Had we inhabited the universe of science-fiction, by now, humankind would’ve traveled beyond our solar system. Had, for instance, Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) saga come to pass, we’d have been to Jupiter and back.
Sadly, however, reality, hasn’t kept up with the warp speed of imagination. We haven’t been able to return to our cosmic backyard for a closer inspection, let alone fly to the Jovian giant.
But there’s encouraging development looming on the horizon. A $600 million spacecraft-bound observatory named Kepler has been put in orbit to “conduct a kind of Gallup poll of worlds in the cosmos,” to detect the presence of any Earth-like planets out there.
But don’t get excited just yet. It could be some time before we could pack our bags and migrate to those alien worlds.
Right now, humans cannot even summon the money or political will to get back to the Moon, let alone set sail for another star. It would take 300,000 years for Voyager 1, now on the way out of the solar system at 39,000 miles per hour, to travel the 20 light-years (or 120 trillion miles) to Gliese 581, one of the nearest planetary systems; Kepler’s planets are from 500 to 3,000 light-years away.