The Supreme Unity, the Unity of the Species Reflections about space exploration and the human factor
After exploring continents, seas, and then, with great sacrifice, the air, we wanted to know for sure what lies beyond the Earth’s confines. Mankind’s scientific adventure in outer space and even beyond, in the interplanetary area, is directly connected with the long-lasting question regarding the origin of life on Earth. Did the seed of life originate from our own planet, or is it coming from the galactic space? If Panspermia is indeed true, does life outside of our world hold the same Carbon building blocks and RNADNA construction? Could we be compatible? However, if our life began on Earth, birthed by our planet’s unique conditions, what would life look like in the other parts of the Universe? In lieu of concrete methods of analysis, these questions are being approached by scientists in a rather philosophical way, but they are indeed questions which will, sooner or later, require an answer, once incremental steps take us to the exploration of place where alien life may be present, even in our Solar System.
Without a doubt, the cosmos represents a brand new geographic and technological frontier. Numerous interplanetary probes, communication satellites, Earth observation satellites, orbital stations equipped with human crews, space shuttles, navigation and global positioning systems, these are all being consistently launched and utilized to their fullest potential. In cosmos, new materials are being created, various scientific experiments are being conducted, and both the behaviour of people engaged in long spaceflights, as well as their ability to adapt to its rigours are being studied.
In 2017, the total institutional cost of spatial activities, including the ones conducted by intergovernmental organizations, was approximately 76 billion dollars, recording a 4.6% increase compared to 2016. Just over 43 billion of them are being invested by the USA alone. The global space activity turnover of 2017 was 383.51 billion dollars, out of which 80.1%, i.e. 307.32 billion dollars, represented the total income of the commercial space sector, including both the private and the public activities. Yet, 47 years have passed since men have last set foot on other celestial bodies. Why? Are the budgets destined for exploration beyond low Earth orbit limited? Are they insufficient, compared to the importance of picking up the pace of outward exploration? Has the political motivation shifted since the two superpowers’ period of confrontation, the competitive period which saw the creation of the first important space infrastructures? Have the earthly challenges, such as climate change, economic crises, wars erupting in different interest zones become much more costly and diverting for the decision makers?
Human space exploration helps approach some of the fundamental issues regarding our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system. Through manned exploration of outer space, we not only advance our understanding of key-issues, but we may also develop our technologies, create new industries and help promote peaceful cooperation among nations.
For instance, a tenfold increase of the global space budget would add up to less than 1% of the gross world product. Could we be motivated to make this allocation? Perhaps by an imminent terrestrial catastrophe and, thus, by the necessity of rapid preventive or mitigating projects or even the need, as others have phrased it, to create a backup of our civilization in outer space? These are pertinent questions, which are still in the realm of rhetoric.
At the end of 2017, President Trump signed a new directive concerning US space policy, through which he calls for the NASA Administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system”. The initiative will lead to a more efficient organization of the government efforts, of its cooperation with American private industry, and also of the international efforts to bring back men to the Moon, and to enact the premises of human exploration of Mars.
Among other things, this process of humans establishing on different celestial bodies will teach us to manage and sustain enclosed ecosystems, based on near-complete recycling of waste and using renewable energy sources. This knowledge might be able to ultimately transform the Earth itself into a maintained natural habitat for all species, with an infinitely sustainable economy.
When we send men to outer space, the spectrum of problems that derive from this effort is much more diverse as compared to when we send robots. People who go to outer space cease being citizens of a certain country, but instead become citizens of the world, while getting preoccupied with the entire planet’s fate. Space travel is a transformative experience that is as spiritual as it is biological or technological. Thus, manned space exploration represents a major source of innovation, which leads, undoubtedly, to progress. It can also prove beneficial for societies all over the world, since the possibilities of applying the technologies resulted from space research into other related fields are endless, as proven by our experience so far.
The human factor is essential in this new era of development, when we investigate even the idea of migrating from Earth and of encountering different life forms in outer space. Our way of thinking will ultimately go through transformative experiences which will impact our identities, as well.