A year before I was born a spacecraft left earth and this morning it left our Solar System behind as it travelled out with the bubble of our sun. For the next ten to twenty years it will keep traveling into deep space into…nothing. As far as we know.
I am often in two minds about space exploration and the real benefits from it. On one hand I admire the scale of people’s vision and the drive to advance science and research beyond our planet’s boundaries. The images that the two Voyager crafts have beamed back to earth have been breath-taking and the knowledge that something made here on earth has the capacity to travel for around twelve billion miles and still communicate with us is truly amazing. To understand our surroundings and help to develop our knowledge of our galaxy and it’s contents is great but I’ve often been left empty by the enthusiasm of those who have a vision of a future in the stars and beyond.
As I look at what we’ve done here to our own planet, I wonder if space exploration for some is as much a case of an Etch-a-sketch approach to inhabiting a planet as anything else: Shake, shake, shake and start again. I am interested in the planets and stars around us and love watching shows on them and the history of them – Brian Cox being the stand out example of recent years. Perhaps it’s just the cynic in me that suspects that every politician who puts money towards these projects is looking to suck the minerals and natural resources from across the galaxy rather than do what man has always done – explore for the sense of adventure.
We have on Voyager 1 the disc of music, words and noises of earth – a representation to anyone who may intercept it. Assuming they have access to a circa 1977 record player. Does Chuck Berry, Beethoven and greetings from a child represent who we are anymore? Did it ever? The likelihood is that we will be the ones to pick up the Voyager craft in centuries to come as it drifts through nothing for the next 40,000 years – in that time we will surely develop the means to travel out into deep space as in science fiction – towards Ursa Minor.
While it is worth noting the success of this mission, it does sort of belong in that nostalgic view of space travel and research that existed in the 1960s and 70s. As a child I watched failed attempts and fatalities in the American space program and ultimately the hunger for further exploration is not as large as it once was. There is an understandable apathy towards the whole thing. Yes the research and development has provided the world with many inventions and breakthroughs that we would have otherwise missed out on. However I am always reminded of the story about how the Americans spent millions on developing the biro pen to work in space, only for the Russians to say they just used a pencil.
Maybe if we hadn’t spent all the money on developing solutions to “out of this world” problems we could have solved some of our own more local issues. While I accept the argument that money alone doesn’t solve the issues of our planet, combined with the intellect and abilities of the scientists it was pent on then perhaps we could have alternative fuel cars by now, or have come up with more life saving medicines.
The romance of space will always exist as we soak up the numerous sci-fi adventures of our Kirks, Doctors and others, but with Voyager 1 ow having left orbit and the appetite for the Mission to Mars not really present is it time to put NASA into mothballs for a future generation to worry about…if it is around to worry at all?