Erika Nesvold: Lucianne is an astronomer at the Adler plan­e­tar­i­um in Chicago, and recent­ly served as year as the Astrobiology chair at the Library of Congress, which is where we met, at an uncon­fer­ence that Lucianne orga­nized called Decolonizing Mars. And after that we cofound­ed this orga­ni­za­tion, The JustSpace Alliance, which Andrés help­ful­ly read our mis­sion state­ment out ear­li­er, which saves me from hav­ing to recite it again. But our goal is to have more con­ver­sa­tions like this and to encour­age more con­ver­sa­tion between the space experts that’re talk­ing engi­neer­ing and sci­ence and their rock­et ships, and peo­ple who are experts in soci­ol­o­gy and his­to­ry and how to not hurt each oth­er quite so much. So, I hope that you’ve enjoyed the con­ver­sa­tion that we’ve been hav­ing so far and that we can con­tin­ue it.

So for our third pan­el, we’ll be talk­ing about What Do Community and the Social Landscape Look Like in Space?” We’re going to start off with a talk by Craig Calhoun, who is a Professor of Social Sciences at Arizona State University, and the for­mer Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

We’ll also be joined by Fred Scharmen, who is an Associate Professor at Morgan State University in the School of Architecture and Planning, has a book out this week called Space Settlements that hope­ful­ly he’ll talk about.

And Alex MacDonald, who’s a Program Director for Emerging Space at the NASA Office of the Chief Technology— [MacDonald?: Not any­more.] Not any­more! He’s now a Senior Economic Advisor at NASA. I caught up eventually.

But Craig will start us off.

Craig Calhoun: Thank you Erika. 

So in the spir­it of provo­ca­tions… And I’m not going to both­er to repeat all of the dis­claimers about how lit­tle we know. All of us, no mat­ter what we’re experts in, know too lit­tle about this subject.

Anticipations of human set­tle­ment in space, though, are gal­va­nized by utopi­an visions on the one hand, and by dystop­i­an views of this world on the oth­er hand. And it’s impor­tant to keep both in mind because they are both pro­jec­tions. In addi­tion to being the con­tin­u­a­tion of process­es of set­tle­ment and the expan­sion of human soci­ety that’ve been going on for a very long time, they are pro­jec­tions of issues we have with that. 

So we have our hopes that may be real­ized. And I’m going to talk a lit­tle bit about how much is invest­ed in the word com­mu­ni­ty,” these hopes. And we also have the idea that there are a vari­ety of prob­lems with an over­pop­u­lat­ed and eco­log­i­cal­ly dam­aged Earth, that may be rec­ti­fied by space set­tle­ment. It’s inter­est­ing if you go back and reread GK O’Neill in the 1970’s, you get a very famil­iar list of the Earth’s prob­lems that are going to be reme­died, at least mit­i­gat­ed, by space set­tle­ment. So the dri­ver there of solv­ing prob­lems on this Earth is real. 

Common to both utopias, and those who are react­ing to this world­ly dystop­ia, is a vision of space set­tle­ments as ide­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. None of this applies to Fred because I haven’t read his book because I just saw it for the first time right here. And I’m sure he’s exempt from any­thing I say crit­i­cal. But, he has already said any­thing I said pos­i­tive­ly here. 

But, there is a ten­den­cy, an enor­mous ten­den­cy in the world of advo­ca­cy and in the world of futur­ism and pro­jec­tion, to think of space set­tle­ments as ide­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. I don’t just mean the assump­tion that peace will win out over con­flict or ien­qual­i­ty will be min­i­mized. These assump­tions are indeed com­mon among many advo­cates for space set­tle­ment. But there are plen­ty of sci­ence fic­tion accounts of future space wars to coun­ter­bal­ance this, so that isn’t real­ly the issue I’m after. I mean rather that the unit of imag­ined space set­tle­ment is very dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly some­thing called the com­mu­ni­ty. And what we might mean by that is a question. 

Now, from here on out I am going to be tak­ing a major legal risk, because a firm, Caelus Partners, has been claim­ing trade­mark sta­tus for the phrase com­mu­ni­ty in space,” sub: tm,” right. 

Now, note what a trade­mark is. It’s an effort to claim prop­er­ty rights, right. The idea that the very long-used phrase com­mu­ni­ty in space” could become pri­vate prop­er­ty reveals a sig­nif­i­cant set of issues, and poten­tial­ly a con­tra­dic­tion. Now I don’t want to take up all of this and I have no idea who’s behind Caelus Partners and what they’re up to with their attempt to trade­mark com­mu­ni­ty in space” so they can become I think the pre­dom­i­nant con­sul­tants on the sub­ject. But, I think that the con­tra­dic­tion is interesting. 

As prop­er­ty claims, trade­marks are enforce­able through laws made by states, right. Not the infor­mal rela­tion­ships of com­mu­ni­ties. So there’s this ten­sion between say­ing We’re all about com­mu­ni­ty. We’re all about self-governing, infor­mal rela­tion­ships with almost no intru­sive actions of gov­ern­ment,” and We’re going to trade­marks this so that we have recourse in the legal appa­ra­tus, run by states, to defend our prop­er­ty rights.” Moreover, the agen­da of Caelus Partners is explic­it­ly the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of space. Which is also not…precisely…community.

Communitarian visions of social life, in short, are impor­tant­ly incom­plete. It’s not that they’re all wrong, that noth­ing’s been said rea­son­ably about com­mu­ni­ty. But the idea that descrip­tions of com­mu­ni­ties would be ade­quate to give an account of the whole of space set­tle­ment is very prob­lem­at­ic. Space com­mu­ni­ties can only be parts of larg­er systems. 

Now. I’ve already sug­gest­ed— I’m going to just gloss over some­thing that’s come up in the pre­vi­ous pan­els but is impor­tant. The nar­ra­tive of future space set­tle­ment real­ly is an exten­sion in many ways of the nar­ra­tive of expand­ing soci­ety on the sur­face of the Earth. It’s not a rad­i­cal depar­ture. We haven’t yet made any rad­i­cal depar­ture. There are rad­i­cal depar­tures required in the tech­nolo­gies, to be able to achieve trans­port, at cost effec­tive­ness, and to sus­tain life in space. But the nar­ra­tive of expan­sion is large­ly con­tin­u­ous with pri­or expan­sions. Merchants and kings backed voy­ages of explo­ration. The great Dutch, East, and West India com­pa­nies, which we heard about, and the British East India Company, were pio­neers not just in expand­ing set­tle­ment but in invent­ing busi­ness corporations. 

