Space and survival

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Space and survival refers to a position stating that the long-term survival of the human species and civilization requires proper use of the resources of outer space,[1] and in particular space colonization and space science, as failing to do so, it could lead to human extinction scenarios. A related observation is the limited time and resources thought by some[2] to be available for the colonization of space. Various scenarios regarding human survival have been discussed in science as well as popular culture. The article will cover speculations about how mankind can survive post future catastrophic events in the evolution of the solar system as well as the factors that could help or hinder this survival.

The earliest appearance of a connection between space exploration and human survival goes back to Louis J. Halle’s 1980 article in Foreign Affairs, in which he stated colonization of space will keep humanity safe should global nuclear warfare occur.[3] This continued to grow as an idea, getting more attention in recent years as technology development makes cheap space travel more feasible.[4]

Risk to humanity[edit]

With space and human survival comes risk to the human species. A severe event in the future is one that could cause human extinction which is also known as an existential risk.[5] Humanity’s long track record of surviving natural hazards suggests that, measured on a timescale of a couple of centuries, the existential risk posed by such hazards is rather small. Nevertheless, researchers have experienced an obstacle in studying human extinction as humanity has actually never been diminished before.[6] Although this does not mean that it will not be in the future with natural existential scenarios such as: Meteor impact and large-scale volcanism; and anthropogenic-natural hybrid events like global warming and catastrophic climate change.

Survival of life and intelligence[edit]

Many of the same existential risks to humanity would destroy parts or all of Earth's biosphere as well. And although many have speculated about life and intelligence existing in other parts of space, Earth is the only place in the universe known to harbor life.

Eventually the Earth will be uninhabitable, at the latest when the Sun becomes a red giant in about 5 billion years. Mankind, or its intelligent descendants, then has to leave the Solar System to ensure survival of the human species.

Space settlement[edit]

Human extinction can be prevented by improving the physical barrier or increasing the mean distance between people and the potential extinction event.[citation needed] For example, pandemics are controlled by placing exposed people in quarantine and evacuating healthy people away. The human lineage of genus Homo has reduced from several species co-existing on Earth to just one — all others became extinct before the end of the last Ice age. This illustrates that Homo sapiens is not immune to planetary disaster and that human survival may be better assured through the colonization of space.

Although space colonies do not yet exist, humans have had a continuous space presence since 2000 due to the International Space Station. Life support systems that enable people to live in space may also allow them to survive hazardous events.

Multiple locations[edit]

Expanding the living area of the human species increases the mean distance between humans and any known hazardous event. People closest to the event are most likely to be killed or injured; people farthest from the event are most likely to survive. Increasing the number of places where humans live also helps to prevent extinction. For example, if a massive impact event occurred on Earth without warning, the human species could possibly become extinct; its art, culture and technology would be lost. However, if humans had previously colonized locations outside Earth, the opportunities for the survival and recovery of the species would be greater.

Critical stage[edit]

There is concern that the human species may lose its organized societies or its technological knowledge, deplete resources or even become extinct before it colonizes space.[citation needed]

The author Sylvia Engdahl wrote about the "critical stage", a period of time when a civilization has both the technology to expand into space and the technology to destroy itself.[citation needed] Engdahl states that the human civilization is at a critical stage, but that the funding for space exploration and colonization is minuscule compared to the funding for weapons of mass destruction and military forces. Similar ideas have been discussed in terms of the Fermi paradox and the great filter.[citation needed]



Spacesuit at the San Diego Air and Space Museum

Spacesuits are required for astronauts to survive in space they are the most essential piece of equipment which has many features which help protects them from the dangers of space. Due to space being a vacuum, the suits are required to have oxygen, which is stored in tanks allowing astronauts to work or remain outside for 6 to 8.5 hours before having to return to the spacecraft.[7] Water is also required to survive in space and the space suits have water supply bags in two sizes, 21 or 32 US fl oz (620 or 950 ml), so astronauts do not suffer dehydration when outside the spacecraft. The suits are made from several layers of material; within these layers there is tubing all around which is filled with chilled water to help cool the suit.[8] The suit is also insulated so the astronaut does not become too cold; the astronaut’s body heat is what is keeping him warm. The several layers protect the astronaut from space dust, which can travel faster than a bullet. The visors on the suit helmets are made with a special gold liner which protects the eyes[clarification needed] of the astronaut from sunlight.[9]

Space science[edit]

The observation and study of space protects Earth, as space hazards can be seen in advance and, if discovered early enough, acted against.

