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The Impossibility of Colonizing the Galaxy

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the let's-settle-the-gobi-desert-first dept.

Space 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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979 comments

No shit (-1, Flamebait)

Robber Baron (112304) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542443)

No shit sherlock! Did you figure that one out all by yourself?

Re:No shit (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542521)

It never ceases to amaze me at the perpetual and unwavering defeatist attitude expressed by people during every generation.

It is mere physics obstacles that need to be overcome, that includes dimensional hopping or more likely controlled black-holes or worm holes, to colonize the galaxy.

We will overcome the hurdles eventually, including the radiation, the vital resources, and spacial 'deserts'.

To even say it is impossible or requires a 'magic wand' is absurd.

author needs to revistit history and the countless times that silly notion was postured.

Re:No shit (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542717)

Your faith that we will carry you heavy, stupid bags of meat with us to the edges of the universe is endearing. Perhaps we will reconstitute your patterns on a distant, Earth-like world as a form of sentimental art.

Re:No shit (1)

ZigZagDoobie (1116631) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542639)

You're absolutely right and yet so F Funny ! Of course I believe we are all in a dream and death is the awakening so, none of this applies in my head. But "No shit shynola" is sooo damned funny. Thanks.

common sense is not reality (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542653)

We can't colonize other planets now. However, given his fondness for analogies....

If you collapsed the whole of human history down to a single day, we were wandering hunter-gatherers for 11 hours and 56 minutes. Only in the final four minutes before midnight have we been farming for a living, and in those four minutes our scientific knowledge (and achievements) have increased exponentially.

In the last four minutes we went from spears and loincloths to long range missiles and synthetic fabrics. We are now the only species on the planet that can survive organ transplants, travel at hundreds of miles per hour, walk on the moon, and communicate instantly from opposite sides of the planet. All of this we gained in the last four minutes of our first day of existence as humans.

The kind of scientific momentum we have going right now is mind-boggling. Things that our ancestors couldn't even imagine are now common reality. Imagine what kinds of "magic wands" our scientists will make for us tomorrow.

I am not saying that interstellar colonization will be possible, I am just saying that a quick review of the history of science robs us of any grounds upon which to form an opinion of "it will never be possible."

Re:common sense is not reality (2, Funny)

Columcille (88542) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542825)

A day is 24 hours... What'd we do for the other 12? That's probably the gap in the last 4 minutes, the time when everyone started spending all their time reading about Britney and Paris while watching Idol and Survivor?

Both right? (4, Insightful)

king-manic (409855) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542453)

Well it may be physically impossible but also essential for our survival. Thus int he end we're really screwed.

Re:Both right? (5, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542567)

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? (1, Interesting)

CptPicard (680154) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542909)

Yeah, but none of those magic wands of the past went directly against the principles of sound scientific knowledge at the time.

I feel the speed of light barrier is going to keep us from reaching Star Trek, ever. It's unlikely there be new physics that is both consistent with our current knowledge and allows FTL travel without truly weird consequences...

"Add to that the increaseing pace of progress" (1)

botsmaster25 (463073) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542947)

I wish I could agree with you. It seems like technological advances hit an apex and has been sliding downhill since then.

Going to moon. Haven't been back since. Forget Mars.

Supersonic air travel. Ended with the Concorde.

Re:Both right? (5, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542951)

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? (2, Insightful)

tiffany98121 (1094419) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542957)

Forget that. What about the technology that humans will have in a MILLION years from now. How about a BILLION years from now? If we are talking about the survival of our species (or survival of the only sentient species that we know of) then we will need to find a way to do this. There is a good chance that artificial intelligence will be possible in the future, and that we won't even need to send humans at all. We could send intelligent machines to other parts of the solar system and have them cultivate intelligent organic life once they get to the other planets.

Re:Both right? (1)

that IT girl (864406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542651)

Which wouldn't be as much of an issue if science would acknowledge the growing population problem and stop screwing around with nature in the form of fertility treatments and extended life-support. We're literally not going to have room to breathe before too long.

Re:Both right? (5, Funny)

wkitchen (581276) | more than 7 years ago | (#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? (5, Insightful)

psykocrime (61037) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542853)

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.

eh, thats just silly (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542455)

You are comparing some sci fi writer with Hawking? C'mon.

