Does Humanity Really Need a Backup Earth?

Does Humanity Really Need a Backup Earth?

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has a imaginative and prescient: He needs to get people to Mars as quickly as potential. He already wowed the world this 12 months, when the Falcon Heavy launched and flung a Tesla automobile towards the asteroid belt. And this heavy-lift rocket will probably be dwarfed by the boosters Musk plans for Mars exploration, which he says will carry colonists in fleets of ships to the Red Planet.

While attending to Mars is an finish in itself, there’s one other compelling cause to go. Science fiction is stuffed with dystopian futures for Earth if humanity stays restricted to this planet. There are the asteroid strikes of the “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” movies, the robotic wars of the “Battlestar Galactica” TV collection and “Terminator” movie franchise, the medical issues and overpopulation within the “Children of Men” and “Elysium” motion pictures, and lots of different disasters pure and synthetic. Dark futures and colonizing different planets will probably be lined in “AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction,” which runs its fourth episode tonight (May 21).

Science fiction impressed the primary rocket pioneers to discover past Earth. Robert Goddard, who pushed ahead liquid rocketry within the early 1900s, was clearly a fan of the style, as a result of he wrote some science fiction himself, according to io9. The Apollo moon rockets of the 1960s and 1970s have been designed by Wernher von Braun, who loved science fiction as a little one and partnered with Disney within the 1950s to create educational films about spaceflight. [Gallery: Visions of Interstellar Starship Travel]

And a fast look across the photo voltaic system exhibits us one real-life cause scientists — and certainly, all of us — ought to take a web page from science fiction and be involved about Earth’s future. The moon, Mars and lots of the “airless” moons across the neighborhood are affected by craters. These got here from space rocks and different small worlds that slammed into the moon’s and planet’s surfaces over billions of years. 

Lest you think about that Earth is immune due to its thick environment, consider the dinosaurs, felled about 66 million years in the past when a massive asteroid or comet round 10 to 15 kilometers (6.2 to 9.three miles) in diameter slammed into the Earth. We additionally simply handed the five-year anniversary of Chelyabinsk, when a 17-meter (56 ft) small physique exploded over a city in Russia, inflicting many accidents and property harm from shattered glass. 

NASA does have an active asteroid-search program and a few plans for coping with asteroids menacing Earth, however even making ready for these intruders is not sufficient; there’s one other, greater inevitable menace to our planet. In about four billion years or 5 billion years, the sun will swell into a crimson big after it consumes all of its helium. As the star expands, it would swallow up Mercury and Venus and get near Earth. Our planet will probably be roasted to a crisp, thrown out of its orbit or swallowed altogether. In any of those eventualities, that is dangerous information for people and life on Earth normally.

Legendary director James Cameron talks the dark futures of science fiction with director Christopher Nolan in the fourth episode of AMC Visionaries: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction, which airs May 21, 2019.

Legendary director James Cameron talks the darkish futures of science fiction with director Christopher Nolan within the fourth episode of AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, which airs May 21, 2019.

Credit: AMC

One widespread vacation spot for escaping Earth in science fiction is Mars. At first, this was as a result of folks thought different beings like us could reside there. In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported observing channels on Mars, however stopped in need of saying whether or not they have been pure or synthetic. U.S. science popularizer Percival Lowell, nonetheless, went a lot additional within the early 1900s, coming up with explanations as to why the channels were there. Perhaps the Martians have been attempting to empty water to help a dying planet, Lowell mentioned. (The channels, or canals, have been later defined as telescope artifacts when robotic missions to Mars confirmed the formations do not exist.)

This turn-of-the-century musing enormously influenced science fiction of the period. There was the well-known “War of the Worlds” novel by H.G. Wells in 1898, which portrayed a Martian invasion of Earth. (It was recapped in a 1938 nationwide radio broadcast, in addition to a 2005 movie starring Tom Cruise.) Also, Edgar Rice Burroughs revealed “A Princess of Mars” in 1912, kicking off a collection about Mars (which he referred to as Barsoom) filled with dwelling beings. (The broadly panned 2012 film “John Carter” was primarily based on a few of these tales.) [Film Review: ‘War of the Worlds’ Update Hits Home]

Robert Zubrin, founding father of the human exploration advocacy group The Mars Society, instructed that Mars will sometime be an inhabited planet as science fiction writers envisioned. As solely two examples of many exhibiting that future, there’s the 2015 Matt Damon film “The Martian” or the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Total Recall,” which included the well-known line, “Get your a— to Mars.”

But why does science fiction make exploration look a lot simpler than we discover in actual life? Zubrin mentioned, partially, it is due to our mindset. 

“Here we are, 500 years or so after [Nicolaus] Copernicus [who said Earth orbits the sun], and most people still talk about the Earth as the world, and there’s a thing above us called the sky. Most people still have this geocentric viewpoint,” Zubrin instructed, declaring that Earth is in area and we hardly ever take into consideration that reality in our on a regular basis lives. 

Zubrin mentioned our strategy of going to Mars by way of low Earth orbit and the moon is incremental. This strategy to area exploration, he mentioned, is much like telling Lewis and Clark to only go 100 miles (160 kilometers) out past the Mississippi River and to attend for the following group of explorers to maneuver farther west.

“If someone asks you why space is so important, it’s comparative to somebody in a small village somewhere saying, ‘Why is the rest of the world important?’ which is sort of an absurd question,” Zubrin mentioned. So, he advocates going elsewhere looking for assets, data or a secure haven that we could not discover on Earth. Interstellar journey could be the final word dream, Zubrin mentioned, however within the meantime, we must always give attention to what we have now at hand: Mars, which is shut sufficient to go to utilizing in the present day’s know-how.

“The most important step is deciding that you want to do it. This is really the dramatic step that Elon Musk is taking,” Zubrin mentioned. “There are people at NASA who want to do it, but as an institution, it has been dragging its feet and providing every excuse to the political class not to embrace the challenge.”

Zubrin’s plan (which he outlined in a 1991 paper called “Mars Direct,” and which he has expanded on enormously since then) advocates for a direct flight to Mars, with minimal or no on-orbit meeting of the spacecraft. Using present propulsion techniques, a spacecraft might get to the Red Planet in six months — the usual rotation astronauts spend on the International Space Station, Zubrin identified. 

The first missions would carry many of the provides these vacationers would wish to reside, similar to meals and water. But the early journeys might additionally carry alongside structure so later missions might do extra “living off the land,” similar to greenhouses or habitats. (The first Mars voyagers could eat extra meat introduced with them, whereas future generations could be extra vegetarian as a result of assets available, Zubrin mentioned.) He mentioned the habitats of the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station and Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station are designed to preview what actual Red Planet houses might seem like.

The return car would come with propellant produced from Martian carbon dioxide and water, particularly to generate the fuels methane and oxygen. Zubrin mentioned it is the most affordable propellant mixture, with solely a hydrogen-oxygen combine offering higher exhaust velocity. 

But there’s a large drawback with Mars — it isn’t very very similar to Earth. Sure, folks might conceivable reside on it with know-how to handle the dangers. Its day is analogous in size to Earth’s day, too. But the planet has solely one-third of Earth’s gravity. Martian air is not breathable. Water, if it exists in any respect on the floor, could be in scarce portions. Conditions are even worse on the moon, which has one-sixth Earth’s gravity, a longer day-night cycle than our dwelling planet and no air in any way.

“They’re not places that we are necessarily going to colonize in large numbers,” Roger Launius, a retired curator from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, instructed He predicted that by the top of the century, there could also be analysis stations on the moon or Mars, much like what exists now in Antarctica. 

But to essentially discover one other dwelling for humanity, we’ll need to observe the lead of “Battlestar Galactica” and seek for one other Earth. Because, in any other case, youngsters are going to be born in lunar or Martian environments which have a lesser gravity than Earth. How it will have an effect on their growth when people are constructed for Earth is an unknown, Launius mentioned.

But rapidly attending to different stars, the place second Earths could exist, will probably be sluggish except we work out a technique for faster-than-light velocity, or a method to maintain a spacecraft over a number of generations, Launius mentioned. Another risk is to increase astronaut life spans through hibernation (as finished within the motion pictures “Alien” and “Avatar”) or by turning into a type of “Star Trek”-like Borg that might combine robotics into the human physique to increase lives.

This story was impressed by Episode four of “AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction,” which airs tonight at 10 p.m. EDT/PDT (9 p.m. CDT). A companion book is available on

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