"We went to the Moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians." --Edgar Mitchell

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth." --William Anders

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Hundred Year Spaceship... ON CRACK

I was reading an interesting article involving the shifting of tectonic plates, and it got me thinking: what if one person were somehow able to see the before and after?

So... I really don't want to do the math (and I can, just so we're clear), but I'm fairly certain that there is no way that a single person could last that long, even taking into account relativistic speeds. But let's pretend anyways, okay? Either we're bending the laws of physics so that this hypothetical person(s) could go faster, we're imagining a world with true anti-aging medicine, or we're dealing with some kinda wizard (or Methuselah).

Can you imagine what it would be like to return to a world literally transformed? Not just society, but the face of the planet. I suppose recognition would hinge on what part of the world was seen first; if our Methuselah saw the North and South American continents first, recognition would be relatively easy - they are the same shape, after all. But then, after a moment, uneasiness would set in... There are islands there that shouldn't be. And Antarctica is just... wrong. As more of the surface is seen, it would become painfully obvious that this is not the world that was left behind; same physical planet, but everything would be different. Too much time had passed.

If the other side of the world was seen first, panic would be the first reaction. Star charts would be checked (although they would be unrecognizable), and astrogation calculations would be redone. And redone. And redone. As the spacecraft "slowly" orbited Earth, maybe no one would be paying attention: too busy wondering where the heck they were to see the other continents. It could take a few passes before someone saw the other continents, or noticed that there was something familiar about the small continent south of the largest landmass. Why, that looks really similar to Australia! And that almost looks like India, and there is a smooshed up Africa.... Oh god. And then despair and disbelief might be the prevailing emotions, as opposed to resignation.

This all hinges on the supposition that this person, or these people, didn't expect to be coming home after such a long time. I suppose they could have been in stasis for an unknown amount of time, or been sucked into a black hole, and magically got out (MAGIC!).

The sun shouldn't look much different, though. Maybe a little hotter. Maybe a teensy bit bigger. But it should still look like the sun.

But can you imagine our society lasting for another 50 million years? According to some, our kind should die out in 10,000 years, but what if we don't? What if we figure out this space thing, and colonize the stars and last for millions and billions of years? What would it be like? Would we still have our own internal problems, or would we be able to live peacefully with each other? What about the rest of the galactic population? Surely there are more. How are we getting along with them? What is the social psyche like when we have been spacefarers for millions of years? Will we still have that feeling of being tiny specs in a vast, unbounded sea of unknowns? Will we still be confined to the Milky Way? Will our sense of adventure and drive for exploration still be significant?

So many questions I wish I could find out the answers to. I want to know what it's like to be standing on Mars, and feel close to my home planet, not far away. I want to take a weekend to vacation on Pluto. And move to Europa the same way I move across the state. And I want to look out my window and see a beautiful blue star, with a lovely blue-green moon orbiting a majestic gas giant. Or maybe just a half-obscured stellar nursery.

Maybe I just revealed why I do what I do... When I was little, I wanted to be an astronomer. I say "little," but that lasted up until I found out what the Air Force Academy was - and that I could get in. I probably will never give up these dreams.

Just thought I'd bring you along on my thought-exercise-turned-self-reflection. Hope you had fun!

1 comment:

  1. Good post! But--and this says more about my thought processes than the post--suddenly, into the third paragraph I had a memory of Charlton Heston falling to his knees screaming: "Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you!"

    Yes, curse my cinema-fueled brain... ;)

    I think I'd prefer the destination at the end of a long journey (multiple years) but heck, even if I ever get to just go sub-orbital, it would be one hell of a trip!

    Safe travels to #STS135!

    Charlie ( @zekenix )