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People living in space puts us, the human species, into a new ecological niche. As we do this, we can expect some surprises along the way. Birds that live in the wild are different from their cousins in the barnyard. Watch some fish that seem entirely comfortable in their environment, and think about how they might get along in a different environment. Humans in space will become different from humans who remain here on Terra, and right now is not too early to be thinking what those differences could be. And about when those differences will ...make a difference.
I expect the differences to be already significant before anyone goes out to live in space. We will see this in the long-term analog settlements we must try as we learn how to live in a space environment. In fact, I expect the people who first go out to live in the first off-Terra settlement, will already have demonstrated a strong likelihood that they can do it by living several years in an analog settlement.
As I write, I have not yet seen anyone working on this topic of the culture of later human generations living in space. I expect to. It is because the difficult effort to build and place those first settlements, will require it.
Hardware built to go into space faces the challenge that very many people working together must design good hardware. In fact, this is a difficult challenge. Us humans don't seem to be very good at choosing between complexification and appropriate useful design.
For example, look at machines of all sorts that were built within the wartime constraints of WW2. At aircraft and ships; at cars and trucks and buildings. Restraints of time and materials urged the designers to simplicity, relevance, and effectiveness. There is a sparse beauty to those designs which is lost in modern practice, pushed out by an overblown complexity.
Since WW2, design practice has changed. Earlier in Adra I mentioned the old W20 Radiation Laboratory building at MIT which was replaced by ...well, a very different kind of building. In (popular) computer technology one sees the transition from efficient command-line control in computer systems like MIT's ITS and unix to today's "Graphical User Interface" (which gave Microsoft an opportunity for vendor lockin and DRM additions, and they took it).
(The character of their operating systems is why there is no place in critical space systems for Microsoft.)
In space, our designers and engineers will be forced to seek elegant and simple design again, under much harder constraints than seen by WW2 engineers. Some of the machinery must be designed for maintenance by people in spacesuits working through pressurized gloves. Our business and cultural tendency to complexification cannot go into space. It's too dangerous; too heavy; too hard to use; too unreliable. The hardware that goes into space; the hardware that is made here to serve there, must be the simplest possible and most robust possible that anyone knows how to make.
We make space ours by living there. That's simple enough. We need no supernatural permissions nor interventions to do this: it's straightforward technology. Reasons to do it are compelling enough; the central issues are matters of detail, and that's where the difficulties begin to come in. If we tackle those difficulties directly, they will immediately become smaller and more manageable: we know that, don't we? We know the first most central step to doing something is to say what our objective is, then start working at it.
The key to progress is settlements, not indefinitely extended "exploration," which is better done from out in space anyway.
We go about getting into space by putting out viable settlements and by putting out a human economic and business network. Because space is harder than Plymouth or Jamestown or (back in history) Europe and England, we must do this with a little more foresight than served humans here on Terra a few centuries ago. That is what the analog settlements and gaming I've mentioned earlier are all about (if you arrived here in the middle of things and haven't read earlier Adra pages yet)
After all the work that I have outlined above, one opportunity remains for a really serious error. It is, to send out just one settlement and then, wait for something good to happen. The initial project to send out the first settlements will operate under severe time, money, and regulation limits. Such limits will encourage a minimalistic approach to the work: beware too minimalistic. The perceived need to send out just one settlement, will be intense.
That's too risky, and over the longer run, it fails the most basic reality test.
Just as a finger held close to the eye blocks a large visual field, thinking about a single settlement hides the basic that we are up to something here that is very much larger than that. The topic is the emergence of our human species out of our local Terran environment and into the far larger and different environment around our Sol. (A prelude, hopefully, to our reaching much farther out than that.)
Just one settlement somewhere Out There won't do it. That's too small and in view of the hard space environment, too risky. We need to put out several Settlements, and a whole business, economic, and scientific culture. It is, after all, what we're really up to, isn't it? In the hard environment of space, the central elements of these Settlements will be highly interactive -- and highly supportive, each one of all the others. If we don't get that right to start, we risk not getting it at all. Failure. For which reason, "Settlement" is a wrong term: the reality requires the plural, "Settlements", right from the start.
In his The Case for Mars, Robert Zubrin describes a plan for sending out consecutive Settlements to Mars that he places within travel distance, one from another. His purpose is to plan against some failure of the travel machinery. Such planning is necessary, but I think Zubrin's recognition of need (when he wrote The Case for Mars), does not go far enough.
The future is as close as today's next minute. "Today is the end of the world as we know it." The future is change. It is change that we create ourselves in our busy human world. It is change that happens in our universe, which we don't understand yet. In the past, both varieties of change have included very unwelcome elements. They will again. These two varieties of change relate only marginally, one to the other.
What will we become, all of us presently here on Terra? I'd like to feel our grandchildren and later descendants will see a much better world here than exists today. It's possible in concept. However, I can't feel optimistic concerning what will develop here on Terra in reality. It gives me a sense we need an independent alternate branch. We need settlements and a business ecology in space, able to survive over long time separately from whatever happens on Terra. Will it happen? Soon enough? Time will tell.
What will our universe bring to us, here on Terra? I'd like to see a peaceful universe that allows us humans to develop our potentials, and no interference from outside. That's a dream. We know today that about 96% of this universe we are in is different stuff from the baryonic matter that is ourselves. We know there are objects moving out there that could pass through our own Terra or through our Sol as if these were a thin gas. (There is reason to believe that on a tiny scale, something like this happened recently.) And that there are less exotic objects -- Near Earth Orbiting asteroids -- that might drop in from some unexpected direction, at several miles per second, to accomplish the same general effect locally as many megatons of TNT. Might this actually happen, someday? Yes: we can depend on it. When? Time will tell.
Finally, we can see the risk of religious ideologists and of opportunists of various kinds. A sort of fulminating ignorance, and worse, empowered by technology anyone can buy who has the money. These are people who imagine, for instance, that if our Terran culture were devastated, then it would magically reconstitute itself as a utopia. This would be an unwelcome experiment. What would come of it? I hope we never come to this, but if we do -- Time will tell.
The key element for these possibilities, and for all imaginable others, is Time. We do not know how little or how much remains to us. Is it minutes now? Then we're lost. Is it millennia? Nice, but unlikely. In any case, Time is the wrong thing to be thinking about. If we use it, if we abuse it, that's all the same to Time. Our topic wants to be:
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