06 Nov The New Golden Age Of Space Exploration (MICHIO KAKU)
All these exciting discoveries of exoplanets, along with the novel ideas brought about by a fresh new generation of visionaries, are rekindling the public’s interest in space travel. Originally, what drove the space program was the Cold War and superpower rivalry. The public did not mind spending a staggering 5.5 percent of the nation’s federal budget on the Apollo space program because our national prestige was at stake. However, this feverish competition could not be sustained forever, and the funding eventually collapsed.
U.S. astronauts last walked on the surface of the moon about forty-five years ago. Now, the Saturn V rocket and the space shuttle are dismantled and rusting in pieces in museums and junkyards, their stories languishing in dusty history books. In the years that followed, NASA was criticized as the “agency to nowhere.” It has been spinning its wheels for decades, boldly going where everyone has gone before.
But the economic situation has begun to change. The price of space travel, once so high it could cripple a nation’s budget, has been dropping steadily, in large part because of the influx of energy, money, and enthusiasm from a rising cohort of entrepreneurs. Impatient with NASA’s sometimes glacial pace, billionaires like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos have been opening up their checkbooks to build new rockets. Not only do they want to turn a profit, they also want to fulfill their childhood dreams of going to the stars.
Now there is a rejuvenated national will. The question is no longer whether the U.S. will send astronauts to the Red Planet, but when. Former president Barack Obama stated that astronauts would walk on the surface of Mars sometime after 2030, and President Donald Trump has asked NASA to accelerate that timetable.
As we look to the future, we can see the outlines of how science will transform space exploration. Because of revolutionary advances in a wide range of modern technologies, we can now speculate how our civilization may one day move into outer space, terraforming planets and traveling among the stars. Although this is a long-term goal, it is now possible to give a reasonable time frame and estimate when certain cosmic milestones will be met.
Revolutionary Waves Of Technology
Given the vast frontiers of science that lie before us, it may help to put the broad panorama of human history into perspective. If our ancestors could see us today, what would they think? For most of human history, we lived wretched lives, struggling in a hostile, uncaring world where life expectancy was between twenty and thirty years of age. We were mostly nomads, carrying all our possessions on our backs. Every day was a struggle to secure food and shelter. We lived in constant fear of vicious predators, disease, and hunger. But if our ancestors could see us today, with our ability to send images instantly across the planet, with rockets that can take us to the moon and beyond, and with cars that can drive themselves, they would consider us to be sorcerers and magicians.
History reveals that scientific revolutions come in waves, often stimulated by advances in physics. In the nineteenth century, the first wave of science and technology was made possible by physicists who created the theory of mechanics and thermodynamics. This enabled engineers to produce the steam engine, leading to the locomotive and the industrial revolution. This profound shift in technology lifted civilization from the curse of ignorance, backbreaking labor, and poverty and took us into the machine age.
In the twentieth century, the second wave was spearheaded by physicists who mastered the laws of electricity and magnetism, which in turn ushered in the electric age. This made possible the electrification of our cities with the advent of dynamos, generators, TV, radio, and radar. The second wave gave birth to the modern space program, which took us to the moon.
In the twenty-first century, the third wave of science has been expressed in high tech, spearheaded by the quantum physicists who invented the transistor and the laser. This made possible the supercomputer, the internet, modern telecommunications, GPS, and the explosion of the tiny chips that have permeated every aspect of our lives.
Science will give us the means by which we can shape the universe in our image. The question is whether we will have the wisdom of Solomon to accompany this vast celestial power.
Michio Kaku is a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, cofounder of string field theory, and the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Beyond Einstein, The Future of the Mind, Hyperspace, Physics of the Future, and Physics of the Impossible.He is the science correspondent for CBS This Morning, and host of numerous TV science specials and of the radio programs Science Fantasticand Exploration.
The Future of Humanity