HOW TO RAISE A CHILD IN SPACE
How can we ensure that our space babies grow up happy? We speak to Portland State University anthropologist DR CAMERON SMITH
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.