Breakthrough Starshot: What It’s Really About
I don’t know that I’ve ever written a raw science story at zog.ninja in the past (since I publish new content EVERY SINGLE DAY completely on my own, I can be forgetful). But with the announcement of Breakthrough Starshot–an interstellar vessel initiative/plan spearheaded by Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg–I felt compelled to talk about this new space travel development.
SIDE NOTE: Before you ask, I won’t be able to dig deep into it on Sovryn Tech this week, so I’m bringing it up here.
To put it in short, I think Breakthrough Starshot is a fantastic idea/initiative–as I firmly believe humanity’s future is in the stars, we’re meant to be a multi-planet species–and I’m excited to see what comes out of it. First off, according to Breakthrough Starshot’s claims, all developments by the initiative will be public domain. That means there isn’t any patent scam being done here (theoretically), nor will there be a technological advantage being kept secret from the rest of the world (theoretically). This is very important, and I want to get back to it, but first I want to say more about what Breakthrough Starshot is.
Breakthrough Starshot is, initially, not about making a human-infested (?) starship. It’s about launching sensor-filled, automated “nanocrafts” into space, and sending them first to our nearest star: Alpha Centauri (about 4 light years away). Not a new dream by any means (think Lost In Space without the humans), but what’s interesting is that everything being discussed and developed for Breakthrough Starshot isn’t science fiction, it’s absolutely real tech and science, and very close to becoming practical to use. So these nanoships will be, effectively, “Raspberry Pi’s” launched into space with solar sails/lightsails propelled by lasers that can get to Mars in days, and to Alpha Centauri in about 20 years (impressive). Take a look for yourself…
It’s been stated by many already in the space science industry that they are excited about the nanocrafts alone, forget about making starships for humans. They want to use these nanocrafts as probes that can get to celestial bodies in our own solar system in short order and–if Breakthrough Starshot’s fast and advanced communication system is created–get the data back in similarly short order. Some scientists are already talking about the excitement of searching for life within our own solar system by using these nanoships. And I applaud this, too. Granted, in my opinion (and present research backs it), I don’t think we’re ever going to find sapient, conscious complex alien life like Klingons or something, I’m definitely onboard with the idea that we might find animal and bacterial life on moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and elsewhere. And I think that’s exciting, too, but I want that human interplanetary travel.
An example of a lightsail powered “nanocraft”.
And that’s what I think is really going to come out of all of this. Breakthrough Starshot’s laser propulsion system is going to lead to the solar system version of the American railroad system. Yes, that means at first we won’t be able to independently set a course and choose what body within the solar system we want to go to (Ceres, anyone?), but we can at least have an option of massive planetoids that we could choose to live on (and yes, Mars is not the only viable place to live in this solar system), and we can finally get away from the bullshit we have to deal with–involuntarily–on Earth. All of this will likely lead to space stations that will become mini-cities that will build around this “stellar laser railroad” (just as many cities in America came into being) and can easily get resupplied with it.
Yeah, I’m sure eventually a human mission to Alpha Centauri will happen. And if the trip can be made in 20 years, that’s great. But unless human lifespans increase significantly, I think most people will be happy to just take advantage of the new living/freedom opportunities that our very own solar system will provide, without taking up a quarter (or more) of their lives in travel. Also, I could see the very real concern that if something happens to the laser propulsion system, that group of humans is effectively lost perhaps literally in the middle of nowhere, and would have to wait years, perhaps over a decade for help to come.
SIDE NOTE: You’re probably saying, but what about generational ships, Doc Sovryn? What about the idea that the original crew can die mid-mission, and then have children to finish the mission to another planet? Personally, I find this idea reprehensible. As an anarchist, I firmly believe in the choice of the individual. If you go having babies with the purpose of completing a mission to Alpha Centauri or somewhere else…how are you respecting the choice of those children? Adults don’t have the right to plan a child’s life ahead of them, or to tell them what their purpose is. That’s disgusting on its face. I have this same problem with so-called “liberty babies”. How dare you have children with the idea that by raising them you’re going to “end the State”. That’s not for you to put that kind of responsibility an a child/individual. Shame on you. Don’t tell me you believe in actual freedom.
