This 1500 word opening chapter is a rehash of something I started years ago.
The idea that a generational starship is the exact wrong way to send humanity (and its supporting environment of plants and animals and bacteria and fungus) out into the stars, is why I started this story. Generational ships are just plain stupid. Nobody wants to live and die traveling in a tin can. And cryogenic preservation of grown humans will probably never work.
So, how does humanity infect the galaxy with its ilk? With a starship designed to travel, arrive, and then grow humans, as well as all other fauna and flora, from zygotes and seeds; with android “Mother” and “Father” figures to raise children (Raised by Wolves’esque) once orbit around a distant candidate planet was attained.
The problem with such a system is that the ship itself must be the primary caretaker. But how can an intellect survive, sane, the hundreds of years necessary to travel to the target system? I propose the ship be equipped with a duality of intellects. Janus-like.
(I’ll get my editor to review and correct obvious mistakes. She, however, hesitates when tasked with serious wordgery. So, no doubt this piece will suffer from the lack of stronger skills than my own.)
Earlier this morning, UTC 03:27:00, North Korea launched a ballistic rocket of unknown intent.
The rocket reached an LEO (low Earth orbit) of approximately 390 kilometers where it separated into independent payloads, some continuing to travel out to 500 kilometers in altitude above the surface of the planet.
Fifteen individual payloads were identified, each accelerating to nearly 30,000 kilometers per hour, at which time they detonated releasing pellet sized projectiles, roughly seven mm in diameter. It is estimated that more than two billion pellets were delivered across 300 kilometers of LEO altitude.
The intent, as described by U.S. Military, ESA and NASA officials, can only be considered “all-out war on our communication systems.”
“We’re already experiencing satellite failures. Every satellite in LEO will probably be destroyed. Starlink? Toast. Network channel satellites? Gone. We’re looking at near-complete blackout.”
“And the Space Station? Thank God they had an emergency capsule they could deploy. But the station itself, total loss.”
An international response is pending. Early news shows that Chinese forces are already flowing across the North Korean border.
“As far as space exploration and communications go, we’ve been sent back to the 1940’s. Humans are never going to travel to LEO again. You can kiss the Moon and Mars goodbye. Sorry Elon.”
Elon Musk wants to preserve the species. The ONLY way, he thinks, to do this is to make humanity a multi-planet race.
Ignoring the fact that the Universe is Absurd, that ultimately everyone and everything will dissolve into the void, let’s examine the factors that support or refute his hypothesis and come up with an alternative.
Let’s say we want to plan humanity’s continued existence out a billion years, out to when the Sun begins to bloat and heat Earth’s surface to the point of boiling off the oceans and roasting the biosphere to a crisp. What will we need to prepare for?
Super volcano eruption
Narrow beam gamma ray burst
There are other risks that don’t really rise, realistically, to the level of “end of days”: antagonistic AI, global warming, alien invasion, and those unknown unknowns. But I wager that humanity’s existence is not actually threatened by such things.
I’ll clarify here that we’re not talking about human civilization. Let’s start first with just persisting the species out into the future a few thousand to a few million years. Yes, we stated that a billion years is our target, but let’s start small and see how far we can get.
There are a few factors we’ll need to address. The first is timing, how quickly will humanity need this capability. Then there are resource requirements, sustainable independence, minimum viable population, and, if we want to retain or return to a technological civilization, the reemergence of industrial capability. We won’t get to all of these but we’ll skim over them for completeness.
Why are we bothering with this discussion?
Right. Here’s the gist: I posit that there’s an alternative means of human preservation that we should be pursuing right now, in lieu of and/or in addition to, spreading humanity’s legacy out among the planets.
What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of the surface of our planet becoming uninhabitable. Mitigating every one of the above listed risks involves sequestering an enclave of humanity *somewhere* safe, for years if not decades. We want to hide out in some protected, self-sufficient place until we can resume activities, hopefully Earth-top-side.
What if the surface of Earth never returns to a livable state? Bah! Five massive extinction events resulting in five returns from the brink of annihilation prove that, until the Sun swells to consume the inner planets, Earth will always return to a state of habitability.
Is space the only alternative? If not, then where, other than the surface of Mars or the Moon, can we squirrel away a self-sufficient, re-emergent pocket of humanity?
Queue the music…
Under the sea.
Under the sea.
Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.
A city on Mars?
Bullshit. Build a city at the bottom of the sea. Or deep within the Earth.
Such a metropolis would be protected from cosmic radiation, volcanic winter, nuclear fallout, a ravaging plague of zombies, and all the toxins and trauma, malcontents and mayhem. We wouldn’t need to spend $billions blasting resources into space. Or traversing billions of miles of a very nasty inter-planetary void. We could leverage all the benefits of cheap labor, cheap materials and exhaustive know-how right here where we need them.
Within a few years we could build a vast network of cities, all self-sustainable, all independent. Such preserves could be supported by tourism yet isolated at the first signs of trouble.
