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The EGR Mission
Written by John Hunt   

The EGR Mission - Rationale and Design of the First True Interstellar Mission

A Crazy Presentation for The PI Club

 
In the category: Mission Design
 
Presented by PI Club member: John Hunt
 

Summary

It is proposed that the purpose for the first interstellar mission be to establish a new human civilization in another solar system. The rationale is that technology is undeniably advancing along multiple lines towards a self-replicating threat which may pose an existential risk within this century. Evidence is presented which argues that nothing short of an interstellar mission containing frozen human embryos will be sufficient to address this threat.

Given the enormous distances involved and the short time-frame, it is proposed that the mission use a near-term propulsion method which would place travel times in the hundreds to thousands of years. Deceleration would use a type of ion propulsion or a MagSail.

Since the purpose of such a mission is to purchase an "insurance policy" for humanity, short-term science return is irrelevant. Mission duration would be determined by the viability of biologic and equipment components. Cosmic radiation is naturally much less in deep space than at 1 AU. Exposure to galactic radiation can be reduced beyond 9 AU with powerful superconductor magnetic fields requiring minimal energy no refrigerant.

It is believed that frozen embryos may be viable for hundreds of years or more. Recent remarkable progress suggests that ectogenesis of humans may be possible within 20 or so years if properly funded. Progress with android robotics and virtual reality makes fairly realistic parenting possible. Concurrent siblings would also provide a real social environment. Combined, this process gives the mission its name which is EGR (Embryo/Gestation/Rearing). The ethical mandate for an EGR mission is also discussed.

A variant of the ALPH Project is proposed for habitat construction and life support production. The ALPH Project is a proposal for the nuclear-powered production of a habitat under the water ice cap of Mars as well as the production of water, food, fuel, plastics, and metals.

Ultimately the goal would be the establishment of a new human civilization (if necessary) with a head-start in knowledge but also the knowledge and will to avoid another self-extinction.

 


Expected benefits for Interstellar Spaceflight

The EGR Mission shall help to

  • Generate public awareness and support of Interstellar Spaceflight.

 


Accelerating Progress

Advances in the area of biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence are accelerating. Molecular manufacturing will also bring us the ability to produce chemicals which are entirely novel and possibly self-replicating. Exponential progress will place incredible power in the hands of individuals. All of these areas of technology are accelerating such that credible people anticipate that we will reach a technologic singularity within this century (1) .

Threat of Self-Extinction

As with our experience with emerging viruses and computer viruses, it is unlikely that adequate defenses (2) to all existential risks (xRisks) will be predicted in advance nor adequate defenses constructed in a timely manner (3). At most, defenses will only buy us some time. The Fermi Paradox has many potential solutions. Because our technology is advancing exponentially the possibility of universal self-extinction should be taken seriously.

Assumption of Science Probe

Most interstellar mission designs are imagined to be probes intended for scientific return. The unspoken assumption is that humanity will exist to receive the information. Even if such a probe could reach a nearby solar system in 200 years, this is well beyond the time when the technologic singularity and other mature xRisks are anticipated.

Strategies to Survive xRisks

There are many efforts which can be taken to survive an extinction event including an underground ark or a lunar base. But, had the Apollo Program continued we would likely have had a self-sufficient lunar base by now. If so, then some other intelligent civilization could have developed something similar and should have survived their extinction event. But there is no evidence to date of this. It would seem that mankind needs to be self-sustaining at a distance greater than the Moon or perhaps even Mars if it is to survive long-term.

Survival Rationale

It is proposed that the rationale for the first true interstellar mission not be for science return so much as to ensure the continuation of human civilization.

Propulsion

Near-term propulsion technologies using known physics will be able to send an interstellar craft to 4 light-years within 200-10,000 years. Developing these highly efficient propulsion methods can be consistent with the Vision for Space Exploration in that it would reduce travel time to Mars and the outer solar system.

Identifying the Target Planet

If this interstellar mission were to be launched by 2060 or so, exoplanet discoveries will be in the thousands or more and we will have already identified a nearby terrestrial planet (4) which we can calculate has a CO2 atmosphere and ice caps containing water ice. A Mars or better planet is sufficient to establish a new human civilization. A nearby warm Earth-sized planet with oceans and continents would be ideal but not essential.

The specific landing site could be identified by a science probe arriving and possibly exploring the target planet or the EGR craft itself could orbit the target planet first before choosing a landing site. The target would be a part of the ice cap with ice water where it is about 10-15 meters in thickness.

Deceleration

At sub-relativistic speeds, deceleration might be able to be accomplished using the same nuclear-electric-ion propellant system from which acceleration was obtained. Also, a large array of micro-meteoroid resistant tethers (5) could produce deceleration by ionizing and interacting with the interstellar and solar medium.

The Challenge of a Mission to Establish a New Human Civilization

Interstellar missions intended to establish a new human civilization is far more difficult than such a mission designed for science return. But is doing so essentially impossible? No, not at all. Indeed good progress is already being made in all of the necessary areas even without funding from space budgets.

The Form of Humanity

Given near-term technologies, generation ships, small crews, and even sleeper ships would be too large, expensive, and difficult to ensure survival over a 200+ year mission. Humanity would need to be in the form of frozen cells. Logically this would lead to the need of automated gestation and childrearing. For the sake of convenience, let's call this type of mission "EGR" standing for Embryo, Gestation, and Rearing.

