Monday, January 14, 2013

Why We Need To Go To Space

As a society, we've given up on space travel. It's not really a part of our cultural consciousness anymore. Not the way it used to be. First, there was the drive to reach the moon, and, once achieved, there was this innate belief that we had only just started. We had, for all intents and purposes, reached the "final frontier."

But, then, we abandoned it. Like, standing on the brink, we shied away. We couldn't take that leap.

Not that I think it's that simple, but, really, it kind of is. The money people looked, and wouldn't make that leap of faith that going out into space would be worth it. At least, it wouldn't be worth it to them, and screw the future, if you know what I mean. But it was that kind of thinking in the 80's (and 90's), the "what are you doing for me now?" thinking, that brought us to where we are. Which is not exactly the best place to be.

My childhood was full of visions and fantasies about what it would be like in space, and there was this expectation among all of us my age that it was going to happen. Not if. When.

Maybe it was the Challenger explosion that caused the change. Or, at least, started the change. At any rate, it's not something that we dream about culturally anymore.

And it's really too bad, because I think we're in sore need of that dream.

It's kind of obvious from a practical standpoint why we're in need of greater space exploration. Just the resources we could get from mining asteroids would be tremendous. Rather than go into all of this, you can just go check out Planetary Resources for all the details.
As an investment, just a simple monetary investment, space is looking really good.

However, I don't think this is where we would find our greatest reward.

For millennia, man explored the world. Man dreamed about the world. Man dreamed about the places he hadn't been. It did something for his spirit. Something unquantifiable. But, then, not all that long ago, we reached the end of the world. There's nowhere left to go. Nowhere to dream about. Not even the oceans or the air for all practical purposes. Not even under the Earth. That unquantifiable thing, that thing that used to inspire men to go and explore, is gone.

There is nowhere to go.

It's hard to say what we've lost as a society because of this, because we don't know which people would be the ones to grow restless and take off into the distance to discover now places. New worlds. Maybe it is that some, at least, of the current societal unrest is due to the fact that people that used to be the ones that would go explore can no longer do that. They have wanderlust that can't be fulfilled.

Like my cat when he wants to go outside.
I think we have people like this. Stuck in cities and wanting to get out, clawing at the door, meowing, but no one will let them go. Because there isn't anywhere to go.

Have you ever been stuck inside with a cat that wants to go out? It's much worse, in general, than being stuck inside with a dog. Dogs can (usually) be distracted, not so with cats. Just like with the cat, these people that want "out" need a place to go.
Space is that place...

Can you imagine what it would be like to have people taking off into space just for the sake of going? [Let me just say that I am not one of those people that would be going, but I think it would be so cool for those that would.] The kinds of things we would learn.
The kinds of dreams that would be born.

Which brings me to the other thing we've lost: dreams.

Once upon a time, man wrote about the dreams he had of the places he'd never been. Africa. India. The American Frontier. Under the oceans and up in the sky. Even space. But we've quit writing about those places, because we know what's there. Well, except for space, but, like I said, we've mostly given up on that. And we think we know what's there. Even though we haven't been there, we look through our magic glasses and decide all we need to do is look. Or send a tiny robot.

But I wonder...

I wonder what would happen if we actually decided to go. Like when we decided to go to the moon. The dreams that decision awoke in us. What would happen if we did that again? What kinds of things would we write about the things that we would dream?

That, those dreams, and those things people wrote about those dreams, that would be our greatest reward.
Because, when it comes down to it, it's the things that can't be quantified that we live for.


  1. Did you see that a Dutch company (I think it was Dutch) is hiring people to colonize Mars? They'll be in training for 8 years, I believe, and then will be dropped off with the needed materials. 2 years after that, more people will show up. I think it said they'd already had thousands of applicants. It's a one way ticket.

    Anyway, maybe that just means that the space movement has simply moved to the private sector. Instead of governments trying to be the first up there, it will be private companies. It gives me hope that space is still on the agenda, just on a different group's.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  2. Dreams fuel adventures, because if we stick with the concrete (finances, logistics) it gets too intimidating to venture out. I say this as I'm debating whether to make last minute vacation plans or not.. sounds trivial compared to space but some of the same feelings apply.

  3. We've lost the ambition. people can get by with average or even less than average - why push for more?
    I also think where once we explored outward, most people explore inward. They are content to sit in front of their computer and explore the world without ever leaving their home. Maybe the world of Wall-E wasn't so far-fetched with people growing fat and lazy and just focused on their computers?

  4. Your space program is very active right now. You've got a brand new rover on Mars that is collecting data and sending back loads of data and some spectacular pictures. The space station is still in operation and it has a Canadian at the helm. Richard Branson is funding a program for travel to the moon.

  5. I suppose science and technology are the new frontiers. But it is a little sad that very few secrets remain in our physical world. A hundred years ago I would have been a member of The National Geographic Society. :)

  6. It sounds like a wonderful idea to me.

    I guess we'll have to see. :-)

  7. We really should go into space so we can find a new place to live before we finish destroying this one. We'll end up living on big ships like Wall-E or something after we've poisoned this planet too much to make it habitable.

  8. I love the idea of going into space and exploring the unknown but how can we justify that kind of expenditure when we have millions of people unemployed, uninsured, starving, homeless, etc. I think we should make where we live (earth) the best place possible before we head out to the stars. I just wish we'd hurry up!

  9. I think its tragic that the US has given up on their own space program, but they still participate in those of other countries. The space station is still viable. A private company is planning to mine asteroids. So space hasn't been completely abandoned.

