Start  |  Introduction  |  Part One: Islands  |  Part Two: Do or Die  |  Part Three: Send in the Clones


Part Three:  Send in the Clones

   In parts one and two of this paper I attempted to convince you of the necessity of colonizing space.  I hope I was successful.  In this section I will discuss how we might go about colonizing planets outside our own solar system by shedding some light on a few of the technologies that may help get us there.  

     This section will make several assumptions:

1)  That humankind does not destroy itself in the near future.  It's a stretch, but let's run with it.

2)  That we will eventually terraform and colonize Mars.  If we can't terraform Mars, then heading out to "terrarize" another
      solar system seems out of the question.

3)  That a propulsion system is designed capable of taking a ship of reasonable size to one of the nearer sun-like stars--
     preferably one that we have found to have a planet of earth size orbiting at approximately 1 A.U.--in a reasonable
     amount of time. (Actually, using my plan, it need not be in a reasonable amount of time--but still it would be nice.  A ship
     that can travel at 0.1c will be more than satisfactory.)

4)  That scientists will have improved the techniques for finding planets around other stars--at this point all we're finding are
      the big Jupiter-like planets that have the most gravitational effect on their suns.

5)  That people will come to their senses, recognize the enormous benefits of cloning, and legalize it.  

6)  And probably a few other assumptions....

   The reason I am writing this paper is because I see so many documentaries and books on space travel, and none of them have ever even touched on one of the key technologies that will take humankind to another solar system:  cloning.  Some of the books and documentaries have very good ideas, some fantastic, some far-fetched, and some downright farcical.  I intend to steer the thoughts of those studying these issues to methods that might actually stand a chance of landing humans on a planet not circling our own sun.  Sort of....  Let me explain.

   The basic idea behind my plan is this: We will not send living humans.  We will send DNA (genetic material), which will then be cloned upon arrival.     Ah, now I hear you all screaming, "What! Humans themselves will not travel the galaxy?"  No.  In the short term we will not.  It is far too inefficient, for many reasons.  A ship would need to be designed to sustain life for very long periods of time--safely.  That won't happen for quite awhile.  Trying to take living humans (and other animals) to other star systems will hold us back for centuries, if not millennia, from actually doing so.  Building generational ships or placing humans in "suspended animation" will still be a fantasy long after my plan for colonizing the galaxy is a reality.  How many people do you know that would willingly board such a generational ship, knowing that they would never again see their home planet, Earth?  Not many.  I myself would love to go to the Moon--or even Mars--but I shudder at the thought of leaving our solar system.   

 But once we have an interstellar community of 20-30 worlds, each with perhaps 5-10 billion people on it, we may have the resources as well as the knowledge to permit interstellar travel by living humans.  200 billion minds are better than six billion. Someone on one of these worlds may come up with a better solution for the problems of human interstellar travel.


How to clone.

   The idea of sending clones sidesteps many of the problems of getting life to another planet.  DNA doesn't require living space, food, and all of the other amenities that humans do.  This will enable us to make the ship much smaller, which allows us to use less fuel, which allows us to make the ship smaller still (assuming that the ship carries onboard fuel). (Incidentally, scientists in Honolulu have recently cloned mice using ordinary cells rather than eggs taken from the reproductive system of donor animals.  Eggs are the largest cell in the human body.  By using ordinary cells rather than eggs, we will shave quite a few more tons off the weight of our "seed ship". [See "Three ways to clone a mammal" at http://www.humancloning.org/threeways.htm])  This is an important point.  Our seed ship will be rather large as it is, and every ounce we shave off its weight is one less ounce we will have to accelerate.

    Once humans get to another planet, they will need a viable breeding population (any viable population requires genetic diversity--lots of different individuals--in order to avoid crossbreeding).  Taking enough living humans aboard a ship to do this means building a REALLY large ship. But single cells (just what is needed for cloning) are tiny.  We can send millions of potential humans in the form of genetic material and have many times the number of individuals necessary to have a viable population.  

    Which brings me to another point.  We don't just want a couple of human beings on some dead planet.  We want a living world, complete with lions and tigers and bears, and yes, even whales (and algae, bacteria, etc.).  Try building a generational ship for whales--now that would be an engineering feat.  By using cloning techniques, we will be able to send millions of whales to another planet--the entire genetic diversity of whalekind will be represented.  And not just whales.  We will take samples of every living creature and plant on Earth--except mosquitoes and miniature schnauzers. (Of course, trout and other animals need mosquitos for food so I suppose we will have to take them, but there's no reason we can't genetically engineer them to hate human blood.  The schnauzers will be left behind for sure, though.)  And all will be taken in one ship that requires very little (comparably) to keep them "alive".  

