When I was a child, I spent hours laying on my trampoline staring into the night sky, feeling absolutely humbled by the knowledge that the inconceivable number of stars above me were an inconceivably long, long way away. I was aware that each star must have planets rotating around them, and my younger brother and I would occasionally talk about the idea of other life forms doing the same thing as us on their alien trampolines in their alien backyards, and the possibility of some other creature, on some other rock somewhere, looking in our direction as we look towards them.
We didn’t talk about it much though, because my brother would get a bit jittery and say he couldn’t think about it for too long. The size of the universe scared him, he’d have slight panic attacks if we delved too far into the conversation, if we talked about how massively OLD everything is, if I started to muse over where life came from in the first place, which I liked to do, because I liked (and still do like) to confound myself with thoughts that go nowhere.
These thoughts about our origins that go nowhere are what drove humanity to build rockets and fly up into space and land on the moon and send out satellites and, most recently, land shit on mars. We’re searching for water and ice and fossils and microbes and anything, fucking anything to show that Earthlings aren’t alone. I don’t think humanity likes the idea of being the only intelligent thing in the universe. So we explore.
But while this search is at first quite nice, pure, almost innocent, its evolution has created a different beast. I feel like there is an innate flaw in there somewhere, something about space programs, something about the idea of the “space race”… something doesn’t sit quite right with me. I guess it’s the fact that it was ever a race, the fact that countries were competing to get to the moon first, like they would win a prize for it, or historical claim or whatever. This attitude is epitomised for me in this quote from President Obama’s science adviser John P. Holdren after the landing of NASA’s Curiosity on Mars this week: “If anybody has been harbouring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space, well, there’s a one-ton automobile-size piece of American ingenuity. And it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.”
The science adviser to the president of the United States of America feels like America is winning right now. He knows it, and he proclaims that they are leading the exploration, that America- as a separate entity to the rest of humanity- is the winning team.
Why is it necessary to be the leader of something like this? And if it’s so great to lead the way into space and land things on Mars to see if it ever held life, why would they brutally cut funding to NASA? Budget cuts for NASA will inhibit future exploration, slowing down the whole process of getting humans out further and further to study and learn and maybe meet aliens and be all “CAN YOU HELP US FIGURE OUT HOW THE HELL WE GOT HERE AND WHY LIFE EXISTS” and they’ll be all “Psht, you’re obsessing about pointless shit” and we’ll be all “Thanks guys, can you teach us to teleport across galaxies now?” and they’ll be like “Only if you guys stop killing each other”. Fingers crossed that’s what happens, and that we decide that teleportation is better than killing each other.
This is the crux of my beef with all this stuff you see: Funding for NASA is slashed, but funding for the military carries on as normal. Right now we live in a society that prioritises fighting wars over fixing economic and environmental issues. We are territorial, we want to conquer, we want to fight, and to what end? What would happen if every nation’s military and/or defence budget was massively slashed, so that fewer soldiers are trained all over the world, weapons research and testing was cut in half or more, new military building construction is halted…
This is what would happen: that money can go into the conservation and fixing up of our planet in all the ways that don’t involve killing people, and it could go into research for getting humans out into space. Third world countries benefit from water purification techniques originally designed for space travel. We all use technology in our everyday lives that were originally designed for space travel. Space travel technologies seem better for us than military technologies.
Congratulations to NASA on successfully landing your little camera car on Mars. I hope to follow it there one day, so somebody PLEASE convince all the countries on Earth to work together, pool their resources and get out into space as a united species. Space travel: way cooler than wars.