Williams K. Hartmann is an American space artist. In 1984 he wrote a book titled “Out of the Cradle, Exploring the Frontiers Beyond Earth”. In this book he proposed something which is quite profound and which had become known as the Golden Rule. It states that “Space exploration must be carried out in a way so as to reduce, not aggravate, tensions in human society”. The starship has the potential to do just that.
Firstly, the manufacture, construction, and assembly of a starship is an enormous undertaking that is likely to require the capabilities of people and organizations from across the globe. Any sensible cost estimates for a starship program will usually be in the trillions of dollars, so with the 2012 gross world product (GWP) of the entire planet being in the region of $80 trillion, starship economics begin to become tractable if done on an international basis. The implication here is that the construction of a starship will likely require human cooperation on a global scale not seen before. The nearest we have to this model is the International Space Station (ISS), a structure that is 450 tonnes in mass and has cost approximately $150 billion. But the ISS has involved not just the United States, but also the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, and many other countries. The ISS stands out as a superb achievement in human cooperation as a large scale construction project, and it is on the critical path to starship construction. (And by the way, I prefer the original name, “Space Station Freedom”.)
Second, as we move away from the planet Earth and visit other worlds, we will look back upon that pale blue dot and learn to treasure it more. Over the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, humans have risen to the top of the food chain due to our apparent intelligence (although frequently one wonders). But there is a down side to our ascension, which is that all of the other animals on the planet are forced to compete with us for resources and land, as we embark on the conquest of the natural world without due consideration for the consequence of our actions. The Amazon rainforest, for example, is disappearing at a rate of approximately 600 square km per month, mainly due to deforestation by human settlement and land development. Yet, we continue to consume. We continue to not strive to live within our means. We always want more. As the dominant species on the planet Earth we have a duty to be the moral caretakers of Gaia – the only world we have ever known. That is the responsibility of those who would choose to rule. If we do not learn to take our responsibilities seriously, what hope then is there for the new worlds we aspire to colonise? As we learn to design and build starships, we must also learn to change our ways because the starship and current man are not compatible; we must adapt our nature, to nature.
A third element that the starship brings is universal freedom to expand. With our population on Earth growing at an average rate of about 2% per annum, Earth will be home to 10 billion people around the year 2050. Clearly, humans have a need to explore and expand, but with the limited resources of the Earth this is not sustainable. The starship brings with it the opportunity to expand at will in all directions to anywhere, utilizing the abundant resources of space appropriately as we move from one world to the next. The starship is our vehicle of universal liberty.
Fourth, we still have many problems on the planet Earth. I have already mentioned over-population, but what of starvation, disease, conflicts, poor resource distribution, and energy sources? Science and technology has the potential to solve all of these problems given sufficient time and support. As we strive to invent new propulsion systems, power systems and other technologies, this brings with it as yet not-conceived technological spin-offs which will have the capacity to change and improve the human condition.
Fifth, let us understand the implications to human culture as we pursue the mission of the starship. Development of the starship requires an informed and educated population as we need more engineers, scientists, biologists and other specialists. Many will be inspired by what is achieved by the starships and will seek similar careers, producing a scientifically-informed population which will filter back up to the political system. This will naturally lead to improvements in how decisions are made – based upon data rather than emotional trends in popular society.
Finally, and relating to culture, is learning to live with each other’s differences, no matter what the colour of our skin, our sexual orientation, gender, or philosophical outlook. The 1960s saw the peak of the civil rights movement in America, a period where people simply desired to be seen as equals and rightly so. We have made great progress since those dark days, but there is clearly much more work to be done. As we embark on the voyage of the starship we are sure to meet alien beings which are stranger than we could ever imagine in both appearance and in cultural values. The science fiction novel “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Larry Niven contains a description of the Mote, which is one of the best representations of realistic aliens I have yet come across. How would we really react when we meet these beings from distant stars? Will we find their ways distasteful, unethical, and immoral? What makes our ways right?
It is clear that as we pursue the dream of the starship, we must also learn to live with each other, because any differences we have down here on Earth will be nothing in comparison to what awaits us in the darkest depths of the galaxy. It is entirely possible that out there lies the best of our hopes and dreams and the worst of our nightmares. We should prepare for all eventualities, and the best way to do that is to learn to practice tolerance and compassion for each other first.