Broadcast Space Travel

ROBERT BURRUSS

November 26, 1991|By ROBERT BURRUSS

KENSINGTON. — Kensington -- By the early part of the next century, geneticists should have worked out a complete mapping of the human genetic code. Many doors will then be opened, not all of which will be biomedical. There exists the possibility, within the next century, of speed-of-light, deep-space travel based on the broadcasting of genetic information.

A question that is often raised about life in other parts of the Milky Way is that if it is Out There, and if it is on the move, then why hasn't its presence become evident to us?

Maybe the evidence is present, but we don't yet see it. Maybe, for instance, the gamma-ray ''bursters'' that have been discovered in recent years are artifacts of someone else's technology. Could they be the backwash of the anti-matter engines of starships operating hundreds of light years away? A more likely and intriguing possibility is that they are pulses of highly compressed information, maybe even genetic information.

Gamma rays are like high-frequency light and radio waves. Huge amounts of information can, in theory, be carried on very short bursts. A 1-hour episode of ''LA Law,'' for instance, could be compressed into a 1-second pulse.

By the early part of the next century we may have ways to send and receive information on high-frequency gamma rays. Among the possible uses of gamma-ray communication will be the transmission of the entire human genome into space -- along with additional information on care and feeding and environmental needs -- and maybe also such cultural information as language and history and perhaps even -- though it will be a stretch to learn this much about ourselves -- personal memories.

In short, within the next century, humanity might have the ability to travel across the galaxy on gamma-ray wave trains. Individuals might be sent, or even large groups.

Current thinking about travel into deep space assumes that the travelers will convey their bodies in containers holding the environmental necessities of oxygen and water, plus energy supplies, materials for repairs and waste-handling systems.

Space travel by means of electromagnetic broadcast eliminates the need to move huge amounts of matter. Broadcast Space Travel does not require that even the bodies of the travelers be moved; all that need be sent is the information by which the bodies and their environments can be constructed from matter at the place where the message is received.

How would broadcast space travelers be reconstituted into material form? That is up to the receiving civilization -- such as we ourselves might right now be. If those gamma-ray ''bursters'' are in fact carriers of densely-packed information, our task will be to decode the information, then to act on it. Would we want to reconstruct gamma-ray travelers? Would others Out There want to reconstruct us if we were broadcasting our way across the Milky Way?

Yes, because the basis of science, and of humanness itself, is curiosity. Certainly we would act on information received from space if it instructed us on how to construct a creature and perhaps an entire culture; and we can assume that Out There, somewhere, are creatures having both the curiosity and the means to receive and act on the message we might send -- messages that would effectively be electromagnetic seeds being strewn at random into space.

The current idea of conveying our actual material bodies seems primitive indeed. Why travel on starships when we can travel farther and faster and cheaper and sooner on speed-of-light wave trains? Why travel in the form of matter when we can travel in the form of information? Why send the material when the description of the shape of the material will suffice? And at gamma-ray frequencies, we can send thousands of copies in millisecond pulses.

Within the next century humanity might well have the ability to project itself at the speed of light on missions to the far reaches of the universe. It could happen that soon -- electromagnetic seeding of the universe with life from earth.

The fertile soil for humanity's electromagnetic seeds will be existing civilizations having the technology to decode and reconstruct us. ''Seeds'' might be the wrong metaphor; electromagnetic virus might be appropriate. What if the gamma-ray bursters are carrying species or cultures inimical to humanity? How will we know before acting on the information? Best take precautions.

Travel time for individuals conveyed as information would, subjectively, be like no time at all, even for journeys of millions of light years. Each traveling individual might be reconstituted in say 10 years, and then farther away in say 10,000 years, and then in 5 million years . . . the implications are as endless as the possible journeys.

Robert Burruss is an engineer and free-lance writer.

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