I was born in 1966. For me that meant growing up in the era where space exploration was, as was said in the greatest Sci-Fi TV series of the time, the final frontier. I got to watch as human beings blasted off to the moon and returned to tell about it. If you were not of that era I cannot express to you what an amazing thing it was to consider traveling off-planet for the first time. It was my greatest goal to explore new worlds. It almost seemed like my generation’s destiny. It was my dream to rescue space babes from alien creatures as I had seen it done in so many movies and comic books.
But I never imagined doing so while leaving a burned-out husk of a planet behind. For me, space exploration meant bringing all that was good and noble about humanity out into the broader universe.
Now it just seems like a way of leaving all that is worst of us behind. At the cost of a planet. At the cost of every other living being that now inhabits it. And if we are to be quite honest about it, at the expense of about 99.999% of our fellow human beings. Because the vast preponderance of us humans are never getting off this rock alive. All of us with the possible exception of a very elect few have always been and will always be Earthlings.
I am shocked at how many of us are willing to invest the future of our species in the dreams and aspirations of an elite few. But somehow that flaw seems to run deep in the human species. Parents have since the beginning of recorded history given their children up to die in wars that only serve the interests of kings. I guess it’s kind of selfless, but it’s kind of stupid, too.
I am older now, and the idea of space travel still intrigues me. But I have other interests now. From my earliest years I was concerned about the environment. At one time I just assumed that humanity was capable of both exploring other worlds AND preserving the only world we had ever known. I mean, it only seemed logical that a species intelligent enough to escape the planet of its origin would also be intelligent enough to take care of its home. And God knows, we should be decent enough to do this, as well.
But preserving our planet no longer seems a priority to us. Instead, we have decided we must move beyond it before our inability to act sustainably puts an end to our species. This is the mindset we have acquired because we have adopted the values of a very tiny but narcissistic, loud, and confident portion of us. But it is not my mindset, and it never will be.
Do I feel it is my responsibility to aid in sending a few of our species outward into space to colonize other worlds? Not if my species is one which is incapable of sustaining life on its own planet. Not if my species is incapable of coming in peace. Not if my species is intent on visiting other planets only to exploit their resources and leave whatever life they encounter to die in the pollution it creates. If my species is directly involved in the killing of other terrestrial species and perhaps life itself on the very planet that gave birth to it, why would I wish that on the rest of the universe?
Should it not be my responsibility to contain this deadly virus before it is able to spread? Is it any different from what we encounter with a pandemic?
I look at the stars not too differently than I did as a child. I view them with reverence and awe and wonder, and my spirit soars with the desire to know more about the universe of which I am a part. But whatever confusion I had as a child about the difference between exploration and conquest is now gone. The culture I grew up in was very different than the one in which I now find myself. Star Trek was not merely revelatory to the child I was because of the scientific possibilities, but because of the cultural advancements it suggested would coincide with technological progress. At the present moment, scientific and moral progress have been entirely uncoupled.
Perhaps there will come a time when the human species will be capable of traveling to distant planets. But that is no longer an interest of mine. My priorities are to preserve the planet of my birth, and all the life that lives upon it. I have no desire to view humankind as a parasite that kills its host and moves onto another. I believe we are more than that and that we have not yet shown the best of who we are. To achieve such moral and spiritual progress will require a belief and vision beyond any we’ve demonstrated before. But there was a time not long ago when space flight was just as unthinkable. And yet it was only a matter of three-score and six years between when human flight was unknown to human beings placing footprints upon the moon. Miraculous change can come in the span of a single person’s lifetime. I not only expect such change, I demand it. Until such a change has come, though, don’t expect me to care about Elon Musk’s plans for humanity.
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