And they behaved also like states in many ways. They employed armies to enforce their prop­er­ty claims. They depend­ed on states for addi­tion­al secu­ri­ty, not least against pirates or pri­va­teers who sought to inter­cept their ships and car­gos. Though these might in fact be spon­sored by rival states, so it was a com­pli­cat­ed world, right. Now the impor­tance of this—and I could go on and on about the story—is that we remem­ber that some of the issues have very long his­to­ries of con­tend­ing with these issues. 

There are sim­i­lar pro­pos­als today to base com­mu­ni­ty in space on a large-scale prop­er­ty rights giv­en to those who will fund build­ing the set­tle­ments. Exactly what we heard about in the case of the Dutch East India Company. I quote one of these: 

We have the pow­er to cre­ate a pot of gold” wait­ing on the Moon, to attract and reward what­ev­er com­pa­nies can be the first to assem­ble and risk enough cap­i­tal and tal­ent to estab­lish an airline-like, Earth-Moon space line” and lunar set­tle­ment. How? By mak­ing it pos­si­ble for a set­tle­ment to claim and own — and re-sell to those back home on Earth—the prod­uct that has always reward­ed those who paid for human expan­sion: land ownership
Alan Wasser, The Space Settlement Initiative

Now. There’s a lot of ki—…you know, issues here. This isn’t a real­i­ty of legal frame­work. Advocates are propos­ing the US Congress pass bills guar­an­tee­ing recog­ni­tion for land claims. This has­n’t hap­pened yet. But a cou­ple of quick obser­va­tions on this. One, land is usu­al­ly not thought of as a prod­uct in the same sense but as a pre­ex­ist­ing endowment. 

But two, right, this is a pro­pos­al for pre­emp­tive deploy­ment of prop­er­ty claims in space. They’re a set of argu­ments about the treaty that I don’t want to go into that claim that while nation­al sov­er­eign­ty is exclud­ed pri­vate own­er­ship is not. I think this is a sort of dubi­ous argu­ment and a false debate. My point is the imag­i­nary. The kind of moti­va­tion peo­ple have, what they think they’re up to, not whether they can actu­al­ly defend it in a court of law. 

And there’s a rea­son this debate is tak­ing this form, by com­par­i­son to 1967. In 1967 it was pret­ty clear that gov­ern­ments had the resources, if any Earth-bound enti­ties had the resources, to launch into space. And it’s pret­ty clear now that cor­po­ra­tions have the resources, not gov­ern­ments. So that we have to rec­og­nize behind a lot of this argu­ment a dra­mat­ic shift in resources. The extent to which there’s been a con­cen­tra­tion of wealth in pri­vate hands… Which has been aid­ed by tax cuts, it’s been aid­ed by tax eva­sion, but it also has been sim­ply a prod­uct, right, of a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent forces that I can’t go into any detail, although some of those forces have a direct rela­tion to space because they are the prod­ucts of gov­ern­ment invest­ment space explo­ration in the 1960s, which the gov­ern­ment allowed to be com­mer­cial­ized, by oth­ers, with­out retain­ing prop­er­ty rights. So that a good deal of what we think of as the post-1970s expan­sion of micro­elec­tron­ics and a range of oth­er tech­nolo­gies has roots in large-scale gov­ern­ment invest­ment. Some of it from the space pro­gram. Others for defense pur­pos­es. Others for health pur­pos­es. But it has led to a shift in who has the resources, and this then leads to dif­fer­ent pro­pos­als and dif­fer­ent con­crete projects (Elon Musk or who­ev­er) about how to go into space, and dif­fer­ent challenges. 

Now all of this still plays out against a back­ground of this idea of com­mu­ni­ty. I would mean by com­mu­ni­ty” a rel­a­tive­ly dis­creet pop­u­la­tion linked by dense net­works of inter­per­son­al ties where indi­vid­u­als are sort of know­able or rec­og­niz­able. Where the orga­ni­za­tion is large­ly infor­mal. And where the whole is more or less read­i­ly sur­veil­l­able. So that you can as a mem­ber of a community—a neigh­bor­hood, a small town—sort of see how the whole works. 

Well that is almost by def­i­n­i­tion dif­fer­ent than how glob­al sys­tems work. Organized in terms of infra­struc­ture, the glob­al trans­porta­tion sys­tem, the glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem, the glob­al mar­ket. And extend­ing beyond the globe into space. We have a ten­sion between an ide­al­iza­tion of some­thing like a local com­mu­ni­ty…” islands in space, as the phrase has been ever since GK O’Neill and before, small set­tle­ments, which peo­ple can know in a cer­tain way; and the larg­er sys­tems, which are more opaque to that kind of per­son­al expe­ri­en­tial vision, which you have to know oth­er ways—through engi­neer­ing, through sta­tis­tics, through whatever. 

Community, in oth­er words, is dif­fer­ent from nation-states, far-flung mar­kets, multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions. And through­out the whole mod­ern era, this very dif­fer­ence has been the­ma­tized in a sort of nos­tal­gic val­ue on community—the world that we are los­ing, the world we could real­ly know and understand—versus this oth­er, more com­pli­cat­ed world. And that plays out in the space dis­cus­sion, too, which has its own vari­eties of unre­al­is­tic nos­tal­gia in evok­ing com­mu­ni­ties. And I won’t say much about this but just the island trope is a good exam­ple of this. It has been a part of the dis­cus­sion of com­mu­ni­ty and ide­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties since the ear­ly mod­ern era, right, in which Pacific islands became exemplars. 

And the imag­ined self-contained island set­tle­ment sets up innu­mer­able utopias which are imag­ined in that con­text, inspires Rousseau, right, inspires a vari­ety of accounts of what life could be like in anoth­er way that are remark­ably like accounts of space set­tle­ments. In which there will be free­dom from want, there will be com­mu­nal shar­ing, there will not be the need for an intru­sive gov­ern­ment. And so forth and so on. So we have some­thing remark­ably like a 17th cen­tu­ry account from explor­ers of what they at least imag­ined they saw, and a modern—even future—settlement.

