Focus-Science and Technology - - Cover Fea­ture -

Astro­naut, first Cana­dian to walk in space

“Ex­plo­ration is what teaches us things. Ex­plo­ration al­lows us to make ed­u­cated and in­formed de­ci­sions. If we never ex­plore then we can­not im­prove and ex­pand. Ex­plo­ration is fun­da­men­tal to hu­man na­ture. It is why we learn to walk be­fore we learn to talk be­cause we have to ex­plore to be­come a well-formed hu­man be­ing. And we have to have ex­plo­ration as part of our so­ci­ety in or­der to be a well-formed so­ci­ety.

A lot of the world is un­in­hab­it­able with­out tech­nol­ogy. But once you de­velop tech­nol­ogy, then liv­ing there has enor­mously valu­able con­se­quences for hu­mankind.

There are so many prece­dents in his­tory. I look at the busi­ness­men of Eng­land in 1496 who were um­ming and ah­hing about Colum­bus, ‘Well, okay he’s dis­cov­ered a new world but should we do any­thing, is there a quick buck to be made?’ But then a few far-sighted peo­ple in the Bris­tol area and a few in Lon­don said, ‘I think ex­plo­ration is go­ing to lead to good things, it is go­ing to take a while to get any money back but let’s fund John Cabot’. And 1496 was a com­plete bust. Cabot launched out of Bris­tol in one ship, and didn’t know what he was do­ing, but he learned a lot.

He came back and then in 1497, he dis­cov­ered New­found­land and opened North Amer­ica to Eng­land, and be­gan the great English ex­plo­ration over the next 300 years.

The real ques­tion is at what point does our tech­nol­ogy ad­vance enough that ex­plo­ration be­comes eco­nom­i­cally vi­able. What parts are okay to be done by sen­sors, and how do we de­ter­mine when peo­ple should go? We can stick a weather sta­tion in Antarc­tica and it will tell us the air tem­per­a­ture and the wind­speed. But that is such a tiny piece of the in­for­ma­tion that we need to know about Antarc­tica. Most of the data needs to be in­quis­i­tively pur­sued, and ro­bots are ter­ri­ble at do­ing that.

There is noth­ing magic about the ‘space’ in space ex­plo­ration, but peo­ple have a very skewed view of tak­ing ex­plo­ration into the third di­men­sion. But it’s in­ac­cu­rate to think like this, as there are so many his­tor­i­cal cases that are al­most iden­ti­cal. You could say, ‘Oh well the tech­nol­ogy is too ex­pen­sive.’ Well, it was pretty ex­pen­sive to do each of those things at the begin­ning but then it be­comes a part of what we do and who we are as a species.

So should we for­sake lu­nar ex­plo­ration for Mar­tian ex­plo­ration? They’re both largely un­known. The real ques­tion is how do we not blow it. How do we not make fa­tal mis­takes. We’re go­ing to get it wrong. On the [In­ter­na­tional] Space Sta­tion, on my three space­flights, stuff went wrong all the time. You would have a hard time count­ing the num­ber of times that we needed to be saved by bring­ing re­place­ment equip­ment up from Earth.

If we go to Mars for a six-month voy­age, then we are ba­si­cally trapped in our own ig­no­rance. We’re go­ing to end up be­ing like the Franklin ex­pe­di­tion, where you think you know what you’re do­ing but you kill ev­ery­body. We have to recog­nise that fail­ure is a big, big part of suc­cess, so you have to give your­self the op­por­tu­nity to fail with­out de­stroy­ing the en­tire ef­fort that you are try­ing to ac­com­plish.”


Chris Had­field’s videos and pho­tos of his time aboard the ISS cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of mil­lions of so­cial me­dia users around the world

An Apollo 17 astro­naut uses a moon buggy to ex­plore the lu­nar sur­face

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