Space talk

NASA is making all the right noises, with its chief, Michael Griffin, again asserting that space exploration is key to human survival. Good luck getting the cash for that one.

His vested interest is apparent and, given the environmental damage that has been wrought to Earth, he may have a point. But then again it’s NASA’s 50th anniversary, so we should expect him to promote the overall endeavour.

“As we move out in our solar system, expanding human presence, we can’t prove what we will find will be useful.

“It was understood in Columbus’s time that if voyagers discovered new lands they would find valuable things. We can’t prove today that we can exploit what we find to the benefit of humankind.”

However, in the long run, Griffin believes “human populations must diversify if it wishes to survive.”

To be fair, he has a point. The greater the number of human populations, the greatert the chance that the species will, in some form, survive. The Moon is the obvious candidate, followed by Mars; you don’t have to be a science-fiction fan to figure that out. Though conditions will be far from luxurious, at least to begin with, even a few thousand people on each body will aid our ultimate chances of survival.

Complete terraforming is well beyond our grasp, although for a snapshot of something we could do regarding the Moon, read Moonseed by Stephen Baxter. Kim Stanley Robinson’s substantial Mars series is a hard science look at the transformation of the Red Planet.

Closer to terra firma, Griffin is also adamant that he does not see China as a competitor in space exploration. He may come to regret his words, which come the same week that China prepared for its as China launches its riskiest orbital mission yet, including its first space walk.

It would not be in Griffin’s best interests to praise the Chinese project, even if it could eventually see the Asian nation launch and complete its own space station in the near future. The space walk is pivotal for developing the expertise to snap the thing together.

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