Why we need to get off of this planet

A lot of people think of space exploration as something which is done just for scientific research, without any relevance to their lives.  I have come to the belief that getting off of this planet is crucial to saving it.  Not from anything that we will bring back from space, but because of the change in people’s world view.

Even though I understand that the Earth is a small planet, dashing around the Sun at 66,000 miles per hour, it is hard not to think of the Earth as being endless, infinite, impossible to use up or to change significantly, no matter what we do.  Why is it hard not to think that way?  Because there is no other place in existence right now, where people live and work, and things happen that might be important to me, whether it be my girlfriend working up there or the discovery of diamonds in large quantities.

There is only one body in the Solar System that could be used to alter the human race’s perceptions about where it lives, and that is the Earth’s moon, Selene.  The Moon is the only place in all of space that looks like a place, because it has visible features, and it is not just a speck of light.  To know that there were people up on that disk in the sky would have a profound impact on most people’s thinking, I believe, because it will force them to accept that there really is someplace other than Earth.

This will be a form of evolution, I believe, because it will have substantial effects on our behavior.  Once the knowledge that we are all together on a little piece of rock hurtling through emptiness sinks in, how we treat each other is very likely to change from suspicion and fear to acceptance and trust.  The idea that we can expel billions of tons of materials into the atmosphere, year after year, with no effect whatsoever will become harder and harder to defend.  Sure, a volcano can dump hundreds, even thousands of times what we do into the atmosphere in one eruption, but there are not major eruptions every single year, year in, year out.

A sense of community never before experienced will begin to spread through the race, as we all realize that we are crew on Spaceship Earth, and that we all have a responsibility to each other to take care of the ship.  This is the only place in all that we can see, and we can see a long ways away, where we know that we can live unprotected by advanced technology.  (Some people would consider central heating and insulation to be pretty advanced technology.)  This is the only place where we can walk naked under the open sky, if we have the guts to do it, without freezing solid in a matter of seconds, being burned into a grease spot in a matter of minutes, or dissolving in an atmosphere of corrosive acid.

This is home, folks, for all of us, and if we mess it up, we have no where else to go.  The only way to get people to understand that is to go somewhere else, and show people that there is somewhere else.  Many intelligent people I have met have been amazed to learn that the Sun is a star, just seen close up.  All those little lights in the sky, except for 6 of them, are suns, which are just very, very far away.  The other six are Selene, Earth’s moon, and Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  (Don’t quibble, you’ll just confuse things!)

Selene is the only one which is not  millions of miles away, which is why it is a visible disk, with surface features that we can see.  Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. is not very much larger than the Moon, and there are moons of Jupiter and Saturn which are bigger than Mercury.  But they are all very far away, if not in terms of distance, than in terms of how long it takes to get there.  Because the Moon is so close, we can get there in a matter of days.  Anywhere else is going to take months, or even years, at our current level of technology.

So I think that we need to get off of Earth in order to save it, and the only place that we can go where people will be able to conceive of it being another place is Selene, the Earth’s moon, because it is so close we can see it as a visible disk, with features.  If we succeed in saving the Earth by going to the Moon, than we will succeed in going anywhere in the Solar System that we want to, because we will mature enough to learn how.

We never saw the Earth until we left it, and we will never think of Earth as a place, just like other places, until we leave it.  If we cannot visualize the Earth as a limited, finite place, we are very likely to make it impossible to live here, because of our innate greed and desire for comfort.


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