As those of you who have been following my blog for a while know, I’m a little bit hung up on the possibility of humans crossing interstellar space and checking out new worlds. My books revolve around the premise of a future interstellar civilization that may have escaped the Earth, but humans can’t escape their natures, for better or for worse.
So I was pretty excited to come across a really cool idea (and accompanying article) on the internet espoused by no less a figure than Stephen Hawking.
It’s pretty cool. What his team wants to do is to create a bunch of micro-probes with solar sails, and dispatch them across interstellar distances to check out nearby star systems. The spacecraft his group is working on would take about 20 years to reach Proxima B (about 4.5 ly). Once the small fleet of spacecraft get there, they would shoot back data via a laser link to earth and scientists could give the data a look over.
I think this is an awesome idea on several different levels. Let me lay out why.
First, such a project would give people actual experience building interstellar capable craft, albeit very small ones. You have to start somewhere, and why begin with manned spacecraft? You have to do a proof of concept sooner or later.
Second, powerful telescopes etc. are great, but nothing beats getting a spaceship up close and personal with stars, systems, and planets. As any old soldier can tell you, nothing beats having “eyes” on the objective.
Third, we can dispatch a lot of these types of probes to several objectives. From each we will learn something different, and these types of missions will not break the bank.
Which brings me to my final point. If we can check out ten different systems, and we learn more about interstellar travel from each mission, then we can choose a final contestant for actual manned travel at the lowest possible cost. It’s a brilliant idea.
And think of the possible reward- if there are worlds out there capable of sustaining human colonization then humanity could gain a new home. Our basket of eggs is looking a little precarious right now, it would be nice to have options.
I am encouraged that some of our best minds are giving this serious thought and effort. It beats people sitting around and watching TV, moaning about how the world is going to hell. Maybe it is going to hell, but not everyone is going down quietly.
Good for you, Mr. Hawking.