Space: The Future of Humanity or Over-Hyped Diversion?

orion-nebula-space-galaxy-725x490

Space: the Final Frontier, as they say. We are getting closer every year to making space travel as accessible as diving under the waves, or jumping out of a plane. Beyond the entertainment of those with means, does space travel have any thing to contribute to the rest of us, or to the human race as a whole? What should our goals be and why?

 

It has been a while since America has inspired its populace with feats of space exploration. So much so, that some of us are beginning to question if it all wasn’t just a dream. [1] Many of us feel so removed from the world of space exploration, that we can’t imagine how all of the money moving that direction could be put to good use. According to research, Americans don’t really want to pay for space exploration, so why should we bother. [2] .

 The Naysayers:

 Most of the people who are against space exploration have a similar argument: We can’t even take care of the people on earth, why should we be wasting our money on exploring beyond it? These people look at space travel as a luxury. They see the money going toward all of that expensive jet fuel as burning up potential meals for the hungry. Some famously misquote President Eisenhower, “Every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” He did say those words, but he was referring to military rockets, not the space program, in a speech, titled “A Chance For Peace”. [3] We need to fix this planet first, then, if that unlikely event should occur, we can go beyond our boundaries. No one can argue that earth has its problems. Actually, some of its problems have been some of the biggest nudges toward space the world has experienced. We likely would never have gotten to the moon if we had not had the incentive of competition. Is that a sign that maybe space is leading us away from more important work here on earth? Should we invest in the world we know, and abandon our search beyond it?

The Explorers: Why should we go to space?

NASA has felt the need to justify its existence for decades. It makes sense that most people feel removed for such an otherworldly organization. So NASA and its supporters, including science rock star Neil DeGrasse Tyson have the response down pat. [4]

Based on our past spurts in space exploration the #1 reason to invest is to defend national pride. [5] If your interest is not politics and you are relatively secure in your ego the next best reason might be following the natural human yearning for exploration. But some of the more practical reasons are concrete, like the spinoff technology that comes from engineering for the novel environment of space.

Spinoffs

 NASA actually has a whole website dedicated to spinoffs. [6] They are currently offering patented technologies that they would love for some creative entrepreneur to develop and find a market for. This begs the question. Should it take a multi-million dollar space program to spur this kind of innovation? Would we save money if inventors got right to the point and just decided to solve everyday problems from scratch? In the category of spinoffs I would include the results of the experiments done in space. These are similarly situations that involve topics not specifically connected to traveling to space itself. Research has been done into cancer treatments, agricultural sciences, and pharmaceutical sciences, all of which have helped humanity in the present day. [7] Here a recent summary of the experiments going on within the International Space Station. [8] 

Escape

Climate change and resource depletion lead us to think there may be a day when our planet may not support human life (just ask Hollywood). Then the space program will come in handy, right? Maybe. Based on how far away the nearest habitable planet is, setting up shop there is going to be tough for humans who live less than a century.  [9] If we were shooting for, not the nearest star, but the nearest planet that might have something to offer humans, we would be in for a lot longer journey than just a light year or two.  [10] It is also a bit misleading to call a planet habitable in the first place. Habitable can mean that a planet is a certain distance from a star, but depending on the kind of star, the planet could endure periodic blasts of radiation. Maybe the planet is the right distance but the star it is near has a very short life cycle. Habitable could be the presence of water, but what form is it in and can we access it? [11] When looking at the exoplanet options we have now, including Mars, some scientists say humans may be better off burrowing underground on Earth, living underwater, or in a space habitat rather than terraforming a completely new environment. Ironically, we need to understand that terraforming an environment to suit humans destroys the original environment of the planet we are going to. We humans have a knack for that, don’t we? Even a completely polluted environment would be better suited to humans than a completely foreign one [12].

Notice, however, one of the previous escape plans does involve space: the space habitat. Scientists think that it would be possible to construct a habitat for tens or hundreds of thousands of people from nearby asteroids [12]. This would enable humans not only to escape earth, but have a place to live if we do choose to abandon earth to seek other worlds. In billions of years it probably would be great to have this option rather than become part of the sun.

Tourism

 

DSCSpaceFlowchart
By Sarah Scoles for Discover Magazine

[13]

 What about space tourism? What is now a playground for the rich could soon be a destination for the rest of us. Would this help or hurt popular destinations on earth? Is it good or bad that such blatant commercialism has become connected to a field that was previously the realm of serious science? With fads come temporary investments. Maybe space programs should take the money and run. [14] 

 

Education

 

The space program is inspiring. I know I get chills when I watched the video of a recent launch of a rocket by SpaceX. [15] Since schools seem to be killing any drive students might have to do science, technology and space exploration, employers are searching for ways to inspire kids to become their hew hires. Space can do that. Think about how many kids decorate their rooms with space inspired themes, or do so before teen marketers get a hold of them. Space is exciting and weird. Could student grades and career choices justify the existence of the space program? [16]

Which Frontier?

