If mankind is going to reach for the stars, it is most certainly going to involve some way to travel faster than light speed. A recent post on this very site, reported the fact that certain scientists are considering warp drive as a possibility. I am skeptical of such things but then again I am not a scientist. My thoughts are that this is going to take a while regardless but there two basic schools of thought on how this is going to develop. 1) That we are going to have to colonize our own solar system and that through that colonization we may learn what it is going to take to head to new stars. 2) There are others though that propose that we skip the colonization of our own solar system because the prospects for terraforming, say Mars, are bleak at best. I suppose that there are those that think we need to just do both because we need to do it. These two opinions seem to be the basis though for all the rest. Myself, I take the first route, because I believe mankind has a lot to learn before it can reach to the stars.
Hypothetically, lets take a trip to a star with our goal to colonize a world on it and at the moment of arrival we need to face the problems in doing so. What is going to happen at that moment.
1) Conventional Drive Propulsion: Even to survey such a system to find a suitable world is going to require getting around that system far faster than we have been currently able to get around our own. Even if we send a robot drone to do this, it is going to have to move. Current missions to survey our own solar system have been slow and cumbersome taking years to do. Depending on how we arrive, we may need to survey the system quickly or far in advance. The need to get around a solar system quickly becomes apparent regardless because we can’t take all day finding the place to colonize. We might be able to use our faster than light propulsion for this but there is also a possibility that we may not.
2) Communication: The recent Mars mission highlighted this problem. Even in our own solar system time lag problems can be fatal. Even if we follow a mothership with drone survey ships model, time lag can be difficult to get the colony going right away. Some form of faster than light communication would be helpful, but more than likely we are going to have to deal with time lag and that means problems we are going to have to overcome. I would rather practice this closer to home before we start sliding to other stars.
3) Terraforming: It may be that as we send out robot ships out that we may to find much in the way of worlds we can colonize. There is a real possibility that we may not find something better than Mars. If so, I would rather have how to deal with such a world all worked out before I get there.
Then there are the issues of how we build such a colony ship in the first place. Questions arise: Do we have all the resources we need to do so here on planet earth or are we going to have to exploit other planets and moons in our solar system to have the materials we need? That means at least robot mining colonies to do this. What is the best way and place to build this starship. Building it in space would help, but that means manufacturing technology is going to have to go to no gravity or low gravity environs. The list of questions also includes environmental controls, life support, self sufficient technologies, etc. It is a long list of questions.
The main fact we have to face with this issue is that all we have done is gone to the moon and back and sent robot probes into or local neighborhood. All this qualifies us for is that we have gotten off our belly and are on all fours. We really have not even learned to crawl, let alone walk or run. It may be that there is a giant leap in the near future that will help, but we cannot count on it. In the meantime, questions can be answered by addressing the learning curve we need to face in the local neighborhood of our own solar system. It becomes a great testing ground and nursery to learn to crawl and then walk.
I am hoping to hear the other side on this one, because maybe their objections to this have merit. I am after all not a scientist or engineer. My thoughts are that we may have many barriers to break before we break the speed of light barrier and that to break them we may have to look and experiment in our own back yard first before the stars can be reached. I just don’t think this is going to be like dusting crops; it is far more complicated than what we would like it to be.