Near-Earth objects[edit]

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids, comets and large meteoroids that come close to or collide with Earth. Spaceguard is the collective name for some of the efforts to discover and study NEOs, though these efforts are not sufficiently funded.[citation needed]


Creating a colony in space is currently a very costly proposition of ensuring human survival in the event of catastrophe, and it is likely that other ways could be more cost efficient on the span of millions of years. While extinctions occur on the order of tens of millions of years, major damage to the structure of the Earth itself is likely on the order of billions of years.[citation needed]

The survivability of any colonial enterprise has historically been less than the hosting state given the resource availability imbalance.[citation needed] Creating colonies that can reliably withstand the rigors of space and unpredictable extraterrestrial environments for thousands of years will be extremely challenging.

Moreover, many problems can occur when travelling in the outer space. One of the biggest issues that may affect the human body is the interstellar radiation. While the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protects all living forms in the planet, this cannot be said for the outer space. According to researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center, a radiation equivalent to a mission to Mars can cause serious brain damages such as cognition problems and Alzheimer’s disease.[10] Another objection to space exploration is the funding that it gets. In an ongoing poll on website isidewith,[11] 52% of voters have given their approval on the US government increasing their space budget meanwhile 45% have opposed the idea. The most popular reason against supporting space funding is that some feel it should not be increased during a recession (8% of voters). Given the current economic climate these voters feel there are more pressing issues the US government should be looking to resolve before giving more of its already limited fund to further space exploration. Another popular reason to oppose the idea is that voters feel it should be the private sector to help fund space exploration. Many voters feel that government funding should be used to assist the country on the ground - military, grants, loans etc.

In fiction[edit]

Space as an aid to human survival is a staple themes of science fiction. Among the examples are:

In the 1972 film Silent Running, a set of space stations out orbiting Saturn contain the remnants of Earth's ecosystem, after Earth's was destroyed by pollution.

In the Arthur C. Clarke short story "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth", humans are surviving on the Moon after the Earth was rendered uninhabitable by a nuclear war.

In Gateway by Frederik Pohl, those with the money to leave the dying Earth can hitch a ride on a starship that will either make them extremely wealthy or lead them to their death.

In the 2005 John Scalzi novel Old Man’s War, Earth itself is a backwater and the Colonial Defense Force must fight for the scarce habitable planets left.

In the Jack Vance omnibus volume Dying Earth, a far-future Earth is under a giant red sun that is about to go out forever.

The 2014 blockbuster “Interstellar” starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway follows the plot where a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth's population to a new home via a wormhole.

Exogenesis Symphony” - a three part song by British rock band Muse. The song follows the journey of mankind and details the difficulties and actions that face Earth’s end. Part 1 (Overture) is the “jaded acceptance that civilisation will end” according to frontman Matthew Bellamy. He also states that Part 2 (Cross-Pollination) is “a desperate hope that sending astronauts to find and populate other planets will be successful alongside the recognition that this is the last hope”. Part 3 (Redemption) concludes the song and its source album, "The Resistance" (2009). The final part is a recognition by the astronauts that the extinction of Earth is a continuous cycle and that humanity must change its ways in order to save itself.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Curreri, Peter A.; Detweiler, Michael K. (December 2011). "A Contemporary Analysis of the O'Neill-Glaser Model for Space-based Solar Power and Habitat Construction". NSS Space Settlement Journal: 1–27. 
  2. ^ Rees, Martin (2003). Our Final Hour. ISBN 0-465-06862-6.  (UK title: Our Final Century)
  3. ^ Halle, Louis J. (1980-07-01). "A Hopeful Future for Mankind". Foreign Affairs. 58 (5): 1129–1136. doi:10.2307/20040585. 
  4. ^ spacexcmsadmin. "Capabilities & Services". SpaceX. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  5. ^ "Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  6. ^ "existential risks: threats to humanity's survival". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  7. ^ MSFC, Jennifer Wall :. "What Is a Spacesuit?". NASA. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  8. ^ MSFC, Jennifer Wall :. "What Is a Spacesuit?". NASA. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  9. ^ "HSF". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  10. ^ "Houston, We Have Another Problem - Newsroom - University of Rochester Medical Center". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  11. ^ "Space Exploration Poll Results". iSideWith. Retrieved 2015-11-26. 

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