Avatar, Seed-Carriers of Gaia & a "Prime Directive" for Space Settlement

Avatar, Seed-Carriers of Gaia & a "Prime Directive" for Space Settlement

January 30, 2010 Opinion, Our Policy Voice

This comes from an email exchange between members of a google discussion group called the Space Renaissance Initiative over the old story of industry and greed vs. native culture and respect for living systems portrayed in “Avatar“.

I am not sure if anyone on this list has read any of my stuff on this subject or seen me talk about it, but my take and the long time position of many in the Space Frontier Foundation is this (though I only speak for myself – as its Founder):

The goal of what I call the “frontier movement” (“human space settlement” movement) is to expand the domain of life beyond this one world and to carry the seeds of life and human civilization to worlds now dead.

All previous discussions between left and right, industrialists or environmentalists do not apply. This is a new conversation.

This is the nature of a paradigm shift. The old arguments fall apart. They were based on a world view that does not apply in the new reality. And do not misunderstand, a paradigm shift at the level of Copernicus is exactly what we are engaged upon.

For the First time in human history the expansion of our civilization will not mean an attack on the living biosphere – but instead its expansion.

Think about it.

Look, I used to go door to door for Greenpeace in college, I am a tree hugger, I am also (or was) a member of the NRA, I am also a founder of a couple of NewSpace firms, and a supporter of industrial development in space. A profile of someone like me might be found in a good Robert Heinlein novel…and of many others I know in this movement, so far as the real players and movers go (those bending metal and flying real rocketships and doing the heavy lifting in policy and industry to make this dream happen.)

And here is where it fits:

I would rather see us mine a dead rock hurtling through space for our industrial materials than rip the heart out of a living mountain ecosystem here on Earth, rather catch the rays of the sun in space and beam them to the surface than gouge coal from our planet and burn it into the atmosphere (there is NO clean coal technology) rather build new cities at L5 or the asteroid belt than corrupt the last “sink” we have in the oceans by trying to colonize there…or anywhere else on this planet. There Are no more viable human frontiers here. We met ourselves coming the other way…it is done. But in the big picture it is only just begun.

We are the seed carriers of Gaia. Not the destroyers of new worlds. IF we pay attention, IF we learn. If we apply the wisdom of so much destruction wrought by our ancestors until this time and do things differently in space.

Space is infinite…and so are its resources. One of the points missed in the movie Avatar (as great as it is!) is how silly it would be to go down to such a planetary surface to mine what must occur in free space nearby…and how obscene it would be to do so by trampling over another civilization given the relative rarity of intelligent life (yes – it is rare…and I don’t just mean here in Hollywood!) In fact, the film is an old paradigm overlay on a new paradigm question…just how will we treat any life we meet on our way out? And it doesn’t work, except that it represents a truth that has been valid here and therefore audiences who are unaware of our new “multi-worldview” can relate to it. But it won’t on the new frontier – if we succeed in making sure the human expansion into space is done right.

For example, I believe we should develop a Prime Directive that states if we find a world with indigenous life we do not damage it and go around it.  There can be arguments made that we may live there as guests etc. if it can be done harmoniously. But we do not mine or industrialize such places. Again, all we need can be found and built in space itself. We need not even live on planetary surfaces if we don’t want to (and in many cases we really can’t and remain “human”. Although I also believe at some point we will be able to and should terraform dead worlds.

In the meantime we treat this world as the absolutely precious jewel it is, for as far as we Know (not wish or hope but Know – as in Can be Proven) this little bubble is the Only planet carrying life. (Yes, I want to find ET. Yes, statistically it would seem there are other worlds with life. But empirically speaking this One is the only One we Know of that has it, and you don’t bet the future of the only living world on a hope there are others in case we screw this one up.)

We are embarked on a New beginning. A new chance to re-invent ourselves as a species and our relationship to what life is left on this rather ravaged planet. Our movement can be the harbinger of a that new relationship.

To save life, to free life, to carry the seeds of life to worlds now dead.

Now for me that makes it worth getting up in the morning. It is indeed my faith, my theology and my quest.

I hope it is yours….as this transformation is just barely begun to begin…. and we will need All hands.”


  • Thomas Matula says:


    I agree with your vision and at its core its what drove Dr. Von Braun's team. As Hermann Oberth stated in "Man into Space" 1957

    "This is the goal: To make available for life every place where life is possible. To make inhabitable all worlds as yet uninhabitable, and all life purposeful."

    I also like your Prime Directive of steering clear of any world that may have life. However this basically takes Mars and Europa off the list of destinations for human missions until they have been certified by science to be lifeless. Or technology is developed that would allow humans to travel there without leaving their microbes behind when they leave.

    For me this is not a problem as I see the wealth of the Solar System being found on the Moon, Asteroids and Comets. But I am sure the Mars Society will not buy into it :-)

    Tom Matula

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  • Elliott Clement says:

    Space…. In less than 6 months the best launch team on the planet are going to walk away. If you ok with that then fine we'll be taking your job, want to compare Resumes :)

    Think tank experts? and cartoon writers aren't going to get us back to space. Catch a ride with the Russians..nice!

    I've logged more hours in spacecrafts then the whole foundation combined. Strong fluids, hypergolic back round (Rocket Fuel & Oxidizer for you so called think tank experts), takes years to get a comprehensive understanding it's called engineering not special effects. The blue hairs I've seen on this page will be long gone before we get back to space if ever, under the new plan. Not to say we were lied to by the President when he came to Florida and spoke at BCC.

  • […] by Rick Tumlinson on January 30, 2010 · 4 Comments […]