3/4 The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds, by Christopher E. Mason. Hardcover – April 20, 2021

Sep 25, 12:40 AM

Photo:  This image shows the deployment of a half-scale starshade with four petals at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in 2014.  (For explanation, see below.*)



3/4   The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds, by Christopher E. Mason.  Hardcover – April 20, 2021

An argument that we have a moral duty to explore other planets and solar systems—because human life on Earth has an expiration date.

Inevitably, life on Earth will come to an end, whether by climate disaster, cataclysmic war, or the death of the sun in a few billion years. To avoid extinction, we will have to find a new home planet, perhaps even a new solar system, to inhabit. In this provocative and fascinating book, Christopher Mason argues that we have a moral duty to do just that. As the only species aware that life on Earth has an expiration date, we have a responsibility to act as the shepherd of life-forms—not only for our species but for all species on which we depend and for those still to come (by accidental or designed evolution). Mason argues that the same capacity for ingenuity that has enabled us to build rockets and land on other planets can be applied to redesigning biology so that we can sustainably inhabit those planets. And he lays out a 500-year plan for undertaking the massively ambitious project of reengineering human genetics for life on other worlds. 

As they are today, our frail human bodies could never survive travel to another habitable planet. Mason describes the toll that long-term space travel took on the astronaut Scott Kelly, who returned from a year on the International Space Station with changes to his blood, bones, and genes. Mason proposes a ten-phase, 500-year program that would engineer the genome so that humans can tolerate the extreme environments of outer space—with the ultimate goal of achieving human settlement of new solar systems. He lays out a roadmap of which solar systems to visit first, and merges biotechnology, philosophy, and genetics to offer an unparalleled vision of the universe to come
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*This image shows the deployment of a half-scale starshade with four petals at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in 2014.  The full scale of this starshade (not shown) will measure at 34 meters, or approximately 111 feet. The flower-like petals of the starshade are designed to diffract bright starlight away from telescopes seeking the dim light of exoplanets. The starshade was re-designed from earlier models to allow these petals to furl, or wrap around the spacecraft, for launch into space.  Once in space, the starshade will need to expand from its tightly-packed launch shape to become large and umbrella-like, ideal for blocking starlight. Each petal is covered in a high-performance plastic film that resembles gold foil. On a starshade ready for launch, the thermal gold foil will only cover the side of the petals facing away from the telescope, with black on the other, so as not to reflect other light sources such as the Earth into its lens.  Starlight-blocking technologies such as the starshade are being developed to help image exoplanets, with a focus on Earth-sized, habitable worlds.   http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA20907
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Princeton
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