Re:eh, thats just silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542685)

Indeed. Sci-Fi writers tend to be correct more often. (Like Arthur C. Clarke, for instance.)

Re:eh, thats just silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542737)

Hawking is no big deal really. He has a name and an image thats been marketed into top tier but he never belonged. Hes not a dumb guy but hey!

Re:eh, thats just silly (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542741)

Not all authors are bad.

Try some of Greg Egan [netspace.net.au] . Of course, he does fiction, but he also visits arXiv [arxiv.org] .

Impossible...? (4, Insightful)

alexjohnc3 (915701) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542461)

human colonization of other star systems is impossible

Look how far humans have come in the past 10,000 or even 100 years. We went from primitive wheels to an International Space Station in that time alone. Give humans another 10,000 years and I doubt this will not have been accomplished (if we don't blow ourselves up first).

Re:Impossible...? (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542531)

Colonizing the galaxy is something that will take millions of years. Obviously such a plan is so far beyond our scope at the moment that it's laughable. Mind you, going from Australia to Los Angeles in less than a day was so far beyond our scope ten thousand years ago that it's laughable.

The key question won't be the technology (whether it's generation ships, ships that can move near the speed of the light or faster-than-light vessels), but rather the motivation. At the moment, we can scarcely get most people to see the point of returning to the Moon, or of going to Mars. Where there's a military motivation (China's long-term space plans seem to have twigged the West) there's always a way, but unfortunately something as far removed from us in time and so egalitarian as Hawking's notion of saving the species as sending manned missions to other stars just doesn't get many beyond the dreamers heated up.

We've been sending stuff to space for half a century, and sending humans for less than that. It's so ridiculously premature to start judging whether or not humanity will reach the stars that I can't see the point of such an article. It's one thing to raise the technical difficulties (which are insurmountable with our current technology), but grand proclamations like this usually fall into two categories; blowhards who like to shock and disappoint or people trying inept forms of reverse psychology.

Re:Impossible...? (4, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542553)

Currently laughable != Impossible

My money is on Hawking.

Re:Impossible...? (3, Funny)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542917)

I'll take that bet... marking this day on my calendar. I'll be seeing you at 12:00pm (PST) on June 17th 2107, don't be late.

Re:Impossible...? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542591)

Mind you, going from Australia to Los Angeles in less than a day was so far beyond our scope ten thousand years ago that it's laughable.

Going from Australia to LA in less than a day was laughable 100 years ago, much less 10000 years ago

Re:Impossible...? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542729)

Going from Australia to LA in less than a day was laughable 100 years ago, much less 10000 years ago
I'd say it would have been at least conceivable with the advent of powered flight. Within a few short decades of the Kittyhawk, one could fly (though not directly) from Australia to North America in a few days, and I'm sure even the Nazis realized the long-term repercussions of the development of the jet engine.

Assertions (5, Informative)

Enselic (933809) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542467)

"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.

Re:Assertions (1)

Enselic (933809) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542551)

`Can't` as in `are unable to`

My money is on ... (0)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542473)

My money is on Hawking. Our species would stagnate if left on earth for eternity. And even eternity, things will change. Eventually the sun itself will change, and we need to get out there. But right now, we are a immature war like animal to realize this.

Or at least I hope mankind survives...it is still a big question if we will get socially evolved enough that we will not just destroy ourselves first. Entry into the galactic club will mean we have to evolve some more.

Re:My money is on ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542525)

in 5 billion years or so, the sun will burn out, expand, and then collapse. Although it was originally believed that the expansion would reach the earth, the loss of mass in the sun will weaken the gravitational pull and the earth's orbit (as with all other planets) will be expanded. Jupiter will most likely consume Saturn (and possibly Neptune). and will become the new barycenter of our solar system. The earth will orbit Jupiter. With nuclear power, life on earth will still be possible, though quite different.

Re:My money is on ... (1)

TK2216UKG (733566) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542571)

An "immature war like animal [youtube.com] ", you say?

Can we get the tech to continuously accelerate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542497)

I remember seeing an essay by one of the big classic sci-fi authors (Clarke or Asimov) saying that if we can continuously accelerate at 1G (32 ft/sec/sec) for a relatively short period of time (a year?), we can acheive speeds fairly close to the speed of light. At those speeds, time dilation takes over and it only takes a ship 40 or 50 years (ships time) to get from one end of the galaxy to the other even though the distance covered is 100,000 light years. So, even though the CIVILIZATION may not survive the Colonization, the individual ships may.

