Targeting habitable worlds for exploration

Think of where we are, just now. The journal Nature reports on research that provides a testable model for analyzing and, ultimately, visualizing remote worlds for the potential habitability of Earth-like destinations for exploration. Basically, using multiple observations of a planet as large as the planet Uranus in our solar system in transit of its star, the team has built a model that, if confirmed by the James Webb Space Telescope when it is deployed in 2018, confirms the model accurately allows us to predict — and refine our analysis of — the planet’s ability to host life, assuming there is not something on a habitable planet more dominant than ourselves that will annihilate us on arrival, and support colonization by humans or their machines.

Think about that. Like the Dutch company that this week announced it has about one thousand candidates it will send to Mars on a one-way trip, humans can start to make long-term bets on distant colonies by banking the claim represented by a ship or fleet headed off in some direction once it leaves. Even if that ship is not the first to arrive from Earth, it would still represent the initial claim to the planet. So, if space travel could be speeded to or past the speed of light and a later flight arrived first, the initial pioneers’ ancestors would retain their share of the planet, which could even be adjusted for future value as the first travelers’ confidence is reinforced by later followers, even if the followers got their first.

For most of my life, punctuated by my childhood fascination with space travel and the Moon, as well as in the 40- to 90-minute portions of my attention devoted in their hundreds and thousands to Star Trek throughout the past 50 years, I have not believed that man could leave the immediate neighborhood of this planet and its Moon. Maybe it is passing 50 years of age with some advanced aircraft-grade titanium cervical disc replacements. But I’ve come to see that the pioneering of space is the next shitty, but necessary, stretch of road humanity needs to walk in order to take any larger place in the Cosmos than it already has had the audacity to imagine.

Or, perhaps, this exercise in futurism will merely make it clear that mining my neck for its titanium is less profitable, but also much less risky than traveling to a planet orbiting a distant star, and I’ve sealed my own fate by enabling the short-sighted to consume the hearty and spirited men of their times for scrap metal. For anyone missing that this is meant satirically, titanium is not a particularly valuable metal. Really.

Happy New Year, one and all.

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