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Geodynamics

Space travel: arrogance or vision?

Space travel: arrogance or vision?

Caroline Dorn

This week, Caroline Dorn, Ambizione Fellow at the University of Zurich, tells us her view on space travel and why we shouldn’t pack our bags just yet. 

Space exploration is experiencing a new boom, a come-back since the 60s & 70s! First discoveries of planets outside our solar system in the 90s have set the foundations of a new discipline that is exoplanet science – the field in which I am working in.

I enjoy that there is a lot of fascination from the public about the newly discovered distant worlds.

However, I observe a new fascination about space travel or space tourism among people that I find worrisome and dangerous.

Recent efforts of crewed missions to the Moon or Mars are driven by national or private egotism rather than the broadening of our understanding of other worlds. Here, I want to ask the question whether there is any value to our society in supporting space travel?

Often technological advances are put in front as a pro-argument. However, the billions of money could be directly invested in tailored research for societal benefits. It is not surprising that the vast amount of investments for space travel yields alongside innovations which find applications in other fields or our daily life. This is not unique to investments in space travel but simply a question of money and human power.

The perspective of mining other planets is often mentioned. Yet, it won’t solve the problem of limited resources that we have on Earth.  We need to find a way to deal with limited resources and how to handle our impact on the Earth’s ecosystem, which is the only one we know of. Mining other planets would only push the margin of available resources slightly further on the immense cost of energy, Earth’s natural resources, and human passion.

Yes, human passion. It takes a lot of enthusiasm to work in a specific niche such as space travel engineering or research. I think, such enthusiastic thinkers and pioneers are needed to create inclusive societies in balance with our ecosystem for present and future generations.

Travelling to other planets won’t save humankind. We are made for life on Earth. Even if humans would start living on other planets, evolution doesn’t stop. Humans wouldn’t be humans anymore. Humans are lifeforms from Earth.

In my view, the only justifiable argument for space travel is curiosity. Of course, it is fascinating to think that some people from Earth can leave the planet, travel through space and set their foot on a nearby planet that is Mars! What a fictional idea that may be possible to actually achieve!

To my disappointment, Switzerland’s only astronaut is promoting crewed space travel. For me, he is from an old generation for which the further-faster-higher principle seems still attractive. This thinking is anachronistic. Future missions must justify not only the societal and scientific benefits but also the sustainability of resource use, which is the big challenge of the 21st century.

We will stay on Earth. Enjoy this planet!

If you can think of any other argument in favour of space travel, think about it twice and if it still holds then post it in the comments below.

Grace Shephard / Tobias Meier
Find out more about the blog team here.

1 Comment

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    I agree that the current commercialization of spaceflight is worrying, yet another way to exacerbate and celebrate inequality, unsustainability, waste, magical thinking, etc. However, to play devil’s advocate, what do you make of the following argument? The idea of space travel makes people, especially young people, care about science and technology. Children who care about science and technology are more likely to grow up to become citizens who care about rational thought. Societies with more people who care about rational thought are more productive and less susceptible to manipulative political movements and extremism.

    Reply

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