The Case for Space

“The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Russian rocket scientist

I have been interested in space ever since I was very young. I can remember looking through a telescope in my backyard at Mars, the moon, and various stars as young as eight or nine years old. I’ve also always been curious as to why the stars and planets are the way they are. I think the only reason I didn’t go for more of an astrophysics-oriented career path is that I don’t have any enthusiasm for learning about mathematics. I did OK in math in high school and freshman year of college, but I did not and still do not possess the passion required to learn calculus, physics, etc. The same goes for the type of math concerning business and economics. Numbers just don’t do a lot for me I guess. That being so, I figured it was best left to those who were really passionate about numbers to figure out the origins of the universe. I think though that I do understand space well enough to advocate why we should go there.

It’s true that we have bigger problems to solve than space travel. Some would argue that war, poverty, disease, and hunger are just some of the issues we have to address before we as a species start thinking about spending money on space travel. But one simple fact remains: we are going to have to get off this planet sooner or later. The Earth nurtured us in our infancy, and it has provided everything we need to survive since we were all bacteria floating around in a prehistoric ocean. But it’s not going to be around forever. If we want our species to continue, inhabiting other parts of the solar system or other parts of our galaxy will be key. Right now, everything we know and hold dear is confined to our tiny little planet. Several thousand years of civilizations will be wiped from the history of this universe if something were to happen to cause the destruction of humanity. The only pieces of humanity not on Earth currently are our local satellites, some equipment on the moon, Mars rovers, and the Voyager space craft which just left our solar system. 

Super volcanoes. Earthquakes/tsunamis. Asteroids/meteors. Global climate change. Nuclear war. All of these things can potentially spell disaster for humanity. Some are avoidable, others are not. Either way, this whole “human existence” thing is slightly more fragile than people think. We need to realize there will most likely be a day when, for whatever reason, the Earth is not inhabitable anymore. I hope it is not any time soon, and I don’t think it will be, but you can never really know.

Are we going to be able to get into our space ships and go to a different place when that day comes? Or are we going to go down with the ship? My vote is that we not go the route the of the dinosaurs. My vote is for us to prepare for that day. I think we have to start exploring space now in order to be fully ready to handle whatever cataclysmic situation may happen to us in the future. Space exploration not only makes us more able to deal with cataclysmic events, it also enables us to do a hole host of things we have not previously done. It will be nothing but positive, not for just individual countries but everyone on this planet. 

It’s going to take a bit of evolution though. Not physical evolution, but cultural and intellectual evolution. Evolution on a mass scale. I’m talking about a gradual mass awakening, one in which people over time learn to be more tolerant of each other and they forgive past grudges and bad blood. If we are more tolerant of each other, it will be that much easier for us to work together towards the mutual goal of getting into space. Part of me thinks we’re getting there, but then another part of me sees the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe and those places make me realize that humanity has a long way to go before we stop killing each other over ideas and pieces of the ground. 

Anyway, space travel is possible, and it will be up to countries like America and China to lead the way, mostly because they can both afford it at the moment. The first step is Mars. We have to establish a colony on Mars within the next 50 years. Not just going, sticking a flag in, then leaving again. I mean a permanent base, hopefully more than one. That’s one quick escape route to get off the planet if we need it. Once the colony is established and we figure out how to manipulate Mars’s atmosphere, we’ll eventually be able to terra-form Mars to grow crops on it! After that we should focus on exploring Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan for signs of life. If there is no life on Mars (doesn’t look like there is, but scientists aren’t 100%), I am betting we will at least find some sort of microscopic life on Europa or Titan. While we are doing all of this, either governments or private companies (preferably both) should be building the necessary ships for interstellar travel. There are numerous problems that we have to figure out with all of that first, but right now Mars is reachable for humans. Europa and Titan are reachable for probes and satellites. Humans on Mars and robots to Europa and Titan are good starting points for right now. 

I also have an idea on how to pay for all of that. Let’s say America takes up the mantle of accomplishing these goals. It would be well within the vast financial powers of the US government to double or even triple the funding of NASA without breaking a sweat. Our defense budget this year would fund NASA completely for the next 60 years. We spend $10 billion a year on space, $600 billion on defense. Let’s take some of those people building missiles and bombs and have them build rockets. Let’s take some of those people who build those massive airplanes and advanced fighters for the military and have them build space vehicles. Let’s do a “Space Stimulus Package”. NASA would have the best engineers and scientists in the world busting down their door to get some of that government funding for their ideas. Funding space would not solve all of our problems and I’m not saying it would, but we can easily do it while working to solve our other problems. 

