Microbots – The Seeds of Interstellar Colonization

planet

Microbots – The Seeds of Interstellar Colonization by Robert Buckalew

The long-term viability of humanity depends on the colonization of planets in other star systems. The difficulty of such an enterprise might best be overcome by following a model evolved in nature. Like a tree dropping many thousands of seeds every fall in expectation that one may sprout, the colonization of space by micro-robots would involve sending out many times more robotic seed pods than might be expected to find fertile ground and germinate. Like plant seeds, each tiny robot must carry all the essential information to autonomously begin a complex implementation process upon arrival at its targeted destination.

Sending an abundance of tiny autonomous robots to targeted locations in space, like the seeds in Nature’s model, acknowledges an anticipated high failure rate for this long term, very far reaching project while placing no living humans at risk. Designing, mass producing and deploying interstellar microbots can be funded over many decades to extend the economic and political costs while this dispersion could be readily redirected as new, potentially habitable worlds are discovered. The burgeoning fields of biotechnology, genetics, artificial intelligence, nano technology and micro-robotic technology are making remarkable advances. Developing an interstellar microbot might impel a symbiotic convergence of these promising technologies. Conversely, the development of propulsion systems or physical phenomena that could provide intra-generational human interstellar space travel, such as warp drives or worm holes, are based on tenuous scientific precedence.

Microbot Construction

microbotscan

An elongated polyhedron shape may prove most functional. Every surface would serve a specific function. The leading and trailing hexagonal surfaces would be photo sensitive for guidance between Sol and the destination star. From the eight elongated surfaces, eight panels would be deployed and latched at 90-degree angles to the main body for solar energy collection and solar sail navigational control. Each side of a control panel would have separate functions. One side would be energy collecting solar cells and the other side would be variable contrast panels such as micro-particle displays (E Ink) to allow low energy changes in the photo absorption and reflectivity of the panel. The reflective panels act as solar sails providing only limited navigational control in space. These panels would include terminals at their outer ends for mechanical and electrical connections to other microbots when forming arrays. The panels would also employ nano motors or bio-mechanical muscles at their pivoting connection points allowing rotation of the panels. The eight exposed rectangular surfaces of the polygon would emit redirected light for further photonic thrust control.

Each microbot would carry the primogenitor seeds for bringing life to the destination planet. This genetic seed would be hermetically sealed inside the microbot for safe transport during interstellar travel. Their construction might incorporate a combination of machine made and organic components of a DNA-like mechanism to allow regenerative repair, production and reproduction of microbots and other living or biomechanical organisms once activated upon reaching the planet surface where the necessary water, minerals and energy would be available.

For minimum mass and future biological reproduction, microbot memory and programming might best be constructed with molecular sequencing similar to the information in chromosomes.

Durability of the Microbots

The bots must be durable enough to survive the forces of rapid acceleration. They must be unaffected by exposure to interstellar radiation, as the travel time of 100+ years would subject them to solar and cosmic radiation. The bio-organic components can borrow designs from Earth tardigrades and other extremophilic microbes so that they can be hardened to radiation and remain torpid and preserved during their interplanetary travel. Even in this dormant state the organic progenitors would need to be sealed from liquid evaporation. Their preservation may be aided by the extreme cold of space. Other hazards include physical degradation over time, thermal stress during atmospheric entry and subjugation to an alien planet’s surface environments. The microbot design must allow inexpensive mass-production, for like seeds from a tree, an overabundance of them need to be launched (millions to each potential exoplanet) to allow for expected failures while assuring that a sufficient number of functioning bio-machines reach and survive at their destinations.

Magnetic Acceleration

Microbots will incorporate no self-contained propulsive means but will be externally accelerated to a high terminal velocity which will give them the their directional vector and inertia to carry them to their destination. These tiny microbots must be of very low mass (1-5 micro grams) to allow them to be more easily accelerated to the very high velocities with a practicable expenditure of energy. Sending larger, higher functioning robots, while making the planetary preparations somewhat easier, would either greatly increase the propulsive energy required or extend the travel time. Once the microbots and launch system are developed, these robotic precursors to humans can be sent to various exoplanets over extended time periods as more candidate exoplanets become known to us. Microbots would be accelerated to fractional light speeds in a magnetic accelerator or rail gun and launched in a focused beam toward the target star. Similar to CERN and other Earth based particle accelerators, this accelerator would necessarily be in Earth orbit or moon based to avoid atmospheric heating of the microbots at the very high exiting speeds (approaching 1/10th the speed of light). Power requirements might be similar to proposed space lasers for interstellar solar sail acceleration. By attaining relativistic speeds the travel time would be significantly shortened to around 100 years for nearby star systems.

Magnetic Orientation and Panel Magnetism

In order to attain the initial velocity and direction (inertia), microbot construction requires some ferromagnetic property in order to respond to the electromagnetic forces of the accelerator. To impart correct spatial orientation upon discharge from the accelerator, the magnetic property should be located asymmetrically, for example, at the front of the body shell. This magnetic asymmetry would orient the microbot so that the lead photon detector emerges aimed at the destination star and the trailing photon detector looks back toward Sol. The acceleration process might impart a magnetism (or residual magnetism) that could aid in connecting bots into arrays. Discharge from the magnetic field of the accelerator might additionally trigger the deployment of the control panels.

Variable Launch Speeds

To maximize the velocity of the bots and minimize the size and energy requirement of the magnetic accelerator, the bots must be launched individually and in rapid succession. The timing and velocity of the microbots launches would be designed to create a clustering of multiple groups of bots during their travel through interstellar space. It is necessary for communication that some of these individual bots cluster in space in order to form arrays. The earliest bot in a cluster would be launched at the slowest speed. The last would be the fastest. And the intermediate bots would launch at velocities proportionately faster and slower relative to their launch position. The different velocities would cause the lagging bots to catch up with the middle bots and the earliest to launch would be overtaken by the followers until at some point they would be all traveling in proximity.

During this clustering, which has a window limited to around 100 years, the bots could modulate their initial velocities through photon pressure (solar sail thrust) and position by photonic radiation. As they cluster their relative velocities should be approaching parity, and once in proximity they could attach to form mechanical and electrical connections.

Bots Maximize Surface Area

Following acceleration, the microbots would unfurl eight panels from their eight elongated sides as a flower unfolds its petals. This increase in their exposed surface area would maximize the solar energy collection area as well as the radiant/reflective control surface areas. The extended panels would be permanently latched. Extended panels would terminate with magnetic, mechanical latches. Magnetic attraction would aid in attaching to their polar mates, and a mechanical connection would provide a secure physical and electrically conductive connection as required for collected arrays. To maximize solar efficiency and achieve control functions the bots would be able to physically rotate the extended solar collectors and reflective panels. This could be accomplished though nano motors or bio-mechanical muscular tissue. Bio-muscular actuators, such as employed by electric eels, could also serve as electrical storage systems.

