And So I Lied… An Ode to Orion.

Ahem. Sorry. This is not yet the guest post about writing. This will come tomorrow (I think). This is about the Orion program. I’m too excited about this, I just have to add my 0.02€. Today, On Friday, the first test flight will be launched. Yay!

Orion model, copyright NASA

Reading this in the news and browsing through the sometimes thoughtful but most often horrible comment section of the papers, I was left shaking my head and wondering why I’m so excited and why some people are so set against space exploration.

One of the most used arguments is this: We should set our home in order and solve the many serious problems we have on Earth before blowing billions of Dollars, Euro, Rubel, what have you, into space and do some esoteric science hardly anyone understands.

Sounds like a valid argument, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. If we try to step out of the box for a moment and look at cause and effect, we realize that money is not the problem for poverty anywhere, it is not the problem for wars, for pollution, for climate change, for… you name it. Greed is the problem, and corruption, bad politics, ideas of cultural, racial or religious superiority, lack of informed and educated citicens, lack of political ambition and engagement, general lethargy and laziness, the idea that “we little people can’t change anything anyway,” and more of this: these are the causes.

How much money is blown into entertainment? What’s the use of the entertainment industry for Earth? How much money is blown into political campaigns, into ill-advised economical endeavours, into manager salaries, into expensive luxury goods, and so on, and so forth? What’s the use of those for Earth?

Some of the things that make humans such a successful species (maybe too successful) is our adaptability and our curiosity. We, and our ancestors–not only Homo sapiens, but earlier humans, too–have the capability to look beyond the ‘now’. We plan, we explore, we don’t only want to have our bellies full and a warm, dry place to live in, we also want to know about things. And we don’t go about it one step at a time. We didn’t find out how to fabricate a hand axe out of stone and then waited until we perfected that axe before we invented other stone tools (and by ‘we’ I again don’t only mean H. sapiens). We saw that tools can be made out of stone, and so we pondered what else could be useful, apart from that axe, and we made it.

And this is what science, no, what all our endeavours are about. We think about what we need or what we want to know, and we think about a way to do it. We don’t wait until one is perfect and then move to the next. Which is why we have specialists, experts in certain areas. Some are good at this, others are good at that. We cannot wait until everyone is good with method A until we move to method B. And so we cannot wait until all the wars on Earth are stopped until we do something against climate change. (And we don’t, anyway, and where is the outcry about the money that goes into producing all these weapons, where is the use for Earth?). And we don’t wait until poverty is beaten until we do something against wars. We cannot wait until climate change is resolved until we do something against diseases. And we should not wait with space exploration because not all problems on Earth are solved yet.

I’m sorry if all this is a bit over-simplified, but that’s how I see it. Smarter people have written about this better elsewhere. This is just the introduction (Oh my, I hear you moan). I am very partial to Orion, because it reminds me of one of my first exposures to Science Fiction, the German black-and-white TV series from the sixties: Space Patrol Orion. This series, trashy, outdated, and with bad special effects has become cult. It is wonderful. I loved it, and I still do, just as much as I love Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, and more.

And I’m so glad that space exploration is not stopped, despite all the problems, despite all the setbacks. Mind you, I’m quite disappointed in the future I lived into. When I was a kid, I expected a lot more from the future.

When I was born, electric streetcars, trains, cars with combustion engines, planes and rockets with propulsion engines were around already. And they still are in use today, and there isn’t anything better to replace these methods of transport.

With Skype, all the smartphones, the computers, we have what was imagined back then: videotelephony. But this is a rather recent development.

I was convinced, as a kid, that during my lifetime I could fly to the moon, to a space station and look at the Earth from orbit. No such luck. If Virgin Galactic gets its act together, it will still only be something for the rich and famous to do, not for your average Jane. Just one round in orbit would be enough for me, I wouldn’t want more… but I just can’t see it happening any more.

Needless to say that I expected Earth to move towards a united Earth government a lot more quickly. Instead unions break up, mostly for selfish reasons. We’ve also learned that forced unions aren’t going to last. Maybe that’s a useful lesson for the future, after all.

Many Science Fiction stories build on nuclear power as the power for the future, used for everything everywhere. For a time, it seemed to be the power of choice, an utopia where energy is concerned. Robert Heinlein wrote in his Space chronicles abut the dangers of nuclear power although he would have taken offense at my describing it like this. Chernobyl and Fukushima showed us the limits of that energy source. Today there is much controversy about “clean and green” energy sources, and many are discredited as inefficient, and having problems of their own. Right. All I can say to that is: if you have a better energy source and want to get rid of your wind tower, you dismantle it, and it is gone. If you want to get rid of your nuclear reactor, what do you do? Wait a few thousand years? But I digress…

All I wanted to say with this post is: space exploration has its place in our world. While it is costly, it also brings benefits, and science and research in and off itself should never be underestimated. Maybe humanity will die out in the next few thousand years. Maybe it will not. Maybe an asteroid will hit, like the one that brought the dinosaurs to extinction, maybe not. Maybe something else will happen, but eventually the Earth will die. How about us? Have we evolved? Have we spread out? Where did we go?

What started with the first early humans moving out of Africa continued with people migrating from here to there throughout our history. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes not. There were the Mongols, the Vikings, the European invasion of the Americas… we explore the jungles and deep seas. Why should we stop at space?


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