Thursday, 4 February 2010

Small step forward for mankind

So Obama has cut Nasa’s budget and shelved any plans for putting a man on the moon by 2020. Across the political spectrum the press are calling it a travesty. Some wildly, some barely, but there is at least a hint of dismay in all of it. America will fall behind, China will overtake them in the exploration of the galaxy, and technological “progress”, with all its unintended wonders, will be slowed. You can even hear the shuffling of nervous environmentalists in their seats, as they see all their climate change techno fixes go up in smoke.

There aren’t many things world leaders do which can be seen as a positive and progressive step forward for humanity, but this is certainly one of them. Whether it was intended this way or not, is another matter. The solution to all of Earth’s ills already exists on this planet. No amount of money ploughed into research centres for space exploration is needed in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and peak oil, bring about peace in the middle east, greater social cohesion within nations, and to raise the standard of living for those already living on earth.

We’ve had the answers to all the manmade evils and inequalities for millennia and passed them up to inflate our collective ego to an even more monstrous size. Like a pissing stream of urine, drunk on our phantom triumphs over nature, we aim for an unmarked goal, an ill defined objective. Somewhere out there, in the breadth of one careless sweep of the arm, across the unimaginable expanse of the universe is our old friend Progress.

Any old friends of mine would no doubt be splitting their sides hearing me speak like this today. As a teenager the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson captured my imagination like no other work of fiction at the time. I still find the concept of colonising and terraforming another planet incredibly fascinating, as well as the technical details involved in space travel. This stems more from my breeding however, than from any form of rational self interest.

These days I’m more likely to be swooning over the cycle of phosphorous, the basics of barbering, or the art of origami, than some form of state funded national escapism. How dull, but how bloody useful.

Practical material objects and tangible skills are all humanity needs in order to create a world in which it can live a fulfilling life. With Obama’s retreat from the race to put a man back on the moon, this should only be seen as a small but symbolic step forward for mankind.