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Toward a Space-based Anthropology

Cameron Smith is no stranger to these pages, having examined the role of evolution in human expansion into space (see Biological Evolution in Interstellar Human Migration), cultural changes on interstellar journeys (Human Universals and Cultural Evolution on Interstellar Voyages), as well as the composition of worldship crews (Optimal Worldship Populations). An anthropologist and prehistorian at Portland State University, Dr. Smith today offers up his thoughts on the emerging discipline he calls space anthropology. How do we adapt a field that has grown up around the origin and growth of our species to a far future in which humans may take our forms of culture and consciousness deep into the galaxy? What follows is the preface for Dr. Smith’s upcoming book Principles of Space Anthropology: Establishing an Evolutionary Science of Human Space Settlement, to be published by Springer later this year.

By Cameron M. Smith, PhD


New Realms of Action Require New Domains of Expertise

In 1963, Siegfried J. Gerathewohl, NASA’s biotechnology chief, wrote the following passage early in his foundation text, Principles of Bioastronautics, outlining the need for this new field of study:

“Manned excursions into space require new types of vehicles, machines and hardware which were unknown in conventional flying. They will carry the traveler into such foreign environments as to pose serious problems of health and survival. The new field of medicine, which studies the human factors involved and the protective measures required, has been called space medicine. From its cooperation with modern technology, particularly with electronics, cybernetics, physics, and bionics, space biotechnology has branched out as a novel field of bioengineering.” [1:5-6]

At the time of that publication, less than ten people had been in space; the moon landings were yet vague plans, the robotic reconnaissance of our solar system was in its infancy and virtually nothing was known of human biology in space. Two generations later, space exploration and space sciences are at an historical apex of activity and rapid technical progress. Low Earth Orbit has been continuously occupied by at least one person, continuously, for over a quarter century, yielding thousands of scientific studies on space biology; Mars has been swarmed by robotic explorers seeking traces of life and mapping landscapes for human exploration and settlement; dozens of private companies and even individuals are re-inventing basic space exploration technologies with cheaper materials and methods than those of last century’s space age with the aim of lowering the cost of space access, and astronomy has entered a new age, with space-based technologies identifying multitudes of exoplanets now slated to be examined for traces of life with methods just coming on-line.

One significant outcome of these many efforts to better understand our stellar neighborhood will be the settlement of space by populations of humans and their domesticates. The ancient dream of setting off across space to explore and settle new lands—for freedom, exploration, economic advantage, the safeguarding of humanity by spreading out from the home planet, and a multitude of other motivations—appears more likely than ever, and its earliest steps are being taken now. For example, the SpaceX corporation was founded “…to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets” [2] and indeed in October 2016 Elon Musk is set to announce detailed Mars settlement plans. Such proposals involve not just individual people but populations, which have their own biological and behavioral (cultural) properties. In the same way that space exploration required Gerathewohl’s bioastronautics, space settlement planning requires a field of study to ensure that plans are designed and carried out informed by all we know of the adaptive tools and techniques of our species.

A New Branch of Anthropology

Traditionally, the study of humanity’s adaptations has been the domain of anthropology. Over the last century this field has capably documented our species’ remote origins, long and complicated evolution, and myriad manifestations in the present, but it has only occasionally (and then unsystematically) forayed into humanity’s distant future (e.g. see [3,4,5]). It is a premise of this book that that future should include the human settlement of environments beyond Earth, particularly for the purposes of safeguarding humanity’s apparently unique mode of consciousness, its hologenome and many of its domesticates, and the totality of human knowledge—accumulated over about 3,000 generations since the origins of behavioral modernity—by the method of establishing populations of humanity culturally and biologically independent of our home planet. I discuss arguments for space settlement in [5] and [6], but in the present book I focus on how the resources and expertise of anthropology may be deployed to assist in the goals of human space settlement.

