Deep space could jolt how we see ourselves

Registrations for the tours of NOAA’s National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction tied to this month’s International Astronautical Congress were filled to capacity by mid-September, according to the IAC website.

I guess it should not be surprising that many of those who are interested in the workings of far-off celestial bodies tend to be interested in the atmosphere they breathe every day.

In fact, I will dare to predict that the more Americans, Chinese, Europeans and Indians learn about other worlds, the more they will realize how rare, precious and tenuous our own existence is.

The CO2 from these four leading polluters ends up in our atmosphere shown above in a photo from the International Space Station. Viewing Earth as part of the cosmos — a beautiful place where life is rare — tends to make us want to do better, doesn’t it?

This prediction of a celestially inspired wake-up call is bold, but it’s not without historical underpinnings. Within two years of the famous Earthrise photo shot on Christmas Eve during the Apollo 8 orbit of the moon, the U.S. created the Environmental Protection Agency, a step that was followed by the Clean Water Act and a slew of environmental laws.

Apollo may have accomplished what Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” could not do alone.

Flash forward, and it’s safe to say that the NASA program to return U.S. boots to the moon was in no way inspired by environmentalism, but I postulate that could be one of the endeavor’s unanticipated outcomes.

Perhaps if the Apollo program had not been canceled, it would not have taken so long for 73% of Americans to recognize that global warming is happening and for 62% to agree that it is mostly caused by humans, to give figures from a survey by Yale University.

As significant as the International Space Station program has been in many ways, it will never be as dynamic and attention grabbing as exploring deep space and building a space economy.

Of course, it’ll take more than pretty pictures and testimonials to keep humanity in deep space. My sense is that if entrepreneurs don’t make space a dynamic place with direct benefits for those on Earth, then the proposed Artemis 2024 landing will turn out to be yet another one-off dabbling beyond low Earth orbit.

Related Topics

Climate Change

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

Deep space could jolt how we see ourselves