Thursday, June 1, 2017

Zero Gravity and Living Forever

As usual, inspiration from this month's Smithsonian, June edition.

First article called "Up in the Air", about a zero-gravity future where thousands, if not millions of Earthlings live and work in space.  In the article, visionaries like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are actively investing huge sums of money to make the science fiction of the Jetsons the reality of tomorrow.

What is truly inspiring is that there are many men and women, famous and unknown, who encompass a staggering range of interests, from manufacturing in space to providing shelter in space to researching new drugs in space, that are not content with just talking about these advances.  And, thank goodness for the rest of us that they do.  Of course, dreaming about these incredible advances and making them a reality takes not just imagination but real life resources, in other words, lots of money.  Reading about companies like Blue Origin, Made in Space, and SpaceX, makes me proud that such research and commitment still exist in our species.  That there are still so many individuals who seek a better life for themselves, their children, and humanity.

The second article "Life without End", discusses the belief that death can be delayed, perhaps hundreds of years.  It is an incredibly complex issue, fraught with economic, political and religious ramifications.  But it is not just someone's fantasy.  The science behind increasing our mortality is real, involving research into understanding why our cells degenerate over time.

A particularly interesting area of investigation centers around the senescent calls within our bodies. These cells activate during cell division, a time when cells can easily fall victim to mutations.  They act as very powerful tumor suppressant mechanisms which reduce the chance of mutation. Unfortunately, over time, they also contribute to inflammation which itself leads to disease.  From an evolutionary perspective, for the vast majority of history, mankind lived 30-40 years.  One might conclude then, that the senescent cells were only needed for that amount of time, sort of a planned obsolescence.  When we realize that living into one's 50's and 60's, not to mention, 80's and 90's, is a relatively new phenomenon, it makes sense that a mechanism to reduce mutations might evolve but that the mechanism might only be effective for a defined time.

As our ability to reduce the incidence of death from causes that claimed the lives of people from the dawn of history to as recently as the 19th century, mankind's lifespan has jumped astronomically, perhaps surpassing our own bodies ability to keep us healthy.  Understanding the senescent cell and how it works might lead to therapies that keep it active longer, thereby improving the body's chances to live longer, and healthier.

One thing that is clear when reading the article is that there is much debate about how longer life might effect mankind, whether a bridge between a longer life span and a longer health span can be realized, and whether immortality should even be a goal to attain.

That is the real beauty of the article; it asks as many questions as in answers.

In a time when we seem so focused on the perceived problems of our day, when the future is more feared than longed for, it behooves us not to read about people who embrace what is to come, but more than that, work with an open mind and heart to imagine a better world, and then work tirelessly to see it come to fruition.

I often say that if everyone read the Smithsonian, a wider perspective might emerge.  The June edition confirms my belief.  

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