Our Undetermined Future

If we wish to not stumble back into a new dark age, we must do everything humanly possible to avoid the fall of civilization. On a global scale, this means securing our aging power grids from natural disaster or attack, stockpiling key resources such as food, medicine, and water in protected shelters in all major cities, and hardening more military and civilian equipment such as radios, vehicles, and generators. Countries also need to work together instead of against each other to prevent a global catastrophe.

If we fail now to reach outer space and tap the plentiful resources there, humanity may be doomed to a limited existence on Earth, disaster torn and eventually reduced to a patchwork of wandering groups in a hostile and energy-starved environment. Subsequently, we may plateau at a much more primitive stage of development than what we have now. Civilization could be set so far back that we would never be able to travel into outer space again. Children in the new world would read about the old ideals through tattered history books, flipping past images of great cities and rocket ships from what was once a grand civilization largely devoid of the problems they now faced.

Idiocracy (2006) is a satirical science fiction comedy movie set in a dystopian future 500 years from present day. All of the modern conveniences are exaggerated, such as microwave meals, easy access to goods, and a sense of individual freedom and superiority. Society is seen to have long ago reached its peak of intellectual greatness, now instead being pictured as a dumb society reliant on the system for literally every facet of life. Intellectualism is viewed as a threat, and technological progress has screeched to a halt. While life continues on, it is evident that eventually the species itself is destined to having a reduced intelligence, progressing within a handful of generations to a stage not much smarter than the great apes themselves.

Whether it’s an immediate disaster, or the slow decline of our species intellectual capacity (‘intellectual fatigue’ as I call it), I personally do not want to ever find myself in that kind of crumbling world. What a tragedy it would be if civilization never recovered from a natural disaster or, worse, a disaster of our own making.

One thing is certain if we ever had to rebuild–for better or worse, the way of life for future generations would never be as it was for those who lost so much the first time around.

The Cosmos as Our Savior

Humanity is currently fighting to stay afloat on the great cosmic barge that is the Earth. Achieving a permanent space presence would present a real jackpot: the resources we can harness from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) like asteroids and the moon. The process of colonizing space can start as a business venture of mining asteroids. Even a medium-sized asteroid contains plenty of water that can be broken down into hydrogen for fuel and oxygen for air, not to mention the billions of dollars’ worth of rare metals. Eventually colonies could be established on Earth’s moon, and thereafter on the moons of the outer gas giants. All is conceivable with today’s great thinkers working on getting us to this point. Expanding our civilization’s presence in the solar system – or maybe even throughout the galaxy – will not be easy or quick, just as it wasn’t for the first explorers who crossed the Atlantic ocean. The exciting part is that the possibilities are endless, just extremely challenging to get started.

While sentient creatures traveling through space might be a temporary blip in the evolution of the Universe, humanity has proven that it can be accomplished at least once. We should refuse to stall our trek to the stars when we haven’t even left the proverbial driveway. Exploring the rest of our cosmic suburbia may prove to reveal only empty houses, but it’s worth every effort because knowledge of the cosmos is empowering to humanity. As far as can be ascertained, we embody the Universe’s best and perhaps only opportunity of leaving a legacy worthy of its existence.

Carl Sagan’s saying “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself” could be applied locally in the sense of “We are a way for the Earth to save itself.” We might one day learn how to prevent natural disasters from occurring. We might also one day learn how to push the planet into an orbit further from the sun in order to escape the sun’s increasing heat. Moving the orbit of the planet may sound extreme, but it should be viewed as a very large engineering challenge to meet and not as an impossibility.

The International Space Station (ISS) is one of many important stepping stones to reaching other locations in the solar system and beyond. All of the other planets and their orbiting moons will provide valuable construction real estate, as well as raw resources, to help encourage our species to reach even further. These worlds will allow us to run experiments which would be impossible on Earth. Many of those experiments will be critical to ensuring the survival of future generations of space explorers that will not have the luxury of returning to Earth.

For instance, it is extremely costly to build a telescope and launch it into space. We would need to spend several billion dollars, and there is great risk of it blowing to smithereens upon launch. If permanent colonies were established in space, telescopes could be built directly there, and be far larger and more effective than anything we could ever launch from Earth. Telescopes could be so massive, in fact, that we could easily peer at the atmospheres of millions of other worlds to see if they have life upon them.