    I am now too old to go into space, but I would have gone like a shot once upon a time. Space, the final frontier! It is, after all, unlimited, vast and infinite. Plus as PT Dilloway said, we are going to need the room.

  10. I love this column. I couldn't agree more. It seems terrible to me that in 10 years we could go to the moon and back, but in the 40 years since then we haven't really gone any further.

    Robot cars on Mars notwithstanding, a manned expedition to another planet is clearly something we can achieve, and Mars would be a viable candidate for that. Even Worst President Ever talked about doing that.

    But yeah, we've lost the ideas for doing that. And the exploration of space is important because of how it inspires creativity and endeavor.

    For those willing to only look shortsightedly at jobs and money, one could always consider that a massive multicountry space program -- not the stupid space station, but a real Mars shot (or beyond: why not send long-term missions to Jupiter and Saturn) -- would involve many many jobs and a great deal of investment in technologies and infrastructure.

    So it's win win, except that we can't even agree on millionaires paying an extra 3% on the top portion of their income for taxes. So until America grows up, or we face another Red Scare, we're kind of stuck here on Earth.

  11. I spent my lunch break working on a response but decided to just make it a post instead. I'll try to put it up tomorrow.

  12. Shannon: I did read something about that a while back, but, if I'm remembering correctly, their projection for when that could become a reality was still 2 to 3 decades away.

    Winopants: Oh, yeah, I understand that. I can never make myself believe that the money spent on a vacation is worth it, so I get it.

    Alex: Oh, I think that world is entirely possible. Except... well, millennials don't seem content with that while embracing it at the same time.

    Anne: It's true that it's still active, but it doesn't have the cultural consciousness it did back in the 60s and 70s. That's what we need again.

    L.G.: Oh, yeah, me, too! (look at all of those commas!)

    Misha: Yeah, I just hope I'm still around to see it.

    PT: Even making the move to asteroid mining could help save Earth. I really don't understand why there is such a reluctance to invest in it. (Except I saw an actual (rich man's) argument that said, basically, we can't afford to mine asteroids because the resources (specifically platinum) would devalue what we have here on Earth.)

    mshatch: I think if we really invested in this as an idea, got behind it on a societal level, it would create way more jobs and boost the economy, rather like the public works during the depression.

    Jo: No, there are still individuals that believe in it, but we need to get behind it as a united people again.

    Michael: Well, I'm glad someone does! (I had to look him up, because, although I've heard the name, I didn't really have a good grasp of who he is. And I loved Nova as a kid, and, now, I want to see his new version!)

    Briane: In 40 years, we've done almost nothing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it's related to the various shuttle disasters. We shy away so much from risk, not like when the Europeans were first exploring the New World. I doubt we even know how many ships with so many more people were lost back then, and they all considered it totally worth it, but we're not willing to allow people that want to take those risks to take them.

    Then there's the money...

  13. Rusty: Cool! I don't think anyone has ever done a whole post as a comment to my blog before! I'll be looking forward to it!

  14. Great post. Although I'm not sure I agree that we have explored all there is here. I think the seas, especially the deepest parts of the ocean, hold tremendous wonder and mystery.

    I think another part of our society's trepidation is that we have become so litigious that we have lost our sense of adventure because what happens if things go wrong? Who do we sue when people die because it was unsafe and shouldn't have been attempted? Is the potential reward worth the risk of life that would be required to find out?

  15. Let me be clear- I don't think that. But I think that is part of what holds the greater community back from trying.

  16. nagzilla: Sure, there are still things to learn from the oceans and the polar caps, but, for the most part, we have been there. People don't view those places as a new frontier. And I agree that that is where some of the problem lies. As I said, the space shuttle blew up, so people blink and say "wait a minute." It's been a long minute, though.

  17. I totally agree with you on this issue. It gives me some hope to see recent forays by commercial enterprises, I just hope they don't get frustrated by the costs and lack of immediate returns. Space gave us all a certain element of hope that in many ways has been lost in today's world. We need more dreams and more dreamers to make those dreams come true. A few failures should never be a reason to give anything up.

    Tossing It Out

  18. going to space for me, scary!! if something happened i'd be sucked into foreverness of floating...eek!!!

  19. Lee: Unfortunately, as long as this stuff is in the hands of the current generational paradigm, I think we're gonna be more focused on protecting rather than risking. And I don't see much hope for the next generational paradigm, because it's all about, hmm, I'm gonna call it affirmation.

    Tammy: Oh, Briane Pagel has a great book, Eclipse, about floating in space.

  20. *waves hand around* I happily volunteer to go to Mars as a test rat :)

    Love kittehs.

  21. Trisha: If I ever happen to be in charge of choosing people for a mission to Mars, I'll make sure you're on the list.

  22. Every once in a while I'll say something along the lines of "imagine what we could get done if we spent even half the money we currently spend on Defense on space research." Then people usually get all ruffled at me because the boys on the front lines need all the support they can get, completely missing the point of "YOU GUYS WE COULD HAVE A COLONY ON THE MOON BY NOW."

    I don't even understand why I need to explain that. I'm not saying we should deprive the troops. I'm saying that damn we could be doing some cool-ass shit if we actually supported space research.

    I had to explain who Ray Bradbury was to someone the other day. Like to have broke my heart.

  23. Callie: You know, people just don't care about the places we could go because they just want gadgets in their hands. :/
    And I know what you mean about people not knowing about authors...>sigh< It's like, what chance do I have if they don't even know who someone like Bradbury is?