Let me quote O’Neill on this, alright. O’Neill imag­ined islands, again, as I sug­gest­ed in this, self-contained set­tle­ments of a mod­er­ate scale; big­ger than space sta­tions, big­ger than star­ships, but small­er than plan­ets. He wrote:

The self-sufficiency of space com­mu­ni­ties prob­a­bly has a strong effect on gov­ern­ment. A com­mu­ni­ty of 200,000 peo­ple, eager to pre­serve its own cul­ture and lan­guage, can even choose to remain large­ly iso­lat­ed. Free, diverse social exper­i­men­ta­tion could thrive in such a pro­tect­ed, self-sufficient environment.
Gerard K. O’Neill, The Colonization of Space

Now, that’s…not borne out par­tic­u­lar­ly by the his­to­ry of what hap­pened to small soci­eties on Earth. And we have to ask why we think it would hap­pen there. And it’s only by sort of will­ful­ly dis­re­gard­ing the larg­er sys­temic qual­i­ties that would be nec­es­sary to sus­tain space set­tle­ment that we can imag­ine each of these settlements—discreet, self-contained, free, and entire­ly self-governing—in this way. This is also rein­forced by the gen­ric require­ments of nov­els and film, where nar­ra­tion gives a pre­mi­um to hav­ing iden­ti­fi­able heroes, iden­ti­fi­able char­ac­ters, who can see what’s going on, who can recur­rent­ly meet each oth­er and know each oth­er, who can be rec­og­nized as indi­vid­u­als. Something that’s pos­si­ble in cer­tain scales, but hard to imag­ine on the scale of many many mil­lions of peo­ple, right. You bump into peo­ple you know down­town in a small town. You don’t bump into peo­ple you know with any­where near the same fre­quen­cy in very large-scale soci­eties unless you are in a very restrict­ed group with­in that large-scale soci­ety, restrict­ed by class or by occu­pa­tion or some­thing else.

There’s more that comes from this, and I’m gonna wind up quick­ly. An image of emp­ty space. It’s worth recall­ing how much the image of emp­ty space informed European imag­in­ings of the rest of the world. They weren’t emp­ty, exact­ly as we heard in the first ses­sions. Of course there were indige­nous peo­ples. And the indige­nous peo­ples that we call Indians,” but indige­nous peo­ples in Africa, indige­nous peo­ples in Asia, indige­nous peo­ples else­where, right. So this idea of empti­ness was odd. John Locke began the Second Treatise on Government with the line in the begin­ning all the world was America,” and went on to say that what that meant was it was emp­ty, under­de­vel­oped, and unex­ploit­ed. But these are exact­ly the terms that we use in space. 

Now let me just give one twist to the con­ver­sa­tion that we began ear­li­er about indige­nous peo­ples. Europeans did unthink­able things to indige­nous peo­ples. They also did unthink­able things to slaves, whom they brought in from else­where. And so it’s kind of a red her­ring to say space is emp­ty there­fore there won’t be any of the kind of issues of dom­i­na­tion and pow­er and exploita­tion with which Europeans dealt with indige­nous peo­ples. Because Europeans are ful­ly capa­ble of bring­ing in slaves and inden­tured labor in a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent forms. There’s a lot of pow­er that goes into who goes into those set­tle­ments. Not just attract­ing adven­tur­ers, right, but forc­ing peo­ple into sit­u­a­tions. And the same thing can hap­pen again, anal­o­gous­ly in space. Now it does­n’t have to. And this is the sort of thing we could act to try to head off. But it could, in that sense.

The empti­ness of space is at most tran­si­to­ry, right. Potentials for forced migra­tion and forced labor are large. And then think about, again, the extent to which the dystopias on Earth mat­ter. Are space com­mu­ni­ties to be mod­eled on ide­al­ized small towns and Jimmy Stewart movies? Are they to be mod­eled on the reset­tle­ment camps in which refugees find them­selves? Are they to be mod­eled on a vari­ety of oth­er things—what are the models? 

How about min­ing camps? Where over­whelm­ing­ly male pop­u­la­tions work under dif­fi­cult labor con­di­tions, in mines. Is that the mod­el for a space com­mu­ni­ty? Well it does­n’t sound like a com­mu­ni­ty exact­ly, right? How do you get— By what path do you get from the mine to the even­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty of a dif­fer­ent kind? Is this an invi­ta­tion to sex traf­fick­ing, as indeed mine com­mu­ni­ties have been almost uni­ver­sal­ly on Earth, right? Or is the mod­el some­thing more like the mil­i­tary base? Because for the fore­see­able future, there are going to be pret­ty strin­gent life con­di­tions in any space set­tle­ments that are cre­at­ed. They are not like— As you say, suck the air out. There’s an issue of a poten­tial attack. These are going to be poten­tial­ly con­strained, if not extreme­ly harsh liv­ing con­di­tions, for some time into the future. So they may be more like mil­i­tary encamp­ments, or sci­en­tif­ic out­posts at the poles. Research sta­tions that work under dif­fi­cult con­di­tions for long peri­ods of time. We need to look at this wider range of mod­els, not leap to an assump­tion about community. 

On the theme of slav­ery before I leave it, we need to note that while the states were com­plic­it in slav­ery in many cas­es, it was also large­ly an ille­gal enter­prise. And in our imag­in­ing of space set­tle­ment we need to pay atten­tion to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that treaties and laws will be ignored. Something like a third of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism is illic­it today in at least some part of the cir­cuit of the mon­ey involved. There’s no rea­son to think that all of the cap­i­tal­ist engage­ment in space explo­ration will remain entire­ly legal at every step of the jour­neys involved. So we have to put the illic­it into the pic­ture at the same time. 

Nonetheless, the scale of invest­ment required sim­ply to solve the prob­lem of ini­tial trans­porta­tion and con­struc­tion guar­an­tees that either states or large cor­po­ra­tions will be essen­tial to estab­lish­ing com­mu­ni­ties in space. We can val­ue com­mu­ni­ties for what the idea of com­mu­ni­ty means to us. But if we do val­ue com­mu­ni­ties, we need to then ask what con­di­tions are required for com­mu­ni­ty kinds of social orga­ni­za­tion to thrive in these large-scale sys­tems of cap­i­tal­ist mar­kets, or of cor­po­ra­tions, or of state pow­er. Because those are not com­mu­nal. And they are not intrin­si­cal­ly friend­ly to com­mu­ni­ty. So, com­mu­ni­ty it requires some sort of defen­sive coun­ter­weight if it’s to be the mod­el in this sense. 

Well I’ve prob­a­bly talk too long. And I hope I’ve been at least some­what provoca­tive in all of this. But we have a vari­ety of ques­tions to ask, and the ques­tions about space set­tle­ments have to include ques­tions about who’s putting them up there, who’s pay­ing for them, what their motives and busi­ness plans and mod­els and agen­das are, and then ques­tions about who will get recruit­ed to them on that basis. Is it more the inden­tured labor mod­el? Or is it more the adven­tur­er mod­el? Or is it very much an open job mar­ket in a mod­ern econ­o­my? All of these are pos­si­ble, right, but we can’t think that it’s guar­an­teed to be the sort of hap­py mod­el of community. 

Erika Nesvold: Thanks for that Craig. So Craig was not the first per­son today to drop Gerry O’Neill’s name. And this came up in a con­ver­sa­tion that you guys were hav­ing dur­ing the email thread pri­or to the con­fer­ence. Alex, let me start with you. Can you talk a lit­tle bit about how the ear­ly dis­cus­sions of space set­tle­ment from… I think you men­tioned the pre-Apollo era in your email, but also the 1970s when a lot of this con­ver­sa­tion was going on, how that affects the con­ver­sa­tion today. And I’m hop­ing that Fred at some point will have some con­tri­bu­tions as well.