Obviously, this stellar laser railroad will lead to other, ever more advanced technological developments. One of the things that holds back a lot of space travel technologies presently is that we have to get anything developed on Earth into space, and that’s expensive. If technologies, ships, etc., could get developed in space from the start–no need to launch them from the surface of the Earth–a whole universe (pun intended) of possibilities opens up. When that happens, then a more independent existence in space will become more viable.
SIDE NOTE: Keep in mind, none of this leads us to a Star Trek-esque future. I love Star Trek, but we’re not talking about warp drive here, and again, I really don’t think we’re looking at any United Federation of Planets. If people are given the room to live how they want–which a colonized solar system could provide–they will never “join up” and create a singular government. The path of evolution is divergence, after all.
Now, could Hawking, Milner, and Zuckerberg be working from some altruism to improve the lot of humanity by developing these technologies and launching these missions and not make any money off it? Of course not. While I could certainly imagine–if it were me–doing this just because it’s cool or fun, I’m pretty sure the completely untrustworthy Mark Zuckerberg is likely interested in this since he needs to continue his growth numbers for Facebook investors, and 7.4 billion people will all eventually be on it…so reaching out to aliens to use Facebook will definitely please investors.
Okay…I’m half kidding (as I already said, I don’t think we’re going to find intelligent aliens). But only half. “Perpetual growth” is seemingly the only way the bulk of Silicon Valley and others think you can make money. Eventually, that perpetual growth has to reach for the stars by default. And new economies need to be found/created. For example, ever wonder why after decades of the “Drug War”, suddenly even the biggest names in business are taking a severe interest in marijuana? It’s because Silicon Valley no longer innovates, and growth in tech and other fields isn’t turning into cash flow and profit, so they need a new economy to build up. That new economy is marijuana. Marijuana is the “80s tech industry” of the 2010s and 2020s. Breakthrough Starshot is, likely, being planned to be the new economy of the 2030s and beyond. Mining asteroids, interplanetary tourism, space-based networking, etc., lots of ways to make money in space, even at our present technological stage.
Sorry, I had to.
So this isn’t being funded out of altruism or out of any sense of “outer space cool”, it’s being done for growth, etc. Of course, I do think that Hawking would do it just because he loves the idea, but I can’t really picture the same for Milner and Zuckerberg. In fact, I dare say that Zuckerberg’s recent book recommendation (which he does every once in a while) of Iain M. Banks’ Culture book series is probably a complete PR/marketing scam to prep people for his involvement in Breakthrough Starshot.
SIDE NOTE: I love the “Culture” series. It’s the only heavy anarchist speculative fiction series that ever actually become popular and “did money”. Ironically, its anarchist nature is why it will (likely) never be made into a TV show, mini-series, or movie. You can’t go telling people they don’t need government!
Regardless of all that, I still applaud the initiative, as long as it all stays public domain. The instant that parts of Breakthrough Starshot gets closed off and kept secret (and there’s the chance it will)…fuck it. I think the more likely failing with all this, though, is that it will take us to Alpha Centauri. The dream of hopping in the Jupiter 2 and heading to the star with the Robinsons a la “Lost In Space” is the most unlikely thing in this whole venture. But that doesn’t mean that humanity, in just a couple of decades, won’t be traversing and inhabiting various parts of our own solar system, and hopefully finding some serious freedom from Earth-bound corporatist tyranny.
So I wish all the best for Breakthrough Starshot. As long as we can all take advantage of the technology, and get the Hell away from the madness of our cradle world.
DISCLAIMER: The ZOG Blog is the part of this site where Dr. Brian Sovryn can talk about anything. From pop culture, to philosophy, to just sharing updates with what’s going on at Zomia Offline Games and with other projects.