Should we be exploring space when life on earth is unsustainable?
Like much of the population on Wednesday, I was gripped by the Rosetta mission to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Never mind that it’s parked worse than my car on a Saturday morning trip to B&Q with a hangover, as an engineer, I cannot help but marvel at the sheer ambition of propelling a probe the size of a fridge 300 million miles through space (as the astrocrow flies), slingshotting it around planets and landing on a lump of rock less than 3 miles across.
But, as an old colleague pointed out, is this really a good use of resources and ingenuity when we face the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global poverty?
That’s a toughie.
But here’s the way I look at it:
- There is no ‘or’ here – we can do both. There is plenty of money to tackle global problems, what we need is political will and co-operation. If it was an either-or choice, then obviously we should prioritise sustainability, but it isn’t.
- Space exploration has already told us a lot about our planet and we rely on satellites and their technology whether monitoring the ozone layer, measuring the energy imbalance that is driving climate change, or warning of drought conditions.
- OK, the Rosetta mission isn’t about the earth. But the challenge is driving forward important technological advances in everything from solar panels to data analysis via environmental sensors.
So, I’m happy to spend billions pushing forward this kind of exploration, as long as we spend commensurate billions back here on earth sorting out our own backyard.