When we imagine the distant future, we tend to envision some combination of industrial-strength social order on starships and preindustrial-strength chaos in exoplanetary exploration. Star Trek, Star Wars, City Mouse and Country Mouse, etc. There’s a lot of technologies-versus-organics still going on out there in the big wide multiverse of fiction.
What’s more interesting is the fact that humans will probably never survive very long away from the tiny wet marble we evolved on if we’re unable to forge a successful marriage between those two influences upon our bodies and minds.
No, there is no living system on Earth evolving in such a way that we can simply encapsulate it and use it to fly ourselves to other stars. Tardigrades seem to do alright for themselves in space in spite of the radiation, cold, and total lack of food, water and air. But humans aren’t that hardy. Or that cute.
Yes, it’ll take unprecedented degrees of human cooperation and organization and invention to make-real the technologies and infrastructure we’ll need to support ourselves off-Earth. We’re very good at gadgets; maybe someday there’ll even be an app for that. But all our best engineers working together for generations will never be able to fix what’s wrong on a starship devoid of wildlife and wide open spaces.
If we don’t want to self-destruct on our way to the stars, we’re going to need a bigger ‘boat.’ One big enough to carry an ocean inside. And a bit of forest. Some lovely crags. An icy brook here and there…
Bearing in mind that we essentially need to build small inside-out planets to sustain us on our [hopefully] inevitable deep space treks, the question I have for the writers among us is this: What’s in your interstellar terrarium?