Leave space alone!

We are looking at conquering other planets even as we destroy our own!

By Dr N. Janardhan (Point)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Sun 19 Oct 2014, 10:59 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:41 PM

WHEN NEIL Armstrong became the first man to step on the Moon in 1969, it was a “giant leap for mankind”. There could have been no disputing that. Today, however, that ‘small step’ can definitely be disputed! In fact, not regretting may be a blunder!

While humans are unable to control the destiny of the planet they occupy, they are bidding to shape the destiny of planets beyond their own. Surely, there could have been better ways to spend the $250,000 (approximately today’s price) a minute that it cost for Armstrong to walk on the moon.

In the intervening years, as threats to our planet have multiplied, that question has become even more important. No doubt, there have been spinoffs, from satellites to several other luxuries that we have got used to in our daily lives, but surely safeguarding the survival of earth should rate above exploring Mars and beyond.

Notwithstanding India’s recent ‘more bang for the buck’ Mars Orbiter Mission, which cost only $74 million, the fact is that some scientists rightly complain that thanks to space research, they know more about “Venus and its clouds which rain boiling sulphuric acid” than they do about their planet’s surface.

As the earth staggers under the load of seven billion-plus humans and the problems of their creation, several nations are spending tonnes of money and engaging some of the finest scientific minds in discovering not on how to save the earth, but on how to get off it.

Another trend is space holidays! It is a hard fact to sell that this would help cure the earth’s problems. US multi-millionaire and world’s first space tourist Dennis Tito’s emotional narration of his experience in “paradise” in 2001, which then cost him $20 million, is hard to counter, but a little stock-taking could help sustain the intended argument.

Starting from the very bottom and climbing up to where we began, fragile human life finds itself confronting nature’s larger gestures — earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and plagues, even fiery meteors from space.

Not just human life, the entire ecosystem – animals and plants – is going through a test by fire. Even as evidence is being accumulated to suggest that a domino effect could spread through the environment, humans continue to wipe out more living organisms.

Any gold that we may have attempted to dabble with has turned spurious. Rainforests are fast disappearing, water bodies are polluted, and so is the air we breathe. The ozone layer is threatened; the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is bigger than ever; the area of the thinning ozone is said to be an area three times the size of the United States. Ditto in the Arctic too.

Every attempt made to scale Mount Everest leaves behind tonnes of garbage in its wake. Forget missions to conquer the peak, there are now salvage bids to clear the muck.

To all these, the world’s powers turn a half blind eye, leaving the rest without a vision. And, as humans conquer, nature submits. Or does it?

After the menacing stint on this planet, human villainy has now set eyes on space like never before and that with some incriminating evidence of the terror that is likely to follow.

In 1999, NASA lost the Mars Climate Orbiter, a space probe that disappeared without a trace as it circled the planet. Thereafter, the Mars Polar Lander went silent after its scheduled touchdown on the Martian surface. What happened with Skylab is now history and the worst from Mir was checked, but not without tremendous anxiety. More than a decade ago, Russia lost control of four of its military satellites after a fire in its control station. There have been other mishaps and close calls since then.

Despite all these, NASA announced at the turn of the century that a human space explorer would be able to set foot on Mars by 2020 and visit other planets of the solar system in the following decades.

From the age of ‘techno-fantasists’, we are now in the world of ‘techno-realists’. Star Wars, National Missile Defence, and the like stand out superimposed on the bitter future of space. It now seems that Armstrong’s landmark moon visit and the space race that followed had more to do with asserting Cold War supremacy than any sense of global responsibility.

According to an American scientist, “I see a second industrial revolution where the industrial base would shift from the earth to the moon. And that would solve our problems of energy and pollution. I see this happening soon.” While envisaging exploiting the resources available on the moon, and later on asteroids, to set up an industrial base on the satellite, he added: “It is the prohibitive cost of shifting materials from earth to moon that questions the viability of such a project. But that can be overcome.”

Haven’t we had enough of revolutions on earth? Why is a second innings being contemplated, and that too on a new turf? Should space be our hope for the future or just another hell above (on) earth? Should our children be inheritors or mere survivors?

Hey people! Leave that space alone!

Dr N. Janardhan is a UAE-based political analyst and honorary fellow of the University of Exeter, UK

More news from