I was watching Interstellar recently – Nolan’s most ambitious, and maybe best movie, if I want to make enemies early on in this piece – and though the film is more imaginative than realistic for space-travel, my mind began to drift towards questions on how or when we could go plodding into the universe. So I gratefully lowered myself into the rabbit hole of black holes and NASA gadgets to see what us smart monkeys can expect in the future.
Thanks to the explorations of the Hubble telescope and an increased vision of the universe, we know there are:
- hundreds of billions of galaxies,
- each one with billions of stars and planets
- galaxies extending for billions of light years in all directions
- 90% of humans addicted to memes and watching reruns of Seinfeld
The impatience of humans compels us to want to sprint through the first two bases of space exploration (Mars and our solar system) and get right onto wormholes and galactic wanderlust. While this may be true for the spectators at least, it is not for the scientists at NASA who have to write epic Tolstoy sized novels of ones and zeros in data script. Alas, we’re still in our training wheels phase of space travel, and it will be some time yet until we explode out of the gates into different solar systems.
It took 9.5 years for the New Horizons probe to arrive at our once beloved, now ex-planet, Pluto, and that was travelling at a million miles a day. And, I’m so sorry to say, that’s not even close to the edge of our solar system. It’s not even far. The distance to the edge of our system is a staggering 50,000 times the distance from Earth to Pluto. It’s like we’re children trying to jump up to grab a jar of cookies on top of a cabinet, except the cabinet is a trillion billion kilometres away and the cookies are endless worlds and balls of flame away again. Our weak, pathetic, knobbly little legs are the rockets we have now, trying in vain to propel us into deep space. Or something along those lines.
Our imaginations and expectations are much more advanced than our technology is, but slowly the difference is being pulled back, like the turning heave in a tug of war battle, as we can see from Tesla’s Mars colonization plan. One solar system should be focused on at a time. We shouldn’t be planning to leap to the end of the universe (which is flying and expanding away from us at 68 kilometres a second, for the record) right away.
On the bright side, every single year there are improvements in speed, efficiency and scientific nous that will take us closer to the stars we gaze at every night.. Ryan Weed, the CEO of Positron Dynamics, recently held a TED talk discussing his plans to create the world’s first antimatter rocket. His proposed spacecraft would have the trip take five years, but unfortunately due to time dilation, 1,500 years would have passed on earth in that time, so only if the craft was launched when Mohammed was alive would we expect them to have arrived. And anyway, if his hypothesis is correct, our current technology is nowhere near ready.
As Cooper says in Interstellar, “we’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known.” Our victories in scientific progress are one of humanity’s greatest ongoing achievements; moon-landings, planned planetary colonisation and ever faster, more efficient methods of space exploration. The future is being pulled in and, after our leap to Mars in the next decade, we’ll be one hurdle closer towards completing the never ending quest of universal exploration.