Workshop Wednesday—I’m not going to Mars

Lately I’ve been listening to a ton of podcasts and audiobooks due to lots of solo time at work. One subject I’m stuck on, not surprising to anyone who knows me well, is space and space travel.

Today I was working on some back episodes of StarTalk and listened to an interview with Dr. Mae Jemison. One of the topics discussed was the reality of living on a generation ship (a ship designed to get us off this rock and onto a different one that would take at least 1,000 years to travel to). Her goal is to have a ship ready to launch in 100 years’ time.

Computing power, artificial intelligence, and fuel sources are the big, flashy things we need to improve on, but, as she points out, there are less glamorous things that need to be addressed.

If you can’t sew you can’t go.

If you’re unable to maintain, repair, re-manufacture, or make new clothing you can’t go. There’s nowhere to stop along the way to get new or to have a repair made. We have to make do with what we have.

So we have to know how to make and grow things for ourselves. We have to make them sustainable in a small space. We have to make them sustainable at the end of our journey.

What are the skills we’ll need for the people on the ship?

Structural engineering. Horticulture. Food science. Microbiology. Waste management. Textiles.

What are “old” skills we’re losing? Welding. Carpentry. Gardening. Cooking. Food preservation. Animal husbandry. Composting. Fiber arts.

Do I think that learning to knit socks or grow tomatoes are the way off this rock? Not exactly (poop potatoes not withstanding). What I do think, however, is that skills that are dismissed as quaint nostalgia at reenactments, fiber festivals, merit badges, and county fairs are the first stepping stones toward something bigger and better.

We need curious people. People who will find knot theory  or emergent properties in the mechanics of knitting. People who can spin fiber into artificial muscles. People who will figure out how to store food for space faring (or backcountry travel). Shoot, space tomatoes do even better than my container garden did this year.

The dogs eating the few that did ripen didn’t help.

We need people who have a wide variety of skills to draw on when developing new technology. This is not just to get us off this rock, but to make our existence on this one sustainable.

Spinning, weaving, metalurgy, container gardening, knitting, vermicomposting, hot composting—old skills that will take us into the future.