First, a clarification:

Dwarfism is the umbrella term for 200+ medical conditions that result in short stature. Since this is Worldbuilding, my question refers to human beings with genetic dwarfism (not a fantasy/mythological race of Dwarves).

Pre-natal screenings will avoid or solve serious medical conditions and debilitating syndromes that can accompany genetic dwarfism. Lifespan and overall health will be comparable to the average population.

A small problem:

However, I want to avoid a situation where achondroplasic dwarfism (short-limbed dwarfism) is erased in favor of proportional dwarfism – the goal is to include rl marginalized people in my universe, not to invent an 'idealized' form of dwarfism that favors proportionalism. This would defeat the purpose.

Research suggests that I have a world-breaking conundrum: achondroplasic dwarfism might be 'correctable' along with the same pre-natal treatments that solve debilitating genetic syndromes; meanwhile proportional dwarfism might be induced in children artificially if it gives a child (and by extension their family) a financial advantage. While this is an interesting aspect for someone to explore, it's a whole conversation I'm not qualified to lead on.

I'll probably avoid this aspect, but I mention it because it effects the answers I might get. Whatever the real reasons (opportunity, tradition, nepotism, prejudice) society associates genetic dwarfism with job entitlement, but have not induced dwarfism artificially in all of their children.

Now, on to the Question:

My medium is a graphic novel set in a distant future where interstellar travel is common but prohibitively expensive. I will be showing adult characters with achondroplasic dwarfism, but probably not explaining how so many came to be in positions of authority, engineering, family wealth, etc.

In-world, society perceives dwarfism to be an advantage for jobs related to space travel. It does not need to be a universal truth, just a common belief. Perhaps it was true in the early days of space colonization, or there were regulatory conditions that favored certain families. (I'm thinking of the European idea of 'Jewish bankers', there is no genetic advantage). It doesn't need to be physical superiority, or even a factual truth by the time in the story.

Why is dwarfism considered an advantage for jobs in space?

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    $\begingroup$ Please forgive my ignorance -- is proportional dwarfism very common, compared to achondroplasic dwarfism? Also, don't many forms of dwarfism other than achondroplasic have some effect on cognition? (wikipedia was not very helpful, sorry) It strikes me that achondroplasic dwarfism seems to be ideal in this case -- the physical disadvantages of shorter limbs are mitigated by ship design and technology, there are some perks in mass reduction, and cognition is not effected. $\endgroup$
    – Zwuwdz
    Dec 6 '19 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ They have a way easier time crawling around the Jeffries tubes. $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '19 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers explores this a bit. Jenks is a successful ship's tech with some form of dwarfism. $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '19 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Zwuwdz - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8267016 $\endgroup$
    – Wyrmwood
    Dec 9 '19 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ How would dwarfism provide financial advantage? I don't know much about this subject, but I image the cost of custom-sized everything would be greater than the little you would save on food. (Of course, if it becomes extremely popular, then it won't really be "custom-sized" at that point.) $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Dec 23 '19 at 23:32

Achondroplastic dwarves are resistant to osteosarcoma.

Ionizing radiation is a problem for space travelers.* It is very difficult to block energetic particles and as the cumulative dose rises, the incidence of cancer rises with it. The most common radiation-induced cancer is sarcoma, and of these the most common is osteosarcoma.* In the recent past of this future, many space workers developed and succumbed to osteosarcoma 10-15 years after they began working in space. Some can be cured but the cure is difficult and expensive.*

Achondroplasia protects against osteosarcoma.

The demonstration that OS was far more common in large dogs was the basis of a study in children which indicated that children with osseous malignancies were of larger skeletal size than those with non-osseous neoplasms [32]. Achondroplastic dogs such as Dachshunds, and Bassett Hounds have an exceedingly low incidence of OS [27]. The Beagle, an exceedingly common breed for laboratory research in cancer, has an exceedingly low natural incidence of OS [33].


Achondroplastic dogs like beagles have a very low rate of osteosarcoma.* Just as is the case for achondroplastic dogs, person with achondroplasia have an inherently much reduced incidence of the feared "space cancer" of the bones§ and so are preferred for space work.

.* true thing

§ extrapolation / hypothesis

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    $\begingroup$ WOWAPPLAUSE I will need to credit you, this is too good. $\endgroup$
    – wetcircuit
    Dec 7 '19 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ This is a truly spectacular answer. Simple, understated, employing real world, relevant science. +as many as I can give. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Dec 8 '19 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ Best answer for the question. $\endgroup$
    – Geronimo
    Dec 9 '19 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ Also, Laron Syndrome shows some resistance to cancers (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laron_syndrome), which may factor into cancer resistance from cosmic rays. It came up in the Freefall webcomic (reddit.com/r/FreeFallComic/comments/6vxm7i/freefall_3010) $\endgroup$ Dec 9 '19 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ This kind of answer is why I love this site. You ask something wild, and find someone that knowsthings you didn't imagine existed about your subject. $\endgroup$ Dec 9 '19 at 23:10

The primary advantage any little person would have in a space job is body mass -- they will weigh less than a full sized person. That means they cost less to move with reaction engines (and likely take less energy to "beam" from place to place, if you have that technology), they breathe less air for a given activity level, they eat and drink less, and produce less waste.