Arrays

Connected clusters of microbots might contain 10,000 bots for a 100 x 100 array. Hundreds of arrays might be created, though arraying would only be necessary for such specific functions as communication antennas and power arrays. Any bots that do not array or are not needed to form into an array during the interstellar journey would still retain full autonomy. Solitary bots would possess the hardware and programming to navigate, land and colonize without arraying. Their individual energy-gathering and control abilities would allow them to achieve planetary orbit where they might still form arrays, serve as replacement units or land and colonize the planet.

mbot array B&W

Once physically arrayed the autonomous control of microbot individuals would be relegated to a central control of one or a grouping of designed bots utilizing a mergeable nervous system1 capability. Borrowing from organized insect colony life on Earth these “queen bots” would coordinate control of the individual bots in the array. Instructions for this change in authority may be part of existing programming or administered from Earth. Establishing Arrays in Deep Space

The long travel time and the relative ease of movement in space would be opportune for the bots to establish agglomerated arrays. Individual bots could send out a bio-luminescent laser beacon of timed light flashes, much like that of a firefly. Recognizing another beacon pattern with their photo collectors would instruct bots to the location of others. Once two or more bots were attached, their beacons would become synchronized so their combined light would become brighter and more easily located by other wondering bots.

Traveling Communication Dish in Space

Once collected, antenna arrays could be established for radio or optical communication with Earth during the journey. Communication with Earth would allow reprogramming and mission adjustments as scientific knowledge and data transmission technology improve. Self Guidance

Although the direction of their travel would largely be determined by the accelerator, microbots would possess limited self guidance, as the ability to make minor course corrections would help assure that a maximum number reach their destination. The fixed leading and trailing solar octagonal photoelectric surfaces can multi-function for guidance, communication and as solar energy collectors. Sol initially would be the primary source for energy collection through the trailing photocell and expanded panels. Storage of photonic energy would be important, though severely limited by the low mass of the vehicle. As the microbot nears the destination star, its radiation would increasingly become the primary source of energy for making the critical approach maneuvers.

At the mid-point between navigational stars, about 50 years into the trip, little photo energy would be available so maneuvering or data transmission would be limited. Some light from background starlight would be available and stored, but not enough to perform extended navigation or communication tasks.

If necessary, a space-based laser might be employed to provide additional guidance, energy and communication for the microbots, especially during travel in deep space. The laser signal could also be encoded with information and programming through pulses or twists in the light signal which would be received through the trailing light sensor.

Control Surfaces

With only low thrust photon (solar sail) maneuverability, all microbot activities in space would appear a very slow process to humans. However, they have almost two human lifetimes to perform these deep space maneuvers.

The inverse surfaces of the expanded solar panels would have the ability to change reflectivity through liquid crystal or micro particle (E Ink) display surfaces. With limited solar power in deep space, high and low reflectivity on different panels could deflect or absorb background illumination to affect speed and direction. Directional control would be achieved by both rotating panels and adjusting reflectivity between panel surfaces to create a differential pressure. Since arraying would produce no net gain in solar sail area to mass, the microbots would be just as effective as individuals in navigational control.

The eight exposed surfaces of the microbot body could emit photonic radiation as reflected photons or illumination (LED or bio-luminescence) to additionally produce low thrust control forces. In either case, low thrust navigation would be accomplished by emitting, absorbing or reflecting light from different surfaces of the deployed panels or body surfaces. This might be sufficient for array clustering and anticipated, minor course corrections considering the low mass of the vehicle and the long travel time involved. Internal Redirection of Reflected Photons

Incoming light from the primary (nearest) star could be statically redirected (reflected) to specific control surfaces to supplement navigational control. Internal bio-organic surfaces with adjustable transparency and reflectivity could direct outside light through transparent surfaces on the microbot body. Emitting light asymmetrically would produce an uneven thrust on the microbot. If no position correction is required, equal output from opposing surfaces would produce a net balanced force on the microrobot.Planetary Orbit

Whether employed in solar sail arrays or traveling as solitary individuals, the microbots can, through solar sail adjustment, gradually adjust their speed and direction to place them in an orbit near the orbital path of the target planet. By setting all the extended panels to face the approaching star and having them set to maximum reflectivity, the light pressure of the photons would create maximum deceleration of the microbot. This would slow their approach to establish the correct speed to enter a solar orbit near the orbital path of the destination planet. As the microbots approach the planet, they need to be gradually drawn into the planet’s gravational influence. This would likely require numerous planetary passes to synchronize with the orbital path and velocity of the planet.

Orbiting Antenna Arrays

Radio Communication with Earth

Earth is now a very distant invisible point orbiting a visible but diminutive star. For practicality and efficiency, two dedicated antenna arrays orbiting the planet are required: one a larger interstellar parabolic array with an active element aimed at Sol and a smaller parabolic dish for surface communication with the future surface bots on the new planet surface. The larger dish antenna would be more effective for receiving the distant Earth radio signals. The smaller, geosynchronous antenna, would be aimed at the fixed location where the colony would be located on the planet and act as a relay for signals traveling both to and from Earth.

Employing two orbiting antennas allows both continuous orientation with Sol and constant contact with ground antennas located on the planet. Additionally, the two antennas would be required to communicate with each other in order to transmit the signals received from Earth by the larger antenna to the smaller relay antenna that will send the signals to the surface. Conversely, the smaller dish antenna will receive signals from the colony and relay them to the larger dish for transmission to Earth. Until development of entangled particle technology, radio signals offer the best method of communication with Earth and the host planet. Local communication between orbiting arrays, or local arrays on the planetary surface might be accomplished with either radio or laser light.

Power Array

To increase transmission rates, orbiting power arrays of collected microbots could be used to add power to the interstellar (Sol directed) and to the planet-directed, relay antennas. This would not only improve outgoing transmission rates but increase transmission wattage facilitating Earth reception. This flat power array would be programmed to directly face the nearby star and would function only to collect and store energy for use by the interstellar antenna. Bathed in persistent light from the host star, these arrays would enjoy an uninterrupted energy supply.

Once the successful deployment of the dish antenna arrays were completed, Earth communication established, and the planet surface mapped for optimal landing and colonization locations, the remaining orbiting bots could be programmed, arrayed and configured for atmospheric entry and their new functions on the planet’s surface.

Atmospheric Entry – Surface Communication

Atmospheric Entry Velocity

Uncontrolled entry through an Earth like atmosphere would generate heat that would be damaging to mechanical, electronic and biological components. For this reason it is important that the orbital velocity be established as low as possible to reduce atmospheric entry speed. Solitary bots in planetary orbit could enter the atmosphere with individual, guided descent. These microbots, with their panels extended, would inherently have a high surface to mass ratio. This will naturally maximize atmospheric drag and slow descent. Substantially slowed by the deployed panels, the bot’s need for thermal shielding would be minimized. With sufficient speed reduction, the risk of thermal damage to the solar and reflective panels would be greatly reduced. These panels, adjusted for the angle of attack by nano motors at their base, can control spinning and gliding while providing some limited directional control to a landing site. Programmed for selected landing sites, the microbots light sensing photo receptors would act as eyes to locate and track prominent geographic features.

Over time, additional wayward bots might find their way into planetary orbit. These could collect in orbit as reserve components for orbiting arrays, form into arrays or descend to the surface as individuals.

