The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Britt Adkins. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Britt Duffy Adkins. Now this is really an interesting episode we’re going to have today. Brit is the world’s first space, urban planner. Space as an outer space and founder of Celestial Citizen. She is passionate about the intersection of urban planning, engineering, and science, as humans look to build new societies in space. She has a really nifty website, which I’ve spent a fair amount of time prowling around the last few days at celestialcitizen.com and she hosts the Celestial Citizen Podcast, where she talks with a bunch of interesting folks who have insight into the human factors, legal factors, planning factors, et cetera, that will be essential to our longterm survival and evolution into a space faring civilization. Welcome Britt.
Britt: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Jim: Really interesting. You know, people listen to podcasts regularly, know I’m a bit of a maniac on both science and space, and I’m just utterly fascinated by what’s out there waiting for us. Is it lots of aliens or is it nothing? Right. Some ways it’s more interesting if it’s nothing, then the job is on us. The duty is on us to bring the universe to life. And it was one of the things I like to point out to people. It’s one of the reasons we have a moral necessity, not to fuck things up here on earth, right? Because we have this whole universe out there. And if we destroy our immediate, if we don’t kill ourselves off, we destroy our civilization. We may never get the chance to go back out there again. And we’re right on the verge, right?
Britt: Absolutely. It’s one of the things where I think it’s a careful balance between having this optimism and not even necessarily optimism. I think, there’s a lot of science out there that just the probability of there being life in some form out there is very likely. And so I think it’s also sort of though balancing that with, we want to exist long enough to have the opportunity to learn more about that. Right. And so I think it’s something that has come up a lot recently. Like even in the last six months, there’s been a lot of political debates around, sort of is, does space make sense? Why are we going there? We have so many problems on earth. How do we sort of like balance these two interests?
Britt: So I think one of the big things that we talked about a lot on the Celestial Citizen Podcast is that it’s important to sort of communicate to people and, sort of engage people on these topics so that they understand that, there’s a lot of good that can be done in tandem between space and also more earth focused activities. And there’s a lot more overlap than I think people realize.
Jim: Can also think you have to have a balanced portfolio. First and foremost, we got to get humanity through this century, which looks like a bit of a tap dance, but we get through the century the other side and we get ourselves within the realistic constraints of earth, which we’re already over in our accelerating against. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to operate for tens of thousands of years and then, really become a space-faring at the same time. It makes sense to put a bit of a bet on space today, right? So that we have that hedge and there are some scenarios where would be damn useful. We discover a smallish asteroid heading for earth. It’d be nice to be, I’ll have the capacity to deflect it and things of that sort.
Britt: And I think that, that’s another thing where if people really sort of dive into NASA’s budget, for instance, right. And like you look at where a lot of the dollars go to and things like that. I mean, I think a lot of people don’t realize how much actually goes towards climate science and earth science and things like that. And of course with, changes in presidential administrations and things like that, these numbers do shift the percentages shift. But, when we talk about funding that goes towards space science and exploration, it’s not just specifically, launching humans into space, that’s just a component of it. And so I think that’s also another thing that people sometimes forget. And I think also people think that space sometimes represents a much bigger portion of our national budget than it actually does. So I think if, I think you’re absolutely right.
Britt: I think it’s good to have a diversified portfolio. I think the other thing too, is there’s so many spin-off technologies from space that have benefited our lives here on earth as well. And also just that the knowledge that we gain and the understanding of our place in the solar system, in the universe, and also how we can do a better job of taking care of this planet. I mean, those are just so valuable as we move forward.
Britt: Of course the climate crisis here is something we have to deal with immediately. We’re already behind on that. So, but I think, as humans, we are, capable of, of the complexity, we’re capable of holding multiple priorities at the same time and saying that, we can do several different things at once because we can’t just sort of take our foot off the gas on, any one of these things really.
Jim: I think that’s all bang on, but I also think that humans need something larger than themselves to aspire to, right. And with, kind of the decline of belief in superstition and made up gods and all that sort of stuff, having this universe in front of us, that’s an amazing thing right first to learn about it and then to go out there and if we can get humans to center on that, that our longer term goal is to go out and see what’s in the universe, participate in it, et cetera. You know, that may give us a little bit more of a sense of meaning about our lives and feel that our lives as humans are more precious and it’s worth the effort to preserve us from this coming century of crisis, which we’re, just on the beginning.
Britt: And I think that’s such an important point because, you even look at like Frank White for instance, and his book and work with the overview effect and sort of talking about how people experience it started as this sort of phenomenon that, they began documenting where astronauts would go into space, they would look back at earth and they would sort of have this, like moment of reflection or just perspective shift. Right. And so that was sort of this transformational process that allowed them to sort of think about the world differently and about the world’s problems differently.
Britt: And so I think one of the really powerful things about space, especially as we begin to open up access and we democratize access to space for more people, more people will be able to experience that overview effect and then come back and share that with their local communities.
Britt: And I think that’s a really powerful thing. There’s a lot of organizations that are working towards that Space For Humanity is one that comes to mind. And so I think we’re starting to see that where people are trying to open up space for more people. And I think, kind of taking it to that next level of thinking about, okay, well what would a future space city or community in space look like once we get to a hundred, a thousand, 10,000 people, and you start to understand that all of those people will then be experiencing this overview effect and this shift of perception and psychologically, that’s such a, I believe personally, and maybe I’m an optimist, but I think that will be such a positive benefit for society to have that shift of perception as we move forward. And we really start thinking about things differently.
Britt: So one of the things that excites me most about space is I think if we go about space exploration and eventually, living and working in space some day, I think that we also have the opportunity to actually create, a greater opportunity for peaceful coexistence, both here on earth and in space for people, because there will be that shift of perception and starting to think of ourselves as you know, more part of not only just a global community, but as I advocate for a more celestial community.
Jim: Exactly. I love that perspective. If you’re a person who’s gotten your head into astronomy and astrophysics and cosmology, you understand how teeny the earth is on the scale of things and how our, our stupid little tribal racial and ethnic differences are on the scale of the universe, utterly idiotic to be so worked up about. And my friend Stewart Brand of the whole earth review and horror catalog had that epiphany. He was amazingly that famous blue picture of the earth. That’s on the cover of the whole earth review was not publicly available. He discovered it existed in through a series of freedom of information act. I think it was. And other things, he actually got NASA to provide it to him and he used it as the cover of the whole earth review. And that was his whole concept, which is, Hey, our earth is small, precious, beautiful, little blue dot, but in the expanse of the universe, it’s a tiny little dot. And so, why are we at each other’s throats all the time about the most stupid, ass shit right. When we should be thinking about, the much bigger picture.
Britt: Yeah. And I, and I think it’s, it’s sort of two fold. I think that right now we sort of are. And a lot of what you said, just kind of sparked some different ideas, I guess, on the vein of kind of all of our, differences and kind of like, when you actually kind of zoom out, right. It looks very differently. So one of the things that I’m really interested in though, is that obviously, one of the big issues that I think we see here on this planet, and one of the things that Celestial Citizen really aims to sort of correct and change going forward is that there has historically been this power dynamic in place where what we’ve kind of created is a space program, a culture within the space industry, that sort of views the, white able bodied male, and perhaps more specifically the American male as what is normative.
Britt: So I think that that is something that we really need to shift our thinking in is that, and I’m sure on this show, you’ve probably talked with a lot of people about, just sort of inherent design bias in technology and things like that. And so I think as we start to consider, well, this is not only in programming, this is also in the way that we program social systems and the way that we think about things going forward in space. So I think that one of the important things is that , before we can get to that next level of sort of, thinking of ourselves, like one of the things I advocate for is celebration of individual identity, but also inclusion in a collective human experience. So I think it’s important to allow people to celebrate their individual differences, their heritage, their cultures, and feel like they’re in a safe space where they can do that.
Britt: And also for us to move away from the idea that something that that just because it was how it was done in the past, and just because it was playing to sort of a power dynamic that was in place, that that is actually not normative. And so moving away from that thinking, but then getting to a place where we then say, okay, now that we feel like we’re in a place where we are respectful and we’ve got balanced power dynamics, which by the way is a huge, I mean, that’s like an iceberg of a topic. That’s such a hard thing. It involves so many different changes to society today. So I don’t mean to understate the challenge that’s ahead for us. But I think that once we start to balance those power dynamics and do a better job of that, then I think people will begin to feel a little more like they are included in that collective human experience, because they’ll feel like they’re represented in it.
