QOTD: Should humanity attempt to colonize other planets in our solar system? Why? What about life on Earth?
The Short Answer: Most definitely. Because it’s there. We need to protect our planetary ecosystem, because without it, we are never going to be able to sustain our foothold on extraplanetary colonies.
The Future Depends on the Past
If we don’t protect the Earth, we have no future.
We most absolutely should extend humanity’s opportunities into space, starting with the limited colonization of near space using satellites, like the International Space Station, colonization of lunar space and the lunar surface and extending such basic colonization to Mars, after perfecting our technology on the lunar surface.
Building lunar colonies which are well-established, over-built and capable of surviving all that extra-planetary environments have to offer is a necessity. Living on planets outside of Earth protective environment, its atmosphere and magnetosphere means other environments are at risk of extremes in radiation not seen on Earth and meteor strikes, whose destructive capacity belies most individual’s imagination.
Living on Earth is the easiest level of existence we have ever known. Only the most extremes of our planet’s environments can match space for its incredible range of beauty and danger.
If It’s So Dangerous, Why Go?
Why? There are at least a half a dozen reasons we must make the exploration into space a mandatory Human achievement backed not by selfish corporate concerns but for humanitarian reasons which concern us all. The most important is the extinction of the species in a random astronomical event such as a comet or asteroid striking the surface of the Earth.
We know extinction level events have happened before on Earth and are likely to happen again. We would ask the dinosaurs, but the last such event erased their tenure of 300+ million years, over in the relative blink of an eye. Only their fossilized remains tell us of their existence and how long they lived here before their untimely end.
If we expand our technologies and interests beyond the surface of the Earth, we could, with proper planning detect incoming threats and perhaps engage in the development of technology which might aid in the disruption of such events BEFORE they become an existential threat to life on Earth.
Looking at the history of humanity at the moment, it is easy to assume we should never leave Earth until we get our act together since any life off planet will still be reliant upon support from Earth for quite some time (at least a century before self-sufficiency kicks in). Therefore, we have an obligation to protect life on Earth using new ways of seeing the Human experience, recognizing we need to better harness the remaining energies left to us by switching to less polluting technologies and less destructive ways of living on the planet.
Such renewable and carbon cleaner technologies would go a long way toward making the colonization of other worlds cleaner and better than our current processes on Earth as well, ensuring humanity’s movement into space is far less destructive than it has been thus far on our home planet. We should strive to be less invasive everywhere we go, understanding we potentially as destructive as any natural force in the Universe.
We Have to Do Better Than We Have in the Past
If we can’t keep Earth together, no endeavor taking place off-planet can be expected to succeed without the full support of a united and focused planet-bound humanity. Extraplanetary exploration is an order of magnitude harder than any kind of exploration we have done thus far, with the possible exception of living beneath the oceans, due to the intense physical difficulties in such environments.
Every scientific model, social construct, cultural framework and technological development must be leveraged, better, smarter, and more inclusively, if we are to offer our species the opportunity to survive our current way of life – which is destroying the ecosystem faster than it can regenerate.
Extrasolar living will be that much more difficult, if we cannot overcome our psychological limitations holding us back from being united enough to work together to save our world let alone leave it.
Will we ever be able to build colonies on other worlds in our solar system? Not without perfecting, refining and beginning to restore the ecosystems on Earth first. To refuse to protect the Earth from us, will ensure we won’t have to worry about protecting any other planets from our efforts to reach them and establish colonies. The race to protect the Earth will be the greatest Human effort since we raced to reach the lunar surface in the 1960s, with a far greater benefit.
Space will continue to be there. Other planets will continue to be there. Threats in the form of comets and asteroids will continue to threaten us. We have to overcome our own psychological limitations before significant advances will allow us the luxury of reaching and colonizing other worlds, even in our solar system, since none of those planets or moons offer easy environments to overcome.
We have a lot of work to do before we are fit, as a species, to live anywhere but here. The true test of the Great Filter is upon us. Can we pull it together or will there be another long quiet while the Earth resets and finds a new successor to try for space, ten million years from now.
It is up to us.
What About the Aliens?
What about them? If they exist and they have come from a far-flung part of the Universe, are we in any danger? Truthfully, no one can know.
However, my supposition is this: If they have managed to organize their societies sufficiently enough to build colonies to their own inner planets, then reorganize again to develop new technologies allowing them to reach for the stars, whether that be via VonNeuman machines, or generational ships, or the have managed the unthinkable of faster-than-light travel, they have exceeded our accomplishments in every conceivable way.
They have wealth beyond our imagining because they have not only harnessed their planet’s resources, they have harnessed their solar system’s, and perhaps many others as well. There is nothing in our solar system they couldn’t get far closer to their world than we are.
Thus, for them, depending on their psychology, we are: a curiosity, a novelty, or an inconvenience, none of which we can do anything about but hope for our sake we are more interesting than we are inconvenient.
If they have any other, more sinister perspectives, we won’t exist long enough to learn why they feel that way. Let us hope my idea of the Bright Meadow (a Universe filled with varied and cooperative forms of intelligent life) overshadows the more feared perspective of the Dark Forest (the more common expectation that shouting out to an unknown and alien Universe will draw dangerous and unwanted attention from rapacious aliens intent upon a habitable world in need of proper tending.)
Our best bet would be for them to decide we are too primitive to interfere with and make our solar system on their map saying:
“In this sector of the galaxy, around an unremarkable star, there is a primitive species about to engage in local solar colonization. Do not disturb their technological and sociological development. In a thousand cycles of their sun, they will have either learned enough to develop a pre-interstellar species or they will be extinct. Tread lightly. Our new neighbors scare easily.”
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.