Spacefaring monks

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).

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