Jan 31 2011 3:07pm

The Werewolf Principle: Adapting Humans for Space

The Werewolf PrincipleClifford D. Simak’s 1967 novel The Werewolf Principle really crafts a wonderful little vision of the future. Humans live in flying houses. The woods are teaming with mythical brownies. Oh, and a genetically engineered space traveler returns to Earth after 200 years spent shapeshifting to adapt to life on other worlds.

Indeed, why blast encapsulated pockets of Earth into orbit or terraform other worlds when we could conceivably just change the human traveler instead? That’s the basic idea presented in the 1960 paper Cyborgs and Space by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline. The authors presented a grocery list of ways that technology and medical science can retrofit the human body for the star-hopping lifestyle. Here are just a few of the more fascinating/horrific suggestions.

1.) Implant osmotic pressure pump capsules with sensing and controlling mechanisms to automatically administer everything from astronaut speed to hibernation-inducing pituitary drugs.

2.) Replace the lung with inverse fuel cell. Why not, right?

3.) Alter the human gastrointestinal system so that waste water goes through a filter and right back into your blood. In other words, still suits are for wimps.

4.) Conduct a little enzyme tinkering to create anaerobic astronauts that don’t require oxygen.

5.) Lower body pressure to facilitate the naked space walks we’ve all been dreaming of.

The list goes on. We discuss the rest of them in the latest episode of the “Stuff to Blow Your Mind,” titled The Werewolf Principle: Adapting Humans for Space. As Simak no doubt agreed, it’s a fascinating subject to ponder. At what point do altered space travelers cease to be human? How far are we willing to go? And is a flatulence-free astronaut possible?

The 1960 paper is also where we get the term “cyborg,” and the more we look back to the original concept, the more we seem to live in a world of cyborgs today. Heck, most of us have been cyborgs for quite some time. Check out this excellent TED Talk on the subject from Amber Case:

So there you have it! I highly recommend reading both Simak’s novel and paper by Clynes and Kline. Now get out there and prepare for your transhuman, cyborg future.

The Werewolf Principle cover image by artist Ian Miller

Robert Lamb is a senior staff writer at and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter @blowthemind.

Stefan Jones
1. Stefan Jones
And then there's Pohl's "Day Million," which features two posthumans with extensive adaptations.
Evan Langlinais
2. Skwid
Scalzi also explores this sort of modification in his "Old Man's War" universe. He has super-soldiers who are, more or less, Gamerans.
Stefan Jones
3. James Davis Nicoll
Karl Hansen's two SF novels, War Games and Dream Games, feature super-biotech that can transform humans into versions suited to pretty much any specific environment, at least ones that weren't too hot for proteins; they could also create ecosystems to demand and had created one for Titan. This would be awesomely cool if the setting didn't also feature an incredibly repressive aristocracy as kind as the Bloody Code and as forward thinking and wise as the Bourbons circa 1788.

Sheffield's Proteus setting was moving in that direction but I don't recall that modified people (with one notable exception) ever got to take center stage.

Pohl's Man Plus has an astronaut remade to live on Mars. Come to think of it, the suits in The Sky So Big and Black almost qualify as another example, given that the humans spend most of their lives in them.
Stefan Jones
4. peachy
"Call Me Joe"?
René Walling
5. cybernetic_nomad
"Alter the human gastrointestinal system so that waste water goes through a filter and right back into your blood. In other words, still suits are for wimps."

Huh? Last I heard my kidneys filtered my blood, not what came through my digestive track.
Stefan Jones
6. Gorbag
FWIW, James Blish did something similar with pantropy. The Seedling Stars, if you remember.
Wesley Parish
7. Aladdin_Sane
Actually, now I think about it, add longevity and extra-strength and radiation-proofing genes to the human genetic structure; make genitalia and legs optional and regrowable on choice, and refine and redirect hormonal drives. That last item so you can hang on to their power while avoiding unecessary trouble from their usual purpose.

And thickening the skin so it can contain the internal pressures of the body in an environment where there is no external pressure - yes, that is a good idea.

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