The Future of the Interstellar Idea

  • Paul Gilster

Abstract

Interstellar flight is in our future, although we cannot know when. In terms of technology—the hardware and software that will take our first probes to Alpha Centauri and other nearby stars—the challenges are immense but achievable, if only by our descendants. Our future exploring other suns seems assured if we take a moderately optimistic view of scientific progress and a something less than pessimistic view of human nature—if we assume, that is, that we will find a way to transcend sheer human cussedness long enough to explore new homes for our species before we manage to destroy the one we have.

Keywords

Solar System Science Fiction Halo Orbit Solar Sail Nearby Star 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. p. 236:
    “nuclear pulse engines and solar sails.”—A. R. Martin, “World Ships: Concept, Cause, Cost, Construction and Colonization,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 37 (1984): 243–53Google Scholar
  2. p. 237:
    “There is a way out if you are smart.”—Telephone interview with Gregory Matloff, August 18, 2003.Google Scholar
  3. p. 238:
    “if, within the next sixty years, the gross world product rose to a per capita level like that of the United States today, then such a huge figure might be justifiable.”— Curt Mileikowsky, “How and When Could We Be Ready to Send a i,000 KG Research Probe with a Coasting Speed of o.3c to a Star?” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 49 (1996): 335-44. The proceedings of the “Interstellar Robotic Probes: Are We Ready?” conference were published in their entirety in JBIS.Google Scholar
  4. p. 238:
    “probes to all stars within twenty light years could be launched during the first few months of operations.”—Dana G. Andrews, “Cost Considerations for Interstellar Missions,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 49 (1996):123–28.Google Scholar
  5. p. 239:
    “An interstellar probe is feasible with technology known today.”Landis’s paper is emerging as a classic in the field. Its title is “Small Laser-Propelled Interstellar Probe,” presented at the 46th International Astronautical Congress in Oslo, Norway, October 1995, paper IAA-95IAA.4.1.1oz. It should be noted that Landis has subsequently changed his thinking on the beryllium sail he suggests in this paper. He is now investigating dielectric films including diamond.Google Scholar
  6. p. 240:
    “will no doubt misjudge where the most successful applications are.”—Ed Gerstner, “World’s Smallest Electric Rotor Made,” Nature Science Update, July 24, 2003. For the full article, see A. M. Fennimore et al., “Rotational Actuators Based on Carbon Nanotubes,” Nature 424 (2003): 408–410.Google Scholar
  7. p. 241:
    “as agile as a hummingbird with a brain weighing no more than a gram.”—Dyson develops this concept in his book Infinite in All Directions (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 197. This book is based upon a series of lectures Dyson gave in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1985.Google Scholar
  8. p. 241:
    “crossing in cryogenic storage.”—See Matloffs Deep Space Probes (New York: Springer-Verlag, z000), p. 62.Google Scholar
  9. p. 241:
    “an analysis of how machines may one day physically reproduce.”—Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines will be published in 2004 by Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, Texas. Volumes I and IIA of Nanomedicine,also published by Landes Bioscience, are currently available and supported by a Web site: www.nanomedicine.com.Google Scholar
  10. p. 241:
    “his study of medical nanorobots was the first ever to be published in a peer-reviewed mainstream biomedical journal.”—Robert A. Freitas Jr., “Exploratory Design in Medical Nanotechnology: A Mechanical Artificial Red Cell,” Artificial Cells, Blood Substitutes, and Immobil. Biotech. 26 (1998): 411–30.Google Scholar
  11. p. 242:
    “you could practically push them with a flashlight.”— Interview with Ed Belbruno, April 18, 2003.Google Scholar
  12. p. 243:
    “you could put the equivalent of thousands of human brains worth of intelligence even with a massive backup of redundant systems.”—Interview with Robert Freitas, July 24, 2003.Google Scholar
  13. p. 243:
    “a self-reproducing probe called REPRO.” —An earlier discussion of self-reproducing probes can be found in Nigel Calder’s Spaceships of the Mind (New York: Viking Press, 1978), p. 89, which draws on earlier comments by Freeman Dyson. Calder considers the technology in relation to development of the solar system. Chris Boyce also considers such probes in his Extraterrestrial Encounter: A Personal Perspective (Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1979), but as far as I know, Freitas was the first to subject self-reproducing probes to rigorous scientific analysis.Google Scholar
  14. p. 244:
    “A few such probes sent from our solar system could spread throughout the entire Milky Way without further cost or intervention.”—Robert A. Freitas Jr., “A Self-Reproducing Interstellar Probe,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 33 (1980): 251–64. Also available in revised form on the Web at http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/ReproJBISJuly1980.htm.Google Scholar
  15. p. 244:
    “a self-replicating lunar factory system that could one day develop into a series of automated interstellar probes.”—The proceedings for the 1980 NASA study, which was co-sponsored by the American Society for Engineering Education and held in Santa Clara, California, can be found as “Advanced Automation for Space Missions,” NASA Conference Publication 2255 (NASA Scientific and Technical Information Branch, 1982). Also available in partial form online at http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm.Google Scholar
  16. p. 245:
    “replication times on the order of weeks.”—Interview with Robert Freitas, July 24, 2003.Google Scholar
  17. p. 245:
    “self-reproduction to maximize the information flow.”—F. Valdes and Robert A. Freitas Jr., “Comparison of Reproducing and Nonreproducing Starprobe Strategies for Galactic Exploration,” Journal of the British Astronomical Society 33 (1980): 402–406.Google Scholar
