Consider this for a moment: Dinosaurs might still be alive today if they had had a space program.
If dinosaurs — Stegosauruses, Velociraptors, whichever genus proved the most adept with a slide rule — had developed a means of traveling to and eventually settling other planets, the species as a whole would have survived the asteroid strike that otherwise spelled its doom some 66 million years ago. And it would likely live on today in a Mars colony or a moon base or a size-appropriate space station.
So argued Andrew Rader, an aerospace engineer and possibly Canada’s greatest know-it-all (that’s a thing
, apparently). Rader spoke on Monday night at Nerd Nite Boston, a monthly series of nerd-friendly presentations held in a swanky bar in Cambridge, a stone’s throw from MIT.
In his talk, “The Future Prospects of Human Space Settlement,” he outlined two possible futures for our own species. In one, we remain Earthbound, competing for an ever-diminishing supply of resources. In the other, we venture into space, terraforming and settling new worlds — Mars, Venus, the moon Europa — and quite possibly saving ourselves from extinction when a big asteroid (like, Bruce Willis big) finally slams into Earth. You can guess, perhaps, which of these he favored.
This isn’t just sci-fi fantasy, a rehash of the Genesis project carried out so dramatically in the Mutara Nebula (in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
, for the non-nerds out there).We can do it. Mars, for example, is well suited to terraforming. Plants would love the largely CO2
atmosphere, Rader said, and with the 24.6-hour day they would think they were on Earth. And conditions otherwise could help to ease the transition to a new, (currently) red planet. There’s the possibility of producing plastic, for instance — the resources are there — and then manufacturing stuff we need using 3-D printing technology.
How would optics figure into all this? What role would light-based technologies play? Human spaceflight and settlement wouldn’t likely be as optics-intensive as other space-based applications — the Curiosity Rover has its ChemCam, for example, the James Webb Telescope its MIRI imager and spectrograph (see: Photonics in Space
— but in opening up strange new worlds and (potentially) new civilizations they would create a host of research opportunities, driving demand for all manner of optics-based technologies. And then there’s things like free-space optical communications and other, similar applications (see: Optics in Space
And of course, any future-y settlement on an alien planet needs neon-lit interiors and laser pistols, scalpels, screwdrivers, etc. So in the end, everyone would win.