By Frank White
Steve Wolfe, a friend of mine and founder of the Beyond Earth Institute, recently wrote an essay for the space philosophy website, 2211.world. In it, he talked about the Earth as “the first space settlement.” (1)
In this article, I am using slightly different wording, but I want to amplify on Steve’s point, which is that the Earth is humanity’s first space community.
I say that because the Earth is in space, it has always been in space, and it will always be in space. Granted, we did not come to the Earth from another planet and settle here, as will be the case with the Moon, Mars, and “O’Neill communities” in free space. However, this home planet of ours has been modified dramatically, “terraformed” if you will, by life itself, since early organisms first left the oceans and began to live on land.
In fact, the Earth has been modified to such an extent that I now consider it to be an “Overview System,” which I call “Terra.”
In my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, I described an overview system as follows:
An overview system is a pattern of organized self-awareness in which the whole is perceived as the context of all the parts within it. An overview system can exist at any level within the universe, from a plane to a solar system to a galaxy and beyond.
Terra was defined as a planetary overview system consisting of:
- The physical system of the planet Earth;
- The living system known as Gaia;
- The human social system we call humanity; and
- A worldwide technology system, technos (2)
Seen in this way, we come to understand that when life is present, and especially when human life has evolved, we have gone beyond our simplistic view of a planet as a geological entity and are discussing a complex, self-aware whole system consisting of several layered parts.
It is a fascinating exercise to ask the question, “What is, or will be, the next space community?”
In answering this query, I would eliminate some of the earlier space stations, like Salyut and Skylab, simply because of their lack of longevity. Mir is a difficult case, because it lasted for 15 years before being de-orbited—much longer than the others, but not as long as the International Space Station.
However, I think that to be fair, we should count Mir as Space Community #2, and the ISS, which has been continuously occupied by humans for 22 years, as #3. Perhaps the Chinese station Tiangong, which is much younger, should be listed as #4.
In researching definitions of “community,” I did not come across any threshold of time during which a group of people had to live together or interact with one another to be classified as such.
Predicting the next space community seems obvious, because most observers would suggest it will be the Moon. However, if private space stations are allowed, then Space Community #5 could be one of the private systems being designed by Orbital Assembly, Axiom, Blue Origin, or Nanoracks.
With the expectation that the ISS will not continue past 2030, all of these companies are working toward launches of their stations in the next seven to eight years.
Assuming reality follows the planning, we might have several new “space communities” in action before we bid a fond farewell to the ISS. That is certainly NASA’s goal.
Orbital Assembly is indeed aiming for its community to be a positive environment for human growth and evolution. As we have discussed in previous blogs, OA is dedicated to giving community members the option of experiencing a variable level of gravity while visiting its Pioneer or Voyager stations. Research has clearly shown that long-term exposure to zero-gravity is hazardous to human health. At the same time, while there is relatively little data on gravity fields between zero-G and one-G, we have reason to believe that some gravity is better than none.
In addition to this inherent feature of the OA space communities of the future, the company is working with Micro Meat on developing cultivated meat, a key component for any sustainable space-based civilization. Moreover, OAC has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Dream Big World to launch the first retail experience in outer space. (3) OAC is working on a number of levels to change the image from “station” to “community.”
What does all of this mean? Perhaps it means that the big question of the day for space migration experts is, “Who will build Space Community Number Five?”
- S. Wolfe, “We Are Aleady Space Settlers—Let’s Admit it, 2211.world, https://2211.world/we-are-already-space-settlers-lets-admit-it/
- F. White, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, Multiverse Publishing, 2021.
- Orbital Assembly, https://news.abovespace.com
About the Author
Frank White is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Rhodes Scholar. He earned an M.Phil. in Politics from Oxford University, where he was a member of New College. The fourth edition of Frank’s best-known book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, was published by Multiverse Publishing, a division of Multiverse Media LLC, in 2022. Frank is president of The Human Space Program, Inc., a nonprofit organization based on an idea initially proposed in The Overview Effect.
(c) Copyright Frank White, 2023, All Rights Reserved. Published with permission by Above Space