The final launch of space shuttle Atlantis on 7/8/2011, Cape Canaveral. Credit: Julie Doyle
At 15, I began scuba diving as part of a volunteer group dedicated to monitoring coral health. We learned how to dive, how to conduct transects of sea beds, and how to report the data back to the WWF. The first time I entered a vibrant coral reef (on the Mindoro Island coast in the Philippines), a funny thing happened. The ocean washed away my childhood fantasies of space travel. I later stopped reading science fiction (I had been obsessed with the Ender’s Game series), partially because nothing described in books could compare to what I saw in real life under the sea.
As of yesterday, NASA’s human space flight program done. Many people have written about their disappointment that the human space program is over, and I understand that. The sense of adventure captured by astronauts is undeniable. NPR’s recent piece “So You Want to be an Astronaut,” traces this affection, and even attracted over a thousand personal testimonies to their Facebook page from people who still dream of launching into space.
I have a different opinion on the program’s demise. In the hopes of finding a silver lining in the end of the astronaut program, and to push that expeditionary spirit in another direction, this post gives five reasons why extraterrestrial exploration isn’t that great. And after all, there’s so much else to explore…
1. Moonscapes are pretty barren (probably mars too): While fascinating from afar, the moon proved that scale can ruin the whole experience. Once you get down to the rock and dust, it’s not that cool. The most interesting life in our solar system is right here on earth. The ocean, for example, is another world, teeming with life, waiting to be explored. And it is beautiful. If I could choose between walking on the moon and scuba diving in a coral reef, I’d choose the one with the beautiful creatures and dynamic ecosystems. Part of our fascination with space, I think, is the desire to fly and transcend our terrestrial limitations. I’d encourage you to look down instead of up. Here’s Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who pioneered the scuba tank and underwater film making: