by Dan Schneider, 3/5/02
will occur with little notice if it happens during a major international
crisis. It will not be, exactly, back on page 47 of the newspapers- or
whatever mode of morning information-getting we use. It will be a
moderately accoladed story when it 1st breaks. It will not be
quite as important as the new lover of the starlet whose tryst with her
makes all the headlines. But, it will be accorded more space than many
of the anonymous murders or rapes of the day. But, on this day- perhaps
in a few centuries, or even a few decades- the ‘known’ place of
Mankind in the scheme of things will forever be sundered.
An astronomer of some sort, somewhere on or off the earth, will use some device- perhaps 1 of those we theorize of now- & read its data, or scan its pictures, & come to the inescapable conclusion that he or she has discovered the 1st Earthlike world outside our solar system. On this day, we may have already long-since discovered that life outside our mote exists. Perhaps as we trove amongst the Kuiper Belt we will have discovered the wreck of an ancient non-solar based starship. Or we may have found out that life did (or does) exist on Mars- albeit in supermicrobial forms. We may even have discovered oceanic life on some of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune- if not aerial life in the very clouds of 1 or all of these planets. But the chances are this life will not be remotely like our own bipedal, opposably-thumbed, endothermic likenesses. Hell, perhaps even contact or 2 with other sentient species will be made before this day. But I tend to think it will occur something like this.
News of the 1st Earthlike planet (Earth 2) will cause only minor ripples at 1st. But, & especially, if we have not solved our long term problems of overconsumption, overbreeding, & overwarring, this planet will loom larger with each passing second. Even if we have solved these problems it will give Mankind what it has always sought, nay- NEEDED: a Frontier! By this time we may have been aimlessly ambling amongst & between the detritus of our own solar confines for decades or centuries. The impetus to hurry up & get to the other stars may not be there because why invest in a trip with no tangible profit but knowledge- & no known inhabitable terra firma? But, once that tiny greenish globe so similar to our own is discovered we will 1st turn our radio telescopes (or whatever other devices have supplanted them) toward that globe in the hopes of contact. We will hope that it is near enough to us in planetary age & life to support a society that can reply. We will also pray we are not summoning future interstellar conquerors- Khans, Conquistadors, & the like- toward our world. But that will be unlikely. The world will probably be within 100 or less light years distance. The chances of total parallelism so near to us is too small to reasonably contemplate. Either their star will be older than ours & the sentients (if there ever were any) will have long departed their stellar crib, or they may never have formed. Or, if a younger star, the world may only be in a Paleozoic stage. This might inspire us even more, harking us back to the days we dreamt Venus was a tropical dinosaur-laden paradise!
But whether that world is older or younger than ours, peopled (or whatever you’d call the indigenous sentients) or virgin wilderness, the fact that it could sustain human life will inexorably focus the bulk of our planetary resources toward ‘Getting There!’. Make book on this fact: from the exact day that this world is discovered it will hang blue-hued in the collective human psyche, & 1 can start counting down the time until humans have discovered how to travel faster than the speed of light in mere decades (or years depending on the progress made up till that point in time)- not the eons nor centuries some believe, much less the ‘impossibility’ that currently-ascribed physics predicts. Human history has shown that the timeline between conception of an idea & its fruition is always shortest when the goal is clear. Earth 2 will be the cynosure of our collective human hopes. The race to break the cosmic speed limit will be on. Future Teslas, Einsteins, Edisons, Newtons, Fermis, etc. will all have their moments in the sun. But immortality awaits the discoverer of the 1st workable & affordable Faster Than Light (FTL) propulsion system. For the nay-sayers- just look at human cloning technology these days. Just 25 years ago the boldest predictions still placed such technology a century away at best- that’s if we could ever decode the ‘impossible’ complexity of the human genome. 25 years later there are those who claim the 1st human clones are already amongst us. The laggards say within 10 years the point will be moot. This, despite all the hypocritical hand-wringing of politicians & preachers.
Still, the physicists intone, ‘Space is so vast & the distances so great that this impossibility IS fundamentally different from merely decoding enzymes- or any other human obstacle before.’ Yet, even in this millennial time, & allowing for the truth that FTL speed is a much more consuming project than human cloning, we theoretically understand the basics of how to circumvent the speed of light in several ways- be it warping space, tachyonic flight, or masslessness. In effect, we are much further along theoretically in FTL science than we were 25 years ago in human cloning science. The only difference is that FTL science requires much more time, effort, & focus of resources. In other words- it’s easier to be Mary Shelley’s lone mad scientist than Isaac Asimov’s anonymous research drone.
