I’m presently reading two very interesting books on the future of scientific exploration. I just finished Martin Rees’s From Here to Infinity: A Vision for the Future of Science and I just started Paul Gilster’s Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration. Rees is presently Astronomer Royal of Britain but is more known for his pessimism that humanity has only a 50% chance of surviving the 21st century. (And he claims he’s an optimist…)
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that humanity makes it through the next century. What will the 21st century hold? For perspective, reflect that both relativity and quantum mechanics were young and undergoing development in 1912. Medicine was primitive compared to today’s standards. Electronics was barely on the horizon–the first industrial application of the vacuum tube was the 1915 transcontinental telephone circuit.
What will science look like in the year 2100? Gilster interviewed several scientists who think that we could launch an interstellar probe to reach a nearby star in 50 years or less. There are also projects on tap to analyze the spectra of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. Some proposed projects have the optical baseline to resolve features like continents and mountain ranges on extrasolar planets. Over the next century, we will probably have a sustained research presence on Mars and other targets of interest in our solar system.
I’ll take better than even money that we will discover life in our solar system and beyond by the end of the 21st century.