Philosophy In Space

Over the next ten years we are going to see unprecedented advancements in a whole host of technologies, all with the prospect of building sounder missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. It is fascinating to consider the minds that could get us there and the forces at play within research, science, and industry.

There are several philosophical considerations we need to analyze long before the first settlements are founded on another planet or moon. For instance, how will pioneers see themselves in this new world, and how might their identities and communities develop independent of Earth? What will their central purpose be and how will that impact the work they produce and the values they hold? What kinds of intellect and knowledge are needed to sustain life on an inhospitable planet and what information can we glean from our own planet to support future generations abroad?


I have to limit the scope of this article to missions within our solar system, merely because anything past Mars is too far for conceivable propulsion systems or interdimensional transport. Elon Musk explains that a moon base is the likely next step. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Musk described the essentials for space flight, while clearing a few discrepancies.

Musk notes that most people (myself included) have a misconception about gravity and when we think of a spacecraft escaping the atmosphere, we imagine it heading straight up, when really the force is so great as to require an arch trajectory. I will briefly explore propulsion systems, but this article focuses on the ideas and the individuals behind progress to the stars. In fact, there is advocacy for a Progress Movement, by Jason Crawford and the team at The Roots of Progress. On The Yaron Brook Show, Crawford examined much of the philosophy of progress and I have been inspired by his words.

On the topic of what to do once we get to Mars, Musk explains, “Eventually if you terraform the planet, then you can walk around without a suit. But for say, the next 100-plus years, you’ll have to have a giant pressurized glass dome.” That said, there’s no need to consider Mars out of reach. Indeed, the technologies currently being studied at Nasa and SpaceX may one day make our neighboring planet feel like a plane ride away. Shuttles to the outskirts of Earth’s atmosphere are a perfect way to fund future missions and to build anticipation for the next giant leap for Mankind.

Where we are now

Apart from the novelty stage of shipping shuttles to space and back, Americans are leading the charge towards the frontier. From terraforming soil to developing organic lifeforms, there are dozens of unique research projects linked to NASA and/or SpaceX, and their results will likely make or break our species’ interstellar prospects. Other global leaders like the EU and Canada are targeting the medical and robotics aspects of space science. 

That’s not to say there aren’t copious smaller projects which could lead to major gains in the future though. For example, The UK's Royal Air Force shows promise in haptic technology,“plug and play” software and hardware, new sensor arrays, and AR helmets, and all of these things could be fitted to shuttles. On their website, the RAF writes “pilots will wear a next generation augmented and virtual reality helmet that will project interactive cockpit displays and controls directly in front of their eyes” (RAF, 2023)

NASA’s own website showcases an impressive collection of experiments. Perhaps the most important advancements so far, are:

  • Heat shields with working prototype materials built to withstand temperatures of 2800 K at 20x20cm scale (Benkoski, 2022)
  • Nuclear Thermal Propulsion systems, “envisioned to provide a specific impulse (Isp) of 900 seconds, doubling chemical rocket performance (450 seconds)” (Gosse, 2023)
  • Radioisotope Thermoradiative Cell Power Generator set to recharge smaller, more versatile vehicles  (Hall, 2023).

I could fill this entire paper with reports of how our technology is breaching the level of science fiction. Not only are we closer to Mars than we think, but we’re at a point where it’s not clear which living generation will be the last to know this home planet was the only option. After an explosion of resources allocated to SpaceX and NASA, the public interest in space travel has skyrocketed. Along with popularity come the fears and foretellings of catastrophe. It’s imperative we quell our misgivings through thorough consideration of the missions we want to invest in and the people we trust. 

Philosophy of Technology

The course we take to get to Mars depends on more than the combined efforts of research teams, and all the technology we can get our hands on. Our species must grapple with those fundamental questions about who we are, how we got to this point, and what we should do about it. We cannot enter the next phase of human expansion with the collective shame and self-hatred many intellectuals have harbored throughout history. 

Think of the pride and purpose people felt during the first moon landing. That was a glorious moment of accomplishment and wonder. Within a few years from now, trips to the moon could be available to individuals en masse and that is no less grand. Even building a station on the moon will mean we have torn to pieces the belief that the sky's the limit. In order for people to see themselves as limitless, we need a proper understanding of reality. We need a proper understanding of the nature of the mind as well.

Limitless does not mean one can fly without a machine, or cure disease with faith alone. Limitless means there are no limits to man’s capacity to find solutions using the tools and resources he devises. Ayn Rand put it best, Reason is Man’s basic means of survival. We’re not merely concerned with survival, but with continued human flourishing.

Objectivity is required in the 21st Century, meaning we are wholly concerned with the facts of reality and not ideology or subjective rationale. Engineers, developers, scientists, physicists, and astronauts need a functional understanding of metaphysics that does not rely on supernatural powers or subjective explanations. More than that, they need the entire planet to be on the same level of reasoning. 

Earthlings are here to survive and long-term progress requires teamwork. Teamwork is only accomplished when a group of independent thinkers are gathered around shared values and goals.

According to ChatGPT, a philosophy based on rational principles for missions to Mars would need to consider the following principles:

  1. Objectivity: All aspects of the mission, from the selection of directives to the design of the spacecraft, must be based on objective criteria.
  2. Causality: The mission should be designed to maximize the chances of success, taking into account the causes and effects of various actions.
  3. Evidence-based decision-making: Decisions should be based on the best available evidence and should be regularly reviewed and updated in light of new information.
  4. Rationality: All participants in the mission must act rationally, using logic and reason to guide their actions and decisions.
  5. Responsibility: The mission must be undertaken with a sense of responsibility to future generations, ensuring that the risks and benefits of the mission are carefully weighed.

By adhering to these principles, a mission to Mars can be conducted in a scientifically rigorous, responsible and ethical manner, maximizing the chances of success and minimizing the risks to both the participants and the environment.

A global shift in the knowledge system could mean individuals process information, and base their decisions on evidence and context. This is nothing new for the scientific mind. Anyone who learned to plan an experiment, outlining the hypothesis and theory, categorizing the variables, executing a method correctly, and analyzing the results, is on the right track. The process of thought required to take technological strides is objective, as in, it sees existence as the primary. It isn’t concerned with the contents of one’s mind or of someone else’s mind. It is concerned with the contents of reality.

Reality alone dictates the limits of man’s ability. Man’s reason is his method of adhering to reality so completely, that he is able to find solutions to thousands of problems, all of which would become life threatening in outer space.

Man has nothing to fear if he can maintain his focus. We have to shift that focus from the suffering and inequality of our time, towards the solutions we can develop for the future. Likely all of the technologies produced for space travel will be adapted for life on Earth. Imagine massive, self-sustaining, domed gardens in the middle of deserts or better, cities, with water-efficient hydroponics, and enough moss and plant life to filter the air for people. We have to look to the future we want to create in order to make life better today. 

We have to observe what resources are available to us, and how we can process, design, and experiment to find even more solutions. We cannot ban materials or fuels or GMOs. Newer studies need access to combinations of chemicals and DNA that will lead to streamlined, efficient engines, and abundant off-planet food and life.

Think of what could go wrong on a Moon Base. A spot of freeze-dried virus could infect the team. An asteroid could hit. The people dedicated to building new colonies need to have certain virtues which are essential for maintaining objectivity during a crisis. Being objective does not mean being heartless. It means being rational. We have to know the likelihood of survival for individuals in dire circumstances. We have to know the risks before we take them. At the end of the day, we have to trust that the people sent to space are qualified to be there and they can handle whatever the vacuum throws at them.

Innovative individuals

It is an understatement to say that the advancements of this century are due to individualist agendas more than collectivist ones. Independent thinkers are the most successful people on our planet because they are constantly challenged to think exponentially. So while small minds debate whether or not rich people deserve to go to the edge of our atmosphere, the rich are really investing in newer and greater research and development. If we want to put the situation into perspective, we have to say it like this: nobody has a right to space travel. It is an unbound market yet the mining and development likely to go on once we touch down on a new planet will mean an increase in wealth for a very small number of people. So what?

The people able to use their capital towards space exploration are free to do so. The so-called “space tourists” have every right to spend their money how they like. We are not going to get to Mars if we wait for it to be cheap enough for everyone. Governments cannot afford to send even a fraction of people to the outskirts of the atmosphere, yet there is this strange notion floating around, that it’s unfair for some to go while most cannot. 

