“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.