(This is the first in a two-parter)
A few days ago, at thenib.com, there was a piece talking about spaceflight, space exploration, and space settlement. The article begins by talking about the OSIRUS-Rex mission, at the asteroid Bennu, which leads to a discussion about whether it’s legal to own and mine asteroids. This then leads to the underlying question related to using extraterrestrial resources – is space settlement moral?
Reading the article, very quickly it becomes apparent that the authors do not think it’s moral to settle space. Their rationale boils down to a few key arguments:
- If there is life elsewhere and we go there, we’ll contaminate and destroy it. And it has as much or more right to those worlds than we do.
- Historically, when human societies have expanded, those societies have brutally oppressed other cultures and societies.
- All of the various celestial bodies are part of the common heritage of mankind, and therefore, they are of value to everyone as is, and therefore, we shouldn’t be looking to exploit or make a profit from them.
So, I have a response question to ask, that I would hope someone from thenib.com could answer: What are you willing to give up to solve the worlds problems? I do recognize the history of spaceflight is mostly one of cis-white males. And this affects the language of space activities, particularly things like space utilization, space development, and space settlement.
However, there are 2 key assumptions underlying a lot of the discussions (such as the thenib.com article). The first is that if only human beings (or a small group of human beings) weren’t so greedy, we could solve the worlds problems. And the second assumption is that solving these problems won’t require making incredible sacrifices. Unfortunately, when you start looking at the cost required to solve our problems, it becomes very clear that we’ll either need new resources, or we’ll need to give up a lot to solve the worlds problems.
A great example of this – I have a couple of friends who desperately want or wanted kids. But the simple fact is that one of the biggest activities that costs a lot of money, creates more burden on humanity and the planet, and produces substantial carbon is having and raising kids. Should those friends be denied kids? Or what about the resources we spend on art? Those resources could easily go towards helping the homeless, or fixing the planet. Should we give up on art, altogether? There are other examples of this as well.
However, if you carry this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, then humanity must give up any right or claim to using space to help itself. But is that fair when we face a lot of the various problems we face – joblessness? Climate Change? Famine and Disease? Is that fair to individual humans who are suffering?
This is not a call to pillage and smash and take whatever we want without regard from space. By the same token, to say that resources from space should never be used because it violates the sanctity of the rights of celestial bodies ignores the rights of human beings and of life. Further, if that is true, then our activities have already violated the sanctity of another celestial body – the Earth. And I won’t deny we are having huge, unhealthy, and dangerous impact on the Earth. But, again, carrying out their claims to the logical end, we don’t have the right to use the resources of the Earth to continue to survive.
That is a world I do not care to live in. I believe humanity and life do bring things of value to the universe. That we do deserve to live, and grow. And that we should have the opportunity to use the resources of space, if only for the hope that we can help repair the Earth, and grow society so that it is more respectful, more equitable, and more just.