Space Travel?

Some of the most intelligent, well educated people are involved in NASA and other programs that build rockets and send astronauts into orbit. Some are involved in planning adventures to Mars and a smaller number have fantasies of long journeys beyond our solar system.

Science fiction has influenced the space agencies of the world. The intergalactic journeys of virtual fantasy occur in movie studio warehouses not in some location remote from the earth. A host of very intelligent people are required to achieve modest local journeys to the moon and, for several years, to and from the orbiting space station. The notion that humans can colonize Mars and eventually other planets is as popular as it is just plain dumb. One biologist stated:” As an evolutionary biologist, I find the vision of humans working together under stochastic, unpredictable conditions unrealistic. I have a more despotic vision of humanity under stressful, unpredictable conditions, with limited resources and the risk of things breaking and you just can’t replace it. How will people act if they know they’re not going home?”

There has been a succession of advocates of space travel from different backgrounds. For years The US government funded NASAs space travel fantasies. NASA justified big money for their space station involvements by saying their astronauts were investigating the feasibility of sending humans to Mars and beyond. The International Space Station (ISS) began with Russian modules and became a US-Russian collaboration. The station is a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit dependent on regular visits by supply ships from the earth’s surface. Its first component was launched in 1998. I admire the Russian and NASA’s technical achievements and more admiration for their astronauts. Sunita Williams, an American astronaut, is an exemplary human with unusual intelligence, motivation and skills. Her space station tour video can be seen on You Tube. Sunita holds the record for total spacewalks by a woman (seven). She was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Shuttle Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33.

The space station experience is interesting and informative but should not suggest to any sentient being that travel in space is just a matter of achieving a few more technical innovations and spending large sums of money. The space station is close to earth and requires constant communication with earth monitors and controllers. Supplies and astronauts are quickly transported to and from earth. Any vehicle going to Mars has more demanding requirements and has to be self sufficient. The trip will be long and dangerous. Landing will be precarious and a return trip to Earth may not be feasible. Mars is not habitable. The earth so far is habitable but desperately needs smart human management if humans are to survive here much longer.

NASA’s chief historian Dr Bill Barry said “getting to Mars was really hard to do.” In the 40 years since the first successful NASA mission, there have been 18 attempts to reach the planet. Of those 18 missions, just half were fully successful .In 1971 the USSR’s Mars 3 mission’s lander reached the surface. However, it operated for just 20 seconds before losing contact. The USSR entered the Mars race first, having launched six unsuccessful flyby attempts between 1960 and 1964. Mariner 4 successfully captured 21 black-and-white photos of of the planet in 1965. US Mariner 9 achieved orbit two weeks before the first USSR orbiter, Mars 2, reached its destination. The US launched the two-part Viking program in August 1975. Viking 1’s orbiter reached its position on 19 June 1976, and a month later the lander was deployed, successfully reaching the western slope of Chryse Planitia on 20 July. The orbiter operated until 17 August 1980, while the lander operated for over six years. The Viking orbiters mapped 97% of the planet’s surface, and its landers and orbiters returned more than 50,000 images. We have learned a lot about Mars, enough to know it’s not a good place to go for your vacation. In fact, we now know it’s not a good place to go for any reason.

Astronomers have revealed the great distances that separate our sun and solar system from other suns. We now have humans who earn their living by searching for suns with planets like ours. While we understand their need for a regular paycheck, their enthusiasm for earth-like planets far away and space journeys to these planets is absurd - the distances to other stars are too great from any human journeys now or in the future. Radio communications with other planets are also not feasible since radio waves take light years to travel. Finding signs of bacteria some where beyond earth interests some astronomers but I fail to appreciate their enthusiasm. The study of life on earth is still in its infancy and should receive all our attention and resources.

Using radio telescopes, you could identify suggestive signs of a distant civilization and send a “hello” by a very powerful earth radio and wait a thousand years for a reply. There are no visitors from “outer space to assist us or destroy us, except in movie scripts and the deluded minds of gullible humans. Humans are very good at destroying each other. Many advocates of space travel appear to be smart, well-educated, productive humans, but all suffer some sort of fantasy disease. They are ignoring planet earth and the urgent need to counteract the aberrations of humans here and now.

The curious aspect of future technology fears and fantasies is that all the problems in the real world are discussed and then ignored. Even the most advanced countries have aging infrastructures, ready to collapse at any moment. Electricity, telephone, cable communications and the internet are carried by wires on poles that fall down easily, pushed by a little wind or shaken by earth tremors. Even if TV networks keep broadcasting, viewers may not have clean water to drink or food to eat. We can hope that communication of good ideas might reduce the extravagant devastation that humans inflict on their planet. What do humans really want? Do they want more distraction and entertainment in virtual reality or do they want a real life in a real, healthy world, Planet Earth?

(Sunita Williams Space Station Tour