Rik's Ramblings

Monday, January 18, 2016

The next frontier

I've been watching "The Expanse", a relatively new show from Syfy.

Set a few hundred years in the future, when humans have colonized Ceres and Mars. I'm really excited about the prospect of humanity becoming a multi-planet species. I love the whole idea.

Of course for me, it's all about the technology. Can we do it? Is it possible? How will we terraform Mars? How will we survive the radiation of deep space? What revolutionary technology will be required to make journeys over the huge distances possible.

It makes me wonder: Did the engineers and scientists of earlier generations have the same wonder about their inventions. In the time of the Vikings, did the boat builders wonder if it was possible to survive the sea crossings to England, Iceland or Greenland and how would they navigate. We invented the steam engine, and feared our lungs would be crushed when traveling at speeds in excess of 30mph.

Yet boats allowed us to cross the North Sea, then the Atlantic. The locomotive allowed us to ship resources across the Americas, settling across the continent, turning desert into city.

But then I get depressed. Because at the end of it, the incredible advances in technology soon become a utilitarian tool. We hate the ships, they make us seasick. Trains are too slow and infrequent. Planes have seats that are cramped and airport security is a nightmare. We soon loose sight of the wonder of the technology.

But you know what humanity does seem to relish, once the mystery is gone? We love to harness the power to exploit, pillage and plunder. Whether you're a Viking raider in England, a conquistador in Mexico, a settler displacing a tribe in North America.

So sadly I think The Expanse gets it about right. We'll figure out how to make trips to Ceres quick, how to survive the radiation, and most importantly how to liberate all the H2O from it, to sell it back to rich people on earth so they can waste it. All the while, complaining "There's not enough legroom in coach class to Mars", and "What do you mean Earth to Mars is shorthaul, and there's no free meal anymore. $150 for a chicken sandwich, it's outrageous"! It'll all just degenerate into a turf war, like it always does.