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Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Final Frontier

"Human kind, as imperfect as it is, strives towards new horizons, both within and without the body and mind. Space is the ultimate horizon because, paradoxically, it is without end. And in the absence of the possibility of complete fulfillment lies the eternal challenge of the stars."
Wilson, Peebles, Arnold (235).

This country was built with the pioneering spirit; when the first colonists were coming to America in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a dangerous and frightening enterprise. Most of these migrants just wanted a better life for themselves and their children. Europe at that time was like a pie that had already been sliced up. You were either a land owner or a renter, and if you were the latter, the chances of ever owning your own land were very slim. Once society gets to this point, the lower classes start to become restless; these are the people most likely to take the risks associated with the crossing of an ocean into the unknown, where they might find their own slice of pie. Today we are again in a situation where the pie has been sliced up: But this time there is nowhere left to go but upwards.

I have always been interested in the exploration and exploitation of space. Clearly, it is only a matter of time before the earth becomes uninhabitable, so we will have to colonize space someday anyway. Even if the Earth is spared from collision with a comet or asteroid; even if we don’t destroy ourselves with pollution; even if we are not wiped out by a super-volcano; the grim reality exists that in order to survive as a race we must eventually leave this planet.

I believe that the colonization of space will lighten the load on the resources of Mother Earth in many ways. It would also serve to help perpetuate our species. Many people I have spoken to regarding space colonization are against it. One of the things they always bring up is that they feel we should learn to take care of our own planet before we go mucking about with the rest of our celestial neighbors. If feel that this argument is both nearsighted and unrealistic: space in our neighboring area is already a radioactive wasteland; there are no developed life forms that we know of in our solar system which might be damaged. Also, when we begin to colonize our neighboring planets or their satellites, we will bring the seeds of the Mother Earth with us, planting and propagating trees, vegetables, and herbs. We will bring with us animals, both domestic and wild. In Mars’ case, the very real possibility exists that we could cultivate the Martian atmosphere through the introduction of chlorofluorocarbons, and oxygen producing plants. In short, we could bring life and beauty to what were once empty and desolate worlds. Of course, a time could come when we are able to travel to nearby stars, and there we may find worlds already teeming with rich and diverse eco-systems: But we won’t have to use their resources for agriculture, mining, hunting, or animal husbandry. We will have the ability to manufacture anything we need, utilizing the unlimited energy we can generate from the safe use of nuclear power in space, and the limitless materials available in the heavens.

Nuclear energy production on Earth is, of course, a terribly dangerous endeavor; the toxic radioactive matter generated cannot be disposed of safely. In space however, nuclear waste could easily be deposited into the Sun, or shot out into the limitless empty space between galaxies. The argument that sending parcels of radioactive waste into the Sun would damage it are ridiculous; the Sun is nothing itself but a giant glob of thermo-nuclear explosions, since the Sun’s diameter is over 244 times that of the Earth the trivial amounts of material that we would be adding to it would have no more effect than the many objects that fall into it every day. Further, in his book The Sun Shines Bright, Isaac Asimov tells us that the Sun loses 4,200,000,000 kilograms of mass every second. There are 31,557,000 seconds in a year, so the Sun will eventually burn up the fuel it has and turn into a red giant; when that happens it will expand to engulf the inner-most planets, including Earth. Unfortunately, we might not have that much time anyway. In Target Earth, Jon Erickson says that the Earth has collided with asteroid and comets many times in the past. “On October 30, 137, the asteroid Hermes shot past Earth at an estimated speed of 22,000 miles per hour…” it was a mile wide and missed us by about 500,000 miles. If it had hit us, it would have generated an explosion equivalent to “100,000 on one-megaton hydrogen bombs,” more explosive force than all the nuclear weapons in the world. Hathor, Oct. 21, 1976, 1988 TA, Sep. 29, and on Mar. 22, 1989 FC, all are asteroids that have narrowly missed striking the Earth. In the event of some global catastrophe, our space colonies could help us by sending us “good packages” from the sky.

The raw materials available in space are limitless; in the The High Road, by Ben Bova, he tells us “we live in a solar system that is incredibly rich in raw materials. More wealth than any emperor could dream of is available for every human being alive in interplanetary space” (75). Just the asteroid belt between the Earth and Mars contains enough raw materials to keep legions of miners busy for centuries. In Spaceships of the Mind, by Nigel Calder, we read “A cubic kilometer of asteroidal material, which might be recovered from a single asteroid, will provide 6900 million tons of iron, 800 million tons of nickel, 40 million tons of cobalt and 8 million tons of copper” (77). With these resources the construction of spaceships, giant orbiting greenhouses, and factories capable of sustaining entire cities on Earth (as well as themselves) would be possible. Additional materials could be found on the Moon, Mars or other satelites. No longer would we have to plunder our own planet for the needs of our race: Instead whatever we needed could be sent to us from the heavens; great packages of food, Medicine, clothing, and building materials could be delivered anywhere on the planet within a few hours notice. It would no longer be necessary to destroy thousands of square miles of rain forest to grow coffee, rubber, and beef. No longer would we have to use our precious supply of fossil fuels to ship these products halfway around the planet: Roads would be used only for the transport of people. The cost would be negligible.

The greatest expense in space flight is escaping the Earth’s gravity well: once in the gentle arms of zero gravity, moving about from one place to another is fairly easy. We now know that the Moon has a considerable amount of water around its polar regions; water can be divided into oxygen and hydrogen, the fuels we need to propel our spacecraft. A colony on the Moon is now not only feasible, but it would pay for itself in a few short decades; we could build factories on the Moon. The lunar gravity is only one sixth that of Earth’s, making the delivery of goods from the moon fairly economical.

Other economic benefits could come from the tourist industry that would develop; souvenirs from space have great value to Earthlings already. Hotels restaurants and adventure packages could bring in billions of dollars. The creation of a new culture would occur; the “Spacers” as we might call them, would have their own dialect. They would develop their own traditions and new customs.

Some say we should learn to control our population in order to preserve our resources: I say let’s make more room for more people. Many of the products we now use on a daily basis are products of the space program; nylon clothing, gore-tex fabric, electronic transistors, and catalytic converters are just a few examples of the rewards we have already seen. Technology serves to increase the wealth of each and every person: Yes, technology is a double edged sword; but a sword with two edges can be a valuable tool when wielded with responsibility and compassion.

David Scott, 1999

It is unfortunate that we will be able to say we were alive when the rivers dried up; when the glaciers melted and the oceans rose; before the big storms came and the beaver and polar-bear died. .. David Scott 07/07/07

Works Cited:

Asimov, Isaac. The Sun Shines Bright, New York: Double day, 1981.

Bova, Ben The High Road Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

Calder, Nigel. Spaceships of the Mind, New York: Viking, 1978

Erickson, John. Target Earth!, Pennsylvania: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

Wilson, Andrew, Curtis Peebles, and H.G.P. Arnold, Man in Space. Chicago: CLB, 1993