Alex MacDonald: Yeah, I mean the idea of how we’re going to live in space has at least 150 years of his­to­ry. The first sto­ry of how we would live in space that I kind of can point to is a sto­ry called The Brick Moon” by Edward Everett Hale. And Edward Everett Hale him­self is an amaz­ing fig­ure of his­to­ry. He ends his life as I under­stand it as the chap­lain of the US Senate. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in fundrais­ing for gun­run­ning to Kansas in the effort in the mid 19th cen­tu­ry keep Kansas a free State. And he was a minister. 

But he also wrote the very first sto­ry of peo­ple who live in space. And we were talk­ing about this kind of in the back room there, that he essen­tial­ly comes up with a sto­ry of peo­ple who were build­ing a GPS sys­tem for visu­al nav­i­ga­tion to solve the lon­gi­tude prob­lem An idea he actu­al­ly came up with as a teenag­er at Harvard with his sib­lings. And they go about build­ing a con­trap­tion. By acci­dent peo­ple get put into it. And then it gets launched into space. 

What’s inter­est­ing is that once they’re up there they don’t have a way to come down. And so he goes into sig­nif­i­cant dis­cus­sion of the type of com­mu­ni­ty that they form. Now it’s essen­tial­ly few fam­i­lies that’re liv­ing up there. And they ulti­mate­ly form what he con­sid­ers a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty. Obviously as a min­is­ter that’s an issue of sig­nif­i­cant inter­est to him and why he thinks about liv­ing in one of these islands in the sky. 

Nesvold: And this is writ­ten in 18

MacDonald: 1860s. Yeah, 1869 it’s pub­lished. So that’s kind of the first exam­ple of that. And we have oth­er exam­ples in the 19th cen­tu­ry that actu­al­ly by even the 1890s you have exam­ples of real­ly think­ing about an America that extends through­out the solar sys­tem, even before the turn of the cen­tu­ry. And then of course in the 1920s and 30s you start to see soci­eties devel­op. Groups all across the coun­try who are rock­et soci­eties or space soci­eties, that talk about well you know, let’s devel­op this capa­bil­i­ty to go into space some­how. At the time of course there was no rea­son for the gov­ern­ment to invest in it. Right? That of course changes with the asso­ci­a­tion between the rock­etry required for space flight and the rock­etry required for—not real­ly going to say required, but used for mil­i­tary pur­pos­es. Those two forces them become sig­nif­i­cant­ly allied through the 30s, 40s, 50s, and then in the 60s you have of course a civ­il space pro­gram for space exploration. 

And then what’s real­ly inter­est­ing about the O’Neillian piece that comes in, and I think Fred can speak bet­ter to this, but it comes up specif­i­cal­ly for I think sim­i­lar rea­sons to why we’re see­ing a resur­gence in the dis­cus­sion today. Which is that there was at that time an expec­ta­tion that the space shut­tle would pro­vide tru­ly cheap, tru­ly reusable, reg­u­lar access to space. Where you’re talk­ing about launch to orbit at hun­dreds of dol­lars per kilo­gram. And those promis­es are again being made by var­i­ous com­mer­cial com­pa­nies today, although I’ll note [toward Calhoun] that com­pa­nies like SpaceX are still pre­dom­i­nant­ly reliant on US gov­ern­ment funding— 

Calhoun: Yeah.

MacDonald: —for their oper­a­tions. But there’s that inter­est again, based on hope for advances in reusable rock­etry to reduce the cost. And once you can reduce the cost very very very sig­nif­i­cant­ly, peo­ple start to think that they have ways to fig­ure out how to fund liv­ing in space for dif­fer­ent peri­ods of time. And so that was the kind first begin­ning of that O’Neillian com­mu­ni­ty and I sus­pect Fred’s got kind of a more inter­est­ing his­to­ry of exact­ly what that does to the com­mu­ni­ty than I do.

Fred Scharmen: Well, no. It’s a real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing set of issues, and there’s so much to be learned from…like you call it in your book the Long Space Age, right. And I’m real­ly glad that Craig you brought up the idea that the com­mu­ni­ty is always part of a sys­tem that we some­times can or can­not see or rec­og­nize. And in Gerard O’Neill’s pro­pos­als for these islands in space, those com­mu­ni­ties did— They were sup­posed to per­form a very spe­cif­ic func­tion in a larg­er sys­tem. They were sup­posed to be experiments. 

So this is in the 1970s, when of course the Oil Crisis had just hit. And one of the things they were sup­posed to be doing was min­ing the moon and min­ing aster­oids to build these large pow­er satel­lites. So it was in some ways a min­ing camp, like you say.

But also there was a sense in O’Neill’s writ­ing and the writ­ing of Carl Sagan and Stewart Brand, who wrote about O’Neill’s project, that this would renew the American project because just like The Brick Moon there would be so many oppor­tu­ni­ties for these indi­vid­u­al­ized small com­mu­ni­ties to try new stuff. Stewart Brand writes about if you can try stuff, do it. Try any­thing, try everything. 

So the func­tion in the larg­er sys­tem was to be this kind of…social Darwinism, almost, where com­mu­ni­ties could build exper­i­men­tal soci­eties and, Gerard O’Neill’s real­ly spe­cif­ic about it and so is Carl Sagan in a few places, some will fail. The fail­ure means the col­lapse of an entire minia­ture world. 200 thou­sand or 10 thou­sand or even a hun­dred peo­ple. So, the func­tion is to sort of pro­duce the new, or to fail. And what that would do at best is cre­ate new… That was a kind of min­ing too, its own way, because it would pro­duce new social mod­els that—and Brand and even Carl Sagan are explic­it bout this—that could then be reim­port­ed back to Earth, as a lot of the oth­er pan­elists today were talk­ing about, and change the way we thought about how social and polit­i­cal life could exist on Earth.

Calhoun: And just as a foot­note to that, these are at times. So the Brick Moon sto­ry’s in the mid­dle of the 19 cen­tu­ry, a time on the heels of the big wave of the found­ing of utopi­an com­mu­nal set­tle­ments. Of Fourierist com­munes, Owenite com­munes, reli­gious com­munes of var­i­ous kinds around the United States. And the O’Neill sto­ry, picked up by peo­ple like Steward Brand, very much a part of the com­mu­nal exper­i­ments on Earth: We’re gonna go off to the woods in Oregon. We’re going to try a dif­fer­ent kind of com­mu­ni­ty. We’re gonna see some will work, some won’t. The con­se­quences of fail­ure may not be as imme­di­ate­ly severe—though I don’t know, Jonestown. Looked kin­da the same story.

