Friday, April 22, 2011

Voyager to the Stars


Some nights after I roll the trash can to the street, I look up at the stars and the planets.  It makes me a bit sad that I'll never travel to space.  Well, at least not until I'm dead.  Hopefully, I'll be looking down from Heaven.  I hear the view is spectacular.

My point is that humans have the urge to explore.  I worry that unless we have a spectacular breakthrough in physics that permits faster-than-light-speed travel, we are stuck here on Earth.  At best we could get a small number of people to other planets in our solar system, but I don't think we'll be able to move large groups. 

So our future exploration will probably be conducted by probes and robots.  NASA launched Voyager 1 in 1977.  By 2010, it was over 10 BILLION miles (or 17 BILLION kilometers) out from our sun.  Impressive, and the engineers who built Voyager should be proud.  Now Voyager is entering the heliosheath, where solar winds from our star meet interstellar winds from space.  But will humans ever get that far?

Here on Earth we can explore the seas--they are vast and deep and may keep us busy for a while.  And we can explore virtual worlds, but this is essentially people wandering worlds created by other people.  What will happen when we run out of actual places to explore?

I think the urge to explore is built into humans.  If exploration is part of something fundamentally human, what will we become when we can no longer explore?

(Please note, the picture is from the Hubble.  And an interesting article on Voyager's latest maneuvers can be found here on space.com.)

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