26 Jul 2009

Return to the Heavens, for the Sake of the Earth

Submitted by Kimon

A few days ago, the world celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, 40 years after July 20, 1969. The International Space Station celebrated with a space walk and wiht a record crew of 13 astronauts and cosmonauts. Coincidentally, a few days prior to that, iconic American news announcer Walter Cronkite passed away.

For the occasion, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote an article on the Washington Post, asking the question of whether it is legitimate to spend money on space when there are enough problems on Earth.

More after the jump.




The creation of a cosmic diaspora is just one argument for putting humans in space -- a bad one. But now, as human-made climate change has thrust us into the role of stewards of the global biosphere, new reasons, good ones, have emerged. Indeed, keeping our space ambitions relatively local -- within our own solar system -- can help us find solutions for the climate crisis.


So, what actions, taken today, will help our children, and theirs, and theirs? From that perspective, decarbonizing our technology and creating a sustainable civilization emerge as the overriding goals of our age. If going into space helps achieve those goals, we should go; if going into space is premature, or falls into the category of "a good idea if Earth is healthy," it should be put on the science fiction shelf, where I hope our descendants will be free to choose it if they want it.

For once, I do not necessarily agree with everything he says. Sure, space probes are cheap and of great scientific value. Fair enough, there might be more urgent things here, such as pollution and poverty -- but this was always the case when empires and countries and entrepreneurs sent out explorers around the world. What was the share of GDP that 16th century Spain devoted to exploration of the Americas? Does it compare to NASA's budget?

Also, I'm not convinced of the orbital solar power microwaved back to Earth argument. It is much cheaper, let alone safer, to do it on Earth's surface, despite the reduced radiation.

Read the entire article here. The interview list has been updated.

Also, the MangalaWiki has been updated quite extensively with Mars trilogy articles.