Humanity’s survival may be in our stars


By Austin Stadelman, Columnist

Not since the mid-20th century has humanity focused so much of its attention on the stars above. The nature of space travel to the nations of the Cold War was drastically different compared to contemporary nations’ objectives in space, as private investment looks to build off what NASA and other state-led space programs have accomplished.

While the 1960s exploration of space was fueled by the desire to point weapons of mass destruction at the enemy from orbit, now space serves as a legitimate commercial frontier which people aspire to one day travel through at will.

This change not only serves as a more comforting outcome, but it is also a necessary goal if we hope to survive as a species.

Humanity’s time on Earth may be limited. Environmental detriment is rapidly shortening the window to reverse catastrophic damage, nuclear war will always be a potential threat and the upcoming challenges of artificial intelligence — especially when weaponized — may produce disastrous outcomes that will lead to grave buyer’s remorse. Regardless of what happens to humans, Earth will go on and survive without us. But Earth isn’t conscious — humans are.  

It should be noted that by all means in which humans can damage the livability of Earth, including those from the aforementioned examples, are preventable and potentially reversible. Given the nature of human innovation and the historical progress we’ve made as a species, no one should be counting humans out just yet. But to ensure we can survive, regardless of what happens to our livability on Earth, the next step for the advancement of humanity always has, and always will be, space.

It’s often believed we are somehow special, that we are the only life in the vast and expanding universe because if we weren’t, then we’d certainly have run into something out there by now. Yet paradoxically, the vastness of the universe itself suggests our anecdotal evidence toward proving life is rendered meaningless. One of the more frightening scenarios is not that we are or aren’t alone, but rather that at some point, there were other intelligent species that no longer exist and whose demise was brought upon themselves.

This is known as the “Great Filter”: The idea that all advanced life reaches a point in a civilization that leads to the self-destruction of that species, whether through war or environmental destruction.  

If the Great Filter theory is correct — which is, unfortunately, almost certainly impossible to prove — then we are in big trouble. The best way to ensure the survival of our species, and overcome the potential Great Filter, is to commit to an idea that projects all of humanity toward a collective objective. And what larger objective is there than to reach the boundaries of our pocket of the universe?

Our survival, in the grand scheme of the human timeline, almost certainly entails searching beyond Earth and exploring what we are capable of in alien environments. Once focused on reaching the moon, investments into Mars colonization by entrepreneurs like Elon Musk now seem to be leading the way. Though progress in such ambitions has been small overall and often seems insignificant to those outside the actual testing sites and boardrooms, acting on behalf of a better future always entails acting in the now, as there is never a “better time” to act on a cause than right now.

Deriving funding for space exploration is a lot harder to pitch when there is not the threat of your mortal enemy sending missiles pointed at you into orbit, but the larger picture is just as vital of an idea for human survival. Perhaps the intensification of climate change will once again drive the public’s attitude and the governments of the world’s investment into space. New technology vital to a communal space society, like reusable rockets, once thought to be limited to the screens of science fiction, have already been successfully tested.

For thousands of years, people have looked up at the cosmos and found beauty in the glimmering emptiness that is our universe, often questioning our significance in the endless sea of stars. A thousand years from now, we may find a lot more solace in our own place in the universe by looking up at the night sky from Earth and sharing an interstellar smile with someone across the galaxy.

Austin is a junior in LAS.

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