Monday, July 7, 2014

Three Ages to the Stars - And Step By Step

Was the Renaissance built in a day? It was real, it happened, but historians all recognize that nobody can identify its precise 'beginning'. Many such 'transformations' are fuzzy in nature, but just as a star cluster (above, M92) is fuzzy, it is also real. And so how do you make reality of something as fuzzy as a vision of human exploration of the universe beyond our home planet? By pieces, tiny puzzle pieces, like the accumulation of scientific knowledge, or the maturation of an artist.

My bits of the puzzle are in trying to innovate in the realm of pressure garments for space exploration, currently arranging some consulting work for SpaceX, and in writing about 'humans-in-space' for the general public.

Below, a snippet from an item soon to appear in the Swedish cultural journal Glänta.

Three Ages to the Stars

(c) 2014 by Cameron M. Smith

The Western intellectual tradition has a long history of dividing time into threes, with beginnings, middles and endings. This approach has its uses, and could be very helpful in imagining and planning for interstellar voyages. For example, we can be sure that both biologically and culturally, the first migrants from Earth will have close connections with Earth—even as they speed away from it—and will have little to do with the ultimate destination, an exoplanet some generations ‘away’ in the future. Biologically and culturally, these early migrants will be Earth-centric and Earth-conditioned. Midway, however, populations and the general culture will be separated from its origin on Earth as well as from the destination, so that culturally and psychologically they might be quite unique in the human experience; they will have no planet, for instance. Towards the end, though, as the starship closes in on the target exoplanet, people will think again about life on planets, and may even resurrect cultural histories of the settlement of different regions of the Earth, such as the high Arctic, many thousands of years ago. These settlers will be genetically several generations separate from Earth, but culturally recycling some of our earliest methods of exploration and adaptation. The fate of these settlers will be conditioned by their biological and cultural adaptability, as it is for all living things exposed to new environments.

The prospect of interstellar voyaging to spread and preserve humanity and civilization is too great a leap for some to make; they call it ‘pie in the sky’, ‘irresponsible dreaming’, ‘escapism’ and plenty else. My anthropological perspective suggests these are all pessimistic critiques from people lacking in creativity or foresight—or even the hindsight that reveals the ruins and lessons of all the ancient civilizations. I am thrilled to be working with Icarus Interstellar to slowly assemble the puzzle pieces required to provide the breathtaking option of long-term space settlement for humanity over the next 100 years.

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