Still, I have an unshakable faith in the human capacity for greed. A few decades or centuries hence will not tame it- even if our poorest bums can get a free cyber-blow job from the holographic Playmate of his choice at a booth on every other corner. Profit & plunder will guide us to the stars! Make no mistake on that! All the obstacles to getting funding will dissipate- although it took eons to eradicate most injustices, poverty, crime, & disease because of the laggardly pace of human willingness to invest in the totality of the human enterprise, the speed at which resources pour in for the conquest of Earth 2 will boggle even the most cynical research scientist, hardened by years of grubbing for funds. Planned trips to the nearest stars will be obsolete- why get launched as a teenager so you can get a close-up view of a star system when you’re gumming down veggies? Planned sojourns on multi-generation ships to stars in different directions will become even more ridiculous- & will be kiboshed. Why put your life on ice to get to a place in a few centuries if your great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter’s space scow is likely to sweep your ancient Interstellar Model-T up before you’re even ½-way there? Why risk boredom, insanity, cultural separation, genetic drift, unknown problems which are sure to crop up- all of which would likely make the 1st humans to get to a star, at snail’s-pace, not really human- but human mutants? Without the mundane strictures of frequent large-scale human contact we are clueless as to how we would react. An accident- especially if in hibernation- could mean aimless drifting for millions of years before even a nearby star is encountered. No. The minute that aqua gem is sighted all other plans will be scrapped. The only way to assure victory for your planet, your nation (assuming they still exist), your company, your department, or yourself will be to be the 1st to perfect FTL propulsion. Anything less will simply not do. Perhaps long resolved issues as hunger, overcrowding, crime, & diseases, will resurface as our inner Ahab comes to the fore.
After a long time of drudgingly exploring our solar backyard, Man will finally have a real picture of a real place far away to dream of. Perhaps it is El Dorado or Kathmandu or Nirvana or Heaven itself? Perhaps it is a piss-soaked tenement in inner city Detroit- circa 1978? Regardless, tenements can be reclaimed. We’ll just squat if need be! But, in truth, the world will likely be somewhere in the vast between. Plutocrats, from their penthouse portals in the Ares City Hilton on Mars, will rediscover a wonder long lost for their own ruddy soil & peach-tinged skies. Aborigines in the Australian Outback will have a new ‘true home’ for the Dreamland they always knew was real. Class C-Level Engineers in the Neil Armstrong Mines on Luna will gaze in its direction on their late afternoon breaks. And 1 young child will look that way, also- but be obssessed. They will never have a moment’s rest until a human being has broken through to FTL speed & planted a flag on that distant soil.
Other things which lay dormant, may also reawaken: the desire for Imperium- be it of a nation, a corporation, or even a planetary hubris. Our old bane of bigotry- long eradicated by ease of physical human contact, miscegenation, & improving intellect- may come back with our Imperial hunger. We stopped at 1 planet because that was all there was. Now that there are 2 worlds for Man there must be another- & another! There may well rise a burgeoning Star Trek-like Federation of Planets- but with humans alone at the wheel. When we arrive there, we will restock our zoos- long wasted with the dull remnants of post-hominidal exctinction- with creatures we had not dreamt of- or (better yet) those much like our dreams: unicorns, dragons, merfolk, dinosaurs, etc. We may well encounter a species or 2 with a sentience just dawning. We will, to them, seem like that noted charlatan Erich von Däniken’s ancient astronauts. But our arrival may be their death knell, intended or not. For their sake, perhaps they will ward us off the way we did the Martians in War Of The Worlds. However, we would more likely only be delayed for a few years in our conquest. Such a delay may exacerbate feelings of resentment toward the indigenes, & condemn them to the lowly status of ‘other’. They will be the ‘new niggers’, the ‘new faggots’, & the ‘new Jews’ of this ‘New (to us) World’. We will train them like drayhorses or mules. If they are lucky enough, some will become pets. Hopefully, the countervailing forces of human goodness & charity will prevail. It will be all but impossible to slow down the human conquest of this world. But as we reshape it for our needs & desires, hopefully we will have learned from our past & not bring such slavery, genocide, & mass extinction to our 2nd home.
Regardless, 1 hopes that the interim between discovery & conquest of Earth 2 & Earth 3 will be a few decades long so that by the time Earth 3 is discovered we will already have seen the errors we are bound to make on the Earth 2, & not repeat them on Earth 3. As we build our Imperium, hopefully we will learn at least a little respect for our cosmic cousins. Because, long after the initial headlines about discovery & conquest have faded there will be a handful of humans, lonely, prey to the fears that accompany such pioneering endeavors. 1 hopes that the same aggressive impulse that often fires seeking does not give way to fearful plunder. Hopefully we will have learned to domesticate, if never tame, Man. Otherwise, their descendants will again look to the stars & seek escape from life, rather than enriching it. & this fact has never gotten headlines. The day it does will be the day our human spirit matches our human science. Let’s hope those days are not too far removed from the day that scientist 1st tells the rest of us that a New Frontier is opened. Sometimes it’s the Old Frontiers that are the most daunting.
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