Commentary: Stephen Hawking on Interstellar Space Colonization

AKA The Human Future or SciFi Fantasy?
AKA Charlie Stross Eats Own Foot

Original Article by a Staff Writer for the Daily Galaxy – Commentary by FHE

Steven Hawking, believing as do we here at FHE, that the earth has a good likelihood of soon (within 1,000 years) being wiped out by global warming, a genetically engineered virus, nuclear war, a rogue comet or Black Hole or the like, has warned and advised that heading to colonize interstellar space ASAP represents the human race’s best hope for survival – e.g. the future of human evolution continued.

NASA historian Steven Dick and Robotics pundit Hans Moravec also subscribe to our primary human survival risk mitigation strategy of getting the hell off the planet – albeit with a homogenous twist that we present as only one of several options. They believe that human evolution will lead solely to future humans to becoming greatly evolved machines that can self-replicate and spread earth life.

Terrific. We’re all agreed. Woo Hoo.

Oh wait, here comes a Scottish, old-enough-to-know-better, science-fiction author named Charlie Stross who has apparently written multiple, off-world, and even alien pieces, showing his what? Senility? Incredible lack of vision? Unimaginative disposition?. He actually wrote (in real words) on his (yes public) blog that he thinks it’s impossible we will colonize space except by use of ‘….a magic wand’. He calls the risk mitigation driver “sentimentality” and our concern for the well-being of our descendants irrelevant (as we will be dead and human extinction should not matter to us).


The best part of the article, and if there is a god may he forgive me for releasing this sentiment out into the universe lest it encourage others to continue the practice, is in the comments to his blog. Good fun and a great lashing for advertising his complete idiocy.

Some comments castigated him for not taking into account the abilities of future civilization types and basing his arguments on today’s technology- worse, given that he is (supposed to be) a transhumanist and a fiction writer of some repute they argue that he would do well to consider the likelihood of a post-singularity civilization and its achievements and not to consider biological humans as having the only part to play in space but that it may be the work of robots and cyborgs.

Besides the fact that I am terribly fascinated by the dichotomy of how a man can earn a living writing off-world science
fiction and not believe we can make it off-world, I absolutely loved this following chastisement the BEST:

“He [Stross] should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we’re talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial super intelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.”

Say Whaaaat?  How and When did I miss the invitation to the convention during which we all got together to scientifically classify and create famous-name/techno-buzzword combination nomenclature for imaginary future civilizations. I want on that mailing list. I hope next year’s is in Las Vegas!

Final Words: Dear Chuck, you are hereby officially notified that your editor must read everything you post from now on. You’re ruining Imagination’s reputation.

*Original in

Space Colonization: Small Steps for Man

Star Trek and Star Wars have created a popular mindset that realspace exploration is exploring other star systems. However, NASAs new Vision for Space Exploration has been putting the emphasis closer to home.

Cronkite, capsules, and the future of human evolution

Walter Cronkite

Raise your hand if you remember the Apollo program- and watched a take-off in black and white. Back then people followed the Space Race kind of like people follow popular prime time television dramas of today; it was a years-long unfolding drama about pushing the limits of technology and human endurance. When the Space Race began, nobody knew if a human could survive in space for any length of time. Now, NASA doesn’t really start to worry until the relief crew for the International Space Station is more than a couple of months late.

Hopefully, with about a quarter of a century having passed since the Berlin Wall came down, all the Cold War rhetoric can be removed from the equation. The Space Race might then be considered as a basic competition, without being overshadowed by military designs on achieving the ultimate higher ground on the Moon. While the military mindset opened American and Russian pocketbooks, it also limited the scope of planning for the exploration of space. In the West, once we reached the Moon, the race was over. In the East, technical difficulties were not overcome, as they had been in the past, after the Americans had landed on the Moon. The world was changing.


At the height of the Space Race, it was an amazing spectacle for those old enough at the time to remember it.  Just one generation (two at the most!) before our own, people were born into a world powered mostly by muscle. Industry used steam, and there was no electricity yet in many rural areas. They lived on a farm and worked with animals and marveled at the new gasoline-powered horseless-carriages which were beginning to pass through their village.

Fathers and grandfathers served in World War Two, the first technological war. Everything was different after WW2, the old ways of life were changing if they survived at all. Nearly all of us have heard the old timers talk about present day advances with a sense of wonder- if not disbelief. The attempt to land a man on the moon was the crowning achievement for the World War Two generation, the ultimate technological advance.

