Archive for March, 2015 | Monthly archive page

Space Exploration: We Can’t Stop Dreaming

Monday, March 16th, 2015

President John F. Kennedy famously said about choosing to go into space that it was a goal worth accomplishing, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

In the last six months we have been reminded that the road to space remains fraught with danger and that its still not anything routine. The loss of the Virgin Galactic test flight, SpaceShip Two, reminds us all that disaster and failures can still happen, and sometimes they sadly cost lives.

People such as Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk, who like President Kennedy, are determined to complete goals most of us still find almost impossible to achieve. These men are not the scientific or engineering geniuses who can always create the reality, however without that dream goal and morale, these milestones may not even be attempted. In recent years, the Neil deGrasse Tyson summed it up with the sad truth, “We stopped dreaming.”

After giving America the aim to return to the Moon by 2020, President Bush’s plans were scrapped by President Obama when he entered office and dealt with the economic deficit. Worse still, faith and superstition seems to be eroding at the democratic heart of the USA, meaning that senators and representatives who are skeptical of the scientific method now control research, development and national institutions funding.  

Luckily commercial space ventures are now becoming more ambitious, the most successful to date seems to be SpaceX. Whose Dragon capsule has became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station in 2012. It is currently undergoing test flights to be certified to carry astronauts. Certainly for the corporate victors there will be lucrative deals and opportunities ahead, hopefully however we won’t yet see profit taking precedent over safety.

Why is any of this important? What benefit does it have to you or me?

If we take the race to the Moon, and Kennedy’s vision. The basic goal was to develop a spacecraft and capabilities needed to reach our own celestial satellite. Early computing, new manufacturing and materials were all involved. Many of the innovations which power our current lives.

There were also the philosophical and cultural changes, for the first time humanity saw its home from a new perspective. The entire environmental movement was born in the famous Apollo 8 “EarthRise” photograph. Doctors without Borders, the Clean Air Act and banning of CFCs are all events which transpired in the following decades. Meanwhile the culture of design had more optimism and hope in the 1960s than today’s dystopian visions.

NASA isn’t standing still however, just the other day a dramatic test took place of a solid rocket booster which will become part of the Space Launch System (SLS), the first rocket capable to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit since the Saturn V. If all goes to plan, it’s first test launch will take place in 2018. Just the inspiring and massive project that they should be committed to after the retiring of the Space Shuttle. Hopefully inspiring a new generation of engineers and scientists around the World.

One of the most powerful reasons for me was made in the recent BBC documentary series, ‘Human Universe’ with Professor Brian Cox stating that “because we’re rare, we’re valuable” and “there is nobody else out there who will look after our own survival or wellbeing.”

It is true, and I think that currently we are evolving not through biological mutations but with technological enhancements. We should use our knowledge and the resources we have available to be advancing the next frontier, and opening up new possibilities for our human civilisation. 

It is important we take the next step in the evolution of humanity, and it will need a giant leap of imagination and will power to achieve it.