Scharmen: But if you could escape from Jonestown at least you still had air. You still had grav­i­ty. So, there’s a real­ly weird con­tra­dic­tion there in that fail­ure is kind of geno­cide, in advance. 

Calhoun: Yeah.

Scharmen: So it is also very much a colo­nial kind of project because this is a colo­nial world­view. It’s the pro­duc­tion of new eco­nom­ic real­i­ties or death. 

MacDonald: But I would say that that’s part of the kind of the nar­ra­tive of peo­ple think about the social impacts of it. And then of course there’s the real space program. 

Scharmen: Mm hm.

Calhoun: Yeah. Exactly.

MacDonald: And you know, the real­i­ty of what we’ve been doing over the past…at this point you know, thirty-some years depend­ing how you want to think about it, build­ing the International Space Station is very dif­fer­ent than any of this, right. I think Henry actu­al­ly did a great job of dis­cussing what the com­mu­ni­ty is, and you’ve got­ta put you know, scare quotes around that in the case of the International Space Station but it’s a com­mu­ni­ty of nations, right. And it’s due to inter­na­tion­al agree­ments. Nation-states and, you know, peo­ple through the rep­re­sen­ta­tives in gov­ern­ment, came to agree­ments where they had to pass laws, in their respec­tive gov­ern­ments, to cre­ate a shared effort to live in space. And today we’re on the six­ti­eth expe­di­tion of crew to the International Space Station. The next crew is launch­ing on July 20th. And it is effec­tive­ly an effort to learn how to live in space. Corporations are con­trac­tors who sup­ply logis­tics, right. We are cur­rent­ly exper­i­ment­ing with poli­cies to think about you know, what more com­mer­cial activ­i­ty could there be. But the 98 per­cent­age of what is cur­rent and expect­ed is com­ing from gov­ern­ment tax­pay­er dol­lars. And there­fore it’s there to serve pub­lic ends. And in this case the pub­lic ends include sci­en­tif­ic inves­ti­ga­tion, prepa­ra­tion for explo­ration mis­sions, as well as inter­na­tion­al part­ner­ship, which has a goal above oth­er objec­tives as well.

Calhoun: Absolutely. But what it means is…getting back to the sense of community…the inter­nal orga­ni­za­tion of social life in a space sta­tion is cen­tered on work roles that peo­ple have, groups have. So dif­fer­ent crews have a set of mis­sions that they’re to car­ry out, indi­vid­u­als have roles with­in that. And so we have one kind of…“organization” (just try­ing to avoid the word com­mu­ni­ty”) that is for­mal­ly orga­nized, high­ly struc­tured by work roles. And we have some­thing dif­fer­ent that is an imag­ined…life togeth­er, right. The com­mune in Oregon isn’t that, right. 

And these two sens­es of how things are orga­nized are in a real ten­sion through this. It’s almost in rebel­lion against for­mal orga­ni­za­tion that we have the infor­mal mod­el, but we also have ques­tions about what’s the future of work? What are the work roles, if we were to launch the cylin­dri­cal orbit­ing O’Neill islands now, right, what would be the work roles that 200 thou­sand peo­ple would have in that set­ting? Or would this be work that is very sec­ondary? I mean O’Neill him­self does try to grap­ple with what are the kinds of roles they’d have. Well we won’t need many peo­ple to do agri­cul­ture. We can auto­mate con­struc­tion, right. People will do oth­er kinds of things. They’ll design. (They won’t do that.) But it’s a basic ques­tion we’re fac­ing here on Earth, but we would face it in a space set­tle­ment too if we weren’t orga­niz­ing it around work­place roles. 

Nesvold: So, I want to go back to a com­ment that you made Crag, about what were the— Sorry there’s a mosquito. 

Scharmen: No mos­qui­toes in space. 

Nesvold: No mos­qui­toes in space, that’s the best part. 

Calhoun: Fewer and few­er on Earth…

Nesvold: You were talk­ing about what kind of com­mu­ni­ties do we want to mod­el our future space com­mu­ni­ties. And you men­tioned the Jimmy Stewart small town. And when I think of that par­tic­u­lar ide­al­ized mod­el, it’s usu­al­ly that sort of 1950s, hap­py small town is extreme­ly exclu­sion­ary and very con­formist, right. And this made me think of some­thing Fred was talk­ing about over email, which is the way that design can be exclu­sion­ary. And in par­tic­u­lar when we design for space we have to design so many spe­cif­ic parts of the envi­ron­ment. More than here on Earth, where we can just sort of ad lib a lot of the work. And so I’m curi­ous if you could talk a lit­tle bit about ways that design can exclude groups. In fact I can see an exam­ple right now in this room, which is the stage, which has been designed by some­one and you can if you think about it for a sec­ond notice that it designs a cer­tain type of per­son which is some­one who can’t step up onto it. There’s no ramp for it. So can you maybe give us exam­ples of those sorts of pit­falls we could run into in space in our communities?

Sure, start with Fred.

Scharmen: My favorite exam­ple is ASHRAE Standard 54. Which is… ASHRAE Standard 54—I hear some oth­er archi­tects in the audi­ence laughing—is the stan­dard which sets the para­me­ters of the air that we’re occu­py­ing right now. So it is the design of the air itself. And that brings into play a lot of dif­fer­ent things. The rate at which the air is mov­ing is one of the fac­tors. The tem­per­a­ture is a fac­tor cer­tain­ly, but also the humid­i­ty. So is the kind of expect­ed metab­o­lism rate of the indi­vid­u­als who are with­in the room. And this is the set of assump­tions had been unques­tioned until 2015, when a group of researchers went back and sort of dis­sect­ed the sci­ence that had gone into ASHRAE Standard 54. And it includ­ed research in the 1960s that took for grant­ed that most of the occu­pants of some­thing like an office space would be men wear­ing busi­ness suits. So, when—

Calhoun: Is that why it’s too cold in here?

Scharmen: That’s it’s too cold in here! Exactly. When when groups feel exclud­ed from the space because the air is designed to include some­one else, that rep­re­sents a set of very real choic­es made by real humans at points in time. They designed the air to exclude you. 

And of course, in out­er space all these para­me­ters that we take for grant­ed become total­ly explic­it. The light lev­els. If it’s a rotat­ing, free-floating habi­tat. Even the grav­i­ty can’t be tak­en for grant­ed. Certainly the design of the ground as a prod­uct is some­thing that comes into play. 

So, I won­der about that. I don’t know what the answer is to that, because it brings into ques­tion cer­tain utopi­an pos­si­bil­i­ties; how do we tru­ly designed a space for all peo­ple? But as some­one in the design field, I know how dif­fi­cult that real­ly is. 

Nesvold: Do either of you have com­ments on this?

