Human History

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as superpowers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural background working in some sense together – surely a humanizing and character-building experience.

If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nations will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.

A reasonable – even an ambitious – program of unmanned exploration of the planets is inexpensive. The budget for space sciences is not very expensive. Comparable expenditures in many countries are more or less the same. Together these sums represent the equivalent of two or three nuclear submarines per decade, or the cost overruns on one of the many weapon systems in a single year. In the last quarter of 1979, the program cost of the U.S. F/A-18 aircraft increased by $5,1 billion, and the F-16 by $3,4 billion. Since their inceptions, significantly less has been spent on the unmanned planetary programs of both the United States and the Soviet Union than has been wasted shamefully – for example, between 1970 and 1975, in the U.S. bombing of Cambodia, an application of national policy that cost $7 billion. The total cost of a mission such as Viking to Mars, or Voyager to the outer solar system, is less than that of the 1979-80 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Through technical employment and the stimulation of high technology, money spent on space exploration has an economic multiplier effect. One study suggests that for every dollar spent on the planets, seven dollars are returned to the national economy. And yet there are many important and entirely feasible missions that have not been attempted because of lack of funds – including roving vehicles to wander across the surface of Mars, a comet rendezvous, Titan entry probes and a full-scale research for radio signals from other civilizations in space.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

space travel

Even an ambitious program of unmanned space exploration in inexpensive. Image: Space Travel by © Megan Jorgensen

See also: