Quora Answer : What do you think of the arguments against space travel and exploration that say we should fix problems on Earth first and that it is a luxury we can not afford?
It's not that space travel is a luxury we can't afford.
We can and should keep going with space exploration. Both because science is human destiny, and because one day in the distant future it would be nice to get beyond this planet.
BUT ... we MUST also learn to fix problems on Earth.
For two reasons :
- space is not a viable "plan B", backup if we screw up the Earth in the near future. (Ie. next 500 years.)
It is totally unrealistic to expect we can "do space" at the scales required in this timescale. The only place to go is Mars. Which is smaller and has fewer resources than Earth. And is going to take thousands of years to terraform into somewhere even half as comfortable as Siberia.
Space is not a "quick fix" or an "easy" alternative to the hard problem of not screwing up the Earth's ecosystem.
- the problem of screwing up the Earth's ecosystem is a political / institutional problem. Not a technical one. We can't stop ourselves screwing up the world because our institutions and politics are configured and optimised to drive us towards consumption and destruction, rather than towards stewardship and survival. If we take those same institutions and politics out into space with us, they'll just destroy the next place we want to live. And Mars is a hell of a lot smaller, less abundant and faster to destroy than Earth.
We should continue to do space. But be realistic. It's cheap and easy to send robots into space. It's expensive and dangerous and slow to send humans there. And robots and AI are advancing a hell of a lot faster than technology to send humans into space.
The best, most realistic case for successful human colonization of the solar system is to have a few hundred years of sending machines out to prepare things for us. Automated mines and factories in the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Robot farms on Mars, preparing the land, cultivating plants and animals (sent as seeds and embryos) for 50 or 100 years before we start sending human colonists. Autonomous pit-stop stations in solar orbit between Earth and Mars where colony ships can refuel from ample supplies that have been laid in over a decade. Etc. It's not about some 1950s vision of putting all your humans in one tin basket and firing them off at Mars like 19th century pioneers.
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