The Final Frontier
While I appreciate the well-considered arguments of both Harlock and Sun Ra regarding mankind's need to journey to the stars versus their need to solve problems right here at home, they both leave out the essential end goals of space exploration. It's not about ennobling the human spirit, or about finding new resources for our development as a species. We need to go to space for two reasons, and two reasons only:
Starship combat and sex with space women.
(Now, I realize this sounds sexist, like I'm saying only MEN need to go out into space to have sex with space women. No, this isn't the 1950's and I'm a little more enlightened than that. When humanity heads to the stars, it would be a grave disservice if both genders weren't represented equally. Women and men should journey forth, hand in hand, and both get it on with hot 'n nasty space babes. Space men, I'm afraid, are a little scary and dangerous, and might be, well, better equipped than Earth men, if you know what I mean. We are NOT going into space to discover that we're the most poorly hung sentient species this side of Andromeda, thank you very much.)
Sex, really, is the reason most humans travel anywhere. When you're young and single, you travel to meet locals looking for a no-strings good time with a visitor to their land. Or more frequently, to meet other travelers, who often feel that a one-night-stand with a random New Jersey native is somehow less cheap if it happens in Paris. When you're in a couple, you travel so you can have sex in new places. When you're old (coupled or not), well, you still travel, but you're mostly thinking "damn, I wish I was young enough to hang out on those topless beaches instead of walking around a bunch of crusty museums." This desire is irrational and unstoppable, and can be harnessed to help deliver us to the stars. But the hope has to be there. You're not going to get people to go to Mars and beyond with the prospect of being miners and dirt farmers. Offer them promises of eternally young, polymorphous sex vixens, willing to satiate any desire in exchange for the rare earth aphrodisiac known as "wheat" -- and your Space Academies will runneth over.
And Starship combat, of course, is Starship combat. It's all about the PCHEW! PCHEW! RAT-A-TAT-TAT! BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! action. Any species' first step towards space travel is the development of the spear -- that eternal desire to put a hole in your opponent without having to touch him yourself -- and we're not about to take this concept to its ultimate conclusion to make big soft, round "colony pods" which may as well have red targets painted on them for the amusement of any stray privateer with a plasma torpedo to spare. No, when we head out of this solar system, we should do it in style: with big white ships with giant forward guns, side turrets, missile launchers, torpedo bays, fighter escorts, and the ever important accelerated fusion mega-gigaton self-destruct mechanism, so if we go down, everyone goes down with us. Sure, we run the risk of running into someone more advanced than us, but we also run the risk of running into someone much less advanced than us, a traditional path towards lucrative (if not mutually beneficial) "trade agreements".
You can't find this kind of entertainment exploring the oceans or teaching poor children how to read.
Our primary goals should include:
Travel Much, Much, Much faster than Light. Ok, kids. I know light speed seems like a laudable goal, but even the closer systems are a few dozen light years away. Should it turn out (as I suspect) that life-sustaining planets are about as rare in solar systems as being dealt a straight flush at the poker table, light speed travel is a waste of time. No one wants to spend 87 generations making it to Zeta Copernicus only to discover a bunch of barren asteroids. Unless your goal is to zip out of system for a few years (while a few hundred years tick away back on Earth) in hopes that you'll be picked up by a spiffy new Earth ship along the way. Don't bother. They'd either forget you ever left, or show up and blow you out of the sky before you infected their Federation with your primitive thinking.
The search for other forms of humanoid life. Cute humanoid life. That's right, if we show up on a planet and it's teeming with hyperintelligent fungi or sentient flying squid, we mark it down as "come back some other time" and warp the hell out of orbit in search of something that looks tasty in a skirt. If straight evolution is the only key to human development, well, the odds against finding extra-terrestrials with compatible genitalia are daunting. But on the slim chance that the creationists and conspiracy theorists are partly correct and other planets have been used as large human "soul farms" for angry deities, there could be totally hot space babes a-plenty out there, and all we need is a good hyperspace drive to find them. A worst case scenario might be a host of planets with exactly the same uptight hang-ups as we have on Earth. I have faith, though, that other humanoid worlds will have uncountable new and bizarre hang-ups, leading to equally new and bizarre ways to offend the angry deities who put them there. Hooray!
Monstrous Laser Cannons. The tricky part here is we have to finish development on MLC technology at exactly the same time as we develop the MMMFTL drives. If we develop giant laser cannons before we're able to zip them out of the solar system, we'll just mount them on satellites and the dominant powers of the age will take turns firing them at each other. But if we finish the travel technology before we develop the laser cannons, we might be tempted to zip around the universe a little, inviting other space-faring races to show up at our doorstep for a little target practice. Fortunately, we've already begun training our kids on space combat sims, but what good will that do if we don't have the real hardware ready?
Space Condoms. There are a lot of dangerous things in the universe, and not all of them are big enough to see with the naked eye. And it stands to reason that as long as an irrationally strong sex drive is the key to some species' fecundity, other organisms will take advantage of this irrationality and use it to spread themselves across the galaxy. Nanotech-enhanced herpes beetles that slice through latex like it was Jell-O, then burrow into the tip of the penis, multiply by the hundreds, and then inexplicably blow apart like so many firecrackers. We need advanced technology to permit non-procreative but stimulating safe sexual activity, so that we can be responsible Sexual Space Citizens. That way we could occasionally "forget" to wear them, and oh, man, it would be So Much Better.
Inexpensive Cryogenic Tanks. No, not for the spaceships. I've already told you this is a lame way to travel the universe. These are just for me. I want you to freeze me now, then thaw me out when my spaceship is ready. You, you're on your own. And it has to be inexpensive, because I'm a little short on cash this month. Maybe we could work out one of those "compound interest" deals where I put in $50 now and it grows to a billion quatloos by the time they discover Planet XXX. I'm flexible.
Columns by Cindy