20, 1969 I was in Hyannis, Massachusetts. I was watching all the
coverage of the moon landing and was positively thrilled. Yes, I
was aware, as the Black Panther Party warned at the time, that this
moon landing could be the harbinger of an expansion of imperialism
into outer space, but I saw in the landing immense possibilities
for the future of human-kind. I still do.
a variety of reasons, detailed considerably over the last several
days as the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing approached, space
exploration has lost its way. We are not “lost in space,” but rather
lost from space. The costs involved; the impact of the Indochina
War followed by economic crisis; the renewal of the Cold War followed
by the collapse of the USSR; cynicism; all led to decreasing interest
in human travel into the cosmos. Significant automated space flights
have taken place within the solar system, along with the development
of the Hubble space telescope and the international space station.
Yet, with the exception of George W. Bush’s throw-away line about
humans going to Mars - a half-hearted commitment from someone who
clearly had no vision in connection with his statement - there has
been no general direction when it comes to human space travel.
addition to various inventions that have been introduced as a direct
result of space travel and exploration, the fundamental reason to
pursue space exploration is because it is “there.” Arguments can
abound as to the minerals that probably can be harvested from asteroid
fields and other planets, but more than anything else, what lies
in space is the answer to a question which has teased humanity since
we turned our heads to the skies: are we alone?
one goes beyond the philosophical, however, there is a strong argument
for a progressive, rather than military, expansion into space: the
survival of human life on Earth. One reason, which has been ridiculed
by some commentators, is the actual danger to planet Earth from
asteroid or comet impact, e.g., the asteroid that hit Earth and
exterminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Thus, having human
outposts on other planets increases the chances for human survival.
second reason is actually related to the first - that as fascinating
as is space, it is also quite dangerous. There may be protective
measures that humans can take against asteroids or meteors if we
develop the appropriate technology, e.g., an early warning system
and sufficient space travel capability.
and to borrow from the progressive science fiction writer Kim Stanley
Robinson and his commentary in the July 19, 2009 issue of the Washington
Post, there may be means to tap into the Sun for energy
that can be transmitted to Earth to address the increasing demands
of the population of the planet.
friend of mine once scoffed at my suggestions about human expansion
into space by arguing that humans have made such a mess of the Earth,
why would we not do the same thing in outer space? Despite the mockery
I took this comment quite seriously. Yet the answer depends on whether
one believes that humans have a built-in predilection toward destruction
or whether the destruction of the blue planet is tied into socio-economic
systems that have placed wealth and avarice above the collective
good for human-kind.
the answer to this question depends on whether one believes that
the question of space is actually the sort of challenge that humanity
needs in order to survive. Specifically, is an expansion into space
part of a humbling process that at one and the same time reminds
us of our relative insignificance on the scale of the universe,
but also reminds us of the interconnections between all things?
Stanley Robinson and others have wisely noted that it may not be
physically possible for humans to live in space (meaning, other
worlds). That the ecosystem of this planet, into which we are integrated,
has such a strong pull that we cannot exist outside of it. Clearly
any “colonization” of other worlds would necessitate finding a planet
almost identical to Earth or some sort of terraforming in order
to ensure that a stable population can grow. That said, to me such
commentary remains a cautionary note rather than a stop sign. In
large part this is due to my conviction that as long as humans can
glimpse the planets and stars we will never cease to wonder, what
truly awaits us within the darkness of the heavens?
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice
(University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized
labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.