Our placement on the great timeline of existence has us nestled in a rather peculiar spot. Columbus, Tasman, Magellan, De Gama – they’ve already done all the Earth exploring for us. The cosmos, however, is the great frontier we have yet to conquer. Humanity has always looked to the stars, gazing into the speckled abyss ruminating over thoughts like, “Is there life out there?”, “How big is the universe?” and “Did I leave the oven on?”
The human desire to explore the universe is unfortunately held at the mercy at the rate of technology. We were born too late. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said, “the limits of my language means the limits of my world”. Similarly, the limits of technology equate to the limits of our universe.
SpaceX, NASA, Boeing – they’re all working towards developing new technologies that will allow future generations to become neo-Magellans, De Gamas and Tasmans. 2069. Write that in your diary. Or iPhone. Maybe neither of those will be used in the future. Etch it into your grey matter.
2069 is the date NASA have set for an interstellar mission in a search for life outside our solar system. The still to be named mission is still lacking the technology, but the intended launch date beautifully coincides with the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing.
When dealing with exploring the universe, two major factors come in play: speed and distance. For humanity to take its place among the stars, a spacecraft that can travel at 10 percent (minimum) the speed of light is required. The destination, Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 light years away – rather unfathomable when presented as mere words. All factors considered, if the launch were to take place in 2069 at the minimum speed required, humankind would reach our closest neighbouring star system in 2113.
Still, theoretical laser technology is being considered by NASA which will power probes out into the universe at a quarter of the speed of light. Other methods under consideration include harnessing the colossal power of nuclear reactions, and the collisions between matter and antimatter.
Even though the destination seems so distant and the technology seems so far, there is something quite poetic and profound in all of this. Early humans underwent significant trial, error and struggle in order to craft the first boats. These early technologies laid the blueprint for the first ships, as another wave of humankind entered a new cycle of trial and error that allowed us to explore the planet. Now it is time for another generation to take ships (of the space kind), pave the way for future generations, and push them into new frontiers.
Exploration lies at the heart of humanity. When we explore the world or we explore the universe, we also explore one thing greater than all those things – we explore ourselves.