On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to set feet on the moon. What few people know is that they left a silicon chip with 73 goodwill messages from leaders around the world. It is interesting to read what world leaders hoped this lunar mission would accomplish. To cite part of their hopes:
Félix Houphouët-Boigny, president of the Ivory Coast wrote: “I especially wish that he (the traveler to the moon) would turn towards our planet earth and cry out how insignificant the problems which torture men are, when viewed from up there. My his work, descending from the sky, find in the cosmos the force and light which will permit him to convince humanity of the beauty of progress in brotherhood and peace.”
Baudouin, king of Belgium wrote: “With awe we consider the power with which man has been entrusted and the duties which devolve on him. We are deeply conscious of our responsibility with respect to the tasks which may be open to us in the universe, but also to those which remain to be fulfilled on this earth, so to bring more justice and more happiness to mankind. May God help us to realize with this new step in world history better understanding between nations and a closer brotherhood between men.”
The messages above are timeless and still valid more than 50 years later. To protect earth mankind needs to live in better harmony with each other and our environment. Ideally the citizens of developed economies need to learn how to share better and live more frugally. But as I described earlier, it isn’t really in our nature to just be happy with what we have. Our curiosity and creativity needs motivation and opportunities to grow. Hence our society and the global economy are based on continuing growth. So what if we can’t live frugally enough, earth’s population keeps growing and we’re running out of resources, why don’t we look somewhere else again? What if we mine our scares minerals on the moon, or other planets and preserve the delicate natural balance on earth? For this scenario, the earlier described food factories can be of great help to provide people living (temporarily) on the moon with enough food.
All through history people have been traveling the world for food, conquest, religion, curiosity, luxury items, and minerals. It wasn’t until recently that those journeys were not only very long and adventurous but also quite dangerous. Even knowing those dangers in 1492 a brave Columbus set sail to travel where no one else had gone before, to find a new western route to the Indies. Although Columbus didn’t reach the Indies, his courage and the sacrifices of his sailors brought new knowledge and wealth into Europe.
Centuries after Columbus traveled the oceans, traveling into the unknown space came with its own sacrifices and rewards. During the 1950s and 60s, with the Cold War on the background providing extra pressure, many scientists from the USA and Russia were embroiled in the so-called “Space Race” and “Race to the Moon”. Their ultimate goal was to become the first nation to put a man on the Moon. It was an exciting time in human history and one that spurred technological advances that have very much shaped the way how we live today. It was also this Space Race that generated a big leap in the improvement and production of solar panels.
If we only look at NASA its expenditure contributes to competitively important areas including technology, manufacturing, businesses, and universities. NASA invests in economically valuable technologies that help the nation maintain its competitive advantage. NASA also spends hundreds of millions of dollars on developing emerging technologies, and billions on advancing science and technologies identified as key national priorities. About 80% of NASA activities are carried out by U.S. businesses and universities, with 20 percent supported directly by NASA employees. This business model of relying on capabilities and expertise across the country helps NASA achieve its goals and benefits the nation’s economy by creating larger ripples throughout the economy than any other federal agency (like the military) on average. Five other major governmental space agencies that can help the economies around the world are:
• CNSA, the Chinese National Space Agency.
• ESA, the European Space Agency, a consortium of national space agencies of several European countries.
• Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
• ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization.
• JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
• Canada, although currently not a huge player in the space industry, ever since their own hypersonic Avro Aircraft adventure, their ingenieurs have played an important role in space develepment. It’s even said that Canadian ingenieurs helped the USA to put their first man on the moon.
If these agencies would grow and more governments were to join, this could become a great source of new knowledge, employment, and even engine of the global economy.
True there is currently a downside with the contamination from the rocket launches, but there is hope that this might be partly avoided in the future. In 2019 one of the biggest planes in the world called Stratolaunch made its first successful test flight. This futuristic tandem plane was designed by the late Paul G. Allen to provide easier access into space. This plane is currently able to carry and launch three small rockets from an altitude of 11,000 meters (35,000 feet) into space. At this altitude, the air pressure drops to less than a quarter of the pressure on the ground, so less fuel is needed for the launch. The need for less explosive fuel will also make the launch safer. There is still a long way to go to make launches into space more environmentally friendly, but the Stratolaunch is a step in the right direction. Another step in the right direction comes from Space X. They manage already for a couple of years to reuse its rockets.
Indirectly space travel might even have another positive effect on the environment. This can happen when its economic importance becomes more important than the economic value of warfare. Currently, the USA, which has the biggest economy in the world, spends around 633 billion USD on its military, which is around 3% of its GDP. This puts the military on number 11 of the biggest industries in the USA. However, the US military is also the government’s biggest job program with more than 4 million US citizens working direct and indirectly for the military and production of weapons. Not willing to lose these jobs is one of the biggest excuses from the US government for not decreasing its military. But what if the US government can employ part of these people with NASA instead of the military and weapon industry? And what if other governments followed, or even all worked together on space travel instead of against each other with warfare? The International Space Station is a good example of governments working together.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) are also looking into space to broaden their economy. Currently, the economy of this rich desert country is mainly based on fossil fuels. But the past six years they’ve been working very hard on their first-ever spacecraft that’s going to orbit around Mars. Their satellite is called Hope and is one of several projects the UAE government says signals its intention to move the country away from dependence on oil and gas and towards a future based on a knowledge economy. “One of the reasons for the mission being established in the UAE is to feed into the diversification of its economy, and develop expertise in science and technology,” says Sarah Al Amiri, the science lead on the mission.
