We have become content in only exploring existence in our immediate bubble of reality, rightfully worried about the future of our families and careers. Has space travel become lost? I truly hope not, but the delays in returning to the moon, setting goals to reach mars, and establishing a general presence in space are all becoming ever distant realities. Why?
NASA has always had challenges getting the funding it needed. Part of the reason is simply the vast cost of exploring space, versus the immediate benefits realized. Another reason is the world's general apathy toward space exploration. The population is not educated enough in the potential of exploring space because the ideas are often quite complex to understand. I don't fully understand them myself.
Humans have always had a hard time seeing beyond their immediate surroundings, let alone in places like space that are well out of reach for most. We can only truly believe in things that actually happen to us, or that we understand from direct experience. This is because chance and other factors often create uncertainty in any outcome. Would exploring space truly help our civilization, and ourselves?
"The American people have no idea what's going on," said congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords, chairwoman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on space and aeronautics. "The average American does not know the shuttle will go away at the end of 2010."
Space travel has been reduced to a back-burner idea, a dream that lights the eyes of those that can afford to take part. To the rest of us, it simply remains a dream with many seeing it nothing more than an expensive experiment.
This is partly due to our societies saturation with fictional media that partly satisfy our interest in exploring the unknown. Telescopes and other tools to observe the universe have provided us a wealth of information about the universe, that we apparently need not visit it ourselves. After all, why should we go to the depths of the ocean, where we'd only find a few interesting species and more water?
Just one example of the benefits of space exploration is revealed through our moon's abundance of helium-3 on its surface. This element is a non-radioactive isotope of helium. It is rare on the Earth, but on the moon it is implanted in the upper meter of the lunar regolith by the solar wind. Mining would provide non-radioactive thermonuclear fusion power to an energy-starved Earth for thousands of years.
Wernher von Braun said once, shortly before his death:
"Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe.
When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of."
People often rely on corporate news sources to tell us what we need to know, what dangers are around the corner, and what Britney Spears was wearing on her honeymoon... all important things to survive in this chaotic world. The problem with this source is the way the information is portrayed. There are so many inconsistencies and political spins, that all anyone sees in the end is distortion.
Let's start building that bridge Wernher spoke about, because right now all of us stand on this single fragile rock floating in space. The vast majority of the universe is dangerous and our earth is more an exception than the rule. I'd prefer having a bridge to somewhere else in case this side goes the way of Venus, Mars, or more likely, via our own ends.