While bioastronautics was established during the First Space Age (hereafter FSA) with tight focus on safeguarding the short-term health of individuals or small crews, today, plans include space settlement by communities, which raises many new issues; individual physiology is a different phenomenon than, say, population genetics, and individual psychology as short-term adaptation is different from cultural adaptation by reshaping cultural norms in accordance with new circumstances; I tabulate some other such differences below.

Chief Differences Between Space Exploration and Space Settlement Relating to Adaptation

 Space ExplorationSpace Settlement
Goalsspecific, short-termgeneral, long-term
Group Sizesmall (crews)large (communities)
Social Organizationcommand hierarchycivil community
Essential Social Unitscrewsfamilies and communities
Adaptive Meanstechnological, individual behavior, and some reversible acclimatizationtechnological, cultural and biological adaptation
Adaptive Timescaleshort; weeks to monthslong; multigenerational

For these reasons a new field of study is required. In this book I propose, describe, and outline the scope of space anthropology or exoanthropology, and present some of my own results in this new discipline.

In the same way that Gerathewohl identified the need for his field in the quotation at the opening of this Preface, below I formally outline the need for space anthropology:

Space settlement will require novel biological and cultural adaptations to support populations of humans, on multigenerational timescales, in environments so far unfamiliar to our species even after 100,000 years of human cultural and biological adaptation to myriad Earth environments. The new field of anthropology that studies such adaptive efforts is space anthropology or exoanthropology, exo- referring to beyond Earth, in the same way it is used in the term exobiology.

Specifically, I propose space anthropology to have three main functions:

  • 1. To identify the biological and cultural adaptive suite of humanity globally and to date, resulting in a catalog of our species’ adaptive tools and capacities useful to space settlement planners.
  • 2. To evaluate the capacities of humanity’s various adaptive tools to adapt to reasonably forseeable space settlement plans, bettering the prospect of productive adaptations to new conditions, e.g. on Mars.
  • 3. To make recommendations, some broad and some specific, that would assist in human adaptation to environments beyond Earth, particularly based on evaluations of human adaptive capacities identified in functions 1 and 2.

The scope of exoanthropology, then, will be broad. I propose it as an applied form of anthropology with the specific goal of evaluating the adaptive capacities of our species, both biologically and culturally, so that they may be best deployed to assist in successful permanent space settlement. This will guide space settlement planning in a genuinely adaptive and evolutionarily-informed way, applying the lessons of billions of years of Earth life adaptation to what I consider to be the completely natural and expected dispersal of life throughout the solar system and beyond. This book, then, will thoroughly review the phenomenon of evolutionary adaptation, particularly among our species.

Human ‘adaptive tools’ are biological and cultural (which subsumes technology) [7]; an array of such adaptations so far recognized in the Earth’s cold, high altitude and hot regions are tabulated below as examples—these will be fully explored later in this book.

Some Human Adaptations to Earth Environments

BiomeLimiting FactorsBiological, Cultural and Technological Adaptations
Arctic / Cold*Extremely low temperatures for long periods

*Extreme light / dark seasonal cycles

*Low biological productivity
* increased Basal Metabolic Rate
* increased shivering, vasoconstriction and cold thermoregulation activity and efficiency
* compact, heat-retaining body stature

Cultural and Technological
* bilateral kinship = demographic flexibility
* clothing insulates but can prevent sweating
* semi-subterranean housing including igloo made of local, free, inexhaustible reosurce (snow)
* high fat diet yielding many calories and vitamins
* low tolerance of self-aggrandizement
* low tolerance of adolescent bravado
* high value of educating young
* social fission
* mobile, field-maintainable, reliable tools
* population control methods including voluntary suicide, infanticide
* high value on apprenticeship
* low tolerance for complaint: 'laugh don't cry'

High Altitude* Low oxygen pressures

* Nighttime cold stress

* Low biological productivity

* High neonatal mortality
* dense capillary beds shorten distance of oxygen transport
* larger placenta providing fetus with more blood-borne oxygen
* greater lung ventilation (capacity)

Cultural and Technological
* promotion of large families to offset high infertility
* use of coca leaves to promote vasoconstriction and caffeine-like alertness
* woolen clothing retains heat when wet
* trade connections with lowland populations
Arid / Hot* Low and uncertain rainfall

* High evaporation rate

* Low biological productivity
* tall, lean, heat-dumping body
* lowered body core temperature
* increased sweating efficiency
* lower urination rate
* increased vasodilation efficiency

Cultural & Technological
* flexible kinship & land tenure system = demographic flexibility matching shifting water resources
* intercourse taboo maintain sustainable population
* loose, flowing clothing blocks sunlight
* wide sandals block ground-reflected sunlight
* nakedness socially accepted during physical labor

In fulfilling Function 1, exoanthropology will survey humanity’s adaptations through time and across the globe, identifying patterns pertinent to space settlement planners. In fulfilling Function 2, it will review the adaptive competence of many of our species’ adaptive tools, allowing us to evaluate our readiness for space settlement and, where we find ourselves unready, suggest courses of action; it will also characterize forseeable space settlement conditions and limiting factors as needed. In fulfilling Function 3, recommendations for space settlement planners will be formulated, varying in specificity, based on the lessons identified in the surveys serving Functions 1 and 2. Finally, in fulfilling Function 4, directly actionable engineering and other design recommendations will be made, materially assisting in space settlement planning.

References to Author’s Preface

1. Gerathewohl, S. 1963. Principles of Bioastronautics. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey.

2. SpaceX website (accessed 14 April 2016): http://www.spacex.com/about.

3. Finney, B. and E. Jones (eds). 1985. Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience. Berkeley, University of California Press.

4. Finney, B. 1992. Space Migrations: Anthropology and the Humanization of Space. NASA SP-509: Space Resources, Volume 4: Social Concerns. Washington, D.C.

5. Smith, C.M. and E.T. Davies. 2012. Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and: Space Colonization. Springer, Berlin.

6. Smith, C.M. and E.T. Davies. 2005. The Extraterrestrial Adaptation. Spaceflight 47(12):46.

7. Morphy, H. and G. Harrison (eds). 1998. Human Adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

© 2016 by Cameron M. Smith, PhD


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James Stilwell May 6, 2016, 11:06

    Amazing post in that I never once considered how I the civilian would venture into outer space without bringing along my pet animals too…It may be a silly idea to want to bring along Socks but I wouldn’t want to go far without him…
    A new level of awareness is here and that is an understatement…I would dash back into a burning building to save Socks…this is all quite astounding…

    • Michael May 6, 2016, 18:22

      Creature comforts, my neighbours cat comes around every now and then, she seems to seek companionship AS well as food. And I also once had a cat called socks :) and I too would climb into a burning building to save my pets AND family. I feel its a natural desire built into humans to help less fortunate creatures, we are human after all and we are very fortunate if we think about it.

      OT, I was watching a series on American TV in which a policeman ran into a burning building to get a cat that had ran back in, it attacked him of course as they like warm places, but he held onto it and he threw it out onto the street saving it, well done that man.

    • Joe May 7, 2016, 21:22

      How would Sox or other domesicated animals deal with zero gravity? Humans know what to expect and yet even astronauts sometimes get space sickness. Pets in space could create a real mess. Farm animals an even bigger mess. (Imagine Noah’s Ark in space with no gravity…)

      • Michael May 8, 2016, 10:52

        It would literally hit the fan!

  • Eric Hughes May 6, 2016, 12:03

    I am not at all convinced that the social organization of a space settlement
    will be anything like a “civil community”, which has connotations of dignity and self-direction that may well not be present. The narrative of space settlement has most often followed that of European colonization of the Americas or US settlement of its West. In both these cases the ecological services of Earth allowed humans to remove themselves away from their civilizations and still survive. In space, survival is terrifyingly expensive, and it’s unlikely that the infrastructure for survival will be borne by individuals. Far more likely is that capital interests will fund habitat for instrumental purposes, purposes that will not include any particular concern for the human parts of their machines.

