I know I’ve touched on this subject before and as a science fiction writer you might say I have a vested interest in extoling the view that, yes, the human race needs space exploration. Now the past year has been a great one for those who believe in space exploration with Rosetta, new interest in Mars and Venus and NASA testing the Orion vehicle to name but a few.
However, as whenever there is a renewed focus on space exploration there is the debate as to why? Why ‘waste’ all this money on space exploration when there is so much need for it here on earth? Why are we focusing on the rest of the solar system and our galaxy etc. when there is so much turmoil down here. Who cares what we find out about the comet Philae and the potential origins of the solar system? And I guess if we limit our view to the here and now, that’s understandable.
However, as human beings we are blessed with the ability to look beyond the here and now. We can build on that and our past to project our imagination and ambition into the future. Surely, that is what enables us to resolve what, at the time, might seem insurmountable problems. And therefore, to me, looking beyond the confines of our single planet seems inevitable. As with explorers of the past, we have a tantalising glimpse of what’s out there, so why wouldn’t we want to go and see what riches we might find. In fact you could argue we know more about what’s out there than some of those early explorers did before they embarked on their adventures.
As for the validity of the science you never know how a piece of knowledge might prove be useful. As it was put to me when I was a Zoology undergraduate, ‘all knowledge has value’. It may seem esoteric at the time, but you just don’t know what it will lead to. Science doesn’t work in huge leaps of understanding. Those eureka moments are built on all the small incremental steps in understanding that have gone before. This is as true now as it would have been for the people who built Stonehenge, those ancient Greek mathematicians, Isaac Newton or Ernest Rutherford. They took what had gone before and added to it without knowing all the ramifications it might have in the future.
Now, this article was sparked by my reading an article describing work that NASA are planning to understand one of the major issues of space travel, the negative effects on the human body, the muscle wastage, loss of bone mass, poor heart performance and issues with the immune system. We must overcome these if we are to spend large amounts of time in weightless or reduced gravity conditions. However, if you look at all those issues they are the same as those we face as we grow older. So with an ever aging population greater understanding of these issues leading to strategies to minimise them can only benefit all of us, not only in terms of our personal fitness and enjoyment as we get older, but also in terms of the reduced burden that it will mean for society as a whole.
So, yes as a science fiction writer, I see it as inevitable that we will travel to and colonising other worlds. I just wish I could be around to see it. I believe our achievements can only be constrained by our imagination and as yet I can’t see any limits to that. And along the way who knows what benefits that desire to explore might have. What is for certain is that they will be many and varied.
As always views are welcome.