Atmospheric Entry of Arrays

Physically connected arrays might act as a glider, parachute or landing vehicle. All arrays must be pre-assembled in space because, once on the surface, microbots and microbot arrays lack mobility. These arrays would use their deployed panels as aerodynamic control surfaces. Nano motors at the stem of the panels would rotate these panels to control the descent velocity and influence the landing location. If arraying as a landing vehicle improves atmospheric guidance control, it also has the disadvantage of losing large numbers of microbots in the case of a navigational error.

Arrays pre-configured for planetary surface functions such as communication and power must be assembled not only for their intended function but to slow and control atmospheric entry. These arrays would be targeted to solid terrain proximate to the body of water where non-arrayed microbots would be targeted.

Establishing Planet Based Communication

On the surface, certain pre-configured, arrayed microbots would be designated as a communication base for radio, optical laser or entangled particle communication. The initial planetary communication station would not utilize a dish antenna since these must be specifically oriented, and the microbot arrays have no terrestrial mobility. Initial surface communication would therefore require an omni-directional antenna that would function without physical orientation. Until the microbots create controllable, kinetic life forms they remain non-motile and cannot manipulate themselves or aid in orienting the antennas and power grids.

Establishing a communication link with the geosynchronous relay antenna and sending a status report to Earth would be a significant milestone toward colonization of an alien planet. The technicians on Earth now would have an established, responsive, communicating machine on another world. Information concerning surface conditions could be relayed for analysis and, in turn, any adjustments to the microbot programming would follow. The microbots might then be reprogrammed for an endless variety of changing functions that would incorporate the latest technological developments.

Microbots on Earth 2.0

Machines as a Synthetic Life Form

Growing and producing new living cells involves the creation of new genomes. This is routinely accomplished on Earth in microscopic packages, with little energy consumption and under a wide variety of Earth conditions. Primitive Earth organisms such as fungi, tube worms, mold, bacteria, diatoms and algae all share the ability to create new DNA from common non-organic minerals given the favorable circumstances of climate, water and energy. Organic production has proved to be an extremely robust, highly successful method of creating genetic material.

The microbots, though manufactured, would need to have the bio-engineered ability to reproduce genomes and cells using a synthetic genomic process analogous to simple life on Earth. However, their procreative purpose on the host planet would not be limited to reproducing themselves, but to producing a variety of bio-mechanical life forms with planetary surface mobility that can function and thrive yet be controlled by human programming.

Energy

Like life on Earth, these bio-machines would also need to incorporate systems that will transform and store energy from available sources such as solar electric collection, photosynthesis, chemical reactions or heat. Whatever energy collection and storage method they possess, it must keep them alive as bio-machines and allow programming and communication with Earth. The diploid bot cells carried by the microbots and introduced to the environment would require a regular supply of energy and minerals in order to grow into functional biobots with the capacity to move.

Microbots Become Amphibious Biobots

The helpless microbots would not be capable of the locomotion required to locate the necessary minerals to feed the genomic seed that is programmed to become the biobot. Whereas the arrays will have been targeted to terra firma, the microbots would necessarily be aquatic machines and naturally buoyant. Living on the surface of the water would give them access to both solar energy and the moving, dissolved minerals in the water. Upon determining a suitable environment, the released passenger proto diploid would divide and grow until it became a functional, mobile bio-machine. The sunlight would provide the energy and the dissolved minerals would provide the chemical building blocks for an amphibious biobot. This may require consecutive generations or a bio-machine capable of an evolving morphology.

This proto creature would grow from the genetic instructions in the biogenetic seed carried by the microbot. As with tellurium life, activation of the primogenitor seed could be triggered by the presence of moisture, warmth, light and/or gravity. In begetting this amphibious creature the microbot might be incorporated into the amphibian’s brain. In this way the microbot would not only be preserved but the microbot could communicate and direct the actions of the amphibian. If successful, the beaches of this lifeless, distant world would become populated with alien bio-mechanical creatures emerging from the ocean, remotely programmed by intelligent life light years away on a distant planet.

Motile Terrestrial Biobots

Once upon land this biobot, instructed by its microbot program, could begin important work stabilizing the antenna and power arrays that descended from orbit and relocating them to optimum and secure locations. The more effective dish antenna could now get a secure base constructed of local materials and be aimed at the space-based relay antenna for improved communication. The biobots could search for and collect individual microbots that fortuitously landed on the dry ground or those that washed to the beach unsuccessful at generating biobots. Solitary microbots could charge with sunlight and send out a bioluminescent or radio signal to aid the mobile biobots in locating and collecting them into a microbot community.

The damaged or quiescent microbots would continue to have important uses worthy of collection by biobots, especially if genetic production of their LED, laser, photo voltaic, communication, processor or memory hardware is difficult or impossible. Harvesting them for their components could provide valuable and necessary resources.

The amphibious bots would be just the first form of working biobots. Production of new, motile, reproducing, function specific, terrestrial bots is essential for creating the infrastructure for human colonization. Growing terrestrial biobots of much larger form with greatly increased mass, previously a detriment for space traveling microbots, would now be advantageous. They would still need to retain communication, networking and reprogramming functions either with a brain imbedded microbot interface or with an endemic, programmable communication system. They should generationally accrue more mass, surface mobility, manipulative dexterity, visual acuity and artificial intelligence while retaining their programmed functions.

Genome Introduction and Manufacturing

Assembled Introduction vs Genomic Capability

There are two basic approaches to delivering genetic material to the target planet. The simplest method is to assemble the genetic seeds on Earth and use the microbots to transport and deploy them on the planet. With the second approach, genomic capability, microbots could alter and assemble genetic material at the target planet.

Assembled Genome Introduction

With pre-assembled genome introduction each microbot could carry all the genetics required. If it proved impractical for the microbots to each carry all the necessary genes in one payload, separate microbots could carry separate genetic payloads. Though these could still be sent in one integrated mission, it would preferably be done in timed phases anticipating the new diploid introduction needed for growing terrestrial biobots, terraforming and human introduction. The first phase of microbots to arrive might carry only the genetics for explorer bio-machines. Information the explorer biobots sent back to earth would influence the decision whether to proceed or not. If proceeding, the information would then influence subsequent designs of bioengineered genes and seeds. Each phase of gene introduction would require about 100 years travel time to reach nearby exoplanets.Genomic Capability

With on-board genomics, the microbots would possess the capability of assembling genetic material in situ. They would only need to transport the genetic material that would develop the explorer biobot and a gene assembler. Subsequent genetic material would be sent as data to the embedded microbots for genome assembly. Though technologically much more advanced, it has the advantage of significantly shortening the time required between exploration, terraforming and human introduction, being constrained by light speed communication time rather than physical travel time.

The technologically ambitious component of this single-phase genomic microbot would be a reprogrammable genome assembly and deployment system. By interfacing the microbot’s bio-engineered memory register with the genome manufacturing mechanism of, for example, simple unicellular plants, the microbot could construct any DNA sequence inside a synthetic proto cell. This machine memory register, arranged as genetic information, would construct and mimic DNA sequences within a bio-engineered surrogate cell.

