On Star Trek, there is a magical device called an inertial dampener, which allows the ship to accelerate at ridiculous rates without harming the crew.  But let’s say for the sake of argument this device never comes to be.  Let’s assume we never find a technological way to protect us from all the dangers of space travel.  What should we do?

We could try evolving.  With an increased knowledge of genetics, we could even design the next phase of our evolution, creating a species perfectly adapted to life in space.  To find out what these space humans would be like, we have to think about the specific problems they must overcome.

  • They’d have to adapt to limited supplies of oxygen.  Remember, we’re assuming they don’t have a technological way to recycle the air on their ships.  Perhaps they could develop a symbiotic relationship with plants.
  • Without the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and electromagnetic field, the new species will be vulnerable to cosmic radiation.  They’d have to become more resistant, but even then a strong burst from a solar flare or super nova could be fatal.  If their bodies could generate an electromagnetic field, they might be able to repel radioactive particles.
  • Assuming these new humans spend their whole lives in space, their muscle and skeletal tissue will deteriorate.  They might be weaker but more flexible.  Cell structure will also change in zero gravity.
  • High acceleration is a problem for modern humans; the new species would have to adapt if they want to do any kind of galactic exploration.  Maybe their more flexible bodies could handle higher G forces than ours.

The biggest challenge for a science fiction writer is not research.  It’s taking all this weird, sciency stuff and making the reader understand enough of it to tell a story.  Somehow, the reader must become emotionally attached to these new humans, and if that happens than this could be the basis for a great story.


Banks, Robert D., James W. Brinkley, Richard Allnutt, and Richard M. Harding.  “Human Response to Acceleration.”  Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine.  Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2008.  Pages 88-107.

National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.  Operational Radiation Safety Program for Astronauts in Low-Earth Orbit. November 2002.

Planel, Hubert.  Chapter 3: “Space: An Extreme Environment.”  Space and Life. CRC Press LLC 1988.

Van Loon, Jack J. W. A., J. Paul Veldhuijzen, and Elizabeth H. Burger.  “Bone and Space Flight: An Overview.”  Biological and Medical Research in Space. Berlin: Spriner-Verlag 1996.

4 responses »

  1. stevenhamblin says:

    And that’s just the physical problems! Imagine the psychological and sociological impacts of long-term space travel. Depression, cabin fever that has no end, potential jumps in suicide rates (which could have its own challenges – how do you safely commit suicide in space without jeopardizing the rest of the crew?), or even increases in mental illnesses due to the unique stresses of space-flight.

    And the sociological problems: unless these spaceships had large communities on board, simple problems could lead to complete social breakdown in short order, which could be a physical hazard in itself for the crew. What kind of social structure would work best for such a situation?

    I don’t envy the people who have to make the *first* long-term spaceflight.


    • planetpailly says:

      You’re certainly right! I hadn’t even thought about the psychology of this new species. They’d need a whole new set of behavioral traits or they’d all go crazy. They’d have to deal with claustrophobia inside the ship, but if they ever went outside they’d have to be equally prepared for agoraphobia.

      I suppose we should also think about their attitudes towards family. They’d have to exchange crewmembers to maintain genetic diversity, but it would be difficult to keep in touch with relatives on other ships, especially if those other ships ever travel near the speed of light. I don’t think enough writers have really explored the issue of time dilation in an intergalactic society.
      Politics is another difficult area. I’m not sure democracy would work well, but of course the writer has some freedom to make stuff up.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      James Pailly.


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