beings have not left low Earth orbit since 1972, and for 30 years
the emphasis in space has been on relatively modest
projects," Bainbridge said. "Private enterprise and the
general public have not endorsed Solar System colonization as a
practical or worthy goal," he said.
Bainbridge said he concludes that great progress cannot be
achieved in space without radical ideas, motivations and actions
of a new spaceflight social movement.
To re-energize space progress, Bainbridge said that a
"wholly new radical movement" might be required. That
movement requires embracing new technology serving old and new
motivations, he said.
Several blossoming fields in science and technology, while
seemingly remote to astronautics, can give space exploration a new
edge, Bainbridge said. Specifically, these disciplines are
cognitive neural science, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and
information systems, he said.
A melding of such powerful tools, Bainbridge said, may allow
the founding of a cosmic civilization, a possibility that does not
require flying living human bodies and all the necessities of life
to other planets. By applying that diverse tool kit, we can
overcome death. The gradual merging of human beings with their
computers over the next century gives rise to the prospect of
interstellar immortality, he said.
The technology already exists to start archiving personalities,
albeit at low fidelity. We can begin now to make digital,
audio/visual copies of a person's perceptions, speech and
behavior. In years to come, the ability to reanimate human
personalities at ever-higher fidelity is a sure bet, Bainbridge
That archive is what Bainbridge, author of the seminal work in
the mid-1970s, The Spaceflight Revolution, calls Starbase.
"Only a goal as valuable as eternal life can motivate
investment in substantial scientific infrastructure on the Moon or
Mars," Bainbridge said.
Starbase modules, filled with archived but active personalities
of crew and colonists, could also make the first interstellar
excursions. On their arrival, the crews need not waste time
setting up terraforming operations. Rather, the colonists would
adapt and thrive in whatever environment they are dealt. Follow-on
waves of colonists can be dispatched as "radioed datafiles"
across interstellar space, Bainbridge said.
In future centuries, Starbase archives sent throughout the
galaxy can be resurrected into robots, clones or cyborgs,
By offering the stars to people living today, the second wave
of the spaceflight movement would be spurred into being,
Bainbridge said. The future demands a powerful, motivational force
to create interplanetary and interstellar civilizations, he said,
and a new spaceflight social movement can get us moving again.
But there are a few worrisome signs that could short-circuit
Moves to prohibit human reproductive cloning, attacks on
advanced forms of artificial intelligence, android robots, genetic
engineering, and actions to ban some forms of nanotechnology --
this kind of talk heard in various countries "terrifies
rather than pleases me," Bainbridge said.
Bainbridge freely admits that his ideas may be too radical for
However, NASA itself has started to wrestle with the ethics of
giving birth to "life-like" technologies and
Samuel Venneri, who heads NASA's Office of Aerospace
Technology, sees up and down sides to the merging of
nanotechnology with biology and information technology. He notes
in a recent National Science Foundation report on the social
implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology that "we will
be building systems that become more and more 'life-like' and
which interact with and support living systems at the cellular
On the other hand, Venneri added, life-like technology and
systems are actually living systems, and that systems designed to
interact with humans in a human-like manner might be viewed as
being "too human."
"In the past, this has been the domain of science
fiction," Venneri said. "In the foreseeable future, it
could become reality. Our view at NASA is to be pro-active in
developing ethical standards to make clear that we understand the
accepted boundaries between true 'life sciences' and 'life-like'
science," he said.
Perish the thought
When pondering the vast distances between stars, experts point
out that even a short-duration interstellar voyage might take
centuries. "This might not bother an automated probe, but
could cause problems for humans," said astro-psychologist,
Albert Harrison, at the University of California, Davis.
In his new book, Spacefaring - The Human Dimension, Harrison
cites several proposals by deep space thinkers that question the
need for human migration to the stars. That includes hurling
starbound super-powerful computers that are surrogate brains,
packed with personality, a sense of self, memory, and other
"The beauty of this, if it worked, is that there would be
no need for life support as we normally think of it,"
Harrison said. Star-leaping clones of the human mind would make
the voyage, long after the physical bodies they represented had
perished, he said.
Yet another popular idea, Harrison recounts, is merely sending
a probe filled with genetic codes from Earth, along with a way to
cultivate that life upon arrival. Eventually, intelligent life
forms would begin to develop. This approach allows seeding life
throughout the galaxy without the messy drudgery of protracted
human voyaging, he notes.
"There are many conceivable paths to interstellar
migration, and the ones that we actually will tread, if any,
remain to be seen," Harrison concludes.