As China steps up its space program, HubHao asks the question whether or not space travel is actually something we should aspire to or at least prioritize. John Acton and Edward O’Neill make the opposing arguments.
The Case For: A Great Leap Forward Into Space by John Acton
“Because it’s there… Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.” In 1923, climber George Mallory spoke of a dream that failed him three times. The final attempt cost him his life. Did it deter would be conquerors of the world’s tallest peak? Not a chance. His Everest journals rain with ambition in every word. Everest has been tamed. Space has not. His words are equally valid in space.
China is overcrowded, so say many residents. There is a case for more space. Without expanding land at cost to the seas, there is valid reason to look up. And up, and up, and up. Stories of Chang’e, the moon goddess and China’s love for all things lunar should encourage heads to face upwards with dreams aplenty.
Recently, with school, I have been paying attention to the Dongguan Oral English Competition. The theme set has varied from robotics to innovation in recent years. Technology is key. The Chinese space program is linked with 8 universities including the promising Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (北京航空航天大学).
Three other universities feature Astronautics in their titles. Rather than being a long-winded title, they are keystone major public research level universities. Often churning out politicians, billionaires like GoerTek Acoustics (歌尔声学) founder Jiang Bin (姜滨), military commanders and engineers key to China’s space advancement (such as Qi Faren, 戚发轫). Scientific advancements and technological innovations stretch far beyond patenting space-age tools. Space exploration can act as a catalyst for the development of science and technology.
Some see that the “long-term destiny of humanity lies in the exploration of space,” and China spoke of this to the media. “We won’t be left behind.” A further argument cast was “China’s global stature will increase too.” Global relations and views of space travel are changing. China encouraged people to go and observe the Wenchang complex and the debut flight of a Long March 7 rocket. Large viewing areas sweep around this site. Brian Harvey, author of China in Space: The Great Leap Forward, predicted China will match space superpowers by 2020. They have invested $6 billion a year, far below the U.S.A.’s $40 billion annual investment.
With this China has announced plans to investigate Einstein’s “spooky” phenomena of “entanglement”, a new space station, x-ray satellites and much more. Wang Chi of the National Space Science Centre, Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted as saying, “We are not [just] satisfied with the achievements we have made in the fields of the space technology and space application. With the development of the Chinese space programme, we are trying to make contributions to human knowledge about the universe.” Pioneering words.
In my view, space travel is most inspirational. To paraphrase Alan Grant, in the poor Jurassic Park 3 movie, “I have a theory that there are two kinds of boys. There are those that want to be astronomers, and those that want to be astronauts.” One cannot exist without the other.
To visit a museum, such as Beijing Air and Space Museum, and see something that reached for the stars, as opposed to just reading words, must be awe-inspiring for a middle school or primary school student. Heroes have been spawned by early forays into the beyond of Earth’s atmosphere. Back in 2003, Yáng Lìwěi (杨利伟) of Liaoning was China’s debut man in spaceflight. Liú Yáng (刘洋) became the first woman in space, less than a decade after her member of the opposite sex. Give a new generation the integrity of the race for space some ability and moral belief backing, who knows where China can end up?
For my money, they’ll be a China Mobile store in space long before McDonald’s open a drive through. With romantic names, such as Shén zhōu(神州; literally “Divine Land”), it would be foolish not to look to the heavens and dream of endless possibilities?
The Case Against: Let’s Sort Our Own World Before Looking For Another by Edward O’Neill
China’s recent advancements in space may have inspired this argument, but when I write the case against, I do so against space travel for all countries. China has as much or as little right to explore the stars as any other country.
Space is amazing. It’s the one thing that can still make me sit in wonder like when I was a child. Whether it’s watching some sci-fi or reading a forum online. I still remember seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. I’ve read all of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s AMA on Reddit. Space travel is utterly fascinating.
But I also read the newspapers and I watch the news. There are millions of families fleeing war and country’s react by planning to build a wall. There are religious fanatics beheading hostages, islands of plastic garbage in the oceans, and presidents telling their people to take their law into their own hand and kill their fellow citizens.
Space travel is fascinating, but it is also distracting. How can we be thinking about travelling to new worlds when our own is threatening to fall into chaos?
Surely the money spent on a new space station is better spent on providing healthcare to more people? Rather than pumping funds into researching how to make life on Mars possible, put those resources into finding a cure for HIV or cancer. It seems to me a strange kind of detachment when we can spend billions on space stations when we have millions of children living in poverty.
I’m a realist. I am not suggesting that we have to make Earth a utopia before we turn our ambitions to space. But I do think we can do better than what we have right now. And until we do, we need to think about what our priorities really are.
There is a weaknesses in ourselves to view space travel as this idealistic thing. We see it a somewhere without politics and separate from war. But the truth is that when we go up into space, it is impossible to leave these things behind. With our wars on terror, our wars on drugs, cold wars old and new, we are still more likely to build a Death Star than we are a U.S.S. Enterprise.
Space travel is less about exploration and more about domination, which inevitably leads to weaponization. We learnt to sail, we built warships. We learnt to fly, we built fighter jets. We split the atom, and we made bombs. We invent drones, and we use them to blow up people. Why would space travel be any different?
When China sends the first man up to Mars, you can be sure there will still be hundreds of millions living under the poverty line. When the United States goes one step further, you can bet your bottom dollar they will be no closer to giving their citizens universal healthcare. And when Russia sends up a new space station that beats them both, I’ll be waiting for the bombs to drop.
Space travel is an amazing thing. It is something we should aspire too. But let’s sort our own world out first before we go looking for another, and maybe by the time we’ve done that we can be trusted to go into space without turning it into one giant doomsday weapon.
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