How Space Exploration Can Unite Humanity … Again
The Voyager spacecraft was launched in 1977 and is currently flying through the outermost layer of the Helioshpere — a region outside of our solar system where solar wind slows down due to pressure from interstellar gas.
Voyager still sends us regular information about its surroundings through the Deep Space Network (DSN) and carries aboard it a greeting for any extra-terrestrials who may bump into it. This little robotic hunk of metal, roaming the endless oceans of our galaxy, is a perfect symbol for humanity’s purest potential.
I wasn't alive to hear President Kennedy make the awe-inspiring speech that would launch man to the moon. By demanding that we take longer, more ambitious strides, Kennedy united us in innovation, and turned the deadly arms race into an altruistic space race. As a child of the 90s, my vision of the future was filled with jet-packs and moon bases — not iPhones and Internet pornography.
We have come a long way as a society, but we are also repeating a lot of our old mistakes. As our economy slowly climbs upwards, and our wars come to an overdue end, perhaps it is time we once again invest in dreams that truly move us forward.
NASA has tragically lost a huge chunk of its budget, but the private sector is racing to fill the void. How will the corporate version of space exploration manifest? Will waste disposal companies start blasting our garbage off into the last frontier? Will travel agents book us on higher orbit holiday cruises to view our planet from the heavens? Billionaires have already invested in mining companies to gather precious resources from asteroids. Meanwhile, impatient millionaires are trying to organize their own missions to explore Mars.
While I applaud the private sectors diversity of ideas, competitive innovation and fast paced productivity, I still think there is a role for government to play in guiding our designs for a better future. When NASA launched voyager, it included a beautiful album of pictures which tried to give an overview of our species’ history, scientific discoveries, languages and spirit. It also included a beautiful message from former President Jimmy Carter:
"This Voyager spacecraft was constructed by the United States of America. We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit the planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.
We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some — perhaps many — may have inhabited planets and space-faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:
This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe."
What nationalistic ideal, economic model or religious doctrine can surpass that beauty? Anyone who has looked out of his or her airplane window has enjoyed an elevated perspective of the anthill of humanity. The heightened overview of our streets, buildings, farms, and civilizations offers a glimpse of the cosmic viewpoint that could unite us.
Earth is a biological spaceship, spinning around a massive nuclear explosion. Our atmosphere is a paper-thin layer of blue harmony, which protects us from the harsh darkness of space. The biggest change in perspective that we garnered from going to the moon, was looking back at our precious world from a distance — and seeing that pale blue dot all alone, on which all of our lives play out. What better time than now, to discover our cosmic roots, and drive our education, technology and industry towards the stars that bore us?
The first space race redefined American culture into one of discovery and scientific innovation. Hundreds of technologies spun-off from the movement, and fed our home-grown economy. Most importantly, it is the best way to nourish our fundamental desire to explore.