Calhoun: Well, let me jump in with a quick com­ment that… The design…world is a dialec­tic between inno­va­tion and stan­dard­iza­tion, among oth­er things. And so is a lot of the econ­o­my. And we at the moment are very wed­ded to a lan­guage of inno­va­tion. And dis­rup­tion. And all the new that we’re gonna cre­ate. And this affects also the way in which we talk about space explo­ration, in which we talk about new tech­nol­o­gy, right, so all inno­va­tion. But in fact the suc­cess of these tech­no­log­i­cal sys­tems depends equal­ly on stan­dard­iza­tion. The suc­cess of glob­al­iza­tion, the glob­al econ­o­my, is a project of the International Standards Off— 

Scharmen: ISO, yeah.

Calhoun: Exactly. I mean of the abil­i­ty to get inter­na­tion­al agree­ments, like the space sta­tion, but all kinds of inter­na­tion­al agree­ments about rail­road gauges or about elec­tri­cal cur­rent or about all man­ner of things. And this mat­ters a lot in the con­text of space set­tle­ment, too. So the image of every­body freely cre­ates the dif­fer­ent is up against the need for spare parts. Which is then the need for some kind of stan­dard­ized mea­sure­ment sys­tem for the spare parts, and so forth.

MacDonald: And we’re already deal­ing with that, right. So space suits on the International Space Station is a great exam­ple of this. Space suits are not cheap. The logis­tics of bring­ing up these bulky items is not triv­ial. And yet, you have to have space suits for a very diverse astro­naut corps. Because we want a diverse astro­naut corps. 

And yet at the same time, you have to bal­ance the stan­dard­iza­tion ele­ments (because of the logis­ti­cal com­plex­i­ty with it) with that need for diver­si­ty. And so our engi­neers strug­gle with that all the time. This is one of those cas­es where there’s no…one answer to this. It’s sim­ply a design prob­lem with which we can con­tin­ue to strug­gle and try to get bet­ter solutions.

Calhoun: Different tradeoffs.

MacDonald: Right. 

Nesvold: So it sounds like the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment of space itself, and its iso­la­tion, is going to cause this ten­sion between accom­mo­dat­ing the out­liers and try­ing to just work towards a stan­dard­ized mod­el just just for econ­o­my, if noth­ing else. Can you think of any oth­er poten­tial sources of con­flict between…maybe not in the phys­i­cal sense but our val­ues, our demo­c­ra­t­ic free­doms for exam­ple, ver­sus the kind of con­trols you need to put in place to ensure safe­ty? This is some­thing you [Calhoun] brought up via email. 

Calhoun: Let me throw one out just…that’s direct­ly design-related. The design qual­i­ty that the well-off get is very dif­fer­ent from the design qual­i­ty that the not very well-off get. And it per­vades com­mu­ni­ty. You get a lot of kind of rel­a­tive­ly well-designed civ­il soci­ety spaces in pros­per­ous sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties that you don’t get in declin­ing towns that’ve lost their fac­to­ries. And so, the inequal­i­ty is per­va­sive in this. It’s not just the start­ing point of how do you get moti­vat­ed to go to space. It’s things like will we intro­duce those kinds of inequal­i­ties in the design expe­ri­ence into the new set­tings? Will we have— Well, we essen­tial­ly have— I mean, I think that the kind of advo­ca­cy community…it’s not NASA it is the advo­ca­cy com­mu­ni­ty if I can call it a com­mu­ni­ty. The advo­ca­cy for what amounts to a real estate devel­op­ment mod­el of space would yield exact­ly what we get in real estate devel­op­ments on Earth. With the par­tial excep­tion that we would­n’t get as much spon­ta­neous set­tle­ment, because it’s hard to move spon­ta­neous­ly into space at this point.

Scharmen: I think… I mean, you [MacDonald] were talk­ing about the International Space Station and I think it’s a great mod­el for inter­na­tion­al cor­po­rate coop­er­a­tion? Partly because the way the spaces are orga­nized. It’s almost all hall­way. It’s almost all pub­lic space. So there are chances for all these kinds of encoun­tered and shared experiences. 

And I like to also jux­ta­pose the kind of image of the… Picture a 1950s city on Mars, right, as it would’ve been designed in the 1950s. It looks like a big dome, right? And the big dome is a social mod­el. It’s an image democ­ra­cy and pub­lic space. In 2017, SpaceX released this image of their vision of a space city on Mars. And it was a series of dis­con­nect­ed lit­tle cap­sules, sort of sprawl­ing across the land­scape in a rough grid. That’s a very dif­fer­ent spa­tial archi­tec­tur­al mod­el, but it’s also very dif­fer­ent social mod­el, a kin­da every per­son for them­selves… If you get a punc­ture over there I’m just seal­ing the tube and you’re on your own, bud­dy. I’m here in my cap­sule and I’m good.”

So, the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the space itself, how much pub­lic space is made and how much pub­lic space is rep­re­sent­ed, I think also affects our social val­ues, our sense of shared pur­pose and shared community. 

MacDonald: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think I can speak as well well to the design ele­ments, but as an econ­o­mist I think one of the cen­tral ten­sions, and I think it’s going to be a healthy ten­sion, is the ten­sion between the pub­lic sources of sup­port that are the cur­rent pre­dom­i­nant source of sup­port for human space flight. But the also emer­gent and increas­ing­ly capa­ble pri­vate sec­tor sources of both space flight capa­bil­i­ties but also funding. 

In the book I wrote, one of the sum­ma­ry pieces was basi­cal­ly rec­og­niz­ing that in the ear­ly 19th century—I should say the mid 19th cen­tu­ry, the late 19th cen­tu­ry, and the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, the pre­dom­i­nant fun­ders of astro­nom­i­cal obser­va­to­ries and ear­ly liquid-fueled rock­etry devel­op­ment, were pri­vate sources. It was the Carnegie and Rockefeller for­tunes that built Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. It was the Guggenheim fam­i­ly who pro­vid­ed Robert Goddard with most of this funding. 

But that was very small, com­pared to the amount of fund­ing that came in from the pub­lic sec­tor for both mil­i­tary pur­pos­es and then civ­il pur­pos­es in the 1960s and to today. Today, the vast major­i­ty of all fund­ing for space explo­ration activ­i­ties and human space flight still comes from the pub­lic sec­tor. And yet, it’s a good, healthy dynamism that we’re seen new pri­vate capa­bil­i­ties emerge. And that bal­ance of the pri­or­i­ties of pri­vate orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als, with the bal­ance of the pub­lic who’s fund­ing it, is not a new bal­anc­ing prob­lem, it is the bal­anc­ing prob­lem of social life. And we’re going to con­tin­ue to have that. And I think it’s good and we need to be con­scious of that. But that’s one that is nev­er going to end. 

