To two space cadets:
My nephew, James Baxter
Kent Joosten, NASA
You know me. And you know I’m a space cadet.
You know I’ve campaigned for, among other things, private mining expeditions to the asteroids. In fact, in the past I’ve tried to get you to pay for such things. I’ve bored you with that often enough already, right?
So tonight I want to look a little farther out. Tonight I want to tell you why I care so much about this issue that I devoted my life toil.
The world isn’t big enough any more. You don’t need me to stand here and tell you that. We could all choke to death, be extinct in a hundred years.
Or we could be on our way to populating the Galaxy.
Yes, the Galaxy. Want me to tell you how?
Turns out it’s all a question of economics.
Let’s say we set out to the stars. We might use ion rockets, solar sails, gravity assists. It doesn’t matter.
We’ll probably start as we have in the Solar System, with automated probes. Humans may follow. One percent of the helium-3 fusion fuel available from the planet Uranus, for example, would be enough to send a giant interstellar ark,
The first wave will be slow, no faster than we can afford.
When the probe reaches a new system, it phones home, and starts to build.
Here is the heart of the strategy. A target system, we assume, is uninhabited. We can therefore anticipate massive exploitation of the system’s resources, without restraint, by the probe. Such resources are useless for any other purpose,
I thought you’d enjoy that line. There’s nothing an entrepreneur likes more than the sound of the
More probes will be built and launched from each of the first wave of target stars. The probes will reach new targets; and again, more probes will be spawned, and fired onward. The volume covered by the probes will grow rapidly, like the expansion of gas into a vacuum.
Our ships will spread along the spiral arm, along lanes rich with stars, farming the Galaxy for humankind.
Once started, the process will be self-directing, self-financing. It would take, the double-domes think, ten to a hundred million years for the colonization of the Galaxy to be completed in this manner.
Thus the cost of colonizing the Galaxy will be less, in real terms, than that of our Apollo program of fifty years ago.
This vision isn’t mine alone. It isn’t original. The rocket pioneer Robert Goddard wrote an essay in 1918 —
We can do this. If we succeed, we will live forever.
The alternative is extinction.
And, people, when we’re gone, we’re
As far as we can see we’re alone, in an indifferent universe. We see no sign of intelligence
If we fail, then the failure is for all time. If we die, mind and consciousness and soul die with us: hope and dreams and love, everything that makes us human. There will be nobody even to mourn us.
To be the first is an awesome responsibility. It’s a responsibility we must grasp.
I am offering you a practical route to an
We can do this. We
This is just the beginning. Join me.
This is what I have learned, Malenfant. This is how it is, how it was, how it came to be.
In the afterglow of the Big Bang, humans spread in waves across the universe, sprawling and brawling and breeding and dying and evolving. There were wars, there was love, there was life and death. Minds flowed together in great rivers of consciousness, or shattered in sparkling droplets. There was immortality to be had, of a sort, a continuity of identity through replication and confluence across billions upon billions of years.
Everywhere they found life.
Nowhere did they find mind — save what they brought with them or created — no
With time, the stars died like candles. But humans fed on bloated gravitational fat, and achieved a power undreamed of in earlier ages.
They learned of other universes from which theirs had evolved. Those earlier, simpler realities too were empty of mind, a branching tree of emptiness reaching deep into the hyperpast.
It is impossible to understand what minds of that age — the peak of humankind, a species hundreds of billions of times older than humankind — were
Nothing but the will to survive. And even that was to be denied them by time.
The universe aged: indifferent, harsh, hostile, and ultimately lethal.
There was despair and loneliness.
There was an age of war, an obliteration of trillion-year memories, a bonfire of identity. There was an age of suicide, as the finest of humanity chose self-destruction against further purposeless time and struggle.
The great rivers of mind guttered and dried.
But some persisted: just a tributary, the stubborn, still unwilling to yield to the darkness, to accept the increasing confines of a universe growing inexorably old.
And, at last, they realized that
Burning the last of the universe’s resources, the final down-streamers — dogged, all but insane — reached to the deepest past. And — oh.
Watch the Moon, Malenfant. Watch the Moon. It’s starting—