Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No really. We were actually going to do it.

Pic from Popular Science. Link provided below.

I recently finished reading a compelling book about manned space exploration.

Or Mrs. ESE and I listened to it on audiobook, anyway (narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Balki!) That counts, right?

It is called Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de Monchaux. It's about development of the spacesuits worn by NASA astronauts of the 1960s. Believe it or not, the true story actually has a few significant ties to transhumanism.

You see, dressing astronauts in suits was not the only option for protecting them against the wretched conditions of space. At least not initially. Another idea on the table was modifying these men into cyborgs. Mathematician and computer expert Manfred Clines worked with psychopharmacologist Nathan Kline (both pictured above on the right) to propose an approach that was steeped very much in the concepts of cybernetics. The idea was that it was quite cumbersome and impractical to have men carry their livable habitat with them into space. It would be far more efficient to modify humans through technology in order to adapt it to space travel.

The logic is dead on correct. The practical implementation of the project, however, proved problematic after deep study. Gainsays within the NASA system forced the project's inevitable abandonment in 1966.

It seems to me though that science fiction later covered this ground. It's been a long time since I read the book in question, but io9 recently reminded me of it. Frederik Pohl wrote the novel Man Plus in which astronauts absolutely must "get their asses to Mars" to quote Total Recall. Only as we all know, Mars is quite inhospitable to humans otherwise we would have colonized it already (or perhaps not. It's all a question of gumption.) Anyway, the astronaut of the titular Man Plus project is completely remade through transhuman means. The majority of his internal organs are removed and replaced with cybernetics, his mushy human eyes are replaced with stimuli receptors, and his brain is augmented with a computer to process all of the enhanced data said receptors will bring it.

Sure, all that is great, but how would all of these onboard systems be powered? Well, solar is the obvious choice but the necessary panels would have to be big. I mean big. So they graft two giant panels to his back that grant the appearance of giving him wings. When I read the book, I imagined him as winged but entirely cyborg in appearance. Apparently, the cover artist for one of the earlier editions didn't share my interpretation.

Sort of looks like Man-Bat, doesn't he? Yes, I took that description from the io9 article but it's spot-on.

Though it's all engaging, I realize that it is quite speculative. Still, I wonder if prolonged occupation of space will require cybernetic measures. I mean, humans were never meant to be out there, at least not biologically. To completely obviate that fact, we may need to one day drastically change a great many things.

Including us.

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