  • Alex Tolley May 6, 2016, 12:25

    If we look at modern humans, do we adapt much? It seems to me that we build environments so that we don’t have to adapt. For example, new housing looks remarkably similar throughout the USA because insulation, A/C and a host of electric appliances can make where you live almost irrelevant.[Holiday Inn rooms were supposedly identical across the US]. I anticipate this will become even more the case as cities grow and contain most of humanity. What this means for space settlement is that environments will be made to approximate Earth conditions as near as possible, if only to follow the precautionary principle. So 1g centrifuges in space habitats and low g worlds. I can see that partial g might be allowed for settlements on the Moon and Mars, although other technology devices will be used to offset that, e.g. clothes that simulate g forces on joints.

    In extremis one can imagine that the O’Neill space colony approach houses most of humanity, but with dense, city living replacing those California open spaces depicted by artist Don Dixon.

    It’s probably in the nature of the study of anthropology, but I see the scope, as I read it, as being rather unimaginative. Science fiction has depicted a wide range of possible ways to settle, from genetic manipulation of minor tweaks to completely new forms, technology to allow surface living (e.g. John Varley), transplanted human minds into synthetic bodies (e.g. Robert Sawyer), immaterial minds and bodies (“Red Dwarf”). These are much more extreme “adaptations” that you might place under “cultural adaptation”. Finally, how would you handle non-human AIs becoming the settlers instead of humans? For example, I don’t think (I may be wrong) that Asimov considered that humanoid robots, like R. Daneel Olivaw, would be the natural colonizers of the galaxy, rather than “Spacers” or “Earthers”. It seems to me that exoanthropology might well study “Spacers” such as Aurorans and Solarians, but not the robots themselves, even though humanoid robots were depicted as fairly human.

    • NS May 7, 2016, 15:19

      The sameness of housing across the U.S. is probably a result of (temporarily) cheap energy and water. For now it’s less expensive to consume those resources than to develop regional architectures. That will soon not be the case.

      • Alex Tolley May 7, 2016, 16:12

        That could be a reason. I suspect it has more to do with consolidation in the building industry. It’s the same reason why we don’t have regional autobile designs. I could easily imagine a standardized building design that is extremely energy efficient from material use to energy consumption. Water is a different issue. Most improvements will result from better recycling at different scales.

      • Eniac May 8, 2016, 10:20

        Water is a fully renewable resource, and energy soon will be.

    • Joe May 7, 2016, 21:32

      Although 1g centrifuges are common in science fiction, to the best of my knowledge neither the U.S. or the Russians have ever tried to incorporate one on a space station. The energy required to get a centrifuge up to 1g is not minimal, and the centrifuge would require constant attitude adjustments to remain stable (and to keep the spacecraft stable). For example, if the entire crew and passengers were to try to meet in a conference room on the rim of the centrifuge, there would have to be a counterbalancing weight on the other side of the centrifuge. The adjustments would be continuous and every adjustment would require energy.

      • Larry Kennedy May 8, 2016, 10:21

        I’ve long thought the difficulties of centrifuges were greatly exaggerated. I would still like to see experiments with short arm centrifuges and fixed work/exercise stations for mitigation of zero G effects. In the long run I am very confident that any difficulties for larger structures can be overcome.

        • Alex Tolley May 8, 2016, 18:31

          (I agree. It was disappointing that the Japanese ISS module centrifuge was canceled. That could have been a good start.

      • JoeP May 9, 2016, 10:34

        I always envisioned a fluid on the outside of the rotating structure that could be adjusted via pumps dynamically by computer to keep the mass load even all around the rotating mass. With the right sensors it would be completely automatic, so long as you don’t move a mass greater than what could be compensated by moving the available fluid around.

        Plus, the water is a good rad shield.

        Now I wish my clothes washing machine had that kind of self balancing technology. Every time we run a bulky load of towels or sheets, the thing goes blaam-Blam-BLAM when it gets to the spin cycle and we have to manually distribute the load around the rim.

    • xcalibur May 17, 2016, 4:15

      I think that when we colonize space, our species will be pulled in two opposing directions: building environments to suit our needs, and adapting to alien environments. The issue of surface gravity is an important one, since we don’t know how well we could adapt to higher or lower gravity in the long-term . The desire to live with 1 g will encourage the development of centrifugal cylinders as a space habitat. However, we’re also biased in favor of living on a planetary surface – so if we find exo-earths that are habitable with some modifications to the human form, some of us will be driven to adapt.

      Assuming space colonization happens, I think there will be some of both, with extremists on both sides.

  • Andrew Palfreyman May 6, 2016, 16:08

    Why leave it to Mother Nature to implement adaptations, when, in about a century or less, we’ll have in-depth genomic understanding and the editing tools (beginning with CRISPR/Cas9) to make it happen? Pro-active evolution is where this is all heading.

    • Eniac May 6, 2016, 23:45

      Correct. Evolution by mutation and natural selection is obsolete. Intelligent design will rule any further development of the human condition. The potential consequences are utterly mind-blowing, and somewhat frightening.

      • Alex Tolley May 7, 2016, 12:00

        Only partially true. A new natural, deadly pathogen that becomes a pandemic could conceivably wipe out a fraction of the Earth’s population. This would be a case of natural selection.

        If technology does protect us from these sorts of natural selectors, then human culture will determine evolutionary fitness. What I find interesting is that as our economic system (culture) becomes ever more complex, the range of natural adaptations that best meet the requirements offers many more niches for selection to work. We are experiencing cultural rather than environmental radiation. Countering that, there is far less drive to reproduce and select for traits. This stops the selection process keeping the genes well mixed in the population as differential survival is largely removed.

        However I do believe we are at the cusp of serious bioengineering of our genomes. The possibilities for modifying humans are staggering, even if they prove to be of niche value, possibly even non-reproduceable.

        • Eniac May 8, 2016, 10:41

          Nowadays, a pandemic is much more likely to be prevented or resolved by a vaccine, treatment, or isolation than by natural resistance. So, selection is much reduced or absent, even in this extreme case. Our complex society is in large part founded on a commitment to support the weak and disadvantaged. There is no longer any correlation between success and procreation (a negative one, if any). That in itself puts a complete stop to natural selection. What remains is mutation, which, absent selection, will slowly deteriorate the human genome. Considering all this, there is no doubt in my mind that natural selection is dead.

          This realization once led to the deeply immoral eugenics movement. Today, we have a better option: We can repair mutations and even improve on the natural genome using the methods of modern molecular biology and intelligent design.

          • Alex Tolley May 8, 2016, 18:30

            I think that is largely true. However I wouldn’t rule out pathogens that defy treatment. We are already facing antibiotic resistant strains of some bugs, with as yet, no guarantee of a fix.

            Viruses are still an issue. There has been no successful HIV vaccine so far, and Ebola is still pretty terrifying. We’ve been lucky so far with the various strains of flu, but as recently as a couple of years ago, the wrong mix of strains was incubated for US flu vaccine. One day we might get a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

            So while cautiously optimistic, I wouldn’t bet the farm that we don’t get a winnowing of the population by a natural selective vector.

    • Mark Zambelli May 7, 2016, 4:40

      That’s right. We are no longer part of the ‘natural selection’ paradigm having removed ourselves over the last couple of centuries or so. Even without the powerful tool of genetics we have just begun to weild, it seems reasonable to suppose that we may in fact be evolving faster than nature could ever force, thanks to our ‘unnatural selection’ stimuli… maybe not in a good way though (refined sugar, couch potato, Playstation- thumbs etc…).

      With genomics we become our own canvas to do with as we see fit.

  • H. Floyd May 6, 2016, 18:20

    This is one of the most fascinating (and for me, irresistible) discussions that comes up when we imagine an off-world future. Anthropology has never successfully defined “human,” nor should it — attempts were misguided and disastrous. A transition to exoanthropology may be a timely way, instead, to understand our species as part of an evolutionary continuum with a distantly complex past, but also with an imminently complex future.

