Using the arguments on the previous page, one may appropriately ask, “Why Interstellar travel?” Isn’t just getting off of the planet and into our own solar system good enough to satisfy the need to beat the earth destruction/human annihilation scenario, satisfy the desire for exploration, and tap into the economic boon? On these three factors, the answer is a qualified “yes.” On the issue of discovering extraterrestrial life, the answer is unfortunately “no”.
Regarding the latter, the search for extraterrestrial life will not likely yield any significant results within our own solar system. Based on recent discoveries of life on earth flourishing in extreme conditions, many scientists believe in the likelihood that basic, microscopic bacteria-like life forms may exist in places like Mars, Europa, and Titan. While this would give credence to the notion that life can develop more easily than was previously thought, we certainly will not find evidence of intelligent life nearby. For this we must traverse the interstellar distances.
Let’s quickly compare interplanetary vs interstellar travel in relation to the first three factors:
• Survival – Establishing colonies in space and on other planets, moons, and asteroids will help to ensure our survival as a species. The question is one of scope and odds. Eventually the sun will die. No colonies within the local system would survive its death. This may be a predictable event, but it may not. Additionally, a biological agent deadly to a planet-sized population could be more easily transmitted between colonies within a solar system than those residing in separate systems. The chance of a single event wiping out humans decreases exponentially with the introduction of each new interstellar hub.
• Exploration – We would be happy exploring our neighboring planets for a while. Eventually however, we accept as fact that the need to physically experience first hand other systems, planets, and galactic features will compel further exploration.
• Economics – This is one area that interplanetary exploration could almost completely be satisfy. Economic interests, relative to the cosmic scale, are short term. Financial gain from tourism, manufacturing, real estate, and expanding markets will come from travel within our solar system. Trips between the stars will not likely be motivated at first by economic gain. Actual exploration of other areas may reveal unexpected goods for interstellar trade (exotic materials, alien artifacts, etc.) but they will not be the reason we make the trip. The important point about the economics of space travel, however short-term focused, is that it may serve as the impetus for getting us off the planet and on to the longer term strategy for survival. Let’s look a little more closely at the economics of space travel in our next article.