Sending Life to the Stars

Asia's Tech News Daily

Sending Life to the Stars

No longer solely in the realm of science fiction, the possibility of interstellar travel has appeared, tantalizingly, on the horizon. Although we may not see it in our lifetimes – at least not some real version of the fictional warp-speeding, hyperdriving, space-folding sort – we are having early conversations of how life could escape the tether of our solar system, using technology that is within reach.

For UC Santa Barbara professors Philip Lubin(link is external) and Joel Rothman(link is external), it’s a great time to be alive. Born of a generation that saw breathtaking advances in space exploration, they carry the unbridled optimism and creative spark of the early Space Age, when humans first found they could leave the Earth.

“The Apollo moon voyages were among the most momentous events in my life and contemplating them still blows my mind,” said Rothman, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and a self-admitted “space geek.”

A mere 50 years have passed since that pivotal era, but humanity’s knowledge of space and the technology to explore it have improved immensely, enough for Rothman to join experimental cosmologist Lubin in considering what it would take for living beings to embark on a journey across the vast distance separating us from our nearest neighbor in the galaxy. The result of their collaboration was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.(link is external)

“I think it’s our destiny to keep exploring,” Rothman said. “Look at the history of the human species. We explore at smaller and smaller levels down to subatomic levels and we also explore at increasingly larger scales. Such drive toward ceaseless exploration lies at the core of who we are as a species.”

Thinking Big, Starting Small
The biggest challenge to human-scale interstellar travel is the enormous distance between Earth and the nearest stars. The Voyager(link is external) missions have proven that we can send objects across the 12 billion miles it takes to exit the bubble surrounding our solar system, the heliosphere. But the car-sized probes, traveling at speeds of more than 35,000 miles per hour, took 40 years to reach there and their distance from Earth is only a tiny fraction of that to the next star. If they were headed to the closest star, it would take them over 80,000 years to reach it.

That challenge is a major focus of Lubin’s work, in which he reimagines the technology it would take to reach the next solar system in human terms. Traditional onboard chemical propulsion (a.k.a. rocket fuel) is out; it can’t provide enough energy to move the craft fast enough, and the weight of it and current systems needed to propel the ship are not viable for the relativistic speeds the craft needs to achieve. New propulsion technologies are required – and this is where the UCSB directed energy research program of using light as the “propellant” comes in.

“This has never been done before, to push macroscopic objects at speeds approaching the speed of light,” said Lubin, a professor in the Department of Physics. Mass is such a huge barrier, in fact, that it rules out any human missions for the foreseeable future.

As a result, his team turned to robots and photonics. Small probes with onboard instrumentation that sense, collect and transmit data back to Earth will be propelled up to 20-30% of the speed of light by light itself using a laser array stationed on Earth, or possibly the moon. “We don’t leave home with it,” as Lubin explained, meaning the primary propulsion system stays “at home” while spacecraft are “shot out” at relativistic speeds. The main propulsion laser is turned on for a short period of time and then the next probe is readied to be launched.

“It would probably look like a semiconductor wafer with an edge to protect it from the radiation and dust bombardment as it goes through the interstellar medium,” Lubin said. “It would probably be the size of your hand to start with.” As the program evolves the spacecraft become larger with enhanced capability. The core technology can also be used in a modified mode to propel much larger spacecraft within our solar system at slower speeds, potentially enabling human missions to Mars in as little as one month, stopping included. This is another way of spreading life, but in our solar system(link is external).

At these relativistic speeds – roughly 100 million miles per hour – the wafercraft would reach the next solar system, Proxima Centauri, in roughly 20 years. Getting to that level of technology will require continuous innovation and improvement of both the space wafer, as well the photonics, where Lubin sees “exponential growth” in the field. The basic project to develop a roadmap to achieve relativistic flight via directed energy propulsion is supported by NASA and private foundations such as the Starlight program and by the Breakthrough Initiatives as the Starshot program.

“When I learned that the mass of these craft could reach gram levels or larger, it became clear that they could accomodate living animals,” said Rothman, who realized that the creatures he’d been studying for decades, called C. elegans, could be the first Earthlings to travel between the stars. These intensively studied roundworms may be small and plain, but they are experimentally accomplished creatures, Rothman said.