Machine to Organic Cell Division

Once sequenced, this artificial cell would then divide (cleave) a genetic copy as an organic diploid cell capable of divisible growth into a plant, animal or bio-machine embryo. The copied genome, now a reproducible cell in a nurturing environment, would further divide until it became an embryo of an ordinary tellurium organic life form or a bio-machine. These living cells would continue the programmed cell reproduction until a completed form of the plant, animal or bio-machine was extant.

With sufficient memory, this primogenitor construct could assemble the genome of any life form on Earth or any human engineered bio-machine. The capacity to store a complete digital instruction set of organic DNA sequences would likely necessitate interfacing atomic scale memory registers similar to information in chromosomes. Being programmable, the memory registers could then be cleared and other genome sequences inserted into the cleavable proto cell to produce a variety of organic and bio-robotic life forms. Genomic technology would prove expeditious for production of the terrestrial plants, bacteria, microbiomes and animal forms that would terraform the planet in preparation for human occupation.

Once genomic, bio-robotic systems were in place, scientists on Earth would have an unlimited capacity to implement the genetic production of Earth life or engineered bio-mechanical life on Earth 2.0 with a time lag of only a decade or two (assuming local star systems).

Earth organisms often share large parts of their genome sequences with other life forms. Those commonly shared sequences would be organized and stored for insertion into other genomes saving both radio transmission and sequence assembly time. Once the first complete human genome was assembled, genetic diversity among humans could be quickly created since all of the human genetic diversity on Earth is a matter of altering only 0.01 percent of the human genome.

Preparations for Humans

A century or more may be required to establish the necessary biologic and vegetative terraforming to support a modest human habitation. All the required natural life must be sequenced from Earth-based genomes, downloaded and assembled by the microbots and released into the environment to grow and self-reproduce. Oxygen producing algae, animal and human microbiomes for digestion and other necessary life forms would also need to be synthesized and produced along with engineered organisms created to synthesize lactose for feeding the first baby mammals including humans. Plants, animals and humans may require re-engineering for deviations in planetary environments. Temperature, gravity, atmospheric oxygen or CO2 concentrations could be compensated for by altering the plant or animal structure. Special non-reproductive, limited use biobots could be introduced into the system as well. This might include construction bots for making human habitat, animal incubators and nanny bots that would raise the first generations of human children.

Food

Animal protein, carbohydrates and milk (lactose) could be synthesized with simple, genetically engineered unicellular organisms such as algae, fungi or bacteria. These support systems for bio-farm products would be a necessary prerequisite for human introduction. Traditional food sources should also be established before introducing humans. Soybeans, rice and wheat could be introduced. Poultry might be synthesized as a supply for both meat and eggs. Reproducing small animals could be self-sustaining in terraformed enclosures. Small animals and insects would also be helpful (if not necessary) in creating a sustainable ecology and a varied food supply. The types of plants and animals would be selected and genetically modified based on the planet’s climate extremes, soil, water, rainfall, etc.

Habitat

The habitat must maintain a sustaining, non-lethal climate, by controlling temperature, humidity and air quality. Under ideal planetary conditions the habitat would just be a basic shelter providing protection from extreme or intrusive weather. Otherwise it may require airtight walls and sealed doors with airlocks to minimize atmospheric entry from the outside. Artificial control of oxygen and other gaseous levels may be required. Plants, oxygen producing algae or cyanobacteria, kept in a connected greenhouse, could be employed to produce additional supplementary oxygen and reduce CO2 if required.

Habitat might best be constructed below ground for temperature control. Enclosed spaces could be heated with passive solar collectors, biologic composting or combustion of introduced plant life. Like tellurium housing, easy access to clean water and systems for waste disposal must be incorporated in any design.

Biologic Housing

Traditional assembly of existing local materials or introduced bio-engineered plant materials could be used to create habitable housing. Robotic construction of stone, rammed earth, adobe or subterranean living space can be underway while instructions for new gene assembly and biobot programming are being downloaded from Earth (a decade or more travel time for a local star system). By culturing bio-engineered microbes, such as silica producing phytoplankton, the direct deposit of expired life forms could form floors and structural components at the building site.

Incubators

The first generation of complex animals would require artificial incubation. Incubators would be needed to provide a controlled supportive environment that functions to feed and sustain introductory animal embryos as they gestate into viable reproductive individuals. Artificial, warm blooded, mammalian machine incubators could be bio engineered. A dedicated incubating biobot could be one of the biological systems created using the microbot’s genetic sequencing technology. If designed as dedicated, single use incubators they would not require vision, dexterity or motility. They would consume and digest food to sustain themselves and create the nourishment required for the fetus. They might also be designed for lactating though lactose might be more easily synthesized from bacteria.

Testing and improvements in the incubation process would be performed on the smaller mammals in preparation for human embryo incubation. Specially created nursing bots might be required to monitor, feed and maintain the incubators and later raise the infant mammals.

Nursing Bots

Nanny bots could be programmed to both operate and maintain the incubators and also care for, nurse and raise the first animal and human infants. Their programming and ongoing improvements would be downloaded and overseen from Earth during the many decades of terraforming and machine/animal creations.

Once human incubation was complete, the living infants would continue to need special attention and care. Nursing bots would be high functioning biobots created in limited (non-reproductive) numbers. These hybrid animal/machines must be mobile, dexterous, vocal and possess the sensory perceptions of sight, sound, smell and touch. Facial reactions are important to infants and children so the nanny bots might incorporate an arrayed microbot LED facial screen for mimicking human facial patterns to allow infant imprinting. This would also give the surrogate nannies the ability to imitate emotional responses to the babies’ actions and needs in serve-and-return responses.

Earth Monitoring of Progress

Without entangled particle communication, the very slow electromagnetic communication time makes any reaction to problems in the nursery ineffective, as any human baby would be an adult before a response arrived. The nannies would therefore require artificial intelligence in order to react to ongoing situations in the nursery. In anticipation of this need, an isolated local twin colony (possibly on the far side of the moon or on Mars) might test and evaluate every piece of hardware and software as if in interstellar space.

The New Human Genome

Though artificially manufactured, these interstellar humans would not be clones but genetic individuals, assembled from a wide diversity of human populations to maximize the necessary genetic diversity for later, healthy human reproduction. The first generation of babies might be genetically altered to shorten their infancy and reduce their most vulnerable and helpless period. This trait need not be continued in later generations when human adults will become parents. Genetic engineering might also modify human DNA to minimize psychological mechanisms that are vestigial behaviors of our stone-age ancestors, such as selfish aggression, clan mentality and territoriality thus producing humans better suited to a technological culture and urban society. This could not only decrease the threat of destructive behavior in the nascent community, but such modifications would also increase the survivability of the human race in the long term by eliminating those primitive survival traits that cause wars, crime and social problems in a developed society.

The First Generation

There exists a significant challenge in raising the first generation of children solely by nanny robots, which would more easily provide for physical necessities than psychological needs. The only other humans present would be other infants of similar age though later generations would have older children and eventually adults to interact with. Until then the nannies would need to be nurturers, disciplinarians and instructors of morality requiring the necessary AI programming to discourage and reward applicable behaviors.

