Politics makes for orbital bedfellows

Andrew Liptak on Gizmodo reports that the White House Office of Science and Technology, following on President Obama’s call in his 2015 State of the Union address to make space a place “not just to visit, but to stay,” convened a meeting of scientists, engineers, artists, and policymakers to discuss getting the human race into space, on a long-term basis.  Titled “Homesteading in Space: Inspiring the Nation through Science Fiction”, the workshop looked at the challenges to making permanent settlements throughout the Solar System. Five topics were examined by subject area expects: exploring space, prospecting, manufacturing, bioengineering, and world-building (which included not only physical environments but mental, as well).

Tom Kalil, deputy directory of policy, wanted to explore the concept of “bootstrapping” human settlements, starting with terrestrial resources but moving quickly to extraterrestrial (and hopefully cheaper and more accessible) sources of materials and supplies. And while critical input is needed from scientists and engineers, he also foresees the need to get public enthusiasm behind the idea: “As a society, we have to decide whether this is a challenge we want to embrace.  Not everyone will be persuaded by George Mallory’s rationale for wanting to climb Mt. Everest (“Because it’s there.”)  Artists can explore different ideas about why we we should do this.”

Desert planet

The view is impressive, but a few watering holes would be nicer …

And of course, there is that “crazy Buck Rogers stuff”, as Kalil offered a defense for science fiction as a contributor to the project: “I believe that science fiction can provide a simulator for the societal risks and benefits of new technologies … By definition, we cannot predict the future, but we can think more rigorously about the positive and negative implications of possible futures.”

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