Fasten Your Seatbelts. (M.E.M.O.)

By Marty, Martin E. | The Christian Century, May 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Fasten Your Seatbelts. (M.E.M.O.)


Marty, Martin E., The Christian Century


THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION for the Advancement of Science sounds like a feet-onthe-ground organization. But in a recent meeting in Boston some scientists took flight, at least in imagination. They talked about physically possible step-ups in the speed of travel that might make it conceivable to reach a near star. Alpha Centauri, our neighbor, is 4.4 light-years from the sun, which means 6 trillion miles times 4.4. We learn that if a cave man 11,000 years ago had launched something at the pace of Voyager, it now would be only one-fifth of its way to the nearest star.

The scientists, joined by some writers of science fiction, speculated. With foreseeable developments, they envisioned a crew that could reach Alpha Centauri in 50 years. For even longer voyages, genetic diversity in the crew would be a problem. You'd need a large bunch of people and careful planning.

As for food? The scientists pictured ways to keep food products regenerating in an artificial environment. Bet on diets of yeast like micro-organisms, varied with wheat berry, scrambled tofu, lentil loaf, potato cilantro stir-fry, carrots and roasted soy nuts.

Of course, there's the problem of boredom. Also picture saying goodbye to those going on a voyage that would consume six or eight or ten generations of people who would be born and die in space.

There's no mention in the report on the conference that the scientists discussed the religious aspects of the voyage. But assume that people are genetically programmed to belong to a species marked homo religiosus. As they go through the passages of life, they seek ritual, comfort and challenge--offerings of religion or, if you want to be outer-spacy, "spirituality." Who'll run the religious show aboard the spacecraft?

If you simply call on the current clerical cast of Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Orthodox and Muslim, you are overloading the crew and vehicle and buying trouble. …

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