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Escaping Extinction
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Our Quest To Colonize The Stars

By James Donahue

Recent proclamations by England's esteemed physicist Stephen Hawking that humans must reach out to colonize space if we expect to avoid the threat of extinction is an opinion obviously shared by other science and government leaders.

It seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the United States, however. Because of budget woes, caused by excess spending mostly for multiple an unnecessary wars, and the failure to control wild investment adventures by banks and lending institutions.

It was only a few years ago that NASA announced an ambitious plan to work with international space agencies to establish a manned colony on the Moon by 2024. The project involved a complete redesign of the rockets and landing craft to take us there and after that to provide a reliable life-support system to maintain the essentials necessary to keep humans alive once they move in.

The French space agency Cnes, working with European countries launched a craft into deep space that is busy hunting for "Earth-like planets" in other solar systems. The craft, code-named Corot, is capable of detecting rocky planets a few times larger than Earth that are orbiting neighboring suns. It is sending back information on those suns, helping scientists determine their mass, age and chemical composition.

Corot, financed by the French space agency in partnership with the European Space Agency, and agencies in Austria, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Brazil, is equipped with an 11-inch telescope and a four-charge-coupled CCD camera sensitive to tiny changes in the brightness of stars.

The robotic computer in Corot will monitor about 60,000 stars, looking for planets orbiting them as it slips out of our solar system and into deep space.

Over a period of about 2.5 years, the satellite is expected to focus on five to six different areas of the sky, for about 150 days per sweep. Thus information has been received from Corot almost from the beginning of its long flight which began in early 2007. The data collected from the mission will guide the next phase of a long-range plan to send a fleet of four or five spacecraft - the Darwin flotilla - into the stars during the second decade of this century.

Cnes project manager Thien Lam Trong said the ship will help scientists know if Earth-like worlds in other solar systems are reality or just a dream.

NASA had long range plans to launch a Terrestrial Planet Finder mission, but its first goal appeared to have been to step up research on the technology needed to actually colonize foreboding planets that offer the resources to provide self-contained life support systems.

After consulting experts from 14 different countries, NASA decided on a "fundamental lunar approach." The International colony was to have been established on one of the Moon's poles, thus giving it more constant power from the sun for operations.

Developing the technology for a colony on the Moon will be an important first step leading to space exploration to Mars and possibly beyond. NASA has proven that humans can get to the Moon and back. The next step will be finding a way to establish a permanent space station that will not be dependent on a lifeline with Earth.

The problem with all of this dreaming among space scientist is that both time and resources are running short and we may have no more than another 50 years before this planet gets too hot and too polluted to sustain life as we know it.

While they may be too late with the research, progressing too slowly and going in the wrong direction, the fact that world space agencies are suddenly focusing on finding other places to live means that some scientists are at last aware of our looming crisis and taking steps to find a way of escape.

Under the circumstances, they might better be working on a plan to save our Mother Earth. So far, it is the only known life-support system available to us.