    The combined adaptive influences of environment and technology shaped our linage long before anatomically modern humans emerged. It appears that the course of hominid brain evolution was fundamentally altered by our pre-human ancestors’ adoption of cooking; later again by an ability to exploit high protein food sources simultaneously from sea and savannah; and again by intergenerational communication of complex material culture, probably through language. We might think of ourselves as Earth’s first self-domesticated species, or lineage of species.

    With that in mind, as the pace of technological development quickens we might also expect the pace of our evolution. Last year we mastered fire and flint, last week agriculture and architecture, tomorrow we’ll be facile with our own genome. (!) Exoanthropology could prepare us for the jarring emergence of biological derivatives to Homo sapiens, along with equally shocking technologies that enable life to thrive beyond the only biosphere it’s known for three-plus billion years.

    It’s an unsettling discussion, in part because self-conscious evolution is not a new idea and has manifested nightmarishly in the past, with only a pretense to scientific legitimacy. But if it’s really an inevitable process, that same history suggests it should be done transparently, empirically, inclusively, and should place a fundamental premium on the dignity of conscious life. It may be science’s single greatest challenge to moderate that discussion. But if our story tells me anything, it’s that science is the only tradition of thought I would trust with the job.

    • NS May 7, 2016, 16:27

      “should place a fundamental premium on the dignity of conscious life…science is the only tradition of thought I would trust with the job.”

      Interesting that you should say that, since much of recent science downgrades and even denigrates the importance of consciousness. Admittedly this is not entirely science’s fault — a great many of what are really philosophical/religious viewpoints have been smuggled into discussions of consciousness, under the guise of science.

  • Project Studio May 7, 2016, 0:02

    But if it’s [self-conscious evolution] really an inevitable process, that same history suggests it should be done transparently, empirically, inclusively, and should place a fundamental premium on the dignity of conscious life

    Although posing seemingly intractable ethical challenges, man-made physical adaptation does seem to be an inevitability. Civilization on earth has removed many of the natural selection constraints on the human genome. For example, many of us wear eyeglasses, including myself, our entire lives and any progeny we have is likely to inherit the trait. In a natural environment, without access to ophthalmology, there would be a natural control to limit this trait. But having developed a technology to compensate, we can expect that the trait will continue unchecked. Similarly most women have access to Cesarian section during childbirth, which thankfully saves many lives. But in a similar way this removes a constraint on the newborn’s physical dimensions, in particularly the size of the head. Technological developments such as these make the human genome more and more intimately intertwined with our technological form of society. With natural selection criteria failing, it would seem that even earth-based civilization will require an artificial approach to keep non viable traits (poor eyesight, high infant mortality, and other inheritable frailties) from becoming predominant.
    The ethical dilemmas are presumably obvious. Like the conversation on the question of multi-generation starships, we have one generation making lifetime decisions for future generations — unlike the generation ships — from which there is no going back. So I think that the question of self-conscious adaptation for off-world environments will be considered in an environment where it is already being considered in the wider context of human genome management.

    Can the scientific and academic community be trusted with this responsibility? There is far too much hubris, intellectual dishonesty, and politics in academia impacts on scientific research, where funding and the requirement to maintain tenure push researchers into publishing too frequently and compromising the scientific method. Our grasp of genetics and cellular metabolosm is only partial. The way desirable and undesirable traits are bound up with each other is not understood, nor is the understanding that an undesirable trait in the context of one environmental condition can become desirable in another condition. In general the relationship between the exterior environment, the internal environment within the cell, and the genetic key (DNA is a complex ‘transformer’ key, not a blueprint) which integrates these environments is not yet understood. The human genome stands a chance only if we can reform the social and political landscape of academic scientific research to support and allow un-compromised research into fundamental aspects of biological sciences. In this reform, we need the foster the political awareness and open acknowledgment of how very much we do not understand.