Humans throughout history have learned morality through stories. Sympathy, empathy and identity with the characters in stories are innate responses. Listening to stories, reading books, watching video or virtual reality might contribute to acculturating these isolated children while engaging them in a healthy range of normal human behaviors and traditional social and family structures.

Conclusion

The complexity involved in establishing a human colony on another planet cannot be underestimated. Major advances in bio-engineering and nano technology are the obvious prerequisites to producing these tiny, versatile microbots. However, entangled particle communication may be an equally important development for a successful colonization process. Quantum entangled communication would dispense with the need for microbot arrays necessary only for radio communication antennas. To eliminate the decades long radio response lag would greatly enable informed problem resolution and allow real time intervention into technical and human situations.

Robotic preparation for human habitation appears, in the foreseeable future, to be the most viable approach to colonizing planetary systems outside our solar system. Space traveling robots would be the most cost effective, politically accommodating and scientifically accessible solution to human interstellar colonization eliminating the risk of sending living humans on a dangerous, technologically elaborate and multi-generational journey from which they would never return.

Once a productive human society was established on Earth 2.0, it would be expected that the inhabitants would someday institute a similar program of interstellar expansion. Over time these colonies could develop into a network of communities throughout the galaxy.

An evolved, self-aware, rational intelligence may be a very rare commodity in the universe. At a time in our development when we virtually have the tools to take action it becomes our responsibility to preserve and bequest this uncommon gift of fortuitous circumstance. Propagating our inheritance to other habitable locations may be the only way to assure humanity’s survival while establishing diverse cultures of sentient life across the cosmos.

1 – N. Mathews, A. L. Christensen, R. O’Grady, F. Mondada, and M. Dorigo. Mergeable nervous systems for robots. Nature Communications. 8(439), 2017

 

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Antares Launch Report

Last November I watched a rocket launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. It was an Antares rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. This was my fourth attempt at seeing a rocket go into space. The first, on October 29, 2014, the Antares blew up shortly after launch. The second was a Space X launch from Florida scrubbed in the last seconds of the countdown. At that time I was with two high school friends. The uncertainties of the a launch occurring the following day and our long drive home discouraged us from extending our stay. The third was at Wallops Island with my wife and grandson. Again, launch delays and his school schedule prohibited us from staying beyond our available window. This fourth time there were two launch delays due to wind and weather. However, with only my wife, Linda, along, and both of us retired, we were free to extend our stay.

During the delay my friend, Stosh, a retired NASA employee, arranged a tour for us of the Wallops Island Flight Facility. This facility is miles from the launch site where the Antares stood waiting so there was no chance of seeing the rocket or launch pad. This is where weather balloons are routinely launched by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and rocket payloads are prepared among other things. On that gray, rainy and overcast day we toured the machine shop where sub-orbital sounding rockets are produced and visited an airplane hanger where a NASA P-3 Orion research aircraft was being readied to collect data for projects such as monitoring Arctic Ice.

The next day was finally dry and clearing. Stosh, unable to stay another day had to leave. Linda and I walked the Wildlife Loop at Assateague Island. It was off-season and the National Park was nearly abandoned. We detoured from the main trail loop to another trail that led to the beach. Standing near the ocean surf absent any other human presence, made us feel like intruders on a scene from past millennia. However, looking southwest, launchpad 0A could be seen in the distance where the land met the sky. Binoculars clearly resolved the seemingly diminutive Antares rocket waiting to be fueled.

After two delays, the launch window, originally scheduled for 4:49 a.m. Thursday, was now set for 4:01 a.m. Saturday morning, well before dawn. Each time the launch was rescheduled the launch time needed to be adjusted to synchronize to the shifting orbital position of the ISS. At 3:30 our alarm got us out of a cozy bed in a fog of inadequate sleep. A quick check of the countdown clock showed it still progressing with less than 30 minutes until launch. The weather was cold, clear and calm, perfect for a launch. We dressed in layers of winter clothes, our enthusiasm purposely restrained knowing that a single failure among thousands of electrical connections, control valves and sensor readouts could make all this an exercise in disappointment.

Outside we walked across the empty McDonald’s parking lot and further down the road to the bridge connecting Chincotiague with Assateague Island. We were not alone as there was a straggle of pedestrians all moving toward the same bridge, and a line of vehicles parked along the shoulder. We encountered a woman, a local resident, who joined our walk in the darkness. “And I thought birders were crazy,” she said. At the bridge there were others quietly talking who lined the pedestrian rail that faced Wallops Island. It was a sober gathering – serious, hopeful and restrained in the pre-dawn dark.

Before finding an open spot at the walkway railing I happened to look up. The constellation Orion loomed prominently dominating the lesser constellations. His sword extended with a blaze of radiant nebula visible with the naked eye. I couldn’t recall ever seeing it before with such clarity. This unanticipated gift, even if there was a launch scrub, was making the effort worthwhile.

The launch pad, rocket and tower, though miles distant, were brightly lit and visible upon the horizon. Resting the binoculars on the handrail made the image steady and made this tiny, white, protruding structure, the focus of so much planning, effort and preparation, seem present. Between time checks I used the binoculars to take in Orion and the famous nebula. No one on the bridge counted down the final seconds as I had expected. Looking through the binoculars I waited, afraid to blink. At exactly 4:01 the slender white form where all eyes were focused was silently punctuated by a flash of fire at its base.

Though expected, ignition arrived as surprising and rewarding. “There it goes.” I announced, believing that somehow the binoculars had given me a time advantage over those around me watching without optical aid.

The flash of fire quickly became a bright torch smoothly lifting the thin white finger. As it rose slowly the length of the visible flame was revealed to be greater than the length of the ship itself. Still in utter silence, it was well clear of the launch tower and beginning its arc across the sky before the air vibrated with the rumble of ignition and the continuing burn of the rocket engine.

Moving east, it arched above us, somewhat south of directly overhead. We watched as the velocity quickly increased, an alien presence among the ancient, star-marked sky. The engine’s soundtrack now contributed to the full sense of certain accomplishment.

A little past our relative crest of the arc, the flame of the first stage extinguished. I watched with the binoculars but saw no second stage burn. It seemed almost a minute before I found the light again with the binoculars narrow field of vision. I continued watching as the orange flame grew dim and became indistinguishable from the light of the dimmer stars in the sky.

It was over rather quickly, and the spectators began to break up and move toward warmer quarters. There was a greatness to the experience though I had little immediate sense of that. It is my nature to attend such events with the analytics turned off and my senses merely open and set to record. Only later after that recording is replayed does it become synthesized and meaningful among the other recorded experiences in my lifetime.

Without the starry background the launch would have been a stunning and inspirational act of man, a symbol of accomplishment through science and reason. Against the background of stars this brief effort of man is brought into perspective. Mankind has been given a natural curiosity, a drive for exploration and understanding that must be pursued for humanity to fulfill its nature. We were a witness to this moment of higher calling.

