The Year 2021 was unprecedented for a number of reasons! Notably, the Covid-19 pandemic continued to assert its dominance over the world and Space Age II took off, involving commercial space flight launches. For today, we focus on the latter!
Generation X gave us visionaries like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, while the Baby Boom generation gave us British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. Their passion, tenacity, and grit have captivated us and helped transform science fiction into fact, allowing everyday citizens, not trained as astronauts, to experience spaceflight and all that it affords.
Each visionary is taking a different path, some are more focused on commercial suborbital flights while others mount orbital flights and deep space missions. Of course, the group willing and able to pay for suborbital flights are demographically quite distinct from the group willing and able to pay for orbital flights. Suborbital flights could take thousands of passengers to the edge of the planet’s atmosphere over the next several years, whereas orbital flights are estimated to take only a few hundred privileged passengers over the same time period. As it stands, it seems that space exploration and migration is set to accelerate over the coming years, and what once was a closed industry will finally be opening up its doors. This venture raises mixed emotions, poses benefits and risks, sparks our imaginations, and makes our migration into the solar ecosystem seem possible, at least somewhere in the not-so-distant future.
Over the past 10 months, we have seen actors, artists, and entrepreneurs going on suborbital trips to space and returning with messages for humanity from the cosmos. On the 11th of December, another Blue Origin all-citizen suborbital flight safely launched and returned back to Earth. This was to be the third flight of its kind. The New Shephard NS-19 mission is accordingly named after the legendary Alan Shephard, who in 1961 became the first American to fly into space.
The NS-19 flight saw six all-citizen astronauts cross the Karmen line, into space. One of the crew onboard was Dylan Talyor, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of Space For Humanity; a charity whose mission is to democratise space (He is also a founder of 2211.world). Taylor had dreamed about becoming an astronaut since he was a small child watching Star Trek on a television screen with his father. The other five crew members boarding this landmark flight included the “Good Morning America” co-anchor Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley (the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard) investor Evan Dick, and the first parent-child duo to fly in space: Lane Bess (Bess Ventures founder) and Cameron Bess.
The New Shepard crew got a glimpse of the universal and planetary perspective and this afforded them the opportunity to flirt with the Overview Effect, a term coined by Rhodes Scholar and space philosopher Frank White in 1987 in his book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. Other astronauts have also attested to experiencing a version of the “Overview Effect.” The Overview Effect is described as a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from space or in space, in orbit or on lunar missions. It is “the experience of seeing first-hand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, ‘hanging in the void,’ shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.”
The planetary perspective allows the observer to witness the signatures of human civilization on Earth. This perspective offers a new way of relating to the world and nature. From this vantage point, the beauty of Earth is obvious to see, alongside the environmental damage, which makes the doomsday fate of our species seem almost palpable. It is a snapshot of our planet in space and time that helps us develop a stronger affinity to nature; a vista that erases all pretences and distractions and delivers the message to the observer clearly. We are all connected, flying through the vast inhospitable cosmos, on a living spaceship called Earth! Ultimately, the planetary perspective that derives from the Overview Effect offers new insight into who we are, what we are part of, and where we come from.
As space exploration and travel become more inclusive, additional people will experience this new perspective. As demonstrated by historical voyages, this journey will inevitably impact our individual and collective identity, and influence what we care about now, and what future societies are likely to care about. Perhaps this new perspective will help us transition from an egocentric understanding of the world, where we imagine ourselves to be at the center of the universe, relating to the world on a local and territorial basis, toward an ecocentric understanding of the world, where nature is at the centre of existence and we see ourselves as part of the gestalt of life.
What is the fate that awaits our species? Well, based on the story of extinction, the history of our planet, as well as the laws of physics such as entropy (the inevitable gradual decline into disorder), I am afraid it doesn’t look so good for most of us. It seems the minuscule (bacteria and algae) and gargantuan (celestial bodies) have a much better chance at longer-term survival compared with us mere middle-of-the-line mortals.
