YES

“There is an in­fin­ity of un­ex­plored things here on earth” Robin Han­bury-tenison

Business Spotlight - - VIEWPOINT - ROBIN HAN­BURY-TENISON is an ex­plorer, au­thor and farmer liv­ing in Corn­wall (www.robins­books.co.uk)

NASA’S cu­mu­la­tive fund­ing a few years ago to­talled $850 bil­lion (€745 bil­lion), and the an­nual bud­get now is around $20 bil­lion — an ob­scenely large sum of money linked to fairly ab­struse re­search. I dis­agree with peo­ple like Stephen Hawk­ing, who was pas­sion­ate about the fu­ture of the hu­man race and civ­i­liza­tion de­pend­ing on go­ing into outer space. It is a kind of de­spair. It means that we have given up on this planet, han­dled things so badly that we have to find an­other planet to live on. That seems like a ni­hilis­tic ap­proach to life, be­cause this planet is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary, pos­si­bly unique in the uni­verse.

There is a greater in­fin­ity of small things here on earth than there is in the vast­ness of outer space. A cu­bic cen­time­tre of soil con­tains a vir­tual in­fin­ity of life. These are real things that are not just in­ter­est­ing in them­selves but also have a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on our own lives. Mi­crobes in your large in­tes­tine af­fect your mood, and we know very lit­tle about how that hap­pens. There is an in­fin­ity of un­ex­plored things here on earth. Yet the amount of money spent on that sort of re­search is in­signif­i­cant com­pared to the $850 bil­lion spent on ex­plor­ing the uni­verse.

Sci­en­tific ad­vances and prod­ucts can’t jus­tify the costs of space ex­plo­ration. Vel­cro, the non-stick fry­ing pan, rocket fuel? Help­ful, but hardly the be-all and end-all of life. Send­ing a body into outer space to test the lim­its of hu­man en­durance is in­ter­est­ing, but it’s hard to be­lieve the fu­ture of mankind de­pends on it. Whereas find­ing out how to stop this planet fall­ing apart and to live more sus­tain­ably cer­tainly is. Un­der­stand­ing the sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ships that hold the planet to­gether is a whole uni­verse of stud­ies that we’re only scrap­ing the sur­face of.

There’s a lot of con­cern about the amount of junk fly­ing around in outer space, but it’s of much less im­por­tance than the im­mense amount of junk we’re pol­lut­ing this planet with. Would we be any poorer if we didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing on Mars? It would be more ex­cit­ing to spend that money on clean­ing up the oceans and on de­vel­op­ing the sci­ence of weather man­age­ment. In­stead, we are see­ing in­vest­ment in space travel and tourism. Who wants to go and sit in a cap­sule out in space? It’s like be­ing on a fair­ground. It’s a pretty dis­grace­ful ex­am­ple of hu­man­ity’s mis­guided pri­or­i­ties.

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