Stargate Atlantis: Colonizing The Galaxy

By Stephen Cass | November 17, 2008 5:08 pm

Stargate: Atlantis promotional artOn Friday night’s episode of Stargate Atlantis, the Atlantis expedition discover a small pod. The pod contains biological material that can be used to replicate a sentient life-form from scratch, should the pod find a planet with the right chemical makeup to provide the raw ingredients. It also contains a cultural and technical database to educate the “Children of the Pod,” and an advanced Artificial Intelligence responsible for guiding the pod to a suitable destination and “birthing” the first generation life-forms. In the real world, with its apparently iron-clad restriction on faster than light travel, this kind of approach is actually one of the leading contenders for how human beings might colonize the galaxy.

The problem with sending people is that they are a) big b) need to keep eating and c) typically live less than 100 years. The nearest star is 4 light-years away, which means that even if we could travel at the speed of light, it would take four years to get there. Traveling from one end of the galaxy to other at this speed would take about 100,000 years. While time-dilation (which would allow years to pass from the point of view of an observer on Earth, while minutes or seconds pass on-board a ship traveling close to light speed) is sometimes proposed as a way to get around the life-span issue, getting close enough to light speed to produce a significant effect requires huge amounts of energy. The energy problem that becomes incredibly tougher if the spaceship is pretty big to begin with. Realistically, getting any kind of spaceship up to 10 percent of light speed would be an incredible feat, and even 1 percent is far beyond our present abilities.

This leads us to a) and b). Keeping people alive in space currently requires a whole bunch of life-support systems, not to mention the food required. Ways around this problem involve putting people into suspended animation, so that they sleep they whole journey (also sidestepping the life-span problem) or embracing the bigness and putting an entire ecosystem into a bottle inside a huge spaceship and letting several generations live and die as the crew make their way between the stars.

However, if we didn’t have to keep human beings alive — or even in human form — for the journey, the problem becomes easier. Send human DNA (along with a selection of plant and animal DNA) plus a robot that can build an artificial womb instead. A much smaller spacecraft would enable us to boost it to much higher velocities, and we could build lots of them and shoot them off in different directions. Each pod could even build more pods, copying the DNA as well, once it arrives somewhere with suitable raw materials. These daughter pods could be sent off in turn to other star systems. In this way we could colonize the entire galaxy in something like 300-500 million years, which is a long time from a human perspective, but quite short from the galaxy’s.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Robots, Space

Comments (8)

  1. Kevin

    Great like land developers and urban sprawl here on earth isn’t bad enough?

  2. John Milton

    So… essentially become a virus? A macro-virus? What is our need to colonize the entire galaxy? Are we that narcissistic that we think we deserve every part of this galaxy and therefore can pollute and destroy it as well, like we have done to ours? This is the worst, most sickening idea I’ve ever read. Whatever happened to the need to explore that drives advancement to do such? This eliminates that desire. Why would we want to do this if we could never meet these people? What is in it for us…to keep the species alive?

  3. What about a nanotech Von Neumann machine with less stringent environmental constraints?

  4. Chas

    I had that same idea some years – robot nursemaids caring for humans birthed from artificial wombs whenever they encountered habitable worlds. Course, I was just riffing off James Blish fantastic idea from his stories and books (Cities In Flight) about humans colonizing the universe.

  5. “even 1 percent is far beyond our present abilities.” Putting 200 people 25,000 feet above the earth would have been far beyond our abilities a hundred years ago. Not to say it would ever make sense to expand the resources required to send a huge ship bouncing around the galaxy, just that looking at our present abilities and understanding as something final seems a little absurd or arrogant.

  6. Dave R

    Vernor Vinge wrote about this exact scenario in his short story “Long Shot”.

  7. Hey There. First of all nice website. Thanks for making this public. I love telekinesis.

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