    • Alex Tolley May 7, 2016, 12:02

      That is some rant.

      • Project Studio May 7, 2016, 18:31

        Yes, I suppose I was trying to respond in a reasoned way to adaptations such as socially-sanctioned suicide and infanticide included in the original article. Other adaptations, not mentioned in the original article, include involuntary sterilisation, eugenic breeding, and ‘designer’ babies – all of which have been regarded as ethically challenged. For many, these would be emotional issues, sorry if my post seemed like a rant.
        The previous commentor had advocated placing “fundamental premium on the dignity of conscious life,” which would tend to exclude these cultural adaptations, and (in my estimation) emphasises a need to establish a competence with genetic manipulation before attempting genetic adaptation through gene editing. There are some cultural barriers that stand in the way of gaining this competence, thought I’d mention some… We do need this competency very badly, as we’ve removed ourselves from natural selection to a great extent.

  • Alex Tolley May 7, 2016, 14:12


    Anyone want to collaborate on decoding the SETI message challenge?
    This is a call for a fun scientific challenge.

    Suppose a telescope on Earth receives a series of pulses from a fixed, unresolved source beyond the solar system. The source is a star about 50 light years from Earth. The pulses are in the form of short/long signals and they are received in a very narrow band around an electromagnetic frequency of 452.12919 MHz. A computer algorithm identifies the artificial nature of the pulses. It turns out the pulses carry a message. The pulses signify binary digits. Suppose further that you were, by whatsoever reason, put in charge of decoding this message.

    If you successfully decrypted the message, you should be able to answer the following questions:

    1. What is the typical body height of our interstellar counterparts?
    2. What is their typical lifetime?
    3. What is the scale of the devices they used to submit their message?
    4. Since when have they been communicating interstellar?
    5. What kind of object do they live on?
    6. How old is their stellar system?

    These are the rules.

    1. No restrictions on collaborations.
    2. Open discussion (social networks etc.) of possible solutions strongly encouraged.
    3. 3 hints to the solutions can be offered as per request.
    4. Send your solutions to me via e-mail (heller@mps.mpg.de), twitter (@DrReneHeller) or facebook (DrReneHeller). Human-readable format and the format of the message are allowed.
    5. On 3 June 2016, a list of the successful SETI crackers (in chronological order) will be released.

    UPDATE 6 May 2016: This call generated an e-mail storm on me. I kindly ask for your understanding that I will restrict replies via e-mail to a minimum. Correct submissions will, of course, be acknowledged.

    I have decoded the image (easy).
    I think the scale is derived from the given radio frequency data and part of the image.

    If interested, contact me directly at alexandertolley at gmail dot com

  • Joe May 7, 2016, 21:42

    I hope you will share the image and the answer with Centauri Dreams readers.

    • Alex Tolley May 8, 2016, 12:26

      Not the best image for size, but here it is and annotated. I just have to decode the binary numbers above 4 images which I think answer some of the questions.


      • Joe May 8, 2016, 22:11

        Why is the image so elongated? Is this a function of the math? Or just not the best picture?

        • Alex Tolley May 9, 2016, 10:53

          The picture is not elongated, but rather a set of 7, 359 x 757 pixel images placed one after the other in sequence. The aspect ratio is correct. Unfortunately it is best viewed in full resolution, rather than the compressed version on flickr.
          The image could be broken up into 7 individual frames if that makes it easier to view.
          At the moment I am trying to understand the meaning of the 2 lines of binary numbers above 4 of the frames. I suspect they denote time and length values that correspond with the questions being asked.

