Let's Leave Earth 6: Space Minds

[Interior. A table in the corner of the reading room. Books spread about. Academic journals open to relevant articles. Longwords. Conclusions. Appendices.]

Narrator A research psychologist joined the Move-Off-Earth Group for their morning session. Gneiss and Tourmaline have been following up with some extra reading.

Gneiss So, there are already experiments happening where groups are simulating the conditions of a long-term living situation, the sort we’d have to build on another planet. The rations, the quarters, proximity to others, not going out without a space-suit on.

Tourmaline Yes, to see how they cope.

Gneiss And they seem to be coping.

Tourmaline Hmm.

Gneiss You’re concerned?

Tourmaline Maybe.

Gneiss I agree.

Tourmaline Why?

Gneiss Well, you know when Vapour said that no one who has claustrophobia would be able to go?

Tourmaline Yes?

Gneiss Well, what if some genius inventor who’d be ideal for the new community, had claustrophobia? Or what if some of the children born in the new colony had claustrophobia?

Tourmaline Some surely would.

Gneiss Surely. And it seems a bit harsh if you did reach a plan for a serious human migration and said, you know, here’s the amazing new colony, key to the future of human civilization, but in the small print you have to put, well, no one with claustrophobia can come, you’ll have to stay behind.

Tourmaline Mmm.

Gneiss Something else bothering you?

Tourmaline Well, I’m just wondering if a lot of people with mental-health illnesses, or actually any illnesses, would have to stay behind. I mean, how are we going to build pharmaceutical labs in space when we won’t have natural resources to use or research for new cures?

Gneiss But, if this is a future that everyone was going to be part of, there wouldn’t be anyone left on Earth to make medicines here either for if some people stayed.

Tourmaline Hmm. That won’t work.

Gneiss No, no it won’t.

Tourmaline Is this an impasse do you think? Space-based living can’t work unless a significant population stays here?

Gneiss Well, Acer says not. She says that we’d have to problem-solve having fully functional research labs in space, you know that aren’t just about researching the new planet itself, but are still researching people; and if that can be done then you’d get yourself back to the main list of other unsolved problems.

Tourmaline That’s a big if.

Gneiss I’m still worried about these simulations.

Tourmaline The ones that are suggesting people would cope if they left Earth long-term?

Gneiss Yes. I mean, sure, they’re emulating the conditions, but they still all know that they’re not really in space.

Tourmaline They know they’re still on Earth.

Gneiss Exactly. So, what does it prove? In the event of a real emergency, they know they could still just run outside. They have a psychological safety blanket.

Tourmaline Do you find the stays that have been achieved on the International Space Station more convincing?

Gneiss No.

Tourmaline Why not?

Gneiss They know they’re going to come home again.

Tourmaline Oh.

Gneiss Yes. I worry that the psychology would be totally changed if you knew you weren’t coming back.

Tourmaline A sort of displacement syndrome?

Gneiss We can’t possibly know. It could be deeply traumatising. We won’t know until it’s too late.

Tourmaline Hmm. We are very used to living on Earth – psychologically speaking.

Gneiss Aren’t we just.

Tourmaline Do you think a prolonged stay in an artificially controlled habitat, the sort we’d have to build to live on another planet, and never going out without a space suit, well, do you think that could actually induce agoraphobia?

Gneiss So people who got used to it would struggle coming back? Or would struggle if a more open, habitable situation was later found?

Tourmaline I just wonder.

Gneiss Hmm.

Tourmaline Have you heard what I’ve heard?

Gneiss I don’t know how I can answer that.

Tourmaline I take your point. I’ve heard there’s a rival group.

Gneiss Oh, yes, I have heard that!

Tourmaline The Stay-On-Earth Group.

Gneiss Yes, seeing whether that’s viable.

Tourmaline Do you think it’s a race?

Gneiss No, surely not. They’ll definitely want an answer from both groups.

Tourmaline What if both groups say no?

Gneiss No to leaving and no to staying?

Tourmaline Yes.

Gneiss That would be a bother, but I think an equal yes from both would be worse.

Tourmaline Why?

Gneiss Well, if the answer is that we could stay or we could go, then we’ll have to choose. Impending doom would be easier to deal with than too much choice. That will only lead to indecision.

Tourmaline So, really the ideal would be a no from one and a yes from the other. Or, what about if both groups gave a yes, but one was clearly harder than the other? An unequal yes?

Gneiss Yes, I’d say that’s the ideal. About this psychology though, do you think we could transport enough apparatus for a dwelling system large enough that it wouldn’t cause claustrophobia?

Tourmaline Doubtful. Not for ages. The tech’s not ready. Besides, even if we built a mansion for every person, they still couldn’t go out without a space suit, that might be enough to give people problems.

Gneiss Even I’d find that a problem. I’m so habituated to fresh air.

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