Stuck on Earth

The cover of the latest issue of Discover asks “Are We Trapped on Earth? Why Cosmic Rays Could Prevent Us From Leaving.” In a lengthy piece pegged to Bush Jong Il’s proposed mission to the Moon and Mars, the magazine looks into the risks cosmic radiation poses to astronauts on any long, interplanetary journey. The risk is uncertain, but could be huge to both health and life to anyone is space or on a planet not protected by a fairly strong magnetosphere or atmosphere.

But as I read it (not being a technophile anarchist/libertarian — I do not want to become borg or download myself into a clone any time soon, nor am I much interested in augmenting myself with technology or engineered biology either), a couple of questions come to mind:

  • What’s the hurry? Is there any pressing need to leave, oh say, tomorrow? Or even by 2020? Mars isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the moon. Aside from Bush Jong Il’s idiotic deadline, is there really any rush?
  • Suppose we are stuck on earth. Is that really so bad?

It may be that, someday, we will invent the kinds of technologies — Starfire’s drive fields or Star Trek’s warp drives or Battlestar Galactica’s FTL “jump” engines — that will allow human beings to build space ships that will travel hither and yon, to near stars and far, and protect them from solar wind and solar flares and all sorts of other nasty things besides. Then people can go wherever and not worry about it so much. The sun is supposed to be good another several billion years (though sometimes thinking about the ultimate demise of our solar system, in 5 or 6 billion years, fills me with dread and depresses me no end), and that will become a problem for any people around then.

In the meantime, we ought to remind ourselves that we live on earth, and perhaps content ourselves with admiring the sky and the objects in it, rather than fill it up with ourselves and our expensive, pointless government-made junk.