Why we need to prioritize space exploration
We need to focus more on space. Exploration, colonization, and the planetary sciences need to be a higher priority of the general public. Humanity’s future depends on how dedicated we are to exploring the solar system and other stars. The benefits to humanity are immeasurable, and we can imagine what some of those benefits might be. We already know what benefits our current space industry has produced. Many technologies and medications used in space decades ago have already trickled down to everyday humans on Earth. This trickle-down effect bolsters our economy and jump-starts technological innovation. There are also the more intangible mental effects space exploration has on us as a civilization. Exploring space has altered and expanded our cosmic view. The various types of space telescopes and robotic probes represent an extension to our biological senses. Through these instruments we are constructing a more complete picture of the cosmos and our place within it. Studying the various asteroids, planets and moons in our solar system also help us to know how we came to be and where we should go in the future. We can even see how our current understanding of the cosmos affects culture. Artists from various disciplines tend to include modern space science concepts, terminology and themes in their works; it is also a sign of how much the desire to learn more about space is embedded in our DNA.
The handful of lucky humans who have already gone to space are altered in a special way. Many astronauts describe what is called the “orbital perspective”, or “overview effect“, which is basically a psychological phenomenon caused by viewing the Earth from space. While in low-Earth orbit, humans are imbued with a sense of unity and fragility; it increases their respect for Earth and promotes aspirations for peace and environmental conservation. As commercial spaceflight continues to develop, more and more humans will begin entering space. When a large fraction of humanity acquires a taste of the orbital perspective, we may see a revolution in interest towards space colonization in general, and even more miraculously, we may see increased action to end war, poverty, and anti-environmentalism on Earth.
Once enough humans are motivated to colonize space, the industry will boom. There will be increased funding for large-scale projects like space hotels and colonies. The ultimate vacation get-away could be orbiting Earth for a few weeks. These hotels can have attractions of their own, such as swimming pools with panoramic views of Earth, and maybe even highly controlled space walks! In the movie Passengers, a massive Generation Ship on its way to another solar system possesses these exact amenities. Trips around the Moon and other celestial bodies will become commonplace. New jobs will be created to fuel this industry, and artists will have new subject matter to add to their body of work. Imagine photographers, poets, painters and journalists who are able to visit first-hand some of the marvels of our solar system. What wonderful works of art will they be inspired to create upon returning to Earth?
For those obsessed with money and enrichment of the economy, space affords the most promising path to prosperity. Strung throughout the solar system are massive rocks called asteroids which are actually giant conglomerates of all sorts of material, including precious metals and material needed for manufacturing and fuel. Mining expeditions to just a few of these asteroids could result in trillions of dollars in revenue overtime to whichever companies capitalize on this prospect. As we begin seeking these treasure troves we will need bases to house all of the miners and travelers zipping to and fro. Space colonies can be built at strategic points near these asteroids which could accommodate hundreds of thousands to millions of people. It may even be possible to carve out the bigger asteroids, like Ceres, into makeshift abodes. These mining expeditions will supply Earth with materials needed for more advanced interplanetary vessels and for space colonies to be built at various other points within the solar system. The looming threat of over-population could be easily solved when you consider the idea of building thousands of space colonies throughout the solar system. Not to mention bases on the various moons orbiting other planets, and massive cities that can be built on terrestrial planets like Mars, or floating cities in the atmospheres of Venus and the gas planets.
Eventually our entire solar system will be colonized. Humanity will attempt to inhabit every nook and cranny possible. The commercial aspect of solar system colonization will reach new levels. Companies will routinely give customers tours of all of the planets. Imagine taking a slow, scenic flight just above Saturn’s rings; space hotels can also be built in stationary orbits around any of the other planets in the solar system. Thrill-seekers will have novel opportunities to test the limits of what humans are willing to endure. Imagine sky-diving on planets with higher gravitational pulls than Earth’s, or para-gliding from cliffs taller than any others accessible to us today. But humans get bored easily; soon after the solar system is colonized we will have a strong imperative to explore distant stars. Human continuity has always depended on the necessity to create backup plans. If a disaster occurs somewhere, we need another place to go. With all of the scientific progress and harvested materials we’ve garnered in our time within this solar system we may finally be able to quickly travel to distant planets, to start new adventures, and create new spaces for humanity to flourish. As mentioned earlier, Passengers takes place aboard a Generation Ship set for a distant solar system. Vessels like that may one day embark on journeys to hundreds of different candidate worlds throughout the galaxy.
This is not to say that the glory and prosperity that can be found in space exploration and colonization will completely eliminate poverty, war, and the other atrocious elements of humanity. As long as we exist in our current biological forms we will always house hate and greed deep in our minds. Conflict between factions may occur at far larger scales than they do on Earth. Perhaps one day we can transcend our negative biological imperatives – maybe through genetic engineering or cyborgization – but this may not happen for hundreds or even thousands of years. But that does not mean we shouldn’t still aim for the stars; the benefits are too good to ignore out of fear or pessimism. In the short-term, prioritizing space exploration will bolster the economy; the trickle-down effect of space technologies will enhance human well-being on Earth. Human culture will be instilled with a deeper spirituality reflective of our understanding of the cosmos, and this understanding will also inspire unimaginable works of art.