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Jewish World Review March 19, 2002 / 6 Nisan 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Space Family Robinsons | So far, at least, space travel has been limited to well-trained people with fancy degrees, chipper nicknames like Buzz and plenty of paid-up insurance. For the most part I've supported these boundaries, however loosely they've been enforced.

Just for the record, I've also been in favor of flights that last only days, weeks or months.

But a new idea is on the horizon - heaving whole families into space and keeping them there for years, too. Frankly, this worries the Beelzebub out of me. And if you don't have enough to worry about, you may add this to your list.

Although I can think of certain families I wouldn't mind seeing launched into the empty air, we need to be careful how we proceed.

If you start blasting your average families into the heavens, there's no telling what sort of mischief we'll all be in for.

(By the way, would theologians worth their salt defend the idea that heaven is somewhere up in the sky? How should I know? Resume speed.)

A few weeks ago, an anthropologist from the University of Florida, John Moore, spoke to the annual gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and suggested that "we are much less likely to go crazy in space and much more likely to accomplish our interstellar missions if we send crews into space that are organized along family lines."

Families, he said, have definitive lines of authority (they do?), a division of labor that can accomplish lots of tasks and offer the rewards of marriage and children.

I haven't checked into whether Moore himself is married and considers his wife and children rewards, but if you have time, you might do that research and let the rest of us know.

"Whenever colonization is done on Earth," Moore said, "it's always by people looking for a better life. All of the colonizations that I know about as an anthropologist have been done by families, especially young couples."

(This may explain the mysterious bumper sticker we've all seen: "Couples Colonize, Singles Simulcast." What?)

Moore proposed that spaceships on long voyages start out with crews of childless married couples to give the astronauts a chance to adjust to the work up there without the distractions of kids.

Eventually the couples would start families. Eventually, Moore said, "I think kids in space might one day say, 'Gosh, I'm sure glad I'm on this spaceship and not back on old yucky, dirty Earth.' "

Well, now, hold it right there. Why do we want rootless young punks looking at us from up on high and declaring our beautiful planet yucky and dirty? Why, the ungrateful whelps. If they tried that in my hearing, I'd teach them some manners - and right now, too.

But I see other problems here, too. First, how does Moore imagine that childless couples drifting through space ended up with kids?

Unless by then we allow cloning, it will be by the old-fashioned way. I prefer not to paint too graphic a picture here, but what kind of privacy can there possibly be on a space ship to allow couples to do what must be done to yield progeny?

And once the kids are born (do you bring along gynecologists, obstetricians or midwives?), where does Moore imagine the disposable diapers and jars of strained beets will come from?

When these space kids get to be teen-agers, how will they order pizza to be delivered? ("Turn left at Uranus"?)

And what about grandparents? Will they never get to see these youngsters in the flesh? Do relatives never get to go to their baptisms or bat-mitzvahs, their high school graduations or parole hearings?

Now, I grant you that Moore is right about one thing. In his remarks to the science convention, he wisely quoted a prescient Russian cosmonaut who warned that on a mission to Mars, for instance, where you might well have seven heterosexual adults sitting shoulder to shoulder for nine months, you'd have "all the conditions necessary for murder."

Still, there's lots that Moore is wrong about, and we'd better take time to think through the implications of families in space before we get too far down the road.

For instance, if all the space family experts are in space, who will attend future scientific conventions and listen to bozo ideas?

JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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02/07/02: Train doctors to have caring hands and hearts
01/31/02: A different feel to my life and to my country?
01/24/02: How green is my universe?
01/17/02: The end is near, eventually
01/08/02: Important lessons arrive out of the past
12/19/01: Lost in the cloning debate
12/10/01: It's all in the name: Unraveling the mystery of Osama's whereabouts
11/19/01: Flying with damaged trust
11/02/01: Recent, recognized research is a hard nut to crack
10/31/01: Many paradoxes in life
10/25/01: Newly found planets show the cosmos is still strange
10/19/01: Just getting caught up
10/17/01: It was a time for tea and sympathy
10/08/01: What makes an authentic patriot?
10/04/01: It's OK to twist and shout
09/17/01: One precious life among many
09/13/01: Remember who we are
09/11/01: Sometimes all children need is shelter from the storm
09/05/01: Couldn't run or throw, but a hero just the same
08/28/01: Lesson for the scientific faithful: Some theories come with strings attached
08/27/01: When waste in space is a waste of space
08/21/01: In complex world, we lack tools to carve out understanding
08/09/01: Visited while asleep by gang of magical mischief makers
08/03/01: Recognizing the limits of one's capacity
07/27/01: We are more than the sum of our work days
07/12/01: Some stars, like some people, never shine
07/11/01: Our deeply embedded need for order
07/03/01: Not-so-famous tour explores not-so-rich neighborhoods
06/28/01: Driven to tell the truth about golf and government
06/25/01: When poetry becomes destructive
06/21/01: We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a word from deep space
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06/11/01: Shamanic gewgaws
06/06/01: Charity begins at homes with lemonade stands
05/30/01: When are wars worth dying in?
05/23/01: Cruising along that bumpy highway
05/09/01: If you're in the write mood, wish the U.S. happy birthday
05/07/01: Killing McVeigh will wound us all
05/01/01: Dubya reinforcing negative GOP stereotypes?


Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved