Embryo space colonization

Embryo space colonization is a theoretical interstellar space colonization concept that involves sending a robotic mission to a habitable terrestrial planet transporting frozen early-stage human embryos or the technological or biological means to create human embryos.cite web| url=http://www.strangehorizons.com/2004/20040621/travel.shtml| title=Cruising the Infinite: Strategies for Human Interstellar Travel| first=Paul| last= Lucas| date=2004-06-21| accessdate=2006-12-24] The proposal circumvents the most severe technological problems of other mainstream interstellar colonization concepts. In contrast to the sleeper ship proposal, it does not require the more technically challenging 'freezing' of fully developed humans (see "cryonics)". In addition, in contrast to both a sleeper ship and a generation ship the resources needed to build a spacecraft for an embryonic space colonization effort are considerably lower in terms of pure mass and complexity of the spacecraft. Furthermore, embryos may be launched from the Earth by cheap, yet human-incompatible, space guns.

Various concepts

Embryo space colonization concepts involve various concepts of delivering the embryos from Earth to another extrasolar planet around another star system.
* The most straightforward concept is to make use of frozen embryos. Modern medicine has made it possible to store frozen embryos in various low-development stages (up to several weeks in the development of the embryo).
* The technologically more challenging but more flexible scenario calls for just carrying the biological means to create embryos, that is various samples of donated sperm and egg cells.
* Going a step further, the spacecraft "cargo" could be limited just to the genetic information of humans stored in digital form. In this case, sperm and egg cells would need to be recreated by a biosequencer at the target planet (this proposal is currently not technologically feasible).

Mission at target planet

Regardless of the "cargo" used in any embryo space colonization scenario, the basic concept is that upon arrival of the embryo-carrying spacecraft (EIS) at the target planet, fully robots would build the first settlement on the planet and start growing crops. More ambitiously, the planet may be terraformed first. Thereafter the first embryos could be unfrozen (or created using biosequenced or natural sperm and egg cells as outlined below).

In any event, one of the technologies needed for the proposal are artificial uteri. The embryos would need to develop in such artificial uteri until a large enough population existed to procreate by natural biological means.

Comparison to other interstellar colonization concepts

* Proposals of sleeper ships and generation ships require very large spacecrafts to transport humans, life support systems and other equipment or food as well as an even larger propulsion system for a long period in time. Even optimistic proposals would require such a major effort for such ships that the resources required on Earth would involve a large part of mankind devoted to the mission or would even exceed available resources. In contrast an EIS would have feasible small dimensions in the range of today's spacecraft, as the most important "cargo" would not need much space or would not weigh very much.
* Sleeper ship proposals call for freezing grown-up humans. While there is research into hibernation, the complexity of a living fully-developed human body may make the sleeper ship proposals much more difficult.
* While sleeper ships and generation ships would deliver to a prospective colony world a population that has undergone some degree of education, training, and socialization in areas reconcilable with those of the sponsor culture (e.g. historical, scientific, and technical education, language acquisition, an understanding of the original mission and broader cultural norms), individuals who are born into colony worlds through embryo space colonization would lack this education.

Difficulties in implementing the concept

Major difficulties with the idea being implemented include needed advances in various technological areas. In addition there are biological and ethical problems. The proposal, together with any other space colonization concept, depends on facts that are not known today.
* Robotics: Whether it will be possible to develop fully autonomous robots that can build the first settlement on the target planet and raise the first humans, is unclear. In addition, the psychological effects on humans of not having been raised by human parents (and their effects on subsequent generations) are unknown and difficult to assess.
* Artificial Uterus: Artificial wombs are not available today. Scientists are however already working on this technology.
* Long-duration computers: Computer hardware would need to function reliably over long periods of time, in the range of several thousand of years.
* Propulsion Furthermore, a propulsion system would be required that could accelerate the EIS to a high speed and slow it down again upon nearing the destination. Even assuming a speed one hundred times faster than any of today's spaceprobes and a target planet within a couple of hundred light years would lead to a journey lasting several thousand years.
* Exoplanet found Finally this depends on the existence of an exoplanet qualifying for colonization within a reachable distance. Current science missions like COROT, Kepler or Darwin may very well yield results for this requirement within the next 10 to 20 years.
* Occupied Planet Intelligent life could already occupy the planet, and might not allow us to settle it.

Examples in fiction

* James P. Hogan's novel "Voyage from Yesteryear" features a planet that was colonized many generations ago by an automated ship bearing frozen embryos, and is now being visited by a more advanced interstellar spacecraft capable of carrying an adult crew.

* Jack Williamson's "Manseed" has as a protagonist one of the robots responsible for protecting and assisting colonists created on a new planet by an automated "seedship", though in this case the colonists are "born" as full adults and with implanted knowledge recorded from preexisting humans via mind transfer technology.

* In Yukinobu Hoshino's "2001 Nights" manga, "Night 4" showcases an interstellar mission where an automated ship bearing frozen embryos is launched with the help of a comet. Two later chapters, or "Nights," in the series explore what happens to the mission after it touches down on the surface of the destination world.

* In David Brin's "The River of Time" (1986), the short story "Lungfish" - which prominently features Von Neumann probes - mentions a class of probe called "Seeders" which seem to be a type of self-replicating EIS. [cite web| url=http://www.davidbrin.com/lungfish1.html| title=Lungfish| first=David| last= Brin| work=The River of Time| publisher=Davidbrin.com| year=1987| accessdate=2006-12-24]

* In Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series a faction of humanity known as "Amerikano" sent numerous colonization ships out into the galaxy. Almost all of these missions ended in failure, although they did have some success. The planet "Yellowstone", which is a notable planet in the Revelation Space Trilogy and the primary location for another novel in the same setting, "Chasm City".

* In Arthur C. Clarke's novel, "Songs of Distant Earth" (1986) humans respond to the prospect of unavoidable doom by launching a series of robot colony seedships into space, to continue Earth life after the destruction of the homeworld (caused by the Sun becoming a nova). Thalassa is colonised by one such ship, but loses contact due to a natural disaster. As technology advances the mantle of colonization is then taken up by sleeper ships. Meanwhile, just as the predicted time of cataclysm is due to elapse, vacuum energy technology is invented to allow the construction of one near-light-speed vessel, the "Magellan", which is launched to build the last colony of mankind. (Previous colony ships involved frozen embryos, or various forms of DNA synthesis. In "Magellan", a living crew is transported in cryonic suspension.) The "Magellan" will also assist in terraforming the colonists new planet, Sagan Two.

* In the episode "Scorched Earth" of the TV Science Fiction series Stargate SG-1, a ship created by extraterrestrials known as the Gadmeer was in the process of 'terraforming' a planet (or rather, adapting it for non-terran life). It contained genetic information from all the life forms of the sulphur-breathing Gadmeer's home planet, all the knowledge of the Gadmeer, and things of cultural importance to the Gadmeer, and was to re-create them once the terraforming process was completed.

* In the animated film "Titan A.E.", during the destruction of Earth by alien invaders, a ship is launched with the DNA of every species on the planet.

* In Vernor Vinge's 1972 short story "Long Shot", the story of an attempt at embryo space colonisation is told from the point of view of the artificial intelligence bearing the embryo through interstellar space.

* The failed MMO Seed revolved around the concept of embryo space colonization.

* In Pamela Sargent's novel "Alien Child" (1988) humanity is extinct except for two children raised by aliens that found a storeroom full of embryos. The storeroom was built before humanity destroyed itself with wars. The children have to decide whether to revive the other embryos or let the human race die completely.

See also

* Embryogenesis

References


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