The Future of Space Exploration (Part 2 of 2)

2001DawnofMan

Summary of part 1:

  • The majority of space exploration in the future will be done by unmanned probes as they are far more efficient and effective than manned alternatives.
  • Millions of probes will be sent out in all directions. They will land on far away planets and use nanobots to build communication structures, map the surface etc.
  • A high bandwidth connection to Earth will be established and people on Earth will be able to explore and experience the alien planets via local virtual reality simulations of lifelike realism.

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What if a probe finds life?

The probes will be programmed to start looking for signs of life long before they land on their target planet. If it is determined during approach that the planet has a high probability of life, the probe will change course and touch down on a nearby natural satellite (moon). [We will want to avoid disturbing a life-bearing planet before we are sure of what lives there.]

After the probe lands on a satellite it will go through the same procedure as if it had landed on the planet. It will release the nanobots, they will replicate, build greater communication equipment, and map the surface of the satellite. The next priority will be to look for radio signals, infrared patterns, chemical composition and so on coming from the planet below. This data will be used to establish what kind of life is on the surface.

In order to talk about how we would approach alien life, let’s assign some labels to order complexity/intelligence:

Type 0– No brain or capacity for thought, and extremely limited or zero mobility. [Ex. bacteria, fungi, plants etc.]
Type 1– Basic brain/central nervous system allowing for survival behavior only (avoid danger, find food, reproduce). Virtually zero intelligence. [Ex. insects, arachnids, jelly fish, crustaceans etc.]
Type 2– Capacity for social behavior  problem solving, basic counting. Very limited or no concept of abstract notions, the self etc. [Ex. dogs, cats, reptiles, monkeys, birds etc.]
Type 3– Tool use, complex social behavior  culture, understanding of self, all the way to nuclear power, artificial intelligence, and modest space travel. [Ex. Homo Sapiens from our earliest civilizations to modernity.]
Type 4-. Beyond Human. [See the Kardashev scale for more detail.]

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Type 0- Type 2:

If our target planet hosts life anywhere between type 0 and type 2, then the probe will very likely make a landing on the surface, where nanobots will build communication and solar power structures, map the surface and so on. Since all probes are manufactured in space there would be a very low risk of microbe contamination. Animals of similar intelligence to cows, birds, lizards and monkeys would see our probe as something strange and best avoided, but little more. We would be free to observe as we please.

If we find a species on the planet that shows potential for evolving toward higher intelligence (like our primate ancestors once did) we may decide to do more than just observe. At the very least we would probably divert extinction-sized asteroids from wiping out this species, but we might also nudge them along at pivotal points in their development. We could implant in their minds the idea of tool use, creating fire, even agriculture. Our ultimate goal would be to protect and nurture this species and allow them to reach the next stage of evolution, the status of type 3 intelligent life.

Type 3:

Whether our probe arrived at the satellite of a planet already host to type 3 intelligent life, or if it has been watching for thousands of years as they developed into type 3 life, it would be high priority to remain undetected until we understand them well. The premature discovery of our probe could cause all kinds of chaos and panic (we can imagine how we would react to finding such a thing on Earth, it would probably start a 3rd world war).

If it is determined that this species is not yet ready for contact then the probe will remain silent and motionless, observing them for as long as necessary. [A good indicator that a civilization is not ready for direct contact might be if they still wage war among themselves.]

If, and when, the civilization becomes intelligent and mature enough to handle direct contact then we might reveal our probe with a greeting message broadcast down to the surface. We could then land the probe on their planet and set up a high-powered, high-bandwidth connection back to Earth through which we could exchange and share all of our respective knowledge and information. Or, rather than contact them with a greeting, maybe we would give out a beacon signal and wait for them to come to their moon and discover our probe. This would act as a natural safe guard against premature discovery, as it takes a rather high degree of intelligence to travel to one’s moon. Upon reaching our probe we could then show them who we are… If any of this sounds familiar it is because this is the plot of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001SpaceOdysseyMonolith

Type 4:

If our probe comes across a planet hosting a type 4 civilization then it doesn’t matter what we do because they will have already seen us coming. They would have long ago detected our probe, analyzed it’s programming, and construction, established where it came from and who built it; they would know everything about us before we even knew they were there. In fact, if they are far more advanced than us, and we are just now reaching them, then it is likely that their probes reached us long ago. They might have been watching us for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. They might have watched us evolve, they might have even helped us evolve…

2001ASpaceOdysseyDoM

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3 thoughts on “The Future of Space Exploration (Part 2 of 2)

  1. Very interesting!

    I think a search on that scale would be more likely with advanced signals used to probe rather than advanced probes at first. Then, if a suitable target is found etc…

    I like your parallel with the movie. I’d like to think we’d have patience like that. But, perhaps by the time we’d have developed those tools, we’d also have developed the patience.

    I’d surprised to encounter type 1-3. When dealing with long and unpredictable time and development scales, in my mind it would be more likely to get type 0 or 4.

    I like your top movie picks. I like the Shining for many of the same reasons, although I would pick it before Clockwork because I find it is portrayed so purely. I also find it more impactful because it is close to reality; like something you’d read about in the news. I enjoy the slow descent into madness, or the analysis that he was really savage and mad all along.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rob!

      I agree that we will do everything we can, as far as searching the sky and possible communication, using light before we send physical probes (light being much faster and ‘lighter’). I think we will eventually do both. but if we want highly detailed maps or to build anything far away then probes might be the best option.

      It does seem to be the case that once life gets going it quickly explodes and evolves toward intelligence. But it is tough to say with Earth being our only sample. I do think that once life gets into the type 4 range it becomes essentially eternal, at least in the sense that they won’t be destroyed by anything except the end of the universe. We would learn so much from just one more planet with life… If I could have one wish, it would be to be alive for that day.

      I love everything Kubrick made, but I had to limit myself. There’s only so many times I can say ‘brilliant/genius’ etc. :)

      1. Good point when you reiterate that earth is our only sample. It’s tough to think without constraints. I don’t get much opportunity to do that. Keep it up.

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