Perilous threats, from ill-conceived human misadventures in Ukraine to elevating climate tantrums threatening our Earthly abode, have energized the urge to seek alternatives.
Often the proximate challenges constrict our horizons.
Thomas J. Watson, the president of IBM in the 1940s, famously proclaimed, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
Bill Gates, in 1980, was way more prescient. He wrote, “A computer on every desk and in every home.”
Thank God for Elon Musk. The man is magic and mania, all in one. The man creates miracles and hubris at the speed of dodge coin.
The myth makes and unmakes.
The mavericks have overleaping optimism that compels reality to catch up. Serial failure is part of the bargain.
Musk may have failed in his quest for timely delivery of self-driven cars or human landing on Mars by 2026. He unabashedly accepts “punctuality is not my strong suit.” The same can be said about his aspirational goal of a “self-sustaining city powered by hydroponic farms” on Mars. A two-way ticket to Mars, starting at a purported rate of $500,000 in 2020 dollars, may not be prohibitively deterrent to the rich and daring. Mr. Musk’s candid observation — “some astronauts will probably die en route to Mars” — may similarly deter only “girlie men.”
Beyond the rhetoric and aspirations, we need to reconcile the stubborn facts.
The quest for an alternative planet is provocative, admirable and unachievable. A thing called Einstein’s theory of general relativity precludes it. Our interstellar and intergalactic travel comes with built-in breaks, the speed limit of light.
At the speed of light, we can travel back and forth from earth to the moon in three seconds with more than a half-second to spare. The same trip to our sun, theoretically, will take 16 minutes. Incineration will reduce it to less than eight minutes on a one-way journey.
Furthering the thought experiment, a trip to our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, will take roughly nine years at light speed.
Let’s try to insert thought into the “thought experiment.” The speed of light is an unattainable goal, precluded by the laws of physics. The fastest rockets so far have achieved is less than 0.05 percent of the speed of light. At that inconceivably blinding speed, a round trip to Alpha Centauri will take roughly 16,000 years.
Ridiculousness starts aggregating astronomically.
Closer to home, Mars has captured the fancy from the romantic to enterprising. At least, the “ease” of travel makes it a plausible option. The Martian “terraforming” exudes boundless enthusiasm.
Then the stubborn reality knocks mercilessly at the recklessness of illogic. Why did Mars go barren and turn hostile to life?
Perhaps it lost the electromagnetic shield from the lethal solar radiation early in its genesis.
Mars is a terrestrial planet that mirrors Earth in its crustiness. Mars is the second smallest planet but has Earth-like potential in Goldilocks’ scenario (aka “habitable zone,” between 90 million to 140 million miles away from a medium-sized star, like our sun). Mars is 143 million miles away from sun. Mars is similarly tilted along its rotational axis and has most Earth-like seasons, albeit the Martian year is twice as long as ours. The surface temperature, however, has a wide variation from minus 166 degrees F to 95 degrees F. Water flowed on the Martian surface some four billion years ago. Life may have had a passing rendezvous at a microorganism level. There is no confirmation, but it’s an entertaining hypothesis.
The Martian soil, however, has salt perchlorate in concentrations that are toxic to humans. The atmospheric pressure at merely 1 percent of Earth’s comparison precludes liquid water on the Martian surface. The Martian atmosphere contains 96 percent carbon dioxide and only traces of oxygen. Martian gravity at 38 percent relative to Earth will be corrosive to musculoskeletal health. An unprotected human will smother instantaneously as the blood boils due to nearly absent atmospheric pressure. A vast infrastructure has to be in place before humans successfully colonize Mars. The work has to be outsourced to alien immigrants. Homo sapiens dare not be first and homeless on Mars.
It’s no San Francisco.
Beyond the romantic lure, the presence of life has never been confirmed on Mars. The conditions for life have only been worsened over billions of years. Be it as it may, Mars is furiously more hostile to life than the raging expanse of deserts and vast oceans on Earth. At least the air is breathable, and water can be desalinated.
The romantic tug for Mars may yet eventuate scientific advances with terra firma utilities.
But the next Earth is the Earth we are on.
Let’s be part of the solution. Humans are carbon-intensive. We can’t die to save the planet. Let’s suspend magical thinking. Fossil fuel is the bridge to renewables. The USA has the most climate-friendly fossil fuel extraction rules. Where is the lesson? Which petroleum shock is going to awaken us from our drunken slumber? Extract the oil. Build Keystone. Build fission-based nuclear plants. Our sun continually reminds us that we have the solution we willfully elect to ignore. In fission lies the future.
Drought is correctable. It’s a distribution problem. An interconnected subterranean network of water-carrying tunnels can resolve it for good. A national bond can cover the costs.
Lets shine the light on solutions.
The planet Earth is a blessing we persevere to preserve.
It’s an inheritance that belongs to our children. We are just carrying the baton.
Let’s not drop it.