Summary: Behind the headlines about billionaire jaunts into space, there’s a deeper motivation – the belief that spreading into the cosmos will save humanity’s future.
Original author and publication date: Richard Fisher – July 21, 2021
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Quick question: if we can barely live in one planet, who in the universe are we going to build a galactic civilization? And (second quick question), what if the emperor appears?
From the article:
In the mid-1970s, the physicist Gerard O’Neill was reflecting on humanity’s deep future in space – and concluded that his peers were thinking about it wrong. Lots of people talked about settling other planets, but he realised that there wasn’t actually that much suitable real estate within the Solar System. Much of the planetary surface for building settlements exists within harsh, punishing atmospheres, and since rocky worlds and moons have gravity, going back and forth would be fuel-intensive.
Instead, O’Neill imagined enormous floating settlements, not too far away from Earth, shaped like cylinders. People would live on the inside, within green, forested towns, lakes and fields. It was a far-fetched idea, but thanks to the awe-inspiring visualisations that accompanied it – like the one below – O’Neill’s dreams would influence a generation. And one of those people made international headlines this week.
In the 1980s, there was a student in O’Neill’s seminars at Princeton University, who took careful note of his professor’s ideas. He aspired to be a “space entrepreneur”, and saw settlements beyond Earth as a way to ensure humanity’s long-term future. “The Earth is finite,” he had told his high-school newspaper, “and if the world economy and population is to keep expanding, space is the only way to go.” He would go on to amass an enormous fortune, which one day he’d start spending to kickstart that ambition.
The student’s name? Jeffrey Preston Bezos.
To understand why billionaires like Bezos want to go to space, you have to understand their influences. To casual observers, the efforts of Blue Origin and its competitors may seem to be no more than the vanity projects of a few extremely rich men, with extremely expensive rockets. And for many others, the timing of these jaunts could not be more tone-deaf, amid climate change, a pandemic, widening inequality and many other severe global problems.
But underpinning these efforts is a broader motivation that deserves deeper scrutiny: the idea of long-term salvation through space.
Bezos is not the first person to propose that spreading out into the cosmos is the only way to guarantee humanity’s future.
People have dreamed of creating a civilization beyond the atmosphere of Earth for well over a century, and future generations will likely continue to do so long after Bezos and his ilk have gone. So, what can these galactic goals tell us about this latest chapter?