Education Needed For Living in Space

We tend to take for granted that anybody can leave Earth and go into space and that is generally true. But it’s also true that most people who have actually done this are highly educated. The first astronauts were mostly highly trained military test pilots. This means they had college degrees, military officer training, and a variety of flying experience and advanced pilot training. Astronauts today are no longer selected solely from a pool of military pilots, with mission specialists often having no experience as a pilot. But many of these astronauts have post graduate degrees and high levels of specialization.

Those first astronauts were pilots because there was a perception that piloting skills were needed. As we move toward living in space, there will still be a need for piloting skills, but many more fields of expertise will experience growing demand. In the short term, there will be needs for construction engineers and workers, medical and health professionals, and workers in the areas of life support, maintenance, agriculture, computer systems, and more. Just the field of life support will encompass many sub-fields including: breathing atmosphere containment and conditioning, water supply and filtration, radiation shielding, food supply, and more. In the longer term, most current functions of the infrastructure of civilization will also be needed in space, even though concentrations and specializations will change.

The main difference however, is that a higher baseline of education is required for living in space compared to living on Earth. On Earth, we take it for granted that vast numbers of humans are functionally illiterate and poorly educated. That will not be acceptable for living in space. On Earth, we assume that uneducated primitive cultures can blunder along, living in mud huts and growing subsistence level crops without being in immediate mortal danger. In space that will not be true. A different threat profile will require a different reaction profile and many threat-reaction pairs will involve danger to an entire community. With community/habitat sizes that will range from thousands to millions of people, critical reactions must be swift and accurate for some threats. This kind of reaction is practical, but it will require a higher baseline of intelligence and literacy and the ability to follow emergency instructions.

As human civilization begins to migrate toward living permanently in space based habitats, our education process will need a complete overhaul to reach the higher baseline required. Basic skills in literacy and using simple computer systems will become an absolute requirement. Recent generations in countries with advanced technology have grown up learning with the TI Speak and Spell, the LeapFrog systems, personal computers, and now, smart phones. We need to learn from those experiences and develop basic training systems that can be cheaply distributed widely. We can automate most of this process, even with “train the trainer” curriculums.

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