Young people go to wars without inhibition because they are willing to sacrifice their life for a narrative crafted by society. This phenomenon is depicted vividly in the film “All Quiet on the Western Front” about World War I. As people get older, they become more attached to themselves and their families and have more to lose. The mental and physical baggage they acquired over the years, makes them far more reluctant to sacrifice their life.
My personal evolution was exactly the opposite. I was very focused on staying alive at a young age because I wanted to have the opportunity to fulfil my dreams. By now — as an older person, I have fewer years to lose than the number of years I had already lived, and so I am less worried about death. After all, my body was inherited from my parents like a car acquired from a dealer and so I cannot take pride in its existence since I did not design it. When my parents passed away a few years ago, I realized that we live for such a short time and we better focus on substance rather than the number of “likes” we get from earthlings.
As a result, I am not afraid of taking new risks.
In the longer-term future, I will be delighted to venture into space — if offered this opportunity. I have no fears of dying in space, because that will enable a potentially exciting journey where my body will accidentally be ejected gravitationally by planets in the Solar system, like a baseball kicked “out of the park” in a “home run”, so that it becomes an interstellar object. This will be my final act of contributing personally to “diversity, inclusion and belonging” within the family of interstellar objects from technological civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. In recent years, anomalous near-Earth members of this interstellar family became the focus of my research program and the Galileo Project that I lead.
There are no commercial benefits to leaving the Solar system. But the value of such an endeavor is worth more than money can buy, since it provides the spiritual benefits of exploring the unknown and giving a new meaning to our life. There is no greater privilege than being the first human body to leave the solar system.
Surely, interstellar space is filled with a diverse set of objects. Among them are rogue planets — detected already through gravitational microlensing, interstellar asteroids and comets, as well as technological probes, spacecraft, pieces of broken Dyson spheres and bodies of astronauts with biological or artificial intelligence (AI) — whose space mission ended prematurely. If these astronaut bodies are ultimately ejected by gravitational slingshot from their planetary system, they have a chance of traveling a great distance through interstellar space and colliding with a habitable Earth-like planet far away. In that case, they will burn up in a fireball within the planet’s atmosphere.
As long as the astronauts’ space suits or hardened enclosures are made of unusually tough materials, they might appear just like the first two interstellar meteors which appeared in the Earth’s atmosphere on January 8, 2014 (IM1) and March 9, 2017 (IM2). These meter-sized objects were protected by a material strength tougher than all other 270 meteors in NASA’s CNEOS fireball catalog. Our planned expedition to retrieve the fragments of IM1 will test the possibility that its enclosure was manufactured technologically.
Elon Musk dreams of dying on Mars. I would much rather die in space and have my body carried out to interstellar space, with the hope that billions of years later — its enclosure would disintegrate into fragments in a fireball within the atmosphere of an Earth-like exo-planet. Following this event, I wish that there will be a curious scientist on that exo-planet who will initiate an expedition supported by private donations despite ridicule from academic fellows. And finally, I dream that the scientist will collect a small fraction of my relics from the planet’s surface under the disintegration site, and put them on display in a local museum.
There is no greater honor than being remembered by intelligent members of another species on an exo-planet. If that ever happens, I will rest in peace since my journey through life and death would have been worthwhile, even if it took billions of years to fulfill my dream.
For now, I plan to reciprocate any such honor to an interstellar partner, as long as our mass spectrometer will indicate a technological composition for some of the interstellar spherules that we might collect on the Pacific Ocean floor.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.