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Human Development in Space

Recently, I was part of a NASA project in which five other students and I had to develop a theoretical, self-sustaining space community. My role was to check the human factors for this colony. In other words, I had to consider all of the physiological and psychological human components for this project. Now, I ask you, the TED community, how can mankind develop in space? How should the colony develop with mankind? How would children grow up in space? What would be the long-term effects of living in a space colony? If confused with the subject matter, here is the full project report.

  • Aug 18 2012: Humans are very complex, and though we have learned a lot, we still do not know all the factors. When constructing an artificial environment which is to be used for a long time, any missing items will become larger issues. That is partly why long term space travel is so challenging.

    Physiology and physical health have an impact on mental health (and visa versa). Exercise and physical activity are important to cognitive function.

    Variety in environment, action, and, food are important. Repetition wears. Trace minerals in food are important. Constant creative stimulation is needed. Consider the hallucinations of a person in a sensory deprivation tank. The brain creates data in lieu of fresh actual data.

    As humans we need to be able to have independent thought and action, as well as the ability for privacy. Consider the situation of slaves or prisoners, or others whose environment or rights are limited for them - they do not flourish and they strive to regain these rights.

    Develop traditions and a sense of community as we are social beings and need an outlet for sharing and acknowledgement. I agree that art and creative expression should be included.

    Having purpose and a driving factor motivates people. The paper mentioned allowing entrepreneurial endeavors, which is a great idea. Also an overriding purpose would be great – for example in Star Trek their goal is exploration, and often addressing crisis missions. A common purpose helps to unite.

    The challenge for children who are born on the trip is that they know nothing else than all which is in the ship. Children’s brains are growing, and if an area of the brain or experience is not stimulated then those brain cells are not developed, so we would need to provide as much rich media and sensory experience where possible.

    Perhaps space colonies on ships would be a great place for think tanks and scientific work due to the comparative lack of outside stimulation available to persons on Earth.
    • Aug 21 2012: Good point, but what is your personal opinion on human colony on a different planet?
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    Aug 2 2012: Your self-sustaining community depends entirely on gravity. I have not had a chance to read your report but I presume that your sustainable environment takes into account the decrease in muscle mass and bone density?

    On a separate issue altogether, in terms of forming a community, which would have to be enclosed in some kind of bio-sphere with built in gravity; people need freedom. Even if it is a very large bio-sphere, with open areas, flora and fauna, there may still be a feeling of imprisonment or claustrophobia. We take freedom and the ability to go where we want, when we want for granted (unless you live in North Korea or the like), so under-estimate the psychological impact of losing some of those freedoms. You can't just leave the bio-dome and go wherever you want. Claustophobics need not apply.

    Another human aspect that impacts on our psychology is the spiritual connection we feel to the earth and nature. We may be unaware of it, but most of us will describe the place we feel most at peace is a beautiful or peaceful environment. Maybe a beach, a mountain top, a field of wildflowers, or on the banks of a river. These things we have in the natural world that just make us feel happy or spiritually at peace. We feel connected to the world in these moments. The space community would need to include places for this kind of emotional escape and spiritual regeneration, otherwise people will become irritable and edgy over time.

    Studies done in Antartica, where the same environment as space kind of applies, certainly in terms of freedom, they have found that over time people go a little weird. They will become more irritable etc, but this could also be the effect that Antartica has on your cercadian rhythms where months of daylight or months of darkness can also make you go a little loopy. Even with their imitation sunlight, there is still an effect.

    So much to consider before space living. The idea is quite exciting, but beyond my lifetime.
    • Aug 2 2012: We did not have to factor in the decrease in muscle mass and bone density because we have artificial gravity. Without gravity, a self-sustaining environment in space is impossible to exist. If you read the report, there are several locations in the ship that will remove claustrophobic feelings and add the spiritual connections. For example, read the forest section in the report. Moreover, read more about the lighting on the ship in the report as well. What else do you think is a subject to focus on in this discussion?
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    Jul 31 2012: I think theaters, nightclubs, and concert spaces and stadiums will never go out of fashion. Floor space will always be at a premium, so I picture those areas as being multi-use.

    Furthermore, I see the need to provide space for some of these activities in the low-gee and zero-gee areas closer to the hub. The zero-gee swimming pool (Air, not water) will be a must. Swimmers will wear paddles on both their hands and their feet. And a zero-gee ballet might be something to see...

    One idea that intrigues me is the interface between indoor and "outdoor" space, since there is really no outdoors. I think it would be fun (and psychologically pleasing) to have them spill over into each other, at least where sound and light are not an issue (I'm thinking nightclubs and movie theaters).
  • Jul 31 2012: Please plan for that most human characteristic, we all make mistakes.
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    Jul 30 2012: You should read up on physicist Gerard K. O'Neill, who did (along with his students) extensive work on this subject in the 1970s,, coming up with what is known as the O'Neill cylinder.

    Your Kon Tiki design is very similar to a Stanford Torus ( except that Kon Tiki doesn't use cooperative suspension cables to assist with the weight of centrifugal gravity.

    Also in the links above are several references to other types of proposed space habitats that I think you'll find very enlightening.
    • Jul 30 2012: I do not have extensive knowledge in engineering, but I do understand my group's engineers were talking about that type of torus. My role for the project was only the human factor components. In simpler words, I understand only about 2 out of the 5 chapter in the proposal. Trying to veer away from getting off topic, do you think a society can exist in zero-gravity?
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        Jul 30 2012: I think the day will come, about a century from now, when most humans live on some sort of space habitat, and the people still living on Earth will be thought of as somewhat provincial.
        • Jul 30 2012: Do you think a society can exist in zero-gravity? I found that without gravity, it would be impossible for society to adapt.
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        Jul 31 2012: No, I don't think we can adapt to zero gravity. We'll need a habitat that provides gravity by some means, almost certainly by centrifugal force.

        Furthermore, I believe we might discover that circadian daylight cycles, variable weather patterns, and perhaps even changes in season will prove psychologically necessary over the long term.
        • Jul 31 2012: So you read the full report on the link? It actually mentions all of that. Also, I agree with you because zero-gravity environments makes human reproduction nearly impossible and messes up human development. In terms of psychological welfare, what else do you think is necessary for normal human functioning?
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        Jul 31 2012: I agree with the Kon Tiki design the a large, open, nature park will be essential. Even in the living and work spaces, I think it will be beneficial to use natural materials, non-angular surfaces and plant life for nominal mental health.

        Furthermore, even in a digital age where everyone can consume entertainment through personal devices, I think we'll find that the shared experience of public entertainment to be indispensable.
        • Jul 31 2012: Let's expand on the concept of entertainment. What is essential to provide entertainment in a space colony?
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    Jul 30 2012: Firstly, law and order is needed. It is important to set up a reliable system and structure of governance, using the experience of the earth. Then attempts should be made to introduce technology and scientific practices that are compatible with the new environment.
    • Jul 30 2012: I agree that law and order is a must for any society; however, there are many variations. What government style would fit best in this type of environment?
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    Jul 30 2012: hmmm, that's really intriguing, there's a ton of factors that can affect people.

    But first and foremost, there needs to be food, air, sunlight, etc. and all those necessities to actually live. Exercise

    There needs to be diversity. There needs to be space. Some sort of playground so that people don't get bored with anything. Maybe computers and computer games for example, which is very efficient because it creates a playground with very little space. Needs entertainment.

    Then in terms of robustness, it needs to handle large growing population if without a doubt that will happen. So a large space will be required.

    The environment also needs to support healthy social activities. Make sure no one or group feels left out.

    So to summarize you need:
    - Basic necessities
    - LARGE playground
    - Robustness to handle anticipated problems and make sure the system will last a LONG time.
    - Social-friendliness
    • Jul 30 2012: How would a society function in space? What type of government would be most efficient in space?
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        Jul 30 2012: I have always been a firm believer of open-source. If there aren't THAT many people in there, then there doesn't need to be a complex system, it's just a neighborhood community. However, if there are a ton of people like 5 million or something, then you need a more complex government. I don't know what exactly the government should be, but I do know that this is what it needs to do:

        A government needs to protect the well-being of society and its people. And assuming all people are intelligent and well-educated and caring, then open-source is the best way to go that I know. So I believe this kind of government should support open-source optimally. It should also respect everyone's basic rights. Like freedom of speech and other Bill of Rights (a little questionable). And the government should be adaptable to change when change does occur.
        • Jul 30 2012: The problem with open-source is that popularity equals power. The most charming individual will reign supreme in this type of environment. Beyond that, group think might put down intellectual considerations. What change can the government make to eliminate these problems?
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        Jul 30 2012: Yes, I agree with your sentiments, Zared. The one flaw with Open-Source is that it's highly dependent on its community. It would simply not work as well if all the people in society are dumb. But in a hypothetical sense, where everyone is an intelligent individual who can think for themselves and have their own opinions, while considering others' opinions, this is where Open-Source's power is astronomically greater than any other kind of system out there. Essentially, instead of having one ruler, or a small group of rulers, we have a society of rulers and geniuses. There wouldn't be "the most charming" individual anymore, everyone is "charming"

