An artist's rendition of a habitable planet called Proxima b. An artist's rendition of a habitable planet called Proxima b. An artist's rendition of a habitable planet called Proxima b. (Photo: NASA)

98 people needed to survive 6,000-year journey to new planet

Harvard scientist offers alternative option: 'Carry their DNA blueprints and reconstruct them over there.'

In the classic 1960s TV series "Lost in Space" – which was recently rebooted with an updated Netflix version – the tight-knit and small Robinson family is chosen to go on a ship to start a new life in a faraway space colony. But it seems truth is larger than fiction. In reality, it would take 98 people for humans to colonize another planet.

That figure comes from a new study by an astronomer and a physicist in France. Meanwhile, a physicist at Harvard has a better idea: Instead of transporting humans to the new planet, it would make more sense to carry their DNA blueprints and reconstruct them over there.

A little background is in order...

Many scientists believe that it behooves us to look for a new Earth. Whether it's because of climate change, over-population or perhaps an asteroid destroying our planet, they say that Earth as we know it will not be around forever. So we'd better start looking for a new place to live.

For many, that search has led them to Proxima Centauri b, a nearby exoplanet in our sun's neighborhood of the galaxy. The planet is in the “Goldilocks zone,” which means it's neither too hot nor too cold. At that temperature, there could be water, which means there could be life. And that means it holds the best chance for humans to move to and populate a new planet.

A $100 million plan has already been hatched to send a probe to the planet to see if somebody else – perhaps aliens – are already there. Dr. Avi Loeb is the chair of Harvard's astronomy department. The Israel-born physicist and alumnus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem is helping spearhead the project. "My personal hope is that once we send a spacecraft to the nearest star," he told us, "we will get a message back from space saying, 'Welcome to the interstellar club.'"

The two scientists in France took the thought experiment a step further. Assuming we do get the green light to move to Proxima Centauri b, how many people would we need to send to survive the six-millennia-long journey? Taking into consideration life expectancy, birth rates and more, they concluded that it would take 98 people – 49 men and 49 women – who would make up the crew.

"Under the set of parameters described in this publication, we find that a minimum crew of 98 people is necessary to ensure a 100% success rate for a 6,300-year space travel towards the closest telluric exoplanet known so far," the researchers wrote in a respected astrophysics journal earlier this month.

But Loeb offers a different approach. "There are many technical challenges to a multi-generational space travel by humans. It is premature for us to envision these challenges without knowing which specific propulsion technology will be used for the journey since that will determine its risks and duration," he explained to From The Grapevine.

"My own prediction is that we are more likely to send robots equipped with artificial intelligence and 3D printers rather than people for these long journeys to exoplanets," Loeb continued. "The human body is not designed to survive in the harsh environment of space, and artificially designed systems could do much better. Once they land on the surface of an exoplanet they can use 3D printers to reconstruct humans there. Instead of transporting humans, it would make more sense to carry their DNA blueprints and reconstruct them over there."

Loeb said this is a failsafe method to make sure our friends and family don't disappear into space. "This way we can keep the duplicates we care about on Earth in case something bad happens to the spacecraft along the journey."


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Related Topics: Space