Although it may sound like science fiction, a new period of space exploration and eventually colonization is beginning, and religious groups and thinkers are clamoring to be on board.
After a nearly 30-year hiatus, the space program has been revived with ambitious plans for exploration. The completion of the $60 billion International Space Station as well as discoveries that some planets have properties to sustain human life have led to plans to embark on colonization missions by as early as 2005. The New Oxford Review (January), a Catholic magazine, reports that these new possibilities are particularly receptive to organized religions and spiritual seekers, especially because space-related professions have “attracted a disproportionately high number of believers.”
The meetings of the Mars Society, founded in 1998, are “clearly aimed at funneling the growing disenchantment of contemporary secular society into support for the colonization of space, with Mars as the first goal. Technical seminars on spacecraft systems and advanced robotics are interspersed with lectures on `Theological Considerations Concerning Terra-forming Mars’ and discussions of a Martian Bill of Rights,” writes Lewis Andrews. The 4,000-member society, now the largest space advocacy group in the U.S., has a popular task force on religion headed by James Heiser, a Lutheran minister.
Heiser and others involved in the society compare the colonization effort to the 17th century Puritan voyage to escape corruption and establish a “new Jerusalem” in the new world. A similar group is the Association of Roman Catholics for the Promotion of Space Exploration and Colonization. An official of this group, Franciscan Brother Alexis Bugnolo, argues that Christians are the best equipped for such expeditions because their strong convictions and moral base will help them persevere in a hostile environment.
But even if organized religious groups are not allowed on early missions, strains of religious and spiritual utopianism are already driving the effort, Stewart adds. Space colonization is viewed by many scientists as an expression of”transmillennialism,” where redemption is revealed as a progressive spiritual evolution into a superior kind of human.
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