When it was announced that Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey would premier in the venerable 9pm Sunday time-slot a few months ago, I told my wife we would be watching this live instead of another one of my favorites: The Walking Dead (Sorry, Continuum, we are still friends but there are priorities in television watching.) She looked at me weirdly, knowing that such a drastic shift would require either an alien using mind control or a possession by a ghost to occur. After reassuring her that there was nothing out of the ordinary - within my definition of “ordinary”, mind you – I explained to her why I was so adamant about this. My reasons are actually quite simpler than you think.
consistently trimmed NASA’s funding to the point of roughly less than 1%(0.5% to be precise) of the country’s 3 trillion dollar budget over the last few years, as well as cut funding to SETI. This regression from the stars has even changed the media landscape, with no real space opera or space-based sci-fi programming since the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica in 2009. We don’t have a reason to care anymore.
It’s a shame, really. The Cold War spawned the last real “Space Race”; the reason why we headed to the stars in the first place in the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s. And after the sacrifices that were endured, we finally made it not only to the stars but even to the moon. We launched Voyager 1 in 1977, which officially left our solar system in 2012; the first human spacecraft built to ever do so. We have seen Earth’s selfie numerous times, thanks to the many scientists, engineers and pilots who braved the flight beyond our atmosphere.
Yet, we as a global community do not care what is in the great beyond anymore. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we have regressed and fear what lies out there. The US has no real reason to strive for space flight past our own planet, despite Obama’s assurances that there is a mission to Mars in the works. Russia, China and other space faring nations have no real reason to travel further either. In fact, whenever you enter into a conversation of space exploration, the average person will respond with a variation of “There other problems here on Earth.” Trust me; I have tried it a few times.
But we should care. We should continue to strive for the stars if nothing more than the benefit and survival of our species. That we collectively work up the courage for more space exploration for numerous practical, rational and philosophical reasons.
The first reason is a pretty practical one. At the current rate of water, food and natural resource consumption, we will not be able to survive as a species, much less live in the current comfort and decadence as we do now. We consume far too much than the planet can provide or renew to the point that experts on the topic are far more than certain that food and water – in combination with our contribution to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere - will begin to become a precious commodity between 2050 and 2080. And since conservation efforts have either been blocked by large corporations or just not on the minds of people, nor is culling the world’s population to acceptable levels an option, there is only one other avenue to explore: space. Within our own solar system we have an abundance of many materials, from energy of the sun and water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, to precious metals and other materials in the asteroids, planets and satellites that take residence. There are plenty of opportunities seek these resources out and use them sparingly if we made exploration a priority. Someone on Twitter recently made the joke that if the government told people there was oil on Titan, countries and companies would be there tomorrow. Funny, yes, but the sentiment is quite true.
That we funded projects that would grant us interstellar travel to explore beyond and perhaps even colonize. We as a species could only benefit from such initiatives.
Then there are the two final reasons; two traits that have been the most fundamental in our species development, yet are the greatest and most endearing part of us.
We are curious, imaginative beings. Despite the fact we initially fear and hate what we do not understand, we are still full of wonder and imagination. Sagan was quoted once, that “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” Our collective history is only proof of this, ever since we began to stand upright. It is this curiosity that lead our species to populate the planet in our infancy. It was our imaginations that lead us to create and execute such grand civilizations, mechanical wonders and great technological advances. Both traits lead us to explore our planet and reconnect with our long lost ancestors. And it is this curiosity and imagination that compelled us to look up to the sky and wonder what lies beyond the confines of our miniscule place in the universe.
Without these traits, we would never question why something exists or why it is what it is. We would never go to the lengths we do in order to solve the unknown. We would never be who we are without it, much less where we are. These fundamental traits are who we are and can lead us to be whatever we want. We create such fantastic things for our entertainment, and then eventually make them a reality.
Surely we cannot travel deeper into space on imagination and wonder alone. How do we make something like Star Trek more a reality than we have so far? Sure it is a daunting task, but what isn’t that was not worth it in the end?
Space-X) to develop a new space industry. Not only would you achieve the goal of expansion into the solar system, but the economic benefit would be considerable. Millions of jobs would be created both directly and indirectly by this initiative, only to grow further when we establish ourselves amongst the stars.
Such a daunting task cannot be shouldered by one country alone. Such an undertaking would require the international community to achieve these goals. During the 90’s, the US, Canada, Russia, Japan and the European Union came together and developed the International Space Station, which the first modules were launched in 1998. It is still one of our races greatest achievements not only scientifically, but socially as well with so many countries involved with its use. Surely a larger project such as interplanetary travel would need not only more minds and resources of one nation, but many others as well.
Public support is crucial as well in our push to the stars. Support of shows like Cosmos – both Sagan’s original series and the current iteration that is masterfully hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson – that are aired on network and public television is a great start. But more can be done. Support of local PBS affiliates will help, with such shows they offer like Nova. Bring properties like Star Trek back to where it began and thrived for the many years people remember it for; where both crews of the Enterprise explored the stars while dealing with the unknowns. We need more people like Tyson and Chris Hadfield – who garnered such an audience during his tenure on the ISS – to speak out and support science programs and space exploration initiatives. Anything that will feed upon our race’s wonder and imagination.
It is also imperative to involve and encourage our younger generations to take an interest in the sciences, math and engineering as well. Bring back shows like Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye the Science Guy, so kids can learn about these topics. Encourage their imaginations and wonder, whether it is through playing with LEGO’s, progressive toys like Goldie Blox, art, music and even writing. Take them to museums, planetariums and science centers where they can experience these phenomena in fun and unique ways. Our children crave knowledge and are instinctively curious about the world, and it is only fitting that not only parents but all adults should encourage them so they may go beyond what we could only imagine.
Lastly, we should not be afraid of the unknown, no matter where it leads us. Fear should only drive us into making proper choices in how we conduct ourselves as we strive to reach the heavens, not restrict or prohibit our curiosity and imagination. It should not deter us from exploring space; which is truly our final frontier.