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Here's the Best Way for Humans to Conquer the Galaxy, According to NASA

A team of Chinese researchers has won a NASA competition to design the best-possible method for humans to colonize the galaxy. Their plan for the construction of an interstellar human civilization can be seen in the animation above.

The competition was, at its core, about solving a complicated problem of geometry and route-making using limited resources. NASA asked participants to imagine that, in 10,000 years, human beings have decided all together to set out for the stars. But there's a catch:

"Although technologies and knowledge have dramatically progressed," NASA wrote of this imagined future, "we are still subject to the tyranny of inertia and remain far from the near-instantaneous space travel depicted fancifully in science fiction. However, enormous strides have been made in the ability to live in space, so much so that self-reliant settler vessels can travel through space for hundreds of thousands of generations, making it possible for humans to reach and settle other star systems." [9 Most Intriguing Earth-Like Planets]

Competitors were asked to map out a human expansion under these circumstances from our home solar system at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. A colony vessel (whose route is represented by a line on a map) could head from any one solar system to any other. Once that ship arrived, more vessels could leave that new solar system, fanning out in multiple directions. NASA judged the proposals based on how many systems they reached, how wide an area they covered, and how little energy they expended turning their ships.

This image shows the stars systems the winning team "colonized." (Image credit: NASA)

The winners were a team named NUDT-XSCC, whose members were from the College of Aerospace Science and Engineering at the National University of Defense Technology and State Key Laboratory of Astronautic Dynamics in China. They became the tenth winners of NASA's Global Trajectory Optimisation Competition, and will present a paper on their results in August at the Astrodynamics Specialist Conference in Maine.

Presumably, the question of whether humans should try to take over the galaxy will be left to another conference.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.