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Jewish World Review March 19, 2002 / 6 Nisan 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Space Family Robinsons

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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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11/19/01: Flying with damaged trust
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05/30/01: When are wars worth dying in?
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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?

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