Stephen Hawking has recently joined the ranks of doomsday prophets claiming that humans are on course for self-implosion in the near future- a rapid descent into global ruin reducing our planet to nothing, with over-consumption of resources brought on by an uncontrollable population and so forth; all of which have early signs of happening in the present today. But when asked about potential ways to avoid such scenarios, Hawking forgoed what humanity could do for itself and proposed a sort of ¨insurance¨ found in space colonization – the expansion of humanity into other habitable areas of the vastly unexplored universe.
The idea is not new, having had fascinated millions even before Hawking. To explore and live on planets other than our lonely Earth, to travel in person to the far corners of the galaxy, has been the fuel for many science-fiction writers and scientists. But only now is it becoming a viable prospect. With our current state of technological capabilities, that idea seems to remain a distant fantasy. But planning and modeling of the situation have already begun in anticipation of the technology of the future. But are we biting off more than we can chew in attempting to leave our small planet we began destroying in the 1800s?
For instance Mars One, a privately backed space exploration company famous for its one goal of sending a select group of astronauts on a one-way journey to the Red Planet, has recently been accused of being a total scam with no funding or legality to carry out its plan. According to shortlisted contestant Dr. Joseph Roche, the global competition is too outrageous to begin with its process of elimination. Shady aloofness even to the finalists themselves and various other suspicious activities may be a dangerously flawed ploy to earn money off of the public’s limited knowledge and huge appetite for the awe-inspiring scientific news of space and space travel. Dr. Roche has even come forward to say that Mars One requested that any money made from media interviews be donated back to the company- a move that questions the true objectives and capabilities of Mars One.
Even large-scale, government-backed space programs are having difficulty going from the drawing board to working models, as evidenced by NASA’s funding for Elon Musk’s SpaceX program. Just last April, SpaceX failed for the third time to land a reusable rocket. With global interest in the development of spaceflight technology once again active as new programs emerge in India and particularly China, which plans to send a rocket to space in less than five years, are our ideas outpacing the things we can achieve today? NASA can dream up proposals for a floating city in Venus’s upper atmosphere, but without some sort of conglomerated effort by humanity, Earth as a whole might just be our eternal anchor.
Beyond capability, should space travel even be something to invest in? Does it make economic sense when we have no idea what the return profit might be (assuming the continued existence of humanity does not depend on it in the future, of course)? What about the ethics of invading non-earthling populations with cultures, ideas and consciousness of their own? Do we even know of a place to fly to, or what might happen to us in the process? How are we supposed to hop planets when hopping imaginary borders across land on our own planet is so difficult? Is humanity even worth saving in the grand scheme of things?
While these and many more are considerations that could fill countless volumes of books and journals, humanity will continue to persist, inching towards galactic imperialism; because in the end we are explorers and when the abyss stares at us in the face, we stare right back. This year, astronaut Scott Kelly, will spend exactly one year in space to observe how space conditions will change him in comparison with his twin brother back on Earth. With every small step, we take an even bigger step towards a future where our passports will indicate our planet of origin. And just think about how cool that will be.