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As a child, while living in Palo Alto, California, he built a particle accelerator. He later became one of the founding fathers of string theory. Today Michio Kaku, with his long silvery mane, is one of the best-known scientists in the world: several of his books were bestsellers and he has made numerous television appearances, notably on Discovery Channel and the BBC. .

In his latest book, The Future Of Humanity, he claims that our future is not on Earth, but rather in the stars.

Contacted by phone by National Geographic in his City College New York office, he explained how billionaires like Elon Musk are revolutionizing space travel, why laser

portages are the best way to reach other galaxies and how some star dancers might one day meet on Mars.

At the very beginning of your book, you make a terrifying prediction: “We must leave Earth or we will die”. Is the future of humanity so terrible? Doesn’t that reinforce the feeling that we cannot save this planet?

Look at the evolution of the Earth: 99.9% of living organisms have disappeared. When something changes, we have to adapt or die. It’s the law of nature. Several dangers threaten us and we are at the origin of some of them, such as global warming, nuclear proliferation and biological warfare. Then the Earth had to face several mass extinctions, arranged by Mother Nature. Dinosaurs did not have a spatial plan, for example, which may explain why they are now extinct.

On the other hand, it should not be taken as an excuse to pollute the Earth or to remain inactive in the face of climate change. It is impossible to move the entire earth’s population to Mars or another planet, which is why we must find solutions to these problems. It is an insurance, a back-up solution if something should happen on Earth. I brought this up with Carl Sagan, who said, “We live in the middle of a shooting range and thousands of asteroids that we haven’t yet discovered are coming our way. Our backup plan must be based on at least two planets ”. 

One of the beautiful images you mention is of star dancers on Mars. Can you explain to us why this one is less unrealistic than it seems?

We have the Olympics and athletes who understand the laws of gravity on Earth. But once on Mars or the Moon, the physical constraints are totally different. Here, skaters cannot do more than a quadruple, that is, a jump with four laps in the air. That’s all ! No skater has been able to achieve a quintuple. Conversely, on Mars, gravity is only 30% of that of Earth. If one day the Olympics were organized on Mars, we could see jumps made up of four, five, six, even seven rotations, magnificent ballets, gymnastics, acrobatics. New athletes could be trained as they are used to an environment where air pressure and gravity are lower. Astronaut Alan Shepard was the first to play golf, I mean golf, on the moon! He had secretly taken a pair of iron golf clubs. NASA was shocked. Yet today you can admire the replica of the golf clubs he used in the Smithsonian Museum, to prove that interstellar sports could become a real possibility. 

You use the phrase “the fourth wave of science”. Explain to us what this means and how it will be possible, one day, to terraform Mars.

We have experienced three waves of scientific innovation. The first was the industrial revolution, with the steam engine, the locomotive and the factories. The second focused on electricity and magnetism, which led to the creation of TV, internal combustion engine vehicles and the first steps of the space program. The third revolution involved high-tech: computers, lasers and the Internet.

We have now arrived at the fourth wave of innovation, which focuses on artificial intelligence, biotechnology and nanotechnology. It will change our idea of ​​Mars. Many scientists say that Mars is cold and deserted, and that nothing can grow there. We can genetically modify plants and algae so that they can thrive on Mars. But who will do this work? We all want to see cities of the future on Mars. Robots will be increasingly adapted to work in these inhospitable environments at the turn of the century. So in the future, we expect to see robotic workers building the fantastic dome-shaped cities mentioned in science fiction novels. 

Elon Musk recently sent his own Tesla sports car into space. Can you tell us more about the “billionaire war” and how they will shape the future?

In the 1960s, investing in space was extremely expensive. That’s why we lost interest in this area once we set foot on the moon. Today, we are living in a new golden age of space exploration, not least because of the many billionaires in Silicon Valley who are making their childhood dreams come true: to build their own space base. It was Elon Musk and his pocket money who funded the Falcon Heavy rocket, launched by SpaceX: it is the most powerful rocket ever built and the taxpayers will not have paid a single penny for its development. 

For Elon Musk and NASA, the next step is Mars. What will be the possible problems and what solutions will have to be found?

We will have to be careful when sending our astronauts to Mars. Going to the moon only takes three days: you can leave on Monday and come back on Friday. For Mars, it is quite another thing. The trip to Mars takes nine months, and then you have to wait a few months for the planets to be realigned to make the nine-month return trip as well. So it’s a two-year journey, in which weightlessness, cosmic radiation, and micrometeorites will all be problems.

