"We have a starship and it's 36 years old, so that's really good. This is not as impossible as it sounds. Where the challenge becomes ludicrous and really astounding is the distances from one star to another," Nosanov said."Voyager 1 at its current speed, if it was pointed in the right direction – which it is not – would take 50,000 years to get to the next star. And this is the fastest thing ever built."
"Using this system that's going to be flown next year, making some realistic changes to it, you can go two or three times faster than Voyager. That takes the 36-year journey of Voyager to the Heliopause [interstellar boundary] and makes it 18 years or 15 years, and that is starting to get closer to some day where you might be able to propose it to
Advances in 3D printing could solve one of the biggest challenges to manned long-term space flight: what to eat. Star Trek's "replicators" no longer seem like science-fiction. In May,
"You can use 3D printing to make tissue-engineering scaffolds. You can 3D print anything if you could make the base material. So with tissue-engineering scaffolds you print the scaffold that you want and then you would seed it with cells and hopefully grow the tissue of interest," said Dr
However, even sending astronauts on a two-year round-trip to Mars is deeply problematic, since space's weightless environment and cosmic rays take a huge toll on the body. "Microgravity is huge, as is radiation. So if one doesn't kill you, the other will," said Olabisi.
So the best hope for new discoveries might be to stay at home and look up. Construction on the Square Kilometre Array, the biggest-ever radio telescope, is set to start in 2016. The project is being built in
Thousands of linked dishes with millions of antennae will create a telescope with a combined collecting area of about one square kilometre, generating more data every day than is currently produced by the entire world's daily internet usage.
The Array is hoped to be fully operational by 2023 and is expected to offer insights into the formation of galaxies after the Big Bang and aid the search for extra-terrestrial life.
According to one theory, we had better hurry up. If humanity does not somehow destroy life on Earth, the universe's natural selection eventually will – through an asteroid strike, perhaps, or a comet collision. "The universe is going to select for life-forms with particular characteristics and the key characteristic is an ability to leave your planet and survive," said
"Stars are temporary, planets are temporary and if we look at the history of life on Earth the first three-quarters of that life was single-cell organisms and they appear to have this ability that they can survive in space."
"Once your species comes into existence, the clock is ticking ... you have so many years, 100 million years or whatever, and then you're going to be wiped out of existence by the universe."
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