Another Giant Leap

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01For All Mankind20160208

For more than fifteen years there have always been people living and working in space and the pace of space exploration is, once again, accelerating.

NASA hopes to use a new giant rocket to land humans on Mars by 2035 and private companies are developing spaceships, space stations and asteroid mining operations. European Space Agency engineers are planning a Moon base and serious academics are contemplating government and society beyond the Earth. The US military is even funding the design of a starship.

Ultimately, if humanity is to survive into the far future then we have to leave our home planet.

In the first essay in this series on our future in space, Science journalist and author Dr Stuart Clark sets out the case for leaving Earth. He argues that our urge to explore space and travel to the stars is not a modern yearning but can be traced back more than 500 years to the dawn of scientific observation of the cosmos.

Our world is fragile and the Universe ambivalent to our existence. Stuart argues that we have to leave Earth if only to back up the biosphere. He also contemplates the deeper moral and philosophical reasons for sending humanity out deep into the cosmos. One interpretation of physics suggests the very nature, and future, of reality depends on it.

Producer: Richard Hollingham

A Boffin Media production for BBC Radio 3.

02Three Ages To The Stars20160209

In this series, Another Giant Leap, our essayists consider how humans might evolve into a cosmic civilisation. As we boldly go where no-one has gone before, what are the challenges we are likely to encounter along the way?

In this second essay, archaeologist, explorer and spacesuit designer at Portland University, Dr Cameron Smith, examines how human society and culture is likely to evolve in the far future when vast tracts of nothingness separate space colonies.

Cameron has been appointed to study the issues of human evolution on a future starship, travelling on a multi-generational interstellar voyage to a new world. In this essay he sets out what changes in human culture and society we are likely to see develop as people leave the Earth forever.

Using evidence from human history and modern population genetics, Cameron sets out what he describes as 'three ages to the stars'.

The first is the Age of Departure. Who will be the founders who board the starships to venture where no-one has gone before? How many will go and how will they be selected? Cameron suggests that a population of 10,000 - around the size of a small town such as Amesbury in Wiltshire - will be the ideal number. Their culture, he says, will still be Earth-based.

The second age, the Interstellar Age, will be unique in the history of our species. Within 110 years of departure, the starship population will not include a single person who lived on Earth. Culturally the world of the starship will be very different from the home planet - there will be changes to language, art and even minor biological transformations.

The final stage of an interstellar voyage will be the Age of Arrival. One day a human will be born who takes the first step on a new world. In the far future these people will be very different to those left behind on Earth.

Producer: Richard Hollingham

A Boffin Media production for BBC Radio 3.

03An Ecological Age20160210

In this series, Another Giant Leap, our essayists consider how humans might evolve into a cosmic civilisation. As we boldly go where no-one has gone before, what are the challenges we are likely to encounter along the way?

In this third essay, Professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University, Rachel Armstrong, explores the possibilities of building organic starships and establishing ecosystems on alien worlds.

Rachel works on the design and engineering of ecosystems on Earth. She is applying the same approach to a concept design for a future habitable starship.

Living in space is already a daily reality. In fact the International Space Station - in orbit 400 kilometres above the Earth - has been continuously occupied for more than 15 years. The astronauts on board, however, rely on supplies from Earth to feed themselves.

A recent attempt to grow just a few leaves of lettuce has not been entirely successful. Neither have past efforts to create self-sustaining biospheres on Earth. How then are we going to feed ourselves on alien worlds?

Rachel suggests we need to rethink spacecraft design and build organic vessels that live and breath around us. She is working on a starship concept called Persephone, which would be quite unlike the futuristic ships of science fiction.

Rachel argues that the lessons learnt in designing spacecraft for living in space can also be applied to make life better for us all back on Earth.

Producer: Richard Hollingham

A Boffin Media production for BBC Radio 3.

04War In Space20160211

In this series, Another Giant Leap, our essayists consider how humans might evolve into a cosmic civilisation. As we boldly go where no-one has gone before, what are the challenges we are likely to encounter along the way?

A colony on the Moon, Mars or a spaceship on a voyage to a distant world will be physically fragile. A single terrorist bomb could kill everyone and a ruthless dictator in charge of the air could oversee a vicious regime.

In this fourth essay, acclaimed science fiction author Stephen Baxter examines how fiction has tackled the challenges of government in the space environment. He also references human pioneers of the past - such as the US Founding Fathers - who had the vision to devise government for as yet undiscovered territories.

Space exploration poses serious political challenges. Astronauts, such as British astronaut Tim Peake, travelling to and from orbiting space stations are citizens of nations on Earth. However, in the not so far future, inhabitants of a Mars base will need to devise new rights and new ways of governing to ensure no tyrant can control the air supply.

How would you rebel in space against a tyrannous regime? There is a fundamental clash in these perilous environments between the freedom of the individual and the need for the collective to maintain shared systems.

There is also the danger of an extraterrestrial colony attacking the Earth or war in space. As we move off world, Stephen argues, we could master energies with effects far worse than nuclear weapons.

As we explore the solar system, we will have to avoid the terrible dangers of extraterrestrial tyranny and interplanetary war.

Producer: Richard Hollingham

A Boffin Media production for BBC Radio 3.

05Alien Visitors20160212

In this series, Another Giant Leap, our essayists consider how humans might evolve into a cosmic civilisation. As we boldly go where no-one has gone before, what are the challenges we are likely to encounter along the way?

In this final essay, astronomy writer and science journalist Dr Stuart Clark begins by asking: where are all the aliens? If interstellar travel is possible, then why haven't we been visited by other civilisations?

One possible answer is that travel across the vast tracts of space that separate habitable worlds is simply impossible. Without a breakthrough in physics - such as a warp drive propulsion system - then perhaps we are destined to remain Earth-bound.

If this is the case then maybe we should explore the cosmos through the eyes of robots? Already we can follow the progress of the Curiosity rover as it trundles across Mars, but imagine the same experience in virtual reality.

It would be almost as good as being there. We could be god-like observers; able to participate in everything the Universe has to offer, yet kept in relative safety right here on Earth.

There are, however, serious efforts to develop the technology for a starship and search for habitable worlds to head to. But what if these worlds are already inhabited?

Stuart leaves us with the final disconcerting thought that aliens have already found us but have chosen not to announce their presence. There could be a space probe in our solar system watching the Earth right now...and even listening to Radio 3.

Producer: Richard Hollingham

A Boffin Media production for BBC Radio 3.