Our best example from nature (observed environment), in this case space. Of a practical body of matter that travels through the medium of space is a planetary body. In a very short period of our history the human race has set its collective mind to the task of escaping our planets gravity well and exploring space. Our spacecraft designs are built with the specific function of escaping our planets gravity well. Chemical rockets, in the absence of technological breakthrough for other means of propulsion remain the most economical method for us to accomplish this task.
Of more interest to me is the approach to designing spacecraft that “do not have to be lifted” into space. For the purpose of this hypothetical argument I wish to explore notions of spacecraft designs that could be built in the Medium of space, that would serve our race as a medium of travel without the need to utilize chemical materials.
More so I would like to propose a spacecraft that also is viable vehicle for supporting biological life. Namely humans.
The last 50 years of human space exploration have moved towards using autonomous probes for spaceflight because, frankly space is a hostile environment for biological life. Human beings are not capable of surviving extended periods in space. We are susceptible to radiation, need gravity, fluids and sustenance. Our biology is a symbiosis with our biosphere. We survive because our biosphere affords us with several key elements that make survival possible.
1: A magnetosphere (protection from space environment)
2: Water, (and by extension atmosphere and Oxygen)
3: Gravity, (our bodies are not designed for zero gravity)
4: A self sustaining biological system for food, oxygen and psychological sustainability.
It is my contention that for Human space faring culture to develop a spacecraft will need to incorporate these four essential components as part of its design.
Science and technology, even fiction (by extension imagination) in popular culture today have a rather skewed approach to spacecraft designs. Science uses available (mechanical) technology to design (pressurized) boxes that can sustain human biology in space for short periods. Even science fiction assumes (as yet uninvented) hypothesis from the current state of understanding in Astrophysics and Physics and then puts a human compatible environment into a spacecraft design that is neither homogeneous nor inspiring. Our imagination leaps by extension of our (mechanical design) towards shapes and accommodation in space that is bereft of the Nature that has created and sustains us.
Human imagination in the modern age is a fermenting of science and technology that tries to leap beyond nature. It is no surprise that we are inspired and perhaps a little blinded by the success of our own technology. Our imagination however is self fulfilling. In science (fiction) we fulfill our desire to explore new horizons in space within the (short) tenuous lifespans our biology affords us.
Thereby striving for designs in technology that accomplish space travel within the meagre bounds of an individuals existence. By extension of our imagination, science applies technology to spacecraft that tries to fulfill this motivation.
In the (very short) period of time that humanity has reached out beyond our gravity well, there has been little time for a (consolidation) of facts about the reality of space exploration. This is driven by our (continuing) lack of understanding about the nature of matter and the universe at large. We continue to learn, and the exploration of space is a fundamental step towards greater knowledge. However for humanity to take a greater leap into sustainable survival in space our vision for the future needs re adjustment.
Social and cultural schisms prevent us from undertaking bold measures. The very first step in creating a sustainable space faring culture has to address our own biology. We are precious about our own physiques. The fact of the matter is that no matter how advanced our technology becomes, we can never re-create a perfect anagram of our biosphere in space. Although it is my conjecture that our (future spaceships should in fact try to). The fact of the matter is that any prolonged exposure to space will change our biology. As living evolving organisms we are the products of the environment that sustains us. If we can overcome some truisms on this matter, the first step should be to have a entire generation of humans live in space. I’m talking children being conceived, born and raised in Zero or low gravity.
Identifying the problems that will arise and using the best technology’s available to us to assist a new (tribe) of humanity to survive and flourish in such an environment should be of the highest priority. Flourish is a key concept for me. For human beings to flourish outside of our biosphere we have to create an environment that is a child of our planet. Our future spacecraft thus need to be anagrams for our biosphere. Psychologically for a space faring culture to develop we will need key elements of nature to sustain and provide sustenance for our new tribe. The very first step in creating a sustainable space faring culture has to address our own biology. As living evolving organisms we are the products of the environment that sustains us. If we can overcome some truisms on this matter, the first step should be to have an entire generation of humans live in space.
