I was browsing the Google Lunar X-Prize page recently and I have to say, I’m very excited by this. Very, very excited. The SF geek inside my head is bashing the Fantasy geek back with his own broadsword at the idea of private, possibly ‘maverick’ space pioneers sending stuff to the moon. Our stuff. Without the funding of a government. Wow. There are some very good reasons why we have to get off of this planet and I think Earth Day is a great day to think beyond the Earth to help alleviate some of the Earth’s problems.
Energy, dependence on non-renewable natural resources of all kinds, room to grow. The possible solutions that exist not only in space-the-whole-damn-universe but in hopping over to our nearby neighbor the Moon and making us a two rock society. . . it’s staggering.
Take a good look at these folks here:
They’re going to play a hefty role in our future. At least one of them will make it to the moon. At least one of them will complete all of the goals of the X-prize:
To win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a team must successfully land a privately funded craft on the lunar surface and survive long enough to complete the mission goals of roaming about the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending a defined data package, called a “Mooncast”, back to Earth.
We’ll see this not just in our life time but in a relatively short span of time. Soonish. That’s just damned cool. It opens up not only a brand new frontier – really the only one still available to us but also a whole new host of innovations. And it frees us from a government controlled space agency. The bureaucracy, the agendas, the inability to take the risks that other, private pioneers may be able to take.
Now lets think beyond the Moon. Think big, wide open and plenty of room to grow. Folks have been calling it the final frontier now since Kirk first sat in his plywood captains chair and started warping about. It is the final frontier to be sure, but what a frontier! Let’s think of it this way – it’s a beach. Really. Our solar system is like a single grain of sand. Now, take all those grains of sand and spread them out anywhere from a mile to ten miles apart. Now imagine that we’re sitting there on our grain of sand, looking at all the other grains of sand. Each one is full of potential and amazingly far away, yet viewable and eventually reachable. Now that’s a frontier!
How are we going to get there? And once we’re there, what are we going to do? There’s an entire library of science fact and fiction books addressing the subject of what to do once were floating around out there so let’s look at the hows.
Money. Yup, plain and simple it’s what’s going to do it. Since about ten minutes past the time when our race stopped being overly concerned with where our next meal was coming from, wealth became the driving factor. Land, security, power and the ability to buy those three things. That is what’s going to really get us going, not some government program or ’science for the sake of science’ as neat and noble as that is.
No, it will be folks like Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, Burt Rutan and Scaled Composits or one of the folks in the image above that form the base. Over the next fifteen to twenty years it will be interesting to watch, lots of fun and probably occasionally very tragic. Then, someone’s going to report a profit. If it’s a relatively small profit it will spur a few more folks to get into the game. If it’s a relatively large profit, or the definite promise of a large profit then everyone and their sister will be hopping onto the space bandwagon.
Think of it, what if the development of extra-planetary and/or extra-solar business was the next oil boom. There’s a huge profit out there to be made on raw materials, new science products and things like water ice and space based solar power. Someone’s going to want that money. Heck, people already do. Once the space boom hits, it will generate a bubble (just like any other boom) which will also have the side effect of making it a more common practice – a viable business model. Then, we’ll see people and machines working for people out there on a regular basis. It will start, as it always does, with the entrepreneurs and once they’ve taken the risks and cleared the way, big business will surely follow.
However, there is one way that science could make a big leap for a semi-human presence in the galaxy, or at least a presence spawned by our human selves. It goes something like this. Take a vehicle about the size of a semi-truck. Strap into it enough smarts, technology and equipment so that it can find raw materials and manufacture an exact copy of itself, as well as fuel for itself and it’s copies. It only needs to make two copies of itself.
Now take two of these things and launch them towards the nearest stars that have the basic resources these machines would need to accomplish this. Each of these two machines parks themselves at these new stars, starts sending messages back home and proceeds to make two copies, which are then launched towards two other likely, nearby stars. Now you’ve got four of them heading off into the great unknown. And these four each make two copies of themselves and do the same thing. Now you’ve got eight. Then 16, then 32, and on and on ad infinitum. It’s a slow start, but in 10000 years or so we’ve got these things zinging all over the galaxy. It gets real interesting too when you think of errors in replication, or what those biology folks refer to as mutation. Often, this can lead to evolution. Woah! Now you’ve got a swarm of self replicating, mutating and evolving machines making their way around the galaxy. And what if we didn’t wait for them to make mistakes or mutations, but programmed them to try new things. Make three probes say, two of the standard model and one with a perceived improvement. Yikes! Build them stronger, faster, better!
So what are my predictions in a nutshell? If we don’t do something really stupid as a race, then we’re going to be out and about in our solar system en force in I’d say 75 years, perhaps less if someone strikes it really rich. If any of these folks ever go public, I’m going to buy stock in them, even if it’s just one share. I personally may not make it rich off of that, but I’ll have some small part in it.
[tags]ramblings, space, science, science fiction[/tags]