Ah. The topic of traveling to a distant planet in space is a topic that has been discussed quite a bit. Books, movies, and virtually all other forms of media and art have cemented the concept of space travel into history. Although we have blasted human beings all of the way to the moon, we still haven’t gotten much further than that. Voyager 1, originally launched in 1977, has finally entered interstellar space. Interstellar just means that it is the region between stars. If that definition isn’t clear enough, just know that Voyager 1 has passed Pluto and is continuing to carve its way through space.
Traveling through such large distances obviously takes a long amount of time. Even if you could travel the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second), it would still take you a little more than 4 years to travel to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Four whole years of travel. I can see some people argue that four years isn’t long at all, and I can see other people argue the opposite. Realize though, that Alpha Centauri is the closest star. Other heavenly bodies lie unfathomable distances away. The galaxy labeled MACS0647-JD is a whopping 13.3 billion light years away. Traveling at the speed of light, it will take you 13.3 billion years to get to one of the furthest known galaxies. Unless you have super powers, chances are, you will have passed ever so long ago. How long has the human race been around? Definitely not a billion years, so if you had a ship large enough to sustain an entire population, they would be a completely different group of people if they survived the entire trip. Hell, they would probably even be a new species!
Alright, let’s forget about MACS0647-JD. Instead, make our destination Alpha Centauri. For the sake of the argument, let’s also assume that within the Alpha Centauri solar system is a planet that can sustain Earth-life. Okay. Four years of travel? No problem. However, we have to make a few more assumptions. A light-year is approximately 9 trillion kilometers (6 trillion miles). Space may be mostly empty, but there are still plenty of asteroids, planets, and gas molecules to run into. Our assumption: we have the technology to shield ourselves from such collisions. Holy moly! Our technology must be the bees’ knees at this point. But wait! What about radiation? Can’t that cause issues on its own? Well, let’s assume we have shielding for that as well.
With all of those assumptions, we can finally travel our four years at light speed (let’s not count time for acceleration and deceleration). Our spaceship finally lands on planet Awesome-Sauce with a full load of people. We actually have enough people to start a colony. But, before the work, we want to call back to Earth to talk to our loved ones. However, to our horror, our loved ones have aged much more quickly than us! What happened?!
This horrible aging phenomenon is actually due to a physics concept called time dilation. I won’t go too deep into the subject, but simply put, objects traveling at fast speeds (our colony ship) will age less than those that are not traveling quickly (the people on Earth) Of course, Earth is orbiting around the Sun, so it is moving quickly, but nowhere near as quickly as our ship that is traveling near the speed of light. At the bottom of the page are sources, and one of the sources details time dilation a little more elaborately.
The real topic of this discussion: would you make the sacrifice to travel to another colony world. Would you? Just keep in mind that during your journey, time for the people at home will go by much more quickly, thus making them age more. By the time you get to your destination, they may have all passed away. On the other hand, in the early years of space travel, you could be one of the first colonist to pave the way for future societies. Just like in Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender in Exile, Ender Wiggin and his sister Valentine make the journey through space and time, leaving Earth. Ender and Val end up traveling so much that 3000 years have passed since they were last on Earth. During that time, entire civilizations have popped up on new planets, so they are not alone, but everyone and everything they once knew have fallen victim to the curse of time.
There are also legal problems that occur with time travel. What if someone who wanted to escape from the law continued to travel at near light speeds to stay away from the coppers? How could someone be stopped? Referencing the world of Ender again, what if ships had onboard cryogenic devices, allowing the person to stay in stasis until a long voyage had been completed? Then, they could stay asleep for a 100+ year journey, and due to time dilation, they technically wake up thousands of years later. You would need a very impressive justice system to keep track of all of the criminals that would use the rules of physics to escape the clutches of justice.
Here is an interesting thought. Could someone start up a bank account, add some money in it, and then come back a few thousand years later with a ridiculously loaded savings account? Obviously, some checks and regulations would have to be in place to prevent that. But, is it right to prevent someone from doing that? After all, if someone took the time to do that, then they have made a hefty sacrifice to leave everything behind. Maybe they should get to roll around in the cash that has accumulated since there departure.
Another benefit from time dilation is that someone who is terminally ill can travel as many years into the future as needed to find a cure for their ailment. You could essentially become immortal, but if your life is spent frozen in a stasis pod blasting through space at velocities near light-speed, then are you really living?
There are pros and cons with space travel, just like nearly every other topic. So, with those in mind? Would you do it? You would have to leave behind everything you once knew, but you would embark on a journey, nay, an adventure. You could become one of the first to terraform a new planet, and maybe even experience what it would be like to find a new form of life in person! Experiences that you could never have dreamed of could be a reality, but you would be starting a completely new life.
Could you do it?