What in life is fair? Is it fair to clip the bird’s wings because the cat cannot fly? Is it right to take honey from the bees to feed the wasps? The ones who should benefit from a mission to Mars are those who made it happen. The rest of us get to witness transcendence and follow our own aspirations. In an isolated colony millions of miles away, humanity needs their greatest minds on the tasks at hand, so let’s take a moment to admire the people involved in the current push. 

Perhaps the first person who comes to mind when thinking of space, is the owner of SpaceX himself, Elon Musk. His controversial personality on social media makes him stand out, but so does his impressive portfolio. Involved in several core tech companies, his central purpose appears to be to advance human technology as quickly as possible. Between Neuralink, Tesla, Twitter, Starlink, and SpaceX, it’s a wonder Musk has any time to sleep. Some make the argument that his role at each company is more figurative than anything else, but one cannot help but notice the effect he has on culture and the positive impact he’s had on our aspirations for space travel. I recommend the documentary, Return to Space.
 

Gwynne Shotwell, the chief of operations for SpaceX is no less a figure of great ambition and capability. As a mechanical engineer, her talents lie in the design and implementation of technology, but her personality and leadership style lend credit to the company. Shotwell notes in an interview with Ted, “We’re…standing on the shoulders of giants, right? We got to look at the rocket industry and the developments to date, and we got to pick the best ideas”. The best ideas are underway with nearly 10 000 minds collaborating with SpaceX (Dean & Tayeb, 2021). The freedom they have to innovate is not a given. 

Musk is nothing if not a strong leader and he has to be, when up against some of the harshest environmental regulations of all time. His convictions to progress are indisputable, but he is not the only one. Jeff Bezos is a commercial astronaut and the founder of Blue Origins: aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight company. There is so much more to a billionaire than all the fanfare and hostility you find online. 

Highly technical companies are threatened by policy that seeks to regulate space flight. If politicians decide that no one gets to space until everyone on Earth is tended to, they could tie the hands not only at SpaceX, but at Blue Origin, ULA, Orbital, Boeing, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation to name a few. If they decide that rocket fuel is a threat to our environment, they could deny humans from ever having low-cost access to space.


When asked if she thinks space travel is the best use of her company’s time, Shotwell explains, “I think we need to expand our minds...There are plenty of things to do on earth, but there are lots of companies working on that. I think we’re working on one of the most important things we possibly can and that’s to find another place for humans to live and survive and thrive”. Knowing all we do about the delicate balance of life in the cosmos, Shotwell’s words are no exaggeration.

We do need great minds on all kinds of difficult problems. Leave no moonstone unturned. Beyond all the moving parts in a ship, a drone, a space suit, people everywhere have more to offer than they could know. At least, that was the premise Japanese billionaire and fashion tycoon, Yusaku Maezawa, held when choosing the crew for his 2023 voyage. After taking a twelve-day journey in Earth’s orbit in 2022, Yusaku decided to provide the funding necessary for eight others to join him on a trip around the moon. He will once again take to the skies, along with creators from a handful of countries.

What an act of faith that Yusaku has shown in his selection. Instead of sending scientists and engineers, he is sending creators to capture the moment in their medium of choice. Yusaku said in a broadcast about the DearMoon Project, “I hope everyone will recognize the responsibility that comes with leaving the Earth, traveling to the Moon and back. They will gain a lot from this experience, and I hope they will use that to contribute to the planet [and] humanity.” It is a tall order for an analog photographer, a choreographer, an actor, and a DJ. On board as well will be a nature photographer, a filmmaker, two musicians, and a space journalist, so there is potential for a remarkable documentary of the experience.


One of the core members on this flight is Tim Dodd, aka The Everyday Astronaut. His channel on Youtube is partially responsible for getting him on board, but so far, he appears to be the one on this flight who can connect people to the technology and engineering involved. Dodd at least has the language and knowhow to describe what this flight means for humanity and where we could go from here.