TDz.
ps: oddly enough, my captcha is "relative" :-)

 

Re:Can we get the tech to continuously accelerate? (4, Informative)

Catbeller (118204) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542601)

Not just them. It's just a physical fact. Acclerate for 1 G for a year and you reach speed c. How one does that is another matter; how to shield yourself from hitting a "penny" at that speed and turning into plasma is another. Light, infrared and radio waves hit head-on would violet-shift into x-rays and cosmic rays, so you have to shield for that as well. And then there's the matter of navigating when you can't see out.

Re:Can we get the tech to continuously accelerate? (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542913)

And then there's the matter of navigating when you can't see out.

That part is trivial: dead reckoning [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Can we get the tech to continuously accelerate? (3, Insightful)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542941)

Well, you get close to c, but never actually get there. Problem is, how do you pack enough juice to accelerate at 1g for a year?

Re:Can we get the tech to continuously accelerate? (1)

e9th (652576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542779)

Wouldn't you have to start decelerating halfway to your destination? Otherwise it seems you'd just fly on by at close to light speed.

Executive summary (5, Informative)

charlie (1328) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542507)

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.

Re:Executive summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542757)

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

No, just one key technology -- AI. That is the fulcrum upon which all of the other technologies will rest. Anything not absolutely ruled-out by the laws of the universe will be inevitable to a sufficiently-advanced intelligence.

(b) we're not going to see any economic return on investment from it

There are forms of economic activity other than the exchange of physical objects, knowledge and entertainment being two of them.

(c) the motivations for it are essentially quasi-religious and ideological in nature.

Perhaps, but no more so than wanting to give your children a better life than what you had.

Re:Executive summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542911)

AI. That is the fulcrum upon which all of the other technologies will rest.

Well, a thousand AIs working on science problems could easily fully test the robustness of any given theory, but even if they had "real" intelligence, there's no guarantee that a thousand AIs would formulate a new theory that would help us get along into space, only make it more probable that if such a theory were to exist, it would be thought of.

entertainment

Intergalactic Survivor! Who will be voted out the airlock today?

As for the ideological nature of the concept, at least it's a self-preserving ideology, unlike ideologies that convince people to strap on bombs.

I call BS (4, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:I call BS (1)

evanknight (1070332) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542635)

Hey, I've been to Sprouticus, Not a bad place. Good Mocha there.

Mac'D's (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542527)

$10 says we see a McDonalds on Mars before NASA arrives.

Re:Mac'D's (1)

Adelbert (873575) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542701)

Since NASA's already been there, explored, sent back GigaBytes of data... I'll take that bet.

Would you rather send me the money via PayPal? I also accept credit and debit cards.

Re:Mac'D's (1)

Ryan Monster (767204) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542881)

I'd bet Starbucks, not McD.

Clarke's first law (5, Insightful)

Zarhan (415465) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Clarke's first law (3, Informative)

Have Blue (616) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542661)

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.

Re:Clarke's first law (5, Funny)

Afecks (899057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542839)

Congratulations, you just proved that interstellar travel isn't currently possible.

Re:Clarke's first law (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542719)

With all due respect to Mr. Stross, he is neither a scientist nor elderly.

Incredibly short-sighted (4, Insightful)

HEbGb (6544) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Incredibly short-sighted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542883)

Well, if you read the article, you see that he doesn't dismiss them outright. (Or are you pulling a straw man?)

Either way, it's just as irrational to assume that galactic colonization is a sure thing. There may well simply not be anything to discover that would make such travel possible. What I mean is, from where we stand today, it sure looks impossible, and assuming that the laws of nature has loopholes waiting for us to discover is irrational.

Colonizing the galaxy won't be easy (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Leave science to the scientists (4, Interesting)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Leave science to the scientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542709)

Not to nitpick too much, but in 1870, scientists didn't even know space was a vaccuum. It wasn't until 1887 [wikipedia.org] that there was strong evidence that luminiferous aether didn't exit.

Re:Leave science to the scientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542929)

You're making his point for him...

Re:Leave science to the scientists (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542921)

People are better at extrapolating than you give them credit for. "From the Earth to the Moon" was written by Jules Verne in 1865, has many similarities to the actually Apollo missions.
If you've read anything by Stross, you would know that he's a pretty imaginative guy and even this article takes into account a lot of speculative technology. Its been nearly 40 years since anyone as has gone to the moon and we haven't made much progress since then. It's entirely possible that our space travel capabilities have already peaked out.

Re:Leave science to the scientists (3, Interesting)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 7 years ago | (#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...

Its not impossible its just very difficult (2, Interesting)

BrandonBlizard (1007055) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542559)

The technology is within our grasp now. If tomorrow the entire human race decide to commit the entire gross planetary product to build a space ship capable of sustaining 10,000 people indefinitely, It would certainly be possible. Robots and raw materials could be launched into orbit by rail guns. Large Hydroponic farms would be built in space. Geo-domes are already proven to work. All we really need is to do is find a suitable planet. Even if it cost 10 trillion dollars and took 4000 years to get there. Its more about our motivation than our ability.

Re:Its not impossible its just very difficult (1)

mikael (484) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542845)

Even if it cost 10 trillion dollars and took 4000 years to get there. Its more about our motivation than our ability.
[ Reply to This ]

But it would take another 4000 years before we could collect the taxes.

Re:Its not impossible its just very difficult (1)

hanwen (8589) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542943)

The technology is within our grasp now. If tomorrow the entire human race decide to commit the entire gross planetary product to build a space ship capable of sustaining 10,000 people indefinitely, It would certainly be possible.

This argument doesn't make sense. If the entire race could commit to something, it would be easier, cheaper and more effective to fix the current environmental and sustainability problems. But we're not; we're exacerbating the problems at ever increasing rates.

Impossible .... (2, Interesting)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542561)

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 (3, Insightful)

Zedrick (764028) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Magic Wands (-1, Offtopic)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542865)

Speaking of "magic wands", I prefer the one made by Hitachi [collarpurple.com] .

DEFINITELY NOT WORK SAFE.

Why here? (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542573)

From the summary:

it would be interesting to see reasoned responses from the community
In that case why are you posting on Slashdot?

This reminds me of... (1)

Asgerix (1035824) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542575)

For some reason, this reminds me of:

1. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. - Lord Kelvin, 1892

2. Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible. - Simon Newcomb, 1902 (eighteen months before Kitty Hawk.)

3. The aeroplane will never fly. - Lord Haldane, Minister of War, Britain, 1907 (statement made four years after Kitty Hawk.)

Dude lacks faith (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542581)

The dude lacks faith. The good kind that makes people believe we can discover the next great thing sometime. And he would be well served by a phrase I had an impression Hawking uses a lot ' at our current level of technology ' which generally comes after saying something is impossible.

To a citizen of Athens... (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542583)

...A Boeing passenger jet or C5A-Galaxy must look like it's suspended from Mt. Olympus by Hercules from wires, and your average sports stadium outdoor lighting system and video screen look like the foulest of evil sorcery.

Every scientific advance mankind has taken looks impossible when viewed through the constraints of what is currently achievable.

Re:To a citizen of Athens... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542925)

No, that's the citizens of Alabama.

I guess that's what America has to learn (2, Funny)

saibot834 (1061528) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542585)

I guess that's what America has to learn. "Go West" doesn't work anymore.

The haters said the same thing about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542607)

...the flying car and that fat-free fudge cake that didn't let you down in the flavor department.
 

The question is moot. (5, Interesting)

gumpish (682245) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542609)

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.

What is possible and what's not (1, Redundant)

dapyx (665882) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542619)

When a respected scientist says that something can be done, he's likely right. When a respected scientist says it can't be done, there's a good chance that he's wrong. :-)

I guess this is another good reason why... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542623)

...we should protect the environment of the planet we already have!

Will we make it to outside the Solar System? (3, Interesting)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Will we make it to outside the Solar System? (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542747)

My bet is still on the Star Child...

Re:Will we make it to outside the Solar System? (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542769)

Huh?

Are you talking about this shit? [starchildascension.org]

Re:Will we make it to outside the Solar System? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542887)

Stross actually has based a couple of his books on this very concept. He is not lacking imagination at all, he is deliberately discussing the traditional concept of space exploration.

C'mon - the guy had a cold and high temperature.. (3, Funny)

gummyb34r (899393) | more than 7 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Energy requirements (1)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542935)

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.

No, you're not quite right.

He's arguing that we can't do it with today's science.

If you're willing to agree that we basically know how the Universe works, and just have to work out the details (and that assumption has a very long history), he's probably right. There will be no practical space colonization.

I, on the other hand, remember Lord Rutherford's comment a bit over a century ago, saying that physics was pretty well worked out with just the problems of the Michelson-Morley experiment and black-body radiation looking particularly difficult. In fact, he was fairly closely on the mark, since his two problems turned into relativity and quantum mechanics respectively, but I do disagree with his overall meaning. I'd think there's at least as many difficult-seeming problems now as around 1900. If nothing else, physics about 1900 wasn't explicitly contradictory, like quantum mechanics and general relativity are.

There may be an end to physics, some time at which all the hard and fundamental stuff has been worked out, but I haven't a clue why it should be right now, as opposed to all the other times people have announced it. (I rather think people will be announcing it now and then for a few centuries at least, with similar results.)

So, yes. Interstellar travel and colonization is practically impossible, just like heavier-than-air flight, submarines, armored war vehicles, ubiquitous pocket phones, and a worldwide information network. With all due respect, the article reads like an analysis of a cargo ship that can sail upwind, with assumptions made as to the improved breeding of oxen and high-energy low-volume diets, in order to provide the power.

we probably don't need to advance.... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542649)

... any further then getting over the supposed self destructive nature we have tended to show towards others of our race.

Once we do that we may find there is other more advanced life in the universe that already has the transportation thing figured out along with teraforming and seeding, etc...

Hell, we may just be the product of such.

Creationism? No, no more than a farmer.

Perhaps we are the result of just such an effort ot species survival, or at least the survival of consciousness - abstract thinking and advancing capable minds...

     

Hawking (3, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 7 years ago | (#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."

Arithmetical masturbation (0)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542675)

Nothing particularly interesting here; he simply calculates a floor to the energy required to move colonizers to nearby stars and concludes it takes a lot and won't happen with today's technology.

I am not sure why he even wasted his time doing it and setting it in HTML. I don't think anyone has seriously proposed such a journey. It's about as useful as Zak the caveman figuring out how much food he'd need to carry on his log to cross the Pacific and live to tell about it.

I don't think any sci-fi stories postulating generation ships ever even worried about the technology needed.

What is he trying to prove?

Re:Arithmetical masturbation (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542869)

What is he trying to prove?

That the people who favor manned space exploration are fucking morons?

I mean, have you read the responses in this thread already?

Dark City (2, Interesting)

DigitalCrackPipe (626884) | more than 7 years ago | (#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? (5, Informative)

SlayerDave (555409) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542699)

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.

We just figured out an E8. (1)

benjin (1080697) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542705)

For a Sci-fi writer he has little imagination doesn't he. We just have started to figure out that the universe might have 11 dimensions. We only work in 4 of those right now. I think he might be putting himself in the same boat as the guys who thought we had learned everything we would ever know in science back last century. My were those people right on the money. I would expect somebody who doesn't even have to worry about proving his made up things to be a little more lenient with the current state of our technological development. If we just figured out what an E8 looks like from a hundred years ago and that took 9 dimensional space to prove then what happens when all of our science it that complicated. We might end up figuring out that we don't even need to bend timespace to get to another location. Maybe the interwhosawhatsit that connects all dimensions allow us just to flip a switch and be anywhere we want to be.

We don't know yet and that's the fun part. Mitchio Kaku doesn't get up in the morning just to play with his legos (OK maybe he does but then he makes a particle accelerator with them) he's looking for something. On a side note I think we're going to laugh at the idea of metal based robots in 50 years because of how easy it will be to manipulate carbon and organics Phillip K. Dick / Blade Runner style. I still want my flying car!

It's hard for now. That's it. (2, Insightful)

ArbitraryConstant (763964) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542721)

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.

Where Did Pluto Go? (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542723)

Neptune, the outermost planet in our solar system[...]
o_O

Quantum mechanics (5, Interesting)

archnerd (450052) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542735)

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.

This guy has no imagination! (1, Troll)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542745)

This guy clearly has no imagination! Honestly, how are we going to be able to colonize the galaxy if we have guys like him who only think inside the box? What we need is someone with a vision! Like L. Ron Hubbard!

