I love space. The untamedness of it. The danger. It is the definition of bigness. It lends us perspective and can make us afraid.
It is the final frontier.
To say that space is the final frontier implies that all the other frontiers have been taken, and this tiny wilderness refuge is the last place you can got to pitch a tent without bumping into other tourists. In fact, the opposite is true. If the human race is playing a civilization game, the explored map of our experience would only be a pinprick of light in an ocean of inky blackness. Sure, we’ve mostly covered the nooks and crannies of our planet, but compared to the infinitude that’s out there? We’ve hardly left the driveway.
This is one reason I get miffed when Americans talk about “the space race.” Particularly in the past tense. Things like: “America won the space race. Go USA.” Really? Won it? Seriously? How stupid. As though putting a human on the moon is the pinnacle of all that human exploration ever will be. That’s like saying Christopher Columbus (douche that he was) should have been content to turn around at the Azores.
Space is so big. Getting to the Moon is so insignificant on the scale of the universe. An important step, sure. A giant leap for humankind. But not the end. If this is a race we haven’t even passed the first water station yet.
The race is not over.
Why keep exploring, you ask? Well, for one, there are about a billion ways life on earth could end abruptly by space-borne catastrophes which humans exercise exactly zero control over. For example: asteroids, cosmic radiation, black holes, et cetera. Knowing we are about to be pummeled to death by an interstellar hail storm is information worth having. We may even discover something to do about it.
Also, we have no idea what’s out there. Another habitable planet? Perhaps. Or , maybe a bizarro fungus that can cure cancer, feed millions of people, or is super tasty on my 5 Guys Burger. I’d settle for that.
Think about it, until Europeans spent the time and money to develop the technology that allowed them to cross the Atlantic, they never had: avocados, chili peppers, chocolate, corn, papaya, peanuts, pineapples, potatoes, tomatoes, or vanilla! Can you imagine Italian cuisine without the tomato? How many tomato-like discoveries lay unenjoyed by the human race because we haven’t found them yet?
While European exploration certainly had losers as well as winners due to the mistreatment of native peoples, I would respond that this is why we study history in addition to science. There is no reason we have to repeat the mistakes of the past. How much better off would native peoples been if they had developed the technology to discover Europe on their own terms?
Space exploration is more than an arena for international one-upmanship. It is essential to our survival.
All this to say, I wholeheartedly support well-funded efforts by governments and/or private enterprises to develop the technologies we need to explore Mars and beyond. I am thrilled by the announcement that SPACE X (which already has unmanned ships that dock with the International Space Station) has built a manned capsule capable of taking off and landing without expensive rockets or splash landings. Since NASA nixed the space shuttle program in 2011, I’ve been dying for someone to fill the void.
It’s been 40 years since a human walked on the moon.
Someone needs to claim the next leg of this race.