Every disaster movie ever made makes provisions for such failsafe protections of humanity. And there’s a reason why — it make sense. Even if (or when) the worst of the worst calamity takes place, the buried and submerged cities would weather the situation far more easily than some half-baked outpost on Mars could survive the decades alone without support from Earth.
Eventually, if humanity can survive its own self-made ills, it might construct the means to disperse its seed into the cosmos. (Why we, here and now, should give a shit about that, is beyond me.) But, even if Elon wants to immortalize himself as some savoir of Humanity 2.0, then building a city on Mars shouldn’t be the first step. Establish a subterranean city for the Morlocks and Mermaids and then shoot for the stars.
Comparing a Martian colony to Nemo’s Atlantis we have the following factors:
Timing: How long will it take to get a viable habitat built, stocked and operational? Do we have 10 years before the next apocalypse? 50? We don’t really know, but surely sooner is better. With Nemo City we could start tomorrow.
Resource requirements: Besides air, water, nutrients and nearly everything else, what does Mars need to establish itself as a potential sanctuary for, not just humanity, but all of humanity’s dependencies? Think biosphere/ecosystem here. Again, for a earthly solution, all the stuff required for existence is right outside our front door. For Barsoom City? Oy! Maybe you won’t have to bring dirt for farming (provided you can wash the peroxide salts from the Martian soil).
Sustainable independence: Will a Martian colony EVER actually become independent? With technology, industry, agriculture and growth enough to blossom and return the favor back to Earth? Sure science fiction thinks so. But reality?
Minimum viable population: We know humanity prospers in the gravity well, with the oxygen levels and sunlight saturation of Earth. On Mars? What strange illnesses will reveal themselves, both on the red planet and along the months long trip to get there? Will human births suffer? Human fertility? What of restocking Earth with surplus Martians and surplus supporting biota (animals, plants, bacteria and fungi)?
A technological civilization and the reemergence of industrial capability: It took humanity thousands of years, and terrajoules of energy to lift itself up to a technological society. Will Mars be able to repeat this?
Elon, do you really want to preserve humanity? If so, maybe you could turn your sights down from the heavens to the ground beneath your feet. Use your Boring company to tunnel into the earth and there build an actual salvation city.
In my continuing pursuit of Fermi’s Paradox, we have yet another theory: The Gaia Hypothesis.
As simply as I can… The early formation and saturation of microbial life on Earth allowed for the stabilization of the conditions that supported life. Life begat life. Without life assisting in the stabilization of the carbon cycle, the atmospheric conditions would have swung to extremes. Extremes which, like Mars and Venus, too cold or too hot, would have extinguished life.
If microbial life doesn’t form quickly enough, stick around long enough, and permeate the ecosphere then any planet (in the Goldilocks zone) will drift into uninhabitable conditions. Biological life has had 3.8 billion years to transform the planet’s surface. And it has. Without early life, the theory goes, Earth would have succumbed to runaway greenhouse conditions like Venus, boiling off its water, rendering it inhospitable. Or, would have froze up—permanently, like Mars.
Now, I have trouble with this theory as it ignores the impact of the other features that, among many others, are unique to Earth, namely, a massive Moon, active tectonic plates and just enough radiation to retain the perfect balance of volcanism and carbon weathering and biotic sequestration. But, it cannot be denied that early life DID have an impact and DID assist in the creation of conditions ripe for multicellular life’s burgeoning explosion in the last 600 million years or so.
(Besides, if it weren’t for the Carboniferous period and the surrounding ±50 millions years, the gigatons of carbon (coal and crude oil) would never have been deposited and made available to humans for exploitation. This is yet another future series topic that we’ll explore regarding Fermi’s Paradox.)
The Gaian Bottleneck, as it’s called, undoubtedly had an impact. Is it the sole reason for the dearth of aliens we expect to see in the night sky? No. But it can be added to the coin-flip probability equation we’ve been building. 2^70 Unique.
Premise: The collision of Theia, approximately 4.4 billion years ago, resulted in the transfer of just the right amount of radioactive elements (Uranium & Thorium, mostly) to provide for the perfectly balanced Carbon cycle we enjoy today.
Theia’s impact produced, not only the Moon (which is instrumental to Earth’s stability among other things) and not only gave Earth a much larger Iron/Nickel core (resulting in an oversized and critically necessary magnetosphere), but also transferred a Goldilocks amount of Uranium and Thorium to the Earth’s core to allow the Carbon cycle to exist.
Plate tectonics and vulcanism allow for sequestered Carbon (the sediment of billions of years of photosynthetic death and deposition) to be recycled into the atmosphere providing the perfect amount of CO2, turning Earth into the greenhouse paradise we enjoy today.
Without just the right amount of radioactivity, Earth’s core would either cool, ending the Carbon cycle (in addition to collapsing the magnetosphere) or boil the surface causing far too much vulcanism for life to exist on the planet.
This is just one more reason to accept that Earth is unique in the Universe and that Fermi’s Paradox is not a paradox at all.