When populations of humans eventually make multigenerational, interstellar voyages to settle an exoplanet, they will not be chisel-chinned astronauts living by checklists; they will be families, communities, entire cultures. How can we give them the best chance to succeed? We can begin by researching how humanity has adapted to global environments in the last 50,000 years. Both biology and culture will evolve beyond Earth.
Genetic studies tell us that we must be numerous and diverse in such migrations, and cultural anthropology shows that while we cannot predict precisely how humanity will change, we can be sure that it will, in universal concerns including how we measure kinship, our rules of inheritance, gender and age categories, and how we structure our families. There is plenty to consider. We might as well begin now.
Dr. Cameron M. Smith of Portland State University's Department of Anthropology studies human evolution past, present and future.
As a member of the international research group Icarus Insterstellar (icarusinterstellar.org), he is currently investigating the biological and cultural implications of multigenerational interstellar voyaging, recently authoring "Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization" (Springer 2012).
Why? Because the increasing ease of space access, a generation and a half of human familiarity with traveling to space and living there, and the astounding discovery of thousands of exoplanets have all made thoughts of space colonization and even interstellar migration less outlandish than in the past.
Recently Dr. Smith published a technical review of the genetic issues involved in low-multigenerational interstellar voyaging in Acta Astronautica, suggesting that populations for such projects should number in the tens of thousands rather than the low hundreds or low thousands as proposed by some other authors. He is currently writing a complimentary article on the cultural implications of such voyages, also for peer-reviewed publication, and a foundation book on the technical aspects of human space colonization, tentatively titled "Principles of Space Anthropology."
Dr. Smith has also written extensively about space colonization and evolution for many magazines including Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, Spaceflight, and in the books "The Fact of Evolution" (Prometheus 2011) and "The Top Ten Myths About Evolution" (Prometheus 2006). He has lectured on human evolution in space colonization at the NASA-DARPA 100 Year Starship Study Conference in Houston, Texas and as a Plenary Speaker for the Mars Society.
Dr. Smith's interest in the distant human future derives directly from his investigation of the distant human past, which began as a student of the Leakey research team searching for million-year-old hominin fossils in East Africa. Acutely aware that most civilizations have failed in the long term, resulting in dissolution, disintegration and essentially Medieval conditions, Dr. Smith has decided to provide options for humanity with realistic data on humans-in-space; space migration as a responsible investment for humanity, rather than a costly luxury.
You can find out more at his academic page: http://pdx.academia.edu/CameronMSmith.