Due to the war on terrorism, young people in America are beginning to get a sense of what it was like during the Cold War, when any day could bring news of a horrible war that nobody could win. To think that, at the time, everyone probably subconsciously wished that international competition could be decided on fields other than battlefields. The Olympic games were more popular then, and would continue to be a surrogate form of warfare right up to the 1980s.

The Space Race relieved those tensions as well. The reason that the Moon landings still resonate in America decades later is probably because the race started off poorly for the United States. The Soviets got off to a strong start on April 12, 1961 when they launched the first human into space. His name was Yuri Gagarin, and coming close on the heels of Sputnik, Gagarins single orbit of the Earth solidified the Soviet lead in the Space Race. That really bothered Americans, who spend their spare time racing cars, motorcycles, horses; anything that can move a human faster than their feet is adapted for competition. The race was on!

On May 5, 1961 American astronaut Alan Shepard blasted off in a Mercury capsule. Shepard was the first American in space, second human. It appeared that America could not even keep up with the Soviets, let alone compete in a race with them, since Shepard’s mission consisted of a 15 minute flight into space, no orbit. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Meanwhile the Soviets orbited the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963, and debuted the three-passenger Voskhod space vehicle in 1964.

In the United States, NASAs Gemini program of 10 launches in two years began in 1965. The Gemini was a two person capsule, and it’s my personal choice for coolest-looking design of a real spacecraft and launch vehicle. Gemini still could not carry as many crew as the Soviet Voskhod, and the USSR increased its lead when on March 18, 1965 cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to leave a space vehicle for a space walk. Three months later Edward White repeated the feat for the United States, on June 3, 1965. The race was close, but the Soviets still had a lead over the Americans.

The Soviets began using the venerable Soyuz series of capsules in 1967. They were in the lead, coming down the home stretch, going for the Moon. The year 1967 started horribly for the Americans. On January 27, 1967, NASA suffered the tragic loss of three astronauts: Virgil Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. The three men died in a flash fire inside their capsule, while training for NASAs next project, named Apollo. It appeared that the prize of reaching the Moon first belonged to the Soviet Union.

The Saturn series of boosters was going to be the deciding factor in the Space Race. The Saturn was powerful enough to lift the payload of crew, supplies, and lander for a Moon mission. The Soviet Union ran into technical issues with their booster system design, and there was a controversy within the Soviet space program over the choice of engines and fuel. The USSR was unable to design a booster quickly enough. The effort was not in vain, since Russia currently operates the most powerful space lifting system in the world, the Proton, which was originally planned to launch cosmonauts to the moon. No Saturn has been assembled in America since the 1970s, even though the Moon prize went to the United States.

The Saturn series of rockets and the Apollo program started flying in October, 1968. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the Moon.Most Americans sat in front of the family television and watched this triumph of the World War Two generation, his generation.

View from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec 24, 1968

View from Apollo 8 1968

Anything was possible. Mars was next, and everybody knew that we would have a base on the Moon by the 1980s. Television chipped in on the subject with Space 1999, when the Moon could be thrown from Earth orbit and the base there would have enough with them to survive on their own. Dont forget Arthur C. Clark’s 2001, a Space Odyssey, and Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same name. It all made Star Treks space aliens and laser beams seem silly by comparison.

Looking back now, don’t we all have to ask: What happened? Where’s the Moonbase? Where’s the human exploration of Jupiter? It all seemed possible back then, even probable. In fact, momentum carried both the Soviet and American space programs into the 1980s. The Soviet Unions human space flight program concentrated on endurance and began a series of manned space stations, making many wonderful breakthroughs and setting records for time spent in space by their cosmonauts. To me, they really won the Space Race, because they never really changed the direction of their space program.

During the 70s, America was beginning to show signs of glamour and glitz in its space program. Science fiction had popularized the notion of reusable spacecraft, able to come and go in a planets gravity at will. Making that a reality was going to be harder to achieve than it looks in Hollywood. Thus the Space Shuttle. The first one was named Enterprise after an outcry from Star Trek fans that the first space shuttle be named after the fictional starship.

