Is human migration into space inevitable? Is it fact based or is it based on a belief in human uniqueness?
These are some of the questions explored by Lee and Morgan Irons in a recent article Frontiers in astronomy and space scienceand asks whether man’s evolutionary connection with the earth requires us to inhabit space as we do here.
Lee is a physicist, engineer and executive director of the Norfolk Institute. Morgan is an astroecologist and Ph.D. Candidate at Cornell University, Carl Sagan Institute Fellow, US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and Norfolk Institute Fellow. In this latest guest post, they explain why – and why not – a space settlement might be possible.
How can such a feat be accomplished? It’s just a matter of using a billionaire’s resources and the capital power of economically developed Earth to ship the materials to Mars to build a city with a dome, then pressurize the dome with an Earth-like atmosphere and biosolids distribute? (i.e. sterilized human feces) and semen? Will a sustainable, Earth-like ecosystem just “take hold” wherever we “plant” ourselves? What would it take to build a sustainable city in space with its people and human civilization?
In 2019 we founded the Norfolk Institute with a vision to enable human life on earth and in space. We began by assembling a team of government, academic, non-profit and industry representatives to support Morgan-led research efforts on the effects of gravity and rocket launch and return forces on natural soils and biochar growth media.
Morgan, with support from the team, conducted experiments on the International Space Station and a Blue Origin parabolic launch. Understanding how gravity affects the ground will have applications both on Earth and in space.
Terrestrial ecosystems and infrastructure
Morgan’s study of the soil in space aims to establish a sustained human presence in space. We began investigating the issue of human sustainability in space with our first Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences article, “Terraform Sustainability Assessment Framework for bioregenerative life support systems.”
A quantified measure of sustainability requires that such extraterrestrial human habitation be capable of sustaining a stable level of all resources used by humans, at least as stable as Earth. The development of such an ability is known as terraforming.
Depending on the earth
In our new hypothesis and theory paper, Pancosmorio (World Boundary) Theory on the Sustainability of Human Migration and Settlement in Space, we address the many questions we raised in this editorial. For life in space, our theory holds that a self-recreating a basal (i.e. natural) ecosystem with capacity and organization such as humans have on Earth must first be built before a human augmentative ecosystem (i.e. technology, infrastructure and society) can be maintained.
The basis for this theory is the science of ecological thermodynamics that has been developed over the past 100 years and a new concept that we call the semi-reversible heat engine cycle. An important conclusion of the theoretical development is that humans and all life on Earth have evolved to be dependent on conditions that naturally exist in only one place in our solar system, and that is Earth.
The human augmentation ecosystem requires a self-restoring basal ecosystem that utilizes dissipative structures that function as semi-reversible heat engine cycles. Dissipative structures are a fusion of materials into forms that allow for the capture and movement of energy through the ecosphere in a manner that builds up high levels of stored energy, also known as exergy.
The formation of a dissipative structure requires the presence of a conservative force, such as B. the gravitational force involved in our water and air cycles (e.g. weather) or the electrochemical force involved in the geochemistry of water and soil and the biochemistry of life.
Earth’s self-restoring basal ecosphere, to which all terrestrial life is evolutionarily linked, is maintained by the self-restoring order of the Earth’s gravity well, the capacity of the Earth’s surface, and a continuous influx of energy from the Sun at exactly the same distance an astronomical Unity, and the organization of accumulated exergy in an ecosystem network of living beings evolved from the material resources available on Earth.
It is precisely this evolutionary connection that makes mortal life on Earth so successful. Using abductive reasoning, the theory posits that the same success in space can be duplicated anywhere where the same conditions can be produced. Unfortunately, there is no other place in our solar system that is like Earth in terms of these conditions.
Human life on earth and in space
With the publication of the Pancosmorio Theory, Lee has launched new initiatives and formed stakeholder teams to research and develop designs for space habitation systems that solve the problem of duplicating Earth’s self-restoring order, capacity, and organization.
The goal of such constructions is to establish the gravitationally dissipative structures required for self-restoring order as described in the theory. There is a possibility that using a balanced sustainability approach to bring a place into a self-restoring order using artificial gravity and a large enough soil and plant-based ecosystem could allow for the establishment of a sustainable human settlement in space.
Such power would still require power levels similar to the solar radiation available on Earth, as well as a sustained supply of material resources. And the space requirement is indeed large.
The Pancosmorio theory can also be applied to the establishment of more sustainable human life on Earth. One of our current Earth projects addresses the challenges of food insecurity in southern Alaska’s extreme environment. The problems associated with farming in extreme environments bear many similarities to outer space.
We support local clans in establishing a localized circular agricultural economy. The Norfolk Institute is a not-for-profit organization specializing in cradle-to-delivery implementation, which involves assembling a team of stakeholders from academics to philanthropic, governmental and non-governmental organizations to commercial enterprises and end-users along the whole value stream from a local agribusiness, just like we do with our space exploration. The formation of such teams better ensures the translation of research into market solutions.
All life on earth is evolutionarily connected to the earth and space. Pancosmorio theory posits that the sustaining of human life on earth or in space depends on how these connections make life possible.
Lee G. Irons et al., Pancosmorio (World Boundary) Theory of the Sustainability of Human Migration and Settlement in Space, Frontiers in astronomy and space science (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fspas.2023.1081340