The first settlers who settled in the United States almost 400 years ago could hunt, grow plants, and had land on which these crops could grow. For Mars, we have to take everything with us. This is why such a project is so expensive and why we need robots to build objects, genetically modified plants to thrive in this environment and nanotechnology to produce light, extremely strong and durable building materials. prefabricated to create domed cities.

LANCER LE DIAPORAMA

Traveling to stars so far away will require new means of transportation. Tell us about the Breakthrough Starshot project and the other great ideas that are coming up.

Once again, it was the billionaires of Silicon Valley who pulled out their checkbooks and shelled out the sum of $ 100 million to build the first spacecraft to go to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

Because of Hollywood, we think we need a gigantic spaceship like in Star Trek: Enterprise, piloted by heroes like Captain Kirk. But the first spacecraft to go to Proxima Centauri could be the size of a postage stamp: a computer block crammed with sensors and cameras, equipped with a parachute. From Earth, a laser beam of about 800 megawatts is directed at this parachute in order to inflate it. This beam hits the parachutes at a speed 20% faster than light. It is doable, believe it or not.

Within twenty years, some of these vessels would be able to reach the nearest star, using existing technologies. By looking even further into the future, physicists are already imagining what the post-chemical rocket era will look like. We could then resort to antimatter, fusion energy or ramjets to travel 50% faster than the speed of light, which could lead us to the stars. 

Another problem with distant space travel is the journey that can take hundreds of light years. Your proposal is to freeze the astronauts and thaw them once there. To quote John McEnroe, “aren’t you serious anyway? “

The stars are far away, therefore we hope to use superior physics to travel faster than the speed of light (warp drive). As long as we don’t have a warp drive, we have no other options than using rockets that are slower than light speed. It would therefore take hundreds of years to reach the uncovered and Earth-like planets. So we have to figure out how to increase human life expectancy or learn how we can freeze ourselves. Some companies already offer these services to be thawed once there are treatments for cancer and other illnesses. I do not believe it. To me these companies are a scam. However, this remains a possibility that should not be ruled out.

We have discovered that around 60 genes are thought to influence the life expectancy of humans, and we know that certain genes allow animals to live for centuries. This is particularly the case for the Greenland shark, whose life expectancy can exceed 400 years. Genetics are therefore a solution to slow aging. 

Your preferred solution is what you call laser porting. Explain to us what it is and how the Human Connectome Project could serve as a basis.

The first large-scale science project, the Manhattan Project, resulted in the birth of the atomic bomb. The second was the Human Genome Project. The third could be the Connectome Project. Many countries, like the United States, have said that in order to understand mental health, depression and suicide, you need to understand the brain. Thanks to the connectome, a map of the entire brain, it may be possible to cure these diseases.

We believe we can achieve this by the end of this century. But once that is done, what will we do with it? We could focus on mental illnesses or we could put him on a laser beam and shoot him from space. In a second you could be on the Moon, in 20 minutes on Mars and the nearest star in a few years. Laser porterage is therefore the most efficient way to explore the galaxy without launching rockets, without the risk of radiation and without problems caused by asteroid impacts. You just have to teleport with the laser! 

Let’s finish with the million dollar question: are we going to make contact with another space civilization? If so, when? Do you agree with Stephen Hawking, who warned of the dangers of such contact?

I think we shouldn’t ignore his warning. It is certain that we will come into contact with other forms of earthly life. They will certainly be a few thousand years more advanced than us. They won’t want to plunder us for resources because many planets are uninhabited, like Mars, and so they can loot unhindered by natives like us. The biggest threat is that we could get in their way. In the novel War of the Worlds, the Martians want to take control of the Earth, not because they are evil incarnate or because they do not like Homo sapiens but because humans have to disappear so that the Martians can thrive on Earth and transform it to resemble Mars.

We have so far discovered 4,000 planets in our galaxy, and we know that on average every star in the Milky Way has at least one planet in its surroundings. So it is inevitable that we will one day meet one of those advanced civilizations that will change the world as we know it. Not like Cortez discovering Montezuma and overthrowing Aztec civilization in the span of a few months. The conquistadors had other ideas in mind. They wanted to steal gold from the Aztecs. I don’t think the aliens will have this type of design. And, at least I hope, there will be a leader to show us the peaceful way on the occasion of such a meeting, which will avoid us savagery and barbarism.

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