Calhoun: And there’s no sta­t­ic solu­tion, part­ly because the econ­o­my goes through phas­es where one or the oth­er mod­el grows. Those of us in the aca­d­e­m­ic world will remem­ber times when pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties were ascen­dant. You real­ly want­ed to be a Berkeley not Stanford. Those times are gone. But they could return, right. I mean there’s the shifts in which kind of mod­el is uppermost. 

Nesvold: Craig, you brought up some­thing via email that I thought was real­ly inter­est­ing which is that we’ve dis­cussed now in this con­ver­sa­tion today com­mu­ni­ties that are these sort of closed, steady-state systems—these islands. But we’ve also been talk­ing repeat­ed­ly about growth, and change. And so I think you asked…maybe you can answer, how do we bal­ance those two things? The idea that we’re going to have to have a lot of closed cycles in space for sus­tain­abil­i­ty and sur­viv­abil­i­ty, but at the same time this is expan­sion­ist, we’re con­stant­ly changing. 

Calhoun: Right. I don’t think I have an answer. I think the ques­tion is well-posed; that was the ques­tion I was try­ing to get at. I think it’s one that we’ve had through­out hun­dreds of years of mod­ern his­to­ry, right. I mean the whole of moder­ni­ty,” of the era of cap­i­tal­ism, the era of nation-states, all of that era has been an expan­sion­ist era. It has yield­ed world wars, it has yield­ed peace move­ments. It’s yield­ed lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of out­comes. But it has been relent­less­ly expan­sion­ist, that’s been a near con­stant. And there have been var­i­ous attempts to sta­bi­lize the expan­sion. I think you could see nation-states as an attempt to sta­bi­lize the expan­sion, by con­trast to empires and oth­er sorts of things. 

So there are var­i­ous efforts to sta­bi­lize at the same time but there is an effort to make more mon­ey, to reach far­ther in var­i­ous ways. And if it becomes eco­nom­i­cal­ly and tech­no­log­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble to have large-scale space set­tle­ment in the near future, this is anoth­er wave of expan­sion, like going to America from Europe or some­thing. And there will be all sorts of peo­ple who want to sta­bi­lize it. 

Now note sta­bi­liza­tion is things like yes, my ances­tors were immi­grants but no more immi­grants, right. Stabilization is often peo­ple who ben­e­fit­ed from the last round of expan­sion declar­ing that the doors need to be closed in some way. 

Nesvold: What’s our time, Anthony? Look at that. We’re gonna stop for ques­tions. Let’s start with…she did­n’t get an answer last time.

Jessie Kate Shingler: Jessie Kate Shingler. I want­ed to go back to the top­ic of how do we tru­ly design for all peo­ple. And, I think that per­haps we don’t have a sort of sin­gle design that’s ever going to work for all peo­ple. And I think that to also go back to it to Craig’s ini­tial provo­ca­tion, what defines a com­mu­ni­ty is in fact in many cas­es it’s the dif­fer­ences. It is what is the iden­ti­ty that we hold that is dif­fer­ent from oth­er folks. And so I won­der in the con­text of space set­tle­ment, maybe what we need is not a uni­ver­sal answer and maybe uni­ver­sal­i­ty, to go back to the orig­i­nal pan­el, is actu­al­ly the col­o­niz­ing fac­tor. It’s the sin­gu­lar answer for all. And so I just won­der if we could talk a lit­tle bit about what plu­ral­i­ty looks like, or what what a non-colonized, non-homogeneous or non-universal future looks like in space. 

Craig Calhoun: [to Scharmen] Do you want to say some­thing? Because that’s very much the project O’Neill and you write about?

Fred Sharmen: So, dur­ing the 1970s when he was respond­ing to O’Neill’s project, the islands in space project that Craig talked about, Carl Sagan hoped for—in a pas­sage he wrote to Stewart Brand. He said I don’t like the word space colonies,” I pre­fer the word space cities.” And I think one of the things that Sagan was after is this notion that cities are places that are cos­mopoli­tan. That accept and absorb iden­ti­ty and dif­fer­ence. And that the implied sub­ject of a cos­mopoli­tan citizen is very dif­fer­ent than the implied sub­ject of a col­o­niz­er that’s out there on a fron­tier some­where alone with an axe.

So Sagan went on fur­ther to kind of mess it up and say oth­er prob­lem­at­ic stuff like it could be the America of the skies. And he’s writ­ing in 1976 on the American bicen­ten­ni­al. So there was this hope for… there’s always this hope to recap­ture that dif­fer­ence and use it to recu­per­ate the American project pf some kind of melt­ing pot dynam­ics, too. So again, that push and pull between iden­ti­ty and dif­fer­ence is very much there in this project. And even in The Brick Moon, the brick moon a sep­a­rate com­mu­ni­ty. It was a seces­sion­ist kind of com­mu­ni­ty, so it was a sep­a­ratist project. And there are many peo­ple who write about space set­tle­ment that hope for well, peo­ple will get along a lot bet­ter when they all have their own bub­ble float­ing off a mil­lion miles from the next-nearest bub­ble and they won’t get on their neigh­bors nerves or try to take over the oth­er bubble.” 

Calhoun: I think com­mu­ni­ties aren’t uni­form, but they tol­er­ate cer­tain dif­fer­ences and not oth­ers. And what dis­tin­guish­es one from anoth­er is sort of which kinds of dif­fer­ence it tol­er­ates, accepts, embraces and which ones it finds intol­er­a­ble. Even the term cos­mopoli­tan” can be used com­plete­ly coher­ent­ly to refer to the poly­glot dif­fer­ence of ear­ly Manhattan, or the rel­a­tives stan­dard­iza­tion of glob­al uni­ver­sal­iza­tion. We’re gonna have a mod­el cit­i­zen­ship which is the same. I mean nation­al cit­i­zen­ship is after all a high­ly uni­for­mi­tar­i­an, uni­ver­sal­is­tic notion every­one gets it the same way, and that’s what gives them the rights to then be dif­fer­ent in oth­er ways. So I don’t think we’re going to resolve this in space but we bet­ter con­stant­ly be aware of it as an issue. 

Scharmen: Could I add one thing?

Erika Nesvold: Sure. 

Scharmen: On an opti­mistic note, one of my favorite parts of the International Space Treaty is the res­cue and return pro­vi­sion. Because that is a very kind of utopi­an ges­ture towards no mat­ter who you are, if you’re in trou­ble in space…if we’re ene­mies, if we’re friends it does­n’t mat­ter. I’m oblig­at­ed as anoth­er per­son in space to res­cue and return you. And I think that’s real­ly beautiful.

Carl MacDonald: And as we know from the movie The Martian, that was super helpful.

