#94 April 1996
Section 18.104.22.168.094.of the Artemis Data Book
Indeed, is this not the popular objection to off-Earth colonization we hear most frequently and spontaneously expressed? "These are alien and hostile places, where we clearly do not belong! We should stay on our home planet!"
But Earth, globally speaking, was not always home. Our progenitors, according to current consensus, evolved on the East African savannas. If so, we are native to a relatively small subset of what is a very great range of diverse terrestrial habitats and climes. Once upon that time, much of the rest of Earth was effectively as "alien and hostile" to these early men as the Moon and Mars are now.
Out of this relatively narrow and specialized homeland, we have spread to rain forest and jungle and swamp and desert and mountain fastness and coasts. In each case, we left behind things we were comfortable dealing with, and faced new material, climatic, plant, and animal resources and challenges that we could only learn to use by trial and error.
Yes, we've been through this before, collectively as a species, time and time again. In each case, what was once totally "alien" to all our previous experience became absorbed. We learned how to cope. Dangers and risks were tamed with "second nature" habits and new local common wisdoms that dealt with them effectively.
We learned to clothe ourselves, not once, but many times in ever more resourceful ways. The same holds true with our need to provide shelter. And, of course, food. It is this difference in the set of challenges facing different peoples in diverse new habitats that is the wellspring of different non-hereditary cultures. It is too this failure to flinch before the apparently "alien and hostile" that may have prioritized the development of language, by which "show" became "show and tell," a much more capable tool of tutelage.
Think for a moment of how "worlds apart" are those early East African grasslands and the Siberian Taiga, the Peruvian-Bolivian-Chilean altiplano, and the North Polar eskimo-lands. Was not the conquest of the latter by native peoples the "remember the Alamo" equivalent that we find ourselves called upon now to follow?
Was the challenge of endless shifting ice flows, of permafrost tundra slopes barren of all but lowly lichens, of severely cold seasonal temperatures, not just as relatively intimidating as the raw exposure we find on the Moon to cosmic rays, solar flares and ultraviolet, and the incessant micrometeorite rain, all in near vacuum among utterly sterile, barren, and water-virginal soils? No, we've been through all this before, collectively as man, time after time.
We could go back further. Pre-human life before us is the culmination of an eons-long march out of the "First World," the sea. We ourselves must see our yearning for new worlds beyond orbit in this perspective. And then we must remind others (for have we not collectively forgotten?) that this is not a wholly new thing on which we would embark. It is but a pendulum swing back to a cyclic theme that has been part of life for four billion years. And, more than a cyclic theme! A cyclic imperative!
But here we must be very careful. For this is an imperative which has never been wide-felt. When conquest of the land became ripe, most life was more than content to remain in the sea. It felt no such challenge. Similarly with the plant, animal, and eventually human conquest of one new terrestrial habitat after another. There never was an overall imperative. In every case, all but the few thrived contentfully enough where they had always been, within memory.
Colonization has never been the task of the most successfully adapted. Rather it has fallen always to what we might call "the second best" - those capable of resourcefulness but incapable of competing with the dominant sectors of their own populations. They had to either push out to new and by the old standards less favorable habitats, or remain downtrodden where they were, if not perish altogether.
No "whole" population, structured by government or not, has ever set out to transplant itself except in the case of total environmental and ecosystem collapse within its homeland (e.g. the Anasazi). Colonization has always been a rather disorganized and spontaneous activity of "second best" individuals. If you want a beatitude especially appropriate for the space frontier, it is this: "Blessed are the second best."
Yes, the Russian Empire set out to force-settle the Siberian steppes and Taiga (with what it considered the dregs of its own population). Yet these were not empty lands but areas already spontaneously settled by native peoples.
Yes, the American and Australian governments deliberately undertook to settle their respective Wests. But in each case, in all honestly, the government but supported and facilitated a popular movement of resourceful frontier-minded individuals in an effort that would have collapsed without them.
Indeed, the only all-government effort to create a presence in a previously unoccupied land has resulted in no more than a caricature of settlement. We speak, of course, of Antarctica, presently closed by treaty to pioneering individuals and their families. Despite the onus of this legal precedent, space activists, even anti-Moon Treaty diehards, have been asleep at the wheel, protesting not a whimper when the the Antarctic Treaty was renewed recently for another 30 years.
