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Wednesday 30 July 2014

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Commentary

Rick Tumlinson – “Why Space?” Part I

by rick tumlinson

I thought I might step away from the moment by moment politics of the space field and do a bit of priming and explanation for what people see happening in the human space arena, yet many misunderstand — as was recently evidenced by various pundits reactions to Newt Gingrich’s attitudes towards our space program — attitudes actually shared by the leaders of the Obama space team. I will deal with the ironic politics of this another time, but for now here’s some of the basic thinking he and many of those of both parties who are doing the actual bending of metal, building of rockets and buying of rides share.

As a spokesperson for the Frontier movement, I am often asked: “Why space?” A time back I decided to write the answer in a series of short essays to be filed onto the net as a means of perhaps explaining the somewhat unexplainable — “Why?” You see, to those of us who see the expansion of humanity and life into space as the next obvious action for our species, answering this one question actually involves answering the biggest question of all: “Why are we here?”

I will follow this filing with more discussing the why and how of this new frontier, as it is after all 2012, and some among us are preparing for the end of days — and I don’t just mean the election of someone else’s candidate. Also, as the year unfolds we will see the first flights of a generation of New Space rocketships, built and flown by those who already know the answer. Be it Bezos or Bigelow, Branson or Musk, these new rocketeers are taking the first steps on the path to the stars. It is important to understand these are not just rich boys and their toys, but the harbingers of a revolution, raising up the best of our capabilities to reach for our destiny even as those with no vision decry our culture’s collapse.

Just as with their predecessors and fellow travelers in NASA and the world’s other space agencies, to them the obvious “Why?” has become “How?” and they have set about building this critical pathway to the future. But in our passion and impatience to get on with the job, those of us in this movement often forget others may not “get it” yet… so it is important now and then to stop and explain, and for ourselves, to review.

In a sense there is one answer to both questions involving the “Why?” of space and existence. It involves God, the universe and life itself. In another sense there are many answers, for the frontier is essentially endless, and offers each one of us a chance to find out there what we seek — in here — if we but look up with open eyes and reach up with open hands.

Space is a laboratory, an experiment in all forms of all things, an infinity of possibilities, properties and places that cry out for investigation and exploration. Space is a canvas, as large and blank as any ever created, for it is indeed creation itself and it calls to us to paint upon it with our own dreams and imaginations anything we wish, anything we want, and anything we can imagine.

Space is our past, the place from where we come, the place out of which some particles joined other particles and molecules joined with other molecules and at some point reproduced themselves and thus began an incredible and nearly impossible set of coincidences and near misses and direct hits with other objects in space through all of which the spark of life survived and eventually beyond all odds produced this creature we call a human being, who can type these words and send them through space to you.

Space is our present, for whether or not you aware of it we are speeding through space right now at around 70,000 miles an hour, on a tiny ball of rock that just happens to be in the right place and made up of the right mix of chemicals and energy to allow us to be here and not fly off, and which, at any moment could, through this or that cosmic whim or change in the mix of forces around us — be gone — or we could be gone from it, and it would continue along without us. We use space in myriad forms and yet are also hostage to the technologies that we have created to fly through it, in the form of rockets whose payloads can transmit the images of peace or be the cause of war and destruction.

And space is the future — if we choose to rise up the next level from our humble roots as creatures designed for killing rabbits with rocks and learn that we can not only end our conquest of the life of this planet but flip the war between our civilization and the rest of the biosphere on its head. By opening space, for the first time in our history, rather than inexorably extracting the blood of life from this oh so precious sphere in our quest for wealth, we will turn outwards and upwards, creating new wealth from places already dead, advancing into places where there is no life and bringing its seeds with us.

To some of us who have the frontier calling, there is no question “Why space?” It makes no sense. We look out and know that out there are more galaxies than there are all the grains of sand on all the beaches and in all the deserts of the world and in each of those a million times a million suns, around which swirl millions of worlds, each different, each a question mark itself and each a possibility for new life, new knowledge and new places to be — and we wonder, how could anyone, anyone, ask such a question?

The hubris in this might seem to reside in those who look at the stars and dream such incredible dreams, of flights to worlds unknown, of new civilizations and a humanity finally rising above its ragged roots. I suggest it is more in those who look at the stars and do not. Those who think we have done it all, those who do not understand, who do not grasp nor comprehend the incredible adventure ahead of us, and how we, We who are only a blink of an eye beyond the discovery of fire can even wonder “Why space?” or even “Why are we here?”

To those of us who know, it is obvious, We are here… to go there.

Go out tonight and look at the stars. And allow yourself to dream. Perhaps you too will then begin to understand the “Why” of it all…

Rick Tumlinson has been called one of the world’s top space “Visionaries” and named one of the 100 most influential people in space. He was a protégé of Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill. founder of the Space Frontier Foundation, and a founding trustee of the X-PRIZE Foundation. A regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Space News, he has also written for the New York Times, Popular Science Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Readers Digest and numerous other publications.

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