With recent-ish news of the reinvention of space race with front runner Elon Musk, interest in the world beyond our blue planet has made a come back. The paradigm traveling alongside is no longer tinted with Cold War and atomic annihilation of human life , but rather environmental apocalypse and annihilation of human life. To a certain extent, colonizing another planet is a way to prepare for the collapse of society and in that regard, Elon Musk is the ultimate prepper!
However, leaving aside – if at all possible – the threat associated with climate change, there is a rather broad scientific consensus around the idea that survival of humanity largely depends on our capacity to travel and settle on one – or preferably several – other Earth-like planets. While it is unlikely that we need to urgently find an Earth replacement due to the destruction our own livable environment, spreading to another planet will strongly reduce the risks of humans being eradicated from the universe due to an external threat, such as a significant collision between an asteroid and Earth, or else. Our capacity (or failure) to overcome our environmental issues will simply be transposed to another environment if we were given the chance to do so, thus, the necessity to tackle climate change is a given that will need to be addressed regardless of human expansion. But the goal of this post it to discuss the conquest of space. Issues of ageing and environmental collapse are on my to-post-list.
I believe in this necessity to colonize beyond Earth and I spent hours wondering how, if I really believed in this target, I could possibly contribute to its fulfillment. So there I was, wondering how I could contribute to our capacity to conquer new planets. If you are like me, a social scientist, you will certainly agree that tackling such a challenge is complex to say the least. We often perceive – rightfully? – the conquest of space as a project of so-called hard sciences, with astronomy above all.
Until we can actually transport humans to another planet and decipher a way to implement a self-sustaining human life there, it is true that it appears social scientists may have little to contribute. But do we really?
The improvement of life expectancy means that on average, humans live longer. By living longer it is only reasonable to assume that we are able to further pursue research, that researchers will be able to work longer and thereby to improve the usage of their lifetime experience.
Improving the average life expectancy and healthy living of humans (a fortiori of researchers) by 10 years (let’s say from 75 to 85) roughly equates to a 13% increase. If on average a researcher starts producing research age 35 and is able to contribute to research until 75 instead of 65, this is an increase of more than 33% of productive years (science-wise).
Although social scientists have a rather small role in the improvement of life expectancy (and that would need to be demonstrated), they do have a role in improving healthy life expectancy and improving working environment for older workers. When one considers the sky-high levels of unemployment in 50+, we can easily understand that contributing to changing the perception of older people in society contributes to the improvement of science productivity. This work would also help people improve the perception of their own value and therefore delay self-withdrawal (disengagement) from productive life.
Education on evidence-based projections of life expectancy (much more needed on this side) helps us realise the true time ahead of them and could, if implemented, open people over 40, 50 or more to the possibility and value of transferring to a career in research. So much resource waste could be avoided if we could restore and improve the role of older people in society.
I always thought that contributing to space conquest meant to work directly onto projects directly related to astronomy, but truth is, space programs are the very top of a pyramid lying on multiple layers of culture, policies, psychology, demography (and many more) which make it possible for this pyramid tip to progressively grow higher and stronger. While social scientists will probably never make it to front pages for their contribution to space conquest, they contribute immensely to the reinforcement of necessary foundations.
So to answer my initial question (How could I contribute to space conquest), I realised that I already do, through a complex chain of events and long cause and effect relationships. The issue is really how to improve our contribution rather than doubting it.