“Research on this little animal has led to Nobel prizes to six researchers thus far,” he noted.

C. elegans are already veterans of space travel, as the subject of experiments conducted on the International Space Station and aboard the space shuttle, even surviving the tragic disintegration of the Columbia shuttle. Among their special powers, which they share with other potential interstellar travelers that Rothman studies, tardigrades (or, more affectionately, water bears) can be placed in suspended animation in which virtually all metabolic function is arrested. Thousands of these tiny creatures could be placed on a wafer(link is external), put in suspended animation, and flown in that state until reaching the desired destination. They could then be wakened in their tiny StarChip and precisely monitored for any detectable effects of interstellar travel on their biology, with the observations relayed to Earth by photonic communication.

“We can ask how well they remember trained behavior when they’re flying away from their earthly origin at near the speed of light, and examine their metabolism, physiology, neurological function, reproduction and aging,” Rothman added. “Most experiments that can be conducted on these animals in a lab can be performed onboard the StarChips as they whiz through the cosmos.” The effects of such long odysseys on animal biology could allow the scientists to extrapolate to potential effects on humans.

“We could start thinking about the design of interstellar transporters, whatever they may be, in a way that could ameliorate the issues that are detected in these diminutive animals,” Rothman said.

Of course, being able to send humans to interstellar space is great for movies, but in reality is still a far away dream. By the time we get to that point we may have created more suitable life forms or hybrid human-machines that are more resilient, Lubin said.

“This is a generational program,” he said. Scientists of coming generations ideally will contribute to our knowledge of interstellar space and its challenges, and enhance the design of the craft as technology improves. With the primary propulsion system being light, the underlying technology is on an exponential growth curve, much like electronics with a “Moore’s Law” like expanding capability.

Planetary Protection and Extraterrestrial Propagation
We’re bound to our solar system for the forseeable future; humans are fragile and delicate away from our home planet. But that hasn’t stopped Lubin, Rothman, their research teams and their diverse collaborators, which include a radiation specialist and a science-trained theologian, to contemplate both the physiological and ethical aspects of sending life to space – and perhaps even propagating life in space.

“There are the ethics,” Lubin explained, “of planetary protection,” in which serious thought is given to the possibility of contamination, either from our planet to others or vice versa. “I think if you started talking about directed propagation of life, which is sometimes called panspermia – this idea that life came from elsewhere and ended up on the earth by comets and other debris, or even intentionally from another civilization – the idea that we would purposefully send out life does bring up big questions.”

So far, the authors contend, there is no risk of forward contamination, as the probes nearing any other planet would burn up in their atmosphere or be obliterated in the collision with the surface. Because the wafercraft are on a one-way trip, there’s no risk that any extraterrestrial microbes will return to Earth.

While still somewhat on the fringe, the theory of panspermia seems to be getting some serious, if limited, attention, given how easy it is to propagate life when conditions are right and the discovery of several exoplanets and other celestial bodies that may have been, or could be, supportive of life as we know it.

“Some people have mused and published on ideas such as ‘is the universe a lab experiment from some advanced civilization,'” Lubin said. “So people are certainly willing to think about advanced civilizations. Questions are good but answers are better. Right now we simply ponder these questions without the answers yet.”

Another issue currently being contemplated in the wider space exploration community: What are the ethics of sending humans to Mars and other distant places knowing they may never come home? What about sending out small micro-organisms or human DNA? These existential inquiries are as old as the first human migrations and seafaring voyages, the answers to which will likely come the moment we’re ready to take these journeys.

“I think we shouldn’t, and won’t, suppress the exploratory yearning that is intrinsic to our nature,” Rothman said.