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Overview

I was born in the Orion arm of the spiral galaxy we call the Milky Way, on a blue and white planet orbiting a G-type main-sequence (yellow dwarf) star. I am one of a species of seven and a half billion individuals living on the planet’s surface. We are distinguished from other life forms having evolved the ability to use complex tools, apply logic and reason and use language to share and record information, among other things. We live together in a relatively peaceful social structures that, in most cases, allows a variety of personal choices and encourages creative thought and technological innovation.

It has only been in the last hundred years that we have come to understand the vastness of the universe and our infinitesimal place in it. Being a young technological species, we have, so far, been unable to detect life beyond our planet although we have detected potentially habitable planets around other stars.

Our planet has a history of regular species extinction and we are aware that we remain vulnerable to these natural events. In addition, our technology has developed destructive weapons with the potential to destroy our critical biosphere.

As individuals we know we will all perish. Yet it is my hope that our species will soon be able to colonize other worlds in order to insure the long term continuation of our fortuitous existence and someday include our knowledge, culture and biology among those likely communities of extra solar intelligent life with whom we could eventually establish contact.

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The Interlopers

I clung to her leg like a cowering koala. Crouched at her feet I was passive, self protective. The other woman talked to her only. She was proposing to me through my wife. She wanted me to become her betrothed. I listened as the women stood facing each other until the proposal was over. When they were through and in agreement my wife graciously looked down at me for any response I might have. I looked up at her and silently nodded, then nuzzled the apex of her jeans in appreciation, wishing I could do more through the heavy cloth material. I was ecstatic.

I had two wives now. My future had become very secure or at least more secure than most men in this colony. Both my wives were of stature, influential, certified fertile. My record of impregnation assured not only financial security and social status but prodigy, an essential yet deficient resource in our community.

We call our colony Proxb, among the first wave of the extra solar colonies of Earth. All of the existing space colonies were established concurrently and remotely, without direct human presence. After hundreds of years of robotic preparation and encapsulated terraforming, the prime genitor human genomes (our ancestors) were transmitted and incubated here. Life is difficult here in comparison to what we know of life on Earth, but we are making progress. We have regular contact with Earth although, since it is light years away, communication takes almost a decade for a response to a transmitted message. Unlike humans on Earth, the lack of a magnetic field and adequate atmosphere means we are subject to heavy ion radiation. Even though we have a protective dome and spend much of our time in the subsurface lava tubes, this radiation has caused a low rate of fertility and a societal urgency for childbirth resulting in our matriarchic society.

Following the engagement formalities I went out alone for a night walk. Most others in the colony were, by that hour, asleep. I continued to find myself in that intoxicating matrimonial bliss as I stood outside in the gardens and mused upon the Golden Star. Since the nights here are 14 Earth days long, there was no urgency to my rapturous diversions. It is not uncommon for the sensitive male Proxbian to gaze beyond the transparent dome at this brightest of stars and find inspiration. Unmarked hours may have easily transpired, my mind floating about through limitless space in a self-sanctified detachment. I did not question my good fortune but felt entitled and justly rewarded. From reading Earth stories, I imagined my feelings could be compared to an Earthling having just inherited a great deal of money and being freed from the concerns of financial constraint and necessary employment.

As I watched the sky I found my solitary escape somehow being subtly intruded upon, and I began to grow strangely disconcerted. On such a night I should feel nothing but unbridled joy. Yet I was gradually aware of something being amiss. I then realized that the Golden Star, which held my attention, was dimming and brightening. This, everyone knew, was inconceivable as the constancy of this star has been the traditional subject of our songs and poems. Eventually the steady light returned though I remained concerned that this might be an ill omen or portend something of importance. I continued watching and eventually there was another light near the Golden Star, in very close proximity to it. In fact the only way I could differentiate the two lights was by their colors. The new light was whiter, near blue. I watched in wonder now wishing someone were with me who could corroborate my observation and with whom I might discuss this unprecedented occurrence.

I quickly walked home and went down inside the tube. I told my wife but she was preoccupied and dismissive of my information. “It is likely nothing. You are just being overly excited with all the commotion tonight,” she told me. Yet I found her words failed to dispel my concerns. I could not rest. Throughout the night I checked the sky periodically. The white light was gone now and all seemed back to normal which led me to doubt my earlier observations. But between light napping I kept returning and I eventually saw a gray speck where none had been before. With subsequent visits I noticed it grew in size and finally resolved itself into an unnatural object, a ship. I had never seen a space ship before except in pictures. Our colony never had the resources to build one and we were much too far from Earth for a tellurian ship to ever make the journey. I did not know what to do but watch in wonder as this vessel of unknown origin now appeared to be quickly approaching our planet.

Although concerned about the increased ion exposure outside of the lava tubes, I waited until the ship landed not far from the dome. I moved toward it, to the nearest edge of the enclosure and watched as bipeds similar to myself exited the ship and walked directly toward the dome. As our dome is only a few kilometers in diameter it was relatively easy for me to go to the airlock that they approached. Seeing that they appeared to be humans and unarmed, I allowed the two astronauts access. Once inside they removed their helmets breathing deeply of our atmosphere. At first they seemed distraught though as they recovered they greeted me enthusiastically, relieved and appreciative for my presence and for admitting them inside. I was immediately impressed with their stature and strident demeanor. This I found confusing for although they appeared to be males they comported themselves more like the women in our colony.

I also was not expecting them to speak in the language English. “We are sorry to surprise you like this but we were in big trouble out there. I think our ship took a hit from a micro meteoroid. Our cabin pressure quickly dropped. This colony was our only possible sanctuary close by,” the darker-faced one told me. Though they both had faces that showed richly pigmented skin, it was the darker one who initially spoke. I noticed his name printed on his space suit. It was Singh.

“Where are you from?” I asked, looking down at the comparatively transparent skin of my arms.

They paused and briefly consulted each other with a furtive glance before speaking. “Earth,” the other one replied. They must have noticed a look of incredulity on my face, as I skeptically considered their response. Before I could speak he added, “Is there a place we could rest and get out of these suits?” They seemed fatigued so we moved toward a nearby natural rock prominence that had been carved away to provide surfaces for the farm workers to rest.

“Please stay on the stone path,” I said. “All soil under the dome has either food already growing or is in seed. Although our population growth here has leveled off in recent generations, sufficient food production is still challenging. Those large, multistory structures over there are our aeroponic farms. You can detect the glow of the artificial light that is used to keep the plants alive during the night.”

Once seated they began removing more of their bulky space suits, as it is always warm and humid inside the dome. “Earth?” I asked, still perplexed by their answer. “That does not make sense to me. Earth is over 4.2 light years from here. No living thing can make such a journey.” At this point I noticed another man standing aside watching us. I knew him to be our quartermaster, the colony supply clerk. He must have also noticed the ship touch down.

Though they seemed to understand my question, they again seemed reluctant to answer. It was Singh who eventually responded. He looked at me as he spoke. “I know that you have a lot of questions. These will be all answered in time. But things are not what they seem. It may be difficult for you to assimilate what we could tell you. I think it best that we take it slow. Maybe now is not the best time to go into all this.”

