OpEd: Migratory Manifesto for a Space Civilization

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“Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.” — Arnold Toynbee

One of the most critical undertakings for space policy planners around the world in the next five to 10 years will be to set all nations on a path that will illuminate the fundamental values that should guide the ongoing human migration into near and deep space.

We need to incorporate values and needs that go far beyond those that reflect transitory economics, strictly domestic and international partisan politics, and shifting military requirements to protect equally shifting national and international interests.

On Feb. 4, 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush underscored his policy for NASA to establish a human presence on our Moon and ultimately Mars by stating, “[t]his cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart.”

Unfortunately, the president omitted the unsettling but critical survival needs of humankind through space migration and settlement.

Exploration, discovery, migration and settlement — finding new physically and culturally suitable places to live and survive — have allowed Homo sapiens to evolve and flourish over the millennia, from at least 65 million years ago to the present. In this context, it is critical that the world’s spacefaring cultures be recognized as helping to structure and build an entirely new and unique civilization in space. They are pursuing the incipient design and fabrication stages that will help establish a “cradle of space civilization” — not simply a space colony or society, but a civilization. How we migrate to near and deep space and settle it must be the driving force, not simply that we have technological access to space.

Yet, cultural recidivism is being relied upon to establish the legal foundation and social constructs for human evolution off Earth. Very little thought is being given to the fact that we are in the process of helping to build — albeit in a helter-skelter and piecemeal fashion — a complex foundation for new civilizations.

Meanwhile, our rapidly evolving technology is telescoping drastically the time available to us to step back and analyze how and why we should migrate to and settle near and deep space. We seem to be repeating all the disasters in economic, military and cultural imperialism that inevitably result, as history has shown us time and again in colonial establishments that often result in ongoing violent confrontations. Permanently manned habitats on the Moon and Mars sound more like the establishment of military outposts or colonies than new civilizations.

Time is much shorter than Earth’s current civilizations seem prepared to recognize . To catch up with our unfolding space technology, w e should be pressing forward with great urgency on the philosophical, theological and biocultural constructs necessary to help establish a civilization that reflects not only a framework of values we wish to in culate at the outset, but more importantly those that reflect the unique demands and physical exigencies of a non-Earth life support system.

At present, though, we seem to be adopting a tragic, cultural laissez faire attitude that fails to challenge our intellectual capabilities or recognize that such a space civilization’s descendants will evolve biologically, biotechnologically and culturally.

It is necessary in large part to return to step one and begin formulating values for this new space civilization that are responsive to the dictates not only of space habitation, but of the human biotechnological, philosophical and theological constructs that might serve as the foundation to guide this phase of evolution. The undertaking will offer the ultimate challenge in cross-cultural communication, understanding and acceptance.

As a first step to identifying ecumenically shared core values and principles around which a space civilization should be initiated and allowed to evolve in situ — a global conference should be convened to formulate a type of Migratory Manifesto for the establishment of such a civilization.

The conference — a kind of constitutional convention, if you will — would offer a great the opportunity to restate or redefine, with the broadest international sector possible, the core beliefs, hopes, biological imperatives, and socio-cultural survival ideals and values underlying the destiny of humankind in space.

The results of such a conference should reflect, at least in part, a “declaration of interdependence” between Earthkind and Spacekind, and allow for the formulation of a legal framework to assist in assuring the survival of a complex and unique culture in space . The participants in such a conference or convention must include astrobiologists, psychiatrists, economists, physical and cultural anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, historians, molecular biologists, engineers, ethicists, theologians, philosophers, and jurisprudents. Better to think creatively and prepare now than to await the distractive burdens of violent confrontations that inevitably flow from policies of colonialism.

George Robinson, presently in private practice, served as legal counsel at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Federal Aviation Administration. He also served as an international relations specialist at NASA.