Hyperspace Shortcuts

As discussed in Chapter 6, space—time warps seem even less likely today than ZPE machines. But research in these fields should continue in spite of what seems to be a low probability of success. Enormous amounts of energy—actually universal amounts—may be required to produce a wormhole. And exotic, purely theoretical energy fields must be manifested from the quantum vacuum to maintain them.

Breakthroughs have occurred before—much of twentieth-century physics "broke through'' the nineteenth-century belief that Newton and Maxwell would eventually describe how everything works and came about. They were wrong, and perhaps today's physicists are also wrong. If so, then the development of either a warp drive or a ZPE machine would have enormous consequences for humanity. We should be skeptical, follow the scientific process and, above all, keep our inquisitive minds open to new and different ideas.

Let us suppose that we find a way for nature to provide us with a revolutionary space drive. What then might we want to accomplish?

Instant Earths

If we wish to terraform a marginally habitable world—such as Mars—and make it more amenable to terrestrial life, we are taking on a long-term and expensive project. We first must use devices such as solar collectors or reflectors to increase (in the case of frigid Mars) solar radiant flux. Then, we must add lots of water and atmosphere—probably by impacting volatile-rich bodies (comets) from the Asteroid Belt or Kuiper Belt. Next we mix well and stir—probably for a few centuries—to distribute the ocean and air as desired. And finally, as our final ingredient, we add life of increasing complexity.

If future humans find such worlds in neighboring solar systems and travel to them on voyages requiring many centuries, imagine the frustration of residents in the "worldships" as they endlessly orbit and peer down upon the slowly evolving planet. They will certainly wonder whether any method exists to speed up the process.

Hollywood special effects make terraforming look easy. In one of the Star Trek movies, a "genesis" device is used to almost instantly alter the character of a non-living world and equip it with a functioning biosphere.

Such a device seems impossible today, but it is unreasonable to limit the frontiers of nanotechnology and genetic engineering. Even if it proves impossible to rapidly create a biosphere on a marginally habitable world, it may ultimately be possible to reengineer higher terrestrial organisms so that they can instead adapt to the environments of Mars-like worlds.

The Red-Eye Special

Space is a very big place and foreseeable propulsion technology has its limitations. Trips to Mars may always require months; flights to more distant planets, Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud Objects may always require decades; and trips to nearby stars may require centuries.

One suggested way to relieve the tedium of a long interplanetary or interstellar voyage, retard aging, and reduce the strain on your craft's lifesupport system, is to take the Red-Eye Special and sleep your way through space.

Such a technique—called suspended animation—is an old standby for the science fiction author. In Stanley Kubrik's screen adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, A Space Odyssey, most of the crew sleep their way between Earth and jupiter.

As well as reducing life-support requirements and possibly extending lifespan, hibernation might increase tolerance to cosmic radiation, thereby reducing shielding requirements on long space flights.

Humans do not hibernate. So is there any real hope that we can suspend the animation of a human crew during a long-duration space voyage?

Although humans can't yet hibernate, the proteins responsible for hibernation in certain rodents have been isolated. One significant aspect of possible hibernation in humans, long overlooked, is the psychological effects of this process. Recent research addresses possible psychological and behavioral consequences of induced human hibernation.

At one time, it was fashionable to assume that ultracold storage ofrecently deceased organisms could be accomplished using cryogenic techniques. Although meat preservation can certainly be accomplished in this manner, it seems most unlikely that deep-frozen brains can ever be revived.

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