Deep Space Best Explored by Family Groups, Scientist Says

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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."

Cathy Keen is a writer for University of Florida News

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