Ventures Into Space
The cost of major ventures into space –permanent bases on the Moon or human exploration of Mars, say – is so large that they will not be mustered in the very near future unless we make dramatic progress in nuclear and “conventional” disarmament.
Even then there are probably more pressing needs here on Earth. But we have no doubt that, if we avoid self-destruction, we will sooner or later perform such missions. It is almost impossible to maintain a static society. There is a kind of psychological compound interest: even a small tendency toward retrenchment, a turning away from the Cosmos, adds up over many generations to a significant decline. And conversely, even a slight commitment to ventures beyond the Earth – to what we might call, after Colombus, “the enterprise of the stars” – builds over many generations to a significant human presence on other worlds, a rejoicing in our participation in the Cosmos.
Some 3,6 million years ago, in what is now northern Tanzania, a volcano erupted, the resulting cloud of ash covering the surrounding savannahs. In 1979, the paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey found in that ash footprints – the footprints of en early hominid, perhaps an ancestor of all the people on the Earth today. And 380,000 kilometers away, in a flat dray plain that humans have in a moment of optimism called the Sea of Tranquility, there is another footprint, left by the first human to walk another world. We have come far in 3,6 million years, and in 4,6 billion and in 15 billion.
For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos ancient and vast, from which we spring.
By Carl Sagan
If we survive we’ll perform major missions in Space. Image : © Megan Jorgensen