If interstellar travel is in our future, then it’s only a matter of time before we have to think seriously about what it will be like to grow up off-Earth. It’s not clear whether we can reproduce without gravity, but even after we’ve developed a reliable work-around for that bio-logistics problem, we’re still left with no frame of reference for childhood and parenting anywhere but here.
Particularly for the sake of writing thoughtful science fiction set on long-generation ships, it’s worth considering how young bodies and minds will develop in low- and variable-gravity. The health of future generations of starfarers is key to the survival of the species, after all. However, there’s a lot more to growing up than just surviving. After we’ve figured out how to feed and wash and educate our far future progeny, there remains one very important question: How will they play?
Kids need to play, that’s all there is to it. No amount of time or distance from Earth is going to change that. So if and when we get around to raising families in space and colonizing other worlds, we’re going to need to ensure that our interstellar whipper-snappers get enough playtime.
Not all the toys developed and used here will function properly in space unless they’re played with under gravity that is uniform and comparable to Earth’s. Toys and games with a lot of little pieces (unlike the solid Lego minifigures mounted on Juno) are going to experience inevitable losses over time, which makes them less attractive. However, future kids can’t spend all their free time playing video games any more than they can on Earth. If nothing else, that sort of play would consume a lot of electricity for a leisure activity.
My favorite suggestion for coping with the space constraints on a starship along with the problem of energy-consuming recreation? Piezoelectric moon bounces. I came up with the idea earlier this year while writing a short story that included a few child characters. It was never central to the plot, so I left it out of the final draft, but I spent a lot of time daydreaming about a large space station module lined with springy energy-generating materials for the kids to jump around inside. I imagined that they would take advantage of the weird physics in space during wild three-dimensional games of tag played in zero-G. Then I tried to imagine what weightless sports they would invent, and I found myself tempted to write a series of young adult science fiction stories devoted to that topic.
Maybe I’ll get around to that someday. In the mean time, what do you think it will be like for kids who grow up in space?