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I strongly believe that the driving force that will propel humankind beyond our solar system will be the discovery of another earth.
Perhaps for initial investigation
, but truth be told, an Earth-like planet will be of limited use to space colonization, and thus of flaccid motivation for mundane
colonists. Let me explain:
The presumed objective for space colonization in sci-fi is to find a planet and settle it in a manner that is comfortable for humans, due to population problems on Earth or a looming disaster. Realistically, the chances of us finding a exoplanet that shares enough basic properties (mass, atmospheric quality, stellar parent etc etc) with Earth to be considered safe and desirous for people and our required ecosystems
to settle within a reasonable distance is virtually zero. No planet out there will be identical enough to Earth to be considered an "Earth-twin".
But the actual fact is that no colony effort was ever made just so that 'people have more room to live', at least not in the beginning. Colonial efforts were usually about political or ideological conquest, resources, available funds and more rarely a scientific curiosity (that could be expressed and conducted by the virtue of a competitive and economically healthy society back home). We see this now in our own world with current and past space exploration - the Apollo missions were, for instance, executed by a need to out-compete the Soviets technologically and end the Cold War (well, mostly), and also for scientific gain. The next big wave in space operations will probably be in asteroid or Moon mining for industrial inflation, and the driving force behind Mars colonization will most likely be a curious scientific, not societal, imperative. The very idea that we as humanity need to colonize other planets
in order to stave off over-population or natural disasters is ludicrous, because as we have discussed elsewhere on the forum
, population growth and its related hurdles aren't the issue most people think they are and it would be far more convenient and cheap if the resources asteroid mining provides was funneled to building artificial habitats in space that can, with no real engineering hurdles, exactly simulate the conditions on Earth. The very technology that we need to do these awesome things require that we pull ourselves together here on Earth with clean, cheap renewable energy and better infrastructure. Without those, we will never be able to escape to Mars or another planet because we'll lack the necessary technology to have much hope of getting to, and surviving long-term in, an alien environment. Everything requires resources and time to prepare, and interstellar travel will require more than most. It is a common, and essentially correct assumption by scientists and futurists that we'll have colonized most of our solar-system and even manage to create a partial Dyson Swarm
(becoming a K2 civilization
) before we will send out colonial
(pure manned exploration might be possible) missions to interstellar space. Even if FTL technology was perfected, energy and cost would still be inhibiting factors to expansion. These missions would involve space-ark-type ships
for maximum usability and would more often then not be directed to solar-systems that do not harbor any life-forms, for reasons detailed below.
If an extraterrestrial Earth-like world was discovered (most likely by space-telescopes and surveys, and most likely after other planets with life were discovered), then interstellar unmanned probes would be deployed to that system. Travel time would depend on the technology available, as well as the overall distance. If the planet is really far away, no probe would be sent and instead information would be gleaned by remote observation. Colonization for humanity's sake might still not be considered because despite all that, a problem still remains: how will you integrate the Earth biology into that of the exoplanet's and why would you justify such an disruptive action? Too many barriers exist between Earth-exoplanet biomes to review here, but suffice to say that for exploration's sake genetic engineering for compatibility is certainly an option, but excessive just for colonization. You as a civilization would have absolutely no reason to colonize a Earth-twin because you can mine all the materials you needs from a perfectly barren asteroid or moonlet, and all the living space from artificial habitats you need from mining thereof. The only reason a civilization or nation as a whole would take interest in a Earth-twin would be for research purposes, and this would perhaps warrant a permanent presence on the planet, at least in low-orbit. This logic would apply to not only Earth-twins, but also any other exoplanet with a potentially fragile biosphere. Of course, there could be exceptions to the rule (and we haven't
even discussed terra-forming planets!), but realistically I can't see any colonial justification for living on a Earth-like planet outside of writing a interesting story-arc