By ANDY ANDREWS
Los Alamos World Futures Institute
• World Futures: What Do We Need?
In the domain of science fiction (e.g., Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Star Trek…) we see space vehicles zooming around the universe with human beings on board seemingly doing well pursuing a mission, discovering new worlds, finding new life forms, and engaging in combat.
Many aspects of the voyage, however, are taken for granted since it is a fictional universe. Perhaps most important in the “for-granted” category are energy, mass, time, and the sanity of the humans.
The space vehicle is a capsule propelled by energy, at least during acceleration. Where does the energy come from and where is the “gas station” – not for a short journey in our solar system, but to our nearest neighbor over four light years away?
Of course, the mass of the spacecraft takes energy to accelerate and the capsule must sustain the life of its passengers for extended periods of time. Finally, assume you are on the spacecraft. What do you do for the extended duration – eat, sleep, engage in bodily functions or something else?
Today there is a lot of effort being devoted to a manned mission to Mars – how long will it take, what the crew does, delayed communication, fuel for the humans, and existing in a capsule. Ironically, these same questions apply to us encapsulated on planet Earth.
As we develop more and more automation for repetitive tasks and create greater efficiency in necessary, repetitive tasks, more and more “free” time becomes available.
Fewer people are needed for the necessary jobs, causing unemployment to grow. How will we fill the idle time recognizing that most of us do not have the talent for creativity and need the availability of sources for mental stimulation?
On the Mars spacecraft (on a two to four year mission) there is a small, fixed crew size. The crew may shrink in size due to accident or illness, but it is highly unlikely to grow in size. But assuming it does or can grow in size, how many crew members can be added and sustained? How about spacecraft Earth?
The big difference between spacecraft Earth and a spacecraft exploring the universe is that Earth does have a continuing supply of energy beyond the seeable future. Yet it does have a finite size to support the life of humanity.
No matter how efficient the life support system becomes, there is an upper bound. And with great efficiency at survival, what does humanity do with the “free” time. What do we do with it?
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