   Will the genetic material survive the trip?  I believe so.  The ship will have to be well-shielded to protect its valuable cargo from cosmic rays and other highly energetic radiation.  And the genetic material will  have to be viable for at least centuries and quite possibly millennia.  This would seem rather difficult at first glance.  But DNA seems to be a survivor--even on its own, without our help.  There are actually scientists who believe that it may be possible to clone dinosaurs from DNA found inside insects stuck in 70 million year old amber, just like in Jurassic Park.  It's not that far-fetched.  Consider this:  Russian scientists insist that they will clone the next frozen mammoth that they find in Siberia.  That mammoth is 10,000 years old or more, and was preserved accidentally by mother nature.  If mother nature can preserve DNA accidentally for 10,000 years, surely we can use our technology to preserve it for a mere few thousand years.  And it shouldn't be too hard to keep it cold since space has a background temperature of just 3 Kelvin.  (Personally, I can't wait to have living mammoths on Earth again.  Perhaps we can take a few along to New Earth as well.)

   When the ship arrives at the planet, contrary to first instincts, humans will not be the first thing cloned.  Indeed, it may very well be a thousand years before the first humans are cloned.  Our seed ship, which I affectionately call "NASA's Ark," will first set about the business of creating a livable world.  This will happen in about the same order as the introduction of species to our own planet.  First bacteria and oxygen producing algae, then lifeforms further up the evolutionary ladder, and eventually human beings.  

   Today when we clone an animal, we put the fertilized cells into a living being, where it grows and matures.  When our seed ship arrives at New Earth, it won't contain any "living" humans or anything else.  So how will we go about cloning? We will need to design artificial wombs.  The clones will be "test tube babies," from conception to birth.  Today, we give clones a "jump start" in a nutrient solution.  We will simply extend this until birth.  These "test tubes" could be designed to resemble a womb, if that is deemed desirable.  But perhaps the best way to create a living environment for our fetus-clones most similar to the natural environment of the womb is to clone the female reproductive system.  Today we are working on cloning livers, hearts, and most other essential body organs.  Why not wombs?

   Some might wonder about the moral implications of sending clones to another planet.  In fact, these days, many consider any cloning to be immoral or unethical, period.  These views are unfounded and based largely on misinformation.  Some people believe that armies of clones would be produced and used as slaves. Why would this be?  Clones are not somehow lesser beings than those of us who were produced in the traditional way.  They are in all respects human (or sheep, or whatever), and would have the same rights as any other human.  In the words of Stephen Hawking, "The fuss about cloning is rather silly, I can't see any essential distinction between cloning and producing brothers and sisters in the time-honored way."  (See "Prominent people who support human cloning" at http://www.humancloning.org/prominen.htm)  And why shouldn't Stephen Hawking feel this way...   After all, if genetic engineering had been around in his time, he may not have had to put up with 35 years of intense suffering.  

    The first humans cloned there would, admittedly, be raised in less than ideal circumstances--by robotic parents, presumably.  And people have all kinds of moral dilemmas with clones and genetic engineering as it is, here on Earth.  (A recent internet poll suggests that 47% are for human cloning, 53% against, believe it or not.)  But I would ask, "What are the moral implications of allowing not only humanity, but, as far as we know, all life in the universe to be extinguished?"  It is unthinkable.  We must conquer the galaxy and eventually the universe.  It is our duty.  And the easiest way to do this by far is by sending genetic material and cloning it when the ship gets there.  

    Another benefit of using clones is that they will be genetically engineered to survive on an initially less than ideal world. We will be terraforming the planet to make it more suitable for life, but at the same time, we will be enhancing life to make it more resilient to and tolerant of the conditions that currently prevail on New Earth.  In other words, we'll compromise and meet the planet halfway.  This in itself should shave hundreds of years off the time required to terraform a planet.  

   Getting humans to another solar system is a project fraught with problems.  Initially, there will be no living world to land on once we get there.  I doubt any astronauts would relish the idea of traveling for 50, 100, or 1000 years or more through empty space only to circle the planet for another thousand years or more waiting for it to be terraformed.  We want a living planet waiting for us when we get there.  By using clones, we can send one ship that will first terraform the planet and then populate it, and when the time is right, introduce humans to it.  Some might wonder why we need to send just one ship. Can't we send a terraforming ship and then follow it up with ships filled with life a few hundred years later?  The problem is that we can never know what the political climate will be like on Earth that far in the future.  We want to send a ship that, by itself, will accomplish the task.  Twenty or thirty light years is a long way to send for supplies, and a lot can happen on Earth in 200-2000 years.  We need to be confident that our seed ship will finish the job--regardless of what happens on Earth.  
-

   As amazing and beneficial to space travel as cloning is, it would not be worth much if we couldn't get the genetic material to New Earth.  Nor would the clones be useful if we couldn't terraform the world, get it ready for habitation.  Enter molecular nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science of building machines and materials at the atomic level, atom by atom.  The possibilities of this hotly debated technology are staggering.  


A molecular ball bearing.
Courtesy of NASA.

-   NASA has not devoted much (or any) research to the benefits of cloning for interstellar travel (and with good reason, considering the political and ethical debates now raging concerning cloning--they don't want to lose what little funding they get), but they have devoted a considerable amount of research to nanotechnology.  (See NASA applications of molecular nanotechnology at http://science.nas.nasa.gov/Groups/Nanotechnology/publications/1997/applications)  Molecular nanotechnology is another key ingredient in interstellar space travel.  Nanotechnology will be instrumental in getting our genetic material to New Earth (as well as other planets).  

   Future Space Applications of Molecular Nanotechnology.

     Speech given by Thomas L. Mckendree in March, 1996. Click the play button to begin.  If you don't see a video player, you need to download and install the free Realplayer G2, or ask your network administrator to do so--so that you can enjoy the full multimedia benefits of the Web.

    One aspect of nanotechnology that is crucial is that you can build self-replicating systems.  A small army of self-replicating "assemblers" go about creating more assemblers.  (Assemblers are like miniature robots--Star Trek calls them "nanites".)  Once there are plenty of assemblers, they can go about building bigger robots that can in turn build anything we want, from toasters to t-shirts to computers, all with absolute precision. (See Engines of Creation - K. Eric Drexler at http://www.foresight.org/EOC/ )


A molecular pump. Courtesy of NASA.
 


A large and small gear.  Courtesy of NASA.

   The seed ship will be built by assemblers to molecular accuracy, every atom in its proper place, from material already out in space.  But the assemblers' jobs will not end there--in fact, their job has just begun.  Once the ship is built, the assemblers will remain onboard.  When the ship is damaged by space debris and particles en-route to New Earth--as is inevitable when sending a ship at extremely high speed to "nearby" star systems --the assemblers will survey the damage and rebuild the damaged skin of the ship.  Or another technique would be to use "active materials."  Al Globus et al. state, "To make active materials, a material might be filled with nano-scale sensors, computers, and actuators so the material can probe its environment, compute a response, and act. Although this document is concerned with relatively simple artificial systems, living tissue may be thought of as an active material. Living tissue is filled with protein machines which gives living tissue properties (adaptability, growth, self-repair, etc.) unimaginable in conventional materials".  (Al Globus et al., 1998)  Using active materials we can create blocks of matter that can shape-shift.  They could be a toaster one minute, and shape themselves into a television the next.  That should allow us trim a bit more off the size and mass of the seed ship.  

    Assemblers will keep every component of the ship in atomically perfect condition for the entire journey, and for the thousands of years it will spend terraforming the planet.  As soon as the ship arrives, it will set down an army of assemblers on an asteroid.  The assemblers will first self-replicate trillions more assemblers and then turn the asteroid into more ships--some for mining, some cloning labs, some for delivering assemblers and lifeforms to the surface of New Earth, etc.  The assemblers on the surface of the planet will go about terraforming the planet and building the infrastructure of civilization. By the time the first humans are cloned, the entire planet will be completely developed--fully furnished homes, cars (if such a thing is needed), buildings, greenhouses, schools, and everything that makes a civilization a civilization. The first humans on New Earth will come to life on a self-maintaining planet that was designed to take care of their every need and desire.  

earth
Courtesy of NASA.

view from hubble
     When all is running smoothly on New Earth, the first order of business for the new inhabitants will be to--what else?--send out more seed ships.  In this way, our galaxy will be colonized at an exponentially increasing rate.  The entire galaxy will be populated with humans (and all other life) within a few million years.  The nearest galaxy to our own Milky Way besides the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds is the Andromeda galaxy, 2.2 million light-years away:   Humankind's next step will truly be a giant leap.  But perhaps by then we will have the knowledge, experience, and resources  necessary to traverse even that great distance.

-


<~~~  Hubble's deepest-ever view of the universe unveils myriad galaxies back to the beginning of time. Courtesy of NASA.

    This is a project that cannot fail.  In fact, just the process of designing and carrying out this monumental task will benefit humankind in ways that we cannot even foresee.  Even if the project only accomplishes the settlement of the most primitive lifeforms on another planet, we will not have failed.  After all, in a few billion years, that primitive life may well have evolved into intelligent life, which will then proceed on its task of colonizing the universe.  In fact, how do we know that that's not how we got here in the first place?


Epilogue

   So do I really believe all this is going to happen?  No.  Unfortunately, our society would need to keep going for at least hundreds if not thousands of years for it to really happen.  And our Earth wasn't meant to support the six billion people it has now, let alone the billions and billions more that will inhabit it long before all this comes about.  Something has got to give. Do the calculations:  At our present rate of expansion, humanity will outweigh the universe in less than 6000 years--which clearly cannot happen.  Colonization of our galaxy could happen if we played our cards right, but I'm not holding my breath.

-

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Start  |  Introduction  |  Part One: Islands  |  Part Two: Do or Die  |  Part Three: Send in the Clones


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Start  |  Introduction  |  Part One: Islands  |  Part Two: Do or Die  |  Part Three: Send in the Clones


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