Many prominent scientists and technologists, such as Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and Elon Musk, have expressed confidence that humans will be able to colonize the universe. Some believe that unless humanity is wiped out beforehand, colonizing the universe is inevitable. Of course, we have yet to step foot on the Mars, so we are probably a long way off from colonizing the galaxy, or even the universe. But, if we were to try it, how would we go about it?
10. Space Crafts
The first way we could colonize space is the same way humans have been colonizing the Earth for thousands of years: simply packing up and moving there. Unfortunately, the closest habitable planet is believed to be about 14 light years away, which is approximately 82 trillion miles. It’s not exactly like we can rent a U-Haul and offer some people beer and pizza to help us get there. But, if we somehow master interstellar space travel, our best bet would be to send one large colony, for a variety of reasons. If that’s the case, how many people would we need?
For example, in 2026, Mars One plans on sending 100 people to start colonizing Mars. However, to colonize a planet that is farther away (for instance, say it would take 150 years to travel there), according to anthropologist Cameron Smith at Portland State University, we would need to send at least 20,000 with an ideal amount of 40,000 people to the new planet. Also, out of the 40,000 people, at least 23,000 need to be men and women of reproductive age.
Sending such a large group of people would help the population maintain good health because this will offset the effects of eventual inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity. Also, there will be changes in demographics throughout the journey and this also accounts for one catastrophe that could hurt the population.
The idea of upgrading our weak, Earth-loving body parts with robotics was first proposed in 1960 by a NASA scientist named Manfred Clynes, who literally coined the term “cyborgs.” Clynes theorized that a human and robotic interface “invites man to take an active part in his own biological evolution.” Clynes believed that these upgrades could make humans more physically able to explore space and with a few upgrades and modifications, we would be able to adapt to any extraterrestrial conditions.
This theory was taken to the extreme by Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics expert at the University of Reading. He thinks we could colonize space by simply removing human brains and implanting them in androids that can survive on multiple planets. Or, we could build specialized androids for those planets.
While we have made a lot of headway in androids and robot prosthetics over the years, we still have a long way to go before our bodies could be upgraded to space faring vessels. Not to mention implanting our brains into robots.
8. Artificial Intelligence
As we mentioned in the introduction, humans have yet to send a person to Mars. So you may be thinking: how are we going to colonize even the next solar system, which is 4.24 light years away, if we haven’t set foot on our closest neighbor? And it’s an excellent point. In fact, some scientists believe that the task is too great for humans and this may be something we will rely on artificial intelligence to do.
There are two major ways that AI could help in the colonization of space. The first is that artificial intelligence may be smarter than humans and will unlock the secrets to interstellar travel. Or, potentially something much more far out, like how to use worm holes. That is, providing AI doesn’t kill us before it solves all our space colonization problems.
The second way is that we could develop intelligent beings that would essentially pave the way for us. They would be programmed to seek out habitable planets and then build an intergalactic highway for humans. Then it’s just a matter of sending the proper cargo, such as…
7. Genetically Engineered Embryos
We keep mentioning that humans are terrible for space travel because that’s one of our biggest problems with trying to colonize space. For example, people going to Mars for 18-to-30-months will have a higher risk of cancer, tissue degradation, bone density loss, and brain damage, among other health problems. In fact, there are some people who are convinced that the only way humans could colonize a new planet would be if genetically modified humans were the first generation of residents.
The embryos would be modified to better survive on the alien planet. Then it would just be a matter of shipping the embryos to the new planet. There they could be grown, or even printed using a biological 3D printer, by AI robots that are already settled. Also, by just sending embryos, it avoids humans sitting on a spacecraft for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
6. Genetically Modified Humans
Earlier, we talked about our distance from any habitable planets. The closest such planet is 14 light years away, while the closest star, Alpha Centauri, is about 4.24 light years away. This means that if people want to travel to our closest neighbors and start colonizing them, there will need to be some outstanding advancement in technology when it comes to interstellar travel. From there, we will have to figure out the best way to transport humans. One possible way actually being developed by NASA is deep hibernation technology, similar to Aliens and Prometheus.
However, hibernation isn’t suspended animation so it doesn’t do something as radical as stopping the aging process. Thus, having someone sleep their whole life away on the ship isn’t exactly much help in colonization efforts. The solution would be simply to genetically engineer Earthlings that either don’t age, or age very slowly. This type of technology supposedly isn’t too far off, either. Some researchers believe that the first person to live to the age of 1,000 is alive today (hint: it’s Keith Richards).
