Hands. Illustration by Caitlin McShea, featured in InterPlanetary Transmissions: Genesis

Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff: InterPlanetary TransmissionsGenesis has hit the shelves. 

Last month, more than 8,000 people gathered in Santa Fe’s Railyard Park for the 2019 InterPlanetary Festival, which also marked the launch of the first InterPlanetary Transmissions from the SFI Press. These stand-alone companion volumes serve as artifacts of the annual festival, offering an insider’s perspective on the event with transcripts from each panel, brand-new introductions penned by expert participants, and exclusive supplementary material. Volume I, Genesis, now available, charts the birth of the Project through the inaugural 2018 festival, featuring the never-before-published transcript of the closed-door meeting that originally launched the InterPlanetary Project two years ago.

As SFI President and volume editor, David C. Krakauer writes in the introduction to Genesis, “What terrestrial challenge could provide greater focus than nourishing and uniting the peoples of the Earth to explore the extrasolar planets? And what great solutions might we find by searching beyond the confines of our Earthly troubles?” 

The goal is threefold: “to allow attendees to commemorate their experience, to create an opportunity for people who missed the festival to engage with the conversations, and to expand that conversation to include experts and laypeople alike,” says co-editor Caitlin McShea, the director of the InterPlanetary Festival and Manager of the Miller Omega Programs at SFI. 

Each Transmissions volume will serve as a snapshot of current thought and the evolving InterPlanetary Project, as well as a potent site for future reflection.

“InterPlanetary focuses on the future, what we’ve learned from the past, and what exploring these things imaginatively might mean for the present. So, Transmissions works to archive thoughts as they happen,” says McShea. 

At the 2018 festival, for instance, SFI Professor Chris Kempes and Columbia Astrobiology Center director Caleb Scharf riffed on the potential of observing ‘biosignatures’ — chemical signs of life — using transmission spectroscopy, the process of deciphering starlight that filters through the atmosphere of planets outside our solar system. Genesis, in capturing their discussion, serves as a crucial artifact of scientific conversations that evolve far faster than the public might realize — only a week ago, scientists working on NASA’s TESS mission identified three never-before-seen exoplanets, one of which might be able to sustain life in its outer atmosphere. The techniques that Kempes and Scharf discuss may be put into practice not in some distant future, but tantalizingly soon. 

“What really excites us about Transmissions is their connection to the public and their accessibility. Genesis addresses challenging ideas about complexity in a way that ordinary, intelligent, curious people can respond to,” says Sienna Latham, SFI Press Editorial Coordinator.

The volume is the newest addition to the SFI Press’s Compass series, which most recently included Worlds Hidden in Plain Sight: The Evolving Idea of Complexity at the Santa Fe Institute 1984–2019. Compass volumes bridge the Institute’s academic rigor and its outward-facing mission, complementing the Press’s other imprints, which are geared toward a more scholarly audience. Both the Press and the InterPlanetary Project are branches of the Miller Omega Program, the frontier-focused initiative made possible by the generosity of SFI Life Trustee and Chairman Emeritus Bill H. Miller

Still, McShea notes, “It made sense that the character of Transmissions would diverge slightly from the Press’s other books,” not only because of their relationship to the Festival but in the very subjects they tackle. “Explorations of interplanetary civilization often reference pop culture, film, comics, games — a lot of the ways that we’ve experienced these thoughts in the first place have been through visual media.” 

It only follows that Genesis is the first SFI Press volume to feature illustrations: its pages brim with swooping rockets, eerie planetary landscapes, and mysterious creatures evocative of space travel and the festival itself. For Genesis, McShea brought her own artistic skills to the table. But, she notes, “As the character of the festival changes, so will the books and illustrations. Each will be unique. When the challenges change, or the way that we approach them changes, the mood changes, too.” 

The release of Genesis is especially poignant given its proximity to the fiftieth anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969.  

“It’s not as if we’ve been bound to the Earth forever. We walked on other rocks fifty years ago,” McShea notes. “And each year, we get closer and closer to breaking new ground.”

The InterPlanetary panel discussions generate a constellation of insights unique to the minds gathered at a particular moment in time. InterPlanetary Transmissions preserves the light from those distant stars and provides a map for readers to triangulate their place in the ever-changing universe.

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