The idea of Interstellar Travel is Preposterous

Every now and then I see an article about interstellar travel. I always have about the same reaction to these articles… outrage… because I see the suggestion that we can travel outside our own solar system as grotesquely improbable. I suppose you might say, “Why get so worked up about it?” A good question, and here is my very simple answer. Having fantasies of this sort and treating them like real possibilities diminishes our attention to the fact that we are ruining the one and only life sustaining place we and other creatures have to live.

I am not an astronomer or astrophysicist. I do have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. You might say, “You aren’t qualified to shoot down the notion that inter-stellar travel is possible.” I must say I find it rather astonishing to hear highly educated people, including astronomers and astrophysicists, treat the topic of interstellar travel as even remotely plausible. I have not developed my ideas about the implausibility of interstellar travel from anything I learned while studying mechanical engineering. In fact, my ideas on this subject come from information that is readily available to anyone in the public domain. If I was going to offer just one word that explains my thinking, it would be… “scale.” That’s it… just scale, or the size of things. We humans live in the realm of our own personal scale. As such, it is hard for any of us to properly comprehend things that are greatly different in scale than we are. Yes, we are clever creatures… and yes, we have deduced a great deal about ourselves, our planet, and universe in which we live.

Let me lay out a few facts…

A. The fastest object yet propelled by the actions of humans traveled (or will travel) at about 450,000 miles per hour.

B. The distance to the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) other than our own sun is about 4.3 light years.

C. Traveling at 450,000 MPH it would take roughly 6,400 years to get to Proxima Centauri.

6,400 years. That is how long it would take us to get to the nearest star other than our own star (the sun). In round figures, 64 human lifespans. Now, if we… excuse me, “we”… tisk tisk, I should say our “distant descendants”… are really lucky, they might find a planet habitable to whatever sort of creature they will be when they get there. If they are extraordinarily lucky, it might even be something like the paradise for plants and animals we have here on planet Earth. If not… well… they either spend another 6400 years heading back to home sweet home, or head out to whatever the next nearest star is.

Okay… Suppose we figure out how to travel at the speed of light. Who wants to sit in a tin can for 4.3 years to get there? I could go on… but I haven’t even gotten to the little detail of sustaining life in a tin can for 4.3 years… or 6,400 years or whatever.

I hope you get my point… Sorry to rain on your parade, but as amazingly clever as we are, we need to accept the fact that we do have limitations. Perhaps it would be better for us to focus on taking care of planet Earth.




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