Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Taking Care of What We Have

A comment on an earlier post represents a common attitude about the space program.

Breakerslion wrote:

Seems a lot easier to take care of what we have.

No argument was presented, leaving a response open.

There are three answers available. The first is that this is not an either-or question. In fact, it is not even possible to "take care of what we have" without a space program. Recall my earlier posts about the threat of asteroid impacts and other space-based threats. The dinosaurs were not particularly abusive of what they had. They also did not have a space program.

Remember, astronomers searching for asteroids are not asking, "Will we be hit?" They are asking, "Which one will hit us next, and how much time do we have?"

The second response is to ask, "What are your plans for taking care of what we have?"

When it comes it harvesting minerals and energy, we have two options - harvest them on earth, or harvest them off-earth. Every act of harvesting resources on earth is an act that cuts into a living ecosystem. Whereas every act of harvesting resources in space involves working in an area without life - without an ecosystem to harm.

Of all of the options available for energy, fossil fuels threaten global warming and oil spills, wind chops up birds, the waste from manufacturing solar cells is toxic, dams drown whole ecosystems. A solar powered satellite in space, built in space from material mined in space damages nothing on earth.

Beaming that energy down to earth might have environmental impacts on earth. However, a large amount of this energy can be used in space as well. Instead of beaming the energy to earth, it could be used to mine an asteroid, refine the metals, and use those metals in manufacturing. The manufactured items can be shipped to earth, saving the planet from the stress of all of the preliminary steps.

Besides, the people living and working in space would also be living and working without putting stress on the earth. Certainly, they will need to be supplied from earth at the start, but they will be working to reduce that dependency over time - if only to save on shipping costs.

In addition, one of the main technologies that will be developed in space will be recycling - recycling the air,the water, the bio-mass. For somebody who wants to "take care of what we have," these technologies would likely be seen as important.

In the future, when there are 10 million people living in orbiting cities, getting their energy from the sun, mining the asteroids, and farming climate-controlled and pest-free farming pods, then there will be 10 million people not putting a stress on the Earth. Then 100 million. Then, a billion.

I imagine the earth itself, someday, becoming an ecological preserve with the dirtiest and most destructive jobs moved off-planet. This is wild speculation - but it illustrates a point. The degree to which we get what we need (including places to live) in the dead of space, to that degree we can do a better job of "taking care of what we have" on earth.

Breakerslion also provided a distopian story and asked:

Extrapolate that to a whole lot of vacuum outside.

But that describes the Earth, too. A place to live with a whole lot of vacuum outside. If somebody has a problem living in a biosphere surrounded by vacuum, that is a very serious problem indeed.

No comments: