Low-Gravity Longevity?

November 10th, 2008

A friend of mine emailed me to ask about something he remembered Timothy Leary saying in a speech 30 years ago:

“Our enemy is gravity.   That’s why we die.   We are all fighting the earth’s gravitational pull.   We will live forever, once we escape the pull from Mother Earth.”

Leary had some kooky ideas for sure, involving his Exo-Psychology theory and searching for a higher intelligence and building space colonies.   LSD was, in his view, was to prepare us for way out environments like space.   I kind of like his idea, metaphorically at least, that humanity can live forever once we stop putting all our eggs only in the basket of Earth, but Leary was perhaps being literal.

My friend doesn’t take Leary seriously, but he was wondering if there was any truth to the notion that escaping our gravitational existence could improve our longevity.

The short answer is that there may be, but we don’t know.   There are certainly long-term physical changes that occur in microgravity environments that have been studied on Mir and the ISS, but these are not clearly related to longevity.   There is evidence that high-gravity environments may shorten lifespans, but that doesn’t mean that low-gravity environments will necessarily do the opposite.

I am wondering though how Leary may have influenced science fiction.   In the movie Contact S. R. Hadden moves to Mir to prolong his life, and somehow the microgravity there is supposed to slow his cancer.   I recall other science fiction stories about people moving to space when their health required it.   Maybe this was just the idea that if you’re old and feeble, with weak bones, space is a less demanding environment on your system.   I’m not sure though.   Anyone remember any specific stories?

Anyone have suggestions about where this idea comes from in science fiction?   Is it Leary?   It isn’t known experimental fact in humans or animals — mammals at least.   Or is it just speculation that too many people borrowed from each other, like how only humans can navigate hyperspace, or how looking at hyperspace will drive you mad, or something odd like that?


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