If, when all is said and done and written, humankind fails to establish secured footholds beyond Earth, it will be the fault not of governments, but of the collapse and dissappearance of the resourceful frontier-minded pioneer spirit among individuals. No amount of unlikely government support can ever make up for such a vacuum.
"These are" by our all too frequent, all too whining complaints, "not the best of times." But they are good enough to endrug most of us into contentment with life on Earth, whether we'll personally admit it to be good life or not. Many are those of us who want to see the space frontier open, but few there are of us who would personally venture out there. Certainly not while the frontier is full of rough edges and beset with growing pains. We'll wait until things become science-fiction sophisticated, until the Kansas Cities of the Moon, Mars, and free space are as genteel as the Baltimores of yore.
Yes sir, we've been this way before, to alien shores. But will we ever go again! I don't know, but proceed as if we will, because I hope what has been in the "second best" of life from the outset, is still there. It all depends on whether those of us with the right stuff are collectively numerous enough to form a critical mass of talent, resources, and determination.
Meanwhile, all too many of us lay the task not at our own doorsteps but, let-George-do-it like, at the doorstep of our governments. That, my friends, is pathetically wasted time and energy. Government will follow where the people lead, not vice versa.
But I fear we may have institutionalized this mistaken stratagem. The moment we did so is ever so clear. It was in the vote that two-thirds of us chose as our name, "The National Space Society," eloquent witness to our belief that opening the space frontier is properly government policy. The other choice offered, "The Space Frontier Society," denotes instead a free association of people, undefined by national status, determined to open space "by any means possible," including, but not limited to, government facilitation and critical support.
"Oh, you beat a dead horse!" I hope not. Because if the horse is dead, so is the dream! The name choice is now an 8-year-old fait accompli. But that will never make it wise. We have in so choosing set before ourselves our greatest obstacle, our own failure to take ultimate responsibility for the dream. Of such stuff are tragedies oft' made. -- Peter Kokh
This month, we return to our essay series on the early days of a permanent human community on the Moon, looking at the "lunar condition," the defining set of parameters that go with the territory and will leave an indelible mark on early lunan culture and civilization. The Moon is a world dramatically different from Earth. One way this was brought home to hundreds of millions was the sight of our astronauts and their moon buggies bounding and bouncing about in the lower gravity. But the effects of "sixthweight" will be more than anecdotal. For the impact of the Moon's environment on pioneers, see the articles that follows.
The unique equally transcendent wellsprings that will eventually make "lunan" culture distinctive from all terrestrial cultures, making it in effect the first culture of a new family, will be present from the outset, intensely felt already by the first crew to take the plunge and "overnight" on the Moon.
The Moon is a world dramatically different from Earth. Its gravity is only one-sixth "normal." It is without atmosphere of any practical consequence. Its surface lies naked, exposed to the weather of space. It offers no life-supporting biosphere of its own. These constraints will make life-as-we-are-used-to-living-it a memory-myth early left behind. As we deal with these facts and their consequences with a swim-or-sink urgency, and as we find successful ways to accommodate them, we will be forthwith face-slapped out of any romantic reveries we may have had.
So much for day one! Hardly will we have begun to cope and neutralize these brutalities and two other facts about the Moon will carve nascent lunan culture even more deeply. The Moon is very dry. And its mineral assets lack some of the industrially strategic elements Earth's more generous endowment has lulled us into taking for granted.
We have touched on each of these topics before in sundry articles. We do so again, all in one place, from the eye of the future historian and anthropologist interested in the very early beginnings of what is sure to develop into a uniquely lunan culture and civilization.
There will, of course be many other things that add color to lunan culture. The sports that arise, for one thing: indoor, middoor, and outvac. Trade relationships and particulars with other off-Earth pockets of humanity throughout the Solar System. Political events. Art and literature. The performing arts and media. And, of course, the indelible mark of powerful and influential personalities. But all these things will but add flesh to a cultural infrastructure grounded in the physical nature of our host adopted world, the Moon. And this infrastructure will fall into place almost immediately. - MMM
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto