Press Release

University of Florida Researcher: Distant Space Travel Better Conducted as Family Affair

By SpaceRef Editor
February 15, 2002
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Starship Troopers and steely-eyed astronauts – the right
stuff for spaceship travel to faraway solar systems is more
likely to be a family affair conducted by mom, dad, the
kids, kinfolk, and generations to come, says a University of
Florida anthropologist.

Families have the kind of natural organization — and
just as essential, the motivation — to take on the unique
stresses likely to occur on space trips of 200 years or more
to settle remote planets, said John Moore, a UF
anthropologist who will speak to the American Association
for the Advancement of Science on the subject Friday (2/15).

“We are much less likely to go crazy in space and much
more likely to accomplish our interstellar missions if we
send crews into space that are organized along family
lines,” he said.

With clear lines of authority between parent and child as
well as older and younger siblings, families produce a
division of labor that can accomplish any kind of work,
Moore said. More important, they offer the rewards of
marriage and children, he said.

“Whenever colonization is done on Earth, it’s always by
people looking for a better life,” he said. “All of the
colonizations that I know about as an anthropologist have
been done by families, especially young couples.”

A Russian cosmonaut has warned that situations such as
the proposed Mars mission, in which seven heterosexual
adults sit shoulder to shoulder for nine months provides
“all the conditions necessary for murder,” Moore said.

Mulling such issues is not farfetched. Experts predict
such a space mission as early as 2080, Moore said.

While the fortitude and physical conditioning of John
Glenn and the Apollo astronauts, made legendary in Tom
Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff,” was needed to fit into early
small space capsules, spacecraft size no longer is a
constraint, making candidates of overlooked groups such as
midwives and handymen , Moore said. “For a space crew that
is going to colonize and reproduce for many generations,” he
said, “a midwife is just as important as a propulsion

In researching the best way to send earthlings off toward
Alpha Centauri, Moore drew some inspiration from the ancient
Polynesian seafaring custom of young couples setting out in
canoe flotillas on long voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

“They didn’t know where they were going, but with the
trade winds blowing them in one direction they were pretty
sure they weren’t coming back,” he said.

Starting with a population of childless married couples
also works best on board a spaceship because it gives the
initial crew a few years to adjust to their new surroundings
without the distraction and additional responsibility of
caring for children, he said.

People may be horrified at the idea of children living
and dying in space, with their only images of Mother Earth
coming from pictures and videos, Moore admits. But parents
continually make choices affecting the course of children’s
lives, he said.

“We change jobs, we move to Chicago, we emigrate to a
foreign country,” he said. “The decision made by parents to
join a space crew is not different in kind from decisions
made by parents on Earth, only different in degree. If
educated properly, I think kids in space might one day say,
‘Gosh, I’m sure glad I’m on this spaceship and not back on
old yucky, dirty Earth.'”

A starting population of 150 to 180 would best sustain
itself at the same rate over six to eight generations, while
fitting into the geometric contours of a spacecraft, Moore
said. Every person would have the opportunity to be married
– with a choice of at least 10 possible spouses within three
years of their age – and to be a parent, he said.

Ideally, the group should share social and cultural
values. “Having some people accustomed to monogamy and
others to plural marriages would create some confusion when
it comes time to marry off the sons and daughters of the
first generation,” he said.

Designing morals for people on such a fantastic voyage is
problematic, Moore said, because ultimately earthbound
designers would have little influence once the crew is on
its own. “If the space crew inaugurates a system of lifetime
slavery for some and privilege for others, there is little
the planners on Earth can do to prevent it,” he said.

Returning crews might park in space for a couple of years
to learn what happened on Earth while they and their
ancestors were away, Moore said. The precedent dates to New
Bedford whaling days, when men who had been gone for several
years moored the ship and waited while people in the
community came on board to tell them who had died.

“Once they got used to all the changes,” he said, “they
got off the ship and went home.”


Media Contact: John Moore, 352-392-2031,
Cathy Keen, University of Florida News, 352-392-0186;

SpaceRef staff editor.