This is unknown. It depends on two things, the second being contingent upon the first. 1) Is it physically possible to achieve effective superluminal travel? If it is, then 2) Will the human species last long enough and advance far enough to achieve it?
There are some major hurdles we have will have to defeat before FTL travel will become reality. Here are just a few to think about:
Distance: The closest star to the earth is 4.3 light-years away, the galaxy is 100,000 ly across, the next big galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is like 200,000 ly away. Traveling at 0.2 c it will take a million years to get to the next galaxy. Any takers? Then there’s the return trip!
Acceleration: Of course you can’t get to your cruise speed instantly, it takes time. Humans are optimized for an acceleration of 1 g, ie 10 m/s/s. At this acceleration, it takes a year to get close to the speed of light. This adds to the travel time but is not too serious compared to other problems.
Speed kills: Travel near the speed of light is fraught. Hitting a regular photon would be like hitting a high energy gamma ray. A lot of shielding is going to be required for any human occupants. Hitting a space pebble could catastrophically terminate the mission. From the safety, aspect is likely that speeds like 0.2 c are the maximum. At this speed relativistic effects like time dilation are minor.
Energy: To reach a near light speed the entire mass of a self-propelling spaceship would be required for fuel. This would involve converting the ship’s mass to light and use this for propulsion. This requires technology we don’t yet have but is possible in theory. Obviously, if you are aiming for 0.2c the fuel requirement is less.
Survival in transit: Obviously you’d need a self-sustaining system. There is not even solar energy in deep space. You can’t nick down to the local DIY for a replacement gamma ray shield if yours fails or fall off.
Stopping: It’s all very well to reach a distant star but you presumably want to stop and have a look around when you get there rather than just shooting past. This requires deceleration or acceleration in the opposite direction. Again, this requires more fuel and time. You might spend a year slowing down.
Colonization equipment: Not sure what the exact plan would be but I expect you would need to take sufficient equipment with you to start mining an asteroid to get things going at the far end. More baggage. It would be embarrassing if you had chosen a star that was unsuitable for colonization for some reason.
Economics: I think you could find some people who were willing to undertake the journey it might be a lot more difficult to get someone to pay for it. Governments find it difficult to pay for anything substantial these days – except wars – and it’s a bit hard to see why a private organization would pay for it, cost: humongous, expected return: zero.
These hurdles will take a very, very, very long time to overcome.
In my opinion humans…Never. Not ever, even 100 quadrillion years from now. Never. Clearly, what follows is just my highly speculative opinion. It seems to bother people. Some call it pessimistic. Some call it overly optimistic. Whatever. Just my thought.
Should our species remain extant for the next thousand years —meaning we don’t kill ourselves with bio-engineered plagues, or Yellowstone doesn’t erupt and kill us all, or a KT-like impact doesn’t happen— we will eventually cease being “human” in a few centuries.
Centuries? Not millions of years?
Yes. Provided that we continue (a) existing and (b) advancing in technology, by the middle of this century, we will have access to our entire genome, nanotechnology (or at the very least, micro-robotics) and AI. Those technologies, if we try really hard to extrapolate their logical course, mean that at some point in the next few centuries, there will be no more homo sapiens. Perhaps a few “museum humans” will choose to remain in their old form, but those beings will live on Earth or space stations, too frail and ephemeral; too needy to package into dense vessels for interstellar travel.
If our descendants survive, they will adjust their genome. Maybe it won’t become prosaic until 2125, but at some point very soon, the temptation to remove all “negative” traits will be overwhelming. The temptation to enhance with some genetic coding from other beasts will become overwhelming. The temptation to enhance with artificial bits —that connect us to instant information, right to the brain— will be overwhelming. The temptation to create new biological features unimagined by “Mother Nature” wholly invented by us and our super-advanced computer technology (maybe a new cell wall, completely re-engineered mitochondria or a cell part that we cannot imagine today) will become overwhelming.
At some point, after sufficient changes, we won’t be human any longer. We certainly won’t be homo sapiens. We’ll be something else … IF “we” survive that long and continue advancing technologically. A global disaster could destroy our civilization but leave a few hundred thousand of us thrown back the equivalent of five millennia. But if we survive and continue advancing, then homo sapiens is done in a few centuries at the longest; a century at the shortest.
We are very smart compared to other terrestrial life forms. Not a little smarter, but orders of magnitude smarter. Even the brightest chimp, which is the next most intelligent creature on Earth after us, can not begin to conceptualize what people in an office workplace are doing or why to let alone what NASA is up to. However, smart as we are compared to other earthly creatures, there is a biologically imposed ceiling on just how smart we can ever be. The human brain has limitations of storage and recall and computing that a computer if it was able to begin thinking like a human, does not.
An enhanced coupling of machine and man would be roughly as smarter than us as we are smarter than chimpanzees. At least for starters. Once we hit the point where we can think for and teach ourselves and accumulate knowledge without the biological limitations of the human brain on thinking and learning and storing information, it will simply… take off. Cease to resemble what we today call human.
At some point in time, the advancing technology will unlock self-assembling, self-making robotics that leverage exponential growth that will either be our end or our elevation to the pinnacle of abilities in this cosmos. With lives extended to the many millennia, with intelligences in VR and AI’s meandering about the solar system, “time” won’t have the same cachet as it does today. A journey at .01c, taking 1,000–1,500 years to cross the gulf between stars will be meaningless in the lives of those beings — beings that are effectively immortal who see time as a non-obstacle.
Those beings, if they end up coming into existence, will achieve FTL interstellar travel. Not us. Not humans. Never homo sapiens… but THEM.
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