Space, Astronomy & Astrophysics: Why I Think “Up There” is Important to us “Down Here”

First of all, apologies that it took so long to get my next post out!  The automatic publishing feature was supposed to get this out at the beginning of the week but that didn’t quite happen.  Hopefully next time I’ll figure out the widgets without angering our digital overlords so we don’t all have to spend the rest of eternity calculating pi or something like that.

So:  Space.  Not just space:  Humans in space.  Humans in space permanently.  Why is it important and why would we ever bother going somewhere else when we have Earth which seems pretty OK if not for all problems?

I once had a conversation with a lady on this very topic, and I tried to explain to her my deeply held belief that space exploration isn’t just important to us as a species, but possibly the single most important priority for every single person on the planet – whether they know, or indeed want it to be, or not.

“Oh no,” she said “Why would we ever want to go out there?!  There are too many problems for us to fix here.  If we can’t fund our NHS, our schools or our pension properly, going to space is a total waste!  A vanity project for people who can’t face up to our problems!” and with that triumphant flair the debate, it seemed, was over.

Now, the fact that the lady in question is a former banker and town councillor who, by her own admission, uses private health care, has a private pension and sent her children to private school notwithstanding, I would like to propose an alternative viewpoint:

In an isolated system, entropy will always increase.

Now, why am I quoting the Second Law of Thermodynamics at you?  What do I mean by that?  Well, here’s a different interpretation of that quote by who I regard as the greatest thinker of our time (Terry Pratchett, if you’re wondering):  Chaos will always win out over order because it’s better organised (Quote from the book Interesting Times).

Earth is mankind’s cradle.  There’s a lot wrong with mankind:  Violence and War;  Religious Zealotry and Intolerance – especially from those who claim to oppose such things so ardently;  Bureaucracy in all its forms.  There is however a lot of good with the bad:  The arts and music; our natural propensity for discovery and the pushing of boundaries;  The Full English Breakfast.

This is the point of this essay:  a child cannot stay within its cradle forever.  We denizens of Earth are at a point as a society where we have reached adolescence:  We have increased powers and freedoms that promise so much good, but also unleash destruction upon our hopes and dreams.  We openly acknowledge that there are too many people on our planet, we are damaging our environment and the other creatures that live here and also that many people are in positions of great power who can only do more harm than good (individuals such as Trump and Putin are debatable, but there are others such as Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson who receive less attention and are potentially far, far more harmful).

Indeed, we stand at a point now where we threaten to turn back from the teachings of our youth:  The Enlightenment and all that it brought with it (freedom of speech, the scientific  method, the ability to debate an issue from both sides) is being forgotten;  The wars which we swore never to fight again after the early 20th century are resurfacing, their casus belli no longer ideological or “I want your back garden” but religious and the increasingly rare resources available to us; the methods of fighting them reliant on terror, psychology and economics rather than the bullet or valour.

To stop this, humanity needs a unified goal, something that every single person can unite behind and cannot be twisted by the demagogues of twisted and dangerous philosophies.  To many space exploration seems like the stuff of Hollywood:  Shining Knights fighting with laser swords atop metal beasts in the inky black of the abyss.

To me it is perhaps the best chance that we have of making sure that some of the good that humanity has accomplished is preserved before too long in the cradle twists our limbs and psyche completely beyond recognition.

A laser sword and dressing gown that’s acceptable to wear to all occasions would also be quite nice, thanks.

One thought on “Space, Astronomy & Astrophysics: Why I Think “Up There” is Important to us “Down Here”

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