Physicist and visionary venture capitalist Yuri Milner is on a mission to convince as many people as possible that the significance – and survival – of humanity depends on our ability to explore and understand the universe.
“We may be a tiny part of the cosmos, but we are also an extraordinary part,” Milner says in his Eureka Manifesto. “We are significant not because of where we are in the Universe, but because of what we are. Because we have the capacity to explore and understand that Universe, far beyond the bounds of our own little slice of space and time. ”
Milner has backed up his words with action and with money. His Breakthrough Starshot initiative is an R&D program to build tiny laser-driven probes that could travel to Alpha Centauri at a fifth of the speed of light and send photos of planets back. It’s funded to the tune of a cool hundred million dollars. Meanwhile it’s been reported that, inspired by data from NASA’s Cassini probe showing water plumes from Saturn’s moon Enceladus that could hold evidence of life, his Breakthrough initiatives are considering a low-cost, privately funded mission to search for life there.
Details of the spacecraft to be used for this mission have not been disclosed, but it is likely to be small, travel fast, and focus on a single target and a single goal. While American and European probes are turning over rocks on Mars, the Breakthrough mission will be looking for evidence of microbial life dwelling in the deep-sea vents of the moon’s sub-surface ocean.
Milner is not alone, of course, in his ambitions to explore the habitability of outer space. Tesla magnate and SpaceX master Elon Musk have voiced similar ambitions, with a more specific plan to build a human habitation on Mars.
Musk has revealed plans to have astronauts on the Red Planet by 2029. He has a long-standing vision of establishing a city on Mars, a home for one million people that can ensure the continuation of humanity in the event of a catastrophe on Earth.
“If we are able to set up a self-sustaining colony on Mars,” Elon Musk says, “we will have passed one of the great filters for the expansion of the human race. Mastering that technology will set us up for becoming interstellar.”
Musk notes that dinosaurs aren’t still around. There is a need for a backup plan if humanity is to be robust to global catastrophes. Both Musk and Milner agree that the continuation of the human race is not the only reason for creating a new home in space.
Life isn’t just about solving problems, the two visionaries agree. There have to be inspiring things that make your heart beat faster, that give you a reason to bound out of bed in the morning.
Yuri Milner and Elon Musk, of course, are not the only billionaires interested in space travel. In 2021, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson earned their space wings on flights just a few weeks apart. Predictably, both billionaire astronauts have received copious criticism as “self-indulgent” space tourists who could direct their efforts toward critical pursuits on this planet.,
But the reality is that Yuri Milner, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson are all providing the technology for solving some of humanity’s most arduous challenges, from climate change to hunger, war, and disease. A new home for humanity will require people to pull together in ways that could also improve life on planet Earth.