Space, the final frontier.
Humans have already conquered the Earth. Explored almost every last inch of land, sea, and air.
And now, we set our course for the stars.
For millennia, mankind has been looking up at the stars, trying to figure out what they are, how they’re all connected, and how we can get there.
But how much progress have we truly made in the last couple million years?
Sure, humans have made some pretty impressive advancements in terms of space exploration. But from a cosmic perspective, we still haven’t even stepped out the front door.
We’re still sitting safely inside our living room, peering through the window from the comforts of our cosmic couch.
Humans have always been a rather adventurous species.
In fact, if you look back through human history, it almost seems as if we’re hard-wired to be constantly pushing the boundaries of existence, exploring new realities, new ways of thinking, new ways of life.
From the birthplace of mankind in the wild, African Savanna, through to the mountainous Martian landscapes of the Red Planet, humans have racked up a pretty impressive list of achievements and discoveries.
But what’s next? The Moon? Mars? Outer space?
Today, we’re taking a look at the new, emerging technologies that have the potential to turn us into an interplanetary, and possibly an interstellar species.
Move over bits and transistors. When it comes to super-advanced math and the complex modeling of space, advanced supercomputers take the lead.
Although there are often several definitions attributed to advanced computing, in this context, we are referring to high-performance computer systems, where clusters of individual computers are used in conjunction with each other as one extremely powerful supercomputer.
Supercomputers are needed if humankind ever wants to step through the doorway and head out to extraterrestrial planets.
As it stands, modern computers already possess a rather large amount of processing power. But even the most powerful computers today still take lengthy periods of time to process large, complex mathematical functions.
So by combining the processing power of multiple computers, a supercomputer would be able to increase its processing speed exponentially, making it possible to process enormous amounts of data at extremely high speeds.
Essentially, most computer users only do a few, basic tasks with their PCs, i.e. checking messages, sending emails, streaming music or videos, browsing websites.
Advanced computing aims to make use of this unused processing power, combining them in order to complete enormous mathematical functions.
Quantum computing is another form of emerging tech that could help mankind travel to other planets.
A quantum computer works by harnessing the power of quantum mechanics in order to deliver massive increases in processing speeds.
This type of quantum machine is expected to outperform even the most powerful of today’s supercomputers.
However, quantum computers won’t ever wipe out traditional computers. It will always be much simpler and more cost-effective to use conventional computers for more basic computational needs.
But still, quantum computers promise many exciting advancements in science and technology and quite possible interplanetary travel.
In order to function, quantum computers rely on their ability to generate and manipulate data in the form of quantum bits, also referred to as qubits.
Currently, quantum computing’s most promising application is its ability to simulate the behavior of matter at a molecular level.
This, for example, could allow pharmaceutical companies to analyze and compare molecular compounds, potentially leading to the development use new drugs to help astronauts resist exposure to radiation in space.
Quantum machines are also excellent at optimization problems since they’re able to process large, complicated equations, crunching through all potential solutions, at extremely high speeds.
This type of high-speed computer processing and versatility is needed if we ever want to inhabit other planets.
Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning
AI has already come a long way since it was first dreamt up in the minds of sci-fi geeks many decades ago.
Today, we’re using AI and machine learning for more basic tasks that make our lives easier. For example, searching for information on Google.
Google uses complex algorithms and machine learning capabilities to track Google’s users’ search queries and learn certain trends. This allows Google to learn about its users and provide them with more accurate information in the future.
While this is a basic example, the development of such technologies could help the human species reach for the stars.
In order for us to travel millions of miles from our home planet, we’re going to need technologies that are capable of tracking, collecting, managing, and processing vast amounts of data ranging from communications systems through to life support.
AI and machine learning could help in these areas.
Two other interesting areas where AI could be useful for interplanetary travel are machine vision and the possibility of creating brain-computer interfaces.
There are places in outer space where light doesn’t shine.
