Why space exploration? Why should we as humanity pick up this baton and run with it? The answer to this question is deeper and perhaps more profound than the simple arithmetic of space exploration bringing us benefits like the fruit-flavored drink Tang and smartphones.
The answer is even more profound than the US getting there before some other country occupies parts of the moon for lunar resources or the potential minerals we someday may gain from some asteroids. The answer is definitely deeper than the US remaining number one in the space competition. It is also more important than having a place to migrate in case of planetary destruction due to internal or external actors.
The reason we explore space is is more encompassing and overwhelming.
Our earth has been around for about four and a half billion years. Multicellular life emerged a billion years ago. During this period, there have been four to five major mass extinction events like Devonian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, and the Cretaceous — best known because dinosaurs were wiped out.
Civilization’s Swift Move Toward Outer Space
Over the years, millions of species have gone extinct. The number may be as high as 50-95%. Yet life has reemerged in new forms. But the most intriguing, interesting, and, as yet, unexplainable thing is that not one single species out of those billions ever made something simple like clothing except for humans. How is that even possible?
The Magic of the Drake Equation
It turns out that life is mysterious, even magical. And there might be life elsewhere in space. The Drake Equation, attributed to Dr. Frank Drake who passed away very recently, takes a stab at estimating extraterrestrial life. This equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It is made up of these terms:
N = R_* f_P * n_e * f_l * f_i * f_c * L
N = number of civilizations with which humans could communicate
R_* = mean rate of star formation
f_P = fraction of stars that have planets
n_e = mean number of planets that could support life per star with planets
f_l = fraction of life-supporting planets that develop life
f_i = fraction of planets with life where life develops intelligence
f_c = fraction of intelligent civilizations that develop communication
L = mean length of time that civilizations can communicate
This equation cannot be “solved” or even accurately calculated. Yetit retains considerable utility for discussions about extraterrestrial life and intelligence. If we assign reasonable numbers to each term in the Drake Equation, this yields N equal to anywhere from the thousands to the millions. Remember that this is just for the Milky Way, one of the trillions of galaxies in the universe.
The Fermi Paradox
In the summer of 1950, Enrico Fermi and co-workers Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York had several lunchtime conversations at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. During one of these conversations, Fermi blurted out, “But where is everybody?”. Signs of life are hard to see in our observable universe, which has expanded considerably thanks to the Hubble and the Webb telescopes. The question still remains: “Where is everybody?”
Whether the Fermi paradox holds true or not, God, for those who believe, has granted us an immense responsibility: humans must find, connect with and preserve all lifeforms. On the other hand, If the Fermi paradox is false, we must be ready to protect ourselves if needed. In either case, the answer is the same. Space exploration matters.
The Calling: An Intellectual Effort
Humans are special. They have a large brain capable of imagination and exploration. After all, we are the only species to use clothing. Even our cousins, the great apes, do not do so. This does not mean our species is superior to others. However, we must shepherd earth and all of its lifeforms to continue evolution—the evolution now in the third dimension. In other words, space or for the nerds among us, the Z direction.
Evolution requires that more intelligent things are done almost continually. That requires that a society finds ways to demarcate and appreciate all life for its potential causes. This is perhaps a higher calling than others such as climate change or even human species survival. This is why devaluing appreciation of merit for other causes may hurt us as humanity, in future.
An intellectual effort is needed. This includes merit in myriads of fields: from art, literature, science, space, sports, and others. This is what NASA and the space efforts of other countries are exploring. It is not just for the US or humanity, but for the entirety of lifeforms in this observable universe—whether the famous Fermi paradox holds or not!
For example, art produces visions and it assuages. They touch the “not-yet-imagined” part of this equation that we scientists need to fulfill the entirety of progress. We will need help from many strata of society: artists, writers, poets, philosophers, thinkers AND scientists can help realize the next step. We should care for the truly unfortunate, the truly downtrodden, but we should not lose sight of the stars in space above.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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