I read a very interesting article earlier this week about the space shuttle Endeavor and its last flight to the space station, or anywhere else for that matter. With the space station near 100% completion and other more efficient vehicles being designed, the space shuttle is an outdated icon of humanities first attempts to reach for the stars.
It was a moving read to learn more about how about space endeavors, pun intended if I may, have really taken off in the past few decades. The last time I wrote about exploring space exploration, I pointed out the world's reservation of reaching for the stars. We're finally moving beyond some of that skepticism and really beginning to understand the importance of space exploration.
It starts with economics. If there's any reason the average person would want to spend money to get into space, it is to invest in their, or their company's, future. Some may not realize it, but even just an average 1km asteroid has enough metals such as iron, gold, platinum, etc., to last decades at current rates of consumption. How many asteroids of this size or larger are just in the asteroid belt? Millions.
We've already gained benefits from exploring space. Everything from the comfort of our bed mattress, Kevlar, to our ability to know exactly where we are on the planet while in the middle of nowhere, are just a handful of technologies that began development in space. Telescopes inform us of impending solar storm activity that may effect sensitive electronic equipment on Earth, saving us from electrical grid week-long blackouts.
This last reason to spread our wings into space is two-fold. On the one hand it is quite clear that we are overpopulating the planet. There are two main choices we can consider to resolve this dilemma. Either we limit reproductive capabilities, which is a morale, economic, and simply practice issue that will likely never be realized, or we live where we haven't before... in space.
On the other hand, we have all of our eggs in one basket right now. As anyone who carries around eggs knows, they can all easily break together if not compartmentalized and secured. Another analogy to this is the breeding of specific genetic crops for food consumption. By doing so we increase harvesting potential, but limit biodiversity that protects crops from disease.
For this very reason, it seems prudent to me to get into space as fast as we can before the next asteroid, plague, or civil war tears apart the planet below...
"Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring--not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive... If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds."
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994