This week, I got back into the Fermi Paradox (“Where are all the aliens?”) to address one of my favorite proposed resolutions. Could it be that the reason humanity hasn’t heard from extraterrestrial civilizations is that they have evolved beyond anything we would recognize? This is the thrust of the Transcension Hypothesis, a proposed resolution that has had many contributors over the past century.
This includes Russian-Soviet “farther of rocketry” Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, theoretical physicist John D. Barrow (inventor of the Barrow Scale), and John M. Smart – the man who crystallized the idea as we know it today. The reason why this proposed resolution is so appealing is that it combines so many ground-breaking ideas, ranging from nanotech, neural uploading, black hole physics, evolutionary development (evo-devo), and clinical immortality.
And as always, the implications of this theory could be incredibly profound. Not only does it mean we may someday encounter beings that are so far beyond our comprehension. It also offers a glimpse of what humanity itself could become someday.
In this episode, I circle back to the Fermi Paradox (“Where are all the aliens?”) and address the first proposed resolution. In 1975, astrophysicist (and white supremacist) Michael Hart framed the Fermi Paradox as we know it. As he defined it, there was a disparity between the assumed prevalence of life in the Universe and the dearth of evidence for it. Hart’s explanation: extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t exist. This argument was articulated a few years later by astrophysicist Frank Tipler (NOT a white supremacist), who provided far more intelligent parameters.
While it is a simple and arguably oversimplified answer to a very serious question, the Conjecture does have some good points. Given the age of the Universe, the sheer number of stars, planets, and galaxies in the Universe, and the fact that the ingredients for life are in abundance everywhere, why is it that we don’t see evidence of advanced intelligence out there? There are many reasons, and the question begs further investigation.
In 1964, Russian-Soviet astrophysicist and radio astronomer Nikolai Kardashev wrote a paper where he described how alien civilizations could be categorized based on the energy they could harness. At the time, Kardashev was trying to suggest the kinds of transmissions astronomers should be looking for in their pursuit of finding extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). However, this paper spawned a means of classifying ETIs based on the amount of energy they could harness.
This has come to be known as the Kardashev Scale, which categories civilizations into the planetary, stellar, and galactic scales. Today, it remains a central feature in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
This announcement has been a long time in the making, but such is the nature of publishing (especially where multiple authors are involved). And it will be a few more months before it is available in print and ebook format. But I assure you, it is well worth the wait! This anthology is a collection of science fiction short stories and scientific essays edited by famed author and NASA scientist Les Johnson and famed engineer/terraformer Ken Roy (inventor of the “Shell World” concept).
The title of this volume is The Ross 248 Project, which explores how humanity may settle worlds that orbit Red Dwarf stars someday – like our nearest extrasolar planetary neighbor, Proxima b! It is the spiritual sequel to the anthology Going Interstellar (also edited by Les Johnson), which explores how humanity may travel to distant star systems someday.
Some truly heavy hitters in the science and science fiction communities took part in this project, and I was honored to be working with them. My contribution was an essay on the subject of terraforming planets that orbit Red Dwarfs. I was asked to write it by Dr. Johnson himself based on a series I wrote for Universe Today (The Definitive Guide to Terraforming).
It is the longest piece I have ever written and (I don’t want to brag, yes I do!), I was told by an authority on the subject (won’t say whom) that it was the “one of the better [essays] that I’ve come across.”
The book is available for pre-order on Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster. Check it out below!
For this latest episode, I got to talk with space philosopher and author Frank White, the man who literally wrote the book on the Overview Effect. This term describes the psychological shift astronauts experience when going to space and seeing Earth without national boundaries or divisions. The first edition was released in 1987 when only two space agencies sent people to space, and the commercial space sector barely existed.
Today, the term has become mainstream with the rise of the NewSpace industry and commercial astronauts. There’s also a renewed interest in space exploration, thanks to new and exciting missions that are doing everything from exploring Mars and the outer reaches of the Solar System to preparing to send humans back to the Moon (to stay, this time!) Twenty-five years ago, Frank predicted that these sorts of changes would allow more people to experience the Overview Effect and how it could contribute to creating a better world.
It’s little wonder why Frank’s book has been re-released several times with updated material, more interviews with astronauts, and more thoughts on the future. Today, Frank continues to spread the lessons astronauts have learned via the Overview Institute and countless education and outreach efforts.
For this most recent episode, my guest was none other than Joan Marie (Joan Melendez Misner), also known by her handle @yourfemaleengineer. Marie is a NASA engineer who worked on jet fighters for the US Navy, the Double-Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), and is currently developing theEuropa Clipperand Dragonflymissions. During our chat, we talked about what it’s like to land your dream job, how to persevere in the face of adversity, and what it’s like being a female scientist in a field still dominated by men.
Marie is also a science communicator and social media personality who advocates for space exploration, the STEMs, and young women who want to pursue careers in both. Her brand of mixing personal experience and life lessons with music and humor has earned her an international following. As if that wasn’t enough, Marie was selected for Uplift Aerospace‘s first commercial astronaut training program (Space+) and will be going to space in the near future (fingers crossed)!
You can access the episode by following the links below, and don’t forget to check out her social media channels for more information:
The subject of this podcast was architecture and living for Mars, and my featured guest was none other than the world’s first “Marschitect” herself, Vera Mulyani. Mulyani is an esteemed architect, artist, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and the founder and CEO of Mars City Design – an education, outreach, and entrepreneurial organization dedicated to ensuring that humans can live on Mars someday. Their philosophy is that with the right combination of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM), humans can not only survive on Mars but thrive.
For years, MCD has hosted design competitions that have produced some of the most intricate, detailed, and awesome designs for Martian habitats and cities. A few years ago, I did a series of articles* about their design competitions and other events. Between 2018 and 2020, I had the honor of working with Mulyani and MCD on a podcast series. Keep an eye out for it. It’s called “The Martian Dispatches,” and it will be premiering in the near future! You can check out this latest episode on any of the channels below:
The subject of my latest podcast is the Great Filter Hypothesis, where I discuss the subject with Robin Hanson – the man who proposed it back in 1998. This proposed resolution to the Fermi Paradox (aka. “where are all the aliens?”) basically states that if like is so ubiquitous in our Universe (and we have every reason to think it is), then there must be “a great filter between death and expanding lasting life.”
In other words, the reason we aren’t seeing advanced alien civilizations is that there’s something that prevents life from reaching an advanced, installer phase. What could that be? And as Hanson asks in his original paper,“how far along this filter are we?” We also got into his more recent study that places estimates on when we might actually hear from an advanced civilization.
The subject of this episode is Exoplanets! What are they? Where are they? How are we finding them? And, most importantly, will we find life on them someday (perhaps even soon)? It’s no exaggeration to say that the field of exoplanet study has exploded in the past two decades. Between 1992 and 2022, we’ve gone from having a single confirmed exoplanet for astronomers to study to over 5,000*! In the coming years, that number is expected to reach well into the tens of thousands.
What’s more, next-generation telescopes will offer the kind of sensitivity and high-resolution needed to find more rocky planets that orbit closer to their stars (which is where “Earth-like” and habitable exoplanets are most likely to be found). With thousands of worlds in the exoplanet census and so many more waiting to be added, could the first detection of life beyond the Solar System be far behind? It is impossible to say, but many astrobiologists speculate that the first evidence could be found in less than 20 years.
If you’re the kind of person who likes the long odds, you might want to place your bets now!
The space elevator is a dream originally proposed over a century ago that would enable regular and cost-effective access to space. In its modern form, it would consist of a tether connecting Earth to a counterweight and space station in orbit. Earth’s rotation keeps the tether taut while climbers deliver payloads and crews to orbit at a fraction of the cost of rocket launches.
At least once a generation, the idea is revisited to see if we have the capability to build one. Alas, the stumbling block has always been the tether itself since no known material has ever been strong enough to handle the stresses involved.
A few months ago, I caught up with Dr. Swan and Nixon when I was writing an article on the topic for Interesting Engineering, and they revealed that we are now at a point where such a structure could be realized! The key is graphene ribbons and an industrial manufacturing technique that can mass produce them for a lot less than previously thought!
Given the current rate of progress, humanity could have an elevator to space and all the things it will enable before mid-century. This includes space-based solar power (SBSP), the commercialization of Low Earth Orbit (LEO), near-earth asteroid mining, missions to deep space, and settlements on the Moon and Mars.
Best of all, a space elevator is a “green” alternative to rocket launches that release a tremendous amount of greenhouse gases. So, in addition to ensuring humanity’s future in space, it is also a means of saving the planet from Climate Change! Check out the episode below: