by Marc Millis
Apropos of our recent discussion of species differentiation and what may happen when humans spread into the Solar System and beyond, Marc Millis forwarded a whimsical piece he wrote for Aerospace Frontiers, the internal news publication of NASA Glenn Research Center. The item ran in August of 2000 and makes for an enjoyable weekend diversion.
From the Author: The visions presented here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASA Glenn, “Aerospace Frontiers,” or even the author himself. What this story does represent, however, is a light-hearted glimpse of an unintended turn of events. History itself is a collection of unplanned twists and turns, so our visions of the future should prepare us for more of the same. Prepare yourself.
It finally happened. Access to space became cheap enough so that the average “Joe” and “Joanne” could venture beyond the bounds of Earth, and long-duration space habitats became robust enough to provide reliable places to live once they got up there. We truly became a “spacefaring” civilization. The face of humanity changed.
It didn’t quite evolve as expected. Sure, we finally made that grand observatory and hotel on the Moon, had a multinational colonization of Mars that made the International Space Station pale in comparison, and even sent out interstellar probes. But after the novelty of Moon vacations and zero-g sex wore off (space sickness really put a damper on those romantic weekend getaways), the humanism of space took on a more human course of events.
As it turned out, it wasn’t the average Joes and Joannes who went out in search of adventure. Instead, it started with hordes of self-proclaimed misfits that finally escaped the bounds of Earth — specifically escaping the oppression of the authority figures that had the audacity to expect them to obey laws and social norms. Individuals and clusters of subcultures set up residency in space to create their own little worlds on whatever piece on non-Earth territory they could find. Asteroids became the favorite homesteading choice for these escapists. Mars and the Moon had too much of that old Earth-culture to be attractive. Religious cults, hate-mongers, and ultra-geeks each claimed their piece of a rock. In isolation, their cultural diversity blossomed.
Enter stage two. Medical needs and simple cravings drove these escapists to invite the mainstream humans out to service them. Roving med-service and fast food space ships made weekly runs across the asteroid belt. And this created another shift. Although space habitats were built to be self-sufficient (which meant they didn’t need further investment once purchased) junk food and medical help cost money. Now the escapists needed jobs. Some, like the ultra-geeks, had no trouble pulling in finances over the Internet with their intellectual services, but other groups turned to some of the oldest professions including, among other things, piracy.
Space pirates evoked the need for space patrols. This meant that those old authority figures were back again, but now they were the outsiders. Skirmishes broke out like dogs barking at night. And it wasn’t just the escapists versus the conventionalists. The inherent diversity of the various escapists combined with their human instincts for territorialism, led to battles amongst the groups. With zeal akin to religious righteousness, the cries went out: “My way is the right way – convert or die!”
Meanwhile, as these “cultural exchanges” ran their course, another technology infusion made a dramatic impact. Drawing on genetic engineering and biomechanical technology, it became chic to “reinvent yourself.” The ultra-geeks now had the resources and will to modify their own bodies to be better suited to their new space environment:
rad hard, micro-g adapted, power boosted, and so forth. Some even went as far as to mutate themselves into having insect-like exoskeletons to endure the space vacuum, complete with eyes in the back of their heads and appendages armed with automatic targeting weapons. Even though life on Earth remained pretty much the same, this engineered biodiversity flourished in space beyond terrestrial imagination.
Survival of the fittest eventually ran its course. What remained to dominate the space frontier no longer looked quite human, but still retained all the instincts for territorial and conquest of their human origins. The face of humanity had literally changed.