        So then, how do we get to the point where the mainstream can reach that kind of intelligence? Education. The Education System needs to simply inspire curiosity of kids at an early age. If people can constantly ask "why," we'd be a much more intelligent society.
        • Jul 30 2012: Even if all the people are intelligent, the people are still subjected to groupthink.
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        Jul 31 2012: But, at least more people are more accepting of others' ideas... At least I hope... Less people are being manipulated by sweet talk or "politically correct" talk. What I would hope for is, more people would be more true to themselves and speak more truth than lies, because they will realize that lies will only complicate things in communication. You can fool less intelligent people more easily than more intelligent people.
        • Jul 31 2012: It is not acceptance; it is peer pressure. How can this type of society change to stop groupthink?
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        Jul 31 2012: This type of system can't stop the groupthink itself, if the community itself is flawed like this. So it is the groupthink guys who need to consider others' ideas and evaluate other individuals' ideas just as if it were their own. Stopping this kind of peer pressure is a collaborative effort. The group needs to realize that they need to consider others' ideas, and the individuals need to do the same. At the same time, the individual needs to voice his/her own opinion and not give in to peer pressure.

        Harder said than done, but that's what needs to be done. Having the right community, that is.
        • Jul 31 2012: We cannot just live with the ideal. We need in-depth solution to this major social problem. How can a group see pass a "superb" idea? How can the individual go against a "superb" idea?
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          Aug 2 2012: I am late to the discussion, however I would like to throw a spanner in the works by bringing in the Mob mentality. Inteligent, reasonable and rational people can get caught up in a mob, and can be manipulated or charmed into following a strong leader. With no leaders and everyone all involved an equal amount on decision making and legislation is a utopian ideal that goes against human nature. It would be great if this kind of system worked, but what happens when people disagree with others? We could hope that all inteligent and reasonable people will come to the same conclusion, but this is not always the case. Our decision making processes are born out of our beliefs, our ideals, our priorities in life and our individual nature. We would take these decision making processes with us to space and the 'community' would mimic those on earth. For example, a debate currently raging in our political forum's right now is legalising gay marriage. I, as an inteligent and reasonable person beleive that we should absolutely legalise gay marriage and wonder why this is not already the case. It seems unreasonable to me that people are ignorant enough to believe that this is somehow wrong, yet plenty of inteligent people think that way. People will always disagree, so this idea of having a whole community collaborating on a rule of law, well, to be honest, I think that people would never come to a consensus, and it would take years and years for decisions to be made. Even having the "right' community wouldn't help. That's because inteligent people question, they explore and they don't except things just because others accept them.
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        Jul 31 2012: I do not know how we can really change the community, except to start with raising our kids right, in the long term.

        I feel like Ted is living proof that a community like this can exist. We are very good at considering new ideas and listening to whatever anyone has to say. I'm sure there are certain people each person on here leans toward, but I do not feel like that completely shuns some other people.

        So, there's something that Ted did right...
        • Jul 31 2012: Then, let's create the framework. Why does TED opens up the minds of the individuals and enables free expression?
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        Jul 31 2012: You should start a new thread on the new framework, and I'll add in my inputs :)

        TED does that because of its community. TED started with hosting a bunch of interesting topics and speakers, with great credibility like Bill Gates, and this has attracted us. Basically, we are all concerned people about our society, or at least, we are very curious people.

        And so, once the community has been established, it also attracts the similar people or newcomers. So as long as we're encouraging to anyone with a new post/topic, they may do the same.

        I always believed that all ideas are good ideas, no matter how false or whacked up it is, in the grander scheme of things.
        • Aug 2 2012: I do not agree that every idea ever created is a good idea.
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        Aug 2 2012: Every bad idea, can contribute to a good idea. Our society right now is made off of many great ideas and many failed ones. So in the grander scheme of things, having AN idea is better than having NO ideas.