Research Report: “The First Interstellar Astronauts Will Not Be Human”

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related


Too much heavy metal stops stars producing

Stars are giant factories that produce most of the elements in the Universe – including the elements in us, and in the Earth’s metal deposits. But what stars produce changes ... Read more »

Deciphering conditions around the Sun five million years ago

Using high-resolution data obtained from the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope, Wesleyan University Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield can show the conditions the Sun encountered traveling ... Read more »

Researchers Observe Massive CME on Distant, Sun-Like Star

EK Draconis illuminates an unimagined picture of how superflares may affect interplanetary space through coronal mass ejections Welcome to the New Year! While Earth celebrated 2022’s arrival with displays of ... Read more »

North Pole solar eclipse excited auroras on the other side of the world

A solar eclipse over the Arctic created changes in auroras in both of Earth’s hemispheres due to connections through the planet’s magnetic field, according to a new study. The new ... Read more »

Increased space missions risk extraterrestrial contamination

The days of the U.S.-Soviet Space Race are over, and the domain of space exploration is expanding daily to include more countries than ever before. With the advent of private ... Read more »

Planet to launch 44 SuperDove satellites on SpaceX's Falcon 9

Planet Labs PBC reports announced that the launch of their Flock 4x, consisting of 44 SuperDove satellites, will take place on Thursday, January 13th on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Transporter-3 SSO. ... Read more »

Mangata Networks announces funding for satellite edge computing network

Mangata Networks has closed a $33 million Series A round led by US-based venture capital firm Playground Global to continue its mission to transform the way the world interacts with ... Read more »

Advances in Space Transportation Systems Transforming Space Coast

From a seaside perch overlooking the hustle and bustle of ships coming and going at Port Canaveral on Florida’s east coast, Dale Ketcham reflects on decades of history with nostalgia. ... Read more »

Indian Space Agency tests cryogenic engine for its first-ever manned mission

India’s flagship human spaceflight mission, Gaganyaan, has completed the design and testing phases. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to launch two uncrewed missions ahead of the final mission ... Read more »

Manufacturing revenues for Earth observation to grow to $76.1 billion by 2030

Euroconsult, the leading space consulting and market intelligence firm, has released its eagerly awaited ”Earth Observation Satellite Systems Market” report, providing a sweeping review analysis of the Earth Observation (EO) ... Read more »

NASA's new IXPE mission begins science operations

NASA’s newest X-ray eyes are open and ready for discovery! Having spent just over a month in space, the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is working and already zeroing in ... Read more »

Ride into space on Vega-C secured for FLEX and Altius

A contract signed with Arianespace secures the joint launch for two satellites that will further knowledge of our home planet. Scheduled to lift off on a new class of rocket, ... Read more »

The Incredible ASIM: Distant galaxy edition

The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, or ASIM for short, is a first-of-its-kind complement of instruments on the International Space Station. Dubbed the ‘space storm hunter’, ASIM measures electric events in Earth’s ... Read more »

From dust to planet: how gas giants form

Gas giants are made of a massive solid core surrounded by an even larger mass of helium and hydrogen. But even though these planets are quite common in the Universe, ... Read more »

SDSS-V robots turn their eyes to the sky

After twenty-one years of observers loading heavy aluminum plates night after night, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is now seeing the cosmos through robotic eyes. Following more than five ... Read more »

Cheops reveals a rugby ball-shaped exoplanet

ESA’s exoplanet mission Cheops has revealed that an exoplanet orbiting its host star within a day has a deformed shape more like that of a rugby ball than a sphere. ... Read more »

Advertising plays key role in satellite TV success, study shows

The pay television market in the United States was dominated by a handful of cable operators until the early 1990s with the entry of satellite TV, which has grown consistently ... Read more »

Elusive atmospheric molecule produced in a lab for the 1st time by UH

The previously elusive methanediol molecule of importance to the organic, atmospheric science and astrochemistry communities has been synthetically produced for the first time by University of Hawai?i at Manoa researchers. ... Read more »

Astroscale U.S. and Orbit Fab sign first on-orbit satellite fuel sale agreement

Orbit Fab, the Gas Stations in Space refueling service provider and Astroscale U.S. Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Astroscale Holdings Inc. and market leader in securing long-term orbital sustainability, has ... Read more »

ASU instrument captures breathtaking 'first light' images

ASU scientists and engineers building the Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) for NASA’s Europa Clipper passed a major hurdle recently by capturing the first successful test images from this ... Read more »

Astronomers identify potential clue to reinonization of universe

About 400,000 years after the universe was created began a period called “The Epoch of Reionization.” During this time, the once hotter universe began to cool and matter clumped together, ... Read more »

