To boldly go where no man has gone before, and settle there like we own the damn place

Space Colony

Another of the awesome prospects of transhumanism, and one which is primordial to science-fiction, is space colonization. From pitching a tent on the moon, to settling on distant planets and seeding them with our flora, fauna and ideas, space colonization has been a dream of mankind ever since we gazed upon the stars and realized we’re not standing on the only grain of sand there is.

Why would we want to colonize space, exactly?

We’re still pretty comfy and safe down here, well shielded by our planet’s electromagnetic coat, sitting in privileged seats around the sun, enjoying our cocktails and cakes and wasting time worrying about how private our Facebook privacy status really is. Everything’s fine, no? Well, not really. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why we ought to invest more into space colonization:

  • Overpopulation — We’re gonna run all over this planet and trample it into the ground like a herd of hungry cattle, and there’s no morally creditable way to get that under control. Limit procreation by law, and regulate one of the most basic human rights? Or start more wars, and commit mass murder? How about creating a retrovirus that renders people infertile and the go to war with that? No? Thought so. Let’s build spaceships!
  • The degradation of natural resources — And I mean degradation, not exhaustion, we can’t really exhaust natural resources because where one resource ends, another is soon found to replace it, but this cycle of matter to energy to matter will inevitably render mother nature unusable over long periods of time. She needs much longer to heal than we can wait, and we can’t help her without turning more beneficial matter to energy and then to harmful matter. We bad little monkeys.
  • Human nature — We’re nothing if not curious beings, who strive to understand ourselves and the world we live in, and by extension the universe we inhabit and how it is reflected within our souls. We cannot sit still and content on our own asses when there’s a genuine possibility that we’re not alone out here. And apart from being natural explorers, we’re also conquerors. The prospect of new resources, new land, new power? Irresistible.

But how could we get there?

How do we stab a flag into Tau Ceti’s pristine planets, or carve our faces into an asteroid around Sirius?

Building the right starship is only half the problem. The other half that’s holding us back from flinging ourselves at our neighboring star systems, is the fact that homo sapiens is not adapted to life in outer space. Radiation, deteriorating muscle mass, brittle bones and ravaged digestion system, insomnia, inability to focus and even psychosis are just the tips of the ice berg. Not to mention flatulence and bad hair day every day. Our bodies and minds are just too damn frail to make it, so we’d have to come up with feasible ways to travel from point A to point B without wrecking ourselves.

And here, transhumanism comes with plenty of possibilities. From cryogenics to genetic enhancements, from robotic augmentations that turn astronauts into awesome cyborgs, to androids carrying human brains in their transhumanist skulls like fearsome and able receptacles for our mushy gray matter. And when it comes to the ships, we’d have to consider options ranging from O’Neil cylinders and embryo seed ships, to generation ships the size of which would require generations to build and generations to sponsor. Maybe that’s why they’re called generation ships… Anyway.

We could even come up with ways to prolong human life to the extent that a manned interstellar spaceship would not even require several generations to cross the vast expanse of space. And hell, I’m not even gonna nibble at the subject of propulsion systems, where possibility and impossibility intertwine like two slippery eels doing the tango in a jacuzzi filled with relativistic vanilla pudding.

However we cut it, the biggest issue with space colonization isn’t finding a suitable exoplanet (since there are billions of them out there in the universe, AND YOU KNOW IT), but getting there in one piece. It’s not about terraforming the cosmos, but cosmoforming ourselves. We have to embrace the idea—and the reality—that we must accelerate and augment our own evolution if we want to outgrow our own back yard in the solar system and play with the big kids on the block. That’s why transhumanism is a must, not an option.

Okay, it’s an option if the other option is a stupidly benevolent alien race descending upon us, begging us to take their superior technology in exchange for our women. Where do I sign up?

20 Replies to “To boldly go where no man has gone before, and settle there like we own the damn place”

  1. I don’t think humans will ever colonize other planets to a significant degree.
    The problems you bring up have much easier solutions than flying everyone to another planet. Overpopulation is one problem that seems to be solving itself. Given access to birth control and a reasonable guarantee that most children will live to adulthood most people seem to settle for less kids, without any forced sterilisation programs.
    The depletion of natural resources could be dealt with in a number of ways other than colonizing other planets. For example robot spacecraft could retrieve asteroids containing any basic elements we need and nuclear and solar power could easily provide all our energy. This is all a bit far-future but it’s a lot more achievable than spaceflight.
    Simple human nature, rather than any real need, I agree is likely to be the main driver of any sort of colonization. But even human nature has its limits and even the greatest adventuring spirit might have second thoughts before embarking on a journey only her grandchildren will see the end of.
    As for cryogenics or human brains with android bodies I think we’re still a very long way off. And when we do have the technology to shape our bodies and minds however we like I don’t think what will result will be something that could still be called human. The first sentient being from Earth to walk on an extrasolar planet will be further removed from humanity as we are from the first troupe of apes to walk on the savannah.

    As a side note I love the phrase-“It’s not about terraforming the cosmos, but cosmoforming ourselves”. It reminds me of the old biblical saying “It is easier to wear slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth”. If humans or our descendant species are ever going to colonise other planets this will be how.

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    1. Thanks for the smart comment, Jennifer. Got my wheels turning. 🙂

      That’s exactly the point of my post, if we were to colonize space, we’d have to first upgrade ourselves. While no one can truly tell if we’re ever going to colonize space or not, the reasons for doing so will likely be a combination of those I mentioned.

      As to population growth—birth rate varies greatly between countries. While developed countries show a decrease in birth rate, developing and underdeveloped countries continue to display an increasing birth rate. Prolonged life expectancy, the curing of diseases and prevention of death for infants and children, the continuous improvement of food processing technologies, and the continuously decreasing probability of large scale warfare, will likely factor into an overall increasing birth rate. Which means global population growth will likely not decrease significantly in the foreseeable future. Of course, an asteroid could always crash into Earth and that would solve the issue.

      The problem of natural resources doesn’t so much lie with energy sources for our machines, but with energy sources for ourselves. There is only so much agricultural land on Earth, and the development of alternate means of growing food (hydroponics, garden sky-scrapers, etc.) is tightly tied to economical feasibility. Earth has enough resources to feed humanity even if we keep multiplying at high rates, but it’s not profitable enough to spread the food equally. (As an example, fast food chains in western countries throw tons of edible food away each day, while entire countries starve elsewhere.) Which says a lot about our priorities, but hey, it is how it is. Retrieving resources from space will only solve part of this problem, and it will only do so if it’s economically feasible. Which it very likely won’t be. It’s probably gonna be a lot cheaper to ship out people than bring in a celestial body.

      Although, it’s quite possible that a new way to harvest energy will revolutionize global economy so thoroughly, that no current prediction will be worth much, neither in terms of population growth, nor in terms of environmental damage.

      When technology and time will alter our bodies, our biology, our very identity, we will simply be neo humans, trans humans, post humans — but the relation to our homo sapiens ancestors will still exist. And just like we don’t mourn the long-gone Australopithecus, our descendants won’t mourn homo sapiens.

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  2. I vote embryo seed ships… when you consider the problems of mass/speed and time/distance, that’s the only practical way to colonize other stars. Perhaps with a small manned crew or AI, but I can’t see cruise liners among the stars 🙂

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    1. Although there will probably be a couple cruise liners for the nostalgics and sight-seers among us. I bet enough people would volunteer to go on a generation ship, especially if the thing’s better furnished than their current home. 😉

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  3. You suggest there’s no morally credible way we could control human population on the scale needed. It’s more than likely that we’ll face a similar moral dilemna in how we choose who gets to leave a seriously ravaged planet.

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  4. Getting humans settled into space seems like an impossible task…but…right now hundreds of ingenious minds are applying themselves to the problem and coming up with creative solutions.

    Scientists of his time told my father that humans could never leave Earth because of the escape velocity needed. Then, they came up with solid rocket fuel and went to the moon.

    The task is daunting and transhumanism may play a large role, but humans need to explore and get all our eggs out of one basket.

    Besides, it’s just human nature to be curious and “go where no man has gone before.”

    Posting at: http://www.scifibookreview.com

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    1. Yep. Human history is full of daring adventures and conquests that were done against all odds, and achieved against all previous predictions. I think the same will be the case with space colonization, and who knows what else. 😉

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  5. As someone who ends to always focus on the bleaker side of possibility, I have no trouble whatsoever in conceiving of the moment when we have to abandon our poor beleaguered planet because we’ll have stripped and squandered its resources and rendered it uninhabitable through global warming, nuclear war and bioterrorist mayhem.

    However, even if the optimists win the day on this one, which I fervently hope they do, if scientists find a way via transhumanism or any other means to whisk pioneers off to settle the cosmos, then colonization will happen, regardless of the expense or complexity. It’s kinda what people do, isn’t it?

    I love the thinkiness of this post and the comments that have resulted. Best read of the day, Vero!

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  6. One of the more imaginative stories of traveling to our nearest planetary neighbor was written by Mary Doria Russell, “The Sparrow”. The story used an abandoned asteroid mine fitted with fusion engines that fed from the asteroid itself and achieved light speed. Two issues came to mind, gravity and Einstein. Gravity is obvious, without it, we turn to boneless humans (a bit extreme, but we get the picture). It took four years to reach the planet, but 17 years in earth time (so much for efficient round tripping).

    Another great post, Vero. If I was to pick one cure to keep the planet intact for human habitation, it’s population. Of course, one good caldera losing its pressure seals, or a well-timed asteroid, would make all of it moot.

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    1. Indeed, a natural catastrophe would be an even more compelling reason to tackle space colonization… even if we’d have to unlearn the way we see distance and time.

      Thanks for the comment, DT!

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  7. Our bodies aren’t really meant for long term space travel. So something would have to change there for sure.

    I think some form of it is not only possible, but inevitable. It’s in our blood to venture out and explore.

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  8. Speaking of overpopulation, have you ever read Asimov’s ”The Last Question”? Or any of his work in fact. He was the autor that conviced me that technology could become a very positive force in the world.

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