Watching last night’s launch and landing of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stirred up many thoughts and emotions inside of me. Obviously, watching a rocket blast off into orbit, then return and land is exciting merely from the standpoint that it was a first. Being that it was a private company that launched the rocket, there was additional attention to the possibility of a spontaneous, unplanned disassembly (a crash). But it was perfect! In its perfection, it was majestic and awe-inspiring.
After watching the spectacle, I couldn’t help wonder about Elon Musk’s (the founder and CEO of SpaceX) vision to make humans a multi-planetary species. I confess, although I like space topics and sci-fi and discussions surrounding space exploration those ideas largely resided in the fantastic area of my mind and occupied no real estate in the realistic folds.
Part of this delineation was simply because the idea of living on Mars seemed like a really bad idea. It would be like moving to Antarctica, only farther, more expensive and with no breathable air or drinkable water. Not attractive. As Musk says, Mars is a bit of a fixer-upper planet. So why go?
This was the question I couldn’t get over. Even if we were able to figure out a way to get to Mars, inhabit it, terraform it so that it was even reasonably habitable, it would still be a serious downgrade from Earth, and we’re already here.
But the Falcon 9 forced my mind to expand and go beyond these limiting thoughts. One thing that came to mind is that a new planet would be able to provide a blank slate for human governance. It seems like on Earth, we lack the will to make changes beyond the legacy forms of government due to sheer momentum. Like with America, a new civilization would be able to take the best of the past, add it to the spirit of the new world and combine them and evolve humanity.
It is also of no small concern that the human population continues to grow and there is no effective, or ethical way to stop our procreation. If this continues, there becomes a greater and greater need for an escape valve. Another planet becomes more and more attractive in the light of a Mad Max type resource war, even if the planet is a bit of a fixer-upper.
Most significantly, though, is what a new planet does for our mental horizon. Much more than merely establishing a base on Mars that would facilitate further exploration into deeper space, colonizing a planet cultivates a sense of added dimensionality. Humans would, at that point, transcend the identity of mere earthlings. This transcendent identity is probably the first, and most important step to reaching out into the universe beyond Earth’s neighbors.
Now I see the idea of going to Mars with the same spirit that infused me by the Apollo missions. I’m now realizing how dormant those feelings had become due to our last few decades of space futility. Because of this I’m thankful for SpaceX. I remember, now, that space exploration isn’t merely a tacit activity funded to keep military contracts alive or simply a hedge against potential disasters, but an expression of a deep rooted human need to explore the unknown and create new worlds. For the first time in a long time I feel a reinvigorated relationship with the term manifest destiny and I couldn’t be more excited by it.