The American public was loosing interest in the space program, in the cynical wake of Watergate. Still, some kids skipped school to watch the test glides of the Enterprise, and the first launch of Columbia on April 12, 1981, but there was no drama to it really. Science fiction nuts were awed at the reusable space shuttle, and the beautiful pictures of it landing in the desert. It was really cool, but nobody quite realized that America’s return to the Moon and a visit to Mars had been mortgaged to produce the technological wonder of the space shuttle.

So here we are almost 35 years later. No moon colony, no flying car.


Where’s MY flying car?

The obvious question is, with all the problems in the world, can we afford a trip to Mars? Some people in Americas government think so, as evidenced by NASAs Vision for Space Exploration, but others are more skeptical. The space program is more than just a thrill ride or projection of stereotypical male drives for pride or dominance. A country’s space program is an advanced research project more than anything else, and leads to breakthroughs in everything from consumer electronics to medicine and safety.

Since more than half of all Americans living today were born after the Moon landings, it may be useful to recount some of the common things of everyday life which came from the space program. Smoke detector technology was developed for NASAs Skylab space station, and there are now laws mandating they be installed in every home. This alone has saved countless lives. Do you have a comfortable bed? Might be a result of foam technology designed to counter the force of gravity during a space launch. The material from the Viking Mars landers parachute shroud was adapted for use in tires, increasing their life by 10,000 miles. Do you have a water filter in your home? That technology was developed for the Apollo program. Cordless power tools are a result of a need for such a device in space, and even golf balls have been improved by NASAs aerodynamic research.

In the field of medicine, technology developed for the Hubble space telescope has resulted in non-surgical breast biopsies for the diagnosis of breast cancer, and research is ongoing to adapt NASA technology used to study Earths atmosphere for faster and easier mammograms. Technology from the Mars Pathfinder mission was developed to create 3-D ultrasounds.

Artificial heart devices and pacemaker implants have also benefited from NASAs technology. This is not a complete list of technology developed from space research, but it should be evident that much of our modern world is a result of NASAs space program.

What breakthroughs await us as we develop the technology to travel to Mars? And what about colonization? NASA has recently undertook a project to develop plants which can live in the current conditions on Mars, now that we know that there is ice and maybe even liquid water on Mars. One day Mars may become the Green Planet, not the Red Planet, in our night sky. Exploring Mars is a bold venture, with unimaginable outcomes. Will the attempt to have a permanent presence on the Moon and Mars lead to genetically altered plants and animals for space farms? Might this lead to some kind of super-crop, able to thrive in the harsh conditions of Africa, and maybe even put an end to famine there? Will humans also be altered in some way to better cope with low gravity conditions and different atmospheric gasses and pressures?

Humans are taking the reigns of their evolutionary path and embarking on this journey to their future. We are the first creatures on Earth to evolve the capability of forcing changes to our physiology to adapt to the environment, rather than the environment forcing change upon us. If we are committed to permanent settlements on the Moon and Mars, science will almost certainly step in to force the adaptations necessary for our new environment. This might result in future Earthbound thrill-seekers having themselves modified to breathe normally on mountaintops. Scandals in professional sports might be the result of genetic tampering in the future. Maybe new sports will evolve for genetically engineered competitors.

More than 500 people have been in space since Yuri Gagarin left Earth in 1961. Currently, there is serious talk of orbiting solar power stations transmitting microwave energy down to Earth. An American company is planning to put into orbit the first commercial space station, for space tourism. Astronaut Michael Foale recently said that in 10 to 15 years there will be both professional opportunities in space, and tourism. We may be witnessing the dawn of a golden age of space flight and human exploration; and about time too.

Space Colonization:
Making the Interstellar Journey

How will Humans make the Journey ?

The possibilities for how we as humans will make the interstellar journey depends on several factors and assumptions. Key driving factors in the design of our accommodations include the speed and distance we plan to travel (see Where and How). We will also assume for the remainder of this discussion that humans will not become extinct and that the drive to survive and explore will not be eliminated from of our nature in the near term.

Suspended Animation

Although a favorite technique in science fiction, today’s technology does not provide for the realistic possibility of suspending through cryonics or other means with a chance of resuscitation. There are many research efforts aimed at making this a possibility. Most of these efforts are focused on the terminally ill and promote the promise of revival at a time when the disease can be cured. Whatever the impetus for invention, space-farers may benefit from this technology if and when it becomes practical.

suspended animation and the future of human evolution

suspended animation and the future of human evolution

AI/Machine Enhablement

This will be our first method of interstellar human representation. In fact, it has already begun in some respects (Voyager 1 has left the solar system). Small ships can equipped with sensory arrays and probes that will relay data back to earth or some grand central station, intended to aid us in our decision on where to send living, breathing humans. In the future, humans may also make the journey as machines. Downloading/uploading human conscious into computers is a favorite them of science fiction authors and is being considered as a possible goal of AI.

Incubatorial Craft

Commonly known as Seed Ships. These are one step beyond the AI/Machine enabled craft in that they are unmanned vessels which host self-contained laboratories for conceiving, incubating, birthing, and rearing humans perhaps thousands of light years from sol. The theory is that AI would spend the tedious eons traveling from system to system searching for planets able to support human life (perhaps with genetic alterations required to live in the new found biosphere), and would then launch the planet-bound habitat capable of producing and supporting the genesis of a new human society. Such a ship would carry all of the knowledge and tools necessary to establish an advanced civilization. Significant genetic alterations required by each new environment may be considered by some as constituting a new race. Social interaction between the range of possible human forms is an interesting area of speculation that we would like to explore through essays and conjecture submitted by our readers.

Generational Ships

We favor the generational ship approach. The name is self explanatory. A ship that supports successive generations of humans on a journey between the stars. Our reason for supporting this method of travel is simply this: It’s not the destination that is important, it’s the journey. The idea that life or the business of living has to be associated with a nearby star or planet is, well, terrestrial . Aside from the fact that star systems may need to be visited from time-to-time for the collection of resources and may be the place to meet other species, interstellar distances are a perfectly fine place to raise a family…

Faster Than Light Travel

Although not a reality yet, fans of Star Trek and any number of other science fiction shows know well the concept of a “Warp Drive”, or a propulsion system that allows faster than light travel. This could make interstellar travel no more strenuous than a trip here in the solar system. Of course, as we know from the recent shuttle problems, the most dangerous prt of any flight may be earth to orbiting docking station or ship. Assuming for the moment however that the privatization of space yields a more effective and efficient means of getting to free space, there are a number of theoretical Faster-Than-Light (FTL) systems. These include:

Worm Hole transportation – Although Special Relativity forbids objects to move faster than light within spacetime, it is known that spacetime itself can be warped and distorted. It takes an enormous amount of matter or energy to create such distortions, but distortions are possible, theoretically. To use an analogy: even if there were a speed limit to how fast a pencil could move across a piece of paper, the motion or changes to the paper is a separate issue. In the case of the wormhole, a shortcut is made by warping space (folding the paper) to connect two points that used to be separated. These theories are too new to have either been discounted or proven viable. And, yes, wormholes do invite the old time travel paradox problems again.

Alcubierres “Warp Drive” – The principle of this theoretical drive is that we could expand space-time behind the ship and contract space time in front of the ship to beat the limitations on our ability to move through space. For example you might only be able to travel 90 KPH on a highway. But if you move the highway in the direction you want to go, you have essentially doubled your speed, relative to your destination.

Negative mass propulsion – It has been shown that is theoretically possible to create a continuously propulsive effect by the juxtaposition of negative and positive mass and that such a scheme does not violate conservation of momentum or energy. A crucial assumption to the success of this concept is that negative mass has negative inertia. Their combined interactions result in a sustained acceleration of both masses in the same direction. This concept dates back to at least 1957 with an analysis of the properties of hypothetical negative mass by Bondi, and has been revisited in the context of propulsion by Winterberg and Forward in the 1980s. Regarding the physics of negative mass, it is not known whether negative mass exists or if it is even theoretically allowed, but methods have been suggested to search for evidence of negative mass in the context of searching for astronomical evidence of wormholes.

Milliss hypothetical “Space Drives” – A “space drive” can be defined as an idealized form of propulsion where the fundamental properties of matter and space-time are used to create propulsive forces anywhere in space without having to carry and expel a reaction mass. Such an achievement would revolutionize space travel as it would circumvent the need for propellant. A variety of hypothetical space drives were created and analyzed by Millis to identify the specific problems that have to be solved to make such schemes plausible. Please note that these concepts are purely hypothetical constructs aimed to illustrate the remaining challenges. Before any of these space drives can become reality, a method must be discovered where a vehicle can create and control an external asymmetric force on itself without expelling a reaction mass and the method must satisfy conservation laws in the process.