Jim: I think we’re well on our way there, in fact, you look at the majors of what has changed over the last 60 years or so it’s been remarkable progress. And as long as we can keep, the rate of change we’ve had over the 60 years, these issues ought to sort of attenuate out into the noise as they’ve been doing. And the unfortunate, the last few years has been assholes on both sides of the issue, re asserting identity politics and, essentialism and all this stuff. But hopefully this is just a little blip on the longterm road to seeing that we are one species and that these differences on the scale, even of biology are tiny. I mean, we make way too big a deal out of all this stuff.
Britt: I think the other thing too, though, is that we have made progress. I think one of the things though that is actually shocking to me is that we haven’t actually made as much progress as I guess I would have hoped we would have made in a period of time. So, I think that, that’s the interesting thing about the time that we live in now, and again, I don’t want to fall into the fallacy of, everybody. I think it’s a very human thing to think that you’re living in somehow this really pivotal time. Right. And then of course, if you look at geologic timescales, it looks very insignificant. So it’s a balance that being said, I actually do think that right now we’re on the precipice of figuring out, sort of like Eve if we can figure out a way to sort of change our way of thinking about things and we can actually become more accountable for sort of what we’ve done as a society in the past.
Britt: And we’re able to actually learn from our mistakes and move forward. I think there’s a lot of hope there, but it’s a question of sort of we’ve seen this in the past, right? Like we’ve seen, we’ve gone through periods of intense change and then we’ve sort of fallen back on those things. And we sort of like allow them to go back into the background.
Britt: So I I’m kind of torn because I actually do hope that pace of change is going to be increasing because we still have so much work to do. There’s still so much that requires our urgent attention. And so sometimes it can be, it can be very frustrating. And I think that’s actually one of the hardest things about like, when you are very optimistic about our space futures, like I also have to take a step back and say, okay, well to go back to one of my podcasts interviews, I thought this was a really interesting commentary, but one of the people that I interviewed on my show, DeMar Matthews, and he had said there was a really great quote that he said, and I hope I’m saying this correctly, but he said that it was a privilege to dream freely.
Britt: And so I think that I also kind of, have had to take a step back and say, as I’ve been working towards creating Celestial Citizen, that I’m coming from a place of a fair amount of privilege where I feel like my dreams are not limited necessarily by anything. So I think like as I start to be optimistic and thinking about this great future in space, I think we also need to take a step back and realize that a lot of people don’t feel that way. A lot of people don’t see themselves in space and they don’t feel like they have the ability to dream freely.
Britt: So it can sometimes be a really tough balance because I think when you’re dealing with things that are both the space industry, which is like very optimistic, very inspiring, but then you’re also looking at a lot of issues related to social injustices. It’s easy to sort of get, very depressed about the state of the world. So it’s, it’s, it’s sort of like striking that balance between being optimistic, but also realistic about where we stand today.
Jim: Yeah. Let’s move on from that topic. That’s one, that’s kind of my view, plenty talked about elsewhere. Right? So let’s first go back to you talk about NASA and the size where people owe all that money going to space. Well, it turns out it’s only half of 1% of the US budget right today at the Apollo peak in 1966, I went and looked it up this morning. It was 4.4% of the government’s budget. So eight times higher level of effort for space than today. And if anything, I’d say our expenditures on space are way low relative to, interesting things that could be done.
Britt: Absolutely. I mean, I think, and I think a lot of us in the space industry probably feel that way. I think one of the things that really feeds into that is, again, as you said, a lot of people probably don’t realize those percentages that you just gave. They probably think that the space industry is way more costly. And I think, especially when you look at it relative to defense spending in this country and things like that, you kind of go, wow. This is not nearly as much as people think it is.
Britt: So I think it is completely fair for the American public to have opinions about, where funding goes. Obviously, I mean, these are their tax dollars at work, but that being said, I think that sometimes we don’t necessarily do a good job in the space industry of actually communicating that to people and communicating it on a relative basis so that people sort of understand how it stacks up against other spending, which might or might not change the way that they think about it.
Britt: I think the other thing as well with that is that sometimes within the space industry, the information does not always feel super accessible to people. And I say that not necessarily in it’s, classified or unavailable, but I say it more in terms of how readable, how digestible is this information to people that don’t already hold degrees, that would place them in the space industry.
Britt: And so I think that’s another area where we could be doing a much better job of actually engaging the public and providing information and more digestible format. So that really people understood more about the projects that are going on and how, they could potentially get involved. So I think that that lack of public participation and involvement would really also help that cause a bit. And I think that in the future, we should really be thinking about how do we actually listen to the American public and what they want to see, what missions excite them, are they excited about a Venus mission?
Britt: Are they excited about, sending humans back to the moon? Are they excited about exoplanets? Like what are those missions that really get people jazzed? And how do we then sort of shift what gets funded and sort of how we prioritize our efforts?
Britt: And I think part of the reason that we’re not doing that to a certain extent I suspect is just because there is a lot of elitism that I think is baked into academic fields broadly. And then I think specifically within the space industry, so we still have this mentality of like, oh, if somebody works at NASA, they must be this genius. They must be this rocket scientist. And of course, I mean nothing against the people. That’s, they’re very smart people. They’re very capable people, but there’s lots of different roles. There’s lots of different ways in which you could work for NASA or be engaged with NASA. And I think we need to move away from this thinking of like somehow the only people that get to have a say or that get to really sort of promote and influence policy in the space arena are those that are highly educated. So I really want to make sure that we find more ways to engage the public going forward on, on the future of space exploration.
Jim: That’s great thinking it fits in nicely. One of the other topics we often cover on this podcast, which is radical social change, right. Wouldn’t it be great if we had participatory budgeting for the U S government, right.
Britt: It’d be a headache, but it would be great.
Jim: Yeah. That would be wonderful. I suspect that NASA’s budget would go up. The defense department’s budget would go down. You know, I love the idea of, you know, okay. You know, each person has, let’s say a hundred dollars to allocate to various NASA projects. Right. And let’s let the chips fall where they may, how many people want to go to Mars? All right. We’ll say right. How many people are interested in the web space telescope? Right. That’s high on my list, right? How many people are interested in exoplanets? How many people are interested in a mission to one of the Jupiter moons that might have a completely independent evolution of life on it? I’m pretty high on that one, right? If we were all putting our bets down each year, or maybe every four or five years, there’ll be a gigantic discussion going on that would help educate people on what are the things that we gain in terms of knowledge and steps forward from each of these different missions. It would be very interesting and we’d get our people engaged.
Britt: Oh yes, absolutely. And I love that. You just brought, you brought up a couple of great points there. I think on the participatory budgeting, I think it’s such a fascinating idea. I think that, there are so many logistical aspects of that that we’d have to figure out, but the great thing is we live in this new age ever-growing ever improving technology. So I think that it’s very possible that in the future, some very smart individual out there is going to come up with a way of how we can do this in a way that’s, more efficient and fairly done. But again, we can really start to engage the public so that they, as you said, you know, there can be this participatory budgeting process. I think that that is absolutely something that would transform society moving forward. So I, couldn’t agree more on that.
Britt: I think with space specifically, you know, it’s exactly what you said, what if we actually get people to say yes, I want to allocate dollars towards this and dollars towards this. We’d still be having like a healthy amount of debate, but we would stop having what I feel like are unproductive debates, which are, you know, people kind of going back and forth without really necessarily fully understanding the other side or, necessarily being open to understanding the other side.
Britt: So I think if people actually felt like, okay, I have an opportunity to, you know, get informed. I think offering the public fact sheets about these missions, you know, sort of like public reports or briefings or things like that, that again are digestible accessible information, not just something that’s written for another engineer or scientist, but I think if we can start providing that to the public on these missions, I think that’d be super helpful. And I think the other thing is, is that, you know, as we move forward towards a more participatory budgeting process, you know, I think that we will just find that people feel like there’s more buy-in into these programs as well. So I think there’ll be more consensus building along the way.
