Isolation Experiment: One Small Step to Mars?

After a long leave of absence Future Hope is finally up and running again along with a much needed face lift.

Last week a 520 day isolation experiment involving six “voyagers” concluded.  The six volunteers, including three Russians, two Europeans, and one Chinese researcher, began their experiment on June 3rd of 2010 and left their isolation on November 4th of 2011.  I have very mixed feelings about this experiment.  In many ways it is quite underwhelming that this is the biggest space news that we’ve had for a while and that it is not tied to any actual planned mission to Mars.

Also it is frustrating that there were no Americans involved in this experiment.  Can America slip even further behind in world space exploration?  I didn’t think so, but at this point it  looks like the future of space travel may lie in some combination of private interests and other governments with the US one member among many.  This may be a good model, but I only hope that the US stays a major player in the future of space exploration and doesn’t take a further back seat to Russia, Europe, and China.  No matter how you slice it humanity’s future ultimately lies in space and I hope that the United States keeps an important role in that future.

All of that being said, I do think that this experiment and others like it are important to do before a mission is planned and executed.  The astronauts only had about 550 cubic meters to live and work in, which replicated what actual astronauts would have traveling in between Earth and Mars and as a habitat on Mars..  In addition to space limitations they had to perform many experiments and tests, deal with limited food and water, and perhaps most difficult of all deal with isolation and unchanging routine for a year and a half.  Overall, I think the experiment was a success and an important, if small step, on our journey to the stars.

Follow this link to read an article and see a 15 minute video detailing their 520 days in isolation.



Transcendence vs. Modification

I recently read an article on Wired that highlighted the growing trend of body hackers who perform self surgery to add modifications to their own bodies.  Some of these additions literally give the hackers new senses and abilities such as being able to control your digestion, see in different wavelengths of light, feel the shape of an electromagnetic field, or sense the direction of magnetic north.

The one big problem with these types of modifications is that no licensed doctor will perform them because they are seen as not being medically necessary.  This could open up a whole line of argument about what it means to call some procedures medically necessary and others not.

In any case, while I do not applaud the hackers disregard for their own safety I do recognize their drive and passion for pushing boundaries and exploring the new, which is a rare thing these days.  So while I am intrigued by the level of technology involved in these modifications and I think that in the future this will become more common and accepted by our larger culture.  I am also disturbed by the spiritual implications that these surgeries and their intended purpose bring up.

First off, by spiritual implications I do not mean to suggest that these types of body modifications or others such as putting ID chips in our hands are a sign of the end times.  While they may not on the whole be a healthy sign for our culture I don’t believe that they are a problem by themselves.  People have been modifying their bodies as long as there have been people.  I don’t believe that these types of modifications are inherently different than adding pacemakers or artificial limbs to our bodies.  While there may be many valid concerns of privacy, safety, and equity in this arena I do not believe that our souls are in danger if we modify our bodies.

That being said, I am troubled by the idea that modifying our bodies alone can somehow lead to transcending our humanity.  These body hackers are part of a growing “transhumanist” movement, and while I understand that they are transcending many of humanities’ past natural physical limits they are by no means changing what it means to be human.  No matter the body or the abilities of said body our human soul is above all what defines us as humans.  This is a lesson that we are still learning or perhaps are relearning in the 21st century.  We are not defined by our physical differences or modifications, but rather by our inherent value as human beings and as children of God.  Again while I am not against these types of modifications in principal, especially if they can be done safely, I do wish that people and our culture in general spent as much time and energy as we do on our physical selves on our spiritual selves as well.

You can read the full Wired Article here.