Friday, 4 January 2013

I'll see you in space... NOT!

If you're anything like me, at some point, would have watched a sci-fi move made in the 50's or 60's. A shiny vision of the future with man living in distant planets, wearing space suits made out of aluminium foil, fish-bowls for helmets and not a single black, Hispanic or Asian person to be seen. Yes, it was all very optimistic, if a little racist, and people were convinced that Earth was but a temporary home for mankind as we were sure to leave our ancestral birthplace behind and head for the stars.

Yeah, so what happened?
Okay, first we have the obvious technological constrains. Putting stuff in space is expensive and really, really difficult. In fact, rockets use all their fuel just escaping earth's gravity. By the time our orange juice is floating in an amusing manner across the room, we're running on fumes and there's no BP servo anywhere to be seen.

But let's say we overcame this problem? Let assume we've constructed a space lift which makes earth launches redundant. There's the distance.
Space is fucking big. Seriously, whoever built it... WHAT THE FUCK WHERE YOU THINKING! Even travelling at light speed it would take 100,000 years to cross our galaxy! To get anywhere interesting we would need stasis chambers and by the time you wake up, there may not be anyone home to tell what you've seen.

But let us assume that we overcame the faster than light travel issue. Let us assume we can go anywhere in a relatively sane amount of time. Now we have the biggest problem of all. Us.
You see, humans were developed on Earth. Designed and conceived in the very place you're standing right now. We have a very pleasant star, called the sun, which gives us the right amount of heat. We also have plenty of water, food, oxygen, a rather convenient magnetic field to protect us against cosmic radiation and the perfect amount of gravity so as to enable us to do most thing, yet not allowing our muscles to waste away.
Earth is perfect, right? Not really. It's only perfect to us because we've been tailored to live on it.
The problem is that space is not earth. That's right, you've heard me! Humans evolved here and here is the only place we can survive.
Think about it, we get ill just by eating the food when we go to another country. What chances do we have of surviving a trip to Andromeda?

Space is not a nice place. In fact, space is out to metaphorically butt-rape you the second you get there and we're completely defenceless. Radiation would kill us at a molecular level, the vacuum would make all our bodily fluids boil away and there's no way we could survive the extremes of heat and cold. There's also the problem of food. Even if we find plants and animals in other planets we would be unable to digest them as their genetic (if they even have genes) codes would be incompatible with ours. We would starve.

There are two possible solutions to these problems.
Option one... You terraform. Find a suitable planet, roughly the size of Earth with a magnetic field and soil with similar chemical make up which also happens to reside in a habitable zone not too close or too far from a star. Then it's just a matter of getting to work reshaping it into something we can live in.

Option Two... Here things get interesting. We change ourselves. We genetically engineer people to allow them to survive in the hostile space. Make them impervious to radiation, allow them to survive in zero gravity environments, modify them to extract nutrients from simple organic materials found all throughout the known universe and shield them against the heat and cold of space.
What I do wonder is, once we're finished modifying all the DNA needed to survive, what do we have then?

One day, we may reach other worlds outside our solar system but I got the feeling that by the time we get there we will no longer call ourselves humans.
I just hope it's girls with cat or bunny ears.