Interstellar Probes and Starships

This chapter encourages each reader to take a giant intellectual leap and consider future technologies as might be developed by the human race and made available to perform space exploration several centuries, or even a millennium, from now. This mental exercise includes some really over-the-horizon technologies that involve interstellar robot probes, self-replicating systems that could wander through the entire galaxy, and even starships that are capable of carrying intelligent machines and their human companions. The chapter focuses on technologies that populate a technical horizon, which would allow the human race to spread life deliberately into outer space. The first sequence of such activities would be spreading life throughout humans' home solar system; the next major step would involve sending a wave of life and consciousness into a portion, and then perhaps across all, of the Milky Way galaxy. Space exploration visionaries and advocates sometimes use the term greening the galaxy to describe the diffusion of human beings, their technology, and their culture through interstellar space, first to neighboring star systems and then eventually across the entire galaxy.

The chapter begins with a discussion of the first lunar bases and Martian settlements that will give life beyond Earth a firm foothold in the solar system. A future generation of space-faring humans (real Selenites and Martians) in partnership with incredibly sophisticated machines could transform neighboring worlds into suitable habitats by using amazing feats of planetary engineering. As humans' solar-system civilization approaches maturity, it will be characterized in the ultimate by the creation of a Dyson sphere. At that future point, the descendents of today's global population may decide to venture into interstellar space—first with robot probes and then with sophisticated robots called self-replicating systems, crewed starships, or perhaps some combination of both technical options. In the third millennium, this robot-human partnership in space exploration will make the universe both a destination and a destiny for our species.

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