Tuesday, June 10, 2008
On an online forum I frequent, in a discussion thread about our upcoming election, I mentioned that I back Obama, even though I don't agree with all of his ideas. For example Obama wants to put the manned space program on hold for five years. I couldn't disagree more. I was then asked what my opinion of the space program was. I wanted to share my answer with you all because it kinda surprised me. Every now and then I'll write something that seems to have come from somewhere other than my own hand, and this was one of those times.
I think that manned space flight has been woefully, maybe even criminally neglected. Many of the technical advancements we enjoy today are a direct result of the space program. Instantaneous world-wide communication, cordless tools and appliances, smoke detectors, home water filters, laser surgery, prosthetics, body imaging, lightning protection for aircraft, and breathing systems for firefighters are just some of the modern marvels that are a direct result of NASA research, and most of them came about because of the manned space flight programs. (http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home.html) On the less practical, but no less important side, the manned missions give the world heroes to watch. I remember watching the Apollo missions, and even though I was little more than a toddler I knew something important was happening. If you look at the literature of the early 70's there seemed to be little doubt that we would have permanent settlements on the Moon by the turn of the century, and that Mars would follow soon after. The reality is that we haven't left low Earth orbit since 1972. Granted there are many things that robots can do, and it is undoubtedly cheaper and safer to send probes, but probes don't inspire. Humans have always needed to explore, to push back the veil of the unknown, to(if I may) boldly go where no one has gone before. And there are things that people can do that robots cannot. Our Solar system is full of wonders, and resources just waiting to be unlocked. But as long as we cower in fear over the dangers that exist beyond the tiny layer of gasses that surround our planet we cannot grow as a people. Many astronauts have commented that from orbit borders become invisible and meaningless. I firmly believe that the future of the human race lies beyond the clouds. This planet's resources will not last forever, and at the rate we are extending life spans the crowding will only get worse. Yes, colonizing the other planets will be dangerous, and expensive, but so was finding the New World. We need to stop taking the safe and easy path, and get back out there. The more we think of this planet as just one small piece in a larger puzzle, the sooner our petty differences will fade, and true cooperation between the peoples of the Earth can become a reality.