Do we actually need to travel in space? In a piece in his Off the Road Blog, self-described travel/adventurer Alastair Bland replies with an emphatic “No!” Paul Spudis, a planetary geologist who writes often on space policy, offered a December 29, 2012 post on his Lunar Resources Blog, with a much more reasoned, “Yes.”
Bland’s argument is a depressingly familiar one to those familiar with space policy debates. He casts a gimlet eye on dreams of space tourism and other commercial activities such as mining. “But as the industry gears up to go, critics are asking why we must tap into other worlds’ resource banks, why we must endanger the lives of astronauts, and why we should spend money on science-fiction-like undertakings while poverty, pollution, inequality, starvation and extinctions are rampant on Earth.”
Of course the answer is that such commerce, which creates wealth, is an answer for addressing poverty and other social ills. Bland really has no answer for this indisputable fact. He just feels uncomfortable about pioneering space adventures. “But why must our species continue to advance? Do we really want to keep growing? I believe that the physical limitations and boundaries of our planet, if not insurmountable by our technology, might be worth respecting. I also believe we should employ our brilliance as a species in figuring out how to live sustainably on this planet, and I would argue that it’s not our business to plunder the natural resources of any other worlds unless we can at least learn to manage and preserve our own—a challenge at which we are failing.“
The answer is that is we do as Bland suggests and stay on this planet and try to live “sustainably” the human race will eventually stagnate and die.
Spudis points out that Bland’s world view is that modern industrial society is inherently evil, a supposition that no one familiar with history could agree with. The quality of life for the vast majority of people in pre industrial societies was nasty, brutish, and short. Middle class people, because of modern technology, command resources that monarchs could not even imagine two hundred years ago. We live longer and better lives than people who toiled from sunup to sundown just to grow enough food to survive.
Bland’s idea about the “right” to use resources misconstrues what constitutes a right. The platinum and helium 3 that resides on the moon is not being used by anyone and is owned by anyone. It is there for the taking by anyone with the wit to do so.
Exploring space and eventually settling on the high frontier will adhere to the betterment of humankind. Standing in the path of that dream and yelling “stop!” is the worst kind of evil.