Last week, we were lucky enough to hear from the current director of the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, who was interested in comparing the experiences of robots and humans in space travel. For a long time, we have thought of going out into space as a human enterprise but there are many downsides when sending human missions out into space. Humans have a defined lifespan and the effects of decreased gravity have drastic effects on our anatomy, causing some very challenging problems that would require us to have to sometimes work out for up to 5 hours per day in space so we do not experience significant muscle degeneration. However, although people have known about many of the downsides of going into space for a long time, there has always remained a part of me certainly that would like to see us make the journey beyond Earth and go to other worlds.
This desire to see humans in space, although misguided, for me certainly came from my first memories of space through the lens of science fiction. I am sure we all heard stories of people making a new life for ourselves outside of a planet whose resources we have depleted greatly and finding new worlds where we can potentially grow. This talk actually ties very closely to our theme of humans and nature as it makes a strong case for the very human notion of escape. Space has long seemed to many the ultimate escape from our day to day problems but it is interesting to think about in terms of the difficulties that humans would experience while up there, as we are not particularly adapted for anything other than surviving at ground level here. There are no distinct ways of evolving fast enough to properly survive long enough in space for space travel to be considered a possibility. Robots are able to travel much more efficiently as they can be subjected to a greater variety of conditions than humans without experiencing the negative consequences that humans would have to face.
Still the idea of escape from Earth sounds very enticing but even if we were to leave Earth with the help of robots, then we would have to find another planet that we could potentially live on. We would have to heavily rely on technology just to sustain ourselves while we try to make the other planet more like Earth. No matter where in the universe we would go we would have to find a place that is reasonably similar to Earth, meaning that we would always have a tie to Earth no matter how far we would flee from it. Perhaps instead of always looking towards to the skies for a solution, it would be preferable to look for solutions to the problems that we have here on Earth without thinking of escaping from here. If we can design such technological ways to survive in space, we can come up with similarly innovative ways to save ourselves here on the surface, until maybe one day when we can look for a place among the stars.