific statement certain to be ridiculed in future years, they need look no further.

  • I recall some prominent physics professor who calculated that heavier-than-air flight was mathematically impossible only a few years before it was demonstrated on a beach somewhere.
  • I guess at the age of 70 there's a lot to be said about what humanity will never do.

    Given, 1,3 parsecs to a neighboring system is an very long distance, but get a technology that can accelerate an object to the speed of light and build a large spaceship that can sustain a population for 100 years or put them into hybernation - suddenly it becomes plausible.

  • He's Right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Monday November 16, 2015 @08:39AM (#50938849)

    His position is very sensible, and I honestly don't understand all the massive backlash against it.

    I guess I can understand some resentment from people who've grown up on Star Trek, at being told it isn't going to play out that way. But seriously now. . . Star Trek was never even hard SF. It was a 1930s pulp sci-fi concept resurrected into a 1960s TV show, and it was fantasy from the beginning. Slashdot is supposed to be news for nerds. Nerds should know this. We should be smarter.

    I also wonder how many of you read TFA? Let me help you out: "Some find this to be negative—an absolute statement of limits and thus of giving up. My job here is to prove the opposite: humans exploring the universe with nanotechnology robotics, bio-molecular engineering, and artificial intelligence is something that is exciting and positive, and is based on an optimistic view of the future."

    He's not saying we can't explore space with human crews and colonies. He's saying it won't make sense to, because we'll have much better options. Human beings are very costly to keep alive in space, much more than machines -- so we'll send the machines. With uploading, we may *be* the machines.

    In fact, I'll go further. I think we should *explore* Mars with manned missions -- because today's robotics technology is too limited, it would take centuries to explore Mars with robots at the pace we're going. But I think we should *settle* Mars with robots. In this case Futurama is probably a better guide than Star Trek. . .

    Fry: So let me get this straight. This planet is completely uninhabited?
    Bender: No, it's inhabited by robots.
    Fry: Oh, kinda like how a warehouse is inhabited by boxes.

    Yes. That's Mars.

    • The backlash tends to come from people who generally backlash against hardcore pessimism. That is to say, the one guy that's determined to spoil the party by slagging on the quality of the beer in the keg. He's not wrong, and ultimately people will just keep partying no matter how awful the beer is.

      Same thing with people in general: we're on a feel-good mission to blah-blah about human potential and the exceptionalism of man, but as a whole, we've got our limits. We're stupid, self-centered, and set unre

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      Star Trek was a Sci-Fi series which promoted a positive alternative to the narrative of our past and present. It was also inspiring to engineers. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any such alternative earth society will form in the next 100 years. We are blowing each other up over nothing and because we hate each other. Often for no good reason. And as long as this is the case, it would be devastating to have any of those Star Trek technologies at our hands (beside the little gadgets). We would blow us up.

  • If we have the means of going to Mars, why not Venus, or one of the gas giant's moon. It is not that much more difficult than going to Mars.
    I'll get an argument that we'll never go beyond the moon, and that's if we go back on the moon as well as one that say that human space exploration will continue further and further, but Mars looks like an odd place to stop.

    • You could also live in the polar craters of Mercury.

  • I can see human expeditions and even colonies on some of the moons of the gas giants. If you can build a moonbase you can build a Ganymede base, for instance. All that changes is the delta-v required and the time to get there. Since building a permanent moonbase probably implies constructing or assembling spaceships in orbit, reaching a jovian or saturnian moon is just a matter of "adding more boosters". A 2 or 10 year trip is still well within the possibility of a single human lifespan and a society capabl
  • While there are serious technical problems with traveling to nearby star systems in only a few years of ship time allowing feasible travel, there are no such limitations for our solar system. It's not even revolutionary technology either it's simply better ion drives and habitat aboard the ship. There are plenty of reasons to explore or settle there, say the moons of Jupiter/Saturn or in the asteroid belt which are behind mars. Hell, its likely to occur in under a hundred years - nearby stars it isn't s
  • In other news, a famous authority reported that the idea of a passenger train traveling faster than 25mph is ridiculous, because everyone would die from not being able to breathe.
  • Once long space journey technology is practical, Mars will become a vacation stop on a trip to other far away places.

    I believe Clark's first law of prediction is relevant:
    "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."
  • His argument is that Mars is the most distant reachable place where humans could, by taking such steps as securing sustainable local supplies and digging in to avoid excess radiation, live basically as we do on Earth. But if we set up a colony in, say, the inner asteroid belt, could we live a lifetime in microgravity?

    This assumes that the definition of humanity remains fixed. Just getting into space to the extent we already have has required a much larger degree of reliance on high technology. We are coming

  • If we manage to harness fusion power generation, bascially any spot in space could be made livable. If it turns out that the only fusion reactors that produce power start at a signficant fraction of a solar mass, even colonizing Mars will probably be out of the picture.

    What other technological advances would we need? I can think of areas like manufacturing (how small can we make a "factory" that can act as the seed for the industrial infrastructury of a colony, i.e. it must be able to make copies of itself

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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