 Space vs. Oceans

When we think of space, isolationist explorers wonder why our oceans don’t similarly pique our interest. Isn’t this another, closer, unexplored frontier? It also happens to be a top choice for a Plan B human habitat. The answer is yes, it may not provide much of a solution a few billion years from now, but in the meantime our oceans are a huge untapped resource. Some scientists even point out that while the oceans contribute a great deal to the overall warming of the earth, humans have spent an amazingly small amount of time and resources looking in the cooling them directly. [17] 

 

To date we have mapped less than 5% of them. Advancements in deep-sea vehicles have not progressed at the same speed as space vehicles. Ryan-Carlyle ,BSChE, Subsea Hydraulics Engineer, posits the reason is that the sea just isn’t as inspiring as space. Take a look at this picture of what most of the deep sea floor looks like.

sea floor
Source: MBARI – Ridges 2005 Expedition

It’s not something I want to stare at for hours, nor does it fill me with a desire to commune with my maker. [18] Yet, there could be great scientific advancements waiting for us under the sea. Its creatures could hold cures for human ailments. Already an enzyme from bacteria from the cold water is being used in laundry detergent, and a glowing protein from jellyfish is being used in medicine. [19]

What should we aspire to do?

 So where does that leave us? Is exploration a fool’s errand? Would diverting funds from space help the urgent needs of the human race? Should we be investing in our oceans as the next frontier for science and exploration instead of space, or along side it? What will space mean for us now, and for humanity in the future?

  1. Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moo Bart Sibrel. YouTube.com. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybJMuowl0UU&gt;.
  2. Wormald, Benjamin. “Americans keen on space exploration, less so on paying for it.” org. N.p., 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/23/americans-keen-on-space-exploration-less-so-on-paying-for-it/&gt;.
  3. “Chance for Peace Speech.” Wikipedia. N.p., Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_for_Peace_speech&gt;.
  4. Space Exploration:Fan Questions/StarTalk. Narr. Neil D. Tyson. National Geographic. com. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRdwGb_wctA&feature=em-share_video_user&gt;.
  5. The Space Race. History.com, 2010. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <http://www.history.com/topics/space-race&gt;.
  6. NASA Spinoff. Ed. Dan Lockney. NASA, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <http://spinoff.nasa.gov&gt;.
  7. Wilson, Jim. gov. Ed. Brian Dunbar. NASA, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <http://www.nasa.gov/topics/benefits/index.html&gt;.
  8. Love, John. “Weekly Recap from the Expedition Lead Scientist.” gov. N.p., 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/wklysumm_week_of_04jan16&gt;.
  9. “How long would it take to get to Alpha Centauri?.” EarthSky. N.p., 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <http://earthsky.org/space/alpha-centauri-travel-time&gt;.
  10. “In a Galaxy not So Far Away ,a star hosts a potentially habitable planet.” net. N.p., Dec. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <http://www.astrowatch.net/2015/12/in-galaxy-not-so-far-away-star-hosts.html&gt;.
  11. “Planet Habitability.” wikipedia. N.p., 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_habitability&gt;.
  12. Jenet, Frederick, and Teviet Creighton. “Where will we live after Earth.” Discover. N.p., 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/01/23/will-live-earth/#.VqAo-ng-MaK&gt;.
  13. Scoles, Sarah. “Do You Know the Way to Space.” Chart. Discover Magazine (2015). Print.
  14. Scoles, Sarah. “How you-yes you-can get to space.” com. N.p., Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://discovermagazine.com/2015/oct/1-do-you-know-the-way-to-space#.VoloPd_5RIY.email&gt;.
  15. Szondy, David. “SpaceX nails historic first space rocket landing.” com. N.p., 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.gizmag.com/spacex-falcon-landing-success/40996/&gt;.
  16. Rotherham, Andrew J. “To Inspire and Beyond.” com. N.p., 14 July 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/07/14/pluto-fly-by-and-nasa-have-potential-to-inspire-stem-students&gt;.
  17. Etzioni, Amitai. “Mars can wait. Oceans can’t.” com. N.p., Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/09/opinion/etzioni-space-oceans/&gt;.
  18. Carlyle, Ryan. “Why Don’t We Spend More On Exploring The Oceans, Raleigh Than On Space Exploration?.” com. N.p., Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2013/01/31/why-dont-we-spend-more-on-exploring-the-oceans-rather-than-on-space-exploration/#62e09af95837c2eca5958370&gt;.
  19. “Ocean Exploration.” nes.edu. The National Academies, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/osb/miscellaneous/exploration_final.pdf&gt;.

 

Questions

 

  1. What personal space experience made and impact on your life? Did you visit a museum; watch a live launch; do research into some type of cosmic phenomena? What did you feel about that experience?
  2. What do you think is the most important reason we should explore space, Why? What are some poor reasons to explore, or things humans are doing that will detract from the important exploration being done in space?
  3. Do you think we should be exploring space or spending more time and money on our people, our current problems and possibly ocean exploration?
  4. Far in the future, in that place we can’t fathom right now, do you think space exploration and travel will be a factor in the life of humans? How important do you think space travel will be in our daily lives, or n the existence of humans as a whole?
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s