When I first heard the idea I was appalled. Spend millions of dollars to
pepper the vicinity of Proxima Centauri‘s planet with
light-beam-propelled Starchips? Even if the chips captured a few
pictures and some evidence of exolife as they whizzed by for a few
minutes—even if pictures of its natives waving “hello” made it back to
Earth in 4.37 years—is the money worth spending? I suppose it does
create some jobs.
However, when I re-read the article today (Scientific American March
2017), I had to agree with Freeman Dyson. Yes, it’s a bit silly, but the
project might be worth doing for other reasons. I would hope it wouldn’t
waste too many valuable resources, but its development of the
laser-driven light sail might provide some valuable lessons and spawn
new technology with benefits now unseen.
It’s a delicate balance we need to learn, the balance between our
planet’s welfare and our tendency to underestimate our limitations.
Technology can be a blessing when it adds to the efficiency in what we
need to do, but it can damage our Earthly reality when it feeds off our
legacy of unrealistic science fiction—the assumption that we are
destined to populate the galaxy, if not the universe.
I can see the benefits of developing the laser-driven light sail. Who
knows how that might benefit life on Earth? And that’s the point. Our
challenge is the here and now. What should not be forgotten is the
miracle of life here on Earth and how vulnerable it is to our mistakes.
I have been reading The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by anatomist
Alice Roberts (New York, Heron Books, 2014). In compelling and
entertaining English, she tells us about our personal human embryonic
development, week by week, body part by body part–and how our story
repeats or has been modified over the ages in all living creatures on
our planet. Quote: “…an animal is never designed from scratch. It is
just a slight modification of what went before.” We call that evolution.
“[It]… loves to recycle, to repurpose, and to tinker.”
If you are interested in exobiology and how life got started on Earth,
don’t miss reading this book. Alice Roberts writes a wonderful story,
reviewing the detective work of genetic biologists who have figured out
exactly how we became as complex as we are, how the structure of our
simple living ancestors gradually became more and more complex–by
revising earlier structures in so many various ways, creating the many
various critters that have lived on Earth.
Now, at last, we are finding how the genes guide all this, how the
ancient HOX genes we all share sorted early embryonic cells into
distinct areas that, cell by cell, grew into functional structures and
specialized organs. We share genes with the first life to emerge on
Earth. They still serve us all. As do other genes that wait their chance
to do something different, to fill an obvious need, to split and try a
new approach to living better.
Whatever the reason behind our unbelievably complex biochemical
development, we human critters can now recognize why it took so long,
with so many trials, for Earth’s life to become so amazingly diverse. As
students of exobiology, we can now realize how precious and complex life
is, why it is so very difficult to reproduce life from scratch, and how
lucky we are to be alive. It becomes clear how enormously complex the
process of embryology is and why it took billions of years for complex
life to appear on Earth—why it may not easily happen on every exoplanet
we find in Goldilocks zones elsewhere.
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA
ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)
Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-
Reviews of significant books- www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper
How the Hen House Turns- www.ladailypost.com
Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- caryneeper.com
Astrobiology– astronaut.com search:Who’s Out There
Cary's first novel and Webs of Varok prequel A Place Beyond Man was originally published in 1975 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, Dell, and Millington, London. Cary re-released A Place Beyond Man as an Author’s Guild Backinprint edition, now available from online booksellers. Its themes of sustainability and interspecies cooperation have now grown into new adventures for its human, elll and varok family as they travel the alternate 21st century Solar System in the five-volume Archives of Varok, coming from Penscript Publishing House in 2012–2014. Cary’s other works include two musical science fiction comedies “U.F.F.D.A.!” and “Petra and the Jay,” as well as newspaper and magazine articles, essays, short stories, and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor.