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Starship Astronaut Rational Egoist

Monart Pon
©Copyright 2000

First published in The Free Radical #45, also posted on SOLO.

Man is one of millions of species of animal life growing on Earth, growing from the food obtained ultimately from the millions of species of plant life. The plant's life, in turn, grows on the material of Earth and the energy from the Sun. The Earth is one of several planets revolving around the Sun, one star among trillions, in the unbounded universe.

In this universe of stars, planets, and life, man is the only known organism that has chosen to extend life beyond Earth, beyond the Sun's system, across outer space, to reach the next star. Man is the only being who chooses to think, work, and feel the joy of a forever-growing stellar life. Man, the rational, volitional, conceptual animal, is the astronaut that lives in the home of starship.

Starship is the integration of artistry and machinery created by man's science, technology, and philosophy for generating, sustaining, and enhancing the rational, continually growing life that reaches from Earth and Sun to flourish in Free Space, among the stars.

* * *

The purpose of this essay is to begin the argument for the reality of the starship astronaut, focusing on the idea that man's life and happiness is made possible by his faculty of reason. From the fact that man is a living, conscious, rational being – along with the derived morality of man as a choosing, thinking, making, feeling, being – will be argued the conclusion that the human, rational, egoistic purpose is to grow and become the man who is the astronaut. The astronaut is the man who continually extends the discovery of truth and the creation of beauty forward and upward, toward the new life-giving reasons for living, reaching for the next star. The man who lives in a starship is a rational, egoistic, starship astronaut.

Starship and Astronautics

"Starship" is not found in standard dictionaries, but both "star" and "ship" are defined, separately. "Astronaut" is defined and, etymologically, is derived from a union of the ancient Greek words "astron", meaning "star", and "naus", meaning "ship". Thus, "starship" and "astronaut" are synonyms for the same thing. What does "starship astronaut" mean? What does it refer to in reality?

The primary questions and answers to be considered are:

- Why should man travel to the stars?

Because man’s rational, conceptual, and volitional life is potentially boundless. - How should man travel to the stars? By choosing to think and work with reason. - How could man travel to the stars? By creating the starship of truth, goodness, and beauty.
I define "Astronautics" as the industry whose ultimate purpose is to create the starship of man, the mobile home that comforts and moves him forward and upward, to any part of the unbounded universe of stars. I present the basic reasons for astronautics: that man is rational, i.e., volitional-conceptual, that man’s life is one of continuous growth, that growth requires new values, that new values abound in space, and that it is man‘s moral right to seek new values in space by creating the starship.

Starship is man's astronaus – the home that provides, protects, and propels his life as a rational animal, whose purpose is to produce his happiness, to innovate humanity forward and upward, to sail the endless sea of stars.

Ayn Rand and Astronautics

Ayn Rand’s objectivism -- (web links to some groups:,,,, -- is the modern, philosophical source and basis for the explicit conception and definition of "starship" in this study. The philosophy that views man as a rational animal, living in objective reality, with the moral right to achieve and enjoy happiness – this is the philosophy that promotes the purpose of creating the starship of man. Starship is the home that comes from man living rationally to achieve his happiness. Thus, Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy is pro-man and pro-astronautics.

Ayn Rand has argued that "slums are not a substitute for stars" ("Apollo 11", The Objectivist, vol. 8, no.9, September, 1969, p. 13.). Appraising the significance of Apollo 11 and the space program, she wrote:

Apollo 11 enacted the story of an audacious purpose, its execution, its triumph, and the means that achieved it - the story and the demonstration of man’s highest potential... an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being – an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality... The mission was a moral code enacted in space (Ibid., p. 10, 6, 9) Who is Ayn Rand, and what is her philosophy?

She wrote "to the Glory of Man!"

And she formulated this axiom of objectivism:

"Existence exists – and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists." (Atlas Shrugged, Random House, 1957, p1015) Reality is real. Knowing reality is knowing something real. Knowing reality is knowing one’s being real. Knowing reality is real human being.

The recognition or evasion of the fundamental principles of existence, Ayn Rand has found, represents two radically opposed views of reality: a sense of benevolence or a sense of malevolence. She shows that the denial of reality, reason, rights, and romance, leads ultimately to slavery and death. But, the affirmation of reality brings about:

…the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. (Ibid., p. 1170) The objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand challenges the mysticism, altruism and collectivism that has politically dominated mankind throughout history and in most of the world today – and promotes the principles of rational egoism, individualism, and heroism that move humanity toward freedom, achievement, and the evolution of the starship astronaut.
* * *
A Starship Techno-Ecosystem in Space

A starship need not be like a submarine in space. It can be like a gigantic re-created earth, a free-moving country, with mountains, seas, rivers, trees, vistas, and open-air weather – without earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, blizzards – with only the desirable conditions of Earth, and much, much more. Take a look at these vistas:

a) The Advantage of Space

The achievements of astronautics so far have enabled people to survive in space for up to several months at a time, with supplies and support from Earth bases. The manned orbits around the Earth, the landings and cursory explorations of the moon by the early astronauts, the space stations, and the orbital flights of the shuttle, are evidences that man can be an astronaut and benefit from it. The next stage is the progressive attainment of longer durations in space along with greater independence from Earth, by exploiting lunar and asteroidal materials and solar energy – so that self-sustaining communities could be built to house future populations of astronauts. Ultimately from these space settlements, there would be industries developed for the creation of the interstellar and intergalactic starships.

To envision a plan to create a starship and move into free space, we need to look up at the sky and realize, first of all, its immensity, especially when revealed by the sight of the countless stars at night. The innumerability of the stars is likened to the number of grains of sand on all the beaches of all the oceans on Earth. The nearest star to our solar system is four light-years away. To reach from one end of our galaxy to the other end at the speed of light would take 100,000 years. How many galaxies are there, how many light-years away? The quantity is so astronomical that we have yet to measure it all. In this potentially infinite universe of stars, we live around one star, and have launched a few astronauts to the moon, only about two light-seconds away.

Given these measurements, are we to feel intimidated by the huge size of the universe and only seek security on Earth? Or, do we feel encouraged and liberated by the thought that there is an awesome amount of space to grow in? Space: more room to live, more places to find new work for new enjoyment, new sources of materials for the support and furtherance of the quality of life.

Another fact to remember is the condition of high vacuum, heavy radiation, and micro-gravity that exists in space. In space, matter is extremely dispersed, with no air, water, food or any of the material conditions for life that are easily found on Earth. In addition, outside the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic fields, intense ionizing radiation from the sun and galaxies is extremely harmful to living cells. Also, in space, a body has no weight, being in a free-fall orbit around a gravitational center. Weightlessness, if not compensated, can cause problems like muscular atrophy, skeletal decalcification, and sensory disorientation.

But these attributes of space are also potentially beneficial. For the production of various organic and inorganic materials, the micro-gravity, high vacuum and intense radiation of space provide desirable conditions not readily available on Earth. For example, in weightlessness, a solid or liquid can be manipulated using very small forces such as electromagnetic, electrostatic or acoustic forces. Containers are unnecessary to hold the material being processed, and therefore, no contamination of the material by the container would occur, as it does in terrestrial procedures.

Another advantage of micro-gravity processing is the elimination of convection currents caused by gravity acting on a mixture of liquids of different densities or at different temperatures. Without convection currents, better alloys, for example, could be made. The gains from micro-gravity manufacturing are matched by the gains from the availability of high vacuum and direct radiation. The basic advantage is that, away from the given conditions found on Earth, there is possible a significantly greater quality control over the environment in terms of gravity, materials, and radiation.

What can be produced in this kind of environment is potentially endless; here is a partial, representative list:

  • large crystals
  • large-scale integrated circuits
  • hollow ball bearings
  • high-strength permanent magnets
  • thin film electronic devices
  • aluminum-lead lubricated alloys
  • improved fiber optics
  • high-quality lenses and mirrors
  • stronger materials with low erosion rates
  • high-strength composites
  • high-purity biologicals for vaccine-making
  • new antibiotics via rapid mutation
  • protein purification and production
The vast opportunities for growth and improved life to be found in space are only beginning to be enumerated. To profit from the new resources requires industries and settlements in space.

b) The Space Colonies Proposal

Beginning in the 1970’s, the industrialization and colonization of space have been the subjects of many serious studies and proposals by astronautical groups and their supporters. (Some web links:, /,, .) 
The most publicized plan has been that of Gerard K. O'Neill, then a physicist at Princeton University. His project, first presented in his book, The High Frontier, is to build communities off-Earth, but in space, not on another planetary surface, so as to be free of the unchangeable conditions and gravity of a planet, and to take technological advantage of the more controllable, energy-rich environment of gravity-free space.

Generally, the plan is to build huge rotating pressure vessels with mirrors to collect and control sunlight, and ecosystems to support 10,000 people or more. The rotation provides pseudo-gravity and the mirrors provide energy for agricultural, industrial, and domestic activities. The major source of materials for the first colonies is the lunar surface, known to contain most of the needed elements except carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, which would initially be acquired from Earth. Later, the mining of certain asteroids is expected to yield all the required materials. As well as manufacturing the products for their own needs, the space settlers could build solar power satellites, for commercial microwave beaming of electrical energy to Earth. Thus, as sketched in Figure1, the space settlers could eventually become self-sustaining in terms of materials and energy. If so, the societies of space could easily serve as the industrial and cultural bases for constructing the future interstellar starships.

Diagram of 
Space Colony/Starship Project

Compared to mankind's achievements so far, the settlement of space is a massive, innovative venture, requiring millions of people and trillions of dollars – but, as shown by the projections of O'Neill and his associates, the project appears to be feasible with today's engineering capabilities. For example, the method of transporting men and materials to establish the lunar mining colony is to use Shuttle-derived vehicles. At the lunar mine, it is suggested that the extracted ore can be electromagnetically catapulted into space using a mass-driver developed from the synchronous induction motor. Above the moon, a giant mass-catcher will collect the packages of ore and transport them to the colony site by using rotary pellet launchers. At the construction site, the ore is refined to yield the building materials, mainly aluminum, titanium, and glass, with oxygen as a by-product to be used to make part of the atmosphere of the vessel.

Food will be grown using intensive agriculture techniques such as multiple-cropping and inter-cropping, along with using controlled climates to produce a varied and nutritious diet of vegetables, fruits, and meat from fish, chicken, goats, and pigs. The agricultural, industrial, and domestic activities, since they require different environmental conditions, will be segregated from each other using the vacuum of space, such that the requirements of each activity do not interfere with that of the others. All the major life-support functions will be coordinated as an integrated unit to create the conditions for a thriving community.

Overviewing the plan of setting up colonies in space, many questions can be raised. Some basic technological ones and their answers are the following:

    Why mine the moon for materials? Because, once the lunar base is established, it could be far cheaper to acquire the building materials from the moon than by launching them from Earth up against its stronger gravitational pull. (The moon's gravity is 1/6 of Earth's.)

     How would the colonies be protected against the hazards of radiation? By using shields of sufficient thickness made from lunar rocks and industrial slag from the refineries.

    Would rotating the habitat to produce pseudogravity cause sensory disorientation and other physiological disturbances? No, not if the diameter of the rotating vessel is large (>1 mi.) and the spin slow (<1 rpm).

    What about the risk of meteoroids striking and puncturing the shell of the vessel? The risk of severe damage caused by a 1-ton boulder hitting the vessel is once every 250 million years.

    How would the waste heat accumulated from the colony be dissipated? By conducting the heat with coolants to radiators exposed to the cold of space.

These and many other engineering problems have been examined, and both theoretical and practical solutions are being found and proposed by the researchers of the space settlement project. What will the 21st Century bring?

c) Designing an Ecosystem in Space 

To survive and flourish in space, man needs to build a special home, consisting of a protective, conducive environment with the proper conditions and resources for sustaining his life. What is required is an integrated system of life-supportive functions that provides air, water, food, and other vital substances, and recycles waste materials back to reservoirs. This system would consist of both biotic and abiotic components co-functioning to create an integrated techno-ecosystem.

An ecosystem in space can be created by transporting properly selected samples of the necessary biological and a-biological components from Earth, the moon, or the asteroids, and assembling the components in space within an enclosure. The ecosystem, aided by computerization and automation, is shielded from the hazards of space, and regulated as to atmosphere, gravity, temperature, moisture, illumination, and flow of various materials throughout the system. The larger ecosystems could include: farms, factories, stores, schools, studios, theatres, houses, with landscapes like meadows, forests, lakes, rivers, and hills, and with programmable weather.

An ecosystem, as sketched in Figure 2, is created by placing the selected biotic components in appropriate relationships with each other and with abiotic components that monitor, regulate, and support the system. For greater control, it may be necessary to separate certain components, biotic or abiotic, by compartmentalization. Farms could be isolated from factories, and factories from habitats. Within a farm, there could be different enclosures with different environments for different species in order to obtain the optimal yield.

Diagram of a Typical Ecosystem in Space

To power the ecosystem, there must be an adequate, reliable source of energy. The sun is such a source, providing continuous, unhindered energy for photosynthesis that produces food and oxygen from minerals, water, and carbon dioxide. Solar energy can also be converted into electricity to power the abiotic components of the system. To ensure the proper growth of a given life-form, the correct spectral distribution of the illumination, and the intensity and periodicity of electromagnetic radiation at each wavelength, must be determined. To prevent the entry of harmful radiation, shielding the ecosystem with various reflectors and filters will be necessary. Filling the energy specifications for an ecosystem in space will be much less difficult than on Earth, due to the full sunlight available in space, unlike the attenuated, diffused, and interrupted sunlight available at the Earth's surface.

The gravitational environment is also more easily controlled in space, where forces lower or higher than 1 g. (Earth gravity) can be produced by varying the rate of rotation of the ecosystem. Different components of the system, if they require different g-values, can be spun at different rates. Perhaps some agricultural units will be at Earth-normal gravity, while certain industrial units will have zero-gravity, and some domestic areas could be at less than 1 g. for low-gravity sports, therapy, and recreation. Further research into the effects of variable gravitational environments on different components of an ecosystem will discover the precise requirements needed for proper performance of each component.

Another factor of design to be considered is the atmospheric component. The composition, and total and partial pressures of the atmosphere need to be determined along with the methods for circulating and regenerating the gases. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and a diluent gas like nitrogen will be important constituents of the atmosphere. The diluent gas is needed to dilute the oxygen and reduce the fire hazards found in an otherwise oxygen-rich atmosphere. Oxygen, needed for human respiration, and carbon dioxide, needed for photosynthesis, will be exchanged between people and plants. As well as maintaining the proper temperature and humidity, the management of the atmosphere includes the removal of pollutants and toxic substances.

Enveloped in a proper atmosphere, with available artificial gravity and direct solar energy, it is possible for plants and animals to grow and provide food for each other and for man. In an environment where such factors as illumination, temperature, humidity, weather, water, carbon dioxide concentration, and fertilizers can be controlled, food yield and variety can be significantly increased from terrestrial values, and increased even more when other agricultural techniques like multiple-cropping and inter-cropping, are adopted. Multiple-cropping is the growing of different crops in succession at a proper sequence, and inter-cropping is the planting of the next crop before the harvesting time of the present crop, so that while one crop is being harvested, the next crop is already growing. With these intensive farming methods, crop production is continual: while some crops are being planted, others are ripening, and still others are being harvested.

To maintain a high degree of self-sufficiency and independence, the vital substances required in agricultural production need to be recycled. For example, water can be retrieved from the air with dehumidifiers or from wastes using wet oxidation or incineration. There is a process in which wastes are heated with oxygen at high pressures to yield products that include water, carbon dioxide, and minerals. Marine organisms might be chosen to form a recycling system for sodium chloride. Algae and aquatic vascular plants like water hyacinths can be used in waste recycling systems, as well as serving as food for livestock and aquatic animals. In general, enclosing and re-circulating of materials in an ecosystem helps to keep it self-sufficient.

While closing the system helps conserve materials, the closure also needs supply lines to new materials for replacement and expansion, and ports for disposal of non-recyclable and toxic wastes, These links to the outside of the system are what keep it open to change, growth, and improvement. The choice of an ecosystem for man is not so much a closed or open one, but a controlled or wild one. A self-sufficient ecosystem community in space comes from a self-control of activity, and self-control rests on an understanding of the complex problems and solutions of supporting human life.

With the health of man as the primary standard, the design of an ecosystem would be more simplified, integrated, and customized to man's needs – unlike the semi-wild ecosystems now on Earth. In space, if desired, only that which is conducive to man's life, with some options, will be incorporated into the system, while the dangerous and the annoying may be excluded or diminished. Such a refined, balanced ecosystem, compared to that of present Earth, will be like a modern, air-conditioned, computerized home compared to a prehistoric cave. The superiority comes from having a greater selectivity and control over the environment.

This is the aim of an ecosystem in space: to provide the biophysical means of man’s survival by using solar energy, extra-terrestrial material, and seeds from Earth to construct a life-support system consisting of an abundant source of energy, a gravity substitute, an atmosphere, an agriculture, and a waste recycler.

d) Philosophy and Rights, a Vital Component

The biophysical aims are especially important at the initial, pioneering stage; what is equally important are the intellectual-cultural requirements. These philosophical principles form a vital component of the starship colony’s life-support system.

The philosophico-political conditions for human life in a starship space colony are the recognition that man is a rational, conceptual, volitional animal, and the recognition that he has the right to his own life – the right to choose the purpose and practice of his own happiness. The success of a society in Space and on Earth comes from the respect for individual, private rights to life and property, which means defending against the initiation of physical force that violates rights.

Freedom from force is a pre-condition for reason to be effective in developing a starship civilization in space. Individuals need protection against those who would coerce rather than persuade, those who would extort rather than purchase, those who would destroy rather than create. As much room as there is in space, there is no room for coercion or brutality. Free space is for rational, egoistic, free-trading, starship astronauts.

The role and benefit of a philosophy to the starship way of life is to have a logical, factual, and meaningful set of true principles that define the nature of human existence: the purpose and standards of man’s life, the individual and social conditions for the achievement of his happiness – and the visions of wonder and excitement that enrich and ennoble his soul, as a starship being of light.

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