Beyond that, all of their accommodations can be downsized as well. Mercury program astronauts were limited to 5 feet, 11 inches (180 cm) in height because of the dimensions of their capsule -- but if they'd been able to limit them to three feet, 11 inches (119 cm), they could have made the capsule most of 600 mm (1 foot 11 inches) smaller in diameter -- hence much lighter, and requiring both less fuel and allowing a significantly smaller rocket to reach orbit.

Every gram (0.03 oz) you can shave off payload going to Earth orbit saves at least twenty grams (0.70 oz) of total vehicle mass on the launch pad, and similar savings apply for any journey, for as long as you're using reaction engines or energy-based drives that still must accelerate mass. Everything about a "little-people-only" space program would be smaller and lighter -- allowing larger crews on the same rockets, or much smaller rockets for the same crew size.

As a bonus, with spacecraft and orbital flight hardware designed around little people, reach is less of an issue, so achrondroplasts are not disadvantaged relative to proportional dwarves. No reason to eliminate achondroplasia in your prenatal screenings and treatments, as long as the fetus is otherwise healthy.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you please convert both measurements so people who use only imperial or only metric can understand both measurements? I prefer to have both available to avoid to do calculations, but in any case, one consistent set of sizes makes more sense for people who are not used to both. $\endgroup$
    – Willeke
    Dec 7 '19 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ Just convert it yourself if you aren't bi- uhmmm -unit-of-measurist $\endgroup$
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 7 '19 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ This really only works if only small people become astronauts. As soon as you have to support different sizes, it becomes more expensive. (While specialized equipment may work, there are benefits to crew members being able to switch roles.) $\endgroup$
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 7 '19 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Do Little People have correspondingly lower dietary requirements? If so, saving on shipping the food (or the growing area + reactor power) required for long trip may well be a considerable advantage. $\endgroup$
    – CSM
    Dec 8 '19 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @CSM for a similar activity level, smaller body mass => lower caloric requirement. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 9 '19 at 12:15

Money. Currently it costs about 2700 dollars/kg to launch something from Earth to low orbit, or 270,000 dollars for a 100 kg human. (Plus the cost of food & oxygen.) Then if you want to send that person elsewhere, say to the moon or Mars, you need to launch the fuel to accelerate them, the supplies to support them, the fuel to accelerate the supplies... If instead you use a 50 kg person, you cut that cost in half, plus you can build smaller (thus lighter) ships and habitats.

  • $\begingroup$ Are there really 100kg astronauts? xD $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '19 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know. NASA doesn't seem to have a weight limit, though there is a height limit of 75 inches (190.5 cm), and 100 kg (220 lbs) is not an unreasonable weight for a muscular 6'3" man. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 8 '19 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @RossPresser 100kg is nothing for a muscular person. Note that muscles weight more than fat. I am only 180cm high (less than 6 feet) myself and I weight 97kg with only a small amount of fat. $\endgroup$
    – Sulthan
    Dec 8 '19 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Sulthan I certainly agree that having 100kg mass is not incompatible with being a healthy, fit, even athletic human being. I'm just wondering if any NASA astronauts are that size. $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '19 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ This article claims "weigh between 50 and 95 kilograms (110 and 209 pounds)". It's a Canadian paper though, so it may be specific to Canada's space program. $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '19 at 19:50

I think the scientific side of this question has been covered: Smaller people can fit in smaller places, use fewer resources, and could be seen as less likely to get cancer from the extra radiation involved in space travel.

I have thoughts on the cultural side. Take, for example, professional basketball players. They are more likely than the general population to be tall because that's an advantage in basketball. But there are a lot of people who believe the correlation goes the other way as well: They presume that tall people are better at basketball than shorter people overall. This is not the case; there are plenty of tall people who are not coordinated or athletic enough to be good at basketball. It's just that tall people who are already good at basketball have an advantage over shorter people with the same level of skill.

Something similar could happen here: Maybe people who work on spacecraft or at space stations are more likely to have dwarfism because of the advantages they have over people who have the same skills but don't have dwarfism. This could easily become a misconception that people with dwarfism are more likely to have those skills in the first place. Maybe people start presuming, without realizing it and without evidence, that people with dwarfism adjust well to zero-g situations or are particularly good pilots or have other traits that make them better suited to space travel in terms of skill rather than just cost effectiveness.

As a side note, I think you should give some thought to whether or not employers are legally allowed to hire people based on their dwarfism or lack thereof, and, if not, how they might manage to do it anyway. (If dwarfism is seen as desirable, a lack of dwarfism could come to be seen almost as a disability in certain contexts, meaning discrimination issues would come up.)

I hope I explained this clearly enough.


Gonna be a short answer, but our own space programs favor shorter smaller people. https://www.nytimes.com/1995/11/10/us/americans-too-tall-or-short-for-russian-space-program.html

If you have ever been in the space modules (at the Smithsonian) you will see just how small you have to be to actually use them.


Smaller space suits have a lower material cost

I don't know if this is the kind of universe you want to portray

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi vkn! Welcome to Worldbuilding! Can you please expand your answer a bit with some more details? $\endgroup$
    – thanby
    Dec 8 '19 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe space suits are very very expensive for some reason? Or there is an aspect of their manufacture that limits the supply…? $\endgroup$
    – wetcircuit
    Dec 8 '19 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Space suits are very very expensive. A modern space suit costs 12-million dollars. But less material probably wouldn't affect that much, most of the costs are in the hardware around it, or the connection-points. None of which will be significantly affected by being on a smaller person. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Dec 9 '19 at 9:30

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