There are so many programmes on Discovery and National Geographic about how one day we will inhabit colonies on the Moon, Mars, Venus and even the asteroid belt.
I watch them and wonder, why?
Already millions of dollars are being spent on research programmes and simulated habitats towards how we are going to get there and how we are going to live while there. But once again I ask the question, why do we need to go there at all?
One answer is that we can mine resources there. These celestial bodies are basically made of the same stuff as Earth, so what could we mine there that we could not mine here and for a tiny fraction of the cost?
There is no way that off Earth mining operations could be cost justified, and if we run out of rare earth metals to make our phones with here, then forget about them coming from Mars as the cost would mean that we could no longer afford phones.
The next argument is that we could use these bases as staging posts to build spaceships with which to travel to the stars.
Forget it, it’s not going to happen.
If we could travel at light speed it would still take us over four years to reach our nearest neighbour Proxima Centauri, but we can’t travel at that fast.
Current scientific thinking is that we could possibly get to 10 per cent of light speed which would mean taking more than 40 years to get there only to discover that there are no habitable planets, and so another 40 years to get back.
The astronauts would die en-route and even if we sent unmanned spaceships, 40 years to get there and another four years to send back a message that there is nothing useful, a colossal waste of money.
The next argument is that we could set up manufacturing plants in low gravity on the moon that would be able to make exotic materials, compounds and structures.
Possibly, but again the cost of these would be massive because of the logistics involved, and anyway have we not had a factory in space orbiting the Earth for the last 20 years?
What exotic materials or compounds has that been able to manufacture in that period, anything that could be scaled up in a plant on the Moon?
Well I haven’t heard of anything yet but maybe they are keeping it a secret.
Here is the thing about secrets, the more people are in on it the less likely it will remain secret, and so far there have been 236 astronauts from 18 countries who have spent time on the International Space Station. Still not heard anything.
I am willing to concede that space research does from time to time invent or discover things that are useful to society at large. Where would we be without Teflon or Velcro? We have benefited from having communication, observation and GPS satellites in orbit but in general it has all been an expensive folly.
And now we have India, Brazil and North Korea all sending satellites into orbit which cost billions of dollars just to be able to join a “big boys club” when they would be better off spending that money on schools and hospitals for their people.
If we do ever discover how to travel faster than light, then that will be the time to build spaceships but until then let’s just feed the poor.