Sustain6 BLOG

From One Planet to the Next.

By Steve Quirk

SpaceX’s recent private space launch is a moment to be celebrated. I’m not sure that it’s quite up there with Neil Armstrong’s Small Step or Star Trek: First Contact, which hails the invention of Warp Speed and subsequent meeting of “aliens” (i.e. Spock’s Vulcan ancestors who were cruising around the solar system looking for signs of intelligent life), but it is a singular achievement.

 

The successful launch is the first to be completed by a private company (not governments) and signals the next phase of space exploration and innovation. Initially delayed by inclement weather, the starship Dragon Demo-2 blasted off from Florida on Saturday at 3:22 pm to the cheer of millions and completed its 19 hour journey to the International Space Station. In the midst of a global pandemic where self isolation, uncertainty and frustration are the themes of the day, this historic breakout is more meaningful than ever to a world hungry for inspiration and unambiguous good news.

Mars, the alluring and logical next target in commercial spaceflight, is a treasure of knowledge and discovery waiting to be further explored. While I hope to find John Carter there, SpaceX’s “Why Mars” offers more practical reasons for exploring Mars including the fact that its gravity is only 38% of earth which will make it relatively easy to lift things and that its day is just over 24 hours long which will allow any humans who might live there one day to have a normal circadian rhythm. In the end, we will explore Mars simply because it is there and exploration is in our DNA, it’s a big part of what makes us human.
 
There is some criticism in the sustainability movement that the push to explore space and other planets like Mars is a distraction from the large problems we face on our home planet, but this criticism misses a larger point; exploring our space neighborhood reminds us of how special and unique Earth really is. William Anders, who snapped what is arguably the most influential environmental photo ever, Earthrise, in 1968 on the Apollo 8 mission later commented: “We set out to explore the moon, and ended up discovering earth.” Earthrise changed how we thought about ourselves and our home planet. 18 month after Earthrise was taken, we held our first Earth Day celebration and launched the modern environmental movement.
 
I believe that the SpaceX launch will also mark a significant environmental inflection point, the one at which we finally committed to solving the climate crisis. Recognition of the problem is high and we now have the ability to practically solve the problem. The only question remaining is our willingness to act and that time is nigh. SpaceX proves again that humanity’s ability to dream, persevere and achieve great goals are in fact the norm and not the exception. Congratulations all earthlings! Live long and prosper.
 

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