If humans are to ascend beyond earths gravity well there will be physiological changes that will create another species of human, or perhaps a multitude. Going to space should aim from the outset to utilise bio-technology to augment and adapt human physiology for intended environments. It is highly likely that at our present rate of advancement in this field, technological augmentation will improve the human biology here on earth long before we make serious strides towards space habitats. So the moral objections to such changes will have been mitigated by future social perception.
As a commercial venture, our outposts key goals will also differ from a purely altruistic scientific view. The structures we build should aim towards (aesthetic) as well as practical considerations.
Human society is at its best when free to exercise choice. The best aim for a space society is to create an attraction that will invite free choice.
OK, while this is still partly conjecture while we work out an affordable technology to put lots of people into space, within 50 or more years it is highly likely that it will be possible. What is more ambiguous is what we hope to achieve in space when it is possible. The future human, allowing technological change keeps progressing, will be longer lived. This in itself has consequences on the very idea of space travel. The quality of the experience will matter more. The designs and ideas we generate are a product of our environment, thus our best designs will evolve from research conducted in space.
Our desire to make our lives remarkable and comfortable in tandem with pursuing our goals through commitment to such projects needs to find a balance. A social order that embraces a balance between the needs of a habitat and of the individual are fundamental necessities. This is often a fertile ground for fiction, for we imagine dystopian to military regimes controlling populations. However this idiom if fallible, modern city states already function very well on earth, humans (choose) to live in these states. Fundamentally the genesis of a future social contract is already evolving in the city states we inhabit. This is both a consequence and logical adaptation to survival in response to the given technology available to us.
Sustainability is a key concept, our rise to technological progress has not been kind to the world we live on. If we are to survive here on earth, we will need to incorporate a contract with nature. Bio-technology will be a key aspect of sustainable living here on earth and in a space habitat. By the time a space habitat can be realized the social order that will need to function in space will already be a part of daily life on earth. Perhaps importantly an undertaking by the human race to build space habitats can be a catalyst for change on earth as the research undertaken benefits humanity on earth as well.
If we are bound to real time travel through space we must consider that it occurs on timescales beyond the survival of any one generation or ultimately, evolutionary path. Humanities progress to space, as impatient as any generation is, sadly for us will occur at a generational level. While this often makes the idea fallible to personal self interest, humanity is capable of long term vision.
We have inherited a solar system rich with energy and materials. While its still possible that some future advancement will offer us enabling technology to travel to other stars there is no real impediment to travel within our own solar system. Our adolescent playpen is large and relatively accessible, at some stage its likely that we will populate this. Perhaps even essential for our species to develop. Not only for us but the biota of earth.
Keep in mind that human bodies are a symbiosis and an ecosystem to a huge variety of highly complex conglomerations of human cells, bacteria, fungi and viruses. An animal can best be described as a “superorganism” Our bodies are not our own, Specifically, the human genome does not carry enough information on its own to determine key elements of our own biology.
When humans go to live on another planet, the 500 odd different species of bacteria will travel with us. Wherever we go in our meat bodies we will spread the biota of earth. To survive the trip we will need the soup of life that sustains us on earth. Our spaceships need to be organic hybrids with us existing in a symbiosis of a larger super-organism. For human beings to flourish outside of our biosphere we have to create an environment that is appealing as well as practical.. Our future spacecraft thus need to be anagrams of our biosphere. Psychologically for a space faring culture to develop we will need key elements of nature to sustain and provide sustenance for our new tribe.
Thus many present objections to the “contamination” of other planets by earth microbes is somewhat honorable and altruistic but also ultimately fallible. When we go to these moons and planets, we will be as a traveling sack of earth biota. Life will spread. Our obvious fear is that any indigenous life may be threatened, however so far we have not detected any sign of such. Its wonderful that, as a race we are conscientious enough to first check if any such indigenous life exists, however if none does, We should bio-engineer earth biomass to seed these worlds and do so with enthusiasm and vigor.