The Defeatist Attitude Against Space Exploration

Published: 2023-09-23


There are people in this world that argue that society should not be funding space missions or exploring other planets because of the social issues we have on this planet. It's the "we have problems here" argument. This sentiment can have roots in one's political tribe (both from the left and right of the political spectrum), but I've also observed it stem simply from a misanthropic and pessimistic worldview, and this negative black-pilled attitude honestly annoys me to no end.

Humanity will always have it's problems that it needs to overcome, and in my view space exploration is part of the solution to many of the social issues we have. If we, as a species, came to the collective realization that we were perfect, we wouldn't be motivated to do anything to better ourselves. Humanity will never be perfect, so lets explore outer space, mental space, and continue to fund science to uncover the nature of our physical reality.

Another common argument is that it's expensive. No doubt this is true. Research and development alone is costly, and a payoff (or return) on R&D is never guaranteed. What's the payoff of exploring space and colonizing the solar system? There isn't any material on Mars that we couldn't mine here on earth, and supporting a human settlement would be costly. However, the funding of NASA only represents 0.48% of the federal budget, and I'm not certain what that budget would be to be increased to for funding a new space station or a human mission to Mars. And who knows what the science can uncover that would be a benefit for humanity. With a permanent settlement on Mars established, the argument can be made that it would reduce the probability of human extinction, say from a virus or an asteroid impact. The only response to the economic costs is that it seems like a reasonable step.

I've also heard arguments like we need to do "X" first before we start doing things like giving more funding to space agencies. "X" can be anything from curing cancer, completely irradicating poverty, getting humanity to 100% renewable energy globally, or fighting climate change. This is a very one-track way of thinking. This is like saying humanity can't research particle physics and astronomy at the same time, or we can't research biology before we completely understand chemistry.

The best argument I've heard is that space wants to kill us. This is true. There's an insane amount of radiation in space. A lot can go wrong. An object, say a meteor the size of a pebble, traveling at sufficient speed can do catastrophic damage to any space craft. However, with the International Space Station, we've proven that we can at least temporarily have humans live in space, with the longest record being set by Valeri Polyakov at 437 days while on board the Russian space station Mir. The Apollo 17 mission also showed us a glimmer of what we can achieve when two astronauts stayed on the lunar surface of the moon for a little over three days!

One thing that I do acknowledge is that space exploration can be a form of escapism or diffusion of responsibility for properly taking care of the planet we're on. I do think that changing our habits as a species and healing the ecosystem is an integral and essential step for the space-faring future I'm dreaming of. I do subscribe to the Spaceship Earth worldview in that we need to work together as a species and understand that this planet is the only one we have. We are stewards of the Earth, and it's our duty to take care of it not just for us in the present, but for our future. Staying at home could very well be a solution to the Fermi Paradox, because space exploration and travel even outside of our solar system seems impossibly difficult. Or for all we know, we (all life on Earth) is the only life to have emerged in the universe.

I've noticed that basically everyone I've met or seen online that possesses this defeatist attitude are also not at all curious about the world beyond our planet, sometimes not even curious about the world beyond their own life - rarely, if ever, looking up at the stars and realizing just how small we are, that we are on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. I, for one, believe that our place lies in the stars. The alternative is that we shall remain on this planet until eventually our species fizzles out, and eventually all life on the planet dies in four billion years when the Sun enters it red giant phase and begins expanding, eventually engulfing Earth in seven billion years.

Pale Blue Dot

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