  18. p. 245:
    “Hungarian-born mathematician and computer savant John von Neumann.”—The classic paper in question is von Neumann’s Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata,edited and completed by A. W. Burks (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1966). Michael Arbib examined these views three years later in his Theories of Abstract Automata, Prentice-Hall Series in Automatic Computation (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall). A later distillation and extension of these thoughts came with Chris Boyce’s Extraterrestrial Encounter: A Personal Perspective (Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1979)•Google Scholar
  19. p. 245:
    “Galaxy Science Fiction magazine.”—Reprinted in The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 4 (New York: HarperCollins, 1987).Google Scholar
  20. p. 246:
    “Where are they?”—See Tipler’s “Extraterrestrial Intelligent Beings Do Not Exist,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 21(1980), pp. 267–81. And for a spirited rebuttal, see Carl Sagan and William Newman’s “The Solipsist Approach to Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 24 (1983), p. 113. Sagan and Newman argue that the spread of self-reproducing probes would be so viral-like that they would endanger the very existence of the Galaxy and would therefore never be built.Google Scholar
  21. p. 247:
    “They are among us and they call themselves Hungarians.”— Stephen Webb discusses numerous possible answers to the Fermi Paradox in his lively book Where Is Everybody? (New York: Copernicus Books, 2002).Google Scholar
  22. p. 247:
    “probes would be ideal for making contact with other intelligent races.”—R. N. Bracewell, “Communications from Superior Galactic Communities,” Nature 186 (1960): 67o-71. Reprinted MA. G. Cameron, ed., Interstellar Communication (New York: W. A. Benjamin,1963), 243-48.Google Scholar
  23. p. 247:
    “the subject of radio SETI had appeared the previous year in Nature.”—Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi, “Searching for Interstellar Communications,” Nature 184, no. 4690 (September 19,1959): 844–46.Google Scholar
  24. p. 248:
    “searches for interstellar probes in our own solar system have been carried out at Kitt Peak National Observatory and the University of California at Berkeley, though without result.”— One fascinating proposal, advanced by Scottish writer Duncan Lunan in 1974, was that a series of unusual radio receptions in the 192os that seemed to be echoes of earlier transmissions might have been produced by a probe in our solar system. Later arguments against the idea seem persuasive.Google Scholar
  25. p. 248:
    “halo orbits” around the Lagrangian points.“—The halo orbits are Robert Freitas’s idea. Freitas conducted a series of observations of these areas in 1979 using a 3o-inch telescope at Leuschner Observatory in Lafayette, California. His work was reported in ”A Search for Natural or Artificial Objects Located at the Earth-Moon Libration Points,“ Icarus 42 (1980), pp. f1–47. Freitas argues in the paper that the Earth/Moon Lagrangian points are not in fact stable, being disturbed by solar gravity, but that large, stable orbits around these points do exist.Google Scholar
  26. p. 248:
    “the emergence of a technological civilization.”—A useful overview, and a set of principles regarding what humanity might do if contact with such a probe were achieved, is found in Allen Tough’s “Small Smart Interstellar Probes,” Journal of the British Astronomical Society 51, no. 5 (May 1998), p.167 ff.Google Scholar
  27. p. 248:
    “ethical issues, many of which Robert Freitas has analyzed.”—See, for example, Freitas’s “The Legal Rights of Extraterrestrials,” Analog Science Fiction and Fact (April 1977), pp. 54–67. He also discusses the issues in “Metalaw and Interstellar Relations,” Mercury 6 (March/April 1977), pp. 15–17.Google Scholar
  28. p. 249:
    “short story collections and novels, a series that continues today.”—The first Berserker story I know about is “Fortress Ship,” which appeared in IF’s January 1963 issue. It became part of the collection Berserker (New York: Ballantine Books, 1967), which collected eight short stories from this period.Google Scholar
  29. p. 249:
    “into the galactic community.”—Ferris discusses the ramifications of all this, and the intriguing similarities between such a galaxy-spanning network and the human brain itself, in The Mind’s Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1992).Google Scholar
  30. p. 250:
    “Campbell could argue his readers would become suspicious if such stories were not to appear.”—This oft-repeated story is told in Albert Berger’s The Magic That Works: John W. Campbell and the American Response to Technology (San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  31. p. 252:
    “Nobody is going to put his job on the line by putting in new systems that may fail.”— Steve Lohr, “Computers Driving Shuttle Are to Be Included in Inquiry,” New York Times,February 7, 2003, p. A22.Google Scholar
  32. p. 253:
    “men whose visions no governmental project could encompass.”—Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 117.Google Scholar
  33. p. 253:
    “but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.”—As quoted in Ben R. Finney and Eric M. Jones, Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 13.Google Scholar
  34. p. 253:
    “And a people descended from supreme Jupiter.”—Aeneid 1.378–380, as translated by my friend Barney Rickenbacker.Google Scholar
  35. p.253:
    “We often search for no practical reason.”—Charles Pasternak, Quest: The Essence of Humanity (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2003).Google Scholar
  36. p. 255:
    “using a voyaging technology they alone possessed to sail where no one had ever been before.”—Ben R. Finney, “Ocean Space,” in Interstellar Migration, p. 169.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Gilster

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations