Do you have mixed feelings about the efficacy or timing of this month’s celebrated venture into space? You too might be unconsciously channeling the essence of mindfulness: “Wherever you go, there you are.” In other words, We can run but we can’t hide, to paraphrase American boxing legend Joe Louis. We cannot escape our bothers.
The spacecraft Dragon is the practical manifestation of this truism. The iconic experience of sending astronauts into outer space for the betterment of humankind betrays a disingenuous sense of hope.
Space exploration historically cultivates national optimism and pride. Right now in the United States there are two more reasons to feel the exact opposite. The pandemic’s death toll — expected to eclipse 200,000 — demonstrates our distinct vulnerability as human species. And the social inequities amplified by the murder of George Floyd demonstrate our disgraceful vulnerability as human beings.
WE NEED ACTION, NOT DISTRACTION
We may think otherwise, but Mother Nature and human nature control us, not the other way around. Unless we accept and respect this existential authority, humankind’s lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance will be the death of us.
The euphoria surrounding another U.S. trip into outer space is as fleeting as the exhaust fumes it leaves behind. Looking down upon Earth provides more perspective than glory. We need to confront our own world’s mounting immediate and long-range problems toward which we’ve turned a blind eye, before we seek fantastical celestial solutions.
For those still dreaming about the promise of space exploration, a reality check on our cosmic destiny could be a walk-up call. In the thought-provoking essay “An Ominous Signal From the Universe,” The New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye wonders why hasn’t anyone among the billions and billions of worlds in the known universe sought us out? And he reminds us of the humble ask from the great physicist Enrico Fermi, “Where is everybody?” Hello, SETI calling, hellooo?”
Sincerely, the idea of infecting other planets with our messes — figuratively and literally — is plain inhumane. Now is not our time to share with, let alone try to impress extraterrestrials.
Imagine this. Perhaps remote cosmic intelligences are not so keen on interconnectedness and see no upside — and arguably a downside — to welcoming “Star Wars’ loving Earthlings into their more advanced, tranquil sphere. Our prospective hosts may be merely hiding behind the couch as we knock on the door. Perhaps we should get our own house in order before we start inviting ourselves into the others’ domains.
Image: Bernal Sphere, 1975, by Rick Guidice, Nasa Ames Research Center