IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Vision > Galactic > Staff > Mike Treder > Futurism > Eco-gov > SciTech > Resilience
Should off-Earth expansion be a high priority for humanity?
Mike Treder   Jul 14, 2009   Ethical Technology  

Modern humans have walked the Earth for about 200,000 years. In that time, we have colonized, inhabited, and “tamed” diverse environments on many continents. Unfortunately, our heavy footprint has seriously impacted the planet and fundamentally altered the biosphere. We have destroyed rainforests, depleted fisheries, burned huge amounts of fossil fuels, sucked water aquifers dry, and given Earth a fever in the form of global warming. So, should we stay here and work to repair or mitigate the damage we’ve done? Or should we try to move most of the human population off-Earth and let the planet heal itself?

Image credit: Don Davis

A second reason sometimes given in support of human expansion into space is that we might increase the odds of our species surviving an all-out nuclear, bio, or nanotech war. Also, the point is made that we inevitably must explore new frontiers and push the boundaries of our habitation range. It’s what we do, and it’s part of what makes us human.

How do you feel about these choices? Would you support a major effort to colonize space, whether it’s on the Moon, on Mars, in the asteroid belt, or in manufactured habitats? How high a priority should this be?

We have created a new poll (see sidebar) for IEET readers to give their opinions. Please participate!

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


It is more important to pursue NBIC than to go to space.
Besides, those technologies are needed before we can really do anything spacewise.

“Also, the point is made that we inevitably MUST explore new frontiers and push the boundaries of our habitation range. It’s what we do, and it’s part of what makes us human. “

Ahh, but there are humans who might not be persons, and persons who might not be humans:

And “must” something be done because “it’s what we do”?

I think this is actually simpler than what it seems. We should just send our DNA out into space, like spores from a seed pot. Millions of DNA capsules in every single direction, each with a radio beacon.

I voted Other: YES!!

In some sense I tend to agree with the option “We need to expand, but with biologically modified transhumans”. I am sure our ultimate destiny in space will be, in the beautiful words of Sir Arthur:

“And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, and then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and of plastic.

In these, they roamed among the stars. They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships.

But the age of the Machine-entities swiftly passed. In their ceaseless experimenting, they had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter.”

One may think that it makes much more sense to wait for the development of some transhumanist technologies, and then resume our (post-)human adventure in space. There are a lot of valid points in support of this position, but I think they miss a very important point:

We need space. We need it now. We need it for our mental health as a species.

Watching the Moon knowing that other people are living and working there would be a powerful pointer to future, even more daring cosmic journeys, that could contribute to the mental health of the zeitgeist and give us a renewed confidence in the relevance of our lives on this little planet. Not everyone can be a space explorer, but we are all partners and stakeholders in the cosmic future of our species and its “manifest destiny” among the stars. This is a powerful meme that could result not only in much more support for space, but also in a more positive and proactive attitude on other pressing issues, at a moment of our history where we need positive thinking, confidence and optimism.

More thoughts:

Not the Moon.  It’s dead and we’ve been there.  It’s a bit more inspiring than the Space Station, but only just.


I’m with Bob Zubrin on this: Mars has water, it has CO2, it has an atmosphere, however thin.  Mars may be able to eventually support a human presence.  And, unlike the Moon, Mars may have vestiges of an independent life genesis.

The Moon, AND Mars!

Mars is more exciting, but also more expensive and technically challenging.

There is also another point: we can SEE the Moon. It is a powerful symbol alwats there in the sky for everyone to see.

Transalchemy wrote: “We should just send our DNA out into space, like spores from a seed pot. Millions of DNA capsules in every single direction, each with a radio beacon. “

I can’t tell which comment to remark:
A) That’s a pretty funny joke.
B) What will your recommendation accomplish?


It would give us a remote possibility that life will go on, if all life on this planet went extinct by some form of extinction level event. Having our Dna out in space even if it’s just little test tube spores, still gives us a chance greater than zero to exist once again.

We may not have the technologies to send out full sustainable spores right now, so this would be our only hope to prolong our existence.

At that point we have to hope somewhere in the universe exist intelligent life with the technology to take our DNA, and rebuild the human race.

I do believe that reaching out into space is important, yet for me it is even more important to create a Dna back up. It may be a while before we have a sustainable colony out in space,  in that time being confined here with no back up posses catastrophic risk

Another possible path to this would be to store our Dna on the moon.

All of this is relevant because going out into space is not just about exploration, its about long term survival!

Carlos, let’s talk reality instead of SF.

It’s true that right now we have all our eggs (and all our spermatogonia, too, by the way) in one basket.  However, DNA in capsules wouldn’t work.  Long nucleic acid chains would be cut to pieces very quickly by cosmic radiation—or accumulate so many mutations that their capacity to transmit information would disappear.  Even heavy shielding would not work well.  Radiation damage is a major showstopper in all the long-term space venture scenarios.

Interestingly, water may be the best shield in overall terms.  Going to space surrounded by an ocean where cetaceans frolic—now that’s a vision worth implementing.

There’s no doubt that we will eventually need to move offplanet to continue the survival of the species.  It may be thousands of years away, or in only 100, but it’s inevitable.  Resources are limited, the population is booming, and the toll we are taking on the planet is great.  The problem I see is that the technology just to get to another habitable planet (nevermind just finding one) is still a ways off and we couldn’t do it today if we wanted to.  This means that we need concerted and sustained effort towards this goal!  We need to work on technologies that will support distant space travel, including agriculture, health, energy, chemistry, etc, etc…

The big question is - can we get ready before it’s too late?

This article says:

Martian dust is particularly clingy. [snip] William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland says this may help to combat the dust—important if people travel to Mars. “If the dust is toxic and you bring it inside [a human habitat] it could be extraordinarily bad.”

Andreadis wrote: “Mars.  I’m with Bob Zubrin on this: Mars has water, it has CO2, it has an atmosphere, however thin. Mars may be able to eventually support a human presence. And, unlike the Moon, Mars may have vestiges of an independent life genesis. “

Sorry to be a party pooper, but the latest news has the following:

“August 6, 2009 : The methane Mars produces gets destroyed rapidly.  This is leading some planetary scientists to get depressed about the possibility of finding life there.
  The BBC News, and New Scientist all reported on the paper in Nature, saying this represents bad news for life.  In models by Franck Lefevre and Francois Forget, patterns of methane distribution can only be explained if the atmospheric methane is destroyed within an hour of release : 600 times faster than on earth.  Any process able to do that to the simplest organic molecule would most likely be highly deleterious to life.  As the BBC put it, whatever process is responsible for the destruction may be wiping out other organic molecules, which are necessary for life as we know it.”  Humans may have second thoughts about going there.  These risks to humans from poison atmosphere and toxic dust, though, are not stopping reporters from speculating that the source of the methane may be living organisms.  When geology can produce methane without as much speculation, Ockham’s Razor would prefer the latter.
  The actual timescales for methane production and destruction are uncertain enough to require better in situ measurements by future orbiters and rovers.  The Mars Science Laboratory may be able to nail down better numbers in 2012.”

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: A pill for longer life?

Previous entry: Defining ourselves as TP, H+, or other