For much of recorded history, everyone simply agreed that the sun and the rest of the universe revolved around the Earth. It wasn’t a matter of debate and you didn’t need to be an astronomer to see that the Earth was a stable platform and the sun, planets, and stars rose and set in the sky in predictable patterns.
There was this little problem with the planets, though. Their motion wasn’t that smooth, really. As astronomers observed and recorded their movements through the sky, it became clear that they did some strange things like backing up!
They called it retrograde motion and made up all kinds of explanations for it that preserved the geocentric universe to which they were conceptually wedded. Eventually, though, Copernicus and Kepler made it clear that a heliocentric solar system, with the Sun at the center, would simplify the model and eliminate the anomalies.
I believe the same kind of shift will eventually occur with humans in this century. While we are accustomed to seeing the universe from a very narrow perspective located on Earth, it will become clear that the cosmic perspective is the broadest and most effective way to consider the human place in the universe.
Space exploration, from the work that is accomplished by Earth-based astronomers to the robot probes crawling across the surface of Mars to human spaceflight and off-planet settlements expands our awareness of who we are and where we are in the universe. As this expansion continues, I believe we will, increasingly, see ourselves as “citizens of the universe.”
And we won’t think of it as being something extraordinary.
Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved
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