Then the other, whose name I noticed was Varney, answered, “Understand that we have just narrowly escaped what had seemed a certain death. When the meteoroid struck our ship, it penetrated our crew cabin causing our atmosphere to quickly dissipate into space. If not for the close proximity of your colony we would have asphyxiated in space. We knew a colony was here, and we made for it in a desperate attempt to survive.”

I felt an immediate affinity to Varney. I am not sure why. Maybe because his eyes were pale like our own, but I think it was more. Yet his responses were succinct and impersonal unlike Singh’s. I wanted Varney to be friendlier, to reciprocate my impulsive feelings of fraternity. “Please excuse my persistence but it is quite unsettling that you are less than forthcoming about your origin. For you to have traveled here from Earth is untenable.”

Seeing my frustration, Singh spoke. “We hesitate because we know that this will come as a shock to you, but Earth is really not so very far away from here as you believe. We did come from Earth and we were just on a mission to refuel the Webb III Telescope which is orbiting beyond Earth’s moon at the L2 Earth/Sun Lagrange point. You can probably see it as a gold light in your sky.”

Varney continued, “OK. Let’s recap a bit.” He was sitting leaning forward looking at the ground in front of him. “Your colony, as you know, is one of three sister colonies. The others are on Wolf 1061c and Kapteyn b, which you know are several light years away from Earth. But Proxb, in fact, is located on the far side of the Earth’s moon where you never see Earth or directly receive its radio signals.” His words were clipped and his information factual, direct and less tactful considering the circumstances.

“But our messages take years to reach Earth. And just as long for their response to reach us,” I persisted. The supply clerk had cautiously moved closer and was listening now to what we said.

The astronauts were now partly liberated of their bulky protective suits, revealing seamless inner shirts that covered snugly from their neck to their waist, including arms. The clerk, who had gradually moved in closer, compulsively touched the exotic material of Varney’s inner shirt. Seeing him near the seated astronaut it was impossible not to notice the contrast in their physical bulk, the effect of our having adapted to a reduced gravity.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be telling you all this now,” Singh interjected. “Though I think as soon as anyone here noticed our ship this cat was out of the bag. Still, maybe it would be more prudent to brief someone in charge, maybe a government official. Have either of you official capacity?” Neither of us responded but at the suggestion the supply clerk ran off apparently to summon a government administress who might be better qualified to address this situation.

“What about the 4.24 year delay limiting our communication with Earth? It is undeniable?” I persisted.

“That latency had been artificially established by COLCOM. Your colony is like the ‘control’ in a double blind study. Everything that was sent out to the extra solar colonies, including the initial human genetics, has been meticulously mirrored with yours. While the other colonies’ development is too remote to easily monitor, yours is accessible and right in our own planetary back yard. That is why you were kept insulated from any direct contact or visits from Earth. They needed your colony to be subject to the same variables as the others so the radio delay was established and enforced.”

I might have appreciated the information Varney was freely sharing, but instead I began to feel anger, remembering our anxiety waiting to receive responses to our urgent messages. I recalled the years we endured, suffering through serious problems not only when the solution was intentionally withheld but when direct assistance was close by.

“Your radio delay, of course, was the shortest possible,” Varney elaborated. “This colonial simulation presumed you to be part of the Alpha Centauri system. To make it any less so would have been the same as telling you exactly how far away you were from Earth. It would have affected your social and technical development and ruined your value as a test subject. Yet, having you nearby allowed us to monitor your development and to implement timely and effective adjustments to our procedures. It not only improved the conditions on the more remote colonies but possibly avoided their extinction. Only in this way could improvements and corrections be implemented without waiting decades for the actual results. Everything needed to be the same, even the fact that you believed you were isolated from direct contact with Earth.”

I suspect Singh noticed the effect this news had created in me. He again interjected, his intent obviously empathetic. I believe he was trying to reduce the impact of Varney’s revelations. “We did not purposely come here. In fact we are here against orders.” His tone acknowledged his sensitivity to my distress. “We can appreciate your disbelief, but just now, right out there, our ship became suddenly and violently non-functional. Yet we were told to return to Earth taking an established circuitous route avoiding your detection rather than contaminate this scientific resource. Command understood the seriousness of our situation. They knew that following the authorized course would have resulted in our death.”

“We weighed the consequences against losing our lives. That coming here we would rip the lid off this secret compact. We tried to follow orders. I even set the navaputer as instructed, but once our cabin atmosphere dissipated and the suit supply became critical, your colony was our only refuge. We never consulted with Command. I alone overrode the computer course,” he said glancing at his companion. “Even at that, it was uncertain that we could make it here alive.”

Varney now spoke in concordant response, “There was no decision. Circumstances determined our options. The only sensible one,” he looked at Singh, “was to put down here and save ourselves. We will likely pay a severe price for this, but we will defend our actions. The extra solar colonies are now relatively stabilized. There have been ongoing discussions of termination of this test facility. Much has already been learned here and applied in the colonization program. The scientific usefulness of this colony has been waning. Our action likely only accelerated the inevitable obsolescence of this test platform.” When he stopped talking he briefly looked up at me.

Singh again took over. “I am sorry. I can only imagine how distressing our sudden intrusion has been for you. We are both sorry,” he said looking at his collaborator. “Though this was never our intent you may likely find yourselves released as COLCOM subjects and rejoined with Earth’s society sooner rather than later. This should improve your lives. Expand your possibilities. The changes may be stressful but ultimately rewarding.”

Discordant thoughts were buzzing inside my head. “This isn’t fair to us, you know. I am a notable member of this society. I have attained an enviable position here. I am finally somebody. I have worked hard for my accomplishments and recognition in this colony. All I have strove toward has just been realized and destroyed on the same night. Since you intruded, all is uncertainty and nothing will be the same again. We all know that low gravity colonials can never relocate and physically readjust to Earth.” I stopped. Suddenly self-conscious at my emotional outbreak, I considered apologizing, as my anxiety must have seemed petty compared to the hazards recently endured by these space travelers. But I did not because I was aware that something had changed.

I looked around and saw that others had gathered about and were watching us. The men looked on with detached curiosity while some women held tools and implements. These women moved forward with intent and confronted the astronauts. Though they were smaller in stature and strength than their Earthling counterparts, the look of our women was ominous and imminently menacing. The astronauts looked helpless, their legs still constrained by the bulky lower half of their space suits. The expressions of the defenseless intruders conveyed their comprehension of the dire situation into which they had inadvertently placed themselves. A wave of sickness engulfed me as this awkward but entirely civil encounter transformed into a violent and vicious display. I could no longer watch.

**************

It is now the Nocturn of Tenebrae, just past middle night of the lunar night cycle, nine days into darkness as measured by Earth’s time cycle. Even with the artificial day-lights, remnants of our ancient human physiology still makes this extended darkness onerous. For me, the cyclical bleakness has been further minimized by the enviable joy of sleeping between the warm compliant flesh of two prestigious female forms, a privilege and social position I could not have expectantly hoped for in my wildest dreams of youth.

Rather than the expected sate accompanying copulative bigamousy, I lay troubled in just this exultant station, longing for something other. Something evasive, less defined, yet compelling and irrepressible. Something, I believe, that was coincidentally assimilated during my brief and violently truncated exposure to the Earthling interlopers. This unsettling impulse not only drives my restlessness but jeopardizes my privileged lifestyle as well as my very existence.

