I've suggested (& published in 18 journal papers) a new theory called quantised inertia (or MiHsC) that assumes that inertia is caused by relativistic horizons damping quantum fields. It predicts galaxy rotation, cosmic acceleration & the emdrive without any dark stuff or adjustment.
My Plymouth University webpage is here, I've written a book called Physics from the Edge and I'm on twitter as @memcculloch

Saturday, 14 November 2015

A Case for Human Spaceflight

I spoke at a debate at Exeter University's debating society yesterday in favour of human, as opposed to robot, space exploration. Here is roughly what I said:

I would say that human spaceflight and settlement off-world is as inevitable and natural as the first fish crawling out of the sea, or humans leaving Africa, and this is why:

It is already possible, given the will: Six humans are living in space on the ISS which is already providing a dividend in showing Americans and Russians that they can co-operate. For this reason the ISS has been suggested for a Nobel prize. The Moon and Mars are settle-able in the next few decades, the Moon being the obvious first choice.

Even interstellar travel is more possible than you might think because special relativity says that time slows down aboard a spaceship moving very fast. So if you have an engine powerful enough to get you close to the speed of light, you can travel anywhere in the galaxy in the lifetime of a human on the ship, just not in the lifetime of people back on Earth. This gets rid of the need for generation-ships or suspended animation and reduces galactic colonisation from something that most people think is an impossibility, to merely a extremely difficult engineering problem (you have to accelerate and decelerate at 1g, 9.8 m/s^2, for a year, and then cruise).

New physics is coming, since general relativity has difficulty with galaxies (needing arbitrary dark matter), with cosmology (needing dark energy) and is inconsistent with quantum mechanics, and there are experimental problem like the EPR-Bell tests and other anomalies. I have suggested MiHsC to fix these problems.

Where do we go? Well, this is the time and place to ask that. Many exoplanets are now being discovered, some will be like the Earth, and one of the main centres for exoplanet research is here at Exeter University.

So if it is possible, is it a good idea? I would argue yes as follows:

Insurance: Humans have had a long and painful struggle to civilise (well, partially anyway) and we have something unique to say. It would be a shame if that was lost. Off-world colonies are essential so that if the Earth is damaged by an asteroid, nuclear war or climate change, humanity will endure and our long history will not be in vain.

Finite planet: Earth's resources are finite, and yes, we should learn to be sustainable, this will also help us with space travel and settlement, but even with sustainable policies, resources will eventually run out on the finite Earth. Space offers infinite or at least mind-boggling resources.

The need for challenge: humans have an innate need for challenge, and the challenges on Earth are running out and in these circumstances there is the danger of degenerating into a stagnant heirarchical society where a few try to make money off the rest. We need a collective and hopeful project, like Project Apollo, to bind our society together and give everyone hope of a better future. Hope is important. Also, the failures of a system can often only be seen by looking at it from the outside, that is increasingly difficult in our connected world.

Cultural diversity: The culture of Earth is becoming more uniform and this is a shame since it leads to sterility. There is very little option now to try radical new ideas on Earth, but if some people left the planet they could start radically different societies and experiment with them, just as the Pilgrim fathers did and devised a better constitution, and other brilliant inventions, eg: pizza.

The imperative: If we look at plants & animals we see the huge resources they put into reproduction, for example Salmon return over whole oceans to their birth place to reproduce. Evolution has made them that way since the ones who couldn't be bothered left no offspring. Lovelock has suggested that the Earth is an organism. If so, then it is logical to say it intends to reproduce. Is it developing us, a space-faring species, to do that?

Exploration by proxy is shallow: History tells us that if you send people to new environments, in this case other planets, they'll invent things we'd never dream of. One example is Charles Darwin who went to the Galapagos Islands and noticed the animals varied from island to island and thought of evolution. Robots are not yet creative like this. A robot on the Moon may be the eyes for someone back on Earth, but that someone is still on the Earth sat on a chair. If the person was on the Moon, they would think in a different way and could be a new Thomas Jefferson or Darwin, inventing a better society or a better way to generate energy.

The importance of human exploration is instinctively understood: almost no-one remembers the first probe to the Moon (Luna 2) but everyone remembers the first human. You can’t predict the ideas space settlers will have, but you can help it to happen by voting for human spaceflight today.

13 comments:

qraal said...

One thing we should embrace about settling other worlds is that the experience may change us in ways we can't yet imagine. My favourite fictional attempt in that direction is James Blish's old stories about pantropy (defined as the deliberate engineering of humans adapted to new environments) collected in his "Seedling Stars" anthology is just one example of such imagining what that might mean. As our understanding of how our kind of biology works grows exponentially, then we get closer to being ready to engineer ourselves.

Whether we'll take that step, I think only off-world colonies will provide sufficient impetus. Worlds exactly like our own are incredibly unlikely and any attempted terraforming will be a protracted affair. The current definition of the "habitable zone" relies on high levels of CO2 to be as wide as it currently is. We might do better to meet other worlds part way, expanding the abilities of "natural humans" to live in environments with more CO2, CO, H2S, NO2, NH3 and similar 'poison' gases that different animals on Earth have adapted to.

More speculatively, there's considerable literature on "habitable planets" with hydrogen-rich atmospheres. Such worlds can maintain liquid water oceans out to the orbit of Saturn and still get enough sunlight to maintain photosynthesis. Could animals adapt to hydrogen in place of oxygen? Intriguingly there are animals that live at the bottom of the Mediterranean which live without oxygen and use hydrogenosomes in place of oxygen-using mitochondria to make ATP for powering their life processes.

More speculative biochemistries have been discussed in the literature, but we don't presently have any living examples to study - adding another argument to the case for interstellar travel.

qraal said...

For a plausible hydrogen-based biosphere, there's this paper by Bains, Seager & Zsom:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284464/

Photosynthesis in Hydrogen-Dominated Atmospheres

...considering the evidence that most stars have super-Earths and they're likely to have H2 dominated atmospheres, then the odds are in favour of such environments being the dominant type for Life to evolve in. Assuming it can, that is.

If so, then an oxygenated biosphere would seem like science fiction to *most* intelligent life in our Galaxy...

tonyon said...
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qraal said...

Tonyon, I am not sure that Mike's theory allows superluminal travel, but nice work anyway.

Mike McCulloch said...

qraal: I had a discussion on self-directed evolution with someone after the debate. They wanted to settle Venus! Thanks for the link, I've read Schulz-Makuch's book 'We are not alone' and he has a lot of interesting things to say. Life just requires some chemistry that repeats, and there may be many ways to do that: I remember one far-sighted episode of Star Trek with a silicon-based lifeform.

Mike McCulloch said...

Tonyon: Good scenario. We need to start thinking about how to get the 1g acceleration you mentioned. MiHsC does have something to say about the speed of light limit. It disallows a constant velocity (zero acceleration) so the usual speed of light limit of relativity is ever so slightly weakened, but I don't know what that means for causality yet. In my speech I focused on what we can do with special relativity, which as you know makes interstellar travel far more possible than most people believe. We just need that powerful engine.

tonyon said...
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Czeko said...

Venus is indeed a better destination than any other planet in the system if you don't plan to settle the ground at least.

http://www.datasync.com/~rsf1/vel/1918vpt.htm

The temperature / pressure profile of the atmosphere of Venus is interesting. 1bar pressure have a sustainable temperature for humain being.

Zeppelin FTW.

It would be possible to build cities in the sky here! :)

tonyon said...
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tonyon said...
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tonyon said...
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tonyon said...
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