It's an exciting time to be a space fan. Space tourism is emerging; we're going back to the moon and visiting Mars not much later. Yet scientists are already considering issues associated with even longer voyages.
As long, arduous, and dangerous voyages to our most adjacent neighbors are, traveling to other solar systems is an entirely different endeavor. For humans to travel so far within a reasonable time frame, travel must happen at speeds close to the speed of light. And even then, the "reasonable time frame" is twenty years for the nearest solar system.
This raises two questions: how do you get a spacecraft up to such speeds, and what would happen to a living organism traveling so fast? Two researchers at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Joel Rothman and Philip Lubin, want to perform an experiment that will offer some clarity to these questions.
They want to use lasers, either stationed on earth or the moon, to push spacecraft the size of a human hand at 20-30 percent of the speed of light.
The spacecraft would carry true veterans in space travel, micro animals as Caenorhabditis Elegans (roundworms) and tardigrades, also known as "water bears." These creatures could be stored in suspended animation during the trip and awakened upon reaching their destination, the star Proxima Centauri.
"We can ask how well they remember trained behavior when they’re flying away from their earthly origin at near the speed of light, and examine their metabolism, physiology, neurological function, reproduction, and aging”, professor Joel Rothman explains.
Of course, human travel to other solar systems remains a distant goal. Neither of the two professors believes that it'll happen during their lifetimes. But long-term investments like this are pretty much the epitome of optimism, aren't they?