Scharmen: Mm hm. Yeah.

Nesvold: Let’s go to this one in the back.

Audience 2: Hi. So even­tu­al­ly, once there is hypo­thet­i­cal­ly a set­tle­ment in space I’m sort of curi­ous what you think the chal­lenges that a local gov­ern­ment there would face that would be unique to those that we have here on Earth, and what might be the same or sim­i­lar to the ones that we’re already see­ing local gov­ern­ments face today. 

MacDonald: Yeah. Probably for me, one of the first big prob­lems will be prob­a­bly the fact that the peo­ple who live there did­n’t fund it themselves. 

Scharmen: Hm.

Calhoun: Yeah.

MacDonald: I think what is going to be unique­ly— Well, that’s not entire­ly new. That’s been a problem—

Calhoun: [crosstalk] Not unique, but distinctive.

MacDonald: It’s not unique, sor­ry. But dis­tinc­tive. That’s exact­ly right. 

So I think that’s going to be a chal­lenge. There’s been a lot of con­ver­sa­tion with­in the space set­tle­ment kind of dis­cus­sion world for decades that Don’t you want them to have auton­o­my?” And that is a won­der­ful ide­al. The chal­lenge is they have prob­a­bly been put there, sent there, by some enti­ty which has a pur­pose in send­ing them there. And again, that’s going to be a ten­sion. But I think that’s going to be a dis­tinc­tive one for space set­tle­ment that may not be true for anoth­er local ter­res­tri­al devel­op­ment where you could imag­ine much more eas­i­ly peo­ple self-funding their way. 

Calhoun: Can I add another—just a real­ly con­crete one that I think about, because I com­plete­ly agree with that and I was try­ing to point to it. You know, it’s cor­po­ra­tions or states or whomever. 

The idea of local gov­ern­ment is going to have to con­front a degree of enclo­sure that is dif­fer­ent. And I think it’s going to be inter­est­ing to see what is devel­oped as mobil­i­ty and migra­tion regimes among space set­tle­ments, if they emerge. We tend to think you know, how do we get there. And then every­one will be there. And what sys­tem would make them hap­py? But I’ve nev­er seen on Earth any sys­tem that made every­body hap­py. There’s always some­body who wants to go some­where else, you know. They’re gay, they want to go to San Francisco or New York. They’re are an artist— You know, there are the peo­ple who don’t like Dubuque. I don’t know how that’s imag­in­able. And I think that it needs to be con­sid­ered that we’re talk­ing about rel­a­tive­ly chal­leng­ing mobil­i­ty among space ele­ments. And most of the assump­tions of the design of them is that you have a high degree of enclo­sure and auton­o­my and self-sufficiency. And so a big ques­tion is going to be regimes for leav­ing.

Nesvold: We can fit one more ques­tion I think. Let’s go up front here. 

Audience 3: Hi. So, my ques­tion has to do with how do you plan a soci­ety for a sense of adapt­abil­i­ty and a sense of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies being in anoth­er plan­et or what­ev­er. How do you keep it con­stant­ly updat­ing for the tech­nolo­gies of tomor­row? And keep in mind the gov­ern­ment, they plan some­thing for twen­ty years, let’s say a space city, but in that amount of time tech­nol­o­gy could be total­ly changed. So how do you take that into into account when play­ing a future?

Nesvold: I think that’s a great ques­tion espe­cial­ly in terms of some­thing Henry brought up a cou­ple of times today, which is that it’s real­ly hard to come up with a legal sys­tem, which is what we were talk­ing about, when you don’t know what things are gonna look like. When you’re work­ing so far ahead of time that you can’t pre­dict how things are going to go. 

MacDonald: Yeah. One word that is used a lot at NASA is mod­u­lar­i­ty, right. The International Space Station is built not as a mono­lith, but by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent pieces that’ve come togeth­er. Individual habi­ta­tion mod­ules. Science mod­els. And what that has meant is that now as we’re con­sid­er­ing fur­ther poten­tial com­mer­cial activ­i­ty, there’s now the oppor­tu­ni­ty to add anoth­er mod­el, right. So I think that mod­u­lar­i­ty element—and of course in the­o­ry, since we have the won­der­ful sci­ence fic­tion intro­duc­tion to this pan­el, if any­one has seen…I for­get the title of the movie exact­ly, but Valerian? Right? How does Valerian start? It effec­tive­ly starts with the International Space Station, grow­ing mod­u­lar­ly, for hun­dreds of years, until it is the size of a moon and then must be pushed out of orbit on its jour­ney across the cos­mos. And that is a vision of a future that is very diverse, it’s almost infi­nite­ly diverse if you watch the movie. And it’s one that comes from per­pet­u­al mod­u­lar growth over very very long peri­ods of time.

Scharmen: And I think, as some­body who’s inter­est­ed in the ISS as a design object too, I find it real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing that this is like, you could call it the most expen­sive build­ing ever made, right. And nobody knew what it was going to look like when it was done.

MacDonald: Interesting point.

Scharmen: So there’s anoth­er great take­away there about faith in the future and expand­abil­i­ty through modularity.

MacDonald: And I would argue we don’t yet know it [crosstalk] will be done.

Scharmen: We still don’t know. [crosstalk] Yeah. Yeah. 

Calhoun: We still don’t know what it’ll look like. So I think this is inter­est­ing and there’s a ten­sion in the idea of plan­ning for this. I’m not a lawyer, so I defer to Henry and oth­ers’ think­ing about legal sys­tems. But there’s law that is enabling and there’s that is reg­u­la­to­ry or man­ag­ing, right. So there are laws like what are the rules for estab­lish­ing a cor­po­ra­tion? Which allow lots of cor­po­ra­tions to be cre­at­ed, even­tu­al­ly allow cor­po­ra­tions to be cre­at­ed for com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es that were not envis­aged at the beginning. 

So think­ing of that kind of enabling law rather than always think­ing of reg­u­la­to­ry law, or law that is pre­scrip­tive in some sense, I think may be a clue as to how to do this. Because almost all orga­ni­za­tions have huge amounts of entropy. Business cor­po­ra­tions, uni­ver­si­ties, what­ev­er they are, even when they’re devot­ed to sci­en­tif­ic research and the new, they tend to become devot­ed to their exist­ing ways of doing things as well. And so it often involves cre­at­ing new and dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions to spur the change, not plan­ning in the method of change inside one of them.

Nesvold: Unfortunately we have to end there. I think Andrés is going to say a cou­ple of words about what hap­pens next, but let’s thank my last pan­el here. 

Further Reference

What Will Humans Really Need in Space? by Fred Scharmen, at Slate/Future Tense

There Will Be Crime in Space by Erika Nesvold, at Slate/Future Tense

How Will We Govern Ourselves in Space? event page