Alternatively, there are some places where radiation is too intense for our eyes to see.
And in other places in outer space, it might be more convenient to be able to see in other light spectrums such as infrared or ultraviolet.
Machine vision could be used to address these issues.
This type of emerging technology could be used for providing automatic, imaging-based inspection and analysis for procedural controls and robotic guidance systems.
In other words, we could be using machine vision for mapping and processing information about outer space, even in places where our human eyes can’t see.
Essentially, a brain-computer interface would involve installing a small computer chip into a person’s brain, allowing them to communicate directly with an external device.
Brain-computer interfaces use micro-electric signals recorded from the brain to remotely control a given application.
For example, in interplanetary travel, a brain-computer interface might allow an astronaut to communicate directly with their space shuttle’s computer system to monitor life support, crew vitals, radiation levels, etc.
Terraforming is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying a planet, moon, or other space body’s atmosphere, surface temperature, geology, or ecology to make it habitable for humans.
While theoretically promising, this type of technology is still vastly unstudied and underdeveloped. Not to mention the fact that it could thousands, potentially millions of years to successfully alter a planet or moon’s atmosphere to make it more habitable.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has already discussed the possibility of nuking mars in order to terraform its landscape. Learn more about it here.
Instead, domed cities and arcology are more plausible solutions to colonizing other uninhabitable planets.
Domed Cities and Arcology
Rather than terraforming entire atmospheres and surface conditions, a more likely solution would be to build domed cities that house their own life support systems to make them habitable to humans.
Arcology is the mostly-hypothetical field of creating architectural designs capable of providing enough space for residential, commercial, and agricultural activities.
Domed cities could be built using arcologies, which would be giant superstructures that are completely sustainable and entirely self-dependent. In other words, their inhabitants would live there, work there, and even grow their own food there.
Closed Ecological Systems
These ideas are similar to closed ecological systems; ecosystems that do not rely on the exchange of matter from any other external system.
We could build these closed systems on other interplanetary outposts and use agricultural robots to grow food.
But some areas on other planets or moons might not receive enough light to grow plants and other vegetation.
Artificial photosynthesis is another emerging area of technology, in which we’re able to bio-mimic the natural photosynthesis process.
Although we’ve known about artificial photosynthesis for more than a century, it’s still unclear how we would use this technology to grow food in outer space.
But if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that space is an extremely uninhabitable place.
So if we’re ever to leave our solar system and colonize other planets and moons in outer space, we’re going to need to develop technologies to protect us from the elements and feed ourselves.
Transportation In Outer Space
With our current rocket propulsion systems, it takes about 3 days to make it to the moon. To make it to Mars, it takes anywhere from 150 to 300 days.
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched in the late 70s and have spent 42 years traveling through space. And they’re only just outside the solar system now.
It’s clear that if we want to become an interplanetary species, we’re going to need to develop new types of rockets and propulsion systems to make space travel more feasible.
But even if we created rocketships that are capable of travel vast distances, we would need to find fuel sources along the way.
Some theories suggest that we could develop mining technologies capable of extracting resources from comets and asteroids. We could then possibly build propellant or fuel depots on or near these mine sites to allow space crafts to refuel along their journey in between planets.
But even if we developed all of this, we would still need to figure out how to get around one of the biggest obstacles in space travel: time.
Suspended Animation, Hibernation, and Cryogenics
On Earth, humans are a rather hardy species. After all, we’ve been around for a few million years.
But in the eyes of the stars, we are weak and fragile, and our entire lifespans are but fleeting seconds.
For example, the nearest star to the Sun, known as Alpha Centauri, is only about 4.2 lightyears away. That means it takes light about 4.2 years to travel from there to here.
That’s fine for light waves and particles, but for humans, this distance represents a virtually insurmountable obstacle. And with our relatively short lifespans, it becomes impossible to travel across such vast distances.
That is unless we develop technologies that allow us to keep people alive in suspended animation.
