Futures Essays: Space…

 

Author’s Notes: 20+ years ago, I was a bright-eyed coed working on a degree in “you take a guess” at a small liberal arts college. As part of the requirements for a special designation at graduation, I took a seminar course. In this course, we studied the current state of an issue and then projected what would happen in the future, which we are now living in.

What I propose to do is re-key these essays and include my current thoughts as well as any responses to the questions posed by the professors leading the seminar course. (Why, yes, yes, I have hit the winter blahs as a writer, but I digress…)

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“Space, the final frontier…,” the opening to episodes and movies of Paramount’s Star Trek (let’s not forget to give creator Gene Rodenberry some credit), is an idea which I have often considered (um, not quite–I considered closet and dorm space far more than outer space).  Man now has nearly every inch of land on the Earth’s surface charted and is working to chart the surface of the ocean’s bottom. Our population is rapidly increasing and there is no where for man to go but to go to space. (At this point, the professor challenged me about the time frame, which didn’t fit into my little monologue. The professor also said something about the difference between charting and using; that might have been something to explore.)

The first problem of space is how do you shelter creatures used to gravity, atmosphere, and temperature in a vacuum at nearly absolute zero. (Yes, I probably had the most technical major sitting in that room, so I could get away with what I wrote.) Scientists and science fiction writers have proposed various means, including intergalactic starships and artificially created planets. The most feasible plan right now is a huge cylinder of steel which would be constructed in outer space of metals found in asteroids. Gravity would be simulated by spinning the cylinder on its end to end axis at the appropriate velocity calculated by physicists. (Okay, my writer’s soul is bleeding–I can’t picture what I really meant by end to end axis.) The atmosphere would then be created with the appropriate gases in the proportions in which they are found on Earth. (Okay, so I’m wondering what year Babylon 5 came out. This would have been the right time frame, I just wouldn’t have had an advanced enough TV set to see it.) The problem with the steel is that impact with a sharp object hurling through space could result in rupture of the container; the rupture would cause the atmosphere to leak , the cylinder might change velocity resulting in a change in gravity, and the temperature would get quite chilly. Although scientists propose a radar-like detection system, I would still be concerned that sharp objects might go undetected through technological error or human negligence, and this could (would?) result in the possible unnecessary loss of human life and resources.

The next problem is food and water. Water could be easily created from the reaction of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen (this might generate some energy and heat too) or extracted from asteroids or passing comets. Food is not so easy. I am sure that every mineral and vitamin humans need to live is somewhere on some asteroid and could easily be encapsulated and administered to space colonists (yes, but could their bodies tolerate the vitamins and minerals coming from a non-food source?). I know that there would not be enough room on any kind of space-going vessel to carry food for those on the ship, let along those on any colony in space (the colony could be agricultural and self-sustaining). However, being the Pennsylvania Dutch girls that I am, there is no way I would give up my real, honest to goodness, Sunday afternoon chicken and waffles for anyone or anything (actually, I have for my health, but I digress). Food is part of one’s cultural heritage, and I am not sure that losing one’s roots is worth having more living space. (Okay, thank goodness it wasn’t an English prof on this session. The tangents abound, and I still didn’t address the production of food aboard spaceships.)

Energy is the next problem. Human beings tend to use too much energy in their search to make life more convenient. Humans tend to use as much energy as they can; put another way, the more energy to which we have access, the more we tend to use (um, a little stilted, aren’t we?). Putting an entire civilization based on consuming resources into space with access to unlimited energy from various stars is almost absurd. Colonizing space would lift the burden from the Earth, but that burden would be placed on various stars.

Communication would be another problem. Radio waves and laser beams would work superbly as communication tools ( *snorts* *giggles* I can think of so much to communicate with a laser, but it all ends in fire, smoke, and ashes. ); however, it would take at least four years to reach the next colony. Being very close to most of my family and friends ( *snorts* ), I would not want to wait that four years to hear from them, know that the things about which we were communicating would be old news by the time the communications reached one of the parties.

The real issue is not the future of space exploration. The real issue is the future of the human race in general. (Start the climactic orchestral piece. *sigh* ) Are we, as a race, willing to curtail our consumption of energy and resources? Are we willing to create only as many new lives as could take the place of deaths for the year in which we plan to procreate? (Um, I’m confused. This wasn’t a thought in any of the denominational pews I was in at the time. Did I try to poke fun at liberals with dead pan humor?) Are we willing to take better care of our environment to prevent further pollution of our air and water and to allow clean up and decontamination of those areas already badly affected? Or are we, as a race, willing to condemn ourselves, our children, and our children’s children to a poor standard of life under the shadow of overpopulation, pollution, and the psychological effect of a lack of hope because time is running out?

It is funny to see how my corner of the globe has almost given up on space. Not funny, sad. We haven’t seen very many improvements in space technology, despite all the exploration from Earth.

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