4 Reasons we Should Stop Sending Humans into Outer Space

4 Reasons we Should Stop Sending Humans into Outer Space

Eugene Cernan was the last human being to step foot on the Moon. That was back in 1972, nearly 45 years ago. He died this past week, leaving behind a legacy of human spaceflight that has yet to receive its much-anticipated sequel. 

No human has traveled more than a few hundred kilometers away from the surface of the Earth since 1972's Apollo 17—back when the internet was still a theoretical idea, The Godfather Part I was the hottest new film of the year, and Elon Musk was only one year old. 

Since the Apollo program formally ended in the early 1970's, human spaceflight has never been the same.

The Faulty Logic of Cryo-Freezing Dead People

The Faulty Logic of Cryo-Freezing Dead People

Fifty years ago, scientists performed the first-ever cryopreservation procedure on a recently-deceased human patient: James Bedford, who had died of pancreatic cancer earlier that day. As per his will, his body was frozen in liquid nitrogen within hours of his clinical death.

Kept at a temperature of –196 degrees Celsius for five decades, Bedford's hope was that he could be resuscitated in the future, at a time when our technological advancements had brought about the cure for cancer and... Death itself. 

January 12th is celebrated by proponents of cryopreservation as Bedford Day. This year is a particularly significant milestone: since Bedford was frozen in 1967, this marks a half century since his death and subsequent preservation.

Unfortunately for him, the envisioned future in which cryopreserved corpses can be brought back from the dead—and subsequently the past—has yet to materialize.

Life and Death by Cosmos

Life and Death by Cosmos

We're alive because the cosmos exists.

We exist today in 2017 because the universe has existed for 13.8 billion years. From the big bang, to the early formation of galaxies, to quasars, to supermassive stars, to stars like our Sun. All of that needed to happen just so that we could get to now.

This isn't an easy perspective to take in, but here we go...

My 2016 Year in Review, and a New Direction

My 2016 Year in Review, and a New Direction

In 2016, I published 34 articles on this blog (this makes 35), with an average of 1,868 words each (a total of 65,400 words in one year). I started doing weekly blog posts back in July, and I've been continuously posting a new blog every Tuesday since then. Bigger and better content will be coming along in 2017, I can promise you that.

But for now, here are my FIVE most popular articles from this past year, ranked in order:

Holiday Wisdom, Part 3: Jesus, Buddhism, and Gandhi, Oh My!

Holiday Wisdom, Part 3: Jesus, Buddhism, and Gandhi, Oh My!

So far this week, I've shared a few wise words from Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, I share the words of one of the largest figures in all of Western mythology: Jesus of Nazareth, the purported son of god. 

Holiday Wisdom, Part 2: The Buddha's Words

Holiday Wisdom, Part 2: The Buddha's Words

Hinduism and Buddhism both emerged from India out of the same Vedic traditions, splitting off from one another around 2,500 years ago.

The oldest texts that could be considered part of the Hindu tradition pre-date the earliest Buddhist texts (and the life of the Buddha himself), but the practice of Buddhism pre-dates the organized Hindu religion that we see today. 

Central to Hinduism is a rich tradition of metaphysics and cosmological structure; everything is god, god is everything, and everything that exists is an incarnation of this godhead. God is synonymous with the cosmos, and the self is synonymous with god. In this view, the goal of a Hindu is to live in accordance with Dharma—a sort of cosmic order achieved through unity of the self with the supreme self/consciousness (Atman/Brahman/god). 

This is where Buddhism is diametrically opposed to Hinduism: the Buddha taught that there is no god, no soul, no self, that our minds are detached from the world, and that suffering is an innate aspect of human life. For a Buddhist, the ultimate goal is to extinguish suffering and achieve Nirvana (which can be interpreted as everlasting happinessliberation, and/or emptiness). 

This all may seem a little bit confusing at first glance. To paint a simpler picture, the classical Buddhist text, The Dhammapada, begins with these lines:

Holiday Wisdom, Part 1: Gettin' Existential with Krishna

Holiday Wisdom, Part 1: Gettin' Existential with Krishna

In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. Perhaps now would be an opportune time to gain a little bit of perspective.

In the classic Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, on the eve of a great battle, deity-incarnate Krishna takes on the role of Guru to the warrior-prince Arjuna. What Krishna offers Arjuna is a harshly idealistic perspective: one of cosmic indifference, in which all living beings are mere pawns on a cosmic chessboard that's completely beyond our ability to comprehend. 

Screw the Empire; Quasars and Supernovae are the Real Death Stars of the Universe

Screw the Empire; Quasars and Supernovae are the Real Death Stars of the Universe

The Death Star, that moon-sized space station/terror-machine built by the Galactic Empire of the Star Wars universe, is about to feature prominently in its third—or fourth (if you count The Force Awakens' "Starkiller Base" as a Death Star heritage technology)—film in the franchise.

But the Death Star itself isn't particularly terrifying when considering all of the other terrifying things that exist in the universe (after all, we don't see a small band of X-Wing pilots blowing up black holes, do we?). Take, for instance, quasars.

Seven Types of Self-Replicating Alien Probes

Seven Types of Self-Replicating Alien Probes

One of the more profound questions when pondeeing the universe is one that permeates our human identity. We consider this question every time we encounter ourselves in relation to the bigger picture of the cosmos: are we alone?

It would seem, given the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, many of which host planets not much different from our own, that our galaxy should be teeming with life. So far, our observations would seem to suggest otherwise.

Last week, I covered the concept of self-replicating von Neumann Probes and some possible reasons why we haven't detected any yet. Are we actually alone in the galaxy? Or could an advanced alien civilization be out there, and not yet detectable with our current technological capabilities?

In any case, it's logical to assume that any such advanced alien civilization would utilize self-replicating probes to fulfill a number of different tasks in our galaxy, ranging from exploration to building megastructures to eradicating other intelligent life forms. 

Where Are All of the Self-Replicating Alien Probes?

Where Are All of the Self-Replicating Alien Probes?

Human beings may never achieve the level of rapid interstellar spaceflight portrayed in Star Trek. We may never achieve faster-than-light travel at all. We may remain forever limited to speeds that make traveling between stars take hundreds or thousands of years—and that's if we can figure out a way to build a spacecraft capable of traveling at 0.1% to 1% the speed of light.

This obviously precludes sending astronauts to other stars as the most viable method of space exploration. Instead, we may opt to send hordes of self-replicating robotic probes to explore the entire galaxy in our stead. Probes that can build additional copies of themselves as they spread further and further away from Earth, thus automating the task of mapping the entire cosmos.

This sort of self-replicating machine is still theoretical and still not quite attainable with our current level of technology, but it is logically sound. And it may be that we weren't the first 'intelligent' species to think of it...