In theory, space travelers could be put to sleep or frozen in cryogenic stasis chambers for the duration of their space travels.
So instead of arriving at the next planet or exoplanet having already aged a few hundred years, we could send humans across these great distances in suspended animation. Then, upon their arrival, they could be revived without having aged a day.
Another major concern with interplanetary travel is how we’re going to find energy sources in deep space.
Fortunately, space’s inhospitable void radiates with plenty of energy.
The issue is that we have yet to discover how to harness most of this energy.
Solar energy is the most obvious answer. But in order to use this for interplanetary travel, we would need to design and build spacecraft and engines capable of using this type of energy.
Nuclear fusion is another renewable energy source that humans are currently developing and learning to harness.
Fusion is the process that takes place inside most stars and involves the process of two or more atomic nuclei coming together to form one or more other types of nuclei and a subatomic particle.
Humans have been studying nuclear fusion for years. However, fusion reactors are still highly-experimental and it’s still unclear how we would use this type of energy technology for interplanetary travel.
It’s these types of abundant, renewable energy technologies we, as humans, need to learn to harness if we’re ever to leave the solar system.
Notable Technology Mentions
It would have been nearly impossible to include every technology that we need to develop in order to leave the solar system. Below, you’ll find a list of a few notable mentions that you might also be interested in.
- 3D/4D printing
- Asteroid mining
- Propellant depot
- Mini satellites
- Advanced Wireless technology
- Space elevators
- Artificial gravity
- Inflatable space habitat
- Suspended animation, hibernation, cryogenics & stasis chambers
- Internet of Things
- Renewable energy
- Fusion power
- Space-based solar power
- Solar energy
- Cultured meat/food
- Force fields
- Unmanned vehicles
- Metal foam
Humanity and The Kardashev Scale
Used as a method for measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement, the Kardashev scale is based on the amount of energy they’re able to harness and make use out of.
Originally proposed in 1964 by a Soviet astronomer named Nikolai Kardashev, the scale is merely used as a hypothetical measurement and can be broked down into three distinct categories: Type I, Type II and Type III.
Sometimes referred to as a planetary civilization, this category is used to represent civilizations capable and using all of the available energy on its planet.
Civilizations that are capable of harnessing and controlling all of the energy available within its solar system fall into this category, and are often referred to as stellar civilizations.
Also known as a galactic civilization, Type III civilizations are able to control energy on a much larger galactic scale. In other words, they’re able to harness and utilize virtually all of the energy found in its host galaxy.
As it stands, human civilization still hasn’t quite reached Type 1 status, although we are well on our way. The notable astronomer Carl Sagan graded humanity as a 0.7 civilization during his time in the 1980-1990s.
According to American physicist, Michio Kaku, humanity is capable of achieving Type 1 status within the next 100 to 200 years, Type II within a few thousand, and Type III in the next 100,000 years. (If we survive!)
Over the years, several extensions have been proposed to the scale including a Type 0, to denote where humanity currently stands, as well as Types IV, V, and VI for higher levels of energy.
Reaching For The Stars
Will it ever happen?
Or will we stay an earth-bound species for the rest of our days?
Humans have been staring up into the cosmos for millions of years, but it seems that we’re still lightyears away from leaving this planet and colonizing other, more distant planets.
The furthest we’ve ever been is the spacecraft Voyager 1.
Launched in 1977, the spacecraft is roughly 22 billion kilometers away from Earth, somewhere just outside the solar system.
That’s right. It’s been 42 years and Voyager 1 has only just recently left the solar system.
This makes one thing clear:
If we ever want to become an interplanetary species and begin colonizing outer space, we’re going to need to make huge leaps in technological advancement in order to reach the stars.
After giving up his career as an ironworker in 2016, Joel began pursuing work as a freelance writer and editor. He has since written thousands of blog posts for brands all around the world and currently manages his own content agency, The Hobo Marketing Co.