e are entering an unprecedented era in human experience that is forcing us to be attentive to both the near term and the far term, and to be looking up as much as we are looking down. A number of things are starting to coalesce out of international events and our global situation that
bear some thought with respect to space systems and the survival of the human race. If that sounds a bit melodramatic, let’s consider:
– Global warming effects are occurring at an alarmingly increasing rate. The recent ice shelf collapse in the Antarctic and the incredible ice recession in the
north are two stark examples. Both of these
climate change markers
are being observed regularly by space systems. Further, the predicted increase in intensity of weather phenomena due to climate change will require even better detection and prediction systems, most of which must be space-based to provide the level of necessary coverage;
– The number of
objects (NEO) that have been catalogued to date is well over 5,000, but the steadily increasing numbers just point to the probability that there still remain numerous other, possibly planet-killing, objects yet to be discovered. While a great deal of the detection is accomplished via terrestrial systems, space systems have and will play a future role in this important mission area;
– The world’s population is still increasing and developing. While development is, of course, desired, greater expectations by developing nations also means that better access to services, probably space-based to some extent, will be part of those expectations. Further, scarcity of water, food, energy, etc., will lead to increased global tensions, and innovative solutions will be required to mitigate the possibility of future armed conflict; and
– Recent anti-satellite
over the past year or so by the United States
and China have
upped the ante
for other nations to develop similar capabilities – a destabilizing prospect because of the debris threat to our essential space systems.
These very few facts point to two key space-related issues: the preservation of the space regime for the operation of vital space systems, and the real need to accelerate the Moon-Mars exploration program
for human preservation. On the one hand, looking down, such systems
are critical to our
global situational awareness;
while on the other hand, looking up, known and unknown threats are even more
and thus speak to a global response.
One of the greatest advantages of space systems is their inherent right to over-flight. This means that no polluter, no natural disaster requiring aid, no short- or long-term environmental change should be hidden from the global community to which it can react, despite the existence of national borders (the recent disaster in Myanmar is a good example). Whatever climate change is going to look like, we are now in it and we must adapt to it and mitigate the effects as best we can. Development activities in China and India can and may have global consequences, and the rest of the world has a right to know their extent – of course, the same unyielding eye must and will be cast over Western activities as well.
The second issue, less espoused as being a good reason for space investment, is space colonization. While we are steadily gaining knowledge and insight about operating in space via our manned programs and in particular, the international space station, this activity must be accelerated and the Moon program must be given more priority. Let’s face it, while we are living here on Earth, all of our human
eggs are in one basket.
All it will take is possibly a several kilometer
-sized NEO to hit us and it could be game over.
Now I am not arguing that we need the ability to move large populations off of the Earth in 10
years, but perhaps realistically we should
be looking at 50-100 years for this capability. By that time, barring some human catastrophe due to disease, war
or other cause, population levels probably will
be incredibly high, and so will the subsequent drain on resources to sustain them. Research in space technology for colonization will have to come up with innovative ways to sustain humans on other celestial bodies, including efficiency processes that probably will have some applicability to life on Earth.
How do we get there from here? The first thing we need to do is change our attitudes toward space technology and space-derived information. To provide the awareness and detection capabilities for monitoring climate change and global warming effects, we need more
eyes in the sky,
and that does not mean just more U.S. systems, or Russian systems, or Chinese systems, but more nations contributing overall. These other nations will need access to technology to build and field components and systems. The United States can sell the technology instead of placing the burden on such nations to develop it themselves. Sure, the United States could put up more of its own systems, but what about transparency and trust? What about global development in these areas? We
also will need to seriously examine future exploration philosophies and make sure that experimental packages have some linkage to the space colonization mission area. If we need to count the number of dry river beds on Mars, we will need to confirm how that helps us to eventually live there, versus using the knowledge to postulate what could happen to the Earth in a couple of billion years.
also will have to take greater strides toward cooperation and mounting joint missions. The time should be well-passed to expect single nations, even the United States, to come up with all the resources to launch significant exploration missions to the Moon and/or Mars.
should not want to do so anyway. Since we cannot lay claim to Moon or Mars territory, for example, why should we lay claim to the method to get there? Would it not make more sense to spread the risk around, work harder at inter-operability of both systems and processes, and move towards a common goal?
There is now no turning back from our need to access space. Whether it is to provide the monitoring and warning function of the harbingers of climate change now, or to set the technological stage for future human expansion, we need to support, develop, share and protect space technology. All we need to do is leverage decades of international cooperation and collaboration, inspire innovation in the developing generation, and acclimate the current generation to a new vision of human existence – one that
us well beyond our present backyard.
Wayne A. Ellis is an independent consultant with AppSpace Solutions Inc., a space awareness company.