All posts by Mordanicus

Space advocate, author, classical republican, classical liberal, religious humanist, religious naturalist.

On the Ethics of Colonizing Mars and Space

Both the colonization of Mars and Space colonization has ethical concerns. In this post we will discuss some of the more important issues.

Possible Life on Mars

Similarly, nobody really mourns for those who do not exist on Mars, feeling sorry for potential such beings that they cannot enjoy life.

David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been. The Harm of Coming into Existence. 2006.

One of the arguments against colonizing Mars is concern for possible Martian lifeforms. Some people argue that introducing terrestrial life to the Red planet, would be bad for native Martian life. Most scientists believe that, if Martian life (still) exists, it will most likely consist of bacteria or similar organisms.

The question we should ask ourselves is whether such Martian bacteria has any moral standing. According to English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, beings have moral standing if they can suffer. Bentham’s student John Stuart Mill, has introduced another important principle in moral philosophy, the harm principle. According to this principle our liberty is limited by the liberty of others; we may do what we wish as long as we do not harm other beings.

If we combine Bentham’s axiom of suffering with Mill’s harm principle, we can conclude the following: we may not beings who have the ability to suffer. As far as we know, bacteria cannot suffer, therefore they have, according to Bentham, no moral standing. For this reason we cannot conclude that bringing terrestrial lifeforms to Mars is immoral, because native Martian life might became extinct.

A related argument is that if terrestrial lifeforms are introduced to Mars, the original lifeforms cannot be distinguished from the introduced ones. This would interfere with scientific research to life on Mars. Although this might be regrettable, we might ask ourselves whether this would outweigh the benefits which colonizing Mars would offer to humanity.

A third concerned with the possibility of Martian bacteria is the health risk for colonists. This fear is understandable, however it is quite unlikely. Infectious diseases are generally limited to certain organisms. So is HIV dangerous for cats, apes and humans, whilst crocodiles are immune for it. Because parasites are adapted to a certain host organism, they cannot infect other organisms. (This also implies that all stories about fighting alien invaders with biological warfare are implausible.)

Of course, there is one caveat to this reasoning. Martian microbes might be poisonous to us.

Environmental impact on Earth

Another concern regarding space colonization, is the environmental impact of rockets. This is a serious problem, the pollution due to launching rockets into space do damage to our atmosphere. This pollution has all kinds of harmful effects to people, not the least to public health. The harm principle dictates that we should reduce the impact of rockets.

The precise environmental impact of a rocket depends on its type, especially on the kind of fuel used. Many rockets use poisonous fuels such as hydrazine, a hydrogen-nitrogen compound. By burning hydrazine both water (H2O) and nitrogen n-oxides  are produced, especially the latter is problematic since they are one of the causes of acid rain.

Hydrogen rockets, which produce water vapour as exhaust, are the most environment-friendly type of chemical rocket. Although there some technical difficulties with managing hydrogen rockets, the space shuttle program has shown that these can be overcome. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas, in fact one of the strongest, however this gas also stays in the atmosphere for a short time.

On the other hand, space colonization will also solve some environmental problems. For instance, asteroid mining would eliminate the need for mining on Earth. And mining is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation.

The costs of space colonization

Space-flight is expensive and so is space colonization. Therefore some people argue that given the large amount of poverty in the world, it is wrong to spend billions of dollars to a space colonization programs. However, these people are unaware that space colonization might be a solution for the problem of poverty.

The Solar System contains a lot of resources, so much that John Lewis has calculated that an equal distribution of these resources, would give every human on Earth a 100 billion dollars, which is much more than Bill Gates’ net wealth. Of course, this is somewhat extreme and this calculation is based on current prices of resources. When asteroid mining will increase the supply of this resources, their prices will fall. However, this price fall is not bad, since materials will become cheaper and so will the general price level. In this manner poor people can do more with their money.

Further, space colonization might increase employment, both in Space and on Earth, by creating all kinds of jobs. Even if the direct employment as result of space colonization will be limited, there is also the possible increase of indirect employment. Employees in the space industry will demand all kind of goods and services, which will create many more jobs etcetera.

Conclusion

Space colonization faces several difficult ethical question, however, it is also a potential solution for some ethical problems such as environmental damage and poverty.

UFOs from our own Solar System?

Introduction

A few years ago I found an interesting article by Gregory Lee Matloff: The Reenchantment of the Solar System: A Proposed Search for Local ET’s. In this very speculative article Matloff argues for the possibility that intelligent extraterrestrials may have colonised our Solar System already. This hypothesis may have serious consequences for the humanization of Space. First we will discuss how plausible Matloff’s hypothesis really is, then we will discuss the possible consequences.

Dr. Matloff argues that extraterrestrial space ships may have crossed interstellar space and may have arrived in our Solar System in a distant past. These local ET’s might live in artificial worlds that masquerade as natural objects like comets. Subsequently he describes two types of civilisations that might be interested in migrating to other star systems than their. This might be a nice subject of a science fiction novel, however his description is nothing but speculation (I would say mostly garbage).

Plausibility

Whether Matloff’s typology makes any sense, is quite irrelevant as long as we can imagine any group of intelligent extraterrestrials with whatsoever motivation to leave their own star system and to cross interstellar space for a few thousand years. The main question is whether such migration is feasible from a technological perspective. Therefore Matloff discusses several suggested propulsion systems. Some of them are simply impossible, such as hyperdrive. Others are not feasible (yet), such as the Bussard ramjet or antimatter rockets. Since we do not know whether any of these system will work in practice we cannot assume that extraterrestrials has developed them.

However, there proposed propulsion systems which are feasible now. Matloff mentions fusion pulse propulsion and Solar sails. They are feasible because they can be build with present day technology, so we can reasonably sure that more advanced extraterrestrials would be able to handle these systems. So if there is civilisation with at least our level technology, they would be able to leave their stellar system and to cross interstellar space.

The next variable we have to consider is whether they can sustain themselves during the voyage, which will take several thousands of years. In theory a civilisation slightly more advanced than ours should be able to build a generation ship. The main problem on such ship would be an adequate energy supply, all other stuff could be recycled if enough energy is available. Nuclear fusion seems to me as the most likely source of energy for such ship, since a relatively small amount of hydrogen will be required annually and could be collected en route.

Another possibility would be sleeper ships, in which the crew is in suspended animation. Or our ET’s could live for several centuries. And if they can travel at near light speed, time dilatation will enormously reduce travel time for the crew. From our perspective their trip would take several thousands of year, but for the immigrants only a few decades.

Therefore it would be possible for a group of extraterrestrial nomads to cross interstellar space. And there so no reason why it couldn’t have happened. As yet we have no evidence for the presence of any extraterrestrial intelligence in our Solar System. But the absence is no evidence of absence, after all it is easier to proof something does exists than to proof that something does not exist (the best way to prove a negative, is to prove something cannot exist).

Detecting ETs in our Solar System

So if ET’s are in our own Solar System, where do we have to look? Matloff’s answer: in the Oort cloud and the Kuiper belt, because these are the outer layers of the Solar System. Any “invader” has to pass them, and since these outer regions contains millions of minor Solar System objects, it would be a nice place to settle down.

If intelligent extraterrestrials has settled the Kuiper belt or Oort cloud, how can we detect them? Especially if they, as has been suggested by Matloff, have disguised their habitat as natural objects. If this would be the case, then it would be a hard job to find them with optical telescopes. However, Matloff has pointed out that these habitats should have an internal temperature several hundred degrees centigrade higher than their environment. (The temperature in the Outskirts of the Solar System is in order of -200 degrees centigrade.) Therefore these world should emit more infrared radiation than we should expect from a natural object in that part of the Solar System.

Fermi Paradox

By scanning the skies for objects with unusual high infrared emissions, we might detect potential alien hide outs. But if intelligent ET’s has already colonised our Solar System, we might wonder why they have not visited us already? This is the so-called Fermi-paradox. One of the traditional replies to this questions, is that aliens would have to travel several light years just to visit us, which would take several hundreds of years for them to complete. Such investment for satisfying a curious interest would not justifiable.

But the Fermi paradox becomes much more relevant, if we assume that intelligent ET’s might live in our Solar System. However, there a few simply explanations. The first one is the most simple one: the simply do not know about our existence. This might seem quite strange to most people, but it is a very reasonable option. Many people would be tempted to think that aliens living in our Solar System cannot possibly miss our planet. However, this would be a kind of what I would call psychological geocentrism. The planet Uranus is larger than our planet and it is much closer to us than Pluto, one of the innermost Kuiper belt objects, and we were not able to discover this particular planet until the invention of the telescope.

For this reason, we cannot assume that intelligent beings who have immigrated from other stellar systems might have discovered Earth. It is quite reasonable that they have never been in the inner Solar System. Why? That is because it cost more energy to through something to the Sun, than out of the Solar System. So unless they have a strong reason to explore the inner Solar System, they would stay in the outskirts.

If they should have discovered Earth, some thousands of years ago if not longer, then they might have visited our planet in a distant past. However if it was some fifty thousand years ago, they might have concluded that our planet contained our planet contained some primitive life. Recall that fifty thousand years ago, there were only a few ten thousand humans on Earth, and their effect on the biosphere was negligible. In this case the aliens might have concluded that our planet was not quite interesting and they have ignored us since.

UFOs

If either of both scenarios would be true, this might solve another problem. Reported sightings of UFOs have only been made since the 1940s. So if Earth would regularly be visited by aliens, why are there no reports of those visits from before the twentieth century? If you live at more than a few astronomical units away from our planet, it is a hard job to detect whether there is intelligent life. At least that was the case until the early 1900s, when started to use Radio waves for communication.

Since man-made Radio waves leave our planet in all directions. Some of these waves might have been detected by intelligent ETs living in Outskirts of our Solar system. Unlike aliens living at distant star systems, these aliens might travel to Earth within a few years. Before we started to emit artificial radio waves, those aliens had simply no reason to visit us.

However, when the learned that there was a sudden outburst in radio waves from the center of the Solar System, this might have caused some worry among them. Whether it would be a natural phenomenon or the sign of intelligent life, this is a potential danger for their existence. So these aliens might have decided to start a mission to check out this sudden spectral emission.

Of course, this hypothesis is no prove that UFOs are indeed alien spacecraft. Most reported sightings of UFOs are misidentified natural phenomena such as birds, planets, aircraft etcetera or outright lies. There are only a very few genuine reports of unidentified flying objects. The idea that intelligent life might live in the outskirts of the Solar system, is only a possible explanation for some UFO sightings.

Consequences for Space colonies

If there are intelligent extraterrestrials in our own Solar System, this would have serious consequences for any Space settlement. These aliens might be hostile, and they might have the means to destroy space habitats. It’s impossible to know their attitude to us, until we have discovered them, which might be too late. Therefore Space colonists should be prepared to deal with this possibility.

If these aliens exist, they are likely technologically more advanced than us. Therefore governments of Space communities should develop adequate strategies for dealing with potential hostile intelligent ETs. Although we hear from time to time, that governments are designing plans to deal with the threat of an alien invasion, we seriously doubt the soundness of such plans. The problem is that such plan might be based on false assumptions, and we cannot be sure whether their developers know what they are dealing with. Our impression is that all talk of such plans is just propaganda for the general public, in order to prevent panic.

However it’s also possible, that those aliens will choose to be as quiet as possible in order to prevent their discovery. They might choose to leave the inner Solar System to us, just for keeping the peace. This would depend on the state of their military and their moral dispositions.

Good Bye Post Stamps!

Th Dutch Postal Service (PostNL) has introduced a kind of post stamp: digital post stamps. In the Netherlands, people are sending fewer and fewer letters and so fewer people have post stamp in-house. So if you has to send a letter, you need to go a shop to buy an entire sheet of post stamps (the last time I have bought post stamps, has been five years ago or so). It’s not possible to buy single stamps.

However, PostNL has come with a solution. People can now download an app on their cell phone. With this app they can buy a code, instead of putting a stamp you write that code on your letter’s envelope. The code is scant at the post center and recognised as stamp. The code is made up of nine numbers and letters (which gives more than 10 billion combinations, so the chance to guess a valid code are nill).

For those who are able to read Dutch: http://nos.nl/artikel/509787-postzegel-niet-meer-nodig-met-app.html (If you cannot read Dutch, you can use Google Translate; although this wouldn’t give you a fully correct translation, however it’s mostly understandable).

The Mars One Hoax continues

It seems that some 78,000 people have submitted an application for an one-way ticket to Mars by Dutch organisation Mars One. It’s no secret were highly sceptical of these organisation and the colonization of Mars in general.

One of the reasons why projects aimed at the colonisation of Mars get more attention than the deserve is the gross lack of knowledge among journalists. Too many journalists are unfamiliar with the subject of space colonisation and only a very few of them are aware of Gerard O’Neill, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky or John S. Lewis. Because they lack the knowledge to critically analyse Mars colonisation plans, they are easy prey for ruthless people as Bas Lansdorp.

One of the more peculiar aspects of the Mars One program is their reality TV show. We have to recall that Mr. Lansdorp is a Dutchman and that the Netherlands is the birthplace of reality TV (Big Brother).  So we have to ask whether the whole talk about colonising Mars is in fact nothing more than a pretext for the reality show. The applicants will be televised while they are thinking they will go to the Red Planet.

Of course, no reality TV show will ever raise enough money to fund the whole project (6 billion dollar according to Mars One, our own calculation estimate the project on 7 to 10 billion dollar). So do they have additional funding? Their site does not mention it. Therefore we suspect that it is all about the TV show.

It would not surprise us if Bas Lansdorp will tell at the end of the series, that the whole thing is nothing more than a hoax. So wannabe Mars colonists be aware!

See for more about Mars colonisation.

The Ideal Space Settler?

American philosopher James Park has written a document in which he outlines criteria for selecting immigrants for the USA. In this post I want to discuss what characteristics are desirable in prospective Space settlers. Since launch capacity is limited, only a few hundreds or thousands of people will be able to immigrate to Space colonies each year (at least this will be the case during the early years, when Space settlements will develop this capacity will raise). Therefore good criteria for selecting settlers for new Space colonies will be even more important.

What are Park’s criteria for selecting new immigrants? His article gives the following list:

1.  LANGUAGE ABILITIES

2.  OCCUPATIONAL SKILLS

3.  BUSINESS ABILITIES AND CAPITAL

4.  CREATIVE TALENTS

5.  EDUCATION

6.  FAMILY CONNECTIONS AND OTHER SUPPORT SYSTEMS

7.  MINOR CHILDREN INCLUDED IN THE IMMIGRANT FAMILY

8.  NOT BEING A CRIMINAL

9.  SELECTING THE VERY BEST APPLICANTS

10.  LOTTERY AS AN ALTERNATIVE

11.  CONCLUSION: THE BEST PEOPLE ON EARTH

I will discuss this points one by one.

Language

Not surprisingly Park argues that new American immigrants should be able to understand and use English. However, there is no reason to assume that  English will be the official language of a Space colonies. We have discussed the issue of language and Space colonization in a previous post.

Occupational skills

This one is of particular interest. Space settlements are in need of a wide variety of occupational skills. Unlike present day America, Space settlements has to start with zero population.Therefore every job opening has to be filled by an immigrant, simple because are no unemployed Space settlers. Even more than in the USA immigrants has to be selected for relevant skills, we do need five hundred psychologists but a few physicians are very welcome. Especially we need people with practical and technical skills.

Business abilities and capital

It would be fine if people with business abilities and capital will join the Space movement, however it is not necessary that these people will join the first few shifts of immigrants. People willing to invest their capital in Space colonization can do that through donations and loans, and can use their business abilities to organise the Space movement. However this can be done from Earth as long as Space settlements are in their infancy.

Creative talents

This one is very important. Because Space settlers are subject to unexpected situation creativity is key to survival in Space. Therefore selecting prospective settlers on their creativity is not only a good idea, it is of vital importance.

Education

Having completed an education is not only important for the specific skills one has acquired, but is also proof that someone has the ability to learn new things. Further by being educated someone also demonstrates having the discipline to complete certain tasks.

Family connections

In isolated small communities like a Space settlement with a few hundred residents, inbreeding is a huge problem. For this reason alone, being a relative of an existing Space settler should be a contra-indication for selection. The risks of inbreeding do not weigh up to the benefits of having relatives in a Space colony.

Yes, we acknowledge those benefits. If you have family in another country you will adapt to your new country faster, because you are supported by people you know and love. However, for existing countries with large populations such as the US inbreeding is not a real concern, since such countries already have a diverse gene pool.

Minor children

For practical reasons it would be better if Space settlements should select immigrants who haven’t children, yet. Preferentially immigrants are either young (between age 18 and 40) singles or childless couples. We believe it would be better if Space settlers will found a family after immigration to Space.

Children, especially the very youngest, might suffer from extreme stress as a result of immigration from Earth to Space. The trip from Earth to the Lagrange points of the Sun-Earth system will take month, during which the immigrants will be subjected to low or zero gravity (in the space habitats there will be artificial gravity). Such a long period of zero gravity will have enormous effects on the health of children and might be dangerous for them.

Given that it would be better for Space settlers to found a family after immigration, so that their children can grow up within artificial gravity, we should limit immigration opportunities of people above the age of forty. However, there should be no immigration ban for those category, but we should prefer young adults, although the presence a few middle-aged person will be desirable.

Not being criminal

This one is really obvious. The last thing we need in a Space settlement are murderers, (serial) rapists, paedophiles, terrorists, all kinds of violent robbers etcetera. Only people who are able of peaceful cooperation are welcome in our new societies. All prospective Space settlers should be able to prove their lack of a criminal record. Once it has been discovered one has lied about his criminal record, that person should be expelled from the settlement.

I will discuss the topic of criminal justice and space colonization in a future post, for now you can read this post.

Selecting the very best immigrants

The question whether we should select the very best immigrants, or should immigrant just be sufficiently good? I think we should opt for the latter, albeit our standards should be quite high.

A particular concern of James Park is preventing a brain drain from other countries. Given the fact that due to limited launch capacity only a few hundred people can immigrate to Space Settlements. So the Space movement has not to worry about a possible brain drain.

Lottery as alternative(?)

James Park suggest to use lottery instead of the criteria mentioned above. However we would argue to use lottery in addition to those criteria. After all, there are much more people who would qualify than could be reasonable transported into Outer Space. Lottery would give each potential immigrant an equal chance of being selected.

Our selection process will be a two-step procedure. First prospective settlers will checked whether they met our criteria, if they qualify they will be admitted to the next step. The second step will a lottery. If for instance a hundred people can be transported to a Space settlement, and say five thousand applicants are qualifying, then from their names one hundred will be randomly selected.

Additional Criteria

Since emigrating to a Space Settlement is quite different from to the US, we should have a few additional criteria. As explained in a previous post, we believe that prospective should be vegetarians. People who really like to eat meat, should not apply. Further people should sign a pledge that they subscribe our value, especially that they support our commitment to Republicanism, Liberalism, Secularism and Humanism. People who don’t like these principles should either found their own space colonization group or they should stick here on Earth.

Space colonization and genetic engineering

Although Space colonization and genetic engineering are separate concepts and the creation of space habitats is perfectly possible without the use genetic engineering, we believe that genetic engineering is a key technology for the success of Space colonization. Continue reading Space colonization and genetic engineering

Space colonization and survivalism

One of the major arguments used by advocates of space colonization is the survivalist argument. This argument states that Space colonization is necessary to prevent the extinction of the human species. However, we of Republic of Langrangia do not endorse this particular argument.

Before we can continue, we should emphasis the distinction between the survivalist argument and the environmental  or demographic argument. The latter argument states that Space colonization is necessary to solve our ecological problems due to human population. By moving (large) parts of mankind into Outer Space we will reduce the pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystem.

The existence of the human species on Earth is subject to several threats, such as supervolcanoes and asteroid impacts.  However the question is whether the extinction of our species in itself is a bad thing. According to the South-African philosopher David Benatar have people no duty to procreation because people who have never existed cannot be harmed by their non-existence (Benatar p. 30-40, 2006), subsequently the eventual extinction of homo sapiens as such cannot be not a bad thing.

Measures taken to protect human life shouldn’t be made for the sake of the prevention of human extinction, but only to save the lives of currently existing people. Since only a relatively small portion of humanity can be moved into Outer Space, Space colonization fails as a method to save people’s lives in case of an extinction event, in which billions will still die.

The survivalist argument is a particular weak argument for Space colonization. Although it might have a high emotional “value”, it is philosophically suspect. Therefore we believe that Space advocates should rely on arguments which emphasize the benefits of Space colonization for currently existing people.

References

Benatar, David 2006. Better Never to Have Been. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Pandeism as the core of future Spacer religion?

As you probably already know, Republic of Lagrangia endorses secularism. However this doesn’t prevent us from speculating what form the religion(s) of the future will take. Most prospective Space settlers or Spacers, will likely be quite scientifically mended and will therefore accept scientific facts like the big bang and evolution. However many people, even if they fully accept modern cosmology and biology, will still feel uncomfortable without some sense of divinity.

Many people make great difficulties with combining their acceptance of modern science with some kind of religion. One of these attempts has been made by Bernard Haisch in his book The God Theory. According to his theory, god created the universe by becoming the universe. Haisch’s theory is in fact a kind op pandeism, according to Wikipedia pandeism is:

Pandeism (or pan-deism) combines aspects of pantheism and deism. It holds that the creator of the universe actually became the universe, and so ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity.[1][2][3] Pandeism is proposed to explain as to deism why God would create a universe and then abandon it,[4] and as to pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.

Since this theological position is fully compatible with modern science, pandeism might become popular among Spacers with religious inclination living in a highly secular society. Although pandeism in itself is no religion, it might help people to deal with their psychological need for some spirituality without giving up their believe in science.