So what are the chances that risky and expensive space travel can protect earth? Space travel as a solution to human overpopulation – it might sound like a silly idea coming from a non-scientist like myself, but even the late great physicist Stephen Hawking and astronaut Buzz Aldrin seem to agree with this idea. They’re convinced that’s time for humans to look further and live beyond earth. Now is it the moment to be curious and brave again, but instead of navigating the seas like Columbus, it’s time to navigate space. Discover unknown places and create new colonies. This time however without violence and with spaceships sustainably constructed with minerals from the moon and asteroids. A project like this would stimulate our imagination and creativity. Stephen Hawking made another important comment concerning Space Travel: “I hope it would unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all,” he said. “A new and ambitious space program would excite (young people), and stimulate interest in other areas, such as astrophysics and cosmology”. And as Aldrin adds: “Space travel captures our collective imagination, encourages our curiosity, and inspires our creativity.” These qualities in combination with a bit of courage are exactly what might help us to unite in finding new and original solutions to save both earth and humanity.
But maybe one of the most important comments related to the content of this book, came from Neil A. Armstrong. A month before the launch of Apollo 11 he said in an interview with Life magazine:
“Hopefully the trips we will be making in the next couple of decades will open up our eyes a little. When you are looking at the Earth from the lunar distance, its atmosphere is so thin, and such a minute part of the Earth, that it can’t be sensed at all. That should impress everyone. The atmosphere of the Earth is a small and valuable resource. We’re going to have to learn how to conserve it and use it wisely. Down here in the crowd you are aware of the atmosphere and it seems adequate, so you don’t worry about it too much. But from a different vantage point, perhaps it is possible to understand more easily why we should be worrying.”
So if there are so many advantages to space travel, why does it seem that it has been put on a hold for so long? Is our current Western society maybe too scared? Are we scared to pursue new ways of traveling because of accidents like with the Hindenburg, or the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986? Are we maybe too afraid of the unknown, like with electric planes? Or is it maybe that our current lifestyle made us too comfortable to venture into space? The comfortable lifestyle of many Western people may have made part of society less eager to look for improvement? Remember what psychologists Martin Seligman said about people who are perfectly content. We in our western society seem less willing to take risks, accept responsibilities, and make sacrifices that can improve our future or even current life. The change of our climate still isn’t considered threatening enough by the majority of the population to make sacrifices. It seems that only the current Covid-19 pandemic is able to shake western people out of their comfort zone and to scare us enough to accept drastic measures and sacrifices, but for how long?
Although space travel provided progress, most governmental space agencies have been very slow in new development after the race to the moon was over. They seem to lack mostly in budget, but also in motivation to confront new challenges and risks. In their place, several private companies now seem to be eager to compete in a new ‘Race for Fame’ in space tourism. These private companies are competing in bringing the first tourist into space, or even on the moon! The five most promising private space agencies are SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Orion Span, and Boeing. From these companies, SpaceX (from Elon Musk, who also owns Tesla) has already re-launched their recovered Falcon 9 Rocket and brought two astronauts to the International Space Station on Saturday, May 30, 2020. With this, they’ve beaten the governmental organization ESA, who is still working on their (partly) reusable Ariana 6.
Orion Span seems to be the most promising company for opening the first hotel in space. They plan to launch their hotel into orbit in 2021 and receive their first guests in 2022. The speed at which this space hotel will orbit around earth, will allow its guests to enjoy 16 sunsets a day! But this might be about the only luxury they have. The guests are expected to work as a team to operate the station and conduct science experiments, similar to what astronauts do on the International Space Station (ISS). A 12-day visit will cost a minimum of 9.5 million US$317 and guests are required to first follow a three-month training course. The hotel will hold a maximum of six guests at the same time. Orion Span says that within 72 hours of opening their reservation list, they had already sold 4 months full of reservations.
Space Tourism on its own as a leisure activity doesn’t help our environment, but the challenges and inventions along the way might. Remember all the inventions developed during ‘The Race to the Moon’. Space tourism can now help to boost our creativity and encourages businesses and clients to be inventive again. Remember how space travel helped with the development of solar panels. Since traveling through space requires long lasting energy sources, investing in space tourism might provide us with new sources to create sustainable energy. On top this type of tourism helps with spreading the money of the rich over important research projects that will not only help the space industry, but also the rest of society.
Equally important to the technical innovation from a space industry might be its mental benefits. Space travel and tourism increase our imagination, our inspiration, our spirit, our courage, and motivation to accomplish huge and unimaginable things together. It is this kind of energy and motivation we also need to tackle climate change. If we can combine the rush for prestige from the current ‘Race for Fame’ in space tourism with enough motivation to tackle climate change, we might be able to change our current lifestyle. Travel with a purpose and make enrichment of our life with experiences more important than our economic status.