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...

The History of NASA Reads like the Rocky Balboa Storyline

The History of NASA Reads like the Rocky Balboa Storyline

It's been 40 years since the first Rocky film debuted back in 1976 to incredible success. This historic film still reverberates through our modern-day culture, epitomizing the archetypal tale of the underdog and the never-give-up attitude. 

The oft-parodied Rocky training montage is symbolic of our ability as human beings to rise up and face substantial challenges head on, no matter how stacked the odds may be against us. Dig a little deeper, and this well-known tale of the underdog who becomes a champion is uncannily similar to the history of NASA.

NASA, like Rocky Balboa, didn't start off as the semi-invincible leviathan of scientific achievement that we're familiar with today. Instead, both of these underdogs got off to a rocky start (pun intended).

Here are Three Cool Ideas About Aliens from "Arrival"

Here are Three Cool Ideas About Aliens from "Arrival"

Science Fiction has always embellished its portrayal of aliens with more fiction than science. But the latest alien-themed film to hit theaters, Arrival, features some of the most "realistic" aliens ever to grace the silver screen.

It's an alien first-contact story that's nothing at all like a typical alien first-contact story. It's actually somewhat believable—perhaps even a tiny bit intellectually stimulating. It's a film about interesting ideas, and those ideas are worth thinking about.

In case you haven't seen the film and intend to, be warned: I am going to reveal three of the central ideas in the movie. I'm not revealing specific plot details here, but these ideas are hugely important to the way the plot develops. So if you care about spoilers, proceed with caution.

Ethics of Human Spaceflight: What is an Acceptable Level of Risk?

Ethics of Human Spaceflight: What is an Acceptable Level of Risk?

Last week, I wrote about the practicality of the International Space Station (ISS) with regards to its financial cost. I concluded that not enough useful science is being done to justify the immense costs involved, and that the role of the ISS appears to be its function as a bench-warmer leading up to NASA's forthcoming Orion deep space capsule. 

But, in addition to the financial reasons, the presence of human beings on the ISS exacerbates its shortfalls as an orbital laboratory. At first glance, the science being conducted on the space station does not seem to justify the use of its human crew as glorified lab-rats. If we're going to risk the lives of human beings in space, shouldn't we be using them for more important matters—like conducting actual space exploration?

Is it Time to Admit that the International Space Station Just Isn't Worth It Anymore?

Is it Time to Admit that the International Space Station Just Isn't Worth It Anymore?

The International Space Station (ISS) has now been continuously inhabited by a crew of astronauts for 16 consecutive years. Since November 2nd, 2000, the ISS has been home to either a minimum crew of three, a standard crew of six, or, during a Space Shuttle visit, as many as 13 astronauts on board at one time.

But it didn't start out as big as it is now. It's been an ongoing construction project ever since the initial modules were launched into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) back in 1998, with the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, and the 22 member states of the European Space Agency all sharing the costs of construction and operation (well, sort of).

This giant orbital space facility was originally planned to be de-funded and de-orbited around the year 2016, but extensions have steadily pushed that date back until at least 2024. By most metrics, the ISS is the most expensive single object ever constructed by human beings, having cost approximately $150 billion USD to design, build, and operate so far.

It also costs an additional $6 billion per year to continue operations on the ISS, with NASA alone footing about half of that annual bill. With these astronomical construction and operating costs, it's important to consider whether all of that effort was worth it—and whether it still is worth the cost of keeping the station operational. 

To answer this question, we need to examine the utility of the ISS: does the knowledge we gain through its continued operation outweigh the financial costs associated with that operation? To figure that out, we should look back at how we got to now.