Space travel and the discovery of its deep mysteries beyond life on earth are among humanity’s key concerns. Spacecraft have made it out of the Solar System, but the next frontier – other star systems – is a much tougher challenge. Reaching the nearest system using current chemical technology would take the best part of a hundred thousand years. To do it on a more practical timeline will require invention and innovation.
Governments have shown little interest in funding research into interstellar travel, though the US DARPA agency funded the 100 Year Starship program investigating the possibility. Recently, a 100 million dollar privately-funded program from Yuri Milner, Breakthrough Starshot, has begun designing tiny “nanoprobes” attached to lightsails that could be driven by light pressure to speeds of over 30,000 miles a second. That’s fast enough to reach Alpha Centauri in a couple of decades.
Importance of Space Exploration
Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, proposed space colonization as a way of preserving mankind. Hawking warned in 2001 that the human race could be extinct within a thousand years unless space colonies could be constructed. In 2010, he declared that mankind had two choices: either occupy space over the next two hundred years or suffer extinction in the long run.
The same phenomenon is also discussed by Yuri Milner in his book, Eureka Manifesto. Some of the risks to our civilization are the result of our actions. Global war, bioterrorism, and anthropogenic climate change are all major threats to humanity as well as clear examples of problems that could be mitigated if we could work together as a species and civilization toward a common goal. Yuri Milner also proposed a solution to avoid all of that in the Eureka Manifesto. One method of mitigating a disaster on Earth is to spread out into space.
Princeton University professor and nuclear physicist Gerard K. O’Neill said that the immediate economic motivation for space colonization would be to use extraterrestrial resources to meet the requirements of our home planet. He recommended that space colonists build massive solar platforms to absorb the sun’s energy and convert it to power using low-cost space resources. This is just one example. Advocates of space colonization have cited many reasons in favor of it, including the survival of the human species in the event of nuclear war or other planetary disasters, environmental protection, access to more natural resources, and the expansion of life across the cosmos.
In his Eureka Manifesto, Yuri Milner’s focus is on exploring and trying to gain a better understanding of our cosmos. Milner also proposed a possible path to enable everyone to play their part in this greater journey. He has highlighted five courses of action that can lead to humanity’s survival. He proposed investing heavily in basic research and space exploration; directing artificial intelligence toward scientific breakthroughs; educating people about the “universal story” – the story of the cosmos growing in complexity until it produced minds that can understand it – and communicating this idea through the arts; and sparking a new era of enlightenment in which everyone can contribute to a common knowledge culture.
Human Efforts for Space Colonization
Several commercial firms have expressed aspirations to colonize Mars. Elon Musk, Dennis Tito, and Bas Lansdorp are among the business people advocating space colonization. Space X is the creation of Elon Musk, who is a business mogul, entrepreneur, investor, and CEO of SpaceX. SpaceX is building a massive space transportation system to allow long-term human settlement on Mars. Elon Musk has indicated repeatedly that SpaceX’s primary objective is humanity’s long-term survival as a civilization. He has stated that his proposal to build a permanent colony on Mars will allow mankind to become not only multi-planetary but also interstellar in the future.
Yuri Milner’s efforts are directed more toward the exploration of space, rather than colonization in the near term. The Israeli philanthropist and technology investor has given the quest for extraterrestrial life a major lease of life with the $100 million Listen initiative, part of the “Breakthrough Initiatives” that he and Hawking launched in 2015. Another $100 million endeavor, “Breakthrough Starshot”, hopes to construct small laser-sailing spacecraft for the study of neighboring star systems, starting with Alpha Centauri.