The Space Program and the Meaning of Life
Paul D. Spudis
Why are we on this planet? Should we remain here on Earth with the knowledge we will eventually become extinct, or do we as a species have a purpose beyond the material – a destiny to fulfill?
After years of Congressional and media debate about the next step into space, or whether there should even be human steps into space, President George W. Bush has thoughtfully crafted a new Vision for Space Exploration, a strategic direction toward acquiring the capability needed to take us on the journey we were destined to take.
What a miracle it is that we can leave this world! If Earth’s gravity was a little bit higher, or if the chemical bonds of the molecules that make up rocket propellant just a little bit stronger, we would not be able to achieve the speeds necessary to reach Earth orbit. But, as if by design, we are just able to stand on our toes and stretch out into space.
The U.S. space program had its origins in a race between ideological foes. America, the country that believes in freedom, free markets and the value of the individual, won the race over a foe who worshiped authority, controlled economies and the primacy of class struggle.
The race to the Moon did more than prove American technical skill and the power of a free society. The real lesson and gift from Apollo was a wholly unexpected glimpse into our future. From both the chemical and physical evidence of impact (which we learned from the record of the lunar rocks) and the fossil record, we discovered that large body collisions had occurred in our past and will occur again in our future. Such catastrophes resulted in the widespread destruction of life, in some cases instantaneously eliminating more than 90% of all living species. In short, we discovered that ultimately, life on Earth is doomed. Our new understanding of impact as a fundamental geological force, leaves us only with the question of when, not if, the next large collision will occur. And ‘when’ is something we cannot predict.
Human civilization is cumulative. Our culture provides positive and beautiful things through music, art and knowledge – it embodies the wisdom of all who have gone before us. With that wisdom, we have rejected the evil doctrines of slavery, Nazism and communism. People live longer, happier and more productive lives as time goes on. So one must ask, are we here for a reason and if so, to what purpose?
Before passing the torch to their children, humans feel the need to create something of long-term value – something that will exist long after their time here on Earth. Be it a garden or a cure for cancer, we want to leave this world a little bit better than we found it. Will the prospect of our extinction harden our resolve to survive, or will it hasten the decay of our culture? Without an escape hatch, our children will lose focus - lose sight of goals and grand visions.
The President’s Vision for Space directs us to extend human reach by developing new capabilities in space travel. Returning to the Moon will facilitate that goal. There we will gain technical ability and learn how to use the abundant energy and material resources waiting on other worlds. With the knowledge of how to “live off the land” in space, we can move out into the universe – populating one world after another.
We must not die out here on Earth. Our values, culture and ability to leave this planet set us apart as a species. We have looked into the past and have seen the future of our world. Life here on Earth is destined for extinction. By venturing forth beyond Earth, we can ensure our survival.
To extend and preserve humanity and human achievement, we must advance new capabilities in space travel. The President has asked for $1 Billion (about 0.0004 of the Federal budget) spread over the next four years, to begin this journey. As we acquire capability with resources derived from the Moon and elsewhere, we will create a spacefaring infrastructure.
Does human life have a purpose? Our survival may give us the answer. A journey beyond our Earthly cradle will take eons. Along the way, our species will populate the universe and preserve our culture. This is our destiny. This is the Vision.