Before humanity looks to stars, it should look to morals for continuity
One of the most visionary leaders in the world today is Elon Musk. He made his fortune by co-founding PayPal, which changed internet commerce and made Musk one of the wealthiest people on the planet.
Musk is currently the CEO of Tesla, which specializes in solar and electric energy sources, such as their successful cars, the Gigafactory, the Powerwall battery and recent plans to solve Australia’s electricity crisis. His recent passion has been space exploration, so he founded SpaceX, a private corporation whose ultimate goal is Mars colonization. You’ve likely heard of SpaceX for their ongoing project of vertically landing rockets on floating platforms.
An ongoing theme of my column is how technological innovation, if used properly, has allowed us to have a quality of life unimaginable to previous generations. Many futurists believe the next step is to leave Earth and begin exploring and settling in other worlds. It will push the limits of our understanding of science and technology, as well as require the bravest men and women we can find (there is a high probability of many of these early trips being one-way).
Physicist Stephen Hawking has been one of the most prominent supporters of space exploration. He believes it is essential for human survival, arguing that, “We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history,” and we must learn to live on other planets “to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million.”
Musk himself has a similar view, saying he believes, “I really think there are two fundamental paths (for humans): One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out…The alternative is become a spacefaring and multi-planetary species.”
On one hand, their arguments are compelling. The earth’s environment is in crisis, and sustainable off-world habitats will allow humanity to survive beyond whatever happens to our home planet. More cynical people have questioned this, wondering why people need to travel elsewhere when we cannot even take care of this planet — why spread our tendency to self-destruct to other places?
The catch to any of this is, of course, cost. None of this is cheap, especially since it is new technology. Prices will not decrease until mass production, which is a long way away. This may result in a further divide between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes. Those who cannot buy their way off the planet will be condemned to remain here. Space travel will not be a viable option for the human race as a whole until it becomes widely affordable.
Money is a limiting factor for so many of these futurist projects. Consider human longevity — the ability to extend life beyond what should be naturally possible. Imagine living until 200 years old, or maybe even longer. Enormous amounts of money are being spent on medical research to find the root causes of aging, and so far, 120 years appears to be a limit; only one person has lived beyond that.
I believe these projects are worth it. Humanity needs to continue pushing itself mentally, scientifically and technologically if it wants to survive. Perhaps most importantly, we need to improve morally. All of this progress has the potential for enormous downsides, and hopefully, those who are leading the way can instill their sense of wonder and duty in the rest of us following their path.