Dodd’s message to the world is so important for the progress movement. In his debut for dearMoon, Dodd says, “If you just pursue something with your whole heart and all your energy, you absolutely never know what can happen.” These simple words were echoed by all of the crew members. They expressed the sheer joy and surprise of it all. In his own introduction, filmmaker, Brendan Hall, noted, “I’ve always been behind the camera, I’ve always been following people doing really interesting things, but [now] I’m also a crewmember. I’m there to experience it. I’m there to be a part of it.” It really is a marvel that this diverse group of civilians will tour around the moon and be able to integrate that tremendous experience into their work.

Of course it would be improper to write about the civilians on this dearMoon mission, and leave out the astronauts who’ve dedicated their lives to aeronautics. On February 26, 2023, NASA and SpaceX will send Crew-6 up to the international space station for new installations and to relieve Crew-5 from duty.

NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren "Woody" Hoburg, as well as UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will crew the mission to the ISS. There isn’t much English information on the cosmonaut, or the UAE representative, but all members have completed extensive training and NASA reports they’re in quarantine now for the flight at the end of the month. The pilot, Woody Hoberg, takes his first flight since graduating in 2017. In a NASA broadcast, Hoburg is introduced as a rising star

When discussing how he got where he is today, Hoburg explains, “I’ve always had a slight tension in me between the engineer, analytical, problem-solving part of me, and this sort of operational side of me that wanted to be out experiencing the world with my hands.” It is this technical prowess and analytical mind which is required in the 21st Century. Hoburg shows the dedication and creativity that leads to progress and he is a role model for anyone that wants to be a part of humanity’s evolution.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who reaches for the stars must contend with the challenges of gravity, radiation, and the icy vacuum of space. Beyond physics though, we are up against infinite problems and it truly takes the brilliance of countless minds to move forward as a species. Where the next century will take us is still unknown. This century, Mars takes center stage, not as a final destination, but as a milestone of human ingenuity and progress. Ignite your own passion and creativity and share your talents with the world. If there’s one thing to learn, it’s that reality will offer each person obstacles and challenges they never thought they could handle. With perseverance and a commitment to their virtues, one can unlock their potential to exact lasting change on this planet and the next.

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In a previous post I commented that before we deal with spaceships, we need a complete circular and almost self replicating human economy:

https://progressforum.org/posts/62XwqubkcAKNG6Wqf/space-colonization-and-the-closed-material-economy

This is the hardest problem

Hello Arturo, I loved your article, and I agree, there is a lot more to space colonization than rockets. I was researching NASA's two training stations (by the way, if anyone has a Masters in STEM, you can apply to live on one of the practice stations) https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a37349989/nasa-mars-colony-simulation/ and I think the main solutions to the problem of an isolated community on Mars would be:

1. 3d printing/CNC cutting with multiple materials
2. hydroponic systems using GMO plants and fish
3. automated construction systems with local materials where possible.

I wonder if concrete is possible with Mars rock, or what kinds of minerals we'll be able to take advantage of.  If the value of Mars material outweighs the cost of sending ships back and forth, it won't really be a closed system anymore. 

And if people live on the moon, or in low-orbit stations, as well as Earth, there will be new markets for trade and manufacturing. 

If you take a peak at some of my links to NASA's website, they do list a number of phenomenal projects on material science, energy capture/creation, plus terraforming tech. Still, without a feasible fuel source, it's hard to imagine actually making it to Mars let alone outside our solar system one day.  

That being said, what have you heard about fusion propulsion and what are your thoughts?

If fussion propulsion is possible, probably fussion would be available for energy production on Earth, and that would imply "energy too cheap to measure". The kind of economy under that regime would extremely different from ours. Under that conditions, for example, materials would be extremely easy to obtain from Earth (we could profitably mine minerals with far lower ore grades than we can now).

I think that if we ever reach the "energy too cheap to measure" economic regime, for example, extiction risk would be far lower than now. But we all know that Brazil is the country of the future, and allways will be, and that nuclear fussion will allways be 30 years in the future either...  I hope I am wrong in both :-)

"The people able to use their capital towards space exploration are free to do so. The so-called “space tourists” have every right to spend their money how they like. We are not going to get to Mars if we wait for it to be cheap enough for everyone. Governments cannot afford to send even a fraction of people to the outskirts of the atmosphere, yet there is this strange notion floating around, that it’s unfair for some to go while most cannot."

Two additional points I might add here:

1) Technological progress has always progressed in this manner. Wealthy individuals buy new products for novelty or vanity and that creates the seed funding for better and cheaper products that everyone can enjoy down the road. It is in our interest to allow the wealthy to pursue these crazy ideas.

2) In some circles, and you alluded to this, the notion of billionaires with their own space programs of scoffed at. They see it as an "escape hatch" for the rich while the poor toil on a dying Earth.  This notion is downright laughable. The first Lunar/Martian colonies are going to be hell for colonists. Hard work, monotony, no fresh air, risk, danger, and death at every corner. They will not be an escape hatch for the wealthy at all.  

Thanks J,

 

I will incorporate those into the medium article, https://medium.com/@kassandra-dick/philosophy-in-space-57809bac9e75, though I think I've covered the second one fairly with the discussion of what kinds of minds are really capable of being space pioneers. I like the way you say it, "they will not be an escape hatch for the wealthy at all"

Hi Kassi,

When I like the link to the Medium article to follow, I get a 404 error. I am also on Medium https://medium.com/@j-lund but I primarily focus on substack https://www.lianeon.org/ 

Elon musk is very good at making himself the center of as many conversations about technology as possible. 

He should not be taken as a source of information of any reliability. 

 

Living on mars with tech not too far beyond current tech is like living in antarctica today. It's possible, but it isn't clear why you would want to. A few researchers on a base, not much else. 

Think ISS but with red dust out the windows. 

At some point, which might be soon or not so soon, tech is advanced enough that it becomes easy to get to mars. But at that point, traditional biological humans on mars might be stupid, compared to say self replicating robots containing computers running uploaded human minds in the asteroid belt.

A mars base is cool scifi. But it might turn into the largest white elephant in history. It doesn't solve any obvious practical purpose in increasing human wellbeing or industrial capability. 

Sure, at some point you are disassembling all the planets to build a dyson sphere. But before that, a mars landing doesn't actually need to mean any real progress.

When it comes to the philosophy of space technology, the effects of it on earth shouldn't be undercounted. Cheap satellites have a lot of implications for privacy when every spot on earth can be surveilled 24/7.

Orbital bombardment is a powerful weapon with a strength comparable to nuclear weapons and in cases like attacking underground bunkers even more powerful. At the same time, the existing fears of radiation don't exist for orbital bombardment. It's important to think well about how to handle the implications of powerful technology in orbit.

SpaceX tanker ships might be powerful enough to do serious damage and yet they don't have the safety against cyber attacks that military weapons usually had in the past. What happens if a SpaceX tanker crashes in the White House, removing it completely from the map and nobody really knows why it happened?

Thanks Christian, what makes you think their cyber-security is subpar?

Generally, the cyber-security of most systems is subpar. The military goes to extraordinary lengths to make its systems secure.

Elon Musk's philosophy of building things includes pushing engineers to work as fast as possible to make progress. That's helpful for getting to orbit as fast as possible but it's not helpful for having a system that lacks zero-day vulnerabilities. 

I understand what you're saying. It seems like encryption is the answer to that problem, but I don't pretend to understand how that works, or how to implement it. I do understand that regular software updates can mitigate security threats.

I agree, Musk drives people to the edge of what's possible. In a business as cut-throat as his, one must race other companies for the rights to very few jobs. SpaceX is essentially breaking ground just ahead of their competition. I have no doubt that the reason they maintain their slim advantage is because they are working ungodly amounts and demanding more of themselves everyday. I also have no doubt that anyone who can't take the heat would have a dozen other options to choose from. 

I can't guarantee the culture at Boeing or Blue Horizon is any different tho...

I do understand that regular software updates can mitigate security threats.

Software updates give you protection against known attacks but not against zero-day attacks.

Jeff Bezos divorced largely because zero day attacks exist. He Saudi's hacked his phone by having access to zero days they brought and blackmailed him and he didn't do what they asked so they released data about his affair. 

The US famously had the data about all their personal with security clearances hacked by the Chinese.

Boeing seems to have a quite bureaucratic culture. Given that it's a defense contractor, I would expect that it has processes where it pays more attention to cyber security. 

Blue Horizon is likely also not good at cyber security because not being good at it is the default for companies.