Is it our fate to go out with an apocalyptical meteorite strike, just like our friends the dinosaurs? Will we experience another cyclical Ice Age? Perhaps our own creation, Artificially Intelligent (AI) robots and machines will become the dominant and advanced form of intelligence? The prophesied Singularity event (when AI becomes self-aware and its ability to function and learn self-autonomously surpasses our own) could lead to Armageddon, a global war between human beings and intelligent robots. Or perhaps our demise will be the result of our sheer lack of consideration for planet Earth, which has already caused widespread climate change, pollution, and a scarcity of minerals and resources. These are just some of the likely scenarios that could unfold. What is certain, based on historical evidence, is that some type of catastrophic ending may be on the horizon.
On the one hand, this awareness can be considered a bit of a curse and on the other hand, this foresight can be counted as a blessing. It may seem somewhat morbid to contemplate our personal and collective demise, but death is an inherent part of life and should not be ignored. Life and death are complementary and coexist in perfect union; one cannot exist without the other, and how we respond to death will inevitably affect how we live, how alive we feel in our waking days and the way we interact with the world around us.
Our existential plight begs the question, so what? That is to say, how will we as a species respond to our predicted future? Will we succumb to the “bury our heads in the sand” or the “end is nigh” mindset or to the mindset that believes we can shape our own destiny. As the poet, Dylan Thomas famously said, “go gently into that good night?” or will we “rage against the dying of the light?”. While fate is predetermined by outside forces, our destiny can be shaped by the personal choices we make! Our very nature, as conscious and self-aware beings, dictates that we ask questions, explore, create, and expand. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are in a position of responsibility and power in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. This position requires wisdom and courage, the impetus to ensure the survival of our own species and that of other species and to maintain the homeostasis of the planet. As self-aware beings, we no longer forgo the essence of life, and we look to preserve and spread it. Where humans are, life follows, wouldn’t that be nice as our legacy! Perhaps life is destined to “spread out” into the universe, and as the cosmos expands apart, life begins to manifest into gradually more complex systems that are increasingly more capable. Who will we become? Where will our story as a species end?
Among space exploration advocates, the plan is to create a spacefaring and multi-planetary species. The aim is to further explore the unknown universe, advance scientific knowledge and expand life as we know it out beyond the Earth, becoming a spacefaring and multiplanetary species. The prediction is that our expansion into the solar ecosystem will impact the ethnology and ethnography of our species. But perhaps one aim of space exploration that is less discussed here on Earth among everyday people is the fact that space travel is also about ensuring humankind’s survival against terrestrial or celestial cataclysm. Furthermore, space migration offers some solutions to the underpopulation and overpopulation (an issue that is regional and cyclical) debates. Whatever side of the population debate you take, perhaps we can agree that what follows global population growth is higher consumption levels, which has contributed to a shortage of natural resources, increased pollution, and an escalation in climate change. Based on this premise, we are either already outgrowing or will outgrow our planet in the future.
In order to find successful solutions to some of the global challenges we face here on Terra Firma, a synergy between the human, ecological, and cosmic approaches to problem-solving is required. The Overview Effect author Frank White often argues that systems thinking and awareness can serve as a doorway to finding solutions and creating positive change. A reconnection with one another, the Earth, and wider nature (including other animals and the cosmos) is fundamental to disrupting global patterns that have caused chaos and trauma.
An ethically informed space exploration approach can play a pivotal role in not only ensuring the continuity of humanity but also helping us to expand and transform as a species. We look up to the stars to feel the immensity of nature, and this brush with the infinite is a reminder that we are merely one small piece of a puzzle in a vast cosmic game. This being human is multidimensional and multi-layered. here’s more to us than just the “small” self and the final frontier could involve not only our expansion into the solar system but also an expansion of our individual and collective consciousness. In order to ensure our survival in such challenging times and in such extreme environments, that might be what’s necessary!
Ackerman, John. Dylan Thomas: his life and work. Springer, 2016.
Blue Origin, https://www.blueorigin.com/news/new-shepard-ns-19-mission-updates, Accessed on 28th Janaury 2022White, Frank. The overview effect: Space exploration and human evolution. AIAA, 1998.
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