Mini monster black hole could hold clues to giant's growth

The discovery of a supermassive black hole in a relatively small galaxy could help astronomers unravel the mystery surrounding how the very biggest black holes grow. Researchers used NASA’s Chandra ... Read more »

Simulated Image Shows How NASA's Roman Could Expand on Hubble's Deepest View

A team of astrophysicists has created a simulated image that shows how the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope could conduct a mega-exposure similar to but far larger than Hubble’s celebrated ... Read more »

Ocean Physics Explain Cyclones on Jupiter

Hurtling around Jupiter and its 79 moons is the Juno spacecraft, a NASA-funded satellite that sends images from the largest planet in our solar system back to researchers on Earth. ... Read more »

Gilmour Space fires up for 2022 with Australia's largest rocket engine test

Rocket engineers at Gilmour Space Technologies have greeted the new year with a successful 110-kilonewton test fire of the most powerful rocket engine ever developed in Australia. The 75-second test ... Read more »

Prestwick Spaceport Files Planning Application Notice

South Ayrshire Council has started the process of submitting a formal planning application for the Prestwick Spaceport development. The Proposal of Application Notice (POAN) is the first step in the ... Read more »

Life could be thriving in the clouds of Venus

by Eric Verbeten for WISC News Is there life on Venus? For more than a century, scientists have pondered this question. Now, there is renewed interest in Venus as a ... Read more »

How the Earth's tilt creates short, cold January days

As the Earth orbits the sun, it spins around an axis – picture a stick going through the Earth, from the North Pole to the South Pole. During the 24 ... Read more »

NASA's newest astronaut class begins training in Houston

NASA swore in 10 new astronaut candidates Monday at Johnson Space Center in Houston — six men and four women — who someday may walk on the moon or Mars. ... Read more »

Shouzhou XIII crew finishes cargo spacecraft, space station docking test

The Shenzhou XIII astronauts in China’s space station core module have completed the manual rendezvous and docking experiment with the Tianzhou 2 cargo craft, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) ... Read more »

Take-Two to buy 'Farmville' creator Zynga for $12.7 bn

Video game publisher Take-Two announced Monday it reached a deal to acquire “Farmville” creator Zynga for $12.7 billion, in a major mobile gaming push by the maker of “Grand Theft ... Read more »

Hubble sees cosmic clues in a galactic duo

This spectacular image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures the spiral galaxy NGC 105, which lies roughly 215 million light-years away in the constellation Pisces. While it looks like ... Read more »

Eccentric exoplanet discovered

Led by the University of Bern, an international research team has discovered a sub-Neptune exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. The discovery was also made thanks to observations performed by ... Read more »

Real-time alert system heralds new era in fast radio burst research

McGill University scientists have developed a new system for sharing the enormous amount of data being generated by the CHIME radio telescope in its search for fast radio bursts (FRBs), ... Read more »

NASA to host coverage for Webb Telescope's final unfolding

NASA will provide live coverage and host a media briefing Saturday, Jan. 8, for the conclusion of the James Webb Space Telescope’s major spacecraft deployments. Beginning no earlier than 9 ... Read more »

Loft Orbital extends production agreement with LeoStella

Loft Orbital Solutions, Inc. (Loft Orbital), a leading space infrastructure-as-a-service provider, and LeoStella, Inc., a specialized satellite constellation design and manufacturing company, have extended their production agreement to secure multiple ... Read more »

Asteroid with a refreshed surface

How did our Solar System form and evolve? Various models for the creation of our system of planets have been proposed, but the planets themselves provide unfortunately little information as ... Read more »

Arianespace consolidates leadership in commercial market with 15 Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launches in 2021

Arianespace confirmed its strong performance in 2021, with 15 successful launches – five more than in 2020 – and 305 satellites sent into orbit using its three launchers, Ariane, Soyuz ... Read more »

Debris from failed Russian rocket falls into sea near French Polynesia

The upper stage of a failed Russian Angara A5 rocket plummeted uncontrolled to Earth, crashing into open sea near French Polynesia. The U.S. 18th Space Control Squadron confirmed the 4 ... Read more »

Metaverse gets touch of reality at CES

A jacket equipped with sensors that let wearers feel hugs or even punches in virtual reality was among the innovations giving the metaverse a more realistic edge at the Consumer ... Read more »
On you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic