If We Can Take it With Us How Would We Get There?

Trust me, it'll fit.
Trust me, it’ll fit.
I have noticed something new that’s cropped up over the last year or so. When I write about the superhero stuff here people tend to yawn. Oh, sure, there are those who do appreciate it but, in the main, those articles just doesn’t have the traction they used to. And I can see why. A few years ago this was one of the few places you could get fan info on upcoming films. Now there are hundreds of sites. More importantly they limit their articles to some click bait and a couple hundred words. Usually with one generic image. It’s enough for the ADHD world we live in. Additionally, we have added quite a few new readers from around the world and, to be polite, American pop culture doesn’t interest them as much as some might like. I exclude China from that blanket statement. This blog isn’t allowed there and they are starved for American movies, even the ones that are censored beyond recognition. That said, the inverse is true when I do the Big Wake Up Call with Ryan Gatenby every Friday on Fox Sports Radio in Aurora Illinois. The demographics are different and they love the superhero stuff. They like the fact that we know people who are actually working on various films and who can share tid bits of behind the scenes stuff with us. Not enough for an article here but plenty to fill a few minutes of air time. So I parse out my content accordingly.

Additionally, I have stopped writing about Florida (state motto: Hey Ya’ll Watch This!). Mostly because it’s low hanging fruit and, quite honestly, it depresses me. There are only so many times you can write naked, meth and Wal-Mart in the same sentence before you figure, fuck it, let the monkeys have it all back.

So to keep my sanity I moved on.

Which has turned out to be a fun move. I can do more, in depth, stuff here about our future and other subjects and people seem to enjoy them. In keeping with that, let’s kick back and chat about all the world’s knowledge.

Even the cat pics.

Mike Murphy, over at Quartz, says that scientists have figured out a way to fit all the world’s electronic data in an object that would fit in a tea spoon.

Even though it’s looking increasingly likely that humanity will find a way to wipe itself off the face of the Earth, there’s a chance that our creative output may live on. Servers, hard drives, flash drives, and disks will degrade (as will our libraries of paper books, of course), but a group of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have found a way to encode data onto DNA—the very same stuff that all living beings’ genetic information is stored on—that could survive for millennia.

One gram of DNA can potentially hold up to 455 exabytes of data, according to the New Scientist. For reference: There are one billion gigabytes in an exabyte, and 1,000 exabytes in a zettabyte. The cloud computing company EMC estimated that there were 1.8 zettabytes of data in the world in 2011, which means we would need only about 4 grams (about a teaspoon) of DNA to hold everything from Plato through the complete works of Shakespeare to Beyonce’s latest album (not to mention every brunch photo ever posted on Instagram).

There are four types of molecules that make up DNA, which form pairs. To encode information on DNA, scientists program the pairs into 1s and os—the same binary language that encodes digital data. This is not a new concept—scientists at Harvard University encoded a book onto DNA in 2012—but up to now, it had been difficult to retrieve the information stored on the DNA.

Past tests have seen gaps in retrieved information, as DNA reacts with its environment and degrades at room temperature. Robert Grass, the leader of the project at the Federal Institute, has found a new way to preserve the information: treat it like a fossil. His team encased their DNA sample in a shell made from silica—similar in structure to fossilized bones and one of the main components of glass—and stored the sample at about 140°F for a few weeks to test its durability.

When researchers recovered the sample, they were still able to read the encoded data, and Grass told the Institute’s blog that had the DNA been stored at subzero temperatures, it could potentially be read in over a million years. CDs and DVDs only have shelf lives of about 25 years, according to the US National Archives, so this would be quite an improvement on our current data storage techniques.

The event he’s talking about in his opening sentence is called the Holocene Extinction. Science is now projecting that animals are going extinct at an alarming rate and that, sooner rather than later (say in your kid’s lifetime), the food chain could become so diluted as to cause all the upper life forms (that includes us) to die. Unlike the last mass extinction which was caused, at least in part, by a meteorite, this one is strictly man made. Just because some people don’t understand the science doesn’t mean you can ignore it.

But, okay, so we can store all the world’s digital data (yes, cat pics and this blog included) but we still need a new planet or, at least, a new place to live. How do we get there? Darren Orf, over at Gizmodo, put a lot of thought into that question and came up with some answers. I’m going to bullet point them here but strongly suggest you go read his entire article. It’s well written and very educational.

1. A mobile space station… like the Death Star
Nope. It would wipe out the resources of a solar system, require way too much power to move and be far to unwieldy to steer.

2. An orbital space station… like Deep Space 9
This example is not self sustaining. That’s why each episode has visitors. Stick that baby in orbit with no lifeline and everyone dies anyway.

3. A traditional Mars base camp… like in Mission to Mars
Since we have not figured out a way to grow food in alien conditions and since bringing along greenhouses, soil and water isn’t practical, everyone would die.

You might notice a theme developing here.

4. An upper atmosphere space station… like Cloud City
Well, if you built it in low earth orbit and figured out how not to have everyone freeze to death, you’d still need supplies. On any other world you’d need air too. Otherwise, say it with me now, everybody dies.

5. Giant spaceship habitats… like in Wall-E
Let’s quote Sydney Do, a research fellow and doctoral candidate at MIT who systematically dismantled the doomed Mars One mission, since that’s what Darren did.

In the case of the Wall-E spaceship, the habitat is in deep space, so its access to any resource external to the habitat is essentially zero (for example, the habitat would have to be nuclear powered since it would be too far from our Sun or other light sources for solar power to work effectively); and it has a population of several thousands of people, all of which consume food, water and air that needs to be supplied from somewhere, and produce waste that needs to be managed.

Even if some form of biological support system were implemented, the energy-poor environment of deep space that the spacecraft is in would mean that there would be insufficient energy to support these biological processes. In short – this is one of the more far-fetched scenarios.

In other words, everybody dies.

6. A halo world… like in Elysium
Larry Niven’s Ringworld is the closest you can come to making this work but, and this is a big but, you’d need to strip one hundred percent of Earth’s natural resources to create it. That includes animals, trees, water, sea life and so on. Given that that would take decades, at best, and humans can’t really live for decades without food, everyone would die.

7. An underground base… like in The Matrix
This one gets a strong maybe. Your biggest issue would be that you’d be cut off from all communications outside of your underground world. That may, or may not, be a bad thing.

8. A carved-out asteroid…like in 2312
I’ll let Darren answer this one en toto.

So yeah this is a book but it’s a great book so I’m including it. In this novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, humans carve out an asteroid and build a type of terrarium, which uses centripetal force to create artificial gravity.

NASA expert Al Globus says one big challenge would be making sure an asteroid is airtight considering most asteroids are just giant piles of rubble. He says asteroids are also very hard to spin up and changes in center of gravity would require constant course correction.

But of all space habitats this one could actually be possible. You just got to find that special flying chunk of rock to call home, says Do.

NASA is attempting to do something very related to this concept with its Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The challenge in this is selecting the right asteroid – one with the right structure and orbit, for it to be valuable. There have been concepts where asteroids are put in periodic orbits between Earth and Mars and modified to act as crew transports between the two planets. The extra mass around the asteroid provides shielding against the harsh space radiation environment.

The main challenges associated with this concept would be moving a habitat-sized asteroid into the desired orbit (this would require propulsive capabilities beyond what we currently have), and mining and processing the materials on the asteroid, as we have no experience in doing this.

The constraints of moving such a dense object would mean that this habitat would be more suited towards a smaller crew of about 4-6 people, rather than something at the colony scale.

Asteroids, man. Who knew.

Yes, I know, it should read “Who knew?”

Also, I should note that it would take a lot of asteroids to save even a portion of the human race. So there’s a lot of work to be done and, if nothing’s done to fix this mess, it had better be done soon.

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