20th July 1969 – The Eagle has landed

20 July 2007

Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed

Niel Armstrong’s immortal words as the first human on another celestial body.

Now I have been interested in Astronomy and Space for almost as long as I can remember. Therefore I am biased. I think this event is one of the most significant in human history.

I have always found it hard to give compelling reasons to explain why I think space exploration and in the long run colonization are important.

One day in the not too distant future; space will be as natural a place for us humans to live, work, play, raise families and die as Earth is now. This may seem frivolous and a waste of money to some. I disagree for several reasons:

  • The “space the final frontier” argument: as a species we have a strong sense of curiosity. We have a need explore new places and to meet the unknown. The next logical step is to explore and eventually colonize space.
  • The “a meteor caused the extinction of the dinosaurs” argument: insurance against mass extinction events – having space faring technology will some day save our species – it will not save me mind you because I will never get out there
  • The “because it’s there” argument: should we have refused to colonize America or Australia? Would you live in your parent’s home the rest of your life because it saves money?
  • The “because I say so” argument: I want to live to see it happen – selfish I know
  • The “because it’s hard” argument: we have to push limits in order to advance. Yes space exploration is hard to do. Tying your shoes was once hard. You mastered that because learning hard things is how we grow up. Mastering space is one of the things our species needs to do in order to grow up.
  • The “man does not live by bread alone” argument: we need space more than space needs us – humans need long term goals that inspire us and give us a sense of wonder – the day we say “why bother” is the day we stop evolving as a species. If we use all our resources struggling to solve immediate problems we will drown in those problems. We have to use some resources on things that are not focused on the “here and now” but on the “there and then”
  • The “and of what use is a new born baby?” argument: we will not know what amazing things we can accomplish out there until we go and try. This is the same reason I think basic research is at least, if not more important than, applied research.

Some arguments do not hold for me:

  • The “solve the population explosion” argument: we will never be able to move enough people off Earth fast enough to solve that problem. Space colonization can save us from future disaster – save us as a species – not individually
  • The “spin-offs make life better” argument: if we need a new type of metal alloy; sending people into space is not a sensible way to get it

Do you see my problem? Most of my arguments are of the type “because it’s fun”. Not exactly compelling is it?