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When Will We Move to Another Planet? 'Cosmos: Possible Worlds' Offers Options
March 9, 2020  | By David Hinckley

Debate the feasibility of large-scale intergalactic space travel all you want.

On National Geographic's new season of Cosmos: Possible Worlds, which premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET, mass migration to other planets is settled science.

The 13-episode third season of Cosmos, whose lineage runs back to the classic Carl Sagan programs, continues its foundational policy of exploring big ideas. The biggest one this time, or at least the one that gets the most attention, involves humans relocating to an amenable planet elsewhere in the solar system.

We would do that, host Neil DeGrasse Tyson suggests, because we are hard-wired always to seek what is "out there."

Tyson likens Alpha Centauri, the planet identified here as the most likely new Earth, to the Western frontier of early America, or the Americas themselves to European sailors of a few centuries earlier.

Once we have the logistical means to check something out, says Tyson, we will.

Right now, he says, we are much closer to having interplanetary exploration capacity than many civilians might think. By the end of this century, he declares, we will be boarding the conveyances that will carry us there.

As anyone who has seen his many programs over the years knows, beyond a doubt, Tyson may be Earth's single most enthusiastic cheerleader for this sort of futurism. Beneath the cool confidence of a scientist, he still exudes the giddy excitement of a little kid when he starts talking about this stuff.

He also tries hard to simmer the science down to terms that civilians can understand. The physics of rocket science can quickly take non-scientists into the weeds, so Tyson tries to float above.

That means he sticks to the basics like what kind of carrier could cover the distance of several light-years from Earth to Alpha Centauri.

Here's a clue: They're called nanocraft, they travel in packs, and they will race through space at 20% of the speed of light, which will get them to their destination in about 20 years.

The whole operation is called Project Starshot.

It's not entirely unlike the space missions in science fiction programs except Tyson assures us this is real.

There is a reason Tyson also spends considerable time giving us broader background information on the Earth and the universe itself, which scientists now estimate is about 13.8 billion years old.

Over that time, Tyson notes, Earth alone has gone through multiple life cycles.

Plants, for instance, were propagated for hundreds of thousands of years only by the random currents of the wind, sending pollen from one plant to another.

Then insects appeared, and the golden age of pollination began. Bees and plants have had a beautiful synergistic relationship for millennia, Tyson notes, right up to the present when human encroachment and pollution have been drastically reducing the bee population.

Therein lies the dark side of the otherwise exciting futurism in Cosmos. We aren't thinking about other planets just before we want to expand our turf or demystify the unknown. We're thinking about them because if we keep trashing the Earth, we may have to.

Cosmos illustrates its historical and futuristic vignettes with some pretty cool animation – a big upgrade from the sometimes wooden re-enactments often seen in productions like this.

Tyson does much of his narration on-camera, in scenic locations that allow Nat Geo to do what it has always done best: make the natural world look breathtaking.

It's hard to imagine, in fact, that another world could match this one. But that's precisely the kind of imagining that Cosmos practically commands us to do.

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