Sunday, June 26, 2016

Genetics of Interstellar Migration -- From Science Fiction to Science Fact (as always)

From 2012-2013 I researched and wrote a paper on the genetics of multigenerational human voyaging in interstellar space. The article was published in the International Academy of Astronautics' journal, Acta Astronautica. It is a reference paper for 'worldship' planners, including those at Icarus Interstellar, the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, the Tau Zero Foundation and others. I can't give the paper away, due to copyright issues, but most libraries can get it in one way or another. The highlights and abstract are below; and this is a link to the page where the article will eventually be available on my academia site.

It is quite amazing how, since the first DARPA/NASA interstellar voyaging conference was held (I was happy to be invited to the second conference, in Houston), awareness of exoplanets and the 'interstellar realm' in general have come in science and in the public imagination. I'm thrilled to be contributing in this research field, updating important estimates generated over a generation ago and with quite different overall paradigms regarding ''humans-in-space'', some of which I tackle in my popular-science title, "Emigrating Beyond Earth".

Smith, C.M. 2014. Estimation of a genetically viable population for multigenerational interstellar voyaging: Review and data for project Hyperion. Acta Astronautica Volume 97, April–May 2014, Pages 16–29.

Highlights • I review the literature on human populations for multigenerational interstellar travel. • I find previous estimates might be possible but are risky over multiple generations. • I suggest space voyaging populations on the order of 20,000–40,000. • Other figures can be proposed providing they are safe through multiple generations.


Designing interstellar starships for human migration to exoplanets requires establishing the starship population, which factors into many variables including closed-ecosystem design, architecture, mass and propulsion. I review the central issues of population genetics (effects of mutation, migration, selection and drift) for human populations on such voyages, specifically referencing a roughly 5-generation (c. 150-year) voyage currently in the realm of thought among Icarus Interstellar's Project Hyperion research group. I present several formulae as well as concrete numbers that can be used to help determine populations that could survive such journeys in good health. I find that previously proposed such populations, on the order of a few hundred individuals, are significantly too low to consider based on current understanding of vertebrate (including human) genetics and population dynamics. Population genetics theory, calculations and computer modeling determine that a properly screened and age- and sex-structured total founding population (Nc) of anywhere from roughly 14,000 to 44,000 people would be sufficient to survive such journeys in good health. A safe and well-considered Nc figure is 40,000, an Interstellar Migrant Population (IMP) composed of an Effective Population [Ne] of 23,400 reproductive males and females, the rest being pre- or post-reproductive individuals. This number would maintain good health over five generations despite (a) increased inbreeding resulting from a relatively small human population, (b) depressed genetic diversity due to the founder effect, (c) demographic change through time and (d) expectation of at least one severe population catastrophe over the 5-generation voyage.


Multigenerational space travel; Space genetics; Space colonization; Space settlement

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Special Visitors!

I was lucky to have my Mom and Dad come by recently, they looked over the balloon system I'm building and I hope were convinced of some of its safety features! Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Long Term Space Settlement

From a recent NASA report:

The recommendations set forth in the 2011 National Academy of Sciences Report, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era call for reproductive and developmental biology research within and across generations. The workshop participants uniformly agreed that, prior to embarking on multigenerational studies, individual ‘milestones’ should be met for distinctive reproductive and developmental phases to ensure success across these life stages. As depicted in the ‘Roadmap to Multigenerational Studies’ an intermediary achievement will be a full mammalian life cycle in space, involving successful mating, pregnancy, birth, lactation, suckling, weaning, and postnatal development to adulthood. Work needs to be accomplished, starting now, in each of these areas, especially to close knowledge gaps presented on page 23 of this report. In addition to ground-based efforts, important project milestones could be achieved through a sequence of three validation flights that will also address the specific goals of: (1) Breeding, (2) Birth through Weaning, and (3) Multiple Generations. Multigenerational success is a repeating cycle of necessary milestones. The capstone of these efforts will be the first breeding, birth and development of purely spacegrown mammals opening the door to unique opportunities to investigate the role and influence of gravity on a complex organism, the rodent.

I'm using these excellent guidelines in addressing these structuring stages for long-term space settlement planners, but also adding the important cultural elements of development missing from most space biology studies (at present, that is understandable). This approach will introduce space planners to the world of biocultural evolution, as investigated by the academic field of anthropology. Diagram below is a draft for my book in production, "Principles of Space Anthropology".

Monday, June 13, 2016


My younger brother's abstract paintings are on display this month in Biarritz, France. Exciting and interesting works!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rapid Pressure Suit Progress!

It's taken years, but this PM I sorted out one of the last main fabrication issues and am on the verge of starting to build the main and backup suits that I will actually fly to high altitudes! No time to explain, but it's all working and also this afternoon coordinated the glove/sleeve assembly with various balloon controls, including the blast valve. Second visit to FAA tomorrow AM, things moving quickly!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Books, Books, Books!

Just sent off the final edits to my Atlas of Human Prehistory! Samples are available at this site, where you can mouse over the 'files' control to bring up different samples. Four years' writing and illustrating and it feels great to have it off and in someone else's hands! Cover art for the preliminary edition has been set -- this will be changed for the next edition in 2017.

I've also just sent off final edits to my long-long-long project of the Iceland book, covering my adventures there, and the mind-boggling history of that strange land, spanning 2000-2004. This book will be in e- and hard-copy, published by Great Adventures Press in Los Angeles; the main outlet will be on Amazon. Below, one of many drawings for this book!

And, I am working on my forthcoming Principles of Space Anthropology, a graduate-level text for students of space planning. Below, a diagram I updated today regarding developmental biology and some implications of the altered gravity and chemical environments future populations will encounter in places such as Mars settlements.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mind-Boggling Image of Comet 67-P

My jaw actually dropped when I first saw this stunning image of the 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko comet, as seen by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft. The white flecks are stars, drifting ice & snow grains, and long dashes are cosmic ray strikes on the imager. The image is not from on the surface, but from 20km as the spacecraft dashed by in one of many orbits of the comet. There's a lot to take in, and overall the image reminds me a lot of night diving, with my headlamp illuminating a million specks of debris, swirling like this in the water, and many nights in the Arctic, where wind flings ice crystals that flash and spark in moonlight!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

To Google's SciFoo Camp!

I'm awfully lucky to have been invited to Google's annual SciFoo camp at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA this summer!

Permalink to announcement at Portland State University


May 2, 2016

Dr. Cameron Smith, Anthropology adjunct faculty, has been invited to the Google SciFoo event this summer. Each year, 250 thought leaders from the sciences and arts are invited to the free-form, three-day event at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. Smith was invited for his work in the reinvention of certain space exploration technologies and writings on human space settlement, featuring an anthropological and adaptive approach.

You can find some of my writings on the topic at my PSU Selected Works page.

You can hear about the reinvention of some space exploration technologies in my 2015 TEDx Portland talk.

Below, photo of current work developing a lightweight pressure suit / space suit helmet; you can follow that work with frequent short updates at my twitter account.

You can find out about the larger project at