When will we be a “multiplanetary species”?

I’ve heard the term “multi-planetary species” come up recently in articles about Elon Musk, SpaceX,  and NASA (like this one). I’m curious, is there an exact moment when humanity becomes a multi planetary species?

I couldn’t find a definition or discussion. So I came up with my own answers.

Before: First off what isnt multiplanetary? Well right now humanity is not multiplanetary. Sure we’ve set foot on the moon and we have an International Space Station. Major feats, but neither of the Moon or ISS are planets so therefore we’re not a multiplanetary species yet.

After: So what does humanity look like as a multiplanetary species? Let’s go far into the future and imagine civilizations living on 5 planets, in communication with each other, trading with each other, and able to survive by themselves. That’s multiplanetary.

What’s in between? Here’s a couple moments that could define when humanity becomes a multi planetary species:

  1. Feet: “A giant leap for mankind.” When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon something happened. That was a moment, I can hear his declaration in my mind. So maybe when we set foot on the planet then we’re multi planetary. But that seems too easy to me.
  2. Death: Maybe when somebody dies on another planet that we’re “officially” multiplanetary. A pioneer dying of old age naturally seems like a more significant accomplishment than an accidental death. Either one seems too grim to me to feel like a big leap forwards.
  3. Life: good ole life. What an exciting moment it would be to see the first baby born on another planet. Being born in a place is a significant piece of identity. I left Florida when I was 4 years old, but it will always be my birthplace. Heck if a baby was born on the International Space Station that would be news! (No births or conceptions on the International Space Station have been reported yet, though porn site PornHub did attempt to crowdfund porn in space).
  4. War: the willingness to fight another planet seems like more of a post-multiplanetary event. Like they have their shit together enough to really declare independence. So that’s too far.
  5. Food:  In The Martian when Matt Damon sprouted potatoes, that was a big moment. Sustainable systems are a means to live independently indefinitely. This probably wouldn’t be a single event but an age during which a colony became able to produce its own food. The international space station right now is completely dependent on earth for its food and has no capabilities to grow food. Oxygen, calories, recycling, and energy, it’s all there. A sustainable food system kicking out its first harvest seems like the key to me.

A sustainable food system seems just as significant as a foot on Mars in our quest to be multiplanetary. Can we send somebody to jam their toes into Martian soil? Sure. But a sustainable food system releasing the colony from dependence on earth? That’s an even bigger development.

To become a multiplanetary species we need major advancements beyond rocket technology and the ability to ferry resources from Earth. We need agricultural technologies and ecosystem biology tools for true independence. I found a curious lack of biotech, plants, and only one mention of “food” in NASA’s 32 page report on “The Journey To Mars”. Food systems and earth independence are addmittedly further out than getting to Mars, but are key to becoming multiplanetary. Perhaps the ISS is a great place to practice buildig food systems with the next version of Freight Farms and MIT OpenAg.

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Are you a junior planetary engineer, or want to be? I want to hear from you. Email me at tito@impossiblelabs.io with the subject "planetary engineer". This blog is my version of Professor X's Cerebro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFuyU8Buess

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2 thoughts on “When will we be a “multiplanetary species”?

  1. Great thoughts Tito! Seems like a self-sustaining colony is the moment. Check out Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” for in interesting take on the lifecycle of colonizing a planet. Great read!

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