Why you probably won’t be a space colonist
by Elliot Roth
originally posted at: https://medium.com/@elliotroth
Today I’m going to talk about why I probably would be one of the least likely individuals selected for space travel. I’ll go into gender, age, demographics, socioeconomic status and education in order to provide some insight, into what the best combination of people would be for an extraterrestrial colony.
In order to colonize a planet, there needs to be a certain amount of people present for a self-sustaining society to form. Elon Musk's current estimate, is that 1 million people would contribute to a self-sustaining colony on Mars. He aims to do this by packing 100 people at a time, into the Mars Colonial Transporter (the MCT). The problem is putting those people there. For each additional person going to space, the travel costs increase by a huge amount. Currently it’s about $10,000 per pound. Now multiply that by 100 people, each weighing on average 160 pounds. And that isn’t even taking into account the additional weight induced by food and life support.
Here are some facts about why a crew going to colonize a planet should be mostly female:
1)Females are more compact
On a purely physiological comparison, females weigh less and are shorter on the whole than males. This enables a much lower cost to weight ratio on the human payload going into space. In addition, there is a current maximum height restriction of 6' 4" and minimum of 4' 10.5" for astronauts as they have to fit in the small confines of spacecraft (as well as in the bulky spacesuits). The average female is 5' 5" as opposed to the average male who is 5' 10". This also contributes to a difference in weight with the average female weighing 140 lbs against the average male weight of 166.3 lbs. That 26.3 lbs would compound over time. The difference would be on the order of $263,000,000 per 1,000 people. On Mars in lower gravity, it is hypothesized that people will grow much larger. Initially it’s okay if they start out petite.
2)Females have the baby-having apparatus
Women don’t need men in order to reproduce. They only need a supply of sperm. For the maximum efficiency in reproductive rates, a space colony could initially be all female. If the population starts with 100 females at the ideal age of 25, the total population could swell to 1800 people over the course of 180 months (15 years). At this point, the first babies born on an extraterrestrial planet are at reproductive age and have reached puberty (although they still are too young by Earth standards). By doing this, a colony could send 100 females with an ample supply of sperm in order to seed the colony. Every 100 settlers sent would amplify their own populace by 18 (at least). If this model continues, in order to have 1 million colonists present on another planet, only 55,556 people need to be sent. That means only 556 ships of 100 people instead of 10,000 ships.
Now this model is very unrealistic as fertility rates vary and childcare is an essential part of rearing young. A colony could not function if the due dates of all 100 settlers coincide. Still, this drastic idea still holds when you take into account that females can perform all the same tasks as men. There are no specialized abilities that men have that females do not.
That is why instead of bringing all the people needed to make a colony, it would be far better for those people to be born on a different planet. I wholeheartedly believe that any space mission will be a majority of females. So if you’re a guy, tough luck.
The First Six Women Astronauts
Athletes begin seeing physical decline on average at around age 26. As astronauts have to be in peak physical condition, it makes sense to compare their physical decline to the physical decline of athletes.
As low-gravity environments promote bone loss, the proper age at which colonists would be sent would be at the peak of bone strength and formation when they are still at the zenith of health. This seems to occur at the end of puberty up to the mid-20s. It is also important to note that brain development continues to progress into the middle-20s. Any colonist should be fully-equipped to go into space being at the peak of health and brain formation.
However, the effects of zero-g travel and living in a lower-gravity environment would contribute to bone resorption as well as an overall degradation of health forming cataracts, degradation of muscle, slowing of the cardiovascular system, weakening of the immune system, decrease of red blood cells and more. This is why it may be important to send colonists who are younger to naturally counteract the effects of zero and low-gravity. By going through the late stages of puberty in space, young colonists may feel less of a tax on their bodies as they are naturally inclined to grow and gain muscle and bone mass. However, this is merely a hypothesis as an irregular environment could lead to a negative effect on the stages of late puberty.
This is why I suggest an age from 18–25 for colonists. Age has a particular beneficial preference for females as well due to the fact that they start and end puberty earlier.
In the breakdown of the 100 people on the MCT colony ship, I’m going to reference the current state of affairs in the world, to how it might change to accommodate a genetically advantageous and diverse colony. The difficulty in approaching this topic is that it is essentially positive eugenics that I will be practicing. This is defined as the selection of advantageous traits for the future populace. Just a forewarning before I continue.
First, in terms of health considerations, no genetic disorders, large predilection to certain diseases, or previous major surgeries would be allowed. In addition, it is recommended that all applicants be screened for poor vision and other minor genetic considerations that would spread throughout a population over the course of multiple generations.
This is also another strike against men as sex-chromosome-dependent genetic markers like color-blindness, male-pattern baldness, etc. would be express by the male population. Female carriers might also be screened.
It is important to note here that the military-trained astronauts already have been through a similar screening process in order to get into their roles in the military. The physical, psychological and health screenings of astronauts should be doubly-important for the establishment of a colony due to the fact that it would most-likely be a one-way trip for the initial colonists.
Continuing, a colonist selected from the so-called “Blue Zones” would have a lifespan and health advantage over other applicants.
These health considerations also most likely eliminates many without proper access to sanitation and those living in poverty who are fighting infectious disease.
Having a diverse and equal representation would be beneficial in order to promote genetic diversity in the isolated population. Having 20 people from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America & the Carribean and North America might be a method to initially promote an equal distribution of desirable traits.
In terms of linguistic representation, it is important that a common language is shared by all. Mandarin, Spanish and English are the top three languages in the world and all have unique features that imply different understanding. Esperanto, Ido, and Interlingua are all languages constructed to be used and understood worldwide. While these are interesting explorations into a universal language and grammar, the ease of use and comfort of understanding should emphasize that colonists stick to a 1st or 2nd language instead of learning a new language. Due to this fact, Russian, Chinese and English should be learned by the crew as those are the current world leaders in space travel. Eventually a colony will develop it’s own language and culture. Setting that development up for success is the job of the initial makeup of the crew of colonists.
Language misunderstandings can isolate and impede social health. But even worse is cultural misunderstandings. In terms of cultural representation, it is important that a diverse set of backgrounds is accepted by all. There should be no preference or over-representation of any given religion; in fact, it may be better that colonists are multi-religious and multi-cultural or agnostic.
Price tag: $500,000 for a 1-way ticket
Elon Musk recently said that he aims for each trip to Mars to cost $500,000. That way it’ll at least be affordable to those in affluent countries. This means that in order to be selected as a colonist, you’ll have to pay your way.
This brings a huge bias in the makeup of the colonists of any commercial mission. Those with $500,000+ in assets are generally white, older, upper class, well-educated, own their own business, and live in the suburbs. At least in America this means that many prospective colonists live in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut corridor, or in California.
To better account for the wealth discrepancy, it would be best to have a private-public partnership to share the cost for each colonist in order to have a socioeconomically distributed crew.
For NASA, there really are only three astronaut positions: pilot, mission specialist, and payload specialist. Anybody with a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics can be a mission specialist astronaut. An advanced degree is desirable. To be a pilot or commander, you need at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Flight test experience is highly desirable.
This is due to the military training that enables astronauts to be cool under pressure. In addition, the more training you have dealing with people in close-confines as a team, the more likely you are to be selected.
Payload specialists are where the rules get a little fuzzy. These are people with specific jobs in regards to the given payload of the craft. If the payload is people (in the case of a colony), a payload specialist would be a doctor.
Most astronauts have research experience or a specialty that would be helpful on the space station. All of them have to be comfortable in the limelight and the best ones are those that actively raise awareness and support for the space program. Some astronauts don’t even fly. In total, only 536 people have been to space, with only 12 who have walked on another planet. Sending at least 55,556 people is a far-reaching goal but not altogether impossible.
In summary, the perfect candidate would be a female from the age of 18–25 preferably stemming from the Blue Zones with perfect genetics who speaks a combination of Chinese, Russian and English fluently. She is from a multi-cultural and agnostic background. She has over $500,000 in assets to afford the trip. She has a Masters degree in engineering and is working on a PhD, with research experience and has over 1,000 hours of military flight training in multiple aircraft.