For interstellar travel, transmission is much cheaper

English: Transmission antenna

It will always be a lot cheaper to send a radio signal to an interstellar destination than any kind of physical presence.  Our discussion the other day on the difficulties of interstellar travel left me pondering this, something that is well known to astronomers and other thinkers in this area.

Given sufficiently advanced technology, the only thing that needs to physically be sent is a small machine, perhaps microscopically small, that has the knowledge to bootstrap a factory, building first a receiving antenna, then any new machines necessary for exploration or colonization.  It might find the raw materials for this in a local version of our asteroid or Kuiper belt.

“People”, or more accurately copies of their minds, could be transmitted after the fact.  Of course, this presupposes that mind uploading is something that is possible.  If it’s not, then interstellar travel may be something that only belongs to humanity’s machine successors.

It could certainly mean that our machines would precede us, perhaps by centuries or millennia, since they can endure heavier acceleration, more radiation, and decades or centuries long voyages much more hardily than we ever could.

Once established, the cheapest way to “travel” to an interstellar destination would be to be transmitted to it.  That may always be true.

2 thoughts on “For interstellar travel, transmission is much cheaper

  1. This is surely the case. Neil deGrasse Tyson also stipulated that point with regards to the Mars mission. Although Mars One plans to send people to Mars once the funds meet their quota he says that it will always be more efficient and of course exponentially cheaper to continue sending rovers. Of course nothing can beat the human touch and intuition when regarding matter such as these but the logistic issues of interstellar travel are wide and varied and must be dealt with before any real consideration is taken to send humans among the stars.


    1. I think that’s right. We’re exploring the entire solar system…via robot. But we’ve only moved past low earth orbit (200 miles overhead) briefly for symbolic missions to the moon (238,000 miles). Compared to our machines, which have gone hundreds of millions, and billions, of miles, we’ve barely left the nest.


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