The Final Frontier

I’ve applied for some unusual jobs in my time, but nothing caps sending my completed form to the European Space Agency, in the hope of becoming an astronaut. Never have I been keener to be invited for interview.

It’s the first time since 1992 that ESA has opened up its doors to potential new recruits and I’m delighted to have the chance to become a candidate. Fewer than five hundred people have left the Earth to go into space and I can think of no greater privilege to be a representative of humanity as we take our first steps on what I hope will become a great adventure. Our place in the universe

Our place in the universe thanks to Aeree Chung of Columbia University

There’s a vast galaxy out there, which is a tiny part of a mind-bogglingly enormous universe. What a waste if our species is confined, for a short time, to Earth before humanity ceases to exist.

Some people say that spending money on space exploration is a waste. To me the argument doesn’t stand up. Without going into space, we would know so much less about the changes the Earth is experiencing and would have even less idea of how to deal with them.

The space industry has also enabled better forecasting (helping to avert natural disasters or minimizing their effects when they occur), improved agricultural yields and more efficient exploitation of raw materials, vastly more efficient communications (bringing the world closer together which in turn has seen the flow of information across previously closed borders as well as connecting remote societies where other means are impossible), satellite navigation in planes, our cars and in many other devices, and the creation of new technologies and industries. And, in the longer term, without going into space the human race will inevitably become extinct. If we are to survive, to go on, we need to place our eggs in more than one basket.

Of course money spent on space exploration is spent on Earth anyway. It’s not as if it is frittered away on the surface of some other planet. It all goes to pay salaries and purchase materials here and now, and so is recycled into our economy.

I think, though, that there is another reason why space exploration is important. We are at our best as a species when we have a purpose, a goal to work towards. I find it incredible that we went to the Moon in the 1960s. And even stranger that no one has set foot on its surface for over thirty-five years. As Kennedy said:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we’re willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone…”

Earthrise from Apollo 8All these years on, imagine what we could achieve if we set our minds to it? I was part of the generation inspired by the Moon landings. When people saw the fragile globe of the Earth from space, with no borders, it created a new outlook for humanity and the possibility of a bright shared future. My hope has always been that Johnny Mackintosh will help encourage a new generation of scientists and explorers to seize that future, to boldly go where no one has gone before. But how much more inspiring it will be when others, perhaps even me, are exploring space for real and the coming generations know they can become a part of that?
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~ by keithmansfield on June 15, 2008.

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