I want private companies to race into space too. I want a Chipotle on Mars by 2060. If I don’t get that I’m going to freak out. All joking aside, capitalists need to get in on this space race too. Some have, such as Richard Branson and Red Bull. I want more of that, and on a mass scale. Imagine having a company that allowed people to live on their own private space station for an allotted amount of time. Or they could have their own room in a space-station hotel. Market it as a “Space-cation” or something. People will love that idea. I personally would be first in line if it was affordable (which, with all the space-oriented companies around, would be inevitable with competition). This is but one of the literally dozens of ideas I have for capitalism in space. 

So you see, even without the cataclysmic imperative, it is essential we go into space before too much longer. It’s the final frontier, and it’s only one we have yet to conquer. We are on the precipice of understanding our universe and our origin in ways we never have before, and that is but one of the multitude of reasons why space travel must become a political priority on Earth in the coming years. 

 

The Problem With Richard Dawkins

It’s been well over a month since I last posted anything, so it feels good to be writing for fun again. I’ve been so bogged down in writing that I don’t want to do I haven’t had the energy until today to do anything creative.

As you can probably imagine, this particular post will be an analysis of probably the world’s most famous atheist: Richard Dawkins. Why am I doing this? Because I feel that the manner in which Dawkins goes about discussing/debating atheism with the general public serves as a great contrast to my ideas about friendly atheism, which after all is the whole point of this blog. There’s more about my ideas in previous posts, but I’m hoping that this blog will serve as a “comparison by contrast” to illustrate what this whole friendly atheism thing is when it’s contrasted against one of the leading voices on atheism in the mainstream.

Full disclosure: I agree with 95% of what Dawkins says about evolution, the origin of the universe, and most other important topics we atheists talk about. It’s evident he’s very intelligent, and the fact that he is British I think is good for the image of Britain worldwide. I have read The God Delusion and found it to be fantastic (if a bit wordy). My issue with Dawkins are his methods for going about telling the masses about atheism. Now, he is/was the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford (a position created for him), so I may be way off base here. Maybe he knows better than me the best ways people learn about atheism. 

But, when I listen to or watch Dawkins debate religious scholars or religious leaders I don’t necessarily listen to what he is saying, I like to listen more to how he says it. Sometimes he can come across as pretentious, condescending, and even snobby. I don’t know if this is because of his ego, his tone, his attitude, or a combination of the three. If I am a religious person who wants to learn about atheism (for purposes of de-converting or just simple curiosity) then I would be turned off by that whole approach. I don’t like it when people talk down to me about anything, and I might even feel insulted by Dawkins every time he belittles my religion.

He needs to fully realize that for better or worse, people’s religion is important to them. There are plenty of ways to explain atheism and your reasons for it than by being condescending and/or acting like you simply know better than everyone else because your intellectual and educational level is higher than everyone else’s. Being intelligent doesn’t give him or anyone the right to look down upon others; religious and non-religious. 

Here’s the approach I would like to see Dawkins try, as he is the world’s most visible atheist. He shouldn’t set out to disprove the stories in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, or whatever religion (however easy it may be). Most religious people don’t take the stories in ancient texts to be literal anyway. Most see the various fables and stories as allegories. Also, most people aren’t religious for the stories in the books. Most are religious because it serves a purpose for them in some way. Comfort, security, a sense of community, whatever it may be. Religious people are fully aware of the problems within their religion, and us atheists pointing that out doesn’t help solve the problem.

What Dawkins should do is set out to prove atheism is a reasonable alternative to religion. You win arguments and win people’s attention by appealing to reason, and it’s not reasonable to tear down tenets of faith in an effort to show why atheism is better. I’m sure Dawkins would argue that he does precisely this and that some religious people are incredibly unreasonable in their views, and he’s right to a certain extent on both points.

I think Dawkins’s problem has mostly to do with ego. I think because he’s relatively famous it’s gone to his head a bit, and as a result he get’s overly defensive when a religious leader inevitably attacks him in a debate/interview. But, you won’t win an argument in the eyes of an objective observer by meeting dickishness with dickishness. An atheist in a discussion with a religious person should defend his positions on the topic with vigor, but it should never escalate to attacks on the person’s religion. It’s a poor form of arguing and in the end the religious person will feel they were in the right. Progress stalls. 

Dawkins atheism is the opposite of friendly atheism when it comes to methods of talking about atheism with non-atheists. Personally, I don’t see it as my job to de-convert the world and get everyone to embrace our primate ancestors. But, I have a policy when it comes to my opinions: if you ask for them I have to give them to you. I will not back down from my atheistic ideas, but I will also not attack you for your choice to be religious, barring some very extreme examples (i.e. if you are cult member). I’ve never debated someone in a cult, but I would tell that person that they are in a cult and that cults are bad news. That’s one caveat to the friendly atheism tenet of not judging other people.

Anyway, I agree with what Dawkins says and I applaud him for bringing atheism closer to the forefront of people’s minds but I have a few issues with how he has gone about doing it.