Monday, July 23, 2012

The Mechanics Of Interstellar Colonization

Came across a fascinating article on - We've been able to successfully simulate a living organism virtually using it's genome map alone - and it successfully predicts appearance, behavior, and traits. 
This is a real, functioning organism - existing only in cyberspace. 

While this will raise some fascinating questions on the nature of life, consciousness, and soul, I'm going to shelve that for now. Instead, let's look at the implications for galactic colonization. 

A bridge too far
Interstellar distances are terrifying, and the implied resources needed to cross them are equally terrifying. Let's assume we don't have any kind of magical warp or hyperdrive that can get us across light-years in seconds. This gives us 2 alternatives - relativistic speeds, or generation starships. 
At any significant fraction of c, interstellar dust and hydrogen atoms will strike like explosives. If you're going to carry a shield, it's going to have to be massive - so that much more fuel to shunt that dead weight around. Plus weight of people, their life support, the sheer space they're going to occupy, pressurized cabins... too expensive to haul that up into orbit and then accelerate / decelerate. 
Generation starships will be equally heavy, compensating for a loss in shield weight by equal weight of life support backup systems and spare parts. Too slow, too expensive, and too risky for something that slow and expensive. Not to mention fragile; one puncture, one radiation overdose, one too-high gee maneuver and it's all over. 

Besides, why do you want to send people? Objective is to populate humanity in different worlds. Individual people carry and disperse genes - but there are alternatives. 

A giant leap for mankind, but not even a small step for a man
Don't send people. Send information. 
Step One: launch a small, self-powered probe carrying a naonotech factory and instructions for building a receiver. Send them everywhere, launched from orbit, from lunar railcannon, by rocket, by orion pulse, hell, thrown by hand. send them everywhere, able to recognize suitable destinations, crashland, and build a receiver. 
Step Two: build the receiving station. Once you get back confirmed landings, send instructions for building factories, collecting raw materiel, computers, power sources or collectors. 
Step Three: send the genomes. Human genomes transmitted - maybe after suitable modification - with checksum protocols. Let the destination receive them, run a check, confirm viable, and simulate synthesis in a virtual environment. Grow, while receiving and uploading training materiel. 
Step Four: build body synthesizers. Grow the next generation in flesh and blood, and raise them by the androids carrying the first-generation virtual colonists. 

Or not. 
Step four is very optional; the virtual people may never choose to leave their simulated lives. Or turn the adapted human organisms loose to grow wild, while they remain the watchers and guides. Or choose not to grow them at all. If we can exist in virtual paradise, why would we ever bother to adopt the prison of the flesh?