Yet it is often on nights like this, laying awake while the wives sleep, that I relive that momentous encounter with the Earthmen and feel a growing resentment for the resultant cultural myth that has been propagated around it. The official account praises the resourceful bravery and decisive dominance of the superior Proxb women over the incapable Earthlings. This self-serving version has been manufactured in our media and is now ensconced as our official mythology.

Although we now have accepted where we are in the local galaxy, our independence from Earth continues, though now self-imposed. Our government’s intolerance of outside encroachment is established and enforced, and has since become recognized and abided by the rest of the solar system. No other ships from Earth or Earth colonies will be intentionally visiting Proxb. Our isolation and independence has become the pivotal source of civic pride and the premise for sanctioned celebration in our community.

Yet I cannot but think differently of that night and those Earthmen and now feel a profound sympathy for their untenable situation. Although godlike in my reckoning, they became victims of the same lie that we had been subjected to for generations and their lives were no more valued by the perpetrators then ours. What the authorities had known of our actual proximity to Earth will likely never be revealed but their decisive and extreme reaction to the Earthmen’s arrival suggests a provocative insight into their motivation. I only know that the visitation brought to me a fresh and compelling vitality. Something projected with their voices and eyes and bearing that became energizing and contagious.

This being the Tenebrae, it is the designated date for the gathering. Having abstained from the prescribed soporific, a plant extract that helps us through these extended nights, I carefully extracted myself from the alluring refuge of spousal exothermy to the discomforting exposure of the lunar chill, an invariable characteristic of the lava tube environment. My wives lie somnolent, asleep on either side of their bed. Though, I admit, it was with no little effort that I arose this night taking my leave of their comfort. I have little fear of this action arousing their suspicion as my occasional stroll outside the tubes has become an accepted, though quirky, norm.

As I walked the still hollow beneath the dome toward our meeting place, the foot traffic was reassuringly sparse. I noticed the damaged Earthling ship standing visible in starlight. An inadvertent monument upon the vast emptiness outside the dome and a solitary symbol of my purpose. As I neared the textile mill, a lone woman approached. I feared she was a bureau agent though she wore the jacket of a legal clerk. I avoided direct eye contact as she walked past without apparent notice of me. Still, I circled the block to watch her continue on before continuing myself. As I approached the old aeroponics building I looked about for any chance observers before entering. Descending a darkened stair to the unused, sub-surface maintenance room I was greeted by a few in the group already assembled. The makeshift lighting provided uneven illumination for the gathering of maybe a dozen people, mostly men. I recognized the quartermaster among others, many of whom had also witnessed the encounter.

At these clandestine meetings we speak freely and endearingly of those unfortunate Earthmen as if their action was a martyrdom. Our cabal has pledged to record and preserve a faithful account of all we remember about the encounter, a gospel for our descendants. We also acknowledge that the visitation exposed a societal duplicity, that this revelation has triggered a need for change that now depends upon our personal struggle and possibly our personal sacrifice. We intend that our testaments will help precipitate the societal adaptation needed for this new reality. However, there is little expectation our mission will bring substantive change to our society during our lifetimes. We do believe that one day our perspective will prevail and the culture on Proxb will regard all people equally, allowing our society to join our Earth neighbors in open trade, cultural exchange, mutual friendship and peace.

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Muting the Dread

the bedside radio is off

the trump, trump, trump

of morning news silent

leaving me free

to explore the

joys of being alive

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Youth’s Futile Avoidance

On the counter was ceremoniously thumped the open green bottle. A light fog drifted from the neck. We took it in fashion, throwing our heads back in a flourishing indulgence of the familiar elixir as if it contained the essence of youth. The opaque brown syrup affirmed all we believed about our place in the universe. Our self-contained eternity, our right to consume and become everything we dreamed. And to take it with us thoughtlessly into the future.

George tossed the bottle cap into the trash behind the counter. I fished in my pocket for a dime. “Don’t worry, you’re covered. Your dad’s a long time customer.” I was the only one sitting at the line of red and chrome stools, the factory lunch crowd now long gone, back at work. I took another drink, the released effervescence startling, reassuring, penetrating into my sinuses.

A year later with her husband ill and dying, his wife saw me from the curb. Leaning at the open passenger window she asked if I would go in and visit. “George would enjoy seeing you,” she said. Sitting in the car, the engine running, idling, restrained only by the closed throttle plates, I hesitated. “No ….I can’t…..right now….” I answered moving the shifter from neutral to first anxious to be away from death and obligation.

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Why Humans?

There is no question that for the long term preservation of the human species it is necessary that we develop interstellar space travel. But what is the importance of preserving the human race? Why are humans so special? Is the development of interstellar travel worth the expenditure of extravagant human effort and resources? Is it only our selfish reproductive instinct that drives us to consider human interstellar colonization a long term imperative? Is the human animal form so necessary in the cosmos or is it the coincidental development of human intelligence that is the significant and seemingly scarce component in the universe that warrants preservation and perpetuation? If humanity’s sentience is unusual and scarce it may arguably be worth some great effort to propagate it beyond our solar system.

As an animal we are genetically little different from a dog or cat, even less from a chimp. We are all thinking, feeling, hungry, social, emotional mammals. The obvious mental advantage we have over the others may only be a small step toward some enhanced intelligence. It may be that we are just as incapable of appreciating our own intellectual limitations as your cat may be to understanding your financial situation. Still, in this larger celestial realm, we possess evolved sapiency and, without a higher comparison available, possibly exceptionally so. So it may be of some importance for the future of cosmic intelligence to preserve this rare and useful characteristic of humans.

Yet getting people to an extrasolar planet can be especially difficult. Our living systems have developed in a rarefied environment that makes them unsuitable for long interstellar journeys. Extrasolar planets would likely need extensive terraforming to make them suitable for human habitation. If it is only our intelligence that is important, it would be much easier to download our critical thought processes into a machine that can withstand the cold and cosmic radiation for the hundreds of years required for an interstellar space journey and then have it reproduce (manufacture) itself in a reasonably compliant planetary or lunar environment.

Yet the human animal, along with many other life forms on earth, has been shown to be resilient, adaptive and resourceful in sustaining life. Maybe some form of animal life with greater tolerance for environmental variability and yet incorporating the brain of a human would make a more suitable life form to send to other planets. A genetically engineered, reproducing animal designed for specific planetary conditions could be developed as our intelligent space traveling surrogate.

But what about human consciousness? How important in our cognitive thinking is our physical connection to the world? Is the material interface of our body with the larger world the source of our consciousness? Would it be possible to program our instinctive self preservation along with a compassionate consciousness into either a bio-engineered creature or a machine? Balancing necessary survival instincts against a benevolence towards others can be a tricky act even for fully socialized, earth bound humans. Colonizing space with living humans, who naturally incorporate our interactive mind/body complexity, may be the only way to insure the perpetuation of our adaptive, inventive intelligence while preserving a communal, higher awareness and an abiding consciousness.

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