  • Jean Schneider May 9, 2016, 5:05

    The idea of a Space Anthropology is not new.
    See for instance my talk in 1987 (in French) “Manifeste pour une anthropologie spatiale” in the proceedings of the conference “Frontiers and Space Conquest” https://books.google.fr/books?id=scDtCAAAQBAJ&pg=PR4&lpg=PR4&dq=%22fronti%C3%A8res+et+conqu%C3%AAte+spatiale%22+schneider&source=bl&ots=6e7m-zeG0X&sig=v0hvcUX0qOVwdaiH6pCSdSUNWRk&hl=fr&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjrpfSLz8zMAhUC6CwKHeTXDtcQ6AEILjAC#v=onepage&q=%22fronti%C3%A8res%20et%20conqu%C3%AAte%20spatiale%22%20schneider&f=false (p. 99) or my talk “Anthropologie et conquête spatiale” p 553-564 in http://sites.univ-provence.fr/~wcaruli/d_textes/metaphores.html

  • Cameron Smith May 13, 2016, 13:29

    Hello all, thanks for taking an interest in this post, and thanks to Paul Gilster for posting it! Here are some replies to some of the comments. I don’t have time to address them all. Many will be addressed in the book.

    Cheers, Cameron

    By contrasting the social organization of space settlements with exploration crews, I am simply showing that ultimately it will be families and communities composing off-Earth populations, not military crews. There are of course important reasons for command structures in exploration, but ultimately space settlements will be composed of communities of families, as they have been on Earth for many thousands of years.

    Natural selection continues in modern human populations. A variety of technologies have reduced the frequency of natrual selection in some populations. Note that when the human reproductive system is exposed to new gravity, radiation, food, nutrient, microbial and gas composition & pressure environments (e.g. inside habitats of different gas mix & pressure than on Earth), the reproductive cycle, including spermatogenesis and oogenesis, fertilization and then development of the young will undoubtedly be effected, and here natural selection will return as an increase in infant mortality for for I predict to be some generations. Naturally we will do all we can to reduce this, but in the end, it will be impossible to precisely replicate Earth environments (which are themeselves varied, e.g. differences at sea level and on the Tibetan plateau) and humanity will adapt biologically over time. This is as inevitable as evolution itself; you can read more on the process of evolution in my book ‘The Fact of Evolution’ (Penguin Random House 2011).

    I find unproductive the sentiment that ‘by the time we do space settlement, we will have all the genetic tools needed to mitigate health risks’. We don’t know when people will attempt to settle space or what genetic or other tools they will have. Studying the risks now is a good idea as it will outline the potential problems and courses of action. This allows action rather than just waiting for these technologies to emerge (some might indeed be guided by our findings).

    I don’t mean for academia to solve the problems of space settlement. I mean for anthropologists and (others interested in this project) to scientifically and systematically study the issues of space settlement and make useful contributions to that project. The book will be technical, not popular, as it is meant for space planners, and it has a traditionally academic publisher, which makes sense (if you want to read my popular -science views on space settlement and evolution, you can read my book ‘Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization’ (Springer-Praxis 2012)).In the same way, just because there are academic books on engineering does not mean that engineering is done by academics.

    A ‘space anthropology’ is indeed not a new idea but prior attempts to establish such have not resulted in systematic studies. We shall see if the field is ready now, or in the near future. I am throwing my hat in the ring as others have done before. This time the prospects of beginning space settlement in the next few decades is I think more likely than it has been in the past. Thanks for mentioning your work, Dr. Schneider, I look forward to reading it and have already ordered some by inter-library loan!

    I did not mention infanticide and suicide as proposed adaptations for space settlement populations, I mentioned them as illustrations of some of the many social adaptations to environments used by humanity so far. They are illustrations of a wide range of adaptation. Where space settlers stand with regard to such annd other measures will be up to them, not me.

    I am very intrerested in the many moral issues involved in space settlement, but have debated them many times in the past decades and have decided on my principles that (a) space settlement is a moral obligation, not a costly luxury, (b) space settlement will provide far better prospects for its young than are provided for most of the Earth’s young and (c) having offspring generations in space will be as morally acceptable as having children on Earth, where guarantees to basic resources are almost never made. Satisfied with these, I proceed lest I be immobilized in an endless debate. You can read details of my approach to these moral issues in my book ‘Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization’ (Springer-Praxis 2012)).