Jim: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right about that before we pop in to some of the more detailed than what urban planning and space might look at, let’s confront the one issue that some people push back, which is that homo sapiens, as we know, it may not actually be cut out for space. The argument that radiation is going to be tough, you know, on a multiple month mission to, you know, Mars let alone out to the outer planets, let alone into deep space. We do know that astronauts confront long-term harm from extended periods and zero gravity. They never really fully recover and, you know, just sloppy and difficult things to manage, like are relatively inefficient digestion and elimination systems. Right. You know, there are certainly some people that say, maybe we really need to re-engineer humans before we try to wrap trillions of dollars of tin cans around them and send them out into space. What are your thoughts on that?
Britt: It’s I mean, it’s a great point because it’s something that, does definitely get talked about a lot at, at conferences. So radiation is a huge issue. And of course there are many, many others, but it’s when you’re actually thinking about this sort of this.
Britt: When you’re actually thinking about this sort of this relatively fragile human body going out into a very harsh, very hostile environment of space, how do we actually survive? And so I think that this actually goes back to one of your earlier points when we were talking here which is that it’s okay to maybe hold a few different ideas going on at the same time. It doesn’t mean that we have to stop working on one because we haven’t fully figured out the other.
Britt: And I think when you’re dealing with really complex issues of science and technology or engineering, I think you almost go into these things feeling like, okay, well hopefully enough people are working on these things in tandem that somewhere along the way, once we’re actually at a point where we’re ready to start building the societies and the infrastructure that we would need to live in space, hopefully the people that have been working on the biological consequences of that for humans are also leading us along the way there.
Britt: So I think you’re absolutely right. I think there’s a fair amount of assumptions that need to be made in terms of a lot of people talk about how humans may eventually just evolve to sort of suit their new environments and that we might see these adaptations that occur over time. I think if you look to examples of science fiction, I’m sure there’s a lot of people probably that listen to this, that watch the expanse. The Belters, I think the show does an interesting job of sort of demonstrating the biological changes that might take place for somebody who’s living in deep space. And then also, the cultural changes and shifts that happen alongside of that. So I think it’s twofold. I think it’s understanding that if this evolutions and transformations happen from a biological standpoint, then I think also from a cultural standpoint, we’re going to see differences that pop up. And we need to be respectful of that. We need to be understanding in how those cultures might change the way that we think about society and space as well.
Britt: But the other component of it though is that there are people out there that quite frankly say, there’s people that don’t believe it makes any sense for us to develop a community on the surface of another planet for that exact reason. It would be much harder for humans to adapt. Or you have other people who have talked about well let’s terraform Mars and make it adapt to us. And I think, actually, that would be really losing sight of a big lesson that I think that we as humans should learn, which is as we go out into space, how do we actually have as little impact as possible? How do we, basically, adapt ourselves to suit this new area? This new realm that we’re exploring, right?
Britt: So I think that it’s very interesting because again, you have people that are all about going and setting up shop on the surface. Elon Musk for SpaceX, for one, is very vocal about that.
Britt: Then you have other people that follow the more Gerard O’Neill sort of mentality around well instead, we should have these O’Neill talked about space settlement structures in space that were actually just free floating in space but your internal environment would be suited to be mostly what humans would expect. So it would be a fairly benign environment with perhaps one of the biggest shifts being just the psychology of seeing a curved vista in your line of sight.
Britt: So one could argue that’s either a positive or a negative. But so I think you have people that argue that for exactly that reason because they don’t feel like it makes a lot of sense and it’s not very efficient to go and learn how to live on Mars only then to, in the future, go and try to figure out how to live somewhere else or live on the moon. These are very different environments and I think that … I hope people are starting to appreciate that, that the moon is very different from Mars. And there are certainly some things and some … If we figure out how to live safely on the moon, that will obviously help advance our abilities to do so on Mars, but there’s still going to be a lot of differences that we have to account for.
Britt: And then I think the other school of thought is a lot of people are talking about going underground. So living in lunar latitudes or martian latitudes, things like that. And so I think that’s a really interesting idea as well.
Britt: Personally, I’m of the school where we are just to early on in this process to exclude or say definitively that one direction is the right way to go right now. And so I think that there’s a lot more research and studies that have to be done but I think there’s also a lot more talking with the public. Where if we’re actually serious about having a thousand people live underground on the moon, who’s going to sign up for that? Who’s interested in doing that? And what does life look like? Likewise, what if you’re in a rotating space station or something like that? Who’s going to sign up for that? What do you want to see? Or are you willing to deal with the really harsh environment of the moon and Mars? This is the … When you think about people going out in the American West and things like that and the stresses and the dangers in their environment that they dealt with are nothing compared to what we would deal with in space. They are nothing.
Britt: So we really need to think through all of this and again, it’s a lot of experts in the field doing a lot more research on it. But it’s also talking to the public and understanding what is actually feasible? What would people consider? So I think it’s doing those two things together.
Jim: Unfortunately, there’s lots of diversity in humans. Elon Musk does this fairly frequently when he speaks to the public. He’ll ask people in the room, how many of you would sign up for a one-way mission to Mars knowing there’s a 10 percent chance you’ll die on the way and you’ll never come back? Like half the people in the room raise their hand. Even though those are obviously self-selected maniacs who go see Elon Musk, there’s plenty of people. I’m not worried about are there enough risk-takers.
Jim: Because one of the beauties of humanity, I stress this a lot, is that we’re highly variable. And if you go out to the tenth of one percent of risk-takers in the world, they’ll take almost any risk. A good friend of mine made his living for a while riding bulls in the rodeo. I mean, Goddammit, right? You know? So he’s way out there but even if you take a tenth of one percent, you’re still talking how many people? Three-hundred thousand people in the United States that are out there in the tenth of one percent range. And there’s probably three-hundred thousand people easy that would sign up to go to moon or Mars. I don’t think getting volunteers is going to be the problem. The problem is going to be figuring out actually how to do it. So I’m not too concerned about that.
Britt: Well and I think the other thing is, I mean … So that’s also a really self-selecting group of people. So as you point out, is a successful society built on sending a bunch of really risk-tolerant people that are willing to go and as you point out, kind of … In many ways, take on this mission that could potentially be very dangerous. Having a society that forms out of people that are all of that same mindset and all of that same personality.
Britt: I actually think that that’s a recipe for disaster. Because a society needs to be balanced so there need to be a lot of different types of individuals. You need some risk-adverse people in the mix as well. And so it actually really scares me. And I think that is one of the things, too, that a lot of people in the space field are starting to see this and there is this cult following for Elon Musk and SpaceX and things like that. And I think that that actually can be sometimes a really damaging rhetoric for when we’re talking about what is civil society in space look like? Because it is so hard charging and no, we’ll follow Elon to the ends of the solar system.
Britt: But I think that that’s actually problematic is that we actually want to engage with a much more representative group of people because I think that’s something that’s potentially really problematic. And you look at even, this is an imperfect area, I think. And there’s a really interesting book, Red Mars where they talked about the psychological testing and things like that. The questionnaire that people had to do. But a lot of them said, once they actually got there, I knew how to answer the questions so I’d get selected. And so I think that’s the thing, too.
Britt: And it’s also, again this goes back to our stance of what is normative as well. I was just recently having a conversation on Clubhouse of all places, where we have this growing celestial citizen community. And people were talking about [inaudible 00:31:47] and somebody brought up a really interesting point which is that there’s actually some thought around the fact that people who are used to dealing with depression and anxiety and things like that, actually could be very well-suited for a long-term mission to Mars because they are already used to … They have a high tolerance for isolation and they already have a lot of these coping mechanisms for how to deal with it.
Britt: So I think we really have to move away, too … And I know this is going down a different path but from that Apollo-era really right stuff mentality. I don’t think we actually know what the “right stuff” is and I think we need to be really careful when we talk about that because I think that there’s … It’s so interesting that things that we have historically viewed as negatives or things that would maybe exclude people from being able to take part in space missions or be viewed as less desirable candidates could actually really be assets on a lot of these missions, as well. So I think that that’s a really powerful thing if we start shifting the way that we think about it.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a very good point. And as you know, there have been numerous simulations, long-term ones. I think the first one was in Russia. What was it called? I think R500 or something. And the Americans done some in Oman and of course the Space Station has given us a found experiment on this. And they’re coming up with different theories on what a compatible theme might look like. And frankly, we probably don’t really know because we don’t really know what the risk are.