At the very least, space will be impossible to overcrowd. There are enough rocky surface areas in the inner solar system alone to theoretically support trillions of humans and animals, not to mention countless locations for space stations.

If the public views space travel as not worth the risks, then we need to do better to educate the public. Human civilization’s time to colonize space is now, for we may not get a second chance. As we will explore in Our Cosmic Story, this might be equally true for every budding civilization in the Universe. One shot to colonize space is perhaps all that anyone ever gets.

A Review of The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos

First impressions are everything, even for the first few pages in a non-fiction book. When The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos arrived in the mail and I took an introductory scan through its pages, I knew a lot of time was put into the production of its contents. While I was already well aware of the authors before this book was published, I was still impressed with the depth of knowledge this book provided.

There are lists of reference materials for each topic anchored by beautiful images and additional supporting material. Since the book is about getting started in becoming an amateur astronomer, most of the material is technical in nature, but it does an excellent job of introducing each topic, highlighting keywords, and even adding a bit of historical context into discoveries that are just waiting for you to view through your telescope.

The greatest benefit of the book is its easy bite-sized readability of a range of resources. Need advice on selecting a telescope? There’s a section for that. Curious to learn what celestial objects are the best to view on a particular date? There’s a section for that. Want to better understand night time lighting conditions? The Bartle Sky Scale helps here. Is it your first time exploring astronomical… anything? There is even a section on how to build your own telescope, or simply what to look for when purchasing one. The entire book eases you into each concept, but doesn’t linger to bore those who are already knowledgeable about the concepts.

The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos is not a casual novel, it’s a long-term resource.

“As comets start to break naked eye magnitude (+6) they start to become bright enough to image with foreground objects. The good news is this type of photography is relatively easy and straightforward, similar to shooting star trails: A simple wide-field 10- to 15-second exposure with a DSLR camera on a sturdy tripod should reveal the fuzz ball of a bright comet against the starry background. You’ll need to track longer exposures of a minute or more to avoid star Trails. You can easily track a comet using a computerized mount or our low-tech barn door tracker (see Chapter 9: Astrophotography 101, page 150).”

One thing I hoped to find in the book was the date for the next total solar eclipse over North America. I conveniently found it on Page 65 along with dozens of dates for not just solar eclipses but lunar ones as well, all that will occur around the world over the next several years. Succeeding pages also gave me handy eclipse resources to prepare for my future viewing experience. All of the topics in the book had a similar presentation.

I regularly have fun in identifying the solar system’s planets in the night sky. The great part about viewing these objects is you sometimes can get away with viewing them using a simple pair of binoculars. The book briefly talks about each planet, where it is in the night sky, and how (and when) to best view them. Comets, asteroids, planetary moons, and other objects are of coursed included.

As you flip through the pages of local astronomical objects, it transitions to interstellar objects like other stars, the Milky Way’s globular clusters, the (relatively) nearby Andromeda Galaxy, and the many galaxies beyond. Catalogs of these objects are referenced with a bit of history talking about how the whole enterprise of astronomy got started hundreds of years ago. I was intrigued to learn that the first catalog, the Messier Catalog, was created by Charles Messier (born 1730, died 1817) from frustration in continually coming across “fixed fuzzy patches in the sky” that he thought were comets, but now we understand that they are entire galaxies.

“What are meteors? First, let’s clear up a common misconception. Many folks see giant space rocks in a museum and assume that’s what all meteors are. Some folks even think that meteors and meteor showers are dangerous. Truth is, a majority of what you’re seeing during a meteor shower are tiny grains of dust. Comets lay these dust trails down, and meteor showers occur where these ancient paths intersect the Earth’s orbit. Occasionally, a really bright fireball might result from a pea-size rock. To date, no one has recovered a meteorite related to an annual meteor shower.”

Truly a great guide on how to get started in observational astronomy. Whether you are already an amateur astronomer looking for more viewing material and an updated telescope, or starting from scratch and need advice on everything, this guide is your perfect resource in peering across the cosmos.

Use the book to find a nearby viewing party, bring your new telescope, this book of course, and have fun!

This book review written by Mathew Anderson

The Fermi Paradox – “Where Is Everybody?”

An excerpt of The Fermi Paradox in the last chapter, ‘Chapter 9: Is Anybody Out There?’:

Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked in an informal chat over lunch in 1950 with other physicists, “Where is everybody?”

The question has been asked as long as humans have known that space is filled with so much more than seemingly nearby twinkling lights, and the question boggles the brains of astronomers to this day.

When Fermi asked the famous question, scientists thought that there should be countless civilizations in nearby space, and at least some should be easily detectable.

The question by Fermi became known as the Fermi Paradox. Fermi and his colleagues considered it a conundrum that if intelligent life in the universe should be, based on their observations, plentiful, then why had we been unable to make contact with anyone? We know that there are billions of stars in the Milky Way, and at least 10% of those stars are sun-like and thus conducive to hosting a habitable planet. More recently we have learned that there are at least as many planets as there are stars. With this in mind, we may suppose that there could be millions of intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy alone! This again begs the question, “Where are they?”

While the majority of civilizations may never make it out of their star system, or even off their planet, pure statistical reasoning suggests that some of them should have. Humans on Earth have shown that it is possible to achieve space travel. We also know enough about physics and space to suggest that interstellar travel is not impossible. Amongst the intelligent lifeforms in the galaxy, humans, it ought to be presumed, are of average intelligence; if this is so, then it follows that aliens of greater intelligence should be able to travel through the galaxy. Space is vast, but Fermi and others thought that with technological prowess that far outweighs our own, some alien civilizations should have been able to tour the galaxy many times already.

Is life and eventually the evolution of intelligent creatures a freak occurrence in the cosmos? We know that there are about 40 billion sun-like stars in the galaxy and, according to data from the Keck Observatory and the Kepler spacecraft, 20% of sun-like stars in the Milky Way have an earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Statistical probabilities alone tell us then that planets with life and, by extension, intelligent civilizations, should be scattered throughout the galaxy. Life then should not be a freak occurrence.

The mediocrity principle states that any single item selected at random from a set of items, such as any given star selected at random from a set of stars, will likely be a more common item in the set than a rarer item. For example, 70% of all stars in the galaxy are Red Dwarfs. The mediocrity principle suggests that if we randomly selected a star from the galaxy, it would likely be a Red Dwarf. The same goes for planets like Earth and, by extension, life and civilization. Since we know that Earth exists, then it is reasonable to assume that Earth is not of the rarest category of planet, and neither are we as intelligent creatures. Moreover, it becomes quite unreasonable to propose that we are entirely alone in the universe.

If this principle of mediocrity applies, then, indeed, where are they?

There are many theories about why we have not yet detected an alien civilization, but we can divide the theories into two groups: detection and existence. That alien civilizations are out there and we have simply failed to detect them is one possibility – it is quite another to realize that there may be none out there at all, at least at the present time. There may be an insurmountable progress barrier that stops them (and eventually us) from advancing far enough to be detected.

Read more at:

On the Shoulders of Giants – Quotes from Great Thinkers

To add a little spice to my upcoming book about life, civilization, and the universe, each chapter is kicked off by a quote from a great thinker from civilization’s deep history. These quotes closely tie into what you will be reading throughout the chapter. Here they all are in one scoop!

Opening: “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.” – Edwin Hubble

Introduction: “When scientists are asked what they are working on, their response is seldom ‘Finding the origin of the universe’ or ‘Seeking to cure cancer.’ Usually, they will claim to be tackling a very specific problem – a small piece of the jigsaw that builds up the big picture.” – Martin Rees

Chapter 1 – Setting the Stage For Life and Civilization: “The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls.” – Carl Sagan

Chapter 2 – Evolution and the Building Blocks of Life: “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.” – Richard Dawkins

Chapter 3 – The Rise of Civilization on Earth: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” – Carl Sagan

Chapter 4 – The Engine of Modern Civilization: “Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.” – Jacques Ellul

Chapter 5 – A House of Cards: “Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Chapter 6 – Exploring the Cosmos: “I think it would be a very rash presumption to think that nowhere else in the cosmos has nature repeated the strange experiment which she has performed on Earth.”
– Harlow Shapley

