In just over two months time, NASA’s (aptly named) Phoenix lander will reach Mars, marking the beginning of its many reconnaissance missions in it’s ambitious (but entirely do-able) 30 year plan for a manned mission to the infamous red planet. Just short of a century since we landed on the moon, we are to set foot on an alien planet for the first time in history. It’s quite a daunting prospect. Though with the way things are going here on Earth, it is likely to be our main chance at a longterm future. The age of space exploration has truly begun, and (if we are not stupid enough to blow ourselves up in the meantime.. and lets face it nationalistic shows of military force are the main driving force behind such projects ironically), it is – fingers crossed – likely to be the main thing our era is remembered for. If we are still around, our grand-children’s children (perhaps even our grandchildren) will undoubtedly be the first settlers on other worlds.
Assuming we maintain world peace (a first in human history), now we have the combined power to destroy ourselves entirely, with massive overpopulation problems and environmental catastrophies to come (together with massive advances in technology) the colonisation of other worlds is likely to become a fairly exotic, though essentially normal , everyday and almost mundane activity (much like say, a typical British family relocating to Spain). I’m sure awful reality shows on the subject will be made and transmitted on whatever medium is the fashion at the time (I would suggest the title ‘Life On Mars’ but that’s been done)
By the way, if this all sounds a little ‘star trek’ or something to you, you probably watch too much TV (or follow popular thought-fashion a little too closely – the two things are often connected). Try and get some perspective and shift your paradigm a little. This is all hugely significant to us all. Yes, due to the very public space race in the 1960s, and the popularity of science fiction generally (especially in the 1950s and 1970s), there is a tendency to almost consider such thought as dated or fantasy even, but there is a certain reality to it and it is the one thing, along with the advent of high technology, which will define our generation.
On a separate though kinda related subject, the solution to the energy crisis also lies in nearby space. Most likely in solar energy : a large farm of super-panels covering a portion of the (relatively empty and unused) Sahara desert would create enough energy to power the ENTIRE world, and is sustainable, or solar panels on satellite ‘power stations’ in orbit could generate around 6 times their equivalent on Earth (as there is no atmosphere for the sunlight to filter though), where even less infrastructure, space and environmental damage would be necessary.
Thinking bigger though, more energy goes to waste (entirely naturally) in our galaxy than humankind has used in it’s entire lifetime every single second. If we could somehow harness this energy (fighting our primative urges to weaponise it of course) we would not only have many billion times the energy we need, without major environmental damage, but we could perhaps use this abundant energy to develop and power the next generation of transport technology, and like our pioneering ancestors here on Earth, set sail.. but this time to the stars.