Visionaries Of The Open Frontier — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Visionaries Of The Open Frontier — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

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Visionaries Of The Open Frontier — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

By Frank White

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 1995, All Rights Reserved

This message is the sixteenth in a series of Space Frontier Foundation essays designed to inform the Internet public about the incredible possibilities awaiting us in space.

The frontier has called to humanity for millennia. However, in the past two hundred years or so, a few humans have come to realize that the next real frontier is no longer on this planet, but in outer space. A few of these “visionaries of the open frontier” have seen that future human evolution will accelerate in the unbounded ecological range offered by the universe. Transformations in thought, behavior and social institutions will begin in the solar system beyond Earth, and continue as we move out into nearby star systems and the galaxy beyond.

In this series, we look at four of these visionaries, beginning with Konstantine Tsiolkovsky.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky:

Prophet of the Frontier

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s place in the annals of human thought regarding space exploration is unique, because he so clearly understood that the primary issue was one of human evolution, and he saw it so early. It is becoming increasingly clear to us today that the universe is a near-infinite environment, the exploration of which will almost inevitably generate fundamental changes in human beings. Indeed, “homo sapiens ” may well evolve into a new species, “homo spaciens,” which is more suited to life on the frontier than on Earth.

Tsiolkovsky was an unlikely philosopher of the space movement, working, as he did, as a schoolteacher in rural nineteenth century Russia. However, he anticipated many of the technological elements of human expansion into space. Even more important is the fact that he also foresaw the philosophical issues raised by space exploration.

He had been influenced by another obscure philosopher of space, Nikolai Fyodorov, chief cataloger in the Moscow library. Fyodorov viewed human beings as fulfilling an important purpose within the universe as a whole, functioning as a kind of balancing mechanism of cosmic energies.

Tsiolkovsky turned Fyodorov’s insights, and his own, into the first “space program” of modern times. He laid out fourteen steps that humanity might take into the universe, which included convincing descriptions of multi-staged spacecraft and orbiting space stations. In addition, however, he asserted that the final, fourteenth, step would be the “perfection of mankind.” This link between space exploration and human progress is often implicit in the thinking of today’s space philosophers, but rarely is it as explicit has Tsiolkovsky made it. It’s hard to argue against the proposition that living on the Frontier, with high levels of radiation, reduced gravity, and other unknown environmental variables, will change humanity’s physical makeup over time. Insofar as the brain is physical, it will transform thought processes as well. Will it, however, change humanity’s ethical and moral architecture? Konstantin Tsiolkovsky argued that it will, while many opponents space exploration argue that it will not.

Human thought has already undergone significant shifts because of our initial forays onto the Frontier. “The Overview Effect,” or experience of seeing the planet as a whole from Earth orbit and the moon, is rendering old ideas of human identity obsolete, for example. However, this is only the beginning. As humans continue to explore, we will see ourselves in new relationships with the solar system, galaxy and universe as a whole. Moreover, we may begin to see ourselves through the evolved, and even “alien” eyes of “homo spaciens”.

Will we become better beings, or worse? Perhaps evolution does not hold the key to humanity’s perfection, but only a simple return, in our current form, to a better relationship with Divine Will. There is, of course, one sure way to find out, and that is to explore the Frontier, as Tsiolkovsky advocated.

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