On Artemis and Pakistan

Pakistan floods. A thousand, possibly thousands of lives ended. Homes and businesses destroyed. On the other side of the world, billions are being spent on trying to get back to the moon and onwards to Mars.

But does the world, even among the rich nations, have enough money to pay “to boldly go” while countries flood, suffer drought and people starve? Isn’t more important to give relief and tackle the real horror of our age, climate change?

But if we lose the lose our sense of adventure, the desire to explore, the need to imagine, will we ever solve the world’s problems?

I am a space freak. Space exploration has absorbed me since childhood. I used to throw a sicky some afternoons just to watch men walk on the moon on a black and white TV on which it seemed to snow whether you were watching astronauts or Morecambe and Wise. My mother was forever scribbling notes to my school apologising for my absence due to asthma but always understanding my love of space adventure was the cause.

My love of space exploration began some years earlier when I spent a few weeks in a sanitorium in rural Northamptonshire just seven years old with pneumonia. Other patients took sympathy with me and brought me copies of the Eagle in which I met Dan Dare. When I got home, Fireball XL5 was starting on TV, where it was still snowing.

As soon as I could get to the library on my own, I read everything that Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov wrote and somewhat later I was even more inspired by Carl Sagan. But in teenage years, my attention drifted from space and science. It took a discussion of relativity, again based on an article in the Eagle, to snap me back. With a science degree but not a scientist, I have since spent most of my professional life involved with different aspects of science or on the periphery of science.

Today, Artemis failed to get off the launchpad due to problem fuelling. If the weather is poor, it may not get off the ground at the weekend either. But it will launch sometime and I am sure it will be a success.

Today also, Pakistan continued to endure the worst crisis since partition. Possibly worse as homes and businesses, and above all lives, are destroyed by extraordinary flood waters. The scale of destruction is like a Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie, except there is no pretending about this. It is real.

Real people. Real homes. Real people. All destroyed.

How do we balance up the billions being spent on human exploration of space, with the need to spend billions on relief for countries like Pakistan suffering flooding, others suffering drought, crop failure and a refugee crisis?

An obvious measure is to increase overseas aid, something that is unlikely to happen in the UK because it is not a vote winner, either in the Tory party or the wider electorate. That is to our nation’s shame.

Back in my younger days, I was almost lone voice amongst my mates in arguing that space technology and exploration should continue even as people starved to death around the world. In Biafra and so many other places.

That question arises again now. Should we send men and women into space? Couldn’t robots do the job? Shouldn’t we divert increasing our scarce financial resources into helping people whose lives are being destroyed by climate change, flood, drought and war?

Not exclusively. Mankind has always pushed the boundaries of discovery. From the transition from hunter gathers to farming, forwards to the industrial revolution and the white heat of technology. It is technology that supports our current lifestyles. But more importantly it is technology, especially space technology, that enables to understand our world and the problems facing it. Satellites not only provide us with worldwide communications and the ability to spy on each other. They give us detailed information on what is happening in the world in near real time. Whether crops are growing or failing. Whether rain is falling. Whether homes are being flooded. Whether war is about to unleash a nuclear disaster.

Space technology is central to our lives and to saving lives.

But there is more. Exploration of the universe is inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers. People who don’t want a day job but who want to change the world. We need people who want to change the world because we will never ease its problems without that ambition. Artemis, when it finally gets off the ground, will fuel ambitions for future generations of scientists. That can only be a good thing.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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  • >That question arises again now. Should we send men and women into space? Couldn’t robots do the job?
    The answer to this question results in two very differing viewpoints…
    If robots can do “the job” and thus we don’t need to send people into space, I suggest our view of space is more likely to be one of it being a huge resource to be mined to enrich earth bond people. If however, we send people into space we are treating it more like new territories to be explored and potentially colonised. Personally, I prefer the latter mindset even if it means things are more complex.

  • As for Pakistan, is it really so poor it is unable to do anything for its people, or is it just that it thinks investing in nuclear weapons etc. more important than improving the lives of its people.

  • Helen Dudden 30th Aug '22 - 9:19am

    You can give aid but is it spent on the right things?
    Projects might be a better idea.

  • Natural disasters happen! However, with a warming planet and climate change, in the future they will happen far more often..
    As for ‘robots vs people’…For at least the next 50/100 years there is no prospect of a ‘self sustaining’ colony anywhere else; by which time, unless we drastically change our priorities, by then there will be large areas of this planet unable to sustain their current population…Today’s migration problems will pale into insignificance in comparison…

    Every time someone denies humanity’s part in climate change I’m reminded of the fragility of “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.

  • The big difference between the current plans for Moon landings & the 60s is that we now have real prospects for a Lunar Base that could generate value.
    A settlement at The Poles could have access to continuous sunlight & reserves of Ice & would be able to produce Oxygen & Fuel at a tiny fraction of the current cost. That could open up Space in ways that we can hardly imagine now.

  • nigel hunter 30th Aug '22 - 1:21pm

    I also read The Eagle and Dan Dare with fascination on the detailed technical illustrations and later Asimov and Clarke.The Mote In Gods Eye (Niven and Pournelle) about ,to me. the search for who we are,and knowledge,ever restless is a keystone of human curiosity in our exploration of space
    We cannot survive as a species if we destroy the only world we have before we leave the cradle of Earth.Space exploration has to go hand in hand with preserving the Earth.
    If we were less interested in destroying each other with weaponry that makes profit (along with exploitation of Earth resources) for some money could be redirected to combat climate change.The outrageous reduction in foriegn aid,a lifeboat for some should be reinstalled,with caveats that it is supervised by NGOs to alleviate human suffering.It is correct that it could deter migration by helping countries to prosper.If not, migration ,suffering will get worse .

  • We don’t spend anything like enough on fighting climate change or building resilience to cope with the effects of climate change and that’s the problem. There are a great many areas where we ‘waste’ money that are of less importance than climate change or space exploration. Picking on space exploration – expensive as it is – lets many less productive sectors off the hook.

    On the other hand, people often talk of cost intensive, high tech business as the route to innovation that will help with every day problems. I’ve never been entirely convinced by this convenient lie. It’s a variation of the lie that is trickle-down economics.

    That said, I do believe there is merit in exploration for exploration’s sake and innovation to find out what’s possible, even when you aren’t sure of all of the end benefits. My concern with emphasis on space exploration is more philosophical – so long as big business types believe planet earth has a life-boat, they won’t take the threats to this planet seriously enough.

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