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How Significant are We: In a Galactic Context
In his Nebula and Hugo winning science fiction classic 'Rendezvous with Rama', Sir Arthur C. Clarke - author, inventor and futurist - explores a theme/question that rarely gets a mention beyond the scientific fraternity: how significant are we in this big massive universe.
This is a question that became extremely relevant when Copernicus and Galileo rid us of the ignorant notion that our beloved Earth was flat, and the centre of our universe. It does seem, in the coming future, a question that we may have to answer as we predictively delve deeper into the mysteries that sorround our universe.
Clarke eerily commented on whether we are alone in the universe: -
Two possibilities exist. Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.
If we were alone in the entire universe, it would surely be a scary prospect. Especially, considering how supposedly expansive our universe is with its many galaxies. To put all this into context, the Milky Way - our home galaxy - is thought to have more than 100 billion stars, Moreover, of the many other galaxies neighboring us, only two are actually visible to us without the help of a telescope - the Large Magellanic Cloud and Andromeda Galaxy.
Taking all this into considering, one would probably bet on there being someone or something lurking in the deep recess of outer space. That is probably a much scarier prospect, especially if you, like myself, have watched two of the best space sci-fi shows: the Star Trek and Stargate franchises. That is all just human imagination, but it may not be totally of the mark, as we have seen in the past with futurists like Clarke - who predicted humanities exploits in space.
Rendezvous With Rama
Virgin Galactic, under the leadership of Sir Richard Branson, have laid down the foundation of what is probably going to be a lucrative space tourism venture. From past evidence, Branson rarely bets on lame horses. And to empasize on that point, famous celebrities - like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry and Stephen Hawking - have already deposited a $20,000 down payment of a $200,000 fee just to experience six minutes of weightlessness in space.
This, I suspect, is just the start of humanities colonization of our solar system and eventually, the entire Milky Way. And if we don't face any alien resistance, the far reaches of our universe. I dare anybody to bet against a species that discovered fire, invented the wheel, created the microchip and put a man on the moon.
The Domino Effect of Inventions
Our presence in space is still inhibited by serious technological deficiencies. Deficiencies that will, hopefully, be solved in the near future.
First of all, we have to develop a type of in-space propulsion system that will make it much easier to move from planet to planet or across the galaxy. The current rocket engine is technologically inadequate for such needs.
Creating a habitable environment for travellers should follow especially since distances in space are huge when compared to our on earthly travel. The life support systems that we see in sci-fi books and shows are just that - fiction.
At the moment, even sending people to mars is still a dream. How many years would it take to get them there? How would they store an adequate amount of food and water for the entire journey? These are some of the basic questions of interplanetary, interstellar and even intergalactic travel that need to be answered.
As in the invention of technologies like the microchip which revolutionized electronic engineering, humanity needs an new invention that will herald the next stage in our quest to explore the vastness of space. A functional space drive would definitely be welcomed.
2001: A Space Odyssey (book & movie)
A Bold Prediction
It make take us decades or even centuries, but we will tame the wide expanse of space. Humanity is too curious, imaginative and innovative for that not to happen.
As Clarke further states: -
The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.
What is disappointing is the fact that our generation will probably not be there to experience such great advancements. And thus, we may never answer that nagging question of whether this universe is ours and ours alone.