When We Have To Leave This Planet

Eventually, we’re going to have to leave this planet. Sometime, in the next billion or so years, our sun’s radiation output will make this planet uninhabitable (https://www.universetoday.com/25367/how-long-will-life-survive-on-earth/ ). What will we do?

Fortunately, we have some time to consider our options. In the (comparative) short term, we could stay within our solar system. Perhaps we could burrow underground to mitigate the effects the sun’s increased radiation and prolong habitation a bit longer. Then we could set up shop on an asteroid or one of Saturn’s moons, or maybe even Neptune for awhile. If we’re really good, we might be able to move Earth’s orbit.

But “eventually” will bite us again, and the sun will expand into a red giant star (consuming Earth in the process if we haven’t figured out how to move it), then shrink into a white dwarf ( https://www.livescience.com/32879-what-happens-to-earth-when-sun-dies.html ). That should just about be curtains for this solar system.

Then what? The universe is huge, and it would take us light years to get anywhere. But what if we traveled in living spaceships that can adapt to changing conditions? There is a branch of research called “bio-inspired design” that’s being pursued around the world right now. Ideas include making spaceship parts multifunctional (think about our skin — it not only protects internal organs but is sensory and helps regulate temperature); spacecraft that can grow like seeds to meet changing needs of the inhabitants; converting asteroids into spacecraft that can evolve; and learning how to survive extreme blasts of radiation like fungi and other simple organisms. If you think this sounds too science-fictiony, remember Velcro evolved from studying plant seeds. And if you’d like to follow this type of research, check out Newcastle University’s Project Persephone ( http://www.icarusinterstellar.org/projects/project-persephone ).

Granted, these are major challenges. But hopefully we still have a few hundred thousand years to figure them out.

Taken from “Think Living Spaceships Are Science Fiction? Think Again” by Tom Cassauwers ( https://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/think-living-spaceships-are-science-fiction-think-again/90873? ). The illustration came from that site.

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