The Practicality and Necessity of Space Exploration
A while back I wrote a very sarcastic piece entitled “A Simpleton’s View on Saving the World.” In it I very vaguely detail how we can better human existence, and a cornerstone of this betterment involves space exploration. Though that article is tongue in cheek, the grain of truth held within is that if we humans want to extend our stay in the universe we really do need to broaden our scope from global to universal.
Like “A Simpleton’s View on Saving the World,” the following article is a fanciful look at our future as a people that does its fair share of glossing over the fine details, but unlike the aforementioned article, this time I’m being serious about what role the universe might play in our future.
An Excellent Tutorial on the Universe
Our Dying Planet
Our planet is dying. Nobody knows just when things will end, but chances are if we earthlings continue on this linear path of destruction, our large, inefficient bodies will be choked out and the life we know and enjoy will cease sometime in the not so distant future.
But if we just mend our ways in a global sense, our outlook becomes much brighter. Environmentally sound processes will likely keep our planet green and the air breathable for a very long while, but no matter how lightly we might step, resources will be used up.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at recycling as an example. Like any machine, recycling is not 100% efficient. What does this mean? Every time we recycle a can, a metal beam, a sheet of paper, material is lost to the process, and every time 3 humans are born in place of 2 the surplus of the population increases. The net result: less resources to distribute amongst more people.
Yes, we could be responsible and shrink our population purposefully through birth control (though this has never successfully been done in human history), but we can’t stop the inefficiency of the recycling process. In other words, no matter how good we are, we will run out of stuff on this planet. And though things like recycling will extend our lives and those of our children and children’s children, we should still be looking for a better way.
And even if we are good, there is still the possibility of our abrupt and violent end anyway. A large bit of solar debris crashing into the earth, a soulless black hole swallowing us whole, compressing us to nothingness, giant volcanoes erupting beneath the ocean, etc. One relatively small event in the enormity of the universe and bye bye human race.
And if we look globally, there is simply no answer, but if we look universally, preservation of the human race for millions, maybe even billions of years, becomes much more practical. Outer space was once thought of as a dead place without potential. More and more we are realizing its viability to support life. For example, colonization of Mars, a once ridiculous premise, is actually now in its infant planning stages.1
Availability of Resources in Space
And not only does outer space now look like a good place for resources, its potential for energy sources seems limitless. Imagine, if you will, a never ending supply of Hydrogen being pulled from our largest planet, Jupiter.2 A clean burning and renewable fuel source, people have been vying to legitimize Hydrogen for years. The problem? Hydrogen doesn’t exist in a free form on earth, and the process of extracting it carries a large price.3 Enter Jupiter, a gaseous planet composed of 75% hydrogen.2
Can you imagine what we could do with a piece of metal roughly the size of Delaware? I’m describing an asteroid, giant pieces of cosmic debris scattered throughout the universe, some composed entirely of nickel and iron.4 Even those composed primarily of stone are of use. “Madam, will you be choosing siding, rock, or perhaps this asteroid stone for your new home?” Or how about we build a bridge from the Americas to Europe?
When we look outside our earth, the possibilities for responsible planetary development become almost endless.
Colonization of New Worlds
And back to colonization of new worlds. Why? Again, for preservation of the human race, so one cataclysm can’t wipe us from existence. Also, if we’re going to be bringing resources from around the universe, we’re going to need colonies throughout space, not just to populate natural planets like Mars, but to build artificial ones to house a galactic workforce.
Here’s a concept: Mom’s too old to make it to the bathroom on her own anymore and requires constant care, and despite your best efforts, she’s still a shattered hip just waiting to happen. How about Mom regaining her mobility and freedom when she checks into a low gravity living facility? Sound crazy? I can only hope for such a thing once my knees finally give out.
You know these people who insist on an out of sight out of mind philosophy, the sort who toss their trash in the ocean or to the side of the road and just really junk up our planet and make it an unpleasant place to live? Well, with space travel we finally will have an out of sight place to throw our garbage without consequence.
Imagine a giant barge floating in outer space covered in garbage and not offending our eyes or polluting our waterways. I’m not suggesting we just chunk trash into outer space, though this would likely have little effect on the universe. We should hold onto the trash so it might be repurposed if we need it later, but it doesn’t have to be on the planet making a mess.
Since hydrogen will be the new fuel source of choice, we won’t have much air pollution, but for that which exists, gather it all up and fire it into space. No more holes in the ozone and melting polar caps.
We even might be able to extend life expectancies. As things are now, we have a finite amount of space and resources. It isn’t practical for folks to live an extra 70 years. In my opinion, this effects the development of technology. Why would we make it possible for people to live longer when we can’t support the population that is already here?
Space travel and an endless supply of room and resources opens the door to really taking the extension of life seriously.
Ok, where’s the punch line? Do you really believe any of this nonsense? Yes, I do. Most all of the things I’ve mentioned are theoretically proven concepts. Maybe some of these ideas won’t come to be or won’t happen just as I’ve said, but it is all based in reality.
There are some large obstacles in the way of progress, though. Infighting amongst the world and its countries is one thing that holds us back. A lack of imagination amongst the population that would support space travel and colonization is another.
Then there’s just physically getting to the universe’s resources. Obviously we have to get to these resources and return with a net gain in regards to fuel expenditure. Again, this is more practical than you might think. Back to the Jupiter example: depending on where it is at in its orbit, it is between 365 and 601 million miles away from earth.5
Currently there is a spacecraft en route to Pluto called New Horizon that is traveling at 15.73 kilometers per second, or roughly 35,000 mph.6 At a similar speed we’re looking at a round trip to Jupiter and back of around 3 to 6 years, depending on the above mentioned factors. In other words, a very manageable amount of time.
The beauty of outer space and speed is that it is a vacuum and there is no friction. Even an enormous craft isn’t going to take a tremendous amount of energy to get up to speed, and once it is up to speed, it will stay at that velocity indefinitely. Then it’s just a matter of exporting resources from large cargo ships just outside earth’s atmosphere back down to terra firma, a process that could be refined over time.
Another stumbling block that was always perceived in the past was finding water, until we started finding large deposits here and there. According to Popular Mechanics, there are at least 23 places in space we’ve found water already and probably many more.7 Additionally, with the abundance of hydrogen in the universe, it shouldn’t be all that difficult of a task for space travelers to make their own if need be.
In the end, probably the biggest key to making space exploration a reality is getting started before it’s too late. It is hard to say how long a space program like this would take to get off the ground and working, but let’s guesstimate 30 years. What if we wait too long and by the time the knowledge is in place to import the universe’s resources, we no longer have the available fuels and materials to leave the planet or the earth was destroyed before we had a chance to put theory into action?
It’s out there for the taking. Start up will be a distant and longsuffering process, but we need to start taking space exploration seriously. The eventual payoff will be well worth cost.
Do you think space travel is worthwhile?
2. "Jupiter" Wikipedia.com
3. "Hydrogen Vehicles" Wikipedia.com
4. "Asteroids Formation Discovery and Exploration" Space.com
5. "How Far away is Jupiter?" Space.com
6. "What are the Fastest Spacecrafts ever Built?" io9gizmodo.com
7. "23 Places We've Found Water in our Solar System" Popularmechanics.com