Ethics

The money spent on this project would be justified partially by all of the readily useful spin-offs in space development and medicine. However, the full project may cost much less than the International Space Station (6) due to the limited number of launches necessary. But the money spent is especially because the chance of an xRisk event is predictably real and a good argument can be made that a new human civilization far away is needed.

One can reasonably question the ethics of raising children using automated gestation and robotic parenting and the risk of:

  • life support systems breaking down before the children reach age,

  • growing up on a barren planet with no neighbors,

  • being unable to marry initially and having to reproduce artificially

First of all, if humanity survives all xRisks then they can send a signal to the target planet indicating no need to start the process. But if humanity does not survive, then everything is justified.

Of course, all possible measures would be taken to give the children as normal an upbringing as possible including real-life siblings, very life-like android parents (7), virtual friends (8), pets (9), & toys, a garden, education, entertainment, etc.

Time to Destination

Science probes must be able to reach their destination in a short enough period of time else a later faster probe will negate the earlier probe. For this reason a science probe must be able to make it to Alpha Centauri in no more than about 200-250 years. An EGR craft is not bound by this constraint. The moment a viable EGR craft is launched, humanity has purchased a "life insurance policy". The criterion for an EGR mission is instead the likelihood of the mission being successful. This primarily comes down to surviving cosmic radiation in transit and the successful creation of the first human family.

Surviving Cosmic Radiation and Cellular Viability

Humanity is exposed to:

#1 - galactic cosmic radiation

#2 - solar cosmic, and

#3 - terrestrial background radiation

in that order (10).

An EGR craft will not be exposed to terrestrial radiation. Superconductors can produce magnetic fields far greater than the Earth's and can do so with little energy input (11). Any accidental electrical discharges can be dealt with by design. Very strong magnetic fields can protect against more lower energy solar and cosmic radiation than we are exposed to. Therefore onboard cells would be exposed to lower radiation than we do on Earth. Frozen cells would remain viable for hundreds of years (12). Cells can be protected from radiation sources on the craft through distance and shielding.

Artificial Gestation and Birth

Artificial organs are already being produce from stem cells and a protein lattice.(13) Uterine lining culture has already been used to artificially gestate rats to near term (14). With reasonable funding, more work can be done to perfect the process for higher primates. The uterus and fetus would need to be supported throughout pregnancy by a type of heart-lung machine using blood produced from hemopoetic stem cells. Birth can be via Cesarian section where a cutting device cuts the uterus completely open without injuring the child.

Habitat and Life Support Production

Habitat construction and materials production would be created using the same principles as the ALPH Project proposed to help prepare for a Mars mission (15). It would be powered by a nuclear power source initially and then maybe solar power later. A small borehole would be melted through the 10 meters of ice cap all the way down to the ground. Room-sized chambers would be melted open. The bore hole would be sealed so that the complex would be air proof although the ALPH unit would continue to produce large quantities of air, water, food, plastics, and metals over a period of about 20 years.

The Establishment of the New Human Civilization

The goal of the initial family would be to use provided knowledge to secure and expand their infrastructure until they can be certain of their survival. Using frozen gametes or embryos they would self-impregnate and produce children of all ethnic types. Eventually separated families could be established and mate selection and coupling could be conducted naturally.

The colonists would be provided with much of the knowledge of the Internet at the time of launch. Using information specific to their situation some of the early individuals would emerge from under the ice cap homes and construct safe above-ground habitats and perhaps conduct small-scale paraterraforming in order to produce a truly Earth-like environment.

Having the knowledge that humanity destroyed itself technologically, the new human civilization would consistently control its technology to avoid a repeat. Already knowing how to establish a new human civilization they could do so again before advancing their technical knowledge beyond what was provided. If extinction happens again, this time the new human civilization would know for sure the cause.

Discuss The EGR Mission in the PI Forum!


References

(1) Kurzweil believes that the singularity will occur before the end of the 21st century, setting the date at 2045.
 
(2) Where is the AIDS Vaccine? (25 years later)
 
(3) The Sapphire Worm. It infected more than 90 percent of vulnerable hosts within 10 minutes. http://www.caida.org/publications/papers/2003/sapphire/sapphire.html
 
Nanoparticles could spread at the speed of wind and air travel.
 
(4) Several missions scheduled for launch which will find nearby Earth-sized planets.
 
(5) Electric sailing
 
(6) The ISS will cost approximately $100 billion
 
Falcon 9 Heavy: 12,000 kg to GTO for $78 million.

(7) Acteroid

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlPqcbb_fnU

(8) Amazing CG facial animation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1LN97l30-k

(9) Necoro: The Robotic Cat

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CenH69B3t5U

(10) Most cosmic rays originate from extrasolar sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_radiation

(11) When a superconductor is charged, the current won't decay and magnetic energy can be stored indefinitely

 
(12) Human embryos are stored under liquid nitrogen...at which the only deterioration is likely to be to background ionizing radiation, which would take hundreds of years to do significant damage. A Textbook of in Vitro Fertilization and Assisted Reproduction By Peter R. Brinsden
 
 
(14) Liu has grown mouse fetuses in her artificial womb for 17 days which equals about 31 weeks in humans http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/may/19/science.health
 
(15) A Robotic Nuclear Powered Factory System to Manufacture Propellants and Supplies for Manned Bases on Moon and Mars http://www.inspi.ufl.edu/space07/program/abstracts/2066.html
 

Links

See References above.


Appendices

#1: Minimizing the Ethical Concerns of an EGR Mission: pdf egr_appendix_1_ethics

Last Updated ( Saturday, 02 May 2009 )
 

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