In the past I’ve fretted that our high technology was too fragile or even unsurvivable. Our conventions need too many generations of tools and accumulated knowledge to last through even a garden variety apocalyptic vision. But now I realize that these negatives might add up to a BIG plus!
Take Mars. Literarily. Earth has been mankind’s cocoon. It is where, by design or trial and error, our physiology evolved to flourish under local parameters. Most of these must haves are obvious, such as water, oxygen, nutrients, temperature range, even a certain squishiness when pressed by massive objects. Others are more subtle. For example, our DNA is built around a comfortable lack of cosmic rays and solar winds. Place us far enough out in space and we’re quite permeable, squishy even. Essentially we depend on Earth’s magnetic field, spinning iron core, and just general massiveness to protect the, um, hell out of us.
We think the magnetic field of Mars fizzled out billions of years ago. Without that protection, solar winds scoured away its atmosphere and everything else handy for life. So colonists, even if they can find enough environmental needs beneath the crust, would have stay below that crust to enjoy them for long. Nakedness to solar winds and radiation can bring on a swift and fatal tan.
Even if you just signed on as a tourist, going to Mars and back would give you the full career dose of radiation that NASA allows its astronauts. Extrapolate to the cosmic radiation waiting for us between stars and the trip, even at light speed, would keep future generations from ever having future generations. Nor is this something lead armor would stop. To prosper you would need to be on a massive spacecraft the size of, um, the Earth.
Not that mere realism should stop anyone from trying. According to an article by Jennifer Juarez, CNNMexico.com, “More than 100,000 want to go to Mars and not return, project says.” That’s the number of people who have already applied to the Mars One project. It will begin with four lucky pioneers going in 2022, followed by another four in two years, and so on. These are not roundtrip tickets. Assuming enough of everything worked they’d be living their remaining life in huts made from the ships they came in, and taking their walks in full pressure suits, assuming a lot of successful maintenance. (I know what my selfish genes are already telling me…)
So, is that it? Will viable interplanetary and interstellar exploration be only the realm of R2D2 and C3PO? Is humanity doomed to be the road kill of space?
Just a few minutes after Mars One I came across another article offering a thought of hope: Possible Hints of Consciousness After Death Found in Rats by Brandon Keim in Wired. Keim reports on work done by Jimo Borjign and his team at the University of Michigan. For about thirty seconds after a rat’s heart stops, things continue to merrily happen in its brain. While similar signals have not been observed yet in dying humans, the electrical activity in the rats is quite subtle—not signals you could measure with just surface sensors. More detailed tests on doomed human will have to follow.
Keim’s article ponders whether the after death experiences reported by resuscitated humans are merely residue of similar processing. Well, the next step is obvious.
We need (think of all the test equipment, neural processors, engineers and foundry cycles required) a fundamental, international, spend-whatever quest to stretch that thirty seconds of post consciousness into decades of after demise practicality. Combine the motive power that Mary Shelley predicted with today’s Hollywood verve and you have the beckoning promise of true ZombieNauts! These derived humans will spring from a life gaining knowledge and experience into an eternally fit and feisty race that will finally go where no man has gone before.