In the Apollo to the Moon days, our biggest criticism was why should we spend money on space when there were so many problems like poverty right here at home. In the 21st Century the problems are even bigger (global warming, etc.), so how can we answer this legitimate criticism?
I am sure we can but we need to look at our current pickle from a perspective much bigger than most people are comfortable with. Sorry for the length but here goes:
Today can use computer to model our future. Sometimes the results are uncannily accurate; sometimes the results are Chaos. The total population on the Earth is a most critical example of both results.
The best available computer models show that the total human population of Earth will raise to about 10 billion in about 2050. It will then peak and drop to a sustainable level. Numerous social indexes show this peaking process to be well under way, so this much we can count on.
The chaos starts after the peak. The population will fall to a sustainable level but what that level will be cannot be predicted to even one digit. It could be 9 billion; it could be 1 billion. Exactly how we handle the upcoming peaking experience sensitively effects this number.
This is a once in 64 thousand year event and we do not have good historic guide lines. We do know that we will need to make substantial changes in our society to all–at-once accommodate:
- Population peaking and then stabilization – we have not good visions of this.
- Global Warming – requiring a complete revamp of our energy use.
- Human/Machine Symbioses — Our new society must be a symbioses for both humans and their machines, especially AI.
- Technology advances — We have effectively bet our planet on the proposition that we can come up with new technologies fast enough to address our problems.
We can count on technology improving at a break-neck pace but picking exactly which tech will take off and which will fizzle is another area of chaos. Nobody predicted the Internet correctly. Apollo to the Moon worked, but the Space Shuttle was a dead end.
Taken together these mega trends forebode major changes to human society. The current election clearly shows that a great many people are already very upset about the current rate of change, yet this rate is most likely to increase. (Building a literature of the foreseeable future would help, see The Big Moon Dig.)
Where then does space exploration fit in?
A sustainable society limited to Earth is in danger of being a static society. Ever since we first moved out of Africa, humans have needed a vision of new lands to inhabit as a critical element in addressing our social problems. Space exploration fulfills this need on a sustainable Earth. Although the mass of humanity will never leave Earth, our society still needs the particular vision of adventure and progress space exploration provides.
No matter how hard things get, we still need a guiding vision of going out there. It is that simple; it is that subtle; it is that compelling. Let’s go.
The Big Moon Dig
Graph of Human Population, by author