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Into the Void: Changing Humanity’s Face

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.

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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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Adam September 16, 2006, 19:16

    The asteroid Belt fast-food services made me smile, one of the tongue-in-cheek ways of saying ‘services’ in a general way. The Belt piracy idea is an old one – for example, Isaac Asimov’s second ‘Lucky Starr’ novel was “Pirates of the Asteroids” – but as Jerry Pournelle pointed out years ago the Belt will be centrally oriented, towards the Inner Planets, because the trip times are usually huge between the ‘roids. The Galilean moons are more likely to develop into an intercommunicating community because they’re pretty close together in so many ways. The only dampener is the nasty radiation belts that Jupiter hugs so close to itself. But any in-space civilisation will already be fending off much nastier cosmic rays, so it will be a solved problem by then.

    Modified humans might be a bit much for most grounders and thus the space adapted will definitely be outcasts or exiles from the mainstream. In that respect I suspect Marc’s discussion is probably right on the money.

  • Administrator September 16, 2006, 19:41

    Those Lucky Starr novels were fun, weren’t they? And reminiscing about them brought back Carey Rockwell’s On the Trail of the Space Pirates, in the Tom Corbett series from Grosset & Dunlap:

    http://www.solarguard.com/tcgd1a.htm

    I read most of the Corbett series back in the 1950s. Wow, what fond memories…

  • Kurt September 17, 2006, 6:41

    The idea of using biotech and nanotech to improve one’s mind and body is known as transhumanism. Space settlement and transhumanism go hand in hand. Indeed, it is arguable that space settlement is not possible without transhumanism. Likewise, space is the frontier that allows those of us of tranhumanist persuation to get free of the reactionary governments and cultures of earth who insist on restricting our freedoms and creativity.

    Assuming that concepts such as the Heim hyperdrive and the like are not possible, the human future is in orbital habitats, not planetary surfaces. In fact, there are only three other “planets” that people could live on in our solar system: Luna, Mars, and Triton. That’s not a frontier. On the other hand, the entire asteroid and kuiper belts provide the resources to build habitats with a total land area of tens of thousands of that of the earth. Now that’s what I call a frontier!

    Needless to say, “transhumans” are going to have the advantage over natural humans when it comes to living in space. Zero-g adaptation, radiation hardening, ability to live in greater temperature ranges are some of the characteristics that tranhumans will redesign themselves for in order to live comfortably and happily in space.

    Also consider that the “transhuman” technologies such as biotech and nanotech are following a “moore’s law” like progression due to the relatively low capital cost involved in these technologies, compared to space technology. It would be reasonable to assume that these technologies will reach their fruition before we begin large scale migration into space.

    All of the pro-space people I know personally are transhumanists. Especially many of those who helped founded and were active in the now-defunct L-5 Society. Indeed, it was my joinging of L-5 Society that led to my involvement in cryonics and radical life-extension. Given the slow progress towards space development, it is reasonable to say that any of us who are active adults today will need to benefit from advances in anti-aging medical technology (such as SENS) in order to have any chance of making it into space.

    Now, we could get lucky. Heim drive may turn out to be correct and lead to that hyperdrive. Or maybe someone (like the boys in Texas) develops wormholes. In which case, we can have at all of those habitable planets that you guys are are trying to find. In which case, natural humans in current bodies have a frontier to live for within a reasonable time period.

    Even though I hope for the second, my betting is the first turns out correct. In either case, I still want to become transhuman. The only questions is where I get to do it and where I can go from there.

  • Eric James September 17, 2006, 18:13

    How long until the space colonists begin to realize they’re living in prisons of their own design? How long until they realize there’s not a stream, a meadow, a forest, a sea, or simply a warm breeze to greet them?

    I think the technology is neat, but I wouldn’t want to live there!

  • Adam September 17, 2006, 21:37

    Hi Eric

    Space is filled with energy and a light drizzle of micrometeorites – perhaps the space-adapted would find it as ‘natural’ as we find a stroll in a forest?

    Adam

  • Tibor September 19, 2006, 16:57

    Maybe some of you have read “City”, the wonderful story by Clifford D. Simak from 1952. This is a very poetic treatment of transhumanism (probably not known under this name in those times), among other ideas – check out for Chapter V, The Paradise.

  • Adam September 25, 2006, 18:45

    Hi Tibor

    That was a clever story. Life on Jupiter is so alluring the whole human race emigrates and ‘transmorphs’ into Jovians. I particularly liked how the first explorer’s dog becomes intelligent through the process.

    Transhumanism is often assumed in many discussions of space-adaptation without being named as such. Brian Stableford & David Langford’s future-history “The Third Millennium” has new human species adapted to space and the oceans in the 26th Century, via mere genetic engineering. Cyborg plug-ins had been a craze in the 2400s, though just a passing fad. I guess genetic engineering of humans would be more permanent and less likely to be a fad.

    I’m not so keen on transhumanism for its own sake. The temptation for a particularly deranged individual to become a ‘selfish replicator’ would be a generic and annoying feature of virtual environments, for example. David Zindell’s “Neverness” series featured a rather exaggerated version when the antagonist attempts to turn the Universe into Jupiter Brains running a version of himself.