How can we en­sure that our space ba­bies grow up happy? We speak to Port­land State Univer­sity an­thro­pol­o­gist DR CAMERON SMITH

Focus-Science and Technology - - LEAVING EARTH -

Can it be eth­i­cal to raise a child in space?

Philoso­phers call this con­cept ‘con­sent to risk’. Is it morally ac­cept­able to sub­ject some­body to risk with­out their con­sent? In this case, I think it is.

Com­pare it to the peo­ple of an­cient Poly­ne­sia. Three thou­sand years ago, they set out across the sea look­ing for new is­lands. Of­ten en­tire fam­i­lies went to­gether and were never heard from again. But even­tu­ally they colonised the en­tire Pa­cific Ocean. Would we call that un­ac­cept­able? I don’t think so – they were ex­plor­ers.

What are the po­ten­tial risks?

The chal­lenges are both bi­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural. There’ll be a pe­riod when the ear­li­est set­tlers in space will have higher in­fant mor­tal­ity, be­cause we won’t know how to adapt to all the con­di­tions right away. Chil­dren will also de­velop dif­fer­ently un­der dif­fer­ent grav­ity. Hav­ing chil­dren in space will re­quire a culture that’s ready to take on those risks and dis­com­forts.

How can we en­sure they have a happy child­hood?

What we think of as a nor­mal life for a child here on Earth won’t be the same on an­other planet. In some ways, chil­dren will have less free­dom. By the age of 10, I could go out ex­plor­ing by the creek. On Mars, it will be much more dan­ger­ous to go out­side for a wan­der.

How­ever, the early years of space set­tle­ment will be so care­fully planned that chil­dren born in space will have a much greater chance of hav­ing the food, wa­ter and re­sources they need for a happy life, com­pared to the av­er­age per­son born on Earth today, where those are rarely guar­an­teed.

How should we pre­pare?

What I’d want to do is give the space set­tlers ev­ery­thing we know about hu­man adapt­abil­ity, and let them shape their lives them­selves. In the end, we can’t pre­dict ev­ery­thing – we have to rely on the adapt­abil­ity of hu­man­ity.

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