Chapter 7 – The Boundaries of Habitability: “Some may argue that a diamond is still a diamond, even if it is one among millions. It still shines as brightly.” – Guinan, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Chapter 8 – The Scale of Things: “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long walk down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Chapter 9 – Is Anybody Out There?: “In very different ways, the possibility that the universe is teeming with life, and the opposite possibility that we are alone, are equally exciting. Either way, the urge to know more about the universe seems to me irresistible, and I cannot imagine that anybody of truly poetic sensibility could disagree.” – Richard Dawkins

Summary – A Lonely Pale Blue Dot, Likely One Among Many: “Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring–not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.” – Carl Sagan

I hope you like the quotes that I chose! Stay tuned for more about the book in this regular blog series. As the podcast is rolled out later next month, I will add more related juicy posts here.

Meanwhile, if you like what you see in this book’s premise and these associated updates, I would greatly appreciate support by following @OurCosmicStory on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you!

A Tribute to Our Earth on This Earth Day

To celebrate this Earth Day, an appropriate quote from the ending of my book. I hope it resonates with you on what this day should mean to us all:

“Possibly for the first time since the Universe began, matter and energy have come together in such a way as to be able to ask the ultimate questions about its existence: ‘What am I? How did I get here? Am I alone?’

Humanity lives in a unique moment in history. No civilization on Earth before us has experienced existence in quite the same way. The Mayans, Norte Chico, and Olmec never had our level of education, medicine, and security, not to mention the endless variety of entertainment options at the push of a button. If we could go back in time and experience what the lives of individuals in those early civilizations were like, we would probably be quite content to continue in the present with our air-conditioned homes and indoor plumbing.

Each one of us is a unique thread of existence woven into a vast tapestry called civilization. This tapestry of humanity tells the story of an entire species’ monumental effort to understand and explore its place in the cosmos. All that we have ever learned is contained on this single planet in computer archives, shelved in vast libraries, painted on ancient cave walls, and shared through stories passed down from one generation to the next. This knowledge is worth preserving for future generations of explorers and great thinkers.

We have a duty to all who came before us to act now to counter the threat of countless events that would guarantee our swift destruction, and erase all of our great history. To ensure that as many of those threats as possible are mitigated, we need to keep developing new technologies, secure the world’s infrastructure, and educate the public in science. The dinosaurs didn’t stand a chance against the asteroid that struck them. Humans also almost went extinct before – some say we got down to just 40 breeding pairs – after the supervolcano Toba erupted 72,000 years ago.

In the past, humanity didn’t have the capabilities to prevent or dodge these calamities. Now we do. A diversified residence in the Universe is the ultimate solution to not only humanity’s quest for survival, but also our ability to expand our experiences. Residing on multiple worlds would significantly reduce the risk of any single event wiping out everything we have created in one catastrophic blow. The greatest realization of the lofty goal of colonizing space is that it is entirely possible to make happen. We only need the will and focus to get it done.

‘Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring – not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.’ – Carl Sagan

Are there alien civilizations that have transcended the struggles that are a part of being an evolving species, and have successfully expanded beyond their home planet? We could learn from them, and perhaps they could learn a few things from us in return. The seeming emptiness of space would not be so empty if we knew of each other. If there are indeed other civilizations out there, it would be smart to present humanity in the best possible way. The scientists leading our quest into space are generally some of the brightest, most noble humans that can represent our ideals.

Although we may yearn for companions in the cosmos, we would be wise to not trust them too hastily. We could do without a stellar “frenemy” – or as they call it in French, faux ami – false friend. Wolves in sheep’s clothing might catch us by surprise; we don’t want to end up like the fools in The Twilight Zone’s episode “To Serve Man.” Feeling lonely might be an unfortunate consequence of being alone, but we might thank the heavens for the rather peaceful rapport with outer space which we have now. Mieux vaut être seul que mal accompagné, a French proverb, translates “It’s better to be alone than in bad company.”

If humanity one day ventures out to explore other star systems, only to discover worlds in ruin that once hosted thriving civilizations, then we should pay tribute to those civilizations and ensure they are remembered. Whatever evidence we can gather of their existence must be studied. And where an extinct civilization is found, a monument should be created there that preserves their identity and way of life, so that future generations can learn from their achievements, and their mistakes.

If dead worlds are indeed all that exists in our cosmic neighborhood, then perhaps we will have to adjust our hopes that a civilization could last for eons, and that we will ever be able to share our experiences with another intelligent species. We might have to accept that a more realistic goal for all civilizations is merely to live well and discover what they can, alone, in the time available to them.

Fate may yet deal us this most dire of cards as we attempt a journey to the stars. Someday humanity might fall back to a primitive society here on Earth, perhaps forever. If we at least did our best to establish a unified civilization that reached as far as it could into the depths of space, then maybe that is all that counts. Perhaps it will be some alien visitors eons from now that memorialize our once great civilization. They may honor the efforts humanity made to better itself and reach other sentient creatures that were indeed there, but just out of reach.

The ultimate quest then may not be to push forever forward one’s own potential, but to learn about and remember the dignity of others. It is my hope then that we will be remembered well.” – Mathew Anderson

Our Cosmic Story – An Introduction

The editing phase for Our Cosmic Story is nearly finished! To celebrate this upcoming milestone, I am releasing the introduction to the book here as a blog update. I would love to hear what you think of it. Enjoy!


“When scientists are asked what they are working on, their response is seldom ‘Finding the origin of the universe’ or ‘Seeking to cure cancer.’ Usually, they will claim to be tackling a very specific problem – a small piece of the jigsaw that builds up the big picture.” -Martin Rees

It is rare that we get a chance to reflect upon life, to smell the roses or to look at the cosmic picture. Yet it is important to find the time for such reflection when the grand cosmos is on our doorstep. How did life appear on Earth? How did our fantastically complex civilization develop? When will we encounter other civilizations out there, if ever? This book will explore our history and place in the universe, examine why Earth is so hospitable for life and civilization, and consider the likelihood for life to exist on other worlds, some that may be far more different than our own.

The quest to reach beyond the confines of our world is a natural consequence of being a very small part of a grand and dynamic universe. Looking up at the sky instills within us some expectation that we are not alone, and we wonder if there is not something amazing happening out there somewhere. This sense of awe may not be exclusive to Earthlings; for in a galaxy truly far away, there could be creatures with similar musings as they peer towards our corner of the universe. The idea that we share this existence with potential aliens is a recurring theme in this book.

Regardless of the possibility of countless other life forms existing on rocky barges adrift throughout the cosmos, we should still hold the belief that humanity is special. Our world is rare enough that we may appreciate it just as much as if we are in fact alone. Recent studies have shown that, while life’s ingredients are common throughout the universe, the exact quantity and assortment of chemicals and minerals that make up Earth are unlikely to exist elsewhere. This may have significant consequences for life and evolution on another world that’s close in properties, but not quite the same as Earth.

For a close-to-home example, both Mars and Venus can be considered distant cousins of Earth and once thought to be habitable, though you wouldn’t want to book a vacation to either of them anytime soon. While Mars and Venus are rocky bodies with solid cores, Mars today lacks a dense oxygen-rich atmosphere and liquid water on its surface because the planet is simply too small. Venus is nearly the same size as Earth, but is far too close to our scorching sun. There are many other variables of habitability to consider as well, many of which we will explore in upcoming chapters. The physical makeup of the Earth and how it compares to other planets in the solar system is an important starting point for understanding where we may find life elsewhere in the universe.

Even though we may currently be well off on Earth, humanity should make every effort to voyage into space, if only for the practical reason that Earth will not support life forever. We may one day need to flee Earth in order to preserve the existence of our species from a variety of cosmic and terrestrial extinction events, like asteroid impacts and supervolcanoes. Currently, all of our proverbial eggs are dangerously in one basket. While the lack of evidence of life on other worlds may suggest at first that the endeavor to colonize space is futile, this is a dangerous assumption we just cannot afford to make.

The act of colonizing space will of course come at initially great cost, but in the long run it may pay off in ways we cannot even imagine. Many great explorers like Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Charles Darwin risked their lives and boldly faced peril to sail across vast oceans in the name of science and discovery. Diseases and other formidable barriers attempted to stop them from making progress, but they pushed on in the hope that a better future lay ahead. These great explorers, and many great thinkers throughout history, have helped to lay the foundation of our civilization as it stands today.

Whatever our future may hold, let us not forget where we came from or fail to cherish this home base. Protecting the Earth for as long as possible may be important for facilitating our ability to leave it someday – and perhaps in our need to return to it, should space be more unforgiving than we had realized. The Earth is not a place that we can spoil with the assumption that a better one will eventually be found. Assuming in advance that our existence in the cosmos is assured will be the ultimate undoing of our way of life. Many of Earth’s past civilizations made this arrogant assumption about their destinies, and it resulted in their swift demise.

In order to begin to understand how we achieved all that we have so far, and further our chances of carrying our knowledge into space, there is one thing that must always be with us: a sense of hope and drive to improve the whole of civilization, beyond just our own lives. The motivation to pass down prosperity to future generations has the power to be a catalyst for expanding into a spacefaring civilization that can counter the constant threats against our one world. While great things will still be accomplished if we stay grounded to the Earth, it will be tragic if humanity one day forgets that we once long ago nearly made it to the stars, but did not.

I hope that this book heightens your sense of wonder about our tiny but special place in the cosmos, as well as fires your imagination and intensifies your intrigue in exploring the potential for other worlds where human civilization may one day call home.

– Mathew Anderson, Our Cosmic Story

The Oregon Trail and Great Distances

Editing of the last chapter of the book is in sight! 3 months writing, 13 months editing, whew! Here is the kick-off to ‘Chapter 8: The Scale of Things’. A nod to all my gamer friends:

The Oregon Trail was a popular video game when computers were just becoming available to the public in the 1970s. The most popular version of the game later arrived in schools on the Apple II in 1985. The game helped to raise awareness of the actual Oregon Trail in the United States which spanned from the eastern state of Missouri to Willamette Valley in Oregon. The trail extended about 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) at its peak use in the mid-1800s with over 412,000 settlers, traders, miners, and others using the trail to access rich farmlands and growing towns along the upper west coast.

A half century went by before the Oregon Trail was completed and used regularly. Traversing the trail could take as long as 170 days, especially when traveling with children and heavy belongs that slowed down progress. If you were a pioneer in charge of exploring the west coast for farmland, the trail could be traversed in as little as 120 days. Completing the route today would take (also with considerations of sleep and other needs in mind) 14 days by pedal bike, 3 days by car, and a brisk (though still arguably just as uncomfortable) 4 hours by plane.

The trail was extremely dangerous, even at its peak upkeep in the mid-1800s. The most dangerous part of the trek were the many rivers wagon parties had to cross. For every river traversed, another threatened to tear out a wheel axle, drown the helpless that fell off and were dragged under current, or cause illnesses and frostbite along rivers high in the mountains. Food had to be hunted and eaten on the spot before it spoiled. On many occasions, threats from Indians or even other wagon parties could spell doom for those traveling alone.

Initial expeditions and journeys into new lands are nearly always a dangerous task, especially when the distances involved open up the opportunity for accidents, disease, and death to occur with no help in sight. As we advance in our knowledge of the dangers and ways to mitigate them, we not only create a safer path for others to follow, but faster to traverse as well. Airplanes are not only the safest way today to get from Missouri to Oregon, but by far the fastest. Every technological advance humanity has made over the last two centuries has brought us one step closer to that four hour reality we enjoy today.

Outer space will provide a new frontier in exploring vast areas that are orders of magnitude in scale beyond the travel times of the Oregon Trail. The moon is on average about 384,400 kilometers from Earth, or about 120 times the distance of the Oregon Trail. Light travels at the blistering speed of 299,792 kilometers per second, yet it would still take over a second to reach the moon. Using the latest in-use rocket technologies, the fastest we could get to the moon is about three days. We could get there in a quick eight hours or less though if we didn’t care to slow down or stop for a visit.

Three days is just a long weekend, which doesn’t sound so bad for traveling to such a cool place as the moon, until you scale distances up in magnitude. Using planetary gravity to slingshot a spaceship to higher speeds by hitching a ride around another planet’s gravity field, it still takes about ten years to get to the furthest planet in the solar system–Neptune. At Neptune’s closest approach to Earth, which is 4.3 billion kilometers away, it is a mind boggling 1.3 million times farther than the length of the Oregon Trail. Without rest and at the modest pace of 25 kilometers per hour (wagon speed), it would take 53,000 years to reach Neptune.