Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BRIEF NOTE] Antarctica, Humanity's Future Homeland?

In a 2000 interview with Space.com, Kim Stanley Robinson said that "[t]he best analogy for space in the next half century is probably Antarctica in the last half century." In the next half-century, he did predict that there would be manned stations in Earth orbit, hotels in space, lunar outposts, perhaps even a scientific base on Mars, but no permanent settlements. Compare this to the situation in Antarctica, where despite a century of exploration and two annexations (Chile's Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena region and Argentine Antarctica) the continent's sparse population has remained overwhelmingly transient. This sad situation has emerged despite relatively easy travel, Earth-normal gravity and air pressure, abundant water ice and a substantial amount of organics, at least in the coastal areas.

The parallels between Antarctica and space, and between the settlement of the seventh continent and the settlement of other worlds, have been noted. Jim Dator's presentation paper "Earth Analogs for Human Space Exploration and Settlement" (PDF format) explores the social environment of the Antarctic scientific outposts for insights into the likely dynamics of long-duration space missions. On the web, a cursory search reveals Chris Hockabout's Antarctican Collective settled by Argentine refugees in the timeline of the Cyberpunk 2020 roleplaying game, or the scattered and menaced Antarctic colonies of the Aeon Trinity setting, while Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Antarctica is likely the most prominent recent science-fiction novel examining the seventh continent. Perhaps most interestingly for our purposes, there is Warren R. Hofstra's "Richard E. Byrd and the Legacy of Polar Exploration", from the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (110.2), towards the end examining the reasons for Byrd's eclipse.

The kinds of studies that scientists accompanying Byrd conducted in Antarctica became increasingly costly and complex, often involving teams of specialists, huge budgets, and years of sustained work. They simply could not be pursued in the episodic pattern of Byrd's expeditions, supported only by the vagaries of private funding. During World War II and the Cold War, science, too, became increasingly a matter of national interest subsumed under federal programs and budgets.

Changes in the worlds of exploration and science, however, signaled much deeper movements in the nature of American life during the course of Byrd's career. The Ballyhoo Years of his greatest success were about individual achievement in tension with mass culture--about who could hit the most home runs, dance the longest, or had more of "it" on the silver screen. Lindbergh was a phenomenon because he flew the Atlantic alone. Byrd, of course, sought to master the Antarctic winter night alone. Americans, however, could not confront the Great Depression alone. They joined huge collective efforts such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, in which they lived in barracks, wore uniforms, and worked under military discipline to improve the nation's natural resources. Other New Deal programs planned the economies of massive regions such as the Tennessee Valley or resettled people from unproductive, high plains homesteads and Georgia dirt farms. Nor could Americans confront World War II alone. The conflict had its heroes, but everyone knew that the outcome depended not on individual acts of bravery but on integrated effort and national purpose. Social conformity then became the watchword of the nation during the Cold War and the affluent age of 1950s consumerism. Americans were no longer searching for the kind of hero Byrd had been in an earlier era.

Almost everyone lives in that sort of world now.
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