Is Space Race 2.0 going somewhere?

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We like to say we are made of the same elements they are. Countless civilizations have scoured the skies looking for constellations to form their myths. They even built some of their most symbolic structures to resemble or pay homage to some of them. Take the Egyptians and the Mayans as examples. You might think this is a thing of the past, but that would undoubtedly be a huge mistake.

Today, our fixation on the heavens is a different one, less mythical, and more material. However, the connection remains firm.

We have built probes that have already traveled to the far ends of our solar system. We have gone beyond the boundaries of our galaxy with telescopes. And the mystery, like the universe itself, grows more noteworthy the more we learn about it.

In the West, at least, the fascination with the firmament remains strange. In the first place, it is odd to think that we feed only on what the soil yields—a soil which, by the way, is rapidly diminishing due to our insatiable and careless way of exploiting it. Besides, we all depend on it far more than on the stars. And yet, we could cite some astronomers like Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, and Kepler, but not a single soil expert. Soil Scientist. Even the word sounds strange to us.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that heaven has always been associated with death, the holy, the gods, and earthly sinners. Somehow, when we die, we are buried and become part of the ground itself. While we strive for glory in life, for the heights that just a few reach, we all know that in the end we will be companions of the soil. This notion perhaps partly explains our fixation on escaping our inevitable fate by fixing our gaze on the furthest place we have least understood.

Oddly and paradoxically, the reality is more complex, and we are just beginning to discover it. For example, ecology professor David W. Wolfe, author of The Underground, says: "There are more living things in a handful of ordinary soil than there are people on the entire planet." In other words: There is so much to discover in the soil that we have not even begun to explore it adequately. On the other hand, the investment in exploring the soil is still very modest compared to that in exploring the sky, the stars, and the planets.

The above helps to understand why we are still entangled in the space race today. This time, however, it is very different from the one that began years ago. In a race to space 2.0, we are no longer in the midst of a Cold War between superpowers but between the richest men on the planet, desperate for something to entertain their egos and boost their profits.

Take Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson as examples. Three middle-aged, white men who embody what we are supposed to be running away from, and yet we are fascinated by them. So let me explain: We are at a critical time for life on Earth. Recent reports from the scientific community leave no doubt about that. It is a defining moment: either we start cutting back, growing up, ending the urgency to progress and keep our economic system going, or we are going to crash.

Philosopher Bruno Latour makes this point in his book Where to Land. The battle of the 21st century is not between Republicans and Democrats or between the left and the right. Instead, it is a struggle between the modern and the terrestrial. Simply put, we have become too modern. Yet, we must confront what, without falling into nostalgia and traditionalism, binds us only to our own country and to an exclusionary nationalism. The destiny of humanity is a common one.

We must curb emissions and not increase them through megalomaniac projects like space tourism for a few millionaires.

Because, if there is a solution to the climate problem we have already triggered, it will undoubtedly be in the ground, especially in the coal industry?. Therefore, we need to understand how to meet the challenge of stashing as many greenhouse gases in the ground as possible. In this race, we are in a real hurry to get ahead.

Nonetheless, despite being told of the urgency to slow down, we continue to press on the accelerator as if there were no limits; as if we were not already close enough; as if we hadn't even crossed some of them. Although the magnates of the world insist on regaling us with pointless projects like the "terraforming" of Mars - when in fact it is very likely that if we follow this scheme, we will "Marsform" the Earth first - these projects of infinite expansion are simply insufficient and unattainable at the moment. There are other priorities. However, these three billionaires are just the best representatives of something wrong with our modern culture—the need for constant expansion.

An example of megalomania to be avoided: in the Sierra Diablo mountain range, Texas, the magnate Jeff Bezos has invested 42 million dollars in a very unique long-term project. A clock that will run for 10,000 years without anyone intervening. The clock ticks once a year, and one of its hands changes only every century. So the cuckoo sounds only once every millennium. According to Bezos himself, "the clock will outlast our civilisation". And given the pace of his company's growth and the degradation of the nature that sustains us, he is probably right.

"I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this," he said after his last spacewalk.

And it's actually worse. We're not just paying for his whims through the purchases we make from his giant company. Both Musk and Bezos are fighting over the grants and contracts that governments and their space agencies can provide. NASA seems to have lately decided in favor of Musk's Space X project. But it is clear that although the world is too small for all three, at least for their egos, what is not too small for them are the public funds to support their projects.

We cannot afford to idolize the most "expansive", the limitless ones. They must be taken down from their pedestal, and limited -in short, projects with a high carbon footprint must be taxed. If we want to get to the skies so fast, we will neglect the ground so much that we will end up losing both through greed. And no one denies that we must continue to look to the stars, to research and explore. But it is better to do so without forgetting the state of the ground -the soil- you are standing on. Lest by looking up so much, you trip and fall.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

September 15, 2021 — Juan Bordera

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