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Visions of human futures in space and SETI

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 August 2017

Jason T. Wright*
Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, 525 Davey Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA Department of Astronomy, Breakthrough Listen Laboratory, University of California, 501 Campbell Hall #3411, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA PI, NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science
Michael P. Oman-Reagan
Department of Anthropology, Memorial University, St. John's, NL A1C 5S7, Canada


We discuss how visions for the futures of humanity in space and SETI are intertwined, and are shaped by prior work in the fields and by science fiction. This appears in the language used in the fields, and in the sometimes implicit assumptions made in discussions of them. We give examples from articulations of the so-called Fermi Paradox, discussions of the settlement of the Solar System (in the near future) and the Galaxy (in the far future), and METI. We argue that science fiction, especially the campy variety, is a significant contributor to the ‘giggle factor’ that hinders serious discussion and funding for SETI and Solar System settlement projects. We argue that humanity's long-term future in space will be shaped by our short-term visions for who goes there and how. Because of the way they entered the fields, we recommend avoiding the term ‘colony’ and its cognates when discussing the settlement of space, as well as other terms with similar pedigrees. We offer examples of science fiction and other writing that broaden and challenge our visions of human futures in space and SETI. In an appendix, we use an analogy with the well-funded and relatively uncontroversial searches for the dark matter particle to argue that SETI's lack of funding in the national science portfolio is primarily a problem of perception, not inherent merit.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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