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The Starship Travellers

A star is a stellar object in deep space, burning with the embers of a nuclear core, providing fundamental elements for the universe to nourish and create objects, places and people. It starts its existence as a molecular gas cloud collapsing, condensing into a huge gravitational mass, eventually igniting in a giant cauldron of fusion energy, luminescent across the Cosmos.  A star is the creator and destroyer of all things. There are billions of these stars, hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone. Some small, some large, some bright, some dim, some with planets abound, with the star warming the shores of surrounding world’s, others floating in the void of the vacuum destined to serve little purpose than the generation of light for the wonderers of the deep.

A ship is a vessel, which transports people from one location to another. It has some form of device which propels it along the journey, moving along a carefully planned navigational course, avoiding risks and pitfalls along the way. It is merely a device to enable the journey, from here to there. It allows the occupants, people, to extend their biologically evolved senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch, to go beyond the banks of their origin, to experience different places, to measure the heights and the depths of space, to better understand and comprehend the reality upon which we inhabit.

If you bring these two words together, you have a Starship. This allows people from one place in the Cosmos to connect with people from another place. It allows those people to share their common or not so common experience of the world. To share knowledge, stories, science, technology, culture and philosophies. The starship enables a coupling between species that have been separated by space and time for the age of the Universe, and now they are bought together to discover for the first time, the journey of another. This form of ‘mental conception’ or ‘fusion of intelligence’ will most likely lead to something wonderful including to a greater understanding of ourselves.

We have many ideas for what a Starship may look like, but it is too early to really say. Our minds require more time to comprehend the abstract challenges of sending vessels across light years of space, at speeds approaching that of light, for durations that last for years, decades or centuries. Will it be driven by microwave beams or catalysed by antimatter? Will it have giant fusion reactors or mine interstellar hydrogen as a form of interstellar ramjet? Will it cross that sea of Suns using exotic space drives and warp drives, technology and indeed science, yet to be invented? Will it be a huge cylinder or shaped like a large doughnut with engine nacelles coming off the sides? Will it carry people from one nation on Earth, or representatives from all nations, with a mix of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture and philosophical outlook? Does any of this matter?

When that Starship finally arrives at its destination will it build artificial colonies or terraform the nearby world’s? Will the inhabitants of that Starship, perhaps several generations ahead of those that set out, wonder about the Earth and want to return to it? Will they even care about Earth? It may be that some will colonise the system, their civilisations will rise and fall as we have done before, but always with the shadow of their origin looming over them – the distant pale blue dot called Earth. Perhaps, a new species will evolve, that seeks to go on a journey of their own, to simply return to the home world from which they originated and to see the deserts of the Sahara, the jungles of the Amazon, the icy mountain of Everest, for themselves.

In some ways, it is not the origin or the destination that matters, it is the journey. It is the act of setting out on a bold new adventure that allows human kind to grow and evolve into whatever it shapes itself to become. This is what results in a change to the human being and all that he believes in and stands for. It is rapid rate of change on an otherwise predictable trajectory. It is a kind of mathematical and physical inflexion point, upon which the future of human civilisation thereafter takes a different course. Change, even when disruptive, especially when disruptive, results in a movement to a different paradigm of though. This is what the Starship represents. Just like the ‘Pale Blue dot’ photo of Earth gave us a different perspective on our world, the Starship journey and the act of trying, will give us a different perspective on ourselves.

Just like in the television series ‘Star Trek’ the Starship is merely a vehicle for the plot line, similarly, in the future the Starship is a vehicle to enable continued human growth and for progress to be made – to discover new things about the Universe and what it means to be human – or even to separate from our biological evolutionary tract by a form of technological divergence. And what sort of people will go on this magnificent journey? Will they have the weaknesses that so betray our species today? Will they inherit our selfish ways, our jealousy, our greed and our war like mentality? Will they exhibit our bitterness and our nature to push one philosophical view point on to the mind of a weaker human being? No, I think those Starship travellers will be a bold, daring, confident and capable people. They would have shed many of our weaknesses and adopted many of our strengths. Starship Human, will be a more evolved entity, physically, mentally and culturally.

We came out of the pools of Africa, from a few cells we evolved into the mammals and then the Homo Sapiens that we are today. Now, we are preparing for our greatest period of personal growth yet, to build a Starship and travel to those distant points of light that have so haunted human kind for many thousands of years. We will be a changed people for the attempt and for the experience, definitely if we succeed, almost certainly so still if we fail. Let’s hope that change contributes to the Universe and its intelligence in a positive way. Let’s hope it helps us to reach our full potential, deserving of the title – We the human race, are the Starship Travellers.

 

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The Infinite Horizon of Discovery

In the ages of old, people thought that if you kept going out into the Atlantic Ocean, you would eventually fall off the edge of the Earth. Indeed, there were also tales of monsters that lurked there, waiting to snatch the sailor and his ship and drag them down into the abyss below. Well, there were monsters and the waters were dangerous, but they were surmountable once the sufficient technology came to fruition.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail on the first of several trips in search for the West passage to India and in his journeys he discovered the “New World”. But before this attempt was made, many had first embarked on exploration of the islands which meander the West coast of Africa and in particular the Canary Islands. These “precursor missions” allowed the gradual development of core capabilities, technologies, experience and most important, confidence. So that the Atlantic could be tackled and the new horizon breached.

When I consider the history of human kind, a species which grew by a process of gradual migration out of Africa, it is awe inspiring to think how far we have come. Think of the countless toils and struggles of those that would walk for miles across vast lands, searching for water, food and places to shelter or settle. Think of the risks they took as they entered territories with dangerous never before seen animals and even hostile humans who would rob them of all they own and cherish, including their lives. Think of the hard labours fault in the battle to master agricultural techniques, to grow crops so that we might weather the harsh seasons and feed the growing population. Think of how we survived as we crossed deserts, jungles, ice sheets, and barren landscapes, freezing in the cold night of the Moon, and baking in the hot rays of the Sun. Yet, we endured.

We are an explorer species. We search for the next mountain to climb, the next ocean to dive. This exploration extends not just to the physical world but also to the world of our minds as we intellectualise our reality and with curiosity seek answers to explain all that we observe. This constant questioning, this endless frontier is fundamental to who we are. The exploration of space is a natural extension of these propensities and it is in our deepest desires to go out there; this driving force cannot be stopped, because the exploration of space is the purest expression of our personal and joint liberty.

So we breached the Karman line of space, circled the equatorial and polar orbits, hopped from the world of our origin to our closest neighbour, the Moon. The planet Mars calls us loudly and beckons us to come and explore it too. Look at it through a telescope, its rustic coloured appearance with polar ice caps of its own. Those mountains and valleys yet to be explored; Olympus Mons three times the height of Everest. How can we not try?

The other worlds call us too. The Jovian worlds and its possible swimming life, bathing in the ash ridden atmospheres of volcanic and ice covered worlds. Saturn and its ring of icy jewels. Titan with its ocean of liquid Methane. They call us, like the metaphorical Gjallarhorn across the solar system – come explore us and see what nature left here. Pluto is next, then the Oort cloud and beyond. Our precursor missions will extend to the furthest frontiers to prepare the way for our eventual arrival. Then it’s the stars and the entire cycle of planetary exploration begins all over again, until the next system and then the next, billions of them until the galaxy is fully explored by some future descendants of human kind. But our galaxy is but one within a large supercluster, and there are millions of these. Where does it end? Even when we have explored the entire Universe, will we discover the Universe too is but one of billions created by the architect of nature? Perhaps, it is as the philosopher Olaf Stapledon depicted in his 1937 book “Star Maker”, and our Universe is but one in the great laboratory of Multiverses, as the Star Maker perfects his or her art.

How marvellous that we can see so far and so much? How splendid that nature has arranged it so that when we look at the sky we see back in time, back to the beginning of the Cosmos itself? Perhaps the purpose of the Universe is as the science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke said, “For the perpetual astonishment of mankind”? It is exhilarating a thing to be on the path of discovery, but it is also joyous to think that we are always at the beginning with the ocean of knowledge all before us. Our limited life span is so short in the age of the Cosmos. If we are lucky we will live for eighty or even one hundred years. Use that time wisely, make time for moments of discovery and contemplation, learn what you can whilst you are here, because what is your horizon of discovery today, will be someone else’s history in the future. The light cone goes on, the entropy grows, the clock ticks in synchronicity to the arrow of time. Be a part of the contribution to knowledge whilst you can - for we will not be here forever, but the infinite horizon of discovery will be. Eyes, ears and mind open.

How many more years I shall be able to work on the problem I do not know; I hope, as long as I live. There can be no thought of finishing, for 'aiming at the stars' both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.” Robert H. Goddard, in a 1932 letter to H. G. Wells.

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