Following up on my previous post, I’ve been giving some thought to the ideal astronaut for one of these lengthy trips and, once again, I am inspired by Neal Stephenson (repeat: please do not give away anything from Anathem) and the Guinness Book of World Records.
Given the isolation of the voyage – at least 39 years in a spacecraft with increasingly little contact the further away it gets – and the likely limited amount of space on-board the spacecraft, it would be imperative that the astronauts not have intense wanderlust, claustrophobia, or a longing for home.
So what type of person might have that type of personality? Why, an ascetic, of course! As I mentioned in the previous post, St. Simeon Stylites sat on pole for 37 years (hence the Guinness Book of World Records reference). In Stephenson’s Anathem the main character is a member of a ‘concent’ which is like a monastery for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. Some portions of these concents remain closed to the outside world for a thousand years at a clip. The members of these places behave much like monks (though they’re co-ed).
So, why not spacefaring monks? Well, ok, maybe not. But you’d at least need people with that kind of mindset and, make no mistake, people like that exist. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that someday – maybe in hundreds and hundreds of years, but still someday – humans will send a manned ship to another star system (assuming we don’t annihilate ourselves first).