Menu
Home

Room And Life Enough For All

The story of the recent death and career of super-slugger Ted Williams was eclipsed by the 21st century true-life soap opera surrounding the disposition of his remains.

Whether cryonics is a worthwhile procedure is an interesting subject in itself, but amidst all of the media speculation about it and its newfound notoriety, I'd like to discuss a different aspect of it.

Yup, you guessed it. Space may offer a solution to a problem faced uniquely by cryonicists. As the Ted Williams (and the earlier Dora Kent) case shows, a cryonics patient in suspension is not necessarily safe from interference by others.

Storage in space could prove a solution to the "peasants with pitchforks" problem, in which people opposed to the procedure, and acting perhaps out of ignorance, become active in their opposition. A suspension repository in orbit or on the lunar surface could be designed to be passively cooled, eliminating the requirements of power for refrigeration, or the topping up of liquid nitrogen, reducing the chances of thawing due to natural disasters or business problems.

And it would put the patients safely out of reach of most who, for whatever reason, would attempt to deliberately thaw (and thus destroy) them.

In addition, as more people sign up, it might present another market for space transportation, which is badly needed to reduce the cost. I wrote on this subject extensively for Cryonics magazine over a decade ago.

But there are other relationships between space and cryonics.

One of the concerns that's often raised by cryonics, and by life extension in general, is the population problem implied by new people being continually born, with few dying.

The problem, if it is one, is not immediate. Our home planet is capable of supporting many times as many people as it currently does at a comfortable living standard, given adequate technology and rational governance (the latter being a commodity unfortunately still in short supply in much of the world). And I think that fixing the bad government problem is a much more ethically desirable and otherwise worthwhile approach than throwing up our hands at the problem, and instead murdering the millions who might like to live longer (which is what forcing someone to die prematurely surely is).

The biggest problems from a resource standpoint are water and energy. But given affordable energy, the water problem is easily solved with desalinization of ocean water. And it would be foolish to bet that we won't come up with affordable new energy sources in the future (improved nuclear fission plants, nuclear fusion, more efficient solar and energy storage, etc.).

Also, there's no shortage of land, and won't be for a long time, considering how much of the planet is still relatively empty of people.

But sometime in the next few centuries, assuming that we don't stop breeding (not necessarily a good assumption) on a mass scale, we will run out of room on this planet.

Fortunately, the rest of the universe is almost unlimited, in volume and critical resources. If we do become essentially immortal, space settlement will provide a safety valve for the additional population, and in fact, it may allow us to actually depopulate the planet, and use it as a vast park, in which to breed diverse wildlife and enjoy scenic vacations.

Another problem often postulated by opponents of long life is that people will become bored. That may be true of some--even many. But while many people seem sanguine about the prospects of dying as they approach the ends of their lives, it isn't clear whether this is because of boredom, or because the currently-inevitable infirmities of advanced age have made living tiresome and unpleasant, and even excruciatingly painful.

It seems likely to me that, in most cases, their enthusiasm for life would be dramatically increased if they were given 21-year-old bodies (and matching hormones) again, particularly if they were chronologically older and wiser, and thus knew much better what to do with them. In a world of rejuvenation, the old saying about "youth being wasted on the young" would no longer apply.

It will, of course, depend greatly on the individual. As I wrote once in a letter to The Economist, for Joe or Josephine Sixpack, who comes home from work each night and sits in front of the television drinking beer, three score and ten will seem plenty. But for a Leonardo or Leonarda da Vinci, a lifetime of centuries might still seem all too brief.

But for those who like to travel, longer life will offer more opportunities to visit new places, and in the future, most of those new places will be off planet, so for many, space offers a solution to the boredom problem as well.

Space and extended life go hand in hand. The universe is so vast that we will require many human lifetimes to explore it, at least as individuals. And it offers new ecological ranges for the increased numbers of conscious beings that will result from advances in technology. And finally, unfortunately, at our current rate of progress, I occasionally think that I'm going to have to live several hundred years just to have a chance to get off the planet, at least if the government stays in charge...

Increasing Asteroid Worries

Other people are starting to pick up on the theme that asteroid impacts are a larger danger than they appear, because of the possibility of even a small one being mistaken for a nuke and setting off a war.

A Small Step In The Right Direction

After wasting billions of dollars on things like the disastrous X-33 program, NASA has awarded four small contracts (total of about 10 million) to look into ways of providing transportation to the space station commercially. While the two remaining Usual Suspects (Boeing and Lockmart) got two of the contracts, the two others went to newcomer startups, Andrews Space and Technology and Constellation Services.

More XCOR Milestones

They got off two flights in a single day, and on both flights, they demonstrated multiple restarts of the engines in midair. This is in preparation for a demonstration at the Oshkosh Air Show.

Letters

I got a follow up to my response to Mr. Tony Ianettie last week from an employee of a NASA contractor, who also took issue with my response. I assume that the opinions expressed are his own. I responded at my weblog. But I got another email from Dennis Yuhas, a retired systems engineer (I've edited it a little for a family web site): 

I retired as a systems engineer (Launch Processing System) from Kennedy Space Center. I support the concept of space flight, space station, space exploration, etc. What I saw in my 20 years at KSC was the way not to do it. Although NASA has some bright people, the majority appear to be government bureaucrats worried about their own little empire. 

It is no longer the "Right Stuff." I doubt if guys like Chuck Yeager could even get a job with NASA under the current configuration. The money that I have seen wasted by NASA does not give me a warm feeling as a taxpayer. 

I was employed as a contractor (United Space Alliance) and I believe that Shuttles were launched in spite of NASA, not because of NASA. I was able to watch the next generation of Launch Processing System called CLCS drain huge chunks of money from the program. If they ever get it to work, it will be as outdated as the system it is supposed to replace (CCMS). When something works, NASA takes the credit. If something fails, the contractor takes the blame. I don't see anybody changing the NASA system. The taxpayer just keeps footing the bill. 

To paraphrase Dennis Miller, I might be wrong, it's just my opinion. 

On last week's column about celebrating the anniversary of the lunar landing, Troy Matthews expressed his displeasure thusly:

I was encouraged and delighted to read your example of commemoration — the Passover Feast. What an excellent way to illustrate how a holiday should be remembered. The Declaration of Independence, which you encourage people to read on the Fourth of July (which I did — to my entire family) is full of references to God, upon Whom this nation was created.

But then you try to bolster your argument to commemorate man's landing on the moon by quoting Arthur C. Clark, with a blatantly evolutionist essay about the Moon's role in the creation of life. Not only was it a journalistic faux-pas, but it was world-view hypocrisy. It takes way more blind faith to think we are here by a random act of evolution than to believe in a Creator — who hung the moon Himself. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Sorry, Troy, but I don't see any hypocrisy, or shame, in simply commemorating events, whether they celebrate God or lifeforms. Not all agree with you that God is necessary to justify every celebration. But thank you for your comments.

And I hope that regardless of your other beliefs, you all celebrate, and commemorate, the 33rd anniversary of the first time that life strode on another planet on Saturday.

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his Web log, Transterrestrial Musings.

Respond to the Writer