COMMANDER CHRIS HADFIELD
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.”
“EXPLORATION IS FUNDAMENTAL TO HUMAN NATURE. IT IS WHY WE WALK BEFORE WE TALK”
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