IDEA FRIDAY: Warp-Speed Ahead! Space Exploration and Society

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  • 5 years ago
  • Posted: March 27, 2015 at 6:50 pm

While not itself is in a position to justify these things, the International Academy of Astronautics believed, nonetheless, that it would be of real interest and serve a genuine purpose if somehow the reasons for and consequences of space exploration could be presented to both the public at large and the non-space sector, which I think is pretty good idea. Blatantly, the consequences of space exploration as already undertaken stand before our scrutiny AND occur on many levels: commercial applications, education and inspiration to youth, applications satellites, scientific benefits, and philosophical implications. All are open to analysis, and as we approach the next Age of Space, we should examine, with historical objectivity, precisely what the impact of the Age of Space has been and saunter off into our imaginations and dream of future societies, both here on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe!

In her book Rocket Dreams: How the Space Age Shaped Our Vision of a World Beyond, Marina Benjamin argues that space exploration has shaped our worldviews in more ways than one. “The impact of seeing the Earth from space focused our energies on the home planet in unprecedented ways, dramatically affecting our relationship to the natural world and our appreciation of the greater community of mankind, and prompting a revolution in our understanding of the Earth as a living system,” she declares.

I agree quite so with her premise and do believe that it will continue to do so, especially when we finally, without conspiracy or fear, do get to explore other other-worldly cultures. Benjamin thinks it is no act of coincidence (but then again is God preferring to remain anonymous) that the first Earth Day on April 20, 1970, occurred right in the gist of the Apollo program; or that one of the astronauts developed a new school of spiritualism; or that people “should be drawn to an innovative model for the domestic economy sprung free from the American space program by NASA administrator James Webb.” It is an established fact that exploration sculpts world views and changes cultures in unexpected ways, and so does lack of exploration. How has space flight affected conceptions of self and others, as well as our understanding of our purpose in the universe?

NASA’s founding document, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, particularly charged the new agency with eight objectives, including “the establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.” I wish we had a Space Program to boast off-you know I actually did dream to become quite the astronaut, and am not only talking about that boyish vivacity of wishful thinking, but rather a concrete desire for the same, alas! The only flights I take are those of the mind, which I am ever so fondly taking them. The Mind is the Universe and the Universe the Mind!

In spite of the importance of the subject, very few systematic studies of the societal impact of space exploration have been undertaken over the past fifty years. One exception that stands out from over four decades ago is The Railroad and the Space Program: An Exploration of Historical Analogy. It was funded by NASA through the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where The Railroad and the Space Program focused on the uses of historical analogy to illuminate the problem of societal impact.

Eventually, even though gradually, humans will spread into the cosmos at large. One cannot set a timeline, but by the twenty-third century, “interstellar humanity” will probably follow. We do not know what surprises and challenges we will find. But they will be there and humans will revel in them. That is the nature of humans with their inbuilt curiosity and penchant for exploration, one might say the very definition of what it is to be human.

Yes, historians and social scientists have analyzed this kind of argument, and not all agree that the utopian ideal of spreading humanity to outer space is a valid reason for going, or that utopia is what we will build when we get there, I agree, but I believe that a coming UTOPIA is real. In a democratic society such arguments must be fully voiced. Others have demonstrated the complex relation of such space goals to social, racial and political themes. One such study is De Witt Kilgore’s remarkable book Astrofuturism: Science, Race and Visions of Utopia in Space. In this book Kilgore observes the work of Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Gentry Lee, Gerard O’Neill and Ben Bova, among others in what he calls the tradition of American astrofuturism. I want to be one of the pioneers of post-modern Kenyan and African astrofuturism.

Only when our minds are set on high do we have hope for any progress in the future! While Space Travel does infuse itself into our cosmic consciousness, like it or not, the idea of space exploration has been woven into the fabric of society over the last 50 years and counting. The historical analysis of that transformation, in ways large and small, should aid us make informed choices about our future in space.


What is your opinion on the topic?
Stefan Wolf

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