Jim: And so it seems to me, and my answer to a lot of things, is let’s have multiple experiments, right? I think it’s sort of deplorable that we have a society with people as rich as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. In the society I would design, nobody would ever be that rich. But the fact that they’re there in our society is in some sense good because they’re outliers who can experiment. And they’ll just do it. Elon will find 25 maniacs that will follow him to Mars and it’ll work or it won’t. That’s kind of good because it might work.
Jim: And I would also say that it’s important to think about is phasing. As a business entrepreneur, I started numerous companies and hoped other people start numerous companies. Big difference between the personality types for your first five people than there is for your 500th person. And it may well be that we still do need to be overloaded for a risk-taker type for the pioneers. The 25 that go with Elon and swear in blood they’re going to be buried on Mars. Versus the thousand, the attempt to build a real society that would include mothers and children and the whole idea of reproducing generations on Mars. Maybe psychologically, you want a different group of people for the settlers as opposed to the explorers. But we’ll find out. We don’t know the answers to all those but these experiments and simulations provide us some data to think about it.
Britt: Yeah. And I think that that’s a really good point because … And this is something that I feel like does get talked about a lot where we’re starting to see the opening up of access to space from both a commercial perspective. We’ve seen a number of these now billionaires offering seats or charity fundraisers or things like that. Which again, I am here for any opportunity that allows a more diverse sample of humans to be able to go into space.
Britt: That being said, I think it’s one thing too though that we need to be really careful of that as you point out, in some ways it is great. In the space industry, we love to see the innovation that comes out of SpaceX and Blue Origin and this, that, and the other. But that being said, I think as we start to think about the future of the space industry, we want to be careful that we’re not becoming reliant on billionaires to pave the way. Or we’re not becoming reliant on their generosity which may be strong at one time and weak at another time.
Britt: So it’s like we need to in some ways, I think, and this is where that public engagement really comes in, is I really want to encourage … And not only the American public but the global public. Like that’s a big thing on the podcast. We try to talk with people from other countries as well because we don’t just want that American perspective. But it’s very important that we really encourage everybody to take a hold of the space industry, take ownership in it and become a stakeholder so that we’re not just at the liberty and the whims of what these people decide. Which, as you point out, they could make good decisions. They could do things that lead to great innovation or things that we might say, hey, yeah, that was a good thing. But they might do things that we disagree with. And if the public doesn’t have any power to influence that then that’s not a good situation to be in, of course.
Britt: But I think the other thing, too, just as we’re starting to think about our future in space though, is you’re right. There’s definitely going to be I think a different group that goes to … Like that first mission to Mars is going to, where humans go and attempt to land. That’s going to definitely be a rigorously trained group of individuals. And so I think you’re right that it does change as things scale. And so I think that as long as we’re really committed to that changing over time as things scale, I think that that’s the important thing.
Britt: And of course, making sure though, in the same vein, that although those people will be rigorously trained, that doesn’t mean that we still can’t send a very diverse and representative sample of individuals. It just means that it’s going to be I think obviously more biased towards people that are able to withstand that sort of training and stuff like that, as well. But I think the really exciting thing about our nearer environment and eventually the lunar environment as well, is that I do think that that’s probably primed to be opened up to more individuals in the nearer term. So I do think that’s something exciting and hopefully that will be viewed as inspiring to the public as well.
Jim: Yep, exactly. And I wrote down in my notes as I mentioned up to entrepreneur, business dude, I thought a lot about organizational dynamics and the human aspect of business. And I have a rough rule of thumb that companies go through phase changes at 20, 50, 100, 300 and 1000, right? And that they are fundamentally different entities at that size. And I suspect that something very much like that is going to apply to urban planning for space. How do you think about it as someone who’s done a lot of serious work in thinking about urban planning? You have a degree in urban planning from MIT as I recall, right?
Britt: Yes, yeah.
Jim: My alma mater as well.
Jim: Long time ago, in my case. So you’ve had a chance to really think about this. So how do you see the things that impact the discipline of urban planning with respect to scale?
Britt: Yeah. That’s a really great question. And I think that’s one of the main things that Celestial Citizen is really focused on. Is zooming way out, it’s trying to figure out how does humanity scale as we start to live off Earth?
Britt: So I think the interesting thing about that is that there’s a lot of different theories and ideologies around urban planning and what the appropriate way forward is. You mentioned I did my undergraduate urban planning degree at MIT and one of my big personal influences is Kevin Lynch who was an urban planner. He was also a long-time professor at MIT. And so one of the things that he talks about often in his work is a learning ecology. So he was somebody who was not necessarily … And I think this is really interesting because in urban planning, you will see people who are trying to control … Like they want to control things because of the chaos and the complexity scares them. And then you’ll see other people that, like Kevin Lynch, I think, was much more embracing of complexity and chaos. And instead said that this learning ecology is really the important thing where we basically allow ourselves an environment where we understand that a little bit of, or even more than a little bit of instability can … It’s a fine line between allowing us to grow and progress as a society or risk disaster.
Britt: And so I think that that’s a really important point. And so big thing that he talked about was flexibility in planning. And so I think that’s one of the things as we start to scale, we have to acknowledge the fact that it’s really about approaching it differently at each different phase. And understanding that what we do one day is not going to necessarily be the recipe for what solves the problem another day. We have to be okay with that.
Britt: So I talk a lot about how I believe urban planning is something that’s never really done. It’s an ongoing process. It’s more about setting a framework for how we think about solving some of these social, political, and economic issues. How we think about design. But then also, because we’re adding in that component and real commitment to public participation and thinking about how we can do a better job going forward, it’s always evolving. It’s always changing.
Britt: Carlo Ratti, he’s actually currently at MIT. He’s another urban planner that I’ve been pretty influenced by. And he talks about how in this really interesting book, The City of Tomorrow, he talks about how cities and their citizens are sort of almost hackers, right? And so it’s basically about going in and making little hacks, little changes along the way. That then eventually evolve and get you somewhere. I think where urban planning has historically been really problematic is when we’ve had these people come in thinking that they were these grand visionaries.
Jim: Yeah, the Brasilia syndrome.
Britt: Right. Right.
Jim: [crosstalk 00:41:47]. They were going to build the city from 1950’s vision and it turned out to be a complete fucking disaster.
Britt: Right. And I think … And it’s really what it stems from is people thinking that they’re dealing with a blank slate.
Jim: Arrogance, also.
Britt: Exactly. Well and it’s also, my way is best. That’s the other thing, too. And so I think it’s really dangerous when we think that somebody’s just going to swoop in and again, I think that this is what makes me nervous. Because the space industry, we already do this a little bit. We already treat Elon Musk this way, a little bit. Where he’s this grand visionary and so, I don’t mean to say everybody believes that. There’s a lot of pushback, of course. But I think the thing is is that we need to move away from that idea of people thinking about it as somebody’s going to come in and I hate the term master planning, but come in and master plan an area. I think that that’s really not what we’re talking about here.
Britt: And that’s actually something that I clarify to people a lot because I have a lot of conversations where people are interested in what I do and of course, this is a new field, a new area that is not something people are familiar with. So I try to really explain this. But one of the points I do make is that it’s not about my individual vision. Like I basically had the unique experience of having an urban planning education but also an education in space resources. I was recently wrapped up my Master’s in space resources at the Colorado School of Minds. And so I had dabbled in both of these fields and saw a need for them to communicate more and for there to be overlap.
Britt: But at the end of the day, my goal in life is not to come in and say I want to be the planner of this city on Mars or this city on the moon. It’s not about that. It’s not about one person’s vision, it’s about everybody’s vision and how we can do our best to bring that together to be harmonious. And so I think that’s the thing that people really need to move away from.
Britt: And it’s interesting because there’s also this conflict between, a little bit I sense, between the urban planning and the engineering community. And it’s something that I talk about on the Celestial Citizen blog as well. Where NASA had this time period which was really interesting. It was post-Apollo era as the budget was starting to dip down, a lot of engineers from NASA actually then went into the urban planning field. And I think there was this really arrogant mentality that we’re from NASA, we’re the smartest people in the world. We should be able to go in and solve all this civil unrest and these social tensions that are happening by applying a strictly engineering mindset.
Britt: And it was Simon Ramo, I think, with The Cure For Chaos. That was another book where it was talking about how you can use an engineering mindset to solve social problems. The thing that people miss about that and the thing that I think sometimes, this is where that engineering mindset can be pretty limiting, is that social issues are so complex that they are not easily solved with those same mechanisms. And so I think that if we don’t have an appreciation for that, then we’re doomed to repeat a lot of the failures that we’ve had before.
Britt: But yeah, again, I think urban planning has definitely had a checkered past and I fully acknowledge that. And I think a big part of that is because people have gone in, they’ve had this big ego about how they were going to design something. I think the other thing too, is obviously there was a fair amount of racism and classism that was built into it as well. Which then obviously was played out through a lot of these controlling techniques. I mean The Color Of Law is a great book which talks about that and about the issues that we’ve seen with zoning.
Britt: So when we talk about how we deal with things in space and in the future and how you might think about starting to zone uses on the moon, for instance. You want to make sure though that the process in which you’re figuring that out and the way that you’re engaging people and talking to people about and the way that you’re involving consensus, is in such a way that we’re not just having the same racialized –
Britt: And consensus is in such a way that we’re not just having the same racialized zoning issues that we’ve had in the past. And obviously it’s not going to necessarily be the same situation that we’ve had here on earth. But I think you’re going to see more potentially zoning being used as a really negative tool on the moon for carving out national identities. So I think when we start to think about the geopolitics at play there, I think that’s actually where that’s going to play out as well.
Britt: And so I think that we also have to change our mindset from thinking about it from this settler colonialism mentality, where we think about, “Okay, we’re going to the moon and we’re going to assert dominance over this land. And even though you can’t own land on the moon, you can still be present and it’s like almost effective ownership. So I think that settler, that taking over kind of thing, I want to see a future in which space exploration is more about gaining knowledge, gaining experience and exposure, and less focused on conquests. That’s where it gets really problematic. These are all really huge topics, but I think it’s all things we need to be thinking about now.
Jim: Great. In terms of the antithesis of the central urban planner, I like to point people to Jane Jacobs and her work. I don’t know if you’ve had any exposure to her. She wrote some amazingly good books. I think the best of which is The Death and Life of the Great American Cities. She was at her peak in the early ’60s fighting these attempts to put giant highways through the middle of Greenwich Village and all this.
Jim: She’s considered one of the founders of complexity science, one of the things that I’m deeply involved with at the Santa Fe Institute, because she pointed out that social systems are very high dimensionally complex, and there’s no chance that you can top-down design them. What you instead have to do is nurture ecosystems in which emergence occurs and mixing occurs and people interact and essentially create culture for themselves. It’s really the antithesis of the Brasilia or Robert Moses’ style of top-down, “We know what’s best for people. And we’ll just design…” Frankly, I’d say, keep degreed architects the fuck away from this shit. And bring in sociologists like Jane Jacobs and people who understand that social systems are way higher dimensionality than buildings are, for instance, and you have to take both into consideration when you’re doing urban planning.
Britt: Yeah, and I think bringing up Jane Jacobs is a really interesting one because between my undergraduate and my graduate work in urban planning, several years transpired in between. And so I think the way that urban planning was taught then and is taught now, and again this could be obviously heavily biased towards the actual institutions that I’ve been at and their own perspectives. But I will say that it does feel like it’s taught a little bit differently now.
Britt: Well, one thing that has remained as Jane is like a staple of urban planning education. And of course her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is really a seminal work in the field. But that being said, the interesting thing is I actually feel like there’s opportunity for a little bit of both.
Britt: So I think that Jacobs was a really helpful voice and perspective in changing and moving away from that top-down approach, as you said, because it was really needed. And we needed somebody, I think like Jane Jacobs, who really came in and ruffled a lot of feathers.
Britt: So we needed that. And in history, I think we often need that where we really need to shock ourselves into considering a new way of thinking. But now, as you know some time has moved on. I mean, there are some aspects of her work that actually I think was a little bit flawed. And I think one of those things was like her concept of eyes on the street And so in a lot of these communities and community structures that she advocated for, it actually involved a lot of neighbors watching other neighbors, and she felt like that would be a way of keeping things relatively safe within the community.
Britt: Now, of course, as we’ve seen this play out in 2020, and well, long before that, but I think it’s really come to the more mainstream public’s attention here more recently. I mean, that actually is a really problematic way of doing things in many ways, because as you said at the beginning, people get very tribalistic, but it’s also people view their communities as wanting to control them and who gets to be there. And so I think when you get to a lot of this quote, unquote, “eyes on the street” and neighbors doing that neighborhood watch, there’s a lot of bias that goes into that. Every individual carries some degree of bias. And so it’s a really potentially dangerous thing, I think, to really emphasize that because then you’re potentially bringing in a lot of bias into the equation. So I think that, and this is my view kind of as with most things that we just haven’t… We need to evolve. We need to get to an even better place. And so-
Jim: Nobody has all the answers. That’s for sure.
Jim: Let’s move on here. We’re getting short on time. Despite my love of Jane Jacobs, she’s one of my true heroes and I’ve read all of her books. She did get a little bit crazy there in her last book, but nonetheless, it was still fun, makes you think. But, space is a different kind of environment. As you pointed out, extraordinarily harsh. You think Death Valley on the hottest day of the year is bad. It’s a walk in the park compared to either The Moon or Mars.
Jim: And basically there’s four things that if you mess any of them up at all, you going to die. Air, food, energy, and water, at least. And there’s probably some other ones. Disease could get you real easy to that environment like that. And so unlike even New York city where we get air for free, more or less, even the plutocrats haven’t figured out how to charge us for the area, the water isn’t very expensive, energy’s dirt cheap compared to what it would be on Mars, and food and especially in the United States is ridiculously cheap, too cheap. And we have this crappy industrialized food as consequences. in space, all of those things are going to be enormously expensive. And so anything that is going to persistent space is going to have to be extraordinarily thoughtful about how it deals with at least those four factors. How does that difficulty and expense and danger around those things impact how you think about urban planning and space?
Britt: Yeah. I mean, those are major, major topics right there. So it’s interesting. I actually feel like that is one of the strongest arguments right there for why we need space urban planners, because ultimately you have to ask the question, not only what is the cost of doing something, but what is the cost of undoing something in space? So that’s, I think the piece that people haven’t really started focusing on as much yet. We have a lot of talk about, well it costs X amount to even launch something up. We’re all very, very aware of how expensive it is to do something in space, but really what I’m trying to advocate for is having this urban planning approach and mentality brought to the space industry so that we can really be more thoughtful about how we go about things so that we’re not undoing it.
Britt: So the cost of undoing something here on this planet is very expensive, but it’s still possible in space. It’s not always possible, I mean, you even look at the orbital debris situation. And thinking about if we actually get to a point where we take it too far and we’ve been too careless and then the orbital debris situation gets out of control. We might not actually be able to pull that back at at anytime in the near future and solve that. So we could cut off our ability to even be able to go to space.
Britt: I think that one of the big things that I think about a lot is in space, there’s not enough people… I’ve spoken with probably one person right now that’s really focused on waste management in space. And so I’m not just talking about orbital debris here, but I’m talking about on the surface, what is the waste management plan there? And if you go back to mid 1800s, America and look at some of the cities that were developing rapidly, but had no plan, no plan for their waste management. And that led to so many problems and disease and just a terrible quality of life. So I think that you have to think about those issues definitely now. And then of course, yeah, again, the way that we think about food, I will say there is very robust community though, of individuals that are thinking about how we feed people in space. NASA in fact is doing a challenge right now, the deep space food challenge. And so I think there actually are a lot of people that are focused on that.
Britt: I interviewed somebody a few months ago on greenhouses in space and how we might think about that design. And there’s a lot of people that have different views about these sorts of things. I mean, a few years ago when I was starting this, I mean, I saw people still promoting ideas for a city on Mars where you would actually have livestock. And to me, I was like, “Well wouldn’t we be moving towards cellular agriculture at that point? Wouldn’t that make a lot more sense?” And again, I mean, I’m not a specialist in that area. I don’t have all the answers, but I think that I have seen over the last few years, a lot more interest in the agricultural side of space, which I think is great.
Britt: But again, yeah. I mean the waste management one, I don’t think there’s enough people that are really focused on that. And that’s going to start to be an issue now. I mean, people kind of talk about this already. Like the Apollo missions. I mean, there’s still the garbage remote, those missions remain still on the lunar surface. So being thoughtful about that. And then if you look at how much waste we produce on this planet and how we basically have to find other places to to get rid of our waste or hide it from us and then that gets into the whole comments issue and the tragedy of the comments and people understanding the individual benefits that they can receive from an action, but not understanding, or perhaps being able to ignore the negative consequences from those same actions and how those are spread out across society. So, yeah, I mean, you definitely bring up some great points and I think those are, if anything, I think that that really just supports the reason why we need to have a lot of space urban planners that are starting to coordinate a lot of the experts in these different fields and facilitate discussion and conversation and include the public so that we can start tackling some of these really, really big issues sooner rather than later. So we don’t go and make mistakes we can’t undo.
Jim: Yeah. Waste, this is going to be a big issue, but of course the partial answer, it’s not a full answer. It will always be the final residuals, but we need a close loop system where most of what we call waste today, ain’t waste. I’d like to point out, but until we have the willingness to recycle human fecal matter, for instance, organic food is going to be a luxury good. It makes no biochemical sets. So unless you’re willing to reprocess your sewage and use it in agriculture you’re not going to have anything like closed loop efficient system. And in space, we’re going to have to do that. And there’s lots and lots of good nutrients still. And we talked about earlier, the inefficient human digestive system. And water, again, we can’t waste water oxygen. On any of the planets, oxygen is going to be precious and we’re going to have to recycle our air and not just bleed it out into space. And so all those things are going to have to be intimately grounded in whatever urban planning is done. So that all these kinds of basic boundary conditions that have to be honored have to be real life constraints on how you design your system and may well point towards underground where it’s easier to control those kinds of things, for instance.
Britt: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is where analog missions and experimentation really, really comes into play. Because all of those things that you just described about trying to improve and strive towards closed loop systems like those can also benefit us here on earth. So I think that that’s a great example of where space and earth research can go hand in hand and they can support each other. I know a lot of individuals that have done the HI-SEAS missions, analog missions, and I think their perspectives are super interesting and understanding how that process was for them. There’s actually a great podcast too, from a few years ago called The Habitat, if you haven’t checked out, it’s really fantastic. And it follows, I can’t remember if it was a six month or it might’ve even been a year long analog mission from HI-SEAS, and it kind of interviewed the crew on that experience as it was going on.
Britt: So it was really interesting perspective, both psychologically, but also understanding the constraints of their environment. And one of the analog astronauts that I’ve interviewed on Celestial Citizen, is Elliot Roth. And he was talking about how he felt like he had almost like a micro overview effect of just even understanding the allocation of water that they were allowed to use for their shower. And how people thought about it differently. Like, well, do I take a super short shower every day or do I just gather up my water rations and then do a week or something like that. And so I think understanding and really confronting people with the consequences of their actions, like he said, he was really confronted with his individual impact. And so I think from an environmental and ecological standpoint, I think that’s a really interesting lesson learned. So I think it would be super interesting to not only obviously continue and encourage these analog missions because we do get so much interesting data from them, but also really continue to open these up to more and more people, because I think it’s also a really valuable empowering experience for those individuals that take part in it as well. And I think that’s another piece of the pie there.
Jim: Yeah. That’s very, very interesting. I know that these things are going on all the time. Is it called HI-SEAS? How do you spell that?
Britt: H-I dash S-E-A-S, all caps and yeah, it’s one of the analog missions that it’s located out on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. But yeah, and there’s several of them. And I talked to another analog astronaut and she’s involved with sensorial, which is really trying to specifically encourage women to participate in a lot of these analog missions. And she had the unique experience of being on both the co-ed crew and then a single-sex crew. And so also hearing her perspective about the differences related to that as well, I thought was super interesting. So these are not just great social experiments, I think they’re also great social experiences.
Jim: Interesting. What did she say about the differences between co-ed and single-sex missions?
Britt: She said that she was really, and I don’t want to speak for her, but she said that it was a really good experience in both scenarios. There were of course differences between the two, but she said that on the whole it was just a different crew, different feel, there wasn’t necessarily like a huge difference, but that being said, I think for others it might be as well. Like it’s one of the things that I think about a lot is just, I mean, in space, how do different groups of people interact with each other? And I think we have to understand, we know this as urban planners. That in cities and different urban environments. Depending on how you design a street, a building, an alleyway, it can change how safe certain people feel.
Britt: And I think that depending on what your personal life experience is, and what you what your history is, you enter a space very differently. We know that this is the case with men and women and not all, I don’t want to generalize all, but in many instances women will walk into a space and it won’t be designed for them and they will have a very different feel. There’s a great book, Invisible Women, and I think that that’s an interesting one where it actually talks about how big data just completely ignores data from women. And so that’s, again, a lot of our decision-making is based on something that’s not representative of society. So you even look at offices. We all know this, I used to freeze in offices because the temperature would be set for what’s comfortable for a man wearing a suit.
Britt: And so for women it was very different, what are comfortable temperature ranges. And so I think that that’s something that we obviously have to be thinking about in space as well. Is whether it’s just issues of comfort or issues of safety or issues of just how people engage with space, how they use it, how they interact with it. Those are all questions that urban planners and architects really need to be thinking about now to make sure that we’re creating spaces that can really speak to and be comfortable for as as large a group as possible understanding also that we might have designated areas that are going to be more comfortable for even, it was interesting, like the American approach with the ISS, for instance. It’s like, you see like this very, all white kind of space.
Britt: And then I believe it’s the Russians that they have use of a lot more color in their environment. So I think it’s understanding also that, not everybody’s going to be the same. And so there will sometimes be people that gravitate towards one space because maybe it’s more colorful and it’s more stimulating and then others that will gravitate towards a more neutrally designed space as well. Or even, it was interesting. I was talking with somebody who they’re like a smells expert. And so talking about we had on Clubhouse, like a discussion about the smells of space and kind of thinking about how people have different perception of smell as well, and so how that can start to affect you even psychologically. So I think these are all really important things to be thinking about.
Jim: These are great. I love this.
Britt: Yeah. It’s like your stimuli, like your sensory experience in space it can really impact the way that you go about living. And so we want to try to anticipate that ahead of time.
Jim: I’ve heard that in space station’s a stinky-ass place these days, and it’s gotten really foul. Have you heard that?
Britt: Well, I mean, I can imagine. I mean, because it’s personal hygiene is still a very difficult thing to accomplish up there. So it makes sense. And I think I even want to say, I read this where in the early days of NASA, they had people that were like sniffers, where they would sniff the food, or different things that even if it was some mechanical objects or they would have people that would test these things out to figure out how noxious the fumes would be, like the offgassing or things like that. And it’s a really big thing. And what’s interesting when I was talking to this person that kind of focuses on smells, as they said, you can actually blend smells so that they’re less offensive to certain people. So instead of trying to get rid of them, it could almost be like blending or kind of changing it for people’s individual perception. And I think there’s definitely going to be… We all know this, some people have very sensitive smell and others less. So, I think it’s going to be something that it’s just one of those other human factors of like, how we think about living in space that we will want to think about ahead of time.
Jim: Yeah, but fortunately, humans cancel out smells pretty quickly. I remember visiting Tyrone, Pennsylvania as a young kid. Right next to a horrible paper mill. It was like, locals would say, “What smell?”
Britt: Yeah, that’s true.
Jim: I imagine the same happens on the space station. Now, something that I thought was very interesting was one of the essays that was on your Celestial Citizen’s blog, it was called, Space Urban Planning and the Cultural Commons. Commoning is something we talk about fair amount on the podcast when we’ve had people like Michel Bauwens from the P2P Foundation on other folks. And you lay out the case for commoning and the commons as a potential management model for civilization in space. So of course some of the alternatives are going to be the nation state model or even the proprietary model. There’s going to be Elon Musk Inc. Running a settlement on Mars, and there are cases for all those models. So what’s your case for the commons model for a settlement in space. And maybe distinguish, when you say commons, what do you mean by that? Maybe a little bit of the history of the idea. I think you did a very nice job of pointing out the false narrative of the tragedy of the commons and that how in reality, what Garrett Hardin was talking about was unmanaged commons, which has never existed anywhere other than for short periods of time. So I turn it over to you to talk about commoning in space.
Britt: Yeah. Yeah. And so, and Garrett Hardin is a tragic figure in and of himself because widely acknowledged eugenesis. So part of that essay was also saying, okay, let’s move away… Even though he was one of the original people to come up with this idea of the tragedy of the commons let’s maybe move away. I’m actually a much bigger advocate for Elinor Ostrom and her work on governing the commons. I think in that particular essay, what I was really trying to get out there was that we should be viewing space as a cultural commons as an area that all humans have a right to a stake in this environment. And I think the examples that you bring up of the nation state or people, I’m very concerned with the idea of there being this geopolitical competition and conflict that plays out in space by people trying to have this national presence or something like that. I think that’s really a recipe for disaster. I think the other example that you bring up as well, is this idea of a corporate town, and I think that’s also really problematic for other reasons. And we can even go into that’s a whole other conversation too, about Boca Chica, for instance.
Britt: … Oh into, that’s a whole other conversation too, about like Boca Chica, for instance, we’re seeing this play out here on Earth. And so, but the thing is, is that I think ultimately what’s interesting about viewing outer space and our future in space as being a cultural comments, it’s kind of saying, and this was one of the points that I brought up there and it was also a presentation that I gave at a conference, but basically this idea that it should be a human right to sort of have access to this cultural comments and to not have any one person’s culture sort of supersede another’s in space. And so I think as we start to think about space or implanting, a big part of that is having a respect for the fact that this is a shared environment. It should be a shared environment.
Britt: And it’s also an opportunity, right? It’s an opportunity to engage the global public about what we’re going to do in space and how we’re going to co-exist with each other, how we’re going to live, and kind of saying, well, this is an opportunity for us to actually sort of develop this sort of new cultural identity out in space as well. And again, I always want to make the point that even though, we’re each going to be bringing our own sort of individual identities to the table, there’s still this idea of a collective human experience that everybody should feel like they’re included in. And so that’s really the idea behind this space being a cultural comments and it also means different things to different people. So if you’re sitting in the U.S. You might think that our space cultural heritage is the Apollo landing site, right?
Britt: That might harken sort of a cultural identity for you. If you’re part of an indigenous community, your views about space and the night sky might be completely different. And so, and then if you’re from a different country or what have you, it’s obviously going to be different still. So I think that we just have to be careful because we have this idea and people used to be for all mankind. Now people are moving towards for all humankind. But I think the other thing is, we do have to take a pause and look at, okay, well, just because NASA does, like when we have an accomplishment, right? NASA likes to say, “Well, this is an accomplishment for all of humanity.” And maybe some people feel that way, but maybe some people don’t because they’re like, well, I didn’t have any part of this. This doesn’t represent me or my culture or my identity.
Britt: So I think we just need to be mindful about that of saying that it’s not like sort of that U.S. presence and that U.S. cultural identity and space is the only one that matters like far from it. And so I just think that we need to shift our way of thinking about space, which again, should be a global cultural comments or celestial cultural comments, so that more people feel like they can, whether they’re going to become spacefaring in five years or 50 years or a 100 years, they still have a part of that and they’re not entering into an area that’s already being dominated by others.
Jim: Yeah, that’d be really nice. I don’t know how we do this. If our work in the space was actually done formally at the global level, rather than by the nation state level. Hard to do. I mean, we can’t even figure out how to attack global warming yet, but we’re making some progress. Once we have the framework for that, maybe, wouldn’t it be interesting if all the nation states decided to see their space program to a global entity, to make sure that we have global buy-in into space and multiple cultural perspectives, et cetera? I think that would be really interesting if we could somehow do that.
Britt: Well, and this is the fascinating area of international law, right? It’s sort of, how do you actually build consensus when ultimately somebody can just abstain and say, well, this law doesn’t apply to me too. And so, I think that’s the thing. I mean, I think it’s fascinating that the Outer Space Treaty was able to become this sort of like guiding document. I think that’s really fascinating. And obviously it wasn’t comprehensive in terms of its representation, but it certainly was a very good attempt at, I think starting that conversation. I think a lot of people today feel like achieving something on that scale again would be very hard to do, just given the divisive nature of global politics at this current time. And then I think you also look at not too long after the Outer Space Treaty, you had the Moon Agreement be proposed and that was, no major space power really signed on to that.
Britt: And so I think you have to… Yeah. I mean, you definitely have to look at these things and of course there’s a lot going on right now. I mean, there’s the Artemis Accords that just came out recently. So, I mean, there is a lot of work being done here. What worries me a little bit is that I think we are starting to see a bit of cliques happening or people sort of starting to make their own little groups and things like that in space. So I just… I don’t know, maybe I think I am an eternal optimist, as I’m talking, it’s becoming quite clear to me, but ultimately, I think we just really do need to start to think about how we can move away somehow. Was it at 1967 or 1969? But when the Outer Space Treaty was established, it was like, somehow, even though, like that was a really charged moment in time, we were still able to accomplish something.
Britt: And I think that’s because space brings something out in people. Space brings out their inner optimist in some ways. And I think it’s a way of people saying, “Okay, we understand the stakes are very high here.” I wish people felt that way about our planet by the way. But I think there’s something about space where it’s like, they almost recognize it, the stakes are very high that if we screw up here, there’s no going back. So again, It’d be great if we felt that way about Earth, but, but I think the thing is, is that ultimately there is something about that that allows people to sort of transcend some of those conflicts that they’re experiencing here on Earth. And I’d love to see more of that taking place. I’m a little bit worried that in the past, with the Trump Administration, we moved towards sort of this very American nationalist agenda in space, which I think a lot of people in the space industry were conflicted by.
Britt: Because of course they love the fact that there was more funding going towards some of the projects they wanted to see, but at the same time, I think you got to look at the political context in which that’s happening and understand that that’s actually potentially very damaging. So again, it’s a complicated thing as with everything in space, right? There’s just this massive layer of complexity, but it would be really wonderful. I think if we could start to move, as you had mentioned, towards a more global approach to the way that we sort of figure things out in space, understanding though that at the end of the day, participation in these treaties, in this law, I mean it’s voluntary, right? So I think that’s the power of people needing to come to the table and working things out and compromising so that you actually have people that say, yeah, I don’t have to, but I’m going to agree to sign on to this.
Jim: Yeah, it is interesting. I mean, talk about polarization today wait less than it was in 1969, that was the height of the cold war. I mean, we had 30,000 NoOps each pointed at each other with our fingers on the button like this, right? The world’s nowhere near as dire as it was then, both sides believed it was life or death, and there [inaudible 01:16:45] us in the Chinese are fairly minuscule than they were between 1960s, America and high Marxist-Leninist Russia. So even though these times seem screwed up, I always tell people, you think 2016 to 2020 or screwed up times, didn’t compare to 1968. That was a hell of a lot crazier, right? The assassinations.
Britt: I think that goes back to that point about Kevin Lynch’s mentality of this learning ecology is like, actually I think sometimes those really pivotal years or few years are so important. Even though there’s a lot of instability in that moment in time, we learn so much and we can actually really leap forward hopefully towards improvements to society. So I think it’s important that we sometimes have those moments as tough as they are to live through and go through. I mean, I can’t imagine, I wasn’t alive at that time, but certainly I can sort of envision maybe how that must’ve felt, but it’s important that we have those moments so that we can learn and be flexible. But the key thing is, is we have to be open to learning from them.
Britt: And so I really hope that, as you point out, yeah, I mean, in space, I think we create these rivals, right? Like today is, definitely. Back in the day, it was the U.S. And the Soviet Union. And then now it’s the U.S. and China sort of, we create this competition there and ultimately I just think that we need to be careful about how much we’re othering other nations and things like that. And then really trying to find an olive branch and sort of work together where possible, because wouldn’t it be amazing, right? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could take all the best ideas from all these different countries and sort of… Imagine how much more progress we’d be seeing in space right now.
Jim: Well, though, on the other hand, this is where, while I, on one level, I advocate a global space mission. I also like to see diversity, the downside of a global mission is, think of how many people have to sign off on every decision take forever. And this is where having outliers Elon Musk or [inaudible 01:18:56] or something is interesting because they can put different bets down, smaller beds for sure, but they can also be much more decisive. And so I would hope any legal framework that’s developed allows for diversity of perspective. Let’s have a common approach youth. Company town, city-state, why not? Let’s see if it works, right? I have some reason to believe we won’t, but we could easily be wrong when it comes to predicting high dimensional complexity like social systems. It’s really hard to make judgments. I do think it’s important to keep as much diversity of experimentation as we can tolerate in the exploration of space, because, frankly, what works is what matters rather than what we think will work.
Britt: Right. And I think the big thing too is systems engineers talk about this all the time, right? Known unknowns and unknown unknowns. And so I think that something that we also need to realize is that, we can’t be closed off too soon to any of these different ideas or sort of ways about going about doing things. I think the key thing though, is that, and again, it is logistic. I mean, there are logistics and challenges too when you are trying to engage a larger audience, but that being said, I think the public participation component, and I’d love to see more, whether it’s governmental agencies doing this, or whether it’s private space companies doing this. But I really would love to see more people integrating some aspect of public participation into what they’re doing so that they’re not just like an echo chamber, right?
Britt: Because that’s ultimately where I think you run into trouble is when you are just, whether it’s your company or your agency, or what have you, becomes an echo chamber for the same kind of rhetoric, the same kind of ideas. So I think that if we can do a better job of integrating that in some sort of systematic fashion, I think we would really be well-served by that sort of innovative thinking and just sort of getting more out of the box ideas.
Jim: Yeah. Frankly, that was why I was glad to discover your work actually, it’s that kind of thing, right? Which is to take these deep, hard, normally presented as major engineering challenges or national competitions and to wrap a much more human and accessible layer around it. So I got to commend you for having chosen this as your work. I think it will actually, at least in its own small way, maybe it will get bigger over time, actually address exactly the kinds of things that you’re doing. And I hope your work gets more visibility. I hope we can help with that here. And as always we’ll have links to her podcasts and her website and all the various things that we’ve talked about the episode page @jimruttshow.com. So people check it out and learn more. And I think you’ll be impressed at what you see.
Jim: So let’s go out on one last topic. And this is one of my pet peeves about Elon Musk, right? And also this idea of the Lifeboat Earth, right? Now, I was a member of, I still am a member of the Lifeboat Foundation. In fact, I was member number six, I think. So I am a believer that at some point it would be very nice to have a self-sufficient society that could survive the earth getting hit by an asteroid or else letting loose some nanotechnology that turns the earth into grave goo, both of which are possible. But when you really think about it, autarchy is really fucking hard, right? By autarky, what we mean is that, say a civilization on Mars or on even worse on the moon, but it’s not like Mars is not quite the insane case. To be able to actually live with no input from back in Earth, indefinitely into the future and evolve with civilization, man, that’s going to be difficult.
Jim: Just think about if you want computers, right? Computer chips, not only do you need the technology to make computer chips, you need all the technologies to make the machines, to make computer chips. X-rays, lithography, the special doping of Silicon. It’s an amazing stack of technologies that result in a computer chip and imagining all those being built on Mars in a redundant fashion. So a single point of failure, doesn’t take down your whole civilization, really hard to imagine mining a million materials, including rare ones, just the number of skills necessary to do the prospecting and mining for all those materials. And it’s an awe-inspiringly big and difficult challenge. I think it’s harder than a lot of people think.
Britt: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s interesting that you bring up Elon Musk, for example, I think with regard to Elon and his sort of ideas is as you bring up about autarchy and things like that. So Christian van Eijk, and then he was also on this [inaudible 01:23:42] podcast, but he wrote this really great article, which I encourage people to read and it’s called, Sorry, Elon: Mars is not a legal vacuum – and it’s not yours, either. And so anyway, I bring this up because I think it kind of speaks to your point, which is that, it is really, and I sort of see two sides of this equation, but I guess to start, I think it’s really hard as you point out to sort of try to create some sort of fully self-sufficient society in space. And I mean, obviously, as I’ve said before, I also have a degree in Space Resources where the whole idea behind that program is sort of like understanding how you can quote, unquote “live off the land in space.”
Britt: So how you can start to think about doing that. And I think there’s a really positive side to self-sufficiency in some ways, like we talk about closed loop systems, we talk about how we can produce little to no waste. We can start to need less inputs. We can learn to have a reduced impact. So I think in some ways there’s this really positive story to be told about that. But then of course, when you think about it from the perspective of, well also just the reality of the situation, which is going to be a very, very, very long time in the future before the Moon or Mars or any sort of community or city there would be able to operate completely independently of Earth. This is very far into the future, in my opinion.
Britt: And so I think though, going to now the negative side of that a little bit, is that I’ve also seen people and sometimes these people that kind of follow that Musk mentality of, wanting to go to Mars and you can’t tell me what to do because you’re thousands and thousands and thousands of miles away. It’s like, there’s also this mentality of escapism to that. And it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, right? Because I think that a lot out of people that are interested in space are not surprisingly, also interested in science fiction or fantasy or things like that. And so I think there is a fair amount of escapism when we start to think about how our future in space might be. And that’s something I really want to kind of push back on with people is because I think that aside from, as I just said, that future in which that’s even possible is very, very far off.
Britt: But I think you also have to look at, not necessarily, our peoples at some point in the future, able to create sort of self-sufficient societies in space and obviously at some point in the future, I’m sure that will be true. But I think it’s why. Why are we doing that? And so is it that people feel like they can escape the problems of this planet, right? I mean, I am a huge believer of there’s no planet B, which surprises a lot of people, right? Given what I’ve chosen to sort of do with my life. But I think we have to realize that Earth is this miraculous, benign planet that we’ve been given. And really it’s only starting to reject us as we’ve done a lot of atrocities to it. And so I think that that’s something we need to think about is that it is very, very, very far in the future that we would potentially find another planet such as this.
Britt: So we really need to take care of it, especially the dire crisis of the climate right now, and the limited timeframe that we have to correct what we’ve done. So I think that that’s something that our people trying to escape this planet because they think that we can leave. So I think anytime I hear people sort of talking about, well, we’ve ruined this planet, so now we need to go to Mars and we need to have a backup plan. I really pushed back on that. I really, really hate that. But then I think there’s also the question of, I think there’s a lot of people who I’ve heard say, in the space industry, that they believe that, “well, why wouldn’t we allow a self-selecting group of people to go to Mars and start up their own society because that’s what they want to do?” And I think this gets into a really tricky territory of… And this is a heavy topic. I know this is the last question.
Britt: So I don’t want to like go too in the weeds on this, but I will say that there is this concept of sort of like, okay, well people going to another planet to sort of conquer it or claim it as their own for whatever their reasons for doing that, whether they be social, political, economic, what have you, that is sort of in and of itself, a fair amount of settler colonialism there, which is different from colonialism, right? Which colonialism on the back end of that would be okay, so say people go to Mars and they start living and thriving there and then Earth comes in and says, well, no, we’re still the dominant majority. We’re still going to tell you exactly how to live and do things. So I only say this to say, it’s a really complicated problem because it’s a fine line, right?
Britt: And so ultimately I don’t think that people in space should be completely… We have to give them the freedom and the ability to be able to carve out what their own society is going to look like. It is going to be different. There’s going to be norms and traditions and things that occur there. We have to be supportive of that and encouraging people to build society and culture there, otherwise nobody’s going to want to stay. So I think it’s important that we do that. I think it’s important that we don’t go into this thinking that, yeah, Elon Musk is just going to be able to take a bunch of people over to Mars and then completely, somehow be cut off from Earth if that’s even possible, which I doubt. But I think it’s also problematic for, again, it’s a lot about the context of why and why people are doing things.
Britt: So I think that’s a question that we need to explore further, but again, I don’t have any real answer, only to say that it’s complex and it’s something we need to think about that we don’t create any sort of oppressive regime, whether it’s the one that lands there initially, or it’s one back on Earth that tries to impose too much on the new society there. So I think we just need to find some sort of a balance.
Jim: Well, I think that’s a great place to wrap it up. It’s a good, I think sensible way to think about the future, because the truth of the matter is, what I call it, the hero’s answer to these questions is I don’t know. The hero’s answer to many questions is to acknowledge the limits of our knowledge and it’s a very interesting and wonderful journey we have ahead of us. Hopefully we don’t screw it up here on Earth, but anyway, I want to thank you for a really interesting conversation. I want to commend you for the work that you’re doing. I really think it’s good and important and valuable work. And I encourage our listeners here to go check them out @celestialcitizens.com.
Britt: Thank you. I thank you so much. It was such a pleasure being on here and chatting with you and yeah, I hope to encourage a few other people to at least start thinking about what our space future might look like.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.