Environments (1)

ryu1232 (792127) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542749)

The first thing we need to develope if we are going to even consider this
are efficient suits that will enable us to survive outside our environment.
This means we need small, light temperature control systems are able to withstand
lots of punishment. Air and Water recycling systems, and a system to keep our skin clean
during weeks to months inside one of these suits. The EVA units worn by the astronauts
are not suitable or efficient. If we can solve this hurdle then it may be possible.

I have always wondered how pissed some alien life form would be if we showed up on
their planet and drank all their water in an effort to simply survive.

lastest in a long line (1)

Bizzeh (851225) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542773)

many things in our past have been imposible. like flight its self, or space flight.. but, here we are, doing it now. this is just another thing in the long like of things that are imposible, for us to make posible.

The big $$$ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19542775)

I love science and science-fiction, but its not innovation, discovery or imagination that will get us to the stars. As pessimistic as it sounds, its green that will catapult us there. The minute profit can be made by placing stations on the moon, asteroids, planets and beyond, we'll be there. And I'm assuming no such thing as alien involvement.

That's funny... (2, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542777)

...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.

/P

The Magic Wand (1)

MOBE2001 (263700) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542803)

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.

Well there really is no need to despair of ever visiting the star systems of the Milky Way and even the galaxies beyond in your lifetimes, just because they are too far away. If those lazy-minded physicists would only get their heads out of their asses, they would have figured out by now that space (distance) is an illusion of perception. In the not too distant future, we will have long distance jump technologies that will allow us to move from anywhere to anywhere almost instantly. Too far-fetched, you say? Well, evidence for the feasibility of long distance jumps has already been observed. It's called quantum tunneling. Why is distance an illusion, you ask? It's all explained at the link below:

Nasty Little Truth About Space [rebelscience.org]

Enjoy.

Magic? (4, Insightful)

Barkmullz (594479) | more than 7 years ago | (#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. (3, Interesting)

shaitand (626655) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542849)

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.

he is so wrong, it's staring him right in the face (1)

Adult film producer (866485) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542875)

Earth is the colony!

A familiar arrogance ... (1)

jc42 (318812) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542885)

[C]olonization 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?

Just thought that someone should point out that the universe (or Ma Nature or whatever) doesn't seem to care whether we survive or not. Even if such colonization is vital to our survival, that doesn't mean that it's possible. Most of the species that have lived on this planet are now extinct, and it's entirely possible that some day we will join this majority.

This sort of argument reminds me of several managers I've known who have, in effect, declared that upgrading the speed of light is vital to some project. For example, here in Boston it's about 16 light microseconds to San Francisco. I once listened to a manager estimate that in N years, we'd be able to send messages across the country in under a microsecond. He said this with a straight face, as far as the listening techies could tell. If your project depends on this, there's a good chance that your project will fail.

Expecting the universe to guarantee your project's success (or your survival) by making something possible is, simply stated, arrogant in the extreme. The universe doesn't have to do any such thing.

Not impossible at all... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542895)

First of all, he doesn't say it's an "impossibility" at all. He says it won't resemble historical colonization, as the distances are too far for communications and trade.

So we require the equivalent energy output to 400 megatons of nuclear armageddon in order to move a capsule [...] to Proxima Centauri in less than a human lifetime.

That sounds quite practical, actually. If the Soviet Union could build a 50 megaton bomb in 1960, surely we can produce the equivalent of 8 of them today...

Alternatively, something like a solar sail seems within reach even now, and surely could provide much more power still, and with far less weight. Something a bit more complex like a Broussard ramjet isn't too far behind the horizon, and could also become workable.

The biggest source of concern with space travel seems to be projectiles, which we haven't worked-out yet, but newer materials and clever designs seem likely to resolve those problems in a reasonable time frame.

Same story (2, Insightful)

larryau (983008) | more than 7 years ago | (#19542897)

Some scientist always come out and says this or that is impossible and we have reached the end. Just 50 or so years ago the same minded scientist were declaring everything had been discovered with the four forces and they were made up of protons, neutrons, ...ect. We just needed to tidy up some ends. Everything had been discovered. Low and behold we find out that our universe is far more complex. The universe is made up of even smaller subatomic particles all the way to string theory.

The point is or lesson. The universe is not absolute. There is always a way. And no matter how improbably it may be at the moment someone somewhere will find a way. We will eventually make it out there. Provided we don't destroy ourselves first.
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