Much has been written and promoted recently about the future of humankind’s reach into the solar system. We read about the achievements of heroic astronauts and the resolve of scientists dedicated to discovering life in distant quarters of our planetary neighborhood. The mission to Mars, spectacular to contemplate, is the subject of dozens of popular articles, blogs, and Hollywood movies. Aiming toward being the first, the best, and the brightest is an idea propagated over and over again in the mainstream media politic.
What about the practical? The pragmatic? The economical? How heroic are the incremental advancements required to truly establish a human presence in the solar system? How much has been written and promoted in the mainstream in regard to simple necessities? Plenty. Yet, these ideas seem to be cast aside or ignored too often. They lack the glamour. They promise little prestige. They generally don’t get funded quite so handsomely.
I think it’s time that we address a reality: many of us who are working hard to research and develop the next generation of spacefaring enterprise will do so with comparatively little fanfare or acknowledgement for our effort. And as things as unromantic as robotic mining on asteroids, collecting space debris, or deploying datalink satellites go, we can imagine a future where nobody will pay much attention to the daily tasks that are necessary to make the space exploration and development industry work for ordinary men, women, and children living their lives planet side. In some ways, we’ve already accomplished quite a lot. In others, we haven’t even really gotten started. No matter the mission, there are thousands upon thousands of people and lives invested in creating abundance and new opportunities out there in the depths of space.
As we begin the 21st Century’s next generation of exploration, we need to press onward into space with a sober clarity of mind and purpose. We must begin to think of how we can extend human presence in the solar system in a responsible, sustainable, and fair-minded manner, driven by creating opportunity, new wealth, and improved quality of life for all those we look on from Earth, be they human or otherwise. All life is precious, here and everywhere. We must be conscious of this fact, lest we recreate or exacerbate the problems and suffering we already face here on Earth in the 21st Century: warfare, economic exploitation, pollution, etc. The list is long; but we have no reason to be pessimistic. Long, also, is the list of optimistic endeavors, of constructive action, and of collective dreaming that delivers both willingness and action to be more sensitive to the world we inhabit, to venture into a distant future with our feet firmly planted on solid foundations.
To begin, I think, it is important to reach outward to the stars by reaching inward, introspectively, into the realities that we are facing here on Earth. We have, in the last two centuries, rapidly evolved into a technologically sophisticated and highly capable global society. We have advanced transportation and energy production methods far beyond the wildest imaginings of our predecessors. We have landed and returned humans from the Moon!
We have also created much environmental destruction, violence, and irreversibly, perhaps, triggered climate and ecological volatility, pushing entire species to the brink of extinction or beyond; and several times we’ve unleashed the long-lasting threat of nuclear fallout and other forms of contamination into our atmosphere. In our hubris and in our ambition, we have often enough strived away beyond our means and the limitations of our understanding. The implications are obvious to most of us. In our willingness to advance and build and subdue Nature, we have often enough fallen short of visionary wisdom.
So moving into the future, we have a choice: to be mindful of our actions and what consequences may come; or to simply act and disregard that which does not serve our immediate designs. As a community of scientists, political leaders, and enterprising businesspeople, whomever else we may be, we ought to remain willing, as often as we can in our daily lives, to turn our hopeful gaze away from the stars and back into our local domain, into the Earth, and into our humanity. When we take the next giant leap, have we looked where we are leaping long enough to know the difference between an oasis or a mirage?
I say this not to criticize those who have achieved so much, to profess any expertise as a scientist or philosopher, or to make claim that taxpayer moneys have been misappropriated to embark on potentially high-risk and low-return activities (there’s no shortage of people willing to debate these points). I wouldn’t wish to diminish the hope and aspiration of others in any way. For all the critics of NASA (and I’ve been one of them often enough), we can’t say that this organization has not given humanity a great deal to marvel at and be inspired by. We can’t even begin to know how many inventions, innovations, and discoveries could have set the stage for future generations to live a higher quality of life, here or on some other planet out there.
We must continue, certainly, to push the envelope of potential and possible. I just hope we don’t lose sight of how fragile Earth truly is, that possibly every other celestial body in the solar system is probably just as fragile and sensitive to our influence, and that wherever we are located in space and time, we are self-aware and prudent.
Here on our home world, as we are poised to take another leap forward along with another step back, how we orchestrate progress to the stars requires more than pure science. It requires honesty. Let’s choose to remember that we are not an island entire of itself, wholly alone on this journey.
The ancient Egyptians wisely observed a simple maxim to help explain their place in the Cosmos: “As above, so below, and as below, so above.”
Perhaps we can learn a valuable lesson from the Ancients.
Eric Thomas Anderson
Eric is a native of Orange, California now living in the Prescott, Arizona area since 2011. Since completing a Master’s degree in Leadership in 2014 through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide campus, he has been studying and researching topics related to entrepreneurship, strategy, and industry development as a student in ERAU Worldwide’s MS in Unmanned Systems program. Mr. Anderson’s startup, ETA Rasor, LLC, specializes in organizational design and developing visionary leadership for 21st Century executives and performance-driven investors. To learn more about Eric click here.