If humans were genetically modified to live longer, they might be better working on the journey instead of sleeping. This would eliminate the need for deep hibernation, which would save energy. However, if that were the case, probably more genetic modification would be needed. They would need to genetically modify the colonizers’ brains by eliminating things like loneliness and boredom. This would enable them to pilot the ship for hundreds of years without being mentally destroyed.
Once humans are better at travelling longer distances, we will be better at reaching oases throughout the universe and colonizing all the planets that are habitable to humans.
An interesting theory about space colonization is that humans may just evolve and become more physically suited at traversing the universe. Notably, it’s believed that the first people to settle on Mars will see drastic changes in their bodies in their lifetime as they adjust to life there. If they have children, the changes will be more pronounced. As generations go on, their bodies and physiology will change even more. Eventually, the Martians will become an offshoot of the human tree.
Evidence to back up this theory is the dispersion of humans throughout history. Any time humans expanded to new areas of the Earth, humankind became more diverse. When people move to a different planet where many things, like gravity, are completely foreign, changes will be even more pronounced than humans moving to different areas on Earth. Eventually this evolution will continue and humankind’s offshoots will just get better at space travel and living on other planets.
4. Self-Replicating Probes
In the late 1940s, Hungarian mathematician John Von Neumann developed plans for self-replicating robots called Universal Conductors. The idea behind it was that tiny robots would self-replicate exponentially. Two robots would build four, four would build 16, and so on. While it would start off slow, eventually millions of robots would be constructing millions of robots. Then, in a half million years, there would be probes reaching all four corners of the Milky Way.
Von Neumann didn’t develop the idea for space exploration, but others have used his probes in their plans for hypothetical ways to colonize space. Physicist Michio Kaku says that the probes are “the most mathematically efficient method to explore space.” How they would work is that the robots would seek out dead moons throughout the galaxy, then set up factories to build other robots at a molecular level. They’d use naturally occurring deposits, like nickel and iron.
From there, what we could do with robots everywhere in the galaxy is near limitless, as we’ll see in the next entry. But, unfortunately, Universal Conductors are a little way off. We still need to develop technology for the probes. This includes nanotechnology and artificial intelligence that’s capable of reproducing on the levels needed to take over the galaxy.
3. Dyson Spheres
Possibly the closest real life plans for building a Death Star type structure is the Dyson Sphere. And no, it wasn’t designed by the same guys who make really expensive vacuum cleaners. Instead, the sphere was designed as a thought experiment by physicist and astronomer Freeman J. Dyson. He was trying to figure out a way to look for advanced alien life in the universe.
Dyson believed that really advanced alien civilizations would have mastery over collecting energy in their galaxy and would have built an energy catching sphere over a star to maximize collection of energy. This, in turn, would produce infrared radiation. So naturally, Dyson suggested looking for high levels of infrared radiation.
It’s true the sphere was designed as a hypothetical way to look for advanced life. But a study from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute believes we could create Dyson Spheres using something like Von Neumann’ self-replicating robots. This would enable us to harness the power of stars throughout space, giving us the energy needed to colonize the universe.
2. Microorganisms Terraforming
The problem with humans moving to another planet is that many of the closest ones are uninhabitable. For example, Mars is too cold and dry. One way that we could change that is through terraforming, which literally means Earth Shaping. Researchers believe they know how to do it.
When it comes to terraforming Mars, we would need to select microorganisms that consume natural resources that are found there. This would have a two-fold effect on the planet. The first is that it would transform the soil, meaning vegetation would be possible, which would lead to more oxygen. Secondly, the microorganisms would also pump gas out into the air. This would increase the thickness of the atmosphere around Mars, which would make the planet warmer. Water would become more readily available.
Gary King, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, believes that humans will start terraforming Mars in less than 200 years.
Do you know what the best known data storage system is? We’ll give you a clue. It makes up you and every living thing on Earth. That’s right, it’s DNA. One reason why DNA is such a great storage system is because a lot of complex information can be written onto it. As for how complex the information is? Well, the human genome (which is everything that makes up humans) is about 750 megabytes worth of data. For comparison, the King James Bible is about five megabytes of data. A few years ago, researchers at Harvard put 700 terabytes into a single gram of DNA!
Secondly, DNA is incredibly durable. It can survive in space and temperatures up to 1,000 degrees, and can also be cryogenically frozen. Finally, DNA is versatile.
Researchers believe that in the next 20 years, we should have the technology to store human DNA in bacteria. Once we do that, we could send the bacteria to a distant planet along with microbes that could terraform the planet. The biggest challenge researchers see is programming instructions into the bacteria so that it will know what to do once it reaches its destination. However, if they figure out how to include instructions in the bacteria, then the planet will be terraformed and eventually humans will evolve out of the bacteria.
Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website.