Monday, August 9, 2010

Dear Hawking, I Know What You Read Last Summer...

According to world renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, "it's time to free ourselves from Mother Earth."
"I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Hawking tells Big Think. "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."
"But why?" you ask. The article summarizes:
Let's face it: The planet is heating up, Earth's population is expanding at an exponential rate, and the the natural resources vital to our survival are running out faster than we can replace them with sustainable alternatives. Even if the human race manages not to push itself to the brink of nuclear extinction, it is still a foregone conclusion that our aging sun will expand and swallow the Earth in roughly 7.6 billion years.
If you think that represents visionary thinking (after all, the interview is in Big Think), you may want to reconsider. A parent writes about a rather hilarious experience borrowing a book from the local library for her child whose curiosity about space had recently been peaked. It turns out the 1985 book, Space Colonies, has some rather cute theories to interest little Johnny. Quoting the post:
But the next chapter is where they drop the bomb. Why Build Colonies in Space asks the chapter title? Because our planet is headed for IMMINENT RUIN. We will soon have so many people that there won't be enough room for everyone. Naturally, the most practical solution is to encourage some people to LIVE IN SPACE. The book does not detail what kind of incentives would be offered to those willing to leave. Lower taxes, maybe? It also does not mention that even if a space colony big enough to house the entire population of Rhode Island (1,053,209) could be constructed, it would only remove 0.01% of the population from the earth. How many people live in the International Space Station? Like eight?

The second part of the chapter is more contemporary and discusses our limited natural energy resources. I can get behind that, but instead of arguing for the development of renewable energy the book suggests we MINE THINGS ON OTHER PLANETS. It then correctly points out that there is endless solar energy available in space. Because constructing a solar power plant and housing it's hundreds of employees IN SPACE is clearly a better first step than attempting the same on our planet.
See the post for the book's prediction of which year the space colonies will be built and also for the content of a chapter titled "Hope for the Future", which the author dubs "The Most Ironically Named Chapter of All Time."

C'mon Stephen, they knew about this in 1985. In fact, many others have known about this for some time.

6 comments:

kelleyn said...

It's too bad that the "imminent ruin" spin is dragging down the idea of space colonization. People have dreamed of living in space for decades, and it will happen, not because it has to to save Earth but because people want it for its own sake. In fact, entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow are already taking the first steps toward profitable commercial spaceflight. I don't know why anyone would think they had to drive us into space by scaring us.

Doug Reich said...

kelleyn,

Hear, hear.

mtnrunner2 said...

I'm still waiting for my house on the moon and the hovercraft that I was promised by "visionaries" in the 1960s. First things first!

Harold said...

Like the new look.

Steve D said...

Well, from what I hear, the temperature of the earth will gradually get warmer until it will be too hot to support life. This is due to the gradual warming of the sun. The timeline for this: 500 million years about an order of magnitude less than the 5 billion years before the sun explodes. Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow better get moving.

Anonymous said...

Where the hell is my jetpack?

C. Andrew