It’s a common retort when the expense of space exploration comes up: Aren’t there bigger problems to solve here on Earth? The implication is that humanity has enough to worry about, and maybe space is too expensive in light of all these issues. This oversimplification ignores the nature of humanity, the drive that has made us the dominant species on Earth. If we want to stay that way, space exploration is vital. Here are five reasons why we belong up there.
New Technologies and Research
Humans did not evolve to go into space, but we go there anyway. That has led to the development of various technologies that feed back into the economy and improve our lives on Earth. Without space programs, we wouldn’t have GPS, accurate weather prediction, solar cells, or the ultraviolet filters in sunglasses and cameras. There’s also medical research happening in space right now that could cure diseases and prolong human lives, and these experiments can’t be done on Earth. Space exploration could save your life.
Asteroids Don’t Care About Us
Speaking of saving lives, space exploration could save all our lives. The solar system has calmed down a lot since the early eons, but there are still an unknown number of big asteroids and comets out there that could smack into the planet and really ruin your day. It’s happened several times in the past, each one causing a mass extinction. It’s not a matter of if another large asteroid hits Earth, but when. A robust space program is the only hope we have of deflecting such an object. If we’re not working toward that goal, humanity already has an expiration date.
Colonization Is the Ultimate Backup
There are currently more than 7 billion humans, which is a lot. However, we’re all crammed together on this one planet. If something happened to Earth, our species could be wiped out. For example, the aforementioned asteroid impact. Colonizing other bodies in the solar system (or building our own orbiting habitats) is a way to create a “backup” of humanity that will survive no matter what happens to Earth. Maybe future humans will be Martians who will never set foot on Earth. The technology to make that possible isn’t going to develop itself.
Space Mining Could Save the World
As we develop new technologies on Earth, the strain on our natural resources continues to increase. The extraction of valuable minerals has led to a host of problems, including environmental damage and human exploitation, but there’s a wealth of precious materials in space. Startups like Planetary Resources want to mine asteroids instead of Earth, which would mean an effectively unlimited supply of raw materials that are rare on Earth.
We Are Explorers
There are more practical reasons for space exploration, but one of the principal reasons we must continue is that we’re explorers. That’s why humans number in the billions — from our earliest upright steps, we’ve endeavored to learn more about the world around us, and this allowed us to build civilization. Exploring space is an opportunity not only to discover new worlds and build advanced technologies, but to work together toward a larger goal irrespective of nationality, race, or gender. If we stop exploring, we stop being human.
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