Earth has come to term. It's time to leave home.
moon rocks that the Apollo missions returned to Earth revealed the moon
to be a construction supply
The lunar surface is rich in metals,
including iron, aluminum, titanium, and magnesium. However, the most abundant
element, accounting for 40 percent of the moon's surface by mass, is
oxygen. The moon is an amalgam of rusted metals. Following oxygen, the most
abundant element is the ever-useful silicon. There you have it: oxygen, silicon, and a lode
of metals: It would have been tough to custom order a stockpile
of materials better suited for creating an industrial revolution and residential sprawl in Earth-orbital
space. Intelligent Design strikes again?
Developing the residential and commercial potentials of space poses political and other
challenges. But ultimately
those challenges will have to be met. Given today's technology, there's no reason for humanity to be stuck on Earth. Each successive generation will see
space colonization as an increasingly attractive and commonsensical project and might feel its pull with increasing urgency, as Earth becomes less and less hospitable to healthy living and to democratic ideals.
A new order
of urban life is possible in space. Solar
collectors the size of football fields (already being
developed in Japan), manufactured from lunar materials and
driving an economy of abundance—this is the vision of the future shamefully
absent from political debates about space policy. And about human prospects generally. But conceiving of
space as a frontier for settlement stands as a hopeful alternative to the bleak prospect of increasingly severe bouts of environmentally dictated austerity.
"So leave the recorders running and get your heavy metal
ass in a space ship."
space objectives announced by President George W. Bush in January
2004 lacked purposeful vision. A mining operation on the moon
would have broad practical value, but burning resources to plant
a footprint on Mars is cold-war thinking. Nonetheless, the
Bush plan at least helped refocus NASA’s energies on a human
presence in space, though the plan did not go nearly far enough.
A visionary plan would open up the solar system to homesteading and industrial development.
Retreating from space sells
short the human future. The surface of a planet—any planet—is
not an ideal location for an advanced technological civilization, let alone several of them. If
humankind remains planetbound, then it guarantees for itself a Malthusian
predicament. And Malthusian predicaments invite eugenic prescriptions.
The Significance of the Frontier in American History
Geographical frontiers are arenas of opportunity, psychosociopolitical
safety valves, places where malcontents can put their
money where their collective mouth is. They can vote with their feet
and head into the wide open spaces.
In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner read at
a meeting of the American Historical Association a monograph titled The
Significance of the Frontier in American History, in which he redirected
the attention of historians away from the power centers in New England,
with their orientation toward Europe, and toward the American frontier. Unlike his contemporaries, Turner
did not see the United States as an extension of Europe:
"Whenever social conditions tended to crystallize
in the East, whenever capital tended to press upon labor or political
restraints to impede the freedom of the mass, there was this gate
of escape to the free conditions of the frontier. These free lands
promoted individualism, economic equality, freedom to rise, democracy.
Men would not accept inferior wages and a permanent position of
social subordination when this promised land of freedom and equality
was theirs for the taking. Who would rest content under oppressive
legislative conditions when with a slight effort he might reach a
land wherein to become a co-worker in the building of free cities
and free States on the lines of his own ideal? In a word, then, free
lands meant free opportunities."
Turner's monograph and a book that followed became
highly influential. What came to be called "The Turner Thesis" quickly
became a foundation of American historiography. The thesis attributes
to the frontier experience many of the developments and attributes
(held by Americans to be) distinctive of the American ethos. The values
to which American politicians give lip service—individual liberty,
unobtrusive government, entrepreneurialism, abundance, economic
opportunity—all were nurtured by settlement of America's western
frontier, Turner argued.
The settlers of the American West left behind the aristocracies,
privileges and monopolies that defined living conditions and constrained
opportunities along the Atlantic coast. Rather than remain trapped in
a disagreeable situation, the settlers packed their bags and staked
their claims. The frontier presented an opportunity to make a fresh start.
The closing of the frontier—the end of abundant free land— is a primary cause of the economic malaise inaugurated by the crash of 2008, according to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen. In The Great Stagnation, Cowen describes free land as an economic "low-hanging fruit" to be plucked without much interference. That fruit, he argues, has been consumed. And its disappearance exacerbates America's economic hardship. He observes,
"Up through the end of the nineteenth century, free and fertile American land was plentiful and there for the taking. a lot of this land was close to lakes and rivers. You could move from Europe, work hard on good U.S. topsoil, and enjoy a higher standard of living. The European peasants who remained at home did not have similar access to resources. the United States became the wealthiest country in the world relatively quickly, and probably it held this designation well before the close of the eighteenth century. So much fertile land coupled with a relatively high degree of social freedom explains much of this transformation.
"Not only did the United States reap a huge bound from this free land (often stolen from Native Americans, one should not forget), but abundant resources helped the United States attract many of the brightest and most ambitious workers from Europe. Taking in these workers, and letting them cultivate the land, was like plucking low-hanging fruit."
But divorced from a frontier, American exceptionalism withers.
"Whether on land or at sea, the outlook is the same: with existing sources of critical materials facing exhaustion, more and more of our essential supplies will have to come from places that are risky for reasons of geography, geology, politics, or some combination of all three. [. . . .] Government and corporate officials recognize that existing reserves are being deleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not–too-distant future. The only way for countries to ensure an adequate future supply of these materials, and thereby keep their economies humming, is to acquire new undeveloped reservoirs in those few location that have not already been completely drained. This has produced a global drive to find and exploit the world’s final resource reserves—a race for what’s left. [. . . .] Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that the various consuming powers will seek to gain control over as much as possible of what remains of these materials, producing an intense competitive struggle. This could lead to territorial disputes in areas where boundaries or ownership rights are contested—as is already evident in the Arctic region. In the past, such disputes have often erupted in armed combat, and there is no reason to believe that this will not happen in the future; indeed, the countries involved are already preparing for such combat by beefing up their capacity to operate in the Arctic and other contested resource zones, such as the East and South China Seas. The pursuit of vital materials in remote and marginal areas will also pose extraordinary environmental challenges and will lead to intensified clashes between outside powers and the indigenous peoples who occupy these areas."
If there's a battle brewing over Earth's resources, what better reason to prospect beyond Earth? The Western world must focus its attention on frontier development as an economic engine. Outer space yearns to fill the
void left by the closing of the American West.
law of life is: advance or decay. Our task is not simply to recover,
or to preserve, the best way of being human developed in the past.
Our task is to envisage, and incarnate, a still better way, a way
that fulfills the human potential more fully, a way that more completely
realizes the image of God in us."
The cranks, the kooks, the visionaries, the messiahs,
the fortune seekers—the
tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free—on
the new frontier they all will be able to ply their wits. Having escaped
the monolithic political-economic system hardening around the planet, they will
be able to craft their own versions of the better life. The solar system beyond
Earth is an arena in which human appetites and ambition can be satisfied.
'mechanical age,' which to some appears as the very negation of the
soul, is, on the contrary, the age of supreme psychical achievement.
Science and invention are for ever annexing fresh regions of the universe
and subjecting them to the free play of our mental faculties. The
process of bringing material things into subjection to our will is
a process of sublimation, which does not drag us down to the dust,
but raises up dust into the realms of immortal spirit."
An age of exploration and colonization need not be an age of colonialism, however.
Space colonization is not about converting heathens nor driving out
savages. Where there are no natives to displace, but only unoccupied
real estate to develop, there the industrial capitalist spirit can achieve
its objectives without leaving behind a trail of victims.
As was American frontier settlement, space
migration IS about taming the wilderness.
It IS about
converting natural resources into material wealth. It IS about
expansion and development. And independence. All traditional American
values and pursuits. NASA's Apollo program focused America's technological
energies on an ambitious, peaceful challenge. But America's agenda today
includes no comparable focus for those energies. What grand purpose
does technological innovation serve? Convenience? Production efficiency?
The more intrusive reach of political surveillance and control? Economist Cowen argues that innovation itself has slowed to a sputter.
President Jimmy Carter was castigated for his
maladroit "malaise" speech.
But it seems that his maladroitness was in his timing. Where on the contemporary
scene, among the cognoscente,
the experts and pundits, could one find a utopian picture to redirect
human energies from plotting austerity to planning prosperity? The
experts lack vision. They offer in its place ideology. But adherence
to ideology butters no bread, except that of the control clique. And
where there is no vision, the people perish.
Gerard O'Neill and the High Frontier
In the 1970s, Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill challenged the wisdom of "Limits to Growth." He had arrived
at the insight that a planet makes for a less than ideal permanent residence. In 1969 O’Neill convened a freshman seminar to address the inspired
question, as he later phrased it, "Is the surface of a planet
really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?" The
class researched the relevant facts and projections and calculated the
answer to be a resounding NO. The research revealed crippling
expenses associated with any form of big geology. Planets per
se turn out to be uneconomical real estate for long-term development.
O’Neill estimated, for example, that one-fourth of the energy consumed
in the United States for transportation goes to fighting gravity and
In 1977 O’Neill
High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space an
exposition that laid out the technical and cultural dimensions of space
colonization. O’Neill went on to become chief spokesman for the
merits of expanding humankind’s ecological range to include the
orbital space around Earth. He imagined and developed detailed plans
for autonomous encapsulated ecosystems, each a mile or so in diameter
and housing communities of from one thousand to fifty thousand
inhabitants. The space colonization movement that coalesced under O’Neill’s
tutelage attracted unlikely cohorts, including conservative U. S. Senator
Barry Goldwater and counterculture impresario Timothy
Leary. Despite the cheering of a handful of high-profile advocates,
however, within a decade O'Neill’s vision came and went as a popular
cause. Nonetheless, the central premise of The High Frontier remains
surface of a planet is not the most suitable real estate for a sprawling
industrial civilization. So far, few people of influence in politics
or science have been willing to pick up the torch
and advance O'Neill's vision. But few endeavors could be more critical
or timely. The
bridge to space will have to be crossed, and better sooner than later.
Beyond their technical and political objections, critics
of space colonies point out the damaging effects of weightlessness on the human
body. But this objection describes only a relative problem. Weightlessness catalyzes the next stage in evolution. It triggers the phenotypic mutation/metamorphosis
that converts humans into angels. As long as weightlessness is seen as a
problem to be mitigated, and normal Earth gravity a norm to be preserved,
then space always will seem like a place in which humans don't belong.
Nonetheless, a strange heaven beckons.
In any space colonization or long-term spaceflight proposal,
the biological dimension will seem to be a problem. "During
space flight, bone minerals (calcium and phosphorus) and their support
matrix are slowly lost. . . . Muscle atrophy [also] represents a significant
biomedical problem with special implications for long-term space flight," researchers
caution in a NASA life-sciences bulletin. The writers concede that
even regimens of vigorous exercise, "do not arrest the progressive
atrophy that continues throughout expeditions into zero gravity."
have already clarified the meanings of flight and ascension in
folklore, in the history of religions, and in mysticism; and we were able
to show that the imagery in question was always that of transcendence and
aware of these effects, and to
protect against them he proposed that orbiting cities should
spin. Centrifugal effects then would simulate normal Earth gravity and
hold things "down."
The ground under one’s feet in an O'Neill-type colony would be
the inside wall of the spinning structure. As one approached the axis
of rotation, the "pole" of the colony, the sensation of gravity
would lessen, and at the pole it essentially would disappear. O’Neill
imagined zero-gravity resorts and sports arenas at the poles. Others
promoting the cause advocated spas and honeymoon
that space colonists would insist on such a simulated
gravity. For one thing, they might want to return to Earth—in
which case they would need their bones and muscles to work normally.
What O'Neill seemed not to anticipate is that native extraterrestrials—inhabitants
born in the colonies—might have little interest in the ancestral
haunts. The prospect of going permanently gravityless is rarely addressed
in space-faring scenarios. Even science-fiction writers tend
to assume that our extraterrestrial descendants will want somehow to
simulate the effects of gravity and preserve the terrestrial human form.
The minds behind neither Star Trek nor Star Wars included in their tales
any suggestion that weightlessness itself might attract space settlers. But weightlessness is the key to advancing the evolutionary program, and once it becomes a lifestyle option an avant garde fringe will flock to embrace it.
The alternative scenario, as it becomes more evident almost daily, is a planetbound, terminally toxic, ingrown, stasis. Maybe billions of high-tech low-life planets already are festering out there, each housing a permanent underclass—obedient, savant technicians bio-engineered to serve that world’s technocratic, psychopathic ruling dynasty. How long such a stultified planetary machine can persist before exhausting itself and putrefying is anybody's guess.
Humankind might consider running the alternative experiment.
Human civilization has survived its gestation and come to term. Congratulations. But now the fetus must be born or aborted. Sentience cannot tolerate the latter fate, not even as a resigned, "best we can get."
A birth, a busting out into new geography with new energy sources, a taming of a frontier in the ordinary sense, beckons, and to refuse the call is to doom Mother Earth to barrenness.
The Earth is the womb of the Sun. And She has come to term.
Extraterrestrials born in the colonies will reject the McEarth model of the space colony, with its artificial "gravity." Rather than implement such an atavistic, environmental kludge, they will be free to settle comfortably into weightlessness. Any colony population that does so will
discover something profound: growing up weightless
not only inhibits development of load-bearing skeletal and muscle tissues. It also stimulates development of experience-bearing neural tissue. This is because brains are sensitive to and are programmed
to adapt to their environments. This
adaptability, a literal plasticity of the physical connections among
brain cells, ought to predispose brains to develop with
unusual vigor in weightlessness. Such enrichment should occur
rapidly and show itself conspicuously already in the first generation
of native extraterrestrials.
mass program of inner-voyaging will certainly shrivel into Ganges mysticism
unless the visions can be precisely expressed in outer-space migration."
from the tether of gravity, brains are free to move
their bearers in ways more varied and complex than is possible on Earth,
as NASA publicity footage shows. Extraterrestrial brains will have
to become proficient at orienting and conducting their bearers dynamically
in three dimensions. The familiar developmental milestones of childhood—rolling
over, crawling, standing up, walking—will be eclipsed by the
need to develop a repertoire of acrobatic competencies. Weightlessness
will force extraterrestrial
brains to tap resources that are left to spoil when brains develop on Earth. To navigate in their spatially complex world, space brains will have to avail themselves of
as much and as complex and dynamic a network of internal circuitry
as they can muster.
As brains adapt to weightlessness they will evolve increasingly
dense and baroque wiring, and this neurological enrichment will
shape their bearers' experience in ways fundamentally alien to that of their
Earthbound contemporaries. The enriching effects of weightlessness on brain
development, and the impoverishing effects on other tissues, marks
an evolutionary break, a metamorphosis of the hominid phenotype.
the stage for the evolution of posthumanity.
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