There's a school of thought out there that has been gaining some traction in the past few years, and it's time to pay attention to it. That school of thought thinks that (1) the future of humanity is in space, and that we must "go to the stars", and (2) in order to do so, we need not only (a) exotic new technologies, things like ion propulsion, warp drives, "anti-gravity" and so on, but also (b) a fundamental "enhancement" or modification of the humans destined to do so. It is point (2(b)) with which we are concerned today. It could, perhaps, be argued that this point is the fusion of the transhumanist agenda with that of space. It's important to distinguish what's going on here, between the "technology traditionalists" - and I would definitely number myself in that camp - and the "transhumanist space explorers", which are newcomers in a certain sense to the debate on space.
For the "technology traditionalists", the idea of a sustainable and permanent human presence in space and an interplanetary extension of that presence is not possible without the achievement of exotic propulsion and artificial environment technologies. As I've stated on many occasions, chemical rockets and tiny little "space capsules" simply are not going to be adequate to the job. If you've wondered why, with all the talk of missions to Mars and space hotels and asteroid mining and returning to the Moon, nothing is ever actually accomplished towards those ends of any real practical nature, this is why, and everyone in the space agencies from India, to China, Russia, Japan, and NASA knows it. This is why NASA has a whole division investigating exotic propulsion technologies, including the idea of warp drives. In fact, as I've indicated on a number of occasions and blogs, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has made it a goal that the USA be "warp capable" in a century.
But the newer approach is that which I'm calling the "transhumanist space explorers," who admit the need for all the exotic propulsion, but who are also arguing that a sustained and permanent human presence in space requires not just the exotic technological modifications of our ideas of propulsion and space travel, artificial environments, life support, habitats, and so on, but also of the human being himself. It is this meme that one sees increasingly being argued and advanced in recent years, and the following article shared by G.L.R. can be seen as a kind of summary of this school of thought:
The opening abstract says it all:
The principal challenges lie in current space technology and engineering which includes the protection of astronauts from the hazards of working and living in the space environment. These challenges may lead to a paradoxical situation where progress in space technology and the ability to ensure acceptable risk/benefit for human space exploration becomes dissociated and the rate of scientific discovery declines. In this paper, we discuss the predominant challenges of the space environment for human health and argue that development and deployment of a human enhancement policy, initially confined to astronauts – for the purpose of future human space programmes is a rational solution to these challenges. (Emphases added)
And there's much context to suggest that the authors of this paper - Konrad Szocik and Martin Braddock - may have something quite fundamental and perhaps "drastic" in mind:
In this paper, we argue that human astronauts should be augmented for deep-space mission at the pre-launch stage in an alternative way from that offered by space agencies today. Current procedures include the inclusion of countermeasures such as diet, exercise, pharmaceuticals and anti-radiation shielding. Pharmaceutical efficacy may be limited to missions which are not longer than 2 years which may challenge a human mission to Mars which may last about 3 years. Astronaut augmentation may include a human enhancement programme based in part on genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics and cognitive science adaptation (Roco and Bainbridge 2003Roco, M.C., and Bainbridge, W.S., 2003. Converging technologies for improving human performance: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic., Chien and Wagstaff 2017Chien, S. and Wagstaff, K.L., 2017. Robotic space exploration agents. Sci. Robot, 2, eaan4831., Gao and Chien 2017Gao, Y. and Chien, S., 2017. Review on space robotics: toward top-level science through space exploration. Sci. Robot., 2, eaan5074.). If we assume that the space environment may require enhancement of future astronauts, it is essential to ensure a clear rationale11 The issue of rationale for human missions to Mars and other human deep space missions is discussed in detail in Szocik (2019Szocik, K., 2019. Should and could humans go to Mars? Yes, but not now and not in the near future. Futures, 105, 54–66.).View all notes for doing so as sending astronauts to such a hostile environment without consideration of appropriate countermeasures is unethical. Accepting that enhancement is a necessity, and assuming a favourable cost–benefit analysis, parameters such as invasiveness, reversibility or heritability must be considered. This will take into account long-term effects such as the risk of irreversibility of enhancements.
THe authors then discuss various methods of achieving this 'enhancement', including genetic modification, pharmaceutical enhancement of cognitive abilities, and so on. And lest the extent of their idea is not understood, toward the end of their article they state this:
What types of artificial capabilities could or should be applied to astronauts in future? One of the most desirable capacities in space may be living without a life support system. This opportunity would require breathing unaided in the Martian atmosphere but as terraforming appears even more challenging than previously thought, the only currently achievable solution is the life support system, at either an individual level or a population level such as in a biosphere.
In the final analysis, what their paper is really arguing is that space affords the opportunity to "enhance" humanity - that it to say, modify it so fundamentally - that one may question whether or not the result remains human. Indeed, from their point of view, it is an ethical requirement. One can easily see how the whole transhumanist-alchemical agenda of crawling back up the ladder from animal, to vegetable, to mineral man could be rationalized by an appeal to the necessity for it in order for humans to function in space: need to function in a radiation rich environment? modify the human genome by splicing in the genes of those plants and bacteria that actually feed on radiation; need a stable food supply? Splice in the genes responsible for photosynthesis in plants (and thereby make "green men"). Need to be able to expand cognitive function and inter-personal communications? Make the perfect cyborg-human with built-in bio-computer interfaces, chip the brain. Need to be able to make quick surgical repair of damaged cells and body parts? Fill the lymph and circulatory system with nanobots able to do so, and so on.
Ok, maybe so. But where is today's trademark high octane speculation? Well, for one thing, we've heard this story before. In fact, we've heard it thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of years ago. The wars of the "gods" or of the angels and demons might not be mere metaphor, but an actual physical cosmic reality. Those ancient texts also say something else: we once lived a whole lot longer. And they also say something else yet again: that at some point, those gods or angels or demons, came down from their heavenly perch and mixed and mingled with us, and some would argue that we were genetically "tinkered with", and that we(or at least, some of us), now, are the result of that experiment. So the real question, for those lending credence to such ideas, is this: were those ancient "enhancements" made for precisely the same purpose, to permit a permanent "human" interplanetary presence? Or, conversely, were they made by the "interplanetary powers that were" to prevent it?
See you on the flip side...