Last Wednesday, astronomers announced the existence of a planet closely orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. Normally we’d deem that short star to planet distance too close for human comfort but, since the heat output from red dwarfs is much less, this new world, “Proxima b” does reside well within the habitable “Goldilocks” zone.
Even better, educated guessers claim this exoplanet could have terrestrial type surface features… inclusive of liquid water. And, saving the very best for last, this newfound solar system is an astronomical “stones throw”, a “mere” 4.2 light-years (25 trillion miles) away from Earth.
For many of us, who’ve been around long enough, this is a literal fantasy come true.
You see, fifty Septembers ago, CBS launched the weekly Sci-Fi TV series, Lost In Space… the story of the Robinson family (John and Maureen and their teen daughters Judy and Penny and preteen son Will). Maj. West is their pilot… just in case the computerized navigation system crashes.
After these six astronauts are cryogenically frozen into suspended animation, the fully automated, flying saucer shaped Jupiter 2 blasts off… and they embark on their interstellar journey. Their goal is to colonize a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri (which, btw, may or may not be gravitationally bound to Proxima Centauri).
Col./ Dr. Zachary Smith portrays the villainous saboteur who, prelaunch, reprograms the ship’s robot to destroy the spaceship 8 hours into the mission. His bad karma catches up with him when he gets trapped aboard the ship during the final 10 seconds of the countdown. Eventually he has to deal, first hand, with “his” running amok robot. The critically meteor and robot damaged Jupiter 2 then crash lands on an unknown planet… the 7 shipwrecked spacefarers fighting, daily, to stay alive.
The Wednesday evening this Sci-Fi program debuted (09/15/1965), I was 11 years old… a boy totally geeked about the real life NASA space program. However, at that point, not all was going well in my life. I was being relentlessly, verbally and physically assaulted by playground and neighborhood bullies.
To be sure, Lost In Space did afford this long ago, lost in life kid the very escapism he had so desperately needed. Even better, character William Robinson was also an 11 year old. I could readily identify with him because we were both living on hostile planets and constantly facing down monsters… his world and creatures the alien variety… mine terrestrial.
Returning to the here and now…
One component of today’s reality is our compelling thoughts that humankind could someday visit and explore Proxima Centauri’s potentially earth-like planet.
The other component is that terrestrial monsters and bullies (in particular, political sociopaths and narcissists) do continue to exist and they’re rapidly bringing our troubled world to the brink of self-destruction.
All things considered, it would not be too soon for us to start planning some real-time, real-life escapism… to construct an actual, space-worthy Jupiter 2… to select a handful of humans who, as interstellar astronauts, could easily wind up becoming not only colonists of “Proxima b”, but also the soul survivors of planet Earth.